Monday, October 26, 2009

The Morning After Girls: Alone

The Morning After Girls


I love rock 'n' roll. I like it simple. Three chords driven by a beat and some occasional harmonies from either guitar and/or vocals is all you need. However, every now and then a deviation from that comes along that makes me expand my paradigm. Most of us like at least some psychedelic music as it relates to early garage rock, but psych has taken so many twists, turns, and different beats that we tend to be very selective in the bands we like within that labeling. Hailing from from Australia, Tanzania, and New York City, The Morning After Girls take psychedelic rock on some familiar roads and then end up at very new places. I'm not sure if that description gives Alone enough justice. In many ways, this is completely new.

The opening "A New Silence" is a short drone of feedback. Not much to hook into, but goes right into the acoustic intro of "The Best Explanation", a song with beautiful soft vocal harmonies and explosions of celestial psych guitar and feedback that goes from complexity to simplicity and back again. It's a little sonically overwhelming, but carries a sharp, colorful lysergic quality that sounds both beautiful and confrontational. The following "The General Public" takes the paisley underground revival and turns it on its head by adding the Revolver influenced side of '80s Britpop in its dance beat, but with an emphasis on rawness instead of cleaner production that characterized much of the music from that era. The title track "Alone" continues in this vein closer to the early '90s Manchester psych of The Stone Roses or some of the Stonesier material from Primal Scream or The Verve, but the only strong commonality it has in its structure. The vocal harmonies are softer and much more memorable, but the guitar is both melodic and filled with feedback, which makes it more attention getting than what's commonly called "Shoegazer."

Like the title itself, "Death Processions" is a little on the brooding side with it's goth rock tone, but not quite dark psychedelia with wah guitar and noise. Nevertheless, it's another song that demands multiple listenings because one hears something different that they can't quite place their head around every time they hear it. In a slight continuance of the theme, "You Need To Die" matches only in title. The production, backing guitar melodies, and overall theme suggest more of the mid era Who/psych rock of The Soundtrack of Our Lives, but takes more risks. "Who Is They" also continues in this melodic mold, but like many other tracks on Alone, the combination of the harsh and the exquisite in vocals and guitars take one on familiar roads to places they've never been. On a personal note, this track amazed me to the point that I often had to pause it and take a break in order to absorb what I just heard.

"Part Of Your Nature" is probably the most straightforward tracks as an acoustic song, but also has vintage sounding loops (sound moving back and forth) and a harmonic, Edge like guitar climax that carries the song to its conclusion. "To Be Your Loss" has a lush, shimmering quality and a higher pitched vocal that more or less defines shoegazer music, but vocal contrast and guitar driven melody leaves a lot more enjoyment in its abrasive quality and volume.

"There's A Taking" catches one off guard given all the guitar hooks one has up to this point. It feels like a short, intense foray into Syd Barrett's mind in the mid '60s as he began to slip away. None of us have ever been there nor is anyone really qualified to say that, but it feels detached and somehow hints at accurate mental perception. I'm not really sure if there's a better way to describe it, but I think the interpretation is best left open. "Still Falling" has the complex but engaging sound of modern era The Chuch, only one also hears the folky simplicity of "Jane Says" for a song that is so beautiful that I felt a lump in my throat after the first few listens. However, this becomes the norm for Alone after repeated listens.

The lengthy, ending tome of "Tomorrow's Time" passes closely to the country tinged psychedelia of former labelmates The Asteroid #4, but the first 5 minutes are the bulk of the song followed by silence until the echoed noise of the last one and a half minutes.

On their new release, psychedelic rock is encapsulated and compressed from all the different revival eras into something that tends to explode outwards, expand, then contract. It's heavy, melodic, harmonic, abrasive, confrontational, never stays in the same place, but never strays into meandering or a background, which is really the essence of good psychedelic rock. It remains rock. It's exciting, different, goes in different directions, but never sounding like an aimless experiment.

As a major proponent of the three chord rock ethos, one has to move their feet and dance to call it good rock 'n' roll. There are notable deviations, but that's really it. Every now and then, something comes along that demands one to think twice. After all, if one cites bands like The Byrds, Love, VU, and a growing list of other acts that drew upon early psych and garage rock to reinterpret it, the idea grows and is no longer as cut and dry. Certain things come along that demand attention beyond the simple mindset. The new release from The Morning After Girls is not just a prime example of this, but truly phenomenal.

Alone is currently available exclusively on iTunes for the USA.

The General Public

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Moog

Razzmatazz Orfeum
Musick Recordings

You Raised A Vampire, Side B The Passion Of Lovers (Bauhaus, featuring David J) Artwork by Gris Grimly

After a long hiatus and especially since 'tis the season, there's nothing like sinking your teeth into something from Hungary, the home (He ruled what is now Romania, but was born in Hungary) of a bloodsucker that doesn't need to be named. To boot, The Moog even live up to their birthright with "You Raised A Vampire", the first single from their latest release Razzmatazz Orfeum, with the bonus of a Bauhaus cover with David J as a guest!

The Moog lie off the beaten path of garage and psych in their Cars and obviously Moog infused take on goth rock, which in its present, more encompassing form of goth music, has incorporated earlier musical styles and thus, is not really rock 'n' roll, but in its early form, goth rock was the inevitable growth off of garage (Bauhaus even covered The Strangeloves classic "Nighttime", found on Nuggets: Volume I), Velvet Underground, and the early glam of Bowie and T.Rex. On their latest release, The Moog stay close to the "rock" part. The opening track "This Is Horror" provides a heavy Moog (of course) intro that reminds me of the little known Tones On Tail classic song "Performance" with its added guitar screeches announcing something big about to happen. It switches into a more '80s dark Britpop song with a strong melody and strong vocals from lead vox Tonyo, but the melodic diversions are a bit surprising. The followup "Panic" is a bit hard to pin down. However, like many of their progenitors such as Bauhaus, the combination of melody, searing guitars, and changing beats that still keep a basic but not constant structure is a sure trademark of the post punk ethos of breaking things down and starting up again.

"You Raised A Vampire" is a take on hunger caused by deprivation. Surprisingly, it's very upbeat and strange in The Moog's own way with its simplicity and faster beat. As one quickly learns with these guys, there's a lot more to them than what one immediately senses. A fast tempo, great, simple chords that seem to speed up, and some underlying "gothiness" to lend energy to your angst. "When I See You" is an immediate reminder of Weezer's "The Sweater Song", but an awful lot more fun with lyrics like "Just want me, just need me, just say that I'm your baby, I haunt you then kill you, When I see you I go, Woohoowhooo!" If anything, you'll want to put the fun back in funeral!

"Lost Day" puts a smile on the face of every late Joy Division and early New Order fan with a bass driven melody and a clean, melodic guitar coupled with a great vocal range that communicates longing and vulnerability not unlike Peter Hook. This is definitely an album highlight. The following "Joyclad Armies" shows off some heavier chops, but The Moog's unique combinations and musical refrains tend to be uncategorizable in the rock milleu, although still engaging and unmistakably theirs. "Sphinx" even gets heavier with a dominating and neverending tribal beat that keeps one listening. "Heart and Soul" is another great listen for fans of post punk Britpop in its Smithslike isolation, but Tonyo's falsetto is both amazing and a little alarming.

As someone with a broad musical background but a strong tendency towards certain definitions of great rock 'n' roll that lie in its r & b simplicity, the occasional infusion of jingly jangly guitar and sometimes, wonderful vocal harmonies but still having a tendency towards a definition of great rock 'n' roll as music that essentially gets one to dance, move, and have fun, The Moog present a challenge to it. They have those elements, but they bring a younger voice (and definitely spirit) with later post punk, dark Britpop, and goth influences that present a picture that's a little more complex than my original focus. The Moog could do a teenage vampire movie soundtrack on their own and hook everyone in that age group in. They're young and thus, could easily be categorized somewhere in the emo camp, but a genuine listen to Razzmatazz Orfeum gives a lot more surprises than a quick and easy classification that most bands their age have and stick to. The music has its simplicity, becomes elaborate, and like great rock 'n' roll, has very little in fillers or dull moments, although they packed a lot into the album that needs an explanation from a broader background. Despite the young appeal, the approach is very firm and never boring or predictable.

The album review would not be complete without a very honorable mention to the b-side from the "You Raised A Vampire" single, a cover of the Bauhaus classic "The Passion of Lovers" with a slight melodic guitar in line with the romanticism of early Mission UK and guest David J's detached vocals thematically fit the song and its original cover of a praying mantis being devoured. In fact, it's better than the version I recently saw Peter Murphy do live. Finally, the artwork on the gold vinyl 7inch by Chris Grimly is incredible.

You Raised a Vampire

Here's a new video for "When I see You" shot in Los Angeles at The Bob Baker Puppet Theater