Dead Shed Jokers: Peyote Smile

Dead Shed Jokers - Peyote Smile landscape

I’ve heard it said that the mark of any decent festival is the quality of its undercard. And while the likes of Saxon, Michael Schenker and Magnum are (quite rightly) generating a lot of excitement about the Planet Rock Steelhouse Festival 2013, it’s well worth taking a closer look at the rest of the emerging line-up. Lurking modestly, somewhere on the undercard, you’ll find the Dead Shed Jokers.

Never heard of ’em? Well, to be honest they’re new to me too. But reading up on some of the other bands on the bill (including The Temperance Movement, Snakecharmer, Heaven’s Basement, Fighting Wolves, Skam and Buffalo Summer) I noticed that the DSJs were from my neck of the woods (South Wales) and that they had a debut album – the intriguingly titled Peyote Smile – under their belts. I just had to check ’em out!

Dead Shed Jokers - Peyote Smile album coverSelf-released in December 2011, Peyote Smile instantly picked up a clutch of good reviews, impressing critics from Über Röck, Rock Re-generation, The Fly/NME, Room Thirteen, Miniature, and Music Press, and receiving a stunning 10/10 from Temporarily Available.

When the webzine Über Röck reviewed the album, they called it a “standout debut” and said: “When a young band can soak up as many influences as these boys obviously have and process them in such a way that they can deliver a sound as individual as this, then that’s a great thing.” (For more on Über Röck, see the recent Q&A with Über Röck Gaz.)

I must confess that on first hearing the album, I did struggle to find clear reference points for readers. It’s not that Peyote Smile hits you from leftfield, exactly – it’s not a paradigm shifter – but the Dead Shed Jokers have managed to create a sound and style that is distinctively their own. And that is, indeed, a great thing.

That said, there are hints of influences if you strain to hear them. One senses a Neil Young influence on singer Hywel’s vocal style, evident, for example, on the wonderful ‘Jack The Lad’. The bubbling bass on ‘The Knot’ and the bass/vocal synchronicity on ‘Monkey Song’ suggest an early Sabbath influence. One can also hear the quirkiness of Queens of The Stone Age here and there, and vocal melodies that are occasionally, particularly in quieter moments, reminiscent of the Doors. I also hear touches of early Budgie now and then. But whatever their influences, they are presented in modern and original garb, much in the way that Opeth’s Heritage plundered the past while still sounding like an album for the present and the future.

Dead Shed Jokers - alternative Peyote Smile imageThere are some rollicking good tracks here. Opener ‘Is This Your Life?’, ‘Jericho’ and (my personal favourite) ‘Interesting Point But …’ gallop along in raucous and robust fashion. ‘Served’ features a wonderful, knowing riff and some great driving drumming. But if the DSJs are at times bombastic, at other times they are subtle and yearning. There’s plenty of light and shade here, both across and within the album’s 13 tracks. ‘Magic Teatime’ is a prime example, blending heavy riffs with a dark and gentle psychedelic folky vibe. ‘Too Quick for Comfort’ (or ‘Two Quid for Comfort’ as I initially misread it) brings all the album’s twists and tricks together in impressive fashion, while the untitled track 13 turns out to be a beautiful little acoustic reprise of the album’s heaviest track, ‘Means To An End’. The lyrical style too, is intriguing, with choruses often culminating in questions (if I’m hearing them right) rather than answers: “What are we all trying for?”, “Where did it all go wrong for you?”, “Where is the stardom that you crave?”

I’ve got a lot out of Peyote Smile and find myself playing it with alarming regularity. There’s a pathos here that’s utterly compelling – like ‘Planet Caravan’/’Solitude’ era Sabs or perhaps the edginess of Nirvana.  There’s a depth too that suggests a wisdom beyond the band’s years and a wellspring of experience, thought and musical knowledge that will stand their songwriting in good stead in the future. There is, I believe, a second album on the way.

Peyote Smile is available to stream on the DSJ’s bandcamp site, and to buy in various formats, including CD, for just a fiver. Have a listen and take a punt. It might just be one of the best fivers you’ll ever spend! Oh, and don’t forget to catch them at the Steelhouse Festival.

Shed use

Read the Words and Music Q&A with vocalist Hywel Davies

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