Damaged-era Black Flag bassist Dukowski now leads this LA power-rock quartet which unselfconsciously draws on the sound of the ’70s for likable, if unchallenging, original mainstreamisms that stop well short of metal. Former Flagmate Greg Ginn produced the hard-driving, intelligent debut album which revolves around Merrill Ward, a singer who can really project. Sex Dr. refines the concept on a batch of new tunes, penned mostly by Ward. The lyrics are generally presentable without saying much; tight group playing lends the music — which favors Steppenwolf a bit — conviction and dignity.
Replacing guitarist Richard Ford with Sylvia Juncosa (who simultaneously led her own band, To Damascus), SWA took a radically different route on the third LP, exchanging the precisely focused rock for a noisier, chaotic smear of aggression. Despite spots of MC5-ish excitement (“Optimist,” for instance), XCIII is a disappointment, with SWA’s best feature — Ward’s voice — partially blunted by Dukowski’s blurry production and Juncosa’s ceaseless garbage riffing.
Following Evolution, an unnecessary eighteen-song/70-minute CD condensation of the first three albums, SWA found itself a new guitar player (Juncosa had begun her solo career in earnest) and regained its focus on the heavy-duty Winter. A lot of the demi-metal fire (new axeman Phil Van Duyne is from the Black Sabbath bore-a-hole-in-your-skull school) is lost in the cloth-eared production, but Ward gets the tritely bombastic lyrics across with more clarity than they deserve.
Juncosa had switched to guitar and formed To Damascus after leaving Leaving Trains and touring with Kendra Smith and David Roback in Clay Allison. Succumb, the trio’s ragged first album, contains undistinguished post-punk. Juncosa’s a carefree, marble-mouthed singer and a solid rhythm guitarist but a sloppy soloist with few original ideas; the rhythm section does its part adequately, but no more. The lyrics on Come to Your Senses indicate Juncosa’s evocative talent for expressing alienation and disaffection in unusual ways; her organ and piano contributions leaven the much-improved hyperactive guitar smears (if not her dubious singing). The inclusion of acoustic creations with strings and things offer helpful variety but are also limited in appeal by wobbly vocals. A creative focal point and stronger songwriting would have helped, as Ethan James’ co-production fills the LP with layers of energizing aggression that are left hanging like burning wallpaper.
With a new bassist and drummer in tow, Juncosa initiated her solo career with Nature, a relatively accomplished guitar demonstration, covering everything from waves of psychedelic noise to gentle acoustic fingerpicking. It’s interesting to watch this burgeoning fret technician find her feet as well as her chops: “Lick My Pussy, Eddie Van Halen” makes it clear that today’s guitar hero doesn’t need a penis to have balls. She should really refrain from singing, however: her uncertain Onoesque warble does nothing to improve the instrumental showcases.
A change of producers and sidemen on the thick-sounding One Thing gives Juncosa new-found stylistic focus and brings her a step closer to metal. But unfailingly horrid vocals undercut the music’s larger-than-life potential.