Callous Crows groove unlike anyone else. They have morphed Led Zeppelin’s macho blues-rock rhythms into amorphous, psychedelic inversions. As if their one-man rhythm section’s main influence was not John Bonham or Bill Ward but Lewis Carroll; the beats are disjointed and angular, yet solid. Firmly planted on a terra firma, but one that has yet to be explored.
The four tracks on their ‘Daisy Brain,’ EP taunt the senses rather than satisfy them. Singer/guitarist Neil McDonnell favours dissonant, distorted chords and the left of centre push/pull rhythms of The Stooges’ under appreciated rhythm section. Closing track Universal Funeral is Callous Crows’ modus operandi manifest: The crisp-clean opening guitar chords are nigh-jazzy. But then the fuzz pedal kicks in. And the ever-shifting waltz-beat carries a bizarro melody atop the clashing sevenths of the guitar. A proper head melting trip to the core of the mind.
What makes Callous Crows truly psychedelic is their fearless venturing into darker sonic territory. Where a lot of supposed “psychedelia,” falls flat is in its rehashing of sounds that have become synonymous with mind expansion. But once we are aware of something – a sound, image or mindset – then it’s not consciousness expansion. On ‘Daisy Brain,’ Callous Crows “…take a light into the darkened corners of people’s minds, exposing them to the light,” as the comic-prophet Bill Hicks put it.
McDonnell sings “you’re fucking with my head,” on Zolomon Song. But the track’s barrage of noise-rock riffing digs its talons into the listener’s head. And drags it out onto the operating table for dissection.
Zolomon Song’s freak-out section midway through its four minutes is unlike anything else in psychedelic/garage rock. The pulse remains sure and steady throughout, but it’s jigsawed into angular fragments by Eimhin Murphy’s drumming. McDonnell’s guitar chews through the airwaves, his warped cross-string leaps bending the mind. This is not the mellowed-out psychedelia of Jefferson Airplane or The Byrds. It’s the Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction: An opening of the mind to all its possibilities. The good and bad.
Track three, In The Woods, thumps and pounds along on Murphy’s demented shuffle-beat, while gnarled riffs mow through the senses, so heavy they’re almost tangible. Callous Crows are not so much tunesmiths as noise-welders. ‘Daisy Brain,’ is more a sonic manifesto than a tuneful one. The notes carry the sounds, rather than the sounds carrying the notes. And while the drums do carry the beat, their main function is to chop it up and stitch it together again.
So a track like In The Woods, the boogie-beat of which would be a Status Quo cliché in less capable hands, becomes a Frankenstein’s monster of decades past, present and future. Of yesterday’s influences, today’s records, and tomorrow’s influenced.
The mad string-slides of The Only Time Is Never’s main riff are the soundtrack to the descent down the rabbit hole. As Callous Crows lead us by the mind to Wonderland, McDonnell cautions “be careful what you wish for, be careful what you dream.” Where the original psychedelics’ hippie dream imploded, becoming exactly what they feared most, Callous Crows soundtrack the implosion of the 21st century’s dream.
Much as Alice Cooper reflected mid-seventies middle-America back at them – commercials, consumerism, superficiality – McDonnell and Murphy have constructed anthems that reflect the underbelly of the 21st century, the truths of the matter. ‘Daisy Brain,’ is a shock. But the only worthwhile shock is a truthful one. And the four tracks on this record are a shock-therapy session of honesty.
Our hive-mind is dissected on ‘Daisy Brain.’ The angular music of Eimhin Murphy and Neil McDonnell cuts up the psyche. It lays out in sound the truths of our age – the angst and fears of many of us. In doing so, they have crafted a record of powerful honesty. And without honesty, we cannot move on wards.
“Space is not only high, it’s low. It’s a bottomless pit,” as the great jazz-adventurer Sun Ra put it. Without acknowledgement of the pit below us, we can’t climb out of it. Callous Crows and ‘Daisy Brain,’ are handholds on that climb.