Jody Seabody and The Whirls, Summer Us
More than anything else, on Summer Us, Jody Seabody and The Whirls feel like a band out of time. Sure, the trappings of more straightforward, radio-friendly alternarock are in there, definitely — especially in the opening tracks of the album — but they’re only really the window dressing over a structure built from the bones of late-’60s/early-’70s rock. The guitars, the song structures, even the vocals all remind me of psych-tinged, funky, earth-toned classic rock.
Which is a little mystifying to me, frankly, because it makes me feel like I shouldn’t be liking this the way I do. I’m not even entirely sure why myself, but sometime during college I decided I really didn’t like most “classic” rock out there on the radio; I avoided Zeppelin like the plague for a long time, believe it or not, and only really got into the Stones or Hendrix through the intervention of friends. Even then, I stopped cold right at the start of the ’70s, so I never really got into Kansas, Bad Company, Boston, or any other bands of that era (well, until I got addicted to Supernatural, that is; the show’s made me really like “Wayward Son,” in particular).
Listening to Jody Seabody and The Whirls, though, I can’t help but rock out to Bryce Perkins’ and Dave Merriett’s fiery, rough-edged, bluesy guitars (even when they go into extended solos), Matt Johnston’s nimble basslines, and Clint Rater’s thumping, solid drumming. Bluesier tracks like “Lone Tree/Bled Out” or the stoner-rock-style “Eating Young” come off the best, at least to my ears, but the more firmly psych-rock stuff (like “Fire Fire,” which hits some Beatlesque notes in the verse and shifts into something almost post-punk for the bridge, or the guitar heroics of closer “Stereo Ghost”) sounds surprisingly great, as well.
Looking at the disc as a whole, I have to say that it’s the album’s two instrumental tracks that really grab hold of me the most, despite the lack of lyrics. Both the aforementioned “Stereo Ghost” — which is a full-on monster of a song, at nine minutes of raw, heavy, psych-rock — and mid-album breather “Punch” leave me dazed and in awe of what these guys can do in terms of playing their instruments, and they’re engaging as hell besides. The latter track comes off like Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” if it wasn’t a soulless, simplistic bastardization of Hendrix, blowing that song out of the water in the process. Jody Seabody and The Whirls churns and smolders throughout, and it’s awesome to witness.
Not that the non-instrumental songs are bad, mind you. I’ve found myself sing/muttering the lyrics to “Open Book” over and over again these past couple of weeks, and the uncertain, tormented “Composition One” (the beginning of which makes me think it’s going to go into the People’s Court theme, believe it or not) is a mesmerizing throwback that wouldn’t sound out-of-place in rotation on some AOR station from back when I was a kid. And then when the vocals cut loose…well, holy freaking crap.
Looking at the liner notes, I can’t help but think that Summer Us must be a truly bittersweet accomplishment for the band, as they tragically lost bassist Matt Johnston last fall to a congenital heart defect. Johnston’s face smiles out from all the band’s pictures, and his agile playing gives Summer Us a lot of its funky, head-nod-inducing groove and anchors the band’s more high-flying psych-jam moments.
I’m glad to see the Jody Seabody guys have decided that continuing on is the best way to honor their friend and bandmate’s memory, but whoever comes into the band has some very large shoes to fill. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
(Feature photo by Austin Miller.)