Label: Alive Records
We’re at a point in the history of rock ‘n’ roll where the idea of new garage music seems to genuinely mystify a great number of people. Explaining how a garage record can change the way rock music is made is like trying to relate to someone how the latest Dixieland album is going to take jazz in a new direction. Other than co-opting the visual trappings of garage culture, prevailing winds try to explain to us that the best we can hope for is a well-executed effort and that three guitars and an amp won’t make a difference when it’s time to talk about serious music. But the experimental nature of garage still draws breath. The idea of taking conflicting cultural ideas and molding them together under the banner of the almighty electric guitars is still powerful. Times may change and the styles of music being mashed together are wildly different than in 1967, but the blueprint still works.
Radio Moscow has made the Dixieland record in this equation. Their sophomore album Brain Cycles is obsessed with getting the garage archetype just right but mucks up the room it allows for personality. As a band their sins are few when it comes to execution and maybe that’s where the problem is. They try so hard for the right sound that they don’t sound like they’re having much fun. Parker Griggs shoulders a lot of the workload, playing the sole guitar, vocals and drums, and he works very hard to make the album hit the blues rock button clean and hard. His songs come from the Blue Cheer mindset of shanking the acid elements of guitar solos and playing a few chords clearly while not skimping on any reverb or volume. He finds a space somewhere between the doomsday dread of stoner metal and the colorful twist of garage and sets up shop. Other than some goofy wakka-chikka guitar lines on “Hold On Me,” it’s perfectly acceptable playing even though Griggs isn’t very fanciful with his solos. Long stretches of four bar blues are repeated over and over again with few rests or detours. While he pulls off everything he sets his mind to, there’s always the inkling that he should be shaken from his comfort zone, even if that means putting less sweat into each effort.
Three of the album’s 11 songs are instrumental and, aside from the two-minute acoustic jam “Black Boot,” there isn’t much in the way of a bigger idea of where these songs are going or why. “No Good Woman” lasts over eight minutes and even with all of that time, the song doesn’t say anything more or less than any of the other tracks, even with the static-laden freakout at the end. Why give yourself that big a space for a simple blues song?
The guitar parts are the only element of the record that come through with fire. Griggs’ drumming is slow and underwhelming, while his vocals are casually pasted onto forgettable lyrics. Bassist Zach Anderson is practically invisible, while the organ only seems to lightly season the songs. Without an equal partner Brain Cycles is a record of one guy wailing for over 40 minutes; something that’s a lot more fun to see live or while you’re driving 70-plus miles an hour. Take it out of those settings and it’s pretty boring.
Griggs was able to get his foot through the door by slipping his demo tape to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who helped him get signed to Alive Records. Afterwards Auerbach was kind enough to producer Radio Moscow’s debut album and help steer the band towards booking national gigs. For a guy leading a garage band from Story City, Iowa, that’s as hopeful a story as can be expected. But Griggs will have to let other ideas flourish in his unit before that goodwill runs out.
by Neal Fersko