Castle Face Records, 2016
Review by Kent Manthie
I come to this album a tad late; it just sort of slipped through the cracks, metaphorically. But, when I finally did get to hear it, I was quite taken aback by its power: the raw edge, the well-versed lyrics, matched with some great melodies.
I’m talking about Male Gaze and their recently released album, King Leer, on Castle Face Records, a label that has put out some amazing stuff by their foxy den of indie bands. Bands who, for the most part, have that raw, edgy, spirited style and the talent with which to stand out. That has been my experience with the various Castle Face bands whose albums I’ve reviewed off and on throughout 2016, so far: inspiring, loud bands, some with that wild abandon like MC5 or The Stooges; stuff that’s really amazing. And, so it goes with Male Gaze. They, too, have this raw, feral energy that they pour into their music.
Their new album, King Leer released over the summer, has been calling and calling to me like a siren singing her beautiful death song until, finally, I gave in and my attention was indeed grabbed until my brain was aglow with the electricity discharge flying off this album!
Anyway, Male Gaze hail from San Francisco, a city which has a lot of great venues and clubs to see bands/artists and pretty much every night of the week, somewhere in town there’s something good happening, live, worth seeing.
The new album King Leer starts off with “Got it Bad”, which reminded me a little of early Stooges stuff, what, with the buzzsaws that are the guitars churning up. The vocals are a bit deeper (pitch-wise) than Iggy, in fact he sounds closer to Ian Curtis, but more softly-spoken/sung. “Lesser Demons” is next and keeps the album going, rock steady. It’s got this low-fi, yet hi-fi, when it comes to the guitar solos!
When we get to about midpoint, songs like “Ranessa” and “Green Flash” both show off Male Gaze’s “softer side”. These are both ballad-esque, acoustic-tinged, reflective songs. Yet, that doesn’t mean they’re just fluff; filler to bridge the first few tunes with the last part. No, even though they’re slowed down and have a more “serious” tone to them, they’re still catchy and fit in well here.
Then, after those two aforementioned songs, it gets lively again, with “Easy to Void”; a song that…well, it has this seriously infectious groove to it. I hear at least two guitars playing here, each staying down, toward the low-end of the fretboard, plucking out these slick, groovy chords and so on. I may go as far as writing that “Easy to Void” is the best or one of the best tunes on King Leer.
Yes, this is truly a good, new, indie album. This is the sort of thing you’d whip out and play whenever some guy, probably in his 60s, by now, goes around declaring that “there wasn’t any good music at all, in the 1980s” or “today’s music is just awful; there’s no meaning to it; the corporate music industry is just like the state of the current movie biz: it’s all about making money for the parent company, whether that be Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, Viacom’s Paramount, Sony Entertainment’s movie division making money for the company, back in Tokyo and, of course, Warner Bros. -the less said about them the better! Anyway, that guy would be partially correct; those people who share that sentiment, that “there’s been no good music since the 1970s” …well, first of all, they’re wrong. But the reason that they’re wrong is because they probably only listen to the radio and, for their own music collection, if they have one, consists of all corporate rock, typical stuff you hear on the radio all the time and these people soak it up; that makes them think that the only “real” stuff is the stuff they hear on commercial, corporate-owned radio stations, who play music on big, corporate-owned record labels, who routinely screw the artists on their labels out of as much money as they can or, put another way, they, by trying to save money, here and there, do whatever they can to get away with paying the artists under contract with them, as little as possible.
Meanwhile, there is a whole different subculture, I suppose you could call it, that has been thriving for…well, really, always. I’m talking, of course, about the independents: those intrepid, talented musicians who write and play music because they want to. They didn’t start a band so they could get “chicks and money”, they actually share a common bond: they love playing music, but, of course, if you get signed to some “major label”, your band is soon going to be pressured from the label suits to “just make a couple of changes” to one or two songs. If you relent and make those changes, you’re just telling these suits that you and your band are easily pliable and soon, there’ll be some asshole A&R guy hanging out in the studio when you’re recording there. Some dummy the label sent over to “keep an eye on things”. No way. Thank goodness for indie labels and the bands that have the integrity to make good music and not sell out to please some fleeting demographic, which really just makes it (that kind of music) ephemeral, at best. No thanks. I’ve got many independent albums by bands who control what kind of music they make; no apologies necessary! And these are albums that do stand the test of time. Just like this album, King Leer, no matter whether it sells a million copies or a few thousand, it’s still going to sound all right, in, say, 20 years.
So, bravo to Male Gaze for sticking it out and doing it the right way: as a labor of love (for music) and for doing it on Castle Face Records, who’ve been putting out great albums by some fantastic bands. Check out their Live in San Francisco series of CDs. Just check it out at https://www.castlefacerecords.com – a place to check out, not just this album, but to get a view at all the bands on the label and they’re all available for purchase, as well.
Anyway – Great album! Great album! –KM.