You have to instantly like a group that thanks band beers, Mexican food, black coffee and pizza in the album credits. They’re clearly here to have some fun. I’m a fan before the needle even hits the record.
Of course, it takes a while to get to the record, as Year of October may have the longest Bandcamp page ever created. They offer nine different ways to purchase Wastelands, in various formats, alone or combined with merchandise to meet you at your preferred price point. Hey, they need to pay for those Coronas.
Make sure you keep scrolling, though, because once you get to the streaming links, Year of October delivers the musical goods. Drummer James Varner gives us four drumstick clicks, and we’re right into “Black Widow,” a heavy, riff-y groove led by Josh Sullivan’s fuzzed-out guitar. Vocalist Phlecia Sullivan comes in soon with her soulful alto and “Keeps bleeding cause you stepped on broken glass / Goes deeper now the hurt will never pass.” Her voice contrasts perfectly with the heaviness; the cut is catchy and engaging while being a bit evil and dangerous. In short, it’s a rock track–and I loved it. In LP form, I would have worn out the grooves from the repeated plays.
“Greevil” is up next, once you can tear yourself away from the opener. The verse is a little lighter, but don’t worry, the fuzzy, heavy power chords and Sabbath-like riffs come roaring back later. “Venom” goes lighter still, with jazz-toned guitar arpeggios at the start. It’s still catchy and heavy, just not fuzzy. With a different lyric on the verse, this song could fit into a blues/Americana album; the chorus (“oh let me come undone / and warm my aching bones”) is almost mainstream. Just as you think Year of October might be getting soft, the fuzz comes back again. Whew.
Stepping back a bit, the first four tracks of the album form a nice song cycle. The band moves smoothly from the heavy fuzz of “Black Widow” to the touching “My Soul,” which could slot easily onto the ballad side of the Stones’ Tattoo You. Phlecia Sullivan’s voice handles all these styles with aplomb, and the band dials up the appropriate tones and grooves with ease. It’s a terrific opening quartet of songs.
The band starts up another cycle with the heavy, fuzzy, unison riffs of “Wastelands Pt. 1.” With part two, Year of October shows us that they can play punk, too, before folding it back into the heavy slow churn they developed in part one. “Out to Dry” keeps the heavy groove; Varner’s drums sound great here, with the snare cracking through the guitars. This was probably a ton of fun to play, with the distorted power chords and riffs chunking away.
Listeners who hear just “Cut Me Open” and buy Wastelands thinking they’ll get an album of the same are in for a surprise (like my mom did, when she bought Extreme’s Pornograffiti after hearing “More Than Words”). Year of October shows their softer side here, on a beautiful pop tune complete with delicate melody and seventh chords. It’s done well and isn’t out of place–the band is displaying their musicality and songwriting chops.
“Fade Away” is a bluesy, riff-y, soulful track with Phlecia Sullivan providing nice harmonies over clean guitars. The song cycle turns towards home, as the heavy, fuzzy guitars come roaring back with another cool riff. Josh Sullivan gets some of his best guitar tones on the whole set here.
Finally, “Buried REDUX” caps the record. The band switches effortlessly between the heavy grooves and the jazz-tinged bluesy soul, with Phlecia Sullivan’s luscious vocals draped over the top. Her vocals soar as the band brings us through a crashing, riff-soaked coda, leaving us fully satiated.
Year of October describes their music as Amy Winehouse fronting Black Sabbath. I’d describe it as a breath of rock n’ roll fresh air. Play it in order, and enjoy the two song cycles. I have it on repeat.
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