The Electric Mess distinguish themselves from the legions of garage rock imitators out there in a lot of ways. For one, they have a heavier, more Detroit- and Australian-influenced sound. Much as they’ve got the swirly Farfisa organ and the stomping rhythms, they aren’t just recycling old riffs: you know, one-one, FOUR-FOUR, one, chucka-chucka-chucka, repeat for two minutes thirty seconds. And where most bands are lucky to have a single strong songwriter, the Electric Mess have three: singer/percussionist Esther Crow (aka Chip Fontaine), savagely Deniz Tek-influenced guitarist Dan Crow and bassist Derek Davidson. They’re headlining a good triplebill at 11 at Union Pool on Jan 29 that starts with retro 60s soul band the Jay Vons at 9 followed by the catchy, jangly all-female Party Lights. Cover is eight bucks.
The Electric Mess also make excellent albums. Their latest one, House on Fire is streaming at Bandcamp. Guitarist Crow’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good opens the record: it’s sort of a less frantic take on what Radio Birdman was doing with Aloha Steve & Danno, the sonic attack anchored by Oweinama Biu’s tremolo organ. The catchy, barely two-minute title track sounds like a Steve Wynn song if he’d been recording back in the 60s. Another Birdman-style sizzler, Beat Skipping Heart ponders the impact of a girl who’s both a “biscuit roller and a barrel stack.” The album’s best track, Winding Stairs pairs a swaying, brooding four-chord minor-key verse with a bittersweetly anthemic chorus. And the longest number here, Every Girl Deserves a Song, draws a jaggedly druggy line back toward the MC5 with diversions through acid-scarred Stooges wah psychedelia and Brian Jonestown Massacre hypnotics.
Esther Crow also contributes three songs. The first is the Brill Building garage anthem She Got Fangs, with its droll Hendrix quotes – does the Brill Building have a garage? In the basement, maybe? The second is Leavin’ Me Hangin, which with Craig Rogers’ pummeling surf drums sounds like a mashup of the previously mentioned Birdmen and the Fleshtones. The last one is Lemonade Man, a twisted stalker’s tale.
Davidson has five songs on the album. She’s Got Something to Say is like a tighter version of Them; Get Me Outta the Country is a galloping mashup of Blues Magoos and Reducers. The ominously vamping There’s Nothing You Can Do offers a tip of the helmet to a certain Radio Birdman classic, while The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave is a kiss-off to noodge. Davidson’s final track here is You Never Come Around Anymore, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Plan 9 album from that band’s peak era back in the 80s. Fans of this era’s best garage and psychedelic retroists like the Allah-Las will love this band.