The Forty Nineteens from Temecula, California, create a bathing suitable (though cut off blue jeans) backdrop for a straight-up, rocked-about, garage-door-up chill out. Spin It is an album at the heart of maximizing summertime, utilizing nighttime, taking all bets before ring time. They’ve made a classic-sounding album: a whiskey sour made with The Makers and Copper Blue Sugar. Like a classic album offering, they even cover a song, The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.”
What strikes me is that Spin It is so ridiculously similar to one of my favorite albums, the self-titled Durocs record. The Durocs in 1979 covered Gene Pitney’s “It Hurts To Be In Love” on their consummately sequenced, rock/soul throwback. Both bands are from California. The Durocs’ hit “Lie To Me” : The 4019s’ hit (this reviewer’s pick) “Can’t Let You Go” :: squeezing oranges : making orange juice. There is no second Durocs album, but there is a first Forty Nineteens album, which I went feverishly searching for as soon as I heard Spin It.
Three sentences on a true ache: Jenny’s at her figure drawing class, but she wants to be at the smoked-out, punk-band-stickered, freshly bleached, checkpoint-tiled Toilet Club. The Forty Nineteens are playing with Old 97’s and The Delta 72. There are going to be a lot of good numbers.
Chris Pope spits his stories in your ear, laughs at you – a creep at the wet willie weary. Your eyes refocus. “Are you ten years old?” On his third EP, High Times, with his group Blonde Summer, he continues to lay down his prize prose in a distinct voice. This is what has set indie-rock apart since it was a thing. We know Lou Barlow’s lovelorn; we know Ted Leo’s aware. We want to be a part of these tales and feel that there’s a leader.
Blonde Summer jumps out of the storybook page so abruptly they take the fish bowl and doily down, too. I remember Scott Yoder bruised my brain on The Pharmacy’s “Choose Yr. Own Adventure.” I remember Ray Weiss rearranged my reason on Le Rug’s “Sex Reduction Flower.” I think Chris Pope has a similar spark for matching words with music and for taking the listener into his world without having to say “Pay attention,” “Look,” or “Listen.”
It’s like a day’s worth of bad advice bundled up, tucked, and waxed into a single Zuma Beach morning. The water is frigid and frightening. It takes the breath right out of you. It’s just a doorless Jeep ride home. You sit under covers for two hours, shivering… making no sudden movements. It’s a recovery. It’s like no cop is going to suspect the food delivery man who’s also a drug dealer. So, the plastic-bag cradled meal looks innocuous, and costs $10 more. But, it’s in there. Let’s get baked and shovel Lo Mein.
Three sentences on true ache: Jenny’s all caught up at her volunteer deal, covering turkey hands on a December bulletin board, when she really wants to be – ear buds in – subwaying home. She clicks on the Pre-X-Mas MegaMix, all warm songs: Pavement’s “Summer Babe,” Blonde Summer’s “Jim,” The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up,” The Apples In Stereo’s “Sun Is Out,” and on and on…. The guide lights careen by, accenting the spaces between on a trip usually only highlighted by the stop announcements.
Wreaths are Asbury Park, New Jersey’s new drone-dance space-out shoe-gaze outer-space chill-pill. These madman drummers have a sense of the history of this type of music: The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Warlocks. The band has a great grasp of how to deliver a song without succumbing to the urge to drown… in pools of big delayed guitars and tremolo bar dives. Their self-titled album is solid… no bummers. Feeling kind of older, I don’t want a rehash of records I’ve already put away. I want to have a crush on a band. I want to turn up the band.
The band loops and disintegrates through brimstone baritone – guitars and keys rushing and pushing. They build and build and let the calliope crash to the ground. Feather-headed gargoyles painted neon orange, bright bent whistles, and ornate cylindrical steel shrouds are strewn. No one picks up a single piece. The Designing Women of Asbury Park scoff and get back to it, struggling to muster just what flare will flip another non-ocean-facing condo, while the band members are watching the young girls dance.
At points conjuring Jim Morrison, Wreaths chant, “I Love Me, Dark Wizard.” At other points, Wreaths are just humming a lunar tune. They mid-song break… with fuzz guitar sludge, sloughing off to grow stronger roots. It can get dark with this type of music. The music on Wreaths is more hopeful. This band is currently sold out of their discs. Something is happening here.
Three sentences on true ache: She left the house this morning in pitch dark – Wreaths stuck on repeat… stuck in her iPod-docking wave machine… stuck in her head. Jenny has a brief lunch break… the kind one spends just rubbing temples. Powerhouse sandwich in mouth, she throws open the double doors, and she is blinded by the light.–Gary Lee Barrett
1. “Into the River” – The Quick and the Dead. This exclusive download toes the line between power-pop and Old ’97s alt-country and includes a killer harmonica solo. Back to the Future Part Three was rad.*
2. “Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware. I am in a roadtrip movie. I am in an ’80s convertible. Johnny Delaware is riding on the back of the car and playing guitar, somehow standing upright at 60 mph. My feathered hair is flying in the wind. I feel like yelling “FREEDOM” into the air in a Breakfast Club sort of way, not a William Wallace sort of way. Did Molly Ringwald listen to Bruce Springsteen? She would have loved Johnny Delaware.
3. “Dybbuk” – Remedies. I am transported to a kids’ movie in the ’80s, where I am wandering through an enchanted cave. Something awesome or maybe terrible is about to happen. My hair is still feathered. My jean jacket is on. The viewers are holding their breath. Let’s do this.
4. “Lost Track of Time” – MTNS. The Antlers, How to Dress Well, Vondelpark, and MTNS would be an absolutely incredible soundtrack to a 16 Candles-type movie. You know it’s true.
5. “Electricity” -FMLYBND. It’s like M83, The Rapture, and The Temper Trap collaborated on an ’80s club jam. SET PHASERS TO STUN.
6. “The Day We Both Died” – Vial of Sound. I’m always afraid to namecheck Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem at the same time but screw it SET PHASERS TO KILL
7. “Told You Twice” – Milo’s Planes. Because sometimes you just need a thrashy, scream-it-out tune to blast in your car.
*I’m aware that BTTF3 came out in 1990, but let’s be real. 1990 was still the ’80s.
Bells and Hunters wastes no time announcing that they are something different. By 1:25 into the opener (which is also the title track) of Weddings and Funerals, the band has given listeners a spacey intro; a garagey, overdriven guitar riff; rapid-fire ’90s-style female speak-sing; a trumpet line; some accentuated guitar arpeggiation; and a pop-punk- inflected breakdown. This is not what you normally listen to, unless there are some No Doubt B-sides that sound like this in your catalog. This weird-but-cool garage-rock takes an even weirder turn in the next track: “73” is a slow-paced alt-country tune whose only connection to the previous tune is the particular style of guitar picking. (They even bring in a male vocalist halfway through, mixing it up more.) Bells and Hunters are not afraid to experiment.
Those two tunes show good extremes of Bells and Hunters’ sound, as the rest of the album sees the band combining those two sounds liberally. (They do hit the distortion pedal at the end of “73,” but it still sounds like Old 97s-style alt-country instead of garage-rock.) “Bird” starts off with dainty sounds and jaunty rhythms–like an Andrew Bird piece–but incorporates some majorly Weezer-esque guitar stomp by the end of the tune. Highlight track “Mercury” starts off with some ominous guitar picking and tom beating before bringing in a spaghetti western trumpet line, fusing the intensity that they bring with their garage-rock to a quieter arrangement. (Never fear, though: they let the drums go nuts on the cymbals, dirtying up the sound almost as much as the fuzzbox would.) “Planes” is basically a finger-picked folk song blown out by a garage-rock band. It sounds awesome, if a bit foreign to ears unaccustomed to it.
Bells and Hunters’ sound is an exciting and interesting one, exploring spaces between genres. I’ve mentioned Steven Hyden’s dictum about the future of music before (“a future where all music sounds like everything at once“), and it seems that Bells and Hunters are ready for that bold future. This is a creative, inventive, interesting take on two different genres. If you’re up for something unusual, check out Weddings and Funerals.
The Old 97s are a touchstone for Time Travels‘ sound as well. Where Bells and Hunters reminded me of Rhett Miller and Co.’s louder bits, Time Travels reminds me of the band’s softer side. Secret EP puts the emotive side of alt-country on display, with opener “It is.” leaning heavily on a remorseful, emotive vocal performance. Frank McGinnis has the soaring tenor pipes for the adult alternative genre, and the sweeping crescendoes of “It is.” do swing toward the Matt Nathanson/Goo Goo Dolls/Ben Rector style. But instead of getting mushy and cloying in their more upbeat stuff (like Matt Nathanson has a tendency to do), Time Travels takes after Ben Rector by sticking to a more upbeat, staccato, rock-influenced style in the title track.
The rest of the five-song EP leans closer to the emotive power-pop of the opener, with admirable vocal turns in “The Eye” and “Wraith” (check that falsetto!). “Wraith” also has some nice bass work, which I particularly like. Time Travels have two very different directions they can head from the Secret EP, so it will be interesting to see if they veer off on a path or keeping splitting the distance. Until further information is available, I’ll enjoy the upbeat “Secret” and lullaby-esque “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”
In all my reading, I haven’t yet come across a book making a connection between punk and alt-country. Perhaps I’m overlooking a book, or perhaps I should get to work: The two seem to overlap in musicians more often than I would expect. Barring a long and drawn-out intro, I’ll just say this: the tunes of PJ Bond‘s Ten Degrees and the Floor EP all started off their lives at the heavily punk Alternative Press’s website as streams. Chuck Daley at Beartrap PR sent them over to me, and he’s a punk lifer.
And the tracks have, uh, nothing to do with punk. Two of the tunes are acoustic and voice pieces, while the third is an Old 97s-style mid-tempo rocker. The first two have pedal steel in the arrangement. These are alt-country songs that seem to come out of the punk world, and this is not the first time I’ve encountered this.
But enough of that. PJ Bond is great at writing songs, and so you should listen to them. He sings from a weary soul on “I’m in a Bad Way” and “Reasons,” but his sturdy strum patterns and grounded acoustic guitar tone contrast with the weeping pedal steel and keep these songs from getting woozy or meandering. (See also: Joe Pug, Rocky Votolato.) Bond has a firm vision of where these songs are going, and they go there. Both of the tunes have memorable vocal melodies as anchors; the latter has a noteworthy lyrical turn.
“Nevermind,” the full-band tune, frames Bond’s voice even better, augmenting it with harmonies. It’s a solid tune; I prefer the first two songs, but this one is no bad mark on his record.
I like country music, and I’m glad that the number of indie-rockers in country bands (which, really, is what an alt-country band is) is growing. In addition to the obligatories (Wilco, Jayhawks, Old 97s; you can’t really say the phrase alt-country without mentioning them), the late Drag the River (and the rest of Suburban Home Records’ artists), Clem Snide, 500 Miles to Memphis, and now Any Day Parade have crossed my path and made it okay for me to say “I like country music.”
Yes, Any Day Parade is undeniably country. They have the walking bass, the distinctly country guitar tone, and the shuffling drums. There’s harmonies galore: males harmonizing male leads, females harmonizing male leads, males harmonizing female leads, and duets where both are equally important. In fact, if this weren’t all delivered with sneer, grit and adrenaline, this album would be a straight-up country record.
But the sneer, grit and adrenaline take what could be a flat country palate and transform it. It’s not even a heavy edge of adrenaline (not like 500 Miles to Memphis’ liberal application of the double pedal), sneer (Clem Snide has them way beat), or grit (there’s plenty of bands that have them covered on the gritty front), but their combination is just the right mix. It’s the desperation in the female lead’s voice in “Where We Fall” and “Water Bucket”; it’s the ominous overtones to “Water Bucket.” It’s the almost-too-honest lyrics of “A Couple Hours.” It’s all these little moments and parts that take Any Day Parade from just your average country band to one that you want to blast with your windows down on a lonely highway.
So, it’s hard to explain exactly why Where We Fall EP is so good. It just is. There’s nothing innovative here; they’re just great songwriters and passionate performers. This is good music, without any gimmicks. It’s worth your time, if you’re the least bit interested in country (or expanding your musical tastes).
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.