Given his unruly beginnings in an early ‘90s Aussie outfit that called itself Noise Addict, Ben Lee’s decision to retrace some seminal favorites from those early ‘90s ought to come as little surprise. So while Quarter Century Classix may be first and foremost a covers record, Lee’s inherent flair for sharing memorable melodies with an infectious energy serves him well here. The choice of material may not seem pop friendly initially, but even so, Lee demonstrates an ability to turn the work of some post punk provocateurs into something that’s not only intriguing, but surprisingly inventive as well.
Indeed, in many of the cases here, Lee takes an offhanded approach to the music that belies the darker designs of the originals. Archer of Loaf’s “Web in Front,” Fugazi’s “Blue Print” and Guided By Voice’s “Goldheart Mountain Top Queen Directory” all take on an amiable, ambling presence that’s not only outwardly engaging, but practically transformative as well. Still, that’s nothing compared to the sweet pastiche he gives Built To Spill’s “Car” and the effusive energy endowed in Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle,” the latter now sounding like a classic incarnate. The psychedelic sheen of “Get Me” (Dinosaur) and “In the Mouth of a Desert” (Pavement) add further illumination to the overall effort, while further confirming Lee’s own inventive instincts.
Though it started out as an inconsequential attempt to revisit Lee’s early influences through some impromptu hotel room recordings, Quarter Century Classix was later spurred on by the assistance of various artists who can also claim credence as far as that essential era — among them, Mike Watt, William Tyler, Petra Haden, Maria Taylor of Azure Ray, harpist Mary Lattimore, drummer Joey Waronker, and electronic artist Julianna Barwick. It’s a formidable crew, but Lee’s obvious infatuation with the material is the thing that gives the album its unmistakable allure. Even a quarter century on, Lee instills these so-called classix with a renewed credence and conviction of his own.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Speeding Motorcycle,” “Get Me,” “Web in Front”
To read a brief – and fun – essay that Lee himself penned about this delightful album’s originals, go here.
The Intelligence Service fascinate on this record as they take us on a journey to the center of the angst filled soul. The album opens with the appropriately titled track “In a Hole” which is an epic 18-minute, rather unsettling composition that explores the trauma of existence. It’s a journey to hell and back again, presenting catharsis in its purest form. With dense squally psychedelic stretches punctuated by some amazing organ playing, the band have upped the level of their songwriting in a very serious way. The track is fucking dripping with greatness. I can only imagine that live, this would detonate hard in a a subterranean hall, rife with the smell of sweat and craft beer.
“People are Sleeping” is a toe tapping guttural hymn soaked in a goth punk lacquer. Alex Pen’s vocals are a constant mule kick to the dome that pulverizes everything in sight. “Hunt You Down” sounds as if Tad Doyle is fronting The Normal. It’s vicious and bathes everything in an acidic vitriol. ”Beatrice’s Daughter” is an off kilter pop song that summons the ghosts of the Velvet Underground, only to eventually to morph into a hornet’s nest buzz upon fade out. “Sicj” sincerely scared me, with its “gotta burn it down burn it to the ground” evil as fuck lyric repeating the whole length of the song. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin the band lure the listener into an infernal pit of hell with no means of return. Bloodcurdling yet brilliant, I’m not sure how I’ll sleep tonight.
A digital-only title at the moment, this needs a vinyl release. (Read a review of the band’s 2017 album, Transgressors.)
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “In a Hole” “People are Sleeping” “Hunt You Down” “Beatrice’s Daughter” “Sicj”
Driving down the road on a cool Midwestern day, I flip through the stations on my car’s radio. I scan the dial, hoping with each growing failure to find something concrete, something to move me past boredom, it dawns on me that, rock and roll as an art-form, is a wounded animal alone in the forest looking for a quiet, beautiful place to die. In its place is the rise of easy to digest, autotuned, sanitized and ultimately, boring music, a white-washed version of what use to be considered cool and ultimately, worthwhile.
Unless you dig deep past metal and the abomination that is buttrock and the Five Finger Death Punches of an exceedingly awful rock horizon, good bar rock can be hard to find. Where are the bands that embody what it means to embrace what came before, forging ahead toward a new day rising? Something to foster, love and support when you find it, one that celebrates the idea that making good, thought provoking music, partying hard while pulling rock from it drudgery.
I found just such a band in “The Little Apple” Manhattan, Kansas. They are Headlight Rivals.
The band’s debut full-length “Mattson” for Kansas City, Missouri based Blacksite Records is a tour de force; blending influences such as The Replacements, The Who, Son Volt, Sugar, the drunken brilliance of Guided by Voices, a fair helping of early days Soul Asylum mixed with a hefty dose of Memphis, Tennessee forgotten giants Big Star.
Headlight Rivals have put all their cards on the table here, releasing an album that is truly a work of passion, persistence and straight ahead rock n roll. “Mattson” (named for Rich Mattson,the owner of Sparta Sound in Evelth, Minnesota where it was recorded) mixes melody with aggression, sound and fury; killer guitars from Eric Kleiner, a fat low end courtesy of Seven Black and phenomenal drumming brought by Eric’s cousin Kris Kleiner, the trio’s killer playing is augmented here by masterful mixing and engineering from Rich Mattson, all pieces coming together to create an album that will not be soon forgotten, a great first shot in a catalog that will certainly be stacked to the rafters by the time they lay down their instruments and charge towards the horizon, leaving their mark on Midwest music history and bars everywhere.
Opening with “All The Same to Me,” a rocker that elicits memories in me of listening to The ‘Mats and later period Husker Du while smoking a joint and hating my life in a rundown apartment in the middle of nowhere Missouri, the tones full, the playing unrivaled here in the heart of America.. “Some Ghosts” is a song about past loves and the pain that comes along with the exit, how the memories come flooding back to haunt you in the quiet times of the day, jamming like a track from “Still Gone” era Uncle Tupelo. “So Well” blasts from the speakers like a lost Matthew Sweet track, aching to the bone with pain and lose, exploding with guitars and lyrics drenched in melancholy.
While the ruckus that Headlight Rivals create may at times seem familiar, “Mattson” is by no means a re-hash of what came before; Seven, Eric and Kris clearly love rock and all that comes with it, molding something raw, wild and moving with “Mattson.” This is an album full of triumph and loss, blistering venom and soft melody. What they have created is something that should be heard, absorbed and reflected on. What the three piece from Kansas have given us isn’t just any album, “Mattson” is one of the best to see the light of day in 2019.
Kim Shattuck, singer/guitarist for the shockingly underrated band The Muffs, died unexpectedly just a couple of months ago, after a two-year battle with ALS that many outside of her close circle were unaware of. She left a brilliant legacy, with half a dozen near-perfect pop punk records to her name, a dedicated fanbase and a slew of heartbroken, normally jaded music journalists who were charmed by their interactions with her over the years (myself included).
It hardly surprising then that No Holiday, a record that she and the band were in the process of promoting when she unexpectedly passed away, lives up to their already impressive output. At 18 songs (18!), their first LP in five years comes out on Omnivore Recordings, fittingly the same label that recently reissued the group’s first three records and helped remind the world just how brilliant The Muffs were. No Holiday manages to be both remarkably nostalgic, capturing the vibe of those earlier efforts, while also building on their trademark sound, adding in several new musical directions. The taut pop punk rhythms are still there as are Shattuck’s glorious fuzzy power chords and her tough as a slap to the face vocals (probably one of the most undervalued in the punk rock world), but the trio manages to expand on that sound, with some of their slower tempo jams, like “Earth Below Me” with it’s plunked out clean guitar lines and “Lovely Day Boo Hoo,” with its melancholy vibe and acoustic guitars. This diverse collection actually manages to bolster the band’s reputation. They’re a little less sloppy than that solid 1993 debut, but Shattuck’s exasperated scream in the middle of “Late And Sorry” shows they are still very much that band many fell in love with so many decades ago.
Eighteen tracks, usually a sign of a group that could use a little outside help cutting some of the fat, proves that the band was just hitting it’s stride. Eighteen songs and No Holiday still leaves you craving more. Long live Kim Shattuck.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “No Holiday,” “Late And Sorry,” and “Pollyanna”
It’s sometimes taken for granted just how brilliant a songwriter Tom Waits is. The sky is blue, water is wet, and Waits can write a truly heartbreaking song. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been making music for more than four decades; Maybe it’s that some just can’t get past his graveled vocals, but sometime all it takes is listening to a fresh take on his songs to realize just how exceptional Waits is as a songwriter.
Come On Up To The House is hardly the first Waits tribute record, but it is easily one of the best. Boasting an all-female cast that includes Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin, sisters Shelby Lynn and Allison Moorer and Rosanne Cash, among others, the lyrics are given a fresh perspective in this mostly stripped-down affair. More often than not, the result is stunning. The opening track, Mann’s take on “Hold On,” and the stark “Come On Up To The House,” flawlessly covered by Josephine are simply sublime. While not ever song hits its mark, (Iris Dement’s “House Where Nobody Lives” is a pretty uninspired effort), there are more than enough brilliant covers here to keep you coming back to this record for years to come.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Aimee Mann “Hold On,” Josephine “Come On Up To The House,” Rosanne Cash “Time”
Never bring a knife to a gun fight! With all chambers loaded this Texas band is coming to clean your clock, so prepare to say hello to the big adios by the end of it. Punishing and completely bitchin’ this album is filled with molten tunes that provide the cathartic release many of us need to deal with the onslaught unleased by the Cheeto Overlord. If Randy the Ram had survived and his musical taste had evolved away from 80’s metal he most certainly would’ve had Speedealer on constant repeat. From punk to speed metal this album has it all. Produced for maximum torque-age the music on this record will have you dusting off your air guitar/drums. The playing here is out of sight and not for the faint of heart so best to check with your doctor prior to administering this to your cranium. Welcome back gents!
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: Never New, Rheumatism, War Nicht Genug, Sold Out
To put it simply, NRBQ are the Everyman band… and the everybody band as well. Over the course of more than five decades and countless continuing releases, they’ve proven their ability to transcend musical genres while reflecting certain essential tenants of popular music, be it rock or blues, soul or swing. Their dexterity is far greater than most any other outfit one might ever imagine, and that includes combos both past and present. Indeed, their essential greatness lies in the fact that they simply defy definition but yet, at the same time, transcend any signature style, making any attempt to confine them to a category silly and superfluous.
These days, only multi-instrumentalist Terry Adams remains of the original ensemble, but those that share his efforts and enthusiasm continue to make NRBQ as effusive and enthusiastic as they were back in the day. There could be no greater evidence of that fact than this new expansive 21 song double disc consisting of two concerts recorded live on both CD and DVD. Their astonishing skill and spontaneity are evidenced throughout, and even when the band make an unlikely segue way from an earnest take on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” — the upper register vocals intact — to a giddy instrumental cover of “Red River Valley” — renamed here, “Red River Rock” — their verve and versatility are delivered hand in hand. Likewise, it’s no small wonder that they can start the set with a reprise of the Goffin-King classic “Don’t Ever Change” while coming across like Merseyside merrymakers, and then end things on an equally upbeat note in the form of Adams’ “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.”
Needless to say, long-time admirers may be amazed that the band continue to ply their collective craft in such effective yet irreverent ways. Yet at the same time, there’s no better point of entrance for newcomers as well. Consequently, Turn On, Tune In is as convincing an entreaty as anyone might ever imagine.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “Don’t Ever Change,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Red River Rock”
That would be case-sensitive GospelbeacH, and they’re an American Band. They might not be quite ready to come to your town simply to party it down until there’s nothing left but groupie debris, but as the album title suggests, they’re not above proposing multiple strategies, either, of coping with this cultural shithole we call 2019. Plus, it kicks out da jams, period.
BY FRED MILLS
We’ve sung the praises of Brent Rademaker (late of Beachwood Sparks) and his band GospelbeacH plenty of times to date: just do a search on the site. The band has always seemed simpatico with both my personal musical tastes – it’s never been a stretch to propose some, uh, stray Neil Young and Tom Petty influences being traced in the sand of this particular SoCal beacH – as well as those among the core BLURT braintrust.
But this time around, with Let It Burn, I’m so gobsmacked, and have been for several months (I received the CD in the mail and subsequently ponied up for the limited edition, eye-candy colored vinyl edition), I risk being accused of blatant hype with anything I might scribble down here.
Screw it. Let It Burn – ya had me with your title. Hype mode on.
Per that name, one cannot escape what I’ll call the proverbial “album title echo” function at play (think about it). But there’s far more going on here than just an obvious record collector who happens to have a band and is playing some sort of clever insider game. This album is the product of a rock ’n’ roll lifer.
See, some artists simply get it. The “it” being how to take a stash of newly-recorded songs and assemble them into a coherent whole, something with a compelling narrative and sonic consistency, which of course involves having at least a tentative grasp of sequencing and flow. You might think, well, how hard can that be; you just set the album in motion – or get your producer in motion – and make sure it has plenty of variety while avoiding jarring stylistic juxtapositions and silly, off-putting segues, and lay the tunes on the table, because if you have faith in your own music, you will prevail, regardless of commercial and critical vicissitudes, right?
Uh-uh. Rademaker and his compatriots have both the savvy and the experience to understand the difference between aspiration and inspiration.
Let It Burn kicks off with a kind of reverie, the gently confessional piano-powered ballad “Bad Habits,” a deliberate stylistic choice aimed at setting the listener up for the sucker punch of second track “Dark Angel,” a riff-descending slice of TP & the Heartbreakers (if you can’t hear echoes of keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell in there, you’ve clearly sat out the past 40 years of rock history) boasting both a chordal and a lyrical hook (“Say goodbye Dark Angel/ Sorry that it had to end”) that you will be hearing in your head during those early morning, 4AM random wake-ups we all get. Good luck tuning it out.
And then the hits just pour forth, from the chugging, insistent power pop of “I’m So High” (do I hear a subtle Peter Perrett/Only Ones influence coming through here?) and the dreamy Young/Springfield-esque orchestral pop of “Get It Back,” to the cynical-yet-buoyant raveup “Nothing Ever Changes” (a meta-meditation which has so many cool/classic R&R references in it you can practically hear the GospelbeacH lawyers hollering in the background, “But Brent, we’re gonna get sued over this…”) and the devastating closing track, “Let It Burn,” a sweeping Crazy Horse-meets-Ryan Adams-meets-Bob-Welch-era-Fleetwood Mac number destined to be remembered as one of THE great indie rock anthems. For me, the tune just may wind up defining the decade we are about to leave behind – and, hopefully, may help play a part in finally saying goodbye to the current sorry era we find ourselves mired in.
Indeed, per the comment above about sequencing, there’s a subtle, thematic through-line to the album as well, one of endings and farewells, of being mindful of certain doors closing and feeling frustratingly uncertain as to which new ones might open in the future. The aforementioned “Dark Angel” is clearly of this sentiment, what with lyrics like, “I don’t know what I could’ve done different/ I don’t know what I could’ve said/ I keep my ideas on my phone/ I should’ve kept them in my head… So, say goodbye, Dark Angel/ I hope you finally found a friend/ Say goodbye, Dark Angel/ I’m sorry that it had to end.”
There’s so much to speculatively unpack in those lines – was there a death? a breakup? a betrayal? worse? Is this a self-soliloquy delivered by the singer to himself? – that, given the knowledge of a series of personal losses on the part of Rademacher’s over the past few years, I probably shouldn’t venture a guess as to specifics, although my hunch is that there’s something deeply existential going on here that the songwriter’s working through. And I do view the song as possibly intended to offer the listener the proverbial shoulder to lean; as true artists know that’s their mandate as regards their friends and fans. We depend on our artists, after all, to alert us to how they’ve been through some shit, and how we might take courage when it comes to going through our own shit.
Fast forward to the end: Ditto with “Let It Burn,” – which also could have been titled “Let It Go,” in fact, given the palpable sense of resignation and remorse infusing lines such as, “Heavy is the head/ That wears the crown/ You can build it up/ But they’re gonna knock it down/ I ain’t some king/ No, I’ve never been/ I’m on the outside, honey/ I’m looking in.”
Yet, earlier in the song, Rademaker subtly suggested that there’s the eternal optimism of a sunshine-drenched heart/mind behind those sober sentiments when he sings, “I’ve waited so long/ For something to change/ I’ve waited on a feeling/ I can’t explain,” and taken in the broader context, you get the sense that this guy’s not going to quit. Not on us, not on himself. After all, you don’t write a song about giving up – you might write a song about a negative, but then you’re gonna flip it around because, yeah, things have sucked lately, so fuck you, I’m moving on, come along with me for the ride, too, if you dare.
The fact that this album also represents some of the final recordings of one of indiedom’s most beloved artists, collaborators (to Ryan Adams and Chris Robinson, among others), utility players, and just plain inspirational forces – the late Neal Casal, who took his own life in August – puts a sad but relevant coda to things as well. That’s Casal’s gorgeous fretboard peals swirling throughout the title track, and Rademaker and the other band members have openly mourned their losing of Casal in interviews. Rademaker has even suggested that the album title comes from an offhand comment that Casal made during the sessions about bearing down and not overthinking the music.
While I’ve never lived the proverbial “band experience” myself, anyone who can’t identify with that type of loss clearly lacks a heart… maybe a soul as well. So, again, you come away from Let It Burn with a definitive sense of celebration, as in, we got through this, and the rest of you can, too.
This album, then, is also about all us folks who might have a chance to recover some things we thought we’d lost. Man, is this ever drenched in heart and soul. The first time I heard it, several months ago, I muttered to myself, “Think this gonna be in my top 10 of 2019.”
‘deed it is, folks.
Oh, did I mention that GospelbeacH is a band that gets it?
‘deed they do, folks.
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “Let it Burn,” “Dark Angel,” “Get It Back”
Since one of my guitar heroes, Ray “Sonic” Hanson (Thee Hypnotics, etc.) is featured on four of its tracks, I was immediately fascinated by The ElectraJets‘ new album. With a sinister, lo-fi haze, the record is the perfect soundtrack for the dirty boulevard especially now that it’s cold and sooty outside, and the streets are filled with cunts with long faces!
“4 a.m. Strangeways” is a gritty opener that will have you stomping your feet and wondering if its 1979 all over again. “Darkness,” the only track on the album written solely by bassist Cynthia Ross (sounding like Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde), is a poetic gem and could have easily fit in the carny scene from the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire. “Suicide Spaceship” will satisfy ardent Thee Hypnotics fans, with Ray’s crazed wah-howl splattered all over the proceedings. On “Happy Smack” Jeff Ward’s guitar playing reaches new levels of greatness; this, melded together with his drug-addled vocals, made the song an unsettling affair.
Nestled between track 11 and 13 is a number called “Sarah’s Truth” that’s credited to Sarah Amina, which stuns with its throbbing sonics and haunting lyrics. So, what makes this record so compelling? Would we want a closer look even if Ray Hanson wasn’t involved? I’d say the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ While I can understand why they wanted Ray to play on the album, Jeff Ward is really the one who makes this record tick. The album has a specific swagger that would’ve been well-received, even if the songs weren’t half as interesting. Sadly, I hear this may be the final ElectraJets album, and if that’s the case, then they go out with their heads hanging high.
Wow, I’ve been hearing rumblings of a new Rocketship record for like, well, years but nothing has ever materialized until now. Yes, this is the same Rocketship led by Dusty Reske that released some classic indie pop records back in the 90’s (that record on Slumberland, A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness is an all-time fave). He later took some forays into ambient/electronic stuff that I didn’t like as much but Rocketship is back and this record sounds excellent. The thing is here that Reske, working with dreamy vocalist Ellen Osborn, didn’t try and recapture that 90’s sound of the band. I mean, there’s still elements of that sound all over the record but on Thanks To You Reske is definitely following his own musical mind and it shows.
At times you might think it’s a lost, baroque 60’s record that Curt Boettcher or The Left Banke did with some real weird organs/keyboard sounds. Kept in Reske’s talented hands he reigned in the songwriting (he basically kept the songs from floating off to never never land) and really made a unique record. First cut ‘Under Streetlights Shadows” is a perfect distillation of all that Reske has done (bits of space pop, shoe gaze, etc.) while the soaring “I Just Can’t Get Enough of You” might be there best song on here in all its otherworldly glory. “Outer Otherness” might be as close as he’s gonna get to straight synthpop (and it’s a blast when Osborn’s vocals come popping in) and “What’s the Use of Books” reminded me a bit of old NYC French pop band Ivy (again, another killer vocal performance by Osborn) and don’t miss the impossibly lovely “City Fair.”
For Reske to make another classic record, 20 years after the fact, isn’t just surprising, it’s downright thrilling! Again, he wasn’t trying recreate his past, but just doing what he does best and on Thanks To You he really put his best foot forward (again).
TRACKS TO TRACK DOWN: “I Just Can’t Get Enough of You,” “Outer Otherness,” “City Fair”
A Blurt Boot Video Exclusive: Simon Bonney & Bronwyn Adams (Live NYC) 5/14/2019 WARSAW
Filmed by Jonathan Levitt. Check out Bonney's latest record "Past, Present, Future" http://smarturl.it/SimonBonney
A Blurt Boot Exclusive: Psychedelic Furs "Only You and I" (Live Costa Mesa CA 7-19-18
Tribute: Tony Kinman (R.I.P.) and Rank And File - Video from "Long Gone Dead"
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea