RECORD REVIEWS, JULY - DECEMBER 2018
ACE OF CUPS. Ace of Cups CD (High Moon) Ace of Cups were the only all-female rock band within the late-Sixties San Francisco scene. Between 1967 to 1972 they were right in the middle of the musical and social events of the era and shared stages with the likes of The Band, The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. However, despite winning the admiration of audiences and contemporary musicians, record labels seemed to miss their obvious talents and they never got a chance to release an album during their original lifetime. However, in recent years a resurgence of interest resulted in a recently released CD of original demos, rehearsal tapes and live recordings. Following the positive response it received, High Moon records offered original members of the band an opportunity to return to a studio to finally record the album that should have been made all those years ago. Featuring four of the original members, plus guest appearances from old friends like Pete Sears (Jefferson Airplane) Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) and Buffy Sainte Marie. Musically, it really captures the mood of the songs’ original setting, mixing folk, blues, country and pop with an undertone of psychedelia. Although it will mostly appeal to fans of that original era, this is an album that clearly stands on its’ own merits and deserves to be released now just as much as it would have in the late Sixties. With further recording projects set for next year, this is a band that certainly deserve further investigation.
BAZOOKATOOTH. S/T EP (bazookatoothtn.bandcamp.com) Young, three-piece band from Nashville, playing aggressive yet surprisingly-catchy hardcore punk. Although the opening tracks play through at a convincing high velocity, much of this EP is at a more measured pace, so overall it recalls the likes The Germs and (early) Husker Du as much as more extreme bands. They combine interesting basslines with a combination of vocals (male and female) to contrast with the visceral guitar noise, making for a great balance of raw sounds and intriguing arrangement. I wish I knew a bit more about them as this sounds like a very promising debut. Given the right opportunities, I think they could be very capable of making some great records. Check ‘em out !
BEECHWOOD. Inside The Flesh Hotel CD (Alive) It’s only been a short time since their first album ‘Songs From The Land of Nod’, but this new set is a big step-forward, maintaining their original impetus but refining their delivery and exploring themes (both musical and lyrical) to a much further degree. At its’ soul, this is basically a ‘pop’ album, but with so many different influences and styles finding their way into the music that it becomes something totally of its’ own. The New York ‘Art-punk’ aesthetic is obviously an inspiration but, rather than settling for simple imitation, Beechwood take different ideas and set them-off against each other, so that none of the songs sound particularly like anyone else, even though certain moments might have you delving into your memory to try and figure-out who they just made you recall. But even when that happens, by the time you’re getting close, the song has moved onto something else and you’ve totally lost your recollection. The album veers from brash glam-style guitars, solid rhythms and catchy hooks through to understated melodies and dreamy vocals. They were already playing some of these songs during their first European visit earlier this year, but now I’m familiar with the album, I really can’t wait to see them played live again. This is a band who look destined to really make a mark for themselves and could quite easily crossover to a much wider audience. I really hope they get the attention that they deserve !
CIVILISED SOCIETY ? War In My Head CD/EP (Boss Tuneage) Civilised Society were a UK hardcore band from Bristol, originally active in the mid-to-late Eighties releasing several albums via the Peaceville and Manic Ears labels. Now, some 30 years later, the band have reformed (original members and all that) to have a second crack of the whip, which will no doubt please fans of their former output. I have to say that, for me, their music remains a little too much on the metallic side of hardcore, although the sheer power of the tracks (think Motorhead meets early Death Angel) is pretty effective. The real feather in their cap are the excellent female vocals from Bev, which really sets the band apart from anyone else. Lyrically, they’re also very astute and poignant, making you think about the songs rather than just headbanging. One way or another (not that I’m suggesting a Blondie influence) this has to be a good thing. The music will draw-in an audience and the words will get them to question the world around them. Overall, this may not be my favourite record, musically, but their intent is undeniable and, at the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather hear this than the mainstream crap ? Give it a listen – it may be to your taste and, lyrically, it can’t be faulted.
PAUL COLLINS. Out of My Head CD (Alive) For those who don’t know (the shame !) Paul Collins was one third of legendary LA powerpop band The Nerves, alongside Jack Lee and Peter Case. They created the solid-gold classic ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ and although still best-known for that song , they also produced many other great, high-energy songs and promoted themselves via their own independent label, pre-dating and influencing the LA Punk scene in the process. Since then, Collins has continued to release records either as part of The Breakaways and The Beat (not to be confused with the Two-tone band) or under his own name, along the way writing ‘Walking Out On Love’ which would eventually be featured in the Green Day musical ‘American Idiot’. But what really counts now is his new album, which is certainly not going to disappoint any fans and quite probably going to win a whole load of new ones. ‘Out of My Head’ is a great, infectious set of songs that recall the greatest moments of his past career whilst putting everything right in the moment. Of course, his trademark mix of pop-melodies and classic rock’n’roll energy is very much to the fore and will keep any fan of vintage powerpop more than happy. But along the way, he also embraces a more atmospheric, moodier tone, recalling the likes of Roy Orbison or Chris Isaacs (a la ‘Wicked Game’.) ‘Killer Inside’ wouldn’t just sound great on a movie soundtrack – the movie ought to be written around the song ! Every track on this album stands on its’ own merits, with perfectly balanced production, subtle harmonies and melodic hooks that you just aren’t going to get out of your head. Although it may be more reflective than previous records, this serves to accentuate the more upbeat moments and really helps to make every moment unique and enticing. If you love your pop with real attitude, great songs and true class, you need to hear this album right now. There really isn’t anything to dislike about it !
THE CRAMPS. Live at Clutch Cargo’s LP (Stay Sick) Possibly the only live recording featuring Terry Graham (The Gun Club, The Bags) subbing on drums for a temporarily-hospitalised Nick Knox. Also in the line-up at the time was Kid Congo, adding further Gun Club personnel to the mix and they do a damn fine job with it. Recorded in Detroit at the end of 1982, this was around the time that the band had finally managed to escape their contract with IRS records, so they play a whole slew of new material in preparation for the upcoming recording of the ‘Smell of Female’ album. ‘Most Exalted Potentate of Love’, ‘You Got Good Taste’ and ‘Call of the Wighat’ sound better than ever while older classics like ‘Goo Goo Muck’, ‘The Way I Walk’ and an awesome extended version of ‘Tear It Up’ are among the best live versions I’ve ever heard. Quality is excellent (possibly a radio recording ?) and packaging is really well-done. Grab this album while you can !
THE CRIPPENS. The Minnow & The Pike LP (Boss Tuneage) Dr & The Crippens were a genuinely odd UK hardcore band from Lancaster who were together in the late Eighties. During that time, they release two full albums, recorded two John Peel Sessions and became widely known for their eccentric onstage performances. Fast forward some 25 years and the band are back with an abbreviated name and an unknown quantity of original members. Their recent return to gigging has been enthusiastically received by fans old and new, so this first set of new material has been eagerly anticipated. I’m sure it’s not going to disappoint, as the six new songs sound fresh and vital, combining a great studio sound with a furious delivery. It captures loads of frantic energy which will recall the likes of Poison Idea, The Stupids and maybe even Heresy. The lyricsstill display their original, macabre sense of humour, with songs addressing subjects from cryogenics through to wife-swapping and the plight of town-centre drunks. It’s uniquely eccentric in a decidedly Northern style, but you can’t help but enjoy it. Hear this record now, and hope you get to see them live soon after that.
GOSPELBEACH. Another Winter Alive CD (Alive) Not a full new album, exactly, but a collection of tracks recorded at the same time, but not featured on, last years’ ‘Another Summer of Love’ album, plus five songs recorded live during their recent visit to London. As such, this is probably intended more for existing fans rather than an appropriate introduction for newcomers, but that isn’t to say the songs aren’t up to standard. Far from it, in fact, with their blend of classic Sixties Californian-pop and the mellower side of country rock, always played over ever-insistent melodies sounding as fine as ever. Pretty-much guaranteed to have you recalling your perfect Summer’s evening, even if you’re stuck in the depths of Winter. Unashamedly joyous but never in a contrived or unconvincing way. This is an album that you’ll need to embrace.
HANDSOME JACK. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright CD (Alive) Three-piece band based in Lockport, NY, but playing a sound much more associated with the swampy-backwoods of the Southern States, perhaps with a nod towards Chicago-style Blues. At times reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival, at others recalling classic Lynyrd Skynyrd, the album has an authentic sound and is consistently driven along by a real swing to the bass lines and a solid, sharp drum sound. It’s a fine contemporary slice of true Americana and could easily appeal to a broad range of rock fans. Be sure to give it a listen.
JILTED JOHN. True Love Stories LP (Boss Tuneage) A deluxe 40th Anniversary reissue of the one and only album by Graham Fellows’ original comic-character. It’s very much of its’ time, but also a lot easier to appreciate in retrospect than it may have been in 1978. The songs come together not so much as a rock opera by more a teen-soap opera, like ‘Grange Hill’ but with more angst and snotty, backseat-of-the-bus attitude. As the cover artwork suggests, it’s a parody of the Seventies-style photo-strips that were aimed at young teens, but here with more of the disappointments that real-life inevitably brought. Musically, the songs aren’t as raw as the original ‘Jilted John’ single and mostly more-keyboard based, though no less entertaining. Bizarrely, the whole project was produced by Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett (an obvious influence on his later-work with Joy Division) and was enthusiastically supported by John Peel, who instinctively appreciated the humour. It may have been seen by some as a novelty, trying to jump on the punk / new wave bandwagon, but looking back it’s far easier to enjoy the observations and intent, which is why the interest endures. This reissue includes the original LP, a repress of the first single, a copy of the promotional ‘Mice & Ladders’ boardgame and extensive sleeve notes, all put together with the true fan in mind. With John’s recent return to live performance, it’s a perfect way to catch-up on a surprisingly enjoyable album. And perhaps, if you are of a certain age, you’ll also be able to compare notes with your own teen experiences…
MOVING TARGETS. The Other Side CD (Boss Tuneage) Subtitled ‘Demos and Sessions Expanded’, this is a deluxe version of the previous, limited edition ‘Made To Order’ album which has been out of print for some time. Moving Targets were one of the most highly-rated bands to emerge from the Boston hardcore scene during the Eighties, developing an enduring sense of melody whilst never losing their raw sound. Think somewhere in between Husker Du and Dinosaur Jnr, perhaps ? Singer / guitarist Kenny Chambers had an instantly recognisable style, with his frantic guitar sound offset by his almost drawling vocals. They deserved to become so much more popular, but inexplicably they never received the attention they deserved. This album features rare demos and radio broadcasts, ranging from 1985 all the way through to 2007, and is released in conjunction with the bands first European tour in over 25 years. While it’s the material from the Eighties that’s probably going to get old fans most excited, the full eleven song session recorded for WMBR radio in 2007 more than shows why the band still sound just as vital today. If you remember them from the first time around, you’ll certainly need to get this collection, and if you’ve never heard them before this will be the perfect introduction. Catch them while you can !
PETT SOUNDS. Demo #2 (https://soundcloud.com/paul-finch) The second set of demos from this band and they really have come along by leaps and bounds since their first set of songs. I enjoyed those earlier efforts, but these three songs are really carving out an identity of their own, something that only happens as musical-collaborators work together more and become comfortable with their joint ideas. While their first set of songs promised much, these three tracks really hit the mark. Whilst maintaining their pop-sensibilities they also tap into a much edgier sound, with more character and much better arrangements. First track, ‘Machine’, mixes Fugazi-style guitar riffs with Mod-like keyboard sounds to create a really urgent sound, over which Sandra’s insistent vocals create insistent melodies. If you’re not drawn in by this track, you’re just not paying attention ! ‘Trance in the Woods’ takes a more measured-pace but lacks none of the impact. A better mix of the vocals really works well and the guitar really drives everything along, a great mix of brittle musical sounds and a tuneful vocal line. Final song, ‘Unseen’, is perhaps the key to these recordings, a finely-balanced mix of guitar-greatness and pop-sensibilities. They’ve moved so far along since those first demos, which I enjoyed a lot in themselves, but these three new songs really show a band coming together with their own sound and ideas. I hope they get a chance to play live soon and I really hope they continue going forward as far as these demos suggest they can. Check them out at your earliest opportunity !
SCHIZO FUN ADDICT. El Shoegaze Bossa Nova LP (Sugarbush) based around the duo of Jet Wintzer and Jayne Gabriel, SFA have been creating their own music since 2000 and it that time have released seven albums. Here, they are joined by guitarist Rex John Shelverton (also of SF band Bellavista.) The first half of the album certainly does what the title suggests, producing slow-paced shoegaze epics held together with the kind bossa nova rhythms found of original Sergio Mendes albums. It may not be a description that immediately draws you in, but when you hear the songs, it really works well, a perfect little match of psychedelic pop ! The second half of the album breaks away from the initial template, with a more experimental approach to the music, although very-much on a similar pace and setting. The guitar-sound at times recalls some of Savage Republics’ more expansive moments. Dreamy and catchy in equal amounts, this is an album that creates its’ own world, but it’s one you’ll be happy to explore.
SOAP GIRLS. Society’s Rejects CD (www.thesoapgirls.com) It’s hard to write anything about this band without mentioning their image. Fronted by two scantily-clad sisters, they do look like runaways from a sex-show and, to be honest, it’s probably caused them as many problems as advantages. Critics will say that they’re doing it as a gimmick whilst conveniently forgetting that men having been going onstage bare-chested or even naked and been lauded as great performers. The fact is if they were all about the image and didn’t have any songs to back it up, then they’d deserve the flak. But, as this album displays, they certainly know how to play some great, catchy rock. Recalling the best moments of Hole, Babes in Toyland and perhaps even Joan Jett, they combine raw energy with catchy pop hooks to deliver some really fine tunes. The title track bops along at an insistent pace before boiling over into its’ infectious chorus. Following quickly on its’ heels ‘Johnny Rotten’ (no relation to Mr Lydon, as far as I can tell) starts with a subdued, alluring intro before launching into the main bulk of the song at a raunchy tempo. Other songs reveal a nice variety of approaches towards the grunge style, showing that they have plenty of ideas to keep the album unpredictable. Even the songs that don’t stand out as much as others, still have plenty of energy and catchy riffs. But you see, here’s the conundrum. This band deserve to be heard, but their image may well detract from their actually musical talents. Undoubtedly, there will be plenty of punters interested in nothing more than what they’re wearing, but listen to this album and you’ll hear that they have some great music to offer. The album ends with ‘Bury Me’ a track that could easily find its’ way onto daytime radio without losing any credibility. The CD includes a couple of bonus tracks, most notably ‘Rather B Dead’, which really captures the spirit of Nirvana’s classic ‘loudquietloud’ approach. This is a fine, very promising album ; get past the controversy and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
THE SPOILERS. Roundabouts LP (Boss Tuneage) This is a UK band who have been steadily improving their brand of melodic punk ever since I first came across them, two or three years ago. The obvious reference point would be Snuff, with whom they’ve toured, but they’ve gradually infused more of their own character and style into proceedings, creating something that’s now a lot more distinct. Elements of US bands, from hardcore through to the less-obvious sounds of Lagwagon or No Use For a Name (not pop-punk but rather punk rock that embraces pop sensibilities) also make their presence known and it’s all presented with plenty of energy and a great, sharp production. Songs like ‘See You Ringside’ and ‘Skimming Stones’ really shine out in their own right, making this an album that you’ll be sure to play again and again. Trust me, this is a band that you really need to keep tabs on, because at this rate they’re going to be recording some real classics very soon.
YAN HART-LEMONNIER. Le Coeur Et La Raison LP (Adaadat) A great album of self-produced electronic music, experimental in a playful, enjoyable way rather than merely producing avant-garde ramblings for the select few. It’s reminiscent of that period just either side of 1980 when synths and more elaborate keyboards were becoming available to a punk-inspired, DIY-enthused group of artists, who took the opportunity to create their own sounds without the pretentiousness that had previously accompanied technology in music. The results were often heard on John Peel’s radio show and, whilst not everything was an instant classic, there was a lot of great results to be heard. Without consciously recreating styles from that era, Yan Hart-Lemmonier takes elements of more recent dance music and the sort of soundtracks you’d relate to a video arcade to create music that’s both highly individual and very enjoyable. It’s not exactly minimal, but the production is kept to the basics, never adding any embellishments that don’t really need to be there and instead of the more linear, serious efforts that all too often serve as representative for electronic music, this album isn’t afraid to leap off in each and every direction, ensuring that it’s never predictable and keeping you on your toes in the meantime. It’s a lot of fun and while it isn’t going to appeal to everyone, if you tackle it with an open mind there’s every chance that you’re going to fall in love with it !
X. Live at L’Amour LP Egg Raid) A superb double album featuring 24 tracks recorded for a radio broadcast in New York, 1983. The band are on fire, blasting through the set as if their lives depended on it. Plenty of older faves like ‘Johnny Hit & Run Pauline’, ‘We’re Desperate’ and ‘Los Angeles’ (of course) but it’s the later songs like ‘The New World’, ‘Breathless’ and ‘Blue Spark’ that really benefit from live performance, sounding so much more vital than their album-versions. For some reason, X never really achieved a wider audience in the UK, but listening to this album it’s really hard to understand why they didn’t become as popular on this side of the Atlantic as they did in the States. Just listen to the stunning version of ‘White Girl’ together with Exenes’ improvised lyrics, and if that doesn’t give you a kick in the eye, then you really don’t have an understanding of rock’n’roll at all.
ZU93. Mirror Emperor CD (House of Mythology) A collaboration between Italian band Zu and David Tibet (aka Current 93.) Both bands could probably be referred to as ‘an acquired taste’, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that they’ve both produced some very interesting music over the years. Although this album is based mostly around Tibet’s distinctive narrative, the soundtrack-like musical accompaniment is full of subtle surprises. The album opens with a serene, acoustic tone while the following tracks, although superficially on a similar approach, is based around a dirty, repetitive bass riff and gradually builds into genuinely unsettling sounds. Elsewhere, the music almost mimics Tibet’s melodramatic vocal delivery, and other moments delve into the realm of the best Horror move scores. Musically, this owes as much to folk and chamber music as much as the industrial / experimental genres that these musicians are most often identified with. This is an album that works on different levels and can equally demand your total attention or play through as a perfect background. It’s certainly worth your investigation.
V/A DAMAGED GOODS 1988-2018 CD (Damaged Goods Damaged Goods has released so many good records over the last 30 years that it’s not until you see a compilation like this, that you’ll realise just how much they’ve done. The label has never stressed itself out by trying to gain a higher media profile or courting the mainstream, but instead just concentrated on doing what they do well – releasing records by interesting, exciting bands that are always worth checking out. Instead of a normal review, all you really need to know about this 37-track, double-CD collection is the track-list, because if these bands and their songs don’t grab your attention, you’re already a lost cause. However, I don’t have enough space to do this, so let’s just mention the likes of Billy Childish (various bands) Johnny Moped, Thee Spivs, Cyanide Pills, Holly Golightly, Manic Street Preachers, Giuda, Revillos… are you salivating yet ? Whether a diehard fan of the label, or a novice to their operation, this compilation will get you groovin’ in whatever way you enjoy it. Old bands, new bands, great music. That’s all we really need.