Riffs have deceived us before, carrying under-powered choruses and papering over songwriting cracks. California X’s enjoyably scuzzy, bags-of-promise self-titled debut certainly leaned on them for support at times. Album two, ‘Nights In The Dark’, stands on its own two feet.
Here, Lemmy Gurtowsky and his band - augmented by new faces in the form of drummer Cole Lanier and guitarist Zack Brower - have coupled the fuzzbox power of their first outing with a sharper sense of melody and a greater thirst for adventure, creating a record that’s equal parts sugar rush power-pop and low-end meandering.
Their songs still have a tendency to sprawl, while the inclusion of a couple of instrumentals - ‘Ayla’s Song’ and ‘Garlic Road’ - doesn’t do a flabby middle any favours, but California X have sharpened up where it matters.
You’ll come for the riffs, but stick around for the tunes.
Cutting through the molasses-thick guitars and the wall of noise sculpted by returning engineer Justin Pizzoferrato are hooks to out-punch the best moments on their debut, notably on the title track, ‘Red Planet’ and the second half of ‘Blackrazor’, a driving six minute beast underpinned by a guitar chug worthy of Tony Iommi.
The rest of the record is less immediate, but plenty rewarding. Blackrazor and Summer Wall - both of which are split into prog-tastic halves - are morose jams on which Gurtowsky is happy to wander before staking out yet another nagging refrain. The Dinosaur Jr. comparisons are unlikely to disappear entirely, but they are now a little superfluous. California X aren’t the first band to batter eardrums in the pursuit of pop perfection, but they are pretty good at it.
Given the brute force with which much of ‘Nights In The Dark’ is dispatched, it’s guided by a deft songwriting hand. You’ll come for the riffs, but stick around for the tunes.