California X Nights in the Dark

California X Nights in the Dark
On their debut, Massachusetts quartet California X made no bones about their musical roots, crafting a sludgy amalgam of Sabbath and Dinosaur Jr. that would make skids of any era proud. On their sophomore album, the band continue honing their homage to these sonic pillars while sharpening both their guitar and hook-writing chops.

The title track opener offers the best example of this, featuring plenty of noodling guitar fills without losing the plot. In fact, the front side of the new album finds California X presenting some of their most hook-infused work to date. The record's flipside presents a different story, featuring two expansive multi-track sonic explorations. "Blackrazor," the better of the two, balances the group's desire for musical indulgence while still managing to hammer listeners over the head with pummelling drum fills and stop-start guitars.

Both tracks are high watermarks for the band, who are refreshingly uninterested in expanding their range of influences, yet the album as a whole feels slight. Two of its nine tracks are instrumentals, while a further pair act as intros to the main course. And coming so soon after the epic "Blackrazor," two-part closer "Summer Wall" is a relative letdown.

On Nights in the Dark, California X are comfortable in their own skin and playing at the peak of their powers, but the album would have fared best as a pared down EP nonetheless. (Don Giovanni)