Rock is dead. You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. Does any genre ever really die? It appears as though any genre, no matter how much it is lacking in experimentation and progression at the current moment, always seems to have its fair share of revivalists, enthusiasts, and masters. So, in that sense, the argument could be made that rock will never die.
But that really isn’t the point of the saying, is it? “Rock is dead” is not to be taken literally, but to be used as more of a hyperbole to reflect the current state of remission the genre seems to be in. It’s hard to deny there is no outburst of material coming from the scene, both in the mainstream and in more indie circles. Instead, the genre has sort of stuck in one place, reflecting back on its past in rose-colored lens and reviving them for new audiences. While this may work for many talented bands, the ideology brings forth many bands that do not pan out so well. Some bands don’t pull off enough good songwriting. Some bands take a little too much from their predecessors. The worst ones, however, water what could’ve been a good take on the genre down into something that’s too stale to even mildly enjoy. Case in point: supposed heavy-psych rockers Desert Mountain Tribe, with their debut Either That or the Moon.
The problems with the record appear right from the opening track and never let up. You’d be hard-pressed to find another album that sounds so tired, so unbelievably bored with itself. The crunch of the guitars don’t feel like they are doing anything but taking up space, a placeholder to keep the chord progression together. There’s none of the fuzz or density that make other bands in the genre so much fun to listen to, nor does there appear to be any sort of risk-taking involved besides a very slight faux-country twang that arises on occasion. They make the heavy-psych tag this band gets appear to be a total misnomer.
Otherwise, the vocal melodies are pretty mediocre as well, and singer Jonty Ball’s nasally tone is only tolerable due to some well-tuned reverb placed on top of it. The drums, at the very least, sound nice, but what does it matter if everything else sounds so lacklustre? Not only this, but the band decides to keep mostly the same instrumentation throughout Either That, and make an attempt at a steadily uniform sound. This is an admirable decision from an outside perspective, and it can work well if the sound is well-done. However, given the aforementioned issues with the instrumentation as it is, a full hour of lazy guitar strums and uninspired vocals is a nightmare to sit through.
Such problems just maybe could have been forgiven if the songwriting was up to par. Alas, almost every song here does nothing to escape from the blandness presented by the arrangement. The band has gone on record in their interviews that they “never go to the studio [with inspiration from their lives] and say ‘I’m feeling really inspired by this. Let’s write a song about it,’” and man, is it apparent. They just don’t seem to move anywhere, preferring instead to loosely jam on simplistic, slowly-moving chord structures, sometimes just playing the same chord over and over (as on “Heaven and Hell”.) While this model works in favor of some bands, Desert Mountain Tribe lacks both the songwriting capabilities or the production to pull it off in even a semi-decent manner. The lyricism, on the other end of the spectrum, tends to be filled with total head-scratchers, with lines like “Come and take a ride in my…Cadillac” on “Take a Ride” sounding quite silly both in and out of the context of the song. That line is no outlier, either; each song has its share of cringeworthy lines to take in, and even when they aren’t, Ball’s inflections can turn even the simplest of lines into faux-twangy cheese, as is the case on “Way Down” and “Runway”.
Even previous songs appear in lesser form here. “Take a Ride” was not a great song to begin with when it first appeared in 2013, but on Either That, the relative rawness is stripped out in favor of some bland, reverb-heavy production and guitars that bleed together in the absolute worst way. “Coming Down”, while perhaps the best of the early tracks, appears here as a reworked bonus track, and although it at least retains some semblance of its former self, the track suffers from the ever-present colorless production. Both tracks exemplify the soul-sucking nature of this album, where even a well-written song can be watered down into something that is no longer tolerable. The fact that this album exists in such condition is a sad statement on the current affairs of rock music as we know it, even the heavy-psych scene that this band tries to put themselves into.
Rock is dead. Long live its shitty revival.
– Brock S.