Archie Bronson Outfit’s third album wraps the band’s staccato blues mantras in psychedelic heat, warping voices and guitar tones into mirage-ish uncertainty and inviting a vaguely decadent sense of dissolution. Recorded with the DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy partly in London, partly at Michigan’s Key Club, Coconut accentuates the band’s sense of groove and riff, but buries drummer Mark Cleveland’s voice under clouds of staticky feedback. The sound is at once expansive and claustrophobic, as it fills vast caverns with eerie echoes and leaves almost no negative space.
The sound works best on opener “Magnetic Warrior,” far and away the album’s highlight. Its T. Rex-worthy groove is built on a hammering, repetitive blow of a riff that reins in howls and squeals of feedback and frantic yelps and moans from Cleveland. It’s a riff that leads from the bass and lands somewhere between your stomach and lower pelvis, pummeling, pulverizing, rolling right over any questions or objections you might consider raising. “Magnetic Warrior” is, flat-out, a great song, the kind of lead-off track that, through frequent repeats, can prevent you from digging into the rest of the album. There are other tracks that stand out: “Hoola,” spun dizzy with interlocking vocal choruses; “Wild Strawberries” unhinged and wholly unpastoral in its chant of “Let’s move up to the country”; and “Harness (Bliss)” all strung-out drone punctuated by ghostly whoops. But really, once you’ve heard “Magnetic Warrior,” you’ve gotten the best out of this album.
The rest of Coconut is strewn with experiments in vaguely ska-ish upbeats (“Shark’s Tooth,” “Chunk” which sounds a lot like Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue”), lysergic guitar pop (“Bite It and Believe It,” “Hunt You Down”) and one odd, mad stab at music hall in closer “Run Gospel Singer.” None of this is terrible, but none, also, is as tensely, gloriously obliterating as Coconut’s opening blow. As the album goes on, too, a certain trebly shrillness emerges in the production, becomes noticeable gradually, and finally begins to irritate. It works reasonably well early on, because it causes certain sharp sounds — the guitars, the snap of percussion, the yelp of vocals — to pop intermittently out of the mix. It creates a shattered glass sparkle on top of churning, distorted wall-to-wall riffage. Yet as you go on, the aesthetic starts to wear thin. The top notes begin to sound too sharp, too high, too flimsy, and somehow disconnected from the main body of the song.
The overall sense is one of decay, as if Derdang Derdang’s sharp, hard songs had been left in the sun, growing soft and slightly rotten, bloated in spots, sunken in others, and overall infused with the faint scent of fermentation. Even the firmest elements of these songs — the martial spatters of drums, the thud of circling bass — are fuzzed by distortion. There’s a wavery quality to some of the vocals and keyboards that make it hard to decipher exactly what’s going on in the song. It’s a hedonistic vibe when it works, a relentless barrage of sweat and groove and intuition. But when it doesn’t, as on the shapeless medley “You Have a Right to the Mountain Life/One Up On Yourself,” it’s just a mess. Expanding your sound is fine…but let’s not let it sprawl.