Axis: Sova is the performance name for Brett Sova, a Chicago guitarist who has an appetite for messy psych-rock. His guitar music fits right in with the weirdo roster on God? Records, a subsidiary of Drag City run by fellow shaggy-haired psych wizard Ty Segall. Early Surf, Sova’s second full-length, is a collection of contrasting elements: while the drums are stripped back and minimal, sounding like something out of a vintage Casio keyboard, the guitars are blown-out and scorching-hot, like the soundtrack for an aimless trek down the Mojave. A couple of tracks keep a steady, locked rhythm near or past seven dull minutes, but it’s the brief in-betweeners that showcase Sova’s peculiar vision.
Based on how much guitar wailing goes on throughout Early Surf, it’s a safe bet that Axis: Sova got his name from the monumental Jimi Hendrix album. Sova’s guitar playing is a particular kind: not one that sweeps the fretboard with precision and arpeggios; and not one that holds back and oozes soul and power with each note. This is an unabashed channeling of inner anxieties via trashy lo-fi ripping, warped vocals, and steaming fuzz to reach a mutual catharsis, although many times it may be more rewarding for Sova as a player than for us listeners. The gleaming interlude of “Secret Hand” and the focused “Dictator of a Flower” prove worthwhile, but “Afflicted Taste” hovers over the same tired chord, and the title track is based around a single blues-rock riff that doesn’t warrant its near five minute runtime.
Despite how much Sova turns up the heat with his teeth-gnashing grit and distortion, the album ultimately feels undercooked. Certain spots are left raw with their one-riff ideas and directionless ambitions, not to mention the lack of support from any bass-and-drum heft. Sure, the organ on “Glass” and “Ask Me About My Smell” serves to fill up the headspace, and the latter has swirling sonics to get lost in. But there’s nothing propelling these jams forward; and no, Sova’s guitar noise doesn’t count, as it loses flavor by the fifth or sixth track. Upon the official release date, Sova wrote of the album, “Get it out of my head and into yours,” which is an indication of what’s found on Early Surf: one man’s personal release via an exercise of guitar burners, but not much more.