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SPIN Essentials

Baroness, ‘Yellow & Green’ (Relapse)

Baroness / Photo by Jimmy Hubbard
SPIN Rating: 9 of 10
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Label: Relapse

Baroness is Kurt Cobain wearing a dress to the Headbanger’s Ball. Baroness is the night that Alice In Chains had to choose being Mother Love Bone over being Queensrÿche. Baroness is Faith No More photographed in their underpants (but not the Red Hot Chili Peppers photographed in their underpants). Baroness is Madonna giving the Deftones a record contract. Lewis Largent or (Jackie Farry!) would have have loved to introduce Baroness. Baroness are shoo-ins for the Judgment Night 20th anniversary soundtrack (we recommend Big K.R.I.T.). Baroness are The Breakfast Club where Butt-Head and Daria are Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy.

It’s been a minute since alterna-heavy bands were so gallantly mixing brainy and brawny and Billboard-aspirational and bro-sensitive — but, hey, Nothing’s Shocking, right? On their third album, Savannah’s own My So-Called Metal Band give contemporary underground sludge its bravest 120 Minutes makeover yet, their Bunnymen-bouncing hooks now bulging with the expressionist production techniques of Siamese dreams, carrot flowers, and achtung babies. Hell, Yellow & Green probably would be called an “indie rock” album if System of a Down instead of the Shins had changed Zach Braff’s life; or it would be scanning as “modern rock” if dudes weren’t signed to the same label that put out Regurgite’s Carnivorous Erection. “Metal” will have to do for now, despite the majority of this album revolving around Fahey-esque meditations, taut post-punk grooves, Nick Cave death waltzes, Torche-y bubblegum, and Foo Fuckin’ colours and shapes.

Breaking down the album’s damn-near-Sign-“O”-The-Times runtime into neat halves, the nine songs on the chugging Yellow muckstorm is the meaner, unhinged portion; but if you’ve followed Baroness’ increasingly ecstatic music at all (2007’s Red Album into 2009 Blue Record), you already know how this story ends. On its own, the 40-minute Yellow is the second-best metal record to come from Georgia’s drop-tuned, swamp-bathed, crust-caked community — a scene already littered with classics (Kylesa’s Static Tensions, Black Tusk’s Taste The Sin, and Mastodon’s Leviathan, which only beats Yellow for opening with the decade’s best guitar riff in any genre).

Lke Slayer’s Reign in Blood performed on Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American, the two-person vocal interplay between lead vocalist John Baizley and guitarist Peter Adams is melodious yet tense, immediate and human, at times even recalling X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe), sometimes just a headband away from Van Halen. The whole thing churns and chugs, but in such a gentle, buoyant, un-macho way. It’s all humanizing studio chatter, sparkling finger-picked fluffernutter, jaunty 6/8 pieces of black hole sunshine, space-fart synths, and songs with names like “Twinkler.” Remember when it felt transgressive for Nirvana, Melvins, Skin Yard, et al. to admit they loved KISS? Well, Baroness’ “Little Things” and “Sea Lungs” seem to look back fondly on the masked marauders’ long-maligned glitter-monster disco phase and has the grooves to prove they too are made for loving not fighting.

And Green is where it starts to get weird! This side is basically a pastoral, shimmering, Sirius-as-cancer modern-rock record looking to take the head of Dave Grohl or Josh Homme or Bono Vox or Chad Kroeger. Every song lurches out of a Zombie Alternative Nation. The spiraling guitars and whirlpool harmonies of “Mts. (The Crown & Anchor)” and “Collapse” are like Paul Leary producing post-Cobainized Meat Puppets. “Board Up the House” is the martial chug of Chavez or Shudder to Think or Jawbox (the title, seemingly nicked wholesale from fellow art-metal band Genghis Tron, was probably subconscious, like when Nirvana accidentally stole “Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more” from Mudhoney). “The Line Between” is Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” through Eyehategod’s pedal chain (right down to drummer Allen Blickle doing Taylor Hawkins doing Keith-Moon). “Psalms Alive,” with its addictive adenoidal head-whine and grunge-lite hooks, is basically a Weezer song if Rivers sang about the heavy hoofprints of the Four Horsemen pounding across the land.

The Green disc is more sonically schizophrenic too, with every song sounding like it came from a different album. You can hear it in the snares: On “Green Theme,” they are shotgun cracks; in “Mts.,” they are dead-eyed mud-puddle spluts; in “Psalms Alive,” they are post-Postal Service tikka-tikkatronics; in “Line Between” they are Bonham-y blapblats.

If you follow Baizley’s lyrics, he wants nothing more than escape — “Take my bones away,” “Take me to a hazy Sunday morning,” “I’m still trying to find my way out.” On Yellow & Green, he finds the confines of metal itself too limiting; so Baroness dive, dive, dive, dive into ’90s commercial alternative harder than a sackful of Yucks and come out smarter and weirder and better than any metal band this year. Don’t look back in anger, they’d say.