Arts DEVO: PandeMUSic

Detail from Cancellation cover art by Owen Greenfield.
Jason Cassidy

The old-timers …

Few things have been as consistent in Chico over the past couple of decades as West By Swan. The long-running experimental rock band has been around for more than 17 years—probably longer than any local crew currently making original music—and I’ve been following the band that entire time, as my tenure as the CN&R’s arts editor follows the same timeline as West by Swan’s run. [Full disclosure: I am also good friends, sometimes collaborator and drinking buddy with all four dudes and have known them personally for even longer.]

In a 2006 piece on the band in advance of its self-titled debut album, I wrote that the “music is noisy, complicated, chaotic and even dangerous sounding, but it’s also precise, delicate, direct and packed with emotion.” That description still stands—not because the band hasn’t changed at all over the years, but because the four-piece is still exploring all paths.

West by Swan’s recorded output has fallen into an every-four-years schedule, with full-lengths released in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018. However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band has had to forgo gathering to play and rehearse and has instead polished up recent recordings—so we get release No. 5 a year early! Cancellation came out last week on the band’s Bandcamp page. It’s West by Swan’s first EP, and each of the three songs finds the band heading in a different direction.

Opener “Apocalyptico” is a charging garage-rocker with squirrely guitars, and it’s followed by the dark psychedelic stoner jam “Cancellation.”

West by Swan – Cancellation

The final tune is the nine-and-a-half minute epic “Bent,” which starts off with an extended intro featuring a twangy looping guitar riff strolling languidly down a dusty road before a wash of guitar noise and several layers of voices turns the trail to mud and the walk to a trudge. There’s a clear break before the second half of the song brings a new circular riff that quickens the pace before turning up the volume and taking the listener on a bumpy ride across a subtly shifting sonic landscape.

The closing song’s title is a reference to the knee of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who was charged with the murder of George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The only lyrics are a brief multi-voice harmony, repeated twice:

I believe knees were meant to be bent down in peace and humility / Not for this disease of hate and hostility / I believe.

Brand-new-timers …

I don’t know any of the guys in the band Blu Egyptian, which might partly explain why I am a couple months late in sharing anything about the five-piece’s debut album, Lotus, released Jan. 23. Also, they are teenagers who just started the band during the pandemic. The Inspire high school friends have used the sheltering-in-place time to come together and create something incredibly refreshing.

Typically around these parts, when dance-friendly world beats amalgamate, things twirl down a well-worn jam-band groove—but this is something different. Maybe it’s a function of youth or just the band’s devotion to lively Latin rhythms, but the four songs here are jumpin’! It’s a dizzying double-time approach that is fun, infectious and a just what Chico needs.

Blu Egyptian – Lotus

The best example of what I’m describing is probably “Rumba de Chango,” a hyper ska-via-Cuba-sounding jam (with a ripping guitar solo by frontman Don Jules) that invites the listener to open their mind while shaking their ass:

Emancipate yourself from this mentality / There’s a world of wonder beyond what you perceive.”

Pretty impressive for a band of any age, and something special to look forward to once the dance floors open again—though you can catch a live acoustic set next week, March 28, 3-5 p.m., at Secret Trail Brewing Co.

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