Mikey and the Drags, On The Loose!
It’s always nice when somebody not only exceeds your expectations but beats them into the pavement with a length of lead pipe, leaving ’em bleeding and unconscious as they walk away.
And yeah, that’s pretty much what happens when I listen to On The Loose!, the latest EP from retro-garage-pop dudes Mikey and the Drags — the band’s taken the promise of their previous release, last spring’s excellent “Spill Your Guts”/”Solstice” 7″, and jumpstarted it, turning a sly-smiling throwback sound into something that’s damn near on fire. Where the previous two songs came off as mostly laid-back and cool, the songs on On The Loose! live up to their collective name, ripping and scraping and bouncing along like the resurrected ghost of The Sonics set free in the Houston miasma.
Mikey and the Drags kick the door in right at the start, with “Evil One,” a bumping, head-nodding chunk of garage-pop that echoes both the aforementioned Sonics and their long-after musical brethren from the Pacific Northwest, Mudhoney (no, seriously; listen to Mikey/Miguel Ponce’s half-yelped vocals and tell me I’m wrong), all the while nodding over to early Brit-punk at the same time. And damn, I love, love, love that old-school organ sound.
“So Fine” steps a little differently, with more of a speedier, snarling punk sound, but it’s still just as fiery, as is “Hot Minute,” a tightly-wound bit of nasty (but awesome) garage-punk; if I squint a little, I can almost hear the long-dead Fatal Flying Guilloteens playing the latter (well, up until the “ooh-ooh” vocals, that is). “I’ve Got A Bottle” is surprisingly jaunty for its bluesy nature, a downtrodden, alcoholic tale of garage-y woe that sees Mikey declaring, “I’ve got a bottle that keeps me warm / It’s my only friend.”
Obviously, this isn’t the cheeriest of music, but it’s not all dark, just ripped-open and raw, especially with the lo-fi sound amped up from the previous 7″ — On The Loose! basically finds the median between “Spill Your Guts” and the band’s initial, messy-as-hell demo, and rides it ’til the road goes away.
There are two major, major high points here, at least for me. The first is the band’s cover of The Sonics’ (yes, again) “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark,” a rough-edged bit of blues-gone-doowop rock that’s almost hopeful and uplifting, trying to encourage rather than knock down, and holy crap is it an addictive listen, even for somebody who knows and loves the original.
Then, last but certainly not least, there’s title track “On The Loose,” which sees Mikey and the gang stretching out into a more straight-up surf-rock sound and nailing it to the floor. It’s fast and (duh) loose, practically an homage to surf-rock pioneer Dick Dale, and hey, I’m totally good with that. Plus, the band slides it in at the mid-point of the EP, which gives kind of a breather between the bomp-bomp-bomp garage fuzz on either side.
Keep it rolling, y’all; I want more of this.