On their Bandcamp page, Husky Boys bless us with the mother of all genre tags to sum up their rowdy, but ambitious howlings: “basement arena rock.” Obvious oxymoronic implications aside, the tag truly captures the overflowing intensity of feeling that the best DIY shows bring to the table, that sensation of looking around at your fellow weirdos, packed tightly between water heaters, ducking under cobwebs and stumbling over dusty laundry and wondering how a sound so big doesn’t just begin erupting out into the world above. And while the Portland, Oregon-based Boys have used the tag before, their latest LP of sweaty, swaggering rock is the closest they’ve come to busting down the basement door. True to its title, the sheer force and near-constant riffage of Year of the Wolf sounds lean and hungry, eagerly hunting down the anthemic hooks that keep you running back.
The classic-rock tonality of Husky Boys easily summons up summer memories of cruising up and down the highway, switching from station to station of old-school, “real rock” channels, signal rising and falling as you pass through no-name town after no-name town. All notions of favorite bands fall to the wayside when you’re air-guitaring across the familiar grit of a well-worn classic, or thumping on the dashboard to a forgotten hidden gem.
At its core, that generous ethos is what drives Year of the Wolf. While the prickly, odd-time noodling and pleasantly askew percussion of “Port Authority” play out like a miniature detour into stranger pastures, the mode here is no-holds-barred satisfaction; the riffs sound mathematically calculated to get you springing into the air or whipping your mane to the crashing downbeat bursting from the seams of every song. Even on its dirtiest moment, the chugging, detuned banging of the title track, which imagines and designs a middle ground between Modest Mouse and Japandroids, there’s a raw emotionality clawing its way to the surface that can’t be ignored.
The standout moments on the record find Husky Boys playing it fast and loose, bouncing from riff to riff with the same adolescent glee that has you spinning the radio dial in circles to find that hit chorus again and again. Single “Passive Aggressive” does it best, roaring into focus with glittery Superchunk-style flourishes on the rhythm guitar, and eventually diving into a dual guitar battle breakdown that warms my Thin Lizzy-loving heart to no end. Those twin guitars are a major highlight throughout. “Mike Says” shows off some serious harmonic chops, fattening up the melodies as the rest of the country-punk track falls by the wayside.
From start to finish, the formula holds up rather well; Husky Boys are right on the money when they keep the pedal glued to the floor, tempos high. Unfortunately, the sole slow-burner here, closer “30 Under 30,” doesn’t quite ascend to the same airy heights of its peers. After thirty minutes of breathless intensity, its spacious wandering comes off as comparatively aimless, and even once you reach those climactic bursts of energy, they wear off too soon. Overall, however, Year of the Wolf is sure to leave you shaking off their addictive, sugar-high power pop and reaching for the replay button.