Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Want To Hold Your Hand And Go To Hell

The Kits

Primitive Tales
Dirty Water Records
Available in the US through Get Hip Distribution

"I Want To Hold Your Hand and Go To Hell" is the coolest song of the year. Period. Don't even bother trying! No contest.

I had to get that off my chest. Many make it a point to say that powerpop is garage rock with some Kinks influence and better production, but not garage rock. Melbourne/London's The Kits have managed to carve themselves out a nice little space inbwetween the two things on their full length debut Primitive Tales. It's catchy, loud, and has plenty of snarls, wails, and early punk styled melodic riffs to make one think they're a few decades older. Not quite, but the style of music is very much like Television and The Saints in heavy guitar, but with a little more willingness to at least attempt at having something called a vocal. "Get Closer" has some great adolescent pleads from vocal/guitar Kit Atkinson and a guitar note melody that knocks on early post punk of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures with a little more power, a lot more heart, and a lot less darkness. Now that's hard to give a picture, so just try to imagine Joy Division without morbid notions and you'll get a Closer idea. It's not all happy, but it's fun. One also hears the metallic gloss of great '80s Aussie garage of bands like Radio Birdman in the melody and bassline, but with distorted powerchords befitting to CBGB's and Mudclub acts of the day. Again, more middleground carved out between.

I've already said what can mostly be said about "I Want To Hold Your Hand And Go To Hell", but the high pitched backing vocals make one think of Pete Townshend's adolescent voice changing at a bad time combined with only the loud parts of Pixies songs.

The combination of a punk rock abrasiveness combined with tight hooks and a good melodic bend on "Don't Want To Lose This Fight" do fall in line again with another act originated from Manchester, The Buzzcocks, but "Dangerous Life" crosses over into a sound enhanced by vocal harmonies and a much harsher, slightly darker take with a stronger, fuller feel. There's a sudden left turn on "She's The Number One" that's a straight up, punked out take on "I'm Waiting For My Man" right down to the rhythm guitar, but with an edge that fits in with older Swedish contemporaries Stupidity. The Kits play rock 'n' roll that sounds like it's made by garage punk veterans. However, they rehearse very often. It's only natural that they ended up as punks with more polish and a strength for good hooks and guitar melody changes and accentuation than a lot of people who never get past three chords. "Not In My House" showcases these talents with quite a few melodic surprises and a tone that hasn't been heard since The Godfathers, but the '20s mob gangster image isn't there. Instead, Kit Atkinson sounds like a snotty punk kid on songs like "City To City" back when punk actually meant something.

These guys are packed in tight on "Automatic" with a an anthem intro and as if by predisposition, Michael Cleverly's high noted, heavy bass melodies are just great! Primitive Tales rounds off well with "Horror Movie" and "Here She Comes." Although both songs bear a lot in common with the volume and delivery of the more polished Swedish garage bands, this is a result of a shared environment in a way since being indoors forces one to practice and it moves one to become tighter sounding. Originally from Australia, The Kits took the raw, Stooges based sound combined with a laid back, surfer attitude and penchant for hooks and catchy tunes that exemplifies Aussie garage rock and moved to London, where being indoors rehearsing often and having the characteristic London Rain dampening their sunny origins.

The Kits are punks. Their music has snot, blood, and spit only magnified by the dreariness of their new stomping ground, but it's disciplined by their own motivation. If anything, The Kits Primitive Tales has it's raw purity intact, but it's also what happens when a garage punk band add some pure punk rock angst and focus every ounce of energy into their music: The body fluids and pain in them take on sharper meaning while becoming a little complex, but Primitive Tales still sounds so young and desperate that it won't (and we hope, the sound never will) become "accessible". That IS garage punk. It can have a melody, it can even have a complex song structure at times, but it's full of goo, fuzz, and other unmentionable matter that make it a little too beyond the mainstream formulas that most people want and need to stay comfortable.

As promised, "I Want To Hold Your Hand And Go To Hell"

Friday, January 23, 2009


The Gruesomes

Ricochet Sound Recordings
US distribution through Get Hip Records Distribution and Canada/US through Scratch Records

Great rock 'n' roll is not what sells the most but what endures, but garage rock has a unique spin on this notion: Not only does the music endure, but reinvents itself every few years. The bands that spearhead or participate in that reinvention cause new listeners to go backwards and find their influences. As a result, older bands have periodic resurgences. Therefore, it's no surprise that The Gruesomes had a lot of recognition in 2008 that culminated in last month's reissue of 1987's Gruesomania, which not only has the original 14 tracks, but an extra 6 tracks from their Unchained EP.

Although technically siblings, The Gruesomes can be considered to be the love child of a glorious mating between The Ramones and The Fleshtones as a bunch of young punks with an affinity for '60s garage rock. Gruesomania is fuzztacular with the opening "Way Down Below" and the satisfaction of "Ain't Got Nothin', which are "dirty" sounding tunes with two guitars buzzing and Bobby Beaton's signature growl. There's also the mod inspired "Glad For You" with a tough backbeat and clean chords, while the cover "Leave My Kitten Alone" is a bit of a faster tempo with some nice garage guitar licks, but somewhere in all of this, one figures out that The Gruesomes manage to retain their own sonics and snottiness.

Given their "trashy" affinity, the surf sounds of "Whirlpool" is a great surprise. It's really tight, has lead guitar Gerry Alvarez playing a tremolo with a strong echo and some nice reverb, but the ending stereo sound of water is...let's just say The Gruesomes! Other highlights include a slow tempo number "I Can Tell" that reaches into some basic r & b, or the "shaking" cool rhythm and harmonica of "Buzz Off." As if a fitting education, one also finally realises the blunt, scratchy anunciation of r's in French makes those who sing it perfect candidates for garage rock on "Je Cherche", which packs a bit more of a punch than the English translation "I'm Searching", which is included as one of the bonus tracks. One of the endearing qualities of The Gruesomes lies in Beaton's self depreciating humor highlighted on "Why Me": "I ask girls out, but the say no deal, It doesn't really matter 'cause they always say no, I can't take 'em out 'cause I got no dough." Just when one has The Gruesomes figured out, one's given a good blast of punk, Detroit garage guitar solos, and enough howls on "Time's Gonna Come" to thank their lucky Stooges.

The Gruesomes are musically top notch and play their instruments well, which precludes their sound of being low fidelity. Thus, Gruesomania is appropriately in stereo and the mixings are successful overall. One can especially hear the advantage on the familiar story line of "Outta My Mind" and the great guitar fuzz of the ghoulishly cool "You Said Yeah", and the trashed out, bluesy tremolo on "Heartfull Of Pain". The extra tracks on the reissue are all solid covers, including a loud and deep cover of the Bobby Sharp r & b standard "Unchain My Heart", the deep, Rolling Stones bent Master's Apprentices "Buried and Dead", "Santa Claus" by The Sonics, although the latter didn't originally ask for Stretch Armstrong and Gruesomania, and "Got Love If You Want It" by Louisiana swamp blues legend James Moore (aka Slim Harpo).

The Gruesomes overall and specifically, Gruesomania capture the essence of garage rock: When one hears great garage rock for the first time, no matter if it was done today or many years ago, it sounds steeped in the old but still new. Likewise, one always can listen to the older end of the spectrum, but that music somehow sounds new and never dated. As a result, garage rock stands alone compared to all other rock genres because it's a continuum. Gruesomania is forever old in its influences and always new to the ears, no matter how many times one has heard it.

Way Down Below

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beach Patrol from Wisconsin? They Really Do Ride Dinosaurs!

Beach Patrol

Riding Dinosaurs
Duck on Monkey Records-CD
Wild Honey Records-Vinyl

It's Winter. Beach Patrol? And they're from Wisconsin? Sure, why not? Sure. The land of cheese, football, and brutal code spawned The Violent Femmes, so why not? Riding Dinosaurs has songs like "One More Cigarette", a bittersweet goodbye in the tradition of farther south, chorus laden rockster Tom Petty, complete with a Farfisa that's sure to conjure up Damn the Torpedoes. Other hints of flashbacks to '80s powerpop itself conjure up California since everyone was obsessed with OP surfer clothes and music that had a hook with a hard edge. "Love Away" has a straight line to Pat Benatar's earlier work like "Hell is For Children" with it's power chord riffs and dark tone. To be succinct, Beach Patrol has definitely combed the sand and picked up every little trinket and nugget from bands like Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello, The Nerves and many other memorable power chord heroes.

"On the Road" is about as straight forward, power rock as you can get with some jangly hints and strong vocals from lead Domenic Marcantonio that wink at the song power of fellow Wisconsonites The Bodeans, only not studio manipulated. Other tracks like "A Friend Like You" are a little more riffy and have some nice vocal harmonies, while "This side of 25" has a power and beat that's practically vintage London Calling, but it's also a compliment in parallel time to it since it's expresses strength in somehow making it over 25 years old and like The Clash, had approached that period where they were still a young band but had enough experience under their belt that they sang and played with a certain amount of power and experience to back their music up. Who sings in non-sequitors? Beach Patrol pulls it off on the punky, drummer Preston Ely penned "Preston The Human" with "Shoes, spine, tacos, rhyme, banana chips, car keys, ottomans, late fees!" Nothing relates, but maybe it's a good illustration of the human condition.

As much as we all want to support our indie record stores, Domenic takes the opposite end of Rob Gordon in High Fidelity when he sings "I'm closing up the shop tonight at four...and I ain't going back no more, shitty record store", which holds a closer ideal to a store in the '90s that's too involved in internal politics to be a good store anyway. Other tracks reveal a deeper talent like the blues and psychedelia of "The Lonely One," which stands out as heavier and revealing of a strength in songwriting from Marcantonio that very few can share. In a way, the album title Riding Dinosaurs is perfect for Beach Patrol because they take the ancient and often forgotten but influential history of '80s musc and make it move again according to their wishes.

Riding Dinosaurs is available on CD from Duck on Monkey Records, vinyl from Wild Honey Records, and Beach Patrol also has a full list of retail outlets in their region who sell the release.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Hosts: Detroit Psychedelics!

The Hosts

self titled

A great way to honor Ron Asheton and his sad, early passing would be to review a band from Detroit. In a town whose musical heritage and continuous contribution to rock 'n' roll is always in the forefront, The Hosts offer up a strange compliment to the better known, garage rock type music that The Motor City is better known for. On their debut album, The Hosts present what can best be termed as vintage California folk psychedelia. On the opening track "Thunder Boy", Melissa Host takes a vocal prominence that's coupled with jangling guitars and a few tasteful solos that cannot be anything but played on old guitars; one just feels it. There's also some imagery akin to the beach, although it's hard to describe further. Although I can't say "Stripper Girl" hits close to home, I've heard many stories that I'm sure plenty of you could corraborate on "She bums a smoke and she gets free drinks, but the dope ain't free, and her apartment stinks, all the troubles come double, her psychology comes for free." The song is dense with surf/western style guitar playing that enhance am emotion of solitude, but the often and never pleasant melodic violin(?) screetches lend an abrasiveness that somehow communicates flawed beauty in a way that's not to be taken too seriously.

Although the material on their debut is electric folk and psychedelic, the musical tone carries a bright powerpop feel that's a little less emotionally intense as earlier electric/psych/folk bands like Love, but songs like "I Keep Falling Down" are no less instrumentally engaging. The song "Ode To Missy Caldwell" is an almost uptempo song about a pathetic person. If there's a great dance song that's entirely negative, this is it. In true '60s psychedelic fashion, The Hosts create a political protest song, infuse it with jangly guitar licks, background vocals that sound like Tibetan chants, flutes, and some great guitar effects that sound like bee buzzing just to point out the pathetic truth that certain things currently happening make no practical sense on "Buffalo" to create a great piece that's never overbearing or "hippie" (only in the negative sense). Other tracks on their debut look to an early '70s beat with more CCR influence than Byrds such as "Pick Up Your Feet", but the results are no less powerpop and still carry a retropop feel, although slightly bluesy. They're songs push towards early '70s maintream, singer/songwriter folk rock such as "Almost Lost My Way," "Gone", or the less notable "Seize The Moment". Although the sound is not always derived from earlier sources, there's a pervasive, retro jingle/jangle and occasionally surf guitar throught the songs such as the notable "So Hard To Let Go." There's more hidden potential on the more electric tracks like "Devil Dog Road," a Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, blues romp that throws one back to Jefferson Airplane at The Fillmore, complete with a light show and acidic guitar solo.

As participants in "The New Paisley Movement", The Hosts are about a feel to the music and not a type of music other than psychedelic. The musical influences on their debut are broad and thus, have an audience to those with a broader musical outlook, but the songs are mostly really good and there are plenty of hidden gems, tasty psychedelic riffs, vintage Vox 12 strings and Rickenbackers to get you jingle-jangle fix, and a few powerpop beats to boot. Aside from that, the album artwork is an acid trip in and of itself. It's been a long overdue task to bring back acid, loveins, paisley, Nehru jackets, and music that's a little weird but still fun. Although in variable styles and sometimes with variable results, The Hosts have done their part to make swirling, colorful music again. One can only imagine their future possibilities.

The debut album from The Hosts is available at iTunes, CD Baby (personally preferred as an indie biz that gives a lot more back to the artists), and Amazon.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dans La Lune @ Emo's; January 3, 2009

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Cool It Down! Staying Up Late With The Jungle Rockers

The Jungle Rockers

Cool It Out
Jungle Rock Records

It's a new year. Why not get some howlin' in? Austin transplants via Cleveland The Jungle Rockers give the treatment on the mid 2008 release Cool It Out! This is rock 'n' bar drinkin' music, so it's only fitting to talk about these guys. The title track is a whoppin' double shot of lightening with a twangy rockabilly guitar and a beat that breaks through R & B but throws in a beat that's nothing less than from the jungle! This song is just instantly likeable with lines "I'm gonna walk you to your doorstep, kiss you on your rosy cheeks, I'm gonna squeeze that fanny one more time just to hold me 'til the next day" is going to make anyone wish they could catch these guys playing. "Devil In My Head" has a psych/garage intro beat and Roky Erikson howl, but settles into an r & b strut that just breathes cool. The additional tempo changes with heavy breathing as integrated parts of the song plus a few howls only further impart this musical personality disorder of r & b, rockabilly, and punk with psychedelic overtones. This is the kind of stuff to scare parents into locking their daughters up; the kind of stuff that gets bible belt preachers all riled up about filthy rock 'n' roll! Aren't you glad to know it's alive and well?

The Jungle Rockers enhance their sound on "Big Mouth" with a little bit of jangling guitars and some pure juke joint piano blues, but lead vocal Jason Borkowski throws in a sharp, commanding delivery that stands as a roots rock authority. This is a rockin' band that cannot be ignored. "Guts" has a definite r & b vibe, but a beat that's more "The Way I Walk". Jungle rockin', indeed! In keeping with their name, there's a peculiar musical oddity not usually heard in good rock 'n' roll that shows up in the soul grooved track "Love Trap" called a guiro, which makes a distinctive ratcheting sound that almost conveys a "slithering" groove to the music. It's now time to warn your daughters about these primitives. Come to think of it, The Jungle Rockers wouldn't be The Jungle Rockers if they didn't have some primitive tribal percussion. The guiro is the tip of the iceberg for them. One also hears a vibraslap and a host of tribal instruments mixing in with the basic beat all over this EP. The ending "Lies" is a great tribute to Buddy Holly's not fade away, which is usually credited to Bo Diddley, a definite influence heard in The Jungle Rockers, but "Lies" also mixes in vocal harmonies more like the all female Motown acts from the '60s.

The Jungle Rockers cannot be overlooked on Cool It Out. If one's thinking about early rock 'n' roll music that scared white folks, this is it. The influences are old enough to conjure up greasers and rockabilly, but instead of a country influence, Cool It Out takes on the definition of the best rock 'n' roll out there as "white kids playing black music and doing a horrible job at it" (Little Steven quote), only the percussion is so tribal and older that it will make anyone go heathen. This absolutely needs to be heard. Let's hope The Jungle Rockers have a full length release soon.

Big Mouth

Cool It Out

The Jungle Rockers are opening up free week at Emo's in Austin, Texas on January 3rd. They're sharing the bill with Get Hip Recordings artist and Austin's very own The Ugly Beats, the psychedelic, hard blues of Amplified Heat, and Austin's new '60s mod pop sensations Dan la Lune. If you can think of any better way to start off the new year, I'd like to hear it.