Music Reviews

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: Sidelong – album review

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers a3879543519_10.jpg

Sidelong (Bloodshot Records)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Out 28th April, 2017

09/10

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers first release for Bloodshot Records blows the competition out the water.

The problem with genres is stereotyping and those bandwagon jumpers who think they know how to play punk, heavy metal, goth or what have you, and end up turning people off, rather than on. If you’ve never given Country a chance because of that very fact, then you are missing out big time. Especially when it comes to Sarah Shook and the Disarmers who take Country, give it a good kicking and then stand it back on its feet and buy it a whiskey. If you’re expecting yee-haws then you’re gonna get fuck y’alls.

Country music was always the music of the downtrodden; a curious mixture of upbeat rhythms, laments for broken loves, the poetry of despair, finding redemption in alcohol or God (most likely both) and a fuck you if you don’t like it attitude. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are clearly steeped in their love of country but they don’t treat it with reverence: they live it and breathe it. These are songs for a community of lost souls, misfits, giving praise to misery and one finger to loneliness. When Shook sings about drinking whiskey in the morning to drown her sorrows, she sounds the real deal.

And what a voice she has. Part pure, part ragged. Part punk sneer and part haunting vibrato. If an angel and a demon had an illegitimate daughter it would sing like Sarah Shook. And with a backing band that are deceptively free and easy, making complex rhythms simple, they’re a match made in heaven and hell.

Album opener, Keep The Home Fires Burning, is a song about longing, waiting for her lover to return. The Nail is about a failing relationship, with the great hook of ‘who will be the nail in the coffin’. Heal Me is so fucking good it almost hurts. A song about the despair of everyday hardship, where only whisky can cure ills. An outlaw song rejoicing in badness. Sidelong is a song about those lonely dating bars, that moment leading up to taking a chance, but will it just be another loser? No Name pays homage to the outlaws of the old Wild West. Dwight Yoakam is a haunting, bitter song about losing your lover to someone else. When she sings words about her lover like this they drip with bitterness and stick you right in the gut: “He likes to make love when he’s smoking. And he doesn’t walk around like he’s broken. And he sings just like Dwight Yoakam.” Misery Without Company invokes the optimistic belief that tomorrow will be better, but for tonight there’s just a bottle to empty. Solitary Confinement is a rockabilly lonesome blues song. Nothing Feels Right But Doing Wrong is an ode to the devil and booze. Fuck Up is just a great song that could have spilled over into self-pity but just stands as a way it is song. Make It Up To Momma is humorous and self-effacing. A song about a down and dirty guy who’s killed and wasted everything he ever had in life, but he’s gonna make it up to his mum by getting a momma heart tattoo! Road That Leads To You ends the album off in style with Shook singing about travelling the road the way that she does, with only one thing on her mind.

Too often, when a country’s history and sociology is examined, its music is ignored. To understand America, you have to understand Country and its roots in the pioneer, individualistic spirit. It’s a music where the only redemption is in the next world; in this world redemption can only be found in whisky and brief love affairs.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are the best thing to emerge from country music in the last ten years and Sidelong is the best album released, in any genre, so far this year.

Bloodshot Records confirm that the band are already working on the next album, planned for release in 2018. I, for one, can’t wait.

 

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers are on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War

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Music Reviews

Mark Lanegan Band: Gargoyle – album review

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Gargoyle (Heavenly Recordings)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Out 28th April, 2017

08/10

Mark Lanegan has rock pedigree oozing out of his pores, having been a founder member of grunge pioneers Screaming Trees and a member of Queens of the Stone Age, his albums are critically acclaimed, yet he remains something of an outsider when it comes to the music buying public. Maybe the outsider tag suits him. He looks the epitome of a rock outlaw; his face grizzled, his stanch cock-sure rebelliousness and his voice sounding like the world weariness of a down at heel grizzly bear. But to those who have discovered him he is a special talent.

This new 10 ten track record features guest appearances from long-time collaborators Josh Homme, Greg Dulli and Duke Garwood. Grotesque is underground Americana with a dark rock vibe that feeds on and into early 80s post-punk and goth. It is the work of not just a polished songwriter, but one who can create a mood effortlessly.

It opens with Deaths Head Tattoo; an electro rhythm overlaid with guitars and that vibrant, deep voice bringing to life a plethora of characters drifting in and out of focus.

Nocturne is full of dark rhythms and scratching, ominous guitars. This is music for a night time drive thru an urban sprawl to the moon drenched badlands. A dark love song to a missing woman, though there are hints of violence in a messy parting, a car wreck of a romance. There is a feeling of everything falling apart as midnight comes around. A long night of longing, building up to a yearning chorus.

Beehive lightens the mood with a great guitar riff that feels like a mix of 60s pop and 90s trance. Sister has a calliope feel of wild woods and dust bowls. There are undertones of threat and a feeling of angst and fatalism.

Emperor is a great song that channels Iggy Pop and races along with a jaunty rhythm reminiscent of the Passenger. The pace softens somewhat with Goodbye to Beauty, a haunting paean to everything good. It reminds me of the late, great Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

First Day of Winter is a poetic elegy for the passing seasons and a looking ahead to a long winter. There is rain against the windows that chills his veins now that winter has begun. It is a beautiful song about age and the cycle of the seasons.

It’s an album that rewards the more you listen to it. If you haven’t experienced the Mark Lanegan Band yet, then Grotesque is as good a place to start as anywhere.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War

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Mark Lanegan Band is on Facebook and Twitter.

Music Reviews

DEAD CAN DANCE The Serpent’s Egg/Aion/Spiritchaser Album Reviews

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The Serpent’s Egg/Aion/Spiritchaser
4AD
The final three re-issues of 4AD’s DCD catalogue.
9/10 9/10 9/10

The Serpent’s Egg (1988) is a sparse album. Minimalist sounds create a backdrop to the vocals. Gerrard’s vocals ululate across desert sands, a cry of the soul in the void or echo in a cathedral, rising up, searching the heavens. Perry’s vocals are more modern and the dichotomy, rather than creating tension, creates a symbiotic whole.

Aion (1990) is heavy on Renaissance and Middle Ages musical forms. They resist the urge to modernise the forms, thus creating something that is timeless, that transcends categorisation.

Spiritchaser (1996) moves the focus to African and Caribbean tribal rhythms. Percussion comes more to the fore on this album with a sultry, sensuous back beat that drips with sun and heat, whilst the vocals chant across the grooves.

Beautiful records, beautifully packaged by 4AD.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 9.

Music Reviews

Love & Rockets: Seventh Dream of a Teenage Heaven – re-release review

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SEVENTH DREAM OF A TEENAGE HEAVEN
BEGGARS BANQUET
1985 debut release gets Blu-Ray Audio treatment
9/10

If the legion of Bauhaus fans who bought Love & Rockets debut were expecting dark goth from David J, Danial Ash and Kevin Haskins, then they must have gone batty when they heard it. This was psychedelia from another world, more Syd Barrett than Bela Lugosi. It stands outside of time, a glorious, otherworldly listen, with beautiful soundscapes produced by John Rivers. The rhythms are relentless, such as on the classic Haunted, that create a trance like ambience. It shimmers and drips with colour. The band would conquer America on College Radio but, for some reason, failed to set the UK on fire. Listening to it now it sounds like a forgotten classic.

Trivia note: Danny Hopkins, credited for Tea and Sympathy, was renowned drummer for post-punk outfit Isolation.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War Magazine issue 9. 

Music Reviews

Barry Adamson: Love Sick Dick – EP review

Barry Adamson sl-113794

Love Sick Dick (Central Control)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Out Now

08/10

Adamson unleashes Love Sick Dick on the city.

To quote Barry Adamson of his new record: The blues is the blues and if the heart aches then that’s the sound that will come out whether you are playing guitar, a synth, a piano or playing futuristic guitar solos on your iphone.

Adamson is a man who should know, having earned his stripes playing with Magazine and The Bad Seeds, he embarked on a solo career of much artistic integrity and experimentation, taking in jazz, blues, rock and using all manner of instrumentation. It says much for his talent that he plays all instrumentation on this new EP. It’s a concept recording of sorts, following a desperate loner through a night in the city.

I Got Clothes opens proceedings with a booming drum and bass creating tension and excitement. A piano melody floats over the top and the vocals are breathy, soulful. It could be a soundtrack to a gangster flick; the sound of a guy getting ready for action. It’s heavy, pounding, driven.

Sweet Misery starts with a blues guitar, before an electro backbeat kicks in. This is modern blues, blues for a fractured world. There’s a feeling of oppression and darkness as the hero is dragged down by the city whilst vultures circle him. He prods at his demons like a tongue probing a broken tooth. The guitar solo soars through dark alleyways and claustrophobic nightclubs.

People Like Us is more upbeat, like some 90s track. The ego is now on fire. The clubs pulsing, pounding, smashing you into oblivion, into one single organism, one single ego.

On Golden Square is 80s pop, sultry and yearning as various forms of nightlife swirl around our hero. When things go bad he calls for his mom and his momma says it’s alright. But I’m not sure it is.

They Walk Among Us sounds like a John Carpenter score. It’s neo-goth full of  horror and tension. This is vampire blues with an unseen, silent horror stalking through the neon lit city streets. And there’s a great bass solo.

One Hot Mess brings the night to a close with dark techno rhythms. There is tension and exuberance, as disco beats swirl around our hero, enveloping him in a haze of ego and forgetfulness. He smothers a proposed conquest with his ego and bullying persistence. She’s got his number, but under duress. All that’s left is a walk home alone. In the rain.

Love Sick Dick is a lovelorn journey through the neon cities underbelly in search of desperate love and a redemption that is always out of reach. The morning will break with squalid efficiency in an embrace of smog and the detritus of the night creatures, that will be swept away with the stars, as Love Sick Dick faces another day.

A release very much recommended.

Barry Adamson is on Facebook and Twitter.

 

This review first appeared on Louder Than War.

Music Reviews

Dead Can Dance: The Serpent’s Egg/Aion/Spiritchaser – album reviews

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The Serpent’s Egg/Aion/Spiritchaser (4AD)

Vinyl

Released 17 March, 2017

09/10 09/10 09/10

The dead dance again.

4AD, over the course of a year, have been re-issuing their entire catalogue of Dead Can Dance’s albums. The final three will be released in March. All the releases have been beautiful re-issues from 4AD and the final three are no different. They showcase a band who took from the past to create beautiful, timeless music.

The Serpent’s Egg was released in 1988. It’s a sparse album. Minimalist sounds create a backdrop to Perry and Gerrard’s vocals. But less is more. Gerrard’s vocals ululate across desert sands, a cry of the soul in the void or echo in a cathedral, rising up, searching the heavens. Perry is more modern vocals and the dichotomy, rather than creating tension, creates a symbiotic whole.

Aion, released in 1990, relies heavily on Renaissance and Middle Ages musical forms. What is astonishing is that it’s impossible to tell which are traditional arrangements and which are Dead Can Dance’s. They resist the urge to modernise the forms, thus creating something that is timeless, and show that a popular art form can transcend categorisation. Again there is a sparsity to the music, with the vocals to the fore.

Spiritchaser, released in 1996, moves the focus to African and Caribbean tribal rhythms. But this is done with such consummate skill that there is no real sense of a change of direction, just a change of beat. Percussion comes more to the fore on this album with a sultry, sensuous back beat that drips with sun and heat, whilst the vocals chant and rise and fall across the grooves. Devorzhum, the albums closing track, sounds like the origins of the blues, Africa calling down the years. It’s a beautiful, elegiac, end to the album.

It would be sixteen years before Dead Can Dance released their next album, Anastasis.

This is music to sit down to and contemplate with. 4AD should be commended on re-issuing these wonderful records.

 

Dead Can Dance is on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War

 

Music Reviews

Ha Ha Tonka: Heart Shaped Mountain – album review

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Heart Shaped Mountain (Bloodshot Records)

CD/Vinyl/DL

Released 10 March, 2017

08/10

Ozarks band spreads their wings.

Heart Shaped Mountain is the fifth release from the band formed in Springfield, Missouri, and it shows a maturity, both in terms of song craft and in themes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, since the years have seen some band members marry and have kids.

There seems an effortless ease about the songs, which only comes from years of honing their craft. They sit somewhere between Springsteen’s Americana and the wistful indie of college rock, with the added spice of post-punk sensibilities.

The songs have a common theme of landscapes and weather, showing off a wider palette of the songwriter looking beyond their own fears and insecurities to the wider world beyond. But it all starts from within. The album opens with Race To The Bottom, a chugging, driving song. Everything, track 2, is more contemplative, with a looking back at the past and wondering if everything had turned out the way you thought it would. All With You sounds like crisp winter, a song about desire and wanting everything. Height Of My Fears is a great song about flying over landscapes, plagued by doubts, nightmares and what-ifs. The Party is a foot stomping great indie-pop song. The sort of song that would have been a break-out hit back in the days when people still bought rock singles. A song about other people growing up, leaving the party early to be with wives and kids, whilst you hang out at the party until the sun comes up. The album ends with Telluride. It’s a delta blues brought up to day. A mournful lament for things gone and a looking forward towards a new phase.

It’s a metaphor for Ha Ha Tonka’s musical journey. A musical journey that’s well worth listening to.

 

Ha Ha Tonka is on Facebook and Twitter.

 

This article first appeared on Louder Than War.