Barrence Whitfield & The Savages – Under The Savage Sky


Barrence Whitfield & The Savages – Under The Savage Sky

If the late 2000s and the 2010s have proved anything, it’s that good old-fashioned garage rock seems resistant to the vagaries of time.  The late 1960s and the early 1970s – whether it’s the retro-funk/soul of an act like the Honeybears or the raw, amphetamine proto-punk revival of Ty Segall – have proved to be a continually fertile source for people who are nostalgic for a time they never lived through.  Barrence Whitfield and the Savages fall under the former, fusing old-school R&B, Stones-esque garage music, early funk, and Motown soul into a compressed nugget of Nuggets.  This is pure rock ‘n’ roll, free of toxic adolescent angst, radio-chasing pop blandness, and cutting-edge trend chasing.

There may be some out there who remember Whitfield from his first decade, running from 1984 to 1995, where he traded in pretty much the same stuff he’s got on display here.  His hiatus ended in 2011; since then he’s put out three albums just like Under The Savage Sky, cloaked in nostalgia and dripping with raw, crunchy attitude.  The only misstep is “Angry Hands”, which sounds too close to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” to be entirely comfortable.  Otherwise this is a solid collection of retro-rock that hits all the right notes.  While it doesn’t break new ground, it also doesn’t really have to.  Certain sounds, while they may not be chart-topping, are timeless; the sound that Whitfield has staked his name on is one such.

Hop Along – Painted Shut


Hop Along – Painted Shut

So, the Nineties.  They were quite the time, right?  So it would seem, at any rate, from the state of popular culture right now.  Twilight brought back flannel fashion for a while, making me wonder for several years if I’d stepped back in time to a Nirvana concert, or if maybe I’d just gotten blackout drunk and woken up in rural Washington.  Now all I see around town are girls in crop tops and floral print pants, Blossom-style.  Jurassic Park is killing at the box office, the U.S. election is shaping up to be Bush vs. Clinton, and I think I saw someone with frosted tips the other day.  Hold me.  I’m scared.

Musically we’re seeing signs of nostalgic flashbacks from people who should chronologically only barely remember any year starting with “19”.  Yuck thought Dinosaur, Jr. was awesome; Speedy Ortiz is a big fan of crunchy American indie rock circa 1996; Joey Bada$$ really wishes that Illmatic and Enter The Wu Tang just came out yesterday.  Further on, we have exhibit D:  Hop Along, the Saddle Creek-signed project of Frances Quinlan, former freak folk enthusiast.  At first blush it’s crunchy college rock for college kids who attended college just as Felicity was making college look far more glamorous than it really was.  There are subtle signs of something deeper buried within, however: the circling vocal strikes of Quinlan, who seems at times the sum of Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst, and Jeremy Enigk; the gnarled lead guitar lines that are as much inspired by early Modest Mouse as anything else; the smoky, country undertone to the slower tracks, especially the darker ballad “Horseshoe Crabs”.  There’s more to Painted Shut than simple rote 90s worship, which is important to note as we move headalong into an era that promises nothing but.

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Tobias Jesso, Jr – Goon


Tobias Jesso, Jr. – Goon

There’s going back and then there’s going back.  Vancouver singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso, Jr. is firmly in the latter camp, reaching back four decades into the 1970s to dredge up the ghosts of Harry Nilson, Billy Joel, and Elton John’s less ornate moments.  His lyrics are open and honest; there are no layers at work anywhere, no necessary dissection of words to find some kind of hidden snark or metaphor.  Look at the simple statements of “Can We Still Be Friends”:  “And then one night he arrives to your surprise / Someone let him in and all you can say is / “I know it’s not the same but I’m glad you came / Can we still be friends?””  “Hollywood” comes straight out of the plaintive side of the Seventies piano man spectrum, coming across as a doomed letter home from someone who’d run off to chase their dreams.  “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” is about as direct a statement of longing and regret you’re likely to find in 2015.

The plainness and honesty extends to the music, as well.  Jesso has spent most of his life on the guitar, and his piano skills are the kind that you develop after only a couple of years of practice.  There’s very little that can be considered flashy or ornamental here – some strings here, a couple of vintage studio tricks there – and the starkness feels all the more refreshing in the digital age.  Goon is an album for the odd-corner moments in your life – something to belt out while showering, or put on when company’s over, or maybe just to listen to in the dark with a glass of red wine while you wonder what ever happened to that girl that used to love you.