Everything Goes Wrong
You'd be hard pushed to find a 'best of' list in 2008 that didn't feature this Brooklyn trio's eponymous self titled debut and so the expectation for the followup must have been something of an issue to overcome after such blanket praise. With it's raw punk riffs and flattend-out off-the-cuff-vocals it dazzled with immediacy, excitement and spontaneity - qualities that can easily be eradicated with the slightest bit of pressure from expectation. And when you read that the followup Everything Goes Wrong took double the time to record and is a longer record the signs point to a disappointment. However when that recording period was six days instead of three and the carefree notes of opener Walking Alone At Night greet your ears you'll only chastise yourself for such pessimism.
Everything Goes Wrong is a much darker affair than it's predecessor. With a sombre weight, the girls have jacked up the pace evolving their bubble-gum garage rock into full-on punk rock bursts. There's not such a reliance on the pop melody and seems to draw its influence on the hardcore scene more than the shoegaze tendencies that ran through the debut. All this is to it's credit however and this sophomore album effortlessly sidesteps any pressure by sounding like it was unaware of the pressure in the first place. These changes have been made without the record sounding aware of itself in the slightest. But this is no fresh-faced first-time sound. Far from it, it's a mature sound that has evolved and one that they can start to call their own. There isn't the stand-out joy of their first record and many of the songs come at you in a similar package. But the result is a wave-upon-wave effect that, after repeated subjection, sweeps you up and you're theirs.
The record may be more somber and more aggressive but the sweet vocal melodies are more beguiling as a result. They wash over the feral background easing everything into the distance and taking the listener with them. This form of attack works best on the longer songs and with few of the debuts cuts making it past the two minute mark it's quite a shock to see a good few four minuters here. Can't Get Over You and the soaring Out For The Sun never let up in pace and build a wall of sound around you that is impossible to escape even if you wanted to, and the vocal harmonies on Double Vision cast a blissful spell that seems to sum up the whole record. There's nothing better than a sophomore album that only serves to justify the debut and this builds on the success of 2008 with startling maturity and subtlety without seeming conscious at all. As they plod on to higher ground Vivian Girls cast a spell in their wake while seeming blissfully unaware of its potency.Read more 3.5 star reviews
Under And Under
Blank Dogs is certainly something of an enigma. The Banksy of the noise-pop scene, he remains pretty much anonymous, choosing to hide his face under bed sheets or bandages for press photos. But the solidity of his work suggests that instead of being merely a cheap gimmick to attain notoriety this mystery serves to let the music do all the talking, and judging by the endless string of limited edition releases that have emerged over the last few years and now this, his latest full length, they argue a pretty good case. The one thing we do know about Blank Dogs is that it's singular but for this album he enlists the help of label mates Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls. The results are impressive.
There seems to be a constant and for the most part welcome stream of fuzzed out noise punk assaulting my ears at the moment but what makes this sound stand apart from all the rest is that its emphasis isn't on 60's rock inspired, redlined garage guitar but opts for programmed beats, synthesizers and a heavy dose of 80's post-punk, goth and new wave. Much like On Two Sides, Blank Dogs' previous album, Under And Under rolls with a deep bass structure, effect laden guitar and a voice so submerged it could be from a different universe altogether. The title of this new release suggests the direction by which it parts company with its predecessor. The booming muffle of these songs impressively drags all that we learnt from On Two Sides way down to almost indecipherable darkness.
The genius of this record is the way he manages to elaborately construct his songs around distant Cure basslines while layering his monotone Joy Division vocals without ever sounding like a rip off. Setting Fire To Your House has a core that is straight out of The Cure's A Forest but it's a sheer delight. It seems to borrow all of the sounds that defined my early musical appreciation and drag them all under water to their deaths. Things are slowed down to a relentless mid-tempo and with all the effects that swirl around the feeling is like watching flash-backs of your life disappear under murky slush. Cutting through all this slush is the screech of distorted guitar that rudely imposes itself on standout songs like No Compass and Around The Room. With scant regard for anything this guitar carves out some of the most surprisingly satisfying melodies ever seen in this genre.
Unlike the recent Crocodiles record that at times seemed to find it hard to let loose the weight of its influences, Blank Dogs serves up a masterclass of how to honor those influences but treat them as starting blocks from which this guy springs forth very successfully. The last bedroom genius of this genre I got excited about was Wavves and as we've just witnessed his very public fall from grace lets hope this hooded enigma has more to offer.Read more 3.5 star reviews
With John Dwyer's last offering still welcomely ringing in my ears the San Francisco band drop its followup, a worthy partner and one that accurately identifies its predecessors strengths and wisely chooses to focus on these. In all its many incarnations Dwyer's latest band has itself taken all sorts of twists and turns musically. Thee Oh Sees originally started out as an expression of Dwyer's softer side, emerging out of the raucous noise of his previous bands Pink And Brown and Coachwhips he delivered a lo fi folk sound that was somber but beautiful. Last years The Masters Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In changed all that with Dwyer expanding his formation into a wild concoction of psychedelia and gritting rockabilly garage noise. Help is nowhere near such a dramatic turn as His Masters Bedroom was and continues this sound but hacks off the fat leaving twelve solid songs and very little fillers.
Help draws straight, dark lines to both the British psychedelic rock bands like The Creation and the caveman thud of The Troggs. Dwyer's howl is very much at the forefront of this sound albeit buried by the mounting rock scuzz muscle that surrounds it. It's hard to pick standout moments on an album of this consistency but Go Meet The Seed covers this bands strengths perfectly. The chugging guitar that forms the hefty structure all the way through it is stark and basic but pounds relentlessly. The vocals are given space which is something that rarely happened in the last album but really pays off. Brigid Dawson's harmonies still shadow Dwyer's every move to great effect and juxtapose the grit of the music. This song really illustrates the growth that has occurred since the last record, it leans back and allows each element of this sound to flex. Thankfully the ragged ferocity still remains and I Can't Get No sees this expressed in all its straight up glory. It's a fraction of the length of Go Meet The Seed but crams all the elements into a short stab of simple-as-hell rockabilly joy.
Having ditched the momentary noise freakouts that occasionally rendered the last record fragmented but keeping the Cramps influence, Dwyer has created a record that seems to be a culmination of all of his previous projects and one that showcases his talents as a songwriter perfectly. His work often challenges but never takes itself too seriously, it seems to emerge with great ease and listening to it is definitely getting more pleasurable by every release. He's more prolific than most but the quality seems to rising at the same rate as the quantity.Read more 3 star reviews
Portland band The Hunches have been pounding the road for several years now, and Exit Dreams marks their third full-length record - out on label indie In The Red. Opener Unraveling defines the band well, combining a Punk Rock sensibility with something of an epic rock ambition, illustrating best what the US contributed to Punk Rock. The band maintain that early 80's disaffection with the mainstream and charge on with their battle-cry cranked up past 10.
Unfortunately the production falls way short of the ambition and the record sounds like it was recorded on an ansaphone. In the 80s. DIY bands like No Age have harnessed both the limitations of their available technology AND their lo-fi influences - and turned them into something extra, but here the production just makes me not want to bother listening.
From This Window plods through the fuzz, while any hint of charm is distorted away on Swim Hole. Not Invited threatens to break the curse, but just can't lift itself high enough. I don't know what the deal is with the raft of badly produced records we have seen recently. Is it a trademark sound? With technology where it is, it's hard to believe that you could accidentally make a record sound this bad.Read more 1.5 star reviews
Matador Singles '08
I'm not going to bother with the back story to this prolific punk maverick as it wasn't that long ago that he put out the more than cohesive compilation for his In The Red Records releases. Reatard is a new signing to Matador records and for the last six months they have been putting out a limited 7" which. Each release has been put out in a progressively more limited run, starting with 3,500 worldwide for single No. 1 and ending with only 400 for No. 6. They experimented with multiple formats from picture discs, split 7" and colour vinyl and together they really show Reatard's love for this format and the freedom it brings.
As you'd imagine this collection covers a smaller timescale than the previous one and so sounds a whole lot more coherent. The fierce power-house bursts like It's So Useless have disappeared and the whole sound has changed in an interesting way. It hasn't mellowed, but Reatard has managed to morph his energy into fully-formed rock songs - but still shoehorns them into punk-length packages. So what you get is verse, chorus and guitar solos but all at breakneck speed like each song really has to be somewhere else, like, yesterday. The exception to this general rule is the Deerhunter cover version Florescent Grey which appeared on the split 7", the other song being Deerhunter's returning the favor with a version of Reatard's Oh, It's Such A Shame.
This collection will more than fill the gap for those eagerly awaiting Reatard's follow up to Blood Visions as it plays out like an album. He has experimented with his sound and spans a wide range, from the punk stab of Screaming Hand to the psychedelia of the Deerhunter cover to the full on pop of An Ugly Death. These new strings to his bow and the willingness to experiment are turning Jay Reatard into a power-house of an act that is always guaranteed to surprise. He displays a wealth of of ideas and an exciting lack of preciousness about releasing them. As a compilation this works very well but the real winner here is Reatard's resurrecting of the magic that goes along with the 7" release. It's a dying form, but since joining Matador he has shown that there's plenty of life in it yet.Read more 3 star reviews
The indie revival continues with this album from Brooklyn's Vivian Girls - pulling girl-group harmonies over the top of shoe-gazing guitars that know a bit about feedback. After a vinyl-only release on Mauled By Tigers sold out in no time, In The Red have stepped in to give this debut full-length a wider distribution.
The album starts as it means to go on - jumping striaght into the already full-flowing maelstrom of All The Time - and the tempo seldom slows from there. You could easily megamix the tracks together with a half-dozen (Going Insane, Tell The World, No ...."No, no, no. No. No. No.") all following a clearly cut template.
Such A Joke tries to bend the formula a little, with the spinal bassline tying together an almost surf sound, but here the production values just blend the promising track into mush. In the era of home studio and Garageband, there little excuse for sounding like an 8-track recording. Where Do You Run finds the band heading into Lush's well mapped territory - emulating Miki Berenyi's love-lost lyrics over charming harmonies, making for easily the most successful track on the album.
There's no doubt that some of the production problems would be overcome in a live setting, as the band have an undoubted energy and charisma. At best they head towards the steady sound of 80/90's 4AD and the likes of Lush or The Amps, but next to someone like Electrelane, these Vivian Girls seem pale and tired in comparison.Read more 2.5 star reviews
As the title may suggest, this compilation covers a very short space of time for this energetic songwriter, but one listen and you'll see that Jay Reatard has produced more quality material in one year than many bands get to in a life time. Jay Lindsey has been around for a while fronting various bands, but most notably The Reatards, which was actually just him alternating between vocals, guitars and a beat played out on an up-turned bucket. His recent solo work consists of one album, 2006's Blood Visions and a whole host of singles and EP's that are now out of print. So In The Red Records offer us this 17 song run through that collects together all these rare loose ends and the result is a startlingly consistent sonic clenched fist that repeatedly pounds your face for 38 minutes.
Opening track Night Of Broken Glass will let you know exactly what to expect from this collection as it launches in to screams and machine gun punk rock like a slightly polished Beastie Boys a la Heart Attack Man. Another Person is slightly more melodic, incorporating swirling synthesizers around the rapid drums and Reatard's voice that assumes an almost 80's New Wave monotone. The refreshing thing about Jay Reatard is that he never tries to do anything else but punk rock, but that's not to say that this collection lacks variety. Every song sounds like Jay Reatard but to write this off as a punch-in-the-face punk hammering would be wrong. Songs like I Know A Place and Hammer I Miss You keep a healthy pace but allow more percussion and melodic vocals with the latter evolving into a blanket tone of rising group vocals that seem remarkably majestic. Don't Let Him Come Back rides on a Monkey's-like rhythm section and is quite pedestrian by Reatard's standards.
But then, by contrast, you get the twin assault running down the middle of the record beginning with It's So Useless. Sounding like a possessed Marc Bolan, Reatard creates a near perfect punk song with the chorus being shrieked in time to crashing cymbals gladly recalling my Sham 69 days. All Wasted is slightly less abrasive but manages to merge the New Wave monotone with So Useless' catchy chorus, this time ending with the repeated chant of "All zombies are wasted, all zombies are useless to me."
For all its might and pace this is well crafted and slightly over polished punk rock. I may have described it as a clenched fist but I wouldn't be surprised if the fist had well manicured nails, maybe with glam-polish and relatively soft skin. Reatard's voice is very melodic no matter how much he tries to hide it. You do start to cry out for more short, sharp bursts like It's So Easy or Blood Visions with their classic punk urgency and pogo capabilities. This collection is less Black Flag and more Pop Levi, but at the same time he gives you enough indication that if it came to it he'd kick Levi's ass in a punch up. But if this doesn't satisfy your Reatard cravings then look no further. Having recently found his home at Matador, we lucky people get another round up of Reatard with the imaginatively titled "Matador Singles '08" compilation hitting stores on October 6th. The two compilations should undoubtedly show this guy as an artist of unrivaled energy and enthusiasm who seems physically unable to stop spewing out quality rock at an alarming rate.Read more 3 star reviews
What's for Dinner?
Imagine if you will that it's Saturday night back in good old 1955 and you're on your way to the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance at your local high school. You've heard rumours of a scuffle going down tonight and lo and behold in the car park, amid a crowd of onlookers, lies the badly beaten body of the school geek George McFly. You walk on without pausing - because lets face it, he had it coming. Further on, you come across evidence of another more curious showdown. 5 well dressed guys lie sprawled out on the road and judging by their attire you realise that some heavy shit has just gone down. This is the remains of Marvin Berry and his Starlighters who were due to play at this dance. You ignore the frantic banging coming from the trunk of their low-rider as you race into the hall to find out who will be playing in their place. The first thing you notice is the stunned look on everyones faces as you enter the nautically decorated gymnasium - and as your eyes follow theirs to the source of this horror you know your night is over. The earlier trail of destruction could only have led to this. The stage had been overrun by Biff and his boys - the school bullies - and the sound they are making is indescribable. Popular songs from the hit parade being raped and pillaged in front of your eyes - and at top volume. Someone kicks a speaker over and a panic ensues. In the pandaemonium something hits you hard on the head and everything fades away as you fall to the ground unconscious.
The next thing you know you're in your bed at home and it's the present day. Sitting up in bed you realise that it was all a very bad dream and one you have no wish to repeat. The radio alarm clock clicks on and the sound hits you like a bolt of lightning. The music playing is loud, obnoxious, intrusive and fills your heart with dread. As the DJ announces the band as The King Kahn & BBQ Show you know that the ordeal you have just been through was no dream. That terrible night really happened, but the most terrifying thing of all was that it was still going on and this King Khan is the result of it. They had kept their sound of that night - 50's inspired pop butchery - but it had clearly gathered the grime of the last 50 years and now presented itself as a twisted mutation of Marvin Berry, the punk movement and the unquenchable hostility of those who crashed the Prom. As if that's not bad enough you find yourself quite liking it, it's catchy and as you lean over to turn it up you see that its 8.25 am. Damn! You're late for school!