I think I’d better start this with a warning: Houston’s Fatal Flying Guilloteens are a dangerous band. The legends that’ve sprouted around their live performances over the last few years are downright terrifying — “drummer Mike Guilloteen kicked the drummer from Rainer Maria in the head”; “guitarist Brian Guilloteen lit his guitar on fire and then smashed it into burning pieces on a Denton club floor”; “the Guilloteens single-handedly started a riot at The Bates Motel’s final show, and even unplugged one of the other bands playing that night.” Granted, not all the stories are true (in fact, only one of the above actually happened the way folks say it did, and I’m not saying which), but there is a reason behind the reputation. The first time I ever saw the band play, Brian Guilloteen hit me in the head with his guitar when I tried to take his picture, chasing me all the way under a bar table, and spastic frontman Shawn came about an inch shy of kung-fu-kicking a girl in the front of the crowd in the face. In person, the Guilloteens are as friendly and soft-spoken as can be, but once the trademark Lone Ranger masks go on, they’re as raw as vintage Stooges and as dangerous as notorious garage-rock compadres The Makers.
The band’s sound appropriately mirrors that rawness, as well — The Now Hustle was recorded so lo-fi it actually sounds better and better the louder you crank it…which is the essence of rock’n’roll, right? They power through dirty, overdistorted rockers like “Call the Draw” and “Western Classic” like they were born to it. Vocalist Shawn howls and screeches about Billy the Kid and robbing the Pony Express, while guitarist Shawn makes nerve-tearing, trebly, angular guitar noise just this side of Harriet The Spy and Calvin Krime, and drummer Mike and bassist Roy lope along in sinister fashion beneath the mess. Best of all, in contrast with the band’s other recent recordings (they’ve got a handful of 7″s under their collective belt), The Now Hustle actually really captures their live sound in all its sweaty, manic glory; nothing since their long-gone debut tape on Grey Ghost Records has even come close, to my ears.
Balancing that lo-fi, full-on rock esthetic, surprisingly enough, is a hell of a lot of intelligence. The Guilloteens aren’t content to just shriek and pound these days, but work in some deft rhythmic structures and guitar lines that evoke “the West” without screaming “country” (or even “rockabilly,” for that matter), and I get the feeling there’s some sort of cowboy fantasy storyline going on in the lyrics, as well. The bass on “Burn to Shine” and “Straight Lines” brings to mind Fugazi, while the guitars on “Slow Train to Right Now!” feature a muddy slide and downhome bluesy feel, only to take a Nation of Ulysses-ish turn on songs like “Kiss to Kiss Off” and “Take It On the Teeth.” Despite the raw sound, the band put a lot of work into this, their first full-length, and it shows. Finally, fans can listen to something that nears the band’s live power in its ferocity…all without having to dodge bottles or fists. Rock’n’roll at its primal best.