- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
Well, that was unexpected.
The Austin band Cherubs have a new album out called “2 Ynfynyty” — spelled with the numeral 2 and every possible letter y — and it’s hard to think of a less likely River City rock comeback this side of Roky Erickson.
Back in the 1990s, if you were a fan of noise rock — which is to say overdriven, ear-splitting bands such as Big Black, Unsane, Cows or Austin’s own Butthole Surfers — you probably owned dozens of records released by Trance Syndicate, an Austin label owned and operated by Surfers drummer King Coffey.
Trance released blown-speaker classics by bands such as Ed Hall, Crust, Johnboy and Drain. But the label’s crown jewel might have been “Heroin Man,” the 1994 album by Cherubs.
Cherubs had formed two years earlier when former Ed Hall drummer Kevin Whitley decided it was time for him to play guitar. With bassist Owen McMahon and drummer Brent Prager underpinning Whitley’s blood-drawing six-strings and panicked vocal wail, Cherubs developed a sound of nausea-inducing distortion and power.
Cherubs made a decent debut called “Icing” and a bunch of excellent singles —including a brilliant cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming” — before unleashing the instant classic “Heroin Man.”
That album wasn’t just one of the best noise rock records of all time but one of the best albums of 1994, period. Raging and cracking, “Heroin Man” is a masterpiece of distortion and feedback organized into riffs and pulses and genuinely catchy hooks (relatively speaking, of course). “Heroin Man” still sounds as if it could have been recorded tomorrow.
Never more than a cult act even when they were around, Cherubs broke up around the same time as they released “Heroin Man,” and everyone moved on with their lives.
These days, Whitley spends most of his time co-running the marketing firm Guerrilla Suit and for years steadfastly refused to entertain notions of a Cherubs reunion.
Then a few years ago, the rumors started, and last summer Brutal Panda records announced that Cherubs were recording, with producer Mike McCarthy, their first album in 20 years.
The result is “2 Ynfynyty,” which doesn’t pick up exactly where “Heroin Man” left off as much as act as a perfect coda (or the beginning of a second act).
“Sandy on the Beach” starts the album with a seasick riff, enormous drums and Whitley’s buried voice. “Crashing the Ride” is a perfect 1 minute, 26 seconds of chaos; Whitley mumbles something about “running … running …” as if exhausted already The first song the band leaked from “2 Ynfynyty,” “Crashing the Ride” was the perfect smart bomb to start the Internet a-yammering.
The band alternates between punk rock blasts such as “We Buy Gold” and the oddly tuneful “Evil May Acre” and longer, more psychedelic noise dives. “Cumulo Nimbus” almost seems like Cherubs’ idea of a power ballad, except the riff keeps tremolo-ing in and out of the song.
Then there’s “So Jellified,” which — given the way the song suddenly rolls back for a few beats as if being DJ’ed — must refer to a state of being. You know what I am talking about. Yes, that.
Throughout, the trio keeps its sonic wall of mud intact, sounding perhaps a tad more precise (few albums sound as unhinged as “Heroin Man”) but knowing exactly what makes Cherubs great. Welcome back, guys. You have no idea how much you were missed.