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The Ukiah Drag: In The Reaper’s Quarters

 

04 Final Prayer

It would surely be unfair to suggest that the members of The Ukiah Drag are “bad” people just because they make music that sounds like it would kill you if it could. I guess it might feel so grizzly – so dank – because they all grew up around the Florida swamps; all those gases in the air and snakes and gators in the back yard must give a kid a taste for the sinister, right? And so what if their singer is the son of a stripper and an outlaw biker who has chosen to go by the kind of name (ZZ Ramirez) that makes him sound like an affiliate of both Marilyn and Charles Manson? I’m sure he’s a real sweet guy once you get to know him, when he’s not barking at you to hurry up and dig the hole that you’re about to be buried in. Right? Right? Truth is, if these fellas really were anywhere near as bad as In The Reaper’s Quarters – their first properly recorded long-player, out this week on Wharf Cat Records – makes them sound, they’d be in jail, cos this shit is pure evil. And we’re not talking about any of that wannabe gangsta hip hop posturing or pansy-ass black metal Satanism either (although it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re at least casually acquainted with that horny red dude). This is true True Detective nastiness, a trippy, nihilistic, existential punk blues that reeks of witchcraft and sex cults, ritual sacrifice and bodies in the basement; music for toothless glue-huffers to listen to while they decide whether to fuck their sisters or kill them. Recorded in a Lutheran church (where else?) by Ben Greenberg of The Men, In The Reaper’s Quarters is the kind of psychotic psychedelia that could have soundtracked the shitty end of the Sixties and would have sounded just as raw if it had been released at any point since. Okay, so it’s hardly a startlingly original sound – there isn’t much here that can’t be traced back within a few steps to either The Doors, The Velvet Underground & Nico or The Stooges’ debut album – but stealing from their elders is something these sickos have probably been doing since they were supposed to be at school, so not only are they very good at it, they’re also familiar enough with the tricks of the trade to change the plates and spray paint some flames on the hood before trying to pass that ride off as their own. That their hot-wired vehicle seems to be largely stuck in one gear is intentional: their vision – sludgy bass-lines and bone-rattling drums, wheezing organ and buzz-saw guitars, needling two-note riffs and smacked-out redneck Vincent Price vocals – is as singular as that of any serial killer, so much so that when they soften up ever so slightly for the penultimate closing time waltz “Wait And See” (Ramirez crooning “everything’s gonna be alright” in a way that implies it’ll be anything but) it feels as if they’re using some sort of “engine trouble” ruse to lure the listener over so they can smash them over the head with a wrench and bundle them into the trunk. But there I go again, casting aspersions on these nice boys’ characters when there’s no more reason to suspect them of any misdemeanour than there was to think that all rock & rollers would turn out to be devil worshipping deviants just because Elvis liked to swing his dick around (although imagine the smug look on the faces of a million Christian housewives after Altamont and the Tate murders). And to be honest, it doesn’t matter anyway: rock music has long been full of bad guys and unsavoury types and for the most part the ones that have been for real – the junkies, bullies, petty criminals and nut-jobs – have been far less entertaining than those openly playing a role. Strip away the peripheral stuff and it’s the music that matters, and the music here is as sharp, and as dirty, and as violent as any Cramps or Birthday Party or Gun Club fan could hope for; substitute the evil themes and occult undertones for lyrics about, oh I don’t know, spaceships and unicorns and …Reaper’s Quarters would still be a gloriously ugly example of lurching, acid-fried gutter punk done just right. Bad people, good people, whatever; these dudes have made a great rock album. And if they do end up going to hell, well… with tunes as good as these in their suitcase, the Devil will no doubt give them a very warm welcome. Check out “Her Royal Grip” and “Final Prayer” below.
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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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