Rose Windows: The Sun Dogs

Photo: Alison Scarpulla

The debut album from Seattle's Rose Windows displays stellar musicianship but never quite breaks free from its classic rock influences.

Rose Windows

The Sun Dogs

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2013-06-25
UK Release Date: 2013-06-24

Seattle’s Rose Windows describe themselves as “hard hitting hippies” on their Facebook page, and they mean it, especially the hippie part. The seven-piece band unapologetically strip-mines the rock music of the ’60s and ‘70s for its sound, but it doesn’t settle for the garage-rock riffs that have been resurrected by countless indie acts in recent years. Instead, Rose Windows goes for weirder stuff: the swirling organ of the Doors, the sinister blues guitar of Black Sabbath, the orchestral theatricality of prog-leaning bands like Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues. You can practically smell old dorm-room pot smoke as you listen.

The band was formed in 2010 by guitarist and songwriter Chris Cheveyo, who started exploring psychedelia and stoner sounds after a post-rock project of his fizzled out. He recruited a band, and after a year of writing and recording demos, the group was ready to record its first album. Local producer Randall Dunn was brought on board, and the result is Rose Windows’ just-released debut, The Sun Dogs. It’s a solemn--perhaps too solemn--and atmospheric effort with select moments of haunting beauty. Despite those, and despite a blockbuster performance by singer Rabia Shaheen Qazi, the record never manages to transcend its influences. Too often, The Sun Dogs sounds like just a collection of revived classic-rock moments.

Things get started on a rather portentous note with “The Sun Dogs I: Spirit Modules”, which opens with a whispery flute, a distant drum beat and Floyd-like vocals. The words are sung with the stilted formality of a religious chant, and the song ends with a wash of strings that sounds hokey rather than uplifting. The next track, “Native Dreams”, fares much better. This time, the flute hovers gently over a stomping beat that gives way to a wall of monster guitar riffage. A fat organ simmers underneath the song -- it brings to mind the sound of Yes’s “Roundabout” -- and Qazi delivers the first of many scorching vocal turns.

Another highlight is “Season of Serpents”, one of the simplest tracks on the album. It’s a lovely slice of gentle folk featuring acoustic guitar, flute and Qazi’s expressive voice. Other tracks reach for Importance-with-a-capital-I but collapse under their own weight. “Walkin’ With A Woman” and “This Shroud”, which clock in at over seven and nine minutes, respectively, quote from a number of epic stoner songs but never catch fire on their own.

This is a tough one for me. There’s talent all over The Sun Dogs. Cheveyo and company are top-notch musicians, and producer Dunn gives this music the space and clarity it needs. But for all the skill on display here, the album as a whole feels ponderous, weighted down by the more self-important tendencies of classic stoner rock. So consider this a flawed opening salvo from a band that could do great things in the future.

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