We’re living in a pretty cool world where a band as singular and weird as Blues Control
can flourish, playing live all around the Northeast (or more) and dropping a new LP right
when you’ve worn out the grooves on their last one. And for as peculiar as their noise
may be, the beer-and-cigarettes crowd gets down just as hard as the chin-stroking
tastemaker set, quite a feat for a duo whose drummer runs on AA batteries. With a rep
like this, one might expect Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho to be reclusive, self-important,
capital-a Artists, but spend five minutes in a basement with these two and you’ll be
blushing for even having that thought – these are two of the sweetest, friendliest,
most down-to-earth individuals you’ll meet. If you don’t believe me, just read what
Lea has to say.
Would you say Blues Control is the coolest name of any band you’ve been in? Where’d it
I guess this question would be better suited for Russ, since I’ve only been in two bands,
this one and Watersports. (Russ was in a handful of bands previously.) I jammed in a
cover band in high school – we mainly just did Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” – and I
tried jamming with people I knew in college, but it never amounted to much other than
awkward hippie jams or bad hardcore songs. I had been classically trained since I was 5
(won my first international competition at 7, played at Carnegie Hall at 11 as part of a
young artists showcase) so I always thought that the problem was me – that I was too
rigidly trained or whatever to be able to play “real” music. It was pretty depressing
actually. It wasn’t until I started playing with Russ on a whim that I realized I had the
ability to play music I actually liked – it was a complete shock to me how well we worked
I don’t think about the names of our bands that much, they just fit our sense of humor.
Russ came up with both, but it’s one of those things where we’ll just be drunk and hanging
out and he’ll start blabbing funny stuff, and some of it will stick with me, and I’ll remember
it the next day. With Blues Control, it just became a long-running joke that we had a rock
band “on the side” while doing Watersports, but BC didn’t really exist until a long time after
we came up with the name.
Some people have told us that they think Blues Control is the most genius name of recent
time, while other people have said it’s the worst name they’ve ever heard. That’s cool with
me, can’t please everybody. I don’t think you can really appreciate the name unless you’re
into old bands like Blues Magoos, Blues Addicts, Blues Project, Blues Image, etc. There’s tons
of them from the 60s/70s. If you’re 18 and have only ever heard of Blues Traveler and Blues
Explosion, then maybe it doesn’t make as much sense, but I think that shit’s funny too.
What were the first Blues Control practices like?
We actually booked our first Blues Control show before the band existed. Brian Osborne (NY
musician/promoter) asked us to play a show at The Lucky Cat as Watersports, but we had
just played a bunch of local shows, so we didn’t really feel like playing another. Because
Brian is a nice guy, we didn’t want to say no, so Russ came up with the bright idea of asking
him if “our other band Blues Control” could play instead of Watersports. Since BC was just
a joke in my mind, I assumed Russ was joking, so I jokingly said “yeah, ask him.” This
decision was made really late at night just before I was about to pass out. All I know is,
when I woke up the next morning, Russ had stayed up late drinking a beer and putting up
a ridiculous Blues Control webpage. It involved a psychedelic rotating donut gif, a few
stock photos of “hard liquor,” and a red-eyed Buddy Guy wearing a Reebok beret. He also
put up an mp3 excerpt from a one-off jam session we did with our friend Talbot, but all
cut-up and slowed down, to make it seem like a real band. It was a pretty amusing thing
to wake up to. Russ sent the webpage link to Brian, and surprisingly, Brian said “ok,” so
we suddenly had to start writing a set. We assumed it would be a one-off thing, so over
3 or 4 afternoons, we just tried to come up with some things that would amuse our friends,
but also hopefully sound good. The show went pretty well, and somebody there asked
us to play another show a couple of weeks later, and then somebody else asked us to play
a third show, and then a friend of ours heard a recording of our first show and asked to
do a tape release of it (our first s/t tape), and things just snowballed from there. We
had no intention of playing more than one Blues Control show and certainly no intention
of doing any releases.
What made it become a “real” project, then? Was it a reaction from your friends, or your own
interpretation of what was possible with Blues Control?
Well even though we first had to get over the initial disbelief that we were going to play
the show, in my mind Blues Control became a “real” project the day we finished writing
music for that first show. What I mean is that even though we didn’t take ourselves that
seriously back then (and still don’t to this day), we always took the music seriously and
put a lot of time and consideration into it. The music itself was never a joke – we just
didn’t see ourselves as Trying to Start a Band. Still today, we think of it as an art project
first and foremost, but without any of the pretention or seriousness that the word “art”
can sometimes imply. Having said that, part of the art project is to play on the idea of
being in a band, so sometimes the lines get blurry between what’s real and what’s not.
A lot of our early concepts came from the fact that we were just two people trying to
sound like the bigger, heavier, more advanced rock band that we knew we would never be.
Once we started getting positive reactions, the only difference for us musically was that
we started to get a lot more opportunities to work on music, either for shows or records,
and therefore we were able to develop our initial ideas a lot further than we initially
expected we would. But the basic concepts and approach were already an inherent part
of the project by the time of our first show. A lot of that probably has to do with the
fact that we were already used to working together in Watersports, so collaborating on
a new project came easily.
But whether or not we are considered to be a “real” project by other people is a totally
different thing. It really just depends on who you’re talking to – sometimes when I’m
sitting at my dayjob, I start to wonder how real my music projects really are.
How does a Blues Control song come about? How much of it comes from improvisation and
jamming versus written parts?
It’s so hard to really know how it happens to be honest. Everything comes about
differently – one song will come together really fast, almost without warning while we’re
jamming/improvising during practice, but then another song will feel like we’re pulling teeth
to finish it – we’ll labor over it, together and separately, and try multiple versions of it in
live shows over the course of a year or something. There are a lot of songs we’ve written
that we’ve played live a few times and then discarded – no recording of it, no memory of
how to play it – just because we start to dislike it. We usually write everything together,
but we don’t always see eye-to-eye on things, so it can be a slow process sometimes.
Also, none of our songs are just full-on completely random improvising – there’s always a
planned structure to everything, even if that structure allows for some improvising in a
certain section, the main structure is always planned out.
I know Russ has done some vocals live, but do you foresee any Blues Control songs with full-on
vocals and lyrics?
Hah, it took me a while to figure out which vocals by Russ you were even talking about!
I’m assuming you mean the whistling and vocal stuff in “Glen Fandango” (which coincidentally
we are recording this weekend as part of our upcoming 12″ E.P. on Richie Records). I
actually have done vocals several times live and recorded in the past, but it generally
(thankfully) goes unnoticed because whenever we incorporate vocals in our songs, it’s
more about using the voice as another instrument to add texture to the whole song. We
aren’t opposed to the idea of full-on vocals and lyrics at all, but we would never do it
unless it sounded good, made total sense in the context of the music, and we had something
verbal to say. So far, that scenario hasn’t happened yet. We always feel like we have
more than enough things to say musically, and never anything to say lyrically. We do put
a lot of consideration into our song and album titles, but that’s a different thing. I can’t
say that we’ll never use real vocals and lyrics in the future, but I can say that we’ll never
add them just for the sake of having them. Who knows what will happen tho. It probably
just depends on what kind of music projects we end up working on in the future.
What are the advantages to being a couple as well as a band?
Well, we can’t speak for anyone else, but Russ and I feel that there are a lot of
dis-advantages to being a couple as well as a band! But a lot of people I talk to assume
it must be the best thing ever. And it is a really amazing experience at times, but it’s not
always the healthiest thing because the band dynamic is inseparable from the couple dynamic,
and vice versa, so one thing is always affecting the other, either positively or negatively.
Luckily, Russ and I were dating before we started playing music together, so the basis of
our relationship is the romantic one, not the band one.
The main thing is that we spend the majority of our days and nights together. The advantage
is that we don’t have to miss each other in order to do music stuff. We’ve toured with people
before who spent the whole tour talking on their cellphones, trying to stay in touch with loved
ones. I know that must be hard. The downside for us is that spending so much time with a
significant other can get intense and create tension where there wouldn’t normally be.
Another advantage is that Russ and I can completely relate musically and socially – since
we experience it all at the same time, there’s no explaining necessary, and we don’t have to
struggle to keep our band life outside of “the house.” But like I said, having no separation
between the band and the relationship can get claustrophobic. We make sure to give each
other alone time, and also prioritize some of our common interests that don’t involve the band.
Another nice thing is that there are a lot of ideas that come to us at random times, like when
we’re shopping at a drugstore, or making breakfast or something. It’s not like we think about
the band 24/7, but something random in real life will just trigger a musical idea occasionally,
and then it will translate into band practice.
Despite the occasional downsides, Russ and I are still extremely grateful to have such a
close creative relationship. The fun times are really amazing. It’s kind of a crazy lifestyle
but it suits us.
Based on that, do you think the life-span of Blues Control will end up much longer than most
bands? Will Blues Control be around as long as Russ and Lea are?
It’s hard to tell what the life-span of most bands is these days. Since it’s so easy to record
at home and put up a MySpace page in 10 minutes, it seems like there are a lot of people
who just start tons of bands every day without really having a reason to (other than
ego-stroking and trend-hopping) and they all come and go really fast. But then it also seems
like more and more older bands are reuniting (or just refuse to quit even after 20-some years),
even tho in most cases I would say that the bands don’t really have a reason to exist
anymore. But regardless of the negative side, I don’t think that lifespan is a direct indication
of anything – there are bands/artists who were active for a short period of time who I think
completely justified their existence (Harry Pussy, SSD, Nick Drake, Electric Eels, etc.), and
there are bands/artists who were active for a long period of time who I think were amazing
throughout most of their careers (and in a few cases are still amazing today) such as Neil
Young, Prince, Laraaji, etc. It’s not so much about duration of time as it is about knowing
when the project’s purpose/relevancy has run its course. I have no idea how exactly one
can tell when a creative entity should be laid to rest, but my hunch so far is that it may
just be a matter of following one’s creative instincts rather than ego, and avoiding any
decisions that involve desperation or careerism as a motivation. The only reason BC still
exists right now is because we still have things we want to express and we’ve been lucky
enough to be given a steady stream of opportunities to express them. I’m positive that
as long as Russ and I are in a relationship, we’ll always be working on some sort of creative
project together (musically or otherwise), but I’m also positive that regardless of how long
our relationship lasts, Blues Control as we know it right now will not last forever. I hope
the music stays relevant forever, but the mental image of the two of us trying to “rock
out” when we’re sixty-four is not appealing.
I’ve got a few finicky friends who can’t really get into any esoteric or strange music except for
Blues Control. What do you think it is about Blues Control that finds so many staunchly rock-based
music fans getting down with it?
That’s flattering to hear, but also surprising to me – it’s never that easy to tell who is or
isn’t able to get into our music. I feel like it goes both ways: On the one hand, I think our
music is less difficult than some indie-rock purists make it seem. Most of our influences are
“old,” which may make it sound foreign compared to more modern aesthetics, but it’s not
always necessarily “difficult.” I think there’s a huge difference between sounding “different”
and sounding “difficult.” On the other hand, we know that what we do is so different from the
prevailing modern indie rock aesthetic, that we are constantly surprised and grateful that
we have as many supporters as we do. But if you look at the larger picture, no matter how
many people get into what we do, we will always be an obscure band. It’s not like we’ll ever
sell that many records or make any money on touring. I’m not complaining by any means,
just putting it in perspective. Russ and I had absolutely no expectations regarding music at
all (even the way Watersports started was an accident too), so we just feel incredibly lucky
to be where we are (wherever that is) and we’re flattered that all the people, musicians, and
labels who we respect like our music. That in itself is what I am most grateful for. Beyond
that, everything else is just icing on the cake.
You did a Winter-themed 7″ single are there any other thematic releases on the horizon? Or
something I may have missed with your other records?
We don’t have any plans to do another release as explicitly theme-based as that 7-inch was.
But all of our releases in the past have had overarching “concepts” (for lack of a less-pretentious
sounding word) in some way or another – just in the sense that we were trying to create
records that were meant to be “albums”. We never just slapped some songs together and
called it a release. All of our early tape releases were recorded at live shows, which back
then were always written to be continuous sets of music, which is why those early tapes all
consist of pieces that purposely run into each other. We continued that method of writing
for Puff because we wanted the whole thing to be cohesive and virtually nonstop from beginning
to end. Then with the second s/t album, the goal was to break out of that and do something
with definite song breaks but with a psychedelic surreal party vibe that tied everything together.
That album is purposefully audacious and fucked up. Then with Local Flavor, we were thinking
in terms of “travel” themes, or movement in general. For me, the whole record from beginning
to end works as a cycle, like a 24-hour day – by the end you’re (hopefully) ready to do it again.
But I also hope the record evokes the general feeling of moving through life and places, and
that includes mundane things, like an alarm clock on a Monday morning, or more abstract things,
like the claustrophic drone you experience during an airplane ride. Outside of concepts tho,
we always try to write songs that can stand on their own. Obviously, the advantage of
instrumental music is that everyone has their own personal impression of what something
sounds like – it doesn’t have to convey a very specific idea, as long as the album has a
cohesive sensory meaning to someone, then I’m happy.
Do you feel a connection to any of your Siltbreeze, Holy Mountain or Woodsist label mates?
Is there any sort of camaraderie there?
Siltbreeze is the first and only label where we’ve felt any sort of camaraderie with other
labelmates. That largely is due to Tom Lax’s knack for surrounding himself with nice, funny,
awesome people. We’ve made so many great friends through him. But it’s not clique-ish.
If it were, I wouldn’t be into it. It really just feels like an accidental support group for
nice, open-minded weirdos. Holy Mountain and Woodsist were both great to work with,
but most of the contact we had with other bands on those labels had all to do with
other social connections, not really so much the label. Our experience with Holy Mountain
was generally less interactive than with the other labels, but only because JW lives on
the west coast. It’s harder to get to know someone when you’ve only met them a couple
of times over several years. We became good friends with Jeremy at Woodsist after
working with him on Puff – he lived 10 minutes away – but we don’t personally know any
of the bands on his label except for the ones we turned him on to (the Siltbreeze bands,
Kurt Vile, etc). Band camaraderie isn’t always the most important thing tho. We have
no regrets or complaints at this point about anything – we’re incredibly grateful to have
worked with all three labels.
Angeldust Angeldust 7″ (Heavy Psych)
Here’s a nasty black and white 7″ from Philadelphia’s Angeldust. Three short and ugly bursts of feedback, static and manic vocals on the a-side, very crunchy power-electronics served up just right. They wrench a lot of tension and release out of these spewed sounds but it’s a calculated affair, not some “press play and headbang” deal. These guys aren’t just turning on their amps and striking noise poses, there is some serious effort put forth to frame their mood. “The Darkside” is a live cut that fills the flip, very Intrinsic Action-esque in delivery and attitude. And just like Intrinsic Action had some memorable lines amidst the electronic fuckery, I can’t help but raise my fist every time Angeldust’s vocalist squeals “welcome yourself to the dark side”. This sort of noise can only truly exist on society’s fringe.
The Beets Don’t Fit In My Head 7″ (Captured Tracks)
I nearly bought the Beets’ debut LP based on that awesome Carlito cover art, but after a test-spin I couldn’t pull the trigger – the music just wasn’t my bag. I figured a 7″ would be more manageable for this sort of lo-fi acoustic stumble, and it is, especially since it comes chock full of that awesome colored-pencil artwork by Matt Volz (even the center stickers are packed with it). Both songs utilize a really simple, plodding jangle that is probably influenced by some of those Nuggets comps but ends up sounding like the Versatile Newts, thanks to their earnest-yet-amateurish strumming. Something about staring at these goofy cartoons while I listen to these songs is an incredibly satisfying multimedia experience. I’m sure I still couldn’t hang for an LP of this stuff, the hooks are just too few and far between, but as for a bright and attractive 7″ single that plays under four minutes, count me in.
Blues Control Local Flavor LP (Siltbreeze)
The Controllers are back in 2009 with some sweet n’ tasty Local Flavor, branching out a bit from their first two records but still maintaining that B.C. essence that drove us all wild in the first place. It kicks off with “Good Morning”, and it’s a real wakeup call, based around the fastest drum track Blues Control have ever touched, a boogie freak train that attracts the freak train conductor himself, Kurt Vile, to jam with the gang (on trumpet, turns out he didn’t dump it after all). An unexpected speed sesh that rocks in the truest sense of the word. The other tracks are prime Blues Control, piano arpeggios locked in with various guitars and drones. It’s like they take any and all balearic / new-age sounds they can find and carefully reconfigure the wiring into something krauty, smooth and cool. Epic ender “On Through The Night” is a real comfortable set of loopy drones that’s met with a chopped-and-screwed funk beat at the eight-minute mark, coasting home to the finish line in style. I truly appreciate that Blues Control has stuck with the “one full-length at a time” production plan, rather than succumb to the leaky-faucet release schedule of many of their contemporaries, as there is nary an unworthy moment within Local Flavor.
Cooly G Narst / Love Dub 12″ (Hyperdub)
The wildly-flattering Wire feature and Hyperdub affiliation had me stoked to check out Cooly G, specifically on this, her first piece of vinyl. If you’re going to do the same, please skip “Narst”, as it’s a disappointing instrumental – pretty weak selection of sounds that comes across like an amateurish attempt at dancehall, far from the quality I was expecting. It’s wimpy, and even worse, boring; kind of an odd choice for a first impression. The two versions of “Love Dub” on the b-side fare much better. It’s got a cool downtempo vibe, tighter percussion and Cooly’s gorgeous vocal. Only two phrases are repeated, but her voice is so lush that she could unfold an entire story with a single moan. Very slick and melancholy, the way Hyperdub likes it. I will definitely check out one of her mixes, if I can ever get her MySpace page to finish loading… Cooly G has a great sense of spacing with her music, not her web layouts.
Free Choice / Mental Powers split 7″ (Fifth Column)
Free Choice is Jarod Zlatic, who you know better as the hairy half of Fabulous Diamonds. Here he gets real deep into his synths, roping up a circular keyboard melody with some sweeping chords that eventually just ends. Very pleasant sounds, but not without the subtle quirk that could easily fit Free Choice in between guitar bands on some early Rough Trade compilation. I wonder if we’ll get some of this complex key-work on the next Fabulous Diamonds release or if this is just a way for Zlatic to blow off some steam. Mental Powers put together a very Paw Tracks-styled acoustic jam on their side, like something off Campfire Songs while the boys were waiting for Panda Bear to come back with more firewood. You know, bongos, strummed guitars, probably some incense too. Split 7″s are practically an obsolete format at this point, but one could do much worse than to indulge these two Australian groups from the artier side of the underground.
FRKSE Remove LP (Divergent Series)
Here’s a difficult-to-decipher LP from some guy(s) out of Jamaica Plain, MA. Real hermetic, handmade design that fits the slow-moving instrumentals contained within, content with providing information only to those who search it out. One idea flows into the next, just cruising in neutral until it’s time to stop. Calls to mind if Black Mayonnaise were commissioned to write a beat for those Clouddead guys to rap over or something. A lo-fi drone fighting with a crawling funk. It’s mastered real quiet, so that the surface fuzz that sometimes comes with a clear vinyl pressing such as this ends up mixing in with the actual music. None of this seems particularly fleshed out; I almost get the impression that it would work better as a DJ tool for some warehouse improv group than a record you sit in your living room and listen to. There are definitely more questions than answers here, which is probably how FRKSE intended it.
Guitars White Night White Night LP (GTRS)
White Night White Night starts off like the Beavis and Butthead theme, which instantly caught my attention. I really dug that little guitar lick, it’s almost a shame that “I Can’t Wait” picks up speed and turns into an actual song. Pretty much all of this album provides similarly warm memories, thanks to the simple strumming, occasional rocking and mellow vibing. It’s like the musical equivalent of Miller Lite – some people swear by it, some people don’t mind it, the rest drink it anyway. Nothing really jumps off the record here, just a satisfactory porch listen that won’t disrupt any party, no matter how much it’s already wound down. The insert’s a little salty, a cut-and-paste of a nasty email the band received that I guess I’m supposed to laugh at. Doesn’t really fit with their musicality, and leads me to believe that Guitars are one of those bands that has some 2:00 PM SXSW showcase that no one attends and they make a bunch of snide, bitter comments between songs.
Hot Guts Hot Guts 7″ (Badmaster)
“The Ballad of Jon Simon” sounded just like No Age, until the vocals kicked in and I realized this is a 33 rpm record. Upon corrected speed, it sounds like No Age covering Joy Division. Go figure! It’s a real cool song and probably my favorite of the three directions Hot Guts takes on their debut single – they even work a “doo-doo, do-do” chorus into something I’d sing along with. The second cut owes more to Liars or Health than anyone else, kind of a loose bashing of instruments and effects that sufficiently meets its goals. The flip is owned exclusively by “Did You Not Go to the Dance Alone”, starting with more of that Liars menace, then augmented with a Nick Cave desert wind and finally is turned into a more traditional rock tune. Based on the somewhat divergent sounds that came out of this single, I’d imagine these guys are still figuring each other out; it’ll be interesting to see where they decide to go.
Moritz Von Oswald Trio Vertical Ascent 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
I saw an awesome picture of Sasu Ripatti (Vladislav Delay, Luomo, etc.) playing a ridiculous Tommy Lee drumkit as part of the new Moritz Von Oswald Trio a few months ago, forgot about it, and was pleasantly reminded when I found out that they went and recorded an album of this stuff! Vertical Ascent is the name, and it’s comprised of four beautifully unfolding “patterns”, their term for the focused, rhythmic improv pieces they share with us here. This meeting of two minimal techno juggernauts (and a third dude, also involved with Rhythm & Sound) is an incredibly chill one, like all of these guys are just so confident and cool that none of them feel the need to flex their muscles, neither at each other nor the listener. Three of the tracks focus heavily on Ripatti’s perpetual percussion, all expertly played, while Von Oswald tweaks and twists the sounds to his liking. Definitely sounds like a live group jamming out, somewhere between that Circle album with Verde or Move D and Benjamin Brunn’s Songs From The Beehive. One thing I’d like to stress is just how universally enjoyable Vertical Ascent is, as it’s not often that a loosely-improvised electroacoustic album will satisfy people who aren’t already deep into loosely-improvised electroacoustic music. Vertical Ascent is most definitely the exception here, as almost all of the sounds here are difficult to identify yet easy to enjoy.
My Mind Path Masher 7″ (Badmaster)
Lots of songs on this debut 7″ by Philadelphia’s My Mind, a nice slice of whiplashy pop-punk. I bet these guys dug really hard on Blood Visions, as they deal in a similar strain of top-speed punk hooks, cramming at least two minutes of music in every 45 second cut. They’re really good at it though, and the crisp recording gives Path Masher the justice it deserves. Lots of time changes and unexpected turns, to the point where I almost have difficulty determining where one song ends and the next begins, but My Mind really own their ADD. Some tracks remind me of Sicko, which is probably not considered flattery by most people, but I think it sounds great. I looked for pictures of these guys on the internet and couldn’t find any, but I am certain there is at least one guy repeatedly pushing thick-rimmed glasses up his sweaty nose when they play live.
Obliteration This Is Tomorrow 7″ (NITA / Disposable)
Second single of ripping, classic hardcore from some Painkiller Records guys and their friends. It’s hard to find a group of dudes more capable of producing raw, pummeling hardcore than them, and that’s exactly what they do here. The Propaganda Records vibe found on the first Obliteration 7″ is still here, as is the vocal delay and high-speed momentum; the only major difference I noticed here is the willingness to let some rock moves (read: soloing) shine through. This Is Tomorrow is so patently authentic, from the Skeletor and bombs-of-war artwork to lyrics of winged beasts ripping people apart, that it’s startling. In my mind, a Civil War re-enactor who wears an old-timey hat and carries around a paper-mache musket is pretty lame, but the psychos who live and breathe it and wash their coat buttons in urine and eat rotten fruit because that’s exactly how the original soldiers did it are pretty awesome. Obliteration are like the hardcore equivalent of that.
The Pheromoans Revamper 7″ (Convulsive)
The Pheromoans are one of the most authentic modern-day UK DIY groups, if just for the fact that they are actually UK born and raised. Three songs on this single, the first two full of pep in a classic Fall or contemporary Country Teasers way, understated guitar-scramble with a talking singer whose voice houses the perfect amount of disinterest. B-side “The Man Who Wolf Whistled” is pure Graham Lambkin, as the rambling voice over the telephone is totally unaware that some weird rock band is rehearsing down the hall. I know the Pheromoans have a newer single out and an LP on the way, and I for one can’t wait to follow along. I hope they remain as weird and unbashful as they are on Revamper.
Planetary Assault Systems Temporary Suspension 2xLP (Ostgut Ton)
Been meaning to pick up one of these cool-looking Ostgut Ton records, if only because I dig the clean and dark aesthetic and consistent font choice and figured the connection to the Berghain club would yield something palatable. I lucked out with Temporary Suspension, Luke Slater’s first album in years as Planetary Assault Systems. This is some banging, wide-open techno music that speaks directly to the dancefloor. Sure, the sounds contained within have all been heard before, and it’s not like this album is going to open up minds or break barriers, but it’s that refusal to do anything besides smash some hard-edged techno in my face that makes this such a satisfying listen. The track I keep coming back to most is “Whoodoo”, anchored by some massive drum breaks and a bleak, post-industrial vibe that fit together perfectly uncluttered. The energy is palpable and just keeps rising through its six minutes. It’s impossible to sit still with “Whoodoo” playing at a low volume while paying bills; I can only imagine the toplessness that would occur inside Berghain’s walls. “Attack Of the Mutant Camels” is begging for a music video with that title, and it’s just as pounding and intense. Really a phenomenal album of acid techno that reminds me that it’s not how obscure and weird your sounds are, it’s what you are able to do with them.
Jay Reatard Watch Me Fall LP (Matador)
For an addicted vinyl consumer like myself, it’s unlikely but true that Watch Me Fall is the first time I really sat down with a Jay Reatard recording. I understand this is the garage-punk equivalent of “I don’t even own a TV!”, but for whatever reason (okay, mainly because of that dopey name) I never checked out Reatard beyond a few of his side projects (Angry Angles, Final Solutions, both cool) and a couple second-hand Blood Visions spins. I know that the cult of Jay Reatard has reached the breaking point where all his earliest fans now hate him, and vice versa, and I’m glad I’m not wrapped up in any of that pointless tail-chasing myself, as Watch Me Fall is a superb guitar-pop record. I really can’t believe how much I am digging it. Twelve songs, out of which at least three cuts have already entered my subconscious (make that four by the time this review prints). I wasn’t expecting the exaggerated Bowie moves, acoustic guitar layering and assumed British accent, but the whole thing works marvelously, with enough going on to keep me interested and hooks that don’t let go. The drummer is on fire, really the band as a whole is just so tight and the recording is perfectly crisp. Wish I could get a copy of the “I’m Watching You” acapella, I can’t get those hilariously awesome vocals out of my head.
Roman Soldiers Warmer / Yuppie Fires 7″ (Captured Tracks)
Roman Soldiers is Gary War and Mike Sniper (Mr. Blank Dog for the one person interested enough to care but clueless enough to not already know) and together they present a sound not unlike Blank Dogs and Gary War records simultaneously playing. The synth quotient is upped from both of their projects, with all sorts of sci-fi chirps and synthetic gurgles pushing each other around a few hastily-fashioned guitars and vocals. I count at least thirteen different sounds between these two tracks, each of which seems to be fighting against the formation of a song. It’s not bad, but at the same time, “Warmer” and “Yuppie Fires” (both pretty Doggystyled titles) seem to highlight the pomp and fluff that both Blank Dogs and Gary War have sometimes employed to mask a lack of musical ideas. Neither of their strongest moments are to be found here, but who was really expecting that anyway? Roman Soldiers is no dirty trick; if you buy this record based on the band members, you get exactly what you bargained for.
Six Finger Satellite Half Control LP (Load)
Half Control is also half-new, in that these are recordings from 2001 that have only now seen the light of day. That might explain why these songs sound very much early aughts, that transitional period before our cell phones learned to communicate with our cars and keep us company. No weird interludes or noise tracks, just eight tracks of vintage Six Finger Satellite, maybe this time a little heavier and with an added nasty bite to their ever-swirling rock rhythms and knock-out synths (not that I’d expect less when there’s at least one Landed guy in the mix). I am quickly reminded of records like Trans Am’s The Red Line and Microwaves’ System 2, hard-edged post-hardcore played by guys too smart for their own good. Half Control is a worthy addition to Six Finger’s canon, although I wish it had entered my life back when it was fresh out the oven. I know these guys are life-long freaks and I am more interested to know what they are doing today.
Teenage Cool Kids Foreign Lands LP (Protagonist Music)
Remember when the teenage cool kids were rich preppies, uncontrollable latch-key kids or arrogant jocks? Apparently nowadays they are friendly, affable indie rockers, and in the case of Foreign Lands, that’s fine with me. The cover features a bunch of cartoon kids in masks dancing around a campfire, very 90’s Nicktoon-esque, and it fits the music nicely. Reminds me of a rougher, less mature Shins, which is to say they have crafted some interesting or at least non-traditional hooks and perform them with the same attitude and inner-joy one has while playing with a cat. The singer has a non-whiny nasal tone that sometimes honks like the guy from Lovesick, whose records I should pull out more often. Uplifting stuff, like these guys really took that movie “Pay It Forward” to heart.
Kurt Vile Fall Demons 7″ (Skulltones)
Fall Demons couldn’t arrive fast enough for me, as the premise of five new KV tracks will cause any half-smart rock enthusiast to bite his or her nails a little more than usual. This one was kind of hard to find, selling out quickly in local shops, and the online distros lucky enough to get some made them available for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. It’s his most limited record yet, and while I’d love to inform the have-nots that Fall Demons is a throwaway, superfluous release… Mr. Vile instead went and did up five top-shelf tunes to actually justify spending eBay dollars (perhaps in the dozens) on a limited 7″ single. (This one doesn’t feature a picture of Kurt milling about some abandoned Philadelphia lot though, what gives?) Opener “Subliminal Message” is like a “Good Lookin’ Out” remix, without the drums or riffs, just some earthy, loopy drone with his trademark voice beaming bright. I love when he puts down his acoustic and fires up his keyboards, and he does that a lot on here, both with “”Crystal Crowns” and “Society In A Riff”. Only a minute per cut but they both feel so nice. “Summer Demons” is acoustic Kurt versus a Mantronix beat and it sounds great. Normally a guy about to release his big-indie debut wouldn’t be so willing to share five exclusive ideas with a hobby label, but Kurt is clearly flush with great ideas and down to share them.
XYX Momento Acido Contemporaneo 7″ (Skulltones)
XYX’s debut 45 was a scorching, unique blast of bass-driven punk, a real character in last year’s sea of average joes. That single offered three short and scruffy punk blasts and a long psychedelic trip, and the tracks on Momento Acido Contemporaneo seem to combine those two attacks with the skill of a band anticipating their second tour, not their second band practice (as may’ve been the case with their debut). The title track comes with a more assured playing style, but starts to drag after a couple minutes, kinda reminding me of Black Cat #13 or something else that would’ve found its way onto GSL or Three.One.G in 2002. The brevity shown on their other tracks would’ve been nice here. The two b-side cuts clock in at three minutes total, but I worry that the drummer has gotten too good or something, overplaying his kit when subtlety could be most effective. Don’t get me wrong, these songs are still really cool, it’s just that the off-the-cuff quality that drew me to XYX seems to have faded here, like getting together and actually writing songs with different changes and parts dissipated their original flavor. It’s hard to stand in the shadow of such a wildly awesome debut sometimes.