Monday, March 19, 2018

Take Me Away: A Few Words About The New Bonny Doon Album

The new album from Bonny Doon, Longwave, dropping on Woodsist Records on Friday, is the sort of release that sneaks up and surprises you. Largely down-tempo indie, the tunes here are uniformly good, and likely to appeal to fans of acts as disparate as Big Star and Built To Spill.

"A Lotta Things" works up the sort of slacker charm that Malkmus and his kinsmen in Pavement routinely conjured, while the more languid "Take Me Away" recalls The Jayhawks, of all things, or even The Pernice Brothers. If the members of Bonny Doon seem to be drawing from a bunch of inspiration points, at least there's a uniformity on Longwave that suggests that the band have learned to internalize all this in order to produce uniformly-great music. Elsewhere, "Saved" nods in the direction of Exile-era Stones, while the lovely "Saw A Light" blends a bit of neo-folk up with something approaching the sort of thing that usually gets compared by critics to the music of Gram Parsons.

Bonny Doon manage to make lots and lots of this work, and a reader shouldn't infer from my comparison-points that Longwave is simply derivative alt-rock, as it's not. At their very best, like on the supple title track, Bonny Doon make music that makes me think of some of the stuff that Beulah did towards the end of their career. And what that means in 2018, is that Bonny Doon have a knack for doing this sort of couldn't care less-ness with ease, the melodies easy to sink into, and the hooks gentle things unlikely to rock too many boats. And that's sort of the genius of Longwave as a record, I think.

Longwave is out on Friday via Woodsist Records.

More details on Bonny Doon via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Chloe Sells]

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bigger Than The Storm: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Jack Hayter (ex-Hefner)

The new record from Jack Hayter, Abbey Wood, out on Friday via Gare Du Nord Records, is the sort of mournful, quietly beautiful record that demands attention. Hayter, a member of Hefner, here makes folk-y music that channels the legacies of artists from the British folk-rock boom (the explicit Richard Thompson references in "The Stranger Fair", for example) as well as indie-rock (the guitar feedback in "At Crossness Pumping Station", for another).

Hayter uses a light, intimate touch on songs like "I Am John's Care Home", and an even more intimate one on "But I Don't Know About Frankie", an affecting spoken-word piece. The lyrical "The Mulberry Tree at Abbey Wood" suggests something from the glory days of Irish folk, Hayter's voice and guitar-plucks things from some timeless age, while the lighter-than-air "Fanny on the Hill" offers up Hayter's tremulous voice against faint strings, a combination that is, oddly, reminiscent of early Peter Gabriel recordings to these ears. Elsewhere, Hayter wisely allows guest vocalist Suzanne Rhatigan to take over lots of the singing duties on the lovely "Bigger Than The Storm", one of the strongest tunes here, while "At Crossness Pumping Station" mourns the passing of time and a changing Abbey Wood.

Jack Hayter has, in a sense, made a concept album here on Abbey Wood, and it's one that largely works even if you've never been to the neighborhood in question. Alternately soothing and gently prodding, Hayter's vocals here, and his precisely-composed songs, strike at something in an astute listener's ears, and one finds something moving here that echoes far beyond the confines of London.

Abbey Wood by Jack Hayter is out on Friday via Gare Du Nord Records.

More details on Jack Hayter via his official Facebook page, or via his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited 2013 photo from Jack's Facebook page]

Drive Common Sense Away: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Montreal's Look Vibrant

The new album from Montreal's Look Vibrant, The Up Here Place, is an indulgent bit of business, but it's also a reasonably interesting record. Out on Friday, the album dabbles in a few genres with ease, and hops all over the place in terms of style.

Here on their full-length debut release, the members of Look Vibrant -- Justin Lazarus, Matthew Murphy, Alex Rand, and Eli Kaufman -- make music that sounds a bit like that of Ariel Pink and MGMT in lots of spots. If a number like "Last One To Survive" coos-and-pops with a bright, electronic sheen in a neat approximation of the previously-mentioned MGMT, it's the whirling "Sweater in the Lake" that offers up a lo-fi approximation of the sort of panoramic psychedelia that The Flaming Lips perfected in the mid-Nineties. The lovely "Drive Common Sense Away" segues into the catchy "Numb Your Spirit", a neat melding of Temples and Foxygen records. There's a certain amount of sonic overload here that makes the music of Look Vibrant far better in small doses than large ones, but one must still applaud the artistry here. The members of Look Vibrant are hardly careful here, but I sort of appreciated how much they threw into the mix on The Up Here Place as the result is, if not compelling in every moment, at least very interesting.

The Up Here Place is out on Friday. More details on the album via the link below, and more details on the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo picture]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Undead: My Interview With The Legendary Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Tones On Tail, Love And Rockets) About His New Book On Bauhaus

On Friday, Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets), will offer up his new book, Bauhaus – Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus via Cleopatra Records. While the physical version was not sent out to reviewers in advance, I can safely say, having seen some of the photos and artwork in the book, that fans of Bauhaus will love this one. Lavishly-illustrated, Bauhaus – Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus is a rare look at one of the seminal bands of the post-punk era.

Given his undoubtedly busy schedule this week in the run-up to the book's release, I'm grateful that Kevin Haskins took some time today to sit down for a phone interview with me here.

"A good friend of mine, Matt Green at Cleopatra Records, knew I had a huge collection of ephemera and suggested I put this out," Kevin explained about the genesis of the book. The project, while all Kevin's, has been met with appreciation from the other members of Bauhaus (Daniel Ash, Peter Murphy, and David J, Kevin's brother), and they all "gave their blessing from the get-go, and they all sent really nice emails of congratulations."

And while fans of the band might find that surprising, given that the impression is that the group split into 2 camps -- Peter Murphy, and the other 3 members of the band -- Kevin feels now more sanguine about those years, looking back with a sort of amazement at how easily the group came together in 1978 and progressed into a musical unit. "The first song we wrote and recorded was 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' and it was kind of remarkable." As he explains, what listeners got with that single, "was basically our first run-through as a group, and that's what you hear on the record."

That single, and its appearance in the 1983 film, The Hunger, helped Bauhaus get labelled a goth band. "I don't think any band really wants to be pigeon-holed, but it's a natural thing humans do," Kevin recollects now. "We just felt that, you know, goth put certain parameters on things, and it puts you in a box," he says, "But we dressed a certain way, put out a song about a vampire, drove around in a hearse," he laughs. "But we were more art-rock," he suggests now.

That picture up there from the book suggests a kind of schism in the band, a rift that one wonders might have lead to the formation of Tones on Tail (Kevin Haskins and Daniel Ash), and then Love and Rockets (Kevin Haskins, Daniel Ash, and David J), but Haskins now seems more realistic in his assessment of how things work in bands. "Daniel, David, and Peter all have very strong characters, and we all have egos, so, you know, there was a lot of friction all the time," which is "pretty normal in bands, and it's kind of why bands work, as it helps the dynamic of the band in a way." So Bauhaus disbanded and "David, Peter, and Daniel didn't want to carry on, but I did, and Daniel pretty quickly called me and asked if I wanted to play in Tones on Tail."

Tones on Tail seemed to be a harder sell for the loyal acolytes of the goth styles of Bauhaus, but the band's dance-y numbers, like "Go", earned them a whole lot of fans. "Tones on Tail was very experimental, and eclectic, with varieties of styles," Kevin recollects. "Each song had its own unique, distinct vibe," and as musicians, "everything went with Tones on Tail, whereas Love and Rockets had a more defined sound."

Tones on Tail became, in a way, Love and Rockets once David J joined Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins, and that band used a different approach than the earlier bands. As Haskins explains, they didn't really start with a plan when approaching the creation of some of their records, like Earth, Sun, Moon (1987), but, as Haskins says, "We knew we wanted to do something different," and the result was the first of many stylistic shifts in the career of that fine trio.

Now, that band, and Bauhaus have reformed and played shows and gone on tours, and tried to give fans what they want to hear. "The same way, when I go and see a band from back in the day, I don't want to hear reworked versions, so we try to make it as close to the records as possible, [and it's] like putting on an old glove, or boot, or whatever. And in some ways it feels like only a week ago we were playing all this back in the day."

Kevin Haskins' newest project, Poptone, sees Kevin teaming up with Daniel Ash yet again. Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins had been DJ-ing together and Ash proposed a DJ tour. At that point, Kevin said "'Daniel, instead of going to all that trouble to tour like that [as DJ's], why don't we tour [as a band] instead?'" So they are, with the addition of Kevin's daughter on bass in the band.

I ended my interview asking a question suggested by my long-time buddy, Don. Now, when I worked with Don at the Record Co-Op at the University of Maryland, I estimate that he played the Tones on Tail CD at least as much as he played Truth and Soul from Fishbone, which is to say a lot. Don, who proudly recounts that his first CD purchase back in the mid-Eighties was the import disc of Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven from Love and Rockets, said that I should ask Kevin Haskins, drummer for Love and Rockets, what his preferred format was when listening to music for pleasure.

"Vinyl," Haskins said without a second's hesitation. And while he admits that digital formats have made it easier and more convenient to listen to music, "I still have all my records and it's what I grew up with so..."

Bauhaus – Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus is out on Friday via Cleopatra Records and it looks like a must-purchase-sort of book.

More details on Kevin Haskins can be found via his official Facebook page.

[Photos: Graham Trott; Brian Shanley; Fin Costello; Jean Ramsey; Mitch Jenkins]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

You Are Here: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Yo La Tengo

There was a certain point in time, say, some 25 or more years ago, when a fan of this band would have been hard-pressed to even describe what genre of music Yo La Tengo operated in. I guess when I worked in a record store in the student union at the University of Maryland, and I stumbled upon a promo cassette of Fakebook (1990), I would have called this kind of music college rock, for that's what we called it, you kids, back when R.E.M. were the biggest band in America. With the release of Painful in 1993, Yo La Tengo got a bit more attention and seemingly crossed over even further into the territory of the kind of alt-rock that actually got played on MTV. Still, the band's music was gloriously unique, and the sort of thing that one either loved or...simply didn't understand. Now, with the release of their newest album, There's A Riot Going On, the 3 members of Yo La Tengo have refined their sound a bit and offered up the sort of record that 2018 desperately needs. An antidote to the ugliness around us these days, the songs on this record are some of the (seemingly) gentlest the trio have yet committed to tape, and yet, there's strength here too.

If Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew have the nerve to name an album after a Sly and the Family Stone classic, at least one realizes that these folks get it. The title of this record is not a dig at Sly as much as it is a reference to what's raging outside in the public sphere on a daily basis. If anything, the hour of music here on this new album, out on Friday via Matador Records, is an oasis of calm in an era of chaos. There are lovely instrumentals here (opener "You Are Here", for one), and numbers that positively ache with tenderness ("Shades of Blue", "Let's Do It Wrong"), but there are also lots of down-tempo rockers of the sort that shouldn't be too unfamiliar to fans of this band's late-Nineties output (the easy-and-natural "For You Too", the percolating "Out Of The Pool", and the faint-space jazz of "Above The Sound"). And that's only scratching the surface of the treasure-chest of music here.

There's A Riot Going On, more than an hour long, seems of an obvious piece with 2013's ruminative Fade, even if this release seems a more thoughtfully-constructed work as a whole. I say that because there's something consciously meditative here that suggests less the advancing age of the band members, and more of a need to slowly come to grips with the real world, and its future, in the era of Cheeto Jesus. If Georgia, Ira, and James don't make any explicit political points here on There's A Riot Going On -- at least not ones that a listener can catch with ease -- the very existence of this record, in this climate, is a political act. And one that is as revolutionary in its quiet way as, say, hardcore punk was in the Ronnie years. There's A Riot Going On sees Yo La Tengo focus their attention here in order to dial down the roar of the world a little bit, and offer up, on the nearly-ambient "Shortwave" and elsewhere, a counterpoint to the brutality of everyday existence, and a salve for the callousness of life in America with a rube at the helm. By mellowing out so dramatically on a number like "Forever", for instance, the band nearly disappears into the gossamer-thin composition, the 3 players favoring an approach here that seems both the natural progression that they were headed towards on recent releases, and a radically-soft shift in style that suits these musicians perfectly as the solution to their 30-year aesthetic journey. If the band never made another record, There's A Riot Going On would stand on its own as precisely the sort of thoughtful, wise, and contemplative final offering that the band always seemed poised to make.

There's A Riot Going On is out on Friday via Matador Records.

More details on Yo La Tengo via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: GODLIS]

Monday, March 12, 2018

Psychoactive: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Hot Snakes (ex-Drive Like Jehu)

The new album from Hot Snakes, Jericho Sirens, out on Friday via Sub Pop, is such an incendiary slab of rawk one can only wonder why other bands don't have even a fraction of this level of energy. A ferocious blend of post-hardcore and garage rock, the songs on this record, the band's first together in 14 years, soar past in a haze of rage and joy, the hooks bigger than life, and the vocals screeches as the ship goes down.

"I Need A Doctor" merges a kind of amped-up grunge attack of the sort that singer-guitarists Rich Froberg and John Reis once whipped up regularly in Drive Like Jehu with a more modern spin on the brand of rough Nuggets-inspired indie favored by seemingly lots of acts these days, while the more supple "Six Wave Hold-Down" offers a pummeling rhythmic assault over choppy guitar hooks. Elsewhere, the title cut slows things down ever so slightly with a near-blues-y bit of business, while the pulsing "Death Camp Fantasy" is a knife in the gut and a hammer on the head. This is, quite simply, some of the first music that has felt genuinely dangerous to me in ages, the brutality of the hooks something to be a bit amazed at, with "Psychoactive" swirling right up to the edge of the void, even as "Death Doula" echoes early releases from both The Birthday Party and Mudhoney.

If Hot Snakes offer anything here, it's the simple, glorious release of pure rock-and-roll. There's more legit adrenaline here than in countless other so-called rock releases, and an astute listener of my age listens to this and recalls an era when bands like Drive Like Jehu and others could unleash sonic attacks that seemed transgressive and wrong, buckets of bad intent dripping off the vinyl or cassette. Jericho Sirens is a welcomed reminder that alternative rock is meant to be an alternative to the ordinary and pedestrian. The tunes here on Jericho Sirens raise the hair on the arm, make a listener a trifle nervous, and encourage the kind of screaming of the lyrics that is likely to make amateurs playing this at home, or in their cars, lose their voices and become hoarse.

It's been 14 years since we've been lucky enough to get some music from Hot Snakes. So thank whatever god makes your knees bend for Jericho Sirens, an unholy obliteration of all that you hold dear!

Jericho Sirens by Hot Snakes is out on Friday via Sub Pop.

More details on Hot Snakes via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Hot Snakes]

Sunday, March 11, 2018

This Bliss: A Few Words About 2 Early Releases From Ut Now Available On Bandcamp

The band Ut never quite received the acclaim they so richly deserved in the mid-Eighties. I recall the band being mentioned in the same breath as Band of Susans a few times. I suppose a lazy writer saw the 3 women in Ut -- Sally Young, Jacqui Ham, and Nina Canal -- and thought that the Band of Susans, with multiple female members, was doing something similar but, truthfully, Band of Susans were more interested in polishing the sharp edges of guitar-guided rock, while Ut were intent on tearing down everything to its brutal roots. What's here in these early Ut recordings from 1985, the first Ut EP and the Confidential 12-inch, both recently unearthed for Bandcamp, is reductive and knowingly primitive. These proto-songs seem positively cathartic still, even now in 2018.

On the Ut EP (1985), songs "This Bliss" and "New Colour" assault the senses with a simplistic use of instrumentation, and a Shaggs-like primitivism that suggests that the 3 members of Ut were wisely shredding every rock-and-roll convention they could as they crafted their own unique form of music. "Sham Shack" is more accessible by a hair, prefiguring the sort of tunes that bands like The Gossip and Priests would crank out decades later. Elsewhere, the longer "Confidential" from the Confidential EP (1985) suggests a journey to a similar musical place as the one explored on early albums from scene-contemporaries Sonic Youth, while the wonderfully discordant "Bedouin" marries a Slits-like sense of rhythmic dis-harmony with the choppy chords of a Gang of Four single. Confidential (1985) closes with "Tell It", the closest this trio ever came to sounding like very early Joy Division, the guitars echoing up from some dark, cavernous place, and the vocals harbingers of some sort of sense of dislocation.

I surely hope that more Ut releases are offered up on Bandcamp or elsewhere as the music of this band remains so revolutionary that it's hard to believe that the group's output hasn't been rediscovered by more waves of astute listeners in this century. Brutally simplistic and thoroughly invigorating, the post-punk of Ut remains the sound of glorious chaos delivered in spiky slices.

More details on the band's early EP releases, and on the band themselves via their official website.

[Photo: Ut's Bandcamp page, uncredited]

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Next Move Sideways: A Few Words About The New Jazz Butcher Box From Fire Records

It hasn't even been a half-year since the folks at Fire Records dropped the first superb box-set from The Jazz Butcher, and now they are at it again. The Violent Years is out tomorrow and it collects 4 separate mid-Eighties and early-Nineties records from the band, from the near-perfect Fishcoteque (1988) and on to 1991's odd Condition Blue. The music here is, unsurprisingly, largely essential. And for every bizarre turn that Pat Fish drives the band into near the end of this set, there are loads more up-front that should still thoroughly charm and delight fans of mid-Eighties British indie.

Fishcoteque (1988) kicks off with the rollicking "Next Move Sideways" before things drift into the languid Fall-isms of "Out of Touch", one of the highlights here. Elsewhere, the charging "Looking for Lot 49" stands as one of the very best, easiest-to-like numbers ever composed by Mr. Pat Fish, while "Swell" is downright lush and lovely. Sure, there are a few minor missteps here ("Susie", "Chickentown"), but, on the whole, Fishcoteque is ever bit as good as I remembered, and surely one of the better, more solid albums overall in the Jazz Butcher back-catalog.

The more adventurous Big Planet, Scarey Planet from 1989 sees the band offer up more straightforward numbers than on earlier records, with standouts here being the first 2 songs on the record ("New Invention", "Line of Death"). Elsewhere, the fellas in The Jazz Butcher positively cut loose on the roughly-unhinged "The Word I Was Looking For", while the spry "Bad Dream Lover" almost makes up for the silliness of "Do The Bubonic Plague" and the various ill-considered sound-bites peppered throughout this release which only date the record to its era of origin when heard now.

Disc 3 of The Violent Years is given over to 1990's Cult of the Basement, a record that hasn't aged nearly as well as the first 2 records in this set, and that's despite containing one of the band's absolute best songs. "She's on Drugs" positively chimes with its distillation of the band's love of wry humor and sharp hooks. If not everything here is as good, at least some of this is exceptional. "Girl Go" is a pretty good example of front-man Fish's ease with a down-tempo number, while "Daycare Nation" is both astutely-observed in its lyrical concerns, and expertly composed in melodic terms.

It is only on Disc 4 of The Violent Years that a long-time fan of The Jazz Butcher may feel a tiny bit worn out. Condition Blue from 1991 saw Pat Fish fronting what was The Jazz Butcher in name only. And if so much of the band's greatness depended on Fish, it's clear here that he lost something when the other players moved to other projects. The tracks here are uniformly too long and a bit unfocused, but there are a few moments I enjoyed: the cute "Shirley MacLaine" and the ringing "She's a Yo-Yo", 2 clear highlights here on Condition Blue (1991). Still, what's on this final disc of The Violent Years is interesting if not compelling and, given the band's earlier enormously-endearing output before the release of this 1991 album, one can forgive them this early-Nineties diversion into sub-standard fare.

The Violent Years is essential, of course, and I sure hope that my misgivings about portions of this don't make you hesitate purchasing this fantastic box-set. Much like the work of Robyn Hitchcock, the tunes of Pat Fish always deserve attention. And if Fish's stuff near the end of this disc seems more diffuse than earlier, sharper compositions, at least it's still Fish at the helm. That guarantees that this is already better than lots of what was being produced in the wilds of a pre-Britpop England.

The Violent Years is out tomorrow via Fire Records. More details on The Jazz Butcher via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: Mitch Jenkins, from the band's Facebook page]

Play Fab New Video From Flasher (Priests, Bless, Big Hush) Here As Band Celebrates Signing To Domino!

Yet another D.C. supergroup? Well, yes, yes indeed. Flasher, in case you haven't seen them around D.C. yet, or read about them here and elsewhere, are Taylor Mulitz from Priests on guitar and vocals, Daniel Saperstein from Bless on bass, and Emma Baker from Big Hush on drums. The trio have dropped a few vital releases in the past, and now the folks at Domino have signed the band up! The group's full-length debut record is getting released on the label later in 2018, and they offered up a brief taste today in the form of the video below.

That's all good, but I'm mainly here to encourage you to play the band's new video, "Skim Milk", as it's a slab of fantastic electro-tinged post-punk of the sort that early Factory Records bands would routinely crank out on the other side of the ocean, some 3 decades ago. With Baker pounding out a beat that sounds ripped from an old Joy Division 7-inch, Taylor and Daniel croon and unleash the hooks of the cut. What's here is remarkably more streamlined than earlier, noisier Flasher releases. And yet, to acknowledge that is not to suggest that the Flasher sound has been watered down but, rather, like a knife, it's been sharpened to a new level of lethality. Excellent!

Flasher's debut full-length record will be out later in 2018 on Domino. For information on earlier Flashers releases, check out the Sister Polygon site, or the Bandcamp stuff linked below.

[Photo: Audrey Melton]

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Follow Me Down: A Brief Review Of The New Nap Eyes Album

The new album from Nap Eyes, I'm Bad Now, out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors, is a fine blast of reliable indie-pop. If the tunes here are not quite as modestly adventurous as those on earlier releases by the band, the songs are uniformly pleasant and affecting.

The first few songs on the record, including the title cut and "Roses", mine a vein of alt-rock that suggests huge debts owed to The Velvet Underground, The Feelies, and Yo La Tengo. It's only on the more twang-y "Follow Me Down" that things get varied ever so slightly. The track, like so many here, recalls artists like Ultimate Painting and even that solo record from A. Savage (Parquet Courts), but Nap Eyes manage to turn this sort of stuff into largely pleasant indie-pop. Elsewhere, the 2 longer cuts that end I'm Bad Now see Nap Eyes try on an even more languid form of their brand of music, with the results being very much in line with the work of the bands that have so clearly inspired this group.

Nap Eyes are not out to change the form, but they do manage to make a moderately-invigorating brand of indie, even granting that even a semi-astute listener can detect the reference points with ease. I'm Bad Now is out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors. More details on Nap Eyes via the band's official Facebook page, or their official website.

[Photo: Matthew Parri Thomas]

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Come Outside: A Quick Review Of The Debut Album From Acid Dad

The band Acid Dad make psychedelic indie of the sort that's easy to love. The group's self-titled debut album is out on Friday via Greenway Records and it's the sort of release that blends some fine melodies with a real hint of something more experimental. If this sort of music has been done before, at least it's being done here, again, with some degree of charm.

If opener "Die Hard" suggests something a bit trippier to come, the more direct "2Ci" and "Mr. Major" offer up nice blends of Britpop-style rock with a few hints of more lyrical strains of psych rock. Owing debts to bands from both the Sixties and Nineties, Acid Dad manage to make all these familiar rockers seem relatively fresh, if not entirely original. Elsewhere, "Come Outside" and "Mow My Lawn" nod in the direction of late-period Supergrass material, while the more propulsive "No Answer" looks further back, to early recordings from Blur and The Charlatans. While this band is American, it's clear that they owe huge debts to whole lots of bands from the U.K. some dozen or so years ago. And rather than have this be a burden, Acid Dad turn those considerable influences into the backbone of some bright and energetic original compositions here.

Acid Dad is out on Friday via Greenway Records. More details on Acid Dad via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited photo from band's Facebook page]

Monday, March 5, 2018

Raw: A Brief Review Of The New U-God Autobiography

Even though I rarely post about rap, I am a huge fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, and have been for more than 2 decades. I think that collectively, and as solo artists, the members of the Wu have elevated the art-form and redefined what was possible in rap. And while I'd be lying if I didn't admit that Ghostface Killah was my favorite MC in the Wu-Tang Clan, I should also say that I have long thought that U-God was the most underrated member of the group. If U-God has never quite received the attention he's so richly deserved, at least he's due for some real recognition now with the release of his autobiography. Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins is out tomorrow on Picador and I was lucky enough to get a copy a few weeks ago in order for me to offer up this review.

I suppose the most ringing endorsement I could put forth is the fact that I largely read this book in one day. Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins really is a thrilling read, one that should please fans of the Wu, as well as historians of rap and the eras covered in the book. What's here is so much more than just how Lamont became U-God and earned his spot in the Wu-Tang Clan and I really need to highlight that fact here in this brief review. What's here is a whole lot of context to the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, Lamont's story being one that speaks to the era, the marginalization of young black Americans in New York City, and the so-called "War on Drugs" that sees said young black men incarcerated at rates far disproportionate than those of white men. Those facts are important as lots of the "action" here in Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang takes place in the late Reagan/Bush years, an era that was nearly as cruel to some in our society as the Age of Trump is shaping up to be now.

To illustrate my point a bit further, here's an excerpt from the book via the Picador website:

"I come from a long line of project babies. It seems like poor people always start from the bottom. Either you make it out of the projects or you stay there, sometimes for generations. I still know people that have been there for their entire lives. Never advanced, never went nowhere else, never explored the rest of the world outside their neighborhood. I guess they're content with that sort of life, but I knew early on it wasn't for me.

Only the pure of heart make it out of the ghetto. What that means to me is that when you really believe in what or who you are, you stay focused on yourself, and you don't hurt anyone while trying to get out. You don't connive, you don't do any ratchetness to get ahead, and you don't backstab someone else to get out.

You get out with determination, willpower, and persistence in pursuing what you believe in."

And that quote, in a way, cuts to the heart of the appeal of Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang as, clearly, a reader wants not only lots of juicy stuff on the inner workings of the Clan -- all here, believe me -- but also a story of how how Lamont Hawkins got over. And while a critic could knock the amount of back-story here before U-God actually makes his debut on the first Wu-Tang record, I certainly loved it. I can't quite recall any previous story of the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan being this detailed. That the story is being told by one of the actual members of the group makes things even better. U-God seems to have enacted a gentle revenge on his brothers in the Clan here by being the first member of the group to pen a tell-all autobiography.

And, remarkably, Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang serves so many audiences at once. Young heads weaned on subsequent generations of rap musicians will likely find lots of the history of the early years of rap's rise fascinating, a welcomed peek back at an era where social forces allowed the birth of such a vital art-form. And Wu fans will, obviously, dig lots of this -- the making of the first few classic Wu-Tang records, the tours, the squabbles, the tales of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, the grousing about RZA's machinations and power-plays in the group, etc. -- but I think Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang serves a far more important purpose by providing so much context for how a group with a sound as revolutionary as that of the Wu-Tang Clan became a reality, and how rap itself was shaped and changed by the arrival of these talented cats from "the slums of Shaolin", as the song goes.

As much a history of U-God and the Wu-Tang Clan as it is a primer on the incendiary force of Nineties rap itself, Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins is a fantastic read, and one that I literally couldn't put down. The adventures, and trials-and-tribulations of Hawkins make up a story full of lessons, both personal and historical. I can think of no higher praise about Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang than to say that my appreciation of the music of the Wu seems richer now.

Raw: My Journey Into The Wu-Tang by Lamont "U-God" Hawkins is out tomorrow via Picador.

U-God is appearing at Howard University here in D.C. on Friday, March 9, as well as at Black Cat later that same night.

Venom is the most recent album by U-God and it dropped on Babygrande Records.

More details on U-God via his official website.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Take Yourself To Town: A Few Words About The New Album From District Repair Depot (Robert Halcrow From Picturebox And Stephan Evans)

The new album from District Repair Depot is the sort of thing that deserves a whole lot of attention. And I can only hope that once people hear the XTC-ish indie-pop here on the band's self-titled debut that this band gets a bunch of appreciative fans. Essentially a collaboration between Stephan Evans and Robert Halcrow (Picturebox), District Repair Depot has a real knack for making this sort of music, and for making it sound natural and entirely unaffected.

"Barry Jones" sounds like something Ray Davies, or Andy Partridge, could have written, while the jaunty "Aeroplane Song" recalls early solo recordings from Paul McCartney. Elsewhere, "Signal Box" echoes Davies again, this time that brief period when The Kinks affected a vague country twang, even as "Take Yourself To Town" is a swirling bit of Britpop whimsy, equal parts mid-Nineties Blur and The Dukes of Stratosphear. The languid "CRUST" is very nearly "Whatever" by Oasis but for a couple of chord changes and one wonders if the cut is meant to be a piss-take on the work of the brothers from Manchester, even as the more gentle "Escape To Margate" closes the record in one of many echoes of Martin Newell's stuff to be found here on this fine album.

District Repair Depot make music that is superbly in line with the obvious influences that the band is drawing from. And to name-check all those other bands as I've done in the course of this review is not to make this seem derivative but, rather, to highlight just how perfectly the music of District Repair Depot fits next to that of those other acts.

District Repair Depot is out now. More details via the band's official Facebook page, or the official Gare Du Nord Records Facebook page.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Make It Real: A Quick Word About The New Album From Suuns

The music of Montreal's Suuns is a hard thing to describe. Hopping over a bunch of genres, the edgy indie-pop found on the band's new record, Felt, out today on Secretly Canadian, is really great stuff.

Opener "Look No Further" offers up a blend of electro-pop and charging post-punk that suggests a few dozen fine influences, while "Watch You, Watch Me" suggests a unique, albeit odd, blend of Queens of the Stone Age and Stereolab. Elsewhere, the rhythmic "After The Fall", and the sinister "Control" and "Make It Real", cover territory that should seem familiar to fans of Joy Division and basically any post-punk bank from Manchester in the early Eighties, while the more lyrical "Make It Real" offers up a rather lovely melody. As Felt closes on the New Wave of "Materials", a listener can marvel a bit at the range within the rather narrowly-defined scope of the sound of Suuns, with the bits and pieces here that seem hard to categorize serving as proof at the excellence of this band and record.

Felt is out now via Secretly Canadian. More details on Suuns via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: Joe Yarmush]

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Does This Work For You: A Few Words About The New Album From Moaning

The new album from Moaning, called simply Moaning and out tomorrow via Sub Pop, is so elemental that it seems sort of odd that there aren't more bands like this. But, the truth is, the music of Moaning is something special. These cats -- Sean Solomon, Pascal Stevenson, and Andrew MacKelvie -- make tunes that seem both primal and brainy, and that's a rare blend to encounter when listening to modern indie-pop.

Opener "Don't Go" roars with the sort of charging post-punk electricity that makes a listener recall stuff on Unknown Pleasures, while other stand-outs here -- like the rippling "Artificial", or the pulsing "Tired" -- burn with a sort of studied intensity that suggests not only an undeniable rapport between these 3 players, but also a rather clear sense of purpose here. Little on Moaning flags in intensity, and a listener is never confronted with a sense that the band have run out of ideas, with more lyrical numbers like "Does This Work For You" and "The Same" hinting at a near-jazzy sense of harmonic convergence among the 3 members of this band. The album closes with 2 of the most forceful numbers on this record: the slightly mellow "Misheard", all Brotherhood hooks and Nevermind guitar-riffs jostling for attention, and "Somewhere in There", with its Swervedriver-like sense of rhythmic attack.

Moaning by Moaning is largely purely-realized post-punk of the sort that will appeal to guys who grew up listening to Slint and Tortoise, as well as folks who appreciate the time-changes of later Fugazi numbers. This is propulsive goodness, and I'm eager to hear even more from Moaning in the future.

Moaning by Moaning is out tomorrow via Sub Pop.

More details on Moaning via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Michael Schmelling]