There’s a Bush circling the White House, there are a lot of plaid shirts around, David Lynch is making a bizarre television drama set in a small, fictional town in Washington state and nearby a ferocious power trio are recording their first album for Seattle’s Sub Pop. It must be 2015.
Grunge is not dead, it just smells funny: not to mention the recent reunions of the likes of L7 and Babes In Toyland, you don’t have to look too far at the moment to find young, would-be heirs to the (un)iron(ed) throne once occupied by Mudhoney, TAD, and Melvins, with fellow Sub Pop signings METZ, hailing from Canada, Nashville’s Bully and UK act The Wytches all lining up to stake their claims. But a quarter of a century ago, all eyes were on the Pacific North West.
Coming from the town that gave us more than its fair share of bands connected with the punk, post-hardcore and riot grrrl movements, it should perhaps be no surprise that Olympia three-piece Strange Wilds’ début is loud. Really, really LOUD – stomp boxes are set to stun from the first moment that the growling riff and metallic bass of the opening Pronoia burst out to the final minute of Outercourse, which comes to a grinding, twitching halt, fading into a loop of clanking noise.
The pace, too is fairly relentless and rarely lets up, 11 songs packed into a taut 36 minutes, with the squalling, furious Egophilia, the stop-start dynamics of Disdain and the spiritedly petulant Terrible and Pareidolia all barely grazing the two-minute mark.
There’s much to admire on the occasions when the band stretch out to fill positively indulgent four-five minute running times, though, whether it’s the calculated malevolence of Don’t Have To, Sean Blomgren’s bass part recalling the prowling lines of The Jesus Lizard’s David Wm. Sims, Oneirophobe’s drowsy verses or the post-rocking atmospherics in the bridge of Lost and Found, where the surprisingly catchy verse and chorus hooks are stripped back and the band led by Allen Trainer’s stumbling beat. Trainer impresses throughout, the production lending his playing the same kind of convincing thud as Sub Pop associate Jack Endino gave to the sound of Chad Channing, Dave Grohl’s (understandably) undersung predecessor in Nirvana.
Although there’s more going on here than just respectful imitation, it is hard to escape the ghost of Aberdeen, Washington’s most famous sons – Subjective Concepts was recorded in Robert Lang Studios, where Nirvana’s last known studio recording was made, which probably doesn’t help. But there’s something in the way that Pronoia calls to mind the gravelly thrash of Breed, or maybe it’s Steven Serna’s slurred vocal on Autothysis, the chorus of which (“Do I look like him? I bet I do, I do”) may leave you humming About A Girl. In particular, Oneirophobe comes across as a collision of Milk It and a slightly twisted take on the clean verse of Heart Shaped Box (in turn possibly cribbed from Starship Trooper by Yes).
But the hurtling assault of the guitars and Serna’s half-spoken (or shouted) vocal delivery often bring the sound closer to the hardcore punk of Black Flag and Minor Threat, and there are plenty of moments where the band’s sonic palette is shown potentially to be a lot wider than the well-worn quiet/loud template might suggest. This is a bruising, effective set, whatever the year may be, and one that really could only have come from one place. Whether Strange Wilds will break out of – or away from the sound of – that place will remain to be seen.