Posts Tagged ‘Garage’

The Cowboys

Bloomington’s best kept secret are back and burning like never before with their latest album for Feel It. Taking a springboard off of their last LP, 3rd, the band continues to refine their sound, rolling their garage rumble in a dose of blue-eyed soul and a few kaleidoscopic touches of ‘60s pop. The Bottom of a Rotten Flower has the band working at their tightest sonically, adding in an additional guitarist in the form of Chris Kramer (Nobunny), thickening up the sound and giving a slapdash of bubblegum fun to tracks like “Wet Behind The Eyes” and “Some Things Never Change.” They’ve shirked a bit of their Todd Rundgren cracked loner vibes this time around, and while I miss ‘em personally, this is a much more upbeat offering than the last that’s swaggering with a well-deserved confidence.

That’s not to say its all brash and guitar smash here. The band’s been notable for merging power pop, garage and classic rock touches into timeless songs that hang on the indominable rasp of Keith Harman, but they also know how to dim the lights without losing an ounce of energy. He’s breaking into the ‘80s soundtrack trophy case, pounding the keys like Elton and letting that sunset sax drip all over the end credits on “Now With Feeling.” While over on “My Conscience is Clean” they add a touch of smoke and smolder, draping the mic cable around their shoulders for a touch of garage-soul smolder. The band, naturally, shines when the tempos sweat and there’s a touch of cartoon glee in their eyes, but what makes this their most accomplished record is that they’re building something bigger than one off grab of garage hooks.

This is the closest the band has sounded to an album, planned and proper, sequenced to sting. It’s a big record that testifies to the enduring power of the electric guitar in an age when the form has begun its slide towards the bin for many. The Cowboys are proving as classic as their moniker – kicking out a true doublwide American rock n’ roller that feels built to endure and endear.



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The Villejuif Underground

The road to Villejuif’s last record came via a long since obscured and by now largely forgotten indie out of Australia by Camperdown and Out. The band’s lone Popfrenzy LP was a slacker joyride lead by the unfussed grizzle of Nathan Roche. It was a brief candle that was snuffed by circumstance when Roche jumped ship on Australia and headed for France. Once there, though, he cobbled a crew of shoestring slingers that injected the original Camperdown spirit with a dose of Beat Happening clatter and even more leathered laconic sneer. Roche, in his compulsion for geographical puns, dubbed the band Le Villejuif Underground, after the Parisian neighborhood they called home, but the band echoes more than a little of the aloof indignance of their more famous VU forbears.

Though, it must be said, Villejuif is far from Avant and hardly Art Rock. The band is the aural embodiment of a duct taped bass and a Korg with a stuck key. They’re dirt rock and loving it. The sophomore album only embraces this aesthetic further – celebrating backpacking trips, haunted castles, scenes and subscenes all with the mumbled grace of a Stereopathic-era Beck four gins deep. There’s a sense that The Villejuif Underground are both excellent and terrible party guests – they crack effortless jokes and know everyone in the room, but come morning there are limes in the toilet tank and at least one of them wore your slippers home after pelting onlookers with their own shoes from the balcony.

There’s a hipswung grace to When Will The Flies in Dauville Drop?. Roche is convening at the corner of Vaudeville and Bowery (circa ’77) – a poet laureate for the torn t-shirt all-nighters among us. The album burns quick, but the smoke lingers long into the next morning, stuck like hangover cottonmoth to the wrinkles of your brain. With their second LP, the band proves its more than just a whim and already outpacing Camperdown’s legacy.



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Night Beats

For his latest LP as Night Beats, Danny Lee Blackwell has a crises of character and we’re all invited along for the ride. Jettisoning the semblance of a “band,” the record is just Blackwell with a litany of studio hit men and Dan Auerbach behind the boards, working the Night Beats’ previously gritty garage into a swaggering, glossy blues-soul belter in the mold of the Keys themselves. Seems that Dan Auerbach is rolodexing his way through the wealth of indie talent these days – working with garage-soul powerhouse Shannon Shaw and making over Sonny Smith into a proper gentleman. The production match-ups have been met with a mixed-bag of outcomes. In Shaw, Auerbach saw a performer who was often left masked by genre – a natural torch singer who needed a proper stage to shine from. With Smith, however, he stripped away much of the songwriter’s downtrodden charm, giving his record the feel of an expensive imitation that wrinkles in the wash while the rest of his catalog comes out crisp and clean every time.

Now as to what he’s done with Night Beats – its a split decision to be honest. I like quite a few of the tracks that Auerbach and Blackwell have done together. When the songs are full of sound and darkness and swinging for the rafters they shake out the psych-soul swirls of Blackwell’s past into the kind of stadium rock that works with a packed crowd and an over-zealous light show. On the other side of the same coin, though, when the band brings down the lights and goes for tender vulnerability the look chafes like a cheap costume. On “Too Young To Pray,” “Am I Just Wasting My Time,” and “I Wonder” the record feels like its courting well outside of its intended audience, hamming it up for the Brillo Cream boomers that like the way that boy looks in a tie. And doesn’t he just sing lovely? Its Tom Jones with a sneer and a wide-brimmed fedora.

The gamble, unfortunately, tends to deflate even the best moments and leaves the record feeling like it can’t make up its mind to go all in on a big budget rock record or leave the Beats’ name behind and deliver a Blackwell soul-glo half-hour special. Fans of Night Beats likely came for the dark n’ downers, and were the whole album to strut in the manner of “One Thing,” “Eyes on Me” and “Let Me Guess,” this might stand among some of Night Beats’ best. There’s nothing to be lost from treading new ground, or even lightening the mood with a softer respite between the sweat-soakers, but on Myth of a Man Blackwell and Auerbach have pulled the rug out from under the band’s sound in the name of wilting ballads that don’t inspire love, lust or, sadly, repeat listens.



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The Coathangers – “Bimbo”

The Coathangers have weathered the garage bubble to become one of indie pop’s endearing forces. Album after album they’ve evolved from ragged hooks to the whipped butter heart-flutter of their latest for Suicide Squeeze. “Bimbo” eases in cool and collected, with a pop coo that belies the heel turn the band takes as they hit their stride a minute or so later. With a whip crack of fuzz the band fries the chorus in a hundred degree hook. They’re still making the blood boil but doing it with a subtle style that would make more than a few contemporaries jealous. Check out the vid for “Bimbo” above.



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The Cowboys – “Some Things Never Change”

Photo: Caroline Marchildon

Every new LP from Bloomington, Indiana’s The Cowboys further cements them in my mind as true savants of garage bliss. Over the past few years the rough edges have fallen away but their sense of chaotic fun hasn’t ebbed one bit. Their fourth LP is on the way from Feel It records who’ve worked with the band in the past, bringing their Volume 4 to LP from its humble cassette origins. “Some Things Never Change” is a sunny day strummer that’s pinned to a tumble of organ and some of the band’s catchiest hook work to date. This one carves out some of the soul and heads to the heart of power pop and it sounds good on ‘em. Definitely bumping this record up to the top of the anticipated pile for 2019.



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Tomorrow’s Tulips

Hate to say it, because it’s a bit of a lazy critical lob at this point, but the Tulips have sure been boiling down their late-period Velvet Underground to a bouillabaisse while recording their latest cassette. The band has always tipped the scales towards low-strung strummers with narcotic vocals, but Harnessed To Flesh strips away any previous guitar flash for an album that’s more appropriately harnessed to the carpet and shaking off the spins through two sides of spooled haze. There’s an even keel of hungover hum that drives the record with Alex Knost croaking through each song with the indifferent sigh of an art rock solo stint written off by the label as a break-even place holder. That he pulls it off with an air of ineffable grace is to his credit in committing fully to the rough-night sound.

The band are now four albums deep, and while they’ve mutated a bit since that first LP hit back in 2011, for the most part the band has hung close to the lo-fi linger, the post-grunge saunter and the nth wave no-frills strum of garage-pop swagger. They’re not busting their molds here, but there are some moments that beg more than one go-round on the headphones. “Overnight Obsession” is full of morning fog and aimless bliss. “Certain Frantic Quality” – despite having no frantic qualities whatsoever – hangs on a leathered shimmy that’s hard to ignore. Sadly, they tend to get a bit lost in the number ends of their songwriting spectrum more often than not, but when the band hits the right mix of sunglass slumped aloof burnin’ grist its hard not to perk up an ear. At four albums in I’m not betting they’re going to self-edit too much, but good times are notable here for those building out some shaggy playlists of late.






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Baby Grandmothers’ Kenny Håkansson on The Shadows – “Apache”

Before there was the current wave of Swedish psychedelia, there was Baby Grandmothers. The trio helped shape the sound that would trickle down to Dungen, Skogen Brinner, The Works and Life on Earth. Much of that was due to the guiding hand of guitarist Kenny Håkansson, who would shift the band’s sound from a more basic rock approach into shades of psychedelia that pushed farther than their peers. A few years back the band’s early recordings were resurrected by Dungen’s Reine Fisk, a collection which surely seemed like the definitive archive of their works. However, the band, not content to be consigned to merely Swedish history, is back with a new album for Subliminal Sounds this year. Before diving into the new sounds, Håkansson takes us back to where he began, with one of the key surf singles of all time from The Shadows.

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Jon Spencer

It seems almost crazy, but this is Jon Spencer’s first solo LP. The man’s been holding down the scuzziest deep end of garage rock for so long its easy to take it for granted that he’ll be there, slinging freaky fuzz riffs for the ages no matter who’s backing him up, though. From Blues Explosion to Pussy Galore to Boss Hog, Jon’s there with the right sleaze for all your needs time and time again and I’ll be damned if he’s not there again. First time I saw the Blues Explosion it was a dropped jaw experience. The band was tight, the riffs were filthy and the whole room was filled with a freaky ectoplasm that spread from listener to listener like an infection of groove. That groove is still on hand and it shows no signs of ebbing even with Spencer all by his lonesome.

To be fair there is no real genre that holds Jon Spencer in check. He’s a funk Dennison and a rock Svengali greased by the gods to make your ass shake and your soul drop three floors below into the sub-basement of hell to roast while the narcotic groove rattles around your insides. He’s a wizard, a shaman, a prophet, a mage conscripted to the highest church of burnt ozone brain fry. There’s no cage that can hold his chemical burn barrage and that’s just the way it should be. Spencer Sings the Hits! proves this over and over, with each blast of taut tension that unfolds over these thirty-three minutes of divine damnation. There’s no better freak conductor than Jon Spencer and don’t you forget it.

True, solo Spencer is pretty close to what the Blues Explosion would be doing on the average Wednesday night in 2018, which is to say shimmy-shakin’ through the soul-glo delirium tremens and hoppin’ the bus to the graveyard shift at the fuzz factory. You know what, though, I’m not looking for huge departures from Spencer. I know what I came for and he’s delivering on the demand. Its a perfect dose of melted medulla machinations and in a year when everything is too much to handle, a little bit of freak shimmy is just what the new world ordered.



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BB and the Blips, Tommy and the Commies, Rata Negra, Timmy’s Organism

Its been a packed fall, that follows on a pretty packed 2018 in general when it comes to the volume of releases that have found their way to listeners over the last ten months. With that in mind I’m going to try to increase the visibility on some worthy releases with occasional combo crunched reviews that still allow some depth yet let me move through the inbox faster than my busy schedule normally allows.

Tommy and the Commies – Here Come
First up, Ontario’s Tommie & The Commies crack open a breakneck punk record that’s pulling (almost too close for comfort at some points) right from the playbooks of The Undertones and The Buzzcocks. At only 16 minutes long, the album doesn’t leave a lot of time to catch one’s breath, but this kind of classic punk wasn’t meant for sitting still. It was meant for tossing beer bottles and stray spittle at the torn silhouettes on stage while mashing yer face into the mass of humanity that is the pit. The songs are appropriately nervy, snotty and breathless – never even stopping for a Ramones-worthy 1-2-3-4 to leap into the fray. Lead lugger Tommy Commy’s perfected his Feargal Sharkey impression to the point that its almost torture not to hear the band tear into a cover of “Jump Boys” every time a new track revs up. This one ain’t beating down any new paths, but for those punks who have been missing the glory days, this’ll do to get the pogo pounce out of your system.


BB and the Blips – Shame Job
Swinging the spotlight from Canada to Australia, but keeping the focus on new bands with a classic slant, we arrive at the proper punk burner from BB and the Blips. The band, made up of ex-pats from Housewives, Good Throb and Semi, is nailing down the kind of middle-finger teardowns that made X-Ray Spex and Penatration formative touchstones. The Blips are tackling a ten-track dissection of shame, but they’re hardly stopping long enough to linger on the stomach-sick effects of the emotion. The album blisters by in a growl of guitars and a delirium of helium and heat vocals. As with the Commies, this one feels reverent to another day and age, but they’re pulling it off with conviction and style, so who cares that this brand of gnash-toothed punk has been bought and sold before. Shame Job doesn’t waste a moment and never lets go.


Rata Negra – Justicia Cosmica
Another international jump swings the lens to Madrid, where Rata Negra have been bashing out acerbic post-punk since 2014. Following on the band’s absolute crusher Oido Absoluto the Spanish band continues to mop the floor with most contenders on Justicia Cosmica. The new record seems to lack a bit of the bottom-end grit that marked their previous effort, but it finds them just as frantic and furious as they’ve ever been. Adding some occasional keys to the mix pushes the dial forward on the time circuits here, landing them just a touch into the early ‘80s from where they last left off. Still not taking an ounce of shit, though, the band feels ready to fight via fists or phrases until their dying days. The bass is knotty, the vocals sound as if they could sear the flesh from your skull (at least until the rather wistful “Nada va a Permanecer Dorado” hits) and the guitars are filthy with fuzz. Madrid’s been something of a hotbed for punk and post-punk these days and Rata Negra are leading the charge among the city’s best.

Timmy’s Organism – Survival of the Fiendish
Detroit’s favorite degenerate emissaries are back with a new album and the same oil slick mutant punk in their pockets. Timmy’s Organism has long been a favorite around here and their latest ticks all the same boxes that endeared them to me in the first place. Survival of the Fiendish is sopping up the gutter grease that festers below us while we sleep. Timmy Vulgar is the embodiment of the reasons that parents have been confiscating punk tapes from the dawn of the genre. The album is full of ill will, evil intentions and the kind of oozing riffs that should reduce your speakers to a pile of festering goo. Though, the boys do let themselves evolve. Is that a piano I hear on “Green Grass?” Is that acoustic guitar wafting through “South Shore Train?” Maybe the mutants have softened in their old age. Well, maybe not. There’s still plenty of bile to be had, but the record does show some growth among the Organism’s impulses. After a move through the label ranks – Sacred Bones, In The Red, Third Man – the band graces the spools of Burger and it all seems to make sense. Thanks Baphomet for Timmy’s Organism. They’re perennial solid senders of the evil ooze.



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Paint

L.A.’s Allah-Las trade in their fair amount of ‘60s shaded nostalgia, and while they’re usually brimming with a decent dose of homegrown appeal, the solo stint from ‘Las guitarist and songwriter Pedrum Siadatian makes his mainstay sound positively modern by comparison. The faded photo trappings are most certainly by design. Siadatian is reaching for the hidden bins that house the hometapers, the 4-track quiet geniuses and the unstable imps of the acid-blotted paisley past. Helmed at the production desk by the similarly inclined pastiche painter Frank Maston, he crafts an album that seeps up from the humble hovels of R. Stevie Moore and F.J. McMahon sounding like its never seen so much as the door to a proper studio. That’s not a complaint mind you, the pair are aiming for a record that could easily slip between the cracked covers of the private press gold rush and blend in seamlessly and they’re pulling it off swimmingly. Siadatian’s clearly done his research and delights in creating something of a crumpled homage.

Paint catches the same prism-bent dusty sunshine that revs up the cardboard kaleidoscopes of Kevin Ayers, Danny Graham and Billy Nicholls. Siadatian makes it seem effortless, but I get a sense that he and Maston have gone to lengths to meticulously craft an air of economical wonder to match these low-key touchstones. Maston doesn’t push the project too hard, or imprint himself as heavily as one might imagine given his own passions for the past. Instead of coifing this record in lush brushstrokes of the Library psych he’s so fond of, he’s let the backroom hiss and bedroom sleepiness linger. Just because the mics are bedroom bound doesn’t mean this thing is totally sparse, though. The songs are still adorned with brain tangling backwards guitars, satin organs and flute swells, but the sounds are stuffed into the spectrum like they were tracked in tandem, stuffed into a third-floor apartment.

Paint has the feeling of a one-off curio, which are oftentimes the best records. It remains unclear if this is to become a new avenue for Siadatian in the long run, or just a way to shake out some private press psych impulses. Either way he’s ticking a lot of boxes on the RSTB favorites list and the album elevates itself to be more than just style over substance. It’s a well-conceived diorama of psych that creeps under the skin time and again.



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