On June 8, Oakland, California’s Howlin Rain return with The Alligator Bride, their fifth LP of swampy, ragged, unapologetic rock ’n roll. Led by Ethan Miller (co-founder of psych rockers Comets On Fire and Heron Oblivion), the band recorded the album with Eric “King Riff” Bauer at the Mansion in San Francisco, direct to tape, in one or two takes.
It’s their first release on Silver Current Records, the artist-run label owned by Miller, and gleefully indebted to classic rock formations like the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 and Free’s masterpiece of atmospheric, minimalist blues, 1969’s Fire and Water. “The guiding principle for The Alligator Bride was to create ‘Neal Cassady Rock,’” says Miller. “Which is to say, high energy, good-times adventure music, driving the hippie bus, shirtless and stoned, up for four days straight, and extremely fuzzy around the edges.” It’s a fitting vision for the band: torn between eras, fuzzed out but full of soul, an epic perspective on what’s come before and what lies ahead, woven into a cosmic tapestry of riffs, rhymes, and resonant frequencies.
The New Haven-based band — songwriter Dan Greene on vocals and guitar, Rick Omonte on bass, Kryssi Battalene on lead guitar, and Ross Menze on drums — has been playing as a quartet for several years, and it shows. Where earlier Mountain Movers records were more orchestrated affairs, leaning into Greene’s songwriting, on Mountain Movers the songs, strong as they are, are landscapes for the band to explore. So the wistful, dreamy “Everyone Cares,” at the 2:20 mark grows into something much fiercer that doubles the song’s lifespan. The swaying lilt of “Angels Don’t Worry” turns into a slow-motion explosion, a vision of flames and flying stones expanding ever outward until the last wisps of feedback disappear into the clouds. Even the relatively fleet “Vision Television” fills its lungs fully with air by the time it’s done.
The young men of Mapache don’t like to waste time. In the studio, Sam Blasucci and Clay Finch often gather around a single microphone to capture their songs live in a take or two at most. On the road, they begin charming audiences instantly, captivating crowds with their mesmerizing harmonies and intricate guitar work from the very first notes. And now, just months after releasing their critically acclaimed debut, the duo is already back with a beguiling new EP titled ‘Lonesome LA Cowboy.’ “We just didn’t see any reason to wait,” says Blasucci. “Our repertoire has grown since our first record, and these songs are just too much fun not to sing.” Consisting of three charismatic covers, ‘Lonesome LA Cowboy’ encompasses a far broader swath of time and space than the hour it took to record would suggest, effortlessly bridging decades, genres, and even international borders. Tapping faithfully into an era that ended well before their births, Mapache’s performances here conjure up dry desert breezes and lush coastal canyons with a distinctly southwestern brand of harmony-driven folk and country that’s at once vintage and contemporary. The pair relies on nothing more than acoustic guitars and enchanting vocals to work their magic, pulling influence from the architects of American roots music as well as formative years spent living in Mexico and filtering it all through modern, youthful sensibilities. It’s music with little regard for boundaries or barriers, reverent of the past but fully immersed in the present.