“Best Played Very HIGH.” This quote is found on the back cover of Radio Moscow’s new album Brain Cycles and compliments the mildly trippy, illustrated, album artwork fairly predictably. Inside is an image of no less than 21 vintage guitars stacked in front of a wall of equally vintage looking amps. Band leader, singer, guitarist, and drummer Parker Griggs is barely into his 20’s. I wonder how he has already acquired so much equipment. Who knows, but in addition to displaying the cultural signifiers of stoner rock, he’s also digested the history of psychedelic blues-rock and mastered producing fun and energetic originals in this style.
Obscure artists like the Groundhogs, Flower Travellin’ Band, and Peter Green are name-checked in the press release, but this stuff sounds tighter, craftier, and more bombastic than any of that stuff. More popular artists like Blue Cheer, Cream, and Hendrix are better touchstones for the sounds on Brain Cycles. Regardless, Griggs and bass-player Zach Anderson play in the classic power-trio, blues-rock style, and prove to be fairly versatile and playful players. Griggs’ guitar playing takes the spotlight and is magnificent, both in melody and sound. It screams, noodles, cries, and echoes all over the place. The guy’s got some serious skills, not just in his playing, but in getting the right sound out of his effects. The rhythm section is agile and loud throughout, laying a thunderous and propulsive bed, jerky and smooth in equal doses. Anderson’s bass flexes just the right amount of muscle, and follows the guitar, drums, or its own path in equal doses. Griggs’ drumming is capably aggressive and jazzy in the typical hard rock Ginger Rogers-aping style, which of course is a blast to listen to. The singing and lyrics are pretty typical and work more as a structural piece than as any sort of expression or communication. It’s typical blues fare, with ruminations about breaking down, holding on, not knowing, not understanding, and getting tired of shit, told from the first person.
It should be noted that none of these songs overstay their welcome and never really devolve into proggy grandeur. The album leads off with three pretty straight rockin’ songs. Although somewhat of a fixture of the style, there’s only one drum solo on the Brain Cycles and it arrives just as the proceedings start to edge into sameness on the fourth track, “No Good Woman”, so it’s a welcome change when it arrives. The next track is the title track and the only instrumental on the album. It continues the variety, starting with a race between the guitars and the rhythm section, segueing into a keyboard workout that stops the music in its tracks for a minute to admire something more feminine passing through, and finishes with a section of shape-shifting guitar work. This is followed by “250 Miles”, which breathes in more languid space before finishing with speed and volume. Two of the last three tracks also show some stretching out, as “Black Boot” and “City Lights” hearken further back into history for some delta blues. These tracks provide some jauntiness lacking at the beginning of the album and wish they’d have been split up for the sake of pacing. The final track rumbles in rambunctiously and burns out gloriously.
There’s plenty here for fans of both blues and psych, although it’s definitely more of a blues-rock record than a psychedelic record. After listening to Brain Cycles, I really look forward to the chance to see them play live. They get in, do their thing, and get out, without drawing things out. This stuff is straight-up homage, no doubt about it, and doesn’t claim to be anything but. It’s done lovably and quite adeptly, so just sit back, turn it up, and enjoy.