I love it when music teaches you something. ISIS (the band) educated about me characters from Don Quixote, Asgeir taught me a few Icelandic words, and Howl at the Moon has just given me some horticultural facts: there is indeed a species of plant called the Russian Thistle.
Environmental disaster is upon us, oh lord, and Howl at the Moon prick our nonchalant, hedonistic bubble with the brooding Russian Thistle.
Alright, okay, that’s a pretty rubbish intro. In my defense, I find them really hard. I’ve done my job though, see, because Howl at the Moon has a new track called Russian Thistle, and guess what: it’s premiering today!
Get bloody excited, I tells ya, because this one’s a peach, a yorker, a good ‘un, a wrong ‘un, a belter, the shit, the bomb, true blue, special, once-in-a-generation. Howl at the Moon are from Melbourne, and have been trundling around that place for quite a while, but they’ve got a new album (their second after 2012’s Squalls) in the works and this is the first lick of that as-yet-untitled impending masterpiece.
Russian Thistle was crafted with the Dust Bowl period of American history in mind, when a lack of ecological and agricultural knowledge led to unintentionally destructive farming practices which, long story short, led to a great swathe of much-needed topsoil (and with it, vegetation) being swept up by winds and drought. So, being the brainiacs you are, you’ve probably already made the link between thistles, desolation and wind, and figured out that the title of the song is referring to tumbleweeds! (If you’re truly brainy, you would have then made the metaphorical connection to climate change, the next environmental apocalypse we have on our hands).
So, rather appropriately, Russian Thistle, is really, really, really moody. The song at all times is deep, dark, and long, as it quite figuratively drags every ring, bang and strum out. Nothing is ever hurried in this track. The verse plods like an elephant, yet tiptoes like a mouse, careful not to get anyone’s hopes up.
When the choruses or any other hint of excitement and second gear appear, the band launches – lurches – into a section that is somehow slower and more methodically drawn out than the previous. For example, the chorus, which features a false dawn when vocalist Katie Scott raises her register for the first time, the guitars drag and drop, in manner not much unlike the chorus of Queens of the Stone Age‘s Someone’s in the Wolf*. The chorus then progresses (I hesitate to use that word) into a fatalistic catch of isolated cymbals, as Scott sings and repeats over the top “Blood brothers joined by blood”.
The lyrics, I should say, stay true to the song’s direction. Talk of unending clouds, black skies, a missing sun, and sacrifice (not the Aztec kind, mind), piles on the misery and when mixed with instrumentation really just works toward building the pyramid to apocalypse that this band hopes to construct. Look at the single’s cover for god’s sake – it’s an emaciated, dead lamb, photographed in black and white.
When the four-and-a-half minute odyssey is over, what we’re left is not much, except for that stinging blanket of bleakness and emotional nakedness that you feel when you finish any season of The Wire. It’s like you’ve been putting your fist under your chin for so long and someone’s stolen the clothes you’ve been wearing.
Anyway, on that bummer of a note (quite appropriate for a Monday morning), I’ll leave you to it. You can check out Russian Thistle at numerous points around this piece, and you can find links to their other stuff below. A video for Russian Thistle is also in the works, so keep a bulbous eye out for that one. The single also comes out on Monday 25 May, so also expect to see some dates in support to be announced. Either way, enjoy it, but don’t get too sad!
*And everything comes full circle, because Howl at the Moon have supported regular QOTSA contributor Mark Lanegan on his Australian travels.