Thee Michelle Gun Elephant Collection

Collection assembles tracks from TMGE’s five LPs and two EPs and, in the interest of value for money, I’m obliged to point out that it only includes a single track from last year’s Gear Blues, their only other U.S. release and one last year’s best LPs, not to mention biggest "out of leftfield” surprise. They have the rare ability to play equally hard and heavy, regardless of tempo. When it comes to garage punk blues rock, these guys are of the highest quality, combining the visceral throb and transfer of energy of progenitors like Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, the Who, the MC5, the Sonics and the Stooges, and I’m assuming that "The Birdmen” is a Radio Birdman homage, not a Burt Lancaster tribute. Their sound is loud and full of swagger, as the guitar, bass and drums throb and pummel you while Yusuke Chiba wails in a hoarse, throat-shredding howl that’s pretty much buried in the mix; his vocals are so fully integrated that you couldn’t pick out a narrative thread even if he was singing in English, instead of Japanese. And that’s why it’s brilliant: you’re forced to focus on the entire experience, the sheer sonic tumult. And then just to taunt you and keep you off-balance the odd English word will pop out of the mix. "Lily” mixes the pop catchiness of early Who and the sonic kick of Pete and the Boys, circa 1972. It’s brilliant, but "Boogie” is the LP’s highlight. It has this big, honking, wall of Crazy Horse-ish distortion and a melancholy core melody, and it just keeps building and building for eight minutes until it climaxes and then the guitar drops out, followed by the bass’ exit, until Kazayuki Kuhara is left just bashing away at his kit. The booklet pictures are equally brilliant, whether it’s the boys in black Yakuza suits and eye patches, old west gunslinger getups (black, of course) or the inlay card with them aping the Odds And Sods cover pic, except the football helmets spell out "fuck.” Are these guys the best straight up rock and roll band in the world right now? Yes, I think they may be. (Alive!)