Scroungehound: Shape Up
KICKING THE TEETH OUT OF THE ALGORITHM WITH SCROUNGEHOUND’S NEW EP “SHAPE UP”
The almighty algorithm. The faceless taste curator that we’ve all unknowingly come rely on to show us the “Things you might like” or the ever looming “Suggestions” section of whatever your preferred social media is. The problem with trusting the algorithm is it only considers what you’ve already shown preference for, leaving no room for exploration. Making no room for bands with vision, with unclassifiable genre aspirations. Relying on what your finger points to on a screen won’t lead you to bands that aren’t looking to recreate whatever sound is most marketable at any given time. And that best describes Huntington’s own Scroungehound and their new EP “Shape Up”.
Produced and engineered by Sweatband drummer Max Nolte at the legendary Loft Studio, which is becoming the go to building for local recordings. Nolte captures this music that’s just on the edge of chaos with a wise ear and an eye towards capturing Scroungehound’s searing live show. He’s obviously seen them at the club and understood the importance of getting the concert experience down on the hard drive and he does so here.
This record is wonderfully all over the map stylistically. It’s heavy, but it’s not heavy metal. It’s “jammy” but it’s definitely not a jam band jacking off for 20 minutes. There’re even some jazzy undertones, especially on “Elegy” with saxophone player Adam O’Neil contributing much of the melodic invention, but I assure you Wynton Marsalis would hate this record (and that’s a good thing). There are some gypsy elements, a little bit of prog, and a healthy dose of psychedelia. It’s music that has a little something for anyone who has a taste for the bizarre and want a healthy dose of creativity out of their rock stars. It also makes for a record that is incredibly difficult to describe in words, so with maximum effort, here we go.
The EP starts with the aforementioned “Elegy”, a song that does show a pretty heavy Doors influence at first. It harkens back to the late 60’s when rock n roll was wide open to use any style it seemed fit. Saxophone and organs swirl all around. It comes off like a fever dream, lyrics about the desert being a library for the story of Earth…. I think. Vocalist/guitarist and main lyricist Gabe Smith moaning that one day the desert is gonna end it all. Here his voice is ethereal, with an almost feminine quality. Think Roy Orbison on a head full of acid. But that eventually leads way to a growl reminiscent of Jim Morrison... on a head full of acid. The track ends with an extended jam in a faster tempo putting a great instrumental exclamation point to the more subdued beginning.
The record’s namesake is a big ol “fuck you but I still love you” from Gabe to someone who broke his heart. “Shape Up” sounds like a negotiation between two flawed lovers hoping for another chance. Musically it feels like the desert rock of Kyuss, or it’s later incarnation Queens of the Stone Age. The organ playing is particularly good here, but more on that guy later. Feel changes, from half time, to double time illustrates the chaos the lyrics are describing, and one could even hear Mr. Bungle covering this song. The main theme played with soaring twin leads keep coming back showing a mature approach to arrangement. Pretty heady stuff for a band full of relatively young musicians. Except for the bass player, of course.
“Gypsy Woman” is an exotic electric sex romp, lyrically inspired by Jim Morrison (in my estimation) and is anchored around the accordion playing of Jared Layman, the official swiss army knife of Scroungehound. Playing all the keyboards, he also adds trombone, but on this track he shines. Nothing will make you want to waltz the night away like listening to the ode to the woman that pushes all your naughty buttons. Rock and roll has a long history of glamorizing the gypsy lifestyle and the Hound is no exception. Images of the rolling caravan moving place to place. Fraternizing with local female population and leaving in the middle of the night before their men find out is an ongoing trope many creative types have dabbled in.
One of the more interesting aspects of this record is James Harrison’s drumming. The marriage of his drumline/GospelChops.com (look it up) hybrid style with this particular brand of music is close to ground breaking. Worlds colliding can often breed innovation and it does here. Lead guitarist Casey Fitzwater is a stand out as well. Classically trained, Casey adds an heir of sophistication to the proceedings. Jimmy Page would approve of his eclectic and polished playing. Bass player Mike Parker is a guitar player by trade but has made the transition to the low end flawlessly (most guitarists who pick up the bass end up playing lead bass) and brings a veteran presence to this group of rowdy young men.
The centerpiece track here is “Roots”. At almost 12 minutes long this song is EPIC and ambitious. Musically, this song keeps going and going. Orchestrated sections lead way to improvisations that lead way to waves and waves of psychedelic exploration. It’s a lot to take in, especially in these ADHD times we live in. It’s Zepplinesque in its scope and even has a bit of Jeff Buckley feel coming from Gabe here. Scroungehound demands a lot of their listeners, and what they demand is worthy of your attention.
On the pop charts mumble rappers have deconstructed music down to grunts and barely recognizable repeated phrases, but if you just spend the time and search for bands like Scrounghound, you just may fall in love. Tell that algorithm that you’re just not that into them anymore. It’s not them, it’s you. You wanna find a band of lovable misfits from some obscure college town in West Virginia who is paving their own way playing exactly the kind of music they want to play, with no worry about what is trending. That’s where the new scene happens, anyway.
Scroungehound will be releasing “Shape Up” Friday March 8th, as well as having a record release party that Friday at The V Club in Huntington and March 9th at the Boulevard Tavern in Charleston.
Download the record here starting March 8th.