Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders - Outskirts of Your Heart (2007)

Ex-mainman of the Lazy Cowgirls Pat Todd released this opus to little or no fanfare. Two discs and 28 songs, ranging from sparse folk to the raging garage punk that the Cowgirls excelled at. Todd has a way of melding every style of Americana into a glorious, decadent whole and the guitar leads come straight out of the tradition of Johnny Thunders, which is to say they shouldercheck the rest of the band out the way and fight for space. This is a sprawling, messy, warts'n'all masterpiece about crushed dreams and the loss of youth, and it joins Bob Forrest's You Come and Go Like a Pop Song (released under the band name the Bicycle Thief) as one of the most profoundly personal releases of its decade.

Outskirts of Your Heart on Amazon

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Baby Scream - Secret Place (2011)

On their 8th album Secret Place Baby Scream have taken some fairly common power pop influences and either by design or by accident they've managed to create something entirely unexpected. Most of that originality stems from Juan Pablo Mazzola's vocals, which occasionally resemble John Lennon at his most hushed but more often than not remind me of the Promise Ring's Davey von Bohlen (circa their moody Wood/Water album). There's a yearning fragility to his voice, a sense of impending heartbreak that colors every song, so even when the band stretches its muscles (like on the comparatively rockin' opener "The Last Call") there exists an appealingly odd melancholy to the proceedings. Guitars may jangle and buzz, a bit of Garth Hudson organ might flit in and out of the mix, but Mazzola anchors it all with that distinctive frailty.

Elsewhere, Mazzola toughens up a little on "Cold Weather Reggae", which slips in actual reggae without forsaking the mellow pop ambiance, and power chords pop up in "London Sun", but mostly this album is rich with delicately Lennon-esque gems like "Hit and Run" and "Eating My Face," songs of a singular mood that might go far deeper than a casual listen would suggest. The b-side of their "Hit and Run" single is a cover of a posthumously-released T. Rex demo, "20th Century Baby", and that choice (Marc Bolan, the elfin coke-ravaged man-child, stripped of all glam trappings and hippie optimism, playing it straight from the heart) seems an obvious key to Baby Scream's intentions on Secret Place.

Baby Scream at CD Baby

Lucero - Women & Work (2012)

When Lucero lurched into public consciousness at the beginning of the previous decade, they were the sonic equivalent of a savagely angry barroom drunk itching for a knife fight. The band played punked-up Americana, a definite southern twang buried under layers of electric fuzz and distortion with  murky influences touching on the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo, Crazy Horse, and, buried deep, Springsteen, all while leader Ben Nichols sang in a rasp so thick he must've gargled with gasoline and rusty carpet tacks. Since joining the major labels with their previous album (2009's 1372 Overton Park), the band hasn't exactly reinvented their wheel, but they've certainly buffed up those whitewalls with some Armor All. Women & Work continues that trend towards respectability. The songs feature a full horn section, keyboards, as well as the occasional gospel choir, and Nichols' ear for a hook continues to get more pronounced. Old fans may quibble about the clean, big budget production gloss, but to my ears it still sounds like good ol' Lucero - in other words, the angry drunk with a knife in his pocket is still sitting at the end of the bar, just now he's wearing a brand new pair of beatin' jeans.

Lucero website

Freddy Lynxx and the Jet Boys - Larger Than Life Dusted (2004)

This re-issue of the Jet Boys' impossible-to-find 1990 album Larger Than Life (now credited to "Freddy Lynxx and the Jet Boys" and complete with a handful of bonus tracks) boasts some New York Dolls worship of the highest order. The Dolls may have been blamed for influencing a lot of late '80s/early 90s glam - from Faster Pussycat and Poison to Motley Crue and Guns'n'Roses - but as much as those bands may have looked the part, they seldom sounded like it. The Jet Boys, on the other hand, were the real deal. Although originating in France, leader Freddy Lynxx did time as a roadie for Johnny Thunders, and Thunders himself chose the band's name (from one of his songs). Much of Larger Than Life sounds like the Heartbreakers with a horn section, with Lynxx bleating like the ghost of St. Johnny and the band oozing such a high dosage of junkie sleaze that you'd think they were birthed at the Mercer Street Arts Center in '72. The six bonus tracks, including covers of Thunders' "Pirate Love" and Wayne/Jayne County's "Toilet Love", allow the party to last just that much longer. Viva la France.
Jet Boys on Amazon

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crash Street Kids - Sweet Creatures (2011)

Not to be confused with the '80s power poppers of the same name (whose lone album, Little Girls, is a classic of the genre), these Kids were born in the 2000s. Sonically, they reach back even further than their titular predecessors and clutch convincingly at '70s glam. There are definite echoes of Bowie, T. Rex, and Alice Cooper, but the main muse here seems to be entirely Mott the Hoople. The band name openly derives from a Mott song, and Ryan McKay's vocals are often unmistakably a dead ringer for Ian Hunter, but it goes deeper than that. Mott was a complex band that never fit comfortably into the genre they're most known for. Always at war with itself, Mott followed seemingly incompatible influences (Jerry Lee Lewis, the Stones, and Dylan) that, when combined with David Bowie's fey glam cabaret, created one of the more truly odd hybrids of their era. Amazingly, the Crash Street Kids hit that same ambiguous point, so you get a similar war between '50s rock 'n' roll, Exile guitar sleaze, swirling Blonde on Blonde organ, pounding piano, glam androgyny, honking sax, melodramatic balladry, handclaps, and an earnestly poetic intellectualization of junkie streetlife, all while delivering something of a concept album about a teen hooker. The band may not yet have the knack for a killer hook like Ian Hunter, but songs like "Sad Julia", "Bang Bang (You're Beautiful)", and, especially, "Mary, Queen of the Rock" come remarkably close. Somewhere out there, Ariel Bender's ears are perking up.

Sweet Creatures on Amazon

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House - Menace (2002)

These Portland shitkickers mine the same southern rock goldmine as the Drive-by Truckers, although being from the Pacific North-West they're understandably less interested in myth and tradition than the Truckers (though thankfully much more likely to goose their tunes with punk rock irreverence). So while the epic heaviness of songs like "Dust And Sun", "Fall Down", and "Pauline" could form the basis of their own Northern Rock Opera, tracks like the profane "Westboro Baptist Church" and the steamrolling "Gone" are closer in spirit to Mojo Nixon than Lynyrd Skynyrd. It's a good mix, to my ears, both fun and thoughtful without sacrificing anything in either direction. These are some good ol' boys capable of tolerance and introspection, bringing some dignity back to the term redneck, and having a blast while they do it. When vocalist Mike D. commands "C'mon y'all, let's fuck the president!" in a voice that lands squarely between Mojo's rasp and a swamp frog's croak, it's as much a gesture of solidarity with gays and lesbians as it is a fun call to arms against Bush 43. And on top of everything else, they may possess the best band name of all time.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Grouplove - Never Trust a Happy Song (2011)

Although an occasional tune bubbles to the surface, this reeks of what L.A. major label music executives must think "the kids" are listening to these days. Jump rope singalongs, schoolyard backing vocals, plus arrangements that borrow cliches from both rock and electronica. It's like some exec called for the next Foster the People, even while we're still not sure if we want the first one. Ultimately, I suspect "the kids" won't be all that interested in this, but TV commercials will lap it up.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 30 Albums of 2011

1. The Breakdowns - The Kids Don't Wanna Bop Anymore
2. The Booze - At Maximum Volume
3. Biters - It's All Chewed Up, OK?
4. The Meows - All You Can Eat
5. Yep - Once
6. The Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams
7. Meyerman - Who Do You Think You Are?
8. Oh Mercy - Great Barrier Grief
9. Van Buren Boys - Up All Night
10. Watts - On The Dial

11. Barreracudas - Nocturnal Missions
12. The Kills - Blood Pressures
13. Redondo Beat - Meet Redondo Beat
14. Marvelous Darlings - Single Life 
15. Apex Manor - The Year of Magical Drinking
16. Locksley - Locksley
17. Daniel Tashian - Arthur
18. The Weight - Nowhere Now
19. Ryan Allen - Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms
20. The Postelles - The Postelles

21. Butch Walker & the Black Widows - The Spade
22. Black Rabbits - Hypno Switch
23. Warren Zanes - I Want To Move Into The Daylight
24. Giuda - Racey Roller
25. The CRY! - The CRY!
26. Sun Wizard - Positively 4th Avenue
27. Bare Wires - Cheap Perfume
28. King Louie's Missing Monuments - Paint It White
29. The ACBs - Stona Rosa
30. Tommy Keene - Behind the Parade

more about each release here