Psychedelic Psummer: Return to the Dark Side

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Last year, Tame Impala and Jacco Gardner set the tone for the psychedelic summer with a fairly upbeat mix of electro psych and bucolic pop. It’s fitting with all the horrendous murder sprees and ugly politics that this year’s crop would be darker and dirtier. Lola Colt, reviewed here, put out an album that rivals The Drones for album of the year so far, a benchmark in psych noir.  Heading the rest of the crop are some garage noir bands, Os Noctàmbulos, Night Beats, The Mystery Lights and The Murlocs. Continue reading

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Blues Pills – Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast)

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Blues Pills - Lady In Gold (Nuclear Blast, 2016)While Blues Pills are based in Sweden, they’re an international group with American bassist and songwriter Zach Anderson originally serving time in Radio Moscow, and former teen prodigy guitarist Dorian Sorriaux is French. Their musical inspirations are just as diverse as their nationalities. While their debut album from 2014 comfortably fit them with fellow Swedish hard psych rockers Graveyard, Witchcraft, Truckfighters and Spiders, Lady In Gold expands their reach from Blue Cheer and Big Brother & the Holding Company fusion of fuzz and blues rock into psychedelic soul. It’s not really that surprising or jarring of a progression, except for those who might have expected them to go more in the direction of psych noir and prog like Blood Ceremony, Purson and Jess And The Ancient Ones. Partly because that territory is more than capably covered by others, and more because Elin Larsson and company’s passions are more rooted in American influences, this evolution feels completely natural. Continue reading

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Between The Cracks Part 3

Great bands that slipped between the cracks of new wave, power pop, punk and post-punk, 1978-1982

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between-the-cracksTrends are bullshit. From film to fashion to music, they can be somewhat useful for marketing, packaging and selling certain things, but a lot of great art gets passed over for substandard cultural product. In Parts one and two of my Between The Cracks series, I focused mostly on music from the 70s which fell between the cracks of glam, prog, art rock, metal and punk. While I love much of the music that came out of those genres, bands that didn’t quite fit were often ignored, unfairly suffering a demise due to lack of commercial success.

vive-le-rock-36This latest batch re-entered my brainspace when I was thinking about what albums I would send back in a time-travelling care package to myself for my 12th birthday. To keep it simple I kept it to roughly a three year period of what was considered contemporary music a the time, from 1978 to mid-1981 (my birthday is July 16). As I was digging through the kind of music my twelve year-old self would have liked (mostly new wave and poppy punk), coincidentally UK magazine Vive Le Rock’s current issue had the feature, “The 50 Greatest New Wave Albums Ever.” The top of the list had the predictable, obvious choices of Blondie, Devo, Elvis Costello, The Police, The Romantics and The Go-Go’s, The Cars, Talking Heads, The Knack, The Pretenders, B-52’s, Squeeze and Joe Jackson, all easily available stuff I listened to as a kid. Following those were a lot of artists that took several years to track down, but became favorites sometime between my teens and twenties, like Tubeway Army, Ultravox, Graham Parker & The Rumour, Lene Lovich, XTC, The Undertones, Iggy Pop, The Vapors, Monochrome Set, Wall Of Voodoo, The Flying Lizards, Altered Images and Ian Dury and the Blockheads (if you haven’t seen the movie Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) starring Andy Serkis, I recommend it). Continue reading

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Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette & The Compass Point Trilogy

Grace Jones - Warm Leatherette (Island, 1980)Release a couple weeks ago but seemingly only available in the UK right now, the deluxe double album reissue of Warm Leatherette was long overdue, and now seems to missing out on the fanfare it deserves. What was once considered a flawed start to a groundbreaking trilogy of albums has been restored to it’s rightful place as the near equal of Nightclubbing.

By the late 70s, Grace Jones was already well known for her modelling, and as a disco diva who frequented Studio 54 and released three albums on Island between 1977 and 79. But with the help of label head Chris Blackwell, she reinvented herself into something much greater — a badass subcultural icon who forged a new fusion of post-punk, avant pop and reggae. 36 years after it’s initial release, Warm Leatherette finally got the reissue it deserves. Two aspects make the reissue completely essential.  First, all the long versions are made available. The original vinyl featured truncated versions to keep the album under 40 minutes, while the cassette version contained the longer cuts. With such a sublime, addictive album, the long versions are a must have. Second, three versions of her cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” are included, which was not included on the original album, which was a huge mistake. It’s her most unhinged performance ever, and should be part of the album. Continue reading

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Second Quarter Rundown

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2016 is already half over, so it’s time to evaluate some of the best releases that have come out the past three months. There weren’t really any surprises for me, as the heavy hitters I had been anticipating delivered. I didn’t know ahead of time when Male Gaze and Radiohead would come out with albums, but I was looking forward to them, and they didn’t disappoint. Lola Colt definitely moved up in ranks as one of my favorite current bands. It was a good time for sophomore albums from Lola Colt, Male Gaze, Purson, Messenger and Electric Citizen.  Swans maintained their high standards with possibly the last release of their career, and Gojira took a left turn into post-punk (and post-industrial/post-metal) territory.

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Lola Colt – Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress)

Lola Colt - Twist Through The Fire (Black Tigress, 2016)In last year’s Psych Noir piece, Lola Colt was the key focus in the section titled, “Guns, Peyote ‘n’ Dark Highways.” Their evocative debut Away From The Water (Fuzz Club, 2014) brought to mind garage noir pioneers like The Scientists, Gun Club, Gallon Drunk, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Italian western composer Ennio Morricone, post-punkers Au Pairs along with psychedelia and the lyrical B-movie revels of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats. While no single track ever disappointed, even B-sides like “Boom Boom Blasphemy,” “Time To Burn” and “Diamonds,” it seemed the band had plenty more potential for growth.

While a lot of bands keep a laser sharp focus on their musical style, which can be a good thing, Lola Colt’s world manages to be dark and menacing but also expansive and traversely. Their second album is the manifestation of that vision, touching on Israeli folk and North African percussion with the psychedelic boldness of peak Jefferson Airplane and Siouxsie & the Banshees, at least their spirit firmly packed away in their DNA, but the sound easily discerned as their own.

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Male Gaze – King Leer (Castle Face)

male-gaze-kingI was excited by last year’s all too short debut mini-LP by Male Gaze, which combined dark post-punk with garage psych. On their new album, they don’t sound so much inspired by the Chameleons and Blue Orchids as much as they do more contemporary, poppy post-punk like Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes. I’m not complaining though. Even with their most melodic songs, like “Ranessa” and “Stupid Heart,” they keep the edges roughed up with a loose, garage punk feel. The album is anchored in the beginning (“Got It Bad”), middle (“Easy To Void”) and end (“This Is It”) by muscular numbers with Matt Jones’ distinctive baritone and guitars in overdrive The biggest departure is the languid, acoustic “Green Flash.” They took a risk, and while it might not be a highlight, they pull it off by demonstrating the kind of heart and soul that made Royal Headache’s High so convincing last year. Like High, it’s a short album, but it’s packed tight with great songs, as “Lesser Demons” and “Bad Omens” offer additional hooky highlights, the latter even dabbling in some jangle pop. Despite displaying what I believe is massive potential from their first single, the band seems to be coasting somewhat under the radar, even for being on an indie (Castle Face) label. Whether they decide to do some proper touring, or it remains an obscure side project, few bands will match the consistency of King Leer this year.

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Choice Summer Choons

summer-choons-2016While there have been some excellent heavy releases from Swans and Gojira, those will have to wait, because it’s summer. As they say in Jamaican patois, de reviews soon come. Meaning they’ll come soon but not too soon, soon enough, or enough time will pass by that you’ll forget you were waiting for it.

While major reissues of classic or undiscovered reggae albums have slowed down this past decade, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty more to discover. That little Caribbean island that had a population of less than 2 million in the first part of the 70s put out more music per person than any other country in the world. So many that it’s a pretty chaotic mess, and there’s no way to track or catalog all of it. Of the hundred thousand plus albums, and exponentially more tracks and dubs that were created, a significant portion of those masters are probably lost forever. But there are still thousands more out of print albums that could be exhumed and reissued, or at least made available on streaming. I really hope someone will follow the Blood & Fire model (the label that lovingly remastered some amazing music and put together gorgeous artwork, but has been dormant for a decade) and put some of them out.

For a while, from about 1994 to 2004, reissues were plentiful and for once people seemed aware of more reggae artists beyond just Bob Marley. Now it feels like we’ve taken two steps back, and once again I get blank looks when I mention Toots & the Maytals or Justin Hinds & the Dominoes. Really? But for those willing to dig, at least there are half-decent rips of out of print vinyl albums floating about, and even some selections on Spotify. While these are not exactly undiscovered artists, these are albums I have either heard for the first time in my life this past month, or rediscovered after not paying proper attention, but are now in my list of all-time favorites.

1. Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus – Dadawah, Peace & Love (Trojan/Dug Out, 1974)

Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus - Dadawah, Peace & Love (Trojan, 1974)Nyahbinghi drums has roots in Jamaican folk music going back to at least the 1940s, and was featured in one of the first Jamaican singles, “Oh Carolina” (1958). In 1972, Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari released the double album Grounation (Ashanti/MRR), which was a fairly accurate representation of the ceremony of the same name. Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus would go on to release several albums that alternate between very rough, unadorned Nyahbinghi music (such as the Nyahbinghi album also from 1974), and more song-based work with accomplished, jazzy musicianship on Rastfari (1975) and Love Thy Neighbour (1979). Dadawah, Peace & Love achieves the perfect middle ground, with four long, hypnotic tracks that achieve a mysterious, mystical atmosphere similar to the Lee Perry-produced classic by The Congos, Heart Of The Congo (1977). Perhaps this album was an influence. In recent years its stature seems to be growing, as sort of the Nyahbinghi Astral Weeks or The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady. If you seek more, check out Cedric Im Brooks’ The Light Of Saba. Continue reading

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First Quarter Rundown

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My traditional 3-4 week break after the year-end summary turned into 3-4 months, due to a mix of day job deadlines, life events and a bit of an overdose on some of the music I had been listening to. A lot of doom and metal releases so far this year simply did not inspire me to write. At this point, however, I feel recharged after my Roadburn trip, and there are at least 15 albums I can wholeheartedly recommend.

1. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm Records)

drones-feelinI’ve been waiting for this album a long time. Not that I knew it was coming, but I’ve been craving a blend of garage noir and avant post-punk blues that’s challenging but also inviting and listenable. This Perth, Australia band has been around a while, since 1997, and their previous six albums are all consistently really good. But their latest just clicks with the missing piece and elevates them to a whole new level, one inhabited by revered artists like, say, Swans. However, while I have trouble making it through an entire Swans album, I’ve already listened to Feelin Kinda Free this year more times than I can count. The first single, “Taman Shud,” is full of surprising stop-start rhythms, and seethes with lefty political rage that hearkens back to the Angry Penguins, a 1940s movement that repudiated an early Australian nationalism. Those who were drawn to the five star reviews of Bowie’s final album Blackstar, but couldn’t quite connect with it’s admirable experiments with avant rock and jazz, really need to give The Drones a shot. “To Think I Once Loved You” measures up to the most tortured missives of peak Dirty Three and kicks the living shit out of anything Nick Cave has done this past decade. Overall it fizzes over with passion, invention and invective. This is without a doubt a serious contender for album of the year. Continue reading

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Roadburn Recap

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I flew, took the wrong trains several times, rocked, ate, drank, slept, rocked some more, got lost some more, and had a great time at the 2016 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands.

It’s been a long road to Roadburn. I’d had my eye on the festival, which had humble beginnings in 1999, after it’s first truly impressive lineup in 2006, which included Hawkwind, Colour Haze, Witchcraft, Ufomammut, Solace, Leafhound, The Heads, The Bevis Frond, Toner Low and Brant Bjork. A fairly diverse group of stoner and space rock, metal and doom, all linked by psychedelia. This was my tribe. Since then they’ve had Blue Cheer, Causa Sui, Guru Guru, Pharaoh Overlord, Circle, Siena Root, The Hidden Hand, The Devil’s Blood, Diagonal, SerpentCult, Baby Woodrose, Acid Mothers Guru, My Sleeping Karma, Graveyard, Motorpsycho, Dead Man, Amon Düül II, Zu, Rose Kemp, Saint Vitus, The Young Gods, Earth, US Christmas, Sons Of Otis, Ancestors, Troubled Horse, Samsara Blues Experiment, Comus, Pagan Altar, Los Natas, Astra, Horisont, Godflesh, Wovenhand, Blood Farmers, Naam, Swans, Candlemass, Wolf People, Ancestors, Spiders, Anekdoten, The Obsessed, 40 Watt Sun, Purson, Blues Pills, The Pretty Things, Kadavar, Goat, Witch Mountain, Elder, Wo Fat, The Cosmic Dead, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Golden Void, Bong, Beastmilk, Papir, Elephant9, Loop, Avatarium, SubRosa, Spidergawd, Death Penalty and Argus. Continue reading

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