Who: Boston’s Kal Marks get the new year started off on the right foot. Universal Care is my first favorite new record of 2018!
Sound: Universal Care finds the band evolving into a distinctive brand of intense and monolithic noise rock. It is still Kal Marks; they have not gone soft, just more varied in their delivery.
TFN Final Take: For their fourth LP, Boston’s Kal Marks rip open 2018 with the scalding “Fuck This Guy.” It is a frightening, propulsive, almost tribal track. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what singer-guitarist Carl Shane is shrieking about, but I hope it is Trump.
Tracks two and three are more similar to the Kal Marks I have grown accustomed to from their past LPs. Noisy and dense rock. “Loosed” has a groovy bass-line fluttering around in it with punctuations of heavy guitar fuzz and ear-scouring vocals.
Track 3, “Springtime in January” sees Kal Marks step up the tempo and break into heavy punk territory. They place a disorienting pause towards the end of the track just to rev everything up for a final 30-second breakneck mosher.
“Grand Mal,” “A Place Amongst All the Angry Hordes” and “Adventure” are a few other highlights on Universal Care. Each track has its own little quirks and hooks that keep you moving through the album with ease.
The quiet clarity and honesty of “Ode” rips into your heart. Same goes for album closer “Today I Walked Down to the Tree, Read a Book…” it starts so soft and unexpected but eventually gives way to a noise-laden finale.
Universal Care is another fantastic album in Kal Marks’ remarkable discography. Highly recommended for listeners who like their rock noisy and dense. Fans of Pile, Baked, Washer, and the rest of Exploding in Sound Records artists should definitely give Universal Care a shot.
Kal Marks Website
Kal Marks Facebook
Exploding In Sound Records
Who: Portland’s Marriage + Cancer continue to scald everything in their path with their caustic noise rock!
Sound: Uncompromising and brutal noise rock not unlike Jesus Lizard and In Utero-era Nirvana.
TFN Final Take: It’s been awhile since Marriage + Cancer’s last release, Killjoy. That 7” came out late 2015. Marriage + Cancer has since completed its transition from Robert Komet’s other band, Nucular Aminals to Marriage + Cancer.
That transition was not just a name change; it was a drastic shift from the quirky dour-pop of Aminals to the full on rage that Marriage + Cancer now embrace. Killjoy served as a bridge between the two sounds, but this new self-titled LP shows that Robert has crossed the bridge and now resides in state of perpetual noise-laden disdain and anger.
That is not a bad thing. I happen to be a big fan of brutal noise rock and this album certainly strikes a chord with me. I have heard a few of the tracks as demos over the past few years, even reviewed a few when Robert released them in 2016 as Demonstrations II EP. Four of those tracks made it to the new LP but they sound so much more rich and full.
“Command + Comply,” “God is Tan” and “Flora + Fauna” bask in higher level of production but the album’s best track, “Gound” really shines. Maybe it is because I can faintly hear a touch of Nucular Aminals in its faster tempo and thrashing riffs. If anything, it is the lone track that gives you a bit of a respite from consistently pummeling you will endure while listening to this LP. Kind of wish there was more of it in the album.
Marriage + Cancer deliver a punishing listen. That is what they set out to do and they do it with zeal. I still miss Nucular Aminals and I highly encourage listeners to check out their discography to go along with this new and exciting direction.
Marriage + Cancer Website
Marriage + Cancer Facebook
Self Sabotage Records
– Reviewed by Daniel Taylor
Fire Note Says: Ty Segall creates a very fluid classic double album in Freedom’s Goblin.
Album Review: The grandiose opening blare of instruments on Ty Segall’s new 75-minute double record, Freedom’s Goblin, really tells you all you need to know in its first 22 seconds. This is going to be a loose journey through multiple genres, musicians, styles, and tempos that will bring both highs and lows with a full-on twist of Ty. That description might make you run for the simpler times of Segall when there was a more dedicated direction like on his early garage singles or the mellower Ty found on Sleeper (2013) but don’t turn the dial yet!
Once you get over the massiveness of Freedom’s Goblin, the record will connect. It might start with singing the line from the opening track “Fanny knows what her name is” or humming the chorus to the additive strummer “My Lady’s On Fire,” but it will happen. The creepy bass groove on “Despoiler Of Cadaver” will get your foot tapping while Ty’s wife, Denee Segall, takes over the vocals in “Meaning” and just scorches your ears with strength and venom that drives this monster heavy rocker. The surprising cover of British soul band Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s A Winner” completely works as the third track which also features Fred Armisen (Portlandia, SNL, Trenchmouth) on drums. Grunge your thing? “Alta” has you covered while near the end of the record, “5 Ft Tall” keeps the momentum rolling and delivers yet another keeper. Not surprising really but both of those tracks were recorded by Steve Albini. You want some more big band jazzy moments – long time band member Mikal Cronin arranges the horns here for maximum effect as they appear on about a third of the record. Once again, giving Freedom’s Goblin an incredibly likable diversity. Regardless on where you leave off or enter Freedom’s Goblin – this album keeps you interested right down to the over 12 minute closer, “And Goodnight,” which is a much more electric reinterpretation of the title track from more acoustic Sleeper (2013).
With such a varied and ever expansive catalog, I believe it has been easier lately to not give Ty Segall his much due attention. Freedom’s Goblin is the proof of why that should not be the case. For me, this record is easily number three in his catalog behind Manipulator (2014) and Twins (2012) but given more time I believe it could climb even higher. This record has such a mix that honestly it should not work but instead comes off as genius. Ty Segall never makes a “bad” record but the colossal Freedom’s Goblin showcases his maturity as a writer and a willingness to push his own already expanded boundaries. The album is not only one of his best records but will easily be one of the top releases this year.
Key Tracks: “My Lady’s On Fire” / “Alta” / “5 Ft Tall”
Artists With Similar Fire: Robert Pollard / Konk / Thee Oh Sees
Ty Segall Website
Ty Segall Facebook
Drag City Records
– Reviewed by Christopher Anthony
Who: This is the debut record from Moncton, Canada punks Chiller. The band is a continuation of Feral Trash which released Trashfiction in 2014 on Dirt Cult Records. Chiller is Ilisha and Eric of Feral Trash with local friends Erin (Black Tower) and Tim (Mother’s Children).
Sound: Fresh melodic punk comes at you with both a male and female vocal. If you were a fan of Feral Trash, Chiller is for you along with other energetic sounding punk artists like Sonic Avenues, PUP and Jeff Rosenstock.
TFN Final Take: Chiller is a winner because they take their music seriously. Punk is not forgotten, it is not shelved, it is not underground. For Chiller, every delivered line on their self-titled debut sounds like it could be their last and that is what makes this debut fantastic.
The rush of layered melodies keep coming along with booming choruses that just thunder like on the first track when “Heretic” is called out multiple times. The band is completely tight, the album is a tidy 23 minutes and Chiller never stops moving. Time to turn up the stereo!
Dirt Cult Records
– Reviewed by Christopher Anthony
Fire Note Says: A masterpiece for all times!
Album Review: R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People is a masterpiece that gets a lot of love on its 25th anniversary. A live disc and 20 demos/outtakes accompany the original album. The extras are interesting and noteworthy; the live performances are nothing new for fans of the band but are still fun. The demos demonstrate R.E.M.’s process for song creation, which sheds light on how much of a team the band was. Everyone contributed, everyone took songwriting credits. This cohesion helped the band re-create their sound and diversify over 30 years.
R.E.M. means a lot to me. They helped me find new parts of myself that I never knew were there. And Automatic For The People was the first step in that process. R.E.M. is an authentic band. They were never the most technically gifted. Michael Stipe’s voice is by no means the strongest that music has ever seen; however, he can emit such a range of emotion that amazes me more and more as I grow older and listen to a lot of vocalists who don’t measure up in that regard. Any band that can release “Shiny Happy People” unironically is willing to take chances and to be genuine, no matter how uncool that is. R.E.M. was never anything but themselves.
I can still remember watching the video for “Everybody Hurts” the first time. I was aware of R.E.M. before then – I have memories of watching the video for “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” on Friday Night Videos. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself with Youtube. “Stand” was cool, “Losing My Religion” was popular but I didn’t understand why. But “Everybody Hurts” struck the 14-year-old version of me to the core. The video was so striking. The subtitles; the traffic; the inclusivity. For a video that’s 25 years old it’s amazing the diversity of the characters that it contains.
The feelings I have as I listen to Automatic For The People are those of sadness and hope. There are pained characters throughout the album who are dealing with questions of mortality and loss. Of the cost of being genuine. Of how to make a difference when the system is stacked against you. I respect that there is no hiding from these difficulties, and R.E.M. pulls no punches. And that makes the album’s last three songs all the more impactful.
“Man On The Moon” celebrates a man who subverted social conventions. I can understand why Andy Kaufmann was so celebrated by the band. “Nightswimming” is so rich with nostalgia. Sometimes Stipe’s lyrics (and vocals) were so obtuse it made me wonder if they meant anything at all. Not so with this song. Stipe paints such a vivid picture with such clear vocals, he puts you right there with him. The arrangement, consisting of strings and piano, doesn’t sound like a rock band. And it doesn’t matter. My favorite line is the simple “Pining for the moon.” Just the delivery of that one line is perfect. It encompasses what R.E.M. does so well.
“Strength and courage overrides the privileged and weary eyes.” That line from the album closer “Find The River” shows audacity in the face of life not going our way. And that’s the theme for Automatic For The People. Life is challenging and wearisome and brilliant and heartbreaking. It comes to an end. We spend most of our lives trying to escape that reality. R.E.M. found a gentle way of encouraging us to grapple with our condition, hoping that it would lead to greater kindness and peace. It’s a message we’ll always need.
– Reviewed by Matthew Heiner
Fire Note Says: Tomas Fujiwara’s double trio stands out, even in another great year of recorded jazz and improvised music
Album Review: Drummer Tomas Fujiwara has contributed to a number of great recordings in recent years, whether as a sideman or as a member of groups like Thumbscrew (with guitarist Mary Halvorson and bassist Michael Formanek), but with Triple Double, Mr. Fujiwara shows off his skills as a composer, performer and leader on one of this listener’s favorite records from 2017. The group Mr. Fujiwara assembled for this recording is a double trio — matching sets of guitarists (Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook), horn players (Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and Ralph Alessi on trumpet) and drummers (Mr. Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver).
This unconventional grouping of six terrific improvisers takes on 10 compositions by Mr. Fujiwara, including “Blueberry Eyes”, which cycles through sections of free improvisation, asymmetrical grooves cut through by horn lines and frantic workouts led by pummeling drums and distorted guitars. Other highlights include “Love and Protest” and “Toasting the Mart”. The former tune distinctly recalls Ornette Coleman’s classic Lonely Woman (from 1959’s The Shape of Jazz to Come), with the horns and Ms. Halvorson’s guitar floating above and threatening to break free from Mr. Seabrook’s anchoring drone and the churning percussion of the two drummers. The funky groove of “Toasting the Mart”—which comes complete with handclaps—sounds a bit like a piece of tape that Teo Macero might have cut from the sessions for On the Corner by Miles Davis. On all of the full ensemble pieces, the doubling of instrumental voices adds great energy, but a different sort of doubling-up happens with “Hurry Home”, a short ballad arranged for guitar and drums that appears twice on the record: once by the duo of Messrs. Seabrook and Cleaver (“Hurry Home B/G”) and again as a duet featuring Mr. Fujiwara and Ms. Halvorson (“Hurry Home M/T”). Both of these tracks are excellent showcases for the distinctive instrumental voices of the two guitarists, and the sensitive interplay between guitar and drums demonstrates what engaged listeners these musicians are.
The centerpiece of the record is essentially another duet, a piece for the two drummers entitled “For Alan”. This piece is dedicated to one of Mr. Fujiwara’s drum teachers, Alan Dawson, and a third voice is (quite literally) added to the track in the form of brief recorded excerpts from drum lessons given by Mr. Dawson to the then 10-year old Tomas Fujiwara. On paper, that device seems to risk coming off as a bit gimmicky or even corny, but I assure you that it is a highly effective and moving tribute to the power of a teacher. Truly outstanding.
Key Tracks: “Blueberry Eyes” / “Love and Protest” / “For Alan”
Artists With Similar Fire: Gerald Cleaver / Ches Smith / Thumbscrew
Tomas Fujiwara Website
Firehouse 12 Records
– Reviewed by Everett Wallace
Fire Note Says: Jeff is back!
Album Review: Jeff Rosenstock started off this year with a bang as he released his third LP digitally for FREE on New Year’s Day! That is right – free. Now, I am sure we have all had the experience of downloading free music and feeling there was a good reason it was free. Well – you absolutely will not be saying this about POST-. The former leader of the ska/punk collective Bomb The Music Industry!, Jeff Rosenstock has quickly found himself a leader in the modern punk rock movement.
In a time when hip-hop and electronic music is taking the headlines on major music festivals (which we can’t still understand), Jeff Rosenstock is releasing his rally cry against the current social tensions and politics of today. POST- is full of big sing along anthems, call out vocals, chants and straight talk. One listen to the over seven minutes “USA” will capture the vibe especially for the “we’re tired, we’re board” chant near its conclusion. This high energy rhythm never slows and continues regardless if the track is 1:41 like “Beating My Head Against A Wall” or the soaring over 4-minute Rosenstock power ballad “TV Stars.”
There is some good music coming our way in 2018 but the scene has still been looking bleak overall. WORRY. (2016) was a fantastic release for Rosenstock and POST- equals its likability. The record has quickly turned my attitude around and will be a solid release to crank loud all year long. Thank God for Jeff Rosenstock – 2020 anyone?!
Key Tracks: “USA” / “Yr Throat” / “Beating My Head Against A Wall”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Queers / Titus Andronicus / Ted Leo
Jeff Rosenstock Website
Jeff Rosenstock Facebook
– Reviewed by Thomas Wilde
Fire Note Says: Lorde resists contemporary pop conventions and dusts off 80’s vinyl influences to craft one of the strongest and most original pop records of the year.
Album Review: Four years ago, the meteoric rise of New Zealand’s Lorde was fueled by the strength of “Royals,” a single that trumpeted the arrival of a confounding, but instantly necessary pop goddess. “Royals” dominated international charts and made Pure Heroine one of the best selling and most essential records of the year.
For fans, the four years between then and now have been a lifetime. But the wait was worth it, because nearly every song on Lorde’s sophomore act Melodrama makes “Royals” look like child’s play.
Miraculous and groovy, Melodrama is somehow both uptempo and dark; somehow simultaneously jungly and hushed. It’s pulsing with id from start to finish, from the manic synth horns that smash through warm synths on “Sober” to the brooding, moody chorus of “Liability.” Lorde is our uninhibited and unabashedly frank tour guide on a safari of young womanhood, leading us through a jungle dense with yelping choruses and luscious, New Wave arrangements. There instances of strange bliss — the anachronistically industrial bridge in the middle of “Hard Feelings;” the additive rhythm and infectious confidence of “Homemade Dynamite” — and moments of familiar, nostalgic teenage angst. “We were wild and fluorescent, come home to my heart,” our heartbroken heroine pleads in “Supercut.” What jagged, jaded adult on this planet wouldn’t give anything to feel “wild and fluorescent” just one more time? Is there any summary of rebellious adolescence more poignant than “Our rules, our dreams, we’re blind / blowing shit up with homemade dynamite” ?
But the real genius of Melodrama lies in the chemistry between its production and themes. Lorde stiff-arms modern pop conventions and opts for electro arrangements far more akin to New Order’s Substance or Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration than Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. It’s impossible to navigate the energy and emotion of Melodrama without detecting heavy New Wave elements, laced with the pop sensibilities of Pet Shop Boys and David Bowie. This is the secret sauce; the boldness that lies at the heart of Melodrama. By flouting so many contemporary pop standards and instead dusting off the vinyls, Lorde has, with delightful irony, crafted one of the very best and most original pop records of the year.
The dark nostalgia that runs through Melodrama so thoroughly infects each track that it’s easy to forget that the record is merely renting space from the silence; by the time it ends, we’re so lost in its synths, rhythms and emotions that we struggle to believe it’s over. Melodrama drops us off right where it picked us up: at a few clean piano chords under Lorde’s decadent, confessional vocals. Then it closes quietly, returning us to the dark, empty space it borrowed for an exquisite forty minutes — leaving us wondering how on Earth we never knew we always needed this record.
Key Tracks: “Green Light” / “Sober” / “Homemade Dynamite”
Artists With Similar Fire: Lana Del Rey / Charli XCX / Robyn
– Reviewed by Dylan Gallimore
Fire Note Says: St. Vincent builds on the success of her last album, bringing her performance art mechanics, manic guitar noise and energetic electro-pop hysterics face to face with tragedy and lives to tell about it.
Album Review: St. Vincent’s eponymously titled 4th solo album, released in 2014, was easily her most accessible album, while also delivering some pretty amazing songs packaged with electro-pop polish, and marked by her unique guitar playing. And it paid off big, landing her on dozens of “best of year” lists and winning that year’s Grammy for Best Alternative Album, notably the first time a solo female artist had won that honor since Sinead O’Connor did in 1991. And then, when Nirvana was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that year, she was one of 5 women who performed with the band at the induction ceremony, rocking on “Lithium.”
St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, got her start as a multi-instrumentalist with The Polyphonic Spree, the psychedelic rock choir experience, and then did a stint supporting Sufjan Stevens prior to starting her solo career under her chosen saintly moniker, which she has said she borrowed from a Nick Cave lyric: “Dylan Thomas died drunk in St. Vincent’s hospital.” And in 2012, she collaborated with former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to produce Love This Giant, which emphasized a brass band over traditional alternative guitar rock. St. Vincent’s bona fides are impressive by any standard.
After three years, St. Vincent, whose use of the pseudonym suggests an artistic distance between Clarke and the persona in her songs and live shows, clearly approaches her work like an a performance artist as well as a musician. While her songs are melodically evocative, she’s thinking big picture, creating an artistic statement about the current shape of the world, or at least her experience of it, letting her works reveal pieces of her own humanity even as she hides behind the visual mystique created through her art, songs, videos and costumes. The end result, on St. Vincent and on her latest, Masseducation, is as evocative as it is engaging, as challenging as it is entertaining.
While turning to producer Jack Antonoff, know for his work with Taylor Swift and Lorde, St. Vincent is more idiosyncratic than her last outing, the arrangements leaner and more sparse, her vocals more distinct and delivered with a unique quirkiness. “Hang On Me” opens using a plane crash as a metaphor for a doomed relationship. “You and me, we’re not for this world” she sings in a whisper, over a stuttery drum machine beat and a lush string arrangement. “Pills,” takes on our growing modern pharmaceutical reliance, interestingly leaning on a bouncy sing-song melody that recalls the “oompa loompa” song from Willy Wonka fame, until it reaches the crash and burn verse near the end. A far more effective message than the recent revival of “Just Say No,” as Kamasi Washington’s bluesy sax tones fade out to a haunting end.
The title track, which is pronounced mass seduction, which hangs on the knowing line, “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” contains the strongest example of Clark’s stellar guitar sounds. Recalling Adrian Belew’s heavily enhanced approached to the guitar, whose fun noises imitating birds, elephants and mechanical sounds, appeared with folk like David Bowie, Frank Zappa, King Crimson and Laurie Anderson, St. Vincent has avoided leaning on this technique entirely, but her crafty, and satisfying guitar playing is a unique and substantial contribution in her music.
Like the album’s title, you have to look twice at the title of “Los Ageless,” to make sure it says what it says, while clearly a take on Los Angeles’ worship of youth culture and a plastic superficiality based on appearances only. “Sugarboy” most resembles the high-energy electro-pop of St. Vincent, but the sugary sweet texture hides a darker story: “a casualty hangin’ on from the balcony.” But the sense of tragedy, takes a bigger hold on the album’s musical focus on the second half, beginning with a piano ballad, “Happy Birthday, Johnny” with a glorious pedal slide guitar accompaniment. Similarly, “New York” is a stripped back piano song with strings and a chorus on the hook, about having “lost a hero, I have lost a friend,” which seems to suggest the passing of Bowie, or perhaps even Lou Reed, or someone else who was “the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me.” It’s a moving epitaph for it’s honesty and playful self-revelation.
And so it goes on Masseduction, it can be warm and close, or cold and hard, but it’s impossible to ignore. “Savior” offers up a playful sexy funk hook, while “Fear The Future” leans toward a darker techno vibe, while Clark’s voice soars, while the industrial tones rage, and “Young Lover” throbs with anxiety as the the protagonist fears every possibility she can imagine. Finally, the closing two tracks, “Slow Disco” and “Smoking Section,” truly haunted ballads (“leave you dancing with ghosts”), where there are threats of suicide before asking “what could be better than love,” and concluding that “it’s not the end.” Well, talk about your melancholy and the infinite sadness. St. Vincent has that covered, and she does it beautifully.
Key Tracks: “New York” / “Los Ageless” / “Masseduction”
Artists With Similar Fire: Björk / Beck / Talking Heads
St. Vincent Website
St. Vincent Facebook
Loma Vista Recordings
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Who: New Hampshire’s Rick Rude make a lasting impression with Make Mine Tuesday.
Sound: Make Mine Tuesday is a stunning debut album that is sure to make people who like Built to Spill, Heartless Bastards and The Pauses swoon.
TFN Final Take: Another “Better Late than Never” review for this wonderful record. Make Mine Tuesday was released back in January of this year, so in terms of reviewer timeliness, I am way off. However, since I have been sharing this band in various Facebook music groups for the past few months and it is catching people’s attention that never heard of Rick Rude, it is still quite relevant and necessary.
Rick Rude employ a rather extensive range of sounds and influences in Make Mine Tuesday. Tracks like “Bald and Fat in Houston, TX” (great song title), “Shroud and Shell” and “Sierra L’mist” start slow with an alt-country/Americana vibe before giving way to some exhilarating Built to Spill-ish moments.
The juxtaposition of quiet moments to the heavier ones does not just occur within an individual track, but all across the LP. Instead of feeling all over the place, Make Mine Tuesday has an odd sense of continuity between the varied tracks.
When bassist Jordan Holtz provides the vocals, (her voice and the songs remind me of a mix between Erika Wennerstrom’s Heartless Bastards and Tierney Tough from The Pauses) the band sounds completely different from their earlier established sound.
If you want to hear a LP that keeps you on your toes and is not afraid to drift between Built to Spill indie rock guitar moments but also hit you with some power-pop riffs right out of a Weezer or Pixies playbook, give Rick Rude a chance. Make Mine Tuesday is one of the better releases for 2017 and this band seems to have a bright future ahead of them.
Rick Rude Website
Rick Rude Facebook
Sophomore Lounge Records
– Reviewed by Daniel Taylor