Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper RIP

As reported here, as well as about a million other places, on Oct. 30th of last year, Dennis Hopper was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Well, he didn't make it. He died this morning of the disease.

I loved and love Hoppers's "New Hollywood" counter culture movies of the late 60's and early 70's and have rarely seen him be anything short of brilliant in any role he played. He and I diverged politically in a pretty serious way when he went Republican, but when he publicly renounced Sarah Palin I think he regained quite a bit of cred with unrepentant radical left wingers like myself.

Regardless, farewell to one of the greatest actors of his generation.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Service Industry - Calm Down (Sauspop 2010)

For their fourth release, Austin's The Service Industry leave behind the simmering rage of the overlooked and underappreciated and move in a more personal direction. The band's success in achieving this so gracefully should dispel any misperceptions that this is a gimmick band. The Service Industry deliver 12 nearly flawless pop cuts that range from the jangly to garagey, low key to the energetic.

Opener "Heart Repair" is a chunky piece of melancholia that expands into a soaring melodic chorus and kicks the feel of the record off in the right direction. Remaining true to the record's vibe but exemplifying its range of styles and influences, Julie Lowery takes lead vocal from Mike McCoy on the Reivers meets The B-52s college rock of "Honey and Hair Sprayed Hair". There's so much going on here stylistically that it took real artistry to avoid disjointedness and have everything fall together so well.

Complaints? Minor to insignificant. For example, "This Town Makes My Skin Crawl" draws out a little bit too long. But it's still a damn good song.

As prolific as these folks are (what is this? The fourth release in two years?) it won't be too long before we see which way The Service Industry jumps next. So far it continues to be up.

3.75 out of 4 heart repairs

Malcolm McLaren RIP

Situationist. Manager of The New York Dolls. Manager of The Sex Pistols. Manager of Bow Wow Wow (no, really). Father of Punk Fashion (that really should go to wife Vivienne Westwood, but McLaren never declined taking credit). Solo recording artist. Depending on who you're talking to - one of the greatest marketing geniuses of the late 20th century or one of the biggest shysters. Or both. Whatever, the motherfucker sure left a mighty gash in the side of pop culture using pop culture as the knife. Wasn't that what The Situationists were all about?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club / Band of Skulls - House of Blues - Houston, TX 3/20/2010

There's something about watching British white guys peel off American blues guitar licks that just bugs the shit out of me. No matter how many effects pedals the instrument is run through. Which is pretty much all Band of Skulls is. A guy wanking on guitar interspersed with repetitive, practically chanted lyrical refrains. There were a couple of songs that sounded like they might have had actual verses, but they were in short supply. The bassist was pretty easy on the eyes, and I found it endearing that she had to look at the neck of her bass to play the structures, but beyond that they didn't have much going on. Not unlistenable, just ultimately boring.

BRMC, on the other hand, left almost nothing to be desired. They could have easily held down the night with their repertoire of window rattling, reverb heavy guitar gut punches, but chose instead to mix things up, alternating those energetic post-punk pounders with mellower, quieter fare featuring acoustic guitar, keyboard, and, on one occasion, piano, largely drawn from their Howl era. Primarily, though, they stuck with their LOUD post-punk pop mixing in elements of blues, americana and pschedelia to go with the driving bass, pounding drums and overdriven guitar.

Bassist Robert Levon Been and guitarist Peter Hayes traded and overlapped vocals, with Hayes maintaining a laid back, in control stage presence while Been struck rock star poses and strutted the stage in full on performance mode. Stealing the show, though, was new drummer Leah Shapiro, who beat on her drum kit like she had caught it fucking her siggo. I've rarely seen a drummer hit that hard and use the drums that stylistically while still being completely dialed in to what the band was accomplishing as a unit.

Accompanying the dizzying array of musical styles and energy fluctuations was a stage show consisting of flashing strobes and rotating mini-flood lights backlighting the band and, thus, illuminating the audience. I would estimate fairly half the show the lighting wasn't even focused on the band. In the context of the musical environment they were creating, it was simply amazing. It also served to dissolve the barrier between band and audience, giving you the sensation that you were as much a part of making this thing worthwhile and, indeed, spectacularly successful.

I didn't have any doubts about this show being good. I didn't expect it to kick my ass half way to Heaven. I've said it so often it's become an annoying mantra - this is the best band in America. March 20th at the Houston House of Blues did nothing if not cement that opinion in my mind for some time to come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

Rock luminary and one of the inspirations for every cool band you know of Alex Chilton died of a heart attack today at the age of 59. He was a complete dick to the audience when I saw him in 1994, but I hear he's been a lot more accommodating with the Big Star reunions, unfortunately none of which I got to see.

Anyway, if you know his name you probably know at least as much as I do. The guy was a brilliant songwriter when he wanted to be and a legend in his own time. Goddamn shame to see him go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat The Devil's Tattoo (Vagrant Records 2010)

Man, this thing comes rolling over you like a band of Sioux warriors from the get go. The title track and follow up "Conscience Killer" just knock you off your feet. Track 3, "Bad Blood", (my personal favorite) lets up a little with some rock driven psychedelia followed by a slinky, bluesy, fuzzed out "War Machine". After that is a blend of reverb drenched acoustic tracks, blasting rock 'n' roll with swirling psychedelic dynamics, and ear-drum pounding blues rock as unstoppable as a Sherman Tank. You're finally set free with a mellow, psychedelic "Half State" to slow your heart back down to a steady, healthy pulse.

I don't think it's any secret that I think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is the best band in America and, man, this record did nothing to disavow me of that notion. Most impressive is the fact they've successfully integrated all the aspects of their song styling on one record. You've got the blues driven rock of their eponymous debut and Take Them On, On Your Own, the mellower, more acoustic sounds of Howl, and the reverb drenched pulverizing post punk rock with its psychedelic turns of Baby 81 woven in and out of one another.

Beat The Devil's Tattoo is the most satisfying listen I've had in a long time. I had some concerns that there was no way they could top Baby 81 but, brothers and sisters, I was dead wrong. These guys just keep getting better. Long may they reign.

5 out of 4 Devil's Tattoos

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Giant Drag - Swan Song (Roar Scratch 2010)

The brainchild of singer/guitarist/songwriter Annie Hardy and drummer/synth bassist Micah Calabrese, Giant Drag made a minor splash on the indie scene back in 2006 with Hearts and Unicorns (Interscope 2006) based primarily on their, granted, stupendous cover of Chris Isaac's "Wicked Game". That the single from the record, "This Isn't It", was pretty damn catchy and ingeniously clever lyrically didn't hurt it's standing as a fine little record.

What did was the endless, and to my mind fair, comparisons to Last Splash era Breeders, something which apparently threw Annie Hardy into Courtney Love-esque spasms of rage. Unfortunately, The Breeders comparisons weren't to stop with the music. Dropped from Interscope, conflicting rumors began floating around about Annie going solo, a new record in the works being held up by drug abuse, Micah Calabrese fired for drug abuse, Micah Calabrese fired and in rehab, Annie Hardy putting together a full band, etc. The fact that no product was forthcoming, not even a single, for four years seemed to indicate that this band was done.

Well, it's 2010 and we have a new four song EP from Giant Drag. For those counting, that's a song a year. Band personnel: Annie Hardy and Micah Calabrese. Is it any good? Yeah, it's a nice listen. There's nothing here as strong as "This Isn't It" (or, for that matter, "Wicked Game"), but the songs are solid. Any of the first three could have easily fit on Hearts and Unicorns without seeming out of place. Hell, maybe they're out takes.

Personally, I'm glad to see Giant Drag is still around. Breeders sounding or not, I like 'em. And frankly, Annie Hardy has more balls, so to speak, than Kim Deal has for a long time. Yes, I know - I'm going to Indie Rock Hell for saying that.

For all the noise this band can make, especially considering there's only two of them, the strongest track here is the final one, "Heart Carl", a melancholy love song featuring only acoustic guitar, Annie Hardy's amazing voice, and a nice, very recognizably themed lyric.

I'm not sure if the EP title Swan Song means what it implies, but the rumor mill has it that Annie and Micah are busy banging out another full length as I write this.

Go pick it up. It's cheap, it's a good listen, and I'd like Giant Drag to think enough people care to make it worth sticking around.

2 Hearts and 1 Unicorn for this one

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spoon - Transference (Merge Records 2010)

I literally watched this band grow up. I was at their first gig. My shitty band played several shows with them. Does that make me important? No. Will it allow me to present an unbiased opinion? No fucking way.

I dug that up cleaning out our extra room the other day. What does it have to do with Tranference, Spoon's latest offering? Nothing. I just thought it was cool.

Tranference has a mellower style to it than Spoon's 2007 offering Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but that's not to say the music has lost any edge. Daniel's songs have always been edgy, even the mellower cuts, with a feeling that the tension and release could fall out of sync at any moment and result in almost visceral disaster. That Daniel takes such pleasure and is so adept at fucking with tension and release pop music paradigms only serves to take it up a notch.

Sound experimental? Spoon has gotten more so with each progressive release, and Transference takes Daniel's odd combinations of minimalist post-punk, krautrock, world beat, and just plain wierdness to the highest level yet. There's just no pigeonhole for this band. Nor should there be. They exist in Britt Daniel's own unique musical vision.

Album opener "Before Destruction" and "Written in Reverse" are the two big winners here, but there aren't any losers. It's also going to make the wait to see what Britt Daniel and Spoon come up with next practically unbearable.

4 out of 4 Can records

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL Recordings 2010)

Ever listened to "Graceland" by Paul Simon? Well, if not, he took a bunch of musicians from Africa and made a pop world beat record. People went nuts for it. It shipped gold and was Paul Simon's most successful record in years. The fact that Peter Gabriel had already done this and even started his own record label, which he operated at a loss, to record and distribute the artists who had helped him out when he made his own Afro-pop album seemed entirely overlooked by all but a few, myself and my sanctimonious friends among them.

What does this have to do with Vampire Weekend's latest release?

Imagine Paul Simon making "Graceland" but having to substitute samples, electronic rhythms, and poorly layered production to make up for the fact that he didn't have some 150 actual African musicians and vocalists to back him up. Imagine that he also didn't have 30 years of experience writing pop songs. Well, there you have "Contra" by NYC foursome Vampire Weekend.

Many might admire their chutzpah and ambition in attempting to recreate this blend of Afro-beat and Western pop, and I sure do. Unfortunately, they have neither the experience nor the resources to pull it off. The record sounds weak, thin, WAY too electronic, and primary vocalist Ezra Koenig tries WAY too hard to sound EXACTLY like Paul Simon.

I didn't like "Graceland" with the stunning, orchestral production and the real Paul Simon at the helm, but I admired him for doing it (even though Peter Gabriel did it first), and I don't like "Contra" with its (deliberately?) poor production and a Paul Simon wannabe at the helm.

People love this band. I do admire what they're trying to do. I just wish they were better at it. Maybe someday.

1 out of 4 vampires

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lou Barlow - Goodnight Unknown (Merge 2009) / Sons of Hercules - A Different Kind of Ugly (Saustex Media 2009)

Well, I said I'd be less prolific, so here's your first post on records that have already been reviewed endlessly elsewhere.

Lou Barlow - Goodnight Unknown (Merge 2009)

One of the things I've always loved about Barlow is his ability to embrace his own myth. The testimonial sticker on the front of this record, usually a quote from Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or some other piece of shit, reads, "A cross between my later work with Folk Implosion and my earlier work with Sebadoh to my ears, anyway." The quote is attributed to Lou Barlow. Cracks me up.

His dsecription isn't far from the truth in many places, but the record contains a liberal dose of the cleaned up acoustica of his last album "Emoh". No problem, here. Fuck the fan backlash - it was a damn good record, even it it wasn't "lo-fi". Get your heads out Sebadoh's ass, idiots.

That being said, this record has something for every Barlow fan. The strongest track is the opener, "Goodnight Unknown", but there's really not a bad cut on here in spite of its ups and downs.

3.5 out 4 mopey kids

Sons of Hercules - A Different Kind of Ugly (Saustex Media 2009)

I love garage rock, and The Sons of Hercules are VERY good at garage rock. By the same token, there's something like going to a renaissance festival when listening to a garage rock record or going to a garage rock show in 2010. Yeah, it's good. Yeah, it gets the blood pumping. Yeah, it's been riding a revival wave since the mid 1990's. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just getting old. But there are currently 10 bands out there doing more interesting stuff than garage rock for every 1 good garage rock band, and there are literally hundreds of garage rock bands in every burg that can be called a "city" in this country. Mostly really bad ones.

Certainly The Sons have earned their place in the pantheon of great American garage rock bands that kicked off as a response to The British Invasion. But at the end of the day it's still just garage rock. Don't hate me too much - I've been in almost nothing but garage bands for 25 years.

On a final, probably unnecessary point - it's hard for me to like this band. Frontman Frank Pugliese has been nothing but a dismissive prick to me since we met when my band opened for the Sons at Liberty Lunch way back in the mid-1990's. I've met four musicians that were in bands that opened for The Sex Pistols on their ill fated American tour - Alejandro Escovedo, T. Tex Edwards, Penelope Houston, and Frank Pugliese. Frank's the only one who seems to think such a distinction matters for shit. Call me a petty fuck. Call him one. I really don't care.

2 out 4 Frank Puglieses

Until next time,