! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Pretty Girls Make Graves/Murder City Devils musician Derek Fudesco sat down (literally) to pick at a little jig. Just brittle, minimalist little guitar lines, more in common with art-punk rock like Wire or even Robert Fripp than the robust traditionalism of country rock, but played on an acoustic guitar. More-electro/less-rock, Hint Hint's Pete Quirk came along to happily harmonize some trippy images through it, and the even weirder/more aggressive Cobra High gave the trio its last defining elemental base in percussionist Marty Lund.
The story really isn't that much more heavier than that. A couple of albums on Matador didn't freak the normals to the point of phenomenon, but it assured fans of the band's dense, gently dizzying, near-trance-folk-rock-plenty-more jams. I would recommend experiencing the band live before bringing up questions about authenticity (none of the bands listed above lusted after audio verisimilitude, so expecting a genuine hoe-down development from TCS is rather silly), and sharing the glow of their toe-tapping timberline-tapestries with the hushed throng who digs 'em instead.
Chicago's Smith Westerns gob up glamorous gum-pop, blowing big bubbles of glistening indie rock power. They've been out of school (Northside College Prep) for a couple dozen months, and sound like they want to take over the world with Dye It Blonde, the follow up to last year's self-titled debut album.
Cullen Omori leads his Teenage Fanclub-loving, glam era-adoring band through big splashy fountains of guitar + bass + drum fun, which demands to be listened to over and over again, mostly for how well played and produced it all is. Every song on here has incessantly gnawing hooks you love being ravaged by throughout the entire song ("Still New," "End Of The Night"), or slower-then faster cinematic wide-screens with drop-dead dangerous choruses you want to hear on the biggest sound system and the best drugs or drink available ("Smile," "All Die Young"). The responsibly ornate Bowie-esque keyboards tie it all together, with manicured playing to offset the bounce and blast of mashed-up Beatlesesque tempos. This is easily one of the most listenable and lovable albums of the year.
Campfire OK's debut album Strange Like We Are is a smorgasbord of tasty sounds, slowly-simmered songs, and crackling good production.
About a half dozen well-trained and eager-to-please musicians (known mysteriously only by the last names Van Der Krimp, Dagworth, Hannigan, Goodweather, Exworthy, and Appleby) juxtapose delicate picked and plonked, emotionally earnest slow jams with clanging hoe-down choruses. Its twelve tracks feature a whole lot of rocketing and crescendoing 88s (piano), everybody-join-in-percussion, and even a softly glowing free jazz lilt between the occasional barbed chorus.
I love and hate the bipolar skronk of Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death. I have ever since I bought their "Diamonds In The Mine" (a Leonard Cohen cover) 45 at Easy Street Records a few years ago. That first bitter taste of their smeared mediation between old world magic and new chaos, between folk and punk and noise and song and anti-song, can be found in their hasty approximation of a song based on moral outrage and spat out brusquely.
Years down Highway 99, after a smattering of releases and a sputtering of shows, on the new Don't Stop Believin' full-length Some Of Us Are In This Together, the dead hooker's bruises still haven't healed. Who can expect them to? Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death is as cold as they come. It's still-born squalor, between abyss and existence. The ten tracks on Some Us Are In This Together are as tribal-loyal, exclusive, paranoid-defensive, and elitist as the LP title sounds. Drummer Andrea Zollo (ex-Pretty Girls Make Graves) is at the center of the activity, pounding away like an embittered Moe Tucker pummeling on an abusive boss's balding cranium with a Walmart price gun, allowing Corey J. Brewer (guitars, Cold Lake) and Joel Cuplin (bass, Constant Lovers) to churn death-pasta into a bile casserole.
I love The Dirtbombs! Mick Collins leads one of the very best American bands ever, with superb playing from musicians like Zac Weedon (The Readies) and Ko Melina, with punk-soul super producer Jim Diamond once upon a time handling bass, and the rare use of two drummers at a time. Their Ultraglide In Black full-length was a perfect example of the dear darkness Detroit injects into the underground rock scene. It assimilated the devotion of black culture fandom into contemporary kick ass rock and roll. That was a decade ago, but in the meantime, truly excellent albums and life-changing shows have been listened to and witnessed by their rabid cult of followers from coast to coast and beyond.
That said, their new album Party Store, a devotion to Detroit's other realm of world-known sounds is noble in intention, but lacking in execution. It's a great idea to have the band play out live classic techno music from the region from a couple of decades back, an idea I wanted to hear and love with all my heart.