Saturday, August 01, 2009

Murder City Devils - Empty Bottles, Broken Hearts

Do you have a drinking problem, a lot of adrenaline, and a not-so-subtle subconscious yen for a long dirt nap? Yes? Well, I’ve got the album for you. This album has death-wish written all over it: the vast majority of it is filled with hard, fast, sloppy, drunk-ass rock and roll, obsessed with dancing, rocking and partying -- the rest is about death, guilt and isolation. In fact, they often occupy the same songs at the same time. But even when the energy level goes down a few notches, the Murder City Devils still have more swagger in their little fingers than most bands could manage on their best days -- this means that even when they sink into self-pity diatribes like “Every Shitty Thing” and “Cradle to the Grave,” they don’t get obnoxious and pathetic. I consider their whole catalog to be essential listening, but if you’re not sure yet, this the place to start. This is fevered, self-destructive party rock at its finest.

Ween - Pure Guava

How any song from an album like Pure Guava ended up having actual success in a mainstream media market, I have no fucking clue. But I suppose it makes sense that Beavis & Butthead would like it, so the army of stoners who wanted to be them would like it too. There’s no other explanation for the rampant weirdness -- the distorted vocal tracks, maniacal giddiness, and completely cracked songcraft -- than recognizing this as the flagrant misuse of commercially available products by a couple of guys who couldn’t afford proper black market drugs. There was a lot of angsty bullshit rock that came out of the early 90’s, but it did have the intended effect of making a market for musicians who just wanted to fly the freak flag: early Beck would be the most obvious example, but the Melvins, the Butthole Surfers, and Ween all got swept up in the wake of grunge, and history is doing us the favor of weeding out some of the whiny crap and remembering just how awesome some of those weirdos really were.

Al Green - Lay it Down

Yet another in the series of “surprisingly amazing albums from an artist who jumped the shark decades ago but got an amazing producer and pulled his shit together and did it up classic-style.” Al hooked up with ?uestlove from the Roots for this one, and turned out an album that manages to be smooth and relaxing without being to saccharine and easy-listening. It doesn’t quite sound like his old albums (despite that unmistakable organ), but it doesn’t sound like he’s reaching to try to sound current either: Al Green just has one of those sounds that ages well without really needing to get updated. Most people will choose to pass by an album like this in favor of his old, classic “Greatest Hits” compilation. But fans will find more than a few reasons to hang onto this one.

.45 Grave - Sleep in Safety

.45 Grave deliver death rock in a style that is thoroughly Los Angeles: it’s loud, trashy, blazing punk rock, more influenced by The Germs and Black Flag (and maybe even Motley Crue?) as Joy Division and Bauhaus. The melancholy theatrics and musical mood breaks that characterized even the most glam-oriented British goth bands are left in the dust by “Partytime,” which sounds like it could be by the Dictators, and a whole album full of razor sharp riffs. There’s even a surf-rock instrumental towards the end, which (as far as I can tell) is not a joke at all. Sleep in Safety is still dark, and it still absolutely belongs in the same category as Christian Death, their closest stylistic and geographical contemporaries, but it’s a lot more... snide. And lively. And it has a sense of humor about itself. Goth rock is a genre with a handful of good bands and countless others aping their styles -- 45 Grave is one of those few, proud bands that figured it out on their own.

Magik Markers - Balf Quarry

I cannot get enough of this record right now. Someone recommended it to me when I said I was listening to a lot of the Sacred Bones Records recordings, which to me often sound like no-wave and industrial artists growing old and relaxed. Magik Markers aren’t that, but it’s a start. There are plenty of parts that do try to achieve beautiful (if unorthodox) music using ugly sounds. But they’re still a rock band at heart, and don’t hesitate to jump into some punk rock when the need arises. I’m reminded a lot of pre-Evol Sonic Youth, but I don’t want to pigeonhole them as a knockoff, because I think they have their own thing going on. I’m the sort of person that digs a lot of spacy, avant-garde weirdo music, but I get sick of the pretension that goes with it. It’s unbelievably refreshing to me to hear a band that shares those same “outsider music” tendencies, but will still play some real, honest rock and roll when they need to cut through the bullshit.