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RATING: 9/10 – TOP TRASH

It can be disheartening, sifting through release after release of 3rd-rate Black Lips ripoffs – all scuzzy vocals and tinny trebled guitar; not that this is categorically intolerable (though it’s not always good), but that some of these poor little punkers forget that there’s a whole other side to the tone knob. Fortunately, we’ve got bands like San Francisco’s Buffalo Tooth, who bring out the bass like Karl Rove in the Bible Belt. The band offers up this bandcamp 7″, and for the love of god, someone should put this out on wax. It’s an analog wet dream – booming, lurching groove rock. This is the kind of shit that demands a sweaty, beer-soaked basement when played live. “Only Son” is a ferocious rumbler of a track, featuring drums carrying a groove the size of the Mississippi, which bounces and surges all at once, noodly fuzzed out guitar and rock-solid bass keeping the whole thing moving – BLUE CHEER, DEEP PURPLE – all your favorite color-band comparisons are welcome (Editor’s note: not Green Day). “Head Trip’s” ‘got a hold on you,’ and by ‘you’ he means ‘your face’, which he then melts with torrential blues lickery and howling vocals. It’s positively funky – putting the ‘roll’ back in ‘rock’n’roll.’ It’s slower, but no less energetic – dare I say ZEPPELIN-esque? I think I do. Point is, Buffalo Tooth have made a big splash with two slabs of no-genre-bullshit-attached rock – expect good things to come.

LISTEN/FREE DOWNLOAD: Bandcamp

BUY: the record label on facebook is ‘???.’ this is a grave injustice.

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RATING: 6.5/10

The UK’s Dead Man’s Tree practice an earnest, straight-forward brand of rock and roll. This 4 song EP kicks off with “Run Away,” a mid-tempo tune that recalls BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB in its directness, and in its swaggering solo. The vocals may have less sneer, but the guitars are brash, and the song moves ahead like a freshly waxed Cadillac. This song gives way to the slower, more sinister and creeping “Evil Eye” – a slinky vibe feeling like NICK CAVE in his less abrasive moments. The song is competent, but passes by without leaving much of an impression.

“Cold Night Blues” rides on a somewhat stiff drum groove and a nice bluesy solo, but runs on a bit too long. “Nothing to Do” is the highlight here – it’s a meat-and-potatoes blues-rock number that jettisons the rockier emphasis that DMT (heh heh) seem slightly uncomfortable with and embraces most fully the blues base. The solos are again, pretty good, but the drums oddly stiff – I’m starting to think they might be programmed, or just strangely mechanical. Overall, Dead Man’s Tree are good musicians doing a simple, yet timeless style pretty well. I can’t seem to find much information on these guys – which leads me to think they’re still fairly green. Some of the material is a bit faceless, but with time, it’s easy to see how a more unique style could emerge. I certainly don’t discourage them.

LISTEN/DOWNLOAD: http://deadmanstree.bandcamp.com/

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RATING: 7/10

As with any Jason Pierce project, it’s impossible to read about the album without hearing how medicine/pharmaceuticals played into the album’s creation. It’s standard practice to give the thematic backstory for the album, but I think at this point in Pierce’s career, it’s irrelevant – his concerns have been perennial and consistent. More relevant, though, is his statement that this LP was inspired by his experiences revisiting his masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (an album very near and dear to my heart) in a live setting. This definitely comes through – Sweet Heart is a colossal sounding record; every song seems to look out over vast expanses of space, governed by the drone-rock aesthetic he’s cultivated so well.

The usual Spiritualized pieces are all here – an lush, occasionally grandiose sonic sensibility, songs of lost love, broken hearts, etc etc, but it’s worth noting that this album is a step back from the embrace of pop sensibility found on Songs in A&E – nearly every track stretches beyond the 4 minute mark, and a good handful go on past 6. These seconds aren’t wasted at all, though – Pierce is utterly in control of every note and nuance on this record. It’s a testament to his maturity as both an artist and soundsmith, but it ends up being one of this album’s shortcomings. Though colossal, huge sounding rave-ups like the  9-minute “Hey Jane” sport epic crescendos and a great Lou Reed lyrical feel, but despite the massive quality, it feels oddly sterile. The surging energy is held back by the fact that everything is in its right place – there’s a diminished sense of excitement when we know it’ll all land on the ground in another minute, with nary a nick or scratch on the paint. Pierce’s records are impeccable specimens of musicianship, to be sure, but those epic builds lack the danger of bands like Boredoms or even his older Spacemen 3 material, which comes from feeling like the whole thing could unravel at any second.

This of course doesn’t mean that the song isn’t enjoyable to listen to – Pierce hasn’t ditched his love of pop hooks, he’s just painting on a larger canvas. “Get What You Deserve” is a good example of this – it’s my favorite track on the album, simply because it takes all that’s great about Spiritualized, but grounds them with a spacey, lysergic drone – capturing his present musical ethos with the Spaceman sensibility I love so dearly. “Too Late” is a slice of gospel grandiosity – beautiful, but it’s fairly similar to “Little Girl,” and it’s here where Pierce’s medical backstory becomes relevant – since Songs in A&E, his voice sounds frighteningly weakened, and I’m not sure how will his gospel-blues-pop numbers work in light of it. It’s a little worrying to recall his earlier work, and wonder if he could still convincingly pull off a sneering rocker like his greatest song, “Electricity” or “Come Together.” The frailty of his voice is a jarring contrast to the lush arrangements – though it could be looked at as a fascinating feature of the album, mostly it just makes me kind of worried – on “Headin for the Top Now” (which a great song, recalling Ladies and Gentlemen at its best, all snaky electric guitars and hypnotic grooves), he really sounds like he’s about to expire at the end of the take.

“I Am What I Am” is an awesome electric blues gem, hidden on side 2 – kick ass backup vocals, snarling subterranean drones – it’s here where his weakened, raspy voice is most at home. His patient repetitions are quiet, yet insistent. Overall, “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” works best when Pierce lets his guitar do most of the talking – the solos here are awesomely knotty, with a vitality that’s definitely not found anywhere else on the record. It’s a little painful reviewing this – I want to love it so badly, because I love Spiritualized, but it’s just not what I used to love about them. The record is polished to an immaculate shine, but I find myself yearning for more moments like “I Am What I Am” – for some bit of muck to bubble up between the notes, bringing a tension into play – Pierce is clearly sick (whether physically or spiritually), and sometimes letting it out is the best therapy.

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