Oh, yes: Male Gaze, the Bay Area band who made of one last year’s hot-as-shit debut records, have done it again, delivering nine-tracks of face-melting rock on their new album, King Leer. This being a release on Castle Face Records — the celebrated garage-rock label that Male Gaze frontman Matt Jones happens to preside over — it’s possible you know what you’re getting into: lo-fi, reverb-heavy, in-the-red recordings of go-for-broke performances by smart rockers who know better than to lay down “psych-rock” cliché. (Note: being of a certain age, I refuse to take the “psych rock” label seriously since I well remember the glorious breadth of sounds that once fell under the broad umbrella of “psychedelia.” See also “synth-wave.”)
Yet anyone familiar with last year’s Gale Maze album may detect that Male Gaze’s new record is no mere sequel. Whereas the first record was all go-go-go, frenetic tension driving ice-cold melodicism, King Leer by contrast lets it all hang out, with generous servings of sludgy head-bangers like “Got It Bad” or shimmering, heart-on-your-sleeve melodies like “Ranessa.” Veering away from formula so early on in a band’s career can seem a bad move marketing-wise, but on King Leer it shows how Male Gaze is in it for the long haul. As the extensive discographies of friends and labelmates Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees reveal, continuous change and surprise is the hallmark of the best Castle Face acts — and, needless to say, of all serious recording artists. I’m eager to see where Male Gaze take the label’s legacy from here.
PS: If I may, check out Male Gaze on vinyl, if only because they remember the lost art of how to sequence a side one and side two.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs at musicalurbanism.org and is writing a book about Martha & the Muffins and the late 70s/early 80s downtown Toronto music scene.