Monkey On A Chain Gang [Deluxe Edition]

House of Freaks

Rhino Handmade, 2004

REVIEW BY: Pete Crigler


With the release of their debut in 1987, Richmond, VA via Los Angeles duo House Of Freaks (Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott) set themselves apart from the rest of the college rock crowd. Long before White Stripes, Black Keys, and Royal Blood, even before Flat Duo Jets and Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, HOF was different. They were just guitar and drums, no frills rock ‘n’ roll. From the time this album was released, Bryan Harvey came off like a Southern Gothic novelist in his lyrics. That’s one of the best things that set them apart from the rest; these lyrics were like no other heard in college rock at the time.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From the beginning with the one-two punch of “Crack In The Sidewalk” and the classic “40 Years,” the band became one of the few critics darlings of the era that never sold themselves out for a quick corporate buck. The band’s music is direct and often confrontational in its ideas of death and the South. In light of Harvey’s murder on New Years Day 2006 with his family, a lot of songs like “Lonesome Graveyard” and “Long Black Train” take on an eerie atmospheric tone.

Not everything here is dark and depressing, though that is the overall tone of the record. Tracks like “Bottom Of The Ocean” and the yearning looking back at Virginia roots in “My Backyard” show off Harvey’s almost novel-esque approach to songwriting and some guitar playing that had its roots in ‘60s rock and twisted with an almost punk aesthetic. Hott’s drumming is more rhythmic than, say, Meg White and carries the weight of the songs with a very breezy feeling all throughout the record.

This now long out of print deluxe edition contains live recordings (a great take on “Pass Me The Gun” being a standout), demos, and B-sides that were never heard anywhere. All of it does it showcase how criminally underrated this band was and how more people need to hear this stuff; if anything, it’ll make your soul feel good. R.I.P. Bryan Harvey!

Rating: A-

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