The Warlocks – Rise and Fall, E.P. and Rarities (Zap Banana Records)


Rise & Fall Ep & Rarities

The first Warlocks album and E.P. probably weren’t high on anyone’s list of albums that needed to be remastered and reissued, yet here they are, in a two-disc set, rounded out with a few previously unreleased songs. In the band’s early days singer Bobby Hecksher and his rotating cast of supporting musicians  were a stranger proposition than today, with up to nine members (including two drummers) still somehow sounding like a four or five-member group to all but the most stoned of listeners. The band were also prone to lengthy jams (five songs in this collection have the word “jam” in their title) heavily indebted to Spacemen 3, Hawkwind, Neu! and The Velvet Underground. They’re also kind of boring. Things improve when they cut the bullshit and get down to actual songs, many of which are excellent; like the dreamy Pink Floyd-esque numbers “House Of Glass” and “Motorcycles”, or the Brian Jonestown Massacre inspired “Cocaine Blues” (Hecksher was a member of the BJM at the time, and Anton Newcombe plays drums on some of these songs). It’s a mixed bag, and anyone new to the band is better off checking out The Phoenix Album or Heavy Deavy Skull Lover first. However, there are enough strong moments for psych-rock heads to enjoy.

Tracklisting:

1. Jam of the Witches

2. House of Glass

3. Skull Death Drum Jam

4. Whips of Mercy

5. Song for Nico

6. Left and Right of the Moon

7. Motorcycles

8. Frequency Meltdown

9. Heavy Bomber Laser Beam

10. Cocaine Blues

11. Song for Nico

12. Jam of the Zombies

13. Caveman Rock

14. Angry Demons

15. Jam of the Warlocks

16. Turn the Radio On

17. Turn the Sun Down

18. Total Headache

19. Dilaudid

20. Inside/Outside (demo)

21. Shake the Dope Out (demo)

22. Dope Feels Good (demo)

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The Warlocks – The Mirror Explodes (Tee Pee Records)


The Warlocks should be better than they are. They’ve got the right pedigree (leader/singer Bobby Hecksher has played with The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Beck), good influences (The Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3…etc.) and an interesting set-up (as many as nine members, usually including multiple drummers) – yet outside of a few songs their albums have never lived up to their potential, and their concerts have been exercises in boredom. The exception was 2007’s Heavy Deavy Skull Lover, which featured a scaled-back line-up and songs that had an interesting, almost post-rock, level of composition and sonic brain-scrambling. I hoped The Mirror Explodes would build on what the foundation this leaner and meaner line-up built, but it’s actually their least interesting album to date. The problem is pacing. Too many songs operate within the same droney mid-tempo, without any groove or forward movement. This is OK for a track or two, but gets tired after a while. I like “Kid’s Garden” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre as much as anyone, but I don’t necessarily need and album of eight variations on it (and with less interesting vocals). Also, whereas other Warlocks albums had elements of light and melody (even a distant sense of humor), The Mirror Explodes plods aimlessly without anything to latch on to.

The Warlocks – Heavy Deavy Skull Lover (Tee Pee Records)


It took eight years, but The Warlocks have finally found their sound on Heavy Deavy Skull Lover. The group, now stripped down to four members, now have a leaner sound that emphasizes abstract structures (with eight songs stretching out over fifty minutes) and esoteric lyrics. Opener “The Valley Of Death” is one of the strongest of the bunch, with Bobby Hecksher’s voice conveying more emotion and desperation than ever before, while the band provides effective guitar fuzz and descending 12-string melodies. From there on in the music is looser, often veering into kraut/post-rock territory. This is especially true on “So Paranoid” and the dreamy eleven-minute epic “Moving Mountains” which drift into the type of narcotic bliss that traces its heritage back to Spacemen 3 and The Velvet Underground. Even when the group returns to their old sound on the caveman rock of “Zombie Like Lovers” (which bears more than a passing resemblance to their own “Come Save Us” from 2005’s Surgery), they pull it off more effectively than ever before. One of the top ten albums of 2007 so far – Highly recommended.

The Warlocks – Surgery (Mute Records)


The Warlocks have always disappointed me, but Surgery, their third album, takes a small step forward. This could be due in part to the return of original bassist Jenny Fraser and the introduction of wonderfully-named drummer Bob Mustachio (one of two drummers in the group). Or maybe hot-shot producer, Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith, Coldplay) breathed some new life into the band – bringing a bit of the Phil Spector Wall Of Sound  into their Wall of Drone.

When tastefully incorporated, the Spector influences work well, like “It’s Just Like Surgery” or druggy VU-inspired ballads “We Need Starpower” and “Thursday’s Radiation”. On “Gypsy Nightmare”, “Evil Eyes Again” and “Angels In Heaven, Angels in Hell” they chase that Phil Spector/girl group sound, but Hecksher’s whiney voice is out of place in such lush surroundings. “Angels in Heaven, Angels In Hell” is a particularly grating attempt at what Hecksher calls “sonic space age doo-wop”. “The Tangent” is another ballad about sickness (a theme which runs throughout the album, and would explain the medical title), which goes off on a – you guessed it – tangent that’s probably not intended for sober listeners. The album ends with the Stones-y “Bleed Without You Babe” and “Suicide Note”, which would sound a lot like Suicide, if they were a full band. Hecksher even “sings” a bit on this one!

While the band’s shortcomings make Surgery hard to completely embrace, it has a few winning moments which may point towards better things to come.