Personnel: Matt Jones (vocals, guitar); Adam Finken (guitar); Adam Cimino (drums).
Audio Mixer: Chris Woodhouse.
Recording information: The Dock Sacramento, CA (10/2016).
The first Male Gaze album, Gaze Male, was seven songs of grungy, blown-out post-punk with traces of Joy Division and lots of other gloomy bands of the distant past who knew their way around a hook. It was a promising debut, and on their second album, the band works hard to live up to it. With a new member added on guitar (Adam Finken) and a new producer in Chris Woodhouse, the group retains all the new wave moroseness and post-punk energy of the debut while expanding into jangle pop and neo-psych territory on King Leer. After the pounding noisefest of the opening "Got It Bad," which takes the sound of the last album and pushes it past ten, the difference in production and arrangement style the rest of the time is clear. Where on the first album the guitars were a murky blur of chunky noise, here Matt Jones and Adam Finken's guitars are thick as mud, but also layered and chiming. This pattern continues throughout the album and the care given the sound makes King Leer a definite sonic improvement. It may not have the exact same bludgeoning power, but it makes up for it in subtle ways. Jones' vocals are more varied as he lightens up on the Ian Curtis drone from time to time, and the songs he wrote explore a few different levels of sadness instead of just being stuck on dejection the entire time. The new formula works best on the songs that have some dramatic forward motion, where the guitars and drums lock together and Jones stalks around the edges. When they strip it down to acoustic guitars on "Green Flash," the energy is sucked out of the room and the record comes to a near halt. Luckily, that misstep is balanced by a couple of songs that take the template of the first album and stretch it in very good ways. "Lesser Demons" is a tangled and spooky song that sounds like a foggy mix of early Screaming Trees and late-period Wipers, and "Renessa" is a very poppy track that shows a different, brighter side of the band that they would do well to explore further. In all, King Leer is a fine follow-up. The band expands its sound in interesting ways, the songs are strong, and with Woodhouse at the helm, the sound is state-of-the-art murky. Any fan of gloomy guitar rock that sticks with you in haunting ways after the last notes fade would do well by themselves to check this album out very soon. ~ Tim Sendra