RECORD REVIEWS, JANUARY-JUNE 2020
AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD. X-The Godless Void and Other Stories CD (Inside Out). This bunch seem to be obsessed with long winded titles, for themselves and for their records, but at least it makes things interesting. In this case, their name makes me think of Spaghetti Westerns while the album title conjures-up books by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe or HP Lovecraft. It’s a good start! Anyway, as you probably know, the band are from Austin, Texas and have been around since the mid-Nineties. The core members have remained Conrad Keely and Jason Reece and they’ve meandered between indie and major labels for much of their career without compromising their musical vision. Their reputation was originally established by their incendiary live shows, but they also backed this up with a succession of powerful and intriguing records. Now, some 25 years down the line, they’re still creating innovative music. Combining ‘Post’punk and Art-rock sensibilities with Hard-rock and Prog-rock (both at their more interesting points) And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead have found something that’s new in both subtle and more obvious manners. One moment, they seem to be going for a full-on riff-fest, but then they’ll twist it in no uncertain terms, whilst elsewhere you’ll be comfortably listening to an ongoing track and then become aware of some sneaky undertone that turns the whole thing on its’ head. But whilst they may deal in (melo)drama, this is a band that also indulge in understated ego and never allow their music to get above itself. Even the vocals (for many bands the main ingredient) seem surprisingly restrained and more like a democratic piece within the overall work than the showboating antics that many vocalists try to put-down. This is an album that embraces both rock’n’roll and the avant garde, producing something that you’ll enjoy in a raw, primal fashion just as much as it’ll leave you thinking and considering what will come next. If a band are going to Rock, this is the way I want to hear it.
MELODY MAKERS: The Bible of Rock’n’Roll. DVD (Wienerworld) Melody Maker was the first weekly music magazine in the UK, making its’ original appearance back in 1926, although at that time it was intended more for musicians rather than music fans. It gradually embraced Jazz and then, during the Sixties, made the change towards rock and pop, which was finally established with a front-cover featuring The Beatles (prompting a section of their older staff to resign!) This documentary focuses almost entirely on the decade between the mid-Sixties and the mid-Seventies, when the magazine was at the peak of its’ success, using the archive of work from head photographer of that time, Barrie Wentzell, to illustrate the story. It’s basically a celebration of those times, when Melody Maker was the prime source for anyone who wanted to know what was happening in the contemporary music world. Former journalists tell enthusiastic tales of Keith Moon, the Rolling Stones and Syd Barrett, whilst musicians from the likes of Jethro Tull, The Animals and Yes explain how their paths crossed. At the height of its’ powers, Melody Maker was selling over 200,000 copies per week and even went as far as opening offices in New York (although plans to publish on an international basis failed to come together.) But in the mid-Seventies two factors came together to weaken their position. Firstly, tabloid newspapers started to become interested in the more sensational aspects of rock music and secondly, Punk music started to emerge and Melody Maker were surprisingly slow to feature the new bands, ceding ground to the likes of the NME. So far, so good, but it’s at this point that the documentary fizzles-out and barely mentions that the magazine actually continued to be published for another 25 years. Although some of the older writers see the mid-Seventies as the end of the classic period, if anything, Melody Maker remained an essential part of the UK music scene, competing with the likes of NME and Sounds to be the first to cover new and interesting bands. This helped to maintain a vibrant and thriving scene, with writers like Jon Savage, Chris Bohn covering up and coming bands whilst later on, the likes of Mick Mercer and Everett True became champions of the independent scene. Unfortunately, none of the later years are covered and that’s a real shame as it misses out a very big part of the story. But for those most interested in the earlier years, this is going to be a very informative and enjoyable documentary. I just hope that the rest of the story also gets covered with as much attention at some point in the not-too-distant future.
THE PHOBICS. Burnt Rubber CD (Down & Out) It’s always awkward reviewing something by people that you’re friends with and especially-so in the case of The Phobics. I see them playing live on a pretty regular basis so I’m already familiar with most of the songs featured on this new album, but all that being said, I still have to say that this album came as a bit of a surprise as it sounds really, really good. Not that their previous releases have been disappointing, but their decision to record at Pat Collier’s Perry Vale studio was obviously a good choice. Pat, as an original member of The Vibrators, clearly has rock’n’roll in his blood and has helped the band to get the sound they deserve. From the very first track, the whole band come blastin’ out of the speakers with a powerful sound that captures both their energy and their melodies. As I’ve said before, their style is based on New York bands like The Ramones and the Heartbreakers, but they put it all into an authentic South London perspective. They don’t try to adopt phoney accents or American slang as they know who they are and they’re happy with it. The lyrics talk about the problems we all face (‘Gentrification’ and ‘Politics’ are the obvious ones) while others like ‘Don’t Lay Your Flowers On My Grave’ and ‘Path of Love’ address more personal subjects. Possibly the oldest track here is ‘P-H-O-B-I-C-S’, their adaptation of Lemmy’s homage to the Ramones which they’ve been playing live for quite some time. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would work on a record, but it’s come out as a brief burst of tongue-in-cheek fun that works perfectly in the middle of their other songs. The real highlight for me is the excellent ‘Burnt Rubber’, one of their more recent songs which takes a harder almost Detroit High Energy approach with a very effective, repetitive riff and insistent vocals. The album ends with ‘Hymn for the 12 Bar Dudes’, an atmosphere piano track that serves as a paean to the much-missed venue. Yes, this is an album that exceeds expectations and, if justice is served, really ought to bring The Phobics to much wider attention. It’s a bloody-good album, plain and simple.
TRAVIS EDWARD PIKE, Changeling’s Return CD (Otherworld Cottage Industries) Travis Pike has recently received retrospective acclaim for the music he made in the Sixties, with great reissues appearing on both State Records and Mousetrap Music. But he continued to develop and write music for a long time after that original period (you can check details in my interview with him, elsewhere on this website.) One such project was ‘Changeling’, originally envisioned as a ‘rock opera’ but later transformed in to a screenplay. A book of this was published in 2017, alongside a CD of songs intended for the project, but a screenplay isn’t the best way to tell a story, so Travis has now published a novel based on the story (check my Book Reviews for further details) and, in addition, a new album featuring updated versions of the original songs and a few brand new tracks. I will say that these recordings are probably more of an indication of how the soundtrack could sound, rather than a finished product, simply because these are songs that deserve a huge production, but regardless, this album has some really great music and plenty to keep you thinking. The mood and atmosphere recalls albums like Alice Coopers ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’, with esoteric themes and, at times, an almost Baroque tone. The album works best in conjunction with the novel, but many of the songs stand alone in their own right. Similarly, the lyrics reveal plenty of ideas that are valid even aside from the novel / screenplay. It’s intriguing and adventurous, mixing rock, psychedelia, folk and Prog at different points. It may not be immediately accessible, but give this album a chance and it will win you over. There are plenty of good songs, intriguing lyrics and an intent that can’t be faulted. It might not be the kind of thing that you’d usually listen to, but check it out because there’s a lot of it that you may well appreciate.
SHINER. s/t CD ( ??? ) I have no label or contact details for this mini-album, which is a shame as it’s a really good debut recording and deserves to be heard. Eight songs that sound like a mix of 77/78 punk rock, along with American bands like The Queers or maybe Crimpshrine. At times you can also hear hints of Oi-style melodies and even some Glam-style boot-stomping drumbeats. The tempo is fast without becoming thrashy and the songs have good arrangements that really bring out their individuality. The lyrics veer towards the kind of songs you’d get from the better end of street-punk, with plenty of chant-along choruses and down-to-earth subjects. ‘We Are The Legion’ betrays some Mod influences, while ‘Danger Zone’ makes me think of early Weirdos material and ‘Hamper Jets’ makes me think of a cross between Rudi and Slade !. This is a really good mix of styles put together with plenty of their own ideas to create a very enjoyable set of songs. I’ll do my best to find some more details about the band and add them here as soon as I have them, but in the meantime, keep a lookout for this lot. STOP PRESS !!! - here's an email if you want to chase this up - firstname.lastname@example.org
SUPERSUCKERS….Play That Rock’N’Roll CD (SPV) Writing a review of this album is pretty pointless because, basically, the album does what it says on the cover and that’s all you really need to know. But in the interests of spreading the message, I will persevere. The Supersuckers are a very different beast these days, now claiming the stage as a solid three-piece rather than the five-man assault that built their reputation back in their early days. But musically it’s still instantly recognisable even if, nowadays, it’s more about the riff rather than the tuneage, although catchy melodies still grab you in the most unexpected places. The band have evolved towards a harder rock’n’roll sound, which probably owes as much to the likes of early AC/DC, Motorhead and maybe even ZZ Top as it does to their more melodic roots, but they still combine clichés with class, delivering a sharp’n’sly version of The Rock. ‘You Ain’t the Boss of Me’ borrows riffs from Suzi Quattro and The Sweet to create something wonderfully familiar whilst punching it through a wall and elsewhere, ‘That’s a Thing’ brings Muds’ ‘Tiger Feet’ to mind, which certainly isn’t a bad call in my book… Eddies’ vocals maintain the character that propels the songs along and the lyrics leave you with plenty of great lines to quote. There’s less of their Country influences in evidence (even if it was recorded at Willie Nelsons’ studio) but you know the spirit is still in there. Metal Marty handles his first (I think?) set of lead vocals on ‘Dead, Jail or Rock’n’Roll’, whilst other guests help out on other songs, but the core of this album is very-much the current band, firing on all cylinders even as they take things away in their own direction. I can’t see this band calling it quits for a very long time, if at all… and isn’t that a great prospect?
WORLD PEACE s/t LP (Green Doe) This is another album that arrived with very minimal information. Sometimes that’s a good thing as you won’t get influenced in advance by some dodgy press release, but in this case, the music is a pretty peculiar mix of styles and ideas so I really wanted a bit more background info. Fortunately, an email address was included and the band provided further details…They’re based in London and include veterans of various independent bands (Bloodless Coup, Tongue Kung Fu etc) that frequented the Bull & Gate, Amersham Arms etc over the last few decades, whilst their drummer has played with the likes of Massive Attack, Neneh Cherry and Duncan Redmonds (Snuff.) I’m not entirely sure how this album relates to their previous efforts, but to me it’s a pretty dense mix of punk, funky-rhythms and krautrock-sensibilities, reminding me of when I used to listen to the John Peel show in the early Eighties and hear bands like The Box, The Pop Group, The Slits etc. Mainstream music may have been predominantly poor during the Eighties, but scratch the surface and there really was so much great stuff to discover. The vocals make me think of a very pissed-off David Byrne with some of the mannerisms of Mark E Smith, which sort of makes it belligerent but entertaining. The final track, ‘Country Dumb’ maintains the repetitive riffs but gives it a harder overall sound that’ll make you think of Neu! jamming with the (early) Mekons. This is a good debut and certainly suggests some great things could be on their way. For more info – email@example.com