There’s space for music of all sorts, and punk never says die! Portland, Oregon’s Mean Jeans returns with its sixth album, BLASTED (Fat Wreck Chords). While it may be something we’ve heard before, that’s ok, the band digs deep, passing by a frenetic Ramones styling. One thing the trio of Billy Jeans, Jean Wilder, and Junior Jeans pieces together here are clear, standout vocal melodies with sometimes higher-pitched vocal deliveries. But can we get back to the band members’ names though? Clear similarities abound here but again, that’s ok when it’s done with such enthusiasm and the band has a wicked amount of prowess over its instruments. The songs don’t usually pass the 3 minute mark, hell, sometimes they don’t go past 2 minutes but we’re here for it. It’s entertaining, “Lost My Mind,” at 1 minute and 18 seconds is cool and collected with interesting guitar play and I’m here wishing it was a bit longer but there’s no controlling your creative process sometimes. It’s supposed to last as long as it does. The band rocks, and that’s all you need.
CHELSEA WOLFE – SHE REACHES OUT TO SHE REACHES OUT TO SHE
Never ever(!) judge a book by its cover. This may be something many of us do once we see something that doesn’t look appealing and we’re unwilling to sample it. It literally happens to books, food, experiences, and most importantly music. We deny ourselves with things that we’re clueless about that would possibly expand our minds. It’s unfortunate but it sometimes continues to be the norm for many of us.
Sometimes we can admit when we’re wrong. 14 years ago I scoffed at the idea Chelsea Wolfe could possibly take her guitar and wrap circles around some of my favorite artists. When looking at this lone Wolfe, no it wasn’t happening. Then, things changed. Gradually, slowly, songs crept in. “Who is this?” Oh, it’s Chelsea Wolfe. “Ok, not bad” but I still wasn’t moved. Completely. Years would wander across and slowly but surely Wolfe changed my perspective of what music was supposed to sound like. While many categorize the music Wolfe creates as dark, goth-like, doom, etc., and while she may in fact be all those things, she’s much more than that. Wolfe has just released her 7th full-length solo release, She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She (Loma Vista Recordings) which finds her shifting labels and also recording with TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek behind the boards.
It goes without saying, Chelsea Wolfe is a powerhouse, a literal incendiary prophet of rage, littering songs with sonically explosive instrumentation and her cooing vocals that as fiery as the music she creates. There’s a wide array of experiences happening throughout this album, a cathartic experience moving forward, straying far away from the past. Musically, Wolfe and her bandmates – Ben Chisolm, Jess Gowrie – deliver stunning displays of musicality both powerful and subdued, usually in the same song. The opening “Whispers In The Echo Chamber” is but one example of such a feat, slowly tearing through the fabric of reality before exploding with an unrelenting storm of sonic fierceness. The controlled ferocity is unmatched and her drifting voice, as sweet and sultry as it can be, is commanding. It’s followed by “House Of Self-Undoing,” a sentiment of re-writing herself from the ground up. This over a frantic rhythm that pauses briefly but then ramps up once again. This seems to be the set-up for the rest of the album although on the closing “Dusk” the electro-whine blurting in and out tells a different story as the music slows its pace without losing an ounce of power. It’s in the heavy bottom end delivered here that sets everything to stun for Wolfe’s words, an ode to her younger self perhaps, yearning to break free and become better than she was. It’s a guess but the dynamics change and all bets are off on subtlety, enraged until the very end as it all quiets down.
Throughout She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She Chelsea Wolfe walks through the fire searching to recreate herself, her mind, her spirit. It’s a fascinating outlook through her eyes. Wolfe remains an incredible musician and lyricist. We’re back on board here deep diving into her music that truly is remarkable.
MARCELLUS HALL – I WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN
While it may not be of much significance, there are moments when things may fall directly under the radar, unnoticed but still offering a modicum of poignancy. It’s never anyone’s fault, instead just a shift in interest of some, a lack of publicity, and an abundance of information hitting everyone all at once. Well, there’s no time for excuses, there’s only time to live in the moment as we deal with everything that’s in front of us at this very moment.
Marcellus Hall is a notable musician whose notoriety began back in the 90s with New York’s Railroad Jerk, the band he once fronted drawing on influences from both punk and blues creating its own unique sound. It was one of the many found sounds equated with the Lower East Side; dirty, loud, abrasive, challenging, and always coming out on top. While Railroad Jerk never officially called it a day, Hall formed White Hassle and released its first album National Chain in 1997, after RJ’s 1996 The Third Rail. This isn’t a history lesson, just offering a little context. Hall never stopped recording music, dropping a few assortments of 4-track recordings in the 90s that ran concurrently with his other groups before releasing his first proper full-length The First Line in 2011 and following it up with Afterglow in 2013. Now 11 years later, he’s released I Will Never Let You Down (Gutfeeling), and if you were unaware of his previous solo material like I was, you’ll find out this new release is a lot different from his earlier works.
On the new release you won’t find any clattering instrumentation but what you will find is Hall traveling away from the noisy distractions, maturing with introspective lyricism alongside a delicate musicality that sometimes drips with honey-dewed melodies. Don’t misread any of that though because still present is Hall’s recognizable voice alongside semblances of who he used to be. He opens with “Behind The Stadium” and you may not be able to avoid hearing semblances of maybe Don McLean? They’re just semblances after all but it’s the infectious rhythm that you won’t be able to let go of as he tosses around metaphors & similes with a wordplay that’s pretty amazing to say the least. Hall even makes references to his past with “They sang ‘Rollercoaster’ and played ‘Bang The Drum’ / I was killing time behind the stadium with you.” Does that make him derivative? Derivative only unto himself! When that happens, it’s insanity. Yeah, the song is a catchy ball of fire but you shouldn’t stop there, Behind The Stadium is filled with an indelible amount of pop hooks and much more.
There are moments when Hall delivers his version of the break-up song, the anti-love song if you will, with “So Over It.” He directs the history of a relationship, where he thought it was heading, until its unfortunate and abrupt end. It’s modern-day phrasing within that will force a grin when he sings “I’m over it, ever since you ghosted me…” as well as, “You said together that we could go far/you said you were looking for an ‘LTR’…” but it’s the get-back that’s funny when he adds, “You flipped the switch you said ‘those are the breaks’/ You don’t even notice your grammatical mistakes…” While some may think the track is self-deprecating, Hall utilizes clever wordplay and humor to move on from the situation. This is all atop a sweet melody filled with cooing harmonies in the background. Guitars are gently strummed in the background with a lightly tapped vibraphone that tingles on the track. But nothing might prepare you for “Ten Thousand Heroes,” which may quite well be another love song but of a different nature altogether. Light percussion permeates throughout, accentuated by strings and piano as Hall delivers some vocal melodies that are outstanding. Possibly one of my favorite tracks off the album because it’s so different from much of the drive of many of the other tracks.
Not even halfway through the album and there’s still so much more to be reckoned with. “Kitchen Sink Blues” harks back to his earlier days, and we see here the punk kid inside him is still alive and well as he punches through the song with an assortment of backing harmonies throughout, as does “One Night.” If these songs were packed with smatterings of distorted and loud guitars, yeah, it’ll take everyone back to those CBGB drunken nights. In my haste, I noted one song as my favorite but the subtle genius of “Who Could Have Imagined” revolves around keyboards, wind instruments (or keyboards utilizing wind instrument techniques, I’m not the highest grade of weed in the dispensary to figure it out), and Hall’s commanding voice, layered with vocal harmonies. The melancholic feel of the song may be wrapped around lost love, but it never sinks into despair. It’s masterfully done and this moment right here is the brilliance of Marcellus Hall. Now, it’s surprising but really, not so surprising how Hall can manipulate these pop sensibilities into the grandiose “A Little Rain,” filled with an enthusiastic rhythm, walls of horns, and that sheer feeling of perseverance. The song is as infectious as the year 2020.
There’s much more brewing in and around Behind The Stadium and we’re only touching on a surface level here. There are 12 songs compiled in this release, including a cover of Carol King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” While James Taylor also recorded the song, of course the King version is by far the best. But I like what Hall has done with it here, giving a little more bounce to it. This album though, ok, I may sound like an Elf fanboy but damn it, Marcellus Hall has outdone himself.