Category Archives: Vinyl records

CHESTER HAWKINS – Natural Causes (LP)

Album: Natural Causes

Artist: Chester Hawkins

Label: Intangible Arts

Release Date: January 06, 2017

www.chesterhawkins.org  / https://intangiblearts.bandcamp.com/

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The Upshot: One of more satisfying electronic recordings in recent memory, a deft balancing act between ambient experimental music, dark psychedelia and pulsing Krautrock.

BY FRED MILLS

Background info first: Until a few years ago, Chester Hawkins operated under the nom du rawk of Blue Sausage Infant, a well-regarded though very much under the radar D.C. experimental outfit that commenced operations around 1985 (specialty: musique concrete and loop-collage, we are advised) and ultimately closing up shop with 2012’s Manitou CD. By that point, Hawkins had expanded his palette considerably, delving into kosmiche psych, drone, ambient, and noise, elements that continue to inform him as a solo artist. 2014 and 2015 saw the release of Semisolids and Apostasy Suite, respectively, via his own Intangible Arts imprint. Now comes Natural Causes, Hawkins’ soundtrack to the Tim Ashby-directed 2016 indie film Pale Trees, which IMDB.com describes as “Liv spitefully digs up the details about her mother’s early days in Hollywood, a reality the b-list female action figure buried long ago. The consequences of Liv’s mischief are not just haunting, but incapacitating, and cause profound transformations throughout the family.”

As of this writing, there doesn’t appear to be a trailer posted to YouTube for the film, but it must be said, knowledge about, or even an awareness of, the film is definitely not necessary for a full appreciation of the soundtrack, which comprises two long (21 minutes plus) tracks, each titled “Pale Trees” and taking up sides A and B of this vinyl album. (Hashtag “#vinyl” of course/)

For one thing—just to single out the first side—the music has a slow-building intensity, ebbing and flowing in places but steadily pushing the bar forward. Midway through, a series of ominous pulses, radar-type pings, and almost hymnal-in-tone drones shimmer into earshot, elevating the psychological tension; after that, there’s a lengthy denouement wherein the components gradually slip away, leaving only an echo of a pulse and a haunting synth swirl. Side B picks up where A left off, to a degree, although this time some of the motorik pulsing has a cello-like texture (it’s possibly a “violated lapsteel” if one is to believe the credits), and the track gradually shifts its POV to more of a space-rock, almost Prog, vibe—the listener feels as if he or she has been cast adrift from a interplanetary vessel, floating alone in the vast cosmos. It all builds to a thumping, percussion-infused climax (closing credits sequence, perhaps?) that leaves you perspiring and realizing you’ve been holding your breath for an unknown number of minutes.

One reviewer’s highly subjective descriptors aside, Natural Causes is ultimately one of more satisfying electronic recordings in recent memory, a deft balancing act between ethereal ambiance and liberating rock. “Natural,” indeed.

DOWNLOAD: At two tracks clocking in at 22:10 and 21:50, best just to grab the entire vinyl LP (a limited edition, although it’s also available digitally), and listen to it from start to finish. It’ll be the best ¾ of an hour you’ll spend listening to music in this still relatively young New Year.

 

TOM GLAZER & DOTTIE EVANS – Space Songs

Album: Space Songs

Artist: Tom Glazer & Dottie Evans

Label: Modern Harmonic

Release Date: January 13, 2017

www.modernharmonic.com

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BY BILL KOPP

This curio from 1961 was originally created to serve as an instructional record for children. The word that immediately comes to mind when hearing the vocals and instrumentation is “ginchy.” And while I’ll readily concede that “ginchy” is not a real word, it somehow seems to encapsulate the vibe of Space Songs.

It’s easy enough to conjure a mental image of Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans when listening to the record. Tom has a neat gray flannel suit, tortoise shell glasses, Brylcreamed hair, and probably a pipe. Dottie has a simple white or off-white dress, probably a modest pearl necklace. They’re both white. Really white, in fact. But they’re nice, wholesome, well-meaning folks, and they’re here to teach.

Bits of spoken word – mostly by Glazer; this was 1961, after all – serve as intro/bumpers for most of the songs. Glazer provides some basic contextual information about the topic at hand – helpfully defined by each song’s title – and then he and Evans launch into song. “Constellation Jig” is a wonderfully descriptive title: the music is a sprightly jig, and the lyrics list some of the more well-known constellations visible in Earth’s nighttime sky: Sagittarius, etc.

Technology gets some time as well, and cute little tunes like “Beep Beep (Here Comes the Satellite).” It’s worth remembering that – Cold War notwithstanding – in 1961, the United States was in a largely optimistic frame of mind, and science was viewed as a force for good. Against that backdrop, which is embodied in many of these tunes, it’s more than a little sad that in 2017 we’re living in a society led – for the moment, at least – by climate science deniers and traffickers in “alternate facts.”

Real facts are at the heart of “Why Does the Sun Shine? – The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas.” Tell that to the four percent of Americans who are unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Clearly they didn’t listen to Space Songs. As Glazer and Evans guilelessly intone, “It’s a Scientific Fact.”

Everything about Space Songs conveys a kind of charming innocence. But there’s a nicely world-music (1961 edition) to many of the songs; that’s a clearly Parisian vibe to “Longitude and Latitude,” set to the tune of childhood favorite “Did You Ever see a Lassie?” But the kids of ’61 could trill along to the tune and learn about the Prime Meridian and other useful bits of information.

Musically, the most interesting tune is the opener, “Zoom a Little Zoom (Rocket Ship),” Glazer and Evans chirp away in perfect harmony as they sing, “Soon we’ll see if the moon is made out of green cheese ha ha ha.” How can you not love that? The musicians aren’t credited beyond a note that the music is played by the Tony Mottola Orchestra, but whomever is playing is doing a swell job.

Sundazed Records associated label Modern Harmonic has reissued this odd little record, recorded in 1959 and originally part of a series called “Singing Science Records.” The vinyl is translucent red. Casting a (shall we say) very wide conceptual net, this release can be viewed as part of a collection of other related items including a Sun Ra Arkestra 2CD live set (At Inter-Media Arts 1991), and the instrumental gem Attilio Mineo Conducts Man in Space with Sounds, originally released in conjunction with the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington. I’ll cover each of those Modern Harmonic reissue titles in separate reviews.

PETER HOLSAPPLE – “Don’t Mention the War” 45

Album: “Don’t Mention the War" b/w "Cinderella Style"

Artist: Peter Holsapple

Label: Hawthorne Curve

Release Date: February 03, 2017

http://halfpearblog.blogspot.com/

holsapple-45

The Upshot: Against richly melodic backdrops, the dB’s member offers up character studies of poetic intent. Oh, and by the way: Support the home team, folks.

BY FRED MILLS

Despite being one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected songwriters, Winston-Salem ex-pat (and current Durham resident) Peter Holsapple actually hasn’t released that much under his own name. There was early 45 “Big Black Truck,” a primal slab of psychobilly punk garage, released in 1978 at the tail end of his stint with the H-Bombs and serving as a segue into his lengthy tenure with the dB’s; a limited edition Australian-only cassette titled Live Melbourne 1989, which documented a solo radio station session; 1997’s gorgeous Out Of My Way CD; and let us not overlook his 1991 collaboration with dB’s songwriting foil, Chris Stamey, nicely titled Angels, and several accompanying Stamey-Holsapple singles.

Longtime Holsapple watchers, of course, know simply to scour record credits if they want to unearth a wealth of Holsapple material, from the dB’s albums and EPs (include, in this tally, the Chris Stamey & Friends Christmas Time album) and his work with the Continental Drifters, to the very early Rittenhouse Square album and the (possibly apocryphal) Great Lost H-Bombs Double EP 10”—not to mention a number of online-only tracks he’s slipped into the digital realm on occasion.

All of which is to say, a new Peter Holsapple record makes for a special event, one which we fans don’t take lightly. The fact that the new item is a mere two-songer potentially allows each track the kind of proper consideration that might’ve been elusive if placed in the context of a full album. The A-side, “Don’t Mention the War,” finds Holsapple joined by Mark Simonson from the Old Ceremony on drums and acoustic guitar and James Wallace (Phil Cook’s band) on piano and drums, plus tuba textures courtesy Mark Daumen. Holsapple handles guitars and organ while spinning a 6 ½ minute tale in which the narrator observes and comments upon a beloved uncle’s return home and subsequent battle with PTSD (“he sweats and he shouts and he turns white as a sheet… he opens his eyes, he’s still seeing the dead… he hasn’t picked up a guitar in nearly three years, I can scarcely recognize the same man”). Midway through the song the drum pattern turns overtly martial, underscoring the implicit tension in what’s otherwise a richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.

Meanwhile, “Cinderella Style” has a gentle, nocturnal vibe primarily wrought by Holsapple’s acoustic guitar, bass, and organ, with Simonson adding delicate touches of vibraphone and Skylar Gudasz contributing flute flourishes. “Love can mend a dress,” he sings, going on to describe the creation of a physical garment of calico, gabardine, satin, silk, and velveteen while hinting at the metaphorical implications of the act. The tune is relatively brief, deliberately restrained, and perfectly poetic in its imagery.

Holsapple recently told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays. Fair enough. But the critic – and yeah, the fan – in me think he’s underselling himself. I told him as much, too. All that music mentioned at the top of this review (not to mention his contributions to other artists’ work, such as R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish) comes stamped with the Tarheel TMOQ, so I have no doubt whatsoever that we fellow North Carolinians would be first in line for a Kickstarter-type campaign and any resulting record store product. People vote with their wallets, after all.

And while I’m loathe to invoke any electoral notions considering what we’ve all gone through recently… could I nominate Peter Holsapple for Minister of Music? Poobah of Power Pop? Raconteur of Rock? Hmmm…. why the hell not?

DOWNLOAD: The vinyl 45 comes with a free download code, so your choice is obvious. Incidentally, you can check out the video for the A-side here.

 

 

SUN RA AND HIS ARKESTRA – Live At Inter-Media Arts April 1991 (3LP or 2CD)

Album: Live At Inter-Media Arts April 1991

Artist: Sun Ra and his Arkestra

Label: Modern Harmonic

Release Date: November 26, 2016

www.modernharmonic.com

sunra_ima400

The Upshot: Ra archival gem offers high fidelity and superb performances for a collectible item both fans and novices will appreciate. Originally issued as limited edition vinyl for the Record Store Day Black Friday event, it’s also out as a 2CD set.

BY BILL KOPP

Sonic explorer Sun Ra was quite prolific during his lifetime; in fact, archivists – those you’d expect to know – can’t accurately tally just how many albums the man released. And long after his death, reissues and newly-discovered recordings come out with surprising regularity.

Sadly, some of the latter tend toward poor fidelity; their importance may not be thusly diminished, but their utility tends more toward historical import than anything approaching listening pleasure. Which isn’t to say that Sun Ra was ever what anyone would call “easy listening.” His admixture of bluesy, swinging jazz, electronics and avant-garde textures can be foreboding for the musically timid or unadventurous.

Thank goodness this new release scores high marks on all counts. It’s weird, to be sure – this is Sun Ra, after all – but it’s a superbly-recorded live date, one in which all of the instrumentation and vocals are crystalline. In fact, the New York City performance was broadcast over the air on WNYC radio.

Longtime Sun Ra associate June Tyson provides here soulful and nimble vocals, sometimes harmonizing with Michael Ray, abetted by several male vocalists. A sixteen-piece band takes the assembled audience on a musical trip through Sun Ra’s cosmos. It’s several minutes into the set before we’re treated to a solo, but it – and the others that follow – is worth waiting for.

The set list is trademark Sun Ra: a mix of originals and his own reinventions of works by other notable composers (Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer). And a Sun Ra favorite, “We Travel the Spaceways” closes the set and provides some conceptual continuity with two other releases from Modern Harmonic, Space Songs and Man in Space with Sounds (both reviewed separately, and neither having the slightest to do with Sun Ra).

Sometimes half the band seems to be playing a different piece than the rest of the musicians; that tonal clash is often precisely the point. At its best, Sun Ra’s music always challenged the listener’s notions about what did and didn’t “work,” and the 2CD At Inter-Media Arts 1991 is an exemplar in that regard. That it’s of such high fidelity and superb performance makes it even more highly recommended.

DOWNLOAD: All of it – it’s Ra, dude.

 

THE MARK III – Marvin Whoremonger

Album: Marvin Whoremonger

Artist: The Mark III

Label: Now-Again Reserve

Release Date: November 18, 2016

http://www.nowagainrecords.com

marvinwhoremongerlpfront

The Upshot: Think of it as a kind of soundtrack to a mid-‘70s Blaxploitation film that never got past the scripting stage but still holds up purely on its funky bonafides.

BY FRED MILLS

Rather than attempt to distill the convoluted backstory of this uber-rare funk album from Eothen Alapatt’s liner notes (which are a noble, if necessarily out there, attempt at same), I’ll just offer up the Amazon.com product description:

“One of the sought-after funk albums: a concept-piece executed by a Las Vegas hustler, pairing the troubled musings of a transient vocalist with the exuberant funk of a teenage trio. Embellished by session musicians in Hollywood with synthesizers and a large horn section, Marvin Whoremonger lurked behind a garish, anonymous jacket and failed immediately, despite producer Cholly Williams exhortations in his liner notes that the album would lead to international stardom for all involved. Forty years later it has aged well, and stands as an immediately accessible – yet bizarre – exercise in late-period, real funk music.”

Everybody crystal clear? No? Good. Neither am I, even after a couple of reads and multiple spins of the disc. But don’t let this journalistic discombobulation deter you from doing the proverbial run, don’t walk…  ritual to your local record emporium, because this is some seriously fonky, stanky, nasty stuff. Which of course will not surprise anyone even remotely familiar with the Now-Again label’s output—both archival (such as this release) and contemporary—to date.

The Mark III was a group in name only, and a short-lived one at that: four Vegas teens—vocalist Marvin Neroes, plus the Thompson brothers as the musical ensemble—backed up with additional keyboards and horns. Producer Williams wrote the bulk of the material, although Neroes and one of the Thompsons also receive credit; think of it as a kind of soundtrack to a mid-‘70s Blaxploitation film that never got past the scripting stage. The music holds up, though, in spades (no pun intended). Opening track “Street Scene” could be an opening credits segment, with a slinky, push-pull, urgency and exhortations of “when you get down, don’t you get up/ do it, do it, ‘til you get enough.” Up next is “Pusher Man,” admittedly not the most original of titles, but its overtones of both Curtis Mayfield (duh) and Temptations, while not ultra-original either, give it a righteous mojo. Other highlights include the pulsing, nocturnal funk of “Sex in Motion” (it has more than a passing resemblance to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”; there’s a bonus instrumental version here as well) and—speaking of instrumentals—“Funky Heaven,” which contrasts a squonky synth melody with some terrific funk guitar licks worthy of Motor City maestro Dennis Coffey. And don’t miss “The Party’s Over,” a kind of Kool & the Gang-meets-Sly Stone throwdown that courts extemporaneous chaos but never quite loses the plot.

Marvin Whoremonger dropped much earlier last year as part of the Now-Again Reserve subscription series, deluxe, handsomely packaged vinyl repressings of rare titles (the quarterly subscription includes a gorgeous wooden box for housing each year’s four LPs). Luckily, for more budget conscious punters, the CD version arrived in November, because it really deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible—as much for its irresistibly inherent weirdness/obscurity as for the compelling funk-soul grooves that come pulsing from your stereo speakers. And as per all Now-Again releases, the packaging is immaculate; here, you get a thick cardboard mini-LP sleeve housing the CD, a 28-page booklet on thick stock paper, and an outer slipcase.

Party’s over? Naahh—just starting.

DOWNLOAD: “Sex In Motion,” “The Party’s Over,” “Pusher Man”

 

 

 

Video Premiere: The Two Tens “Keeping Hope Alive” 45

TMChrisBarber2016

TMChrisBarber2016

L.A. rockers submit second full length in July but step up with limited vinyl single right now.

By Blurt Staff

You could call the BLURT braintrust massive fans of Adam Bones and Rikki Styxx,, aka Los Angeles duo The Two Tens—a couple of years ago we turned you, the gentle readers of this fine publication, on to their kickass video “Watching Me” (from the fourth installment of their 2015 EP series), then again in February of 2016 with the track “Dreams,” one of the key tunes from their debut longplayer Volume. Now, with The Two Tens prepping a July release of their as-yet-untitled sophomore album, they have a stopgap single dropping, and a vinyl one at that. The A side is “Keeping Hope Alive” (the flip is an ace cover of Little Richard’s “Bama Lama Bama Loo”) and you get to preview it right here, prior to the 45’s Feb. 10 street date. Adam and Rikki’s instincts for video treatments continue to serve them well, without a doubt. Check it out:

Rikki spills the beans on the clip, explaining, “We wanted the video to just be a representation of the ridiculous amount of fun we have as a band.  Running around being complete nerds together. It was actually shot at The Federal Bar which was the venue where we played our very first show. Even though the song is a love song (which I’ll leave that to Adam to explain), we didn’t want to portray that in the video. The song is a bit different from the songs on the first album because it’s the poppiest of them all. We were fortunate enough to work with producer John Fields in Minneapolis and we decided to go with a little different production approach than we have in the past.”

Adam, indeed, explains further: “’Keeping Hope Alive’ is a song about a hopeful hopeless romantic. I think that’s what I am when it all comes down to it. It’s based on a personal experience. And it’s a positive love song, for a change. Recording it with John Fields was a great experience. I really liked his pace in the studio. It was fun to watch how fast he worked. It was interesting to see his process and I learned a lot.”

Seriously cool. If you ain’t hooked on these cats by this point, c’mon—unhook that respirator and get out once in awhile, or at least by July 14, because you need to be in line that day at your local indie store. The band signed with Man Della Records and they recorded in Minneapolis with producer John Fields (Dollyrots, Andrew WK, Pink), subsequently heading back home to Los Angeles and finishing the album with the Volume team of producer Bruce Duff (also their manager, and we are advised this is now “making him an Andrew Oldham-style control freak” which ain’t such a bad thing if you think about it), engineer Paul Roessler (punk demigod/L.A. studio maven) and mastering engineer Jim Diamond (Dirtbombs, Sonics, White Stripes, the entire garage rock universe, etc.).

Order the wax right here, jack: https://thetwotens.bandcamp.com/album/keeping-hope-alive

And then consult the online resources thusly:
Band website: http://thetwotens.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thetwotens

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Tour Dates:

Feb 11 – Redwood Bar & Grill – Los Angeles, CA (“Keeping Hope Alive” Single Release Show!)

Mar 10 – The Museum Club – Flagstaff, AZ

Mar 12 – Goosetown Tavern – Denver, CO

Mar 16 – Reggie’s – Chicago, IL (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 17 – Melody Inn – Indianapolis, IN (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 18 – The Avenue – Lansing, MI (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 19 – Rockstar Pro Arena – Dayton, OH (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 20 – Rumba Cafe – Columbus, OH (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 21 – Southgate House – Newport, KY (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 22 – The Fubar – St. Louis, MO (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 23 – Three Links – Dallas, TX (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 24 – Satellite – Houston, TX (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 25 – Bang Bang – San Antonio, TX (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 26 – Sidewinder – Austin, TX (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 28 – The Rebel Lounge – Phoenix, AZ (w/ The Dollyrots)

Mar 29 – The Hideout – San Diego, CA (w/ The Dollyrots / Go Betty Go)

Mar 31 – The Hi Hat – Los Angeles, CA (w/ The Dollyrots / Go Betty Go)

Apr 01- Slidebar – Fullerton, CA (w/ The Dollyrots / Go Betty Go)

Apr 21- Punk Rock BBQ 2017 @ Dive Bar – Las Vegas, NV

 

Photo Credit: Chris Barber

MIKAEL TARIVERDIEV – The Irony Of Fate—Original Score

Album: The Irony Of Fate—Original Score

Artist: Mikael Tariverdiev

Label: self-released

Release Date: November 25, 2016

https://tariverdiev.bandcamp.com/album/the-irony-of-fate-original-score

mikael

The Upshot: Prolific Russian composer taps into his country’s native melancholia on a reissue of one of his most popular film scores.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

We all have a little Russian in us—and not just that little election-rigging shit Putin now, either. No, the other Russian. The melancholic romanticist who, usually after a vodka too many, swoons before visions of the endless Russian steppes, or weeps with equal fervor over the memories of 20 million war dead or one tragic love lost.

You sense that Mikael Tariverdiev knew this about us, a key reason he translates so well.  The prolific Russian composer taps into that native melancholia in this reissue of one of his most popular film scores, The Irony of Fate, and emerges with a universally appealing set. Coming on the heels of the 2015, three-LP retrospective, Film Music, this single vinyl slab—with sleeve notes by The Real Tuesday Weld’s (and Earth collaborator) Stephen Coates—serves as an easy entryway into the composer’s oeuvre. (Tariverdiev scored over 130 movies, wrote more than a hundred romances, ballets, operas and vocal cycles, and was basically very, very busy being creative while you were doing bong hits and watching The Simpsons.)

The Irony of Fate was the most popular of director Eldar Ryazanov’s 30 films, a clever 1975 romantic comedy-cum-satire that ridiculed Soviet bureaucracy (and its one-size-fits-all architecture) without crossing the line and earning him a trip to the Gulag. Viewing it has become a New Year’s rite-of-passage in Russia—the story riffs on a vodka-fueled New Year’s ritual—but its lasting impact is just as much due to the score of the Tbilisi-born Tariverdiev.

First-time listeners might be thrown by the opening “Overture,” an outlier which takes a classical motif and turns it into a carnival theme of Fellini-esque proportions. It returns with the coquettish, fully orchestrated waltz, “Expectation of the New Year,” but it’s a string of folk songs, played only with nylon-stringed guitar backing and usually in waltz-time, that elevate the music into the kind of lasting folk fare that belies its apparent simplicity. “Along My Street for Many Years,” “On Tikhoretskaya,” “I Like” and “I Ask the Mirror” feature the sultry vocals of Alla Pugatcheva, who became a star in her own right thanks in part to these performances, while Tariverdiev himself adds worthy male counterpoints to the soundtrack. The singer rolls his r’s with enough vigor to recall another guitar-only crooner, the Frenchman Georges Brassens, though Serge Gainsbourg is typically the name you hear when the composer invites comparisons. Either way, Tariverdiev is no slouch at the mic, and one of the songs from Irony of Fate, “I Asked the Ash Tree,” has the same national status in Russia that, say, “Over the Rainbow” or “Mrs. Robinson” has attained via U.S. cinematic history.

Non-Russian speakers obviously can’t engage with the songs as deeply as Tariverdiev’s native brothers and sisters. But only the heartless and imaginatively stunted will find the language barrier an actual obstruction, and it’s just as likely that the instrumentals will steal your heart anyway. The recurring melody in “Snow Over Leningrad,” built on romantic strings and upright bass, affords a foundation for vibes to fall like snow, and the accordion waltz, “The Third Stroitelnaya Street,” is one of several tracks that will have the listener drawing natural comparisons to the scores of Nino Rota and Michel Legrand.

The Irony of Fate is more than just set-pieces culled from a film Russians revisit every New Year’s Eve. The songs tell a story independent of what’s happening on the screen, and one that’s happened in plenty of places outside 1970s Mother Russia. That’s what makes Tariverdiev’s score so enduring and bittersweet—melancholia knows no borders.

DOWNLOAD: “Snow Over Leningrad,” “I Asked the Ash Tree,” “The Third Stroitelnaya Street,” “Along My Street for Many Years”

 

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS – American Band

Album: American Band

Artist: Drive-By Truckers

Label: ATO

Release Date: September 30, 2016

www.ato.com

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The Upshot: Pure Truckers from start to finish, yet still an unsettling affair originally intended as a battle cry that ultimately became an epitaph.

BY FRED MILLS

One of 2016’s best albums—it landed on numerous top 10 lists among this publication’s writers, for example—American Band, nevertheless, has an oddly discomforting side to it that can’t be avoided. It’s the unintended/unforeseen byproduct of the recent presidential election. Released at the end of September in time to ensure its political statements were heard prior to November 8, the Drive-By Truckers’ 11th studio album may have been pitched as a battle cry, but it was clearly also intended to serve, ultimately, as a triumphant musical speech for the red, white, and true. Even the accompanying “Darkened Flags” tour (a nod at American Band song “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn”) was supposed to become a victory lap, commencing a mere week before the election.

And then the unthinkable happened. Or did it? Tea-leaf readers and outsider polling mavericks aside, the Truckers are born-and-bred Southerners, and both of their songwriters, guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, have consistently chronicled the attitudes and actions of the white working class with whom they share roots. Did the band sense, subliminally or otherwise, what the mainstream media did not? Viewed that way, American Band, though revealing and righteous in its examination of the unsettling, frequently tragic, undertones of the country, could also be read as an epitaph.

The aforementioned song about flags, for example, offers the initially elegant, but now prophetic, phrase “The baggage that you take defines the things that you become”; while later, in “Ever South,” the lines “But despite our intentions, it pains me to report/ We keep swinging for the fences, coming up a little short” pop up like red warning flags stuck on a lawn whose grass has been painted blue. And a section of “What It Means,” which references both directly and obliquely the deaths of innocent young black men, was no doubt originally penned as an observation but now reads so bleakly as to be a capitulation to the dark forces that have overtaken our society: “It happened where you’re sitting, wherever that might be/ And it happened last weekend and it will happen again next week…They’ll spin it for the anchors on the television screen/ So we can shrug and let it happen without asking what it means.”

Musically, the album is a reassuring stew of tried-and-true DBT tropes, from twangy, Southern-friend roots rock and garagey, gunslinging raveups, to moody folk-rock meditations and sturdy, hookish anthemism. Hood and Cooley share songwriting and singing duties fairly equally, solid and complementary as ever. Yet even there, it seems that a sense of unease is holding the band back from really cutting loose like on some previous albums.

For vinyl lovers, initial copies of the LP come pressed on a visually pleasing dark magenta vinyl, and there’s a bonus picture sleeved 45 included of the track “Kinky Hypocrite,” a Cooley-penned honky-tonker that also appears on the CD and digital versions as a mid-album track. It seems a bit curious that it wouldn’t also be positioned as an end-of-record bonus track for those iterations, but in any event, the tune’s no throwaway.

DOWNLOAD: “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn,” “What It Means,” “Ever South”

 

EXTERMINATORS – Product of America

Album: Product of America

Artist: Exterminators

Label: Slope

Release Date: November 18, 2016

www.sloperecords.com

exterminators

The Upshot: Potent, powerful, pulverizing punk delivered 40 years after the fact.

BY FRED MILLS

Phoenix punk bands were always a bit… different from their peers across the desert in L.A. While there was no shortage of anti-authoritarian ‘tude and a healthy appreciation for punks shock value, they were less image-conscious than the Sunset Strip crews and more than willing to fuck shit up just for the sake of fucking shit up, traits that persist to this day in the Arizona music scene. Call it the cowboy mentality.

And the Exterminators, though remarkably short-lived even by typical punk standards—the liner notes to Product of America (by Arizona-born Don Bolles, drummer for the Exterminators as well as numerous L.A. bands over the years, and author/journalist of no small repute) maintain the quartet played, at best, three or four shows before its members headed to the City of Angels seeking fortune and infamy with the likes of the Germs, Feederz, Bags, etc.

Yet this LP—pressed on seductive royal blue vinyl, no less—isn’t some long-lost archival recording of demos and now-rare singles, because according to Bolles, the Exterminators “never recorded anything,” at least not properly. (They taped a few rehearsals but that was it.) Instead, the 16 songs here, most of them clocking in at under a minute and a half, were recorded in the present by Bolles (drums), Johnny Macho (aka Dan Clark, vocals), Buzzy Murder (Doug Clark, guitar), and Cris Kirkwood (from the Meat Puppets of course, bass—the bassist back in the day was the late Rob Graves, later of Bags/45 Grave/Gun Club). And as a combined time capsule/legacy homage, those songs definitely pull their weight. Kirkwood offers up a no-frills production that’s as true to the material as possible.

Vocalist Macho has the perfect punk sneer, even four decades after the fact, and between the muscular Bolles-Kirkwood rhythm section and Murder’s bandsaw guitar riffage, you’d be hard pressed to do the blindfold test with the album and peg it as a present-day recording. From the tender sentiments and drillpress vibe of “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and the sizzling hardcore romp that is “Just Like Your Mom” to a beautifully brutal slice of Stooges nihilism, “Destruction Unit” and a ground-zero-punk workout titled “I Hate You” (whose songwriting credit is not one of the bandmembers, but “some kid from the neighborhood”), this is potent, powerful, pulverizing stuff. There’s also a freaky spoken-word closing number, an adaption of Samuel Beckett’s violent/erotic “Serena II” that finds Macho intoning gravely while Murder sculpts thick waves of distortion in the background. Who said punks aren’t sensitive?

DOWNLOAD: “Static Planet,” “Destruction Unit,” “I Don’t Give a Fuck”

MIKE WATT – “Ring Spiel” Tour ’95 (2-LP)

Album: “Ring Spiel” Tour ’95

Artist: Mike Watt

Label: Columbia/Legacy

Release Date: November 11, 2016

www.legacyrecordings.com

watt-lp

The Upshot: From punk anthemism to prog excursions to covers of Daniel Johnston, BOC, and Madonna, it’s Watt’s world and you’re just living in it, via this live archival gem.

BY FRED MILLS

Mike Watt: you may have heard of  ‘im. Cast your gaze back in time, to the alterna-Nineties, at which point the erstwhile Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist was both an alterna-elder statesman and an influential contemporary. With the release of Watt’s 1995 solo debut, ball-hog or tugboat?, a collaborative project of no small matter (said peers performing on the album included Rollins, Flea, Thurston Moore, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder… you may have heard of them), the musician was poised to take center stage as frontman du jour.

Only… he opted for left of center stage. Touring that year to promote the album, Watt called up from the alterna-reserves Vedder and Grohl, along with Pat Smear and William Goldsmith for his backing band, additionally tapping their respective projects Hovercraft and Foo Fighters for the tour’s opening acts, and set all phasers on “stun.”

“Ring Spiel” Tour ’95 revisits that tour—additionally rekindling this writer’s appropriately “stunned” memories from an Arizona stop—with as much primal vehemence and viscera-churning excellence as a live album can conjure. We’re not in double-live Frampton Comes Alive territory; more like Live at Leeds unreleased bootleg tapes. Whether your Watt leanings dip towards his inclination towards out-of-context covers like Daniel Johnson’s jaunty, rather groovy “Walking the Cow” and Blue Oyster Cult’s timeless boogie “The Red and the Black” (the latter given an appropriately M-men hardcore twist), or such punk anthemism as “Against the ‘70s” (that’s Vedder helping out on vocals) and twisted singalong “Piss-Bottle Man” (both Vedder and Grohl this time), there’s something for every Watt-acolyte stripe herein.

Perhaps “Forever… One Reporter’s Opinion,” which comes about ¾ of the way through Watt’s set (May 6, 1995, at Chicago’s Metro venue, to be exact), is the track you should earmark for playing the next time a Watt neophyte (or alien from the next galaxy, take your pick) comes to visit. An aggressive, discordant, almost jazzy-prog-punk rumble marked by frantic percussion and crazed Watt-Smear vocals, it neatly summarizes the Watt sonic aesthetic without coming across as muso or calculated: It’s simply Watt’s world, and you’re just living in at the moment.

Not a bad world to inhabit, come to think of it. Sign me up.

Incidentally, “Ring Spiel” Tour ’95 should be heard, if you have any audio savvy, as a 2-LP vinyl excursion. There’s a thundering, analog immediacy hard to deny here. And if you opt to spring for the limited-edition orange wax version, well, good on ya, mate. That’s what we call entertainment.

DOWNLOAD: “Forever… One Reporter’s Opinion,” “Piss-Bottle Man,” “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,” “Drove Up from Pedro”