Return of The Split Lip –  The Judex (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Judex_Cover_1The 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.

DEXY1Even 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.

 

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Call them a Band or call them a Gang: The wicked world of The Judex

jdxFollowing 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.

Continue reading “Call them a Band or call them a Gang: The wicked world of The Judex”

Kill White Lights –  The Judex (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

KWL_IDEA.jpgIt 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.

Cult of Judex/Witchface – The Judex (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2757370443_16I 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.

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