❉ Ten tracks of power pop punk prog brilliance!
This is, incredibly, already the third album from Brix and the Extricated, and the second with totally original songs. And it’s their best by a Californian country mile.
I’ll say this upfront as it needs to be said: Fall fans who shun this band are cutting off their nose to spite their face. Brix and the Extricated are carrying on the Fall flame whilst forging their own legend and creating fabulous music in the process. Doubters, I challenge you to listen to Hustler, the most Fall-esque song on this album, and not want to immediately leap to your feet and dance around madly like Brix in the Eat Y’Self Fitter video. Go on! You won’t regret it.
Ahem. Now that’s off my chest, on to the album. Outwardly, it follows the same format as their last record, Breaking State: cover by Tank Girl artist Rufus Dayglo, ten tracks of power pop punk prog brilliance. But from the title, it’s clear that the lyrical focus has changed. A Super Blood Wolf Moon is a rare type of lunar eclipse in which the moon appears closer to the Earth whilst glowing a strange pink-red. There was one in January 2019, and it appears to be the inspiration for the themes of this album. Was this ominous eclipse a harbinger of strange times to come?
Strange Times is indeed the title of the first track on the album. A gentle, twinkling guitar ballad, setting the scene with a ‘moon that’s unclean’ as a sign of the troubled times in which we live. ‘Knocking back pills in an effort to sleep,’ sings Brix, articulating the psychic ills of the age, the over-medication in an attempt to cope. It’s a beautiful, restrained start to the album. ‘We’re all made of glass, until we pass.’
Restrained is not the word for second track Hustler. A total belter, with an aggressive killer riff, this fairly blasts from the speakers. There’s a brilliant bit about 35 seconds in when Steve Hanley’s bass kicks in, lifting an already powerful tune into the realms of the supercharged. And now I sound like a pretentious muso music journalist. I should simply say this song KICKS ASS, and leave it at that, because it does. ‘I know, you know, I know, you know, you’re a two-bit hustler and it’s coming back to crush ya.’
Wolves, the single from the album, is up next, and is a homage to the West Midlands town of Wolverhampton that Brix visited with The Fall in 1987… not really. It is for me though, the standout track on the album. Carried by a driving, sinister Hanley bass and sparkling guitar interplay from the three guitarists (Brix, Steve Trafford and Jason Brown), the song is an instant classic. ‘I run with wolves, and sleep beneath the stars, I run with wolves, they’re my bastard kin.’
Waterman is a homage to the Sweeney and Minder actor Dennis Waterman… not really, again, but I’m not sure what it’s about. Pete Waterman? Waterman pens? The Super Blood Wolf Moon is mentioned again. I’m sure the lyrics will reveal themselves more on further listens, so analysis is beyond the scope of this review which has to be in by, blimey, tomorrow! Musically, Waterman is dark and dense, built around a pendulum-like bass riff derived by Steve Hanley, with an effects-laded web of guitars swirling around the choruses.
Dinosaur Girl closes side one (yes, I am old school), created by drummer Paul Hanley and brother Steve, originally titled Someone Made A Mistake, a title which makes its way into the lyrics. Paul says he intended it to resemble Julian Cope’s World Shut Your Mouth structurally with its slow/fast sections. ‘Below the excavation lies the remains of a Prozac nation, just a dinosaur girl, just a dinosaur girl, just a dinosaur girl.’ Once again themes of depression and medication occur.
Side two beings with Crash Landing, a song, like Waterman, that’s going to take its time to reveal its secrets. ‘Spirit lifting disippating, dimensions have no boundaries, quantum rules eternal secrets’, sings Brix. Okay then. ‘No right angles occur in nature.’ Fair enough. The song barrels along in linear fashion, reminding me of mid-period Stereloab, then ascends into a quite beautiful psychedelic chorus, darkly alluding to drug abuse and suicide: ‘We’re coming down, crash landing, every bone in my body shatters but I feel no pain.’
Wintertyde is another Steve Trafford song, a duet; ‘a haunted, sick, psychedelic version of Some Velvet Morning’, according to Brix. She visualised ‘an old house called Wintertyde, on the British coast, and it’s haunted, and it’s got this magical haunted garden, and it’s in the winter, and it’s like Rebecca [the Daphne Du Maurier novel], I used Rebecca for inspiration.’ The lyrics are bizarre. ‘There’s a place with an enemy nightingale,’ sing Steve and Brix in unison throughout. It’s a sweet, breezy tune, with what sounds like a harpsichord twinkling away in the background.
Wasteland is a dramatic, dark and heavy song, almost metal in places, underpinned by Paul Hanley’s powerhouse drumming. It has the epic intensity of an album closer – but there are still two songs to go! ‘It’s almost like en entire movie in a song,’ says Brix. ‘There are so many different parts in it, but the way Steve wrote the music, just said to me “tornado”, so all these images were popping into my head, and I just let them out.’ The song references apocalyptic events, global warming, and Extinction Rebellion. ‘What’s going to be left is this wasteland we call our home,’ says Brix. The song espouses the key themes of the album, the despair and yet hope of our times: ‘We can’t control the weather, yet there is this whole conspiracy theory that the Illuminati are able to control the weather, so it’s Shamanistic, magic, the desecration of the land, and the weather, all conspiring.’
The heaviness continues in the penultimate track, Tannis Root, which if you were wondering, is an ingredient used by witches to cast their spells; it has a notoriously bad smell and was used, also notoriously, in the film Rosemary’s Baby. A blunderbuss, staccato riff drives the song, which is a dense and thunderous stew. ‘It’s not what God created, everything turns out to be drug related, watch your back this time they’re coming for you.’
Epic final track The God Stone has a lot to live up to: previous album closers Hollywood and Unrecognisable are two of the best songs Brix has ever written. This isn’t quite up there with them, it’s a bit too one-dimensional, but it’s a fitting conclusion to an album dealing with themes of mysticism and the apocalypse. Again I’m going to have to apologise for not yet knowing what the song’s about, I will figure it out I’m sure, but review deadlines are unforgiving things!
Overall, then, this is clearly Brix and the Extricated’s best album, and their darkest, and their deepest, dealing with personal issues like depression and global, apocalyptic themes. I interviewed Brix and the band in 2017 and 2018 when they played Bristol, but this year didn’t get the chance. However I did speak to (or rather text) Brix about Super Blood Wolf Moon, and she told me that ‘lifetimes went into this one.’ That tells you a lot about the effort and energy that goes into the music, and the depth of the songs. There is so much going on beneath the surface here that it will replay a great many listens. The Extricated’s upward trajectory continues. Who knows where it will take them next?
❉ Brix & The Extricated will release their new album “Super Blood Wolf Moon” 25 October 2019 on Grit Over Glamour Records. They embark on a UK tour from 26 October 2019.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Nick Walters is the author of several Doctor Who novels including the Doctor Who Magazine award-winning Reckless Engineering. He has also written numerous SF and horror short stories. He lives in Bristol with his bike and his cat, his favourite band is The Fall, and his favourite Doctor Who is Tom Baker.