New Music: Friday Roll Out! The Bobby Lees, Dope Walker, Zombi, Illuminati Hotties, Yo La Tengo

We’ve been having these “WTF?” moments here and it’s just astounding. Reiterating what I’ve been feeling the last couple of weeks with this pandemic top of mind, followed quickly by racial issues we see all over the news. In honesty, I’m tired. Like everyone else, I want to go back to normalcy and don’t want to live through the “new normal.” But I’m not selfish and consider others. After learning about my brother’s own problems, yeah, I’m way considerate. The moment he said “I can’t breathe,” he was rushed to the hospital. Now he’s unable to walk of his own volition and needs oxygen. 4 weeks in and what’s looking like a long road to recovery ahead of him.

I don’t care if anyone feels this is a conspiracy, social distancing, and a mask may help you. Now if only my brother believed it could affect him, maybe he would have followed suit.

As I move on here I’m left with just one thing, and that’s a band I’ve championed since first hearing the songs that shape the Illuminati Hotties. The band is Sarah Tudzin who produces and engineers her own recordings. Yes, that in itself is pretty badassery. Her new release, Free I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For may have a title that evokes Obiwan Kenobi but the music is strictly Illuminati Hotties. This surprise 12-song release, Tudzin pushes the envelope with a much more punk-aesthetic as the songs seriously raise the bar. There’s more experimenting here, as if Deerhoof was hired to back her. That’s a compliment. But she still delivers amazing driving pop songs like “b yr own b,” filled with harmonies and dynamic changes. Do I love the Illuminati Hotties? Yes, yes I do. Would I care if no one I know shares my own sentiment? No, because they’d be fucking wrong on so many levels. This album takes things to another level. That’s my word!

Guess who’s back? Yeah, it’s Zombi! the Pittsburgh duo that takes instrumental prog rock to an entirely new level. With its new album, 2020, the band’s first in 5 years, there’s a wide array of cataclysmic sounds the band builds around. The opening “Breakthrough & Conquer” leaves no stone unturned as the band sifts through late 80s inspiration while fantastically exploring soundscapes that are part sci-fi and part arena rock. The band could easily have scored 82’s Bladerunner listening to “Earthscraper” as Steve Moore’s guitars maneuver through vast darkened skies. And then there’s “First Flower” where the band builds around A.E. Patera’s drum pattern for a powerful explosion of sound. Yeah, this here is the stuff of legend.

There’s no hedging on the fact that Yo La Tengo is the stuff of legend. The band has transcended expectations throughout the years and has been able to sustain its existence through vast creativity, whether through lovely jangly pop songs or veering 180 degrees into explosive experimentation. Most of the time we’ll get both.

The Hoboken, NJ trio’s new release, We Have Amnesia Sometimes (Matador), is a challenging instrumental effort that focuses much on repetition, beautiful tones, and unadulterated pleasure. This isn’t a free-jazz experiment (i.e. Thurston Moore with William Hooker) but more of an exploration that allows the beauty of all five tracks – one for every weekday – to permeate through the pores of our flesh and allow them to become embedded within our own DNA.

This is what the band does at times, and very well. Here they fill each track with such beauty it’s sometimes breathtaking. “James gets up and watches mourning birds with Abraham (Wednesday)” for example, clearly cuts through useless self-indulgent noise, leaving only the alluring tones of their instruments. This release, although we may not know it, is what we all need.

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When a release lists names you’re familiar with, there’s are always a multitude of questions left to be answered. Now, we may not always get the answers we’re looking for but rather, left with more questions than originally had.

Dope Walker is a band, an assortment of musicians you may and may not of heard of before, who are friends and decided to release a collaborated album this week. Here we have Aaron “Lazerbeak” Mader (Doomtree, Lizzo, Longshot), Jeff Allen (The Plastic Constellations), William Elliot Whitmore, Joel Anderson (Ten Grand), and Mike Schulte (Pork Tornado). So you may want to say this is a semi-supergroup of sorts(?) Well, the band dropped its new album Save Save and it fills me with nostalgia for those early indie releases on Sub Pop or the now-defunct Homestead Records. What Dope Walker embodies is not a re-creation of a sound that’s been all but forgotten, but an aesthetic for creating compositions that are comfortably nestled between clever songwriting and a grandiose dynamicism. The band’s power is felt thoroughly on “These Freaks,” where distorted guitars embellish the track with heavy notes and walls of feedback glistening in as they deliver vocals with underlying and subdued harmonies. The final result is beyond amazing.

But it’s catchy, guitar-oriented pop tunes the band is more than adept at creating. “Strep City” overlays the track with guitar, piano and keyboard drones, and embellish with guitar notes bouncing off ceilings. The band members share lead vocal duties, fitting them where they’re most effective. “Not The End,” which I’m not sure who handles, also contains subdued harmonies that are added ever so slightly. But just when you think you know someone, they change things up altogether. “Guest Room Bed” revolves around a keyboard and drums with background loops, and sweet vocals filled with melancholy. And then “Made To Disappear” is a bit more challenging with horns trapped in the background, strings(?) on repetition, as well as dark and haunting vocals.

One thing I can hope for is Dope Walker never falling victim to underappreciation. There have been a number of groups that have been unappreciated throughout the years, from The Grifters to Silkworm to Heatmiser. All of whom had amazing releases but… regardless, Save Save is a fascinating release that should stand the test of time.  

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Does anything really come as a surprise? Movement of genres usually come in cycles so revolving around once again is them Blues. Not your average Blues but that skronk that comes with that dirty lower east side vibe.

While they’re not originally from NYC and call Woodstock their base of operations, The Bobby Lees take a turn here, getting a lead from JSBX frontman Jon Spencer and having him produce the band’s sophomore release Skin Suit (Alive Naturalsound). That is, if anyone considers the band’s 10-track and 15-minute release Beauty Pageant a full-length debut. Regardless, the songs from one release to the next are an organic and natural progression; cleaner, longer, more ‘refined.’ Well, maybe. Better production quality is definitely felt within that context, but it was also expected.

Now yes, Spencer’s influence can be heard throughout Skin Suit but it doesn’t take anything away from the band’s identity especially since Sam Quartin’s female vocals are obviously prevalent. But the band is able to shift from a frenetic pace utilizing stop/starts (“Move”) to urging as much melody from a track as they possibly can, without overindulging within its instrumentation (“Coin”). The band maneuvers bouncy rhythms and bluesy backdrops (“Redroom”), allowing listeners to take in every ounce of sludgy guitars. And what good would it be having Spencer if you can’t utilize everything he has to offer up on your music by allowing a guest appearance (“Ranch Baby”). His creepy delivery fits in well with just a quiet organ supplied within the background.

The Bobby Lees do rock, not with reckless abandon but controlled chaos. The members sometimes let the notes on guitars linger and twang for added effect (“Mary Jo”) which I first mistook for cooing vocals. It’s brilliantly pieced together. The band isn’t averse to covering songs, but when they do here, it’s nothing short of amazing! The Blues is where the band lives and breathes so pulling from Bo Diddley’s catalog doesn’t come as a surprise (“I’m a Man”). The band’s rendition of the song takes the song to another level, maybe even unwittingly taking the song away from the male perspective altogether, giving it a your-masculinity-is-bullshit vibe. And damnit, I didn’t expect a Richard Hell cover (“Blank Generation”) which seems pretty apropos in 2020 where everything seems to be wrapped around YouTube and video gaming. Again, the song isn’t just covered but literally stamping the Bobby Lees signature all over it. Yeah, they close out the album in spectacular fashion.

We should all be on board with Skin Suit because the band takes no shortcuts with songs, allowing them to flourish naturally and effectively. The Bobby Lees have made a fan out of me.

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