Jesus and Mary Chain: Darklands (1987)

October 11, 2013


Roll: 3-9-16
Album: Jesus and Mary Chain, Darklands — 2011 2CD/1DVD reissue

Until Stoned and Dethroned (1994) came out, Darklands (1987) was always my least favourite Jesus and Mary Chain record. It didn’t deliver what I wanted from JAMC. Sure, “Happy When It Rains“, boasts the mechanical post-modern rock’n’roll sound I loved on Automatic (1989), but not to the same extent; like it was a demo for that later album’s whole sound. But more importantly, and more detrimentally, Darkands famously abandons the “savage noise-pop” of Psychocandy (1985). To me Darklands was always a sort of nebulous, half-formed, netherworld of an album. So, in a way, one of their most aptly titled collections.

Over the years I’ve remained eternally hopeful and every time I listen to Darklands I expect to hear something in it I’d previously missed. Some hint of the magic and brilliance that’s been ascribed to it by music journalists, fans and bloggers in the years since it’s release. And though I’ll admit it never sounds as bad as I remember, I’ve never been able to hear it as other than a lethargic, boring mid-tempo folk-rock record marred by some pretty glaringly cheesy ’80s production.

I’ve never been sure if it’s just the song arrangements that never worked for me, but the John Hughes-style drum machines really don’t help matters. And I normally love me some grandiose ’80s drum machines, yet somehow I’ve always felt they sound entirely out of place on Darklands. To my ears, the album begs for an organic Sam Phillips/Sun Studio-style production. The songs are essentially a post-punk take on The Everly Brothers and deserve a more human touch.

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Recent Releases Round-up: Lorde, Haim, Emiliana Torrini, Hookworms, Joanna Gruesome, Mazzy Star

October 9, 2013

More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

Joanna Gruesome Hookworms

Venom P. Stinger: 1986-1991

It’s sort of a truth that every time I listen to some vicious Aussie swamp rock by the likes of Birthday Party, Scientists or, thanks to this new double disc compilation, Venom P. Stinger, it sure makes followers like Slug Guts and Bird Blobs sound a bit silly and anemic. Not that those bands are terrible. Or silly or anemic in the least. They’re relatively amazing as far as contemporary rock’n’roll goes. But, damn, Venom P. Stinger really tore it the fuck up in the years between 1986 and 1991 — enough so that there’s nothing left for the new generation to improve upon. Which is no fault of the new generation.

And that said, for all my bitchin’ about new generation bands (across all genres) not being able to “write ’em like they used to,” the guys in Venom P. Stinger honestly didn’t produce much better. Much less a tune you can whistle, there isn’t even an attention-getter like “Release The Bats” on here (The Birthday Party’s flagship song isn’t exactly a whistleable tune in itself) . So, then, where’s my beef? Why do I keep going back to bands like The Fall, Scratch Acid or even Venom P. over the new breed?

I think there’s an “authenticity” to these songs I don’t hear on a Slug Guts’ [substitute young indie buzz band of choice’s] record. Invariably these days young bands feel a bit like indie fashionistas trying to ride some long-discarded coattails, where Birthday Party and The Fall still feel like they were trying to be as unfashionable as possible and burn all the coattails to ash.

Which, of course, is a bit of rock’n’roll mythology as manufactured to a set of blueprints as the songs on a Savages or Wild Nothing record.

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The Organ: Sinking Hearts (2002)

October 4, 2013

The Organ Sinking Hearts Artwork

Roll: 4-8-15
Album: The Organ, Sinking Hearts

It would have 2002, shortly after Sinking Hearts came out, I was standing beside my buddy Andrew, between the bar and the stage of The Cambie in Nanaimo watching The Organ. He was, at the time, my boss at the record store so he knew I had been crushing hard on the band for a while.

He said, “Still in love?”

I said, “Yeah,”

He said, “I don’t think you’re their type.”

Taking his meaning, I said, “I think you’re probably right.” If all five members weren’t clearly lesbians, at least some of  them were. A few might have been just “arty” but who’s to say and who cares? It was irrelevant to me as I had mainly been seduced by their melancholy Cure-meets-Smiths post-punk indie-pop.

Andrew, hadn’t been.

He said, “This isn’t for me. I thought I’d be able to do this, but I can’t. Enjoy,” patted me on the shoulder and then left to kayak to a small island he was living on with a goat.

For myself, it was exactly for me. I was in school after a hiatus, studying graphic design, and newly single so a lyric like—

Oh goodness me
We’ve got to meet
I need someone to have fun

—sung in a morose monotone resonated with me to the very core of my crush-crazy and romantically jaded heart. No one had spoken to my inner arrested adolescent so profoundly since Morrissey. I was lost and looking for answers to unspoken questions and The Organ seemed to have them.

So someone snuck into your room
And it got back to me
Now, I lie here in my room
And there is nothing I can do

They were one of the bands at the cusp of the millennium’s first post-punk revival and, as a result of Sinking Hearts, I looked for answers in the music of a dozen or so bands riding the same new wave; bands who also borrowed from The Cure, Joy Division, and Gang of Four.

I hung onto my Organ discs, but over the years I discarded albums by MetricRadio 4Bloc PartyMoving Units, and The Rapture as they proved to be style over substance (similar to what the original movement was often accused of being). Where the Organ were influenced by new wave and post-punk, these other bands took a more carbon-copy approach, seemingly as much or more interested in the fashion and graphic design of the era than making honest music. Remove the staccato guitar lines and funky beats from a Radio 4 or Bloc Party song and you aren’t left with much.

Conversely, much like the songs of The Smiths which they do somewhat mimic, The Organ’s songs could have been strummed on an acoustic guitar and been just as affecting. They speak to universal experiences—though not necessarily happy or healthy ones. It really was only icing on the cake that they were wrapped in the sounds and textures of my youth. Sounds which, as it happened, I’d already been immersing myself in like a bath of nostalgic wallowing.

It really shook you when I said
“No one has ever looked so dead”
Well, it’s over and I can’t go there anymore

And in the backseat of your car
You showed me every single star
And how the zenith and the sounds
Change in every single town
Well, it’s over and I can’t go there anymore

I’m pretty sure I spent quite a bit of time literally wallow in a bath listening to those lyrics on repeat.  “Well, it’s over and I can’t go there anymore.” Well, fuck, if that doesn’t boil it all down the essence of the situation. The sheer banality of a broken heart; the conscious admittal that the ego crushing experience of lost love is existentially meaningless.

Remember when I left you
I couldn’t say your name
or other crucial things like I love you,
oh, that’s a shame
I don’t know if you’re hearing
my voice or the reprise
our hearts didn’t come together
but I saw the two collide

Every once in a while a record becomes a door leading into the corridors of your own heart, and when you open it, the light comes in and things look brighter. You can’t ask anymore from a pop record than that.


Concert Review: Pet Shop Boys in Toronto

September 27, 2013


Pet Shop Boys // Electric Tour // Sept 25 2013 // Sony Centre for the Performing Arts // Toronto

I’d been waiting (somewhat passively, assuming it’d never happen) to see Pet Shop Boys live for over 25 years.  So for me to be disappointed they’d have to be pretty terrible and put on a spectacularly poor show. Which, of course, they weren’t (terrible) and it wasn’t (poor) and I wasn’t (disappointed).

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Bardo Pond: Set and Setting (1999)

September 16, 2013


Roll: 1-3-4
Album: Bardo Pond, Set and Setting

I’m not sure if Set and Setting is the heaviest Bardo Pond record, but it has to be one of the fuzziest. Any fuzzier and it’d sound like a room full of broken TVs. Not a criticism at all, I like a fuzzed-out jam. I’m just saying this record has the fuzz turned up to eleven. That’s a good thing. Twelve might be a problem, but for the ultimate brain-blending, sludgy, fuzz-rock experience, well, anything less than ten really isn’t sufficient. Eleven is a good amount of fuzz.

It took me a long time to get into Bardo Pond. Mostly because they’re a bit of a difficult band to pigeonhole—their records range from tightly focused psychedelic indie-rock to sloppy stoner jams that slide out from under you—so I was always labouring under a misconception about what kind of band they are. In the ’90s I was under the impression they were just a lesser alt/grunge unit I didn’t need to bother with. In some ways, that’s a fair description. They hit the scene a bit later in the game (1994), never wrote pop songs and consequently never really made a splash in the public consciousness like Sonic Youth or Mudhoney did. In fact, they were pretty easy to ignore and since no one in my circles championed them, I forgot they existed for about 20 years.

Then a few summers ago a champion finally came along. My buddy Stephen told me that (since I was lamenting how I’d pretty much emptied the desert rock, shoegaze and krautrock wells) my next musical excursion should be a dive into the depths of the Bardo Pond catalogue.

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Recent Releases Round-UP: King Krule, Valerie June, Crocodiles, Julianna Barwick, Medicine, David Lynch

September 13, 2013

More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.


King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath The Moon

I first ran across Archy Marshall when he was still going by Zoo Kid. Really, it was just a photo that I ran across on Flickr that reminded me of a cross between the characters Baby Boom and Wizard in Julian Temple‘s 1986 film Absolute Beginners. But possibly trans. Anyway, I was all like “Fuck, yeah! Who’s this? Zoo Kid? He’s got a video? Let’s hit this shit up!” That’s what I was all like.

Then when I heard his jazzy Mark E. Smith meets art-damaged Billy Bragg meets punk-thug Morrissey, well, I was hooked. Kid could do no wrong in my book. Except I couldn’t find any Zoo Kid product and his Bandcamp songs were only streaming. Hey, kid, I just wanna give you my money. Anyway, I pre-ordered his first EP as King Krule as soon as it was announced. It was, admittedly, a bit of a letdown. But I wasn’t remotely deterred. So I’m probably not really a reliable witness when I say 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is everything I hoped it would be and is the hands-down album of the year. For whatever reason this stuff is just on a Kamikaze trajectory zeroing-in on my heart and soul. Marshall is an original,  the real deal, a true post-modern wizard of song.

Apparently Jana Hunter, on the other hand, thinks differently.

5 Mealy-mouthed troubadours out of 5 Misfit balladeers in smoke-filled diners

Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone

I’d have been impressed if Valerie June had been good at any of the half-dozen styles she attempts on Pushin’ Against A Stone, but the fact she’s a master of bluegrass, trad-folk, indie-folk, soul, and blues is just kind of sickening. And the way the album opener “Workin’ Woman Blues” seamlessly blends bluegrass and West African funk, it’s perhaps the most successful attempt at world-fusion I’ve ever heard. On top of all that, she’s pretty easy on the eyes. God damn.

One-upping albums by the likes of Gillian Welch or Sharon Jones—fantastic as they are, they tend to be a tad samey-samey—Pushin’ Against a Stone album plays like a really well curated mix-tape from someone with a record collect consisting only of deep cuts. I took issue with Dan Auerbach‘s production on Hanni El Khatib‘s latest album but he knocks it out of the park here. Or, I suspect, June does the heavy lifting and he just pressed “record”, sat back and let her work her magic. It’s not polished, sanitized, Nashville magic either. There’s a gritty, outsider feel to the proceedings. Something like the underlying hint of danger in Tom Waits’ music before be went the full Beefheart.

The only flaw with the album is the songs themselves are all only really good. There’s nothing to rival the classics they might bring to mind like “Jolene“, “Fever” or “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay“. But since there doesn’t really seem to be  anyone writing songs of that caliber anymore, she’s still ahead of the pack.

4.5 Versatile down home divas out 5 Complete histories of popular American song

Braids: Flourish//Perish

Only one track in as of yet, but the Björk influence that was an ingredient on Braids debut is in full effect, taking over the recipe. Not just in the fragile, lisy-whispy vocals, but in the skittery ambient electronics of the backing tracks.  By track four (“Hossak“) the Björkiness isn’t lessening. Not sure it’s getting more prevalent, but an innate Braidsiness isn’t coming to the fore either.

So, taken as a Björk album, how does it fare? Very well, actually.

It falls somewhere post-Post and pre-Medúlla. That is to say, it’s pretty much exactly Vespertine. That’s not precisely true, there are moments which are very Thom Yorke circa The Eraser (especially the merping synth bass and clacking drum stick rhythms on “Juniper“). But anyway, now that I’m at the end, I feel confident saying Flourish//Perish should please Björk fans (like myself) who’ve been waiting for another Vespertine. But I’m still waiting for Braids follow up to Native Speaker.

4 Elfin chanteuses out of 5 Vespertines

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Eric’s Trip: Peter (1993)

August 22, 2013


Roll: 3-1-6
Album: Eric’s Trip, Peter

Sometimes life, and being an utter pillock, conspires to keep you from enjoying a really great band. Let what follows be a cautionary tale.

The year was 1993 and despite being into other “Halifax Pop Explosion” bands such as Sloan, Thrush Hermit and Jale, I didn’t really take to Eric’s Trip. It was partly for the rather shaky reason I was leery of bands named after songs. Rightly or wrongly, I instantly associated Eric’s Trip with the tribute bands that’d come through the local rock club on their perennial circuit.

  • Cold Gin: a KISS tribute
  • Black Dog: an evening of Led Zeppelin classics
  • Comfortably Numb: the songs of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters
  • Freebird: a celebration of Lynyrd Skynyrd 
  • Eric’s Trip: playing the hits of Sonic Youth 

Obviously, Eric’s Trip were never actually a Sonic Youth tribute band. Though in true ’90s fashion they did emulate the Pixies/Smashing Pumpkins/Sonic Youth gender roles.  And if the name wasn’t a giveaway, you could easily surmise from their noisy take on the pop song that the band had listened to their fair share of Sonic Youth records.

At any rate, Sonic Youth (who I’d mysteriously—and temporarily—decided were talentless hacks) were at the forefront of my mind when I heard Eric’s Trip for the first time. It was at a record store where I asked about Sloan’s self-released EP, Peppermint (1992), and the dude behind the counter sneeringly said, “Yeah, I guess we can get that in for you… but have you heard Eric’s Trip?”

So he tossed Peter on the listening station for me and I gave it an optimistic listen.

I regret to report I simply didn’t get it.

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