Things aren’t always what they seem and for New York City emcees Bronx Slang, they’ve flipped the game again. The duo always comes through with tight lyricism around deep Boom Bap beats that normally get stuck in one’s head after just one listen. That’s just a fact. With a couple of albums in already and a handful of singles, so many songs have the ability to infiltrate psyches, allowing everyone and anyone the capability to become a newfound fan. It’s no secret that I’ve been a staunch supporter of Bronx Slang and with duo’s new single, they’ve thrown me for a loop. Here, both Beeks and Miggs volley dexterous lyrics back and forth but what’s unexpected are the string & horn samples on “Happens A Lot” (Fabyl Records). It isn’t a problem but rather a welcomed change. The strings are fitting, and the song allows for a different look at Bronx Slang. Looks good on ‘em.
Hailing from Italy, the Frozen Farmer deliver its sophomore long-player Things To Share (Piesse Groove Records) and here, the band delivers a strong release, stronger than I would have imagined. There’s an expansiveness the band incorporates into its sound with instruments swirling all around. An Americana view is delivered from half a world away as the group incorporates banjo, Wurlitzer, and Hammond organs into the standard guitar-bass-drums vibe. The band is good at what it does and deserves further attention and examination with and throughout its song structures.
Artists come and go while some linger around for years – even decades – waiting for their moment. Of course, many overstay their welcome while some, well, they move on to greener pastures and become the thing of legend, with stories that become mythical, bordering with godlike qualities. There’s a hefty amount of hyperbole here, though there may be some truth to what I mean.
Along comes Juliana Hatfield, who has been here since her stint in the Blake Babies, an adored indie rock group out of Boston, Mass that rose to popularity over the course of five albums before its dissolution. Hatfield herself has kept busy throughout the years, writing and recording an assortment of stellar releases, which includes a couple of cover albums, and this time she returns this year with her 19th(!) album Blood (American Laundromat)
Blood is a reflection of everything around Hatfield: from the political climate of the past 4 years to isolation, which suited Hatfield, an open introvert, just fine. On the album Hatfield tackles an assortment of issues; violence, sexual harassment/assault, politics, fascism, and more, all from the seclusion of her home, which suited her fine. Hatfield also recorded the album herself, forced into using online programs after her 8-track recorder broke down. She persevered and the final output, well, we’ll get to that.
While Juliana Hatfield has always been a fan of the direct pop song, smothered in guitar rock inspiration, she’s been able to utilize everything she’s ever learned into one song. In this case, it’s flowing through all ten on Blood. We expect something with much more of a lo-fi approach on the opening “The Shame Of Love,” loitering between both a lower fidelity and mid-fi directness. Shaky distorted guitars are placed around closer-than-life drumming as she deals with relationships. Musically, it’s perfectly warped with a certain charm that’s viable for 2021. On the cleaner “Nightmary” keyboard play around sounding much more like a recorder, or is it a recorder? I’m not spending too much time on that but for Hatfield here she’s living within “a nightmare that she can’t wake up” from, penning how many around the world feel. Fascists to the right of her, fascists to the left, and let’s not forget about the religious zealots we need to piss off.
The poignant “Had A Dream,” delivers more wonderous explorations both lyrically and musically. Hatfield could be referring to a politician or an ex-lover, it’s open to interpretation but I’ll go with the former rather than the latter. “I had a dream last night, and in my dream I had a knife. I stuck the knife into your neck, and then I pulled it out and stabbed you again.” The pop sensibility she has a firm grasp on just makes the song so enticing. She casually works with dynamics around her compositions and it’s hard not to fall in love with the song. On “Splinter” I hear that recorder again, but this time I’m willing to go on a limb and say it’s the actual instrument (maybe?) that works well for a few (see: Dinosaur Jr. “Thumb”) and for Hatfield, it does the same (if it is in fact a recorder. I may be wrong but I don’t care.) “Suck It Put” packs a punch with its rhythm and gentle guitar & keyboard notes that have no need of speed, and Hatfield’s voice is inviting. It’s “Mouthful Of Blood” that kicks a little more with jangly guitars and Hatfield’s harmonizing voice that strikes more of a chord as she tires of quieting down, forced into silence, as she sings “I bite my tongue, my mouth’s full of blood,” with really no explanation needed. She gives one anyway.
There’s so much sweetness wrapped around Juliana Hatfield’s Blood, that I do believe anyone and everyone could and would enjoy. Was this made for anyone? Probably not but it does. Hatfield probably doesn’t know it but this is one of those albums everyone didn’t necessarily want this year but needed.
I’ve followed Damien Jurado’s career for quite some time now and looking back at his career, 1999’s Rehearsals For Departure was a favorite and remains such to this day. After 15 proper album releases (barring his Live At Landcocked), Jurado steps forward with his 16th release in The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania (Mariqopa Records) as well as on his own label. With some of his last few albums wrapped in lushious melodies as Jurado explored expansive landscapes (The Horizon Just Laughed, What’s New Tomboy?, Visions of us on the Land), he’s switched things up here again for The Monster that once again shows another side of him (akin to In the Shape of a Storm.) Whichever form we receive him, there’s always going to be something to talk about.
The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania is self-produced and throughout the album, Jurado sings ominously with fragility, exposed heart, as he sometimes sings barely above a whisper. But this adds to the charm of songs that are inviting and melancholic. In actuality, Jurado is a master at his craft and always draws listeners in. The songs don’t necessarily revolve around his own life as his tales occasionally take on a life all their own. I wasn’t expecting something quite like “Johnny Caravella,” which left me unprepared for what’s to come both musically & lyrically. His fingers slip around the acoustic guitar he’s familiar with as additional notes wash through keyboards and bass as drums slowly increase in intensity. Lyrics like “And yes I can say that I quit my old life / erasing my name at the top of the page / moving my pen when they got too acquainted / I was tired, I was weak and my jaw nearly broke / as I exited north the radio spoke / all is not lost / even if you’re without a direction” revel in change, welcoming it as cacophonic guitars ring out. It’s insanity. As he closes it with “Just stick around till the light pushes into the darkness,” I’m left wondering if Jurado stayed or left. Exceptional.
With “Dawn Pretend,” Jurado again moves a bit differently here as he includes a vibraphone throughout and is much more upbeat, but like the Smiths, Jurado has always masterfully charged his songs with catchy melodies juxtaposed against melancholic lyricism. Two things that shouldn’t go together but manage to do so. At just over 2 minutes, “Minnesota” revolves around Jurado’s voice and his lone guitar spews a tale of love but could be one that’s unrequited. The sadness, the pain, we can all feel it and want more of it. The lovely little “Hiding Ghosts” again, creeps in beautifully, as the melody draws listeners in with a repetitive melody off Jurado’s chiming guitar that I wish would never relinquish its hold on my mind. Yes, it’s good. Real good.
At this point in Damien Jurado’s career, he can afford to shift the way he makes music from one album to another because well, he’s Damien Jurado. The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania is remarkably challenging in different ways. Stick around till the end and you’ll find more to enjoy and challenge your sense with.
P.S. “Jennifer” is a song to fall in love with.
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