At once reminiscent of the growling tonal menace of The Stooges and something even further left of the dial, Eagle Johnson’s fretwork in the new album The Last Gun is probably the biggest reason it left me hypnotized upon hearing it for the first time. For the past ten years, good guitar rock has been inconceivably hard to come by, but the acclaimed Johnson seems to understand this and goes out of his way to revive the best parts of classic, blues-born riffing without intentionally reliving any of the past in The Last Gun. In tracks like the pummeling “We Are Africa,” glam-heavy “Joey Got a New Job,” and even the acoustic “Divided Hour,” the six-string is his best friend and most trusted source of poetic balance, often leaning on its harmonies to contextualize words otherwise too personal for us to appreciate.

The Last Gun features a far less insular feel than the majority of quarantine-era content I’ve reviewed in the past year, but it isn’t lacking in a sharp introspective edge you’ll hear in any authentic pop recordings made in this period. This edge leaves the rather elegant “Interlude #1” sounding incredibly ominous and retro pop single “One Sun” feeling just a little druggy beside the conventionality of an American blues number like “Natural Women.” Rather than fantasizing of worlds inaccessible to us, Eagle Johnson is taking us on a wandering adventure through the scenes that live inside of his mind; each of their stories arguably representative of a different facet within his tree of influences.

Let me be blunt here; there’s no escaping the blues element in this record, from the punkish garage rocker “Hey Leona” to the rip-roar anthem in the title track. Even if I didn’t know Johnson’s background and previous works ahead of listening to The Last Gun, I think it’s obvious in this material just how big an impact classic Americana has had on his writing style and general approach to recording. He’s carrying the weight of an ancient legacy even when he’s sweating sonic bullets ala the dance track “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” or laying out balladic ribbonry like he was born to do so in “Home,” and I don’t think you have to be an expert critic to pick up on the sincerity behind the aesthetic in this setting at all.

The Last Gun is an eclectic and at times suffocating effort from Eagle Johnson, but while it’s not mainstream by any measurement, its charisma is one that couldn’t exist outside of the underground element from which it took so much inspiration. Johnson isn’t an outright punk, but he’s a rebel whose reverence and scorn for the detached presence of contemporaries in American indie rock has produced a lot of pent up angst in years past, and in this record, he’s letting all of that frustration go in ten supremely stimulating songs. He sounds more creatively focused than other players venturing down a similar path in 2021 have, and all in all I would rank this latest release as one of the smarter solo offerings of its kind debuting this July.

Sebastian Cole