Kommune Records (label)
27 September 2021 (released)
08 October 2021
The story of the multi-talented psych-rock troubadour is a revered one. The singer/songwriter/frontman/guitar wizard whose incendiary spastic energy combined with a knack for composing deceptively catchy hooks makes them a cultural lightning rod. They often helm multiple projects to be able to convey all their varied song ideas. And then they go and play drums for a project as well as anyone who specializes in the instrument. Jack White and Ty Segall are the two renaissance men who first come to mind. The former channelling his raucous Detroit roots through a Nashville blues sensibility and the latter embodying all that is San Fransisco and its wild psych-rock essence which has been passed down through the generations in the Bay Area of California.
San Diego's Zack Oakley may very well be the next multi-faceted artist in that line of succession. Over the past 10 years, he's lent his talents to several bands, most notably space rock freak out JOY and gritty, riffy psych outfit Pharlee on which he manned the drums. Now he's releasing his debut solo record Badlands, an album that takes the rowdy eruptions of his heavy psych past and refines them with a classic rock melodicism. The riffs take as much from ZZ Top, Ram Jam, and the Allman Brothers as from the classic psych touchstones of Blue Cheer, Hendrix, and Hawkwind. On Badlands, Oakley has distilled the frantic live energy of his past projects and crafted songs that stick in your brain long after the band has left the stage.
A spanky guitar kicks off the constantly evolving anthem 'Freedom Rock'. Nimble guitar runs, warm sunshine organ flourishes, and the bursting ball of energy drums of Matt Oakley make this track a throw in everything but the kitchen sink opener. Oakley lays it all on the line. His vocal delivery brings to mind fellow Golden Stater Ty Segall but where his voice's whine can get grating over time, Oakley hits a clean middle ground, both gritty and smooth. 'I'm the One' achieves liftoff thanks to bassist Kyre Wilcox's brilliantly snaking undercurrent. Elements of Segall's Fuzz project meet almost Mars Volta-esque passages.
After firmly planting the flag on rapid riffing, furious psych, Oakley settles into a more laid-back trip on 'Desert Shack'. Shimmering organ-like guitar, rattlesnake shakers, and a casual tom-laden bossa nova harken to The Doors at their most relaxed California vibes. A true California highway track, where the desert and the cosmos meet and bleed into one another. The extended mid-song harmonized guitar solo sets you sailing off into the ether. Nostalgic and progressive all at once. A masterful example of the genre.
Howling harmonica and a half-time heave bring the swagger to Oakley's jailbreak mantra 'Mexico'. He fantasizes about a great escape to the sun-drenched hills a mad dash across the border from his San Diego home. As if he's decided then and there to pick up and leave, the solo erupts in a jittering, high-speed burn that recalls Santana's best bongo-fuelled breakouts. 'Looking High Searching Low' features some delta-blues slide steel-string as a brief palate cleanser before the final stretch.
'Acid Rain' takes the slide to the electric, providing woozy memory-laden lines to bleed into the supporting organ. Beatles-style vocal harmonies tie the psychedelic elements together while Oakley wails on a searing bluesy solo that would make Warren Haynes proud. Closing out with the title track, Oakley borrows some vibe from The Who to mesh with the band's California sound. The band ramps up with heavy strummed acoustic and Keith Moon-inspired drum fills. The track is a steady swelling, speeding crescendo, racing into the West Coast sunset.
Badlands is a perfect blending of the punchy, garage rock energy of the modern California psych scene with the evolved songwriting, melodic soloing, and catchy hooks of classic rock heroes. Oakley and co. throw it all in the pot to create a brilliant piece of psych-rock divination. Slap it on and you'll be transported to that lost California highway, somewhere between La Jolla and Orion's Belt.