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Saturday, July 26, 2008

CD Review: Koffin Kats - Drunk In the Daylight

Koffin Kats - Drunk In the Daylight
2008 Hairball 8 Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Starting the day with a blast of psychobilly gets you more revved than a posh cup of thematic joe and since nobody can afford a five dollar shot these days (as Starbucks has learned the bean ugly truth), music that contains aural caffeine and adrenaline like psychobilly ought to be considered an alternative pick-me-upper. Of course, the music is mostly so damned fast we're all going to be flying down highways like uncaged hellions to the reckless tempo of this stuff just by attrition.

It's interesting to see what has spurted out of The Reverend Horton Heat, The Misfits and The Stray Cats, all revisionists in their own way and in the Rev's case, nobody could've predicted the one-time fringe rocker would've engineered not only the term "psychobilly," but also a new formula in which the country-styled roots of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Snow and the elder Hank Williams could be morphed into a punk-driven sound that has become a cult phenomenon in later years. As Betties and Whiffleheads gather en masse into their mutant sock hops, psychobilly bands have been cropping all over the country in response. Notably, the Danish Nekromantix have become the kings of psychobilly, usurping a decidedly American sound and finessing it with commanding precision and velocity, so much they have inadvertently forced the homebase practitioners to keep up or eat their dust.

As psychobilly is one of the last remaining threads to fifties' bred American rock 'n roll, Michigan's Koffin Kats has been building their sound with swapped strides at times leaning towards darkness, such as their last album, the angry statement piece Straying From the Pack. However, so long as there's good times to be had and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon (which has rebounded in popularity amongst psychobillies and a broke-ass college crowd) within reach, then don't expect Koffin Kats to sing songs about impaling virgins with the stand of Vic Victor's slap bass, unless of course it's tongue-in-cheek.

On their fourth album, Drunk in the Daylight, the Koffin Kats keep things on a more upbeat note and they belt the tar out of the seventeen cuts on this cranker. Though the production is sometimes tone heavy and a lot of the tracks yield a gross extraction of E Ball Walls' whomping bass drum and floor tom as if the guy was stamping someone's face clean into the dirt, Drunk in the Daylight is nonetheless badass through and through.

Keeping their foot on the gas the majority of the way through Drunk in the Daylight, the album moves briskly with determination but also a relaxed candor, if that makes sense. They take random breaks amidst the speedfest of Drunk in the Daylight, such as "Laws of Sanity," the abbreviated Elvis on a pill trip "Blue Eyed Drug" and the sharply-written "The Experiment," in which guitarist Tommy Koffin pulls some meanly-unzippered notes on the strolling verses before the choruses literally leap out in rapid bursts.

Still, the cash and carry of a psychobilly album is its manic speed, and the Koffin Kats give you more than enough to chew on with songs like "Loud and Hard," "Battery Acid Baby," "Above Me, Beyond You" and the title track. "Well Oiled Machines" steps up the pace even harder, as if it needed picking up at the tail end of the album, but that's to the Koffin Kats' credit; they structure Drunk In the Daylight so that the energy level is kept at a steady throb, even when changing the beat patterns on still-jumpy tunes like "Theme For a Sinner" and the jacknifed "A Vampire's 2084" that is almost breathtaking with the subliminal harmonizing beneath its brute force.

Koffin Kats are perhaps more punk and rock-oriented in nature than some psychobilly bands, though each and every one of them must acknowledge influences besides Reverend Horton Heat ranging from The Misfits to Bad Religion to Adrenalin OD to even Youth of Today. There's plenty of punk-gnarled gusto on this album that puts Koffin Kats at that point Nekromantix was right after Curse of the Coffin, which means if the Kats stay on this course, they'll be one of the psychobilly freakouts to beat in no time.

Rating: ****

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