Aimless Blades – Judged by its cover
Read what you will into a band’s iconography, but in the case of Milwaukee’s Aimless Blades, seeing is believing. Displayed on the cover of the band’s debut disc, Land Of Souvenirs (Madcity Records) are Catholic votive candles topping a Day of the Dead Mexican table, a bleached steer’s skull doubling as a Stetson hat rack, and a promo poster for the Neil Young concert film Year Of The Horse.
Sonically speaking, the last totem is the most telling. The six-piece group routinely inhabits the fabled Young/Crazy Horse “circle” on “Tonight’s The Night”-draped skin-crawlers such as the mournful waltz “Crowley, LA” and the freeform, 14-minute tremolo/feedback epic “Ear Of The Dog”. Yet in the mix, too, as inferred from the visuals, are distinctive echoes of the scorched-plains Southwestern psychedelia of Green On Red (notably the group’s unbridled twang, minor-key organ motifs and guitarist/vocalist Blaine Schultz’ cracked, Dan Stuart-like yowl), as well as Dream Syndicate and Giant Sand. To that, Schultz adds a host of other well-tempered influences: Big Star, MC5, Television, Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Byrds and “crazy Memphis/New Orleans stuff.”
Coming together a few years ago initially as a studio project, the Blades — Schultz, guitarist/vocalist Scott Krueger, bassist Angela V-Elles, keyboardist Paul Setser, violinist Sarah Filzen, and drummers Steve Steidl and (for touring purposes) Jim Richardson — all have deep roots in the Milwaukee scene, including Mona Lisa Overdrive, the Mercurys, Shivvers and the Craze (Heartbreaker Howie Epstein’s old group). During the process of recording nearly five albums’ worth of material, the members realized the most magical moments occurred during unscripted jams, making the transition from studio to stage inevitable.
V-Elles cites an impromptu moment in her song “Be” as recorded evidence of that magic: near the end, she unconsciously eased into the bassline to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, which was answered in turn by an Eastern-tinged riff from Schultz, followed by the group solemnly chanting Coltrane’s titular phrase. Improbable on paper, perhaps, but on disc, it’s a riveting conclusion to a mesmerizing tune that’s equal parts Patti Smith invocation, Velvet Underground mantra and Steve Earle transcendental blues.
“On the best nights we tend to lean and sway like branches on a willow tree,” Schultz says. “When things get going, the band becomes like a sentient being with its own mind and priorities. We really try to listen to each other when we play, and if someone is having a good night, we pick up on that and let them run with the ball.
“But we’re also pretty good at calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. We played Rainer’s ‘Inner Flame’ at a gig with the Drifters,” he recalls, referring to the late Tucson guitarist and New Orleans’ renowned Continental Drifters. “Afterward, Susan Cowsill complimented us and it felt like, yup, we are doing the right thing with this music.”