Sonny Vincent – Primitive 1969-1976: Diamond Distance and Liquid Fury (Hozac Archival)

Diamond Distance & Liquid Fury: 1969-76 | HoZac Records

No label is better at finding and releasing music from underground rock’s forgotten footnotes than Hozac Archival. They’re not the kind of label that gets to put out Stooges rarities, but they’re the ones who’ll put out an EP with a pair of unreleased Stooges songs covered by a band who recorded them in late-70’s off a bootleg tape. It’s that kind of dedication to diving down obscure rabbit holes that makes them the perfect label for this release. Sonny Vincent is as “culty” a figure in the story of punk as any, having fronted The Testors in New York City in the back half of the 1970s. An album of Testors songs would already push the average rock-geek’s obscure-meter well into the red, but Hozac goes one-further, compiling tracks from Vincent’s various pre-Testors power-trios from 1969-1974, along with one actual Testors song from ’76.

Hozac has already released singles by two of the bands here (Fury and Liquid Diamonds), and those sides are accounted for, as is a previously unreleased number by each. There’s also a radio advertisement for a Fury gig at Greenwich High School, which tickles me pink since it’s located just a few blocks from where I live. The real “find” here is the first three songs, which come from Vincent’s earliest band, Distance, from 1969-1971. Like the rest of the music here, the sound quality isn’t great, and the songs are more psychedelic hard rock than punk rock. If you’re looking for comparisons, think of New York proto-metal bands like Dust or Sir Lord Baltimore and not The Dolls or The Stooges. The volume and hard attack are there, especially on “Flying,” but the songwriting and lyrics are dated. That’s OK though because this album is as much about documenting history, as it is about music. In fact, the best part of the LP is the liner notes where Vincent and Hozac honcho Todd Novak discuss the former’s bohemian lifestyle during this formative era. His encounters with The Manson family, Suicide, The Velvet Underground, and a host of other cultural figures, are fascinating. With stories like these, he should consider writing an autobiography.


Mick Harvey – Waves Of Anzac/The Journey (Mute Records)

Mick Harvey may not be a household name, but the solo albums, collaborations, soundtracks, and musical accompaniment he’s been a part of since the late-’70s add up to a tremendous body of work. His latest release crams music from two separate projects together on one disc. The first is Waves of Anzac, the soundtrack to a documentary called “Why Anzac,” where actor Sam Neill recants episodes from his family’s history which dovetail with the history of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (aka ANZAC). I only have the soundtrack to review, and not the accompanying film, but the subject matter, and the tone of Harvey’s instrumental music (which includes titles like “The Cemetery,” “After The Bomb,” and “Modern War”) leads me to believe there’s a lot of tension in the story. The soundtrack has a lot of instruments, but it’s the meticulous string arrangements that are dominant throughout. There’s something beautiful, and almost classical in nature about the title track, but I keep coming back to “The Somme” which features a haunting piano melody that harkens back a bit to the mood of a few mid-’90s Bad Seeds songs. All that tension finally boils over on “Vietnam,” with jagged guitar noise conjuring up mental images of war-torn landscapes and brutal devastation.

The Journey is a four-part composition Harvey wrote and recorded with The Letter String Quartet, and originally released as a standalone download in 2019. It’s a soundtrack of sorts, but instead of accompanying a movie, these songs were recorded to support asylum seekers caught up in Australia’s offshore detention program. All the feelings of struggle and anxiety the detainees (i.e. prisoners) have is captured in these songs, which have a far more urgent and direct tone to them than the Waves of Anzac soundtrack. The final part of this four-song suite ends with vocals (the first on the album) emerging from the string section, perhaps offering a final sense of hope and peace after so much turbulence.

This isn’t music for everyone, but if you’re into atmospheric film scores, as always, Harvey’s got the goods.

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 best shoegaze sound-bombs of the 21st Century. At the very least, they’ll 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 a 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 lyric you can decipher is the word “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.

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

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DTK (that stands for Down To Kill, folks) captures Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers live in London at the 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 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’s 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.
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.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story: Keep Music Evil by Jesse Valencia (Jawbone Press)

Keep Music Evil: The Brian Jonestown Massacre Story

I saw The Brian Jonestown Massacre live some 6-8 times from 1998-2005, and each time was a fascinating experience. On any given night you might hear some great psychedelic music, you might get a long night of inter-band fights and rants, or some combination of the two. No matter the outcome, you were always assured of one thing – something you saw or heard at the show would stick in your memory for a long time. The band – a loose and ever-evolving conglomerate of spaced-out loons centered around Anton Newcombe – seemed tailor-made for some kind of biographical accounting. Ondi Timoner’s 2004 documentary Dig! told their story up until that point, but it focused too heavily on the more sensationalistic aspects of the band, minimizing the hard work and artistic foresight that made them worth caring about in the first place. Keep Music Evil carries the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s story through to the modern day, and attempts to right some of Dig!’s historical wrongs by painting a more well-rounded portrait of the band’s activities and musical output.

I’ll give author Jesse Valencia this – he put a lot of time and effort into this book, having spent almost a decade gathering and collating information from 125 people in, and connected to, the band, even using my interview with Anton for a brief quip on the recording of Thank God For Mental Illness. That Anton Newcombe didn’t contribute directly to the book is unfortunate, but hardly a stake in its heart. Dave Simpson was able to write The Fallen, a great book on The Fall – a band whose story has some obvious parallels with the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s – without Mark E. Smith’s input; and besides, Anton’s accounting of his past is usually driven by egotistic hyperbole rather than historical accuracies and insights, so it’s no great loss. The real issue with Keep Music Evil is simple – Valencia is the wrong “writer” for this story. The word “writer” is in parentheses because the book has so many mistakes, formatting issues, poorly structured sentences, and incorrect word choices that it’s hard for me to include Valencia in the same professional umbrella as Kurt Vonnegut. Focusing on the one slice of the book that takes place in New York – where I can fact-check Valencia – and a litany of mistakes are uncovered. Valencia refers to a show with Dead Meadow at The Mercury Lounge – it took place at The Bowery Ballroom. Valencia further twists the knife in the Bowery Ballroom’s back by referring to it as being in Brooklyn (it’s in Manhattan). He also refers to an apartment in Manhattan on 1st Avenue and Avenue A, which is logistically impossible since they run parallel to each other. None of these errors are terribly important, but they make me wonder just what other mistakes are out there masquerading as facts. There’s also times when Valencia’s prose-work is just straight up annoying, like when he refers to Mara Keagle’s vocals on “Anemone” as “like mercury crawling down the tip of a ballistic missile”. I have no idea what that description is meant to convey, and I bet he doesn’t either. Even if I could forgive all the mistakes and bad writing (did anyone actually copy-edit this book?) the story of The Brian Jonestown Massacre is just too vast, with too many people shifting in and out of the band’s orbit for Valencia’s meager talents to herd the long list of characters and events into an organized and coherent whole.

In the prologue, Valencia mentions that he first heard The Brian Jonestown Massacre in 2008 after taking four hits of acid. Based on the book he’s written, maybe he should have stopped at three.

The Lovely Eggs – This is Eggland (Self-Released)

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I found The Lovely Eggs’ music charming when I first heard their early recordings a little over a decade back. Married couple Holly Ross (guitar/vocals) and David Blackwell (drums) landed on a winning formula of ramshackle punk rock, made unique by Ross’ snarky lyrics and unapologetically British accent. Compared to her, Liam Gallagher sounds like a Texas hillbilly. What I liked most was that, their songs were rudimentary, yet still somehow sounded like they were teetering on the edge of falling apart – like one missed drum beat could just grind the whole thing to a screeching halt at any given moment.

Fast forward to 2018, and The Lovely Eggs, now something of a cult success in England, are back with their self-released fifth full-length album, This is Eggland. Ross and Blackwell are still very much themselves on this album – there’s cheeky songs with titles like “Dickhead” and “Would You Fuck” (though, in Ross’ hands a more accurate title may have been “Would You Fook”), and they still run zero risk of being confused with The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Outside of those constants, The Lovely Eggs beefed up their sound considerably for this release. First, they have Dave Fridmann producing, which is a major coup for the band. After all he’s produced major albums from indie institutions like Spoon, The Flaming Lips, and Low, though I’ll always remember him most fondly as a member of Mercury Rev. Fridmann really goes to town here, adding all kinds of reverb, tape loops and stereo panning effects to fill in the empty spaces previously found between the guitar and drums. The instruments themselves sound like they’ve been souped up too – giving every song an anthemic quality that practically sounds genetically engineered for European festival circuit crowds. The new sheen sounds amazing on each of This Is Eggland’s eleven songs. I especially like “Wiggy Giggy,” which is basically The Lovely Eggs’ “Ca Plane Por Moi,” and the aforementioned “Dickhead,” which segues between Cramps-y garage stomp and ’90s Buzz Bin-era alternative rock at breakneck speed. The problem is that, over the course of 40 minutes the album’s unrelenting pumped up sound is a bit fatiguing on the ears. Picture listening to a brickwalled chorus of “Gigantic” by The Pixies for 2/3 of an hour and that’s pretty much how you feel after spending time in Eggland. Nevertheless, these are wildly fun songs for serious times, and totally worth seeking out.

The Black Angels – Death Song (Partisan Records)

It only takes a single minute into the fifth Black Angels album for the now-familiar Black Angels sound to rear its head. Various permutations of the song’s (“Currency”) pounding mid-tempo groove and tom-heavy drums have been part of pretty much every Black Angels release going back to their 2005 debut EP. While that formula has created a strong “brand identity” for the band (Death Song is their third straight album to debut in the Billboard Top 100), it’s somewhat frustrating that they aren’t progressing from release to release, or delivering any surprises. As much as I like Death Song (the album – not the cheap Velvet Underground pun of the title) I’m at the point where I want The Black Angels to give me something more to consider than the same ol’ Velvets/Stooges/Spacemen 3/BJM/13th Floor Elevators-inspired sound I’ve come to know all too well from them. “I’d Kill For Her” and “Comanche Moon” put the formula to good use, with an inspired mix of Nuggets’y garage-pop song structures and narco-psychedelic noise-mongering. “Grab As Much (as You Can)” is great too, as long as you don’t pay close attention to the lyrics (never the band’s strength) and are OK with them stealing the guitar riff from Johnny Kidd and The Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over.” “Estimate” and “Half Believing” are weaker, with attempts at a po-faced seriousness they don’t pull off convincingly. “Medicine” sounds a lot like Clinic, another VU-inspired band that spent part of the 2000s stubbornly putting out songs that sounded like minor variations of other songs they’d already released. Were Death Song the first Black Angels album I’d probably be a lot more excited by it, but, to quote Black Flag, “I’ve Heard It Before.”

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 “official”) 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 from this release to 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 doesn’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 (myself included) will enjoy. 

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 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 accurately capture 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.

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 Popol 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 comes 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 sub-par Stones pastiche, Give Out But Don’t Give Up, came to Exile On Main Street.