New Music | Friday Roll Out: The Macks, Animal Surrender!


Clueless. We shouldn’t pretend to know everything, it’s a point I’ve always made but I’ve had others in the past tell me I shouldn’t say I’m unknowledgeable about something. Why? We accept, we grow, we learn. That’s the only way to evolve, isn’t it? It’s probably why we shouldn’t subscribe to the fake-it-until-you-make-it mentality. That’s just one opinion, you can obviously have your own without subscribing to my way of thinking.

With that said Animal Surrender! comes out of somewhere but for me, nowhere, with its self-titled (Ernest Jennings Recording Co.) debut. The band, Peter Kerlin and drummer Rob Smith have both played in other outfits throughout the years – Sunwatchers, Solar Motel Band, Pigeons, Rhyton, and others – and while I’m not familiar with any of their previous works, it’s gotten us to this point with Animal Surrender! The duo takes a minimalist approach with its songs and structures while always creating an atmospheric view, and allowing things to remain expansive. I’m not sure that makes any sense but as we enter its world, “Sacred and Profane Love” is driven by bass notes, drawing out guitar notes, as they reverberate in the background. It’s clever and will initially grab your attention. It’s an instrumental piece which means sans vocals, but honestly, they aren’t needed as the captivating melody that’s released is quite stunning without forceful projection. A self-titled track quickly follows, which may make you think it’s more of the same until about a minute in when Smith’s hypnotic drums set the pace for Kerlin’s jazzy performance, blending in both guitar and bass. By this point it’s clear Animal Surrender! just might be a throwback to popularized 90s indie rock but the duo handles their instruments with slight difference, never relying on sonic blasts or intricate dynamic shifts as they get lost within their compositions.

The band shifts a bit working through a couple of cover tracks, the first being “After,” originally created by Brooklyn experimental folk musician Mike Wexler. We’re not just dealing with instrumentals as the vocal notes match bass notes when they are singing. Lulling feedback is offered up in the backdrop and plays a role within the song’s atmosphere right after they sing, “Love is waiting after the end of time,” which directs me right to Wexler’s catalog. Animal Surrender! pulls an assortment of sounds out if instruments which is surprising. The band follows that with Nick Drake’s “One Of These Things First,” which draws listeners in further. The pairing of Drake’s work translated through Animal Surrender! is worth its weight in gold. While the original version revolved around guitar/piano/drums and his voice, the band’s reworked version seems much fuller with its throbbing percussion. There are similarities but they still remain so different from one another. Still so much more left to be explored, “Four Corners Of A Square World, Again” challenges listeners with its stormy delivery which moves in one direction and then shifts into another. Notes are delicate as the percussion surrounding it seems to drift in and out of time but it’s all purposeful and there’s no reason to change a thing here. The song continuously builds and never shows signs of stagnation until its eventual drifting end.

Peter Kerlin and Rob Smith do something different with Animal Surrender! and the proof is within the 7 tracks of the release. There’s never a dull moment and you may just want the band to continue playing on and on and on until you yourself wants a respite. But yes, Animal Surrender! has touched on something that’s original & inviting.   


This is The Macks fifth full-length release and the Portland band seems to have honed its skill with The Macks Are A Knife (DevilDuck Records!). The band plays its brand of classic rockism with one foot firmly planted on the ground as the band continuously moves forward and upward. Retro-futurism? Eh, possibly, but it’s clear there’s something different about its bluesy 70s inspirations which it fully embraces while storming through its invigorating songs. Have I said too much already? I guess.

So the 5-piece band might be a bit hard to pin down. There’s a prerequisite blues influence within the band’s music, and I’m not talking B.B. King inspired blues, but of course more of that aforementioned 70s-rock inspiration, but there might be a little more than that to the band. This is a rediscovery of sorts, one that finds The Macks dealing within a musical culture that isn’t explored much. Sure there are others that have found their place reworking the style in its own way but The Macks, well, they seem different. It could be the energy it releases when it engages you with its music. “Family Ties” attempts to get in-your-face from the get-go. It’s a quick build up but by the time we’re in, guitar notes are dripping around senses, organs ooze and are relentless, while the rhythm riddles our DNA with an infectiousness that’s unyielding. But let’s backtrack a bit because the album’s opener “Just Surfaced” is a non-stop movement of sight and sound. There’s a reason vocalist Sam Fulwiler fronts this band and surely the reason lies here. His words wrap around guitars and they both flow seamlessly. He barely stops to catch his breath when the band launches into the chorus, and it seems as if it’s constantly! But it’s the backbone here of Aidan Harrison’s bass and Josef Windheim’s drums that don’t cease to amaze as guitars paint colorful chords & notes around the canvas here. Phew! I hit this motherfucker on repeat!

Speaking of colorful, the false start on “There’s No Baby In That Stroller” doesn’t allow you to figure out where things are going until it’s too late and you’re already committed. Or you should be as this artsy rocker is loosely constructed around its rhythm and what sounds like Fulwiler’s humorous lyrics. But this isn’t tongue-in-cheek as the band consistently and constantly explodes into a barrage of sound. The Macks always seem to offer the unexpected and shows its range with “They Don’t Pay,” which is explosive, interesting, violent, and filled with melody where you wouldn’t expect to find it. It captures everything we don’t expect in the band, including some creative guitar fuckery. The band even seems to experiment for over a minute and a half on “Can Man” before everything makes sense with a heavy-handed bluesy riffing while its percussive barrage never lets up. We should all experience such outbursts of creativity. Now the odd man out here would probably be the closing “Ranchero,” which has the band placing a lighter touch on its music filled with harmonies, acoustic guitars, with a yarn spun about a car. Again though, we see and hear the range The Macks have to offer.

While I wasn’t sure what I was expecting with the cleverly titled The Macks Are A Knife, the band obviously does have its influences and there is some redundancy but in the end, The Macks are redundant unto itself. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish.