The subtext of every favorable rock album review in 2020 is a wistful “Man, I bet this album would sound great live right now…,” but with Godcaster, the sentiment bears stating outright: Man, I bet this album would be incredibly fun live. In fact, I know as much. Godcaster, an eccentric weirdo-punk five-piece, has spent several years honing their raucous performances in the Philadelphia DIY scene, opening for bands like Of Montreal and Guerilla Toss, whose high-octane outbursts are a likely influence on this debut. When you watch pre-pandemic clips of the band playing, you can see them compress their energy into a semicircle, shrieking in unison and raising their fists and tambourines in the air, as though engaged in some strange fertility ritual.
Long Haired Locusts, the band’s recent album, condenses that freaky energy into 14 art-punk vignettes about Stevie Wonder, satanic snakes, a hallucinatory Virgin Mary, and a perilous journey to the deepest known spot of the ocean. It’s Godcaster’s first album, although the band’s prehistory dates back at least 15 years: The earliest iteration of the band formed when lead singer/guitarist Judson Kolk and bassist Bruce Ebersole were, respectively, eight and 11. Within a few years, the young musicians were recruiting school friends to participate in their Beach Boys-inspired racket. “We had a gang of about 12 banging on things and providing horns acquired through 8th grade music classes,” Kolk said in a recent interview with Melted Magazine. “At one point a propane tank was used as a kick drum.”
The band’s lineup has evolved considerably since then, arriving at its current form in 2017. But Long Haired Locusts retains that sense of communal wonder and chaotic glee. The briefest tracks are often the most packed with ideas. In less than two minutes, “Dirtbike Bike (Vaccine Girl)” shifts from a flute-driven staccato-funk groove to a comically sweet acoustic ode to a mysterious entity known as “vaccine girl.” (Oddly, the song was written well before vaccine distribution became a daily conversation topic.) “Sexy Heffer” lasts two minutes and contains just two words (the titular phrase), morphing from an agitated call-and-response vamp to a breakdown so outrageous you can actually hear one of the musicians howling with laughter.
Godcaster’s colorful imagination, evidenced by Kolk’s garish cover artwork and by the album’s steady supply of religious imagery, is key to the album’s appeal. The group’s songs veer in so many directions at once that you can sense influences popping in and out like Whac-A-Mole heads: the pulverizing stomp of band favorite Led Zeppelin (“Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth”), the sing-songy aggression of Deerhoof (“Christ In Capsule Form,” “The Skull!!!”), the insular jokes and chaotic stylistic shifts of Mr. Bungle (“Even Your Blood Is Electric,” “Escape From the Challenger Deep”). The group’s best track, “Don’t Make Stevie Wonder,” hinges on a quick-footed groove worthy of early ’90s Fugazi, but the song’s punny humor (“wonder” as in the verb—get it?) and cartoonish cascade of voices is pure Godcaster goofiness.
The band has a knack for teetering right on the edge of irredeemable obnoxiousness, daring you to resist their charm and lightning-fast musicianship. When a song doesn’t quite land—such as the hookless cacophony of “Apparition of The Virgin Mary In My Neighborhood” or the gratuitous “Outro”—it’s usually because it’s stuffed with too many ideas rather than too few. And even then, Godcaster’s tightness as a groove engine is enough to overcome occasional dips into silliness. Recorded live to tape in a basement in Philadelphia, Locusts is the kind of record a band makes when the musicians have been performing the songs for years and can simply feed off that live energy in the studio. And someday, by the grace of Vaccine Girl, they’ll get to bring it to a DIY basement other than their own.
Buy: Rough Trade
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