It’s fucking hard being a music reviewer sometimes. The innate glamour of our calling, the endless influx of free music, the guest lists and accreditations, the industry bashes; all of this works to overshadow the true determination and bravery of the music writer. Your humble scribe toils in such gritty obstinacy, against such impossible odds, that his sacrifice should never be forgotten.
Yeah, hear me out, right.
How many times have you seen a review that kicks off with an extended moan at not being able to think up anything to say about a certain record? I bet you’ll have snuffled a thick string of snot up one nostril at the sight, and thought ill of the lack of imagination and will displayed by such a shiftless hack. Imagine the writer checking his word count as an idea finally occurs to him, and despite noticing he has wasted maybe 200 of them on rehearsing his own blank-minded stupor, he still does not bother to delete any of it. What a baleful idiot, you will think. What a maroon.
But you’re wrong to do that, and I can now use this album by Wo Fat to demonstrate why. Because when an album is this derivative, you really want to excoriate it. The problem is that it’s also excellent. It now falls to me, the rock critic, a literal Christ-like figure, to try and explain how that can possibly work, without resorting to lame metaphors about [band x] getting fondled in the dark by [band y], only they’re being observed via night-vision goggles by the singer from [band z]. In case you’re struggling here, what I’m saying is that I don’t really know what to say.
Thing is, I don’t think Wo Fat would remotely object to me calling them ‘derivative’; I actually think it’s more like a mission statement on their part. This record genuinely oozes with an assured sense of where it belongs. Analog Man is pretty much an unabashed love letter to their vintage recording equipment and methods, while Shake Em on Down is practically a note for note cover of the RL Burnside original, just run through a fuzzbox. In these two songs you can see exactly what this band is shooting for.
And that’s why it would be unfair to say they sound just like Fu Manchu, or Scissorfight, or Orange Goblin, or Earthless, or 35007, or even Clutch or The Bakerton Group, or any other grubby contemporary stoner/blues rock band, even though they totally fucking do. It would be unfair because those bands are all doing exactly the same thing as Wo Fat. Namely, making a pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta, and thoroughly sifting through those Muddy Waters (if you see what I have done there), panning for the last lost nuggets of proper blues, which form the foundations of all this stupid shit we like so much.
Not of This Earth and The Spheres Beyond, as well as the fantastic prog-heavy intro jam of the title track Psychodelonaut, demonstrate how well such creative tithing can work. The former pair of tracks form an extended 20-minute jam to close out the record, and combine grumbling bass grooves with insouciant bongo slaps and hypnotic blues guitar licks that pay barefaced homage to Cream and Hendrix. El Culto de la Avaricia sounds like it might have fallen off the last Orange Goblin album, much to that record’s detriment; The Slow Blade is like a reimagined Lazy from Deep Purple’s Machine Head; and Enter the Riffian (which could have easily been done by Fu Manchu) might have the dumbest lyrical hook I’ve ever heard in ‘and the riffian slays’, but I still fucking love it.
So what are our conclusions? That sometimes, you can successfully indulge in the rankest type of hypocritical chicanery, so long as you are willing to deconstruct it. That sometimes, being derivative is a good thing. And that sometimes, writing about music is the hardest thing a man will ever have to do, harder in many ways than fighting a fire or going to war.