I’ve never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or been on a roller coaster, and until two months ago I had never heard London Calling by the Clash. In my adolescent punker days the number of tracks scared me away: 19 on a punk record. In college I couldn’t justify buying something I should have owned twice already or face the stares of the record store clerks. It took another 8 years and ten dollars left on a Best Buy gift card for me to finally take the plunge and give London Calling a good hard listen.
Of course, London Calling isn’t a punk record. There’s no loud and fast, sneer and scoff posturing that makes cartoons out of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. While punk made it possible for the Clash to be a band it’s equally important that they broke away, and that’s what made them, as Joe Strummer put it, the only band that mattered.
All genres are constricting and the great bands are the ones who can live in styles and not for them. The songs on this album span continents and islands, yet never fake the accent. There are girls, cars, movie stars and shady characters sporting dread locks and duck asses. It’s expansive and great, but it isn’t perfect. I stand by my initial reason for avoiding this purchase, there are too many tracks. But there are so many A-grade songs that a B+ just doesn’t cut it here.
Track-by track breakdown of the best album I’d never heard after the jump…
Aha Shake Heartbreak, the second full length album from Kings of Leon, packs a lot of punch into just over thirty five minutes. They say they’ve grown up and the proof is in the grooves of this record. Still combining southern rock and garage rock, the Followill brothers and first cousin have added some depth to their songs and pushed their influences back. Songs range from driving fuzzed out rockers, “Slow Night, So Long,” to lilting yodeling moans, “Day Old Blues,” while keeping the same pulse like a heartbeat going about its day. The decision to record live this time around, again with Ethan Johns behind the mixing board, keeps the tracks personal and the music pulsing. There is an intensity to the music like each member was staring the others dead in the eye during every track.
Brother Caleb, lead vocals, has a slurred way of singing that can be something to get past or get used to, but in the context of the songwriting it works. The mumbled lyrics are worth straining an ear to catch cut-throat images of balding eighteen-year-olds and letting your perfect nipples show.
The most appealing part of Aha Shake Heartbreak is how it holds up in its entirety. There’s no stand out single here, and even the softer numbers, “Milk” and “Day Old Blues,” carry the weight of the rest of the album. Each song keeps a similar thread with the others while bringing its own spin on the sound. For a band that was saddled with the titles of the new CCR and Skynyrd, it’s refreshing to see them not rest on the laurels of their influences, whether real or not, and find their own way.
The Drive By Truckers are in a dangerous spot. They’re coming off of two critically praised albums, somewhat non-stop touring and the most poisonous dart of them all, industry buzz. There’s a lot riding on their new record The Dirty South and after you strip away all the whispers and expectations what’s left is a monument of modern southern rock and proof positive that this band matters.
“Where the Devil Don’t Stay” opens the album with a slow stomp on the bass drum sounding like a prelude to a barroom dustup. The guitars ring like funeral bells and before the 20-second mark Daddy’s playing poker in the woods. It doesn’t take long to see why the Truckers have become the standard of modern Southern rock which all others are measured against. To put it simply, they mean what they say and tell the truth.
It’s easy for a band to take stake in where they call home and try to drum up some local pride and mystique from outsiders to create an image. So what’s different about this band? The Drive By Truckers aren’t writing “Sweet Home Alabama” over and over again, they’re not afraid to paint an ugly picture and love it all the same. “Puttin’ People on the Moon” (mp3) deals with outlaws turned Wal-Mart employees and cancer riddled wives with no health insurance in a world where space exploration seems more important to the folks in charge.
They love their legends but moreso the real stories behind them, and there’s always another side of the story that hasn’t been told by Disney or Hollywood. Tall tales are told without sugary esthetics (“The Day John Henry Died”), heroes are sung about without blind admiration (“Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”), and southern history is rewritten from the perspective of the bad guy (“The Boys From Alabama”).
The album flows from bluesy stomps to jangley country pop to mournful shuffles. The hard driving three-guitar frontline gives the faster songs a depth and lushness not often found in this era of two-piece bands and power trios. The slower numbers are allowed to creep in and curl up with just a room mike on an acoustic guitar and a well placed bass drum.
Whether it’s tearing up or turning down The Dirty South remains solid with well oiled, home grown musicianship and stories told with an accent you can’t fake. The Drive By Truckers have delivered another gem of Southern culture and I have faith that they’ll do it again.
No one can ever accuse Ben Kweller of lacking energy. He is at times the epitome of what a young rocker should be; tearing up the Metro stage one minute and doing yoga on Carson Daily’s show for no apparent reason the next. On his new release, On My Way, the young Mr. Kweller’s energy is abundant and refreshing. In this era of maudlin euro-pop and cartoonish punk/metal aping, it’s nice to see that some kids still have fun just making rock records.
Paired this time around with producer Ethan Johns, On My Way crackles with the vinyl buzz of rock made simple. The live sound of the album lends a personal quality that suggests the music might just be coming from the basement next door. Unlike the previous Sha Sha, there’s no polished pop masterwork here, just good room sounds and warm guitar to microphone tones.
The vocal and guitar hooks that line the album are still very much Kweller’s own. “The Rules” has enough memorable guitar banging to keep many a cover band busy while the fans of Kweller’s anti-folk, coffee house days will be appeased by the bare acoustic title track, which references karate in the first two lines and still comes off as sweet.
At times the album rests heavily on its influences. The first track, “I Need You Back,” could very easily be Ben Kweller lending lead vocals to a King’s Of Leon instrumental, the very band that introduced Ben to the idea of recording with Johns. In other tracks I heard equally significant Let It Be-era Beatles references as well as some good old Detroit garage rock. Though the songs remain catchy, it’s better when Kweller is just Kweller.
The closing track, “Different But The Same,” may be the best track on the album. It’s mature and well crafted, in both writing and production. The album cover depicts Kweller standing tall among the wolves and the album does the same. It’s not Sha Sha and that’s what’s good about it. Ben Kweller has grown and matured and gone from clever pop to smart rock very gracefully.