They want to riff and they want to rock, and on their self-titled debut full-length, UK trio Stubb do plenty of both. Originally formed in 2006 with a different bassist and drummer alongside guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, the band recorded a demo a year later with Tim Cedar of Part Chimp and, in 2009, reemerged having imported a new rhythm section in the form of Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight’s Peter Holland (bass/vocals) and Christopher West (drums). This incarnation of Stubb hit the studio with Cedar late in 2010 to lay down the eight songs that would become Stubb and took to the road in 2011 with Stone Axe on a European tour.
The album is released through Superhot Records, boasts a mix and master job by Tony Reed of Stone Axe, and finds Stubb aligning themselves to a rising tide of British heavy rock – that’s not to say “a new wave” – that includes such riff-happy clean-vocal acts as Grifter, Alunah, and indeed, Trippy Wicked, among many others. Fuzz abounds, but Dickinson, Holland and West do more than just follow the guitar through verses and choruses, touching on acoustic freak-folk and heavy rock classicism in a manner that does nothing to upset the overall flow of the album, which gradually reveals a strength of songwriting to complement the initial catchiness of the first couple tracks. Although it’s been six years since Dickinson started the project, one might think of Stubb as a new band, as his chemistry with Holland and West presents itself here for the first time. On either level, though, Stubb’s Stubb gleefully preaches to the choir of Heavy while showing the band has more to them than just riffs and grooves.
Even if that weren’t the case, with the engaging fuzz and ripping leads that open kickoff track “Road,” riffs and grooves would almost be enough. The nod-inducing stomp and Dickinson’s tone remind of when The Atomic Bitchwax took on Core’s “Kiss the Sun” for their own self-titled debut, but Stubb push a strong chorus all their own, Holland offering backing support for Dickinson’s lead vocal while West’s snare pops clearly and crisply, keeping the song upbeat but not too fast. Stubb wind up at their strongest in this middle pace, maximizing the impact of the riffs and still allowing for a laid back, stonerly feel. “Scale the Mountain,” which follows the opener, continues the momentum, making the first nine of Stubb’s total 35 minutes a powerful opening duo, and reeling back in its first second as if to steel itself for the five minutes of riffing to come.
Dickinson again works a solo into the intro as a precursor to the verse, but shifts the method some, stepping back to let Holland take the lead in singing the chorus. The two have enough variance in their diction that the shift is pretty clear, and as they move back and forth throughout Stubb, “Scale the Mountain” is a solid foreshadow of what’s to come. Holland’s vocal work in Trippy Wicked has left him more than prepared to tradeoff with Dickinson, who here adds backing “woo”s to the memorable title/chorus line. A brief break seems to be waiting for a guitar solo to come in, but one never does, and the chorus returns to lead the song to its flange-y finish and Holland’s bass intro to the somewhat more subdued “Flame.”
It’s here that Stubb begin to unveil the classic rock linearity of the album’s structure. They’ve opened strong with “Road” and “Scale the Mountain,” and with “Flame,” they shift the mood a bit – granted, not as much as if they’d put the folksy “Crosses You Bear” in that third spot, but still. A bluesy, winding riff gives Holland the chance to add some choice fills, and West times well his jumps from the hi-hat to the crash, giving way to the driving second half of the track and the combined Dickinson/Holland vocals that mindfully veer from the verse/chorus patterning so far established. Holland’s bass again burns tubes alongside Dickinson on “Soul Mover,” which ingrains the line, “Oh baby, I don’t know what you like/But I’ll keep you satisfied” on the brain like it was branding cattle or internet memes. The pace is faster, perhaps expectedly, but “Soul Mover”’s shuffle is a departure even from “Flame” and further confirmation of Stubb’s classic heavy affiliations.
Some showy leads, a deceptively metallic outro, and “Crosses You Bear” soon commences side B of Stubb with humble acoustics and a cascading chorus that, though the melody descends, doesn’t depress. Its two simple verses, two simple choruses and two-minute runtime do more work than is initially apparent, once again gradually moving expectations away from the charming, rocking familiarity of the record’s beginnings to something more emotionally complex and – dare I say it – contemplative. Like a lot of what Stubb does here, it’s not a new move, and Holland and West have certainly done their time with acoustics in Trippy Wicked (if you haven’t heard it, their ukulele-inclusive cover of Sleep’s “Dragonaut” is a must), but Dickinson’s voice turns out to be excellently suited to the form.
And as much as “Crosses You Bear” sets up Stubb to range as far as they please on the second half of their debut, it also lulls you into a false sense of security which leaves you (spoiler alert) unprepared for the turn back to heavy rock that “Hard Hearted Woman” brings about. The song is an immediate callback to the beginning of the album, tonally and in its tempo, and has a strong chorus to match those of “Road” and “Scale the Mountain,” while also breaking in its middle for some groovy Hendrixian jamming, West offering solid ground for the guitars and bass to wander where they will. There’s a subtly flubbed note at 3:52, which I point out only to commend Stubb for leaving it in, since it adds to the live feel of the track and the record overall, and gives personality to the improv-sounding lead guitar. Holland’s bass rumbles the song out, and “Crying River” revives the folkish vibe of “Crosses You Bear,” albeit plugged in, with a guest spot from Malin Dahlgren of Swedish boy/girl duo Polly Tones.
A correspondingly stripped-down feel pervades, though the song is coming from a more rock-based center than was “Crosses You Bear,” and Dahlgren’s vocal, while not as prevalent in the mix as Dickinson’s, is well met in a call and response with lead guitar that soon brings the song to its blues-drenched conclusion. This leaves the seven-plus-minute “Galloping Horses” with the considerable task of summarizing Stubb’s breadth, which it does with plenty of wah-heavy solos, thickened riffing and a hooky chorus. They get into a bit of cacophony at the midpoint as a precursor to the break and jammy build that climax with a slower riff and some lumbering, hard-hit crashes from West and last-second solo wails from Dickinson that soon cut Stubb off with all the sudden cruelty of the bartender who’s been pretending to be your friend all night. Given the raucousness preceding, though, perhaps it’s for the best. Any more of this stuff and someone’s bound to break a window.
Stubb’s Stubb does the work a demo or EP otherwise might in letting listeners know what the band is about at this stage in their development – heavy riffing, straightforward songs and touches of other classic-minded influences – but also has an album’s scope and progression between its tracks. Dickinson, Holland and West make an excellent trio, as each player’s work seems to add to the others, and the resulting whole is that much stronger for it. No doubt this is rock for rockers, but the rockers should be pleased, and if Stubb is to be the base from which the three-piece will look to expand their approach going forward, they’ve given themselves an excellent position to start from and shown they can be among the top fuzz contenders in the increasingly crowded British underground. Highly recommended.
[NOTE: Stubb were kind enough to let me premiere their test-pressing video for "Road," which you can enjoy on the YouTube embed below. Thanks to the band and to Superhot Records.]
Tags: London, Stubb, Superhot Records, UK