REVIEW: Queen Anne’s Revenge takes a stab at it

Get off my lawn: Retiree Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a super competent vigilante who follows a rough code of justice in “The Equalizer 3.”
Get off my lawn: Retiree Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a super competent vigilante who follows a rough code of justice in “The Equalizer 3.”

"So many songs on this album are about stabbing; I was like, what should I call it?"

That's Little Rock musician Justin Wayne Elkins on how he came up with "Knife Play," the title of the new self-released album from his band, Queen Anne's Revenge, which hits streaming services today.

It is indeed a rather stabby affair -- one song is called "California Blood Bath"; another is "Rushdie," named for (but not about) novelist Salman Rushdie who was attacked by a knife-wielding man last year -- which is pretty much a piece with Elkins' sonic approach. Recorded mostly at his home studio, the sound he conjures is a very raw, unscrubbed mix of punk, psychedelia, garage skronk and acid-drenched '70s rock with lyrics that range from scary and weird to hilarious. It's as if somehow the Stooges and early Alice Cooper made an album with the Butthole Surfers after a tour of the darkest Gothic South.

Our introduction to "Knife Play" was through the Queen Anne's Revenge YouTube channel where Elkins has posted videos for each song. Several of the clips feature footage from films by English director Robert Morgan, whose surreal, often disturbing stop-motion animation adds to the sometimes unhinged feel of the music.

"They would sync up to my songs sometimes so naturally," says the 37-year-old Elkins, who adds that he received permission from Morgan to use his work in the videos. "He makes these horribly depressing short films that seem to work with our music so well. I think it really says a lot about how video can fill in some of the gaps in our minds."

Despite all the bloodletting there is a warped sense of humor to the project.

"We have more in common with Tenacious D than Iron Maiden," Elkins says.

"Knife Play" is the seventh album from Queen Anne's Revenge, whose debut, "Cartoons Can't Get Cancer," came out in 2006. Along with Elkins, the original band featured David Powell, Ryan Jackson and Joe Ferguson. By 2020 the lineup was Adam Houser on bass, William Benjamin Hubbard on drums and Elkins on keys, guitar, and vocals. Guitarist-vocalist Sean Grigsby is part of the live lineup, Elkins adds.

For the new record, Elkins had some demos ready for his bandmates but when they had to step away from the group he decided to keep working mostly on his own, with help on a few tracks from drummer Machete Eddy and keyboardist Charlie Askew.

The threat of covid-19 was a definite influence on Elkins' productivity. "Knife Play" is the follow-up to the sprawling "Nature's Creatures Vols. 1-2" from 2020 and 2021 that feature a whopping 104 songs with a combined run time of about nine hours.

"I had this overwhelming feeling that I might not finish these songs because I might catch covid and die," he says. "That's just where I was, so I really went to work. I had this really big drive to record every song I'd ever written and get it out before the ol' covid took me out. I'm a little less scared of it today."

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