Viva El Heavy Man
Making no bones regarding their status as a throwback, Smoke Mohawk open their sophomore effort Viva El Heavy Man with the auspicious ode to antiquation “VCR King.” Actually, it’s kind of hard to tell if the band is clinging to this once-proud title with some sort of reverence or using it as a whimsical digital era putdown; the song’s parade-ish stomp (broken up by a handful of breezy, declarative choruses) suggests either idea is plausible. Not that you’ll be considering this to any great degree as “VCR King’s” semi-smirk hooks you in for the dirty hippie rock pleasures that make up the bulk of the album.
Everything about Viva El Heavy Man—including its blurry cover featuring some afro’d white kid in jean shorts next to a hatchback—emulates that timespan in the 1970s when psychedelia and proto-metal were brewing together in the same stew, swirling distorted riffing into a haze of ethereal keyboards, acoustic arpeggios, and other spacey effects. Singer Thomas Felberg is in proper command of these cocksure retro dips with a voice that easily alternates between soothing salve and whiskey-soaked rasp. The guy even sells me on “Squaw Woman,” a song that, while playful and catchy, could be construed as inappropriate Native American fetishization. Of course, we have no reason to believe “Squaw Woman” isn’t about a true Black Hills princess Felberg pines for, and there’s no dubious imagery outside the subject’s “buffalo skirt.”
Smoke Mohawk probably want you to notice their cover of the unexpected 1972 Osmonds hit “Crazy Horses” tucked deep into the album, but this particular run-through fails to live up to the charisma / insanity of the original. Instead, turn your attention to the sexy robo-funk of “Inspector Holmes” or the butt-shaking swagger of “Expresso,” the latter of which eschews whatever it started with mid-way through for a relaxing jam seemingly ported from Robby Krieger’s bathroom. The seven minute album closer “POTLOP” continues the atmospheric soundscapes and will surely make you wish you hadn’t gobbled up all your ‘shrooms last week.
The sweet gallop of “Sophia” stands as Viva El Heavy Man’s one perfectly aligned moment, though, a carefree jaunt with enough melody and kicks to override any hesitation concerning the root nostalgia (thereby making it a microcosm of the band itself). Hey, remember the ’70s? Smoke Mohawk do, and we shouldn’t complain about that.
FINAL SCORE: Three Beta Max dukes (out of four).