Album Review: His Name is Codeine - The Only Truth Is Music (Dead Book Records)
I've lost count of the times I've heard that guitar music is over. It's a mantra repeated whenever each successive generation of young musicians discovers the white-hot technology of their era, and decides that the old ways just won't cut it anymore. But for every revolution there is a resistance movement - skulking in garages, doing time in dark club basements and trawling for dog-eared copies of old, revered records. With a lineage harking back to New York punk, West Coast psyche-rock and good old fashioned noisy Scottish pop music - along with a name stolen from a Townes Van Zandt track dripping with bitter misery - His Name Is Codeine are way too focused on making a beautiful noise to be concerned about the prevailing trends. And so, maybe we can't write the obituary for guitar music just yet?
There is something almost meteorological about His Name Is Codeine as typified on opener "My Tragic End" where the band stand, placid and stoic in the centre of a growing storm. As the pressure waves of churning guitar begin to increase in intensity, Lyn Ralphs's low growl of a vocal never varies from its strangely calm, alluring path. I first heard of His Name Is Codeine via the sprawling minutes of tension and menace which make up "Before The Apple Fell", where crashing waves of noise are accompanied by howls of rage, thunderous percussion and the sudden dips and swoons of a glorious chorus leading to a spiralling, dizzy coda. This is visceral, searing noisy pop which fuses an impressive pallete of influences and reference points - from whirling prog rock organs to shattered blasts of guitar which hark back to punk - all delivered with a confidence and assurance which belies this band's relatively recent formation. But on "Shoot To Kill" the influences land somewhat closer to their Elgin home as later period Jesus and Mary Chain is reworked to sound far more relevant and turbulently noisy than the Reid brothers have managed in a while. An insistent beat supports a sprawl of caterwauling Sonic Youth guitars while male and female vocals play out a sullen, gloomy duet.
By the time "Not A Number" reaches its climax via a Renderers style, country-pop flecked shudder through the swamps, you'd be forgiven for thinking there were two distinct bands at work here. This is a dense howling take on Americana which typifies the bolder, grander ambition the band manages to maintain alongside it's more accessibly poppy moments such as "Replica Gun" - where apocalyptic themes are explored in unnervingly gentle, naive vocals. This mode switch feels sometimes a little deliberate, and they don't always dovetail completely - which sometimes makes for wonderful dynamics, but at other times feels a little haphazard and jagged. But perhaps this always going to be a tricky aspect of sequencing an album built around several epic longer tracks? The next of these is "Magdalena" - a woozy, circular madrigal set against frequent flashes of razor sharp guitar noise. Throughout, a solid chug of ominous bass anchors the song to planet earth - but perhaps only just, as its wah-wah heavy conclusion seems intent on breaking loose and causing serious damage.
There's an almost Rolling Stones like air to the opening of "The Measure of Your Misery" with its swoon of organ and ringing bluesy guitars. The laconic pace and drawling vocal is mere preparation though, for the sonic onslaught that follows. Explosions of guitar suddenly intrude, and never quite leave as the vocals and noise vie for dominance. Things threaten to disintegrate entirely, but remarkably the swaggering melody returns and the band take to switching effortlessly between these poles. There are similar tricks at work too on the closing track "Medal" which begins with the band in a Velvet Underground like daze, where Lyn Ralph plays Maureen Tucker when she took her rare turns in front of the microphone. Swishes of slide guitar echo in the distance while the vocals shimmer and twist around them, an oddly childlike stream of conciousness emerging as a prelude to a repeated, ear-splitting swirl of noise and voices.
"The Only Truth Is Music" seems a brash declaration for the title of a band's debut album. But in this case though it fits perfectly. His Name Is Codeine have produced a complex, dynamic and ambitious record which is just as comfortable trawling the sleazy gutters as it is shooting for celestial highs. When they strike the right balance, this is searing, angry and intense music which often betrays something of the frustration of small-town living besides it's loftier preoccupations. Staying true to the ancient pillars of rock and roll - even when it's not quite the done thing - but doing it just how they think it should be done... Perhaps the only truth really is music after all?
His Name Is Codeine release "The Only Truth Is Music" on 30th May via Dead Book Records. In the meantime, you can pick up their debut recording "Before The Apple Fell" from Bandcamp.
Current live dates to support the album release are: May 4th in Peterhead, May 11th in Aberdeen (with Delta Mainline and The Carousels) and on June 1st (with Seas, Starry), June 14th in Edinburgh (with Delta Mainline and Exit Calm) and Glasgow Psych Fest on June 21st-23rd.