Hello, out there… Back again with more of the stuff I’ve been listening to throughout the summer/ fall. Been quite busy working on a film project in recent weeks, and I’m also helping the owner of our company open a used record store. It’s been an adventure already. We’re housed in the cellar of an amazing, creepy building constructed in 1894 in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, just blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan. Lots of street urchins and oddballs in the area, but real live customers aren’t always easy to come by.
Milwaukee lost one of its landmarks and its best independent record store when Atomic closed a few years ago, after a twenty-five year run. There are a few other used record stores still hanging on, but, like a lot of places, the market in the city is really tight and no one wants to take a chance on anything or pay much for anything. So, you either sell your records to one chain store for fifty cents a-piece, or you sell them to another chain store for twenty-five cents a- piece. Hopefully, we can boost the scene in our own humble way by selling clean records at fair prices, and we’ll be carrying everything music related under the sun. I’ve personally sorted through over 15,000 classical LPs alone, along with thousands of rock, jazz, country and folk records, and there are a couple hundred boxes I haven’t touched yet, so we won’t run out anytime soon. Needless to say, if I disappear for extended periods everyone knows where I’ll be… We kick things off this time with New Zealand anti-heroes Bailter Space a few months out from their release date, but better than late than… you know… Thanks, as always, for reading and posting. The bands appreciate it too.
Bailter Space, Strobosphere (Fire)
Once again, you’ve got to give it up to Fire Records. They’ve released so many exceptional, iconoclastic recordings in the last several years by such a wide range of compelling artists (several of which we’ve covered here) that they have single-handedly carved out an entire sub-cultural niche for themselves in the current underground music scene. And now they hit us with a Bailter Space album! Hot damn! Out-fucking-rageous! These New Zealand noise-masters, who also call NYC home, recorded for the NZ post-punk institution known as Flying Nun Records going back to the late 80s/early 90s, along with several other seminal bands, and they’re now considered post-punk legends with good reason. Strobosphere marks their return after a thirteen year absence. Their decaying, spangly guitars and gauzy vocals suspended in a soupy, noisy matrix is like a bent precursor to what bands like Mogwai are doing now; spacey and spooky, poetically glum but musically glorious. “Things That We Found” is impossible to properly describe, guitars moaning away and drums tumbling all around, and all points leading to a veiled white noise core. The louder their music is, the looser and more ungainly it becomes. You’ve just got to hear this monster for yourself and decide if you can wrap your head around it or not. Sadly beautiful or beautifully sad, you must decide for yourself. The title song definitely harkens back to their early work, as does “No Sense,” which, in its own unique way, is pulling from the blues, though it’s surely traveled a loooong way to arrive here. “Give us a way…/Give us a day…”, or is it “Give us away…/ Give us a day…”? Their ability to create elementally perfect chord progressions is almost metaphysical, and the way two or three notes can be made to resonate so deeply is practically unparalleled in rock music. No one else has ever made those charred, chiming guitar sounds happen in quite the same way. Not My Bloody Valentine, not Swervedriver, not the Wedding Present, not any of the post-90s noisy bohemian mopes. Bailter Space stands alone in terms of the interweaving of tonality and structure with sorrowful, soaring, painful, plaintive washes of melody buried in songs that sound like they really might emanate from another dimension. No other band on the planet can recreate their sound, so none have ever bothered to try. Their music is beyond brilliant, it’s luminescent. This album, like everything else they’ve done, is akin to a dense, head-spinning tome you keep going back to in order to re-discover some new strand of truth. Hard to imagine how Fire can top this, or even match it, but you can bet they’re hard at work.
The Blasters, Fun On Saturday Night (Rip Cat)
Although it’s been seven years since the Blasters last album, they sound like they haven’t missed a beat. From the straightforward album title right on down to the songs and their timeless themes their no frills rock still works fine in today’s digital age, and singer Phil Alvin is still very much in full throat. Just turn the power button on and away we go. The progenitors of “American music” have become like a living jukebox of rock-a-billy, roots rock, blues rock and their own brand of barrelhouse barroom rock. “Well Oh Well” is a be-boppin’ jump blues. “Maria Maria” is a south o’ the border take on their classic single (and their best song) “Marie Marie,” and they do a good job of re-igniting Magic Sam’s “Rock My Blues Away.” Exene Cervenka even makes an appearance on an oddball duet of “Jackson,” for old time’s sake, I suppose. A better than respectable showing. Keep on keepin’ on.
The Cringe, Hiding In Plain Sight (Listen)
The name of this band is like one of those fake band names created for the purpose of a TV show or movie where they try too hard to sound hip or edgy. Having said that, one could easily launch into a series of jokes about what reaction their music might bring about. It’s not terrible, not musically offensive, per se, but it’s a little too on-the-nose and lacking something. Where’s the juice? Where’s the sizzle? The Cringe consists of singer, guitarist, keyboardist John Cusimano and bassist Johnny Blaze, along with drummer Shawn Pelton, who has played with Sheryl Crow, and guitarist James Rotondi who has played with Mr. Bungle. They produced the album themselves, and it was engineered by the guy who recorded Vertical Horizon. Yup, that Vertical Horizon. That’s their real claim to fame, I guess. There’s just not a lot to recommend it, other than a chunky guitar riff here or there, like on “Deep Girl.” “One Horse Town” is terrible and should never have made the cut, and it proves they weren’t really ready for prime time. At their most pointed they sound like bland, warmed over 70s also-ran rock. Fail.
Ronnie Fauss, I Am The Man You Know I’m Not (Normaltown)
Dallas-based singer/songwriter Ronnie Fauss is working at the junction of Texas honky-tonk, alt-country, neo-folk and rural rock and he rolls out a menu of tracks that do a good job of nearly filling up the entire plate. The overall sound is partly derived from, and is sort of an homage to, his inspirations: John Prine and Steve Earle, but it’s all in the service of some healthy songs, and nothing comes across as a straight rip-off in any way. Quite the contrary. He nods toward Lucero on “Answer You Already Know”, “The Night Before the War” is sleek, shimmery alt-country that has a slack-jawed quality, and is awkwardly good, somehow, and “A Pretty Nice Night For Houston” is a pretty darn good country & western song. His voice is sort of thin and wobbly at times, as heard on the slow, solo workmanlike cover of “Sin City,” but “The Last” could absolutely get played on commercial country radio, if that kind of crazy thing actually still happened where an independent artist could smash through the glass ceiling and garner a hit single. If he could curb the tendency to try to hit so many different styles maybe he could raise his game even more on the next album.
The Hague, Black Rabbit (Self-released)
The rollicking instrumental opener, “An Open Book Conversationalist,” (great title) is some adroit chamber rock; something well beyond post-rock, and other hipster associations, that gets thing going early. They refer to their music as “quiet music played loud” and that dichotomy certainly recalls the eloquent acoustic fireworks of Neutral Milk Hotel, but that humble assertion is them selling themselves short. One the one hand, the dynamic can be grand and artful, but, on the other hand, it can also be downright footstompingly joyful when it needs to. After the first couple of exchanges with it this record fully captured my attention, especially after the spectacular single, “Everyone In This Town,” took control of my brain for several days. It’s one of the best songs of 2012, with one of the best refrains ever… “Everyone in this town looks like everyone in this town…” Yup, fer sure. There’s a familiar nostalgic component to this and, vocally/structurally, 80s band Big Dipper comes to mind on the post- jangly “Los Angeles” and “California Curse.” (It’s interesting how many present day bands come up with some part or passage than sounds like BD.) “Hourglass” is a tour-de-force, and “His Talk, Her Teeth” is tough as hell. They’re being compared to both The Sea and Cake and Maps and Atlases, but that doesn’t even begin to convey where they can take these songs once they get rolling. Stupendous. Monumental. One of the sleepers of the year. Somebody sign this band now.