Among the finest early-life grabs from the Butthole Surfers relevant Trance Syndicate label Austin, Texas noise rock band Cherubs came into being with a half decade’s worth of insight clanging around in their heads. A dark and filthy groove set them in the then-modern ways thanks to one foot within Drain and a big step outside of Ed Hall. These were bands that’d treat rock music with a roughness far beyond what Big Boys had before them, spanking all manner of rhythmic unrest as if it were elastic, stretchable yet capable of snapping right back into place if needed. Around three years and two full-lengths deep that rubber band did snap and everything went famously black for two decades as their classic-in-hindsight second record ‘Heroin Man’ (1994) creeped and edged its way into the unspoken noise rock hall of fame. With bands like Whores. and Pissed Jeans rubbing the stink of ‘Icing’ and ‘Heroin Man’ all over themselves it only made sense for Cherubs to wobble their way back on stage and see if they could still freak out. They could, they did and they’ve been at it for two full-lengths since. ‘Immaculada High’ is the second one, building on the easy psychedelic groove of ‘2 Ynfynyty’ (2015) with tighter, tougher and an even pointier tongue-in-cheek so firmly planted it might just poke its way clean through.
The sleepy, sleazy, outer-spaced out and dark grooves of ‘2 Ynfynyty’ were a too-stoned revelation when Cherubs‘d landed upon it. That whole fuzz-rubbed psych angle was somewhat unexpected as ‘Heroin Man’ and their recently reissued (and cleaned-up) compilation ‘Short of Popular’ are often likened to Unsane for the depressive bass-hungry grind they led with. Unexpected, sure, but well-loved on my end and among the finer releases of that particular year. Hell, if ‘Immaculada High’ was just more of the same I’d still sign up for it but, hey Cherubs have gone bigger, spacier, spicier, even groovier this fourth time around. A greater focus on variety (pacing, sound, structure) and some wildly (fucked up but) catchy songwriting has kept the whole thing a vital presence on my own constantly stuffed playlist for the last month.
The trio have never sounded bigger or better thanks to Erik Wofford (Explosions In The Sky, The Black Angels) who’d handled the remaster of ‘Short of Popular’ the previous year; “Breath U Can C” is fine example of sound design matching the intention of the piece, where the drums push the very air around them and then resound within the bumbling fuzz of the guitars as they kick in. Each piece of the record is intentionally present and this is a huge boon to the oft-buried vocals from frontman Kevin Whitley in particular, who has never been so… tuneful, with his whimsically dark howling. This time around his presence (when combined with the cleaner production) reminded me somewhat of Quicksand‘s ‘Interiors’ but from an entirely different perspective. Not all noise rock bands hold up when the veil of compressed anxiety rock production is lifted and in Cherubs‘ case, they’re somehow even better when given all the air they could ever hope to breathe.
The full range of Side A on ‘Immaculada High’ is something to write home about from the sludge rocked “Turista” to the noise punk tirade that is “18 the Number” all the way up the goddamned mountain of hooks “Sooey Pig” has to offer. No doubt this opening salvo of way-90’s sardonic pun-intensive smirking and modernized psychedelic noise rock tomfoolery will win most fans of the genre over immediately. The rest of the album continues to capitalize on that dynamic, jumping between sludgy noise rock slappers (“Tigers in the Sky”, “Pacemaker”) and sleepy, soupy and baked droopers (“IMCG”, “Breath U Can C”) accumulating into a lively and always insistent record; Keeping up with their wildly swinging moodiness was always worthwhile in my case and I never once skipped a second of it across countless full spins. Where I would naturally begin to check out mentally came with the final ten minutes of the record where “Full Regalia” and “Nobodies” are neither swarthy aggro-psych or punchy noise rockers but somewhere in between. It feels like a sleepy send-off rather than a big bang and a shove out the door and because of that it drags just a little bit. Five minutes more and I’d be dinging the ‘done’ bell but at around 42 minutes I’m satisfied by the whole experience.
That’d be the big takeaway on my end, that Cherubs rode their good graces right to edge of ‘too much’ and ended up bringing some of their very best material on ‘Immaculada High’. I appreciate the appropriately spacious atmosphere remains as intimate and affected as classic noise rock while still elevating their newly profound psychedelic twinges into many of the finer moments on this fourth record. Highly recommended. For preview purposes I’d suggest “Breath U Can C” and “Sooey Pig” for the dream-scuzz side of things and then “Turista” and “Pacemaker” for the more intense face of the experience.
Hurly-burly up towards bedlam. 4.25/5.0
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