RECORD REVIEWS, JULY-DECEMBER 2019
ALTERNATIVE TV / THE GOOD MISSIONARIES. Scars on Sunday CD (Winter Hill) Originally available only as a limited-edition cassette-only release, this album gathers together some truly remarkable material. ATV had just recently released their infamous second LP, ‘Vibing Up the Senile Man’ and had attempted to tour their new set, often confronted by audiences who only wanted to hear the bands’ punk rock catalogue. While the album itself was met with bemusement, the live performances generated anger on top of the confusion. After all, how dare this band, who had been at the forefront of the punk rock principle of ‘no rules’ now be refusing to play by punk rock’s new rules ? In truth, many of the original bands, intent on not repeating themselves, faced similar difficulties with their second albums (The Adverts, The Damned, John Lydon’s transformation from the Pistols to PIL) but ATV certainly made the most dramatic leap. Mark Perry had already done the three chord trick (with considerable success) and had since become more interested in other less restrictive sounds. Whilst facing accusations of ‘going hippy’, in truth ‘Vibing’ owed much of its’ approach to a mix of Dub Reggae and early Industrial music. There was a lot of space within the music, accentuating different moods and atmosphere, whilst giving the lyrics plenty of room to express genuine angst and personal issues. But in so many ways, the territory it explored was just too raw and unfamiliar for many of the listeners and it has taken many years for the material to be properly reassessed and re-evalued in a better perspective. What this release captures is the bands’ entire set from the Greenwich Theatre in early 1979, which ended with the plugs being pulled, a piano being dumped off the stage and intervention from the police ! Following this is an improvised selection recorded live at the Lyceum (supporting Red Crayola and Scritti Politti) and two final tracks recorded on their tour supporting The Pop Group as The Good Missionaries, including a truly scary version of ‘The Good Missionary’. As I said about the ‘Vibing’ album, time gives us a better opportunity to assess what Mark and the band were attempting to do with a clearer perspective. The Greenwich set actually begins with a track from the first album, ‘Nasty Little Lonely’, although here it’s stripped down to the bones with a genuinely menacing sound. ‘Release the Natives’ sounds much more powerful than its’ studio version, and ‘The Radio Story’ manages to combine excerpts of ‘Lost in Room’ and ‘Fellow Sufferer’ to great effect. In more recent years, Perry has combined material from the bands’ first and second albums even further in live performances and the results have been well-received. Perhaps a similar approach back in 78/79 would have worked more to the bands’ advantage, but evidently their enthusiasm was solidly focused on the new material and the transformation was just too startling for many of their previous fans. But by now, I would hope, most listeners are going to be able to appreciate this for its’ own excitement, courage and inventiveness. Alongside the excellent ‘Fire From Heaven’ album, this is probably the best representation of Alternative TV / The Good Missionaries from this era and it really needs to be heard. Of course, some are still not going to get it, but if you’re willing to indulge the intent, there’s no reason why you won’t enjoy this music just as much as ‘The Image Has Cracked’ or, indeed, anything else from Mark Perry’s prodigious career. This is incredible music and one thing is assured – it will provoke a reaction.
ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE. We Are The League DVD (Wienerworld) I’ve never been a big fan of the ANWL. To me, they always seemed like too much of a bad parody, even though they did release some great songs (‘I Hate People’, ‘For You’ and even the gleefully-obscene ‘So What’.) But this documentary puts everything into perspective, is honest about their roots and intentions, and is actually a lot of fun. Basically, the band came together in the sedate town of Tunbridge Wells and initially only guitarist Magoo was a punk fan, with singer Animal coming from a biker background. But they got together, starting enjoying themselves and, as much by chance as anything, started getting national exposure on the thriving punk circuit, resulting in the release of the ‘Streets of London’ 7”. While the a-side itself wasn’t exactly remarkable, the b-side ‘So What’ combined an insistent, simple riff with lyrics that could have come from a Derek & Clive album to create a moronic-but-memorable punk rock classic, which was catapulted to legendary status when copies of the record were seized by the Police ! Further singles and a debut album followed, together with extensive touring in the UK, Europe and America, but when it reached the time for them to record their next studio album, things started to go askew. The excellent single ‘For You’ (strangely, not even mentioned in this documentary… surely an oversight ?) had hinted at a more rocky sound (albeit in a Motorhead kinda way) but the subsequent album found them meandering, both in terms of style and image, and the band would finally split-up. It would be neatly a decade before a proper reunion was attempted but the band, with different line-ups, has continued ever since. The story itself probably isn’t that much different to many other punk bands of that era but what makes it stand-out is the diverse cast of genuine characters involved and the humour with which they still view their legacy. They may have been quite serious about some things, but they were also all determined to have as much fun as possible, something which they undoubtedly achieved. And while they may not have been to everyone’s taste, that wasn’t what they’d set-out to do. Watching this documentary gives you a real sense of the band and, ultimately, it’s hard to begrudge them any of their successes. Maybe they weren’t the greatest punk band, but they did things their own way, had a good time and left their mark. This is an entertaining story and only the most jaded among us would fail to enjoy it.
ANTI-SYSTEM Live in Durham City CD (Boss Tuneage) Anti-System originally formed in Bradford during 1981 and developed an impressive reputation as a live band, even though their handful of releases failed to capture their live power onto vinyl. Combining a brutal D-beat style with a more Crass / Conflict / Antisect lyrical integrity, the band should have been more recognised at the time but eventually split-up in 1986 after two of their members were imprisoned for Animal Rights activities. However, they reformed in 2014 and have since been receiving more interest than ever before, particularly with the release of the excellent ‘At What Price is Freedom’ EP in 2017. This latest release is a recording of the band playing a full set, live in a studio in front of a small crowd of friends. The results are blistering ; the recording really captures their live sound and all the energy that they create, whilst still maintaining enough clarity so that you can hear all of the individual parts and both vocalists (Ade and Emma.) The set includes songs that date all the way back to their first EP, ‘Defence of the Realm’, released in 1983, as well as a good selection from their 1985 album ‘No Laughing Matter’ and, of course, most of the tracks from ‘At What Price is Freedom’. It’s a great document of the band doing what they do best, delivering a powerful set of UK Hardcore with a strong message. If you’ve ever been intrigued by this band, this may well be your best introduction… if you’re already a fan, you already know that you’re going to be blown away !
ASTROSAUR.Obscuroscope CD (Pelagic) This is an intriguing record. Entirely instrumental, it comes from an inherently Metal-based background but the band seems intent on exploring every possible connotation available. As their name suggests, there’s certainly a big element of Space Rock (from Hawkwind through to Voivod) but you can also hear influences from trad-metal, Stoner, Prog / Math rock and even Black Metal. The band were formed by three students from the Conservatory of Music in Kristiansand, Norway, but their interests obviously include much wider tastes as lead guitarist Eirak Krakanes has also played with bands such as Leprous and with Ihsahn, of Black Metal legends Emperor. The problem with instrumental metal records is they do have a tendency to get too technical for their own good, losing the sense of power and immediacy that the genre really needs to work well. Whilst there are certainly moments on this album where that can be the case, most of it takes a more natural path, working towards the overall sound and atmosphere rather than trying to be too clever. The album works through different moods, tempos and themes and has plenty of energy, not unlike bands such as Blind Idiot God or, more recently, Pelican. Of course, if you have no interest in Metal or Hard Rock to begin-with, then none of this is going to appeal to you, but if you are willing to check-out bands who are really trying to stretch the boundaries of what the genre can achieve, then this is something you should investigate
BUCHA EFFECT. Incredible Shrinking Future CD / 7” (Pacific Trash Vortex) Bucha Effect are always good fun as a live band but sometimes it’s their sense of humour that gets remembered rather than the songs themselves. This new release helps to put it all back in perspective and, although the humour is still there, this six-song CD really brings the songs to the fore. Bucha Effect write some great, catchy songs and first track, ‘Uphill’, has great, thoughtful lyrics as well. ‘Tommy Hates Cheese’ is Deptfords’ new anthem, a homage to Mr Phobic himself, while ‘Bono’s Hat’ ridicules the most pompous twat this side of Donald Trump. ‘Dead Doggin’ and ‘Your Dad is in The Cult’ tackle serious social issues (or perhaps not…) while ‘Rolaaand’ is a flashback to the glory days of ‘Grange Hill’. What more could you want ? Well, they’ve also released two of the tracks, ‘Uphill’ and ‘Tommy Hates Cheese’ as a lovely, limited, red vinyl 7” single, to meet all of your plastic cravings ! So choose well and be sure to spend some cash in this direction…
BAND OF THE UNDERHAND. A Long Way Home CD (Jake Bear) Featuring former members of Under Two Flags and Lightning Strike, this may be a relatively new band but they already have plenty of musical experience under their collective belt. This is a double-CD package featuring music written and recorded between 2013 and 2019, but the selection of songs work really well as one cohesive album. The sound and atmosphere that Band of the Underhand are going for is very much in the realm of contemporary rock’n’roll and obvious reference points would probably be the Clash (circa ‘London Calling’) tempered by Bruce Springsteens’ livelier moments, but you can also hear hints of the Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople and even Jesse Malin. Although working on a self-funded basis at the moment, it certainly hasn’t stifled their musical vision or ambitions. They go for a large studio sound and achieve it quite impressively, although it’s the soul of the songs that Band of the Underhand are all about. They take that emotional core and elaborate it with a great production which brings out the full character of the music. Having not seen them live as yet, I can’t really comment on how these songs sound onstage, but they have the kind of approach which you could imagine would be highly effective. Band of the Underhand have written some great songs and combined them with imaginative arrangements to produce a very interesting and entertaining record. I strongly suggest that you should investigate it at your earliest opportunity.
CASPAR BROTZMANN MASSAKER. Der Aband Der Schwarzen Folklore CD (Southern Lord) This was the third CCM album, original released in 1992 and building further on the sounds that the band had created on their previous records. Brotzmann himself rates the title track and ‘Bass Totem’ as being the most accomplished songs the band had recorded to date and there’s not much that you could disagree with in that statement. This LP featured the bands’ new drummer, Danny Lommen, who had previously played with the amazing Dutch instrumental band Gore, and his playing certainly adds a new intensity to the proceedings. The bands clearly shared a preoccupation with sheer volume and an intention to take hard rock elements into an entirely new sonic realm. The results are stunning, with only the likes of Swans standing as possible comparison, but even that would be only on a vague basis. Brotzmanns’ guitar playing is exceptional, veering between brutal onslaught through to subtle slide effects. There are also more vocals on the album, although the style is consistently understated and never attempts to confront the louder musical excesses. The outcome is very atmospheric, creating an almost scary soundtrack to some kind of unsettling dream-world. Re-mastered and sounding better than ever, these recordings may be over 25 years old but still stand out as remarkable and unique pieces of work. This album is one that you really need to hear for yourself.
CASPAR BROTZMANN MASSAKER. Koksofen CD (Southern Lord) Originally released in 1993, this has proven to be one of CCM’s most popular albums. Following on from ‘Der Abend…’, it takes elements from its’ predecessor and explores them even further. There’s more space in the sounds that are created here, allowing room for each instrument to fulfil its’ own potential within the work. There’s a different kind of tension here (no Buzzcocks reference intended) where light moments of minimal rhythms and whispered lyrics suggest doubt and suspicion that can just as easily erupt into loud outbursts of chaos and confrontation. The album was recorded in Berlin during troubled times (East and West Germany had recently been ‘reunited’ but, socially and politically, the situation was one of confusion and uncertainty.) The music reflects these feelings perfectly, although it works just as effectively without that background knowledge. You just need to let yourself go and immerse yourself within the sounds, conjuring up your own thoughts and images. This is music that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever heard (even Brotzmann’s previous albums) and will give you plenty to think about and enjoy. If you miss this, you’ll be missing something very special.
THE CHORDS UK. The British Way of Life EP (Epop) Featuring four new recordings of classic songs by the original Chords, this EP is a great introduction to the live sound of Chris Pope’s current band. The title track was re-recorded for the soundtrack of the upcoming film ‘A View By the Sea’ and turned-out so well it that it encouraged the band to record their versions of three more tracks to release this record. The results are very effective and sure to appeal to fans both old and new. ’BWOL’ starts with a re-arranged, acoustic intro that instantly sets it apart from the original, but then bursts into the full-band treatment with a powerful performance that in many ways owes as much to the bands’ punk roots as it does to their Mod heritage. And before you start complaining about nostalgia-trips, just listen to the lyrics – they’re as relevant now as they were in 1980, which is a sad reflection on the way things have failed to improve over the last four decades. ‘Happy Families’ also strikes a similar lyrical poignancy and, again, with a new arrangement makes itself more than valid in this new context. ‘Now It’s Gone’ is possibly the closest of the four songs to the original version, but Chris Pope’s emotive vocals set an even more direct tone. Finally, ‘I’m Not Sure’ is possibly the most Mod-sounding track on the EP, but again the power of the delivery makes it appealing for a much-wider audience. As I said before, this is no easy-nostalgia trip. These are four songs which all retain their current-relevance whilst providing a perfect indication of the bands’ roots. The Chords UK are a distinct band from The Chords and in many ways are more about their current material (‘Nowhere Land’ is a superb album by anyone’s standards.) But at the same time, Chris Pope has written plenty of great songs in his past, so why shouldn’t he review them as he sees fit ? You don’t have to be a fan of The Chords to enjoy this EP, but by the time you hear it, you’ll certainly be a fan of The Chords UK !
DARKTHRONE. Old Star CD (Peaceville) Darkthrone are considered to be one of the seminal Norwegian Black Metal bands, releasing three highly influential albums during the early Nineties. However, they haven’t seen the need to stay strictly within that genre and have gradually introduced further elements into their music. This latest release sees them embracing aspects of Punk, Hardcore, Black Sabbath-style Hard Rock and metallic rock’n’roll in a similar style to classic Motorhead or Venom. All the main elements of Black Metal are still there to be heard – powerful, mostly fast rhythms, throat-thrashing vocals – but they add more to their music to make it more interesting to listen to rather than just an all-out sonic assault. Lyrically, they also seem to veer away from the usual Satanic themes that this genre is often obsessed with, talking about different themes and presenting ideas that you can really think about… the lyrical content of ‘The Hardship of The Scots’, for example, could easily have come from one of the early Scandinavian hardcore bands (Anti Cimex, Mob 47 etc.) What Darkthrone have created is a very powerful album which works because it’s willing to try different approaches to their music and are intent on not being obvious or playing safe. Whether you’re a fan of Black Metal or not, you may well enjoy this album because, at the end of the day, it’s a really good record.
DEATH BY FUNGI. Die in Bombay EP (www.facebook.com/deathbyfungi) If you’ve been paying attention to my recent reviews, you will have noticed that I’ve been receiving material from bands based in India and Southern Asia. At first consideration, it seems strange that Punk and Hardcore has integrated itself into such different cultures, but as Globalisation continues it’s attempt to homogenise the entire planet, it’s no surprise that young people in those countries are feeling the same anti-establishment emotions and producing music that reflects their anger and discontent. Now that everything is available online, it’s not so unlikely that these kids will hear the more brutal, cathartic sounds that Hardcore can offer and set out to make their own statements. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean the results will be great, but in this case I am very impressed. Death By Fungi are based in Mumbai and have been playing together since 2013. Their sound is very powerful, somewhere between the early ‘Youth Crew’ bands like Youth of Today or Judge, mixed with the more eclectic styles of Fugazi and Quicksand, but also infused with the brutal delivery of Dillinger Escape Plan or Dead Cross. The lyrics veer between English and Hindi, providing a whole different aspect to their intent, describing personal situations as well as frustration with the outside world. But it’s the music that will mostly appeal to Hardcore fans on a wider scale. Trust me, this isn’t just ‘good Indian hardcore’, this is great Hardcore, full stop. I just hope they get a chance to tour internationally one day.
DEFLORE with JAZ COLEMAN. Party in The Chaos CD (Subsound) Jaz Coleman has not collaborated with many bands outside of Killing Joke, but was apparently so impressed with this Italian band when he saw them in Rome that they made plans to work together in Prague. The results are stunning. Musically, it’s not a million miles away from Killing Joke except that Geordies’ distinctive guitar sound is replaced here by a more filmic use of keyboards and atmosphere. The title track is a powerful upbeat assault, while ‘Sunset in the West’ is an instrumental piece that really indulges the more soundtrack-styled elements of both Jaz and Deflore. Final track ‘Transhuman World’ is perhaps the most similar to recent Killing Joke records, with a powerful almost martial sound, although the arrangements and delivery are also quite distinct and ensure that the song stands up very much on its’ own merits. As an aside from Killing Joke, this still remains something that will appeal to their fans, but it also presents plenty of different ideas that suggest this project could be taken even further. Be sure to hear it !
THE FALLEN LEAVES. Maximum Minimum LP (Parliament) I think it would be pretty difficult to capture the true essence of a Fallen Leaves gig on vinyl because you really need to be there, but this album goes a long way towards getting it. The band are a consistently great live-unit and their regular gigs at the Hope & Anchor always generate such an exciting atmosphere, that it’s wholly appropriate that they should document one such event. Drummer Brett Ascott and bassist Matthew Karas work together so well, creating the tight rhythm section that keeps the songs pinned-down,while Rob Symmons guitar veers between catchy riffs and massive Mod-Art noise, providing a real sense of drama. In between all of this, singer Rob Green delivers his witty lyrics, each one with an insistent tale all of its’ own. The sound, recorded by Pat Collier, is just like their gigs, loud but with a real clarity for each individual element. Songs like ‘Prodigal Son’, ‘Green Eyes FC’ and ‘Sylvie Says’ really stand out whilst longer songs like ‘Shining’ and ‘Trouble’ seem to adopt an even more dynamic sound as they’re played-out to full effect. The only aspect lacking in this recording is the visual side of the band and Rob Greens’ stage presence, which brings their sense of humour more forward when you see them live, but that’s just another reason why you need to see them live as well ! It seems bizarre that this band are not more well-known but in many ways, I think that suits them. They can continue at their own pace, work on music that they really want to play and present it exactly as they want to. Rob Green might boast that they are ‘the champions of the glorious under-achiever’, but in a lot of ways, I think they’re achieving pretty-much what they want to do. If you haven’t already seen The Fallen Leaves, this will give you a good idea of what you’re missing. It’s a great selection of excellent songs with a fine live sound that any fan is going to enjoy. But just remember - it’s still no excuse for not seeing them !
THE 4-SKINS. Unreleased Radio & Studio Sessions LP (Ttan Ttakun) The 4-Skins remain a bit of an awkward quantity. Their early releases are Oi / Street Punk classics, but their involvement in the Southall Riots (not that the band were actually responsible for the events) condemned them in the eyes of the music press and when the original line-up subsequently fell apart, later versions of the band never managed to capture their original vitality. But the early material still stands up surprisingly well and if it hadn’t been for the eagerness of certain journalists to vilify the Oi movement, they could have proven to be a positive force. As this album shows, they were just as able to incorporate Ska rhythms into their music as the raw punk style they are mostly known for (and this LP doesn’t even include the Pop-Ska classic ‘Plastic Gangster’.) A lot of their lyrics did involve violence or unsavoury characters, but in the early 80’s that was a part of life, particularly in places like the East End. (The same journo’s who condemn Oi will probably embrace Gangsta Rap, but where’s the real difference ?) At the end of the day, it’s all down to intent. Whilst I’m willing to say that later versions of the 4-Skins probably let the side-down, the original line-up (while Gary Hodges was still in the band) wrote and released some great punk rock and songs like ‘Wonderful World’. ‘Evil’ and ‘One Law Fore Them’ still stand up as real classics. There’s not much info included with this album although the five ‘Bumper Sessions’ tracks on side two have been previously released. I’m not so sure about the ‘unreleased demos’ and the radio session track-listing is surprisingly close to their Peel session, so you may need to make your own mind up on that one. The thing you need to know is that the sound quality is really good all the way through and the songs are some of the best the band ever recorded. If you want to be a snob, you’re going to hate this before you even hear it, but if you’re happy to hear some great street-level punk rock, this is going to blow you away !
FREELOADER. The Path of Least Resistance LP (Rum Bar) Featuring members of rock’n’roll aristocracy The Upper Crust, plus comparative whipper-snappers Justine & The Unclean, Freeloader are Boston’s latest hard rockin’ supergroup. Nat Freedberg already released a solo album earlier this year, but this set of songs veer back towards his obvious love for Bon Scott era AC/DC (the good stuff) with perhaps a few nods towards the likes of Thin Lizzy and some of the harder, boogie-ing Southern Rock bands. Much like Turbonegro, the reason this works so well is because the band obviously love this music and play it properly, whilst at the same time embracing the inherent silliness of the genre and, instead ridiculing it, play it with a suitably dry sense of humour. I mean, how else would you get away with recording an anthem called ‘Nobody Gives a Fuck’ ? There are two inspired covers on the album… the first, ‘Rag Doll’, combines hard rock riffin’ with a catchy powerpop accessibility, while ‘Will It Go Round in Circles’ (originally by Billy Preston) is transformed into a snarlin’ hard rock headbanger. Perhaps the most Spinal Tap moment of the entire album is the excellent ‘Highland Fling’, complete with bagpipe-style guitars and including the immortal lines ‘By the loch, I met a lassie… she was quite a piece of assey’ – Genius ! The album ends with the important observation that ‘Ten Songs Make An Album’… I hope the kids are paying attention ! This is a great rock album that doesn’t take itself too seriously but never fails to actually ROCK ! If you can’t enjoy this, then you’re really missing out.
GAD WHIP. Ward 24 7” (Fourth Dimension) This is a very interesting record, a real step-forward from their recent album. Tracks like ‘Ward 24’ seem to work better as stand-alone pieces, and although it’s hardly a ‘pop’ record in the usual sense, this could easily find itself appealing to a pretty broad audience. Although singer Pete Davies does share some similarities with Jason Williamson (Sleaford Mods) it’s more in the observational-style he adopts rather than the actual delivery and, let’s face it, the current social-situation in the UK provides more than enough subject-matter. But it’s the band behind him that really set things apart. ‘Ward 24’ has heavy, almost dub-like rhythms (not far from Ruts DC at their most inventive) but combine it with minimalist samples and guitar sounds to further the atmosphere. Contains the classic lyric ‘the cinema was sold-out so we went to Ikea…’ B-side ‘Trademark’ is a much noisier, punkier affair, faster and nastier, although again Pete Davies’ narrative underpins everything. Two tracks seemingly at odds with each other and yet a perfect combination. Track down a copy of this record now, as I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of interest in this band pretty soon.
GENYA RAVAN. Icon CD (Rum Bar) Genya Ravan is an important part of New York’s rock’n’roll history. Her career started in the early Sixties as the singer for a band called The Escorts before she formed Goldie and the Gingerbreads, who became the first all-girl rock band to be signed to a major label (Atco.) They went on to tour with bands like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and The Kinks, and even relocated to London for a time, where they scored a Top Thirty hit with ‘Can’t You Hear My Heart Beat’. In 1969, she formed Ten Wheel Drive, who signed with Polydor records and went on to release three albums before she went solo and released four albums under her own name. In the mid-Seventies, she became interested in the new music emanating from the Bowery and began frequenting CBGB’s. Her enthusiasm led to being asked by Hilly Kristal to produce the Dead Boys debut album, which remains a classic to this day. Her career as a producer continued and in 1980 she worked on the ‘Siren’ album by Ronnie Spector, encouraging her to cover the Ramones’ ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ and instigating guest appearances from both Cheetah Chrome and Billy Rath. In subsequent years, she’s released further records, produced more bands, published her biography, ‘Lollipop Lounge’ and featured as a DJ on Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show. So that’s enough background – here’s the important stuff. Genya has recorded a new album alongside original member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, Ricky Byrd, and it’s a lot of fun indeed. Genya’s voice is still has plenty of power, somewhere between Ronnie Spector and Janis Joplin, whilst musically this is a real mix of great influences. Obviously, the Sixties era plays a big part, with hints of original R’n,B, Girl-groups like the Shangri-La’s and the Ronettes, and even harder edged Blues. But alongside this, there’s also nods towards the early days of New York Punk Rock (‘Don’t Go In The Bathroom’ is a tribute to CBGB’s infamous facilities), New Wave (she includes a quirky cover of ‘Pump It Up’, the best single that Elvis Costello ever released) and classic powerpop (’He Got Me’.) I know that a lot of people aren’t going to get into this, but it’s their loss. What you need to understand is that the New York punk scene had influences going way-back to the early days of rock’n’roll and that’s why Genya understood what was happening and became a part of it. This is also the reason why she’s releasing a great new album right now. If you pay attention to the music you enjoy, then this will make total sense. If you don’t already know of Genya Ravan, make sure this album is you’re starting point.
GOSPELBEACH. Let It Burn CD (Alive) There’s a sad undercurrent to this album, which already had its’ share of melancholy moments, as guitarist Neal Casal tragically died just before its’ release. It’s particularly poignant as his contributions had helped to make this the bands’ finest album to date, veering between brooding Americana-style rock like ‘Dark Angel’, the mellower pop of ‘Get It Back’ and the upbeat bar-room doo-wop of ‘Unswung’. But the real success of Gospelbeach’s music is the effortless way that they combine different styles and influences within their classic Southern Californian sound. Soulful organ work haunts some tracks, while others include guitar licks that could have come straight from Nashville. The title track starts with a surprisingly delicate intro before developing into a positive, redemptive narrative, whilst album-closer ‘Hoarder’ is driven along with a dirty, fuzzy bass sound. Main song-writer Brent Rademaker (ex-Further and Beechwood Sparks) has really defined the aim of the band on this album with some of the best songs he has ever written. They may emulate some of their influences from the past, but on this album Gospelbeach have truly established their own place as a force to be reckoned with. I just hope that the loss of Casal will not derail the obvious creative momentum that the band have developed on this album.
HARD SKIN. We’re The Fucking Mustard LP (JT Classics) The live prowess of Hard Skin is a truly legendary experience. Their studio recordings always capture the Sound of the Streets and the what the kids are feeling just perfectly, but onstage they take it to an entirely higher level. A bit like Canary Wharf compared to the Post Office Tower. Both are impressive, but one of ‘em has the extra inches (as the birds will confirm !) In this case, The Skin are captured live in concert showing the Froggies how to do it… Playing in the French town of Dijon, the band were admittedly pissed off when the rider included vintage wine, gourmet mustard and Gitanes instead of lager, Pies & Mash and regular fags, but they still delivered the goods. How could they not ? They’ve got songs like ‘Oi, Not Jobs’, ‘ACAC’, ‘We Are The Wankers’, ‘XR3’ and ‘Desperation Street’… this is class we’re talking about and no garlicky foreign food is going to spoil that kind of quality. You know you need this album. And you know the band need you to buy it… they’ve got a lavish South London lifestyle to live up to ! If you can’t enjoy this, then you are the wanker…
IAMTHEMORNING. The Bell CD (KScope) Iamthemorning are a Russian duo that combine classical instrumentation with contemporary, alternative Rock to create something entirely of their own. There are elements that you’ll recognise, but just as soon as they enter your mind, the moment will be gone and the album has moved on to something else. It’s almost wistful in a way, but rather intriguing with it. The band have achieved a considerable following with their previous studio albums, even winning awards for their previous opus, ‘Lighthouse’, and on hearing this it’s easy to see why. Their music is intricate enough to appeal to critics but also open enough to appeal to a wide fan base. If you want comparisons, I could probably mention Kate Bush and maybe even All About Eve (their more adventurous moments at least…) But this is something with a lot of individuality, drawing from disparate sources to create something new and unique. I’m not going to say that it will appeal to everyone and, indeed, it’s probably not the sort of thing that I’d usually listen to, but if you can spend some time to pay attention, I’m sure you’ll find something rather interesting here.
THE JACKETS. Queen of The Pill CD (Voodo Rhythm) This is the fourth album from The Jackets, a female-fronted Garage-fuzz band from Switzerland. They’ve been playing together for over a decade, establishing themselves as a vital live act as well as releasing great records. Their sound is firmly based in the Nuggets-era, but with an excellent contemporary production that makes every note, beat and screech leap out of the speakers. The guitar sound is fuzzed-up to almost Stooges-style levels while singer Jackie has a distinctive, powerful voice that grabs your attention and the songs possess great, catchy hooks that’ll make you want to groove all night long. If you could imagine the Fuzztones when they were at their primal-best, but give them a female vocalist and a better sense of pop, this is perhaps how they would have sounded. The songs are great, ten of them packed into a mere 32 minutes, but trust me, not a second is wasted. These guys know what they’re doing and deliver the good stuff with just the right attitude. You won’t want to miss this album !
JUNKO FUSE. Open Happiness CD (www.facebook.com/JunkoFuse) Five new tracks from Junko Fuse, recorded just before the recent departure of (fairly) long-term drummer Paul O’Shea. All of the songs have a good crunchy style and the overall sound is much harder than the previous EP, which suits this set perfectly. The guitar riffs have a certain similarity with some of the early Sub Pop bands, like Mudhoney or Nirvana, although they don’t necessarily play them in a ‘grunge’ style. They just keep things relatively simple and concentrate on bringing-out the power of the songs. The lyrics reflect current discontent with the ways that supposed-progress seems more intent on making divisions greater rather than spreading the benefits on a fairer basis and, as you would expect, are delivered with a raw passion. As anyone who has seen this band recently will confirm, they’ve been steadily improving and becoming more confident over the last year or so and these recordings certainly reflect that. I just hope that they can get their new drummer up-to-speed quickly so that their progress can continue.
MUDHONEY. Morning in America EP (Sub Pop) There was a time when all the critics were predicting that Mudhoney would be the ‘next big thing’ and Nirvana weren’t even getting a toe in the door. Of course, things didn’t carry on that way, but Mudhoney still did rather well for themselves and, three decades down the line, they’re still creating great records like this, so we’re all winners ! Opening track ‘Vortex of Lies’(previously only available on a limited Tour single) is possibly the closest they’ve ever come to the sound of The Scientists (Mudhoney have always sung their praises) and a damn fine job they do with it, as well. ‘Creeps Are Everywhere’ recalls their early days, snotty and snarlin’ in authentic fashion, whilst ‘Ensam I Natt’ is a cover of a song by The Leather Nun (here sung in English rather than the original Swedish… don’t ask me how accurate the translation might be…) which, again, shows great taste in older bands. The title track is a slow, brooding epic that addresses the current state of America. ‘Let’s Kill Yourself Live Again’ is an alternate version of one of the best moments of their previous ‘Digital Garbage’ album, with a great guitar sound and insistent lyrics. ‘Snake Oil Charmer’ is the longest track on the EP, with a musical arrangement that recalls the original Alice Cooper band, although sounding very much in the Mudhoney fuzz guitar tradition. Final track, ‘One Bad Actor’, is a new version of the song previously only found of the highly sought after split 7” with Hot Snakes, which will certainly be a pleaser for those fans who missed out on that goodie. It’s all over in less than thirty minutes, but every track is a classic-in-waiting… if you have any sense, you know you’re going to love this !
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD STRANGE. Russian Spy 7” / CD (Strange Recordings) A great Sixties-surf tinged record recounting recent events in the bands’ hometown of Salisbury. The guitar veers between the twang and the fuzz to great effect, steering the catchy garage punk in a strong, confident manner, whilst the vocals hold your attention with their raw but almost under-stated presence. The title track is based around the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and relates the story from the point of view of people having this event occur on their doorsteps. It’s great, the sort of story that should be told and combined with some great music. The 7” includes another fine track, ‘Many Secrets’, while the CD version includes an extra three, all of which maintain the high standards, especially the raunchy instrumental ‘Desert Sand’. Think of Naz Nomad and the Nightmares tackling ‘The Last of the Secret Agents’ and you’ll be in the right area. The 7” is the preferable format, but the extra tracks need to be heard too… so buy both versions !
NEUROSIS & JARBOE. s/t CD (Neurot) Originally released in 2003, this might seem like an improbable collaboration, but taking into account Jarboe’s varied musical career both with Swans and as an artist in her own right, it’s not so unlikely that she would want to collaborate with Neurosis, a band whose roots may be in hardcore but have continually pushed the boundaries of what ‘heavy’ music can involve and express. Jarboe’s vocals can range from neo-operatic through to almost folk-like fragility, whilst also able to shatter the sound-barrier with raw, visceral deliveries when appropriate, so it’s a perfect match. This new reissue comes with a fully remastered sound and new artwork, almost presenting the work for a first time (which, for many listeners, it will be.) Neurosis were intent on making the best use of the technology now available to create a definitive presentation of this record. The beauty of this album lies in the two distinctive characters at work together. At times, Jarboe’s voice seems almost the antitheses to the heavy delivery of Neurosis while at other times she seems focused on delivering vocals that belittle their efforts. But, as a whole, it works because they understand each other. Whilst many guitar-based bands have tried to imitate early-Swans material, most have only done so on a one-dimensional fashion. Neurosis, however, have understood the real dynamics of the sound and developed their own approach in an empathetic rather than superficial level. That’s why they can either counter-balance or embrace Jarboes’s vocals so efficiently. This isn’t an easy-listening album by any means, but if you can accept the emotional delivery and intent of this project, it’s certain to draw you in. The results will be almost physical, striking you in a primal assault. If you want to know how good this is, listen to it loud in total darkness… If that experience doesn’t stun you, then you have no soul.
THE PRETENDERS With Friends DVD set (Wienerworld) As far as formats go, this release has got it covered – Blue Ray, DVD and CD ! But it’s the quality of the material that really counts and this is a fine document of The Pretenders, live in concert with a selection of special guests. Recorded at a special event in Atlantic City, this is a perfect demonstration of Chrissie Hyndes’ talent for creating thoughtful pop songs whilst still embracing her rock’n’roll roots (early Stones, the Stooges etc.) Live, the mixture really comes to the forefront. Opening with ‘The Wait’ from their debut album, you get a great mix of raw guitars and catchy tuneage. ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ is the first big hit to be played, and again, it uses that blend of styles to full effect. The first guest of the evening is Shirley Manson of Garbage fame, sharing vocals on an excellent version of ‘Talk of the Town’ and a cover of the Garbage song ‘Only Happy When it Rains’. After another Pretenders track, ‘Day After Day’, the band are then joined by members of Kings of Leon which, for my opinion, is a rather pointless exercise, as is the following appearance of Incubus. Neither of these are particularly interesting in their own right and fail to add anything to the performance, so I would have preferred to just see The Pretenders playing their own material. In fact, there’s a really big, missed opportunity with the next song, ‘Precious’… they could have brought Johnny Moped onstage for a duet (Chrissie was once a member of the Johnny Moped band and ‘Precious’ dates back to that period !) Now that’s something I would have loved to have seen ! Maybe tomorrow (as the song goes…) But the final guest is the real highpoint… Chrissie introduces ‘the greatest human being in the world – Iggy Pop !’ Well, who can argue with an introduction like that ? Firstly, he sings ‘Fools Must Die’, probably the most appropriate of Chrissie’s lyrics for this occasion, and then they duet on a stunning version of ‘Candy’, not an obvious choice but nonetheless, one of Iggy’s most underrated songs. For me, this is the highlight of the show. Chrissie and Iggy really work well together and I would have been happy with more of this, but it’s time for The Pretenders’ finale, a great rendition of ‘Brass in Pocket’, before the encore brings the band and all of the guests back onstage for ‘Middle of the Road’. Despite my reservations about the appropriateness of some of the guests, this is a great recording of a truly one-off event and it’s highly enjoyable. If you want to get a good idea of what The Pretenders have always been about, this is an essential recording. Be sure to see it.
SPERMBIRDS. Go To Hell Then Turn Left CD (Boss Tuneage) Spermbirds have been together and releasing albums for more than thirty years, coming to the attention of hardcore and punk fans with the release of their first LP ‘Something to Prove’ in 1986. Formed in Germany but featuring an American vocalist, Lee Hollis, they played a fast yet melodic style of punk rock with a dark sense of humour often infused into the lyrics. To me, their closest comparison would’ve been the mighty SNFU, but Spermbirds always had a distinctive sound of their own. They had an enthusiastic following in the UK and I’m sure that if they had toured here on a regular basis they would’ve become a lot more popular but for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Their releases and touring have become less frequent in recent years, but they’ve remained together as a band and they’re now releasing their ninth studio album. It captures them in fine form, with all the elements that made them special in the first place still very prominent in the mix. Catchy songs, witty lyrics, lots of energy… these things just seem to come naturally to them. It’s been a long time since we last heard from this band, but this album makes it feel like they’ve never been away. Be sure to play it loud and you’ll enjoy every moment of it !
SUB DIO. Sub Dio EP (Underground Communique / Side With Us) A collaboration between two labels brings forth this excellent EP and I’m damn-pleased they decided to work together. Sub Dio is an Bay Area (‘Bay’ as in ‘San Francisco’, for the geographically-challenged) punk band who combine elements of punk, hardcore and (so-called) post-punk to very good effect. Main songwriter Brian Moss has previously played in bands such as Great Apes, Olehole and The Ghost, but this band are very much an item in their own right. The first thing that’ll grab you is the excellent combination of male / female lead vocals, creating an immediate compare and contrast situation that’ll keep your attention completely focused. Musically, they veer between hardcore tempo’s and slower, more tense rhythms that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The music is deceptively aggressive, whilst underlying melodies weedle their way into your brain. Second track ‘Skeeters’ vaguely reminds me of Rocket From the Crypt, while ‘Peachey Keen’ recalls Down By Law at their best. ‘Credible Fear’ employs an almost reggae style riff to create space for the vocals, allowing them to state their case, whilst final track ‘Pardon Me’ leans towards DC Hardcore in a totally effective delivery. This is such a good EP, I hope we get a chance to see this band live in the UK one day !
THE TOUCH. Lost and Found CD (Touching Flames) In recent years, many relatively obscure bands from the original Punk era have found a demand for their records, even though at the time they may have had difficulty generating any interest at all. In quite a few cases, this has resulted in reissues, compilations of previously-unreleased material, band-reunions and even brand new songs / records. Of course, the actual quality of the bands involved can be quite debatable. Just because something is obscure doesn’t mean it’s going to be great and, more often than not, the opposite can be applied, but we’ve certainly had some great re-discoveries along the way. Obviously this isn’t a phenomenon restricted to Punk bands - fans have been seeking out little-known gems from the rock’n’roll, Sixties Garage and Psychedelic eras for a long time. And now it seems the same is happening with the late Seventies ‘Mod Revival’ scene. The Touch are a prime example of this interest and their story (as told in the sleeve-notes for this release) is a fine vindication for a band whose original career didn’t go exactly to plan. The Touch were together between 1979-81, during which time their manager released some of their demos as a highly-limited album, confusingly entitled ‘The Mods Lost Touch’. With no other info included on the sleeve and the word ‘Bootleg’ stamped in one corner, it wasn’t even clear who the band were ! After they split-up, the band members went their different ways and remained unaware that in the interim years, the album had become a sought-after collectors’ item and had even been bootlegged several times ! It wasn’t until recently that original guitarist Son Jack Jnr (now living in Seattle) came across the album on an internet site and discovered how much interest the album had subsequently generated. As chance would have, in 2018, the band members were contacted by Detour Records who wanted to reissue the album officially. A deal was struck and, to celebrate, the band agreed to play their first gig in nearly 40 years ! Coming back together for rehearsals, the four original members found that they still had the same chemistry that had resulted in the original album and the ensuing success of the gig itself quickly made them decide, Let’s see what else we can do ? Well, this album is the answer and a very good one at that ! The recordings include nine tracks dating back to the original band, whilst five are brand new. The sound isn’t as raw as the recordings on the first album but the song-quality is certainly just as high. The Touch have a style that harks back to the Mod bands of the Sixties (The Who, The Creation etc) but with an attitude and delivery that owed something to the Punk movement as well, albeit with catchy, melodic songs to the forefront. This is an album that neither the band or their fans ever thought would happen, but I’m sure that they’re all going to be more than happy with it. Forty years down the line, The Touch have created a new album that more than lives-up to their reputation… and isn’t that great !
THE VIBRATORS. The 1976 Demos LP / The 1977 Demos LP (Ttan Ttakun Irratia) Previously only available on a long-out-of-print CD, so if you’re a fan of the band, you’re definitely going to want to hear these recordings. Not unsurprisingly, the ’76 demos tend be a bit slower and less rowdy than the bands’ eventual releases, but the Vibrators had been playing on the Pub circuit for some time before ‘punk’ emerged and, while they might have had long hair initially, they were still developing their own sound which was already a lot more confrontational than the standard pub rock fare. ‘We Vibrate’ appears in a much more Pop-style while ‘Whips and Furs’ is still in its’ original ‘Dance To the Music’ incarnation. Meanwhile, ‘Young Lust’ includes some guitar noise that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Captain Beefheart album.. In truth, these recordings are classic ‘proto-punk’ (as the journo’s like to call it now) and shows a band who were developing a style somewhere between the better elements of pub rock and what was to become Punk. There’s also an inspired version of ‘Day Tripper’ which manages to integrate the riff from ‘Interstellar Overdrive’… God knows how they came up with that idea, but it works !
By the end of ’76, whilst still true to their raw, rock’n’roll roots, The Vibrators were also becoming immersed and influenced by the emerging Punk Rock scene. Many have accused them of jumping on the bandwagon but in truth, they had already been heading in a similar direction and had also written many of their best known songs by the time Punk came to national attention…they’d played at the 100 Club Punk festival and their first single, ‘We Vibrate’ was even released before ‘Anarchy in the UK’, so the bandwagon hadn’t even started ! Listening to these demos, you get a mix of tracks that seem a little tentative and others (‘Automatic Lover’ are actually more raucous than their officially released version. Together with a bunch of tracks that didn’t get released during the bands’ original incarnation, this is all good stuff and something that deserves to be heard not just because of its’ historical significance but because the songs sound really good. If you’ve never liked the Vibrators, these albums are probably not going to change your mind, but if you have ever enjoyed those records, these are a great addition to their legacy.
WARDOMIZED. A Heated Exchange CD (Sudden Strike) Debut album from this Northern Irish band who combine Crust, Hardcore, Anarcho-punk and even some elements of Black Metal. Having been playing since 2014, they’ve really refined their approach, creating a total onslaught of sound that batters your speakers into submission. The big difference between Wardomized and many of the bands who try to play a similar style is that they aren’t afraid to include actual tunes in their songs, something that will stick in your mind and you’ll actually remember afterwards. That’s a really positive thing because, no matter how heavy and aggressive the music may be, there’s something to hold on to and enjoy whilst the brutality of their delivery overwhelms you. The band have earned a pretty impressive live reputation, having toured in the UK, Ireland and Spain, and it’s easy to imagine how powerful their live shows must be. The album is slightly let down by an unimaginative production, but that’s something they’ll get to grips with as they continue. This is certainly one of the most promising crust / hardcore albums I’ve heard for a while and it’s well-worth checking out.
DAVID WOODCOCK. Fixtures And Fittings 7” (Blow Up) The description ‘singer-songwriter’ is usually enough to put me off something even before I’ve heard it (and, in most cases, hearing it tends to confirm my doubts) but this single really transcends all of that nonsense. Going by this single, David Woodcock really belongs more to that loosely-related circle of eccentric artists who, back in the Seventies, would probably have ended up either on Stiff or Small Wonder records. Think of performers like Patrick Fitzgerald, Ian Dury or maybe even (early) Billy Bragg (before he started to take himself too seriously.) These were all people with a genuinely original, quirky take on music which produced catchy but genuinely unique songs. David certainly fits in with that approach and this is a great song that really ought to be getting loads of airplay. It deserves to be heard just for the use of the classic Kenneth Williams’ reference (‘Infamy !’) but you’ll be humming along to the rest of the tune even before it gets that far. Make sure you check this out !