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Canyons and Locusts are a band with a lot to say but not a lot of time to say it. And that’s because of a variety of reasons, both imperative and inconsequential. Counting both Boston and Phoenix as home bases, the noise-rock duo is equipped to fill the expansive distance in between with a melodic cacophony, and the latest sonic serving of their big-room sound arrives with the release of thunderous new fuzzed-out single “To Art Bell,” which The Big Takeover is exclusively premiering today.
The stomp-along track, penned as a shout-out to the famed American broadcaster and Coast To Coast AM radio host, is the latest to be taken from Canyons and Locusts’ forthcoming EP, The Red Angel. Set for release in early 2024, with lead single “Buck Dharma’s Eyes” already sparking on the streams, the record is dedicated to the late Justine Covault, a staunch supporter of the duo whose label Red on Red Records previously released last year’s Roll The Dice album.
Canyons and Locusts were in the midst of recording the tracks on The Red Angel over the summer when Covault unexpectedly passed away. Left without a label home, Justin Keane (vocals and guitar) and Amy Young (drums and backing vocals) trudged forward, unleashing their new music with the guidance and enthusiasm Covault passed along before leaving us.
Picking up where October’s furious “Buck Dharma’s Eyes” left off, “To Art Bell” is a hazy fever of gritty alt-rock and Midwestern college rock that clocks in at just over two minutes in runtime. And it’s not lost on the band that this chaotic and noisy tune is inspired, in part, by a radio host who’s timbre and cadence helped put listeners at ease.
“Somewhere in the late ‘90s when we were all scared of Y2K and the end of the world and there was just that energy – especially in NYC where Amy and I both lived at the time – I discovered Art Bell’s show and would usually listen to that late at night and on into the early AM,” says Keane. “It was this glorious mishmash of chupacabra and Bigfoot and reverse speech and exorcism and not anything like what we think of as ‘conspiracy theory’ today. And his voice was just perfect for the middle of the night.”
Young adds: “I got turned on to Art Bell back in my 20s when I was doing a lot of subcultural exploration and it was among the interesting landscapes to wander. What’s interesting to me is Justin and I having these same thoughts and it being something we never talked about.”
After Bell passed away in 2018, Keane started working on a concept album about a fictional universe combining The Omen (a shared Canyons and Locusts favorite) and the universe of the 1994 OJ Simpson trial. That record never got finished, but it birthed an initial song for Art Bell, and Keane, who says “there has always been an Art Bell song kicking around my head,” re-approached the idea while putting together music for what would become The Red Angel EP. He brought the composition’s bones to Young, and working together in the studio, the music came together in about 15 minutes. The lyrics, however, took a little bit longer.
“Lyrically, there’s significance to the title,” admits Keane. “It is sort of a crazy quilt nostalgia letter to his radio show on one level, but on a deeper level it is a love letter to a specific time period, that late ‘90s window – before 9/11, before the Patriot Act, before so many of us in America seemingly lost the ability to interact with and conceive of each other as humans instead of members of one of two particular thought tribes. It’s this time where you could listen to a show like Art Bell without being called a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or, on the flip side, where you could say things like I think everyone has a basic right to health care without being called ‘woke’ or a ‘snowflake.’ I should also say a big part of the nostalgia is for a time when we had Art Bell talking about crop circles instead of Alex Jones talking about Sandy Hook being perpetrated by crisis actors.”
It’s a lot to pack into a song with a 134 seconds of fiery rock and roll bliss, but Canyons and Locusts are keen to plant musical and lyrical seeds into the listener’s head, almost like aural prompts into the recipient’s own personality, and allow the songs to evolve and adapt based on interpretation. “To Art Bell,” as well as the band’s songs that came before and are set to come after it, glide along the surface of stated meaning, with a deeper field of nuance tumbling endlessly underneath. And that’s something Art Bell likely would have appreciated.