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I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
Support Puddle of Mudd:
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
It’s the feel-good heat of the summer and the laureate poet of Willow Lane has a new site, so it only felt right to come on here and blabber about a string of singles that recently saw the light of day and fiercely stand to represent lead promo anticipation for hyped up full length projects from a couple of acts on the rise (both the record label and figuratively, as in starting to climb their career ladder showing promising signs of imminent explosion and audience adoption). We thought we’d collate and scrutinise a gauntlet of songs that caught and left our attention over the past month or so, worthy of critical appraisal by way of short, straightforward, passionate, biased opinions. Sonically, it’s everything but the kitchen sink, illustrating works of art ranging from the anthemic arena rock of California alternative band Angels & Airwaves (aka AVA) all the way to the indie R&B synth-pop sensibilities of singer/songwriter Dominic Fike, as well as the quintessential electronic retro nostalgic vaporwave orchestrations of the stylistic meetings of the minds between Virginia-native George Clanton and 311’s Nick Hexum.
When Tom DeLonge is not busy figuring out astrobiology and breaking life in space via his para-governmental scientific think tank venture To The Stars… Academy, his principal day job for the last fifteen years or so—notwithstanding his erratic and dysfunctional blink-182 reunions in-between—has consisted in masterminding, fronting, and furthering the realm for multi-media douchy artistic project AVA, whose meaningful musical output in the 2010s had to be significantly kneecapped by his extracurricular commitments both inside and outside the music sphere. So much so that aside from a couple lukewarmly received EPs, dating sometime during the decade’s back-end, their sole, true, proper front-to-back album and relative promotional cycle was 2014’s The Dream Walker—one no less exclusively written by Tom with the only help of multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Ilan Rubin, sans founding member and fellow guitarist David Kennedy (who, fair enough, was probably very preoccupied running and nurturing his entrepreneurial stick via his artisan and handcrafted coffee brand in San Diego).
2019 brought along rosey eventualities for AVA fans though, as the band not only saw fit to officially reunite with Mr Kennedy, but also enlisted prominent and reputable bass guitar virtuoso Matthew Rubano (of Taking Back Sunday and All-American Rejects fame) for a host of live shows in the USA spanning the fall of that same year. On the heels of a new partnership with BMG Rights-owned underground indie imprint Rise Records, and in conjunction with the mini tour announcement which came in April 2019, Tom and co. unveiled two new crisp and synth-laden exploits, poised to tease and preview an upcoming album slated presumably for some time in the near future. First was the carefree, sticky, and electro-poppy “Rebel Girl“, followed up shortly during the summer by the washed out and tongue-in-cheek “Kiss & Tell“, two unequivocal indications of a band’s heightened flirt with catchier melodies and emotive radio-friendliness, perhaps stemming from residual occupational hazards from many of the project members’ past budding experiences in the upper echelons of the American pop-punk canon.
So next thing we know 2020 rolls along, and with it various irreversible ecological cataclysms, an unprecedented public health crisis, and existential insurrectionary racial protests plaguing virtually the whole Western hemisphere—these not just completely jeopardising the music industry’s lifeblood and sustainability, but also obviously putting gargantuan brakes on any creative process’ progression due to take place during this year’s first cursed half. Nonetheless, some time in April amidst peak pandemic mode, AVA chose to reveal a third single in anticipation to its yet-to-be-announced sixth studio LP, coming in the shape of the four minute atmospheric stadium rock number “All That’s Left Is Love“. This cut strips back the abundant tapestries of electronic layering that so pronouncedly ornamented their first two singles in this series, in favour of a rawer and more organic six-string sonic funnelling coupled with unsurprisingly outstanding drumming from Rubin, throwing listeners back to some of the collective’s earlier efforts (as heard particularly on their debut LP We Don’t Need to Whisper). However, what causes the tune to not stick its landing, leaving much to be desired, is Tom and Rubin’s uninspired songwriting here—falling flat on a strident lack of structure and spotty vocal lines. Bottom line, the tune at the core of this song needs fixing and more TLC.
Queued up next in this track roundup review bonanza is the inaugural offering from American singer and ex-rapper Dominic Fike‘s highly-anticipated upcoming debut album, which shall to this day remain untitled (although not un-tracklisted). After singlehandedly spurring a multi-million record contract bidding war amongst major industry players off the back of his grassroots SoundCloud hype and the clout surrounding his later re-released indie rock project Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, before lending his creative and vocal imprint on the BROCKHAMPTON collective, and dropping a handful standalone singles during the course of last year, the 24-year-old Floridian seems finally ready to unearth his long awaited first outing on major label Columbia Records. An initial robust hint in this direction was the release of the dead-beat and hypnotic R&B bedroom jam “Chicken Tenders” on 26th June—a teasing slice of what the full blown out project might hold attached to a hazy, hallucinating, and playful music video. Granted, this thing is far from a stunner or even a significant step up from the pre-existing sublime songwriting skills and instrumental proficiency he showcased on previous outputs, but it does hold inherent replay value and rocks an irresistibly exhilarating refrain, just mildly quenching our thirst while we await for the full album to drop: “Chicken tenders in my hotel, yeah / Christina’s in my bed watchin’ TV shows / When she hit the remote with her legs shakin’, that’s good love makin’ / Watchin’ wherever my head facin’, it’s for bugs, baby“.
Moving on from there—it’s time for vaporwave’s own self-declared David Bowie George Clanton, who turned the underground electronic music scene on its head in 2018 as he gave birth to his synthwave retro-nostalgia-soaked magnum opus Slide and legit started to turn heads in the industry, flirting with influential tastemakers, more mainstream circles, and even going as far as launching the first vaporwave-approved music festival in the world, 100% ElectroniCON. Ever the indie Internet underdog kid and founder of influential Bandcamp-generation full-service record label 100% Electronica, Clanton is also known by the monikers Mirror Kisses and ESPRIT 空想, under which he has been dishing out slightly different yet extremely adjacent stripes of cloudy electronic musings since the late Noughties. Meanwhile, late last year the Richmond, VA-native surprise-announced an exclusive creative collaboration with USA reggae-rock band 311’s singer and guitarist Nick Hexum—incidentally and by his own admission one of Clanton’s biggest musical influences. Initially, this resulted in the carelessly euphoric and angelic double single “Crash Pad / King for A Day“, featuring songwriting and production from Clanton hugging gnarly staccato deliveries by Hexum. This winning authored formula got preserved for a following streak of new singles in relatively fast succession, including the sublimely divine dream-state extravaganza of “Under Your Window“, the colder, insipid and lacklustre “Out of the Blue“, as well as a five-track EP dubbed Aurora Summer, unveiled at the end of May and bundling all previously debuted tracks plus the inclusion of the crunchy and gratifying synthetic moods of the self-titled opening piece.
Next thing we know, “Aurora Summer” the song gets downgraded to B-side on yet another two-track single from the top dawg-duo titled “Topanga State of Mind“, released at the end of June in what appears to be the last sonic teaser before a full length 100% Electronica-earmarked project drops on 24th July. This last preview offering might be the most unapologetically ‘vaporwave-y’ of them all, soaked and drenched as it is in gelid reverbed synth menageries, slickly working in joyous guitar riffs whilst comfortably nestling some of the most reductive and simplistic sets of lyrics heard on a Clanton tape to date: “Sunburn in a place I’ve never been before / When I get out here I feel like I know the score / Why’s it gotta be people can’t unwind? / You can’t move along until you’re righting the wrong / Even if you just put it in a song / Topanga state of mind“. Admittedly, once the self-titled debut comes out later this month, there won’t be much left to the listeners’ imagination, considering that a beefy six out of nine projected songs on the LP have already been unchained in some form or another over the span of the last ten months. Yet, it is always a joy and never a chore to re-delve into Clanton’s otherworldly and ontological auditory journeys—and while Hexum’s overproduced and mid-range-adoring singing is an acquired taste, arguably best left to this one-off collaborative effort, at this point the genius can’t be put back in the bottle.
ANGELS & AIRWAVES
2020, Rise Records
2020, Columbia Records
GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM
2020, 100% Electronica
EMS has partnered with the good people over at Share PRO and is now officially accepting music submissions seeking unbiased critical appraisals—send us all your joints good and bad at this page and we will get back to you with a review in 48 hours.
Fortuity, spontaneity, and intuition might not be your conventional attributes used to portray the causational origin behind a significant new supergroup, let alone in nowadays’ hypernormalized times—yet as far as recent Epitaph Records-signees Fake Names are concerned, those might just be the utmost apt ones. The American-Swedish quartet is composed of gargantuan Washington D.C. punk rock mainstays Brian Baker (of Minor Threat and Bad Religion fame) and Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), who linked up in 2016 initially simply to jam and mess around with one another, without any thought furthering anything more than that. However, after they swiftly realised that their songwriting process and output yield was appearing to be flowing way more smoothly than expected, they landed on the temptation of putting an actual outfit together. So that’s how they figured they’d call up radical Johnny Temple from Girls Against Boys and Soulside, whom they knew from elementary school, and by their own admission seamlessly fit right in with their passion for what the bassist refers to as “loud, angry, visceral music”. One practice and writing session led to another, and by the end of the year the new formed punk Mount Rushmore enlisted iconic Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén on rage-fuelled vocal duties, thanks to a serendipitous run-in at the same year’s Riot Fest edition in Chicago.
After a socially-distanced record crafting gestation lasting several years, before social-distancing became trendy and en vogue, the foursome saw fit to drop their self-titled debut LP Fake Names on 8th May—their alias doubling as a nod to both 1987 American crime comedy picture Raising Arizona and the relentless proliferation of false news items and statements, equal courtesy of both FAANG and Donald Trump. Allegedly recorded analogue and directly to tape in New York, and enjoying a little help from their friends Geoff Sanoff (A Perfect Circle, Jawbox) on production and Matt Schulz on drums and percussions performances, Fake Names is a straight-as-an-arrow, concise, and cohesive collection of ten meat-and-potatoes numbers clocking in just shy of half an hour. The album and ancillary band announcement were previewed with the insurrectionary blistering sing-along anthem “Brick“, unveiled to the whole wide world at the end of March in the heat of a full C-19 pandemic mode. The galloping and unnerved stunner barely reaches two minutes of runtime, yet manages to pack in it voracious lyrical content (“Took down the names of everyone in my little red book / Here comes revenge for everything that you ever took / Shots heard all around the world yeah you’re gonna bleed / Ever seen the face of revolution? It looks like me“), fiery distorted guitar play, and an exhilaratingly catchy refrain.
This project’s lead single acquires an even heightened sense of purpose when taken in context with the full track listing, sequenced as it is at number four between album highlight “Being Them“—a superior slice of garage rock-meets-power pop where Lyxzén proves just how he hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to penning infectious hooks since his early Refused days—and the pensive, reflective tormented croonerisms of “Darkest Days” (“Here we storm into the darkest times / Stole our souls then they drained our minds / An epidemic of stupidity / Let us here left us all to bleed“). Other distilled examples of tracks furthering the self-proclaimed and actively sought-after objective of producing and recording straight to tape, without the help of guitar pedals or any manipulated sound effects (Fake Names go as far as making sure every song on the LP is credited as having “No synthesizers”), are groovy and visceral album opener “All For Sale” as well as its correlated ostracised hymn for the disenfranchised “Heavy Feather“, belonging at number six to the crop of songs on the shorter end of the runtime spectrum.
While both Baker and Hampton provide luscious and compelling backing vocal harmonies to Lyxzén’s biting and soar laments pretty much throughout this whole thing—incidentally lending that poppier flair that so strongly trademarked their previous pivotal scene bands in spite of their abrasive hardcore wrapping—two understated standouts portraying such functional texturing are both “Driver” at number two on the tracklist and the badass “Weight“. The latter so wonderfully underlines the overbearing six-strings chemistry between the two punk legends. In fact, the undeniable magic spellbound by Baker and Hampton and their instrumental dialectic in the studio had the group very aware they were in the midst of witnessing something nothing short of historical—sitting on the decades of influential dues paid by the two guitarists in the American hardcore punk scene. So bassist Temple on this fellow bandmates’ collaboration: “It’s two lead guitar players who really know how to work together, with such an incredibly fluid meshing of their individual styles, and there’s never a moment where they’re competing over who’s playing the catchiest riff. I’ve never seen a hint of anything like that before”.
For better or worse, Fake Names’ conscious decision to refrain from any audio-enhancing techniques employment in delivering their no-frills true blue punk rock directness and pathos does show through in multiple occasions on the full length, at times rendering the overall mix a tad too thin and bare bone for its own good. This can be experienced on the nonetheless adult alternative radio-friendly penultimate cut “This Is Nothing“, doubtlessly one of the lulls on this thing alongside formulaic frenetic LP closer “Lost Cause“, showcasing some of Lyxzén’s most uninspired and underwhelming pen game in recent memory: “Some kind / Some kind of violence / Something sacred something pure / Some kind / Some kind of wonder / Everything we’ve waited for / Hold on / Gotta hold on to this lost cause“. At the same time, it’s not like this back-to-basics sonic mantra is anything new for punk rock, and while the broader heavier music canon struggles to desperately try to re-invent itself via foreign electronic sounds and aimless genre crossovers amidst a wrenching existential crisis that displaced it afar from influential mainstream conversations, to much of critics’ dismay, Fake Names rely on elevating the inherent importance of each tape-tracked instrument, demanding listeners to pay a little bit closer attention to the final master. Not a bad trick for someone conveying not-so-disguised leftist prophecies and anti-capitalist sermons set to enthralling distortion.
It’s exactly this matter-of-factly demeanour and the singular way this music carries itself throughout its 28 minutes that make Lyxzén and co stand out, not only when compared to the overboard and exaggerated fringes of alternative music acts hopelessly engaging in loudness wars today, but also when placed shoulder-to-shoulder with their insular punk rock genre contemporaries. To this end, the Swedish frontman is not shy in highlighting the complete absence of spin doctoring that has driven the band since their inception in 2016: “A lot of times with bands there’s an agenda, and people often have very different ideas on what you need to do to succeed. But with this band there’s no agenda at all: it’s a project completely driven by lust for the music, and the simple fact that we just truly love playing together”. Raging against late stage-capitalism and diminishing returns has never sounded so catchy.
It’s Easter where I am so thank God for The Strokes. Thank God for The Strokes and their inexplicable ability to turn trivial guitar riffs I could myself come up with within a few minutes of impromptu jamming into transcendental modern rock classics, assuming a whole form way, way bigger than the mere sum of its parts. After having ventured into a fiercely written iteration of my unfiltered thoughts over their comeback single “At the Door” earlier this year—nota bene in a pre-C-word world—the writing was all over Jean-Michel Basquiat’s wall as far as reprising said cliffhanger with a full-fledged critical appraisal of the New York City Cops-band’s sixth studio album The New Abnormal is concerned—nota bene prophetically titled during a pre-C-word world. You can’t imagine the dash of existential relief that rushed through yours truly’s spine when the garage rock fivesome, alongside pretty much the rest of the global live entertainment industry, decided to cancel and/or postpone everything but their Good Friday slated street date for their first album in more than half a decade (under the influence).
Issued through a joint venture between frontman’s Julian Casablancas’ very own Cult Records label and major Sony Music’s gnarly RCA imprint; fully executive produced by DAW-heavyweight and Malibu radical chic extraordinaire Rick Rubin; overkilled by saturated hype and dead-on-arrival obstructionist skepticism by those who alighted at their sophomore Room on Fire career station—this album was not meant to experience a smooth and lean landing by design. Speaking of which, one cannot but grin and rejoice over the inordinate amounts of raised eyebrows and posh hand gusting that must have occurred among high-brow fine arts cultural milieus in their ivory towers upon realisation that a mainstream popular band managed to successfully license an iconic 1981 Basquiat canvas to serve as their cheapened digital album front cover. This fact alone would warrant a full unpacking dissection of wasted gentrified atelier simpaticos from Los Angeles to Tokyo and everywhere in between, but especially Paris.
Aside from the aforementioned hallucinating epic beaut “At the Door“, the USA East Coast indie boyz saw fit to preview their ominously titled studio full length via two more standalone singles. On 18th February, one week after their lead cut was unleashed, the group unveiled the ingeniously jolly and retro gated reverb-sounding “Bad Decisions” (attached to a larger-than-life music video), a supremely tongue-in-cheek and exaggeratedly self-aware 80s festive sing-a-long borrowing a switched-on interpolation of the supremely tongue-in-cheek and exaggeratedly self-aware 80s festive sing-a-long “Dancing With Myself” by English rock n roll crooner Billy Idol, by doing so awarding the latter handy songwriting credits as well as important claims on future mechanical and performing royalties stemming from the song’s playback. From there nearly another uneventful month had to pass before The Strokes dropped a final juicy and fun album taster with the squeaky and faux-futuristic hymn “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus“, albeit it ending up being the lukewarm lull of the trio of singles, with its superfluous meta-narrative coupled with what comes off as insincere indifference working slightly in its disfavour.
Notwithstanding the regular run-of-the-mill album roll out comprised of the above promo singles, with the band likely bound to surrender to its inevitable execution upon repeated RCA and brand sponsoring nudges, Julian, Albert, Fab, Nick, and Nik chose to pull out all the stops and celebrate The New Abnormal’s landing by throwing a self-described pirate radio show on YouTube. Named 5guys talking about things they know nothing about, at the time of writing the podcast sees its peak on episode two already, as the clique hilariously and dorkily sits through their own album listening party made up of only deep cuts over Zoom conference video calling. Just what we all wanted and needed from the biggest guitar band of the millennium. Deliberate or not, the decision to skip the premiere three songs “people already know” actually bears a wealth of merits in and of itself, for as with most records, their true lasting inherent value is really only found emerging by way of those sets of songs making up the structural yet paramount underbelly of any extended work of art. You ask Basquiat.
The swaggerish and airtightly sanitised album opener “The Adults Are Talking” might go toe to toe with 2006 First Impressions of Earth’s YOLO as their strongest and most showstopping intro tune since their trailblazing debut LP, elevated as it is by some of Julian’s sharpest and most defiant sets of lyrics to date (“They will blame us, crucify and shame us / We can’t help it if we are a problem / We are tryin’ hard to get your attention / I’m climbin’ up your wall“), and complete with a refreshing recording-fading into organic live Shangri-La studio bantering, wonderfully liaising with the following smooth downtempo slice and Angles-relative “Selfless” at number two on the nine-joint tracklist. A similar “keep it rolling, all-systems-go on air” live session feel permeates both the last ten seconds of the above mentioned “Bad Decisions” as well as big anthemic curtain puller “Ode to the Mets“, where Julian’s baritone crooning straying from his vocal flow and demanding “Drums, please, Fab” at 1:40 legit sounds just like history in the making. Apropos the latter discordant and angst-filled stunner, one can’t but notice a pretty uncanny melodic reminiscence between the song’s outro vocal and guitar licks and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“—could it be that it flowing under the crediting radar might have anything to do with the share of royalties demanded by the Lennon & Ono estates?
Sequenced at number seven and eight on the tracklist respectively, both “Why Are Sundays So Depressing“—highlighted by its underwater and suffocated-gated guitar and vocal choruses interwoven by strident and scorching six-string passages throughout—and “Not The Same Anymore“—this being the best example of the band’s inexplicable ability to turn trivial guitar riffs I could myself come up with within a few minutes of impromptu jamming into transcendental modern rock classics—make for absolutely decent and regular Strokes jams, however it’s the six-minute aphrodisiac elixir “Eternal Summer” splitting the album in two that will have people talk in spades for ever. Not necessarily a standout in terms of runtime per se, considering that as much as more than half the songs on The New Abnormal pass the five-minute mark (!), this is arguably going to be the diamond in the rough that folks will look back to as distilling the unequivocal ultimate Strokes sound. Easily amongst the best tunes the group has ever written at its core, the track makes smart and creative use of a host of quintessential Strokes trademarks in order to elevate the final mix to a spine-chilling, mind-numbing washed out haze of pure spiritual alignment and bliss. This joint’s production is exactly why Rick Rubin is the highest paid producer in popular rock music.
Take the ostensibly innocuous ad-lib “This, and I never let it happen / Hey, yeah, oh / Hey, yeah, oh” grindingly cutting through the sea of layered electric guitars and synths just ten seconds into the song: it’s classic Strokes. Another case in point, consider Julian’s biting, blistering, and dreamy falsetto during the song’s verses and pre-choruses: it’s classic Strokes. Zero in on the menacing and distorted vocal shouts in its mystical refrain, “I can’t believe it / This is the eleventh hour / Psychedelic / Life is such a funny journey / Hercules, your silence is no longer needed / It’s just like make-believe“: it’s classic Strokes. Bask in the galloping and subaltern melodic hook of its subsequent post-chorus, “They got the remedy / But they won’t let it happen / Yeah, they got the remedy / But they won’t let it happen“: it’s classic Strokes. Relinquish your moral compass to the hypnotic, hammering, and distorted first half of the tune’s outro, before reaching unmediated enlightenment thanks to the solar chopped and screwed telephone fading at the tail end of six minutes that flow by in a way that’s hard to explain: it’s classic Strokes. The New Abnormal: it’s classic Strokes.
2020, RCA Records
Since every March is APIT season, I figured this is as good a time as any to shine additional ethereal light on Bob Mould. Not that the 59-year-old guitarist and singer/songwriter would ever need it, but recent haphazard revisiting of his immensely prolific catalogue—spanning two major influential rock outfits and thirteen LPs worth of solo work—made it abundantly clear and poignant that the gentleman stands as one of alternative rock’s most paramount, characteristic, and genre-defining frontmen in the last forty years. I understand how filing this piece under the Preliminary Introduction To rubric might sound like an abhorrent affront to many a punk rock brothers and sisters. I hear you all and I agree—Bob needs no delirious preliminary introduction. Yet again, it’s March after all and this the ideal excuse to indulge ourselves one more time in this amply revered author’s relatable melodic distortion of harshness…
Ask any self-respecting ex-scene kid who came up in the punk, underground, hardcore, or alternative artistic milieus in the 80s what Hüsker Dü meant to them and their peers and you’ll be graced with passionate tell-alls aplenty. The Malone, NY-native fronted punk rock outfit—completed by iconic drummer/singer Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton—almost singlehandedly steered the cultural and critique agenda of alternative music’s heavier spectrum during the better part of the legendary decade, together with a few other core projects such as The Replacements, Minutemen, and Sonic Youth. With seminal and trailblazing concept albums such as the off-the-wall Zen Arcade (1984), as well as the quick succession of near-perfect gnarly full-length catchy ankle-biters New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig (both 1985), and Candy Apple Grey (1986), the St Paul, MN-band thunderously rose to the mount Rushmore of indie underground punk within the span of twelve months (despite ending up signing with prestigious major Warner Bros for the latter record).
Their songs had the intelligent melodic tapestry of The Beatles, but were performed with the intensity, sound, and ferocity of The Ramones. The following year’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories turned out to be the trio’s final studio album and de facto fulfilment of their fat major label deal contract, with Hüsker Dü dissolving in the wake of the tour in its support, allegedly due to creative differences between Bob and Grant Hart, exacerbated by the drummer’s drug use at the time. Bob certainly didn’t rest on his laurels though, and within the span of a year from the band’s break-up saw fit to put out his first, highly-anticipated solo album in 1989, coming in the shape of the almost wholly reverb-folk acoustic affair Workbook. His return to slightly heavier soundscapes on his foreboding sophomore solo project Black Sheets of Rain provided another assertive statement of post-Hüsker intent, before foraying into bona fide early 90s alternative rock canon with his cult and critically-acclaimed band Sugar.
Sugar—sculpted by Mould alongside bassist David Barbe (ex-Mercyland) and drummer Malcolm Travis (ex-Human Sexual Response)—turned out to be a relatively short-lived stint for Bob and co, albeit one of tremendous cultural resonance at the time. The band’s calculated turn towards more melodic fringes of punk, and especially its life-defining debut LP Copper Blue (1992), went on to attract both commercial and high-brow success amidst glowing reviews, most notably snapping the number one spot in the same year’s Best Albums list by at the time reputable music publication NME. Two more hollowly stark studio projects in swift timely succession (Beaster and File Under: Easy Listening) sealed Sugar’s brief yet terrific ascension spell, toothlessly completed by a handful of compilations and live recordings thrown out over the years following the trio’s disbandment.
It’s not until 1996 that Bob decides to reprise his solo project stick—notwithstanding the erratic vanity exercise of releasing bundled halves of his first two solo records as part of a Virgin-issued compilation titled Poison Years banking on Sugar’s acclaim in 1994—as he returned to the scene with his third eponymous outing, effectively re-launching his musical trajectory as a one-man show. A number of dime a dozen and partially uninspired studio LPs followed between then and 2008’s regal District Line, a robust 10-track exercise in his unique trademark sombre and sticky punk rock authorship. Distortion-drenched, capo-steered, gain-optimised Fender Stratocaster-generated sound waves had long been his superior discerned unique selling point as a popular punk rock songwriter, but nowhere are these better distilled than in his output during the 2010s. While I don’t mean to go over his 2009 preciously delicate and fragile Life and Times too thanklessly—one that incidentally provided the contextual building blocks for his heart-on-sleeve 2011 memoir See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody—the work of art released over the past ten years might be his best.
By his own admission, the 2010s saw Bob go through a whirlwind of private and public emotions, ranging from the perishing of both his parents to the socio-cultural shock of relocating his whole entire life away from utterly hip and radical chic San Francisco to the even more utterly hip and radical chic Berlin, Germany. His first record under his new deal with imperial indie label Merge Records, the outstanding Silver Age in 2012, signalled a fortified return to raw honesty and compositional poignancy, unsurprisingly so, considering the motions the New York state native was going through at the time. Truly and honestly, pick any Bob Mould record past this point and you’ll be furnished with exceptional performances, impeccable delivery, quality ideas, and watertight no-frills punk rock truth. Guaranteed. 2014’s Beauty and Ruin might just be his best—it’s hard to describe what kind of music it conduits, collectively surrendering to the fact that one can’t quite understand what happens in those songs transporting to transcendental states—although both Patch the Sky (2016) and last year’s Sunshine Rock surely give it a run for its money.
All in all, in all his artistic forms and expressions, Bob Mould stands to represent a trustworthy, prolific, and timeless underground rock minstrel who approaches his craft with scientific-like devotion and method. It will come to no surprise to most that the infamous and sublime north star that keeps on guiding him like a lighthouse when led astray is the goal to perfect the quintessential pop song. Case in point, he always sequences his stickiest track, his calling card, the one with the most powerful hook and airplay rotation potential, at number three on his tracklists. This is true for Hüsker, Sugar, and his solo material. Go back to his discog and check that for yourselves. After all though, Bob Mould remains a relatable, fallible, pedestrian, and regular gay man. By happenstance, he somehow ended up being a very important one, too.
Below listed are Bob Mould’s selected works from 1982 to 2019:
Black Sheets of Rain (1990)
Bob Mould (sometimes referred to as Hubcap) (1996)
The Last Dog and Pony Show (1998)
Body of Songs (2005)
District Line (2008)
Life and Times (2009)
Silver Age (2012)
Beauty & Ruin (2014)
Patch the Sky (2016)
Sunshine Rock (2019)
I’m a simple man of simple pleasures like that—I see the biggest guitar band of the 2000s drop a new single slash announce a new album and I click. NYC garage rock stalwarts The Strokes just came out of the woodwork to gargantuously announce their sixth full length studio album The New Abnormal, out on RCA/Cult Records 10th April, peppering its earnest brand new lead single “At the Door” on top of it. While we’re speaking of RCA—allow me to ride off a swift digression over here, encouraging all of us to humbly collect our thoughts around what a tremendous work the Sony-owned label is currently doing when it comes to bolstering the alternative music scene within the broader mainstream pantheon. Just take a look around and think about it. For one, the American imprint can’t seem to get one project wrong—anything with their fingerprints on it spurs quality and taste from pillar to post. Plus, it ended up picking up nearly half of this site’s 2019 AOTY spots just a couple months ago, repping projects as disparate on the genre spectrum as abstract hip-hop and emo rock. Not that this alone would imply universal appeal or anything like that, but ya know—it’s ya boy’s opinion here.
Tying it back to the Julian Casablancas-fronted rock outfit—do jump onboard with me with frivolous excitement over the above mentioned announcement, esteemed readers. Let me put it this way: The New Abnormal is The Strokes’ first LP in seven years, following 2013’s sparkly, glitchy, and dense yet polarising hodgepodge Comedown Machine. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; as of right now, according to its Apple Music pre-ordering landing page, the new record sports a mere nine original cuts, with no indication of total runtime to speak of. Naturally, not all songs will clock in at over five minutes, just like the album’s brilliant lead single does, hence let’s just say we’ll have slim chances of it beefing up its playback experience to a decent industry standard of three quarters of an hour. What I’m alluding to is that we might be in for a less-is-more, slim pickings-type of affair over here, ladies and gentlemen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would die for the album to ultimately end up sporting “At the Door” as its shortest, radio-friendly edit, with every other track being longer than six minutes. However, that’s simply not going to happen.
Apropos not getting stuff wrong, The New Abnormal isn’t technically the group’s first batch of new music in seven years, as the quintet did come through with the somewhat lukewarm and gelid Future Past Present EP, back in 2016. Unfortunately though, said outing didn’t so much turn fans’ heads left and right, leaving a somber bittersweet taste in their mouth, speeding into the audience’s consciousness just as fast as it anonymously left it. Furthermore, in the band’s defence, it’s not like its members didn’t keep busy during the previous decade’s latter half. Frontman Julian architected his experimental lo-fi indie rock side project The Voidz and went on to release to major studio outings in the shape of 2014’s Tyranny and 2018’s Virtue, while rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr followed in on similar creative footsteps by reprising his mid-naughties solo act and putting out two LPs titled Momentary Masters and Francis Trouble in 2015 and 2018, respectively. Similarly, remaining band members Nick Valensi (lead guitar), Nikolai Fraiture (bass), and Fab Moretti (drums) all kept quite preoccupied throughout the same span of time, albeit as part of less flashy and flamboyant projects.
Eventually, this all led to The Strokes becoming USA Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ marquee backing band in 2020, as the God-like garage rockers found themselves doing the honours and headlining the senator’s New Hampshire concert rally on Monday 10th February. It’s during the same gala evening that the band first unveiled their highly anticipated comeback single via its laser-abundant, cosmonautically futuristic, sci-fi attached music video. The track sees the group embark on a beefy, synth-heavy syncopated motif, initially blistered by intermittent and piercingly clear cut croons by Julian, vocalising a profoundly self-suffocating yet somehow carefree existential stream-of-consciousness: “I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it out of this in time / I guess that’s just fine / I’m not there quite yet / My thoughts, such a mess / Like a little boy / What you runnin’ for?”. Erupting into a radically gratifying and gorgeous melodic release around the one-minute mark, the frontman’s vocals quickly begin to get enveloped by surgically strummed guitars as well as celestial layers of synths. A stern second verse then picks up where the first one left off, both sonically and lyrically:
Bang at the door / Anyone home? / It’s just what they do / Right in front of you / Like a cannonball / Slammin’ through your wall / In their face, I saw / What they’re fightin’ for / I can’t escape it / I’m never gonna make it to the end, I guess
Fab Moretti must’ve been left behind smoking in album producer Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La’s parking lot for most of this track’s recording sessions, as it’s not until past the second refrain that we get even the slightest hint of a drum beat. Awkwardly stumbling in around three minutes, an understated and subdued electronic kick introduces the song’s bridge, during which Julian grants himself a tad more creative freedom, ranging just lightly off the hitherto beaten path. The song’s fast-lived drumming track rapidly disappears again, as a cacophonously textured host of synthesizers steals the scene for a minute-long grim non-lyrical intermezzo, paving the way for a panning, fluctuating, sombre, and darkly bright solmizated outro. Leaving us all salivating for more.
Now, if it weren’t clear enough at this point, this is no Is This It or Room On Fire-era Strokes. Far from it. The lights are dimmed by red bulbs, the candles are flickering, and leather jackets have been swapped with space suits-like onesies and cologne-soaked shaved beards. Yet somehow, for the first time in over a decade, a similar reminiscing sense of trailblazing excitement for what blend of cultural implication a new Strokes album will carry is no longer to be denied.
2020, RCA Records
KEVIN ABSTRACT – ARIZONA BABY (RCA RECORDS)
TYLER, THE CREATOR – IGOR (COLUMBIA RECORDS)
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WESTERN STARS (COLUMBIA RECORDS)
FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – BANDANA (RCA RECORDS)
Buy it here.
BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER (RCA RECORDS)
SAM FENDER – HYPERSONIC MISSILES (POLYDOR RECORDS)
Buy it here.
(SANDY) ALEX G – HOUSE OF SUGAR (DOMINO RECORDING CO)
BLINK-182 – NINE (COLUMBIA RECORDS)
Buy it here.
THIRD EYE BLIND – SCREAMER (MEGA COLLIDER RECORDS)
JIMMY EAT WORLD – SURVIVING (RCA RECORDS)
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.
Rock and roll is dead, they say. Perished and gone past any point of salvation; de facto disappeared from the limelight. It’s undergoing a fundamental identity crisis, they allege, which started just at the turn of the the twenty-first century’s inaugural decade and slowly caused its vanishing from the charts, after nu-metal, emo, and garage indie guitar bozos kept it afloat on life support in the early noughties. Fast forward to the approaching sunset of another decade, and rock is blatantly accused of exercising virtually no more influence on popular creative culture. But then—quite ironically—a quick superficial scrutiny of today’s most successful hip-hop (read: mainstream) artists would be all it takes to denote how so-called faux cutting edge and avant-garde rappers and MCs do little more than lifting inherent and eroded rock staples. This manifests in both the artistic and fashion sense, beginning with the gentrified appropriation of industrial palm muted guitar-led walls of sound atop which they oughta spit out bars in pockets, a wide variety of emo sounds and aesthetics, as well as death metal iconography and design statements on their attires.
Then—as if by a divine intervention of sorts—Friday 18th October 2019 came along and flushed away any residual breadcrumbs of doubt as to whether rock and roll and ancillary alternative music were still to have a seat at the mainstream culture table. Most likely unbeknownst to one another, although the potential irony of this being a coordinated effort wouldn’t be lost on me (and yet this might suggest otherwise…), three monumental and highly influential bands repping the penultimate heyday wave of rock dominating charts and radio happened to release their latest studio albums on said same glorious date. Stephan Jenkins-masterminded California rock outfit Third Eye Blind, alt-emo veterans Jimmy Eat World, and Swedish iconic post-hardcore trailblazers Refused all dropped their highly-anticipated sixth, tenth, and fifth studio LP respectively on this proud mid-October Friday. This occurred much to the surprise of focus group-affine taste making gatekeepers, who thought that rock’s highest moments today ought to be confined to Guitar Hero and regional redneck fairs. One single listen to each record is enough to confirm that these three groups have never sounded tighter and more cohesive, notwithstanding that they’re all steadily embarked onto their third decade as bands.
Let us begin with Third Eye Blind (3eb), who return the favour to emo-rappers and genre appropriators by turning heads with a straight up tongue-in-cheek trap number at number ten on their new LP Screamer’s tracklist. In doing so, “2X Tigers” accomplishes what most generic trap beats can’t, in measuring out just the right amounts of rattling hi-hats, 808s, autotune, and lyrical razzmatazz. Overall, 3eb’s new joint is a generous 40-minute, 12-track outing helmed by carefully doctored synthetic atmospheres and soundscapes, employing trademark subaltern vocal deliveries by flamboyant frontman Jenkins, coupled with real pedestrian relatable storytelling. Carefree and lighthearted slow-burners such as “Ways“, sophomore single “Walk Like Kings“, and “Who Am I” stand to indicate that the record flows by sans the dirt and aggression off their early late-nineties projects, although Screamer’s stunning lead single slash title track, followed by the grassroots anthemic punk/rocker “The Kids Are Coming” prove that the San Francisco quintet hasn’t lost its bite and attack over time.
Recruiting the Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan as ‘musical consigliere‘ throughout the creative process certainly helped safeguarding a certain degree of weirdness and experimentation being factored in, too. This shows brightly on a few cuts on here, such as the EDM-infused “Tropic Scorpio“, as well as power-pop oddity “Got So High“, with the latter disclosing the inherent clue in its title right out of the gate, alas supplying cringeworthy lyrics and a pointless beat switch-turned-outro (“So I walked down on Tavern Riaz / I watched a movie starring Cameron Diaz / I got a guitar amp that’s louder than Jesus“). One might also wonder whether the self-indulgent custom Pac Man-esque listening video game launched as promo for the full length is to be traced back to a studio banter with Mr Corgan, though perhaps this stone is best kept unturned. All in all, Screamer finds 3eb delivering a powerful and assertive statement of eternal raging youth, sparkled with drops of hope, courage, and desire for bold change. Front to back, the album plays as slick and smooth as butter, and is wrapped up by one of the most earnest and delicate songs Jenkins must’ve penned in a long while (“Well they smashed us but well / We found our feet and found our voice / Now we give ’em all hell / And now they’re gone“). All killers, no fillers.
On Surviving, Jimmy Eat World on their part choose to tap into crisp, clean cut, yet larger-than-life sounds, haphazardly flirting with their 2007 Chase This Light sonic moodboard, making Surviving its spiritual successor. This comes with big choruses and thick guitars, immediately proven guilty as charged by opener combo “Surviving” and “Criminal Energy“. These are two of the punchiest, fiercest, and most unhinged songs to come out of their repertoire in more than ten years. However, the Arizonans make sure to reassure us they haven’t lost their knack for distilled melancholic melodies on follow up track “Delivery“, a stomping and tremolo-ed heart-on-sleeve emotional journey doubling as the natural—slightly more seasoned—hybrid between “Always Be” and “Firefight” off their aforementioned superior 2007 milestone. Elsewhere, Jim Adkins and co. kill two birds with one stone when they repurpose and remaster last year’s excellent standalone power chords-bonanza single “Love Never“, lending the hammering late capitalism anti-hero anthem a needed production re-tooling that helps better singling out the song’s urgency: “It’s gonna seem so far / It’s gonna feel so hard / Until you want the work more than the reward / Do you want the work more than the reward?”.
Together with “Surviving”, “Criminal Energy”, and “Love Never”, cuts like “One Mil“, “Diamond“, and epic 6-minute closer “Congratulations” reinforce the inherent heaviness of this project, without much concerns related to overdoing palm muting and/or distortion. Ever the subtle and refined writer, on this album Adkins also manages to sculpt one of Jimmy Eat World’s most singular and counter-intuitive works with the airy and celestial 80s drum machine galore “555“, a superlatively cathartic moment moonlighting as second single in promotion to the record. Speaking of singles, Surviving’s chosen flagship one (“All The Way“) is unfortunately the dullest and flattest chapter on here, coming across too sterilised and formulaic for anyone even remotely familiar with the Mesa, AZ band’s past output. That said, this new half hour and change procured to us by the alternative rockers sweeps by like a spinning rush of watertight loud rock, topping Jimmy Eat World’s more recent efforts (2016’s Integrity Blues and 2013’s Damage) on both the songwriting and sonic delivery front.
Hailing from the apparent idyllic paradise of Sweden and responsible for one of the mightiest watershed moments in the experimental post-hardcore scene, Refused are no strangers to leaving evident battered marks in the ground they cover. Tallying up just their fifth studio album to date in nearly thirty years as a band, the modern punk stalwarts have had to put up with a ‘too big to fail’ legacy that might or might have not prompted their 2014 reunion—after abruptly calling it quits in 1998 at their highest career peak. With their newest studio full length War Music, which follows up on their softer and dividing fourth LP Freedom in 2015, the Swedish woke and socially-conscious quartet choose to revert back to flat out in-your-face meat and potatoes mannerisms. Cases in point, the skin-crawling, spine-bending incendiary lead single “Blood Red“—a manifesto to holding up to one’s ethics and ideals from cradle to grave—and the violent bona fide hardcore throwback “Turn The Cross“. Perhaps unsurprisingly in this saturated and overproduced musical zeitgeist filled with loudness wars, the Dennis Lyxzén-fronted project generally opts for peeling back a few layers and marry stripped back, extremely raw and rebellious sonic contours, albeit not always so spotlessly.
Soul-punk and groove-distributor “REV001” works flawlessly as sonic baptism to the whole shebang, even though its efficacy can’t be reprised as seamlessly by its follow up on the tracklist (“Violent Reaction“), the latter resounding too tired and thin-stretched. Meanwhile, the album’s inflammatory closing set of overtly alienated socio-political statements (“Death In Vännäs“, “The Infamous Left“, and “Economy of Death“) vehemently address neo-liberal gimmicks, diminishing returns, thought leadership apathy and jadedness. Stuffed in the middle of this 10-track dissenting capitalist opera is a host of straightforward and true blue Refused playbook material (“I Wanna Watch The World Burn“), math rock riffing aggression galore (“Damaged III“), and exquisite foreboding marching potency (“Malfire“), with the latter track culminating in a witty and excruciatingly harrowing take on contemporary population management issues: “They came in boats, they came on land / Alone and scared with empty hands / The founding thought, come if you can / Your tired, poor, your huddled mass / In grand old eyes, a life reviled / Becomes a threat, a parasite“. Another solid, trustworthy, and long-overdue check-in from a band that has and will continue to make important waves in the current unenlightened climate.
This should suffice, though if the above supporting evidence isn’t enough, be my guest and throw in the following exhibits to counterclaim the assertion that alternative rock is no longer alive and well. These were all released within the last few months: Sam Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles, Puddle of Mudd‘s Welcome to Galvania, and blink-182‘s NINE. We love rock and roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby…
THIRD EYE BLIND
2019, Mega Collider Records
JIMMY EAT WORLD
2019, Exotic Location Recordings/RCA Records
2019, Spinefarm Records/Universal Music