Monday, 4 January 2016

The Sonics: Psycho-Sonic and This Is The Sonics

The Sonics are one of those bands that never made it as big at the time as we now think they should have, because what they did didn't really make that much sense to a lot of people until many years later. For the brothers Andy and Larry Parypa in 1964 Tacoma, Washington state, that thing was to play a style of stripped down rock and roll that burned with a rawness, a passion, and a power that would be the tinder and the fuel everything in the line of American folk music that would eventually end up being called punk. Rather than follow the norm of the time and "move on" towards psychedelia, progression, or pop, they hunkered down and tried to find out how much more could be beaten out of the original formula.

The result was the two albums, Here Are The Sonics (1965) and Boom (1966), which have been collected, along with with all the singles and alternative / live versions held from their time with Etiquette records, in the "Psycho-Sonic" album. In this you can hear their dance hall circuit origins in Boss Hoss, Louie Louie, and Roll Over Beethoven: tunes that they attack with a gusto and a sheer volume that clearly was beyond the means of that periods equipment to capture. It's a sound of people who grew up on Blackboard Jungle, rather than with it, and who just wanted to make it bigger. You can also hear the start of the outsider anthem, especially the triumvirate of The Witch, Psycho, and Strychnine, which mixed the dark social/horror themes of the blues with a James Dean swagger that had no clue where it was going or how but knew it had to get their fast. It was anger that wasn't sure why it felt that bad, and only felt worse because everyone else was having such a good time. Its a savage piece of America, but with a musicianship and core listenability that makes it enthralling and occasionally even introvert, and that carries the DNA that you can hear in the likes of The Stooges, The Ramones, and Nirvana (to name but a few of the bands fans). As an album it's a slice of a specific piece in time, of an underground that was just discovering itself, and a timeless piece of rock and roll mastery that you may have overlooked.

Given the history of the band, of their signing to a major label to then have their sound neutered and for them to split before tasting fame, it's natural to ask "what would happen if they were given a second chance now that everyone knows how great they were?". Thankfully This Is The Sonics, recorded 50 years later in 2015 with 3 of the original 5 members and following on/off live performances since 2007, answers this with a clear and concise "exactly the same thing, only louder". "I Don't Need No Doctor", "The Hard Way", and "Livin' In Chaos" are stand outs by a nose, That a bunch of 70 year old's can continue to rock as hard as before impressive in itself, but that they can do it with a sound that comes across as classic rather than retro is pure brilliance. Even the dirty-distortion of their first period is maintained, technology having improved enough to get the full glory of their overdriven glory as this is a band that could play a triangle and make it sound like it was hocked into a Marshall stack. About the only change is that they sound a little more focused, a little less confused, but in no way any more mellow nor one jot less rocking.
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