Read Yellow – Gang Violins

Image result for read yellow gang violins

Read Yellow fits nicely in the post-punk cannon proudly wearing the influences of Mission of Burma and Fugazi on their sleeve. Released in late 2007 nine months after the group officially disbanded their second full length, Gang Violins, is fully realized and showcases musical chops honed touring the US and Europe supporting bands like TV On The Radio, Mooney Suzuki, Death From Above 1979, Dillinger Escape Plane, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Read Yellow plays well polished yet on the verge of unhinged third wave post punk which in the mid-2000s remained thankfully free of the sheen of retro-ism that slowly crept into so much indie music post 2010. “Cut Through Maps” kicks off the album like a cinder block on the gas pedal while “Youth Is A Ghost” and “Soul Sister” follow behind and lock in just at the edge of control. The band understands the power of the loud-soft-loud dichotomy and use it well through out the album. “Rosa” and “Guitar Shaped Fish” are the ‘softest’ tunes and allow the listeners to catch their breath with echoing guitar notes strung along as percussion is reduced to shimmering cymbals letting the songs drift more than be driven. Sitting at the middle of the album “Pia Zadora” and “New Jets” best capture Read Yellow’s potential as they manage to focus their propensity for noise into a steady, yet non-pummeling melodic force. Gang Violins is the frantic coalescence of rhythm and chaos with introspective shoegaze moments tucked away in the shadowy corners cast by white hot blasts of guitars and raw throated screams. It stands up well for a sophomore album that’s over a decade old. It’s so good it makes me sad at the thought of what could have been for this band. Luckily you can still get this album on iTunes and I highly recommend that you do as it’s the only album of theirs currently available digitally.


MERRY MONDAY: John Denver – Rocky Mountain Christmas

In my house Christmas truly began when my mom put this LP on the stereo and the dancing chords of “Aspen Glow” crackled through the speakers as she opened up the dusty red Christmas trunk and began unpacking decades of holiday joy.

This album imprinted on me at such an early age that my Christmas memories at their core are fused with the first side of this sparse, country-tinged Christmas album. I specify first side because the songs on the B side are more solemn religious carols that were never my bag as a kid. When mom flipped the album I made myself scarce while she hummed and dusted and decorated.

The six songs on side A were the heart of my Christmas with the pinnacle of joy coming together as I would loudly sing along to “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” which is a surprisingly upbeat Christmas tune about alcoholism that as a kid I thought was hilarious. Given it’s peppy tempo I always thought of it like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” except, you know, mommy was crying. To this day it makes me smile to hear it even though the song chronicles an 8 year old pleading with his dad to not come home so drunk that he passes out under the tree like he did the previous year. So, yeah, Merry Christmas!

Don’t let that little dip into the dark side tarnish your judgement. I found the entire original album on YouTube so give it a listen at least up through “Christmas for Cowboys” for the Rocky Mountain Christmas I will always remember.

Mammút – River’s End

After seeing Mammút play live in Portland, ME of all places I was hooked by the end of the first song and by the end of the set desperate to possess their music. River’s End was released in 2015 by Bella Union Records and the 5-song EP is a sampling of tracks from a few of their previous Icelandic albums that were re-recorded in English, so it’s a pretty good place to start for the small number of people not fluent in Icelandic.

The songs are delicately layered and muscular even in their calmest moments with lyrics that evoke emotional landscapes as stark and captivating as the band’s homeland. There is something otherworldly and sensual about the songs like they were written by Molly-dosed absinthe fairies listening to early Sugarcubes albums. My two favorite tracks are “Blood Burst” and “Bakkus” both are rousing and wonderfully chaotic in their energy. Meanwhile “Shore”, “River’s End”, and “Salt” all ease off the gas to varying degrees but are no less potent and at times even more entrancing.  

The kneejerk comparison for people of my generation is of course The Sugarcubes, but Mammút while having similarly great pop sensibilities also have a darker, heavier edge. I keep imagining Lush, Curve, and The Breeders all tossed into a blender when I listen to River’s End. And yes I know those are two decade old references, but whatever. Nevermind.  

Mammút’s next full length album Kinder Versions is due out July 14, 2017 and will be all original tunes in English so if you like River’s End mark your calendars for that.

Purchase through Bella Union, Bandcamp, and iTunes.

The video for “Blood Burst” may or may not be safe for work depending on your workplace’s policy on Icelanders writhing in kiddie pools.

New Fast Automatic Daffodils- Body Exit Mind

Body Exit Mind is one of my top 10 albums in general, but it’s also one of only a handful of albums that when I listen to it I prefer to listen to it as an actual album: sequentially and in its entirety. Body Exit Mind is in turns contemplative, energetic, hopeful, and nihilistic. It is a 57 minute, 15 song meditation on consumerism, the global spread of American corporatism, and the emotional detachment that dogs modern life circa 1992.

That all sounds pretty fucking heavy for some second wave ‘Madchester’ Britpop, but this is not a collection of ham-fisted screeds. No, it feels like a late night, mid-twenties conversation where everyone is a little drunk and a little high and every word means something, man. These songs are heavy with the fruit of knowledge. Of course, there are no answers. There never are in pop music, but we always think there might be, don’t we? So we hit repeat and keep listening.

Two decades on I keep listening to Body Exit Mind because I know someday I will find answers buried in here. Until then, at the very least, it never fails to put me in a better, slightly less pessimistic mood. For me part of the emotional lift garnered by Body Exit Mind is down to the lush production. It manages to not sound overproduced or too slick. It’s a sonic cocoon that wraps around your head waiting for your mind to transform.

The third track “Stockholm” best encompasses the feel of Body Exit Mind. The song alternates between quasi-spoken verses and soaring vocal choruses. Its lyrics randomly drift into my head more than any other on the album. “You’ll soon be dust, your deeds already are/You saw no orb no fiery bushes either/I must be drunk I feel unsteady, ah ha/No monster me, sadly, no saint either.” [See what I mean about inscrutable truth?] Give “Stockholm” a quick listen and you will be a convert.

Addendum: Wherein I wax Matt Pinfield-esque even more so about the album… Continue reading

Helicopter Helicopter- Great Big Meaningless

Great Big Meaningless, a repackaging of Helicopter Helicopter’s first two albums –Squids and Other Fishes (1998) and Analog & Electrical Fields (1999), is 60 minutes of woozy rock’n’roll bliss. It’s rare enough to find an entire album that is good from beginning to end, but getting two for the price of one fills you with that warm fuzzy feeling that usually results from two or three tall boys.

Helicopter Helicopter’s songs are built on the steady heartbeat of drums and pulsing bass lines that carry the listener through a trippy tumult. Guitars pinball from undulating drones to jagged attacks to poppy chord strumming and back again. Lead singers Christopher Zerby and Julie Chadwick make great use of the guy/girl vocal dichotomy by harmonizing choruses, dueling on verses, and creating chaos singing lines over top one another. At points everything converges into a sludgy whirlpool, but then surfaces out the other side with razor sharp clarity; a single drum snap or the ringing slice of a guitar brings things back to order. The lyrical scenes are complementary to the music’s sense warping tendencies. It’s a dark and seedy world of drugs, booze, sex, insects, sea life, street life, and violence. The bizarre yet somehow familiar scenes are like something out of a William S. Burroughs novel. The band makes you feel like both their confessor and co-conspirator as you stumble around their world disoriented, but enjoying the ride.

Don’t miss tracks:
Great Big Meaningless
Cadillac Drugs
Please Please Tito
Ever Since The Buzzards Moaned

On iTunes

(Author’s note: The original version of this review ran in The Northeast Performer back in 2002 or 2003. They don’t archive their reviews online so I took the liberty of reclaiming my own work from an old hard drive and giving it an overhaul because I really dig this album.)

Checkout my vintage review of Helicopter Helicopter’s album Wild Dogs with X-Ray Eyes in the Boston Phoenix  because somehow the Phoenix website is still live even though they’re not.

No-Shadow Kick- The Promo EP

This trio of power poppers from Northampton, MA serves up smart, solid, and ever so sarcastic indie rock. They cash in on the winter motif with “In The Snow,” a poppy little tune full of one liners and wordplay aimed at the Yuletide. Sure it’s an easy target, but nonetheless the song will keep you chuckling and acquaint you with the band’s tongue-in-cheek nature. The second track, “Double Nothing,” is the highlight of these half dozen songs. A lovesick indie rock song, it’s full of contemplative angst over the oft-lost gamble that is love. The rhythm section keeps the track punching along on cruise control as guitar drifts through like a breeze. This track is perfect for that mix tape made especially for those long, post break-up drives to clear the head. The last of the new songs is “Monks Don’t Tell Lies,” a slightly dubbish ditty relating a moment of Zen clarity come upon during the chaos of a broken down tour van. The remainder of the promo EP is made up of tracks originally released on their debut full length Basement Make-Out Party. “BMX Song,” “Scarecrow Waltz,” and “The Saviour Made Me Do It” continue to exemplify No-Shadow Kick’s pension for bouncing from sound to sound. Stylistic A.D.D. aside, this EP helps to showcase No-Shadow Kick as a band that strikes a balance between talent and humor.