Dodged & Burned: Seminal Rock Photography 1976-1984 by Brian Shanley (Hozac Books)


HoZac Records

This book presents a collection of mostly unseen punk and post-punk era photographs taken by Brian Shanley, a music and art enthusiast best known for his graphic design work for Wax Trax Records. Shanley first got the bug to shoot his favorite bands on a brief sojourn to New York in 1976 where he snapped photos of Television, the three-piece version of Talking Heads and a one-off John Cale show where he was backed by David Byrne, Mick Ronson and Allen Lanier. Pretty cool, right? Well Shanley thought so too, so upon returning to Chicago he started photographing as many local and touring bands he could get access to. The list of artists Shanley photographed reads like a who’s who of the era’s alternative acts – everyone from Iggy to Gang Of Four to Motorhead to the B-52s is represented here. While the majority of Shanley’s photos come from concerts the book also includes a handful of posed publicity-type shots, including really great stills of The Dead Boys and The Birthday Party, looking impossibly young and fresh faced back in 1981. Some of the live shots are a little blurry, or taken at imperfect angles, but that’s OK. I’ll always welcome another opportunity to gaze at the intensity of Black Flag, the strung-out gauntness of Peter Perrett, or the leather and denim uniform of The Ramones’ early years. Dodged & Burned gives you those joys and plenty more too. It’s a great chance to revisit one of the most vibrant times in rock’n’roll history in all of it’s arty, flamboyant and damaged glory.

The Chatham Singers – Kings of the Medway Delta (Damaged Goods)


Wild Billy Childish and The Chatham Singers - Kings of the Medway ...

Kings of the Medway Delta is something like Billy Childish’s 857th album – don’t quote me on that – and his third with The Chatham Singers. On it, he and the rest of the group explore the blues, apparently inspired by Childish hearing Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” in a café (they cover it here). Luckily the type of blues Childish and team display on Kings Of The Medway Delta aren’t the slow, solo-laden 12-bar standards you might be envisioning from a modern blues band in England. Instead, they mostly keep their blues the same way it sounded back when it first got electrified in the early-’50s and began to cross-pollinate with early rock’n’roll. These songs are simple and direct (as you’ve come to expect from Childish after more than 40 years), and the performances are raw, just like those great Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, John Lee Hooker and Chess Records it was inspired by. The gang dip into the Childish back catalog for a few choices nuggets reimagined in the big city electric blues style. “Wiley Coyote” is done as a re-write of Slim Harpo’s “King Bee,” including some great harmonica from Childish’s old friend Jimmy Riley (who really shines throughout). “Double Axe,” originally a punky number from Childish’s The Mighty Casers era, is placed on simmer here, and includes vocals from bassist (and Mrs. Childish) Nurse Julie. The only older song that doesn’t fare as well is “What’s Wrong With Me,” which rages just enough that it doesn’t fit as neatly with the ’50s sound of the rest of the album. The song and performance are both great, so perhaps it’s best thought of as just a break in character rather than a flaw.

Kings Of The Medway Delta is atypical enough that is probably isn’t a good choice for an first-time introduction to Billy Childish. But if you’re already a Childish fan, it’s a great addition to his discography.

Slift – Ummon (Stolen Body/Vicious Circle)


UMMON | SLIFT

French trio Slift really push into the outer reaches of psychedelia on their latest full-length album, Ummon. The gatefold cover art shows a Silver Surfer-like character dragging a sword through some vast empty planet in the midst of the cosmos, and that’s as perfect a visual representation of the music as any. The songs on Ummon are typically long, sometimes heavy (though not particularly “metal”) and always insanely trippy. It’s almost as if every sound Slift employs on Ummon – each shard of fuzz, flange, wah-wah and reverb – was selected for inclusion purely based on how psychedelic it was. It’s easy to hear the influence of krautrock on Slift in their use of repetition and their willingness to let sonic experimentation be the bedrock on which their songs are built, but their roots go back even further to acid-gobbling sonic experimenters like Hendrix, The MC5 and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. If you’re looking for more current signposts, well, Slift are clearly conversant with stoner/desert bands like Kyuss and Earthless, and, let’s be completely honest here, they often sound like a carbon copy of The Oh Sees (I first heard of them on an Oh Sees Facebook group). I could talk about some of the individual songs on Ummon, but the album really functions best as a psychedelic whole, and there’s so much spaced-out jamming that it’s hard to tell when one song ends and the next begins. The thing is, jamming can get really boring if it’s not done right. Long solos = yawns, right? Well, that’s never an issue here. The Slift guys are good musicians, but also tasteful enough that their lengthy instrumental sections are creative and melodic. They tend to hit home the same way the best Can, Sabbath or Hendrix flights of fancy do.

If you’re at all into psychedelic music, Ummon is a seventy-two minute sonic head-trip well worth embarking on.

Double Date With Death – L’Au-Delà (Howlin’ Banana/Resurrection)


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This Montreal group’s second album has enticed and puzzled me since I first heard it back in February. I knew pretty quickly that I liked it, but it reminded me of someone else and I couldn’t put my finger on who it was. At first I just took it as the work a band in planted in the Ty Segall/Oh Sees vein of motorik-punk-psych. If it was just that, I’d totally be on board with it. However, as I listened more, I started picking up some serious Pixies vibes from the way Double Date With Death employ shouty vocals, but in a melodic way.  Plus they have a healthy penchant for surf-styled twangy guitar tones. OK, I was getting closer to the answer, but I still wasn’t quite there. Then one day it hit me: L’au- Dela (which translates to “The Afterlife”) sounds a lot like sorely missed (by me, at least) turn-of-the-century Swedish group Division Of Laura Lee. Like that group, Double Date With Death’s music is direct and to the point, but with a sense of atmosphere and production values that push it into more psychedelic territory. The similarities are likely just a sonic coincidence, but after making the connection, it’s all I can hear now.

Clocking in with just eight songs and twenty-one minutes, sung in French no less, this short album/long EP is likely a hard sell for English speakers. Too bad if that’s the case, because these songs smoke. Highlights include the John Cale-esque one-note piano on “Foret”, the gut-punching way the volume kicks in on “Trou Noir”, and just about everything on “Fluorescent” and “Kodak”, both of which could have been buzz-bin favorites back in the ’90s. L’au-Dela has no weak moments, no fat to be trimmed. Just good song after good song. Great album cover too.

The Humanist – The Humanist (Ignition Records)


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The Humanist is Rob Marshall of Exit Calm’s first solo project since that band split back in 2015. His first solo album under the moniker reminds me of those UNKLE or Death In Vegas type of records from the turn of the century where a electronica-based production team partners with a series of guest vocalists from the alternative rock world. Longtime Midnight To Six favorite Mark Lanegan is a major presence here, providing lead vocals on four of the fifteen tracks. The pairing makes a lot of sense since Marshall wrote and recorded parts of Lanegan’s last two albums, Gargoyle and Somebody’s Knocking, both of which are highly recommended. The Humanist songs Lanegan sings, and the whole album, are very much in the same atmospheric ’80s post-punk vein of his prior collaborations with Marshall, which is a good thing. Lanegan spits tales of ghosts and medicines on “Kingdom,” while the backing tracks sounds like Kraftwerk-via-Iggy Pop’s The Idiot; and he sounds completely wild on the track that follows, “Beast Of The Nation.” As great as his four vocal features are, Lanegan’s biggest contribution may have been his Rolodex, which helped Marshall get Dave Gahan to do the vocals on “Shock Collar.” I never really cared much for Depeche Mode, but Gahan sounds like he’s on fire here. Credit Marshall’s production too, as it perfectly matches Gahan’s stadium-sized performance.

The album is terribly long (sixty-seven minutes) and so single-minded in its dedication to moody post-punk atmospheres that it’s not a fun listen. At time it can feel downright oppressive, but there are at least some different shades of grey sprinkled in throughout to hold your interest, like when John Robb of The Membranes adds some much needed intimacy by whispering his way through “English Ghost,” while Marshall locks in to a “She’s Lost Control”-style atmospheric groove for the song’s eight-plus minutes, or when Carl Hancock Rux channels Gil Scott-Heron on “Mortal Eyes.” The album’s biggest, and most pleasant, surprise is “When The Lights Go Out,” a shoegaze-y number featuring Mark Gardener of Ride on vocals. Having Mark Gardener sing a guitar-driven song isn’t a particularly novel idea, but the song is so far superior to anything Ride (a band I love) has done since reforming in 2015 that it feels like a major victory. I can imagine Marshall (whose guitar playing is often shoegaze-adjacent) being all smiles while working with Gardener on this one.

Fans of the makers of this album will find some strong highlights throughout, and no real low points. Recommended.

Port Juvee – Motion Control (Garment District Records)


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At eight songs and twenty-five minutes, I don’t know whether to call Motion Control an EP or an album, so let’s just say that this Calgary group’s latest “release” has one great song on it. That song is called “Drugstore,” and it totally blew me away when I first gave it listen based on a Spotify recommendation. On it Port Juvee has an awesome mix of suave Casablancas-meets-Morrissey vocal affectations (back when both those comparisons were good things) laid on top of punk rumblings that come galloping out of the gate like Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings”. Had Port Juvee released this song as a single back in 2002, when it would have been in sync with the prevailing alt-rock style, it would have been enough to land them on the cover over the NME.

The other seven songs on Motion Control are much shakier. OK, I’ll give “Desert Moon Palace” a pass because at least it has a real sense of urgency coursing through its veins. But the rest? Picture what a Cure-inspired “supergroup” made up of ancillary members from Interpol, BRMC and Bloc Party would sound like. Now picture what that group would sounds like if their music was poorly mixed. Yikes.

Les Grys-Grys – “Milk Cow Blues”/”So Long” (State Records)


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This two-song single should keep fans of this French garage rock quartet engaged while they get their sophomore album ready for release. The a-side is a cover of “Milk Cow Blues,” a blues song that probably predates recorded music, but began showing up on records in the 1930s. Since then, the song has evolved into a garage rock staple, with the Kinks and The Chocolate Watchband both recording quintessential versions in the mid-’60s. Aerosmith even turned in a smoking (albeit Kinks-indebted) hard rock version a decade later on Draw The Line. Les Grys Grys’ cover also sticks closely to the Kinks’ version, but the band attacks the song plenty hard and adds some extra guitar accents for good measure. The flip-side, “So Long”, is an original but it feels familiar, almost like a cover of a long forgotten song, that’s how well these guys recreate the sound and explosive energy of mid-’60s garage and r&b. It’s a short 7″ (six-and-a-half minutes in total), but it leaves an impressive mark all the same. If garage rock is the straw that stirs your drink, then Les Grys-Grys are your band.