Lo-fi triumph from garage proto-punk reprobates Neverland Ranch Davidians
Release Date: 20th January 2023
Label: Heavy Medication Records
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download
Odds are, you won’t have yet come across Neverland Ranch Davidians. The band is the current vehicle of Tex Mosley, formerly of Philly Afro punk outfit Pure Hell, as well as Bad Actor and explosive LA punk ventures like Gunfight, Whores of Babylon and The Hangmen. Neverland Ranch Davidians actually first appeared as long ago as 2016 when their 5-track EP, Spirituals From the Other Side caused a few ripples and now they’re back – in all their grinding, grungy, punky glory – with a full-length eponymous debut album.
As well as Tex on guitars and vocals, Neverland Ranch Davidians feature Will Bentley – also on guitars and vocals – and drummer Max Hagen. The band describe themselves as “defiantly bassless” and also as “garage proto-punk reprobates on the fifth day of a four-day creep.” If those descriptions sound self-aggrandising, think again. On the evidence of this album, they hit the nail pretty squarely on the head.
By the way – if you’re puzzled by the band’s choice of moniker, it came about by merging the stamping grounds of a couple of 20th century icons. Neverland was, of course, the home of Michael Jackson and the Branch Davidians were a movement (some might suggest a “cult”) led by David Koresh, who died during the 1993 FBI siege of the group’s Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas.
The first bars of opening track At The Gospel were a real shock to my senses. A primitive drum rhythm overlayed by gritty, grungy guitars painted a wild scene – somewhere in an Australian jungle, maybe – and I was captivated. This wasn’t what I was expecting…
Built on a choppy, fuzzy guitar riff, lead single Rat Patrol is a more basic slice of no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll. Crude but enticing, it suggested to me an idea of what Creedence might have sounded like when they took a first run-through of a new song – yes – it sounds that fresh. Despite the proud, self-applied, “defiantly bassless” tag, Tex picks up a bass to add a little depth to the excellent Fat Back. Max once again excels in the engine room as Tex and Will weave interesting guitar patterns and, if you can think of any rhymes for the words “fat” and “back,” I can guarantee you that they’re used in the song’s lyrics.
Screeching guitar feedback introduces the heavy riff that underwrites the sinister Aqua Velveteen. The song’s lyrics – including snippets like “She told me she was from another planet, and, after that, well – I had to have it” add to the sinister theme of the song and really need to be heard to be believed…
If raw, uncomplicated, lo-fi punk is your thing, then you’ll find a classic example in Liquor Store, a fast, furious flowering of Ramones-like energy. It even starts with a Ramones ‘1-2-3-4’ intro. Solid Monkey Blues is slower and considerably more threatening. Two guitars jostle for space and prominence in a full-on sensory assault by three chords, a solid drumbeat and Tex’s anguished vocal.
As most readers will be aware, the great Link Wray was a major inspiration to the 60s garage rock culture and I get the feeling that he would have approved Neverland Ranch Davidians’ rocket-paced take on his tune, Butts in My Beer. Excellent and thoroughly breathless, it pulls no punches and takes no prisoners.
Despite their own self-branding, Neverland Ranch Davidians are far more than a ‘garage proto punk’ outfit, and they prove that in several of the album’s tracks – notably on Boys Don’t Cry, a poppy affair, drenched in the surf-derived harmonies that sweeten the messages that “They say boys don’t cry” and “They say girls don’t lie.” Tex almost breaks down mid-song, but the guys recover, and the harmonies come back stronger than ever.
Guest Greg ‘Smog’ Boaz (Tex and the Horseheads, Thelonious Monster and others) sits in on bass on Hen House, and immediately the sound is cleaner and heavier. The song is structured around a tight riff with some nice guitar fills that remind me of early Television, and there’s plenty of room left for Tex’s vocals. Hen House is probably the most ambitious song on the album – it’s bright and accessible, but has maybe sacrificed some of the band’s unique rawness in the process of becoming so.
Seventies-styled heavy rocker Stigmata is another of the cleaner-sounding tracks. A slow build-in blossoms into a strident riff, and Tex is on top vocal form, and, sticking with relative states of cleanliness as a way to describe musical production, the anguished Knee On My Neck is definitely one of the album’s dirtier numbers. And I love the echoes of Perry Como in the way that Tex rhymes “soda” with “Minnesota!”
This intriguing album is wrapped up in the most intriguing way imaginable – with a tight, bluesy, soulful rendition of Ray Charles’ Believe to My Soul. Tex delivers a great vocal, the backing harmonies are spot-on and the drum/guitar arrangement fits perfectly. And Tex takes a delightful liberty with the lyrics when he sings “Last night, I heard you call out when we were having sex, ‘Oh! Johnny!’ – when you know my name is Tex…”
Fresh, versatile and triumphant – give it a listen.
Listen to Rat Patrol – the lead single from the album – here: