On the Muckrakes last album, Grandiphonia, a wide variety of influences were smashed together in ingenious and surprising ways. On their latest release, Pill Shaped Void, the variety of influences are still there, but they have coalesced into a cohesive and distinctive sound.
When I heard they were coming out with a new album, I wondered if it would work considering the loss of Melissa Troutman, a woman with a voice that could draw a smile out of the most cantankerous curmudgeon. But sitting with new drummer Dave Jugenheimer (who does not play on the recording) and singer Jon Ownings before their gig last night at Hampton Tap, I started to get a sense that this was a whole new band. That any attempt to compare it to a past version of the band would be fruitless. I don’t know those guys very well, but there was an overwhelming sense of calm purpose to them. As if they had already played the gig and had pulled off a legendary set of music.
With the Junior League Craft Beer Fest and a wedding in Surry–congrats Caity and Will!–we were too tired to stay for the show, but after three listens this morning, I could not be more impressed by Pill Shaped Void and this new iteration of the Muckrakes.
“Heartache” is a genuinely disturbing and must-hear piece of music, but it doesn’t seem out of place with “Going Gone,” a warm blanket of a song in the vein of the Beatles “I Got a Feeling.” The graceful guitar work of Mike Turner is on full display on tracks like “Our Time on the Edge” and “The Way We Were,” and there is a solidity to the group’s playing that wasn’t necessarily lacking before, but it wasn’t as prevalent.
“Bored with My Life” is a Hawkwind-like end of the world jam that puts this album in line with Jonathan Wilson’s Fanfare. And while Wilson’s West Coast vibe may seem uncomparable to the Muckrakes more serious, emotionally-spent sound, upon closer listen they are remarkably similar. Wilson conjures red sand dunes for miles and miles, and the Muckrakes evoke a similar feeling, but replace the desert with a smoldering peat bog stretching far into the distance.
The only regret I have is not being able to stay up and hear the group play “On the Run” last night. Things happen, and a lot has happened to the Muckrakes since their last album, but one thing has remained constant: their dedication to thoughtful, innovative music.