These are halcyon days, kiddos! While most of the world seems to be falling apart at the seams, ready to rupture from the endless backflow of bullshit, we couldn’t be happier. Yes, the climate is changing, the West Coast is burning and mass murder is a national pastime, but hey, we’ve got a new Royal Trux reissue to listen to! And the timing couldn’t be better, as our copy of the 2002 reissue of these early RT demos has been partied into oblivion. (Side note: Any of you nerds know how to dissolve a malt liquor and illicit powder-based cement that may or may not include various bodily fluids? Send us a letter.) Hand Of Glory, all two tracks/40 minutes of it, captures the Trux at its lo-fi freak-punk best, the perfect hot mess to bookend a hot, messy career.
—Sean L. Maloney
The target audience for Elitism For The People, Pere Ubu’s vinyl archival boxed set of studio and live work from 1975-1978, is exceedingly focused, so let’s assess the set on those terms: If you’re the sort of fidelity geek who squealed when the “Coppola Restoration” of The Godfather allowed you to actually see the blood mist bloom behind Sollozzo’s head when Michael Corleone clipped him in the restaurant, welcome home. Elitism’s four discs of 180-gram vinyl—comprising studio albums The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, the early self-released “Hearpen singles” and a short live set from Max’s Kansas City in 1977—were transferred from the original two-track analogue tapes at super-high digital resolution, then fully remastered. The set is minimally packaged, and reasonably if realistically priced, given the production costs of high-quality vinyl.
But if you’re a fan of these albums, be assured that the music’s never sounded this good or this clear, not even on 1996’s generous Datapanik In The Year Zero boxed set. David Thomas’ high paranoid cluck is placed full, forefront and bell-clear in every mix, making the listening experience somehow even more unsettlingly intimate; Tony Maimone’s bass (and Tim Wright’s famous intro run on “The Modern Dance”) is deeper and sharper, pegged firmly in the EQ as opposed to throbbing around fuzzily all over the tracks.
Because the band is invariably attentive to small touches, Pere Ubu is one of those rare groups that improve exponentially the clearer the audio gets. Even a listener deeply familiar with these records—no, especially that listener—will enjoy a high reward for the outlay, which also comes with digital mp3 or FLAC download.
There are those who would contend that all of Glen Hansard’s musical accomplishments have been cut and tailored from the same bolt of sturdy Irish cloth, but that line of thinking would blithely ignore a good deal of distinct nuance and texture that Hansard brings to his individual projects. For anyone who would like to experience all of Hansard’s estimable gifts in a single listening session, he has thoughtfully provided a compendium of his patented brilliance on Didn’t He Ramble.
Although parts of Ramble live up to the traditional folk mood suggested by its title, Hansard packs the album with enough atmospherics to warrant a nod to Brian Eno (“Grace”), and enough horn-drenched Irish soul to bring a homeland pub to its rowdy feet at closing time (“Lowly Deserter”). Ramble’s first single, “Winning Streak,” strolls along the pleasant trail blazed by Bob Dylan in the service of lyrics that sound as if they were pulled from an Irish prayer book; “Her Mercy” storms in on a glorious Van Morrison-in-gospel-mode wave; and “Just Had To Be The One” pulses with a quiet jazz bloodbuzz and swells with a poppish authority that would make Lee Hazlewood smile.
As usual, every note and syllable on Didn’t He Ramble is indelibly inked with Hansard’s unique musical identity, evidence that the more musical references he accesses, the more he emerges sounding exactly like the folk-and-beyond genius he has presented for the past two and a half decades.
Since 2002’s Up The Bracket (and you can include Babyshambles if you want to reach further backward), audiences have been waiting for Pete Doherty’s Libertines to become the great white garage guitar-pop hope that loomed forever as a promise for both his fans and those of longtime Lib partner Carl Barât. Barât’s brotherhood aside, you could look into Doherty’s under-publicized (and rarely discussed) 2009 solo album Grace/Wastelands as evidence that the Cockney-accented singer, shambolic melody-maker and street urchin-smart lyricist could do anything he set his mind to when thinking and acting clearly (or clearer).
So, with 11 years between Libertines efforts, here is the aptly titled Anthems For Doomed Youth—an album where “Fame And Fortune” is hardly ever fortunate, the “Belly Of The Beast” is bloated from its too-rich intake, and the “Iceman” cometh hard, cold yet with the witty, wily honor of its theatrical predecessor. The guitar sound shared by Doherty and Barât is still the ghostliest space-garage-dub tone since the Specials’ second album; a hollow, spidery, punk flange that stinks of art-reggae ambience (see the slash and skank of “Gunga Din” for the best lesson in that regard) in accordance with the Libertines’ nice-guy rhythm section, drummer Gary Powell and bassist John Hassall.
The same can be said of Doherty and Barât’s vocals, as they weave between each other’s snotty low tones like Fiats on a race track. Their boyish charms are punctuated by sneers and jeers, leaving the listener clueless as to who ends where the other begins. That sort of daft mystery makes Anthems—and the Libertines in general—worth its weight in dope and gold.
First released in 1983, Beat Gen icon Allen Ginsberg’s two-LP epic culled 1971 sessions with Bob Dylan, 1976 recordings with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue band and producer John Hammond, and 1981 studio efforts with now-legendary cellist/composer Arthur Russell for one grand, creakily American poetry jam with the “Howl” king as its mouthpiece. Beat notables David Amram, Happy Traum, Anne Waldman and Peter Orlovsky appear while Ginsberg sings, chants, speaks, rings finger cymbals and plays harmonium, with the blues being the poet’s primary idiom in which to spout repetitive absurdist rants such as “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag” and silly, earnest love songs like “You Are My Dildo.” For all the wordy anti-everything readings (“Stay Away From White House” is a good one) and Ginsberg’s odd and slippery holy demeanor, there are genuine moments of loveliness found within this package, such as the graceful “Gospel Nobel Truths,” a stoic reading of William Blake’s “Tyger” and Ginsberg’s own achingly prosaic “Father Death Blues.”
Liz Harris will never walk comfortably among the mortals. It’s just not her scene. She whispers and moans in her long-standing solo persona, Grouper, a solitary piano her only companion in a grim, gauzy netherworld. Recently, she’s sprouted three-piece side project Helen and dubbed it her “pop” band. Helen’s debut LP is certainly more accessible that anything Grouper’s put out, but that’s like saying this new ghost you met through the Ouija board seems like a real straight shooter. “Motorcycle,” just less than two minutes, is gorgeous and befuddling, a tiny rock song inside something more ambient and formless. When the guitars summon the courage to create real riffs, Harris’ voice rises to the challenge with swift, ethereal crooning. Hell, some of these songs (the drum-driven “Dying All The Time,” the deeply grooving “Felt This Way”) are potent, for-real rock songs. We’ll never know the words well enough to sing along, but that’s a human concern.
Recorded during Against Me!’s yearlong 2014 world tour, 23 Live Sex Acts opens with frontwoman Laura Jane Grace imploring, “Let’s fuck shit up.” That m.o. has been at the core of the punk band’s existence since 1997, but something its six studio albums never quite captured. Here, the raw emotion in Grace’s voice isn’t diluted or smoothed out; her rage and vibrancy are front and center, and not just in song—she cuts “New Wave” short to berate a security guard who kicks out a kid for apparently dancing and having a good time. The tracklist runs the gamut of AM!’s career and includes old favorites “Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong,” “Miami” and “Thrash Unreal,” as well as the more recent “White Crosses,” “FuckMyLife666” and “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” A particularly poignant moment comes during “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” when the crowd roars along with Grace, “The revolution was a lie!” Yes, it was. But as Against Me! has proven, the truth is out there.
Zach Condon was a teenage wunderkind when he recorded Gulag Orkestar, Beirut’s impressive 2006 debut. That album fused Balkan brass band music with a dose of early Magnetic Fields, and songs such as “Postcards From Italy” and “Brandenburg” became the first of many songs inspired by Condon’s peripatetic wanderings. No No No is the fifth Beirut album, counting the 2008 March Of The Zapotec/Holland double EP. It follows 2011’s The Rip Tide in its toning down of overt multi-culti arrangements, but it’s better: It avoids that work’s sometimes tepid moments—as it should, since it’s a nine-song, 30-minute record. Part of the fun of No No No comes when Condon sets his emotional, reaching voice to a bouncy beat. “Perth” starts with a soul/jazz keyboard riff—electric piano or organ play prominent roles throughout the record—and then makes way for horn fanfares; it’s a spare ditty, dressed up gloriously. There’s a catchy, singsong quality to many of the tunes here: The title track’s lyrics contain only four lines (“Don’t know the first thing about who you are/My heart is waiting, taken in from the start/If we don’t go now, we won’t get very far/Don’t know the first thing about who you are”), but Condon builds the song into a grand fugue, and the lines become more unsettling as they return. As in the past, Condon uses place-name song titles (“Gibraltar,” “Fener”) and glimpses of Balkan brass and French chanson, but No No No plays less like a travelogue than simply what it is: a really good—if brief—Beirut album.
While there’s an urge (and a need) for exhaustive retrospection and rarified treasure-hunting, there’s something bluntly elegant about compacting highly specific moments in a longtime artist’s repertoire and offering up oddities. That’s the seven-year itch of this collected Atco/Atlantic singles disc from New Orleans session pianist-turned-solo oddball Mac Rebennack. These singles don’t just happen to represent Dr. John’s commercial nadir (the syncopated “Right Place Wrong Time” was a top-10 hit). This tight package represents Rebennack’s cackling vocals, shambolic guitar playing and mighty rhythmic stride piano runs at their then-strongest peak—that is, until the last decade, where everything he’s done is strong. The dusty funk of “Mos’ Scocious,” the tattered emotive soul of “Me-You=Loneliness,” the hammy jazz of “Such A Night,” the wronged blues of “A Man Of Many Words” (with Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy) and the holy rolling bits of “Well, I’ll Be John Brown” and “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” (parts one and two)” are simply gorgeous.
If the press info sent along with Kunk is to be believed, Dope Body mostly came up with the material on its latest album as it noodled around between takes and left the tape rolling while recording the previous long-player, Lifer. That record found the Baltimore noise-rockers trading in their squelchier side for a more straightforward set of nostalgi-grunge. It wasn’t a bad album, but it’s definitely the weakest in the Dope Body discography. Thankfully, the rowdy and chaotic Kunk suggests that Lifer was a detour. If Lifer was self-conscious ego, Kunk is all id—the sound that came out when the four-piece stopped thinking about want it wanted to do and just did what it does. The melodic hooks sound like Dope Body was fished out of the garbage disposal, all bent and twisted with chunks missing. Feedback is the duct tape that holds it all together. There might be a little dirt on it, but it’s still good.