Readers of a certain age and musical disposition may have come to this page expecting to read about a band from the North East of England who released a couple of pretty good noise rock albums in the mid-1980s and may be getting excited about a reunion. Well, as far as I know, that it not on the cards but please stick around because this piece is about a Swedish heavy psych band of the same name who, frankly, are pretty bloody brilliant and well worth checking out.
Not that these Janitors haven’t been around for a while as well, first forming in 2004 around a love for the Jesus and Mary Chain, re-emerging again in 2009 with a new line-up and stable enough to produce an album, ‘First Sign of Delirium’, of song which, while not exactly earth shattering, was eminently listenable with nods to bands such as Joy Division, JAMC and many others from the 1980s and 90s indie scenes. Amidst this relatively conservative set, which I sense is more of a compilation of songs the band had to hand rather than a coherently put together album are, well, the first signs of delirium. The delirium that is the current Janitors’ sound. There is a real darkness in ‘Sick State’, while ‘City’ is an austere drone track that really draws you in. ‘Oh Lord’ sounds like some sort of Spaceman 3 style hymn which morphs into a fucked up lullaby. If I played this to my kids at night they’d be having nightmares for years.
There is a sense of foreboding in these three tracks, which now seem like prophecies of what was to come from the third, and current, incarnation of The Janitors who have been around since 2012. Like many bands that I currently love I first came to The Janitors through the excellent Fuzz Club Records/ Reverberation Appreciation Society ‘Reverb Conspiracy’ compilations, my copies of which arrived only after I’d complied my best of lists for the year. Had they arrived earlier a whole slew of bands might have made the final cut, and The Janitors second album, Drone Head, would definitely have been up there.
Drone Head is an amazing album, from the beginning of the intro ‘Worker Drone Queen’ you know that you are not only in for some amazing music, but you are going to come out with your brain fried too. Moving straight into ‘Do It Again’ we are off in a heavy psych odyssey with fuzzy guitar interlinking with clicks and drones. It is dark, it is bleak, but it is also funky: a pretty difficult feat to pull off. ‘Long Way Back’ is also a great track which really showcases the band’s pop sensibilities while never detracting from the job in hand of delivering the power and the distortion. You may be in the pit of despair, but you can still dance if you want to. The difference here is that The Janitors don’t try to convince you to boogie yourself happy.
The subterranean bleakness continues with ‘Death Song’ which is much more of a downer than it sounds from the title. However, just when you think it’s time to clamber out of the sarcophagus, along comes an Al Lover Remix of the same song to tip you back into the tomb. Brilliant!
The album is essentially the bringing together of two previously released EPs, ‘Worker Queen Bee’ and ‘Head Honcho’. The second of these is every bit as dark and intense as the first with tracks like ‘Strap Me Down’ and ‘A-Bow’ continuing the heavy psych theme, the latter in particular being a brooding paean to violence and death, while Mssg has powerful Ian Curtis influenced vocals cutting through great guitar work.
There is an eclecticism in Drone Head which is probably inevitable given that it is essentially the bringing together of different releases. Nevertheless, like the first Cult of Dom Keller album, a similarly put together compilation, there is a coherence here too. The similarities don’t end there with The Janitors occupying a similar space to CODK in terms of their sound. If I had to separate them it would be that The Janitors have that funky edge that I referred to earlier, and here lies what makes the band so mysterious for me. They have a melange of styles wrapped up in a very heavy shell. As such I suspect you will never fully get to the core of what this album is about which is brilliant because you can play it over and over and always find more to discover.
The band are now working on their next album, essentially the first to be written as a single piece of work. On current form it has the potential to be one of the albums of the year, I certainly won’t be compiling my best of list this year before hearing it.