When Old Head released a split with Outsideinside in 2013, I had the feeling that it might mark the beginning of something significant. Or, if not exactly “significant,” at least something genuinely cool.
That 12-inch came out at a time when the musical landscape was particularly over-saturated with derivative psych and interchangeable heavy rock. Old Head drew from the same well of influences as many of those bands — Can and Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath— but, on that split at least, managed to avoid stale hero worship.
In 2016, the value of rock ’n’ roll is still contested (see this week’s conversation with Patrick Stickles about whether or not modern rock is “the cultural equivalent of the Civil War reenactment”), but Old Head — whose self-titled full-length is out this week on Pittsburgh’s Omentum Records — is still refreshing.
With the Modey Lemon’s Phil Boyd and Jason Kirker on vocals/guitar and drums, respectively, as well as bassist Bill Wehman and guitarist Mike Layton, Old Head plays like a band with nothing to prove. “Recurring Dream” starts with a Sabbathy guitar/drum interchange, then shifts to loopy progressive psyche. Nirvana gets a low-key nod on “Agave Pt 2” and on the record’s best tracks, “Brain Bruise” and “Zama,” Kirker backs dank groves with a rapid heartbeat.
Full of almost-familiar riffs and melodies, this is hardly a reinvention of the genre (that would be an awful lot to ask). But unlike much of the psych revival heard in recent years, which can ring hollow under piles of fuzz and delay, Old Head is built on a foundation of good, old-fashioned pop songwriting. Old Head might not save rock ’n’ roll, but it doesn’t make me wish I was listening to something older and better. And that’s good enough for me.