The Upshot: Power pop, glam, bubblegum and more on limited edition colored wax.
BY UNCLE BLURT
What would you say to a limited-to-600-copies, 150-gm./grey-vinyl-only LP from Redd Kross? Why, you’d say “Boy howdy!” without hesitating, natch. So what we have with Hot Issue is a collector’s item of a collector’s item—it was originally released a year ago on the band’s Fashion Records label, quickly sold out, and subsequently hit prices as high as a hundred bucks on eBay. Enter Spain’s Bang! Label to the reissue with the limited edition at hand.
What does it sound like? Who cares! You’re too busy scrambling to find a copy before Bang!’s iteration disappears! Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you to close the other tabs on your browser… Meanwhile, let’s just note that the 12 songs here are dated as having been “recorded in Hollywood between 1980-2007” but we are advised that most date from the mid/late ‘90s. Highlights range from the pure glam-slam that is “Insatiable Kind” and the Beatles-meet-Plimsouls power pop of “That Girl,” to the bubblegum romp of “Puss n Boots” and the stately, Roger Manning-produced, Queen-like ballad “Born to Love You.” Diverse, eh?
Musically speaking, it’s definitely a mixed bag, with the above-mentioned standouts countered somewhat by a number of throwaways. And compared to the band’s regular releases, it’s hardly essential except for completists, hence the only 2-star rating here. But if you happen to be a never-say-die fan….
DOWNLOAD: Don’t be silly. You can’t download grey vinyl!
The Upshot: A testament the vitality of punk rock when done right. And rarely has it been done this well before.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Despite playing across London’s around the same time as the Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash – even showing up on the radar of punk rock Svengali Malcolm McLaren – Cock Sparrer never achieved the global recognition of their scene mates. In fact, their label at the time dumped their 1978 debut in Spain and quickly walked away from the band (the record finally saw a proper UK release 9 years later). As the Sex Pistols were busy imploding and The Clash and The Damned experimenting with new sounds, the guys in Cock Sparrer continued to plug away at their sound, perfecting a mix of punk, pub rock and R&B that would eventually be dubbed Oi’, or street punk.
More than four decades later, Cock Sparrer are still at it, surprisingly with only one non-original band member, and have managed to turn in possibly their best record yet, Forever. Finding a home in the U.S. on the punk and vinyl-friendly label Pirate Press, the album is an exercise in brilliance spread out across a dozen tracks.
The LP, only their sixth in 45 years, kicks off with the rallying cry, “One By One,” and doesn’t let up until the last gang vocal fades out on “Us Against the World,” a song that perfectly bookends the record. For a gruff crew, the lyrics here are downright optimistic, or at least encouraging; there’s an overall theme of “shit may be falling around us, but at least we got each other” (the bitter “Family of One” being the exception here). Brimming with sharp hooks, singalong choruses, gunfire drums and ringing power chords, Forever is a testament the vitality of punk rock when done right. And rarely has it been done this well before.
DOWNLOAD: “One By One,” “Every Step of the Way” and “Us Against the World”
Canadian post-rockers return after eight-year hiatus with memorable set of instrumentals.
BY JOHN SCHACHT
The title of the latest from Toronto-based post-rockers Do Make Say Think alludes to the Buddhist notion that all seemingly distinct thoughts and ideas are, in truth, connected to collective subconscious feelings. This may be the most open exploration of that conceit in the band’s 25-year tenure, but for fans it’s been Do Make Say Think’s defining trait—the connective tissue in their vastly diverse sonic explorations is what stocks their records with such emotional power.
Despite a gap of eight years between recordings, Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation) upholds the band’s aesthetic without seeming to miss a two-drum-kits beat. These nine tracks, ranging from glitchy four-minute piano-based lullabies to epic 10-minute guitar workouts, read like an anthology (of sorts) of the band’s holistic approach to instrumental rock.
By and large, Do Make Say Think steer clear of the predictable Mogwai/Explosions in the Sky post-rock theorem—Melody + Tempo over Crescendo, divided by Volume. They’ve also avoided disappearing down the electronic rabbit hole that the genre’s flag-bearers, Tortoise, seem determined to do.
Instead, the band’s multi-instrumentalist core—Ohad Benchetrit (guitar, keyboard, horns), Charles Spearin (bass, guitar, keys, horns), Justin Small (guitar, keys), and drummers Dave Mitchell and James Payment—build their pieces organically, never letting effects hijack melody.
Take the LP’s signature statement, the 10-plus minute “Horripilation.” In the beginning, guitar figures lazily circle each other like summer insects before the bass pulls the tempo forward and the drums began an urgent thrum. The song pares back to reveal two keyboard lines taking the place of the guitars, this time accompanied by subtle strings and later by horn skronks, all of it gelling together with synth squiggles, distortion and lurches of feedback. By the seventh minute the song is in cymbals-crashing high gallop, where DMST then peel back the instrumentation until only the guitar melody remains. It’s a deft reversal, and one that rewards multiple listens.
But memorable moments like that abound. On the “Her Eyes on the Horizon,” the quintet channel the controlled abandon familiar from their parent company, Broken Social Scene, into the collective’s all-for-one, one-for-all crescendos that seem to extol “team concept.” (If this were the NBA, DMST would be the Warriors, not the Raptors—sorry, guys.) A companion piece, “As Far as the Eye Can See,” follows, snare-rolls and trap replacing toms-thunder as guitar glissandos roll in and out of focus until a new melody emerges and spirals off into the distance.
“Murder of Thoughts” taps into a more overtly Western patina, recalling Spearin’s earlier project, Valley of the Giants. Timpani and pedal steel conjure the vast expanses, and by song’s end they drift organically into the sound of a rusty weathercock turning squeakily in the high plains wind.
Another set of companion tunes also highlight DMST’s diverse sonic palette. Oscillating between layered synth burbles and arena-sized riffs, the five minutes of “Bound” terminate in a violent mood swing, courtesy of air raid warning-sized synth blasts which overlap into “And Boundless.” There, roiling drums and horror flick keyboards gradually morph into an unexpected—and beautiful— glissando-rich melody.
At a shade under four minutes, the piano-based “Shlomo’s Son” clocks in as the LP’s most reflective moment, before DMST close things out by doubling back to the multiple-guitar attack on “Return, Return Again.” It opens with one guitarist looping quick-fingered arpeggios while another layers over that an elegant melody. The drums lash those riffs with increasing fervor, until waves of keyboards and a fluttering baritone sax manage to turn what should be cacophony into transcendence. As walk-offs go, it’s a doozy.
Just about the only misstep here is, oddly, the opener, “War on Torpor.” Not only is the title a bit on-the-nose, but the song never really modulates its aggressive guitar attack over its five minute-run. By the end of the assault it sounds like something that would be more at home with prog kings Yes, circa Relayer, than the rest of the LP.
It’s not even close to a deal breaker, though, and arguably enhances by contrast the rest of the LP’s compelling nuance, textures and power. But then not every collective subconscious feeling has to be a good one—it’s just better when the balance of our stubborn and persistent illusions comes out this far ahead in the musical equation.
Consumer Note: The Constellation label has gone the extra mile, packaging- and design-wise, for vinyl collectors. In addition to a credits insert, there’s also a fold-out poster that replicates the outer art on the gatefold sleeve, and both 180gm LPs are housed in deluxe, sleek-lined inner sleeves to minimize any potential scuffs incurred when sliding the records out. And most intriguingly, side D does not contain music, but a series of small nature etchings ringing the surface. This may all seem nominal when judging the music, but it’s indicative of both the label and the band’s desire to present a work of art—something that’s simply not possible when dealing with a digital stream or download. (And digital fans, never fear: A download card is included.)
BAND PHOTO CREDIT: Sandlin Gaither
Ed. note: DMST is performing tonight, June 10, in Toronto at the Danforth Music Hall. You’ll be able to watch the live stream via YouTube – click on the player below for details.
The Upshot: Dissonant, combative punk rock that’s so right it’s Wrong. You got that, right? Boogie!
BY FRED MILLS
As it is more than a little difficult to accurately (or even inaccurately) convey the, um, aesthetic at play with the Gary Wrong Group, perhaps I should simply list links to all their YouTube clips—among them, the NSFW “Setting Fire to Your Loft,” the cornea-frying “Dream Smasher,” and one called “Heroin Beach Serpents Attack” that may or may not have the NRA calling upon the band to be a featured guest at the next convention. There are also at least a couple of rip-roaring live sets, one from the Total Punk “Total Fuck Off II” fest in 2015 and the Gonerfest 12 performance from the same year, both of which give you at least a partial sense of these rock ‘n’ roll miscreants’ sonic viscosity and utter disregard for such niceties as finesse, audience pandering, and good grooming.
But that would be cheating. Particularly since there’s this little matter of a big-ass double-vinyl/gatefold-sleeve release (download code included, digital nerds) from Austin’s venerable 12XU label, which has seen fit to compile this Mobile, Alabama, musical gulf-spill’s previously unleashed output, typically in small quantities, via the group’s Jeth Row imprint and others willing to take a chance on the Wrong crew. (Go HERE to check out what appears to be an incomplete discography at Discogs.com.) 12XU has also seen fit to throw in three previously unreleased tracks, knowing that there are at least eight GWG completists out there. I suspect I’m about to become the ninth.
You would be right in assuming that Wrong is the prime mover and shaker behind the band, as the lineup as listed in the credits for Gary Wrong Group is nothing if not varied; players include the legendary Quintron (primarily on drums and not the expected organ; he also wrote the song “St. Theo” here) and members of Black Abbba and Vatican Dagger (who?). Duly marshaling the troops for his own sonic version of the Bataan Death March, Wrong serves up a skronkfest of estimable proportions, equal parts Wipers, early Pere Ubu and Electric Eels, Chrome, and Christian black metal. With maybe a touch of the Ramones’ sense of efficiency and style.
Let’s see… if we must single out individual tracks, for side A, there’s the synth-strafed “Setting Fire to Your Loft,” a slice of dissonant minimalism not unlike a young Eno still attempting to learn his instrument. Side B’s got both “Heroin Beach” (how can you resist a title like that?) and the aforementioned Quintron composition, which gets the nod, but just barely, thanks to the inclusion of an actual melodic “hook” and the way it shifts into a raveup midsong, although don’t think we’re talking “raveup” as in “Yardbirds,” “Kinks,” or “Freddie & the Dreamers.” Side C is where things really get cooking: “Floods of Fire” is sheer punk rock brilliance, with lead vocals from bassist Carly G doing her best “Warm Leatherette” (The Normal) impression and Wrong multitasking, instrument-wise, to conjure that Ubu vibe mentioned above. (A gent simply known as “Dylan” provides some quite efficient drumming for the track as well. Oh, and speaking of Ubu, if you go to the group’s Soundcloud page where there’s a slew of material to check out, you’ll encounter a song called “Reasons to Shive,” which is subtitled “Ode to Ubu.” So there. Check out “Streets of Iron” while you’re on the page.)
Let’s take a quick break to ponder the track via a brand new video recently uploaded by the band. Boogie:
Things come to a car-crash conclusion during side D, fully justifying the bio’s tidy band description of “apocalypse-level murky madness”—as epitomized by the chant-worthy stomp-fest “Loupgarou 2.” I could certainly submit more descriptions and impressions, but they would inevitably be ephemeral and subject to change with each fresh spin, if not downright wrong. But then, that’s the whole point, right? It’s Wrong, after all.
DOWNLOAD: “Floods of Fire,” “Post Natal Pre Death,” “Setting Fire To Your Loft”
The rumored new Death From Above 1979 single in rumor no more: titled “Freeze Me,” the rowdy, thumping, jerking-back-and-forth track is pressed up as a clear vinyl flexidisc and is currently causing a stir among fans who, uh, can’t play records.
Never fear, kids. As I write, folks are turning the tune into MP3s and uploading the song to the interwebs, and it’s also aired on the BBC HERE so you can listen to it. The flexi has been turning up for free in the mailboxes of fans all over the country, not to mention the mailbox of ye olde editor of BLURT, via the group’s label Warner Bros.
The Upshot: Dreamy, psych-tinged power pop par excellence.
BY FRED MILLS
A ridiculously prolific artist, as one glance at his Bandcamp page will reveal, Mark Crozer will also be familiar to fans of the Jesus & Mary Chain, for whom he was drafted on rhythm guitar when the UK icons reformed in 2007. Prior to that he also played in the JAMC’s Jim Reid’s solo band, but all along Crozer has been releasing music under his own name as well as the International Jetsetters and, most recently, The Rels. For Sunny Side Down, Crozer additionally tapped the talents of Charlotte, NC, musician Shawn Lynch, of BLURT faves Temperance League—Crozer currently lives in NYC but had a stint in Charlotte—and producer/engineer Mitch Easter (you may have heard of him). It’s a gorgeous, psych-pop affair.
Picks to click? There’s the delightfully titled, and deliciously twisted, “Loathsome Freddie,” a tribute to, ahem, a rather unique individual, all Brit-beat thumpage, fuzztone guitars, and dreamy vox. The anthemic “Lukewarm Love” is equally propulsive, hooks a-plenty and boasting a bridge to die for. And standout track “Haunted Head” conjures tuneful visions of such early icons of yore as the Hollies, Turtles, and the Lovin’ Spoonful, sonic kinsmen to Crozer’s classic song stylings. The entire album is aglow in bright, vivid colors, and it smartly reaffirms Crozer’s musical background while tipping its hat to his influences and heroes. Call it, power pop with a fizzy, fuzzy, funky edge.
Consumer Note: Sure, you can grab the album digitally, as you can with most of Crozer’s back catalogue. But when you can score a vinyl LP that comes with a CD and download card for your digital and portable doings, why would ya? Nice.
DOWNLOAD: “Haunted Head,” “Lukewarm Love,” “All You Gotta Do”
Wow, what a pleasant surprise this was. I knew that TSOL were still playing gigs and all but had no idea that they were working on new material and the fact that it’s very, very good makes it even better. Same guys here: Grisham, Roche, Emory and even Greg Kuehn on keyboards (remember how he kicked ass on Beneath the Shadows?) and new drummer Chip Hanna in tow as original drummer Todd Barnes passed long ago.
This is (mostly) a mid-tempo, melodic rock record with hooks all over the place but as you know with TSOL you can never predict what they’re gonna do next. Back when everyone was doing the ’77 punk thing (in ’81) they did a hardcore record and then when all other bands were doing hardcore they went and released a goth record (Dance With Me). They then threw us another curveball with the keyboard-driven Beneath the Shadows) as they were always a few steps ahead. The first two cuts, “Give Me More” and “Sometimes” are home runs right out of the gate then they get a little moodier (think the Damned) on “Strange World” and then get all jagged on “Satellites.” Elsewhere they give you a good blast in the chops with the romantic “I Wanted To See You” and get a bit more nimble and lively on “Wild Life” and swing with the best of ‘em on the driving “Nothing Ever Lasts.”
I’m pretty sure there’s not a bad song on here and in a just world this would crack the top 40 but alas it won’t, but who cares, The Trigger Complex is terrific. Really…give it a listen.
DOWNLOAD: “Give Me More,” “Sometimes,” “Satellites,” “I Wanted To See You”
The Upshot: Brutal yet beautiful lo-fi psychedelia that’ll leave you both perplexed and sated.
BY FRED MILLS
WVWhite—that would be West Virginia White —makes its bid for flagship status on the estimable Ohio label Anyway, having charmed critics out of their proverbial trees with their 2014 debut. All those slop/slacker-rock labels and Guided by Voices/Grifters/Pavement comparisons seem to have inspired the quartet to make the proverbial rise-above move for House of Spiritual Athletes, and if this med/lo-fi sonic epistle causes you to scratch your head and wonder what the fuss was all about, well, pal, all I can say is, maybe your parents should have conceived you a little earlier. The record is for cueing up and blasting through shitty speakers, not hunkering down in the back of your classroom or retreating during your subway commute with earbuds jammed deep.
It’s a warm, intimate, portastudio/four-track-deck vibe on display, with vocals set on “wander,” guitars proposing sweet melodies one sec and veering astray the next, and the rhythm section gamely keeping up. A beautiful racket, in other words—as evidenced by such gems as “Drag Down” (a fuzzed-out, yowling anthem with worthy Who aspirations), the wobbly, disconcertingly percussive “Truth Is New,” and lengthy, psychedelic epic “Space,” which lives up to its name via grand, echoey chords, mantra-like vocals, and a beat guaranteed to overrule the construction crew down the street that keeps waking you up too early on weekdays.
Brutally beautiful, WVWhite bolts directly out of the gate and, against all odds, not to mention several trips and detours later, busts through the tape at the finish line. True champs.
House of Spiritual Athletes arrives on 12” vinyl, as it should, and if you are gazing at the sleeve art and thinking it might be some long-lost portrait by UK artistic maverick Savage Pencil, guess again, and get out your crayons and medium-point felt-tips: it’s an adult coloring book-type offering, with all the requisite assigned numbers to designate where you locate your scribbling. Speaking as someone who actually was working in a bookstore precisely as the adult coloring book craze was hitting warp speed, I can say with confidence this rendering will provide you with far more profound artistic challenges than any of the moronic offerings—I mean, c’mon folks, mandalas? sunflower gardens? fucking pretty birds perched in autumnal foliage?—you may find on the shelves. Have at it. Don’t forget to paint areas marked with arrows first….
Each Stax Classics entry features a dozen tracks by a legend—among them, William Bell, Johnny Taylor, Staple Singers, Otis Redding, and Carla Thomas.
By Bill Kopp
The venerable and legendary Stax Records was started 60 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. Originally doing business as Satellite Records, the label founded by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton (and later helmed by Al Bell) would go on to release a catalog of staggering quality before falling victim to a host of problems that would end its existence in the mid-1970s. (Stax would eventually continue as a reissue label.) Those interested in learning more about Stax are enthusiastically directed to Rob Bowman’s excellent and richly detailed Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records, published in 1997. [It is indeed a reference Bible around the BLURT kiosk. -Soul/funk Ed.]
Today Concord Music owns the rights to administer the Stax Catalog, and has done a good job of reintroducing long-deleted titles to release. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Stax, Concord has compiled best-of from several of the label’s artists. I have four of those titles – all released May 19 – on my desk: all are called Stax Classics, and there’s one each from William Bell, the Dramatics, the Staple Singers and Johnnie Taylor. Each Stax Classics entry features a dozen tracks by the highlighted artist, plus a short yet informative liner note essay and a reasonable amount of discographical information. These aren’t really designed for the serious enthusiast; instead each serves as a tidy sampler/introduction to the Stax-era work of the artist.
William Bell’s Stax Classics volume features his best-loved tracks, including “Private Number,” his romantic duet with Judy Clay. The other 11 tunes are pretty great, too. The Dramatics are represented best by “In the Rain” and “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” (both on Stax Classics), but other lesser-known cuts like “Get Up and Get Down” and “The Devil is Dope” are breathtaking in their arrangement and execution.
The riches found in the versatile Staple Singers’ wonderful catalog likely made paring Stax Classics down to a dozen tracks a difficult task. The song’s you’d expect to find are indeed here: “Respect yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” and so on. An excellent and little-heard later-period cut, “City in the Sky” is included as well. Johnnie Taylor’s entry in the series includes his unbelievably funky (if naughty) “Who’s Making Love” as well as the incendiary “Somebody’s Sleeping in My Bed”: and ten others. All four are excellent, but on sheer chutzpah I’d give a minuscule edge to the Johnnie Taylor set.
Other entries in the Stax 60 series include titles by Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Carla Thomas.
The Upshot: On one level, a demonstration record, a document of just what can be done with Moog analog synthesizers in 1970. But it’s also a collection of impossibly catchy tunes, delivered in the most playful manner imaginable.
BY BILL KOPP
Perhaps Jean-Jacques Perrey shouldn’t be thought of in the same context as Jean-Michel Jarre, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and other early pioneers of the synthesizer-as-musical-instrument. His work wasn’t as edgy and experimental as that of those other guys. But here’s the thing: a half-century on, spinning a Perrey album is far more likely to bring a smile to the listener’s lips than most anything by those other, more “serious” artists.
On one level, Moog Indigo is a demonstration record. It’s a document of just what can be done with Moog analog synthesizers in 1970. But it’s also a collection of impossibly catchy tunes, delivered in the most playful manner imaginable. Perrey was no dour experimentalist; he made records that were fun, full stop.
The sound textures brought forth on Moog Indigo are so dated, so frozen-in-time, that it’s difficult to listen without chuckling. Wah-wah guitars about. Churchy organ lines find their way into pop tunes. Bloops and bleeps of every imaginable texture flit in and out of the mix.
Most of the dozen tracks on Moog Indigo – now lovingly reissued on 180-gram vinyl in an extra-sturdy reproduction sleeve – are originals composed specifically for the record. Perrey himself had a hand in composing about half of them. Gilbert Sigrist’s “The Rose and the Cross” is one of the few “serious” tunes on the set, so it feels a bit out of context. Yet it’s still lovely. “Cat in the Night” sounds very much like Emerson, Lake and Palmer in a particularly goofy moment; the lead synth sweeps have a distinctly Emersonian texture to them.
“Flight of the Bumblebee” has a synthesizer tone that – while inevitably annoying – exquisitely suits the song. It’s pretty clear that Perrey and his unnamed musical associates took these sessions very seriously, but also manage to have a lot of fun in the process. Listeners open to this kind of thing should appreciate their efforts. “Gossipo Perpetuo” is the strangest cut on the disc; it sounds uncannily like someone’s playing sampled male and female voices. But such technology simply didn’t exist in 1970, so it’s up to the listener to sort out what might be happening. In any case, it’s delightfully weird.
If you’ve ever seen the old comedy/variety television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, then you might recall those bits in which the entire cast was dancing to some way-out instrumental music, punctuated every few seconds by some freeze-frame and comedic one-liners. Well, leave the jokes out and keep the dancing going, and Moog Indigo would make a perfect soundtrack. Try it for your next party, too.
Blurt Exclusive: The Feederz "Stealing" (from new Slope Records 45)
Blurt Exclusive: Parson Red Heads "Coming Down" (from forthcoming June '17 album)
Blurt Video Exclusive: Twinkle Star "Wasting Life Together"/"Release Yourself"
A Blurt Video Boot Exclusive: Vieux Farka Toure - live in Beijing 1/15/17)
Blurt Exclusive: James Johnston "Heart and Soul" (live)