With minds expanded and set to the key of retro, Davenport, Iowa — which for those in the know is called “the San Francisco of Iowa” (that’s not true) — the high toned Mondo Drag emerge bearing psychedelic sweets that seem to melt as soon as they hit your tongue. There are 11 of them, to be exact, and when packaged together and put in the right order, they make up the band’s Alive Records debut, New Rituals. It’s a record about as thick as the band’s collective sonic moustache, and right from the opening nine-minute title track, you know there’s a freakout bound to happen here.
Their heavier moments could be drawing from Graveyard or a less doomed-out Witchcraft, but as change-up tracks like the acoustic-led “Black River” or “Come Through” demonstrate, there’s more to Mondo Drag than mere aping of ‘70s proto metal. “Love Me” is laced with organ-fused heaviness, and “Serpent Shake” takes a later-‘60s acid pop feel, once again making use of the organ, but being more rhythm-driven and upbeat. The changes in attack are subtle, but show themselves more distinctly on repeat listens, and though I don’t know if any of the songs on New Rituals ever prove to be catchy in that “stuck in your head” sense of the word, there is a natural feel throughout the album that sustains the enjoyment level for the duration.
Keyboardist John Gamino is to thank for a lot of that, since the ‘70s feel comes straight from his work and adds more to the atmospheres than is immediately evident. The latter minutes of “Serpent Shake,” where Gamino goes toe to toe with a guitar solo and comes out on top, confirm this. That’s not to take away from the work of either guitarist, Jake Sheley or Nolan Girard (also vocals), but we all expect strong guitar performances at this point, and the level of success at which Gamino is complementing these songs is rarer. He’s sometimes in the pocket with bassist Dennis Hockaday and drummer/vocalist Johnnie Cluney (which is a good place to be), and seems to know just when a given song needs that extra push.
There’s a whiteboy post-blues element to most of the riffing; not necessarily a bad thing, but as New Rituals reaches toward its latter moments, it can lull a bit, as during “Apple.” Still, there should be enough changes throughout “My, oh My” and closer “Tallest Tales” to hold the attentions of even fickle heads, and Mondo Drag come out of the record easily on the winning side. I don’t know if Davenport has hipsters, but if it does, they’d probably come out for a gig. Heads up on that one, but — and I can speak from experience on this — it’s certainly not a problem when listening to New Rituals at home in your pajamas. Right on.Alive, Davenport, Iowa, Mondo Drag