Sunday, 22 September 2013

Dead Head - Residual Echoes

The art of evoking the past without losing your grip on the present is a tricky thing to do in music. There's always the danger that any band trying to emulate elements of their heroes music will end up going too far down the rabbit hole and sounding like a weak imitation. There's nothing wrong with being influenced by the past but a healthy dose of originality is never a bad idea.

Residual Echoes have managed to find the perfect balance. Theres something at once familiar and totally new about their psychedelic version of Punk Rock. On first listen, the similarities are obvious. The cascading guitar noise of Dinosaur Jr and the acid fried, spaced-out feel of the Meat Puppets are a main influence for Dead Head. But there is something refreshingly new about it too. In a world where the vast majority of the music you hear (including rock music) is polished to within an inch of its life, Dead Head offers a more visceral and raw experience.

As it says on the band's website, Residual Echoes has flexibility built into it's very core, including it's ever changing lineup. The only permanent member of the band is Adam Payne, who releases records sometimes as himself and at other times as Residual Echoes with a revolving cast of working musicians. Some records “document a certain line-up of the band and sometimes they are me by myself and sometimes these are scrambled up together. Each one is approached from a different angle.” This relaxed approach to band structure seems to allow for greater freedom and productivity. Payne has released 12 records in the last 10 years, either as himself or as Residual Echoes and each of them has a different feel.

I was first drawn to Dead Head after hearing “Düds” on the brilliant but sadly defunct Hit It Or Quit It Podcast. The intro sounded like the little piece of music you get when turning on a video games console, before launching into a wonderfully distorted, off key, song. “Düds” is that perfect mix of loud, fast rock and melody that, if done right, can leave you playing the same track over and over again. Adam Payne's guitar playing is evocative of J Mascis at his most technical and melodic whilst the track is mixed so that the bass fills in the gaps during solos. Jessie Calvin of Bleached takes the lead vocals on “Düds” whilst Payne backs her up in the lackadaisical style he establishes throughout this album.

For an album where, walls of distortion are the norm, Dead Head starts off with acoustic picking and jangly, pop chords. “Warts” has a feel that is similar to early Lemonheads records (later on in the album,“Gum” also echoes this influence). That cross section of punk and indie-pop where the happy, trebley pop song is mixed with intermittent wails of noise and vocals that are ever so slightly off kilter. “Warts” is not as straightforward as all that though. It veers into echoey psychedelia for a while before slowing into an electronic sounding throb, before rounding the song out with a mixture of everything that descends into feedback. This is typical of Dead Head's nature as an album that is pretty much free from constraints or expectations.

“Fugcks” and “Fruits” both have a guitar sound that has echoes of the Meat Puppets' Up On The Sun in it. Without wanting to second guess Adam Payne's music, I would go so far as to say that if any band has had an influence on this record, it's the Meat Puppets. Throughout Dead Head, the out of tune harmonies and relaxed feel, easily belie Payne's skill as a guitarist and song-writer, a tactic that Curt Kirkwood had used to great effect in the Meat Puppets' SST days. However Payne isn't just rehashing old ideas. This record is an move beyond earlier attempts at fusing Punk and Psychadelica, entering into new territory. Even the album's cover is a representation of the two genres colliding with a mohawked punk in a Grateful Dead shirt being slain by a greasy haired hippy sporting the Black Flag logo and of course the title is a play on Deadheads, the nickname for fans of the Grateful Dead. Residual Echoes individual mix of the two genres is more than punk rock with guitar solos or a trippy song played with 4 chords and a clever guitar riff. Residual Echoes' sound on Dead Head is that of a band completely free to do what they want. Theres no trying to impress anyone or make sure that they're hitting the right markers so that the record will sell, they just play the songs as they feel they need to be played. If the song needs to dissolve into a lengthy guitar solo past the first chorus, then so be it. This gives the record an excitement that just isn't there in a lot of music. An excitement that only comes out when the artist says “Fuck being cool, I just want to play what I feel like playing”. Dead Head is a raw, unfiltered album and it makes the hair on my arms stand up each time I hear it.

This is punk at its purest. Making music that matters to you regardless of restraints and convention and releasing it independently. Theres a lot said about how the internet has opened up music distribution to everyone. Whilst that certainly has it's downsides, if it leads to bands like Residual Echoes having an channel through which to funnel their wonderfully strange and absorbing music, then it can't be bad thing.

Go to Residual Echoes' band camp site to listen to their music and download their albums for an extremely reasonable amount of money.

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