Album Reviews 20/12/10

The Myrrhderers, The Myrrhderers Sleigh Christmas (self-released)

It was with great sadness that I read last week there’d be no live Trans Siberian Orchestra shows coming to the area, just a streaming thingamajig instead. I looked to the universe, hoping to be cheered up, and lo, hark, behold, a wonderful holiday EP from a bunch of trolling punks declaring themselves to be a “North Pole punk-rock supergroup,” made up of members of “Dead Kringles, Prancid and Sleigher.” I immediately decided that the record would receive an A+ grade, then listened to all five songs, which literally only required 12 minutes out of my life. It’s all actually quite good if you like Good Charlotte demos and junk like that; their rub of “Deck The Halls” could actually be Green Day in Santa beards for all I know. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is straightedge-leaning punk-pop lunacy, and so on. These guys aren’t just pikers with an eight-track recorder from 1991, but I didn’t deduct points for their decent production quality. Very tolerable. A+

Deep Sea Diver, Impossible Weight (ATO Records)

This album being so good, I think I’ll pass on listening to their last couple of records, as the consensus seems to be that they’re not as ambitious. The quartet is led by Seattleite Jessica Dobson, who in the past has played with a who’s-who of indie royalty (Shins, Spoon, Beck, others), experiences that have helped to shape her into the closest thing to a millennials’ Chrissie Hynde that I’ve heard to date. There’s a palpable grunge edge to this stuff; “Lights Out” sounds like a cross between Yeah Yeah Yeahs (with regard to the vocal approach) and Superdrag (relative to the mashed-potato guitar sound), but she’s obviously got a jones for trip-hop, by the afterparty steez emanating from “Shattering The Hourglass.” So that’s all well and good, and the tunes, regardless of their disparate influences, sound like they belong together, but the killer bit is that Dobson’s songwriting is outstanding. Well worth your stream time. A+

Retro Playlist

Merry corona-mas everyone, as the science nerds like to say down at CDC headquarters! There’s still plenty of time to order holiday music CDs, so today I’ll look at albums this page has covered in the past, but first it’s your reminder of the festive songs I can’t stand in the least, like “Feliz Navidad,” “O Holy Night” and of course Billy Squier’s “Christmas Is A Time To Say I Love You,” which, yes, I already harped on a couple of weeks ago, but wait, go listen to it again, if your stomach can handle it. Isn’t his voice super-annoying, like, doesn’t he sound like some sort of post-punk WC Fields, as though he wants to say “Go away kid, ya bother me” after every line? I mean, sure, I’d rather be subjected to Billy Squier’s dumb song than “O Holy Night” while I’m in line at Walgreens buying some stupid last-minute thing, like my hatred for that song isn’t bone-marrow level the way it is with John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Christmas,” but — oh, you get the point.

For more tolerable holiday sounds, let’s go all the way back to 2006 for til Tuesday front-lady Aimee Mann’s Another Drifter In The Snow. It’s a mellow, very listenable collection, and her choices were all good: Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song”; a bearable “Winter Wonderland” and for (polite) laughs, a rip of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

In 2008 there was the charity-driven A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa album, by Princeton Choirs. Beautiful, reflective stuff for those quiet holiday nights, featuring donated tracks sung by The American Boychoir, The Westminster Concert Bell Choir and several others. Fun fact for cynics: Despite all the holiness baked into the tracks, there nevertheless exists a one-star review on Amazon submitted by someone who freaked out over the fact that the Princeton Theological Seminary Choir wasn’t brought into the mix. I really don’t need to expound on that, I’m sure.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Yee hah. It’s a landslide of new releases, vying for your Hanukkwaanzmas dollar! I feel totally blessed this time of year, what with all the new albums coming out on Dec. 11, but honestly, this year I may not have enough snark left to deal with it all! I mean, just look, it’s a double-live album from Belle and Sebastian, called What To Look For In Summer, can you even stand it? Fifty million hipsters totally love dancing their happy irony dance to BS’s gentle, inoffensive twee-pop, and they only dance harder when the song is so boring and unlistenable that all their friends give up on them forever, like all that stuff from Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (they played the whole album during their headlining stint at the Boaty Weekender festival, the famous gathering place for rich people with boats and stock options, and some of those live versions are on this album). The album starts off with a version of the Scottish beer-guzzling singalong “The Song of the Clyde,” isn’t that so awesome? I’m totally going to listen to this album on my schooner as I chase that devil Moby Dick all over the seven seas, with my ironic hipster bos’n mates who all have mad harpoon skills and bunny tattoos!

• Wait, fam, look, we don’t just have young millennial hipster deck-swabs to talk about, because thar she blows, a new album from Paul McCartney, titled McCartney III! I totally can’t remember the name of his old band, something like Herman’s Hermits, or Len, or whatever, but either way, this guy, whose eyelift surgery makes him look like Carol Channing at closing time at an after-hours bash, is at it again, just cold bringin’ the guitar-pop music, to teach you crazy Death Grips listeners how it’s done! Boy, I can hardly wait to dig my ears into the new version of “Coming Up,” any of you boomers remember that awful song? Ah, here it is. It sounds like it’s sung by drunken Ewoks who don’t know how to use their cheap downloadable music-making software. Gack, it’s even more horrible than the original, so let’s put this aside for now and press on.

• Continuing our excursion to find musical coolness whilst sailing on board the Pequod, Canadian folkie duo Kacy & Clayton have been around since 2011, doing their part to bring good folkie-fied feels to the hipster whaling community and all young people who watch shows like Archer just to annoy their roommates. Their new album is Plastic Bouquet, a collaboration of sorts with New Zealand musician Marlon Williams! No, I have no idea who that is either, but whatever, yay Marlon Whastisname! The lead single, “I Wonder Why” mostly sounds like Roy Orbison, but it’s mostly an acoustic guitar thing, so there’s a rootsy Hank Williams feel to it as well. It’s OK.

• Lastly, we should probably take a quick listen to whatever’s going on in the new M. Ward album, Think Of Spring, specifically the single “For Heaven’s Sake.” Spoiler: It’s a wispy, dreamy unplugged-strummy-guitar tune with way too much reverb on his voice. I suppose I’d love it if I were a salty hipster whaleboat swab born in 1987 instead of never-you-mind-all-that, and had never listened to Simon & Garfunkel, because that’s kind of what it’s like, except it’s bare-bones. But I wasn’t, so I hereby rudely dismiss this song, with extreme prejudice.

• Finally we have Tucson-based Tex-Mex-indie stalwarts Calexico, with their new LP, Seasonal Shift! Huh, how do you like that, it’s a holiday album! The first single is called “Hear The Bells,” in which the boy-eez sing about drinking mescal and selling something or other by the side of the road, I don’t know. Sounds like a cross between Everly Brothers and your least-favorite pop band from the 1980s, if that helps any.

Album Reviews 20/12/03

Life in a Blender, Satsuma (Telegraph Harp Records)

So here’s this New York long-time quirk-rock guy, David Rauf, leading his band on their million-billionth release, a six-song EP that’s only slightly unpredictable (he’s not doing yelly punk or anything like that nowadays). The Rosetta stone here is anything David Byrne’s ever done (meaning everything), but I found this record to be slightly — I don’t know, comforting. Imagine Electric Six with NRBQ horns and you’re pretty much there, not that Rauf’s voice is Jello-Biafra-level crazy or anything like that, and the lyrics wouldn’t be conducive to that sort of thing anyway. On “Soul Deliverer,” for example, our hero yammers in a disaffected but volatile Byrne-like baritone about how he’s regretting drinking coffee at lunch (or whatever) and swearing to switch to water. But where was I — oh yes, comforting. I mean, I could picture these guys as a musical opening act for a comedian in Vegas, and not one of the unfunny ones like Jimmy Fallon or whatnot. No, I think Doug Stanhope would be a fit. A

Ilsa, Preyer (Relapse Records)

Sludge-doom metal isn’t my cup of tea unless it’s done really well and with some variation in speed, like, with Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality as its sentai. Kyuss is OK, for example, but Candlemass and St. Vitus aren’t, and Sleep is a bit too off-Broadway, if you get my drift. As with any genre, there are tons of others we could cover here, but this Washington, D.C., outfit reads like a tyrannosaur cage-match, relying on crazed, wounded bellowing on the vocal end, and not a lot of imagination with regard to the guitar riffing, which isn’t actually riffing but mostly four-chord mud ringouts (imagine Sunn(((O))) with a purpose in life). The subject matter is pretty dark even for my beloved homies at the Relapse imprint, and I’ll mercifully leave out the particulars in that regard. There are some straight-up black-metal passages that feel more like obligato checklist sign-offs, which isn’t to say there’s nothing at all innovative here, but, well, you know. B

Retro Playlist

As we await our Very Special Covid Christmas, let’s step into the Way-Back Machine and go over a few albums that may have been written about a little unintelligibly the first time around, and no, I don’t mean unintelligibly in the way that most of my stuff is written, I mean reviews that even confused me.

In February 2015 I unwisely took it upon myself to check out stoner band Jeremy Irons & The Ratgang Malibus and their Spirit Knife LP. This resulted in such run-on messes as “Alright, they’ve mostly been doing singles and comps, but what intrigues me is that they’re adamantly indie, using distributors like Carrot Top (local bands, you should really be taking notes if you’re releasing your own stuff) and AEC, all to push bands who are friends with owner Scott Hamilton, who is not the figure skater, in the same manner as no one in this band is the duckling-lipped actor you’re thinking about. Everybody lost? Cool.”

All I was saying there is that this capable-enough Boris-like outfit was using independent distributors. I’d have expounded further on the music, but it was pretty disposable, so I didn’t. Suffice to say that if you love metal, by all means, seek this one out, so that you can listen to it once and promptly forget you ever did so.

I’ve got a million of ’em, I tell ya. That same week, there was O Shudder, by the British quirk-prog crew Dutch Uncles. I actually liked that album, come to think of it, despite its indecisiveness over whether they wanted to rip off Vampire Weekend or Muse. It’s a weird but very good record, not that I probably enticed any of you nice folks by spitting takes like what I said about opening tune “Babymaking”: “…its winding, skeletal beat evoking Spandau Ballet after a marathon Orb listening bender.”

Pitchfork sort of liked them too, but I got over it. Meantime, I promise I’ll try to be less confusing in future. No guarantees, of course.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

The new CD releases are coming hard and fast, looking for your holiday dollar — you should see all this stuff coming up! Now that we’ve dispensed with the worst Thanksgiving ever, which you mostly spent on the phone, trying to get Grandma to install the right video driver on her 2006 Windows XP computer so it could seize up while you tried to Zoom video her eating cranberry sauce, it’s down to the serious stuff, with the batch of new junk coming out on Dec. 4! For holiday gift-giving, I’d recommend the new White Stripes compilation, The White Stripes Greatest Hits, because it’s not horrible. OK, maybe it is, like, their fanboys will be all like “Why isn’t such-and-so song on here?” But who cares, because “Seven Nation Army” will probably be on there (the final tracklist hasn’t been released yet), and what else do ya need?

• Gahh, aside from the aforementioned greatest hits thing, the new release list is freaking full of live albums, comps, and rich musicians just asking for fans to send them beer money. Just looky there, it’s Arctic Monkeys, with their new album Live At The Royal Albert Hall, a title that also speaks for itself! Remember years ago when I was an Arctic Monkeys hater? You do, right? Well, whatever, if you like them, I can’t do anything about it, so like them all you want, with my Christmas blessings.

• OMG, even hipster-black-metal fraudsters Deafheaven are getting in on the live/comp gravy train, with their live collection, 10 Years Gone! Yes, there’s nothing I’d rather hear than a live version of this band’s typical songs, which always goes like this: blissy Sunn(((O))) part → metallically doomy Boris-or-Cannibal Corpse part → Bathory part. And now you know everything about Deafheaven and can brag about it to your little brother, who will be amazed by your cultural acumen.

• It turns out that not everything is old news and boring box sets or whatever, unfortunately for me! Depressing Icelandic hipster-dingbats Sigur Rós release their new studio album Odin’s Raven Magic this Friday! Now there’s an album title I can love; it sounds like the title of an episode of The Witcher, so it’s got to be cool! I couldn’t wait to hear what dreary hipster slop these crazy kids had cooked up for 2020, so off I went, first to discover that Odin’s Whatever is simply a recording of the band’s 2002 orchestra-accompanied tune, which is set to the Icelandic poem “Hrafnagaldr Óðins.” You guys know that one, right? It’s an anagram that spells “The Hamburglar Did It” sideways. As for the song, it’s just a slow, morose indie-rock joint comprising boring samples and a completely unnecessary orchestra, and it sounds like Vikings mourning an iPhone that got hacked by a bored troll from 4chan. Enjoy!

• Finally we have Tucson-based Tex-Mex-indie stalwarts Calexico, with their new LP, Seasonal Shift! Huh, how do you like that, it’s a holiday album! The first single is called “Hear The Bells,” in which the boy-eez sing about drinking mescal and selling something or other by the side of the road, I don’t know. Sounds like a cross between Everly Brothers and your least-favorite pop band from the 1980s, if that helps any.

Album Reviews 20/11/26

Patrick Higgins, Tocsin (Telegraph Harp Records)

Just before the election, there was a pretty good meme making the rounds, in which God scolds Gabriel for filling the year 2020 with all the events that were supposed to happen during the entire decade instead of spacing them out. This New York based noise/classical composer is perfect for this apocalyptic period, focusing his efforts on creating “crisis music” with his combo of overeducated, over-Manhattan-ed music nerds. After serving in bands both rock and classical, Higgins’ goal these days is creeping you out, or at least bringing the listener awareness of how creepy everything is these days, this by making his music act as an organic, brain-bending x-factor. In the beginning (“SQ3 (I) Aletheia”), it’s a cross between maximum-crazy Jim Thrilwell and the hope-destroying soundtrack to There Will Be Blood. But there are other things too, of course, such as angry piano-bonking, slasher-movie string assaults (“SQ3 (III) Passagio”), chime concertos (“Tocsin 01”), etc., all of it washed off most elegantly in the end with a stab at Bach’s Contrapunctus XIV. World-renowned contributors include Wet Ink Ensemble, pianist Vicky Chow and the Mivos Quartet. A+

Suuns, Fiction EP (Joyful Noise Recordings)

This Canadian band has been around since 2007, making an artsy mix of neo-psychedelic art-punk. They’re arguably most famous for their 2013 tune “2020,” a wub-wubbing freak-electro joint that sounds pretty much exactly like what you’d expect to hear from a band of Martians trying to sound like Clinic, which I, at least, am fine with. This shorty EP is the product of Covid-enforced isolation and sounds it; the basic tracks for these songs come from older recordings that have been micro-analyzed and reworked with their trademark futuristic mindset as tempered by the sense of doom that pervades human life these days. Opener “Look” is a bizarre noise essay combining the smooth EDM of The Orb with the reverent nonsense-sampling of The Books, but that’s just the warm-up. “Breathe” features guest Jerusalem In My Heart adding a buzzy Albanian chordophone line to a couple of pretty neat loops; “Pray” bounces along nicely with some bloopy goth soundtracking. A

Retro Playlist

At this point there’s really not much else to do other than commiserate with others on the internet. The other day I got into it on Facebook with a couple of my old alpha-troll friends, a couple of European chaps who, like me, used to chase bad people off the internet for fun. It all started when the British guy posted a SoundCloud clip of himself playing a guitar line to some song titled “So What.” I told him that to me it sounded like Allman Brothers (my default response when light jam-rock isn’t hopelessly wimpy), and our Belgian friend said it sounded like Steve Vai, one of those old guitar hero-type guys, you know, the “rock stars” who nobody really knows except for nerds and other guitar players.
The Belgian and I were surprised to find out that the Englishman was actually playing his “axe” over a rip of a Miles Davis jazz tune. Miles is the most famous trumpet player in history, which you should know if it ever comes up on a test, so the other guy and I felt kind of stupid, which meant that we all had to start throwing mindless insults at each other. Being I’m not a “Miles-ophile,” I led with the defense that I believe “anyone who pretends to like everything Miles has ever done should be dipped in murder hornets.” Things devolved from there, as always, but I think I successfully made the point that I’m a casual jazz fan, not a Miles wonk, mostly familiar with his work with Sonny Rollins.
I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure and serenity out of all these years of reviewing jazz albums, the bonus being that unlike my British friend I didn’t spend many thousands of dollars building my collection, since public relations people send me new ones nearly every day. And the jazz world isn’t just composed of a bunch of bands huddling in unheated recording studios trying to get a good take of “My Echo My Shadow And Me”; there’s always a new angle. I don’t know if any of you remember this — OK, you don’t, but who would — but in 2011 I tried to get you to listen to Mocean Worker’s Candygram For Mowo! You should still check it out; it’s a jazz album but with a ton of hip-hop and house-techno influences.
In 2014 I mentioned Zara McFarlane’s If You Knew Her, which included a cover of Kitty White’s “Plain Gold Ring,” but other than that it was expressionism colored in her African roots, accentuated with such things as bird noises and steel drum bits.
Great stuff, but as always, all jazz is eclectic stuff, so it’s best to sample jazz albums before buying the vinyl versions. Unless it’s the Yellowjackets. If you see a Yellowjackets album, just buy it.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Here we go, the holidays are here, as evidenced by all the new CDs slated for release on Friday, Nov. 27! For our first inspection of the week, let’s look at the new Miley Cyrus album, Plastic Hearts, because it’ll probably be interesting if nothing else. Miley has stated that her influences for this record were Britney Spears and Metallica, meaning she’s still officially insane, but let’s not rush to judgment, shall we? I mean, if she can do this, maybe Bruno Mars will do a cover of a Death Grips tune, you know? Wouldn’t that be awesome, guys? But no, I’m kidding, Miley legitimized herself as a metal queen when she did the cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” at the Glastonbury festival last year, but even before that, her appearance on the Worst Episode Ever of Black Mirror Krazy-glued her spurious new image into the public consciousness: She’s basically a hilariously overprivileged, 27-year-old version of Keith Richards, but with Auto-Tune. So this album (by the way, she’s also threatening to make an album of Metallica cover songs) is basically a Kinder Egg for critics, like, I know that when I check out “Midnight Sky,” the single I’ve successfully avoided for two months now, it’s going to turn out to be cheap and dumb, but will its Kinder Surprise be a toy car or a xenophobic Smurf? Whatever, the video is OK, if your brain doesn’t glitch out from being exposed to her usual overacting; it’s like ’80s post-disco, think mellow-mode Taylor Dayne as sung by Britney Spears. It’s survivable, is what I say.

• Ho ho ho, anyone notice that Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins is looking more and more like a clown version of Uncle Fester these days? I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, per se, I was just making an … oh just drop it, the ’Kins are back, with a new double-album, called Cyr, this week! The only thing that’s ever stuck out to me about the ‘Pumps is that they have a real knack for making headlines, in rock ’n’ roll magazines, while only ever delivering room-temperature grunge-pop made even more inedible by Corgan’s Steve Urkel singing voice. But that’s just me, and you may disagree, which is fine, and I will simply agree to listen to the title track. Hmm, it’s like Kraftwerk, but with a catchy chorus. Does it seem weird to anyone else that the good old ‘Smashies are a ’90s band, and the ’90s were supposed to be an improvement over ’80s music, but here they are doing phoned-in krautrock? No? Never mind then.

Billie Joe Armstrong is that little fake punk guy from whatever-their-name, Green Day. Since Green Day’s music hasn’t made enough money to buy all the Twizzlers he could ever eat, he’s solo now, with a new album, No Fun Mondays! The album consists of all cover songs, including Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America,” which was a finalist in the 1981 “Worst Songs Ever Made” competition as selected by the legions of Beelzebub.

• We’ll end the week with holiday cheer, as spread by Nova Scotia-born folk-popper Jenn Grant on her new album, Forever On Christmas Eve! It includes “White Christmas,” blah blah blah, and an original, called “Downtown Christmas Eve,” a sexytime chill-out with binking piano and an aimless but pleasant melody.

Album Reviews 20/11/19

The Old Rochelle, Pony Steps (Crumple Crumple Crumple Records)

This band is too messy and cool for me to dismiss as an average fedora combo, even if most of the varying ingredients are there. Thing is, this Lowell, Mass., band, led by Bucky Fereke, has hit on something that’s like a zydeco-washed cross between Eels, Springsteen and ’80s-era Randy Newman. The up-front stuff on this record, starting with “It’s All A Mystery,” is party-time Cajun-pop, made legitimately listenable through the efforts of the band’s accordion player, Tony Cavalieri. It goes on like this for a few tunes, and then, as expected, comes a nice knuckleball, in the form of “West Coast,” an examination of personal rebirth sizzling with a squeaky clean Byrds-style guitar line, in other words stylized in the manner of every other indie-rock song made in the Aughts. That’d usually make me reach for the Tums, but Fereke’s battered yet unrelenting voice can be, as alluded, redolent of Mark Oliver Everett, even borderline Elvis Costello, come to think of it. I’m sure this is a blast to hear live, if this Covid nonsense ever ends. A+

Orianthi, O (Frontiers Records)

You may remember this millennial answer to Lita Ford from her 2009 bubblegum hit “According To You,” a Michelle Branch-style rockout in which the mononymed Australian did her own guitar shredding, something she’s done for a long time now, not only as a solo artist but also as a sidekick for Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper and others. The aforementioned 2009 album, Believe, earned platinum sales status, mostly on the strength of the similarly Avril Lavigne-esque stuff that was on it, but on this, her fourth LP, she ventures into other blends of familiar female-rock, applying a grungy Alanis Morrisette vocal to the Evanescence-drenched opener “Contagious.” “Sinners Hymn” ropes in the noise-heads with a brilliantly beaten-down mud-blues riff, and I suppose I’d love the tune even more if it didn’t rip off Alice in Chains, but what are ya gonna do. “Sorry” finds her trying Trent Reznor goth-electro on for giggles, at which point anyone into heavier music has to tip their hat. A

Retro Playlist

People who are old enough to have their mailboxes stuffed with AARP spam remember when ’80s hair-metal hack Billy Squier, a Boston native, once sang “Christmas is a time to say I love you.” In my mind, now that it’s looking like a Covid Christmas, I’ve changed the lyrics to “Covid is a time to stop being a sucky band.”

Like, why not, bands? There’s really nothing else to do other than reassess your whole approach. It’s either that or just keep trying to press on with the current plan, which, for most bands, involves streaming live shows from someone’s basement. That hasn’t worked out so well, at least from a critic’s eye view. I’m not the only one who’s noticed it; in a recent Facebook post, local veteran rock writer Billy Copeland noted, “The sound quality sucks. The singer keeps pausing to acknowledge all of the fans watching, and that reminds me of … Romper Room, when the lady used to look into her crystal ball and say ‘I see Tommy, and I can see Sally, and I can see Robin[…].’”

The more palatable option for bands looking to make a socially distanced splash, according to one of my favorite PR guys, is to spend no more than $500 on two professionally shot videos. I like that, but I’d always rather see bands getting better at, or changing entirely, their approach to music-making.

We’ve already discussed the possibilities that can come from bands changing their sounds, both the good (Fantastic Negrito’s dumping his Prince trip and becoming the best Led Zeppelin wannabe in the world) and the bad (The Horrors, enough said). But there’ve been others, like Staten Island indie rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars, who in August 2011 gave up posing as a lousy Pavement-type band and released the LP Lenses Alien, which, I noted back then, evinced “a talent for funk-chill, an ear for angsty hooks, a singer who can accurately karaoke Trail of Dead, and a gimmick (mad, mad bliss) — the whole Pavement thing was doomed from the start.”

On the flip side, we have trip-hop legend Tricky, a once-vital character in the Massive Attack canon. His 2013 album False Idols was too minimalist and wasn’t my cup of tea. He went “completely torch,” I whined then.

So, if you’re an artist or band, don’t just change for the sake of changing. I know, it’s totally Captain Obvious, but true.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• It’s here, fam, Nov. 20, the next dump-day for general CD releases! What’s in the can and headed our way, don’t you wonder? Maybe an album of T-Pain burping complete Bach concertos through an Auto-Tuned mic? A Blu-ray of Cardi B giving twerking lessons while wearing a scowling “I Heart Beethoven” half-top? Miley Cyrus covering the entire Mastodon Leviathan album? (You know she wants to, seriously, have you even seen what she’s been up to lately?) Jeezum crow, I can’t imagine what sort of horrific monstrosities are on their way, for the final shopping weeks of this, Week 47 of The Worst Year Of Our Lord 2020, when marriage counselors and family therapists made more money than the airline, cruise ship and hotel industries combined, all while working from home in their Scooby Doo pajamas! Harumph, I say, old chaps and chapettes, look yonder, it’s mummified English EBM/industrial-punk veterans Cabaret Voltaire, with their 15th album, Shadow Of Fear! Hmm, it says here that Richard Kirk is the only remaining member of the band. What fun could that have been, with no drama over artistic differences? Boring! The single, “Vasto,” is a krautrock-electro thing, with no singing. It is OK, because at least it isn’t like some stupid Kraftwerk fanboy thing. Nice tribal-house loops, I shall allow it to live.

• Canadian pub-emo band Partner is commanded by two lesbian guitarists, Josée Caron and Lucy Niles! They won a Canadian songwriting contest or another, whatever, and then got semi-famous when their video for “The ‘Ellen’ Page” went viral, when actual Ellen Page shared it on her Twitter and such. Anyway, Never Give Up, the band’s new LP, features the tune “Honey,” a pretty decent hipster-ized nicking of Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me.” Totally salvageable tune; you might possibly like it, but also might not!

• Speaking of ambivalence, maybe you liked “My Heroine” by Canadian screamo geeks Silverstein, back in 2005, when you were a nerdy tadpole playing Counter Strike for 26 hours a day, but now you’re hopelessly adult and don’t have time for dweeb-rock anymore, yet you’re still interested to know that the band has a new album, Redux II, coming to your Spotify! The first single, “My Disaster (2.0)” is mostly oi-tinged ape-screamo, but then the Dashboard Confessional part comes in, and you realize you must drop everything and go pwn noobs on CS just like back in the old days, what are you waiting for!

• Finally we have my favorite stoner band in the world (because their name fills up almost one million characters of column space), King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, with not one but two new albums! We’ll first talk about the new studio album, K.G., which includes a song titled “Automation,” a shuffle-y, super-cool, mid-tempo post-grunge tune in which our demented heroes try to make Indian sitar-like sounds with their guitars; you’ll totally love it, it’s like a s’mores of Queens of the Stone Age and Ravi Shankar. Now, of course, because it’s holiday shopping season and this band loves putting out albums every two weeks or whatnot, they are also releasing a concert album, Live In S.F. ‘16, which will include such songs as — oh, whatever, it’s all awesome, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard everyone!

Album Reviews 20/11/12

Raf Vertessen Quartet, LOI (El Negocito Records)

The term “avant-garde” originally came to us from the military, a catchall describing a small troop of highly skilled soldiers who went ahead of the rest of the army to explore the terrain and warn of potential danger. That military association has mostly faded from the public hivemind, which nowadays regards it as an adjective describing various forms of improvised, off-the-cuff art. After years of trying to “clue in” to avant-jazz, even the red-hottest of it, like this Brooklyn-by-way-of-Belgium drummer has accomplished on this, his bandleader debut, I’ve experienced several stages of self-confidence, but always come back to my musician’s sense that improv is three-dimensional, that the listener is observing personal, not solely musical, interactions. Here, the sax/trumpet/bass contributors do seem to want to expand on Vertessen’s whiteboard sketches, but the constant outbursts of (spoiler) unmitigated skronk really did nothing for me until the heavily syncopated “Fake,” at which point the band did sound like they had a common goal. Note that the whole record was recorded during two one-shot attempts, so, as one critic noted, it gets better after they’re warmed up. B

Fred Hersch, Songs From Home (Palmetto Records)

Album titles rarely ring this true. On this LP, the Ohio-raised jazz pianist, now 64, has made coping with Covid easy on himself by leaving his two usual-suspect rhythm-section cohorts out of it and simply solo-doodling with (mostly) some standards at relaxed leisure, at home. This guy’s a survivor; one of the first jazz musicians to come out as gay and HIV-positive, he was on the ropes in 2008, first suffering from AIDS-related dementia and then, promptly afterward, pneumonia. Unbelievably, after nine nominations, he still hasn’t won a Grammy, not that those are handed out like candy, and regardless, a Grammy won’t keep a person from contracting Covid depression. No, better to keep at it, to be the best you can be, and within this wide-open environment, Hersch reminds us that he is indeed one of the best, period. Playful versions of “Wichita Lineman,” “After You’ve Gone”; some deft rhythmic change-ups on “All I Want,” solemn modal ruminations on Hersch’s own “West Virginia Rose” — sweet escapism abounds. A+

Retro Playlist

By now it’s an established supposition that I may indeed have an undiagnosed allergy to bands in fedora hats, a fashion accessory usually reserved for bands that specialize in music I detest, like jam bands. If I see fedora hats on bandmembers, I usually expect them to play their guitars through wimpily affected Peavy amps, with the distortion knob set to “Don’t Upset Anyone.” I mean, it’s cool if you’re into that; maybe that’s on me, on my black-and-white worldview. My thinking is that a band either plugs guitars into amplifiers to produce loud-ass noise, or leaves them unplugged in order to temporarily to soothe the savage lager-drinking beasts who attend shows, concerts and after-hours fire-pits. I’m not much with gray areas, apparently.
That’s not to say I hate all fedora music. You know for a fact that I’m always nice to Norah Jones, whose Blue Note Records release, The Fall, had me gushing over its prettiness (if not its faux-world-weariness) way back in 2009 (“’Chasing Pirates’ — the lyrics of which betray a weariness with the stupid side of boys — is a shy chick’s ‘Like a Virgin’ in rhythm, tone and attitude”). As well, back in June of this year, I was quite impressed with her new LP, Pick Me Up Off The Floor (“she is officially a folk-jazz goddess … and at least she’s not trying to become a media conglomerate like everybody else who lucks into a hit record”).
And don’t forget Amos Lee. I always have time for that guy. 2011’s Mission Bell is still one of my favorite fedora albums, on the strength of the galloping “Windows Are Rolled Down” alone, but there’s plenty of folk-and-soul-tinged fedora-pop on board to love. Thus I am not hopelessly irredeemable.
(Note that someone may jump onto a [hopefully rickety] stack of milk crates and object that Lee is simply too soulful to be classified as a fedora artist, but that’s the whole point: My “Critic’s Tip To Bands” for this week is to avoid being boring if you’re writing fedora-rock tunes, a thing far easier said than done.)


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Uh oh, gang, the new releases of Nov. 13 are on the way, and things are heating up, probably! I mean, the holidays are basically here, so all your favorite bands and twerking frauds plus William Shatner In A Pear Tree want you to spend the last of your emergency Spaghettios unemployment money not on food, but on albums, like you should, don’t be such a cheapskate! I haven’t looked at the list of new releases yet, but I’ll bet you there’s some OG rapper dude releasing a Christmas album, or maybe a team-up between Kellie Pickler and Dolly Parton, which could be titled Before And After. Wouldn’t that be funny? No? OK, whatever, let me put on my Santa hat and check the list! Whoa, wait a second, look, guys, it’s a new AC/DC album, called POWER UP! The title is capitalized, because seriously man, now that they’re all older than Betty White or whatever, Angus and his boys are seriously powered up! Ho ho ho, this should be awesome in every way, I can’t wait to hear the new single, “Shot In The Dark,” but first, look at Angus! He looks like a beardless Gandalf now, like a cemetery caretaker extra dude from some 1980s PBS show about Sherlock Holmes, so funny and awesome. OK shut up, wait, here’s the video, after this commercial word. Hey, why is the YouTube spam-bot trying to sell Cadillacs on an AC/DC video? Don’t they know AC/DC hates new cars, because the establishment is bad? I’m gonna email Angus on his MySpace or AOL, right after this song (man is he gonna be mad)! Ack, guess what, it’s the same song as “Shoot To Thrill,” like, I’ll bet if you heard this song and “Shoot To Thrill” played at the same time, you’d just say “Hmm, interesting multi-tracking!” Ho ho ho, all right, enough of that.

• I say, old chaps, it would appear that there is a new album from Yukon Blonde, called Vindicator! If you tend to avoid bad music, you probably don’t know about this Canadian indie-rock band, but for the record, they did have a No. 11 hit (in Canada) with the (Canadian) single “Saturday Night,” which was basically a meatless Canadian ripoff of A-ha’s “Take On Me.” Unfortunately they weren’t sued into oblivion for that, so now I have to go listen to the band’s new single, “You Were Mine,” because no justice no peace. I’m watching the YouTube video for the song now, and shocker, it has no hook, just vibe, like a way-too-long Gorillaz/Jamie Liddell mashup. I am now shutting it off and will try to forget the dumbness I have just experienced.

The Cribs are an indie band from Britain (or, more specifically, because you know how people in the U.K. like to be specific: Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England, U.K., Europe, Earth, solar system, Orion Arm, Milky Way, universe). They have been around since the early Aughts, and everyone from England loves them, because they once made a song called “Mirror Kissers” that sounded kind of like The Hives. The band’s new LP, Night Network, is on the way, and it features the tune “Never Thought I’d Feel Again,” which sounds like a Herman’s Hermits B-side from 1965. You might like it, but probably won’t.

• To end the week, let’s talk about Fear & Loneliness, The Darcys’ new album! “Too Late,” the single, sounds like background music for a disco scene from The Love Boat, and is, thus, worthless, but I thank the band for playing.

Album Reviews 20/11/05

Touché Amoré, Lament (Epitaph Records)

I usually swipe left on promos from the Epitaph label anyway, so this Los Angeles emo quintet owes me one. I’m not just being a jerk here; it’s no longer necessary for me to pretend that I can deal with more of the shimmery, downer guitar lines I’ve heard on so many OG emo albums. Much as I respect their workaday dedication, bands like Silkworm and Drive Like Jehu make me feel claustrophobic, like I’m stuck sitting in a musty room with way too much sun pouring in. But whatever, not knowing anything about this band I gave this record a shot, figuring it couldn’t be more morose than its predecessor, 2016’s Stage Four, which revolved around singer Jeremy Molm’s mom’s bout with cancer. This is fine with me, to be honest; the triple-speed punk-popping “Reminders” is melodic and hellish at the same time, coming off like a Partridge Family hit played at 78 RPM. “Deflector,” on the other hand, sucks, but in a good way, scoring enough post-hardcore points to keep me tuned in until the fade. I’d rather listen to this garbage than Pennywise, put it that way. A-

Dave Douglas, Marching Music (Greenleaf Music)

By the time you’re reading this, the 2020 election will be over, and its inevitable counter-reactions will have already begun to surface. I endorse the Nov. 6 timing of this record, because whichever way the political winds blow, regular people do need to make their voices heard. Jazz trumpeter Douglas, who owns and operates the Greenleaf Music imprint, put together a great quartet for this album, which musically documents the unprecedented protests of our scarily delicate time. It’s not like anything I’ve ever heard from Douglas, and in fact I almost hesitate to lump it as jazz: Son Lux guitarist Rafiq Bhatia figures heavily in the sound, tabling doom-metal-inspired heaviness and trippy Nels Cline-ish incidentals to this rich, solemn outing. It’s not difficult to grok where the band’s sentiments lie, of course; “Whose Streets” is the standout track, hinting at aftermath as it brilliantly evokes a windswept, litter-strewn cityscape thoroughly doused with hope. A+

Retro Playlist

I’ve talked here previously about how the coronavirus has presented record buyers with the chance to broaden their horizons, to try testing out things they might not normally listen to. You should know by now that I have no real agenda, aside from a wish to have all music legally banned from public places except for 1920s-1940s swing, as it might put everyone in a good, or at least presentable, mood.

You should consider yourself lucky in that regard. Can you even imagine how gross this quarter-page would be if I were some sort of irrepressible superfan of the Rolling Stones, or some other way-too-popular band about which literally billions of words have already been written by wonks and nerds? Just picture it. I mean, if that were the case, and I totally loved the Stones (I don’t), by now I would have filled this “casual stream-of-consciousness” space with random babblings about “super-rare” bootleg versions of “Mother’s Little Helper,” covering such obscure trivia as the time Stones’ amazingly boring drummer Charlie Watts left this or that drum roll out of the version the band played in 1986 at the Philadelphia Spectrum. People actually do write stuff like that.

You won’t get that kind of thing on my watch, no sir. I prefer sticking to the meta, and today’s theme is all-girl bands that were reviewed in past columns. You already know about ’80s band the Go-Go’s, of course; they were featured in a Showtime documentary this past July and need no further examination. I’d much rather re-raise a little awareness about Japanese band Shonen Knife, the original female answer to the Ramones for decades now. Last year they released their jillion-zillionth album, Sweet Candy Power, and it was, thank heaven, nothing new. “Opening track ‘Party,’” I said last June, “is simply the Ramones’ ‘Go Mental’ wearing wax lips.” Now, that wasn’t an actual diss, for the record; I just can’t express affection properly, you see.

Nor unfounded disdain. In 2013 I really wanted to toss Au Revoir Simone’s album Move in Spectrums out the car window because the girls were from Brooklyn (and plus the fact that they proved once and for all that all-guy hipster bands hadn’t cornered the market on purposely terrible indie-pop), but it wasn’t to be. There were a couple of hooks in there, so I just left it at that in my mini-review, leaving out the part about their being an absolutely dreadful band.

And that’s how I missed out on a Pulitzer, fam.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Onward we go to the next general-CD-release Friday, Nov. 6! You should be paying attention, because there are tons of new CDs coming out before ChristmaRamaHanuKwanzaa, after which will be nothingness and epic fail, when, like every year, all the good albums have been released and I have nothing to write about in this space except for goat-demon thrash-metal bands and reissues of 1960s Lawrence Welk albums. So what’s first this week? Why, it’s Neil Young & Crazy Horse, because they haven’t released a new album in like a whole two weeks or whatever, so here it is, the new album, Return To Greendale! Will Neil Young solve all our problems by singing about politics, like in the 1960s? Let’s hope so, because the corona-whatever is really harshing my mellow, so if he could do that it’d be great (Oh, whatever, I don’t know, you shouldn’t listen to me, because I’ve always hated Neil Young. I think of him as the Billy Jack of room-temperature rock, a fragile but indefatigable put-upon soul who gets girls because he can swear in Chippewa. If it hadn’t been for Richard Nixon, Neil Young would be working at a Denny’s, and that’s literally the thing I hate most about Nixon). Anyway, what does this whiny-voiced fraud want from me today, a review of his new single, “Falling from Above?” Sure, I’ll bite, I’m at the video right now. Ha ha, he looks like Rex Trailer. Oh boy, it’s a (spoiler alert) mid-tempo (spoiler alert) bar-rock tune that’s (spoiler alert) totally boring. Dang it all, he used the word “freedom” in the song to make fun of Americans or whatever, which means I have to drink a shot. Oops, there’s a sloppy, stupid harmonica part. Drink! OK, I’m drunk, because wimpy constitution, let’s move along.

• Wow, even at 52 Australian-British singing lady Kylie Minogue is hot, but enough about substance, let’s talk about style, namely whatever style people will hear on her new album, Disco. I predict the style will be what I like to call “awesome house-pop,” but you never know in what sort of craziness an artiste will indulge. Right, there ya go, as I predicted, the new single “Say Something” is awesome; totally ’80s-throwback stuff, like early Madonna. On the video, she’s riding a badass-looking horse and throwing sparkle-bombs at some Blue Man Group people or whatever. I love her, really.

• Well, how do you like that, my Kylie-inspired good mood continues into another blurb, as U.K. folktronica band Tunng will release its seventh full-length, Dead Club, within 24 hours of this issue’s street date. The single, “A Million Colours,” is sort of like an art-rock version of Gorillaz, with lots to like about it. What’s that you ask? What happened to the folktronica part? Right, what, you expect genre bands to stick to their given genres? Please don’t be difficult.

• Time to close up shop at the Snark Garage for the week, but not before I mention Meteors Could Come Down, the fourth album from LAL! LAL is an electro-world band, consisting of musicians from Uganda, Bangladesh, Barbados and India. The title track is super dreary but awesome, a Tricky-like trip-hop tune with an organic feel. OK, the more I hear of this the more I like it. This is awesome, go buy it.

Album Reviews 20/10/22

Laura Jane Grace, Stay Alive (Polyvinyl Records)

Laura Jane Grace has a lot her plate dealing with being the most wellknown punk-rocker in the LGBTQIA community. Thankfully, this time out, she didn’t even bother trying to bring in her band, Against Me!, through some sort of awkward Zoom collaboration in order to express her feelings about and reactions to the ongoing social crises that have overflowed from the pandemic. But these songs aren’t psychically exclusive to people who are trans and whatnot; I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be able to relate to the final line of opener “The Swimming Pool Song,” where Grace, wailing on her acoustic guitar, hollers, “It feels like the death of everything” in her sturdy Weezer baritone. Yes, Grace and her unplugged guitar’s only accompaniment throughout the record is provided by a drum track, but it’s no surprise to hear such powerful (and sometimes very pretty) stuff exuding from a study of prison-like isolation as experienced by one who’s already well used to it. A

Ryan and Pony, Moshi Moshi (Pravda Records)

This coed duo (Ryan Smith the guy; Pony, a.k.a. Kathie Hixon-Smith, the girl) were in separate Minnesota-scene indie bands forever until this joining-of-forces debut album, which has made quite the splash with the Twin Cities press corps. They were both raised on hard stuff — Marilyn Manson, Husker Du, Metallica and such — which naturally resulted in their team-up sounding like a well-above-average Arts & Crafts Records release, in other words Canadian hipster-pop with a much lower-than-usual level of worthless ’90s-college-rock gunk. Like Broken Social Scene, the duo usually sings the same lines, note for note, in a dueling-octave style that usually makes me barf, but they do have something of a hard edge within those confines, i.e., where BSS might place some stupid piano-vs.-xylophone part, these two jack the guitar energy, a la Len or [place name of one-hit Canadian ’90s-radio band here]. They’re OK; they should just move to Montreal and get it over with, if you ask me. B-

Retro Playlist

If there’s anything we’ve learned from this semi-lockdown, it’s that man, do we need some fun around here, you know?

In that spirit (if quite a bit late), I’ve decided to end our collective suffering and simultaneously pay tribute to the recently departed Eddie Van Halen by starting a Van Halen tribute band, called “Old Morons Playing Van Halen.” The band will play nothing but David Lee Roth-era songs, no “Van Hagar” stuff, the garbage they put out when Sammy Hagar sang for them.

I can sing exactly like Dave, and I don’t care what people think of it, which, taken together, is my only artistic talent, really. I was hired to be the Dave in the local Van Halen tribute band Diver Down back during the George W. Bush era, but the guitarist didn’t think I was bad enough. Literally. See, Dave absolutely sucks when he plays live, and this guitarist wanted authenticity. He was all set in that regard; he had every pre-amp and guitar pedal that Eddie used in his actual stage setup, like, he studied Eddie, and for some stupid reason he wanted his singer to be able to sing like the “live version” of Dave, not the “just like the album” version. I wasn’t going to fight the guy right then and there, so I wished them luck and left.

So why not? What could it hurt? What, would all the bands I’ve insulted or ignored over the years finally get back at me by telling their friends, “Don’t bother going to Saeger’s Van Halen show, he just sounds like Dave.” Um, ouch? I mean, no one’s going to go to shows for a while longer unless a really awesome band is playing, so let’s do this, local musicians! My favorite Van Halen album is Women And Children First, so we could just perform that record in its entirety, and whatever, “Runnin’ With The Devil” and “Atomic Punk,” you know, the good stuff from their first album.

Come on, guys, whattaya say? For the time being, for social distancing protocol’s sake, maybe the Mall Of New Hampshire would let us play in front of Macy’s (are they still in business?) and the crowd could adore us from in front of Mobile Envy. The little kids could dance, the people could spazz and fire Nerf guns at us, and it would just rule.

I’m serious, folks. PM me!


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• OMG, it’s totally the dump of new albums streeting on Oct. 30, coming straight for us, led by It’s Christmas All Over, the new holiday album from ’90s indie-pop gods the Goo Goo Dolls! I usually hate people who are upbeat during plagues, but during a Quibi interview the band’s irrepressibly happy (and why shouldn’t he be) frontman John Rzeznik convinced me that he is legitimately pumped about releasing an album of dumb old Christmas songs, because “2020 has been horrible for everybody, so let’s just drop the pretense of being hip, and make a classic Christmas album the way Bing Crosby used to do it, and stuff,” something to that effect. He’s so bloody enthusiastic that I’m almost believing in Covid Santa myself, and I hope everyone buys this awesome album. I mean, I assume it’s awesome, but Warner Bros. is too cheap to release any advance tracks, but I do know that the songs will include “Let It Snow,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” What does that all mean? Who cares! Everyone’s laid off, it’s never gonna end, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Merry Whatnot, guys!

• As I’ve gone over before, one of my Constant Readers has a crush on Faith No More’s Mike Patton, so it is my duty to mention the forthcoming new Mr. Bungle album, The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo! It will be full of “avant-garde-metal,” because that is the totally fake genre that certain critics made up for them, and it will be rad and awesome, because it is made of re-recordings of the songs that were on their first-ever demo from literally one million years ago, in 1986! Musical guests include former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo (yay!) and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian (boo! Or vice versa!). To be honest, I am not a Mr. Bungle expert, but I know that Patton’s other band, Tomahawk, is awesome, so I expected that the new single “Eracist” would be at least semi-awesome, and it is, if you like throwback thrash-metal. Kind of Venom-ish really. It doesn’t sound like a boombox recording, the way the 1986 demo did, so it’s hard for me to tell on which 1986 song “Eracist” is supposed to be based. Do you like old Slayer demos? Then you might like this. Probably. Or not.

• Oh great, there’s literally nothing I like more than having to drop everything I’m doing in order to try and figure out what Mark Oliver Everett, the dude from The Eels, is babbling about. Yes, it’s a new Eels album, called Earth To Dora. As with all new albums released these days, the plan was to promote the album through touring, but come on already, but it will be here regardless, spearheaded by the single “Are We Alright Again,” an infectious but ultimately empty roller-rink-hipster-pop confection that gets its strength from Everett’s world-weary baritone. As always, this is what Flaming Lips will sound like when they’re in their 80s, basically.

• Our parting shot this week is a quick listen to 1980s geek-punker Elvis Costello’s new LP, Hey Clockface, specifically its single, “Hey Clockface / How Can You Face Me?” It is a 1920s-flapper-flavored tap-jazz track, which is fine by me. Elvis sounds like Randy Newman now. Who would have ever guessed he’d turn into Randy Newman when he got super old? Besides me, I mean?

Album Reviews 20/10/22

CrowJane, Mater Dolorosa (Kitten Robot Records)

For your Halloweening pleasure, we have this Los Angeles lady, last seen as the guitarist of Egrets On Ergot, a noise-rock band with the sound of early Nick Cave and the aesthetics of Dresden Dolls. The story goes that L.A. punk legend Paul Roessler (Nina Hagen, 45 Grave, etc.) was recording the Egrets and, noticing that this girl was deeply depressed, took her under his wing, basically locked her in a room full of instruments and such, and waited to hear the results. It’s a Throbbing Lobster-level noise opus, a cross between Swans, Zola Jesus and everything in between, especially Einstürzende Neubauten, given that the list of her noise weapons included tin foil, bed frames and kitty litter. She’s deliciously off her rocker, this one; her Exorcist-beholden promo photos fit perfectly with tracks like “Estrella” (clanging noise-rhythms under stream-of-consciousness existentialist hooey), “Delusion” (crazed-witch wilding plus tribal skronk) and her “cover” of James Brown’s “Man’s World” (primal-scream therapy accompanied by a shoegaze-metal guitarist blissing out). Picture what you’d get if Jarboe had a daughter and you’re pretty much there. Deliciously freaky. A+

Zero 7, “Shadows” (BMG Records)

It feels like a million years since a proper full-length from this British techno duo hit the streets. I lost track of them after 2006’s The Garden, an album that I listened to constantly in the car, more toward an attempt to like it than anything else. I mean, don’t get me wrong; José González, the Art Garfunkel of trip-hop, was on there, and so was (as always) Sia, and the album’s whole scorched-asphalt effect was wildly appropriate for its summertime release date. But Tina Dico wasn’t there that time, and whatever, nothing actually happened on it. Take the giant jump forward to now (we can skip past 2009’s Yeah Ghost, which was even more meatless), and we have this track, from a promised forthcoming Shadows EP, and once again I’m all set with these glorified Massive Attack wannabes. The tune features newcoming singer Lou Stone, who sounds like — ready for a shocker? — a white accountant’s idea of Tricky, and between that and the painfully obvious Portishead worship of the song’s airless, deep-chill beat, there’s nothing wrong, but also nothing to celebrate. Um, bravo, I guess? C

Retro Playlist

I still love me some Halloween, even in 2020.

Halloween doesn’t have a lot of songs associated with it. The only one I can think of is Bobby Pickett’s 1962 sock-hop hit “Monster Mash,” which went on to become the “Jingle Bells” of Halloween (Jack Marshall’s theme to the 1960s TV show The Munsters didn’t have lyrics, unfortunately; it coulda been a contender).

Corny as they are, I’m always up for campy monster-themed bands. In fact, the only surefire way to get a guaranteed review in this multiple award-winning column is to send me something where the band is singing about Frankensteins or Draculas or wolfmen or whatnot. It’s a tradition dating from way back, even before my Hippo days, when I reviewed an advance copy of British band Zombina and the Skeletones’ 2006 album, Death Valley High, for some such zine or newspaper. The sheer audacity exhibited by the band for naming themselves such a thing earned it an instant A+, never even mind the garage-pop nonsense-songs that are on the album: “The Kids Are All Dead”; “Janie’s Got A Dissolvo Ray.” A definitive, masterful work whose genius should be broadcasted at 100,000 watts from every mountain top on an hourly basis.

And then there are the fails, or at least the failed bands that didn’t start out as fails. The 2007 debut album from U.K. band The Horrors, Strange House, was utterly crazed, like a Screaming Lord Sutch-fronted Bauhaus being stung by a million bees. On that record, the singer shrieks his spazzy lines (“Jack the Ripper! Jack the Ripper!”) over goth-core that’s to die for. They were so awesome it physically hurt, like, I was like, “Why didn’t I do this?” (I’d actually thought of starting a day-glo-metal band called Goody Howl in the early Aughts, but my laziness won out.)

Anyway, then, inexplicably, The Horrors made a group decision to suck. For their second album, 2009’s Primary Colors, they got rid of the fright wigs and the monster stuff and went in the direction of, I don’t know, shoegaze-tinted indie.

That was a tough one. I’ll tell you, if I weren’t an actual vampire, I would have cried. You know, maybe I should do it, put together an awesome band. Watch for an announcement in the coming weeks.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Oct. 23 is on the way, and with it will come new albums, some of which people will like, and some of which will be brutally mocked and derided by mean-spirited critics who have been in quarantine for the last million years and are always on the lookout for albums to mock and deride, in order to take some of the edge off the boredom and horror. And speak of the devil, look, everyone, it’s gravel-throated Vegas-pop charlatan Bruce Springsteen, with his guitarist The Guy From The Sopranos and whatever horn player hacks could fit into the studio, with a new album, called Letter To You. Everyone thought I was pretty mean to The Boss’ last album, whatever its name, but in my defense, it was only due to the fact that it sucked, so it’d be cool if y’all would stop making up #FakeNews and reporting me to Twitter just to get me bounced off of there, not that I’d miss it in the first place. Whatever, Bruce is super-old now and should probably just form a super-band with Willie Nelson and William Shatner and call it “The Jammin Old Dudes” instead of releasing new albums with the whatsitsface band, don’t you think? No? OK, then I’ll just go watch the video for the title track. Look, it’s the Sopranos guy, all smiling, and the other guys too. This song kind of sounds like Bon Jovi, but more old and boring. Disposable junk it is, as Yoda would say.

• I don’t know about you, but the last Wilco album was so good that I’m ready to cut frontman Jeff Tweedy some slack for his upcoming fourth album Love Is The King. But not if it’s super bad, though, because I never recommend music that I don’t like unless free concert tickets or dinners are involved — I have standards and principles to uphold, fam! So, the title track finds our hero in full John Lennon fanboy mode: His voice sounds like John Lennon, and there’s all sort of John Lennon-level reverb on his voice. As a song it’s fine, so if you like fine John Lennon songs, you’ll probably like this.

• Last time we checked on Claremont, California, indie band The Mountain Goats was February of last year, when I gave their 17th album, In League With Dragons, a once-over. My lava-hot take back then was that it was awesome (in a Vampire Weekend meets Decemberists way) but a little under-adventurous. Whatevs, the new LP, Getting Into Knives, is out imminently, led by the single “As Many Candles As Possible,” a delightfully unprofessional no-wave-chill mess. Know who it sounds like, is the nerdy prank singer “Mike Behind The Mike” Callahan from the Sports Hub morning show, but since you have no idea who that is, I won’t mention it.

• To wrap up we have Big Thief singer Adrianne Lenker, with two albums coming out the same day: Songs and Instrumentals. See what she’s doing there, hipsters? Guess what, one of the albums just has instrumental-only tunes on it, and the other one has full songs on it. So cute, on the song “Anything,” she sounds like a weird Baby Yoda wombat-girl, singing in a sweet little voice over 12-string wondrousness, about her boyfriend, whom she likes to smooch. So adorable and fresh!

Album Reviews 20/10/15

Yellow Days, A Day in a Yellow Beat (RCA Records)

If you believe the hype bubbling up around this second album from Yellow Days, a.k.a. George van den Broek, he’s successfully bending ’70s radio-funk into a form of “upbeat existential millennial crisis music.” What that translates to in the real world of real things is a patchwork of listenable-enough blue/jazz/funk sampling that draws from the Moby playbook. The 2.5-minute “Intro” is a bit tired: an old TV interview with Ray Charles (in which he bemoans the lack of artistic freedom granted to those poor downtrodden souls who’ve scored record contracts) pattering over a decent-enough imitation of 1980s jazz-pop chill, complete with dated synths, faux-xylophone and assorted other piffle. “Be Free” is more of a traditional tune (or extended ringtone, take your pick), one dripping with Carter-era authenticity, and from there you’re off to the escapist races with the rest of the songs, lounging in a silky hammock of occasionally skit-decorated Soul Train vibe. All of it’s pretty catchy, if that counts. B+

Spice Girls, Forever (Virgin Records)

Unless the holidays are canceled — and who would blame us — we’ve arrived at that time of the year when nearly all the new releases are reissues, box sets, bootlegs, laughably expensive multimedia DVD/CD packages (“Only 10,000 in existence!”), and, of course, first-ever vinyl releases, like this one. No, this isn’t the album with their monster hit “Wannabe” on it (that was from their 1996 debut album, Spice); Forever was their final studio album, and “only” reached No. 39 in the U.S. Not surprising, given that they were down to four singers by then (Ginger Spice, a.k.a. Geri Halliwell, left for a solo career and to write children’s books). OK, no, that wasn’t the unsurprising thing about this album’s failure to do much in the U.S.; it was the phoned-in quality of the songs. Like most of this stuff, “Let Love Lead the Way” (granted, a filler track if ever there was one) was at best a bad example of massage-spa background patter; “Get Down With Me” couldn’t decide whether it wanted to nick TLC or Missy Elliott, and so on. Frankly, the only thing that didn’t outright suck was the girl-power ballad “Goodbye,” which actually did fit as a final righteous statement. C-

Retro Playlist

If you haven’t yet cracked in half over this endless quarantine, one might guess that you may have discovered meditation and/or yoga. Those things do help soothe the soul, believe it or not, despite the fact that so many people suggest them.

I should know, if you’ll pardon. I became a certified Kripalu yoga instructor 15 years ago, after spending a month at the practice’s ashram, which resembles a suburban grade school more than it does any sort of ancient spiritual retreat. Regardless, this led to my becoming co-owner of the now-defunct Manchester Yoga Center, which was located over what was then the India Palace (now Royal India) restaurant on South Willow Street in Manchvegas. Strategic partnering, you see.

Music, of course, is a big part of the yoga experience. When you’re trying to rid your body and brain of toxins, it helps to play music that’s cleansing. Just to get this part out of the way, everyone automatically thinks of Irish multi-tracking weirdo Enya when they think of “yoga music,” and yeah, it is awesome stuff. I usually have her “Best Of” LP playing in the car around the holidays.

But honestly, Deva Premal is as good as Enya, if in a different way. I used to play her 1998 Essence album a lot in my yoga classes. Her voice is truly a marvel. Her last couple of albums kind of sucked, but that’s only proof that perfection simply isn’t attainable on this plane.

As for my personal go-to “yoga records” — which, it should be said, means “New Age Music,” of a sort — one constant has always been Anugama’s Shamanic Dream, which works as yoga-class ambiance and meditative trance-inducement. It’s a crazy-long tune made of one simple, gentle, super-cool tabla/synth pattern over which a faraway voice chants “So be it.” Really immersive stuff.

My most guilty New Age pleasure, though, is the 1996 Christopher Franke album The Celestine Prophecy. The story goes that Franke, of the early ambient band Tangerine Dream, was inspired to pay homage to James Redfield’s 1993 novel of the same name. Though a bit mixed, the results do include a tune titled “The Mission of Father Sanchez,” a song that is, to this day, the prettiest, most spiritually empowering thing I’ve ever heard. The ultimate wedding march. I can’t make it to the final fade without being overwhelmed with joy and blubbering like a baby. It gets me every single time. If The Lion King soundtrack makes your lower lip twitch, this tune might just knock you flat.

(Please don’t ever use it on me at a party. I do have a certain amount of Grinch cred to maintain.)


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Hey, everyone, guess what happens on Oct. 16? Yep, that’s right, all the new albums get released, because it is a Friday! Let’s start the festivities with this hipster dude over here, Kevin Morby, a Texas native who moved to Brooklyn because he thought it would be awesome, and he’d live this totally neat-o Singin’ in the Rain life, or something like that, I honestly don’t know what this stupid Wikipedia article is even trying to say. But whatever, he was in a band called The Babies with Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls, and — look at that, I’ve lost ya, haven’t I. Come back, man, I agree with you, seriously, like, who cares about bands who sacrificed nice suburban lives just to rack up 85 YouTube listens or whatnot, and so I will end the boring history lesson and go have a listen to whatever single is on tap from Morby’s upcoming new album Sundowner! I don’t know anything about this guy, but I swear on a stack of Silver Surfer No. 4 comic books that if this is melodically good but there’s really horrible singing, like every other “indie” band that doesn’t have a full band roster I’ve heard this year, I’ll — why, I’ll, well, let’s just say that you don’t want to know! OK, here’s the stupid single, “Campfire.” It’s a cross between The Cardinals and Bob Dylan, and it’s been done literally one trillion times before.

• Right, here we go, with British glam-rockers The Struts, who are releasing their third album, Strange Days! Will it be as terrible as The Darkness, or will it be technically awesome, like the old British glam rock band Sweet used to be? By the way, only ninnies call Sweet “The Sweet.” Their name is just plain “Sweet.” Why did people call them “The Sweet,” like, was there a misprint in the August 1979 issue of Hit Parader or something? I don’t care, at least this band definitely does have “The” in its name, and for that I thank them. Oh, let’s just go, the first single is the title track, and the “feat” person is none other than the guy from Take That, Robbie Williams! Wait, this isn’t glam, it’s soccer-mom music for the Ellen DeGeneres show. Come on, guys, at least do some cowbell, hah? Nope, no cowbell, no glam, just music for daydreaming about receiving a tender back massage from Bradley Cooper while dropping the kids off for a “play date,” or whatever soccer moms do, I have no idea. Barf, no glam, just over-processed piano-pop, let’s just move along here.

• Ha ha, look at the funny skinny soy-boy, who calls himself “The Wonky Angle,” on the YouTube, ranking Autechre’s albums from best to worst and gettin’ him some Likes! Is there really a difference from one album to another, when a band plays awesome glitchy IDM? Nope. The new album is called Sign, and there’s no advance, but — wait a second, why is the album cover a complete ripoff of Orbital’s Wonky, or at least the promo version? Whatever, I’ll take it, this will be awesome, don’t mind me.

• We’ll end the week with Don’t Know How But They Found Me, a band led by two of the sad emo clowns from Panic! At The Disco. The title track from their new album, Razzmataz, is — wait, is this Smirnov commercial real? Like, you can drill a hole on top of a watermelon and stick a vodka bottle upside down in the hole, attach a spigot, and you get drinkies? Uh-oh, yikes, I’m out of room, no time to talk about whatever this emo song is about.

Album Reviews 20/10/08

Tedy, Boys Don’t Cry (Sony Records)

This mononymed 28-year-old singer comes to us from Haiti by way of Montreal, where he’s most recently occupied himself with accumulating a gigantic flock of followers on TikTok and Instagram. He came out as gay on TikTok, which unleashed a tidal wave of attention from new fans, who readily took to his polite but somewhat dramatic triphop-tinged soul-pop; this EP is his major-label debut. The video for the title track isn’t a fun watch, which is the point, as he relives scenes of cruelty he’s witnessed and experienced in real life while making fine use of his Keith Sweat-ish sob-singing delivery. That track isn’t something I’d really ever need to hear again, but closer tune “War” is another thing entirely, built on the same sort of epic million-drum strum und drang theatrics as Toto’s “Africa” and such. In “Stuck,” he evokes a male version of Zola Jesus, sort of pining/not-pining for something that’s impossibly out of reach, the drama underscored by a chorus in which the reverb is pegged to a Himalayan level. Not wildly adventurous, but I’m in his corner, sure. A-

Body Double, Milk Fed (Zum Records)

Delightfully messy album helmed by Bay Area native Candace Lazarou, who handled singing for Pang and was more than happy to take on other roles within the structure of this five-piece (she’s a multi-instrumentalist, after all, and studied music at University of North Carolina at Asheville). For a no-wave joint, this is pretty darn near perfect, given the boombox quality of her vocal tracks and the buzzy, unwashed drone of her guitar (which tends to sound like early B-52s when she’s in jam-out mode). Her musical evolution is at a stripped-bare stage; she’s been occupied lately working out the kinks of something of a personal rebirth (she recently got off dope, which required that she delete her entire real-life-friends list and start from scratch). To state the shriekingly obvious, this isn’t presentable to anyone who can’t tolerate unprofessional-sounding stuff, but that’s why earbuds were invented. I’m pulling for her myself — she’s like a female Ozzy with no budget, fam. A+

Retro Playlist

My original angle for this week’s stream-of-barely-consciousness was inspired by a Yahoo Lifestyle article (yes, I know, how boomer of me, but really, there are days I just cannot deal with Google’s newsfeed and its bottomless pit of TikTok-ers of the Week, and since when did memes with short shelf-lives warrant actual news articles?). Headlined “The Pandemic Has Changed When, Where and How We Listen to Music: ‘A Break From Reality’,” the article had no meat whatsoever: “We’re not commuting much, if at all, so we don’t crank music in our cars/earbuds”; “Country music is family-friendly, so it’s become a staple in homes, because most people of all ages can deal with it”; “people are listening to music from their past, for comfort.” And so on.

Talk about paper-thin clickbait. I’ve talked about most of that stuff before in these pages, not that I plan on trolling myself into trying to write a piece about country music. In the meantime, I predicted a few months ago that some music trends “that may have been bubbling below the surface” would be “fast-tracked,” which seems to be happening, or something, the author didn’t really seem to know what he was babbling about, and he had statistics that made his point even murkier.

I do know that, as I’ve said, everything that came out Before Covid seems better. There’s no legitimacy to that nonsense, of course; if I like a record, I like it. In July 2013 I slobbered all over The Icarus Line’s Slave Vows, saying stuff like it made “Warlocks look like the accounting team at Best Buy.” The whole record is a blast, incorporating sounds from The Doors, INXS, Boris and White Stripes, and I gave them extra credit for tagging the Strokes’ tour bus with graffiti. Even if it had hit my radar last week, I’d still push that record. Pitchfork even liked it, which was of course a frontal assault to my sensibilities.

Timelessness is the key to any album, is what I’m saying, regardless of plague conditions, even if it’s diva-pop. In 2009 Joss Stone graced the world with Colour Me Free. I loved its “oldfangled ’60s girl-group” vibe and otherworldly hooks, including the one on the Nas-guested “Governmentalist.” I’d still take her over Ariana Grande any day of the week.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Oct. 9 is our next happy general-album-release date, here in this weird, disposable month that only has two holidays, Halloween and my birthday. To celebrate the former, I should probably start with the new Brothers Osborne album, Skeletons, because, you know, skeletons. Do I have any clue as to who these Brothers Osborne are? No, I do not, but only a country band would call itself a “Brothers” anything, so I’m assuming this will be country music, and the titular “skeletons” actually — and here comes the difficult “artsy” part — refer to past loves that went bad when the brothers tried serial monogamy on for size and came to find out that their “womenfolk” didn’t take too kindly to having their men driving off in their matching Chevy Silverados to drink multiple cases of lousy American lager beer and get into fights with bear-wrestling auto mechanics and cheat on their girlfriends with belly-shirted bartenders named Tammy and Patty. Or maybe not, I don’t know, I’ll just stop this tangent right now and go see for myself what these Whatever Brothers are about. Yep, there they are, ha ha, one of the guys has a ZZ Top beard, and they have cowboy hats. They’re into honky-tonk “outlaw” country, a genre that should have gone extinct during the reign of King Ramses II of Egypt. They’re from Maryland, and they got their big show-biz break after appearing on The Voice. So I nailed it, as you just saw, but did I get it right about the skeletons? Let’s go listen to the title track and find out! Yup, I came to the right place, the YouTube has a pickup truck commercial that I can skip through if I can stand the suspense for 10 seconds, and there we go, the beat is awesome and muddy and gross, like Charlie Daniels with an extra shot of whiskey. But yeah, fam, I had it wrong, the lyrics are about how this dude is 100 percent sure his girlfriend is cheatin’ on him, like there are skeletons in her closet! How do these people even dream up this stuff, I ask you.

• Look over there, guys, it’s U.K. grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal, with E3 AF, his seventh album! The single, “L.L.L.L.” features some other cockney rapper named Chip. The beat revolves around hearing-test drone, pedestrian trap, and a throwaway Super Mario ditty, but you don’t care about any of that silly “music” stuff, you want to know about the video, like what kind of person would be flying around on a jet-ski in the duck pond of some quiet British estate. Dizzee, that’s who!

• Sometimes I gravitate to albums that don’t interest me at all. Mostly it’s an attempt to broaden my horizons a little, or maybe learn to like humans more, or something. And that’s why I’m going to be talking about Touché Amoré’s new one, Lament, next. Except, surprise, this isn’t some stupid hipster band singing off-key and irritating me to no end, it’s a post-hardcore/screamo encore troupe from Los Angeles! Do you like the word “troupe”? I do — it’s French-ish! The single, “Limelight,” is cool-ish; the singer sounds like a 17-year-old Tom Waits for 30 seconds while hollering over a U2-meets-Cowboy Junkies guitar part, then it gets (spoiler alert) loud, and kind of Helmet-like. I pronounce it “OK.”

• To wrap up the week, we have North Carolina’s Travis Stewart, better known as Machinedrum, with his new one, A View of U. One of the tunes, “Ur2yung,” alternates between trippy, progressive IDM and big-beat techno. Awesome and boring simultaneously.

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