Cromwell – At The Gallop (Got Kinda Lost Records)

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Cromwell were an Irish band from the mid-’70s likely besotted with dreams of becoming the next Thin Lizzy, Mott The Hoople, or Rolling Stones. That never happened, of course, but they did manage to get a self-released album and a few singles out into the marketplace before receding into obscurity. Decades later that album plays like a minor entry into the hard rock fray. It’s never jaw-droppingly good, but there’s enough badass swagger and period charm to keep listeners leaning forward to see where the band goes next. Guitarist Patrick Brady is worth special mention for his tasteful licks and tone, both of which impress throughout. Vocals are Cromwell’s weakness, consistently staying too overly indebted to their influences, to matter. Opener “Ireland (The Wild One)” aims for Phil Lynott, but falls several yards short of the goal line. “Down on The Town” is as close to being a cover of “Jumping Jack Flash”, as the ballad “First Day” is to Mott’s “All The Young Dudes”…and that’s just the first three songs. “Guinness Rock” is a much heavier number, with a palpable Sabbath influence in the guitar work.

Cromwell’s pre-album singles are included as bonus tracks, including a raw high-energy number, “Stomp Stomp Stomp” and “You Hate It To Turn”, which sounds like it could have come from Zeppelin III. Like the album itself, none of these songs will have you re-thinking everything you thought you knew about ’70s hard rock. But if you cut your teeth on this kind of stuff, Cromwell is a valid reminder of why you liked this kind of music in the first place.


Top 20 New Releases of 2018

Pre- (r)amble: I spent a lot of time seeking out new music this year, so instead of the usual year-end Top 10, I’m going for a full Top 20 releases. I’m including EPs and 7”s because I can. Read it, check out the albums, then tweet me about how much my opinions suck.

Freedoms Goblin
1. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin (Drag City)
Ty Segall, in various guises, played a significant role on six different albums in 2018, but Freedom’s Goblin is the best of the bunch. Over nineteen-songs, Ty expands the definition of classic rock to include punk, krautrock, no wave, funk, music hall, grunge and just about anything else good.

Subway Zydeco
2. Broadway Lafayette – Subway Zydeco (Hound Gawd!)
I’m probably one of 200 people who own this album, but this well-kept secret is a killer mix of rock and zydeco music, helmed by the inimitable Mick Collins. It’s lively, unique and refreshingly gritty.
Full Review

3. Iceage – Beyondless (Matador)
Beyondless is Iceage’s best album to date. Ear-catching opener “Hurrah” is a garage-rock tour-de-force, but songs like “Under The Sun” and “Catch It” show that the band are writing really effective slow-burners too.

Negative Capability
4. Marianne Faithfull – Negative Capability (Panta Rei)
I didn’t see this one coming at all. Working with a musical a-list including Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and Mark Lanegan, Faithfull has come up with her most personal and honest work to date. Pro tip: The deluxe edition has a great cover of The Pretty Things’ “The Loneliest Person”.

5. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats – Wasteland (Rise Above)
Uncle Acid sets their retro-metal time machine back to the mid-70s for Wasteland. Black Sabbath’s influence is less overt than on previous albums, but their songs are as strong as ever.

With Animals
6. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – With Animals (Heavenly)
Mark Lanegan’s second collaboration with Garwood is, like their first collaboration, sparser than a “regular” Lanegan album, yet still captures the same haunting moods I like so much.

Smote Reverser
7. Thee Oh Sees – Smote Reverser (Castle Face)
John Dwyer and team’s latest full-length is a one-hour sci-fi prog-punk brain buster. There’s crazy sounds and ideas everywhere…and the album cover kinda reminds me of Judas Priest’s Painkiller.

Ruby Karinto
8. Ruby Karinto – Self-Titled (aka “Spray Bottle”) (Hozac Records)
The most original album I heard all year. So original that I’m not going to compare it to other music. It just sounds good.
Full review

Painted Doll
9. Painted Doll – Painted Doll (Tee Pee Records)
Comedian/musician Dave Hill (please follow him on Twitter where he pisses off Trump fans by claiming he porked their mothers) and death metal drummer Chris Reifert team up for an album of hard-hitting psych, glam, proto-metal and any other non-sucking late-‘60s/early-‘70s sub-genre you can think of.
Full review

Image result for richard vain night jammers
10. Richard Vain – Night Jammers (Big Neck)
This album just came out a few weeks ago, so I’m still getting familiar with it, but Jered Gummere’s (Ponys, Bare Mutants, Acquaintances) new trio debuts with just the right balance of narco-noise and garage pop. “Behind The Eyes” is the jam.

11. Des Demonas – Bay Of Pigs/Skrews 7” (Slovenly)
12. Ty Segall – Fudge Sandwich (Drag City)
13. Brian Jonestown Massacre– Something Else (A Recordings)
14. Wand – Perfume EP (Drag City)
15. Guided By Voices – Space Gun (Rockathon Records)
16. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt (Fat Possum)
17. Charles Bradley – Black Velvet (Daptone/Dunham)
18. Velveteen Rabbit – Mind Numbing Entertainment/I Wanna Be Your Woman 7” (Hozac)
19. Black Moth Super Rainbow – Panic Blooms (Rad Cult Records)
20. Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland (Self-Released)

The Germs – What We Do Is Secret (Slash/Rhino/Org)

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This Germs EP is a strange one. It was originally released in 1981, soon after the death of Darby Crash, collecting odds and ends from the band’s chaotic three-year run. It begins with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” from 1977, when the band were in their infancy. The performance is so sloppy that it threatens to go completely off the rails at any moment, and even a simple count-in seems beyond their skill set at this embryonic stage. The three songs from 1978’s Lexicon Devil EP are a much better indication of The Germs’ strengths. Sure, “Lexicon Devil”, “Circle One” and “No God” are sloppy proto-hardcore blasts, but they’re anything but generic thrashers. Beneath the wild exterior lies something mercurial and poetic in Crash’s performances. It’s too bad the lyrics weren’t included, because they’re actually really good. “Caught In My Eye” is an outtake from 1979’s GI album. It’s slower and more focused than the Lexicon Devil tracks, and you can really feel the white-hot intensity, especially in Crash’s animalistic vocal gnarls. It ends with two songs from the final Germs show, on December 3, 1980 at The Starwood in Los Angeles, just days before Crash’s suicide on December 7th. Darby sounds fall-down drunk, but the sound quality is pretty good. That counts for something right?

This reissue is a Record Store Day exclusive, limited to 2,250 copies. It comes on 12″ blue vinyl, which doesn’t match the shade of The Germs’ infamous blue circle logo as well as you would expect it to.

There Was A Light: A Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star by Rich Tupica (Hozac Books)

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Big Star were perhaps the quintessential cult band, having made some of the greatest records of all time, but struggling to sell many of ’em thanks to woefully inept distribution from their label, Ardent Records. For years radio play, high-profile touring opportunities and press coverage was practically non-existent, so you really had to want to hear Big Star to actually hear them. These days, the band’s legacy is in much healthier shape thanks to reissue campaigns, popular cover versions, boxsets, a documentary film, and a book. The cult of Big Star has grown so strong, that there have even been books on individual band members, with Holly George-Warren’s excellent Alex Chilton biography, “A Man Called Destruction”, and now Rich Tupica’s Chris Bell biography, given the lengthy title “There Was A Light: A Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star”.

The book is an oral history of Bell’s life, using quotes from Bell’s friends, family, and band-mates, with the author occasionally tossing in some factual context, but mostly staying in the background. The quotes present Bell as a highly complex and often conflicted character. Here was a guy who came from a wealthy Memphis family (his father was a successful restaurateur), yet he shunned business for music after getting his mind blown by The Beatles at an early age, and never looked back even when his commercial prospects were all but gone. He had an appetite for drink and drugs, and most people who knew him thought he was gay, yet he was also extremely religious, and, perhaps most shockingly, an avid tennis player. Outside of his personal life, Tupica charts Bell’s artistic growth from teen Beatle fan experimenting with garage rock in The Jynx, up through the piecemeal solo recordings that made up I Am The Cosmos, Bell’s only solo LP, which didn’t see the light of day until 1992, fourteen years after his death from a car crash. He also often gives a voice to Bell’s less known musical peers like Tommy Hoehn, Richard Rosebrough, and Ken Woodley, showing that Big Star (and Bell) weren’t one-offs existing in a vacuum, but rather a part of a local rock scene trying to come out from under the shadow of Stax Records. You can tell this was a real labor of love for Tupica, who clearly put a lot of time and research into making the book. His efforts have paid off in a book that’s both informative and easy to read. With seemingly no stone left unturned, There is A Light is the only book on Bell you’ll likely ever need.

Des Demonas – “Bay Of Pigs”/”Skrews” (Black Gladiator/Slovenly)

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Although I didn’t hear it until early this year, Des Demonas’ debut was one of the best albums of 2017. The DC band touched a variety of personal and political raw nerves via Jacky Cougar’s incisive lyrics, yet they also rocked hard, with deceptively simple tunes inspired by, and equal to, the best of ’60s garage rock and ’70s punk. If nothing else, they gave the world “The South Will Never Rise Again”, an anti-racist anthem whose chorus should be sung daily throughout the world. Less than a year later they’re back with a brand new two-song 7-inch, which thankfully delivers more of the same thrills. “Bay Of Pigs” is a two-chord steamroller of a song. The music and lyrics both feel a little underdeveloped, but there’s an immediacy in the performances that totally sells it. B-side, “Skrews”, is garage punk nirvana, with Cougar hoping for a future that doesn’t make you “feel like crying” over a charged up beat that’s as much Nuggets as it is Sex Pistols. If these two songs are any indication of where Des Demonas are headed next, we are in for a real thrill.

Cretin Stompers – Looking Forward To Being Attacked (Hozac)

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Let’s cut to the chase – this album is insanely good. Imagine if you will, a trio of bongs that somehow became sentient beings and formed a psychedelic rock band. And suppose that this bong-band’s singer sometimes fed their vocals through some kind of high-pitched effect (which may just be a sped up tape) that gave it a unique, and often startling, sound. Well, that band might come up with something that sounds like Looking Forward To Being Attacked. Cretin Stompers has its pedigree in recent-ish garage groups – Billy Hayes played with Jay Reatard, Alex Gatez in Wavves, and they’ve got a dude going by the name of BigMuff who played in BigMuffRadio and The Delay. The album does deliver  some punky numbers, like “Adult Child” and “Cretin Ate My Neighbor”, but they’re so noise-damaged that even the Butthole Surfers would have to tip their cap in deference. Beneath all the lunacy (which extends out from the music into the trippy/goofy record sleeve art) lies a serious knack for writing earworms. “Eye Of The Storm” and “Watch Sally Run” could even pass for Super Furry Animals tunes – and the way the latter segues into the bizzaro funk of “Dream Blood” is just one great weedy moment on an album of many. Super-obscuro covers of The Styrenes (“Drano In Yr. Veins”) and “Sweet Obsession” by Dave Brock of Hawkwind just add to the disturbed fun.

How much did I like this album? Well, I’m reviewing it now, even though it came out in 2014. Why? Because, maybe if more people hear it, they’ll make another. Oh, and the cover art is by Memphis photographer William Eggleston – on of his photos is the cover of Big Star’s Radio City – which is just icing on the cake.

The Sueves – R.I.P. Clearance Event (Hozac)

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The Sueves are a Chicago three-piece serving up tough as nails rock and roll that sets up shop right on the border of garage rock and punk. R.I.P. Clearance Event – the band’s second full-length album for local tastemakers Hozac Records – has the raw materials for success. The album is overflowing with attitude and energy, and singer Joe Schorgl’s voice never sounds less than ornery. However, the recording isn’t that great. Lyrics are consistently hard to discern, and their palette of sounds is too similar from song to song. The album’s best moments are all on Side 2 – “Never Been To The Beach” is a tightly wound anti-tribute to sun and surf, “Green White” is electrifying and “Slammer” is aptly titled. There’s even a hint of blues on “What They Did”, giving the album some much needed variety. While The Sueves aren’t likely to be hailed as rocks next saviours any time soon – and I have no idea how to pronounce their name correctly (is it Swaves? Sweves?) – there’s something interesting here for fans of Ty Segall, Brimstone Howl, Jay Reatard…etc. to latch on to.