The fuzz is abuzz. Midnight Movies’ Lion the Girl is one of the most reverb- and drone-drenched albums since the heyday of Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. This music doesn’t quite reach the heights of those iconic bands’, but this is only the second album from the L.A. rockers. Give the members of Midnight Movies some time and they might get there.
The album begins and ends with buzzing chaos. Opener “Souvenirs” finds the band warming up before frontwoman Gena Olivier’s alluring voice enters, singing over lush guitar strums and cymbal rolls. The band’s new drummer, Sandra Vu, then ramps things up into the song’s faster middle groove, dominated by a keyboard line that wouldn’t be out of place on the first Killers record. Closer “Two Years,” a much lighter number than most on the album, recalls the Raveonettes before it fades away into a final random noise jam.
Between those bookends there’s a sultry swamp full of psychedelic L.A. noir. The band recorded Lion in a reportedly haunted Seattle studio with producer Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Screaming Trees). Olivier can deftly affect a sly French accent leftover from her Louisiana Cajun roots. Guitarist Larry Schemel knows when to go subtle and when to let it squeal. And Vu and bassist Ryan Wood are skilled at guiding the band through sudden tempo changes.
The songs that stray from the album’s predominant dark vibe succeed as well. “Ribbons” is more relaxed and cheery, with the help of a bright xylophone line. The song calls to mind Galaxie 500 when Naomi Yang took lead vocals and Damon Krukowski’s drumming sounded like it was coming from miles down a marble-lined hallway. “24 Hour Dream” bounces on a beat that’s almost klezmer. It picks the album back up after a bit of a slog through the middle.
“Lion Song” is the album’s best moment. It combines an ominous guitar riff with lyrics from Olivier that, like elsewhere, seem to depict a mythic childhood existence. As Olivier’s lyrical content matures along with the rest of the band’s elements, Midnight Movies could be ready to move into primetime.