by Mike LeSuer (@zebraabraham)
A year-end retrospective of noteworthy releases by prominent rock bands has become something like the lazily-themed, yearly-repurposed “retro night” at your college’s homecoming weekend: Year after year, new and established bands spill onto the scene decked out in the same florals, flannels, and neons recycled from preceding decades, while the anachronism of cellphones and club music courtesy of an ill-informed DJ color the event certain shades of 21st-century. Familiar figures like Arcade Fire show up sporadically to flaunt the variability in their wardrobe, while peers The War on Drugs consistently re-exhibit their single set of Springsteenian blue collar duds long ago lifted from their dads’ closets. As your RAs and the music-consuming public have come to learn, the need for new, groundbreaking ideas has become entirely less important than the discovery of how much fun we can have loosely subscribing to old ones.
It wasn’t until 2012 that—in true millennial fashion—a sophomore-aged Oh Sees disrupted the event by showing up in full-body chainmail that the blanket genre really felt fresh again. In the wake of the regal medievalism of Putrifiers II, the band’s garage-confined contemporaries have since softened in solidarity with John Dwyer’s impish affinity for the Middle Ages, as evident in its ‘70s-via-700-A.D. influence on King Gizzard, Chad Ubovich, and Charles Moothart. The latest band to make this abrupt transition, evidently, is the ornery Athens three-piece Acid Baby Jesus, whose third studio album, Lilac Days, is as flowery as Lady Guinevere’s botanic wreaths.
To be clear, we’re talking about Athens, Greece, not Georgia—home to a number of rambunctious figures more than qualified to interrupt retro night with their authentic punk snarls (see: Bazooka’s I Want To Fuck All The Girls In My School). Yet the Spaghetti Western outlaw charm of ABJ’s debut, LP, was severely neutralized by the droning psychedelia—and wonky finale—of their follow-up Selected Recordings. Lilac Days completes the transition of a band, whose apathetic energy once presumably led to album titles doubling as the identifiers Sharpied onto their CD-R demos, into a group who flirts with floral imagery. “The lilac days are over,” sings vocalist Noda Pappas on the opening title track. Or are they just beginning?
Like Meatbodies and the sovereign Gizzard before them, ABJ has gravitated towards an emerging zeitgeist fueled by the faithful reproduction of a bygone sound in turn inspired by an epoch long predating recorded music. While Lilac is significantly less Jesus Christ Superstar than Nonagon Infinity, it echoes the ‘70s psychedelia charging such heaven-on-their-mind riffage while pacifying it with dulcimers on the mediæval-tymes ballad “Down The Ley Lines” and synth flourishes to close out the modern “Me & Panormita.” The mournful chorus and hushed verses of postlude “Love Has Left My House Today,” however, feel purely rooted in the soft rock tradition of the decade their particular resuscitative effort targets.
Whether rock is dead or we’re merely taking a moment to bring dated subgenres to the modern era is moot—applying the Tarantino thesis of pastiche to rock’s storied history will continue to yield fascinating results for years to come, especially if they inject such fictionalized visions of antiquated existence. Like track two’s titular Janus, Acid Baby Jesus proves their competence maneuvering within different shards of popular culture to piece together an engaging record which reveals a totally new identity on the subdued obverse of LSD Christ’s jejune mug. Like the metaphorical homecoming dance, it isn’t total anachronism—but it’s just chic enough for the listener to enjoy it without stressing the historical inaccuracies.