garage rock

THE KILLS: DOING IT TO DEATH
April 27, 2016 11:00 am

The Kills still make music, apparently.

Ashe & Ice, their 5th full-length album, will drop via Domino Records on June 3rd. Fifth album? It’s interesting how bands and their music are often boiled down to just their bare essentials. Everything else evaporates like water vapor. I wasn’t even aware of 2011’s Blood Pressures existence. Thankfully, I don’t feel left out at all, but don’t take my bluntness as an insult. For me, two Kills records should be stamped and enshrined for propelling “indie” into mainstream consciousness: 2005’s No Wow, and 2008’s Midnight Boom. The Kills and contemporaries helped push the aesthetic of ‘indie rock’; a term that now describes a type of band and how they dress and showcase their art, than the kind of label charged with distributing their music. The Kills defined an indispensable era of music when hipness, was sacred.  And shallow.  Expression didn’t require action-driven results; just a fake leather jacket and can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.  We blasted The Kills in our dingy dilapidated habitation and wanted nothing more than to attain the decrepit authenticity of Alison “V.V.” Mosshart and Jamie “Hotel” Hince. Tracks like “Cheap & Cheerful“, “No Wow“, “Tape Song“, “U R A Fever“, “Sour Cherry“, were on high-rotation at those painfully awkward indie dance parties.

The Kills are a male/female two-piece that showcased their gritty appropriation of garage rock with nervous energy and an agitating display of sexual tension. They were fashionistas. They were purveyors of antiquated technology (their earliest collaborations involved mailing and exchanging ‘tapes’ with each other). Sound Pretentious? You wouldn’t be alone in your conviction. The Kills are a polarizing outfit. While always attracting a loyal following of devotees, other’s detested them as a White Stripes rip-off. And while the White Stripes did share the male/female guitar rock dichotomy, the Kills quickly defined their own sonic pallet: scratchy guitar, barren drum machine, and dry minimalism in the tradition of The Velvets and Suicide. The Kills might have borrowed from their idols, but they made it all their own.

In a recent interview Alison Mosshart claimed their next album will be “completely different“,  but I’m not convinced. Building up to Ashe & Ice, The Kills have released a pair of new singles with accompanying music videos: “Heart of a Dog“, and “Doing it to Death.” Neither of these tunes are bad. But I can’t help but think the latter of these two tracks defines what the Kills are doing with their music at this point. Indie rock, is like, so last decade, man. Look, no one’s frowning on you if you’re salivating over this upcoming record. Nor do they have any right too. Music judginess sucks, but it’s hard to shake off, we get it. I’m not a revered audiophile, I’ve never stepped inside a professional recording studio. Yet here’s the final score: my untuned ears are either having a horribly difficult time picking out the minutia that make up their “completely different” sound, or it’s just not there. And if it’s not, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t claim to be reinventing yourself when you’re really just trying to give us the same thing in fresh packaging.What once sounded fresh, and epitomized “cool”, now sounds dated. The Kills have stretched their garage rock sound far enough: They’re doing it to death.

If you’re one of the aforementioned Kills devotees, you’d best catch them live before they go back into hibernation (or go to Europe for the duration of their tour schedule).

PROTOMARTYR BRING MOTOR CITY POST-PUNK CHOPS TO UNDERGROUND ARTS
February 17, 2016 11:00 am

Last Friday, February 12th, Detroit post-punk outfit Protomartyr performed at Philly’s Underground Arts in support of their critically acclaimed record The Agent Intellect, their second release via Hardly Art.  It was a frosty evening, but the intensifying snowfall did little to deter a boisterous crowd from cramming into the dimly lit venue.

First on the evening’s bill was Taiwan Housing Project, a local Philly noise rock band that pays homage to ‘No Wave’ provocateurs before them such as  Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. The band features both screeching saxophone bursts reminiscent of James Chance noise experiments as well as lead singer Kilynn Lunsford’s devastating howl, who also strikes an uncanny resemblance to a young Lydia Lunch.   Their sound is an excruciating blanket of atonality and dissonance. Their debut Taiwan Bulding Project 7″ EP is available via M’Lady Records.

Taiwan_Building_Project

Next in line, hailing from D.C., was Priests, a four-piece “Real Life Non Internet Band” that combine psychobilly antics of The Cramps with a relentless tension and grit of punk. The formation of a mosh pit almost immediately commenced upon Priests taking the stage. Cans of beer began to fly overhead.  Audience members, perhaps uninitiated to the more visceral edge of live punk performance, showed visible distress and disorientation. It was chaotic, experiential, it was, “real life non internet.” Their debut EP Bodies and Control and Money and Power is available via Sister Polygon Records.

Priests

Protomartyr closed the evening’s festivities with their smart and gloomy brand garage rock. Songs like “I Forgive You” kept the crowds on their feet with the off-kilter post-punk grooves of Greg Ahee’s impeccable angular guitar hooks and Alex Leonard’s precise drum execution. Front-man Joe Casey was in signature dapper attire as he shared disparaging tales of a crumbling Motor City necropolis in his somber baritone. The performance was an immaculate reproduction of their record, rewarding avid listeners with a near-complete track list of The Agent Intellect, along with a selection of other select tunes from previous output.

Protomartyr_Guitar

THOSE HEARTLESS BASTARDS DID IT AGAIN
November 19, 2015 1:20 pm

Before we begin our descent into the end of 2015, let’s take a minute to reflect on one of the lesser-noticed stand out albums of the year: Restless Ones by Heartless Bastards.

After more than a decade of releasing music, Heartless Bastards have earned their status as a staple in the Blues-Rock scene. Lead by the bellowing vocals and songwriting skills of star frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom, the band returned in June of this year with their latest record, Restless Ones. A bold follow-up to their acclaimed 2012 record Arrow, Restless Ones showcases a sound that is aged and refined while still maintaining the freshness and garage nostalgia we have come to expect from the group.

While Wennerstrom seems to have hit her stride with Restless Ones, the road to now has not been without its fair share of obstacles. Often plagued by a rotating line-up of band members, personal turmoil, and writer’s block, Wennerstrom channeled all of that energy into an album that can only be described as liberating.

Born out of material composed mostly on the road, it is no surprise that Restless Ones feels instantly like a road-trip soundtrack. “Wind Up Bird,” the first track on the album, hits the ground running with an array of power chords that function like the instant gratification of a school bell. The album then delves into the critic’s choice single “Gates of Dawn,” a declaration of rebirth that is straightforward in its message and craft. Bouncing tracks like “Hi-Line” and “Journey” act as serious feel-good numbers that draw upon images of fresh break-ups and long stretches of open road.

If you are looking for the next album that is going to change the nature of music forever, Restless Ones may not be the one for you. But if you’ve found yourself craving an hour of shimmeringly-produced, feel-good rock and roll, look no further than the Bastards’ latest. This album has the anthemic power of The Black Keys (an early supporter of the band) and the escapist lyrical content of a modern Bruce Springsteen. The combination is flawless.

With a one-in-a-million voice that croons and cries with remarkable depth, Wennerstrom is back. And if Restless Ones is any indication, she is here to stay.

WAVVES NEW ALBUM IS GLEEFULLY NIHILISTIC
October 30, 2015 4:25 pm

Nathan Williams has had quite the year. Between releasing “No Life For Me” and publicly feuding with his label, Williams somehow found time to bring us a new album in V.

wavves4V sacrifices none of the visceral, honest, SoCal influenced punk we have come to love Williams for on Life Sux and Afraid of Heights. If anything, it shows that Williams is now pandering to his strengths more than before. His hooks are tight while the drunkenly bright and hap-hazard vibe of his music is intentionally paired with lyrics about Williams’ struggle in life and love, and his grapple with the way things have apparently gotten worse since his 2011 Life Sux release.

Williams’ brand of pop punk blends hopeless nihilism with the 21st century struggle of “trying to have fun.” In the album’s opener “My Head Hurts”, Williams isn’t shy about shooting things deeply into his veins. From strictly a melodic standpoint, the song is bubbly, dancey and a gem of pop/surf/rock/punk. However, Williams asserts a lyrical dichotomy with lines like “I don’t exist” and “you’re killing me I hope you know,” and the songs main refrain “my head hurts/without you it’s worse”.

The same dichotomy is expressed on the track “Pony.” Aside from Williams obvious surf punk musical proclivity, he emulates the blind bravado and facade of confidence that is a trademark of 20 something year olds in America. His opening lyrics of “stupid and pretty self assured” and “hard to express, depressed and bored” are highly relatable sentiments. Williams taps into the snake person feelings of insecurity and isolation with his lyrics and your adolescent attempts to drown these feelings out with substance abuse are captured in his party fueled melodies. The lyric “open wide and insecure” reveals a generational awareness that makes V more substantial than Blink 182 for example, the pop punkers from a decade ago who drone on about nothing but their high school relationships.
wavves

The album art itself is representative of the futility that Williams feels, using the color scheme and common symbols on tarot cards, where something as simple as a fallen cup can represent how you are doomed for life. However, like someone who has received a grim tarot reading, Wavves knows he is doomed and chooses to ignore it. Perhaps he is even sending a message to have the fun you seek while you still can- regardless of the headaches, mental instability and insecurities. This album can only be described as throwing a party for the end of the world. Williams has confidence in his lack of confidence, and the results shine through on V.

Written by Alessandra Licul 

La Luz, A Weirdo Shrine
September 17, 2015 11:47 am

Seattle based band La Luz just released their second full length album Weirdo Shrine and it is bangin! The psychedelic garage surf rock quartet La Luz teamed up with producer/engineer Ty Segall and released the album with 11 songs at a mere 31 minutes. I wouldn’t have been happy with any length, I would just want to hear more and more from these girls. From start to finish, the timing and layout of the songs really paint a beautiful visualization for the imagination. There’s a melancholy feeling to the lyrics, an overall cloud of sadness that meets a blissfulness of love and death with the hypnotizing organ and dreamy guitar solos. At some points the lyrics get drowned out by the reverb to where you can hardly tell what the hell they are singing about. They transition into instrumental elements that work perfectly for their surf rock tune. Their talent together with the guitar, bass, organ and bitchin’ drum beats all fit together so perfectly with their harmonizing and overall creation of the band. Sounds trippy right? That’s because they are.  The album was released in August with their label Hardly Art and selling exclusively as a cassette with Burger Records for just $6!