Featured Release Roundup: December 3, 2020
Dave & Lee: Singles Collection 12” (Reminder Records) I’ve been listening to this podcast called A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs. They’re a little over 100 episodes in, and the first 99 episodes covered the pre-Beatles era of pop and rock music. There was a heavy emphasis on Motown, girl groups, and Brill Building pop, and the podcast focuses on how each song came to be. Back then there was a heavy division of labor in the music industry, with songwriters, producers, performers all having distinct roles alongside other important people like engineers, label executives, arrangers, and countless other roles. While, on some level, these operations seem very complex and sophisticated, when you take a step back you see that everyone was just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something would stick (in the commercial sense). Our idea of pop music these days is tied up with this Dylan / Beatles idea of the auteur creating a grand artistic statement, but in that pre-Beatles era it seems like everyone was scrambling for some kind of hook—a dance craze, a vocal melody, a lyrical idea—that would resonate with the record buying public. This long preamble is to say that the music collected on this LP from Dave & Lee reminds me of that era. Dave & Lee are Australians Dave Burnett and Lee Cutelle, and the LP collects singles from four of their projects: Dave & Lee, Beaut, Branded, and British Jets. The Dave & Lee single came out in 1969 and the British Jets in 1980, so the music here covers a pretty wide stylistic swath. The Dave & Lee single is psychedelic pop with string arrangements a la the Zombies, while British Jets sound like riffy ’77 punk with a bootboy glam edge. While the window dressing differs from track to track, the big hooks make it hang together and sound like a playlist from a very eclectic but awesome radio station. Dave & Lee don’t sound like folks noodling around and experimenting in the studio; they sound like they were trying to write a hit. While I don’t think they hit commercial pay-dirt, they got close enough to get power pop collector nerds all hot and bothered, and now there’s this compilation, which is a treat for those of us who love a pop hook and a compilation full of hot tracks by unknown artists. If you fall into any of those categories, I encourage you to investigate this LP further.
Warm Red: Decades of Breakfast 12” (State Laughter) I began hearing friends in Atlanta chatter about Warm Red a year or two ago, so I caught them live when they played in Raleigh in September 2019, and I thought they were killer. They sound like a band who has listened to a lot of my favorite bands—particularly Wire and the Fall—but doesn’t treat them like gospel texts. Their charismatic frontperson also impressed me, and their vocals and lyrics struck me as something to pay attention to even in a live set, where vocalists often get crowded out by the other instruments. Warm Red released a single and a tape in 2019, but both felt like a tease… this band could clearly put together a great full-length, and Decades of Breakfast is it. Stylistically, I guess you’d call this “post-punk,” but that term has been emptied of all meaning at this point and thus requires further explanation. While I could see someone flipping out over this if they loved the Gen Pop LP that came out this fall, Warm Red is less introverted and feel like they’re aiming a little higher. It’s not far from what Parquet Courts or Protomartyr are doing (though there’s none of the latter’s dour quality), but isn’t as commercial as either of those… it’s too dense and too smart for that. I could imagine Warm Red signing to a big indie label, doing a follow-up record that’s more commercial, and getting super big, with Decades of Breakfast remaining the one the record nerds like (if they were smart enough to pick up the original pressing). Or maybe something else happens, but whether it’s the start of something even more incredible or just an isolated blip, Decades of Breakfast should be on your radar if you’re a fan of the aforementioned bands and styles.
Neutrals: Personal Computing 7” (Slumberland) We last heard from Neutrals when they released their excellent Rent / Your House EP earlier this year, and if you liked that one, add Personal Computing to your pile. These two tracks are in the same vein, but strike me as less punky than the previous EP. Both tracks give me strong Television Personalities vibes. Like the TVPs, Neutrals have sharp pop sensibilities, heavy accents, and a retro kitsch aesthetic. However, whereas the TVPs romanticized the 60s psychedelic era, Neutrals hearken back to the 80s UKDIY scene. The key is that, like the TVPs, it feels like Neutrals is carrying forward a tradition rather than copying. Why do I think that? Maybe just because I like their songs. There are two great ones on this record, and if you like this style of minimalist, smart, but ramshackle pop music, I think you’ll agree.
The Toms: 1979 Sessions 12” (Feel It) The Toms are well known among power-pop cognoscenti for their 1979 self-titled album, recorded in a single weekend by Tommy Marolda. The story goes that the Smithereens had booked studio time with Marolda but canceled last-minute, and he used that time to record these tracks with himself playing all the instruments. It’s amazing enough that Marolda recorded an entire album in one weekend, but it turns out he recorded much more than that and 1979 Sessions compiles that additional material. When I listen to the Toms, I can’t help but think of Big Star; like Big Star, the Toms sound like Paul McCartney’s songwriting sensibility filtered through the aesthetic of 70s album-oriented rock. While a track like “Love at First Sight” can lean more toward the Wings / ELO end of that spectrum, “Call the Surgeon, Pt. 2” and “Til the End of the Day” (not a Kinks cover BTW) are perfect Beatlesque pop confections. Fans of Big Star should check this out, but this will be right in your wheelhouse if you like that fuzzy space where new wave, power-pop, and the early 80s Paisley Underground scene meet.
LSG: S/T cassette (Open Palm Tapes) Demo tape from this new hardcore band out of Chicago. The style is fast and chaotic, taking inspiration from cult classics like the early Meat Puppets, Neos, and Negazione, and sounding not unlike Sorry State’s own Das Drip here and there, particularly when the guitarist hits the skinny strings hard. I’m a sucker for hardcore that’s fast as shit, but sidesteps the heaviness and macho vibes that frequently come along with the blazing tempos. The basement quality recording is great, with all the instruments coming through loud and clear despite the fuzziness and grit coating everything. LSG blasts out 7 songs in about 6 minutes and gets the fuck out. Right now my version of heaven would be no more plague and this band ripping it up in a Raleigh basement while the place explodes. Hopefully that happens one day, but in the meantime thank the lord for cassettes.
Motorhead: On Parole 12” (Parlophone) This Black Friday Record Store Day saw a nice reissue of Motorhead’s kinda-sorta first album, On Parole, and since we still have a few copies left, I thought I’d give you a quick spiel about it. In case you aren’t familiar, here’s the historical background. Lemmy formed Motorhead after he got kicked out of his previous band, Hawkwind, and Motorhead’s original lineup was a three-piece featuring Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox. The group started with a set featuring songs from their previous bands along with some choice covers, and they quickly signed to United Artists Records. As the recording for their debut album was being finished, drummer Lucas Fox got edged out of the band in favor of Phil Taylor, who overdubbed new drum tracks over most of Fox’s work. This is the version of the band captured on On Parole. So it’s Motorhead in this weird in-between state, before they had settled on their classic lineup and their trademark sound, when there was still a lot of Hawkwind and Pink Fairies in their sound, but the band was playing this material as hard and as fast as possible. If you like bands like Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies (I love them!), you’ll love this material. If you’re coming to this expecting Motorhead’s classic sound, though, it might disappoint you. For me, though, Motorhead’s sound and aesthetic was so airtight later on (particularly on their classic three-album run of Bomber, Overkill, and Ace of Spades) that it's hard to listen to those records with fresh ears. Consequently, I’m just as likely if not more to throw on On Parole rather than those classic records, even if it is, in many respects, a formative and inferior version of the band. So, my take is that if you’re a Motorhead die-hard, you’ll find this material interesting for its historical context. If you’re a fan of the tradition of heavy 70s rock that Motorhead grew out of, you’ll just flat-out love this album for what it is. This reissue is top-notch as well, with great sound, an entire LP of bonus tracks (mostly alternate takes), informative liner notes from drummer Lucas Fox, and artwork restored from the Liberty Records pressing of the album (On Parole doesn’t have a definitive album cover, and this version is the best of several not-great options).
A Culture of Killing: The Feast of Vultures 12” (Drunken Sailor) The Feast of Vultures is the second LP from this Italian band. Their first record had Crass Records-inspired cover art and a sound reminiscent of Zounds or the first Cure album, Three Imaginary Boys, with a strong melodic / pop element but a punky delivery. This time around the visual aesthetic has changed, and the music is a little different too, widening in scope and incorporating influences from a broader spectrum of 80s pop. Fans of the first LP will love “Promised World” and “Bridges,” but “The Toast of Despair” has a gloomier sound a la the Cure records after Three Imaginary Boys and the album-closer “Futuro?” has a New Romantic vibe. For me, though, the highlight of The Feast of Vultures is “All Will Be Fine,” a bright and poppy song that reminds me of Modern English’s “I’ll Melt with You” and is just as charming and repeatable. If you liked A Culture of Killing’s first album (and I know a lot of you did), I don’t see any reason not to take the journey’s next step.