January 13, 2013

Album Review: California X's California X

Western Massachusetts' music scene has been a sleeping giant ever since the days of dubbing every college town across the United States as "the new Seattle" went out of style. While it's still home to '90s-era indie rock heroes Dinosaur Jr. and whoever got the house in the Thurston Moore / Kim Gordon deal, it's contributions to the sound it helped sculpt haven't come in any new shape or form (barring any said-Mascis or Moore-related projects) since Sonic Youth originally signed to Geffen. Things are happening again in the only part of the state that isn't too close to the capital to be generalized as "Boston" however, with a new crop of shredded guitar rock sprouting up in the same college farm towns and cities their distortion-drenched luminaries stuck their roots. Thank the high cost of living in your usual big city's hip 'hoods during a piss poor economy that are in turn once again making the better half of the Baystate "the new" Brooklyn, Silverlake -- wherever -- with bands like California X, Potty Mouth and Speedy Ortiz at its promising epicenter. All are releasing debut albums in 2013, and if the self-titled debut from the former is any indication as to what their end game is, it's that these dudes plan on reinventing the Western Mass wheel as long as they're here.

California X chronically get thrown into the basket of Dinosaur Jr. derivatives since they, too, hail from Amherst, MA, are a trio, record with Justin Pizzoferrato (whose credits include the past few Dino Jr. and Mascis LPs) as their first single "Sucker" b / w "Mummy" makes it incredibly easy to see where the bands' sounds overlap. Their Don Giovanni Records debut on the other hand plays more like a riled up statement from a young band tired of obvious location-based comparisons and up for the challenge to change that perception, as California X gasses up on sludgy metal riffs and clean cut production their predecessor shied away from early in their careers, swelling up the stereo to a radius that will inflict tinnitus beyond their 413 stomping grounds. With Daniel Jones and Josh Smith's hybrid rhythm section piledrive and Lemmy Gurtowsky's dangerously cool anthemic lead, "Curse of the Nightmare," "Hot Hed" and "Spider X" share more crossovers with the the metal-pop world like recent outputs from Torche and Baroness than yesteryear's indie world legacy. When the band lets off the adrenaline pedal, those cruddy stoner hooks realign themselves for radio-ready alt-rock design that sits comfortably next to Pinkerton, Superchunk and early Foo Fighters ("Pond Rot," "Lemmy's World," "Spirit World.")

There's no denying that the distortion damaged DNA of Western Mass' reverb nation past is in California X's blood, but their debut's willingness to force itself outside the box of preconceived expectations with their sound is a completely necessary step for any new band to give both themselves and their up-and-coming counterparts a fighting chance at making it out, own identity in tact. California X's roots start where Dinosaur Jr.'s penchant for noise pedals ends, but that's about all the trio of Gurtowsky, Jones and Smith share in common with Mascis, Barlow and Murph. These young punks are well aware of where they come from, but in a true testament to Western Mass' legacy as the weirdo half of the Baystate and often forgotten footnote in indie rock history, they're redefining it so the rest of the world knows it still exists.

California X's California X will be released January 15, 2013 on Don Giovanni Records.

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