Slashing, Fearlessly Populist Classic Detroit-Style Rock from Sulfur City

by delarue

Sulfur City evoke the hard-charging, uncompromising Murder City garage-punk intensity of Radio Birdman and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, with elements of retro soul, psychedelia, a little funk and a fearlessly populist political sensibility. But they’re not from Detroit or Australia: they hail from Sudbury, in northeast Ontario. Their album Talking Loud is streaming at Soundcloud. And it’s one of the best four-on-the-floor rock records of the year.

The opening track, Whispers, is anything but. It’s basically a frenetic one-chord minor-key jam over a stomping hardcore punk pulse. The way frontwoman Lori Paradis bends her notes with just a hint of plaintive angst, she sounds a lot like the Passengers’ Angie Pepper with a slightly lower voice. Keith Breit’s organ interlude midway through is unexpected, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Radio Birdman songbook either.

The defiant War Going On, with its funky, organ-fueled sway, connects the dots between the grotesqueness of consumer capitalism and combat – is the reference to “plastic-wrapped people” a dis, or a grisly image of battlefield casualties?

Pockets is a sort of mashup of Bo Diddley, Rare Earth and the MC5 at their most populist and confrontational, with a snide gospel interlude. With its smoky organ, Ride With Me has a Sticky Fingers latin soul groove. It ‘s hard to figure out whether Paradis’ vengeful wail in Don’t Lie to Me is channeling the wrath of an abused woman, or if this is an S&M anthem. Jesse Lagace’s eerie slide guitar bends and warps through the gritty boogie backdrop of Sold, revisiting an ages-old, devilishly bluesy theme.

Highways, a ghoulabilly shuffle, keeps the lurid intensity going up to a tumbling, bluesy piano solo straight out of the Pip Hoyle playbook. With its intertwining minor-key guitar leads, the ominously elegaic murder ballad Johnny could be an outtake from Radios Appear with a woman out in front of the band. The album’s most epic track, One Day in June is a brisk noir blues in 6/8, fueled by Lagace’s slide guitar and Paradis’ grim, Patti Smith-ish vocals. It’s an apt post-election anthem: “We tell ourselves it’ll be ok, this too shall pass, everything must change,” Paradis intones. “The end of November and the leaves have all gone, and the air is cold and the snow’s about to fall, standing with my palms raised up to the sky.”

By contrast, Raise Hammer is a sarcastic Celtic punk number with layers of gritty open-tuned guitars and a carnivalesque organ solo. The album winds up with You Don’t Know Me, a gutter blues shuffle in an early 80s Gun Club vein. Lots of flavors and plenty of tunefulness from a group with great influences that seems to be on the verge of similar greatness.

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