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.

Album Reviews 20/10/01

U96 with Wolfgang Flür, Transhuman (Radikal Records)

The march of 1980s Nintendo-techno continues, this time with a worthy-enough pair-up between former Kraftwerk percussionist Flür and whatever’s left of U96, a project originally helmed by Alex Christensen, who’s no longer part of it. Just to be a jerk, I talked about the band Sparks a few weeks ago, and these tunes are as interchangeable with that band’s material as any other krautrock venture’s; if you’re captivated by dated eight-bit material, this is as good as any I suppose. “Planet In Fever” does have some soaring vastness to it, which counts for something; despite its obvious subject matter it’s upbeat in its way, but keep in mind that Euro-pop doesn’t seem to have a malevolent bone in its body. The title track is more to the krautrock point, featuring a beat that sounds like a free add-on that’s available to YouTubers who “just need some background music.” And so on and so forth. C+

Lo Tom, LP2 (self-released)

Follow-up to the 2017 debut album from this band, a ragtag indie-rock quartet composed of old friends who’ve played in joint and separate projects over the past 20 years, including David Bazan from the rather Pearl Jam-ish Pedro The Lion. The aforementioned debut had a rule in force that demanded minimal overdubs, which didn’t negatively affect the tuneage and got the band a lot of love from everybody who counts (Pitchfork, NPR, Stereogum, etc.). Their little one-off was so successful that this time they went with multiple overlays, resulting in a wall of Foo Fighters sound that and here’s the rub doesn’t actually do a whole lot for the songs, which aren’t outstanding to begin with. See, like I said, Bazan has an Eddie Vedder vocal range, but none of the frazzle-haired theatricality of Vedder’s delivery; the end result is some pretty bloody disposable TGI Fridays background tough-fluff with pricey-sounding production. Meh. B

Retro Playlist

Thanks to Covid, until further notice, our populace is mostly stuck doing nothing more soul-enriching than watching TV, with the occasional danger-fraught safari into a department store or getting takeout. I’m at the point where the only thing I can consistently tolerate is the Turner Classic Movies channel, where I immerse myself in a 1930s-to-1960s fantasy land where half the actors’ lines would have gotten them fired by today’s “cancel culture” standards.

My mellow got harshed completely during Labor Day weekend, when the station (do we call them “stations” anymore?) went on a retro-concert-footage tangent. Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, the drunken mess that was Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, some Elvis Presley thing, all of it. For many people, these films stand as frozen-in-time moments that mark the point at which their personal investigations into pop music no, culture itself came to an abrupt close. I know a guy who seems to think it’s still 1983; his Facebook oeuvre is awash in pictures of and factoids about The Who, a band I never really liked.

But watching The Kids Are Alright, the Who documentary (I used to have the album, way back), I remembered that I still have a special place in my heart for the band’s guitarist, Pete Townshend. He honestly didn’t like fans of pop music and wrote them off as suckers for buying the band’s records. Some of that honesty would go down really nicely these days, with deep-pocketed hipster bands releasing albums of remarkably low quality, apparently just because they’ve got the money to do it. Imagine if Pavement came out saying the same thing. They’d be instantly canceled.

Hands down, the best part of my long weekend bingeing TCM’s rockumentary vault was finally watching the early punk-rock doc The Decline of Western Civilization all the way through for the first-ever time. I do tend to name-check Black Flag a lot in this space, because their TV Party album was a revelation to Young Me, so this is just a public Post-It note to myself to remember to mention Circle Jerks when I’m trying to say that such-and-so-band is genuinely punk. The L.A. band is still around, which is surprising, given that they appeared to be so close to doom in the film. Frontman Keith Morris spends half the segment insulting the audience and the other half getting into fistfights with them.

Someday, maybe, one of the guys in Kaiser Chiefs will kick a front-row audience member in the head. At that point, I’ll have hope for this generation’s music, but not until then.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Onward to October, and the next general CD-release Friday date, Oct. 2! Now that it’s October, you know that it’s Christmas, when people get together for food fights over politics, watch out for that Tupperware thingie of mashed potatoes flying at your head, Uncle Steve, ha ha! Yup, there’s nothing like the holidays, which always start off with nonsense albums from famous people who are old and can’t remember the words to their own songs, so it’s safest to make albums of Christmas carols and festive Hanukkah dreidel ditties and block-rockin’ Kwanzaa mega-hits from Jacquie Godden. Yay awesome, one of my favorite holidays songs is — wait a gosh-dang minute, it’s Halloween, not Christmas, what’s going on here! Why is there a Dolly Parton album coming out on Oct. 2 called A Holly Dolly Christmas, and not an album called Dolly Sings The Monster Mash Featuring Former Members Of Twisted Sister? Stuff like this makes me cynical, like I almost believe that Dolly has declared a War Against Halloween, but then I remember that she doesn’t care about my feelings, and she wants her money, so get moving, hipsters, go buy this happy festive album for your yearly uncomfortable hour-long sleigh ride to Uncle Steve’s off-the-grid hunting cabin way up north, just charge your iPhone on the car battery in case a moose knocks out the electrical grid again this year. Oh, what treasures will we find on this wonderful holiday Dolly album? Well, the YouTube hath pointed me to a single, “Mary Did You Know,” an acoustic guitar ballad wherein Dolly sings about the manger and whatnot, and of course whenever she sings the word “child” she does it in a loud harsh loving whisper, because it is a special word, so sayeth the Hallmark Channel.

• Ho ho ho, can you even believe it, fam, it’s a brand new album from the human meme known as “Irony Buddha,” whom your grandfather refers to as William Shatner! This new album is titled The Blues, which leads me to believe that Mr. Buddha is laser-focused on making a comedy album where he speak-sings a bunch of old blues tunes in his trademark Captain Kirk language, ha ha, isn’t it always so hilarious the first and only time you listen to a new William Shatner song, but if you buy this album, at least you could listen to it more than once, which is comforting in its way I suppose, the fact that you once had $12 to waste on something before everyone gets laid off and we just call this whole thing a former civilization and start all over in caves. The first single is called “Let’s Work Together,” a collaboration with Canned Heat. What’s that? OK, Canned Heat was a band, back when there were bands, and William Shatner was learning to sing, but he got sick of it and quit singing, so now he has an album.

• Irritating New Yorker Mariah Carey will release her newest LP, The Rarities, in a day or so. As I suspected, most of these “rarities” are just remixes of her old hits from the 1920s or whatever, like a new version of “Fantasy,” but there is also a sad bling-pop ballad with Lauryn Hill, called “Save The Day.” It’s weak.

• To close out this week, it’s famous Pink Floyd man Roger Waters, with his new Blu-Ray/DVD thingamajig, Us + Them. It’s concert footage, so if you love all those 50-year-old “Floyd” songs, you’ll love it. I’ll be spending my money instead on canned goods.

Album Reviews 20/09/24

Clan of Xymox, Spider on the Wall (Metropolis Records)

This Dutch goth-rock outfit, originally comprising three songwriters, is nowadays down to one prime mover, Ronny Moorings, who’s been at the helm since, well, forever now, the early 1990s. After some success on the 4AD and Polydor labels, including a whopping one hit single, the recipe still remains an obvious, if wonderfully chosen, one, namely a combination of ’80s-pop and darkwave. To wit: this album’s opener “She” re-imagines Skinny Puppy’s hard grinding “Assimilate” as an early Cure single, which pretty much sums up the aforementioned styles at work here, but, of course, if you’re a Gen Xer who grew up on a strict diet of New Wave, you might think the tune is the single most innovative joint you’ve ever heard. I mean, I don’t hate this stuff at all; Moorings has a fetish for the ’80s, and that, coupled with his melodically genial approach, makes for some highly listenable, slightly-edgy-but-not-really stuff, mostly echoing the soundtrack from the first Fright Night. No, seriously, it’s a 40something’s dream, trust me. A

The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission (Self-released)

Well, this is delightful, a sludge-metal thingie with female vocals. With their super-slow-mo bliss-drone, Sunn(((O))) forged a path for doom bands (don’t let’s get pedantic, I realize those guys aren’t trying to be Black Sabbath, whatever) to try new things, and this one totally works, more in the vein of a sort of Kyuss-vs.-Boris deal, with Kittie’s Mercedes Lander covering drums and vocals. Thankfully, Lander isn’t trying to caterwaul her way into metal history; her singing here is no-nonsense, melodic and powerful, more than fitting for the swampy, epic quicksand going on underneath — think a handful of Tyrannosaurs fighting as they sink into a tar pit. For doom-heads, you’d want to start with the title track of this EP, as eventually Shane Jeffers drops a Nile-reminiscent guitar solo onto your heads, proving that the band is capable of a lot more than blasting listeners with fast-acting noise-goop. No, this is definitely a band band, and hopefully they continue with this project. A

Retro Playlist

More and more every day, it seems that anything that came from The Time Before The Coronavirus ignites nostalgic passion in our hearts. I already loved old stuff to begin with, even before all this. The over-dried, mummified smell of estate sale wares always makes me hesitate to unload the car after we come back with a haul; I want the scent to sink into the upholstery. On this page I’ve chatted plenty about really old music, too, which is still my go-to choice in the car. The oldest CD I have is some marching music from the 1910s; the album’s buried somewhere in these catacombs, and I can’t remember who the bandleader was, but I do know he played the cornet, a sturdy, trumpet-like brass instrument that was big in those days.

I’ve name-checked Lead Belly plenty of times here, the early 1900s Black singer from whom Led Zeppelin pilfered plenty of material, including my favorite Zep song, “Gallows Pole.” But Zep wasn’t the only crazily famous band to have drawn inspiration from the blues legend; George Harrison once said “No Lead Belly, no Beatles.” A two-CD set of his old recordings, Masterworks Volumes 1 & 2, can be had on Amazon for 17 bucks.

Today there are plenty of artists working to revive older sounds, like Carolina Chocolate Drops nationally, and, to some extent of scope, Bitter Pill locally. Nine years ago this past week, I told you about Red Heart the Ticker, the husband-and-wife team of Tyler Gibbons and Robin MacArthur, who received a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to record an album called Your Name in Secret I Would Write, meant to preserve a collection of obscure New England folk songs made of “broke-down waltzes and Stephen Foster-esque wordplay” that would have become extinct forever if MacArthur’s grandmother hadn’t passed them along to her while on her deathbed.

Yeah, gimme the oldies any day.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Some long-overdue good news: the next general CD-release Friday date is Sept. 25, and in honor of this horrible, dreadful, worst-year-ever being three-fourths over, I will be as cool as I possibly can to the new Will Butler album, Generations, which will street on this glorious Friday. Will is the brother of Win Butler, the human responsible for much of what Arcade Fire has done to us all, with their hayloft-indie music records, and the video for Will’s new single, “Surrender,” is OK for what it is, some borderline Baptist-choir singalong-ing by two nice hipster ladies over harmless, kid-safe Aughts-rock molded to the same kind of beat as Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” which used to play every single time I went into Toys R Us to try to find a cool Batmobile for my desk. The song has that Arcade Fire feel, and the video is OK, except some of them are wearing ski caps in warm weather. What’s with the ski caps in warm weather, millennials? Please explain, so that my next rage comic will have some context.

• Indie-folk anomaly Sufjan Stevens fooled everybody once with his “50 States Project,” an idea that was supposed to be a set of albums focused on all 50 states but that turned into only two states, Michigan and Illinois. Remember that one, and how he said it was a promotional gimmick? I didn’t honestly care myself, considering that no one would have bought an album called South Dakota anyway, so whatever. His new full-length, The Ascension, will be out in a day or so, featuring the 12-minute song “America,” which I don’t like at all, like, it sounds like an old reject acid-trip song from 10 CC that didn’t make it onto one of their albums: slow, trippy psychedelica with backward-masked synth-noise and one part that sounds like slow math-rock. I don’t get it, which, as always, means that it’s possible you’ll think it’s the most awesome song ever, but I shall not judge.

• As everyone know, the coolest thing ever to have come out of Sacramento, California, is the alternative metal band Deftones, whose most famous song, the Nine Inch Nails-like “Change (In the House of Flies),” was heard on such movie soundtracks as Little Nicky and Queen of the Damned. The band’s new album, Ohms, their ninth, is on the way, led by the title track, released as a single a couple of weeks ago. It is, of course, awesome, a cross between Sabbath, High On Fire and Soundgarden, and — what, you’re still here? Why are you not off listening to this awesome song?

• To close things out we have even more awesomeness, specifically Public Enemy’s 15th album, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down. The single is “State Of The Union (STFU),” a song powered by one of their relentlessly pounding signature beats. It is so awesome you will literally crack in half if you’re not worthy, so I advise you to please be worthy.

Album Reviews 20/09/17

Allegra Levy, Lose My Number: Allegra Levy Sings John McNeil (SteepleChase Productions ApS)

You may have noticed that not a lot of jazz vocalists’ albums make it into this space, or maybe not, but I’ll tell you that the main reason for it is that I’ve heard too many that sound too academic-fixated. Luckily this isn’t like that at all, nor is it the usual Great American Songbook suspects; it’s actually a rather daring collaborative project between rising New York City vocalist Levy and trumpet player McNeil, who wrote and originally recorded this set of songs as instrumentals at various times between the 1980s and the early Aughts. Since they weren’t written with vocals in mind, Levy’s task was to add lyrics and scatting and rearrange things a bit, a tall order indeed, but because the material is lighthearted, fluffy ballroom jazz in the first place, the result is more than listenable: her scatting is never nerve-jangling, and McNeil’s modal tradeoffs with acoustic pianist Carmen Staaf are pretty stellar. High-class stuff. A

VAR, The Never​-​Ending Year (Spartan Records)

If you want to see me run for the hills from a record, make sure it lists Sigur Ros as a “RIYL” comparison. But since I’m at the Gandalf The Grey stage of my music-critic life, when the smallest pleasant surprises can make my day, this was a nice departure. I assume the Sigur Ros name-check is PR shorthand mostly appointed by some need to rope in hipsters who’ll bite on any band that’s from Iceland (which this foursome is), but it wasn’t necessary (matter of fact, the fact they’re from Iceland almost drove me away, for whatever that matters). No, this is a rumbling, emotive typhoon of shoegaze-math, to slap a genre on it; imagine if Silkworm didn’t suck at their instruments, had a singer who could karaoke 1970s Bread, had a cool drummer with a chainless snare, and whose sole mission was to slow-emo a crowd into rapt stillness. That’s this, and it’s uniquely good. A

Retro Playlist

Now that Covid seems to have moved in for good, many of us are spending way too much time on Facebook, Instagram, whatever your poison. I was on Twitter a lot and got quite addicted, then had to stop for a lot of reasons, but now I’m back on it, as well as Facebook. With Facebook, I’m mostly there just to support the friends who seem to need a good laugh or a pat on the back, which seems to be everybody. This thing has taken its toll on people’s sanity, it really has.

Yesterday, someone posted a Facebook thingie about “What Would Your Entrance Song Be?” I immediately said mine would be Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” which for some reason was the national anthem of Toys R Us before they went under. I was lying of course; if I ever wind up talking about my book on Bill Maher’s show, I’m thinking I’d want to walk in with Black Sabbath’s “Trashed” playing. But regardless, it got me thinking about ultimate coolness, and can we talk here, no one can out-cool Iggy. No one. He was as punk as a human can get. During his live shows, the guy used to dive onto broken glass. I talked about his appearance on the song “Punkrocker” 14 years ago when I reviewed the TeddybearsSoft Machine album, a record that single-handedly saved the Aughts from being the worst decade of music ever. I mean, I love that album.

Until one of my friends mentioned it yesterday on the Facebook thread, I’d totally forgotten about Iggy’s collaboration with Underworld on the 2018 EP Teatime Dub Encounters, which I mentioned in one of the Playlist pieces. It’s no “Punkrocker,” but the beat to that record’s “Bells & Circles” is so filthy you need a rubber ducky bath after listening to it, and all the while you have Iggy free-associating about smoking butts on a plane while trying to get a date with a girl. I mean, never mind Black Lips being rad, it’s simply too late to be as awesome as Iggy, because his world is just plain gone.

Now, no discussion on ultimate badassness would be complete without mentioning GG Allin, New Hampshire’s dirty little secret during the punk years. None of his song or album titles can be printed here, but he was beyond Iggy, into the realm of — oh, just trust me. If you have Showtime, you should check out the 2017 documentary The Allins, about his life and legacy. Actually, you shouldn’t. His mom, who died last year in Franconia, was a nice lady, let’s just leave it at that.

A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Sure, why not, let’s see if the new CD releases of Sept. 18 can shake us out of our doldrums — it couldn’t hurt! I mean, at the very least, talking about new albums will make us feel more connected, as we will at least enjoy the schadenfreude (the German word for “sucks to be them, and I like it”) that comes from knowing that even rich rock stars and whatnot are having to deal with the misery of the ‘rona, and they have to eat their bowls of ultra-rare coelacanth chowder not in the company of hottt groupies but instead with the captured Pizza Hut delivery guys they keep in cages, for company. I’m almost glad I’m not a rich celebrity, except just forget it, I’m totally lying. Anyway, where were we, you people really need to stay focused, even though we are all lonely, miserable and insane — ah, yes, it’s a new album from Yusuf, who used to be known as Cat Stevens, back when all shipping in the United States was done by trains and all commerce was handled by Gringotts goblins with quill pens and uncomfortable wooden chairs. Our boy Yusuf is apparently completely out of ideas, as this new album, Tea for the Tillerman², is a “reimagining” of the 1970 album of the basically same name, but without the 2. Of course, he’s “72 years old” (that’s according to Wiki, meaning he’s probably 90, but whatever), so — oh, who cares, let’s just get this over with, the title track sounds just like the old 1970 version, droopy piano, some gospel choir, blah blah blah, “reimagining” indeed, may I go now?
• When last we left San Francisco garage-punks Thee Oh Sees, they’d changed their name to OSees, so hey, copy guy, make sure “Osees” is in bold and “Thee Oh Sees” isn’t, otherwise you will commit rock ’n’ roll heresy and we’ll all have to run for our lives. It’s not the first time they’ve made a slight change to their name, which may be the stupidest move I’ve ever seen from a band that’s trying to sell albums, but I have no control over these people, I really don’t, so try to keep up, or just skip this part, it’s all good. The forthcoming new album from these dummies is Proteen Threat, and the single is called “Dreary Nonsense.” (Disclaimer: I didn’t tell them to use that title, they did it on their own, in a display of rare honesty.) No, wait, calm down, this sounds like early Wire, spazzy, dissonant, artsy and crazily punky. Why is this band being awesome? Stop it this instant!
• Whatever, here’s that New York City band, Cults, again, with a new album called Host! They are on Sony Records in the U.S., and Lily Allen’s personal imprint elsewhere (Note for beginners: That does not automatically make them hip). “Trials,” their new single, has a slow, sexytime beat, with the usual bee-stung singing from whatsername. It’s OK, if a bit uneventful.
• Lastly, let’s talk about Canadian analog-drone lady Sarah Davachi and her new album, Cantus Descant. I don’t usually like drone, and that should wrap things up here; the leadoff single, “Stations II,” is slow and gloomy and weird, like a funeral march for a well-respected Martian accountant or something. Yup, yes, that’ll wrap it up

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