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Monthly Archives: May 2012

RATING: 2/10 

What happened, guys? Remember when you put out a record called “Castle Storm” and it was an awesome blast of weirdo-rock with wall-to-wall classics like “Shuck the Corn?” And then you made “Heavy Days” which was also fucking great? Then we got…”We Are The Champions,” which wasn’t bad…and then a split 7″ with Best Coast…and then a tour with Best Coast…and now this WEEZER-like turd of a song. Dammit guys.

“Castle Storm” is a pretty great record – I pine for it a little more with each successive JtB release, since each bit of new material from the twins softens the edges, lessens the intensity, and with it, my interest in the band. The song plods along on a thumping beat and some lyrics that’ll be just the thing if you find WAVVES a little too intellectual and scholarly. It gets moderately interesting around 1:50, with the guitar harmonies, but for the most part, this song goes on until the band gets tired of the “woo-OOO-ooo-OOO” hook, which is about 2:30 (though it gets tired for the rest of us about the second time they use it). There’s no beginning, maybe two sections of the song, no ending, and no real sense of progress here – a really big disappointment coming from a band which used to cram more ideas into 90 seconds than most bands get in on a whole EP. Bottom line: you should calm down – these guys sure as shit have.

LISTEN: meh.

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RATING: 8/10

I wanna give this record an even-handed treatment, because it occupies a special place in my collection. See, Impo & the Tents (get it?) hail from Sweden, and I picked it up in a great little shop in Stockholm last month. At the time, it wasn’t available stateside, but I happened to be in Sweden, and so it marks the absolute farthest distance I’ve ever traveled to get a record (even Google can’t figure out how I did it).

Anyway, I’m glad I went to fair Swedenland to pick it up, because this is a nice little 7″. It’s snotty, catchy garage/punk/whatever – in the vein of JAY REATARD, if he didn’t sound like he was about to collapse under 20 tons of paranoia, or maybe like a slowed-down DICKIES. That’s probably actually better – these songs are pretty light-hearted affairs, and the penchant for vocal harmonies means this could easily hang with those guys. The first track is a little power-poppy thing, followed by the Ramones-y “Four Eyes.”  It’s poppy and punky, but it’s not pop-punk – it’s tight, punchy, and will burrow into your head immediately.

3rd track “Eating From Your Hand” keeps pace, a bouncy track that might be my favorite here – it’s got great energy and a really memorable hook – ditto for closer “Tonight” – I got a feeling Impo & Co. do a fun live show. I really like that every track on this release seems more sugar-rushy than the last, even if they’re all pretty similar. It makes for a nice experience as each track builds upon the last, instead of opening with the bangers and slowly running out of steam the way some releases tend to. The release folds up as abruptly as it opens – after 4 tracks which probably barely top 5 minutes total, it’s over. In a way, this release has it all – hooks, fun, tight playing, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome – look for more from this band.

LISTEN: Bandcamp

BUY: Slovenly

Today, guest columnist Zach Grudberg begins “The Song Remains The Same,” a column focusing on great, yet underappreciated songs by canonical musicians. Any musician/band is fair game (as long as the song fits the above-mentioned criteria; I’m not planning on regurgitating why “She Loves You” is the perfect pop song for the hundredth time in the history of print), so feel free to suggest some you feel would be a fruitful topic for discussion. At the end of each article I’ll post some info and links related to the music discussed in the that week’s column.

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Whatever the costume Dylan wishes to don – folk troubadour, confessional songwriter, country crooner, tough bluesman, Beatnik rock and roller – his music always carries with it a vital understanding of roots music. The best folk songs sound modern but they also sound like they could’ve been written a hundred years ago. And that is the crux of Dylan’s music; that essence which places it not in a time period or genre but into the larger continuum of the American music tradition.

If any song by Bob Dylan fully exemplifies the above, it’s “Blind Willie McTell.” It was recorded for but curiously left off of 1983’s Infidels, an album warmly received for its return to secular themes after Dylan’s much-reviled gospel period. Religious overtones still find their way into the subject matter however. The version I’ll be discussing in this article is actually a demo; a take that Dylan recorded with a full band has yet to be officially released. Since I don’t own a would-be illegal copy of it, the full-band version will remain untouched in this article. Dylan aficionados being the notorious bootleggers that they are, (I’m not kidding; they were actually the first fan base to circulate bootlegs on a widespread level starting in the 60’s) the song found its way onto unofficial tapes and quickly became of Dylan’s most popular compositions among his fans and colleagues. The man himself never performed it live until he heard a cover by the Band, but since then it has become a concert staple for the “Never Ending Tour.”

So what makes “Blind Willie McTell” such a powerful song that deserves to be heard outside the circle of Dylanologists arguing over who exactly is “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood?” It’s the very subject matter of the song itself; a damning of America’s troubled past and the redeeming music that emerges from those who have suffered the most. Dylan imbues the song with a sense of timelessness in two important ways. First, he adopts the melody from “St. James Infirmary Blues,” an American folk song about a man who finds his lover lying dead in a hospital as a result of their morally questionable actions. This already connects the song to the rest of Americana by doing what people have been doing for hundreds of years; taking old songs and changing them. (“St. James Infirmary Blues” is itself adapted from an an English folk song known as “the Unfortunate Rake.”) As I’ll discuss later, it also ties into the larger theme of the song itself. The second thing Dylan does to make the song mythic in scope is weaving the narrator’s perspective in and out of different periods American history. This conveys to the listener that the cycle of pain and seeking relief from that pain through music is not unique to any time; it is something universal to the American experience.

Although not an outright gospel tune, religious imagery plays a key part in the lyrics. It becomes a framing device that Dylan uses to chastise America’s various ills  in a manner similar to the way the narrator of “St. James” laments the sins that’ve brought their lover to death. After a piano intro by Dylan (again adopted from “St. James”) accompanied by Mark Knopfler on 12-string, the song begins:

“Seen the arrow on the doorpost

Saying, ‘This land is condemned

All the way from New Orleans

To Jerusalem.”

I traveled through East Texas

Where many martyrs fell

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell”

The last couplet ends each and every verse, tying together scenes of Civil War (There’s a chain gang on the highway/ I can hear them rebels yell), debauchery (There’s a woman by the river/ With some fine young handsome man/He’s dressed up like a squire/Bootlegged whiskey in his hand”), slavery (See them big plantations burning/ Hear the cracking of the whips) and death (“Hear the undertaker’s bell”). Dylan’s vocals grow louder and louder by the end of each refrain. At the collapse of the last verse he’s practically howling the words, giving one of his best vocal performances.  It is here where the song gets its name, but why is Blind Willie McTell mentioned at all? Again, Dylan is tying the song and the subject matter to Americana at large. The blues was developed in the Mississippi Delta, an expression of pain molded by the experiences of living in Jim Crow America. Blind Willie McTell is revered as one of the best  of the original Delta blues singers (Dylan obviously thinks so) and thus the metaphor now becomes clear. Amidst the evils of America, it is in the music created by those affected that Dylan finds redemption. Even though he is blind, Willie McTell expresses the pain of living in America  in a more beautiful and better way than most of those with sight. Another telling aspect are the last days of the blues singer’s life; after becoming a preacher, he never sang the blues again. But America is not yet at peace. Religion enters the lyrics again during the last verse:

“Well, God is in heaven

And we all want what’s his

But power and greed and corruptible seed

Seem to be all that there is

I’m gazing out the window

Of the St. James Hotel

And I know no one can sing the blues

Like Blind Willie McTell”

 It is here that we find another link to “St. James Infirmary Blues.” St. James was a real place that opened as a hotel in New Orleans in 1859 and was later converted into a military hospital by Union troops during the Civil War. The lyric serves not only as a nod to “St. James” but also as a tie-in to the Civil War and the larger themes of death and the decay of America. Dylan’s last rendition of the refrain ends on a hopeful note, despite the apocalyptic overtones of the rest of the song. Even as the narrator is in bed dying at the St. James Hotel, he still manages to find meaning in Blind Willie McTell’s music. Whether the rest of us can find similar redemption in anything is the real question the song poses. It’s one that people have asked themselves throughout our nation’s history and is a vital part of what makes the song so haunting. Astounding for a piece of music that might’ve been thrown away forever, “Blind Willie McTell” is surely deserving of the accolades usually reserved for Bob Dylan’s more popular tunes.

 “I have to think of all this as traditional music. Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes about from legends, Bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music. All these songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels – they’re not going to die. It’s all those paranoid people who think that someone’s going to come and take away their toilet paper – they’re going to die….traditional music is too unreal to die. It doesn’t need to be protected. Nobody’s going to hurt it.” – Bob Dylan

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You can find “Blind Willie McTell” on the Bootleg Series Volume 1 – 3 (Rare and Unreleased) 1961-1991, an officially released compilation of  various Dylan bootlegs collected over the years. “St. James Infirmary Blues” has been covered by countless artists over the years, but the version that made the song famous was Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording. The White Stripes (also big fans of Blind Willie McTell, to which their first record is dedicated) have also released their own take on this classic folk song.  Blind Willie McTell himself recorded around 70 songs over his lifetime and they are all available on various compilations. If you want to to dive right into the deep end, you get all three volumes of his Complete Recorded Works from Document Records.

“Blind Willie McTell”  – Bob Dylan http://www.wat.tv/video/bob-dylan-blind-willie-mctell-1q85w_2gh7d_.html

“St. James Infirmary Blues” – Louis Armstrong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXMx8OW32Bs

“St. James Infirmary Blues” – The White Stripes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXMx8OW32Bs

“Statesboro Blues” – Blind Willie McTell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnWxZtI3ONY

 RATING: 9.6/10 – TOP TRASH

Well folks, it’s finally here. The record I’ve been foaming at the mouth for since the start of 2012 is finally here, and it’s really good. KT has turned in a masterpiece – forty minutes of glam garage pop trash bubblegum glory. I won’t waste time thinking of other bands this sounds like, or trying to build an ‘angle’ for this review…all you need to know is that King Tuff is one of the last real rockers left, and you are a fucking fool if you don’t buy this.

 Things kick off with “Anthem,” a brash, swaggering tune, with some glorious guitar work – normally anything with the word “anthem” (national, rock, trance) is enough to make me pitch the disc in the garbage, but this is worthy of the title. This is far heavier than anything on “Was Dead,” but at the same time, it’s even sweeter – this album’s got hooks out the ass…for serious. This leads into “Alone and Stoned,” a paean to blazed headphone sessions (this album will sound amazing in such a state, by the way). The track’s a bouncey, peppy little number, like most of the ones on here – it’s a rare rock record that actually feels appropriate to dance to anymore. Suppose you see this guy live, and someone’s standing against the wall with arms folded – go kick him in the shin, because he’s doing it wrong. You could say any of these songs sound like T-REX, I guess, especially “Loser’s Wall,” but there’s something greater than Bolan’s sexy come-ons; there’s a sense of goofiness in tracks like “Keep on Movin” and an energy on ones like “Stranger” that makes this one of the most exciting releases I’ve heard in a long time. Not only is every track memorable, they’re all pretty different, but always King Tuff. They’re great as individual parts, but even better as a whole.

The best moments on this record are the ones where everything just blows up – the chorus of early release “Bad Thing” and the end of “Stupid Superstar,” but there’s no shortage of ‘moments’ here. It’s a record full of idiosyncrasies, and the philistines will think he “sounds weird,” but that’s really what makes this record so great – Tuffy’s vox do sound weird sometimes, but it’s up-front and forces you to deal with it. There’s no ironic co-opting or lazy ‘lo-fi’ apathy slacker rock bullshit – here, the sound is genuine rock; he gives enough of a shit to play his guitar well, which in itself puts him above 80% of active bands, and then the tunes…goddamn, these tunes are huge. It’s on Sub Pop, which may make the s00per underground types bristle, but it’s a good thing – this record will be far more available, and it fucking deserves it. I’m done gushing. Buy this now.

LISTEN: Sub Pop Soundcloud

BUY: Sub Pop records

RATING: 7.5/10

Destination Lonely ply an exciting, energetic brand of garage rock. This LP for Les Disques Steak (not sure if I really wanna call it an LP) is 6 tracks of fire. The opening title track is a tumbling, CHEAP FREAKS-like psych-garage stomp, with a scorching solo. The cover art’s somehow very indicative of the sound, and this band knows how to work the wah like Ron Asheton on half the coke in Colombia. “I’m Down” is slower, but no less ferocious – a tight ball of energy that explodes into another solid guitar workout. There’s also a BILLY CHILDISH vibe here, but this is polished and slick where that band is rough and ragged (but by no means the worse for it). This is probably my favorite thing about the release – Destination Lonely have some real, honest-to-god swagger – the brashness of the music is matched by the total control they maintain over it; there’s not a hair out of place on this band’s shiny waxed-pomp.

Instrumental “The Axeman Cometh” has a nocturnal vibe to it – echoing, lonely sounding guitars and lethargic drums. It’s good, but with each successive track, I miss the absolute hell-raising of the opener, even though later tracks like “So Blue” have a good shivering, vintage-pop feel. Thankfully, the closer hearkens back to the energy of the first – Mosurock thinks they sound like THE HIVES, and he’s not wrong. It should be longer – this is a pretty dainty LP. With these 6, if they were all like the first and last one, this would be a “snag this now.” As it stands, it’s a solid listen by a band that shows a lot of promise.

LISTEN/BUY: Les Disques Steak Bandcamp

REVIEW: 6.8/10

I think it’s weird to see “ex-whatever” appended to a band’s name. Sure, members of this band were in some other band…so what? they’re not the same. Maybe it’s kind of similar, but it seems like that saddles the band with an image of being second banana, or something like that. Whatever. Pamela has members that were in other bands. Seems irrelevant. This is a short little EP – 3 mid-tempo songs, they’re all fairly catchy. Maybe the ‘ex-‘ tag is germane because this band has ex-WAX IDOLS members. The sound is somewhat similar, but where Wax Idols practices sharp, intense songcraft, Pamela are a little more laid-back – instead of cracking and biting, the guitars here bludgeon.

These are fairly big tunes, despite not having any of the usual marks of bands trying to make their songs sound huge. “Desert” is a slow-ish song mixing some great guitar sounds with cooed female vocals – it’s nice, kind of reminds me of a non-shitty WAVVES. “Liedown” is in much the same vein as the first – the songs here are almost like 3 takes on the same sort of song, rather than 3 individual pieces. It’s pretty well done. The last track here is my favorite, though. It’s a straight-up punk bruiser, but the vocals still have the lazy coolness to them – tons of bands do the apathetic ‘too-cool-for-vocals’ vocals, but this band pulls it off. This isn’t revolutionary, but it’s quite good, and I wish there’d been one or two more songs on it.

LISTEN: A-side “Pamela” @ Southpaw Soundcloud

BUY: Southpaw Records

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RATING: 9/10 – TOP TRASH

Wax Idols is a good band that has the potential to be great. This is something that seems to get lost in discussions of Hether Fortune, sadly, because in building narratives around bands like all good blogs do, it’s easy to simply put up huge arrows around the fact that she’s female! and! she’s! in! a! rock! band! It’s great to see that there’s strong female voices in a scene that’s definitely dominated by male frontmen, but let’s just bracket that issue for a minute and focus on the fact that this is a really fucking good single. It delivers on the promise of the “All Too Human” 7″ and the “No Future” LP, which was a really strong offering from 2011 – keeping the solid pop hooks, while intensifying the delivery and moving more towards a specifically Wax Idols sound.

The A-side “Schadenfreude” opens with the same note “All Too Human” did, but instead of the sunny-pop feel of that track, this announces itself with a gothy, minor shift. It’s dark, but no less of an earworm – the layered vocals on the chorus are worthy of the SISTERS OF MERCY at their best. It really seems like the lyrics are influenced by Fortune’s side gig as a dominatrix; it’s a great angle, and the song is too short. The B-side is much in the same vein, with some amazing guitar work – shimmering, echoing, spacey sounds recalling JOY DIVISION or “Meat is Murder” SMITHS in a way, but instead of Morrissey’s endless self-pity, Fortune’s all barely-concealed venom beneath an icy-cool surface. Male, female, whatever – gender is irrelevant when you’re turning out tunes of this caliber. Let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

LISTEN: Suicide Squeeze Soundcloud

BUY: Permanent Records still has some, but they’re going fast.

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