Wow! Tales From The Drop Box Episode 150! I am not sure how I arrived at this point, but I can guarantee you that I enjoyed the adventure. After 150 episodes of these podcasts, the sheer quality of new music being released never ceases to amaze and inspire me. It is truly sad that a number of these artists and bands will disappear because they didn’t fit the format of whatever the heck radio wants to play. However, the more than 150 hours of these shows is evidence of what radio misses. Further, Tales From The Drop Box has captured approximately 2000 different bands over the past 4 years. Among them are a disproportionately large number of artists (many of which will never have the radio spotlight pointed their way) deserving to be heard! Maybe future generations will discover these lost gems and pay those discoveries forward. A society is represented by its music and culture and Tales From The Drop Box has presented over the past 4 years this most under represented segment of musical culture.
As I move on beyond these first 150 episodes, I hope to continue to bring you more of the unfiltered, poignant, catchy as hell, unexposed genius that catches my fancy – and hopefully yours as well.
Here is what you’ll find in Episode 150:
Drahla – “Gilded Cloud” (Useless Coordinates)
Winnetka Bowling League – “Sixteen” (Cloudy With A Chance of Sun EP)
The Wheel Workers – “Nothing To Say” (Post-Truth)
The Ramonas – “2016 F_ck This” (First World Problems)
Authority Zero – “A Blind Eye” (Persona Non Grata)
Priors – “Call For You” (Call For You EP)
The Guiding Wave – “Instrument” (To Dance Around Love EP)
Of Grace And Hatred – “Nourish The Curtain” (Toxic Vows)
Bad Religion – “End Of History” (Age Of Unreason)
Dead Bars – “I’m A Regular” (Regulars)
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – “Why A Butterfly Can’t Love A Spider” (End Of Suffering)
Danko Jones – “I’m In A Band” (A Rock Supreme)
Fury – “Inevitable Need To Reach Out” (Failed Entertainment)
Dead Kennedys – “Holiday In Cambodia (Live)” (DK40)
Empath – “Roses That Cry” (Active Listening: Night On Earth)
So, you’ve been to school for a year or two and you know you’ve seen it all in daddy’s car
thinking you’ll go far . . . Halcyon days are not a thing nostalgia is no excuse for stupidity
I don’t believe in golden ages or presidents that put kids in cages . . .
For those of you whom have patiently waited for a new list – well here it is! The first list of 2016! As you can see, the list includes a number of things from the podcast, plus a few extras that haven’t made it yet. I have also included a couple of reissues that every collection needs. As always, this list represents my opinion of the best new(ish) releases that are worth the time and trouble (and money) to locate and download or more preferable purchase the vinyl.
So, for your enjoyment…. Here is the list:
Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum 
DIIV – Is the Is Are 
What’s Eating Gilbert – That New Sound You’re Looking For 
The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab 
Savages – Adore Life 
Jungle Giants – Speakerzoid 
Daughter – Not to Disappear 
Grizfolk – Waking Up The Giants 
Hinds – Leave Me Alone 
Sea Pinks – Soft Days 
Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony 
Two Inch Astronaut – Personal Life 
Basement – Promise Everything 
Cheerleader – The Sunshine Of Your Youth 
Banners – Banners 
Danko Jones – Live At Wacken 
Dynamite Pussy Club – Shakedown
Jezabels – Synthia 
Her – Tape #1 EP 
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger 
Night Beats – Who Sold My Generation 
Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habits 
Fat White Family – Songs For Our Mothers 
Dollyrots – Mama’s Gonna Knock You Out 
Teen – Little Doods 
Waters – Follow the Beam of Light 
Wild Nothing – Life of Pause 
The Cult – Hidden City 
Bloc Party – Hymns [Deluxe Edition] 
Eliza & The Delusionals – The Time Spent On The Inside EP 
Suede – Night Thoughts 
Mystery Jets – Curve Of The Earth 
Working for a Nuclear Free City – What Do People Do All Day 
Coffee Or Not – Everything Is Falling Down 
Battleme – Habitual Love Songs 
Harriet – American Appetite 
Cold Engines – Better Off Dead 
Spring Break – Beer Me 
David Bowie – Blackstar 
Death By Pleasure – No Stall Geek 
Milk Teeth – Vile Child 
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow 
St. Lucia – Matter 
Half Japanese – Perfect 
Chairlift – Moth 
Milk ‘N’ Cookies – Milk ‘N’ Cookies [Special Edition] 
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.
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 
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