If Jared Mullins’ guitar tones could be photographed as easily as the Cleveland-bred musician himself, the resulting images ought to be slapped on a Wanted poster.
It feels like Mullins’ last tour with psychedelic power trio Heavy Glow just ended; we covered the band’s late-summer 7” single in advance of the band’s last stop at Happy Dog in August. http://www.examiner.com/article/heavy-glow-wrap-tour-at-cleveland-s-happ... But the 45 rpm pressing for “Headhunter” / “Mine All Mine” was but a wax calling card heralding the release of Heavy Glow’s second proper full-length, Pearls & Swine and Everything Fine. Recorded at Studio 9 in L.A. under the watchful eyes of co-producers Michael Patterson (Trent Reznor, Beck, Duran Duran) and Nic Jodoin (Morlocks, BRMC), the new disc finds Mullins and his L.A. based bruisers refining their throwback ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock sound to remarkable results.
Pearls & Swine is what might have transpired had fuzz-tone super-group Cream cross-pollinated its Disreali Gears with alt-rockers Queens of the Stone Age’s masterful, subversive Songs for The Deaf. The ten new tracks pack chops galore, irresistible grooves, and ever-shifting tempos while spotlighting Heavy Glow’s dynamic group chemistry. Each man boasts considerable skills on his respective instrument, but together they comprise a single unit capable of knocking ‘em out with a refreshing, enviable organic feel—whether a piece calls for channeled aggression, distorted defiance, or relaxed aloofness.
Mullins’ crackling guitars call back the monster sounds Clapton recorded in the late sixties, but the front man’s arrangements are more grounded than Cream’s and his lyrics less obtuse than those propagated by the trippy, acid-fueled bands of yore. There’s a lot of Josh Hommes / Dave Grohl orchestration on display, what with Pearls’s four-minute (on average) selections adhering to familiar verse / chorus pop formats before veering into jam territory, where Mullins—in his element—goes sojourning on his fret board while his inimitable rhythm section ladles out the gravy-thick foundations.
Slow-grind opener “45 Shakedown” has Mullins’ cuckolded narrator use a vinyl record as metaphor for the caliber firearm his ex just might train on him. In his signature whisper / sing, Mullins pleads his case, punctuating each verse with a bluesy guitar bend or searing lick. The drummer—credited only as St. Judas (save “Mine All Mine” and “Headhunter,” whereon Drew Huffman is timekeeper)—knows when to refrain and just let his hardware reverberate in the mix; his cymbals simmer over Joe Brooks’ strident bass as Mullins issues his deer-in-the-crosshairs chorus. “Look What You’re Doing to Me” hails from the same Frankie Avalon-on-acid beach party that spawned Smash Mouth, albeit with more toothy menace in its retro lenses. Buoyed by trampoline-like percussion, rubbery bass, and “Oh, oh-oh” interjections, the track unfolds like a guitar-laden Fitz & The Tantrums outtake. It’s an humorous eleventh-hour plea from a “spineless,” love-struck coward who doesn’t quite know what to do with himself.
“Mine All Mine” is the disc’s radio-ready zinger, a compact cut that sandwiches Heavy Glow’s sonic strengths (buzzing guitar, thick grooves, infectious refrain) into a concise, easy-access sample about a guy who’s grown tired of being on the short end of a give-and-take relationship. “You ain’t got the time,” coos Mullins’ love-bruised Lothario, his lead guitar melody mimicking the vocal. “What you gonna do for me?” The hooky tune coalesces over a couple verses and a stuttering, stop-start breakdown before climaxing in a double-time coda replete with quick guitar string pull-offs and thumping kick-bass. Mullins goes beatnik-existential with “Fat Cat,” scoring his rumination of life’s more shameful things (junkie girl with an imprisoned papa, murdered hijacker dumped into the bay) with squeaky-clean jazz licks and “bomp-bah-bah-bah” scat vocals. Again, the splashes and crashes are given breathing space, sizzling over Brooks’ serpentine grooves instead of being swallowed by overproduction; Patterson wisely lets each Heavy Glow hitter be his own animal in the mix. They’re just animals who happen to play well together.
Six-minute showpiece “Love Ghost” chronicles the spectral visitations of a former lover to the soundtrack of Mullins’ mournful guitar wails and drones. “With a kiss she ignited me,” confesses his haunted hero. “She comes and goes all the time, time, time.” Mild wah-wah lends an ethereal quality to the notes, then Brooks and St. Judas conspire on a dreamy, drum-laded breakdown. When Mullins returns, he tickles warbling squawks from his guitar by running his pick along (instead of across) the strings. “Love makes a man a fool,” he concludes, the mood shifting again with the time signature.
Watch the video for Heavy Glow’s “Midnight Mess:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEn1corzkzY
The quieter, reverb-affected “Hello September (Goodbye April)” presents another of Heavy Glow’s many musical facets, with Mullins adopting a falsetto vocal for an earnest, “can’t make it on my own” ballad. The verses hauntingly expand and contract until the walls finally cave in on our protagonist—at which point Mullins stomps on his distortion pedal to rage anew. “Domino (Black Flowers)” is an ode to a femme fatale whose soulful chords ride atop a rumble-strip rhythm, only now Mullins’ heartsick Hank is so far gone he’s spinning his tale from a shrink’s sofa. Memories of “livin’ in the shadows of the night before” become too much to bear; the strains speed up with each refrain and Mullins scats his way to an outro key change that befits the mood of a man discarded like a frisky feline’s catnip toy.
Heavy Glow embraces the funk with “Got My Eye On You,” another jazzy joint wherein Mullins’ bebop barfly looks on as a couple girls tussle onstage: “Ruby’s getting’ beat, blood red just like the T.V. shows,” he observes from his favorite nook as the confrontation unfolds, pulsing to the music. The singer sees through the “masquerade” of everyday life on “Nerve Endings,” lamenting the pretty parties and window dressing of his girl’s posh, Tanqueray-soaked social life. Maraca shakers augment the already spicy alt-rock rhythms in a play on ‘60s psychedelia, the Heavy Glow monster truck messily barreling into the storefront of some flower-power boutique. “Headhunter” likewise weds Grand Funk Railroad muscle with ‘80s guitar god finesse, allowing Mullins et al to “storm the walls” with uber-cool guitar trills and anvil-heavy beats.
We can’t say Pearls & Swine is quantum leap forward for the band, or that it trumps everything they’ve ever done, because Heavy Glow’s earlier EPs and Stevie Salas (Colorcode)-produced album are remarkable unto themselves. But the new disc definitely captures the band at a creative peak. Mullins has harnessed and tempered his Delta blues-inspired guitar rock into an impressive Hendrix / ZZ Top hybrid that pays homage to other blues masters (Clapton, Cray) and modern-day fuzz tone titans (John Frusciante) in the context of clever, contemporary, bite-size songs peppered with cool riffs, spaced-out transitions—and tempos more at risk to sudden change than staff at the Cleveland Browns’ front office.