Monday, April 27, 2009

Cocktail Slippers "St.Valentine's Day Massacre" In Stores 4/28

The Cocktail Slippers

St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Wicked Cool Records

Straight out of their rousing sets at SXSW, The Cocktail Slippers release their second effort on Wicked Cool Records, but it's anything but sophomoric. Admittedly, there's no shortage of great garage acts from Scandinavia, but St. Valentine's Day Massacre hits a few different chords. "Sentenced to Love" is a tight song with cool keys and a strong beat, but there's something more with the girl group harmonies and the the vocal stretches of "aye yaye yayes" more well known of male vocalists make it a lot of fun. "You Do Run" has a catchy chorus that you can't help thinking of "Da Doo Run Run", but that was probably intentional. It's a straighter song, but again oh, those great harmonies and impressively tight rock beat. The title track "St. Valentine's Day Massacre' sounds better the second time around within the larger context of a full length album and has a groovy organ throughout. The rock guard comes down on songs like "Don't Ever Leave Me" and "I Got A Crush On You, both sweet, full on '60s girl group homages with all the vulnerability of an original, but definitely cooler with some melodic guitars and vintage organ.

"Anything You Want" is probably the best description of The Cocktail Slippers overall sound: A tight, garage rock band with an affinity of 60's girl group pop. Although one could say that combining both is a standard for modern garage rock, other bands have not really embraced the girl group ethos like they do. Instead, other acts that are all or mostly female play rock 'n' roll or garage rock with a female lead or take a more assertive, rock 'n' roll approach. Therefore, The Cocktail Slippers take is pretty refreshing. A standout on the album is "Round and Round" with a mixture of Pat Benatar's energy from some of her earlier work mixed with, you guessed, vocal harmonies.

Although there are countless excellent all female rock and garage acts out there that might rock harder or have deeper soul roots, The Cocktail Slippers might have a leg up in breaking into the mainstream with their girl group derived songs. However, they still rock. Every song on St. Valentine's Day Massacre is proof of that. The songs not only rock, but they're really good. The mix of simpler pop songs with a stronger beat and a really tight sound are pretty unique. Although many are going to fall either more towards the rock side while others might lean towards the pop song side, a lot of people will be happier in the overall cohesiveness of having both. Even the simplicity of the final track "Heard You Got A Thing For Me" with it's simple vocal pop and "Leader Of The Pack" sensibility cuts into a deeper, less pop oriented keyboard solo that's more '60s rock.

Courtesy of Wicked Cool Records

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Graham Day & The Gaolers: Triple Distilled

Graham Day & The Gaolers

Triple Distillled
Damaged Goods Records

Many of you are familiar with "The Medway Sound", but let me just start off by saying that Medway is a conglomeration of a bunch of towns in Kent that eventually merged as a result of population growth and sprawl. Oh, what a beautiful name to call it! The conumeration is named after the River Medway, which had a long standing reputation as a waterway for factory runoff until it's cleanup in the last few decades. To call music "The Medway Sound" is ignorant. It would be like combining Manchester and Liverpool into one general area. In fact, those two towns are 35 miles apart from each other, which is less than the distance from Canterbury to Chatham, both of which are considered part of Medway. Geography lesson aside, as much as many Americans need it, Medway rocks. From The Pretty Things to Mickey and The Milkshakes and beyond. The "sound"? NME calls it "music should be immediate." Not much to go on there. One could just say that the bands that are considered to be "The Medway Sound" make garage rock that's equally r & b as it is punk with a raw, freakbeat delivery. A somewhat silent genius of Medway is Graham Day, formerly of The Mighty Caesars, The Prisoners, The Solar Flares, as well as producer for The Len Price 3 and Jarvis Humby. His recent project is Graham Day & The Gaolers with Woggles and Bongolian member Dan Elektro as well as a revolving bass lineup including fellow Woggles axeman Buzz Hagstrom and former Buff Medways Johny Barker. Their new offering Triple Distillled is a collection of agressive rawness and perfect harmonies that leaves one wondering why they haven't heard them.

Although many of us occasionally lament being older, the opening "Glad I'm Not Young" is garage punk fury that both bludgeons the ears and strikes a good chord with "I don't have to identify with anything". Besides, Dan Elektro's drumming is furious and pounding throughout. Another tune for identification is the great vocal harmony backed up "A Better Man" that confronts the conundrum that men have about being complimentary or being honest with "If you're talking shit, then I'll agree." Other notables not only the sitar flecked, persuasive invitation "Pass That Whiskey", but also the catchy, organ infused "Begging You", which is one of the few times any of us will seriously consider singing along to a song with the words "My baby". There's also the apt opening "I"m standing in the rain and I'm really pissed off" on the hard hitting "I Wanna Smoke", one of the louder tracks on an overall collection of superbly loud tracks that could easily be an anthem. Another notable is "Something About You Girl", but we'll take a pause on so we don't give away its secret. With all the work Graham Day has done, the most polite way of telling people not to ask for him to play 'hits' with the slightly jangly, Rolling Stones "Monkey Man" hinted "Just A Song".

Like its title, the sound of Graham Day & The Gaolers can best be summarized as Triple Distilled. That can be exemplified in "If There's One Thing I Can Do" with Graham's smooth vocals and infectious choruses, chunky, raw guitar chords, Dan's drumming, which sounds more like a driving force that punctuates frequently instead of just providing a beat, and Johny's high noted and quite noticable bass. Although Triple Distilled has nothing less than every single song being great, other standouts include the slightly dark surf sound of "Lost Without My Dignity" and the common sense but searing volume of "Go To Sleep", a strong suggestion of exactly what you should do at some point after going out (instead of loitering around at parties).

There's no shortage of well known talent engaging in side projects to fill in the time inbetween their better known bands, but Graham Day & The Gaolers are a fulfillment of so many of our wishes since not only is Graham a legendary talent who's created something with his new band as another outlet to make an important contribution to garage rock, but for Woggles fans, it gives them another slice of perfection to enjoy before the next Woggles album. Additionally, Dan's work on Triple Distilled is so up front that it will give many who already love The Woggles a greater appreciation for his talent.

Damaged Goods Records does not have a USA distribution yet. However, Triple Distilled is more than worth the extra pounds (dollars) layed down. Don't let this one pass you by or you're really going to miss out on a possible favorite new band. Graham Day & The Gaolers are touring Europe this May. We'll also have to work on getting this raw, trashy but melodic garage rock supergroup to broaden their live potential.

"I Wanna Smoke"

Courtesy of retrobambino

"Glad I'm Not Young"

Video courtesy of GrecianFire

Gaolers May tour dates

15th Rennes, Mondo Bizarro
16th TBA
17th Aachen, Musikbunker
18th M√ľnster, Gleis 22
19th Berlin, Cortina Bob
20th Hamburg, Hafenklang
21st Bremen, Towerbar
22nd Antwerpen, Bar Mondial
23rd Bourges, Cosmic Trip Festival

Friday, April 3, 2009

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3: Goodnight Oslo

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3

Goodnight Oslo
Yep Roc Records

Robyn Hitchcock is a walking contradiction. He's a channel of psychedelic weirdness with bits of Erickson, Barrett, and even Lennon, but his music always seemed to rock a little harder and go to more places. Lyrically, one might call him an evolutionary mystic with his songs about everything from bees to prawns as allusions to the human condition, but other songs of his are blatantly forward like "Uncorrected Personality Traits." In over 20 albums, Robyn is the King of Weird while simultaneously emotionally stable. That of itself is a rock 'n' roll contradiction. On his third release with friends The Venus 3, the slight CCR feel of the opening "What You Is" is a little shocking for such a grammatically correct guy. He gives us the moral with "It doesn't matter what you is, it's what you are." And if you miss the bees, "Is Your Head Here?" offers a few along with tentacles and various surprises. Singing "Bop bop" hasn't been heard in a while, but the slightly distorted "Saturday Groover" is a result of Beach Boys harmonies and "Day Tripper". With added guitar distortion and horns, let's just say it grooves in many ways.

"I'm Falling" takes on territory familiar to Robyn Hitchcock fans in its emotional tone in losing one's self when falling in love and all the the doubt and difference that lies within, but has an almost gospel fervor in both the chorus "Take it away" and the vocal refrains. Goodnight Oslo flirts with country and slide guitar on "Hurry For The Sky" with success that sounds vintage. "Sixteen Years" follows up backstepping in sound with a harmonica as well as "Sixteen years and all I got was high", but also is a slight departure to his Dylan influences and earlier since it's a sad, bluesy track. Simultaneously, Peter Buck's jangling guitar is conspicuous throught to add some welcome complexity. This mood become uplifted with "Up To Our Nex", which is bright with horns and strings. Musically, there are a lot of sounds that one tries to pick out that somehow combine in a great harmony such as banjos and various strings, but builds into a heavier rock song with guitar and Bill Rieflin's sharp drumming. In some way, maybe Robyn's long exile as a folky, wise troubadour resulted in putting a lot more instrumentation on his recordings.

If one's familiar with Gertrude Stein's statement "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle", "Intricate Thing" brings up those contradictions pretty well. Instead of love needed, it's an "intricate thing" with "all kinds of needs that you don't know you're needing" to "little drops of blood that you don't know you're bleeding." The opening sounds a little shallow, but it really delves in to everything behind an intimate relationship that and results in one of the most truthful and obvious songs about love without being a love song. The ending title track is simply a thing to behold. I never thought I'd talk about cellos and rock 'n' roll at the same time, but it's use on "Goodnight Oslo" is an effective draw that pulls one into the song from the very beginning. Additionally, one can't help but appreciate "I've got special powers that render me invisible to everyone buy you." Despite the deeper, moody feel of this track, the cello duplicates the human voice so much that it's naturally good to hear, but the string arrangements meld themselves in high volume with even louder guitars that communicate well the last statement "They're waiting for the dark that never comes."

Instead of walking the familiar tightrope that many of his influences have between genius and insanity, Robyn Hitchcock occupies a more solid space of the odd lyricist with more to say than most of us could fill in our heads that's either flecked with animal and psychedelic overtones or blunt directness. He once summed it up in saying that like everyone else, he wonders about the human condition and is just as afraid of the outcome as the rest of us. As a result, his version of pop both musically and lyrically embody the human condition in all its foils and triumphs. Likewise, the human condition cannot be simplified. As a result, Robyn Hitchock's music isn't, either. It's great to hear him once again with a band that somehow fits his vision. Peter Buck, Bill Rieflin, and Scott McGaughey as The Venus 3 are all stellar performers that envelope Robyn's ideas and visions in a way that compliments but never stays in the back. It's great to hear him with a great band again.

Tour Dates:

FR 04.03.09 - Austin, TX
SA 04.04.09 - Dallas, TX
MO 04.06.09 - Nashville, TN
TU 04.07.09 - Atlanta, GA
WE 04.08.09 - Carrboro, NC
TH 04.09.09 - Washington, DC
FR 04.10.09 - Philadelphia, PA