When Astra Elane announces “I am the president” on The Gods Themselves’ self-titled debut, it’s less a declaration of status than a hyperbolic warning that she’s not to be trifled with. In fact, you suspect she’d bring down fence-jumping intruders herself with a deceptively sweet smile and a forearm to the throat.
The song, handily titled “I Am the President,” pairs her lean voice with a tough riff that blossoms into a storm of wah-wah guitar in the middle eight. It’s a standout track on The Gods Themselves, which matches Elane and former Atomic Bride bandmate Collin O’Meara with Autolite Strike singer and guitarist Damion Heintschel (who doubles Elane’s vocals on the chorus of “I Am the President”). Together, the Seattle trio pursues a loose-limbed, lo-fi vision of rock ’n’ roll that incorporates elements of their other groups—the psych-rock scuzz of Atomic Bride, say, or the scrappy power of Autolite Strike—while pushing past them with an approach all their own.
One of the core elements of the group’s sound is, well, a lack of sound. The Gods Themselves surround, um, themselves with space in these nine songs, giving a snarly guitar riff plenty of room to feint at a wah-laced counterpoint, and putting Elane’s vocals out in front of a stinging guitar part on “Nerves.” Elsewhere, they go in for loping guitars and ripples of wah on “Gaslighter,” which features Heintschel delivering lead vocals with enough of a leer that Lux Interior would have been proud. “Thunderbird” shows the band’s more rugged side with superheated guitars clanging together in the vast emptiness that surrounds otherworldly vocals from Elane.
Two tracks later, “On the Meds” uses space a different way, letting Elane’s offhanded vocals float through an ebb-and-flow bassline, tip-tap drums and drifts of meandering guitar. The song contrasts with the juiced-up rockers that bookend it—the punky call-and-response “W.I.T.O.” comes before, while the terse stoner-rock jam “Pony” comes after—but it’s certainly distinctive. The same goes for The Gods Themselves, which offers a formidable combination of melody and swagger on a most promising debut.