There’s somethin’ incestuous a-brewin’ in San Diego: a fluid drift from band to band and back again, like the returning wisps of smoke from that latest joint exhalation. This is Zach Oakley’s second journey through my cans in as many months, while more of his friends in Psych outfits JOY and Harsh Toke make yet another union in the form of the drenched riffage of Pharlee.
Debut album Pharlee (Tee Pee Records) sees Oakley cede his guitar for the drum stool and from the off he underpins a crazed, hard-rocking rhythm: the body of opener ‘Ethereal Woman’ layered with Garrett Lekas’ fevered organ parts and the staggering Bluesy pipes of vocalist Macarena Rivera. There’s an element of Oakley’s Volcano project here, with some hot Groove running through the sound, but that delicious organ work blends Occult heaviness with the 60s Psych of Vanilla Fudge. It’s a rampant pace which continues into the ensuing ‘Creeping’: crackling riffs searing the skin, while the funky riff is given melody by those oscillating keys and some languid yet electric leadwork.
The ripping yet soulful Desert Rock of The Doors governs the brooding yet blistering ‘Darkest Hour’, while a steel guitar introduces the Bluegrass strains of the brilliant ‘Warning’: the seedy seductiveness of the latter showing how to vary pace while retaining intensity; the slow-burning film noir set against the frenetic chase-movie soundtrack of its predecessor. The heat of this startling, sexy track is built from a subtlety to a mid-section ecstasy largely through Rivera’s stellar vocal, with the whole sending shivers down the spine.
‘Going Down’ is a rolling, throaty number, its emotive yet livewire leadwork and Plotkinesque vocal a pure evocation of Witch Mountain and a lovely example of true Blues Rock. The closing ‘Sunward’, meanwhile, is a return to the ripping fire of the earlier stages and is a fearsome explosion with which to end a dazzling display of hot, addictive Heavy Rock.
It’s tempting to class some of this revival scene as cheap bubblegum, but much of the stuff coming out of San Diego at present – largely from this expanding throng of players – isn’t just breathing new life into an old template: it’s shattering that mold while retaining the original smell. Pharlee contains some of the most joyous examples yet.
8 / 10