Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call
Released March 3rd, 1997 on Mute Records
Nick Cave is easily one of the most enduring artists in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. In the 1980s he staked his name on crawling, disturbing post-punk that encapsulated the violence and Biblical darkness of a mythologized American South (this despite growing up in Australia and basing himself out of England). From 1994’s Let Love In onward, he tempered the abrasive potentials of his songs with a renewed focus on texture, including piano and gentler tempos. Despite this, both it and 1996’s classic Murder Ballads reveled in the darkness, spiking moody atmospheres with moments of bone-chilling terror and loud musical moments. The Boatman’s Call, then, is an anomaly in his catalog. Everything before and after is shot through with darkness, full of revenge, murder, and sinners in the hands of an angry God. While 2001’s …And No More Shall We Part continued on with the exploration of gentler tones, The Boatman’s Call is also a musing exploration of spirituality and love.
“I’ve felt you coming girl, as you drew near,” he sings on “Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?”, “I knew you’d find me, cause I longed you here.” This is a somewhat atypical Nick Cave lyric. Also atypical is “Just like a bird that sings up the sun / In a dawn so very dark / such is my faith for you,” the opening line from “There Is A Kingdom”, a song that feels as New Testament as Cave’s other work is Old Testament. “West Country Girl”, “Black Hair”, and “Into My Arms” are all about PJ Harvey, whom Cave dated briefly in the middle of the Nineties. “Into My Arms” was also performed at Michael Hutchence’s funeral (after Cave requested the cameras be shut off, so don’t go looking for footage). It’s also the wedding song of my wife and I; it was originally going to be “Have I Told You Lately” before we remembered that latter-day Rod Stewart sucks.
That said, there are a couple of songs on The Boatman’s Call which can be considered more standard fare for Nick Cave. “People Ain’t No Good” walks that careful line between love and death that is familiar for Cave fans (and also found it’s way into Shrek 2 somehow); “Lime Tree Arbour” straddles that same line, although in that case it’s love protecting Cave from death rather than the other way around. “Idiot Prayer” is also about dying, although there’s a firm sense of fatality that accompanies the line “If you’re in Hell, then what can I say / You probably deserved it anyway / I guess I’m gonna find out any day / For we’ll meet again / And there’ll be Hell to pay.” The real summation of the album – and perhaps Cave’s career as a whole – comes on the final song, “I Got You Bad”. “Babe I got you bad / Dreaming blood-wet dreams / Only madmen have / Baby I got you bad.”
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Released May 13th, 2016
During the wild, chaotic run-up to the release of The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West announced that it would be a “gospel album”, inspired by the African-American tradition of blending worship in church with soaring choral music that God himself might hear. Despite the label, the only gospel moments on the album were the admittedly brilliant opener “Ultralight Beam” and “Lowlight”, an intro to the more traditional (and Young Thug guesting) “Highlight”.
Fellow Chicago musician Chance The Rapper was on the former, and it’s Chance The Rapper that is now bringing out what ‘Ye promised: a full-on gospel hip hop record, embracing the worldliness of life in often-violent Chicago, and simultaneously the glory and life guide of his religion. Rather than the lysergic uncertainty of his breakthrough Acid Rap, Coloring Book finds a man confident in his faith and in sorrow for his city and his people. “Blessings (Reprise)” has him saying “They never seen a rapper practice modesty, I never practice, I only perform”, and this serves as a good overarching theme for the record as a whole. It’s an album that stands in direct contrast to the nihilistic, violent drill scene that Chicago is known for; rather than a finger-waving sermon, though, tracks like “Summer Friends” seem to offer a prayer for those caught up in the summertime violence that is endemic to the drug and gang-ridden city streets. The problem with overtly “Christian” artists is that the music often seems to take a backseat to the message; they’re so concerned with connecting with “the kids” that they don’t take the time to actually figure out what makes the secular music so appealing in the first place. Chance succeeds exactly where “Christian rap” or “Christian rock” fails: he lets his faith infuse his music, rather than supersede it. He’s intensely relatable, even when you’re outside of the continuum of his experience.
Even better in this day and age, Chance is staunchly independent. He doesn’t need a label, and he doesn’t need to sell his album just to fulfill label quotas. Coloring Book is free, and as such it’s technically classified as a mixtape. It’s a subject he addresses on “No Problem” with Lil’ Wayne (no stranger to label problems himself) and “Mixtape” (with ultra-prolific fellow mixtaper Young Thug), but it’s also a subject he brought up originally on “Ultralight Beam”: “He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”. Mixtapes are ineligible for Grammys, and if there’s an album that deserves a Grammy it’s Coloring Book – a fact that perhaps led Chance to release it on DatPiff and then shortly after make it a short-term iTunes exclusive. Nonwithstanding whether having it on a paid streaming service makes it “for sale”, Chance’s Twitter fans ended up tweeting all of the lyrics to Coloring Book. They’re a loyal group and Chance is the sort of artist to reward them for their loyalty with both quality and (between his own work, his guest spots, and his gig fronting Chicago experimental pop group The Social Experiment) quantity.
Chance deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other giants of modern hip hop – your Weezys, Drizzys, Yeezys, K. Dots, et al. He’s got a killer flow, has a Kendrick-like appreciation for intricate wordplay, and has the ability to ride a vibe for all it’s worth better than pretty much anyone else. In a genre dominated by a careful balance between artistry and crass mercenary sales grubbing, Chance takes the left hand path and is all the better for it.
AND THE REST…
Always Strive And Prosper
04/22/2016 on Polo Grounds Music
The perennial also-ran to A$AP Rocky comes into his own with a solid album of hard-hitting verses backed with a staggering amount of high-profile guest spots.
04/22/2016 on Pink Flag Records
Eight songs from 2015’s Wire record were redone for this mini-LP. As it turns out, the pioneers of jittery indie rock fall apart when they try to hold themselves still even for a moment.
04/22/2016 on Carpark Records
Toronto has a reputation for noisy rock ‘n’ roll – emphasis on the noise part. In the grand tradition of METZ, Fucked Up, et al. comes Greys, who pile noisy parts on top of each other until they approximate songs. While their sound has expanded somewhat from their debut, it’s still fairly limited in terms of it’s overall impact. Still, for something to crank up to ten and annoy the neighbours with, you could do worse.
Plants And Animals
Waltzed In From The Rumbling
04/29/2016 on Secret City Records
A pleasant surprise from a band that’s been very hit and miss since their stellar debut, Parc Avenue. Strives less for radio play than it does for campfire grit.
Paging Mr. Proust
The veteran alt-country band has lost quite a bit of oomph over the years, and their ninth album can’t hold a candle to their earlier career. Decent enough stuff, but unexceptional.
The standard-bearers for the modern Riot Grrl movement get a little slicker and a bit more commercial on their third album. It works, but I miss the fireworks and slashing of old. At least the punk rock feminist righteousness is still intact.
Special Friday Edition!
Friday is the day on /r/music where the mods like to turn off the ability to post YouTube videos in the hopes of the subreddit actually becoming one for music discussion and not, say, where Reddit likes to dump it’s garbage fire taste in music. Ha. Ha ha. Well, they try, that’s the important thing.
If you tuned in yesterday, you’ll get the basic gist: I take a look at the top ten songs posted on /r/music in the last 24 hours and tell you how terrible Reddit’s taste in music is. In much rarer occasions, I’ll tell you where they get it right. Fridays will be fun because of the phenomenon mentioned above: it’s going to be a collection of those songs with the staying power to make it through the discussion posts.
Also, for the record, no I don’t plan on this being an everyday thing, but I would like it to be an everyday I can manage it thing.
June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 3rd, 2016 (12:30 PM)
#1: Mr. Bungle – “Air Conditioned Nightmare”
Reddit manages to kick it off with something weird and cool, courtesy of Mike “Weird and Cool” Patton. Goes through four different changes in tone and structure, each completely different than the one before. In anyone else’s hands, it would be a gigantic mess, but Mike Patton isn’t anyone else.
#2: Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel The Pain”
Sirius XMU’s favourite Dinosaur, Jr track is also Reddit’s most commonly posted DJ song. Thankfully it never gets old, although I’ve heard it three times today between the radio and this particular set. Two good tracks in a row, Reddit, maybe Fridays are your thing.
#3: Beck – “Wow”
Ah, the new Beck track. The one that starts off like a generic hip hop beat, or maybe something like what Beyonce might have rejected for her self-titled 2013 album. Then Beck manages to bull through it in a display of sheer Beck-ness. Still, it feels a little empty and it’s not until 2/3 of the way through that Beck lets his freak flag fly in even a limited fashion. Honestly it feels a little like Beck chasing a hit and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Holding out opinions for the album, we’ll see.
#4: The Cult – “Love Removal Machine”
The Cult were an Eighties goth band that scored some hits when they decided to be an AC/DC tribute band instead. My mom knew the lead singer in high school at one point, to no one’s surprise he was a dick. Trust Reddit to go ga-ga for generic hard rock because “it has guitars”.
#5: A Day To Remember – “Bad Vibrations”
Why do metalcore bands have such fucking awful band names? Why do metalcore bands all recycle the same damn low-end chugging? Why do metalcore bands mistake sung choruses for depth? Why do metalcore bands insist on breakdowns that are cheesier than a Wisconsin hamburger?
Anyway, you can always tell when the pre-teens are posting, because there will be metalcore.
#6: The Monkees – “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”
Okay, show of hands. Who was crying out for a Monkees comeback? Anyone? Put your hand down, dad, Jesus Christ. Wait, this is actually sort of good. I…I kind of like this. Noel Gallagher co-wrote it? I suppose that explains some things.
#7: Portugal. The Man – “Plastic Soldiers”
Who gave the indie kids access to the internet? They managed to find a Portugal. The Man track that isn’t all that great. It’s about as middling a work as you can find from a middling also-ran indie act. You thought you were doing something good, but instead you fucked it all up. Good work, Reddit.
#8: Soundgarden – “Rusty Cage”
The rest of the post title literally reads: “I know this has been posted before, but not for months & I think it’s well worth posting again.” Oh, well, I guess that makes sense except wait IT WAS LITERALLY POSTED YESTERDAY AS THE JOHNNY CASH COVER.
Who are you trying to fool, anyway? We all know where the inspiration to post this came from.
Decent tune though.
#9: Link Wray – “Rumble”
Link Wray poked a hole in his speaker cone with a pencil and invented hard rock single-handed. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Reddit of course knows it from its multiple pop cultural appearances, including Tarantino. At least it’s better than just posting the songs from Guitar Hero .
#10: Joywave – “Nice House”
Lyrics are the only really halfway interesting part of this song, the rest is a really generic and straightforward electro-pop song, like what Hot Chip would write if they got really, really boring all of a sudden. The outro is rather nice though.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: B- (Not bad, Reddit!)
And now for a new sequence, brought to you by the…ahem…”tastemakers” of Reddit’s infamously awful /r/music community.
It’s often said that Reddit has shitty taste in music. Granted it’s usually 4chan’s /mu/ community saying that, but let’s be serious here. Whether it’s the constant love of Queen and Foo Fighters that makes me roll my eyes or the circlejerking over how superior they are because of their love of Tool, /r/music is a bottomfeeder in terms of music communities.
Or is it? I’ve decided to start an ongoing series where I listen to the top ten songs posted to /r/music in a 24 hour period and assign them completely subjective ratings based on my own insane whims and thought processes. Then we’ll see if /r/music’s taste actually sucks as badly as I’ve always thought.
Without further ado, I give to you:
June 1st, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM)
#1: Rancid – “Ruby Soho”
The most poppy and milquetoast of all of the Clash-rip-off’s poppy and milquetoast songs. /r/music loves punk rock, but only if it’s from Le Nineties and it’s been beaten to death on the radio since then.
#2: The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”
The first time since 2001 that Australian sample-stackers The Avalanches release new music AND it’s fucking stellar? You win this time Reddit. You win this time.
#3: Dethklok – “I Ejaculate Fire”
I’d say something snarky about how the only way metal gets to the top of Reddit is in cartoon form but I can’t hate on Dethklok. This isn’t completely dildos.
#4: Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage”
The best that can be said of this is that at least Reddit took a break from jerking off over “Hurt”. At least with “Rusty Cage” I don’t have to read about how “REZNOR TOTALLY SAID THAT SONG BELONGED TO JOHNNY CASH NOW BECAUSE THE COVER WAS SO MUCH BETTER!!1!11!”. In fact, one of the top comments is the exact opposite. Thank you, Jesus.
#5: The Distillers – “The Young Crazed Peeling”
Man it has been a long time since I thought of Brody and The Distillers. It still sounds like Courtney Love fronting Rancid to me, and as the years have gone by that prospect appeals to me exponentially less. Also, those fucking spikes. Jesus Brody, how much money did you shell out to get that look down just right? How punk rock of you.
#6: Huey Lewis And The News – “If This Is It”
Jesus Christ Reddit, Bret Easton Ellis was being ironic. What the hell is wrong with you?
#7: Lagwagon – “Island Of Shame”
Apparently it’s awful pop punk day on Reddit. Lagwagon was that band that was there for you if Pennywise was too edgy for you. Completely indistinguishable from anything else on Epitaph in the mid-90s.
#8: Grand Funk Railroad – “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”
GFR got a lot of hate back in the day from critics because, well, they’re not really that good on average. Still, they were capable of moments of brilliance, and “I’m Your Captain” is one of those. For more on Grand Funk Railroad, consult your local library.
#9: Men At Work – “Down Under”
Goofy Eighties pop rock from the Gowan of Australia. I often wonder who posts these sorts of songs. Kids nostalgic for a time they never had to live through? Adults putting on rose-coloured nostalgia glasses? Mouthbreathers who listen to bland Mix FM stations at work? At least in dying you don’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time.
#10: The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (aka The KLF) – “It’s Grim Up North”
Reddit’s sizeable school shooter community comes through in the clutch.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: C+
Savages – Adore Life
Released January 22nd, 2016 on Matador Records
London’s Savages came roaring out of the underground in 2013 with Silence Yourself, a stunning debut rife with jagged edges and bearing the tattered, smoke-stained marks of a life of listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees, Joy Division, and Public Image Ltd. On the strength of singles like “Husbands” and “She Will”, the band staked their claim to being the most exciting post-punk band in years. Their follow-up sophomore album smooths out some of the jagged early-Eighties spikes but turns up the volume even louder, bringing us closer to the days of Seattle grunge more than the brutal recession of England during Thatcher’s first term. The guitar riffs are brought to the forefront, cutting through the noise on tracks like “The Answer”, “Evil”, and the late cavalry charge of “T.I.W.Y.G.”. Jenny Beth’s songwriting takes a different tactic as well. Silence Yourself was a duality, a balance between pain and love; often it was difficult to decide whether the basis for her churning lyrics were domestic abuse or rough consensual sex. Adore Life delves into her thoughts on love itself. The answer of “The Answer” is love; she knows that if she and her unnamed object of affection were to sleep together they would remain friends, but she has to confess her love for him regardless. “Sad Person” is her descriptor for herself, describing herself as “never satisfied” and wondering why she hesitates to give in and just love (while simultaneously describing love as “a disease” and comparing it to the rush and subsequent addiction of cocaine). “Adore” brings about the central conceit of the record: Is it human to adore life? Just in case she dies tomorrow, she has to say that she does, but is it normal? Is it right? As “Sad Person” alludes, she can’t stop her overactive brain from chasing this question around and around her head when she’s just trying to get some rest. I know the feeling, all too well.
Adore Life is a fine follow-up to Silence Yourself, although the middle of the record tends to fuse itself together into a morass of mid-tempo throbbing guitar lines peppered with Beth’s obsessive yelp. There are as many utterly urgent cuts here as there were there, however, and they’ll have you questioning your own assumptions on the nature of relationships for the rest of the year.
Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
One of the things you pick up on when you’re married to someone with a Master’s in Political Theory is what the post- signifier is; that is, what the “post” in post-colonialism, or post-modernism, or – more relevant to this review – post-punk means. To keep things simple, it’s an act of space-clearing, a way to make room to deconstruct the implied “pre” portion and to analyze what makes it tick, so that you can put it back together in more meaningful and insightful ways.
Post-punk, then, was a deconstruction of the original first wave of punk rock, the fabled “three chords and an attitude” that came roaring out of Britain during the brutal recession of the late 1970s. A lot more went into punk rock than just three chords, of course; most of those bands were into reggae, ska, dub, country, jazz, and nearly any other form of music that wasn’t boring-as-hell California rock. A band like the Clash, or the Slits, had a lot more going on under the surface than their more popular tracks might have you believe. Post-punk took those blended ingredients, separated them, and then re-blended them into new shapes. Gang of Four took the strident political screeds of the Clash and made them dance; Pere Ubu mutated dub and ska until they were nearly unrecognizable; Swell Maps chopped the general idea of music up into something that still sounded like music, but only if you stood far enough away.
The general popularity of what we’ve come to know as “post-punk” has risen and fallen over the years, and when it’s time came around again in the early 2000s it seemed as though everyone was finding that essence rare. Unlike their forebears, though, the bands that caught the attention of the post-9/11 college kids weren’t all that interested in breaking down their influences to examine and rework them. Interpol didn’t do much to Joy Division beyond adding big basslines lifted right out of the poppier Cure albums. !!! replaced the soul of Gang of Four with disco, which is like switching out butter for margarine and pretending it’s radically different. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were an obvious dead ringer for Siouxsie Sioux. The Strokes wanted to be Television, who weren’t technically post-punk but may as well have been. The only band who really seemed to want to break apart the conventions and get right down into the very essence of revolutionary sound itself was liars, and they got ripped apart for it (They Were Wrong So We Drowned is still one of the best albums of the 2000s, dammit, and I stand by that).
So when I say that Girl Band reminds me of liars, it’s because Girl Band is also willing to take the bands that influenced them, break them down to their atomic components, and rearrange them in a fashion that is, god forbid, actually refreshing. Take “Fucking Butter” as an example: the riff that kicks it off is weirdly familiar, like I’ve heard it on a Sleigh Bells song, but what comes after pounds out that riff so that it becomes increasingly unhinged. Three minutes in and more textures get added – high-gain guitar scrapings mainly – and then it becomes piled on to the point that it feels as though it’s about to crush you. Then it resets, and we’re left with a simple clicking drum beat and wildly shouted Gang of Four-esque vocals – and that’s just the half-way point. A lot of these songs are like that. They take the Gang vocals, the Swell Maps vision of song cut-and-paste, the Pere Ubu attack-noise, but they don’t just slavishly imitate these pieces. They rearrange them instead, using them in ways that their ancestors would never have attempted. “Paul” feels like it might have come out of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking, but rather than overwhelm the listener with feedback and noise like Albini did, they use those textures to build a sonic narrative from ragged beginning to gloriously blown-out ending. You can catch all of the pillars of Eighties post-punk here and there throughout, but it’s like noticing a beak in a slurry of factory processed chicken; by the time you notice it, the line has moved on and you’re left wondering if it was real or if you just thought it was.
Like Viet Cong, Girl Band have brought new life to the spectre that has been haunting punk rock since the early 1980s. Viet Cong, however, were content to make a suit out of the skin-scraps of their influences, while Girl Band performed messy chainsaw surgery, followed by reconstructive surgery that would have made the doctor from The Human Centipede proud. Call it post-post-punk – clearing a space from the space that was originally cleared – or just call it noise. Either way, it’s highly compelling stuff.
Ought – Sun Coming Down
Montreal’s Ought may be the poppiest band on Constellation Records, but this is a relative status; given the band’s predilection for building off of the discographies of Gang Of Four and The Fall, “pop” is probably not the first term to come to mind on a first listening of Sun Coming Down. Anyone familiar with last year’s More Than Any Other Day will find Sun Coming Down to work on the exact same pleasure centres: angular, nearly atonal guitar work, song forms that follow the tracks of a tidal ebb and flow rather than traditional verse-chorus structures, and Tim Beeler’s half-mad, half-Mark E Smith vocal delivery. It’s equal parts bliss and despair; as Beeler growls on “Beautiful Blue Sky”, “I’m no longer afraid to dance tonight / ‘Cause that is all that I have left”, marking out desperation and joy in equal measures.
Ought is about as classic post-punk as you can get these days. There are a million bands who want to be Joy Division but not many now that look at some of the other canonical bands: Gang of Four, Pere Ubu, Swell Maps, Mission of Burma, et al. Ought takes a more holistic approach to post-punk appropriation, chewing and rechewing their influences until they come out sounding like their own band, and a good one at that. If this year’s utterly awful Gang of Four record left you in tears, do yourself a favour and pick up Sun Coming Down, because it won’t steer you wrong.
Moon Duo – Shadow Of The Sun
Moon Duo – a side project of guitarist Ripley Johnson, more known as a member of San Fransisco psych-rockers Wooden Shjips – have, on their fourth album, settled into a serious groove. They play psychedelic rock, marry it to a motorik beat, and stir a whole lot of post-punk/New Wave tone throughout. It’s an interesting mixture, even if it’s the same kind of music they were putting out in 2010; the old maxim of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies to Moon Duo circa 2015. If you’re into lysergic guitar solos, pre-cheese New Wave, or if the concept of a Feelies that came of age in Haight-Ashbury era San Francisco appeals to you, Moon Duo are the band you’re looking for.