(Listen while you read!)
"You must be born / You must be born / You must be born, again"
The lyric featured above serves as a fitting opening line to the new retrospective compilation from Bloomington psych rockers Apache Dropout. Released this week on Family Vineyard Records, Magnetic Heads was culled from early material that the band recorded in 2008, some of which was released on cassette via Magnetic South Recordings at the time. It's a far cry from the band's nightmarish, candy-coated take on 1960s novelty pop - to borrow a few descriptors from fellow MFT contributor Jon Rogers - that dominated their latest LP Bubblegum Graveyard.
The material featured on Magnetic Heads is most accurately described as old school cowboy songs as seen through the eyes of a psychedelic-enthused madman with the benefit of punk rock as a reference point. The songs are rough, sloppy, and misguided at times, but this is modern-day Americana at its core. Magnetic Heads is the sound of an informed listener processing Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music and repurposing the material through his own worldview. It's the same question with which every generation of musicians is forced to grapple: where does my voice fit within the larger landscape of contemporary American music?
The best then vs. now comparison on the album is "I'm So Glad," a track that made it to Apache Dropout's self-titled, debut LP. The Magnetic Heads version is a bare bones approach to the jangly guitar and bass-driven romp that served as the kick off to the band's debut. Here, the track is stripped of its electric psychedelia and Sonny's vocals sound distant, as if shouted a few feet away from a drum mic. This version has the feel and production quality of a demo, but the core march-like rhythm of the track is in place, and it's easy to see how the band whittled it down to the finished product.
Oddly enough, the track from Magnetic Heads that sounds the most like the Apache Dropout that we've come to know and love is a cover song. The band rolls through a distortion-infused rendition of Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee." It's a straightforward rocker with Sonny displaying a confident swagger on vocals, albeit without the signature howls that he emits like an involuntary muscle spasm at the band's live shows.
My favorite track is probably the opener "Don't Trust Banks" that features the lyric at the top of this post. It's a meditative song built around a wash of gentle distortion on guitar and long, bended notes on fiddle. It lacks the aggression and balls-out confidence of Apache Dropout's later material, but Sonny sets the foundation for the rebellious, anarchist outlook that continues to run through singles like "Teenager" and the similarly-titled "Robbin' The Banks." "Don't Trust Banks" ebbs and flows in a hypnotic dirge that works in contrast to the more punk-heavy material that drove Bubblegum Graveyard.
All-in-all, Magnetic Heads serves as an interesting look back at a band that has made huge strides in a few short years. As someone who missed out on those initial cassette releases, I'm eternally grateful that this material has been preserved on wax. Magnetic Heads may fall short of the cohesive sound of Bubblegum Graveyard, but it's a satisfying glimpse into the creative space that spawned one of my favorite Indiana bands from the past few years.