Who: Based in Austin, Texas, Hovvdy (pronounced “howdy”) is the writing and recording project of Charlie Martin and Will Taylor. The duo, both primarily drummers, first met in the fall of 2014 and quickly bonded over a love for quiet music. Cranberry is their sophomore record.
Sound: If you are into current soft intricate warm jangly rock like Ultimate Painting, Pinegrove, (Sandy) Alex G or past favorites such as Low and Yo La Tengo then Hovvdy should be a great new listen for you to check out.
TFN Final Take: Pacing is everything and on Hovvdy’s sophomore record, Cranberry, the Austin duo of Charlie Martin and Will Taylor take you on a soft ride through 12 new tracks over 33 minutes. These disguised pop tunes have a way to get in your head with every well-placed strum of guitar, every stroke of the keys and every soft hit of the skins. This gentle wave is Hovvdy’s success because the record never tires even though the group maintains a very similar mood and execution through the entire album. What I really liked about Cranberry is the subtle bit of haze that Hovvdy places over their layered vocals. They are a little bit lo-fi and a little bit bedroom pop that consistently pulls a catchy tune together. Hovvdy is a band to just put on, relax and let Cranberry take you to another place.
Double Double Whammy Records
– Reviewed by Thomas Wilde
Who: Veteran indie pop band from Canada.
Sound: Indie pop with a heart and a head.
TFN Final Take: Stars is like a well-worn glove that is comfortable, reliable, but lacking in surprise or unpredictability. There is nothing wrong with that; they are still great at what they do. And what they do is construct a song, engage you, and give you space to reflect on what you’re hearing. My standout track is “Alone,” which has a chorus that stuck with me. The song takes its time to unfold and then slowly recedes into silence. “Real Thing” is another good one that throws an off-speed pitch for a chorus. Per usual, established fans will find a lot to like in the latest album and new fans will hopefully take advantage of Stars’ great catalog.
Last Gang Records
– Reviewed by Matthew Heiner
Fire Note Says: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club delivers another solid outing shaped by riff-rock and post-punk distortion.
Album Review: There are those bands that you just want to root for, they may not yet have produced that breakthrough album you know they are capable of, but you just sense they have it in them. Black Rebel Motorcycle is one of those bands for me. First off, they have a kickass name (borrowed from Marlon Brando’s gang in the movie, “The Wild One”), second they made smart riff rock that suggested classic rock influences like Led Zep, but they had an affinity for noisy distorted guitars ala The Jesus & Mary Chain and shoe-saze bands like My Bloody Valentine, and third, “Whatever Happened To My Rock & Roll” on the band’s debut was one of the best rock songs of 2001.
Also, probably a factor, bassist Robert Levon Been is the son of Michael Been of The Call, a band I also thought would one day breakout in a very big way, and although they made albums I thought were great, the closest they ever came to a hit song was “Let The Day Begin,” which seemed to attract the Frat Rock crowd for all the wrong reasons. With The Call inactive in recent years, Michael traveled on tour with BRMC doing sound for the band, but died off a heart attack when they were in Belgium to play the Pukkelpop Festival (Aug. 2010). As a tribute, BRMC recorded “Let The Day Begin” on their 2013 album, Specter at the Feast, putting their own heavy, distorted spin on the familiar guitar hook, Robert giving his own take on his father’s melody.
If tragedy doesn’t follow BRMC, it’s stayed a close companion over the years. The band formed when Been and long-time high school friend, guitarist Peter Hayes, decided to play together after Hayes finished a stint in the Brian Jonestown Massacre. From 1998 to 2008, drummer Nick Jago completed the trio, but in his later years there were issues with addiction and conflict. He was eventually replaced by Leah Shapiro who, had toured previously with The Raveonettes, and she has played drums on the band’s last two fine albums, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (2010) and Specter (2013). In 2014, Shapiro had brain surgery, but has fully recovered and plays on the new one, Wrong Creatures.
Early on, you get a sense for the band’s knack for building a solid rocker out of a catchy guitar riff, in “Spook” and “King of Bones.” “Haunt” follows with a slower, bluesy sound to match its title, but in “Echo” BRMC sounds like they are making a nod toward U2, with the most pop-friendly melody on the record, and a guitar sound from the Edge songbook. The mid-section of the album finds BRMC playing loose and in their own unique groove on “Ninth Configuration,” “Question Of Faith,” and “Calling Them All Away,” all longer songs, with plenty of distortion and that big, thick, noisy sound that feels most natural for BRMC.
“Little Thing Gone Wild” is back in riff rock territory for a quick, fun burst of rock & roll, but then comes “Circus Bazooko,” which has a quirky calliope keyboard thing going on that feels pretty out of place on the album. The superfluous “Carried From the Start” and the too long piano closer “All Rise” finish up the album.
Twenty years in, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have produced eight solid albums, they have a solid live show (they’re on tour now), and plenty of strong material, but that breakthrough I anticipated, both artistic and commercial, eludes them still.
Key Tracks: “Spook” / “Echo” / “Ninth Configuration”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Verve / The Jesus & Mary Chain / Love and Rockets
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Website
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says: Irish folk rocker Glen Hansard, of The Swell Season and The Frames, continues to deliver strong songs.
Album Review: One of my favorite musical scenes in film is that long opening sequence at the beginning of the movie “Once,” where you can hear Glen Hansard playing guitar and singing while the camera tracks along the dark streets of Dublin before settling on the singer/songwriter busking in front of a storefront. Knowing that Hansard’s career began as a teenager playing for tips on the streets, his guitar’s worn look, (it has a hole in the face) and his haggard vocal as he played live gave the film an air of authenticity, an edgy street quality. Of course, that film launched The Swell Season, Hansard’s collaboration with Czech singer/songwriter Marketa Irglova, his co-star in the film, the two winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2007.
While the international splash made by that film introduced Hansard to much of the world, he’d already had a long musical career with the Irish band The Frames beginning in the 90s, and even had a role in Alan Parker’s “The Commitments,” where Hansard played the role of the hapless Irish band’s lead guitarist. Hansard’s most active work with the Frames took place between the band’s debut in ’91, and ’06, but they came back together for an album in 2015. But it you enjoy Hansard’s work with Irglova in The Swell Season, and would like to check out his earlier work, I’d recommend The Frames’ tremendous live album, Set List, to get a feel for Hansard’s fun storytelling and the band’s visceral connection with the hometown Dublin audience.
Hansard opens Between Two Shores with the up-tempo R&B leaning “Roll On Slow,” with a horn section, Hammond organ, and bluesy lead guitar solo, that feints in the direction of The Commitments’ sound, which shows up again on “Wheels On Fire,” but most of this third solo album leans toward familiar folk and light rock that has more in common with The Swell Season. Hansard has reported that the fellow Irish Van Morrison was one of the early influences on his musical identity, and you can hear Van’s soulfulness seeping through “Why Woman,” “Movin’ On,” and the closer, “Time Will Be the Healer.”
There’s an intimate folk singer/songwriter quality throughout Between Two Shores, as Hansard wears his heart on his sleeve on songs of love desired, tested, lost and hoped for, most notable on “Wreckless Heart,” and songs that feel like next chapters to songs in Once and by The Swell Season. Irglova even shows up to sing backing vocals, and members of the Frames—Rob Bochnik (guitar), Joseph Doyle (bass), and Graham Hopkins (drums)—show up alongside talented studio players like Justin Carroll (keys) and Rob Moose (strings/arrangements). But this mature pop album centers around Hansard’s lovely vocals, seasoned song-craft, and traditional Irish music textures.
Key Tracks: “Roll On Slow” / “Movin’ On” / “Time Will Be the Healer”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Swell Season / Van Morrison / The Frames
Glen Hansard Website
Glen Hansard Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Who: Christchurch, New Zealand band Salad Boys return with their sophomore record This Is Glue. The album follows their well received 2015 debut Metalmania.
Sound: This Is Glue has plenty of riffs and melodies that are slightly fuzzed up with that New Zealand sound like The Bats and The Chills as lead singer Joe Sampson has a voice that is an interesting mix of a Bob Mould, Norman Blake and Chris Knox.
TFN Final Take: This Is Glue from the Salad Boys does not try to recreate any new wheel here as the record is a low-key jangle pop of a record that has a very “alternative” New Zealand sound which can be found on many Flying Nun releases. This home recording and slightly lo-fi sound works for the seasoned voice of Joe Sampson that drives these tracks just below the instruments. The entire swirl mixes all the parts with memorable riffs and big rock out moments.
Songs like “Under The Bed” and “Psych Slasher” have times when they bust out and where you just want to roll down the windows in the car and crank the volume up. The only real drawback I can find on This Is Glue is that its almost 45-minute running time feels a bit long as some ideas and sounds repeat themselves. Overall though, Salad Boys have a record that will play to fans of Big Star, Bob Mould and their hometown heroes The Bats. This style of rock never gets old and Salad Boys keep the genre rolling with This Is Glue.
Salad Boys Website
Salad Boys Facebook
Trouble In Mind Records
– Reviewed by Thomas Wilde
Fire Note Says: This 69 track box set delivers a rare and complete look at seminal Minneapolis hardcore punk trio, Hüsker Dü’s early beginnings, a collector’s dream.
Album Review: By the time Hüsker Dü – Grant Hart, Greg Norton and Bob Mould – were playing their first gig in 1980, the first wave of punk bands like the Ramones, Television and Patti Smith had signed to major labels and the hardcore scene was driven by bands like Black Flag, Bad Brains, and the Minutemen. The Du came up in the same Minneapolis scene that produced the Replacements and Soul Asylum, which had previously been known as Loud Fast Rules, which is an apt description of that sound’s guiding principles. I have a mild form of tinnitus (ringing in the ears), that I attribute to attending a Hüsker Dü show during the four years I lived in St. Paul for grad school in the early 80’s, although I have to admit that those years I reviewed Ozzfest for the St. Louis daily likely contributed some. Please, young ones, wear ear protection to live rock shows.
The long journey for these long lost recordings of the band’s early demos, rehearsals and live shows to the finished box-set is almost as storied as the explosive trio itself. Hüsker Dü’s brief often brilliant career was riddled with tension and conflict, especially between the band’s two most productive songwriters, Mould and Hart. The band’s unique blend of power-pop, punk, noise, and hardcore thrash, proved influential to band’s as varied as Nirvana, The Pixies, Metallica and Smashing Pumpkin, but universally critics and fans agree that the band’s earliest releases with SST Records, the label of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, suffer from a cloudy, even muddy mix.
This collection draws heavily on early alternative recordings made by the band’s soundman and friend, Terry Katzman, reportedly 130 or so, which were often recorded right off the band’s soundboard, including an alternative version of Hüsker Dü’s early live album, Land Speed Record, drawing on a recording of a different show in that same time period. So, while these tracks sound better than ever before, they still have that lo-fi recorded in a garage quality, because a lot of them were recorded on cheap equipment in a garage.
At the end of “Insects Rule the World,” a fun example of the band’s bubble gum pop potential, we hear one of the band admit “We’re not the most professional band in the Twin Cities… we have fun though, we have fun.” And the fun here is shared, especially for Hüsker Dü fans, as we get to see the band finding its sound and working out the trios creative kinks in real time, in early songs that capture that adolescent angst, confusion, anxiety and anger that fuels so much of punk. Routing romance problems made all the more conflicted by heavy doses of hormonal longing show up in “Can’t See You Anymore,” “All I’ve Got to Lose Is You,” and “Sexual Economics;” go ahead and count the number of lyrical references to “erotic dreams.” These guys were growing up in public, fighting to make sense of the world and even fighting each other, and at the same time they were producing great music original new music along the way. Give a listen to “Writer’s Cramp” and tell me it’s not just perfect.
Of course, we know what happened to Bob Mould, who has had a significant solo career, and also lead another power pop/post-punk trio, Sugar, for a few years. Gary Hart, after overcoming heroin addiction, moved from drums to guitar and led the band Nova Mob, and continued to release solo albums, before dying of liver cancer earlier this Fall. Bassist Greg Norton, who’s melodic playing has proven very influential, spent some years running his own restaurant, and more recently has played in a number of bands, most recently in Wisconsin band, Porcupine. But together they were a force of nature. Hart and Mould’s great songs, and the latter’s ebullient, if at times savage attack on the guitar has left an ineffable mark on the music world.
Given the vast number of taped recordings found in Katzman’s collection, we may get more releases down the road, but in the meantime this large collection offers the best listens for fans to the music on their first two albums, Everything Falls Apart and the live Land Speed Record, as well as at least ten songs never heard before. But if you don’t love Hüsker Dü already, and have a deep appreciation for that early punk history, this loud, fast band will just feel like so much noise… powerful, creative fun noise to be sure, but noise nonetheless.
Key Tracks: “Writer’s Cramp” / “Can’t See You Anymore” / “Sunshine Superman (Donovan cover)”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Replacements / Bad Brains / Minutemen
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says: Music doesn’t have to be inspirational to be good, but U2 at their best is just that.
Album Review: One of the challenges when your band’s the second highest grossing touring bands of the year, is “Getting Out of Your Own Way.” Of course, that’s a problem most working bands would love to have, but Irish rockers U2 have been such a big deal for so long, that nearly everyone on the planet has a settled opinion about the band and what to expect from their music. There are plenty of hard core fans, which explains the ability to sell out stadiums across the country this summer on the band’s “30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour,” but there are also plenty of naysayers, put off by the band’s do-gooder politics and their all around positivity and/or spirituality, or Bono’s larger than life persona, or just those high-priced concert tickets.
Of course, when you’re one of the world’s biggest rock music attractions you’re no longer just a musician playing to satisfy your personal muse, or to please a cadre of fans who love your work and its evolution, you are at the center of a business entity with brand identity, so it would almost be impossible to imagine you not over-thinking your music and its presentation. Thus, the Apple deal that put a copy of 2014’s Songs of Innocence in everyone’s iTunes account, unasked for, and the backlash against the album on principles that had little if anything to do with the actual songs.
But for a long-time listener, the actual songs of Songs of Innocence, especially “The Miracle’s shout out to Joey Ramone, which recalled the band’s early punk aspirations, and the more personal biographical lyrics in “Raised By Wolves” and “Cedarwood Road,” together with “Every Breaking Wave” and “Song for Someone,” with their built-in wave your lighter/cell-phone and sing-along moments, recalled this band’s truly Unforgettable Fire. From the first time I saw the band on ‘83’s War tour, it was obvious that these guys – especially Bono, and guitarist The Edge – were ambitious rock stars in the making, and for a while there each album worked to broaden the band’s impact and commercial success. By the time they made that first Joshua Tree tour, 30 years ago, they were playing arenas, which rolled over into the Rattle and Hum, both the film and the live concert album.
But then, Achtung, Baby changed everything, the band shed its almost too predictable sound for an edgier, noisier, grittier urban electronic rock, and the cynicism to match the harsher 90’s geo-political climate. The Zoo TV tour filled ball-park stadiums with flying European cars, massive media screens, and images of a belly dancer. Bono grew horns and embraced his alternative personality as “The Fly,” who called the White House switchboard operator during each concert, and taunted TV evangelists like Falwell and Swaggert in the brutal reading of “Bullet, The Blue Sky.” In The Joshua Tree and Achtung, Baby the band had found creative balance, their rooted songs of uplift were given greater ballast, as their light shined brighter because on the other side of the coin, the grittier and darker reality, they saw life for all its broken complexity. But where do you go after you’re on the top of the world?
1993’s Zooropa felt like a modest follow-up to Achtung Baby, with even more of that Euro-techno-pop grounding, more synths and guitar effects. On Pop, in ’97, they appeared to be desperate to reconnect with pop music success, embracing their inner mirror ball in the form of a large “Lemon” on their Pop Mart tour. The 2000’s gave us three albums, each with a “Beautiful Day” or a “Vertigo,” to assure us they were still a rock band driven by the idea of building us up, lifting our spirits, but by 2009’s No Line On the Horizon it was less clear that U2 had a clear path forward, even though the hard-core fans, yours truly included, continued to look to them as a north star in a night sky of various lesser lights.
So for many a U2 fan, Songs of Innocence and the subsequent 2015 Innocence + Experience tour – which used one of the most advanced high tech visual mixed media displays, shown on a large cage that the band walked and climbed though, which ran the full length of the floor down the middle of the arenas they played – found the band’s music, an autobiographical narrative and artistic vision coming together in a way that transcended traditional concerts. (If you haven’t seen it, HBO filmed the final show of that tour in Paris, and the full concert recording is well worth the effort of tracking it down.) That show worked a bit like a Broadway musical, with the band’s previous hits mingling with the newer works in a way that felt vital and relevant, and artistically pleasing both technically and by the time the band got to the lengthy final act filled with many of their best loved songs and fan favorites, it was emotionally satisfying in the best sense of the word. After that, one could begin to think that the promised Songs of Experience would be equally satisfying, especially since early reports suggested that the songs were already in place, and had the same sense of artistic immediacy that could be detected in Innocence.
But then, Bono had a bike accident, and everything got delayed. And then the 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree nostalgia tour seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up. In the mean time (and this time they were really mean), the political climate changed with England’s Brexit vote and the election of President Trump. In the changing world, the band began to second guess themselves, which might explain the plethora of production hands and the “modern” flourishes here that include the obvious use of auto-tune on the album’s opening declaration, “Love Is All We Have Left,” and the occasional instrumental section where it’s clear that the Edge has taken in the guitar textures and synths sounds of bands like XX and Glass Animals.
In today’s brave new world, U2 wants to put it’s best foot forward with messages dominated by love, hope and promise, but aware of the changing climate, there’s plenty of anxiety, insecurity and doubt floating just below the surface. That tension can push the band to produce bright moments of creative resonance, and just as easily drive them down the path of the lowest common denominators, where they’re trying too hard to please. As they sing, it’s going to work out the best when they figure out how to “Get Out of Your Own Way,” and a fair amount of the time on Songs of Experience they manage to do just that.
In one of the album’s best, and most aggressive songs, “The Blackout,” Bono appears to question the band’s relevance if not existence. “The dinosaur wonders why it still walks the earth,” the song begins, echoing one of the record’s most pretentious songs, “The Showman,” where he admits “I’ve got just enough low self-esteem to get me where I want to go.” It’s the occasional moments where we see the man behind the curtain, and not just the Magnificent Oz Rock Star that provides some of the most poignant moments throughout this 14th album.
While Innocence benefitted from the autobiographical story telling about the earliest garage band connections that fueled the hunger in this intimate quartet of high school friends to make music, to escape their humble beginnings and conquer the world, Experience is less focused. Each song is described as a lyrical letter to someone of consequence in the band’s career, like “Landlady” which seems to be written to Bono’s wife, or to the world at large. In “The Little Things That Give You Away,” a song U2 introduced during the encores on tour last summer, we find Bono mourning the passing of his youth: he sings, “sometimes the air is so anxious, all my thoughts are so reckless, and all my innocence has died.” He goes on to add that there are “words you cannot say, your big mouth gets in the way.” This song comes closest to the old U2 sound, The Edge’s guitar picking up speed and building to a crescendo as Bono emotes and the tempo increases and the band falls comfortably into place only to quietly drop out at the perfect moment.
Elsewhere, like on the album’s first single, “You’re The Best Thing About Me,” we hear the band embracing a power-pop anthem with crisp guitar chords, a solid bass line by Adam Clayton, and bold dance floor beat from drummer Larry Mullins, but then there’s that awkward lyric in the middle of the song’s hook. I mean, “you’re the best thing that ever happened – a boy,” really? You left that lyric as is through months of edits and remixing?
There’s that big, bold rock groove that is “American Soul,” with its lyric so ridiculously simple that it’s practically magic: “You are rock & roll/you and I are rock & roll/you are rock & roll/came here looking for American soul.” It’s so catchy, and basic, it’s a no brainer, till we get to Bono’s more obvious political point: “For refugees like you and me/a country to receive us/will you be my sanctuary?/Refu—Jesus!” Say what? No really, what? Even if I agree with your sermon about welcoming the refugees, and am enjoying the crazy rock & roll beat thing you’ve got going, what am I supposed to do with that?
But better is “Lights Of Home” with its self help affirmation to “Free yourself to be yourself if only you could see yourself” chant in the song’s coda, not to mention Edge’s soulful slide guitar solo. “Summer of Love” offers a quieter delight, with its smooth bass line driving the rhythm and an enjoyable finger picked guitar lead. “Red Flag Day” finds the Edge playing a faster, perky chord progression that builds in really satisfying ways. These three together with “The Blackout,” and the two singles and the big rockers make this a satisfying U2 effort, even if you have to work a little to ignore the moments that are a tad off kilter.
But if you want an example of where working too hard to please is counter-productive, consider “Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way,” which feels more like something Coldplay might play in their attempt to be the next U2, with all the obvious audience manipulations… oh, go ahead, break out your cell-phone flashlight, wave your arms in unison, and sing-along, I won’t tell.
But on a more redemptive note, the final song is a lullaby that reprises the lyric and melody of “Song for Someone” from Innocence, a word of light that takes the impending darkness seriously, a hope that is grounded in making a difference with our very lives, by how we treat one another. Bono sings reassuringly: “I know the world is done/but you don’t have to be/I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves/are you tough enough to be kind/do you know your heart has its own mind/darkness gathers around the light/hold on, hold on.” In the cold, hard world we share, it can be a balm for our hardened skin to hear a word that encourages us to live out of our best values, our kindest inclinations. Music doesn’t have to be inspirational to be good, but U2 at their best is just that, and this album has quite a few glimpses of just that.
Key Tracks: “The Little Things That Give You Away” / “The Blackout” / “Summer of Love”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Waterboys / R.E.M. / Coldplay
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says: On their 25th album, The Church from Australia continue to deliver those floating guitar lines that intertwine and grow to create that dreamy, ethereal sound that fans have come to expect.
Album Review: On their 25th studio album, Australia’s The Church maintains the sense of revitalization that developed from the band’s 2014 release,Further/Deeper. Long-time Church fans universally recognize the band’s breakthrough radio single, “Under the Milky Way” from 1988’s Starfish, but from there the band’s strongest efforts are up for debate. I’m prone to the early 90’s albums myself: Gold Afternoon Fix (1990) and Priest=Aura (1992), others are more fond of Heyday (1986) and still others prefer the 2000s releases of After Everything Now This and Back With Two Beasts. But if you caught the band on their extensive tours in the last couple of years, besides their newest album and the few songs they had that qualified as hits, you were likely to hear wide swaths of material from their sophomore album, The Blurred Crusade (1982).
So it should surprise no one that Man Woman Life Death Infinity besides being the band’s longest album title, is shaped by the same tones and textures that have carried the band successfully through their first 24 albums. Dreamy and ethereal, floating guitar lines that intertwine and grow in intensity; pulsating, psychedelic, haunting, are fitting adjectives for many of their songs that draw their center around bassist Steve Kilbey’s low, ruminating vocals. A trance-like, hypnotic vibe is part of the appeal as these songs take on a nearly cinematic quality.
For the longest time, it was hard to imagine The Church’s sound working without both of their original guitarists, Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, but Ian Haug came on board to replace Willson-Piper in 2013, and both live and on Further/Deeper the band didn’t miss a step, and the same can be said here.
Song-wise, the tunes on Man Woman Life Death Infinity seem to get more quickly too the point than some of their more spacey works from the past, as Kilbey’s lyrics, although still as random and disconnected as you might expect from this stream-of-consciousness approach, seem more deliberate and focused. On tracks like “For King Knife,” “In Your Fog,” and “Dark Waltz” the lyrics feel as integral as the guitar hooks and melodies are to the pieces, rather than vice versa.
“Crocodiles and allegations” begins “A Face In Film,” which rhymes nicely with “Palpitations” and “League of Nations,” but if you need more than that you’re not going to get any help from Kilbey. These songs, like much of The Church’s catalog, are all about the feeling created, the immediate, visceral response to the sounds, which remains to engaging to these ears, and still makes a fun connection, and the words float by like images outside a train window.
After 25 albums there’s going to be a reliable sense of familiarity throughout Man Woman Life Death Infinity. Even after several listens to “I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know Why” you may feel like you’ve heard it on a previous album. The melody and guitars recall previous glories, but here in 2017 we can be grateful that The Church is religiously consistent.
Key Tracks: “Undersea” / “Another Century” / “A Face in a Film”
Artists With Similar Fire: Psychedelic Furs / The Flaming Lips / Echo & The Bunnymen
The Church Website
The Church Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says: Minneapolis’ 80’s punk heroes captured live in all their raw, ragged glory.
Album Review: Gather round my children, and I’ll tell you a story about a far distant time called the 80’s when punk bands weren’t mere fashion statements marketed by corporations, a time before cleaned up, processed and packaged acts bought their jeans pre-shredded, their Doc Martin’s pre-scuffed. It was a DIY reaction to 70’s glossy, over-produced commercial album-oriented-rock, which felt plastic and fake. In the early 80’s, punk bands were springing up in suburban garages across America, and in Minneapolis (where I went to grad school), bands like Hüsker Dü, Loud Fast Rules (which later became Soul Asylum), and The Replacements were playing all-ages shows at 7th Street Entry, the small club underneath the more famous First Avenue, where Prince filmed the club scenes for the film “Purple Rain.”
Oh, and let me tell you about the ticket prices, you won’t believe it. In 1983 I once paid $6 to see 5 bands play outdoors on Navy Island in nearby St. Paul. It was R.E.M.’s first national tour, supporting Murmur, and they brought Let’s Active along as their opening act. Out of sheer kindness, R.E.M. let local band the Suburbs close the show, as they had just signed a record deal with a major label, and two more local bands started the show, The Phones, and the aforementioned Replacements. Those were the days, my friend. And of course, the Mats, a nickname based on an inside joke between the band and its fans— short for Placemats—went on to produce influential albums, Let It Be (’84), Tim (’85), and Pleased to Meet Me (’87), which included one of the band’s best known songs, “Alex Chilton.”
While the band sometimes played tight, fun, aggressive shows, The Replacements had also earned a reputation for coming on stage too drunk to play well, or serving up their set in ways that antagonized and alienated audiences, including a notorious performance broadcast on Saturday Night Live that got them banned from ever returning to the show. So the arrival of this long-lost 1986 recording of the band in the intimate confines of Maxwell’s, a favorite rock club in Hoboken, New Jersey, feels like a minor miracle.
While it seemed like the band’s tendency to sabotage themselves with record company execs, not unlike the SNL fiasco, would make an attempt to capture the essence of the Mats at their best on a live concert recording a lost cause from the get-go, the newly released album is proof that this band was capable of even surprising themselves. As it is, recording in late January of 1986, For Sale captures the original quartet in all its ragged glory, since lead guitarist Bob Stinson would be fired by the end of the year, between the albums Tim and Pleased to Meet Me, and the band’s move to a more accessible pop friendly approach.
The 80 minute show, 28 songs spread across two discs/double vinyl, finds the band playing fast and loose, raw and ragged, but holding it together enough to deliver the goods, with most of the songs only running between 2 and 3 minutes. While early songs like “I’m In Trouble” and “God Damn Job” are brief bursts of angst-ridden punk, a chance to rage about the state of the world, there’s also lots of evidence of Paul Westerberg’s growing skills as a songwriter. Take “Can’t Hardly Wait,” with its more complicated structure and a solid pop melody, which even shows up in Stinson’s guitar lines, and the funny lyric “Jesus rides beside me/and he never buys any smokes.” This band was in transition to be sure, but for this and quite a few more sweaty nights on stage, they were a force of nature, and at the heart of it is the guitar playing of Bob Stinson, who manages to play fast, precise leads that mix blues and metal influences, but can also can get lost in a flurry of sound when called for.
They start out loud and fast, opening with the feedback lead in to “Hayday,” followed in quick succession by “Color Me Impressed” and a potent rendition of “Dose of Thunder.” But, Westerberg keeps repeating another inside band joke by yelling, “murder,” and even working the word into the lyric of several of the songs early in the set. Late on the first disc, after a pretty blistering version of “Kiss Me On the Bus,” a fan yells out “Free Bird,” which means that crap has been going on for a long, long time, and Westerberg responds yelling “Murder!” before leading the band into a Kiss cover, “Black Diamond.” Other covers include The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” Vanity Fair’s “Hitchin’ A Ride,” T. Rex’s “Baby Strange” and brief stab at The Sweet’s “Fox On the Run” early on.
As I’ve said before, every music form has a polka hidden deep in its secretive past, and in punk bands it surfaces more often than you might expect, and can be heard here in “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and the front fast section of “Otto.” And for a hardcore punk band, The Replacements also deliver a pure country take on “If Only You Were Lonely,” where Westerberg appears to struggle with the lyrics early on. While one of the Mats best known and loved songs from that early era, ”Bastards of Young,” is tossed off without much effort, we get spirited efforts here and there, including solid takes on “Left of the Dial,” in spite of Westerberg having trouble again with the lyrics.
Westerberg starts off “Answering Machine” solo, appearing to falter and lose the song’s melody at several points, but then once the band kicks in, that song and the next couple connect with a fun sense of purpose and energy – “Waitress In the Sky,” “Take Me to the Hospital,” and “Gary’s Got a Boner” give a glimpse of the raw chemistry when the band is hitting all cylinders. Drummer Chris Mars, bassist Tommy Stinson, led by the dueling talents of guitarist Bob Stinson and singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg.
There’s a lot of fun here, for those familiar with all this music, and for those less familiar a bit of an education. So, get to class on time, don’t be that guy who yells out “Color Me Impressed” about 50 minutes after they played it. Pay attention, and respect your elders.
Key Tracks: “I’m In Trouble” / “Can’t Hardly Wait” / “Dose of Thunder”
Artists With Similar Fire: Hüsker Dü / Ramones / Sex Pistols
The Replacements Website
The Replacements Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says:
Album Review: Everybody loves a redemption story, a tale of the tortured soul who deals with their demons, whether external or internal, and returns in full possession of their artistic gifts. Thus the tale of Kesha Rose Sebert, formerly of the $, who escaped her Svengali of a producer/label head, and entered rehab to deal with bulimia, only to return to recording with as strong and enjoyable an album as anyone could hope for. So “don’t call it a comeback,” but it has that feel.
So, this time out the live hard and “Die Young” party girl is less on display, as are her hip-hop dance floor friendly grooves, in favor of a more reflective and circumspect singer/songwriter, even if her lyrics are still NSFW. But she’s still fun, and often laugh out loud funny. Like her unique take on feminism in “Woman,” where she repeatedly refers to her self as a MF (I don’t have to spell it out, even though her lyric sheet does), and puts potential beaus in their place: “Don’t buy me a drink, I make my money/Don’t touch my weave, don’t call me honey.”
Nearly as much fun are her collaborations. For “Woman” she gets support from the Dap-Kings Horns (of the late Sharon Jones fame), and she partners with the Eagles of Death Metal twice: the bold rocker “Let ‘Em Talk,” where she tells her detractors they can “suck my dick,” and the discolicious “Boogie Feet,” which is way more fun than the legal limit. But, surprisingly best of all is the country leaning duet with Dolly Parton on “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You).” Take that Sheryl Crow, she doubled down on your Kid Rock with a pair of blondes.
So, it’s clear that Miss Kesha has managed to retain her sense of humor, and doesn’t take herself too seriously even as she expresses a Madonna-esque spiritual awakening in her first single “Praying,” but also in “Hymn,” “Learn to Let Go,” and the title track, “Rainbow.” The somewhat serious intentions are balanced against the levity of “Boots,” a sexy charmer where she warns that “if you can’t handle these claws, you don’t get this kitty,” and “Hunt You Down,” where she threatens that if the current object of her affection betrays her, she will “Hunt You Down.”
The disc opens with Kesha alone playing “Bastards” on acoustic guitar and sets the tone with the declaration that no needs let the “mean girls” or other haters “bring you down.” But it’s pure 21st century pop from start to finish, and a complete surprise to those who might have thought Kesha was just a flash in the pan. This singer/songwriter is ready for her close-up.
Key Tracks: “Praying” / “Boogie Feet” / “Woman”
Artists With Similar Fire: Katy Perry / Lady Gaga / Rihanna
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb