Archive for October, 2012

“Executioner’s Song” by the Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys’ Long Slow Dance is one of my favorite albums released in 2012 thus far; here’s a taste.  I really love the lead guitar part and the melancholy muted horns on this track.


Your extremely late post for the week of 10/22/2012…

“Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter” by Titus Andronicus

So, Titus Andronicus released their third album, Local Business, on Tuesday.  The studio band has been pared down to five core members, and although some piano and harmonica appear on the album, Local Business aspires to be a somewhat simpler, back-to-the-basics album for Titus.

Overall, this album’s sound is a major shift away from their 2010 record The Monitor, a high-water mark which I feel is pretty close to a masterpiece.  Listening to “Still Life,” the difference is almost immediately apparent; the Neutral Milk Hotel-style lo-fi rhythm guitar fuzz on Titus’ earlier work has been replaced by a much cleaner guitar sound.  The songs on this album, for the most part, however despondent or frustrated their lyrics suggest they should be, tend to sound pretty cheerful, especially when compared to the angry, hole-in-my-heart-but-fuck-it-I’m-not-going-to-wallow-in-misery songs that comprised The Monitor.  That’s not to say they’re bad songs, just that they’re fairly different in character.  (Though a couple of the songs on the record, like my personal favorite, “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus,” actually do inspire some of the same emotional twinges as The Monitor.)  The bottom line is that this album has more of a pop sensibility than previous Titus records, despite the fact that there are two ten-minute epics included.

If I had to identify a couple of albums in my collection which are comparable to Local Business, I would point to 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope by the Clash and the 2008’s Civil War by the Dillinger Four — and, to a lesser extent, the Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic Let It Bleed.  I’ve read a few reviews of Local Business which refer to Titus frontman Patrick Stickles as a modern-day Joe Strummer, presumably because of Titus’ track record of producing high-minded, lyrically dense punk rock.  But another Clash connection occurs to me as I listen to Local Business:  When Stickles and Titus’ bassist harmonize (which is something new for this album), they do a rather impressive job of approximating the Joe Strummer-Mick Jones vocal harmony.  “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape…” sounds like Thin Lizzy combined with the Clash:  an Irish-sounding twin-guitar part in a song careened through with the energy of the Clash (and the aforementioned vocal harmonies).  I keep mentioning “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape…” and the truth is that I wanted that to be my song of the week, but the superior version on the studio album isn’t on YouTube (although a demo and a couple of live versions are).  “Still Life…” is a pretty good song too, however, with some clever lyrical gymnastics in the classic Titus mold.  The Dillinger Four comparison is more apt for this particular track.

Your extremely late post for the week of 10/15/2012…

“Nightmares” by A Flock of Seagulls

Fun though it may be to joke around about A Flock of Seagulls, I’ve come to appreciate them as a genuinely good band.  I now own their first two albums — one on CD and one on vinyl — and I must admit that I find much of their music very listenable and engaging.  One thing that has struck me is that for a group recognized as one of the key bands of synth-pop, the guitar plays an important and very noticeable role in the Flock’s sound.  This is especially true on their mostly pretty upbeat self-titled debut album, the one with “I Ran So Far Away” on it.  I think they became more electronics-centric as time went on, and Side 2 of their sophomore outing, 1983’s Listen, features some weirder, techno-type stuff.  But the bulk of the album finds the Flock in fine form, with a catchy hit single (“Wishing I Had a Photograph of You”), a warm ballad (“Transfer Affection”), an awesome, fast-paced account of extraterrestrial/paranormal activity (“It’s Not Me Talking”), and a clearly Joy Division-influenced song called “Nightmares.”

“Nightmares” lives up to its title.  From the start, the spacey, echoey production makes you feel uneasy and a bit paranoid.  During the verses, Paul Reynolds’ guitar part is creepy and sparse, generally leaving vocalist Mike Score alone with the bass and drums — contributing to the “open” feel that puts your stomach in knots for reasons you can’t explain.  Later on, the guitar sporadically joins the song fully, but it doesn’t put us at ease, instead contributing a brooding part to the dark, moody aura of a chorus in which Score literally calls upon his mother to assuage his fears.  (The importance of the lyrics here should not be underestimated; the protagonist of the song seems to be emotionally scarred or perhaps disturbed.)  The music makes us feel the fearful uneasiness of a nightmare-plagued night, and Score’s lyrics do a pretty good job of articulating the feeling into words as well.  And the weird sounds during the break actually don’t seem forced at all — they fit with the mood of the song, and not just the decade.

Opus 40 refers to a rock sculpture park and museum in Saugerties, NY. The park consists of winding passageways of interlinking reclaimed quarry rocks. Its layout reminds me of a large wave crashing though the scenic catskill mountains. The dreamy pop sound of Mercury Rev could not have picked a better location to set one of their masterpieces. There’s just something about Mercury Rev that sounds right. They can weave sweeping synths and guitar into a psychedelic dreamworld without ever sounding to grandiose or pompous, which is often a pitfall for would be psychedelic outfits. This is far and away my favorite song about rock sculptures.

For the week of 10/8/2012…

“Friendly Ghost” by Harlem

Harlem is a band with two frontmen.  On some songs, Michael Coomer serves as lead singer and guitarist, while Curtis O’Mara drums; on others, they switch off.  “Friendly Ghost,” a track on Harlem’s 2010 album Hippies, falls into the latter category.  Thunder from Coomer’s drums signals the beginning of the song, and O’Mara enthusiastically delivers the song’s first line:  “I live in a graveyard!”

Harlem, one of the key bands of vibrant garage-rock scene in Austin, Texas, has a real knack for writing upbeat songs with unbelievably catchy hooks.  Hippies is full of songs like that, with memorable melodies and guitar parts enlivening lyrics that are sometimes amusingly twisted, sometimes irresistibly dumb, and often unintelligible.  The subject matter of “Friendly Ghost” is a foundering relationship, and O’Mara’s singing to an extent communicates the emotions of someone trying to figure out where a love affair went wrong.  At the same time, there’s plenty of graveyard goofiness mixed in; the protagonist declares that he’s “just as see-through as Casper the Ghost” and in the chorus mentions digging towards spinning coffins (or something; that’s one of the unintelligible parts!).  And with its fast tempo and major chords, this ’60s-influenced garage rumble is hard to describe as anything other than upbeat.  If you can listen to the chorus without wanting to get up and dance, you my friend are far too morose.

Screaming Females, a punk trio hailing from Roselle Park NJ, have always had an intriguing band name. There is only one female in the band but I think that the character of her lead guitar sound gives the band license to pluralize. The track “Boss” is has a great interdependency between the guitar and voice. At points it seems like the singer is literally singing to the guitar itself. Lyrics like “I don’t need you to remind me who’s the boss… I, Cause I could be the boss of you any day, I try really hard” are sung while the guitar is entirely over powering them. The electric strumming is played at a pace that syncopates the singing giving the sound a lot of depth, and the whole thing is played over a really groovy bass and drum part.

For the week of 10/1/2012…

“Bobby Brown” by the Soft Pack

Q:  What does it sound like when a present-day indie band pays musical tribute to Bobby Brown and New Edition?

A:  Well, if this track off the Soft Pack’s new album is any indication, it sounds sort of like Julian Casablancas taking Morris Day’s place as frontman of the motherfuckin’ Time.*

No one’s contending that “Bobby Brown” is a tour de force in the lyrics department, but whatever; it’s a fun song with a pretty tight groove.  Check the saxophone solo by Tony Bevilacqua.

*Hell yeah that’s a Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back reference!  Now go listen to “Jungle Love” to refresh your memory about the greatest band in the world.