The Warlocks- The Mirror Explodes (Tee Pee Records)

   The Warlocks’ last album, Heavy Deavy Skull Lover, was a sprawling, self-indulgent freak of a record, pushing the sonic envelope in terms of way-out guitar sounds and atonal feedback dirges. The first impression of The Mirror Explodes (the band’s fifth), is that they’ve taken a step back and made a calmer, more conventional and reflective album. These things are relative, of course: the Stooges/Velvets/MBV influences are still obvious, but the drums are less pounding, the feedback more controlled, the evocation of some manic, chemically-assisted blitzkrieg on the end of the night replaced by a sense of hollow entropy, of momentum lost and ravens come home to roost. More than ever before, singer and songwriter Bobby Hecksher is at the heart of this record, which seems to map out a disturbing personal odyssey, the details of which are left mercifully undisclosed, while the overall tone is all-too-clear.    

   Opener, ‘Red Camera’ starts off like classic Warlocks- a slow monotonous Stooges riff, mogadon drumming, and glassy, echoey shards of space-rock digital FX. Bobby’s haunted, off-key vocals recall Lee Renaldo- the George Harrison of Sonic Youth- on his minor-key, one-per-album SY songs like ‘Mote’ from Goo. The lyrics, as throughout the album, are all-but inaudible, but random phrases drift out, ominous and sinister. “I’ve already been there- to the hospital.” The feeling is lost, lonely, cavernous and lysergically damaged- an epic bad trip.

   ‘The Midnight Sun’ pastiches Isn’t Anything era My Bloody Valentine, with monotonously strummed acoustic guitar, plangent waves of detuned feedback and droning, submerged vocals as everything is sucked backwards while still struggling forward, caught in the gravitational pull of some self-inflicted black hole. ‘Slowly Disappearing’ also recalls early nineties British ‘shoegazing’ bands (Lush, Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Pale Saints), but there’s none of the celebratory yearning or reaching for beauty of classic shoegaze. Once again, the mood is despairing and disoriented; anguished isolation. Bobby sounds like he is indeed slowly disappearing- down the plughole, perhaps.

   ‘There is a Formula to your Despair,’ despite its slightly embarrassing Sixth Form Emo title, turns against the tide slightly: here is hope, albeit of the most stoic kind. Bobby’s high, cracked vocals climb over a pulsing, echoing, minimal blues that recalls Spiritualised or Spacemen 3, but perhaps most of all Galaxie 500: “Everyone feels this way.” It’s a palette cleanser of sorts for the album’s centrepiece: ‘Standing between the Lovers of Hell’ is a slow-burning, stomping psychedelic monster, a churning, caterpillar-tread groove broken in two by an echoing Sisters of Mercy guitar solo. This will surely be the defining song of the live set when they tour this album over the summer.

   Unfortunately, after ascending to this peak there’s nowhere else to go but down. Which isn’t to say that ‘You Make Me Wait’ is inferior:  but despite Banshees-esque chorus bass and guitars moving like tectonic plates, it still seems closer to Bobby’s old allies/rivals the Brian Jonestown Massacre, which could also be said of the stripped-down, shoegaze blues of closer ‘Static Eyes.’ Between them, ‘Frequency Meltdown’ is a six minute instrumental jam that, while effective enough, sounds like a warm-up number or a studio outtake.

   Undeniably flawed then, but still creepily fascinating, The Mirror Explodes may turn out to be The Warlocks’ most memorable statement. Bobby sounds bewildered, burnt out and betrayed, and whether his demon is drugs, depression or just life turning to shit in the everyday manner matters little. The specifics may be obscure, but it’s the generalities that we can all identify with at some point or another. The title is apt: The Mirror Explodes is a record to keep you company in the wee small hours, when you look at your reflection and it all comes apart and the shards cut you bloody, your only companion through a dark night of the soul. Like Skip Spence’s Oar, Syd’s Barrett, or more recently, the Television Personalities My Dark Places, it’s uncomfortable, unsettling, but profoundly real. The Mirror Explodes is a damaged classic.

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