At this point, every idea I had for reviewing Pleasure Forever’s Alter has already been taken. There was the one about brothels having a house band. Then there was the one about Hell having a house band. I suppose I could still try the “bastard son of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Black Sabbath” one, but something tells me it’d be hard to fill this entire space with that theory.
Well, I’m not going to let a few other early bird reviewers get me down, because Alter is still a mighty fine album, no matter what sort of introduction is given to the Bay Area trio. Pleasure Forever is making music that conjures images of towering infernos, voodoo priestesses, leather-clad metalheads, tight-shirted indie rockers and burlesque dancers, all attending the same bacchanalia, most likely the one on the cover of their self-titled debut.
While their first album had all the right intentions, Pleasure Forever’s songs left something to be desired. Until now, that is.
Alter is a devilishly fun batch of vaudevillian carnival rock that successfully marries Trail of Dead-like heaviness with Nick Cave’s creepiness. Songs like “White Mare” and “Wicked Shivering Columbine” are droning noise-rockers that have more in common with the former than the latter. But a tune like “Czarina” can change the course of the album dramatically. Andrew Rothbard plays his barroom piano like the saloon entertainer of the Damned, singing lines like “Spinning apparition/this is my ghost town.”
“Draws an 8” begins as a simple ballad, offering a brief respite from the madness before exploding into full-on stoner rock. PF ups the theatrics on songs like “Hymn Harmonia,” featuring elaborate descending piano riffs worthy of the most haunted of ballrooms. “Axis Exalt” rides a sinister groove more in tune with Joy Division than Kurt Weill, but rocks regardless.
The best song on the album, “This is the Zodiac Speaking,” opens with a quiet minor-key verse, but rapidly transitions into a much more ferocious beast. “Zodiac” is a maniacal waltz that ebbs and flows like a living, breathing, ill-tempered being, chasing the listener through a labyrinth of cabaret-rock theatrics.
The album ends with “Gideon and Goliath,” a vibraphone-laden dirge played over rumbling, “Beautiful People”-like toms. It closes the album on a delightfully gloomy note, yet without that “shock”-rocker’s tendency to place image over content. Pleasure Forever may play a Hellish brand of rock `n’ roll, but they do it with style and finesse, not g-strings and stilts.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.