Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper RIP

As reported here, as well as about a million other places, on Oct. 30th of last year, Dennis Hopper was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Well, he didn't make it. He died this morning of the disease.

I loved and love Hoppers's "New Hollywood" counter culture movies of the late 60's and early 70's and have rarely seen him be anything short of brilliant in any role he played. He and I diverged politically in a pretty serious way when he went Republican, but when he publicly renounced Sarah Palin I think he regained quite a bit of cred with unrepentant radical left wingers like myself.

Regardless, farewell to one of the greatest actors of his generation.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Service Industry - Calm Down (Sauspop 2010)

For their fourth release, Austin's The Service Industry leave behind the simmering rage of the overlooked and underappreciated and move in a more personal direction. The band's success in achieving this so gracefully should dispel any misperceptions that this is a gimmick band. The Service Industry deliver 12 nearly flawless pop cuts that range from the jangly to garagey, low key to the energetic.

Opener "Heart Repair" is a chunky piece of melancholia that expands into a soaring melodic chorus and kicks the feel of the record off in the right direction. Remaining true to the record's vibe but exemplifying its range of styles and influences, Julie Lowery takes lead vocal from Mike McCoy on the Reivers meets The B-52s college rock of "Honey and Hair Sprayed Hair". There's so much going on here stylistically that it took real artistry to avoid disjointedness and have everything fall together so well.

Complaints? Minor to insignificant. For example, "This Town Makes My Skin Crawl" draws out a little bit too long. But it's still a damn good song.

As prolific as these folks are (what is this? The fourth release in two years?) it won't be too long before we see which way The Service Industry jumps next. So far it continues to be up.

3.75 out of 4 heart repairs

Malcolm McLaren RIP

Situationist. Manager of The New York Dolls. Manager of The Sex Pistols. Manager of Bow Wow Wow (no, really). Father of Punk Fashion (that really should go to wife Vivienne Westwood, but McLaren never declined taking credit). Solo recording artist. Depending on who you're talking to - one of the greatest marketing geniuses of the late 20th century or one of the biggest shysters. Or both. Whatever, the motherfucker sure left a mighty gash in the side of pop culture using pop culture as the knife. Wasn't that what The Situationists were all about?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club / Band of Skulls - House of Blues - Houston, TX 3/20/2010

There's something about watching British white guys peel off American blues guitar licks that just bugs the shit out of me. No matter how many effects pedals the instrument is run through. Which is pretty much all Band of Skulls is. A guy wanking on guitar interspersed with repetitive, practically chanted lyrical refrains. There were a couple of songs that sounded like they might have had actual verses, but they were in short supply. The bassist was pretty easy on the eyes, and I found it endearing that she had to look at the neck of her bass to play the structures, but beyond that they didn't have much going on. Not unlistenable, just ultimately boring.

BRMC, on the other hand, left almost nothing to be desired. They could have easily held down the night with their repertoire of window rattling, reverb heavy guitar gut punches, but chose instead to mix things up, alternating those energetic post-punk pounders with mellower, quieter fare featuring acoustic guitar, keyboard, and, on one occasion, piano, largely drawn from their Howl era. Primarily, though, they stuck with their LOUD post-punk pop mixing in elements of blues, americana and pschedelia to go with the driving bass, pounding drums and overdriven guitar.

Bassist Robert Levon Been and guitarist Peter Hayes traded and overlapped vocals, with Hayes maintaining a laid back, in control stage presence while Been struck rock star poses and strutted the stage in full on performance mode. Stealing the show, though, was new drummer Leah Shapiro, who beat on her drum kit like she had caught it fucking her siggo. I've rarely seen a drummer hit that hard and use the drums that stylistically while still being completely dialed in to what the band was accomplishing as a unit.

Accompanying the dizzying array of musical styles and energy fluctuations was a stage show consisting of flashing strobes and rotating mini-flood lights backlighting the band and, thus, illuminating the audience. I would estimate fairly half the show the lighting wasn't even focused on the band. In the context of the musical environment they were creating, it was simply amazing. It also served to dissolve the barrier between band and audience, giving you the sensation that you were as much a part of making this thing worthwhile and, indeed, spectacularly successful.

I didn't have any doubts about this show being good. I didn't expect it to kick my ass half way to Heaven. I've said it so often it's become an annoying mantra - this is the best band in America. March 20th at the Houston House of Blues did nothing if not cement that opinion in my mind for some time to come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

Rock luminary and one of the inspirations for every cool band you know of Alex Chilton died of a heart attack today at the age of 59. He was a complete dick to the audience when I saw him in 1994, but I hear he's been a lot more accommodating with the Big Star reunions, unfortunately none of which I got to see.

Anyway, if you know his name you probably know at least as much as I do. The guy was a brilliant songwriter when he wanted to be and a legend in his own time. Goddamn shame to see him go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat The Devil's Tattoo (Vagrant Records 2010)

Man, this thing comes rolling over you like a band of Sioux warriors from the get go. The title track and follow up "Conscience Killer" just knock you off your feet. Track 3, "Bad Blood", (my personal favorite) lets up a little with some rock driven psychedelia followed by a slinky, bluesy, fuzzed out "War Machine". After that is a blend of reverb drenched acoustic tracks, blasting rock 'n' roll with swirling psychedelic dynamics, and ear-drum pounding blues rock as unstoppable as a Sherman Tank. You're finally set free with a mellow, psychedelic "Half State" to slow your heart back down to a steady, healthy pulse.

I don't think it's any secret that I think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is the best band in America and, man, this record did nothing to disavow me of that notion. Most impressive is the fact they've successfully integrated all the aspects of their song styling on one record. You've got the blues driven rock of their eponymous debut and Take Them On, On Your Own, the mellower, more acoustic sounds of Howl, and the reverb drenched pulverizing post punk rock with its psychedelic turns of Baby 81 woven in and out of one another.

Beat The Devil's Tattoo is the most satisfying listen I've had in a long time. I had some concerns that there was no way they could top Baby 81 but, brothers and sisters, I was dead wrong. These guys just keep getting better. Long may they reign.

5 out of 4 Devil's Tattoos

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Giant Drag - Swan Song (Roar Scratch 2010)

The brainchild of singer/guitarist/songwriter Annie Hardy and drummer/synth bassist Micah Calabrese, Giant Drag made a minor splash on the indie scene back in 2006 with Hearts and Unicorns (Interscope 2006) based primarily on their, granted, stupendous cover of Chris Isaac's "Wicked Game". That the single from the record, "This Isn't It", was pretty damn catchy and ingeniously clever lyrically didn't hurt it's standing as a fine little record.

What did was the endless, and to my mind fair, comparisons to Last Splash era Breeders, something which apparently threw Annie Hardy into Courtney Love-esque spasms of rage. Unfortunately, The Breeders comparisons weren't to stop with the music. Dropped from Interscope, conflicting rumors began floating around about Annie going solo, a new record in the works being held up by drug abuse, Micah Calabrese fired for drug abuse, Micah Calabrese fired and in rehab, Annie Hardy putting together a full band, etc. The fact that no product was forthcoming, not even a single, for four years seemed to indicate that this band was done.

Well, it's 2010 and we have a new four song EP from Giant Drag. For those counting, that's a song a year. Band personnel: Annie Hardy and Micah Calabrese. Is it any good? Yeah, it's a nice listen. There's nothing here as strong as "This Isn't It" (or, for that matter, "Wicked Game"), but the songs are solid. Any of the first three could have easily fit on Hearts and Unicorns without seeming out of place. Hell, maybe they're out takes.

Personally, I'm glad to see Giant Drag is still around. Breeders sounding or not, I like 'em. And frankly, Annie Hardy has more balls, so to speak, than Kim Deal has for a long time. Yes, I know - I'm going to Indie Rock Hell for saying that.

For all the noise this band can make, especially considering there's only two of them, the strongest track here is the final one, "Heart Carl", a melancholy love song featuring only acoustic guitar, Annie Hardy's amazing voice, and a nice, very recognizably themed lyric.

I'm not sure if the EP title Swan Song means what it implies, but the rumor mill has it that Annie and Micah are busy banging out another full length as I write this.

Go pick it up. It's cheap, it's a good listen, and I'd like Giant Drag to think enough people care to make it worth sticking around.

2 Hearts and 1 Unicorn for this one