Part 7 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
I guess we’re all just taking for granted the fact that Sleater-Kinney returned last year, nearly 9 years after splitting up, and simply hadn’t missed a beat? We’re all cool with that?
Apparently I am – No Cities to Love didn’t make my albums of the year list at all, an oversight I regret. It may be an entirely meaningless list but I still feel bad. I’m chalking it up to the usual list compiler’s goldfish like memory. Don’t release your record in January or late December kids – the former they won’t remember and the latter will be past their deadlines.
So let’s take a moment to recognise just how fucking amazing it is to have them back. To have those elasticated guitar lines springing forth, to hear Tucker and Brownstein trading soaring vocal lines like not a damn day has passed since their supposed heyday, to have them etching another sublime chorus onto your brain nearly a decade after the last one. Has there been a better comeback than this? Mission of Burma might have a shout. The rest, at best, didn’t disgrace themselves. Precious few just showed up and said, “hi, remember us? We’re magnificent.”
And then there’s the video. Sleater-Kinney meets Bobs Burgers – two of the best things around right now, together for no apparent reason. Even with that last, “buy our shit!” part bringing the brazen commercialism into this marriage of lovely things it’s hard not to watch Tina bouncing along and think, “y’know what? I think everything is gonna be ok.”
Part 6 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
What the world needs now is less love sweet love and more sci-fi obsessed skronking psych jazz. Don’t believe me? Well, why would you – that statement is, on the face of it, gibberish. But then again you should give Neon Baby a listen and then try and tell me I’m wrong.
The Comet is Coming are here to tell us that, well, the comet is coming. We don’t have much time left until everything is wiped out and all that remains will be Donald Trump roaming the endless vistas of mangled concrete searching for someone to hate. Danalogue The Conqueror, Betamax Killer and King Shabaka have forseen this and are here to play out humanity in style.
What style? It’s sort a chiptune infused Acoustic Ladyland to these ears – Melt Yourself Down (to whom sax player Shabaka Hutchings also lends his horn skills) with less wild barking and more of what sounds like the noise Mario makes when he eats mushrooms. With it’s 16 bit noises and sci-fi vibes it reminds me of the side scrolling shooters and bullet hell games I played as a kid – in an ideal world the SNES would have have been able to handle actual saxophone and this would have been the soundtrack to R-Type or Pop n Twinbee*. Or the chorus sounds like it’d be perfect for one of those endless powerslides on Outrun.
I sold this to a friend of mine by describing The Comet is Coming as a mix of Adebisi Shank and Snarky Puppy. I don’t think that’s at all accurate – I was quite giddy at the time. They have that effect on me. But Neon Baby does have a sort of similar glitchy adrenaline rush to the former, something the world is lacking since they split. The Prophecy ep has got me itching to hear what they can do over a full length. There’s nothing concrete on that so far as I’ve heard but hopefully we won’t be waiting too long to find out.
*Games I loved but royally sucked at: Neon Baby is about as long as my average run on Axelay.
Part 5 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Y’know up until that foul year of our lord 2015 the concept of psychedelic doom is something that had never really occurred to me. Which is kind of odd: I’d been listening to loads of stuff that apparently falls under that banner. Or at least has labelled as such by the kind of people who spend their evening labelling things. Whoever they are. And when you think about it the two genres share a lot of traits: repetition, ludicrous song lengths, guitar solos, reverb, long hair, dry ice, beards, drugs. It’s actually quite a natural fit. And speaking as someone rather fond of getting lost in lengthy riff fests, and who isn’t put off by unnatural levels of guitar fuzz, guttural howling and/or grunting, it’s a pairing that ought to be seen out in the wild more often.
Rural Juror is an excellent case in point. It had me at the title – being a man who binge watches 30 Rock at least once a year as I am – but the tectonically paced riffing really won me over. It takes several minutes for the fuzz to really kick in, a few more for the vocalist to wake up, a few more than that for them to remember they’ve got a synthesiser knocking about the studio – in the time it takes Rural Juror to lumber to it’s end most punk bands have released an album, broken up and have been coaxed into reforming for Coachella. That might not sound like an endorsement but for me that’s just dandy – some days nothing sounds more perfect than being dragged slowly through a forest of riffs, each more fuzzy than the last (you could easily get nicely toasted taking a shot every time you hear them stomp down on a different pedal), until all your faculties have been worn away leaving nothing but blind allegiance to the Church of the One Riff.
Part 4 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
I only ever apply Moon Duo in small doses. They’re much like Ripley Johnson’s (current? Former?) day job Wooden Shjips in that they tend lock into a guitar and organ freak out so willingly that their records all sound about the same. It’s a potent groove when they get into it but unless you’re spending your days in a weed addled fog it does get tiresome. And if you are: good for you. I’ve had moments listening to them at their most indulgent in entirely the wrong context and thought to myself, “it must be nice for this not to sound terrible.”
But now and again Moon Duo nail that one groove so well I can’t ignore it. I am not a man known for dancing in public – occasional ill advised 7th pint foray to the dance floor notwithstanding – but Night Beat always grabs me, starting at my shoulders and working it’s way downwards. I caught myself swaying at the Tesco self-service checkout the other day – I came dangerously close to breaking the age old rules of British reserve and visibly enjoyed myself in public. Without the aid of alcohol no less. Which would not do.
Also I was carrying a worryingly phallic looking butternut squash – I didn’t want to lose myself in the rhythm in case I opened my eyes and found myself accidentally waving it suggestively in the face of the young girl in the queue behind me.
Everyone knows that famous Einstein quote about repeating an action and expecting different results. It gets bandied around a lot these days – I blame Far Cry 3 and it’s desperate flailing for profundity. But I’m guessing Einstein didn’t listen to much psych rock. If he did he’d know that sometimes if you keep hammering away at the same template the results will go boring-boring-boring-gold. Moon Duo are one of the few bands I’m willing to wade through all the dull unsuccessful attempts to find the moments that prove ol’ Johnny Relativity to be wrong. He may have done alright with science but he knew fuck all about writing a psych rock banger.
Part 3 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
When he’s not busy expanding the already intimidatingly large Self Defense Family discography or drawing comics Pat Kindlon can be found writing from the point of view of assholes and lowlifes as frontman of Drug Church. And it might just be the best thing he does. Reflecting anxieties and worries by embodying them he’s often screaming from the point of view of the worst the world has to offer, juxtaposing weary irony with high energy punk rock fury.
In the case of Aging Jerk it’s the internet commenter, passing judgement in the glow of the laptop screen with an inflated sense of entitlement. It’s the pendulum of hyperbole swinging between, “I give it one outta five,” and “[it’s] a blessing from on high.” It’s the often repeated banalities that lie at the end of so many user reviews, “would watch again,” “was worth my time.” It’s a shopping list of cliched film criticisms posted online by the kind of person who feels the need to have an opinion on everything and let everyone know what they think at all times.
The amidst a full bore post-hardcore guitar crescendo he boils cinema down to; “something to pass some hours/something to eat your day.” A cynical reduction, perhaps, but one anyone who’s spent any time staring at the offerings of their local Cineworld recently will likely sigh and agree with. Listening to Drug Church you get the feeling Kindlon isn’t satisfied by much in life. But he expresses his dissatisfaction with such a precise ear for the douchebags he summons and inhabits, a nice line in pith and a piercing, righteous yell that it makes for a pretty satisfying listen.
Part 2 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Infinite Dissolution may be the easiest Locrian album to listen to, but that doesn’t exactly make it easy listening. An Index of Air is a barrage of muted pseudo-back metal passages sweeping along the kind of guitar heroics that in any other hands could easily sound bombastic and cheesy. Wordless screams ring out in a reverb haze as if coming from somewhere else – somewhere you really don’t want to go. It isn’t until nearly 7 minutes in that it starts to resemble a song and the ‘most accessible Locrian album’ starts to make sense. Out of nowhere some haunting vocals emerge from the mist in a melody that if it weren’t so corroded might sound anthemic. It’s a passage that lasts barely any time at all but like a brief movie stealing performance, say Welles in The Third Man or Brando in Apocalypse Now, it towers over everything to the point your memory tells you it lasted much longer. Infinite Dissolution is a record about the end of man and amidst the gnarled wreckage and ruins that make up the rest of the record it’s that one moment of haggard beauty the mind keeps wandering to.
I didn’t get around to writing anything about Ought’s second record Sun Coming Down last year. Which, after how giddy I got writing about More Than Any Other Day, was something of an oversight. A knottier and more oblique set of songs than it’s predecessor I didn’t really get a handle on it. It was less easy to pin labels to them like it was on their first effort (this is their Talking Heads song! This is their Television song!) but that was as much of a problem as it was a virtue. Finding your identity is a messy business and whilst I have to take my hat off to Ought for not taking the easy option I can’t say I’ve fallen for Sun Coming Down yet. Maybe when they make it to Cardiff in April the songs will make more sense on stage.
But enough of what they didn’t do and onto what they did, which is write probably the best song of their career to date in Beautiful Blue Sky*.
It begins on a simple three note bass line, a nondescript rock drum beat, some meandering guitar and some dude rambling like he’s got a mouth full of peanut butter. So what is it that makes it so compelling? Largely it’s down to Tim Beeler channeling the same picket-fence guilded-cage desperation David Byrne captured so perfectly on Once in a Lifetime. It’s passages of him drowning in suburban barbecue small-talk before being born again, baptised in the waters that grace rock bottom:“I’m no longer afraid to die/for that is all that I have left.” It’s the exultant, “yes!” that follows, an exclamation which somehow says more than most singers can manage at their most confessional. And while Beeler’s performance takes the limelight the band builds on the songs humble opening over on stage left, their scrappy indie rock ascending to become something bigger almost under the radar. Sun Coming Down may not be as consistent as it’s predecessor but it has the distinction of grasping for something more, an endeavor always worthy of praise. And more than that there are moments where it grazes it’s fingers against it, moments where Ought remind us that when it all comes together they really are something special indeed.
*I think Habit is still my favourite. By a whisker.