Pipers at the Gates of Boredom
Los Angeles’ The Warlocks are a band steeped in psychedelia and a proto-punk garage aesthetic. The Warlocks was an early name used by The Grateful Dead, and the band’s bio is littered with surrealistic imagery (“…icy cool, white-noise swirl that evoked a decadent lysergic night…”). Their newest offering, Skull Worship, is a languorous and melancholic record, but is weighed down by the music’s somewhat repetitive formula, the production’s utter derivativeness and a distinct lack of passion.
One can hear The Warlocks’ touchstones fairly easily in their music: early Stooges and Velvet Underground, pre-Meddle Pink Floyd, and Nuggets-era Animals and Yardbirds imitators filtered through a somewhat gothic sensibility. The vocals are not prominent in the mix and are colored by a bit of reverb, and barely rise above a whisper (or more aptly put, a whine). Now, given their influences, this isn’t a problem. Lou Reed didn’t have a great voice, he just had the right attitude. Barrett could mumble and whisper and get lost in the sonic alchemy on Piper or in his own navel-gazing folk on his solo records, but some aspect of the vocal performance itself maintained a hook.
“Dead Generation,” the opener on Skull Worship, plods on for over four minutes, recycling the same guitar riff, its lyrics mush-mouthed, its melody in a warbly second tenor, the obligatory fuzz and white noise drifting in and out without much of an effect on the dynamics or mood of the song. Even as they drop the dynamic level, it rarely varies or provides an arc within the song, and they’re simply aping the same moods they’ve picked up from their Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett re-pressings. “Silver & Plastic” could be off of Saucerful of Secrets or Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs; “He Looks Good in Space” is a poorly engineered/sequenced Dark Side ripoff. (To be fair, “You’ve Changed” at least mashes together Barrettized freak-folk of the second half with the anemic “freak outs” of the first).
One could talk about other songs in an effort to find some sort of attraction, but the scenery is completely monochrome. The beginning of “Endless Drops” promises something new as an almost Joy Division bass tone begins the song, but once the fuzzed-out guitars enter, the one-dimensionality of arrangement and unconvincingly affected feyness of the vocals continue chugging down the same unrewarding set of tracks, and we’re left with another “Astronomy Domine” rip-off without evincing any of the dread or sonic experimentation. These are formulas we’ve heard before and plenty of their contemporaries do the job better.
One need only look at classic records like Comets on Fire’s Blue Cathedral, The Black Lips’ Let it Bloom, or Detroit’s Easy Action, if you want to hear modern psychedelia, Nuggets psych-garage worship, or Stooges worship done right. The problem isn’t even that The Warlocks don’t have encouraging moments as a band (they do, especially on the aforementioned “Endless Drops”), it’s that these moments have no passion or sincerity. Like their heroes from the bands they love so well, they’re chasing after an elusive high, a truly mind-altering and epiphanic trip. Unfortunately for them, Skull Worship doesn’t make it out of the driveway before sputtering and dying.