Monthly Archives: November 2016

Cured: The Tale Of Two Imaginary Boys, by Lol Tolhurst

Title: Cured: The Tale Of Two Imaginary Boys

Author: Lol Tolhurst

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Publication Date: October 21, 2016

www.dacapopress.com

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The Upshot: Memoir from the former Cure drummer generally follows the rock-memoir playbook, but with surprisingly engaging frankness. (Watch a clip of Tolhurst reading from his book following the review.)

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 There are a handful of enigmatic rock stars to come out of the ‘70s and ‘80s that could write truly compelling memoirs. The Cure front man, Robert Smith, is among them. But until he finally puts pen to paper and opens up about his own life, this book from Cure co-founder and former drummer Lol Tolhurst will suffice nicely.

As a childhood friend of Smith, Tolhurst often sought refuge in the much more permissive Smith household, as a way to escape his own family’s problems, most of which stemmed from his cold, unemotional father. Tolhurst and Smith, along with a couple of other friends, all punks and early-version goths in a small town (Crawley, West Essex) dominated by skinheads, escaped their boring lives by going to shows as often as possible and eventually starting their own band in the mid-‘70s.

The line-up changed as they found their sound and started to play gigs beyond their local pub. One of the most memorable is detailed hilariously here as the band, mainly playing noisy, punk originals, was booked to play at a staff party for local nurses and doctors. They’re sound eventually found an audience in London and other college towns across Europe when the band started touring behind their first record in 1979.

While there are plenty of life-in-a-rock-band stories here, including a few humorous anecdotes around opening for Billy Idol’s Generation X and run-ins with other bands, what makes The Cured so compelling is Tolhurst’s frankness in detailing his own personal struggles with alcohol and an ill-fated lawsuit against Smith and the band after he is asked to leave the group in 1982, at the height of his struggle with his addiction. Unlike many who use memories as a way to lash out at those they feel have wronged them over the years, Tolhurst uses his as an opportunity to self-reflect and highlight the opportunities he was given thanks to his time in one of the most influential post-punk bands to come out of England.

While this may not be the definitive Cure bio, it’s nonetheless a compelling, often touching story coming from a somewhat unlikely source.

STEVE HILLAGE – Searching for the Spark (Box Set)

Album: Searching For the Spark

Artist: Steve Hillage

Label: Snapper Music

Release Date: November 11, 2016

www.snappermusic.com

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The Upshot: Massive 22-disc career summation for the cosmic warrior mixes wild experimentation with occasional flirtations with mainstream accessibility.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

A tireless cosmic warrior, Steve Hillage has been plying his eccentric excess for the past 40 years, as much a cult figure as an influential icon. His playful blend of hippy zeal and progressive posturing, particularly as part of the madcap mayhem that marked his tenure with that populist prog band called Gong, found him surpassing the parochial parameters of ‘70s rock, leading to the most unpredictable pursuits this side of fusion-esque jazz. Later, he enjoyed a fruitful career on his own, continuing his experimental arc with a modest bow to erstwhile accessibility.

Searching for the Spark attempts to put all of it in perspective, and with 22 discs covering every facet of his career, both solo and with his various bands, it’s more of less overwhelming, not only for the novice but for the dedicated devotee as well. Nevertheless, the vast array of demos, alternate takes and unreleased live and studio recordings make this a must for the true collector, at least those able to afford the hefty cost of admission. It’s all but impossible to offer any hint on where to begin, but the random psychedelia of “Aftaglid,” the straight-on accessibility of “Beginning to See the Light” and a live take on George Harrison’s sonic freak-out “It’s All Too Much” are as good a place to start as any.

Space may be the place as far as Hillage is concerned, but even the cosmos have cause to expand for this one.

DOWNLOAD: “Aftaglid,” “Beginning to See the Light,” “It’s All Too Much”

AFGHAN WHIGS – Black Love (Expanded) 3LP

Album: Black Love (Expanded)

Artist: Afghan Whigs

Label: Rhino

Release Date: November 25, 2016

www.rhino.com

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The Upshot: Expanded and reissued, a ’96 gem shines once again. (Above is the Record Store Day artwork; scroll down to view the original ’93 sleeve art and the upcoming art slated for the Dec. 2 release.)

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

A record that still sounds as fresh as it did back in 1996 (when I was just a wee lad), Black Love “wasn’t Gentlemen II,” according to Rhino and Mute, which have reissued the album in the U.S. and the U.K., respectively, in time for Record Store Day’s Black Friday event (Nov. 25), and will subsequently put it back into general release on Dec. 2. But in essence, I see this as dovetailing perfectly with that 1993 album, originally issued by Elektra.

For this 20th anniversary edition as a triple LP (or double CD) deluxe release, Black Love has been expanded to 20 tracks. Tracks like “My Enemy” and “Double Day” show vocalist Greg Dulli in scathing, soul searching mode, very much inhabiting the misogynistic role he played on Gentlemen. “Honky’s Ladder” is the apex of the album, spitting vitriol with the angst tightly torqued to 10. Here, the guitars are a river of molten lava over which Dulli can administer his candid exhortations. Of the nine bonus tracks, demos for the album, the best is “I Often Think of You,” which is a scorcher of a jam with wah-wah pedal squalls that blow up and then dissipate like a desert thunderstorm.

I am as enamored by the playing on this record as I was with 1992’s Congregation and the aforementioned Gentlemen— perhaps even 2014 reunion album Do To the Beast. The band has always been there to provide more than just support for Dulli’s vocals; they meet his visceral energy measure for measure. On Black Love they perfectly tweaked their energy to create something singular in vision—and vital to this day.

DOWNLOAD: “My Enemy,” “Double Day,” “Honky’s Ladder,” “Summer’s Kiss,” “I Often Think of You” (Below: original and new (Dec. 2) album sleeves)

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HICKOIDS – The Out of Towners

Album: The Out of Towners

Artist: Hickoids

Label: Saustex

Release Date: November 18, 2016

www.saustex.com

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The Upshot: A summation of all that’s great about the Texas cowpunks, as well as a tribute to their late guitarist Davy Jones.

 BY FRED MILLS

In October, Austin/San Antonio-based cowpunk legends the Hickoids ventured well outside their traditional Lone Star comfort zone with a string of dates on the East Coast, followed by a two-week European trek, promoting this new record, a six-song celebration of legendary Texas songwriters that loom large among their influences: for The Out of Towners, the philosophical and literary tenets of Willie Nelson, Rich Minus, Terry Allen, and Doug Sahm bump uglies with The Dicks and Roky Erickson, maverick spirits, all. Yet both the recording sessions and subsequent promotional tour had to have been more than just a little bittersweet; the former were overshadowed by the knowledge that longtime guitarist Davy Jones was battling Stage 4 cancer, while by the time the latter was undertaken, they’d lost Jones.

In rock ‘n’ roll, though, we derive strength from adversity, sometimes immortality, a notion that figures largely in the visceral oomph in these grooves. The record is the followup to 2013’s Hairy Chafin’ Ape Suit (itself a kind of eulogy for another fallen member of the Hickoids, bassist Richard Hays, who died in 2001), and as a summation of everything that’s always been great about the band, it positively shines. From the Erickson-penned opener, a rousing, horns-augmented “I Have Always Been Here Before,” through anthemic closing track “At the Crossroads,” a Sir Douglas Quintet gem bearing the prophetic lines “You can teach me lots of lessons/ You can bring me lot of gold/ But you just can’t live in Texas/ If you don’t have lot of soul,” one imagines Jones struggling with his illness but determined to put as much of himself into the material as possible. Indeed, twangy, boozy, bluesy ballad “I Just Left Myself Today” (by Allen) finds the band serving up a kind of sonic last call, vocalist Jeff Smith warbling like a man who’s crawled out onto a ledge. Contrast that with “Dead in a Motel Room” (by the Dicks; Jones had wound up joining the Dicks in 2005 after the Texas punks reunited), a pounding, slamming, git-tar heavy slab of aural viscosity.

As a summation, The Out of Towners may or may not be the last we hear from the Hickoids. Vocalist Smith continues to kick out da jamz via his Saustex label’s incendiary releases, and he’s always considered his band an outsider operation anyway, remarking during BLURT’s 2013 interview how, “we weren’t roots enough to be in the roots scene. When we first started out, those guys would smoke dope with us and snort coke with us and drink with us, but they didn’t consider us musicians. There was still that divide. Then on the other hand, because every song wasn’t 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, we didn’t really fit in on the punk circuit, either. And because we were so wasted, we were too artless for the art circuit.” But as a testament to Jones’ musical gifts—one which locates him firmly in the Lone Star pantheon—the record has a certain ramshackle elegance that’s wholly fitting.

Jones himself, in the aforementioned Hickoids profile, nicely characterized his rock ‘n’ roll viewpoint, saying, “It feels like we have to school [today’s generation of punks] on what our definition of punk rock is. Guess what? You’re allowed to do any fucking thing you want! You’re allowed to dress any way you want! It doesn’t have to be a Misfits T-shirt!”

Amen to that. R.I.P., Mr. Jones. Long live the Hickoids – see the band, get the T-shirt, rock your ass off.

***

Vinyl fans alert: It’s also available on 140-gm. vinyl, but in a pretty limited pressing of just 400 copies. What’s that saying? Oh yeah—move before you lose, kiddo.

DOWNLOAD: “I Just Left Myself Today,” “Dead in a Motel Room”

TERRY DOLAN – Terry Dolan

Album: Terry Dolan

Artist: Terry Dolan

Label: High Moon

Release Date: November 25, 2016

http://highmoonrecords.com

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The Upshot: Raise your hand if you remember Terry & the Pirates, punters! East Coast folkie summits with West Coast luminaries for a shelved-until-now solo collection of folk, country, rock and psych.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The problem with a lot of ‘70s-era singer/songwriters is that, frankly, they’re boring. Relying too much on folk elements that drain melodic and textural interest in favor of someone’s idea of “authenticity,” a lot of those records are as dry as grain left out in the sun too long. Not so Terry Dolan – this is one singer/songwriter who liked his music colorful. While having the same folkie roots as many of his peers, the East Coaster recorded his self-titled solo LP with San Francisco luminaries like Neal Schon (Santana, Journey), John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service) and Lonnie Turner (Steve Miller Band), not to mention the great British session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. Joined also by the Pointer Sisters on vocals, Dolan doesn’t bother with quiet introspection here – most of these songs are revels, as if their author couldn’t wait to let his ideas out into the world.

“Burgundy Blues” simmers for its first three-quarters, fairly vibrating with anticipation, before exploding in a frenzy of dance rhythms, fuzz guitar and burbling organ. “Purple and Blond” and “Rainbows” also reach an almost gospel fervor, while “Inlaws and Outlaws” boasts a rock anthem vibe. “Magnolia” slows down to a relaxed country rock tempo, but loads in enough instrumentation and energy to sustain its seven-and-a-half minute runtime. All this would just production trickery were it not for the songs, but Dolan’s melodies sound designed for full-bodied treatment, and his impassioned singing cuts through the density with precision. Recorded in 1972, slated for release on Warner Bros. in 1973, but inexplicably shelved, Terry Dolan is a strong record, which makes it mysterious as to why the label would cancel its release.

Following the abandonment of his major label debut, Dolan formed Terry & the Pirates, a jamming Bay Area rock band that often included the same players with whom he worked on Terry Dolan. The group released several albums on various independent labels before Dolan died in 2012.

DOWNLOAD: “Magnolia,” “Inlaws and Outlaws,” “Burgundy Blues”

 

EARWIG – Pause for the Jets LP + 7”

Album: Pause for the Jets LP + 7”

Artist: Earwig

Label: Lizard Family/Anyway

Release Date: October 14, 2016

www.lizardfamily.com / www.anyway-records.com

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The Upshot: Richly melodic Midwest power pop—leavened by classic weirdo alt-rock—is alive and well in this Columbus band’s hands.

BY FRED MILLS

A recent, well-reasoned/researched article published at Bandcamp Daily, “The New Face of Power Pop,” rounded up a dozen or so up-and-comers on the contemporary power pop scene, rightly tracing the bands’ aesthetic and stylistic connections to vintage p-p outfits from the ‘70s (Badfinger, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Big Star) as well as those that populated the ‘80s and early ‘90s revivals. Allow me to nominate a potential list-topper for the inevitable TNFOPP Part 2: Columbus, Ohio, quartet Earwig, whose new platter, Pause for the Jets, has of lately bum-rushed yours truly’s office playbox to the point that I’ve fallen so behind in my listening duties that I may have to call in sick at work just to catch up next week.

Now, let me quickly dispel any “newcomer” or “upstart” notions up front: Earwig has been operative in some form or fashion since the early ‘90s. You can hear those alt-rock roots in a number of these songs, like the delightfully shouty “Lover’s Chords” and the noisy, moody, synth-strafed, and just plain weird “Bring Yrself 2 Me,” which aside from the era-nodding title tipoff, brings to mind the late, great Grifters (with maybe a dollop of Guided by Voices), minus the lo-fi trappings. The band—frontman/guitarist Lizard McGee, Costa Hondroulis (whose role is described as “Bass Guitar God, Pound of Flesh, Vocals”),  Nicholas Nocera (“Drum Kit Throttler, screen printer and main squeeze”),  James McGee-Moore (“B.Vox, Japanese translation and very vocal second opinion”), George Hondroulis (“Utility player, Little brother, Navigator”)—has a number of records under its belt, including 2010’s well regarded Gibson Under Mountain, and along the way there have been numerous lineup changes. Whatever power bars the members have been munching on lately, however, have clearly had the desired effect, because this is one of the most accomplished indie recordings you’re likely to hear all year.

Right from the get-go, with opening track “Wisdom Teeth,” all fuzzy-riffy anthemism and buoyant vocals, you sense they’re onto something special. Later, in standout track “Silverheels,” they gradually move from a strummy, minimalist motif into a pulse-quickening thrum that ultimately builds to a huge crashing climax (plus the requisite false ending) that fairly dares you not to jump out of your chair—or pull over to the side of the road, take your pick; did I mention this is exquisite driving music?—and start pumping your fists like you’re front and center at the local arena. The lyrics are outstanding and evocative as well:

 

I dream of Mona Lisa when I’m lying in my bed

These demons come and take me home to you instead

You are the seraphim, the echo and the fire

You are the truth and I am a liar

 

Elsewhere there’s the exquisite guy-gal harmonies of “Wasted on You,” set against big-ass Cheap Trick dynamics, and lengthy dark ballad “All My Sins Are Blotted Out,” a study in contrasts for the band, which is able to chart a multiplicity of modalities across the course of the album, and sometimes within a single song. And closing track “Badr Moon” is yet another changeup, a study in textures with the kind of melody destined to stick with you long after the record has spun. It also offers a lyrical tableaux from vocalist McGee that’s exquisite in its straightforward simplicity:

 

You are a spell

so far away

When the moon goes to bed she sleeps in your eyes

I am lost / in your magic world

destiny sleeps in my veins

your destiny crawls in my veins

 

Consumer Note: The digital version of the album is a 12-songer (you can check it out at Bandcamp, natch), but the vinyl edition is a real treat for us collectors: the LP contains 9 songs, with the additional 3 included on a 7” EP featuring alternate sleeve art to the LP. Of that trio of tracks, “High Wasps” is a jaw-dropping study in heaviosity, a brief (1 ½ mins) hard rock instro that’d be perfect for soundtracking a chase scene in some action flick.

DOWNLOAD: “Silverheels,” “Wisdom Teeth,” “Wasted On You,” “Badr Moon”

PLASTIC ANTS – Imperial Phase

Album: Imperial Phase

Artist: Plastic Ants

Label: Requisite Recordings

Release Date: October 07, 2016

www.ThePlasticAnts.com

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The Upshot: Cincy rockers tug on Wussy and Afghan Whigs roots and unearth complex chamber pop that’ll charm even the most purist Beatles fan.

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

Cincinnati super group, Plastic Ants, return with another great LP, this time mining everything from classic rock and jangle pop to pockets of prog rock for an impressively diverse sound.

The band, comprised of singer/guitarist Robert Cherry, Bassist John Curley of the Afghan Whigs, drummer Joe Klug from Wussy and keyboardist Guy Vanasse, pull together a dreamy collection that proves pop need not be simplistic nor basic. Weaving together sharp guitars with moody synthesizers and steady piano, the band evokes everyone from The Beatles in their experimental phase to The Smithereens.

There are a few songs that drag from here to there (particularly a track like “Mystery Chord”), but Plastic Ants make up for just one song later with the theatrical “You Will Know Love,” complete with a full back up chorus. Another step in the right direction for Ohio’s unsung heroes of chamber pop.

DOWNLOAD: “A Sea of Upturned Faces,” “The Girl Who Stole the World” and “Magnetic Mind”

GOAT – Requiem

Album: Requiem

Artist: Goat

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: October 07, 2016

www.subpop.com

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The Upshot: Scaling a fascinating line between Afropop and mystical tribalism, Goat have made an album that is as aurally dense as it is compelling and deep.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

In a space carved out somewhere between The Sun City Girls and Savage Republic, with a smidgen of Father Yod thrown in for good measure, Goat have made an album – it follows World Music and Commune –  that is as aurally dense as it is compelling and deep. Scaling a fascinating line between Afropop and mystical tribalism the songs have an anthropological in country vibe about them. “I Sing in Silence” is funky, laid back and nuanced enough to pull us further up river as we head to face Kurtz. “Temple Rhythms” chugs along with its rhythmic Peruvian pan pipe hypnotic weavings. “Alarms” is polished with a ‘60s patina, replete with two part harmonies and spangly guitar. It’s a great amalgam of psych and Summer of Love, hippy-dippy-do. “Trouble in the Streets” once again employs an infectious Afropop-styled guitar line layered above a propulsive rhythm. The song had me grooving in my seat. (Did I just say that about a Goat song?)

“Goatband” is a wonderfully infectious instrumental that you just don’t want to end, it also shows another side to this incredible group of masked marauder—think Carlos Santana mixed with Steely Dan. The tune “Goatfuzz” is Back Sun Ensemble and Sun City Girls having a “You got your chocolate stuck in my peanut butter”—type Reese’s moment. The fuzzed guitar, ethnic instrumentation, and semi chaotic nature of the song has something that satisfies that salty and sweet umami musical craving. “Goodbye” is flamenco guitar over a flanged Indian rhythm that revolves, blowing up into a steamy typhoon set to wreak havoc on Calcutta.

A powerhouse of an album, Requiem shows off an incredibly diverse array of talent from a band that continues to beguile. This is music made by mavericks working outside the jaded confines of the music business. Needing to prove nothing, Goat have created one of the most definitive musical statements of 2016.

DOWNLOAD: “Goodbye” “Goatband” “Goatfuzz” “Trouble in the Streets” “I Sing in Silence”

 

 

ONEIDA & RHYS CHATHAM — What’s Your Sign

Album: What's Your Sign

Artist: Oneida & Rhys Chatham

Label: Northern Spy

Release Date: November 11, 2016

http://northernspyrecords.com/

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The Upshot: The combination of energies is so seamless that it’s hard to say where Oneida leaves off and Rhys Chatham begins.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

It’s match that makes sense on paper. Oneida, the experimental psych rock band that uses repetition to drill holes in your skull, Rhys Chatham the minimalist innovator whose primary instrument is guitar and was, early on, transfixed by the Ramones.  It also makes sense on the record, which ranges in style from the drone-sheathed, punk-fueled rockery of opener “You Get Brighter” all the way to the acid-free-jazz, brass-enhanced “Civil Weather,” which showcases both Hanoi Jane and Chatham on trumpet. In between, we get a limpid, liquid rendition of Pythagorus-inspired “A Well-Tuned Guitar,” with Oneida’s Kid Millions in full free-jazz, slipping off the precipice mode and guitars splinting like rainbows into the tones between the tones and the bent-note, noise fuzzed sprawl of “The Mabinogian.”

Most of the disc is unruly loud, but look for quiet solace in the slow procession of reed notes at the beginning of “A. Phillip Randolph at Back Bay Station.”(The cut named after the celebrated black labor activist who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925 and persuaded Franklin D. Roosevelt to prohibit racial discrimination in defense contracts in 1941. )  The combination of energies is so seamless that it’s hard to say where Oneida leaves off and Rhys Chatham begins, and yet, both artists seem to benefit from a push outside their regular territory. You could call “You Get Brighter” the best Oneida track in years, but it’s just a starting point in going out, way out, of the expected.

DOWNLOAD: “You Get Brighter” “A Well-Tuned Guitar”

HIS NAME IS ALIVE – Patterns of Light

Album: Patterns of Light

Artist: His Name Is Alive

Label: Silver Mountain Media/Light in the Attic

Release Date: November 25, 2016

http://www.hisnameisalive.com/smmg +  http://lightintheattic.net

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The Upshot: A unique collaboration that gives what seems like conventional psych/prog rock a depth no classic band would have ever imagined.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

His Name is Alive has never taken itself for granted. Detroit native Warren Defever has always pushed his band beyond any self-imposed boundaries, finding new worlds within the intersections of rock, electronica, R&B, psych and experimental music. Patterns of Light, the group’s fifteenth full-length studio album, reaches a new plateau, while at the same time being one of HNIA’s most straightforward offerings.

Eschewing most of the cross-genre explorations of previous records, Defever rallies his troop around a psychedelic prog rock flag for Patterns of Light. Using his and fellow axeman Dusty Jones’ six-strings as the centerpiece of the arrangements, Defever composes sweeping vistas of anthemic melody, drenching them in distortion, synths and singer Andrea Morici’s angelic harmonies. Unvarnished drumming keeps the cuts on an aggressive space rock keel, driving them straight into the heart of the sun. The lush “Calling All Believers” and “Dragon Down” contrast nicely with the aggressive title track and “Black Wings.” “Demonmix” suggests a mind-meld between divine and demonic forces yoked to a sleigh of catchy melodies and guitar firepower. Skilled musicianship and Defever’s unerring way with a memorable tune make each track sound like a hit on an imaginary radio station that remembers the best of the 60s and 70s.

If that sounds like HNIA has lost some of its experimental mojo, don’t be fooled. The music perfectly fits the subject matter. Invited to play a show at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the band boned up on the facility’s purpose, writing a batch of songs about particle physics, dark matter, the search for other dimensions and more. As if that wasn’t enough, Defever then had the material fact-checked by the scientist who invited HNIA, and adjusted the songs according to his corrections. Defever then blended the results with elements of creation mythology, medieval manuscripts and the visionary studies of Christian mystic and polymath Hildegard von Bingen. Heady stuff even for the most devout lover of unconventional musics.

Patterns of Light is a unique collaboration that gives what seems like conventional psych/prog rock a depth no classic band would have ever imagined. You may think you’ve heard something like this before, but trust us – you really haven’t.

 DOWNLOAD: “Demonmix,” “Calling All Believers,” “Black Wings”