In The Time Machine, the Morlocks were freaky, underground creatures who only ventured out at night. For the past 25 years, this could describe one of L.A.’s greatest ever garage-punk bands, who also call themselves The Morlocks. A book could (and should) be written about their turbulent history over the years. A definite highlight would have come in 1999 when Spin magazine reported that singer Leighton Koizumi had overdosed and died. At the time he was actually in the process of reforming the band.
He is still alive and well, as their new album The Morlocks Play Chess shows. There is certainly a ghoulish, subterranean feel to this group. In fact it is as raw and dirty a sound as anything you are likely to hear. Play Chess is filled with filthy guitars and the kind of screams that nightmares come from. Of course it helps that all 12 tunes are classics from the Chess Records archives, written by masters such as Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and the like. But it took serious balls to attempt these songs, the original versions of which are all in the Hall Of Fame league.
From the first rave-up guitar notes of “I’m A Man,” you know that The Morlocks have brought their A-game. The sound hits you like its 2:30 am, the third keg is being tapped, and the band are just hitting their prime. And that is where Plays Chess stays, all the way through. Skip over to “Who Do You Love,” probably best known these days from the George Thorogood cover. These guys wipe the floor with that Delaware poseur. This is as raw as the early garage-punk of legends like The Sonics or Pretty Things. And it shows just how dangerous music can still sound in the right hands.
The same holds true with “Boom Boom” that wild John Lee Hooker tune that comes across every bit as predatory as ever. “Smokestack Lightning,” and “Killing Floor” are a couple of other standouts as well. But honestly, every song kicks, and the record should just be listened to straight through.
The Morlocks close things out with their take on Chuck Berry’s “Back In The USA.” It’s the perfect ending — a good old rave-up to send everyone home rocked out and happy. For anyone who ever dug the bands on Estrus, the hot rod world of Rat Fink, or just low culture in general, you have got to check out The Morlocks. They have come up with one bad-ass album here.