The Afghan Whigs

The Afghan Whigs
with Har Mar Superstar
Cleromancy isnt a word one normally finds in rock lyrics. Then again, In Spades the forthcoming album by The Afghan Whigs, from which the new song Oriole hails is defined only by its own mystical inner logic. The term means to divine, in a supernatural manner, a prediction of destiny from the random casting of lots: the throwing of dice, picking a card from a deck. From its evocative cover art to the troubled spirits haunting its halls, In Spades casts a spell that challenges the listener to unpack its dark metaphors and spectral imagery. Its a spooky record, notes Greg Dulli, Afghan Whigs songwriter and frontman. I like that its veiled. Its not a concept album per se, but as I began to assemble it, I saw an arc and followed it. To me its about memory in particular, how quickly life and memory can blur together.On the one hand, In Spades is as quintessentially Afghan Whigs as anything the group has ever done fulfilling its original mandate to explore the missing link between howling Midwestern punk like Die Kreuzen and Hsker D, The Temptations psychedelic soul symphonies, and the expansive hard rock tapestries of Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. At the same time, this new record continues to push beyond anything in the Whigs previous repertoire another trademark, along with the explosive group dynamic captured on the recording.Indeed, the chemistry of the lineup Dulli, guitarists Dave Rosser and Jon Skibic, drummer Patrick Keeler, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, and Whigs co-founder/bassist John Curley set the tone for In Spades creation. When it came to follow up the bands triumphant return to recording Do To the Beast (Sub Pop 2014), which was the bands first ever Top 40 album, the die was cast. This is the first time since Black Love [the Whigs 1996 noir masterpiece] that weve done a full-blown band album, Dulli says. As the last tour wound down, Greg and I realized we wanted to keep the momentum going and roll that energy into making a record, Curley explains. Im old school in that way. Having a band seasoned in playing together was how we made [classic Whigs albums like] Gentlemen and Congregation and it just felt right.In fact, In Spades crushing closing track Into The Floor had actually evolved out of an onstage jam that concluded Whigs fan favorite Miles Iz Dead every night. People would ask all the time why dont you record that?, Dulli says. One day we were like, Well, why dont we? And we nailed it in one take. Material continued to come fast and furious. Two months after the Whigs 2015 tour concluded, the band members reconvened at Nelsons studio Marigny Sound in New Orleans; within a week, half of the ten songs that would make In Spades final tracklist were laid down. Something heavy clearly hung in the air. Standout Copernicus rocks with a thump evoking T. Rex meets Jesus Lizard, while Arabian Heights exudes the gutbucket exoticism of Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti writ large, driven by Keelers bravura, muscularly tribal cadences. Rick [Nelson, who engineered the album] got incredible drum sounds, and what Patrick does on that song is a master class in drumming, Dulli says. It was like watching a Formula One racer move through the gears. And the combination of Rossers Southern grease and Skibics guitar acrobatics kept astounding me. Skibic is a master of atmosphere: the sounds he makes on Oriole are like a cosmic smoke machine.The Afghan Whigs soul side also rises to new heights on In Spades, largely inspired by the lush productions of R&B genius Norman Whitfield for The Temptations and Undisputed Truth. Throughout his oeuvre, Dulli has employed horn sections to tantalizing effect since 1965, the 1998 swan song LP from the Whigs first incarnation and yes, thats a young Kamasi Washington playing on Esta Noche off of Dullis post-Whigs outfit The Twilight Singers 2003 opus Blackberry Belle. However, on In Spades he truly harnesses their soul power on songs like Toy Automatic. I brought the horns in on Toy Automatic for emotional devastation, Dulli explains. The horns pulling those long lines gave me so much power: when they come in, the song takes off, and I sing with everything I have. It might be the most unbridled vocal Ive ever done. Every record I have a favorite child, and Toy Automatic is that here.In Spades also reveals a new, brutalist minimalism to Dullis wordplay: lines like Dont you cum when they come for me and Taste your fear/They rely on volunteers (both from Arabian Heights) succinctly distill the vivid, paranoiac eroticism hes become famed for. Gregs reached a place where he can now say more with less, Curley says. The lyrics stand on their own as written, even on the page, separate from the song. A renowned lyricist, here Dulli revels in the play of phonetics, letting the sounds lead to imagistic, often surreal wordplay, like the provocative couplets enlivening Copernicus: Listen in the distance/As the sky begins to fall/Raining down like crystalline/Apocalypse in thrall.According to Dulli, his recent lyrical obsessions reflect the period spent writing these songs alongside some of the most peculiar upheavals in history both personal and global. Mortality was never far from his mind: I Got Lost was written in the wake of Dulli learning that longtime collaborator Dave Rosser had been diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer. As well, Dulli found himself profoundly affected by the recent passing of many of the icons that inspired him to make music in the first place. It was a year of unrelenting death, he says. The reaper was hungry in 2016. Princes passing perhaps affected me the most. He was my North Star. Watching him upped my quality control, and opened my eyes to the absolute joy and necessity of self-evolution.

at Wonder Ballroom
128 NE Russel Street
Portland, United States

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