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The Shrine Serve Up Some Primo 21st-Century Skate-Rock on the Scuzzy, Virile ‘Bless Off’

The Shrine
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Label: Tee Pee

So about this new-school ‘skate-rock’ thing: I realize young people with way better senses of balance than my own have enjoyed half-piping on skateboards or roller skates or various other small-wheeled contraptions to certain loud’n’fast combos approximately forever, but since when did it become its own genre? A pretty good one, too, as far as I can tell, though I’m not entirely clear on whether Venice Beach power trio the Shrine’s skate-rock is necessarily the same as that proffered by L.A.’s kinda-more indie-core FIDLAR (they of deserved “Cheap Beer” semi-fame) or San Francisco’s kinda-more stoner-metal Hot Lunch, or whether distinct and perhaps competing skate factions argue and perhaps fight about this stuff.

Whatever. Those others are fun, too, but the Shrine are the best of the bunch, sounding basically like early-’80s L.A. punk and mid-’70s doing-donuts-in-the-parking-lot hard rock at the same time, like if Black Flag circa between Damaged and My War loved life more than they hated it and liked Thin Lizzy/early Van Halen/old Aerosmith/pre-Nazi Ted Nugent as much as they did Sabbath. Which is to say, this band’s stop-and-start lurching feels too hamburger-fed and healthy to be hardcore, with one of the most proficiently engine-room-like rhythm sections in recent rock memory, and gratifyingly little if any slow-for-slow’s-sake “sludge” dry-rot or fast-for-fast’s-sake “mosh” malarkey.

Indeed, drummer Jeff Murray, bassist/backup singer Court Murphy, and absolutely frigging hot-shit guitarist/frontman Josh Landau all sport long burnout hair, bushy mustaches, and denim vests inside the foldout of their excellent new Bless Off, which careens even more crank-ably — not to mention somewhat less grumpily — than 2011’s also very good Primitive Blast. They also evidently have groupies now, or at least, their CD art features photos of young women in various states of undress and/or buxomness, which may or may not be related to how they seem to be kvetching less about girlfriend problems these days.

Matter of fact, some Bless Off tunes clearly concern dudes: “The Duke,” one of the album’s less frantic, more psychedelic tracks, is named for and partly written by 60-year-old founding Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski, for instance. But the real matched pair are the doper homages “Tripping Corpse” (‘He combs his hair! / He doesn’t care! / He’s livin’ free! / Acid casuality!’) and “Napalm,” about some lay-about loser who swallows pills by the bottleful and sporting, both tunes offering surprisingly comely dum-de-dum-dum opening riffs to boot. “Worship” (sounds like “war ship,” which sounds like ‘”horseshit”) and “Bless Off” (sounds like “blast off,” which sounds like “fuck off”) complement each other as well. “Nothing Forever” isn’t much of a song, but has the album’s most strangleholdly extended breakdown. “On the Grind,” laudable for its hearty group chorus, is about working fingers to the bone with nothing to show for it (“I bought a magic carpet, but it won’t take me nowhere”), but “No Penalty” is about setting fire to the school, taking drugs, and spray-painting churches as a wee sapling, but getting away with it all anyway. Moral: You win some, you lose some. The Shrine, though, are win-win for all concerned.