Album-art-for-Chubbed-Up-+-by-Sleaford-Mods Sleaford Mods – Chubbed Up +

★½☆☆☆

Of the people, by the people, and for the people.  These words, delivered over 150 years ago in Gettysburg, may seem out of place in discussing the new release by Sleaford Mods, Chubbed Up +, however, for Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn it seems to fit. Often in times of political and economic turmoil, the younger generation ignites the fires to upheaval and social change, which is why there will always be a place for a group like Sleaford Mods. This might also explain why the band’s newest release Chubbed Up + is garnering so much attention. While the album does nothing to depart sonically from previous releases, with repetitive elementary beats underneath a relentless verbal assault on less than glamorous minimum wage and socially under-appreciated lives, Sleaford Mod’s new release might be perfectly timed to feed fans’ fury of the current socio-economic issues around the world. This duo of Nottingham verbal venom spitters are sick of the system and tired of low pay, which is forcefully driven home on Chubbed Up +.

To be clear, this is not a record of catchy hooks, killer riffs, or crystalline production, that has never been Sleaford Mods’ goal.

There are entertainers on Chicago train platforms that create more sonically vivid images in one song than this whole record may have combined. Each of the 12 songs follow the same formula, with bare basic beats that sound like someone playing drums on a Casio keyboard. The beats are so simplistic and unimaginative, that it is difficult to regard Sleaford Mods’ creation as falling under the category of music, as the tracks portray the image of an angry beatnik at a poetry slam more than a band playing songs. With lyrics like, “Desperately clutching to a leaf-long depression, supplied to me by the NHS/It’s anyone’s guess how I got here, it’s anyone’s guess how I’ll go,” from “Jobseeker,” it is clear Jason and Andrew don’t care.

Sleaford Mods does not exist to make you dance or make you sing along, the band doesn’t mind if you hear its creations at your local club, not even a little.

No, Sleaford Mods exists because of the band’s willingness to unabashedly attack the ignominy that is, in their view, the state of British and world politics. The Vesuvial spew of harsh critique, mashed with the often hilarious top-of-mind distractions, (“So Mr. Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment/Fuck off/I sat around the house wanking” from “Jobseeker”) are what make the band unlike much of the current music landscape.

Sleaford Mods started as a one man project in Nottingham, England in 2006 when Williamson began writing beats and lyrics. In 2009, Williamson hooked up with Fearn and the duo took to stages together, with Fearn working the bare but driving and hypnotic backing tracks to Williamson’s unapologetic vitriol.

Now, in Chubbed Up + the duo has done little to change the equation that has led to its rising popularity in the UK. Fearn continues to copy and paste flat beats like a DJ at one of Eminem’s Eight Mile rap battles, keeping the focus off of the musical creativity, but all eyes instead on Williamson as he calculatingly sprays his bitterness toward the self-aggrandizers of Europe. But perhaps there is something more to this new release. If listened to closely, maybe Sleaford Mods has acknowledged a wider audience and broadened its attack.

On Chubbed Up + it appears that Williamson has traded in his laser-guided assaults for lyrical lightening that cuts a wider swath.

In past releases, Sleaford Mods’ lyrics were precise and targeted on the band’s own backgrounds and hometowns. But on Chubbed Up + there is some indication the focus has shifted to a broader criticism as they reach regional recognition. On “Scenery,” Williamson scowls, “The Red Curtain are wankers, wanker and sickle,” displaying his love for communism and Russia; a far cry from the admonitions of London and his Nottingham roots, which litters earlier Sleaford Mods releases. However, Williamson and Fearn have not mistakenly aimed for the mainstream. To do so would abandon the one thing that has brought the band the most recognition. The press in the UK has remarked that what makes Sleadford Mods stand out is its “visionary ranting” and the fact that they sound “like nothing else.”

But not to worry. On Chubbed Up +, Williamson still holds on to his unrelenting wit and comedic timing, all while maintaining a frustrated and angry edge. In “Fear of Anarchy” he asks: “Meat sweats and carpet suppliers, the Prince of Persia’s got a nice life, what does it take to make it all go wrong?” While Chubbed Up + will not earn awards for its composition, there is something to be said for timing. Williamson and Fearn are striking political and satirical blows at the establishment, when youth around the world are primed for ignition. Whether it was over 150 years ago, or whether it is 2014 and beyond, people have always wanted the same things, to define themselves and their future, on terms agreed upon by the collective. What Sleaford Mods has created with Chubbed Up + is a wise-cracked political tirade, authored by the people and delivered for the people.

Sleaford Mods – Chubbed Up + tracklist:

  1. “The Comittee”
  2. “Jobseeker”
  3. “14 Day Court”
  4. “Black Monday”
  5. “Jolly Fucker”
  6. “Tweet Tweet Tweet”
  7. “Bambi”
  8. “Routine Dean”
  9. “Scenery”
  10. “Pubic Hair Ltd”
  11. “Bring Out The Canons”
  12. “Fear of Anarchy”
Album-art-for-Faith-In-Strangers-by-Andy-Stott Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers

★★★★½

Andy Stott is a musical chameleon. He isn’t easy to pin down from album-to-album, let alone song-to-song. He’s played with Drum ‘n Bass’ manic breakbeats, microhouse’s exacting hypnosis, avant-garde’s unpredictability, and even unabashedly beautiful soundscapes—sometimes all in the same song—but if there’s one defining element, it’s an aching, monolithic backbeat. Stott’s songs don’t so much contain a bass line as an enveloping abyss as the foundation.

After 2012’s masterstroke, Luxury Problems, Stott could have easily coasted on variations of that album’s atmospheric dub, but Faith In Strangers thrives on unexpectedness and flipping the script between grotesque and beautiful, calming and dissonant. In the process, he’s made a stunning techno album admirable for both its technical innovation and its stark emotional resonance.

“Time Away” sets this dichotomy nicely with an unusually somber slow-burn soundscape that recalls the majestic instrumental work of Johann Johannson mixed with the narcotic haze of William Basinski. Playing with distance, the main horn figure glides as if it’s undulating back and forth through a reverberating canyon toward the listener.

“Violence” heads closer to the dancing floor with crater-inducing bass blasts, a squealing melody, and a disembodied siren sounding vaguely like Bjork, but there’s still a halo of unease that hangs over the track. “On Oath” similarly oscillates between severity and tranquility beginning as a bubbling drone before being overwhelmed by throbbing percussion and a juxtaposition of angelic voices and whirring machinery.

In Stott’s world, the natural and mechanical spheres don’t so much confront each other as co-exist.

Stott’s arrangement coalesces voices that sound like woodland nymphs and factory machinery merging into one cohesive whole. But Stott’s strength isn’t just building these hermetic worlds; Stott’s music takes genre architecture that already exists and scrambles it to his own will, twisting lulling drones into dancey bangers and completely changing the tone of familiar genres.

Stott’s music doesn’t need to be provocative. It’s capable of startling beauty even when he’s not subverting genre conventions. “Faith In Strangers” is one of the most gorgeous things Stott’s released—a rippled, melancholy techno song that serves as one of a few reunions with Luxury Problems‘ highlight, Alison Skidmore. Skidmore is still ghostly here, her wisp of a voice gliding through the heft of the music.

It’s far from make-out music, but it’s mechanically wounded in the same way that the best Aphex Twin songs strives for.

Like the best synthesists, Stott is voracious in his musical appetite without ever feeling like his influences are intruding on his own sound. “No Surrender” recalls Actress’ stuttering techno for nearly two minutes before field recordings and bone-snapping percussion lead in a pulverizing bass to destroy the foundation of the song. “How It Was” is similarly corrosive, like a post-apocalyptic version of Disclosure’s two-step. Likewise, “Damage” reimagines Trap as a futuristic soundtrack to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with rusted snares, cymbals and blown-out atmospherics.

Stott isn’t unique to use bass as a weapon though. Groups like shamanic droners Sunn O))) have long built their sound on swallowing low-ends, but Stott’s brand of techno is so much more than sonic terrorism. This is fundamentally melodic techno, interested in the dance floor even when it sounds like the melody is sinking into quicksand.

In an interview with Tokyo outlet, Gadabout, Stott was asked to describe his music. He said, “If you can imagine an atmospheric soundtrack to a film, but at the same time it’s dance floor friendly.” It may be hard to imagine Stott playing in anywhere that wouldn’t cater to more adventurous strands of electronic music, but unlike some of his contemporaries, Stott isn’t just making this music as a monument—there’s a soul in this machine.

Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers tracklist

  1. “Time Away”
  2. “Violence”
  3. “On Oath”
  4. “Science and Industry”
  5. “No Surrender”
  6. “How It Was”
  7. “Damage”
  8. “Faith In Strangers”
  9. “Missing”
Album-art-for-Otherness-by-Kindness Kindness – Otherness

★★★★☆

Kindness, the solo project of London-based Adam Bainbridge, showcases a certain musical altruism by casting progressive, cohesive collaborators to enhance his sophomore album Otherness. These smart collaborations give context for Bainbridge’s own funky talents and yield a clear-headed, neo-soul pop album that beautifully scouts the genre’s expanse.

Bainbridge’s 2012 debut album explored the depths of disco possibilities, but on Otherness, he’s carefully built a new home in the prime nook of pop music. He taps into elements of ’80s pop, ’70s jazz, ’60s soul, and modern R&B, and his affinity for perfecting these wide-ranging sounds and stitching them together cements his status as a tastemaker for the future of pop.

Album opener and single “World Restart” features Night Slugs goddess Kelela alongside a big band jazz sound, heavy saxophone, and understated bass and electronic drums. Bainbridge lets the featured artist and soulful instrumentation shine in the most tasteful light; halfway through “World Restart,” he steps back and makes room for Kelela’s celestial vocals, showcasing the beautiful capabilities of collaboration done right.

The lyrics, “I felt the world restart/I felt the world begin,”  serve as a palate cleanser, while the fiery, soulful jazz sets heightened expectations for the rest of the album.

At the tail end of Otherness, Bainbridge collaborates with longtime musical cohort Devonté Hynes for “Why Don’t You Love Me,” also featuring soulful London songstress Tawiah. Their friendship is omnipresent on the album—hints of Hynes’ project Blood Orange are heard in the niche sound of drowsy keyboards, stirring vocals, rich ’80s flair, and R&B admiration.

“Why Don’t You Love Me” is among the album’s most full-bodied tracks. There’s a seamless emotional switch from the repeated pleas of “Why don’t you love me?” to impassioned, layered vocals, where sad feelings can get comfortably lost in a passion for music.

But, while every track on Otherness falls in the realm of love, “Why Don’t You Love Me” is only one facet of the ever-changing dynamics of relationships. For Bainbridge, love is constantly on the brain, but the feelings under that umbrella jump around on Otherness as honestly as they do in real life. Sultry ballad “With You,” also featuring Kelela, captures lovers’ intimacy, while “This Is Not About Us” lays out the deeper issues of a problematic relationship.

Though Bainbridge plays well with others, he proves he doesn’t need the backup of Hynes, Kelela, or any others; groovy track “This Is Not About Us” most purely captures his solo talents. An emotive piano loop supports whimsical syncopated accents and dancing rhythms. Despite the track’s bold instrumentation, Bainbridge knows when to scale down for the occasional minimalistic harmonized vocal section. These muted moments exhibit the undressed emotion tied to assessing a relationship’s future.

Bainbridge compromises nothing on Otherness, ignoring the unspoken schemas of mainstream pop music in an album that’s bound to influence like-minded experimenters. He displays his affection for the unique talents of his collaborators via his impressively attuned and tasteful ear, celebrating both their and his own otherness.

Kindness – Otherness tracklist:

  1. “World Restart (feat. Kelela & Ade)”
  2. “This Is Not About Us”
  3. “I’ll Be Back”
  4. “Who Do You Love? (feat. Robyn)”
  5. “8th Wonder (feat. M.anifest)”
  6. “With You (feat. Kelela)”
  7. ‘Geneva”
  8. “For The Young”
  9. “Why Don’t You Love Me? (feat. Devonté Hynes & Tawiah)”
  10. “It’ll Be Ok”
Album-art-for-Memorize-Now-by-J. Fernandez J. Fernandez – Memorize Now

★★★½☆

On his third EP, Memorize Now, Chicago native J. Fernandez is still negotiating the dangers of the “bedroom pop” aesthetic. The genre has had a natural, yet unpredictable evolution as it emerged as a quick and dirty vehicle for releasing music, but is now loaded with lofty expectations. In 2014 when nearly anyone with a laptop can record music with at least a layer of gloss, sculpting music with a lo-fi quality requires far more effort. In that sense, some artists use it as a gimmick—a shorthand for homespun intimacy or low-stakes authenticity—while others embrace the method as a way to flatten musical history by placing computer modulated effects next to vintage synths and sequencers.

J. Fernandez is an example of the latter, a heady cosmonaut who’s equally enamored with the oblong structure of paisley psych and the gear that gave those songs their otherworldly quality, but this fetishism turns out to be a double edged sword. Hampered by sketchy songwriting, awkwardly paced melodies, and self-indulgence, this EP feels more like a blueprint than the execution of J. Fernandez’s high ambitions.

Despite having an aesthetic and palate resembling artists like Stereolab, Youth Lagoon and Wild Nothing, J. Fernandez’s closest relative may instead be a galaxy tripper like jazz/hip-hop phenomenon Flying Lotus. If Flying Lotus crate digs through obscure hip hop, jazz, and electronica to build his universes, J. Fernandez looks to a more elemental form of nostalgia, the ongoing war between analog and digital instrumentation.

Rather than clearly delineate these contrasting eras of instruments, J. Fernandez creates something playfully confrontational.

He overlaps squelching synths, wispy guitars, and bass in a way that inexplicably conjures both the funky dissonance of Can and the charred bedroom pop of Neon Indian.

From the opening moments of “Memorize Now,” it’s clear J. Fernandez isn’t concerned with the current vein of indie pop. After a brief guitar opening, a geometrically blocky guitar figure falls back to let a hypnotizing bass and a screeching keyboard encase the foreground of the song.

“Memorize Now” is not significant enough to make an impression on its own, but it’s a peek at the boldness of J. Fernandez’s compositions.

“Failed Scales” is an even better showcase of J. Fernandez’s understanding of melodic point and counterpoint—an eerie web of shapeshifting arpeggios on keyboards, organ, and sequencers. Fernandez interlocks each arpeggio like spider legs before a seasick looping keyboard bumbles down the middle. Playing to his interest in analog and digital sounds, avant-garde touchstone Terry Riley is the operative influence here. By the end, the synth patterns sound less like musical notes and more like malfunctioning code translated into sound, but while parts of the EP are noisy and drone-based, there is clearly an interest in off-kilter pop here.

“Cosmic Was” feels less mathematically exacting with its loosely prickly guitar sound, flowing bass, and drooping sax, but like the rest of the EP, the keyboards possess a stark rigidity and prominence that tilt the song off-kilter. Its calculated elegance lends an almost European slickness, resembling a chunkier, but no less aerodynamic version of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot’s influential “Bonnie And Clyde.”

This verve for experimentation isn’t ultimately taken far enough though, or at least not cohesively implemented. “Close Your Eyes” erratically smashes together melodies from two different songs without ever finding a groove to link the two. Beginning with dueling arpeggios before braking into a sluggish and lumpy jazz-psych number and back again, the song falls apart with its monotone mumble and its anti-climactic build. “Geneva” is a throwaway suite, and the restless “Image” fails to find a compelling melody, although its vaguely Latin-themed backbeat initially seems promising.

J. Fernandez has a unique musical voice, and his interest in unconventional equipment is welcome in an increasingly monochromatic musical space, but this EP is still the work of an artist who’s lost in the limbo between melody and ambition. J. Fernandez has the capacity to create colorful musical worlds like a Flying Lotus for instance, but right now, he’s still having trouble finding his own home.

J. Fernandez - Memorize Now tracklist:

  1. “Memorize Now”
  2. “Image”
  3. “Failed Scales”
  4. “Cosmic Was”
  5. “Geneva”
  6. “Close Your Eyes”
Album-Cover-for-…And-Star-Power-by-Foxygen Foxygen – …And Star Power

★★½☆☆

Foxygen, the California duo that captivated listeners with its debut album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, has written a 24-track monster of an album, …And Star Power, with the inclusion of its alter-ego band proudly tucked in the middle. Individually, the album’s songs are engaging and well-produced, but the tone of …And Star Power is sporadic and lacks buoyancy, creating a cluttered and overwhelming listening experience.

There’s no denying Foxygen’s musical capabilities after listening to the 84-minute album brimming with talent. The vocals are clear and powerful, and the array of instrumentation (brass horns, strings, organs, guitar, bass, drums, etc.,) is balanced and enhances insightfully written lyrics. From a technical standpoint, this is an album of solid songs. What’s concerning is the how the album jumps from one sound to another without any clear reason. Foxygen provides an eclectic mix of sounds; the album presents music reminiscent of ’70s funk, psychedelic folk, and ’90s garage punk bands. However, it’s as if the duo created all these songs with no clear outcome in mind before mushing them together in one album.

The band released four songs on the album (“Star Power I: Overture,” “Star Power II: Star Power Nite,” “Star Power III: What Are We Good For,” and “Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh,”) under its fictional alter-ego band name, Star Power. When Star Power takes over, the soft ’70s rock vibe quickly shifts to a jolty, jarring mess. The more Star Power “performs,” the more the songs deteriorate, each one sounding more scattered and unhinged than the last. “Star Power II: Star Power Nite” consists entirely of static, jumbled classic rock sounds layered over clashing guitar riffs—a stark contrast from the album’s previous tracks with cheerful acoustic guitar and selected synthesizers. Though Foxygen incorporates a song or two further into the album that sounds just as chaotic as Star Power, the drastic juxtaposition of the two musical entities indicates which “band” is playing.

The introduction of Star Power would have been a great opportunity for Foxygen to switch to another style or tone of music, had Foxygen stuck with two different sounds, that is.

“Wally’s Farm,” one of the songs following Star Power’s take over, is the type of music you’d expect to hear in an under-appreciated Mexican restaurant. In all honesty, “Wally’s Farm” is actually kind of confusing. The track starts with funky notes from a keyboard and electric guitar ringing out, but those sounds are quickly traded in for poorly tuned brass instruments and an acoustic guitar’s prominent plucking. The song then switches back to the original vibe—think old school alien invasion but more aesthetically pleasing to the ears, before ending the song with the two varieties layered over some hastily sung lyrics.

Sound aside, Foxygen knows how to write a song and put some meaning behind it. “You & I,” one of the many songs that sound eerily similar to a younger Paul McCartney, is a heartfelt, mini exploration of a former lover. Sam France, the vocalist known for his behavior during Foxygen’s live performances (he broke his leg during a July 2013 concert after falling off the stage), sings, “I saw you in town and I thought you were gone/But now I’m on a train/You and I will always be here/… listen I don’t even wanna know who you hanging around with/You and I will always be here in love/Why does no one help me/Why doesn’t anybody care/Why doesn’t anybody love me.”

While it’s commendable that Foxygen was able to create a 24-track album teeming with an array of sounds, the lack of cohesion throughout …And Star Power creates a muddled and hard to follow album.

Foxygen is talented, so it’s a shame the band produced an album that just couldn’t decide how it wanted to sound. Picking a style (or two) and sticking with it wouldn’t make the duo any less of artists. Scaling back and narrowing in on sounds is what’s missing to show the control Foxygen has as a band.

Foxygen – …And Star Power tracklist:

  1. “Star Power Airlines”
  2. “How Can You Really”
  3. “Coulda Been My Love”
  4. “Cosmic Vibrations”
  5. “You & I”
  6. “Star Power I: Overture”
  7. “Star Power II: Star Power Nite”
  8. “Star Power III: What Are We Good For”
  9. “Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh”
  10. “I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate”
  11. “Mattress Warehouse”
  12. “666″
  13. “Flowers”
  14. “Wally’s Farm”
  15. “Cannibal Holocaust”
  16. “Hot Summer”
  17. “Cold Winter/Freedom”
  18. “Can’t Contextualize My Mind”
  19. “Brooklyn Police Station”
  20. “The Game”
  21. “Freedom II”
  22. “Talk”
  23. “Everybody Needs Love”
  24. “Hang”
Album-art-for-Plowing-Into-The-Field-Of-Love-by-Iceage Iceage – Plowing Into the Field of Love

★★★★☆

It’s becoming clear the music industry prematurely judged Iceage. When these raucous Danes first emerged with the blistering thrash of New Brigade back in 2009, it felt like lightning in a bottle—an album by a fully-formed band that perfectly cross-bred punk and indie-rock into a form that both seasoned punks and the Williamsburg elite could unite on. Last year’s less frayed, but no less corrosive, You’re Nothing, advanced the narrative further while folding in more complicated structures (songs that reach past two minutes, intelligible lyrics) and an even more oppressive atmosphere.

Plowing Into the Field of Love, Iceage’s third album, completely changes the narrative. The album is so different that it feels like a totally different band—but this band is a fundamentally better one that is messier, but also far more ambitious and paradoxically formed. Whether it’s come through time or expanding influences, Iceage has a new-found clarity and sensuality in its songwriting, and it’s to the band’s enormous credit that its sound has become so opulent without losing the vacuum-sealed dread or chaotic abandon that Iceage made its name on.

Toning down the cascading guitars and dizzying time signatures that dominated the band’s previous output, Plowing Into the Field of Love skillfully pilfers from operatic art goths like Nick Cave and Scott Walker.

Iceage hasn’t just gone bigger, it’s spread out into rockabilly, goth-rock, folk, country, avant-garde and celtic-punk.

The tarantella opener “On My Fingers” firmly establishes these new muses with its scraping guitar, southern gothic piano, and a vocal delivery that sounds like it was recorded after singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt polished off a bottle of cheap vodka and ran a marathon. Ronnenfelt’s slurring is so thick that the title line sounds less like words than the growls of a monster, and even with this increased unintelligibility, the imagery has never been stronger. Taking another page from Cave, Ronnenfelt’s voice pulses with a manic desperation. “On My Fingers” climaxes with Ronnenfelt singing, “I don’t care whose house is on fire/As long as I can warm myself.”

From then on, the album follows its own flow. “The Lord’s Favorite” kicks up dust like a regular cowpoke. Fondly recalling the grimy rockabilly of The Cramps and the feverish energy of The Gun Club, it’s pummeling punch-drunk rockabilly that equally belongs in arenas and dive bars. There’s a thrilling looseness and confidence that feels seismic to the band’s growth, even if some will find Ronnenfelt’s vocal style off-putting and abrasive.

“Lord’s Favorite” is only one departure in an album full of them. “Abundant Living” tiptoes around a prickly mandolin figure, “Cimmerian Shade” indulges in EVOL-era Sonic Youth abrasion, “Simony” is a transfixing combo of The Cure and R.E.M., and “Against the Moon” is a crass but radiant ballad with a twinkling piano and violin arrangement.

Even on songs working with familiar tools, Iceage has refreshed its formula with instrumental flourishes, tempo changes, and other hairpin turns.

“Glassy-Eyed, Dormant and Veiled” subverts a thickly ordinary post-punk spine with blustering horns, “Stay” grinds its attack to a halt with flurrying guitars before exploding with sawing violins, and “Let It Vanish” splinters Iceage’s usual sound with stampeding snares.

Lyrics have often felt secondary in Iceage’s songs, but Ronnenfelt has grown into a bolder and more articulate lyricist. There’s certainly some semantic confusion with English phrases, and the wording may occasionally sound like it was translated on Babblefish, but Ronnenfelt is working with far weightier material, lending melodrama, eroticism, and a pervading menace that makes for a much richer experience.

In an interview with Self-Titled magazine, Ronnenfelt said he no longer feels connected to previous Iceage records. He said, “…one is a picture of me as an 18-year old. People can tap into that if they want…I’m somewhere else.” For long-time Iceage fans, Plowing Into the Field of Love might feel like a betrayal, but Iceage no longer feels like a band with an expiration date. If anything, these punks have never had a brighter future.

Iceage - Plowing the Fields of Love tracklist:

  1. “On My Fingers”
  2. “The Lord’s Favorite”
  3. “How Many”
  4. “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled”
  5. “Stay”
  6. “Let It Vanish”
  7. “Abundant Living”
  8. “Forever”
  9. “Cimmerian Shade”
  10. “Against the Moon”
  11. “Simony”
  12. “Plowing Into the Field of Love”

 

 

Album-Art-for-Rip-This-by-Bass-Drum-Of-Death Bass Drum Of Death – Rip This

★★★½☆

Bass Drum of Death has built a following by unabashedly gut-punching listeners with high-energy rock that refuses to conform. The band’s new album Rip This uses the same formula to conjure up memories of raw, early Nirvana or Mudhoney; music that overpowers crowds and creates furious swells of energy; but it also represents an unfamiliar shift for BDOD.

While Rip This still brings the familiar energy that drives BDOD’s fanbase, the streamlined production and experimentation with its sound on this new record also represent BDOD’s unrelenting desire to enter the mainstream market. Only one year removed from the self-titled album, Rip This finds BDOD more focused on creating a clean and polished product to reach beyond its current fanbase. Think of Rip This as your punk neighbor kicking in your door, but offering you milk and cookies.

For the uninitiated, the Mississippi-born Bass Drum of Death was originally the one man project of John Barrett, who used the driving rhythms of his drum to push the energy of his shows. Barrett’s music was identified by its unrelenting assault on the ears, with crunchy guitars always cranked to level 10 and drums that did nothing but continue the attack. Recently expanded to include new members Len Clark and Josh Hunter on guitars, BDOD’s new record Rip This does not stray far from the energy and passion of its self-titled LP. The new album pulls even more veracity and authority from not only the powerful drums, but also hammering guitar riffs filling each song.

From the opening track “Electric” it’s clear the band draws on equal parts classic punk and contemporary rock with what else, but big, driving, heavy drums.

The groundwork for Rip This was laid while BDOD was on tour with Unknown Mortal Orchestra over the past year.  BDOD chose UMO bassist Jacob Portrai to produce the record, an indication the band wanted to, per their press release, make “an unapologetic rock album for people outside their normal fanbase.” The band introduced the new record by releasing single “Left For Dead” and setting up tour dates all over the United States.  The choice of “Left For Dead” is an excellent introduction to Rip This as it deftly blends the dirty punk of early BDOD, with the cleaner production tones of this record. While some of the credit is likely due to Portrai, the tighter production of Rip This is more likely due to the precarious position of the band on the verge of mainstream acknowledgment with a desire to bridge any gaps.

“Everything’s The Same” has a lighter sound reminiscent of The Cure. According to Barrett, the band wanted to play with some loud-quiet-loud versions of songs, as opposed to the normal cranked output. This particular effort is a good indication of what Barrett was shooting for, and while definitely a reach for BDOD, a well-crafted tune that still fits on an otherwise ripping album.

“Burn’s My Eye” is much more distinctly BDOD. With an eye on punk influences, “Burn’s My Eye” is a song with buzzing guitars that sees right through the heart of the record, and could stand proudly next to the Ramones’ tunes of the early ’80s.  ”Out For Blood” is another indication of exactly where BDOD wants to be, with a pulsing drum line, powerful slap-backed vocals on top crashing guitars, and Barrett’s screamed lyrics, “I’m coming round and I’m out for blood.”

Bass Drum of Death claims to have “transformed rooms full of normally too-cool-to-rock indie crowds into a mob of sweaty, stage-diving maniacs.”

Rip This may not recreate the wheel in terms of cutting edge or creative masterpieces, but it is a record that honors BDOD’s roots, with tighter production and some timid experimentation, attempting to push the band into mainstream conversation. The energy of Rip This is contagious and will rip into ears just the way the band intended, with scorching guitars, reverb-drenched vocals and the familiar thump of Bass Drum of Death, ready to kick down doors.

Bass Drum Of Death – Rip This tracklist:

  1. “Electric”
  2. “Left For Dead”
  3. “For Blood”
  4. “Everything’s The Same”
  5. “Sin is in 10″
  6. “Black Don’t Glow”
  7. “Burn’s my Eye”
  8. “Lose My Mind”
  9. “Better Days”
  10. “Route 69 (Yeah)”
Album-Cover-for-The-Vaselines-V-for-Vaselines The Vaselines – V for Vaselines

★★★½☆

Alternative rock/indie pop act The Vaselines is back with its junior album V for Vaselines, and bound to grab first-time listeners by the collar and lure them in with agile, melodious sounds. The album, written by innovative lead singers Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, features melancholy themes and calm vocals, producing the smoothest rock ‘n’ roll. Though The Vaselines had a rocky, uncertain beginning and lengthy history, Kelly and McKee continue to surprise fans. V for Vaselines exposes the sensitive sides of these artists through passionate lyrics, showcasing the intense chemistry between the two talented musicians, hopefully persuading The Vaselines to stay in the music industry this time.

Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, The Vaselines came together in 1986, put out its first record Dum-Dum in 1989 on 53rd and 3rd Records, and proceeded to break up that same week. Though, the Vaselines are undoubtedly intriguing—even Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain described Kelly and McKee as his “favorite songwriters in the whole world” and covered three of the band’s songs. Flash-forward to 2014 with the fresh lineup, including Kelly and McKee, guitarist Scott Patterson, bassist Graeme Smillie, and drummer Michael McGaughrin, and there’s a group that, despite differences, can come together and create titillating music.

V for Vaselines features condensed drums and hazy guitars, authenticating a punk energy sure to make listeners bob their heads and practice their air-guitar skills.

Correspondingly, the lonesome bass and expressive, intertwining vocals of Kelly and McKee make for a poignant album. The lyrics give off the same kind of sentiments, with plenty of “love gone wrong” tracks, including duet songs “Crazy Lady” and “Single Spies.” These specific tracks are great to listen to during low-points and after terrible break-ups because Kelly and McKee share themselves through their voices, and it’s clear they’ve been through similar events. On “Single Spies,” one of the more direct songs on the record, Kelly and McKee sing, “Stop denying that it meant nothing/You’re lying,” followed by a suave, easy-going guitar solo.

There’s certainly a Ramones feel to a lot of the tracks that give off a fast, punky ambiance, though many revert back to sitting-alone-in-your-room-and-wishing-your-love-life-didn’t-suck tones. This makes for a great mix of distressed, powerful, and sometimes-radiant music.

“False Heaven” is about a relationship falling apart. McKee has the lead while Kelly’s voice blends perfectly in the background, followed by a soft, crisp guitar solo. McKee’s vocals are so charming, though her range is put to test with lower notes, but she passes undeniably. This track and others such as “Single Spies” confirm the overall maturity the band gained over the past couple decades. The band begins to stray away from the fast-paced vocals and hard drums showcased back in 1989′s “Dum-Dum.” As McKee and Kelly grew older and wiser, their musical outlooks did too.

It’s no surprise V for Vaselines’ lyrics translate as witty, as audiences have consistently been charmed by the band’s seductive sound and entertaining stage banter.

On “Number One Crush,” Kelly and McKee simultaneously sing, “Brains exploding/Emotion overloading/Being with you/Kills my IQ.” This cheeky attitude adds a sense of weariness to the lyrics, which is seen more notably on the album’s closer “Last Half Hour,” with chorus lyrics, “Final curtain/End of the show.” This doesn’t come off “lazy” per-se, but it was almost predictable, which subtracted from the final impressions of the album.

V for Vaselines’s surfy, intoxicating sound makes an amazing impact on first-time listeners, and promises hope for delighted older fans as they reminisce on why they enjoy The Vaselines so much. There are significant differences comparing the band’s older sound to the new and improved, which is inevitable. This shift can either harm or help them, and in this case, The Vaselines’ aged sound can only get better from here.

The Vaselines – V for Vaselines tracklist:

  1. “High Tide Low Tide”
  2. “The Lonely L.P.
”
  3. “Inky Lies”
  4. “Crazy Lady
”
  5. “Single Spies
”
  6. “One Lost Year”
  7. “Earth Is Speeding”
  8. “False Heaven”
  9. “Number One Crush
”
  10. “Last Half Hour”
Album-Art-for-Meatbodies-Meatbodies Meatbodies – Meatbodies

★★★★☆

Self-described as “heavygroovy” with a hint of ’60s psychedelic rock, Meatbodies is the creation of Los Angeles-bred vocalist Chad Ubovich. Meatbodies, previously Chad and the Meatbodies, began as a project for Ubovich to work on between touring with acts such as Mikal Cronin and FUZZ. Then, in 2013, after In the Red records got its hands on Ubovich’s noisy, thrashy guitar tones, Chad and the Meatbodies became Meatbodies and began working on its first LP. This self-titled debut proves there’s a certain fire backing the band’s unique sound, which mixies rock ‘n’ roll with authentic surrealism, and might hypnotize listeners to point of absentmindedly setting the album on repeat.

Meatbodies is heavy with a lack of boundaries and vibrant Jimi Hendrix influence. The album’s strong, modern garage-punk sound offers listeners a sense of how the room might feel at a Meatbodies show, with caved in walls and layers of mysterious strangers’ sweat smeared through the crowd.

The album features notable sonic contrast, using messy vocals and crunchy guitars alongside lots of bass guitar heaviness to add a certain layer of creaminess.

Though it’s nearly impossible to understand what exactly Ubovich is saying/yelling/singing, that’s typically expected of a record like this because of the culture and roots the band is trying to follow. This type of rock music expresses pain and anger, and Meatbodies does it really well. The hooks and riffs are rightfully placed, and while all the songs unite as a powerful album, they are each incredibly strong individually and could succeed as singles.

Splintering, fuzzy guitar solos are definitely Meatbodies’ “thing” and will cause listeners to experience a painfully beautiful headache.

Though Ubovich was seen as a sideman during most of his career, he proves with the upcoming Meatbodies LP that he knows where rock music has been and where it’s going. He even had help from the one and only Ty Segall, who released some of Ubovich’s self-recorded songs on tape for GOD? Records. This overwhelming amount of potential showed Ubovich’s fans, and the rest of the rock ‘n’ roll world, what Meatbodies has to offer.

Meatbodies gives listeners a darkly lit, hot, groggy basement feel with its thick and harmonious sound. Generally, with covert rock albums such as this one, there isn’t much concern with production value and mixing. Contrarily, Meatbodies has some of the clearest, crispest logging of 13 fuzzy tracks humanly possible, thanks to studio master Eric “King Riff” Bauer and Chris Woodhouse, who put the final touches on the lawless record.

Tracks such as “Disorder” and “Wahoo” are fuzz-infused and reverb heavy, while others like “Plank” and “Dark Road” slow down the tempo and give the album a good mixture of hectic and peaceful.

No matter the amount of blur or sultry in Ubovich’s voice, it’s easy to notice the emotional loneliness and passion emanating from each track.

The way Meatbodies is presenting itself to the rock ‘n’ roll world today is contemporary, but doesn’t lack a commitment to old school influences. Catch Meatbodies on tour this October and November with Hunters and Purling Hiss. This up-and-coming rock act isn’t one to miss.

Meatbodies – Meatbodies tracklist:

  1. “The Archer”
  2. “Disorder”
  3. “Mountain”
  4. “HIM”
  5. “Tremmors”
  6. “Plank”
  7. “Gold”
  8. “Wahoo”
  9. “Two”
  10. “Off”
  11. “Dark Road”
  12. “The Master”
Album-art-for-Cosmic-Logic-by-Peaking-Lights Peaking Lights – Cosmic Logic

★★★½☆

Peaking Lights, the husband and wife duo of Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis, has churned out a consistent flow of synthy pop sounds for three straight albums. As the Bay Area psych pop duo returns with its fourth album Cosmic Logic, the band has developed a focused precision, crafting 11 crisp, new tracks. Packed with a contrasting spectrum of sounds, the album isn’t conventionally cohesive, but this works in Peaking Lights’ favor; the funkadelic album is like a musical gift from the cosmos. 

Unlike the band’s 2012 release Lucifer—featuring just two of eight songs under 6 minutes long—Cosmic Logic’s  instrumentation is completely stripped down. This scaling back is not done in an acoustic way, but rather a minimalistic way. Coyes and Dunis first form a strong base with tinny drum lines and shimmery disco beats, and continue on with light bass atop Dunis’ dreary yet melodic vocals for a strong final product.

The drums on the album offer varied sounds coming together for an exciting earful of textures and tones.

Rhythms reminiscent of electronic, house, salsa, and disco all fit into beautifully produced and executed songs on Cosmic Logic. With a large emphasis on futuristic techno, there’s a lot packed into the album, but the ambitious songs flow out agreeably. “Breakdown,” a single from the album, involves techy pops of clear sounds ranging from short, scratchy tickers to high-pitched Casio tones. The music become denser and even more electronica in tracks like “Dreamquest,” with an entire middle section of a loud interlude of only tweaking blips and a deep drum beat. The track’s simplicity makes it stand out as the least layered and beautiful section of the album.

Lyrically, Peaking Lights seems to be well aware of the tricks of formulating undeniably catchy songs. The song “New Grrrls” rings in with a joyous, Bee Gees-inspired disco beat as Dunis croons “Get up, get down/A new girl’s come to town.” Although Dunis’ vocals aren’t energetic and sound somewhat deflated, the smooth, computerized layering gives her voice the life it needs to make the already-luminous album gleam even more.

Any loose ends in the flowy, dreamy tones of Lucifer have been tightened up on Cosmic Logic; the band is pushing itself into braver, livelier territory than before.

Peaking Lights is literally exploring new ground, too, as the band recently built a Los Angeles studio where Coyes engineered and produced the new album himself, and Matt Thornley of DFA Studios (and former member of LCD Soundsystem) handled mixing the album.

The resulting record features a certain high quality yet alienated pop sound, which is, as Coyes puts it, “… based on an idea of ‘Fucked Modern Pop,’ but exactly what that is, we don’t know … we’re still trying to figure that out.”

Peaking Lights – Cosmic Logic tracklist:

  1. “Infinite Trips”
  2. “Telephone Call”
  3. “Hypnotic Hustle”
  4. “Everyone and Us”
  5. “Little Light”
  6. “Dreamquest”
  7. “Eyes to See”
  8. “Bad With the Good”
  9. “New Grrrls”
  10. “Breakdown”
  11. “Tell Me Your Song”
Album-art-for-A-New-Testament-by-Christopher-Owens Christopher Owens – A New Testament

★★★☆☆

Despite the moniker A New Testament, which hints at an embrace of faith and a heavy influence of gospel music, former Girls’ ringleader Christopher Owens’ second solo album is less about devotion to a higher power than absolute commitment to a new relationship. This could energize or weaken an artist depending on the songwriter, and for Owens, it’s certainly the latter.

Owens’ songwriting sometimes reaches the same emotional heights, or more accurately, pits of his previous songwriting, but he’s fallen victim to the “Justin Timberlake Syndrome.” For decades, Timberlake dashed off singles that burst with sensuality—with Timberlake slipping from sweet coos to sinister come-ons in seconds—but that seemingly all changed after the release of last year’s two 20/20 Experience LP’s. Those dual albums retained the previous albums’ formal chops, but replaced Timberlake’s trademark eroticism and edginess with a gooey sentimentality that was unbecoming and frankly, repetitive and shallow.

This same issue hurts A New Testament, an immaculately produced and written record, thanks to Owens’ wittiness and knack for writing roots country, but lacks either the emotional complexity or intensity that originally heralded Owens as such an enchanting persona.

Owen’s time in Girls and parts of 2012’s Lysandre teased out an affinity for “Golden Age” country, but A New Testament fully embraces the bellowing twang and emphatic songwriting of artists like George Jones and Merle Haggard. “Nothing More Than Everything To Me” is a honky-tonk sock-hop, all willowing pedal steel and rockabilly swing, while “Key To My Heart” is buoyed by an aching pedal steel, a staggered delivery, and familiar, almost stock Americana imagery.

“It Comes Back To You” similarly floats an angelic pedal steel over acoustic strums, but falls flat in its repetitive bromides about karma.

While there’s no doubt Owens gathered this knowledge the hard way, it doesn’t enhance the message of the songwriting, and more troublingly, Owens doesn’t have the pipes or vocal delivery to transcend the plainness. If anything, these songs only draw comparison to Owen’s previous chronicles of drug abuse and miserabilism.

As often as the metaphors and imagery feel forced, they also double as a method of lyrical subversion. Haggard has written songs like “Keys To My Heart,” but Owens has a surreal self-destructive streak, which lead to lines like “So much love/I might overflow,” even while working within the framework of country. These knowing winks come in spurts though, overshadowed by antiquated country/gospel sentiments.

The arrangements similarly undermine these tropes, striking a middle ground between Paul Simon and traditional gospel and country.

“My Troubled Heart” nods to George Michaels “Faith” with its opening frantic strums, before it’s reined in by a traditional organ, choir, and brittle guitar harmony. “Overcoming Me” is even better, an undulating ballad lulled along by a xylophone, guitar, and organ that give the impression of literally tugging Owens out of his depression. These moments are musical oases in a record content with just going in one ear and out the other. It’s always pleasant, but rarely fully engaging.

There are still glimpses of the slyly observational songwriting which first made Owens such a revelation when he first emerged with the nakedly vulnerable “Lust For Life” and “Hellhole Ratrace,” but they’re largely buried in both songwriting and arrangements conflicted between direct storytelling and genre trappings.

The album as a whole is admirably restrained, but just as accusations of slightness were leveled at Lysandre, A New Testament feels distressingly restrictive in its scope even as it ventures into uncharted melodic territory. Owens, like the aforementioned Timberlake, shouldn’t have to sacrifice his happiness for his art, but without the fire and verve that characterized his earlier output, Owens is just another songwriter battling a mid-life crisis with a musical detour.

Christopher Owens – A New Testament tracklist:

  1. “My Troubled Heart”
  2. “Nothing More Than Everything To You”
  3. “It Comes Back To You”
  4. “Stephen”
  5. “Oh My Love”
  6. “Nobody’s Business”
  7. “A Heart Akin the Wind”
  8. “Key To My Heart”
  9. “Over and Above Myself”
  10. “Never Wanna See That Look Again”
  11. “Overcoming Me”
  12. “I Just Can’t Live Without You (But I’m Still Alive)”
Album-art-for-Voir-Dire-by-Minor-Characters Minor Characters – Voir Dire

★★★½☆

There is no easy way to listen to Minor Characters’ new album—and that’s a good thing. On paper (or digital ether, as it were) this album should be an easy listen as it has 13 songs with exceptional rhythms, magnetic harmonies, and heartfelt lyrics. In reality, Voir Dire reaches deeper than a formula typical for a newer rock band will bear, and begs a second listen, as well as a third—possibly a tenth.

The band’s first full-length is more mature lyrically and technically than expected of a debut, though having two EPs chockfull of vintage-inspired earworm tunes doesn’t hurt the Chicago trio’s track record. The album begins with a slow, jangling guitar, soon joined by a simple yet evocative wish: “I wanna know my neighbors/…/Like it was in the ’90s.” Within the first 10 seconds, vocalist and guitarist Andrew Pelletier acknowledges a rift in local discourse everywhere, which has grown in less than one generation. In “Neighbors,” he expresses a need to return to a time of connection to real members of the community, rather than the faceless, remote individuals we meet by staring at a screen.

Truly, the overall theme of Voir Dire seems to be a desire to connect with those nearest to us in earnest—as the Latin expression implies—with no interest in reaching far-flung audiences who are invariably removed from current dialogue.

The record boasts slick-yet-murky guitars, pounding drums, rumbling bass, silky piano, and sing-along vocals inspired by ’60s singer-songwriters such as Simon and Garfunkel, and Cat Stevens. Pelletier, along with guitarist and vocalist Shelby Pollard, bassist Adam Wayne, and James Ratke—the band’s now former drummer, have created a much needed album of 13 diverse songs that each follow an arc of genuineness. The rollicking single “Berlin Wall” has chiming guitar distortion and magnetic “ooh-oohs” that wobble, illustrating the political and literal instability of the real Berlin Wall as Pelletier croons, “revolution’s so predictable.”

Offbeat drums create a haze that surrounds “Sparrow/Hollow,” though the sound is habitually permeated by grouchy guitar parts and sporadic dissonant sounds that move to the sway of an ambivalent bird avoiding a telephone pole. The centrifugal tone may cause motion sickness, but it’s prescribed to shy wanderers who seek a confidant. To that point, the isolation in Pelletier’s solo performance of “To Young America” indicates a call to Millennials who may understand his quiet pleas.

Indeed, the complexities of the music and lyrics of Voir Dire invite listeners to lend an earnest ear and judge by intention and not by action. In a landscape that has long been weighed down by insincere music, talent, and ideas, Minor Characters offers a rare musical respite that is pure and real.

Minor Characters – Voir Dire tracklist:

  1. “Neighbors”
  2. “Broadway Bow”
  3. “Berlin Wall”
  4. “A Lovely Reception”
  5. “White Handkerchiefs”
  6. “Pigs”
  7. “Sparrow/Hollow”
  8. “Rosalie”
  9. “So Weird”
  10. “To Young America”
  11. “Hush”
  12. “Weatherman”
  13. “Broken Horses”