This was my first trip back to Chicago since moving to Portland, Oregon in December 2008. As much as I love Portland, there is a large piece of my heart in that city by the lake. It’s where I was born, it’s where I formed my favorite band, and it’s where my son was born. It’s still my city.
So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I returned to see friends, drink a lot of beer and catch some live rock and fucking roll. I’d been planning and thinking of this trip since before we even moved so you’d think I’d have had all the details ironed out like the Arctic Monkeys‘ fitted shirts. You don’t know me well and the Monkeys no longer wear Fred Perry, but more on that later…
Aha Shake Heartbreak, the second full length album from Kings of Leon, packs a lot of punch into just over thirty five minutes. They say they’ve grown up and the proof is in the grooves of this record. Still combining southern rock and garage rock, the Followill brothers and first cousin have added some depth to their songs and pushed their influences back. Songs range from driving fuzzed out rockers, “Slow Night, So Long,” to lilting yodeling moans, “Day Old Blues,” while keeping the same pulse like a heartbeat going about its day. The decision to record live this time around, again with Ethan Johns behind the mixing board, keeps the tracks personal and the music pulsing. There is an intensity to the music like each member was staring the others dead in the eye during every track.
Brother Caleb, lead vocals, has a slurred way of singing that can be something to get past or get used to, but in the context of the songwriting it works. The mumbled lyrics are worth straining an ear to catch cut-throat images of balding eighteen-year-olds and letting your perfect nipples show.
The most appealing part of Aha Shake Heartbreak is how it holds up in its entirety. There’s no stand out single here, and even the softer numbers, “Milk” and “Day Old Blues,” carry the weight of the rest of the album. Each song keeps a similar thread with the others while bringing its own spin on the sound. For a band that was saddled with the titles of the new CCR and Skynyrd, it’s refreshing to see them not rest on the laurels of their influences, whether real or not, and find their own way.
Go ahead. Light up that doobie and sit back. Kings of Leon are here to set the mood with great porch listening music. Great vocals from Caleb Followill will remind you of those warm Pabsts you used to sneak a sip from while dad was talking to your Uncle Denny. It’s not quite retro since it’s tightly produced by Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams and son of legendary producer Glyn), but it is reminiscent of those mid 70s radio days when Neil Young and America were side-by-side with Skynyrd and everyone wore those beer can macramé hats.
Songs about chicks and California get me in a mind for summer and as long as there’s a war raging a little Novocaine doesn’t sound too bad.