I understand the urge to create art and how stifling it can feel when that same urge dissipates day after day. Lately, I’ve heard it from a number of artists I’ve met and who I actually call “friend” nowadays. The times have taken its toll on so many and I get it. All I could do was tell them at different times to keep pushing, keep doing something. Whether it’s writing down just one sentence, spending 10 minutes in front of a blank canvas, or spending a few minutes playing with beats and a turntable; whatever it is, a little goes a long way. If you find yourself doing less than you have before the past 7 months have locked us away from one another, try doing something. I hope it helps. With all that said though, we all need a little help now and again, reach out to your friends, see how they’re coping because you might just be doing better than they are.
Nothing gets you out of a mind-numbing funk quicker than the loud rattle of the Hoaries who just released its latest opus Rocker Shocker (Reptilian Records). The band is made up of members I’m familiar with. Frontman/guitarist Jeff Helland and guitarist Christian Breit both played in White Drugs, while bassist Bobby Weaver played in the fantastic The Paper Chase. Rounding out the group is drummer Clay Stinnett. The Texas band plays loud, sometimes off-kilter dissonance with howled vocals, and always sounds so fucking dense. Yeah, this is what I need from time to time; unadulterated blissed-out noisy fuckery that takes care in song construction and structure. The band has released some singles and E.P.s but it’s great to finally have a full-length release The rip through “Pearls” with some heavy low end and literally destroy everything in the wake of “Morning After Pal.” Hell yes!
Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s difficult to keep up with what someone is doing. It’s happened often with friends that have moved on from project to project, or someone you may know releasing multiple albums in a year (no, I’m not referring to Guided By Voices.) But then there’s that one moment of clarity where you realize, yes, this is something we need.
This time around we see the release of a new motherfucking FUZZ album. Ironically entitled III (In The Red Records), this is actually the band’s third full-length release of piss and vinegar fueled rock savagery. I think it’s easy to note that Ty Segall is probably one of the hardest working artists in the indie community. With 12 solo albums under his belt, other projects he’s worked on like the GØGGS, I stopped wondering where he finds the time. But FUZZ is the band he kicks out the jams with Meatbodies’ Chad Ubovich and constant collaborator Charles Moothart. While the band hasn’t released an album in five years, they don’t hold back here.
I’ve been incessantly wrapping myself around III for almost an entire day here. Too lazy to change it and let it keep repeating? Possibly, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In all honesty, FUZZ, like a lot of music created by Segall, is deeply rooted in that classic rock sound. The only difference here but without the false posturing, which makes the band enticing even more so. Shit, “Nothing People” is filled with in-your-face rhythms, chilling guitar solos, and harmonies all around it. Yes, we should all be equally enthusiastic by the group’s bombastic delivery and songwriting.
The band is a full-frontal assault on the sense as it’s rare for them to lower their levels under 11. The trio may occasionally soften things up when they begin songs like on the 6-minute plus “Time Collapse” but then you’ll realize it was only for the dynamic shift. It’s so easy to fall in love with the insanity the band delivers. The band storms through “Mirror” with fuzzed-out guitars leading the way, leaving room for some erratic solo play. There’s a method to the band’s madness and we can all afford to become a little Shakespearean now and again. Ubovich’s guitar work is captivating and will make you want to air guitar right next to him.
There’s no doubt in my mind on the power of III. The band was able to capture the sheer rawness of its sound with the help of Steve Albini, always known for minimalizing overdubs and sticking to a live sound. But it’s FUZZ that delivers the right amount of power here, and keeping it abrasive AF!
For the layman, Hip-Hop has been about the mainstream. Even if one isn’t aware of the subculture that lies beneath, people do know who Jay-Z, Drake, and Kanye are. Yeah, imagine my shock at finding my own mother knows who Drake is. Within the underground, we have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pockets; areas where music scenes continue to thrive with every new era of rappers that are on the come up. But that’s not to ignore those that came before them.
Columbus, OH has had a steady flow of emcees, from CJ The Cynic, Plead The Fh5th, to Blueprint, and Illogic. Now Illogic has dropped a plethora of releases throughout the last couple of decades which include collaborative albums with Lucid Logic, Blockhead, Blueprint, and others. This week sees the release of his 9th proper full-length album, Autopilot. What makes Ill different from any of his contemporaries? Well, aside from the fact that he pens heady lyrics, he’s proven himself a great emcee, reaching a higher echelon than most. For Autopilot, he’s also taken a different approach as well. This time around he’s self-produced an album in its entirety.
Autopilot generates heat from beginning to end as Illogic basically gives everyone an idea as his storytelling ability, utilizing his words to craft some epic tales and generates some thought-provoking imagery. He opens with “Conquer The Climb,” which rallies around perseverance and gives nods to Aesop Rock. The beat, like many that are littered throughout the release, are edgy masterpieces drenched in an ethereal coating. It’s atmospheric without moving around stratospheric nonsense. Instead, it’s a hazy dream state with a snare that never eludes me. But it’s “Aphextwin” that’s remarkably addictive and comes across as musically combative while Illogic waxes poetic. The beat isn’t overpowering but his words are, flowing with ease, riding the hum circling around the rhythm perfectly.
With the help of Blueprint and Supastition, the three emcees paint some electrifying art on “Canvas.” Maybe there’s some braggadocio but no one should mind it because this…is…that flaming heat! They drench it with vibrant colors barely leaving any room to breathe but one thing that I always find interesting is when Illogic takes a path less travelled. Although he’s done it often on previous releases, I take note of it here. His way of adding background vocal harmonies is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Out Of This World,” he utilizes it here but he also blends it with his lead vocals, singing partly through his rhymes. Yeah, it’s done well. But it’s his collab with Justjoey in the background on “Snooze” where the beat just can’t be ignored. The quick-paced rhythm, laced with clever keyboard work is a banger beyond bangers.
The album closes with “The Depth (Keep It Moving)” which does allow for a conversation to be had around keeping one’s focus going onward and upwards, while also avoiding detractors. It’s a thinking man’s piece where Ill drops his wordplay around a somber backdrop.
In the end, Autopilot leaves no questions left around who or what Illogic is. He’s a wordsmith with a particular view of the world, and he’s able to eloquently verbalize his thoughts and ideas. The album also marks him with the sign of the beatmaker, one that others should be clamoring to get a hold of by any means necessary.
There’s no shame claiming ignorance regarding an artist that’s been recording and performing for the past 16 years, especially if a group’s popularity isn’t ravaging the countryside here. No, I never feel the need to feign that funk, instead, accepting the challenge of my own ignorance. I’m not going to know every group in existence.
Howling Bells is an indie rock band from Australia, releasing four albums since 2006 and Juanita Stein has been providing its lead vocals ever since. She’s released material on her own as well though, first with 2017’s America, and later with 2018’s Until The Lights Fade. I’m offering up all this information simply because she’s not a one-trick pony or a fly by night artist that you’d expect to fall into obscurity after this release. She’s in it for the long haul.
But I’m not sure how I never crossed paths with the lovely Juanita Stein because I think I’ve been smitten by her latest album Snapshot (Nude). There’s a lot going on with her latest release that moves seamless and eloquently from track to track, eschewing the idea of being “one thing.” No, Juanita Stein is focused and here she has her own identity although she may dip toes in different genres, creating an illusion of variety that will leave you questioning if everything is the same or not. Well is it?
It really isn’t that confusing, simply because her voice is what I find myself focusing on. She opens with “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” as guitars are strummed in the distance before they closer, echoing all around. Her voice coos me into submission and melodically, the track is reminiscent of 60s female groups, before the dynamics here shift, eventually building with loud guitars. You’ll think you have a handle on what Stein is about but you’d be in for a rude awakening. While “L.O.T.F.” may continue leaving me with nostalgia for that same 60s feel, this one has a melody and rhythm that’s reminiscent of The Turtles classic but then it dissipates as she makes it all her own as dissonant guitars wallow in the distance and the airiness is filled with odd guitar notes. The Australian singer takes an Americana/country-esque approach with “Lucky,” filled with acoustic guitars and a twang in the background. If beauty is skin deep, this one has it coming out of every pore.
There really is so much going on with this release. The title track alone is a sparse yet sweet pop song. There isn’t much that the vocalist needs to create such captivating songs but for me, “Hey Mama” does the trick. It’s light and folky with harmonies all around it. Again, so sparse yet lacks nothing at all. It seems this is the moment where I move backward to discover the music of Howling Bells because Snapshot leaves me in awe. And of course, I’m listening to her previous solo releases as well. I need the full Juanita Stein experience.