MELOMANIA brings you a perfect 10(!) releases to peruse and ruminate upon
while you honor your MOTHER!
LANDE HEKT - “Romantic/Octopussy” [7”](Emotional Response)
The best love songs are often the most familiar and effortless. Lande Hekt mixes her airy vocals and smart lyrics with a crush-worthy lo-fi jangle. Her hook “I knew you were romantic at heart” beautifully dovetails at the end of the chorus like a classic Smiths song or even early Sundays. With its Juliana Hatfield-ish drive, Hekt completes her introspective lyrics with some Keats-ian observation (possibly the other connotation of “Romantic?) “When you hear a voice that summons you, a voice dragging you home/When the last days of winter hang outside your home, just let me know” clearly puts a lump in your throat. Then Hekt plaintively wraps it up elliptically (like most great songs) saying “I’m just gonna wait around ‘til the end becomes the start.” Whether you have a gothic heart or not, “Romantic” is one of the most beautiful songs you will hear this year. Bonus points for covering The Wedding Present for the B-side.
WARPAINT - Radiate Like This [LP/CD](Virgin)
MY IDEA - CRY MFER [LP/CD](Hardly Art)
Coming on like a cross between Radiohead (the nervy "Hips") and modern R&B (the smooth "Stevie,") Warpaint sink their primary hallmarks of sound (Jenny Lee Lindberg's rubbery bass and their vocals) behind walls of synths and pumped-up drums to make ethereal songs danceable again. "Champion" follows the blueprint of UK bands like Goat Girl and Wet Leg in purposely developing a song out of a seemingly undeveloped sound. "Radiate Like This" wants to function as their COVID album, but its diffuse composition makes it largely transitional.
Lily Konigsberg from Palberta has already released an Indie Rock/Power Pop hybrid on her own. (In fact, the bratty but brassy "That's The Way I Like It" was one of 2021's best songs.) However, pairing her whispery voice and knack for hooks ("Crutch") with Nate Amos (who produced her last record) is a fantastic idea. My Idea is a song machine that does not stop and rarely plays the same style twice. They flirt with shoegaze to open up the record ("Cry Mfer") and then touch on Electro Pop ("Lily's Phone,") Piano Pop ("Not Afraid Anymore,") and 80's Jangle ("One Tree Hell. ") Konigsberg's lyrics as usual hit hard (the road confessions on "Yr a Blur" clearly tells their story,) and you are made to feel part of the process as all the extraneous talk is locked into the recordings. When Amos gets in on the proceedings, he autotunes in "I Can't Dance Part 2," but his largest contribution is creating so many environments for Lily to sing/intone/coo/purr. My Idea is a union that must continue.
MARKET - The Consistent Brutal Bullsh!t Gong [LP/CD](Western Vinyl/Secretly/AMPED)
DINER - Fold [LP](Show Your Hand/Republic of Music UK)
This pair of Indie Rock records are far from downtrodden despite being somewhat downtempo. Market's Nate Mendelsohn has a real gift for idiosyncratic lyrics pumped into languid Sparklehorse-ian songs. "Watergate" is a merry-go-round of riffs that speed up and slow down around a truly absurd set of lyrics. We can only describe Market as the sound of falling down. Guitar lines pulse and Mendelsohn lays on beds of harmonies, but "Gong" never loses its momentum. "Scar" is a higher-tempo Pop song with Flaming Lips-ish bursts of noise, but never settles on where it wants to go (which is likely the point of a song about losing your medication among other things.) The epic "Looking Back On The Spanish Civil War" is Mendelsohn's masterpiece of lyrical phrasing and playfully dodging his own bullets. Its relentless chime is soothing even as multitracked Mendelsohn intones "I'm alright/I'm always fine" with the enthusiasm of a man giving up. A deep record with so many shades of grey and a wicked sense of humor.
Diner is Wire-ish Post-Punk slowed down to find its comfort zone. The haunting organ, elastic bass, and hypnotic drums alone would make "Fold" a record to stretch out and explore. However, "Fold" knows exactly how to use its emptiest spaces the best. "Arm The Ridge" builds its tension from the organ line, as one word is uttered for every line. "Dog Lead Me On" is like a more demented Alex Harvey wringing drama from 70's Eno. "Everyone's Arrived" plays with a Can-like motorik sound but winds up sounding like Broadcast. The final cut "Yours" is their standout.
Constructed to feel like a hymn, it beautifully switches chords that on one iteration rise and on the next one find those minor notes in the middle that physically change how you feel (think the harpsichord/flute combination in an Uncle Acid song.) "Yours” is Diner manipulating you as the listener to make the song. The vocals are completely detached into beat poetry stretched to almost Hip-Hop ish rhythms. At the moment, you think you have it all figured out - the most sickly, wavering synth comes in to make you feel like your head may tumble off of your shoulders. Upon its return, the tension continues to build as Diner pushes it a modicum harder with each repeated phrase. A masterful debut that uses drone, but is not a drone record - it fashions textures and sounds into songs that are both riveting and live in its strangely withdrawn fugue state.
JOHNNY RAY DANIELS - Whatever You Need [LP/CD](Fat Possum/The Orchard)
STAPLES JR. SINGERS - When Do We Get Paid [LP/CD](Luaka Bop)
On this pair of Gospel albums, one can better absorb their mixture of traditional and modern music. Johnny Ray Daniels put the Sacred in Soul in his native North Carolina. Recorded in Memphis, the Greenville native is a leader because he has a story to tell (try to sit down during his tale on "Jesus Is Waiting") and he always sounds sincere. Daniels' warm vibrato and range leaps between his low purr and high shout make the Blues shuffle on "I Shall Not Be Moved" sound like Stax circa 1968. Like Elizabeth King, Daniels shows his age while singing - but his spirit is infectious. The backing band of Memphis players (Will Sexton) and producers (Matt Ross-Spang) knows exactly when to bring the thunder (the opening of "Jesus Is Waiting") and when to just let Johnny ease the pain.
Started in 1971 in Aberdeen, MS, not one of the singers and players here is named Staples. In fact, the group takes their moniker out of respect for the famous family band. The Brown family was there when R&B became Soul and Gospel music started to derive its enthusiasm by sounding like the songs on the radio. In 1975, the band caught the attention of Gospel singer Joe Orr who took them to a studio in Tupelo where they cut this record. This private press (on Brenda Records) recording captures the sound of a band not knowing where they are playing next - but always enjoying the ride there.
“I'm Looking For A Man" is a joyous wonder that even works in a slight Bobby Womack quote over the trebly guitar, funky bass, and big drums. As their songs unfold in the studio, there are hints at how powerful their live show probably was. On record, their call-and-response is spirit-raising. When A.R.C. Brown twangs out some Blues on "I'm Going To A City," Edward Brown gets to sound like Pops Staples on record. However, it is the slinky title cut where the band slows down so you can hear all the parts take shape together. The bass and guitar turn loose from each other and then fall back into place to gently swing the Singers through the chorus. When that sweet refrain concludes, the band stops, A.R.C twangs in again and the guitar, bass, and drums take the role of the "response" to Edward instead of the Singers. This is not just a testament to the power of Gospel when it took in Modern Soul, it is also a shining example of a slow, funky groove.
SAM O.B. - Just a Slice [12”](Bastard Jazz/Redeye)
Dance music is a difficult branch of music to be totally creative within. It is even harder when you are trying to be positive and still sound familiar. New York’s Sam O.B. mixes the street-smart energy of 80’s NYC with the bubbly Daft Punk-style of robotic funk on his four-song EP. “Making Dough” carries the elements of House music (and 90’s jams) forward without sounding like it is looking backward. His single “Le Sauce” is custom-made for post-Dubstep, EDM-funkateers. The bassline is a dancefloor filler on its own. Once Sam adds the layered electric piano chords and other Disco-era frills, it quickly spins into a 1978-ish groove. “Cheezin’” is less overt and more subversive in its delivery of the funk. Its 80’s style (think “Billie Jean”) drum part mixes easily with the slow addition of more and more Daft Punk-ish parts. “Just a Slice” is definitely more smooth than most critically-favored modern Electro Pop - but Sam’s light touch is what keeps you coming back for another “Slice.”
SAVAGE REPUBLIC - Tragic Figures [LP/CD](Independent Project/Real Gone)
One of the missing aspects of the Post-Punk that lives on today is how tribal and bracing it could be. Where most of Post-Punk in this century lives beneath the mixture of gloomy vocals and angular sounds, early Eighties Post-Punk could be very minimalist and purposefully frightening. Post-Public Image Limited’s misunderstood “The Flowers of Romance,” cacophony and discomfort took their place in music. Jah Wobble’s departure from PiL suddenly made it possible for bands to move forward without bass. Savage Republic uses that space to define its sound on their 1982 debut. “When All Else Fails” puts the guitar in low-string stun mode enough that two basses are necessary later for the haunting swell on the Middle Eastern-tinged “Next To Nothing.” Savage Republic’s discerning use of percussion is reminiscent of a less experimental This Heat and the clang and splatter of early Brian Eno. When the vocals come into play on the outstanding “Machinery” and the college radio fave “Real Men,” Savage Republic’s grunting vocals exist as both maddening beat poetry and their own addition to the terse rhythms. So “Tragic Figures” exists within a wild experimental space. Like Nurse With Wound or even Merzbow they prove they can drill out some serious noise in short bursts. On “Real Men” they sculpt the opening of the song out of a miasma of squelch that just does not prepare you for the surprising carnal, tribal thrust of the band. In the end, harnessing that energy seems to be Savage Republic’s legacy. “Tragic Figures” refused to follow the trends of its day and went far out of a limb to be as daring as the other envelope-pushers of the time. Forty years later, their booming, throbbing Post-Punk still sounds like it drifted in from somewhere far outside of time.
POSSESSED - Seven Churches [LP](Combat/RSD Essentials)
Just who arrived at Death Metal first has become a real chicken and egg scenario. The main consideration continues to be where does either Thrash Metal (Leather Charm circa 1981 becoming Metallica) or Black Metal (derived from the title of Venom’s 1982 album) take on enough of the characteristics of the other respective subgenre to make the hybridized leap. Is it the violence in the lyrics (Slayer’s “Show No Mercy” circa 1983) or the content pushing the limits of belief (Bathory’s debut in October 1984?) The Bay Area band Possessed started concocting their own formulation as early as 1983. After turning down an offer from Metal Blade and funding their own recordings with two members still in high school, “Seven Churches” dropped in October 1985. While Black Metal congealed around Hellhammer and Celtic Frost in 1984, and Thrash finally broke out with Anthrax and Metallica’s “Ride The Lightning” that same year, the facets of Death Metal are first on full display as a cohesive whole on “Seven Churches.”
The pattern of Metal records is set by this blistering, noisy shredfest. Open with a mood-setting keyboard piece (Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” as the intro,) “The Exorcist.” Possessed is immediately all breakneck pacing. Bassist Jeff Becerra’s guttural bark is now the standard in Metal today. His pained yowl is even drowned in effects (a la Darkthrone) and the bass/guitar combo keeps up with the land-speed-record gallop of the drums. The facts that are most typical of Death Metal (and Venom’s preceding Black Metal) are the graphic lyrics and the speed-picking forays. If anything, the middle of “Pentagram” has each member competing or who can play the fastest and still make the hits on time. Yet, the guitars wind around chords like Husker Du, and the guitar solos flame up and out like Greg Ginn’s six-string chaos in Black Flag. Possessed is not Punk. However, they are taking that Thrash aspect from it.
The guitars of Mike Torrao and Larry LaLonde (future Primus) show real imagination. “Burning In Hell” could likely be Sludge-y Metal if it were not for the 16-to-the-bar high-hats and high-flying guitar runs and squall. Even when they get into a ready-for-the-pit groove on “Evil Warriors,” the mixture of chainsaw riff guitar (that break!) and Eddie Van Halen-esque pyrotechnics leaves you rushing for yet another run. To be honest, the fearsome foursome’s format is a lot like Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” - just one year earlier. However, with every track racing by you at breakneck speed, “Seven Churches” still sounds like it could be made today. The guitar effects have that Bad Brains-esque snap of distortion (“Holy Hell,”) and the whole mixture of gravel-gargling vocals and heavy reverb on everything (the guitar solo on “Twisted Minds” might be the slowest part on the whole album) still sounds like a heavy slice of Scandinavian Metal.
And then there is the end. Did Possessed know they were conjuring their own new breed of music from the flickering flames of Thrash and Black Metal? “Death Metal” shouts its existence out on a barbaric chorus, while it multiple stops lay a scorched earth path through “Rising from the dead,” making “Lucifer laugh,” and bodies burning in flames. Then, a simple but daring announcement: “Now we take over, and rule by Death Metal.” Exodus may have recorded their vinyl slice at Death Metal first in 1984 on “Bonded by Blood” (unreleased until 1985 due to contract issues,) but Possessed was the first to call it what it is. And remains.
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