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BLACK HELICOPTER – Everything Is Forever 12” EP

Album: Everything Is Forever 12” EP

Artist: Black Helicopter

Label: Limited Appeal

Release Date: May 19, 2017

https://www.facebook.com/Limited-Appeal-Records-172269419474987/

The Upshot: Boston post-punk/alt-indie outfit is a major new force on the Amerindie underground.

BY FRED MILLS

Gotta love the internet “tag ‘em” culture. We are advised, reassuringly, that this Boston outfit is “alternative,” “alternative post rock,” “indie,” “post-punk,” and – ahem – “post-alternative.” Well, THAT pretty much covers all the bases. How about the rest of you kids? Are you actually prepared to listen to a new record, or have someone on Reddit tell you about it?

“Show, don’t tell” is an axiom well-worth heeding, and Black Helicopter takes that ethos even further on this staggeringly great four-song 12”. The BH braintrust comprises guitarists Tim Shea and Can Keskin, bassist Mike Davis, drummer Matt Nicholas – for this EP it was just Shea and Nicholas holding down all the slots, plus Zach Lazar pitching in on bass – and you can tell they have no truck with standing around and mumbling about what they’ve done, what they are doing, what they plan to do, etc. They just fuckin’ DO IT.

To wit: Right from the get-go, opening track “And I > “Drive at Night” drills down deep into vintage Pavement/Smashing Pumpkins twisted anthemism, a deep melodic bent countered by a pervasive affection for dissonance. Not to mention psychic discombobulation:

“FYI if you get inside this mind
Every time you try
It’s just another thing that I
That I put inside my mind
And if it doesn’t fit quite right…”

A couple of tracks later, “Show of Hams” serves up clanging chords against a low, bruising bottom end that chugs ‘n’ sways with purposeful resolve; somewhere in the middle, a synth sonic nonsequitur appears, outlandishly and irresistibly. The nearly eight-minute title track polishes things off, a neo-waltzing, droning instrumental that arcs skyward, gospel-like… if Sonic Youth were a gospel group, that is.

Everything Is Forever is, ultimately, a worthy new signpost for the Amerindie underground. Four songs is not nearly enough to fully judge a band by, but I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say that Black Helicopter is also a major new force on the aforementioned underground.

Consumer Note: The 12″ EP comes pressed in glistening ruby vinyl. Yum. But wait, as the saying goes, there’s more! Also housed in the thick outer poly sleeve is a 12×12 wooden platter. Yes, WOOD. Not cardboard. Talk about sturdy: no chance of LP warping for these gents, nope. Interestingly, it looks a lot like the wood paneling down in the kid’s basement playroom at Mom & Dad’s house; I’ll have to drop by to see if there are any missing sections. For additional motivation, preview tracks from the album at their Bandcamp page.

DOWNLOAD: “Everything Is Forever,” “And I > Drive at Night”

 

 

 

BRETT NEWSKI – The Worst of Brett Newski (Songs to Sink the American Dream)

Album: The Worst of Brett Newski

Artist: Brett Newski

Label: Nomad Union

Release Date: April 28, 2017

www.brettnewski.com

 The Upshot: Rage against the Visine: Sonic red meat for punks, drunks, bros, hos, singer-songwriters, and crane-operators. What, you don’t believe us?

BY JOHN B. MOORE

While Brett Newski is a remarkably original voice at a time when just about every single musician today comes with a “Recommended If You Like…” asterisk after their name, you can’t help but hear echoes of everyone from Petty and Springsteen, Newman and Prine, listening to a Newski’s latest, The Worst of Brett Newski.

He manages to vacillate between being wickedly funny (“Bro County,” “Whiskey and Blow”) and at times inching towards earnest sincerity, though admittedly with a wink (“Make America Great Again”). Despite cranking out four albums in the past three years he’s showing no signs of skimping on quality control as each record has inexplicably managed to be just as consistently great as the one before.

Whether he’s raging against the current state of the music industry (“Fuck You Spotify”) or 9-to-5 jobs (“Quit Your Job”), Newski is a charming underdog; self-deprecating, but immensely talented.

Now if only the rest of the world would realize it.

DOWNLOAD: “Bro Country,” “I’m Paranoid” and “Whiskey and Blow”

 

AKATOMBO – Short Fuse LP

Album: Short Fuse LP

Artist: Akatombo

Label: Hand-Held Recordings

Release Date: May 15, 2017

The Upshot: Sonic serendipity hotwired directly into the synaptic centers of your sensual side.

BY FRED MILLS

Hiroshima-based Akatombo, aka Paul T. Kirk, originally from Scotland, established the Hand-Held Recordings label in order to serve up a diet of musical innovation. The output to date has not been solo Paul’s, but Hand Held is still quite clearly a launchpad for his own singular vision, with Short Fuse being the latest; it’s his fifth album under the name Akatombo. Paul is also part of the Wire extended family, having collaborated with Graham Lewis, and his first album, 2003’s Trace Elements, also came out on Colin Newman’s Swim label. And 2009’s Unconfirmed Reports was reviewed with unbridled enthusiasm at BLURT by journalist Wilson Neate, who asserted, “What better title for an album oozing dread like there’s no tomorrow, literally. Akatombo’s widescreen, industrial-strength soundscapes aren’t so much musique concrète as music for and about concrete: Unconfirmed Reports is the sound of the dystopian metropolis, with tension, menace, paranoia and claustrophobia looming large.

“Akatombo” translates into Japanese as “red butterfly,” and, as befits an artist of extreme contrasts, the music on this innovative, eclectic, and frequently challenging, electronic record flits from signpost to signpost, restlessly hovering one moment and darting off upon an unexpected tangent the next. Although much of the sounds herein could be roughly classified as “industrial”—there’s a daunting Cabaret Voltaire-esque element at play in a number of places, such as in the hypnotically nightmarish, machines-gone-wild “Project FEAR”—it’s not hard to hear Paul’s abiding love for Bill Laswell- and Robert Hampson-informed dub excursions (the loping, exquisitely tensile “Debug Injector”), or sampling auteurs such as DJ Shadow (the brilliantly titled “S’avant Guard,” which, here, and elsewhere on the album, loops in disaffected snippets of video clips, short-wave transmissions, and even air traffic controller conversations—the latter we learn from a fascinating recent interview at The Quietus that is well-worth reading). As Paul himself explained in that conversation, “I like the samples I select to be akin to uneasy murmuring in the background with the occasional raise in volume to jolt the listener. I really want to make the listener focus on what is going on around them; to start paying more attention to their own version of the constant barrage of sound they’re subjected to in their own environment.”

I won’t pretend to “translate” for readers how Paul is creating his music, as he also comes from a cinematic tradition which not only makes the material here ideal for fellow filmmakers’ own projects, but also underscores its visual implications—“Tilt, Turn, Defenestrate” could be a soundtrack to a six-minute short film in and of itself. That is ultimately the challenge that Akatombo presents: How deeply you are willing to delve (and dive) into Short Fuse will have a direct correlation with the lingering synaptic shifts you succumb to. For many of us, those synapses are hotwired directly into the pleasure centers of the brain. And this is a sensual experience like no other you’ll encounter.

Consumer Note: This album is just marvelous, pure and simple, and not simply for the sounds emanating from the twirling platter. As you can see from the photo, it is on gorgeous silky-grey wax, and it also includes a CD of the album containing two bonus tracks (one of which is the aforementioned “T, T, D”), plus a credits insert and a classy-looking envelope with a cartoon photo inserted – little touches like that may seem inconsequential to some, but by my way of thinking it’s a reflection of the artistic intent and care going into the whole project. You can hop over to Paul’s Soundcloud account to take a listen to some of the album’s tracks – check out Debug Injector especially – along with plenty of older material.

DOWNLOAD: “Debug Injector,” “Tilt, Turn, Defenestrate”

SWANS – The Great Annihilator/Drainland

Album: The Great Annihilator/Drainland

Artist: Swans

Label: Young God

Release Date: May 05, 2017

www.younggodrecords.com

The Upshot: Final Swans meets first Gira solo album in reissue coupling.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Originally released in 1995, The Great Annihilator was the last Swans studio album before the band’s dissolution for fifteen years. (1996’s Soundtracks For the Blind was comprised of multiple recordings from various sources and time periods.) With the regular band (leader Michael Gira and stalwarts Jarboe, Norman Westberg, Algis Kizys, Clinton Steele and Ted Parsons) joined by then-Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin, the music is at its most percussive, as might be expected with drummers as hard-hitting as Rieflin and Parsons. Yet, at the same time, the record also finds the band at its most symphonic, with sweeping arrangements combining the repetition of minimalism with the bombast of gothic expressionism. Which is a fancy way of saying Swans has refined its sense of dynamics, so the shifts from ambience to explosion feel more like natural progressions and less like shock treatments. Though the record continues the group’s drift in and out of accessibility, Gira’s love of drone and obsession with the effects of addictive personalities keep the songs from coming close to mainstream alternative. Though mostly ranging from brooding ballads like “Blood Promise” and “Killing For Company” to thundering doom rockers a la “I Am the Sun” and “Mind/Body/Light/Sound,” the record also stops off for the sarcastic social commentary of “Celebrity Lifestyle,” the ethereal wisp of “Mother’s Milk” and the primal scream of “Mother/Father.” Ambitious, varied and imaginative, The Great Annihilator is one of Swans’ very best.

While recording The Great Annihilator, Gira simultaneously worked with Jarboe and Rieflin on Drainland, his first solo album. Though the record features prominent acoustic guitars, atmospheric keyboards and percussion low in the mix, the contrast with its sibling isn’t as stark as you might think. “Low Life Form,” “If You…” and “I See Them All Lined Up” run on similar fuel as TGA, with noisy drones and Gira’s frazzled moan right up front. “Blind” and “Unreal” crank the volume and chaos levels down for a take on gothic balladry rooted in twentieth century urban tension instead of nineteenth century drama. There’s also another sore-thumb swipe at celebrity culture with the sneering “Fan Letter,” but it’s easily balanced with dark nights of the soul like “Why I Ate My Wife.” Though technically a solo album, the music could easily slide into The Great Annihilator without disruption, making this reissued coupling perfect sense.

DOWNLOAD: “I Am the Sun,” “Killing For Company,” “Why I Ate My Wife”

 

ROYAL THUNDER – WICK

Album: Wick

Artist: Royal Thunder

Label: Spinefarm

Release Date: April 07, 2017

http://www.spinefarmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Following the triumph of 2015’s Crooked Doors, Royal Thunder continues its movement beyond being merely a hard rock band into something special. The Atlanta quartet’s third full-length WICK rocks as powerfully as the band always has, but folds in elements that elevate it above just headbanging and lighter waving. Evolving rhythms and tense chord sequences give “April Showers,” “Plush” and “Burning Tree” a psychedelic, even progressive mood. “Anchor” uses subtly shifting dynamics and plangent rhythm guitars to build a shimmering anthem that sounds likely to be a fan favorite, while “We Slipped” puts folk rock through the RT filter. None of this is to say the band doesn’t rock as hard as it always has. “The Sinking Chair” provides supercharged thrills, while the title track nods appreciatively to the band’s doom-heavy roots. “We Never Fell Asleep” puts Parsonz’s intimate lyrics and tortured howl, which burns hotter than a ghost pepper curry throughout, on a bed of swirling heavy guitar and loping drums that mainlines everything the foursome tries elsewhere into one memorable number. Though still unquestionably a powerhouse, Royal Thunder proves itself too versatile on WICK to be slipped into an easily labeled box.

DOWNLOAD: “Anchor,” “We Never Fell Asleep,” “We Slipped”

 

WILLIE NELSON – God’s Problem Child

Album: God's Problem Child

Artist: Willie Nelson

Label: Legacy Recordings

Release Date: April 28, 2017

www.LegacyRecordings.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Even at 84, Willie Nelson shows no signs of slowing down, but it’s clear he’s cognizant that everyone else is likely wondering just how much longer he has. The long since grayed, Red Headed Stranger makes a point of saying he’s not through yet throughout God’s Problem Child, his 70th or so album (yes, 70-plus records). “You had your run/It’s been a good one/Seems like the world is passing you by… Still got a lot of life and a song to sing,” Nelson says on “Old Timer,” one of the record’s early tracks. And if the point isn’t clear enough, he brings it back up on the addictively twangy “Not Dead Yet” (“I run up and down the road making music as I go/They say my pace would kill a normal man/But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway”).

With God’s Problem Child, Nelson proves yet again that it is in fact possible, though unusual, to be both wildly prolific and consistently great. Seven decades after he started writing for others, he shows yet again that there is still plenty of poetry left inside him. Take a song like, “True Love,” you’d have to go back to “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” or “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” to find a more lyrically beautiful Nelson love song.

There is also plenty of his tongue-in-check humor though out as well, like on the previously-mentioned “Not Dead Yet,” and lots of swagger, like on the title track, a slow-burn song that is all attitude featuring the late Leon Russell, Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White. There is also a sweet song about the late Merle Haggard, a constant Nelson collaborator and longtime friend, “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.”

From start to finish, God’s Problem Child is a quintessential Willie Nelson record and there are few things in the world better than that.

DOWNLOAD: “True Love,” “Not Dead Yet” and “I Made a Mistake”

 

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sun Records: Really Rock ‘em Right LP

Album: Sun Records: Really Rock ‘em Right

Artist: Various Artists

Label: ORG Music / Sun Entertainment Corp.

Release Date: April 22, 2017

www.orgmusic.com

The Upshot: Fourth in an essential series, collect ‘em all.

BY FRED MILLS

“There’s a lot to be said for a distorted power chord on a dirty guitar through a fried speaker, a piano pumped and pounded, then set on fire. Quivering, wet breaths through hands cupped around a mouth harp. The blues shouter, who pegs the volume and leaves the distortion there…”

Truer words were never writ—they come from the liner notes of a righteous and right 12-song anthology of Sun Records icons, which not so coincidentally bears the title Really Rock ‘em Right. From Warren Smith’s rockabilly template “Ubangi Stomp” and Carl Perkins’ timeless twanger “Put Your Cat Clothes On” to Howlin’ Wolf’s masterpiece-of-moan “How Many More Years” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ lascivious—is there any other type of JLL tune?—“Milkshake Mademoiselle,” the LP is a nonstop bangin’ ‘n’ burnin’ barnstomp of a vinyl mixtape.

Indeed, this fourth installment in the Record Store Day-Sun Records alliance is, unlike what one might eventually presume for a themed series, anything but a matter of diminishing returns. The legendary Sun label was more than simply astute in allying with Michael Kurtz and Carrie Colliton (of RSD; they were the project coordinators here), Candace Cox Mache (A&R, plus the aforementioned liner notes featuring choice quotes from Sam Phillips – you may have heard of him),Leticia Llesmin (the artwork for the LP), and Andrew Rossiter of ORG Music. Really Rock ‘em Right is nothing less than a labor of love for all concerned.

The reason I bring up these non-musical matters is because compilers, coordinators, and their ilk tend to be the unsung heroes of such compilations. If any contemporaneous actors are acknowledged, it’s typically the producers and (re)mastering engineers. But there’s a helluva lot more that goes into it. Hey, pal, YOU try doing a multi-artist collection. These are people who don’t necessarily have any personal musical stakes in the project. But their emotional and aesthetic stakes are profound. For without ‘em, those of us out here in Puntersville, USA, are left assembling our mixtapes until all those normal bias c90 tapes spool out, sequencing up our Spotify playlists until everyone who’s been following us online is fed up and long gone, and otherwise cleaning up all our dusty/battered Sun Records 45s and LPs in hopes that next weekend’s  house party will keep a-boppin’ along when we gamely attempt to play DJ—clueless, and clinging.

Thank you, Record Store Day and ORG Music.

DOWNLOAD: Don’t even make me try to narrow down my favorites.

AVISHAI COHEN – Cross My Palm With Silver

Album: Cross My Palm With Silver

Artist: Avishai Cohen

Label: ECM

Release Date: May 05, 2017

www.ecmrecords.com

The Upshot: Israeli trumpeter taking inspiration from political turmoil still excels in pure tones and atmospheric arrangements.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Into the Silence, the ECM debut by trumpeter Avishai Cohen, was a gorgeous rumination on life and death following the death of the composer’s father. Cross My Palm With Silver, the Tel Aviv native’s quick follow-up, doesn’t stint on the pure tones and atmospheric arrangements of its elder sibling, but the record has a more restless, energized flavor. Perhaps that’s due to the inspiration of political turmoil – you can’t be from Israel and not have social and political conflict on your mind more often than not.

That’s not to say Cohen ever gets preachy – this is instrumental jazz, after all. But it’s hard not to miss the uncertainty of “Will I Die, Miss, Will I Die,” or the agitation of “Shoot Me in the Leg,” even if you don’t know to what specific situations they refer. Those tracks, the LP’s longest, also feature some of Cohen’s most aggressive playing – he’s not Dizzy Gillespie, but he knows when it’s time to belt instead of croon. Of course, as he proved on Silence, he’s exceptional at the latter, and he reiterates that here via the mournful “340 Down” and the lovely “Theme For Jimmy Greene” (presumably about the jazz saxophonist). “50 Years and Counting” contrasts a fairly traditional sense of swing with discordant trumpet licks, feeling at once comfortable and disturbed.

In general, Cohen displays richer, more varied writing chops on Cross My Palm With Silver, and the use of his road band (kudos especially to the exceptional comping of pianist Yonathan Avishai) helps the tunes keep to a singular identity, regardless of tempo or style.

DOWNLOAD: “Shoot Me in the Leg,” “Will I Die, Miss, Will I Die,” “50 Years and Counting”

GUY DARRELL – I’ve Been Hurt: The Complete 1960s Recordings

Album: I’ve Been Hurt: The Complete 1960s Recordings

Artist: Guy Darrell

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: March 24, 2017

www.cherryred.co.uk

The Upshot: British popster gets the anthology treatment.

TIM HINELY

Wow, I can’t even call this guy a blast from that past as that would imply that I’d heard of him before, which I hadn’t (sorry, had to come clean). Shame for me too, ‘cos he’s really good and this 28-song collection goes through all of his bands: Guy Darrell & the Midniters, GD and the Winds of Change, but most of the songs are under just his own name, plus a few as the Guy Darrell Syndicate.

His biggest hit was 1966’s “I’ve Been Hurt,” which was a cover of American beach music avatars Bill Deal and The Rondels; reissued in 1973, Darrell’s version struck gold a second time. But no matter the incarnation, the guy’s stuff is all solid, and most of it isn’t just solid but very good. Just nice rock/pop songs and if he reminded me a bit of anyone on our shores maybe a touch o’ Del Shannon, especially on dreamier cuts like “Blessed” and “My Way of Thinking.” Later on you’ll hear covers of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” plus a few numbers written by the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupen (you might have heard of them), Paul Simon and even a cover of  Dylan song (“It Take a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry”).

If you’ve yet to hear this guy check him out, an underground gem to be sure and of course longtime fans need this one as well. Go!

DOWNLOAD: “I’ve Been Hirt,” “Blessed,” “My Way of Thinking”

JOHN LEE HOOKER – Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest (LP)

Album: Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker's Finest (LP)

Artist: John Lee Hooker

Label: Vee Jay

Release Date: March 31, 2017

www.veejayrecords.net

The Upshot: Monumental and a hell of a lot of fun!

BY BILL KOPP

John Lee Hooker was one of the most important blues artists of his – or any other – generation. With a style that managed at once to be thoroughly authentic and somehow commercial, Hooker’s output has become part of the American musical lexicon.

After a stint on a smaller label, Hooker signed with Vee-Jay, for whom he recorded a substantial number of singles, including the 1962 hit “Boom Boom.” But – as best as I can tell, and I could be wrong on this – Hooker didn’t seem to have had his Vee-Jay era work compiled on an album, at least not during the time he was signed to the label.

Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest corrects that. And even if I’m wrong – even if there’s a Vee-Jay album release in the period 1955-1965 that spans this material – the vinyl LP Whisky & Wimmen is an essential compilation. In addition to excellent sound – clearly drawn from master tapes, which is never a given when we’re talking about the work of classic blues artists – the set boasts detailed annotation (who played on what, release date, chart position if any). And if that weren’t enough, a nice essay from blues historian Bill Dahl, plus some vintage photographs, rounds out a winning set packaged in a study gatefold sleeve.

The instrumental accompaniment on some of the tracks – “I Love You Honey” from 1958, for example – is delightfully loose-limbed. But that quality only adds to its appeal. Whether he’s backed by a band, or (as on several cuts) only by brother Earl on bass, John Lee Hooker delivers tour-de-force performances on vocal and guitar. The music on Whiskey & Wimmen is both historically monumental and a hell of a lot of fun. If you appreciate Hooker even a little bit, and if you own a turntable, this record should be a no-brainer purchase.