Purist Psychedelic Tunesmithing from the Allah-Las
The Allah-Las play period-perfect 60s-style psychedelic pop, folk-rock and punchy garage rock sounds, but more tunefully than most of the bands who were playing that stuff over forty years ago. Byrds twelve-string guitar jangle? Check. Dark, surreal, hard-hitting Arthur Lee garage stomp? Doublecheck. Nonchalantly sinister Peanut Butter Conspiracy psych-folk? Some of that too. What makes the Allah-Las different from all of those bands, other than the Byrds, is that they jangle and clang their way through their songs rather than playing riffs or recycled blues and R&B licks. Their not-so-secret weapon is lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian’s twelve-string, although frontman Miles Michaud will sometimes play twelve-string as well for extra chime and clang. Their album – streaming at their Bandcamp page – is one of the best original retro rock efforts of recent years. They’re scheduled to play Rough Trade on March 27, but whether the venue has reopened or not, you won’t get a chance if you don’t already have a ticket because that show is sold out. What a heartwarming story these guys are: a year ago, when they made a stop in New York, they’d be at the Mercury. If there’s any proof that there’s a massive audience for good music in this town, these guys are it.
The album’s opening tune, Catamaran is a classic, catchy midtempo Ventures-style surf tune which they beef up with organ after the first chorus. The kiss-off anthem Don’t You Forget It sets Spencer Dunham’s trebly descending bassline over a gorgeous twelve-string hook, Siadatian’s solo spiced with eerily bluesy bends. Drummer Matthew Correia builds from a rumble to a steady backbeat on the wickedly tuneful, Byrdsy Busman’s Holiday. The surf instrumental Sacred Sands has a lush beauty that rises to a more incisive chorus with the twelve-and six-string guitars in tandem.
No Voodoo goes more in a trad garage rock direction, but with more lush sonics. The ominously echoey backing vocals on Sandy reminds of the Yardbirds, while Ela Navega could be Los Destellos playing a Brazilian tune, something the Peruvian psychedelic legends did frequently. “Tell me what’s on your mind, cause I can’t find it,” Michaud suggests on the jangly number afterward.
Catalina is clinic in tasteful, incisive twelve-string playing, followed by Vis a Vis, which sounds like the Church at their poppiest, with the two twelve-strings answering each other as the song hits a high point. Seven Point Five works a brooding psych-folk groove, while Long Journey, with its low, creepy Yardbirds vocal harmonies, slashing fuzztone breaks and murderous lyrics, is the darkest and longest track here. There’s reverb on everything, especially the guitars, and an underlying sense of unease throughout all of these songs despite all the catchy clang. If psychedelia and just plain good retro songwriting is your thing, keep your eyes out for when these guys make another trip through town.