Every now and then, even the savviest local music fans run into a band they probably should have caught years ago and, when they finally do, can't believe they've missed for so long. For this reviewer, such is the case with Middlebury's Crazyhearse. Over the years I've noticed the name around — it is a pretty cool band name, after all — but for whatever reason, our paths never crossed. That is, until they released their latest record, Tornadic Beige. The band's fifth album is a cleverly conceived and expertly executed work that meshes an array of sounds and influences, from swamp rock to punk to psychedelic country and beyond. And it makes me wonder how the hell I've overlooked Crazyhearse for this long.
Album opener "Demon Moon" is built around a Middle Eastern-style riff that winks at Dick Dale's version of "Misirlou" but then romps toward unhinged, gypsy-punk high jinks. It's difficult to pinpoint any specific influences on any of the songs on Tornadic Beige, which is a credit to the band's technical ability and compositional ingenuity. But "Demon Moon" somehow evokes both the ethereal rock of Blue Öyster Cult and the ragged, gleeful aplomb of Gogol Bordello, without sounding derivative of either. Neat trick.
"Moral Panic" begins as a lilting acoustic number that pays homage to the antiwar folk of the 1960s and songwriters such as Phil Ochs — and probably that Dylan dude, too. But it quickly builds into something else entirely as a shimmering wave of psychedelic sounds flits in and out of the speakers. It culminates in a minor progression that shades songwriter David Kloepfer's searching lyrics in a sinister gloom.
Following that cut, Crazyhearse get rowdy on "A Bottle of Whiskey Later," a rollicking gypsy-punk number that GB's Eugene Hütz himself would have been psyched to pen.
Crazyhearse showcase uncommon versatility with "$19.95," a song whose numerous shifting movements nod at both Primus and Strangefolk, which shouldn't work yet somehow does.
"All OK Now" is a pretty country-rock ballad that seems to take cuesfrom the Byrds, but washes Kloepfer's Chris Hillman-style melody in ghostly atmospherics. It's blissful and sweet, but the contentment is short-lived. "Oklahoma Road Rage" shatters the serenity with blistering punk, bringing Tornadic Beige to a bruising, thrilling conclusion.
Crazyhearse play the Monkey House this Saturday, July 26, before touring the Midwest. Tornadic Beige is available at iTunes and Amazon.