Creature with the Atom Brain: The Birds Fly Low (Wastemyrecords)
LP/CD/DL
Out Now

Initially formed as a one man recording proposition in 2005, Creature with the Atom Brain evolved into a full band after the release of two well received 12” EPs. The Birds Fly Low is their third long player and below is our review of it.

With a name derived from a Roky Erickson and the Aliens song, front man Aldo Struyf has been ploughing a musical furrow not endemic to his country of origin from the beginning. Often referred to as stoner-rock, the preferred term for those who realise, and champion it is desert rock, and Belgium is a long way from the desert.  However, even though they herald from central Europe, this isn’t pastiche, but authentic sounding.

Theirs is territory pursued by bands like Queens of the Stone Age, and nineties alternative rock merchants like Alice in Chains, both of whom the band have supported on tour in the past.  Struyf has been a long time member of the Mark Lanegan Band, both as a touring member, and recording contributor. That influence seems to have contributed to some of the darker, more sombre elements on the album.  They do however create a unique sound of their own with liberal experimentation, developed instrumentation, and a healthy dollop of sixties psych-rock.

It kicks off with ‘Hit the Sky’, a bluesy rock affair with Struyf stretching his slightly distorted chops over some heavy atmospheric riffs.  Several of the tracks are reminiscent of 80s/90s UK bands like the Stone Roses, particularly ‘Wolf Eye’ , where the vocals are slightly reminiscent of Tim Burgess. This might be accidental as they’re taking influence from the same 60s psychedelic palette as some of those influential indie giants.  They share that large full sound, and ambiance, while rarely stray from using the basic tools of Rock n’ Roll . ‘The Beauty of the Dawn’ has a hypnotic lead in that develops into a full on freak out jam, with the use of the Hammond organ reminiscent of the Doors, which is not the only time the band remind of Morrison et al.

Struyf, as stated, has been a long term member of the Mark Lanegan band, and now new drummer Jean-Philippe De Gheest is also a part of Lanegan’s touring band. This album appears to be influenced by that, sounding a lot darker than previous outings. Lanegan has guest on both the band’s other albums, and they uphold that tradition on ‘Birds’. His Midas touch is evident on ‘Black Rider Run’ (below), that baritone growl has the ability to elevate anything he adds it to, and the track is the album’s high point. It might fit seamlessly onto a Lanegan record was in not for the backing vocals, again recalling that 80s/90s indie-rock sound.

 

‘Beauty of the Rain’ – is synth heavy, and follows ‘Black Rider Run’, it maybe for this reason that it’s the track where he most resembles Lanegan in voice. It’s also the track that best demonstrates those Alice in Chains comparisons mentioned earlier, exemplified in the guitar hook, and strong bass line. It’s unsettling, and ambiguous, and the end of the track haunts with its abrupt ending on the line “everything will be all right”. The ambience of the album is morose in places, and the accomplished sound would be perfect for a film soundtrack, where a director might be trying to cheat a dark mood.

‘Break Me Blue’, the only track with a discernible Belgian accented vocal is where the sixties psychedelic feel is most prominent.  It sounds like a rock band has just digested some early Pink Floyd, the psychedelic element further amplified by the trippy lyrics.

‘Slide’ like several track follows a path that betrays where you expect it to go, sometimes it works, like with the elegant use of brass in said track, but less so in tracks like ‘R-Frequency’, which grates a little.  Although, you have to applaud their will to be weird, and this kind of kaleidoscope of noise would probably be right up Roky’s street.  After a prolonged long break, there is a return to form with title track ‘Birds Fly Low’ which closes the album.

If you like Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Lanegan, and Alice in Chains, you’ll love this. It’s not plagiarism, but fits comfortably into that genre of alternative rock.  It’s an instantly accessible mixture of straight forward rock, experimental alternative hammering, and sixties psychedelic jams.

Overall, it’s a dark, diverse and accomplished album that nearly always manages to stay on the right side of excessive, and only occasionally misses the mark with a few tracks that would probably be better off as b-sides. What it sometimes lacks in originality they make up for by their willingness to play around with sounds with a session type experimental jam approach, exemplified in the use of thick pulsating, dull and explosive bass lines and rambling, meandering guitar, which contribute to that overall atmosphere of desert rock cool, solid and learn-ed, involved, but laid back.  An album you’ll continue to return to for some after hours listening.

Creature with the Atom Brain’s website can be found here. They are also on facbook here.

Mark Lanegan & Roky Erickson’s websites can be found here & here respectively.

All words by Ray Burke. More features by ray on Louder Than War can be found here.

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