Death Valley Girls “Darkness Rains” 2018. Limited edition yellow with red splatter, Suicide Squeeze Records. We picked up what I believe is DVG’s third LP this past weekend at Romanus Records Fest in Indianapolis where they headlined the jam-packed (15 bands!) evening lineup. Hard driving, punkish garage rock with nods to the darkness of goth and touches of neo-psychedelia via organ and lead guitarist Larry Schemel (who on stage was kinda relegated to the background, allowing the Girls to shine up front, mostly with huge smiles on their faces during the entire set).
We were able to grab the set-list, excellently illustrated:
DVG played several tracks from Darkness Rains, many of them my favorite on the album. They led off with “Abre Camino,” an intensely dark and throbbing scorcher that is the first track on Side B. From Darkness Rains also is the high octane rocker “Street Justice,” the hypnotic “More Dead,” “Disaster (Is What We’re After)” which features Iggy Pop eating a hamburger while jamming out to the song’s beat in its video (spoiler: he clearly loves ketchup), and my top track, “Wear Black” upon which lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Bonnie Bloomgarden pulls out some amazing psychedelic organ.
Marah in the Mainsail “Bone Crown” 2017. Last Triumph Records. Now known as Coyote Kid (they very recently changed the band’s name). Coyote Kid was one of our favorite new-to-us artists at last weekend’s Mile of Music festival in Appleton, WI. From Minneapolis, they have a unique mixture of goth, calliope-fun-house, spaghetti westerns, soaring harmonies, gristled melodies and a touch of punk sensibilities. Coyote Kid put on an amazing performance at Houdini Plaza under the scorching sun, ironic as the band’s look and vibe is much better suited to a dark deep forest, or at least a late-night dance floor. I got a chance to chat with a few band members after their set while picking up this LP (their second, another one is due soon under their new name): singer/keyboardist Cassandra Valentine, singer/guitarist Austin Durry and bassist/crazed-hype-man Austin Wilder. Their excellent trombonist John Baumgartner, who adds a soaring excitement to their music, had likely fled the heat by that point – the poor guy was wearing black jeans and a long-sleeved black sweatshirt which probably raised his internal temp to 110 degrees.
Bone Crown is a concept album that tells the story of “The Rise and Fall of the Great Fox King,” and a download of the story’s narration is available from their website. It’s a dark fairy tale – all of the good ones are – with the tracks melding perfectly to one another, cohesive without being repetitive or boring. My favorite tracks after this first listen are “Fox Hole,” “Fisticuffs,” “Everybody Knows,” “The Great Beyond,” and the title track “Bone Crown,” Because Coyote Kid was new to me, I’m not sure of how many of these songs they played at their Mile of Music set but I’m looking forward to seeing them again after getting more familiar with their music – they put on quite a show.
Mutts “Separation Anxiety” 2012. Self-released on colored vinyl. We picked up Mutts’ second full-length LP (they have a couple of older EP’s) at one of their performances at Appleton’s Mile of Music Festival this past weekend. MoM is a 4+day fest in my hometown that is one of my highlights of the year: hundreds and hundreds of free concerts scattered throughout downtown bars, parks, parking lots and even alleys. The Mutts show we caught was at one of my favorite venues, the Fox River House, Appleton’s oldest tavern. The shows are held out back under a beautiful old tree – picturesque but also subject to the whims of the weather. Mostly the weather was perfect this year, warm and sunny, but Wisconsin can be volatile and late afternoon on Saturday a torrential downpour and high winds came pretty much out of nowhere right before the Phillip-Michael Scales (who is BB King’s nephew) and Mutts show (Mutts are Scales’ backup band). Undeterred, we sought shelter in a little alcove by the parking lot, umbrella in hand, and waited out the storm.
Sometimes bad weather puts a literal damper on things but in this case, it created a sense of gleeful solidarity among the audience members who stayed for the show once the festival crew swept away the standing water from the stage and removed all of the hastily thrown down tarps. Scales was great, the Mutts guys providing a solid backing for his “dive bar soul.” Then Mutts hit the stage, raucous, energetic, loud and so much fun! They describe their sound as “grounge” which I’m guessing is lounge-grunge mashup and is fairly accurate; as is the quote from their bio that they sound “like Tom Waits fronting a garage band,” mainly due to singer/keyboardist Mike Maimone’s gravelly vocals and vibe.
Rounding out Mutts’ lineup is guitarist/bassist Bob Buckstaff and drummer Ian Tsan. Tsan is a relatively recent addition to the band, on the LP Separation Anxiety drums are played by Chris Pagnani.
Mutts are from Chicago and have been around for almost exactly 10 years, touring relentlessly these past several months for that anniversary. Weirdly this is only the second time I’ve seen them: the first was a year ago in Indianapolis for the inaugural Romanus Records Festival (which we will be heading to again this upcoming weekend and I think Mutts are on the bill) so I can’t really be certain if their sound has shifted or not. But their live show at MoM was a lot more energetic than their 2012 release so I really need to get on checking out their newer recorded material. I do like Separation Anxiety especially the more upbeat tracks like “Half Mile,” the funky “Apathetic Stars,” and the heavy “Tire Swing Blues” – that one really earns the term “grounge.”
The Raconteurs “Now That You’re Gone” and “Sunday Driver” 2018. Today, July 9th, is Raconteurs/White Stripes/Dead Weather/solo artist Jack White’s birthday (b. John Gillis, 1975). This double A-side single on copper foil vinyl was part of last year’s Third Man Vault package #38, a reissue of The Raconteurs’ Consolers of the Lonely for its 10th anniversary. Both tracks appear on their newest album, Help Us Stranger, which came out last month (and I received as a Third Man Vault package but haven’t gotten around to giving it a serious listen yet. Both songs are pretty good (much better than White’s last solo release, Boarding House Reach from 2018) but I prefer the harder rocking “Sunday Driver” to the more mellow, bluesy “Now That You’re Gone.” The guitar work on both is pretty excellent (I assume that’s White playing) and the tracks are pretty straight-forward and melodic, with “Sunday Driver” adding in an element of head-banging and ass-shaking. In my opinion, when Jack White collaborates (whether it’s with Brenden Benson, Meg White or Allison Mosshart) he’s in his best form and some of his wackier whims are tempered.
Chrome Cranks “Love in Exile” 1996. Today, June 11th, is Bob Bert’s birthday (b. Robert Bertelli, 1955). Bert drummed for Chrome Cranks, as well as for Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Knoxville Girls, Jon Spencer and the HITMakers, among many others. Love in Exile was Chrome Cranks’ third and final studio album and also features former Honeymoon Killers’ bassist Jerry Teel along with Cranks founders William Weber and Peter Aaron. Much like Sonic Youth, Honeymoon Killers and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, it’s blues-punked noise rock, with a dash of psychobilly thrown in for a sound Allmusic labels “sleaze-rock.” There’s a deeply sinister cover of the old traditional tune “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” as well as some sparse – and also sinister – experimental tracks like “Movie Star” and “Curtains for My Baby.” Some of my favorites are the growling blues-exploded “We’re Going Down,” the blues-boogie punk of “Lost Time Blues,” as well as “Hot Blonde Cocktail,” a great screaming ass-shaker that weirdly got a decent amount of airplay on MTV in the mid-90′s.
I saw Bob Bert perform with Jon Spencer last summer, July 2018. His “drum kit” was a refabbed car engine atop a bass drum and hooked onto a trash can; he hit his kit mainly with hammers.
The Breeders “Safari” 1992. EP on 4AD Records. Today, June 10th, is twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal’s birthday (b. 1961). On this beautiful melodic little 4-song release, Kelley and Kim share guitar and vocals, along with Tanya Donelly . Donelly, formerly of Throwing Muses which had toured with the Pixies, left her brief time with the Breeders after Safari was recorded but before its release to form Belly. The EP includes “Do You Love Me Now?” which differs slightly from the version that appears on The Breeders’ 1993 LP Last Splash. “Don’t Call Home,” is brilliant, with a playful speak-sing lyrical delivery and garage-goes-psychedelic guitar. “Safari” has a classic Pixies loud-quiet-loud structure punctuated by lovely and clear soaring ahhh-ahhh-ahhh vocals and “So Sad About Us,” a Who cover, updates the 60′s power pop-rocker by adding Kim’s, Kelley’s and Tanya’s cheerful feminine voices to the pain of breaking up.
The White Stripes “Get Behind Me Satan” released on this date, June 7th, 2005. Third Man Records. Get Behind Me Satan is The White Stripes’ fifth album and one of my favorites. It won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, entering and peaking on the album charts in both the US and the UK at #3; it has surprisingly excellent sound considering they recorded it in the hallway of Jack White’s house. Our copy is by default a “reissue” from 2015 (double black vinyl, gatefold) as it was initially only released on CD (except for 600 vinyl copies given to music journalists). My favorite tracks on Get Behind Me Satan include the lead track and lead single “Blue Orchid,” a pounding rocker that hit #43 in the US and #9 in the UK, “My Doorbell,” an insanely catchy song with lots of layers, piano and subtle yet crashing rhythm groove by Meg White (“My Doorbell” was the second single from the album and earned them a Grammy nomination), “The Denial Twist,” another infectious ass-shaker and the final single from Get Behind Me Satan. I also have non-single favorites like “Instinct Blues” and “Red Rain,” both dark and feedback drenched blues-exploded slow-burners, the Meg White-led “Passive Manipulation,” which is a sweet and super-harsh little thing, and “Take, Take, Take” about an obnoxious fan meeting Rita Hayworth which is such a fantastic song I’ve been known to put it on a few endless repeats. I love the blues filtered through 60′s revival references sprinkled throughout the album like on “As Ugly As I Seem” which recalls “Going to California” – Jack White has been quoted saying, “Well, I sort of don’t trust anybody who doesn’t like Led Zeppelin” and of course Zeppelin were masters of heavying-up American blues. I even like the old-timey flavor of “Little Ghost” and I’m not much for old-timey, mountain hillbilly tunes.
Fine Young Cannibals “The Raw & The Cooked” 1989. FYC’s second and final LP, a mix of new wave, pop, soul and dance music was a huge hit, going to #1 in the US, UK and Australia and hailed by critics as one of the most exciting records of the 80′s, winning the title of Best British Album at the Brit Awards in 1990 and was nominated for the Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. I think there’s a lot of other albums from the 80′s that would better fit for best album of the 80′s but this is a great record. Roland Gift’s voice gives the album a truly unique sound and the reggae/ska/new wave mash-up background of former The (English) Beat members Andy Cox on guitar and David Steele on keyboards and bass lends an appealing dance flavor throughout. With the exception of the first single, a cover of the Buzzcock’s “Ever Fallen in Love” (that track by the Buzzcocks is one of the best songs ever; FYC’s version went to #11 in the UK and to #11 on the US Hot Dance Club chart), all tracks were written by FYC. The second single, “She Drives Me Crazy,” was a massive smash, going to #5 in the UK and to #1 in the spring of ‘89 in the US and is considered one of the best songs of the 80′s. Their third single from The Raw & The Cooked was “Good Thing,” which is almost as good as “She Drives Me Crazy.” It went to #7 in the UK and once again topped the charts in the US during the summer of ‘89. “Don’t Look Back” was the fourth single, hitting #11 in the US but just #34 in the UK. For some reason I don’t remember that single at all but in August of ‘89 I was busy getting ready to go to my first year of college so was a bit preoccupied I guess but it’s a great rocker with a bit of jangle-pop guitar. “I’m Not the Man I Used to Be” was the next single: it did a bit better in the UK, going to #20 but just #54 in the US. “I’m Not Satisfied” was the final UK/US released single and it faired a bit worse, #45 UK and #90 US, though I’m not sure why because it’s a great, soulful dance number. FYC released the track “It’s OK (It’s Alright)” – a great funky new wave dance number – as a single in Germany and “Tell Me What” was released in France. FYC disbanded in 1992 (getting back together briefly in ‘96 to record the single “The Flame”).
Eleventh Dream Day “Works for Tomorrow” 2015. Thrill Jockey Records. We saw Eleventh Dream Day perform last week when they opened for neo-psychedelia/paisley underground rockers The Dream Syndicate and they performed several tracks from Works for Tomorrow, the band’s 13th and latest release. Though they’ve been around since 1983 and are from Chicago, just about an hour down the road, I’ve never seen them and admit to only have vaguely heard the band’s name before. Though, as they mentioned at the show here in Milwaukee last Thursday, “It took us 17 years to drive 70 miles” (ie it’s been awhile since they’ve played here).
Eleventh Dream Day paired well with The Dream Syndicate (they’ve recorded with Steve Wynn in the past) though they have a harder rocking vibe: raw, fuzzed-out guitar jams, noise rock with melody. Original members Rick Rizzo (guitar, vocals), Doug McCombs (bass) and Janet Beveridge Bean (drums and vocals) are still playing strong – especially Bean who is a power player and wailer and I’m just a little obsessed.
We were able to get Bean’s setlist (on a styrofoam plate – not earth-friendly but able to withstand the monstrous beats) and a few of the songs from Works for Tomorrow were my favorite of the night.
Those songs included “Vanishing Point” on which Bean has lead vocals – it’s hard-driving and punked-up; “Cheap Gasoline” and “Go Tell It” are punk-blues at their finest where Rizzo and Bean share vocals. Also great is “Requiem for 4 Chambers” which sounds like it should be an orchestral string ensemble piece but is more like a country-twinged (punk) rocker with slide guitar and pounding organ (though towards the end there is some borderline choral chanting courtesy of Bean).