The Sonics make an unexpected return on ‘This Is the Sonics’
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There’s the album, an ashy gray with a simple title and not much else to announce itself.
Put it on, though, and seconds into the first song, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” it’s a loud and primal message. This is crude and piercing punk, with rasping vocals and cutting guitars piercing through the speakers. That’s the disposition throughout This Is the Sonics, the new album by the garage punk icons, and the fact that any new album by old men could be this aggressive — and this good — is just as dizzying as the music.
The Sonics were the first of the strange, loud garage bands I discovered, thanks to Pearl Jam’s “Monkeywrench” pirate radio show in 1998. That night around 11 p.m., they spun a 45 of “He’s Waiting” and I was hypnotized by the raw, wild sound that makes the Sonics such a compelling listen. A few exploratory purchases later, and I was deep in the Nuggets-era garage blast. Taking the era into account, this was like listening to the early Rolling Stones or Kinks with none of the polish. Slashing guitars, screaming vocals and an angst that comes through on even the most outlandish covers.
And so they remained for decades, the shining example of this weird underground movement that predated psychedelia and didn’t fit in with the shimmering rock and roll coming out of Los Angeles. Their records lived on, inspired who-knows-how-many bands in and out of the Pacific Northwest, and there was the inevitable reformation a few years ago, playing festivals, basking in the renewed interest in their music, all accolades a long-time coming and well deserved.
What was certainly not inevitable and wholly unexpected was for the reformed band — original members Gerry Roslie, Larry Parypa and Rob Lind joined by Freddie Dennis on bass and Dusty Watson on drums — to head back into the studio and record a new album. Downright stunning is the fact that the Sonics, in 2015, sound just as raw and ridiculous as they ever have.
This Is the Sonics, their first album since 1967’s Introducing the Sonics, is a pounding, treble-fed tribute to this band at its best. Put it on for an unsuspecting listener, and it wouldn’t be a stretch for that person to think this was an uncovered collection of rareties from the band’s glory days. Listening to the Sonics wail on “Livin’ in Chaos” or “Bad Betty” — loud and crunching tunes that move with the speed and determination of angry 17-year-olds. Their taste in covers, like “Leaving Here,” is still impeccable. But this isn’t young rage that’s fueling the fury, it’s gutty resolve that makes this album such a fun, engaging listen.
Like their spiritual sons Mudhoney, This Is the Sonics defies time and expectations, showing that there is truly no age limit to rock, that it’s just a matter of willpower and desire. And that’s why it would be wrong to think of this as a “cash in,” because this album did not have to exist for the band to continue playing shows and making a living. This album exists because they wanted it to exist, because it was in them and needed to be unleashed.
It’s still completely surprising to wake up today and have the Sonics suddenly making new, relevant music. But it’s a welcome surprise. Those overdriven guitars and distorted vocals are a necessary tool to cut through the nonsense of daily life. Whether they were recorded in 1965 or 2015 doesn’t matter much in the end, but knowing that they’re still capable of the latter offers up a nice, angry piece of hope in the present.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org