Godcaster‘s debut album is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in the Philadelphia basement where Long Haired Locusts was recorded. Their music seems to be equally influenced by psychedelia, 1960s hippies, and 1970s funk. It’s a strange combination that seems like it would wear out its welcome quickly, but Long Haired Locusts turns out to be a highly entertaining and listenable album.
Godcaster have some things working in their favor. The first thing is musical skill. As sloppy as singer-guitarist Judson Kolk’s guitar playing is, he can really play. Drummer Sam Pickard is equally messy, with fills that don’t always fit exactly in time, but he always locks back into the groove. Meanwhile, bassist Bruce Ebersole and keyboardist David McFaul hold the band together with disciplined playing while Kolk and Pickard wander off the reservation. The second thing going for Godcaster is brevity. Out of the 14 tracks on the album, only four of them reach the three-minute mark. The more ridiculous song ideas don’t linger very long, and the good stuff doesn’t stick around long enough to wear out its welcome as the band devolves into meandering jams. For all I know, a live performance by Godcaster may feature ten- or 15-minute versions of these songs, but at least on Long Haired Locusts, things are whittled down to the core idea.
Often the vocals and lyrics on these songs feel like afterthoughts. Kolk and flautist-vocalist Von Lee are both good singers, but they usually end up low in the mix, at the same level, or even below the instruments. So a track like the opener, “Even Your Blood Is Electric”, sounds like the funk groove came first, especially the keyboard-dominated chorus of the song, which is entirely instrumental. There are vocals here, but they feel entirely inconsequential to the high-energy funk-rock workout. “Sexy Heffer” is the same way, with guitar, bass, and keyboards all pushing an upbeat but minor-key groove. Practically the only lyrics are “sexy heffer!”, occasionally shouted by various members of the band. “Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth” is a chugging hard rocker with a solid minor-key vocal melody. But this is one of the times when the vocals are basically buried, maybe 75% of the singing in the song is doubled on guitar, and the third verse of the song is just the melody played on a guitar instead of sung.
Sometimes these experimental tracks succeed wildly. “Dirtbike Bike (Vaccine Girl)” holds together better than it has any right to. It begins with a complicated but catchy melody, tripled on guitar, bass, and flute. That melody occasionally breaks up for about five seconds of a disco groove before shifting right back. After a minute of this, the song turns into a folk ballad with just acoustic guitar and vocals for about ten seconds before the rest of the band returns with a driving, accelerating pulse. It climaxes with a huge, bright finish, and all of this takes place in about 105 seconds. The punky “The Skull!!!!” finds the band playing at full speed while Kolk sings, “Take a look at that skull!” over and over. There’s a great analog synth solo from McFaul, and at 30 seconds, the band starts into a jamming freakout, which completely breaks down into noise and noodling, only to jump back into the main theme one more time. This song would be interminable even at three minutes long, but this is one of the times when Godcaster do their thing and get out, finishing after only 82 seconds.
There are some more composed pieces on Long Haired Locusts as well. “Don’t Make Stevie Wonder”, besides having a great bassline from Ebersole, has an actual if goofy, lyrical premise. “Don’t make Stevie wonder / Wonder, if he’s appreciated” is the refrain. It’s a high-energy track, and the instrumental breakdown mid-song seems to be the band at their most engaged. Kolk and company must’ve been proud of their pun, though, because his chorus vocals are among the most audible on the album. The falsetto vocals that constitute the verses not so much, but this is a track that earns its almost four-minute running time.
“Apparition of the Virgin Mary in My Neighborhood” has a long, complex melody line that opens the song. Kolk sings about seeing what he thinks is the ghost of the Virgin Mary in Philadelphia, but once he gets closer, “It turns out to be just tarps.” Later on, after a hard rock musical interlude, Kolk shouts, “I do not believe in the cacophonous piety of the Virgin Mary!” It’s a strange track that seems to be commenting on this nonsensical phenomenon, but Godcaster are so esoteric that they could be intentionally weird.
“Bingo Bodies (Long Haired Locusts)”, the de facto title track, comes second to last on the album, and it begins like a recording of a random, not very good jam session. But after about 20 seconds, McFaul’s synth comes in and puts the guitar, drums, and bass on track for a real song. It has a fun little chorus. “Put your hands up high / You can touch the sky / If you really try / We’re all gonna die.” The driving rhythm section keeps the song high energy, even though the verse vocals are typically low in the mix. Once the song hits the three-minute mark, the band slow way down for a 90-second outro that doesn’t really go anywhere. But that middle two and a half minutes where Godcaster are focused and tight is one of the best stretches of music on the album.
Godcaster feel like an art-rock band that can really play. They are a group that enjoy the absurd without falling into outright comedy. Long Haired Locusts is a weird album, for sure, but I also found it charming. This isn’t going to be for everyone, but they tick enough boxes in enough different subgenres to appeal to a diverse range of listeners.