Staff Picks: February 20, 2020

Staff Picks: Daniel

Cianide: Unhumanized 12” (Hell’s Headbangers)

Chicago death metal band Cianide has been around since at least 1990, but I’ve only been listening to them for about a year. How I found them was kind of dumb. I was listening to that latest Innumerable Forms LP quite a lot, and in the wake of that I googled “slow death metal.” Boy, did I hit the jackpot when I came across their 1994 album A Descent into Hell! A Descent into Hell is a lumbering, bottom-heavy beast with lengthy songs that make room for loose, wandering guitar leads that can sound like some of Greg Ginn’s solos in later Black Flag, and when I discovered it that's all I could listen to for several weeks.

I’ve yet to check out the records after A Descent into Hell, but when their new EP on Hells Headbangers came in, I had to investigate. It turns out not much has changed since 1994, and that’s a great thing. The five tracks (which benefit from the loud and heavy 45rpm vinyl cut) are more concise, a little faster, and less prone to those lengthy, wandering solos, but they’re heavy as fuck and rhythmically punishing. I find it impossible not to headbang to this record. While so many death metal bands throw in bells and whistles like complex song structures, psychedelic elements, and atmospheric passages, Unhumanized is streamlined brutality, a relentlessly pulsing IV drip of heaviness.

Staff Picks: Jeff

Riki: S/T 12” (Dais)

It’s true that my usual MO is to write about whatever hardcorepunkmetal record I think is most raging and killer each week. Still, I can’t help but have a soft spot for the drum machine-laden sounds of synth pop and darkwave. I know, crazy right? In regards to scratching that itch, I’ve been listening to this new Riki LP a ton. I remember hearing the 3-song EP “Hot City” a while back. I thought it was cool, the first track gave me a Skeletal Family vibe or something, but then I kinda forgot about it. Then this new LP comes out… and while it’s not in an entirely different stratosphere sonically than Hot City, I feel like it’s a huge evolution, particularly in the production. I feel like there’s a fully realized vision here. With the previous output, I think I’ve gathered that Riki (or Niff?) started this project with a DIY or punk-adjacent aesthetic and intent. But I gotta say, this new, eponymous full-length kinda just feels like a straight-up pop record. Not saying that’s a bad thing. There’s still undercurrents of “darkness”, but as much as I hear darkwave, I also hear like… Depeche Mode. I find myself captivated where the songs weave between moments of pure pop catchiness, the unsettling feeling of a creepy dungeon, sex, romance -- and it all seems very genuine and passionate. Will this record blow up? No clue, but I wouldn’t doubt it.

I feel weird. I’m gonna go blast Poison Idea and punch a wall or something.

Staff Picks: Eric

Lux: New Day 7" (La Vida Es Un Mus) I know this been at the store for a little while, but I haven't had a chance to gush about it in the past few newsletters. I really like this record. It's super bare bones and catchy. It has a classic Crass Records vibe about it while also having the ferocious raw sound of UK82. No d-beats here, just fucking pounding pogo punk. It reminds me of Tozibabe a lot!

Liquid Assets: SNC Lava Lamp 7" (Schizophrenic) God damn this rages. Sounds like classic US hardcore with a modern twist. These Canadians let you know what's up with ~4 minutes ripping hardcore and shredding solos. Plus the recording sounds outstanding, it has the perfect mixture of clarity and grit. Scoop this shit up!

Staff Picks: Dominic

Ramsey Lewis: Mother Nature’s Son LP (Cadet) 1968
The other week I recommended 1990 by The Temptations and spoke about how sometimes records that don’t book for much and are easy to find can often be much better and satisfying than some holy grail, rare shit. With that in mind and as it is still February and Black History Month, I thought we should honour another favourite American son, Ramsey Lewis and in particular his awesome take on The Beatles’ White Album from 1968.

This record is so great, I have had several copies over the years and still play my UK original that I bought a long time ago. It’s not an expensive record and pretty easy to find, as are almost all of Ramsey Lewis records, although the price is starting to inch up, probably as people realize what a good record it is. Recorded at the end of 1968 in the great Ter Mar Studios, Chicago, where countless great blues, soul and jazz records were cut and produced by the Chess/Cadet house producer, Charles Stepney. Just like Norman Whitfield over at Motown, Stepney had the Midas touch and produced so many great records for Cadet. In particular, he was behind the Rotary Connection records that featured Minnie Ripperton on vocals. If any name printed on a record’s jacket should make you pull the trigger and buy, then Charles Stepney is definitely the one.

The record begins with some tasty Moog sounds before the orchestra strings sweep in and pick us up and takes us on our journey through covers of White Album tracks, an album that had barely been out long itself, let alone be covered by another artist so fully. After the title track and a cool Rocky Raccoon followed by Julia, Ramsey and band launch into a great version of Back In The USSR, complete with two wide open drum breaks that used to get producers with samplers in a tizzy. The Moog sounds feature throughout but really shine on the spirited version of Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey, a personal fave of mine, (hey, it references a Monkey). What is also constant throughout the record is the “groove” & “swing”. The drums are kicking, the strings are soaring, the bass lines pump and the keyboard sounds are, as always with Ramsey, on point. This is the type of record that still sounds current today and has kept its charm and should appeal to jazz heads and hip-hop heads alike. In a similar vein is the record by George Benson The Other Side Of Abbey Road, which I highly recommend and also McLemore Avenue by Booker T. & The M.G.’s. They both tackle a Beatles record rather well, albeit a different one but it is Mother Nature’s Son that I find myself going to repeatedly and once you score yourself a copy, I am sure you will feel the same. As I mentioned before, this is not a rare or expensive record but it has pedigree and class and punches well above its weight. Go find one.

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