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Did Seattle music die out with Kurt Cobain in 1994? It is a plausible theory, considering that not a whole lot of Pacific Northwest acts besides Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have hit mainstream acceptance since the flannel-laden glory days of the early ‘90s.
What the pedestrian listener doesn’t realize about grunge is that the coalition of Seattle-area bands that pioneered it was a ruthlessly self-sufficient bunch, being geographically isolated with no attention from the L.A labels eagerly plucking the same bands off the Sunset Strip that the likes of Nirvana would eventually kill off.
The only thing constituting a central label for the Seattle scene was Sub Pop, a label who fostered, furthered and embraced the grunge ethos and still operates today pumping out alternative and avant-garde acts.
Nowadays as anyone knows, even a relatively small-time or indie label like Sub Pop isn’t utterly necessary to get the word out. Enter Reignwolf, who are neither signed nor grungy but still have earned quite a following coming out of Seattle with their brand of high-energy alternative-garage-indie-rock.
Started by a Saskatoon ex-pat named Jordan Cook along with David Rapaport and Joseph Braley from Seattle band The Mothers Anger, Reignwolf has built up throughout the decade facing a string of peaks and valleys with labels, members and touring, and finally released an album, Hear Me Out in 2019.
Despite their unsigned status, they were able to open for The Who and Wu-Tang Clan and play numerous high-caliber festivals off of the strength of their release.
Does it live up to the hype? “Black and Red” would indicate as much, showcasing Cook’s bluesy, soulful vocals off the bat and the band’s overall raw, energetic sound; somewhere in the realm of a less pastiche-y Black Keys and a grimier Royal Blood.
“Alligator” is a catchy, building balance of dynamics, a tune further demonstrative through Cook’s riffs and Braley’s simple but impactful drumming of Reignwolf’s unique combination of fuzzy, gritty garage and haunting indie blues.
“Over & Over” is downright frightening, disturbing and sexy all at the same time, a feat accomplished by Cook’s strained vocals, new bassist Stacey Kardash’s droning yet uber-distorted bassline and Braley’s slamming drums. The whole thing is wrapped up in a wonderfully lo-fi package, evoking mental images of cocaine, cuts, and coitus the whole way through.
“Wanna Don’t Wanna” treads down much of the same seductively dark path as “Over & Over”, albeit more groovy and danceable than its predecessor. “Ritual” slows things down a bit, all the while still maintaining much of the angsty trance built up thus far into the album.
“Keeper” is another slow groover, making a switch back to the bone-chilling blues elements of “Black and Red” with plenty of rattling overdrive for added effect. It’s what the careful ear could imagine as the product of locking one’s self away in a hell-shack in the swamp with an old Dobro a la traditional blues, except this time there’s a plug, an amp and a pedalboard involved. Essentially, it’s done in Dead Weather fashion with a distinctive edge.
“Son of a Gun” continues the slow-rock direction taken in the last few songs, trotting along sullenly with short explosions of pain and passion interspersed at the right moments. “Son” is another high point for Cook’s vocal work too, coming off like Thom Yorke trying his damnedest to sing in his own voice and Kurt Cobain’s at the same time.
While “I Want You” shows no signs of things speeding up, Cook’s soul-soaked vocals continue to shine and craftily complement the relentless crush of distortion unleashed by himself and Kardash. “Fools Gold” dishes out more crawling, sensual swagger, garage-y as all hell and perfectly consistent with the rest of the album material.
A brief outro “Wolf River” follows and closes the album, Kardash and Braley now gone and Cook alone with a guitar and a microphone playing some gently strummed chords. The twisted and isolated beauty of the record comes through with this stripped-down closer, Cook’s singing nothing short of shiver-inducing and the backup vocals only making it more evident. With a singular, definitive breath, this short, enthralling spectacle then comes to an end.
Hear Me Out is exemplary of a lot of albums in the neo-garage and indie genres that have been cultivated over the last decade and beyond, but it has enough of a distinctive character to it to make a mark. Jordan Cook on his own is a terrific artist and songwriter, and one that could definitely bring (and has brung, thus far) a lot of life back to a long-heralded artistic region.
Combined with Stacey Kardash and Joseph Braley, the band goes from a “One Man Blues Rock Army” in the form of Cook to an action-packed, juggernaut power trio. With this precedent set, their next full-length release will be like them: A force to be reckoned with.
Buy ‘Black And Red’ now at https://www.reignwolf.com
Follow Reignwolf: Facebook: https://facebook.com/reignwolf
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