I often think about location in general, but in particular within the context of music. How does a band’s location affect its sound, if at all? What does a stoner rock band from a sun kissed Californian town do differently from a band in the same genre from some Dutch city where spliff filled cafes are the order of the day? Does black metal feel more authentic if it comes from an icy Scandinavian village rather than the Basque region or a Portuguese coastal town?
So when presented with a press release for Jakethehawk‘s new record tagging them as ‘Appalachian Desert Rock’, I ask myself what does this mean? The band come from the North Eastern US area of Pittsburgh, and if anything this music seems less infused with a rural undercurrent than it does a sort of late night city centre feel. Perhaps native listeners might detect a more local vibe and it comes across in the sleeve art and lyrics, but musically, sitting in a flat in inner city Dublin Hinterland doesn’t quite spirit my mind away to mountains and forests.
But I digress. Sonically, Jakethehawk‘s sound feels most reminiscent of the more radio friendly 90s sounds that emanated from the Pacific North West, or perhaps more accurately some of the Midwest bands inspired by the more metal friendly bands that roamed the Space Needle city. It’s perhaps a more polite take on the drop D n’ Big Muff riff rock however, having the vibe of the more populist, classic rock inspired bands of the era, than the raw power of the more underground facing element. It’s more Black Oak Arkansas than Black Flag if you get what I mean, seeming geared towards big halls and outdoor festivals than sweaty clubs.
The conundrum here might be the vocals. Now, it must be stressed that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them – main man John Huxley has a fine voice and a good ear for a melody, which is both a gift and a curse. There are moments in this music where you wish he’d just let rip with a heartfelt roar more often, to let loose the kind of call of the wild that maybe reaches beyond the radio friendly lines he’s naturally comfortable with.
The riffs are big and menacing and Huxley’s subdued tone works well sounding almost haunted…
It’s about three songs in before things really feel like they click, with the dark spaciness of Interzone Mantra bringing a slightly more psychedelic element into the mix, the spooked intro conjuring up the kind of dark river their Appalachian location suggests. The riffs are big and menacing and Huxley‘s subdued tone works well sounding almost haunted. Uncanny Valley is another heavier moment that blends the mellower, catchier elements more skilfully and allows for a bit more dynamism.
June adopts this kind of structure as well, and is the one moment where you really feel the band let loose and come into their own as they reach for a heavier approach without sacrificing the melody. It’s the standout song of the six, its’ closing barrage hopefully pointing to the band leaning more towards this heaviness in future.
Rather than trafficking in nostalgia, it should be made clear that Jakethehawk have balanced their influences with a modern stoner edged rock feel quite well, and it’s easy to see Hinterland finding favour with many who enjoy a combination of grungy riffing and more melodic strands. Well written songs and an excellent punchy production (when they kick in to the hefty parts, the riffs bellow from the speakers), it’s a respectable showing from a band who’ve comfortably found their own niche.
A little more experimentation and unpredictability might be of benefit in future perhaps, but if you have an ache for riff rock that inspires thoughts of flannel shirts and Les Paul’s, you could do a lot worse.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes