Bootblacks – Fragments

Brooklyn’s Bootblacks (Alli Gorman – guitars, Barrett Hiatt – synthesizers, Roger Humanbeing – drums, Panther MacDonald – lead vocals), play an interesting mix of post-punk, shoegaze, goth, and synthwave, and their new album, Fragments, is a showcase on how well they float between those genres.

Lead track “Hold & Dissolve” instantly plunges you into creepy synthwave with a good mix of live and processed beats.  It reminds me of some of A Place to Bury Strangers‘ tracks, but with vocals that sound more like Peter Murphy than Oliver Ackermann.  “The Longest Night” seems to be a song about the first night after MacDonald’s lover walked out on him.  Hiatt’s synth work on it blends so well with Gorman’s guitar riffs that it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart.

If there’s any justice in the world, “Memory Palace” is currently tearing up goth and industrial night clubs throughout New York City and will soon be catching on across the country.  It’s like a Joy Division track if they had decided to be a dance band.  “Sudden Moves” is a journey down a wet road under a gray sky with occasional bursts of sunlight through the clouds (mainly from Hiatt’s synths).  “A Pale Fire” is a fast, almost poppy electro track, and “Reincarnate” is something that could be spun by a replicant Los Angeles dance club DJ in 2049.  I like how Gorman knows when to fade back and let the synths take the lead and when to step back up and shred.  She’s quickly becoming one of my new favorite guitarists.

“For You (Lois)” might be a love letter to Lois, or it might be an ode to Lois, or it might be a cynical takedown of Lois.  I’m not sure, but it is a cool cold wave track.  The closer, “Gone,” has definite Depeche Mode influences (especially in MacDonald’s vocal stylings) and synths that sound like something from a rare krautrock single.

My thanks to Bootblacks’ label, Manic Depression Records, for letting me know about this band.  They weren’t on my radar until MDR contacted me.  I’m glad they did because this is one of the most interesting finds of the year for me.

Keep your mind open.

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Honey – New Moody Judy

I rarely buy an album based on a single track, but Honey’s new album, New Moody Judy, was an exception to the rule. I heard the first single, “Dream Come Now,” and thought, “Damn, I need to hear more of these cats.” and then pre-ordered the record.

It was a wise decision. New Moody Judy’s opener, “Wage Agreement,” blares out of your speakers with a wild mix of Stooges and Mudhoney influences. The guitars are loud, fuzzed, and urgent. “Urgent” might by the best word to describe the entire record, really. Every song wants to grab you by the arm and shake you until you snap out of it (whatever “it” is for you).

The sharp angles and explosive drums of “Dream Come Now” could power a rocket to the moon, or the scrawniest person to knock down someone three times as big as them. The title track throws in dashes of cosmic stoner rock and Nick Cave vocal styling. “Speed, Glue” isn’t, I’m sure, about people who can stick things to other things in a quick manner. The fuzzy bass and warped guitars are at the forefront of this amazing instrumental.

“Hungry” almost spins out of control with heavy bass, avalanche drums, and crazy guitar that sounds like something you’d hear on an out of control UFO. The band’s Mudhoney influence is front and center on “Bagman,” which sounds like something Mudhoney might’ve unleashed on a Seattle bar’s dilapidated stage in 1992. That means it’s a killer rock track, by the way. “Power” brings back the Stooges influence and MC5 touches as well. It never lets up from the first chord, which is the type of rock we need right now. The closer is “Peggy Ray” – a fierce garage-punk assault that you’ll want to play during your next free-run, skate, or even casual stroll around town.

This is one of the best rock records I’ve heard all year. I need to see these cats live. You need to see these cats live, and we all need this record.

Keep your mind open.

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Blacktop Records to release 12th anniversary compilation. Kill Surf City’s track on it now available.

Blacktop Records has recently signed Kill Surf City with a cassette tape release planned for later this year. To celebrate the signing and the 12th
anniversary of Blacktop Records the label will be releasing a compilation album Oct 27th on compact disc/digital featuring a brand new unreleased
song from Kill Surf City titled “Transistor.” The compilation also features tracks from Kevin Seconds (7seconds) Jonah Matranga (onelinedrawing) Open Hand, Wheatus, MC Lars and Green Jelly.

Keep your mind open.

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Yumi Zouma – Willowbank

Electro-pop quartet Yumi Zouma‘s new album, “Willowbank,” is a delightful breeze blowing across the first nice day of spring, a tall glass of lemonade on a hot summer day, a romp through dry leaves in the fall, or the first clean snowfall of winter – take your pick.  It’s a delight.

“Depths (Pt. 1)” gets off to a snappy start with a toe-tapping beat and bouncy vocals, and the follow-up, “Persephone,” is about as perfect of an electro-pop song you’ll hear this year.

The Cure-like bass of “December” will get you moving, even if you’re seated.  “Half Hour” is a pretty love song with subtle percussion and synths and excellent use of male-female vocals during the chorus.  The beats on “Us, Together” remind me of early 1980’s New Order tracks, but the guitar is straight-up shoegaze.

“Gabriel” might be a song about having a crush on a ghost.  I’m not sure, but it is pretty dream-pop nonetheless.  “Carnation” is one of the sexiest songs on the record with lyrics about staying in bed all day and letting the world go by without a care except for each other.

The beats on “In Blue” are so slick that you might fall down when they spill out of your speakers and onto the floor.  They’re dance floor-ready on “Other People,” which is about thinking twice before and after a break-up (“Took it hard when I sent you out to sea.  I think I love you, but I could be wrong.”).

The synth bass on “A Memory” is the soundtrack of your favorite 1980’s video game you played once at a cousin’s house and could never find after that.  “Ostra” has a light soul / R&B vibe to it that I love.

The album ends with “Depths (Pt. II),” a song about how love changes as we grow older, uses many of the same lyrics as the first part but now at a slower, more ethereal pace.

Get this record if you need a break from anger, online rants, or work B.S., or even if you just love dream-pop and shoegaze music.  It’s one of the loveliest records of the year.

Keep your mind open.

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Live: Psychedelic Furs and Bash & Pop – Chicago, IL – October 17, 2017

One of my best friends and I first saw and heard the Psychedelic Furs in the early days of MTV and thought they had the weirdest name of any band we’d seen.  They soon became favorites of ours and I’ve been keen to see them for years.  The day finally arrived when I could see their first of two nights at Chicago’s Thalia Hall (one of my top three favorite venues in the city) on October 17th.

Rockers Bash & Pop opened for them, and my friend, Steve, and I got there in time to check out the last three songs of their set.  They had a good blend of hard rock and a bit of garage punk.

Bash & Pop

It was a good crowd for a Tuesday night, and an interesting blend of aged punks, young hipsters, and music fanatics.  The Psychedelic Furs came out and opened with “Dumb Waiters.”  I’d guessed this would’ve been their closer, but they unleashed it right away and grabbed everyone’s attention.

Getting right down to business with “Dumb Waiters.”

What especially grabbed my attention is how lead singer Richard Butler‘s voice has seemingly not aged.  He sounded great, as did the entire band.  Mars Williams, the saxophone player (who also used to play for the Waitresses), shredded the entire night.

L-R: Mars Williams, Richard Butler, Tim Butler, and Amanda Kramer

The double whammy of “Pretty in Pink” followed by “Love My Way” had the entire crowd jumping.  One guy to my right was almost in throes of ecstasy by this point.  “Until She Comes” and “The Ghost in You” were also especially sharp.

“Pretty in Pink”

The lyrics of “All That Money Wants” is rather biting in this country right now, and they ended with “Heaven” before coming out to two encores.  The first had a powerful rendition of “Sister Europe” that cooked up a witches’ brew of post-punk, acid jazz, and shoegaze.  The second was a performance of the song I thought they’d have as the opener – “President Gas.”  Like “All That Money Wants,” you can’t help but hear the lyrics in a new light right now.

A killer rendition of “Sister Europe”

It was worth the wait to see them, and $40.00 for a signed tour poster was a steal.

Keep your mind open.

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Slowdive – self-titled

2017 has been a good year for shoegaze music because two legendary British shoegaze bands returned this year with excellent new material. One of these bands is RIDE, and the other is Slowdive (Nick Chaplin – bass, Rachel Goswell – guitar and vocals, Neil Halstead – guitar and vocals, Christian Savill – guitar, Simon Scott – drums).

Slowdive’s self-titled album is perhaps the lushest, loveliest record of the year. The opener, “Slomo,” immediately seems to lift you off the ground and send you into an idyllic sky with its floating guitars and ghostly vocals about “curious love.” The band has lost nothing in the last twenty years. They only seem to have improved on everything. The title of “Star Roving” (a song about sharing love even when it seems daunting) couldn’t be more appropriate. It’s a sonic blast that burns as bright as a comet.

Goswell’s vocals on “Don’t Know Why” start subtle but then the entire song opens like a flower and becomes a stunning piece about trying to escape the memories of a lover who has moved on to someone else. “Sugar for the Pill” was the first Slowdive had released in two decades, and it immediately set the music world on fire. It’s no surprise, because the song is stunning. Slightly goth bass, echoing guitars, lush synths, and smoky vocals about not being able to live up to a lover’s expectations all mix together to produce one of the prettiest songs of 2017.

“Everyone Knows” bursts with energy, whereas the follow-up “No Longer Making Time” is like a lovely walk through a morning fog that is lifted by the sunrise. Slowdive has mastered the art of making guitars both loud and soothing. “Go Get It” is a master course on how to put together a shoegaze song: shifting levels of distortion and reverb, solid drumming, and mysterious vocals.

The album ends with “Falling Ashes” – which is little more than a rain-like piano riff, subdued guitars, and quiet vocals (often repeating the album’s theme, “Thinking about love.”), but that’s all Slowdive needs to hold you in the moment.

I know most of this review is merely I saying, “This record is gorgeous,” but that’s the best way I can put it. Parts of it sound like Slowdive stepped out of a time machine from the 1990’s, but other parts of it are rich with new energy that’s hard to describe.

“Gorgeous” is the best word that comes to mind.

Keep your mind open.

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She-Devils – self-titled

She-Devils(Audrey Ann Boucher and Kyle Jukka) self-titled record is a lovely blast of electro dream pop that we need more of in this world right now. The opener, “Come,” is a slightly trippy seduction and (“Don’t try to resist me,” Boucher sings) I think a salute to orgasms. It’s the best song about such subjects since Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang about them. The follow-up, “Hey Boy,” mixes shoegaze and electro so well that you can barely tell where one influence ends and the other begins. I like the low-tuned guitar throughout it by Jukka, and Boucher’s voice is playful and a little bit dangerous. It’s the kind of track the Dum Dum Girls used to make.

“Make You Pay” feels like something out of a shoegaze sweat lodge as Boucher sings about exacting revenge (via firearm) against her cheating lover. In “Darling,” however, she professes her love again as the guitars shuffle like a soft shoe dancer around her. “How Do You Feel” and “Blooming” are ethereal dream pop songs in which Boucher questions both her lover’s intentions and her desires. “I can’t do anything for you,” she sings on “You Don’t Know.” Her lover doesn’t know what love is, so she can’t help him see what’s bugging her.

On the weird and wonderful “The World Laughs,” Boucher boldly proclaims “I want to go inside of you…” Well, well, well. The guitars sound almost like something from a reggae record that’s been left out in the Jamaican sun too long. Trust me, it’s pretty neat. “Never Let Me Go” and the closer, “Buffalo,” are haunting love songs with Boucher’s vocals coming at you like incense smoke down a dimly lit hall and Jukka’s instrumentations ranging from Angelo Badalamenti influences to hints of psychedelic-era Brian Wilson.

This is the kind of album that makes you want to hear the next sooner rather than later. Improving on this already fine record will mean something stunning in the future.

Keep your mind open.

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RIDE – The Weather Diaries

This has been a good year for shoegaze. Two legendary British shoegaze bands returned after long absences with great records. One of them is RIDE (Andy Bell, Loz Colbert, Mark Gardener, and Steve Queralt), whose newest record, The Weather Diaries, is a welcome return and a sharp piece of work.

Opener “Lannoy Point” has the layered, echoing guitars you love from RIDE and lyrics about being wiser with the passage of time. They’re ready to get a lot of stuff off their chests. You can’t help but think the hard-hitting “Charm Assault” is about certain politicians on both sides of the pond. Lyrics like “Your charm assault has scarred the world. It looks so ugly as your lies begin to unfurl.” and “Privilege abused at every turn. Serious as a heart attack, he’s standing. He sets fire to your world and lets it burn.” hit as hard as the drum beats.

“All I Want” was one of the first singles off the record, and the decision to make it so was a no-brainer. It blends shoegaze and electro very well (and those drum beats are jaw-dropping), and the lyrics cover familiar shoegaze ground – loneliness and the urge to improve one’s lot in life. “Home Is a Feeling” is lovely dream pop, and the title track could be about global warming, but I think it’s about being overwhelmed by media (“When I was younger, it was simple. You didn’t have to question everything.”) – and the guitars build to a static-like roar by the end.

The name of “Rocket Silver Symphony” pretty much sums up the way the song sounds. It’s electric, bold, bright, and bursting with energy. “Lateral Alice,” a song taken from some of Andy Bell’s dreams, is a kick-ass rocker. “Cali” is Bell’s love letter to surf, sand, and sun in the U.S. The guitars in it are as wonderful as you hope they’ll be in such a song, and the vocals get ahold of your mind and won’t let go. You’ll want this on every summer playlist you make now.

“Impermanence” is a beautiful song about the end of things – life, relationships, even random physical objects like windowpanes. Bell tries to cope with the end of a relationship (while guitars soar all around his vocals) by meditating on the impermanence of all things, but it doesn’t help him much. “White Sands” (another song referencing beaches) muses on illusions we create and our struggles to let go of them. It’s hypnotizing in many ways, as is most of the record.

Good shoegaze always hypnotizes you. It causes you to get lost in dreamscapes and to notice the moment around you. It’s nice to have these musical Zen masters back among us.

Thanks to RIDE for being groovy cats when I met them at Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this year.

Keep your mind open.

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Dion Lunadon – self-titled

As the story goes, Dion Lunadon, known to many as the bass player and co-mastermind of A Place to Bury Strangers, was feeling restless during a break in APTBS’ tour schedule. So, he poured that restless energy into his first solo album and gave the world a frantic, wild piece of noise-punk that has some fun surprises in it.

The album’s opener is a raging piece against something we all have to deal with – “Insurance, Rent, and Taxes.” The song flattens you with squelching sound and Robi Gonzalez (who used to play for APTBS). Lundaon sings, “Much too young to get any older.” on the swinging “Reduction Agent.” Lunadon reveals his love of dirty juke joint blues in the track in both the rhythm and lyrics (“I’ve got the mark of death. It won’t leave me alone.”). The organ and bass on “Fire” burns as hot as its namesake, building to a crazy blender-like frenzy. “Com / Broke” is your new favorite song for trying to beat rush hour traffic. Just be careful, as Lunadon’s lyrics do involve car crashes, fires, and self-destruction.

“Hanging By a Thread” is a post-punk (and nearly instrumental) surprise with guitars that sound like industrial saws. The industrial grind continues on “Move,” and Lunadon’s vocals sounds like the Borg has assimilated him. The drums blast the doors off the song around the 1:30 mark and you’re holding on for dear life by that point.

“Eliminator” is fierce noise-punk, and “Howl” is about Lunadon’s joy in expressing himself in the spotlight. It’s like something Lou Reed blasted out of his speakers when getting ideas for Metal Machine Music.

Believe it or not, “Ripper” is a psychobilly cut and Lunadon and crew have a blast on it. I couldn’t help but grin through the whole track. “White Fence,” on the other hand, is more fine post-punk with weirdly angled guitars and desperate vocal stylings. The closer, “No Control,” brings Lunadon’s album back into weird psychedelia before a quick, distorted fade out leaves you gasping for breath.

This debut solo record is quite a statement. It’s powerful, brash, and even fun. More debuts need to be this self-assured.

Keep your mind open.

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Live: Depeche Mode and Warpaint – Toronto, ON – September 03, 2017

The calm before the storm at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

Somehow multiple decades have gone by without me catching electro legends Depeche Mode live.  The dates finally worked out, and my wife and I were able to see them and shoegaze / post-punk newcomers Warpaint at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

Warpaint impressing a lot of us.

Warpaint played a good set of crisp post-punk with snappy bass lines and even snappier drumming (which would be a theme for the entire night).  I’d heard a lot of good things about them, and they didn’t disappoint.  I need to find more of their material.

Looking down the “Barrel of a Gun” with Depeche Mode.

Out came Depeche Mode to the Beatles’ “Revolution,” a major theme for their new album – Spirit.  They rolled into “Going Backwards,” “So Much Love,” and “Barrel of a Gun” (which included a snippet of Grand Master Flash’s “The Message,” which cracked me up).

“World In My Eyes”

The crowd (which filled the stadium, apart from the unsold / unused seats behind the stage, by the way) jumped to its feet when they broke into “World In My Eyes.”  It was a reminder of not only their electro prowess, but how much influence they’ve had on Trent Reznor.  An acoustic version of “Question of Lust,” sung by Martin Gore, was a crowd favorite, and the follow-up of “Home” was excellent.

Depeche Mode never letting us down.

“Where’s the Revolution?” – the first single off Spirit – was another standout and essentially the band’s rallying cry for fans old and new to stand up against The Man. “Everything Counts” is also staggeringly relevant for these times, even though it’s decades old by now.  It preceded “Stripped,” “Enjoy the Silence” (which  was almost entirely sung by the now-bonkers crowd), and “Never Let Me Down Again” – which was better live than I even hoped it would be (and drummer Christian Eigner was absolutely slaying his kit by this point).

“Somebody”

The encore started with “Somebody,” included a nice cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and finished with big hits “I Feel You” and “Personal Jesus,” which had everyone raising their hands to “reach out and touch faith.”

“Personal Jesus”

It was long overdue, but very welcome.  My wife immediately listened to their new album as soon as we got back from the show.  She woke up the next day with Depeche Mode songs in their head, and I’ve had “Never Let Me Down Again” stuck in my brain for days.

Thanks for the fun, DM and Warpaint.

Keep your mind open.