By: Dennis Cook
A roulette wheel spins to a creaking stop and guitars explode like a Buzzcocks wet dream, piano pounding a tunnel through the feedback, and as calm descends a voice as succulent and stirring as Jim James (MMJ) and Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) announces we're meant to be "deadlocked in security" as things fires up again. The rush of it all is hugely infectious, and even when they slow down they never break the momentum. A Wheel Within A Wheel (Misra) hits with the shattering force of primal rock joys like the Drive-By Truckers' Decoration Day and My Morning Jacket's At Dawn, vinyl missives that announced the arrival of major talents coming into their own.
It's only a matter of the time on your hands
So you better stop burying your head in the sand
'Cause if you want to be the difference
Honey you better move
'Cause if they don't need a conscious
You can bet they don't need you
Main man singer-guitarist Adam Remnant is one of the most haunting new lyricists since Thom Yorke starting putting soul shattering couplets together. Remnant's verses are the kind you quote to friends (example: "You're constructing your own conscience as if it were made out of clay"), use as shorthand for life's lessons and maybe even learn a few things as you sing along in your own cracked, passionate croak. There's no delusion here but an air of hope and even romance remains, all the hard truths unable to erase the sweet spots that still lurk in this tough world.
And every word is supported by as band with all the loose-tight skill and pop of the Truckers or, leaning further back, The Faces and The Pretty Things - an instrumental flair that's only sloppy when they want it to be, punctuated by killer little breaks from every instrument, a sure reminder of why we love not just like rock 'n' roll.
While much of this album is eerily-yet-comfortably beautiful, the big guitars do resurface from time to time including the windmill-riffic "State of Oblivion," which howls like a young Paul Westerberg fronting Crazy Horse after a particularly good reefer 'n' tequila prep session. "We Have You Surrounded" shouts with abounding truthiness, "If you want your life you got to pay a price!" The music matches the honest pathos, hard grooving boogie that punctures the stratosphere easily, Remnant announcing at the end, "Thanks for giving me my mind."
"Ezekial Saw The Wheel" is gospel music free of dogma, far more ready to offer a hand to sinners than most church folks ever are. Remnant reminds us of "the bitter taste of life" on our tongues and how our existence sits on the "edge of a knife" but does so with enough joy to dispel the terror and sadness such pronouncements might normally inspire.
Not once have I been able to stop myself from hitting repeat when A Wheel Within A Wheel ends. Two or three spins are necessary each time to really roll around in all the pleasures hiding here. Don't be surprised if you clap your hands or sing loud enough to bother folks in the car next to you. Southeast Engine are super smart, rock savvy guys and they've made a great record for thinkers who love power chords and heartbreaking ruminations.
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