Mark Lanegan Band – Gargoyle (PIAS/Heavenly)

There’s a significant difference between Mark Lanegan’s solo albums and Mark Lanegan Band albums. Mark Lanegan’s albums, which go all the way back to 1990’s Winding Sheet, are the folkier ones, with his Jim Morrison-meets-Tom Waits croon surrounded by more organic instrumentation. He brings the same vocal tools to the Mark Lanegan Band’s albums, however, the music behind him is built around programmed electronics. Luckily, his idea of an electronic sound isn’t sleek. The kind of beats he uses sound like an alternate timeline where he spent the back half of the ’80s fronting a New Order / JAMC / Bunnymen type of band, instead of Seattle neo-psychedelic hard rockers The Screaming Trees.

Gargoyle is his fourth Mark Lanegan Band album and it picks up pretty much exactly where 2014’s Phantom Radio left off. The lack of progression may be off-putting for some, but Phantom Radio was my favorite album of that year, so I’m perfectly thrilled to hear more of the same on Gargoyle. The man affectionately known among fans as “Dark Mark” and his rotating cast of supporting musicians (including past collaborators Alain Johannes, Greg Dulli and Josh Homme, among others) are right in their narco-gothic wheelhouse with the opening duo of “Death’s Head Tattoo” and “Nocturne”, even if the song’s titles sound like they were made by a Mark Lanegan Song Title Generator. “Emperor” and “Beehive” are great upbeat songs, though the former closely resembles “The Passenger” and the latter sounds like a lost alternative rock radio hit from 1987, with a decent amount of its sound and style nicked (tastefully) from Echo and The Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sidewalking”. Lanegan puts together good slow-burning songs too, bringing the tempo down on “Sister”, “Goodbye To Beauty” and “First Day of Winter”. Those with a keen ear with notice that “Sister” lovingly recreates the harmonies from Wire’s “A Mutual Friend” towards the fade-out.

Despite personnel and influences changing from song to song Gargoyle is a very cohesive listening experience. It’s Mark unique vocal register and lyrical approach that tie it all together perfectly, and as of right now (May 19th), it’s the best new album I’ve heard in 2017.

Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind – Super Natural (Hound Gawd!)

One of the best onslaughts of real rock and roll music I’ve ever seen came from a Jim Jones Revue concert in New York City in 2014. I could talk about the way their songs tapped into the original energy of rock and roll or I could praise the ferocious cool of the band’s performances, but the thing I’ll always remember about it was the insane volume. My ears were ringing the next day, even though I wore ear plugs the entire time. Now that’s a proper rock show! Anyway, the experience cemented my love for the band, and I was saddened when they broke up just a few months later. Not surprised though, since the room they played was half-empty. Now Jim Jones is back with a new outfit, The Righteous Mind (bassist Gavin Jay is the only JJR holdover), and a debut album where things are a little different than before, but not necessarily for the better. 

Jones himself is still a wild-voiced front-man, though he scales back some of his Little Richard/Gerry Roslie/Iggy-isms to make room for Waits-inspired growls, a surprisingly sensitive falsetto (“Shallow Grave”) and a creepy croon (“Everyone Buy Me”). Musically, things are a bit shaky. The band play speaker-frying Stooge-punk accented by rollicking pianos, kinda like The Jim Jones Revue did, but the songs are noticeably longer and more complex. By going long (only one song is under four minutes) they lose some of that crucial pulse-quickening backbeat amidst long jam sections, making it harder to latch on to melodies. Worse is the guitar playing. I can’t tell if it’s Jones (he’s listed as lead guitar) or the band’s other guitarist Malcolm Troon, but there’s some squelchy tones and a penchant for dive-bombs that might work for Slayer, but not here. Even if all of the ten songs on Super Natural have really engaging sections (“Shallow Grave” and “Something’s Gonna Get Its Hands On You” are the best ones) they also have at least one part you wish they’d edited out. Maybe the next one will be better. 

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Pol Pot’s Pleasure Penthouse (A Records)

Five years after its first official release (assuming you consider a run of 500 cassettes an official release) this relic from The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s earliest days is getting another limited release, this time as a 2LP blue vinyl Record Store Day 2017 exclusive. The album is only getting modest exposure because, as Anton Newcombe’s liner notes explain, it was never meant to be heard by a lot of people. These are cassette recordings he made back in 1990-’91 to teach himself how to write and record songs. So, don’t come to it expecting cohesive flow, pristine fidelity, stunning performances or highly developed songs. That said, as a document of a process, it’s pretty good. As far I know, “Evergreen” and “Fingertips” are the only songs to survive this era and find their way onto an official release (on 1995’s Methodrone and a b-side for a 2015 single, respectively) but I’m actually surprised Anton hasn’t revisited a song like “Rotary Eight” or the Bunnymen-esque “Pictures of Us” yet. It’s hard to discern the finer details in the lo-fi murk, but there’s definitely good melodies in there begging for a better recording. “Psychedelic Sunday” is another keeper, and I’ll be damned if its combination of hard-driving beat, noisy guitars and whispery vocals don’t sound like the blueprint for everything A Place To Bury Strangers did over a decade later. While four sides of homemade cassette recordings from over a quarter of a century ago aren’t the building blocks of an album I’m going to frequently reach for when I want to hear The Brian Jonestown Massacre, it’s still a fascinating snapshot of a work in progress that hardcore fans of the band (myself included) will enjoy. 

Various Artists: Girls In The Garage Vol. 10 Groovy Gallic Gals! (Past and Present)

I love a good ’60s compilation, and Groovy Gallic Girls is no different. For this volume of Girls In The Garage the compilers focused on French-language songs from France (duh!) and the French-speaking regions of Canada and Belgium, dating from 1964 through 1970. The Girls In The Garage title coupled with the album cover (see above) may inspire visions of savage garage rock oozing with fuzz guitars and bad attitudes, but for the most part these seventeen songs are straight up pop. However, it’s a Francois Hardy-meets-pre-Revolver Beatles type of pop that’s well-crafted and undeniably fun, even if you suspect that most of these singers were naïve teenagers who had no idea what they were doing. One of them, Christine Pilzer, is even photographed on the back cover wearing an operator’s headset, as if she recorded her song, “Ils Pataugen”, on a lunch break and then simply went back to her mundane job. The pop thrills are plentiful, but standouts include Liz Brady’s brassy “Un Garcon Dit A Une Fille”, which ends with “The Beatles” (aka her friends pretending to be John, Paul, Ringo and George) saying goodbye to her, Clothilde’s “La Chanson Bete Et Mechante”, and the killer groove of “La Moustache A Papa” by Anna Bell. Is it the best song ever written about a father’s itchy moustache? I’ll leave that burning question for you to debate amongst yourselves. However, if you’re considering buying the album, I’d recommend acting quickly as this is a Record Store Day 2017 release, limited to 2,000 hand-numbered copies on 180-gram orange vinyl.

Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Women (Mute)

It’s been over two decades since Mick Harvey released his first set of English language covers from Serge Gainsbourg’s catalogue, Intoxicated Men. Intoxicated Women is the fourth and final volume of these covers, and it wraps things up in a neat little bow while also throwing a few distinct curveballs at the core concept behind these albums. The biggest curveball is the focus on Serge’s collaborations with female singers, with 11 of the 15 songs tackled, versions of tracks Gainsbourg originally recorded with Bridget Bardot, Jane Birkin, Juliette Greco and others. The other big surprise is that a few songs aren’t in English, which seems odd since one of the joys of these albums has been hearing the songs in English for the first time, giving non-French speakers a chance to appreciate the gallows humor and incisive wit in Gainsbourg’s lyrics. The press release even refers to Intoxicated Women as an album of “Serge Gainsbourg translations”…not “covers”. But, before you start taking to the streets with torches and pitchforks in protest, I’ll remind you that you can always get the English translations online, so it isn’t that big a deal; and besides, the German cover of “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus” with Andrea Schroeder and the Cambodian cover of “Contact” with Channthy Kak of The Cambodian Space Project are actually some of the better songs here. Left to his own, Harvey’s vocals are, as usual, a perfect surrogate for Gainsbourg’s. His tuneful half-spoken whisper perfectly captures the melancholy of “Lost Loves”, the breezy innocence of “All Day Suckers” and the bizarre storytelling of the album-closing “Cargo Cult”, where Harvey and band handle the funky orchestrations of the original all too well. If this really is the final volume of Harvey’s Gainsbourg translations, I’ll miss the series, but at least Intoxicated Women ends it on a high note.

Derringer – The Complete Blue Sky Albums 1976-1978 (HNE Recordings LTD.)

If you’ve spent enough time on this site to get a feel for my musical sensibilities, you’re probably wondering how I ended up reviewing a box set of commercial hard-rock from Rick Derringer’s band Derringer. After all, isn’t he best known for the 1973 butt-rock hit, “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”? Well yeah, but about a year ago I heard a live version of his song “Beyond The Universe” which had explosive MC5-like energy and insane guitar solos that piqued my curiosity. Reading up on the guy I learned that he has roots in garage rock, singing for The McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy”) and he collaborated with Patti Smith and Iggy Pop in the early-’70s, so maybe there was more to the man than my preconceived notion would lead me to believe.

After listening to these five albums – three studio LPs and two live ones – I’ve concluded that my preconceived notions were pretty spot on. There’s some good moments on these five discs: Derringer’s self-titled debut album from 1976 (he’d released two albums under his own name prior to it) has the aforementioned gonzo “Before The Universe”, and “Let Me In” is good enough pop fun; “One Eyed Jacks” from Sweet Evil sounds like Queen Of The Stone Age twenty years before their first album, and the live albums are goofy ’70s stadium-rock fun. The rest is kinda weak though, with 1978’s If I Weren’t So Romantic, I’d Shoot You the low-point, despite a Patti Smith co-write on “Sleepless”. The members of Derringer are all technically very competent (Derringer, drummer Vinny Appice and bassist Kenny Aronoff have built extensive studio musician’s resumes in the decades since) but for all that musical ability, they don’t have the creative spark needed to make interesting songs. Derringer’s voice is frequently a liability and, if you couldn’t tell from lines like “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo/ Lordy Mama Light My Fuse” his lyrics aren’t very good either – unless of course songs about “rocking” really speak to you. Basically if you ever wanted to hear a band that sounds like a generic no-frills cross between Aerosmith and Cheap Trick (comparisons that really come to forefront on Sweet Evil, which was produced by Aerosmith/Cheap Trick-producer Jack Douglas), without the personality that made those bands unique, this is a great find, and a great value at a current Amazon price of $27. If you want classic songs, look somewhere else.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Don’t Get Lost (A Records)

Don’t Get Lost is The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s sixteenth official full-length album, depending on what you do or don’t count as official or full-length. Within that vast discography it falls somewhere alongside Who Killed Sgt. Pepper and Musique de Film Imagine – albums where BJM leader Anton Newcombe and whoever he’s recording with follow their muse down a rabbit hole that puts them a little too far outside their wheelhouse for the good of the listener. They’re artistically interesting records, and exploring the musical areas they cover may be necessary for Anton to keep things interesting after several decades of writing, but they’re also the Jonestown records I reach for the least. On Don’t Get Lost Anton and co. ignore their own advice and do get lost in the groove-heavy experimentation of krautrock and post-punk. Now, you may be thinking the same thing I was when I first read that: “I like The Brian Jonestown Massacre, I like krautrock and I like post-punk. Game on!” Well OK, it makes sense to think that, but Don’t Get Lost is a lengthy mess of aimless experimentation and bad ideas. Or, in krautrock terms, it’s more Popol Huh? than Popul Vuh.

Before I get too deep into my critical drubbing, let me first single out the album’s praise-worthy moments. Don’t Get Lost’s pinnacle is “Resist Much Obey Little”, which, in addition to being a great message for these politically challenging times, is a crisp and concise tune with a strong melody and Joy Division-esque mood. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s also the song that sounds the most like the Brian Jonestown Massacre of old. “Charmed I’m Sure” is a spooky instrumental with squiggly synth textures that actually sounds like it could have come from an early-’70s krautrock record. Lastly, “Groove Is In The Heart” may not be the Deee-Lite cover I hoped for when I saw the song title – and it’s actually a little too close to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sidewalking” for comfort – but the way Anton and frequent collaborator Tess Parks trade vocal lines works really well with the song’s carefree swagger.

OK, now let’s touch on the basket of deplorable music that makes up the rest of the album. There’s ill-advised excursions into trip-hop like “One Slow Breath”, which sounds like a non-Maxinquaye Tricky demo, and “Melody’s Actual Echo Chamber” where Anton (at least I think it’s him) just lists colors over a bland Massive Attack-lite instrumental. Both are completely useless. “Fact 67” is an attempt to sound like New Order, but the mix of cheap drum machines, dull groove, and vocals by Charlatans front-man (and frequent New Order plagiarist) Tim Burgess is a non-starter, and, like most of the songs on Don’t Get Lost, it’s way longer than it should be, at over six minutes. While neither are terrible, sequencing two unexciting instrumentals back-to-back is never a good idea, yet there before my eyes and ears are “UFO Paycheck” and “Geldenes Herz Menz” clogging up the album’s back-half. Even with so many bad songs, nothing quite prepares you for the shock of “Acid 2 Me Is No Worse Than War” – a lame throwback to the hedonistic sound of early-’90s acid house that nobody wanted. While it might be the worst song in the entire Brian Jonestown Massacre discography, it does allows you to finally understand Anton’s intentions on this album: He wanted to make his version of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, where electronica, dance and dub “come together” in a rock-based context. Unfortunately his ham-fisted attempt at it, comes as close to Screamadelica as Primal Scream’s own ham-fisted attempt at Exile On Main Street-era Stones, Give Out But Don’t Give Up.