Boo Hag, Burial ground (self-published)
Find it: boohagmusic.com
It’s a classic conundrum for most rock bands, but it’s especially acute for a minimalist, garage-oriented rock band like Boo Hag: where exactly are we going from here?
The Columbia duo seemed to burst on stage fully formed, with protean guitar riffs, booming drums and personality. Frontman Saul Seibert’s manic bark split the difference between carny and shaman when he and drummer Scott E. Tempo filtered early punk rock through Stoner Psychedelia, David Byrnes and Tom Waits to get on their own bogus Backwoods brand of post-white stripes rock Land combo nirvana.
Her self-titled 2016 debut and her 2017 follow-up LP The Further cemented her as one of the most exciting rock groups in South Carolina, but also made her seem like a cohesive unit, a limited bag of musical magic tricks to pounce on The statement, which arrived in January 2018, just a few months after The Further, changed things a little in its open exploration of religiosity and the more arduous, weightier arrangements highlighted by cryptic voice-overs and other sounds found on the Elevate Aura and atmosphere of the group’s music without changing the fundamentals too much.
With that in mind, the addition of saxophonist Thomas Hammond, even in a limited role, seems to have been a catalyst for the new album Burial Ground. On side A, which contains the newer material that includes Hammond’s contributions, the band appears looser and more patient than ever, leaving space and expanse to the songs that is more like a meditative exploration of the Boo Hag dynamic than a crazy shot through them China shop. The first title cut begins with some reverb-laden jazz-fusion horn drawls that slowly unfold before the guitars and drums even step in. When they do, there’s a simmering tension that feels more like the mid-period guitar storm from Sonic Youth than a traditional garage rock bash. The track lasts six exciting minutes and seems to usher in a new era for the band.
Hammond’s adventurous, effect-laden approach to his instrument seems to have loosened all the boundaries that Boo Hag had previously defined, with mother-of-pearl tones that infuse “skin” and heavenly vibes in the Middle East, and a kind of radiohead size that ” Krone “reinforced. Hammond and Seibert both glow in the glowing prologue of the latter track, but even as it builds up, it feels like something clearly alien to previous efforts, even if the band’s progress toward that moment now feels inevitable. The track dissolves when Seibert’s vocals are hacked and lost in the cave while Hammond’s saxophone spins like a flashlight following the abyss, but the group has never sounded so alive.
Of course, Boo Hag is still Boo Hag, and the second half of the record seems to remind you that the duo’s elemental ferocity is still intact and roaring. Siebert bites off threatening replies on “FUUSA”, and he and Tempo flash through “Talk” as if they were more punk rock ghosts than mere mortals. The final two tracks, “Make Up” and “Time Bomb,” show the group’s penchant for reviving early rock and roll riffing and repetition with demonic zeal on the left and reaffirming their fastball.
Even so, given its undeniable magnetism, it seems certain that the band’s future now lies in the unbridled experimentation and freedom that give the first five songs such a life.
Most garage rock bands don’t want them to ever change anything. But I can’t wait to see what Boo Hag does next. Kyle Petererson
Boo Hag published surprisingly Burial ground last week as a gift to fans during the COVID-19 crisis. It is available for free download for a limited time.
Wombat Junction, The long game (self-published)
Find it: facebook.com/wombatjunction (available March 27)
One of the hardest things for a rock band to do is translate their sound from the stage into the recording studio. And it’s not just about the absence of a crowd. Ideally, in the heat of a good live performance, the uncertain moments, the small mistakes and the occasional flat notes fly past the listener in a blurred dynamic. On an album, these little missteps feel bigger because it’s easier to pick them out from the sound.
In some cases – in many cases even – indie rock bands can get away with a lo-fi approach to volume and speed. But for a band like Columbia’s Wombat Junction, a group that fills songs with plenty of light and shadow, a less-than-outstanding production can sabotage even the toughest of songs.
And unfortunately that’s the situation on the band’s new album, The Long Game. Melodically and structurally, the eight songs on the album are first class. Guitarists Sam Scollon and Josh McGill can roar like vintage Bob Mold and then dive into the intricate Peter Buck-style selection with equal skill. When they tear themselves away at full volume on the opening track “Where Did You Go”, their synchronized rhythmic riffs will really fly.
But when the song hits its chorus things start to unravel, and what is frustrating is that it isn’t anything glaring. The vocals don’t quite fit the rhythm section (bassist Robert Dew and drummer Nick McGill). The pace of the song isn’t quite as tight as it should be, and a killer chorus doesn’t quite end up with the oomph it needs.
On the next track, the mid-tempo “Underneath My Skin”, a great walking bass line no longer comes in harmony with the drums, and the guitars only really catch up in the chorus. Again the song loses its center and the impact is blunted. And this problem persists throughout the album.
It seems the more the band tries to be nuanced, the more the raw, unvarnished production hurts them. And it’s a shame because this is a great collection of songs.
The normally reliable Zac Thomas produced and mixed these tracks in Colombia’s robust jam room recording studio, so expertise behind the boards isn’t the problem. I bet these songs were recorded live in the studio, either out of necessity or out of an urge to recreate the band’s live sound. But the studio and the stage are two different things, and Wombat Junction could have been an absolute craze of an album if it had been done that way. VINCENT HARRIS
Wombat Junction will play a live stream concert on Friday at 7 p.m. to celebrate the release of its new album. Access it at facebook.com/wombatjunction.