REVIEW: The Chocolate Watchband—This Is My Voice

By: Rhodes Ford

The title track of The Chocolate Watchband’s upcoming release This Is My Voice is among many protest songs on the album. As a California psychedelic rock band formed in 1965, it’s not unfamiliar territory. While things have changed since the band was in their heyday, the sound of late 60s psychedelic rock is timeless (sitars included). This is the revival band you’ve been looking to add to your rotation.

unnamed (6)The Chocolate Watchband made a name for themselves in the late 60s, touring with both The Mothers of Invention and The Doors. The list of past members is fairly long, but the current iteration features original members David Aguilar, Tim Abbott, and Gary Andrijasevich, as well as Derek See and Alec Palao. While times and band members have changed, This Is My Voice marks a return to psychedelic protopunk both sonically and in message.

The album starts off with a bang. The distorted guitar, tambourine, and a driving drum beat gesture to their past while grabbing your full attention, regardless of what you’re doing. It is a perfect continuation of the late 60s/early 70s garage rock tradition. It’s the first of many treasures on the album.

The album is chocked full of protest songs, beginning with Judgement Day, which despite being written in the midst of the Great Recession, sounds like it was made for 2018. It highlights the long-lasting effects of that recession and how they’ve brought us to the current political climate, particularly emphasizing the prevalence of pessimism and anger in our society. The next track “This Is My Voice” is The Watchband’s frank thesis for the album. The lyrics that are shocking in their truth and again refer to today’s political climate, comparing it to a simpler time: “It’s easier to lie today, facts don’t get in the way” and later on, “It’s easier to hate today, be invisible and troll away.” The frankness of the song extends beyond the lyrics into the quieter, minimal instrumental as Aguilar teases out the complexities of today’s society, allowing us to focus entirely on what he’s saying.

The other highlight of the album were the three covers of monumental rock songs. They manage to cover Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, and The Seeds. While they left the lyrics of “Desolation Row” and “I Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” as they were, “Trouble Everyday” includes lyrics updated to fit the present, emphasizing the “brown, black discrimination” and “all that mass stupidity, that seems to grow more every day, each time you hear Fox News say.” Frank Zappa’s version written about the Watts riots is one of the best protest songs of all time. Leaving the lyrics as they were would have underscored that, but the small tasteful changes that The Watchband makes instead articulates the subtle changes that make our current times equally incendiary, literally and figuratively.

“Bombay Pipeline” was the sole track that had the sitar front and center, which was disappointing for a band that came of age at the same time as the sitar was taking its spot on the pedestal of psychedelic instruments. The track is completely instrumental and provides an interlude between the intensely political and emotional tracks. The simplicity of the chord progression of “Bed” also provides a sort reprieve from the explicitly political, contrasting the upbeat chord progression and the depressing lyrics describing all of the things the narrator has to do as he lays there unable to get out of bed.

The closing track includes what might be the most shocking part of the album. “Till The Daylight Comes,” begins with a chorus of “Make America Great Again” and a sample of Donald Trump speaking. I found myself so caught up in the use of Trump’s voice that I missed the rest of the track and had to listen again to understand that the song was a restatement of the band’s thesis that in the darkest of nights, “We will wait for a brand-new dawn, we will wait until the daylight comes.” With this album, The Chocolate Watchband is saying This Is My Voice. Now, make yours heard.