The word "weird" comes up several times as local indie rock act Cult Tourist and I try to reach an understanding about their sound. A genre-defiant five-piece featuring Jacob Chacko (guitar, vocals), Madeline Gartman (vocals), Will Schreitz (bass), Mark Ettingoff (drums) and Sahaih Escobedo (keys), the band seemingly formed from the four winds; with minimal, if any, longtime ties to Santa Fe and its scenes (both "mainstream" and DIY), they've actually managed something weirdly difficult in Santa Fe—they're completely fresh and doing something no one else around here is doing. Novel.
Formed as if by kismet, Cult Tourist came together organically, from a chance encounter between Ettinger and Chacko at The Matador, to Gartman's moving from Atlanta to take a job at Rockin' Rollers roller rink, that glorious local bastion to the '70s and '90s (and aliens). Schreitz is a former St. John's College student; Escobedo is arguably the most Santa Fe of all the band's members.
"It's kind of a pool of all our weirdness," Ettinger says. And weird it is, though thoroughly accessible in both the melodic and approachable lo-fi sound. Take the band's music video submission to NPR's fabled Tiny Desk Concert series, "EV!L." Like the early work of Dr. Dog or even the Flaming Lips, Cult Tourist shuffles through a poppy and patient throwback groove. Schreitz' bass work channels an upbeat Paul McCartney by way of Motown sound while Escobedo's catchy synth accentuates Chacko's guitar; Gartman's subtle yet powerful vocal harmonies seal the deal. "If your stomach gets to churning while the whole damn world is burning / It's not you, just the world that's cruel," Chacko croons, staring down the camera with intensity.
"It's about the process and letting it go where it wants," Chacko hypothesizes. "I've played in bands with an assembly line approach to music—you get material out quickly, but it's not very explored."
This theme of exploration is important to all members. As Gartman says, "It's really cool to hear where it started and how things tend to evolve when you have people with different ideas and concepts; like when you're sculpting with rock and it feels like it was always on the inside, you just have to find it."
And find it they have, as Cult Tourist prepares to release its newest album, Prisoners of Charisma. Recorded in the main skating area at Rockin' Rollers, Charisma carries exploration and collaboration on its sleeve. All of Cult Tourist is adamant that they have a say in how songs wind up in the end, and even though the word "eclectic" can feel tired, it's hard to find a better descriptor. Some songs take sidesteps into tangental Zappa-esque moments or late-Beatles horn cacophonies while Hills Audio mastering champ Will Dyar's work keeps things tight. It's like there's an almost healing element or, at least, an invitation for self-reflection within the record's more ethereal moments.
"When we first started, I think we said we sounded like Sun Ra meets The Muppets," Ettinger recalls. "That informs a little of the weirdness in the band."
Of course, one should really find out for themselves when Cult Tourist releases Prisoners of Charisma alongside garage punk act Sex Headaches this Saturday at Ghost. Both bands hit the road for a week-long tour shortly thereafter.
Mini Review: Workingman’s Punx by Sex Headaches
Sex Headaches frontman Luke Henley has been hard at work nailing down a full-time band, and with a handful of shows and previous releases under his belt, we've been waiting with bated breath for new jams. And new jams have arrived with Workingman's Punx, a stellar six-song EP that not only showcases Henley's chops as a purveyor of kickass punk melodies, but as a scholar of the stylistic elements that make punk rock so magnetic.
Punx is raw and dirty, but joyful and triumphant, like a slightly more political take on the mid-'90s Chicago punk sounds of bands like Slapstick or The Broadways melding with the chaotic energy of of a band like Bad Brains. Yes, this is throwbacky and straight out of the garage, but also sonically fascinating and deceptively complex. Surface rhythms might sound simplistic, but Henley's lead guitar work comes to the forefront without taking away from anything while his vocals find a common ground between punk rock shouts to action and sing-songy melody.
"I hate this world, gonna hate the next one, too," Henley laments on "Kicked Out of Heaven," projecting both angst and sadness but also thoughtfully commenting on where we've wound up as citizens of planet Earth. Is he angry? Maybe. Is he defeated? No way.
Thank goodness, then, for pissed off tracks like "Cruel," and the throbbing metal-adjacent bass and drums of "Amorality." With these six songs, Henley proves himself a vital Santa Fe songwriter and a testament to the punk rock tradition. Workingman's Punx releases this Saturday at Ghost.
Cult Tourist and Sex Headaches Album Release Party
8 pm Saturday June 2. $5-$10.
2899 Trades West Road