May 8th, 2020

Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow (Heavenly Recordings)

Since the dissolution of Screaming Trees in the mid-90s, Lanegan has pumped out a steady stream of solo, quasi-solo, and collaborative projects. Each of these projects falls inconsistently into the generic and not-so-descriptive genre of “rock”. While some of his work has a definite and undeniable relationship to blues, folk, and shoegaze pop, a large proportion of it is rather tightly related to Leonard Cohen’s brand of nearly monotonous croaking. This places the emphasis on the dark poetry of the lyrics, rather than be distracted by trifling diversions like melody and beat.

Straight Songs of Sorrow is not an exception to this tendency. Rather, it feels like Lanegan digging his heels in, daring us to challenge his brand. His voice is croakier than ever, nary finding a foothold on whatever staggered melodies exist. In most of the tracks on the record, we have a choice to make: do we focus on the poetry or the attempt. When the poetry is good, it’s emotive and colorful and we hear his internal struggle. When it’s not good, it’s super-repetitive and banal, grasping at overused imagery and ‘sung’ with no connection whatsoever. 

The musical attempt is pretty typical of Lanegan’s tendency toward slow, three-chord progressions. By itself, it isn’t much to write about, as it relies heavily on a relationship with his voice. When that relationship is evident, it bangs. It’s a vibe that Lanegan has repeatedly dubbed “Dark Disco” in the lyrics to his songs (“Ode to Sad Disco” from Blues Funeral, “Dark Disco Jag” from Somebody’s Knocking). 

The big problem with Songs of Sorrow is that the 2 elements rarely line up. When the poetry is keen, the music is dispassionate, and the song falls short (“Burying Ground”). When the music is cool and reaching for attention, the lyrics are rambling and incoherent (“Bleed All Over”, “At Zero Below”). And sometimes neither is there (“I Wouldn’t Want To Say”). The middle of the record has the songs that stick out as examples of what Mark is capable of. For 3 contiguous songs, everything lines up, the clouds allow the light in, and we get to bask in his post-grunge, drug-addled perfection (“Stockholm City Blues”, “Skeleton Key”, “Daylight In The Nocturnal House”). 

FFO: Screaming Trees, Afghan Whigs, Leonard Cohen, PJ Harvey

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May 1st, 2020

Cumgirl8 – Cumgirl8 (muddguts records)

So we’re in week 317 of quarantine, and if you’re anything like me, your ambition is starting to wane a bit.  Maybe the living room is getting cluttered, or the sink is full of dishes.  Maybe you haven’t showered in a day… or two… or whatever, we don’t judge here.

The point is, things are a bit messy right now.  And cumgirl8’s self-titled cumgirl8 EP is the perfect embodiment of that messy, filthy, dirty side that is coming (cumming?) out in all of us.

cumgirl8 is fronted by Veronika Vilim, who made the familiar jump from model to punk band frontwoman.  The vocals are rough, but in the way that they should be: with such messy guitars and drums behind, a classically-trained singer would sound out-of-place.

It was difficult for me to get into most tracks, as they tend to skew toward a ridiculous level of disjointedness.  “Blue Planet” (a song about planetary colonization?) and “Waffles” (a song about breakfast foods?) aren’t bad, but neither one hits my wheelhouse – and the rest dive too far into insanity without providing a rope to pull out if it.  Definitely check it out if it’s your thing, though.

FFO: Surfbort, Death Valley Girls

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April 24th, 2020

The Homeless Gospel Choir – This Land Is Your Landfill (A-F Records)

This album is a change in direction for Derek Zanetti, whose act used to consist of “his voice, his emotions, and his acoustic guitar.” The Pittsburgh native has an actual band now, playing louder and faster than his previous work, moving from indie-folk-punk to pretty straightforward punk rock. What has not changed is the content. This Land Is Your Landfill is protest music and social commentary focusing primarily on politics and mental health issues, but occasionally branching out into people just being generally shitty to each other. 

Truthfully, I tend to shy away from anything that labels itself as ‘protest music’. The lyrics of such artists are usually angry and so on-the-nose that the lack of creativity is cringeworthy. Derek and his new crew don’t suffer from that problem, most of the time. I mean, the album opener, “Global Warming” is exactly what you would expect it to be: a condemnation of politicians using the destruction of the planet as a rally flag for personal freedoms. But throughout the rest of the album, things get more nuanced. “Lest We Forget” is a plea for people to just stop being dicks to each other. “You Never Know” is a ballad about taking personal everything that you read or see or hear, and is probably my favorite track on the record. 

Derek’s acoustic guitar makes enough of an appearance to feel like he is sticking to his roots, but the band really fleshes out the quality of the production, adding a depth of emotional field that is new for The Homeless Gospel Choir. Unlike other acts in this particular milieu, no two songs sound alike and every song feels like it was given the appropriate amount of attention to give it life. 

This is what punk is supposed to be. 

FFO: Desaparecidos, These United States

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April 17th, 2020

Nils – Caught In The Groove (Baja/TSR)

Let’s face it: these are trying times.  We’re all stuck inside, oftentimes without much to do.  Some of us are locked down with significant others, boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wifes, etc.  After that 5th or 6th ep of your rewatch binge of The Office, you glance at one another, and it’s time.  Clothes go off, deodorant goes on – don’t pretend that you smell good right now – and from there it’s into or onto the bed, the couch, or even the washing machine.

You know what’s missing in this scene?  The music, of course.  But not just any music; it has to be right.  The two of you (or more, I don’t judge) deserve it to be right.  And that’s where Caught In The Groove comes in.

I can’t claim to know much about German jazz musician Nils Jiptner, or what exactly he was thinking as he conceptualized this album.  Maybe it was an audio illustration of the rolling German countryside, or an ode to the neo-gothic architecture still on prominent display in Munich.  Perhaps it was more of a call-to-action, to encourage all who listen to unite and make the world a better place.  But regardless of any of that, this is very clearly a sex album for doing sex with other sex-doers.

From the uptempo “Good Times are Better” and “I Like The Way You Do It”, to the slower “My Mornings With You” and “All Roads Lead To You”… oh.  I guess Nils knew that he was making a sex album all along then.  As smooth as a fine whiskey, and as layered as a fine dip, Caught In The Groove delivers as a complete listening experience.  Good luck getting through the whole 12 track ride with your pants on.

FFO: Sex

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April 10th, 2020

Sparta – Trust The River (Jim Ward)

For their 4th release, the first in 14 years, Sparta has decided to make themselves almost unrecognizable, moving even farther from the volume and intricacy of their origin in At The Drive-In. Maybe it’s time we stop expecting Ward and company to sound like replicants of themselves from a quarter-century ago. Thoughts?

Trust The River is a new chapter, a dynamic renaissance for a pioneer of modern emo-punk and post-hardcore. Strip away the technicality, scale back the power, remove nearly all preconceived notions of yourself, and what’s left? A pretty straightforward garage-style trock album that highlights songwriting, as opposed to songcraft. 

While I don’t believe they will ever top 2002’s Wiretap Scars, this effort solidly tops their other 2 records, in this listener’s not-so-humble opinion, brushing them aside like so much unwanted detritus. Unfortunately for Sparta, I don’t think it’s strong or important enough to revive the genre and make them relevant again.  

FFO: Engine Down, Hot Water Music

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April 3, 2020

Purity Ring – WOMB (4AD)

Listening to WOMB is an exercise in stark dichotomy. The Canadian duo produces a brand of magically magnetic trip-hop that is as powerful as it is understated. Honey-sweet vocals issue complex poetry about curses, devils and terror angels that live in the mirror, longing and heaving bodies, scars and entropy. 

There is a sci-fi soundtrack, music box quality to the tracks that sucks you in like a good mystery story. The tempo of everything stays slow, but somehow conveys a potent energy that pulls like a riptide. WOMB is heart-rending, life-affirming, and otherworldly. An absolute gem.

FFO: Ruelle, Grimes, Sneaker Pimps

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March 2020, At A Glance

Top 5 Albums:

  1. Deap Lips – s/t
  2. Human Impact – s/t
  3. Clem Snide – Forever Just Beyond
  4. Brian Fallon – Local Honey
  5. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Good, But Forgettable

  • Pearl Jam – Gigaton
  • Rachael Sage – Character
  • The Frights – Everything Seems Like Yesterday
  • Rookie – s/t
  • God Damn – s/t
  • Sufjan Stevens – Aporia
  • Vanessa Carlton – Love Is An Art
  • Half Waif – The Caretaker

Sorry, But…No

  • Thick – 5 Years Behind
  • Waltari – Global Rock
  • David Clayton-Thomas – Say Something
  • In This Moment – Mother
  • 5 Seconds of Summer – Calm

March 27, 2020

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – Naked Garden (Fantasy)

How often does it happen that an artist produces a studio album that owns up to mistakes? For Naked Garden, Promise of the Real decided to make good on what their name suggests: reality. Throughout this album, you’ll hear some guitar tuning issues, vocal inconsistencies, and even some behind-the-scenes gaffs. There is a live performance presentation here that adds a certain connection to the material.

As for the sound and style…I mean, really?

This is Willie Nelson‘s kid. Sometimes acorns fall away from the oak, but a lot of the time, gravity does precisely what is expected. At times, Lukas‘s voice bears an uncanny resemblance to his dad’s. ’70s rock influence shows up to color the classic country and folk with an energy that belies the softness of Nelson‘s tone. He rises to the occasion, though, making this a pleasure of a ride. There’s even a moment where we get to hear what it might sound like if Willie was a member of the Von Trapp Family Singers (“The Way You Say Goodbye”).

FFO: Willie Nelson, Blitzen Trapper, Cordovas

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March 20, 2020

Hyborian – Volume II (Season of Mist)

What should you expect of a group that named themselves after a fictional human era in Conan the Cimmerian? I’ll tell you what: Crom worshiping powerhouses of the highest order, that’s what.

This 3-piece act out of Kansas City, MO is a paragon, the embodiment of what modern hard rock should aspire to be. With a style that combines elements of thrash and stoner metal, Hyborian is upbeat, melodic, riff-heavy, and as powerful as any record I have heard recently. Volume II is fresh and original sounding, but careful to pay proper respect the roots of stoner rock laid down by Black Sabbath.

I found myself not able to listen just once. Beginning to end it is a fist-pounding, tooth-grinding, head-spinning monolith of loud. The riffs are simultaneously sludgy and groovy, with soaring highs and crushing lows. The vocals are volatile without losing melody. The rhythm section is driving, but not overpowering. It is truly hard to believe that a band comprised of just three people can sound so full and intense.

For Fans Of: High on Fire, Planet of the 8s, Helmet, Crowbar

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March 13, 2020

Human Impact – s/t  (Ipecac)

March saw the debut effort from a new supergroup of sorts, featuring members of SwansCop Shoot Cop, and Unsane in a riotous, chaotic trip into the dark recesses of New York City. It paints a picture of turmoil and uncertainty, drawn into stark realization through shrieking samples and ethereal, sharp guitar chording. The aggressiveness of this record is more felt than heard, punctuated by abrupt starts and stops, leaving you as quickly as it arrived. 

Ipecac Records is knows for flooding record store shelves and alternative/underground radio with absurdity, angst, whimsy, and Melvins albums. This falls into all of those categories (except the Melvins) and exceeds the summation of those descriptors. The raw power of ’80s and ’90s post-punk rock and hardcore are combined with a more mature desire for content. 

For Fans Of: Milemarker, Jesus Lizard, Unsane

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