We get a lot of press material at GLONO. Like…a LOT. Back in the days before press kits went digital, Jake and I would get hollered at by the postal workers where our PO Box was in Chicago because they’d have to haul out all these overflow bins full of CDs, band photos and one-sheets. I am embarrassed to say we had to just dump a lot of that stuff. [I sold a ton of them on half.com – Jake.] We simply didn’t have the capacity to get through it all. Especially the really cliched press releases.
My least favorite press release trope is where someone tries to describe a band as “If [Well known, well respected artist A] and [Well respected, but somewhat obscure artist B] got together in [Exotic locale, hip town, or fictional setting] and had a love baby!”
I get it, it’s hard to come up with creative ways to describe a sound that will still resonate with the reader–it’s kinda the whole point of this site. But sometimes, I just wish they’d be straight and say, “Yeah, these guys sound like Badfinger.” I guarantee I would listen to that record.
And so I’ll tell it to you straight: This new Luther Russell album sounds like Big Star. It does. And I fucking love it. And why shouldn’t he have a bit of a Big Star thing going on? We all LOVE Big Star and Russell currently collaborates with Jody Stephens in Those Pretty Wrongs.
Any bluesman will tell you it’s a game of sleight of hand. They all employ little tricks that confound and surprise you, which is essential for keeping music that is based on simple structures and patterns exciting.
The second album from Portland, Oregon’s The Resolectrics is a study in sleight of hand. One of my favorite live bands in a city filthy with great live bands, this three-piece has an uncanny ability to get sometimes stodgy Pacific Northwest audiences shaking their moneymakers. They do it with an infectious blend of blue-eyed soul and swampy blues they’ve developed over a few years of bouncing up and down the coast, which is what you’d expect to find in their sophomore release. And you do…but also so much more.
An equilateral triangle has three equal sides, which can be leveraged in architecture distribute weight and provide strength and stability. The foundation of The Resolectrics is certainly centered in rhythm & blues, but a foundation is something you build upon and what this band has built goes well beyond what you’d expect from the recent crop of bands hoping to be the next White Stripes, Black Keys or any other variation of black and white. The Resolectrics’ power is in the gray areas; the musical corners that aren’t as easily defined. It’s in these shadows where The Resolectrics confound and surprise you. They just as easily weave in Pet Sounds and Revolver as they do Electric Mud.
It’ll be interesting to see what other tricks they bring to bear and if this album is any indication, the skies will be wonderfully gray as they continue to sail their open seas.
Every New Years Eve The Parson Red Heads cover a different album and invite friends to do the same, creating a night where everyone dresses up like someone else to listen to bands playing someone else’s songs. These kinds of tributes are very popular in Portland, which is odd given the huge amount of talent and original music coming out of this city. But I guess it’s also a fun way for some of these bands to wear their influences (or at least their interests) on their sleeves.
Those influences linger just below the surface in the band’s new single, “Coming Down” from their upcoming fourth studio album, Blurred Harmony. According to their press release, the new album is “the overdriven jangle of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star power-pop, the skewed psychedelics of the Paisley Underground, the bittersweet energy of New Zealand’s ‘Dunedin Sound’ movement, and the muted twang of Cosmic Americana, all crammed into 44 minutes.” All of which is true, but mixed up into a stew of its own.
Singer-songwriter Evan Way describes the track as “a song about anxiety, about how life and all it’s mania can start to make you feel like you’re losing it, and how in those moments the people that you love can sort of ground you and bring you back to reality and that sense of safety.”
I was listening to one of those new music mixes on Apple Music and catching up on work when this song popped up and I thought, ‘This new Heart sounds pretty good!” Except it wasn’t Heart, it was Frankenmuth, Michigan’s own Greta Van Fleet. More on that in a bit.
Heart is one of those bands that had a bunch of chart dominating singles, insanely talented writing, vocals and musicianship, especially in the sister duo of Ann & Nancy Wilson, but very few bands wear them on their sleeves as obvious influences. I’m not sure why that is, but I can’t think of a single band where I can say, “Oh yeah, these guys obviously love Heart.”
So when the vocals came in on Greta Van Fleet’s new single “Black Smoke Rising,” I was pleasantly surprised to hear the connection. I mean, there’s no way this vocal performance is not influenced by Ann Wilson, right?
Black Smoke Rising
It gets better. It turns out that it’s not even a modern-day Ann Wilson fronting this band. In fact, there’s isn’t a female in sight! Greta Van Fleet is a four-piece band of dudes—three brothers and a friend! So it’s not a sister act emulating the Wilsons, but a brother act. How great is that?
I maintain a playlist called Golden that pulls together a bunch of songs that give me fall shivers and nostalgic heartstring tugs. There’s loads of Beck’s Sea Change, Kurt Vile’s Walking on a Pretty Day, Steve Gunn’s Sundowner, Elliott Smith, Damien Jurado, Lord Huron, and now…Chris Staples.
Staples’ new album, Golden Age, shares more in common with those songs and that feeling than its title. There’s a type of sadness, without being maudlin. And maybe that’s to be expected. After a rough patch where Staples was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes that resulted in pancreas failure, a bike accident that required surgery, and the dissolution of a long-term relationship, Chris Staples is afforded some sad bastard time.
But that’s what’s great about this record: it’s not sad bastard music. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some of that. But Staples’ album maintains a bit of pop bounce with lovely melodies and simple production. It’s been described as a “subtle” record, which I guess is as good anything I would come up to describe the production. Because subtlety implies hidden complexity, and this record has that in spades.
Give a listen to lead off track “Relatively Permanent” and tell me you aren’t ready to sit down with Chris, have a beer, and talk about where you grew up.
While some alt-country old skoolers jumped onboard in Whiskeytown, most of us starting riding Ryan Adams’ crazy train with the release of his first solo album Heartbreaker. And ever since, we’ve been waiting for the return, leading reviewers to alternately hail or deride subsequent albums in light of that near-perfect debut.
It’s unfair to the work and particularly unfair to the artist to hold up an early epiphany as proof that it’s all down hill from here, but Ryan Adams made an art of fucking up for a while by releasing multiple, scattered and schizophrenic albums and generally being a goof. But maybe that’s the luxury afforded early success? As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said:
The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young. When the primary objects of love and money could be taken for granted and a shaky eminence had lost its fascination, I had fair years to waste, years that I can’t honestly say I regret, in the seeking of the eternal Carnival by the Sea.
But we all eventually grow up and get back to work. With his latest release, the lovely and restrained Ashes & Fire, Ryan Adams delivers on the promise we glimpsed on Heartbreaker. That’s not to say it’s as good—or heaven forbid, better!—than Heartbreaker but that it shares the same focus on finely crafted songs, simple production and a welcomed lack of pretense. It’s simply a good album from a great American songwriter, and isn’t that what we’ve always wanted?
The prolific output of Deerhunter should at least get you to notice them, but it’s the band’s consistency that will convert you. They’re one of a select few that is able to combine successfully their art-rock tendencies with melodic fortitude.
Normally, this sense of melody comes in the form of reverberated cavestomps that sound like fractured, Nuggets-era musings on death, drugs, and disturbing characters.
The Boxing Lesson – Wild Streaks & Windy Nights (Self Released) I like big, dramatic rock if it’s guitar heavy and not so much on the orchestral tip. Where Richard Ashcroft went so terribly wrong after leaving Verve was that he forgot how great guitars are. Turn them UP and I will gladly follow your overwrought story into hell.
Austin, Texas’ own The Boxing Lesson seems to have learned their own lesson by employing massive guitar swells and heavy riffs to carry songs that could otherwise end up sounding like so much soggy eggs. There’s an uncomfortable reliance on synth patches that don’t quite hit the spooky post-neo-psychedelia of Kasabian—in fact, they edge a little too close to Aldo Nova in spots for my comfort—but they do know how to push their Pro-Co Turbo Rat to the limit.
This album won’t change your life but it will remind you to change your strings and turn up to eleven once in a while.
I really want this album to be stronger than it actually is: a forgettable throwback to those halcyon days when the term “shoegazer” was somewhat novel and when bands effectively created epic swells with nothing more than feedback, guitar pedals, and a dash of studio trickery.
It’s not that I’m against “epic swells,” and Lord knows that I’ve listened to enough Spiritualized and Pink Floyd to appreciate symphonic arrangements. What I do have a problem with is a band that teases me with lush atmospheres, hinting at My Bloody Valentine the entire time, and with barely a hint of the guitar leaving Cape Canaveral’s launch pad. If you’re going to come off as a “space rock” band, then for God’s sake, leave the atmosphere and don’t forget to actually rock when you’re weightless. Mew takes their influences and somehow manages to completely devoid them of any bite. What’s left is the equivalent of leaving an opened two-liter bottle of Coke in the fridge for a week: cold, flat and with plenty of sugar.
There is a concept that sometimes arises that has it that in order for a work for art to be completely understood, it is necessary to have contingent knowledge associated with that particular work, knowledge of such things as context and references and suchlike. The Thing-In-Itself may be a whole, or complete, but by having the contingent knowledge it becomes, quite possibly, something else because one’s relationship with the work changes by having a more thorough or informed understanding of what it is. The greater the level of contingent knowledge, the greater the acuteness of assessment.
All of which is to say that Green Gartside may be too clever by half.
Once a member of Scritti Politti, Gartside now is Scritti Politti. White Bread Black Beer is performed by Gartside in its entirety. As he is not, apparently, some sort of musical polymathic virtuoso (think Todd Rundgren), this Emersonian self-reliance makes the instrumental backings of Gartside’s plaintive vocal renderings much weaker than those on the group’s earlier work (that is, when it was a group), especially 1989’s Provision, which brought in no less than Miles Davis to play trumpet on some cuts. Gartside’s synth sounds just don’t have the same resonance—to put it with profound understatement. But his layering of vocals, especially on “Mrs. Hughes,” is evidence that he’s in Brian Wilson terrain, despite the fact that SoCal is a long, long way from Wales.
While some people undoubtedly dismiss Scritti Politti’s work as pop, which it is, it is pop that, in effect, undermines pop. Or so it sets out to do. Which brings us back to the contingent knowledge. Like the name of the band, glommed from early 20th century Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. Or the fact that lyrics have referenced Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Derrida, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. This is not pop territory. On the disc at hand, the opening track, “The Boom Boom Bap” is quite possibly a variation on the zaum style that was pioneered by the Russian Futurists or a rendering of the type of sound poetry that was performed by Kurt Schwitters. Or consider this lyric from “Petrococadollar” (can you say “portmanteau word?”): “If you don’t have the wherewithal / You don’t need the why.” Few—if any—pop lyricists would even know how to spell wherewithal, to say nothing of using it in a tune.
While it is good to have some new Scritti since the last release, Anomie & Bonhomie of 1999 (yes, there’s that lit-studies major approach at it again), it is a bit disappointing that there is too much Wonder and not enough Guinness. Still, “Robin Hood” (which is not ostensibly a paean to the redistribution of wealth) is almost a Scritti Politti anthem, and it’s about time there’s been one of those.