BREAKIN’ IT DOWN - Midnight Evils (Estrus Records)
This CD arrived with a few others for potential review. The others on offer were slight and poppy, with a hint of ambient overtone. There's nothing quite like insipid pop designed to soothe the aural senses to make you yearn for something with (apologies for not finding a less provocative metaphor) real balls. And when I finally got around to putting on the new Midnight Evils CD, I knew the wait had been worthwhile.
"Breakin' It Down" is the third long playing release from Minneapolis's Midnight Evils. Since their last release, the band's lead singer has left the fold, with Curan Folsum (bass), Stevie Cooper (lead guitar) and Brian Vanderwerf (guitar) sharing vocal duties between them.
The cover artwork is raw, bleak and uninspiring (the opposite of the colourful and busy 60s album art epitomised by psychedelic era Beatles albums covers). But while the songs are definitely raw, they're indeniably inspiring.
There's a very consistent formula at play here – starting with "Let Me In" Jesse Tomlinson's breakneck speed drums, powerful and punching metal blues guitar riffs that sound like Jimmy Page on speed and shrieking and shouting vocals that trade harmony for punk attitude. And while that formula could also be applied to a heap of shite that's found its way out of Southern California over the last 10 years, in the hands of Midnight Evils, it's in the hands of capable practitioners.
What differentiates it from the herd is arguably the rumbling bluesy riffs; a personal favourite being "C'mon", where Vanderwerf's rhythm guitar and Folsum's bass combine together to produce a lick that's as tasty and spicy as a shot of Tabasco. "Gettin' Down On the Midnight Hour" might offend Wilson Pickett's soul sensibilities, but will bring pleasure to many. Good Morning, Afternoon may be the tale of someone arising to what they think is the beginning of the day, but is in reality the afternoon ... or maybe it isn't. Whatever it is, it had me captivated from start to finish.
"Walking Out the Door" has a more ponderous blues feeling, a little bit in the Jon Spencer frame, mixed with a small dose of Fugazi, but with an energetic rush that transcends both of those artists. "Lost Control" starts with a riff that reminded me a bit of Jane's Addiction's "Stop", but evolves into something that made me think of surfing on a sea of asphalt. "Party, Party, Party" is everything the title promises, a head thrashing manic journey into the rock'n'roll abyss.
The CD plays for just over 27 minutes, but in that time the band churns out 11 full throttle tunes with barely a moment's respite. At the sound of the final chord and spanking snare hit in "Pipebreaker", I felt like I'd just been on a hyperpaced carnival ride, then straight into a heavyweight bout in Las Vegas. But contrary to that image, this CD gave me nothing but happiness – albeit a very tough form of happiness. - Patrick Emery
STRAIGHT 'TIL MORNING - Midnight Evils (Estrus)
About three years ago, eggheaded researchers in Massachusetts determined that severe-weather months present an increased risk for the development of schizophrenia and while you're free to draw your own conclusions, the Midnight Evils hail from Minnesota, where it gets pretty damn cold, and play with a twitching, cracked fury that at times leaves you wondering who signed the release form to free them from their straightjackets and padded cells long enough for a field trip to the studio.
The bluesy guitar noodling which kicks off "Straight 'Til Morning's" opening track "Bad Machine" is a smokescreen because as soon as you turn your head, someone in the background shouts "play some Skynyrd," and the next thing you know picks are running up guitar strings, drums are getting the shit knocked out of them, and singer Jonny Evans (now apparently amicably split from the band) is foaming at the mouth about his baby who inspired the song. Forget what I said earlier about drawing your own conclusions - the Midnight Evils are flat-out nuts (either that or over-caffeinated), straining at the leash and at the stool after being cooped up for eight or nine months of the year, and blowing their collective wad on this revved-up epic wonder.
"Straight 'Til Morning" is packed to bursting with buzzing and humming wattage and a storm of white-lit feedback and you'll grow roots sitting around waiting for these guys to come up for air. Oh, to be this young and full of piss and vinegar again...
Never pretending to be anything else, songs like "Dirt Demon," "Ain't Got Time For Love," and "5th Avenue Blues" are more vehicles for the Midnight Evils to howl at the moon than actual songs. Producer Tim Kerr has rightfully seen fit to bring the guitars of Stevie (Cooper) and Vandy (Brian Vanderwerf) way up in the mix, finding a happy median somewhere in that black hole between the power-packed boneshake of Angus and Malcolm Young and the festering sonic squalor of Ron Asheton, and the rhythm section of drummer Jesse Tomlinson and bassist Curan Folsom miraculously manage to keep pace while at the same time prevent this bullet train from derailing.
The bottom line is there's nothing fancy about the Midnight Evils' plan to grab the rawk by the throat and remove it from life support - if you're reading this chances are you'll agree the simple combination of drums, bass, guitars, and amps turned up to "11" never go out of style - and these wide-eyed harpies from the Land of 10,000 Lakes ram their vision home with all the subtlety of a bump of cocaine, banging, clanging, and screeching their way into your heart. Leave your snow shoes and parka at the door.
- Clark Paull
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