Who would suspect that America’s best hope in fending off the vibrant young hordes of Arctic Monkeys, Fratellis, Subways, and Bloc Partys from overseas would spring not from, say, Brooklyn, but instead from Sarasota, Florida? A hopeful nation should be turning their eyes to that city’s very own The Wallies, an indie rock band with the fire, visceral appeal, and goddam great songs to stand up against any frenetic guitar chargers. Singer Neven Skoro (who, okay, originally hails from Croatia) has a casual delivery that compliments the urgency of the band, in contrast to so many singers who struggle to keep pace with the charging, post-punk smash being laid down around them. If The Strokes all took uppers and Julian Casablancas stayed down on Quaalude level, you’d have something like The Wallies.
These guys keep it to three minutes at a pop, for the most part, with songs like “Subtle Romance” and the wonderfully titled “What I Like About You Is You’re Rock Bottom.” A notable exception is “Wrong Way,” which errs on the side of brevity with a 1:44 running time. You’re going to love them all.
Don’t let the name fool you ” Don Drapery isn’t a hotshot curtain maker who works at a company called Sewing-Cooper. It’s a Columbus, Ohio, band made up of two enterprising musicians: Jason Turner and Dan Gillis. In fact, the only obvious thing the band has in common with Mad Men is its love of retro. Vintage R&B and surf guitars trade time with post-punk angles and rhythms in Don Drapery’s catalog of songs. Folks In Charge is a loose-limbed, herky jerky rocker brimming with a rough sort of joy. On I Can’t Apologize, the duo combines ’50s-era pop tropes with modern-day sentiments like, You say everything sucks. From the spaghetti guitars of No Place To Raise A Child to the sparkle and distortion of Hard To Survive, Don Drapery gives a callback to rock’s glory days without losing their footing in the modern age.
It’s no easy thing to be an original these days, but despite the bounty of artists out there, Nemes has managed to do just that. The Brighton, MA quintet has created a sound that takes listeners off the rails for a manic ride through blues, grass, and punk. On the swampy, junkyard environs of Blues, singers Dave Anthony and Josh Knowles bellow and bray over a squealing fiddle, declaring Robert Johnson’s back and he walks in my shoes. Even if their insidious blues mojo doesn’t literally raise the dead, it most definitely raises hackles. As guitars grind up clouds of distortion on Beam in the Track, a ukulele nimbly picks its way through. It’s that interplay between post-punk dissonance and old time music that makes Nemes akin to nothing else out there. But if you have to have a signpost, think of the band as a cross between Avett Brothers and Say Anything”a troupe of roughshod, wild-hearted melody makers with some serious amps.
The Arts & Crafts Movement describes its music as being noisy and ugly, tender and awkward. And that’s true, but it’s also searching, discontented, romantic ¦ and probably a million other things. The Philadelphia band is of the same ilk as Silversun Pickups”think of them as their tormented younger brothers. Their raucous post punk weaves from sinister to sensitive and back again. The wild rumpus begins with War Chords, where piercing guitars is answered by a counter offensive of rolling drums and bass. Singer James Alex’s reptilian voice is hard at times to decipher, but the message is clear: Watch your step. His warning carries over to the bracing Punks of Privilege. We are anarchists, turning chords and truth into heroic hymns, he sings, You’ve been warned. But don’t let that stop you.
“For me it’s the machine that works best,” says Gary Numan of the synthesizer, the instrument whose use in rock he helped to revolutionize back in the late ’70s. It’s an axe that has certainly served him well over the decades, from the synth-punk experiments of his early recordings to the sleekly designed electronic speedway of his blockbuster breakthrough, “Cars,” all the way up to his latest album, Dead Son Rising.
But Numan didn’t start out as a synthesizer whiz at all. “Originally I was a guitar player,” he recalls, “and when I was signed to Beggars Banquet we (Tubeway Army) were a guitar, bass and drums three-piece, a punk band, really. I had never played a keyboard before.” As fate would have it, a synth was laying around the studio during the recording of Numan’s first album, and he couldn’t help trying it out. “Soon after that, my parents bought an old upright [piano],” he says. “I started pretty much writing songs on piano from then on. I’ve written two songs on bass guitar in my life,” he adds. “One of those was ‘Cars.'”
But while Numan made new wave history at the end of the ’70s and the onset of the ’80s, his tenure at the top of the heap was fleeting. He confesses that his career “started to suffer somewhat in the early ’80s,” and by the ’90s his star had sputtered out. “I couldn’t give away albums, even in the UK,” he admits. “I couldn’t give away tickets to gigs. I was really, really in trouble, I had massive money problems, all sorts of personal problems at home, it was just a grim time, really…my situation was so poor that I didn’t have a record contract either. I just decided that I was really finished, and I didn’t know if I’d ever make any more albums again. So I went back to what I did before I’d ever done it for a living, and that was to write songs for the fun of it. It went back to being a hobby. And because I wasn’t thinking about career, or trying to please A&R departments, I just went back to writing songs for me, it was immediately different. I hadn’t realized it, but I think for several years before that, everything I’d been writing was desperate attempts to save the career and to try and get back on radio¦listening to advice and trying to keep people happy. That’s when I sold out, I think.”
The Mekons have been around long enough to have a sense of history that matches their perspective as first-generation punks”Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh co-founded the band during punk’s 1977 Summer of Hate and are still sparking the Mekons’ mix of arty lyrics, provocative politics and punky attitude today. But even for a band with thirty-four years in the rearview mirror, the suffix of the title Ancient & Modern: 1911-2011”the Mekon’s latest album”sounds a bit ambitious in its scope. Since the ˜80s, the band has increasingly filtered its own punk-poet roots through traditional, rootsy influences like folk and country, and that sensibility serves them well as they cast their artistic eye to an era well before their own individual lifetimes.
According to drummer Steve Goulding, who has been manning the Mekons’ throne for over a quarter-century now, Ancient & Modern is concerned with that last fading of one kind of way of life, and that descent into war¦the end of the ninteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the whole Edwardian era. It’s supposed to convey that kind of atmosphere. Pretty much everything in all the songs is concerned with that era. It’s an era of prosperity and ease of living that was fading away and descending into chaos. The trade unions are rising and there’s war all over the world, all the old certainties are slipping away. He adds laughingly of the band members, who are now in their 50s, In our case, all the old chords are slipping away too.
In this week’s edition of Vs. we’ll be taking a look at Triggers and putting them up agains indie poppers The Hush Sound. Triggers hail from Pittsburgh, but have recently relocated to Los Angeles and have been causing a buzz with big shows at the Viper Room and the Hard Rock Cafe. Like The Hush Sound, Triggers make catchy and melodic pop music with an indie rock flavor. Triggers use crunchy, distorted guitars and soulful piano lines to create a driving and upbeat sound that is just simply fun to listen to. Their track “18 FPS” is a perfect example of their fun and catchy brand of indie pop. Piano chords and lead electric guitar lines propel the song forward, while Adam Rousseau’s smooth voice provides a vocal melody that will be stuck in your head for days.
“18 FPS” also shows another aspect of what sets Triggers apart from The Hush Sound; horn arrangements. The use of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones adds a whole different dimension to the band’s sound. On “18 FPS,” the horns echo the vocal melody as well as provide harmonizations during the chorus and part of the verses. The results make the song sound almost like swing, and it’s sure to get feet moving on the dance floor. In “She Had Me At Takeoff,” the horns are utilized perfectly for the chorus of the song. Using accented off beats, the horns create the perfect countermelody to the on-the-beat vocal melody.
This track also shows how Triggers use elements of new wave and post-punk in their music. “She Had Me At Takeoff” features a strong and distorted electric guitar melody, with a mixture of normal and falsetto vocals. The sound has definite ties to bands like The Cars and XTC, but with a much more modern pop edge. The new wave influence continues on “Ready Or Not,” but they mix it up by using an electric keyboard instead of a piano, and the keyboard gets the spotlight in this song. The fast keyboard melody and frantic drumming keep the song going at a quick pace during the intro, but the song slows down for the verse and the vocalists take the spotlight. Adam Rousseau and Brett Zoric trade lines during the verse, which leads to the climactic chorus. It really cannot be said enough how catchy these songs are. One or two listens and you will have every hook and melody already memorized. Triggers blend the modern and vintage to create a sound all their own.
Check out Triggers’ debut album Smoke Show, out now on Anomaly Records!
While there’s no denying the appeal of music that operates on an instant-gratification level, offering tricked-up tunes full of carefully baited hooks, in the end the albums that really stick with you will almost always be the ones that provide a truly immersive experience. That’s the way it is with The Blackout, the latest release from Tunnels. It’s a record that unfurls its sonic secrets slowly and purposefully, setting a darkly dreamy mood that feels perfectly suited to sweaty, sluggish summer nights, which is ironic, considering that it’s inspired chiefly by the emotionally chilly musical subgenre colloquially known as cold wave.
Nicholas Bindeman is the man from whom all the sounds on The Blackout emerge. The multi-talented Oregonian is seemingly too young to have experienced cold wave’s heyday first-hand, when its perfect 1980s storm of synth pop and post punk blended into an effectively overcast vision of new wave’s dark underbelly. But that hasn’t stopped him from assimilating those sounds into his own music. Pressed for specifics, he rattles off a list of synth-toting ˜80s cult heroes that you just know is only the tip of his inspirational iceberg. Crash Course in Science, Charles de Goal, Martin Rev, Snowy Red, Tuxedomoon, Jeff and Jane Hudson, blah blah blah, it just goes on, he exclaims. I do truly love the music from that era, and while it’s not exactly an original influence these days, it is what it is, the collective unconscious has spoken.
The abject-but-accessible vibe that permeates many of the tracks on Bindeman’s album has as much to do with his own sensibility as his record collection, though. There’s a element of myself on there that can’t really be attributed to any specific influence, he asserts, something nocturnal, something slightly cold and melodramatic. And from the disembodied-sounding, electronically processed vocals on opening track Crystal Arms to the memorably misanthropic Gary Numanisms of How I Hate You and the deliciously creepy, Pornography-era Cure feel of the bass and guitar lines on Dead Ringers, The Blackout duly weaves its mournfully magical spell, pulling you effortlessly along in its eerie, electronic undertow.
Over the last three decades, Mick Harvey has midwifed some of the most singular, striking works of the initial UK post-punk explosion and its subsequent aftershock waves. The Australian rocker is one of those bothersome bastards who seem to be able to play anything they lay their hands on, and his multi-instrumental abilities have been crucial to the output of The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Crime & The City Solution and currently, PJ Harvey (no relation). Harvey has also maintained a sideline in solo albums since 1995, and his latest, Sketches From the Book of the Dead, is the first to appear since he hung up his Bad Seeds uniform in ’09.
The man responsible for assaultive, confrontational explosions of sound on records like The Birthday Party’s Prayers on Fire and Nick Cave’s From Her To Eternity has found that there’s still rocking to be done in his post-Bad Seeds phase, as demonstrated on PJ Harvey’s new album Let England Shake, but his latest solo outing is mostly a moody, melancholy batch of hushed, spooky ballads. That wasn’t necessarily the plan from the start, though. “I think there was probably more variation in the songs I wrote for the project,” Harvey told RR&R, “than there is in the end selection. I was aware of this as it happened, so I guess you could say that when I came to choose the songs, it worked for me to have a similar mood or atmosphere throughout, but it wasn’t the way it was envisioned or written.”
Much of Book of the Dead is occupied by tales and remembrances of deceased figures who loom large in Harvey’s past, some apparently going all the way back to his boyhood, like his father’s friend in “Ballad of Jay Givens,” as well as people like onetime Bad Seeds/Crime & The City Solution bandmate Rowland S. Howard on “October Boy.” But for the most part, evoking specific characters wasn’t part of Harvey’s agenda. “The songs are as much about memory and it’s fallibility as they are about anything else,” he explains. “It has become well established that ˜October Boy’ is about Rowland S. Howard and I quite deliberately made it easy to work that out… With most of the other characters I feel it is probably better that they are unidentified for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to give the songs some kind of universality…In essence the songs are an attempt to delve into memory and the relationships we continue to have with people who are no longer with us, so to reveal identities and make things more specific would undermine a large part of the potential communicability of the ideas themselves.”
Having definitely emerged from the long shadow of Nick Cave after so many years, Harvey reveals that even his position as Cave’s longtime right-hand man was at least partially a function of circumstance. “To be perfectly honest it was quite unexpected that I became the principal collaborator for those early to mid years in The Bad Seeds,” he says. “In The Birthday Party I had simply been part of the band, playing guitar and occasionally writing some of the music for the songs. I guess my position in the band became more powerful towards the end in ˜82/’83, and after the band broke up I was the one who Nick asked to continue working with in his new project. In a way my preeminence in that project [The Bad Seeds] came from a power vacuum and a lack of general reliability on the part of other members”it fell to me to be the responsible one, especially when it came to instrumental arrangements and the album production.” About his exit from the band, Harvey explains, “More recently the level of my artistic involvement, my business responsibilities toward the band and my personal requirements simply went a bit out of balance where The Bad Seeds were concerned. After such a long and successful union it was better to move on than to struggle with it.”
Of his time with ’80s post-punk art rockers Crime & The City Solution, part of the extended Bad Seeds family, Harvey says, “I was especially happy with the second line-up, or fourth depending on how you look at the history of the band, which was based in Berlin. Sadly I had probably over-committed myself being in both Crime and The Bad Seeds at the same time. In hindsight I wouldn’t do that again”it probably would have been better had I just done The Bad Seeds and given myself more space for my own projects. Apparently Simon Bonney is planning to relaunch Crime & the City Solution soon. Good luck to him is all I can say.”
Besides his own solo endeavors, Harvey has currently committed a substantial chunk of his time and energy to working with PJ Harvey, co-producing and playing on Let England Shake and accompanying her on the road in support of the album. “He defines his working relationship with Polly Jean as “Evolving. I think Polly has asked me to play on every album she has made since I met her [starting with 1995’s To Bring You My Love] but I haven’t always been available and sometimes the circumstances would not have been ideal for what I can bring to such a project. So sometimes I had to decide against being involved. The recent album, Let England Shake, was certainly a rewarding and challenging experience and called on some of my particular abilities, so it was especially enjoyable. The concerts have been stunning, too, and equally challenging, so I’m having a lot of fun with it and also feel the artistic bonds with Polly are growing as a result.”
On Book of the Dead being the first album to be dominated by his own compositions, Harvey reckons, “It’s because I don’t normally write songs. In the past I have occasionally written lyrics but for the most part where I have co-writing credits it’s for the music. When I wrote a couple of songs around what would become the basic theme of this album it gave me a starting point to even consider writing more songs for such a project. But I still don’t consider myself a songwriter,” confesses Harvey, “not in the manner of people who do it all the time…if anything, this self-penned album is a bonus.”
Like all great historical movements, punk rock’s timeline extends back further than its universally accepted starting date of 1977. Antecedents like the early Stooges and MC5 albums suggested, as far back as 1969, the dwindling peace-and-love influence of the hippies on popular culture, and indirectly voiced the rumblings of discontent of a disillusioned generation.
Teenagers of the ˜70s started to resent the bloated excess of classic rock and the slick materialism of the disco scene. Although small musical fires were being set all over the world simultaneously, one of punk’s ground zeros was the shabby rock club CBGB on New York City’s then-dicey (now mostly gentrified) Bowery. The sartorial outrageousness and garage-y musical grit of The New York Dolls, and later the rough and tumble, untutored appeal of The Ramones, Voidoids, Patti Smith, Blondie and other stars of the CBGB scene turned designer/clothing shop-owner Malcolm McLaren’s head, later to resurface as influences on the band McLaren managed, The Sex Pistols. Indeed the CB’s scene, given wings by the 1976 release of the first Ramones album on Sire Records, made a big impact in the UK amongst unemployed, disaffected teenagers of the underclass, who immediately adopted (and adapted) the do-it-yourself aesthetic to express their own dissatisfaction with their decaying empire, bad economy and hopeless-seeming future.
By 1977, The Clash, The Subway Sect, The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie & the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, The Slits and many more bands were all making important, yet musically diverse, contributions to the punk canon. Other punk scenes flourished in Ireland (The Undertones) and Australia (The Saints, Radio Birdman) and punk became well-represented all over Europe and North America.
At the turn of the ˜80s, punk had splintered into a variety of styles, including hardcore (especially popular on the West Coast of the US), new wave, synth-pop and post-punk. Hybrids and offshoots evolved, like two-tone ska, cowpunk, psychobilly, garage-punk and surf-punk. Metal began to reemerge as an influence, and many bands added metallic elements, to varying degrees, to the punk template. A more melodic and perhaps song-oriented strain of punk emerged toward the end of the decade, giving rise to what became known as alternative rock, and later indie rock. The Seattle punk scene gave birth to grunge, and grunge’s posterboys, Nirvana, became one of the best-loved bands of the era.
The success of Nirvana and other alternative acts changed the music industry in the ˜90s. Punk was more widely accepted than ever before. By mid-decade, radio and MTV were playing the hell out of pop punk bands like Green Day and Jimmy Eat World. As punk became more and more mainstream and commercial, teenagers and other creative folks continued to find ways to reclaim the sound and attitude for their own”Riot Grrls, twee pop, emo, screamo, post-hardcore, dance punk and an endless variety of other subgenres have materialized, all fueled by the same passionate need to rebel, to communicate and, ultimately, to rock.
Paula Carino is a musician and writer based in New York. She’s written for AMG, American Songwriter and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Pop Music. She’s also a yoga teacher and authored the book “Yoga To Go.”