Richmond, Virginia’s Conebuds sound like a full band but is just two players: Jake Cullin (guitar/bass/lead vocals) and Sean O’Neill (drums/vocals). Their new release Evolution is described as “body twisting, mind numbing heavy rock and psychedelic music, (along with) a softer, more acoustic side. It also incorporates many elements of progressive rock, stoner, jam and funk.” Artistic influences include Tool, Led Zeppelin, Phish and Umphrey’s McGee.
Isolated like most everyone else during Covid, the boys took about eight months to hash out new ideas which were then recorded, mixed and mastered at Fredericksburg’s Wally Cleavers Recording Studio by Jeff Covert, who did quite an amazing job.
“Journey’s Start” appropriately raises the curtain on the band’s journey with a short, riff-heavy instrumental. “Hippo” immediately follows with several levels of complexity in the chord schemes, melodies and rhythms. The vocals have an otherworldly ’60s vibe that I took to immediately. Cullin’s guitars are solid, his bass playing is active and sharp, and O’Neill’s drums are killer with a most excellent stereo spread. This is the song you’d catch your stoner brother blasting at full volume.
“Wind” starts as a sort of Gentle Giant guitars-in-the-round exercise, before kicking into a Phish-like rocker. O’Neill ups his drumming game considerably while Cullin’s guitar solos have an engaging summer of love quality. The proggy melodies seem to pour out of these guys as easily as some folks breathe. “Six Eight” is a bit more straight-ahead hard rock, at least in a Conebuds context. Cullin’s lovely, inventive bass playing gets another callout here, as do his clean, bite-y Fender guitar tones.
“Awfunk” is a funky, jazzy workout upon which guest Greg Ryan plays tenor saxophone, gamely keeping up with the Conebuds’ jumpy tempos. “The Big Bud” resurrects that classic rock staple, the Drum Solo, without even pretending there’s a song to introduce it (O’Neill is really ‘effing’ good, by the way). “Why Do I Do This” kicks in with Sabbath-level riffage, then introduces children-lost-in-the-corn vocals: “Let’s burn this place to the ground! Let’s burn this motherfucker down!” Lock your doors!
“Lost Temple” is the 14-minute epic finale, almost as long as side one of Rush’s 2112! It starts with engaging acoustic guitars and those lost, plaintive vocals we’ve come to expect, but now with a folk rock, choir-like majesty. The electric power chords slowly join in with blasts of scorching lead to take us back down to Earth. The music only ends when the “tape” crawls to a stop; an old trick, but still fun.
These guys are great, and I wouldn’t presume to tell them otherwise. Can’t wait to see what’s next!
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