Man, Throttlerod or Cable this year? I don’t think I’ve listened to any two records quite as much as I’ve jammed The Failed Convict or Pig Charmer. Both of these records are sticking in my head big time, and both of them were just in the rotation the other day. Sigh, it will be tough to make a year end list. Although, because I have a hard time writing down on a piece of paper (ok, writing on an internet page) which were my concrete favorites for the year, I guess I will remain “off the hook” for making the decision!
Whatever the case maybe be, let’s get back on point for this review. Matt Whitehead and the Throttlerod crew (now a literal revolving door of band members, with the bass slot being filled by longtime producer and mentor Andrew Schneider...although Schneider being from New York must make practice and touring a hellish experience), have been on my radar since I grabbed up Eastbound and Down out of the Gametwo distribution back in late high school, if I’m remembering the time period correctly. It’s been a few years and a few beers since then, so my memory can’t always be counted on for exact dates! Anyways, from that solid debut, I’ve seen them bring the classic rock n’ roll thunder with their landmark Hell and High Water, the acoustic tinged sweetness of Starve the Dead, culminating with the full circle transformation to noise-rock’s deadliest, loaded weapon on Nail.
There hasn’t been a misstep along the way, and with Pig Charmer, I’m proud to say Thorttlerod has not only tied the top spot for my favorite album of the year, but also produced their strongest slab to date. I’m all about the Am-Rep, but out of the entirety of bands I’ve reviewed pushing that sound, this is THE band and THE record that the label would sign if Hazelmeyer and co. were still putting out new releases. Whitehead’s thunderous guitar tones are on total display here, nailing some great rock n’ roll riff magic, cold, calculated dissonance and a heightened sense of melodic awareness. Nail was a truly superb piece of work, but it has got nothing on the heightened dynamics and sense of awareness coursing through Pig Charmer’s labyrinth of veins. Schneider proves as the band’s longtime producer, he knows their sound inside and out, ripping out some of the fattest, richest bass grooves in all the land. His instrument literally sounds gargantuan, and even when Whitehead’s guitar gets downright beautiful on moments of “Hum” and “Jigsaw”, Schneider has his back with a layer of Mississippi mud so formidable, that I can’t even believe my ears, adding an attack element to even the band’s gentlest moments. Kevin White is also in top-notch form here, with a truly aggressive and nuanced kit attack, adding color when the mood expands and straight-up kicking ass when the volumes sound as if they will melt your speakers straight into butter.
Buzzing with amp crackles, and relentless feedback, “Clean” introduces us to the latest transformation in the Throttlerod life cycle. Verses are punctuated with the kind of noisy, wraparound riffs that Sardy and Barkmarket perfected years ago, with even the kind of uplifting chorus that was a common denominator on that band’s Gimmick masterpiece. Still, there is a unique, southern flavor present here and Whitehead’s voice, while paying homage to Sardy in some respects, is still Whitehead’s voice, and his gruffer, thicker cadence will fit like a hand in a glove for those who thought Sardy’s proto-howl was a bit too much for their tastes. Yes, I know I’m mentioning a lot of Barkmarket here, but in my book that’s a good thing, and no matter what I’m saying…don’t take it as this is a copycat record. It isn’t, the influence is present and Throttlerod builds an individual house out of it!
“Hum” is more aggressive than its predecessor, and takes a little bit of Throttlerod past n’ present to weld all of its elements together. It has some killer, pissed off shouting vocals and a helluva a lot of noisy guitar interjections, but beneath the hood is an impenetrable foundation of rock solid staccato grooves, slick as snot rhythms and chorus that is frighteningly catchy…and not just straightforward catchy because it is catchy, but because the hooky vocal lines are delivered amongst a swirling wall of bluesy, noise-rock destruction. If the world had any sort of brain in its head, this would be all over the rock radio stations right now, but the problem still lies that this music is just too unpredictable, unconventional and unsafe for the mass public, even when you’ve got an astonishing set of hooks present such as “Hum” does.
That same aesthetic burns through every fiber of “Serenade”, although it is the verses that ring with melody in the vocal lines while the rhythms breathe instead of gasp, with the guitar following suite. It is in the chorus where the distortion rises to a caterwaul, eventually leading the band to bleed out their approach into a series of lingering, melodic guitar chords and thudding bass presence, all the while White rides out the stringed instruments with an invigorating, emotional performance full of quick little fills and colorful beat keeping. There’s a point where the distortion rings back in, and everything turns into this uplifting, blue clouded sky, as the singing embraces sheer beauty, before the ass-whipping riff assault of the track’s climax sends us off right proper. Fuck, three songs into this record on my first listen, I honestly didn’t know how it could keep up such a high bar all throughout, but now that I’m about thirty good spins down the road, I have only been reaffirmed that Throttlerod is one of the best band’s to play noise-rock or just plain rock n’ roll for that matter in all of history for my dollar.
Stopping n’ starting on a dime, “Beggar’s Blanket” is the equivalent of Unsane covering Throttlerod’s epic southern jam, “Honest Joe” off of Hell and High Water. Each verse ratchets up the tension, with clean, beautiful crooning lightly pulsating over a bed of slightly twisted, southern style noise-rock riffing. Each verse’s calm is shattered by the undeniable smash of broken bottles and broken riffs, bridging in the empty space, until the uplifting vocal laments and skyward, Barkmarket by way of Cavity with a stop in Sabbath land riffing of the chorus fills your soul with unconfirmed hope. Easily this chorus is one of the strongest in the entire Throttlerod canon, standing toe to toe with the barnburners found on Hell and High Water! I can’t shake the power of this song, if I tried…it was one of those song’s that was so in line with what my ears have been in the mood for, I swear that the gang wrote it just for me (damn, I feel that about he ENTIRE album). Thanks guys, haha!
Southern swagger and punk attitude permeate the Tad-like discordance of “Baton Rouge”, a mess of loose and jangly rhythms cutting through the haze of green smoke lingering in the band’s practice space. Anyone that thinks the band’s straight up southern rock days are dead and gone, better listen to some of these tracks more than a few times, as the chorus of “Baton Rouge” has a triumphant, 70’s boogie blaring loud and clear, although the dirty muck and nasty playfulness of team Schneider/White always makes the Am-Rep roster, waltz plainly into view!
Things get even more offbeat on “Jigsaw”, with an extended opening of pretty guitar chords, dreamy rhythms and Whitehead sounding absolutely delicate in his singing. Heaviness is not far behind, as the riffs kick up in volume considerably as the track goes along, especially during a brief instrumental bit, but here we find Throttlerod confronting full-on their indie side, by touching on Quicksand, Hum or even Fugazi, then taking a Hammerhead sized hammer and smashing those bands to little tiny bits.
For anyone complaining that this album doesn’t have a track the equivalent as the catchiest material on Hell and High Water (such as “Marigold”, “In the Flood”, “Snake into Angel”, etc.), I propose you take an ear at “Buffalo”. The verse riffing, and rhythmic churn is of the classy, rock n’ roll demeanor of the Hell and High Water material, but more damaged and abrasive, with the chorus riding a dazzling southern riff straight into the ground. Easily Whitehead’s catchiest and most traditional rock n’ roll chorus since the material on the several times mentioned classic album, but everything is done up meaner and with a snarling grin…just the way I like it. A brief, staccato groove echoes of a Page Hamilton fronted Unsane or even Today is the Day, and then they bite down on that killer chorus once again. Man, every single chorus on this album is something special, because it’s all about how the songs snake around and wind their way to a catchy chorus through all of the noise and skin peeling acidity. “Rider” also mimics the thought of a classic Throttlerod, wading their way through the corpses of Am-Rep’s fallen heroes. This time they change things up like they tend to do, with a busy d & b shuffle creating movement underneath the harmonic riffs; it’s like Quicksand grew up listening to 70’s rock. The chorus pulls the reverse and brings down an anvil of furious riffs and yelling vocals, and later in the track Schneider works some absolute magic with his low-end, nailing a fluid groove around the 1:40 mark, that’s nimble and quick on the fret board and anyone who loves the low-end thickness of a band like this, will stand up and take immediate notice. Then what about the obtuse southern, jazz that closes the track after a brief moment of silence? Total madness is what I say, but it works swimmingly within the unpredictable structure of the songwriting.
The same unholy matrimony between ugly noise, sludge and flattening rock n’ roll pops up on the grandiose grooves of “The Sweetness”, “Where’s Josh”, “Dink” and “Majors”, all which are a bit similar to one another, but totally different in the way that the guitar lines blend into the rhythms, and the way choruses unfold and are delivered in general. “Dink” being my favorite of the final four with its ADD infected verses, that features manically spoken vocals and the finest in Chris Spencer crafted noise-rock, riff fuckery. When the towering riff of the chorus kicks in, you can almost feel the blood n’ teeth as they slide down the back of your throat, and any song with lyrics that read, “Hey there, can you show me, how to give in and say the right things,” well I’m going to be eating that up. It’s the perfect chorus for the arrangement the band nail all throughout “Dink”. Although don’t think because, I singled out “Dink” that any of the final four tracks aren’t up to snuff. Hell, the stoner/noise/grunge riffs that rumble throughout “Where’s Josh” are the perfect shake-up for the cleanly, crooned chorus and “The Sweetness” and “Majors” hit some of the biggest blues/noise riffs on the entire album, and help to show that while Throttlerod may evolve, they’ll never lose their southern swagger!
Man, for those of you who haven’t fallen asleep yet during the course of this review…just know that this record is a monster. Seriously, if Am-Rep still existed they’d put out this record ten times over. I’m sure Man’s Ruin would chomp at the bit to get in on the action too, not taking anything away from Smallstone though, as they have been the perfect home for this class act. All I know is that Pig Charmer is my favorite Throttlerod record to date. It edges out everything that has come before, both expanding and reinventing their sound to date. So, this or Cable…I’m not man enough to make that decision, but I listen to both albums almost everyday, as they are the very best noise-rock/rock/grunge/doom whatever releases this year will see. Congrats guys, this is another cherry atop a hugely productive career…can’t wait to see how you’re going to top this one!!!
- Jay Snyder
released 26 August 2009
Matt Whitehead: Vocals and Guitars
Kevin White: Drums
Andrew Schneider: Bass, Additional Vocals, & Extras
Produced by Andrew Schneider and Matt Whitehead.
Recorded and mixed by Andrew Schneider at Translator Audio in Brooklyn, NY.
Additional engineering by Andrw Gerhan and Matt Whitehead in Brooklyn and
Mastered by Nick Zampiello at New Alliance East in Cambridge, MA.
Artwork by Christopher Ashley.
Pig Charmer was written and recorded from the spring of 2007 to the spring
of 2009 at various times and places on and off I-95 between Brooklyn, NY and
Peddling the finest in rock n' roll, psychedelic, stoner, doom, blues, hard rock, fuzz, metal, sludge, vintage 70's style rawk, etc, since 1995!!! True, honest music, made by real, honest people. Available on CD, vinyl, and digital.