[sic] Magazine

Laurel Canyon – S/T

It seems we’re always on the cusp of a grunge revival, but it’s not the easiest thing to get right as first-wave proto/grunge was as much about geography, social aspects, and mindset as it was about sound. We can be flexible on the era though as similar conditions will continue to coalesce here and there, just as they have done since the mid-to-late 80s in the Pacific Northwest. There’s no reason then that Philadelphia band Laurel Canyon can’t tap that sound today and make a success of it – and their self-titled debut (inevitably recorded with Steve Albini in his usual fast and thin style) does just that, in part.

Lead single “Drop Out” duly winds itself into taught springs of metallic guitar, exploding from a bottom-dwelling churn into a gritted-teeth snarl, its howling chorus of “I can’t complain” a reaction to an inability to escape and “drop out” from the drudgery of existence. Sound familiar? You betcha. Authentic? Double points. Those quiet-loud-quiet whooshes of 90s alt-rock then resurface in “Eczema”, spindly guitar parts leading to jet engine roar and despondent repeats of “never should have told me”. The throwaway nihilism and primitive slacking start to wear as thin as hand-me-down plaid on the distorted “Victim” however (“no one’s a victim, everyone’s a symptom”), bubbling bass throwing this track a macabre lifeline, just as the killer riff does in “Take Your Cut”, its pogoing crunch the backing for a guitar held like a tommy gun.

This is catchy stuff, but so too in their own way were Tad and Mudhoney, obviously Nirvana too and Laurel Canyon make overtures to all three of them, Butthole Surfers as well with the strangled vocal oddness of “A Man About Town”, but there’s a feeling the band are having too much fun to be fully invested in the original movement. Fizzy guitar melodies are poured on the top like syrup, and you can hear the band’s smiles as they tool around with FX and feedback. It feels forced, not organic, “Daddy’s Honey” predictably lashing out at corporate consumerism and privilege, “Tangiers” nosediving off the top board and bombing closer to “Song 2” by Blur than it does Bleach. Most everything sounds lightweight in comparison to Bleach to be fair, but Laurel Canyon haven’t yet quite worked out how to consistently sound like they mean it.

Best track: “Drop Out”

~Laurel Canyon is released April 7th 2023 via Agitated.~