It’s been a difficult week. Oh hell, who am I kidding, it’s been a difficult month, but it seems like I’m finally on the mend here. I won’t bore anyone with what I’ve been going through so let’s just say I’m one to always worry if there’s going to be any pain coursing through my body that I won’t be able to deal with on any given day. We all understand that everyone goes through things, and we all have to be cognizant of it in our dailies, but when it strikes you, it always seems like all bets are off. It is what it is and we must move forward or we’ll stay grounded in the same spot, and no movement is a slow, stagnant death. Too much? Maybe, for Valentine’s Day anyway.
I’ve been spinning this the last couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to truly grasp everything on it, but I’m going to assume that’s the point. The Heliocentrics isn’t your average group of misfits, they’re a band of individuals, with London as their home base, that refuses to conform to standard musicality. The band takes jazz, funk, psychedelic, and electronic music and pieces songs together on Infinity Of Now (Madlib Invazion) as if they’ve created a musical blueprint. Quite honestly, I think they have. The trajectory of sounds the band fuses together here isn’t global but universal, a universe past what Sun Ra may have envisioned. The beats are heavy and fortified with electronic noodling and washes of distortion, all in the opening “99% Revolution” alone. More of the same is found on “Venom” with an emphasis placed heavily on the thick beats. But it’s the slow drag of “Elephant Walk” with that floating sax that will entrance everyone. The composition is a bit freer than others but eschews free jazz directions. The band has three previous releases under its collective belt with two being original soundtracks. The sound emitted on Infinity Of Now is entrancing.
From this point on, I’m not sure where I’m heading. Now I’m sure most won’t remember or but some have taken the time to figure things out by digging into archives, and what the flamboyant style Post Animal has managed to piece together for Forward Motion Godyssey (Polyvinyl) reeks of 70s prog-psychedelia. Humor me for a moment, imagine if you will, Peter Gabriel molesting Black Sabbath or vice versa with Ozzy biting off fingers in Genesis. The sound may have others grasping for clever wording but I’m over it, unless…… yes, I prefer Post Animal when they’re moving in candy-coated sweetness, much like on the heavy synth play of “Schedule” or even the pop eccentricities of “Safe Or Not.” Songs like that are able to get hearts racing. I don’t know, the jury here is still out on Post Animal but we can all only hope the band finds an identity that stands apart from its influences
And there we have a quick recap of just a couple of items.
What does Detroit have to offer? Well, that’s a tough call and I’m not sure if I’m able to be the voice of reason here since the last time I was in town was a decade ago and that wintery visit into an abyss of darkness I’ll never forget.
But I do have a long loving history with Detroit as well, and it’s pretty loud and obnoxious. I’m referring to the storied history of bands to come out of the city like The Gories, Dirtbombs, Detroit Cobras, Demolition Doll Rods, and of course Mule & Laughing Hyenas, originally from Ann Arbor, outside of Detroit. That brings us to the now, 2020 and fresh blood to focus on like Shadow Show comprised of guitarist Ava East, bassist Kate Derringer and drummer Kerrigan Pearce who have just released the debut Silhouettes (Burger Records). The band revolves its songs around 60-garage pop with hints of psychedelia because the band members are letting us know, they’re far removed from being just another female pop band.
While the songs may be filled with vocal harmonies from song to song, there’s nothing sugary sweet about Shadow Show. The band rocks with intensity, allowing songs to coalesce naturally against one another. From the get-go on “Charades,” they enunciate every note that’s performed, never over-compensating with an abrasive amount of distortion, allowing listeners to hear the clarity of musicianship. There are moments throughout where the band works through repetition but the members hold things down hitting notes and beats long enough to allow admiration. “Contessa” has hard-hitting moments that are appreciated as hints of Runaways sometimes lay in the underbelly of the song.
The charm here is how the band never goes over the top, kicking out jams and letting the songs move in natural directions. Nothing is ever forced. “Glass Eye” is where the band changes things up a bit, opening with Ava East’s sole guitar play before the rest of the band chimes in on the punchy number. The band drifts off musically, hypnotically until the song finally comes to an end which leads directly into “Dreamhead,” a spacey number again opening with guitars, but acoustic, before slamming it into a wall as the band builds around the repetitive motion, without being repetitious. The group opens the track, as well as “The Machine,” which is reminiscent of mid-90s era Damned. But Shadow Show is a beast all its own, as they once again utilize repetition again with a couple of chords as if they were mechanically entwined within the track.
One can’t help but be hypnotized by Silhouettes, which moves in the direction of Shadow Show, always doing the band’s bidding. It’s easy to become a fan as they stylize every song with an identity that can only be referred to as belonging to Shadow Show.
It’s been a couple of years now since the Boston band’s last self-titled full-length back in 2018, but the group returns with a new release or rather new merch in support of the band’s 20th anniversary. While the Life Support (Deathwish)”E.P.” was released last year, American Nightmare has released an already sold out 7″ in of the single. But who can pass up a 7″ vinyl version????
Cranked up to 11, the band showcases its definitive singular sound that moves full-throttle. It’s clean and crisp and sticks to the band’s original hardcore sound. If you want variety, the band’s last release should be listened to. The B-side offers up a cover of the Lemonheads’ 1990 song “Left For Dead.” Never being one claiming to be a fan of Evan Dando and his band, the early incarnation of the band wasn’t bad and neither was this song. American Nightmare’s rendition pays homage to the band by performing it the same way, a little more echo through Wesley Eisold’ (Cold Cave) vocals, and the recording is so much cleaner and precise. It’s easy to dig into the track. If you can get a hold of a copy, you’d be one of the lucky ones. I have mine.
I think the secret is finally out. That is if it was ever a secret, to begin with. The voice is…familiar, and I have heard it before, often, as a featured artist here and there but it’s been almost a decade. The standout performance was on Sixo’s The Odd Of Free Will where Gregory Pepper made “John Connor” his own. Acoustic guitars underlaid the song with a beautiful melody he captured perfectly with Sixo. But there was also Factor Chandelier’s Factoria, where Pepper shared space on “Noise Band” with AWOL One and Ceschi, a track that defies gravity itself. And of course, on Ceschi’s “Be A Memory” or the somber “My Bad” off last year’s San Soleil. So now Gregory Pepper & His Problems drop the sixth full-length release in its catalog, I Know Why You Cry (Fake Four Inc.) which is my introduction into the Problematic world in its entirety.
Why was I avoiding Pepper’s project so flagrantly? To avoid possibly taking him off the pedestal I’ve had him on for so long, with all the collaborations that I’ve listened to over and over again. Did I mention “John Connor”? Getting back to the point at hand, on this release Pepper & His Problems have changed things up from his last release Black Metal Demo Tape, and the release before that one Chorus! Chorus! Chorus! as well. While those albums were much more guitar-oriented and playful with distortion, THIS new release is the culmination of everything he’s worked for.
While guitars are far from eschewed here, the varying instrumentation added do so much more here, expanding on Pepper’s sound and delivery. The opening “Good Call” pulls from what sounds like a music box delivering a melody and the band expounds on that tenfold. Double bass lingers in the rear adding to the percussive sound, accentuated by a xylophone and strings. But when the violin solo drops, so does everyone’s jaw(s). At just a minute and a half, Pepper is able to destroy everyone’s notion of time within the limited space he’s given. Literally, a “WTF” moment! Imagine, this is only the opening track, and it’s followed by “I’ve Got A Bottle” which incorporates wind instruments, keyboards, plucked strings, luscious background harmonies, along with that xylophone hitting notes but it’s Pepper’s voice that’s friendly, sweet, and inviting. He’s able to pull melodies from his voice that no one could ever possibly copy.
His “Worrier Spirit” is an upbeat foot-tapping jam wrapped around horns and keyboard, reminiscent of World/Inferno without the eccentricities, but it’s Pepper driving here with lyrics revolving around uncontrollable anxiety. Then “I’m Dying” Pepper plays with his own vocals, delivering it in different octaves through effects obviously, while it’s bizarre I can’t seem to not listen to it. It’s odd and odd is what I do. But Gregory Pepper is a pop-smith of a different type, reaching a different level all his own. The crescendo of “Bogus Journey” gives you an idea of it as he works around a singular melody. He obviously shares more of it on “Art Collector/Bored Of The View” which sounds like a summertime soundtrack! When he sings “Art collector/The bullshit detector is going off” he’s saying everything the everyman is thinking over a punchy rhythm loaded with melody and harmonies. But there’s so much more on this release, a lot more. From this point on, everything turns into magic.
“Who Doesn’t Know” is probably the best song Freddy Mercury never sang on. More than 2 minutes into the track, Pepper becomes a showman of the highest regard, while he laments on “Before The Rust It Was Heaven.” And while the opening notes of “Diaper Hill” may resound of Ritchie Valens “Oh Donna” for a brief 5 seconds, it still remains within the same decade for a moment longer as do wop-like lyrics drop before that ukulele starts strumming.
For I Know Now Why You Cry, Pepper has created such a dense album that we’ll all be able to extract so much from for years to come. Gregory Pepper is well on his way to having his own Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, that’s how amazing this album is. It should live on long after we’ve all become dust.
There are times when settling in on your sound takes time and you have to be able to navigate within your project not as an individual but as a structured unit. For the last couple of years, one band seems to have been doing that, and after finally coming together musically, the final piece has come to fruition and is galvanized.
The U.K.’s Mush has released its debut full-length in 3D Routine (Memphis Industries), and it looks like these quirky post-punk art-rockers have hit upon something. Now, the quartet wears its influences on proverbial sleeves (Buzzcocks, Devo, Gang of Four, The Fall, etc.) or it could be possible the band is completely oblivious of what they sound like. Why? The burst of hyper-energy the band delivers from track to track seems to be oblivious to the world around them. Given tracks like “Revising My Fee,” “Gig Economy,” and “Poverty Pornography” has the band members’ energy feeding off one another. The pummeling bottom end is relentless around frenetic guitars and sung/spoken lyricism. But it’s not always a full-frontal attack the band is handling.
“Coronation Chicken” delivers a funky rhythm as guitars and bass volley back and forth and come together in unison. The band is always moving in sync, changing, allowing a variety of elemental melodies to wreak havoc around psyches. While on “Island Mentality,” the band offers up distorted notes through guitars and unexpectedly changes its pace of attack!
The Leeds band offers up quite a hodgepodge of sound for 3D Routine with clever instrumentation that shouldn’t be written off because moving so fluidly and concise in the band’s own world of musical disarray isn’t easy. The band just makes it look that way.
The underground never moves at a mainstream pace. In fact, a number of mainstream artists are attempting to do things the way one would as if they didn’t have commercial success. It’s worked for some it seems, but for those that still struggle with press kits, release dates, etc., always expect the unexpected.
Chisme recently dropped its last release Still Breathing last month and both members R.E.L. and Progeny are always in concurrent movement with their main gig, releasing other projects and solo material. This time around it’s the beat maestro who returns with the new instrumental Wet Dreams E.P. which he so appropriately releases on Valentine’s Day. Now, it may be what you’re expecting from the title alone, grasping at sexual connotations throughout, while romance, well, who needs it?
While Progeny is no stranger to sounds revolving around Boom Bap creations, there’s more to his compositions than a stagnant singularity, pulling in samples from a myriad amount of sources allowing the music to take a life all its own. That and the explicit scope of imagination that’s gone into Wet Dreams, shouldn’t be ignored. Progeny doesn’t mince words on the opening “Shut Up And Fuck Me” where he allows the vocal samples from a film to mesh perfectly with the slowly grinding music. It’s filled with a deep bassline and thick beat with erotic sounds in the background. Yes, it’s worth the price of admission, over and over again. The title track moves in unexpected directions here though, opening with concise focus and determination, like a dance floor number right before the change, and then slows the pace down allowing the psychedelic aspects to take hold.
“Woke Up Wet” is more deliberate, with a plan: Man goes out to meet woman. Man meets woman, woman leaves with man. Man fucks woman. Hard. This is the misogynistic storyline I’ve pieced together from the slinky music created. The horns throughout fuel the evening events here…and it works. “S’all I’m Saying” has a familiar sample here from what I’m sure is a Kevin Smith film but I can’t place my finger on it. But if I have to go out on a limb, it’s probably Chasing Amy. It works in humor to the sexual connotations mixed into the music that allows all the individual pieces to work well together. Then listening to “Reaching Nirvana,” we’re left with the aftermath. Post-sexual encounter, and bodies are strewn across a bed after climactic endeavors that are cinematic. Multiple horns and keys set the mood here and it’s lovingly sweet. So there is love afterward. It’s unexpected but well worth it. But the closing “Laura’s Sadomasochistic Dream” probably cancels out those expectations of love with the morning walk of shame here. Imaginative beats and sounds are meshed together here providing the perfect soundtrack for the morning after, drawing on politeness while the vocal samples of two men recounting stories of evening events with crass recollections. It perfectly ends the conceptualization.
Wet Dreams, we’ve all had them, and future generations are going to as well. And it’s like Progeny says, “Wet dreams happen whether you like it or not.”