NIGHT CRICKETS – A FREE SOCIETY
An unusual alliance brings together a San Francisco born and current Northern California based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, a drummer from a hugely influential Wisconsin based folk/punk fusion (Violent Femmes) and the bass player and songwriter from an equally influential post punk band from Northampton, England (Bauhaus). The latter two essentially cut from the same cloth albeit oceans apart Victor DeLorenzo and David J joining forces with Darwin Meiners collectively are the Night Crickets.
Their debut album A Free Society is an incredibly infectious set of songs. Created during 2021’s pandemic/lockdown (a non free society if you will) each looking for a new creative outlet, the moniker arrived via a somewhat rambled conversation between the three that ended with David Lynch as a discussion point, J a huge fan of Lynch’s work – hark back to 1983 and Bauhaus performed an ad-hoc version of In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator song) from Lynch’s creepy monochrome Erazerhead.
A Free Society boasts an arsenal largely built around a series of highly effective bass hooks in which the accompanying instruments, not always conventional either gather like manic insects around a lantern. The opening number: Black Leather on the Inside suggests life is wearing thin, an observation perhaps of the last 24 months. A number sparse of words, sees David J handle the scant vocals, J is hitting notes here that are relatively new to his range, first observed during his recent Dark Flowers collaboration (Death Valley ’69).
Darwin delivers his gorgeous trademark velvet vocal for the utterly sublime Candlestick Park, slowly building from a gentle guitar strum and shake of a tambourine into a maelstrom of guitars, bass, drums and chanting backing vocals (The Ashtray by the Bay) provided by J perfectly reflecting the slow disintegration of the former home of the San Francisco Giants. Janet Schiff’s exalted cello is the perfect accompaniment adding to the melancholic feel of this number Candlestick Park is the unrivalled highlight of this set. Hot on its heels though is Amanda’s Mantra a truly brilliant piece with DeLorenzo this time handling vocals, providing his best Scott Walker to boot. An instantly attention-grabbing intro leading to a somewhat extraordinary sax break courtesy of Jesse Catalino Montego wrapping itself around a pounding, low rumbling bass line makes for a marriage made in heaven. All the while Hollywood icons of a bygone age, (Monroe and Dean) permanently imprinted firmly in our psyche are namechecked here reminding us of, lest we forget, their stature in celluloid history.
The title track, lead by an infectious four note repeated bass motif and a fusion of DeLorenzo’s drums provide the perfect platform for J to introduce his vocal. Delivered half sung/half spoken combined with a series of tremolo drenched minor chords add a repeated chant of “A Free Society” and you will get The Night Crickets message loud and clear.
Something that’s very apparent on this album is the ‘live’ drum sound A Free Society offers, it’s rare to capture that real ‘in the room’ sound, The White Stripes captured it on Seven Nation Army but The Night Crickets have somehow achieved it on every track.
I really like the fact that there are no leaders in this band, lead vocals handled by any of the three crickets at random, backing vocals shared in the much the same manor. That afore mentioned ‘live’ drum sound is very apparent on Soul Wave, an infectious bass hook alongside it for company, lead vocals twist with J introducing the song paving way for Meiners before DeLorenzo wraps it up, an added mellotron at the songs refrain is a lovely touch.
DeLorenzo once again takes lead for Little Did I tempo raised somewhat, this foot tapper is the perfect mid album lifter, J’s mantra of the song’s title keeps the momentum going ensuring it doesn’t falter, it doesn’t.
The correct sequencing is vital when assembling an album, get it wrong and the results can be catastrophic, fortunately some hard work has gone into this one and it shows, this is spot on, a difficult task I would imagine with so many strong songs, each with an entirely different feel and vibe, that said, the Night Crickets have a unique sound here, its not easy to catch but the sequencing is tailored perfectly.
Sloe Song is a beautiful number with layered vocals (provided by Darwin) clocking in little over two minutes, but a sublime two minutes it is, the gorgeous backing vocals blending seamlessly with the lead, so much that the voices have become an instrument in themselves, DeLorenzo killing the song dead…far too soon.
David J has the perfect voice for radio, never has that been more evident than here on The Unreliable Narrator, built once again around an infectious low grumbling bass line, the stabbing guitar and looping keyboard motif are particularly effective throughout. I can also imagine an instrumental version of The Unreliable Narrator working equally well.
Return to the Garden of Allah is stripped to only the essential instruments with the backing vocals nicely mixed way up front, David J’s lead fighting for supremacy amongst a maelstrom of Steve Harley’s “Ooh la la la’s” once stolen by Nick Cave now rightfully claimed by the Night Crickets.
The penultimate number, the buoyant, upbeat Sacred Monster, sees J. firing a series of largely single vocal phrases teased by a multitude of keyboards all resting once more in the safety of a bed of bass.
A Free Society closes with a genuinely magnificent instrumental in I Want my Night Crickets assembled to cleverly give the song the feel of a live impromptu jam, the occasional backward inaudible vocal and the chirping of Night Crickets is a great end to a truly remarkable record.
Please sir, I want some more?
Andrew J Brooksbank (December ’21)
All images courtesy of Night Crickets / Andrew J Brooksbank