The Black Angels – Death Song (Partisan Records)

It only takes the first minute of “Currency”, the opening track of the fifth Black Angels album, for the now-familiar Black Angels sound to rear its head. Various permutations of the song’s 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, assuming that still means something in 2017), 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 too 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 the band attempting 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, before shaking things up with Bubblegum in 2010. Were Death Song the first Black Angels album I’d probably be a lot more excited by it, but, to quote a Black Flag song title, “I’ve Heard It Before”.


Max’s Kansas City: 1976 and Beyond (Jungle Records)

While it was hardly amazing, the original 1976 Max’s Kansas City compilation was still interesting as a representation of the kind of (mostly) local talent you could see dropping by the famous New York City hangout on any given night in the mid-’70’s. The main complaint about it has always been that it didn’t include anything from New York greats like Richard Hell, The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith…etc., and the one brilliant act it did include, Suicide, is represented by demos of “Ghost Rider” and “Rocket USA” that pale in comparison to the versions on their debut album. True, nothing on here will make you forget about “Blitzkreig Bop” or “Marquee Moon”, but if you’re a fan of that kind of stuff you’ll probably also like the Doors-meets-Television vibe of Harry Toledo’s “Knots” or the post-glitter tracks from Wayne County (soon to be Jayne County), Cherry Vanilla and The Fast, all of which capture and preserve the anything goes attitude the Max’s scene was famous for. Only Pere Ubu’s “Final Solution” is missing from the original compilation’s tracklisting, supposedly due to licensing issues.

The new “1976 and beyond” reissue on Jungle Records is bursting at the seams with new material, blossoming to an astounding 40 tracks over two discs. All the extra space gives listeners a chance to hear rare 1970s tracks from lesser known Max’s scenesters Jimi Lalumia and The Psychotic Frogs (try not smiling during “Disco Sucks”), The Cellmates, and The Senders whose “6th Street” sounds something like Van Halen for Johnny Thunders fans. There’s also eight 21st century recordings from artists associated with Max’s. These range anywhere from excellent (Senders’ front-man Phil Marcade’s Dylan-esque “All Quite Wasted”) to terrible (“Ruby From the Wrong Side of Town” by Ruby and The Rednecks is grating) and expected (Jayne County reprising her titular “Max Kansas City” not once, but twice). Finally, it ends with five live songs from some bigger names (Sid Vicious, Iggy Pop, Nico, and Johnny Thunders, who shows up with The Heartbreakers and alongside Wayne Kramer in Gang War) which have enough in spirit to make up for what they lack in fidelity. Iggy’s entry is especially interesting – a live recording from 1977 of a song called “Rock Action” that never made it onto any of his studio albums.

It ain’t perfect, and it unjustly ignores Max’s role in early New York hardcore (no Stimulators, Misfits, Mad or Kraut) but if you’re still reading this review, chances are good there’s something here you’ll really like. Track-by-track liner notes from Peter Crowley and Jimi Lalumia add important historical perspective.

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.