If you’re reading this, I’m sure you have much to be thankful for. You’re alive for one thing, and that’s a blessing in of itself. You probably have a roof over year head as well and that would make it 2 for 2. I’ve been struggling this week, dealing jumbled thoughts about my neighbor who was forced to leave his home. It’s been some time since I’ve seen that happen to someone I know, and this stresses to me that we’re still in more than one crisis. Things get worse before they get better, and if you’re reading this, reach out to people around you to make sure they’re ok. A little goes a long way.
I keep circling back around this Robert Glasper single that was released back in August, just because it pulls me out of negative headspaces. “Better Than I Imagined (feat. H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello)” is soft, beautiful, sultry, and all-around an amazing number that has no equal. Maybe we should all find something like that to keep the madness at bay.
Ohio’s The 1984 Draft is closing out the year with a new single, “Shame About Grace” / “Counting Up” 7” (Poptek Records). The self-described “band who channels American rock sensibilities through a ‘90s-tinted punk and indie lens”, the members encapsulate everything that’s great about that ‘90s-tinted punk, making no excuses for the American rock experience. I still embrace the band’s 2018 Make Good Choices because well, it’s just fucking dynamic. But I’m not here to rehash my thoughts about that album, which screams of aged wisdom by the way, but it’s the new single.
The a-side, “Shame About Grace” is melodic with a lot of tension holding it together and singer Joe Anderl takes his time with his words, allowing them to fit naturally around the music. The band’s cohesion is from much time spent together working its music out and after constant spins the terse backing vocals become obvious on the chorus. I didn’t catch it at first but those distantly howled vocals fits in well. “Counting Up” is subdued although the band does have a dynamic shift here where it goes from eloquently strumming to hitting a bit more raucously. The band always leaves listeners wanting more. Patience, I’m sure they’re still piecing together their follow up but in the meantime, we have this to whet our appetite.
Generally, many of us are creatures of habit. If you consider that for a moment, we tend to gravitate to those things that are most familiar. this is why people don’t usually like to move freely out of their own comfort zones. Of course, I’m not very different. When I like something I usually find myself gravitating back to it.
The Canadian emcee Kay The Aquanaut returns with a new release in Ancient Fish From The Northwest (Hello L.A.), his fourteenth full-length solo album. While the majority of his albums have been either produced by beatmakers Maki or Factor Chandelier, this time around Kay steps out of his own comfort zone with an album produced by Kitz Willman, another Canadian artist with multiple releases in his own right. Willman’s production on the new release differs from that of the others as the opening “A Tangerine Sunset at the Pine River Dam” makes it clear and obvious. Kay rhymes over a beat that shows a bit more experimentation, emersed in jazz with horns that makes it evident as the repetitive keys roll alongside Kay’s vocal delivery. It’s a challenging moment where two styles meet but the Kay and Kitz partnership works well. The rhythm flows freely and Kay matches it word for beat keeping the melodies intact.
The album seems to move quickly but the one thing that can’t be ignored is Kay running many of his metaphors using maritime themes, which he’s utilized in the past but he’s The Aquanaut so of course, it’s going to be present. But Kay isn’t a one-trick pony though and listening to “Pussywillows & Cattails” makes it obvious. While the lyrics are from the Gordon Lightfoot song he wrote back in ’68, Kay’s version couldn’t be any more different. Kitz Willman creates a melancholic backdrop, as a piano repeats soft chords along with Kay’s strengthened delivery. But the two quickly change the pace with the burgeoning “IceAge Galleria.” The beat, obviously addictive, allowing semblances of chaos to peek through while Kay waxes poetic here with lyrics revolving around art, community, politics, and survival. when Kay says, “I’m a D.I.Y. until I D.I.E.,” this is the definition of fire.
One thing Kay The Aquanaut does here is deal with current climates without focusing too hard on politics. On the free-jazz of “The Government Street Gallows” he wades through his words of struggling post-January 2020 with unemployment and such. It’s what the world is dealing with now and how it’s “hitting harder right about now.” But with “Watch Out for The Sharkman” it becomes evident, the differences between the rich and poor, and the wealthy’s obvious thievery. It’s as if we receive the outside perspective of how the world sees #Murica at the moment and he makes it clear with “Versace Teargas” as his words are wrapped around disdain for politicians, and uncaring corporations. Words like, “The working class versus hopes of herd immunity / The working class versus Feds with impunity / The working class versus Versace brand teargas / The working class being muzzled by the Gucci mask…” are heavy and terse but make all the sense in the world. By its title alone, I get an idea of what “Chokeholds & Chicken Wings” is about. A subject that strikes deep with Kitz’ thick beat that’s reminiscent of early Anti-pop Consortium.
I’m left in awe of Kay’s Ancient Fish From The Northwest and I’m not sure it’s because I share the same anger within the twisted culture I’ve grown up in or if it’s just because Kay The Aquanaut, with Kitz Millman, has created a fiery release. As far as releases go, this one is a beast.
In the event a new genre is needed, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring for “post-apocalyptic folk-punk singer.” I utilize the term “folk” very loosely because this isn’t folk music, but as we edge closer to the brink of collapse it may just seem to make sense. And really, during and after the apocalypse, will that even matter?
This leads us all to Lars Finberg, a musician straight outta L.A., or as Ice-T once coined it, “Home of the body bags.” But I digress. Finberg just released his latest offering, Tinnitus Tonight (Mt.St.Mtn), and while this is only his second solo release – following up 2017’s Moonlight Over Bakersfield – he does hold 9 other albums under his belt. That doesn’t include an innumerable amount of singles, EPs, and split release with his band The Intelligence. “Where are you going with this” you’re wondering? Ok, I’ll get to it.
Finberg’s innocence is dominant throughout the album which includes jangly guitars, keyboards, the occasional punk enthused rhythms, distorted guitars, and just about anything else he can get ahold of. Yeah, again, I use “folk” pretty loosely. I had to stress that again because he doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere and does remain snuggly everywhere. He opens with “Lord of The Flies,” fitted with much of what was already mentioned but including acoustic guitars, laxed rhythms, and a catchy melody. Finberg sticks to a standard rhythm but then again, doesn’t. He works his song structures like an old worn-out pair of jeans; they’re form-fitting but by the end of the day you know they’re going to move in just about any direction you’re body shifts to. It’s catchy and moves effortlessly.
He follows the track with “Satanic Exit,” as keyboards and electronic percussive patterns lead the way, with new wave stylings but allow the added drums and percussion and guitars to move it in a different but brilliant direction. The last 25 seconds prove it was well worth the listen here. There’s no prerequisite in posturing here, only fun and interestingly placed instrumentation that allows for honest songwriting that’s punctuated with great melodies throughout. But we’re not done yet. “Public Admirer” allows Finberg the freedom to blister through the noisy number quickly and concise. Frantic bass & drums are punctuated with free formed guitars where it seems no fucks are given. Finberg lets off some steam here and we’re all the better for it.
Songs like “My Prison” are maddeningly catchy and although the stop/starts may be expected, the delivery and finely honed melodies shouldn’t be ignored. Yes, it’s done really well just like on the punk-tinged “TV True Love,” which is offset by Finberg’s vocal melodies which reek of originality in delivery. All that while the sparseness surrounding “Wild Pilgrims” moves eloquently around the rhythm section until halfway through the track where the track is filled with guitars & vocal melodies before reverting back. It’s well done and interesting.
As albums and songwriting goes, I’m left wondering how much further Finberg can go with unlimited resources given to him because while some may believe Tinnitus Tonight is a haphazard affair that could be better, I’ll be the one to point out its genius. All that as the closing “Kitchen Floor” bleeds in through my headphones. Yes, this is genius.
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. It always feels like Groundhog’s day and receiving a new release from artists has me wondering, “Didn’t I just get a new album of theirs this year… or was it last?” I barely remember what I had for dinner yesterday.
That leads us into the new release by Factor Chandelier, the Canadian producer/beatmaker who seems to have his hands all over working with a number of artists but also dropping album after album of his own. Earlier this year we all witnessed the release of First Storm (Fake Four Inc.) which is stunning musically and had an array of guest appearances. This time around, he releases a new album, offering up a chill factor in Eastlake. The new album sports no guest appearances, but that doesn’t leave the instrumental pieces bare. In fact, it’s engaging and listeners will embrace Chandelier’s deep bass movements (“Higggh (Way Up)”) while at the same time find solace in the hypnotically driven constructs (“Grand Closing”).
One difference between this and earlier Factor Chandelier releases seems to be his willingness to engage in experimenting with warped vocals & lethargic rhythms that remind me of slow-dragging New Orleans funeral marches (“Crazy Crazy”). Not so much as how they’re converted into party-driven anthems but just the first half. The saddening vibe of the song drags and spirals downward into a great depressive anthem that sounds as if it will continuously flow without end. There are moments when Chandelier’s constructs sound atmospheric & entrancing (“Ridin Around (Sixo)”), with instruments occasionally morphing into angelic voices in the distance. It’s inspiring. Of course there are moments when he drops that beat to make ya head nod (“First Session 3.0”), just to leave us guessing I suppose but even after the beat pauses, heads, at least mine, still nods.
Eastlake is reminiscent to a leap of faith; the music takes you on a journey where it ends at an ocean. Can you go any further? Yes, yes you can because this album will have a motherfucker believing he can walk on water.
The year it seems, hasn’t been a complete waste of time. I have been witness to so much creativity bursting from the seams from the very beginning. Yeah, I’m thankful for being able to share some of the most intensely captivating art throughout the past 9 months or so. But we should never, EVER, forget the past.
OXES (all capital letters because well, they’re OXES) hailed from Baltimore, MD and the trio of drummer Christopher Freeland and guitarists Marc Miller & Nate Fowler made one hell of a racket that no one should, or could, duplicate, or even come close to matching in power & intensity. And this was before I ever held a release in my hands. The first time I witnessed OXES was at SXSW back in 2000 or 2001 (I don’t remember the exact year) when I randomly entered an outdoor performance space as they ravaged the stage. They were enthralling, no gimmickry, only the sheer power delivered from their instruments and amplifiers.
On the band’s release The Fourth Wall (Cmptr Stdnts) they’ve re-released the debut self-titled album, recorded in 1999, with additional unreleased material culled from its first Peel Sessions, recorded back in 2002. All of the material was remastered to give listeners a better interpretation of the power the band was capable of making and it’s captured here in all its glory. But what made the band unique? Well, it was a dual guitar attack with drums and no bass to be found anywhere. It was rare but the song structures and sonic assault didn’t require it. The band was distinctive and with its music, it showed. Listening to “And Giraffe, Natural Enemies,” one could here cataclysmic build up of the 6-minute song, playing with dynamics throughout, leaving empty space where necessary. They turn guitars into handheld watches, as the seconds click away. The band assaults listeners with full-frontal attacks with its instruments. It’s all quite magical. The same thing happens all through the release. “I’m From Hell, Open A Windle” is a ravaging force, as guitars morph into tornadoes destroying everything within their path.
There’s nothing that smacks the senses out of you more than “Dear Spirit, I’m In France,” as the guitars are inviting, and suddenly Freeland’s drums make a change the guitarists are more than happy to follow along to. It’s a crescendo that becomes maniacally crazed, shifting dynamics but somehow keeping the same rhythm until it doesn’t. It’s orchestrated beautifully. The band’s Peel Sessions captures the OXES spirit and it floors me. I bask in the glory of the opening “Boss Kitty” as it winds up guitars and drums, destroying John Peel’s studio equipment. There’s nothing that can withstand the power of OXES and that’s a fact.
We can go on and on regarding OXES and The Fourth Wall, our final remembrance of the band that would be king. This double LP release is the proverbial nail in the coffin, but it’s a way for the band to go out in style, in more ways than one. OXES was one of my favorites, and after listening to the explosiveness here, it should be one of yours as well!
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