John Dwyer has a lot of things going for him right now – Putrifiers II, a stellar new Thee Oh Sees album, and Velvet Underground & Friends, the most recent compilation from his own Castle Face Records featuring a host of the label’s local yokels of the psychedelic grunge variety. Velvet Underground & Friends is an album dedicated to the 45th anniversary of the seminal Velvet Underground & Nico, with banana cover art and all. The original deserves all the veneration it gets as a classic, and the Castle Face crew adds to the tributes brilliantly.
The bands selected for Velvet Underground & Friends are powered by similar musical engines — T. Rex glam, Stooges’ kinetic power, and Spector-in-a-garage recording technique, warmed by the retro fire of fuzz and reverb — all of which makes them, at least partially, the philosophical children of the Velvet Underground. But, because of this, some of the songs sound like flatter, demo-like iterations by the original band. When Burnt Ones’ lead singer launches into “Heroin,” you can’t help but to think of Lou Reed, but when you listen to Lou Reed sing “Heroin,” you can’t help but to think of junkies, a whole howling den of them.
There is plenty of soul to be had on Velvet Underground & Friends, a lot of which comes from energetic vocal delivery and experimentation that depart from gray mimicry. Blasted Canyon’s “Venus in Furs” sounds like the devil’s entrance theme for the Rapture, all cinder and smoke. Ty Segall is as raucously fun and inventive as ever in his stab at Nico’s “Femme Fatale.” A lot of the songs are prettier, more lush versions of the originals, and, on the whole, the album is quite good despite the misses. So if you’re craving Velvet Underground, this album will satisfy. (Castle Face)