Monday, January 9, 2017

Goal for 2017: More Marching Church

One of the social outcomes of the November general election is the way in which American leftists now criticize and coach ourselves, telling each other in both hindsight and anticipation that we ought to be fighting like conservativesto be the unrelenting, uncompromising, more confrontational versions of ourselves. There's no way of knowing until it happens whether this will result in the U.S. (and surely, the internet) becoming one giant, overwhelming bucket of passion, tearing us in all directions. But by George (!), we'll all have clear cut stances to put out there and fight for. The same might be said of musicians, or any artist, really. You can preach the word if you please, whatever the word is, but be passionate, be convincing and convinced, be mighty.

Marching Church is the more recently active project of Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, frontman (or, as Lias Saoudi might call it, posturer) of Copenhagen's Iceage. Marching Church runs parallel to Iceage; it's also drawn comparisons to Nick Cave, and with good reason. As with the transition from Birthday Party to Bad Seeds, this is what happens when a fighting spirit ages out of punk rock and into piano ballads. It's the songs of the Twilight Sad as performed by members of Killing Joke, with tumbling drums, looming violin, and Rønnenfelt's tortured soul up front. Exception being, perhaps, the single "2016," which is what the Waterboys might've become if they'd run with what they were in 1988.

The project has a European fearlessness to it: unafraid to pour out, to not just mimic the style of but embrace the passion of its past musical heroes, to shout the loudest not out of arrogance but out of desperation. American punk doesn't act with this sort of desperation, and perhaps it's never needed to. But that's neither here nor there. Rønnenfelt and his work consistently walk the line between artsy and militant, with urgent force. If this wasn't the most exciting album of 2016, it was certainly one more in a string of thrilling releases led by a commanding presence. Madly in love with this one.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Slurping away at 2016 with a very tiny spoon

Th' good ol' month of January will likely be spent catching up on all the music missed in 2016; when we [certainly, the royal we] were busy spending last year catching old favorites like PJ Harvey and Wreckless Eric and the Cure, or slogging away at proper job, or panicking, we were also busy missing new goodies. So here's part one of a little roundup of fun records and project announcements missed 'round these parts last year.


Vexx - Wild Hunt EP

Wild Hunt begins like Damned Damned Damned and ends like (GI); it's speedy and fun and gory and violent and supports the possibility that great, unmarketable punk albums will be coming out of Olympia -- and shouted out by women -- until the world caves in. Look for the Runaways cover that beats the Runaways at their own game by a long shot.

Purchase Wild Hunt (M'Lady's Records also has a ridiculous number of great reissues for sale, by the way)


Hellrazor - Satan Smile

Hellrazor is a minor super-ish East Coast group that includes Mike Falcone (drummer of Speedy Ortiz) on guitar/vocals, Jon Hartlett (bassist of Ovlov) on drums, and Julian Wahlberg (guitarist of the Screw-Ups) on bass. They have the same essential harkback to grunge that many of their sister acts around New England bear, but the perk that seems to come with having a guitarist as bass player -- think Stranglers here -- is that the bass on this album is so fucking fat. Yes.

Purchase Satan Smile via New Professor Music (based in Los Angeles?!)


And countering some of the current shit of the world is this marvelous project thought up by Waxploitation's awfully well-connected founder Jeff Antebi, a book of stories written by contemporary musicians and accompanied by art. Its sale will benefit several different child literacy nonprofits. But the best part of this project, perhaps, is the choice of narrator in each of its promotional videos. Here are a couple favorites thus far in promotion of Stories for Ways & Means:

Ah jeez, and there are signed prints for sale!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

When Kristin Hersh returned

A few weeks ago, Kristin Hersh walked into a live set in Los Angeles that ought to have been quite the clusterfuck; she'd skipped soundcheck, used long tuning pauses to show for it, destroyed her G string (the funniest string, at least), and killed time while her producer attempted to replace said string. But she'd marvelously passed these tests of character, and kept a straight face throughout, gracefully transitioning between the stories that complemented her lyrics: post-fight drives in the snow, pieced-together bar chatter, Throwing Muses' recipe for hooker gazpacho. She's warm and witty and likable and the type of person you hope always gets her due, and it's fulfilling to see that she's figured out how to make her career sustainable.

As she mentioned to Vanyaland last month, "Right now with the music business toppling onto its face it’s a good time to open up your product to other media [...] people pay money for that while they won’t really pay for music anymore." Other media refers to her partial transition from musician to writer, following up two full-length books with a five-book deal and promoting an album that's paired with a book of essays and memories, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. She figured this thing out years ago.

In three decades, her voice has transformed into a mish-mash of a child and everybody's smoking aunt, and while she's bold and tough with a full band behind her, she sounds a little terrified and reluctant when she's on her own. But some of the best writers are the ones who observe and record what is rather than making up stories from scratch, and she's an excellent writer, keeping tabs on the funny and frightening moments and turning her notes into something that [perhaps hopefully] passes for abstract poetry. So it's no wonder that she sounds like she's in hiding -- she's sharing the type of stuff she's always written about, but telling us openly that it's not in fact abstract.

Wyatt runs long and is very much of her time [the '90s], but it's Kristin on display as a versatile musician, a skilled guitarist, and above all else, a proper writer, in ascending order.

Not only can you purchase Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, you can sponsor Kristin's work in exchange for rewards like concert tickets, albums, and the chance to join her in the studio.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Hamburg saves Christmas!

Tan LeRacoon has gone and made the best new Christmas song since Mariah's masterpiece. It's naïve and timely and idealistic, the understated anthem for peace and unity when it's most appropriate and most needed. Which makes it consistent with Tan's idealism and long-term hopes. The single also includes a new mix of "Hurt pt. 1" from this year's Dangerously Close to Love and a brand new, mildly bluesy instrumental that creeps along. Really marvelous seven-inch worth going after this season.

Purchase the loveliest Christmas single of the year.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The sky is falling down: Mark Sultan returns!

Nine years ago, The King Khan and BBQ Show toured, and made a cheery little appearance at Spaceland in Los Angeles, and if you'd asked their handsome German merch guy which of their albums he preferred, he might've said something along the lines of, "Oh, it depends. This one [holding up an album] is more doo-woppy than that one [pointing]. It all depends on how doo-woppy you like it." In fact, this is what he'd said. 

In August 2016, Mark Sultan returned to Los Angeles on his own, as part of a solo tour marked by angry social media posts about not receiving support unless he was touring as part of his band. The show was equally uncomfortable, Sultan alternating between his energetic croon and aggressive threats to end the show, responding to interruptions by a persistent heckler. Naturally, this distracted from would otherwise have been wildly apparent, the fact that Sultan happens to be a hell of a singer who actually sings. With his newest LP, BBQ, which is available digitally but can't seem to make its way to press, one gets the impression that Sultan just can't catch a break. 

He's done the one-man band thing for years, but his teenage longing on this album is more akin to a middle-aged ice cream man, demanding that you get in his truck, little girl. He's the 43-year old who's never stopped pining, only these love letters are interspersed with moments of brilliant madness; listen for "Agitated," "You to Be Mine," and "Black and Blue." This is no longer doo-woppy crooning and daydreaming, it's sneering and bitterly insisting that you're mine, goddamn it. He's been singing the same song all along, but he's grown a bit impatient, and he's created the soundtrack to a life that sounds to have fallen in a hole, regardless of whether it's really the case or not. So when this record manages to get released (and it appears to exist nowhere), give it a purchase and help him get to a nice, happy place where he can get back to being more doo-woppy.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

While Trump was giving his victory speech, I desperately wanted to explode with some comment about how no one looked more horrified than Barron Trump, or that, you know, if nothing else, at least the Imperial Wizard is happy tonight. But the alcohol has long worn off, and all I can feel is incredibly disappointed that this is the best we could do. I'm baffled at how many people place faith in the idea of a single candidate reversing the world, and the spectrum of what reversing the world means; I'm disappointed that Clinton gave Debbie Wasserman Schultz a new campaign role right after she'd resigned as DNC Chair; I'm disappointed that we've handed control to a wild card with no political experience and six bankruptcies behind him, because "at least we know what we're not getting." Never mind what we are getting.

Maybe we won't build a wall or create a registry of Muslims or repeal Roe v. Wade in the next few years; the terrifying thing is that we managed to elect him in spite of everything he's put out there, and in support of it. The smartest thing, at this point, would be to sort out what Democrats officially stand for so that we can rally behind whoever runs in 2020, as a single party.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Lower Plenty - Sister Sister

A couple years ago, Al Montfort gave an interview in which he suggested that the difference between American and Australian acts is Australia's lack of ambition, that "you're not going to go very far so you might as well try to write something that you really love rather than something that will sell." And maybe the freedom they've granted themselves is why this site seems to be filling so quickly with Montfort's incestuous circle in Melbourne; just a few months ago, it was time to sing the praises of his band Terry, and already, we've got another album by the six-years-in Lower Plenty to look up to.

Part of Sister Sister harks back to the freak folk movement of the early 2000s, and the album might be at its best during the pairing of "Ravesh" and "All the Young Men," though album closer "Treehouses" is soothing, almost like an adult attempting to be earnest and childlike. Lower Plenty's brand of mopey folk, doing its best impression of '90s individuality but with Velvet Underground-style strings, vocal duties split three ways, has character without being zany. In fact, it's a beautiful, rainy day collection, and what with some of their singing duties handed to Sarah Heyward, there's an awful lot of My Bloody Valentine's "Lose My Breath" seemingly scattered throughout the album. Not that they haven't already proven their sense of humor, of course, and one gets the impression that they might be playing these melancholy songs on the living room floor while laughing about them all the while.

Purchase Sister Sister on Bandcamp.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Aldous Harding will make you weepy

The woman who once told Australia's Beat"I look a little bit upset when I dance," and "I want to write a song like 'Quicksand,' by golly!" is unexpectedly healthy-humored in the way that Fiona Apple could give a funny and self-deprecating interview about weed shortly after releasing the saddest collection of breakup songs imaginable, or the way Rosie Thomas has managed for years to split duties between singer-songwriter and playing Sheila.

New Zealand's Aldous (Hannah) Harding is dry and confident and makes the face of a boxer when she sings. Her singing accent is a goddamn mystery. And she makes some of the most stunning but dour folk around right now, lending lines like "here I find no peace at all" and "I would rather die than sleep tonight." She wouldn't be out of place positioned between Delia Murphy and Molly Drake on a long, dark day's listening, which is really to say that she's perhaps singing in character as an Irish housewife whose husband has left for war and won't return. Or, really, who is preparing for death. You might feel the same way listening to Harding that you felt listening to Lhasa's last record. If you go and see her sing at the Smell in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, you can ask her yourself where that voice comes from.

Purchase her self-titled record, which has been out for a bit in New Zealand and was slow to reach the rest of us.