Local H’s ‘Hey, Killer’ is just that
From underground scrappers such as Bully and Girlpool to that destined-for-stardom Aussie, Courtney Barnett, the story of SXSW 2015 was the wave of young new artists taking their cues from early ’90s alternative rock. At their best, these groups aren’t retro-minded throwbacks any more than the strongest bands of the alt-era were. Remember, “grunge” was a word that Lester Bangs loved to throw around to describe beloved mid-’60s proto-punks like the Count Five, the Seeds, and the Troggs three decades before Mudhoney (much less Nirvana) paired indelible pop melodies with the gloriously fuzzed-out crunch of Rat and Big Muff guitar pedals, splitting the difference between the best garage and the best metal.
This is a formula that Zion-reared, Chicago-based Scott Lucas has worked with Local H since 1990, through the heady days of a major-label deal with Island and a modern-rock radio hit with “Bound for the Floor,” through three drumming partners in his “we did it long before the White Stripes” two-man band (Joe Daniels, Brian St. Clair, and the heavy-hitter “new guy” Ryan Harding), and through a period where it’s been all too easy to take him for granted Cheap Trick-style with a dismissive, “Oh, they’re still at it?” And that’s a horrible injustice, because Lucas never has failed to deliver a new batch of unforgettable basement-rawk anthems, which is as true of album number eight Hey, Killer as it was of earlier standouts such as As Good as Dead (1996), Pack Up the Cats (1998), and Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? (2004).
Produced by longtime collaborator Andy Gerber and recorded at his Million Yen Studios and Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio, the new set lacks the conceptual conceit of Twelve Angry Months (2008’s epic break-up album) or Hallelujah! I’m a Bum (2012’s rage against the one-percent) and simply gives us 11 winning tracks in 47 kick-ass minutes, with at least that many hooks. The songs don’t suffer a whit for Lucas’ return to more obscurantist lyrical mode. What exactly is a “Gig Bag Road”? Who the heck is the title character of “Leon and the Game of Skin,” and what the heck is he playing at? Why is Lucas fending off the “John the Baptist Blues” and feeling a bit misanthropic these days?
I don’t know and I don’t care, not when I’m so gleefully head-banging and singing along. And neither will you. The meaning of “One of Us” at least is clear enough: The musical community that honors these values is alive and well, and Local H has given us a welcome new soundtrack.
See Local H play a Record Store Day performance at Reckless on Broadway at 4 p.m. Saturday and headline a 25th anniversary record-release party with reunited fellow travelers Figdish at Metro on Sunday night; tickets for the latter available here.
Local H, Hey, Killer (G&P Records)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3.5 stars.