Slowly I’m catching up. In this month’s dropbox are some very outstanding releases highlighting a very healthy alt-indie-punk scene. As this is the only place you will get to hear much of this music (albeit there are a few albums on this month’s list which I dare say might actually make it on to commercial radio such as the new Imagine Dragon’s and Airborne Toxic Event LPs and perhaps the Noel Gallagher album), grab what you can early as you can as I have another fresh month of great tunes ready to roll right behind this one. I have divided this months Dropbox Notes into a couple of sections – notes, editorial, and then music – to shortcut the process so you only have to read what you want to read, eh?
Important Note : Concerts at the VFW in Monrovia (825 S. Magnolia Ave, Monrovia CA) beginning March 13, 2015
One note of interest (both for me and for you): If you are in the Monrovia (California – not Liberia) area this week on Friday March 13 – drop by the VFW for the first of a series of local shows featuring Monrovia’s own Jurassic Shark as well as Shaman Cult, Wild Wing and Gold Vine. I am the promoter of these shows with a couple of local buddies. We are attempting to start a truly local scene in the San Gabriel Valley and this is the first show in what we hope to be a series of shows.
Our second show is Friday March 27, 2015 at the same location. Bands to be announced. Stay tuned!!
Editorial: How to really F%$& Up a good thing as demonstrated by KROQ.
As I have observed over time, there are rarely better examples of how to not handle change than are easily found in the music world. The most recent spectacular example, is KROQ’s handling of the terminations of Lisa May and Doc on the Roq from a morning show which they were both integral characters. What I will miss is Lisa’s sunny disposition and steady performance as straight person to the comedy attempts of the other participants in the program. I enjoyed the actual sound of her voice in the mornings because of its tone. I have listened to portions of the program each morning since the beginning of the program – the name of which is no longer important because after the terminations I know longer listen to the yak asses who remain involved – although I will say that the name hosts did much better, post termination, to explain the rationale, than Ralph Garman who came off as arrogant, obnoxious, and self-righteous in his defense of the change.Lisa and Doc – you were great and I hope you land somewhere that appreciates your distinct and special skills.
Poorly handled by all though, which frankly is inexcusable. 18 years of employee loyalty terminated in a single day. The station lost me as a listener although to be fair I haven’t listened much for several years as the music on KROQ is just plain repetitive and boring and what I have observed previously remains true – they are not really focused on new music. REALLY – STOP playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers – Foo Fighters too!.
So, on the theory that change is a good thing, I believe that the late observation of the program to make changes to freshen up a show that has become somewhat stale was actually astute – but I would have terminated Ralph and slipped someone into his slot – someone who truly loves entertainment rather than Ralph who spends most segments shamelessly and constantly self-promoting his own out of studio activities.
I am going to miss Doc whose distinct 1 minute news style was all its unique own and of course, Lisa May who was erudite in a sea of rather unfunny lemmings.
So, with that observation, now to the part that really matters, the Music
A couple of live offerings to start things off this month’s Tales Form The Dropbox:
You just have to love Ty Segall. Prolific, talented, unpredictable but always interesting, Live in San Francisco documents a blistering show recorded as part of Castle Face Records Live in San Francisco series. Look back and find the OBN III’s show in an earlier dropbox). This is a terrific example of a Ty Segall show with all loud guitars, fuzz, psychedelic roar, and Ty’s distinctive vocals holding the fun together. As the label accurately describes, this is the Ty Segall Band “captured during two nights in San Francisco at the barely-pushing-medium sized venue The Rickshaw Stop. Rowdy crowd, meet stacks of amplifiers – Ty, Charlie, Mikal and Emily came to singe your ears off.” Duly noted! Try “Feel” (off the new record Manipulator), “Slaughterhouse” and “Whats Inside Your Heart.”
Going on the theory that you cannot have too much of a good thing and when it is Devo there is never enough, Devo – Hardcore Live! captures Devo paying tribute to Bob Casale (“Bob 2”) who had passed away last year performing tracks written in Devo’s infancy between 1974 and 1977 on last years ten-city “Hardcore Tour.” Released as a DVD, this live album recorded at the Oakland Coliseum captures the frenetic energy of Devo’s earliest recordings many of which date back to the basement in Akron where they were recorded and only having been previously released on the Hardcore albums. So, on Hardcore Live! these nascent tracks are now all cleaned up and played with vigorous energy and love. For me, the live reexamination of these demos and early versions makes their inclusion in the overall record of devolution significant. No real picks here as I like them all, but you should check out the terrific versions of “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Jocko Homo,” and of course “Satisfaction.” (Honestly, at this point in my life when I think of this song, I no longer can recall how the Stones version actually sounds).
Stiff Little Fingers is Still Kicking. Not really kicking much lately, but if you are reading this entry Jake Burns – now would be an excellent time for a new LP to be released. Notwithstanding that this is a retitled reissue of an earlier SLF live release entitled At The Edge it is a very good introduction to my favorite band of all time. Recorded at the Ocean, in Hackney England on October 9, 2004, Still Kicking is an example of the SLF hit machine firing on all cylinders. Truly one of the greatest live shows I have ever witnessed, Jake Burns is the consummate showman and the kinetic energy of the shows makes for engaging and compelling listening. These are the hits performed by the one band that should be in everyone’s record collection. For me after more than 30 years I have never tired of any of these songs and the album is a refresher of why SLF and these classic punk songs made such an impact. As with Devo above, try them all, but if you force me to pick the best of this specific show, then try “Barbed Wire Love,” “Fly The Flag,” and “Suspect Device.”
Finishing up the live portion of these dropbox notes, a couple of Guster shows that demonstrate the power of Guster’s songwriting compiled into a box set. Last month I dropped the excellent new album, Evermotion, but these three shows highlight what makes Guster special as a band as they play three earlier records from their lengthy career, in order, live at various venues.
Guster performed their 2003 album Keep It Together at New York’s Beacon Theatre on November 30, and recreated their 1994 debut Parachute live during a matinee at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl on December 1. Ben Kweller, who appears on Keep It Together, also appeared at the Beacon theater show. According to the band:
Keep It Together (released June 2003)
The day we released KIT, we played a free concert in Boston’s Government Center. Introduced by Mayor Menino as “Goose-ter”, the audience was a massive sea of nearly 50,000 heads. We played every song double speed and stayed into the wee hours of the night autographing hummingbird after hummingbird for whoever waited in line. The next morning I opened up the band’s email inbox, expecting to be inundated with love, and was shocked to find like, no new messages. People were still digesting that this album was a real departure. A transitional album, in the context of our musical history, we feel pretty good looking back at what we created now, and so many people have told us it’s their favorite Guster album. While the front half was tighter and more pop, the back half unleashed a new, more experimental side for us. But every last song on that album still feels relevant, and we’re excited to celebrate it, from “Diane” to “Two at a Time”, at the Beacon Theater.
Parachute (released May 1994)
People thought we’d never do this, but we’re doing it, and we’re doing it at 2pm in a bowling alley. We were juniors at Tufts playing in a band called Gus when we first put out this album. The cd release party was at a dining hall, and someone in the crowd let off a sulfur stink bomb during our set, which still pisses me off nearly 20 years later. While many of the songs on this album have fallen out of favor in the live set, we appreciate that for a lot of our oldest fans, this was what hooked them. And for three kids who were recording between midnight and six am at Q Division studios in Boston while racking up incompletes in our classes, the album sounded better than we could have ever imagined at the time. Most copies of Parachute were sold out of a guitar case while busking in Harvard Square in the mid-90s, and there are 4000 existing copies where the band was GUS, not GUSTER. Those are worth between 10 and 12 dollars on eBay.
Terrific stuff. If you’ve never heard Guster before, then this is a good chance to find out what makes them special. No favorites here as well, they are terrific records studio and live. My favorites, you query?
Try: “Jesus On The Radio,” “Barrel of a Gun,” and “Dissolve.”
In a similar vein (musically at least) is Ben Lee. With a new album coming out next month and a new label (Warner’s) Australia’s Ben Lee encapsulates with Mixtape a career’s worth of splendid indie-pop confection bordering on perfection. According to Ben:
“This album began as an exploration of songwriting. I decided to write songs for different voices, and invite these singers to perform them. My dear friend Sam Spiegel (Squeak E Clean) offered to produce the record I had conceptualized, and we began working on the collaboration in earnest in 1998.
Over the next 6 or 7 years we continued to record intermittently. All kinds of wonderful musicians came by and offered their help with recording. I should have kept better notes during the sessions but I know you can hear Eric Gardner, James Valentine, Rusty Logsdon and Alfredo Ortiz amongst many others. I am grateful to everyone who played a part in these recordings, large or small, remembered or forgotten. For some years these recording just sat on my hard drive. I have always loved the recordings, but life moved me in other directions and distractions, and the release of the “Mixtape” recordings were temporarily shelved.”
However, in order to assist a charitable cause, he released Mixtapes to raise funds and the results are stunning. I dare you not to fall in love with “You’re The Reason (feat. Zooey Deschanel) who I realize now is a far better singer than actress.
You to can donate: https://amixtapefrombenlee.bandcamp.com/releases
So, if you love pop music try Mixtapes which is a very good collection of songs, but for my money try: “You’re the Reason (feat. Zooey Deschanel),” “Turn Back Now (feat. Azure Ray),” and “You Confuse Me (feat. Ian Ball).”
A couple of reissues of note this month in the dropbox. First up are the two releases from Jellyfish, much appreciated by me and much missed as well. I have dropped in various releases over the years related to Jellyfish, but Bellybutton and Spilt Milk represent the only official releases in the short history of the band. These remastered deluxe editions feature a staggering 51 bonus tracks consisting of various demos and live recordings. Jellyfish’s debut, Bellybutton, was released in 1990 and the follow up Spilt Milk in 1993.
Produced with the participation of original members, Andy Sturmer, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Jason Falkner from Jellyfish these reissues round up everything you could ever want from the band. However, in exploring these reissues, I would suggest listening to the original albums as released first before digging into the cornucopia of extras. The exploration of the extras is rather exhaustive and in some places repetitive. However, for a two record career, Jellyfish produced two titles that demonstrate that the 90’s was not all grunge and nu-metal. Remarkable consistent and immediately likeable, Bellybutton and definitely worth a listen. Try “The King Is Half-Undressed,” “Calling Sarah,” and “The Ghost at Number One.”
The Go-Betweens, like Jellyfish, were also a musical anomaly, oh, and also Australian. G Stands for Go-Betweens: Volume 1 1978-1984 collects the chaotic early period of the career of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan (who died in 2006) which was largely overlooked (although not by me as I collected the releases during this period) and not commercially successful because at the heart of their genius was that they produced great singles but their albums were not considered great at the time. Not coincidentally then, you should likely start your exploration of this box set with the First 5 Singles in this 8 disc box set. After the taster set, try my favorite album, the excellent second album 1983’s Before Hollywood, then skip to their debut, Send Me A Lullaby, and then next listen to Spring Hill Fair. From there, you are on your own. This is a great compilation highlighting releases that attracted zealous fans worldwide but in the mainstream stands largely overlooked. Sad, really, because buried in these records are some classic songs that are impressive today. To be clear, I am not saying that everything here is gold – there are some obvious warts and bumps in the catalog, but who am I to judge (not intended to be an ironic statement). Try “Two Steps Step Out,” “Careless,” and “Bachelor Kisses.”
Also reissued is Leftover Crack’s last record, now 10 years old, the exceptional Fuck World Trade which is a mix of classic NYC Hardcore and ska that left an indelible mark on me when I first heard it. Leftover Crack achieved on this release what few bands during this period were able to accomplish – an intelligent (although the views expressed are somewhat over the top cartoonish radical) blend of punk, hardcore and ska with touches of metal blended into a truly classic sound. Defiantly different – Fuck World Trade is a punk rock masterwork. Even the covers and additional tracks add to the original album fit seamlessly on this reissue. If you’ve never heard of Choking Victim before today, the two covers included here are better than the originals – tight and speedy – perfectly transforming the songs into Leftover Crack essentials and making you forget the originals. Try “One Dead Cop,” “Apple Pie and Police State,” and the lengthy “Soon We’ll Be Dead.”
Still hanging out in the punk world, is Title Fight’s whose latest, Hyperview continues a string of excellent punk rock releases. Hanging out is an inaccurate descriptor of Title Fight’s sound or songs. Rather, Hyperview marks the logical progression of a band whose earlier work was a potent mix of pop punk and bouncy guitars, now directly focused on a more angular guitar attack that is sonically superior, still melodic, and is more akin to post-punk than the pop punk of the early years. This is a powerful listening experience, and I have only one small nag – the mix buries the vocals a little too deep in the sonic wash, but overall its still Title Fight, a little more mature (is that a negative?) but a study in blending power and melody. Try “Mrhac,” “New Vision,” and “Liar’s Love.”
Missed entirely by those in the know (you know who you are!), is the debut from Beaumont Texas 3 piece Purple, who has managed to capture what has been missing lately from traditional rock – energy. This is a mix of the White Stripes, the Strokes, Jet, and a Brodie Dalle sound-alike for a singer, making for an eclectic mix of boy (guitarist and vocalist Taylor Busby) and almost girl vocals (drummer and vocalist Hannah Brewer) that drives this record. The White Stripes influences are felt most strongly on tracks like “Leche Loco” where the vocals could be Jack White, but there is something much more interesting going on here. More modern reviewers will point to those bands as the touchstone ( I get it – female drummer means it must be a White Stripes cover band) but the sound on (409) is really derived from the Led Zeppelin song book and it is all good. Modern flourishes on a classic rock foundation with maximum riffage doesn’t disappoint. As a change of pace, this is an excellent record. I promise you’ll love something on this record. They are on a massive tour of Europe, so if they eventually get over to this side of America, try to catch them live. Try “Beach Buddy,” “Target,” and “Head On The Floor.”
Now on the other end of the sonic spectrum is Teen Daze’s latest A World Away. For those who will listen to this record and are familiar with my tastes for punk rock and indie pop, you will obviously say upon first listen – what the F#$^? This is an electronic instrumental record and entirely outside of my usual musical comfort zone as I’m not a huge electronic fan. I was actually caught off guard by A World Away, because the melodies and the massive sound collage created in each song are very effective. Remarkably diverse for an electronic record and never boring, the songs created images. A refreshing way to look at music. Not an everyday experience for me, but as a one-time event, I’ll come back to listen to this. For example, “Reykjavik, January 2015” actually reminded me of those morning walks in the bush behind my house in Whitehorse, YT as a teenager. Remarkable. Try “Reykjavik, January 2015,” Sun Burst,” and I Feel God In The Water.”
Let’s get back on track, eh? One of my favorite records of the year so far is Amherst Massachusetts California-X’s Nights In The Dark which steps away from the obvious Dinosaur Jr. comparisons on its debut release into new territory by dialing back the 90’s fuzz and distortion into the more pleasant Overwhelming Colorfast variant. California-X still manages to be powerful on Nights In The Dark and this is still an alt-rock record (think Pavement and Meat Puppets) but not a 90’s throwback as much as a 2015 update including those sounds. There is much to like about the variety and the catchiness of the songs on Nights In The Dark and it doesn’t all work for me (for example “Ayla’s Song,”, huh?) but I don’t fault the band for trying to push their sound in new directions. Exploration is good. Try “ Hadley, MA,” “Nights In The Dark,” and “Summer Wall Pt. 2.”
Next up is the band I consider to be the best traditional rock band (yes, I said best!) on the planet. I’ve been hooked on Danko Jones since I first heard “Lovercall” and if you can get over the obvious Kiss references (when they were still good i.e. prior to 1979), then Danko Jones is the sole occupant of the sweet spot of rock and roll. Danko Jones is remarkably consistent for the past 15 years. As a 3 piece, Danko Jones is the real deal as a traditional power trio. Fire Music, the bands 7th comes out April 21 and continues the tradition of the exploding drummers with new drummer Rich Knox behind the kit. At last count I believe that Rich is the 7th Danko Jones drummer. Perhaps it’s the in your face mix of Ramones and Kiss, but Fire Music is a solid record throughout. Miss this and you are missing out. Try “Body Bags” (reminds me of D.O.A.), “Gonna Be A Fight Tonight,” and the awesome (difficult not to smile throughout this) track “Do You Wanna Rock.”
Moving to the other side of the ocean (I bet you thought I was going to write “pond” but I’ll get to Pond next) is the distinctly British take on rock and roll in the form of Carl Barât & The Jackals debut Let It Reign. The obvious point of reference for comparison is the Libertines which will end up in every review – somewhere. It is hard not to make such comparison as the Libertines were among the best punk bands of all time – mixing rock n roll excess with British punk and tabloid behavior perfecting the appearance of genius disaster. While Pete Doherty gets the cred – dated Kate Moss din’t he? – Carl deserves equal credit for that band’s success and spectacular failings. Now as the Libertines try to thrash together new material, Carl’s latest with a new band, the Jackals, is a solid rock album, that took me a couple of listens to find the gems buried in its contents. I can see how the Clash echoes throughout the record and for me that’s not a bad thing. You’ll get the obvious Clash references from the very first track, “Glory Days” but as I indicated at the beginning, the Clash are the obvious reference point for traditional British Rock. Taking off from that touchstone, the album is powerful, furious at points, the songs have a direct oft times angry punchiness and there is a determination in the vocals making for a great listen. Try “ A Storm is Coming,” “War Of The Roses,” and the Buzzcock’s like “The Gears.”
Now we should discuss Pond. Australia (again) has a better grasp on the hippy, trippy, psychedelic with a nod to the goofiness of rock music. Sharing members with Tame Impala, Pond is a being unto its own mixing on this record more synth and dance rhythms into its sonic stew but retaining the psych-rock leanings of earlier outings. Six albums into a career, this, for me, is their best record as it notches up the fun, keeps things still a little weird, but the most relevant tidbit is that it still rocks hard for as much synthesizer as there is on this record. Clap your hands and sing along to “Elvis’ Flaming Star,” “Outside is the Right Side,” and “holding Out For You.”
Jessica Pratt’s latest On Your Own Love Again is a home recorded lo-fi acoustic affair that is remarkable in its simple complexity. On Your Own Love Again is Jessica’s voice mostly accompanied by acoustic guitar filled with songs that are complex in both vocal delivery and songwriting. Jessica’s vocals integrate beautifully with the rich guitar and on On Your Own Love Again, her second effort, the songs present both feeling and color. This is an album that demands listening and the effort is rewarded with a thoroughly pleasurable listening experience. Again, not normally my thing, but change is good. Try ” Game That I Play,” “Greycedes,” and “Back, Baby.”
A different approach to the singer-songwriter dynamic is Nashville’s Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut effort. A former backup vocalist for Jenny Lewis, and now on tour with Ryan Adams (which is how I came to find out about this gem) Jenny Prass creates a pleasurable listening environment for some very well written songs. The band is tight and showcase Natalie’s obvious vocal skills. These are powerful vocal performances but still delicate (if that somehow makes sense) and all these tracks are both charming and interesting – a perfect blend. Try “Why Don’t You Believe In Me,” “Birds of Prey,” and “My Baby Don’t Understand Me.”
I have repeatedly and often highlighted my love of Australian bands, but it should also be obvious that Canadian musicians are the spine in my book of awesome bands. (See Danko Jones (Toronto) above). Calgary based Woman were an awesome band until an on-stage fight broke up the band and the tragic death of guitarist Chris Reimer in 2012 took the band with it forever. It seemed like the remaining members would seek an entirely different musical path following Women’s unfortunate demise. Not so fast. Dissolving the band and reforming with two members of Woman in 2013, Vietcong incorporates obvious elements from Woman’s prior outings, particularly from the Public Strain LP and specifically the “cold” feeling created by the dissonance on the record. In 2013, the release you are now listening to was put out as a “tour only cassette” by the band as a kind of introduction to Vietcong. the songs on the Cassette EP are warmer by a few degrees than Woman, but more importantly, they also represent a significant sonic departure. Their label has cleaned up the original recordings and the new version of the Cassette EP makes the bridge to the new record released in January more obvious. For me, as I saw Bauhaus play live in 1981, the live cover of “Dark Entries” sold me initially on the reconsituted and renamed band, but the rest of the tracks on this EP are essential. Try” Static Wall,” “Select Your Drone,” and “Dark Entries.”
New England’s Make Do And Mend have taken their sweet time in releasing their latest excellent effort Don’t Be Long. It’s been three years since their last album and one would think that Make Do And Mend‘s core audience would need a re-introduction. As you likely know, the music industry savagely discards bands at a greater rate compared with earlier decades. Don’t be worried – Don’t Be Long is going to be considered a classic punk rock record from this era 10 years from now. Sure, there are a few hick-ups along the way, but I prefer to think of them as beauty marks. This is thoroughly enjoyable pop punk with a harder edge and, like the Menzingers latest album, you will find your way back to this album again and often. Try “Sin Miedo,” “Don’t Be Long,” and “Begging For The Sun To Go Down.”
Chicago’s Knuckle Puck have returned with another in a series of what seems to be EP only releases with While I Stay Secluded. Released late in 2014 so it didn’t make the dropbox, Knuckle Puck leans more towards the pop end of the pop-punk spectrum and this EP is a great introduction for those who’ve not had the pleasure previously. Knuckle Puck have put together a complete package embracing the genre and figuring out how to take the lyrical themes common to this genre (alienation, isolation, success etc.) and restate them in an interesting manner. Start at the end first – Try “Bedford Falls,” “But Why Would You Care?, “ and “Transparency.”
Still on the east coast, Albany New York’s Drug Church second effort, Swell, is a too short taster of an EP. From beginning to end this is an in your face attack – raw and powerful and playing on the edge of punk rock and alt-rock at times. Nothing new to the genre but the clean sound and excellent musicianship remarkable offer enough to make this a winner. Try “Mail Swat,” “But Does It Work,” and “Zero Zero.”
I’d be remiss to not offer up reviews of LVL Up, Perfect Pussy, Hoodoo Gurus and Menace Beach but as I’m short of time, I can only say make sure you dig these out and give them a spin. The Waterboys, Purity Ring, St. Vincent and Imagine Dragons you should already know about. The year is off to a great start and although a few of the releases are from last year – they really shouldn’t be missed.
Before you go check out this month’s list below.
Live long and prosper. #Missing Spock
- Ty Segall Band – Live in San Francisco 
- Ben Lee – A Mixtape From Ben Lee 
- Waterboys – Modern Blues 
- Carl Barât & The Jackals – Let It Reign 
- Twerps – Range Anxiety 
- Title Fight – Hyperview 
- Teen Daze – A World Away 
- Sonny & The Sunsets – Talent Night at the Ashram 
- Sidekicks – Runners in the Nerved World 
- Purple – (409) 
- Pond – Man It Feels Like Space Again 
- Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again 
- Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass 
- Jellyfish – Spilt Milk [Deluxe Edition] 
- Jellyfish – Bellybutton [Deluxe Edition] 
- Murder By Death – Big Dark Love 
- Milo Greene – Control 
- Mademoiselle K – Hungry Dirty Baby 
- Knuckle Puck – Don’t Come Home 
- Leftover Crack – Fuck World Trade (Reissue) 
- Go-Betweens – G Stands for Go-Betweens, vol. 1 
- Devo – Hardcore Live! 
- California X – Nights in the Dark 
- Danko Jones – Fire Music 
- Menace Beach – Ratworld 
- Viet Cong – Cassette 
- LVL UP – Hoodwink’d 
- Imagine Dragons – Smoke + Mirrors [Super Deluxe Edition] 
- Stiff Little Fingers – Still Kicking 
- Purity Ring – Another Eternity 
- Make Do And Mend – Don’t Be Long 
- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday 
- Cheatahs – Sunne EP 
- Drug Church – Swell 
- Fury Things & Brilliant Beast – Split EP 
- St. Vincent – St. Vincent (Deluxe Edition) 
- Perfect Pussy – I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling 
- Kopek – Rise 
- Knuckle Puck – While I Stay Secluded 
- Kittyhawk – Hello, Again 
- King Khan & The Gris Gris – Murder Burgers 
- Hoodoo Gurus – Gravy Train 
- Guster – Keep It Together Live From The Beacon Theatre 
- Guster – Lost And Gone Forever Live 
- Guster – Parachute Live From Brooklyn Bowl 
- Adventures – Supersonic Home 
- Black Ryder – The Door Behind the Door 
- Backstreet Girls – Let’s Go 
- Breakfast In Fur – Flyaway Garden 
- Airborne Toxic Event – Dope Machines