New Music: Friday Roll Out! With dälek, Ex-Hex, Spiral Stairs, No Win

Sitting here listening to No Win, a band comprised of ex-Fidlar members – specifically drummer Danny Nogueiras – who’s created a new group and new album in Downey (Dangerbird). When someone steps outside of previous endeavors, for better or worse, things aren’t always the same.

Initially, I was excited by the notion of listening to Downey in its entirety. The singles released for the album showed promise here – loud, heavy, melodic, intense – yes, I was totally in! “After Your Legs” opens the album and right away the band kicks out the jams in unison with clever instrument play with an amazing melodies and great harmonies. The rhythm section easily draws one in, playing to piper here with washes of chugging guitars. “Vision” slowly eases into what the band does best, working a melody from beginning to end, keeping things at just one level. “Shelly Duvall” takes a different approach, utilizing harmonies much like a 70s rock group but allowing the heavy contemporary sounds to remain on the surface. Now those, they were the singles.

I’m hard pressed to say Downey kept my attention throughout most of the album here, taking a few minor leads from bands like Fidlar itself and possibly smaller ones by Motion City Soundtrack, and occasionally the band will slow things down like on “Being Teen,” which is promising from a songwriting perspective but doesn’t mesh well with the intensity of other tracks. Downey isn’t a bad album but it’s not the one that you’re going to go back to time and again. Short spurts and adding to a playlist, that might be the way to go if you’re interested in the band’s music. That’s where I’m left.

What you may have been expecting from Ex-Hex isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get on It’s Real (Merge). Or maybe it is. Either way, you’re going to get something that’s fun, inviting and straight out rockin’ in It’s Real (Merge), which follows up 2014’s RIPS. Obviously the predominating voice here is by one Mary Timony, that petite rocker with multiple albums & EPs under her own name as well as with Helium, Autoclave, The Spells, Wild Flag, and more. But this is Ex-Hex, her collaboration with Betsy Wright and Laura Harris.

Now while the band has been labeled under multiple sub-genres like “indie rock,” “garage punk,” or “garage rock,” I’m not certain if that actually applies. Or even if it did. The sound the band grinds with on It’s Real is more akin to ’70s and ’80s female rock bands held together by those distinctive eras. There are moments you can pilfer through your own record collection – if you hold on to those old releases – and catch the similarities. The songs may vary but the feel remains the same. The ghosts of Lita Ford, Pat Benatar, and Joan Jett are prevalent here. It’s unmistakable, listening to “Rainbow Shiner” the band could easily have been another bar band in Rock Of Ages. By no means is this a slap across the proverbial face with guitars crashing over, in fact, it’s appreciated.

They let the “Good Times” roll, extracting sparse riffery, while “Medley captures the big rock love in smoky clubs. But it’s “Another Dimension” that’s more “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” than “We’ve got the beat,” in aesthetic. Ex-Hex isn’s a slouch, and they don’t conform to anyone’s musical sensibilities, just their own. It’s Real proves the band can rock and roll with the best of ‘em. That goes without saying.  

One can’t help but look at dälek and see the group has been a non-stop journey through sound, meshing Hip-Hop and a number of found elements through multiple genres, crossing boundaries further than any other artist has previously. If this sounds like praise before even mentioning the new recording, yes, it is.

Out today is the new Respect To The Authors E.P. (Exile On Mainstream) and there’s just no rest for the duo of Will Brooks (dälek) and Mike “Manteca” Mare. Just coming off the collaborative effort of Anguish, which featured members of Fire! and Faust (an exceptional self-titled release) the  one-off, vinyl-only EP is just as flagrantly explosive as anything else previously released. As dense as the San Francisco fogs, musically the E.P. taps into dälek’s extended family of musicians While they’ve chosen to once again record at the infamous Union City, NY Deadverse Studios, included on the records are bassist Jeremy Winter, keys by Joshua Booth, and cuts by touring DJ rEk just to name a few. But the heady noisy tracks, loaded with bombastic fervor is accentuated by dark, brooding lyricism that always conveys messages.

Opening with the moody title track, dälek is hellbent on getting a point across, refusing to back down bringing nothing but heat, moving at a mid-tempo pace backed by a wall of beautiful dissonance. That’s soon “With These Mics” that do nothing to speed up the pace, but does it matter? And do we question if the braggadocio is warranted? When there’s skill like this, yeah, it is. “Molten” is…heavy. From the sludgy beats, thick walls of dissonance, to harsh and informative lyrics tired of a constant political satire we’re all forced to deal with. But it’s the opening of “Defiant” that will light a fire under music fans. They paint a beautiful landscape of sound within their vision as guitars crack open the heavens to reveal a chilling horizon that remains flawless.

Respect To The Authors is deafening and strays so far from timidity. It remains as transparently compelling as anything in the dälek catalog. That’s just the way it’s always been.

(Vinyl Only)

Scott Kannberg always walks to the beat of his own drum. Now while he never receives the amount of accolades as Stephen Malkmus does, his former partner-in-crime in Pavement, in 2019 I don’t think any fucks are given. The latest album under his pseudonym of Spiral Stairs, We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized (Nine Mile Records/Coolin’ By Sound) finds him taking a different approach.

Now this isn’t an ode to Biggie Smalls but the side-stepping feel of the opening “Hyp-No-Tized,” which we could refer to as the title track but it could be that varied precursor to Biggie’s track. Not in sound and feel but in swagger. Here Kannberg introduces horns with punchy effectiveness over that swaggering beat. The track lets the imagination run wild; you could even picture Kannberg taking on a role of, conductor, band leader, the driving force behind the explosiveness here. He takes a winning chance on the track which will have you hitting the repeat button again and again. But don’t hit it too often because there’s more offered up here.

Spiral Stairs is moving towards directions where he’s aligning his own stylings with a more roots rock offering. Does it work? When a song like “The Fool” is done this honestly, fuck yes. The song structure circles around a piano-rhythm section interplay that repeats throughout, with guitars complimenting the melodies and harmonies pulled together into this one track. The piano is present on the slower paced “Diario” where Kannberg diverts a strong melancholic feel into the song. It drags like a slow-burning cigarette held tightly by an awkward panhandler walking down cold city streets, filled with nothing but inhibitions. Altering that tempo, Spiral Stairs gets lost within “Them Cold Eyes,” pitting beautiful melodies against wondrous harmonies and the results are magical.

There are moments on this album where vocally, he becomes a chameleon wrapping his voice around “Hold On (Til I Figure It Out)” like a post-Ziggy Stardust, while what surfaces on“Dear Husband” is his inner-Jagger to the music swaying back and forth. And on “Fingerprintz,” he once again incorporates great horn work with a vocal delivery reminiscent to one Declan MacManus. Look it up, I’m not making things easy. There’s so much to take in with We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized, it becomes difficult to pull just one thing great about this album. Of course there are contributions here by Matthew Harri (Posies), Justin Peroff (Broken Social Scene) Jim Lindsay (Preston School of Industry) and others that have helped him realize this album, and he’s created a record that magnificently captures all of his influences that have developed the beast of the artist he is today. Surprisingly, this album is an unexpected masterpiece.