Saturday, 23 February 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, February 2019 Pt. II


ADIA VICTORIA – Silences
Her 2016 debut was one of that year’s hidden gems, and with an impressive second effort that builds up on her swampy blues/gothic Americana/garage punk hybrid Victoria firmly establishes her position as someone to watch. (8)

BLANK RANGE – In Unison

Somewhere between Americana and power pop you’ll find Nashville’s Blank Range with a solid sophomore effort. “Change Your Look” is such a great song! (7)

DIE KLUTE – Planet Fear

Industrial metal supergroup of sorts featuring members of Die Krupps and Klute (duh) plus Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares on guitar. Lots of repetitive drum machines, lots of synthbass, and not enough Cazares on a total 90’s throwback that sounds rather dated. RYIL “Metal Machine Music” (the 1992 Die Krupps single, not the 1975 Lou Reed monstrosity). (6)

DREAM THEATER – Distance Over Time

It’s around 70 minutes shorter than 2016’s double behemoth “The Astonishing”, but feels like it's two days longer. (6)

GALACTIC – Already Ready Already

A cross between jam band extravaganza and Meters-like hot NOLA funk. (7)

JESSICA PRATT – Quiet Signs

This time a Jessica Pratt album did not coincide with a Natalie Prass album so we’ll avoid the confusion. Indie folkie Pratt (not Prass) builds a more textured soundscape this time around with a set of beautiful songs that feel like you’re snuggly wrapped inside a soft fluffy blanket on a cold winter evening. (8)

OUR NATIVE DAUGHTERS – Songs Of Our Native Daughters

If the idea of a blues/folk supergroup consisting of four black female banjo players doing an album about racism, slavery and misogyny turns you off, you’ll miss out on the best album released in the first two months of 2019. It might help if we mention that one of the four is Rhiannon Giddens. (9)

R. STEVIE MOORE – Afterlife

Lo-fi/DIY pioneer releases what is probably his 400th album of homemade pop songs. (7)

ROTTING CHRIST – The Heretics

Some metalheads like 90’s RC, others prefer 00’s RC, and another bunch thinks 10’s RC is the best. This reviewer belongs in the latter category. (8)

RYAN BINGHAM – American Love Song

Californian roots rocker calls out the idiot orange-colored President, but even apolitical listeners will have a blast with the hard blues-gospel-country-rock rhythms and kick-ass guitars driving this album. (7)

SLEAFORD MODS – Eaton Alive

Americans do this political hip-hop/post-punk hybrid thing better, but they probably can’t come up with a line like "Graham Coxon looks like a left-wing Boris Johnson." (7)

THE BANGLES, THE DREAM SYNDICATE, THE RAIN PARADE & THE THREE O’CLOCK – 3 x 4

Each of the four main Paisley Underground bands covers songs by the other three. Fun project, especially hearing the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn sing “The Hero Takes A Fall” which the Bangles, allegedly, wrote about him. (7)

THE CLAYPOOL LENNON DELIRIUM – South of Reality

Primus mainman and John’s more talented son join forces on weird technicolor prog-psychedelic album. Much better than their debut. (8)

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The Humorless Ladies Of Border Control

Franz Nicolai, best known as the Hold Steady's mustachioed keyboard player, quit his band in 2009 and spent the next five years on a seemingly neverending DIY tour across what used to be known as the Eastern bloc playing solo shows in anarcho-leftist squats and damp basements with just a guitar, a banjo, an accordion and, occasionally, his wife. This is the book about those five years.

I became a professional traveler. It said “musician” on my tax returns, but if you drew a bar graph illustrating how I spent my years, “music” would be a matchbox, and “travel” and “waiting” twin towers. I stopped having real friends. My old friends still saw one another, met for drinks, fell in and out of love — they just did it without me. And my new friends were either friends of necessity — we were trapped in the same rolling boxes — or of transience, necessarily shallow relationships since I wouldn’t see them until their own orbit blipped through mine again.

"The Humorless Ladies Of Border Control" (rather catchily subtitled "Touring The Punk Rock Underground From Belgrade To Ulaanbaatar") is not strictly a book about DYI punk rock touring, however: Yes, it is that, and I suppose those are the parts of the book of most interest to the readers of this particular blog, but it's also a snapshot of the past and a window into the future of punk rock in the former communist countries, and it's also a wonderful and accurate travelogue and description of what life is like in Ukraine, Bulgaria, even Mongolia from a countercultural perspective. Nicolai certainly knows his Eastern European history and politics, is a keen observer of human behavior, traits and flaws, ventures off the beaten track and keeps a detailed diary in a writing style that's equal measures informative and entertaining.

There is a great deal of similarity between touring life and military life: small groups of men (and it is still, almost always, men) of disparate backgrounds, bonded by close quarters, foreign places, and meager rations, engaged in activities of dubious purpose but governed by vague and powerful ideals—patriotism, punk rock, machismo. The rules are the same: Do your job. Pack light. Defend your gang, don’t get off the boat, beware of strangers. Sleep stacked three-deep in bus bunks like submariners or curled in hard foxhole corners. Release your tensions in promiscuity, alcoholism, and violence. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your feet dry. Above all, don’t complain.

The book features a fantastic supporting cast of ageing hipsters, idealistic concert promoters, weirdo train riders, Mongolian neo-Nazis and Hot Water Music T-shirts, and is certainly an eye-opener if you'd never thought that a punk rock scene exists in Siberia or didn't know/care that an actual war is still going on in the Black Sea region of Crimea. So do yourself a big favor, pick up a copy of this book, and enjoy passages about train travel across Russia such as this one:

We asked the provodnitsa (the iconic uniformed carriage attendant who brings linens and dispenses tea) if anyone else will be in our coupe. “For a thousand rubles,” she said, “I can make sure there isn’t.”
We passed a train labeled НОВОТРАНС, which is pronounced “Novotrans” but which I couldn’t help but read as “Hobo Trains.” Finally, they’ve got their own! Separate but equal.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Short Attention Span Record Reviews, February 2019


BASSEKOU KOUYATE & NGONI BA – Miri
The Jimi Hendrix of West Africa, ngoni innovator and virtuoso Kouyate, goes unplugged and brings in the guests, African and Western, for an excellent Malian folk album. (8)

BEIRUT – Gallipoli

If you were a sensitive 20-year old in 2006 (or an immature 38-year old for that matter) that year’s “Gulag Orkestar” probably means quite a lot to you. “Gallipoli” is a strong return to form, once again combining Zach Condon’s indie rock pedigree with those beloved world folk sensibilities. (8)

BOB MOULD – Sunshine Rock

Good on him if he’s found love and internal peace but in my mind Bob Mould is not supposed to sound so, you know, happy. Some of the songs feature strings for Chrissake. (6)

CANE HILL – Kill The Sun

Nu Wave Of Nu Metal band from Nu Orleans shows a different side on semi-acoustic EP. Turns out that side looks like mellow Linkin Park. (6)

CASS McCOMBS – Tip Of The Sphere

Genre-hopping Californian releases beautiful new album. You’ll read comparisons to everyone from Nick Drake to Paul Simon but really, this guy’s just unique. Will make several prestigious year-end Lists 10 months down the road. (9)

FRANK TURNER – Don’t Worry

EP featuring his latest single plus a brand new song, a track previously released only on vinyl and a fun new version of “Little Changes” with a choir. (7)

HOLY GROVE – II

Holy Grove? Holy Shit’s more like it, this is first-rate heavy-as-fuck doom metal, hot ‘n’ sweaty like Satan’s armpit where it probably came from. (8)

KAIA KATER – Grenades

Released back in November this could’ve made the year’s best-of list if I’d heard it earlier – an eerily beautiful, modern folk album (think Joni Mitchell) exploring Kater’s family history and Grenada roots. (8)

METALLICA - Helping Hands: Live & Acoustic At The Masonic

Live double-LP on colored vinyl, released for charity purposes and featuring 7 originals and 5 covers. It’s Acoustic. Some tracks work surprisingly well in this format (e.g. “Disposable Heroes”, “The Four Horsemen”), others fall flat (“e.g. Enter Sandman”). (7)

MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD – Stay Human Vol. II

Franti’s political reggae/soul hybrid band returns with a follow-up to 2001’s excellent concept album. Good, but not as good as the first one and no Woody Harrelson this time around. (7)

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE – Balaklava (50th Anniversary Restoration)

Psychedelic cult classic from 1968 revisited. It’s really out there and otherworldly and a must for any serious 60’s collection, and great background music for your next bad acid trip too. (8)

SHARON VAN ETTEN – Remind Me Tomorrow

A bold departure from her signature guitar-driven sound, “Remind Me Tomorrow” features lots of synths but the same solid songwriting. (8)

STEEL WOODS – Old News

The Lynyrd Skynyrd to Blackberry Smoke’s Allman Brothers, or vice versa. (7)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – All The Young Droogs: 60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks

Another excellent Cherry Red box set – 3 CDs of 70’s glam, pre-punk and bubblegum featuring a couple of top-shelf names (Stooges, Mott The Hoople), a few great outliers (Taste featuring Rory Gallagher before he went solo, The Spiders From Mars post-Bowie…) and a whole bunch of fantastic unknown Sweet and Slade knock-offs you’ll love. (This one goes to 11)