I used to really love noise-rock and all that aggressive, abrasive stuff. I still do, but I think I’ve cooled off to it, just out of the sheer number of faceless, crash-and-bash ‘lo-fi garage’ bands that seem to love distortion and noise mostly because it’s a good way to hide a lack of ideas. I mention this because it’s bands like Montreal’s Hellshovel that prove that music need not pummel you into submission to engage you as a listener. Hellshovel’s brand of easy-going psychedelia is an ideal soundtrack for a sunny day, with or without the aid of certain controlled substances.
What immediately jumps out on the opener, “Ivan’s Hammer” is the vocals – obscure, but thankfully not by a fuzzbox. Instead, they opt for a phaser, giving the vox a blurry, underwater quality. The music rolls along pleasantly to compensate – it’s NUGGETS, but lost down an psychedelic rabbit hole. In a way, it also reminds me of a tamer BLACK LIPS (I said ‘lo-fi garage,’ it was only a matter of time before they got dragged in). Each one of these tracks sounds like some deeper-than-deep cut, dug out of an old acid casualty’s basement, by some hopelessly obscure band – it’s pretty fucking cool. Hellshovel manage to replicate the 60’s in a way that feels neither ironic nor hipper-than-thou, nor self-conscious hero worship. It’s organic and natural, which lifts this record above scores of slavish flower-power imitators.
“Summer’s Over” strikes me as the kind of song that actually earns its title – the chorus, phased, and otherwise fucked-with guitars actually seem to bring out the last warm days of September. Other highlights include the next track, “Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home” – the vocal manipulation here is excellent, bringing Hellshovel’s true-blue psych colors to the forefront. The record’s good – I keep waiting for it to burst into some freakbeat meltdown, and it almost does on “Snowflakes in Russia,” but mostly it’s content to relax in the sun. It’s almost too mellow at times – entire songs can slide by without a blink. That’s not a dealbreaker by any means; it’s just how Hellshovel does stuff – they’re not making music for raging parties or for face-crushing live shows; this is music for a sunny day and maybe a game of disc golf or something – the kind of thing I’m missing while I’m freezing in Ireland. I’ll be keeping this one on board, if only because I respect Hellshovel. They’ve managed to take a familiar formula and do it well – in my book, that’s more compelling than any number of distortion pedals.
LISTEN/PREORDER: Slovenly Bandcamp