Jerusalem and The Starbaskets - "Similar Cog" (DOST)
Country-loving duo Jerusalem and The Starbaskets wraps sharp-edged guitars and meandering vocals in layers of fuzz and distortion. Guitar vamps ride the horizon in the more driving, psychedelic outings, while in other more laid-back efforts, they circle endlessly over bleary waltz-times. The band — at its core singer and guitarist Jeremy Freeze and drummer Kim Sherman — have made a string of cassettes, singles and two limited distribution LPs. DOST is their first album to be widely available (or at least purchasable outside merch tables), and it’s a good one.
Freeze’s slackened yowl has drawn comparisons to Pavement, while the melodic sweetness tempered with bristling feedback evokes the Clean and other New Zealand lo-fi outfits. Like any band prone to bouts of distended, buzz-saw guitar drones, Jerusalem and The Starbaskets brings the Velvet Underground to mind, too. There’s some of the Stones’ slanted, inebriated twang in cuts like “First Cigarette in the Rain,” a shambling, jangling roadhouse blues turned mildly psychedelic, as well as a good whiff of “Gimme Shelter” in the glittering guitar intro to “What Other Flags?”
In no case, though, do you get any sense that Jerusalem and The Starbaskets is hiding weak material behind the lo-fi curtain. The songs that burst out of this fizzy murk are strong and memorable. Among the best, “Brighter the Light” matches the ratcheting tension of guitar chord crescendos with a fluid, anthemic vocal. The song is apparently a few years old, and you can catch an earlier (much more cleanly recorded) version on a live WFMU broadcast from late 2008. Here, on the album, the guitar is sharp, clear and urgent, while the vocals sound like they’re coming from the bottom of a well. Still, there’s no mistaking the sense of excitement, forward motion and blatant tuneful-ness in this cut, even in its muffled state. That goes double for “Walkin’ Across Your Grave,” the album’s clear highlight. Steely guitar vamps cut through the murk for the verse, then disintegrate into wild swirls of flanged mayhem at the break.
DOST is full of remarkably good, accessible songs that have been stretched and fuzzed to the breaking point. Better recording wouldn’t hurt this material at all. It would almost surely make it stronger.