Worcester rock duo Hipflask Virgins’ debut EP opens with a fuzzed-out guitar riff reminiscent of Nirvana’s “School”, which the Virgins have covered on the city’s live circuit for a while now. Hipflask Virgins have built a well-deserved reputation on the local scene as purveyors of stripped-back, heavy-as-hell garage rock, and wild live shows. Thankfully, the duo’s recorded releases so far (stand-alone singles “Unintentional” and “Thumbs Up!”) have shown that their raucous sound translates just as well to the studio as it does to sweaty bars full of moshers.
Isolation Shitbox (of which the inspiration for the title is self-evident) is no exception to this success, with its production (by the band themselves) professional yet luckily not neutering the roughness of their sound. Opening track “C T R L (Cheese Bread)” features the surreal main hook of “cheese bread, Motorhead”, which seems to sum up the tone of the record in general – heavy and uncompromising yet with a certain goofy charm. The comic-book-style cover art by Greg Kinman, which sees the duo battling demons with swords and shotguns, reflects this charm perfectly.
The balance between brooding angst and unapologetic fun has always been struck well by Hipflask Virgins, and their first (hopefully of many!) EP solidifies this growing reputation. Jay’s vocals often alternate between sneering cynicism, self-deprecation, and outrageous screams, and each one is delivered with both confidence and technical skill. Cobain comparisons may seem cliche, but there is some truth to them!
Drummer Will Diment does more than just keep Jay’s screams in time – his rhythms are punchy and thunderous, and fills are placed sparingly yet to great effect. Will recorded most of the EP in his sweaty attic dubbed “the Nerd Cave” during isolation, with Jay sending him guitar and vocal takes over the internet.
You wouldn’t guess from listening to these tracks, from the sleazy groove of “Line of Fire” to the tight stop-start riffage of “Ken Lee”, that they were recorded from separate locations – the duo sound just as in sync as they have done at any of their shows! “Closer” makes a strong (no pun intended) closer to this collection, with a heavy blues swagger and a muscular breakdown that slows the pace and turns things a little trippier.
In such unprecedented times (a phrase I’m sure we’re all sick of hearing), it seems hard to imagine how bands – particularly those as enmeshed into the live circuit as Hipflask Virgins – can adapt to this “new normal” of social distancing and rigid safety procedures. Luckily, the duo have shown that they can rise to the challenge and produce a great collection of tracks from a distance.
Rumour has it a follow-up may also be in the works…
By: Dan Knight