Though this latest wave of genre-excavating indie music has yielded a rather admirable group of technically competent, revisionist garage rock bands, these musicians – much like any number of psychedelic, freak folk, electrofunk and lo-fi throwback artists – are creatively bound as much by the necessity of honing authentic onstage personas as they are by the constraints of recreating their particular chosen ambiance in a recording environment. Strangely, the current ongoing rehash of such famously unpretentious subgenres as fuzz, noise and college rock has, for the most part, been subject to the type of superficial nitpicky criticism that probably wouldn’t have existed twenty years ago when Lou Barlow, Robert Pollard and J Mascis were blazing trails completely under the radar of mainstream consciousness.
For instance, current indie garage rock frontrunners Yuck have enjoyed a braggable amount of benevolence from critics and listeners not because of anything particularly revelatory about the songwriting of Daniel Blumberg or Max Bloom, but rather for the band’s adherence to archaic compositional restraints and their flawless execution in recording their debut. On the contrary, though their contemporaries Male Bonding managed to weave together some hazy, incredibly addictive melodies on Endless Now, the entire endeavor was a creative tank because of one minor – though pervasive – mistake: it sounded nothing remotely like its source inspiration while suffering from glossy overproduction that did very little to establish it as anything unique or original.
Indeed, despite unmistakeably good songwriting, a badly recorded (or, more specifically, a misguidedly recorded) fuzz revival album is often a complete debacle. In such cases, a band would be better off blasting a double stack into a four track recorder and crossing their fingers for something Pollard-esque. As free-form a subversion of the status quo as that jangly era of the late eighties and early nineties was, paying it homage in 2011 ironically requires a more nuanced textural detailing than simply granulating some cymbals and amping the reverb up to 10. However, New Orleans newcomers Heat Dust seem to acutely grasp something about this strange catch 22, as their self-titled debut EP pulls off a deft balance of smooth, hi-fi instrumentation and piercing, cochlea-shattering electric fuzz.
Formerly part of Austin, TX-based post rock monoliths Brother/Ghost, guitarist Jasper den Hartigh doesn’t seem to carry with him much of that band’s emotional multiformity, but he’s retained barrels of their vitality. The leading presence for most of the record’s eighteen minutes is his guitar, and on tracks like “I Was Afraid of Dying” and “Sleeping Call” it continually – and unpredictably – explodes from low end crunch to high-pitched angular rhythm and back, riddling the canvas with grace notes of digitized squeals and noisy feedback. Whereas the aforementioned Endless Now clambers wall upon wall of bloated distortion so whitewashed as to be devoid of any recognizable personality, the strings and voices and crashes of brass on Heat Dust are undeniably alive. Even when abating their otherwise raucous tempo on “Let Them Give Up”, Shawn Tabor and Clayton Hunt comfortably combine to form a deceivingly tight section of grody bass thumps and complex cymbal rhythms respectively while smooth, barely-there vocal harmonies emphasize Heat Dust’s three-dimensional sonic blueprint. Admittedly, much credit should be given to the band’s ability self-produce as well as to Larry Constant’s mastering work, without which these songs might sound as texturally middling as Male Bonding’s most recent work.
Any parallels to the John Agnello-produced Endless Now are meant less as comparisons in style than contrasts in execution. Stylistically, Heat Dust’s Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh and Sonic Youth influences are obvious, though not as important as the fact that a practical collection of demos from a just-out-of-the-gate New Orleans band is more perfectly carried out than a high budget Sub Pop record produced by one of J Mascis’s best recording buds.