Velveteen Rabbit – Velveteen Rabbit (Hozac)

Image result for velveteen rabbit hozac

The spine of Velveteen Rabbit’s debut LP lists says it came out in 2019, but sonically speaking, the year is pretty much always 1972 for this NYC band. The sound captured in these vinyl grooves transplants you back to a time when Paul McCartney was in Wings, Alice Cooper was still cool, Chris Bell was still in Big Star, and glitter was king (or “queen” perhaps.) These were pretty great times for rock music, so it’s only fitting that these ten songs are also pretty great. “Knock ‘Em Dead”, “The Gunman” and “Oh, Logan” are hard-rocking, mildly psychedelic and uber-fun examples of everything that was good about the original glam scene, but the ballads are where Velveteen Rabbit make the biggest impression. “Guitar” is an ode to the joys of guitar playing that doesn’t just sound like a lost Big Star song; it sounds like an amazing lost Big Star song! The vocals really hit home, like a carbon copy of Chilton and Bell at their most fragile and beautiful. “Star In The Making” is a space-glam ballad that would have sounded perfectly at home on Ziggy Stardust, which is about the highest form of compliment you can give a glitter/glam track. Things get funky on “I’ll Be A Boy For You”, with parts that are reminiscent of Prince and The Stones tossing some grit on top of the glitter and lamé. Remember Velveteen Rabbit’s 2018 single, “Mind Numbing Entertainment” b/w “I Wanna Be Your Woman”? Well the album ends with new souped-up versions of both songs, with production helmed by a mysterious character only identified as…. um… Eddie Cockring. Really, this album has a lot to love – the songs, sounds, style, and production are all uniformly excellent. Buy it now, sucka!

The Linval Thompson Trojan Roots Album Collection (Doctor Bird)

Image result for linval thompson trojan roots

Let me try to make sense of this confusing 2-CD collection. It’s actually a compilation of three different reggae albums – Linval Thompson’s I Love Marijuana, Big Joe’s African Princess, and Trinity’s Rock In The Ghetto – with ten bonus tracks. The common thread across this music is that it was all released on Trojan’s Attack label between 1978-1980 and feature Linval Thompson, who first rose to prominence as a vocalist in the mid-70s, but found himself shifting more towards production as the decade drew to a close. It was an exciting period in reggae; the roots sound was still dominant, but dancehall was starting to bubble up from beneath the surface.

The title track of Linval Thompson’s I Love Marijuana is tremendous – as powerful a reggae ode to the virtues of marijuana as Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” – but Thompson’s silky almost-falsetto vocals are a real treat throughout the eleven songs. The topics Thompson tackles may be overly familiar to anyone with a sizable collection of ’70s reggae – ghetto politics, peace, love, women, and weed, with surprisingly little Rastafarianism – but the songs are snappy and sincere. You can really feel the heat and the poverty of Kingston pouring off these tracks. In addition to his own original compositions, Thompson sings a pair of tunes penned by Ken Boothe (“Not Follow Fashion” and “Just Another Girl”), and “Starlight” by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

Thompson produced Big Joe’s African Princess, which also came out in 1978 and repurposes some of the musical tracks from I Love Marijuana as backing tracks for the man born Joseph Spalding to toast over. I’m not crazy about toasting in general (if you’re unfamiliar with the style, which is also known as “chatting” or “deejaying”, think of it as a Jamaican precursor to rapping) and Big Joe isn’t one of the bigger talents in the genre either, lacking the flash and finesse of someone like Big Youth, U-Roy or Doctor Alimantado. I like how Thompson uses echo to give Joe’s voice a booming, almost biblical, feel; but that’s not enough to make African Princess a must-hear album.

Trinity’s Rock In the Ghetto is, again, a Thompson-produced toasting album, but this one was came out in 1979. It’s a smoother sounding album, and Thompson’s production inches even closer to dancehall, keeping the vocals upfront and unclouded by echo, and the music tracks super crisp and punchy. Trinity is a better toaster than Big Joe, too. Sure, he stubbornly sticks to the same over-used vocal cadences and lyrical tropes that you hear on most toasting records from the ’70s, but songs like “Pope Paul Dead and Gone” – which appears on the album, and in extended disco-mix form as a bonus track – and “Dangerous Rockers and Ting” showed that Trinity could step outside genre conventions and take a more unique lyrical approach.

The ten bonus tracks are a nice addition too, including Barry Brown’s classic “Mr. CID” and some spaced-out dubs from Scientist.

Trampoline Team – Trampoline Team (Hozac)

Image result for trampoline team new orleans

Trampoline Team are a New Orleans trio that whips you with a particularly fast and fierce brand of punk rock lashes. Their last album was even called Make It Faster. Their new self-titled album is their fastest yet. The tempos are uniformly speedy, the recording is consistently vicious, and singer Sam DeLuca keeps her middle finger permanently raised high. If I’m making comparisons, I’d say Trampoline Team remind me of that 1979 moment when California punk rock, led by bands like Rhino 39, The Germs and Black Flag, began to shift to hardcore. That’s an exciting comparison, but they also recall live clips of latter-day Ramones, when they started playing their old songs so fast that they just about lost all the melody and meaning that made them great. And that’s the sum of everything interesting and frustrating about Trampoline Team. You can’t question their dedication to all things visceral and high energy, but the unwavering uniformity of their full-on sound just steamrolls all hints of melody and nuance into submission, producing diminishing returns as the album hurdles towards its end, just twenty-five minutes after it started. That’s OK though, Trampoline Team will probably have a bright future as an opening act for bigger punk bands’ New Orleans tour dates. “Pay The Price” is a pretty good song though.

Disco Junk – Underage Punk (Hozac)

Image result for disco junk underage punk

Based on what I could glean from their Facebook page, Disco Junk are now a trio, but this seven inch single was recorded by Billy Twyford and Lachie, two barely high school-aged teens operating out of Melbourne, Australia. It’s pretty crude stuff, musically speaking – though that’s actually a compliment. Picture an alternate universe where Billy Childish ends up singing for the Teen Idles (while somehow picking up a distinctively Australian accent), and you’ve got a general idea of what Disco Junk are up to. These songs are overstuffed with bad attitude and feelings of alienation, and the lyrics are pretty much a list of different things singer Billy Twyford hates. The punchline from opener “Mutual Hate” seems to sum up Disco Junk’s worldview nicely: “You hate me and I hate you”. Twyford even seems to hate the song, letting out a blood-curdling scream at the 1:20 mark that brings it to a crashing halt, perhaps prematurely. “Outta Melbourne” expands the radius of Twyford hate explosion outwards to cover the entire city of Melbourne. It’s got a three-minute runtime and even sports a guitar solo, which makes it about as close to a pop song as Disco Junk gets; but only if your idea of pop music is Jay Reatard at his most ornery. Next up is the title track, a proper blast of youthful righteous hardcore energy, lasting for just 40 raging seconds. Underage Punk ends with “Defenestration”, which is – what else – more nihilistic punk rock! The thing is, Disco Junk are pretty good at it, and they’re so incredibly young that there’s plenty of room for growth (both in terms of height, and musical maturity). I’d keep an eye on them.

Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers – DTK: Complete Live At The Speakeasy (Jungle Records)

Image result for dtk live at the speakeasy
DTK (that stands for Down To Kill, folks) captures Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers live at London club The Speakeasy in March of 1977; the same month they would record their timeless studio debut, L.A.M.F. You get the full audio side of the Heartbreakers live experience on this album – the band plays with rock and roll chops that harken back to the ’50s and ’60s, but cranks it up with punk attitude and speed (in both its velocity and chemical-based definitions). Plus, you get to hear Thunders and guitarist Walter Lure berate the audience, and occasionally each other, with Noo-Yawk accented in-between song put-downs, along with a few other vulgar asides peppered in. It’s a great proposition, but if you’re looking for the best Heartbreakers live album, go with Live At Max’s, which was recorded a year later on home turf in NYC and also put out by Jungle Records. The sound on DTK is good, but the Max’s disc sounds fuller and it has a better setlist. DTK is actually two short sets recorded on the same night, with significant overlap between them. So, even though there are 15 songs in total, five are repeat performances. Still, The Heartbreakers were so white-hot at their peak you could give me a lo-fi album of them playing “Get Off The Phone” fifteen times back-to-back and it would still be a livewire listening experience, dripping with the spirit of rock and roll.
In addition to the two sets, the DTK package has Kris Needs’ original liner notes from 1982, and a more recent interview with the last Heartbreaker standing, Walter Lure, conducted by Thunders biographer Nina Antonia.

Stag – Electric Mistress (Self-Released)

Image result for stag electric mistress

Fans of ’70s-styled rock action, rejoice! Seattle’s top purveyors of all things glam, power-pop and punk, Stag, are coming right back atcha with a brand new six song EP, Electric Mistress. As with Stag’s prior full-length, Midtown Sizzler, these songs are meant to conjure up ringworn ghosts of old Cheap Trick, Faces, Mott and new wave records; and they do! Opener “Pied Piper Blues” is a pretty concise summation of Stag’s whole vibe –  a song about staying up late listening to records, and wondering just where you stand in an increasingly un-rockin’ world. It’s also a slamming tune, with tough guitar chords, horns, rollicking piano and a great Steven Mack vocal that’s as flamboyant as it is soulful. “Dreamer” is similarly Stones-meets-Faces ragged, with an effective octave-jumping chorus, but it’s really the title track that has me swooning. It’s one of the most righteously spot-on T-Rex pastiches I’ve heard (just a hair below Tim Rogers’ “One O’ The Girls”), but with a chorus big enough for Oasis. Between this song, and “Bedazzler” from Midtown Sizzler, Stag have proven themselves as one of the best (and probably only) junkshop glam bands of the 21st century. In fact, it’s what they do best. The only song on Electric Mistress that doesn’t really do it for me is “Carousel”. Yeah, it’s got the chords from VU’s “Heroin”, but its soft punches land a little too close to the cheesier side of ’70s radio rock (i.e. Styx, Journey…etc.) for my taste. Luckily it quickly gives way to “Some Kinda Something” which ends the twenty-one minute EP journey in typical fist pumping Stag-rock style.

L’Epee – Diabolique (A Recordings)

Image result for l'epee diabolique

L’Epee (which is French for “The Sword”) is a new band, but you may already be familiar with its members. Singer Emmanuelle Seigner has been acting in art films since the mid-’80s (including a few directed by husband Roman Polanski) and has also released albums as both Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle. Guitarist Anton Newcombe is, of course, the guy behind The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the rhythm section of Lionel and Marie Liminana have a half-dozen albums under their belt as The Liminanas. If you’re familiar with the people behind L’Epee’s discographies, then you won’t be terribly surprised with what you hear on their debut album, Diabolique, which is basically the sum of its parts. That’s perfectly OK though because Diabolique mixes the effervescent sound of ’60s French ye-ye pop with a beehive of droning psychedelic rock in a way that’s always engaging, and often downright thrilling. The key element of L’Epee’s sound is Marie Liminana’s minimalistic drumming, which stays just about one small step beyond a drum machine in terms of complexity and fluidity. Normally that wouldn’t be fulfilling, but here it forms the perfect hard-driving bedrock for Seigner’s vocals and a bevy of vintage guitar and keyboard sounds to float over. Picture Francoise Hardy or Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier fronting The Jesus and Mary Chain and you get a pretty good idea of what L’Epee are up to. The opening duo of “Une Lune Etrange” and “Lou” launch the band straight into a dark and psychotic corner of psych-rock; not terribly unlike Brian Jonestown Massacre-affiliated bands Dead Skeletons or The Black Angels. The album’s first single, “Dreams” is the closest L’Epee get to classic ye-ye, but with Anton firing off more guitar fuzz and tremolo than anyone could have imagined back in the ’60s. The band hops on a boat over to Morocco for “On Dansait Avec Elle”, with Seigner and Newcombe duetting over a Middle-eastern beat and a Jonestown-esque melody. It’s an interesting detour, and one the band return to a few songs later for the chant-like “Grande”. Diabolique ends on a high with an energetic proto-punk 4/4 stomper “Last Picture Show”, where Sagnier name-checks both The New York Dolls and Get Carter. You won’t find a mis-step anywhere on these ten songs, and as of Mid-September I’m hard-pressed to think of a better debut album in 2019.