Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 Year in Music: Endless Boogie - Vibe Killer

Endless Boogie
Vibe Killer

For most bands – a single LP clocking in just north of 40 minutes would be a regular album. For Endless Boogie, that's reining it in; merely half the length of their previous outing, 2013's blues-choogle standard Long Island.

In the meantime, what's left of the rock establishment has disintegrated, passed on, or at best, aged ungracefully. What better time for Endless Boogie to grace our skulls with another fried pie of smoked boogie that wouldn't sound out of place on a Stones demo reel from 74?

...but then there's frontman Paul Major, erstwhile private press collector and ramshackle vocalist who'll make Tom Waits sound like Pavarotti. Major's voice, part Oscar the Grouch, part stentorian Western narrator, is up further in the mix this time around, and rather than playing second fiddle to lengthy jams, his non-sequitur, bizarre stories drive much of the record.

[photo by Shawn Brackbill]

On the first half, title track "Vibe Killer" roils along with interlocking guitars like "Marquee Moon" on 'ludes, casting Major's tough guy manifesto as lead amongst the hypnotic, looping guitar workout. A little nihilism goes a long way – this is 2017, and Major eventually points out, "Nobody remembers. No legacy." Even the solos feel succinct here (don't worry; they're not), occasionally peeling off into the ether, letting a little "I Wanna Be Your Dog" piano push the riff into the sea.

"Let It Be Unknown", at 3:45, is somehow the least single-worthy, a blues-y, wah-wah'd shuffle with Major playing his best creepy ingrate, spitting out the line "Give me a nickle / and I'll show you Don Rickels", which is just about funny enough to ruin the spell the guitars of Jesper Eklow, Matt Sweeney, and Major weave.

Things stay set to simmer on the A-side; even inclusive of the heaviest choogle on the record, the ne'er-do-well narrative of "High Drag, Hard Doin'" only lacks some found-sound broken bottles and Keef backing vox, and the vibrato solo lagging behind the already dragging beat is damn-near perfect, epitomizing the expansive sludge of Endless Boogie, replete with at least 3 fake-out endings where the soloist bends a note way further than he should, like a branch too green to snap.

On the B-side; the just desserts. If I write less, it's due to judicious headbanging. "Bishops at Large" cooks up a stew of background wah-wah and swampy piano – fetid and humid and richly redolent for Major to intone, " large" only to leave a pregnant pause long enough to imagine a scrappy fellow emerging up the hill of a graveled road, looking over his shoulder for the tell-tale sun-pierced haze of his pursuer. It all comes to a boil with Major's newfound "falsetto" – coated in distortion and down in the mix like a shorted-out CB, it achieves an effect similar to Lambchop's Kurt Wagner on Nixon's "Up With People". It sounds so good even though it removes all possibility of understanding what the hell he's saying. When it all drops out and the guitar riff percolates back in, you'll swear the Stones were reincarnated from that Some Girls plane crash.

On the back half, "Back in '74" is endless tasty biker riffs and velvety Rhodes that frame a (true?) story about Kiss. In case you were unsure, Kiss is fucking horrible – but rest assured this is probably the best song about them. The locked-in kraut of rhythm section Harry Druzd and Marc Razo is especially obvious here – the beat & bass all shiny like patent leather – and they modulate their volume so well for the quiet part of the story that you can almost see Major conducting the troops with a level palm. Would it were we'd all be so lucky to have a rhythm section as tastefully locked-in.

"Jefferson County" – minus the near-acoustic skronk of the opening – finds the Boogie at full-power, which makes sense given this'd be halfway into their typical running time. The intro fades into a three-chord jam that floats hazily over slow-cook drums. Major enter in media res, "And...ya keep it in a jar." He's at his best when he drops the listener into a years-long story that snakes forward like a river into a floodplain. The gradual pace suits the guitars best, as they find infinite permutations to rub shoulders with one another, only emerging from the morass to blessedly choogle for a brief moment before sinking back into the soil.

"Jefferson County" runs 11:42, but it feels like a minute or an hour, never in-between. High-level, molasses-paced hypnosis – if you can conjure it, you do. "Can you turn it on? Now...don't make no decisions now," Major utters to an invisible friend across the flames. Good for us, Endless Boogie still can, even if they've left the Herculean double-LP form to younger foes. Then again, trying to top your finest hour is a fool's errand – better to double-down on form, stoke the fire, and let the embers burn through.

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