Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds haven’t been that visible over the past few years, but two marginally related projects—Crime And The City Solution and Gallon Drunk—have recently risen from the brink of nonexistence. Of the two, Gallon Drunk has always been the underdog; frontman James Johnston formed the churning, shadowy garage-rock band long before focusing on The Bad Seeds during his tenure with Cave during the ’00s. The death of Gallon Drunk bassist Simon Wring last year seemed as if it might spell an even longer absence for the outfit. Tragedy be damned, Johnston and crew have forged ahead with The Road Gets Darker From Here, their first full-length since 2007’s The Rotten Mile, and the result is a bracing reminder of what made Gallon Drunk so intoxicating in the first place.
Sleaze has long been Gallon Drunk’s poison of choice, but rarely has it been so slurred and snarled as it is on “You Made Me,” Road’s opener. Like a prehistoric creature dredged from the bottom of a swamp, the song subsists on Johnston’s rotted, fetid romance and scaly riffs. But things open up as the disc burbles along; the manic, jazzy brass on “A Thousand Years” is defiantly Stooges-esque, and the lopsided lurch of “Hanging On” approximates the gait of a rum-sodden amputee—even as it slops on an eerie, childlike chorus that chants like a shoulder-perched angel. “Stuck In My Head” is a callback to the surf-rock twang of Gallon Drunk’s formative work from the early ’90s, only dampened by a mature, melancholy undertow. As its title more than implies, The Road Gets Darker From Here doesn’t offer a light at the end of the tunnel, but it does put Gallon Drunk back on its twisted, blackened track.