Heading East

I got to Savannah, Georgia’s Niche just a little bit late because if I was quicker on the draw this would have easily been one of my favorite records of 2015.  On Kylesa’s respectable Retro Futurist label, the quartet is accomplished musicians with striking chops, superb songwriting and soaring harmonies that suck you in like an unstoppable vortex.  Opener “Exiled to Islands” is an infectious, call n’ response guitar workout with Justin Dick and Kristopher Maedke-Russell harmonizing in the fine tradition of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash while avoiding all aspects of cliché, copycat songwriting.  Booming riffs sometimes create a thunderous rumble, giving entrance to the equation for drummer Lee Vallier to pound his fills from the same Irish hills where Brian Downey cast down his magical might many years ago.  Former Kylesa bassist/vocalist/keyboardist Corey Barhorst augments the band’s lively mix with introspective washes of keyboard and organ that keeps the music stitched together tightly at all times.  The sound here is absolutely classical in nature and the harmonized vocals call to mind greats like Pink Floyd, Wishbone Ash and the often-forgotten Horslips.

“When I’m Gone” is a ridiculously catchy death lament where blues bass lines, melodic riff twang and skybound organ accompaniment make for a really memorable piece that necessitates repeat listens as soon as it finishes playing through the first time.  Vallier’s jazz-jive snare keeps the vibe shifty and snaking as the pure, soulful rock n’ roll action brings to mind images of Tommy Bolin’s work circa Teaser.  This is pretty much a rock song for every complaining fucker bitching that there’s no authentic old school rock songs anymore.  Fireball lead/solo trades muscle their way right into the fill-heavy, snare-cracking busy percussive fray while Michael Redmond’s every bass lick drips with pure soul.  Even if the rest of this album wasn’t up to snuff, I’d buy it on the strength of this track alone.  Thankfully, this album fuckin’ rocks from start to finish.  If the build-up wasn’t enough for you, the boys delves into a tornado of trippy, psilocybin loaded psychedelia midway through that enraptures in the finest tradition of Hawkwind.

Whenever Barhorst’s organs and synthetics kick in with a vengeance, the band descends into towering heavy blues riffs where rock launching lead guitars really set fire to mission control.  I hate diggin’ at other bands but man this is what Black Pussy SHOULD have sounded like.  Sorry if that offends anyone, but I speak it from the heart.  Man, “On down the Line” the band hits on those rich vocal melodies, electronic accoutrements and funky bass lines that the HIGHLY underrated Rare Bird did so well in their prime.  Niche ups the ante with more aggressive work on the snare fills and big rises into dirty blues riffage, yet if you put this disc on directly after Rare Bird’s Somebody’s Watching classic I would be nodding in approval and smilin’ meaner than the Cheshire Cat.  Back-breaking percussion always remains hard and tasteful in the general construction of the song, as the alternatively higher howling vocals mingle with hearty, blues melodies drenched in southern gravy.  Soothing acoustic guitars only further heighten the impact of the keys and Niche surprises by sailing this song off into a heady, psychedelic sunset where the musical black magic casts a spell that sticks.

A hymnal, twang-y country gospel allows the sultry church organ to drive the proceedings of “Sweet Dear Annie.”  The teasing, playful drum fills elevate the proceedings into rising tides of power chord riffage that is neither too loud nor too quiet, but simply just right in its intentions.  Whenever you least expect it Dick and Russell push the guitar work into a fuzz-blasted, psyched out sort of punk-rock abandon that would surely make Hendrix proud.  It’s more controlled than Jimi’s work but you can tell that Niche probably worships at his altar (and for the record, it’s pretty shredding in its own right).  After an expansive, psyched-out drone intro “Tough and Mean” lives up to its name with amp-scorched riffs, whiskey n’ Marlboro burnt vocals and brass knuckle swingin’ riff grooves.  If this was an option on a bar jukebox in a watering hole near me, I’d skip everybody else’s bullshit and put this motherfucker on full blast.  There’s plenty of killer solos, harmonies, riffs and licks in this one to keep you getting a permanent, good time rock n’ roll shake going.  Closer “Days to Come” is a meditative psychedelic dreamscape that brings in bottomed-out, doom-style riffs and a full cylinder prog-rock freakout ending that showcases Niche as a band that can do whatever the fuck they want and make it sound top-tier in the process.

I feel a little ashamed because I dug into Niche’s Heading East just a bit too late to include it in my year end list for 2015.  This is a fucking awesome record that reminds me of a lot of the best soul barin’ hard rock from years gone by.  There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be picking this up soon.  Anyone who wants to hear some real deal, heavy rock n’ roll with psyche and prog tendencies in 2016 should absolutely own this album!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
February 23rd, 2016


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