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.
ART ATTACKS. Chickens in Funland 7” (Overground) This is a real bit of punk rock history! These two tracks (an early version of ‘Rat City’ on the b-side) were recorded at Pathway Studios during 1977, at which time their drummer was Robert Gotobed of Wire. Although originally intended for release as the bands’ debut single, the recordings only made it as far as acetate discs which were subsequently lost over the course of time. It was only recently that they re-surfaced in the hands of a renowned Italian record collector who enthusiastically agreed to let the band transfer the recordings and, finally, make then available as had originally been intended. The results are certainly worth the wait. The Art Attacks played a raw mix of both 1977 style Punk rock and Sixties style Garage punk, combining simple yet melodic music with Edwin Pounceys’ narrative lyrics. And its’ that mix that makes the band still sound so distinct. Rather than just copying other bands, they weren’t afraid to indulge their older influences, whilst lyrically Edwin spun his tales of ‘social ugliness’ rather than just repeating populist slogans. It captures the band at a wonderfully unspoilt moment, when Punk was still about the ideas rather than the fashions, and all sorts of possibilities were available. Now reproduced with artwork based on the originally intended sleeve, the single includes a fold-out insert including further artwork and detailed notes telling the story of the recordings. Sadly, original guitarist Steve Spear died in a car accident before this single was released and so the single is appropriately dedicated to him. I feel sure he would have approved and I hope he would have proud.
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 !
BILL HALEY AND THE COMETS. CD (Wienerworld) Bill Haley is rarely mentioned in the same terms as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry, but it’s undeniable that his single, ‘Crazy Man, Crazy’ was the first identifiably rock’n’roll single to make the charts and that ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ were the first major international hits for the genre. Haley may not have possessed the potency of Presley, the wildness of Gene Vincent or the flamboyance of Little Richard, but his music paved the way for their subsequent success. Mixing Rhythm’n’Blues with Country & Western, whilst infusing it with a sense of urgency, his early recordings provided a template for others to use as a launch-pad and many of his original songs still sound vital. This collection of eleven songs lacks much information, but I suspect many of these recordings are from a later period, possibly the Sixties, as some songs have notably different arrangements with perhaps more contemporary influences (Soul, Beat etc.) It certainly doesn’t spoil the enjoyment and the covers of ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ are exceptional versions in their own right. I really wish I knew where / when these recordings were made, but nonetheless, they’re great fun and certainly worth your indulgence.
CHORDS UK. Nowhere Land LP (Pledge) I was very impressed by the first Chords UK album, ‘Take On Life’, but this new release exceeds even that. Starting from the opening track, this album has a much more brash, solid production. The whole band sounds totally focused while Chris Pope’s lyrics are among the best he’s ever written. It’s an album with a real sense of urgency and vitality, harking back to the original intent of The Chords themselves but at the same time placing itself very much in the present day. Combining the energy of the original band with an older perspective, the songs have a broad ranger, from the anthemic angst of ‘Nowhere Land’ through to the righteous indignation of ‘Gentrified The Elephant’ and from the Kinks-styled melodies of ‘These Bad Times’ through to the reflective ‘One Last Shot at The Title’. ‘Our World’ recalls characters from the Seventies but instead of settling for nostalgia, brings them upto date with their current lives, whilst ‘Hipsters of London’ tells the woes of trying to keep up with the trends. The songs tell stories that are easy to relate to, and the music combines so many great influences – Mod, Pop and Punk – that it effortlessly seems to draw you in. I think it would be only the most desperate cynic who would claim to not be impressed with this album, because it’s a fine record by anyone’s standards. Personally, I’d say it’s one of the best you’re likely to hear this year. Just do yourself a favour and hear it as soon as possible you can.
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.
JOEL CAHEN. Aquadelique LP ( Adaadat) All too often when musicians try to combine different genres, they fall at the first hurdle because they just sound like someone from one particular style trying to sneak-in to someone else’s ideas. In contrast, this album works because there isn’t any conscious deliberation. It just does what feels right and in the process combines beats, ambient and industrial sounds. Joel Cahen is an Israeli-born but London-based ‘sound-artist’ and what he produces creates atmosphere in place of mere background. The sounds enhance the situation rather than being side-product. These compositions evolve from his concept of ‘wet sounds’, a series of submerged performances which present music as a physical rather than just aural experience, but the results work just as well in a more usual environment. The sounds create moods, both pleasant and unsettling, much like the early work of bands like Nocturnal Emissions or Virgin Prunes. It’s all based around emotions and how certain tones or memories evoke reaction. This is Psychedelia without the drugs, or Prog without the pretensions. Taking music forward to a place where you feel it rather than just hear it. You have to allow yourself to be fully submerged to achieve the full effect, but if you can open yourself to the possibilities, this album is going to give you a whole new perspective. It doesn’t rock, it doesn’t roll, but it moves in all the right directions.
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.
FLESH & BLOOD : THE HAMMER HERITAGE OF HORROR. DVD (Wienerworld) For any fan of Horror movies, this is an essential documentary that tells the story of the legendary Hammer Film Productions. Their influence can still be seen today and, indeed, producers John Carpenter and Martin Scorsese are amongst those singing their praises in this film. Oddly enough, the company started in 1934 and did not set-out to be a Horror producer (although ‘The Mystery of the Mary Celeste’, released in 1934, did feature Bela Lugosi.) The company actually went bankrupt in 1937 but was resurrected and began making movies again in the late Forties, although it wouldn’t be until 1955 that they had their first success in the Horror genre with ‘The Quatermass Experiment’. In 1957, they released ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’, establishing their links with classic gothic horror for which they would become best known. It was also the film which introduced the famous partnership of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, which remains revered to this day. Indeed, the pair would also appear in their next Box Office success, ‘Dracula’, helping to establish the enduring popularity of Hammer across the world (despite a lack of enthusiasm from film critics !) During the Sixties, their success was virtually unstoppable, expanding the Dracula and Frankenstein francise whilst also introducing other classic horrors such as The Mummy, Jekyll & Hyde, the Werewolf and adaptations of Dennis Wheatleys’ novels. As times moved on, the films adopted more explicit sexual content and even more gore, trying to keep up with the times (there was even an attempt to exploit the early Seventies popularity of Kung Fu movies with ‘The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires’.) With new names making their mark in the Horror genre, the company tried to expand to other areas, even producing spin-off films for the TV series ‘On The Buses’, but this failed to revive their previous successes and the company closed-down again in 1979. Of course, just like Dracula himself, Hammer was destined to re-emerge once again in 2007. Initial productions were tentative, but the 2009 release of ‘The Resident’ (appropriately featuring Christopher Lee) met with success and since then, the company has continued to thrive, producing popular movies such as ‘Let Me In’ and ‘The Woman in Black’. This documentary was originally made in 1994, featuring contributions from Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, Ray Harryhausen and many others, but this new version has been updated and now includes an additional 40 minutes, delving even deeper than before. If you’ve ever enjoyed Hammer films (who hasn’t ?) I’m sure you’ll find this documentary fascinating and it truly is as definitive as it could possibly get.
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…
KAJIKI VOLT. Three Track Demo CD (www.kajikivolt.com) This is a great blend of rockabilly, punk and everything that gets noisy ! These three songs remind me of the second half of the Eighties, when we were being confronted by bands who wanted to play rock’n’roll their way, getting nasty in the best possible manner. If you’re memory serves you well, think of the Folk Devils, The Very Things and Inca Babies from the UK and the likes of Scratch Acid or early Mudhoney from the other side of the pond… Catchy riffs, strong rhythms, twangin’ guitars and stylish, squeaky keyboards create the primal sounds while the vocals maintain a steady commentary. Like one of Lux Interiors’ more understated moments, they keep everything together, a perfect foil to the music which threatens to boil over at any moment. ‘Shark Skin Suit’ is a great, catchy rocker that tells a cryptic tale while the guitar sounds like The Ventures gone psycho. ‘Invisible Men From Mars’ comes across like the soundtrack to the sort of Fifties B-movie that you’re still desperate to see, while ‘Gentlemen Prefer Bombs’ (best title by far !) sounds like one of The Falls’ repetitive rockabilly excursions, musically at least. ‘It’s all good’, is basically what I’m trying to say. This is a band with plenty of punch and lots of depth, who really know what they’re doing. I will certainly be trying to see them live, soon. I suggest you do the same !
MAP 71. Void Axis CD (Fourth Dimension) I enjoyed their first album, ‘Gloriosa’, but this latest offering is so much more realised. Lisa’s vocal delivery, whilst still deceptively-deadpan, is much more disarming and, lyrically, the words strike their targets with a fine precision. Meanwhile, the musical backing has expanded ; whilst still very-much percussion-based, the rhythms take on further dimensions and electronic sounds combine to create effective atmospherics. In same ways, their songs are at an odd parallel to Sleaford Mods’ more experimental moments, with lyrics making sly observations and poignant commentary while the music revels with inspired repetition. This is probably most noticeable on the excellent track ‘The Prefab’, although the delivery is very-much its’ own. Obviously, the live drum-sound adds its’ own vitality and creates a surprisingly danceable sound, albeit in a minimal format. It may take a few listens for its’ appeal to sink-in, but trust me, it will end-up stuck between your ears and you will want to hear it again. You need to hear this with an open-mind, but if you can do that, you’ll find something rather special.
THE MENTORS. Kings of Sleaze DVD (Wienerworld) I wasn’t sure what to expect from this documentary, having not been a great fan of The Mentors’ records, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Often mentioned alongside GG Allin, The Mentors went for a style of shock-rock that appealed more to punks than metal or hard rock fans, even though musically they were closer to that style. But unlike GG Allin, The Mentors, whilst singing about truly obnoxious subjects, were doing so more in the spirit of Grand Guignol rather than actual intention. As is pointed-out in the film, Eldon ‘El Duce’ Hoke’s lyrics just as often ridiculed himself as they verbally-assaulted anyone else. Whether you were going to enjoy the songs was another matter, but I doubt if they were ever intended to be taken too seriously (incidentally, the film is made by a woman, April Jones, who does an excellent job in letting the details speak for themselves.) The band came together in the early days of Punk Rock, formed in Seattle and probably a bigger influence in that area than many would care to admit. Targeted by the PMRC at the same time as the Dead Kennedys, Frank Zappa and (gulp !) John Denver, one of the most hilarious clips is a preacher reciting their lyrics for ‘Golden Shower’ during a court session ! At times, their image was criticized as racist (they wore black executioners’ hoods onstage, mistaken for KKK regalia despite the fact that they even had a black member in their ranks !) Sadly, the band suffered from individual personal problems, most notably Eldon’s alcoholism, but were able to maintain a cult following throughout their career. Most controversially, Eldon appeared in the Nick Broomfield documentary ‘Kurt and Courtney’, claiming that Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to kill Cobain… although never proven, Eldon did pass a lie-detector test on the subject and, when he subsequently died after being hit by a train in dubious circumstances, the last person to have seen him was the man that Eldon had alleged was the eventual perpetrator… The film, however, doesn’t draw conclusions. The story is plausible but it’s hard to decide whether it was true or just another example of El Duce’s dark sense of humour. Actually, the thing that surprised me the most is that the band continued after Eldon’s death, although the validity of the later line-ups is once again left the viewers’ own opinion. Overall, this is a really interesting documentary and puts the band in a perspective that gives you a chance to make up your own mind. Parts of it are funny, parts are sad, other parts are confused. But, as with many controversial subjects, there’s a lot more to it that you need to know before you draw conclusions. Just from the point of knowing the story, this DVD is essential. It’s also interesting and surprisingly entertaining. Do your best to see it !
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 !
MUDHONEY. Digital Garbage CD (Sub Pop) When Mudhoney first emerged from Seattle’s darkest dives, there was no such thing as ‘grunge’. What they were producing was the next evolutionary stage for garage-punk. Nothing too clever for its’ own good, but right on the money. Inspired by the likes of Sixties combos The Sonics and The Wailers, they also combined the brute force of early Hardcore and the fuzz-fueled artistry of The Scientists to create a whole new level for the garage genre. They never achieved the mainstream success of some of their contemporaries, but in the long run, Mudhoney have stayed closer to their original intent and still produce new music that doesn’t just keep the fans happy, it has them yelling for more. ‘Digital Garbage’ is eleven songs in less than 35 minutes, ensuring that nothing unnecessary wastes your precious time. That doesn’t mean it lacks dimensions ; ‘Nerve Attack’ recalls the stripped down energy of The Wipers, with a tempered pace but a ferocious delivery. ‘Paranoid Core’ takes the tempo higher, but never detracts from the insistent melodies. ‘Please Mr Gunman’ displays Mark Arms’ dark satirical approach to lyrics, making a poignant statement without stating the obvious. Recent single ‘Kill Yourself Live’ combines a guitar riff reminiscent of Devo’s ‘Come Back Jonee’ with an organ sound straight out of the Pacific NW garage scene. ‘Night & Fog’ proceeds at the kind of sinister pace that the title demands, while ‘21st Century Pharisees’ mixes fuzz with the Gang of Fours’ stop-start precision. ‘Messiah Lament’ makes you wish they’d included a lyric sheet (the words you can catch seem to recall Alice Cooper’s ‘Second Coming’ … I know Mudhoney are fans of the Coop…) The album ends with the visceral blast of ‘Oh Yeah’ which matches any of their Hi-energy blasts from the past. This is an album that never lets you down. Thirty years down the road, they’re still as vital as they ever were. Do you need to know anything else ? No, you don’t.
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 !
RUBELLA BALLET. Danger of Death CD (Overground) I think this album is going to surprise a lot of people, both fans and otherwise. Rubella Ballet had always been one of the more melodic, even psychedelic, bands from the Anarcho-punk scene, but this album takes a harder, more aggressive delivery, perhaps to match the subject matters they are tackling. The band sound righteously angry and take aim at subjects ranging from gender issues, animal liberation (still valid despite the current trend for veganism), the misuse of technology, austerity and surveillance. It’s an unfortunate truth that society has been going backwards in so many ways, with individual freedoms gradually eroded in favour of corporate totalitarianism. Rubella Ballet are speaking out against this and doing so in a loud and angry voice. But even with the harder sound, their underlying melodicism is never far away and even the noisier tracks contain catchy hooks to draw you in. If you wanted to be cynical, you could try to say that these subjects have been sung about before, but even if that is the case, it doesn’t take much consideration to realise that these are things that still need to be addressed. Bands like Rubella Ballet are needed now as much as they ever were and this album, moving-on musically from their previous records, places them firmly in the middle of contemporary protest music. Be sure to check it out !
SCHEISSE MINNELLI. Waking Up On Mistake Street CD (Destiny) I’m sure we can all relate to the title of this album. If you can’t, you haven’t lived… Scheisse Minnelli obviously have the experience to know what it’s like but, instead of feeling sorry for themselves, play their way out of it with a blistering set of a dozen songs in just 30 minutes. Kind of like an SAS hit squad (not that I’m condoning such things) this is a band that go in, do their job and get back out with maximum effect. Musically, this takes its’ cue from the genre previously known as skate-punk. Remember The Stupids, Spermbirds, JFA, RKL… with more than a few hints of early MDC and 7 Seconds along the way. Fast, but always involving catchy melodies and insistent riffs, while the vocals are sung in a clear and coherent fashion, giving you a chance to relate to the stories they’re telling. This is fun, but with a very serious attitude towards the music they produce. Plenty of energy, great tunes, interesting and sometimes humorous lyrics… Scheisse Minnelli take an older style but do it with such conviction that it sounds as fresh as it ever was. Play it loud and see if you can resist jumping around the room !
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.