Gritty, alluring, shocking. On the side, Canadian Indie band Black Mountain works to serve the drug addicted, distributing clean needles in a job that stabs into their darkly psychedelic sound, one that still hangs on to the roots.
Street-smart and alarming, in 2005, Black Mountain grabbed me. It was like nothing I'd heard before. Nothing.
Such is the case with The Sweep. Smooth, then hard. A sometimes stormy, sometimes sweet package. Try to guess what the next change might be. Just when they're chilling, here come the drums, beats shooting like bullets. Dodge the fire.
Buried inside, there's a Punk edge with hints of Roots music and everything in between. Cleverly twisted together, it's a mature tornado of mixed influences. No wonder the sound is layered thick -- The Sweep is led by four talented veterans of the Cincinnati music scene.
We meet at The Batcave, the studio of Billy Alletzhauser. It's smoky. Night-alley dark.
Shadows cut lines into jaws. All around, equipment, a plastic mouse, a dizzying carpet, maroon curtains, an enormous piggy bank, records, lamps covered in sheets. Twenty-sided Dungeons and Dragons dice. More, more, more.
The guys drink Red Stripes and Heinekens. In between words, it's quiet enough to hear the sips. Head shaved smooth, Nic Powers (vocals, guitar, piano) wears a Flash T-shirt. Formerly in pictureshow, Powers has a gift for poetic lyrics; he has the ability to bring on the mood like a careful, choosy fireball.
Bearded, tall Glen May (bass) began with drums and Punk Rock. Later, he and Powers hooked up for pictureshow. Experimenting with different instruments, they've played together for 16 years.
About May, drummer Brian Moeller says, "Don't let this guy fool you. He could probably play anything in this room."
Moeller, also a sound engineer, played drums with Michael McIntyre and the Marmalade Brigade. As he talks with a cavernous, slow voice, Moeller spreads lotion on his bicep. New tattoo work.
Powers says, "It was pretty clear it was going to be something different. We didn't have a lead guitar player, which we definitely needed."
Enter Alletzhauser, known for his work with The Hiders. Alletzhauser (guitar, keys) wears a t-shirt that says, "I survived the disaster of '86." He didn't join The Sweep until they were in the middle of making the record.
Alletzhauser laughs. "Next thing I knew, we were practicing twice a week at my house."
May says, "We bribed Billy with a stack of comic books."
It's Warm Under the Dragon's Wing is The Sweep's first full-length album, written and recorded at Moeller and May's home and mixed at The Batcave.
"It's Punk/Prog," Alletzhauser says. "It has some proggy, metalish undertones. The Punk influence sounds like older-school Punk like The Clash, but there are some songs that remind me of part-Cramps and part-Metallica."
Dragon is crafty, refreshing and intense. "Idiots and Debutantes" captures a White Stripes vibe with ironic lyrics and startling drums. "Into the Sun" is more melodic. Bass leading the way, the vocals drift quietly, using ingenious subtlety to create a dreamy "on the edge" feel. But "Will Never Was" stands out. Catchy as hell, this tune sounds effortless. A perfect mix of danger and release. Getting high and coming down. A barefoot hike up Black Mountain.
Powers says, "We're going to start recording again immediately. If nothing ever happens, we'll still have five or six Sweep albums come out in the next five years. It's a sanity issue. We have to do it."
"We're all pretty much bad motherfuckers from along the way," Moeller says. "Everyone here is a multi-instrumentalist capable of playing and writing an entire song alone."
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