Album review: Birds of Maya – ‘Valdez’: Philly stoners come back for your greasy, sexy soul after eight long years

The Breakdown

Birds of Maya's Valdez made for the juices of life and not politeness. They've been away so long, they've got plenty catching up to do with each other and with you; they were just waiting for the time. And the time is right. They is full of sass and spit and they want you now.

PHILADELPHIA is a city that knows how to properly rock, dirt under its nails, filthy fuckin’ fuzz in its heart.

With the news that Philly headz Bardo Pond are getting a silver jubilee expanded repress for their ’96 psychotropic masterpiece Amanita, comes news from more of the city’s favourite prodigally noisy sons, Birds of Maya; I mean, eight years since we got all greasy with the longform, two-track Celebration; Christ alive, eleven since Ready To Howl, during which time, of course, Mike Polizze got himself all seduced by the Purling Hiss project with Ben Leapheart joining him over there; Drag City, of course, released that offshoot’s most recent trio of albums, Water On Mars, Weirdon and High Bias.

Which is kinda handy, since that most prolific and vital of Midwest labels is bringing forth unto us Birds of Maya’s first long-player in eight years.

They’ve done the occasional low-key live excursion in that long interregnum, mostly on home turf; kickin’ back, kickin’ out the jams. Were these particular fuzz-feathered friends gone for good? wondered worshippers at the stoner altar.

Nope. Even though interpersonal arrangements as a band were a bit looser, they kept meticulous recordings of everything they knocked out of the park sonically, all there to mull over when the time was right.

Actually, fessing up here, Valdez itself has been in the can, pretty much, for seven years; it was laid down in Black Dirt Studios, north-west of New York, following a Purling Hiss sesh. Unearthing old cassettes, they brought jams to life with a little spit and polish; – just a little, you understand. The grime is the goodness. You know that.

Actually, by accident, they recorded the whole album on the first night of the session, cos the stoner gods were looking down and saw that it was good. A few little extra flourishes the day after and it was a wrap.

Valdez presents as a quartet of murkier fuzz jams, the right noise, the right swampiness, with a brace of quicker-fire whiplashes sequenced in there too. It all comes wrapped in artwork recalling the downtown they lived, loved, rehearsed and brought the sound to back in the Noughties, before the big bucks discovered post-industrial glamour.

Birds of Maya kickin’ it out righteously

Look, there’s no messin’ here. There’s no time to be messin’. “High Fly” crawls out of an ooze of howlround and evil bass and busts yours ass lovingly hard with a proper riff, the kind an Asheton would raise an approving eyebrow at. A miniature call and response of guitar almost washed away in its flood of fuzz, bent strings and can-I-be-fucked? vocal drawl, it’s got fire and nine minutes to incinerate you in it. And that’s just what it intends to do, smearing your walls with greasy sex, and it just keeps burrowing, that sludge roarin’ at the crossroads with wailing guitars occasionally breaking free from the chasing pack to outpace you, bring you back; and it drags you down in a whammy-bar excoriation of a faux-ending middle break that refuses to let up. Not till they’re quite ready. Remember who’s in charge here.

So, cos we’re nice and good people usually, in the run of things, we’ve embedded the video for second track “BFIOU” just below; scroll your lazy ass. It’s got all the good filth goin’ on: fireHOSE, Mr Osterberg, Iommi, superfuzz pedals banked up. Sludge. Distortion. Vocals one-take and straight from the messy soul. If your older bro was a biker, steal his wrecked jacket and patchouli forthwith. It’s time to rawk. Be glad, too, you’ve got lockdown locks, cos you need to flail them for this. It spits out its delicious venom in two minutes and small change and its gone.

“Busted Room” cracks on, pulses, drips (no … actually drips, check that aquatic, flaccid punctuation in there) on a giant, ascending chord run, gets straight down to it with Jason’s vocals gruntingly knocked out outta here in distortion. There’s a declaimed passage, an incantation that just about holds the wail in check. Nah. Not really it doesn’t. It kneels before the things guitars and knocked about amplification can do in the right hands, as we all must. Let it abrade.

“Recessinater” hoves into view with a wavering, ersatz Persian riff, microtonal and liquid, a muezzin’s call to the Converse-wearing faithful that drapes a blistered funk bass and shakes looser and deeper, as if Hendrix and Noel and Mitch has called time on all the clever virtuoso blues fret-spindlery and concentrated on his biggest gift to the human state; feedback riffing. Imagine “Fire” after sloshing through a storm drain to get to some hot warehouse rave-up and you’re close, especially when the bass gets its freak on and the tempo doubles. Glorious and grimy; incendiary; nonsensical in the correct fashion.

“Front Street” uncoils like a cobra and darts in to bite, spins you round in a barber’s chair loaded with licks until you’re dizzy, legs it; and we end with an invitation, “Please Come In”, another preceding single, tom-toms a-go-go, which like the preceding “Recessinator” has a little raga perfume wafting through it; but it also has really vicious feedback squeals, no percussive quarter spared, shrieks and a ’67-psych bass which emerges as the saviour as the guitars fracture and flame and skitter off in pursuit of that final great howl. Somewhere in here is a blues standard that Cream or someone might’ve treated with far more reverence than Birds of Maya would for a second countenance. Their work is deeper, darker, made for the juices of life and not politeness. They’ve been away so long, they’ve got plenty catching up to do with each other and with you; they were just waiting for the time.

And the time is right. They is full of sass and spit and they want you now.

Birds of Maya’s Valdez will be released by Drag City digitally and on vinyl on June 25th – you can order your copy from the label direct, here.

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