Friday, February 29, 2008

Mike Smith RIP

Dave Clark Five lead vocalist and keyboardist Mike Smith died of pnuemonia yesterday after five what must have been miserable years of dealing with a spinal cord injury that kept him hospitalized and paralyzed him from the waist down.

He cowrote "Bits and Pieces", probably the best known DC5 song, at least in the US.

While I'm glad the pain is over I hate to see you go, Mike. Here's to a life well lived.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Psychic Drive - "Cartoon Christ" EP (Riot US 2007)

I knew I had heard of "Lizzy" Lee Vincent before. It took me a while to bring it back, but really listening to the new EP from Psychic Drive finally jarred things back into place.

Evoking an atmosphere that The Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo and the Bunnymen, or even The Stooges and The Ramones, would be comfortable breathing, New York based Psychic Drive's Cartoon Christ ultimately is a logical extension of an earlier Vincent project called Birdland.

Birdland emerged from the Birmingham, UK music scene in the late 80's and made a brief splash on the other side of the pond, being widely compared to the four bands in the paragraph above. I stumbled across them in '91 or '92 accidentally as a college radio DJ - I don't remember what I was looking for in the "B's" that day, but I remember seeing their record and spinning it (I routinely forget where I'm going on my way to pick up my daughter, but I remember shit like this and the fact that Lee Vincent was a member of the band. God bless a mis-spent youth). The comparisons were apt ones, with more of an emphasis on the poppier side of things with just a shade of the swagger of The Stooges or The Ramones. Even though I was expending a lot of energy on the Amphetamine Reptile roster at that time (I probably saw The Cows every time they played in Austin in spite of the fact that I never liked them enough to buy one of their records) I've always been a sucker for post-punk Brit-pop. When you add the fact that the derision I received from some other DJs for liking Birdland made me an iconoclast among inconoclasts it was inevitable that I become a lifelong fan, at least for the next few weeks. I hadn't thought about them since.

Psychic Drive more evenly balances the pop sensibilites of Brit-pop with the swagger of Detroit or NYC. The production on Cartoon Christ is polished enough to emphasize the melody and structure of the songs without detracting from the Vincent's fuzz guitar attack, while Kristen Black and Connie Yin drive the rhythm mercilessly on bass and drums respectively. Vincent's vocals are comfortably out in front of the mix, and are equal parts Ian McCulloch, Jim and William Reid, and Joey Ramone. All of this is presented in songs which are all hook - the verses grab you, the choruses are fist pumping and sing-along friendly, and the middle eights are more than after thoughts. There's a distincly Phil Spector-ish element at work which, of course, is never a bad thing. Well, at least not in the context of pop music.

While you might get the impression from reading this that Psychic Drive is derivative, and in a way they are, it hardly counts against them. With the post-punk revival in full swing there can be an almost generic quality to many bands drawing from the same influences - a trap that Psychic Drive manages to avoid by just being so damn good at it. There's nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve as long as you're wearing them well.

This is a pretty short review, but it's a pretty short EP. Four tracks total - really three, as tracks 1 and 4 are two different version of the title track, the only noticable difference being one is a couple of minutes longer than the other. It's defininitely worth checking out. I'll be interested to see what these three do next. I'll also be interested to see if the current renewed interest in post-punk serves them as well as it should. They ceratinly deserve it as much, if not more, than a lot of the bands out there claiming the influence.

You can fing Psychic Drive at

3 out of 4 nostalgic middle aged bloggers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

After Long Silence...

Be back next week with The Whigs and Psychic Drive. After having my wisdom teeth removed and a killer ear infection compounded by whatever the jag-off doctor did to it I needed some down time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hallmark Holiday Bullshit

I think we all know that Valentine's Day is a money making vehicle created by greeting card companies in the mid 19th century taking inspiration from an actual Catholic Church holy day which has long since ceased to be recognized. It is notable primarily because it was the first known instance of a religious holy day being exploited to commercial ends. What an unholy, no pun intended, monster that particular trend has become., which I read every morning to angry up the blood and diminish my need for caffeine to make it through the day, has taken upon itself to list the "Top 10 'I Hate You' Songs of All Time". Of all time, mind you. Now, I may be pissing on somebody's party and not getting into the spirit of the joke, but this is exactly the kind of shit that infuriates me and caused me to start writing this blog in the first place. Let's look at their list:

1) The J. Geils Band - "Love Stinks". Could this idiotic song be more obvious? Or stupid? Let's put some thought in here, fellow "music journalists".

2) Def Leppard - "Love Bites". Def Leppard sucks ass. I don't care how many arms, legs, or members they lose and how admirable it makes them for soldiering on, it doesn't change the fact that their music is lowest common denominator pablum. This idiotic song, with its vague sexual innuendo, fits right in with their other crap.

3) Nazareth - "Love Hurts". I'll give 'em this one, all though it's not an "I Hate You" song - it's a broken hearted ballad. Not to mention the fact that The Everly Brothers recorded the definitive version of it first and Gram Parsons did an amazing cover of it. Nazareth sucked.

4) Kelly Clarkson - "The Trouble With Love Is". I don't even know who this is, so I'm going to assume it's modern day Nashville "country". All of that shit sucks. Feel free to comment if you think I'm wrong.

5) Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know". Another completely unoriginal and obvious choice. This woman's music was unlistenable, was created by a record label to take advantage of a current musical fad, and only made salable by including famous musicians such as Flea and others writing the music to turn this crap into something resembling radio friendly songs.

6) Maria McKee - "If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)". Lone Justice was okay. When they broke up and Maria started trying to sing like Janis Joplin, well, need I go on?

7) Michael Bublé With Holly Palmer - "Down With Love". No fucking idea. None. But judging by the list so far I feel safe in assuming it's nauseating.

8) Tie: John Mayer - "I'm Gonna Find Another You", Beyoncé - "Irreplaceable". I've got nothing against John Mayer - he seems like a nice guy. That being said, white guys doing radio friendly mush-mouth "blues" are inexcusable. Beyonce' - I feel bad about trashing contemporary R&B because I'm so far outside it, but to me Ms. Knowles is nothing but a money tree that looks good in a tight dress. Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, - THAT was R&B.

9) The Dixie Chicks - "Hole in My Head". Closest thing on this list I can come to agreeing with. They're at least really talented musicians who know their way around hooky pop arrangements. I like their politics, too. Still, "Goodbye Earl" would have been a much better choice.

10) Adam Sandler - "Somebody Kill Me". Adam Sandler isn't a musician. He's a comedian. I don't care if he plays guitar and writes asinine songs. He's not a musician. He's a comedian. Not a very funny comedian either. Why the fuck is he on this list at all?

Now that I've trashed MSN's list here's an incomplete one of my own. I won't be providing much in the way of explanation - if you know the songs none is necessary. I'm sure my list will elicit as much bile from readers as the MSN list did from me. I don't care. Go write your own blog about what a humorless shit I am.

1) Lefty Frizzell - "The Long Black Veil". Are you kidding? This got left off?

2) The Meatmen - "What's This Shit Called Love?". Subtle? No. Effective? Hell, yes.

3) The Cure - Tie - "The Figurehead", "Last Dance". Obviously there are a ton more from this band, but I can't list them all.

4) The Smiths - "Never Had No One Ever". Again, there are countless candidates from this band, almost all of them brilliant and mordantly humorous.

5) Giant Drag - "This Isn't It". Is GD a flash in the pan? Maybe. Still a great fucking song.

6) Alejandro Escovedo - "Follow You Down". Happy, sad, or somewhere in between, Alejandro doesn't write bad songs. His broken hearted ones are the best.

7) Big Star - "Holocaust". C'mon, Jeeves. It doesn't get any bleaker than this.

8) Dinosaur Jr. - "The Post". Ever fucked up a relationship? This is your story.

9) Gram Parsons - "$1000 Dollar Wedding". This one speaks for itself.

10) New Folk Implosion - "Releast". One of Lou Barlow's finest sets of angry, broken-hearted lyrics.

I could keep going, but I'm at work and have actual work to do. Any one of the songs on my list could swallow all ten of the ones on MSN's list whole and shit out nothing but bones.

There's my sanctimonious two cents, from my keyboard to St. Valentine's ear. Now go get your girlie or boy toy some chocolate covered strawberries and have fun in the sack tonight.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

P. W. Long - "God Bless the Drunkard's Dog" (Black Diamond Records 2006)

God Bless the Drunkard’s Dog rips, howls, moans and shreds its way out of you speakers and leaves you for dead. I’m not kidding. Loyal readers may recall a review from a couple of months ago for the Young James Long EP You Ain't Know the Man and my mentioning that it was the music you’d hear while getting your teeth kicked in outside a sleazy roadhouse. Well, these are the same fellas, only P.W. Long seems to have full artistic control here. This record leaps from full on Southern Rock that shows the world in no uncertain terms what a pussy Bob Seger is (if you don’t already think Seger is a pussy, you will after listening to this record) to mellower introspections on the heartless bitch that brought a whole town to its knees to loud, raunchy blues that are not just about situations you don’t want to be involved in, but don’t even want to know about. The man has a gift that rivals Bukowski for giving you a visceral taste of both the seedier side of things and the personal hell that led him there. Not without a sense of humor. The man’s a goddamn cipher.

It’s difficult to speak of specific songs as the track list seems to bear little relation to the actual song order. “Crazy Tonight” is one that stands out with its distorted, bluesy riff, immediately reminiscent of Long’s previous project Mule, and a growling lyric that strongly implies you probably don’t want to be around when this guy goes from “feeling crazy tonight” to acting on it. In any case, the song titles don’t matter. Every single one of them has teeth and they’ve got a taste of your blood. Too bad there’s nowhere for you to hide and you just need to ride this one out. In the end, it’s worth it. This album kicks more ass than a skinhead at a love-in.

Long seems dedicated to making it increasingly difficult to find his stuff. He apparently had to be bothered mercilessly by his friends to make this record, and finally only did on the condition it be released only on vinyl. Southern Records created vinyl only subsidiary Black Diamond Records just to get this wax out there. With that kind of dedication you know there’s something going on you should be checking out.

This isn’t much of a review, I know. More a testimonial. I’ll get back to the real reviews for the next one. In the meantime go online or head over to the last record store in your town that carries vinyl and pick this motherfucker up. After you spit your teeth out you’ll thank me for the recommendation.

3 out of 4, just because it’s a little less focused and introspective than his last effort. That doesn’t mean it can’t kick your ass.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Service Industry - "Limited Coverage" (Sauspop 2008)

There's nothing like the sense of anticipation waiting on the drop date for a record you can't wait to hear. It provides a great sense of relief and satisfaction when said record is everything you'd hoped it would be. Limited Coverage is one of those records.
Following up last years vitriolic debut Ranch is the New French The Service Industry once again doles out ten American working class screeds (plus a more than servicable Undertones cover), tongue firmly in cheek. Or maybe not so much in cheek. The songs generally cover topics like unreasonable bosses, ignorant customers who treat those waiting on them as servants, if they notice them at all, and other scourges of those in service jobs taken for granted by those more "successful" in our society.

It helps that songwriters Mike McCoy and Hunter Darby have joined forces on this project (they also worked together in the terrific, if slightly unfocused, garage band The American People) as they not only have, in spades, the personal experience to lend solid authenticity to these songs, but also happen to be outstanding songwriters each in their own right. McCoy fronted legendary Kansas City pop-punk outfit Cher UK, and Darby was 1/2 the inspired songwriting team behind Austin's storied power pop troopers The Wannabes. You can count on the results of these two working together being greater than the sum of their parts. In addition, Julie Lowery provides soaring harmony vocals and contributes a song of her own, "JoJo", and Andy Thomas and Robbie Araiza provide spotless guitars. Also a treat is the appearance of punk elder statesman Curt Kirkwood, main man behind The Meat Puppets, lending his guitar talents here and there. As these are veterans all, it would be a surprise if this record was anything less than a home run.

Limited Coverage is a college rock record in the best possible sense of the term. The bile of Ranch is the New French is toned down without losing any of the seething angst and, let's face it, hilarity (deliberately or not) that characterized that record. You have catchy sing alongs like "Job of Quality" and "They Fired Me" amongst, for the most part, accessible and hooky pop gems. McCoy's more experimental side surfaces on the Caribbean sounding rhythms of "Valhalla" and his punk roots shine through on the hysterical "Zippy's Lament", a song that anyone who's worked in customer service will strongly identify with. The Darby penned "Hollywood Out of Austin" provides an all too accurate portrayal of Austin's celebrity "guests", their sense of entitlement, and the locals' increasing frustration with it. Dropped right in the middle of this album's tirade is a fantastic cover of "You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It?)" by The Undertones which, while it doesn't necessarily fit the theme of the the record, certainly maintains the pervasive sense of frustration.

Curt Kirkwood's unmistakable guitar playing, most apparent on "They Fired Me", "Hollywood Out of Austin", and "Zippy's Lament", is delightful to hear and perfectly integrated into the songs. Kirkwood's been steady in his output over the last few years, but with the release of the latest Meat Puppets full length (Rise To Your Knees, Anodyne Records 2007) and his contribution here his inspiration seems to be firing on all cylinders again. That this is immensely to the benefit of rock 'n' roll in general should be obvious to everyone paying attention.

While "Have To Go To Work", with its exceedingly clever existential lyric cycle, is the strongest track here, there's not a weak one among them. The feel of the record hearkens back to the the college rock of the 1980's, right down to the very Reivers-esque bridge on "Now Wake Up and Die", and hearing a straight up honest to God hard pop album in the midst of all the current post-post modern crap or whatever they're calling it is damn refreshing. The songs are rock solid and hooky, and the concept of the band is timely and justifiably self-righteous without losing its sense of humor.

My only concern is that one of the main strengths of The Service Industry, its concept, could end up being its Achilles heel as well. How many times will this trick pony jump? That being said, with this group of people in the saddle you can always count on them having an endless supply of tricks up their sleeve.

Limited Coverage releases Feb. 19th, 2008 on Sauspop Records (

4 out of 4, kiddos.