Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Conrad the Band's Valley Fever on CD

Conrad the Band's new EP, Valley Days, features a snarling hyena on the cover. That instantly makes me think of one thing, and that's the cover of Grinderman II. Grinderman, of course, was an awesome side project for Nick Cave, a chance for him to explore wilder and more chaotic musical frontiers as the front man for a true garage band. That cover, now a classic, featured a mangy, snarling wolf in a very swanky apartment featuring prominently white decor. The message was clear--this is going to get messy.

Conrad the Band, or just Conrad for short, seems to be appropriating the same swagger for this six-track album. Listening to the first song, "Devil's Gonna Find You," you'll quickly discover the same garage band aesthetic--it's a catchy, rough-around-the-edges blues rock tune that'll probably remind you of the Black Keys more than Cave's outfit. These two "old friends" from Bakersfield, Matthew Shaw and Nick Andre, do have a big chunk of that late '60s and early '70s stripped-down simplicity. It's just two guys, right? Two-man bands might be in vogue right now, but you have to be careful not to draw obvious comparisons.

The deeper you get into Valley Fever, fortunately, the less you'll think about the Black Keys and Grinderman. (To be honest, the latter band is doing something completely different.) Shaw and Andre have a knack for the disheveled psychedelic pop hit, and may be more deeply grounded into the '60s than Auerbach and Carney. There's a point, in fact, where I thought about how good these songs were, and that forty years ago this type of album would be treated as something a little more substantial. These two gentleman from Nashville West aren't just wearing their musical influences on their sleeves, they're focused on the little touches that show the world who they are--right down to the thin sound of electric card that's straight out of the Buck Owens manual. There's a lot of intelligence in this seemingly modest effort.

So this little side project from a couple of old friends is a little disarming merely because it is so solid and good, and in a way that seems totally off-the-cuff. Will anyone notice? I hope so, because Conrad the Band might seem like an impromptu garage jam from a couple of buddies, but it's much better than that.

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