Album Review: The Thirsty Crows – Hangman’s Noose

The Thirsty Crows Hangman's NooseHere’s the thing with genre – there are tropes and trappings that can create an ‘easy peasy, check the boxes platform where the quality of the work suffers. Perfect example: Steampunk. There came a point in the 00s where a lot of books were coming out as Steampunk simply by following a checklist. Victorian England? Check. Dirigibles? Check. Cumbersome names for modern technology? Check. Follow that formula and wha-lah! You just wrote a Steampunk novel, buddy.

But, that does not have to be the case with genre work. Many people play within the familiar confines of a genre, but bring enough original content, unique voice and overall chuzphah to the work that it transcends the genre, raises the bar. For a super universal example, think about what Watchmen did for Superhero stories.

I’m talking a lot about literature in an album review, I know, but all these same rules apply to music genres as well. Is Type O Negative metal? Yeah, but they are very much their unique voice. Is Dalek hip hop? Again, yes, but in a way unlike anyone else working inside that same musical ideology. And we can now add to these forward-thinking trailblazers Los Angeles’s The Thirsty Crows.

Full disclosure: these guys are friends of mine. I’m not gonna hide that, and it’s public knowledge that I co-host two podcasts with one of the founding members. But my relationship with him is about comics and movies and books, and for as much as we’re both huge music fans, that doesn’t enter the picture as much between us. We both have our backgrounds and what we like, and while there’s overlap, we’re not quite in the same place musically. Doesn’t matter; I know next to nothing about the Psychobilly scene, I just know music that I like and consider genuine. That’s The Thirsty Crows in a nutshell, but Hangman’s Noose – this is another level for these guys.

I once heard someone answer the ‘what’s Psychobilly?’ question with, “The place where punk rockers and metalheads go when they get old.” That statement is obviously embellished for comedic effect, but it’s a pretty good approximation for the layman, to get you into the ring to engage with this stuff. The genre trappings are speed, twang, the rumble of upright bass and an overall hod-rod and hard-living aesthetic. All that’s here, the same as it was on the 2014 Eponymous E.P. the band put out, but on this, their first full-length, released and recorded by the guys at Batcave Records, the Crows have found and exploded what made their songs stick out above the din of a scene: Steve Haunte’s vocals employ both the chant-like, Misfits-esque sing-a-long technique, but also perfectly crafted melody lines, so that the chants or refrains can often be gorgeous in a way the rugged, bourbon-soaked music would not normally pair with. Maybe that’s because Steve also plays guitar, so his intuition for arranging starts at the earliest stage of the writing. That said, these guys play a lot of shows, and the rest of the guys in the band – Chris Saunders (Upright bass), Victor Cisneros (guitar), and Rich Smith (drums) – are integrated in the honing of these tunes from the ground up. The songs are built in a blue collar fashion, and because of this everything has its place.

And the recording of Hangman’s Noose carries all that through; Rene De la Muerte of The Brains and Nekromatix finds the perfect sonic shelf for everything. The guitars have thick, aggressive swagger but never bleed into the rhythm section, and thus can twang or shred when needed. Saunders’ bass is captured perfectly. Seriously, it’s not easy to record an upright bass like this, where you have the low end rounded nicely, helping it to run up and down the spine of the beat, while the rasping of the percussive side of the instrument is clear as fucking day, standing almost next to the actual notes. And the drums? Well, listen to the sparkle on that hi hat and that says it all. Again, the low end rumbles but remains distinct, which really helps to convey the work these guys put into their arranging. It’s Rockabilly – or Psychobilly if you prefer – but it’s recorded and conveyed in a high-end package that only helps repeated listens shine the light on all the little accoutrements the band puts in – the small but effortlessly catchy guitar fills, the balance the bass finds between that wonderful chromatic movement associated with the genre and Saunder’s signature low-end approach to melody. And the drums? They slam when they need to and ease back when due. Smith has speed but he also has grace, and that’s not something you always get with ‘genre.’

Oh yeah, and there’s some seriously awesome palm-muted galloping on more than one occasion, and a gnarly-as-hell cover of Dramarama’s Anything Anything, a song I’ve always loved and which fits The Thirsty Crows like a goddamn glove.

With Hangman’s Noose dropping in a few short weeks on January 18th via the aforementioned Batcave Records, 2019 is already shaping up to be a great year musically. You can pre-order Hangman’s Noose HERE. There’s packages with posters and pins too, which is awesome because that cover art by Rafael Navarro is just begging to go up on my wall, framed.

Favorite song: A tie between Anchor’s Up and Love or Suicide.

Here’s the first single, De La Muerte:

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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