Emerging from the cultural oasis that is Austin, Texas, a city with an esteemed psychedelic pedigree courtesy of The 13th Floor Elevators amongst others, Surly Gates look to be just another psychedelically minded band with an overt fondness for all things sixties. Their debut four song E.P showcases a near-enough perfect combination of sixties garage rock vocal harmonies, touches of Ray Manzarek’s moog as well as neo-psychedelic tendencies, convening with a lo-fi aesthetic and seemingly put to tape in a morose echo chamber. There’s a distinct sultry haze about the E.P, the music itself seems ingrained with the fumes of hundreds of lazily smoked cigarettes. Turn it up loud enough you can almost see purple cigarette smoke float lethargically out of the speakers.
‘March of The Furry Creatures’ begins like a subdued Doors jam, a reserved sparse guitar line slinks its way out of the speakers before the band crashes onto the scene- awash with reverb and evidently in no hurry to go anywhere quickly. The four way vocals of the chorus are sumptuous in their depth, echoing Crosby, Still and Nash in their subtle texture, they lift the vocals out of the haze of the mix that they are often threatened to be succumbed by. A guitar solo, sometimes sounding more akin to a distant siren, slices through the mix without breaking the laid back character of the song. ‘Growl’ is something of a sombre march. Played in waltz time, it is full of anguished, wailing guitars and mournful vocal melodies that culminate in the central “woah-woahs” of the chorus which are howled by the band as if they all shared the same sense of general anguish. The opening chord strum to ‘Pisces’ is so awash with reverb it feels like a wave lazily washing over your ears, making way for the central guitar riff which is pure unbridled sixties American garage rock. The ambience of the verse with its minimalist approach and distant Moog blips lays in subdued contrast to the out and out garage rock of the chorus, which still manages to remain somewhat lethargic. ‘Proud Indian’ exhibits similar understated dynamics, slowly building from a lonely and brilliantly simple guitar line into bursts of distressed, distorted guitar as plush vocal harmonies declare “She’s the devil in me” until the song winds down to a dignified close.
Despite the protruding sixties influence the E.P isn’t simply a straightforward portal back to a time of free love, trippy drugs and unrestrained body hair. There are just enough modern flourishes and nuances to keep the record from being a full on nostalgia trip. What’s more, the E.P doesn’t go out of its way to grab you by the balls but beckons you to saunter over to into its attractive haze before smothering you in breezy vocals and engulfing you in the warmth of its deep, copious reverb. Surly Gates is a reminder that life can exist at a slower pace, one that is ultimately more rewarding.
by George Percival