Chuck Dukowski Sextet - Haunted (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Chuck Dukowski Sextet

Haunted (2012)

ORG music

Not that music needs to be compared against itself, and even such a thing might be impossible, but sometimes one must throw caution and good sense to the wind. Haunted is the best collection of sound recordings to feature Chuck Dukowski in 30 years. Throughout his career, Dukowski has explored various facets of harder music. Yet, in his other works, such as SWA, Wurm and United Gang Members, the music was challenging and complex, but those works never quite seemed to congeal. Perhaps Dukowski was one step ahead of us, and able to hear things that we mere mortals couldn't, but on Haunted, the Chuck Dukowski Sextet finally allows the listeners to catch up with the band and in doing so, create the album we hoped the Duke would put out since…well…ever.

The CD6 has evolved in members and styles over its six-year existence from avant garde woodwind smashing to '70s power rock to everything in between. Now, the band features Dukowski, his wife Lora Norton, Norton's son Milo Gonzales and family friend Ashton Slater.

While Haunted is its own thing, and is still experimental, the band's willingness to harness the established and unexpected in equal measures gives the album a very space rock feel with some blues metal for support. This is most apparent on the devastating "Sweet Chariot," which opens with guitarist Milo Gonzales' trippy, almost gothic guitar which bleeds into vocalist Lora Norton's birdsong call. However, as Gonzales and Norton continue to descend across minor chord triplets, the songs breaks into a Black Sabbath-ish stomp before Norton screams like a banshee, converting the song from regal to vicious.

But, on the avant garde side, if you will, the whole album has a very structured jam feel. "Slow Bullet" features Gonzales ripping warped solos that twirl and smash and only briefly connect with the rhythm while Norton commands "I will not miss." But, while loose jams can sometimes be too loose, it's the rhythm section working in connection with Norton and Gonzales which makes the album congeal.

Dukowski still snaps the bass with a heavy hand, giving each of the songs a massive, but energetic feel. It's his unique ability to play with his entire arm, or body even, that forces the parts of the song to bind together. While some bands relying on impromptu experimentation feel messy, Dukowski's marching bass, propelled by drummer Ashton Slater, binds the disparate parts into a single column of sound, much like the early heavy metal and space rock classics.

But, while the music is as heavy as it is catchy, Norton's lyrics and delivery take it from clever to masterful. A master of placement, she approaches and fades away from the mic on "Alchemists of Poison," giving a tangibility to her more distanced concepts as well as the most direct ones. When she sweetly calls "Your lullaby to your last goodbye," on "Lullaby" there is a creepy omniscience to her statement of certainty. Yet, while she is metered in parts, on others she completely flies off the handle. On "A Thing" she announces "I'll show you what I can do / What I can do to you" before launching into a throat shredding scream that is as powerful as it is frightening.

Although Dukowski has made great music throughout his career, in some ways, it always seemed that his bandmates were never able to fully articulate his blueprint. What does it say, then, that he's made his most powerful, and most terrifying, music in three decades with his own family?