CoolDaughter #1 had another two-day swim meet this weekend. Early warm-ups at Princeton meant that I had to get up before dawn on both days to make the drive. I sadly, therefore, decided against attending any of the Light of Day shows in Asbury Park on Friday and Saturday nights. That’s really the only issue I have with the whole swimming thing. If you live where we do in New Jersey, then every meet is at least an hour away. Lately, we’ve been bouncing between Princeton and New Brunswick. I almost wish we had been at Rutgers this weekend so that I could connect the fact that we were in New Brunswick with the album I listened to over the weekend. I’ll do it anyway.
Over the last year or so, New Brunswick, NJ record label Don Giovanni has become one of my favorites. Last year, they put out two of the best albums of 2012: Screaming Females’ Ugly and Waxahatchee’s truly amazing American Weekend. We’re only in the early part of 2013; and, by tomorrow, Don Giovanni will have given us great, debut LP’s from Hilly Eye and California X. I spent this weekend listening to the self-titled debut from California X.
California X are a power trio from Amherst, Massachusetts. They produce fuzzed out, guitar-heavy, alternative rock. They play loud. All of this leads to obvious comparisons (and I’ve alluded to this myself) between California X and Dinosaur Jr. I don’t really hear it. The band’s sound owes a great deal more, I think, to the mid-1990’s alt rock of Billy Corgan and early Weezer than to the “ear-bleeding country” of J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr.
“Sucker” opens the record, and it’s the only song longer than about four and a half minutes. It’s a bit of misdirection really. The opening instrumental and the placement of frontman / guitarist Lemmy Gurtowsky’s voice in the mix give the song a sound reminiscent of a poppier, hookier No Age. The rest of the album wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Seattle’s KNDD when CoolMom and I lived out there in the mid-1990’s. “Pond Rot” contains some infectious riffs and, maybe, Gurtowsky’s best vocal performance on the record. A fast, chunky riff pushes single “Spider X” ever forward, only to be countered by some soft piano tinkling as the song closes. I’m not sure if Gurtowsky is the driving force musically for California X; but if he is, then “Lemmy’s World” is appropriately titled. The song brings together all of the influences present on California X, from Dinosaur Jr.’s distortion, to Smashing Pumpkins’ octaves, to Weezer’s pop sensibility.
California X succeeds at melding hard rock and punk with pop in a way that propelled bands like Nirvana to super-stardom in the 1990’s. The world has changed since then. While I’d like to believe that a success like that is still possible for the guys in California X, the hipster cooldad in me is happy that this comes from a great, independent label like Don Giovanni.