Utah rock trio Gutter Brains have tested the formula on their 25-minute roller-coaster Cosmic Bowlers Strike Back… AAAND… Sad trombone: despite its promising raw ingredients, this record falls a few pins short of a spare. Gutter Brains would probably be a lot of fun to see playing live at a bowling alley, but their sound didn’t translate well in the studio.
In bowling terms, Gutter Brains have left a split – the result of honest passion and meaningful effort tainted by poor planning and execution. Chaotic style shifts, muddy sound, imperfections in the rhythm section and sloppy guitar playing mar what would otherwise be a fun collection of songs. If the band was tighter, they’d be able to get away with this “live” feel… Alas, Cosmic Bowlers Strike Back would have benefitted from more polishing and better arrangements.
This record is, from start to finish, a smorgasbord of styles, a roller coaster of rock. Rockabilly, grunge, punk, faux reggae and metal, it’s all there. These style shifts happen so often and so suddenly that they sound random. You can’t bring the listener from the bayou to the bowling alley without explaining why or how, and expect to keep their attention. Unlike their heroes Black Sabbath, this band has failed to provide aesthetic or conceptual backing for their style, tempo and feel shifts.
A few examples: “6’8” Nate” takes a page straight from Black Sabbath’s book; so much so that it’s more musical caricature than original composition. “7-10 Split” explores surf/reggae territory , but the tempo is slow and the structure is repetitive. That song’s saving grace, a decent-sounding guitar outro, is hardly enough to compensate. “Donny the Surfing Bowler” draws heavily from Tony Iommi’s arsenal (again). Then we move into… Country-western?! No, wait; the banjo intro on “No Shoes in the Shire (ft. Parker Speirs)” actually gives way to an ear-punishing jazz-fusion instrumental where the “fusion” part is guitarist Tucker Sanders’ signature brand of exaggerated distortion.
When Gutter Brains aren’t borrowing riffs and structures from Black Sabbath, the Motörhead influence takes over. Tracks like “The Hammer” and “Speeding Death” are, again, more musical caricature than original composition.
Throughout the record, Sanders sticks to appropriately simple progressions. That feels exactly right for this type of music, but the execution often leaves something to be desired. For instance, “Donny the Surfing Bowler” and “Judy (Revisited)” feature solos that are marginal at best. It sounds like they ran out of time or budget to do extra takes for these solos. The drumming lacks precision, depth and impact. Bradyn Beus is clearly a decent drummer, but even the best players can benefit from a click track.
There is good intention here, and clever lyrical moments (“Judy… She’s the only girl that ain’t got cooties”). The whole bowling aesthetic is also cool, and I would definitely check them out live… But were I not writing this review, I would not have re-listened.
Written by Henri Brillon
*edited by Mike Milito