Rewind Review: Betty Davis – Nasty Gal (1975)

Funk mistress Betty Davis classic 1976 album Nasty Gal has recently been remastered and re-released.  If you’re looking for a funk record, a make-out record, or a diva record – look no further.  Nasty Gal is a trifecta of all that.

The title track opens the album, and Davis comes out swinging with her proclamation to an ex-lover that she is a nasty gal, and her ex will now miss her freaky self after she leaves him for spreading lies about her.  It’s a fierce vocal performance that instantly lets you know that she wasn’t screwing around in 1976.

As if the opener wasn’t freak enough, the next track is “Talkin’ Trash,” which is all about dirty talk during freaky sex.  “Do whatever you want to do to me.  Be a freak, I don’t care.  Tell me what gets you off,” she sings while an antsy guitar churns behind her.

“Dedicated to the Press” has great slap bass propelling Davis’ takedown on 1976 media.  She feels bad that they can’t understand where she’s coming from or that they won’t join her on the ride.  “You and I” is a lovely jazz ballad about deciding to leave a lover.  “Feelins” has a fast groove that should’ve been the theme to a third Cleopatra Jones film with its “Hey!  Hey!  Hey!” chants and car chase beats.

“F.U.N.K.” has Davis giving shout-outs to Steve Wonder, Tina Turner, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Funkadelic, and others.  “Gettin’ Kicked Off, Havin’ Fun” has Davis purring about having a good time and encouraging a lover to not be afraid to get down with her.  The organ and bass work on “Shut Off the Light” is outstanding, and Davis’ vocals are downright intimidating as she pretty much demands a sweaty romp before bed.

The groove on “This Is It” makes you feel like a bad ass, but just know that you will never be half the bad ass Betty Davis and her crew were on this record (or any other time, really).  The album ends with one of her sexiest tunes ever – “The Lone Ranger.”  There’s not much I can write about this song that would do it justice.  I can’t guarantee that this song will get you laid, but I’d say playing it will probably improve your chances by at least fifty percent.  Davis’ voice moves around you like the hands of a masseuse and her band mixes funk and psychedelia to produce an intoxicating brew.  “Is it true that you want to hi ho my silver?” Davis asks.  Yes.  The answer to that is always “Yes.”

This is the album you wish was the soundtrack to your sex life, even if you won’t admit it.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Lionel Hampton and the Golden Men of Jazz – Just Jazz: Live at the Blue Note (1992)

Take a powerhouse jazz lineup and let them go wild in a legendary club and you get a great record like Just Jazz: Live at the Blue Note by Lionel Hampton and the Golden Men of Jazz.

Hampton was a legend on the vibraphone and his equally famous backing band included bassist Milt Hinton, drummer Grady Tate, trombonist Al Grey, saxophonist James Moody, pianist Hank Jones, flugelhorn player Clark Terry, saxophonist Buddy Tate, and trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison.  According to the liner notes of this album, the average age of the band in 1992 was 72.  They were still killing it and teaching youngsters a way of jazz you rarely hear anymore.

The opener, “Corner Pocket,” is tune originally written for Count Basie and has great back-and-forth fun between Hampton, Grey, and Terry.  The title track was written by Al Grey for the show and the whole band has a blast on it.  Everyone gets their turn in the spotlight and Moody especially cooks with a great solo.

Tate sings lead vocals on “Body and Soul” while Hampton and Jones stroll along beside him with their respective instruments.  “God Bless the Child” is an instrumental cover of the Billie Holiday classic with Hampton taking lead on it like the grooviest tour guide you’ve ever met.

“Ring Dem Bells” (originally a Duke Ellington song) is great fun as Hampton encourages each band member to shred a solo.  Edison rips it and Jones’ solo is so good that it almost sounds like he’s goofing throughout it.  The album ends with “Flyin’ Home” (apparently a favorite of Hampton’s to close a show) and has fabulous saxophone work throughout it and Hampton having a blast and laughing through parts of his solo.

This is a great jazz record, live or otherwise, and a worthy addition to your jazz collection (or any collection, really).

Keep your mind open.

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Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

It’s hard not to like an album that opens with a song about the lead singer’s dog.

That’s exactly what Ty Segall does on his newest record, Freedom’s Goblin, a sprawling double-album with rock riffs galore, wild horn sections, funk jams, new wave trips, ballads, and psychedelic freak-outs.  The opening track, “Fanny Dog,” launches like a Polaris missile with a full brass accompaniment and Segall shredding his guitar like his dog probably shreds a stuffed animal.

Segall makes a hard right turn on “Rain,” which seems to reveal his admiration for Radiohead with its simple piano chords, unadorned vocals, slightly warped horns (which are all over this record, really) and lyrics about pining for a lover.  His cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner” is outstanding, and one of the best covers anyone has put out in a couple years.  Segall and his crew keep the funk but up the fuzz on it, and we’re all winners for it.  Speaking of funk, the bass on “Despoiler of Cadaver” is downright slick, and the rest of the tune is a weird, disco / new wave fun zone.

“When Mommy Kills You” is appropriately hard-hitting.  “My Lady’s on Fire” is a ballad that displays Segall’s love for 1960’s folk rock, and the saxophone solo on it  immediately gets your attention.  “Alta” is stadium rock brilliance.  Want more cowbell?  There’s plenty of it on the groovy “Meaning,” which blends hot beats with guitar freak-outs.  “Cry Cry Cry” isn’t a cover of the Johnny Cash song, but it does sound like a nice salute to ELO‘s ballads.  “Shoot You Up” is a slugging, chugging song that I think is about the dark side of the record industry, or fame, or both.

“You Say All the Nice Things” and “The Last Waltz” are two love songs, one about love in the now and one about a love lost to death.  One of the longest tracks on the record, “She,” is a wild jam that would be appropriate for any lady wrestler’s entrance music or the theme song for any metal-loving dominatrix.  “Talkin’ 3” is almost a free-form acid jazz session, but with a noise rock band playing at the same time.  “The Main Pretender,” with its skronking, squealing saxophone by Mac DeMarco, was one of my top 10 singles of 2017.  “I’m Free” gets back to Segall’s love of 1960’s folk, and “5 Ft. Tall” has some 1960’s power pop touches to it and then evolves into a garage rock fuzz-fest.  The closer, “And, Goodnight,” is a twelve-minute psychedelic jam and a great finale.

As you can guess, Segall is all over the map on Freedom’s Goblin, but it all works.  He’s created a record that embraces his many influences and is having a great time exploring all of them.  It’s a treat for us as well.

Keep your mind open.

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Shopping – The Official Body

Are you shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts?  Do you need something for your lover who hates everything played on commercial radio, or your husband who loves 80’s music, or your wife who enjoys funk and dance rock, or yourself?   Let me save you some time: Buy them The Official Body by Shopping.

Consisting of just three members (Rachel Aggs – guitar and vocals, Billy Easter – bass and vocals, Andrew Milk – drums and vocals), Shopping’s third full-length is the grooviest post-punk album I’ve heard all year.  The opener, “The Hype” (which you’d better believe with this band), begins with a Bow Wow Wow-like drum count before the three of them put down a groove that instantly gets you moving.  I love their vocals bounce off each other like they took lessons from the B-52’s.

“Wild Child” (a song about keeping up appearances) continues the dance grooves (and Easter’s killer bass work), but brings in some subtle synths into the mix.  The use of synths is frequent throughout the record and brings even more of a dance-punk feel to the album.  Aggs’ guitar on “Asking for a Friend” is bouncy and tight, which is difficult to pull off, but she seems to do it with ease.  “Suddenly Gone” is a sharp song about Aggs’ struggles of being black and queer in an industry dominated by straight white dudes.

Milk sings about losing one’s sense of self  on “Shave Your Head” while Aggs’ guitar chatters over his typewriter-like beats.  The synth bass on “Discover” is a bit jarring at first, but I love the darkness it brings to a song about being desperate for attention.  “Control Yourself,” despite its title, will get your toes tapping before you realize it (thanks in large part to Milk’s wicked beat).  I also love the chorus of “I know what I like, and I like what I know.”  It sums up the (closed) mindset of many these days.

Aggs’ guitar work on “My Dad’s a Dancer” is a bit Middle Eastern and her vocals about bigotry (i.e., “Would you like me if I looked like you?”) are sharp as a knife.  “New Values” begins with synth bass that reminds me of weird 1990’s 16-bit video games, but Easter’s vocals are solidly in the modern world.  “Overtime” seamlessly blends the synths and the traditional instruments as it builds in tempo toward an exhilarating finish to the record.

I’ve been on a post-punk kick all year, and The Official Body is a great kick-off to 2018 for me and the genre.  Don’t let it slip by you.

Keep your mind open.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Wrong Creatures

I’ve been looking forward to Wrong Creatures, the new album from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, for a while.  I was interested to hear how they’d follow up Spectre at the Feast – an album that dealt with loss and upheaval following the death of bassist / vocalist Robert Been‘s father, and how they’d bounce back after drummer Leah Shapiro was diagnosed with a brain disease and had to undergo surgery (from which, thankfully, she’s fully recovered).

The new album is mellower than some of their past material, but no less haunting.  Most the tracks have names that evoke images of ghosts, shadows, dreams, or the unknown.  After a brief instrumental opener (“DFF,” which almost sounds like a haunted train station), the first full track is “Spook.”  It starts with that rough, almost spaghetti western soundtrack guitar (from co-vocalist and guitarist Peter Hayes) that BRMC does so well and I’m happy to say that Ms. Shapiro is still able to lay down serious beats.  The lyrics mention dead cities falling into ruin.  One of the first lyrics on “King of Bones” mentions living on borrowed time.  Been’s fuzzed bass growls through the entire track.

“Haunt” comes after it, with Hayes taking lead vocals on what almost becomes a western-twinged ballad.  “Echo” is aptly named.  Sometimes it’s big and bold, other times it’s quiet and distant.  “Ninth Configuration,” with its rainstorm-like guitar work (some of Hayes’ best on the record), lies somewhere between shoegaze and dream pop.  “I’ll give you what you want if you promise you’ll keep walking away,” Been sings on the wicked “Question of Faith” – a song about obsession and heartbreak.

“Calling Them All Away” sprinkles in what sounds like a sitar with Hayes’ droning guitar and Been’s humming bass.  The piano in it is another nice touch.  “Little Thing Gone Wild” is a scorcher, with Hayes shredding harmonica and guitar and Shapiro sounding like she’s beating her kit to make up for the time she lost while recovering from surgery.  Another aptly named track is “Circus Bazooko.”  It has this slightly creepy circus sideshow organ riff throughout it while Hayes swaggers, Been grooves, and Shapiro puts on a precision clinic.

“Carried from the Start” brings back the wall of fuzz BRMC mastered a long time ago while Shapiro’s beats border on Native American pow-wow rhythms before hammering out solid rock riffs.  The album ends with “All Rise,” a slow burn of a track that builds to stadium rock levels (and includes violin!).

It’s nice to hear BRMC stretching their muscles.  Not counting the instrumental “DFF,” the shortest song on this album is 3:19.  It’s also nice to hear them embracing the soft and the hard, which are found in all of the album’s themes (death, sex, love, etc.).

Keep your mind open.

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L7 – Detroit (live)

There aren’t many better ways to start a new year than a release from L7, and it’s ever better when it’s a recording of a crazy 1990 live show in Detroit.  Detroit begins with the band apologizing for arriving late, co-lead vocalist and guitarist Donita Sparks making fun of a drunk guy in the crowd, and then having issues with guitarist / co-lead vocalist Suzi Gardner‘s microphone before unleashing a sonic assault with “Fast and Frightening.”  Thankfully, Gardner’s microphone works just fine for “(Right on) Thru” as she belts out the vocals like a professional boxer.

“Scrap” chugs along like a monster truck.  “Broomstick” is a forgotten metal classic.  “Packin’ a Rod” seems to fly by at 100mph (and ends with more great banter of Sparks taking down the rude drunk).  The inclusion of one of their earliest hits, “Cat-O’-Nine-Tails” is a welcome one, and the first time I’ve heard it live.  It’s crazier (and better) than I’d hoped it would be.  “Deathwish” is like a saw slicing through a log while the lumber mill is being swarmed by killer bees.  It ends with more fun banter like Sparks promising she’ll learn how to play guitar before their next tour.

“Till the Wheels Fall Off” has drummer Dee Plakas going bonkers through the whole track and probably terrifying most of the men in the crowd.  Gardner’s vocals on “Shove” are, as always, more like a hockey check than a push.  They end on “Bloodstains” before coming back for a fiery encore.  They initially offer to take requests, but that quickly devolves into drunken chaos in the crowd and Sparks dealing with tuner problems.  Bassist Jennifer Finch briefly teases playing some Black Sabbath before they announce “This is really going to suck, but we’re gonna do it anyway,” and launch into “Shitlist.”  This was when “Shitlist” hadn’t reached its levels of popularity that it has today.  This is the first time I’ve heard reverb effects on Sparks’ vocals (as she dedicates the song to her broken tuner), and they push her voice to the back wall of the venue.

Detroit is a welcome edition to L7‘s catalogue, and a nice time capsule of raw 1990’s rock.  By the way, they haven’t lost a thing.  They still hit as hard almost thirty years later.

Keep your mind open.

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Terminal Mind – Recordings

Austin, Texas punk / no wave legends Terminal Mind only blazed through the Austin scene for three years (1978 – 1981), but they are back with a powerful release of rare cuts from their short time together.  Recordings collects a rare four-song 7″, live cuts, and unreleased studio tracks.  It’s a solid collection and already in the running for best reissue of 2018.

Opening with the skronky, bold “I Want to Die Young,” the band’s powerhook guitars are put front and center right away.  “I see life as a TV at midnight, nothing but static and outdated reruns,” Steve Marsh sings as he dreams of becoming something better than he is now before he gets old and waits for a heart attack.

“Refugee” has Marsh continuing his themes of alienation as he sings, “In a war, there are winners and losers.  I’m in-between.”  The post-punk attitude of “Sense of Rhythm” is sharp as a hatchet (and so is the drumming).  “Zombieland” sounds like an early Devo cut as Marsh sings about the joys of “living in negative space” and ignoring the suffering and injustice around you.  The guitars on it devolve into a wild cacophony that almost sounds like air raid sirens by the end.

“Obsessed with Crime” has a raw energy not unlike something you’d hear from the Stooges.  Terminal Mind once opened for them, so the influence shouldn’t surprise anyone.  The guitars and bass on “Fear in the Future” are downright dangerous.  Marsh growls “Time is a trigger, I hold it in my hand.  I point it at the future.  I think you understand.”

The live tracks begin with the snappy “Radioactive,” in which Marsh sings about hoping to have super powers so he can survive a nuclear war and watch everything burn around him.  The equally speedy “Bridges Are for Burning” follows it.

“No one wants to know the meaning of life anymore,” Marsh sings on the angry “(I Give Up on) Human Rights.”  “Black” is like Joy Division if they decided to speed up the beats and crank up the distortion.  You can almost feeling the audience grooving during “Missing Pieces.”  The keyboards on “Bureaucracy” slather the song in a glorious, distorted noise that ends the album on a high, post-punk note.

Three years was too short for a band this good, but at least we have this reissue to remember Terminal Mind.  Let’s hope for some new material in the future.  I’d love to hear their take on modern times.

Keep your mind open.

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Gumboot Soup

Australian psych-rock work horses King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard set out at the beginning of 2017 to do something in one year that many bands don’t do over the course of an entire career – release five albums.  Yes, five albums in one year.  The band has always been prolific, but this seemed a bit nuts.

First came Flying Microtonal Banana, then Murder of the Universe, then Sketches of Brunswick East, then Polygondwanaland, and finally (released New Year’s Eve 2017, no less) Gumboot Soup.

The endcap on KGATLW’s crazy year is a mix of mellow and heavy that sums up 2017 pretty well for themOpener “Beginner’s Luck” is, on its surface, a song about gambling in a casino but is secretly about addictions and temptations.  The walking bass line on it is great.  “Greenhouse Heat Death” takes us from the mellow feel of the opening track to the distorted and warped feel of KGATLW’s heavier material.  Some microtonal touches are sprinkled in for good measure, too.

Stu MacKenzie‘s flute takes lead on the quirky “Barefoot Desert.”  “Muddy Water” is a sharp track that I suspect might be a take on a Taoist story about being a happy turtle in the mud instead of becoming a glorious dead shell in a palace.  The song builds into  Middle Eastern-flavored rocker that never lets go of your attention.

Believe it or not, the band moves into a bit of synth-psych (or is it psych-synth?) on “Superposition,” combining synthesizers with flute, more great bass and drumming, and ethereal vocals.  “Down the Sink” has a Bee Gees-inspired beat that I love.  I hadn’t considered before if KGATLW were inspired by their fellow Aussies, but this track makes it seem obvious.  It’s not a disco cut, mind you, but that wicked dual drummer beat is definitely something Barry Gibb might’ve cooked up in the studio.

“The Great Chain of Being” is a guttural chunk of stoner metal and a wild contrast to some of the earlier tracks.  It’s like Sleep and Electric Wizard squaring off in a dirty pub.  Just to mess with us, they follow it with “The Last Oasis” – a lovely track that reminds me of some of Thundercat‘s work, but with lyrics that sound like they’ve been lounging under a palm tree all day.

“All Is Known” is sort of a bridge between Flying Microtonal Banana and Nonagon Infinity as it combines the microtonal guitar work of the first album with the dead-run beats and mind-blown lyrics of the second.  “I’m Sleepin’ In” could easily be a Sketches of East Brunswick B-side.  I love its subtle harmonica work behind the distorted hip hop beats.  The closing track is “The Wheel” – an acid lounge cut that tells us that the cosmic “wheel that spins us into our future” is the same one that brings us back to where we started.

It would’ve been easy for KGATLW to make their final release of 2017 a live album or a collection of B-sides and outtakes, but they stuck to their promise and delivered five albums of original material.  Each of them is quality stuff, and Gumboot Soup is no exception.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

The Soft Bulletin marked a departure for the Flaming Lips from their heavy, psychedelic guitars to, well, a softer touch and even more psychedelia.  It’s a lovely record that explores the band’s now-frequent themes of the universe, the self, death, and love.

“Race for the Prize,” for example, is the story of two scientists burdened with the competition of finding a cure for something, even though the stress of it might kill them and leave their wives widows and their children orphans.  The initial swell of keyboards lets us know right away that this won’t be a typical Flaming Lips record.

We learn that the scientists were successful on “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” even though the race did indeed kill them.  The cure they found?  Love.  It’s always been right in front of us.  The percussion on “The Spark That Bled” blends rock drums, orchestral beats, and psychedelic drippiness as lead singer Wayne Coyne sings about a moment of enlightenment.  “The Spiderbite Song” has Coyne thanking the cosmos that friends of his didn’t die too soon from things as varied as a spider bite, a car crash, or falling into crazy love.

“Buggin'” is, appropriately, a song about insects.  It’s rather peppy and fun, even as it discusses bugs dying against your car’s windshield.  I can’t describe “What Is the Light?” any better than the notes on the back of the album: “An untested hypothesis suggesting that the chemical (in our brains) by which we are able to experience the sensation of being in love is the same chemical that caused the ‘Big Bang’ that was the birth of the accelerating universe.”  That’s what this lovely, shimmering song not only discusses but also makes you believe.

If you ever doubted the Flaming Lips are inspired by Pink Floyd, just listen to “The Observer,” which is practically a lost cut from the Dark Side of the Moon sessions.  Wayne Coyne described “Waitin’ for a Superman” as “a sad song” when I saw them live two years ago.  It is a song about depression, and how even Superman can fail so we shouldn’t be crushed when we do the same.  It’s one of the Lips’ greatest songs, really.  It’s uplifting and bittersweet at the same time.

“Suddenly Everything Has Changed” is about one of Coyne’s favorite subjects – embracing the idea that one day we’ll all be dead.  Little moments of existential panic are actually reminders that we should appreciate things like the clouds we see on the drive home, the vegetables we just bought at the store, and the fact that we can fold laundry while floating on an orb in an endless universe. “The Gash” is a call to fight on even when to do so exposes wounds in us that must be healed no matter how frightening it is to confront them.

“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” continues the Lips’ theme of not being afraid of death, for “life without death is just impossible,” as Coyne sings while the rest of the band plays bright keyboards and whimsical guitars behind him.

The album ends with the instrumental “Sleeping on the Roof,” a beautiful send-off that could be the sound of a dream, a funeral, a birth, or all three.  The entire album could be played during any of those events.  It’s another masterpiece by the Flaming Lips and still uplifting after nearly twenty years.

Keep your mind open.

 

 

Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

I’d heard a lot of good things about Sleaford Mods, one of the best being that they were Iggy Pop‘s new favorite band.  That alone makes them worth a listen, but if you come for the Iggy Pop suggestion, stay for what might be the most punk record you’ve heard all year…and there doesn’t appear to be a single guitar on it.  It’s just Jason Williamson‘s half-rap, half-stream of consciousness social commentary and Andrew Fearn‘s minimalist electronic beats.  When you first hear a Sleaford Mods song, you might think, “This shouldn’t work.”  Yet, it does.  It does every fucking time.

English Tapas, the band’s newest, is a punch to the gut of subjects like Brexit, working class blues, one-percenters, consumerism, Donald Trump, hipsters, and everything else currently annoying.  The album title itself is a play on the gentrification of working class neighborhoods.

Opener “Army Nights” has them taking down weekend partiers.  Fearn’s electro-bass is instantly addictive, as are most of his beats.  They get stuck in your head and you find yourself humming them throughout the day.  “Just Like We Do” has Williamson making fun of music snobs.  “You walk around like a twat, just like we do,” he says, not caring about people who dwell on past accomplishments.

“Moptop” has Williamson worrying that he can’t cope with what’s happening around him (mostly having to deal with inane bands, internet overload, and annoying British politicians) while Fearn’s synth-bass gets downright groovy.  It’s even groovier on “Messy Everywhere,” as Williamson sings about people being stuck in dead end jobs (“First it’s this, then it moves on to that…”) yearning to get out and shake up things.

I love how Fearns loops crickets chirping in “Time Sands” to mock the crickets in our heads as we see chaos and inequality all around us yet we stand and often do nothing.  Williamson warns us that time, and history, is passing by us so we’d better “turn it upside-down” by getting off our asses and making our voices heard (or at least lending a hand now and then).  “Snout” immediately trashes people creating perfect, fake images of themselves to project to the world via social media.  “Felt like I was trying to be trendy, when I’m not,” Williamson says.  “I don’t fuck about, I’m making sure I don’t give my kids anything to feel fucking embarrassed about.”  Preach it, Jason.  Seriously, this might be the angriest track I’ve heard all year.

“Drayton Manored” refers to an amusement park in Staffordshire, England and is a funny song about Williamson and Fearns lamenting about a long trip there and all the odd looks and attitudes they receive there.  “Carlton Touts” has Williamson flat-out referring to English politicians and ticket touts (scalpers, as we call them here in the U.S.) as “fat bastards.”  “Cuddly” has slick beats from Fearns that any hip hop producer would love to have in their back pocket.  “What does a million quid a week bring when your brain can’t tell your legs to kick the fuckin’ thing?” Williamson asks, making us question our addictions – whatever they may be (iPhones?  Drugs?  Booze?  Recognition?).

“Dull” lashes out at those who voted for Brexit (“Safe bet, all the oldies vote for death.”) and “B.H.S.” is a lament for over eleven thousand people who lost their jobs (and more lost their pensions) when a British businessman, Sir Philip Green, bankrupted the B.H.S. department store chain and skated to the Mediterranean with hundreds of millions of pounds.  “I Feel So Wrong” has Williamson feeling conflicted over his own success with a chorus of him repeating the song’s title and lyrics like “I looked at myself tonight, I know I’m richer.  It turns itself inside and burns that little bit deeper.”

This is one of the smartest, wittiest, best,and most punk albums of 2017.  Sleaford Mods might not be for everyone, but they’re speaking for all of us.

Keep your mind open.

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