Category Archives: Vinyl colored

TALIBAM!/MATT NELSON/RON STABINSKY – Endgame of the Anthropocene + Hard Vibe (LPs)

Album: Endgame of the Anthropocene; Hard Vibe

Artist: Talibam!; Talibam w/Matt Nelson & Ron Stabinsky

Label: ESP-Disk

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.espdisk.com

The Upshot: Free jazz and fusionesque funk on one platter of extended improv, and mindfucker/synth-strafed Prog for eco-warriors on the other.

BY FRED MILLS

Where the fuck did these Talibam! guys come from?!? Though extant for nearly a decade and a half, their labors upon the downtown NYC jazz, avant, and experimental scene don’t seem to have penetrated the, uh, mainstream mind to date. And it’s vexing to realize I am apparently part of said “mind,” but luckily I’m making up for lost time via these two records. That the venerable ESP-Disk label is simultaneously releasing not one but two of the Talibam! projects would suggest an article (pair?) of faith that we underground musique aficionados should take note of.

First up: Talibam! Proper, with Endgame of the Anthropocene, a document of extreme synth damage that only Aphex Twin’s mom could love. But you will too, and from the get-go, as electronicist Matthew Mottel (CSC Funk Band, Alien Whale, etc.) manhandles his Mini-moog, wrestles his Roland, and yammers with his Yamaha, while accompanist Kevin Shea (Rhys Chatham, Mostly Other People Do The Killing) damages his drums and occasionally takes a percussive detour via his MIDI Marimba Lumina. I did not know they made MIDI marimbas.

It’s a concept album, an extended prognostication upon the eventual fate of Antarctica, for which Mottel and Shea predict international war over who will control the continent’s natural resources, and of course the accompanying eco-destruction. By track three, “Reign of Primordial Tenure on the Ice Shelf,” the duo has locked into a pounding, pulsing, Prog groove easily embraced by contemporary noise-headz and greying veterans of the kosmiche wars of the ‘70s alike. Several tracks take a neo-industrial tack, while others shoot for more minimalist style of psych that’s very Silver Applesish, and it’s all heady, disorienting stuff as befits its presumed dystopian-landscape theme.

Hard Vibe, on the other hand, finds the dynamic duo teaming up with tenor saxist Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, tUnE-yArDs) and Hammond B3 ace Ron Stabinsky (Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Peter Evans Quintet) for a 40-minute improv set titled “Infinite Hard Vibe” (Pts. 1 and 2, representing sides A and B of the vinyl version; they are not stitched together as a single long track for the CD and digital versions, however). Mottel and Shea restrain themselves to a great degree here, at least compared to the Anthropocene session, with Nelson, as the dominant instrumentalist, issuing Ayler-like clarion calls and dissonant clanging tones run through an echo box at times. He’s answered consistently by Stabinsky, like two guys aggressively playing out the windows of their opposite-facing tenement apartments, a grimy alley separating the buildings, each trying to prove to the bums below that he is the neighborhood’s resident badass. Meanwhile, Shea keeps the pulse steady, if at times quite jittery, and Mottel colors in the gaps and around the edges, not necessarily ceding any presumed bandleader duties, but instead lending a unique and consistent texture for the entire session. Apparently somebody picks up an old Keytar at some point, too. And wait’ll you get to the soaring, ecstatic climax during the final minute and a half of the album.

This is not jamming for the sake of keeping a festival audience of seriously baked Deadheads on their toes, but a hearkening back to the great ‘70s jazz/funk/rock/psych jammers of yore. Each of the two tracks is, at turns, intoxicating and awe-inspiring, challenging in the sense that great jazz needs to confront the listener with hard choices.

Consumer note: ESP-Disk and the musicians serve up tasty treats here for the vinyl audience. Hard Vibe is pressed on heavyweight translucent yellow wax, while Anthropocene offers the collector secret handshake with a platter pressed in red with orange and white splatters. Wham-bam, thank YOU, Talibam! gang.

DOWNLOAD: “Cost-Effective Drilling Enabled By Pioneering Technologies and Warmer Climates in the Southern Ocean” (from Anthropocene—damn, I loved typing that title just now); “Infinite Hard Vibe Pt. 2” (Hard VibeI)

JON LANGFORD’S FOUR LOST SOULS

Album: Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Artist: Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: October 21, 2017

www.bloodshot.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Well known for his eccentricity, Jon Langford sounds surprisingly straight-laced on this eponymous debut by what appears to be yet another new ensemble. The Welsh-born, Chicago-based journeyman has had a restless relationship with the bands he’s fronted in the past — the Mekons, the Waco Brothers, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and The Three Johns, chief among them — and all these outfits have served to underscore his insurgency. While Jon Langford’s Lost Souls isn’t necessarily equipped to engage him with the mainstream, it does suggest that he’s happy to make music that’s easier to digest, at least as far as memorable melodies are concerned. Finding an even divide between upbeat offerings and sweetly sincere balladry, songs such as “Natchez Trace,” Mystery,” “Masterpiece” and “Waste” emphasize a certain ease and accessibility that makes them readily easy to embrace.

Still, it’s not that Langford has abandoned his rascally ways entirely. “In Oxford Mississippi” boasts a certain amount of sway and swagger, and indeed, “What’s My Name?” finds him as edgy as always. After all, Langford does well to emphasize his peculiar personality. Nevertheless, this certainly seems like his most accessible effort yet, a sign perhaps that after years of being regarded as an odd man out, he’s ready to find that balance between talent and tenacity. Well done, old boy. Well done.

DOWNLOAD: “Natchez Trace,” Mystery,” “Masterpiece”

Ed. note: Over here at the Blurt bunker we dig our vinyl, even more so when it’s colored wax, so it was a no-brainer to order the new Langford LP direct from Bloodshot when word of the amazing splatter/emerald-hued pressing hit. Check out this closeup:

TRUMP THE HALLS WITH VOWS OF FOLLY: The Fifth (or last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

While America gets nothing but lumps of coal in its collective stocking this year, we’ve at least got some tunes to help drown out the partisan noise. FEATURING: The Beatles (box pictured above), Minus 5, Bloodshot Records, Joseph Washington Jr., Rattlebag, New West Records, Tav Falco, She & Him, the Chipmunks, and more.

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR, FRED MILLS, JOHN B. MOORE, & UNCLE BLURT

***

THE BEATLES – The Christmas Records (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

The Beatles’ Christmas records were initially issued to fend off a growing scandal. In 1963, as their popularity grew in their native Britain, membership in the Beatles’ fan club soared. As a result, the beleaguered staff couldn’t process orders in a timely fashion, leading to angry letters from parents complaining that their daughter had sent in her money order but had not, as yet, received the expected fan club greetings from John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

So Beatles publicist Tony Barrow had an idea; make a quick recording specifically for fan club members and send it out post haste to mollify those who’d had to wait so long for a response from the fan club. A 7-inch flexi disc with Christmas greetings was duly sent out, and proved to be so popular a similar flexi was issued for the next six years.

In 1970, with the Beatles now broken up, the fan club issued one more release; a long playing vinyl album that featured all seven Christmas records (the US version has a particularly nice cover). The recordings then went out of print, but have now finally been officially reissued as The Christmas Records, in a box set of seven-inch records packaged in sleeves that are facsimiles of the originals, with each vinyl record a different color.

First, it must be said that the overall presentation leaves something to be desired. Beatles reissues have often been somewhat lacking; consider the barebones CD releases of the 1980s, some of which barely used up a third of the available time on a CD and featured nothing in the way of liner notes. When some thought is put into a project, the results are wonderful, as in the deluxe edition of this year’s Sgt. Pepper’s reissue, which featured bonus tracks and a superb book (the latter worth the price of the box alone).

Of course the Christmas records aren’t in the same league as Sgt. Pepper’s. And as a vinyl-only release, this would’ve been a smash on Record Store Day. But as a general release, it seems remiss to not at least include a download code, let alone bonus tracks (outtakes of the sessions do exist). One could imagine a CD release with all the Christmas records and bonus tracks, along with a deluxe version featuring a CD, download, and the replica singles and/or vinyl album, along with the extras common to such endeavors (a facsimile program of the Beatles’ 1963 or 1964 Christmas shows, for example). As it stands, this might be a release fans purchase purely for cosmetic reasons; as one wag in an Internet comments thread stated, it’ll be something nice to look at while you listen to the bootleg.

Of course, the sound’s naturally better than on those sometimes crackly bootlegs (often taken from well worn copies of the original flexi discs). The records aren’t “Christmas records” in the sense of featuring conventional holiday songs, but more like greetings from the Beatles to their fans. The first three records (1963 to 1965) are primarily spoken word, and on the first in particular the group sounds dizzy over their success: “At this time last year we were all dead chuffed that ‘Love Me Do’ had got into the Top 20 and we can’t believe really that so many things have happened in between already!” John gushes at one point. Not that they take the proceedings seriously; Paul’s message in 1963 is interrupted when he shouts “Ow!” at one point, someone obviously having playfully whacked him (he also advises fans that the group has gone “right off” jelly babies, the Beatles having been deluged with the sweets after mentioning their fondness for them in an interview).

They offer up parodies of Christmas songs between the chat, like John’s reworking of the lyrics to “Good King Wenceslas” in 1963, and the off-key rendition of “Jingle Bells” (complete with kazoo) in 1964. In 1965, they perform a bit of “Auld Lang Syne” in the gravelly-voiced style of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” Nothing’s sacred; they lampoon “Yesterday” on the 1965 record as well.

By then they’d clearly become bored with the spoken word format, and their growing proficiency in the studio and interest in experimentation led to subsequent Christmas records becoming more elaborate. For 1966, they devise an aural pantomime, “Everywhere It’s Christmas,” with little sketches showing how the holiday is being celebrated around the world. For 1967 (this writer’s favorite Christmas record), they serve up the short piece “Christmas Time is Here Again” that you really wish they’d fleshed out to a full length number (it’s basically the title repeated five times). There are game show parodies (“Well, you’ve just won a trip to Denver and five others! And also, wait for it — you have been elected as Independent candidate for Paddington!”), silly songs, and a tap dance (by Victor Spinetti, co-star in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!).

It was the last time the four Beatles worked on a Christmas record together. As the Fabs increasingly went their separate ways, in 1968 and 1969 they recorded their contributions individually. In 1968, Paul performs a short “Happy Christmas” song, very much in the style of the numbers he did for The Beatles album (aka The White Album) released that year. George introduces Tiny Tim (yes, that Tiny Tim) who sings “Nowhere Man” as only he can. John offers a bitter recitation about the mistreatment he and Yoko (here referred to as “Two balloons called Jock and Yono) have received, even from “some of their beast friends.”

The 1969 record is essentially the John-and-Yoko show, with the two recorded strolling around the grounds of their home in Ascot (Yoko hopes for a “quiet peaceful ‘70s”) and making improvisational music together. George makes a single statement offering Christmas greetings. Ringo sings a short ditty and plugs his latest film The Magic Christian. Paul, safely ensconced in his own hideaway, sings another sweet, if wistful, Christmas song (even his spoken message has a touch of sadness in it).

There’s also — likely unconscious — a nod to the past, when John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas,” as he did on that very first Christmas record. Certainly so many things “happened in between already” since 1963, and by late 1969 the Beatles were on the verge of becoming history.

These Christmas records bring to light another side to the Beatles: their off the wall humor, and the sense of playfulness that’s even there in the later recordings (it makes perfect sense that George Harrison would want to produce a Monty Python film). It would certainly be a fun blast from the past for the Beatlemaniac in your life. Just make sure they have a turntable handy. ­–Gillian G. Gaar

 

THE MINUS 5 – Dear December LP (5 out of 5 stars)
Yep Roc
www.yeproc.com

Santa Scott McCaughey arrives in his sleigh this season, accompanied by Satan’s Elves, Joe Adragna and Peter Buck (you may have heard of him), plus fellow Northwesterners Kurt Bloch, Tucker Jackson, John Moen, and Kevin McCaughey. A host of guest vocalists turn up as well, among them Mike Mills, Colin Meloy, M. Ward, Chuck Prophet, Kelly Hogan, Ben Gibbard, and the Posies, effectively turning what can nominally be described as a collection of quirky, rocking holiday songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Minus 5’s most recent full-length, 2016’s delightful Of Monkees and Men. Make no mistake, however—in the indie world, Dear December is a superstar-laden offering that’s artistically on par with Band Aid back in the ‘80s.

Highlights? There’s the wall-of-sound magnificence of “Johnny Tannenbaum,” which features Kelly Hogan and her Flat Five bandmate Nora O’Connor handling the girl-group backing vocals. “Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp-Gulp,” with Dressy Bessy’s Tammy Ealon in call-and-response with McCaughey, has a similar Phil Spectorian vibe.  Twangy, poppy “Festival of Lights (Hanukka Song)” has the Mills turn at the mic, the song credits reading “lead vocals by Mike Mills, featuring Mike Mills.” And the garage-rocking guitar raveup that is “I Still Believe in New Year’s Eve” is McCaughey’s way of bidding everyone a happy and safe annum to come.

Hold that thought: With McCaughey in the hospital at the time of this writing, having suffered a significant stroke while on tour, those wishes of cheer take on an additional meaningfulness. We’re sending good tidings right back atcha, Santa Scott.

Dear December, incidentally, was released as a limited edition Black Friday (Record Store Day) title, and it’s rather unusual. Not only is it pressed on snow-white vinyl, it has a detachable outer front cover that has a bunch of pull-apart hinged “windows” that no doubt reveal sundry gifts underneath them. Of course you have to effectively destroy part of the album to partake of those visual treats, so for collectors…. —Fred Mills

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Bloodshot Records 13 Days of Xmas LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Bloodshot Records
www.bloodshot.com

Looking for that perfect Christmas record to get your buddy who pairs his faded Melvins t-shirt with a pair of cowboy boots? The alt country punk rockers at Chicago’s Bloodshot Record’s got ya covered. On 13 Days of Xmas, the label has pulled together a fine collection of brand new holiday songs and a handful of faithful covers of traditional songs, though, aside from Ron Gallo’s “White Christmas,” the latter are hardly well-known. Bloodshot pulls in many of the folks on their roster like The Yawpers, Murder By Death, Ruby Boots, Ha Ha Tonka and others, as well as some friends of the label to make this one work.

Although it’s a fun record, the quality of the songs here vary. For every stellar track like Ruby Boots’ “I Slept Through Christmas,” or Ha Ha Tonka’s “The List,” there’s a too goofy for its own good track like Devil in a Woodpile’s “The Pagan’s Had it Right.”

The record ends on a beautiful high note, with The Yawpers’ “Christmas in Oblivion.” Not for everyone, but ideal for some. —John B. Moore

REO SPEEDWAGON – Not So Silent Night (2 out of 5 stars)
Rhino

www.rhinorecords.com

“C.mon baby deck the halls! It’s the season to be jolly, baby – wipe those tears from your eyes, it’s CHRISTMASTIME!!” So sings the REO Speedwagon vocalist in the classic rock icons’ take on “Deck the Halls,” revved up to boogie levels and with plenty of musical and lyrical tangents included. Reverent, they ain’t —which, depending on your personal inclinations towards covers of holiday standards, is either refreshing or ghastly. “Winter Wonderland” gets a complete overhaul as well, done up kind of like a Chicago blues, and not all that convincingly, either. (REO Speedwagon is the least bluesy band on the planet.) Me, I tend to prefer traditional renditions, and here, to their credit, the Speedbuggy dudes do indeed serve up their fair share of straightforward covers, including “The Little Drummer Boy” (although it does veer somewhat close to Trans Siberian Orchestra territory), “Blue Christmas,” and “The First Noel.”

Somewhere in the middle of all this is the over-the-top, partly orchestral “Happy Xmas (War Is Over,” which does hit that timeless melody that John and Yoko penned all those eons ago, but ultimately comes off like a rehearsal session for “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” including the gooey backing vocals. Still, it’s well-meaning, and I’m not in a Grinchy mood today, so I’ll give the guys an extra star here. Included is a bonus track, “We Three Kings,” that was not on the original 2009 release of the album. —Fred Mills

 

JOSEPH WASHINGTON JR. – Merry Christmas to You From Joseph LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Numero Group
www.numerogroup.com

Blues/funk/soul bassist Washington has a relatively slim back catalog, but those few records that did slip out apparently fetch fairly respectable prices on the collectors’ market, including 1983’s Merry Christmas to You From Joseph, originally issued on the S&P Music label (which itself appears to be fairly obscure). The ever-diligent archivists at Numero Group, acclaimed for their “Eccentric Soul” volumes and other excursions into the funk and soul hinterlands, have rescued this minor gem in time for this year’s Yule tidings; it was made available – on vinyl –  for the Record Store Day Black Friday event.

What’s unique about Washington’s nine-song set is that the music, while somewhat dated, is all original, so rather than yet another tired chorus of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” you get a peppy slice of funk titled “Rudolph.” Okay, admittedly, Washington nicks most of the original ode’s lyrics, turning extemporaneous in a few spots, and the combination of familiarity and freshness makes the tune fairly compelling. Several of the songs, like “Merry Christmas,” are standard-fare early ‘80s soul, which is to say, not so compelling; the early ‘80s wasn’t particularly kind to the soul oeuvre, Michael Jackson’s reign notwithstanding. But when Washington bears down with da fonk — the bouncy boogie that is “Shopping,” the jazzy, vibraphone-tinged  “Snowing In the East on Christmas” which boasts some positively kooky vocals — he’s inspiring. Whatever happened to this cat? —Fred Mills

RATTLEBAG – A Rattlebag Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
Self-Released
www.facebook.com/rattlebagmusic

The kids have just found out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus (and like dominos knocking again each other, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc.); like an idiot, you bought them the wrong game console for Christmas and grandma sent socks and underwear again. Have we got a festive soundtrack for you!

Rattlebag’s gloriously loud and equally funny four-song entry to the Christmas music market, A Rattlebag Christmas, is the punk rock holiday record everyone from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedy’s forgot to make. Through distorted power chords and bellowed out off-key vocals, the band churns through “Jingle Bless,” “Deck the Halls,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Auld Lang Syne,” all in record time.

Rattlebag provides the ideal soundtrack to those likely getting fuck all for Christmas this year. —John B. Moore

VARIOUS ARTISTS – An Americana Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
New West
www.NewWestRecords.com

Giving a nod to both Americana’s elder statesmen and the up-and-comers, New West Records – easily one of the genres best labels going right now – has one of the freshest takes on Christmas albums. Despite some solid contributions by Bob Dylan, The Band and Johnny Cash, aside from John Prine’s brilliantly original number “Everything is Cool,” the real standouts here come from New West’s newer artists like Robert Ellis’s cover of “Pretty Paper” and Nikki Lane’s beautifully twangy “Falalalalove You” (Patsy Cline’s heir apparent?). While Christmas albums nowadays are as stale as a plate of Gingerbread cookies left out until April, An Americana Christmas is a refreshing take on the seasonal record.  —John B. Moore

A TAV FALCO CHRISTMAS LP (4 out of 5 stars)
Org Music / Frenzi
www.orgmusic.com / www.tavfalco.com

Memphis raconteur, filmmaker, photographer, and author Tav Falco is known far and wide as the guiding light of Panther Burns, that proto-Americana, R&B-championing outfit that once featured the late Alex Chilton as a member. For A Tav Falco Christmas he’s joined by bassist Mike Watt, drummer/sleighbellsman Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and pianist Francesco D’Agnolo, and we are advised that the ensemble hunkered down at Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in early July—which, if you know anything about Memphis in the summer, is the least likely time of year when one would find oneself “getting into” the Christmas spirit.

But maybe working through this eight-song set of holiday staples and a handful of semi-obscure R&B Christmas standards worked some seasonal magic, because the music is, in a word, cool. Sammy Cahn’s slow, strutting “Christmas Blues,” in particular, is for all you finger-snapping, whistling hepcats, while a twangy, countrypolitan “Jingle Bell Rock” is guaranteed to have even the most stalwart Scrooge—such as yours truly, who is on record as not being a huge fan of Christmas records—joining in, no guilty pleasuredom needed.

Throughout, Falco is in fine voice, his Southern near-drawl adopting a Presley-like classy croon on tracks like “Blue Christmas” and Lieber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” He’s nicely abetted by backing vocalists Lahna Deering and Tiffany Harmon, and the entire ensemble seems to revel in truly inhabiting the material. The LP, released for Record Store Day Black Friday 2017, is a limited edition (1000 copies) red vinyl gem, a perfect visual representation the holiday season. Christmas does come in July after all. —Fred Mills

 

SHE & HIM – A Very She & Him Christmas (4 out of 5 stars)
Merge
www.mergerecords.com

You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life. —John B. Moore

 

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – Chipmunks Christmas (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

Al-viiiiiin!!!! Okay, give it up for the Chipmunks – you know you wanna. If we’re talking perennials here, this certainly ranks alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas. Don’t scoff. Sure, it’s nowhere near as “listenable” on a repeat-spin basis as Vince Guaraldi’s holiday classic, and in truth, hearing “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” only once or twice a year is plenty for me. Novelty-tilting though it certainly is, Chipmunks Christmas has a certain timeless quality that can turn anyone into a kid again, if only for 2 ½ minutes. And that’s something that not even those ghastly latterday Chipmunks movies (Chipwrecked, anyone?) can take away.

EMI and other labels have repackaged the Chipmunks frequently over the years – as a child, I owned the original 10-song vinyl LP – and this iteration boasts 18 squeaky, freaky tracks guaranteed to put an ironic smile on any hipster’s face while simultaneously making his or her significant other’s skin crawl. Such was the genius of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who originally launched his anthropomorphic rodents in 1958 and took ‘em to the top of the charts, to the Grammys, and to the bank: for better or for worse, the Chipmunks had a little something for everyone, and still do. — Fred Mills

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album  (1 out of 5 stars)
Sony/Legacy
www.legacyrecordings.com)

This is my personal gift to Donald J. Trump and his lovely hostage, er, wife, Melania. Consumers, beware: if you purchase this — based on its title and the roster of contributors, which includes bonafide “hard rockers” like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Journey’s Neal Schon, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford — expecting the proverbial rock-with-your-Christmas-cock-out, flic-your-Santa-Bic arena-anthem fest, you’re gonna get a stockingful of coal. Only Halford’s blazing, rapid-fire “We Three Kings” and the Nuge’s stomping “Deck the Halls” even remotely qualify here as “hard rock” (in truth, the latter could actually qualify for a Ramones-styled Christmas collection… but I digress).

Everything else, and I say this as a fan of several of these fret wizards, might surface in an alternate dimension’s version of a Windham Hill holiday album. My hero Jeff Beck scores points for his blue note-laced “Amazing Grace,” but what’s up with those sappy chorale singers? Ditto Schon’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its New Agey keyboards and barely-there puffs of percussion; don’t stop believin’ in the dude’s skills, but if you run into him, feel free to ask him what the hell kinda mistletoe was he smokin’ when he cut the tune. And okay, to be fair, Satch – that’s Joe Satriani to all you Coldplay fans – and his somewhat fiery “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam” is indeed marginally “jamming” in traditional J.S. fashion, but “Surfing With The Saviour,” this is not; it’s just a wank-fest. Only aging bleached blondes with their sagging artificial tits and their bemulleted weightlifter trophy husbands — plus the stray Rush nerd who never got laid — need apply.

A classic example of a record label marketing an angle without actually determining what the “angle” might be, The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album is part of a larger series that includes worthy titles from Frank Sinatra (reviewed above), Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and even Kenny G. There is a companion released titled The Classic Christmas Pop Album boasting contributions from… drumroll please… Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block and Big Time Rush, along with semi-credible artists Phantom Planet, Glasvegas and Los Lonely Boys. Ironically, the so-called pop community’s take on “classic Christmas” is a zillion times more vital, and inspiring, than the hard rockers. O my once-hero, Jeff Back, how far you’ve fallen. —Uncle Blurt

 

Below, check out the colored wax from the Minus 5 and Tav Falco camps – THAT’s the kind of holiday cheer we like to spread around here! – Ed.

IKEBE SHAKEDOWN – The Way Home LP

Album: The Way Home LP

Artist: Ikebe Shakedown

Label: Colemine

Release Date: October 20, 2017

www.coleminerecords.com

The Upshot: One of the year’s best albums, near-flawless in fact, simultaneously hypnotic and danceable raw funk, sinewy soul, and steamy Afro-beat.

BY FRED MILLS

Brooklyn funkateers Ikebe Shakedown first pinged the national radar in 2009 with the Hard Steppin’ mini album, a sinewy, sultry Afro-beat dance party that also featured some of the like-minded Budos Band gang. As an introductory statement, it was as revelatory as similarly-positioned arrivals, including debuts by the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, and the aforementioned Budos. Since then, the instrumental outfit has released two more albums (Ikebe Shakedown, in 2011, and Stone By Stone, in 2014) and a number of 7” singles, now arriving with The Way Home. It marks a reunion of sorts between the band and the Midwest funk/soul devotees at Colemine Records, which had released the debut (and, last year, reissued it as a numbered/colored vinyl limited edition); for albums two and three, the Ubiquity label did the honors.

The alliance is apt, for Colemine has been knocking ‘em out of the park this past year with amazing albums from Orgone, the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Soul Scratch, and Durand Jones & the Indications. The Way Home finds Ikebe Shakedown having not so much shed, as simply dialed back, some of the West African influences in favor of a more broadly defined funk and soul aesthetic. Horns remain prominent, of course, and when saxman Mike Buckley steps up for his solos, the Fela comparisons can’t be avoided; one track, “Assassin,” also brings in key rhythmic elements from African highlife. But overall it seems that the way Ikebe now integrates its horn arrangements (sax, flute, trumpet, trombone) with the percussion, keys, and guitar makes it closer to the classic Stax/Volt model, at times also conjuring images of vintage Motown and Muscle Shoals setups.

Indeed, “Penny the Snitch” could be from a long-lost Blaxploitation soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, from Robin Schmidt’s chicken-pickin’ guitar and wah-wah flourishes to Dave Bourla’s percussion (bongos and congas?). Likewise, on “Blue Giant” we’re in pure Curtis Mayfield territory, Schmidt’s guitar slipping between bluesy riffs and more wah-wah, while Buckley’s flute and Bourla’s percussion lend a cinematic, chase scene-like vibe. Speaking of the movies, “Brushfire” pulls off the impressive trick of sounding like a psychedelic spaghetti western overture, but with funk horns instead of mariachis; you don’t hear a lot of funk in the desert, but damned if Ikebe doesn’t make it a reality.

Seriously, this is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, and not just within the band’s chosen genre. It’s simultaneously hypnotic and danceable, and it gets better with every spin, too. Initial copies from Colemine are pressed on crystal clear vinyl and arrive in a deluxe gatefold sleeve (thick tip-on style) with each copy individually numbered. Download code included as well, a touch that a lot of labels overlook. Colemine consistently goes the extra mile, and they should be saluted for that—one of my favorite labels these days, period.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Giant,” “Brushfire,” “Shifting Sands”

 

J.J. & THE REAL JERKS – Back to the Bottom

Album: Back to the Bottom

Artist: J.J. & the Real Jerks

Label: Dead Beat

Release Date: August 18, 2017

www.dead-beat-records.com

The Upshot: Cali punks hoist high the flag of ’77 in a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten.

BY FRED MILLS

From the R.Crumb-meets-Big-Daddy-Roth album sleeve art to the punque-as-fuque label name to the biker bars ‘n’ careening guitars sound, Los Angeles J.J. & The Real Jerks pretty much check every box that matters.

Bolt-outta-the-gate opening track replete with chugarama riffs and yakkity sax skronk (“Out of My Means”)? Check. Harp-powered blooze thrasher ode to drinking and stinking (“Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”)? Double check. Side B opener as visceral as Side A’s, evoking in the process no less than classic Heartbreakers (Thunders, not Petty, for “Mr. Good Enough”)? Check, check, check. Anthemic, power-chord metaphorical dissection of love on the rocks—or love never even getting far enough to paddle near the shore (“Ice Queen”)? Waiter, the check, please—we’ll pick up some dessert across the street at the liquor store.

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, which is probably the point, ‘cos J.J. (that’s little Joe Jennings to his mom and pop) and his gang—fellow guitarist Skot Pollok, bassist Hiroshi Yamazaki, sax maestro Geoff Yeaton, drummer Richie Mendez—have a different objective in mind. By serving up these nine hi-nrg slices of Noo Yawk ‘tude and southern Cali garage-punk, J.J. & The Real Jerks hoist high the flag of ’77, a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten. But they are still indescribably now, and you can count on that.

Vinyl hound alert: The LP’s first 100 copies come on beautiful blue vinyl. Everyone too slow on the draw will still get the black vinyl edition, and you know we here at BLURT central would have it no other way than wax, Jack.

DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Good Enough,” “Tuned Out,” “Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”

 

WOLF PARADE — Cry, Cry, Cry

Album: Cry, Cry, Cry

Artist: Wolf Parade

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: October 06, 2017

https://www.subpop.com

The Upshot: A return to roots for Krug and Boeckner, of fulsome tremulous emotions expressed through ball-crunching riffery and trilling keyboard blasts, of sensitivity blared through arena-sized rock gestures and bravado.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

It’s been seven years since the last Wolf Parade album, the urgent and unabashedly rock Expo 86, and members of the band have been off in their separate journeys, Spencer Krug with the plaintive anthemics of Moonface, Dan Boeckner with the alienated post-punk romanticism of Handsome Furs, the oddball synth pop of Divine Fits. Cry, Cry, Cry feels like a return to roots, of fulsome tremulous emotions expressed through ball-crunching riffery and trilling keyboard blasts, of sensitivity blared through arena-sized rock gestures and bravado. Krug and Boeckner alternate lyrical duties, but both perceive the sorry state of a fallen world through vivid, nearly lurid metaphors, suitable for shouting from rooftops while punching stale air. This album is maybe the most uplifting downer of 2017, which is saying something.

Cry, Cry, Cry starts from the micro and expands outward, beginning in the smallest kind of tragedy. One person’s death makes up the core of “Lazarus Online” in a fluting, urgent, emotion-charged swan dive into this album’s aesthetic. Wounded but defiant, ripped up but melodically unstoppable or as Krug puts it, aptly enough. “Like getting punched in the heart/were the exact words on describing the music you heard.”

Boeckner brings a bit of his new wave, synth-blasting, dance mode into “You’re Dreaming,” but its tootling hedonism seems a trifle next to “Incantation,” where piano chords cavort around architecturally stark percussion. The music cake-walking frippery, brave ornamentation, amid the wreckage, and it echoes ideas about trying to maintain love and truth and joy in an oppressive world.

As always Krug’s songs are a bit more fluid and romantic, Boeckner’s sterner and full of punishing rhythms, but they meet in fertile middle that balances mourning and celebration. Krug’s “Who Are Ya,” the catchiest of these tunes, the most overtly upbeat, limns the immediacy and joy of making music (“with your hand on the neck of your father’s guitar”) but tempers it with recognition that this joy is always passing even when it’s going on. Boeckner’s last song, “Artificial Life,” is the album’s bleakest, lyrically, musing on income inequality and gentrification, climate change and political divides, and yet it bubbles and burbles with palpable giddiness. The easiest way to say it is that there’s no barrier between despair and euphoria in these songs — which contain both, equally, simultaneously and without contradiction.

DOWNLOAD: “Lazarus Online,” “Incantation,” “Who Are Ya”

Ed. Note: Get the vinyl (below), duh.

DIVISIONISTS – Daybreak LP (orange vinyl)

Album: Daybreatk LP

Artist: Divisionists

Label: Mount Watatic

Release Date: March 17, 2017

https://mountwatatic.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: A near-perfect blast of visceral psychedelia and blissed-out power pop that yields earworm after earworm.

BY FRED MILLS

Devotees of latterday psychedelia surely shed more than a few tears when New England quartet Abunai! called it a day in the early ‘00s, after a fruitful 1996-01 run that yielded three critically acclaimed full-lengths. There have been the inevitable reunion shows over the years, but for the most part the members have concentrated on their post-Abunai! projects, and with Divisionists, formed by guitarist Brendan Quinn, we have a combo that not only builds upon that psychedelic legacy, it definitively merges psych with power pop and shoegaze for one of the freshest-yet-familiar albums of 2017 to date.

Quinn, a multi-instrumentalist whose solo albums have featured appearances by fellow Abunai! alumni, the Bevis Frond gang and other indie avatars, and spotlighted, in particular, his fingerstyle guitar virtuosity, is based in London these days and is joined by guitarist/synth man Mark Bennett, bassist Mike Whitaker, and drummer Rob McGregor. In 2012 they released the “we play rock music…” EP to good notices, but with the arrival earlier this year of the “Say Can You” single, all bets were immediately off for Divisionists. A hi-nrg blast of chiming, fuzzed-out guitars and soaring, ecstatic vocals, it conjured classic images of everyone from Teenage Fanclub, Ride, and Matthew Sweet, to Byrds, Crazy Horse, and Velvet Underground. That, along with followup “Dream Landscape,” a moodier, drifting/droning ballad that adds Big Star to the pop rogues list, are  obvious highlights on Daybreak’s first side, although that’s not to say that any of the other tunes are slackers. Far from it—just check the gospellish vocals and rippling guitars of “Alone” or a luminous cover of the Velvets’ “Pale Blue Eyes.”

Flip the record and the delights keep coming, from the warm, womblike sonic cocoon that is “Colors (Song For a Spaceman)”—for you influences trainspotters, listen for the modal, almost Quicksilver Messenger Service-like fretwork—to the straight-up jangle pop of “Little Margaret” to the dark, explosive, feedback-laden, space-rocking “We Must Be Careful,” which, at seven minutes, has ample time to ebb and explode in a prismic burst of dynamics, tones, and textures. All in all, a remarkable record that repays successive listens with earworm after earworm. All those above comparisons to icons? Believe it.

Consumer Note: The album, available at the above Bandcamp link for the record label (which is run by Quinn and Lisa Makros, who also guests as a backing vocalist) or at the group’s Bandcamp page (which compiles a slew of ecstatic reviews), comes in digital or vinyl formats—180gm orange wax, to be specific, and it is a visual, tactile feast. Included is a download code as well as a full-sized, four-page insert for credits, lyrics, and photos. I call that going the extra mile, and it is truly appreciated, gentlemen.

DOWNLOAD: “Say Can You,” “Freedom,” “Colors (Song For a Spaceman)”