I remember hearing the opening of Women when I first received Bright Giant's self-titled 2009 EP, an electronic collage with what sounded like a tea kettle preparing to scream, a cross between low whistle and phlegm-like gurgle clothed in choral harmonies and ambient sounds building in intensity until the first chords buried the collage beneath power chords and a plodding but driving beat. You know how you hear something once and it embeds itself in your soul? Women did it. All five songs on the EP knocked me out, in fact, and I have taken these guys under my wing--- a project, ,so to speak, because music this good deserves to be heard and, indeed, needs to be heard. You can quote me.
I could go into great detail pointing out the subtle differences between the EP and the new album, Kings & Queens of Air, but you need a dry treatise as much as I need a punch in the neck, so I'll give you a break. The vast majority of you have probably not heard the EP anyway (do yourselves a favor and take a quick listen here), in which case comparisons are moot. Suffice it to say that the songs are more raw on Kings & Queens, that the beat is more prominent as a force (probably due to a more sparse sound on many of the tracks), and that feedback and electronic blasts, a definite plus on the EP, have been given an upgrade.
In fact, if the album does nothing more (I don't know why I say that, because it does), it reinforces my faith in feedback as music. Some of my favorite moments in rock have come via feedback, controlled or not--- the extended feedback which supports the chorus of Illinois Speed Press's P.N.S. (When You Come Around) is welcome in my head any day, perfect background for the harmonic lead-in to the double guitar lead on the break; the occasional snorts and grunts from variousYardbirds tracks keep them at the top of my all-time favorites list; and of course there is Jimi Hendrix (no explanation necessary here, eh?). Let's face it, sometimes there is no better sound.
Welcome to Kings & Queens of Air, an album of raw, crunchy fuzzed-out over-amped guitar driven by zealous drum beats and bedrock bass. And it is not all loud and raucous, even though that is the largest part of it. But we'll get to that later. First, let me tell you that the song I liked least when I first started listening is now the song I like best--- Sandbox, a two-minute-plus runaway truck powered by jolting guitar and pulsating feedback at the end of each verse. It is about as base as you can get, even the vocals a bit distorted, but turn it up and it drives a stake right into you. Did I say I liked it best? What am I thinking? That would Katie Come On, a piledriving stew of overamped attitude crammed into a mere 1:43, during which Noah Mass sounds like he grew up on a mess of Manfred Mann stew (Mick Rogers was one of the finest rock guitarists out there in the seventies and had a style all his own--- check out Meat and Look Around on Glorified Magnified--- the guitar is outstanding). Mass stumbles upon Rogers' sound and that of a handful of my other favorite guitarists as he busts his way from song to song, breaking out for the occasional solo but always there in the background tossing out squeaks and squawks and simple riffs to make a point. If someone expected The Moody Blues, it would sound at times chaotic and even messy, but to the rock 'n' roller it is a well-orchestrated mess and music adventure at its best, at the very least.
If I made that sound like every song is a cranker, that is hardly the case. For one thing, the band brings forward a remixed and maybe even re-recorded version of the anthemic Forget-Me-Nots from the EP which is a bit slower than most of the other tracks and almost choir-like in its ending (think Angel's Flying With Broken Wings) and is just downright impressive. Coraline Rose uses simple guitar hook and floating vocal “oo-oo-oo”s over wall-of-sound chords on the chorus to drive home anthem once again and my mind's eye can see lighters being held above the heads of every geek in the arena while the power chords lay down that wall (Obviously, I was not a fan of the lighter thing. I hated “the wave” too). It's a beauty.
But once again, let's talk feedback. I was curious, so I sent an email to the band's Josh Davis asking who was responsible. He said “(Noah and I) both play old amps which are feeding back constantly.” So it must be a constant battle to control the sound? I don't know, but the final result must mean that in the constant wrestling match the guitarists are winning because I have seldom heard snarks and blats and rheee's hit the highs hit here. To my ears, it is the sound of the sirens. No, not the sound of sirens--- the sounds of the sirens. There is a difference.
I'm sorry, but I have to stop here a second for a good laugh. The vast majority of people who read this might think Bright Giant a band of barbarians reeking havoc armed with guitars and amps, but they are in fact a rock band looking into a hard rock and rock 'n' roll tent, feeding on the same courses as early or mid Rolling Stones and Black Crowes and blazing their own path through the maze. Because I can't really describe it, I have a tendency to be a little verbally melodramatic here and there, but let me assure you that if it makes you take note it is worth it. This is good stuff. Really, really good stuff. In places, even great stuff. I love these guys. They are right up there alongside Research Turtles on my list of artists I would shove down your throat if it would only make you listen. Want to take a listen? Okay. The last five songs are the EP--- the earlier ones are from Kings & Queens of Air. Or maybe not. Hell, start anywhere. It's all good. Click here. And turn it up. Then buy it. Or else.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)