Ladyhawk's Duffy Driedeger denies the existence of any Vancouver collective hinging about the mighty Black Mountain. While members of each band have appeared on the others' albums, and despite similar influences, Driedeger maintains that there's a lack of collaboration. But it's hard to deny that a parallel runs through the viscous riffs, extended breakdowns, and classic-rock eugenics. Sophomore effort Shots does a lot to congeal its influences into a distinct resonance, but it also sounds a lot more like the work of Black Mountain.
Part of this resemblance reflects a much darker collection of songs than appeared on Ladyhawk's self-titled debut -- and it's not just the titles like "Fear," "Corpse Paint," and "Faces of Death," though the lyrical themes certainly do justice to these epithets. An actual sonic shroud has descended over their '90s pop inclinations and jazzy post-rock noodling (though Tim Kinsella is mysteriously thanked in the album notes). Gone are Counting Crows-inf(l)ected anthems like "The Dugout" as well as hand-clappers in the order of "My Old Jacknife" (whiffs of Blind Melon). On Ladyhawk, pop, post-rock, and folk-rock jostled for aural position. On Shots, the penchants are still there, but now they trudge in an engulfing haze, lashed together under a new overseer: the guitar.
Yes, Ladyhawk's music has always relied heavily on guitars as central props in their musical setting. Now, however, the guitars transcend setting to become characters. Where the debut cast guitars as landmarks in sprawling exodus, Shots zooms into one dead stem and catches in a living fractal of the former landscape. Riffs suddenly gain a breadth of personality, showing signs of restlessness and discord where once they hammered down as tools. Look at the brief "You Ran," in which guitars start out mimicking and then overthrow the vocalist. Driedeger himself is relegated to a vocabulary of instrumental "ohs."
Where these new songs express a fibrousness, Ladyhawk's piercing look reveals impurities and mutations in the grain: Though "Night You're Beautiful" generally tarries in the familiar territory of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the grooves are subverted by a chorus of sullied doo-wops and a delirious vocal turn that has Driedeger sounding for all the world like Spencer Krug (who himself often defers to and mimics the expression of his guitar).
Elsewhere, elastic jazziness gives way to a caking bluesy-ness, à la Black Mountain. "Fear," an ode to restlessness and rainy drives, finds Ladyhawk laying down its bluesiest guitar lines. Moreover, the ambition of Ladyhawk's math-like solos has aged to a mopier brand of fretting: After a few minutes of drunken meandering, "(I'll Be Your) Ashtray" wanders into a wonderul J. Mascis solo in slow motion. In the scrabbled "S.T.H.D.," guitars hack and cough up phlegm, symptomatic of the same disease suffered by Archers of Loaf in their earlier years.
Shots goes to show that one can stumble around longer in an unlit closet than across a sprawling plain. At over ten minutes, closer "Ghost Blues" invokes a diverse pantheon of bands (Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Black Sabbath) while, on the strength of articulate guitars, maintaining its own spirit. The folding in of Ladyhawk's songwriting has allowed the band to better filter the echo of its influences, much in the way that Black Mountain has processed classic rock through an endless digestive tract. While Driedeger and company still have a ways to go in crafting a distinct sound and generally tightening their writing (especially the lyrics), they're well on their way.