Oakland’s B. Hamilton have always taken fuzzy, furious garage-rock to its most earnest and elaborate extremes. Their newest LP Nothing And Nowhere is no exception. Though markedly less outlaw-country and shoegazey than their 2009 debut Because the laundry room is the only place god can’t see me and steal my ideas, B. Hamilton seems more willing to, well, have their ideas stolen – or at least let you relate to them.
Led by the charismatic singer-songwriter Ryan Christopher Parks, what was once a power trio recording in a laundromat has blossomed into a seven-piece rock orchestra delivering devastating little symphonies. It’s dad-rock for not-quite-dads, prog rock for punks, blues for grunge rockers—whatever you want to call it, it’s big and powerful like a bear–hug of sound.
With the crooning gravitas of Jason Molina and the stoner swagger of Tonight’s the Night-era Neil Young, Parks wears his heart on his sleeve on an album anthemic enough to be his magnum opus, humble enough to be one of many. The opener “North San Juan” is a whirlwind journey of death, ghosts, sin and redemption not soon to be forgotten – too austere to be an anthem, too triumphant to be a eulogy, staking out its own terrain in an emotional apocalypse. Needless to say, I was hooked by the first verse. If you suffer some misfortune and die of a heart attack like the song’s protagonist immediately after this track, you will die a B. Hamilton fan nonetheless. It will be celebrated as a classic by kids of future generations clawing through their parents’ record collections.
Not to be 100% superlative here, I suppose I should be a bit critical and note that the geography of Mr. Parks’ psyche is a bit murky, given that we start somewhere “on the road to North San Juan,” but it’s very much not the picturesque colonial fortress by the beach that is actually in North San Juan. After stealing his “mother’s only twenty,” the renegade outlaws somehow end up near San Francisco. Unfortunately, much to my chagrin and financial disadvantage during the holiday season, there aren’t even direct flights between the two airports anymore. (Editor’s note: Mr. Parks is actually referring to this North San Juan, but please don’t be mad at Diego for wishing the song was about his motherland). (Also, Diego asked me to leave this in, so don’t be mad at me for leaving this in – Ed.)
But I won’t ask where we are and I don’t care. Parks has a voice that pierces through the fog, and that’s enough for me. I’m just along for the ride.
“I’ve been painted as a simple, stupid man,” he confesses on “Whatever is Owed to Me.” And though his all-caps Facebook posts are the stuff of legend in Oakland, no one would mistake his candour for simplicity. He muses on “how time seems distant when the violence outlasts pain…when every day’s the same” – a feeling familiar to the Oakland community reeling from twin traumas of the COVID-19 quarantine and the shock of a warehouse fire that still hasn’t subsided. “I want to go out and kill tonight,” he declares, raging against “devastation” and an intolerable, ugly world.
The voice of B. Hamilton is ultimately the voice inside you, with all the complexity and contrasts you have trouble reconciling outside of a song. When the chord progressions resolve, a bit of you does, too.
Ever the trickster, Parks is willing to get a little less serious for the boogie-woogie neo-noir thriller “Song for T.W.,” and gets balls-to-the-wall pissed off for the stoner metal riffs on “45 and Straight.” Sometimes there’s a bit of a smirk or a shrug implied, a lightheartedness that will be familiar and comfortable for Kurt Vile fans. Even requisite “ballad,” if you want to call it that, the tear-jerker “Sarajevo Roses” with its touch of J. Mascis-style stage whispers, has a warm glow to it, a hushed sense of “chill dude, it’s not the end of the world – yet.”
Though written during the end of his father’s life in 2019 and recorded at the tail end of a cultural and economic quarantine not unlike the end of the world, Parks sings like he’s mostly got his shit together, and he’s tugging your hand tightly through the songs, hoping to weather the storm. From what I can tell, it sounds like you’ll make it.