The Dirty Aces are like two double Gin & Tonics, then — quickly — a couple of tequila slammers, followed by some head-spinning Jägerbombs. Their music is incendiary.
Giles Robson, leader of the Dirty Aces, has been honing the group’s sound for a number of years now (the band formed in 2007) with exciting live gigs and a recording output to match: a couple of EPs, a live album and 2012’s long-player Crooked Heart of Mine. On a new deal with Benelux label V2, the group has From the Basement, a record inspired by wild and messy times.
The inside story of the basement parties which led the Dirty Aces to making From the Basement is that of a relatively small gang of people determined to have a good time, in spite of, or possibly due to a particularly dull backdrop of conservatism and authoritarianism, an environment in which libertarianism was strictly discouraged. The basement crowd was not particularly a blues bunch, but a swirling mix of hedonists, freaks and indie kids. Robson must have discovered this when he jumped into the pit from a cramped stage in the summer of 2009 to find a marauding, seething mass of beautiful outcasts. The atmosphere was subterranean, hot, and grungy; when the band had finished, the music was replaced by varying DJs, alternating between techno and classic rock ‘n” roll. If you made it to three in the morning, naked hour was announced, when you could, if you wanted to, take off as many clothes as you felt necessary. There were black lights, fluorescent paint, strobes, camp fires. The chaotic mix of people (what the advertisers cynically call “a demographic”) meant there was an edge to what was, for most, a temporary feeling of freedom. The only baby that could emerge out of the bear-headache hangover of those parties was a gritty hybrid of in-your-face grunge/blues/garage rock
Lo and behold, From the Basement was born.
If you believe in Donald Rumsfeld’s awkward classification of “known knowns”, “known unknowns” and “unknowns unknowns”, then the Dirty Aces and From the Basement deserve to be as famous as some of the other acts on V2: Badly Drawn Boy, Brett Anderson, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Mumford & Sons, and Solomon Burke. There’s no doubt that this dirty blues rock ‘n’ roll band could cross over to the mainstream, but the question is more whether they will have the good luck to achieve this.
From the Basement should have sufficiently diverse elements to appeal to a broad stream of listeners. “Sinnin’ ‘Gainst Me” is a loud and raw rabble-rouser, full of action for the opening credits of a film yet to be made. Hand-claps, dark distorted harmonica, and strong guitar chords suggest the hard-talking, fast-living attitude to come for the rest of the album. The title of “Na Na Na Na Na (The Girl I’m Talkin’ About)” indicates it could be a crowd-pleasing singalong — and it is, although there are some swish breaks for respective guitar and harmonica solos. “Anna Marie” has a ‘70s Stones riff and a distinct Chicago feel as the singer heads over to the West Side to meet his girl.
“Ain’t No Forgetting” may have the most commercial potential, although suggesting that music with its roots in the blues has to transfer itself in some way to be successful is redundant when we again consider the Rolling Stones. Robson’s distinctive amplified harmonica is integral to the Dirty Aces sound, and his playing may be as significant for the instrument as Sonny Boy Williamson’s adoption by the Yardbirds and the Animals in the ‘60s. Anyway, these academic pontifications become irrelevant as soon as you hear the track because it’s raw, immediate, urgent, with a killer hook — all that rock ‘n’ roll needs to be. After the excitement of “Ain’t No Forgetting”, the follower “That Simple Step” is a light shuffle around the neighborhood, loping and enjoyable, and Robson’s vocal slithers around charismatically like he’s the new Lizard King in town.
It could be that the Dirty Aces were thinking about how records used to be made or sequenced when they put the album together because from the sixth track onwards (perhaps the B side), there’s a heavier tone. Sometimes it seems like there’s traces of heavy metal chords. “Know Where to Get To” is up-tempo and menacing, then the next level of “Upstairs” is moody and dangerous; to prove the point, Kozlowski unleashes a scorching guitar solo. “A Few Choice Words” captures both the ominous tension before an impending domestic fight as well as the almost humorous, slinky nature of someone sneaking around, staying out late and being unfaithful.
The last four tracks ramp things up even further into an excitable frenzy. The hectic “My Angels Might Die Too” heads deep into the demonic side of extreme behavior, and “Howl & Moan” evokes the fevered, hot and heavy kicks of the basement parties. In the apocalyptic “When That Final Storm Rolls In”, Robson asks if we’ll still be up to our necks in sin; that seems highly likely, but the attractive transatlantic travel in closer “Silver Bird to Mexico” must be a good way to escape if need be.
Raucous and debauched, From the Basement has the strut and swagger of Stevie Ray Vaughn and the decadently ragged appeal of ‘70s Stones. The basement parties may be over, but this album will take you there and back in style. Essential listening.