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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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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Rewind Review: The Moonlandingz – Expanded (2015)

The Moonlandingz started as a bit of a joke between Sean Lennon and members of Fat White Family when then created a fictional band. That band got so much hype that art turned into reality and the Moonlandingz released Expanded in 2015.

The EP starts with the instrumental “Exorcise Your Mammary Eyes,” which I think is code for “Stop staring at my tits.” A Sean Lennon “de-mix” of “Sweet Saturn Mine” (one of the Moonlandingz biggest hits so far) is next, and the slowing of what is normally a fast, brash tune only highlights the creepiness of the lyrics (which are mostly about having sex while you’re high). “Lay Yer Head Down on the Road” is almost a carnival midway song about getting high to escape reality, even though such an action might be a bad idea.

“Blow Football with J. Carpenter” sounds like something John Carpenter would brew up on his home synthesizers. It’s creepy and futuristic at the same time. “Psych Ersatz” is equally strange, mixing images of spooky things in the shadows with psychedelic loops, beats, and echoed vocals.

The EP ends with “The Man in the Lyfe Suite – Parts 1, 2, and 3.” It’s a wild trip full of fuzzed out guitars, frantic vocals, and rollercoaster beats and loops.

Expanded was a nice appetizer for their full-length follow-up, Interplanetary Class Classics (one of my favorite albums of 2017 so far). Both are well worth your time.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)

The second page of liner notes for Neko Case’s brilliant album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood have her name above the words “DANGEROUS TO MAN: WILD ANIMALS – A Definitive Study of Their Reputed Dangers to Man.” Ms. Case’s lyrics are often brutal in their honesty and her voice can both soothe and cut to the bone. She’s like a panther – lounging in the sun one moment, and then tearing out the throat of an antelope the other.

The album begins with “Margaret Vs. Pauline,” a tale of two girls. One, Pauline, has it made. “Everything is easy for Pauline,” Case sings. Margaret, however, has to scrap for all she can. Case has written an anthem for girls everywhere to never forget their strength. “Star Witness,” with its simple yet slick drumbeats by John Convertino, is a stunning display of Case’s vocal prowess.

“Hold On Hold On,” with the Sadies on backing vocals, is another plea from Case to stay strong in tough times, especially in matters of love. “I leave the party at three a.m., alone, thank God,” she sings at one point. It’s a haunting lyric, especially when the echoing song “A Widow’s Toast” follows it. It’s nothing but Case’s vocals and guitar, Paul Rigby’s guitar effects, and reverbed beauty.

The liner note art for “That Teenage Feeling” is a jackknifing semi-trailer with a transmission shaft shattering from the force. That, and the shuffling guitar (by Dexter Romweber, no less) backing Case’s voice, is a perfect expression of teenage emotions. The title track is about the beauty of things all around us that we don’t notice until they are gone. “John Saw That Number” is a great floor stomper spiritual with sizzling guitar by Dallas Good.

“Dirty Knife” is an ode to a murdered man and the type of song that Case does so well – a tale of death, love, violence, and rural landscapes. “Lion’s Jaws” belongs in David Lynch’s next Twin Peaks reboot. Dallas and Travis Good team up for lovely guitar work, and Kelly Hogan is listed as contributing “lovely backing vocal” to the track (which is true). “Maybe Sparrow” is one of Case’s greatest hits, and it’s easy to hear why as her voice peaks multiple times during the second verse. “At Last” is nothing but Case’s voice and three guitars, and “The Needle Has Landed” is beautiful power pop tinged with outlaw country.

Case is dangerous because her vocals and lyrics are like a hardwood staff. You can lean on them to get you through a rough patch or they can hit you in the ribs like a ball bat and bring you to your knees. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is no exception.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Zola Jesus – Taiga (2014)

Zola Jesus’ music is difficult to classify. It’s not quite electro, not quite shoegaze, not quite diva, and not quite goth. Yet it is somehow all of these things. Zola Jesus, has one of the most haunting voices in music, and her album, Taiga, and is a fine addition to her already impressive catalogue.

The title track opener is a spooky electro song with drum and bass beats that dissolve into frightening horns. “Dangerous Days” could be a dance club hit if she wanted. It could also be your favorite new song about relationships. “Dust” sounds like a long-lost Yaz track with its tick-tock electric beats and her lovely voice creeping through it like fog rolling along a beach. Ms. Jesus, in case you’re reading this, I’ll sign a petition to hear you cover Yaz’s “Situation.”

“Hunger” is a hot song about hot sex that I’m sure tore up dance clubs in various remixes in 2014. “Go (Blank Sea)” is a swirling wave of sound that hits you over and over again (in a good way) with Zola Jesus’ powerful vocals, which are sometimes laced with reverb to make them even bigger, industrial beats, and angelic synths. It’s one of the best cuts on the record. “Ego” and “Lawless” highlight her vocals well, especially “Lawless,” which mixes epic synths with hip-hop beats and a bit of a tough girl attitude behind her vocals.

“Nail” has the gloomy yet beautiful feel that many Zola Jesus fans love in her work. “Long Way Down” has probably the biggest electro beats on the record (and the most reverb), and I’m sure is another excellent remixed dance track. “Hollow” is another solid entry, and the closer is the cheekily named “It’s Not Over.” It’s a big-voiced track about big love with a slow build and a glorious ending.

The main attraction to any Zola Jesus record is her phenomenal voice. The electro beats and goth touches help, but her voice can be soothing and haunting at the same time. She needs to sing the theme to the next Bond film, and the next ten Bond films if you ask me. If you enjoy a lovely female voice, you need to hear her.

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Rewind Review: Ty Segall – Live in San Francisco (2015)

Ty Segall is so prolific that I’m surprised it took him until 2015 to release a live album. He seems to put out a new record every month, so it feels like he should have three live albums by now.

The psych-fuzz whiz kid opens his live set with, oddly enough, “Wave Goodbye.” It starts out with low bass and then kicks into squealing high gear that has the small crowd cheering in joy. It sounds like something Tom Petty wishes he could release on his new record, but fears it would alienate his long-time fans. “Slaughterhouse” (from the album of the same name) is pure freak-out punk rock with a little Nirvana vocals sprinkled on top for good measure. “Death” mixes stoner rock with punk so fast it might give your ears friction burns. It’s one of the best cuts on the record.

“I Bought My Eyes” is one of Segall’s biggest hits, and he lets it rip on this live album. The guitars seem to come at you from all sides while Segall’s vocals are somehow gentle in the din. “Feel” borders on arena rock territory at first, but the sleeveless denim jacket riffs cut it off at the front door (which is a good thing).

“The Hill” follows the band’s friend, Julie, telling a joke, and next up is “Thank God for the Sinners,” which sounds like something Buzzcocks cooked up at their second jam session. Segall claims “Standing at the Station” “is about the cow trade.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that it’s a swaggering, wild blues-influenced tidal wave coming out of your speakers.

The album ends with another of Segall’s hits – “What’s Inside Your Heart.” I’m sure the fans at this gig told him how their hearts were full of palpitations from being shaken by so much rock. It’s a strong ending to a strong record.

I know this entire review has essentially been me saying this record is non-stop blaring madness, but that’s the best way I describe it. You’ll understand once you hear it. Ty Segall is making crazy records, and we should all be grateful to him for doing it. The world needs more live records, and live performers, like this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: TV on the Radio – Seeds (2014)

TV on the Radio returned in 2014 after taking time to mourn the loss of their bass player, Gerard Smith, who lost his battle with lung cancer in 2011. The album they released, Seeds, is a bright affair that not only pays tribute to Smith, but also embraces life and love after loss.

The first four lines of the opener, “Quartz,” are “How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? How high the sky?” It is a beautiful track with wicked beats that get your feet tapping within seconds.

“Careful You” (a play on “care for you”) is the most direct tribute to Smith barely hidden within a love song. The opening verse, “Oui, je t’aime, oui je ta’ime, a demain, ala prochaine (Yes, I love you, yes, I love you, tomorrow, and the next), I know it’s best to say goodbye, but I can’t seem to move away.” is both heartbreaking and tender. The throbbing synths drive the song through any fog that may be surrounding your head and bring you to out of your reality, at least momentarily.

“Could You,” with its big brass horns, has lead singer Tunde Adebimpe pleading for love (“Could you love somebody? Could you strip the ego bare and let love take flight? Could you open up your heart?”). The first single, “Happy Idiot,” is a sizzler with hot drums and lyrics about a man preferring ignorance and losing his mind to thinking of a life without his former lover. “Test Pilot” is another song about lost love and heartbreak, although by the end it seems the lovers involved may be willing to work through the rough skies and come in for a safe landing after all.

“Love Stained” is an epic song with lovely lyrics about a man terrified by his feelings and seemingly the world at large, but whose lover is always there for him (“In the middle of the night, when fear comes calling singing it all dies, always scared, alone, I’m looking into your eyes to feel the call, pretty thing that catches me so strong when I fall.”). The synths in this rise and fall like waves and eventually drift out like the tide. It’s almost as haunting as opening to the follow-up track, “Ride,” in which the piano and violins sound like a funeral dirge until the drums kick in and the song bursts open to become an affirmation of moving beyond grief and embracing the future. It’s a telling statement from the band considering the loss of Smith.

“Right Now” is another song of renewal and embracing of life. It is a directive from TVOTR to live in this moment and the leave behind the “imaginary need for the silly little things.” “Winter” has blaring guitars that sound designed to reach the back of the concert hall; and, yes, it’s another love song. It has the sauciest lyrics on the album – “Can’t think of nothing better than a union in the afterglow. Let it go, all the thinking and the reason. Here we go, to the lovin’ and the pleasin’.” Meow.

If all the synths are too much for you and you’re whining about the album not having a “real” TVOTR song, don’t worry. “Lazerray” sounds like something the band might’ve put on Return to Cookie Mountain. It’s is the most straight-up rocker on the record and a strong message about the impermanence of everything (“Chop down your master plan in nanoseconds, man. I hope you understand that nothing living lasts forever.”). “Trouble” seems to be a song about a man realizing his lover’s going to break up with him and there’s nothing he can do about it, but I can’t help but think it’s also about the impending death of Smith, especially when the song ends with “Everything’s gonna be okay” repeated over and over. The title track closes out the record, bringing back the thick synths and TVOTR’s great layered vocals. It’s another beautiful love song about a man planting the seeds to build a relationship with a woman who’s been stung in the past.

Seeds might be the best collection of love songs released in 2014. It was a great return for a great band.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (1968)

I’d heard and read that Blue Cheer (Dick Peterson – bass and vocals, Leigh Stephens – guitar, Paul Whaley – drums) were among the loudest bands of all time. Eric Clapton mentioned this in an interview I read once when he was talking about the psychedelic / stoner rock scene in late 1960’s. Other musicians seemed to whisper about Blue Cheer like speaking too loudly of them might unleash a sonic boom at any moment. So, I figured I should buy their debut album Vincebus Eruptum (which is Latin for “blue cheer,” by the way).

The album opens with what is widely considered to be the first heavy metal song ever released – their cover of “Summertime Blues.” It immediately pours on the distortion and drumming that sounds an army of Orcs is playing it. My favorite part of the cover is how they don’t bother singing the parts when the boss or the congressman in the song speak. They just play a quick bass, drum, or guitar solo instead. “Rock Me Baby” is a blues standard, showing that Blue Cheer could groove as well as blow out your eardrums.

“Doctor Please” is the first track on the album written by Peterson, and it’s almost eight minutes of howling vocals backed by wailing guitar, heavy drums, and angry dog-growl bass. “Out of Focus” almost starts that way with its funky, weird bass groove, but soon Whaley’s drum licks bring everything into a (somewhat fuzzy) focus.

“Parchment Farm” has guitar work that you can hear influenced bands like Earthless, Sleep, Kadavar, and Wolfmother. Stephens melted the first faces in 1968, and some people still haven’t recovered. Listening to “Second Time Around” is like hearing the first cries of Baby Stoner Rock. It’s a wild, bluesy, psychedelic trip with a crazy drum solo from Whaley. The band is allegedly named for a type of LSD, after all.

As wild as it is to hear Vincebus Eruptum now, it must’ve been mind-blowing in 1968. No one had done anything like this before, and many are still trying to do it now. From now on when people ask me, “What should I listen to if I want to get into stoner rock?” I’ll tell them to start with this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Black Keys – Magic Potion (2006)

Every now and then (okay, more than that), an album slips through the cracks and years go by before I pick it up and wonder, “What took me so long?” Such an album is Magic Potion by the Black Keys (Dan Auerbach – guitar and vocals, Patrick Carney -drums). I’m a big fan of their work (especially the first half of their discography), and Magic Potion has been on my “must buy” list for a long time.

The opening chords of “Just Got to Be” exemplify what I love about the band – chugging guitar, rock drumming that borders on being sloppy, and sweaty blues-style vocals. “Your Touch” is one of their biggest hits thanks to its slick groove and sexy subject matter. “You’re the One” is a bit psychedelic as Auerbach sings a sweet song about his mother teaching him about love and how he later carried those lessons to his girlfriend.

“Just a Little Heat” reveals the band’s love for Led Zeppelin, who also loved the blues. Just listen to the opening licks and tell me they don’t remind you of Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.” “Give Your Heart Away” is a great “So long, baby” type of blues song about Auerbach walking away from a woman who treated him like a doormat. “Strange Desire” again brings in some psychedelic guitar work before it becomes a catchy song about dangerous love. “I don’t wanna go to hell, but if I do it’ll be because of you,” Auerbach sings, pulling no punches in the process. “Modern Times” only amplifies the dirty, floor-stomping feel of the record.

“The Flame” has some of Auerbach’s best guitar work on the record as it moves from blues to psych-rock to some Marc Bolan-like riffs. “The times are changin’, and the people need rearrangin’,” Auerbach sings on “Goodbye Babylon” in a sweaty, loud ode to the world of 2006. “Black Door” could be the follow-up to the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” with Auerbach and Carney painting all of Keith Richards and Charlie Watts’ red doors, as Auerbach unleashes a ton of skronky, reverbed guitar that Richards would enjoy and Carney puts down a wicked beat behind him that Watts would love. The album ends with “Elevator,” a song that has Auerbach getting freaky with several different women in one building. The guitar goes from smooth groove in the verses to wall-flattening in the choruses. It must be deafening live.

Don’t wait a long time to pick up this record. It’s solid from beginning to end. This Magic Potion is probably just what you need right now.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Black Angels – Clear Lake Forest (2014)

The Black Angels‘ 2014 EP, Clear Lake Forest, is a fine dose of psychedelia and was a great way to get your summer freak on when it was released that year (and still is).

“Sunday Evening” hits you right away with reverb and the lyric “What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even really true?” Christian Bland’s guitar work on it ranges from skronky to trippy, and the song has probably the hottest tambourine work you’ve heard in a long while.

“Tired Eyes” opens with Stephanie Bailey’s always-dependable thunderous drumming and soon spins into a wild track with lead singer Alex Maas and Christian Bland sharing the vocals about someone who seems tired of living in illusion. I may be wrong. The song is so groovy that it seems to pour incense smoke from your speakers, so I may be hallucinating any meaning I’ve assigned to it.

“Diamond Eyes” is downright lovely. Maas’ reverberated vocals, Bland’s spaghetti western guitar, Jake Garcia’s soothing rhythm guitar, Kyle Hunt’s soaring synths, and Bailey’s military-precision beats all gel to become one of the Black Angels’ best tracks.

“The Flop” was the first single off Clear Lake Forest, and it’s easy to understand why. Hunt’s keyboards sound like he’s streaming them from the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” outtakes. Bailey’s drums hit so hard they may take your lunch money. The bridge plunges you straight down the rabbit hole and doesn’t let you out. “An Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street” is the Black Angels’ second “address” song (the first being “Haunting at 1300 McKinley” from Phosphene Dream). It has a bit of a honky-tonk feel to it (thanks to the snappy beat) and I can’t help but wonder if it’s about another haunting or a murder or suicide that led to the haunting. “The Executioner” is certainly about death (a common theme on Black Angels records). Maas’ lyrics are the clearest on this track (before the freak-out of a bridge, at least). It’s an interesting twist. Maas wants you to know that sin may feel good, but death waits so you’d better get things straight before you meet it.

The closer, “Linda’s Gone,” follows the life of a woman who wants and seeks something beyond her boring life and even the boredom of the illusion around her (and all of us, really). It has all the stuff you like from the Black Angels: tribal drumming, metaphysical lyrics, trance-inducing synths, spacey vocals, and guitar licks that seem to fold in on themselves and then back out into different shapes.

Clear Lake Forest was a solid EP and a great follow-up to their full-length album, Indigo Meadow. Treat yourself to it.

Keep your mind open.

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