To borrow a cliche from a band built upon cliches: For those about to rock, Old Indian salutes you. Actually, it’s probably not entirely fair that the word “cliche” be used anywhere around Old Indian and their first full-length set, “Mumble.” Because if there’s anything to be learned from this explosive garage/blues-rock collection, it’s that Old Indian play by their own rules, like it or not. Forever and always.
And with these eight songs (nine if you count the secret track), they succeed in doing as much. The most fun aspect of the record is the mere fact that for once we get to hear these three guys as they are meant to be heard: loud and clear. Gone are the days of underproduction and sloppy recordings. In is a band that has no problem exploring the many luxuries an actual studio can provide. The interesting parts come when they insist on staying true to themselves, even if the instruments sound more polished than usual and the songs sound as familiar as they always have.
Case in point: “Mean Man,” a song the trio has been performing for years, takes on an impressive new light, now that the guitars are crisp and the drums keep thundering. Kicked up just a tiny bit in tempo, drummer Evan Owens’ swing is a joy to feel, his right hand moving with ease on a ride cymbal that pings more with each shuffle. By the time his rock-star turn creeps in and he takes his solo, the guy has never sounded better, those tom-toms echoing through the speakers as though they were made to be heard in arenas. Then, when the cut-time boogie swings in, throttle full, to cap the whole thing off, it becomes clear how essential Owens is to the Old Indian equation.
Singer Cory Springirth’s reverb-ed-out vocals take on new meaning as well, his occasional yelps showcasing the infectious amount of fun Old Indian has always embodied in a live setting. “Just A Bum” is blast of surf-rock glory that the singer eats up with each iteration, sounding like the nephew of Jack White and Dan Auerbach with a twist of youthful ignorance. A track like this might have been a difficult listen in a lesser studio’s hands, but the production value is flawless and Springirth’s unique croons play to perfection each time he steps to the mic.
Which, as it turns out, isn’t as much as you might think. Wordless opener “Space Connect” drives forward at blazing speed, Owens and bassist Mark Weeks combining for one stunningly insistent driver’s seat. Then, when the tempo breaks and Weeks provides a backbone that might make John Paul Jones smile, Springirth’s guitar chops come on display with flashing lights that shred as much as they sparkle. Wah-wah and all, it’s a journey through pure rock the way it was meant to be played: Loud and hard.
Yet even when the trio slows it down, they keep that signature blend in tact. “Bedside Blues” and “Spanish Blues” feel like weird twists at first, but it takes no more than a handful of listens to find value in each. The former could double as a Southern rock opus more commonly heard in the 1970s, complete with pretty clean guitar and a bounce that you just don’t hear all that often anymore in contemporary music. The latter, meanwhile, is a seven-minute epic that crescendos and decrescendos with effect and precision, making for the band’s most complete song to date. For proof, check out the track’s second half, which takes off without abandon led by some serious guitar riffage and a palpable desire to take the listener on a journey that feels like it might never stop. In the best ways, of course.
“Too Old To Be Cool,” another slower sample, bites with its lazy groove and pseudo-tongue-in-cheek vocals as Springirth sings, “I always wake up early/ I’m always on time/ I don’t wanna hang with my friends/ Real late at night.” Get to a certain age and feel how much that hits home. And then there’s “Eyelids,” which might just be the most inspired Springirth sounds throughout the record. How so? Check the screams he offers up near the end of verse one. It comes across as the most reverb-sounding horror movie you could ever watch. “The Riff” then goes on to play for pop supremacy and it works with mixed results. This is a band that works best when it’s soaked with aggression, and while “The Riff” holds its weight, it makes you long for the spastic turns of “Space Connect” or the carefree fun of “Just A Bum.”
Still, truth be told, that’s more than OK. Because with “Mumble,” Old Indian takes a monster step forward as a band that deserves to be taken seriously. They’ve helped hold up the Frederick music scene for years now, and after all the shows and rehearsals and setbacks that being in a band can bring, this set feels more like an announcement of arrival than it does a victory lap, even this far into their existence. These songs were never meant to be heard through a lo-fi stereo in lo-fi headphones, remember.
Instead, they were meant to be turned all the way to 11 and work as the soundtrack to sweaty, scorching-hot, closed-in rooms that pack up in the middle of July. That’s the fun of Old Indian, after all. And now, with “Mumble,” that sweat and that heat and (most importantly) that rock is captured in its truest, fullest form.
So, for that, as some might say, this trio should be saluted.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***