We Were Wolves, Wolf House
I’ve only ever been to Beaumont once, so I can’t claim to know what it’s like to come from there, not exactly. What I do know, however, is what it’s like to come from a dead-end, soul-destroying town with no obvious future beyond a low-wage job or the military; that’s what it was like where I went to high school, and I and nearly everyone else I know from those days got the hell out as soon as we could. The ones who couldn’t get out, for whatever reason, didn’t do so well — drugs, jail, and worse tended to follow.
Based on We Were Wolves’ debut full-length, Wolf House, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that maybe — maybe — growing up in Beaumont is kind of like that. There’s a serious sense of desperation here, of isolation and being trapped in a go-nowhere place that sucks you in like a tar pit until you look around one day and realize, hell, you’re just about done. Your life’s passed you by.
If that’s the case, Wolf House makes complete and total sense to me (and I’m damned glad the Wolves guys got out and made their way over to Houston). It’s dirty and raw and bluesy but still punkish, in-your-face without being belligerent, and messily heavy as all get out along the way. There’re a lot of touchstones here, from Mudhoney’s grunge squall to Federation X’s noisy Pacific Northwest drunk-rawk to early, sun-blistered Queens of the Stone Age roar, but it all comes together to make something all its own, just this pure, sweaty, grimy chunk of rock.
There’s “Bleeding Hours,” which is stomping and bluesy but still kinda-sorta punkish, fast and busy and sharp-edged, and which then morphs into the heavy thunder of “Hodo Hada” — my personal favorite — a bona-fide road song that doesn’t “play” so much as barrel on down the highway. “Mind Reader” is slower-moving and more deliberate, but it’s got the same somewhat sinister, raw feel as the earlier tracks, and it builds into a burning pile of buzzsaw guitars and stuttering drums.
There’s also a decent-sized dose of weirdness here, one that points backwards to Texan psych-punks the Butthole Surfers, as on “Heavy Shrimp,” where grunge-y guitars seesaw back and forth quirkily over a tidal rhythm and bitter lyrics unfurl about the aforementioned dead-end town, or the stranger, ’90s-ish chop of “Crash and Burn,” which makes me think of Faith No More, believe it or not.
The album’s midpoint is “Lost at Sea,” a dark, brooding, slow-burning track that comes off kind of like an aural, post-20th century Old Man and the Sea, all about trying to find some peace in the bleak solitude of the fisherman’s life (oh, and maybe about actually being stuck out there in the Gulf, too). It works wonderfully, even though it sounds like nothing else on here when you’re peering at it up close. The dirt and rough edges remain the same, no matter what.
I’ve always maintained that subgenre-ifying music makes it easy, at least relatively speaking. “Oh, we’re a ska-core band, so this is how we sound,” or, “Yeah, we play urgh-punk, which is why every song goes like ‘this.'” Jump into some box, and poof, there’s your blueprint — play these chords, this fast, tweak it a little, and there you go.
What’s infinitely harder, to me, is stripping away all those modifiers, or better yet, melting them all together in the pot, and just making something that is ineffably, uncontestably rock music; rock that doesn’t need to be subcategorized and pigeonholed, because it just is. There’re very few bands out there that can pull it off, honestly, but holy shit, with Wolf House it sure sounds like We Were Wolves are one themselves.