Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2012 singer/guitarist Miles Michaud, guitarist Pedrum Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham, and drummer Matt Correia, known collectively as Allah-Las, have been on a one-band mission to take us back to a time when flowers had the power, love was free, and minds were bending and floating with the help of certain substances.
The four of them caused a major buzz with their first release – their sun-soaked carefree ‘60s garage rock sound shone through the smoggy times we’re in – appearing on plenty of those hot-upcoming-ones-to-watch lists, and with their follow-up in 2014, the more textured, psychedelic-tinged Worship The Sun, they showed that they were more than deserving of that buzz.
But inevitably, as much as they have been lauded for their style, there have been jabs thrown at them for merely imitating a movement that had come decades before them rather than reinventing it. That they’re nothing more than revivalists. “It’s ignorant”, said Miles Michaud recently in an interview with The Guardian when asked for his thoughts on that perception of the band.
And quite rightly so. Let’s not forget where the roots of garage rock are said to have originated: California. And let’s take a second and remember where Allah-Las call home. Bingo. California. And the carefree, laid-back, catching-waves-catching-rays Cali life is as ingrained in their DNA (early on drummer Correia got booted from the band because he chose going to the beach over rehearsal) as it was for bands of the ‘60s that shaped garage rock while in its infancy. So as far as Allah-Las are concerned, they’re making music that comes naturally to them, and they’re sounding as comfortable as ever doing it.
The group pitched up at the hallowed grounds of the Valentine Recording Studio, newly opened, since closing its doors in 1979, where The Beach Boys put together their seminal album Pet Sounds. They used vintage recording equipment to ironically bring their sound on Calico Review into the here and now.
Having taken the production of the album into their own hands – their first two were produced by R&B-throwback maestro Nick Waterhouse – the material has got a bit more meat on its bones this time around, with acoustic guitars, strings, and organs filling things out. It’s less cavernous-sounding and more present, and the band show more shades of their sand-and-surf souls than they have on their previous two outings.
The pacy “Could Be You” is driven by a motor that Allah-Las haven’t sat behind up until now, trading in their boards and waves for a cruise in a top-down coupe along the Pacific coast highway. The lull that “Mausoleum” induces, with its languid guitar strums and wobbly tremolo solo is immediately counter-acted by the rambling bounce of “Roadside Memorial”, which culminates in a dirty jam-out for its last 30 seconds.
The ode to a mystery woman in “Famous Phone Figure” is built around the retro string and keyboard sounds of a Mellotron, hearkening back to a classier time of pop song. On the back end of the album, “200 South La Brea” picks you up on its sun-drenched current as it pays homage to Allah-Las native stomping ground, before the psychedelic swirls of the scuzzy and droned “Warm Kippers” and the dessert fuzz of “Terra Ignota” trip you out. The scenery of the album is as varied and absorbing as a road trip down the west coast of America is.
These aren’t the sounds of a band of imitators or revivalists. These are the sounds of a band that acknowledge the past but have a firm mind to strike out on their own. It just so happens that they would’ve fit right into a bygone-era of excellent music that jangled, twanged, breezed, and psych’d-out just as they do. With album number three Allah-Las have breathed a modern new life into an age-old template – one that’s served them very well up until now – and are planting their vintage feet assuredly in current times.
Out now on Kemado Records, purchase Allah-Las Calico Review on iTunes here.
Words by Oli Kuscher