The brainchild of mercurial Cambridgeshire mystic Kevin Starrs, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats have been making extraordinary music since 2009. Always too bold and idiosyncratic to be easily pigeonholed, they emerged from an obscure corner of the labyrinthine English underground as shadowy purveyors of a new and overwhelmingly psychedelic take on the gruff and gritty rudiments of hard rock and turbo-blues, powered by the dark, lysergic heart of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and drenched in woozily macabre imagery. Steeped in both the wayward melodies and mischievous arrangements of psychedelic pop and the dissonant thunder of proto-metal and doom, Starrs’ greatest feat has been to create an entirely fresh sonic world from these most familiar of ingredients.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats’ reputation was swiftly built on towering, riff-driven milestones like 2011’s breakthrough opus Blood Lust and its warped and wicked follow-up, Mind Control (2013); both released through Rise Above Records and subsequently showered with critical acclaim. By the time Starrs’ band created The Night Creeper in 2015, their mutation into heavy music’s most unmistakable eccentrics was complete, as their leader cranked up the melodic weirdness, rendering his monstrous ideas in something approaching three-dimensional Technicolor.
Firmly established as cult heroes, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats consolidated The Night Creeper’s triumph by touring the world extensively, including a string of sold out shows in the U.S., Europe and Australia. After sustaining that momentum with Starrs’ long-awaited remix of his band’s hard-to-find eponymous debut album from 2010, the singer/guitarist and his henchmen spent much of the last year immersed in the process of making a fifth full-length album. 47 minutes of vital, audacious and frequently bewildering heavy psychedelia, it bears the title Wasteland and is instantly recognisable as Starrs’ most immersive and evocative body of work yet.
“There’s not enough melody or harmony in new music for my liking,” says Starrs. “I wanted to go even further with all of that this time, and really force it down people’s throats! It’s important to me that someone keeps it going, especially in heavy music. I always write to my own tastes, so as long as it appeals to me, I don’t really think about it. But I would say that it’s all been an instinctive progression.”
A disorientating journey through Starrs’ wonkiest dreams, Wasteland glides majestically from punchy and direct psych-rock anthems like I See Through You and Shockwave City to the viscous, somnambulant ooze of the eight-minute No Return and the twinkly-eyed bad trip of the album’s mesmerising title track. Recorded at the legendary Sunset Sound studio in Los Angeles, Wasteland boasts the kind on irresistibly raw and exuberant sound that only the greatest bands can generate. Later completed at Starrs’ own studio, the new songs showcase a newly refreshed line-up, with Starrs once again joined by long-time bassist Vaughn Stokes (who will play rhythm guitar at future live shows, handing over bass duties to Jus Smith) and also latest recruit, drummer Jon Rice.
Yet more confirmation that Uncle Acid exist in their own musical universe, Wasteland is also a powerful cautionary tale: one rooted in the alien landscapes of Starrs’ imagination, but with a very clear connection to the deranged chaos of today’s political world. As humanity cheerfully circles the plughole, Dystopian visions and present-day horrors have become more-or-less interchangeable, making Wasteland’s ghoulish surrealism a lot more pertinent and disturbing in the process.
“The album is set in a land where people live in walled cities, under heavy surveillance, cut off and in fear of one another,” Starrs explains. “All their thoughts, knowledge and memories have been wiped clean, leaving them like the living dead, barely functioning and addicted to the glow of flickering propaganda screens.”
“In the underworld, there are program discs for the brain that can replace stolen thoughts and allow people to finally think for themselves,” he continues. “It gives them knowledge to escape the misery of the cities and to reach the freedom of the outer wastelands, but the wasteland, of course, is total hell on earth. The general idea seemed quite fitting with all the propaganda and misinformation that we’ve been bombarded with in recent years.”
While most musicians seem content to chase their own (or other people’s tails), Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats remain proud and resolute individualists and Wasteland is simply their most powerful and memorable spurge of creativity to date. Masterfully echoing the magical atmospheres of heavy music’s turbulent past while sounding entirely unlike anything else available to human ears, this is what happens when the shadows come to life and suffocating darkness, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats style, is the only show in town.
In the dimly lit interior of a small nightclub, where the stale smell of a thousand extinguished cigarettes drowns out the smell of spilt beer and broken dreams, a band plays against a backdrop of cheap golden tinsel. Outside, palm trees line the night’s horizon. In the years to come, the streets will swell into highways and interstates, but for now Los Angeles is still a young city growing daily with transplants from across the United States, all looking for a new life. It’s still a city largely cut off from the rest of the country, and in the years before the Manson family forever tarnishes the infinite hope of the Western enclave and before the Hell’s Angels of Altamont interrupt rock n’ roll’s peaceful trajectory with unprecedented violence, there is still a dreamy California sound for those dark rooms suffused with neon light. The three women of L.A. Witch wouldn’t be born for several decades, but their sound transports you back to those warm Californian nights in smoky rooms.
The name is a partial misnomer. Though the band hails from Los Angeles, they do not partake in any sort of witchcraft. Yet their ability to conjure a specific time and place through their sound does suggest a kind of magic. On their eponymous debut album, L.A. Witch’s reverb-drenched guitar jangle and sultry vocals conjure the analog sound of a collector’s prized 45 from some short-lived footnote cult band. The melodies forgo the bubblegum pop for a druggy haze that straddles the line between seedy glory and ominous balladry; the production can’t afford Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound, but the instruments’ simple beauty provides an economic grace that renders studio trickery unnecessary; the lyrics seem more descendent of Johnny Cash’s first-person morality tales than the vacuous empty gestures of pre-fab pop bands. This isn’t music for the masses; it’s music for miscreants, burnouts, down-and-out dreamers, and obsessive historians.
Album opener “Kill My Baby Tonight” is the perfect introduction to the band’s marriage of ‘60s girls-in-the-garage charm and David Lynch’s surreal exposés of Southern California’s underbelly. Sade Sanchez’s black velvet vocals disguise the malicious intent of this murder ballad, with the thumping pulse of bassist Irita Pai, the slow-burn build of drummer Ellie English, and Sanchez’s desert guitar twang helping beguile the listener into becoming a willing accomplice to the narrator’s crimes. “Brian” follows the opening track with a similarly graceful, if not somewhat ominous, slow-mo take on a well-worn jukebox 7”. It’s a vibe that permeates the entire album, from the early psychedelic hue of 13th Floor Elevators on tracks like “You Love Nothing,” through the motorik beat and fuzzed-out licks of “Drive Your Car,” to the grittier permutation of Mazzy Star’s sleepy beauty on “Baby In Blue Jeans.”
L.A. Witch was recorded at Hurley Studios in Costa Mesa and mixed in Highland Park, Los Angeles, though early incarnations of several songs from the album originally surfaced on limited edition singles released over the last several years. The band’s initial aspirations were humble. “We never really thought we would or could release an album,” the band says. “We were really just finding each other and finding our sound.” But after touring nearly non-stop for the last three years, L.A. Witch developed a singularly seductive, haunting, and wistful sound that enamored the garage rock, dream pop, psych, and broader indie communities.
Flex Vienna / adv 22 € / doors 26 € / 19.00h