Phoenix Album (Birdman)
by Brian Varney
When you consider that both The Velvet Underground and The Grateful Dead, before settling on the names under which they made their fame and fortune, were at one time called “The Warlocks,” the music of this modern-day group of sunglasses-after-dark California miscreants suddenly makes a whole lot more sense.
Of course, that’s not to say their music didn’t make sense before. I’ve loved this band from the very first moment I opened my mail one day last year to reveal a copy of Rise and Fall, the band’s previous full-length. It’s just that the band’s combination of sparkling pop songs and screaming lysergic improvisation makes sense when you consider them alongside the aforementioned Dead (hippie jammers who stumbled onto a brief flash of pop sparkle every now and then) and Velvets (who, despite their “NY intellectual/artiste slumming as gutter trash” exterior, were really more or less a hippie jam band, albeit a deliberately atonal one). The screaming, mind-expanding psychedelic nightmarescapes of “Hurricane Heart Attack” and “Cosmic Letdown” seem the obvious output of a band whose personnel listing include five guitarists (including a guest appearance by Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, another obviously big influence) and four drummers. However, before you damn ’em to hippie jam-band hell, you’ve gotta get a load of the heart-stopping pop brilliance of “Baby Blue,” a bit of sighing beauty the likes of which you’re not likely to hear coming from this or any year’s crop of Dead clones and which, in an alternate world where music’s popularity is actually based on its artistic merit, would be easing its way out of speakers and breaking hearts all over the country.
Of course, before I scare too many people away, I should point out that The Warlocks do not actually sound much like either The Grateful Dead or The Velvet Underground. There are similarities, but make no mistake, The Warlocks are their own unique beast, a potent sonic trainwreck that’ll blow your mind like rock critics mistakenly led you to believe those other two bands would. This full-length and its four-track companion piece EP (also entitled Phoenix and, at sixty-five minutes, actually longer than the full-length) are wonderful pieces of psychedelic perfection, loud and brutal and drug-crazed and expansive without resorting to the mind-dulling whiskey-dick “excursions” of the Dead or the cold, distancing intellectual veneer of the Velvets. The Warlocks are alive and on fire.
(1118 W. Magnolia Blvd. PO Box 208 Burbank, CA 91506)