Monkfish make music as a soundtrack for a time and place that never really existed. It is one part The Old South, one part David Lynch soundtrack and one part dystopian future. A blend of what was, what is and what might be. And if the physical time and place that they cloak themselves in is a dark and mercurial one it is only because it mirrors the sonic landscapes that they build, more than the sum of its parts perhaps but some of those parts clearly falling into alt-country, rock and folk genres. But as always it is how you blend those familiar sounds together and more importantly what mortar you use as to hold it all together that makes you stand apart from the pack.
The Judex is less a band, more a collection of contradictions, a whirling mass of opposites that somehow have managed to attract and believe me when I say that they are like few rock bands that have crossed your path, if they had, you would have remembered. The titles of the tracks alone tell you that this is a band which thinks outside the box, if they even recognise the existence of the box in the first place. Titles that indicate perfectly the blend of brains and brawn, wit and wisdom, the profound and the profane, of the bi-polar muse and the fallen angel who fight for control of their songs. Musically the same thing is going on, it is rock from the wrong part of town, succinct enough to appeal to the more discerning rock fraternity but also belligerent enough to want to punch their lights clean out. And apart from that, anything that sounds like Gun Club having a nervous breakdown has got to be worth checking out, right?
These four Philadelphia souls are not here to save rock music, they are here to destroy it, or at least to shake it out of its skinny-jeaned, complicated haired, complacency and to remind it that there was a time before it sold out to the music industry, when it was still dangerous, when it was the bad boy on the musical block, when it stood for defiance, outsiderness and edge. These days the modern rock mascot is a balding 40 year old guy in cargo shorts sporting a Wal-Mart bought Ramones T-shirt at a Foo Fighters concert! Where did it all go wrong?
Kill White Lights is the perfect calling card for the album, a strange blend of The Cramps mutant rockabilly jive and the short-lived HeadGirl’s cover of Please Don’t Touch and addressing some fundamental truths and failings in modern society. It’s a rabble rousing anthem to what we now have to call “being woke” which is the current fashionista slang for reading a newspaper, watching a decent current affairs program and waking up to what is really going on outside your door. A call to arms to a groovy tribal swamp-blues beat. Nice.
Even when they are mellowing things out, such as on Jaguar Baby, which, compared to the rest of the album is almost a ballad, they still manage to construct it from angular rock riffs, jagged edges and howling vocals. Everything is relative I guess. It may seem almost like their most conventional song, building from fairly expected edgy blues-rock into squalling musical crescendos, but it is still a song most of the competition would kill to have as their lead track on their own album.
Between these extremes they run from the sublime to the ridiculously good and back again. Wicked Pony Stomp returns us to their trade-mark psyched-out heavy blues, matching musical mayhem with vocal mania, relentless beats with an impending sense of doom, opening salvo War on Fake Psychics sounds like someone re-inventing rockabilly at CBGB’s in the spring of ’76 and Thermostat Queen is a claustrophobic and intense collection of apocalyptic grooves and riffs.
The Judex are essentially a band out of time and genre, a blend of dark country rock and roll and disfigured heavy blues, a post-punk ethos and a post-genre attitude all of which met each other in the desert, fought and bloodied each other, and decided to stay together. This is hardcore snake-charming music, evil, smoky, brash, and libidinally uttered. The future may be looking bright but that may just be the initial flash of the bombs hitting the ground.
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.
I remember watching The Godfathers at the infamous Marquee Club way back in the formative years of the band’s career (just don’t tell them that I had only gone along for the support act) and thinking at the time…blimey, they sound like the sound track to a riot, or possibly even the catalyst for one. And that, in a nutshell, is everything you need to know. But it is a record that deserves a closer look than that, so hold my coat I’m going in.
When The Godfathers first crawled out of the smoking wreckage of The Sid Presley Experience in the mid eighties, they formed part of a rock and roll resistance, a movement of underground rabble-rousers who offered a wonderfully honest, threadbare and raw alternative to the chart glitz and manufactured pop that was prevalent. A timely reminder of that comes with the quasi-rockabilly groove and tribal beats of Poor Boy’s Son which automatically evokes the likes of The Gun Club and The Cramps, fellow travellers through the dank, back rooms and alternative club scene, plying a similar trade that swerved the theatrics of goth and the cartoon nature of rock as it tugged at more primal rock and roll threads.
Even when they deliver a straighter song it still sounds subversive, splendidly haughty and dangerous, but isn’t that what you are looking for in a rock band? Miss America is the perfect blend of sleazy garage raucousness and perfectly timed social commentary and even when they strip things right back on She’s Mine, they channel the same sort of dark, edgy majesty that Lou Reed occasional touched on. Hey, I’m sure they are lovely guys when you meet them at the bar, but when they are in work mode they have lost none of the sneering swagger that made them so appealing in the first place.
Sometimes music can evoke a sort of time travel response or at least send you on a mental journey through the almost forgotten corridors and hidden spaces of the archive of the memory. And even though The Sly Persuaders are new to me, they trigger just such a response and past experiences, the sounds, the smells, the strobe lit visuals and the rush of a young man being consumed by the live music experience come rushing back.
It’s some time in the 80’s, I’m somewhere in a pre-gentrified North London, somewhere near the front of the crowd and the band is, The Bad Seeds or The Gun Club or The Cramps or any number of caustic, scuzzy, post-punk experimentation writ large and live before a speed addled, lager fuelled crowd. Ahh…those where the days. Hang on! These are the days as we now have The Sly Persuaders to channel those heady days through and then build new experiences and new memories around.
This is psychedelia painted only in black and grey, rock and roll that grumbles rather than grooves, moonlit psycho-surf, the ketamine ooze of rock gone so wrong it is so right. I used to feel sorry for young music buffs who never got to experience the industrial weight and uncompromising art attacks of that era and that scene, well no more as we have The Sly Persuaders around whom to build a whole new movement. Who’s up for that?