Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Davie Allan & The Arrows—
Retrophonic 5

Released 2018 on Arrow Dynamic
The Seth Man, May 2019ce
“Retrophonic 5” will not disappoint those with a predisposition for the aural climes of guitar instrumentals, garage punk, surf and/or biker soundtracks because Davie Allan is not only the long-time master of them all, but he’s back with a vengeance. In characteristic understatement, he says as much in the liners: “After abandoning my roots and not writing any new tunes for three years, I had a musical epiphany.”

Judging from the sonic evidence, said epiphany would seem to indicate a complete overhaul of direction that caused him to distill every class move from six decades of six string shredding into an inspired series of musical rampages that range from blazing attacks, fuzz controlled air bursts, quiet interludes to full ahead rock’n’roll instrumentals begging to be tied to the rear of a vehicle as the soundtrack of bombing it down an open road at speeds where objects in mirror are never closer than they appear -- because they’re already in the process of disappearing. Demonstration by a professional driver on closed course. Please do not attempt. Drive or operate heavy machinery while listening to this album at your own risk AND...Play this album loud as hell.

After the 2000 release of “Live Run,” the outstanding live album that caught Davie Allan & The Arrows as a blazing instro band unlike any other, a series of studio albums cascaded forward and with varying results: Several studio records, two consecutive Christmas albums, a string of download only releases and four preceding titles in the “Retrophonic” series were all served up with production and arrangements that at times ran counter to Allan’s incomparable guitar playing as they either featured extraneous outside instrumentation, vocal accompaniment, or were just too damn clean. Despite this, Allan’s guitar work was always note perfect -- balancing his melodic and grunge aspects in great serpentine style but something was missing: oftentimes the guitar wasn’t pushed into overdrive, or it didn’t swamp everything in its wake as it could (as it should, dammit) but instead, wound up playing a near reconciliatory role to the backing arrangements which chipped away at the energy, friction, and frenetic soul that has been at the heart of his playing ever since his very first record, “War Path,” way back in 1963.

Fortunately, this energy has been reclaimed and now shoots up through the surface and rages throughout “Retrophonic 5” with a tsunami of raw and graceful moves where Allan’s guitar is now centre stage and spends the majority of time there just burning up and down throughout a set of fantastic instrumentals...And when it isn’t, it’s in stately repose during a pair of closing ballads. The wild momentum of the arrangements on “Retrophonic 5” are peerless while Allan’s guitar playing hits new plateaus in terms of skill and attack that are so effortless he just dances around -- and oftentimes, stomps into -- the arrangements as everything falls together in an embellished dance of gentle notes, roaring timbres, and forward progression. What others would deem an unhealthy time spent in the red, I’d call ‘mastery’ but either way, it’s pure lightning in a bottle and a phenomenal display of electric guitar in the hands of the only human alive with the brains, heart, hands and motor skills who can make it sound in equal part raw and alive, fast and furious, composed and reckless all at once.

The album is near entirely comprised of highlights, kicking off with “Meltdown In Sector 5” that busts down the door with searing immediacy so great that it spills over directly into the following track, “Barhop.” The first couple of times I heard it, I thought it was all a single song as it all ran together with only a moment’s gap between them. The tempo shifts way down into the slow and strutting paces of the mysterious “Swing It” as well as the assaultive “Guitar Central,” where slow but steady waves of overdubbed fuzztone guitar mess your mind up forever. The understated “Blue Dawn” is majestic in its slow tempo build and unfurling guitar tones but the crowning jewel of this album is by far “Audiosyncrasy.” A jagged time lapse and a dumpster fire deluxe, it’s also crazy and one of the best things Allan has recorded since 1967’s “Cycle-Delic Sounds Of” and THAT is a perfect album. It doesn’t get better than this in instrumental Rock, period. Allan really stretches out beyond his boundaries and yet, simultaneously remains distinct and intact. We’d only be so lucky if he did an entire album where ALL the tunes made him say (as Allan himself noted in the liners) “Huh? What was I thinking?”

Yeah, it’s that stunning, and the psychic undertow of this track is so great that it laps up into a cover of “Topsy.”1 A 1958 drum-based instrumental by jazz drummer Cozy Cole, in Allan’s hands it turns into something else entirely as dark, fuzzed-out guitar tones hover, dive bomb, and cast shadows over and thru the rhythm that only ceases with its 1960s American radio fade.

“The Missing Link” is Allan’s tribute to Link Wray as repurposed fragments of “Rumble” and “Ace of Spades” get shocked into touch. Six and a half minutes grinding, garage greatness, it’s a dynamic tour de force whenever performed live, and the version here is even sicker than the version that first appeared on his 1994 release, “Loud, Loose And Savage.” The exposition veers into a segment that sounds like Allan slowly pushing his Fender Jazzmaster into a wood chipper while still plugged into overloaded amps as mucho wah-wah splits the guitar signal into something more approaching the soundtrack of a flat of sheet metal sheared by an impaired operator. Luckily, Allan knows what he’s doing, so he’s giving all sides hell and the explosive range is increasing with each passing moment as spark fly and metal fatigue increases, as though the walls of time and sound are buckling under the strain of being nailed so squarely.

Reinvigorated from its previous appearance on Allan’s “Restless In L.A.” album, “The Stranger” here holds the same dark, moody quietude as “Driftwood” by The Wailers or “Greensleeves” by The Atlantics in terms of the same emotional pull in the air as the sun begins slipping behind the Pacific down on the beach, with melancholy and possibly: the slightest hint of danger in the air. After finishing whistling down the wind, “Night Crawler” enters as the final track. Depending on your mood, you can either end the album here or after the previous track. It doesn’t matter because both summarise this feverish album’s end on far breezier terms as they close a spectacular album, but not the fervent hope that he never strays from his roots again.

  1. During the sessions for Davie Allan & The Arrows’ debut album, “Apache ’65,” a cover with the additional annual suffix, “Topsy ’65” was recorded, with the title first employed by Hal Blaine on his 1965 (natch) album, “Drums! Drums! À Go Go.”