Music Reviews

Shilpa Ray: Door Girl – Album review

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Door Girl (Northern Spy Records)

Out: September 22nd, 2017


Shilpa Ray sends us songs from New York on her new album. 

It isn’t often that I feel the thrill of anticipation of my teenage years when a favourite artist releases a new record. Shilpa Ray can still give me that thrill. For those of you unaware of her (and you should rectify that immediately) she works out of Brooklyn, and is in a long line of NY artists who chronicle the cities life in all its glory and decay. Like Lou Reed before her, she has the ability, whilst singing about NY, of making her themes universal. Indeed, I will put my neck out and say that Shilpa Ray is one of the two greatest songwriters living and working out of NY at this time, the other being Jeffrey Lewis. She makes music that few are today: intelligent, funny, subversive, concise, and a little crazy. She is a modern-day blues singer, aligned to a rock back beat and punk attitude, for the Binary Generation. Her intelligent and concise lyrics rip through the body of NY like a chainsaw going through paper, with a voice that channels blues-singers, an ancient voice coming to us down the ages of singers; it is distinctive, heartfelt, angry, passionate, waspish and sounds like it could crack at any moment. It’s conversational with many depths of emotions. Both strong and fragile. At times like we are eavesdropping on her thoughts, and at other times she’s like the weirdo screaming on the corner the truths that we are too dumb to hear. She can make me laugh and cry.

The album cover for Door Girl shows Shilpa Ray standing in a club, she remains the only point of focus, as figures move in blurs around her. She is the solid centre, the observer, whilst the people move and come and go and live and argue and love all around her. But she is not the aloof observer, she cannot but be affected by the maelstrom, but she is the one with the artists eye, who can chronicle it and try to put the chaos into some sort of understanding. The artists sending notes back to us from the frontier of our deepest, darkest and banal hang-ups. Above her is a sign that says Girls Are Free. Girls set free? Or girls free for patriarchal men to use and abuse. And girls? Shouldn’t it be women in a club?

Ray has done time working the doors of Lower East Side/New York bars and the album treats us to a dissection of that time, the people who passed through her life and the sights and sounds of a people always on the move, always looking for the next big thing, the next score, the next love.

The album opens with a chime, like an alarm clock, with NY Minute Prayer. It’s an overture to the day ahead, and it harks back to a 50s rock sound, which many of the songs on this album do, combined with a crooning male backing chorus, which creates a great juxtaposition with Ray’s sublime, broken blues voice. Morning Terrors Nights of Dread is a jaunty little tune describing the horrors of anxiety attacks. That Ray can turn the lonely despair of mental anxiety into a melancholy, toe-tapping little number, is testament to her talent. When she sings ‘I wanna fit in the picture of someone else’s dream’, you can sense the angst of being trapped inside yourself. But it isn’t self-piteous, as Ray sings that ‘no-one gets it easy’. It all builds up to a frenzied finish. Revelations of a Stamp Monkey is reminiscent of Prince. In rap form it conjures up vivid, psychedelic images of street life, with a backbeat hard and resilient. This is the imagery of detritus spluttering around a wind-blown city street, where, in the end, nothing matters except making money to pay the rent. Add Value/Add Time starts with the refrain ‘work, work work. Die, die, die.’ It has a reggae beat, a sunshine sound spilling across a daily journey to work on the MTA, and the drifting thoughts of our narrator. The vocals are a soothing curse, lulling you into a smooth groove; you can imagine her, head against the glass, dreams of a broken future as she rattles along tracks taking her to work and thinking about the journey she will take when she dies. EMT Police And The Fire Department is the lead off single for the album and it’s a fucking scorcher. Up until now the music has been more restrained than normal for a Ray album, but all hell breaks loose now. It opens with her channeling Jim Morrison and Patti Smith, spiritual noises providing the undercurrent for Ray’s beat poetry, building up to an explosion of music and screamed lyrics that will make you want to get up and smash something or join in with a primal scream of your own. It describes a club full of losers and chancers where things get so bad that all the emergency services are called. There is anger here, attacking the wasted lives: These are not the best minds of my generation. Destroyed by madness. Hysterical naked. These are not the best minds.

After Hours is a beautiful song with the emotion of an old blues singer imbued with the decay of an affair, the continual goodbyes.  A melancholy lament for another wasted love affair. It sounds like she is propping up a bar after hours, telling the barkeep her troubles and woes. Shilpa Ray’s Got A Heart Full Of Dirt is a song about the dreams of youth that crumble into dust, the horrible realisation that you’ve reached that point of no return, where you’re an adult and those dreams of the good life have faded. It’s the dreadful epiphany that ‘No one needs to know why I wake up and where I go. No one needs to know where I’ve gotta be’. Manhattanoid Creepozoids is reminiscent of a show-tune, but here it is subverted into a tale of women being beaten and raped. The singer says she’s ‘not crazy for that kind of love’ in a mastery of understatement. The last verse states: ‘And they all say “She was asking for it”. Crawling through the meat markets in some slutty outfit on a Saturday night. When the ground feels frozen and tight. But I’m not crazy bout this kind of love.’ It’s a song that hits as hard as a fist to the stomach. Rockaway Blues, another great piece of 50s rock, tells the tale of the dream lover, but finding only dust and shit where the man should be. It’s like a subtle Ramones song.

The album ends with two epic songs – interspersed by a musical interlude – that, on their own, would illuminate any album. You’re Fucking No One opens with a piano and guitar intro, a melancholy sound blowing through NY streets. Ray’s voice, all thoughtful, wistful, deep, dark, mournful, kicks in, dragging the listener into the streets with her, so we see through her eyes, through her mind, her vocals deep inside us. It’s a song about the gradual decay that is effecting all our cities. It’s a decay caused by gentrification, as money consumes, divides and reduces to nothing in a few years the communities that took decades to build.

My World Shatters By The BQE brings the album to a close. It’s an uplifting song amidst the noise and the decay of the city. ‘I’m looking forward to the sunlight laughing, behind your pollution of noise,’ she sings as trucks scream past her door. In a small apartment caught between arguing couples, rent to be paid, bodegas, and no big plans, she waits for the good times to come. Waits for the sunlight laughing. Sticking around for the good times to come. It’s a despairing hope. A reaching out with your hand through the window, into the smog and the grime, trying to feel the city, to grab a dream, and you pull the hand back and you have a can of coke and a pack of cigarettes. Looking forward to the sunlight laughing. The album ends to the sound of a subway train. And tomorrow it will all happen again.

The music is more contained and controlled on this album, compared to Ray’s previous albums, but there is an increased sense of world weariness, of melancholy, though seasoned with wit and venom. It is rare to find such intelligence coupled with great tunes. The overall effect conveyed by this modern-day blues god is as though we are listening to the singer’s innermost thoughts, which opens up our own minds to our own thoughts. She anchors her blues voice to raw rock and punk sneer, deepened with self-doubt and understanding: vulnerable yet strong, but always brave in the face of a panic attack inducing world. Often despairing, often angry, but always stunning. It is a shaky beauty, a dark glory, a sleazy cabaret of city life.

In the city decayed by gentrification, the spreading disease of corporations gobbling up the real inner cities, the bodegas and the delis, there is still a light that shines through the poet’s, Shilpa Ray’s, words.


You can find Shilpa Ray on line here, and are on Facebook and Twitter.

Mark Ray is not related (as far as he knows) to Shilpa Ray.

The review first appeared on Louder Than War

Music Reviews

nTTx: Of Beauty and Chaos – EP review

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Of Beauty and Chaos (WTII Records)

Out Now


nTTX release their latest EP. Is it Beauty or Chaos? 

nTTx combine industrial, trance, dance and synth-pop into an alluring mix of beats. This latest EP clearly showcases how successfully the elements are fused into a musical whole.

The EP opens with Move Dark. It has a pounding, frenzied beat. Imagine a dark club with stroboscopes disrupting the vision and turning everything into monochrome. Arms flailing at the sky, as the music takes on a shamanic quality, stripping the dancers of their inhibitions. Prey has an industrial beat, with simple structures disguising an interesting beat that yields itself to repeated plays. There is a dark melody to it.

True has a trance like sound, a modern edge to an older form of music. The lyrics state: it might not mean anything, but it’s the truth. A perfect statement for all art that comes with honesty from the artist. A slower beat introduces Earth. Drums beat like machines which are overlaid with a more intensely melancholic vocal. There is a sultry feel to it, like warm rain falling into an abandoned factory. It’s a gorgeous song. Falls Beautiful has discordant sounds, building up to a release of emotions. The final track on the EP is a cover of Survivors’ Eye of the Tiger. Now I remember when this was released and I hated it but this is a fun synth-pop version that even had me nodding my head along.

nTTx have produced a thrilling EP with an overall theme of liberation though the beauty and chaos of music. Shed your repressions and social mores and give it a spin.


You can find nTTx on line here, and are on Facebook and Twitter.


Thus review first appeared on Louder Than War


Music Reviews

Di Auger: Drinking Songs For The Dead – album review

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Drinking Songs For The Dead (Self Released)


Out 31 July, 2017


Di Auger’s fourth album keeps Toronto’s Goth/Industrial flame burning. Mark Ray reviews for Louder Than War.

Di Auger hail out of Toronto, a city that has a long tradition of a Goth/Industrial scene that has seen a rejuvenation over recent years. This is Di Auger’s fourth full release and shows a growing confidence and a (dark) maturity. Mastered at Ontario’s Metal Work Studios by Chris Crerar it has a cohesiveness and a pounding urgency with enough interesting, nuanced sounds scattered throughout the tracks to reward repeat plays.

It opens with Nightmare Burning. This is a crazed ring-master, welcoming you to a dark cabaret. Imagine a Victorian side-show interspersed with heavy industrial doom as, in the background, the industrial revolution eats up the country. Circle of Sin has a brooding rhythm, alleviated by coruscating notes across the beat that pounds away like a slave-ship beat. It beats you into submission, hypnotic, a symphony for the apocalypse. Die Anger starts with a staccato guitar, a white noise spreading across a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic landscape.

Lange Regan opens with a piano and the iconic words of Sound Of Silence before Di Auger brings in the heavy beat and his own lyrics. Lifting such iconic words to start your own song could have been a disaster – after all, how do you match Paul Simon’s words – but it’s turned into a beautiful song of isolation and despair by Di Auger. Drinking For The Dead is a fun barroom shanty like song. Things get political on America (The Fire Still Burns) with its ominous opening taking you through broken down cities and out into the rust belt and bible belt where fences of hate are being built. Laydown could be used for a horror movie or game soundtrack. Red Moth Bleeding has background vocals from Alia Synesthesia and the two voices add deep layers over the dark tune. Alia is all keening, operatic, grandiose, adding depth and sub-text to Di Auger’s vocals. There’s an ominous staccato. Images of an abandoned house under a bleak, limpid moon night with the dawn bringing no relief. This Is Real is industrial grind against chanting lyrics. It’s a statement of intent that bookends the album with Nightmare Burning.

An album, and an artist, definitely worth checking out.

You can find Di Auger on line here, and are on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War

Music Reviews

NICK LOWE: 80s album period re-issued

Nick Lowe’s 80s albums re-released.
8/10, 7/10, 8/10, 8/10, 9/10, 9/10

Yep Roc re-release Nick Lowe’s albums from 1982’s Nick the Knife to 1990’s Party Of One. It’s a period for Lowe that bridges the gap between his ground breaking work of the 70s (which included harnessing the energy of punk as Stiff’s in-house producer) to his later, much acclaimed, mature work. It’s a period often overlooked, which is a shame because beneath some of the slick 80’s production, there are real gems, including: Stick it Where the Sun Don’t Shine, Indoor Fireworks, Crying In My Sleep, Who Was That Man, and the heart wrenching classic, The Rose of England. These records remind us that Lowe is a consummate songwriter and the quiet genius of English rock.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 11 August-September 2017


Music Reviews

The Fall: New Facts Emerge album review

THE FALLNew-Facts-Emerge-Cover
Cherry Red
Thirty-Second Studio Release for The Fall

On the opening track of New Facts Emerge, there is the sound of an aging man uttering guttural, incoherent noises, whilst banging percussion. The man is Mark E. Smith, who has been The Fall since 1976, hiring and firing band members and releasing records with more veracity than Dylan Thomas knocked back pints. Smith clearly still has something to say, though at times what he’s saying is lost in angry, incoherent, surreal vocals.

The music, as on Fol De Rol and the title track, is often traditional rock, with a driving, energetic razor-sharp beat. There is a touch of Indie on Brillo de Facto and O! ZZTRRK Man. There is rockabilly on Groundsboy, with Smith sounding like an Elvis from hell, and the rock ‘n’ roller Second House Now, with Smith mimicking a drunken, crooning Jerry Lee. Gibbus Gibson is much lighter, almost jaunty, with Smith sounding youthful and coherent. Couples vs Jobless Mid 30’s is the albums epic. It has a psychedelic opening, with crazy southern-gothic noises like a Texas chainsaw massacre house. Then it segues into industrial noise. There are vocals about torture, and some demonic chanting in the background, before it moves into a rock out ending. Is this what it’s like being in the head of Mark E. Smith? The songs, though tight, often sound improvised. There are hints of PIL, though Lydon is too self-aware of his own image, whilst Smith has no boundaries between his stage persona and his own reality. He is a high priest performing an exorcism on himself, spewing forth his inner demons to infect a pristine, antiseptic, virtual world. A man well before his time, channelling a groove that he’s made his own; a sullen prophet who brooks no dissent; a cranky old man railing at a ridiculous world. Often a loner can, over time, become so self-absorbed that outside influences become irrelevant and there is nobody to put a check on them as they slide into egomania. What saves Smith is that he’s so damn listenable to. Genius or piss-taker? Probably partly both. So, a genius piss taker who’s been ranting in the wilderness since 1976. One day the world will listen, and Smith won’t give a fuck.

The last song is called Nine Out Of Ten, now that’s what I call prophecy.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 11 August-September 2017

Music Reviews

Banditos: Visionland – album review

Banditos BS253_Cover_1800_0

Visionland (Bloodshot)


Released 23 June, 2017


Nashville rockers sophomore album hits the highs.

They look like they’ve just fallen out of some highway hugging bar that’s dripping with decay and menace and sound like the misbegotten bastard child of Janis Joplin and The Flamin’ Groovies. Banditos are a six piece Birmingham/Nashville based band who released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album in 2015. They have a sound that effortlessly straddles the years between 60s and the present to create music that is both modern and timeless. Opener Fine Fine Day is a great bar room rocker, like Dr Feelgood played by the Velvets, that gets the toe-a-tapping and the head-a-nodding. Strange Heart is a beautiful song with a 60s West Coat psychedelic tinge, think of the Doors and 13th Floor elevators, with singer Mary Beth Richardson channelling Janis Joplin in all her raw beauty.

The vocals are shared on the album between Richardson, Corey Parsons and Steve Pierce and, in a larger sense, this sounds like a real band with all group members stepping up to the plate.

The title track Visionland concerns the building of a theme park of the same name in the 90s near the home town of a couple of the band members. It offered hope of employment and better days but closed after only 5 years. The song uses this as a metaphor for our times of lost dreams with a country-psychedelia soundtrack. Thick and Thin and Fun All Night have a Flamin’ Groovies honky-tonk blues groove. Healin’ Slow is a sultry country-blues song that drips with desire and Southern heat. Whilst many of the songs are infused with a Stones sensibility, Lonely Boy is a wonderful Beatles Merseybeat era pop tune. When It Rains is a superbly crafted rock/pop number that, back in the day when people still bought this type of record, would have been a top ten smash. Still and Quiet is soulful psychedelia which has an epic feel that had me in mind of a James Bond song. It’s all wrapped up with the country-rock of DDT with possibly the coolest banjo playing, courtesy of Steve Pierce, that I’ve ever heard.

Banditos may not bring anything new to the rock table but, with a hint of gumbo about it, this is rock food for the soul and a ten-course meal that will want you coming back for more.

Banditos is on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War.


Music Reviews

Saint Etienne: Home Counties album review

Home counties concept album

The Home Counties have always been viewed with a mix of ridicule and sepia-tinged nostalgia; a vision of England that never was. Saint Etienne, themselves residents, take on the stereotypes with a concept album of sorts, reminiscent of The Kinks Village Green. It’s a train trip around the satellites of London. It opens, perfectly, with a Radio 4 announcer and we’re off, calling at Something New about a teenage girl creeping in past midnight, Whyteleafe which imagines a David Jones who never became David Bowie in a boring office job, the wonderful Train Drivers In Eyeliner and the epic Sweet Arcadia which is a lament for the lost dream of the Essex Plotland settlers. Saint Etienne have always had a clean sound, creating ambience and dance rhythms for a train journey well worth jumping on board for.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 10, June/July 2017