Album Review: Gouge Away – Deep Sage

4.5/5

It’s easy to be selective when looking back, but the 1990s really did produce some iconic music in the realms of alternative rock. The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Made Out of Babies, Nirvana—If you grew up loving these bands, they’ll always be swirling around in your heart. The smart money says Gouge Away grew up with these bands, as on Deep Sage (Deathwish Inc.), they evoke them all with some of the most compelling, visceral, cool and catchy, hardcore-infused, alternative rock you’re likely to hear in 2024. 

It’s been six years since Gouge Away released their last full-length, Burnt Sugar. If it hadn’t been for the global pandemic Deep Sage might have seen the light of day sooner, but we all know how COVID obliterated so many of the best laid plans. Despite an enforced hiatus the band had a bank of demos and when the members were once again able to play together, they set to work. 

Reportedly intent on making a record that sounds like friends playing in a room together, Deep Sage was largely recorded live and the immediacy and band chemistry is apparent the moment opener “Stuck In a Dream” comes thundering in. A charging bombardment of thumping drums, intestine-punching bass and revved up guitars, vocalist Christina Michelle could be the wildest sounding of all. As though channelling a tornado that sucked up Julie Christmas, Kurt Cobain and Kim Gordon, Michelle can soothe, she can beguile and she can shriek her lungs out like a banshee (sometimes all on one track).    

There is no shortage of punk rock energy and frenetic playing, but never at the expense of compelling, catchy songwriting. “Maybe Blue” and “Spaced Out” deploy danceable rock rhythms that Queens of the Stone Age would be proud of. And, throughout the record, whether the band are coming on with screaming waves of anxiety, or taking a more relaxed tone, there is zero opportunity for boredom.   

On tracks like “No Release” (featuring some of the most impressively frenetic playing by drummer Thomas Cantwell) and “The Sharpening” (gloriously ragged like Bleach-era Nirvana), the knives are out and the band is actively doing damage. 

Different levels of anxiety are presented throughout the record. Tracks like the stalking, Sonic Youth-meets-Slint drive of “Idealized” and “Overwatering” emanate a sense of something bad lurking round the corner. The band blasts and simmers (and does both with style), but also demonstrates an ability to hang back and settle into a shades-on, riding-in-the-back-seat cool on the track “A Welcome Change.” Album closer “Dallas” meanwhile leaves the final impression that for all the tension and rising panic things might just turn out somewhat ok.  

Six years is a long time to wait for a new album by any band. We can all be thankful that the universe was not strong enough to keep Gouge Away down, because Deep Sage is 100% worth the wait.

Buy Deep Sage here.

Photo credit: Ali Beaudette

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