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In my experience, the albums I end up loving the most usually are not albums I like on first listen. Take “Tallahassee” by the Mountain Goats. It's an amazing album, a mesmerizing set of story songs that revolves around a drunk couple living in a run down house. I had several friends recommend this to me and on first listen I hated it. Why? Lead singer John Darnielle has one of the most grating voices in rock 'n' roll. He's whinier than the dude from Death Cab for Cutie and straighter, in his vocal delivery, than Jim Lehrer. But on repeated listens, the quality of Darnielle's voice moved into the background and suddenly there was a hypnotizing album in my ears.
On first listen to “Eleven Traditional Songs” by Little Rock's Loch Ness Monster, I was struck by the singer Sulac's voice. It grates. He sings flat. Plus, he has a strong Southern drawl. But on repeated listens something else started to step forward, and it became clear: “Eleven Traditional Songs” is a twisted, rollicking, hell-ride of a rock record. And I'm starting to wonder if it might not be one of my favorite local records of the year.
In its most ferocious moments, Loch Ness Monster sounds like Alice Donut or the Dead Kennedys. Their songs are aggressive and sharp. As a band, they can stop on a dime, jump-round-turn-around and solidly kick you in the ass with a slamming, full throttle, power-rock attack. Throughout this record, it takes stabs at different song styles — take the bouncy, piano-centered “Awkward Side-Hug” or the bass-driven left-field country of “Trampled Fire Fighter (3am).” But the primary thrust of this album is in-your-face rock. Brian Hirrel displays some incredible guitar work. He takes badass leaps, jumping from razor sharp power chord riffage into soaring, weird, feedback drenched solos. He can jump from tasty skronk and agro shred to plaintive, falling arpeggios (though my favorite guitar part on this release is the opening riff to “Vancouver Immigration”). And his imaginative playing makes a great foil for Sulac's weird and abrasive attack as a vocalist.
So back to Sulac. As a vocalist he reminds me of Jello Biafra, Mike Patton and Gibby Haynes — all riot inciters as performers and all unorthodox examples of singers. Sulac's got the same posture, he's a sardonic surrealist who comes across at times like a carnival barker hell bent on wheedling you into a punk rock sideshow. He's an acquired taste, that's for sure, but one well worth repeated listens.