Great design never dies, even if it passes out of fashion. That's the overriding emotional response in the presence of the Dirty Little Heaters. The thundering quake of their approach hurls you back into a Jurassic park, the tremor in the water signaling T. Rex's imminent arrival.
Indeed, the Triangle quartet is the elephant in the room, a garage-rock force so sensually overwhelming you must acknowledge it or else be crushed within its grimy blues-grooving tonnage. When they climb into their "Cherry Van," there's no getting out of the way. The best you can hope for is skating between the axles of the churning rhythms keyed by bassist Rob Walsh and drummer Dave Perry. (The peripatetic Perry's since been replaced by the conquering strut of Pink Flag drummer Jessica Caesar.)
You may remember Walsh from local ne'er-do-well legends The Spinns. There's a similar gutter-filth grit here, thanks to a gummy, resinous throb that wobbles up the calves through the thighs and settles in your ass. The vibe is less Sonics than Blue Cheer these days. Previously, the thick, sticky peanut butter guitar licks and propulsive grooves—not too mention singer/ guitarist Reese McHenry's wailing alto going all "Me and Bobby McGee"—overwhelmed or overrode the band's psychedelic impulses. But on Champions of Imperfection, McHenry's muscular, Joplin-esque howl now comes balanced by Doug White's subtle organ peals, which add a colorful Dancing Bears waggle. That psych accent is the final perfect ingredient for the Heaters' bubbling, lumbering rock. This is a disc that works best on repeat, steadily battering you into the limp shape of a beanbag with quick hits.
Indeed, concision is the key. The Heaters excise indulgence, serving bite-size nuggets of gut-sticking rock with every song except the opening title track and closer, "Mexico Way," concluding in less than three minutes. Minus blues rock's typical extended wankery, the record keeps you wanting more. From "Cherry Van," with its proto-punk guitar and machine-gun drum opening to the ragged, gathering-steam strut of "Railroaded" and the jagged-pulsed, slow-fused throwdown "Save Me," there's hardly time to catch your breath before they're on you again, like a four-piece paparazzi.
While that chest-caving energy is consistent, the songs slowly establish their own personality. The most winning of these is "Untitled," which builds to McHenry's rafter-ratling choral howl, "I believe in karma too" before concluding, in her best lyric, "I'm gonna stomp, stomp around, all through this solo ... stomp like a little kid burn herself out." The Heaters' steel-toed clomp makes Wolfmother sound like nancy boys, luring the listener ever closer to the conflagration. Go ahead, firewalk with 'em.
The Dirty Little Heaters play Local 506 Saturday, Feb. 20, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7. Red Collar and Pink Flag open.
Correction (Feb. 22, 2010): The print version of this story said Jessica Caesar was a former member of Pink Flag. She is still a member of the band; see comment below. We had also spelled Jessica's last name incorrectly.