Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Now Hear This!

Been awhile since I've done one of these round-ups of music I'm currently listening to and you oughta be listening to.  Hopefully, it will serve as an introduction for some of you to a band or two you might never have heard otherwise.  In the four previous Now Hear This posts, which you should check out here, here, here and here if you haven't already (and are worth revisiting if you have!), I've culled a fairly eclectic mix of goodies.  This post follows in that spirit.

It's a big wide Internet out there, and it's full of tunes.  Some are good, some are bad; some you can acquire legitimately, some...well, not so much.  It's enough to make your head spin! Friend, I'm here to help.  I've done the hard part - I've separated the wheat from the chaff and come up with a list of 10 more excellent musical curios for your musical curio shelf...er, iPod.  These aural treats are not presented in any particular order, and I am receiving no compensation of any kind from the artists, other than the sheer enjoyment of listening to their creations. Almost all of these are very recent, but some are not. Some aren’t even actually released yet. That's just the way it is – deal with it. Let's dig in!

Rancid - ...Honor Is All We Know

Might be my most highly anticipated release of the last half of 2014 – the first new Rancid album in six years is scheduled to hit shelves October 27.  Thanks to a three-song preview video (and allowing those songs to be had in advance through iTunes), we can rest assured that …Honor Is All We Know will see the mighty Rancid doing what they have always done so well.  Their particular brand of 1977 punk rock nicked directly from The Clash’s playbook and strained through filters of two-tone, rockabilly, and street life has always been right in my musical wheelhouse – I love this stuff, and cannot wait for the entire LP.  Meanwhile, this trio of tunes has been played regularly and loudly in anticipation…

James Williamson - Re-Licked

Also looking forward to this one, scheduled for official release on October 29.  James Williamson joined The Stooges in 1970 and continued writing and recording with Iggy even after the band dissolved.  Here he takes a handful of leftover Stooges material and presents all-new recordings paired up with a variety of vocalists from Gary Floyd of The Dicks to Jello Biafra to Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell.  This re-imagined “lost” fourth Stooges album takes a better swing at it than the old Kill City release, if the early leaked tracks are any measure.  “I’m Sick Of You” (with Mario Cuomo of The Orwells on vocals) is one of those tracks and has been on high rotation here in Ruttville for the past week or so.  Re-Licked can be pre-ordered over at Amazon.com.

Sonic Scream - Up Your Sleeve

Sam Sergeant and Terry Knight make one heckuva racket for two people, but it’s a racket worth raving about (as I did back in May of 2013!).   The lads from Hertfordshire are back with a brand new batch of brain-thumping grungy goodness.  Up Your Sleeve continues in the same vein as its predecessor; tracks like “7” and “Ain’t Having That” roll in like thunder and shake the floorboards. It’s meant to be played loud, friends, so crank it…

The Electric Mess - “Better To Be Lucky Than Good” 

Another favorite of the blog, NYC’s The Electric Mess, released House On Fire this past April. With it came the simply fantastic clip for the single “Better To Be Lucky Than Good,” which demonstrates that even though MTV may have abandoned the music video, the format is still viable and, in the right hands, powerful.  This one is the running for song of the year if’n you ask me, and the whole album is well worth picking up.

Wheels On Fire - "I'm Turning Into You"

Every now and then something turns up on the ol’ iPod that’s been hanging around in my collection but somehow always just stayed under the radar.  Then, one day, it leaps through the earbuds, grabs me by the eardrums and shakes some freakin’ sense into me.  Like this track from Ohio’s Wheels On Fire.  How on Earth I haven’t been raving about this since its release on their 2009 album Get Famous I can’t say – I can only apologize and insist that you listen to it and revel in its farfisa-driven wonderfulness with me now.  Ready?  Go!

The Mystery Lights - The Mystery Lights

The Mystery Lights have apparently arrived here (or at least in NYC) from 1968.  They play a seething, eerie kind of psychedelic lo-fi freak-out music that all but demands to be played loud wherever swirling lights and neon colors and altered states of mind abound.   Their four-track debut is uniformly excellent, with the standout being the final track, “What Happens When You Turn The Devil Down,” which will snake its way into your skull and slither down your spine in a most pleasing fashion.  Hit up their Bandcamp site for more.

Radiohearts - Nothing At All

Fans of bands like The Buzzcocks, The Knack, Generation X, The dB’s and other like-minded late-70s powerpop/punk bands (the younger set might use The Exploding Hearts and The Cute Lepers as frames of reference), rejoice! There exists a band today who knows what you want to hear, and it is exactly what they play.  Well. Radiohearts’ new EP, Nothing At All, practically bubbles over with high energy melodic hooks dressed in skinny ties and wraparound shades.  The only drawback here is that there are only four songs.  More! Give us more!

Lexxi Vexx & the Modern Gentlemen - The Evolution Of The Modern Gentlemen 

Punk done Portland style.  Lexxi has been around for a bit in the underground scene; this is her latest combo, and possibly the best of the bunch.  A lot of ground is covered on The Evolution Of The Modern Gentlemen.  At times the sound develops a decidedly metallic glint; other times echoes of west coast punk groups like The Nuns, UXA, and even The Avengers ring out.  Lexxi doesn’t come by that booming voice by chance – her dad, Todd McPherson, in addition to being one of the Modern Gentlemen backing her, has been a member of The Kingsmen  (yes, those Kingsmen) since 1992. That’s about as killer a Portland rock ‘n’ roll pedigree as you can ask for.  This is one not to be missed – get over to Bandcamp and grab this’n.  If you need proof, listen up:

The Empty Hearts - The Empty Hearts

The Empty Hearts are Wally Palmar of The Romantics, Elliot Easton of The Cars, Andy Babiuk of The Chesterfield Kings and Clem Burke of Blondie.  And that, my friends, should tell you roughly what it sounds like, why I like it so much and why you need to get yerself a copy.  If it doesn’t, I’m afraid you’re going to have to retake That’s What I Was Going To Say 101 next semester.  The video for the single “I Don’t Want Your Love (If You Don’t Want Me)” will make a good study guide in the meantime.

The Cheap Cassettes - All Anxious All The Time 

“Big guitars and big hooks” is how The Cheap Cassettes describe themselves on their Bandcamp page, right after listing a sizeable selection of their musical influences ranging from Big Star to Redd Kross to The Replacements.  OK, sold! Their debut LP, All Anxious All The Time, is out now, and you can hear a couple of tracks from it on their page as well.  They even offer up a pair of bonus free downloads of otherwise unreleased covers of The Vibrators“Whips And Furs” and The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Happy When It Rains.”  What are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Social Distortion "Mommy's Little Monster" (1983)

Every record collector has his stories of great finds and amazing deals, and I'm no different.  Among my crate-digging stories is the day I scored an unopened second-pressing copy of Social Distortion's outstanding 1983 debut album, Mommy's Little Monster, from the swiftly thinning vinyl racks of a mall chain record shop that was making the conversion to CD and cassette only and therefore dumping their vinyl stock for cheap.  Total out-of-pocket cost including tax: $2.12.  That, my friends, is a bargain.

Mommy's Little Monster captures Social Distortion immediately after their 1982 US tour with Youth Brigade chronicled in the excellent documentary Another State Of Mind.  In the interim they had disbanded, but the film got enough interest going in the band again that they reformed and slashed out the album in a single day.  Instead of making everything sound like a rushed job, the extremely short process imbues the album with a consistent sense of immediacy, urgency and energy that reflected the band at that point in time very well.

This isn't the Social Distortion that would evolve in later years, after Mike Ness became a hardened, jaded, modern day version of Johnny Cash.  Here Ness and company are simply punk kids with an obvious appreciation for a well-placed hook and the yet-untarnished spark of enthusiasm that kicked an entire music scene into gear once upon a time.  In nine short but memorable bursts of West Coast punk, Social Distortion created a classic album.

From the dizzying opening riffs of "The Creeps (I Just Wanna Give You)" to the ever-shifting tempo of the album's closer, "Moral Threat," the three A's of the genre (alienation, angst and anger) are consistent themes. Solid playing and some surprising twists keep this from being just another by-the-numbers punk rock record, however: the song which lent its title to the previously mentioned documentary, "Another State Of Mind," briefly drops the dangerous punk swagger for a surprisingly uncertain bit of reflection over life on the road; echoes of the sort of American roots rock that would become a hallmark of Ness's later music are already reverberating under the surface on more than a few tracks here.

The centerpiece, naturally, is the title track.  "Mommy's Little Monster" paints two caricatures of go-nowhere punk kids, one male and one female, as society-rejecting, self-destructive wastes -- at least in the (socially distorted?) view of their parents -- and leaves their tales unresolved and without value judgment.  Are they really so bad for having chosen a path away from the conformist norm? ("His brothers and sisters have tasted sweet success/His parents condemn him, say his life's a mess"  and "Her eyes are a deeper blue/She likes her hair that color too...") Maybe, as another Cali band would suggest a few years later, all they wanted was a Pepsi.

Mommy's Little Monster has been reissued several times over the years on a number of different labels, so it's not difficult to find.  If you don't have this one, you should.