Friday, January 11, 2013
In Case You Missed It: The Heavy Eyes - Maera
So it’s the beginning of a new year and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been scouring everyone’s “best of 2012” lists to find all the bands and albums that you either overlooked, forgot about or just flat out missed last year. It’s a great time for any music lover because the best of the best have been laid out like a buffet for you to pick and choose from as you wish. In fact, the inspiration for this write-up came from perusing my good buddy Zac’s list of preferred EPs of 2012 which included a demo for The Heavy Eyes’ upcoming full length Maera.
As it turns out there’s nothing “upcoming” about it. While we were all busy drinking cheap champagne, making resolutions we have no intentions of keeping and looking back at the haze of the past twelve months, this Tennessee trio quietly slipped their sophomore LP into the abundant pool of excellent albums that were released in 2012. Like a kid who finds a forgotten present buried deep in the closet well after the holidays have passed, I immediately knew this was a job for my new campaign to leave no album behind. So just in case you may have missed it like I did, I give you The Heavy Eyes.
Now from beginning to end, Maera is either a bluesy take on psychedelic rock or a psychedelic take on the blues, depending on your perspective. You’ll know it right from the start as “Levantado” opens with vocalist/guitarist Tripp Shumake laying down a fuzz-fueled lead that bassist Wally Anderson and drummer Eric Garcia waste no time latching onto as the trio embark on their quest to shake your ass. Tripp’s trippy vocals emerge as if from nowhere like a smoke ring…”I feel death, out the corner of my eye…he keeps watching, but I don’t pay no mind”…and like that, The Heavy Eyes have their hooks in you.
With “One Hand on the Buffalo”, the band takes a darker approach that sounds like Buddy Guy jamming on a de-tuned Tony Iommi riff. Vocals continue to swirl through the mix as the plodding rhythm section bears the weight of the song’s elephantine groove. “Maggie” mixes the sweet sustain of Mississippi delta blues with the overdriven gain of Electric Ladyland. And as good as all of that may sound, none of it compares to the ominous tone of “These Men are Wolves” wherein The Heavy Eyes merge all of their influences to perfection. Garcia’s militaristic drum roll and Anderson’s driving bass combine to carry the song like a forsaken burden, while Shumake’s feedback laden guitar hovers just above his vocals as he sings “This ain’t about forgiveness, this ain’t about the rules…but talk is cheap, you better watch your step, out here with these fools, cuz these men are wolves.” If you sample only one song from Maera, make it this one.
On the middle third of the album, the bluesy backbone of The Heavy Eyes is even more accentuated, and this is perhaps most noticeable on the guitar driven, garage rock anthem “Mind”. Or check out “Parado”, as Shumaker plays a funky on-beat/offbeat guitar part right along with Anderson’s bass thump, which is the centerpiece of the song, as he sings “I’ve been through hell, and back again…gained some enemies, and lost some friends.” And it’s impossible to mistake the Southern rock, slide technique the guitarist employs on “The Times”, which is guaranteed to make rock clubs everywhere feel like arenas when these guys roll it out in a live setting. Then, with barely a gap between songs, “Abbé Faria” rolls in on a wave of feedback, hypnotic echoed vocal effects (appropriate since the song is named after one of the founders of hypnotism) and possibly the most impressive showcase of Garcia’s drumming to be found on Maera.
The Heavy Eyes reach their final act with two songs that flow together so well, both musically and lyrically, that they actually work as a companion piece. “Lately” plays like a heavier version of The Black Crowes as Shumaker attempts to come to terms with a love lost, “I’ve been drinking a lot lately…I guess it’s cuz I miss you baby”. And the song’s final riff is literally the opening riff in "Goodnight", a raw garage rocker in the vein of the White Stripes. If the vocalist missed his girl before, he's seemingly fed up with her now...“I can’t take back the things I said or the shit you put me through, so goodnight to you.” Finally, The Heavy Eyes do what all good stoner bands must...closing Maera with an extended instrumental jam. “Aplomado” is built around another steady bass line from Anderson that provides plenty of leeway for Garcia and Shumaker to improvise with their drums and guitar throughout its seven minute run time (not counting the three minute fuck-off session tacked on at the end with what sounds like an accordion).
People, this is an album chock full of fuzzed out tones, echoed vocals and stop/start beats that likely would have been on quite a few “best of” lists had it not been released at the ass end of 2012. Listening to The Heavy Eyes is like a hallucination for the ears. You can take my word for it…the psychedelic blues of this Memphis trio will send you from Beale Street to oblivion…and that’s an experience that is not to be missed.