Monday, August 18, 2014

The Safes "Record Heat" on Wee Rock Records

Actual blood relatives playing together on a record has always baffled me. The idea there can be that kind of closeness heading into a studio or on the road seems like an inevitable recipe for disaster but they also start with an insane shorthand and telepathy that other bands would take years to get to. The Safes on Wee Rock records are made up of three brothers, Frankie, Michael and Patrick O’Malley playing virtually everything on the record between them making them an even bigger threat. Their latest full length Record Heat is the culmination of over ten years of working together and their fifth since getting together (?) back in 2003. (Did they have solo careers before that? Were they all trying to beat each other to the basement studio before the others woke up?) I have a feeling this band has been really together since they were old enough to start playing together in the garage...and those roots are still there. Make no mistake this is heavily polished but that comes with this kind of experience and the willingness to bend those rules at the same time.

The A-Side “Hopes Up, Guard Down” somehow manages a youthful optimism that should be long gone in their playing; the booming toms, the twinkling electric and handpicked bits of that power garage sound from the Dictators. The result is a great weird interplay in the guitar back and forth on this first track, echoing each other’s parts on the electrics and vocally. As much as they lean towards massive production they make sure to keep those real moments; the stutter and abrupt cutoff of a guitar and stumbly drums.
They dive further into the late '70s on “I Would Love to” with a glam approach of hand claps and higher harmonies with a solid major chord progression and thick guitar that takes center stage. The doubled up vocals are great, it’s really not fair when brothers harmonize like this with a genetic advantage. They swap back to a indie sound on the slower dusty reverb of “K.O.” with far off distant piano chords. Something about these tones and the melody is like falling down the stairs in a Spoon kind of way, they take hold of old genres and squeeze.
“Birthday Cake” revisits a glam sound, slightly distorted and straining into an old mic, snotty, swaying back and forth distortion up and down the neck. Like ‘90s nostalgia ringing telephones and sirens work their way into this as the toms pick up managing to keep things in that party rock place, they don’t get too alienating in any slant towards grunge.

B-Side's “Know it all” is a real bubbly garage, looking up jangling down the street headed out to party. They really have things under control in this smooth version of The Hussy,similar attitude but a higher end vocal with those garage qualities but refined and ultra harmonized - which is a track about talking down to the narrator - but you wouldn’t know it singing along. “I win” seems to have a more subtle approach but they have a big sound even when they drop down for something quieter, the tension building. It's a snarl of the Apples in Stereo, that little bit of attitude to get this far but then pulling it all together into this complete package that plays ever so slightly with the hugeness, higher register melodics spinning through this and the backup female vocals just under the surface. They have the conviction to see this one through with single piano strikes from a slightly out of tune high school upright piano. Attitude and restraint.

“Ace for a Face” continues to feed this huge sound, the vocals calling back and forth picking up harmonies along the way, huge toms and hissing feedback slowing down in an almost whisper for gritty distortion to work it’s way in, that little bit of a dirty solo. The almost no effects on the vocal for “Hot Pursuit” is a nice contrast to the rest of the album and reminds you they always have unexpected twists coming, that bassline sets things up in one direction and the guitar takes it somewhere else entirely. Not to mention the literal changes they make in the middle of this pounding time signature. They can’t help themselves and the amount of ideas pouring out, this could have started as a single for god sakes but it got away with them. “Erased from History” ends on some rough edges like Poster Children they craft complex polished punk, messing with those time changes again and the bending of high notes almost out of control. A theremin or warble vocal, maybe messing with the tape in the background is just another sign of those experimental touches.

Get this on white vinyl from Wee Rock Records.

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