Rock and fucking roll. That’s what it’s called. Not power-pop. Not indie. Not nothing – Sweet Apple is a rock and roll band. They’re made up of members of other rock and roll bands, some you might have heard of, others you might not have: the main weight of column inches falls, rightly so, on Sweet Apple drummer/guitarist/singer J Mascis, who anybody will tell you is largely responsible for a lot of indie music around today.
His synthesis of Neil Young’s introspective, fuzzy early work, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s thundering good-time boogie and the Stooges’ nihilistic grease-ball stomp resulted in classic (and boy, do I mean classic) records like ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ and ‘Bug’. Some folks (naming no names, but you could safely assume I’m talking about myself) have played those albums – and the extra-abrasive debut ‘Dinosaur’ – to absolute death. If they were thrown up in the air and jumbled together, there are some folks that could perfectly arrange them back in the order they were played like some kind of hairy jigsaw.
Mascis will, and quite often does, talk at great length about his love of Black Sabbath, potent weed, Adidas and the first Neil Young album (the fuzzy one). But he’s not the only member of the band with exceptional pedigree – Tim Parnin and John Petkovic are members of the Cobra Verde collective. Cobra Verde have a strange history, as any fan of grumpy rock will tell you.
They released a couple of great records before alternative-rock godhead Robert Pollard swallowed Cobra Verde whole (Parnin hadn’t joined by that point), a bit like some weed-smoking Galactus, and turned them as if by magic into his own band – the titanic Guided By Voices. Guided By Voices fans are often Dinosaur Jr fans, and vice versa: both found an audience in US colleges during the 80s, and are now revered for their unsurmountable contribution to modern music. Pollard himself has become prolific to the point of absurdity lately – he releases an average of five recordings a year – and he shows up on ‘The Golden Age Of Glitter’, too.
The guy who lends his name and story to Sweet Apple is one Dave Sweetapple. He played bass in Mascis’ stoner-rock project Witch – and what a righteous thunder he produced. He’s also one of the funniest artists to follow on Instagram, if that’s your kinda thing. You’ll see him enjoying classic records and classic English cuisine in equal measure… And Lemon Amps!
The music here is, thankfully, all worth the names on the marquee. Opener ‘Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)’ is a light and breezy rocker with sterling added vocals from Screaming Trees’ husky voiced crooner Mark Lanegan; Second tune ‘Reunion’ is a power-chord pounder with a noddable, catchy chorus – and some sterling backing vocals. It’s a live-wire number – think the middle ground between Kiss and Creedence – with added crowd noise to add to the feel-good vibe. Robert Pollard’s signature vocals are a nice addition here too.
More crowd noise opens the next track ‘Boys In Her Fanclub’, and between the “ooh-la-la-las” and jittery rhythm, a catchier-than-man-flu tune is born. Frantic drumming (I imagine it’s Mascis, judging by Witch’s previous records) carries the song along, with a highlight chorus. ‘Let’s Take The Same Plane’ is practically identical to The Byrds at their most reflective, complete with shimmering acoustic guitar. Mark Lanegan and Rachel Haden lend a hand on vocals, but with the latter’s sweet tones adding an extra edge to the track – what a voice!
‘Another Desert Skyline’ has a T. Rex/Bowie glam stomp and a rolling, twanging guitar reminiscent of the Dunedin Sound – Crystal Stilts have borrowed from this exact same sound for their more upbeat work. ‘I Surrender’ is a barrelling, choppy rocker with tremendous drumming, and tight-as-hell riffing.
‘Troubled Sleep’ changes things up with a more spacey vibe – check out the “I’m in trouble” vocal hook against the cosmic keyboard effects. Of course, there’s some more riffage to get your gnashers into – what would this band be without stompathons like the one that pops up halfway through the track?
‘We Are Ruins’ has a stoned Stones vibe – the same kind that Primal Scream use to great effect. You know the kind – shakers, tightly –wound acoustic guitar riffs, far-out vocals? ‘We Are Ruins’ is one of the best songs on the record, if only for its monstrous groove.
The album closes with the magical one-two of the cosmic folk of ‘You Made A Fool Out Of Me’, which harks back to Pink Floyd in its pensive, reflective bucolia, and the pastoral-psych-by-way-of-the-barroom wandering of ‘Under The Liquor Sign’. It starts and ends slowly, simply, before kicking up in the middle, where it resembles The Beach Boys circa 1969 – all glimmering harmonies and fuzzy tones.
I can’t say any more, really, even though I’d like to. It’s as simple as it sounds – a fucking killer record from some magic musicians that got together to make the most enjoyable record possible. If your facial muscles are capable of cracking a smile, then this record is for you. If you like to smoke weed, this is for you. It’s has no tedious frills, no pretentious bollocks, no crappy agenda, and I wish it were a triple album. Nuff said.
Scribed by: Ross Horton