New York City is always wanting for bullshit-free rock and roll, and joining the thin ranks of those trafficking in it is the trio Thinning the Herd, whose debut full-length, Oceans Rise, is a quick eight tracks of sans-frills doom rock. Led by guitarist/vocalist Gavin Spielman – who seems as ready at any given moment to unleash a killer riff as he is to rip a solo – Thinning the Herd transcend the C.O.C.-isms that made up so much of their prior Devil Mask EP, keeping the groove but putting a more individual stamp on it. Bassist Nick Lee throws exceptional fills in to complement Spielman’s playing, and drummer Ben Proudman lands heavy on his snare to ground the material and keep the pacing fluid. As a trio, they work well together across the album, and at a quick 34-plus minutes, Oceans Rise (released via St. Mark’s Records) has a few standout tracks of which anyone hungering for a break from the onslaught of hipstamatic Big Apple indie rockers calling themselves psychedelic should be aware.
There’s a darker edge in Spielman’s guitar tone, not so much fuzz, and it’s mostly for that reason that I hesitate to call Thinning the Herd a stoner band, but there’s no mistaking that they’re both heavy and riff-led – which is more than enough for many to make the designation. Oceans Rise launches with its title-track, a slower, doomier number that hints some at the band’s songwriting prowess. Lee gives one of several really strong bass performances (he also proves his abilities as a member of tech-weirdos Exemption), and Spielman’s gruff-but-clean vocals set a pattern that continues throughout the ensuing cuts. It’d be easy to liken it to Deliverance or Wiseblood-era Pepper Keenan, but even comparing Oceans Rise to Devil Mask, it’s clear he’s growing into his voice and becoming more of his own singer. Doubtless confidence is a part of that and he’ll continue to develop over future Thinning the Herd releases, but there’s plenty engaging about his work on the catchy “Look Behind” and the even-riffier “Defiler,” which is a highlight not only for Spielman’s layering, but Lee’s running lines as well and the conviction that seems to be in Proudman’s mashing of his hi-hat. As “Chill in the Air” wraps the first half of Oceans Rise, it’s with more strong rhythm section interplay and another well-crafted chorus.
Having gotten off to a solid start, then, all that remains is for Thinning the Herd to keep the momentum going on the back half of the record, which, for the most part they do. “Binge” starts with a driving riff and moves quickly through its straightforward four-plus minutes, seeming to cut its momentum for nothing. Spielman’s voice warbles in the chorus after the 1:30 mark, but it’s not egregious and adds to the natural feel of the album, and more and more I find myself paying attention to Lee’s bass runs, which seem to sweep in and around the riff, peppering the songs with personality as they go. Proudman is a decent drummer, but very straight-ahead in his approach, where Spielman’s solos and Lee’s fills show a more playful side to Thinning the Herd, and that comes out at several points on Oceans Rise, among them “Binge.” A sample kicks off “Wide Crossing,” the chorus of which is the repetition of the band’s name. I’m usually a proponent of that kind of thing, because it’s fun, but it feels a little overdone here, despite how much I enjoy the song’s noisy beginning and subtle tempo changes. Before you know it, “My Wake” dives headfirst into what might be Spielman’s best solo on Oceans Rise, setting up the relatively-extended six-minute Sabbathian closer “On Fire.”
The song makes its home around a riff that’s instantly familiar, and Spielman recounts with a bluesman’s directness a story that includes the lines, “I went down to the doctor/He said I was on fire,” which, in case you need me to point it out, is awesome. “On Fire” is a little more relaxed, a little more assured than some of the other material on Oceans Rise, thinking of the restless “Chill in the Air” or “Wide Crossing” in particular, but Thinning the Herd are no less convincing in pulling off one vibe over the other. Oceans Rise is young in its way, but packed with enough groove to keep the heads nodding, and the jammed feel it closes with in “On Fire” speaks of the potential of what’s to come from the trio. As someone who constantly bemoans the bullshit factor in the New York rock scene (where would we be without The Brought Low?), it’s good to have an act like Thinning the Herd come along and be so convincingly on the right side of the argument.
Tags: New York City, St. Mark's Records, Thinning the Herd