The Sun Dogs
, June 27th, 2013 05:31
In a television interview she gave in the mid-90s, Grace Slick, once of Jefferson Airplane, explained her vocal style by saying, "I have a very limited range. I can yell very high, but try to sing a lullaby, I can't do it. But I could blow your camera out and do it loud. What kind of voice is that? It's perfect for rock and roll but it's limited". If she hasn't already, Rose Windows singer Rabia Shaheen Qazi will get tired of Slick comparisons very quickly, for her pulsating delivery on this thoughtful and accessible album of melodic psychedelia has that same impregnable strength, and that same articulate, theatrical, almost Shakespearean edge.
Her singing is one sparkling light on an album that offers lots of satisfyingly straightforward ideas, along with some turbulent dramas that suggest a well of ambition on the part of guitarist and songwriter Chris Cheveyo, as well as a well-thumbed record collection. Seattle-based Cheveyo began working with Qazi and the other five members of Rose Windows when he became disillusioned by plugging away with the limitations of various post-rock projects, turning to a perceived authenticity in albums by The Band, Black Sabbath, The Doors and The Grateful Dead.
The result of such inspiration is an album that on first few listens seems straightforward and easy to grasp. The Sun Dogs is full of songs defined by raucous choruses, such as 'Walkin' With A Woman', and basic riffs played very loud, as on the album's first single 'Native Dreams'. Both those tracks are successes in the fervency of their conviction, led of course by Qazi, and the somewhat baroque instrumental turns. Flautist Veronica Dye is crucial to this record, with the heavy echo on the flute intro to 'Native Dreams' representing one of the album's more beautifully delicate touches. Strings and piano complement and complicate the unsurprising chord changes that litter The Sun Dogs, no more stunningly than on closer 'The Sun Dogs II: Coda', the most satisfying and compact example of Cheveyo's songwriting. One senses the simple pursuit of a really good tune is what turned him away from post-rock and towards a band like Rose Windows, and on this song he has found his anthem, a kind of gospel hymn to social and spiritual renewal.
The Sun Dogs can be compared favourably with the majestic first two Sleepy Sun albums, with its mix of undemanding rock, the occasional neat acoustic statement and with things like 'This Shroud', an attempt at Eastern-influenced desert blues that suggest a Tinariwen influence.
Where Rose Windows perhaps depart from Sleepy Sun, and many current other psych bands of the Pacific Northwest, is with their lyrics. Cheveyo has been unequivocal that there is a political bent, claiming the album is about, "the everyday blues that capitalism and its hit man, religion, bring on all of us". But the album is not imploring nor even coherent with its message, more offering a personal and episodic series of depictions of the nastiness of 'Moloch'. And it's all done against a backdrop of fairly recognisable imagery, including Robert Johnson's pact with the devil on 'Walking With A Woman'. Mentions of temples crop up on multiple occasions, while an alter is prominent on 'Native Dreams', with Qazi's possessed delivery giving the feeling that these barbs at greed and exploitation come from some lost time – and one long before Haight Ashbury. Their archaic poetry sometimes misses the mark, but the vivaciousness of it all, and its innocence, is often remarkable.
A footnote to The Sun Dogs must be that it is produced by Randall Dunn, also behind records by Sun O))), the Cave Singers, Sun City Girls and Black Mountain. His signature otherworldly mystery is all over this album, a ghostly and passionate debut.