Sometimes, out of necessity, I do something that would make audiophiles cringe: While doing dishes, I pull my stereo’s left speaker into my kitchen so I can listen to music. Sure, it denies the music the sonic scope it deserves, but it’s rarely problematic unless I’m listening to Revolver or something.
But “Demon Card,” the second track off Guitar Wolf’s Loverock, made me never again want to screw with the pan settings on a stereo. While the rest of the band was playing in my living room, the only sound emanating from the left speaker in my kitchen was that of Toru’s kick drum and Seiji’s vocal rant. The lesson? An inexplicable experimentation with panning techniques doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re listening to a band that sounds like they booked an hour at a studio and bashed out every number before the engineer had finished putting the mikes up.
Luckily, the rest of the anachronistic punk garage anthems on Loverock weren’t recorded with the bizarre panning of “Demon Card.” But each song still pushes the needle into the red, evidence that indeed Guitar Wolf’s amps go up to eleven. The Tokyo three-piece (Billy plays bass) has been going at it since ’87 and, charmingly, has not learned many new chords since then. Taking cues from the Ramones, Link Wray and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, Guitar Wolf belts out furious punk-rock all lo-fi and in your face, as it should be. The seventeen songs on Loverock all pretty much sound the same; verses in Japanese, choruses in English, Seiji’s soloing with bends in all the wrong places.
The awesome title track and “SF Tokyo” are perhaps the best songs on the record, and totally representative of the album as a whole. But unless you are a huge fan, it is trying to sit through forty-eight minutes of the same formula repeated. It is telling, though that it takes a band from across the Pacific to show America how to properly rock within the confines of a garage.
After a stint at Matador, Guitar Wolf signed to Narnack with last year’s UFO Romantics. That album offered a glossier sound for the band, relatively speaking: It sounded like it was recorded above water. Loverock finds the guys back in the murk and, sharing a label with fellow aural pounding garage-sters Coachwhips, in more appropriate company. With this album, a re-release of their Japan-only 2000 LP Rock ‘N’ Roll Etiquette, and a tribute album, I Love Guitar Wolf Very Much, featuring Lightning Bolt and J Mascis & the Fog, Guitar Wolf seems to be omnipresent; this year might just be the year of the wolf.