BigPig, Grande Puerco: Stack it, Pack it, Wrap it

bigpig grande puerco

Desert rock has become many things over the last 25-30 years. It’s gone psych, or classic rock, or jammy, or commercial, and it’s spread to an international heavy underground that continues to flourish from roots in weighted groove and sandy vibes. Rarely has it gone punk as effectively as newcomer duo BigPig take it on their sort-of-self-titled, self-released debut full-length, Grande Puerco, and while intensity of youth is a definite factor in that — both members of the band are somewhere on either side of 20 — that drive is something that the style had at its very roots that has at least to some extent dissipated with age.

Perhaps it’s hard to separate BigPig from this larger context because guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli is the son of Fatso Jetson‘s Mario Lalli and also plays in that band with his father — they have a new album, Idle Hands, out this fall on which Dino participates in the songwriting — but in BigPig, the edge von Lalli brings to that established group comes right to the fore as he and drummer/vocalist Benny Macias tear into a raw and vibrant 10 tracks/42 minutes, starting with the outright sleaze of “Flesh Drive” and dipping into the angst of “Designer Drugs,” “Aldini Lopez” and “Mr. Cool” before the engagingly weird “The Last Red Baron Pizza,” also the longest cut at 8:31, underscores the notion of Grande Puerco as the initial stages of an exploration of what it means to be a songwriter, what material can and should do and how as artists BigPig want to get where they’re going.

In terms of this record, they get there with some noteworthy help. Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Leeches of Lore, etc.) recorded and produced, and it’s a suitably beefy fuzz he harnesses from von Lalli‘s guitar and a likewise crisp and full drum sound from Macias‘ kit as heard in the rush of the later “Don’t Think,” bolstered by a mix from Mathias “Schneebie” Schneeberger (earthlings?, producer for Fatso Jetson, Masters of Reality, etc.), so there’s pedigree here as well as lineage.

Nonetheless, BigPig admirably work to establish an identity of their own in these songs, bringing in influences from the more progressive modern heavy on cuts like “Sunny Side Up” to lead into the post-Queens of the Stone Age guitar work of “C-.” As noted, the album starts with “Flesh Drive,” which can seem crass at points — the line, “You look better glazed” is a standout — but boasts an undeniable midpaced groove that’s deftly misleading in the expectations it sets for what follows.

Clearly BigPig have a sense of mischief underlying their intentions, and that serves them well as “Sunny Side Up,” “C-” and the frenetic gallop of “King Baby” pick up at a speedier clip, since essentially they’ve written their own set of rules and then immediately, gleefully broken them. The swaggering “Lorde of the Deep” pulls back on the throttle but feels all the more thickened in its chug, and the vocals play to that well, leaning into a potent nod before room-mic drums start “Designer Drugs,” more reminiscent of something Mondo Generator might come up with, though perhaps not as outwardly aggressive. Still, raw.

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“Designer Drugs” hits into a slowdown about halfway through, conveying an addled sensibility and a burgeoning dynamic between Macias and von Lalli, but picks up somewhat in its last section, which leads into the particularly punkish “Don’t Think.” Like “C-,” there’s an undercurrent of Queens of the Stone Age‘s style of riffing, but BigPig are bringing more to it than most already, and in about two and a half minutes, they demonstrate how they take that influence and inject it into something of their own, sans frills, sans pretense, sans bullshit. Backwards, maybe sampled speech begins “Aldini Lopez,” manipulated into a swirl that builds to a head just as the angular central riff of the track kicks in.

If there’s anywhere on Grande Puerco that BigPig seem to draw a direct line to Fatso Jetson, it might be “Aldini Lopez,” which though the tones are dirtier could easily be said to be in conversation with that band’s 1995 debut, Stinky Little Gods, in its ability to find the swing in what in most hands would be a progression that didn’t groove at all. That’s not intended as speculation as to a direction BigPig will ultimately follow — though they could do far worse, obviously — but just to say that if they’re representing an actual next generation of desert rock, they’re doing so in a way mindful of the scene that was and still is.

The penultimate “Mr. Cool” has a particularly memorable hook and seems to find a comfortable pace while still leaving room to weird out in its bridge, and “The Last Red Baron Pizza” offers growling oddities and fuzzy insistence, pushing further into angularity, and even stepping out — boldly, in terms of the actual transition — into sparser atmospherics on guitar, which after a return to the push serving as the apex, which seems to straighten itself out as it hits near the seven-minute mark, is also how they end the album.

Difficult as it is to hear Grande Puerco without considering who made it — and that’s not at all to minimize the contributions of Macias here either on drums or vocally — it’s even more difficult to make one’s way through the album and not appreciate the potential BigPig show, playing to both a sense of tonal fullness and a barebones mindset that suits their two-piece construction. With these songs, they begin the work of hammering out a songwriting process, and one only gets the feeling that they’ll continue to grow more expansive as they move forward.

BigPig, Live in Los Angeles, Aug. 6, 2016

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