As one might expect, Los Angeles rockers Caveman Voicebox don’t exactly play it subtle on their debut EP, Strippers, Mullets and Beer. Released through what appears to be their own Faceslapper Records in December 2011, the five-songer is a quick 15-minutes, and though there are few surprises sonically in that time – the longest song, the closer “Mindset,” caps at 3:20 – and though the first word on opener “Forsaken Place” is “whiskey,” Caveman Voicebox still are less sleazy than one might think going into a first listen. That’s either a positive or negative, depending on your personal taste, but with the Orange Goblin by way of Motörhead burl they offer instead, it’s hard to complain. The songs, written by bassist/vocalist Graham Wilson, are structurally simple but varied in mood and over fast enough to hold even fickle attention, and the vocals touch on melody without overdoing it or sacrificing a natural feel to get some kind of misguided commercialism. A song like EP centerpiece “After What She Said” strikes a decent balance between catchy hooks and riffy groove, and as far as straightforward American-style heavy rock goes, Caveman Voicebox give a strong first showing, if one perhaps overly mindful of the aesthetic concerns of their genre.
By that I mean that even unto its title, Strippers, Mullets and Beer seems to be reaching for a specific idea of what boozy stoner-style rock and roll is, rather than focusing itself on crafting the songs and worrying about where they fit genre-wise after the fact. The beer I’ll give you, but the strippers and the mullets? Well, maybe, maybe not. In that regard, “Mindset” is actually the strongest of the songs here. Although it doesn’t come close to the infectious octane of “Forsaken Place,” Wilson positions the EP’s final statement lyrically as a kind of insider nod to the heavy rock scene – “You’ve got the time and the money/Ain’t got the mindset” – and placed with self-awareness in a genre looking out, it works better than “’72 Nova,” which seems to turn a blind eye to its unoriginality rather than acknowledge it. We all know it’s not the first song ever written about a car and a girl, and where “Mindset” offers some personality on the part of Caveman Voicebox by saying in effect, “we know exactly what we’re doing and it’s all on purpose,” the earlier cut wants to pretend that’s not the case. It’s a kind of anti-pretense pretense, and it’s only not more of an issue than it is because of the strength of Wilson’s songwriting. Joining Alfred Cruz and Mike McKnight’s guitars is a bluesy slide guest spot from Eric Dover (Slash’s Snakepit) that adds character to the already barn-burning energy, and though the Doug Carrion (Descendants) production doesn’t quite beef up the guitars as one might think, the added feeling of rawness winds up an asset working in the band’s favor.
Still, it’s on songs like “Forsaken Place” and “Mindset” that the band most shines and leaves a positive, memorable impression of itself. The penultimate “Banana” is perhaps the most straightforward of the cuts on Strippers, Mullets and Beer, with drummer Matt Merrow sounding almost mechanical, but it also offers some of the best guitar leads on the EP. Along with Caveman Voicebox’s well-reasoned balance of influence seems to be that kind of tradeoff; for every one thing that might strike as lacking individual presence, there’s a corresponding something either structurally or performance-wise to cover for it. Because of that and because, again, Wilson seems to have hooks to spare, I feel comfortable saying Caveman Voicebox’s first outing displays some marked potential for future growth. Naturally, I’d be more interested to hear more of their personality come out on whatever they do next, but Strippers, Mullets and Beer offers a few inarguable choruses and shows the four-piece as having a rudimentary grip on what they want to sound like, and for a band self-releasing their first EP, I wouldn’t ask anything more of it than that. Heavy rockers in L.A. might do well to check them out live if possible to get a fuller impression of what they’re about, but the songs here showcase a band aware of and working within genre as they begin to get a feel for what they want to do sonically, and that process continues to fascinate. Coupled with the fact that I’ve been unable to get “Forsaken Place” out of my head for the last three days, and it’s a recommendation well earned. They’ve definitely got the mindset.
Tags: California, Caveman Voicebox, Faceslapper Records, Los Angeles