One of our favorite new LPs this fall appeared on record shelves without much fanfare, and the band never had a special record release show for it. That last part is especially unfortunate, because they are one of the most fun and exciting rock acts working in the Twin Cities right now. We’re talking about Narco States, of course — the five-piece garage band we’ve been telling all our friends about for a couple years. They were one of the first bands we invited to shoot a video in our “Practice Space” series (there are nine more of these in post-production right now, by the way!)
…and we told the whole state to check ‘em out when we were invited to join MPR’s Art Hounds last year. They’re one of our favorite bands in the Twin Cities and their first LP, Wicked Sun, is something we’ve been eagerly anticipating for a long time.
Wicked Sun revisits the track recorded by Brian Herb’s Mother of All Music for the “Practice Space” shoot here in the record shop, as well as the live track at the end of their debut EP from way back when, but the album take the band into awesome new territory. They lean further into the bluesy psych rock vein visited with “My Only Sin” on that first EP.
“Lost in Time”
Their core sound of gooey Jefferson Airplane-y guitars topped with delicious creamy organ riffs is entirely intact, just more expansive throughout Wicked Sun. Yep, Wicked Sun is like a really good candy bar, not like one of those fucking Milky Ways still at the bottom of the kids bag the Wednesday after Halloween. At times you’d be sure this tasty treat is some lost Bay Area treasure like that mind-blowing Crystal Syphon album unearthed by local label Roaratorio a couple years ago — for sure a Butterfinger-quality record. Narco States never leaves you with that disingenuous aftertaste you get from 00s retro-garage records (thanks Jack White for somehow taking all of the fun out of rock and roll) — nothing on Wicked Sun sounds like last year’s candy.
That’s because Narco States puts the organ back into a dual-lead role with the guitar, a balance post-punk garage records don’t always manage well. Folks have really enjoyed this LP when we played it in the shop, and often remark about the role of keyboardist Aaron Robertson — old rocker dudes usually say something about the Doors, but Robertson reminds us more of guys like Alan Price (who gives the Animals’ “House of the Rising Son” is heft or fourteen-year-old Frank Rodriguez, who played those sweet fills on “96 Tears by ? And the Mysterians. Of course the Doors’ Ray Manzarek and these fellas all played similar Vox Continental keyboards.
Robertson is tearing it up on a Farfisa and a Wurlitzer 7300, both instruments with their own awesome legacies in garage rock, like the Swingin’ Medallion’s “Double Shot” for instance — but where he and the rest of the band push it out of retro territory is in the explosive arrangements that don’t rely on a single keyboard riff the way the Doors sometimes did (“Light my Fire,” “Love Her Madly,” etc) — In fact lead guitarist Nate McGuire is the #1 reason this record rewards repeated listening. Some of his work is in the classic Kaukonen/Cipollina psychedelic form, but he shifts into overdrive without the slightest lurch, as in “Invasion,” a track Quicksilver Messenger Service would have stretched to a full side.
The organ/guitar interplay is most original in “Amputated,” especially as the two meet at the end and support drummer Justin DeRusha’s manic pounding. The band couldn’t get away with blending party rock style garage with psychobilly fanaticism if it weren’t for the solid base DeRusha and Nick Sampson build. These two are one of the best parts of the band’s explosive live sets, simply because they carry that center-of-the-storm calm with such class, whether its in the wild rockers like “Amputated” and “Lost in Time” or the blues-infused, dark and driving title track.
Frontman Michael Meyers makes those explosive live sets, alternating between playing rhythm guitar and swaggering and strutting with the mic stand as a prop. We’ve watched him swing from the ceiling, climb the walls and roll on the floor — but on the record all this energy comes out in his voice, somewhere between the Iggy Pop and Lux Interior frenzy and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ genuine madness. His delivers the darkest lines in the brooding “Jekyll Meets Hyde” and “Wicked Sun” with drama, and the rest of the album with a veteran showman’s flair. We didn’t believe a record could capture all the excitement of this band’s live performances, but Wicked Sun succeeds.
This album went through a series of pressing problems unrelated to its content, and it never received the attention it properly deserves. It was quietly added to the shelves here at Hymie’s a couple weeks ago, but has been played loudly ever since.
Narco States are playing a couple shows out of town later this month (In Sioux Falls and Green Bay) before returning to Minneapolis for a show at 7th Street Entry on November 16th. A proper record release show is planned for December. Details for the 7th St Entry show are here.