In the Spotify-centric world of 2018 music, you have to be something really special to stand out from the pack. Even the most talented artists of our time need to bend into all sorts of shapes to get noticed. The Living Strange take the simplest route: play kickass alternative rock and dress it up in one of the most WTF album covers of the year. It’s hard to know what to expect from a picture of naked Barbie pegging Ken, but when it sounds like a mix of Royal Blood, Death From Above, and Arctic Monkeys, we’ll stay interested.
It would be irresponsible to cover Gunk without mentioning Baby On Cement, the other album The Living Strange released back in April of this year. In a direct comparison contest, Gunk comes out far ahead. Baby On Cement plays around with Arcade Fire/St. Vincent multi-tracking, but it leans too far towards synth-rock which robs the band of their spontaneity. Gunk, on the other hand, is full of tasty hooks you’ll be humming for days, without the need for modern production trickery. It can be tempting to play with all the toys that ProTools and LogicPro have to offer, but sometimes the classic approach is best.
Take “Shadow,” Gunk’s main highlight, which contains the kind of central riff and peyote-trip lyrics that a band like Queens of the Stone Age would kill for. This is not a comparison made lightly; the track would fit in perfectly on QOTSA’s last album Villains. It’s this same garage-rock feeling that gives “Stumble,” “Position,” and especially “Losing It” a kick that Baby On Cement just couldn’t deliver. Special kudos to Elijah Sokolow for those bends at the start of “Mannequin.” It’s enough to make colours bloom before your eyes.
In a perfect world, The Living Strange could perfectly blend Gunk and Baby on Cement into one perfect album. But this would be a tall order that could backfire easily. It might seem like a dire world for new rock acts out there, but we really hope The Living Strange stick with their rock sound. It suits them, they do it well, and it could lead somewhere great. One big single is all that it would take.
Written by Max Morin
*edited by Kate Erickson