Frank Zappa said, “without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”. Chances are Frank would’ve gotten a kick out of the new album from Spirit of Hamlet.
Spirit of Hamlet is Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose, The Stooges), Kawabata Makoto (Acid Mothers Temple), Scotty Irving (Clang Quartet), and renowned songwriter/producer Benjy Johnson, who has recently worked with Eric Gales and Charlie Hunter. Not since Smith and Wesson got together has a combination of skills produced such a profound noise.
It would be lazy to label Northwest of Hamuretto a punk record. While there is enough punk energy pulsing through stompers such as “Strike It Rich” and “Sardine $” to make a nation of Johnny Rotten Jr’s ears drool, there’s a sinister musicality lurking in these grooves.
“March of Rain” is a prog-punk masterclass in noisy nuance that echoes the earthier side of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band. Interstellar guitar slabs are knitted together with martini-dry bass, militant drumming, and what sounds like CB radio chatter from Martian truckers. Hopefully, a 20-minute version of this track will pop up on the deluxe box set version in a few years.
The punk/blues/funk of “Pillow Song” is topped off with a jaunty vocal that’s as smooth as glass. In nature, these aren’t elements that would ever come into contact with each other, but somehow Spirit of Hamlet weaves these disparate strains together seamlessly.
How this group of musicians ended up in each other’s orbit is a bit of a mystery. What’s clear is the uniqueness and volatile beauty of their combined musical DNA. Hopefully, this isn’t a one-off cosmic accident.