Listening to Rodeo Eléctrica, Stockholm rockers Ponamero Sundown’s second offering through Transubstans, I had to go back and make sure I had the right band. From what I recalled of the four-piece from their Stonerized debut (review here), they were gleeful in their stoner-rockingness, a little boozy, and primarily fuzzed out in the Swedish tradition. Rodeo Eléctrica, on the other hand, is slick and almost commercial sounding in its overall affect, the band forsaking the unassuming good times of “Alcoholic Deathride” and “Doctor of Evil” for the straightforward crunch of “1025” and the processed-sounding drums that launch the album on opener “Evil Wand.” It’s a shock, but had I not heard Stonerized, Rodeo Eléctrica probably wouldn’t sound so different from a lot of the less-fuzzed end of European stoner rock. Certainly the post-Colour Haze extended jam ethic that’s taken hold south of Scandinavia in Germany and The Netherlands doesn’t apply to Ponamero Sundown, but what they’re doing on Rodeo Eléctrica’s 13 tracks should still be familiar enough to anyone who’s heard their labelmates and countrymen Abramis Brama or Stonewall Noise Orchestra.
What Rodeo Eléctrica most has in common with Stonerized and with the above-noted Swedish acts is its consistency of songwriting. In a way the album feels very pieced-together from necessary components – they have the softer cuts in “Sorrows” and “Fathomless Nothingness,” the interludes in “Rodeo Eléctrica Part I” and the acoustic “Not the Time,” the slower, more contemplative “The Ghost” and plenty of upbeat rock in between on songs like “Sorrows,” “The Dice,” “1025” and “Shot for Glory” – but however familiar these elements might be, Ponamero Sundown put them to excellent use and place them precisely where they need to be for the record to work. The production is a major factor in the sound shift and in a lot of ways, it sounds like they had a checklist of what a heavy rock album needed and then set about filling it in their writing. As the final moments of “The Ghost” pick up and the song leads into Rodeo Eléctrica’s most memorable cut, “Goddess of the Sun,” I won’t deny they pull it off, but it’s worth acknowledging that Ponamero Sundown – guitarist Anders, bassist Oliver, vocalist Nicke and drummer Peter – sound conscious of every move they’re making here, and no matter how crisp the recording is or the quality of the songcraft, that the inevitable sacrifice is a feeling of spontaneity and novelty in the finished product.
For booze and rock hounds, though, there’s still a lot about Rodeo Eléctrica to enjoy. Nicke’s performance on vocals is masterful, and he’s able to adjust his delivery to whatever he’s handed by the guitars, and as the album develops, Ponamero Sundown depart from the modern ethic of putting their best stuff up front by closing with “Rodeo Eléctrica Part II,” which proves worthy of having the record named after it. The riff and layered leads of Anders settle into a groove the band seems to have skirted the line of throughout most of the album’s 49 minutes, and it seems that if they’ve begun to depart from their prior stonerly ways, they’re not completely done with them yet. Oliver and Peter, who for the most part follow Anders’ riffing, make their presence felt in the rhythm section by cutting the time behind the guitar early and picking it up at the end, capping Rodeo Eléctrica with an energy matching the start of “Evil Wand.” Even here, they’re not really departing from their stated ethic musically, but as is the case across the board with these songs, objectives are met and solid rock is delivered.
Its appeal is vastly different from Stonerized, and some of that boogie-van appeal is sacrificed in the name of clearer tonality and fewer hazy-eyed themes, but if Ponamero Sundown are making the shift from early Dozer to Spiritual Beggars-style rocking, it’s one they seem to have no trouble with, and really, provided they keep hold of this level of songwriting, the actual aesthetic they put it to use with is going to be secondary anyhow. Still, it should be interesting to see what turns the four-piece make following Rodeo Eléctrica, and if they continue their push toward a more straightforward direction or once again don the fuzzy mantle – or, heaven forbid, do something else entirely. Either way, Rodeo Eléctrica delivers an engaging, interesting, but not overly complex collection of tracks that should have no trouble leaving an impression on the European heavy rock underground. If American rock radio was worth a damn, they’d probably be playing stuff like this.
Tags: Ponamero Sundown, Stockholm, Sweden, Transubstans