I made the trip once again to The Shrunken Head on May 11. There were four bands on the bill, all of which I had not heard of beforehand. The headliner was The Crashlanders, for the release of their debut full-length album, “Desert Rogue.”
Naturally, I had no expectations, other than to have a good time and hear something new. The room packed-in more and more with each band. It got hotter, louder, and sweatier. Thankfully, with their big guitar tones and presence, The Crashlanders managed to cut through all of that.
Afterward, I watched the band members exchange hugs with friends and take celebratory shots. People were coming up to them constantly. When I finally spotted an opportunity, I almost couldn’t get an interview in because so many people wanted to express how much they enjoyed the show.
When asked about this support system, vocalist Alec Alverez said, “So many friends come out, it’s that mid-western charm, it’s all very real. People support you if you ask them to.” Eventually we could retreat through the many fans to the green room, for ease of talking.
The band was started by Alec and drummer Dave Vanlaningham. The two had been on a week-long backpacking trip to Death Valley. Once there, they soaked in the desert landscapes that would inspire many of the songs heard on “Desert Rogue.” The cover of the album is a photo they took of the area they were in. Once they had the ideas down, they began the recording process in October 2017. But the band expressed to me that by that point the songs had probably all been recorded three times each in some capacity.
Previously, the band had an EP in 2017 which held two tracks that would later appear on the full-length album with six other tracks. Once recording began, all the work was done DIY-style in people’s homes and with the help of friends in Columbus. There was almost trouble when the person who was meant to mix it dropped out from the project suddenly. Luckily, the band had a friend, Jacob Mooney, who volunteered to mix it in just one week.
The opening song Shifting Sands begins with reverberating guitar that conjures images of the desert and open spaces, setting the mood for most of the album. The song sounds almost like a western soundtrack, only with the emergence of spacey, almost trippy, vocals in the background. The song is supposed to be an homage to west coast band Pop Art and their psychedelic style. (Think Temples as well, and their 1960’s rock revival). A good palate teaser, but I only wished time was taken to expand and build on the idea in this drone jam.
The next song titled Mermaids is a more standard song than the opening jam. The lyrics are interesting and give a strange aquatic tale, which helps it stick out in the mostly desert-themed album. The guitar sound is big and dirty, boasting an old school Jimmy Page-style solo.
Track three, Day Dream, holds more of that pseudo-western surf guitar from shifting sands. Most of the song (except a verse at the beginning and end) is a spacious breakdown with sparing vocal accents. The track has a general feeling of peacefulness.
Clear As Yesterday builds up to a hooky guitar lick in the begining that carries you into an upbeat punk inspired experience. There is also plenty of desert surf guitar licks spread throughout. My only complaint is that it’s short and could stand to go on longer.
The following song, Power Structures, is an almost protest-type song. It speaks vaguely of “What the man says is hidden away” and “Fill their heads with venom and lies.” This sounds like a statement about general powers that be and the evils they keep hidden from the general public. The song never becomes specific enough to really make a strong statement about anything, and this feels like a missed opportunity. Otherwise, it has good attitude and tone, sonically speaking.
The Crashlanders – Power Structures
Swelter is a song originally from last year’s EP. It has a great opening hook from the guitar and sounds almost rockabilly. This song is one of the strongest points of the album and has several good riffs. The lyrics are about heat flares and sol queens they pull very well from the Death Valley inspiration. The production is greatly improved upon from the original version and sound is better in every way.
Next is Cool Dave, which starts as a great sing-along song. The lyrics in the opening are amusing and simple enough that at the release show people in the crowd were already trying to sing “Mister oh Mister, I’m pleased to meet your sister”, even though the album had literally just been released. This sound alternates with dreamy spatial breakdowns.
The next track was written by Allie Ghering with The Crashlanders doing the instrumental arrangement. The song has a pleasant opening of her and Alec Alvarez singing in harmony with acoustic backing. It carries a vibe of something you would hear at a campfire in the desert, and closes out with some feisty harmonica, which is a nice accent in the album.
The other track brought from the former EP is Frizzy Hair. Much like Swelter, this song is massively improved upon over the original, both in production and sonically. It has the heat of a west coast punk song along with some of the psychedelic guitar vibes heard throughout the other tracks.
Still Beacon is the final song on the album and is an interesting note to leave on. Being almost six minutes long, the first-half is almost downtrodden and slow but picks up into an epic power ballad feel. I felt as though the whole song could have been more like the second-half, as it was also more thought provoking. This song is different from all the others in that the tones it has throughout are welcoming aurally.
The Crashlanders plan to tour regionally, with more song at some stage of creation, “Like, 80?” said Alec. The other two members, bassist Chris Seaman and guitarist Tom Marx, joined only recently but still manage to hold great chemistry on stage with the other half of the band.
Toward the end of my time talking with the band, I overheard someone say they figured about 40 people were there. To this, sound engineer Nick Magoteaux told them the final door count was actually 140, so you could say the house was pretty full.
“Dessert Rogue” is a good album that shows a lot of strength for a relatively new band. They have a strong sense of inspiration but do lack in being innovative. That is not necessarily a bad thing when the music is still good.
The Crashlanders are a charismatic and humble group of people who have made a good full-length debut and have potential to really grow in the coming years.
The Crashlanders – Clear As Yesterday