Monthly Archives: July 2013

DAVID BERKELEY – The Fire In My Head

Album: The Fire in My Head

Artist: David Berkeley

Label: Straw Man Music

Release Date: July 09, 2013

David Berkeley


 David Berkeley’s dimly lit laments make for an oddly affecting set of songs, sparse odes imbued with both despair and desire. Quiet, contemplative, heartfelt and forlorn, this latest album is built around some of the barest designs imaginable, a sound that requires the listener to lean in and focus lest it give way to distraction. Despite its severity, it’s lovely as a whole, with songs such as “Back to Blue,” “Broken Crown” and the title track appearing to hover as if suspended, each’s distant beginning gathering just enough heat to light the smallest spark.

 Berkeley gives the illusion he’s mouthing these thoughts for the first time, his aching, fragile vocals offering a plea so desperate it appears he’s fully out of alternatives. And yet, his methods are oddly affecting, creating a connection that under other circumstance might be construed more as elusive than enlightening. Granted, Berkeley’s not for everybody, and truth be told The Fire In My Head makes the earnest intent of his earlier efforts seem positively energised by comparison. “Don’t ever give in, don’t ever give up,”  Berkeley urges on the triumphant closer, “Song for the Road.” It’s one reason this set’s so spellbinding. Despite his forlorn state, Berkeley’s clearly committed to his cause.

 DOWNLOAD: “Back to Blue,” “Broken Crown, “The Fire In My Head”

GUY CLARK – My Favorite Picture of You

Album: My Favorite Picture of You

Artist: Guy Clark

Label: Dualtone

Release Date: July 23, 2013

Guy Clark


 It’s been four years since Guy Clark last put out an album, and man, it’s been a long four years. The latest from the 71-year-old country/folk singer proves the wait was worth it, though.

 Clark is one of those superb musicians who never really attained their proper due as performers, but saw many others go on to success singing the songs they wrote (I’ll throw Leon Russell and Townes Van Zandt on that list as well). All are highly influential, having launched the careers of hundreds of other musicians across the globe just through sheer inspiration. Decades into their own career, Clark and his peers still retain a strong, devout following, but have never really broken beyond cult status.

 My Favorite Picture of You finds Clark in a sentimental mood and with a voice just as powerful as it was when he first came on the scene in the mid-‘70s. Though there are some slow-burners on this record; songs that might not stick on the first or second go round, they are worth the patience once they finally click with the listener. There are other tracks, however, like the stunning title song that grabs you instantly. “Hell Bent on a Heartache” is another one.

 Screw Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus. Sitting on the back deck with a Shiner Bock, Clark is my official go-to for summer anthems this year.     

 DOWNLOAD:  “My Favorite Picture of You,” “Hell Bent on Heartache” and “Rain in Durango”

COFFINS – The Fleshland

Album: The Fleshland

Artist: Coffins

Label: Relapse

Release Date: July 09, 2013



 If its pop culture is anything to go by, Japan loves excess. Ultragory horror flicks, synapse-frying animated TV shows, flinch-inducing pornography, wild crazy drunk and pilled up rock & roll (howdy, Guitar Wolf!) – this country rarely met a line it didn’t want to cross. Its heavy metal is no different – Church of Misery is the biggest flag-waver, but even that serial killer-obsessed troop goes only to eight or so when compared to Coffins.

 The Tokyo death metal quartet ain’t just heavy – it’s fucking heavy. Its latest chunk The Fleshland mires itself in guitar tones thicker than a kaiju’s thigh (courtesy composer/producer Bungo Uchino), with a rhythm section that starts with stomp and gets more brutal from there. Frontbeast Ryo Yamada does his level best to transmute Godzilla vomiting into (barely) human speech – his unintelligible vocals have more in common with radioactive ooze than singing, sailing around the horn of self-parody back to where he started. But it’s hard to imagine any other kind of voice declaiming over Uchino’s monstrous axe torturing, and lyrics like “Outbreak of war/Taste the real nightmare/There is no mercy/Only abysmal death” work better with sludge than clarity anyway.

 Coffins ain’t for the average joe, no matter how well acclimated he (and it’s almost always a “he”) may be to metallic ear mangling, but if you’ve the courage to immerse yourself in this particular pit of sonic acid, a map to The Fleshland awaits. 

 DOWNLOAD: “No Saviour,” “Dishuman,” “The Colossal Hole”



Album: For the Baby Doll

Artist: Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra

Label: 52

Release Date: April 30, 2013

Nicholas Tremulis CD


 He may not be a household name, but singer/songwriter Nicholas Tremulis has a career stretching back to the ‘80s, encompassing major label deals, DIY action and the usual would-be rock star indulgences. For the Baby Doll looks back on an eventful life, taking stock of crippling addictions, struggling romance, opportunities lost and found and, at the center of it all, a NYC topless joint called the Baby Doll. Like contemporaries Chris Harford, Willie Nile and his pal Alejandro Escovedo, the Chicago-based Tremulis boasts an essentially genre-less rock & roll sound, informed by punk, pop and R&B but really just about playing sharp songs with panache and conviction.

 “You’re Too Much (But Never Enough)” and “You’re Gonna Lose (Everything You Got)” rock righteously like Chuck Berry fronting the New York Dolls. “Everybody Here” and “Without You With Me” truck in the kind of R&B-fueled roots rock mastered by the late Willy DeVille. “Super Human Love” deftly mixes T. Rex-style glam, psychedelic pop and blue-eyed soul for a distinctive treat. The anthemic “Lost Without You” and “Walk in the Sun Again” put a post-modern spin on Phil Spector grandeur. With Tremulis’ burnished, soulful singing as the connective tissue, the songs flow like honey from a bottle, gliding through stylistic shifts with the grace of a dancer. Wrapped in a book-like package that features both an autobiographical essay and a cover shot of a naked Simone De Beauvoir, For the Baby Doll is a definitive statement from an artist working the shadows for far too long.

 DOWNLOAD: “Super Human Love,” “You’re Gonna Lose (Everything You Got),” “Lost Without You”

BLACK TUSK – Tend No Wounds

Album: Tend No Wounds

Artist: Black Tusk

Label: Relapse

Release Date: July 23, 2013

Black Tusk


 Part of the remarkably fertile Savannah metal scene, Black Tusk rips blue whale-heavy grungecore a new one on its Tend No Wounds EP. Furiously grinding riffs kick down the walls, allowing a rumbling rhythm section to bulldoze the debris – it’s like NYC metalcore progenitors Prong crossing swords with its North Carolina counterpart Corrosion of Conformity. Tuskers Andrew, James and Athon shout like the blood vessels on their forehead have already popped, but they manage a surprising articulation – the better to discern libretto like “Ruthless as long as this hard heart beats/Honor is left for this dying breed.” A bit of good ol’ Southern boogie insinuates itself into “The Weak and the Wise,” and traces of blacklit psychedelia paint some interesting hues in “Truth Untold” and “Internal/Eternal.”

 But the raison d’etre here is warhammer shred, with little mercy and less restraint. Don’t take the title to heart – after this 22 minutes of seething fury, you’ll need something to mop up the blood. 

 DOWNLOAD: “Truth Untold,” “The Weak and the Wise,” “Internal/Eternal”



Album: One True Vine

Artist: Mavis Staples

Label: Anti-

Release Date: June 18, 2013

Mavis Staples


 Mavis Staples didn’t truly find her voice as a solo artist until the 21st century, when she was in her sixties. That’s shocking, because she began performing in the early 1950s with her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples and her siblings in the Staple Singers, and she is one of the greatest rhythm & blues singers. Since her father’s death in 2000, however, she has released four studio albums that balance rootsy nostalgia with contemporary vitality, the last two, including the new One True Vine, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

 One True Vine is a stripped-down set, even more so than 2010’s Grammy-winning You Are Not Alone. Many tracks feature little more than Tweedy on guitar and bass, his son Spencer on drums, and backing vocals from Kelly Hogan, Tiffany “Makeda” Francisco and Donny Gerard. That’s enough, especially since the focus is rightfully on Staples’ earthy vocals: her masterful phrasing, commanding control and earnest sentiments. The tracklist includes a few traditional gospel classics, such as the uplifting “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus)” and the thoughtful “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today,” but the emphasis is on contemporary songs that conflate the sacred with the secular, three by Tweedy and others from Nick Lowe, George Clinton and Low’s Alan Sparhawk (“Holy Ghost,” which was on Low’s recent Tweedy-produced The Invisible Way).

 Echoes of Pops Staples’ electric blues reverberate in Tweedy’s “Every Step,” in the traditional “Sow Good Seeds,” in Pops’ own “I Like The Things About Me” and hints of the Staple Singers’ rousing call-and-response style surface occasionally, most joyfully in Clinton’s “Can I Get To That.” The overall mood, however, is thoughtful and somber: unlike You Are Not Alone, this is a contemplative late-night album rather than a celebratory Sunday morning one. It’s wonderful.

 DOWNLOAD: “Can You Get To That,” “Every Step,” “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus).”


HOLY FOLK – Motioning

Album: Motioning

Artist: Holy Folk

Label: Silver Side Productions

Release Date: June 11, 2013

Holy Folk


Being that their name sounds something like an expletive (“Holy Folk!), it might have been better if they had called themselves the Freak Folk instead. Granted, that’s a generic term, but given the foursome’s ability to alter the template and casually sway through a loose motif, it’s clear this band isn’t necessarily bound by tradition. A collaborative effort combining the talents of four principal songwriters, Holy Folk make a sound that varies from supple to striking, while varying the tone and the tempo accordingly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the unaware gain an easy handle on their MO, but it does make for a certain unpredictability that provides added appeal.

Songs like “How Many Ways,” “Jump the Rails” and the snappy “We Are Two” inject a subtle touch of whimsy and an air of effervescence that keep these proceedings light and frothy throughout. The only exceptions come with the darker designs of “The Good Life” and the remorseful strains that accompany “Hazards of the Sea.” Holy Folk, this is an impressive introduction, and Motioning offers every indication that further delights will follow.

DOWNLOAD: “How Many Ways,” “Jump the Rails,” “We Are Two”

Mo’ Meta Blues, By Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman

Title: Mo’ Meta Blues: the World According to Questlove

Author: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: June 18, 2013

Questlove book


 Questlove (aka ?uestlove; born Ahmir Thompson) is liked by everybody and that is not an overstatement. Aside from maybe Dave Grohl, you’d be hard pressed to find any musician more universally loved than the drummer for The Roots– and I’m willing to bet many have no idea who The Roots are. Mo’ Meta Blues: the World According to Questlove, his memoir, will likely do nothing to change his standing in the eyes of the public. If anything, it will just make you love him more.

 The book covers Thompson’s early childhood as a music nerd in Philadelphia and on the road with his mom, dad and aunt – all traveling musicians that played the resort and hotel lounge circuit – up to his current role as drummer and co –lead in The Roots, the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Surprisingly honest, especially about his strained relationship with his dad and current relationship with his childhood friend and band mate Tariq Trotter.

 The book vacillates between vinyl-nerd obsessive lists about top records and choice cuts (“When you live your life through records, the records are a record of your life”) and stories about The Roots struggling to remain relevant  in a musical category that was quickly moving toward a more generic, gangster –obsessed genre. Hilarious, but still poignant, Thompson, alongside New Yorker Editor Ben Greenman, has managed to completely reinvent the music memoir

       Come for the music talk, but stay for the stories about after clandestine roller skating dates with Prince.


EZRA FURMAN – The Year of No Returning

Album: The Year of No Returning

Artist: Ezra Furman

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: July 16, 2013

Ezra Furman


All by himself for the first time, songwriter Ezra Furman struck out in a lot of different ways on The Year of No Returning. He made the record shortly after dissolving Ezra and the Harpoons, his band since college, which had hit its critical high water mark with the 2011 release Mysterious Power.  

Moving back to Chicago, holing up in an attic studio, working with a revolving crew of local musicians, it all seemed to free him to work in a variety of styles. The record swaggers– and mostly successfully — through garage rock, Dylan-ish rasping acoustic, piano ballads, epic psychedelic  and rollicking country rock. Emotions run raw through all these styles – even at his smoothest and most ballad-y, Furman’s voice cracks and hiccups with feeling. Yet there’s a sleekness, a feeling of finish and craftsmanship, in cuts like “Lay in the Sun” and “Down”. Mysterious Power felt like a fast, rattling joyride. Year of No Returning seems more like a Sunday excursion to the local scenic high points.

Furman’s lyrics are characteristically sharp, whether he’s contemplating social ills or interpersonal difficulties. My favorite lines come in closer “Queen of Hearts,” where, against a strutting, back-leaning vamp of acoustic guitars, he observes, “It’s the search for a church in the bottom of your purse, a spiritual home you can take to the mall, you dig and you dig but you can only find your wallet and your phone with 100 missed calls, you could never return them all.” It’s a thorny conflation of spiritual longing and economics, of loneliness and technological connection that unfolds in half a minute. It also fits tightly to the song’s musical structure, its words echoing the guitar rhythms in a spate of internal rhymes and assonances.  You can hardly say the words out of time.  

While, Furman explores less raucous genres, he still knows how to rock. “American Soil” is like a Mats song that went to college and majored in comp lit, beautifully sloppy, maybe a little drunk, but still demonstrably the smartest song in the room. “That’s When It Hit Me” is even wilder, more brashly defiant, its snare drum bashed, its guitars thrashed, its choruses shouted in tipsy straight-up four-four, like a drunk who’s trying to walk as straight as possible for the cops. 

Year of No Returning may not be the definitive post-Harpoons Furman record – he’s got another one coming this fall – but it is an album to build on. From it, Furman could step out into any number of interesting directions, from gospel-soul balladry (“Down”) to shout-it-out punk garage (“American Soil”).   He’s not returning. He’s certainly not standing still. He’s setting out. And that’s exciting.   


DOWNLOAD: “American Soil” “Queen of Hearts”           



Album: Pythons

Artist: Surfer Blood

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: June 11, 2013

Surfer Blood


 There’s a moment towards the end of “I Was Wrong”, the fourth track of Surfer Blood’s second album, when singer John Paul Pitts viciously barks out the song’s title, transforming it from a gently jangling ditty into a visceral, primal outburst of rage and regret. It’s doesn’t last for long—Pitts shouts that phrase six times over 15 or so seconds—but the effect resonates for much longer.

 This is, after all, the frontman who, in March 2012, was arrested for domestic battery after an incident with his girlfriend. All charges were dropped, but, as is the modern, internet-led way, that incident looms heavily over the release of this sophomore record—which also happens to be their first on a major. Whether that’s a reaction/admission/nod to/nothing to do with that incident is hard to say—there do seem to be numerous apologies and regrets scattered throughout this record’s 10 tracks—but regardless, it’s the one moment that truly stands out because it’s so different.

 Which is to say that, the majority of the rest of the record, and, indeed, the rest of that song, is comprised of the retro, throwback sound – lilting, pleasant surf-rock that updates the original ’50s waves for the modern era. The likes of “Demon Dance” and “Needles And Pins” might present a slightly more polished version of the band’s nostalgic summer vibes, but that doesn’t mean the band have lost their edge—“Slow Six “ and “Prom Song” still shimmer with heavy authenticity and—perhaps—an even more intense passion. It makes for a suitably successful second record that, regardless of the salacious story surrounding the band that made it, pretty much lives up to the inspiring promise of their first.

 DOWNLOAD: “I Was Wrong”, “Slow Six”