Sitting here with feelings of panic because of the redundant amount of work that I need to complete, I fill my inbox here with so many unnecessary things. I’m not allowed to get to what I need because I’ve also relinquished any thought into moving at a pace that satisfies everyone else. Procrastination? I’m a master. So I sit here listening to the post-punk band Gang Of Four and its final offering with guitarist/vocalist Andy Gill, a 5-song offering in the form of This Heaven Gives Me Migraine. I’m not sure why this was released unless it was just a nod to Gill as a posthumous farewell. While many remember him as the band’s guitarist, I admired his production talents on the band’s music as well as producing Jesus Lizard, Therapy?, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others. In the 5 songs here (3 here really as 2 or Andy speaking), with songs that run circles around its contemporaries. The new version of “The Dying Rays (2020)” is pretty amazing, as is the reworked version of “Toreador.” And then there’s “Natural’s Not In It,” of course off 1979’s Entertainment! Not really any new material but well worth it all.
I follow that up with Black Books’ latest release, the Cheer Up E.P. and one thing I’ve never considered was ever really getting emotionally invested into the Texas band. They have a sound that’s pretty…grandiose. Within the confines of the 4 songs here I see the appeal, especially with the opening “In The In,” but it doesn’t do much for me. Everything is pretty over the top and the clarity of the music is pretty amazing, I’ll give them that but personally, I don’t feel it. The band was made for popular culture thought.
After that listen I was left wanting more, hoping Kevin Krauter’s Full Hand (Bayonet Records) would leave my appetite whetted. And the funny thing here was, it did. The Indiana-based singer/songwriter pleases ear canals with unbridled emotions of each one of his songs. There’s “Opportunity” that builds around electronic percussion and keyboards, balancing it out with guitars. It’s driving and subtle at the same time. The acoustic guitars on “Patience,” right over that mechanized beat and his falsetto make this one magical. The full cataclysm of instruments on “Surprise” is an indie rock dream with loads of melody, capturing a mood that’s liable to get even the crabbiest of people out of funks. I’m not even taken aback by the light jazzy Bossanova swing that underlines “Kept” because sweet melodies permeate throughout it. “Pretty Boy,” with its lo-fi delivery is so charming and evokes Denison Witmer and dare I say, Elliot Smith, as does “Full Hand.” Mind you, Krauter isn’t playing at being a carbon copy but simply owes those that came before him, a debt of gratitude. And he offers it up with talent. This album is pretty challenging and easy to love.
The band is a couple of years short of living through an almost 20-year existence and I’ve followed the career of Today Is The Day since its debut album Supernova (Amphetamine Reptile) but wasn’t completely entranced until the band’s follow-up, Willpower, the band’s avant-garde metal became addicting. So yes, I am a fan of the dark sounds emanating through speakers by the dark lord Steve Austin, founder, and only original member of the band. The sound has evolved throughout the years, although I’m sure my mother would say they’ve “devolved” but what the fuck would she know about the TITD except that it would force her to Wednesday mass (you’re welcome lady.) But this week, worlds collide as the new No Good To Anyone (BMG) dropped and it’s definitive Today Is The Day. Loud, dark, abrasive; all the things one would want in the band. Its noisy grindcore fucks all the senses and you won’t be able to taste food, listen to anything else the same way, and even have doubts about your own feelings. And that’s all thanks to the opening “No Good To Anyone” in 7 and a half minutes. This album is all fans have wanted and to be honest, Steve Austin always delivers and here it seems more refined. I dig it, although I always do. But “Burn In Hell,” I can’t tell you how much I love this song!
Throughout 2018 and 2019 Angelica Garcia released an assorted amount of singles, a number of which would be found on her debut full-length release Cha Cha Palace (Spacebomb Records). Was it due to a lack of material? Probably not, as together here they all fit in well lined up right next to one another. That and well, the songs here are pretty fucking genius.
Cha Cha Palace, like the imagery of the collage of her album cover, shows the evolution of an artist that has found solace in indie rock but doesn’t forsake the culture still deeply embedded in Garcia’s soul. The L.A.-born artist opens the album with “I Don’t Believe In Death” where Garcia layers her vocals for harmonies that are transcendent before her words tear into an existential existence living on forever as her Latin roots are evident by the percussion emanating here and on “Karma The Knife,” where subtlety is in her genes, and then again it isn’t. When she utters words like “I fucked up last week, and I’ll probably fuck up the next,” Garcia delivers it with humor as she’s as direct as can be.
And then there’s “Jicama” which comes in three parts: the original, “Jicama Pt. Dos,” and “Jicama – Edit.” They’re all variations of the same song but slightly different from one another. “Pt. Dos” has electronic percussion throughout, while the “Edit” extends the original a bit further. Jicama is what’s considered a Mexican turnip or bean, it’s the vehicle used where Garcia waves her flag proudly. She speaks volumes with her words like, “I see you but you don’t see me,” “Born of the roots from under East L.A. / cultura Chicana is alive today,” and “I want some freedom with my pan dulce,” and it all becomes clear. It’s fine walking through more than one culture within the U.S., which is what many do.
She also includes a version of an aged standard by José Alfredo Jiménez, “La Enorme Distancia” with lyrics that are similar yet differs from the original. “Guadalupe” borrows from 90s Hip-Hop and blends it seamlessly with imagery of Mexican-Catholic sainthood but it’s “Lucifer’s Waiting” that’s the song amongst songs. The rhythm sways with snakelike ability as the bassline slinks all over the percussion as the devil himself seduces with Latin vibes. Garcia’s voice is all but perfect here with edgy howls sputtering in. Guitars glide in unnoticed until it’s too late for you to even notice and then vanishes. It’s the perfect storm. On “Agua De Rosa” she layers vocals to create melodies from, as she sings in Spanish & English easily moving her bilingual tongue through the track before the drums come in. She does the same on “The Big Machine” and it’s difficult not allowing her to entrance with her imagination.
There are moments Garcia sounds like a throwback, a lost soul out of place in time, with “Penny In My Back Pocket” utilizes 80s and 90s-like melodies and electronic instrumentation…but it works!
I’m not sure if Angelica Garcia is even aware of the beast she’s unleased with Cha Cha Palace but I do know one thing for sure; she’s set the bar to a much higher level and others will be hardpressed to follow her lead or even have the ability to catch up. She’s just that badass.
There are moments when I’m not sure what to make of things. Can I neatly fit something in where I think it belongs? Should I place it in a venerable selection of items that defy even its own classification? It leaves me in a limbo scratching my own head questioning myself.
This is where I find Noa James and his new self-released E.P., The Love Was Never Hidden. I lost touch with James since his Grannie Said (Alpha Pup) full-length in 2018. But since that time, James has released an assortment of E.P.s and singles and now this release gives me a chance to catch up, move backward into his catalog to figure out how and when he arrive at the point we find ourselves in now.
The Love Was Never Hidden isn’t your standard emcee-rapping-over-beats where listeners are cornered into self-braggadocio or stories of ‘hood life while poppin’ bottles with hoes. No, this is…different. Here Noa is much more self-reflective, timbre’d in melancholy. Now while the opening “Cute.Ugly.World” opens as a few piano notes are hit with Noa’s staccato vocals, it morphs into a deep bassed, with introspective lyricism juxtaposing modern culture with his own positive self-esteem. He does it utilizing vocal effects but this is where the most obvious effects begin and end. But it’s his soft-spoken that rarely raises levels in an attempt to be more forceful, instead, the conversational delivery is quite charming, which adds more art into his identity on “Miracle Feat. Aye Brook.” The melody haunts with beauty. The track is offset by “Look Where You Been feat. Speeks Geak,” with a story of perseverance, born with the struggle of addiction, living through unending generational cycles. This is cleverly worked through with Atari soundbites blended with notes equally moving along those lines as Noa raps with love in his words. And ‘love’ is what Noa James is about.
He makes that obvious with “Self Love(The Key) Feat. Amanda J.A.D.E” where he dictates with words that offer up an array of emotions and being fine shifting through them. All that while “Love Will Set Your Free Feat. James Gardin” forces one to deal with love in the best of ways. Then “Flavor In The Sky Feat. Aye Brooks” sees the bright side of life through all the pain endured while “Mi Amor Orca Four” closes things out as he waxes poetic over a tame beat with a saxophone blaring over it and he truly is a “cerebral assassin.”
It’s easy to become enamored with Noa James, his delivery, and his music on The Love Was Never Hidden because even if there are flames all around, he sees the beauty in the fire and never lets it go. This is Hip Hop with a myriad of art flavoring throughout. We can all appreciate and enjoy it.
When someone offers, “First impressions are everything,” I normally have to disagree. There may be something beneath that initial impression that may leave you impressed with a second glance.
That’s what happened here with Gladie and the band’s debut full-length, Safe Sins (Lame-O Records). As “Pray” opened up to keyboard washes and then singer begins Augusta Koch, one might think this would be another project with airy vocals and lush backdrops throughout. But instead, things go in a different direction altogether. Of course, it could be attributed to Koch as the leading force here with Matt Schimelfenig (guitar, bass, keyboard, and sang on the album). While Gladie’s is reminiscent of early 90s female-fronted indie rock that’s inviting, warm and plays with a harder edge, the songwriting is completely fucking brilliant! Yeah, that’s a compliment.
I keep revisiting “When You Leave The Sun,” which opens innocently enough before the band explodes into a cacophony of noisy melody that forces me to raise the levels to 11. Guitars sputter with dissonance but the melody that’s driven through them, well, they’re just magnificent. “A Pace Far Different” is unadulterated power-pop with keyboard notes in the background accentuating its melody and Koch’s vocal delivery is again, inviting and tender. Live, I’m more than certain the band could rip through this one if they wanted to, leaving it open to interpretation, fitting whatever mood they’re in.
But it’s “Even At Your Easel” where the band finds its stride between delicacy and power. Keyboard notes are placed perfectly against guitars with a melody that’s hypnotizing. If more bands wrote songs like this, what a perfect world we’d find ourselves living within. What am I saying here? Well, it’s easy to become enamored with Gladie pretty quickly as the subtlety within the music the duo creates casts a wide shadow alone. Couple that with catchy hooks, clever songwriting, and an obvious likeability and there’s a formula they can utilize album after album. Safe Sins doesn’t play it safe and it shows. It’s pretty clear the band fills every song with care and amazing songwriting.
Doom metal. This is what everyone’s parents are usually afraid of. As one generation moves into the next though, I’m sure the next wave of parental units finds nothing wrong with instruments bludgeoning against one another. But this isn’t about your music, it’s still your daddy’s rock ‘n roll.
Brooklyn’s Insect Ark will never be denied its rightful place on the doom spectrum with the glorious sludge it produces and with its third full-length album The Vanishing (Profound Lore), the group exceeds expectations. Both current members Dana Schechter (Swans) and Andy Patterson (ex SubRosa) tug and push through instrumental soundscapes which is no easy feat.
Opening with “Tectonic,” we can all feel the shifting plates as the left coast sinks into oblivion here with bass, drums, dissonant guitars feeding back sets the mood for such destruction. Patterson holds steady as Schechter takes moves guitars slow and steadily, playing with dynamics. The slow dread of “Philae” moves even further down into cavernous locales deep beneath ocean floors. Deep and dark with no hopes of escape. The mood is clear, and the band moves mysteriously. Why does it fill me with panic after every listen???? It lets you know you’re still alive to feel something.
Insect Ark is pretty badass, and The Vanishing is fucking monolithic in delivery. This is what you would expect ravaging of hell to sound like, or possibly the Purgatorio Dante once wrote of, on the travels towards heaven. Whichever one it is, Insect Ark brings so much dark beauty into my life that I’m grateful for its musical indulgence that has become mine.