How many members are required before obtaining recognition as a "club"? That all depends on your disposition toward solitude. Richard Gray, the larger portion of Dead Blues Club, would likely answer the question by holding up two fingers. Or maybe one fist and a finger; the former to denote himself as a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter, the latter paying credence to the "additional keys/organs" of Sam Bollands. Semantics aside, the debut from this almost-solo outfit – aptly titled Vol. 1 – is Gray's means toward catharsis, particularly as a therapeutic axe in the battle against emotional trauma. And what better catalyst for song than the complexities of the human amygdala? Sure, extreme partying is awesome, too, but we can't all be as prolifically inspired as Nikki Sixx.
English at heart but Japan by domicile, Gray feeds on distress. Paying homage to Scott Weiland’s earlier work and the milk-and-pepper Thin White Duke era of David Bowie, the LP’s nine tracks also blend a less emphatic Marilyn Manson with a dollop of Ian Curtis. From panic and ego to global warming and astrological positioning(!), there’s a lot to unpack here. Yet, the weight of these subjects hardly compresses the feel. Forgiving the pun, Dead Blues Club is very much alive, even if their physical suns may be darkening.
“Bloody Ada,” our introduction to the band, begins with a slow-burn percussion, likely effected on woodblocks. Gray’s sickly baritone contrasts well against this melodic current. It’s an unhygienic primer to scuzz stained vocals. Still, regardless of the doom-laden subject matter, the song neither explodes nor exploits cheap jump scares. Rather, it measures itself, like a pyromaniac playing with matches instead of jerrycans of gasoline. The result, in its every singular nuance, is brilliant and beautiful.
“Submarines” trades on anger, with vocals that practically splatter against speaker cloth. The funky bass line doesn’t arrive until the second half, but adds a much welcomed dimension. Likewise, “Party Trick” is prime Idiot-era Iggy Pop, gussied up for insomniac audiences. “Well the thoughts come round when the sun goes down and tomorrow doesn't feel ok,” Gray mutters in his trademark cadence, bounding in and out of the occasional feedback bleed.
“Fire” marks another smarmy bass groove. Infused with finger snapping verses, the machine gun gravel in the chorus is a percussive Voice of God moment. “The Bridge” furthers this unctuous tone, sounding humid enough to expect a cameo from Dr. John, robes ablaze with juju magic. But it isn’t until “The Council of Twelve” that the band approach the heights of their opening cut. This is an instrumental for an upside-down church; a menacingly religious, synthesized trance with illusions toward 1980s analog. The unobtrusive rhythm pushes through each level of super-consciousness. Until it acquiesces, presumably at the end of some lucid rainbow.
Misery loves company, but it doesn't require an equal level of despair to enjoy its finished product. Vol. 1 might not be the soundtrack for all night cocaine benders, but it certainly owns its energy, however unique or disquieting. Is it blues in the traditional sense? Not a chance. Should we care? Of course not. Dead Blues Club weaves a consumptive tale of loss and worldly dissociation through a gorgeously noxious palette. It’s a stimulating ride, for sure. Just be certain to shower when you get off.
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