New Music | Friday Roll Out! Kool Keith, Rid Of Me, Hard Nips, Refund Division, Common Grackle, The Rightovers, Bizou

The Hard Nips are a Japanese band, although all the members didn’t meet in Japan. For what it’s worth, the band is American because this is where it was formed back in 2009 when they decided to pick up instruments in hope of making something worthwhile. A few releases later, The Hard Nips return with Master Cat (Dadstache Records). At first glance, you might write them off as just another pop/punk group, but they play with vigor and toughness we don’t often find. And the music does have something to offer. Listening to “Alternative Dreamland,” I did get a spark of something more than just a group of bored musicians. The members fill the music with a healthy dose of melody that’s catchy and unassuming. Same with “Anaconda.” It moves differently but I’m intrigued. With this album, the band is having fun and just being themselves. We can’t hate that.

My skepticism normally gets the best of me when I first see highlighted names with “featuring members of” so I’m going to get that with Bizou and its album Tragic Lover. I’ll give the band this much though; it’s good at what it does wrapping the pop-induced darkwave sounds around its songs. But I don’t know, I’m left with a late 80’s / early 90’s feel thinking I’ve heard all this before. There’s just a lot more conforming pop music here that I’m finding than anything else. Although, “Delay” seems to differ here moving further in with Goth-like aspects.  

Rid Of Me delivers the new “If It Makes You Happy” / “Last” single and once again we’re here to talk about it. There isn’t much I can offer up about the band that I haven’t already said about the Philly band and the noise delivered by the quartet. “If It Makes You Happy” is the band’s take on the song made popular by Sheryl Crow, only here’s it’s dirty and you probably wouldn’t be able to clean the grime off of it. On “Last,” guitarist Mike McGinnis takes the reigns and is front-n-center, as the band trudges through all the muck and mire, pulling the track out of darkness and into the light. Yes, it’s a different side of the band but well worth the listen.

There’s something to be said about collaborative efforts, especially when it seems effortless. I’ve shared my thoughts on some that should or should never have seen the light of day but I always refer back to a few in particular. Our neighbors up north-of-the-border host a variety of artists; it’s a landscape rife with talent, which brings us to this moment at hand.

Factor Chandelier and Gregory Pepper are no strangers to the States, delivering music that’s always bursting at the seams with creativity. I’ve offered up in the past how both artists should collaborate more often, and while I would like to take credit for the new release by Common Grackle, I’m sure I wasn’t the catalyst for the duo’s first release in almost years, Old Dog New Tricks Who This (Fake Four Inc.). After 6 straight listens through, I’m not left surprised here. That’s not to say, under the Common Grackle moniker, that the due has underwhelmed me but that this album is as I expected: it’s filled with ideas many would think couldn’t work but do. Clearly, expectations were high. But I’ve already given away so much without giving any descriptive opinion of what’s here.

Songs are loosely delivered, conveying a wide array of imagery, with Pepper’s ideas are sometimes dark, but completely honest & vulnerable. The starkness of the opening “Tiny Aphrodite,” driven by piano and Pepper’s voice, trades in – or possibly adds to, youth for adulthood. Seasons change, as do the reasons our focus varies. The emotional challenge continues on “Bad News” which draws listeners in. Pepper’s opening line “I’m done peacocking / now I’m trying to stop talking… / …bad news / we all have bad tattoos,” circling around guitar & wind instruments, may just hit home for many. Mistakes, learning experiences; it may take a moment to reflect where one stands here, as we all become our parents in one way or another. Pepper & Factor are able to juxtapose the melancholic with music that’s uplifting & bright. It isn’t always done right but for Common Grackle, it seems almost effortless.

But it’s “Terry Fox” that I’m always drawn to. Within the first 30 seconds of this track, we’re aware Factor has infused his own identity here within the music as Pepper cleverly revisits his youth with old influences with lyrical content like, “Grandma take me home.” Within his words he shares his own vulnerability. The beat, strings, wind instruments; it’s all layered & blended perfectly together, never allowing the one to dominate over the others. Pepper also sees things through darkened lenses on moments like “I Seriously Think I’m Going To Die.” The thick melancholic rhythm sets the tone of the song as we follow Common Grackle through the shadows. Here the contemplation teeters on the macabre. He steps away from it on “Uncanny Valley,” which may add to the melancholy with his thoughtful lyricism, through a youthful journey that’s almost darkly comedic. With “James Fletcher,” the stories continue, as Pepper tested by others in his youth. When he ends with, “I looked at my kingdom, I was fine only there/ to sit on my throne, as the prince of despair,” he digs deep to share some of his most influential moments. The backdrop surrounding it is haunting, cast like a black & white film, set in small-town America, where expectations of murder/death could be expected. But it never comes as Pepper sits alone overlooking his realm. Pepper & Factor aren’t all about gloom & doom. “Mint Chocolate Chip” is upbeat, allowing shoulders to sway, and is filled with cheery beats. We find Pepper even having a conversation with his offspring and leads directly into “Happy Camper,” which drifts away into the past and lands in the moment.

Through the 10 tracks of Old Dog New Tricks Who This, the album delivers a wide array of emotions. Pepper came into his own through adulthood but being “cool” was overrated as he traded it in for something far better. With the reinvigorated Common Grackle, Factor Chandelier & Gregory Pepper are unstoppable…but it doesn’t end there. The LP version contains an ADDITIONAL 10 tracks(!) The acapella “Prelude” alone, layered with a number of vocal tracks is so harmonious. Given, some tracks here are brief, coming in at under a minute like “Return Of The Grack” but those are worth hitting repeat again and again. If that’s not enough, there are guest appearances as well. “Kitty In A Harness” features Ceschi and if the beat sounds familiar it’s because Factor originally utilized it on “Kurzweil.” Here it’s flipped into something a bit more…. extravagant. You’ll also find Kool Keith here but I’m not giving anything else away. I did that earlier anyway right? In all though, this album itself is simply magnificent.

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Attempting to edit my own words I’m sometimes hard-pressed to find interest in aging artists I’ve supported staunchly in the past. It’s not because an artist has failed to remain topical but because they sometimes defer to rehashing the same thing they’ve done a few albums prior. So where does this leave me? Where does that leave the artist? That my friend is a good question with an inevitable answer.

I know there must be some method to Kool Keith’s madness on his latest Keith’s Salon (Audio Logistic Records) but I’m trying to figure out what it is. To the layman, the album will come across as just another misogynistic view of women, with a focus on subtle and not-so-subtle sexual innuendos. The beats, while they don’t hold catchy melodies, are direct and can make your head nod but for the most part, it’s not anything that stands out here.

This is for lack of a better word, disappointing. The reverence I have for some of his past work isn’t present here for Keith’s Salon. I understand there was a point attempted to be made with the release of the album but it gets lost somewhere in the mix here. Whether it’s the beats or the lyrics, it’s not doing it. I’m still bumping Diesel Truckers, Dr. Octagon, and some earlier material, but not this.

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There isn’t much we know about Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Refund Division who released a single, “Recycled Leather,” last month. It seems the 3-piece, made up of Eric Arndt (vocals, guitars, keys), Ben King (bass), and Nathan Price (drums, percussion), threw everything they had into this one song, which is off the band’s debut full-length release In The Altogether. The song’s lazy and abrupt volume levels, along with an infectious melody, are quite captivating and its dynamic shifts shouldn’t be ignored. It grabbed my attention on the first listen, and every subsequent listen after that as well. But I wondered if the band was able to capture the same magic off every other track on the release.

From the get-go, Refund Division is able to reel listeners in with harmonized overdubbed vocals and staunch melodies. The band moves in unison and in one direction, at times by sheer force it seems, but never relinquishing its fierce punch throughout. There’s a hint of psychedelic meandering throughout which offers up that there’s more to the band than just a wall of distorted guitars captured on “We’ve Never Been” when those guitars are leveled up but there’s also a fragility to the band when levels power down. “Moon Daisy” feels the same as the band works around the rhythm of the song as Arndt’s thick guitar can’t be ignored. The melodies the band is able to project from song to song are powerful and rich and always has something to offer. The group rip and tear through the track leaving a wasteland in its wake.

The group isn’t afraid to stir things up though, with the pop shattering “Be A Sound,” that allows keyboards to fill out more space along with sweet salty-aired vocals swirl all around over it. It’s change of pace with cooing background harmonies taking precedence from time to time. It’s obvious the band has much more than one side to it. “Safe And Sound” dives in a little further with the quick-paced “Safe and Sound,” where the band tempo takes it into another direction, through a pop-punk kaleidoscope of noisiness that’s as delectable as just about anything the band has produced here. With so much to offer, the band never loses sight of itself or its identity.

For the band’s first album, In The Altogether showcases a number of ideas that proved fruitful. Refund Division was able to capitalize on those ideas, fleshing them out for a strong release. The band is off to a good start here with its full-length debut, let’s hope they keep that same momentum going forward.

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Rarely has a random group out of San Diego brought anything of significance in the last decade or so. Given, Hot Snakes could possibly be the last remaining masters of quintessential noise & rock left to be able to call itself Kings of SD as others remain within extended hibernation but what else do we have left? Has San Diego ended its healthy streak of southern California greatness?

While The Rightovers have a couple of albums to its credit, the new Kruise Kontrol EP (Jigsaw Records) is my first encounter with the group. While the noisy little pop group from San Diego moves differently from others, much like a voluptuous pin up model, its latest offering is rife with pop curves and twists that will leave you coming back for more to see. And hear. Most of the tracks here were released as singles throughout the quarantined year that was 2020 but they’re all fittingly placed alongside one another for 2021. “XLRTR” drives mechanically in nature, propelled by a keyboard synth as other instruments wrap and warp around it, pulling together an 80s electro vibe that’s completely footed through current climates. The band doesn’t stray too far away from that same feel with the title track, and it seems the band owes much to Ric Ocasek here vocally & musically, with short bursts of guitar added for good measure.  

The Rightovers move differently on the warm “Want You” instrumental as guitars cascade around repetitive percussive flakes, completely atmospheric and dreamy, leading into the directness of  “Camera Kid.” While it may continue to share the same influence, at least The Rightovers are honest about it and allow the band’s own identity to shine through this infectious pop song with guitars edging back and forth. The rhythm section never misses a step and allow the vocals to lead the way as it should be. The band closes out with “Sunkiss” where keyboards hum, allowing the song to take a life of its own as guitars clatter away, but always leave room for it. The melody is addictive and the noisy dissonance that collides along the rhythm works well together.

Kruise Kontrol isn’t a record I’ll be putting away anytime soon. It’s catchy with a modesty we probably won’t find anywhere else. It’s easy to find The Rightovers likeable and Kruise Kontrol enjoyable.

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