Side projects can be an intriguing affair. Free from the constraints of fan expectations and the need to seek approval from regular bandmates and collaborators, they are often a barometer of a primary singer-songwriter's unfettered vision and creativity when left entirely to his or her own devices.
Such is the case with the eponymous debut by Thunderbitch, a solo offering from Brittany Howard, striking frontwoman of blues/southern rock Grammy nominees Alabama Shakes, and the sophomore effort by Fuzz, one of the many side bands led by prolific garage rock rabble rouser Ty Segall.
Howard is in full firebrand mode in Thunderbitch, 10 tracks of raw, unadulterated rock a world away from the soulful, genre-crossing sophomore Alabama Shakes LP, Sound & Color, released in April.
Little is known of Thunderbitch, other than that they comprise backing musicians who are also members of Nashville outfits Fly Golden Eagle and Clear Plastic Masks, and that the band first reared their heads in a low-key gig at the end of 2012.
GARAGE ROCK / ROCK N ROLL
STONER ROCK/PSYCHEDELIC ROCK
In The Red
The band seem as cheeky as they are boisterous - their official biography simply reads "Thunderbitch. Rock 'n' Roll. The end." A click on their official website's tour page throws up a message: "Maybe someday....?"
What we do know, judging from these 10 tracks, is that the unleashed Howard can be a force of nature on the vocals and guitars.
Kicking off with Leather Jacket, an ode to the garment of choice of bada**** from Marlon Brando to the Ramones, she hollers: "I want to grow up, to wear a leather jacket/And that leather jacket is gonna hold my soul in/I ain't never gonna take it off."
There is an incendiary quality to her singing that is mostly only hinted at with the Shakes.
The other tracks on the album see her swaggering just as hard - Eastside Party is a fun, rollicking tune while I Just Wanna Rock N Roll pretty much sums up the band's mission statement.
If Thunderbitch is mostly about Howard's wild warblings, Fuzz's second album II is a heady mix of thick, sinuous guitars, heavy psychedelia and Segall doubling on drums and vocals.
The multi-instrumentalist, whose most recent solo EP, Mr. Face, was released earlier this year, has teamed up again with old friend Charles Moothart on guitars and Chad Ubovich from garage rockers Meatbodies on bass.
Featuring copious amounts of the fuzz guitar effect the band are named after, and taking inspiration from proto-metal acts of yesteryears, tracks such as Bringer Of Light and Pipe trudge along like something out of Black Sabbath's 1970 debut, while Rat Race's byzantine melodies marry Jimi Hendrix-style virtuosity with Blue Cheer's kaleidoscopic stomp.
Segall and Moothart's reedy harmonies are scattered throughout the 14 songs, but it is really the instrumentals that shine.
The title track, clocking at over 13 minutes, is wordless but it exemplifies the album at its best - a spiralling vortex of a tune that takes the listener on a thrilling ride.