Another line-up change, another label. Not to worry, the Willowz still sound like the Willowz. The Anaheim aggregate still rocks hard, Richie Follin still sings at the top of his range. Hey, it worked for Geddy Lee, it worked for Fred Cole--it worked for Jeffrey Lee Pierce, too. The Willowz may sound more like the White Stripes as a quartet than trios like Rush or Dead Moon, but you get the idea.
Guitarist Follin and bass player Jessica Reynoza form the core of the band. As with Chicago's Ponys, a garage-punk group founded by a couple, I'd imagine that these two are an item (Reynoza's always been the only female member). According to their website, Aric Bohn (guitar) and Loren Humphrey (drums) are the new members (Tony Mann fills the drum seat on the disc). As with ex-couple/former Sympathy labelmates the White Stripes, the Willowz also alternate between hard and soft. While the Stripes base their sound in the blues, the Willowz enter country-rock territory when they turn the volume down. At these junctures, Neil Young comes to mind (he likes those high notes, too).
As much as I enjoyed 2005's [The Willowz] Are Coming, a revamp of their 2004 mini-album on Dionysus, and Talk in Circles (also 2005), I didn't love them. I'm not sure why. I'm a sucker for melodic garage-punk with bursts of feedback frenzy. Chautauqua is, essentially, more of the same, but it's better somehow. I haven't put my finger on the reason yet. I guess it's because the sound is fuller--a little piano, a little brass--and Follen's voice is, relatively speaking, stronger. On the other hand, it seems to me this release works better as an album than as a series of singles. That's sure to come as good news for some listeners, bad news for others.
Incidentally, their name might not ring a bell, but if you've seen The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Science of Sleep, you've heard the Willowz. Michel Gondry, a big fan, hasn't just featured their material in his movies, he's also directed videos, like "I Wonder," for the band [see above]. In addition, they appear, during the end credits, in the new film about Sympathy's anti-mogul, The Treasures of Long Gone John. If you like LGJ-approved acts like the White Stripes, the Gun Club, and the Stooges, the Willowz are definitely worth a listen. I'm hearing a lot of Blue Cheer on Chautauqua, too, and that's always a good thing.
The Willowz, Are Coming, Sympathy for the Record Industry (B)
Anaheim trio the Willowz are like several garage bands at once. Guitarist Richie James's high-pitched vocals evoke Dead Moon’s Fred Cole, though he's not at that level yet. Then again, James is a few decades younger--he's got time. When he duets with bassist Jessica Reynoza, the Willowz sound more like a ragged Raveonettes. Reynoza isn't a great singer either, but she equals James in attitude. Are Coming is an expanded version of the Willowz self-titled debut and includes "Something" and "I Wonder," both featured in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Click here for my review of Talk in Circles.
Click here for my review of The Treasures of Long Gone John.
Endnote: The Treasures of Long Gone John opens at the Northwest Film Forum on 1/5. Ghost on the Highway: A Portrait of Jeffrey Lee Pierce opens on 1/8. The current issue of Resonance features my timeline of Gun Club co-founder Kid Congo Powers (for the upcoming issue, I take on Ari Up). Images from the official Willowz website and the IMDb (Gael García Bernal and Alain Chabat in The Science of Sleep), video from YouTube.