There's an epidemic ravaging the streets of Asheville. Consumption leads to reckless abandon, an insatiable hunger for psychedelic retro-pop, uncontrollable shaking and an accelerated heart rate. Local residents are advised to exercise caution: The Critters are highly addictive, and the only respite from Crittermania is more Critters.
Luckily, afflicted citizens can now ease withdrawal in the comfort of their own homes. The Critters finally have a record.
It's been a landmark year for the band. In addition to recording, the Critters played Bele Chere and The Orange Peel (along with dozens of other local shows), filmed a session for Moog's AHA AVL series, landed a spot in the Xpress' Best of WNC readers’ poll and cemented a well-deserved reputation as one of Asheville's most unpredictable live acts.
Visions of Light, the band's debut 7", may be short (clocking in at just under 12 minutes), but it's packed with the raucous energy and jangly pop sensibility that defines the band's often contradictory sound.
True to the Critters' kinetic performances, the album opens with a ferociously catchy riff and bouncy 4/4 drum line that pairs the raw aggression and gravelly vocals of The Stooges' "Search and Destroy" with the simplicity of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Drummer Josh Martier's songwriting is gritty and infectious; his song sinks like an anchor in the subconscious. But beyond that, the Critters is a true collaboration. All four musicians write, sing and swap instruments.
"Goodbye Over Again" mellows the pace into a breezy ballad, showcasing Harry Harrison's sunny psych-rock, complete with a Doo-wop melody and backing harmonies fit for an early-'60s prom. Even the choppy indie-pop of Tom Peters' "Soft Birdhouses," the most modern-sounding track, fits comfortably in The Critters’ throwback sound. The EP closes as rowdy as it begins, with the grisly blues, howling solos and chest-caving toms of "Pappy," from Martier and guitarist Jesse Meyers.
There are clear influences at play on Visions of Light, but the band is heavy on all the right parts of them, and the combined effect is irresistible. It's a surprisingly inclusive peek at The Critters broad palette — touching on garage, punk, early rock 'n' roll, psychedelia, blues and even modern indie-pop. Nonetheless, Martier says the band is anxious to follow with a full album, if only to put the older material to rest.
"It's really hard to move on to new stuff with all this other shit kind of lingering," he admits. "That's definitely one of my goals, to try to get it somewhere, recorded. I think it's taken a long time for us to release something legitimately, but I feel like we're going to follow it up really quickly with one or two other things, like a full length. We've been in the studio the past few months, and we have 15 songs recorded."
Until then, the band will continue belting out the full catalog at its frantic live shows. Peters and Martier agree that the over-animated Harrison, who flails wildly around the stage, deserves credit for much of the energy.
“I feel like if Harry notices people not having a good time, he goes insane and he's willing to do absolutely anything," Peters says, as Martier laughs in agreement.
But Harrison isn't the only one willing to go to extremes for the sake of a good show. Just ask management at The Orange Peel. In August, during a local showcase, Martier made an indecent appearance after an attempt to utilize the full extent of the venue's amenities. In the middle of a shower backstage, he was abruptly called to begin the set.
"So I just put on a towel and went out," he says matter-of-factly. "It wasn't premeditated. But after like a second of the song, the towel fell off …"
The nudity went mostly unnoticed. But the sound man, the rest of the band and select members of the audience were all treated to a full-frontal peep show.
Management, predictably, was not amused. "Apparently there was some guy who was ready to tackle me with a towel or a blanket or something because they were freaking out," Martier says. "I was like, 'I'm sorry man.' But I've gotta say, that's the most comfortable you can be playing drums."
If the thought of male nudity makes you blush, don't be discouraged. Prior to its release party at The Get Down, the Critters will perform a toned-down, acoustic set at Harvest Records, almost certainly guaranteed not to include nudity. Just don't be confused if the Kiss Country van is parked outside. Peters has mounted a half-serious campaign online calling for the local country station to broadcast live from the performance.
"I didn't want to do yet-another Facebook event for the in-store, so I was like, this can be a funny way to do it," explains Peters. "But also, what if they come. … I think I'm going to get something together and formally email them. Because when you're out somewhere and you see the Kiss Country bus or van outside of, like, Wild Wings, you know something's going down. This is an event."
— Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: The Critters, with Zombie Queen and The Treatment
where: The Get Down
when: Saturday, March 31 (9 p.m.)