Archive for the Music Reviews Category

Record Reviews

Posted in Music Reviews on October 20, 2011 by Billy Shears

Baxter Dury. Happy Soup. Regal Recordings. 2011.

Son of legendary pub rocker and all around rock’n’roll character Ian Dury, Baxter Dury has big (albeit not literally, literally very small) shoes to fill. Beloved by a nation, Ian Dury carved out a unique niche full of humor, clever wordplay and an amalgam of music hall/punk/pub rock/funk, as well as helped keep Stiff records afloat and subsequently influenced a generation of bands as diverse as Madness, Blur and Billy Bragg. So does the prodigal son tread in father’s shadow, following the same staggered path? Not at all, as it turns out. Whereas dad was kind of noisy, boisterous and loud, son takes near the complete opposite approach. Though the accent and register (in places) is at first fairly similar, over time it becomes it’s own thing. Over lazy summer-y beats, Baxter’s Dury’s characters slink out of alleyways and pubs, and whisper their truths through our narrator, whose droll, laconic and measured delivery is just enough to draw in the listener, and the simple but effective beats are ones that stick in the head well after playback is over. It’s as if Michael Caine’s persona from the 60s cut a record over 80s samples funneled through the present. There are also a considerable number of tunes that feature accompaniment from Madelaine Hart. The mood created by Dury’s bedraggled diction and the more breathy female vocalization is a nice trade off that keeps things from becoming too redundant. Highlights are the stamped 80s vibe of “Afternoon,” where Dury’s wistful recall sounds as if he’s about to doze off, the first single, “Claire,” as well as the opener “Isabel,” which begins with a “Ghost Town”-ish beat, that sets the standard for all tunes that follow. Really, not a bad cut on the album, and it works as a complete statement the way most albums these days do not. A contender for best of 2011.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. “The Death of You and Me” b/w “The Good Rebel” & “If I Had a Gun.” Sour Mash Records. 2011.

It’s been awhile. Been a bit since the world last heard from Noel Gallagher. Post-Oasis split, whereas brother Liam took  the decidedly British “back to work” angle and churned out the first Beady Eye record, Noel remained largely underground. And whereas Beady Eye are cut from the rock-ier side of the Oasis canon, Noel delivers the types of tunes that, over the last few albums, he’s had the most success with – the more wistful, reflective songs. I assumed this was going to be the case, and had predicted that I was going to dig Beady Eye more (though the album wasn’t amazing, I really liked bits and pieces of it, and think Liam and co have produced 5-6 really good tunes) Noel’s efforts surprised me. “The Death of You & Me” is definitely on the same branch of the family tree as was “The Importance of Being Idle” but also brings a unique bit of Burt Bacharach to the table. Swelling chorus, oom-pah middle break and decent lyrics make it a winner. B-side “The Good Rebel” isn’t as good, but I liked the “Rain” refrain, a nice nod to, big surprise, The Beatles. Lyrically not amazing, but the vibe of the tune is a solid one. “If I Had a Gun” is more relaxed and reflective, semi-“Acquiesce” and settles into a really nice tune. It contains one of my favorite of Noel’s recent lyrics in the “‘scuse me if I spoke too soon/my eyes have always followed you across the room” pre-chorus go to. If these 3 songs are any indication of what the album holds in store, Liam and co. should be sweating it out and tightening up the Beady Eye ship for record two. Noel has shown, without any boasting, and at a deliberate pace of his own accord, that he’s not afraid of any gauntlet being thrown his way. The saddest part of all of this is, if you took 5-6 of the Beady Eye tunes, and these 3 Noel songs, you’d have the best Oasis record since Morning Glory. Knowing that is not the case, I’ll take the heights Noel hits here, and hope for the best. (Review of the full-length, which is obviously out there, will be forthcoming. Was not available when I wrote this review, and don’t want to post-pone posting these reviews to add it.)

London Diehards. Great Britain. Rock’n’Roll Disgrace. 2011.

It’s simple, really. With this release, The London Diehards have delivered the most resolute, steadfast ep of the last several years. The declaration of Great Britain is a familiar one to fans of oi! – to live life without compromise, to be proud of being who you are, and to do so in the face of those “unnamed but always popping up in oi! tunes” masses. Their plight, however, is the changing of the times, and the politically correct lynch mob (promoters, reviewers etc) who seek to stifle bands such as these, for reasons real or imagined . And it is the band’s message, set against this plight, that defines the medium in which this ep is delivered. Simple. Hard. Catchy. Direct. Just like the classics. Oi! has always been a genre for airing such grievances, and this “us v. them” tone that permeates the record is adversarially refreshing, to be honest. It’s been awhile since I’d heard a band this annoyed with the state of its countries’ affairs. Side A kicks off with the hammer “City Streets,” and moves right into the subcultural defiance of “One Way of Life.” The B-side is where the  aforementioned sloganeering really kicks in. “No Compromise” throws down the gauntlet and “PC Mafia” reaffirms it. Sound-wise, the production is top notch; loud and clean. The die cut sleeve is a top design, and the record overall is high quality. Pressing of clear vinyl is already gone, I’d suggest grabbing one of these before they disappear, like the Britain that the band so pines for has seemingly done.

Sydney Ducks. “Stray Dogs” b/w “He Lives For Today.” Sydney Town Records. 2011. 

At this point in the game, Sydney Ducks join Hammer and the Nails, London Diehards, Marching Orders & 45 Adapters as my favorite of the newer crop of oi! bands to emerge in the last few years. Utilizing a clean, and inventive guitar sound which pulls from influences as diverse as power-pop, psychedelic and prog rock, the tunes pack an original sounding punch that is sorely missing from today’s scene. This, their first single, showcases two of their songs – The A-side, “Stray Dogs” finds them at their most straightforward. Opening with a nice blast of CCR-styled guitar, the tune settles into familiar subject matter – “out on the city streets” – but is delivered with enough panache and punch from Carl’s scabrous vocals; it rises above 99% of what the genre offers. The B-side follows in the footsteps of bands like The Jam, The Smiths, or even Oasis – bands whose B-sides rivaled or often bettered the A-side. “He Lives For Today” is my favorite Sydney Ducks song. It not only showcases their melodic, near mod-ish sound, but the middle breakdown is probably the one single highpoint of anything the band has thus presented – a swirling, Beatles-ish piece of psych that Paul Weller at The Jam’s most experimental would have been proud of. Really impressive. Rather than mince words, I’ll offer this – the single is a must have, and an essential look at a band on the rise.


Stomper 98/45 Adapters split. Randale Records. 2011.

45 Adapters are stylistically one of the more interesting bands out there today, and these two tunes definitely showcase the R&B/pub rock side of the band. “What’s Right” opens up with a straight rock’n’roll riff that would have made those bands like Dr. Feelgood and Ducks De Luxe take notice, and builds on that riff throughout the song. To me, this is the path the band should carve out for themselves – a powerful slice of punk infused R&B. Really nice. “Nothing to Prove” builds on that same premise, and ups the ante a good bit. The song sounds, dare I say, near “boogie” in it’s delivery. Top notch. These are definitely two of my favorite 45 Adapters songs, if not my favorites. This release builds on the promise this band offers and makes me tersely await future output. Stomper 98 are now veterans of the oi! scene, and they deliver stable results as is expected. Basic, classic sounding German oi! with saxophones is what we’ve come to expct from this band, and that is what we get. No more, no less. Opener “Anti-Social” (not a cover) is the heavier of the two tunes, and plods along nicely, utilizing an anthemic chant. “ISP: One Crew, One Family” is, as others reviewers have noted, very 4-Skins-y, and bounces along with help from the ever present saxaphone. A worthwhile purchase showcasing the unique pubrock-ish oi! sounds of 45 Adapters and the basic German sounds of Stomper 98.

Naked Raygun. Single Series #3. 2011.

Naked Raygun remain Chicago’s favorite sons, representative of the best the scene has ever offered, and are arguably the most important band the city has ever produced (that happens to be my opinion). Their recent output (three 2 song singles) has done nothing to tarnish that legacy, and succeeds where so many other classic bands fail when offering new material; rather than putting out embarrassing, vainglorious crap, Naked Raygun have delivered 6 quality tunes; in fact, I’d say 5 of them are near excellent, with “Burning Red” from this release vying for best song of the bunch. Written by Pierre Kezdy, who has always had a flair for a classic tune, it opens with some dauntless ringing guitar that holds it together for the entirety of the tune. Jeff Pezzati is in fine voice, and the tune is anthemic and soaring, but is not singalong “whoa oh” as Raygun sometimes rely on. An engrossing, enthralling entry in the Raygun storybook. The B-side “Black Eyed Blue” doesn’t fare as well. Though it’s not bad, it’s the least interesting so far of any of their recent tunes. I’d still call a Naked Raygun single with one amazing entry and one lackluster a victory, and fans of the band will want to make sure they hear the stunning “Burning Red.”

Night Birds. The Other Side of Darkness. Grave Mistake Records. 2011.

From the first time I heard Night Birds – tunes like “Killer Waves” and “Paranoid Times” – they quickly ascended to the top of my playlist. Their style was something refreshing in a glut of same-y. A definite nod to Southern California surf culture, and to bands like Angry Samoans, Adolescents and the snottiness of early Descendents, the tunes were fast, scornful and pissed off and at the same time, tight and catchy. With this, their first LP, expect more of the same. The formula hasn’t changed at all, and why would it?  Tunes Like “Neon Gray,” “Landfill Land,” and “One Eye” continue on with the established winning maxim with similarly successful results.  “Can’t Get Clean,” and “Paranoid Times” get repeat appearances here, but there’s more than enough original material for this LP to more than hold it’s own. If you’re a fan, then you know what you’re in for. Strap in, it’s a fun ride. Again, a nominee for Best of the Year.

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The Vaccines “What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?” LP

Posted in Music Reviews on April 6, 2011 by Billy Shears

So, aside from the fact that the return of my Rega turntable amounted to something bordering farce (see story below) there was one nice sidebar to the story: the first LP back played on it was What Did You Expect From The Vaccines.

As anyone who has been reading NME for the last 6 months or so knows, The Vaccines are the next band you love.

Thing about carrying that burden is, most groups aren’t up to it.

Good news is this: neither are The Vaccines. They could care less about such accolades. Don’t want them. The result is just this – an excellent record.

Start with the title – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? The band knows how silly all this pre-hysteria is, and they’ve rolled with it, and rolled their eyes to it.

Here is the LP, they say. What did you expect? Which gives them a nice out. If it’s great, it’s great. If not, shame on you for buying into the publicity. What did you expect?

Well, what you get is more of the exact same as The Vaccines have dished out prior.

If not familiar with the band, page down a bit and read the review of the “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” single, as the album mostly follows its forumla: The Jesus & Mary Chain, filtered through the Ramones, with a few slower tunes here and there, all overproduced by Phil Spector.

Side one is flawless. Kicks off smartly with “Wreckin’ Bar.” So rather than make a new fan wait for it, The Vaccines basically give you the main course first. And why the fuck not?

And while maybe never topping it, at least 2 cuts are its equal – the second track “If You Wanna,” and the manic “Norgaard” (maybe my favorite cut on the record, in fact.) “Wet Suit” and “Blow It Up,” are very nearly, if not at, that same quality level.

This accounts for all but one of the cuts on side one, and “Lack of Understanding,” the hold-out, is really better than most anything else on any other guitar band from England’s recent outpourings.

Side two seems to lose a little energy, but is more of the same – it does start out with my least favorite cut (probably) in “Post Break-up Sex.” It’s not that bad, but having heard it before, and not being impressed with it originally, nothing much has changed my opinion. It’s kind of a slower, more deliberate tune, as is its successor “Under My Thumb.” Both are lacking the joie de vivre  that most of the other cuts contain – they are still very Spector, but a Ramoneless Spector.

Redeemed by the really nice slow grower, the “Leader of the Pack”-like mid-tempo anthem “All in White,” and the chipper bounceback “Wolf Pack” (and most every other cut on the record though) these two aforementioned songs are the forgivable kind of failures.

Listen, I feel as stupid as anyone about raving about this record, maybe it’s not that good, and maybe I’m really bored with most music these days (I am) but The Vaccines have already tipped their hand at what they sound like, and what kind of record they could make if they wanted to. And they went out and did it.

It is no more and no less than what “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” promised. What was expected, as it turns out, was what was delivered.

Brother – “Darling Buds of May” single

Posted in Music Reviews on March 17, 2011 by Billy Shears

Keepers of the (mundane) flame

Brother are the latest band the British press (and the band themselves) seem to be lauding with the by now Python-esqe moniker of  “the next saviors of British guitar music.” British Guitar music needs saving more often than any other generic genre I can think of, because every year, there’s another mediocre band dubbed as such.

Regardless, how do Brother fare when stacked up against other salvagers of the “lost art” of the guitar tune?

About the same as the norm, as it turns out.

Taking cues from the obvious (Oasis) they come off sounding like a near replica of an old forgotten British band called Smaller. That is to say, Oasis without the huge tunes or enlightened singer but with the mouth and ego to match. The brothers Gallagher, though, could walk the walk. Brother kind of toe the line. Barely.

“Darling Buds of May” is a catchy tune. It might even demand repeated listens at first. Competent playing, catchy guitar lick (kind of sounds borrowed from “Brim Full of Asha” by another Brit Pop casualty Cornershop) and solid chorus…but once the novelty of hoping this band are as good as advertised wears off, I’m left with the feeling that if the tunes don’t get substantially better, Brother are going to fade out.

Rather than being something special, I’m guessing this group more along the lines of something tolerable.

Maybe I’m wrong. Brother seem to think they are going to be the next-big-thing. Thing about that is, I’ve heard that about 2-3 bands every year since 1994.

Guessing these guys become a footnote as well.

Brother’s “Darling Buds of May” single now available on iTunes for Free.

Out Crowd – Demo 2011

Posted in Music Reviews on March 15, 2011 by Billy Shears

OUT CROWD.

I know next to nothing about them, other than the facts: The band is called OUT CROWD. They are from Atlanta, Georgia and have a demo out now on a record label called Ghetto Josh Records and I was sent said demo by Steven from the band.

What’s the verdict?

I’m here to testify – I was pleasantly surprised. My first reaction is it sounded somewhat like vintage Ray Cappo snarl fronting a more oi!-leaning YOT. The intro comes on like Blitz, while opener “Blue Bloods” navigates vintage NYHC territory, as does the 51 second “What Are Friends For.”  The last cut rumbles on with a more pointed oi!-ish purpose and its message “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” morphs into the closing statement “just stay positive, it’s the best way.”

The entirety of the thing is under 4:00 minutes, so I don’t have much to go on, as well as no lyrics, but I likes what I likes and this is definitely hanging out in my rest stop (the bathhouses of the 90s.)

I am duly impressed. Out Crowd could very soon be a band people are talking about.

SOME PRODUCT!

Posted in Music Reviews on March 8, 2011 by Billy Shears

Rather than the formality of actual in depth, lengthy reviews (getting much too lazy for that) here’s a few things I’ve bought (or heard) over the last few weeks or so, and a couple lines on what I think of them. You should buy most of this stuff, too. (NOTE: some of this product is actually not “new” new but new to me only.)

BEADY EYE – Different Gear, Still Speeding.

So arrivith the first post-Oasis record. It actually must be tough putting out this record if you’re Liam. As popular as Oasis were/are, one, there’s no way this will hold up to the Oasis legacy, two, there’s no way that songwise, it could be as good as their finest moments, and three, there’s so many critics and anti-fans rooting against this band just because. Bottom line on this one – if you are an Oasis fan, you should eat this up. It’s neither magnificent, nor is it a failure. It will do nicely in a pinch. It hits highs (“The Roller,” “Kill For a Dream,” “For Anyone”) and suffers lows (“Beatles and Stones” lyrics are enough to make Noel’s output look like poet laureate material. “Standing on the Edge of Noise” wears out its welcome pretty quickly as well) Alot of it is overlong. But alot of it is catchy as shit. This is what it is. You know whether or not you should buy this one. (Myself, I picked it up on iTunes, and vinyl.)

DROPKICK MURPHYS – Going Out in Style.

Much like Beady Eye, you know what you’re on board with when you pick up a new DKM record. The formula for success for DKM has been perfected, and is replicated here. It’s loud, raucous, and the songs are as catchy as ever. The production is slick, and the sound is crystal clear. Thematically, “Hang ’em High” sets things off with an us vs. them theme that prevails throughout the album, and really, throughout the band’s entire catalog. The Irish trad stuff is covered in the old rave up “The Irish Rover” and the band start trading body blows with the heavy hitters as Springsteen pops up on Peg O’ My Heart. Roots are given proper nod in the lyrics of “Sunday Hardcore Matinee,” which in a twist (or maybe not so much) acts as more of a banjo/accordion driven shanty than anything that SS Decontrol or The FUs would have spit out…but still, a winner. All in all, chalk it up in the win column for a band that remain as true to their roots and deliver on their terms as much as any I can imagine since The Clash.

TOMMY & THE TERRORS – (Collection of eps. 4 Subculture Records. Coming Soon.)

Euro collection of a variety of Tommy & the Terrors eps (excepting On the Run), this is some strong, substantive work. Including their most recent (and best) material in Problem. Reaction. Solution, it is a must own for fans.  From some of their catchiest in anthems such as “On the Avenue” to some of their hardest  in offerings like “Revenge.” It runs the gamut stylistically and shows the range, longevity and determination that the Terrors are capable of. Pick up as soon as will allow at http://www.4subculture.com.

NIGHT BIRDS – “Midnight Movies,” “Killer Waves,” “s/t”

These Night Birds releases are a breath of fresh air, and kind of exactly what I needed as of late. Kind of early SoCal-ish Adolescents/snotty punk rock, combined with moments of surf and other such animated absurdity. A really good group of songs, that when digested together, almost acts as a cohesive full length. Well worth picking up for sure.

CRO-MAGS – AOQ REISSUE

It’s AOQ rereleased on gatefold, with three demo tracks. What’s not to like?

THE VACCINES – Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra) single

Lauded as the next big thing in England, “Wreckin’ Bar” certainly lives up to such hype. It’s been called The Ramones meets JAMC, and that’s pretty accurate, I guess. Nothing I’ve heard from them since really delivers in this style, or at this level of excellence, but I’d still keep my eye on this group, based on the exuberance this tune delivers in a mere 1:20.

THE BROKEN VINYL CLUB – “I Want You Girl” single

Was tipped off to this re: Eddie Pillar’s Modcast on iTunes (typing that title makes me a little queasy) but nevertheless, the band (and this single in particular) is superlative. It’s basically an update on the formula of The La’s, and it works its magic in a very similar way: beat combo and retro sounding for sure. But it quickly burrows its way into that place in the subconscious where you store such songs, and takes firm root there. An accomplished effort from this Welsh band.

THE BRIGHTS – “Footsteps” single

Another tip off from Eddie Pillar, this one differs emphatically from The Broken Vinyl Club, but is nevertheless just as meritorious. The Brights, on this tune, sound like Paul Heaton crooning whilst vintage Marr, Rourke and Joyce deliver righteously in the background. It really is as simple as that. TOPS.

THE METHOD – “We Don’t Know” & “Take Your Shot”

“We Don’t Know” exists as a neoteric, mod-inspired, freak-beat; as if the soundtrack to an imaginary  film set in the 60s. (see: The Quadrophenia dance scene.) I’m not going to exaggerate – it’s not wholly original, but it’s inspired lunacy sets the wheels in motion and  gets the blood flowing. “Take Your Shot” is less manic, more measured and not as successful, but still, interesting for its sheer worship of the style it apes.

THE PENNY COCKS – “Burning Down My Youth” ep

Hailing from Barcelona, the descriptives hurled at this group operate right “in my wheelhouse,” as they say. “Chiswick records/The Jam/The Undertones/early Skrew” was what I’d read, and it would take a wonder for any band to live up to such identifiers. Alas, as good as this group is, especially in today’s scene, it falls well short of such luminaries. The vocals, while in English, remind me of such Japanese bands as LRF as well as the group Badlands. I know that sounds off, but they really do sound Badlands on some cuts, and LRF-ish at other moments (title cut esp and the Satan’s Rats cover that closes): English, but not quite England/American sounding, which is 100% understandable, obviously. And that’s not a bad thing, either. The accompanying instrumentation does sound like it’s 77 forbearers, perhaps getting a little more manic in places, but it is definitely first rate. All in all, though not living up to the comparisons to the legends (and who could?) the Penny Cocks are definitely an outstanding entry to the punk rock/skinhead scene, and one to watch for.

The EFFIGIES – live soundboard from OZ. 1981

Please visit this website and download this live set to see why The Effigies were among the most interesting of all the “hardcore” bands from the early 80s. A definite influence from bands like The Ruts made them stand aside from their peers. Emphasis on the groove of the tune, and made rock solid by Kezdy’s growls and simple, plodding messages. http://morethanawitnessarchive.blogspot.com/2011/02/effigies-oz-chicago-il-41081-soundboard.html

GENTLEMEN JESSE – She’s a Trap single

Gentlemen Jesse continues to bring the Nick Lowe-styled power-pop. Keep it coming. While breaking no new ground (see review of the first LP on this site) it continues to breed the quality. Pick this up.

BLUR – Fool’s Day single

Finally picked up a copy of this limited Record Store Day-only Blur release, the first (and only new song) post Blur break-up. It’s basically a mid tempo, reflective loop of a song, that breezes along in a very determined Kinks-ian way as the day of the title might suggest. The lyrics are top shelf, which is fairly standard now for the autobiographical Damon Albarn. They appear a non-fiction narrative about the day of this songs’ recording, musing the heaviness of Blur’s past, as well as their reconciliation. Graham is given the opportunity to  veer off into his own little esoteric weirdness, and Alex and Dave are in fine form as well. And all seems right with the world.

MALE NURSES – s/t ep.

Some pretty competent & catchy 80’s inspired HC from this Boston band. Snotty vocals, shredding gee-tars, and a healthy dose of imbecility are the order of the day. Recommended.


OFF! – First Four Eps box set

On paper, it probably shouldn’t work. Pensioner Keith Morris teams up with Mario Rubalcaba and Dimiti Coats and shreds some very early 80s SoCal Black Flag-ish type shit. The box set contains some excellent Raymond Pettibone art, and it pleases me to give this whole thing a thimbs way up. As an inspired whole, this thing delievers 4 eps, with excellent packaging and is WELL worth recommending. Buy at once.


IRON & WINE – Kiss Each Other Clean

I knew nothing of Iron & Wine before hearing “Walking Far From Home” from this record, it being a travelogue of somewhat  O’Brother Where Art Thou?-conjured visuals, combined with a theme that is almost Odyssean in its quest. Needless to say, I became somewhat interested. I heard another cut on NPR, that brought to mind solo Alex Chilton, so I decided to purchase the record. I’m pleased with it overall. It is stylistically interesting and doesn’t take root in the same place often – in parts slower, in parts near Steely Dan-ish, and at many spots in between. I’m told the old school Iron & Wine fan base were none too excited to see the instrumentation branch out beyond simple acoustics, so pissing off the hipsters seems another solid reason for giving this one the thumbs up.

2010 Record Reviews

Posted in Music Reviews on October 2, 2010 by Billy Shears

12" maxi ep

Hammer and the Nails

12″ Maxi ep

Rock’n’Roll Disgrace Records

Having released the best demo of the last few years, expectations were understandably high for the first “official” release from Boston’s Hammer and the Nails.  The 12″ maxi ep from Rock’n’Roll Disgrace focuses on the elements that made their live shows and the aforementioned demo such a success – utilitarian lyrics, delivered brutally, at measured pace, and with a technical prowess that rivals any band playing today. The ep opens with a sense of the foreboding; a stark drum undulates, leading into what is possibly my favorite track on the ep “Ten Fingers.”  The set up in many ways reminds me of early Strong Style, but Hammer and the Nails surpass any direct comparisons. At this point, their style is well defined and easily identifiable as their own. As stated, the band have never sounded tighter, their pulse set to mid-tempo, the pedal in full effect. The messages behind songs like “Faux” and “Sleeping Giant” are delivered with a grim clarity – taking no prisoners, making no apologies. The sheer vigor of the band and this release is something that demands attention – Hammer and the Nails should revel in the fact that they have clawed their way to the top. A must have. 

Problem.Reaction.Solution ep

Tommy & the Terrors

Problem. Reaction. Solution. EP.

Rock’n’Roll Disgrace Records.

No doubt mirroring the current political zeitgeist and the overall paranoia of the times, Tommy and the Terrors have capitalized, upped the ante and delivered what I can safely say is their strongest work to date. Front to back, the ep works as a minimalist whole – the production seems, for lack of a better word, lo-fi. The tempo of the band has slowed. The artwork and packaging is stark. Tommy’s lyrics come off as more desperate, more claustrophobic than ever before. This sets the tone for the entire ep. And taken as a whole, it really, really works as a complete statement. It becomes, as a manifesto, almost Discharge-ian. Obviously not in sound, but in how the themes connect with the intonation which connect with the art. From the outset of “I Don’t Wanna” to the closer “No Mas” and especially the two in between, “Problem. Reaction. Solution.” and “NWOFU” it’s believe nothing and trust no one. People are out to get us. “I want to believe.” The band, while remaining tight as a drum, have relaxed the pace, and it only makes things angrier; Everything has come together and the results are one of the best eps I’ve heard in years. Buy this before they break down your doors, take you away screaming with the only thought left running through your mind being “Tommy and the Terrors were right.” 

Nothing Left to Say ep

The Trouble

Nothing Left to Say ep

Painkiller Records

Released to coincide with their reunion shows at Boston’s PLAY IT LOUD II in late September, Painkiller Records has compiled unreleased material from one of Boston’s most fondly remembered outfits. By this point in time, a description of the band would be fruitless – you either know or you don’t – but what was of slight surprise to me was the quality of these tunes. Not to say that I was expecting to be let down, but 2 of these 4 songs had never been released, and the other 2 were on lesser known comps. And sometimes material of this ilk has been hidden away for a reason. Not so here. Opening with “Panic Fit,” which had previously appeared on a Suburban Voice comp, this ep means business. “Panic Fit” is a ripper, and deserves a place in the Trouble canon as one of their best. “Self Destruct” follows up, and had previously appeared on a Victory Records comp East Vs. West. Again, the quality is high. Side two opens with “Short Song” which is exactly that – a quick blast of adrenaline, and then on to the closer “Brighton Roof” which gets my nod for best cut on the record. Introspective, personal lyrics combined with a less breakneck approach make it a unique winner. A real lost gem. This 4 song ep acts as a great bookend to close the chapter on one of the nineties favorite sons. Pick it up quick.   

Days Gone By

Marching Orders

Days Gone By

Longshot Records

Australia’s  Marching Orders return with their long awaited full length debut Days Gone By. On the heels of their acclaimed (at least by this blog) 10″ Last Train Home, they deliever more of the same, that is to say, catchy, well-played oi! with that unmistakeble Aussie bent. Perhaps the band’s main strength is their ability to write a memorable melody that lingers in the head and remains with you long after playing. Their sound hasn’t changed; still highly charged Cock Sparrer meets Rose Tattoo (“Assault and Battery” cover included) and why change, when it works as well as it does? The lyrics, for the most part, avoid being overly cliched (though there are moments) but tunes like the title track (nice Jam-like opening bass riff) “Weight of the World” and “Years Pass Me By” work with the right combo of wistfullness, regret and realism. The last song mentioned is probably the best on the record, and impressed me as one of the better oi! tunes of the last several years. The heavy Melbourne accent puts a stamp on the tunes as well, gives them distinction which sets this apart from the glut of sound-alikes in the scene. A special mention must also be made of the packaging. Longshot  has delieved on this record – a beautiful gatefold with a Sharpie theme, hat tipping Australia’s subculture past. Every piece of this release, from front to back, is top notch and gets our highest recommendation.

Friends of No One ep

Negative Approach

Friends of No One

Taang Records

So the story goes – after NA break up, Brannon puts all remaining recordings in a trunk and locks them away; inevitably, NA reunite, and said trunk is found containing tapes from March 1984, and Taang! capitalizes and releases said tapes on an unsuspecting public. The results? To begin with, let’s not kid ourselves; fairly poor sound quality (a tape recorder in the middle of the room, it sounds like) and a short running time. But what of the songs? To put it simply, the songs are ferocity incarnate. If it’s possible for a poor recording to lend itself to the charm of an overall release, this is it; the guitars are tortured, the feedback howls, and Brannon’s shrieks are near otherworldly – the vocals are aberrant and disturbed – the experience far from pleasant, but as “Friends of No One” clatters forth from the disc, a classic is born. And the tunes don’t let up from there. Most have appeared in one way or another before (“Genocide,” “Kiss Me Kill Me” a cover of Iggy’s “I Got a Right”) but hearing them in this setting is more satisfactory than hearing a horrible live recording, and as stated, the title track demands to be labelled a legend. Is this disc a goldmine for the ages? Well, no, but it is highly recommended for fans of the band who wondered to what sick depths NA would plunge for continued aggression had they stayed together awhile longer. Fans need to pick this up.

The Heartbreaks

The Heartbreaks

I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt to Think of You single

Liar, My Dear single

Zip It Up comp track

I’ve learned the hard way not to trust much that the NME writes. As a publication, they obviously need to move papers. The direct result of this is that 1) they live to hype bands and 2) once the hype is live, the band of the moment is crushed into overkill, featured every other week until said band burns out, or the NME moves on to the “next big thing.” Which is ironically exactly what they have pegged The Heartbreaks. At this point, having only sampled two singles and a comp cut, I can’t either debunk or support this theory, however, I can say this: I like what I hear. Really like it. Hailing from the seaside town of Morecambe, the instant comparison is The Smiths. Not entirely off base, considering lyrics directly referencing kitchen sink drama like Billy Liar, as well as their outlook – relishing the day to day normal life of living in England, and celebrating the mundane in what would probably be considered a “literate” way, the spectre of Moz is never far removed from the equation. You can hear Marr’s guitar sound in the tunes as well, and at times a bit of Weller, but The Heartbreaks don’t really sound like either The Smiths or The Jam. The have a sound of their own, which is fairly energetic but non-aggressive, with a big sense of the melodic. Orange Juice-ian in parts and at times C-86ish, but neither as a whole overall. People have mentioned Motown, but I’m not hearing that. The tunes are nothing if not slowly addictive; “I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt to Think of You” is an instant best of, but others like “Your Affection is Wasted On Me” made their way into my subconsciousness more slowly. But make no mistake, you will remember these songs. So is the early hype justified? So far, I’d lean towards yes, but The Heartbreaks, having only 5 tunes available so far, have a lot more to prove.

Records Reviews

Posted in Music Reviews on January 25, 2009 by Billy Shears
Saturday Night Supports VINYL!

Saturday Night Supports VINYL!

OK…..here’s Saturday Night’s attempt at a proper “record” review section. As a disclaimer, since there aren’t tons of oi!/street punk/mod releases clogging up the record shops every Tuesday, we reserve the right to review new, new-ish and new-to-us records, as well as any re-release we think deserves mention. We’ll review any genre we think fits in with this blog, and we’ll gladly review anything submitted.

If you’re in a band that you think we’d dig, chances are, we’re likely to purchase your music and review it on our own, but if you are completely eager to have your review at the front of the line on a blog that no one reads, by all means, get in touch and send it our way.

With that, check out the following section, which will be populated regularly.

Record Reviews

Hammer and the Nails

Hammer and the Nails
Set to Ruin Demo
Rock’n’Roll Disgrace Records

When I was very young, I read a critical piece from the Sixties (might have been by Robert Christgau) which used two terms to describe some of the Rolling Stones darker material – “ominous” and “foreboding.” I immediately found that curious, if not interesting. Could these two adjectives be applied to a song? Can a tune create the feeling of unease? Can a song, by its subject matter, delivery or tone, make one uncomfortable with what awaits? I have since determined over the years that not only is it possible, but some of the better recorded material does indeed posses these very qualities.

At the risk of sounding generic, a tune like “Helter Skelter” builds uneasy tension throughout before it explodes into a place where the listener is unsure of what may happen next. The opening track on Hammer and the Nails demo churned up the same feelings. From its foreboding intro, to the power it delivers, to its dark subject matter which demands retribution, yet offers little respite, relief or explanation for the subject matter at hand, the tone is not friendly. It seems to simply say “this is how the world is” and forces you to deal with it, and from there, the mindset is cemented for the demo.

A description I have heard comparing Hammer and the Nails’ sound to other bands, a lazy reviewing tool, but one that most all (including myself) pull out as our Ace, was “Straw Dogs (UK) meets the Cro-Mags.” I prefer to substitute Killing Time for the Cro-Mags, if only because H&TN delivery seems more real-world bleak, rather than anything akin to the ‘Mags violent Hindu musings. Regardless, the intensity of the three aforementioned bands is a good starting point; you are not getting a clone of either of the three, however. Hammer and the Nails exist on their own merits.

The music is delivered with coarse vocal stylings, and exemplary playing throughout. Less the Killing Time comparisons churn up hardcore associations, to clarify, the music is hard rock’n’roll rather than anything resembling hardcore. It is the set of beliefs and the overall worldview being described that calls up the connection to the aforementioned bands. From “Dirty Cop” to “Legislation, Not Rehabilitation” to the closing title track, the picture painted is bleak, but never unrealistic. A look at the world we live in, it’s not always positive.

Listen to the band and decide for yourself what Hammer and the Nails are about. Be forewarned.

3382971467_e695e66d19_mStamford Bridge/Bastard’s Choir

Split E.P.

Oi! The Boat Records

Hints of Carl Templar’s side project, Stamford Bridge, have been in circulation for some time now. Word of mouth on the teaser tunes was overwhelmingly positive; like a power-pop version of The Templars, the tunes soared. The debut e.p. by the project had high expectations to meet, and meet them this side composed of two new, unheard songs does.

Kicking off with “The Way I Am,” Stamford Bridge immediately brings forth a tune different than anything previously previewed. A bouncy bassline and ever reliable drums by Phil Templar pushes this tune along. The song itself is definitely more forthright pop than anything yet heard from the group. The production and vocals scream Templars, but the delivery and subject matter echo something along the lines of Wreckless Eric; ever the outsider, trying to put his feelings to words, but having no luck, assuring the object of his affection that even if he don’t talk so good, he still cares. And then there’s the handclaps – handclaps that would make the Bay City Rollers blush. Roll it all into one, and it’s the best thing Carl and Stamford Bridge have delivered yet. I’ve played this one over and over.

The second tune, “Finish Line” is more akin to what I had heard from them in the past – that is, more garage-y, less overtly pop, yet still top quality. We could all benefit from hearing more from these guys, and that’s really no surprise given the membership of this band, is it?

Bastards Choir are from Indiana, and play rock’n’roll the way the likes of The Bruisers and Motorhead did. With subject matter familiar to anyone from the Midwest – “Heaven is a Hog Roast” and “These Fields,” – Bastard’s Choir deliver capable, catchy rock that would no doubt be more effective if one was actually at the aforementioned hog roast, beer in hand, and singing along.

I get a real sense of bands like The Weekend Bowlers and their ilk when playing this side, which is never a bad thing. A unique take on this style, with perhaps some true Hoosier flavor would be welcome, it will be interesting to see what this band delivers in the future.

norton_folgateMadness

The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Lucky Seven Records

James Joyce said of his novel Ulysses, “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” Substitute Madness for Joyce, and London for Ireland, and you’d have a semi-accurate idea of what Madness have made a career of – a love/hate/love affair with the city that bore them, and subsequently, their years of attempting to aurally recreate it for their audiences.

The Liberty Of Norton Folgate goes farther than largely any one musical work has ever done in attempting to capture an autobiography of a city that it is said, no one man can really ever know. Certainly groups that this blog champions have also long celebrated London, from The Jam and “In the City” to The Pogues, who sang more songs about London than they did about Ireland, to Pete Townshend and White City and well beyond. And true, London exists as a well worn subject in many canons, from academia, to film, to novels and song, but Madness have always had a seemingly cathartic need to celebrate the city; from Primrose Hill and Razor Blade Alley, to Victoria Gardens and Grey Day, no group besides possibly The Kinks have adored and been repulsed in equal measures by the city where they made their home.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate is Madness’ most ambitious work to date. An experiment with the dreaded “concept” album, more often times than not, it succeeds in delivering the strengths the group is known for. Erroneously lumped in with Two-tone from the begining, Madness made it clear very early on that the were more Ian Dury than The Specials. They’d always be more music hall than anything ska. Though the band no doubt loved reggae and the upbeat, they would always be more Ray Davies than Jimmy Cliff, more Benny Hill than Lloyd Charmers. I am not short-sighted enough to imply that Madness did not weave and sew their love for ska and reggae into their tapestry, but those styles were mere weapons in an arsenal that contained much much more, and it’s all on display here. The cast of characters needs no introduction, as a revolving door unit Madness are not. It’s the same players, adhering to the same roll call as ever: Suggs, Barso, Woody, Bedders, El Thommo, Chrissy Boy, and thee Chas Smash. But again, to the fan, no introductions are necessary.

The album opens with a short instrumental, “Overture,” which plays the part of a waltz-y pre-War London, when the Empire was strong and spread from continent to continent, the London gentlemen full of confidence welcoming one to the show. The bookends of the album are the opener, the bouncy, inviting “We Are London” and then the album’s final cut, the ten minute title track, “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.” These two tunes, respectively welcome you and bid you fond farewell, with stop gap pop-in’s at many infamous points in the Big Smoke. Whisking wistfully from Regents Park and Baker Street to Camden and down to the Cross, and even on Carnaby (“if you wanna be a mod, a punk, a Ted or a suedehead” Suggs intones) “We Are London” is a point-of-interest trainspotter’s delight. It also contains one of the themes of the record – “you can make it your own heaven or hell.” London is, as life is, what you make of it. The characters and lives that inhabit the rest of the album are a veritable musical kaleidoscope.

First stop is the teenagers who start life a little early, marry too young, in the obviously Barson penned “Sugar and Spice.” It’s one of his signature subjects, and one of the best tunes he’s ever written. The bawdy humor that popped up in tunes like “In the Middle of the Night” rears it’s head in material like “Dust Devil” that charters the favorite “toy” of the bored suburban housewife. The bittersweet is captured in the imaginary life of “Africa” where the aspirations of something more than the day-to-day drunk will never materialize, except in dreams. “NW5” was an obvious single, because of it’s forlorn delivery, and again, it’s subject matter of growing apart, but loving one forever.

The record is, at heart, a fifteen song tour of the city, something that Peter Ackroyd might record if he wrote albums instead of sprawling biographies, and it culminates in one of the top songs Madness have ever done – “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.” The song finds Madness at their most secure, their most “Madness-esque” yet oddly at the same time, their most experimental. A carnival like atmosphere builds from the beginning, where, just as in the opening “Overture,” a bouncy, Beatles-ish music hall waltz leads us off the floor towards the conclusion of the evening, with Suggs acting as a mad tour guide as the entire journey concludes. But nothing ever really ends, does it?

The characters that have been introduced, seem to bid farewell in this tune – the immigrants, the streetlamps, the Welsh, the Irish, the carousels, the Chinese trying to pawn DVD’s, all tip their hats as the album exits. Midway through, the song changes styles and tempos, only to wrap up as it started, in a weird, twisting cycle that takes the listener back to the beginning all over again. As the song concludes, it repeats the mantra that Madness know is London’s own: “you’re a part of everything you see.” Your city, your home, and all it’s offers of wonders, characters, allusions and illusions, is a part of you. Everything is cyclical in the end. The city is the body; the people who inhabit it are it’s heartbeat, and both co-exist to serve one another, to make it whole.

Madness have always had the ability, as The Kinks did, to take every day life and put it to song, but only after turning a critical eye on it. The Liberty of Norton Folgate acknowledges that life (and London) is indeed a pageant, but it is up to the individual to make of it what they will. As with Joyce’s works, one could not actually recreate London simply from hearing this record, but after digesting it, you do get a sense that you know the city of which they speak.

All told, I’m not ready to say that this is the masterpiece in Madness’ library, but it surely rests comfortably in a spot near the top. More reserved, more mature, and simply aiming for grandiose places that they’ve never quite reached for before, this gets my highest recommendation.