Album: Do The Beast
On April 14th, The Afghan Whigs will release Do to the Beast, their first album in over 15 years. Like many of their contemporaries, the Whigs were scooped up by a major label at a relatively young age after finding success on Sub Pop. Of note: they were the first non-Pacific Northwest act on the label. Through their spontaneous live covers of classic soul/R&B hits (and even a Frank Ocean song on recent tours), to a performance with Usher at 2013’s SXSW, fans of the group know to expect the unexpected. Still, it seems unlikely that anyone could anticipate a new record after such a long, dormant period – or, that it live up to the quality of the Whig’s much lauded back catalogue.
Frontman Greg Dulli describes Beast’s songs as “very visual…they come from the neighborhoods of my mind.” It’s easy to hear where Dulli is coming from, as most of these tracks function as self-contained epics, filled with surprises that give them filmic qualities. Take, for example, “Algiers”. Many of the signifiers of classic spaghetti western soundtracks are here: the castanets and steady, percussive guitar that open the song, to the Spectorian kick-kick-snare rhythm that keeps time. It’s jarring, but in a way that still makes sense within the context of the Whigs’ back catalogue; for every sharp left Dulli takes, he still draws us in with his supremely visceral lyrics.
While original guitarist Rick McCollum is absent from these recordings, there are even more surprises to be found in reading the liner notes. Keeping with last year’s Usher cameo, a slew of unexpected guests appear throughout the record. Most notably, neo-soul hero Van Hunt, and Mark McGuire, guitarist for Emeralds. Musically, these two could not exist further apart, but Dulli and co. have such a deep understanding of popular music that they could insert almost any performer into Beast and make it sound natural.
Recently, Dulli described the Whigs’ reunion as “a celebration, and the start of something new”. Do to the Beast is both of these things at once: a nod to the band’s critically acclaimed past, and a desire to explore new territories.