Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Album Review - Ponamero Sundown: Rodeo Electrica
Well holy shit…who are these fucking guys? That is precisely the thought that went through my skull as I fired up Rodeo Electrica and heard the pummeling drum fills, powerful riffs and penetrating opening salvo “straight to my face”, all of which burst forth from my speakers within the first minute of Ponamero Sundown’s latest opus. Turns out, these guys are Nicke Engwall (vocals), Peter Eklund (drums), Oliver Gille Vowden (bass) and Anders Martinsgård (guitar) from Stockholm, Sweden and on this, their second full length album on Transubstans Records, they have quite possibly cemented themselves atop the heap of stoner rock albums released thus far in 2011.
That opening track is “Evil Wand” and it alone is worth the price of admission here. For starters, Eklund’s drums will require that you sandbag your furniture and tape up the windows, because not since Dave Grohl have I heard someone hit the skins harder than this guy. I pity the poor bass player whose job it is to keep up with this man’s rhythm…but alas…Gille Vowden seems to be more than capable. Meanwhile, Martinsgård lays down enough groove to break the necks of ten thousand headbangers, while somehow finding time to blister his way through multiple leads and tempo shifts galore. You ready for the cherry on top? That would be Engwall’s vocal work, which is a dynamic combination of John Garcia’s machismo and Chris Cornell’s caterwaul.
And speaking of Garcia…track two, “Highway Messiah” owes an awful lot to the desert rock of Kyuss, only Ponamero Sundown strips away the circuitous nature of that band, choosing to focus on the more visceral musical moments…this is meat and potatoes rock my friends…the fat has been trimmed. Clocking in at just over two minutes, the song is an absolute scorcher that never lets up…not even for a second. In fact, listening to this while driving should be 100% illegal as you will most certainly feel like the song’s namesake as you plow down the road driving the gas pedal further and further into the floorboard. And when it comes to its abrupt end and you hear a hammering heartbeat…thump, thump, thumping, it’ll take a second for you to realize its coming from your speakers and not from your chest.
In stark contrast to the first two songs, the appropriately titled “Sorrows” is a dark and brooding, rhythmic ode to the horrors of hard drug use. Here the ominous music sets the tone equally as much as the lyrics and you begin to get the sense that the guys in Ponamero Sundown have seen a thing or two. That assessment is confirmed amidst the frenetic pace of “The Dice”, which focuses on the inevitable consequences of trying to satisfy your inner demons…hard luck (“wheel of fortune, never been good to me”) and hard living (“Sunday morning…drag me out of bed…I got a two ton hammer roaming through my head”). And as if to answer anyone who may condemn their chosen vices, the band follows with “1025” which finds Engwall crooning “oh…who are you to judge my life” over top an unbelievably catchy groove that is made all the more so by the accompanying piano .
Then, as if to put a period at the end of their first act, the band gives us “Rodeo Electrica Part I”, a beautiful instrumental piece that perfectly segues into the second half of the album, which starts off with “Shot for Glory”. The song is Ponamero Sundown at their finest, featuring the relentless devastation of Eklund’s beats amidst more gargantuan riffs and Engwall’s insistent howl…”a shot for glory, a shot for fame…it’s my life story, bullet with my name.” “Sinners Breed” follows, with a sound somewhere in the neighborhood of Layne Staley-era Alice in Chains playing stoner rock.
One aspect of Rodeo Electrica that I really appreciate is the timing. Ponamero Sundown understand when and where to let up, to allow the songs to stand apart…to breath…to give the listener an opportunity to process everything they’re hearing. “Not the Time” is a perfect example of this…a whimsical acoustic guitar interlude that mellows the mood, shedding light on the intensity of what you’ve just heard, all the while, setting you up for the album’s final onslaught.
“The Ghost” starts off slow, sludgy and discordant before subsiding into ballad territory, allowing Engwall to unleash what is perhaps his most powerful vocal performance here. The song is a showcase for his dynamic range as it shifts from a mellow, acoustic strum into another of the band’s signature grooves. And this may sound crazy, but I swear “Goddess of the Sun” sounds like a musical sequel to The Cult’s “Firewoman” from Engwall’s Astbury-esque vocals when he sings “goddess of fire”, right on down to the subject matter. “Fathomless Nothingness” is a self-deprecating lament that seems to throw away all hope in its expression of true sorrow and depression…”I am drowning in the dark”. And then Ponamero Sundown brings their epic to a close with “Rodeo Electrica Part II”, which bears no resemblance whatsoever to its instrumental brother from earlier in the album. Here the band seems to want to leave us with a reminder of their true essence as this song carries us right back into the driving rhythmic flow and heavy riffs of the opening track.
I think by now it’s pretty clear that I fucking dig this record. To be quite honest, there were no fewer than five times during the writing of this review that I found myself nearly referring to a song as “my favorite track on the album”. In fact, as the final song echoed and faded into oblivion, I probably looked pretty funny as I sat back in my chair and simply applauded. This, my friends…is stoner rock. Do check this shit out.
01 Evil Wand
02 Highway Messiah
04 The Dice
06 Rodeo Electrica Part I
07 Shot for Glory
08 Sinners Breed
09 Not the Time
10 The Ghost
11 Goddess of the Sun
12 Fathomless Nothingness
13 Rodeo Electrica Part II
Nicke Engwall - Vocals
Peter Eklund - Drums
Oliver Gille Vowden - Bass
Anders Martinsgård - Guitar
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