Wolfmother gave strong-tempo’d, epic psych rock a smudged name. Sure, they garnered legions of happy-go-lucky listeners, but for lovers of the genre and rock enthusiasts, their simplistic take on hard psychedelic rock was one shallow bucket of corn.
Okay, I’ll go there. I’m not entirely a music snob, so I want to avoid the whole ‘mainstream music and why it sucks’ argument. There are worse bands than Wolfmother, sure, and they churned out some catchy, epic riffs. Andrew Stockdale is in possession of one of those soaring, seventies-superband voices which suits the music to a tee. What totally turns me off isn’t neccessarily the generous influence in their intrumentation. It’s the lyrics. Oh God, how I hate the lyrics. Stockdale should write a reference book entitled something like ‘The A-Z of Rock and Roll Lyrical Cliches’ because, baby, by now he clearly knows them all back to front. Inside you’d find mentions of wizards, unicorns, third eye philosophy and a loose skim over occultism. There’d be a shallow overview of mythological creatures and references, and a whole section devoted to witchy (witchaaaaay?) women and their various adjective guises.
I can understand then why any mention of a band being of the hard psych variety might raise some uncertain eyebrows. There are acts out there though making some good music inside this genre. Black Mountain are probably one of the most notable, but Hopewell, based in Brooklyn NY, more than certainly belong on your radar.
Good Good Desperation is their sixth studio release, their second from the impressive psych/shoegaze heavy label Tee Pee. They’ve been around since 1993 but it’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of them. Until their album arrived on my doorstep, I hadn’t either.
Having supported My Bloody Valentine and played with Mark Gardener, they’ve kind of been swept up in that whole ‘nu-gaze’ shoegaze revival – that very vague renaissance all the music media keeps making reference to. Apart from some heavy use of effects and distorted guitars, there isn’t much basis to this genre-lumping.
For the most part, Good Good Desperation is a pummelling hard-psychedelic/space rock affair. Opener, Preamble (Part II) moves from chant-like harmonies to drawn out, bold riffs backed with a heavy, thumping beat. Seamlessly it merges into Island (which you can find on the band’s site). A still thundering, more tribal beat dominates while the lyrics kick in. Guitarist and vocalist Jason Russo carries a voice not dissimilar to one Mr Andrew Stockdale – strong and perfectly suited to the grand riffs and the softer sonic explorations interspersed in between. What you wont find are those nasty, off-putting cliches. The result, which carries through the whole album, is an enticing and refreshing sophistication. Good Good Desperation treads familiar ground at its core. The style here is one step left of what we know as ‘classic rock’, but it skips being a mere rehash through interesting, solid instrumentation and strong lyrical content that doesn’t overshadow the sound.
Jason Russo was a long-time member of Mercury Rev, and Hopewell’s last release, Hopewell and the Birds of Appetite was produced by none other than Dave Fridmann. Perhaps this experience has something to do with the band’s ability to avoid that cliched hole. The songs on Good Good Desperation are memorably jaunty – in a good way – and carry the sound of seasoned individuals. It’s way more substantial than a youthful attempt at reinterpreting Led Zeppelin IV.
There’s plenty to like in Good Good Desperation. The first seven of its ten tracks are impressively easy to listen to and stick-in-your-head catchy. Tracks eight and nine aren’t quite as fetching, slightly disappointing as it hinders the release when listening to it in full. Overall it’s accessible, absent of pretence and well-crafted. I’ll be happy to keep this one playing for a while.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: STRANGER, ISLAND, REALMS OF GOLD, WORRIED MIND.