During its better songs, The Road Gets Darker From Here sounds like the sort of album perfectly suited for a perilous night at the best dive bar in town.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what Gallon Drunk’s greatest asset is. It could be singer and guitarist James Johnston’s ability to make his grit ‘n’ growl delivery sound effortlessly authentic. It could be the way multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards masterfully intersperses saxophone into the band’s garage rock mix. It could be Ian White’s drumming, a steady gel which fastens the borderline unstable Gallon Drunk sound into place. More than likely, a combination of all these traits maintain Gallon Drunk’s solid reputation of releasing the kind of raw rock ‘n’ roll that is heralded by cognoscenti and grossly overlooked by the general public. A recent review of Gallon Drunk’s latest, The Road Gets Darker From Here pegged the band as a more authentic version of The Black Keys, one which many Black Keys fans would be too fearful to investigate. Like the Black Keys, there is little here in the way of originality, but the band takes you on a fun, at times harrowing, ride all the same.
The biggest surprise The Road Gets Darker From Here has to offer is in its guest vocalist, Marion Andrau of the French post-punk band Underground Railroad. Andrau is employed to make down tempo songs such as “Stuck in my Head” feel even mellower amid the chaos coming before and after it, and to make eerie songs such as “The Perfect Dancer” feel all the more unsettling; two of the album’s standout tracks are formed in the process.
Andrau-less, and during its better songs, The Road Gets Darker From Here sounds like the sort of album perfectly suited for a perilous night at the best dive bar in town. “A Thousand Years”, “Killing Time”, and “The Big Breakdown” all have a kind of groove that should take the nerve off, while the vague yet ominous lyrics ensure that the listener won’t get too comfortable. Add some saxophone squawks from Edwards—in particularly brilliant form on “A Thousand Years” and “Killing Time”—and the atmosphere becomes a little more unsettling. It’s worth noting that the way in which The Road Gets Dark From Here progresses gives it an apocalyptic feel. The whole album seems to evoke two people holed up in some gritty locale, waiting for the hysteria of the outside world to pass. “The Perfect Dancer”—the album’s closer—feels like the aftermath, suggesting ghostly figures walking among the debris.
The scuzzy, vaguely Stooges-esque quality to Gallon Drunk’s sound and the level of danger that sound imbues is seemingly guaranteed to hit a music critic’s hyperbolic pleasure center. The Road Gets Darker From Here is good, probably better than the Black Keys’ latest, but clearly not intended for everyone. Still, Gallon Drunk has impressively resisted being repetitive despite adhering to a pretty steady sound throughout its career, and recruiting Andrau for a few songs will hopefully gain a larger fan base for the more interesting Underground Railroad. As far as scuzz rock sure to enliven a specific breed of critic goes, you could clearly do worse.