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Artist: California X

Album: California X

Label: Don Giovanni

Review date: Apr. 19, 2013

There’s a steady chug running through California X’s debut, a hard riffing rhythm that cuts through the asbestos-splintered, diesel-caked fug of pedal distortion. Before I knew the front man’s name was Lemmy Gurtowsky, I assumed that the “Lemmy’s World” song was a nod to Motörhead, and it could be, running like a rust-bucket that’s had serious engine-work, so that it revs and roars with mechanical power all out of proportion with its rough exterior. You can extrapolate a connection to Dinosaur Jr. from geography (California X is from Amherst, Mass.), guitar tone (epic and fuzzy), a producer (Justin Pizzoferrato) and general mess and ferment (and plenty of writers have). But, really, this racket is too relentlessly mobile to resemble Dinosaur. Where Mascis spins out mandala-ish guitar solos that revolve in endless circular motions, Gurtowsky cranks a head-banger riff. California X is more like the Modey Lemon or the Cherry Valence than Dinosaur, tripped out in a purposeful, palm-muted, gut-punching, 1970s-classic-hard-rock sort of way.

The problem with the Dinosaur comparison is that is leads you in a not very useful direction, toward comparisons with Milk Music, for instance, which really does sound like first-run J/Lou/Murph. California X alters the punk-to-metal ratio ever so slightly (punk tempo, metal drop D tuning), cuts through the sludge with slamming drums and leans more toward heavy rock hookage rather than guitar sprawl. In fact, the one time the band really pushes into less structured overload is the opening cut “Sucker,” and the results are subpar. Still Single’s Doug Mosurock got it right when he observed (of the single b/w “Mummy”) that “it bears down on a decent enough riff for twice as long as it needs to.” This is the track that sounds most like Dinosaur, and not a great example of what California X does best.

The band fares far better with the slo-mo crash and burn heaviness of “Pond Rot,” which uses ponderously weighty bass-and-drums as a foundation from which jets off spiraling arcs of rock guitar. “I want a pond to rot in,” sings Gurtowsky, following a fairly memorable melodic line over bomb-scarred landscapes of volume and distortion. “Hot Hed” hitches straight up riffage to punk rock aggression. It smells of alienation and testosterone. And “Mummy,” the other one off the single that Mosurock reviewed, is downright exciting in the way it slices through the fuzz with tuneful-ness. If you’re going the SST route, it’s more Hüsker Dü than Meat Puppets, more melodic punk than feedback-blinded maelstrom. You could even make a connection to people like Ted Leo in the way the guitars crunch and swagger around melody. It sounds (shall I say this again?) almost nothing like Dinosaur Jr.

But who cares? Geography isn’t destiny. Just because California X comes from the same area as Mascis doesn’t mean they have to sound like him or that not sounding like him (which they don’t) is some sort of failing. I like what they’re doing – loud, simple, aggressive rock – and I don’t care that it’s not as J as J himself. It’s its own thing, and a pretty good one.

By Jennifer Kelly

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