At some point Castle Face Records stopped being the home of Osees (or Oh Sees, or Thee Oh Sees, or OCS, etc.) and became one of the most dependable labels for delivering rock and roll aimed squarely at my brain. Few labels are consistently knocking out great rock that slides effortlessly into psych and prog but somehow John Dwyer keeps finding them and signing them. Case in point: Grave Flowers Bongo Band, who not only embody everything I love about the label on their sophomore record Strength of Spring, but have the added bonus of being produced by another of my favorite artists, Ty Segall. For some that’s a recipe for garage rock disaster; for me it’s buzzed out sonic bliss.
After its opening ascending riff the first thing that hits me on leading track “Lazy River” are the drums, shuffling along with fills stretching out in a hundred different direction while never losing the beat. There’s a great foundation of acoustic guitar which balances the rock excursions lead player Gabe Flores goes off on. There’s a small vibe of King Gizzard here, but once the soloing start you’re definitely in new territory. “Sleepy Eyes” gives a burst of sax to accompany the opening guitar salvo, and still that acoustic underpins everything.
This is a great headphones album to turn up and soak in all the dynamics – Segall knows a thing or two about recording and producing a record, and he gets a great sound out of the band. Each song flows into the next, connecting specific riffs and melodies; musically this feels like a concept record even if the lyrics don’t frame a specific narrative. If anything they point to wistful longing: the 60s groove of “Smile” talks about hellhounds and the drifting, Zeppelin-esque excursion “Inner Bongolia” rambles about snoring babies and a potential dinner date.
“Animal Lord” kicks off the second side and is the blasting highlight, and if you want to know why I like the neo-psych movement so much, you can hear it in Flores’s searing guitar solos here. “Vatmm” continues the great guitar work before settling into “Outer Bongolia” which feels like the closing of the album proper. There’s still one more fun track – a cover of Brainbox’s “Down Man” from 1969. It feels like the inspiration for everything Grave Flowers Bongo Band are trying to do.
Strength of Spring. Another wonderful surprise out of the Castle Face catalog. And another clue to bring me Forster down the rabbit hole for this kind of music, as it appears most of the band members have another band called Hooveriii that released an album this year.
See you later.