Slow Season, Westing: All the Boogie (Plus Track Premiere)

slow season westing

[Stream ‘Miranda’ from Slow Season’s Westing by clicking play above. Album is out July 15 on RidingEasy Records.]

From the upbeat shuffle of opener “Y’Wanna” on down through the creepin’ blues bounce of “The Jackal” and the funk and classic psychedelia that shows up in “Miranda,” Visalia, California’s Slow Season make a strong case for the laid back, groove-minded next generation of West Coast heavy psych with Westing, which is not necessarily trying to be anthemic or representative of anything larger than itself — far less pretentious than that on the whole — but winds up that way anyhow. The four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rice guitarist David Kent, bassist Hayden Doyel and drummer Cody Tarbell self-produced their third full-length behind 2014’s Mountains (review here) and a prior self-titled that RidingEasy reissued late last year, and that fact becomes important because while they still sound like a young band, that is they deliver their material with a sense of energy and purpose, Slow Season three albums deep are actually considerably seasoned, thanks in no small part to considerable time on the road alongside labelmates and others over the last two years.

As a result, Westing (also on RidingEasy) benefits from growth in basic presentation and versatility while pulling together its vinyl-ready eight-track/37-minute run, easily digestible for its hooks and flow but with depth of mix and performance ready for any listener looking to dig a little further on repeat listens. Over the course of its two sides, Slow Season show off different looks between vintage-derived boogie and heavy blues rock with more ethereal touches, but though they break out the organ on the penultimate “Manifest,” they never lose sight of the overarching mission of their songcraft and they never fail to engage the audience.

A big sticking point for Mountains was its clear Led Zeppelin influence, and Westing has some of that as well in songs like “Flag,” the guitar and spacious drums of “Saurekönig,” and closer “Rainmaker,” but it’s less direct than last time around, and as Slow Season have continued to grow — and actively forced themselves to grow by touring — they’ve arrived at a more individualized place, still at home in the earlier-Graveyard sphere of modern retroism, but in some crucial ways answering the question of what comes next for that sound, particularly in their affinity for bluesy tones and swing. Both feature mightily on “Y’Wanna,” which launches with a shuffle in medias res to immediately give a sense of movement.

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There’s a sun-baked warmth in the chorus as well, and they open up to it fluidly, what sounds like a blend of acoustic and electric guitars intertwining amid multi-layer vocals and the solid rhythmic foundation of creative bass and drumming that will become a running theme as “Flag” takes hold like someone called in for boogie reinforcements. Laid back but not lazy, “Flag” typifies side A well in its rhythmic sway, catchy hook and steady flow, but the blues spirit underlying begins to deepen on “The Jackal” in the guitars, bass and drums, and Rice‘s vocals are more than up to the task set for them. He’ll have another highlight performance shortly as “Damascus” opens side B, but what Rice brings to the album overall isn’t to be ignored in helping capture the moods elicited from the songs, “The Jackal”‘s tension and roll seeming to be in conflict but finding resolution in a final verse and chorus after a quick break en route to the nod of “Saurekönig,” which as noted is one of the more Zeppelin-style cuts, but heads off on its own path to Kashmir nonetheless.

Thinking of it as a companion-piece to “Y’Wanna,” “Damascus” gets underway in not entirely dissimilar fashion, but the process “The Jackal” and “Saurekönig” started in expanding the palette continues as the instruments drop out of “Damascus” to let Rice bridge to the chorus on his own, weaving into and out of falsetto smoothly as the fuzzed-out groove surges back. Arguably the most memorable single track on Westing, “Damascus” is one of just two to reach the five-minute mark — the other is “Manifest,” still to come — and it uses that additional runtime to back its last chorus with a solo-led jam that winds and careens with some final vocal lines that thuds to a sudden stop and lets “Miranda” pick up on the beat, more led by Doyel‘s bass than anything thus far but still full in its arrangement.

The sunshine of the album’s first hook is recalled, but there’s a rush at the heart of “Miranda” as well, and that ensures there’s no sense of the band being repetitive. “Miranda” is raw songwriting at work, classic in its construction and the momentum it builds, ready to be pressed as a 45RPM and shipped to record shop storefront windows. As side A began to broaden with “The Jackal,” so too does side B with “Manifest,” but true to the form, “Manifest” pushes further, its subdued and melancholic feel made even more wistful by the organ and the guitar work. There’s a linear build happening, but until about four minutes into its total 5:57, it’s so subtle as to be almost overlooked. At that point the track takes flight, albeit momentarily, but the payoff effect is prevalent all the same, and the turn back to the chorus on just a couple quick crashes is the kind of thing that would trip up lesser bands.

Organ ends “Manifest,” which leaves the swinging, swaggering “Rainmaker” to finish out with one last boogie slide. The difference I suppose between it and “Flag” or “Y’Wanna” is the noisy movement near the end. They bring it back around to the central riff for the last measure, but for a while there Slow Season seem to really let go in a full freakout, and it shows that as far as Westing has gone up to that point, they can still go further. That might be the message of the record as a whole as well, but not at all to be ignored is how much Westing finds Slow Season making a direct contribution to West Coast heavy rock. In its vibe, natural chemistry and songwriting, that contribution is formidable.

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