The Cincinnati musicians of Electric Citizen are preparing for a heavy workload increase, as the rockers await the imminent international release of their latest album, Helltown. As with its first two reputation-building albums, the quartet’s new full-length is being released through RidingEasy Records, a Stoner/Psych/Doom juggernaut that has distribution in the U.S., U.K. and EU.
The follow-up to 2016’s Higher Time LP, Helltown will be available for download and streaming (as well as on vinyl and CD) beginning Sept. 28. That same day in Toronto, Electric Citizen begins one of its most extensive North American tours to date, traveling coast to coast through October as direct support for cult heroes Monster Magnet. Before experiencing some mainstream, major-label success, the veteran band’s early-’90s underground classic Spine of God was already on its way to becoming a cornerstone of retro-inspired “Stoner Rock,” with which RidingEasy and Electric Citizen are closely associated.
Since EC will be on the road when the new LP drops, the band is playing a pair of Cincinnati shows this week for hometown fans, offering an early glimpse of Helltown.
Friday, Electric Citizen plays Helltown in its entirely (along with other material) at Northside Tavern (4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside, northsidetav.com). Akron, Ohio group Relaxer kicks off the free show at 10 p.m. Then Saturday at 7 p.m., the band performs a show at SkateAble Vs Non: Pt. II, the new multimedia skatepark from the local arts/skating collective SkateAble. The space is located at People’s Liberty’s Camp Washington Globefront (2840 Colerain Ave, Camp Washington).
Helltown is an old nickname for the Cincinnati neighborhood of Northside, where the members reside. It is also where the new album was recorded, the first project done in celebrated Cincinnati musician/producer Brian Olive’s Mount Saturn recording studio
Helltown sees the return of original bassist Nick Vogelpohl and finds the band honing in on the laser-focused directness of the last album Vogelpohl made with the group, 2014’s debut Sateen. On Higher Time, the group experimented a bit more and used more keyboards, but the musicians weren’t completely pleased with all of the results. Still, while perhaps leaner and meaner, Helltown’s songs aren’t invariable (and the Deep Purplesque organ riffs are still featured intermittently).The creative partnership of singer Laura Dolan and guitarist Ross Dolan has always driven Electric Citizen’s winsome spin on old-school Proto-Metal. And the couple pushes that partnership into high gear immediately with opener “Heart Attack,” which acts as a kind of “Welcome” or “Welcome Back” to listeners new and old, respectively. The track ignites with rapid-fire jabs that feel like an amped boxer climbing back into the ring, then glides into the slip-stream of one of Ross’ crafty, always-morphing riffs. The guitarist’s sound is like a floodlight piercing heavy fog — his playing swings and slashes, but also retains a vintage dirty, mossy tone.
Laura’s soulful, laser-beam vocals and melodies have always been Electric Citizen’s most distinctive edge and she’s in great form on Helltown, sounding like the long-lost child of Ann Wilson and Ozzy Osbourne who’s come back to borrow some money and won’t take no for an answer.
Aside from the grind-and-groove rockers like “The Pawn” and “Hide It in the Night,” “Father Time” is a Helltown standout. A Psych nugget that features a more expansive arrangement, it provides a less-hectic platform that gives a more vivid view of Laura’s vocal skills. It’s clear from the whole album that Vogelpohl locked right back in with his rhythm-section partner, drummer Nate Wagner — the pair’s chemistry in rendered irrefutable as they massage and rattle the backbone of Helltown, rumbling when necessary, but also artfully pulling back when it’s called for. As with Laura’s voice, the fluctuating dynamic on the lysergic “Father Time” shines light on their impressive musicality and rhythmic telepathy.
Helltown is the sound of Electric Citizen finding the right balance of staying true to the raw, gritty force of its early work and not foregoing all of the exploration and growth heard on the group’s last album. In the end, EC has crafted a monument to the forebearers of the earliest Metal and Heavy Psychedelia, as the band members honor the pioneers’ original internal infrastructure while building the songs up in their own architectural style.
Listen to "New Earth," one of the tracks released ahead of the new LP, below (and click on it to pre-order Helltown now):
For more on Electric Citizen, visit electriccitizenband.com.