The Monsters – “I’m A Stranger To Me” / “Carpool Lane” 7″ (Slovenly)

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Slovenly’s globe-spanning quest to find the most fried garage punk jams takes a quick stopover in Sweden for this two-song 7″ from local loons, The Monsters. The a-side is an exciting fast-but-tight lightning bolt of punk rock nihilism that comes galloping hard out of the gate and never lets the intensity level drop until it draws to an end just shy of the three-minute mark. “Carpool Lane” is an altogether different beast. The opening 50 seconds of amp noise segue into a doom metal instrumental. Are The Monsters going to go all Sabbath on us? Nope. The song then cycles through garage, grunge, and heavy sections, at one point going completely off the rails into a cheesy (and wildly off-key) ’80s power-ballad style refrain of “Carpool Lane”, which are the song’s only lyrics. What does it mean? Probably nothing Is it good? Maybe, maybe not. But at least you can’t accuse The Monsters of being boring.

Slander Tongue – S/T (Slovenly)

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Slander Tongue are a product of Berlin in 2020, but the heart and soul of their sound is transcontinentally split between American’ proto-punk and British pub-rock from the mid-’70s. Picture The Heartbreakers, Stooges, Flamin’ Groovies, Real Kids, Count Bishops and Dr. Feelgood all jammed into a blender (along with a few shots of whiskey), and viola, out comes Slander Tongue’s debut album. They don’t hide their influences either, opening the album with songs called “Soozie Stooge” and “Status Quo,” and yes, they’re exactly the mix of punk and pub-boogie their titles promise. While Slander Tongue’s influences are undeniably great, they also present the band with a real problem: just how do they expect to compete with the amazing body of work those bands already laid down more than forty years ago? Well, they can’t really. Sure each song is enjoyable, and I bet their live shows are a sweaty hoot, but no matter how many James Williamson guitar moves they cop (and they cop a lot), Slander Tongue don’t have the white-hot intensity or distinct musical style of their influences. Without that thrilling x-factor, their music starts to sound same-y over eleven tracks, and ultimately I can’t think of any reason to listen to this album when you can just give Raw Power or L.A.M.F. another spin. Closing the album with a trio of culinary-inspired song titles (“Salmon Skies”, “Chicken” and “Wine Valley”) is an interesting touch though.

The Beatstalkers – Scotland’s No. 1 Beat Group (Sommor)

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The Beatstalkers were, if this album title is to be believed, Scotland’s number one beat group. The Glasgow five-some’s origins date back to a pair of demo tracks recorded back in 1963 when the band members were still in their mid-teens, and those songs are tacked on to the end of this career-retrospective. However, despite their popularity on the local concert circuit where they would be mobbed by fans like The Beatles, The Beatstalker’s career didn’t really take flight until 1965 when they put out their first single for Decca, “Ev’rybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout My Baby”. Sure, the song’s title has too many apostrophes, but the tune is tremendous, with a great organ riff and Dave Lennox’s confident blue-eyed soul vocals all splitting the difference between the hard-edged R&B of The Animals and the pop smarts of The Hollies. The band would go on to release a total of seven singles before coming to an end in 1969 when their equipment van was stolen. All those singles are here, but despite the band’s popularity with young, mostly female, fans, musically they never topped their first single. “You Better Get A Hold On” stomps hard enough to come close to the high watermark, but for the most part the band were lightweights, releasing mod-soul songs that were pleasant but unexciting. Take “Mr. Disappointed” for example: it’s a limp white-washed take-off on Otis Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful” that pales in comparison to the original in every way possible.

As 1966 turned over to 1967 the Beatstalkers struggled to keep up with the exciting sounds of freakbeat and psychedelia, and instead stayed on the pop-minded path they hoped would lead them to financial success. Their manager Kenneth Pitt suggested they record a few songs by one of the other artists in his stable, David Bowie. Yup, Bowie. The idea of these Bowie songs sounds great on paper, but this was pre-Space Oddity, before he really found his voice. Sure enough, the three Bowie-penned songs they covered “Silver Tree Top School For Boys”, “Everything Is You” and “When I’m Five” were ultra-fey psych-light nobody needs to hear more than once (though you can clearly hear Bowie adding background vocals). It’s not as if the band were penning anything better though; bassist Alan Mair’s “Sugar Chocolate Machine” is as awful as its title. They bowed out with their final single in 1968, a decent cover of The Action’s “Little Boy” that displayed a little more depth than their typical releases, but did nothing to reverse their fading fortunes. After the band broke up guitarist Eddie Campbell would play in Mustard, Tear Gas and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Mair would be found years later playing bass with The Only Ones, one of the most exciting bands of the punk era.

Electric Funeral – The Wild Performance (Sommor)

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An album of proto-metal tunes from turn-of-the-’70s Switzerland sure sounds intriguing. Just give me something Sabbath-y and we have a winner, right? Well, not in the case of this Electric Funeral album. Even though the band does deliver the crushing Sabbath-y heaviness their name promises, they never go to record in a studio, so the eleven tracks collected on The Wild Performance come from whatever rehearsal and live tapes were available. Unfortunately, those tapes are unforgivably lo-fi, making other lo-fi recordings from proto-metal bands like Iron Claw or Pentagram sound like they were recorded at Abbey Road in comparison. It’s a shame too – from what you can discern from these tracks, better recordings could have made their powerfully succinct mix of early-metal’s three biggest bands (Sabbath, Purple and Zeppelin), something of a genre classic. Especially on the opener, “People” where Ed Hirt’s drumming is intense as hell,  and Alain Christianaz dials up an impressive Iommi-styled guitar crunch on his (I’m guessing) wall of amps. The only guy I’m iffy on is singer Dominique Bourquin, who can’t decide if he wants to wail like Robert Plant or growl like Edgar Broughton, and doesn’t sound entirely comfortable doing either. Elsewhere, Electric Funeral really liked to stretch out and jam, which was the style at that time. Every other song on The Wild Performance outside of people goes past the five minute mark with long instrumental passages that, like everything else on the album, are so lo-fi that it’s hard to care about them.

Fleeting Joys – Speeding Away To Someday (Only Forever Recordings)

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Fleeting Joys first two albums – 2006’s Despondent Transponder and 2009’s Occult Radiance – were some of the most highly-accomplished shoegaze sound-bombs of the 21st Century. At the very least, they really should immediately appeal to anyone who ever owned a copy of Loveless. My original review of Despondent Transponder basically said it was the closest we’ll ever get to a follow-up to Loveless. Not the first time I’ve been wrong. Anyway, when the band – married couple John and Rorika Loring with some occasional help on drums – went silent after 2009 I figured they traded in music for a “normal” life of careers and raising a family. Once again, I was wrong. It wasn’t quite the twenty-two years My Bloody Valentine took to release their follow-up to Loveless, but ten years later Fleeting Joys are returning to action with a new full-length, Speeding Away to Someday.

You show up to a shoegaze album wanting mountains of beautiful noise made by an army of guitar pedals, and Fleeting Joys are more than happy to provide that thrill. John Loring deploys the full spectrum of sounds guitar geeks who worship at the altar of Kevin Shields, Mark Gardner, Andy Bell and Neil Halstead want to hear, but Speeding Away to Someday offers listener so much more than that. For me the real heart of the album is found in the vocals. Yeah, I know vocals are often thought of as an afterthought in the shoegaze world, and true to form, it’s often hard to decipher lyrics here (“You Want To” being a crystal clear exception); but there’s unique swooning quality in the way John and Rorika’s voices weave in and out of each other in layers of off-kilter harmony that distinguishes them from their influences and contemporaries. It also sounds downright romantic at times, even on a song like “Kiss A Girl in Black” where the only word you can easily pick out from the lyrics is “suicide”. “Come To” is a real treat too. It’s a drum-free ballad-of-sorts, built on a bedrock of sweeping MBV-style sheets of guitar sound, but with an Spacemen 3-esque orchestral quality that will have you wondering, “are those actually violins or just contorted guitar/synth noises?” all the while losing yourself in its world of beautiful sounds.

Each of these nine tracks are excellent, and if you like the bands Fleeting Joys compares to, then Speeding Away to Someday just may be the most important release of 2019 for you. It’s limited to 300 copies on handsome red sunburst vinyl, so act fast.

Top 30 New Releases of 2019

Pre- (r)amble: Hey, it’s time for another year-end list. There was a lot of good music in 2019, therefore I’m upping this to a Top 30. Let’s jump right in.

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  1. Ty Segall – First Taste (Drag City)

This is Ty’s second consecutive album-of-the-year title on this site. First Taste was for the most part, Ty’s typical mix of punk, classic rock, metal, and other more esoteric flavors, but this time out he recorded without using any guitars. Different attack, same deadly impact.

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  1. Mark Lanegan Band – Somebody’s Knocking (Heavenly)

Lanegan goes full on early-‘80s UK post-punk on this one. Never before have I been more surprised that Peter Hook didn’t contribute to an album. At the center of all the Joy Division, Cure and New Order-ism, Lanegan’s voice and lyrics are as wonderfully dark and powerful as ever.

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  1. Gnoomes – Mu! (Rocket Recordings)

Simply the most intoxicating psychedelic record of the year. Nobody deployed more twisted and contorted sounds in 2019 than the ones you hear on Mu! By the time “Progulka” kicks in, it sounds like Gnoomes have left earth altogether.

Full Review

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  1. L’Epee – Diabolique (A Recordings)

A super-group of sorts, made up of Emmanuelle Seigner, Anton Newcombe and The Liminanas, L’Epee’s songs switch back and forth between French and English but the strength of their narco-pop grooves is a constant.

Full Review

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  1. Hammered Hulls – S/T 7” (Dischord)

Didn’t see this coming at all. Alec MacKaye’s first new release in over 20 years is an as-sharp-as-ever mix of post-punk and older-but-wiser hardcore. The world is a better place with the MacKayes (older brother Ian has started playing out with a new band) out there railing against ignorance and injustice.

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  1. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard – Infest The Rats’ Nest (Flightless/ATO)

I was never a big fan of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, nor do I listen to much ‘80s thrash; yet somehow I love this album of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard playing it fast and heavy. The album’s eco/sci-fi concept works too.

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  1. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – S/T (A Recordings)

There’s always a Brian Jonestown Massacre album somewhere on my year-end lists, and here we have their self-titled album, coming almost 30 years into their career. I like it all, but “We Never Had a Chance” is probably their best song in at least fifteen years.

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  1. Velveteen Rabbit – S/T (Hozac Records)

Cool album that combines the best parts of glam, power-pop and sexxxy funk from the ‘70s. Probably the only album in my collection that can remind me of Alice Cooper AND Prince.

Full review

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  1. Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel (Partisan Records)

These guys are a next-gen Dublin-based version of early-‘00s NYC rock, with a smart Mark E. Smith-style vocal twist.

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  1. Wand – Laughing Matter (Drag City)

Laughing Matter is long. Maybe too long, at over an hour, but the highlights are tremendous. Opener “Scarecrow” is probably my favorite song from 2019, and closer “Jennifer’s Gone” is the best Lou Reed song since 1973.

  1. Fleeting Joys – Speeding Away To Someday (Only Forever)
  2. Czarface – Czarface Meets Ghostface (Space Age)
  3. Dream Syndicate – These Times (Anti-)
  4. Acquaintances – 8 ½ Lives (File 13 Records)
  5. Oh Sees – Face Stabber (Castle Face)
  6. Frankie and The Witch Fingers – Zam (Greenway Records)     Full Review
  7. Flat Worms – Into The Iris E.P. (Drag City)
  8. KRGA – Mysterious Lady/Don’t Ask Don’t Tell 7” (Hoser Records)     Full Review
  9. Guided By Voices – Zeppelin Over China (Rockathon Records)
  10. Ecstatic Vision – For The Masses (Heavy Psych Sounds)
  11. Iggy Pop – Free (Loma Vista)
  12. Clinic – Wheeltappers and Shunters (Domino)
  13. Guided By Voices – Sweating The Plague (Rockathon Records)
  14. Stag – Electric Mistress (Self Released)     Full Review
  15. Des Demonas – The Hyena/Flowers from Hell 7” (Trick Bag)     Full Review
  16. Disco Junk – Underage Punk (Hozac)     Full Review
  17. The Galileo 7 – Too Late/The World Looks Different Today 7” (State Records)     Full Review
  18. Peter Perrett – Humanworld (Domino)
  19. Martin Karlsson’s Degradation – Too Far Gone/Barbwire (Couldn’t Keep Me Away) 7” (Latta Bordor Records)     Full Review
  20. The Night Times – Watch Your Step/I Got My Mind On You (State Records)     Full Review

Frankie & The Witch Fingers – Zam (Greenway Records)

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Zam is the fifth LP from Los Angeles band Frankie & The Witch Fingers, and their first for New York-based label Greenway Records. The band – none of whom are named Frankie – plays what you would call “psychedelic rock”, but that can mean a lot of things these days, so let’s drill down to specifics: They’re, sonically, if not socially, a part of the West Coast psych scene centered around Ty Segall, Wand, Oh Sees, Meatbodies…etc. Like those bands, the music on Zam travels across several genre tags. It can be heavy like metal, or high-energy like garage rock and punk; but the one constant is that it’s always aims for brain-busting psychedelia. Opener “Dracula Drug” is a pretty good microcosm of Zam as a whole. It’s long (the song is almost nine-minutes, and the album is a full hour), with sections that ebb and flow between moods like an acid trip. The first two minutes build up almost like an early Feelies song, but then it explodes into a monstrous garage-riff that could pretty much pass for an unreleased Oh Sees track. There are even some horns that come in closer to the crescendo, which fits because there’s often something mildly funky lurking underneath the surface on Zam. If Frankie & The Witch Fingers aren’t exactly James Brown, you can tell they at least listen to him. The band aren’t opposed to getting a little jammy either, but their flights of explorative fancy are tactically based, more rooted in the VU/Can tradition than some endless Grateful Dead/prog-induced snoozefest. If there’s a complaint to be lodged against Frankie & The Witch Fingers it’s that their songwriting and performances aren’t as strong as their peers, and even the more streamlined tracks like “Work” and “Cobwebs” are just begging for someone like Ty Segall or Oh Sees to turn them into classics. Still, if you really like those bands and you want more of that same sound and vibe, Frankie & The Witch Fingers have it covered.