Graded on a Curve: American Culture,
For My Animals

American Culture is a labyrinthine subject, with multiple tomes devoted to its countless nooks. But American Culture is also a band, and as musical acts go, the Denver-based outfit is quite multifaceted, their sound blending lo-fi, classique guitar pop, psychedelia, indie rock, and on their new album For My Animals, even a few stabs at dub. If this sounds like a decidedly late-20th century scenario, that’s not wrong, but American Culture manage to avoid falling under the sway of one particular influence while simultaneously sidestepping pastiche. Recorded pre-pandemic and released on LP, CD, and cassette by Happy Happy Birthday to Me as a gesture of necessity in an uncertain world, it’s out March 19.

Meat Puppets, Crass, The Grateful Dead, The Feelies: the four are cited in For My Animals’ PR as being amongst American Culture’s favorites. Those names don’t tidily equate into tangible influences, so the info isn’t as insightful as a newbie might expect regarding the nature of their sound, but in firmly establishing American Culture as a band made up of music fans, this tidbit of background does illuminate the territory covered across their third album.

However, the list of faves, wide-ranging to say the least, is shaped-up by bands that, from American Culture’s viewpoint, “do what they feel” rather than electing to travel unwaveringly along a single genre course. This only reinforces the breadth heard on For My Animals, which chronologically follows-up their 2015 debut Pure American Gum, though The Olympia Sessions 2013 came out on cassette later that same year.

Those first recordings, captured at K Records’ Dub Narcotic Studio and with J Mascis lending guitar to the closing track “Hamburger Stand,” constitute an effort that’s wholly worthy of its slightly delayed release. Pure American Gum does connect as a stronger showing, and without deviating much from a sturdy template informed by the melodic guitar motions of the 1960s, punk of the ’70s and ’80s, and the indie scene of the ’80s and ’90s.

That For My Animals does successfully branch out stylistically makes it their best full-length yet, though the developments are revealed incrementally, which is a plus. Opener “Silence” lands securely in the band’s previously established zone, noticeably stripped back from the general thrust of Pure American Gum but with a dollop of streetwalking cheetah swagger that suggests frontman Chris Adolf is wearing leather (jacket or pants, but probably not both) and a lengthy scarf or two.

There’s also a touch of psych in the tune, though the following title track dives deeper into pop as it combines DIY, lo-fi, jangle and fuzz in wise proportion and in just a pinch over two minutes. Then, in “No Peace,” a freaky-assed flute flutters up into the joint, with the cut embodying the stranger side of folky neo-psych and with a hint of DIY aura held over from “For My Animals.”

“Small Talk” is a tidy riff slab bringing Noo Yawk to mind, but “Pedals” hops the pond to deliver some pure guitar bombast in a Maximum R&B vein before setting down into psych-pop mode and with soloing that’s Mascis-esque (note: not by J this time). After that, “Lude Dub” ushers in the you know what (essentially a fragment at under a minute), and against the odds it succeeds, dishing some Augustus Pablo-like melodica, to boot.

As it played, I couldn’t help thinking of another genre-blending pop-inclined outfit with a penchant for dub, namely Saturday Looks Good to Me, though the shared affinity for drugged-up Jamaican reggae is distinctly employed by each outfit. From there, “Losing My Mind” dives wholeheartedly into ’80s indie pop, with the Anglophilia just as quickly offset by “I Like American Music” (retaining a theme from Pure American Gum, which featured the track “I Like American Culture”), and its mix of ’60s garage fuzz, wailing solos, and dubbed-out effects.

Given the title, “Drug Dealer’s House” is suitably baked, and with a few guitar interjections reminding me of first-album Velvets. But the unifying approach to pop songwriting is still there, and even extends into the keyboard-driven psych glide of “1972.” It and “Horoscopes” hit my ear a bit like Ohsees, but mellow and shambolic. Nice. And the animal-referencing lyrics of “Horoscopes” connect to the title cut here and even back to Pure American Gum’s “I Wanna Be Your Animal.”

Coming into the homestretch, “Here She Comes” filters the Velvets through indie pop, neo-psych and even the trim aesthetic of K Records, standing as one of For My Animals’ highlights. The exceedingly short “Lude Dub Pt. 2” wiggle-drags like a malfunctioning tape deck, serving as prelude into the considerably lengthier and Pablo-impacted “Dub for Eagles.”

For My Animals concludes with the ragged rocking of “Natural Violence,” its hazy fidelity a good fit for the band’s songwriting foundation, accenting the timeless qualities in their tunes with unpolished warmth and an air of the subterranean. Organic and intimate, it opens up further possibilities for American Culture’s sound.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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