By Brian Tucker
It has been said AC/DC has made the same album fifteen times. Dave Grohl said it best in an interview with Sam Jones, that when he plays a Motorhead album he knows what he’s going to get and that’s fine.
Most people are that way with bands they like – they know they can be depended on. That said, variety doesn’t hurt either, or growing along the way. With White Tiger and the Bed of Roses I always knew what I was going to get, just with different colors and shapes (and elegantly strange song titles like “Horse in Dismay” and “El Salvador Sex Riot”).
The band is like the wild relative that comes to town to visit the family. You know it’s going to be fun, you look forward to it, but you’re not sure what might go down. Each time White Tiger show has been a little different, with any number of players in the band. The same could be said of their studio output.
Since their inception around 2007 the band has shared the same heart and combustibility, yet the material has occasionally played around the edges of its core of blistering punk and brazen hard rock personalities. And while two previous albums have standout tracks the albums themselves remain fierce, high wire acts of raw, primal punk rock.
Their latest Pharaohs en Sombreros is a surprise, and ultimately their best and most cohesive album to date. The surprise is not that it’s another solid album (with eight songs and two instrumentals bookending the whole) but because it takes chances with material. They don’t mind wearing a heart on the sleeve, notably on “Old” whose title says it all.
“Old” opens with this subtle, pleasant guitar playing recalling 90s grunge, but then becomes this possible anthem that takes an honest look into the mirror. Matt Hearn sings with intensity – “All my friends are getting old, and so am I/All my friends are getting bald, and so am I.” Yet, this is music that sounds anything but “getting old.”
Instead it’s a caustic, napalm burn of a song that just soars and soars. Guitars rip back and forth and the bass playing thumps like mad. It’s an incredible track reaching for something higher in the face of its substance. It encapsulates the out-of-control sonic quality of the band and an album whose songs injects nervous images like wheels too close to the edge of a mountain road. As much fun as it is, it retains a dangerous quality.
Pharaohs en Sombreros finds White Tiger exploring by injecting fist-fight numbers like hypnotic sounding “East L.A.” with horns. Its a number that boasts a manic descending music pattern where those horns infiltrate the whole to great effect. “Look Over Yonder,” the album’s wildest tune, speeds out, unleashed as though locked up too long. I swear I could hear sirens buried in the mix.
The album’s great surprise is it’s embracing of a rough and tumble mix of Americana and cowboy punk on “High Enough Alone.” It’s a memorable, smile inducing song that recalls a band like Dinosaur Jr. (and as of late the band Sweet Apple). It has this guitar line that runs throughout, moving in and out like someone sneaking in the background of a photograph. It’s a standout track, one with a wholly different coat of paint, especially from a band known for crafting wild hard rock songs.
Hard rock singers tend to get overlooked for their vocal quality. Equally so, many in the area don’t get the notice they deserve because of the genre they play in. Hearn is one of them albeit being a stellar rock vocalist. He can deliver on songs that are unruly and do so equally on those that are low key. On the two-minute wild ride of “Tropical Ice Man” Hearn channels the sneer of punk and the sleaziness of L.A. rock and roll. On “Blackout Blvd.” he’s deliberate and stonewalled. It’s a song that feels a little 1980s, just faster with more scars in display.
The band is making exciting, high flying music and has released one of the best albums I’ve heard this year (and keep playing repeatedly). With Pharaohs en Sombreros they’re looking back home a lot and it’s working well. Catch a show when they play and bring earplugs (just in case).