When Amherst, Massachusetts indie rock quartet California X dropped their self titled debut LP in 2013 they came under some degree of skepticism due to their absolute disregard for attempting to hide their influences in any way. To be fair, if their scuzzed up Dinosaur Jr-esque fuzz stomp had been a tired rehash of their neighbours more famous din (J Mascis and crew also hail from Amherst) these doubts would have had some merit. To their credit, the powerful lo-fi indie grunge of California X’s debut easily dismissed these concerns. They stormed through their debut with such unrestrained enthusiasm and epic tunes that the band seemed like peers, rather than descendents, of Dinosaur Jr’s enormous classic rock influenced lo-fi alternative rock.
At first it seems that the band’s follow up, Nights in the Dark, aims to follow the same tried and tested formula. The record’s opening track, and title track, carelessly mingles Neil Young feedback squeal with early 90s tunesmithery, while “Red Planet” sounds like Weezer if they left the edges unpolished for once. Then a curve ball. Third track “Ayla’s Song” is a delicate, gently plucked instrumental acoustic guitar number, hinting at the groups willingness to push beyond their good old reliable lo-fi big guitar jam band shtick. Typically, as if embarrassed by the ambition, the track ends abruptly with band leader Lemmy’s grunt, and the band segues into the mid tempo stomp of “Hadley, MA”.
“Blackrazor (pt 1)” has ambition in an alternative direction. Recalling a fuzzed up cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer”, the track lopes and trudges its way through swampy minor chords and enormous early 70s guitar solos. This here is a band full of beans, and possessing the chops to pull off their ambitions. You can hear the band’s enormous smiles as they plunder their way through another inspired jam. Shit, if I could play guitar that sounded like J Mascis jerking off Tony Iommi, I’d be grinning too.
Elsewhere pianos make a brief but welcome cameo appearance on the contemplative “Garlic Road”, while “Blackrazor (pt 2)” brings some Sabbath sized riffs sans the hamfisted malevolance. After a brief 37 minutes, the record closes out on “Summer Wall (pt 2)”. A total ‘driving off into the sunset’ track, it’s a victory lap for a band that has crafted what should prove to be one of the most effortlessly enjoyable records of 2015. On Nights in the Dark, California X are clearly confident they can shake off any derogatory and demeaning comparisons to Amhert’s “other” band, and, fuck it, if they fail, they’re going to have a damn good time regardless.
Nights in the Dark is out on January 13th via Don Giovanni Records.