Zombie Zombie – Livity

French synth wave / electro trio Zombie Zombie (Etienne Jaumet – synths and saxophone, Cosmic Neman – drums, vocals, and effects, and Dr. Schonberg – percussion, electronics, and trumpet) didn’t want us to walk out of 2017 without dancing, so they’ve brought a new album full of vintage analog synth dance grooves and mood-changing tracks on their new album Livity.

The title track alone is worth the purchase price.  The title refers to a Rastafarian term for “life force.”  It’s almost nine minutes of head-bopping beats, haunting synth bass, and synths that are straight out of your 1980’s dreams.  Put this in your earbuds and your perception of the world around you will shift.  “Ils Existent” moves along with hypnotizing sci-fi synth loops until Neman’s wicked drum licks almost turn the song into an action movie theme.  The percussion on “Hippocampe” is so damn good it might make you lose your mind.  Jaumet’s synths build and build to wind you up and the whole song morphs into a cosmic journey around the 2:40 mark.

Zombie Zombie were the highlight of Levitation Austin 2015 for my wife and I, and the funky, acid jazzy “Looose” is an example of why that was the case. “When you have nothing to lose, it gets groovier,” Neman sings as his drums seem to fall off their kit in the chaos of the song.  “Acera” gets us back to the sci-fi themes of the album with spaceship dance club beats and alien menace buzzes and bleeps.

“Heavy Meditation” would’ve fit in perfectly on the Blade Runner 2049 score.  It’s perfect for scoring some soba noodle soup in a rainy downtown future L.A. while flirting with a replicant prostitute.  The closer “Lune Noire” is a dark, simulated rainy night on a lonely space station near a fading super nova encapsulated into a 4:52 song.

Livity is one of the best electro albums of the year.  It’s especially impressive when you consider the seven tracks were recorded live in just seven days.  Zombie Zombie continues to explore new ground in the synth world an experiment with sounds you don’t seem to have heard before now.  Get into this groove and live.

Keep your mind open.

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Oh Sees – Orc

John Dwyer is one of the busiest guys in rock.  He has so many variations of his band Thee Oh Sees that it can be difficult to keep track of them all.  One of the latest, which he’s just calling Oh Sees, has put out a fine record of psychedelic art-punk called Orc.

The album opens with the crazy, frantic “The Static God” – which appears to be a song about the whirlwind nature of battlefield combat.  Dwyer’s guitar is all over the place, but the chorus’ vocal hook has a wonderful pop twinge to it.  “Nite Expo” has 1980’s video game synths leading it before Dwyer’s guitar kicks open the door and catches you by surprise.  “Animated Violence” hits as hard as any metal track you’ve heard all year, both in the instrumentation (i.e., buzzsaw guitars and thunderous drums) and vocals and lyrics (revealing Dwyer’s love of Motorhead).

The longest track on the record (at 8:10), “Keys to the Castle,” is (on its surface, at least) about a bloody siege in a medieval fantasy kingdom.  I’m sure it’s probably a metaphor about how we’re actually destroying ourselves in these castles of loneliness and disconnection we’ve built thanks to the internet, but maybe I’m overreaching and should just enough the fun freak-out of a tune that it is (especially when the violin and organ creep into it).

“Jettison,” with its early Mick Ronson-like guitar work, is one of the grooviest songs about death in a long while (“Who likes sugar in their coffin?  The underground is twice as nice.”).  “Cadaver Dog” encourages the generation behind Dwyer to be leaders and not followers and be self-reliant instead of clinging to potentially deadly illusions.  “Drowned Beast” is a fuzzy salute to deepwater beast warriors who slay and eat everything in sight.  Three fun instrumentals, “Paranoise,” “Cooling Tower,” and “Raw Optics” are included.  The first has some subtle synths that might make you paranoid, the second is something you’d hear drifting out of a Mothers of Invention studio session, and the third (which closes the album) is a snappy blast of post-punk with a drum solo to boot.

Orc is a quirky, wild record, but you’d expect no less from Mr. Dwyer.  He excels at making quirky, wild rock that can melt your face one moment and intrigue you the next.

Keep your mind open.

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Partner – In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time isn’t the first music released by Canadian rock outfit Partner. They’ve released multiple excellent singles (i.e., “The Ellen Page” and “Personal Weekend”), and founding members Josee Caron (vocals and lead guitar) Lucy Niles (vocals and rhythm guitar), and Kevin Brasier (bass) already had Canadian indie rock scene credentials with their former bands Mouthbreathers and Go Get Fucked (possibly the best band name ever).  So it isn’t surprising that their first full-length record is witty, full of hooks, and one of the best pop-punk albums I’ve heard in a long while.

“Everybody Knows” starts the album with squealing, heavy guitar riffs and brings in a favorite subject of Partner’s – the goofy things that happen when one is high.  Caron sings about freaking out in the grocery store while in a euphoric quest for chips.  Niles sings about getting high while waiting for a friend and then realizing she can’t hide the fact that she “sparked another one” while waiting on the friend’s porch.  Oh yeah, Caron’s guitar solo on this will leave you stunned.

Niles’ guitar on “Comfort Zone” (a song about the joys of slacking) reminds me of Television riffs.  “Gross Secret,” with its sharp guitar work and dual vocals from Caron and Niles, reminds me of Sleater-Kinney if Sleater-Kinney would relax a bit now and then.  “Angels from Ontario” is about a perfect pop-punk love song you’ll ever hear.  The hooks and beat are instantly infectious and it bursts with enough energy to fill an opera house.

Caron reveals her love of shows like Judge Judy and The Maury Povich Show on “Daytime TV.”  Niles sings about the dangers of snooping in your roommate’s room on “Sex Object.”  “Ambassador to Ecstasy” is a solid rocker about trying to woo a hot girl and the possible complications that can come with such an endeavor.

“Play the Field” is a fun song about having a crush on a hot female athlete and contains what might be my favorite lyric of 2017 from Lucy Niles – “…to see you in your sports bra, though, just might change my life.”  “You Don’t Have to Say Thank You” is, without question, the sexiest song on the record as Caron tells her lover she doesn’t have to thank her for an amazing night since “your pleasure is my delight.”  Zowie!  As if that weren’t enough to sell you on it, wait until you hear the wall-flattening guitars and drums (from Toronto indie rock drumming legend Simone TB).

“Creature in the Sun,” a song about the joys of mindfulness, might be my favorite cut on the record.  It’s somewhere between new wave, post-punk, pop-punk, and spaghetti western music.  I guarantee that if you hear this on the radio or in a wrecka stow, you will instantly stop and think, “Who is this?”  The 1990’s alt-rock vibe is heavy on “Remember This,” which isn’t surprising when you consider the album was mixed by Chris Shaw who has worked with Weezer and Ween (among many others).

The closer, “Woman of Dreams,” has Caron and Niles pining for a lovely lady but realizing the best they can do about it (for now, at least) is write a song about her.  It reminds me of Fountains of Wayne‘s harder tracks with its punchy hooks and clever lyrics.

I haven’t even mentioned the sketches, which include various goofy telephone conversations with photographers, Caron’s father, and others.  I’ll let you discover those on your own.

This is one of those albums that will reveal new stuff to you every time you hear it – a drum fill, a wicked guitar lick, a funny lyric, etc.  I don’t know if Partner will get back the time they’re searching for, but they didn’t waste any making this record.  It won’t waste your time either.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Diagonal – self-titled (2016)

Chicago-based psych / shoegaze rockers Diagonal play an intriguing mix of both genres.  Their self-titled album, currently only available on cassette or digital download, starts with a meditative, almost ambient, nearly instrumental song called “Aura.”  I listened to this on a frosty northern Indiana morning as the sun rose over harvested corn fields.  It was perfect.

“Wide Eyed” teases you with a bit of drone sludge before breaking into a heavy shoegaze riff.  “Inside Your Mind” is so steeped in psychedelic tea that you can pretty much see rear projection oils when you hear it.  “Where to Go” ups the fuzz and races by you almost before you realize it’s happening (and I love the trippy fade-out).

“Waterloo” is another rocker that puts in enough reverb to almost make it a weird dream that eventually turns into a crazy psychedelic nightmare.  “Come Down” reminds me of early Black Angels material with its distorted yet somehow crisp guitars and lyrics lost in layers of reverb.  The album ends with “Cave” – a loud, wild, feverish freak-out that swirls around you like a tornado full of broken, dead trees and shattered houses.

It’s a solid release, and Diagonal is definitely a band to watch and hear.  They have the chops to be serious players in the psych-rock game.

Keep your mind open.

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Live: Flying Lotus – Chicago, IL – November 14, 2017

I wanted to see Flying Lotus‘ 3-D show since I saw it without 3-D glasses at Mamby on the Beach earlier this year.  He put on an impressive set there, so I figured one in an enclosed venue like Chicago’s Riviera Theatre would be a good time.

It was, albeit the place was packed once you got past the bar in the main theatre because everyone wanted the best spot to see the visual spectacle.  It was indeed impressive, and I sure a wild trip if you were high during the thing.  A guy next to my friend and I snapped at her when he thought she had been staring at him every time she turned around to talk to me.  We explained that he had misread all of it and nothing was intentional.  As my friend told me later, “If you can’t handle your fucking drugs, don’t come to a Flying Lotus show.”

He put on a good set, spinning in some stuff he did with Thundercat along the way.  That was a big hit with the crowd.  The visuals were mostly different from the ones at his Mamby set.  Some of the best were a “Flying Lotus” logo that seemed to push from the screen to above the crowd and a floating woman’s head that would curl out from the screen like a snake.  It probably gave some chemically altered folks nightmares.

Just a floating wheel made of human limbs. Nothing to worry about.

Go see this tour if you’re able.  It’s worth it for the visual feast, and Flying Lotus is one of the best experimental artists out there right now.  His future is bright if he’s already doing stuff like this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Dirtbombs – If You Don’t Already Have a Look (2005)

In the liner notes to this excellent double album from Detroit rockers the Dirtbombs, band leader / guitarist / vocalist Mick Collins proclaims, “The best albums are all compilations, anyway.  Why?  Because they’re made up of SINGLES, duh.”

If You Don’t Already Have a Look is a full-length collection of downright dangerous singles and another disc of cover tunes.  Danger is missing from a lot of rock music nowadays, and the Dirtbombs were possibly the most dangerous band to come out of the Motor City since the MC5.  Even their songs that venture into soul and pop music always have a streak of menace hidden in them.

There are many standouts on the album.  The opener on the disc of originals is “Theme from the Dirtbombs,” a fiery song that sounds like it belongs in the opening credits of a 1960’s car race cartoon.  “The Sharpest Claws” is a theme song for dominatrixes everywhere.  “I’m Saving Myself for Nichelle Nichols (No. 3)” is one of the craziest punk rock songs in the last twenty years.  “High Octane Salvation” is an homage to muscle cars and sprinkles in some psychobilly riffs for good measure.  “Little Miss Chocolate Syrup” has a bass groove as sweet as the song’s namesake.

“Don’t Bogue My High” was, like many early Dirtbombs tracks, recorded into a dictation microphone.  It is thus gloriously distorted and trashy.  “Encrypted” is a satire of 1990’s Britpop.  “Broke in Detroit (Again)” has this cool 60’s surf guitar riff you can’t shake.  “Infra-red” is a weird, shapeshifting track with guitars that ooze around like the Blob and “Candyass” is a solid rock track.  The lyrics of “All My Friends Must Be Punished” are some of the wittiest on the record.  “They Saved Einstein’s Brain” is a one-take punk rock classic.

The disc of cover songs includes great tracks by obscure bands like Cheater Slicks (“Possession”) and classics like Stevie Wonder‘s “Maybe Your Baby.”  Their cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “No Expectations” includes a Beatles tribute and a salute to the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”  “Noise in This World” (originally by English Beat) fits in perfectly with the Dirtbombs’ sound, as does their fiery, almost unrecognizable cover of Soft Cell‘s “Insecure…Me?”  “Tanzen Gehn” is a song in German made for a German label while the band was in Germany.  It’s wonderfully funky.  “Crash Down Day” was written by a six-year-old and is still better than most current rock tracks.  Their cover of the Bee Gees “I Started a Joke” is one of the coolest Bee Gees covers ever (especially with the reverbed vocals).

It’s a great introduction to the Dirtbombs or an addition to your collection of your  material.

Keep your mind open.

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Angry Skeletons – Slightly Hostile / Real Friendly

I got an Facebook message out of the blue from a chap in Denmark who wanted to know if I were interested in hearing his garage punk band Angry Skeletons (Emil Timmerman Findalen – drums, Patrick Foley – guitar and vocals, Jeppe Thiesen – bass and vocals).  I told him that sounded like a fun idea and he sent me to their newest EP – Slightly Hostile / Real Friendly.

It starts out with “Planned Obsolescence” – a heavy, fuzzy song that would fit on Nirvana‘s Bleach album without missing a beat.  “T.V. Freak” has some 60’s swing in it until about halfway into the tune when it devolves into a grungy mess before getting back into that fun groove.

“M. Death” ups the “snotty punk” levels thanks to Foley’s vocals that sound like he’s kicking a lover to the curb and Findalen’s ferocious beats that probably kickstart mosh pits wherever they play.  “Slightly Hostile” reminds me of some of Ty Segall‘s first records with its weird guitar grooves.

The closer, “Floating Awkwardly,” is one of the coolest punk tracks I’ve heard in a while.  The breakdown in it is outstanding, and the way it goes full turbo when it comes back in is even better.

Like any good EP, it’s far too short.  I hope we get more from these guys soon.  It seems I need to get to Denmark and check out their live music scene if it offers stuff like this.

Keep your mind open.

Jackie Shane – Any Other Way

Imagine what it takes to be a successful musician.  There are many long hours of touring, rehearsing, writing, negotiating, hustling, and branding.  This is hard enough for your Average Joe or Jane, but imagine doing this in the 1960’s when you couldn’t release a single on the Internet and have it heard by millions within moments, pay-for-play was still legal and widely practiced, and record labels held your master recordings in a vise-like grip.  Now imagine doing all of this before the civil rights movement while you’re black in an industry dominated at the top levels by white people.   Now imagine doing this as an openly transgendered woman in the same time period.  Jackie Shane did all of that, and she made it look easy.

Jackie Shane’s Any Other Way is a stunning collection of rare singles and live tracks from perhaps the most remarkable performer you haven’t heard and easily one of the best collections and reissues of 2017.  Ms. Shane burned up stages in Toronto throughout the 1960’s, releasing a handful of singles and recording some amazing performances, before disappearing for nearly half a century (relocating to Nashville to tend to her ill mother and deciding to stay after her passing).

The double album opens with the sizzling “Sticks and Stones,” a burner in which Shane sings about people trying to shame her and bring her down, but she really doesn’t give a damn.  This is a common theme in her catalogue.  Shane lived by her own rules and refused to compromise.  Her vocals are fierce and almost race ahead of the song, but the horn section of the Frank Motley’s Motley Crew band (for which she sang at the time) keeps up with her well.  The title track is a sad song about Shane trying to to convince an ex-lover that she’s happy.  The horn section almost has a Latin flavor to it that sets it apart from other similar tracks of the time period.

“In My Tenement” has horns that belong in a Bond film soundtrack.  “Comin’ Down” has Shane coming down “with a heartache” as her band’s surf guitar and tight drumming back her assured vocals.  Her cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” is fun as a bit emblematic of Shane’s life, who never gave away her skills for free.  “I’ve Really Got the Blues” swings as hard as any Chubby Checker or Fats Domino record ever did.  “Send Me Some Lovin'” has Shane pining for even a photo of her distant lover.  “Walking the Dog” is full of sass and a groove you’ll have in your head all day.  The funky organ on “You Are My Sunshine” brings in a bit of a gospel groove, which is no surprise since Shane has openly spoken on the influence of gospel and spiritual classics on her.  “Stand Up Straight and Tall” is pretty much the theme of Shane’s life.  She lived how she wanted to live and never gave a damn what people thought.  You can’t help but wonder about the possible symbolism of “New Way of Love,” especially since Shane sings it with such fire (and the Motley Crew band slays on it).  “Cruel Cruel World” has Shane calling for someone to love and not needing sympathy from anyone.  It’s a great example of how her vocals could go from soulful ballad to rock wails all in the same song.

That’s just the first disc of this release, by the way.  Disc two is a compilation of rare live cuts (with backing band the Hitchhikers including Frank Motley leading it) that are jaw-dropping at times.  It opens with “High Heel Sneakers” and Shane singing / tearing through an ode to stepping out in high fashion and being ready to kick ass and take names.  Pharrell Williams wishes he could write a groove half as good as the one on “Barefootin’.”

Shane warns that the live version of “Money” is so dangerous that her doctor warned her that performing it could be bad for her heart.  It’s over nine minutes of funk, sass, and defibrillating beats.  The breakdown on it is fabulous as Shane talks about not caring about what others think of her as she smiles on her way to the back.  “I’m going to live while I’m here,” she says.  “I don’t satisfy nobody that’s a square,” she also says at another point.

Other high points among the live tracks are “You’re the One (That I Need),” which features some of Shane’s best torch song vocals, the tight horn section groove and Shane’s heartbroken vocals on “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied),” her fun cover of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” (in which Shane appears to be cheering on an elderly man dancing in the crowd), the version of “Any Other Way” in which she sings, “Tell her that I’m happy.  Be sure to tell her this.  Tell her that I’m gay.” (which Shane claims wasn’t her openly admitting her sexuality, but the symbolism is hard to ignore), and the squawking, jumping “Shotgun” in which Shane advises, “You got to shoot your man before he runs.”

It’s a shame that Jackie Shane wasn’t bigger across the world and for longer a time than she was at her peak.  There are rumors that she might emerge from her self-imposed (and apparently enjoyable) exile in Nashville and return to perform in Toronto, so we can hope to see and hear more of her soon.  In the meantime, get this collection and be stunned by it.

Keep your mind open.

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Com Truise – Iteration

Electronic music comes in many forms, and Com Truise’s new record, Iteration, falls somewhere between electro-pop, space lounge, and avant-garde.

The opening track, “…Of Your Fake Dimension” is dark synthwave that would easily fit into the Stranger Things 2 soundtrack with its Joy Division guitars and throbbing bass line. “Ephemeron” refers either to something short-lived or, according to Wikipedia, “a data structure that solves two related problems in garbage collected systems.” I’m willing to believe the title refers more to the latter from the way the songs devolves into distorted, warped, and subdued electronic bleeps and the beat slows to a creepy crawl.

There isn’t a Wikipedia entry for “Dryswch,” but that’s probably because the song is hard to describe (much like the rest of the album). It like something the Art of Noise would have created if they’d stayed in the game a bit longer. “Isotasy” refers to the gravity between the Earth’s crust and the mantle. It’s a neat choice of title because the track floats along with spacey synthesizer sounds, but there’s a subtle heaviness to it that’s easy to miss. “Memory” is practically a lost cut from the Miami Vice soundtrack and deserves to be spun at dance clubs everywhere.

I wouldn’t be surprised if “Propagation” and “Vaccume” are songs Com Truise (AKA Seth Haley) yanked from a milk bar jukebox in the future after they stepped out of the Time Tunnel. “Ternary” (“composed of three items”) is a trio of drum machine beats, synth loops, and trippy keyboards. It’s all he needs to make one of the best synthwave tracks of the year. “Usurper” has some similar keyboard sounds in it, which is appropriate for the title and how it take the previous track’s themes in a new direction.

“Syrthio” is almost a salute to John Carpenter film scores with its foreboding bass and Escape from New York synthesizer work. The title of “When Will You Find the Limit…” doesn’t end with a question mark. Either Com Truise doesn’t want to finish the question, or he thinks it’s best if we finish it. It’s one of the peppier tracks on the album, and even has a bit of New Age keyboard sounds in it. The title track is the closer, and it refers to new hardware or the repetition of a process. Much of the album is made of loops and processed beats, so the choice of title is a good one. Synthwave is enjoying a renaissance right now and Iteration is a good example of the genre’s comeback.

Keep your mind open.

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Live: LCD Soundsystem – Chicago, IL – November 09, 2017

We got to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom not long after they opened the doors for the second of three sold-out shows for LCD Soundsystem.  We were hungry and hoped to grab a bite before the show.  I asked a bouncer outside when LCDSS would start their set.  “Nine, I think,” he said.  “There’s a DJ opening, I think.”  We went to a nearby Thai restaurant, had a nice meal, and then headed to the show to line up around the corner of the building and nearby some vendors selling street tacos that smelled delicious.  We got in without trouble, although one bouncer thought my earplugs were pills for a moment, and went upstairs to the main floor.  The DJ was spinning a remix of the Police‘s “Voices Inside My Head” as we moved up toward front stage left.

The DJ, it turns out, was Derrick Carter – one of Chicago’s most legendary DJ’s and a pioneer of Chicago house music.  He’s spun all over the world and was putting down a solid set that no one in our area seemed to notice.  The bouncer outside and the Aragon Ballroom massively undersold this.  Carter’s name should’ve been on the marquis under LCDSS.  It was a wonderful surprise and we would’ve come up extra early to catch his whole set if we’d known he was going to be on the bill.

LCDSS shot out of the gate at almost exactly nine o’clock with “Get Innocuous.”  The whole place was jumping and then went positively nuts when light bounced off LCDSS’ massive disco ball above the stage.

The moment before Murphy announced Daft Punk was playing in his basement.

Not ones to rest soon, they followed it with their mega-hit “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” and the electro classic “I Can Change.”  The band was cooking with gas for the whole set, and were obviously healthier than when I saw them at Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this year when lead singer James Murphy openly spoke about getting over a cold and keyboardist Nancy Whang having “a bum knee.”

“I Can Change”

“Trials and Tribulations” was another crowd favorite and is one of those songs that sounds even better live.  The crowd disappointed me when no mosh pit broke out during “Movement” (as it rightfully did at Pitchfork).  In fact, the crowd was a bit subdued compared to the Pitchfork crowd.  I don’t know if the outdoor venue and nice weather of Pitchfork made everyone a bit looser, but many around us at the Aragon weren’t even dancing.  “Tonite,” one of the best singles of 2017, was another sharp cut and I was happy to hear it live for the first time.

“Tonite”

After taking a break “to go pee,” as Murphy put it (“It’s hard.  A two-hour show.  You know, you get older, you have to pee,” he announced before they played a great rendition of “New York I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down.”), they came back onstage to play “Oh Baby,” the lead cut from their excellent new record, American Dream.  They followed it with another track off the new record and one that should’ve inspired the second mosh pit of the night – “Emotional Haircut.”

“Dance Yrself Clean” still ranks among the greatest of their hits and is easily one of the best parts of their live performances.  They closed with “All My Friends” and Murphy wished everyone a safe trip home.

All of Murphy’s friends were in the audience, it seemed.

It was good to see them again and good to see them all healthy.  LCDSS have become one of those bands I will see at any opportunity, as should you.

Keep your mind open.

Thanks to the lucky chap who scored this and let me take a photo of it.