October. Oops, ROCKtober is going to be a great month. Every year, in case you are keeping track, labels release their biggest albums in advance of the Xmas rush. I am not sure exactly what this means in the musical landscape as it currently exists, but from my perspective, there is an amazing amount of terrific, and very diverse new music coming your way in the next couple of months. In case you are keeping track, each month there is approximately 1 DVDs worth of music, which I’m finding is about the right amount to keep track of ( since I play DVDs in my car).
Also, in case anyone is keeping track, a few of last month’s releases didn’t make the drop box so you will find them in the next couple of drops. Also, while I try to make a note of everything, I find I’m running out of the time I’ve allotted for this project, so, some of these you’ll have to discover on your own as I’ve not put in any notes for those releases. For example, I mention that it would be a tragedy if you didn’t take time to try out the Noisettes record, Contact from last month. (Eve, this was the one I was telling you about!). Contact is the band’s third album, and is another pop gem. I am not really sure why they are almost universally overlooked, even though their last record went gold, but perhaps they don’t look like a conventional band. For whatever reason, this is poppy, hook-laden shiny pop music, not too deep…but why care. Some music should be the stuff that makes you want to shake your hips and not too think too hard. Singer Shingai Shoniwa has a special voice and that is precisely why this is worth a listen. To be clear I am not comparing the Noisettes to the disposable pop acts out there today with overtly retarded lyrics – think Carly Rae Jepson, Call Me Maybe and this sample lyric: Before you came into my life I missed you so bad I missed you so bad I missed you so, so bad .. Are you serious, she missed him before she met him? You get the idea. The lyrics on some of the songs on Contact are sometimes “off” but this is an enjoyable record. If you are not hooked by “That Girl” then you have no pop soul. This is an early 60’s girl group homage updated for 2012. Amazing.
Anyway, on to this month’s releases:
Joe Strummer & The Mescalaros – The Hellcat Years. Joe Strummer, who as leader of the mighty Clash brought punk rock to the masses, and passed away on December 22, 2002 far too young, finally with the Mescalaros was able to achieve the balance he struggled with in the Clash to bring his passion for reggae music to a rock crowd. Post Clash, Joe was still following his muse mixing punk rock passion with reggae and dub sounds into a unique vision that will likely never be repeated. This box is a digital compilation consisting of all three of the Mescaleros-era albums, plus newly released live material and rare B-sides. So, if you missed the records the first time – no worries. Of the three records, I like Streetcore the best, but have over time come to love both Global A Go-Go and Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. Also included are some amazing b-sides and a very cool live show with Joe and the band playing the Clash’s greatest hits. I think you’ll find that these three albums fit somewhere in the middle of London Calling and Sandanista – a true blend by a man with a unique vision. Try “Redemption Song” ( Bob Marley cover), “Coma Girl” and “ White Man in Hammersmith Palais.”
Carl Newman ( who goes by the name AC Newman) was a member of Superconductor and Zumpano in the 1990s later reemerging as the leader of The New Pornographers in 2000 and finding commercial success. On Shut Down the Streets, his third solo release, Newman finally has arrived at the perfect balance between all of his prior bands. This is a beautifully wrought record which Newman describes as follows:
Here is my album, Shut Down The Streets. Maybe you know me from The New Pornographers, and you may recognize Neko Case’s voice in these songs, you may even think “This one sounds so much like a New Pornographers song” and you may ask yourself “Who the hell are the New Pornographers?” All that aside, this album is all about birth, death, happiness and sadness, chronicling a time in my life where all those things had to learn to coexist side by side. There was that and a sudden obsession with the song “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty. That led to an obsession with the psychedelic sounds of the late 70s singer songwriter. So my most personal songs ever somehow made the most sense when I played them in a mutated version of an outdated style from my childhood. That’s just how things go.
I was blown away by the power and warmth on this record. These are beautiful well written songs which will connect with you. Definitely a late night after the party record, sounds amazing in the car. Try “I’m Not Talking,” “They Should Have Shut Down the Streets, and “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns.”
On the Haunted Man, Bat For Lashes pick right up where they left off last time. Haunted Man is British singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Natasha Khan’s third record and the ethereal quality to her voice and the songs contained here, are indeed “haunting.” If you listen carefully, you will hear elements of other distinctly British chanteuses who have traversed some of this ground ( Kate Bush & PJ Harvey instantly come to mind) but there is something special about Khan’s take on this gothic dream pop, something that captures you instantly and transports you instantly. Try” Laura,” “Lillies” and “The Haunted Man.”
Blonds, The Bad Ones is a retro take at the torch song ballad, and with the duo Jordy Asher and singer Cari Rae (from Brooklyn) capturing the balance between the early 60’s soul singer and 90s shoe gaze pop. For example “Heartstrings” has a “girl group” feel but there is something about Rae’s phrasing that takes this song into distinctly new territory. This is a unique pop record, with a great retro feel, plenty of well placed reverb. These are slow paced songs, more likely to be felt than merely experienced by listening. Think Torch Ballad with an indie pop feel. Try “Run”, “Mr. E” and “Locomotion.”
A new project from ex – These Arms are Snakes, front man Steve Snere, Crypts, sounds exactly what the Crypts name conjures: a cross between Revolting Cocks, Ministry, and the grave. While I don’t recommend this as a “play through the entire record type album” the music is strangely affecting with its mix of sci-fi electronica and filtered vocals. A strange and depressing record, but a worthwhile addition if you are interested in exploring new territory. Try “Territories,” “Completely Fucked” and “Bloods.”
Remember the Stranglers and their original vocalist Hugh Cornwell? I do. Why am I mentioning this connection with the new Cult of Youth record Love Will Prevail? Well, Sean Ragon, the former Love is Laughter bassist, sound strangely like Hugh and this record, touches some of the Stranglers less aggressive areas and caught me a bit off guard. These acoustic tinged folk-punk songs are aggressive and like a smoldering fire, build into something that is deeply affecting. Really, I was kind of blindsided by this record. “Try “Garden of Delights” New Old Ways” and “Golden Age.”
Never thought you’d see a folk band in the drop box list did you? I didn’t think so either, but there have been hints in the past that I’ve become more reflective over time. Remember First Aid Kit? Well, Dark Dark Dark is one of those folk bands worth a listen. On Who Needs Who that band effortlessly mixes a dizzying array of sounds into songs that highlight the pitch perfect vocals of Nona Marie Invie who breathes life into these captivating songs. Who would have thought something as unique as this would hail from Minneapolis, Minnesota? Well perhaps the home of Prince, Replacements and Husker Du has space for truly beautiful indie pop. Who knew? Try “Tell Me,” “Patsy Cline” and ‘It’s A Secret.”
For me, Toronto’s Danko Jones is the model of consistency and over the span of 8 albums have established themselves as perhaps the greatest pop-metal bands in the world. Yup, I said it – the world. On Rock and Roll is Black and Blue, Danko Jones continues its tradition of straight-forward male team themed (See “Get Up”) melodic punk infused metal with choruses so big and catchy that you can’t help but sing along. Lyrically every Danko Jones album, contains the same themes as found on Rock and Roll is Black and Blue – a laser focus on women and their various attributes ( See “Legs”), relationships ( You Wear Me Down”, and more songs about women ( “Don’t Do This” and “Type of Girl”). Pretty simple. No picks on this one. Just put it on, play loud and enjoy.
Try to forgive Green Day as they fight their slow decline into douchebagedness. See Billy Joe Armstrong appearing on the Voice- Season III; going into rehab for substance abuse issues, etc. What is unique about the Green Day experience, is that for a band that has been around as long as they have, the band has consistently taken chances and fought the good fight while attempting to remain relevant in a time where popular music has sucked the life out of the majority of alternative music. Uno! Isn’t going to bring them all the way back but is a valiant effort at straight ahead punk pop lyrically revisiting themes from at least one generation ago. Sure, there is a commercial gloss over the album and what is abundantly clear is that this album will sound much better live. Some of this is droll for guys in their 40’s (really “Stay The Night”?) but upon reflection and several spins, what you find is a band struggling to keep its passion, write simple pop songs, and have some fun. Perhaps the struggle here is that after so much time as a band the audience’s perception has colored how we listen to Green Day music. You can’t go back. This album assembles elements of Cheap Trick and The Cars as filtered by classic Green Day and consequently, upon reflection (my own) is worth a trip to the drop box. Not perfect, but satisfying in the long run. Try “Carpe Diem,” “Troublemaker” and “Oh Love.”
If you are going to give an album a tryout from this month’s offerings, then give Australia’s Tame Impala release Lonerism a spin. An amalgam of 60’s psychedelia, 90’s Brit Pop and modern indie, this is a fascinating record. You can hear the Sgt. Peppers era Beatles influences all over this record. You are unlikely to find a hit single on this record because this is nontraditional music. Sure, there is an emo quality to the songs, given Kevin Parker’s vocals and several songs dealing with the male/female love relationship. However, the songs stick inside your head and as a whole the album works well, but there are a few missteps – “Why Won’t They Talk To Me” being a good example. However, I was fascinated with Lonerism as it travels in a much different sonic space then most indie-rock records. Try “Music To Walk Home To” “Elephant” and “Apocalypse Dreams.”
I Was A Teenage Satan Worshiper. Well, I bet you thought I was going to admit that I was. Although, my mom thought that the music I was listening to certainly was the devil’s music. However, IWATSW, is the first Finnish band to make the drop box. More, My Bloody Valentine meets The Jesus and Mary Chain, the band originally was only My Lovin’ Martian (Pasi Viitanen) who recorded all instruments, but over the course of 4 albums, has evolved into a full fledged ensemble. The synths work on There, and I’m not usually the guy who jumps up and goes wow those synths @$##$ rock!. However, in context of this record, they work and positively accentuate some of the best tracks. Try “Lucid Dreaming,” “Higher Highs” and “Show Em’ Love.”
Metz is another change of pace in this month’s drop box and at the other end of the musical spectrum from IWATSW. Toronto’s Metz debut will leave you breathless. Brutal post-hardcore that is so melodic you will wonder why you don’t regularly listen to albums in this genre. Well, you can’t unless you are an eighteen year old male and are in the early stages of trying to destroy your hearing. Further, most of this genre is so concerned with making the heaviest record that they can with vocals that are more growl than sung, they fail to make a lasting impression. Metz is different. The music is still firmly in the genre, but they have actual melody and that is why this album will be on many best of lists at the end of the year. What do you get when you combine 90’s best punk rock bands and instead of them recording on major label they instead were incubated on the Amphetamine Reptile label (home of Tad, Boss Hog, Helios Creed and Lubricated Goat)? You get Metz and they should be big. Try “Wasted” “Sad Pricks” and “Negative Space.”
In a more conventional vein, is the Maine. Classic pop punk, this is well wrought catchy sing-a-long music made for the kids. Pioneer And Good Love is the bands third album and I swear you will be hooked on the candy on this record. Like the All American Rejects, it is obvious the goal is to write songs that leave you powerless to resist the melodic choruses. Go ahead…you can like this music. Sure there is no deep meaning, but if you were going to go out on a Friday night to a club to see a show, you could do much worse than the Maine. There are elements of early Tom Petty, the Refreshments, and the Rembrandts (remember the Friends TV show Theme?) From the opener “Identify” though track 19 “Good Love” you are taken on a diverse tour of this genre’s catchiest themes and hooks designed to make your brain explode. “Good love will find me”…and if you find the Maine, then you will find a measuring stick for other albums to compare against when you think of catchy music. I’ll bet this one will stay in the rotation on your music device for a long time. Try “Time”, “Misery” and “Jenny.”
In kind of the same vein, The New Electric Sound mines another corner of indie pop, and does it so convincingly. With a retro sounding pop rock, this Provo Utah based band led by former rapper/DJ Scott Vance writes catchy melodic pop rock that will have you singing along. Like the Maine above, New Electric Sound wear their influences on their sleeve and on their debut incorporate their Beatles influences into a sound that sounds like a cross between Neon Trees and Carolina Liar. So, sit back and enjoy as you listen to “Boston Shuffle”, “Heartbeat” and “Before I Fall Apart.” [ Note for John B: I still do not like the Beatles, but as you know, I love everyone who has ever ripped them off: See Marshall Crenshaw]
Okay, everyone knows the Sex Pistols. But, after 35 years, a record like this, which arguably was the fire starter for all forms of music in the punk/alternative universe after its release bears some reexamination. No, this is not the debut record, but The Great Rock And Roll Swindle – the albeit soundtrack from the movie (mockumentary) which although released under the Sex Pistols moniker was released after the band had already broken up; which Johnny Rotten then called Lydon had disavowed any participation and from which he was largely excised; and which consisted largely of tracks written by the band after the breakup and sung by the other members of the band – primarily Sid Vicious, Cook and Jones. BUT, this remixed version is a fascinating exploration, a complete mess, and portends the future of punk rock music. I particularly like the disco mix “Black Arabs” which is disco medley, including “Anarchy in the UK”, “God Save the Queen”, “Pretty Vacant” and “No One is Innocent” performed by a group called Black Arabs. Try “Substitute”, “Belsen Was a Gas” and obviously “Who killed Bambi.” Fascinating.
Los Angeles based blues rock band Rival Sons has finally arrived. You will get this record immediately upon listening to the first track, “Keep on Swinging.” This is pure revivalism. This is Led Zeppelin as if Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were just starting out again as young lads. Jay Buchanan updates Zep’s classic sound and sings in such an assured manner, you would swear this was 1978 and that you were playing “Stairway To Heaven” endlessly in a very smoke filled bedroom with a keg in the corner. It takes a lot of machismo to try to carry this type of record off without sounding like a parody. This record works amazingly well. So, get out your lighter, raise your arm in the air, and move your head up and down. Try “Wild Animal” “Until The Sun Comes” and “Three Fingers.”
Staying in California, San Francisco’s Sic Alps, also has a classic sound, but these garage rockers, traverse different territory labeled for lack of imagination “new garage.” However, these are sun drenched offerings of psychedelic garage. On the self titled Sic Alps, the bands fourth album, is still an exercise in disorientation (the opening track even has strings!) but something on this record is different. The songs have a laser focus compared to their last record and the production on this record is light years ahead of anything the band has ever done. It seems, the band has discovered some elements of the modern recording process were worth considering. It’s still lo-fi with plenty of reverb, but wow – the garage sound has at least caught up with the 90s and the slacker melodies now sound more like Pavement than the Seeds. A gem of a record, worth the time to investigate. Try “God Bless Her, I Miss Her,” “Drink Up!” and “Moviehead.”
The third California based band to make this month’s drop box list, San Diego’s The Soft Pack mines the same garage rock territory as Sic Alps but this is a distinctively modern sound that is full of energy. Where the Sic Alps play a rather laid back form of garage rock, the Soft Pack is twitchy and nervous and full of life. On Strapped, the band fixes some of the mistakes that were present on 2010’s debut, and now have focused on writing fully formed songs showing both range and diversity but preserving the carefree nature of their debut. In short, it works and is a much stronger and consistently excellent record. Try “ Tallboy” “Chinatown” and “Second Look.”