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The Wild Ride of Movie Club’s “Black Flamingo”—Review by Katie Darby Mullins

From the first distorted chords of “Phantasm,” Movie Club reveals a record that is haunted— not necessarily with malevolence, but with exuberance, rage, anxiety, and high romance, full of sweeping cinematic moments and well-built, structured rock monuments. I have never had the pleasure of writing that about a band whose record was purely instrumental, but Black Flamingo is stretching the boundaries of what that means: there are certainly moments where it feels like the guitar is screaming or the strings are weeping. Between the structure and the band’s clear understanding of where rock ‘n’ roll is right now, they’ve made a record that fits in as comfortably with the White Stripes or the Black Keys as it does more expansive cinematic bands like Zebra 7 or even Ivy— without giving up a claim to influences like Metallica and Foo Fighters.

Black Flamingo is an excellent record, which isn’t surprising if you look at the personnel: drummer Jessamyn Violet and guitarist Vince Cuneo have been releasing music as Movie Club since 2018.  The black flamingo is a creature so rare it is practically mythical, and a perfect metaphor for the dark dreamscape the band has been honing for two years. A deep read into the liner notes shows that they are also working with bassist Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie’s ultimate masterpiece Blackstar), keyboardist Rami Jaffee (Foo Fighters, The Wallflowers), and violinist Jessy Greene (P!NK). This variation in musicians has created a record that, despite its cohesion and flow, also depends on movement and the ability to change pace, sometimes even within a song. For example, “Starcatcher” starts out like some kind of synthed-out Rolling Stones song before the percussion comes in and kicks even more tension into the track. Before long, a new guitar track is layered over the languid notes that originally orient you as a listener, and it feels like a train off the tracks. As it speeds up (and it does speed up), it feels almost like a weird drug trip: the momentum goes and goes and then slows. The song speeds up and then as it crashes, slows so much it’s almost disconcerting, like the moment after the rollercoaster has stopped and you’re regaining land legs.

Make no mistake, the guitar and percussion on this record are in conversation throughout the record, and it’s flawless: songs like “Bermuda Rainbow” show off a stuttering drum up against a more decisive guitar, but they both seem to be trying to capture some kind of loveliness that in, if this were traditional rock, we’d be calling the “verses,” that the chorus cannot reconcile. The frantic nature of songs like “Minehunter” is underscored by knowing when the cut the music entirely: the guitar riff here wouldn’t be out of place on a Rage Against the Machine record.

There are also moments of daydream amidst the darkness, though: “Sun Dragon” seems to drift into being, a bit like a dandelion being slowly blown across a playground. Sometimes it lands in the field, sometimes on the blacktop, but it’s a lovely trip. When Violet changes the direction of the percussion for the ‘chorus,’ it feels like a recognition of a journey, not a divergence from it, which is impressive, because the guitar sounds, briefly, as though it were a Johnny Greenwood composition. That song feeds into “Rainshadow” (feat. Rami Jaffee and Jessy Greene), and the way the violin doubles and then splits from the guitar creates a feeling of being torn in two different directions, scattered much like “Sun Dragon,” but more intense and painful.

Songs like “Bioluminescence” feel like they would be at home on a Raconteurs record; there is definitely some Jack White influence in terms of the way the guitars are layered, but there’s the same occasional bright pop sensibility that Brendan Benson brings to that band, as well. The shimmering guitar effects, though they don’t sink into the tremolo-drenched sound we’ve come to associate with drugged out psychedelia, do create the same effect that songs like Local H’s “Bound to the Floor” does: one of a frustration bursting through the chords.

The single, “Black Flamingo,” initially plods as though it is walking you through an old Victorian manor house. Occasionally, you might look into a room and see something that gets your heart beating faster; occasionally, you may drift into visions of what the house looked like in its prime. But because of the strings and long notes pulled like taffy between heavy guitar overlays, it manages to keep the audience feeling like an observer, not necessarily a part of the scene. It’s an incredible trick, especially on a record called Black Flamingo, Movie Club has managed to use their music in a way that stops and starts, that chokes and sputters, that soars and crashes, and that doesn’t allow you to direct the flow of the record at all. You have to absorb it, let it wash over you: you are the audience, and Black Flamingo keeps you there, focusing the lens on whatever part of the tour they want you to see. It’s an impressive story, but especially given the restriction of not being able to convey their story in words. To say this is a darkly cinematic record would be true, but it would be an understatement: Black Flamingo is an excellent rock ‘n’ roll record, and is definitely worth experiencing.

Katie Darby Mullins teaches creative writing at the University of Evansville and her poetry book, Neuro, Typical, is slated for a November 2020 release. In addition to being nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net multiple times and being the associate editor of metrical poetry journal Measure, she’s been in journals like Barrelhouse, The Rumpus, Iron Horse, Harpur Palate, Prime Number, Big Lucks, and Pithead Chapel. She formerly ran Katie Darby Recommends and she helped found and is the Executive Writer for the Underwater Sunshine Fest.