Label: Rise Above Records
The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, so named after the British naval officer active during the turn of the 18th century, have been pumping out psychedelic jams from a garage in Hastings since their inception in 2008. Starting in 2010 with their first EP, Return to Zero, the trio has been teasing with stand-alone singles before dropping full-length albums every two years like clockwork. Fuzzy, scratchy, anything but catchy, The Admiral rocks a sound similar to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats, but it is clear that these artists are just influences. No homages are to be found here. Most of the band’s tracks sound a bit like the trio had only a bare-bones idea of how they would go–some lyrics here, a chord progression there–and everything fell into place during a jam session that someone thoughtfully recorded. The result is a raw and dripping sound, calms and frenzies appearing with no rhyme or reason, the band members playing whatever sounds best to them in just that moment.
Each album cycle has brought with it an improvement to quality production-wise, 2016’s Keep It Greasy! especially feeling a bit more coherent than previous albums, but with no change to the heavy riffs and growling vocals of Johnny Gorilla, assisted only by the boom of Louis Comfort-Wiggett’s tightly strung bass and a minuscule drum kit. Being radio friendly is not at the top of the list for The Admiral, and while Gorilla’s melodies have gained a sense of well-thought continuity throughout songs, the brand the group has made for themselves shines through with every release. Their newest, Very Uncertain Times, is no exception.
The album hums to life with its titular track, distortion like the winds over a desert plain morphing into a rolling and funky beat, sounding like a heavy cover of a classic swing tune save for a sludgy intermission that lies somewhere between psychedelia and doom. Gorilla’s voice is clearer than ever before, his cadence now more like that of Motörhead’s dearly departed Lemmy, making this bold track a warm welcome to what is to come. Ten Years Later comes offering mechanically picked riffs interspersed with Gorilla’s bluesy vocals, his guitar seeming to take a life of its own as it aches to play while he sings. With an intro made of notes played in reverse followed then by a Sabbath-esque chord progression, The Third Degree urges the album on. Gorilla momentarily goes for a different approach here, harmonies in the chorus sung with softly strained vocal chords to match the pitch. It admittedly makes for a somewhat weak song, but there is still plenty more to come. Mr Freedom starts with no fanfare, at its core a track one could imagine the (more musically inclined) greasers in the 50s would sing amongst themselves while slicking back their hair in the high school bathroom. The fuzzy guitarwork and Gorilla’s scratchy voice escalate this track from a bop sung by schoolboys to the song that plays as the bar fight starts, fists and bottles thrown with equal force before crashing down in an abrupt conclusion.
Midway through the album, Iceberg whines itself into a rolling thrum, and this is where Gorilla lets his vocal talents shine, lyrics sung with his usual passion but none of the classic bluesy strain behind them. Blackworth Quarry seeks to remind the listener that there is still a drummer here, and this track gives them a little more of the stage, muted guitar and barely audible bass politely providing the back track while drumsticks swing effortlessly through the air, all but kissing the rim in perfect triplets. Not to worry; Gorilla’s usual growl is ever-present and there is no escaping the screaming solo, but these elements are not as focused on as the drums who even get the full spotlight for a brief time, surely the moment where Gorilla and Comfort-Wiggett urge an unseen audience to applaud the efforts of their third member. The next track, Biscuits for Victor, begins with a half-minute of peculiar distortion and what sounds like lines from a local television program, accidentally recorded and then intentionally kept in. After this, though, it’s back to The Admiral’s regularly scheduled programming. This track has a few changes in tone too many, feeling a bit like a jam session that was thrown in just to make sure the album, sitting at a mere 35 minutes, is long enough. While not a bad listen, this is by far the weakest on the album, but nobody said every song had to be perfect. The final track, No Mans Land, also begins with about a half-minute of strange noise, making one think it would be more of the same, but the war-like drum beat combined with Gorilla’s faster-than-usual singing is a welcome psych-out from the band. The song plays out like a victory anthem after a successful battle, the triumph heard in every note as the track ends, closing out the ride this album gives.
Very Uncertain Times is not a perfect album, but The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell is not a perfect band. The Admiral is good for a spin with friends in a smoky basement, or a soundtrack for a party with cheap beer, but whatever you do, don’t just pass them over next time you go record hunting. Their rawness and willingness to experiment with genre mashing, even if only dipping a toe toward doom here or taking a cue from sludge there, is commendable. Altogether, it makes for a sound truly unique to the group while still expanding their brand to find more listeners. Why not be the next?
- Johnny Gorilla – Vocals, Guitars
- Louis Comfort-Wiggett – Bass
- Serra Petale – Drums
- Very Uncertain Times
- Ten Years Later
- The Third Degree
- Mr Freedom
- Blackworth Quarry
- Biscuits for Victor
- No Mans Land