Twenty or so years ago, if you turned your radio dial to the left and kept going until you reached the hidden frequencies of college radio, chances are you would be greeted by the uncompromising sounds of apathetic, guitar-driven alt-rock. This was a time when ‘alt-rock’ and ‘indie’ actually eluded to a certain left-leaning political outlook and D.I.Y musical aesthetics rather than lazy genre tags thrown at any old band who profess a fondness for wearing skinny jeans and twanging away at their guitars. But three-piece Late Bloomer are alt-rock in its truest form; unapologetically raw and endearingly sloppy, with rough-around-the-edges production that could easily have been helmed by Jack Endino and recorded in a garage-cum-studio in a backwater town of Washington State circa 1988, cobbled together on a shoestring budget with only a couple of cheap six packs to see them through the session.
Their ten track self-titled release carries so many hallmarks of late 80’s/early 90’s golden era of the US underground rock scene you can almost smell the stale sweat on stained plaid shirts. If J. Mascis had initially shunned his pedal board and was too lethargic to play extended solos, than Dinosaur Jr. would probably have sounded rather similar to Late Bloomer. There’s the driving bass, for the most part sticking to solid no-frills root-note thumping that’s coupled with the rather unyielding drumming which hold the songs together when at times it there is a real sense that they may just unravel. The album harks back to a time when the guitar was God, the weapon of choice for the disaffected youth of the so-called ‘Generation X’. Guitars veer across a wide range of approaches; crunching chords are penetrated by melodic lead lines or abruptly drained of any distortion to be softly strummed. Opener ‘Reality’ is a punchy little track that is in keeping with the loud/quiet dynamic perpetrated in abundance by the underground grunge troupes ever since The Pixies stumbled upon its game-changing effectiveness. Vocals take on a wistful air in tracks such as ‘Wherever’ and even at times bear a passing resemblance to Blue Oyster Cult on yet throughout the record the trio’s harmonies are defiantly out of tune but it is refreshing in the contemporary pop climate of ubiquitous auto-tune to hear a such a naturalistic vocal approach untouched in post-production. ‘Tooth Decay’ could well be the fruit of a Pavement and Weezer collaboration, the falsetto “ooh-ooh” backing vocals channelling ‘Buddy Holly’ whilst the guitars maintain a defiantly slacker approach that remains on tape despite the odd bum-note. ‘White Lines’ explodes with the speed of Husker Du’s breakneck melodic hardcore, with the band sounding as though they’re fuelled by the very same illegal powdered substance they elude to throughout track. Although its defiantly lo-fi approach gives it a certain charm, Late Bloomer lacks any real memorable moments that will sustain any craving for repeated listens. Nevertheless, it serves as a fitting reminder as to how great the US underground scene was before it became absorbed by the mainstream and codified to such an extent that is became devoid of any remaining cultural impact.
3 out of 5 high fives!