It’s been a fascinating journey Mat Bethancourt has undertaken for the last half-decade or so. Since putting underrated fuzz rock trio Josiah to rest in 2009 with Procession (review here), a collection of unreleased and live tracks, the Leicester-based guitarist/vocalist has spent time in Dexter Jones’ Circus Orchestra, been in and out of The Kings of Frog Island and founded and released two, now three, albums with Cherry Choke, all operating under different parameters within the umbrella of heavy rock and psychedelia. With The Kings of Frog Island, Bethancourt explored a fuzzed-out expanse on the first two records and then stripped down the methods for his final album with them, 2010’s III (review here), his songwriting not comprising the whole core of their sound — as subsequent Kings outings would prove — but having a significant impact on it all the same. That more garage rock style would seem to be foundation on which Cherry Choke was based. On Elektrohasch, the trio released their self-titled debut (review here) in 2009 and followed it relatively quickly with A Night in the Arms of Venus (review here) in 2011, the second album expanding on the ideas of the first but keeping the elemental feel intact. Four years later, Cherry Choke offer Raising the Waters, their third full-length on Elektrohasch, recorded and mixed analog with label head and Colour Haze guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek at his Colour Haze Studio (Koglek also adds some vocals and 12-string acoustic), which brings together Bethancourt and drummer Daniel Lockton with bassist/vocalist Simon Beasley, formerly of — wait for it — Josiah.
So yes, more than half a decade and numerous twists and turns of sound and cohort later, Cherry Choke brings together a two-thirds reunion of Josiah on their third album, but they’re doing precious little across the 10-track/50-minute outing to recapture former glories, and instead, Cherry Choke‘s Raising the Waters pursues a blend of classic, laid-back heavy rock songwriting and psychedelic exploration, beginning with the seven-minute “Rage On,” which presents with its first lines one of the record’s landmark and defining hooks, “You move like Lucifer on the floor/Hypnotize me with your flesh and bone,” around which the three-piece builds a psychedelic roll that proves immediately immersive, Bethancourt‘s well-established penchant for layering wah leads and nodding rhythm tracks met by Lockton‘s swinging groove and Beasley‘s warm-toned low-end. The opener is a fitting summary of what the album as a whole has to offer, and there’s no shortage of vibe throughout the rest of side A, but as the hooks of the speedier, Monster Magnet-esque “Mindbreaker,” the preaching “Black Aniss” and the jamming-but-still-chorus-driven “Used to Call You Friend” play out, it’s easy to lose touch with the more psychedelic aspects presented in “Rage On,” perhaps even more so since the aforementioned “You move like Lucifer…” line is given a reprise on “Hypnotize Me,” but the second half of the tracklist brings this further into focus, making Raising the Waters not just a step forward in the aesthetic presented on the first two Cherry Choke outings, but a grander leap into a pool of tone that more than lives up to the goal a title like “Hypnotize Me” sets forth. With guest sitar from Mario Oberpuncher — who also mastered with Koglek — and Hammond M3 and Fender Rhodes by Martin Bischof, the back end of Raising the Waters fulfills in short order the atmospheres that “Rage On” seems to promise, still in league with the memorable songwriting of “Mindbreaker” and “Black Aniss,” but pushing throughout the rolling “6ix and 7even,” the grounded “My Mind to Lose” and acoustic-led “Discarded Hearts” into a bliss of their own making.
That’s not to say the earlier tracks aren’t likewise tripped out or that Raising the Waters plays out like two records in one. There’s a flow between the album’s two halves and the creativity across both is open to be sure, it’s just a question of structure, and what turns out to be side B on the vinyl is clearly intended to expand on the ideas of side A, bringing about a bold, unexpected sonic foray into Euro-style heavy psych that, by the time “Discarded Hearts” is over, has offered as much emotional as aural breadth. “Where the Sun Rises” is an instrumental highlight as deep and lush in sound as one might ask, and “6ix and 7even” picks up that psychedelic thread and adds — Hammond! — yes, the Hammond, but also the fervent rhythmic push of “Mindbreaker” and “Rage On”‘s clever structuring, and while “My Mind to Lose” has a back-to-earth-again effect for the clarity of its chorus, it still spreads wide across a back-half lead section that recalls the best of Bethancourt‘s work with The Kings of Frog Island. A tone wash emerges to carry “Discarded Hearts” into a moment of silence, from which “Where the Sun Sets” picks up as the album’s closer and, entirely backwards, provides a mirror to “Where the Sun Rises” in much the same way “Hypnotize Me” answered back “Rage On” on side A. It’s a dreamy, droning kind of finish a long way from the already-stuck-in-your-head “Rage On,” but fitting somehow for the progression that Cherry Choke have undertaken across Raising the Waters, as Bethancourt, Beasley and Lockton take the band to ground new and familiar and forge a character sound-wise that’s neither one thing nor the other, but encompassing with songwriting that remains graceful in the expanse. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but Cherry Choke make it seem easy and manage to stay afloat no matter how high the waters rise.