Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fleshtones: IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985

The Fleshtones

IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985
Raven Records

Whether you're a devoted fan trying to get their hands on the old stuff that isn't available, or a new convert to Super Rock, you've learned by now that older Fleshtones material is rare and super hard to come by unless you have unlimited funds to pay off shady dealers on ebay. Mourn no longer. Raven Records has released IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985 with a whopping 25 (!) tracks covering The Fleshtones' five year tenure at IRS Records. This is not just a compilation of their three IRS released Roman Gods, Hexbreaker!, and Speed Connection, but also rare tracks appearing on CD for the first time!

Songs like the raunchy fuzz of "The Dreg" put one smack in the middle of New York 1979 at a Blue Whale Party. It's not only young, fresh, and LOUD, but so surprisingly modern that you'll end up feeling like you missed out the first time, even if you didn't. Another track from Roman Gods is surf and harmonica of "The World Has Changed." The song and statement haven't aged at all. A personal favorite is "Screamin' Skull" from 1983's Hexbreaker! I owned a copy of the vinyl 25 years ago. Needless to say, I was a little new wave kid caught up in "The Age of Earnestness", so our beloved 'Tones didn't do too much for me back then since it had very little hints of seriousness, but I have fond memories of that tune as well as the silliness in Keith's voice on "Right Side of a Good Thing." It's great to hear it again. Obviously, it didn't take too long for me to learn my lesson.

I have to make a sidetone here about the whole "Age of Earnestness" thing. It was brought on by countless new wave bands who made serious, somber, sad, silly emo music. Unfortunately, it put great rock 'n roll bands like The Fleshtones and their former rehearsal space mates, The Cramps out of contention for gaining the recognition that they really deserved. Luckily for us, both bands are cemented in our own personal Hall of Great Rock 'n Roll Fame and their music continuously withstands the test of time and is rediscovered.

25 tracks to span five years, two studio albums, a live album, and tons of EPs, singles, maxi-singles, and extras. Over three decades of The Fleshtones. The great party anthem "Girl From Baltimore", the anthemic "American Beat '84", the psyched up cover of Lee Dorsey's "Ride The Pony", the awesome tremolo and sing along of "The Theme from The Vindicators" - honestly, every song is a sing along party anthem, a sweet groove, a little garage, a little rock, a little surf, and a whole lot of soul. It's a lot for five years and it only scratches the surface of just how good they really are. The Fleshtones are unabashed rock with soul that's unmatchable on songs like "All Around The World" The stuff is so good that it's a true musical revelation, and the best party your ears will ever have.

The Fleshtones were so prolific that a box set of all their material would be overwhelming, but a requirement for anyone who thinks they're a real rock 'n roll fan. Sadly, this is likely to never happen. For now, IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985 is essential. You'll be grateful to own a copy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Grip Weeds Strange Change Machine Exclusive!

Hey Grip Weeds fans: Strange Change Machine is available exclusively for you at the link below...Double LP - Double CD - Downloads!


Saturday, May 8, 2010


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Grip Weeds New Release: Strange Change

The Grip Weeds

Rainbow Quartz Records

The Grip Weeds establish a colorful, maybe murky, but distinctive space in the musical aether. Their discography itself is a trip through jangling 12 string Rickenbackers, Mellotrons, wah wah pedals, three part harmonies, melodic but simple bass, and more. Imagine the veritable kitchen sink if one has in it the best vintage instruments combined with the best recording gear and all in the hands of four people who are talented enough to make them work together. Eureka! Now we’re getting somewhere. To summarize The Grip Weeds, go back to the beginning of the review.

In their new offeringStrange Change Machine, they offer an interstellar blast from start to finish. The opening “Speed of Life” is a soaring power pop blast with a building beat, Kurt Reil’s infinite drum flourishes, distinctive guitar licks, both jangly and wailing, and art rock keyboards that are definitely spacey. It’s almost like having as much as many bands can put into one album in to one song, but it never loses its simplicity and excitement as a fun rock song. The Grip Weeds are rock and roll fans, so their frame of reference is based on “what’s good” and not using a genre to define that. Among the results of this broader appreciation is “Sun Shower” an acoustic based, psych folk song with Kristin’s flute and a building tempo that goes into rock, but the buildups keep the song engaging. This is definitely a standout song.

The albums title track “Strange Change Machine” is unabashed, cranked up rock with added vocal harmonies that best communicates what the band is all about - “Pull you out of the same, mix it up in a Strange Change Machine.” This album was sequenced and putting the title song on the B-side of the second album is a great way to tell the listener who they are without announcing themselves by using it as the first track. Instead, one gets a an incredible rock experience with the songs before it, but having the title track afterwards is like getting to the meat of an essay after a strong introduction.

In true contradiction, the longest song on the album is “The Law,” which is also the most basic rock song with it’s emphasis on Rick Reil’s strong, loud, power chords. It also stands out in true rock ‘n roll spirit not only in it’s rawness but also in its outright middle finger to authority. One might also find themselves singing along to the loud guitar intro of “Hold Out for Tomorrow” only to be surprised by the backing vocals reminiscent of Cream. The hard power pop near the end of the second album is interrupted with a Nick Drake based instrumental “Love in Transition,” but the addition of flute and a simple beat accompanied by tabla and more aggressive acoustic flourishes give traces of Arthur Lee and Love. As much as one could stay true to the basic rock milieu and admonish the idea of giving prominence to a “non rock” instrument, the song is a great surprise that has a wonderful depth.

The closing “Mr. X” is a pure stroke of genius. Not only in its multiple melodic nods to “Tomorrow Never Knows”, but also in using it as the closing track. Much like its comparison, the ending notes stay with you and make one want to play the song over a few times.

New Jersey’s The Grip Weeds occupy an odd space. On one hand, they’re a ‘60s rock inspired band. Now that we have a primordial ooze of their foundation, the confusion begins. The frenetic beat and feedback of The Who, the wonderful jangle of The Byrds, the sweet melodies of The Beatles, the rhythm of The Kinks, the Delta Blues solos of The Yardbirds and the bands that followed: Led Zeppelin, Cream, the psychedelic leanings of most of them combined with The Creation, The Move, The Zombies, and more, possibly some louder wailings akin to Ron Asheton of The Stooges, even. It’s been five years since their last studio release “Giant On The Beach.” That’s a long time. A lot of change, things brought into the soup, balances changing, things shifting. All that time away resulted in a groundswell and resulting outpouring of creativity. This double album over 80 minutes long was worth the wait. It’s packed full of great songs, epic in length and substance, but stand out as a great rock album that has material that will continue to be discovered, which is the true trademark of a great, enduring rock and roll album.

The album will be released in the next month. Currently, CD copies are available for purchase during their performances in the New York area. However, a deluxe CD edition as well as a double album vinyl edition are forthcoming. A free 10 song download is available if you sign up for their fan club at The Grip Weeds home page

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Contrast: The God of Malfunction

The Contrast

The God of Malfunction
Wicked Cool Records

Peterborough, UK's The Contrast have been at it for a while. A power pop band, a little psych, songs written around a Rickenbacker Jetglo 330, but a clean sound that didn't really fit anywhere but power pop, although almost their own category. They always sounded too clean for garage, yet possess a simple, modern jangle that doesn't make one go backwards as most good rock does, but still has it. In a sense, The Contrast exist as a great rock band, but it's hard to make direct points to the lineage except for power pop. However, five great albums on the high quality but niche paisley pop label Rainbow Quartz Records show a high quality catalog that has largely been unrecognized. They chime and have influences, but the sound speaks of rock noir (psych-noir) more than anything.

In their first completely new foray with Wicked Cool Records, front man David Reid and company take their film/pop culture sound a lot further, but the underlying theme of their songs remain the same. It's always been about dysfunctional women, broken relationships, women on the verge that are unreliable but magnetic nonetheless.

The Contrast always had studio sense that took them well out of the garage. There's no mistake that the elements are there: the simple chords, the harmonies, the melodic hooks that draw one in, but the production has always been so clean that many garage fans find a substitution in B-movie imagery of the same era for the garage punk sound. The opening "Underground Ghosts" might be a song from the 2007 album of the same title that never made the cut. Vintage keyboards providing the basic melody in sharp difference to the guitar chord ethos of garage rock, Reid's trademark melodic guitar taking center stage, great vocal harmonies, and of course, a supernatural theme that low budget, vintage film buffs catch on to.

A sure standout track in line with the obscure movie theme is "I Am An Alien" with it's twisting theremin presence and pounding beat, but the theme is not outer worldly. Instead, it touches of the eternal divide in relations of what someone thought you were and what one finds out once they're involved: the divide is too great and the planets are too far apart. "Gone Forever" is the retro groove in nothing but Rickenbacker, Byrds-y jangle that's all classic power pop. The mellotron set on violin gives it a bigger feel and the overall result is a harmonious revelation of an end. The title track is full of parts that make The Contrast so unique, but juxtaposes a boppy chorus with metallic riffs. that make a memorable melody. The equal jangle of "Unexpected" takes on a personal note that's familiar territory for The Contrast, but it's simplicity and twist between a softer take that's replete with strong drumming lives up to its title.

Brit rock/pop has always taken American rock influences and turned them upside down. Therefore, most of us have a soft spot for the "sensibility" in care that good British rock from the '60s to now has taken. In a sense, The Contrast have always had this sensibility that matches bands like The Kinks in being polished and harmonious but focusing on angst. "She's A Disaster" is a perfect accomplishment on these levels with guitar lead and keyboard melodies that hook one in but simultaneously idolize the familiar yet traumatizing theme of the beautiful girl (or boy) who's presence is so strong that it dominates, but that strength is wrought out of so much pain that it presents both fear and longing with lyrics like "Her words are charge with hidden games, her makeup's going up in flames right now" only to be followed by "She's in my head from my distant past and future."

The closing "False Ambition" is no less intriguing in its depth and angst, added piano which not necessarily adds to the depth of the song since their songs have always relied on guitar led melodic hooks, but providing the piano background allows a larger breathing room where Reid builds a stronger climax to the simpler hooks of the rest of the album and their catalog, for that matter.

The Contrast has an illustrious catalog to being with. It's full of simple, jangle but '80s angst mixed with a strong polish. The God of Malfunction is a standout in stretching out the guitar hooks and trying some new things. The big difference with the earlier catalog is that the music slows down more as if bridging the gap to other alternative genres, namely dark, postpone Brit Pop. As if a predictor to this change, the original version of 2000's "Perfect Disguise" touched upon this expansion.

The God of Malfunction is overall, a great album, but it's full of challenges for the ''60s garage faithful. It's probably the farthest thing from garage, yet it shares many strong elements with those elements, adds in bad horror films, alienation and angst, but the biggest departure and new foray into power pop is the guitar hooks making the melody instead of the melody over the chords, which is more common for garage rock. Essentially, The Contrast have always made incredible, jangling, harmonious music that twisted up psych/garage roots with '80s angst. They've always been extremely polished. The juxtaposition is trademark for The Contrast. They are a new era of power pop with elements drawn to make their music a life of its own that presents contradictions and constant reconsiderations.

The God of Malfunction is available in a wide variety of formats, including vinyl, at Wicked Cool Records

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Free download version of the new Grip Weeds album coming soon!

The dawn of Strange Change Machine is approaching! Follow the link and sign up for the fan club to get a free download version of the new Grip Weeds album, which will be available as a free download VERY soon! All you need to do is enter your email address!

The Grip Weeds

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crank In The Summer With Thunderbolt Patterson

Thunderbolt Patterson
The LP Is Dead
No Fun Records

The seemingly endless cycle of snowstorms, icestorms, and being stuck indoors has finally come to an end. The sun is peaking out and warming the pavement all over the country. What does that mean? It's time for some top down, wind in your hair, rock 'n' roll! It's time for Thunderbolt Patterson's new album The LP Is Dead and it's loud, power chord hooks that are too good to sit inside with. If you know "Rockaway Beach", then you'll dig into "Almost Summer" on the way there with Ramonesish guitars and Beach Boys harmonies.

Leave it to an original NY '70s punk to take things backwards to its simplest elements. Chords, hooks, loud, fun, take the top down, simple punk powerpop, with some exceptional drumming on tracks like "Dynamo" with the accompaniment "Remember being parked outside your house, and I spilled a 40 all over your blouse." Ahhh, memories! Don't worry, the act is not being glorified. "Dynamo" is more about Patterson making fun of himself.

The title track is a catchy sing-a-long lament (??) about short term attention spans and the devaluation of media. We've heard the theme. Nothing new, but this version's a lot more fun! The follow up "On and On" is the same: catchy, but with some groovy, soul keyboards. Ok, this isn't rocket science, but we need simple fun. We need loud, simple, fun sing alongs again. However, this album is too much fun to hear in the background. The songs make you want to stomp your feet, crank it up, go outside, and throw/crash a party. "Getting Out" rocks in the way that makes you pick up the air guitar and throw out Guitar Hero (I sincerely hope none of you own that).

If The LP Is Dead with its throw back to simplicity (and this review, for that matter) come across as an "I remember the good old days" moan, consider the fact that great rock 'n' roll for the past 40 years has been deconstruction. Garage, punk, and the flavors that came out of it were created out of stripping things down and going back to the beginning. The good shit always steps into the future by looking backwards, but who else but the drummer for The Dictators to remind us that this is supposed to be fun, and what's fun without a party anthem? How about "When you could use a little leverage, all you need is one beverage" from "One Beverage."

11 tracks of loud punk/powerpop with solid guitar and drum punches. Some occasional wailing metal solos for your hesher buddies on "On The Tip", but your pals will also be singing along until they realize you caught them. The closing "Four Pair" nearly approaches Southern Rawk in its guitarosity.

Tracks like "Hand Grenade Around My Heart" should not be listened to in confined spaces like airplanes. The LP Is Dead is too much fun to listen to in closed quarters. Either wait until the party or vacation starts unless you're heading down the highway with the top down.

This is essential Spring/Summer listening.

The LP Is Dead is available from your local indie record store and directly from the only label that rocks enough to have Thunderbolt, No Fun Records.

Friday, February 26, 2010

South by Southwest 2010 and Why the Corporate Music Industry Still Sucks

SXSW 2010 approaches. It’s just like last year. A bunch of bands both old and new, a bunch of conferences with catchy titles such as “Social Networks and the Future for Musicians”, which echoes the last 6 years or so of a music industry that makes their money off of artists and are bitching, moaning, kicking, and screaming that they’re not making as much money as the used to, a bunch of parties that are also for “industry only”, which means that bands play to those who might talk about them or want to be involved with them, but nothing usually comes out of it since the same people are often attending the conference as their personal vacation and would rather see the ever growing number of well known acts admitted to SXSW. So what do you end up with? A corporate party where the current and once well known get to be seen again. Occasionally, some new act will have this great buzz and people will come to see them, but for the most part, new, unsigned, and indie label acts are overlooked. I can say this from nine years of experience now. I’ve attended plenty of SXSW showcases. The lines are around the corner for the well known acts, while the smaller acts and indie label showcases rarely reach capacity. At the same time, venues that choose not to be official SXSW participants, whether bars, independent businesses, and the like are often targeted by the fire department while the official venues are left alone at the encouragement of SXSW organizers.

How many problems can one pick out in this scenario? Too many, but this is the tip of the iceberg. The music industry, whether labels, media outlets, and others involved have been losing money and struggling with electronic media and the resulting free music and illegal pirating and sharing for a while now. As a result, new acts are less likely to get noticed and even less likely to get a good offer if someone wants them. As a result, the industry arrives at SXSW and gravitates towards the safer, larger act venues where they can chat with their own while the music’s playing. I’ve witnessed new acts in the midst of not being hard by the overwhelming chatter of the “Don’t you know who I am?” crowd countless times during the official showcases.

The private, badge and invite only day shows are much worse. I’ve attended my fair share of those, too. They’re mostly little parties that often have very promising acts, but because they’re industry only, little attention is paid to the music since they’re more of a social gathering. As great as a new act can be, there’s something fundamentally missing at shows for mostly industry people: The music fans! Face it, the “industry” is failing and forever trying to curtail how music is heard and distributed. As a result, bands are better off playing to their real audience since those people are the ones that are going to discover them, tell friends about them, buy their merchandise, follow their activities on social networks, but most of all, will find excitement and inspiration from music that affects them. Industry types are often too busy, too jaded, or simply ignore them by not paying attention during a performance or just not seeing them in favor of seeing someone well known. Whatever got many people into the music business to begin with has been long forgotten that dollar signs have greater value than the power of rock ‘n’ roll.

As an alternative to the little club that the corporate music industry is during SXSW, what would happen if these small parties were left open to the independents? The bloggers, amateur photographers, and those who still get excited about it? What would a journalist from a large print media outlet have to say if they saw a crowd of those gathered, reacting and interacting with a new act on some warm March day at a small, outdoor party? How would record label execs react if they witnessed genuine responses from those who they would actually end up profiting from? The answer is obvious, the solution even more. It’s the music fans that matter most, not the industry designed to make money off of the talents of the acts.

Honestly, what would happen if journalists, label reps, etc., were the minority at a performance with a sea of enthusiastic fans? They would have a much better idea of a band’s potential based on the crowd response as opposed to mostly industry attendance, sizing up the profitability of a band based on their sound alone. The same people would also have the opportunity to talk to the fans and find out what moves them, what they’re looking for, and most importantly, what the music means to them. It isn’t rocket science. The music biz is smart enough to know that they’re best off when they have a product that means something to people, so why not find out an act’s potential based on the response of those who would potentially buy their products? This isn’t exactly a new idea, either. Plenty of acts, including well known veterans of many different genre’s within “alternative” music do this every year. The Stems will play a free day show to a crowd a few times bigger than the one that shows up to their showcase, The Cynics will practically play anywhere and as often as they can, Michael’s voice willing, Muck & The Mires inquire about playing unofficial parties and plan on doing them well in advance, new acts get referrals and ask about doing those shows based on word from those they knew who did them before, etc. These acts could simply hang out, rest, party, and play only to industry people who can supposedly help them. Instead, they make a priority of being seen, heard as often as possible, and to meet as many as possible that are NOT part of the music business.

What happens at SXSW doesn’t stay at SXSW. The events reverberate. As much as the industry sits in their meetings, round tables, keynotes, private parties, and the like to talk about new paradigms and then get out to see popular acts that they can see more often in places like New York and L.A, it’s those that get out to play at and attend the unofficial, free gatherings that have the new paradigm. These acts meet their audience and play at unlikely places where they connect with them. They find out what their music means to those who show up to see them, they interact, try new things, sometimes have some backline related adversity and shine through it, making their performance greater. If those free shows have newer, related acts that are added to the bill that would likely not be for an official showcase, the newer acts benefit more than they would playing a private party in a tent, a regional showcase, or a small, official showcase at a club while so many people are out seeing bigger acts since they’re seen by more potential fans who are more likely to be discouraged from venturing downtown to deal with the mayhem. Quite often, those that see the bands at day shows end up choosing to go and see them again that week at an official showcase. This is the new paradigm! Bands have figured out what matters: Their fans and the independents that are going to talk about them, review their music and post their photos. These acts end up with a more dedicated following, which is something that’s very hard to come by given the fickle mindedness of popular music.

This is what SXSW used to be about: Discovering new talent. Despite good intentions, the official festival has become so popular that this objective is drowned out by the popular acts, corporate sponsorships, and exclusivity to only those who can pay more, which is really the antithesis of the rock ‘n’ roll ethos. Rock ‘N’ Roll is about rebellion, loud music, and the pure excitement of discovering something new or hearing something already known in a different light. It’s the crowd response and the connection the band makes to an audience, not the “Who’s Who” yearbook of the big players and movers, which are exactly those same people that SXSW caters to. At the same time, the organizers of SXSW in the least turn a blind eye to those that venture into playing for the fans, consider it a turf war by attempting to shut down those venues who choose not to be part of their club for the week, or at worst, turn it into a little high school game by telling acts that if they deviate by playing non official events, especially at the same time as the official showcases, that they’re not going to cut them a break by accepting them when they’re on their way downhill in the future.

I’m not claiming that SXSW and the organizers themselves are an evil entity. SXSW started out with great intentions. For better and worse, they were very, very successful. Money can change one’s objectives and there are often compromises that come to fruition as a result of greater notoriety and interest, but the result is that a large part of the soul is lost. SXSW is a huge deal. Bands from around the world come to play and get noticed by industry people, which can often help them gain a wider audience, but with the growing popularity, larger, corporate entities became involved since it was a pie that they wanted a piece of. In wanting to become a bigger event, the organizers give increasingly priority to the corporate world ever year. Unfortunately, the festival is more of a corporate schmoozefest for out of towners instead of an even where people go with the objective of hearing or seeing new things and getting challenged at the promise of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s too bad. There are so many new, indie acts out there that are making music that is better than their predecessors by ripping it off and building on top of it, which is really the way that great rock ‘n’ roll is made.

Furthermore, the music business relies on the small, independent outlets to get the word out about new acts. Social networks like myspace and others present this bombardment of music and no filter. It’s the bloggers, small print papers, and others that act as the filter by reaching out to acts, writing about them, and having a more personal forum to communicate about them. The corporate media outlets, labels, radio, and MTV and its affiliated networks have not been the tastemakers for quite some time, and even more so since there’s so much more music out there that’s readily accessible. Many people in the industry do recognize this, but one only finds out at chance meetings. SXSW has absolutely NO outlets for those that take the music seriously enough to contribute to it but don’t make a career out of it. There are no chances for sessions with larger entities that could encourage them or those that could help them gain a wider audience, which is purely needed since blogs like Pop Matters have a growing audience who reads their work and reaches a much more dedicated following.

By choice of SXSW, the budding journalists who are changing the industry don’t have access to the same tools and resources that the larger outlets take for granted, photographers have even less access to contribute by taking live shots even though many, many bands end up using photos made by fans to promote themselves. In conclusion, the very people that SXSW originally envisioned promoting and helping are excluded. New bands and those that are the most important to their success: the fans and independent bloggers, writers, photographers, and the like are shut out by choice of SXSW in favor of corporations, labels, and sponsors willing to throw enough cash into SXSW’s pockets to turn the festival into a snobby private school. If what matters the most is the music itself, they’d find ways to open the doors up a little by allowing better access to independent outlets and accept more new acts to play the official showcases. Labels, bands, and larger media outlets could communicate with their fans with contests or invites to smaller day parties where those who attend them would have a stronger emotional connection to the music and might walk away afterwards with their own rock ‘n’ roll story. Those memories are what make rock ‘n’ roll so great to everyone who loves it. It’s those memories of rare opportunities and performances, where something great happened, that make the music so important.

Unless SXSW and the industry at large can allow the influx of new ideas and new people without the same resources as the big ones by loosening the reigns a little bit on the exclusivity, the SXSW music festival is a velvet rope that allows only the popular people or those with deeper pockets in. That’s an exclusive disco. That’s not rock ‘n’ roll.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Take Communion with The Soundtrack of Our Lives

The Soundtrack of Our Lives


Sweden knows rock ‘n roll. Name a bad rock band from Sweden. They’re few and far in between. The Soundtrack of Our Lives (TSOOL) are this superpsychedelic rock burst from there. A big sound, plenty of odd musical and lyrical happenings, and a vast array of anthemic songs with different tempos on their double release of Communion.

By nature, TSOOL are required to be a psychedelic band since they’re a six piece. A lot of it is still power chord, rock based, but one gets a lot of layers to go through that accompany those chords. The opening “Towers of Babel On” is a slow buildup that turns into an invitation - “Come on to The Towers of Babel On”, but like many of their songs, it’s a double entendre in referring to sites of both biblical chaos and complex civilization. However, many of their song titles have a similar wit in title such as “Pineal Gland Hotel”, “MENSA’s Marauders”, and others.

Usually, different genres communicate their own emotions and are fairly limited in their scope of topics. Although there isn’t hat much to choose from, TSOOL is successful at combining ideas into ironies on songs like “Ra 88”, which is the periodical chart assignment for Radium, a metal that’s bright white, turns black once exposed to air, and is highly radioactive. On one hand, the metaphor is used to describe freedom of expression - “Radium’s burnin’ inside of me, brilliant white that I’m bound to set free” while having to confront the ultimate destruction that anger brings - “Radium’s bad for my century, something I cannot deny when I’m free.” This is a modern lesson on anger and how one feels good to let it out, but how it can consume everything around it, much like someone can be mad over the state of one’s life or the world, but that emotion can ultimately nurture negativity. Naturally, this is communicated through a song that is nearly cathartic in rock volume.

In many ways, TSOOL take on the chaos of modern life and neuroses with most of their songs that can poke fun at the dysfunction of everyday life. It’s almost as if Robyn Hitchock’s “Uncorrected Personality Traits” is elaborated on to describe most adults as needing a good therapist in songs like “Distorted Child.” They take it a step further by describing how it leads to alienation in much darker songs like “Second LIfe Replay”, a soft description of emotional suicide with a realization that one’s still alive, stuck in their own head, and will be around the next day to live again.

Alienation and detachment reaches a climax on the first album with a cover of “Fly” by Nick Drake. The song takes the sense of fading that his soft voice and simple melodies communicated so well, but TSOOL turns it into a building rock song that’s somehow more intense but also adds complimenting melodies that give a sense of hope. The arrangements gives one a sense that TSOOL have a sound comparison to if Nick Drake sat in with The Who for The Lighthouse Sessions. The songs have both the sonic power and the attention to arrangements that Pete Townshend perfected, but possess a lot of careful and simple subtleties like Drake.

Communion as a double album can seem a little disconnected. The first album is powerful that one finds themselves more involved. The second album broadens musically with slower tempo but still engaging music such as the instrumental “Digitarian Riverbank” and more folksy oriented songs like “Flipside.” Honestly, it was hard to listen to the second album until recently, which is bad for a timely review after holding on to Communion, but it’s also like discovering a second great album. The songs carry on with the same depth as the first album but often have simpler, American rock approaches such as “Lost Prophets in Vain”. One even gets a pure ‘70s Who blast on “Reconnecting The Dots” with added sitars.

Two albums is a lot of material. Communion has its share of moments where one is anticipating something greater, but the songs seem to flow and are good, but don’t quite live up to the others. Nevertheless, the majority of the songs are always full of brilliant, loud, melodic and introspective rock. Despite a really artful approach and the range of tempos and instrumentation, Communion RAWKS, only it might encourage more attention for the times when certain songs don’t reach out and grab you. Especially attention grabbling is the almost early ‘90s Manchester, easy feel of “Utopia”, which breaks into a louder tempo change that adds a hard rock angst.

Communion has 25 songs. It’s a lot to go through, but it’s a great thing to go back and find new songs that one finally “gets” at different times. It’s heavily melodic, but rarely dull. The songs are both beautiful, angry, and uplifting. There are competing dualities between the more elaborate and the simple, both illustrated in the louder and softer songs. Surprisingly, the album remains cohesive. It’s definitely challenging, but never goes strays into territory that removes the songs from rock and simpler origins. Summarily, if one loves Who’s Next and can relate to the power and melody of the songs and how they stand up to time as great rock songs, Communion is the next progression. Quite amazing.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Love Me Nots Get Groovy on Upsidedown Insideout!

The Love Me Nots

Upsidedown Insideout

I've always been a big fan of The Love Me Nots. Great, loud, surfy guitars, steady, pounding beats, and a female lead vocalist who sizzles with every word. On top of that, every song is memorable and steeped in surf, garage, and Detroit R&B, but they have their own mod image that's retro and still all ther own. This band has always been an incredible package. They've more or less mastered the whole garage thing by digging up those influences that create garage rock and playing them so well with their own, unforgettable mark. The problem is, how does one top that? One word: Change. Let's face it. Garage rock is enduring and once one becomes a fan, they steep up all the influences that created it and added to it, but the mix of Northern Soul, Motown, R&B, fuzz, surf, '60s punk, and early psychedelia can sound a little redundant even to the most broad minded and music knowledgeable junkie, so it gets harder to create something new and different out of that. In comes the third release from Phoenix's The Love Me Nots. In form of familiarity with the new, long time producer and collaborator Jim Diamond worked the keys and added some extra playing, but instead of going to Ghetto Recorders for laying down the tracks, Jim flew out to Phoenix and sat in with them at Flying Blanket Recording for the new album. New drummer Bob Hoag also took on the role of pre-mastering.

The red hot cover instantly suggests a new direction for the band. Although the simplicity of their other album covers are there, the upside down silhouette of go-go boots with a red background indicate something a little bit modern in reminding one of the opening credits for the popular, mid century period TV program "Madmen." The first track, "Do What You Do" is equal parts guitar and Farfisa sharing lead and melody, but Michael Johny Walker plays longer, more "lead guitar" type riffs that suggest a more hard rock than surf base and Nicole's vocals have a slight background at times that suggest The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Still incredibly cool '60s mod, but maybe with a little bit of a broader appealing twist. The following "Karen (Get Yourself Out)" is a manifesto for vintage organ with guitar taking a more melodic role, although there's still a few solos that expand the appeal outside of the garage rock world. The song is also a crowd pleaser that's known to really get the crowd going at their shows. Perhaps the biggest shock is "You Don't Know a Thing About Me" with a sweet acoustic guitar base, super heavy keys, and electric that combines into something straight out of The Paisley Undergound movement, only bluesier.

Nicole Laurenne's power and presence have always taken front and center, but Kyle Rose Stokes' added vocals on songs like "You're Bringing Me Down" and "He's What I Want" give a stronger gender balance. Upsidedown Insideout overall has a greater melodic approach than their earlier work, but still has heavy garage and speedy beats such as "Take Pity." It also has songs like "The Kinda Love I Got" that are more of a straightforward, super charged guitar pop that pushes towards broader appealing rock. "Fire and Pride" is definitely soul in its sweet, sad melody punctuated by deeper, bluesy desperation and surf riffs, but brings to mind another new theme that runs throughout the whole album: No matter the volume or tempo of the songs, all of them have this incredible grooviness, even with my personal surprise for the lyric "I don't like paisley" on "Not That Kind of Girl" still rocks my world.

I've listened to this album multiple times over the past 6 months or so, appreciating its new sound while still trying to grapple with the fact that it has a new pop appeal while still steeped in everything that makes The LMNs a great band: Great, loud guitars, sweeping organ, an intense beat, and a vocal delivery that's tough, sexy, and desperate at times. Perhaps what's really telling about Upsidedown Insideout is that it never gets too familiar. Even with repeated plays, one hears something new or appreciates something a little more with each listen, such as Nicole's Farfisa solo on "Rosie" that floods one's ears, or the almost classic blues sound of "Undone."

Upsidedown Insideout is The Love Me Nots doing the kind of rock that they're known for. It's strong, loud, and has that sense of heat that they're known for, but it's definitely a new direction for them. It's musically recognizable, but full of surprises. Their previous releases are too and incredibly well done, but this release offers more melody and grooves that embellish their simplicity and break a lot of new ground. It's more than a great effort. It's an incredible album that one never gets tired of hearing.

Upsidedown Insideout is available from numerous outlets including Atomic A Go Go and Get Hip Recordings.