So, I was at my mom’s house in Massachusetts which means I didn’t have access to the internal bad vibes I require to write at length. Kind of hard channelling a lifetime of cultural misgivings while watching a downy woodpecker bopping around my mom’s porch without a care in the world. So apologies on the slacking on the newsletter. I also was attempting to write an essay about IDLES (AKA Mclusky w/o the laffs/songs) but then everybody else started hating on them which, because of my grotesque nature, took the fun out of it. I was also working on a rewrite of an essay that Fader rejected last year of bands who inhabit “macho” traits but in a good way (like Sleaford Mods and Dark Blue). As soon as I can figure out how to write the former without taking part in a pile-on, and the latter without getting cancelled by G-d herself in her heaven, I’ll finish both. In the meantime, I’m writing a review of the new Machine Gun Kelly pop-punk album and, to tide you over and give the paid subscribers their money’s worth, here’s the second Publicist’s Playtime, where I give my monthly album recommendations and hopefully, In These Dark Times, give the beleaguered publicist something to put in their report other than “Pitchfork says they’re not doing premiers anymore” and/or “I don’t know what the deal is at Noisey. They’ve responded in the past…” What a great industry! I’m sure a diffusion of newsletters under a faceless tech umbrella will totally save it! Worst case scenario, we can all move to Tucson and get in on the inevitable scum rock revival.
Skipping my usual industry score settling digressions, let’s get to it, boppers!
Publicist’s Playtime Vol 2
BRANDY The Gift of Repetition I was going to open with a joke along the lines of “Being the second best Brandy in music is no small things,” but, while Craig Seymour’s wonderful newsletter is my new Torah, I think that my poptimist gestures can often come off as the pandering affectations that they often are. I respect the singer Brandy and have not a single negative thing to say about her oeuvre, I’m not fooling anyone that I don’t, on a primal level, prefer the sounds of grunting miscreants with cheap guitar amps and blotchy cover-ups of sketchy tattoos they got in Atlanta when they were fourteen. Pretend as I may otherwise, my people are angelheaded goombas.
BRANDY is a NYC band, formed in 2017, made up of members of Pampers and Running. I’ve seen them on various Nuke York and garage damaged bills and always thought “this is pretty good.” So I’m delighted that their new album makes clear that they either got better or I was always a fool (or both). Repetition opens with “(Wish You Was) Madball Baby.” I can’t fully express my awe that BRANDY was able to write a song, as much ear worm as art damage, that lives up to a title that magnificent. Building on a swelling/subsiding repetition that is maintained throughout the aptly named (but never dull) album, dual vocals slur and sneer at each other in implausible accents, building to the revelatory “Let me demon-demon-demonstrate my strength/ I know you can dish it all out but let’s see what you take.” I thought it was a relationship song but apparently it’s about one of the members wishing their bandmate would lose a bar fight, preferably at the hands of (the singer of the NYHC Corona groove metal innovators) Freddie “Madball” Cricien. As wishing that our loved ones were the band Madball and occasionally wishing bodily harm upon our best friends are feelings we can all undoubtedly relate to, the song works both ways. Also, it bears pointing out that, unlike nearly all the UK bands that namecheck Mark E. Smith in their bios (or worse, deny his influence) BRANDY remembers that The Fall was, despite the skronk and distrust of conventional song structure, first and foremost a rock and roll band, and one that never confused “muttering boring shit with an accent” for wit. (btw BRANDY is also recommended by Turntable Report, which you should subscribe to.)
Haircut Cake Richmond, Virginia’s Haircut play hardcore punk rock of the delicious meat & delicious potatoes variety. No egg, no chain, (almost) no reverb, all “We Got The Power: Party or Go Home” speed and vinegar. So it makes sense that they’re, after two equally great short/sharp/shock EPs, finally on 11PM Records, the hometown label that put out the finest “music-by-and-for-literal-chimps” album of 2019. Cake don’t even fuck with the gym class kick-flippery of their labelmates, focussing on giving singer Juliana a fatly raucous platform for her existential (“daddy’s going to hell/ there’s nothing I can do/ please/ oh god/ take me instead”) screech. And Juliana uses the grounding provided her by the rolling snares and razor-sharp riffing to scathingly full effect. It’s positively kooky when, forty years in, this kind of no-frills hardcore can retain the genre’s initial scrappy verve. Why do I love this when I have zero interest in hearing another Teen Idles song for as long as I live? Got me! Probably why I love Richard Thompson while having zero interest in hiring a bard to follow me around my castle. Anyway. Haircut rules OK!
Uniform Shame I am generally trying to keep my recommendation lists nepotism free- both out of fairness to bands who don’t share my zip code/proclivities and to cut down on annoying Facebook glad handing- but to not big up the new Uniform album, despite feeling about the band’s members the way a kitten feels about a red panda toy stuffed with catnip, would be a crime against aesthetics. But my almost divine sense of integrity and adherence to full disclosure requires that I mention that Mike Berdan is my favorite dude with whom to discuss Social Distortion, Ben Greenberg has been a dear friend since before he started working out (plus he’s currently doing mixing/production work on my lady Zohra Atash’s solo album), and, while I don’t know him personally, Mike Sharp was once kind of mean to me in a bar in way that endeared him to me for life.
Even before the MAGA/mental issues backlash, one of the things that drove me bananas about mid-period Kanye West was the refrain on “Only One ft. Paul McCartney” that went, “No you're not perfect but you're not your mistakes.” I mean, I get that the prevalent philosophy of both pop and indie music is one of working through trauma through acts of self love and forgiveness. And I certainly don’t think that we are our mistakes exclusively. But, conversely, if the human soul is to be worth considering in its entirety, and not just how we aspire it to be, then our various acts of cruelty and error should be part of the math as well. We don’t have to be our mistakes, but we ain’t not our mistakes neither.
So when, before even the one second mark of Shame’s opener “Delco,” Mike Berdan howls “You are what you’ve done/ you are what’s been done to you,” I felt like Plato must have felt when he first left the cave to hit the happy hour buffet at Hustler Club. (I only went to college for a couple years and have never taken a philosophy course, but I’m pretty sure this scans.) Finding, let alone conveying, any kind of emotional truth, besides often trite misanthropy/misogyny, in noise rock is, if the discogs of Electrical Audio is any indication, a particularly hard row to hoe. But Berdan has devoted considerable time and spiritual energy to striving for a self immolation that might at least touch on a meaning beyond the usual “Humanity is the plague lol. I hate myself and want to die etc etc.” I don’t really ever call any music “harrowing” or “claustrophobic” because I am not a wimp and therefore am never overwhelmed by anything with a pause button. Plus, I find Uniform’s grooves, that pivot between stutter and pound, combined with Greenberg’s dedication to the guitar’s capacity to survive both stabbing and strangulation, to be a real hoot. But, while willing to die on the hill of Uniform being fun to listen to even if they were content to just be big ol’ Godflesh fans, I’ll concede that Shame is their most emotionally resonant album. At the risk of dragging the hella problematic Saul Bellow into a discussion of a band that has striven mightily to shed the toxicity from their lives, Shame is an album by and for real human types. It’s beautiful, with treachery, like an ex who you block online but who you will still visit at their grave. OK haha that analogy sucks. But I want Uniform to have something to tease me about when/if I ever see them in the flesh again.
Les Amazones d’Afrique Amazones Power This album (which came out in January but it only crossed my radar last month and it’s my newsletter and I can do what I want) is easily my favorite electronic album of the year. As I rarely talk about electronic music that may seem like faint praise but only if you fail to understand that I listen to a lot of electronic music… I just usually turn it off after one song, bored and convinced that other critics are paid in gold bullion to pretend that whatever Netherlander of the Week is somehow not a pale imitation of Aphex Twin. As opposed to most the background-music-for-”creatives” I subject myself to, this fucker has SONGS. I love songs. Bold take, I know. It’s also not faint praise to call this album a sum of its parts, as the parts that make up the whole are some of the greatest musicians West Africa (and therefore the world) has produced. Equal parts hip hop sophistication and glowingly warm girl group sounds, Amazones Power sounds like Portishead signed to Chisa, settled in Bamako, and decided to channel the power and righteous rage of Control era Janet Jackson into a trip-hop album. The result is some glorious, pure avant-blues.
al Riggs & Lauren Francis Bile and Bone Bile and Bone is “in memory of John Prine.” While the record far less traditionalist or countrified than the recently passed Patron Saint of Sarcastic-Occasionally-Caustic-After-Too-Much-Day-Drinking-But-Essentially-Decent Aunts and Uncles, Riggs & Francis, even amongst the occasional woozy bleeps and drum patterns, share Prine’s deceptive quietude. The songs here are tuneful, patient reveries that dig deep in at their own pace. And then stay under the skin, the jerks. Like if Richard Ford had a kid who he ditched so they were raised by their mom who sold a little weed on the side, a series of their mom’s lovers who taught at the local state school, and the Mountain Goats catalog. Bile and Bone is like sitting on the dock with your favorite agonist; lovely, sharply digressive, and leaving you feeling sad and smart.
Deseos Primitivos s/t I don’t have much wildness to say about this, the music is wild enough. Simple and hooky punk rock music as good as simple and hooky punk rock music gets. Perfect for singing along and shaking your tiny fists at whatever outsized bastards are trying to grind you down at any given moment.
Throwing Muses Sun Racket There’s an alternate reality where Throwing Muses, the freak rock band Kristin Hersh formed in Rhode Island in 1981, are as influential on contemporary indie guitar bands as all the hellaciously dull grunge and shoegaze bands are. In this alternate reality, “Earth-Wicked Sick” if you will, the guitars zig when the listener expects a zag, melodies embrace perversity over dim lullaby, and lyrics are only diaristic when the singer has an inner life interesting enough to rate its exposure. While this world is, sadly, not the world we live in, we can take some comfort that, in 2020, Throwing Muses are putting out an album giving us a taste of what could have been. While Sun Racket isn’t as twisting and propulsively strange as a classic like 1988’s House Tornado, it’s still a simply tremendous rock album. Hersh’s voice is as cuttingly clear, and her lyrics as pungent, as they’ve ever been and the band sounds like they just heard distortion for the first time and they dig it. “College rock” was always a term as uselessly based on markets and radio as “indie,” but it’s wonderful to hear one of its earliest practitioners showing off their maintained adeptness of a music that was indebted to punk and psych rock while being beholden to neither the abrasiveness of the former or obscurantism of the latter. Sun Racket, like all of Throwing Muses’ catalog, is less “college rock” than music for the townies hanging outside the package store asking the college kids to buy them a six-pack.
Godcaster Longhaired Locusts When the label sent me this I told them that if Godcaster were from Bard College I'd hate them on a human level, but since they're from Philly I liked it. Well, I still kind of hated it. But I also kind of loved it. (translation: I dug the song songs and the no wave stuff and could seriously live without the funky funk town parts). I also immediately credited the band for at least not being boring, so I decided to stick with it. Having had time to sit with the album for a bit, I realize I was being a tad more obnoxious than absolutely necessary. On repeated listenings, the “funky” parts sound less “Tivoli House Party Band” and more an extension of the no wave moves I’ve grocked since I was a toddler on the Disco Not Disco compilation’s knee. In the same way that I prefer the janky funk of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me to the ponderous beauty of Disintegration, I’ll always opt for the wide-eyed embarrassing-ness of a band like Godcaster presuming to reference Stevie Wonder over the stultifyingly safe depressive drones of a thousand black-clad emotional goth-core bands (tho god knows I like a lot of them too). And when Godcaster isn’t indulging their prog-funk tendencies (and even occasionally when they do) the songs can soar in a real appealing Beefheart-ian manner (even when it’s Beefheart by way of Herb Alpert). And lest this all sound like less than a ringing endorsement, the reader is reminded that I don’t write about albums here that I don’t like and, if I seem less than enthused for any covered band’s ambitions, keep in mind that my favorite band is Sheer Terror and apply grains of salt to my dismay accordingly.
While we’re discussing no wave funk, please, if you’re able, donate to James Chance’s gofundme. I’m absolutely positive that Godcaster would want you to. https://www.gofundme.com/f/for-james-chance-and-judy-taylor
Cool Jerks England Eventually I am going to write my long promised/threatened magnum opus on “What Exactly Makes A Good Post-Punk Band (aka Total Control, So Much To Answer For aka Why Rakta are Way Better Than Fontaines D.C./Shame/Savages etc, You Rubes, You Utter Maroons).” In the meantime, I’ll keep wading through endless disaffected dude dross and continue to pincushion my Mark E. Smith dartboard. So the fact that I fucking LOVE Cool Jerks, a band of boys oozing disaffection out the wazoo, is either an indication of their genius or my complete aesthetic inconsistency. Reasonable people can pick their poison! Regardless of my fickle disposition, Cool Jerks have made a monstrous minor masterpiece of grievance, almost raunchy in its petulance. Maybe because they have more sonically in common with The Proletariat than Joy Division or maybe just because they seem like just the kind of lefty thugs you'd want backing you up in bar altercation with Proud Boys, Cool Jerks make a post-punk racket that transcends their ranting-over-driving-bass template. This shit, in all its bruising and bruised swagger, completely rules. Further proof that if you want your band to be sick, a good place to start is to be from Leeds. Cool Jerks make me want to give myself two black eyes. In a sexy way.
Ganser Just Look At That Sky I wrote about Ganser back in June but, since then, they’ve been engaging in a fair amount of online (and, to my mind, justified) activism/self-advocacy/potential bridge-burning by calling out various and sundry bands and music sites for the lack of diversity in their opening acts/coverage. I’ve seen so many strong artists bullied or bought into silence in regards to any number of the music industry’s various shittinesses. Not to mention the apolitical tradition in indie of Never Act Like You Want It, where the artists must act as though they are above such prosaic concerns as popularity or coverage, and which rewards the acts that have managers and agents to do the Wanting It for them while they perform indifference to their own careers. Ganser is vocal in both calling out bullshit and also clearly Wanting It. And I feel strongly that the hustle should be rewarded (as much as a mention in my newsletter can be considered a reward). Online gurus will tell you that competition has no place in art. Speaking strictly of “art,” the sacred act of creation etc., that’s true enough. But outside that lovely vacuum, especially in an industry with fewer and fewer resources and space for coverage, “art is not a competition” is the convenient lie told by those who already won. I’m not saying one should go about things with that in the forefront of one’s mind (make art with abandon!) but don’t let anyone tell you the playing field is level either. New bands, heed both me and Ganser and, for the love of god, SHAKE WHAT YOUR MAMA GAVE YOU. Of course, this would all be moot if Ganser sucked. Luckily for us all, they make an excellent, bracing and idiosyncratic, rock and roll; brimming with Pretenders-esque huskiness, sublimity, and aggression. Just Look at That Sky is a great album and if Ganser gets blacklisted, it won’t be because of the quality of the work. (Having said that, I fucking love that Ganser keeps hounding P4K to review them but it will also be a hell of a monkey’s paw if P4K acquiesces and then gives them, like, a 5.3. Sorry. Not trying to put that energy into the universe, but I hear the creak of those boney fingers curling wherever I go.) Anyway, buy Just Look At That Sky. Before Big Criticism either builds them a bandwagon or crushes them like grapes.
While your wallet is open, buy all the albums mentioned here (if you can). You’ll be glad you did. And, as always, thanks for reading!