Caustic Casanova

Nothing quite beats the feeling of seeing a band live (that you knew nothing about prior to the show) and getting your head completely beaten in with a wet mackerel.  That was my experience with DC punk/doom/psychedelic rock trio Caustic Casanova.  The band has a pretty extensive discography and they’ve been at it for a good chunk of years now.  Their latest album Breaks has a fitting home on Kylesa’s rock-solid Retro Futurist label and you can hear the chops this power trio have been perfecting for over a decade.  CC is louder than the lord’s thunder in person while bringing a raucous element of fun to their riffed-up and tripped-out blotter acid punk.  They were gritty for damn sure on the live front yet possessed plenty of sunsoaked snark which illustrated that these cats are having a blast tearing stages apart on tour…always a plus when you can get that vibe to rub off on the audience.

Breaks is punishing though smoother than I expected; the production by J. Robbins on this Olympic head tossing champ is slick, clear and crisp.  Dual vocals never get lost in the fury and despite an instrumental decathlon going down nobody’s tone is bullying the rest of the tones for lunch money.  Musically speaking, this is some acrobatic shit…harder to nail down than pinning Jell-O to a fuckin’ tack board.  Overall, it reminds me of the legendary X’s dark, brooding punk mixed with some classic DC chaos coupled to the tricky though heavily rockin’ prog circa Outer Limits-era Voivod, as taken over by the alien invasions of prime Hawkwind, only to eventually crashland into the thick smirking heaviness of early Torche and Floor’s S/T if Steve Brooks harvested his material from a NOLA swamp farm.  That description really isn’t even the half of the band’s sound.  There’s a “who gives a flying pig fuck” level of experimentalism to the songwriting here and it works in the Casanovas favor.

“Thundersnow” kicks off with warped feedback before running an electrified punk riff through a cheesegrater of dope huffin’ hazy hard rock.  Drummer/vocalist Stefanie Zaenker hits like she’s got sledgehammers instead of drum sticks and peppers the material with punchy fills, careening the tempo into bassist/vocalist Francis Beringer’s heavy, flashy grooves.  The end result is an opening of pure punk rock with a filthy rock edge and pop catchiness that wraps around new guitarist Andrew Yonki’s ephedrine blues riffs.  Somebody goosed this stuff up on trucker’s speed for sure and the Zaenker/Beringer coalition provides an infectious, instantly memorable sing/shout hydra-headed attack that immediately carves the lyrics n’ melodies into your brain with an old stone arrowhead.  Yonki grinds the riffing into a molten sludgy lava crawl giving the vocals room to soar amidst a sundering cyclone of psychedelic, head shrinking rhythm work that’s a split difference of unapologetically deep/heavy playing and crystalline, uplifting triumph.  It’s like getting caught tripping on shrooms in a circle pit.  A lengthy instrumental workout sees Stef bullrushing into manic roll overdrive full of precision, never-ending tom fluxes and bone-crunching snare fills that collide with Francis’ walking, progg-y bass lines.  Andrew chooses to let the pair run off on their own as he constructs a tower of rising tide, My Bloody Valentine-esque glory.  There is no doubt CC can jam in flurries of technically astounding complexity without losing vision of a song as a whole.  They return to the tune’s main punk n’ roll curmudgeon before phasing into a slab of thick, mercurial 70s heavy blues.

To call by name every twist, turn n’ writhe in each track is a battle I’m not gonna win but I’ll die trying.  “Show some Shame” is very reminiscent of the faster, peppier tunes on Torche’s Meanderthal.  Beringer’s fathoms deep vocal melodies are certainly respectful of Steve’s sugary bellow but when Zaenker harmonizes with him on the chorus it adds an aggressive push/pull dynamic brimming with more nervous energy than even Torche usually musters up as this particular vocal duo delves into some angry shouting and engaging trade-off hooks that yield an individual identity.  The music is also dirtier, grimier and stuffed to the gills with acidic 70s stoner riffage taking acidic punk swerves whilst shifting like the sands of NYC noise-rock.  Rhythmically, things are combat-ready at all times; the bombastic drumming continually layering the beat with devious polyrhythms that place Stefanie in a realm that criss-crosses the stylistic change-ups of Ronnie Kalimon, Damon Che, Brendan Canty and Bill Bruford.  The same goes for the bass lines which ride pocket punk/heavy rock grooves one minute then sail into Geddy Lee/Blacky waters the next.  Andrew’s guitar prowess is also constantly shape-stealing like a chameleon from Hell…never content to allow his riffing to occupy a single style as he frequently transcends genres.  Even the dueling vocals end with a killer resolution that goes from a Therapy?-chiseled, harmonious pop punk twitch to full on Neurosisian shouting during the song’s climax.

An ominous, soul-swallowing bass line drenches “Elect my Best Friend for a Better World” in doom syrup alongside delay n’ echo bombed guitar reverberations, lending the track a deceptive psychedelic visage that’s soon overthrown in a cultural sonic uproar of propulsive low-end growl, schizophrenic snare fills and sliding minor key guitar surgery.  This track is rich in dramatic atmosphere with Zaenker providing short, punk-y exclamations of the song’s title with Beringer delivering authoritative spoken word.  You never know what’s coming around the bend…the weird quirks reeking of Fugazi, the thought-provoking rhythmic interplay straight 70s prog, the frenetic pacing more in tune with Minor Threat, the demonic dirt-rock riffs resting somewhere between Kylesa’s To Walk a Middle Course and Akimbo’s stoner-noise classic City of the Stars…  I can’t pin the band’s sound down still but I know it fuckin’ rocks.  Even Andrew’s hard groovin’, centerpiece riff never stays quite the same in tone, volume or notation throughout the entire track and the threesome lays into a homerun of a lengthy instrumental closing that beats the ever lovin’ baseballs outta McGuire and Sosa put together.

Francis’ vocals take on a lower, throatier Elvis from the underworld personality on the stoner/punk sleaze of “Quezalteca Deathswitch Blues.”  The guitar riffs are kissed with the poison lips of Joshua Homme (trace elements of Welcome to Sky Valley and the first QOTSA abound).  It’s an intense jam swapping spritely trickiness for no frills, no nonsense heaviness that oddly sounds like it was written around “15 Men on a Dead Man’s Chest.”  They hit a goldmine on the outro vocal mantra where the harmonies have a religious cult’s fervor to ‘em (I’ve been walking around the house singing, “We are the pure and chosen few, the rest of you are damned, there’s room enough in Hell for you, we don’t want Heaven crammed…”).  If a DC punk band headlined a generator party in the Southwestern desert, Caustic Casanova would be THAT house band…at least on this cut.

“The Forgiveness Machine” is all about black hole bass vacuuming, wandering sludgy blues riffs that ain’t seen water in years and snare-driven death marches.  It takes its time like a rattlesnake readying its fangs for unsuspecting prey as Francis narrates with commanding sung/shouted poetry atop the band’s sandy murder mesas.  Never content to just travel one path, these crazies explore every possible route that the music can take; leading to a cathartic, uptempo doom riff cleaning house at 1:55 with every instrument breaking away from the laidback build-up.  Prepping the scoreboard for the album’s closer, “No Sky July” introduces extensive clean instrumentation, Yonki’s improvisational space-rock licks (eschewing riffs at first for atmospheric warmth until exploding into heady doom riffs and a massive, heart-stopping solo later on), tribal percussion, freeform vocal flows, Middle Eastern modes molded for taking mescaline in the heart of a great pyramid and a purely 60s psychedelic spire stretching to the album’s forefront.  Cutting through the dense drug fog are violent screaming shoves of vicious post-rock upheaval but leaping bass lines cut from a Claypool cloth spiral the ambience into towering riffs which constantly change speeds as the drumming embellishes progressive insanity ala Gentle Giant.  The jamming here shows what a true jam band is capable of…fuck Phish with a ten foot fin; this is how you do it!  Album ender “The Painted Desert” is composed with a similar psychedelic softness in mind but flies south, embracing heartbreaking blues and wayward twang.  Submerging bass lines, endlessly roving beats and Gilmour-dipped guitar reflections are the perfect canvas for Beringer to utilize his colorful singing and yearning spoken prose in downward brushstrokes.  Everything congeals for an atmosphere of heavy hopefulness that again doesn’t sound exactly like anything that came before on the album or exactly like any other bands that I can think of.

Breaks is an inspired piece of audio art.  It excels not only as an attitude injected punk rock album but as a hefty platter of doom wielding hard rock, an instrumentally impressive lost 70s prog masterpiece, a late 60s/early 70s psych rock freakout, a brazen post-punk wall of majestic white noise, a landmark example of how you can combine metal’s ruthlessness with slick pop sensibilities and as a true heavy album that defies categorization.  I’ll be seeing Caustic Casanova again live any chance I get and will be sure to buy as much as their discography as I can find based upon the sheer might of this sonic behemoth.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
October 13th, 2016


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