ALBUM REVIEW: THE LIVING “The Living”

THE LIVING

THE LIVING album cover

Hailing from San Francisco, The Living mesh styles as diverse as Metal, Shoe Gaze and Pop into an emotional witches brew that they make all their own. Made up of long time friends Derek Barnes (vocals/guitar), Julian Balestrieri (guitar), Jeremy Shepherd (bass) and Jason Zaru (drums) their sound is raw, emotional and heartfelt. Their self-released self-titled debut is available now.

The Living is the kind of band where guitar solos count for a lot, maybe even everything. They spin them and stretch them and shift them into the fabric of their music, propelling the songs to dizzying heights.

And we’re talking your better class of guitar solo here, the kind where the number of notes played is less but every note counts for more, and that are so melodic that they stick in your ears like caramel on a taffy apple.

THE LIVING

THE LIVING; press photo

The track “Deceiver” is a great example of how The Living like to work at song structure. Things start at a slow burn with a simple guitar riff and build slowly by adding shades, textures and dynamics until they reach a full boil, which is (you guessed it) a pretty spectacular guitar workout.

Album closer “Headless Pillow” is a real highlight and again works the quiet/loud/quiet songwriting dynamic perfectly with vocalist Barnes singing the opening verses in a whisper before the band kicks in and the guitars start wailing. The last five minutes of this seven minute epic is a breathtaking rush of guitar virtuosity, as melody after melody effortlessly spin off the fret board and the song rushes headlong towards the finish line. But not before the band masterfully drop the bottom out of the song like a perfectly thrown curveball in game seven of the World Series – and it ends in a whisper. Beautifully done.

The Living may just be a perfect fit for fans of groups like My Sleeping Karma or Mogwai, two mostly instrumental bands whose sound The Living build on by adding vocals into the mix. And judging from the sound of their album, which is well produced but also very live sounding, I’m betting these guys put on one hell of a gig. Smart money is on catching them live when they come to your town to play.

ALBUM REVIEW: L.A. WITCH “L.A. Witch”

L.A. WITCH

L.A. WITCH “L.A. Witch” CD cover

In order to really make a band like L.A. Witch work on record, the sound captured on tape has to also capture the essence of the dirty city rock-n-roll vibe. You know what I’m talking about, a sleazy club with graffiti on the walls, spilled booze on the sticky floor and the sound of echoing guitars bouncing around the room. Well L.A. Witch goes one better because they give you all that and more on their fantastic new self-titled album.

Not only do you get the kick of rock-n-roll dreams captured in the grooves, but they even capture the aftermath, coming down hard, and driving home from the show at 4am. The white lines of an L.A. freeway blurring in a pair of bloodshot eyes.

The three women of L.A. Witch, Sade Sanchez (vocals / guitar) Irita Pai (bass) and Ellie English (drums) conjure up an enchanting mixture that brings to mind a brooding mix of early Gun Club and the dark side of psychedelia ala Arthur Lee’s Love. Run all this through a wash of Phil Spector wall of sound reverb, and you get a sound equal parts sunshine pop, dreamy and drugged out scary.

And to prove straight off the bat that this ain’t the summer of love we’re listening to here, the gals start things off with a (ta-dah) MURDER BALLAD!

“Kill My Baby Tonight” opens with a pulsating bass line, pounding drums and a slinky, slithering guitar line over which floats Sanchez’s aloof, almost detached lyrics and vocal style: “I’m gonna hurt my baby tonight / If he don’t come home on time / I’m gonna kill my baby tonight / This way he’ll forever be mine”

Fair warning issued – This is a woman you do not want to get on the wrong side of.

“You Love Nothing” opens with a guitar tremolo effect spinning off into space and set to stun, a truly massive, thundering bassline and a snare drum hit so hard it rattles your teeth. Sanchez snarls out the lyrics with enough venom to take out an entire congregation at a tent revival: “You Love Nothing / You Want Nothing / Why Do I want You? / Why do I need you?”

Now you might be getting the (wrong) impression that this record is a bit of a downer, and I really want to emphasize that it is anything but that. Actually, it’s a lot of fun to listen to. The songs are performed well and with great feel. And when these women play together they generate enough cool out of their instruments to keep a six pack of beer ice cold for a week.

The songs have been recorded exactly as you want a band like L.A. Witch captured in the studio, with sufficient polish to get them on the radio but enough of the raw edges left on to still make them sound dangerous and exciting.

L.A. Witch is the perfect anecdote for the cotton candy clogging your veins after a summer of bad blockbuster movies and too many days at the beach. Put this one on and it’s instantly the witching hour even if you play it at noon on yet another sunny day in Los Angeles. I promise that it will take you straight to the underbelly of whatever city you live in. And that’s really where you want to be, isn’t it?

ALBUM REVIEW: New Mystics “The Modern Age Is Over”

NEW MYSTICS

NEW MYSTICS (Josh Onstott); press photo

New Mystics is a new project from Josh Onstott of the art rock trio Other Lives, and like his other band, the music on this first solo outing The Modern Age Is Over features beautifully crafted and layered songwriting.

Onstott crafted the record with his friend producer/engineer Hugo Nicolson (Radiohead, Primal Scream, Father John Misty) and the care and love the two friends brought to these songs and this project is easily heard coming out of your stereo speakers. In a word the song arrangements and production are stunning. Listen to this one on headphones friends.

Album opener “Smile With Your Teeth” fades in on a wave of grinding white noise and a propulsive drum groove before a killer guitar riff kicks the whole thing into overdrive. Washes of feedback and a snaking guitar hook, all placed perfectly in the mix carry the verses aloft on a psychedelic sound wave until the the chorus drives it all home with a honking guitar hook that Marc Bolan & T-Rex would be proud of. This one has “modern rock hit” written all over it. And well it should, it’s a great song impeccably played and arranged to its full potential.

Title track “Modern” slows things down and opens up the space between the notes letting Onstott’s Oklahoma high, lonesome voice soar above the mix. When the chorus comes around it does it with a powerful subtly that loses nothing for its show of restraint. And damn if you don’t find yourself singing along like this song is your new best friend!

What Onstott and Nicolson have managed to achieve with New Mystics is the very difficult trick of recording 10 art rock gems and disguising them as pop songs. Repeated listening only magnifies the originality of the songs and their production. And unlike most pop that can grow tiresome, repeated listening profits the listener with appreciation and delight. This record has legs, spend some quality time with these songs and they will reward you.

The Modern Age Is Over by New Mystics is available via TH3RD BRAIN Records Aug. 18, 2017.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Midnight Ghost Train “Cypress Ave.”

The Midnight Ghost Train "Cypress Ave." album cover

The Midnight Ghost Train “Cypress Ave.” album cover

It’s common knowledge that the whole world over, all the best rock n roll clubs smell like sweat, stale beer & spilled tequila and most importantly excitement. Well the best records try to capture and bottle this “perfume” and The Midnight Ghost Train have managed to achieve this elusive feat on their new album Cypress Ave. released by Napalm Records.

Although impeccably produced the record still manages to capture the excitement of the bands legendary live concert experience. Opening track “Tonight” begins serenely with some tasty arpeggiated guitar. A driving backbeat kicks in and lead singer/guitarist Steve Moss’ gruff vocal takes front and center as he in turns sounds pleading and then almost sinister. Often times all within the same sentence.

The Midnight Ghost Train; press photo

The Midnight Ghost Train; press photo

“We’re treading thin ice here/In a suspicious world/I just can’t blame all this on you/Hands in circles when we pray/And I don’t like you anyway/Tonight Tonight Tonight Tonight/Gonna leave myself again for you”

Is this for a lover he can’t possess but returns to again and yet again? Or is it some other addiction that is claiming him? It doesn’t really matter because the song drips passion and raw emotion, and passion and raw emotion are something The Midnight Ghost Train has in spades. These guys are not afraid to lay it on the line, heart on their sleeve and maybe spill a little blood if need be, all in service to making a great record.

The Midnight Ghost Train; press photo

The Midnight Ghost Train; press photo

The Midnight Ghost Train excel at writing songs for those on the fringes of society, for those blissfully unaware that they are lost and for those who know they are lost and have embraced it and wear it like a badge. One such tale is “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” that spins the tale of one of these characters in the Midnight Ghost Train universe of outsiders.

“You’re sellin your body because you wanna be naughty/And you just don’t give a damn/You freeze up your soul/With all the blow up your nose/They coulda served you on ice/You swallow your pride/When you crawl up inside/Another stranger’s bed/But the touch of your skin/Explains the hole that you’re in/Alluring scent on your back/And are you satisfied/Cause they pay to see you cry/And the pulsing of your scream/Red Eyed Junkie Queen”

The Midnight Ghost Train; press photo

The Midnight Ghost Train; press photo

This is some heavy stuff, right? But please don’t get me wrong, this song is not a downer nor is this album, not at all. It rocks, and it rocks hard! And very much like Lou Reed was able to tell tales of the misfits that society has castoff and to give them a certain nobility, so is Steve Moss able to do that here with his tales from the dark side of the street. He’s not above them he’s down in the shit with them. This is a guy who’s gotten his hands dirty and it shows in the honesty of his lyrics.

The Midnight Ghost Train is pulling out of the station, a black cloud and fire pouring from the smokestack. Buy your ticket and get on board. It’s a scary ride because it’s an honest ride and one well worth taking.

ALBUM REVIEW: Jyki 69 “Helsinki Vampire”

ALBUM REVIEW: Jyki69 “Helsinki Vampire”

Jyrki 69 “Helsinki Vampire” cd cover

Jyrki 69, lead vocalist for Finnish Goth rockers The 69 Eyes, releases his first solo album via Cleopatra Records Helsinki Vampire, a dark and moody piece of work as its title would suggest.

The 69 Eyes have always had a way of weaving catchy hooks into their gothic tapestry and Jyrki 69 doesn’t stray far from their tried and true formula of tarting up a good song with heavy guitars, spooky lyrics and drums with enough reverb on them to sound as if they were recorded in Valhalla itself. On top of this witches brew of song craft sits Jyrki’s smooth as silk baritone, lending the proceedings an air of portent and mystery, perfectly suited for these dark little gothic gems.

jyrki69

Jyrki 69

Although I’m sure these songs sound just fine in the daylight one can’t help but feel these shiny black pearls were created for listening to after the sun sets and well into the witching hour.

For fans of The Sisters of Mercy, Danzig and for all of us whose favorite color is black, this one is highly recommended.

ALBUM REVIEW: Michael Monroe “The Best”

MICHAEL MONROE "The Best" album cover

MICHAEL MONROE “The Best” album cover

On his latest release The Best (available Jul 7 on Spinefarm Records) Michael Monroe sings, sneers and struts his way through the 29 songs on this excellent double disc collection of his solo output.

Monroe is one of the true believers. One of those artists that worship at the altar of The Stones, The Dolls and The Dead Boys. That guy that always wears black Ray-Bans, a leather biker jacket, and is always the sharpest dressed guy in the room. A troubadour misfit who’s on a mission to help us remember how good rock-n-roll can sound when it’s played with heart and above all with style.

Monroe was lead vocalist with star crossed rockers Hanoi Rocks a band that burned out before they gained much traction (at least here in the USA). But since then Mike Monroe has been putting out album after album of near perfect glam rock ear candy, the best of which has been collected on these two discs.

Opening track “Dead, Jail Or Rock n’ Roll” sets the thematic tone for 30 years of dirty sleazy rock played just the right way. By the right way I mean grinding guitars, catchy hooks and a fuck you attitude…all set to a beat you can dance to.

Michael Monroe

Michael Monroe

Listening to this collection as a whole what really stands out is the high quality of material Monroe has been able to maintain over ten albums and three decades. Honestly, it’s a wonder he hasn’t achieved a higher profile in the States; maybe that’s a good thing.

This music sounds like it was created by an artist who’s still hungry and that gives the music from the first track recorded 30 years ago to the very latest tracks recoded exclusively for this collection an urgency and electricity that many lesser talents lose after so many years in the game. Like I said Monroe is a true believer and his mantra is three chords and a dream.

This is a great Friday night record. Have a few friends over. Have a few shots of tequila (ok have many shots of tequila). It’s going to be a long night of partying and you’ve got 30 years of great rock n’ roll for your soundtrack, what are you waiting for?

ALBUM REVIEW: Nitrogods “Roadkill BBQ”

NITROGODS "Roadkill BBQ" album cover

NITROGODS “Roadkill BBQ” album cover

Nitrogods come roaring out of Germany like the bastard sons of Motorhead, picking up the torch from a fallen Lemmy and running with it to a Valhalla where everything is louder than everything else and bands don’t play any slow songs.

Album opener “Rancid Rock” sets the tone with heavy riffs, jackhammer drumming, guitar solos that shred through Marshall amps cranked to 11 and vocals of the two packs of Marlboro’s and a fifth of Jack Daniels variety. In other words this is the stuff rock-n-roll dreams are made of.

Oh and these guys are plenty funny too! The raucous track “My Loves A Wire Brush” features some blistering slide guitar work and a repeated chant of “Feel my wire brush/my loves a wire brush” which leads one to believe that maybe a little manscaping might not be amiss for this crew? Ouch! Groupies you have been warned!

As you may have guessed, subtlety and nuance are not Nitrogods strong suit but loud, fast, aggressive rock-n-roll is. And they are very, very good at it. If you like it hard and rough, if you miss Lemmy Kilmister or if you find yourself head banging throughout the day for no apparent reason then The Nitrogods are the “made loud to be played loud” band you’ve been looking for.

Pick up their third studio album Roadkill BBQ via Steamhammer / SPV May 26.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mammoth Mammoth “Mount The Mountain”

MAMMOTH MAMMOTH "Mount The Mountain" CD cover art 2017

MAMMOTH MAMMOTH “Mount The Mountain” CD cover art 2017

Mount The Mountain is the unashamedly riff-rocking new release by Australian stoner metal band Mammoth Mammoth. Mix together the grease of Mudhoney, the energy of The MC5 and the strutting sexuality of the Stooges and you have the racing fuel that super charges their excellent new album.

Title track and stoner epic “Mount The Mountain,” starts the ball rolling with a horns up, guitar buzzing, big ass RIFF! By the time the storming chorus kicks in vocalist Mikey Tucker is shouting “Yeah… Well Yeah Alright!” And listening to the sheer bravado of these guys you can’t help but pump your fist in the air and shout along with him that things here are indeed “ALRIGHT!”. Obviously these guys are on a serious mission to rock and are taking no prisoners, if you were waiting to hear some slow dance numbers you might be listening to the wrong album.

What Mammoth Mammoth has in spades, besides an unerring knack for riding a guitar riff like it was a rodeo bull they were stuck fast to with superglue, is the even better trick of knowing how to write a really good song. Now don’t get me wrong, these guys ain’t Mozart…subtle they are not. But what they do very, very well is structure songs that were literally crafted so you can bang your head to them. But they sprinkle a little ear-candy into the mix that burrows into your brain and makes you want to play them again and again.

MAMMOTH MAMMOTH press photo

MAMMOTH MAMMOTH press photo

Mammoth Mammoth has made a record that’s ultimately a celebration of being alive. Because you know… life’s a bitch and then you die, blah blah blah. But what’s great about Mammoth Mammoth is this is the kind of music that invites you to forget that things can sometimes be a grind and get back to what’s really important, you know what I’m talking about…big riffed ROCK MUSIC done right!

This is pure escapism at 100 mph and I like it. Consider this album an invitation to a place where every night is Friday night. Put the record on, turn the volume up real loud, then jump in the ‘69 Camaro with Mammoth Mammoth – tires squealing and smoking on the blacktop as you peel out with them.

Release Date April 28, 2017
Napalm Records

ALBUM REVIEW: Mew “Visuals”

MEW Visuals

MEW “Visuals” CD cover art 2017

With their new album Visuals, Mew delivers to their fans (both old and new) the perfect soundtrack for the upcoming summer. It is their seventh album in a twenty year career by the Scandinavian alt-prog rockers and their first since the departure of founding member guitarist Bo Madsen.

Visuals presents Mew in their purest state, the band produced the record, crafted the artwork and designed the stage lighting for their upcoming tour.

Album opener “Nothingness and No Regrets” begins things off quietly with lush vocals floating above keyboard pads and acoustic guitars. The quiet before the squall – as the drums and bass erupt like a thunderstorm, propelling the song into a massive, festival sized, crowd sing-along anthem.

“The Wake Of Your Life” rumbles to life with drum rolls that would make any 70’s prog rock band proud before subversively breaking into sunshine drenched pop. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a convertible ride in summer. Top down, singing along with your friends to the big radio ready chorus: “Ooh they don’t know / They don’t know / What fools are we / An elixir of light / You’re reciting the words”.

And suddenly you comprehend that in the sugar spinning, cotton candy machine world that is Mew, there is so much more going on than you realized on first impression.

Vocals float across the soundstage buoyed up by perfect harmonies. Guitars shimmer and keyboards grind, adding just the right amount of color and texture. The drums enter and exit at the perfect moments to propel the songs forward or reel them back in, providing contrast and shadow.

MEW

MEW photo: Sasha Ryabina

The album cover features a striking image of a Mexican Day of The Dead sugar skull super- imposed over lead vocalist Jonas Bjerre’s face. It’s a perfect visual image for their music. But underneath the sugar there is a constant hint of melancholy that has Mew striking just the right balance of sweet to sour.

Listening to Visuals I was struck by the finely crafted arrangements. This is music that was made to be listened to on headphones, but also music that translates to a blasting car stereo. Mew has concocted a mature album of pure pop that would surely bring a smile to Brian Wilson’s face.

Enjoy the ride.

Release Date April 28, 2017
PIAS (Play It Again Sam)