It was loyal Maine-dwelling Obelisk amigo Mike H. who first put me on to UK trio Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight and since their 2009 demo, Lowering the Tone (review here), their every move has pretty much been covered. Their later ‘09 debut full-length, Movin’ On, was reviewed, and drummer Christopher West subsequently interviewed. When West and guitarist/vocalist Peter Holland released their The Bleak acoustic EP, that received a plug some time later, and when they joined vocalist/guitarist Jack Dickinson in Stubb on drums and bass/vocals, respectively, they were also On the Radar’ed and their self-titled debut was reviewed earlier this year and coupled with a video premiere. I was fortunate enough to see West and Holland play in both bands at Desertfest in London and again alongside Stone Axe in Eindhoven this past April, and reviewed both of those shows, and I’ll be damned if Trippy Wicked didn’t also show up in the playlist when I did my all-British podcast back in June 2010. That same year, just a couple months before, when I found myself stranded in the UK following the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that disrupted European airspace just in time for the start of Roadburn, Holland and West – who are joined in Trippy Wicked by bassist Dicky King – were kind enough to offer me a spot to crash on their couch and a chance to get to see them play acoustic, which to this day I still relish, and not just because I also got to see absurdist singer-songwriter Mark Barnes that night either, though I did buy all three of his albums. We got to have a few beverages as their tour fellows in Stone Axe made a stop at Roadburn 2011, and this year, seeing them at the aforementioned Eindhoven show was one of the high points of that whole trip. They’re killer dudes in a rocking band, so when I grabbed their second album, Going Home (released on their own Superhot Records), off the Desertfest merch table, I was immediately stoked to give it a listen.
Some time would pass before I’d actually be able to do so, but when I finally put on the nine-track/41-minute Going Home – which was recorded by Holland and West and mixed and mastered by the increasingly ubiquitous Tony Reed – I was surprised right away by the density of its tones. Both Holland and King have beefed up their sound since Movin’ On, and though the semi-Southern edge that showed itself on that record (particularly on, ahem, “Southern”) remains here especially in the alcohol-fueled midsection, it does so in a much different context than on the debut. The opening title-track, aside from earning Trippy Wicked immediate points for putting their longest cut first, offers some spaciousness in terms of its sound in the guitar at the end and features the first of several mellotron contributions from Reed, but the beginning movement is all straightforward drive, and the grooves only get more metallic from there. All of a sudden, using Stubb as a comparison point feels less valid, since if Going Home makes anything at all clear, it’s that despite sharing two-thirds of the same personnel, the bands are heading in different directions almost entirely, Stubb geared more toward fuzz rocking groove and Trippy Wicked as they are here showing more of a metallic base to their riff construction and general modus, though Holland seems always to be mindful of melody in his vocals. His howling is much improved over how it came off on Movin’ On, and while often one can credit that kind of growth to acoustic work – there being less for singers to kind behind without distortion – it’s probably just as much a result of Trippy Wicked’s road time. In any case, the combination of the two results in palpable development on the opener and “Up the Stakes,” which follows. He veers into and out of a throatier, gruffer approach throughout, hinted at with a “Hey!” following the first verse of “Up the Stakes,” but is just as able to carry the song melodically in his vocals as with the guitar, King and West nailing down a solid and rocking groove behind.
The balance between rock and metal shifts throughout Going Home, with a song like “Up the Stakes” winding up more toward the latter more because of its tone than what’s actually being played while “Go Outside” is more directly aligned stylistically with ‘90s metallic crunch. It doesn’t hurt the flow because the band don’t seem confused about what they’re doing, but the angle from which they’re approaching the idea of “heavy” has shifted, and it’s a marked change from what someone familiar with their prior work might expect. More pivotally, “Go Outside” is riotously catchy, West crashing a wash of cymbals behind Holland as he nestles into the chorus. King’s bass offers start-stop grooving in the intro and thickens the song considerably while the guitars establish a driving riff that becomes the core. Holland is mixed high (perhaps he’s not “nestling into” that chorus as standing on top of it), but the later inclusion of horns adds further curiosity and an experimental element to what might otherwise just be a straightforward exercise, setting up the transition to Going Home’s middle, on which Trippy Wicked’s boozehound shuffle shows itself in the brief and upbeat “Ain’t Gonna End Well.” It’s a song I mark as the beginning of a narrative that plays out over the ensuing three tracks, “I Want Another Drink,” “Hillbilly Moonshine” and “Pour Me Another One.” You could argue, I suppose that the whole album’s musical flow plays out like a night of drinking, finding precursor in the opener and going from there in mood and atmosphere, but it’s really in the middle and toward the end of the second half that it’s applicable, given the borderline social commentary of “Going Home” and “Up the Stakes.” “I Want Another Drink” is as direct as its title, and somewhat curiously, the only place Trippy Wicked’s acoustic side shows its head, and even then, only in the introduction (which cycles through twice, once in the beginning and once halfway through the song). Horns tie it to “Go Outside,” but Holland’s rougher vocal adjusts the mood to start what — by the time “Hillbilly Moonshine” follows – is a party in full swing.
And if there’s any point on Going Home where the metallic feel in the guitar and bass especially undercuts some of what Trippy Wicked are trying to accomplish, it’s here. Where “I Want Another Drink” finds its payoff in a massive rolling groove topped with the lines, “I’m in hell, come and get me” – which I think we’ve all felt at one point or another – “Hillbilly Moonshine” is shooting for a countrified edge that the tones don’t really convey, and something of the lighthearted nature of the song is lost in the start-stop crunch, Holland’s listing of sexual positions and shouts of “yippee ki-yay” coming off with an imbalance of tonal seriousness and lyrical levity. This, however, is a sober man’s position, and if you’re thinking of “Hillbilly Moonshine” on sober terms, you’re doing it wrong. Still, part of me can’t help but feel like Holland, King and West are poking fun at American commercial hard rock here, and if they’re not, it might be something they’d want to look into. The drunken chicanery gets woozy in the second half of “Pour Me Another One,” which, if you’re following along with the getting-drunk progression of the tracks at this point, arrives right on time. Holland shows off some diversity and character in his vocals before returning to his more signature approach for “Change Your Mind,” which harkens back lyrically to the first couple tracks, tosses off a “yeah” with effective casualness and serves as the epilogue for the debauchery preceding. Whether or not Trippy Wicked intended to construct a story out of these songs, I don’t know, but if it’s something they inadvertently stumbled onto, it’s a hell of a coincidence, and since “Change Your Mind” is basically the closer, followed only by “Home,” which is 1:22 of mellotron righteousness from Reed, it seems unlikely the patterning of Going Home wasn’t on purpose, however much I might be reading into it aside.
Either way, as “Change You Mind” wraps with a decidedly stoner rocking guitar over a solid foundation of bass from King and “Home” takes hold following the fadeout, it’s pretty clear that with Going Home, Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight have accomplished several things. Foremost, they’ve distinguished themselves from Stubb in terms of style and sonics. They’ve also shown Holland as a singer able to carry not just a tune in general, but the whole of one of these songs if he has to – which he doesn’t, because most of all, what Trippy Wicked have shown here is that their songwriting is diverse but consistent in terms of quality and that it engages fluidly and makes it clear that when they bask in cliché, the band know precisely what they’re doing. At least for half of this record, they’re drinking, so cheers. They continue to be one of my favorite of the current bumper crop of British acts, and I consider myself lucky to have seen them live and to count them as friends. If their record sucked, I’d say so. Fortunately, that’s not an issue. I look forward to seeing where their current approach takes them, and to finding out just what their recipe for hillbilly moonshine might be.
Tags: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, UK