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Albums Of The Week: Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows | Hail To The Underground

The Aussie fuzz-rockers crank up classics from MBV, Bauhaus, the Buttholes & more.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Formed in 2016, Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows are a psychedelic fuzz-rock band from Melbourne who incorporate elements of blues, stoner rock, folk and doom metal into their distinctive sound. Much of their music follows the character of drug-addicted outlaw Jack Harlon, with songs that spin tales of desperation and survival in a fictitious western landscape.

In 2018, the band independently released their debut album Hymns, which was called “an exciting record that actually takes genuine creative risks and a psychedelic and spaced out journey packed full of inventive ideas and heavy riffs.” The album was highlighted as one of the best albums of 2018 and was subsequently re-released by independent tastemaker labels. Their followup The Magnetic Ridge was released in 2021, with one reviewer characterizing the massive LP as “enough to tickle your frontal lobe as much as it rattles your eardrums.”

In early 2021, as Melbourne began a series of flash pandemic lockdowns, Jack Harlon’s creative nexus Tim Coutts-Smith was experimenting with various pieces of new recording gear, and had, in his words, “begun messing around with some of my favourite old songs that I felt weren’t originally done justice by their recording quality.” This rabbit-hole deep-dive eventually led the band to bring their fans in on the project via social media, with an invitation to suggest “any old underground songs they’d like to hear Harlon-ified.”

Photo by Liam Semini.

As the songs developed, some strayed from their original sounds and structures, while others were so old that lyrics had to be guessed at or re-written without a reliable source for the original words. Most of the cuts were selected for their musical importance and meaning, others were fan-suggested, but eventually, they’d compiled an album’s worth of covers, some filtered so heavily through the spaced-out psychedelia of the band’s inimitable style as to be unrecognizable as anything but Jack Harlon songs.

The result is Hail To The Underground, a collection of renditions with the general throughline that none of the original performing artists are what one might call household names. As Coutts-Smith says, “so much of a musician’s life is carrying on without your life’s work ever being noticed. Some do, most don’t. These songs were so influential to me, but to the general public they’re just laying in a casket, buried in the unknown annals of the underground. Every artist creates for the love of it, so I really wanted to highlight the legacy of some of what those bands had done.”

And so, although Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows never set out to make their third album a tribute to other artists, they felt it would be crazy not to release the fuzz-drenched, genre-crossing love letter that is ‘Hail to the Underground.”


Photo by Liam Semini.
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