The Out Crowd: Then I Saw The Holy City (The Kora Records, 2004)

by Brent

The Out Crowd Then I Saw The Holy CityCo-founder of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Matt Hollywood, has returned with his band, The Out Crowd.  Comprised of Elliott Barnes, Dave “Boston” Hicks, Sarah Jane, and Stuart Valentine (ex-Richmond Fontaine) the band completed their album, Then I Saw The Holy City, in Portland, OR with producer/mixer Brian Coates (Dandy Warhols).  A collection of songs showcasing talent that made Hollywood a staple of the BJM for years, songs that are equally elevated by the cast of The Out Crowd.  The album steals the low lit bar din of Portland as well as the raucous all night shows of their hometown.

Sometimes, a CD comes out of left field that simply boggles the mind while delighting at the same time. The Out Crowd’s dense and psychedelic Then I Saw The Holy City easily fits into this category for me. With references to classic rock, psychedelia, indie-rock, Brit-rock, indie-pop, and other strains of music, Then I Saw The Holy City is a complex and dense work that somehow combines accessible songs with over-the-top production. All of this music delivered with a true sense of swagger, rendering Then I Saw The Holy City as one of the coolest recordings I’ve ever heard.

Fronted by Matt Hollywood one of the original members of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Out Crowd plays a fun brand of pseudo-retro rock that is as hard to categorize as it is easy to listen to. Then I Saw The Holy City contains 14 tracks, clocking out at over 72 minutes, and was recorded with producer/mixer Brian Coates (Dandy Warhols). Beyond this basic information, all we can really say is that Then I Saw The Holy City kicks butt all over the place, but such a simplistic description does not give this CD its justice.

Though it’s hard to really describe, we’ll give it a whirl here. The campy “Little Elf” starts off Then I Saw The Holy City, complete with faux-British-accent-spoken-word introduction during the song’s opening seconds. The music kicks in, revealing a passion for ‘60’s arrangements, as distant trumpets, bouncy basslines, and tambourine-infused drumming fill the song. The vocals of Matt Hollywood sound druggy, unpolished and raw, yet bring a level of charm, attitude, and even legitimacy.

The darker “Be Good” is a treat for the ears, as fuzzy guitar sounds share the stage with frantically-strummed acoustic guitars, liquid electric leads, and an overall psychedelic vibe. The busy drums and tense lead vocals give the song a feeling of trepidation.  “Concentrate” combines the strengths of the first two songs, for a campy drum beat belies the song’s darker undertones as both distorted and warbled guitar lines meander throughout the whole of the song. The gentle 60’s-sounding ballad “Drugsick” features female-background vocals and a classic 60’s pop melody structure, and builds to a 2000’s rock crescendo complete with distorted guitars towards the end of the song. “Your Highness” takes an almost folk-rock approach to The Out Crowd’s music, as strummed acoustic guitars take centre stage along with the tight rhythm section. The guitar solo on “Your Highness” could be taken from an early Beatles recording, while the overall vibe of the song is somewhat reminiscent of The Doors. As on the whole of Then I Saw The Holy City, the recording ethos of “Your Highness” is lo-fi, yet somehow the band is able to combine this rawer approach to recording music with grandly orchestrated layers of music. “If You’re Cool” is a hypnotizing blend of almost dream-rock elements (with subtle drones and other psychedelic sounds ushering in the beginning of the song) with a late 60’s-early 70’s Brit-folk-rock vibe. The song shares more than sound with the bands of yesteryear, as lyrically the song reflects themes reminiscent of a by-gone era in rock and roll history. Hollywood croons: “If you’re cool with me getting high, getting low, you know I’m cool with you”, harkening back to a time when rock and roll was about music, drugs, and sex. This remarkable song ends with a brief distorted guitar part that fizzles out before it even has a chance to really surface…a very cool musical moment.

“Instant Dharma” is a brief instrumental interlude, but what the song lacks in brevity it more than makes up for in its daydream-like guitar playing. “All I Want” is another heartbreaking 60’s influenced ballad that languidly paces itself to the singer’s broken heart. The 9 minute long “Sports” is majestic sounding with its underlying guitar drone and hazy acoustic guitar parts. The song builds and builds, while never quite exploding into the cathartic moment that it seems to beg for. This is not a criticism, as “Sports” keeps the listener in a state of tension throughout the entire 9 minutes. A sweet girl voice take over the lead vocals for the sparse “Big Brother”, while the band returns to its full arrangements for “Bring Out Yer Dead”. A wall of electric distorted guitars has their way with “Gets in the Way”, as they add a thick layer of syrupy sound to an otherwise accessible and catchy pop song. Then I Saw The Holy City appropriately and perfectly concludes with two long, stately. “Treaty Breaker” emerges after several minutes of tribal drumming to become a druggy song with subtle layers of sound and a raw yet understated vocal performance from Hollywood.

Finally, the mellow “Eyes of Blue” features the vocals of Little Sue a guest female vocalist that sounds like she was ripped straight from a rustic bar in the ‘60’s. The song is a slow, methodical one that smartly places Little Sue’s quaint vocals at the forefront. Her vocals are contrasted momentarily, as Hollywood briefly takes over the vocals in a heart-wrenching vocal performance, as the song’s themes of love, longing, and beauty touch the listener. Even in the midst of all the swagger of Then I Saw The Holy City, The Out Crowd is able, in these last two songs, to hit the listener with human emotion in a powerful way, while still delighting with the sonic tricks (note the awesome backwards guitar solo on “Eyes of Blue” that pervaded through the whole CD.

In the end, words are woefully inadequate to describe this outstanding collection of songs. One would think that relying so heavily on past influences would give Then I Saw The Holy City a tired and rehashed feel, but the exact opposite is true. By expertly combining great sounds from the history of rock with a fresh new perspective, The Out Crowd has created an amazing CD of sonic possibilities only hinted at in the past. A truly original recording that I highly recommend.

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