Nothing But Thieves – Moral Panic (Sony)
Wrapping your head around Nothing But Thieves might be a tricky thing to accomplish, but trust me, the payoff is worth it. They have a knack for making something strange sound perfectly, reasonable pop-ready.
Gritty guitars riff in syncopation with a steadily pounding beat, while keys fill in the gaps. There aren’t many gaps, so the keys are pretty subtle.
Vocally, this is a different animal altogether. Conor’s voice is smoother than Adam Levine’s (when he wants it to be), as playful as Brendon Urie’s, and just plain better than Brandon Flowers. Though favorable comparisons can be made to all three.
Moral Panic is the 3rd studio album from the British quintet, and the first to capture my attention. I will revisit earlier work to see if it was just me, but this one feels different. This is particularly true of the jarring album opener, “Unperson”, and the mid-record wake-up call, “Phobia”, which shift gears multiple times creating a frenetic, almost manic headspace. The guitar-heavy “This Feels Like the End” provides an uplifting look at the end-times, and just jams.
Sure, there are some less impressive attempts to be a “relevant” pop group. “Real Love Song”, “Free If We Want It”, and the title track fall most obviously into that category. Those songs aren’t terrible, though. Actually, they are probably more accessible to a casual listener, but seem a little dry in comparison to the other songs’ level of creativity.
And elitism is still sexy, so I’ll take the others first.
FFO: Royal Blood, Panic At The Disco
This Is The Kit – Off Off On (Rough Trade)
I am of the opinion that Rough Trade can do no wrong. They have given us releases from Jarvis Cocker, The Libertines, The Decemberists, and many others. This Is The Kit is another stellar addition to the catalog.
Born in England, based in Paris, and sounding Irish-by-way-of-Portland, Kate Stables has something incredibly special here. Finger-picked guitar parts plunk gently underneath complex melodies throughout the record. Sometimes that’s really all you need, like in “Shinbone Soap”, a beautiful poem about stepping in only halfway, even with the ones you love. Sometimes there are simple drum beats and atmospheric instrumentation droning in the background, like in “Was Magician”, a dramatically written fantasy about squelching someone’s abilities before they have even figured out how to use them. It’s a wonderful take on the abusive power of jealousy, and a really pretty song to boot. Occasionally, a small orchestra is the accompaniment, as on “Coming to Get You Nowhere”. And sometimes roots instruments, angular distortion, and layered vocals collide in most interesting ways, like on “This Is What You Did”.
Every track on Off Off On tells a story, made all the more gripping by the sweet lilt of this unheralded bard. Seriously, how have we not been hearing her for a decade? She’s been wallowing in obscurity in Europe, scraping by on whatever crumbs she gets from playing small gigs like the Glastonbury Festival. Folk labels only led her to release material herself.
Did you catch any sarcasm there? I was dripping it pretty heavily. I’m mostly just angry at myself because her first record came out 12 years ago and this is my first taste.
You can be certain that will be remedied.
FFO: Clare & the Reasons, Laura Veirs, Cate le Bon
Greg Puciato – Child Soldier: Creator of God (Federal Prisoner)
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a solo record by the acclaimed hard-hitting frontman. I saw him on stage at the Warsaw in Brooklyn when he was fronting The Dillinger Escape Plan in 2001, and it was a performance I will never forget. They tore that place apart. His work with Killer Be Killed and the Black Queen leave no doubt about his skill in a variety of styles and vocal manipulations, but really only in a metal capacity.
Holy Shi…Cr..balls! This is one of the most intense records I’ve listened to in 2020.
It’s part Marilyn Manson (illustrated best in “Deep Set”), part David Yow (illustrated best in “Fire for Water”), and laced with every incarnation of Mike Patton. He is clearly heavily influenced by Tomahawk and Faith No More. But his intensity doesn’t just result in loud, violent bursts of metal catharsis. The record opens with a minor-key acoustic tune “Heaven of Stone”, and the harshness of “Deep Set” is followed by the pop-electronic, Depeche Mode-style ballad, “Temporary Object”.
His pendulum swings effortlessly between dark-pop and brutality. This makes the album great to listen to straight through. There is variety between styles, all of it done with a skill that no sensible mortal would even attempt. My favorite track on the record has to be “Do You Need Me to Remind You?”, a mid-record punch in the face that combines Puciato’s penchant for insane shifts between beauty and beast. Followed closely by the pulsing dark melodies of “You Know I Do” and the jarring, broken-rhythmic cant of “Creator of God”.
It is a bit of a long listen, coming in at 1 hour and 4 minutes over 15 tracks. It certainly didn’t feel that long, though. I was hypnotized from start to finish.
FFO: Tomahawk, Mastodon, Jesus Lizard, Depeche Mode
PUP – This Place Sucks Ass (BMG)
“Why disguise my bad intentions?/I’ve got nothing to hide/Except the tendency to separate the part of me/That’s feeling too desperate to die”
Yep. First lyrics of the EP. If this is your introduction to PUP, then it’s a fine how-do-ya-do. If, like me, you’ve been a fan for a while, then you would come to expect something like this – that’s just how they operate.
To back up a bit: PUP is a Canadian punk/somewhat-pop-punk-I-guess band, originally formed in Toronto with the name of Topanga. They were not named after the city in California, as you might suspect. Instead, they named themselves after the character from the hit TV show Boy Meets World, played by the delightful Danielle Fishel. I mean, how could you NOT love that? I loved that.
PUP went on to release three full-lengths, including the most recent full-length from last year, Morbid Stuff. This Place Sucks Ass marks their third EP, and their first EP since 2012 – and most of it was recording while Morbid Stuff was being produced. They sound great on the albums, they sound great live, they have amazing music videos. They’re the total package, and This Place Sucks Ass does nothing to change that opinion.
PUP is able to pull off that special sound – completely chaotic and unhinged, yet still very tight and snappy. It’s like eating a perfectly-circular fried egg with your face, the runny yolk adding to the overall beauty of the situation. “Anaphylaxis” is a great example of this juxtaposition: some light harmony, excellent drums, and perfectly-imperfect notes from lead vocalist Stefan Babcock. You probably wouldn’t guess that Babcock suffered a severe vocal chord hemorrhage just under five years ago, and yet.
Back to the EP: the aforementioned opening track, “Rot”, is the perfect level of face-punching. Their cover of Grandaddy’s “A.M. 180” hit all the right nostalgia buttons for me. The closing track, “Edmonton”, shows the shitty side of being so devoted to one’s craft: “I got drunk and then leaned on the urinal/Thinking how I’d missed too many birthdays/And a couple of funerals”. A sad reminder of how much sacrifice is made to entertain us ingrateful bastards.
Overall, This Place Sucks Ass delivers. PUP isn’t a band that’s gonna try new stuff all too often, but they will continue perfecting the stuff that they have – and to great effect. Hopefully they take some much-deserved time off to take in those important life events before they get their noses back on the grindstone.
FFO: Early Blink-182, Pkew Pkew Pkew, PEARS
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In) – Daptone Records
It’s always bittersweet when reviewing a posthumous release. Sharon Jones left us far too soon, in 2016, as a result of bile duct cancer at the age of 60. Amazingly, the band did not release an album until 2002, yet the soul sound is straight from the 70s – and remains preserved throughout the entire discography. I’ll gladly recommend all of it – especially the outstanding Christmastime album It’s a Holiday Soul Party.
Now, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In) is a collection of covers, sure – but this, my friends, is a Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings joint through and through. Nothing is pedestrian here; nothing is bland, or unimaginative. The band took each song and made it their own, with a wide range of artists included:
– Stevie Wonder (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”)
– Prince (“Take Me With U”)
– Kenny Rogers (“Just Dropped In to See What Condition My Condition Was In” – the album title is a fantastic pun)
– Woody Guthrie (“This Land Is Your Land”)
– Janet Jackson (“What Have You Done for Me Lately”)
– and several others.
You won’t immediately pick out many of these songs, as each track is thoroughly Dap’d to perfection. I generally can’t stand a cover that sounds exactly like the original, and that’s just not a concern at all here.
If you’re a fan of covers – regardless of if you’re a fan of soul – give Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In) a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed. And then go listen to the other nine albums from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Go. Do it now.
FFO: Man, take your pick from the classic soul and funk albums from the golden era
Pallbearer – Forgotten Days (Nuclear Blast)
Super-dense, sludgy stoner-metal from Arkansas. Their instruments are tuned so low you can hear them struggling to make sounds, the fuzz so thick it’s hard to tell the bass from the guitar. The vocals are the strongest part of the outfit, cutting through with clarity and dirge-perfect melodies, as well as harmonies not often found within this genre.
Wow. I don’t think I could write this review with less enthusiasm. Apparently, I’m a few steps from sleepytown.
Nevertheless, I am quite impressed with what I’m hearing here.
Added to the rotation.
FFO: Paradise Lost, Solace, Sea of Green
Start with: “Riverbed”, “Silver Wings”, “Vengeance & Ruination”
Sevendust – Blood & Stone (Rise)
I have been a fan of Sevendust since their first album was released in 1997. Their unique blend of nu-metal, radio rock, and Georgia soul is something that is instantly identifiable and connects with me on a visceral level.
Blood & Stone is not their best material by a longshot, landing alongside Kill The Flaw as a filler album, a snack, as we wait for another Black Out The Sun.
While it is weak by their lofty standards, there are a few stand out tracks. “Feel Like Going On” is an emotional tug, utilizing a full string section to dramatic effect. “What You’ve Become” plays up the rhythmic strengths that are a staple of Sevendust recordings, with enough melody to appeal to any fans of rock music.
Blood & Stone is not particularly satisfying, but it serves two functions. The first is to encourage me to go back through their impressive catalog and listen to all of it again. The second is to tide us over while they develop something more substantial, and I have no doubt that is coming.
FFO: Nonpoint, Tantric, Stereomud
Start with: “Nothing To See Here Anymore”, “What You’ve Become”, “Love”, “Blood From A Stone”
Junglepussy – Jp4 (Jagjaguwar)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Secretly Group is slowly taking over the music world. So many great acts, spread out among four different labels. The group has featured artists such as Bon Iver, Damien Jurado, Major Lazer, The War on Drugs, Foxygen, Sharon Van Etten, and Phoebe Bridgers – among many, many others. You can add Junglepussy to the list of great artists.
Hip-hop rap-songstress Junglepussy gets out in front of robust, futuristic beats, with a solid half-singing, half-rapping delivery. Think Beyonce mixed with Earl Sweatshirt… beautiful, gentle notes, followed by long, hypnotic flows, oscillating back and forth between the two at will.
The standouts are “Telepathy”, which is a fine bop, and “Arugula”, where Junglepussy bares her soul a bit about vulnerability in love. But the album is very consistent; I couldn’t find a track that I thought was markedly worse than the rest.
Nice beats, nice flows, and a nice 28:38 runtime will get you in and out during your lunch break. It’s definitely a nice detour to whatever else you may be listening to right now.
FFO: Earl Sweatshirt, Missy Elliott, Tierra Whack
Maddie & Tae – We Need Christmas (UMG)
Remember how I said in the Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings review that I typically despise covers that sound exactly like the source material? Well I also despise covers that sound like this.
Maddie & Tae, of “Girl in a Country Song” and “Die From a Broken Heart” fame, as well as some other music-adjacent bullshit, decided that it was high time to put out a Christmas album. Disregard the fact that Christmas albums are generally landfills, or that the classics sound so different that the same person singing all of them will naturally sound awful in some tracks. If you’re a talented artist like Carrie Underwood, then sure! Go for it. If you are in the Maddie & Tae tier, perhaps you should pump the brakes instead, big shoots.
“This Christmas” sounds like the disconcerting noise my Elantra made just before a loud “pop” turned it into a one-ton paperweight. “O Come All Ye Faithful” is so breathy, I’m convinced both Tae Dye and Maddie Marlow ran a 5k prior to recording it. “Merry Married Christmas” I believe is an original, because ANOTHER Christmas song is just what the fuck we all hoped for. The last two tracks are really not worth mentioning by name.
I will say that I enjoyed Maddie & Tae’s rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” – at least until the weird spoken-word bit starting at 3:30. If you’re building a country Christmas playlist and you need some filler, you could do worse than that song. The other five? Pretend they never existed, for your sake.
FFO: Just, like, the actual worst shit