Exploring Rock’s Outer Bounds

It sounds like a director’s cut of some of the best ’70s rock jams: purring organ that throbs in your temples, a singer who packs the gooseflesh-cultivating howl of a garage-rock Joe Cocker, long, slowly unfurling tunes that amble by like they were floating on some mild breeze, guitars fuzzier than the memories of a long night of whiskey and nicotine.

It’s called "Magnificent Fiend," and it’s the second record from shape-shifting San Francisco rockers Howlin Rain, and for the most part, it packs all the debauched grandeur that its title implies.

Equal parts wild-eyed psychedelia, horn-peppered funk, willowy riff rock and even a touch of righteous gospel, the album is defined by its breadth and zeal for exploring rock ‘n’ roll’s outer bounds.

"You don’t have to change, you don’t have to hold on to the past," Miller sings on the dusky "El Rey," and in many ways it feels like the band’s mission statement: Their songs are undoubtedly rooted in the warm, organic sounds of ’70s radio and a reluctance to embrace the more clinical recording technique of the present, but at the same time, the band builds upon the works of its predecessors rather than simply aping them — the punk energy of "Fiend" signals that this is no nostalgia trip.

Listening to the album with headphones on is like getting lost in some winding labyrinth and not really caring if you find your way out.

"It’s not a record full of three-minute-and-20-second, verse-chorus-verse-ending pop songs," Howlin Rain frontman Ethan Miller says flatly.

It’s a statement of the obvious, like a meteorologist noting that the sky is blue.

"I kind of initially set out trying to make sort of a folk record or something, and it didn’t really come out like that," he adds. "But I think it does have the pace of some of the more ethereal folk records that I was kind of thinking of."

That otherworldly vibe is enhanced by Miller’s literary, fantastical lyrics, which are very elemental in places — lots of wind, fire and nature metaphors — and inspired by the metaphysical uncertainty of Goethe’s "Faust," the grit of Jim Thompson’s hardboiled crime novels and the high-minded, utopian futurism of various science fiction novels.

A key influence on the disc is "Dancer at the End of Time," a searching, existential sci-fi epic by English author Michael Moorcock, the title of which Miller borrows for a song on the album.

"It really jived with me, especially with what was going on right then," explains Miller, who also plays with psych rockers Comets on Fire. "The war in Iraq was escalating when it was supposed to have been won and over for three years. Global warming was escalating. It just seemed like a real pressure point that we had come to. I like the way that Moorcock paints civilizations on the brink in that same complex manner, where they’re ugly and grotesque and greedy and self-indulgent, but at the same time, they’re beautiful and inspirational."

Considering his passion for the most far-out sounds of decades past, it should come as little surprise that Miller developed a fan in the wooly-bearded, Zen-master producer Rick Rubin, whom he met through a mutual friend.

Rubin later would sign Howlin Rain to his American Records imprint.

"He just e-mailed one day, which sounds a little funny, but is basically true," Miller says. "He’s not a giant fanfare kid of guy, so he just sent me an e-mail and was like, ‘Want to hang out?’ We just went out to his pad and BSed about music and stuff. We’re both total music lovers who could talk all day about our favorite punk bands or the Bee Gees and how great their early songs were. Just music geek stuff."

Like Rubin, Miller is a music lifer who speaks with the gusto of a kid who just got exactly what he wanted for Christmas.

And ultimately, he pretty much has.

"I wanted to be a musician and an artist for as long as I can remember," he says. "From as far back as I can remember, I started kind of reaching out and painting things and just being enamored by art and artists and wanting to do that in life. I couldn’t comprehend any other life.

"Of course, you get to be about 22 and get out of college and realize that it’s going to take a lot more than just wanting to be an artist to be an artist," he continues. "You realize that you’re going to be maybe working in a warehouse or something like that," he chuckles. "It’s a much more tangled path."

Kind of like his tunes.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

Entertainment
You Can Design With 3D Printers, Laser Cutters And Ceramics At Discovery Children's Museum
You Can Design With 3d Printers, Laser Cutters And Ceramics At Discovery Children's Museum (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Champagne vending machine at Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas
One of only a few in the country, the Moët & Chandon machine at the Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas is stocked with Imperial Rose for Valentine’s Day. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas Valentine’s Day desserts
Mio Ogasawara of Sweets Raku and Rebecca Bills of Gen3 Hospitality in Las Vegas create elaborate Valentine’s Day desserts. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
One Night For One Drop
Cirque du Soleil cast and crew donate their time and talent to this year's "One Night For One Drop" performance at the "O" Theatre in the Bellagio. The event takes place March 8, 2019, and benefits the One Drop organization. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Chinese New Year Parade
Chinese New Year parade takes place on Fremont Street. (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Manzo restaurant a key part of Eataly
Nicole Brisson, executive chef of Eataly, at Park MGM in Las Vegas, talks about new restaurant.
Designer Makes Festival-style Crowns
Designer at MAGIC trade show Makes Festival-style Crowns (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Excalibur Raises tent that will house "Fuerza Bruta" show
Workers at Excalibur raised a tent, which will be the home of "Fuerza Bruta," a temporary show that will run from March 7 to September 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roc Boots Make For Glittery Festival Wear
With 3-inch-tall chunky heels, cleated platforms, and sparkly glitter, you’ll want to wear these to dance the night away. Sally Cull, product and development for Roc Boots Australia, assures you that you can. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get A Custom-painted Jacket At Las Vegas Fashion Event
On the first of the two-night Commotion event, clothing brands connected with consumers, offering shopping, giveaways and customization opportunities. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Venetian Celebrates The "Year Of The Pig"
The Venetian hosted dancers to celebrate the Chinese New Year and "Year of the Pig." The dancers performed a traditional eye-dotting ceremony and lion dance. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Pepe the truffle-hunting dog
Jose Andres knows that quality black truffles can also be found in his native Spain. He’ll be sharing some with the world for a week, starting Monday. From Feb. 11-17, his Cosmopolitan restaurant Jaleo will be showcasing four special dishes made with Spanish truffles discovered by the truffle-hunting dogs of his friend Nacho Ramírez Monfort. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tony Abou-Ganim mixes drink at Libertine Social
Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist, helped change the cocktail culture in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masaharu Morimoto talks ramen in Las Vegas
Masaharu Morimoto talks about bringing a ramen restaurant to Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Morimoto considering full-time Las Vegas ramen spot
Morimoto talks about a full-time ramen spot in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to new home at Neon Museum Boneyard
The famous and newly restored, Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign is working it's way to a permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to Neon Museum Boneyard
The famous and newly restored, Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign has been moved to its permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to new Las Vegas home
The famous and newly restored Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign has moved to a permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas band Otherwise release song and video in tribute to slain cousin
Adrian and Ryan Patrick, brothers in the band Otherwise with drummer Brian Medeiros, talk about the release of a tribute song to their deceased cousin Ivan. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Las Vegas residency
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Vegas residency (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES final night showcases Drake at XS Nightclub
Drake performed for CES attendees and club-goers at XS Nightclub in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Happy Hour party at Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace
Conventioneers mingled during the Hardware Massive CES 2019 Happy Hour Bash at The Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2019 Has A Cordless Hair Dryer
CES Has A Cordless Hair Dryer (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Panel talks Impossible Burger 2.0
Panel talks Impossible Burger at CES during launch at Border Grill on Monday, Jan. 7. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Dream of AJ Montgomery
AJ Montgomery lost part of his leg in a vehicle accident but found his dream as a performer in “Le Reve.” (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kelly Clinton-Holmes of the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes chats with Kelly Clinton-Holmes, director of the Stirling Club's New Year's Eve entertainment.
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like