I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2019, Brigitte Laverne
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 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.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
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
Those of you who are regulars at this particular Interweb’s establishment—and I’m assuming that’s none of you reading right now—should not be stoked to gargantuan surprise when confronted to witness the non-vulgar display of near-adoring infatuation for Inglewood, CA-native singer/songwriter Jason Aalon Butler on the part of this outlet’s editorial line. Said requited love has been widely fed and documented over the years and spread under the sun, as evidently exhibited by this, this, and this coverage piece (among other ones). Thusly, the writing was quite literally pretty much on the wall, when one of Mr Butler’s more obscure and understated musical side-projects—SoCal hardcore punk outfit Pressure Cracks—saw fit to drop their sophomore EP This Is Called Survival to little fanfare on 10th January, following up their cold-blooded and uncompromising inaugural self-titled statement from last year (don’t judge the book by its cover—there’s an Easter egg in there). A relatively newly assembled bona fide hardcore punk quintet, composed of a group of old OGs from the breeding 90s Cali scene, the band’s line-up is completed by guitarists Dan Bieranowski and Kevin Fifield, bassist Ryan Doria, and Bill Galvin on drums.
Right out of the fieriest gate, this 4-track, twelve minutes and change thunderous sonic tempest leaves no stone unturned. Not one to shy away from uncomfortable and insurrectionary socio-political sermons, Jason doesn’t waste one second and mightily doubles down on his activist line with the foreboding inaugural cut “Like Father Like None“, following in on the relentlessly sowed fruitful seeds of his socially-conscious credo in past and present projects, such as letlive., FEVER 333, as well as his community-based artists collective 333 Wreckords Crew. The EP’s opener kicks off with a meaty and manic distorted wall of sound, enveloping a handful spoken word lines menacingly outed by Jason, spanning a few harrowing metrics surrounding systemic institutionalised incarceration in the USA and its doctored inherent downward spirals as they pertain to recidivist citizens. Soon enough, this gets taken over by the catapulting of the lead singer’s vocal cords into emptying out every inch of oxygen in his chest as he slaughters the following ominous lines: “I’d rather hurt myself / I’d rather burn in hell / I’d rather bid this world farewell / Before I die up in a cell / If I’m my father’s son must I pay for what he’s done? / A statistical rerun; I knew this day would come“.
This Is Called Survival’s curtain opener carries on as unforgiving as they come for its whole running time, eloquently sound-bedding anecdotal denunciations of prison-system racism all the while an incendiary machinery of shredding brutality cradles another moment highlighting a few soundbite-d analytics reinforcing the injustices decried. It is towards the last sung stanza that Jason superbly ties it all back together, virtually stretching out thematic implications of generational carriage from pillar to post when it comes to tampering such a forlorn system, by resorting to salvation through one’s offspring. No time to recover from “Like Father Like None”‘s pitiless earth-shattering is offered to any unsuspecting listener, as the project’s lead single “Ready for You” begins to whirl-wind its brutal spine-chilling energy in spades. Re-activating some of the same self-questioning existentialism as a person of color having to funnel their life in a similar rotten and prejudiced societal texture by way of assonant merciless guitar work—assisted by stone cold drumming from Bill Galvin—the track proudly stands as this body of work’s poisonous cardinal centrepiece, best illustrated by the outro’s hauntingly chilling vocal strides, annihilating the verse “I want / All I want is you / I need / All I need is you / I got / All I got is you / I’m not / I’m not ready for you“.
Manufactured and distributed by newly minted Southern California DYI label War Against Records, this collection of ragers bites forward with the blast beats-filled punk thunderstorm of “Shhh“, a song that makes one feel like jumping head-first into a tight, rusty, and propelled meat grinder only to come out empowered and better-equipped—albeit bleeding out to death—the other way. This is perhaps best exemplified by one of the track’s pinnacle verses: “Cuz we are more than the sum of your fucking parts“. There is so much in the way of sheer sound density and texture on this thing that its come-and-go explosive sound-wave momentum has one longing for so much more every single time its two and a half-playback time suddenly wears out. Privy to the self-sustaining urge of those born and raised in disaffected and underprivileged social milieus subjugated by a survival of the fittest mentality from cradle to grave, Mr Butler is trialled by fire on the mic as he makes sure to publicise his resentment and discontent as loud and manically as he can in the face of the societal powers that be—from the police apparatus to the wider government: “After the fall is when we learned to stand up / We took our shot when the gun was jammed up / Another martyr, another me / Another problem that they covered up nice and neat“.
Before one knows it, the EP’s closer “Big T Youth” rushes through and picks up the beating to death of one’s earlobes right where the merciless “Shhh” left off. By throwing yet another cascading sonic tantrum in the shape of discordant angular gained guitars and hammering sets of percussions, this song slaps cold as hell, quite literally. Case in point, the lead singer’s eerie and threatening closing verse, heightened by a blazing shouting choir screaming out its final iterations: “Heaven is suitable / But hell on earth is beautiful“. Unsurprisingly, the solace and rejoice that comes with the acceptance of one’s place on this mean old planet—however painful and distressed it might have to be endured—triumphs by a landslide across the underground violence of all four cuts on this thing. Not one moment is wasted, nor is any superfluous, for these compositions are packed up with lyrical substance, animalistic delivery, and emotional urgency. Southern Californian meat and potatoes hardcore punk can proudly add another string to its enduring bow. This time it’s done thanks to a formation in which usual insatiable do-it-all mastermind Jason Aalon Butler relinquishes control by his own admission and allows for the quintet’s instrumental/rhythm section to architect the nuts and bolts of this sound of discontent, while he simply resorts to what he’s actually best at: fanning its flames by shrieking truths at the top of his lungs.
2020, War Against Records
A hand to touch
A fit, to mask or shake just what
It is January or not
Time splinters off in a drool well
It rains or it stops raining
A sink clogs or it stops draining
The mask falls off
A new bouquet swells
A sneeze lets loose
In the house the animals stir
The print on the couch dwells
It lets go of its color
And the light fades
What color is that?
What moment is that?
What figure is drawn?
On what eyes?
A child yawns
A seat on the bus is closed
This light, This year, This hour
It multiplies itself by the word
It goes soup on the bowl
And the bowl draws near
Its color revealed
A kind sleep
A hellish dream
On my skin that sun goes orange
And I burn myself
And my eyes cave in
This horror of time clicks my heels
It laughs that laugh of cruel poses
Our dreams are not our collective
But submission is easier
When we pretend this together
A fantasy a clock
A hand designs hour not hands
A minute exposes cracks
A time forgets us
My eyes hurt
It is too much
© This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Words by Ryan Adams.
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
I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. Hailing from the somewhat overcooked and saturated strain of post-2010 homegrown, DYI, Zoomers-appealing bedroom-extraordinaries who conquered much of Bandcamp’s real estate during this past decade, the 26-year old yours truly-namesake arguably still touts his personalised claim to fame as him being the main six-strings architect and arranger behind Frank Ocean‘s summer of 2016 legendary release combo Blonde + Endless. Reverse engineering and unpacking the latter two album’s contents over the past couple years often led me to him, in one way or another. Too bad the many tries and attempts at delving into Alex’s existing discographic repertoire to date pretty much always yielded nothing more than metaphorical cul-de-sacs, with little to nothing in the way of deeper creative connection to be established with his confused, hazy, and spotty musical work including everything up until his 2017 LP Rocket. Yet something inside me kept whispering that there was merit to be rescued somewhere in there.
The above leitmotiv fiercely and completely fell out of the window a few days ago, upon arrival of his latest Domino-issued studio album, House of Sugar. His third on the trailblazing and influential British indie label, the record is a gorgeously hallucinating compilation of layered harmonic sound waves just short of forty minutes in length. It’s by far unlike anything I have engaged with in very, very, long, and I’m not simply referring to the musical realm here. Right off the bat, and throughout its thirteen cuts, House of Sugar’s sonic mantel glues together perfectly woven instrumentations, assembling tenderly infectious motifs, licks, and riffs in both uncomfortable yet stupendously gratifying ways. From the cradle to the grave, this is a map for the lost. Almost too pristinely doctored to still be filed under Alex’s conventional lo-fi musical wheelhouse, the record’s raw and loosely defined contours are perhaps best gripped through a bird’s eye view of the whole, instead of artificial partitioning them across thirteen different chapters. Here, the artistic compromise of track-listing the project into separate songs feels more like a resentful trade necessity, rather than a creative boilerplate to interact with at the songwriting stage. The input might even be lo-fi, but the output is decisively HD.
In an era where former Presidents flex cool Spotify playlists, it should come with no surprise that this thing has no genre. Tracks like “Near“, “Project 2”, and “Sugar” are flat-out indescribable in their spatial-infrastructural depth and variegated melodic density. Yet, their inability to make heads or tails of single components acts as the creative statement’s unequivocal poignant strength, as opposed to it representing a lack of compositional clarity. Throughout House of Sugar, brace yourselves to be stoked head-first with elements ranging from mid-naughties alt-acoustic emo, to experimental lab beats and some of the most enduring Smashing Pumpkins-esque melancholic aesthetic refuges. One might as well throw in peppered nuggets of easy listening IDM, adult alternative radio rock atmospheres, unconventionally paired-up instruments, highly introspective and revealing lyrics, and suddenly one arrives at a place where they could begin to translate this record’s spirit and soul into dried words. Beware, as the act of pressing play on album opener “Walk Away” rapidly decays into a void and senseless protocol, fully overtaken by the full length’s mystical sonic might, one that centrifuges the whole 38 minutes into a unified vortex of light, beauty, and redeeming splendour. It would be easy to imagine House of Sugar as a short movie of sorts, plugging into multimedia sensory experiences exclusively by way of its sounds and aesthetics, an illusory plateau that perfectly comes to mental fruition with each repeated new listen.
I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. This album is fantastic, an interstellar journey venturing into otherworldly sound sensations, allowing one to come out of the other way with their filthy hands cleansed top to bottom. Perhaps leading us to states not too unlike the graciously cathartic ice skater’s depicted on the record’s sleeve, this collection of tracks’ dazed gripping potency places itself as an unquestionable frontrunner for modern day self-serving modularities of escapism. Let us not kid ourselves. There are no lead singles here. No official music videos. Just an enthralling and continuous stream of consciousness music tape supplying seamless stylistic mood transitions between thirteen not-so-distinct acts, all veraciously accompanying personal enlightened ascensions climbing metaphysical stairways to heaven. Come to think of it, this might just be the Bandcamp generation’s Endless.