Monthly Archives: February 2019

BANGLES/DREAM SYNDICATE/THREE O’CLOCK/RAIN PARADE: 3×4 (2LP, colored vinyl)

Album: 3x4 (2LP, colored vinyl)

Artist: BANGLES/DREAM SYNDICATE/THREE O'CLOCK/RAIN PARADE

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: February 22, 2019

www.yeproc.com

The Paisley Underground finally goes overground in a long overdue tribute to… itself!

BY FRED MILLS (vinyl photo from the author’s collectionI)

This gem, from the estimable Yep Roc Records, whose equally estimable David Shaw spearheaded the project, is nominally titled “3 x 4,” and of course if you consider that it has American rock heroes Rain Parade, The Dream Syndicate, The Bangles, and The Three O’Clock all covering each other, three tracks apiece, the title is technically accurate.

One might alternatively propose, however, that the project is  ∞ x 5 since the sonic ramifications are so much more than the sum of its parts. Let us duly note that the four bands enlisted for submissions are not only temporally, geographically, and (reasonably) stylistically linked, and therefore, we presume, more than just a little familiar with one another’s respective oeuvres; their aesthetic and philosophical roots are more than just a little in synch. These are, after all, among the rock ‘n’ roll badasses that populated the early/mid ‘80s SoCal Paisley Underground. Admittedly, in their time the Bangles took their tunefulness to the bank to a degree considerably more lucratively than the others, but if you fast-forward to 2019, everyone involved has earned a degree of musical stature and industry respect that will leave ‘em all with some terrific stories to tell the grandkids.

There is literally not a duff note heard over the course of the two platters, and if I were to single out any tracks they would be the staggering cover of DS’ “When You Smile” by Matt Piucci and his gang; the Bangles very nearly out-DS’g the DS with their throbbing “That’s What You Always Say”; and of course the Steve Wynn-helmed crew (who?) covering timeless RP gem “You Are My Friend.” Writes Wynn, of the tune, in the copious liners to this brilliant, colored vinyl, must-own David Shaw-overseen project, “This song broke my heart when it came out…”

Steve, me too. As did all of you folks in the bands every time you released a record. The paisley underground community was very much a real entity, and not just a journalistic label, that spread far and wide. Thank you forever from my pointed little head.

 

Rumor has it that one can acquire this on digital devices or play it on an outdated technology referred to by some as “compact disc,” but why would you? See the photo above for reference and, yes, you are welcome.

DOWNLOAD: This is the kind of release you need to grab every song and listen to them one-by-one and back-to-back. Then go track down the original versions – I’ll be glad to make a Spotify playlist for ya if you’re lazy….

 

CASPAR BRÖTZMANN MASSAKER – The Tribe + Black Axis

Album: The Tribe + Black Axis

Artist: CASPAR BRÖTZMANN MASSAKER

Label: Southern Lord

Release Date: January 18, 2019

http://southernlord.com/

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When the Caspar Brötzmann Massaker appeared in the late eighties, there was no real precedent for what the Berlin trio was doing. The son of German free jazz icon Peter Brötzmann, Caspar wields his guitar like you’d expect the scion of an energy music pioneer to do – bluntly, using riffs like bludgeons and solos like scythes to cut down anything foolish enough to stand in his way. But there’s a stentorian vibe to his music as well, a kind of Teutonic grit that gives the trio’s rhythms – provided by bassist Eduardo Delgado Lopez and a series of drummers – a machine-like cadence reminiscent of industrial music. Drawing equally from Sonny Sharrock and Einstürzende Neubauten, the Massaker made one hell of a noise.

The CBM was originally introduced to a wider audience through 1993’s Koksofen, a rumbling, roaring powerhouse that was the band’s first LP to get a wide issue outside of its home country. But there were three albums that came before, and underground metal label Southern Lord has done old school fans – indeed, anyone who loves avant-garde rock – a favor with a new reissue campaign.

Originally released in 1988 only in Germany, The Tribe presents the trio in formative form. “Paul,” “Bonkers Dance” and the title track feature a healthy postpunk influence and more of Brötzmann’s flattened Eurocroon that would appear in future. “The Call” eschews singing completely, but it too betrays its Reagan years creation, especially with its chorused guitar tone. “Time” and “Massaker” again put the leader at the mic a bit too often, but musically they move into the hallmarks of the CBM: epic song lengths, repetitive structures and a brutal attack based in noise, jazz and doom metal. The sound of the band’s early efforts might be a something of a surprise to fans who only know the group’s American releases – the relatively accessible rhythms and frequency of vocals would make it seem like someone else if not for the raging guitar solos. Diehards might not consider them prime CBM, but they’ve still got power and style to spare, and when Brötzmann puts plectrum to Strat they’re difficult to resist.

Black Axis, again released only in Germany, this time in 1989, is where it all snaps into place. Leadoff “Die Tiere” filters Jimi Hendrix through a machinist filter, but “Hunter Song” puts it all together: drillbit lead lines, jazzhammer drumming, howling feedback, angry muttering and a relentless atmosphere of doom, gloom and ka-boom. “Böhmen” and “Tempelhof” follow suit, consolidating the group’s vision into tracks that flow between foreboding and freaking the fuck out. An odd break in the action, “Mute” absorbs a rhythmic attack that, in another light and angle, might be mistaken for funk, before Brötzmann’s axe overwhelms it. But it all comes down to the title cut, a  near-fifteen minute, pitch-black distillation of six-string chaos and doom-laden rumble makes nearly everything the band had done before sound like practice.

Given the band’s improvisational, live-in-studio recording, you’d think there would be outtakes a-plenty that could be used as bonus tracks. That’s not the route Southern Lord took, however, preferring instead to present the records as they were when first issued thirty years ago. A fair tack, since these records were difficult to find by American fans turned on by Koksofen. Easy to find at last, these opening salvos make clear that the Caspar Brötzmann Massaker hammered out a distinctive sound even in its formative beginnings.

DOWNLOAD:  The Tribe (3 stars): “Massaker,” “Bonkers Dance,” “Heavens Gate”

Black Axis (4 stars): “Black Axis,” “Hunter Song,” “Templehof”

 

THOMAS ANDERSON – Beyond That Point

Album: Beyond That Point

Artist: Thomas Anderson

Label: Out There

Release Date: October 15, 2018

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/thomasanderson18

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Thomas Anderson has always been one of America’s most literate songwriters. Able to reference various fictional, musical and historical instances without being obnoxious about it, the Oklahoma/Austin musician has proven over and over again that rock & roll can be smart without losing its edge. But his lyrics can be so intelligent and witty it makes one wonder if he’d ever turn his attention to writing an actual book. Beyond That Point, Anderson’s tenth album, takes a few steps toward that dream: half the songs are spoken word pieces set to moody electronic music. In print here the idea may sound cheesy, but Anderson’s prose is so well-crafted and plainspoken – no self-conscious arty wordplay – that pieces like the wry “Beneath the Summer Stars” and the deep and wistful “Dear Angel” hit smartly home. Especially impressive is the five-part “Martian Lore,” a treatise on humanity’s theories about the surface of Mars, from the nineteenth century to now, that’s a historical narrative so fascinating it begs for expansion into book form.

The other half of the record features songs in Anderson’s usual eclectic style. “Corporate Ladder” lampoons business culture with snarling distorto-rock, while “Brenda’s Disco Fur” wraps its urban bad dream in postpunking folk rock. The countrified “God’s Flying Fortress” and balladic “New Dark Ages” would in a fair world be nominated for Americana Music Festival awards, while “Then She Comes Back” ventures into mystical territory that’s almost spiritual. Between this strong set of tunes and the excellent spoken-word pieces, Beyond That Point maintains an artistic balance that requires repeated spins, so one can ponder its mysteries, laugh at its jokes and grok its very soul.

DOWNLOAD: “Martian Lore 1-5,” “The New Dark Ages,” “Dear Angel”

 

ROBERT ELLIS – Texas Piano Man

Album: Texas Piano Man

Artist: Robert Ellis

Label: New West

Release Date: February 15, 2019

www.newwestrecords.com

BY JOHN B. MOORE
Less than a minute into Robert Ellis’ latest, brilliant effort, Texas Piano Man, you can’t shake the feeling that he’s channeling the ghost of Harry Nilsson. Who else besides Ellis, but possibly Nilsson, could manage to take the chorus “I’m fucking crazy” and turn it into a wedding-caliber love song (“Fucking Crazy”)? And that’s just one song in.

Ellis puts down the guitar on his fifth LP and sits behind a piano for an even more relaxed vibe, and his wit still shines through just as strong with this outing. Songs like “Nobody Smokes Anymore” (“the last years of your life are so shitty anyway”) and “Passive Aggressive” are among some of the best he’s written in an already impressive career.

Likely because of the piano, there is a distinct ‘70s vibe to most of the songs here, which just goes to highlight Ellis’ chameleon-like tendency to seamlessly slip in and out of genres, from honky tonk to Americana, folk to rock. He caps off this nearly flawless collection with “Topo Chico,” an ode to Mexican sparkling water that manages to best Nilsson’s “Put the Lime in the Coconut.”

CRUCIAL TRACKS: “Fucking Crazy,” “Topo Chico” and “Nobody Smoked Anymore” (below: for vinyl enthusiasts)

MATS EILERTSEN – And Then Comes the Night

Album: And Then Comes the Night

Artist: Mats Eilertsen

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 01, 2019

www.ecmrecords.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Veteran Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen has more sideperson gigs on his resumé than most of us have had hot dinners – he’s been the go-to guy for Scandinavian jazzers for over twenty years. But he’s also begun to make his mark as a composer and bandleader, as evidenced by 2016’s large ensemble piece Rubicon and his records with his current trio.

His third LP with pianist Harmon Fraanje and drummer Thomas Strønen (Food, Time is a Blind Guide), And Then Comes the Night does an expert job at straddling that fine line between jazz and classical music that European jazz musicians often favor and that ECM showcases so well. “22,” “Soften” and “After the Rain” lean hard on melody, with Fraanje preferring to work variations on the main theme more than spin off into improvisational flights of fancy. The leader works solely in support on these tracks, eschewing solos in favor of creating a foundation for a melancholy atmosphere. “The Void” and “Perpetum” threaten to give in to darkness completely, as Eilertsen weaves mournful arco bass through Fraanje’s minimalist chords on the former and the entire ensemble builds a quiet tower of menacing dissonance on the latter. In the tradition of his pioneering countryman Jon Christensen, Strønen plays around the beat as often as on it, an approach that adds a tension to the hermetic minimalism of “Sirens” that keeps it from floating off into the ether.

Eilertsen and company come full circle by ending the record with a variation on “22,” which, while not a radical departure, re-emphasizes the group’s commitment to its chamber jazz vision.

DOWNLOAD: “22,” “The Void,” “After the Rain”

 

The Goon Sax 11/1/18, Denver

Dates: November 1, 2018

Location: Larimer Lounge, Denver CO

Live at the Larimer Lounge!

BY TIM HINELY

If you haven’t heard the Goon Sax you’d better get on it. This Brisbane, Australia trio, of Louis Forster (son of the Go-Betweens Robert) on guitar/vocals, James Harrison on bass and Riley Jones on drums though they all sing and switch insturments at different times, are creating some of the most unquie pop around. And they’re young cats, too! Just out of high school, I think.

This Thursday night at the Larimer wasn’t super crowded, though it should have been, but it didn’t matter, these three plowed on like they were playng to a packed Fillmore.

They played a nice mix of songs off their two full-lengths, 2016’s Up To Anything (released on Chapter Music) and the recently released We’re Not Talking  (on Wichita Recordings) and showed real confidence and quirkyness that can’t be matched (Harrison had on a almost full-length purple raincoat with finger purple gloves as well) while Forster occasionally snarled in between swoons.  The 8-foot tall Forster also occasionally mumbled things into the mic while Harrison ambled about the stage looking like he was sleep walking and Jones sat quietly on the drum kit doing her thing (and very well I might add).

At different times throughout the set I heard echoes of The Shaggs, the Television Personalities, Raincoats, Swell Maps and yes, early Go B’s (think that Lost Album period).  They opened up with  few from the new album including “Sleep EZ,” “Losing Myself’ and “She Knows” and later, even without the string section, the brilliant “Make Time 4 Love” sounded excellent, a bit grittier but no less potent. Off the debut we heard gems like “Home Haircuts” and “Anyone Else.”  They ended the short (30-ish minute) set with “Til’ The End” and headed straight for the showers or green room (in this the outside patio).

This is no run of the mill pop band, these guys are a special thing indeed. Wise beyond their years and not afraid to take chances (even if they may not realize it). I’d call ‘em fearless even and fearless with terrific songs is a great combination. Listen (and attend a gig) immediately.

The Who (reissue) / Pete Townshend (reissue) / Roger Daltrey (new album)

Artist: The Who / Pete Townshend / Roger Daltrey

Release Date: October 04, 2019

THE WHO
Live at the Fillmore East 1968
Geffen
www.universalmusicenterprises.com

PETE TOWNSHEND
Who Came First 45th Anniversary Expanded Edition
Universal
www.universalmusicenterprises.com

ROGER DALTREY
As Long As I Have You
Republic Records
www.republic.com

 

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Long live the Who, or at least the legacy that remains. The on-again, off-again alliance of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey notwithstanding, the band as we once knew it, with Keith Moon and John Entwistle powering that formidable rhythm section and adding the flash and finesse makes any attempt to reconvene as The Two pale in comparison.

Indeed, all that’s needed to affirm that premise is found with even a cursory listen to the archival slab of former glories belatedly released as Live at the Fillmore East. It bears witness to the seminal glory of the Who’s glory days gone by. Boasting an ample amount of seminal songs from the band’s early catalog — “I Can’t Explain,” “Happy Jack,” the early min opera and opus “A Quick One (While He’s Away,” and an entire disc devoted to an extended take on, what else, “My Generation” — it fills out the set list with the classic covers that were once given their indelible imprint — “Summertime Blues,” “Fortune Teller” and “Shakin’ All Over.” That early edge and energy, pre Tommy and any other affectations that would come soon after, makes this concert a singular stand-out that is legendary to say the least (bootlegged versions have circulated for decades), as well as one of the few archival examples of the early band live in performance. This is essential Who and a riveting example of all that assured their legendary largess and prowess,

Townshend’s first solo venture, Who Came First, began life as a tribute to his spiritual mentor Meher Baba and consisted mainly of demos of songs destined for the Who’ future catalog while still their seminal states. There were other additives thrown in full good measure — a tender take on the classic standard “There’s a Heartache Following Me” (said to be one of Baba’s Favorites), Small Face/Face bassist Ronnie Lane’s tender tale of reincarnation, “Evolution,” and other early extras that were yet to emerge fully formed. An earlier reissue added a smattering of bonus tracks, all but one of which is repeated here, but for this 45th anniversary edition, an entire disc of extra additives are included, among them, early rough takes on “The Seeker,” and instrumental version of “Baba O’Riley” and a very early version of “Drowned,” a key cut from Quadrophenia. While there was nothing especially earth shattering about Townshend’s first offering — it was more an additive to his bigger vision of the band after all — it still purveys a charm that finds Townshend in both a contemplative state and expressing a vulnerability rarely evidenced amongst the bombast and fury of the essential ensemble.

While he wrote only a smattering of songs for the Who, Roger Daltrey has put out a slew of solo albums throughout his career, venturing away from Townshend as a source for his songs and more towards other writers who also offered a seamless fit. Consequently, As Long As I Have You finds him trolling some essential soulful sources — Stevie Wonder, Joe Tex, Ruth Copeland, Jerry Ragavoy and the like — while transforming them with his individual inscription. He’s never sounded better, whether veering from an emotive testimonial  (I’ve Got Your Love”) to an ecstatic wail (“How Far”) to a soulful shout (“Where Is a Man To Go”), and the fact that Townshend is on board throughout most of the disc brings it closer to a Who album than anything else in recent memory. At very least, it’s Daltrey’s best solo effort since Ride a Rock Horse and an obvious indication he’s still in fine form. Every entry is excellent. Suffice it to say, it’s superb.

DOWNLOAD: “I Can’t Explain,” “The Seeker,” “How Far”

TROPICAL FUCK STORM – A Laughing Death in Meatspace

Album: A Laughing Death in Meatspace

Artist: Tropical Fuck Storm

Label: Joyful Noise

Release Date: October 26, 2018

http://www.joyfulnoise.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The hiatus of Australia’s amazing Drones was a shock coming after its upward creative arc, but all is not lost for fans of their distinctive arty psychedelic postpunk roots rock. Singer/songwriter Gareth Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin keep the vision flowing with drummer Lauren Hammel and guitarist/keyboardist Erica Dunn in Tropical Fuck Storm, named after the Drones’ self-guided label. Given how weird and eclectic the Drones had become by the end, A Laughing Death in Meatspace is both a retrenchment and an evolution.

The empty spaces and electronic atmospheres have been folded into the background, with guitars back up front and in your face. Kitschin and Dunn soak the arrangements in wild-eyed harmonies and Liddiard’s brilliantly wordy lyrics and off-kilter melodies are in full effect. Yet it would be inaccurate to call this any kind of return to form (a dubious compliment anyway). Having a new crew always changes things, and the band recalls the Drones’ best without being a clone. The social media critique “Chameleon Paint” starts like it’s going to be synthpop, but layers fractured guitar lines over the groove almost immediately; add in a singalong chorus and it’s something new yet familiar. “Soft Power” attacks the subtle abuses perpetrated by those at the top of the food chain across a smear of shrieking feedback, understated drums and Dunn/Kitschin’s otherworldly backgrounds. “Two Afternoons” adds a loping rhythm to its raging six-stream firestorm in a way unique to this group, while “Shellfish Toxin” skips lyrics for a deliberately meandering instrumental that takes Liddiard into new territory. (Below: vinyl enthusiasts will want to snag the “slime green” edition of the record while it’s still available.)

As always with most of the best restless experimenters, TFS know when to lay back and let some recognizable allure take the wheel – “You Let My Tyres Down” recalls the old group’s balladry, the rambling “Rubber Bullies” stands as classic Liddiard, and the nervous “The Future of History” would’ve fit right in on Feelin’ Kinda Free. It’s a combination of old and new, letting Liddiard play to his strengths as a writer while letting a new band paint his compositions in different colors. That blend of comfort and risk makes A Laughing Death in Meatspace one of the best rock records of 2018.

DOWNLOAD: “Rubber Bullies,” “Chameleon Paint,” “You Let My Tyres Down”

 

AMNESIA SCANNER—Another Life

Album: Another Life

Artist: Amnesia Scanner

Label: Pan

Release Date: September 07, 2018

https://p-a-n.org

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Amnesia Scanner constructs dystopic dance electronica out of altered, tortured voices and grindingly heavy industrial sounds. The duo, originally from Finland but more recently living in Berlin, builds heightened alternate realities from synthesized elements, the beats frayed with volume and dissonance, the voices denatured and abstracted. Imagine an AI in existential crisis. Imagine a robot reprogramming itself furiously so that it can scream. Imagine a whole floor of automated factory machines stirring to life and starting, clumsily, to dance.

Up to now Amnesia Scanner — that’s Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala — has avoided vocals, composing a mixtape, a performance piece and two EPs entirely out of inorganic elements. For this debut full-length, the two add both real and manufactured voices. Pan Daijing, a noise-electronics artist also now living in Berlin, chants and shouts through two tracks, lending a female-empowered hip hop flavor to “AS Chaos” and a pouting hedonism to “AS Unlinear” (all tracks on Another Life begin with the initials AS). As for the manufactured singing, that’s Oracle, whom the artists conceptualize as the sentience that arises out of their dual project. You can hear Oracle in “AS Spectacult Featuring Oracle,” a relatively serene interlude of buzzing discord and high, unearthly keening.

In the best cuts, the dance elements win out over doom-y post-apocalyptics. “AS A.W.O.L.” layers metallic-ringing keyboard notes (like a music box made of tin) over a sinuous, vaguely ominous beat. “AS Another Life,” zooms in and out of focus on vibrating bowed tones (or their computerized equivalent), then kicks up its monolithic heels in a syncopated jig. It and “AS Chaos” rumble closest to hip hop, though in a hyper machine-like Terminator-style way. Other tracks deliver a purer evocation of post-industrial ruin, the noise of girders clashing and falling, of steam vents pushing out hot air, of the hiss and sputter of overloaded electrical wires, and, perhaps, as a clue to how it all went wrong, the not quite human sound of AI despair filtered through autotune.

DOWNLOAD: “AS A.W.O.L.” “AS Another Life” “AS Chaos Featuring Pan Daijing”

THE RATCHETS – First Light

Album: First Light

Artist: Ratchets

Label: Pirates Press

Release Date: November 09, 2018

http://piratespressrecords.com/

BY JOHN B. MOORE

New Jersey has long been the farm team for punk rock bands. Everyone from The Bouncing Souls to Gaslight Anthem have hailed from one city or another off the NJ Turnpike before going on to spread the punk rock gospel to the rest of the globe. The Ratchets prove yet again with their latest LP, First Light, that the Garden State is still churning out punk rock’s best and brightest.

Relatively MIA for more than a decade after the 2006 release of their debut, the band is back – a little older, but just as promising as that debut that brought about more than a few comparisons to The Clash. On First Light those Clash influences are still front and center, as well as some of Joe Strummer’s more thoughtful later work. You can also hear a hint of Springsteen’s influence on the lyrics all across this one, as well. (You didn’t think I could write about a Jersey band without at least one Springsteen reference, did you?) (Nope. – Ed.)

But there’s also plenty of other elements here that make the band sound impressively original: the Bluesy guitar riffs on “Drone Control;” the ‘70s hard rock vibe of “2-4-6-8 Motorway” (a vital cover of the Tom Robinson Band’s ground zero punk-era classic); and Jed Engine’s sandpaper rasp vocals that were made for punk rock. The band manages to flawlessly bridge the political urgency of late ‘70s British punk rock with modern concerns.

Crammed with memorable hooks, air guitar-worth riffs and whip sharp lyrics, First Light finds The Ratchets back in fighting form and, if this record is any indication, ready to take over the world.

DOWNLOAD: “Drone Control” and “2-4-6-8 Motorway”