Written By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Califonia X.
Of all the trends that are happening in music these days, from bleeding heart indie-folk to wobbly bass drops, one of my personal favorites is the “big” sound of modern indie punk. This isn’t necessarily a 2013 buzzword, it’s what I attribute to bands like Japandroids and METZ whose records are so loud and monumental, that “big” is the only way to really describe it. The crazy part is: these bands only have two or three members. Where does the power come from!?
Joining the ranks of this genre that I created is California X from Amherst, Massachusetts. Even though they have but three members in the group, the sheer volume and intensity that their sound evokes is mind-blowing. You’d think that were eight more people in the studio just banging on pots and pans into a microphone. Now with a debut self-titled full-length record under their belt on Don Giovanni records, they are ready to go even bigger.
Amherst, Massachusetts is in an area called the Pioneer Valley, which is well known as home for liberal arts colleges such as U. Mass Amherst, Hampshire and Mt. Holyoke College. In addition to these colleges, the people who come from here are also known to be a bit strange. The great part of all this is that the music that comes from the Valley tends of a superior quality. Amherst’s foremost indie rock celebrities, Dinosaur Jr., are the basis of comparison for a lot of critics with California X.
On this “big” sound, it seems like that’s becoming the new texture of rock. Alternative rock is mostly an obscured genre these days and when someone says that they listen to “rock,” it is followed by a barrage of questions mostly on the topic of, “What kind?”
The latest Japandroids release Celebration Rock was met with so much praise across the board that it was a mistake if you didn’t include them your “Best of” list last year. The drums were like canon blasts and the guitars buzzed. It’s unclear as to whether this was intentional or not for California X but they seem to dig on excess — something that rock music has always championed. These days, you need to be in someone’s face to get their attention.
They put out their debut full-length on Don Giovanni Records in February of this year. The album cover is very simply one of the members of the band with a denim vest and a tag of the band’s name on the back. However, it looks like it was spray painted by one of those guys who would be down by the Jersey Shore with band name in a very effeminate cursive. Could it be a tribute to Spring Breakers? It wouldn’t be so far-fetched to conceive if the film hadn’t been released a month after the record was.
The record itself is gritty, but in the pop sort of way. It starts out with “Sucker” with a bit of a hardcore drone to it, tuned-down guitars creating a powerful build up. You can sense a slight metal influence on here too, despite the tempo of the song – it’s all in the guitar work.
One of the standout tracks is “Pond Rot,” a mid-tempo rocker with fuzzy guitars and some grimey lyrics (the hook goes, “I want a pond to rot in”). The single from the record, “Spider X,” feels like a chase song from an action movie. In fact, a lot of these songs would lend well to film, should they choose to go down that road. The only song that slows down the record but maintains intensity is “Lemmy’s World” — which is perfect because it comes in the middle of California X.
Their resident label, Don Giovanni, boasts an impressive history and roster. At one time they were the home to New Jersey’s The Ergs!, the loveable pop-punk trio that took the “broken hearted love song” to a new level. These days they are really killing it with the female-fronted pop punk bands (Waxahatchee, Big Eyes, Screaming Females) which is promising for a largely male-dominated community. The label also is comprised of all East Coast bands with most of the bands coming out of New Brunswick, NJ or Brooklyn. That kind of hyper-locality is important for a scene that values small town scenes.
It seems that the entire culture surrounding California X is created by doing things big. Their record label is doing big things for women in punk rock music, the music they create is monstrous in scope, and the ideas that come from Amherst can at times seem larger than life. All of this has come out of a three-piece from Massachusetts. I guess the question is, how much “bigger” can California X get? It’s the type of question that can plague a band’s progress, so let’s just leave it to them to decide on the increments that work.
To purchase California X click here.
And, check out California X featured on Discovery Corner here on BTR!