Music Review: Trauma Parlor, LunarHeadz @ TJ Leland’s 1/23/16

The Stage at TJ Leland’s. Photos by Jeremy Johnson.

Saturday was LunarHeadz’s first show of 2016. We’ll get to them in a minute, but first let’s talk about Trauma Parlor, who opened the show, and who I’ve written about previously. In that review, I discussed their versatility and ability to coherently blend different musical styles, which were again on display.

Trauma Parlor is about 4 shows and a 4-song garage-recorded EP into their career, but each of these three guys is such a powerhouse that, when combined with the skill of their bandmates, it creates something of targeted firestorm. Don’t mistake their age as a band for inexperience.

Trauma Parlor

Mark Blankenship’s dexterity on the guitar is simply mind-boggling, and no matter which of the too-many-to-count genres he evokes, it’s always exactly right–his blues are slow-burning and evocative; his thrash is jagged and precise; his rockabilly is bugged out and almost unbelievably frenetic. The story is the same with Gabe Harris’s drumming–there’s not a bum note, tone, or rhythm to be found. When things need to simmer, he’s great at playing it restrained, without ever being remotely uninteresting; and when things need to explode–well, he’s a one-man wrecking crew, but he’s adept at slamming on the brakes and shifting into another style at a second’s notice. And John Duling’s bass guitar is nothing short of monumental. He unloads these earth-moving riffs that throb and pulse and punch you in the sternum. And then he’ll turn around and bowl you over with a stair-stepping bass line that feels utterly natural and sublimely superhuman.

What all this verbiage amounts to is this: if you haven’t seen Trauma Parlor yet, you need to rectify that oversight immediately. These guys are a towering live act not to be missed.

LunarHeadz, a Frontenac four-piece risen from the ashes of the now-defunct Fred Verse Red, closed out the show. They describe themselves as “indie rock,” but that term is pretty well meaningless by now, since bands ranging from Thee Silver Mt. Zion to Alt-J qualify. (Though I like Michael Nelson’s observation that, at least for a time, it was convenient shorthand for “sounds like Pavement.” It doesn’t hold here, though, since LunarHeadz sound nothing like Pavement.)

LunarHeadz

What they do sound like, though, is barely-controlled chaos. But don’t take that as a criticism. They’re punk in its truest sense–the whole thing is a wild, feverish crusade to make as much noise as possible, and feels about 3 seconds away from collapsing in on itself. There’s a ton of extraneous amp feedback, and hardly any songs end when they’re over–there’s always a stray guitar or bass rumbling away after the last beat. And perhaps because the four of them share a crowded stage, they often take the opportunity to beat on one another’s instruments, as well as their own.

Through all of the chaos comes a surging wave of metal-tinged rock. Singer and guitarist Jacob Boyles howls into the microphone like his life depends on it, and the guitars–aided by Gus Brunetti on bass and Aaron Troglia also on guitar–churn out buzzing, molten riffs that lurch and screech and twine around one another. Drummer Mason Vanderpool propels things along at a whirlwind pace. There does come a single moment, maybe 30 seconds long, where they open up onto an impressive melodic vista that actually sounds quite lovely and hopeful, but they quickly veer back into a monstrous fury before listeners get too comfortable.

But that’s generally how it goes with this kind of music–you learn to appreciate the tempest as much as the pleasant breeze. Luckily, it’s still early in the year, so there’s plenty of time to learn.

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