One of the most promising young artists at this year’s SXSW was Naomi Hamilton. But why is she Jealous of the Birds?
BY ROBIN E. COOK
Wisdom Teeth is the new EP from Jealous of the Birds, a.k.a. Naomi Hamilton. The brainy singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland launched her music career while she was a university student in Belfast (she now has a master’s degree). Hamilton’s love of words is on full display, complementing her cool, brisk vocals. In addition to writing and singing, she’s launched “Jealous of the Bops,” a YouTube series about her favorite albums, with two albums reviewed per episode (e.g., Carole King and Cat Power). And as this interview shows, her interests extend far beyond music as well.
I understand you have a degree in English and creative writing. Which came first–that or the music? Definitely the writing. I’ve been writing since I was like 13 years old, poetry. I’ve been doing that for much longer than music. And I started writing songs maybe when I was like eighteen. I just started kind of in my first year of my degree playing gigs and releasing music and stuff. So, it’s definitely literature first.
Your lyrics definitely are very erudite. Are there any lyricists who really influenced you? I think I started with maybe Bob Dylan. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I got into the folk movement and stuff. That’s what I really saw that lyrics should be a big part of music. And then when I got into my later teens, I got into, like, grunge: Nirvana, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith and some like that. And Paul Simon stuff like that. So, it’s really important to me as a writer as well.
Aside from the lyrics, how else do you apply your English and writing background to the music? I think it’s more the analytical side of me to kind of parse different experiences. And also kind of the discipline of writing. ‘Cause I wrote a big dissertation and stuff. I’d gotten into the habit of journaling and carrying a notebook with me. So that helps, just kind of collect material for songs.
Tell me a bit about you know, your first venture into making music. Were you a little bit nervous about that at the beginning? With my first gig, I couldn’t even stand up. I stayed seated and played solo. I played solo for about a year before we got about a band together. So, it’s definitely something that, I’ve gradually gotten better at. And it’s improved to me and I really enjoy it more.
One thing I noticed, you’ve been doing a YouTube series, “Jealous of the Bops.” Can you tell me a little bit about went for the inspiration for that came from? I’ve always really been into podcasts and video as a very intimate medium. A lot of artists kind of collate their own playlists on Spotify. So, I wanted to make it a bit more personal by making a video series of it. All the songs that I pick on Spotify are kind of parts of those together. And I pick two albums that I really like and talk about them and the process behind them. I like to pick a classic album with a contemporary of one just for more contrast, ‘cause my listening tastes are pretty diverse.
It sounds like you’ve also read some music reviews and criticism as well. Is that the case? Really, I think it comes more from my English background. Writing essays and stuff comes kind of naturally to me, to be able to analyze the music I’m hearing. And also as a musician I’m always looking out for different techniques for recording and putting songs together. So that kind of becomes a factor.
What about today’s music scene in Belfast in Northern Ireland? I know people think of artists like the Undertones for instance and similar artists. Today is actually very strong. There’s a big, strong sense of community back in Belfast. It definitely has its pockets of punk and rock and stuff like that, but it’s very much indie. And songwriting is kind of a big thrust back home. And a lot of support for each other, following each other’s gigs between Belfast and Derry.
Do you feel sometimes you have to be in a certain frame of mind to write songs?Oh, for sure, yeah. And I also kind of dabble in other arts, mediums and stuff, between like photography and painting. So usually if one of them is kind of, I’m in a bit of a block with it, I’ll move over to a different art form. They kind of help each other in that way. So yeah, for songwriting, I try to keep it pretty consistent so that there’s not gaps in between activity. And that’s going well so far.
Pictured above: proud non-stadium fillers at SXSW (L-R) Broken Social Scene, Get Up Kids, Deerhunter – and much more. Our BLURT man on the ground charts the REAL heroes.
TEXT/PHOTOS BY JASON GROSS
You either love or hate SXSW, and having spent my 20th year there, I know which side I’m on. Stll, I’m grateful that 2019 didn’t see any huge, stadium-filling acts (which previously were Prince, Bruce, Gaga, Jay-Z) crowding out the literal and figurative turf in downtown Austin this March. The biggest acts this time were Deerhunter, Get Up Kids, De La Soul and Broken Social Scene- I saw ‘em all except De La (which I regret) and they were great but I gotta say that the crush of the crowds at those shows made me grateful to see the smaller, lesser-known acts. These up-and-coming performers make up the bulk of the fest and provide the real fun and beauty of discovery there.
Let the likes of Coachella and Glastonbury have the stars and crowds, even if Sixth Street in Austin has its own crowds (it was a good thing that spring break didn’t coincide with SXSW this time, keeping many U of T students from cluttering up the area). Plus, it wouldn’t be South By without some kind of incident, this time, a few shootings over the final weekend near the East side and the music proceedings, though seemingly not festival related.
Otherwise, we out-of-towners enjoy Austin’s compact concentration of clubs in the downtown area for easy access, the (usually) warm weather and the feast of BBQ and Tex-Mex food that awaits you there. Even then, the promo events around there meant that you could dine on a budget, getting freebies from Reeperbahn’s burger fest, Uber Eats’ pop-up of rotating food dishes and Wisconsin Cheese’s 3000 lbs. of pressed curds in their Cheeselandia fest to clog up your arteries as quickly as a plate of ribs.
(below: Cheeselandia’s delights)
(As a side note, I gotta say that NYC made me appreciate Austin clubs all the more when I compare their entry ways. ATX clubs still check IDs, what’s in your bag, etc., but they are so much more courteous about that. At a recent Market Hotel show in Brooklyn, the security guys obviously didn’t want to be there and treated you like garbage as a result. I did find it interesting that at the rap showcases at ATX, though, there were extra layers of security, including security wands and pat-downs.)
Even at a wide-ranging music fest, I’m still an indie rock fan at heart but I wish I could have seen more techno (which there was a good amount of), jazz and classical (which there were bits of here and there), at least for some variety. Still, there was plenty of styles to dive into otherwise, in six days, I managed to see about 80 shows (again which is easily when the clubs are mostly in one area). Rap had some impressive gents there with De La, plus the Beastie Boys doing a keynote panel on their new movie. But the most impressive music overall at the fest were really the female MC’s, proving that proving that Cardi and the unfairly maligned Nicki are only the tip of the iceberg. At SX ‘19, there were great sets, plus plenty of variety and quality from Ace Tee, Devmo, Leikeli47, Quanna, Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, all chronicled below.
(below: a last look at Sixth Street as the fest/confab was ending)
For my SXSW roundup here, I cover three dozen acts that I can gladly vouch for, plus nine more to investigate further (only saw glimpses of ‘em) and on top of that, 17 more acts I couldn’t catch but wish I did (there’s so much to see at SX that you can never see all the good stuff), plus links to hear more music from all of the performers. Maybe it’s interesting that many of the best acts I found at SX ’19 were women, but then again, they’re putting out the best albums recently, so why not? I even found time to see three music documentaries, though even there, I wish I could see more.
Anyone wanna help with a cloning machine so that we all can have our full fill of music at SXSW 2020? And a note to the SX show programmers: things went peachy this year without any huge headliners, so don’t ruin a good thing next time.
BEST BANDS/PERFORMERS SEEN
Ace Tee (March 17th, Main II)- When you think of a German rapper, a sultry black woman probably doesn’t come to mind but it should. “Bist Du Down?” was her international smash and represents her sound well. She doesn’t overwhelm onstage but that’s not the point as she’s got an alluring persona to match the music.
Amyl & the Sniffers (March 14, Hotel Vegas)- These old school style punks from Aussie are signed to Rough Trade, assuring their cool credentials. Amy Taylor looks like a cute little blonde girl on first blush but she’s comfortable diving into a crowd, moshing there and coming out with a bloody knee like nothing happened.
Anteros (March 11, Latitude 30)- Though Brit singer Laura Hayden doesn’t quite command the stage like Garbage’s Shirley Manson, she and the boys have their catchy dance pop down well enough that I was happy to see them twice. Their big glossy sound really does suck you in and grab you.
Black Pumas (March 15, Austin Convention Center)- These Austinites call themselves ‘psychedelic soul’ but it’s more of the later (70’s style) than the former, which is fine, and singer Eric Burton knows how to work up a crowd. Also, how you can not love their large-sized feline mascot/name-sake?
BLXPLTN (March 16, 720 Club)- Black electro-punk with a heavy dose of lefty politics. They’re as loud and rowdy as you’d hope they’d be live. Hopefully coming to an Afropunk stage soon.
Combo Chimbita (March 14, Hotel Vegas)- I’d seen them at Globalfest in NYC in January and was floored then and found that this loud psychedelic Columbian quartet was even louder at an outdoor stage for a day show. Singer Carolina Oliveros is mesmerizing with her outfits, her voice and her stage presence. She really has it all.
The Comet Is Coming (March 13, St. David’s)- With lineage from two other great UK groups (Sons of Kemet, Melt Yourself Down), TCIC is about jazz & rock & prog & techno via sax/keys/drums. Compelling stuff for sure and as another audience member noted, their fiery music really does sound like the band’s name. They’re shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize and I’m rooting for them.
Control Top (March 12, Cheer Up Charlie’s)- This Philly punk trio has a nice, sleazy sound to it thanks to their striking yeller Ali Taylor and the slashing guitar riffs of Al Creedon. No wonder they’re touring with Laura Jane Grace.
DEVMO (March 16, Mohawk)- Though she hails from the LA area, she raps more like Eminem in a fast-clipped style than a G-funk Cali style (though Dr. Dre did bring up M from the start). Plus, she could hold her own with a beatboxer that she invited onstage.
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir (March 14, Valhalla)- A Korean skate-punk trio that’s as fast and furious as you’d hope or expect. The sound is more hardcore than your typical mall punk band but slightly sweetened by bassist Meena’s grrl-y vocals. I almost wished I learned Korean so I could pick up on some of the political lyrics.
Ehiorobo (March 16, Scratchouse) After seeing a few acts that tried to push R&B into avant territory but couldn’t quite pull off the trick, it was a relief and revelation to see this wonderful weirdo from the wilds of New Jersey. With his broken, off-kilter beats matched by broken, oft-kilter lyrics, he’s someone you want to watch to see which strange pathways he takes.
eX-Girl (March 16, Elysium)- This trio, which technically comes from Japan but they claim to hail from the planet Kero Kero, has been around since 1997 though they still sound fresh in their bizarre rock/pop style- even when they came out doing a ceremonials dance to Kraftwerk. They’re less punk now but you can still see why Jello Biafra and Mike Patton were boosters. Wish they featured more of their sock-puppet frog (monster?) mascot though.
Gurr (March 12, Cheer Up Charlie’s)- This German girl duo recently did a Xmas song with Eddie Argos (Art Brut) and you can see why- they’re also a scraggly, lovable indie rock ensemble. Hilarious that they also told us ‘good morning’ at 12:30PM for their day show, which probably WAS wake-up time for most of the SXSW crowd.
Haiku Hands (March 16, Barracuda)- This Aussie girl dance trio sounds silly/goofy/fun on record and they translate it well on stage, via masks, streamers, dance move, good cheer. “Dare You Not To Dance” is a well-named statement of principle too.
Hash Redactor (March 14, Beerland)- This Memphis quartet has cast-offs from Ex-Cult & Nots but probably makes better post-punk revival/art-punk music than either of those groups. Plus, singer Alec McIntyre has the best buggy-eyed stare since Richard Hell.
Christy Hays (March 15, Friends)- This country/folk/rock singer boasts no pop pretensions and there’s a wonderful yearning in her voice and lyrics.
Lonnie Holley (March 14, Austin Convention Center)- A unique talent for sure, technically he’s a grisled soul ala Gil-Scott Heron but has a deep spiritual edge to match his political side- see “I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America” for proof. Nice that he had his fellow Alabaman Lee Bains III to back him up on guitar too.
Durand Jones & the Indications (March 14, Stubbs) Last year at SXSW, this Midwest soul-man appeared as a promising talent. This year, he’s got an impressive new album (American Love Call), a bigger sound and plenty confidence to help move bigger crowds. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a strong band featuring drummer Aaron Frazer who easily hits those high notes and can take the lead now and then too.
Juiceboxxx (March 15, Barracuda Outside)- This unhinged wild midwesterner (think Jay Reatard) mostly goes for dirty garage rock/punk with some rap thrown in but thankfully he ain’t nu metal. He was just as convincing bouncing around the stage as he was standing on overturned garbage can in the middle of the crowd or rolling on the beer-soaked ground.
Kokoko! (March 12, The Main)- Though their publicist denies it, you have to wonder if this Kinshasa group has any connection to their fellow Congo homies Konono No. 1 who also use pots/pans/bottles and electrified scraps. Either way, they’re two great bands, kinship or no kinship, but live, Kokoko! has the edge with their instrument switching and crowd-revving act.
Kyan (March 13, CU29)- You really have to scratch your head when a wonderful, honey-voiced soul Brit like this isn’t conquering the US yet. Armed only with a keyboard and a violin player, his low-key dreamy vibe sounded big.
Leikeli47 (March 13, Cedar Street Courtyard)- Decked out in her signature robber-mask outfit, this diminutive Brooklyn MC worked the audience better than any other performer I saw at SXSW this year, not only taking her act into the crowd but also bringing some of them on stage to vogue beside her. When I was up front at the stage edge, she was even thoughtful enough to tell me that her raucous “Girl Blunts” didn’t mean that I couldn’t enjoy the fun too. How many other rappers would do that for you?
Madam X (March 15, Scratchouse)- One of the great things about the fest is running across something good that you didn’t even know about before, including this UK DJ and label head. I almost missed the act I was planning to see otherwise because her bumping, jacked rhythms, which covered everything from big beat to techno to dubstep, had our small crowd going for a while.
Megan Thee Stallion (March 14, Cheer Up Charlie’s)- With her self-assurance, stride and moves that would wear out a pole dancer, you wouldn’t know that this Houston rapper has only been putting out music for two years now. Decked out in a Kiss T-shirt, she was only on stage for 15 minutes but she made it seem like so much longer than that.
My Education (March 12, Barracuda)- This seven-man prog outfit leads with a violinist but they know how to get loud and almost sound rowdy at times- think early Mahavishnu Orchestra and Wetton/Bruford-era King Crimson. I almost wished that I stayed around for their Soundmass set where they team up with Utah improv group Theta Naught.
J.S. Ondara (March 14, Austin Convention Center) What bowls you over about this Kenyan artist right away is his beautiful, ethereal voice, highlighted when he performed solo with just a guitar to back him up.
Otoboke Beaver (March 12, The Main)- Don’t let the flowery outfits fool you- these Japanese girls are screaming punks who know how to use their feminine wiles in a fun, ironic way.
The Pinheads (March 14, BD Riley’s)- “Are they always so extroverted?” I asked their manager as this Aussie punk/garage band almost wrecked the stage area and were threatened by the club owner to get tossed out of there. “No, they’re usually wilder in a bigger club,” she said, making me wonder if they flattened the whole East Austin area a few days later when they played Hotel Vegas.
Quanna (March 17, Palm Door on Sixth)- Masterminding a 16-women line-up for a single night, this NY/Georgia rapper sounds more like the latter than former- Dirty South for sure. Generous enough to keep her own set short to let her other performers shine, it made me wish I’d seen more of her showcase for the evening.
Rico Nasty (March 12, The Main)- Yes, this Maryland rapper (like Quanna, she’s another NY transplant) proudly lives up to her name, nasty as she wants to be with plenty of style/fashion sense to boot.
Sego (March 12, Maggie Mae’s) I thought that Spencer Petersen just made funny indie rock at first- their new album is Sego Sucks and on Facebook posts, they address ‘Friends/Foes.’ Now, he’s trying his hand at writing anthems and he’s definitely onto something, gathering momentum while he’s at it.
The Seratones (March 15, Cheer Up Charlie’s)- It wasn’t the pink tutu she sported or the cold that she was valiantly trying to fight off that won me over to singer A.J. Haynes- it was her infectious enthusiasm that she radiated in front of her soul-rock ensemble.
Spacewalker (March 16, Speakeasy Kabaret)- She’s Afro-future, decked out in an outfit that would do Sun Ra proud and her one-woman laptop/drum machine band was all she needed to get her funky, freaky vibe across.
Symphonic Cinema (March 11, Edwin’s)- It was a little disappointing not to see any live music here but mastermind/director Lucas van Woerkum was there to do live film edits (where he’d sometimes slow down or freeze the film) for his video of Ravel “Daphnis et Chloe” featuring a steamy long-term love affair of a ginger-haired lady. He plans/hopes to play with an orchestra on his next trip to the States, which would be quite a sight to see as he’s already made himself the toast of Europe.
Tierra Whack (March 13, Container Bar)- OK, she’s not exactly an unknown quantity and she’s easily one of the most hyped-up recent acts but she still deserves more attention on top of that- she’s inventive, unique and even a little frustrating as many great artists are. Her 2018 debut (Whack World) was a conceptually brilliant album/video/suite copping from the Ramones (and the Residents’ Commercial Album) in the brevity playbook while dodging boasts and F-bombs. Live, she can surf on the wild enthusiasm of the crowd with just her freaky green skull shirt and her DJ but it’ll be fascinating to see where she takes her music in longer form and how she works that out into a more elaborate show, which she’ll definitely have.
Tiggs Da Author (March 12, Scratchouse)- Easily, the best name of any performer at the fest this year, technically, he’s UK rap but not ‘grime’ per se- more on the R&B tip, with 2017’s “Work It Out” an irresistibly, catchy hit and ‘16’s “Georgia” another ear-worm contender.
XXX (March 14, Fader Fort) – Not to be confused with punk legends X or the dreamy UK pop of the XX, this Korean rap duo made up for their delayed show the night before with this day show- rapper Kim Ximya was in good voice but could have had more stage presence though DJ/producer FRNK was on point with his schizzy, off-beat beats and sounds. Makes you wonder what will XXXX be like.
Yola (March 13, Central Presbyterian Church)- Not to be confused with Yo La Tengo, this Brit soul sister has Dan Auerbach producing her and her huge voice and joy make you think that she’s destined to be a name you’ll keep hearing. And her country connections run deeper than the cowboy band she appeared with- it’s definitely part of her sound and spirit. And if YLT was smart, they’d back her up or at least boost her.
DevMo (above). Go to YouTube and watch videos of DevMo, Haiku Hands, eX-Girl, Juiceboxxx, Amyl & the Sniffers, the Pinheads, Kokoko! and Otoboke Beaver playing the fest.
Briefly Saw But Needed To See More Of…
Algobabez– UK techno imagined by tech coders (and sounds like it)
Eden Archer – Country girl from Florida who proudly plucks a dulcimer
Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine: For those of us who grew up on the fabled rock mag, this was a such a pleasure to see. Featuring vintage footage plus storied tales of the battles among owner/publisher Barry Kramer, editor Dave Marsh and scribe deity Lester Bangs and a staff that insisted on living a rock star life style themselves, all of which couldn’t last.
The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps: The story of a Kiwi legend who crafted beautiful, haunting songs and couldn’t keep a hold of a band for more than a year or two until now, plus his long-term struggle with drugs, drink and hepatitis and a museum exhibit that he scraped together from his home artifacts. Nice that MP himself was there for the screening, along with several SXSW shows for the Chills.
The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash: Based on mid-90’s interviews with the Man in Black, we hear the warts ’n’ all story of his life with some blanks filled in by his kids and his famous musical fans. It’s funny, touching and eye-opening too, especially when we hear about how the death of his brother and his work in the Army affected the rest of his life and career.
Carmen Street Guitars and I Am Richard Pryor: Didn’t actually see either of them but I’m kicking myself for that since the film people at the fest were raving about CSG as a great music-geek, NYC-history doc and who wouldn’t wanna see a movie about Pryor? FYI, The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story had some buzz to it also but you might need a strong stomach to watch as it seems to be along the lines of the recent R. Kelly and Michael Jackson series.
The hypnotic Swedish band preps a new album for a May release on the Fire label, and as Anders Hansson and Marleen Nilsson note, they also have their eye on the future—and maybe even a David Lynch team-up one day.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Death and Vanilla, who hail from Malmö, Sweden, have a new album being readied for release by England’s Fire Records. Soaking myself in the record’s hypnotic insular soundscapes these past few weeks, I decided to check back in with the band about what’s been happening in their world since we last spoke in 2015.
The band’s new album, Are You a Dreamer?, is due May 10th on Fire – below, take a listen to the lead cut “A Flaw in the Iris” provided by the band for your listening pleasure.
2015’s To Where the Wild Things Are was an album of claustrophobic icy beauty, and so I approached this new record with relatively high expectations. “A Flaw in the Iris” is their opening salvo and is every bit in keeping with the dreamy haunted beauty of the past yet imbued with what seems like a wider more pop oriented sonic palette. The electronics augment the proceedings in tightly edited bursts and add a dark subtext to the catchy retro-vibed tune. “Mercier” does the icy aloof female vocal thing very well and the tune itself is chock full of sounds that add to the suspicious feeling of the song. The final minute of the song which is devoid of singing is like a bonus round that amps up the uneasy feeling of the song.
I’m guessing that, live, the band will extend this final section into a haunting burn-out leaving the audience with more questions than answers. “The Hum” is a well-wrought pop tune that brings hushed vocals, tremolo guitar and trippy frequency modulations melded with a child-like wonderment that makes for a rather absorbing listen. “Wallpaper Pattern” a gem of a tune, is left as the bands closing sonic statement. It’s ghostly opening gives way to a lush 60s pop song that will have you tapping your toes and begging for its insular beauty to continue forever. The dreams the band creates may be ephemeral but their impact is permanent. This is truly where the pyramid meets the eye.
BLURT: In what ways do you feel Are You a Dreamer? differs from To Where the Wild Things Are?
Anders Hansson: I think the songs are better and bigger sounding. The songs are a bit longer and perhaps a little darker too. It’s also the first time we use[d] a drummer. On earlier releases we’ve used sampled drums, but this time we went to Tambourine Studios in Malmö and recorded the drums. The album was also mixed there, as opposed to previous releases [which] have been mixed by ourselves, at home.
BLURT: Did you approach the recording differently?
Anders: We recorded the music in our rehearsal space and then the vocals at home. This time we recorded drums in a pro studio. It’s our third album but it’s the first time we’ve went in to a professional studio to record something. We kind of new [at] an early stage that this is what we would want to do for this album.
BLURT: How dosongs usually come about are they rough ideas that someone brings in or do you have one main person who comes up with the skeleton of the tune?
Anders: There isn’t a set formula and songs can happen in a lot of ways. Sometimes we jam, other times One of us might play a few notes on any instrument and record it, and then we start adding other instruments to it to see what fits. Then we loop that part, and maybe try to put the loop together with something else that is unfinished. We almost never write a song from start to finish, they are usually constructed from pieces we’ve recorded, so writing and recording is really one process for us.
BLURT: How long did it take to record this album and was there a specific goal with the direction you wanted to take things?
Marleen Nilsson: For this album when looking into new inspirations, we were listening a lot to the first Fun Boy Three album and thought that we should do some sounds in this way. But then it ends up sounding like something else than you thought! You might not find many similarities, but the inspirations you dig into when writing and recording will still take you on some path to explore.
Anders: we’ve worked on bits and pieces on and off since the last album, but it was really by the end in 2017 or early 2018 when we wrote I think Vespertine and Wallpaper Pattern that we started to gather together all the pieces we had that things started to fall into place on several other tracks. The track Eye Bath was written really quick in the end of the period, it just happened, and it was done before we realized it.
BLURT: Musically where does the band want to go from here?
Anders: It’s hard to say now. A lot of times we say the next song or album should sound like this or this, but we always end up somewhere else, so who knows?
BLURT: I get a real ’60s pop vibe from many of the songs on the album, what are some of the bands that influenced you in this regard?
Anders: We’ve always listened to a lot of music and some of it is was recorded in the ’60s, like Sun Ra, VU, Love, etc., but it doesn’t really matter when it was made, ‘60s or ‘90s or whenever, as long as it’s good music. We’ve been really into bands like Deux Filles, Brian Eno, Bourbonese Qualk, Fun Boy Three the last couple of years. And Air, for example, has for a long time been a favorite band of Marleen’s.
BLURT: When you play these songs live do you stick pretty much to how they are on record or do you extend and expand certain parts?
Anders: We just do what comes natural. Sometimes we extend parts, and sometimes we play things between the songs, jamming.
BLURT: Of the songs on the new record which will be the hardest to replicate live? Any songs cut from the final album? Who decided the running order?
Anders: We haven’t played the new songs live yet. It’s always quite a bit of work to try to get them to sound good live, as they are all made while recording.
There were a bunch of tracks that didn’t get finished in time that we will continue to work on for future releases.
BLURT: Any producers that you’re aspiring to work with?
Anders: Hmm, not really.
Marleen: Some! But I don’t dare to say, I’m too shy ha-ha.
BLURT: Do you collectively or individually have any side projects currently slated for release?
Marleen: No. But there is one project in mind, that we might start working on later this year.
BLURT: Name the last 5 LP’s you purchased?
Anders: We’re buying records all the time and between us and I think we’ve recently bought LP’s by Jessica Prat, Pye Corner Audio, Grand Veymont, Cannibal Corpse, William Basinski, Danger Mouse and Karen O etc.
BLURT: Since we last spoke in 2015 when you mentioned that most of the instruments you use are vintage, have you added anything cool to your collection as a band and is there an elusive piece of equipment that you are waiting to get your hands on?
Anders: It’s not the most original piece of gear but I bought a Fender Jazzmaster and I’ve had so much fun playing it. I was kind of bored with guitars for a long time, but this guitar was definitely a catalyst for a bunch of the songs on the new album. And then we also used much more of the Mellotron which you will probably recognize in the sound. We’d like to get more percussion like congas, steel drums etc.
BLURT: How did you get noticed by Fire Records? What other bands on the label do you find are kindred spirits or have been an inspiration to you?
Anders: They sent us a message on Facebook asking if we wanted to do something with them. Since we signed with them in 2014 a lot has happened in their roster, and they have several really good bands like Virginia Wing, Modern Studies, Jane Weaver, The Chills and also Vanishing Twin now. Great company!
BLURT: What is the genesis of the song “Mercier” and “A Flaw in the Iris”?
Anders: “Mercier” was based on parts of an older track the we used to play live called ”Where The Wild Things Are”. It was like a jam piece that was usually at least 10min long. We’ve been listening to a Lizzy Mercier Desloux’s track and wanted a track with a simple driving bassline, so we blended those two together. ”Mercier” was the working title but we kept it because we liked it.
Marleen: “A Flaw in the Iris” have been floating around for a while in quite a few different versions and there is both older soul and hip-hop tracks behind the inspiration for it, which I think you might hear. It was the last track we finished for the album.
BLURT: Since we last spoke you’ve recorded 2 soundtracks. Any future projects along these lines? What is one film you are dying to record a soundtrack for? Have any local Swedish filmmakers or filmmakers outside of Sweden approached you to use your music in their work?
Anders: We love doing soundtrack work, it’s a very different challenge than writing songs. Doing those soundtracks have really opened us up and given us confidence in our ability, I think. We’ll see what happens in the future, but we’d like to do more.
Marleen: It would be great doing something for David Lynch of course! That would be a dream come true, and totally unlikely, ha. But I think it is true to say that his films and music has been very influential to us and our approach to music and how to connect it with images and feelings.
But no, we haven’t been approached by anyone like that… or at all. It would be great to have the chance for a collaboration with a film maker someday, it would surely be very inspirational in terms on how to write music. And we’re still aiming to do a new soundtrack project for a screening of an old film, but the film has not been decided yet.
BLURT: Will you be planning any live dates in the US?
Marleen: There’s a possibility for that, so fingers crossed!
John Coltrane March 23, 1959 Rudy van Gelder Studio Hackensack NJ
Craft Recordings compiles a comprehensive set, Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings, of all John Coltrane recordings from a pivotal year. The 5CD box drops March 29, along with digital, while the 8LP version will be April 26. (Above photo: Esmond Edwards)
BY BILL KOPP
1958 was a landmark year for saxophonist John Coltrane, and by extension, for jazz as a whole as well. Coltrane had made his first recordings (in Hawaii with fellow Navy servicemen) some 12 years earlier and played as a sideman with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in the middle 1950s, not recording under his own name until his 1957 debut, Coltrane, recorded for Bob Weinstock’s independent label, Prestige. While Coltrane is a superb album, it only hints at what was in store for the groundbreaking musician.
In 1958, Coltrane traveled seven times to Van Gelder Studios, working with engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Showing up at the Hackensack, New Jersey studio on average of once a month between January and May, and once more in both July and December (the latter on the day after Christmas), Coltrane recorded 37 songs. Remarkably by today’s standards, each session took place in a single day, and no songs were played on more than one session.
Newly clean after a serious bout with heroin addiction, John Coltrane was man on fire throughout ‘58. And at the risk of gross oversimplification, the experience of listening to those sessions in chronological order reveals the almost real-time flowering of the saxophonist from merely a very good musician to a visionary one.
The 1958 sessions yielded material that would see release on various albums, but only a handful were released during the period in which Coltrane was signed to Prestige. The five tracks recorded on February 7 yielded Soultrane, originally released the year of its recording. The box set’s remaining 32 sides would be scattered across other albums: The March 7 sessions yielded Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane (released 1963). Other tracks appeared on Lush Life and Settin’ the Pace (both 1961), 1962’s Standard Coltrane (1962), Stardust (1963) The Believer and Black Pearls (1964), Bahia from 1965 and The Last Trane (1966).
The tracks cut in gloriously pristine high fidelity by Van Gelder variously featured some of the era’s best sidemen, many of whom went on to greater fame themselves: Kenny Burrell on guitar, trumpeters Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers on upright bass, drummers Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes and Art Taylor, Tommy Flanagan and Red Garland on piano and trumpeter/flugelhorn player Wilbur Harden.
Coltrane’s earliest session from this banner year began with the saxophonist playing in a relatively conventional (yet transcendent) style; as the year progressed, Coltrane seemed to grow more ambitious. His famous “sheets of sound” (characterized as such by critic Ira Gitler) showed up early but became a central part of his approach as the year wore on.
The 8LP set opens with “Lush Life,” a cut that would be released as the a-side of a 1960 single. Six other tracks appeared as a- or B-sides on other Prestige singles (“I Want to Talk About You” and “By the Numbers” with Red Garland each saw release on 45s’ split across both sides). By the time of cutting the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne chestnut “Time After Time” in December 1958, Coltrane had assimilated his adventurousness into a wholly accessible style. His approach seems almost effortless, true to the original melody yet unencumbered, unrestrained by it.
Hardcore Coltrane enthusiasts – and no doubt many others – will already own all of these tracks via their appearance on the aforementioned LPs and/or CD reissues. But that fact in no way lessens the impact or essential nature of the new Coltrane ‘58. Housed in a heavy cloth-bound binder, the set is spread across eight 180-gram vinyl LPs, each placed inside a black paper sleeve that fits into a heavier brown paper page of the 1 1/2” thick binder. The package also features a bound-in 40-page booklet that includes Grammy-winning music journalist/author Ashley Kahn’s superb essay, copious black-and-white and color photographs and reproductions of relevant memorabilia (Van Gelder’s handwritten notes, tape boxes and so forth).
The loving care that has gone into every part of this package more than justifies its cost. In fact, the music itself does that; as top-notch as it is, everything else included in Coltrane ‘58 should be regarded as bonus material.
Holiday Flyer were truly something special in their 1990’s heyday. Hailing from Sacramento, but even in a scene that boasted bands like Tiger Trap and Rocketship, Holiday Flyer seemed to be off on their own island doin’ their own thing. Formed in the early 90’s by sibling John and Katie Conley, they released four LPs and several EPs and singles before calling it a day (and forming their next bands, California Orange for John and Sinking Ships for Katie,….now those bands are John’s Desario and Katie’s Soft Science).
I still remember them driving a few hours from Sacramento to Santa Rosa, where I was living and booking shows (circa 1994-’95) and introducing themselves to me at a show I had put together (I think it was Codeine) and telling me about their band, which got me immediately interested. The music was soft, spare and pretty….not quite folk music but close (with decidedly non-flowery lyrics). As the band went on and they added band members the sound got a bit denser but no less personal and still very melodic.
This year the Darla label is reissuing the first two albums, 1995’s Try Not To Worry and 1997’s The Rainbow Confection on limited edition vinyl (500 copies each). It’s the first time on vinyl for both and the download for each one includes several extra unreleased tracks.
So, here a few weeks before their 2/14/19 release date, I shot John and Katie some questions re: the origins of the band and what they’re doing now. Quiet was the new loud.
Did you guys grow up in Sacramento or nearby?
John: We grew up in Rocklin and Roseville. In my early 20s I moved to downtown Sacramento. I have lived in or around the area ever since. Currently, I live in West Sacramento. I’m still really close to the downtown/midtown area of Sacramento which I like. I still try to go to as many shows as I can here in town.
Katie: So the Rocklin/ Roseville area is about 20 miles northeast of downtown Sacramento. It has grown a lot in the last several years with a major expansion of business and residential development. When we were young and growing up there the area still had a small town feel and some parts of the community were considered pretty rural – including our backyard ;-). I too eventually made it downtown and stayed for many years while I finished college. I still live in the Sacramento area.
What did you get into first…punk rock? New wave? Something else? What was the progression like?
John: The first genre of music I got into was Metal. The first album I ever bought was Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy Osbourne. I met my Mike Yoas (Holiday Flyer, Desario) in 1985. He introduced me to Punk and New Wave. One of my favorite bands he turned me on to was Naked Raygun. They are still a favorite. Around 87 or 88 Katie and I started to listen to similar bands. We both loved The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen etc. When she turned 15, our parents would let her go to shows with me, which was cool. Looking back now, she was pretty lucky. She got to see some killer show. A venue in Sacramento called the Cattle Club booked some amazing bands in the 90’s. We saw Ride, Lush, Slowdive and Nirvana there, just to name a few.
Katie: Yep, as little sister, John pretty much always had an influence on my musical taste. He’s got great taste so why not follow! But I have to say I never really got into the punk rock. As a young child I really loved Olivia Newton-John, Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, and Madonna (I must confess). Later The Bangles and the Go-Go’s were pretty big in my world. By my mid-teens is when John and I really started seeing eye to eye again regarding music. We watched a lot of 120 Minutes on MTV together. I remember that the first music posters on my bedroom wall in high school were Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths and R.E.M. Those bands pretty much sum up the start for me. And yes, I was seriously lucky my big brother didn’t mind taking his little sister with him to shows. The Ocean Blue and The Mighty Lemon Drops in San Francisco is one of the stand out shows John let me tag along on that comes immediately to mind.
Was it pretty early on that you and Katie began making music together?
John: Katie was always singing, even when she little. I started playing guitar when I was 13. I had a band my last year of high school and Katie would occasionally sing with us. We didn’t start playing together until after Katie graduated from High School.
Please tell me about the early days of Holiday Flyer? Was it pretty easy to make music with your sister or did it take some coaxing?
John: After High School, I had a couple of bands that didn’t last very long. I kind of lost interest in playing music for about 6 or 8 months afterwards. I didn’t stop listening though. I think one of the records that got me to pick the guitar back up was Today by Galaxie 500. There was something so different and special about that album for me. I started writing songs again and Katie would just come into my room and start sing with me. That was sort of the beginning of Holiday Flyer.
Katie: Yep, I pretty much forced my way in with harmonies that were not asked for.
What kind of stuff were you guys listening to at the time the band started?
John: I was really into a lot of shoegaze stuff. Ride, Lush, Slowdive. I think the band Moose had a huge influence on our writing. I had the early Moose EPs and remember buying an import copy of their first album. It was so different from the EPs, not shoegaze at all. It was really 70s folk influenced but still dreampop. At that time we were also really into some unfashionable 70s soft rock like Al Stewart, Bread, early Chicago, early Bee Gees ( Katie learned to play the snare/ride cymbal set-up playing along to Chicago and Carpenters records).
Katie: Bands I recall listening to quite a bit during the early days of Holiday Flyer, include The Red House Painters and Belly. Looking at both of our lists, I think its clear that the bands we regularly listened to at the time were quite different that what we were. We never really set out to replicate a sound. If anything I think the influence or take away we always had from whatever we were listening to was melodies, lyrics, and song structure. This was put through our filters and out came HF songs.
Had either of you been in bands before or was Holiday Flyer your first band? At what point did Verna come into the picture? Who else was in the band other than the two of you?
John: I had a short lived punk band in High School. After that I had a band for a couple years called The Boon with Mike Yoas (Desario), and then another short-lived band called Ellie. There was a band called Light Iris that Katie and I were in with Jim Rivas ( Rocketship, Holiday Flyer, Desario). Katie and I both felt we were better able to achieve what we wanted to do musically as a duo so we left. Jim went on to play in Rocketship. That’s how we met Verna. We played shows with Rocketship and Dustin Reske engineered all of the early Holiday Flyer recordings. Katie and I worked as duo for the first year. The early recordings are layered guitars and Katie and I singing. We didn’t play live that often at first. In fact, we didn’t play a show until after we started sending out demos. We got asked to play a showcase for Alias Records in LA, and I had to wrangle a show at a cafe just to make sure we could pull off the songs before we went to LA. We continued to played shows as a duo (electric guitar and vocals). Katie added the snare drum and cymbal after we released our first 7″. When Rocketship broke up we asked Verna to play bass with us. This was the core band for most of Holiday Flyer. We had guests on most of the records. Our friend Toby Marshall played lead guitar on the Sweet and Sour EP. Ross Levine (Soft Science) played trombone on “The Rainbow Confection”. Mike Yoas played bass and Matt Levine (Soft Science) played guitar on “You Make Us Go”. For “I Hope”, we expanded to a full band with Jim Rivas on drums, Mike Yoas on bass.
When did it feel like a real band? When the first record came out or even before that?
John: It started feeling like a real band after we released “Try Not To Worry”. We were getting good reviews for the album and doing fanzine interviews. We were also playing shows in San Francisco and LA and opening shows for Red House Painters, America Music Club, Low and Smog.
Lyrically were there any specific themes you were exploring?
Katie: Looking back at the lyrics, some of them I really love, and a few of them I think oh no…can’t listen. They are lyrics only 19 year old me could have written. But overall, I think the HF lyrics are really just kids trying to make sense of it all in a somewhat sweet naive way. I think that might be part of the appeal? They are very honest.
John: I agree with Katie, I think most of the lyrics, especially on the early recording and first couple of records were us just writing what we knew. Some of it is difficult to listen to now, for numerous reasons. Ha Ha! That being said, I’m really proud of what we did in Holiday Flyer.
Katie: Me too.
When and why did the band break up?
Katie: Oh boy, why do you have to bring up old shite? Ha, Ha.
John: Well, it was my decision to end Holiday Flyer. It was just a good place to stop. We had made our most polished album, I Hope and I wanted to do something different. Verna and I had already released the first California Oranges album with our friend Ross Levine on drums. After a couple of show as a trio, we added Ross’s twin brother Matt on lead guitar and started working on our 2nd album “Oranges and Pineapples”. During that time Katie and Verna started recording a record with Ross and Matt which ended up being The Sinking Ships. About a year later we decided to merge the two bands and Katie joined California Oranges.
Sacramento is kind of a low-key city but has always had a great indie rock/pop scene throughout the years with all of your bands plus Rocketship, Tiger Trap, etc. Why do you think that is? Something in the water?
Katie: Perhaps the area somehow cultivates shut-ins? Ha, Ha.
John: Not really sure it’s big enough to call it a scene (ha ha). I think there might be a one degree of separation for most of the indie bands from Sacramento.
Please tell me about the reissues that Darla Records is doing?
John: James Agren at Darla has been wanting to reissue Try Not to Worry and The Rainbow Confection for a long time. Both albums were originally released on Silver Girl Records and have been out of print/unavailable for many years. With these reissues the entire HF catalog will now be available through Darla records. About a year ago James was finally able to get me to start the process. I felt it was a good time to reissue them. It took us awhile to gather all the miscellaneous tracks which will be included with the digital downloads of each record. I’m looking forward to them being available on vinyl for the first time. Both albums have been remastered by Mike Yoas along with all the bonus material including demos and songs we recorded for compilations. I’m really happy with how it turned out. The LPs sound really good. I think people who like the records will be happy with them. I designed new sleeves for both records too, which was fun. They also have liner notes written by Jack Rabid and Dave Heaton, which is super cool.
Will the band be (or have you been?) playing any gigs for the reissues?
Katie: I love singing with John it is a special experience that I really appreciate now that I have more perspective on what we did. But, we will have to see. We are both pretty busy with our other projects right now.
John: Katie and I played a few show over the last few years. One was opening for Mark Eitzel which was cool. We played a show with Mike Yoas on bass and Jim Rivas on drums for a local Summer concert series last year. Our current bands come first at this point, but if the right opportunity came up I’m sure we’d make it work.
Katie: Yes, we really appreciate everyone who helped make the reissues happen! Even our friend Scott Cymbala from Fingepaint Records (the label that released the first HF 7”- also Beck’s first 10”) dug through boxes at his house to find original copies of old songs that were remastered and are included with the bonus material.
What are you two doing musically these days?
John: I’ve been in Desario now for going on 15 years, which seems crazy. It’s not as easy to find time for music like when we were younger, but I’m glad to still be playing. Desario are going to start recording a new album in January and hopefully play some shows out of the Sacramento area next year.
Katie: I am in Soft Science. Our 3rd album Maps came out in June of 2018. It was released through Test Pattern Records which Ross and Matt Levine run, and I help here and there on occasion. John does most of the graphic design for the Test Pattern releases as well. We are all very fortunate for that! This last year was a pretty amazing year for Soft Science. A couple highlights include playing Paris Popfest and traveling to Michigan to play at the Kalamashoegazer fest. I enjoyed seeing you there Tim! I also enjoyed seeing my old pen pal from the HF days, the wonderful Janice Headley, who created the Copacetic zine in the early 1990s. I had not gotten to see her in many moons so that was fantastic. She was there playing in Tears Run Rings so that was an extra treat! For 2019 Soft Science will just be doing whatever we can with the current momentum we have. All in consideration of our normal lives of course ;-). But we all love it so, new songs, and more live shows are in the works!
What are some current Sacramento bands that we might not know about but need to?
Katie: Soft Science played with Rosemother this year and I thought they were quite good!
John: Arts & Leisure are working on a new record, which I’m excited about. Two other Sacramento bands I really like are Ghostplay and The Surrounded. Ghostplay has and EP out now, and The Surrounded are working on an LP or EP.
Any final thoughts? Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
John: Thanks Tim for all the support and interest over the years for our music. I’m also thankful to still be playing and look forward recording and playing live in 2019.
Katie: Just thanks for asking us to do the interview! We are thrilled there is interest in the reissues of our old HF albums. There is an overwhelming amount of music out there so when anyone listens and likes you it is best to be grateful. That we are!
The seminal NYC post-punk outfit reflects on their rise, demise, and eventual reunion. Buy their 2018 EP Take The Fall at Wharf Cat Records.
BY ROBIN E. COOK
“I just don’t wanna go/Out in the streets no more.” With the opening words to “Too Many Creeps,” the Bush Tetras bridged the chasm between discord and dance beats. Formed in 1979, as punk entered its transition period, they could make punks tap their feet and follow up with ominous tracks like their cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey.”
The group dissolved in 1983 and regrouped sporadically in the next two decades. They’ve remained together again since 2005, and the current lineup—singer Cynthia Sley, drummer Dee Pop, guitarist Pat Place, and new bassist Val Opielski—descends on South by Southwest this year. In this interview, conducted via email, they share what they’ve learned and their future plans.
BLURT: Tell me about how the band formed originally. You were friends beforehand, correct?
Dee Pop (drums): The initial four involved in forming Bush Tetras were Pat Place, Laura Kennedy, Dee Pop, and Jimmy Joe Uliana. Pat and Laura were friends. Myself and Jimmy were friends. We knew of Pat from The Contortions. When she left that group, we approached her about playing.
Cynthia Sley (vocals): I was coerced into it in the fall of 1979. I was close friends with Pat and Laura and they thought it would be fun to have a band together. I had written some lyrics.
Pat Place (guitar): I was living with Laura Kennedy and Cynthia was our best friend. Laura met Dee through a friend and we started jamming after I left the Contortions.
What are some the most notable experiences from the band’s early days? Did you consider yourselves part of any particular scene? And which artists most inspired you?
Pat Place: We toured pretty constantly right out of the gate for two years . . . opening for the Clash at Bonds was a big moment. We also played several shows with Gang of Four—I loved their music . . . so many inspiring bands and performers . . . and women were playing—it was opening up for women. Patti Smith . . . Blondie and all of the No wave bands had girls in them . . . there was definitely a music scene in downtown NYC in the early 80’s and yes…we were part of it.
Cynthia Sley: When we played with the Clash at Bond’s, it seemed surreal. We had all been big fans and it was such an honor. Also, when we played at Roseland with Gang of Four and Bad Brains, I felt we were at our peak and it was a great bill, great night. I was inspired by both of those bands.
Dee Pop: We considered ourselves a NY band and part of the lineage of great bands that evolved from the CBGB’s scene I.e. Ramones, Television, Patti Smith. We were not really a no wave band. Notable things: we got to see most of this country and Europe. We played on bills with The Clash, Gang of Four, Pete Ubu, X, Bad Brains, Husker Du, Mission of Burma, Flipper, Delta 5, ESG, Liquid Liquid, A Certain Ratio, Lydia Lunch, Romeo Void, Killing Joke, Wall of Voodoo, The Gun Club.
I was curious about the song “Too Many Creeps.” Was there any real-life inspiration for that song? Were you surprised that it became one of your signature songs?
Pat Place: I was working at the Bleecker Street cinema and the people were getting on my nerves! Also, when we would walk around the streets, we would get hassled. And yes….it was all a surprise!
Cynthia Sley: Pat and Laura and I were always hassled on the street so it felt right to lament about it… It is such a simple song (a few can play one-handed!) but it is catchy and dance-y along with being relevant politically, so to me it makes sense it turned out to be the most remembered.
You were one of several bands (along with the Talking Heads and Gang of Four) who drew on funk and dance music for your sound. Were there any funk/R&B artists who influenced you? What was it about that style of music that appealed to artists of your generation?
Cynthia Sley: I grew up with Motown coming from Cleveland. I listened to that non-stop in the ’60s.
Pat Place: I got the James Brown influence from working with James Chance in the Contortions.
Topper Headon of the Clash produced one of your EPs. How did that collaboration come about?
Dee Pop: I had known them from previously interviewing them when I was a writer. I simply just asked first Mick Jones who couldn’t for scheduling reasons but who suggested Topper.
Cynthia Sley: We hit it off right away and he really liked the band’s direction. He added some great sounds to that record. A real creative producer.
The Bush Tetras had a couple of minor hits on the dance charts. What was that like for you?
Dee Pop: Limos and champagne. Kidding. It was again kind of shocking to us but it didn’t really have any effect on our daily lives.
Pat Place: It’s always nice to get some commercial recognition but I don’t think we ever expected it!
Why did the group disband in 1983, and what led to your reunion in the 1990s?
Pat Place: We disbanded from general burnout—the lifestyle of drugs and alcohol on the road took some of us down– and just youthful dysfunction! We would do occasional reunion shows, and in the 90’s we all had ourselves somewhat back together—so we decided to try to write some songs and see what would happen!
I’d like to ask you about the making of the Beauty Lies album, which you recorded in the 1990s. You’d previously done mainly EPs and singles. What was it like to record a full-length album, and what was it like to work with Nona Hendryx on the album?
Dee Pop: To start with our reunion was a sort of accident. At first it was just a one-off show, but after the show we were immediately ask if we wanted to record. We scratched our heads and said sure, which is pretty much our MO. It was kinda tough to do. A lot had changed in the world and in our personal lives. We didn’t know where we fit in the landscape of music at the time. Our tastes had also polarized. No longer was funk the common ground. Now it was on one extreme free jazz and on the other harder rock. It was confusing. Poor Nona, who was such a pro, had to sort it out.
The Bush Tetras have been together again for 14 years, yes? What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned playing together as a band? Is there anything you wish you’d known/realized sooner?
Cynthia Sley: You have to really listen to each other and accept differences and always play what feels right us, not what others may want to hear. We love each other deeply so we are lucky in that. The chemistry is palpable, and Val has fit right in.
Pat Place: I wish I could have avoided the drug trap — I’ve been sober for 30 years and it is much more fun! And you can show up! It is important to have respect for the band as a whole.
Dee Pop: Lesson 1: Ultimately the only kind of music we play can be Bush Tetras music. We can’t do anything else as a group.
Lesson 2: If I want to do something outside of that realm then I do it outside of the group. This limits frustration.
Lesson 3: All four of us are strong-minded individuals and sometimes our opinions will wildly differ but in the end, gravity will naturally find us our balance.
Lesson 4: You have to think of the future and take care of business. Which is tough, because all we want is to make our noise. (Below: the Take The Fall 12″ EP, issued in 2018 by Wharf Cat.)
What are the group’s future plans? Do you hope to record any new material?
Dee Pop: To re-release our entire back catalog, to make an entire new album and to go out with grace and passion.
Cynthia Sley: We hope to record an album in the fall. We have lots of new songs!
What advice would you give to young musicians?
Cynthia Sley: Appreciate your creativity.
Dee Pop: Always split EVERYTHING equally. Treat your band mates with love and respect. Cherish your audience.
Pat Place: Don’t believe the hype! In other words—don’t get tripped up in ego–it’s not you—you’re the channel. Skip the drugs and have fun … and take care of yourself!
The Cowboy Junkies wrapped up their brief Southern swing this month with shows in Franklin, TN, Birmingham, AL, and two sold-out shows, March 9 and 10, at Atlanta’s City Winery. Our man in Hot ‘lanta caught the Saturday night show, and raved to tell about it.
PHOTOS AND TEXT BY JOHN BOYDSTON
For this show, and no doubt the others, The Cowboy Junkies are doing something considered daring or even suicidal by today’s music biz standards – not only recording new music but spending most of their first set actually playing it live, and coming back for the older stuff after a break. With new songs and a performance this good it is, of course, what they should be doing, because their fans are ready for anything this band wants to play. (As a ground-zero CJs fan who saw the band several months back in Asheville, NC, I can testify to both that and to their prowess in delivering. – Blurt Editor)
The latest LP is called “All That Reckoning” and by my newly acquired familiarity with their catalogue, it is as great as than anything they’ve done, maybe better than some. (Ditto. It’s brilliant. – Ed.)
The Cowboy Junkies are from Canada and formed in 1985 by Margo Timmins (vocals), Michael Timmins (guitarist), Peter Timmins (drums) and Alan Anton (bass). There they are, three siblings (plus close friend Anton), together all these years, continuing to write, record, and perform powerful music, despite ups and downs of life and music. The band is joined onstage by multi-instrumentalist and longtime collaborator Jeff Bird, who is a secret weapon up there in the background.
Described as a blues-folk-rock-jazzy-alternative-country band, I could make the case they are their own genre, brcause it’s hard to pin ‘em down on any one thing.
And one last plug – you can buy Cowboy Junkies vinyl and CDs here, directly from the band: https://www.cowboyjunkies.com/albums/ They are high quality, and priced right. Having turned into a Cowboy Junkies junkie, this live show isn’t going to do much to change that; it probably made my habit worse. Thank you, Margo, and fellas.
Join John Boydston on Instagram at @johnboydstonphoto or visit his other photos at jobo.smugmug.com Then book him for your band’s next cover shot.
…and those blues will never die when they are in hands as good as this…. (Photo at top for promotional use only: screen grab from Simo’s YouTube tutorial for Relix.)
BY TIFFINI TAYLOR
The blues are back and is on fire with J.D. Simo. There is special place in American history for the blues. J. D, Simo is a bluesman with heart in the music he creates. In the past he has toured with band such as The Allman Brothers and Blackberry Smoke. His success is due to a good talent and a love for the blues. His influences include Jimi Hendrix, Mile Davis, and bluesman such as B.B. King and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He came and played Hard Rock Café in Pittsburgh, PA and brought blues to a crowd.
There was a chill in the air and the audience was ready for a show. It was quite a show. The band is simple comprised of a drummer and bass. This allows for riffs of continuous blues that will impress anyone. He is truly a talented guitarist and his guitar will make you want one yourself. The evening was filled with crowd approving with roars of excitement and appreciation. If you want a good blues show and a great night out, check his concert out, you will not be disappointed.
We had the opportunity to speak with J. D. Simo, and below is what he had to say.
Blurt Magazine: How old were you and what was the first song you heard?
J.D. Simo: “The first song I remember was John Lee Hooker singing “Boom Boom” in the Blues Brothers movie. I was probably 2 or 3 years old. I was obsessed with that movie!”
Blurt: What age were you when you decided music is what I am doing?
J.D.: “Oh, it wasn’t too long after that. I got a guitar when I was 4 and it was all I wanted to do. I started performing for folks right around then too. By the time I was 8 or 9 I was playing out in bars. I can’t really remember a time where I wasn’t doing it.”
Blurt: What age did you begin playing guitar? Why choose the guitar, or did the guitar choose you?
J.D: “I was 4. I originally wanted to be a drummer but my folks where having none of that. The guitar was such a part of what I was into that it was a natural second choice. Scotty Moore behind Elvis, Steve Cropper on all the Stax stuff. I wanted to do that!”
Blurt: What style of guitar do you play now? What is your favorite guitar?
J.D.: “I’ve had to play all sorts of stuff to make a living. Lots of Bluegrass and country along with all the R&B, Blues and Rock and Roll. At heart, I’ll always be a blues player with a cherry on top, haha. My favorite guitar is an old 1962 Gibson 335 I’ve had for several years. I’ve beat it all to hell! We’ve been through a lot together me and that guitar.”
Blurt: Who were your early influences you growing up? Who inspires you now?
J.D.: “Elvis and his early band with Scotty Moore were big. As I mentioned, Steve Cropper and Booker T and the MG’s. Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry… All the 50’s stuff because once I was into Elvis, all that other great stuff was linked to it and I found it easily. Looking back, it’s cool that I learned about Rock and Roll from the original source forward instead of working backwards.
Today I’m still influenced by all that old stuff. Eddie Taylor, Earl Hooker, Otis Rush, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Guitar Watson, Magic Sam. I could go on and on!”
Blurt: How would you describe your musical sound?
J.D.: “Well I guess I’m a hippie who plays the blues. Hahaha”
Blurt: How did the band come to be, how did you come together with the other musicians?
J.D.: “Well when I was younger, I always played with guys 20 years older than me or more! No one my age was into playing. When I moved to Nashville 12 years ago, I finally got to work with guys my age. After a bit of struggling to get established in Nashville, I was lucky to get into doing session work. I made my living for several years playing on peoples records every day. My band formed initially out of that. I met a couple like-minded guys who wanted to play what I wanted to play.”
Blurt: Do you have a favorite song from the album being released in March?
J.D.: “Oh, they’re all special to me. I really dig playing “You Need Love though”.”
Blurt: How was the recording process like of the album?
J.D.: “It was low key. I built a studio in my house and throughout 2018 I’d cut stuff to learn the room. We’d have little breaks between tours and I’d invite folks over to cut some stuff. What makes up the album is really 1 session after the summer tour. We just cut like 5 tunes in a day and I really was happy with them. I added 3 from previous sessions and there you have it.
It’s a funky spot and I love having my own space. It’s only got 8 tracks so I can only work old school which I prefer. I love it!”
Blurt: There have been quite a few changes in the music industry and how music is released to the masses, what are your thoughts on the changes? Do you find it easier to get music out to people, and if so, what are the pros and cons of it?
J.D.: “Well, since recorded music is really less than 100 years old, I’d say it’s never stopped changing really. The general concept is still the same though. Get music to folks in the way that is prominent at that time. I’m a millennial and I buy vinyl and stream music constantly. So, it makes sense to me. I’d say it’s actually easier to get music out there than it’s ever been but it’s harder to market because there’s so much. I’m a firm believer that the cream rises to the top though. When something is good it might take longer for folks to find it, but they will.”
Blurt: What advice would you give to up and coming artists?
J.D.: “Get your butt out there and work. No one is gonna do it for you. In that same breath I’d say, how to you expect folks to help you if you won’t help yourself. Book shows, promote yourself on social media, make Youtube videos and work it. In the end it’s up to you how hard you’re willing to work.”
Blurt: This is your opportunity to say whatever is on your mind. Anything else you want to say?
J.D.: “That the world is a beautiful place. I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and meet all kinds of folks. Poor, rich, educated, drop out, male, female, etc and we really are inherently the same. We all want security, a roof over our head, a good plate of food, money in the bank and most importantly, to be loved and accepted. It never ceases to amaze me how I can be thousands of miles from home and it can feel so familiar. We’re all in this together and it’s up to us to reach out and be kind and loving. The world needs it and we need it too.”
The blues are alive and well thanks to great musicians such as J.D. Simo, it is one of the best parts of American music history. The new album is “OFF at 11” and it is what the music world wants and needs. J.D. Simo and the Cohorts are touring the U.S. at this moment and so go check it out.
To say the legendary bass player influenced a generation would be a massive understatement…
BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Greg Norton (Husker Du/ Porcupine) is one of modern music’s greatest and most influential bassists; his playing, a static and aggressively melodic force, an always solid spine to the Husker Du’s often high-speed tears, fueled by frustration, alienation, the often hum drum existence that was the Midwest during the Reagan Era.
I sat in my downtown apartment, staring at the phone, waiting for Norton to call, nervously anticipating the ring; I’m never anxious for interviews but this time, this time was different. I would be interviewing one of my heroes, a bassist whose playing has influenced an entire generation of players and was there, alongside Bob Mould and the late Grant Hart, at the beginning, the early 80s births of not one but two genres: what we recognize now as “alternative music” and the brutal and often beautiful beast that is Noise Pop.
As for spending his time in the stoner rock meets power pop trio Porcupine, Norton seems nothing but happy. “A friend of mine and I saw that The Meat Puppets were playing in LaCrosse, this was around 2009, Cris (Kirkwood) was back in the band and I hadn’t seen him since like, ‘87 and we decided to go check them out. Porcupine was the opener. I thought they were great and was like, Holy shit, these guys are local? Casey (Virock, Porcupine guitarist/vocalist) gave me a copy of their record Trouble in Mind and we stayed in touch.” Norton continued, “In the summer of 2016, there was a Porcupine Facebook post that their bassist Dave was leaving the band. About a week later, Casey calls me up and started telling me the story of Dave leaving, how they were trying out this new guy but it wasn’t working and asked if I still played my bass. I said, well, yes. I went and tried out and joined the band.” Norton’s joy with the band is evident within his bass lines on What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real each holding a groove that is classic Norton, augmenting Porcupine’s sound with a dominance that hasn’t been heard since the glory days of hardcore.
“The new record (What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real) is probably the best sounding record I’ve ever played on, musically and lyrically, it ranks right up there near the top of anything I’ve recorded.” Norton’s confidence in the material is obvious on tracks like “Pull,” the snarling “Distraction” and the live recording “Exit 180,” a recording that showcases the band’s strengths and power while showing how much Norton brings to the band, much like his performance on the Husker Du launching pad that was Land Speed Record, an album recorded at the 7th Street Entry in their hometown of Minneapolis.
“I’m sure a lot of Husker fans there that night were surprised, maybe a little shocked at how fast we were playing. (on Land Speed Record) Our goal when Husker first started out was, let’s play faster than the Ramones. When we got that down, it was let’s play faster than The Dickies. We always wanted to go more, to push it as hard and loud as we could.” Drawing influence from bands like Joy Division, The Sex Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers and The Attractions, Norton formed a sound that is distinctly his own, brutal and punishing one minute, stylized and razor sharp the next.
Beginning with the live recording Land Speed Record, Husker Du helped redefined what it meant to be punk, all while sharing a roster at SST with some of the most powerful and varied acts of the early to mid-80s; bands like Black Flag, the country fried acid punk of The Meat Puppets, the jazz and rock leanings of The Minutemen and the power punk of Saccharin Trust. “I can never think of one bill that stood out from another. We opened for REM in ’83; Peter Buck was a fan of our records and asked us to open. That was a solid bill,” he continued, “The SST Tour with Black Flag, Saccharin Trust, The Meat Puppets, Minutemen and SWA was a good powerful lineup. It was always good playing with D. (Boon of the Minutemen), you never knew what he would do.” Norton was always certain of Husker Du’s dominance, knowing where they stood on any given night. “Oh yeah, there were nights that I knew, I just knew we’d blow whoever off the stage. And if we didn’t make the other band look bad, we’d at least make them work harder.”
Husker Du’s magnum opus, double album 1984’s Zen Arcade was radically different from other hardcore records, while it did possess moments of the breakneck speed that was definitive Du, it was the beginning of Mould and Hart becoming one rock’s best songwriting teams, often clashing, fueling the fire that gave the listening world albums like Flip Your Wig, New Day Rising, Candy Apple Grey and Metal Circus, each album different than the last, showing the three members ability to change, adapt, play at super-human speed and volume, or finding a delicate place to put a ballad or psychedelic trip around the piano keys. “People always tell me that Zen Arcade is the one that changed their lives. I can see that, it shows Grant and Bob at their best writing wise.” The band was able to twist and bend in any direction they wanted to go, looking ahead to the next thing, pushing themselves, along with their fans to new places, always growing, building songs that stand the test of time, like “Diane,” “Everything Falls Apart,” “Hate Paper Doll,” “Writer’s Cramp” and “Celebrated Summer,” songs that both help define and shatter what it means to be punk, to break barriers, to force listeners to embrace the unknown and to find who they are along the way.
All this Husker talk brought us around to Norton’s band mate Grant Hart, who died from cancer in 2018. “When I think of Grant, what comes to mind is the music, how good of a songwriter he was, truly great. And another thing about Grant is if he liked you, he could be hard on you, just brutal. I think his illness softened that somewhat but, yeah, he could be hard on you. I miss him.”
Norton is a man that is comfortable talking of the past, getting nostalgic for times gone by, friends lost. He isn’t all about the past though, not one of those rock heroes content to not move forward, to play the old music night after night, to relive the former glory and create nothing new. Norton is a man that still loves his craft, loves lying down a snarling bass track and rocking on toward the horizon. Happy to talk about the past at the same time looking forward to what comes next for Porcupine.
“I’m really excited about the new record (What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real), every one of those songs could be on the radio, no question. Writing songs with Casey and Ian is a good experience, they’re two of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever worked with.”
When reflecting, I asked Norton if there was anything he’d do differently on Husker Du’s SST output, he said without reservation. “I’d like to see the albums remastered,” a move that would undoubtedly prove the band’s greatness to a whole new generation, to slap kids back to reality, to show them what real punk is and answer the question “What Would Husker Du?”
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, HERE for Pt. 3, HERE for Pt. 4, and HERE for Pt.5. FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text. Pictured above: Deniz Tek; photo by Anne Tek. (We meant to get this column out before the end of 2018, but life happens. So consider this a round-up of the best rock & roll from the last half of the previous year.)
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Austin’s reactivated Crack Pipes often get tossed in the “garage rock” bin, and while that’s not inaccurate, the quintet has never been a sixties revival act, not even in its earliest days. That’s especially true on Fake Eyelashes (Super Secret), the Pipes’ fifth album and first in a baker’s dozen years. The Pipes distill the raw end of their record collections down to tracks both sweet (“Fake Eyelashes,” “Medusa, Do You Mind?”) and savage (“Lil Cheetah,” “(I’m a) Moon Man, Baby”). Adding bits of soul (“Sha-Zam”), country (the title cut), psychedelia (“Giraffe”) and the blues that shaped the band’s core back in the day (“Sweet & Low”), the Pipes rip on all cylinders, letting strong songwriting power the performances, instead of the other way ‘round. Just to reiterate that this is no retro garage rawk project, the record’s sole cover comes from the catalog of alternative rock icon Grant Hart – and it’s the rocking “You’re a Reflection of the Moon On the Water,” from 2009’s Hot Wax, too.
The Morlocks (American division) hail from the original 80s garage rock revival; amazingly, nearly 35 years after their inception, they’re still standing (even if singer Leighton Koizumi is the only original member left). Bring On the Mesmeric Condition (Hound Gawd!/Rough Trade) – only the San Diego quintet’s fourth studio album in its career – doesn’t alter the original formula an iota. The Morlocks still write tunes that sound like long-lost Nuggets gems and perform with the kind of energy that could only have generated following the late 70s punk rock wave. Which is to say that “Down Underground,” “Easy Action” and “Bothering Me” explode out of the speakers with killer riffs and snarling ‘tude, with Koizumi’s pop-eyed growl as the eye of the hurricane. Not too many of these bands are left, and even fewer can do this bop with any real verve or authenticity. Four decades into their career, the Morlocks still have the goods in spades.
The Ar-Kaics also party like it’s 1965, though not nearly as raucously as their elders. That has less to do with energy than style on In This Time (Wick/Daptone), the Richmond act’s second LP. The quartet comes off less as sneering punks than brooding nerds, with a midtempo rhythm drive that calls to mind folk rock more than garage punk. That doesn’t mean the band can’t rock out when required – cf. “No Vacancy” or “She’s Obsessed With Herself.” But moodier protopsych fare like the seething “Distemper” and poppy “Some People” are far more common. Similarly, Boston’s indefatigable Muck and the Mires share a devotion to sixties pro-am rock, particularly the party variety, but the quartet’s songs simply transcend such easy classification. Muckus Maximus (Rum Bar), the group’s latest EP, spills over with catchy tuneage, “Break It All” and “Loneliness” sure to bring smiles to faces.
Nearing their (gulp) thirtieth anniversary, the Bottle Rockets lean into their Americana side on their thirteenth album Bit Logic (Bloodshot). That doesn’t mean the veteran Missourians have discovered their inner Chris Stapleton – just that Brian Henneman dials up his Willie ‘n’ Waylon influences so they’re a bit more obvious, as on “Way Down South,” “Knotty Pine” and the title track. The band also gets poppy on “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Saxophone” without losing the rootsy influence. Henneman’s trademark wit is in fine form, poking wry fun at humanity in “Doomsday Letter” and “Human Perfection,” and at the music industry itself in “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw.” The Rockets keep their Southern rock edge low-key and avoid their Crazy Horse side, but that doesn’t make Bit Logic anything less than (yet) another solid Bottle Rockets LP. For a taste of the louder version of alt.country, turn to Austin’s Western Youth, whose self-titled, full-length debut (self-released) cranks up the amps even as it keeps to the virtues of songcraft. Frontdudes Taylor Williams and Graham Weber write tunes with melody, heart and just the right touch of soul, and their dedication to the electric guitar as the guiding force of the band keeps soft rock Americana clichés at arms’ length. Check out “Hangin’ On” and “Dying On the Vine” for the Youth at their best.
For Oldest Friend (Off the Hip), its first LP in seven years, Perth, Australia’s Painkillers expand to a four-piece, as singer/guitarist Joe Bludge and drummer James Baker (Hoodoo Gurus, the Scientists, Dubrovniks, etc.) joined by bassist Martyn P. Casey of the Triffids and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds and guitarist Richard Lane of the Stems and the Chevelles. The addition of two such notables really doesn’t change anything – Bludge still writes country-flavored guitar rockers that teeter between cynicism and sentimentality and sings them in a raw voice devoid, for good or ill, of polish – everybody just stays out of his way to let him express himself. Redolent of everyone from Johnny Dowd and Townes Van Zandt to the Jacobites and the Velvet Underground, Bludge’s vision doesn’t any room for bullshit – “$6 Chicken,” “Honey Bees” and the title track drop pretenses and shoot straight to the heart of barroom prophets everywhere. “I’m doin’ it all over in a rock & roll band,” he declares in “Drunk on a Train,” and that about sums it up.
In case you’ve ever wondered what barbers do in their spare time, the Cutthroat Brothers have the answer. Real life haircutters (though the album cover is a bit too reminiscent of a classic Monty Python sketch to make anyone comfortable sitting in their chairs) Jason Cutthroat and Donny Paycheck (who originally beat the skins for Camarosmith and the mighty Zeke) work out the demons on their self-titled debut (Digital Warfare). Paycheck keeps the rhythmic heart throbbing for Cutthroat, whose grunged-out slide guitar and sedate vocals give basic riff-rockers “Oceans of Blood” and “Kill 4 U” a current of menace and a bucket o’ guts. The pseudo-sibs also bring surprising soul to “Violent Crime,” a ballad (!) that has more in common with Nick Cave than Roy Orbison. Perfectly produced by Jack Endino, whose relationship with Paycheck extends through Zeke to the bands the drummer signed to his sadly defunct Dead Teenager label.
Those missing the wild ‘n’ crazy guys in Guitar Wolf will likely warm to the bluesy garage rock sounds emanating from fellow Japanese combo King Brothers. This trio aren’t the maniacs that Wolf are – let’s face it, no one is – but Wasteland (Hound Gawd!/Rough Trade), its debut album, has plenty of wild-eyed thrills. “Bang! Blues” and “No! No! No!” don’t mess around in the group’s mission to make “Kick Ass Rock.” Melbourne’s Beat Taboo similarly channel the unhinged spirit of the early garagabillies on its debut album Dirty Stash (Off the Hip). Over trashy twin guitars and a rhythm section (including OtH majordomo Mick Baty) as comfortable with rockabilly grunge as swamp rawk, Pange De Bauche growls, howls, rants and croons his way through “Lick My Wail,” “Cat Lady Man” and “Voodoo Beat” like the successor to Nick Cave and Tex Perkins.
Considering how tense modern times are, it takes some balls to sing “I’m a gun and I’m gonna kill you.” But that’s the Blankz for ya, apparently, at least on its third single “I’m a Gun” b/w “Bad Boy” (Slope). With analog synth sharing space with crunchy guitar, the Arizona quintet’s new wavey punk pop is big on old-fashioned pop hooks and sneering attitude. Better is the band’s fourth single “(It’s a) Breakdown” b/w “You’re Not My Friend Anymore” (Slope) – both tunes let the keyboard take the lead and feature stronger vocal performances.
Protopunk legend Deniz Tek has had a productive decade – between Radio Birdman reunions and side projects, he’s released three solo albums in the past five years. That includes the brand new Lost For Words (Career), which, as might be gathered from the title, dismisses lyrics and vocals in favor of an all-instrumental program. Unsurprisingly for the guy that wrote “Aloha Steve and Danno,” surf rock is the biggest building block – cf. “Eddie Would Go” and “Hondo’s Dog.” But there’s more to Lost For Words than refried Dick Dale, with the influence of spy movie soundtracks (“Lies and Bullets”), spaghetti western cinematic twang (“The Barrens”), Southwestern folk rock (“It Shall Be Life”) and groovy soul (“Boneyard”). The record also includes a pair of Birdman tracks: an instrumental reworking of the title track to 2006’s Zeno Beach and the otherwise unreleased “Vanished.” Another highlight of an always interesting and frequently brilliant career.
Speaking of legends, Paul Collins still walks the earth, dropping power pop nuggets as he goes. The erstwhile leader of the Beat resurfaces after a few years off with Out of My Head (Alive Naturalsound), the follow-up to 2014’s Feel the Noise. Though he’s in his sixties, Collins has managed to hold on to the boyish quality of his voice, which gives simple, lovelorn ditties like “Kind of Girl,” “Beautiful Eyes” and “Emily” a certain poignancy. And while rockers like “Midnight Special” and “Go” don’t exactly set amps on fire, they’ve got enough verve to at least rearrange the furniture. “Killer Inside,” meanwhile, explores an area of rock noir that’s not usually on Collins’ itinerary, and does it quite well, too. Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes work similar terrain on the Kiss the Ass of My Heart EP (Rum Bar), the follow-up to its excellent debutAll Anxious, All the Time. Leader and former Dimestore Halo Chaz Matthews likes simple, traditional pop melodies roughed up with rock & roll guitar and vocal grit, making “Black Leather Angel” and the title track balms for pop fans in studded belts.
Chicago musicmaesters Rick Mosher and Kenn Goodman have an estimable career going back to the eighties with the Service, the New Duncan Imperials and their industrious indie label Pravda. The Imperial Sound, the duo’s latest music project, blends airy power pop with horn-driven soul on its debut The New AM. If anything defines this record, it’s taste. Guitarist Mosher and keyboardist Goodmann keep their licks straight and to the point, and the horns augment the tunes perfectly. Given the LP’s title, it’s unsurprising that Mosher’s melodies betray a love of the smarter side of 70s pop and soul, and his arrangements keep ‘em clean and sweet. While Mosher’s plainspoken voice suits “Daylight,” “The Sun Goes Out” and “Back On Your Table” just fine, he also brings in friends for other tracks, highlighting singer/songwriter Nora O’Connor on the straight soul of “Yesterday,” R&B belter Robert Cornelius on the funky “A Man Like You” and the duo of Kelly Hogan and Peter Himmelman on the snappy “Ain’t Crawling Back.” Every track is catchy and to the point. Folks who wondered what happened to these folks after the New Duncs petered out will be happy to tune up The New AM.
We loved the first album from Justine and the Unclean as a wonderfully tight collision of glam, power pop, punk and hard rock. Unsurprisingly, Heartaches and Hot Problems (Rum Bar), the Boston quartet’s follow-up EP, is just as good. From the turbocharged pop of “Be Your Own Reason” and the bare-knuckled punk ‘n’ roll of “The System is Set to Self Destruct” to the deadpan boogie of “Margaritas and Secondhand Smoke” and genre-agnostic rawk of “Monosyllabic Man,” the Unclean waste no time on anything other than good tunes and hot rockin’. Frontperson Justine Covault seems to have picked up the long-abandoned baton of Nikki & the Corvettes, a most welcome infusion of new energy into the artery-hardened revenant of rock & roll. Though pulling from the same elements, Giuda ups the glam quotient considerably on its latest seven-inch “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” b/w “Born Under a Bad Sign” (Rise Above). All power chord riffs and choral chants, the Roman quintet has never been about anything other than a good time, and with drums that seem to beam straight from the British charts circa 1972, it can’t do anything else.
At its best, rock & roll should have an edge of danger and insanity, as if things might threaten to fall apart any minute. There aren’t many contemporary artists who embody that edge more than Obnox, AKA Lamont “Bim” Thomas (pictured below). The Clevelander’s latest album Bang Messiah (Smog Veil) – his tenth in less than a decade – is a half-hour of his stripped-down blend of punk, hip-hop and electro rock, starting with an obscenity-filled rant called “Steve Albini Thinks We Suck” and ending with the simmering electro-thwomp “Fluss.” In between you get straight rap cuts like “Rally On the Block,” mutant R&B like “Peek-a-Boo” and punk rock tantrums like “I Hate Everything.” Thomas is definitely not everyone’s flagon of cyanide, but there’s no denying the guy oozes rock & roll attitude in a way far too many rockers of his generation eschew.