I’m both anticipating and dreading the summer. Where I live, sometimes temperatures can reach up to 115 to 120 degrees on the hottest days. But splatter lots of sunscreen on, preferably 50 SPF, and it’s perfect weather for me to jump in pools and act the fool. Some have called me insane but I’ve dealt with it for almost a decade with no plans of heading back to my former life. I’ve been listening to Aloe Blacc’s single “Brooklyn In The Summer.” A lot. It’s one of those songs that just takes you back. But I’m not going back. Well, it’s another Frday so we’ll just get to it.
This week in music, the Oakland based Wax Idols released Happy Ending (Etruscan Gold), the new album that’s sure to cause a stir. The 4-piece outfit is fronted by the always constant founder and frontperson Hether Fortune, who seems to be in a better place now than she had been a couple of years ago when her band was signed to Collect Records, a label pseudo pharma mogul Martin Shkreli was involved in. But while many will classify the band’s sound as burgeoning with so many elements of post-punk and darkwave, what most will probably find are the pop sensibilities Fortune and the band find in between notes and keys. The conceptualization of the album isn’t missed, as Fortune has been forthcoming with, wrapping her tense words around stormy hook-filled backdrops. But it’s the band as whole and a unit that gets the point across with its music.
The band is an attention grabber and what better way to begin the album’s “Heaven Knows” than with a heavily distorted bassline that digs deep into the dirt as the rest of the band slowly builds around its lead, leaving lots of room to breathe, less cacophonic and more post-punk enthusiastic singularity. All that while “Too Late” burns in, shifting gears with flaring guitars drenched in effects. The song is almost grasping at nostalgia while never leaving relinquishing its own contemporary feel. Much of the music here does seem to grab hold of that same feel, decades apart from the rest of the world like the quick paced “Belong” and “Ashes” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the band holds it all together with an identity all its own. Some may wonder if “123” is set in the middle as filler but this one instrumental piece evokes more than the feel of a simple jam session, showcasing the expansiveness and creativity the band is consumed in. Guitars feed back, keyboards wash away; all this sans percussion.
Midway through the album “Scream” is fitted in perfectly. This bouncy and catchy number spits venom! I’d be hard-pressed to find something as driving and addictive as the band gets here. Fortune’s vocals are complemented against the rest of the instrumentation. “Devour” feeds on the dynamic shifts throughout it, while the melancholic lyrics on “Crashing” are juxtaposed with varying musical background, which many can appreciate. One can appreciate the differences that Happy Endings contains and will no doubt do the same for the skillful Wax Idols.
Newcomer Harrison Lipton is a bit of an anomaly. He has just released his debut, Loveliness and while I never jump the gun, always allowing an artist to prove his or her own worth to me, I still come into this a bit jaded. When someone references legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye(!), and Stevie Wonder as influences, well, you better come correct and seriously prove your worth. Now while those influences are what may have helped shape him, as well as growing up with gospel, you won’t hear any of that come through on his album. Instead what you’ll get something that’s a bit more contemporary, flashes of pop and light jazz, sparse electronic backdrops, all underneath Lipton’s voice that utilizes his falsetto well when he wants to belt out. Not unlike Sam Smith at time. The songs are well performed but my one problem here is that there isn’t anything new brought to the table. Lipton gets pretty breathy from track to track (“Pool”) and like I mentioned, his falsetto is on point but as I switch off to listen to other artists – and I know, comparisons are cheap – I realize the songs on Loveliness suffer through the musicality itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the songs are bad, in actuality they’re well written. The problem here is the songs seem to meander moving from point A to, um, point A. But there are tracks that have the capability to surpass expectations (“Beacon”), and again, with his vocal delivery and talent there’s so much more Harrison Lipton is capable of accomplishing.
I sometimes wonder when old becomes new. It’s happened on occasion, bands who have taken an extended hiatus are suddenly revitalized for whatever reason. While they aren’t new to the rock/punk continuum, the Poster Children have been revitalized and dropped a new album today. My hesitation always gets the better of me and I wasn’t sure if Grand Bargain! (Lotuspool Records) would be worth a spin or my time. But like I’ve said before, I’m willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. The band has always played a raucous brand of pop/punk and their live shows were always full of infectious energy so one would have to wonder if the band’s energy would have diminished throughout the years. Considering it’s been almost 30 years since 89’s Flower Plower, the new Grand Bargain! shows no sign of the band slowing down at this point.
Still playing with the same lineup since the band’s last outing, 2004’s No More Songs About Sleep and Fire, the songs on the new release – which was recorded by Steve Albini – have the continued energy as even their earlier releases. The band opens with the title track, which takes a political turn as the band children dressed as Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, and the band eschews its more pop aspects for a more frenetic experience, getting in your face musically and with its politically-driven lyricism. Without fault, it’s heavy. Period. But the band from Champaign, IL doesn’t abandon what it always does best. “Hippy Hills” guitars by the brothers Valentin set the pace here, and singer Rick Valentin trips the light fantastic here as bassist Rose Marshack adds her background vocals perfectly. It seems whichever direction they move in, works to their benefit. The mid-tempo of “Lucky Ones” is filled with cooing harmonies, loud guitars, and infectious melodies, while “World’s Insane” pops with an enthusiastic vigor, midway through digging deep into its guitar interplay. The band plays on, and at times remind me of other bands like the Buzzcocks on “Big Surprise” for some reason. It’s far from a negative aspect considering its done well with punchy guitars and rhythm.
Never have I considered myself a huge fan of the Poster Children but I’ve always respected their grind and live shows have always been nothing short of amazing, filled with energy. With Grand Bargain! I guess no one should have expected anything less from the band.
At times we all get confused, and that was my initial reaction to Committee(s), thinking I was spinning a different artist. “Oh, the band changed its sound for this record,” is what had me confused until I realized I was listening to a different artist altogether. Eh, shit happens. Committee(s) comes out of Chapel Hill, NC, Chicago, and D.C. The band hosts members of previous outfits like Milemarker and Sleepytime Trio and others. Committee(s) sounds nothing remotely like the others and seems to draw from a fountain of guitars, splattering on walls, completely covering them. Now while the band cites post-punk and goth, I can’t help but think (Final) Flares (Lovitt Records) shares more of an affinity somewhere in between the first and second wave of shoegaze aesthetic.
The band is unrelenting with its dirges that pull on distorted guitars through every song, marking them with an identity all their own. From the opening, “Not Done Drowning,” listeners are sucked right into the foreboding black hole where you’re left in another universe where notes are important but so are washes of guitar and melody. Am I enamored? You’re damn right I am. The Catherine Wheel was one band that capitalized on its ability to give just enough distortion circling around its grandpop sound and Committee(s) accomplishes the same thing albeit, as I previously mentioned, identifiable as its own entity.
Committee(s) is easily likable, and it isn’t difficult to find tracks like “Scored Card” infectious. More of those washes over a steady rhythm while vocal melodies circle around it. But “Time Tunnel.” This is the point where one would like to hit 11 on the volume but won’t for fear of hearing loss. The storminess is edgy, you’ll want to stand naked in the middle of it all. Maybe I’ve said too much here but drowning in the brilliance of it all is well worth it. You can’t help but think that’s one word to embody the feel of (Final) Flares: Brilliance. The songs shine that way, and “Paper Machete” is a clear example. The bouncy rhythm holds everything together as guitars do what they do best. And then “Ignore Away,” one of the more frenetic numbers plays more with dynamics, every so slightly, but it challenges listeners. Committee(s) have a vision that is executed with precision on (Final) Flares. It’s sometimes astounding.