Howlin Rainâ€™s Magnificent Fiend oscillates between roaring, all-stops-out, Hammond organ-driven tracks and delicate electric piano passages, topped by harmonized, often dissonant guitar lines.
Toss in counter-melodic bass, sometimes quirky breaks, and extended instrumental sequences that are either ascending to the heavens or cascading softly, softly from the skies in sparkling showers of gunpowder and smoke.
All held together by Ethan Miller’s distinctive, crushed-velvet roar – redolent of British R&B giants Steve Marriott or Terry Reid â€“ which extends to a sweet, plaintive falsetto; and, as the album’s oxymoronic title might imply, the lyrical content.
Following their first US tour, original drummer, John Moloney returned to his role as Sun Burned Hand of the Man member and Miller spent the next year writing — and often rewriting â€“ the songs that comprise Magnificent Fiend.
“On our first album,” Miller explains, “I tried to make the songs have a simpler pop resonance than the avant-garde rock of Comets On Fire, where the music is much more complex and harder to dig through. So I pared it down to basic chords, but left room for a certain amount of controlled chaos.
Creating the richly textured, densely layered sounds on Magnificent Fiend required additional players: Miller, alongside bassist Ian Gradek (who has been with the band since itâ€™s inception), and guitarist Mike Jackson (who joined after the first album) have welcomed drummer, Garett Goddard, guitarist, Eli Eckert, and multi-instrumentalist Joel Robinow. (Eckert and Robinow had played together in Drunk Horse; Goddard was a fixture on the San Francisco music scene.)
Decamping to Prairie Sun Recording in the tiny Northern California city of Cotati, the sextet cut the album’s basic tracks live in the same converted chicken coop where Tom Waits recorded Bone Machine. Working with engineer Tim Green — who shares co-production credit with the band, having performed similar duties on Howlin Rain’s first album â€“ the process took all of seven days.
“The difference between Magnificent Fiend and our first record,” says Miller, “is primarily architectural: How high the castle got built and the intricacies of the workmanship.
Along the way Howlin Rain have managed to win the support of a one Mr Rick Rubin whoâ€™s American label is already involved with this release in the US (only). Rubin is set to undertake a heavy role in the next Howlin Rain album which will see the light of day some time down the road and be released on American/ Birdman worldwide.
Aside from Howlin Rain’s willingness to delve deep into the metaphorical sonic spice-rack for certain signature sounds that’d had all but vanished from the contemporary musical landscape — Vanilla Fudge, Henry Thomas, Wishbone Ash, Eddie Hazel, Procol Harum, Leslie West, Delaney & Bonnie, Atomic Rooster, Super Wolf, and Jim Ford, for openers — Magnificent Fiend is a study in contrasts that reflects the duality in humanity, in the form of the people who made the record, who inspired the record, and the rest of us.