HEALTH – Death Magic

Album: Death Magic (LP)

Artist: Health

Label: Fiction/Loma Vista

Release Date: August 04, 2015

Health 8-4

The Upshot: Health has finally returned with their first album in 6 years in a way that is very satisfying. The vinyl version, incidentally, is the first release in Record Store Day’s new Vinyl Tuesday weekly event.


Back in 2007 the Los Angeles band Health gained notoriety by remixing one of Crystal Castles hit songs “Crimewave.” They then went on to put out their self-titled debut through Lovepump Unlimited and amassed much critical acclaim, including NME’s top “101 albums you hear before you die.” From then they went on to record one more album title Get Color and also remix albums for each one of their releases. They also went on to score the Max Payne 3 video game soundtrack that also received praise and award nominations.

Death Magic opens up with the sound of a pounding drum and Tron-like synth that has you questioning what is about to happen. Smooth robotic vocals start to fill in the spaces via lyrics about never feeling. Which is quite the opposite with this album—one which makes you feel all kinds of feelings. The first track (produced by The Haxan Cloak) blends in to the second track that immediately makes you feel like you are being pummeled by an assembly line that is building war toys. With Pet Shop Boys-like lyrics about love and promises the mood you get from the lyrics are sensual and caring but, contrastingly, the music is forceful and rugged.

The album, co-produced by Lars Stalfors (who has done work for The Mars Volta), puts that pounding on you from start to finish, with only brief moments letting you come back up for air. Extra production by Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, Pet Shop Boys) suggests heavy Hip-Hop and Pop influences as well. The drumming patterns that pervade the album additionally leave the impression that a Fela Kuti or Ministry album was left on repeat while the album was being created. From songs like “Life” that have vibe making you feel like you should be thrashing around the room with moments of two-step dancing in between, to “New Coke” with its party anthem lyrics (e.g., “life is good”) filling the void whenever the sizzling-bacon high hat isn’t, Death Magic is a well-crafted record that definitely tops all of the albums that have been put out through the summer.

Incidentally, Death Magic is officially released August 4th, which is the first Vinyl Tuesday. Vinyl Tuesday is a new holiday for us vinyl collecting nerds left in the lurch when the weekly new releases day moved from Tuesday to Friday. Vinyl Tuesday will entail some hot rare collectibles in addition to straightforward new releases; for example, also due on Aug. 4 is a limited edition white vinyl version of Joan Jett’s I Love Rock & Roll and, coming the following week on Aug. 11, the very sought-after Replacements The Twin/Tone Years box set.

DOWNLOAD: “Life,” “New Coke”



LITTLE RICHARD – Directly From My Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years

Album: Directly From My Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years

Artist: Little Richard

Label: Specialty

Release Date: June 02, 2015

Little Richard 6-2

The Upshot: A-wop-bop-a-lu-bop-a-wop-bam-wham-thank-YOU-ma’am!


Half a century on from its conception, the catalog of Little Richard is beyond critical analysis. There’s no point in justifying the power of the hits. “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Keep a Knockin’,” “Jenny Jenny,” “Oohh My Soul” – these songs stand firmly entrenched in rock & roll’s DNA, as important to its initial development as any note played in the early 1950s. The hooks, the attack, the lyrics, the sheer ARRRGGGHH of the Macon native’s early work make it not only seminal, but as fresh now as it was when it first erased outdated concepts of popular music and replaced them with something wholly new.

You know all these songs by heart, even if you don’t realize it. Which begs the question: if you’ve got the hits already, either on one of Little Richard’s numerous best-ofs or simply running through your head whenever you feel the need to rock, why do you need Directly From My Heart? Because, as the material spread across the three disks found here asserts, there’s so much more to Richard Penniman’s oeuvre than just the smashes. Check out Richard’s take on Leiber & Stoller’s classic “Kansas City,” as pure a R&B arrangement as it got just past the half-century mark, and as restrained a vocal as he was no doubt capable of. Or spin “Heeby-Jeebies Love,” a lighter side of his rock & roll fury that simmers rather than burns, at least until the sax solo rolls in. Or his swinging version of the hoary standard “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” which becomes hip in Richard’s lascivious hands. Or his appropriation of “Blueberry Hill,” snatching it from the hands of the equally innovative Fats Domino and stamping it forever a Little Richard song. Or “It Ain’t Whatcha Do, It’s How You Do It,” a greasy original that, if not quite funky, certainly grooves. Or “I Don’t Know What You Got, But It’s Got Me,” a soulful run through the Don Covay ballad that puts more yearning in one vocal than most modern R&B artists will ever understand.

Of course, all the hit singles are here as well, as indelible and enjoyable now as the last 100 times you heard them. Surrounding them by the many other gems Richard recorded for his first two labels makes them part of a continuum of excellence, a vast tapestry of rock & roll that’s as essential as an amplifier to an electric guitar. If you’ve put off adding Little Richard to your collection, Directly From My Heart will fill that hole and possibly make even you hardest rocking disks look anemic in comparison. All together now, “A wop baba loo-bop, a wop bam boom!”

DOWNLOAD: the hits, “It Ain’t Whatcha Do, It’s How You Do It,” “I Don’t Know What You Got, But It’s Got Me”


MICHAEL DEAN DAMRON – When the Darkness Come

Album: When the Darkness Come

Artist: Michael Dean Damron

Label: Sad Crow

Release Date: May 05, 2015

 Michael Damron 5-1

The Upshot: I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House punk/folk mainman goes solo — and aims straight for the gut.


You’re just not gonna find a guy who pours more of his heart and soul into his music than Michael Dean Damron. You’re just not. The guy has been bouncing around the Portland music scene for the past few decades, workin’ in bars and layin’ down the law with his word and music. When he speaks (sings) people listen, or they should.

Damron first came to prominence fronting Portland redneck punk/folk band I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House. After several stellar records (and I believe one comeback) he decided to go it alone. On this his 5th solo record, Damron does what he’s always done, tell stories of drifters n’ misfits in the only way he knows how, straight from the gut.

Opening cut “The Butcher” simmers then boils over while “Diabetes Blues” adds some real jagged guitars to Damron’s heavy, heavy vocals. “Simmer in the Pot” is an acoustic number that goes right for the jugular as does the even darker “Little Red.”

Damron tackles the subjects that most songwriters don’t wanna touch (death and more death) and does it with a searing honesty and his own style. Give this guy some of your precious time, he could change your life.

DOWNLOAD: “Diabetes Blues,” “”Monkey with a Brain,” “Little Red,” “Am I the Only One Drinking Tonight?”


All Ages: The Rise and Fall of Portland Punk Rock 1977-1981, by Mark Sten

Title: All Ages

Author: Mark Sten

Publisher: Reptilicus Press

Publication Date: May 04, 2015

All Ages book

The Upshot: An engaging flashback to the pre-Internet DIY era and, for residents and ex-pats of the Northwest, a crucial historical document. All hail Smegma!


Cast your mind back to the dark ages, when the likes of Billy Joel, Journey and Genesis ruled the airwaves, satin baseball jackets were considered “musts” for the erudite concert-goer, and “Quaalude” was not yet a dirty word that Cosby-haters flung as an epithet. In the mid/late seventies, every city in America was under the thumb of The Evil Empire, but a rebellion was brewing, one which would soon attain such cultural prominence (or, depending your outlook, notoriety) that it would be impossible to ignore: Punk Rock, and its slightly less-abrasive sibling, New Wave.

For those of us who had a stake in such things, that rebellion against cultural lameness wasn’t merely a dalliance or a hobby en route to adulthood; it was a calling. To some, like Portland’s Mark Sten (née Mark Stanley) it even represented an imprimatur, and he, along with a cadre of like-minded miscreants, set about doing something about it.

All Ages is Sten’s documentation of exactly what the 316-page book’s subtitle (The Rise and Fall of Portland Punk Rock 1977-1981) announces, additionally serving as a sort of personal diary for Sten that he freely admits is how he remembers things going down. As such, it’s inevitable that any number of the NW scenesters who were present during that 1977-81 time period will have recollections at odds with Sten. (Show me a thriving music scene from back in the day and I’ll show you a potential story line suitable for turning into a modern-day Rashomon.) That Sten was one of the movers and shakers in Portland—not only a musician in a number of bands (notably the bassist for King Bee, featuring a pre-Dead Moon Fred Cole) but a key organizer of the Alternative Arts Association (AAA) collective that was instrumental in putting on scores of punk and new wave shows—will only make his book suspect in the eyes of some who no doubt will launch accusations of revisionist history and territorial pissing on his part.

I’ve read enough of these scene documents and have filed enough of my own over the years (though not in book-length form), however, to feel pretty confident about Sten’s reportage. Yes, he disagrees with a number of the book’s characters; yes, he’s not above a little score-settling here and there; and yes, he retroactively ascribes motivations to some of those characters even though he clearly did not interview them for the book, chief among them Greg Sage of the Wipers, easily one of the most important artists Portland’s ever produced. The latter situation is actually kind of saddening, because early on Sten had a very good relationship with Sage, working with him both on stage and in the studio, but at one point they had a falling-out stemming from a failure to reach an agreement over a pending project (Sten notes that Sage declines to return his phone calls; still, he has nothing but respect for Sage, and he obviously regrets the split).  Conversely, he apparently did interview Fred Seegmuller (aka Fred Noize) and Veronica Schleining (Ronnie Noize) even though he had a major split with the duo following a misunderstanding at a concert they were all involved with, which resulted in the Noizes opening up their own club that became a major competitor of the AAA for concert bookings. The final page of the book lists nearly 50 individuals Sten interviewed while researching it.

So while time clearly doesn’t heal all wounds in Portland, it at least allowed enough distance and perspective to get more than a few people interested in sharing their stories. And Sten, to his credit, doesn’t let himself off the hook when he comes to the conclusion that, yeah, I misread that/I acted like a dick regarding some of the scenarios he found himself in. Owning up to one’s faults and failings and refusing to play the “I was young and stupid” card counts for a lot, you know? Plus, there’s a larger and, dare I say it, loftier goal here, which is to get as many of those stories on the record and them attempt to weave them into the larger context. Remember, Portland wasn’t Portlandia in the late ‘70s, and for every enlightened kid working his/her butt off to give local musicians a shot at recognition and/or to bring in national acts and put the city on the touring map, there were probably ten others who did their level best to let indifference—and in a number of instances, outright hostility—rule the day. Alt-weekly the Willamette Week in particular gets singled out by Sten for not only arriving ridiculously late to the party but seemingly going out of its way to mock or dismiss some of the bands and events that Sten and his crowd championed. (That particularly rings true to moi, having lived in Charlotte, NC, prior to the arrival of any form of alternative media, during which time the local daily, The Charlotte Observer, faithfully covered all those, uh, Billy Joel, Journey and Genesis arena shows at the expense of some genuinely talented and unique-sounding regional bands. Go HERE to read about the time the Replacements came to town and the local musical powers only grudgingly admitted that it might be a concert of note.)

Now, to be perfectly honest, good chunks of All Ages will have only limited appeal to non-Portlanders; entire chapters are given over to describing the ups and downs of long-forgotten bands that never even pinged the national radar (although the aforementioned Wipers and Fred Cole most certainly did, along with a few others profiled here, like Poison Idea, Rancid Vat and Smegma—I recall reviewing an early Smegma recording for one of the music rags I was scribbling for in the early ‘80s). Too, long stretches of text describing the inner workings of the AAA’s meetings and planning sessions made my eyes glaze over at times; for an outsider like me, the narrative primarily picks up steam when Sten’s describing a situation that’s a bit more universal or even personally familiar, such as the frustrations of trying to get a compilation album recorded and released, or butting heads with a clueless, bottom-line club owner, or navigating the minefield of divas ‘n’ egos and agenda-driven personalities that underlies any local scene.

Still, I consider having to sift through some of the Portland-centric minutiae a small price to pay for the wealth of archival info presented here. In assembling it all for posterity, and that includes an astounding number of vintage handbills, posters and photographs as well, Sten had done an invaluable service. His memories of people, places and events from more than three decades ago are remarkably lucid and detail-centric, too, giving his narrative crucial oomph and color. That he can be a wryly funny sonofabitch, self-effacing one moment and deeply sarcastic (but not cruel) others doesn’t hurt, either. If the creators of Portlandia ever want to do a special flashback-to-1980 episode, they’ve got a go-to guy in Sten who can supply some of the specifics and the dialogue. (Are you listening Carrie and Fred?)

As suggested above, as the primary demographic for All Ages, NW residents and ex-pats aiming for a traipse down memory lane, take a near-history lesson or simply cheer for old friends and heroes will get the most out of the book. (For some individuals that impact may be more akin to a punch to the gut, but hey, that’s why God made internet forums and reader comments sections, right?) A solid and entertaining read, All Ages isn’t a nostalgia trip like some books of its ilk can be, but it definitely will induce a least some nostalgia for the pre-internet DIY era no matter what city or music scene you found yourself part of back then.


Album: Hung Up (On You)

Artist: Stoneage Hearts

Label: Off The Hip

Release Date: April 14, 2015

stoneage hearts 7-19

The Upshot: Jangly guitars and memorable pop hooks from the Australian band will cure that power pop fatigue that’s been ailin’ ya.


The Stoneage Hearts have always had a membership in flux. Drummer Mick Baty (who also owns Off the Hip) has an open door policy to Australia’s power pop and garage rock cognescenti, with the lineup boasting the legendary Dom Mariani at one point. There’s no one in the band with a name as recognizable as Mariani’s on Hung Up (On You), the band’s third album and first since 2004. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of talent.

Baty, guitarist Simon Kay, bassist Dave (Spud) Hine and singer/guitarist Tony Dyer are unabashed fans of the essential rock & roll components – three chords, pop hooks, girls – and handle them with easy care. You know what to expect here: guitar pop songs that rock (“First Kiss,” “Menai Hotel,” “Is She?”), jangle (“I Couldn’t Change,” “I Thought That Time”) and roll (“Motor Away,” “Sky High Heels”), recorded as simply as possible and performed with maximum enthusiasm. Australians still play this stuff like it’s brand new, so even those suffering from power pop fatigue may find themselves smiling and nodding along to Hung Up (On You).

DOWNLOAD: “Is She?,” “I Couldn’t Change,” “Sky High Heels”



Album: I Declare Nothing

Artist: Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe

Label: A Recordings/Forced Exposure

Release Date: June 30, 2015

Tess Anton 6-29

The Upshot: Faux-psychedelia for hipsters that should be avoided at all costs.


You’d be forgiven if you thought this might be the new Mazzy Star from the greyish purplish tint of the cover to the belladonna drenched vibe of the music. The real head scratcher is that this chick Tess can’t sing. Trying to evoke a late Zabriskie Point type vibe, the album never achieves liftoff. This is primarily because of her I’m too cool don’t need to rehearse let me smoke a pack before recording sound of her voice.

Alan McGee musical impresario of Creation Records fame had a hand in discovering Tess, and that is the only reason why I decided to ride this one out to the last track hoping/praying to see a little of what made the man reach out and want to work with her. Unfortunately this is where his proverbial cupboard runneth bare, because there is little if anything redeeming about this CD.

As I made my way to the final few tracks I was grateful that there were no sharp objects nearby so I could inflict bodily harm on myself. This doesn’t feel like poorly rendered music from a band that comes from some provincial backwater that at least might be forgiven. Instead this project feels as if something more insidious is at work here. I picture a bunch of hipsters in a label office thinking they can take a psych-music vibe mate it with a girl singer who has that long slightly unkempt look to her hair and a look on her face that says she wears sheer black turtlenecks, smokes too much and chews on her nail polish, and then give it that 60’s faded look and then try and pawn it off on unsuspecting punters who dig Mazzy Star or Spacemen 3. Let me declare something, my advice to you is to stay away at all costs!

DOWNLOAD: More like stream instead “Peace Defrost” to hear what I’m talking about.

LEFT LANE CRUISER – Dirty Spiff Blues

Album: Dirty Spliff Blues

Artist: Left Lane Cruiser

Label: Alive Naturalsound

Release Date: June 16, 2015

L Lane Cruiser 6-16

The Upshot: Gritty blues-punk trio crafts heavy anthems for the nu-hemp generation.


Big things are happening in the world of Left Lane Cruiser, first off all since their last record weed has been legalized in Colorado (they move here yet?) and judging by the cover of this record, their 5th for the Alive Natural Sound records, that makes them very happy. Another thing is that the band has added a member. Yes, after plastering venues as a duo they are now a trio, adding Joe Brent on bass (on the inside over he’s shown holding his skateboard as opposed to his bass guitar so I like the guy already).

Yup, Freddy J IV (Joe Evans) and drummer Pete Dio are back to make your eardrums bleed and on opening cut “Tres Borrachoes” they very nearly do that as everything’s on 11. “Elephant Stomp” slows it down and adds some blooze groove to the proceedings while they added a healthy dose of fuzz on “Tangled Up in Bush.” The title track is an exercise in heaviness as is the rockin’, menacing “All Damn Day.”

If you’re looking for some gritty blues-punk then look no further as Dirty Spiff Blues delivers on all fronts. And yes, that IS cover artwork from legendary underground (and bootleg) cartoonist William Stout.

DOWNLOAD: “Tres Borrachos,” “Elephant Stomp,” “Tangled Up in Bush,” “All Damn Day”



GOBLIN REBIRTH – Goblin Rebirth

Album: Goblin Rebirth

Artist: Goblin Rebirth

Label: Relapse

Release Date: June 30, 2015

Goblin 6-29


The Upshot: Italian proggers build upon their Goblin predecessor’s legend (e.g., “Suspiria”) via analog synth licks, jazzy rhythms and enigmatic atmosphere.


The twists and turns taken by the members of Italian prog rock outfit Goblin over its decades-long career would confuse Pete Frame – hit up Wikipedia for the story and keep a pen and paper handy. Goblin Rebirth is an outgrowth of the original band led by bassist/keyboardist Fabio Pignatelli and drummer Agostino Marangolo, both of whom also serve in the current incarnation of said original, as well as being the rhythm section during Goblin’s “classic” years in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Got all that? That time period was when the band composed soundtracks for the films of Italian horror auteur Dario Argento, including the haunting Suspiria, still its most famous work. The work of Goblin Rebirth follows a similarly wordless course – loaded with analog synth licks, jazzy rhythms and enigmatic atmosphere, “Book of Skulls,” “Evil in the Machine” (which includes some vocoded mutterings) and the appropriately-titled “Dark Bolero” illuminate sweeping melodies that call to mind fantastic places, odd creatures and strange situations. Though aggressively imagistic, the riffs and melodies found here aren’t really soundtrack music – Goblin Rebirth is simply too active to serve as background for onscreen action.

DOWNLOAD: “Book of Skulls,” “Evil in the Machine,” “Dark Bolero”


WHITE REAPER – White Reaper Does It Again

Album: White Reaper Does It Again

Artist: White Reaper

Label: Polyvinyl

Release Date: July 14, 2015

White Reaper
The Upshot: Louisville garage rockers wed grimy songs to scuzzy lo-fi production for a set full of grubby sweet pleasures.


Some forty years ago, two great minimalist bands, the Ramones and AC/DC,
taught us that a great album (or even albums) can have the same or very
similar songs. Sad to say, many punk and rock bands heard them and thought
“me too!” when they just recycled the same crappy song again and again.

Not so with Louisville, Kentucky natives White Reaper.  The scuzzy lo-fi
production fits hand in hand with the grimy songs and guitarist Tony
Esposito’s mewling voice but the garage sound is also complemented by Ryan
Hater’s keyboards which moves the sound into new wave territory too. Most
of all, if you like the catchy, powerful opener “Make Me Wanna Die,”
you’ll wanna hear it in several other forms elsewhere on the album (i.e.
on the speedier “Wolf Trap Hotel”) and hear how they trick up a great
formula again and again, even supplying new tunes elsewhere. The one
occasional annoyance is Hater’s synth sometimes sounds the same from song
to song (recalling the spacey sci-fi of Greg Hawkes from the Cars).
Luckily, most of the songs have good, catchy melodies to go along with
them and Esposito’s enthusiasm and anxiousness helps put the songs over
the top too.  He/they have girl problems but not in a hateful way- they’re
cutely confused like many of their power pop heroes from the ’70s (think
the Raspberries more than Big Star). Try “Pills” and “Alone Tonight” which
sound like an indie rock take on Eric Carmen or “On Your Mind” and
“Sheila” which Jay Reatard might have covered if he had survived his
excesses or “Last 4th of July” which could be a wonderful Ramones tribute
or the jolly, swinging “Candy.” Only the unlucky “Friday the 13th” drags
things a little with its plodding tune.

With 12 songs in about a half hour, the record kind of blazes by you but
gives you plenty of room for multiple listens- it’s not a ‘deep,’ layered
record to warrant that but one that gives you a rush of grime and song
each time you do race through it.  And why deny yourself a grubby, sweet
pleasure like that?

DOWNLOAD: “On Your Mind,” “Alone Tonight,” “Make Me Wanna Die”-