Hearing Aide: Aqueous ‘Live Nugs Volume 4’

Upon burning through all 73 minutes of the latest Live Nugs, there’s no doubt that these tracks are truly the headiest to date from Buffalo’s Aqueous. The Live Nugs series has been an avenue for the band to release a small but jam-packed collection of live original songs that are hand-picked from recent shows. Live Nugs Volume 4 was released on New Year’s Eve as the band played their 128th and final show of 2013 at The Crooked I in Erie, PA. The album consists of five tracks that were recorded during the band’s Fall tour and include selections from The Crooked I, The Shaskeen in Manchester, NH and The Saloon in Charlotte, NC. The time spent on the road has clearly paid off as the compilation is the tightest they’ve sounded and features some deep jams.

The album fades in with “Strange Times” from The Crooked I, beginning just as one of their shows might. A staple in their live sets, the song delivers immediately with the first jam. Employing the use of various effects, guitarists Mike Gantzer and David Loss build a spacey soundscape before pushing a heavy swell that has come to define their live shows. As it dies out, bassist Evan McPhaden fights a staccato guitar attack with some slap and pop of his own. Evans bass work throughout the album in general seems to provide a solid foundation for both guitarists to build on. His ability to accent and add to the overall rhythm that Nick Sonricker lays down on drums is a direct result of the countless hours they’ve played together now. The more you listen to this band, the more you realize why they’re winning over fans as quick as they are. Their sound is uniquely their own and they’re clearly not afraid to embrace it.

The opening jam to “All In” is raw and reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine’s musical energy. After a minute and a half of forceful riffing, the song is reeled in by a sly guitar riff. The band manipulates the tempo of their songs so well and can completely pull the rug out from underneath you at the drop of a hat. Right around the 4:20 mark, the band runs into a thick patch of haze when the music progresses into a slow jam driven by Sonricker’s steady beat. As they carry it right through the next few minutes of the song, we hear Loss in the front of the mix on keyboard. The backing chords he provides under Gantzer’s captivating guitar solo is exactly why these two fit so well together; they’re always playing in perfect complement to one another. Gantzer’s solo starts around the twelve and a half-minute mark and is easily my favorite of the album. The two minutes are colored beautifully with a driving attack that somehow pushes faster and harder after the first minute in. The song’s final two minutes are wrapped up with a heavy, progressive rock style riffing that blazes forward in a flurry of notes before being stopped dead in its tracks.

Gantzer’s true potential though is fully realized and experienced on “Complex.” He first takes lead over a mulling rhythm around six minutes in, pulling notes that send you soaring. He almost let’s go of the wheel completely, but pulls back for one last build up. As the song gets closer to the end, the overlapping tones combine for a rich texture and push the anticipation to the limit for the best ending on the album. The final three minutes of the song are blissfully perfect and almost make you lose yourself enough to feel like you’re hearing it live. We’ll all be paying quite a bit more to see these guys in the future if they keep finding these types of grooves to tear apart.

This album, both collectively and on the individual song level, showcases an incredible vision that the guys in Aqueous have grown to embrace. They might’ve had to make some sacrifices to be out on the road as much as they were, but it’s really paid off as you can hear how much they’ve matured as musicians since the previous Live Nugs. This year is sure to be a fruitful one as they continue to build on the momentum they established last year. The band was the top pick of Upstate’s Best Bands on the Rise in 2013 for a reason, and they’ll only continue that ascent with the drive that has gotten them where they are today. As the last notes ring out, I’m left with a feeling that maybe one day we’ll look back on this album as a major turning point in the band’s history. Only time will tell.

Key Tracks: All In, Complex

Buy the new album now at the Aqueous Bandcamp page.

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