California X

Listen to just one track from California X’s self-titled debut album, and you’ll probably be able to correctly identify several of their main influences. The fact that they are a power trio from Amherst, Massachusetts is almost ridiculous. Their music definitely has shades of Dinosaur Jr., the town’s first fuzzy-guitar-lead rock band, but they seem to have a taste in rock music that isn’t overly snobby or esoteric. They clearly love underground alternative rock but their sound has a wider ambition than many of the bands profiled in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. It sounds like a dirty and more aggressive form of radio rock, a gigantic noise that can shake and destroy both garages and midsize festival stages.

Guitarist and vocalist Lemmy Gurtowsky has a name that carries a lot of weight in Rock and Roll, it’s either a bold choice of nickname or he has awesome/questionable parents. He leads his band with brash riffs, making sure every song hits you like a gut punch. The whole album thrashes and stomps, and Gurtowsky’s sludgey riffs form a smog that never lets you get your breath back. The distant, drowning guitar opening of “Sucker” kickstarts with bass drum sonic booms, and is scarred with buzzing guitar hooks. The thick riffs on “Pond Rot” rattle along with the snare, and splinter with melody during the verses. The defeatist refrain “I want a pond to rot in” is secondary to Gurtowsky’s fretwork. His vocals are distant echoes; they never transform him into a frontman as they remain part of the band, just another brick in their wall of sound.

The rapidfire crunching riff of “Curse of the Nightmare”, rumbles along with subliminal bass. It’s the album’s shortest song, and the band annihilate their instruments as they tear through it. “Spider X” explodes with excellent drum fills, and ends with a wounded outro solo that fades into light piano keys for a brief, possibly mocking, moment of tranquility. The poppy “Lemmy’s World” has melodic echoes of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”, but it still shows their wealth of influences with a mammoth guitar bite on the chorus and a roaring solo from Gurtowsky. Crushing riffs and wailing leads fight for volume on the scrappy closer “Mummy”, and the thudding “Spirit World” breaks into a rousing gallop, before declaring victory with shredding guitar harmonies.

California X probably sound like their influences did when they were starting out, when they were having fun and writing simple songs, or when volume and distortion was a veil for J Mascis instead of his art form. All of their songs are based around a stonerish crunch, and there are few giant hooks, but their music is pure and full of life. Kids are always going to need music that they can slam beers to. They’re not looking to revolutionise music, they just want to plug in and play. They show a ton of potential of this tight eight song album, but they’d probably be happy to just be a rock and roll footnote.