Category: indie rock

Abby Jeanne “Get You High” and “Spellbound” 2019. Hi Fi Records. Very limited edition 7″ colored vinyl and even more limited cassette release. This past weekend Milwaukee’s own Abby Jeanne hosted a “Pop-Up Atomic Records” shop at the Bay View coffee shop, Hi Fi Cafe for her just-released single, “Get You High,” a dreamy track filled with swirls and tension. Side B is a cover of Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Spellbound,” which Jeanne recreates beautifully, respectfully: not many singers can match Siouxsie Sioux’s piercingly clear vocals but wow, Abby does an amazing job, adding her bluesy touch to the goth classic. The cassette has both of those tracks plus a bonus track – “Get You High (Daniel Ash ‘Paradise Mix’)” – remixed by the Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets/Pop Tone goth master himself. 

Liz Phair “Whip-Smart” released 25 years ago today, September 20th, 1994.  Matador Records. Whip-Smart is Phair’s second album; it’s not my favorite of hers but the only one we have on vinyl (I prefer her critically acclaimed debut Exile in Guyville and her 1998 release Whitechocolatespaceegg). Whip-Smart was fairly successful, debuting at #27 on the album charts with a Top 10 modern rock hit (#74 on the Hot 100), the danceable, swirly, poppy “Supernova.” It was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Female Rock Performance category. Phair released two more singles: “Whip-Smart” and “Jealousy” but both failed to gain much traction; “Whip-Smart” made it to #24 on the Modern Rock chart but not the Hot 100 and “Jealousy” did not chart at all. Those are a few of my preferred tracks – though I also like ‘Support System” and the mid-tempo, Sheryl-Crow-ish “Go West.” Not surprisingly based on my general taste, these are the more (mostly) rocking tracks on Whip-Smart, I’m less fond of the super-sad, super-sparse songs like “Chopsticks,” “Shane” and “Alice Springs” where Phair’s monotone voice – which works for the riot-grrrl-lite vibe’d songs – becomes, well, really really monotonous. 

Most of the album is lo-fi (with the exception of the highly produced “Supernova”) and, like most of Phair’s writing, Whip-Smart focuses on love and sex: “a rock fairy tale, from meeting the guy, falling for him, getting him and not getting him, going through the disillusionment period, saying ‘Fuck it,’ and leaving, coming back to it.“

The Weeks “Comin’ Down” 2019. Romanus Records, very limited edition (50 copies) “coffee and cream” variant (it’s literally filled with coffee and creamer). “Comin’ Down” is the lead single from The Weeks’ new album, Two Moons, which dropped last weekend (and I’m waiting excitedly for my copy, also from Romanus Records which will be the world’s first glow-in-the-dark sand filled LP). “Comin’ Down” is a great, hard-driving, southern-tinged track from the Mississippi indie rockers who got together over 10 years ago; I believe Two Moons is their fifth LP. Backing “Comin’ Down” is the song “Paper Mache Houses,” a beautiful, anthemic, slightly psychedelic and jangly song that has already made into one of my playlists that I use for my yoga classes. On the strength of these two tracks on one amazing custom 7 inch single, I’m eager to hear the rest of the record when it arrives.

CATL. “This Shakin’ House” 2014. CATL. Records. We got another chance to see the most excellent Toronto-based punk-blues, southern-fried Americana rockin’ rhythm and blues duo perform this past weekend at Romanus Records Fest in Indianapolis (we saw them play at the Fest last year and again earlier this year at Boone and Crockett here in Milwaukee). Either Chris Banta or Warner Swopes from Brother O’Brother/Romanus Records snapped this photo of the crowd during catl’s set: we are in the front left hand corner, looking awfully serious LOL. 

This Shakin’ House is catl’s fourth release and I believe the first as a bonafide two-piece, with “catl” (aka Jamie Fleming) on guitar and vocals and Sarah Kirkpatrick on vocals and drums (plus some signature corny dad jokes of which she pulled out a couple in Indy). It’s a honky-tonk blues stomping album with some really excellent tracks: my favorites are the Bo-Diddley-esque “Gateway Blues,” the hypnotic Junior Kimbrough-styled “Shakin’ House Blues” that has some great blues harmonica and the floor-shaking “Save Myself.”  “Save Myself” is a great example of the comparison I’ve made between Jamie and Jon Spencer – lots of great “YEAH!” lyrical punctuations; I believe catl performed with Spencer recently while he was on tour with his HITMakers.

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. 

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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.

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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.” 

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. 

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The Antlers – Hospice | Frenchkiss Records | 2019 | White

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).