Friday, June 15, 2012

REVIEW: Japandroids -- Celebration Rock

"Whatsoever is material, doth soon vanish away into the common substance of the whole; and whatsoever is formal, or whatsoever doth animate that which is material, is soon resumed into the common reason of the whole; and the fame and memory of anything is soon swallowed up by the general age and duration of the whole."    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, The Seventh Book

"Bullbats hawk the insects in the warm air next to the pavement."  Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

"Sweet JESUS, my heart is beating faster and faster."  Art Brut, "Modern Art"

I'll make a confession, for what it's worth. A few months ago I read some interview with Japandroids guitarist Brian King where he said one of the things about their then-upcoming album, Celebration Rock, that would be different from their 2009 debut was that he actually had written lyrics. I thought this was a terrible idea.  After all, it was the irreverent exuberance of those repeated lines that made Post Nothing so special. You could write all the lyrics from that entire record on a single square of Charmin. I love that record with a fanatical abandon (it was my '09 AOY with a bullet, as they say) and have challenged any willing music dweeb to name any three song cycle on any album that can match the sheer heart-pounding joy of "The Boys are Leaving Town "/"Young Hearts Spark Fire"/"Wet Hair" from that record. So my concern with this lyrics business was that someone had hijacked their sound, and the new record would be a canuxsploitation -- you know, complete with a cover of "Fight the Good Fight" by fellow countrymen Triumph.

Well, not for the last time was I dead wrong, and now, after about 30 times through this 8 song dervish of a record in the past 2-plus weeks (damn right I preordered from Polyvinyl and got it a week early), I am ready to close the books on the album of the year. Hell, I'm ready to enshrine it in the canon right now so I can look smart 20 years down the road. This album is a bracing, jarring, sonic joyride by two guys who know how to play their instruments, and who also have been reared in the rock and roll temple.

Although King and drummer David Prowse always have worn their influences on their collective sleeve, covering the likes of Mclusky and Big Black on earlier releases, and monkeying with a Thin Lizzy song title on the debut, their brash cover of The Gun Club's tribal-gothic "For the Love of Ivy", even (thankfully) subbing in "answers" for the racial epithet near the end of the song, is an unqualified success. The dirty production and fuzzed vocals on the song match the sense of menace in the original without any cheap attempts at mimicking the unique wail of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The song is from the 1983 album Fire of Love, which I consider to be one of the 20 greatest rock and roll albums of all time. Covering "For the Love of Ivy," though, is just the most overt homage to the album. On Celebration Rock's third song, "Evil's Sway," the repeated "sexual red" imagery is lovingly borrowed from Fire of Love's psychobilly anthem "Jack on Fire."

I haven't had the time or the need to parse out the lyrics, but the new approach works. For now, the lyrics are like great impressionist art, in that the fragments may be inscrutable, but when experienced as a whole, the message is clear:

Celebration Rock has the pacing and feel of 70s vinyl recordings, when bands used to group songs into two cycles, one for each side. Here, each side begins with three relentless power anthems followed by something to check the inertia. On "side one" it's the Gun Club cover, and on "side two" the album closes with "Continuous Thunder," a slower, almost wizened coda along the lines of the way the Hold Steady seem to like to finish their records. In all, it's the best 34 minutes committed to record in a year that's shaping up to be mighty strong for good music. Go buy it, and go see their excellent live show. For a glimpse of the latter, check out this recent performance of "Fire's Highway" (more Fire of Love imagery) on Fallon, with my apologies if you have to sit through a commercial (it's worth it).

Japandroids homepage

Polyvinyl Records

The Soul Corner: Eddie Hinton - "Hard Luck Guy"; "Everybody Needs Love"

Eddie Hinton was born in Tuscaloosa Alabama on this day June 15, in 1944. I only discovered Hinton a couple years ago based on the proselytizing of both Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers ) and Peter Case.
But man what a soul singer. This one is my favorite:

"Everybody Needs Love" is a great one as well.

The Drive-By Truckers recently recorded a fine cover version of "Everybody Needs Love" played here live in June 2011:

Eddie Hinton was lead guitar player in the Muscle Shoals studio band, and played on recordings by Wilson Pickett,  Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, and Elvis Presley, to name a few. Patterson Hood's father David was the bass player in that legendary band.
Hinton's own recordings never got their due, perhaps the world not being ready for a white soul singer that real and raw. He was as talented a songwriter as he was a vocalist and guitar player, the best known of Hinton's songs being "Breakfast in Bed", the Dusty Springfield classic, covered by many including Jamaican singer Lorna Bennett, who transformed it into a reggae classic.

Hinton died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of just 51.  We celebrate his birth and great music today.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

REVIEW: Sam Russell With The Harborrats - The Water Balloon

Seattle singer/songwriter Sam Russell, with his frequent collaborators, The Harborrats, has just released The Water Balloon, the fifth edition of his Blue Moon Bible series.  What does this writer do when he discovers there is a new release from Sam Russell With the Harborrats?  I assure you, it was an entirely objective and professional response - I set aside my other work, ignored other deadlines, procured the album and resolved to push it towards the head of the line and get a post out as soon as I could.  After all, we aren't just highly-paid and internationally acclaimed tastemakers at When You Motor Away, we are fans of music we like.  And I like what Sam and his friends are serving.

And what comes from the tap is Americana soul.  The music has high energy, emotional depth and a lead vocalist in Russell that, as another critic once wrote, no other artist ever wants to follow on stage.  The music reflect Memphis soul, old fashioned pop, garage, folk and country, but specializes in songs that start slowly, pulling the listener into the story, and then explode into rollicking climax.  Moreover, the work is impressive not just because it sounds good.  The songs are authentic stories about life, with humor, sorrow and optimism.

Memphis soul from a white boy who grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin?  Here is the lead track:

A slower tempo offering is the title track, a sublime tale of addiction and potential redemption:

You can stream the entire eight-track album at the Bandcamp link.  But you also can purchase it for six dollars.

Sam wrote all the songs on the album.  The player credits are as follows:
Sam Russell-vocals, guitar 
Michael Spaly-violin, vocals mandolin, guitar 
James Apollo-vocals, keyboards, guitar, harmonica 
Carey Rayburn-trumpet 
Allison Tulloss-vocals, flute, keyboards 
Kjell Anderson-violin 
Schuyler Jones-electric bass 
Ken Nottingham-upright & electric bass 
Dave Forrester-drums, percussion 
Isaac Chirino-percussion 
Toby Hanson-accordion 
John Tomlinson-Hammond B3 
Carlos Tulloss-bass on 3 
Nathan Wade-vocal on 6 
Daniel Jay Shontz-trombone on 5 
Justin Roeser-guitar on 4 

"Support Your Local Waitress" is a fun pop track --

The Blue Moon Bible series is intended to be eight albums with eight tracks each, and they feature recurring lyrical themes.  The crack When You Motor Away accounting department assures me that Water Balloon is number five.  The sixth, The Year of the Cow, is scheduled for an August release.  You can find past releases in the series at the links below.  In reflecting on the list, I was impressed with the number of songs from past releases that have spots on my favorite playlists.  And to entice you to spend a bit of time exploring the prior volumes, here is the wonderful title track to Volume C, "Salted Caramel Shake" --

Blue Moon Bible series homepage
Sam Russell's Facebook

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New video from Fear Of Men

Yes, I have written frequently in the past year about Fear of Men, a British four-piece from Brighton and London.  And I expect that I will continue to do so because they are good and getting even better.  Bands of this quality that don't have big labels behind them not only need press for the blogger brigade, they deserve it.

We recently profiled the band's new single on Sexbeat (here and here).  We are writing about them today because they followed up the single with a self-made video for the title track.  Enjoy!

Jess, the lead vocalist, advised me that the video was filmed on a budget of 15 pounds.  If they aren't careful, we might appoint them to sort out the finances of Greece and Spain.

Twitter ( @fearofmen )

REVIEW: Violens -

Violens seem a band quite comfortable in their groove -- ace purveyors of a synth and guitar based shoegaze pop.  And they should be, because the sound has a certain timelessness, and they are very good at it. Their latest album is True, recently was released on Slumberland Records.  The sound is warm, with plenty of reverb and vocals somewhat back in the mix, giving the music a somewhat dreamy ambiance.  However, the tone and lyrics have a dark shade to them even in some cases, implying tragedy or the potential for violence.  The overall result is a sweet sounding album infused with an intriguing moodiness and somewhat disquieting edginess.

Lead track "Totally True" is one of them more straightforward pop songs on the album:

"All Night Low" has a more direct and sinister feel --

The band was formed in 2007, and is based in Brooklyn.  Its members are Jorge Elbrecht (lead vocals, guitar), Iddo Arad (synths, guitar, vocals) and Myles Matheny (bass, guitar, vocals).  Jorge also shouldered the production duties for True.  Violens previously released the Amoral LP in 2010.

Here is album track "Der Microarc" --

There is no shortage of synth pop or shoegaze on the current music scene.  But Violens climb to near the top of the heap, and earn our attention.  The songs on True are well-written, and expertly and passionately performed.  The hazy, shoegaze atmosphere is a deliberate sonic tapestry, not a convenience to full space in a song.  And the distinction between the two means that the songs on this album stick in your head, and feel familiar when you return to them.  Give it a listen.

Twitter ( @Violens )

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Black Tambourines - Chica EP

The Black Tambourines, from Falmouth, United Kingdom, have featured on these pages before (here), and I don't expect this will be the last time.  Their brand of surfy garage rock always satisfies this writer and leaves me wanting more.  I recently discovered that the boys in the band released the Chica EP in December 2011.  We suggest that you make up for lost time by streaming it immediately.  The alert reader will also note that it is available to download.  This is a great time to increase you collection of great songs by The Black Tambourines.

The listed members, with full Christian and surnames as provided on their birth certificates, are:
Young Padiwan Stacpoole (vocals, guitar)
Rogan Josh Spencer (guitar, vocals)
Jake Willbourbon (vocals, bass)
Mimmy Six six six (drums)

Additional recordings are available at the Bandcamp link below.


Monday, June 11, 2012

New Scottish Guitar Rock Discovery: Min Diesel - Mínage à Twa EP

Min Diesel is a Scottish band playing an affecting take on indie rock. They have just released their second EP, a four-song affair called Mínage à Twa. There's plenty of guitar, plenty of feedback on the guitar, and a strong rhythm section driving the thing. And the vocals? Let's just call them a slightly off-kilter cross between Roddy Woomble (Idlewild) and the younger Kurt Cobain. I'm not saying these guys are Idlewild, or Nirvana... they're a pretty new band, so who knows where they might end up? But they sure do play with a lot of energy and they hit the mark quite often. I really like this record, and look forward to more from them.

Quoting from their self-description: Min Diesel... shamelessly plunder the best bits from their favourite late-80s/early-90s punk, lofi and math-rock bands' back-catalogues to create music they've taken great amusement from dubbing "min-die rock". Well, sure, why not? That's kind of a good description of the music - shameless, brash and amusing. I recommend this highly.

You can buy physical copies at their website.

And here's the earlier EP, available via Bandcamp at name-your-price:

Introducing: O'Messy Life

O'Messy Life are from Newcastle, United Kingdom. Featuring guitar, bass, drums, keys and sometimes horns, their music is garage pop with a bit of attitude.  And I think it is really good stuff.  Their Bandcamp page has five recordings on offer, with two to four songs each.  The two most recent (which are embedded below) are available for purchase at a reasonable price.  The three older records are available for free download.

The members of the band are David Littlefair, Adam Schofield, Alex Hall, Matt Weaver, and Thomas Bagnall.  Their work is released on Tiny Lights recordings.  Please treat yourself to O'Messy Life.  You can clean up later.

Twitter ( @omessylife )
Tiny Lights Recordings

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Brandi Carlile - New album, free Live EP via NoiseTrade

Brandi Carlile has a great voice - strong and clear - and she plays really good, heartfelt country rock. I've been a fan for a while, since she released The Story in 2007. She has a new album, Bear Creek, out as of June 1, and she has made a live 3-song EP available for free download via NoiseTrade: