New Music: Friday Roll Out! Bodega, MJC, Black Beach, Cursive, Ben Katzman

There’s nothing more that I enjoy than rocking out to something metaltastic or finding solace underneath a wall of Boom Bap that shares themes paralleled to my own life. I’m lucky to have been blessed by the hands that belong to one Ben Katzman, sharing and blaring a new single today that I’m mentioning for no other reason than it’s the spice in my life that just makes me smile. There’s no other reason for this opening blurb. It just is.

Generally, I’m not a fan of surprises, but an album? It’s usually dependent on the artist. Last year, Cursive carefully navigated music sites and magazines with meticulous precision. This time around, surprise release a couple of weeks out! It doesn’t get any better as far as surprises go.  

Of course, I’ve been overdosing on the new Get Fixed (15 Passenger) because when listening to Cursive, one needs to listen straight through as there’s a lot to take in. The compositions are usually densely packed but it’s only after repeated listens that all the nuances rise to the surface. It’s no different here musically. The songs compiled on this release, much like Vitriola, allows listeners to get lost on a musical journey through mountain ranges that may have one’s own will tested as if white water rafting through troubled waters with fear of jagged rocks. It all depends on your interpretation and how it makes you feel. Perspective. For me? Well, it has me questioning my own life choices. A little anyway.

The band opens with “Vultures” as guitars swing back and forth while Kasher laments, pulling knives out of unsuspecting backs. All that right before “Barricades” explodes with political venom referencing snowflakes, a skewed media, all in an oppressive culture. Guitars direct the anger while the rhythm gives that anger clarity. Cursive has always challenged listeners to think. “I Am Goddamn” hits with what could be construed as self-deprecation, as Kasher sings over notes that begin with stop/starts rhythms – as Cursive always works beautifully – and lyrics like, “I’m the white devil / I’m marked, I’m cursed / what’s worse, my ancestors were Klan / open your eyes.” While he may not be referring to himself directly, he tackles on a subject mostly ignored in this country.

There are moments on Get Fixed where there’s difficulty dealing with the band, much like on “Horror Is A Human Being” which is filled with both dread and beauty. There’s rage and anger, coupled with sweetness, right before it explodes again. The imagery is difficult to ignore with the lyrics “In the night I heard a scream / I ran out to the street …. I saw the beast with my own two eyes / I saw the beast and it spared my life / It saw something in me / I wish it hadn’t seen.” Humanity; horrific creatures. But it’s “Black Hole Town” that resonates and may in fact share parallels with many individuals.  

Filled lyrically as if it were a storyboard focused on one man raised to work a menial 9-5 before life passes by because “This town’s a black hole / this town will steal your soul / and before you know it / you’re 50 years old.” A punch to the gut but channeled with catchy hooks, hypnotic cello work, and one bassline you can’t get enough of. “This town’s an asshole” indeed. Much like what the internet has turned us into in “Look What’s Become Of Us,” a punked-up post-rock anthem focusing on the decay of humanity. Easily a favorite track.

Musically, Get Fixed is an amazing piece of work and the more subdued title-track is something no one can ignore with instrumentation layered with concise precision. While they may not share a genre or style, Cursive and dälek seem to do things in a similar fashion. But in closing here, I need to mention “Content Conman” with its bludgeoning dynamics. It’s unbelievable how Cursive creates such a sound. Yeah, this album leaves me in complete fucking awe.

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When a group seems to be all the rage, worshipped by critics who find titillation within music, I’m kinda hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Disappointment is usually where I’m led, and that’s astray. Already in by a couple of albums, it seems Bodega may be finding its footing with its new EP, Shiny New Model (What’s Your Rupture?) While I considered the band falling somewhere as if Thinking Fellers Union 282 molesting Gang Of Four, here, well, they’ve morphed into something quite unique for 2019.

Dare I say Bodega might be the breath of fresh air indie rock is so in need of to kick start it back to life? Let me back up a little bit. 2017 was apparently the year indie rock died, that is according to Pitchfork, PopMatters, and VOX, although VICE would disagree. I don’t think it was dead, just on life support. But this is about Bodega and its latest release. The band Shiny New Model doesn’t fit remotely alongside contemporaries. That being said, it stands apart, stands alone and possibly above the current crop.

Ok, ok, I’ll just say it: the band is pop magic and makes me wish for more than just an EP’s worth of material on its latest release. The title track opens Shiny New Model and it’s worth all the hype, with a catchy rhythm, juicy guitars with lots of pop flavoring and just enough distortion surrounding them, and guitarist Ben Hozie’s vocals that perfectly blend into the mix. He even begins the song adding his own name with “People ask me, ‘Ben what’s the deal with all these ATMs?’” which works perfectly and flows casually. It’s easy to fall in love with the band based on the one song. But Bodega isn’t about just being a one-hit-wonder because while “Treasures Of The Ancient World” may pop with a little less bounce, it shares its love of melodicism and catchiness.

The band quickly shifts gears on “No Vanguard Revival,” with more of a frontal assault showcasing its punk sensibilities. Then there’s “Knife On The Platter,” which may share a bit of similarity to Dismemberment Plan’s guitar work on “The Face Of The Earth,” it’s a completely different song altogether that sways and shifts with ease. The electronic movement of “Domesticated Animal” sounds pretty unique with feminine vocals harmonizing with one another with a spoken delivery on a repetitive beat from start to finish.

It’s juxtaposed nicely against “Realism,” filled with softly hued guitars that are atmospheric in its less-than-a-minute brevity. Bodega closes out the release with two versions of the punked-up jam “Truth Is Not Punishment,” an extended version clocking in over 10 and a half minutes and a much more palatable one at 3:34 minutes.  

There aren’t many lulls in Shiny New Model if any, and it’s so easy to enjoy and find yourself lost in the mix of the music. I for one welcome it all.

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The northeastern region has been home to several great, loud guitar bands, from The Pixies to Dinosaur Jr. and so many in between, there have been decades of explosive instruments, rattling through dissonant chords and wondrous pop constructions. Today Boston’s Black Beach drops its full-length debut Tapeworm unless we count 2016’s, 8-song Shallow Creatures. Oh, this band sounds nothing like the other groups I mentioned.

Making up the band are childhood friends drummer Ryan Nicholson, guitarist/vocalist Steven Instasi and bassist Ben Semeta. There’s a racket being made on Tapeworm and although the band may have songs dealing with topics like climate change, capitalism, and the internet, listeners will find solace in the oblivion that is the music created here.

Black Beach is about power, dissonance, and noise, constructed with the purpose of allowing one and all to get lost within the music itself. “Luxury Car” starts off drenched in feedback before it eventually begins to take shape, a minute and a half later, into something recognizably…fantastic! Drums steadily pound away before those melodic guitars take over and Instasi sings/speaks over the riff-heavy track, with a few shifts in dynamics. What the holy fuck! Yes, it’s the first song on the album and the band keeps the pace and freneticism to my own delight. I’m wrapping myself around “Modern World” because there’s a method to the madness here. What sounds like it could possibly be just some feedback noodling to open the track, is something a little bit more complexed. I listen to it a few times and it’s a controlled cacophonic rendition of the melody of the track itself! It’s pure genius, one might miss it upon first listen but it blends seamlessly into the track itself, which is hypnotically gigantic in scope, with more riffing that could probably make both Brant Bjork and David Yow blush.

There are moments though when Black Beach finds solace within the sludge they create. The slower dirge of “Sage” is a great example there, with drums powering through faster than slow yet slower than mid-tempo. Guitars resonate holding onto notes until they sometimes fade away, leaving just percussion and vocals. But it’s welcomed. Then there’s “Dumpster Fire” that takes hold with a singular rhythm grabbing hold of all it surveys. It’s fascinating how the trio is able to take something so simple and repetitive – without making it repetitious – and turning it into a beast of a track! The notes that are allowed to rise to the surface make for clever interplay between the band members.

Take note, the band isn’t a one-trick-pony, and the experimentation on “Nervous Laughter” is testament to that. Members build on the dissonance, tugging on the ghost of John Lydon vocally – oh wait, he’s not dead – taking a more industrial approach, which makes way for more of the group’s signature cacophonic sludge.

We can sit here and dissect the work comprised on Black Beach’s Tapeworm, which should be the album that eats away at everything that’s wrong with modern music, and modern “rock” altogether. For Black Beach, the future is now. The band needs to grab hold of the reigns and direct everything they’re doing and smash it right into everything in its path! They could be that band that changed the landscape of the genre they carefully (and carelessly) tread through. Do yourself a favor and click that Facebook “like” button. I did, and that’s saying a lot.

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Now, this isn’t my first go-around with MJC, an underground production wizard that hedges on being placed in the spotlight. While music may come sporadically and occasionally as a surprise, MJC has spent a lot of time mastering music for other artists (Ceschi, Sole, etc.), it’s difficult to find the time to write and record under the MJC moniker. With that said, Let’s Use Each Other (FilthyBroke Recordings) is a 10-song release that has come as a surprise this week.

It’s not difficult to classify the music released by MJC, but it’s not that easy either. As soon as the first track “Heavy Things” kicks things off, assumptions might be made that a chill-out vibe is going to permeate throughout this body of work. You’d be wrong. Well, maybe. MJC basks in experimenting with sounds when and where the need fits. “Wicked Cool Bro” opens with a looped piano line before the beat drops and its accentuated with distorted samples and popping vinyl, which works to its benefit. This is MJC moves from indie Hip Hop flavoring to experimental pop on “Monster (Demo Version).” It’s quite catchy and electronic drum loops with what sounds like random instrumentation, works its way through early Ween-ish cataclysms. The somber “God Owes Me Money” is FULL of dense and sparse emotional sounds permeating throughout it. There are vocal samples that are almost inaudible before someone sings “You’re a liar, give me what you got…” allowing that sadness to sustain itself until its inevitable end.

The lone guest feature “Bam Bam Piggelo” features the likeminded emcee Ersatz Splynter, known for his left-of-center talent and music play. Clocking in at just over a minute and a half, that’s all Spynter needs, straddling his words over MJC’s beat that’s hard on the boom-bap. But MJC knows how to quickly maneuver away from just one style as the moody “Sucker (Reprise)” directly moves into a headspace that broods in thoughtfulness.  As soon as it begins, it ends, allowing the shift yet again to the quick-paced “Emo G” which could fit easily on one or two other genres.

Let’s Use Each Other gives a pretty good look at what MJC can accomplish when the stars align and minds & body, work in unison. It’s a tricky and slippery slope navigated here but it’s thoughtfully pieced together and we’re the better for it.

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