On their sophomore release, ALICE, California garage-psych rockers Meatbodies channel the space-pop of Bowie and T. Rex. This is a pop album, albeit one warped by psychedelic synths and punishing, low-end-heavy fuzz. Chad Ubovich—Meatbodies mastermind and the touring bassist for Ty Segall side project Fuzz—is undeniably talented and his guitar playing is far and away the focal point of ALICE. But the heavy riffs and dizzying solos manage to stay out of the way enough to let Ubovich’s songwriting shine, each track progressing as expected just long enough to throw you off when he suddenly switches it up for a measure or two. It’s clear to see the influence Segall and Thee Oh Sees‘ Jon Dwyer have had on him and the band.
ALICE’s opening cut “The Burning Fields” doesn’t so much come out swinging as menacingly crawling from the shadows. Where Meatbodies’ “The Archer” kicked off with a droning synth that rapidly built toward the explosive opening verse of “Disorder,” “The Burning Fields” fades in with the sounds of chirping insects, interrupted by the deep humming fuzz of a single guitar, building and swelling until it collapses into cacophonous percussion. And the abrupt opening drum fill of the next track, “Kings,” is enough to jolt you out of the disorientation, settling into a Bowie-indebted mid-tempo jam.
As the record unfolds, Meatbodies wade deeper into the lysergic territory they teased on their self-titled LP, making it apparent why they describe ALICE as “dark pop” or “metal on molly.” Ubovich and crew abruptly lurch from melodic late-’60s psych-pop consonance to ’70s metal dissonance, sludgy and droning, embracing the frenetic volatility of their psychedelic nature.
That ALICE falls off a bit after multiple listens isn’t for a lack of ambitiousness, talent or originality, despite the pervasive idea that psych rock has become too homogenized. Meatbodies concede nothing to their peers, only themselves. After the dynamic gutter-glam strut of “Creature Feature,” it’s tough to get excited about the relatively stagnant “Touchless,” though the song has its merits, particularly the sputtering instrumental outro. Album closer “Fools Fold Their Hands”—its sparse verses building to a heavy, stadium-ready bridge—outshines the similarly structured “Count Your Fears” so immensely that the latter feels more like an album interlude than a standalone track.
Meatbodies’ successes on ALICE—a self-described “11-track concept album covering war, sex, politics, and religion”—are largely due to Ubovich’s confidence as a frontman and attention to detail as a songwriter. Each note played feels intentional, but not passionless. And each line is delivered with the omnipotent confidence of a narrator, minus the pretentiousness that overwhelms so many concept albums. While Meatbodies aren’t pioneering a new sound with ALICE, Ubovich & Co. have crafted an album that will satisfy even the most psych weary listener.
ALICE is out now via In The Red Records.