Instrumentals are a challenging musical venture. An artist that selects this genre hamstrings themselves by purposefully leaving out a very expressive instrument (the voice), and an easy connection with the audience (the lyrics). The guitar-based rock instrumental sub-genre is even tougher with the exclusion of strings, horns and other expressive instruments. Southern Californian duo The Tragic Radicals take it one step further and leave out the bass guitar too.
Crazy? Maybe, but one quick rip through The Tragic Radicals’ TheYellow EP and you’ll wonder why you ever sweated over your bass player’s gig attendance. Listen up, flaky four-stringers: guitarist Aj Caves has just put you all on notice. She’s got a terrific guitar sound, using both guitar and bass amps to fill out that low end. The two-piece lineup gives drummer Tyler Chittick a little more space, which he uses expertly.
Their sound is so full, and it works so well, that you wouldn’t realize that there’s no bass guitar, unless they told you (they told us). To be fair, they do use some bass on the last track “Fever.” Its use as a call-and-response instrument for a very cool guitar lick is a nice way to incorporate the four-string, while highlighting that it’s just not needed elsewhere.
The sound is great, and the songwriting matches it. The songs each have readily-identifiable themes and sections, which allows the listener to appreciate the structure and how they play with it. “Meow,” the opening track, is a prime example. They take a chunky, punky guitar riff and morph it into distorted power-chord fun. The band isn’t afraid to leave space, and it’s very impressive how they can take a couple of simple ideas and turn it into three-and-a-half-minutes of just-right music.
“Off the Res” finds The Tragic Radicals playing with a surf-rock riff over rumbling tom rolls. And, oh, that guitar tone--kudos to engineer Lee Norton for capturing Caves’ sound so well. “Machine Gun” starts with a guitar riff/drum assault that sounds like the title before moving into an odd-meter B section. The rock n’ roll middle bit sounds like some of Brad Whitford’s better work.
“Fever,” mentioned earlier, closes the record, and actually incorporates bass guitar. The whole cut is propelled by Chittick’s drums, and could fit into a country/surf-rock playlist, until the middle section where the band switches to half time and dials up the psychedelia with layers of reverb-drenched guitar. Chittick’s cowbell calls everyone to order for a flying finish, and The Tragic Radicals are done.
With The Yellow EP, The Tragic Radicals have attacked a difficult genre, and come out with a roaring success. Give their EP a spin, and catch them at a club soon--you won’t be able to get close to the stage in a few years.
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