Another week and another new episode of Tales From The Drop Box.Episode 137 continues the trend of the past couple of episodes as it contains a couple of brand new tracks and a couple from last year. Of course, there is always one classic track. This week that track is from the Buzzcocks recently remastered version of their 1978 debut LP Another Music In A Different Kitchen. With Pete Shelley passing away a couple of weeks ago, the aging punk community lost a pioneer. The Buzzcocks much more than the Sex Pistols, produced the archetype sound for modern punk rock. If you are a young band looking for a “sound” then “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat” could be the blueprint for developing your own variant of punk rock. If you want to hear some more music from the Buzzcocks, then check out Tales From The Drop Box Episode 69 which is an episode dedicated to the Buzzcocks and what makes them special!
Lastly, someone recently asked me what the nonsense is at the end of these notes. Go ahead, scroll down, take a look and then come back. That “nonsense” is the result of the combination of the lyrics from two tracks played in each episode. I enjoy the happenstance of changing the meaning of both songs into something new. That’s it. No deeper meaning or rationale.
As you are aware, music is best enjoyed using all of your senses. You should not only hear it, but you should feel it. So, as always, play loud…. really loud.
NB: If you are in the presence of sensitive ears, then maybe turn down the first track a little bit. Terri Gender Bender uses the mother_ker word, eh? There might be other sensitive words along the way, but not frequent. Forewarned is forearmed.
Here is what you’ll find in Episode #137:
Le Butcherettes – “little/Mouse” (bi/Mental)
Dot Dash – “Sun + Moon = Disguise” (Proto Retro)
Exbats – “2027” (E is for Exbats)
Alkaline Trio – “Throw Me To The Lions” (Is This Thing Cursed?)
Brogues – “1982” (Metropolitan Blues)
Smallpools – “Social” (So Social)
Unloved – “Heartbreak” (Heartbreak)
The Living End – “Otherside” (Wunderbar)
Calva Louise – “Cruel Girl” (Rhinoceros)
Northern Labour Party – “No Escape” (We Will Meet In Another Life)
Get Out – “States of America” (We Were Here First)
Spiritual Cramp – “Wrecking Machine” (Television)
The Moth & The Flame – “Only Just Begun” (Ruthless)
Buzzcocks – “Moving Away From The Pulsebeat” (Another Music In A Different Kitchen)
Cherry Pickles – “Elvis Exorcist” (Cherry Pickles Will Harden Your Nipples)
You said the things you did in the past were all because you’re living too fast but now I’m here you’re taking it slow . . . I’m having trouble keeping focused, craving nothing too low from the god of hocus pocus to the goddesses of fun
Tales From The Drop Box Episode 122 is a legitimate exercise of free expression and protected by a Constitution. That Constitution was revealed this past week to be merely a piece of paper and not the touchstone of a democratic society. One observation that is obvious from the events surrounding the Kavanaugh appointment to the supreme court: our government is in free fall.
NB: This would be a good time to just skip to the bottom if you do not share the same political views as me or are just burnt out of a tumultuous political news environment …. Be assured that the podcast entitled Tales From The Drop Box is only about the music! We can respectfully disagree with one another as to how our government should operate but I think we can all agree that music should always matter!
Now for those of you who have not heeded the warning above and are still somewhat interested or perhaps curious in my humble opinion…
Our nation will survive this latest fall – a fall that began with the election of Trump – a vile creature that is pathological in his avoidance of the truth. I can also reassure you that at some point in the future the chaos will subside and order will be restored. However, as things stand right now, I think that we are in store for more difficult times ahead for our republican form of government.
Where does the blame lie? I think it squarely lies with us – you and me – and our inability to elect representatives “of and for” the people. This undemocratic situation would likely be easier medicine to swallow if it was the intent of the framers was to give control of the government to the citizens of the United States but, as we should all realize, the framers did not intend for the citizens to control the happenings in Washington. The framers of the Constitution envisioned a system of representative government that was, by design, created to prevent the voice of a large number of the people who elect those representatives from being heard. We are now free falling as a society because “we the people” have chosen, for more than 200 years, to ignore the obvious flaws in our system and fix the damned thing. Trump and Kavanaugh are the consequences of our collective failure.
The problem with our government is not the political party system. Although, after the sham Kavanaugh investigation controlled by the Republican party, you would tend to think that those morally bankrupt sycophants of Trump aka the Trump Party, are to blame for the state of the disunion – but they are not. The Republican party operates as the framers originally intended – to divest authority of government from the people and keep the wisdom in the hands of the “elite” few. Instead of draining the swamp, the swamp is thriving under Trump. I should probably note for you that I am not alone in this thinking. Someone actually took the time to gather empirical date to study the influence of the people on our elected representatives. Their conclusion confirms what we already know from observation that: “when the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” The authors then conclude that their findings  about democracy in America …
constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it. (See Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.)
The inescapable conclusion is that the fault with our present system of government lies with us and that the issues we are currently experiencing are not only systemic but also inherent in our form of government. If it is possible to somehow assign blame for the Kavanaugh debacle, then any aspersions for the result (i.e. the confirmation of a person so politically partisan that he delegitimizes the court as a check on the power of the other branches of government), should be cast upon an electoral system that is fundamentally flawed. I have pointed out some of those flaws in the past, but here is a brief list of the big ones that would suggest that our democratic republic is a sham (again, for the record, the U.S. is not a democracy):
The person who receives the most votes from the people does not win the election for President (i.e. one person, one vote).
The electoral college. Why the fuck would we vote for electors at this point in our history? 538 people vote for president – you do not. In 21 states, no matter who you voted for president, your elector can choose whomever they want to be president.
A president who lost the popular vote by 2,864,974 nominated Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to serve lifetime appointments on the nation’s highest Court;
The Senate treats residents of small states as more worthy of representation than residents of larger states i.e. it treats a person from California as 1/67th of a person from Wyoming.
None of the above makes sense to anyone who can think rationally. I know, you are going to double check me, but even a Canadian immigrant can figure out that there is something truly fucked up with a system where the people “vote” for a President and that vote is merely illusion. Why are we still doing this?
As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of our republic would consist “IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” Over the years, the spin we are taught in our classrooms is that the “people” can influence the outcome of elections. However, as noted in prior rants from my window to the world, not everyone votes, not every citizen can vote, and given the gerrymandering, electoral college, and gerrymandering (again), the odds are slim that the intent of Hamilton and Madison is going to change. A good place to start the process of change would be with the way we appoint supreme court justices. Baby steps…
I started off today thinking I was going to write something about the Supreme Court and how the confirmation of Kavanaugh confirms the illegitimacy of the Court. I am still angry at the subterfuge of the Republican Party in orchestrating the clown show that took place. What is more troublesome is that the blame lies on both sides of the aisle. I am no longer confident that the U.S. Supreme Court is worthy of the respect of its citizens and that is deeply troubling. So, rather than write about the “confirmation” of the supreme court’s illegitimacy (note: capital letters are reserved for a legitimate body), what follows below is the source of that illegitimacy for you to consider as you ponder the outcome of the failed process from last week.
I am not the first one to note that the Supreme Court has lost the mantle of legitimacy as a check on the other branches of government. For example, see this interesting law review article from 2013: The Supreme Court’s New Source of Legitimacy which argues that legitimacy derives from either expertise or popularity and in the introduction makes this observation: “the idea that judges decide salient cases based on their political preferences has become part of the common perception and has eroded the Court’s image as an expert in the public mind.” Well, if the other source of legitimacy, as the author suggests, is popularity, I venture to say that the confirmation of Kavanaugh has sealed the court’s fate – doomed to be viewed by the public as an illegitimate body. This is troubling on many levels. Without a legitimate high court i.e. a body that is non-partisan, conscious of bias, and acting as a legitimate check on the power of the President, the U.S. Constitution is rendered meaningless as a corrupt court twists the constitution into what it desires for the master it serves and as a consequence the rule of law is no longer the dominant driver of our society. A country without respect for the rule of law is no longer a country. It is tyranny. The preamble to the Constitution recites the rationale for the form of government proposed by the framers of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice . . .”
Establishing justice i.e. the rule of law, is a first principle established by the founders in order to form that more perfect union. It took the Supreme Court more than 25 years to find its place as the check on the power of the other branches of government i.e. as something more than a lackey to the President. As almost every high school student should know, this role of the Supreme Court was first established in Marbury v. Madison 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803). Kavanaugh’s confirmation – an intemperate partisan – who is, as alleged by his own Yale classmates, also a liar, is the consequence of that flawed electoral system. That flawed system has also created our immediate situation – a situation where a single appointment to the supreme court effectively and perhaps permanently eviscerates the power of the court to prevent the tyranny of the presidency. The supreme court was the last remaining restraint on presidential power because the Senate no longer functions as a co-equal and Congress is irrelevant. No matter what kind of justice Kavanaugh ends up being while on the bench, it is simply not possible to turn lead into gold. Oops, that may be possible. Perhaps shit into shinola.
The Supreme Court should not be partisan. Tales from the Drop Box is partisan. . . . and will always be partisan in favor of free will, the rule of law, individual freedoms and diversity. Know the difference. Believe.
Here is what you’ll find in Episode #122:
Gouge Away – “Hey Mercy” (Burnt Sugar)
Bad Sounds – “Avalanche” (Get Better)
Northern Faces – “Firecracker” (Fingers Crossed)
Death Valley Girls – “Wear Black” (Darkness Rains)
Tommy and the Commies – “Straight Jacket” (Here Come ….)
Viagra Boys – “Slow Learner” (Street Worms)
Save Face – “Plans” (Merci)
She Drew The Gun – “Something For The Pain” (Revolution Of Mind)
Engine Summer – “Basement” (Trophy Kids)
Gen Pop – “It’s A Trap” (Start Again)
The Goon Sax – “Love Lost” (We’re Not Talking)
Night Birds – “My Dad Is The BTK” (Roll Credits)
Buzzcocks – “Love Is Lies” (Love Bites)
The Beths – “You Wouldn’t Like Me” (Future Me Hates Me)
Love is lies, love is eyes love is everything that’s nice love is not as cold as ice but that’s what that means to me . . . you were making plans, I was sleeping in. Bet you didn’t think I’d notice the bruises on your skin. Yeah, you were making plans. You were making plans, you were sleeping out.
A little late but better than nothing, I say. (I’d likely say it even if it wasn’t okay because it is almost always better to ask for forgiveness than permission). With that as a preface, here are last month’s dropbox notes:
Music is starting to hit its annual stride with some biggish ( at least in my world) names releasing albums this month. Highlights include new albums by the Buzzcocks, The Black Keys, and Augustana as well as new releases from prior Tales From The Dropbox favorites which you should recognize if you’ve been following along including new/old Danko Jones, Cheap Girls, and a record store day offering from Surfer Blood. If you were laying money on whether I would include the new Coldplay album – not on your life. The album is an uninteresting and unlistenable dirge which appears to be directed to Gwenth…Magic…my a#$%.]
Might as well start this months capsules with the legendary Buzzcocks whose first album in eight years is a rip snorting good time and is unmistakably, in every way, the Buzzcocks. An original punk rock imprimatur, the Buzzcocks for more than three decades have consistently produced exceptional records brimming with their unique blend of catchy melodic punk rock. In this regard, The Way is no different than past Buzzcock releases in that the band accurately reproduces their classic sound consisting of buzz saw guitar and thundering drums all highlighted by Pete Shelley’s distinctive vocals and catchy melodies. The Way makes for a pretty exciting punk rock trip in a world full of indie dance music. For those of you thinking – “Will I hear this exceptional and uniformly excellent record somewhere on the radio? Your answer as always, is no (which is what the dropbox is for). I don’t expect I’ll hear this album played in public in the U.S. of A., but not too worry – no one has to know that you have one the coolest records released this year. No picks here because I am shamelessly biased. Try them all.
I didn’t skip over Cheap Girls who are No. 1 on this month’s dropbox list. It was just that I could not contain my Buzzcocks lust ( Check out the Buzzcocks singing “Just Lust“). So, Cheap Girls’ 4th long player, Famous Graves is about to hit the stores and it is a dandy. You know why you like Cheap Girls? (No, that’s not the reason…I know what you are thinking…stop it). It’s because they have incorporated that Replacement’s melodies with Dinosaur Jr’s guitar sound into their Overwhelming Colorfast styled pop punk tunes and that “sound,” even on darker topics, still makes you happy. Cheap Girls haven’t changed their style over the course of four records and so, for those of you looking for something different will be disappointed. I am not. This is a great record from start to finish and easily will make my play often list. Try “Knock Me Over,” “Pure Hate,” and Splintered.”
Stay classy, San Diego – in the form of Little Hurricane a duo comprised of singer/guitarist Tone Catalano and drummer/vocalist C.C. Spina who on their sophomore record, Gold Fever, have captured a significantly different spin on blues based rock setting them apart from musical cousins like the White Stripes or the Black Keys (who are also in this month’s dropbox). The songs on Gold Fever are warm textured and bright sounding acoustic flavored rockers with a vintage guitar sound that highlights the dynamic aspects of this collection of songs. C.C.’s backing vocals give the necessary “flavor” that only a female can bring to these melodic songs, and distinguish them from the Black Keys who they will likely be compared. Little Hurricane are not copyists – they have their unique take on a classic sound, and it is thoroughly enjoyable (Loved the horns on “Boiling Water”) on what is a consistently great record. Try “Boiling Water,” “Breathe,” and “Sheep In Wolves Clothes.”
I’ve put the two compilations in this month’s dropbox together because they belong together. They are different takes on the same subject from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean: Last year’s U.S take on Killed By Death punk – Punk 45 Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself! The American Nation Destroys Its Young and this years companion album representing the British take on punk – Punk 45, Vol. 2 Underground Punk and Post Punk in the UK, 1977-1981. For those of you not familiar with Killed by Death aka KBD, it was a bootleg compilation series produced by several bootleggers whom, at various times, compiled rare and out of print punk singles into compilation albums, generally with a theme. These records, all going on eBay for hundreds of dollars are mostly private label affairs and therefore are regional favorites and existed for moments of time in the punk pantheon. For those of you collect punk 45’s many of these are the holy grail of collectability. More importantly, they truly are worth the listen. If not for these types of compilations (bootlegs or “official bootlegs”), the tunes these compilations contain would be lost. were terrific not only in their time, but today. Come on…admit it…you wondered what that Pagan’s single sounded like, right? Well, I could probably go on for days about many of these songs, a number of which I actually own, but here are some highlights from both records (Don’t worry – both records are awesome, but you need some direction):
Kill The Hippies looks at the nascent U.S. punk scene and although several of these songs were widely available (Pere Ubu and Johnny Thunders) the true gems are the The Hollywood Squares – “Hillside Strangler,” The Pagans – “Not Now, Now Way,” and The Controllers performing “Neutron Bomb.”
On the U.K side of things, Vol. 2 follows similar pattern, with some widely known “rarities” (Television Personalities, Swell Maps and Mekons) and some lesser known highlights. For me, the most interesting was the Killjoys (featuring a pre-Dexy’s Midnight RunnersKevin Rowland) performing “Johnny Doesn’t Want to Go to Heaven,” The Lines – “White Night” and The Rings – “I Want To Be Free.”
In either event, both albums are prime examples of the diversity of early punk rock which makes the task of defining the sound of “punk rock” so difficult. The albums also reveal the impact of geography on the development of a particular punk rock sound and style.
Aside: The greatest mystery in punk rock – a media created genre – is what exactly the “sound” that is representative of punk rock. In the 70’s in Canada, punk rock was defined by the U.K. not the U.S. That is, while almost everyone will acknowledge the tremendous influence of the New York Dolls (who were sleaze/glam rock), the Ramones (who were a sped up 50’s rock n’ roll band), the Velvet Underground (whom were art rockers) and The Stooges (whom few had ever heard and had incorporated late 60’s garage into their Detroit sound) transported the energy of the sound to the U.K) the true punk rock “sound” likely defies categorization. If the Sex Pistols are “it” then they are the sum of their influences – a little Alice Cooper, a little Modern Lovers and by way of extension, the Velvet Underground, some, New York Dolls, and some Ramones all filtered through the lens of the British media. And while punk lasted at best 18 months (ask Johnny Rotten or Thunders, neither of whom survived the death of punk rock – Rotten who dumped the name and Thunders who ended his life) the ripples created by that brief moment in time have lasted almost 40 years. Perhaps not in the same form, but clearly incorporating those elements in new and powerful ways. And while it is unlikely that we will ever see the collision of events – politically, culturally, economically, that will recreate the cauldron that birthed punk again, it is great to see records like these 2 collections of KBD punk as perhaps they will inspire a new generation of do-it-yourself individuals to go forth and create a scene, for themselves, and that is good.
The Old 97’s on Most Messed Up also carry the spirit of the KBD movement but having taken a countrified turn in their punk rock early on, the punk influences have at times been tamped down on their latest releases in favor of a more tradtitional country sound. However, as the Most Messed Up collection reveals, at least ofr the Old 97’s, there was no going back to pure punk once the decision was made to explore what would become a unique subgenre in traditional rock now known as alt-country. While the first couple of Old 97’s records leaned a little more to the punk side of the equation – both lyrically and sound, the songs on Most Messed Up find the perfect balance – ragged up tempo rollicking ragers with some country flourishes that highlight the special nature of the Old 97’s sound. As their reissues from last year demonstrated, the Old 97’s blend of country and punk rock occupied a unique space in the rock world populated by a few other mid 90’s No Depression pioneers such as Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo. Formed in Dallas Texas, singer Rhett Miller has also recorded four solo records, and it is unfathomable to me why this band has never reached popular success – the songs on Most Messed Up are the perfect blend of the energy of their punk rock roots and a natural outgrowth of their country upbringing – producing a sound not unlike the Replacements. Rhett Miller is an engaging singer – and the lyrics on this record are wry, witty, and diverse and somewhat autobiographical of the band. Beginning with opener “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” where Rhett proclaims that “I’ m not crazy about songs that are self-referential” the Old 97’s blast through this all too short collection of ravers. Try “Give It Time,” ”Guadalajara” (Sounds like early Elvis Costello, right?), and “Intervention.”
I am a huge FAN of Augustana, so there is little doubt that their latest, Life Imitating Life, would end up in the dropbox. There is something so connecting about Augustana’s music – from the big guitar piano infused indie pop to the sing-a-long choruses created by Dan Layus’ distinctive voice, the tunes on Life Imitating Life creates multiple enjoyable moments. The production on the record and Augustana‘s distinct sound are, for me, hit right in the sweet spot of the One Tree Hill genre (I know it’s not a genre – but it should be) Although this is Augustana’s 5th album, Layus remains the sole remaining member of the band with the other two original members having left 2011. So, where does this leave Layus on Life Imitating Life? Remarkably consistent with past efforts. While not every song on Life Imitating Life is a winner, there are several songs here that capture the magic that made the earlier albums such charmers. I will say though, it is going to be difficult to follow up a song like “Fire” which was amongst the best pop songs possibly written. Still, there are some songs here that will end up being played on repeat in your iTunes. Try “Youth Is Wasted On The Young,” “Ash and Ember,” and “Remember Me.”
Entering the garage underground are Memphis’ Ex-Cult who on their latest, Midnight Passenger, sound like Ex-Cult i.e. Cramps infused punk rock with hints of new-psychedelia. However, what makes Midnight Passenger markedly different from Ex-Cult’s self-titled debut is the quality of the production. This album is so sonically superior to their self-titled debut that it reminds me of the sound quality difference between Husker Du’s Metal Circus and Zen Arcade – a million miles apart. The increased production makes sonic highlights stand out such as as the twin guitar attack which is given space amidst the furious drumming. The improved production also captures the aggressiveness of the band and the vocals being brought to the front of the mix instead of buried in the sound permits the listener to fully appreciate the dark lyrics of Chris Shaw e.g. “I am the voice from the sewer” ( from “Midnight Passenger”). This is a pleasantly bruising record. Shaw’s voice fits perfectly in the swirling frenzy. This would be an awesome live experience. Try “Midnight Passenger,” “Sid Visions,” and “Lights Out Club.”
Jessica Weiss (guitars, vocals) and Daniel Falvey (guitar) comprise Fear of Men whose indie pop falls somewhere between Camera Obscura, The Chills and the Smiths, who on Loom, their proper debut, apparently find a creative connection (and a slightly ironic one at that) with the Smiths and androphobia ( the name of the disorder that causes an individual to actually fear men). If you think about the Morrissey, megalomaniac and vocalist/lyricist for the Smiths for say a half a second, then the irony should become apparent. What makes this Loom unique as a creative work is the laser-like focus of Fear Of Men in taking their dream pop to the edge of darkness. Loom deals with isolation, loneliness, and emotional disturbances in a compelling environment. Weiss’ voice is so sweet and in stark contrast to the dark undercurrent and themes present on Loom. A couple of these tracks were released on a collection called Early Fragments which made the dropbox last year. These tracks are improved and fit neatly into this collection. Try “Luna,” “Descent,” and “Inside.”
From the missed it the first time around collection is Valencia Spain’s Euro Trash Girl, whom recorded Floating Down Memory Lane at Little Canyon and Rockaway Studios in the United States. Released in 2012 ( I know – I’ve discovered this gem really late), the jangle pop created by Euro Trash Girl is in the same vein as Let’s Active and 80’s alternative rock (think early Throwing Muses/ Bangles). Floating Down Memory Lane sonically is the perfect blend of Judit Casado impressive vocals and a wall of swirling ringing jangle guitar.
A note for the band: I was unable to find much about you – anywhere. As you have no US distribution, don’t belong to a label, and not much else on any of the usual websites – it will be difficult for anyone to follow you.
Euro Trash Girl looks to be a very regional band. However, if you like your alternative paisley pop with a husky throated female vocal, then give this a whirl and definitely seek them out if you stumble across anything online. Great videos though – click the links, eh? Try “City Skyline,” “Thirteen Miles,” and “Hurting Love.”
Toronto Ontario’s Born Ruffians (essentially songwriter/vocalist Luke LaLonde) on the limited (100 copies) deluxe edition of Birthmarks (adds four new songs and 5 acoustic versions from the album) shows a writer at a creative crossroads. Birthmarks is a commercial pop record i.e. designed for mainstream radio play and on that level Birthmarks succeeds remarkably well. In a more progressive world, calculated indie will find a place. However, with that compromise comes some challenges and Birthmarks presents a couple as the songwriting is a bit uneven and in places the album falls into the repetitive “feel” trap. But there is something else going on with Birthmarks as evidenced by the cohesiveness of the songs as a whole. The production has smoothed the rough edges of earlier releases, but the lyric approach is definitely more mature and the songs on Birthmarks are all characterized by crisp production, catchy punchy choruses, and an ear for melody that make this indie rock all the more compelling. Try “6-5000,” “Dancing On The Edge Of Our Graves,” and “Rage Flows.”
Readymade for KROQ/Alt 98.7 is Los Angeles’ Bad Suns who on Transpose have mastered the sound that every corporate rock station has now decided to call alternative. I note that this term is constantly evolving, but with no baseline sound to compare it with, the word alternative really has no meaning today. In the past when the word alternative was utilized it meant alternative to metal, pop, disco, progressive rock and 60’s rock, and didn’t fall within the definition of punk. Now, apparently it means indie dance.Transpose is an EP of catchy melodic indie dance pop with soaring atmospheric melodies and extra bright guitars – you know, pretty much everything being played on those types of “alternative” radio stations. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, as evidenced by the inclusion in the drop box, I really had to think about what made this stick out from similar ilk. A description of the ilk I am referring to here is found below. It was these differences that were enough to get me to include Transpose in this month’s dropbox.
NOTE: Like sugar, Transpose can grow tiresome with repeated plays, so for @^^^#$^ sake when this actually is played on the radio, hopefully they won’t play it so much that I cringe.
I missed Bad Sun‘s debut album last year for some reason, which I cannot for ther life of me remember or explian right now. I’m sure it was okay, but it didn’t capture my attention or imagination given the sheer volume of releases in any given year, many of which are just better. As for what Bad Suns sound like? Well, this is Young The Giant/Vampire Weekend/Two Door Cinema Club territory and this would be awesome in the indie dance clubs if I actually knew what those were and what they played. I don’t have a clue. Catchy, danceable….hell. ( try to imagine me sort of dancing…not a pretty sight or image. Try “Transpose,” “Cardiac Arrest,” and the Vampire Weekend-ish “Twenty Years.”
Another Los Angeles entry to the dropbox is Early Morning Rebel. Comprised of Nathan Blumenfeld-James, Dustin Bath and Joshua Mervin, the band has created an electronic version of the National crossed with Augustana – a piano infused indie rock with a wall of sound behind crisp vocals – a winning combination. Although they self-describe as pop noir, Life Boat (which has been reissued by Baby Bird Records) is much more than homage to these bands and I was hooked by the time I reached standout track “Burn Us Down.” Try “Burn Us Down,” “War On Love,” and “Life Boat.”
Well, there is no doubt that the world needs another intelligent punk band, and Montreal’s Ought may just fill the bill, as More Than Any Other Day, mines the same art-emo punk territory as Cap’ n Jazz,Slint, Naked Raygun etc.. In a world filled with contemporary pop leaning music, More Than Any Other Day is definitely on the edge of the indie punk underground, and from my framework of progress – a welcome breath of fresh air, essentially a palate cleanser, for smart awkward jazz influenced punk rock. On “Habit” vocalist and guitarist Tim Beeler comes off as a David Byrne devotee with the same stop start vocal intonation that was present on Talking Heads 77 and “Psycho Killer.” Captivating and compelling, I found myself hooked as I hope you will as well. Try “Habit,” “Gemini,” and “Around Again.”
Dutch pop rockers Di-Rect, on their seventh release, Daydreams In A Blackout, strike at the heart of the alternative pop genre, with an album full of melodic songs that have killer choruses that blast from your stereo. Di-Rect have, since 1999, consistently put forth interesting albums, usually with several radio friendly singles (perhaps only in the Netherlands) all sung in English. To demonstrate the popularity of the band as a chart act, when former lead vocalist and original member Tim Akkerman announced in 2009 that he was leaving the band, they held a nationally televised vocalist search. On November 8, 2009 in the live finale of a nationally televised BNN program Wie is Direct? (English: Who is Di-rect?), the band made a unanimous decision to have Marcel Veenendaal from Arnhem as their new lead vocalist and front man. Fast forward 5 years and Di-rect’s keyboard/synth laden melodic rock is interesting for the piano flourishes, but also for Marcel’s falsetto which creates tension in these atmospheric pop rockers. Try the two hits first “Invincible,” and “Paper Plane,” then have a go at “Out In The Wild.”
Staying with the European side of the music world, Finnish indie rockers, Satellite Stories, released on November 1, 2013 their excellent sophomore album, Pine Trails, which is chock fully of instantly likeable indie electro-pop in the vein of Two Door CinemaClub and Bastille. Tremolo laden guitar work highlights the catchy choruses and synth heavy uptempo pop all played with a cool feel. I like this a little better than the Bad Suns record above, if only for the fact that this doesn’t appear to be written for commercial radio, bt rather the outgrowth of a process where Satellite Stories have attempted in part to emulate their more famous brethren without sacrificing their…soul. Try “Lights Go Low,” “December Theme,” and “Pinewood Parkways.”
While you should probably never bury the lead, I’m going to do it this once. Split Single has released an excellent debut record full of indie rockers that echo some of the best sounds of the 80’s and 90’s power pop scene. As contemplated by vocalist/songwriter Jason Narducy (he of Verböten, and its offshoot Verbow) who for the past decade or so has been touring and playing with Bob Mould as bassist and background vocals, and recently touring with Superchunk filling in for bassist Laura Balance who was ill dealing with sound sensitivity, the influences of those experiences inform both the songwriting and music on Fragmented World. So, where is the lead? Well the rest of the band is Britt Daniel of Spoon who plays bass and Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats, and Bob Mould) on drums. So what does a Britt Daniel/ Narducy non-Spoon band sound like? Think gauzy power pop with some pretty intricate bass playing laying a solid foundation for Narducy’s solid vocals more in the Alex Chilton/Chris Stamey mold on the prettiest of these songs which are complex and beautiful power pop (Cheap Trick!) with restrained power. Click the links to see a couple of live versions that are excellent. Try “Searches,” “Fragmented World,” and “Never Look Back.”
On the Python Demos, Surfer Blood gives us a hint at the early process behind the songs that eventually wound up on the excellent but disconcerting Pythons album from 2013. This group of songs, written while John Paul Pitts was in the midst of a tumultuous relationship, channels the tension of that relationship, and the process of resolution. The results, as laid bare on Demos is happy sounding music (Weezer and Buddy Holly (not the song but the singer)) with much darker lyrics wrought with emotion and overlain with some pretty great guitar. According John Paul Pitts, “These tracks represent the initial essence of the songs that would later be recorded with Gil Norton. While they are rougher than the recordings that would come out on ‘Pythons’ more than a year later, I think they accurately represent the character and sentiment the songs were meant to deliver.” These demos, released in a limited edition of 1,000 copies worldwide on Record Store Day do something with the songs that the proper Pythons record does not accomplish – they highlight the diversity in Pitts’ songwriting approach only hinted at on the released versions, and in many ways, Python Demos, with several Pavement sounding stretches, captures on vinyl a moment of time that is both raw and naked. Listening to the Demos back to back with Pythons, you would swear these are two different records. Try “Gravity,” “Weird Shapes,” and “Prom Song.”
If you are a Black Keys fan, then any review will probably not matter. If you are not, then what will it take to make you a fan? The question for those who were spoon fed Black Keys by so called alternative radio over the past five years, is whether the Black Keys fit within your sonic palate. Turn Blue is exactly what the title implies, the Black Keys, who were always a blues based garage rock band, have now dialed up the blues portion of the spectrum and hit the 70’s AM radio groove. Believe me when I say it is going to take a few spins before you will be amazed at the heaviness of what turns out to be an exceptional rock record. Turn Blue is the Black Keys’ 8th record and that experience is playing tremendous dividends as it is evident that the musical approach taken on Turn Blue is to create more of an atmosphere as compared with prior offerings and the songwriting is far more mature. Like the hit monster Brothers from a couple of years back, Turn Blue will lend itself to some amazing live workouts that will add a new dimension to the already excellent live show. Auberbach called the album “headphone music” and that is an apt description – this album is best explored, like Pink Floyd, though headphones where you pick up nuances, emotions, and sounds that are missed when transmitted over great spaces. The single “Fever” will get well deserved attention, but for me, it was the darker moments that were captivating. Try “Weight Of Love,” “Fever,” and “Turn Blue.”
Full disclosure – Danko Jones can do no wrong. I was captured by the punishing KISS derived ROCK ( Yes – all caps) of Danko Jones on their proper debut Born A Lion which was released in 2002. Danko Jones now does KISS better than KISS.
ASIDE: Whereas KISS lost the path (and really for any KISS fan who is reading this – any version of the band without Ace and Peter is inferior. KISS today is like the resulting copy of a color photograph put through a black & white photocopier a million times – faded, and barely recognizable as the original. KISS has now evolved into something so far removed from the sound that I dreamed about upon my mother bringing me Dressed To Kill back from a trip to Vancouver to the Yukon in 1975. KISS has filled the world with DRECK – with KISS freaking disco records, KISS acoustic etc.!!! , and all out just plain crap. Now that KISS are finally in the old dead band hall of fame and noting that Gene and Paul were nothing short of #$^$^ wipes to not play live with Ace and Peter, the version of the band that was actually inducted, hopefully we can put the KISS corpse to rest.
Danko Jones has remained true to the Kiss sonic blueprint – balls out rock n roll. Jones explained that since these recordings were made, he and his band mates have evolved beyond their garage rock origins ( I’ve left the Canadian spellings of the original):
If a band continues past the gesticulation stage, the term “garage rock” is usually rendered unusable. Back in the ’90s, the garage rock scene, as I knew it, was a warts-and-all approach that favoured low-fi recordings and rudimentary playing over any modicum of musical prowess in order to glean some rock’n’roll essence. However, once a band got better at their instruments, songwriting and stage performance, the inevitable crossroads would eventually appear.
Deliberately continuing to play against their growing skill would only evolve into a pose. There were a lot of bands who did exactly this in order to sustain scenester favour. We did the opposite.
What you hold in your hands is a document of what we were and where we came from. We didn’t know how to write songs and could barely play but we wanted to be near to the music we loved so badly. We ate, slept and drank this music. We still do. That’s why we have never had to reunite because we’ve never broken up. After 18 years, we’ve stayed the course, got tough when the going did and, above all else, we have never stopped. This album is the proof.
And it is fascinating. Warts and all, you’ll have a blast listening to this record, and perhaps like me, you’ll find some gems that will keep you wishing for more. Try “Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue,” “Best Good Looking Girl in Town,” and “She’s Got a Bomb.” No live versions exist, so try this live show from April 5, 1996 in Toronto (split parts) which was likely their second or third show ever. Note: Danko Jones looks like Lenny Kravitz wearing Jimi.
Jake Bugg is on a roll. Messed Up Kids is the fifth single from his sophomore record, the excellent Shangri-la, and this EP features the single and three songs recorded from those same sessions but not included on the record: “A Change in the Air”, “Strange Creatures” and “The Odds”. The acoustic “Strange Creatures” with its finger-picking intro and backwoods acoustic feel is a highlight, but try them all.
Borlange Sweden’s Mando Diao is also on my favorite list as I was captivated by their debut, 2002’s Bring ‘Em In and stunning follow up 2004’s Hurricane Bar. I played these records endlessly, and still find time to put them into the iTunes. Since then Mando Diao have had a few uneven releases since those two first records, both of which featured Strokes styled garage indie rock. For example, their last record, 2012’s Infruset was sung in Swedish and was written on the occasion of Swedish poet Gustaf Fröding’s (1860–1911) hundredth death year wherein Mando Diao‘s Gustaf Norén was asked to set one of Fröding’s poems to music. The beauty and honesty of Fröding’s poetry as well as his eccentric and anguished way of living was appealing to the band who decided a full length was necessary. The songs are slow and melancholic with the band taking a decidedly minimalist approach with sparse acoustic guitar and piano as the main focus highlighting the melancholy Fröding’s words transformed as lyrics. I put Infruset in the dropbox in 2012, and now, how does Aelita fit within the Mando Diao song catalog? Well, a side step – now exploring 80’s electro-indie dance, these songs are more like Visage and Ultravox mixed with the entire New Romantic Movement e.g. Spandau Ballet and Classix Nouveau than, say, China Crisis. If you are old enough to remember those bands, then you will understand immediately where Mando Diao is taking thier music – Aelita is unabashedly influenced by 80’s electronic dance music as best exemplified by “Money Doesn’t Make You A Man,” which could easily have been on the Miami Vice soundtrack. All that said, I enjoyed the retro look back and found enough on Aelita to take a few spins. Try “Black Saturday,” the Morricone/ Georgio Moroder influenced “Sweet Wet Dreams,” and the Spandau Ballet sounding “Romeo.”
Nashville’s PUJOL aka Daniel Pujol on Kludge, their second album full of fuzzy glam pop takes a striking leap forward from the mostly excellent debut, 2012’s United States Of Being, by bringing a “dirtier’ guitar sound to the proceedings and toning down a little bit the power pop leanings of that first record. The songs on Kludge fall somewhere between the MacDonald Brothers (Red Kross) and Sweet/Slade end on the glam rock spectrum. However, this glam rock sound is also shuffled throughout with new punk revival ( Jay Reatard and Frank Turner). Taken as a whole, Kludge is a varied and interesting take on a wide number of genres all filtered through PUJOL’s punk rock blender. Try “Pitch Black,” the Dylan-ish “Spooky Scary,” and “Small World.”
Sharon Van Etten’s fourth album, Are We There, is the stunning masterwork of a woman who has finally worked through the emotion of her last outstanding album, 2012’s Tramp, to find herself in control of both her emotions and her instrument. Are We There Yet still finds Van Etten at the intersection of heartbreak and loneliness but more confident, vibrant, and the music adds rather than distracts from the powerful performances captured on this amazing slab of vinyl. The centerpiece of this album, the stunning, “Our Love” is juxtaposed against the breathtaking “Your Love Is Killing Me” and is as fine a 10 minutes of music as you will hear this year. I am positive you will find something that works for you here when your feeling a little bit blue. Try “I Love You But I’m Lost,” “Our Love,” and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.”
Toronto’s Fucked Up occupy a unique space in hardcore punk. A very unique space. Glass Boys, their fourth long player is a very dense, compact, and powerful hardcore experience. Although many will not see the parallel, Glass Boys is a much more conventional record than prior Fucked Up releases and as a statement of where the band is now sonically, Glass Boys is an extension of the ground trod 25 years previously by Husker Du and in some small way, the Minutemen, as Fucked Up rage and confront the listener with what is essentially a series of internal conversations all in some manner dealing with “value” – old versus new, experience vs youth, art vs commerce etc. The most important thing about Fucked Up as a band and Glass Boys as a record is that Fucked Up is taking the hardcore genre is an exciting new direction. Glass Boys adds Husker Du influences to modern rock and hardcore and is so doing is taking a huge risk both sonically and with the bands core fan base – with the result – an intense, melodic, and thoroughly enjoyable hardcore album which stands alone in Fucked Up’s catalog and as the next logical progression in the evolution of a band uncomfortable with the status quo. Having followed Fucked Up from the beginning, over their four LPs and a number of EPs it is fair to say that Fucked Up is an essential rock band, and I dare say, uniquely Canadian. Genius. Try “Touch Stone,” “The Great Divide,” and “Paper The House.”
Acceptance. If you were a fan of Bright Eyes the earnestly emo-indie rock “band” of Conor Oberst’s youth, then the time has come to accept that Conor is not the same guy or in the same place as Bright Eyes. This is not a new Bright Eyes record. Rather, it is the work of a more mature country–folk artist and the songs are lush, full sounding and melodic. Conor Oberst is now trading in the mature singer/songwriter brand of music, much like the way that Matt Pond has recently performed, with an electric guitar as an instrument of depth and not focus. As a consequence of this stylistic choice, the vocals on Upside Down Mountain are stellar as Conor finds his voice – his true voice – in exploring his traditional dark themes in songs brimming with melody and country edges. Upside Down Mountain contains some very sweet songs where the electric guitar is vital to the overall sound but played with restraint and in such a manner that the guitar work exposes the heart of the song. Try “Zigzagging Toward the Light,” “Enola Gay,” and “Kick.”
Much like one of my favorites, Billy Talent, Vancouver’s The Binz on How To Freak Out Responsibly In The Age OF Robots is a fun romp with an album full of classic garage rock influenced post-punk rock. The album was played on CITR in Vancouver and for good reason – it is a spectacularly fun record that should be played loud at parties everywhere. Short sharp blast of punk rock energy – most songs hovering around the 2 minute mark, How To Freak Out Responsibly In The Age OF Robots reminds me of the “sound” first made me start loving punk rock in the late 70’s as a new arrival to Vancouver in 1978. Without waxing nostalgic, the Subhumans, Modernettes, Pointed Sticks, and K-Tels all reside somewhere in the heart of this record. Try “Suffer,” “Radio,” and “Paranoid.” Here they are playing the Semi finals of CITR’s Shindig! 2013 at the Railway Club in Vancouver.
I’ve added a couple of other things this month worth mentioning briefly. You will find R.E.M. ‘s complete set of rarities al in all 181 Tracks from I.R.S. and Warners divided into two collections. Here’s Pitchfork’s story: R.E.M. Release Massive Rarities Collections.
Also don’t miss some of the releases at the bottom of the list including Oasis‘ Record Store Day offering of its debut single “Supersonic” which was pressed as a 12” for the first time ever and a new mix of the track with a couple of b-sides; the new Savages single, and a couple of great records such as those by Big September and Dirt Box Disco which I didn’t have time to get to tell you about. Oh well, perhaps later.
So until we meet again…
…. here is this month’s list:
Cheap Girls – Famous Graves 
Buzzcocks – The Way 
Little Hurricane – Gold Fever 
VA – Punk 45 Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself! The American Nation Destroys Its Young 
VA – Punk 45, Vol. 2 Underground Punk and Post Punk in the UK, 1977-1981 (2014)
Old 97’s – Most Messed Up 
Augustana – Life Imitating Life 
Ex-Cult – Midnight Passenger 
Fear Of Men – Loom (RSD) 
Euro Trash Girl – Floating Down Memory Lane 
Born Ruffians – Birthmarks [Deluxe Edition] 
Bad Suns – Transpose EP 
Early Morning Rebel – Life Boat 
Ought – More Than Any Other Day 
Di-Rect – Daydreams In A Blackout 
Satellite Stories – Pine Trails 
Split Single – Fragmented World 
Surfer Blood – Pythons [Demos] 
Black Keys – Turn Blue 
Danko Jones – Garage Rock! A Collection of Lost Songs from 1996-1998 
Jake Bugg – Messed Up Kids EP 
Mando Diao – Aelita [Deluxe Edition] 
Pujol – Kludge 
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There 
Fucked Up – Glass Boys 
Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain 
Binz – How To Freak Out Responsibly To The Rise Of The Robots