Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Surfites Go Stellar on Escapades In Space!

The Surfites

Escapades In Space
Double Crown Records

Surf music is all about movement on a seemingly endless substrate. As a logical progression, Sweden's The Surfites take their reverb out of the confines of the waves into a more precarious environment of space on their second album Escapades In Space. It's a new concept, but the attitude of this band make the trip into a a laid back cruise much like surf music make the often unforgiving waves into a cool place to hang. Although not the surf music expert, prerecorded non instrumental parts in surf music are new to me, so the opening 4, 3, 2, 1, Fire! opener on the aptly named "Launch Pad" is an exciting introduction for surf music. What follows is a song so full of reverb to persuade one to envision floating above the earth in their space station/bachelor pad while sipping lots of bubbly. The Following "Comets" tail is a little faster and has the occasional sound of something cruising fast overhead while leaving a trail of fuzzy guitar in its wake, but the keyboard melodies are subtle and perfect. "Space Mover" is a total boss tune that trades off some simple but great tremolo with Henry Karlsson's keyboards, so although it's surf music, it borders on hanging in the martini bar; in one's jams, of course. The Surfites demonstrate a strong ability to musically describe their song titles in creative ways. "Moon Buggy" is definitely a layin' low hotrod track with a strong retro sound and the occasional guitar noise signifying the buggy throwing up clouds of Moon dust on a joyride. "Little Rocket Mill" finds the stellar tour in full swing mode with some tremolo that will bring your tiki hut into full swing should you find yourself without a space vehicle. If one needs further proof of dancing in space, look no further than the hula vibes of "Rainy Day In Space" that moves itself nicely into slight psychedelia.

"Around The Galaxy" is a strong beat track that envisions parties taking place in the exact locations of the song's name while mixing up tremolo with an near sitar sounding reverb, but the beat is boss. It's not all fun and games up there: "Danger Ahead" is a hotrod dream filled with nasty fuzz and some screams that can only be from a rough ride through 'Dead Man's Asteroid Belt' and is the loudest song on this 15+ track offerring. In making itself otherworldly, the cool but kitsch muted reverb dominance on "Space Encounter" is definitely one of the third kind. One thinks they get where The Surfites are going on this Escapade In Space, but the organ breaks and Gunnar Lindholms cool jazz tapping on "Far and Beyond" might take you back to your grandparents' mid century house, complete with the ranch inspired lamps, full bar and cool clock (I'm dreaming. We should all be so lucky), while "Marching Robots" moves along in mechanical fuzz and eerie high notes from the Fjellgren brothers. Although monotonous as the title suggests, it has a neat Twilight Zone feel.

The fun and games on Escapades In Space pick up again on "Mercurian Surf Stomp" that's so full of wet reverb and the occasional tremolo digs to bring out the most primitive of aliens ready to fly through the vacuum of space. The ending phaser shot hints at how that activity might end. "Space Coach" is maybe the closest thing to traditional surf on Escapades In Space with an equal emphasis on reverb and tremolo, but the tremolo combined with the beat have a stronger spaghetti western take that stays well grounded. The remaining tracks "Moon Made" and "Planetary Stroll" are also unique and fresh with the first having a heavier beat while the latter is what it sounds: A nice stroll puncuated by bright tremolo orbs and strumming.

Make no mistake, Escapades In Space is a surf album. The songs all clock in at under two and a half minutes and it's recorded in glorious MONO that helps to accentuate the activity and motion of the waves, only they're somewhere up there. The Surfites are spaced out and focused on their Escapades in Space while not being 'spacey.' The Surfites have succeeded in "Going where no SURF has gone before and have not only prevailed musically, but the packaging artwork and concept is second to none. As if the front album cover isn't worthy enough of cool '60s retro art, the remaining cover art is amongst the most impressive with a full color shot of a Mercury(?) rocket, a foldout of what looks like a nuclear reactor control room with a cartoon version of the band pasted in, and some beautiful vintage black and white shots of a Lunar Lander in a staging area modified with cartoon images of The Surfites, a rocket engine diagram, a great shot of a Moon Buggy on The Moon with a guitar pasted in, as well as a frontal shot of it, although the photos on the CD version are so small that one can't make out if the driver has a drum in front of him, which provides stronger motivation for Double Crown Records to release a vinyl version.

Space Mover

Escapades In Space is available both at Double Crown Records and from Get Hip Distribution

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Raw Guitar? Feedback? Female Vocals? You've Got To Hear The Avatars!

The Avatars

Never A Good Time
No Fun Records

Aaah. Finally! Something that is loud and abrasive, but swinging, catchy, and bubblegum at the same time! Ann Arbor's The Avatars take '60s girl groups, the beat and fun of The Ramones, hints of '80s powerpop like Nikki Corvette (maybe Josie Cotton too), and some seriously loud guitar from X with tons of feedback. They've got a powerpop sound but it's louder and harder at the same time. Not an easy feat. "Honey Do" is a good, catchy powerpop tune that treads on familiar powerpop territory with more guitar fury from axmen Charlie Lorenzie and Chris "Box" Taylor that is always loud and never predictable. In fact, it's hard to imagine a guitar or pair of them sounding better. "Somethin' To Say", the second track, has a raw bass and guitar fury that musically hints to X's legendary debut Under The Big Black Sun. Serious chops indeed, but some extra feedback at the end is toe curling.

Out of all this loudness arises many great memorable songs. The title track "Never A Good Time" has a strong Ramones but includes vocals from lead Mariah Cherem that are both smooth and strong and perfectly compliment an essentially loud rock sing a long. The gears chane on "There Was A Time" to a hand clapping, '60s girl group groove that nicely provides some bass and drums only reprieves for Mariah's voice to really shine. Eric Stollsteimer The Elevations, Mondo Mod) adds some cool vibraphone, too. As if to break one from their own nostalgia, the followup "Revolution Revival" punches in with a faster beat and enough guitar mayhem to damage the ears of a garage rock purist. "Wait" is a classic take on The New York Dolls and other basic but loud glam punk. The songs are loud, they rock, but they're so damn fun. At this point, 5 songs is enough to make one conclude that they'd be an incredible live experience.

"Hey Girl" throws in some great organ courtesy of guest artist Johny Hentch (SSM, The Hentchmen) that lend an older feel again to mix in with a girl's rock anthem. "Sooner or Later" hits a stronger chord with a punk anger in its warning of "You better stop forgiving all the lies that I've been living." "Warm 44" is a shocking surprise as a fast beat dance song with slide guitar and Theresa Keiffer's bass that would be at home on Nick Cave's "The Curse of Milhaven." The rockabilly beat from drummer Claudia Leo does little dissuade this feeling initially, but the crashing cymbals and tempo changes add some impressive complexity. The listed ender "Wondering Why" has a sensibility hits into earlier Pretenders territory back when Chrissie Hynde used to go barhopping, but a saxophone courtesy of Jeremy Abbey (Superdot)? If The Fleshtones can do it, it's worth a shot. Perfect touch, actually.

There's a hidden track that's different from the rest, is really good, and can't talk about it out of not wanting to give away all the secrets of The Avatars Never A Good Time, but this quintet has an album of songs that combine raw garage rock guitar and more ambitious noisy feedback into into crafty but never contrived full buzz rock 'n' roll fronted by a powerful female voice and an equally top notch rhythm section. Every song is just loud fun, but they're all memorable and really, really good songs, too. As if no surprise, Never A Good Time was recorded by Jim Diamond at the legendary Ghetto Recorders. The Avatars are impressive, but one full listen to Never A Good Time is just so good that it will cause the listener to wish they could see them live. Hopefully, that opportunity to do so outside of Michigan will come soon.

Wonderin' Why

Never A Good Time is available on CD & LP from No Fun Records as well as from the home of all great rock 'n' roll, Pittsburg's Get Hip Records

Friday, November 21, 2008

Believe A Word. The Clutters Are It

The Clutters

Don't Believe A Word
Chicken Ranch Records

I've said it before. I'll say it again. There's tons of great rock 'n' roll out there being made in so many places. However, that means that there's great stuff coming out of places where you'd least expect it. The Clutters are a perfect illustration of that. They're from Nashville! One could come up with all kinds of explanations, but in large cities, maybe access to good music and more competition drive people to create great music. In the case of a less likely locale, maybe one has to be so damn good that they make people stand up and take more notice. The Clutters fit the latter description. Their about as loud and raunchy and fun as it comes, but very distinctive. Unfortunately with all this great music out there, one always doesn't catch wind of it while it's "new", but the great thing about rock 'n' roll is if it's that good, it's going to sound new no matter how long ago it was made. Don't Believe A Word came out in late Spring last year. However, there's always really cool stuff that flies under your radar and you end up kicking yourself that you didn't hear of it earlier. I've been kicking myself an awful lot lately.

Don't Believe A Word is a serious shot in the arm. "9999 (Ways To Hate Us)" is primal garage punk guitar overlayed with Farfisa that sometimes sounds like '60s garage and other times, drifts into '80s new wave/punk with an almost Devo based quirkiness. This is only enhanced by the vocals that pull out one's soul because it sounds nerdy. However, the album doesn't list vocal credits. The smart high school reject (that's me. I hope that's most of you, too) got a band together that rocks harder and is just too damn good for the popular masses. I wish it were that simple. It's not. "Radio" is a perfect new wave offspring of '60s garage with it's distorted powerchords and an infectious chorus that I challenge you to get out of your head, but the keyboard melody is atonal and will automatically draw up the same Devo reference out of it's weirdness but with a loud attitude that went against musical convention and therefore, turned less individualistic tastes off. At the same time, we now recognize a real genius in that because it's a style that very few people did because it's a challenge not only to do it right, but to one's ears unless they really want to hear something different. Although they don't sound anything like them, early Oingo Boingo comes to mind because they were pioneering in adding that musical wierdness of seemingly discordant keyboard and guitar melodies into clever and catchy songs. One's quickly and violently thrown away from that after "Radio." The rest of the album is some of the most abrasive and raunchy garage rock party music one could be subjected to.

"Living Thing" rocks like Detroit with it's buzz guitars and beat heavy onslaught with blues tinges. "Rockaway" offers up a great critique of the rock mainstream that we can all identify with

We came to get down, we came to get down
We heard the word, it was all over town
She said
I want to know what rock 'n' roll was
'cause all you ever gave me was a bit of a buzz

This is of course followed up with a lot of Ramones fun 'Hey Heys' that I can only say are yelled "with feeling." "Fire" is a bit of an oddity with all it's tempo changes and it's slow blues moments followed by fast beats and screams, but then with the lyrics and the overall tone, I felt a sudden hard lump in my throat after realizing it could have been a song that The Gun Club would have been very proud of. One thing that one really can't escape with with The Clutters Don't Believe A Word is that tempo changes, hard beats, and guitars that alternate between throbbing chords and abrasive screeches is Pixies territory, but like it was previously noted, a well known rock 'n' roll style that moves around a center but goes in different directions is very hard to duplicate. Everyone loves The Pixies, but almost nobody can play their basic rock 'n' roll in a loud and obnoxious form that is also complex, so they've had many admirers, but very few duplicates. The Clutters are expert in that approach, but the farfisa/keyboards and heavier drumming make them a lot more fun by adding a much needed breath of fresh air into the whole garage theme. Besides "Temperature" is filled with the loudest, fuzziest bass one could stand to listen to, and it's damn good.

Most songs are surprises on Don't Believe A Word. The styles and influences mentioned above are a good illustration of that. It might not be something that everyone can really understand, but there's a good way of summarizing the approach. If one understands a hint of where someone like Mick Collins is coming from when he plays his special brand of fuzzed out rock 'n' roll that draws in everything from Motown to obscure pop like The Sparks and makes it all his own, one would definitely understand and revel in how great The Clutters are. However, there are plenty of those out there who absolutely love his music but not the influences like he does, so if one just wants to have super '60s garage fuzz with a stronger punk abrasiveness and like to scream out songs and rock out, Don't Believe A Word is perfect for that, too. Otherwise, you'll end up kicking yourself like me for not giving them a better listen to earlier. If you don't take my word, there are plenty of notables who expressed the same emount of shock and enthusiasm on The Clutters.

Don't Believe A Word is available on CD at Chicken Ranch Records and from the label/distributor that has just about every great current indie garage label stuff, Get Hip Recordings.

"9999 (Ways To Hate Us)


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Can't Get Enough Dirtbombs? Have You Tried Ko?

Ko & The Knockouts

Wicked Cool Records

I know, I know. Four full length releases, a double CD of covers, rarities, outtakes, plus a whole lotta vinyl, limited release singles, concert-only merch and you just can't get enough of The Dirtbombs. The economy and yours personally is in the crapper, too. Right? Of course, if you really are that into The Dirtbombs, then you probably have the self titled debut from their ever awesome fuzzy bass woman and her band, Ko & The Knockouts since it was originally released in 2002 on Sympathy For The Record Industry. If not, the kids at Wicked Cool Records reissued it a while back and since nobody gets talked about unless they got a new thing out, I'm going to change that, especially since we're approaching the end of the year and I"ve got a lot of choice stuff that people sent me that I'm going to write about in time for you to expand your CD collection. After all, you can invest in CDs and beer and it's a better return than one of those 401K thingies right now.

Ko is just cool. She rocks, she plays a fuzzy bass in The Dirtbombs. She plays a regular one, too. But a girl's gotta work and Ko & The Knockouts ain't goin' anywhere while Mick Collins is dragging her and the rest of his sweaty band all over creation for a good part of the year wowing us all with some serious rock 'n' roll, but most other members of The Dirtbombs past and present either play in other bands some of the time, so you might see a review sometime of a long past release by other Detroit rockers such as The Come Ons or you might not, but good rock 'n' roll is there to be discovered and rediscovered, ain't it?

It's a little surprising on a few levels. If you haven't noticed, Ko is this sweaty but super cool rocker who plays so loud that she can definitely match up on the fuzz register, but the album is pretty clean. Loud, but clean. Powerpop clean, one could say. British Invasion inspired? Maybe, but still Detroit. Songs like "Cry No More" are catchy, fast, and fun. Others like "Wasted All Those Years" sounds like Diana Ross and The Supremes backing up really early Who with frantic guitar and drums in tact. Another good pick with a more 'shakin' rhythm is "You're On My Mind." If you like punchy guitar chords and singing along, this album's for you. It's not without its surprises. "You Did It" is a swaying lament with more of an r & b feel, for example.

What's really impressive is that Ko packs a powerful voice that's always smooth and has an amazing range. The quickness, timing and simplicity of the songs on Ko & The Knockouts can really hit the heart of a Ramones fan, although with so few chords, the same progression of many of them are in hundreds of songs from others, so much like The Ramones remind one of all their influences, songs like "If I" with its handclaps and harmonies channel "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" and "Do You Wanna Dance?" at the same time. "I Really Hate You" could probably be remade as a twangy country hit based on its lyrics alone, but the song is more of a stomping, hootenany beat. Good stuff. We even get some good distortion on "I Wanna (See You Again)."

If it hasn't been emphasized by Mick himself enough, the whole 'garage' thing is an ethos instead of a genre. Likewise, Ko & The Knockouts are also NOT garage rock: It's rock 'n' roll. Detroit Rock 'n' Roll. Motown, some blues, r & b, guitars that buzz, churn, and occasionally sputter like the town's namesake "The Motor City," but like all good rock 'n' roll, it's the beat. Yes, rock 'n' roll is meant to be danced to. In fact, "Twistin' Postman" will force you to move. If that doesn't get you moving, nothing else will. Besides, Jim Diamond produced and played on it. That alone is enough encouragement.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Sonic Avenues Live Up To Their Name! EP Review

Sonic Avenues

Sonic Avenues
Ricochet Records

The premier label for Montreal legends The Gruesomes has neat little secret in The Sonic Avenues. These guys have great harmonies and are chock full of crunched out powerchords. They live up to their name on the first track "Off The Ground (ready to get back at you)" with super loud dual guitars and some furious drumming. However, the vocal harmonies are intense and provide a great contrast to the controlled assault. One thing immediately noticed is that these guys are really tight. The sound is slightly Jam influenced mod rock, but two guitars make it a hell of a lot louder and definitely different. "Driftin' Apart" takesa a basic, almost Pretenders feel with the prominence of the bass, but the basic sound is unmistakable and rarely heard in that way anymore. It's also a really cool thing when a new band reminds you of a great band that you haven't listened to in a long time.

"Sinful Eye" is just straight-up mod fun. It's so melodically basic, but the no frills approach in guitar and harmonies make it instantly likable in the sense that it's a perfect combination of elements. However, the "Sonic" part of heavier guitars is still there for a surprise. The final track "Close To You" has a slight "Town Called Malice" feel that's updated. This EP is short and sweet. Although one can say it's easier to achieve perfection with a smaller body of work, The Sonic Avenues are presently working on a new album. Given their great introduction with the EP, one can only expect much more on their upcoming new offering. These guys are something to look out for.

Laika & The Cosmonauts Are Literally The Coolest Surf Band In The World. They Also Have A New Album Out!

Laika & The Cosmonauts


As if The Scandinavians didn't give us enough great music already, the lesser known Finland spawned the 'surf' act Laika & The Cosmonauts in 1987. That alone would mean that Laika & The Cosmonauts are literally THE COOLEST SURF BAND IN THE WORLD just by latitude. Luckily for us, there's a lot more to it. They had a track featured on Children of Nuggets that was a surf styled interpretation of the Psycho/Vertigo themes, have garnered praise and attention as a legit surf band even though nobody can surf in that part of the world, have caught the eye of many ranging from Dick Dale, Agent Orange, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and even Al Jorgensen from Ministry. I'm not sure what to say about that one, but I guess everyone's entitled to a moment of clarity. Then again, who can say that they don't like "Jesus Built My Hotrod"? Laika & The Cosmonauts are unlike anything else you've ever heard. Surf guitar, space age lounge grooves, exotica, bossa nova, and '50s UFO movies crammed into a reputation as being a very, very loud band. In celebration of over 20 years together, the good folks at YepRoc have released Cosmopolis, a collection of 'hits', at least as much as they can be for an instrumental surf band, along with a lot of really surprising unreleased material. The stuff is just cool. It's weird, surf, kitschy at times, but it is definitely loud rock.

Cosmopolis packs a lot. 27 tracks, in fact. That's only fitting for a band that's so musically ambitious, though. The first and final tracks are taken from a live music performance accompanying a film viewing in 2005. The tunes are pretty out there. Spacy and eerie. The opening track has enough cymbals on it to create an effect of a neverending introduction with simple guitar, but the closing number takes full advantage of great surf tremolo and builds to a climax with a great beat. I guess that's one thing that really makes Laika & The Cosmonauts stand out is that the beats are a lot heavier. Instead of playing in compliment to give surf guitar a beat, the beat itself drives their songs along. "Floating" is surf muted reverb and tremolo in all its glory, but it also has great melodic guitar flourishes and a 4/5 beat that's much faster than the typical 1-2-4 structure that is inherent in most rock songs. Real surf music from Finaland. Unbelievable. But just when one thinks they 'get' their sound, a track like "Rikki On the Loose" is a little jolt of "Away From The Numbers" from The Jam in intro alone, but gets into an upbeat groove with some great organ that just makes it cool. It's unlike anything you've heard, but it's good enough that you end up just going along with it. That's kind of the effect one gets from every track on Cosmopolis. "The Note Crisis" is a almost a surf/swinging tune that settles at times into more familiar surf guitar style, but the song is swinging tune at the same time that briefly breaks into a ska beat. Among the covers on Cosmopolis is Mancini's "Experiment In Terror", which is noteworthy '60s spy and martini coolness. Although "Global Village" sounds like an awful song title and thus, bad hippie jam music to follow, the keyboard gives it a futuristic from a late '50s perspective. Again, a great beat, though. "Disconnected" is not only bizarre in initially reminding me of "You'll Dance To Anything (Instant Club Hit)" with it's sampling, but it was a creative recording of an attempt to dial up Ministry one night with negative results. This was back in the day when people actually used land lines and operators. Many of you don't remember that, but the pranking and failure to connect is also chronicled in The Beastie Boys first foray from punk into rap, "Cookiepuss" and the theme of not getting the connection goes even farther back to "606-0842" from The B-52s. One doesn't always listen to The Classics, but they left a great mark on music. There's surf guitar in it. Oh, a good melody, too. It's like they took some cheesy elements that is turned mostly into crap by bands devoted to other genres, but they gave those ideas the right music to make something really cool out of it.

"Torquoise" was said to capture a Mediterranean atmosphere, but the first time I heard it, it felt more like Sergio Leone to me, but the flamenco guitar and complimenting beat definitely lends itself more to a beach side siesta. These guys are from Finland? "Surfs You Right!" was a minor hit and has its place on Cosmopolis as a straightforward surf song that can hold its own with any well known one. "Look! No Head!" is just a gift from the farthest reaches of your mind! Ok, it could be Ministry playing surf music! In fact, not only is it the same melody as "Aim! Reload" from Filth Pig, which is the title track of the album that Laika & The Cosmonauts in 1987. That alone would mean that Laika & The Cosmonauts supported them for part of a tour, it's noted as a thank you card to them for being their supporting act. It's definitely loud and the distorted voice reminds me of Killing Joke's "Wardance", but damn! Great surf guitar. This one definitely goes where no one has gone before into a combination of surf and postpunk that will grab one by the throat! The previously mentioned "Psyko" is included and definitely 60's horror/spy/surf coolness in all its glory that never seems to grow old. Another muted reverb hit, "C'mon Do The Laika" is included and will hopefully be something that everyone will be doing for years to come. "Fear" is a Ventures cover, but it's so steeped in '60s organ that you'd never know it. "Boris The Conductor" suggest a more orchestrated approach. Likewise, the surf guitar buildup is somewhat classical, which I'm not a big fan of classical music since it's sow well connected to heavy metal, but this is just so much cooler and gives any longhaired headbanger who's stupid enough to take themselves seriously a good run for their money.

Things get psychedelic funk on "Circumstantial Evdidence" from the percussive beat and funk guitar intro, but progresses into a melodic territory that demands to be heard. Laika & The Cosmonauts are anything but predictable. "Delayrium" reflects a progression into experimental electronica, but it's still bizarre enough to hold one's ears with '60s overtones although the keyboard echoes are definitely modern. NY '79 was an attempt at seeing what they would have sounded like as a NY band in '79. The results are mixed because the song itself is a great standard surf song with a beat that brings one back the Blondie but like surf music, it's musically a lot better. One could imagine that like The Talking Heads in those days, many would have loved them for being so out there, but few would have really got them. A track that could have been a horror movie tune but got its name from a billboard advertising an all nude strip club in Austin, "Expose" is intriguing based on its inspiration, but one doubts that they'll ever hear music this good at a nudie bar. Then again, I've never been to one, so I'm not a good judge of that. There's lounge weirdness in "Get Carter" with a bossa nova beat and great keys. There's also a South Pacific tome of "Fadeaway" that has acoustic slide guitar and is purely hula and tropical drinks. Other tracks like the cover of The Ipcress File evoke spy coolness that sounds like it could be a seductive dance with a woman playing castanets. It's all very early '60s, very surfed out, but very bizarre, cool, and weird at the same time. Unlike a lot of rock 'n' roll, Laika & The Cosmonauts completely break the formulas while still sounding familiar. The result of music that's way out there in sound and rock compared to the rest of one's collection of '60s garage and surf, but simultaneously is something that one can't put down even on the first listen. The music makes one keep listening to find out where it goes, but it goes to places that one has been to before, but not necessarily r seen or fully experienced. It's not just great music. That would make things too easy. It's otherworldly, forward looking, basic, and rock 'n' roll in ways that really can't be placed. There's also elements of lounge and spy music previously mentioned, but it rocks like drinking a martini and getting punched at the same time. If anything, that's the best way to describe Laika & The Cosmonauts because it's familiar but like good rock 'n' roll, it occasionally shocks also.

After over 20 years of proving yet again why some of the best, original rock 'n' roll comes out of The Scandinavian sub continent, Laika & The Cosmonauts are calling it quits and performing their very last shows on Friday and Saturday, 10/31 and 11/1 at The Continental Club in Austin, Texas. That shouldn't stop anyone else from getting their music, though. It's spacey surf lounge and bachelor pad rock for ages to come.