Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gallon Drunk Goes Irresistibly Darker

It has been more than five years since London-based Gallon Drunk released a new album with their alternative punk- and jazz-infused swamp rock sound. But taking five years off from the studio did the band well. Their upcoming album, The Road Gets Darker From Here, will be much better remembered than their revival album The Rotten Mile.

The reason? The title might as well be called a complete description. Much like the new single, You Made Me, and the accompanying B-side, Now's The Time, the upcoming album will be darker, more raw, and less restrained.

"This is the first time we have ever worked with someone as a producer," says frontman James Johnston about Johann Scheerer. "He encouraged us to try out things that we wouldn't normally have done."

Johnston met Scheerer while recording Something Dirty with Faust in 2010, at his Studio, Cloud Hill Recordings, in Hamburg, Germany. And what Scheerer seems to have done is helped open up an exhilarating and powerful menacing sound with the band, all of it beautifully captured on 2-inch analog.

The result is an album that might have been cut had the Beatnik era progressed into a collusion of jazz and punk rock. The single that also opens it all, You Made Me, has all the veracity of throwback rock and roll, almost as if the band has been playing it for more than a decade.

It also doesn't hurt, I suppose, that Johnston has taken to hefting around some deep-throated vocals that are sometimes reminiscent of the late Jim Morrison. He's not trying to. It all came out of having more time to improve his vocals than he has on any other album.

The song is a straightforward and suggestive blues burner, with great riffs throughout. The entire atmosphere of the track is smokey (with Terry Edwards managing sax and keys), not all that dissimilar from the places you expect to hear it played live. Ian White, often regarded as one of the most impressive live drummers, holds the beat.

The B-side, Now's The Time, is just as compelling, underpinned with an organ. There is a stubbornness to the music, much like the musicians. The song captures the dirty murkiness and looseness that people will find throughout the album. Johnston broods through most of it, saving added intensity for the choruses.

A quick look back at where Gallon Drunk began. 

Although Gallon Drunk has always had darkness surrounding their sound, the band originally captured attention in the 1990s as more of a crazed psychotic lounge garage act. Their first album, with a different lineup (other than Johnston), rumbled as much as it grumbled, making the perfect opening act for Tom Waits and PJ Harvey.

By the time the band produced Fire Music in 2002, Gallon Drunk seemed to be carrying too much funk to connect with its natural genre, which gave Johnston a good reason to join Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. After five years with Cave (who once called Gallon Drunk "cool as fuck"), there isn't much doubt that some of it rubbed off.

What makes this band work today is Johnston's ability to fuse punk, blues, jazz, and rock with two of the best talents (Edwards and White) to make it feel as loose as it is complete. Perhaps even more so now that the band has picked up Leo Kurunis (bass) for touring.

You Made Me By Gallon Drunk Shakes 7.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Even better than the single and B-side is the upcoming complete album, which gives up more time for Edwards and White to showcase their respective talents alongside Johnston. Much of it feels like the raunchy looseness of their live performances, bringing in rhythms because they feel right as much as they belong there.

You Made Me by Gallon Drunk is available for download on iTunes. Make sure you download the B-side too. It's worth it. You can also find the single on Amazon. Also worth checking out before the new album is out is the older album Tonite… The Singles Bar at Barnes & Noble.
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