In this edition: Punch Brothers, Black Country Communion, Pop. 1280, The Men, Terry Malts and John Wesley Coleman.
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Punch Brothers: Who’s Feeling Young Now? (Nonesuch)
Simply put, no one else sounds like the Punch Brothers. Yes, the instrumentation and sky high technical ability suggest kinship with bluegrass and classical music, but in spirit and stylistic swerve they belong to no genre – a band custom made for iTunes’ wonderful “uncategorizable” designation. In many ways, this third album (released February 14) confirms the suspicion that the Brothers may actually be a newfangled pop band, though one that draws as heavily from George Gershwin, Tin Pan Alley, Hoagy Carmichael and ol’ fiddle tunes as they do The Beatles. Even Radiohead crops up this time on a strange, sublime cover of Kid A, and there’s a hard reggae chop to the title tune that’s a nifty new wrinkle. The combination of Chris Thile (mandolin, lead vocals), Paul Kowert (bass, vocals), Chris Eldridge (guitar, vocals), Noam Pikelny (banjo, vocals) and Gabe Witcher (fiddle, vocals) is a deliriously ear-prickin’ blend. At all moments there’s numerous elements one might hang their attentions on, yet it’s never a mess, more a lively conversation where one focuses on different threads within a fabulously interwoven whole. Women have always figured prominently in the Punch Brothers’ thematic repertoire but this time they’re asking God to nudge them into their arms and entreating certain gals to not get married without them. However, there are plenty of thorns to go with all the roses, a wicked sense of humor and dark-eyed honesty fluttering around this song cycle reminiscent of Thile’s under-appreciated 2004 solo album Deceiver. Vocally, the Brothers have never been more adventurous, a playful energy infusing things which combines well with their increasingly together harmonies and layering. The music here answers the album’s title question with a rules breaking daring-do and ridiculous openness that could only spring from the young. No establishment, genre-clinging musicians could have come up with this dazzling crazy quilt. (Dennis Cook)
Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Black Country Communion: Live Over Europe (J&R Adventures)
Black Country Communion is a crushingly good rock band in the classic mold. Oh, don’t take my word for it, just put on this double disc live set (released February 28) and prepare to be boiled like the proverbial frog in a pot of water. This is giant size, vast vista, storming Valhalla stuff, and even the more intimate bits have the kind of gravitas Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple conjured in their heyday. Fitting since two BCC members have footholds in those worlds, namely drummer Jason Bonham, son of Zep’s Bonzo, and singer-bassist Glenn Hughes, who was a member of Mark 3 Purple. Joined by a contender for blues-rock guitarist of his generation, Joe Bonamassa, and color splattering keyboardist Derek Sherinian, an electric fusion mainstay and ex-Dream Theater member, BCC, as evidenced by this collection, writes large and loud, a powerful, manly music that dips into ancient history AND the depths of human pain and desire. Throughout these cherry picked performances from last year’s debut European tour – this is a “live” album in the vein of Frampton Comes Alive – reveal a band of unshakeable confidence and all the skill in the world to back it up. Both Hughes and Bonamassa sing like men possessed, and one comes away with new respect for Bonham’s stick skills and Sherinian’s voluminous range and knack for cinematic tweaking. While Disc One is filled with keepers, particularly their theme tune Black Country, The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall and Save Me, BCC really shows off on Disc Two, which is filled with epics, especially the modernized blues of The Ballad of John Henry and heart-wrenching Cold. A closing dash at Purple’s Burn is a nice capper, but mainly it all just makes this American really, really anxious for a proper U.S. tour and the third studio album the band is set to release before year’s end – a corresponding Live Over Europe DVD adds further flesh to the bone and further stokes the desire for said tour. Props to producer Kevin Shirley for putting these cats in the same room together, and for capturing their mojo with such depth and clarity. (DC)
It’s to be hoped that the current and forthcoming reissue campaigns of such amazing underground bands from the 80s and 90s as Bitch Magnet, feedtime, Lungfish, Moss Icon and the Supreme Dicks leaves the impression on the modern generation of music listeners of a time when indie rock had some seriously razor sharp teeth in its early walking years. And it still does have that same bite in some corners, much of it coming from Brooklyn’s Sacred Bones Records, whose proprietor Caleb Braaten certainly has a keen ear for the mean with the acts he signs to his label. Recorded in a Brooklyn basement, The Horror (released January 24) from New York’s Pop. 1280 is a debut album that would have fit just as comfortably on the racks of the recently displaced Bleecker Bob’s back in 1987 as it would today if they weren’t kicked out of their space to make way for another fucking Starbucks. But I digress, The songwriting team of Chris Bug and Evan Lip, with drummer Zach Ziemann (ex-Twin Stumps) and bassist Pascal Ludet keeping a super heavy backbeat behind them, echoes back to the heyday of Cop Shoot Cop, Big Black and The Cows, providing enough sonic force for the Lip/Bug songs seemingly about a dystopian future of Kubrick-like scales to command one’s complete attention.
Also just out on the Bones label is the second LP from Brooklyn’s The Men. Open Your Heart (released March 6) sees them expanding upon the stomp of their base Am-Rep inspired noise-punk veneer by incorporating pieces of some of their deeper kicks as avid record collectors, including Mekons-esque fractured country, surf guitar, and Warehouse-era Hüsker Dü, giving them a more concise and melodic feel without losing an ounce of muscle.
If you were the kind of kid growing up with the SST catalog coming to your door, there aren’t two better groups actively contributing to the legacy of brutality of indie rock’s mean season than Pop. 1280 and The Men. (Ron Hart)
Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Terry Malts: Killing Time (Slumberland)
As members of San Francisco’s Magic Bullets, frontman Philip Benson and guitarist/songwriter Corey Cunningham gravitate towards the more romantic end of the punk spectrum by allowing the influences of Orange Juice and Morrissey’s more aggressive solo material to shine through on a dominant level. With their new side band Terry Malts, however, their aim is to emulate the ferocity of four-on-the-floor aggression that used to bellow into the street from their city’s famed old haunt Mabuhay Gardens. Alongside drummer Nathan Sweatt, the trio brings Slumberland’s trademark wall of C86 inspired feedback into the bowels of the kind of fatback ferocity The Ramones were mining with Too Tough To Die. More Black Flag than Black Tambourine, Terry Malts weaves pure Tumblr-era teen angst with songs like I’m Neurotic and Mall Dreams, taking the piss out of punk’s earnestness with a little camp that has been part of the essence of that art form since its inception. Killing Time (released February 21) shows a different side of Benson and Cunningham that suits them just as handsomely as the melodic garage pop of their primary outfit. (RH)
Ron’s Bonus Review:
John Wesley Coleman: The Last Donkey Show (Goner)
Sired by a lineage of Texas weirdos from Roky Erickson to Gibby Haynes, painter/author/poet/comedian/filmmaker John Wesley Coleman III delivers his definitive artistic statement as a musician on his excellent third solo LP (released February 21). Recorded at a friend’s cabin deep in the Lone Star State wilderness and in Oakland, California at Creamery Studio with producer and neo-psych wunderkind Greg Ashley (The Gris Gris), The Last Donkey Show finds the former Golden Boy from Austin prominently showcasing the R&B and country undertones that exists within his quirky brand of lo-fi garage punk. It’s a sound that suggests Hallowed Ground-era Violent Femmes if they were more influenced by the Sir Douglas Quintet than the Modern Lovers, solidifying the promise of Coleman’s earlier studio efforts in a way that any fan of the Goner label will undoubtedly appreciate. (RH)