Gallon Drunk – The Road Gets Darker From Here

Gallon Drunk - The Road Gets Darker From Here

Even with Gallon Drunk’s fledgling flush of notoriety and hipness in the early-’90s – that included high profile touring with Morrissey and PJ Harvey alongside a Mercury Music Prize nomination – James Johnston and co. have always been outsiders looking in on artistically likeminded but commercially shrewder others. During the nineties-into-noughties this meant the likes of Morphine, Rocket From The Crypt and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion being more successful on the back of similar sources of inspiration – and indeed the same dress sense – as Gallon Drunk.  More recently, the band’s muse has been echoed again, with the likes of Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips, Grinderman and The Jim Jones Revue indirectly funnelling some of Gallon Drunk’s undying love for The Stooges, Suicide, Link Wray, Ennio Morricone and garage-rock primitivism.

However, things have never been straightforward or easy for Gallon Drunk, with a string of line-up shifts, endless record label changes and personal/financial traumas having derailed some golden opportunities over the years.  Yet what has inconvenienced Gallon Drunk over the last two decades has also made for a stubbornly resilient and sustainable survivalist streak.  With no illusions of crossover success or ambitions latterly, the current membership of Johnston, Terry Edwards and Ian White seems wholly committed to a self-composed manifesto, full of both savagery and sophistication.  Thus with The Road Gets Darker From Here, there is an acknowledgment of both Gallon Drunk’s influences and influence as well as an exhilarating sense of abandonment from an ensemble just in thrall to its own sound.

Amusingly and intriguingly, although this is reportedly the first Gallon Drunk LP where more direct input was given from a producer (namely Johann Scheerer in Hamburg’s Cloud Hill studios) initially this feels like one of the murkiest and least tidy records in the group’s canon.  With the songwriting seemingly less narratively-structured than on its predecessor – 2007’s The Rotten Mile – the collection’s swampy aggressive stew is more based on loose grooves and guttural lyricism.  Consequently, The Road Gets Darker From Here is not an easy listen at first, yet with some patience its mixture of raw aggression and bleak atmospherics does reveal some dishevelled charm and concealed complexity.

Hence, the caustic churning chug of lead single “You Made Me” is certainly a strong opener that thrusts into the consciousness until it just won’t leave.  Similarly rendered but with less directly infectious delivery are the likes of the relentlessly dense “Hanging On” (with Ian White’s visceral drum clatter leading the way) and the raging twosome of “A Thousand Years” and “Killing Time” (with Terry Edwards’ free-jazz sax skronk duelling with Johnston’s howling vocals and guitar mangling).  Elsewhere, the intensity is turned down a notch to allow for some welcome breathing space, into which the bluesy swagger of “The Big Breakdown” prowls and the broken duet of “Stuck In My Head” (between Johnston and guest vocalist Marion Andrau) glides.  Perhaps the most interesting track is the sprawling atmospheric finale of “The Perfect Dancer,” wherein Johnston and Andrau’s near-buried tones are strung across eerie drones and distant drums, to conjure a dank dystopian cinematic ambience par excellence.

Ultimately, The Road Gets Darker From Here is a difficult uncompromising affair which sometimes the lacks nimbleness, hooks and the songwriting glue that can make for a classic Gallon Drunk long-player.  However, as an exercise in sculpted rage and age-defying self-exploration it undoubtedly succeeds where others would fear to tread.

Clouds Hills Records