I’ve been on ATCQ fix lately because there hasn’t been much released that I enjoy as much as their music. But then again there’s also a solo album by Ali Shaheed Muhammad entitled Shaheedulah And Stereotypes that I always go back to as well. Not many are too familiar with the album, a lost gem if there ever was one. He even has Chip Fu of Fu-Schnikens that totally kills it. (see track below). But I digress from everything at hand here.
There’s one thing that weathered indie rockers, both known and unknown have in common. It’s the sense of keeping shit real and churning out the best songs you have, year in and year out. Led by Minneapolis songwriter Jesse Thorson, who I know almost nothing about, the Petty Larcenists come with a new album filled with fiery jams that reek of honesty and pure unadulterated joy. Now while Thorson’s name isn’t one I may be familiar with, it ain’t a stretch on my own ignorance. There’s a lot out there I don’t know and you have to add Thorson and his gang of misfits to the list. But this is about Stolen Chords And Lifted Riffs (Rad Girlfriend) and a good starting point for me or anyone else that might not be in the know.
From the get-go, the Petty Larcenists are about having a good time. Albeit, it’s done with loads of cynicism, channeling depressive mind states into riff-heavy jams with words that can easily be translated into “fuck yous.” Unbelievable? Well just take a listen to the opening “Loud And Ugly” where the band’s dueling and distorted guitars pop off melodically, giving the track and Thorson’s voice space while the rhythm section pulls no punches. They keep things steady but we’ll always know they’re there; they don’t just keep to the background. It’s Thorson though that keeps your attention, as he sings to an ex-lover to avoids pleasantries. Friends, that’s one thing they’re not. It’s straight to the point and with Thorson’s guttural vocal delivery, it’s clear he says the things we’re all afraid to.
The party continues on through eight more songs with the same hard-edged sound and direct lyricism. In all honesty, the Petty Larcenists are a bit of a throwback kicking out 80s and 90s inspired hard rock but very much remaining relevant and contemporary. The Minneapolis band takes an approach that works for them, like the driving “The Last Time” I’m probably going use as my very own theme song, or the melancholic “Tiny Plastic Bags,” which seems to relate life imitating art or vice versa. It’s the juxtaposition of the music and lyricism that anyone could, and should, appreciate as the Petty Larcenists make a turn in “Grown Man’s Tears” where Thorson is willing to wear his hear on his sleeve as he and the band explode through the track.
Music created here by these Petty Larcenists is pretty visceral with intelligent words to back it all up on Stolen Chords And Lifted Riffs. This reminds me of what Calogero said in A Bronx Tale, “The working man’s a sucker.” Nah, the working man is playing some heavy riffs and churning out some really good music.
Grinding since 2017’s release of Reflections On The Passing ID E.P., the unit/collective was formed by Cleveland, Ohio’s Ra Washington. A self-described multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to serving the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora. Now while that’s a lot to take in, it makes sense in the context of the group effort he’s assembled. Mourning (A) BLKstar is a protest in every faction of its musical output.
The band is rooted deep within R&B and Soul; and pulls from decades worth of musical influences. Musically, there’s much reminiscent of 70s but Ra doesn’t allow BLKstar to lose itself in one decade. The 70s were rich with music that shook the nation and that’s what the group is doing here on its new Reckoning (Don Giovanni Records). While Marvin Gaye sang about “What’s Going On?” BLKstar dives deeper here, opening “Anti-Anthem” with words about hanging from trees, working menial jobs to provide, little girls missing, and being shot by police. This is all subject matter, like the R&B and Soul the group wraps its music around, is what this nation has been dealing with for years. The heaviness of the words takes a heavy toll for anyone listening with an open mind. “Harlem River Drive” digs deeper still, as the group begins this with a rhythm that’ll have anyone moving and then morphs into an art/soul implosion of sound. The repetitive chorus of “I’m a nigga/I’m a nigga” accentuates the lyricism of “We’re facing extinction” and “This Harlem of the past/This Harlem is gone” which dives deep into reform and gentrification.
This isn’t about dissecting an album but rather listening to it as a whole, even becoming a part of the change the group talks/performs/walks. Ra Washington isn’t just a musician but an activist, literally a part of the change he’d like to see. That’s what Reckoning is about. He and his collective are doing for their community and allowing everyone to see and hear. No one is doing what Mourning (A) BLKstar is, and they’re creating a new path for artistic expression. But if I need to say one thing about this album it’s this: “Gang Desire.” This track right here burns brightly in every sense of the word.
So today The Get Up Kids return with a new album, Problems (Polyvinyl), their first in eight years. While the members have always kept themselves busy with other projects, TGUK have always kept the door open to reformation after the band’s initial break up. It’s a good thing the band has, new material always shows a level of growth or a lack of musical evolution. I don’t think anyone needs to figure out where The Get Up Kids stand.
It’s a balancing act within the context of twelve songs included here that showcases a healthy dose of melody with intelligent lyricism that’s direct and to the point. The Get Up Kids rock out with dueling guitars, a rhythm section that easily hypnotic and songs that are simply addictive. The band rocks out on the opening “Satellite,” juxtaposed with words of solitude but Matt Pryor’s words won’t leave anyone in a state of despair. It may dwell on loneliness but as an entire unit, the kick out the jams! The variation in the band’s music is clear on songs like “The Problem Is Me” and (especially) “Waking Up Alone” where they utilize more of James Dewees keys, the latter being the one utilizing it more. Or rather, being the driving factor and probably a future fan favorite. The band has never steered clear of wearing its proverbial heart on sleeve and on Problems it isn’t any different. Whether it’s the punked-up anthemic tracks like “The Advocate” or the melancholic “Your Ghost Is Gone,” there’s emotion in both the words and music pieced together by The Get Up Kids. It’s easy to find solace in Pryor’s words because most have been in those same positions.
But this isn’t the record anyone will wallow in misery within as there are enough songs with upbeat tempos to shake those vibes off of you. “Now Or Never” will allow you to pogo in your seat, while “Lou Barlow” will have everyone smiling with the opening line about the Sebadoian. But it’s “Fairweather Friends” with it’s eventual crescendo/dynamic change that’s just the right amount of EVERYTHING we all need. Well, everything except an actual fairweather friend.
The Kids are definitely back, but they never left so it’s good to hear the great album they released in Problems. And the bar has been set; we all have to wait and see who else rises to the occasion.
This is She Keeps Bees fifth long-player, and those that came before were all self-released. Kinship (Ba Da Bing) is the first album the band has released on a label stateside and while the duo of Jessica Larrabee (vocals and guitar) and Andy LaPlant (drums) have garnered themselves a healthy fanbase, it looks like the new album is bound to expand it even further.
While comparisons have been drawn to Cat Power and Yo La Tengo, I may have to disagree with it as She Keeps Bees is more than just a lazy comparison. Or maybe not. “Coyote” has a starkness and deliver akin to that of PJ Harvey, although it’s apparent Jessica Larrabee is a beast of a different nature. It’s the strings that come in here which forces my hand of comparisons as the track’s repetitive guitar strums contain imagery of long empty deserts. There’s a vastness just in one song alone here, which opens a world of possibilities.
There’s a delicateness within Kinship that draws one in effortlessly. “Dominance” shows that opening with just Larrabee’s voice and a keyboard before she and LaPlant fill in the rest with guitars and drums. The brushstrokes on the snare add to the charm here. Even though the band moves effortlessly with a quiet abandon, they do get loud(ish). “Longing” is driven by keyboards with LaPlant softly drumming in the background. This right here is what beauty is made of. It’s ever so intricate yet simple.
Kinship is intriguing, beautiful, and dare I say again, delicate. She Keeps Bees is soothing and refreshing, both at the same time.