Review Summary: TJL's first album is fun, energetic, and concise.
The Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison clearly paid attention to his music theory classes at Eastern Michigan. The riffs on this album fuse scales, arpeggios, and etudes with the band's vivid imagination and the intensity of punk. As a result it sounds smart but not studied.
The album really kicks off with the third song, "My Own Urine." It catches the listener's attention with a quiet, distinctive bass riff in 3/4. The riff modulates and changes shape slightly, but eventually returns to its home key at around the 2:30 mark. It's a dramatic song that benefits from David Yow's highly emotional vocals.
"If You Had Lips," the next track, is just as good, dominated by a swinging triplet groove and a chromatic riff. The album's most cathartic moment arrives around 1:55, when the bass takes up this groove as the guitar plays a sequence of suspended chords.
"Pastoral" is a reprieve from the hard-hitting, fortissimo sound of the rest of the album. It features a major-key melody made up of descending eighth notes. There's some tension when Denison puts it into odd keys, but we're treated to a wonderful resolution at around the two-minute mark, when the riff finally arrives at its destination of E major. The rhythm section keeps it simple in support of Denison's noodling and Yow's tender vocals.
Three short, good-not-great songs separate "Pastoral" from the album's closer, "Killer McHann." It's built around a driving eighth-note pattern that is mutated into different keys, time signatures, and melodic shapes. Yow bares his soul on top of the band's steady playing.
Head is a short, tight album with no filler. The excellent riffs and songcraft are a perfect match for Yow's vocals.