Monthly Archives: June 2015

HOT CHIP – Why Make Sense?

Album: Why Make Sense?

Artist: Hot Chip

Label: Domino

Release Date: May 19, 2015

hotchip-560x560

www.dominorecordco.com

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

The UK quintet returns with their sixth album, and with each release Hot Chip seems to slightly warp their sound and tap into different influences while maintaining their quirky core. Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor continue to share vocal duties with Taylor’s gentle falsetto guiding most of the songs, effortlessly adding a soulful layer to each track .

Why Make Sense is a cool and collected album that will easily induce dancing—such as with “Easy To Get;” an upbeat song that starts quietly with plucky bass, guitar and high synths before transitioning to a house mix for the last 40 seconds. It ends too soon. “Need You Now,” the second single from the album, is a happily sad song that includes a sample from ‘80s R&B group Sinnamon; the powerful voice of Barbara Fowler echoes “I need you now” as Taylor quietly begins, “tired of being myself.”

The weak moments on Why Make Sense are few: “Love Is The Future” is an atypical pop song, and “Cry For You” is a high octane song in which the slower bridge doesn’t quite flow with the chorus. Nevertheless, Why Make Sense revels in ‘80s dance, R&B, hip hop and pop throughout straddles between sheer musical delight and melancholy as the upbeat music balances earnest lyrics.

 DOWNLOAD: “Huarache Lights,” “Dark Night,” “Need You Now”

RICHARD THOMPSON — Still

Album: Still

Artist: Richard Thompson

Label: Fantasy/Concord

Release Date: June 23, 2015

Richard Thompson 6-23

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/labels/fantasy/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Still, indeed. Richard Thompson has been at it for half a century and more than 40 albums. This one smokes, as always, with blistering guitar leads, igniting Celtic melodies and drones with a sputtering fuse of rock aggression. As in countless predecessors, there are lovely, misty British folk laments, that weave effortless witchery out of minor chords and modal progressions (“Josephine”). And it will be no surprise to long-term fans to discover bouts of crotchety humor (like Thompson’s send up of Amsterdam permissiveness in “Beatnik Walking”). With Still, Thompson delivers more of what has always made him worth seeking out – the fiery guitar, the carefully constructed songs, the burnished leather softness of a voice that has been murmuring in our ears since the 1960s.

Thompson recorded these 12 songs at Jeff Tweedy’s Loft in Chicago, bringing in finished compositions and laying them to tape in nine days. Nothing sounds rushed or unfinished, but there’s an immediacy to Still that’s close to live. “Patty Don’t You Put Me Down,” one of the disc’s country rockers, sounds like a barely tamed barroom brawl, its muscle-y guitar line striking like an uppercut through a heated chorus. “All Buttoned Up” is bluesier, but just as unpremeditated, its melody as freshly cut as butcher’s meat, still glistening with blood. The playing is intricate but without a hint of stress. Long-time bass player Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome keep up easily with tricky rhythms and sudden tempo changes. Jim Elkington (from Tweedy’s eponymous band, Brokeback and the Zincs) has the unenviable job of playing second chair to Thompson, but the dual guitars in “Josephine” speak in lovely mutual understanding.

Indeed, the musicianship is so uniformly good that you forget about it and allow yourself to be swept onward by the songs. Thompson is one of rock music’s great players, but he’s never been a show-off. You hear him in the interstices, and it’s gorgeous, but you don’t immediately grab for your air guitar.

There is one exception, maybe the weakest song on the album, but also the most interesting. That’s “Guitar Hero” where Thompson tries on the playing styles of his forebears — Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton, The Shadows — with startling verisimilitude. It’s the only time on the album when we’re asked, almost forced, to stop what we’re doing and admire Thompson’s skill. It’s impressive on its own terms, but even more so when you consider how for the rest of the album, virtuosity takes a back seat to musicianship. Richard Thompson is one of the best ever, and he’s got nothing to prove.

DOWNLOAD: “All Buttoned Up,” “Josephine” “Guitar Heroes”

MICHELLE MALONE – Stronger Than You Think

Album: Stronger Than You Think

Artist: Michelle Malone

Label: SBS

Release Date: June 23, 2015

Michelle Malone 6-23

www.michellemalone.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Michelle Malone still appears like she has something to prove. Despite a remarkable 20 year career and a like number of albums released in that expanse of time, this Georgia native is still looking to find the wider audience she deserves. Her new album Stronger Than You Think seems intended to make that point, from its defiant title to songs soaked in the strains of the Stones, Joan Jett, Green Day and countless other rockers who chose to lift a middle finger in rugged defiance. She manages to convey that impression with an obvious southern swagger, as initiated on opening track “Stomping Ground,” and continuing through such autobiographical entries as “My Favorite Tshirt,” “When I Grow Up” and “Ashes.” “I’ve always been in trouble and trouble always been in me,” she declares on “Vivian Vegas,” another of those songs built on sass and insurgence.

In essence, this is Malone’s strongest statement to date. It’s an arched, intensive declaration of self which finds her insisting that even two decades later, she’s more committed to the cause than ever. Yet if she seems a bit more demonstrative than she need be, she remedies it all with the album’s final offerings — a heartfelt tribute to an ageing parent, “Ramona,” a rousing homage to a newborn, “Birthday Song (I’m So Glad),” and the cheery chat-fest “Fish Up A Tree.”

Consequently, with Stronger Than You Think, Michelle Malone proves that diehard confidence can frequently be captivating.

DOWNLOAD: “My Favorite Tshirt,” “Vivian Vegas,” “Birthday Song (I’m So Glad)”

IKE REILLY – Born On Fire

Album: Born On Fire

Artist: Ike Reilly

Label: Rock Ridge Music/Firebrand Records

Release Date: June 16, 2015

IkeReilly-BornOnFire-cover

www.firebrandrecords.com

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

Ike Reilly strikes you as a guy that you don’t want to mess with, or you may wake up on the floor seeing stars encircle your head. He has the countenance of a tough, raw-boned, but wiry looking cowboy with a cool, steely gaze, but a ready laugh. In fact, Reilly is indeed cool, cooler than the other side of the pillow, cooler than ranch dressing right out of the fridge, and knowing that he was once a gravedigger, somehow doesn’t surprise. His music is highly atmospheric, reeking of booze, stale cigarettes and weed, and his lyrics reflect his skill as a masterful storyteller, a keen observer of life and its many injustices. His slambunctious band, the Ike Reilly Assassination, kicks serious ass like the ultimate bar band on steroids.

Reilly’s slightly gravely vocals are well suited for the gamut of music that he covers, and Born On Fire is a suitable prism that reflects a wide spectrum of his music. It’s been noted that every album he releases is his best to date, and that is indeed the case here, once again. One dead monkey don’t stop the circus, it’s been said, and Reilly suffered a terrible loss last year when 15 tracks he had recorded were destroyed and he had to start from scratch again to get this album together. Friends like Tom Morello (first release for his new Firebrand label) rallied and helped the band remake what was lost, so a lot of blood, sweat and real tears went into this thing.

It’s a frustrating challenge to clearly categorize or break many of his songs down into clear genres, as they all sort of melt and overflow into this puddle of ‘Ike-ness.’ The scope encompasses, punk, good old R&R, R&B, folk-rock, Chicago-style blues/soul, ballads and so on. One publication called Reilly “a genre-bending journeyman,” and a “rough around the edges Americana troubadour.” Of his rave-up review in American Songwriter magazine, he cracked, “I’m glad to be an American Songwriter, there’s a magazine for that. Is there Shit Husband or Bad Father or Broke Ass Loser Magazine?” His dark cynicism remains a constant attitude in his songwriting, i.e., the lyrics in “Let’s Live Like We’re Dyin’“:

 

I used to wanna die young,

I used to wanna die loud,                                                                                               

Maybe crash up in my car,

Or blow my own brains out,

I used to wanna die young,

But it’s too late now.”

 

He blasts his black and blues harp with the best of them on those Windy City blues tunes like this, and on “Do The Death Slide,” and “Two Weeks-a- Work, One Week-a-Love.” The title tune, “Born On Fire” swings over into being a pop love ballad; “Job Like That” has a hip-hop swagger going on; “Underneath The Moon” is sweetened more with its “Crimson & Clover” riff; and he invents a wild new dance with his “Do The Death Slide.” Another fine, slower tempo number is the lovely, “Am I Still The One For You.” Blue collar themes are a favorite of Ike’s, and both “2 Weeks-a-Work, 1 Night-a-Love” and “Hangin’ Around” are both working man’s R&B numbers, lamenting the bullshit American workers are subjected to these days. A traveler’s blues are rocked well in his “Notes From Denver International Airport.” The band also rocks out on “The Black Kat,” in which, he simply wants his kitty cat back, sharp claws and all, but you’re not sure if he’s referring to a feline friend or a female friend. “Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl” is a lubricated blues rocker, as is the mid-tempo “Good Lookin’ Boy,” with its tasty guitar bridge. The album wraps with Tom Morello sitting in on guitar on “Paradise Lane.”

The Ike Reilly Assassination is oft compared with old school outfits like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and even Dylan, but those are your dad’s bands, and Ike frankly blows their current manifestations out of the water. If you found that too hard to swallow, then I challenge you to a Rock Off. Play a recent release from those guys, followed by Born On Fire, and see which seems the most kick-ass.

 DOWNLOAD:  “The Black Kat” and “Do the Death Slide.“ “Let’s Live Like We’re Dyin'”

GAME THEORY – Real Nighttime

Album: Real Nighttime

Artist: Game Theory

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: March 17, 2015

Game Theory 3-17

omnivorerecordings.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

By the mid-‘80s, Scott Miller and Game Theory were ready to make a “real” album. That’s no slight on the slapdash brilliance of the band’s homespun debut Blaze of Glory or the EPs that followed. But by 1985 Miller was ready to record in a professional studio with a name producer, and he smartly chose Mitch Easter, whose work with R.E.M. and his own Let’s Active pointed to a like mind. The result was Real Nighttime, released in 1985 on the prolific and sadly defunct Enigma Records, and the record many point to as Game Theory’s most lasting legacy.

One of GT’s greatest strengths, and one shared with fellow travelers the dB’s during Chris Stamey’s tenure, was its ability to successfully blend its ‘60s Beatlemania and ‘70s Big Star influence with then-current new wave aesthetics. In particular the band had no fear of twinkly synthesizers and cheesy organs, and the keyboards give these songs a slick sheen that in no way interferes with the songs. Indeed, the easy blend of classic and modern gives Real Nighttime a sound that’s more timeless than dated. Listen to how Nan Becker’s wacked-out synth licks in “Curse of the Frontier Land” enhance, rather than distract from, its jangly power pop crunch, or the nearly invisible Simmons drum pads used throughout. The album sounded fresh then, and timely now, as more modern bands rediscover the synth patches of yesteryear.

Of course, for all the talk of Miller’s infamous obsession with production tricks, which would reach full realization a couple of albums later and in his ‘90s band the Loud Family, his work is still about songs. As always Miller and the band prove their mastery at, well, everything: the near-perfect jangle pop of “I Mean It This Time,” the wordplay-happy power pop of “She’ll Be a Verb,” the new wavey folk rock of “I Turned Her Away,” the 60s-meets-Big Star pop of “24,” the heartbreak balladry of “If and When It Falls Apart,” the caffeinated blitz-pop of the title track. The band pays tribute to a key influence while still maintaining its own identity by filtering Big Star’s bitter “You Can’t Have Me” through its distinctive vision, making what was then a hip obscurity nearly a signature tune.

The album is strong enough on its own, but, this being a deluxe reissue, it’s enhanced with bonus tracks. Bassist Fred Juhos’ piano ‘n’ synth-driven “Faithless” comes across like a classic rock tune trying to put a new wave spin on itself, and is no less charming for that. Several live cuts from the post-Nighttime version of the band showcase new and old numbers, from “The Red Baron” to “Curse of the Frontier Land,” plus a queasy cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Miller gets plenty of solo showcases, including a pair of recordings of “Girl w/a Guitar,” a co-write with the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio that became one of that band’s standards, and an acoustic take on Queen’s “Lily of the Valley.” Best of all, though, is the gorgeous “Any Other Hand,” performed solely by Miller and his trusty 12-string, and as stunning a song as any in the GT repertoire. Why it didn’t make the original track listing is a mystery.

The Omnivore edition includes ruminations on the record by writer Byron Coley and the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman, as well as an interview with Mitch Easter. This is no mere archival recording, however – Real Nighttime sounds so fresh and timeless it might as well have been made by a brand-new band.
DOWNLOAD: “Curse of the Frontier Land,” “Any Other Hand,” “She’ll Be a Verb”

MAC MCCAUGHAN – Non-Believers

Album: Non-Believers

Artist: Mac McCaughan

Label: Merge

Release Date: May 05, 2015

Mac 5-4

www.mergerecords.com

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Navigating nostalgia in the rock world is tricky business. For all those young bands paying homage to eras they didn’t live through there’s a real danger of being swallowed alive by your influences. Just as dangerous are the classicists of those bygone days, railing against ‘music today’ like an old man shaking an impotent fist at the juvenile delinquents jamming in the basement next door.

No, the best way to deal with nostalgia is to confront it head-on — in the case of Mac McCaughan’s Non-Believers (Merge), to embrace it fully and by doing so, escape its gravitational pull. The first release under McCaughan’s own name (rather than the Portastatic moniker the Superchunk front man previously used for non-Superchunk efforts), Non-Believers explores nostalgia itself, training a spotlight on the early-‘80s transition from punk to new wave/post-punk.

What intrigued McCaughan was an era when synths and drum machines became the new means of expressing disaffection and alienation from society, school, suburbia, etc. McCaughan had in mind a duo of fictional teen goth outcasts with only each other and the music of the Cure, OMD, the Cocteau Twins et al. to accompany their transition into the compromises of adulthood.

The nostalgia may be as rich as the layers of familiar synths that blanket these songs like Tule fog, but McCaughan’s themes transcend their specific era to embrace any thinking young person who’s ever had to find happiness “living in the margins,” as he puts it on the rocking, keytar-vs.-guitar solo-accented “Our Way Free.”

What really keeps Non-Believers from the frozen-in-amber nostalgia decried in rock-today critiques like Simon Reynolds’ Retromania is the music McCaughan’s composed here, and played primarily by himself. He may relate to the kids in these songs, but it’s from the vantage point of adulthood — one that features a McCaughan who long-ago developed his own sound and songwriting aesthetic. So for him, channeling an obvious Joy Division bass line (“Lost Again”), OMD synth-symphony (“Mystery Flu”) or poppy Cure tempo (“Barely There”) isn’t like trying on a second skin; they form part of a DNA that is distinctly McCaughanian, and Non-Believers overflows with the type of memorable hooks that give Superchunk its iconic sound.

The result is a conversation between generations going in all directions; McCaughan talks to his younger self and any angst-ridden young person since then, and they’re talking back to us adults. On the brilliant scene-setting disc-opener “Your Hologram,” McCaughan conjures one of those basement parties any suburban survivor (or “Driveway to Driveway” stumbler) remembers, all the while staring at this hologram of a memory and “trying to make it real”; on the following “Lost Again,” driven by that prominent Joy Division bass line, McCaughan watches his young Goth driving down the suburban streets looking for a friend or lover — but it’s clear he’s looking for himself, too, only in real time: “I’m kind of looking for you/but I’m kind of looking for me.” The brilliance of that hall of mirrors-line is that today’s McCaughan is using his young stand-in to do the same.

But McCaughan doesn’t shy from unabashed nostalgia, either. There’s palpable envy in recalling the energy and chaos of that transition between adolescence and adulthood. He captures the excitement of first love in “Only Do,” an Echo & the Bunnymen-like anthem — “You said, ‘I’m no miracle, in fact I’ll be your fatal flaw”/Oh, but I don’t believe you/even better, I don’t care/Cause when I’m with you I got nothing to lose” — and turns the unambiguous joy of zero responsibility (plus keys to your stepdad’s car) into the fuzzbomb rocker “Box Batteries,” where you “bring your tapes and disaffection/(and) the rest is understood.”

Non-Believers slips masterfully between vantage points and emotions, and there are times when McCaughan looks back with the concern of a parent for a child — as if he could pass down to the young the knowledge that, ‘yes, this angst, too, shall pass.’ But it’s never that simple on this record, which is what makes it resonate. “Real Darkness,” with its Cocteau Twins shimmer, delves brilliantly into the DMZ of teenage emotions. Addressing his thinly-clothed fictional Goths amidst Alpine canyons of guitar reverb, McCaughan concedes that adults will tell them, “’smile, kid, smile’ until you know real darkness” in an effort to get them to cheer the fuck up. But having absorbed — and remembered — both sides of the equation, McCaughan can also speak with authority in their voice when he sings “you can hold my hand through these years/or you can look away/but my stuff is real like your stuff and I’ll be you someday anyway.”

That sympathy is, in the end, what makes this record so successful. This isn’t some blind paean to the old days, or an “if I knew then what I know now” lecture. It’s a reminder of how important the past and our memories of it are to who we become, but also what a trap it can be getting stuck there. On “Barely There,” which hums along on that “In Between Days” Cure vibe, McCaughan laments time’s passing and the faded Polaroids it leaves behind: “Now we’re barely there/like a phantom or a flare/but we were solid once, I swear/now you hardly have to care/cause we’re barely there.”

But Non-Believers ends with “Come Upstairs,” an imprecation to not get stuck in the past because the present and future hold plenty of worthwhile memory-making events. As oscillating synths and processed guitar leads zip through the song like meteors in a speckled night sky, the record fulfills its narrative arc when the narrator exhorts us to come upstairs – from that hologram-filled basement at the start —to see new galaxies (of the musical variety) exploding. “Don’t you want to hear them go boom?” he asks.

Running a successful record label for 25 years requires a lot of new galaxies, of course. But with Non-Believers, McCaughan reminds us any galaxy is capable of providing transcendence, and can tell us fundamental things about ourselves — our pasts, to be sure, but our futures as well.

DAVE KUSWORTH – Princess Thousand Beauty + RAG DOLLS – Such a Crime

Album: Princess Thousand Beauty; Such A Crime

Artist: Dave Kusworth

Label: Easy Action

Release Date: February 16, 2015

Dave Kusworth cd

easyaction.co.uk

 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Originally released in 1996 as a limited edition on stellar German label Glitterhouse, Princess Thousand Beauty has long been one of the rarest items in Dave Kusworth’s catalog. Fortunately British rock & roll label Easy Action has dedicated itself to the cause of bringing the work of this far under the radar Brummie back to the world, as it has with the oeuvre of  Kusworth’s longtime cohort Nikki Sudden (covered not long ago in these very pages).

 

Beauty is essentially a continuation of Kusworth’s previous record All the Heartbreak Stories, one of the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s most romantic – some might say sappy – works. Unlike Heartbreak, however, Beauty never drowns in its own lushness, despite generous use of strings. Part of the album’s backbone grows from Kusworth’s utter commitment to his sentimentality – when he sings “I’ll always be there for you” in his plainspoken, vaguely offkey warble, you believe him. But it also has to do with the variety of stylistic permutations in which Kusworth indulges. Widescreen pop like “Temptress” and “Always Be There For You” shares space with the precious pastorality of “All My Dreams About You” and the subtly funky rock/pop of “False Promises.” The bulk of the record relies on the kind of anthemic balladry that can easily slide into vomit-inducing goop. Here, though, “She Lives in a Movie,” “Just a Girl” (with a great take-me-home guitar solo from Kusworth) and “Torn Pages” work in precisely the way these kinds of songs are supposed to. Wrapping accessible melodies around a perfect balance of heart and drama, they practically beg for lighter apps waving in the air. It sounds cheesy, but it’s a good thing – the ability of Princess Thousand Beauty to remind us how and why sentimental anthems connect is part of what makes it special.

 

As a bonus, this edition tacks on a faithful rendition of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” which is nice but out of place with the rest of the record. A better supplement is the second disk, which contains an entire live acoustic show featuring Kusworth and guitarist Glenn Tranter. For all of Kusworth’s rock & roll bonafides, he’s quite comfortable in this format, his heart-on-sleeve balladry thriving with so little accoutrements betwixt song and singer. Kusworth wanders across his catalog here, from Beauty cuts “She Lives in a Movie,” “Torn Pages” and “Always Be There For You” to solo classics “Paint & Sugar” and “Everything’s For Her” to a selection of gems from the Jacobites catalogue. Plus a pair of covers; the Stones’ “Dead Flowers” (which Kusworth credits to Townes Van Zandt, for some reason) is no surprise, but a decent showing on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” is. Arguably 67 minutes of acoustic balladry seems a little much without the color the studio record brings to these songs, but it’s still a strong live showing for one of rock’s most potent iconoclasts.

 

Those that prefer their Kusworth on the more overtly rocking side should note the release of the Rag Dolls’ Such a Crime, the first album from the quartet Kusworth co-led right around the time he started working with Sudden in the Jacobites. Recorded at various demo and radio studios in 1982-1984 and assembled into an album for the first time, the songs on Crime bespeak an unsurprisingly love of the Rolling Stone and the Faces, with just enough of an early ‘80s power pop edge to make the tracks more than knockoffs. Backed by bassist Mark Lemon and drummer Carl Bevan, who would both cycle in and out of the Jacobites axis in coming years, and sharing writing and singing duties with Simon “Slim” Cartwright, Kusworth indulges in guitar rock both crunchy and jangly, sometimes at the same time.

 

As might be expected, the Dolls get groovy on the riff-rockers “Streets of Gold,” “Such a Crime” (represented by two very different versions) and “What You Don’t Know (You Won’t Show),” and anthemic on soon-to-be Jacobites numbers “Pin Your Heart to Me” (likely the first recording of that standard) and “Snow White” (with a very 80s sax solo). Guitars ring more than rage on the folk-rocking “Lucky Smiles” (which also gets a slightly altered do-over later), “Do Anything” and “Sparrows,” the latter featuring a particularly strong Cartwright vocal. Less professional recordings round things out, with a grungy live “Fortune of Fame” and a pair of rehearsal takes on the rock ballad “Silken Sheets” (another future Jacobites track) and the acid garage rocking “Vanity Box.” The high quality of both songs and performances makes one scratch the noggin at the silliness of a clueless music industry, but it was the early 80s: rock & roll records weren’t selling that year.

 

Fortunately, Easy Action knows exactly how to handle Kusworth’s work. (In the case of the Dolls, the treatment includes liner notes from Pat “The Jazz Butcher” Fish.) These rescued recordings continue to hammer home the notion that Dave Kusworth is a rock & roll true believer worth discovery and rediscovery.
DOWNLOAD: “Just a Girl,” “She Lives in a Movie,” “Always Be There For You,” “Such a Crime,” “Sparrows,” “Do Anything”

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Charred Remains LP

Album: Charred Remains

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Radio Raheem

Release Date: March 17, 2015

Charred Remains

www.radioraheemrecords.com/

 

BY CARL HANNI

 

Here’s a red hot poker in the eye and a definitive middle finger to both the military/government/establishment media nexus and hippie complacency: the first ever vinyl reissue, via Radio Raheem, of the legendary, cassette-only 1982 hardcore compilation Charred Remains. Originally compiled and released by long-time archivist, ‘zine publisher, and all-around renaissance renegade Bob Moore for his Noise ‘zine and Version Sound label (then in Xenia, OH), Charred Remains was the first compilation that took a national (as opposed to local or regional) look at the burgeoning scene that was quickly gaining ground on old school punk rock; the more aggressive – and some would say reductive – snarling beast of hardcore.

 

Moore, as it turns out, was the right guy at the right time, and blessed with great instincts. Charred Remains contains, among others, the first ever released recordings by Maryland’s Void and DC’s Double O, the first by Milwaukee’s fabulous Die Kreuzen, perhaps the 2nd ever release by Twin Cities giants Hüsker Dü and early recordings by Articles of Faith, Toxic Reasons, Personality Crisis, Misguided (before they morphed into Das Damen) and eight others. Featuring 30 tracks spread over two discs, it’s an expansive document, with a thick, expanded original booklet full of photos, lyrics, notes and paste-up graphics mayhem from back in the day.

 

Hardcore attracted a relatively small but absolutely dedicated audience; it was a lifestyle choice that not many were prepared to commit to. But the surprise here is the (relative) variety; the acts here sport a mix of approaches, including several longer and some slower and mid-tempo tracks, while staying more or less true to the hardcore template of very fast, very loud, anti-authoritarian, extremely aggro and politically pissed off. It’s not just a classic document, but a great opportunity to reassess early hardcore, when it was not far removed from it’s early 80’s inception in garages, basements and dingy clubs from coast to coast.

 

Remastered from the original 1/4 tape, the audio quality is about as good as it gets for a collection of tracks by a bunch of presumably broke-ass bands that was originally released on cassette. The sound quality varies from excellent to ok, but really; what else did you expect? The word is that the new, remastered vinyl version is far superior to the original cassette version.

 

Cheery picking standout tracks is of course subjective, but personally I’m all about the four tracks by Articles of Faith, especially the amazing “Belfast;” ditto the massive “Somebody Help Me” by Toxic Reasons and the expansive, hardcore-heavy psych hybrid that District Tradition bring with “Psychedelic” and “Vast Realms.” Rebel Truth, Violent Apathy, 5051, Sin 34, Void and Die Kreuzen all throw down classic tracks; but really, it’s all pretty great, if you’re in the right state of mind.

 

Hardcore was (and remains), as Moore points out in some recently penned liner notes, a product of the times. Reagan and Thatcher were in office, the squares had the upper hand, police state tactics and nuclear apocalypse haunted both the future and the present, and suburban communities in the U.S. were seething with aggressive guys (hardcore was a guy thing) looking for something to grab onto. Although some of the political perspective was pretty reductive, us-vs-them/you’re-with-us-or-against-us rhetoric, the feelings were undoubtably real. Nothing that’s happened since then takes the edge off of any of the concerns or sense or urgency; if anything, the overall global political situation and government backed police states are arguably even worse, despite the alleged ‘end of the cold war’ (nobody told Putin), election of a smart black prez and supposed benefits of the European Union and the elusive benefits that free-trade was supposed to bring. So, hardcore then is as hardcore now. Drop this super sucker on and head for the nearest mosh pit; we need it now more than ever.

 

DOWNLOAD: your call.

 

OLD 97’s 6/3/15, Denver

Dates: June 3, 2015

Location: Gothic Theatre, Denver CO

Old 97s

BY BEN CURNETT

I think somewhere in the history of the Old 97’s, this happened: the guys got together after a show and made a blood oath under a full moon on an Indian burial ground, something to the effect of, “If this ever gets boring, we hereby promise to quit and never step on a stage together again, because this is too much fun to deliberately fuck it up through apathy.”

So say we all.

The Old 97’s played up to that imagined oath at Denver’s Gothic Theater. They were the living embodiment of their songs, raucous and rowdy, doing justice to every single note, twanged out and right on time all night long. They played the lights out with old favorites from the band’s 20-plus-year catalog alongside cuts from last year’s LP Most Messed Up that totally held their own, even (especially?) in the encore.

This is not news. There are just a few bands that have the reputation of never having an off night, and the Old 97’s are one of them. Think about how high the bar is set; we all expect a good show every time we go out, but you never forget the terrible ones. Interestingly, the last bad show I saw was Lydia Loveless sometime last year, shortly after she was doing gigs as the 97’s’ opener. She was just completely worn out, going through the motions. Maybe she couldn’t keep up with that level of energy, despite all the members being well into their 40s. After seeing the Old 97’s at last week’s show, I can’t say I blame her.

There are few genres that nail the booze-soaked, washed-out, life-on-the-road ethos like whatever country blues punk mix you want to call theirs, so it’s fascinating that these guys put on such a hardcore live show after all these years. A lot of the songs spell out precisely how life wears you down, how being rode hard and put away wet comes with the territory. But the band, like so much of their music, raises a giant middle finger to the idea that burning out is inevitable or fast. It’s a blast to watch, like a fireworks show that just keeps getting bigger, until eventually the crowd starts to wonder if the whole thing’s going to burn down. But hey, that’d be pretty cool, too.

There are a lot of bands you should go see, but only a few that you shouldn’t dare miss. The Old 97’s play fun, sad, angry, ridiculous music that everyone who likes rock and roll will love to hear live. They’re intense. But there’s also this whole “we’re casually amazing” feel to their show that a band can only get from putting in miles and loving the miles themselves, something very few musicians will ever accomplish over the long haul.

***

Set List:

  1. Won’t Be Home
  2. Victoria Lee
  3. Give It Time
  4. Curtain Calls
  5. TX Teardrops
  6. Longer Than You’ve Been Alive
  7. Weightless
  8. Wasted
  9. The Fool
  10. The Ex of All You See
  11. The Grand Theatre
  12. I’m a Trainwreck
  13. 4 Leaf Clover
  14. Question
  15. Wish the Worst
  16. Mama Tried (Merle Haggard cover)
  17. Guadalajara
  18. Perfume
  19. Champaign, Illinois
  20. Big Brown Eyes
  21. Can’t Get a Line
  22. Nashville
  23. Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On
  24. Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)
  25. Doreen

Encore:

  1. Barrier Reef
  2. Most Messed Up
  3. Timebomb

 

Alabama Shakes 6/10/15, Cary NC

Dates: June 10, 2015

Location: Koka Booth Amphitheater, Cary NC

Alabama Shakes

BY TODD GUNSHER

For the second night in a week, the soulful sounds of Alabama came to Raleigh, NC (specifically Cary) as Alabama Shakes played the Koka Booth Amphitheater on June 10th. The four piece rock-soul (or is it soul-rock?) band (Brittany Howard, vocals/guitar, Zac Cockrell, bass guitar, Heath Fogg, guitar, and Steve Johnson, drums) was augmented by two keyboardists and, on the songs from their latest release, three back-up vocalists. Ms. Howard can certainly hold her own in any setting, but the extra voices added some nice textures to the material from Sound & Color, notably the album’s closing track, Over My Head.

Starting the set with Rise to the Sun, followed by Future People, it was Hang Loose from their debut album that really got the party started (at least for those who wanted to take a break from selfies and experience the moment). They kept the crowd moving with Always Alright, and didn’t let up for the rest of the night. Not yet familiar with most of the new album, I was hearing many of these songs for the first time, but I was impressed by how seamlessly the new material fit alongside their earlier work – definitely no sophomore slump going on here. Miss You was a standout with the band transitioning from the quiet of Howard singing accompanied only by the strum of her own guitar, to a full band blast; it’s great to see a band in the 21st century that understands the importance of dynamics in their sound.

The main set ended with the psychedelic soul of Gemini, complete with Howard’s fuzzed out guitar solo, showing she’s more than ‘just’ a singer. Of course the band came back for a four song encore, and as the last chords to You Ain’t Alone faded, I, and I imagine much of the crowd, would have loved to have heard more. Unfortunately, the show was in an outdoor amphitheater, and Cary, NC (beside Raleigh) apparently needs to go to sleep at 10:00. Also, due to a logistical snafu, I have no photos from the show, and missed the opener Courtney Barnett… maybe I should get a new phone for just such an emergency, I hear they have cameras attached to them these days.