Ladyhawk - "I Don't Always Know What You're Saying" (Shots)
Ladyhawk's songs are soaked in alcohol and self-recrimination, full of churning miasmic guitar and hoarse, emotion-laden vocals. Think of the band's music as that moment in a long night of carousing when the first splinters of hangover start to pierce through drunken euphoria, where you're laughing your ass off at something someone said, and all the sudden you remember you're going to die. There's a strut and bravado in these songs, but everyone knows it's a front.
Musically, this Black Mountain affiliate leans towards heavy guitar traditionalists like Neil Young, Silkworm and Built to Spill. Yet behind the hard-country core of these songs, behind the clamped and righteous rhythmic-ness, there's an element of chaos, too. When the guitars ram through keyboards in "I Don't Know What You're Saying," they obliterate all other sounds, as fierce and joyfully dissonant as Mission of Burma. And later, the album's best song, "S.T.H.D.," starts out tamped down and palm-muted, tense as a wire, rippling with suppressed defiance. It could blow at any minute, and blow it does, shouted mass choruses and swirling guitar solos erupting from its rock steady foundation. Ladyhawk letting go is a beautiful thing indeed. I wish they did it more.
The second half of the album, though, tends to drag, bursts of exuberance doused under mid-tempo blues vamps. "Fear" is maybe the best of the slower songs, its heel-rocking electric blues riff a dead ringer for Crazy Horse, its chorus heady and spiraling as it emerges from the gloom. "Corpse Paint," though, is all atmospherics and no song, its slacked out rhythm evoking a sort of dread. "(I'll Be Your) Ashtray" is even slighter, a late-night drunk call punctuated by bent notes and cymbal clinks. It is only with "Night You're Beautiful,” near the end, that things begin to pick up again, female back-up singers leavening the darkness and an outsized guitar solo making art out of murk and depression. And closer "You Ran" has an appealing lo-fi urgency, drums banging, guitars clanging, singer Duffy Driedeger making a play for love, the whole thing emerging from the fog and turning into something like triumph.
There's enough to enjoy here in the murky atmospherics and occasional surges of melody, but Shots can’t be the Ladyhawk album fans were hoping for. As before, there are a couple of stand-out songs, and a fair amount of filler. The entire album clocks in at only 28 minutes, too, so you have to wonder if the band was truly invested in the effort. Next album, I'd like to see Ladyhawk take more time and take more chances. There's too much promise in this band not to.