Advance releases should act as a teaser, a sonic signpost to a forth-coming bigger release, a taste of things to come. And on the face of it that is exactly what Stop Talking was in regards to this album as it landed in the review pile only a few days previous. But it is a curious record, a teaser certainly but its dichotomous nature, an opening minute of aggressive punk-metal that their Bay Area home patch has traded on since the early eighties, followed by a longer payout formed of drifting guitar lines and restrained vocals left many questions unanswered too. What it did tell me though was to expect an onslaught of raw-edged, punk infused, hard and heavy music that blended simple progressions and direct sonic salvos with technical guitar work, but to also expect the unexpected, the odd musical trick or trap to throw me off balance. And for all the strangeness of Stop Talking, it did its job perfectly as that is exactly what I got.
Guitar music has to walk some pretty fine lines. Take rock music for example, there isn’t much daylight between a cool guitar-slinger with all the chops and swagger and a cliched buffoon with his foot on the monitor shouting “Hello Cleveland” at a stadium audience. Similarly for every 100 indie bands busily checking its hair in the mirror or alt-rock band making sure that it has just the right designer skinny jeans for the photo shoot, there is probably one or two that get it right. You either have it or you don’t, some things are just inherent, unteachable, natural. Pretty Noise is the sound of a band getting it right.
As much as I love intricate, sweeping and clever music, sometimes you can’t beat a low slung guitar, a basic proto-punk-blues beat and some stripped back lyrics. And it doesn’t get more stripped backed than Leathers. Four songs, two guys and pretty much one groove. All four songs found on this eponymous ep seem variations on the same wonderfully raw two chord rhythm and it’s brilliantly refreshing. There is more to it than that obviously but Joe Satriani this most definitely is not and for that I thank them.
Man, that riff! You can’t beat a low-slung, scattergun blast of straight and honest garage rock of the sort that might have lured you into a club on the Lower East Side sometime around ’78. It growls, it grooves and it echos with the ghosts of the greats of blues, rock’n’roll and punk. The advantage that Last Chance Riders has is that they have the benefit of modern production allowing them to stand with one foot in both worlds, that of the “let’s just do” and the “let’s make this sound great” simultaneously.
And great it is, both polished and impactful but also honest and attitude driven. Throw in Jessie Albright’s vocals that run from world weary to anthemic as the song requires and a band who know that its all about getting the basics right rather than covering things in studio glitter and you have a song that both makes us shed a tear for the likes of Johnny Thunders and begs the question that perhaps the time is right play that scene all over again.
This may be their first album for eight years but as soon as Bothering Me’s boisterous Hollywood Brats style musical swagger starts emanating from the speakers, it seems like they have never been away. How quickly we fall back into line, them delivering acid-laced raucous garage rock and us lapping up every second of it.
Now based in Düsseldorf, vocalist Leighton Koizumi has gathered around him a veritable who’s who of European psychedelia, fuzz and garage rock players including Rob Louwers on drums, Oliver Pilsner on bass and Marcello Salis and Bernadette on guitar. And if the line up might have been refreshed, the sonic identity of the band is still reassuringly single-minded. Guitars are sludgy, fuzzed out and pushed to the edge, drums are wonderfully tribal, basses pulse relentlessly, pianos are hammered to within an inch of their lives and in the eye of the storm Koizumi partakes in a shamanic ritual to conjure the spirits of long dead bikers and beatniks, hippies and surfers, drop-outs and freaks.
Songs such as Easy Action strut and swagger with cocky confidence, Heart of Darkness is a strange swirl of gothic-folk-pop and One Foot in the Grave is a solid gold slice of highly charged Bolan-esque rock. For all their raw approach, jagged angles, dark hearted rock vibes and warped psychedelic leanings, they never lose sight of the hook and the melody. Bone crunching and visceral this may be but you never lose the urge to dance, yell, jump about and spill your beer as a libation to the Gods of Rock’n’Roll. The more you spill on their behalf the stronger they become which probably makes The Morlocks nothing short of high priests.
Wanna join a cult?
Hound Gawd! Records is set to release the new Morlocks album titled, Bring On The Mesmeric Condition, internationally on August 31st, 2018 (LP, CD and digital, formats). The band was founded by Leighton Koizumi, singer for San Diego’s most outrageous garage rock revival band, Gravedigger V. Through break-ups, break downs, personnel changes, changing cities and shifts in popular culture, The Morlocks have continually grown stronger.
Surprising, then, that in 1999, Spin Magazine printed an inaccurate story declaring the death of their energetic, charismatic lead singer Leighton Koizumi. Needless to say, Leighton (far from being dead) continues to lead the charge, a duty he has held since the band’s debut LP Emerge. The Morlocks have continued to perform and make records, a number of which have been featured prominently in movies, television shows and video games.
Pre Order Link: http://www.houndgawd.com/shop/en/SHOP/Vinyl/
Now, the re-vamped & resurrected Morlocks are ready to spread their wings like a Phoenix rising from the ashes… Currently based out of Düsseldorf, Germany Leighton has inlisted a who´s who European fuzz masters… Starting with Rob Louwers – drums (Fuzztones, Q-65, Link Wray), Oliver Pilsner – Bass (Fuzztones, Cheeks, Montesas, Magnificent Brotherhood) Bernadette – Guitar (Sonny Vincent, Humpers) and Marcello Salis (Gravedigger V, Hangee V).
Recorded By Alaska Winter at various secret locations in Germany, including stops in “The Black Forests“ of Freiburg, the seedy underbelly of the Rhine (Düsseldorf/Köln) and East meets West (Berlin). Mixed and mastered by the notorious “Jim Diamond “ of Dirtbombs fame, to give it that special “Motor City” grit and grease that is required on a Morlock record! Alas it´s been a while since the release of “The Morlocks Play Chess”, “BRING ON THE MESMERIC CONDITION” features something never before offered on a Morlocks LP, all original songs!
Sep. 21 Freak Show, Essen, GER
Sep. 22 Das Bett, Frankfurt, GER
Sep. 23 La Bazka, Nancy, FRA
Sep. 24 Le Trockson, Lyon, FRA
Sep. 25 Blah Blah, Torino, ITA
Sep. 26 Raindogs, Savona, ITA
Sep. 27 Trenta Formiche, Roma, ITA
Sep. 28 Ligera, Milano, ITA
Sep. 29 Bronson, Ravenna, ITA
Sep. 30 Altro Quando, Zero Branco, ITA
Okt. 02 Unter Deck, München, GER
Okt. 05 Blue Devils, Orleans, FRA
Okt. 06 Petit Bain, Paris, FRA
You can break out all the musical tricks, all the studio gimmickry, you can revisit, re-invent, re-brand, re-package, carry torches, build songs around nostalgia and familiarity, but it doesn’t count for anything unless you have one thing. Authenticity. If you wear that hat then you can do what you want. Walter Lure has that in spades so he can do anything he wants in my book. And if you want to level the criticism that the wonderfully named Wacka Lacka Loom Bop A Loom Bam Boo is an album built around a sound that you have heard before, the answer is well, of course it is and of course you have. And you know why? Because Walter Lure pretty much invented that sound.
This last surviving guitar slinger of legendary Heartbreakers, along with bands such as The New York Dolls, Dead Boys, band mate Johnny Thunders and London’s Hollywood Brats took punk, glam and garage rock and created a whole new street wise, gritty and honest rock and roll, a far cry from the art-punk pretension coming out of the UK at the same time. Lure and his acolytes have been riding that rock and roll rollercoaster ever since and no one….absolutley no one…does it better.
This album is the first set of new songs from him in a quarter of a decade and it shows that he has lost none of the bite that he made his name with in the first place. Songs such as Take A Chance is a growling, prowling predatory groove that marries glam-punk with Stonesy blues and She Don’t Love You and opener and lead single Crazy Kids remind us of just how riff and melody orientated the Bowery punk scene actually was. The inclusion of London Boys, a song from back in the early days and Lure’s swipe at The Pistols makes for a nice reference point and Talk Too Much wanders wonderfully into Mott The Hoople’s exquisite wide screen stomp-blues territory.
Some people just can’t slow down and Lure is one of them, it just isn’t in his nature and Wacka Lacka Loom Bop A Loom Bam Boo shows that he is just as capable of writing astonishing and refreshingly sleazy rock anthems now as he has ever been. And long may he continue.
Music historians will tell you that Punk, in its original form, evolved from two separate sources. In America, the nucleus was a New York scene of garage rock bands, musical hustlers and street urchins, in the UK bored London art college kids re-appropriated glam imagery and invented their own high velocity pop. Their common ground was always to be found more in the attitude and swagger than in any strong musical bonds. It is interesting to note, therefore, that Saskatchewan’s Vaudeville Remedy seem built on the twisted heritage of both scenes, the advantage afforded both in being able to look back from afar and the ubiquity of old music to the modern market.
Adhesives is a raw and raucous blending of grunge deliveries, US college rock outsiderisms, thrashed out blues-metal and first generation punk swagger, it is ragged and uncompromising. If it were more technical it would be metal, slicker it would be alt-rock and more melodic it would fit in to the commercial end of punk but Vaudeville Remedy is obviously happy skirting the fringes of all of those and fully committing to none. You have to love an outsider.
In such an interconnected age as today, I’m surprised more bands don’t realise that just making music is limiting your appeal and that the best approach is a multi-pronged media attack. Okay, many deliver their music with a video to create a pincer movement of audio and images but far too few put out their own comic book series, one where they are the characters and the music can be considered the sound track. That’s clever, very clever.
Save Me is Suburban Vermin doing what they do best, splicing rasping old-school punk with the pop-punk revivalists who followed a decade or so later, 60’s garage rock with the stripped down nu-punk of the here and now, into a best of all worlds musical scenario. It is short, sharp and to the point, pop aware and highly melodic, raw, ragged, punchy and jagged. Everything that the subversive strains of rock in all its forms has thrived on since the first rockers declared James Dean a deity and went into battle to win the heart, mind and disposable income of the newly designated teenager.
If there is a better garage rock band operating on the circuit today then I’m yet to stumble across them, they capture all the raw energy, swagger, verve and attitude of a small club band bursting out of their restrictive environment to take on the world. They are also a band who have worked out that the wheel doesn’t need re-inventing, it just needs a clean up, re-treading and some fancy rims added then taken out for a spin to leave some indelible and unsightly marks all over the road, possibly invoking an angry letter to the local newspaper from local residents. Buckle up; it is going to be one hell of a ride.
As one of those jaded journo’s that you always hear about, I guess I’m always looking to fit music into easy pigeon-holes, to stick a label on it and keep things in nice tidy demarcated genres. That said, some of the most interesting music to write about is the sort of thing that isn’t easy to work out, music that defies simple categorisation, music which just won’t play by the damn rules. Cuthbert not only don’t sit easily with modern trend or classification, I feel that no matter what era they had appeared in they would always be considered out side the norm. The freaks!
It’s rock for sure, but more a visceral, wailing garage rock vibe than the usual conventions, seeped in belligerent, sneering punk vocals and psyched out, post-punk clattering chaos all put to rigid back beats and a driving, anchoring bass. You can see what’s going on, yet the way that it wilfully doesn’t quite fit together is not only its charm and selling point but what makes it stand out from the pack, the greatest skill here being their ability to reign everything in just enough to stop it all careering off into the abyss.
And after all, anything which sounds like Thee Hypnotics having a nervous breakdown has got to be worth listening to!
Death by Unga Bunga have released their raucous new single ‘Cynical’ and described the song as ‘filled with fuzz-fuelled twin guitars and intergalactic synthesizers that will have you wishing you were riding in Elon Musk’s space-car with this catchy tune on full blast!‘
The track is taken from their upcoming album ‘So Far, So Good, So Cool’ that is due out April 6th via Jansen.
Canshaker Pi have announced their ‘Naughty Naughty Violence’ tour for this May including a show at The Old Blue Last in addition to their previously announced set at The Great Escape in Brighton. They have also released their dark new video to ‘Put A Record Out’ in support of the upcoming album due this summer via Excelsior Recordings.
After impressing the likes of DIY, Clash, Drowned in Sound and many more at their Eurosonic performance at the start of 2018, Canshaker Pi are now set to release their new album, ‘Naughty Naughty Violence’. From supporting names such as Car Seat Headrest and Parquet Courts, to local friends Pip Blom, and indie legends The Cribs, the band have absorbed all the skill that surrounds them and poured it into the new record. The Amsterdam quartet burst into the world of indie-rock at such a young age and yet have been no strangers to the more mature sounds of Pavement – in fact, Stephen Malkmus helped to produce the band’s debut LP and in 2017 they toured 15 countries and played 27 shows with Scott Kannberg’s Spiral Stairs.
I guess when you get your single spun as recommend new music by Idles frontman Joe Talbot, sitting in for Steve Lamacq on 6 music, you know that you have friends in the right places. But after opening shows for the likes of The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks and finding other champions amongst the great and good of both commercial and more discerning radio, you can’t say that they haven’t earn’t such exposure.
Table Scraps make trashy garage rock meets modern day street punk, okay the punk purists still clinging to their Pistols vinyl aren’t going to fall for its contemporary charms, but this is what punk sounds like two generations on, this is the same spirit that ran through the likes of The Slits, an alternative to what was already alternative. Similarly it is two fist fulls of brash and brief alt-art-attacks, generally making their point in around three minutes or less and blending clattering grooves and choppy rhythms, aggressive and unrefined, sounding almost demo like it his era of studio possibilities and all the better for it.
And for all its belligerence, its songs are hooky and accessible, sort of anyway, songs like Sick of Me, My Obsession and Takin’ Out The Trash would be sure fire chart hits if the music industry was run by people in Johnny Thunders T-shirts and if kids still went to grassroots gigs. Sadly the battle is going to be a bit harder for bands like Table Scraps but I’m definitely rooting for them.
There is some music which, going on titles alone, begs more questions than answers. A band called, for example, Splat! could turn out to be almost anything musically. Similarly Doctor Bongo’s Electric Herring leaves you similarly bemused at what might lie within, though you can be fairly sure that drugs were involved in its construction. The only really certainty when it comes to names is that anything with an umlaut over a vowel is an old school metal band trying to look tough or worldly…or both. Lo-Hi Rebels presents no such problem, something of the sound and the attitude are captured in the band name and something of their worldly point of view in the album title.
If the opening salvo fires off in fairly expected style, underneath their scuzzy garage rock sound there are some less than expected reference points. Whilst many of the tracks seem to pay homage to the early days of Brit punk, somewhere between the brash melodics of the first wave and the more intense and destructive second, tracks like Last Chance Saloon are built on the echoes of the pre-punk, London R&B pub-rock era that when speed up and stripped down became the musical template for British punk. Got Soul also hints and a more interesting record collection, 60’s psych rock meets twisted beat music and Carol even shows that the band are not adversed to pop balladry, though obviously they drench it in visceral and raw guitars plus the odd jaunty retro riff and a lunatic crescendo.
Whilst so many bands are looking to create their own sound through convoluted vocal styles and cross genre fusions with an eye on the fickle fashion of the youth market, Lo-Fi Rebels wear their “art on their sleeve”. It may be cooler to reference happening indie bands or iconic American punk but the band are effectively channelling, reviving and updating a sound that has been wielded many times before from the likes of BB King to The Seeds to Dr Feelgood to Burning Tree, proving that great music does stand the test of time. If these are intentional references then good on them, it shows that they not only have great taste but are aware of their place in musical history, something that all bands should have a grasp on. If unintentional it probably says something about musical osmosis or that maybe humans have something in their DNA that makes them predisposed to such raw and primal sounds. I don’t know, I’m not actually a real scientist.
Hiccup is many things. A seventh album with all the energy and swagger of a debut release, a guitar driven musical blast built of slabs of sound rather than the intricacies and detail which the instrument usually loves to bathe in, punk urgency soaked in fuzzy, psychedelic washes, a sucker punch and a hug, an inward looking and reflective odyssey which just happens to sound like it wants to pick a fight with the world. Juxtapositions are wonderful things when used correctly.
And it is this warped blend and belligerent non-conformity which means that this album could have been the product of the hidden underground movement of almost any musical era to date from 60’s garage rock experiments to 70’s psychedelic scenes, from post-punk explorations to the dark under belly of 90’s college rock or grunge and on into the mix and match post-genre approach of the 21st century.
If bands like Sonic Youth explored similar territory by lacing their music through with intricate but primal guitar riffs and meandering but memorable hooks, Tym Wojcik, the man behind Cup takes a simpler route, building a wall of noise which is more about a presence than necessarily a tune in the more accessible sense. So much so that his musings which in their subject matter often seen mutually exclusive to the bluntness of the music – anxiety, existence, meaning and communication – often get a bit lost in the musical maelstrom that he conjures up.
Challenging, uncompromising, brutal and direct, it is an album which isn’t about making an initial connection, it is more about increased rewards over successive plays, once you get your head around how his unique musical world works, understand its rules, self-imposed limitations and modus operandi. Once your ear is in you will find a gem of an album, a rough and unpolished gem, but a gem none the less. So go and play it, play it again, and again, once more, keep going, don’t stop, again….
Aren’t you meant to mellow with age? Aren’t you meant to hand the musical baton on to the next generation, calm down and grow old gracefully? Well, when the younger generation seem largely content to write songs devoid of bite or opinion and the world seems to grow even more chaotic, ill-balanced and self-serving day by day, what is an old punk to do? They do what they have always done, write fired up music about the state of the world around them, remind people that once music had something to say, thats what Derailer do anyway and boy do they sound pissed off.
Derailer are a motley bunch of musicians whose collective family tree runs through a whole raft of local agitator rock and viseral punk bands, including The Chaos Brothers, The Boys From County Hell and and Nobody’s Heroes but Delete The Elite pushes beyond merely punk roots and splices garage rock, swamp blues, scuzzy alt-rock and a snarling commentary which seems equally content to put things right or pull things down.
And if songs like Prohibition are happy to play the high octane, punk groove card, the gothic-country wasteland shiver of Creepin’ Jesus and the raucous roots salvos of Hands of The Healer position them closer to the tribal psychobilly blues of The Gun Club, never a bad band to find yourself sharing a vibe with.
Somehow, Derailer have mastered the art of writing songs that represent every disenfranchised musical subset in history…well, a fair slice of them anyway. In 12 surly and uncompromising musical slices Delete The Elite manages to embrace the sneering punk, the slick haired rock and roller and any number of beligerants wandering the musical fringes. The jagged riffs will speak to blues heads and hard rockers alike and the brooding undertones are a place even the estranged goth can find solace. Call it what you will but for my money this is garage rock at its finest.
Following on from writing about their recent release Kill White Lights we sat down for a bit of a chat to find out more about our favourite Philly garage rockers The Judex to find out more about where it all started, what’s it all about and more excitingly, where is it all heading.
So let’s start with a bit of background, you are a relatively new band, what’s the musical family tree and back story that gets us to the birth of The Judex?
W: I wish I had something more engaging and exotic to start out on, but the birth of The Judex is relatively mundane although it does involve a musical family tree, as you put it. Basically, the four of us all played together in various forms as teenagers with various degrees of regional success… we lost touch and went our separate ways. Fast forward to last Winter. I had been singing in a rockabilly band in New York and, while it was a quality project with great people, it wasn’t the same as a ‘real’ band, the sense of priorities are different, and so forth. Not wrong, just different.
I had started to get back in touch with Sean and we had a lot of the same ideas about how self-indulgent and interchangeable bands had become and acted- and both Sean and J were really blue collar in a sense, not jaded and cynical like a lot of musicians I’d been interacting with in the city. It was kind of refreshing to be around that kind of attitude again, where people just wanted to throw themselves into it and who shared the mindset of, let’s talk less about ourselves, and just get shit done.
Genres are tricky things, full of implication and assumption. Pop music isn’t always popular, soul bands don’t always connect deep down and not all blues is melancholic. Similarly the term Americana might imply that it is a sound taken from the American music psyche or that references past glories from that country. But maybe some music is less about geography and more about the similarities between the people making it. If the modern urban sprawl has given us intense, minimal rapped deliveries put to a empty industrial-tribal beat and conversely slow-paced agrarian comments produce gentler, lilting folk, maybe all Billy Roberts is doing is channelling the natural pace and pulse of hard-working, regular communities, wherever they may be found.
And maybe the term Americana is a bit misleading, some of the hall marks are there for sure but Greenbah also wanders many other roads, it is rough around the edges rock, outlaw country, rhythm and booze; it grooves, it boogies, it motors. It is the sound of the perfect bar band, one that you could have stumbled across anywhere from 60’s San Francisco, 70’s New York, 80’s London and a hundred other scenes and cities across the decades. I guess it carries a torch that stems back to the early blues players and then has evolved, grown, got sonically tooled up but always been around in some form or another.
If album opener, Old Friend, ticks off more than a few of those American country references and has a certain Springsteen vibe about it, Greenbah also has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Blood and Bones is a raw, blues rock workout, Only One is a pacy ballad as blistering as it is beautiful and No One Knows Me is a west coast country punk anthem. There is even room for a moment of Cohen-esque bar-room introspection with Don’t Tell Mamma and Little Johnny is a song that Tom Waits would kill for, bent to his will and then probably re-written with a tuba in mind.
To say that it is a solid album is an understatement, The Rough Riders as a pack are a force to be reckoned with, they get the job done with the minimum of fuss, with an attitude of “I’ve had my union card a long time, I know what the job is, don’t mess with me when I’m working.” The charm comes from the fact that although it is the sound of a group of musicians playing at the top of the gruff, country-rock game, they rarely give away all the goods at once, preferring instead to serve the song and wait for their rare, individual moment in the spotlight, teasing and taunting the listener. Any showboating is reduced to intricate motifs and clever sonic designs which spice the music rather than lime-lit ego massaging that modern music is infamous for.
People are people, music is where you find it and the world is a small place. All cliches I’ll grant you but it does explain why Billy Roberts and The Rough Riders are difficult to place in every sense of the phrase. So why not raise a glass to the post-genre, post scene, post-everything world…then finish the bottle whilst listening to this intriguing Antipodean band.
It says something about the world around us when there are people who can name all of The Kardashians but who can’t name 5 congressional leaders, or know just how long it would take to ride from King’s Landing to…some other place in a made up world but can’t point to North Korea on the map. Such is the world we find ourselves in today, the world where throw away culture and shallow consumerism is more important than political issues, social values and even knowledge and facts. If, like me, you are one of those people who worries about what sort of world we are leaving behind for the next generation and indeed Keith Richards, then maybe we should form a movement, fight back, revolt. And if we are going to revolt, then we need a revolting soundtrack…if you know what I mean…and I know just the guys for the job.
Philly garage-rock guitar slingers The Judex are back, and as always they have a problem with the world around them, the one I have just described. Why are people more interested in whether their favourite character will make it to the next season of a fantasy TV show than if it is even safe to walk their own streets, more interested in the clash of clans that is taking place on their TV than the race, class, political divisions breaking their own society apart? And of course they tackle it in their own inimitable way.
Banshee blues howls and satanic Elvis vocals, chugging guitars, primordial back beats and granite bass lines are all fashioned and bullied into a brilliant onslaught of menacing grooves and maligned melody. It is the sound of the American dream slipping into dystopian decay, the sound of the world shifting into something unspeakable, the sound of the rot setting in. But more than that it is a wake up call, a rallying cry to take notice and to stop papering over the cracks in society, to build bridges not walls.
Recorded with legendary producer Mark Plati who has worked with such game changing artists as David Bowie and The Cure, this track also welcomes new drummer Dalton from anarchist punk legends The Founders and he sounds right at home holding down the tsunami back beats which are the bands anchor.
Music is a great way of getting a point across, of delivering social commentary and political points of view. And this is political, with a small “p,” not party political but more the politics of the man in the street, the man worried about his family’s safety, the man calling for fundamental changes to the way we view the world and people around us. And if you want to make public your concerns about the society you find yourself trapped in why not wrap them up in the grooviest, most urgent and brutal punk-blues punch possible. That’s what The Judex do and do so brilliantly.
For a band who wilfully describe themselves as “psychotic pop, psychedelic punk and androgynous rock n’ roll,” Co-Morbid is a surprisingly together album. Together in the sense that whilst it is wild and raw, challenging and visceral, often intense, always surprising, the songs hold together because of an accessibility and even a brilliant pop sensibility at times. Sure it is often buried under a garage rock growl, glam excesses, paisley visions and prowling punk postures songs like My Former Baby reveals them to be brilliant purveyors of Kinks-esque kitchen sink dramas with a New Wave make over.
In fact She Makes Me Want to Die goes even further and makes you realise that if Noel Gallagher had listened to more of Small Faces and The Move rather than T-Rex and The Fab Four, this might have been what the much maligned Brit-pop era might have sounded like. If only! But it didn’t and that makes Faerground Accidents slightly lost musical souls in the scheme of things, which is a shame.
It’s a mercurial blend musically speaking, punky and muscular when it wants to be but able to play the psychedelic pop role too, exhibiting the experimentation of post-punk but also tugging more retrospective heartstrings, sometimes sound like a 60’s hippies throwing a hand grenade into the summer of love cultural happening and sometimes sounding like Pink Floyd if Syd had remained at the helm.
I love bands who I just can’t put my finger on, it becomes an itch I can’t scratch and sends me back for repeated listens until I work it all out, though in the case of these Sheffield musical miscreants I don’t think I will.But that is also the joy of music I guess, what would the world be like if we all followed the rules? Tunbridge Wells I suppose!
I love the fact that I have lived long enough to witness the word Lynchian become a recognised label, one that can be applied to art and creativity across a wide range of spectrums. In the visual aspect it is synonymous with delving beyond the ordinary surface to find the dark and unsettling underbelly of modern society, to turn the familiar into the something elusive, uncertain and eventually horrific. 68 Creep seem to be the perfect band to take such an attitude and render it into the perfect soundtrack.
As Kimberly Q sings “I killed my baby in the middle of the night” and then throws in a unemotional “I’m sorry” you get to the heart of what the band are about. Slow, meandering gothic jams and visceral garage rock grinding creates a canvas onto which they paint their terrible visions. But the real terror is not the things they sing about so much as the wistful detachment with which they deliver them, the horror seems so much more intense when it appears to be pointless or just for kicks.
Part PJ Harvey and part The Cramps, 68 Creep inject their own brand of darkness into the gothic musical heart, one for a more modern, smarter musical audience. Whereas first time around the genre was clinical and romantic, florid and pretentious, now it is focused and intense, raw and threatening. Guitars wander between razor wire shape edges and cavernous onslaughts and the vocals are 60’s girl group leads warped and lacerated by life all driven by an unrelenting distant industrial beat.
Strangely beautiful, wonderfully weird, taut and tense and as I said in the introduction, brilliantly Lynchian, it comes as no surprise that the album title derives from the great man’s most examined, interpreted and brilliantly confusing film Mulholland Drive.
Normally the job of a reviewer is to try and dissect a record and explain to the potential buyer what is going on under the hood of that particular musical vehicle. With this bunch of Minneapolis generic gene splicers it would be quicker to tell you what isn’t in there.
Like some sort of big, brash, souped-up street racer, The Foshays burn through mutant garage rock, glam stomps, Stax horn sections, pulsing new wave electro, punk-blues guitars, CBGB’s era street bands, industrial engineered 60’s doo-wop and a darkly psychedelic take on children’s TV themes.
And like those over engineered beasts, in just over 2 minutes they have blown themselves out in blast of flames and smoke leaving just some tire marks on the road, the acrid smell of burning oil and an odd feeling that you need a lie down. What a way to go….
The wonderfully named Suburban Vermin continue their mission to pour all the snottiest, surliest, most belligerent and confrontational strains of music from the contemporary era into their sonic cauldron and create a new musical soup for the current disaffected and disenfranchised times.
In a whisker under three minutes Different Note manages to embrace the sneering punk, brutal tastes of the hardcore fan and misunderstood angst ridden grunger in one fell swoop. The raw and relentless drive will speak to metalheads and the dark and jagged undertones are a place even the estranged proto-goth can find solace. Call it what you will this is mutant rock at its finest.
Beat Before Breakdown follows its own advice and delivers something that sounds straight out of CBGB’s from that disease ridden golden age of the mid-seventies, put this in a Heartbreakers set (time travel required) and no-one would bat an eye lid.
If Suburban Vermin prove one thing it is that we can argue about generic labels, fashion and fine details but the spirit that runs through their songs is one that has been catching the ear of every wild eyed loner since James Dean first embodied the image over half a century ago. It isn’t really about the messenger it is about the message, the common ground, the tribal connection, the idea that you may not be as alone as you think.
The songs speak attitude, the lyrics drip bile and the whole package seems to be a vehicle for the dark underbelly of every musical outsider since the clock was first rocked around. It’s a wonderful skill to have, to be able to take every disinherited idea, every discarded and ignored, non-conformist expression music has ever turned its commercial minded back on and forge them into an all embracing, all uniting anthem, but its what Suburban Vermin do. Deal with it!
Every band should get to have their AC/DC moment. The Cult did it better than most, certainly better than Accept did it, Rose Tattoo did it in it’s native accent and Humble Pie seemed to do it through the use of time travel. Gold Phoenix has always wandered pretty parallel sonic paths but here they strip it down to its bare essentials, lead with a gloriously dumb riff…and I mean that as a compliment, four-four beats with just the right amount of swing and a large dash of innuendo. Sometimes that is pretty much all rock and roll needs to be about.
And if the template is familiar and rock and roll this straight-forward can’t really be about bringing much new to the table, Surrey’s finest (that’s the Jam fans pissed off then) use their inherent swagger and attitude to make up for it and then some. It grooves and grates, blisters and boogies, it snaps, crackles and rocks and somewhere high above the ghost of Bon Scott is looking down and saying something profound like….strewth baby, that rocks like a beast!
When the What’s Her Name? single landed before my reviewing pen a few months ago it seemed to have arrived at the perfect time. It gave me the perfect opportunity to rally against the conformity and unadventurous nature of the rock scene at the moment and hold up Smoking Martha as being exactly what was needed to shake things up a bit. The right band, the right sound, the right time. Right? But even with such a great musical calling card and a hint as to what might follow, it still didn’t fully prepare me for just what a joy to behold this full album would be.
In the same way that I waxed lyrical about that song’s ability to strip things back and capture the singular essence of rock, to be simultaneously raw and melodic, incendiary and infectious, cultish and commercial, with In Deep you realise that song was anything but a one off. Smoking Martha have only gone and filled up a whole album of brilliant musical balancing acts and fine-line generic tight rope walks.
With most bands you can probably pinpoint one or two musical references that seem to drive the music, with Smoking Martha things are not quite so straightforward. Although things drive along pretty much on a classic rock vibe or via a more visceral garage rock subversion, this is no mere rehashing of the past and whilst you can probably pick out many of the individual musical building blocks, what they have fashioned them into is a totally new piece of exquisite sonic architecture.
Find a Way broods and glowers with gothic undertones, Ebb of the Tide bristles with high drama and shifting dynamics, and opening salvo So Lonely blends punky skanking guitars with foot on the monitor seminal rock sounds. And the more you peel back the more you find; blues grooves pushed to the extreme, theatrical excesses, grunge intensity, biker bar swagger and effortless attitude. But despite this scattergun of references, or perhaps because of it, nothing here ever sounds derivative, familiar perhaps but just the right blend of comfort zone and new ground being explored.
Smoking Martha is a band looking for a bigger stage. You can hear it in their music, music crafted for big platforms, anthemic launch pads and stadium broadcasts – big songs looking for a big space to call home. I’m sure watching them play in a small music venue is still a brilliant, white-knuckle experience but what they have managed to capture on this album is the best argument ever for them being given the chance to step up and join the big leagues. When that door opens for them, not if but when, rock music will be in an altogether more interesting place.
The future of rock music isn’t just looking bright, it is positively smoking!
It is possible that Nelson King subscribes less to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” philosophy and more to a “if it ain’t broke it’s still okay to beat the crap out of it and sculpt battered and interesting new shapes.” Maybe. What I’m trying to say in my unnecessarily verbose sort of way is that Is There Something is actually the best of both worlds, familiar enough to be immediately engaging yet original enough to bring something new to the table.
At the albums core is a bluesy, boogie, rhythm and booze sort of vibe, good time drinking den music, a rootsy, rock ‘n’ roll bar band sound and whilst it is easy to see where the man is coming from, make some educated guesses about his record collection and swap anecdotes about meeting Ten Years After, its where he takes things from there that makes things interesting.
Let me draw a line connecting the points on that journey, a line connecting West London underground r’n’b venues of the 60’s with smoky, back street Chicago blues clubs of an earlier era, another from New York’s proto-punk scene of the 70’s to the open highways of the west, the soundtrack to a road trip travelling foot on the floor, top down, beer in hand. Another joining rock with roots, the profound with the profane, the familiar with the exploratory. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this outstanding musician.
I remember waiting for Souixsie and The Banshees to play at a festival and being subjected to northern chancers The Farm playing a set looking and sounding like a bunch of construction workers running through bad and uninspiring karaoke tunes after a hard day working with sheet-rock. I mention this to highlight the fact that bands need to come equipped with their own mythology, inhabit a world different from our own, one that is other and elsewhere. If we see them as being just like us then the magic is broken right from the start. I’m not really sure where The Judex are from but it sure ain’t from around here.
The Judex come at you cloaked in a strange blend of horror b-movie imagery and garage band swagger, punkish attitude and retro-rock resonance, mystique and muscle; in short rock and roll boiled down to its very essence. And like all good rock and roll it feels edgy, dangerous and subversive. And subversion isn’t always about ripping up the rulebook; sometimes it is tearing out the pages and fashioning them into interesting origami or deftly snipping them into puzzling paper chain designs.
Cult of Judex is dark, atmospheric and throws some brooding looks about the room but is also filled with an undercurrent of urgency and walls of sound, pulsing bass lines and killer gang choruses. Such is the bands ability to fashion shade and light, sweet and sour into stark and jarring musical statements. But big songs are not just about making a noise, anyone can do that, the selling point here is the layering of the instrumentation, for even when they are threading together myriad textures and byzantine complexity, there seems to be room for everything to have it’s own moment in the spotlight.
Witchface is a musical shot in the head, a short sharp Gun Club-esque ranting and unrelenting onslaught built of squalling guitars and four-string intricacies, tribal beats and dark thoughts. If occult boogie were indeed a genre Judex would be its leading lights…if it isn’t already a genre then we need to add it to the musical canon and recognise it as one.
It’s the sound of the Jon Spenser Blues Explosion actually imploding, the sound of punk being invented in a Chicago blues club in 1957, a gang fight set to 12 bar rhythms or rock and roll ceasing to evolve beyond Little Richard and instead just getting louder and faster and more intense until space and time are bent around it and the nothing can escape it’s influence.
What makes these two tracks work so well is that they package up a retro-familiarity, a classic sound that tugs at musical memories from a golden age of music and yet goes somewhere new with it, avoids cliché and pastiche but end up with a sound which is so ingrained in the musical psyche that it gives you the feeling that you have been listening to the band since before you can remember.
As debut singles go, it does a lot, not to mention sets a very high benchmark, in a very short space of time. In just over five minutes via this brace of tunes Judex establish themselves as masters of their art, their art being destructive and liberating music but also soulful and intricate, direct yet with depth and the fact that I have waxed lyrical for so long over such a short physical span speaks volumes. If I can write this much about how brutally engaging the band is, just imagine how well the music will serve you time and time again, each play revealing something new and offering up hidden depths that may at first have felt like the usual shallows which rock music tends to inhabit. Music that keeps on giving, now there’s a rare concept.
They are a band who have worked out that the wheel doesn’t need re-inventing, it just needs a clean up, re-treading and some fancy rims then taken out for a spin to leave some indelible and unsightly marks all over the road, possibly invoking an angry letter to the local newspaper from local residents. Buckle up; it is going to be one hell of a ride.
The great advantage of knowing your musical history, of course, is that you have plenty of material to reference, be inspired by, to fill in the gaps between, cross pollinate and generally explore. In the same way that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, there is a reason why some sounds and styles continue to exist, evolve and advance and others become musical cul-du-sacs. Nelson King clearly knows his musical history. And because of this he is able to take familiar threads and weave whole new designs with them, ones that are both fresh yet familiar.
Throughout its 9 tracks Lo-Fi meanders through the underbelly of rock and roll, borrowing a Stones lick here, referencing the Thunders swagger there and often revelling in a sneering punk (Lower East Side division) approach that seemingly reveres the genre and tries to obliterate it at the same time. Its garage rock feel reminds us of what’s really important – attitude rather than intricacies, groove rather than grandiose statements. And if in the wrong hands such a blending of blues, r&b and rock might result in a pastiche of what has gone before, Nelson King knows just which dark and sleazy elements to use to create his wrong side of the tracks music, how to infuse it with an illicit danger and the feeling that you could do with a shower after listening to the album.
The songs groove and grind, run around four to the floor rock outs yet are also capable of tender tunefulness and reflective moments. Straight down the line rock and roll has survived this long because it delivers the goods in an accessible and unfussy fashion, has edge and paints wonderful pictures for the listener. Nelson King is very aware of this and because of it Lo-Fi ticks all the required boxes….and a few more I hadn’t even thought of.
Sometimes songs can be a peek into a bands record collection, which for a music snob and general nosey parker such as myself is never a bad thing. Whilst Divisionists are a current London outfit, their music skims sonic stones across a whole lake of earlier times and other places. Early 80’s California and the rise of the 60’s gazing Paisley Underground, the more muscular rock sound of Minneapolis, a Boston indie vibe, the alternative take of US college rock radio and hints of the more melodic end of Portland’s mercurial sound. You just know that after a hard day they relax with a bit of The Replacements, The Gin Blossoms or Green On Red…on vinyl of course!
But I’m not talking about plagiarism here, far from it, the sound that Divisionists make merely tips hats in these general directions, and why not? But it isn’t just about where they come from, it is about where they are going and I really like where they are going. It gives a new sense of direction for the non-fashion conscious (or possibly hyper-fashion conscious trend setter) indie kid, it offers an alternative to alternative…no-one really knew what that term meant anyway, it plays with pop infectiousness, psychedelic looseness, has edgy slashes of jaggle-guitars and travels with its foot very much flat to the floor right through the song.
In fact, I would be hard pushed to think of anyone who wouldn’t find their sound appealing and that’s not something you can say very often. Not all collisions, musically speaking at least, have dire consequences!
Sitting here slightly fragile after a night watching a Dallas rocker with a country swagger tear a hole where the stage in an English venue used to be, the latest release from Billy and the boys feels like the perfect after party music. Not that I have the energy to party. But that same blend of southern groove, garage rock grunt and country licks seems very appropriate right now.
Know One Knows Me drives on a solid, relentless backbeat and bass pulse, time and tide may wait for no man and neither does this song. Alex Quinn’s spiralling guitars and Billy’s vocals, a combination of world wise and world weary, vie for the lead role and then settle for compromise and harmonise as the song builds.
If California has The Blasters, a band that captured the country vibe but then represented it to the world via a harder, punk edged rock and roll delivery, Billy Roberts and The Rough Riders are doing the same job on the other side of the world. Okay, it isn’t going to please the purists but I’m sure it will turn a lot of people on to the idea of what country music can be, whilst delivering some consistently solid tunes along the way. If there is such a thing as alt-country…then this is definitely it.