Sumo Princess has no right being as good as it is. That is not to say that legendary Go-Go’s Bassist Abby Travis and prolific Queens of the Stone Age Drummer Gene Trautmann should not be expected to create great music, their decades-spanning careers already speak to that, but a two-person group simply should not be able to produce the sort of sounds heard off the L.A. duo’s forthcoming album, When An Electric Storm.
Set for release on Wednesday, May 8th through Educational Recordings, the album, which also features guest stars Mathias Schneeberger (Masters of Reality) and Tommy Greñas (Far-flung) playing the organ and synth, respectively, is an audio Picasso painting of sorts. Each track feels rooted in completely different subgenres, from Post-Punk to Stoner Rock to borderline Easy Listening. It is hard not to compare it to the recent Avengers: Endgame film; whereas that film was a hodgepodge of scenes crafted in response to over 20 previous movies, When An Electric Storm is Travis’ response to nearly 20 years as a studio artist. Like Endgame, the album’s genius becomes clearer with each subsequent listen.
Seven songs in total, “Kill the King” kicks the album off in poetic fashion. The bass buzzes with a sort of kinetic anticipation that no doubt reflects Travis’ and Trautmann’s own excitement with their new project. Travis promises “Ooh, you’re gonna love it” while Trautmann’s poppy percussion blends with her dirty bass, and the listener’s head cannot help but bob nearly the whole four minutes. This track strikes the incredibly rare balance between sounding like a professional mastering and feeling like a small-bar band.
Thereafter, “Crooked Plough” slows things down with a beautiful intro before warping into some sort of cross-country road trip-esque soundtrack, full of fun transitions and a Clutch-like psycho-billy melody. It’s here that the listener gets their first taste of Travis’ frustration as a former musician-for-hire, with lyrics almost certainly recalling her younger years of having to “[crash] on a shitty couch” and search for change under the cushions. This is while “New Goth” rounds out Side A of the record. At 6:30, it’s the longest track by nearly half a minute, and by far the most layered. A “Hey Mickey” like drumbeat puts you in a nostalgic trance before surrealistic vocals and a bass whose tone alternates between Fleetwood Mac and Silversun Pickups. In enough words, if there were not four more great tracks ahead, this would be a perfect album closer.
Which leads us to Side B, opening with the busy “Kali Ma.” It starts with a THX Logo-like swell that soon gives way to driving drumbeats and clashing cymbals before Travis distorts her voice to the point of sounding extraterrestrial. In the few passages where her voice sounds its normal earthly self, she repeatedly cries out “Holy war!” This is followed by “You Will Rise” which feels so out of place, and yet simultaneously so perfect, for this album. It is spacey and melancholic, with vocals reminiscent of ’80s synth band Berlin and an inspirational message that is always nice to hear.
“Angel Dust” is yet again a completely different beast than it’s contemporaries. For one, it’s the only track sans vocals. It’s also the only track that can be described as “eerie,” full of echoes, reverbs, and a suspicious melody that would fit perfectly in a Twin Peaks soundtrack. It’s at this point in the album that the band’s pure talent shines through and the listener can finally begin appreciating how much is being created with so little. While repeating a lot of the same measures over and over, each iteration offers just enough variance that it feels fresh the whole five and-a-half minutes.
Interestingly enough, the closer, “Click Bait,” is also the album’s first single, and it makes sense why; it has by far the most attitude and Punk feel to it. The stutter-stops and time signature changes keep you stopping then going, and some catchy lyrics are sung with Serj Tankian-esque gusto, making for a hell of a finale.
Overall, while there is a huge variety in the categorization of these songs, the compositions themselves are far less eclectic. Somehow, every song is a wall of sound, full of rich nuances and an ever-changing mood. Yes, it takes a few listens to truly appreciate everything that is going on, but it is so, so worth it. If Trautmann can add just a little more zest to his beats and Travis can find some much-deserved self-assurance, Sumo Princess’ second outing could reach masterpiece status. As for When An Electric Storm, Cryptic Rock gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.