July 7, 2009

That Thing That You Want to Put a Finger to is Because

Boston, MA
Recorded at The Milkhouse in Allston, MA, and The Moontower in Cambridge, MA | Produced and engineered by Shane O’Connor | Mixed by Shane O’Connor at Starlab Studio in Somerville, MA | Mastered by Lance Riley

To call Blackbutton a dynamic duo would be both a slight to the word “dynamic” and to the group’s unofficial third member: the distortion pedal. Stripped down – nay, stripped naked – electro-blues, That Thing… comes off both more concise and more coherent than its words-out-of-a-hat title would suggest. For this, one can credit the potency of an unadulterated formula. Guitar plus drums. Plug in.

It’s a simple proposition, one that goes where many a Jack White has gone before – to the scuzz-filled backwaters of the Mississippi Delta. And that’s a long, circuitous trek for these Boston boys, especially considering that guitarist Jordan Tavenner spent four years playing these tunes acoustically sans drummer/force of nature Anshul Jain. The transition from coffeehouse crooner to barnstorming guitar hero seems an unnatural one, granted, but these 10 tunes take to their newly wired digs like hot sauce to grits.

Fiery leadoff “Babygirl” only whets the appetite. Crawling above a typical note-bending blues line, the song’s angst soaked meditations build from low grumble to tortured bark, slowly stoking the monster of a riff clawing for release. Sure enough, at the 2:18 mark, all hell breaks loose – turn the speakers to the front yard and watch the grass wilt.

Given the album’s grunge-ian lyrical shortcomings, it stands to reason that the best passages occur when that overheated guitar lays waste to everything in its path, vocals included. Enter slide workout “Rose’s Roses” and “The Physical and Functioning Integrity,” the latter a knock-down, drag-out, back-alley beating that adapts Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief” into a primitive six-string gauntlet. Just pummeled skins and cranked-up riffing, this track, like its makers, proves a pure thing of long ago – not so much a reinvention of the wheel as the wheel itself. (self-released)
-Robbie Hilson

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