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xmag.com : September 2001: Who will save rock & roll?


Shadows on the Sun

(Sub Pop)


Who Will Save Rock 'n' Roll?" ask the Dictators, who've been trying hard for twenty five years. Well, ladies and gentlemen, here's the answer: ZEN GUERRILLA, the best rock 'n' roll band IN THE WORLD. This rock, experienced live, throbs with so much soul, sweat and spunk that ya can't help but remember your groin and what it's there for. It crackles and sparks with such fierce intensity you can't help but catch the electricity. It's so primal and perfect it teaches your ears to hear, so wet hot vibrant ya oughtta bring a spare pair o' panties.

Now, it must be said that Zen Guerrilla has always had a hard time pouring the ecstatic evangelical experience of their live show into vinyl's shallow grooves, and Shadows on the Sun is no different. It is their strongest outing to date and a good catechism to prepare the listener for his/her baptism, but it's no substitute for the real deal.

Shadows is loud and heavy, sometimes so heavy it verges on the ponderous, but after years of precious pop, who's complaining? Opening track "Barbed Wire" blows the roof off with ZG's quintessential brand of overwrought otherworldly Baptist spiritual, rendered rawk by Richard Millman's dissonant chords and obsessive/compulsive guitar runs, and Marcus Durant's distorted shiver-inducing vocals. Shadows has more than a few of these nouveau spirituals, jousting for time with all-out 70's rock anthems like the standout "Captain Infinity" and the psychedelic rocker "Graffiti Hustle," on which Marcus plays tour guide and shows us around Philadelphia in all its sonic splendor. The record changes pace with the trippy trance/dance "Subway Transmissions," hearkening back to Zen Guerrilla's East Coast infancy some
ten years ago, and "Evening Sun," a slow dance number that's probably already a staple on classic rock stations.

Thankfully, the boys wised up and threw on a live track: "Fingers," the definitive cut from the best rock 'n' roll band IN THE WORLD and the number one blues song of the new century. It's an example of the ZG formula working to full effect: Andy Duvall and Carl Horne lay down rock-solid rhythm over which Millman's hollow-bodied empty-heart guitar wails, screams, stutters and sighs. The guy obviously plays heavy metal in his dreams, but awake, channels Bo Diddley and the same ol' Chuck Berry stuff everybody uses. But he's possessed by something more--some autistic devil or angel that given a chance, will possess you, too.

Then there's Marcus. Six foot seven inches of Howlin' Wolf shakin' his hands at the heavens, at you, and is my bet for the second coming. An MC5 messiah, filled with all the soul the state of Delaware or even Pennsylvania could muster. Groupie chic I know, who's the keyboardist for the New Hot Indie Things, marveled at a one-night stand with Marcus, sayin', "Did ya know his father is black?" Well, my point exactly. This guy's got black-as-night blues in his bowels and is given to bellowing about it all night long. This rock quivers, cooks and shakes. And what it does to the female of the species is damn near indescribable.

Rock is born again. Hallelujah!


"[Scared of Chaka's music is] sequenced with a connoisseur's taste for coherence that, like super sex, leaves you sooo satisfied,
but a few hours later ya just gotta do it again."


Crossing with Switchblades



Another platter fresh outta Seattle and sporting a similar vaguely simian theme (Chaka-Guerrilla-gorilla, got it?) has my netherlands all swelled-up baboon-style and the distant control center wondering what is up with that town?! It's been comfortably yupp-and-coming, frothing with money and latté foam, for much of the last decade. Then all of a sudden they have riots and earthquakes and bands like Scared of Chaka.

The monkeys from Chaka have got an equally kinetic, not-to-be-missed live show; but where Zen Guerrilla excels in the testimonial and the transcendent, these boys got songwriting fortitude unseen in the underground for fifteen years. Lead guy Yanul Hernandez knows his pop rocks and is a guitar virtuoso to boot: I once heard him embellish Mickey and Sylvia's 1957 classic "Love is Strange" à la Johnny Thunders! Now Hopeless has released what is threatened to be the last Scared of Chaka bit o' wild heaven, and it is PERFECT. Crossing with Switchblades is the record of the year.

The band's long-standing identity crisis between rollicking balls-out punk rock and sugary pop paeans to Blondie, Devo and the MC5 results in an incredibly listenable mix: half zippy punk fun with pop rave-ups and half juicy pop with a punk snarl. And whereas most bands deliver a strong single or two couched in so much filler, Scared of Chaka gives us a true album. From "Atomic" start to "I Don't Wanna" finish, Crossing with Switchblades screams and throbs with such addictive pleasures that ya can't take yer headphones off. It's sequenced with a connoisseur's taste for coherence that, like super sex, leaves you sooo satisfied, but a few hours later ya just gotta do it again.

Switchblades is also one of the best break-up records since X was imploding. The mood vacillates between frenetic screamers like "Girls Like You," "You're Fired" and "Shake It," a James Brown karaoke bit by a psychopath (that'd be drummer Ron Skrasek), and expertly crafted sad love songs like "Why Are You Weird?," "My New One" and "Who's to Know." And these Chaka love songs are the kind that get girls starin' bleary-eyed at the wall, wondering, wishing, "Is this song about me?" And the indecipherable lyrics will never tell.





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