Reeling from headache after headache things seem back to normal…for the most part. Or rather,
as normal as things can get. Everyone’s done wondering if McGregor would survive the
onslaught of Floyd’s punches in the later rounds of their “historic” fight. I made absolutely no
plans to watch it because I knew how it was going to end. My prediction was right of course, just
like my thoughts about Hip-Hop when people first told me it was a “fad” that would eventually
fade away or that there was no insurmountable way Mixed Martial Arts would ever become a
mainstream sport. All of those naysayers just doubted me. Obviously Hip-Hop began as an
artform for the disenfranchised which became mainstream. Come on man, it was bound to
happen. Given, many artists filling up the mainstream are shitty mumble-mouth rappers but there
are a number that are amazing, and the independent scene throughout this country is filled with
amazing artistry. But I digress as I normally do. I’m not here to talk Hip-Hop or MMA but
rather, music of a different ilk.
The Canadian group Goodbye Honolulu releases their new No Honey E.P. (Fried Records) today and most people know I’m NOT a fan of those extended play releases but for this band, it may just suit them. The quartet plays fervent power-pop with punk leanings. I listened to this before even reading the group’s own press which describes the group as evoking “a 90s slacker vibe mixing vintage garage rock n roll history with modern elements, it’s not exactly pop and it’s not exactly punk.” It’s not far off. At all. But I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a good thing or not. There’s quite a bit nostalgia within the band’s sound that detracts from anything remotely taking place in 2017. I keep going the beginning here with “Back To Me,” which opens with that bottom end that’s pretty similar to Krist Novoselic’s bass antics. Nirvana was good at twisting a punk song into a pop one to get the most sugary sweetness out of them and here Goodbye Honolulu tries the same. That and the play on dynamics doesn’t surprise. While it isn’t completely mimicking another group, the band still has severe punch channeling a grunge-infused era. They move it along with “Mother To A Brother,” which moves in a pop-friendly direction with heavier leanings. Then the band circles around to “Where You Wanna Go” and they can’t seem to let go of that same kind of opening bass throb. The band stays lost in the 90s where vocals will remind you of Everclear, sung with that same cadence and inflection as Alexakis. But the group’s own identity seems to finally seep through on “Bloody Hands,” as much as it possibly can. They have power I’ll give them that but when they sing “I got a chip on my shoulder” you can’t help but think the innocent sounding vocal delivery gives charm to the song with the shifting dynamics. They close No Honey out with a bit of dramatic flair with “Typical,” which begins at a low pitch and much slower than the previous tracks, and they keep things going that way before once again, the dynamics shift. This time though, I’m singing along all the while enjoying the harmonies. Yes, the band finally shows a semblance of its true self here but you have to take this release as a whole. When Eminem rapped “Lose Yourself” he didn’t mean it literally. I’m hoping the boys from Toronto will throw away everything they ever listened to and take some serious chances in the future because they do have talent.
Now Mogwai, this band is a different story. When they first hit our shores with the release of Young Team (Chemikal Underground) it literally blew minds. The Scottish post-rock band gave no fucks about vocals, opting to go the instrumental route with their sonic excursions. And truth be told, there was no need for them. Membership shifting through the years, and 20 years later the band returns with what, their 10th album? I’ve lost count but it makes no difference because the band has continued to stun fans like myself, and critics alike. The new album, Every Country’s Sun (Temporary Residence LTD) showcases the band moving forward but holding onto its own identity, throwing conventionality out the window for eleven tracks of pure bliss. The timbre the band offers up from track to track feels free and welcoming. The instrumental “Coolverine” opens things up with a guitar vibrato directing the song to an un-oblivious end, more like a place where peace dwells. The rhythm section pushes the track along without beating listeners into submission because that’s not what Mogwai is about. This comes so easy for the group, it’s like listening to masters at work. The band may opt for less vocal play nowadays but they occasionally intertwine it on tracks now and again. The more fervent “Party In The Dark” is supplemented by Stuart Braithwaite airy vocals while the entire band plays its blend of sounds found in a mesh of varied sub-genres most have forgotten. There’s a breath of fresh air here that subtly finds its way through. You’d be hard pressed not to listen to it repeatedly. It’s a pop song that’s far from being out of place on this album. Mogwai may have never relinquished its Shoegaze love affair but the group doesn’t stand as its poster-child. Songs like “Crossing The Road Material” and “20 Size” trail through a minefield of dreamy soundscapes while “1000 Foot Face” would make the likes of Joy Division proud. The band is never quite content to remain static in one position, and if you listen to “Don’t Believe The Fife” you’ll understand that. The repetitive control on this one is orchestrated perfectly. But then you’re hit with Battered At A Scramble” which starts off one way and then shifts into a monstrosity of a song. It’s the hit that other bands wish they wrote. Every Country’s Sun reeks(!) of a poisonous bliss that perfectly fits within the folds of this chaotic year. This album is therapy for all that is wrong in the world.
The 90s just seems like a blur of rock music, Hip-Hop and liquor. One person who I’m sure can attest to this is Ted Leo, a musician/artist whose career I’ve followed for years. Even if you don’t like his music, you’ll find something interestingly done in his songs. Literally cutting his musical chops in a few punk bands before settling in with like-minded individuals for three punked-up pop albums as Chisel. All that prior to settling into his role as solo/band leader in Ted Leo And The Pharmacists. Eight albums in, Leo switched gears for the collaborative The Both with Aimee Mann. But today marks the self-release of an album credited only to Ted Leo. So yes, we can say The Hanged Man is his first proper solo release. Leo has never shied away from talking about his love of music by the Jam/Paul Weller to create (not recreate) songs tailored in the same fashion, killing the pop vibe with an overloading punk aesthetic…but then adding in his own fascination with varying styles/genres. For this release, Leo has channeled his youthful exuberance on each track, even seemingly influenced by his own releases. Some songs on this release seem to share some similarity and aesthetic he put into his RX/pharmacists release some odd 18 years ago and even Chisel to an extent. Sparse with only his distorted guitar and harmonies, he takes things to another level on “Moon Out Of Phase.” Or he’ll take a slower dirge of a song and mutate it with a varied beat down the middle of it, on “Gray Haven,” allowing listeners into his world of variation. That change in tempo may have you wondering what happened but it doesn’t really change. But of course, one thing Ted Leo knows is how to write a great pop song…or two, or three, or more! Take “Used To Believe” for instance. It begins simply enough with a catchy melody and as it progresses the harmonies are astounding. With Leo’s volleying vocal tracking and harmonizing along with his guitar is somewhat breathtaking. Two/thirds of the way “down,” is where strings are filtered in. You must listen to believe it. But it’s when “Can’t Go Back” begins that you realize he’s a pop enthusiast at heart, pounding a melody straight into your senses almost immediately. You’ll find yourself at his mercy here singing along as if you’re one of his backup vocalists (at least that’s how I pictured myself.) Fans have always known Ted for being a clever songwriter, which he undoubtedly is. “The Future (Is Learning To Wait Around For Things You Didn’t Know You Wanted To Wait For)” is that point you know the skill he has in controlling his punk, pop and straight-out rock sensibilities. The song has the capacity to blow hinges right off doors as soon as Leo literally kicks into it. Will you see flying windmills? You might, the song is one of his more explosive numbers that doesn’t relinquish anything. He’s showing the kids how it’s done. Now “William Weld In The 21st Century” may confuse some but on this slower number, Leo flexes his political prowess, albeit on the little-known former Massachusetts governor whose bid for the vice presidency was short-lived. But he slows things down on other tracks as well like the beautiful “The Nazarene” where guitars slice in halfway through it being pushed along by a fuzzed out bottom end. But I can’t speak about this album without mentioning “You’re Like Me,” which again has Leo taking chances. What begins with a sound that’s reminiscent of being recorded on a Tascam 4-track with a mechanical/electronic drum pattern, suddenly explodes into a beast of a song! Anthemic? Quite possibly but no doubt again playing at his love of kicking out the jams he creates best.