The Upshot: Canadian indie soul-rocker, with his “young Springsteen” vibe, may be poised to break big.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Although AHI (pronounced “eye’) is not know much outside of his native Canada – and to be honest, not even known by many there – he’s just put out a record that deserves a big audience and will hopefully lead to it.
In Our Time, his sophomore effort, defies obvious categorizing. It could fit in with the quieter Indie rock fare of Iron & Wine or The Decemberist, just as easily alongside Stevie Wonder or Prince in his quieter moments or a slew of modern folk artists.
The first thing you notice about AHI is his deeply commanding voice that somehow manages to be both soothing and gravely at the same time. But once you start to finally focus on the words he’s singing you realize the key ingredient to his future, inevitable success are the lyrics. Much like a younger Springsteen, a number of the songs here focus on getting out (the sublime “Five Butterflies” being the best example) or avoiding exploitation (the powerfully quiet protest song “We Want Enough”).
Though AHI may not be a household name right now, if there’s any justice In Our Time will take care of that shortly.
DOWNLOAD: “The Architect’s Hand,” “Five Butterflies” and “We Want Enough”
The Upshot: A trip over to Memphis to record their new album was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the N.C. band. (Vinyl fans will also want to know that it is available on eye-catching purple wax—check the photo, below.)
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
The notorious Spider Bags have been rocking the Tar Heel state for a dozen years, led by (doesn’t appear too) ‘Dangerous’ Dan McGee. After a four-year drought of fresh Spider squeezin’s—go HERE to read our review of their 2014 gem, Frozen Letter—we’re blessed with a deluge of juicy tunes, perhaps their tastiest to date. Boy howdy!
Recorded and mixed on vintage equipment at Bunker Audio in Memphis, rejecting new-fangled editing software, and purposely try and create a danceable, roots of rock ‘n’ roll record, which is what you do in Memphis. According to McGee, “Rock and roll just sounds better there. I swear.” The trio now features Steve Oliva on bass and Rock Forbes drumming, but, being in Memphis means having lots of other talent on hand to incorporate. Helping fan the flames are Matt Hoopengardner of the Golden Boys, Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus, Jack Oblivian, multi-instrumentalist Seth Moody, and most of the Memphis Dawls. On top of this gaggle, a Moog and an old synth modulator guitar pedal were liberally used throughout, providing a fresh flavor to their sound. It’s been said that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit. There is no bullshit to be found here.
The Moog is skillfully brought to bear in the kick-off number, “Reckless,” a heady, mid-tempo rocker, a perfect taster of stuff to come. Classic ‘Bags velocity is achieved next with “Oxcart Blues,” followed by “Alligator.” Good, pounding beats, showing you how it should be done.
You can lose your heart in “Burning Sand,” prominently featuring the aforementioned synth modulator noodling around and embellishing the number to great effect. “Cop Dream/Black Eye (True Story)” is sheer sharp-stick-in-the-eye punk, lasting an entire minute. Much fury is unleashed. Shorter-faster-louder! Another drastic shift in tempo brings up “My Heart is a Flame in Reverse,” a throwback to some early twangers like “Waking Up Drunk” and “So Long A Rope,” dripping with regret and remorse.
“Tonight, I Walk On the Water,” is another quick-but-efficient head-banger. “Ninety Day Dog” whips up a frenzy with an electro-hoedown, replete with wild fiddling and soaring pedal steel that could raise Gram Parsons. Probably my favorite cut. Striking out in rather new direction, “Apocalypso” plods slowly along as in a syncopated dream sequence. An impressive departure from what they’ve done previously.
Like it started, the album ends with an equally impressive piece, “Rollin’ With the Flow,” a great closer, where lots more synth is utilized in the outro, to walk it out the door. A damn tasty song on what is most certainly a very scrumptious record.
It’s obvious that a trip up to Memphis was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the band. Of course, the chemistry imbued by the helping hands and producer were significant to the end product. Let’s hope that McGee doesn’t require four years to produce the next one, but, he’ll know where to go to make it happen.
DOWNLOAD: “Ninety Day Dog,” “Apocalypso,” “Rollin’ With the Flow,” “Burning Sand“
Have you ever wondered what happened to rock’n’roll? Have you ever wondered how a band can be formed? Well, for Black Coffee it is all about meeting others that you just have good chemistry with. Let’s be real: Rock’n’roll is all about chemistry. These three guys met and formed and it is all a big bang theory from there. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Black Coffee is following in the great resurgence of rock that Blacktop Mojo and Joyous Wolf have brought back. Take One is the debut album from Black Coffee and it rocks!
“Creamer” sets the soul on fire with riveting vocals, a great song to start the multi-faceted music on this album. Pulling from blues and rock, this is what talented musicians sound like. The first single is the second song on the album, “I Barely Know Her,” a straightforward number that would make the Seventies proud, with a fantastically blazing guitar solo that will knock your socks off and the clothes off the ladies.
Another notable song here is titled “Monica,” one that will melt your soul, with a heart pounding sound only made better with strong vocals. Meanwhile, “Born to Lie” is wonderful in the composition of the music itself, also with nice vocals but the sounds are the true standout. And “The Traveler” has the best beginning of a song that this journalist has heard in a very long time. The vocals are sweet, and the sound is reminiscent of the Sixties/Seventies era—six minutes of heaven.
A song to rock out to, “Psychedelic Red” offers a drum beat that will hit you in the head like an episode of Dr. Who and, overall, it is a tune that would be first track on a time-traveler’s playlist. “Fade” (something this band will not do; they are here for the long term) has a hard hitting, catchy, and memorable sound. “Away” (this band will not be going “away” anytime soon, either) is the ninth track and it is all about the guitar, and what a lovely, pleasant guitar sound it is. A great track for a long road trip, this is added to my playlist now.
This trio is made of drummer Tommy McCullough, guitarist Justin Young, and vocalist/bassist Ehab Omran—Black Coffee. A good way to wake up is to put this album on and drink it up. Their debut shows what gifted artists these three are and I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to offer on future albums. I can’t wait to check their live show out as well. If you are looking for a new rock outfit that will blow your mind, then look no further: Black Coffee is what rock has been waiting for. Listen and enjoy.
The Upshot: Developed simultaneously during a residency in Pittsburgh, these two records represent a creative explosion on the avant-jazz trio’s part.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Guitarist Mary Halvorson has already released one album so far this year, but that’s clearly not enough. Not when she can do two more, out the same day, with her band Thumbscrew. Comprised of Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Thumbscrew has been putting its distinctive spin on the jazz trio concept for the past half a decade, to excellent effect on these third and fourth albums. As might be guessed from the titles, there are practical differences between the LPs – Ours features originals by each member, while Theirs presents the trio’s unique takes on various standards and obscurities.
Anyone who’s heard any of the principals’ work under their own names will know what to expect here – compositions and arrangements that push the envelope of acceptable jazz behavior without quite crossing over into free/avant garde territory. Fujiwara is a free roving percussionist, as apt to play around the beat as on it, encouraging everyone to explore the musical territory instead of going from point A to point B. Halvorson gives free reign to her unique style, sounding like she’s jamming along with a melody that only she can hear. She occasionally uses effects, especially a watery digital delay, but she mostly allows her thin, semi-acoustic tone to rule. A veteran bandleader and formidable composer in his own right, Formanek grounds the performances with his round tone and easy swing, but he colors outside the lines when appropriate.
It’s Formanek’s pieces that tend to stand out on Ours – the perfect balance of melody and experimentation on “Cruel Heartless Bastards” and “Words That Rhyme With Spangle (angle bangle dangle jangle mangel mangle strangle tangle wangle wrangle)” gives everyone room to rumble and the listener a tune to grasp, while “Unconditional” brings the record to a close with its most beautiful song. That’s not to say Fujiwara and Halvorson slack in the writing arena – the former’s “One Day” moves from ballad (of sorts) to blazer so subtly it’s sublime, while the latter’s “Snarling Joys” playfully kicks off the record with a near-perfect statement of the band’s intent. There’s a sense of whimsy behind the performances, especially Halvorson’s, a sense of serious chops being used for lighthearted effect. That doesn’t stop any of the musicians from getting down to business when it’s time to do so.
Theirs is, if anything, even more mischievous than Ours, as the trio clearly enjoys taking songs like Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous,” Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” and Jacob Do Bandolin’s “Benzinho” apart and putting them back together again. There’s no malice in these adventurous arrangements, however – these players treat each part of a tune with respect, if not exactly reverence. They’re simply trying to make each piece their own, while still retaining the spirit of the original, whether that’s the trio’s exploratory arrangement (of Johnny Smith’s arrangement) of Evelyn Danzig’s “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)” or a straightforward swinging take on Stanley Cowell’s “Effi.” An easier place to begin for Thumbscrew neophytes, Theirs is more accessible than its sister collection of original material, though perhaps not quite as daring.
Developed simultaneously during a residency in Pittsburgh, the two records represent a creative explosion on Thumbscrew’s part. Each record is a fine an example of the artistic combustion inherent in a gathering of especially creative people as you’re likely to find this year.
DOWNLOAD:Ours: “Words That Rhyme With Spangle,” “Cruel, Heartless Bastards,” “Snarling Joys” / Theirs: “Benzinho,” “The Peacocks,” “Scarlet Ribbons”
Manhattan, Kansas is not the first place one would conjure when thinking of rock and roll. It may not be Memphis, Seattle, New York or Los Angeles but it did give us Truck Stop Love.
Blending the textures of Bob Mould’s post- Husker Du project Sugar, the country punk swagger of Uncle Tupelo, the aggressiveness of “Sorry, Ma” era Replacements, KISS, Big Star, the pop sensibilities of The Lemonheads and the jangly goodness of Matthew Sweet, Truck Stop Love created a sound that was truly theirs, an amalgamation described as “pop thrash” on the band’s Facebook page, Truck Stop Love made a thunderous racket in the days when country music, coupled with a blistering wall of guitars and punk rock aggression , became a monster of a movement all its own: a giant named Alt-country.
Bands like Soul Asylum, the country fried fuzz rock of The Meat Puppets and the great Dinosaur Jr., the straight ahead rock n roll of fellow Midwesterners The Replacements or the booze soaked alternative country of Jason and the Scorchers, Truck Stop Love borrowed a little bit of these, a splash here, a dollop there, all coming together triumphantly with “Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994”, a collection of demos and unreleased tracks, recently released by Kansas City, Missouri based label Black Site Records.
Truck Stop Love (the band recently reformed to headline the yearly rock and roll weekend Lawrence Field Day Fest in Lawrence, Kansas), were a band that could hang with the big boys of the time, a foot stomping rock band from the middle of Kansas making music that, even today, twenty five years on, demands to be heard by those of us that miss the Holy Trinity: bass, Drums, guitar.
Re-mastered and produced by former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994 shows a band at the height of its musical powers, standing among some of the best of the time and writing songs that sound as fresh today as they did when they were first recorded, some over two decades ago; the multiple guitar attack of “Townie,” rings true, making the song a hybrid creature of Springsteen, Son Volt, The Bottlerockets and The Descendents; singing the lament of small-town life, the boredom, the loneliness, of Saturday nights spent drunk in the high school parking lot, avoiding the sheriff (I speak from personal experience here). Truck Stop Love, to me were and are, accessible in a way that too many bands today sadly, will never be. Truck Stop Love grasped onto their roots, the influence of both the times in which they lived and from those of their youth. “Can’t Hear It’ is the sound of young guys, pissed at the world, making music, channeling what is around them into a thing to share with anyone who’ll take the time to listen, all while trying to clean out the bar. If that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.
Can’t Hear It chronicles a great band that should’ve made it to the top but, for some reason, didn’t. Do yourself a favor and re-discover Truck Stop Love with Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994, I’m glad I did.
DOWNLOAD: “Townie” “How I Spent my Summer Vacation” “River Mountain Love”
The Upshot: Nowhere near as rough and sweaty as frontman Chris Gunn’s Hunches were, or even as noisy as the first Lavender Flu album, but it’s got a dream-soaked inevitability to it that’s pretty damned beautiful.
This second full-length from Hunches front man Chris Gunn’s psychedelic garage project meanders beguilingly through hazy garden paths, a bit cleaner and more acoustic than the 30-track Heavy Air, but still engulfed in droning, indefinite hum. Like the earlier Lavender Flu album, Mow the Glass is a sharp departure from the Hunches’ rowdy to the point of unhinged-ness, Stooges-MC5 amped blues punk tradition. Here the NW foursome — Gunn, his brother Lucas, Hunches drummer Ben Spencer and Eat Skull’s Scott Simmons — cleaves closer to the fuzzed transcendentalism of Greg Ashley, Skygreen Leopards, even Beachwood Sparks.
Still even in the most lotus-petal-strewn, hippie gnostic tracks, stabs and shouts of rock protrude. “Follow the Flowers,” a flickery, tambourine-dragging pipe dream rouses itself for a burst of emphatic guitars, a shout of “You must return to me, return to me, return,” before nodding off again. “Dream Cleaner,” does the opposite trick, letting big thick bands of distorted guitar and raucous kit-battering drums dominate, but breaking for a day-dreamy interval.
“Like a Summer Thursday,” the Townes van Zandt cover, is one of two songs that also appeared on the first album. Here, cleaned up and clarified, embellished with liquid country guitar twang, the cut floats like a helium balloon, lingers like a psychedelic sunset. The other cover is folk eccentric Jackson C. Frank’s “Just Like Anything,” opened up from its folk-picked origins with double guitars and wailing “aah aahs” into something wiggy and wild and expansive.
Lavender Flu also returns to “Demons in the Dusk” this time, paring it down so that you can see the muscle in its surging guitars, its clattering, crescendoing rattles of drums. It’s nowhere near as rough and sweaty as the Hunches were, or even as noisy as the first Lavender Flu album, but it’s got a dream-soaked inevitability to it that’s pretty damned beautiful.
DOWNLOAD: “Like a Summer Thursday” “Demons in the Dusk”
The Upshot: Veteran Aussie rocker’s surf/instro incarnation serves up an aquatic gem.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Few – indeed, very few – musicians boast a track record as consistent as Dom Mariani’s. The Australian singer/guitarist has never made a bad record, no matter what the project – the Stems, the DM3, Datura4, the Someloves, the Stoneage Hearts, the DomNicks. That includes the Majestic Kelp, Mariani’s instrumental combo. Though often touted as a surf outfit, the Kelp is far more than that, as fourth LP Hi Seas makes clear.
Fronting a combo consisting of veteran Kelps (bassist Stu Loasby, guitarist Steve Mancini) and newcomers (drummer Todd Pickett, steel guitarist Luke Dux), Mariani makes pit stops at several instrumental locations. There’s the Santo & Johnny-like twang of “Blue Olive,” the Ventures-like swing of “Francisco Street,” the acid folk balladry of “Silver of Gold,” the haunted folk rock of “Song For the Boatman,” the dusty choogle of “Freeway Ace,” the fifties-style doo-wop of “Angel Angeline” and the ocean-at-twilight balladry of the title track, which also boasts vocals. Surf rock isn’t forgotten, either – cf. “The Spider and the Sailor,” though even it doesn’t sound much like Dick Dale.
The Kelp proves itself not only versatile, but constant – no matter where the music wanders, the band’s personality remains. Hi Seas isn’t a survey of the kinds of wordless music Mariani likes – it’s a cohesive work with an artistic through line, and yet another gem in a catalog of never-misses.
DOWNLOAD: “Angel Angeline,” “Song For the Boatman,” “Freeway Ace”
Seattle’s Green Pajamas have long been one of the most consistently good acts in the psych rock underground, with three decades’ worth of albums, EPs, side projects and ephemera that’s always at least interesting, and often brilliant. But there’s a special place in the band’s catalog for the “Northern Gothic” series. Starting with 2002’s eponymous album and continuing through 2007’s Box of Secrets: Northern Gothic Season 2, the records put a (slightly) bigger emphasis on, yes, the gothic side of the group’s personality. Of course, for leader Jeff Kelly, “gothic” is not about black eyeliner, vampires and depression, but the more classical definition, as found in literature, architecture and art. In practical terms, that means the only thing his band’s version of gothic shares with the Cure and Bauhaus is a penchant for minor chords.
In that respect, Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3 is, in many ways, a prototypical Green Pajamas album – full of gently acidic melodies, soulfully plainspoken singing and lyrics haunted by ghosts real and imagined. But, as with all “Northern Gothic” branded releases, there’s something special at work here. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is – more lyrical focus? Stronger melodies? More precise instrumental work? Whatever the reason, the band is on fire here. “Lisa Lou” and “The Rosebergs” continue the PJs’ tradition of sharp pop songs, while “The Shepard Well” and “Red Bird” does the same for folk rock. “Ana (All the Way Down),” “Monica Talks to Angels” and “Amy’s Gonna Take You Down” feature some of the group’s toughest rock songs ever, with catchy tunes enhanced by steely guitar fills. The Green Pajamas rarely miss anyway, but Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3 is undeniably a new set of PJs classics.
DOWNLOAD: “Amy’s Gonna Take You Down,” “Monica Talks to Angels,” “Ana (All the Way Down)”
The Upshot: Classic punk tunes get a reggae/dub/ska/dance hall treatment, and with surprisingly impressive results.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Cover albums are nothing new for punk rock and ska bands. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a ska album in the 1990s that didn’t have at least one token ironic cover (Reel Big Fish, in fact, owe a great deal of their career to songs by A-Ha and Tracy Chapman). But Mad Caddies take the usually phoned-in covers concept and hands in an impressive alternative to the normally stale offerings with Punk Rocksteady.
Across a dozen tracks, the California ska/punk long stays take a slew of punk rock classics and cram them through a horn heavy reggae/dub/ska/dance hall filter and the results are surprisingly impressive.
Though some of the songs they take liberties with come from longtime friends and label mates – lower stakes, coming from groups whose influence are pretty in line with their own – like NOFX’s “She’s Gone,” Lagwagon’s “Alien 8” and the late Tony Sly’s “AM.” Elsewhere though they take some bigger risks by tackling a nearly flawless punk nugget like Bad Religion’s “Sorrow” or the Misfit’s “Some Kind of Hate,” songs with history and real stakes and with each cover, Mad Caddies mange to make them entirely their own.
The world probably didn’t need another cover album, but thankfully the Mad Caddies didn’t heed that advice.
The Upshot: New Zealander sings with a brutal honesty and rancor; think of an angrier, less word-playing Courtney Barnett or a cabaret-in-hell version of Sandra Bell.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Sarah Mary Chadwick’s voice is broken in the most beautiful way, the cracks and growls and wobbles like the spider lines in glass just before it shatters. She works these songs like a cat scratching up the glass towards freedom, not so much singing them as fervently trying to escape their bounds. The songs themselves are modestly couched in late night piano, heat-thundery bass and quietly emphatic drums, yet the flare of hurt and longing transcends their structures. There is almost too much poured into these musical vessels. They brim, they slop over, they run down in desolate eddies.
Chadwick, a native New Zealander currently operating out of Melbourne, started in strident punk-grungy Batrider. Now on her fourth solo full-length, she sings with a brutal honesty and rancor; think of an angrier, less word-playing Courtney Barnett or a cabaret-in-hell version of Sandra Bell. Her shadowy, crevice-y voice recalls Broken English-era Marianne Faithfull, while her emotional pyrotechnics evoke certain Jeff Buckley tunes. Yet there’s a survivor’s triumph in her compositions, a keening, syllable-stretching, show-stopping muscularity in the way she turns a chorus up to eleven, especially in the title track, which’ll give you the shivers. Or in heart-breaking “Bauble on a Chain,” when Chadwick observes wistfully, “I thought you were deeper than that/I thought your troubles had sharpened your compassion.” Faithless lovers and casual music listeners may indeed prefer a bauble on a chain to songs this lacerating, but if you’re willing to go deep, Sugar Still Melts in the Rain is so real.
DOWNLOAD: “Sugar Still Melts in the Rain,” “Bauble on a Chain.”
A Blurt Boot Exclusive: Psychedelic Furs "Only You and I" (Live Costa Mesa CA 7-19-18
Tribute: Tony Kinman (R.I.P.) and Rank And File - Video from "Long Gone Dead"
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea