Memphis, by way of Jersey, singer/songwriter Stephen Chopek seems to have filled in the link between Nick Drake and Pete Yorn. On his third LP, Begin The Glimmer, he turns in a personal album, that despite a full backing group, some fun ragged guitars and clean production still has the spontaneous feel of a bedroom recording (think Bright Eyes or the first Jonny Polonsky record).
Chopek admits to a steady diet of Replacements and Guided By Voices in making this record and that influence clearly seeped into his writing. There is a strong pop component at the core of songs that vacillate from quieter acoustic fare to slightly more boisterous numbers. Those slower tracks, like “Dig A well,” drag down the record a bit, but there are enough great up-tempo moments, like “Radio Caroline” or the “The Ballad of Cash & Dean,” to keep the listener from moving on.
Chopek’s sometimes gig as a session drummer may help to pay the bills, but as Begin The Glimmer proves, his proper spot is at the front of the stage.
DOWNLOAD: “Radio Caroline” and “The Ballad of Cash & Dean”
Austrian band Melt Downer on Alter the Stunt serve up some hard hitting tunes that recall elements of Swervedriver and Helmet mixed with a Girls Against Boys type afterburn. It’s a pure joy to listen to these 10 tracks that are a partial homage to the Amphetamine Reptile (Amrep) sound, the Minneapolis label that gave us Helmet, Tar, Helios Creed, The Melvins, The Cows, and so many others.
“Alter” is a dark brooding affair that detonates everything in its path. The sonic guitar squalls work perfectly as they glide over a toe tapping beat. “Vater” is pure aggression and reminds me of early Helmet. The track provides quite the aural pummeling and shows just how talented this band is. I love every bit if this song including the production which focuses on getting the sub-sonic glaze just right. “Clown” is my favorite song with its hazy narcotic elements augmented by a saxophone. This is the greatest Steve Malkmus tune that he never wrote. Here the singer sounds like a dead ringer for Malkmus especially when it comes to the phrasing and pitch of his voice. The song’s disparate elements while seemingly incongruous, work really well together. I love how the groove of the song slowly lumbers along towards its conclusion. Very fucking cool! “Head Call” is a slow-burner of an instrumental that keeps one foot planted on the ground until it veers off into a bit of restrained psychedelia with Nik Turner-styled sax squawks to boot.
The sheer audacity, if you can call it that, to mix these disparate sonic elements together is what makes this album such a joy to listen to. This is a band that is able to synthesize these elements into some well-wrought memorable tunes that will remain with you long after the music has ended.
I don’t often say it but where has this band been all of my life? Imagine this, if you take the John Spencer Blues Explosion’s unvarnished primal rock and the Miracle Workers’ bluesy stomp and grate a bit of Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind on top and then place it into a 350-degree oven and bake ‘til doomsday you might come up with the band King Brothers. I’m always impressed by bands from Japan that seem to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of a very specific style of rock and instead of being just mere imitators, are able to synthesize and place their own distinct stamp on it. “Wasteland” is a stormer of an opener that is groovy and menacing at the same time. And if you thought that couldn’t be beat then get ready for the barn burner of a tune “Bang! Blues” this song brings the goods, distortion cranked to 10, reverb, and that wonderful stutter snare roll combines for one mega crack to the dome. “Break on Through” is a thundering cruise down Route 66 heading to that rumble just outside the city limits and when the melee ensues, it goes down in slow motion, fists flying and blood spraying the scene. “No! No! No!” cops the melody from The Who’s, “My Generation” but is more of a balls to the wall affair, I like the tune but wonder what the reasoning was for so transparently lifting from a band that seems to inform little of the bands oeuvre. What I don’t question is the lifting of the woo woo’s and partial song title from The Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” on the track “Sympathy for Xxxxx”. Given the album’s musical leanings, this makes a lot more sense, because it’s obvious that The Stones’ brand of blues rock informs certain elements of Wasteland. This is a truly impressive album and one which has been on constant rotation here in my office. This high-octane record is truly worth acquiring and if the band comes to the states I will be first in line to see them.
DOWNLOAD: “Wasteland” “Bang! Blues” “Kick Ass Rock” “Break on Through” “Sympathy for Xxxxx”
Watch the video for “No Want” elsewhere on the freakin’ BLURT website…..
2nd gen garage/psych monsters, now based in Germany, deliver a sonic shiv guaranteed to leave you in some knida “condition”,,, Check out some choice audio, below.
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
Be very excited, or perhaps, scared stiff, as the night-lurching Morlocks have returned from suspended animation with an explosive new album of soul-shredding raucous ‘n’ roll.
No matter their rotating line-ups over the decades, Leighton Koizumi and his band of Morlocks have continuously stood out as the most twisted fuck-ups, and undisputed champs of Gen.II of the ‘60’s punk and garage genre. Their sound has always stayed true to their school of The Stooges, MC5, Wayne/Jayne County and the Electric Chairs and so on. You know, the Good Stuff. With those influences, the absence of puny paisley pop, and Leighton’s ferocious puma-growl vocals, their live shows have never failed to decimate their audiences.
Based now in Germany, The Morlocks’ B.O.T.M.C. is the first new album is eight years, since the well-played The Morlocks Play Chess, ripping singeing covers of classic songs from the label. Now, assembled in studios in ‘various secret locations,’ an exceptional assemblage of heavy hitters; Marcello Salis –guitar (Gravedigger V,) drummer Rob Louwers (Q65, Link Wray, Fuzztones,) Oliver Pilsner – bass (Fuzztones,) and Bernadette –guitar (The Humpers.) Ex-Dirtbombs bassist, Jim Diamond produces, bringing a Motor City greasiness to the project. He also produced early White Stripes stuff. The end project is 34 minutes of ear-blasting, eye-popping and mind-mangling originals.
The mangling starts with “Bothering Me,” a late-sixties-era Stones-type basher that’s infectious in the extreme. “We Can Get Together,” struts off into N.Y. Dolls territory, keeping the high energy up. “Heart of Darkness,” really knocked me over, a very “Repo Man” kind of vibe going on. With maturity, Leighton’s voice has mellowed down to Iggy’s baritone level, like a charcoal-lined keg of aged whiskey. The first truly garage-punk number presented is “No One Rides For Free,” sounding like something Jayne County might do. Dirty blues-tinged punk is served up next with ”Down Underground.”
“Time To Move” really whips things up in a Iggy/Stones-flavored mash-up that will most likely kick your ass to Mars. “One Foot In the Grave” rides pretty close to classic Morlocks material, with lots of snarl and slathered with Iggy and Flamin’ Groovies attitude. The first real fuzz-bomb to drop is “High Tide Killer,” which is reminiscent of a lot of the stuff exploding out of Sweden in the ‘80’s. Killer indeed! The hyper-energetic “Easy Action” is led off by a long drum beat intro, then power chords, and having the flavor of the Saints throughout, really cranking up the power-juice. The album closes with perhaps the best of the batch, a song that anyone who ever caught The Morlocks live in the ‘80’s will certainly remember, “You Don’t Know” which has been dusted off and polished to a high sheen, as well as tricked out with some of that electric jug sound innovated by the Elevators. This one is a real gem, folks!
All said and done, B.O.T.M.C. makes for an outrageous return for The Morlocks, and is easily their most sterling work to date. The material, the playing, and the production are incomparable in this genre or other hard-rock of late. The album could proudly take its place on the record shelf next to the catalog of almost all of the aforementioned bands and pretty much hold it’s own. Substance-wise it lives up to what it aspires to.
DOWNLOAD: “You Don’t Know,” “Heart of Darkness,” “High Tide Killer,” and “Easy Action.“
Just a few tracks into The Black Lillies latest, Stranger to Me, you’d swear this was a 1980s-something release, sandwiched somewhere on the charts between Eddie Rabbit, Alabama and 38 Special. The blend of country with Southern rock is remarkably strong and distinctly charming. At a time when every other band out there not adding in synths and samples, is looking to include a banjo or mandolin player to adapt to the Americana sound, Knoxville-based The Black Lillies bring an authenticity to their music that can’t be faked.
Stranger to Me, their fifth release, continues down the same path they set off on with their 2009 debut and have followed with ever since. There is the risk here of sounding a little too familiar – some of the songs manage to almost bleed into one another– but elsewhere on the record, when they do step out of their comfort zone, they hint at moments of greatness. “No Other Way,” for example, with big rock guitars or the much quieter “Earthquake,” with its sublime harmonies, are some of the best songs the band has written to date.
Despite some ebbs and flows, overall Stranger to Me is more of what The Black Lillies are great at, flawlessly mixing country and rock, without sacrificing the appeal of either.
The Upshot: Indie outfit gets a chance to revisit its alt-rock heyday and update it for the modern era—but without sacrificing the freshness and energy that must have originally marked them.
BY FRED MILLS
Everybody loves a beat-the-odds, coulda-been-a-contender comeback story, and this one’s as sweet as they come. Hailing from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s NYC alt-rock scene, the Hasbros were briefly positioned for greatness, notching a few high-profile compilation appearances and attracting both label interest and college radio airplay, but, as cofounder Bob Hanophy drily notes in his liners to this much-belated LP, “it just wasn’t meant to be,” and the band split before releasing a full-length. Old story, right?
The members went on to various endeavors—the collective C.V. includes outfits like King Missile, Red Hare, Retisonic, and Garden Variety, as well as numerous solo recordings—and then, in a combined fit of restlessness and celebrating a birthday, Hanophy put out the call for a one-off reunion gig. “Everyone agreed to play and we had a blast,” he writes. “Amazingly, it sounded better than ever before and we decided to finally record the LP that we had always wanted to.”
Ergo, Cart Before the Horse, subtitled “the difficult first record” and issued by the band’s tellingly-named label Hasbin (get it?) Music. Hanophy (guitar/vocals), along with Ken O’Connor (guitar/bass), and Joe Gorelick (drums/vocals) have clearly recaptured their sound, and I say that without even knowing what their “sound” was. One detects vestigial traces of classic ‘80s janglepop in midtempo rocker “Later On” and the somewhat R.E.M.ish opening track “For the Best,” which has a careening, soaring quality that would’ve undoubtedly made the band a college radio darling. Husker Du was also an obvious influence upon the musicians, what with the blazing, yet richly melodic “Kenny” and the equally powerhouse punk anthemism of “Nothing At All” (which is also reprised among the bonus tracks as a low-fi-but-equally-blazing live cut from 1988). It would be easy to play spot-the-influence on numerous tracks here, but the larger point is that these guys internalized the lessons of their era and had the songwriting talent to craft material that, while reverential at times, was still wonderfully unique and deeply emotional. Listening to Cart… is like rediscovering a favorite album from back in the day and realizing that you’d also stashed a tape of unreleased material from the same sessions, tunes that are every bit as strong as the ones you remembered and cherished.
The vinyl LP is lovingly assembled with a full-color insert crammed with vintage photos, including a rather affecting pair of b&w shots that show the three musicians as they were in 1989 (see image at left), and then again in the current era, the former image all fresh-faced indie enthusiasm, the latter suggesting a satisfied “mission finally accomplished” attitude. (The download card contains four bonus tracks as well—nice touch, that.) Indeed, this is how a good rock ‘n’ roll story is supposed to turn out: not with recriminations and missed-opportunities-lamented; and not with lawsuits, overdoses, and the proverbial one-breakout-star-success; but with old friends remembering the magic they once made and can somehow still make, and determined to be the ultimate authors of the story rather than some music critic looking for some good-ol’-days/where-are-they-now nostalgia piece.
Here’s hoping the Hasbros have more chapters they intend to write.
DOWNLOAD: “For the Best,” “Kenny,” “That I Know,” “Nothing At All (live 1988)”
The Upshot: Americana-tilting indie rock awash in glorious harmonies and melodies that’ll leave you humming them throughout the day. Available on both CD and sweet vinyl, incidentally. Check out some audio and video from the album, below.
BY FRED MILLS
Erstwhile North Carolina resident Johnny Irion—we here in the Tar Heel state are still proud to call him one of ours—has been blessed not once, but twice: First, he was born with one of the richest, sweetest singing voices on the planet, something that was evident even back in the ‘90s as frontman for Queen Sarah Saturday and, later, a member of Dillon Fence; and secondly, he married one of the richest, sweetest singing vocal foils on the planet, Sarah Lee Guthrie, of the not-too-shabby Guthrie family, and with whom he has released several must-own albums that have made the duo beloved by Americana fans. When Irion sings, he soars, period, and when the duo swap verses and harmonize, they’re not merely the latest living example of what Gram ‘n’ Emmylou taught us all those years ago—they brush the gates of heaven.
For Irion’s latest solo album, he doesn’t merely uphold the high musical and literary (did I mention that his family tree includes a granduncle named John Steinbeck?) standards he’s evidenced to date—he stakes out a permanent piece of sonic serendipity that any singer-songwriter would die to lay claim to.
This is evident on Driving Friend from the get-go, on the gently waltzing “Emily’s” where Irion, switching effortlessly between tenor tones and an upper-register, almost-falsetto, “whoo-ooo-woo…” croon, sketches indelible images of a changing South Carolina coastline that will ring true to anyone from or familiar with the region:
“Sun going down on the Intracoastal Waterway
We were Fripp Island bound
Sentry at the guard post said we had to go away
It’s a private community now
So we beat it down the road for peanuts and some cokes
Looking for a sunset for free
Came across an old boardwalk
Surrounded by the marsh
Seagulls wheeling over you and me
That old shuttered church
Sure been burned down
Spanish moss hanging all around…
Much later, in the penultimate, title, track, Irion sets in motion a gospellish reverie amid a piano/strings arrangement which, buoyed by angelic backing vocals, lends an uncommon intimacy to his lyrics:
“There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here this morn
Your arms surround me like branches sprouting from our soul
I’ve been close before, but nothing like this
Only tears produced from my eyelids
But you’ve got everything I need and more.”
In between, you’re treated to sundry gems, from the Laurel Canyon folk-pop (think: CSN meets Brian Wilson) of “Salvage the Day” and irresistible pedal steel-and-twang-powered country rocker “Once in a While,” to the stoned, Muscle Shoals-styled swamp-funk of “Cabin Fever” (here, the backing vocals once again perfectly complement the material) and a luminous ballad bearing the wholly apropos title “Angels Sing,” another tune marked by some wonderful piano-and-strings playing (it brings to mind Wildflowers-era Tom Petty). Throughout, Irion and band maintain a consistent, reassuring low-key vibe that serves as a contrasting force to underscore the cinematic richness of the lyrics. Pitching in musically are members of Dawes, Wilco and the Mother Hips, so the sonics are stamped firmly with the trademark of quality.
That twinned quality, wedded to the aforementioned Irion pipes—which at times stroke the ear canal like pure sonic velvet, nary a note out of place—create the type of musical magic so often missing from today’s indie rock and Americana artists, many of whom mistake angst for passion, or substitute lazy “got up this morning/wrote you a song” lyrics for true storytelling. Ultimately, Driving Friend simply wants to be your friend, a musical handshake and a hug from one of our most gifted songwriters. Don’t be shy, folks—return the embrace.
For rock fans, Robert Poss may be best remembered for the mighty guitar rock ensemble Band of Susans and, if they’re really crate diggers, BOS precursor Western Eyes. But the guitarist and composer has been a leading light in experimental music circles for decades, working with Rhys Chatham, Ben Neill, Phill Niblock and others. Though Frozen Flowers Curse the Day is only his fourth solo album, his long years of experience make it the work of a mature artist. Consisting of both instrumental and vocal songs, the record indulges in guitar sounds of all stripes: acoustic, electric, clean, distorted, lyrical, overdriven. But Poss never lets his fondness for textural variety overpower the sturdy melodies on which his tunes are built.
As a statement of intent, he begins the album with the shimmering jangle of the wordless “More Frozen Flowers” and follows it with the crunchy drone pop of “The Sixth Sense Betrayed.” “You’ll Curse the Day” and “I’ve Got a Secret List” get noisier than “Sixth Sense,” but remain just as catchy. Written for a dance piece, “Time Frames Marking Time” uses spacey arpeggios and layered feedback to subtly explore the nooks and crannies of a simple but accessible melody – one strong enough to work without the visuals meant to accompany it. The slide-driven “Sketch 72” sounds like a long-lost classic rock track, despite a lack of vox. Even distortion fests “Bitter Strings” and “The Test Pattern Setting” keep their grip on tunefulness, no matter how fuzzy and crackling they get.
Accessible and experimental, avant garde and rocking, Frozen Flowers Curse the Day is a new peak in a long and successful career.
DOWNLOAD: “Time Frames Marking Time,” “The Sixth Sense Betrayed,” “The Test Pattern Setting,”
One of the perks of being young and in a rock ‘n’ roll band is the license it affords you to be shamelessly self-involved. It’s practically a job requirement, in fact, yet one that being young, confused, and falling in and out of love regularly lends itself to.
Take the debut LP from Auckland’s The Beths, part of the vibrant indie rock scene bubbling up from down under the last few years. Led by front woman and primary songwriter Elizabeth Stokes, the Future Me Hates Me features 10 high-tempo tracks long on fuzzy barre chords, thrumming bass-and-drums interplay, and sunny harmonies that belie the angst-ridden lyrical fare — though without quite shucking its weight.
Stokes, who’d recently transitioned from playing in a folk outfit, takes to the singing role with relish and stands out vocally—she sounds like Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell fronting Sparkle & Fade-era Everclear, with the occasional Joan Jett snarl thrown in for contrast against the vulnerability. On the best tracks here, Stokes manages to balance the music’s adrenalin rush with enough thoughtful imagery to keep the Beths from the hordes of pop punk wannabes. Over the buzzing chords and pointed guitar lines of “Great No One,” Stokes bemoans youthful indecision, comparing herself to a “just a broken bulb/flickering with doubt.” On “Happy Unhappy, where guitars chime more than fuzz, and the back-up harmonies trend more Beach Boys than Blink-182, the Beths embrace their pop tendencies to their benefit.
Stokes’ knack for acerbic lyrics often finds her linked to contemporary Courtney Barnett, but this is not to the Beths benefit. Stokes lacks Barnett’s songwriting diversity, worldliness and clever wordplay; too many of the songs on Future Me Hates Me are interchangeable, built on quiet, jangly verses and fuzz-button sing-along choruses that lament the usual litany of “I” and “me” woes.
It doesn’t take long for the self-examination to hit overload. The song titles alone read like journal headings: “Great No One,” “Happy Unhappy,” “Whatever,” and “Less Than Thou” do not suggest much thinking-outside-the-self box. (Admittedly, this lack of patience is a function of aging; Young Me Might’ve Been Less Curmudgeonly Than Old Me.) Over the charging guitars and red-line drumbeats of “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” for instance, Stokes worries that “You wouldn’t like me/If you saw what was inside me,” seemingly unaware that such self-awareness is pretty much de rigueur for most adults. The title track features the not-exactly earth-shattering acknowledgement that everyone Stokes knows has “has broken” under love’s vicissitudes yet “has fell for it before.” Well, luv, that explains the high-risk, high-reward attraction of it.
These shifting tides of love and mid-20s anxieties form the cornerstone that rock ‘n’ roll is built on. Nor should anyone begrudge Stokes her personal angst—we’ve all been there, but for sheer visceral terror nothing tops being in the midst of it. Still, with experience comes at least the acknowledgement that there exists a world outside our own Facebook or watering hole favorites (not to mention some different tempos or sonic variants). In the end, there’s just something to be said for taking a step back and realizing that your problems, as an old guy in a fedora once noted, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Nostalgia has always been a big component of the Essex Green’s baroque 1960s pop sound. Even in its early aughts prime, the Vermont via Brooklyn-based trio echoed the billowy harmonies and intricate keyboards of scratchy mod 78s from Thee Left Banke or the Zombies. But now, a dozen years after their last record, Hardly Electronic adds another layer of backward looking, not just to their influences but to the fuzzy Elephant Six pop revival that surrounded them the first time around.
The band’s members now live in different cities and have accumulated the usual mid-life baggage of jobs and marriages and children, but they sound remarkably untouched by all that. “Sloan Ranger,” one of the singles, bursts to life in a buoyant shuffle, all sharp, jutting guitars and wheedling organ, and soft blurrily harmonized vocals that shift from euphoria to melancholy in a measure or two. It’s quality pop a la the New Pornographers, full of a fun-house energy and slyly slanted with sarcasm. Sasha Bell, as before, sings with an endearing brashness, sugary soft but with a sardonic undertone. Chris Ziter again takes about half the lead vocals, in a reticent drawl that falls somewhere between Stuart Murdoch and Dean Wareham. And Jeff Baron plays a chiming, radiant 1960-redolent guitar with more than a whiff of the Byrds.
Yet while “Sloan Ranger” and other songs drop plenty of references to an imagined Brit Pop past (“Sloan Ranger”), the most touching of these songs invokes more recent memories. I like “Patsy Desmond” the best, for its moody, jazzy piano and slinky violin, its whispery romantic vocals (Ziter mostly, with Bell in lush counterpoint) and its hushed dioramas of 00s indie life in Alphabet City and just south of Chicago (the lost indie siren of the song promises to tell all her friends at Drag City about something). It’s the sort of song that moves through a past that you maybe hadn’t even thought of as past yet, freezes the action and frames it in black and white.
Not all the songs on Hardly Electronic are as affecting – and some of them are just good bubbly pop fun. There are some misses – the country-ish “Bye Bye Crow” isn’t very good – but most are at least solid and surprisingly fresh, and a few are much better than that. Here’s to looking backwards and moving forward at the same time.
DOWNLOAD: “Patsy Desmond,” “Sloan Ranger”
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