Where to begin. For those who aren't familiar, Gus Baldwin is a long-serving swordsman in the art of heavy psych rock in various Texas-based projects such as the Moonwaves, Sealion, Acid Carousel, and many more. If you see any indie-oriented shows here in Austin, Texas, Baldwin might just be filling on drums, keyboards, guitar, you name it. He might be the DJ for the tunes in between the sets for the night if you're lucky. Either way, Baldwin's status as a well-decorated foot soldier in the legion of Texas indie music is undeniable. On Baldwin's debut as a solo artist, the Austin-based artist not only pushes the boundaries of psychedelic rock but also sculpts a debut that highlights what makes the psychedelic rock genre a worthy staple in the Austin, Texas music scene.
First thing's first, this album is a mere six tracks in length. The filler level on this release is non-existent. Baldwin gets off to the races on the opening track, Send It, which throws the listener into the madness. The track kicks off with doomy, Black Sabbath-y vibes. Suddenly, the track erupts into a lightning-paced meltdown, and before you know it, the track is over in under two minutes. The zany vocal delivery on this track has become unmistakable on any recording that features Baldwin's vocals, with the reverby, distorted effects being a welcome staple in almost anything Baldwin commits to tape. The screaming synths and mossy guitar lines are just icing on the cake for this record to have a bombastic kickoff.
The super-charged cover of Ramones classic Havana Affair does excellent justice to what the 70s punk band was all about. The fuzz-filled whirlwind that this track takes the listener on is a testimony to every run-down club we pack into to see our favorite local acts, with the track taking us down a metal flight of full-fledged punk rock stairs until our heads are constantly being rattled in a pure, energetic punk rock fashion. This speedy rendition of this classic punk track does perfectly on its quest to showcase Baldwin's ability to make music always sound like his own, and the results show in a blown-out, drum cymbal-cracking affair.
Makin' Love (to the president's daughter) serves as a driving heavy psych-rock roller coaster with vocals that could seem akin to an older Oh Sees record or even earlier sounds from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Baldwin's multi-instrumentalist spectacle on this track carries an already incendiary drum track that's so blown out it might feel at home on an old MC5 record or something that The Fall might have penned. Still, the frantic vocal delivery combined with the distorted tornado of guitars puts an LSD-laced bow on top of the box to put the finishing marks on this brief but colossal statement on this short-but-sweet track.
The celebratory vibes on Loan Shark make for a sweaty sing-along track that paints stories of undisputed rock and roll action and serves up a heavy dose of the greasy garage anthems that filled the Do-it-yourself music venues before any of us were old enough to get into actual clubs. The playful synths on this track make the punk-influenced vocals sound like a catchy, often peppy campfire song if someone sang it through a hotel phone from the 70s. One of the best highlights of this entire record is the rough-around-the-edges production that serves as a precursor for the chaos that goes back and forth from unorganized to organized, with Baldwin's influences worn on his sleeve at every turn. When Baldwin released this track, the artist's social media said he had a friend who wrote words for the song before there was even music. Baldwin said, "After several failed attempts, I wrote the music after a friend put down the words." This type of songwriting attitude has resulted in Baldwin's ever-prolific output, putting tons of home recording freaks to shame.
Wall of Voodoo cover Back in Flesh is a groovy cut that jets off in an eccentric fashion. The fierce vocal delivery on this track and the haunted-house sinister instrumentals make for a captivating track that draws images of villains and beasts, making the chorus a worthy payoff in the form of a Misfits-Esque repeated shout of the song's title throughout. The cover tunes on this record pay an excellent homage. However, Baldwin's trippy, distorted style makes it so that these songs are made in the artist's image, making the proposed experiments feel right at home on this record.
The final track on the record Killer of the Man is self-described by Baldwin as a ripoff of Osees' frontman John Dwyer's project Coachwhips, a project that features a forest fire of distorted guitars, nearly unintelligible fuzzy vocals, and drums that sound like they are destroying the amplifiers they are linked into during a garage recording session. The melting instrumental on this track screams influences of not only the Coachwhips but bands like The Gories, METZ, and even the likes of Jay Reatard. The catchy vocal delivery on this track, along with the simplistic but bombastic instrumental, make for a rager of a track that does not simmer down until the track's runtime burns out in what seems like no time at all.
The debut from Gus Baldwin shows a lot of promise for the Austin artist. There are twists, turns, and different sounds to be studied here, as Baldwin's ever-evolving artistic process shows at every point throughout this new release. Something great about the distorted madness of this record is that there are so many hidden gems to behold that you catch from every additional listen. From wanky guitar screeches to searing synth lines, each song on this record has something to focus on with each part of the instrumentation and the madman vocal deliveries. Hopefully, this is the first of many solo outings for Baldwin. We're going to need plenty more where this came from.
Thriller II is available everywhere this Friday 7/29/2022.