Listened because the band name was intoxicating, though the album title’s pretty dumb. Shouty, pitchy retro New Wave Punk, with the climbing guitar solos and rudimentary harmonies and sharp-stop finishes. “Sunny Tzu” seems pure Buzzcocks. I am of a certain age (56), so this brings me back to my college radio days. I can listen to it happily and freely. It makes me smile and even pogo a bit. But no matter how close this sounds to the production styles and alcohol-induced anti-authoritarian attitudes of the early ‘80s, a certain authenticity is naturally lacking. Drakulas are not actually vampires who lived through this era. They are just tasting its blood.
The theme from the Saint TV show has been pervading the house for weeks, as I work through the new Shout Factory box set of the series. This is the most complete Saint set ever offered in the U.S., with nearly 40 episodes from the third and fourth season available here on DVD for the first time. I love the show (and the Leslie Charteris books which begat it) for its variety, adventurousness, worldliness. I also love its Edwin Astley theme music, despite the fact that the same clips are used over and over and over. There’s always the same intro music, the same “discovery” music, the same fight-scene music (Saint fight scenes are like WWE ballets by thin men in nice suits). It could get overwhelming, annoying, repetitious. But the Astley theme, which interpolates a whistling melody created by Saint creator Leslie Charteris himself back in the 1930s, never grows tired for me. It’s emphasis, it’s underscoring, it’s soothing, it’s sensational and above all it’s Saintly.
The Foresters, “Swan Jeremy.” The Foresters have a brand new album, Sun Songs, out this month, and all of it is good. But I want to concentrate on this single song, as it’s been my binge-listen for the past few days and I keep playing it over and over and over. At 3 minutes 25 seconds, “Swan Jeremy” is not long yet sounds epic—a psychedelic garage rock swirl that would not be out of place on a ‘60s Nuggets-style comp. It’s got all the ingredients of a mesmerizer by Arthur Lee’s Love or Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd: a fuzzily memorable opening riff, ethereal vocals, lyrics about longing and doubt (“Everything we know is in freefall”), languorous pauses, a winding sliding guitar solo, a general sense of darkness and meditation. “Swan Jeremy” (named after a curious cat-related Tweet by Kimya Dawson of Moldy Peaches) is technically upbeat and rocking and jangling, yet has an incredible mellowness in its make-up. It’s a remarkable number, hard to resist yet as free-floating as a dream.
Jonny Polonsky, “Lay Down Your Arms.” I remember interviewing Jonny Polonsky a couple of time when his first album came out and he toured with his mentor Frank Black. It was a memorable talk. Polonsky had led the houseband for one of the earliest non-New York productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and he had learned a lot from the ‘90s Chicago indie scene. But he was to tainted by many critics for his devotion to Frank Black. The sonic influence was all too obvious, but at the same time there were countless lame Pixies pretenders out there then and Polonsky was one of the rare good ones. Over the years, he found his own sound and matured into a mellower form of dark heavy percussion-structured rock. There’s a new album out, The Other Side of Midnight, and a new video for the leisurely yet intense single “Lay Down Your Arms” at Clash Music here.
Jacco Gardner, Hypnophobia (Polyvinyl Records). Neo-quasi-techno-psychedelia. What’s the desired pharmaceutical here—a hallucinogen or something for stamina? The lyrics, rhythmic build-up and airy guitars are all Lovely, in the Arthur Lee sense. But the digressions—movie-soundtrack-style thumps and keyboards, dance breaks, experimental interludes—can be as engrossing as the verses and choruses. When not sounding like ‘60s Sunset Strip bands, there’s a T. Rex early-glam thing going on. Wonderfully unnerving, to the point of charming.
Ancient Sky, Mosaic (Wharf Cat Records). A luscious metal album, with admirable old-school vocal-and-riff boundaries. Evokes Blue Cheer as much as Led Zep, and sits on a modern plane alongside Brian Jonestown Massacre.Putting this on Thursday morning really increased my work tempo. It’s got yowls, whistling noises, battering drum solos, but a marvelous sense of harmony, majesty and control.
Donald Cumming, “Working It Out.” So ‘70s! The new number from The Virgins’ frontman’s impending solo album kicks off like solo Bryan Ferry (how often do I get to write that?!), then heads into solo-Beatles territory, with a simple refrain and a long steady stream of guitar noodling. Disco beats, even. Plus there’s that whole “Workin’ it out” theme. So ‘70s!
Prinzhorn Dance School, Home Economics. These six deceptively laid-back dark-pop experiments are positively mesmerizing. They take their time, but don’t meander, using repetition and rhythm to slowly gather steam and get to the point. The songs are like little dancefloor dramas. The style will appeal to fans of Brit post-pop bands like Gang of Four and Shriekback, but this is a calmer, less complicated variation. Most of the tracks have one-word titles (“Reign,” “Clean,” “Haggle”) but not one-track minds. Even the dance tracks have suspense and menace in them.
One of my favorite bands of the last five years, the L.A. skatepunks-turned-alt-rockers FIDLAR, are readying a second album for release in early September and have issued a new pop-culture-happy video. “40 oz. on Repeat” repeats a familiar FIDLAR refrain about drowning one’s relationship-related sorrows in booze and/or drugs. The visual reference range from Suicidal Tendencies to Eminem and Weezer to Missy Elliott and George Michael. The song, however, stands on its own. All FIDLAR songs are anthems for addled youth. You can shout them on street corners.
I still have FIDLAR’s “No Waves”—a non-surf classic I proclaimed (in the old New Haven Advocate) to be the summer song of 2013—as a ringtone on my phone. I set it to wake me up in the mornings. FIDLAR last played New Haven when they opened up for The Pixies at the Shubert the winter before last. A second album is overdue. This helps.
Michael Gibbs & the NDR Bigband, “On the Lookout/Far Away.” Casual concept. Understated tribute. Or does it count as a tribute if the tributee plays along. The album is intriguingly titled “Michael Gibbs & the NDR Bigband Play a Bill Frisell Set List.” Gibbs has been a mentor and teacher and employer of Frisell, who was first drawn to Gibbs when he realized he’d written many songs by some of his favorite modern jazz acts. This album is billed as “Bill Frisell’s first-ever appearance as the featured soloist on a big band session,” and blends the glory of a large ensemble and written-out arrangements with the unique splendor of two talents who connect almost telepathically. Things sound improvised, except for it also sounded exquisitely planned and prepared. Also, for a big band endeavor (17 pieces or so; lots of brass) it’s amazingly mellow. It’s like prog rock without the annoyance of one vain, ambitious synthesizer geek running everything. It’s Gibbs & Frisell’s show, but they don’t forget who they’re surrounded by.