Milk Music

Cruise Your Illusion

In the 90s, Olympia was a hotbed of DIY punk rebellion, creativity and action. Riot grrrl bands Heavens To Betsy, The Frumpies and Bikini Kill – among many more – all formed in the city at the start of the decade. It was the heart of the queercore scene and the place where Kurt Cobain penned the majority of Nevermind. Everyone’s favourite love-to-hate foghorn Courtney Love sang about the city on Hole’s seminal 1994 album Live Through This and of course, it is home to K Records, from which came the six-day International Pop Underground Convention. Held in Olympia in 1991, this now legendary gathering was largely mobilised by the label’s rabble-rouser and owner Calvin Johnson and was a hardboiled statement of artistic independence, with many infamous acts taking to the stage, including Thee Headcoats and Fifth Column, documented on the 1994 compilation LP International Hip Swing.

It’s all scribbled down in Mark Baumgarten’s essential read Love, Rock, Revolution, but Washington’s musical mecca has by no means been confined to the history books. Present day Olympia is still very much a hive of musical activity, with a fertile hardcore scene and a glittering array of bands including Weird TV, Kozo, Space Travel Is Boring, Romantic Feelings, The Family Stoned, Gag, Son Skull, H.P.P and White Boss. Toby Vail’s enduring Jigsaw Fanzine blog keeps you in the know and like LA’s Smell, Olympia has its own all-ages venue the Northern, founded in 2009, as well as infamous punk joint Old School Pizza.

Their incendiary 2010 debut ‘Beyond Living’ was put out by Olympia’s Perennial Records, with the band keeping their internet presence down to a bare, luddite-ready minimum. Now they return three years later, with a website, less fuzz, twice as many tracks and with fourth member Charles Waring picking up second guitar duties, but ‘Cruise Your Illusion’ is still an extension of the band’s embryonic self. It’s been released through Fat Possum and on vinyl by Perennial.

Instrumental opener ‘Caged Dogs Run Free’ – bleach-bathed in slide guitar, charged with smears of electric – is a widescreen romp through the great outdoors and one which welcomes its sense of prevailing freedom with arms outstretched, before the fade in of ‘Illegal and Free’ picks up and blends in where its predecessor left off. Opening out into a slow, steady, considered hard rock jam, it’s still got from-the-heart punk dissent at its core, frontman Alex Coxen baying like a jackal; "don’t fuck with me, I’m illegal and free."

Then there’s the fruity licks of atonal footloose warbler ‘Crosstown Wanderer’ and the anguished homage to rock luminaries in ‘No Nothing, My Shelter’, distanced vocals opining a straight-up tributary to Hendrix and Elvis head on, harnessed with poetic sensibility; "But I know the sunset’s heavy on the dreamer/You can rid your pain to the song/To the song." Now Coxen howls like a wolf at the moon in ‘Cruising With God’ – his beatnik wordsmith-ery bringing to mind Ginsberg and the Beat poets – and the lycanthrophic theme continues in ‘Dogchild’, symbols shimmering in the midday heat as guitars slink through the desert. What with all the lunar imagery and Coxen’s wail sharing similarities to Tom Verlaine, you can’t help but think of Television at times; perhaps ‘Lacey’s Secret’ best encapsulates this.

If the sludge-and-chug of penultimate track ‘Runaway’ is a high-speed chase then ‘Final Scene’ is that coveted warm-down moment; a seven-minute-long Neil Young country moment which fades out with the utmost serenity.

12 tracks of fiery-eyed, thrash-and-burn twin guitars, life-affirming country wind-downs and impassioned sky-high vocals, Cruise Your Illusion is a many-sided trip, one in thrall to the slacker aesthetic – although tightened up and Malkmus free – and the snarl of anti-establishment SST punk as much as the city’s lo-fi indie lineage. All shot through with the psychedelic heft of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, this is not a flash in the pan, a fumble in the dark or an album which loses its way but a cosmic paean to perfectionism that creates order out of the most beautiful chaos.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today