Monthly Archives: December 2017

MUSIC JOURNALISM 2017: Every Month is a “Women In Music” Issue

It was the worst of times, it was the, uh… worst of times. But there were a few individual rays of light, much of them, appropriately enough, from a distaff perspective. Pictured above: happier times (at least for, ahem, a select, privileged few).

BY JASON GROSS

Looking for solace in the age of Trump, CNN’s Frida Ghitis found some upsides to having Orange Voldemort at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: We’ve seen, among other things, a revival in feminism and journalism.  This isn’t just desperate rose-colored glasses optimism or limited to politics — these are important trends that have real meaning in our musical universe and came to bear this past year there in full force.

It just wouldn’t be a journo round-up if we didn’t dispense with the misery so hold on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.  Overall in the larger journo world, a pile of high-name editors have fled their own publications since even the big-name pubs are struggling for dough right alongside online behemoths like Buzzfeed. Having deep-pocketed sugar daddies isn’t always the best answer as Gothamist or DNAinfo  could tell you if they were still around, much less the now-decimated L.A. Weekly, leaving the whole alt-weekly environment in shambles (including The Village Voice, more of which we’ll see later).

The usual culprit to all this journalistic bloodletting is social media as mags and writers are still figuring out how to navigate this world, still after a whole decade ago when Facebook and Twitter exploded on the scene.  The strange, frustrating fact is also that the big social media platforms themselves aren’t sure how they fit into the media-scape or how to maneuver it. Big pubs latch onto social platforms as we hear that most millennials getting their news from these sources through the social giants try to reconcile their role as media arbitrators and understand that some user fatigue is setting in with users. As for giving something back to and helping the journo world, Facebook is starting its own journalism project, but some cynics are right to note that it might be too little and too late and that it’s ridiculous to think that these social platforms alone should be responsible for propping up the industry or be trusted to save it.

And sure, media companies ranging from national publications to local blogs have every right to be suspicious of the social giants. Among other issues, it’s questionable whether these social hook-ups produce healthy results for pubs (or not), which leads some publishers to become wary of social innovations that are supposed to help them, especially when some moves like advanced ad-blockers seem like they cut off the financial bread & butter of these publications.*

 That isn’t even mentioning how Facebook still struggles with filtering out ‘fake news’ which competes with real stories (music writing has its own problems with this as we’ll see later).  Media videos might hold some promise as a way to attract viewers, but pivoting there ain’t cheap, plus, the social giants aren’t willing to pay out to pubs for content anymore. And while YouTube can’t get its shit together to grab ad money, they cut a significant deal with Universal and Sony that might mean that a new rival streaming service is coming. Not to be outdone, Facebook inked a licensing deal with Universal, meaning the other majors may not be far behind but to what end…?  The social puzzle has gotten so desperate that the media giants themselves are coming together to battle and negotiate with Google and Facebook from a position of (what they think is) strength in numbers.  Maybe the most dispiriting thing when it comes to social media though is the fact that most pubs still have self-defeating social media buttons that do a lame-ass job of sharing their articles, not to mention the start-up videos and pop-up ads that still render most web pages unreadable — no links needed, just go to any major publication site and see for yourself.

When we zoom in specifically on what’s happened with music/entertainment pubs in ’17… well, it ain’t pretty. After showing initial promise with expanded music coverage in 2014, Medium has had to close its New York office and it looks like the CMJ College Radio Chart looks like a corpse.  The Jazz Journalists Association finds that only 5% of its members have full-time newspaper work as online destinations take up the slack but usually offer no pay.  The Quietus has gotten so desperate that they’ve put out a public appeal for funding after their ad dollars dried up, admitting that their “corporate advertising is down by around 90%.” ** Struggling with years of slimmed-down staffing, Spin had to take to recycling content from themselves (including this great 1997 Sleater-Kinney review from Ann Powers) and elsewhere (this fascinating take from Chuck Berry on punk rock records, which came from a blog, which itself recycled the story from elsewhere). Still, Spin were able to have some solid stories, like the reporting of another music journo bummer — MTV News‘ collapse and disgrace (more on that below).  Shakes-ups came in the form of Chris Kaskie leaving Pitchfork after 14 years as its president and Billboard shuffling chair and roles at the top.  Vlogging sensation Anthony Fantano took a big hit to his reputation after a Fader article (see in the article listing below) outed his alt-right leanings, though he still retains an impressive following.  Layoffs were a constant, long-running theme as they came to SlateVice (which had build up staff only three years ago) and the Village Voice, where all of us long-time Pazz & Jop voters wondered as December rolled to end if the poll died until we saw some hope in this tweet. Although it finally arrived shortly before Christmas, my ballot and those of several others initially weren’t able to go through their online system. Eventually the Voice fixed the glitch, however. ***

Speaking of the Voice (which has gone through years of ownership sales and music chairs at the top of the ladder), even more than the recent layoffs, the big news there was that they were ending their print edition, which unleashed a wave of historic nostalgia among its old writers and editors via NPR and Chuck Eddy’s Austin360 piece. Paste also folded up their print edition but did it with a bang, making a book edition with a music sampler put together at their own studios.

For Billboard (which has also endured staff shake-ups, ownership sales, layoffs and revenue loss in the last few years alone), though they boasted online traffic growth and managed to gobble up Spin, Vibe and Stereogum through their parent company in late ’16, they still had growing pains as they tried to wrestle with how to count up the streaming figures and add them into their music charts.  After head scratching over how many streams equals a sale at the start of ’17, they decided to change up their streaming math to include genre albums and Pandora plays and then changed their magazine and chart dates to line-up with the week they covered.  YouTube however was SOL as they were cut out of the magazine’s chart tallies.  All of this makes you wonder how accurate the tallies are and if it’s possible to draw an accurate chart listing at all in the download/digital/streaming age.

And then there’s Rolling Stone, the grey lady of music, celebrating its 50th anniversary with not a lot to celebrate and with a huge lawsuit haunting them, not to mention their own layoffs and staff shake-ups over the last few years.  After shifting around its high level teams around May, the UVA story lawsuit was revived (having gone on for two years already), leading to a settlement with the school and later with the fraternity involved.  Considering the considerable money involved in the suits, maybe it was no coincidence that a few months later, the magazine announced that it was putting itself up for sale amid talks of a ‘diminished staff,’ a double-digit drop in news stand sales, online traffic dipping by over 25% and talk of making the pub into a quarterly.  To make it an attractive buy, RS was also promising to cut back on editorial.  All this culminated with the year-end announcement that the majority stake in the company went to Penske Media (which also owns Variety) for $100 million along with plans to lean into more live events and licensing, though as ReCode notes, the deal is an investment and not a sale, which means that founder/publisher Jann Wenner and son Gus keep senior positions.  If that wasn’t enough for RS this year, Wenner Sr. faced his own accusations of sexual harassment, which he denied.

Another dispiriting trend was how “fake news” and misleading items made its way to the music journo world, though we’ve already had more than our share from our head of state. This discouraging trend has been always around but bubbling up even more in the last few years with a raft of misleading stories in ’14 — you might remember Steve Albini’s Internet speech or Pomplamoose’s whining tour diary — or last year’s BS about Mozart outselling Drake (sorry but Wolfy didn’t).  First and foremost among ’17 fakery was the Tom Petty death watch which pronounced him gone before the eventual fact.  Much more serious and tragic was the mistaken identity given to the shooter at Jason Aldean’s Las Vegas show.  MTV News‘ reputation got a mud-drag when it came out thanks to Spin and Vulture that artists were able to muscle the network to take down unflattering stories if the network wanted to book them for their TV shows. And just in case you thought you were getting the whole truth and nothing but the truth, The Outline tells us that ad agencies are paying writers for product plugging/mentions in big-name publications like Forbes and Huffington Post. Then there was the bizarre BS story about the Discogs highest sales record which was exposed by NPR (see in the article listing below). And with the gloomy landscape it was obviously time to trot out the tired old-guy argument about music writing being a corpse (complete with a Lester Bangs graphic), which was trotted out by a Hypebot writer who pointed to my SXSW panel (which he didn’t attend) and based it on a misguided review of it from elsewhere (sure I’m biased, but I know that it was actually a meaty discussion thanks to Rachel Brodsky, Chuck Eddy, Greg Kot).

In terms of tech initiatives and music publications, what was most notable was what you didn’t hear about in 2017 — there weren’t any real innovations that might hold promise (one great exception being this NY Times info dump on music maps). Compare this to 2014 when data-driven articles were springing up plus crowd-funding ideas, content platforms and apps (see the music writing round-up for that year) or last year when we had more innovative crowd funders plus Vice‘s documentary series and the Pitchfork TV venture (see the 2016 round-up for details). With apps drying up as a possible savior and no new bold tech ideas this past year, music journalism is making life even harder for itself in a world where cutting edge tech is everything now. Hint: take some tips from Sarah Toporoff of Global Editors Network about media innovation.

Maybe it’s appropriate to end the weeping and wailing here with a few sad goodbyes to some noted music scribes who will be missed: Nat Hentoff, Marc Spitz, Richie Yorke, Reggie Ossie and Marc Fisher (see Simon Reynolds’ article below).

And after all of that misery, ’17 did have a few bright spots for the music journo world.  Despite the hits to its integrity, MTV News managed to unionize. Fader got a fine editor-in-chief (Duncan Cooper). WBGO got a jazz expert in the form of Nate Chinen (formerly at NY Times). Vice snapped up $450 million in investments. Billboard added on Hannah Karp as news editor. Variety beefed up its music staff with Shirley Halperin and Jem Asward (formerly at Billboard).  In late breaking news from the end of ’16, Fader upped its social media team (wise move, especially now) and both Pitchfork and Thump/Vice did their own round-up’s of 2016 music stories.  For all the music scribe fans out there, there was also a Lester Bangs play How To Be A Rock Critic which made its way from L.A. to Chicago and is now heading to NYC in early ’18 which should seen drooling hoards of fan boys there as we speak.   And if all of that isn’t cheery enough for you, how about having LeBron James as one of our best music critics?  Sure, that pales in comparison to all the sad stuff from ’17 but you gotta grasp onto something.

And you can’t talk about 2017 without talking about #MeToo, which IS a bright spot and did affect the music biz. Though this movement became a huge story this year, don’t forget that in early ’16, a big-name music publicist was outed and forced out of work when stories of him as a sexual predator came out, though at the time, there was no floodgates opening the way they are now. After the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in early October though, there was plenty of schadenfreude about other scummy characters taken down several notches and booted off their thrones but it also hit some previously well-admired cultural figures (Charlie Rose, Louie C.K.).  Painful as it is to hear about this from people that we admire, we have to take our collective lumps and have a no-tolerance policy for this sick behavior. And of course the music biz isn’t immune to this problem either as noted with country singer Katie Armiger’s brave stance, Dorothy Cavello’s column in Variety, Baebel Blog’s “These Musicians Have Come Forward to Say ‘Me Too’” article, Andrew Wallenstein’s “Vice Media Admits ‘We Failed’ to Curb Sexual Harassment at Company” report in Variety, and Warner Music execs being accused of sexual misconduct.  Rest assured, many more #MeToo stories will come out in ’18 and beyond.  Should we be surprised about it either in an industry known for its excesses?

Maybe another piece of good news for ’17 is the almost-40 excellent articles below, coming from everywhere, ranging from big-time media sources (Vulture/NewYork, NPR, Washington Post in particular) to blogs, plus Pitchfork proving that it’s much more than just numeric rankings. Sorry, there’s no worthy social media entries this time though Erykah Badu’s (below) and Howe Gelb’s Instagram posts are wonderful photo art. There’s also plenty of healthy skepticism in these stories about Spotify (see Marc Hogan, Liz Pelly). Jim DeRogatis’ story is particularly of note ’cause it almost didn’t happen for fear of lawsuits, which many pubs don’t have the deep pockets to battle for fear that another Peter Thiel will take them down as he did with Gawker (making me wonder how many other important stories we WON’T see because of that same fear).

Maybe the most encouraging sign for music journalism is the fact that many of the stories below that deal with feminism (especially Ann Powers’ pivotal piece for NPR) actually predate the October 5th reporting of the Weinstein story, making you wonder if even before that article come out, the specter of a misogynist wave coming out of the ’16 election drove a much needed correction in the other direction, along with similar push backs about race and identity (and the irony that if the election results were different, a wave of women empowerment would have happened for other reasons).  No doubt related to that, you might also notice that many of the writers below happen to be women, following a growing, encouraging trend over the last decade.  You can chalk it up to any pointy-headed theory you like but there’s probably a much simpler explanation — women are just better music writers.  You think it’s a coincidence that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year was ‘feminism‘?

 

BEST STORIES

Ella AlovisiLast.fm Was the Only Music Social Network That Made Sense” (Noisey, December 5, 2017)

The music streaming wars already have plenty of casualties and with the profits razor-thin, there will be more to come.  Nowhere near as popular as Spotify or Pandora, Last.fm still served a purpose — unlike those other services, it actually fostered a community of music fans who could communicate, learn from each other and compare notes.  Ideally, you’d hope the bigger streaming survivors would provide the same type of communities but will they bother if they don’t see any ($) value to it?

 

Adrienne BlackMusic Industry Advice For Women, By Women” (Pigeons and Planes, January 3, 2017)

Like most industries, the music biz is still a man’s world but to change that, we need less mansplaining and to hear more from the women there who’ve made it to share some of their advice.  Find mentors and demand respect as Black insists, but also know that you have to “work harder than the rest.”…And write good articles like this one.

 

Britt BrownCollateral Damage: Britt Brown on negative reviews” (The Wire, September 2017)

Years ago, when print was still somewhat alive, a reviews editor at a big publication told me ‘we don’t have room for bad reviews anymore.’ That’s understandable but Brown makes the argument of why it’s still important regardless, even if it’s tempered by fear of trolls and hemmed in by grading systems that fortify a plateau of middle-ground acceptance. “It’s often forgotten that the function of press is not to boost sales, but to document a dialogue sparked by the reception of the work.” You heard it here first, folks!

 

Sarah CahillWhat I Learned as a Music Critic, and Why It Still Matters” (The Log, April 4, 2017)

It’s silly to call this kind of introspection ‘navel-gazing’ — all music journalism is just that in some way, but it can also be much more than that, as we learn from Cahill. It’s not just that she has a unique perspective because she’s also a musician but she’s also found that sinking her brain into the music she covers actually gave her more of an appreciation of it.  And what more could we ask from music scribes than that? Of course, this kind of background can make you hyper-critical of other music writing too (just like here).

 

Adam ChandlerThe Eternal Unbearable Greatness of Billy Joel” (The Atlantic, April 21, 2017)

Even if you’re a Joel hater, you can’t help but be impressed and fascinated by his long game, especially since he still fills stadiums while he’s stopped putting out albums in the early 90’s. Hell, even the stones and Macca put out new albums once in a while (even if you don’t wanna hear ’em).  Face it — he’s a cultural institution and not just in the Tri-State area.  “Not bad for someone who spent part of the 1970s opening for Olivia Newton-John, Yes, and Captain Beefheart.”

Jim DeRogatisInside the Pied Piper of R&B’s “Cult”” (Buzzfeed, July 17, 2017)

An incredible story not just because of the accusations — that Kelly kept women as prisoners — but also the long-term efforts that it took to get the story itself out, as detailed in this Slate article and this Washington Post article about how the story almost never got published, not to mention this follow-up Buzzfeed article detailing other women speaking out about Kelly. And it’s not as if Kelly hasn’t had a long and sordid history with women.

 

Geoff EdgersWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Washington Post, June 22, 2017)

Cringe at the title but don’t discount the message — the electric guitar is falling out of favor in the music biz and there are numbers here to prove it.  This doesn’t stop 1000’s of bands who ignore this every day but it ain’t what it used to be, right up to the 90’s when Cobain convinced young hopefuls to seek out six-strings.  Nowadays?  Apps and drum machines and sequencers rule.  And some day, they’ll fall of favor too.  Also see Edgers’ warts-and-all portrait of Billy Joe Shaver.

 

Andrew FlanaganThe Most Expensive Record Never Sold” (NPR, March 23, 2017)

Real news about fake news.  A guy who went blackface to pretend he was Hendrix’s son, almost got a label deal through Bruce Hornsby and later sold, and probably bought, his own album, which might not exist and set a record for a single sale at the Discogs site.  Or maybe not…  But the hoax worked ’cause you’re reading about him right now.

 

Abigail GardnerWhose record is it anyway? Musical ‘crate digging’ across Africa” (The Conversation, September 6, 2017)

Sure, colonialism and crate digging in search of exotica is kind of an opt-putting venture but it means that we get all kinds of rare, unknown goodies and these artists get the recognition (and maybe royalties) they have never had before.  So that’s great, right?  But why are black music archivists usually well-meaning white people? And why aren’t these albums part of a larger cultural picture that we’re missing out on?

 

Sasha GeffenTOKiMONSTA Lost Speaking and Musical Abilities After Brain Surgery. This Is How She Regained Them.” (Pitchfork, September 12, 2017)

Even if you think that the first half of the article which details her illness is TMI (actually, it’s pretty interesting though still heart-breaking), you’ll quickly get on her side as she tells of how her music helped her recovery and she learned the best way to get back on her feet was to not push herself but let the music comes to her as it needed to.  Also see this fascinating AP article about how scientists are still scratching their head over music therapy but still finding it helpful for patients.

 

Rachel Kaadzi GhansahHer Eyes Were Watching the Stars: How Missy Elliott Became An Icon” (Elle, May 15, 2017)

Missy as feminist icon and as a little-praised producer and as a private/public person who battles shyness and an abuse-ridden past.  Surely she deserves a 2nd, 3rd act after her 2015 Super Bowl cameo.

 

Marc HoganUncovering How Streaming Is Changing the Sound of Pop” (Pitchfork, September 25, 2017)

“Spotify tells you what your job is,” Chainsmokers singer Elizabeth Mencel explains. In the first 30 seconds, throw out a slew of hooks, get the chorus in early and you’ve got a hit. Why? You gotta get the listener to stay tuned for at least the first 30 secs of streaming to get counted the song counted as a ‘play’ (which you can earn royalties for), hence all the early ornaments in these songs.  Call it the “Spotify Sound.”  If you like, long dramatic intros, you’re outta luck. Also see Eamonn Forde “‘They could destroy the album’: how Spotify’s playlists have changed music for ever” (The Guardian, August 17, 2017) where we get a scary glimpse into a future where voice control for devices (“Hey Siri, play dubstep!”) and trigger words could affect our whole pop landscape.

 

Steven J. Horowitz “The Concert Ticket Industry Is Still Broken” (Vulture, May 2, 2017)

Finding that your favorite shows are sold out a millisecond after they go on sale and then you have to pay hundreds of dollars from legalized scalpers through the likes of Stubhub (via eBay) and TicketsNow (via LiveNation)?  There’s a good reason. Verified Fan programs haven’t stamped out scalpers who still find a way to game the system (thanks in part to bots) and it may also be that some of the artists themselves hold back tickets to get some sweet resell money.  Until a strong fan lobby pushes back at Congress to regulate this industry more, expect the same to keep happening.

Hua HsuAlice Coltrane’s Devotional Music” (The New Yorker, April 24, 2017)

Thankfully no longer in her husband’s shadow, she was on the same celestial plane and took her music even farther after Saint John’s death — her idea of religious music ain’t your parent’s church but was instead led by her own Hindu-inspired faith. Even if you don’t have any need for hipsters and other spiritual types, you can at least thank them for helping with her revival.

 

Craig JenkinsThe Sound of Modern Pop Peaked This Year — and Now It Needs to Change” (Vulture, December 11, 2017)

If you happen to love singles now (shame on you if you don’t — 2017 was a great singles year) and wonder why, there’s a cunning reason.  It might not be as obvious as with other pop trends but there’s definitely a formula out there and Jenkins nails it down — “fluttering horns, folk-pop–indebted guitar licks with fat synth lines played staccato or else broken up into choppy eighth and 16th notes, and drums that nod either to the hand claps and finger snaps.”  It transcends pop and makes its way into R&B, rap. And now that it’s named, we should move on to something new.  Also see Jenkins’ other important pieces for Vulture: “The Life and Death of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy” (June 22, 2017) and “Rap Is Less Homophobic Than Ever, But It Has a Long Way to Go” (February 13, 2017).

 

Steve KnopperThe Rope: The Forgotten History of Segregated Rock & Roll Concerts” (Rolling Stone, November 16, 2017)

“As the original rock & roll pioneers are fading out, it’s more important than ever to share their stories,” Knopper notes and with Chuck and Fats now gone and prayers to keep Little Richard and Jerry Lee with us as long as possible, it’s definitely an urgent project to get these stories down for the record, not just for the history books but also so we can learn and remember.  One complaint — this story is broad and vital enough to be told in the span of an entire book.

Dee LockettThe Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Still Has No Idea What to Make of Black Art” (Vulture, April 29, 2017)

For this past year’s ceremony, Lockett picks up on the stark contrast to when Tupac was supposed to be honored versus the love shown to the otherwise-white roster of inductees.  Just as at the ’95 Source Awards, when Snoop wondered if “East Coast ain’t got no love,” the audience didn’t seem interested again though Snoop took it with better grace now.  If the crowd really needed a piss break moment during the show, they would have been much better off with Journey.

 

Jillian MapesThe Music World’s Reaction to Sexual Assault Needs to Keep Changing” (Pitchfork, October 24, 2017)

A much-needed manifesto for the #MeToo age. “We need male musicians and men working in the music industry to examine their own behavior, and to hold other men accountable for the indiscretions they witness.”  And even more importantly: “It is lazy and shameful to only deal with this problem when women take on the burden of speaking out, and the illusion of independent music as a progressive field is dented for all to see.”

 

Ezra MarcusThe Needle Drop pioneered music review vlogs. His lesser-known channel pandered to the alt-right.” (The Fader, October 3, 2017)

Anthony Fantano, ground breaking online music critic, now outed as alt-right troll, leaving his fans and admirers awestruck and hurt.  Marcus said that he was piled on with hate mail thanks to this piece but thanks to him for coming forward with this, fan hood be damned. Kill your idols indeed.

 

Mike McCollumThe Drive By Truckers’ Southern Rock Opera and Contemporary Southern Identity” (Mike McCollum, January 11, 2017)

This exhaustive blog post as term paper not only does justice to a great album but also puts it into the context of not just music history but also a Southern culture that’s not necessarily on the skids, where William Faulkner rubs shoulders with Ronnie Van Zant.

 

Maeve McDermottThe 2018 Grammy nominations deservedly celebrate artists of color” (USA Today, November 28, 2017)

Compared to the lily-white Oscars, NARAS is in even more of a bind as it’s obvious that white men aren’t where the action is in terms of quality and innovation in the music world so in a way, they NEEDED to acknowledge it and finally did. Will it stop the boycotts? Maybe for now. But maybe not with Kanye, unless they give him every award.

 

Michelle MercerSexism From Two Leading Jazz Artists Draws Anger — And Presents An Opportunity” (NPR, March 9, 2017)

Most any forward-thinking jazz fan cheers on pianist/composer Robert Glasper and fellow keysman Ethan Iverson (Bad Plus) but what happens when the former lays out some sexist crap (women don’t like solos, you just play groove and the music is like sex to them) and the later defends this, call BS on the attacks and insists he’s a liberal and a feminist?  Don’t we all know plenty of guys who don’t dig solos and get the hots from music? Mercer isn’t buying it either but at least finds some upside in that we’re still able to connect jazz with erotica and that in these heated arguments, “we need an intelligent public discussion about gendered notions of jazz.”

Tom MoonWalter Becker Was A Master Of Musical Understatement” (NPR, September 4, 2017)

Finding the craggily essence of a private person who wrote multi-million dollar music and posed proudly as a cynic, misanthrope, jazz head and a hell of a funny guy (as Donald Fagen tells it).

 

Marissa R. MossWe Need To Talk About How We Write About Women Musicians” (Lockeland Springsteen, April 10, 2017)

Subtitle (which Moss hears a lot from editors): “But we write about female musicians ALL the time.” This stirring manifesto lays out its point cleanly and decisively. For the “Women In Music” special issues, she says “appreciate the gesture, but how about you just write about women on all the days.” And finally, nailing the semantics of how music scribing approaches women: “If we point out problematic language or systemic sexism, we are not always calling you sexist. This isn’t about you. For once, this is about women. So listen.” Got it?

 

Liz PellyThe Problem With Muzak” (The Baffler, December 4, 2017)

Following up on her excellent piece in Watt about how Spotify playlists are the new payola, Pelly tracks more insidious ways that the streaming service screws the rest of the musical food chain.  Brands using artists in their playlists without their consent? Check. Trying to do away with music labels? Check. Turning music into nothing more than background for all your daily activities? Check.  Getting publications to create playlists while their readers are sucked into a service that may render these same publications obsolete?  Check.  And you thought Google and Facebook were evil? They are, but these guys aren’t far behind now.

Robyn PennacchiaAmerica’s wholesome square dancing tradition is a tool of white supremacy” (Quartz, December 12, 2017)

What could be more innocent than square dancing (which many of us had to endure as kids)?  Sad to say, the intro of this musical ritual can be traced to industrialist and anti-Semite Henry Ford who thought that jazz was having an evil influence on American culture and needed some way to counter it.  And so, the seemingly innocuous ritual lives alongside minstrelsy and Birth of A Nation as important artistic touchstones with disturbing racial histories attached.

 

Ann PowersA New Canon: In Pop Music, Women Belong At The Center Of The Story” (NPR, July 24, 2017)

In and of itself, one of the most important music articles not just in ’17 but in the last few years.  Powers throws down the gauntlet on what our cherished musical canons should be like, which is much more inclusive of innovative, brilliant women.  The article is already so influential that it inspired Julianne Escobedo Shepherd’s hilarious response in Jezebel (where Sgt. Pepper’s and Kid A both get their asses kicked), this classical-themed follow-up from Anne Midgette and this expansive multi-media piece from the NY Times, which are all superior articles themselves. So, can we have more follow-ups, please…?

 

Anna QuitoThe classical music concert is a vital workout for our sagging, flabby attention spans” (Quartz, April 9, 2017)

For every moment in our waking life where there’s a pause or waiting, we reflexively pull out our phone and amuse ourselves (hell, I do it all the time). But what if we could unplug ourselves for just an hour or two, without any active visual stimulus other that dozens of musicians playing a stirring symphony? Quito suggests that this kind of exercise is tonic in our digital world and with a little practice (just like a gym workout), we can do it easier than we think. No scientific study here though it does touch on some of those — it’s just a moving, personalized guide about how classical music changed the writer’s way of thinking and life, and it might do the same for you.

 

Simon ReynoldsMark His Words” (Blissblog, February 9, 2017)

Aka Mark Fisher’s Greatest Hits. The writer/educator/theorist/philosopher, aka ‘K-Punk,’ was just as comfortable critiquing capitalism and post-modernism as he was attacking Dylan, understanding Michael Jackson’s legacy, dissecting the eloquent misery of James Blake and untangling Drake’s insatiable appetite. Reynolds once described K’s blog as superior to any Brit music publication and didn’t mind it a bit when Fisher himself tangled with him over music.  He relished it actually.  And don’t you think Fisher would have relished this very write-up — a review of an unofficial collection of his essays about music — as a great post-modern twist?

 

Chris RichardsHow the death of EDM brought pop music one step closer to eternal life” (Washington Post, August 3, 2017)

For ‘real’ techno fans, EDM’s passing was a blessing — no more drunk jocks partying to empty, pandering dance music, right?  Not really. EDM just got gobbled up into pop music and has lived on through it, courtesy of machine-like affectations that singers latch on to.  Of course, the lyrics distract from the partying but there’s always hip hop to draw in the frat-boy crowd, right? Also see Richards’ insightful pieces on apocalypse pop and bridging the freestyle/mumble rap gap.

 

Jenna RomaineIf Moby Accepted Trump Inauguration Invitation, This Would Be His Playlist” (Billboard, January 9, 2017)

When the charmless would-be autocrat looked around for musical talent for his coronation, the list of A-list performers who refused was impressive, leaving Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down and some D-listers to fill in the gaps. The techno-turned-pop whiz Moby was a refusenik himself but was coaxed to come up with his own set list to entertain the MAGA crowd, including Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, Pete Seeger, Billie Holiday, Cat Stevens, John Lennon, Sex Pistols, the Clash, Killing Joke and all manner of political tunes.  It would have beat the hell out of the endless replays of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which Trump used at most of his rallies (without the Stones’ approval).

 

Alex RossThe Fate of the Critic in the Clickbait Age” (New Yorker, March 13, 2017)

“Why publish articles that almost nobody wants?” wonders of our finest classical scribes, struggling to figure out where classical music fits into a post-millennial culture where arts writers are a rare, dying breed at many large-scale publications since there’s no proof that their columns get enough clicks and ad bucks.  Surely the music he loves can’t compete against Marvel flicks in the entertainment section of any publication left standing?  Still, he makes a valiant argument that we need space for ‘unpopular’ music regardless unless we want our entire culture conversation to turn into emojis. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Ruth SaxelbyWe need to talk about drugging” (The Fader, December 12, 2017)

In the wake of #MeToo, we hear some harrowing first-hand accounts of roofie-induced rapes.  Horrible to also hear that this actually ISN’T totally illegal in all states and that most cases never get reported, out of fear and shame. If that wasn’t bad enough, the research on this is lacking too.  As a music exec who was a drugging victim painfully recounts “I’ve thought about this more than I’ve ever thought about anything. I’ve searched for any other possible explanation. There is none.”  Saxelby wisely advises us that one way to counter this is to spread the word about the problem so that potential victims are on guard. Also, you can help by donating to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

 

Adam ShatzThe Ethereal Genius of Craig Taborn” (New York Times, June 22, 2017)

The charming, frustrating, romantic story of an ego-less jazz pioneer who shows supreme dedication to his craft, even if it means not advancing his career, which in turn endears him to other musicians and label heads.

Art TavanaHow Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” Hijacked the Music Industry” (Ultimate Classic Rock, July 19, 2017)

Even if you’re sick of GNR, Axl’s whiny ego and their played-out reunion, this article makes a good case for their place in history and how their sound, their image, their ‘tude and even their musicianship turned the music world topsy-turvy for a while.  At least until the long wait for Chinese Democracy.

 

Martha TesemaBlack-centric spaces like Afropunk Festival are valuable now more than ever, and here are 8 people’s reasons why” (Mashable, August 30, 2017)

Afropunk isn’t just an incredible coming together of musical styles but also a place where an African-American audience can really let their freak flag fly. Tesema nails the essence of the fest not just with the interviews where attendees celebrate the ‘black-centric space’ but also the wonderful pics she provides, making this an intriguing photo essay too.

 

Emily YahrNashville songwriters are like family. Here’s what happens when things get complicated.” (Washington Post, August 10, 2017)

Until A.I. renders them useless (maybe sooner than you think or hope), songwriters are still a vital part of not just pop music but also country. In Nashville, where it’s a tiny world indeed, a good song-smith can be gold if they can beat out the competition, find the right singer and not get their song put on hold indefinitely, which provides a hard-won lesson about making it in Music City: that’s why “the artists that are most successful. . . are great at responding quickly.”

 

———————————————-

* Guilty. I use ad-blockers. But in my defense, media websites relentlessly place in front of me “supported content,” floating ads, pop-ups, and outright screen-fillers that require multiple clicks on my part just to finish reading a paragraph. So my sympathy for anyone employing these strategies ies has eroded to a considerable degree. — Uncle Blurt, website administrator

** We here at BLURT donated to a number such causes, however much we could afford at the time and when it was a website that we frequent on a regular basis in dire need,, such as the Internet Archive and of course The Quietus. Maybe we should make our own pitch for support from readers. — Ed.

*** As Jason noted above, the pollsters at the Voice didn’t bother to send out ballots until a couple of days before Christmas; at least not to a number of longtime voters, including BLURT’s own editor, hardly a vote of confidence. Staff downsizing, perhaps? — Minutiae Ed.

_______________________________________________________

Jason Gross, a longtime BLURT contributor, is also the publisher and editor of the most excellent web magazine Perfect Sound Forever — which, we should note, has been the consistent favorite over the years of this publication’s own editor.

 

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt.4

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, and HERE for Pt. 3. Pictured above: Sweet Apple. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Everything singer/guitarist John Petkovic touches seems to turn to rock, from Death of Samantha to Cobra Verde to his current project Sweet Apple. The latter quartet seems like the culmination of his vision to date, putting postpunk, glitter rock, power pop and old-fashioned hard rock through Petkovic’s own special filter and coming out gold. Sing the Night in Sorrow (Tee Pee), the third LP from Sweet Apple, practically shivers with barely-repressed energy, focusing all of Petkovic’s loves into a potent rush to the rock & roll finish line. The tough “World I’m Gonna Leave You,” epic “Candles in the Sun” and sky-kissing “She Wants to Run” enliven the rock radio of our dreams, while “A Girl and a Gun” – a duet with Rachel Haden – and the album closing “Everybody’s Leaving” reclaim the slow song from power ballad territory beautifully.  If Sweet Apple sounds a little more like Cobra Verde than on previous platters, that’s no surprise, given that CV co-axeman Tim Parnin and former DoS/CV slinger Doug Gillard share six-string duties. Not that it matters, as Sing the Night in Sorrow keeps the rock & roll faith as well as any other record Pektovic’s captained – which is to say as well as any contemporary rock record extant.

Boston seems like it should be a town too intellectual and gentile to kick out any jams, but plenty of balls-out rawk has come from that town. The latest addition to the ranks is Justine & the Unclean, a rip-snorting quartet of glam/punk/power pop/garage rockers that never met a six-string hook they didn’t like. Get Unclean (Rum Bar), the band’s debut, keeps the melodies strong and the attitude sneering on cracking tunes like “Love Got Me Into This Mess,” “Worry Stone” and the self-explanatory “I’m in Love With You, Jackass.” Fans of Nikki & the Corvettes and the NY Loose should just line right up.

Further to the west, Stars in the Night (Rum Bar), the second LP from Milwaukee trio Indonesian Junk, plays up the streetwise side of its protopunk/power pop cocktail. “Turn to Stone,” “Nosferatu” and “I Would Never Treat You Like That” streamline the band’s sound down to its essence, with bash-it-out rhythms pushing unvarnished rock licks and Daniel James’ inelegantly wasted sneer. Meanwhile, L.A. gutter rockers Dr. Boogie drop a deuce with new single “She’s So Tuff”/”Peanut Butter Blues” (Spaghttey Town). The A-side’s streetwise glitter rock contrasts nicely with the B’s Stonesy roar, the connecting thread being Chris P.’s angry rasp and the band’s dedication to riff and groove. The East Coast re-represents with New Yorkers Dirty Fences’ third slab Goodbye Love (Greenway), a dizzily catchy collection of rockers, rollers and rompers that crossbreed Midwestern power pop with Lower East Side street rock. If the feverish opener  “All You Need is a Number” doesn’t do it for ya, the Christine Halladay duet “One More Step” or the delirious pop tune “Blue Screen” just might.


The legendary status of the Raspberries in the power pop community obscures the fact that the Cleveland band was quite popular during their early 70s heyday, regularly lobbing hit singles into the charts. Regardless of standing in the nebulous cloud of the music industry, the original quartet reunited in the first decade of the new millennium to show the young whippersnappers how it was done during the years when the Beatles, the Kinks and the Who were their only role models. Pop Art Live (Omnivore) captures a fiery gig from 2004 in front of a hometown crowd, all four original members included. Eric Carmen’s voice no longer hits the gloriously throat-shredding heights of the band’s glory days, but that’s no crime – age comes to us all, after all – and it otherwise retains its melodic power. The band backs him as if they couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle, making it clear that this reunion was done as much out of love as any financial incentive. Running enthusiastically through the catalog, the ‘berries reminds us just how many gems they’ve polished – not just the hits (“I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” “Tonight,” a titanic, show-closing “Go All the Way”), but lesser-known, equally fine cuts like “Makin’ It Easy,” “I Can Remember” and “Nobody Knows.” Add in a couple of songs by Raspberries precursors the Choir and some filler from the Beatles catalog and it’s a power pop party. Plus it’s a double live album like the days of old.

Seattle’s Knast falls on the more psychedelic end of power pop on its debut Reckless Soul (Casual Audio Group Ltd). That mainly means some extra echo and tremolo here and there and some obvious affection for the 80s British psych pop scene, but the focus remains squarely on the songs and hooks. Which works out well for the Knast – whether the band is kicking up dust with “Side Effects” and “Sold Out,” getting sardonic with “Fight or Flight” and “Situation Vacant,” or just being a sparkling pop band on “Here and There” and “Time Out of Mind,” it knows just how to handle a catchy melody with taste and verve. The fellow Pacific Northwesterners of Date Night With Brian add a 90s alt.rock flare to the efficiently composed and performed tunes on its self-titled EP (Top Drawer). Five songs in eleven minutes, not a one less than immediately catchy and appealing.

The garage rocking Juliette Seizure and the Tremor Dolls (who win this month’s “Best Band Name” contest) find that revered sweet spot between Nuggets-powered punk and girl gang pop on Seizure Salad (Off the Hip), the Australian sextet’s second record. The blurry production doesn’t suit the band’s harmonies, but these songs are powered by attitude more than expertise, making the grungy “Stink,” the hooky “Imagination” and the rocking “Take What You Want” more representative than attempts to be like an edgier Shangri-La’s. Nice tip of the hat to Dead Moon with “Be My Fred Cole,” by the way. Detroit-to-L.A.’s intrepid Singles have kept on keepin’ on since the early ‘aughts, refusing to die no matter how many years go between albums. Sweet Tooth (Grimy Goods), the trio’s fourth LP, keeps the faith of prior platters, with stripped down power pop hearkening back to the late 70s glory years of the Plimsouls and their brethren/sistren. Stuffed with hooks and youthful verve, “Voodoo,” “If You Want Me, You Can Have Me” and “Masterpiece” effortlessly bring smiles with every turn of the melodies.

Chattanooga’s Mark “Porkchop” Holder clearly has no time to waste, as he’s already followed up his debut album from earlier in 2017 with Death and the Blues (Alive), picking up right where he left off. Though the former member of Black Diamond Heavies is no amateur, Holder is sort of the anti-cracker blues cracker bluesman – he skips displays of six-string virtuosity typical of Clapton/Vaughan acolytes and just goes for the gut. Whether he’s admonishing haters with the heavy “What’s Wrong With Your Mind,” gets a little frightening with the anthemic “Be Righteous” or just rocks like a motherfucker on “Coffin Lid,” Holder and his backup duo burrow right down to the bone. Speaking of blues grunge, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser hit a new high (yes, we see what we did there) with 2015’s Dirty Spliff Blues, and while latest album Claw Machine Wizard (Alive) takes a bit of a step back as the band goes back to being a duo, its raunchy punked-up blues roils unabated. “Lately” boogies, “Burn Em Brew” boils and the title track bashes, powered, as always by guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV’s filthy slide and backwoods bark.

 

Five Horse Johnson plows much the same furrow as Cruiser, but if the latter uses a rake and a hoe, the musclebound Toledo quintet prefers a backhoe and occasional dynamite to make the earth move. Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone), the band’s eighth album, pulls from the heavy rawness of the early years while keeping the songwriting progression of recent albums, making “Ropes and Chains,” “Cryin’ Shame” and “Daddy Was a Gun” masterclasses in powerhouse blues rock. Best of all, “Hard Times” gets political without being preachy – it’s too busy rocking your soul for that. Berlin’s Travelin Jack (pictured above) weave a carpet out of threads sewn from bluesy grit, hard rock stomp and glam, then dirties that rug up with platform boots on its second album Commencing Countdown (Steamhammer/SPV). Guitarist Floy the Fly drives the tracks with riffs that mix in-your-face theaterics and a soulful feel, but it’s vocalist Alia Spaceface who takes center stage with her leathery howl. Hit up the menacing “Fire,” the anthemic “Time” and the blazing “Keep On Running” and get your 70s rockstar air guitarspew on.

Australian James McCann did time in the original lineup of the Drones and its predecessor Gutterville Splendor Six, so you know the dude’s got chops, attitude and credibility to spare. But even if he didn’t, Gotta Lotta Move – Boom! (Off the Hip), his sixth album and second with his backing combo The New Vindictives, would rule. Like his former bands, McCann has a grounding in the blues, but no reverence for its traditions – he’s more interested in feel than form. For the latter the singer/guitarist goes back to his punk rock youth, bashing out blazing bruisers like  “Lies Start Here,” “Tar On the Lip” and the blast-tastic title track like a man with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. “Sheena Says” boasts the kind of pop hook you’d expect from a song with a girl’s name followed by “Says,” while “Nick’s Song” drags countrified balladry through the bloodsoaked dust of the scene of a shootout. McCann pays tribute to a couple of vets along the way, co-penning, singing and guitaring “I Can Control Your Mind” with Wet Taxis/Sacred Cowboys/solo slinger Penny Ikinger and covering erstwhile Beasts of Bourbon/Johnnys guitarist/songwriter Spencer P. Jones’ “What is Life in Jail.” The real punk blues indeed. (Toland, you had me at “Australian.” I’m in love, L-U.V. — Oz Ed.)

The roots rocking Flat Duo Jets have often been cited as a big influence on Jack White and his perception of what a rock & roll duo could be. People forget, however, that the North Carolina combo was a trio when it made its full-length vinyl debut. The band’s self-titled first album came out in 1990 on former R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt’s short-lived label Dog Gone, and was M.I.A. for years. The double disk Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13) rescues that LP from oblivion, adding the Jets’ 1985 cassette-only EP In Stereo and a plethora of outtakes from the original Flat Duo Jets sessions. The addition of bass grounds singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow a bit, reigning in their wild-eyed Reagan-era rockabilly just enough to make it surge with power, like a tightly-coiled spring. Covers of the usual early rock suspects (Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson) sidle up to a handful of originals, but the real surprises come in the outtakes. Besides the rockabilly and R&B, Romweber knocks out the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne,” the ridiculous but challenging “Bumble Bee Boogie” and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s gypsy jazz classic “Minor Swing.” It’s a reminder that Romweber is not, and has never been, a primitive, but a musician of unheralded skill.

 

Tom Heyman’s rock & roll creds are impeccable due to his membership in the long-gone, much-missed Go To Blazes. He’s kept more to a rootsy singer/songwriter vibe since then, but Show Business, Baby (Bohemian Neglect), his fourth album, pulls some of his mojo back in. Like a stripped-down Tom Petty, Heyman lets “Show Business,” “All Ears” and “Baby Let Me In” get loose ‘n’ lively like John Fogerty jamming with the 70s Stones. Boston’s Dirty Truckers get more medieval on roots rock’s ass with latest EP Tiger Stripes (Rum Bar). “Human Contact” and “Feedback” sound like they come from a lost mid-period Replacements album. Leader Tom Baker proved his rock & roll bonafides with this year’s Lookout Tower via his other band the Snakes, and Tiger Stripes upholds the same virtues: melody + energy = coooool.

Any punk knows the SoCal milieu in the early 80s was a thriving thrash & roll metropolis equal to the 70s scenes in New York, Detroit and the U.K. Symbol Six didn’t attain the same repute as peers like the Adolescents, Agent Orange and Black Flag, but when the band resurrected itself a few years ago, it was with the same brute strength and righteous rage as it had thirty years prior. Side Four (Jailhouse), the third album by the group since its revival, is simply a powerhouse, from Phil George’s battering drums to Tony Fate’s wall of guitar crunge to Eric Leach’s Alice Cooperesque howl. It helps that the band has a strong batch of songs to which to apply its mojo – “Cold Blood,” “Really Doesn’t Matter” and the cheeky “Megalomaniac” scan as catchy as crunching. Fate’s acoustic instrumental title tune and tape collage “Mellotron” allow quick chances to breath, but otherwise Side Four breathes fire from beginning to end. Eric Leach (pictured above) also has a solo album out; surprisingly, Mercy Me (self-released) eschews blazing punk & roll for tasteful roots rock. Comparable to the 80s roots rock scare, the songs on Mercy Me benefit from Leach’s evident sincerity, no-bullshit attitude and his remarkable voice, which adapts to this music better than you might think.

If Tales From the Megaplex (Saustex) is any indication, Count Vaseline (Stefan Murphy to his mom) sees no difference between 60s garage rock, 70s New Yawk proto punk and rockabilly. The former Dubliner/current Atlantean simply bangs out his rock ditties, most of less than two minutes long, without a jot of regard for genre, sensibility or public opinion. Plenty of wit and personality, though, from the dry shade of “Hail Hail John Cale” (“Lou Reed died wishing he could be John Cale”), the wishful thinking of “Texas Band” and the cheeky mystery of “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What Are You On?” (“I’m on ecstasy and I really want to tell you some jokes”). At eight songs in less than fifteen minutes, it’s a very efficient use of one’s rock & roll time. Pittsburgh’s Carsickness took the eclectic, late 70s punk model of the Clash and pushed into artier directions. 1979-1982 (Get Hip) shows off the quintet’s singleminded focus, mixing fractured rhythms, free jazz histrionics and pure punk power together for a knee-twisting blast of spasmodic fury. The raging “Plastic Beauty” and the seething “Bleeding” demonstrate that “rock” need not compromise for “art.”

Joey Skidmore is one of those rock & roll true believers who’s been knockin’ around the leather jackets/blue jeans underground for years. So many, in fact, that the Missouri rocker compiled a two-disk anthology covering his 37 (!) years of service. Mostly produced by the venerable Lou Whitney, may he rest in peace, Rollin’ With the Punches: The Best of Joey Skidmore (self-released) ranges from exuberant roots rock to raging power rock, all of it united by Skidmore’s rich baritone, love of guitars and enthusiastic songwriting. Divided into a “best of” disk and a “worst of” (i.e. rarities, EP tracks and unreleased stuff from the vaults), Rollin’ With the Punches never flags in its pursuit of a rockin’ good time. Skidmore may be an unknown quantity to many people, but with Nikki Sudden, Eric Ambel and members of Jason & the Scorchers, the Skeletons, the Morells and even Black Oak Arkansas making appearances and a covers pallet that runs the gamut from Chuck Berry to Blue Oyster Cult, you know he’s got the goods.

And speaking of faith-keepers, one of Finland’s greatest musical exports has also decided the time is right for a career-wide retrospective, as Michael Monroe, ex-Hanoi Rocks, rounds up nearly thirty tracks from his life outside of Hanoi for the simply titled The Best (Spinefarm). He divides the disks into the times between stints with Hanoi, with the first disk covering the mid-80s to the early ‘aughts, and the second disk hitting his recent years since Hanoi’s second shutdown in 2009. Though the first disk shows the influence of the time period in which a lot of it was recorded, Monroe’s rock & roll vision – a wickedly hooky blend of glam rock, punk and heartland rock refined in New York, L.A. and London, as well as his home country – stays consistent throughout. Disk two cuts like “Goin’ Down With the Ship,” “The Ballad of the Lower East Side” and “Trick of the Wrist” sound superior to these ears – there’s nothing like the buzz of a late career renaissance, when an artist has both reignited enthusiasm and savvy experience on his side. But that’s not to deny the powerhouses on disk one, including “Where’s the Fire John,” “Life Gets You Dirty” and the immortal classic “Dead, Jail or Rock N Roll.” Hell, the inclusion of four songs from Monroe’s sadly short-lived early 90s act Demolition 23, whose lone album is a bear to find, nearly make this a must-have on their own. Essential.

***

Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:

Carsickness – Bandcamp:

https://gethiprecordings.bandcamp.com/album/1979-1982

Th Dirty Fences – “One More Step”:

https://soundcloud.com/greenwayrecords/one-more-step-ft-christina

The Dirty Truckers – Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tiger-stripes

Five Horse Johnson – Bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/jake-leg-boogie

Tom Heyman – Bandcamp:

htts://tomheyman.bandcamp.com/album/show-business-baby

Mark “Porkchop” Holder – “Captain Captain”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_In-g8HejE

Indonesian Junk – Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/stars-in-the-night

The Knast – “Situation Vacant”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiFNifMynMs

Eric Leach – “Zoom”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPrBErt7xTk

Left Lane Cruiser – “Claw Machine Wizard”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NZzn1nxVIE

James McCann & the New Vindictives – Bandcamp:

https://jamesmccann.bandcamp.com/

Michael Monroe – “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xdt3vqHyT0

Raspberries trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNiEDetN9ik

Joey Skidmore – “Carnival Kids”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D6ae3VV8V0

Sweet Apple – “World I’m Gonna Leave You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCUMnJuVnqo

Symbol Six – “Pay Up Sucka”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdd2SLNFT6o

Travelin Jack – “Keep On Running”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h4xrD0zbdQ

 

 

 

SEE YOU IN HELL: Electric Wizard

Still heavier than Heaven, the British metal icons talk about their ambitious new album, how they keep their songwriting fresh, classic horror films and the contemporary era’s take on horror, and more.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When metal fans want to bang their heads slowly, there’s no shortage of bands practicing brutally heavy riffs, crawling rhythms and darkened atmosphere – the art of doom. Few, however, have honed their craft to as fine a point as Electric Wizard. The Southern England quartet has bludgeoned its amps and eardrums for a quarter of a century, longer than many of their pers, and its distinctive blend of riffs – both musically, in the Black Sabbath/Blue Cheer tradition, and lyrically, in borrowing imagery from horror films and trash cinema of all kinds – has been as much of an influence on subsequent generations of doom metalheads as their forebears.

Recorded in guitarists Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham’s home studio, the band’s ninth LP Wizard Bloody Wizard represents a step forward in its evolution, evoking a homegrown vibe and a more melodic, sensual take, without stinting on the group’s signature heavy. We spoke to Buckingham and band founder Oborn via e-mail about the new album, its seeds, and the way the band uses its signature B-film fetish in its songwriting. (Below: the band’s single “See You in Hell”)

BLURT: The new LP has a clarity to the production and is more direct in general, with a bluesier tone to some of the songs. Was that a deliberate contrast to the lengthier Time to Die?

JUS OBORN: Yeah obviously. It’s a new line-up and that always affects the sound of the band. You always try to play to the strengths of everyone involved. Time To Die has a very muddy production and we weren’t that happy with the sound of it, which is one of the reasons we decided we had to do it ourselves this time. The directness is probably down to our decision to make it fit onto a single piece of vinyl – y’know, 20-22 mins per side. We just felt it would be a challenge to try and tighten up our sound a bit.

EW records always have a very sensual sound to them – even as dark, heavy and aggressive as you can be, it’s not abrasive. It makes the records contrast with other “metal” records.

JO: Haha! Yeah, I guess a lot of metal these days has lost its “sexiness.” I think we have always had this more visceral sound. I always considered us a really, really heavy rock band, and rock was always meant to be more sensual. I mean, in the ’50s, “rock & roll” was  basically a euphemism for fucking.

Was it more fun recording in your own studio at your own pace? Not that you’ve ever seemed to feel any pressure before.

LIZ BUCKINGHAM: Not necessarily more fun, but definitely better. Previously we had to travel quite far to the other studios, and time would be limited. Doing it at our own house has obvious benefits. We had more time to experiment, the atmosphere was more conducive to creating, and it generally just felt right recording in the West Country.

JO: Fun isn’t a word I would associate with Electric Wizard, but it is definitely more satisfying.

Jus, you’re usually seen as the leader and visionary, but you, Liz, have been in the band for longer than anyone except him. What is the songwriting and creative process like for the two of you?

LB: Jus and I create everything together. We’ve got a rather classic songwriting duo relationship. When I joined, I wanted to add to his vision, not change it, so we work well together in that we both generally desire the same end result. All sorts of things inspire me and I will either write it down or record it, then discuss/share it with Justin, then proceed in the creation together. A lot of stuff we create, we do jointly. Even artwork – a lot is half done by me, half by Justin. It’s just how we work. I’m not egotistically driven – I place more importance on the end result as a whole of Electric Wizard.

EW music often dwells in the darkness, but it never seems to be for the sake of depression or pessimism. It’s cathartic, artistic, even defiant. How do dark subjects help with your artistic self-expression?

LB: We create things we love. Our motives are for pleasure. We like dark things, they give us pleasure, so it’s always a celebration of these things. We hate maudlin “poor me” music. When we’re angry it’s aimed at creating music that makes you want to rise out of it and be like “fuck you,” not wallowing in self-pity.

JO: Yeah definitely. I never saw this type of music as depressing. We try to play dark and heavy music that touches on taboo subjects, and it’s a challenge to write music which is “evil,” but not slip into any minor key clichés. I think wringing those kind of emotions is a bit of a cop-out, it’s like Hollywood. Honestly, the music I find most depressing is country and indie type stuff.

The record begins and ends with “See you in hell” – a closing of the circle. Was that planned in advance, or was it a coincidence?

JO: It kinda happened as we went along. We thought it made sense to make the theme cyclical. I hope it pulls together the whole concept of the LP. I like the idea that it hints that maybe this is it – the end. Or are we doomed to just repeat our mistakes forever? The lyrics are definitely more existential on this LP – autobiographical even.

Which songs on the record are the ones you’re most proud of?

JO: Well, it’s a new LP, so right now we are proud of them all. I guess I’m pretty proud we got a solid Detroit groove on “Necromania.”

You’ve made records for over 20 years now. Did you think EW would last this long?

JO: No.

Do you feel any kinship to the rest of the heavy rock scene? Even when EW was lumped in with the so-called “stoner rock” bands, y’all stood out on your own.

JO: We play with a lot of cool bands that we dig a lot, and like I said, we consider ourselves just a really dark and heavy rock band. I guess I feel a lot more of a kinship with older bands, though: Stooges, Venom, Cooper, Sabbath, Hellhammer, etc. But yeah, I guess we have always tried to do our own thing. I never liked the idea that we should be attached to a scene or genre – maybe it’s a geographical thing? The music I like is usually unique and reflects the band and their environment.

The band is well-known for its love of vintage horror movies. What are some favorites?

JO: Well, we love mainly exploitation and sleazy movies, not just horror – I guess what would be called “drive-in” movies. It covers a lot of subjects, y’know – biker movies, women in prison, drugs, kung fu, porno etc. Favorites would be a list of at least a couple hundred movies. All-time greats would include: Psychomania, The Dunwich Horror, The Sinful Dwarf, All The Colors Of The Dark, Vampyros Lesbos, The Devil Rides Out, The Last House On The Left, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue [AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open the Window], Devil’s Angels, Witchfinder General, The Touchables, Vampyres, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, Defiance of Good, Simon, King Of The Witches, The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism [AKA The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum and Castle of the Walking Dead], etc., etc…Honestly, it’s impossible.

LB: …Scream…And Die! [AKA The House That Vanished], Deviation, Alice Or The Last Escapade, Shiver Of The Vampire, Ich, Ein Groupie [AKA Higher and Higher], Mephisto Waltz, Switchblade Sisters, Bury Me An Angel, The Witches Mountain (El monte de las brujas), Le Diable Probablement, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, Invocation Of My Demon Brother

Do you pick out certain movies and decide to write a song based on them, or is your horror movie knowledge more of a general background that always informs the writing?

JO: I don’t think we ever try to write a song based on a movie. It’s more metaphorical – the lyrics are more about us, really. For instance “Dunwich” [from 2007’s Witchcult Today] was meant to use the theme from Lovecraft’s book as a metaphor for isolationism and teenage rebellion in a small rural town, which is where I was raised. I hope our lyrics have a deeper and darker meaning – we are probably more influenced by horror comics and occultists like Aleister Crowley, etc. I think we dig the aesthetic of old horror movies, especially the more psychedelic and tripped out ones, and I really dig the poster art and advertising blurbs: “Cool as the grave from which they rise” – “fighting for survival in the decayed remains of diseased universe” – that kinda stuff.

Horror seems to be having a resurgence in the public consciousness, though it’s a different style than the old-school 60s and 70s horror flicks. What do you think of today’s horror movies, like It Follows, The Babadook, It Comes At Night, The Witch, etc.

JO: No, sorry, I don’t really care for those movies. Some were ok, but I guess it’s not what I like in horror films. I wanna see dungeons, laboratories, hunchbacks, werewolves, screaming virgins – -that kinda stuff. I also prefer a more unhealthy combination of sex and violence – haha!

LB: I saw The Witch, which was alright. I liked the end scene the best. A lot of those movies don’t really have the things that appeal to me. I prefer a more subtle creepy, spookiness and mystery. I don’t like the modern shock tactics or the subject matter a lot of the time.

Liz, you had your own musical history prior to joining EW, including Sourvein. How was joining EW different than your past experience?

LB: Well, my previous bands were bands that either I started myself and/or was the only guitar player and primary songwriter. Even with Sourvein, that had existed in another form before me, I had to start from scratch writing songs, etc. Electric Wizard was already a well-established band, so I came in having to learn someone else’s songs, and there was baggage from the past – two things I wasn’t used to. But other than that, it wasn’t that different. Once I started to contribute creatively, it wasn’t all that different to past experiences.

TRUMP THE HALLS WITH VOWS OF FOLLY: The Fifth (or last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

While America gets nothing but lumps of coal in its collective stocking this year, we’ve at least got some tunes to help drown out the partisan noise. FEATURING: The Beatles (box pictured above), Minus 5, Bloodshot Records, Joseph Washington Jr., Rattlebag, New West Records, Tav Falco, She & Him, the Chipmunks, and more.

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR, FRED MILLS, JOHN B. MOORE, & UNCLE BLURT

***

THE BEATLES – The Christmas Records (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

The Beatles’ Christmas records were initially issued to fend off a growing scandal. In 1963, as their popularity grew in their native Britain, membership in the Beatles’ fan club soared. As a result, the beleaguered staff couldn’t process orders in a timely fashion, leading to angry letters from parents complaining that their daughter had sent in her money order but had not, as yet, received the expected fan club greetings from John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

So Beatles publicist Tony Barrow had an idea; make a quick recording specifically for fan club members and send it out post haste to mollify those who’d had to wait so long for a response from the fan club. A 7-inch flexi disc with Christmas greetings was duly sent out, and proved to be so popular a similar flexi was issued for the next six years.

In 1970, with the Beatles now broken up, the fan club issued one more release; a long playing vinyl album that featured all seven Christmas records (the US version has a particularly nice cover). The recordings then went out of print, but have now finally been officially reissued as The Christmas Records, in a box set of seven-inch records packaged in sleeves that are facsimiles of the originals, with each vinyl record a different color.

First, it must be said that the overall presentation leaves something to be desired. Beatles reissues have often been somewhat lacking; consider the barebones CD releases of the 1980s, some of which barely used up a third of the available time on a CD and featured nothing in the way of liner notes. When some thought is put into a project, the results are wonderful, as in the deluxe edition of this year’s Sgt. Pepper’s reissue, which featured bonus tracks and a superb book (the latter worth the price of the box alone).

Of course the Christmas records aren’t in the same league as Sgt. Pepper’s. And as a vinyl-only release, this would’ve been a smash on Record Store Day. But as a general release, it seems remiss to not at least include a download code, let alone bonus tracks (outtakes of the sessions do exist). One could imagine a CD release with all the Christmas records and bonus tracks, along with a deluxe version featuring a CD, download, and the replica singles and/or vinyl album, along with the extras common to such endeavors (a facsimile program of the Beatles’ 1963 or 1964 Christmas shows, for example). As it stands, this might be a release fans purchase purely for cosmetic reasons; as one wag in an Internet comments thread stated, it’ll be something nice to look at while you listen to the bootleg.

Of course, the sound’s naturally better than on those sometimes crackly bootlegs (often taken from well worn copies of the original flexi discs). The records aren’t “Christmas records” in the sense of featuring conventional holiday songs, but more like greetings from the Beatles to their fans. The first three records (1963 to 1965) are primarily spoken word, and on the first in particular the group sounds dizzy over their success: “At this time last year we were all dead chuffed that ‘Love Me Do’ had got into the Top 20 and we can’t believe really that so many things have happened in between already!” John gushes at one point. Not that they take the proceedings seriously; Paul’s message in 1963 is interrupted when he shouts “Ow!” at one point, someone obviously having playfully whacked him (he also advises fans that the group has gone “right off” jelly babies, the Beatles having been deluged with the sweets after mentioning their fondness for them in an interview).

They offer up parodies of Christmas songs between the chat, like John’s reworking of the lyrics to “Good King Wenceslas” in 1963, and the off-key rendition of “Jingle Bells” (complete with kazoo) in 1964. In 1965, they perform a bit of “Auld Lang Syne” in the gravelly-voiced style of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” Nothing’s sacred; they lampoon “Yesterday” on the 1965 record as well.

By then they’d clearly become bored with the spoken word format, and their growing proficiency in the studio and interest in experimentation led to subsequent Christmas records becoming more elaborate. For 1966, they devise an aural pantomime, “Everywhere It’s Christmas,” with little sketches showing how the holiday is being celebrated around the world. For 1967 (this writer’s favorite Christmas record), they serve up the short piece “Christmas Time is Here Again” that you really wish they’d fleshed out to a full length number (it’s basically the title repeated five times). There are game show parodies (“Well, you’ve just won a trip to Denver and five others! And also, wait for it — you have been elected as Independent candidate for Paddington!”), silly songs, and a tap dance (by Victor Spinetti, co-star in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!).

It was the last time the four Beatles worked on a Christmas record together. As the Fabs increasingly went their separate ways, in 1968 and 1969 they recorded their contributions individually. In 1968, Paul performs a short “Happy Christmas” song, very much in the style of the numbers he did for The Beatles album (aka The White Album) released that year. George introduces Tiny Tim (yes, that Tiny Tim) who sings “Nowhere Man” as only he can. John offers a bitter recitation about the mistreatment he and Yoko (here referred to as “Two balloons called Jock and Yono) have received, even from “some of their beast friends.”

The 1969 record is essentially the John-and-Yoko show, with the two recorded strolling around the grounds of their home in Ascot (Yoko hopes for a “quiet peaceful ‘70s”) and making improvisational music together. George makes a single statement offering Christmas greetings. Ringo sings a short ditty and plugs his latest film The Magic Christian. Paul, safely ensconced in his own hideaway, sings another sweet, if wistful, Christmas song (even his spoken message has a touch of sadness in it).

There’s also — likely unconscious — a nod to the past, when John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas,” as he did on that very first Christmas record. Certainly so many things “happened in between already” since 1963, and by late 1969 the Beatles were on the verge of becoming history.

These Christmas records bring to light another side to the Beatles: their off the wall humor, and the sense of playfulness that’s even there in the later recordings (it makes perfect sense that George Harrison would want to produce a Monty Python film). It would certainly be a fun blast from the past for the Beatlemaniac in your life. Just make sure they have a turntable handy. ­–Gillian G. Gaar

 

THE MINUS 5 – Dear December LP (5 out of 5 stars)
Yep Roc
www.yeproc.com

Santa Scott McCaughey arrives in his sleigh this season, accompanied by Satan’s Elves, Joe Adragna and Peter Buck (you may have heard of him), plus fellow Northwesterners Kurt Bloch, Tucker Jackson, John Moen, and Kevin McCaughey. A host of guest vocalists turn up as well, among them Mike Mills, Colin Meloy, M. Ward, Chuck Prophet, Kelly Hogan, Ben Gibbard, and the Posies, effectively turning what can nominally be described as a collection of quirky, rocking holiday songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Minus 5’s most recent full-length, 2016’s delightful Of Monkees and Men. Make no mistake, however—in the indie world, Dear December is a superstar-laden offering that’s artistically on par with Band Aid back in the ‘80s.

Highlights? There’s the wall-of-sound magnificence of “Johnny Tannenbaum,” which features Kelly Hogan and her Flat Five bandmate Nora O’Connor handling the girl-group backing vocals. “Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp-Gulp,” with Dressy Bessy’s Tammy Ealon in call-and-response with McCaughey, has a similar Phil Spectorian vibe.  Twangy, poppy “Festival of Lights (Hanukka Song)” has the Mills turn at the mic, the song credits reading “lead vocals by Mike Mills, featuring Mike Mills.” And the garage-rocking guitar raveup that is “I Still Believe in New Year’s Eve” is McCaughey’s way of bidding everyone a happy and safe annum to come.

Hold that thought: With McCaughey in the hospital at the time of this writing, having suffered a significant stroke while on tour, those wishes of cheer take on an additional meaningfulness. We’re sending good tidings right back atcha, Santa Scott.

Dear December, incidentally, was released as a limited edition Black Friday (Record Store Day) title, and it’s rather unusual. Not only is it pressed on snow-white vinyl, it has a detachable outer front cover that has a bunch of pull-apart hinged “windows” that no doubt reveal sundry gifts underneath them. Of course you have to effectively destroy part of the album to partake of those visual treats, so for collectors…. —Fred Mills

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Bloodshot Records 13 Days of Xmas LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Bloodshot Records
www.bloodshot.com

Looking for that perfect Christmas record to get your buddy who pairs his faded Melvins t-shirt with a pair of cowboy boots? The alt country punk rockers at Chicago’s Bloodshot Record’s got ya covered. On 13 Days of Xmas, the label has pulled together a fine collection of brand new holiday songs and a handful of faithful covers of traditional songs, though, aside from Ron Gallo’s “White Christmas,” the latter are hardly well-known. Bloodshot pulls in many of the folks on their roster like The Yawpers, Murder By Death, Ruby Boots, Ha Ha Tonka and others, as well as some friends of the label to make this one work.

Although it’s a fun record, the quality of the songs here vary. For every stellar track like Ruby Boots’ “I Slept Through Christmas,” or Ha Ha Tonka’s “The List,” there’s a too goofy for its own good track like Devil in a Woodpile’s “The Pagan’s Had it Right.”

The record ends on a beautiful high note, with The Yawpers’ “Christmas in Oblivion.” Not for everyone, but ideal for some. —John B. Moore

REO SPEEDWAGON – Not So Silent Night (2 out of 5 stars)
Rhino

www.rhinorecords.com

“C.mon baby deck the halls! It’s the season to be jolly, baby – wipe those tears from your eyes, it’s CHRISTMASTIME!!” So sings the REO Speedwagon vocalist in the classic rock icons’ take on “Deck the Halls,” revved up to boogie levels and with plenty of musical and lyrical tangents included. Reverent, they ain’t —which, depending on your personal inclinations towards covers of holiday standards, is either refreshing or ghastly. “Winter Wonderland” gets a complete overhaul as well, done up kind of like a Chicago blues, and not all that convincingly, either. (REO Speedwagon is the least bluesy band on the planet.) Me, I tend to prefer traditional renditions, and here, to their credit, the Speedbuggy dudes do indeed serve up their fair share of straightforward covers, including “The Little Drummer Boy” (although it does veer somewhat close to Trans Siberian Orchestra territory), “Blue Christmas,” and “The First Noel.”

Somewhere in the middle of all this is the over-the-top, partly orchestral “Happy Xmas (War Is Over,” which does hit that timeless melody that John and Yoko penned all those eons ago, but ultimately comes off like a rehearsal session for “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” including the gooey backing vocals. Still, it’s well-meaning, and I’m not in a Grinchy mood today, so I’ll give the guys an extra star here. Included is a bonus track, “We Three Kings,” that was not on the original 2009 release of the album. —Fred Mills

 

JOSEPH WASHINGTON JR. – Merry Christmas to You From Joseph LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Numero Group
www.numerogroup.com

Blues/funk/soul bassist Washington has a relatively slim back catalog, but those few records that did slip out apparently fetch fairly respectable prices on the collectors’ market, including 1983’s Merry Christmas to You From Joseph, originally issued on the S&P Music label (which itself appears to be fairly obscure). The ever-diligent archivists at Numero Group, acclaimed for their “Eccentric Soul” volumes and other excursions into the funk and soul hinterlands, have rescued this minor gem in time for this year’s Yule tidings; it was made available – on vinyl –  for the Record Store Day Black Friday event.

What’s unique about Washington’s nine-song set is that the music, while somewhat dated, is all original, so rather than yet another tired chorus of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” you get a peppy slice of funk titled “Rudolph.” Okay, admittedly, Washington nicks most of the original ode’s lyrics, turning extemporaneous in a few spots, and the combination of familiarity and freshness makes the tune fairly compelling. Several of the songs, like “Merry Christmas,” are standard-fare early ‘80s soul, which is to say, not so compelling; the early ‘80s wasn’t particularly kind to the soul oeuvre, Michael Jackson’s reign notwithstanding. But when Washington bears down with da fonk — the bouncy boogie that is “Shopping,” the jazzy, vibraphone-tinged  “Snowing In the East on Christmas” which boasts some positively kooky vocals — he’s inspiring. Whatever happened to this cat? —Fred Mills

RATTLEBAG – A Rattlebag Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
Self-Released
www.facebook.com/rattlebagmusic

The kids have just found out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus (and like dominos knocking again each other, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc.); like an idiot, you bought them the wrong game console for Christmas and grandma sent socks and underwear again. Have we got a festive soundtrack for you!

Rattlebag’s gloriously loud and equally funny four-song entry to the Christmas music market, A Rattlebag Christmas, is the punk rock holiday record everyone from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedy’s forgot to make. Through distorted power chords and bellowed out off-key vocals, the band churns through “Jingle Bless,” “Deck the Halls,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Auld Lang Syne,” all in record time.

Rattlebag provides the ideal soundtrack to those likely getting fuck all for Christmas this year. —John B. Moore

VARIOUS ARTISTS – An Americana Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
New West
www.NewWestRecords.com

Giving a nod to both Americana’s elder statesmen and the up-and-comers, New West Records – easily one of the genres best labels going right now – has one of the freshest takes on Christmas albums. Despite some solid contributions by Bob Dylan, The Band and Johnny Cash, aside from John Prine’s brilliantly original number “Everything is Cool,” the real standouts here come from New West’s newer artists like Robert Ellis’s cover of “Pretty Paper” and Nikki Lane’s beautifully twangy “Falalalalove You” (Patsy Cline’s heir apparent?). While Christmas albums nowadays are as stale as a plate of Gingerbread cookies left out until April, An Americana Christmas is a refreshing take on the seasonal record.  —John B. Moore

A TAV FALCO CHRISTMAS LP (4 out of 5 stars)
Org Music / Frenzi
www.orgmusic.com / www.tavfalco.com

Memphis raconteur, filmmaker, photographer, and author Tav Falco is known far and wide as the guiding light of Panther Burns, that proto-Americana, R&B-championing outfit that once featured the late Alex Chilton as a member. For A Tav Falco Christmas he’s joined by bassist Mike Watt, drummer/sleighbellsman Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and pianist Francesco D’Agnolo, and we are advised that the ensemble hunkered down at Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in early July—which, if you know anything about Memphis in the summer, is the least likely time of year when one would find oneself “getting into” the Christmas spirit.

But maybe working through this eight-song set of holiday staples and a handful of semi-obscure R&B Christmas standards worked some seasonal magic, because the music is, in a word, cool. Sammy Cahn’s slow, strutting “Christmas Blues,” in particular, is for all you finger-snapping, whistling hepcats, while a twangy, countrypolitan “Jingle Bell Rock” is guaranteed to have even the most stalwart Scrooge—such as yours truly, who is on record as not being a huge fan of Christmas records—joining in, no guilty pleasuredom needed.

Throughout, Falco is in fine voice, his Southern near-drawl adopting a Presley-like classy croon on tracks like “Blue Christmas” and Lieber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” He’s nicely abetted by backing vocalists Lahna Deering and Tiffany Harmon, and the entire ensemble seems to revel in truly inhabiting the material. The LP, released for Record Store Day Black Friday 2017, is a limited edition (1000 copies) red vinyl gem, a perfect visual representation the holiday season. Christmas does come in July after all. —Fred Mills

 

SHE & HIM – A Very She & Him Christmas (4 out of 5 stars)
Merge
www.mergerecords.com

You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life. —John B. Moore

 

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – Chipmunks Christmas (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

Al-viiiiiin!!!! Okay, give it up for the Chipmunks – you know you wanna. If we’re talking perennials here, this certainly ranks alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas. Don’t scoff. Sure, it’s nowhere near as “listenable” on a repeat-spin basis as Vince Guaraldi’s holiday classic, and in truth, hearing “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” only once or twice a year is plenty for me. Novelty-tilting though it certainly is, Chipmunks Christmas has a certain timeless quality that can turn anyone into a kid again, if only for 2 ½ minutes. And that’s something that not even those ghastly latterday Chipmunks movies (Chipwrecked, anyone?) can take away.

EMI and other labels have repackaged the Chipmunks frequently over the years – as a child, I owned the original 10-song vinyl LP – and this iteration boasts 18 squeaky, freaky tracks guaranteed to put an ironic smile on any hipster’s face while simultaneously making his or her significant other’s skin crawl. Such was the genius of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who originally launched his anthropomorphic rodents in 1958 and took ‘em to the top of the charts, to the Grammys, and to the bank: for better or for worse, the Chipmunks had a little something for everyone, and still do. — Fred Mills

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album  (1 out of 5 stars)
Sony/Legacy
www.legacyrecordings.com)

This is my personal gift to Donald J. Trump and his lovely hostage, er, wife, Melania. Consumers, beware: if you purchase this — based on its title and the roster of contributors, which includes bonafide “hard rockers” like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Journey’s Neal Schon, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford — expecting the proverbial rock-with-your-Christmas-cock-out, flic-your-Santa-Bic arena-anthem fest, you’re gonna get a stockingful of coal. Only Halford’s blazing, rapid-fire “We Three Kings” and the Nuge’s stomping “Deck the Halls” even remotely qualify here as “hard rock” (in truth, the latter could actually qualify for a Ramones-styled Christmas collection… but I digress).

Everything else, and I say this as a fan of several of these fret wizards, might surface in an alternate dimension’s version of a Windham Hill holiday album. My hero Jeff Beck scores points for his blue note-laced “Amazing Grace,” but what’s up with those sappy chorale singers? Ditto Schon’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its New Agey keyboards and barely-there puffs of percussion; don’t stop believin’ in the dude’s skills, but if you run into him, feel free to ask him what the hell kinda mistletoe was he smokin’ when he cut the tune. And okay, to be fair, Satch – that’s Joe Satriani to all you Coldplay fans – and his somewhat fiery “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam” is indeed marginally “jamming” in traditional J.S. fashion, but “Surfing With The Saviour,” this is not; it’s just a wank-fest. Only aging bleached blondes with their sagging artificial tits and their bemulleted weightlifter trophy husbands — plus the stray Rush nerd who never got laid — need apply.

A classic example of a record label marketing an angle without actually determining what the “angle” might be, The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album is part of a larger series that includes worthy titles from Frank Sinatra (reviewed above), Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and even Kenny G. There is a companion released titled The Classic Christmas Pop Album boasting contributions from… drumroll please… Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block and Big Time Rush, along with semi-credible artists Phantom Planet, Glasvegas and Los Lonely Boys. Ironically, the so-called pop community’s take on “classic Christmas” is a zillion times more vital, and inspiring, than the hard rockers. O my once-hero, Jeff Back, how far you’ve fallen. —Uncle Blurt

 

Below, check out the colored wax from the Minus 5 and Tav Falco camps – THAT’s the kind of holiday cheer we like to spread around here! – Ed.

A MUSICIAN’S GUIDE TO BALANCE: Eva Misle

“It can’t be all music/all the time”: The L.A.-based singer/songwriter—and, it turns out, certified EMT—weighs in on the importance of hobbies, spare time, and personal goals. (First in a new series at BLURT in which we talk to artists about everything BUT music.)

BY G. KAYA

Balance is arguably the most important ingredient to a fulfilling life.  Some consider straying from their career to pursue other hobbies and interests (success-suicide), while others consider it an integral part of their creative process. The practice of walking away and letting go to give your brain time to form healthy strategies to accomplish goals is paramount.  For instance, many great thinkers, artists, and business gurus have shared how important their morning rituals are; journaling, meditating, soaking in freezing cold water for ten seconds before starting the day, and even playing video games have been said to improve mental capacity.

This art of not obsessing… or rather, the art of taking yourself out of your obsessiveness when it arises, is as important as what you’re obsessing about.  A common correlation amongst the greats seem to be the way they spend their spare time. I invited Eva Misle to share some of her thoughts on the subject. (Below, listen to Misle’s hit “Over U.”)

BLURT: How important are your ‘other interests’ and hobbies, outside of your music career?
EVA MISLE: If you’re like me and you have many different interests, you have to do your best to keep up and satiate those other interests so that you feel like you’re getting the most out of life. My favorite things outside of music are hiking, going to the movies, happy hour with friends… I have done some acting and improv—I love comedy, also love martial arts. I’ve done kickboxing, boxing, Muay Thai, Krav Maga, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I like painting pottery, crocheting blankets, and I’ve been known to make some awesomely unique bedazzled shoes.  I’m an artsy person, I think it’s a lifestyle. Any art form requires constant practice and learning. Whether I’m doing martial arts, creating things with my hands, or practicing piano or vocals, I think it all exercises the “artsy” part of the brain. It helps keep you sharp and motivated.

Is that where you draw inspiration?  How important are your hobbies to the musical process?
I draw inspiration from everywhere. Every person needs some positive outlets outside of their career. It can’t be all music/all the time for me. You need breaks to recharge and explore other interests. Other unrelated forms of art can actually be indirectly helpful to the music.  You need a healthy balance between career and personal life, especially in this business, which can be more emotional—with those big highs and lows and constantly feeling on the edge, it can be quickly draining. You need to have that healthy balance.

Can you give an example of an extreme high? An extreme low?
When my song Not My Daddy feat. Gucci Mane reached #8 on the Billboard dance charts and I received a plaque that’s still hanging in my kitchen. And a big low would be expecting to go on a huge tour opening for a big name but didn’t happen. But it helps to grow thicker skin.  I’ve learned not to get too excited until you know it’s 100% happening.

Are there any spiritual exercises you do when you’re feeling down or overexcited to come back to earth and keep a steady stride?
I have to stay busy and attempt to keep some balance of other things to keep me distracted from my own obsessive thoughts. I need to get inspired to get out of the circus in my head.  I enjoy volunteering, I like feeding the homeless, I love working as an EMT and helping others in a fast-paced emergency situation. It definitely helps give me more purpose in life when I put my energy toward greater causes. It’s inspiring and motivating when you can get out there, do something different, make a change, and see the world from other perspectives. Finding a higher cause that is greater than yourself can be life-changing if you put your energy toward the right opportunities.

Can you offer any tips for how to deal with the extreme highs? Extreme lows?
Everyone needs to have some positive coping mechanisms in their lives. Even if just some temporary distraction from whatever is going on, you need to keep a balance. For me, I like to have other stuff going on besides just music, big or small; it’s helpful, because that way I’m not fully sucked in at all times. Like my craftiness, I like to make things with my hands. Or set a fitness goal to work toward like a triathlon, hike challenge, or engaging in other part-time interests, like working as an EMT or volunteering with the fire department. For the extreme highs, I’ve learned that you have to really soak in and live in those moments. Appreciating those high times are important because they come and go, but holding onto them will help keep you motivated.

If you had to pick one other career path other than music, what would it be?
It’s completely different from music, but I really enjoy being a first responder in emergency situations. I am currently a certified EMT, and if I weren’t doing music I’d probably continue on to become a paramedic in the fire department.

Any personal goals you’ve set for yourself recently?
I’ve been dying to go to the taping of an Ellen DeGeneres show!

You can check out more of Eva on her website, and follow her Instagram and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The National Live in D.C.

Berninger & Co., supporting the recent Sleep Well Beast, had a sold-out crowd December 5 at the Anthem venue willing to follow them anywhere. (Photos follow the review.)

PHOTOS & TEXT BY ERICA BRUCE

The National’s Matt Berninger sounded more hoarse than usual at the sold out Anthem here in Washington, DC on Tuesday night. Hard to believe, as Berninger’s signature voice is usually like a more melodic Tom Waits. But like Waits, the extra rasp pushed the needle a bit more on the band’s often-melancholy lyrics, the voice breaking in all the right spots. It gave songs like “Empire Line” and “Slow Dancing in the Gym” more emotion, if that’s possible.

The scratchiness didn’t stop Berninger from his usual quips, political commentary, expressive lyric-screams, or the band’s intensity. The National are masters of the slow-burn song, the kind that starts out relatively simple then evolves into something breath-catchingly massive in terms of sound. This was, and has been largely thanks to the drumming of Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf was bathed in the darkest of the dark spots on the Anthem stage, but his presence was spotlight bright; his tribal pounding with a jazz skip is the band’s secret weapon, tapping into one’s neurotransmitters, making it visceral.

The band as a whole aren’t super active onstage and were darkly lit Tuesday, at times almost removing themselves physically to let the songs stand on their own. As the music swirled and tumbled about the ears, the audience was treated to very simple menageries of colors on the large screens behind the stage, at times looking like the splotches of a Pollock painting, at times the simplicity of a Mondrian. The latter could look cheap in the wrong hands, but the visuals were almost a pictorial representation of the music. During the moody “Lemonworld,” there were three black boxes on screen rimmed in green, with two random straight lines through them. It was not super interesting to see but it seemed to perfectly set the tone of the song.

The National didn’t remove themselves completely though. Berninger, who has a habit of heading into the crowd during a show, did just that during “Day I Die” and the encore-ending Ramones’ cover, “KKK Took My Baby Away” (which he dedicated to the “illegitimate white supremacist moron near here”). Some singers do that but are accompanied by security-not Berninger. He moved alone through the 6,000 person audience, full of faith in his fans that he’d be safe. He would have probably scaled the walls up into the balcony as he’s done before here at Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) Hall, but given the height of the first audience boxes at the Anthem, it’s probably better he didn’t.

Nine of the set’s 24 songs were from the latest release, Sleep Well Beast, but the show had a few interesting inclusions. The set started with “Santa Clara,” a song off of The Virginia EP that they’d only played in Lisbon and Amsterdam previously, but had to be scrapped due to what seemed to be an issue with Berninger’s in-ear monitor (“We’ll try it in Montreal,” he quipped). The encore kicked off with “Rylan,” a song from the early National days that has never been formally released. The Ramones cover of course (I heard someone say, “The National are the least likely band I ever expected to cover The Ramones” after the show). Nice to see a band who could just get by with the favorites still like to mix it up a bit.

The band even showed some love about the venue, which only opened in October. Said guitarist Bryce Dessner about Anthem, “Thank you so much, this place is really incredible. You guys are lucky, there aren’t many venues like this.” A unique venue for a unique band, and a crowd willing to follow them anywhere—that was The National at the Anthem last Tuesday.

 

Trump-Shifting: Morrissey Live in D.C.

The Mozzer got all anthemic at Anthem in Washington, DC, November 30. Exclusive photos follow the review.

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY ERICA BRUCE

There was a lot of pondering in DC, right up to the time Morrissey came out on stage at the Anthem last Thursday, as to whether or not we’d actually get to see him perform that night. “Will he or won’t he appear?” has become the question one asks when buying Morrissey tickets over the last couple years, given the number of performances he’s cancelled. Apprehension about that and his recent comments about Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein kept some away. But for those who did go, the Pope of Mope did in fact show, full of the usual pomp and swagger for which he’s known and adored.

Kicking off the night with a cover of Elvis Presley’s “You’ll Be Gone,” the band, clad in matching “Animal Rights Militia” t-shirts, sounded great. And Morrissey and his unmistakable croon, though a little raspy at times, still sounded as lovely as always. But energy was seriously lacking from the Mozz, and he seemed to just be going through the motions. It wasn’t until song 16, “Jack the Ripper,” of the 20 song set that Morrissey seemed to finally and fully turn on and connect with the audience, much like he flipped a switch. Maybe it was seeing the countless number of hands outstretched to him, illuminated by the plethora of white smoke that filled the stage behind him during “Jack” that inspired him (which looked really cool by the way—there was so much smoke you couldn’t even see the band members and only saw Morrissey in silhouette).

Or maybe it was the huge roar from the crowd and the sea of electronics pointed toward the stage recording the minute that iconic intro to “Everyday is like Sunday” started that inspired him. (He even shook things up a bit, substituting, “Tell me Quando QuandoQuando” in place of the “every day is silent and grey” lyric.)

By the time he got to the set-ending “I’m Not Sorry,” he walked along the lip of the stage, touching the hands of those in the front row…and flanked by two security guys on either side of the stage, just in case anyone was so enthusiastic they pulled the Mozz down or themselves up on stage (“This happens a lot,” I was told by management). And it did happen, during the first song of the encore, “Suedehead,” when a kid managed to get up onstage and hug Mozz (which inspired at least three more to try as well, who were not as successful).

When the band returned for the encore and someone held out a vinyl record from the crowd, Morrissey took it and signed it right there. Given the full minute he took writing, it’s probable he wrote a small novel on the cover, which was neat to watch.

“If we’re all protected, I’ll see you soon,” said Morrissey before the last song of the night, “Shoplifters of the World Unite.” Changing the title to “Trump-Shifters of the World Unite” and an imitation of the Years of Refusal cover on the big screens with him holding a baby Donald Trump, Morrissey went out being Morrissey. And, as a final thank you to the faithful, he took off his shirt and threw it into the audience, causing a mad scrum to ensue.  Divas gotta diva, but it’s Morrissey, you wouldn’t want him any other way.

 

 

MAPPING IT OUT: The Clientele

UK outfit returns with first full-length in nearly a decade—and in fine form, too.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

To become a London cabbie, drivers must past an exhaustive test referred to as “the Knowledge.” It can take years to master the 25,000 streets the exam can cover, including not only names and directions but a good portion of what’s on them, from neighborhood parks and mini-monuments to corner pubs and restaurants.

In their own way, and over the course of six glistening LPs of romantic psych pop, the London-by-way-of-Hampshire band The Clientele has also mapped out London and environs, using geography to spark memory, and through it chart an audio cartography. As British in their own right as those black cabs, the Clientele’s Autumnal melodies, surrealist imagery and lush arrangements create their own state of transport.

That goes for the band’s first full-length in nearly a decade, Music for the Age of Miracles, too, issued by North Carolina’s Merge label. Drop the needle on the bewitching layered harmonies and strings of “Lunar Days,” for instance, and the song drops you in November London where “you’re lost in the leaves” and the “beaten copper tongues” ring through the cavernous streets. The song is a meditation on the city’s ghost-town-at-night financial center — “I walked along the street with no one home/Lamps no one lit, roads no one drove,” Alasdair MacLean sings — but captures the LP’s predominant alone-in-a-crowd vibe.

But MacLean’s narrators—often insomniacs, judging by their nightly perambulations—actually rarely walk alone. They navigate the city’s streets and alleyways in demi-dream states where church bells, local parks and night skies serve as compass points for specific reminiscences. Song tempos even convey brisk walks or contemplative strolls, and the “constellations echo lanes, the pylons and the still parade,” as one song puts it. Lyrics recall old friends, ex-lovers and younger selves, forming a Sixth Sense-like procession of familiar faces, places and events that simultaneously highlights and dilutes the city’s anonymity. On “Falling Asleep,” over a plucked nylon-string guitar and the exotic notes of a santoor (a Persian dulcimer), these “dream-like” states provide the ghosts “of remembered chords/which still can make such radiance.”

And at their best here, The Clientele combine these memory-inducing locales and wistful melodies into truly sparkling moments. Opening track “The Neighbour” is all jangly guitars and soaring harmonies, an “evening’s hymn” where the “crowds thinned out until we were alone.” “Everyone You Meet” adds elegant horns and strings (arranged everywhere by new band member Anthony Harmer) to the blend, creating a tableau where it seems perfectly reasonable that master musician Orpheus would be “singing through the wires.” The ecstatic title track weds memorable images — “Swallows wheel from sun-bleached eaves/Trucks glow on peripheries”—to a beatific melody and, in the process, wraps up themes which have been threading their way through the entire LP. Propelled by James Hornsey’s full-neck bass runs and more horn fanfares and strings, “The Age of Miracles” celebrates the reflective hours when we reshuffle our sense of self and exhale with the rest of the city’s denizens — “Lately I’ve been living like I’m so far away/Like I’m somebody else/In some other place,” MacLean notes before finding in the city a rebirth through music and the simple “dance of our days.”

The band pushes out from their comfort zone on “Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself,” which replaces guitars with arpeggiated harp runs and adds programmed drums and a brass section for a slightly dubby feel; file under interesting if unnecessary experiment. At the other end of the spectrum, MacLean’s reading of an as-yet-unpublished novel excerpt on “The Museum of Fog” is a conceit that mirrors—too closely, it turns out—”Losing Haringey” from 2005’s Strange Geometry. The story of current MacLean stumbling upon a pub where 16-year-old MacLean first got turned on to live music is a thematic fit, and the music strolls by pleasantly enough. But the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to an interesting—or unique—whole.

Those are minor outliers, though, on a record that suggests a decade off hasn’t dulled the Clientele’s strengths. On the contrary, Miracles highlights the band’s ongoing ability to transport us fully into its world—to offer us its version of the Knowledge, if you like. And as the LP title suggests—in nuanced irony, of course—music today may be digitized, compressed and sent whooshing through the ether at a button-click or swipe, but it’s what it does on the receiving end that’s still the real miracle.