Monthly Archives: August 2015

Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, by Harvey Kubernik

Title: Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows

Author: Harvey Kubernik

Publisher: Backbeat Books

Publication Date: September 09, 2014

Cohen book

The Upshot: Photo-rich oral-history-styled coffeetable volume that serves as a wonderful tribute to the Bard as well as a worthy addition to your Cohen bookshelf


Although Sylvie Simmons’ 2012 authorized biography, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, is rightly considered the definitive Cohen account, everybody knows that when it comes to musicians there’s never any “final word,” and if you don’t believe that, then I’ve got three dozen Dylan books I’ll be glad to loan ya. (True story: in 1991 I came very close to writing a Doors bio, having interviewed the surviving members and numerous associates of Jim Morrison to mark the release of the Oliver Stone film. I ultimately shelved the idea, thinking to myself, “Eh, there are already too many Doors books out,” only to watch no less than four separate volumes get published that same year. So much for my journalistic instincts and business savvy.)

Enter Everybody Knows, by veteran L.A.-based journalist, author (of books on the Beatles, Laurel Canyon and Los Angeles music) and former A&R exec Harvey Kubernik, and it’s definitely a case of yes, this is a must-own for all stripes of Cohen fans. The 224pp, 8 ½” x 11” volume, in fact, serves as a wonderful companion to the Simmons book, in particular adding to Cohen file a massive trove of photos (both black & white and color) and reproduction of record sleeves and book jackets, all exquisitely laid out amid the multiple-fonts text designed for maximum visual impact.

Kubernik’s narrative also takes a different tack, structured as ten lengthy chapters that are each introduced by an annotated Cohen time-line (for example, the second chapter covers key events from 1959 to 1966, essentially the pre-musical period during which he was a celebrated poet from Canada; the ninth chapter is devoted to his latter-day career resurgence, 2008-2014) then are fleshed out by quotations from fellow journalists, other musical artists, producers, sidemen and Cohen himself, with Kubernik providing connecting narrative that provides context and additional details. In that regard it’s less a bio and more an oral history, although Kubernik skillfully avoids the key pitfalls that plague most oral histories; his aforementioned connecting text includes notes on his respondents so the reader understands their significance and relevance, while the aforementioned time-line structure proves to be the book’s greatest strength in terms of providing a real sense of the arc of Cohen’s career. There’s also an exhaustive discography (and DVD filmography) along with a list of all the known Cohen guest appearances.

As both a solid reference work—one could easily use this as a primary source when researching specific details and events of Cohen’s life—and a handsome volume suitable for thumbing through, Everybody Knows is a rousing success. The photo selection in particular is to die for, such as the images of Cohen in a monk’s robe during his mid-‘90s “retirement” from the music world, or the full-page color spreads of Cohen and band onstage during the 2012 world tour, or even the numerous candid shots from throughout his entire career. One of my favorites is of him playing the guitar surrounded by Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War of ’73; another is of him backstage in ’72, holding a shaving razor and with only a towel wrapped around his waist, glowering intently at the camera. And yes, assorted girlfriends and lovers pop up here and there.


Kubernik (above) has clearly done right by the artist and by the Cohen fanbase here. Coming this fall is a similar volume about Neil Young, Heart of Gold (also on Backbeat), that should be on your list for additions to your music bookshelf as well, so keep your eyes peeled for that.


Kubernik photo by Heather Harris, via Cohen fan site


Album: High

Artist: Royal Headache

Label: What's Your Rupture?

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Royal Headache

The Upshot: Noisy Aussie punk/garage rockers display a newfound melodic side.


Royal Headache burst into the underground rock & roll scene on the strength of its self-titled 2012 debut, a rush of youthful punk & roll energy recorded as shittily as possible. Three years and one rumored breakup later, the Sydney band leaps back into the fray with High.

The most immediately noticeable change is in sound quality – the production makes the leap from the lowest of lo-fi to a mid-fi sound that leaves dirt around the edges of clarity. All the better to hear what we all suspected the first time around, which is that the group’s songcraft is of a higher standard than garage rock usually requires. “Need You,” “Love Her If I Tried” and the title track exploit the sound quality to jangle instead of crash, while “Garbage” works a midtempo groove with anthemic intensity. “Wouldn’t You Know” flows almost like a ballad, with heart-on-sleeve tenderness and vulnerability. Just in case we forget whose album this is, the punky pop zoom that marked the first LP manifests itself as “Another World,” “Little Star” and the opening salvo “My Own Fantasy.”

The gain in fidelity allows the band to perform with less frenetic energy, since they don’t have to punch through a grey cloud of crap, and some fans may find the loss of that breathless rush an unfair trade. But High allows us to finally hear the craft behind Royal Headache’s attack, and that bespeaks a great guitar pop act still on the rise.

DOWNLOAD: “Garbage,” “Wouldn’t You Know,” “My Own Fantasy”



Album: Instrumentals

Artist: Flying Saucer Attack

Label: Drag City

Release Date: July 17, 2015

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The Upshot: Returning after a 15-year silence, British guitarist-composer David Pearce serves up atmospheric swells, floating melodies and occasional swaths of noise—pure FSAness at that—not to mention some of the most inscrutable songtitles ever drafted.


As billed, Instrumentals, Flying Saucer Attack’s eleventh album and first collection of new material in 15 years, consists of strictly wordless pieces. Fans of David Pearce’s longtime project know what to expect – guitar moods driven not by heroics but by atmospheric swells, floating melodies and occasional swaths of noise – and that’s exactly what Pearce delivers.

“Instrumental 2” undulates through sparse volume manipulations, while “Instrumental 3” conures shoegaze minus rhythm section and vocal melody. “Instrumental 4” recreates the sound of a Mellotron minus the actual instrument, while “Instrumental 6” represents a brief excursion into feedback hell. “Instrumental 9” pulls a tune out of amp-frying scree, while the gently melodic “Instrumental 11” covers its sweetness in fuzz. The languidly arpeggiated “Instrumental 10” would sound like something on ECM Records if not for the shuffling machinery in the background. The record climaxes with a pair of epics: the ambient, glitch-frosted “Instrumental 14” and the shimmering, 10-minute guitarfest “Instrumental 15,” which jangles and moans as required.

At over an hour, Instrumentals may try the patience of anyone not already acclimated to Pearce’s mood-driven vision. But fans who can’t get enough of his distinctive approach to composition and performance may find this record to be the purest expression of FSAness yet.

DOWNLOAD: “Instrumental 10” “Instrumental 4,” “Instrumental 15”

YO LA TENGO – Stuff Like That There

Album: Stuff Like That There

Artist: Yo La Tengo

Label: Matador

Release Date: August 28, 2015

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The Upshot: Amazing collection of covers a la 1990 classic Fakebook that tackles Hank Williams, Lovin’ Spoonful, The Cure and loads more.


One of the great things about Yo La Tengo is you’re never quite sure which band you’re going to get either on record or at a show. Is it the feedback-heavy noise rock trio or the smart kid pop band with sweet harmonies and catchy hooks?

So what did they opt for this time? An album of covers – wait. Hear me out before move on. Yes, the covers album is almost always the tangible product of a band throwing its collective arms up in the air and saying, “fuck it. We’ve got nothing else, so let’s just re-record someone else’s stuff.” And, yes, the band did the same thing back in 1990, when they put out Fakebook. But every now and then, and admittedly it’s very rare, but a band will take someone else’s songs and completely re-arrange them in such a way that it seems like the originals were being played wrong from the beginning. Think Johnny Cash and his American Recordings period; think Nirvana covering the Meat Puppets… ok, maybe it’s not as great as those two examples, but it’s a pretty amazing collection nonetheless. Think 1990’s Fakebook.

On Stuff Like That There, this time around the band flawlessly tackles Hank Williams (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”), The Cure (“Friday I’m in Love”) and The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Butchie’s Tune”), among others. And while the Hank Williams ditty is already arguable the world’s greatest tear-in-my-beer song, the band – re-joined by original guitarist Dave Schramm on this record – brings sweet melancholy to a whole new level with this collection of standards and deep cuts.

Thirty years together and the band is still managing to keep its fans guessing, in the best way possible.

DOWNLOAD: “Friday I’m in Love,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “I Can Feel the Ice Melting”



Album: m

Artist: Myrkur

Label: Relapse

Release Date: August 21, 2015

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The Upshot: Critically acclaimed metal mistress collaborates with Norwegian scene mainstay Garm (not to mention a girl’s choir) for an album simultaneously filled with beauty and grace and some of the most rawest form of gothic black metal.


Myrkur broke out onto the black metal scene back in 2014 with her critically acclaimed self-titled EP, causing much controversy simply for being a one woman black metal band, given that the genre has always been a very male occupied phenomenon, what with the likes of Mayhem, Burzum, and Immortal. A girl entering the forest with nothing but a torch in hand, a pack of wolves, and a very talented vocal range, Myrkur was bound to upset people in the metal community. With tons of backlash on the internet, Myrkur (aka Amalie Bruun) nevertheless stood strong and presented a powerful debut record that definitely took the stance for women making powerful music.

The extremely talented all teenage girl choir Det Norske Jenekor starts off the album with angelic like vocals. Bruun then brings in backing vocals that one could say is jarring and at odds with the girls’. Which in a sense is and is not. Black metal has always had a sense of shock and awe. With Myrkur bringing on a group of girls presenting their sweet vocals throughout the album, it is simultaneously filled with beauty and grace and some of the rawest form of gothic black metal. Bruun was once the singer for the Brooklyn punk band Ex-Cops. There, she lent her vocals for more of discordant pop style. Very much the complete opposite in a lot of ways.

M continues to come into the light, only to be dragged back into the darkness by the wolves of Garm’s production. Garm is one of the key members of Ulver and the Norwegian music scene, and if you are not familiar with any of his projects (Arcturus, Borknagar, Aethnor, and Head Control System) you are in for a treat. His production credits also are pretty heavy, having helped with many projects such as Sunn O))), Emperor and Mayhem. With his hand in the cauldron, m also has a host of very talented musicians, among them Teloch (live guitarist for Gorgoroth, he additionally plays for Nidingr and, here, lends his blistering guitar tone the record), Teloch on bass guitar and Oyvind Myrvoll on drums (both also in Nidingr), and, on one of the standout tracks, “Mordet,” ex-Arch Enemy/Armageddon guitarist Christopher Amott. “Skadi” is another song that really stuck out for this writer. Its energetic drum patterns filled with rigid but airy vocals (that reminded me of The Knife’s Karin Andersson) left me wanting more as soon as the song finished, leading you into a piano encore.

Overall the album presents a powerful case for the Bruun and Garm being in the studio and collaborating so well. One can only hope that this is the beginning of many projects for the two.

DOWNLOAD: “Mordet” “Skadi”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Side Effects (4LP box)

Album: Side Effects (4LP box)

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Fruits de Mer

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Side Effects

The Upshot: Mostly unknown artists (with the exception of Bevis Frond) covering well-known artists (Miles Davis, Donna Summer, Yes, Pink Floyd, Byrds, Gordon Lightfoot and more) inna psychedelic stylee.


Fruits de Mer Records hailing from the UK have put together a genuinely brilliant collection of bands doing psychedelic heavy covers that run the gamut from the obligatory Pink Floyd to some way out there Miles Davis and the just plain unexpected Donna Summer track.

Bevis Frond’s reworking of the Electric Sandwich track “China” is a killer rendition of the track. Nick Saloman on this cut has a virtuosic presence and manages to coax all of the subtle intricacies the song demands of players that enter its headspace. I’ve forgotten how much I miss Nick and band wrapping themselves into longer numbers like this that create a vortex of shape shifting sounds that bend and morph while transporting us into interstellar space.

Sendelica’s version of the Donna Summer/ Giorgio Moroder classic “I Feel Love”, is not as odd as you might think. Here the band have blissed the track even further out with some stellar sax, and some Hawkwind like swooshes floating in the background. Could this be the new trend given Tame Impala’s latest record also being disco tinged? If so I’m on board. When you think about it is it really that odd? Both psychedelic music and disco have a drugged out connection and somewhere out in the universe of music they connect with their propulsive elements that fuse with your cells to take you outside your body to get lost in something greater.

Side Effects LPs

Julie’s Haircut’s reworking of the Miles Davis track “Shhh/Peaceful” is a killer rendition of the track. The band slay hard on this late ‘60s number. Many lesser bands might shy away from covering a Miles Davis song from this period, given the intricate mix of jazz and psychedelia. That said, Julie’s Haircut shows they have the chops to make it their own.

The Wreath’s turn in a narcotic doused version of Gordon Lightfoot’s track “Sundown”. The band here brings this song to a much darker conclusion than the original track ever hinted at. The lyric “When I get feelin’ better when I’m feelin’ no pain” takes on new meaning as the band jump off into some hallucinatory soul searching in the second half of the track.

Each track on this set varies in length from 16 minutes to nearly 25, and is sure to satisfy anyone who misses the exploratory/transitory psych symphonies that used to fill whole slab of wax.

Fruits de Mer has managed with this compilation to cast a net into the psychedelic sea, pulling up some really amazing treats for us to enjoy. This limited, heavy vinyl, LP set will keep you submerged even as the tide subsides.

DOWNLOAD: “China,” “I Feel Love,” “Sundown”

TOM DYER’S NEW PAGAN GODS – History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1 1959-1968

Album: History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1 1959-1968

Artist: Tom Dyer's New Pagan Gods

Label: Green Monkey

Release Date: August 07, 2015

Tom Dyer

The Upshot: Exactly as the title announces—an overview of the early NW rock scene as “viewed” through the lens of a kid who was there at the time and was subsequently inspired to become part of it.


When is the clichéd tribute album syndrome not clichéd? When the material being covered isn’t presented as yet another vanity project assembled by managers and A&R hacks aiming for the lowest common denominator consumer demographic (hello, all you Beatles/Stones/Hendrix/Led Zep/Ramones/Bob Marley/Nirvana tribs compilers), but rather a heartfelt celebration of the music that inspired the assembled performers to pick up the damn guitar in the first place!

In the collection at hand, it’s a lone performer, and it’s not a single-artist tribute at that, but rather a look at the collective and proximate music of one man’s childhood and teenage years and how it informed his own subsequent artistry. Tom Dyer, majordomo of long-running NW label Green Monkey, logically takes his initial inspiration from the likes of the Sonics, Kingsmen, Wailers, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Fleetwoods, Frantics and others whose “raw goodness,” as he puts it, “is permanently aligned with my caveman brain.” There was a secondary inspiration for Dyer as well: 1976 regional retrospective The History of Northwest Rock Volume 1, originally issued by Jerry Dennon’s Great Northwest Music Company label (Dennon of course being the man behind legendary NW label Jerden Records) and which here provided the basic tracklisting, Dyer fleshing the CD out with some more of his faves. Assembling some of his likeminded, long-memoried cavemen pals—Green Pajamas’ Joe Ross and Jeff Kelly, Scott Vanderpool and Scott Sutherland of the King County Queens, producer Steve Fisk—Dyer tucked into a remake/remodel/rewire project of meaty proportions.

From start to finish, the record’s a 15-track gas, chock full of familiar gems and obscure nuggets. Among the “likes” you might be thumbs-upping at a social media outlet very soon: the Raiders’ “Hungry,” served up raw and bloody, no medium-cooked meat for Dyer & Co. (there’s also a cover of “Just Like Me”), the Ventures’ timeless surf instro “Walk Don’t Run,” just to remind you that these cats weren’t from SoCal but from Tacoma, Wash.; the Frantics’ “Werewolf,” a freaky, sleazy instro that wouldn’t be out of place on one of those Songs the Cramps Taught Us collections; “Angel of the Morning” by Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts, a sure-to-surprise-you pop classic if you were expecting a straight up garage set from Dyer (and for my money, as one who owns the original 45, far truer to the original Chip Taylor-penned tune than country songstress Juice Newton’s watered-down cover; and of course “Louie Louie,” which in Dyer’s hands takes not only a huge left turn but an unplanned detour down an alley, across the freeway, and off into the hinterlands, so unique is the arrangement.

In his notes Dyer calls this his own “revisionist Northwest history” with “no attempt to duplicate the originals.” Instead, he set out to capture the DIY spirit and the maverick vibe that the songs’ creators represented. Methinks he succeeded.

DOWNLOAD: “Louie Louie,” “Angel Of the Morning,” “Hungry,” “She’s Boss” (by the Dimensions)

BRENT BEST – Your Dog, Champ

Album: Your Dog, Champ

Artist: Brent Best

Label: Last Chance

Release Date: August 07, 2015

Brent Best 8-7

The Upshot: Slobberbone frontman dials it down a bit and gets decidedly folkier for his latest solo outing.


Texas loves its singer/songwriters – from the holy fount of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and the river of Lubbock mafia to the tributaries spewing forth Alejandro Escovedo, Shakey Graves and the scions of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and James McMurtry. Yet unless that songwriter stands in front of a mic with an acoustic guitar and an otherwise empty stage, at least at some point in his career, s/he ain’t taken seriously. The Reivers’ John Croslin is every bit the equal of his celebrated brethren and sistern, yet has never gotten his due as an author outside of indie rock circles.

So it’s also gone with Denton’s Brent Best. Heavily influenced by Southern literary authors like Larry Brown and Harry Crews, the erstwhile Slobberbone leader has long crafted lyrics that are short stories unto themselves, singing them in a plainspoken ramble and marrying them to engaging roots rock melodies that elevate his tunes beyond the usual Americana drone. Despite plenty of solo acoustic work over the years, he’s still best-known as the frontguy for a loud rock band, which in some folks’ minds seems to foolishly negate any chance he has at inclusion in the pantheon of Great Texas Songwriters.

Not that he likely cares. Undaunted, Best continues his good work with Your Dog, Champ, his first solo album and first new music since 2006’s Jubilee Drive, the sole album by his short-lived Drams project. Joined by, among others, fellow Texans Ralph White (Bad Livers) on fiddle, Grady Don Sandlin (RTB2) on drums, Scott Danbom (centro-matic) on keys and Claude Bernard (the Gourds) on accordion, Best dials down the power chords a bit for a folkier set of tunes that uphold his prior standards. He ranges from the sparse, mostly acoustic “Career Day” and the straight C&W of “You Shouldn’t Worry” to the mournful ballad “Clotine” and the pounding anthem “Tangled.” As with his hero Brown, family snapshots remain his specialty, with the sardonic “Daddy Was a Liar” and bittersweet “Aunt Ramona” capturing his vision clearly. In that regard, the album’s centerpiece is “Robert Cole,” a tale of forced maturity and lost innocence likely to be the most-requested song in Best’s repertoire for as long as his career endures.

Though the record is powered by less voltage than Best requires in Slobberbone, it’s just as effective in its presentation of the songs. And it’s a set that puts Your Dog, Champ right up there with the best of his band, and that’s very, very good indeed.

DOWNLOAD: “Robert Cole,” “Aunt Ramona,” “Daddy Was a Liar”


Album: Under the Savage Sky

Artist: Barrence Whitfield and the Savages

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: August 21, 2015

Barrence 8-21

The Upshot: Twisted garage rock, Stax-influenced soul, weird skronky blues and even dollops of psychedelia from the Bosstown maestro.


Barrence Whitfield’s latest is a flaming, yowling, sax-blaring R ‘n B revival, with a dance-craze-in-a-box (“The Claw”), a hilarious take on prison-crossed love (“Incarceration Casserole”) and a clutch of late-1960s/early 1970s crate-digger covers. Staking out ground somewhere south of the Sonics (with whom Whitfield has toured), more Stax-influenced than the Dirtbombs and rawer than the Dap-Tones, Whitfield brings enough fire to skirt charges of homage. The first half of the album hews close to soul paradigms, but the second half opens out into psychedelically warped and weird takes on this skronky, blues-fed genre.

Whitfield plays with Peter Greenberg, his guitarist from his 1980s beginnings, who went on to play in Boston garage mainstays the Lyres and DMZ and then dropped out completely. The two of them have been together again since 2013’s Dig That Savage Soul, melding the diesel caked grit of no-frills garage with vamping, horn-blurting soul. That horn, by the way, belongs to one Tom Quartulli, a Berklee grad who fell for 1960s R ‘n B. He sounds, at times, like an entire line of reeds, locked in tight and boxy grooves where the end of the phrase tucks into the beginning of the next for relentless, syncopated motion.

I like the tumult and ferocity of the album’s first half, though I’m not sure the world needs another “Everybody do the [insert dance move here]” song or anything else entitled “Rock and Roll Baby,” ever again. But by its midsection, the album turns sulfurously eccentric with the 12/8 skank of “Adjunct Street,” Whitfield howling like Robert Carr. “Angry Hands” has a surreal, otherworldly grandeur to it, and show stopping “Full Moon in the Daylight Sky” takes its rough blues licks and ragged croons into a hollowed out dream world. This is good strong stuff that sounds like it comes from inside. It makes the earlier tracks seem like entertainment. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but Whitfield can do better.

DOWNLOAD: “Angry Birds” “Full Moon in the Daylight Sky”



Dead Moon + Cynics 7/4/15, Austin

Dates: July 4, 2015

Location: The Mohawk, Austin TX

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Independence Day 2015 and the “American Icon Presents A.I.R. Expo 2” went down in Austin at the Mohawk. Our resident garage fiend Dr. Passman was on hand to click the lens… Go HERE to read or recent interview with the Cynics.


(above and below: Dead Moon)

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(below: The Cynics)

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