The last record called La La Land that comes to mind is Green Velvet’s demonic techno ditty about the perils of chomping too many Es. Wax Fang’s second album could only really serve as a warning about the risks of waiting too long to give a record a proper European release, however. Assuming that the title is really a reference to the United States, then La La Land was a much more relevant state-of-the-nation address when it was released there two years ago than now. Back then, Wax Fang’s homeland was still mired in the messy end of the Bush years and specifically Iraq, a subject the band address directly on ‘World War II, Pt. 2’ and ‘Wake Up Sleepyhead!’ Sure, Barack Obama might have just been elected, but the sense of a country only tentatively beginning to hope again but still beset by self-doubt and confusion is still apparent in the lines "What a wonderful moment / staring off into space / everyone is running in their places / going nowhere" from ‘Cannibal Summer’.
Not that self-doubt really seems to be an emotion afflicting Wax Fang themselves, even if they do sound a little bit confused about whether they want to be Led Zeppelin, Arcade Fire, Lambchop or all three at once. Following on from 2005’s Black And Endless Night, which was essentially a solo album from mainman Scott Carney, here Carney conscripted fellow Kentucky residents Jake Heustis and Kevin Ratterman to form a full band who have toured with My Morning Jacket and headlined shows at SXSW, as well as adding live drums, bass and general oomph to Carney’s vision of country-tinged psychedelic garage rock in the studio.
A vision which is as ambitious as it is acid-fried if the two aforementioned anti-war tracks are any indication, with Carney bellowing "an eye for an eye!" over a steamtrain of chugging guitars and martial drumming on ‘World War II (Pt.2)’. Meanwhile, for ‘Wake Up Sleepyhead!’ Wax Fang seem to have decided that if the Vietnam War had a soundtrack of acid rock then Iraq should have had exactly the same one: beginning with a guitar line that’s a dead ringer for The Doors’ ‘The End’ accompanied by tearful strings, Carney begins singing "all dressed up with nowhere to go / a body full of bulletholes" before the riffs drop in and devastate everything like a napalm strike.
It’s hardly subtle, but then very little of La La Land is. Wax Fang very rarely resist the urge to pile riff atop riff, whilst Carney’s vocals at times make him sound like a histrionic Michael Stipe and at others like David Bowie if he was raised in the Deep South rather than Brixton. Their unabashed maximalism does yield some thrilling moments however, particularly when they apparently purloin U2’s effects pedals for the instrumental ‘Avant Garde Angel Dust’, or push the guitars into Pink Floyd overdrive on the opening ‘Majestic’, whilst ‘Black And Endless Night Revisited’ makes clear the common outlook My Morning Jacket glimpsed in Carney. Some tracks like ‘Can You See The Light?’ are a bit too heavy-handed, but ‘Oh Recklessness’ displays a lighter touch; a story of adolescent summers set to a cracked acoustic guitar and whispers of pedal steel that recalls Iron And Wine and sits apart from the rest of the album like a quiet kid in the corner during a school debate. Despite their political sympathies, Wax Fang’s approach to music is more Bush blunderbuss than Obama restraint, but whilst there’s plenty of bluster here it’s also impossible not to be occasionally blown away by La La Land, even if the fall-out from Bush’s presidency is now beginning to clear two years down the line.
7Paul Clarke's Score