No season of the year seems as fertile with singles as the summer. When the clothes come off, the top comes down, the weather heats up and we all head to the beach, the radio plays only the super-catchy, hyper-infectious and, typically, more carefree selections in pop music. It is a time for putting the Sigur Ros and Mogwai albums aside and cranking up the B-52s, Blondie and Go-Gos records. Or, in some cases, the 50 Cent and Missy Elliott. That all depends on the listener, of course.
Though 2005 has already brought forth a surprising amount of outstanding singles, summer has just begun, and surely offers a wide array of other great anthems to come. There are already a bunch of great tunes on rock radio at the moment, leaving one to ponder if pop music will actually be considered (gasp) good again. That, again, is all in the ears of the listener.
This week, we’re highlighting several summer singles and EPs worthy (or not) of your weary ears. From theatrical pop to hip-hop to punk to new wave, there are plenty of interesting new less-than-20 minute releases to be heard. We summarized them for your convenience. And, as usual, some of the B-sides outshined the A’s.
Antony and the Johnsons – Hope There’s Someone (Secretly Canadian)
He sounds weird, he looks odd, he hangs out with crazy hippies like Devendra Banhart and gosh darn it, we love him. He’s Antony, leader of the Johnsons, and his full-length release, I Am A Bird Now, surprised many a listener, including our own Adrian Cepeda. And six months later, Secretly Canadian has taken it upon themselves to release a single, albeit an odd choice, but a single nonetheless. “Hope There’s Someone” is an intense, cathartic and haunting choice of a single, climaxing in a crescendo of pounding piano chords and layered, ghostly voices. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who truly love music.
The EP features two non-album B-sides, including “Frankenstein,” a slightly more upbeat alternative to the title track. It’s a quiet song, but the way Antony croons over major key piano chords comes off sounding more like gospel than the theatrical pop that Antony fans are used to. In short, it’s not a bad way to spend five dollars. And lastly, does anyone else think he sounds like Bryan Ferry? Just checking.
Similar Releases: Devendra Banhart – Little Yellow Spider, Jeff Buckley – Live at Sin-E, Rufus Wainwright – Rufus Wainwright — Jeff Terich
Black Mountain – Druganaut (Jagjaguwar)
You gotta love a single that offers a lot in the way of non-album material. Even better, who couldn’t resist a single with an alternate A-side to that of the version found on the correlating album. With the release of the Druganaut EP, Vancouver’s Black Mountain do both, first by offering an extended version of the title track, also found on their self-titled album, plus three non-album tracks.
The extended mix of “Druganaut” finds the Mountain grooving James Brown style for about three-and-a-half minutes before finally ripping into the Sabbath-meets-Meters fuzz funk of the song that fans, by this point, will already recognize. It’s a righteous groove, right down to the organ solo and bongo drum breaks, proving that you actually can combine soul and stoner rock. At eight minutes, it’s a hell of a song to be making a single, but I think it’s safe to say that nobody will find much to complain about there. Meanwhile, “Buffalo Swan” is over nine minutes, settling into a swampy, yet dramatic, psych-orchestra. “Bicycle Man,” however, is a more straightforward, almost Rolling Stones-like rock `n’ roll song.
The disc ends with “No Satisfaction (Campfire Version),” which sounds exactly like what you think it is. The band plays a maraca-shaking, acoustic-strumming group singalong version of the album track. And it’s a mighty fine standalone track, if I do say so myself. In short: Black Mountain rocks.
Similar Releases: Black Sabbath – Volume IV, Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R, Led Zeppelin – III — Jeff Terich
Cheeseburger – The Gang’s All Here (Kemado)
Cheeseburger are men! Manly men! Men who score with hot chicks! Men who drink lots of beer!! Men! ROAR!!! And they do this all in a little over 15 minutes of down-and-dirty garage punk. Personally, I’d be exhausted. Cheeseburger’s inherent manliness can be a tad grating at first: “So hot, sweet little pussy / You oughta see her when she makes a scene“? See ya at the next NOW rally Cheeseburger! But with lyrics like “The gang’s all here / what an ugly bunch of fucking queers,” sung with just enough sneer, Cheeseburger doesn’t really take anything all that seriously, least of all themselves. And you know what? Neither should you. Granted, Cheeseburger aren’t really adding anything to pop music that the Stooges hadn’t done before but that doesn’t really matter because, all-in-all, Cheeseburger are just about having fun with a side of sleaze for good measure. Don’t think about it, just put the record on and rock out. As the boys-will-be-boys lyrics denote, Cheeseburger doesn’t want you to get all cerebral on them. One of the great accomplishments of Gang’s All Here is that it makes you really want to see Cheeseburger live. If they sound this raucous on tape, the shit must really hit the fan when they perform live. Their disorderly conduct separates them a little bit from the garage punk pack. They’re crasser than the White Stripes, crazier than the Hives and stupider than the Black Keys, adding up to a simply good time. The bridge on “Saturday Night,” the EP’s best song, even kind of sounds like that of the Go-Gos’ “We Got the Beat” if Jane Wiedlin and Belinda Carlisle were more into the MC5 than the Germs and were, you know, men.
Similar Recordings: The Stooges – The Stooges, MC5 – Kick Out the Jams, The Supersuckers – La Mano Cornuda — Molly B. Eichel
Clearlake — Wonder If The Snow Will Settle (Domino)
Trying to convince someone of buying this EP is a moot point. Those who were privileged enough to be exposed to Clearlake’s sophomore album Cedars will pick it up just on the off chance that they don’t have certain songs in their collection. Those not indoctrinated into the fanclub might be better off buying the former. Wonder if the Snow Will Settle is somewhat of a final catch-all of B-sides and miscellaneous tracks not originally available to stateside listeners before their new album Amber arrives in the fall.
Ben Hillier (Elbow, Blur, Depeche Mode) remixes the title track, making it a little crisper. There are also remixes of “I Want to Live in a Dream” from the band’s first album Lido and “Almost the Same”. The former changes from pop song to extremely sunny and jingly pop song, almost saccharine sweet. The band competently tackles Neil Young’s oft-covered hit “Cinnamon Girl” with the requisite louder guitars. Two instrumentals, “Daybreak” and “I Want to Talk” also fill out the EP, but it is “Don’t Lie to Yourself” that is the one standout of the CD. Jason Pegg once again writes thoughtful and tortured lyrics like some of the best songs on Cedars indlucing “Treat Yourself With Kindness”. For fans this will somewhat tide you over until the new album comes out, for others, a sampling, not wholly representative, of what one of the best new bands in Britain has to offer.
Similar Albums: Depeche Mode- Music for the Masses, Blur- 13, British Sea Power- Open Season — Terrance Terich
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc. (Virgin)
Those bastards at ChiatDay got it right once again. In their new iPod commercials they tap the new Gorillaz single, “Feel Good Inc.” and instead of dancing silhouettes, we see the figures roller skating, not blading, old school skating. I’m talking big fatty rubber stoppers and roller boogie. And now with this new incarnation of the band (virtually they still consist of 2D, Murdoc, Russell and Noodle) with Danger Mouse taking over for Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, they have created one of the coolest dance (and roller skating) jams to hit the radio. Who better to help out with a skating song? De La Soul, of course, considering they already had a song called “A Roller Skating Jam Named `Saturdays.'” Damon Albarn’s swank and stylish Britpop voice, melded with Danger Mouse’s bass beats and De La Soul’s quick as lightning raps make for an unlikely amalgamation that works better than imagined. R.E.M., on their best days in the studio with both KRS One and Q-Tip, couldn’t come close to touching the quality of this track.
If Blur were on their last legs, which it seems they’re not, then I would say that Albarn has found the pefect collaborators. Illustrator, and former roommate, Jamie Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl) is still in tow to render the Gorillaz while Danger Mouse, still somewhat fresh off of his Grey Album controversy, fills in more than adequately for the Automator. The band’s first self-titled album was somewhat before its time, which means that Demon Days arrived just in time.
Similar Albums: Dangermouse- The Grey Album, Butter 08- Butter 08, Gorillaz- Gorillaz — Terrance Terich
Innaway – Rise (Some)
Stoner rock is a unique genre in that it’s almost always decent, yet almost never mind-blowing. I can’t think of too many people that dislike Queens of the Stone Age, for instance, but I’ve only met one person who truly loved them. Come to think of it, I really only heard about this person. Nonetheless, Innaway is a band steeped in Floyd and Zeppelin that’s pretty decent, but not mind-blowing. Their debut single “Rise” is space age rock and roll with plenty of psychedelic spaceyness and a guitar-crazy climax.
As a single, it doesn’t make much sense, I must say. It’s not very catchy and probably won’t see its way onto MTV. Regardless, it’s pretty good, even if it doesn’t catch on with the kiddies. Its b-side, “Stolen Days,” by comparison, sounds like more of a single. With a fairly straightforward melody and a gently rocking, slightly trippy edge, it’s a superior track, as b-sides occasionally are. Innaway does a good job at crafting fascinating soundscapes out of stoned `70s rock clichés, but it’ll take a little more before they really start to wow me.
Similar Releases: Black Mountain – Drugunaut, Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here, Spiritualized – Pure Phase — Jeff Terich
Kiss Me Deadly – Amoreux Cosmiques (Alien 8)
Judging by the song titles on Kiss Me Deadly’s newest EP, it would seem that the band wants to avoid any confusion. The songs, named “Dance 4,” “Dance 1,” “Pop” and “Groove,” are pretty much what the band promises. There are danceable songs. There’s a pop song. And there’s one song that really grooves. But…wait a minute, now. They’re all pop songs more or less. They all groove. And you can dance to all of them. What’s the meaning of all of this?
I can’t give any concrete explanation, myself. But damned if Kiss Me Deadly doesn’t have their share of great tunes on display on Amoreux Cosmiques. The first two tracks, “Dance 1” and “Dance 4,” are dance songs in the hip `80s post-punk sort of sense. Both tracks contain some chorus-washed Cure-like guitar leads, while the bass and drums lay down a solid foundation of groove. Emily Elizabeth’s lead vocals, of course, sound significantly different than Robert Smith’s, however. Her breathy, but abrasive vocal style falls more in line with Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino on occasion, but, in any case, they go perfectly with the band’s dance-gazer style.
On “Pop,” the band sounds more like British Sea Power, as Mathieu du Montier takes over vocal duties and the funk-influenced rhythms have been replaced with a more straightforward back beat. “Groove,” by comparison, is more in line with old-school U2, though without the delay pedals. Amoreux Cosmiques may be KMD’s way of trying to put it straight, but it really depends on how you hear their songs. No matter what, they’re all good. I can only imagine how good a full-length starting with “Dance 1” and ending with “Dance 12” would be.
Similar Releases: British Sea Power – Remember Me, Prosaics – Aghast Agape, The Cure – Quadpus — Jeff Terich
Navies – An Estate (Lovitt)
My Chemical Romance is on the cover of Spin this month. Does that bother anyone else? I mean, they’re a lousy excuse for a hardcore band, fronted by a midget with bad hair. And this is what the kids seem to be into these days, sadly. I just wish that I could take all these record buying adolescents and guide them toward something more substantial in the way of punk, hardcore or post-either. Navies are just the sort of band I would like to introduce these mallrats to, because they’re just…well…better.
No, they don’t sound like My Chemical Romance, but you could probably see where I’m going with this. A MCR fan would probably take a liking to Navies, had they the opportunity to hear them. An Estate, the band’s new EP, is just the right mixture of abrasive riffs, vocal shredding, off-kilter songwriting and creative melodicism that youngsters today need. The title track is all scratchy guitars and driving rhythms, “Split Infinitive” is an extended post-hardcore epic and “A Surveyor’s Measure” is a brutal exercise in keeping melody dangerous.
And they don’t wear makeup. At least not from what I can tell. So, kids, if you’re reading this, drop the faux-goth screamo. Pick up this Navies disc and be rocked. It’s good for you.
Similar Releases: Haymarket Riot – Mog, Fugazi – In on the Killtaker, Faraquet – The View From this Tower — Jeff Terich
Please Mr. Gravedigger – Throw a Beat (Pluto)
That Please Mr. Gravedigger is a loud, aggressive, musically accomplished and altogether rad punk rock band from San Diego should come as no surprise. San Diego has long been known for its production of bands with an intriguing take on hardcore, from Drive Like Jehu to The Locust. And Please Mr. Gravedigger is no exception. Rather than erupting into 30-second noise blasts or nine minute math-ercises, though, PMG plays a gritty, heavy but somewhat more straightforward brand of punk.
Throw A Beat is 20 minutes of just that: guitar-chugging, drum-slamming, throat-straining rock. Imagine the Bronx with a little more sass and you get the idea. Tommy Gravedigger (probably not his real name) shreds his vocal chords in the name of ass-kicking rock, while he and Richie Lavridsen provide jagged and lethal shards of guitar riffage. While 45-second opener “You Gotta Tame the Beast Before You Let it Out of Its Cage” is a short burst of hardcore fury, but the following songs, “Seventeen Year Old Piece of Gold” and “The Nine to Five” are loud, yet irresistibly catchy tunes that would make great singles, should anyone have the balls to play them.
Similar Releases: Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower – If You Cut Us, We Bleed, The Bronx – The Bronx, Gasoline Please – Gasoline Please EP — Jeff Terich
Sleater-Kinney – Entertain (Sub Pop)
“Entertain,” Sleater-Kinney’s indictment of reality TV, is a fitting first single off an album that, paradoxically, works better as a whole in spite of ten individual standouts. Yet, for some reason, this song just seems that much catchier, that much more anthemic, and more importantly, that much more confrontational than the remainder of the album. Carrie Brownstein’s lead vocal is downright in-your-face. It’s almost kinda scary, really. But it kicks ass.
And then there’s the B-side. There’s really two, but considering one is a live recording of “The Fox,” the only one that requires much of a mention is “Everything,” a grooved-out rocker with some hyperactive drums on the part of Janet Weiss. Like the outtakes that the band paired with “Get Up” or “You’re No Rock `n’ Roll Fun,” “Everything” is another essential, as the band’s castoffs often are. Should the band ever decide to release a b-sides and rarities disc, they’d have another album’s worth of genius to hand us.
Similar EPs: Sleater-Kinney – Get Up, PJ Harvey – The Letter, Helium – Pat’s Trick — Jeff Terich
The Format – Snails (Atlantic)
It looks like Ben Gibbard might have some new friends over at Atlantic Records! Why? Because The Format, a band sharing the label, has the same pop aesthetic as the Bellingham band from which Gibbard hails. The Arizona duo has the passion of Ben Gibbard (which sounds like it could be a silly Mel Gibson-produced emo movie), the conviction of Ryan Adams and the earnestness of Alex James (aka Dolorean).
Snails is the name of their latest EP and it features two new songs, four if you access an extra pair online, and acoustic reworkings of three songs from their major label debut. Although the new songs are poppy and lush, it is the stripped down older tracks that were the stars of this EP for me. Specifically “Tune Out” which, like a lot of Death Cab songs, exults in the details of everyday life, making both Gibbard and Nate Reuss the Nicholson Bakers of the pop set. The lyrics in “Tune Out,” when played in a faster mode, can tread on top 40 territory, but in the acoustic setting they seem wistful.
I’ll tap the brake while you crack the window
The smell of smoke is making my lungs explode
The `51′ is backed up, it’s too slow
Let’s tune out by turning up the radio.
Reuss sings as if he thinks that people can’t hear him over the acoustic guitar, but that only adds to the experience. The vocals work well, especially in the full formats of “Janet” and “Snails,” the two new tracks. Sure, they’re hopping on the ever laden wagon of the lap steel, but they make it work. There’s a little bit of Neil Young or the Old 97’s with their Death Cab on these songs, and Reuss’ yearning voice is the icing on the well-produced cake.
The Fugue – Mysterious Animals (RIYL)
Just Fuguein’ Around. The Fugue, The Proud. Fugue-et about it!
These are all titles that The Fugue could have chosen for their new EP, but didn’t. Good for them. There’s too much room for disaster when it comes to bad wordplay, and when you’re a band as brutal and rockin’ as The Fugue, you probably don’t want to come off as goofball. Instead, they come off as one of the hardest rocking bands to emerge in some time. Like a more mathematical Les Savy Fav with a serious Shellac fixation and a rawness that makes them seem that much more intense, The Fugue take punk rock to new, almost frightening heights. “Rumblebee” opens things up with some harmonizing guitar riffs, while “Molasses the Animal” picks up the pace a little bit more. “Gunwolf” is pure spastic insanity, but closer “Whale Egg” is somewhat more slowed down. That isn’t to say it’s slow, just slow-er. It sounds something more like the spastic rubbery punk of Baltimore’s Candy Machine than the more painful hardcore leanings of the rest of the EP. As long as you can accept that you can’t understand what the singer’s saying 97 % of the time, there’s very little room for disappointment. And I’m not just fugue-in’ around.
Similar releases: Les Savy Fav – 3/5, Shellac – Terraform, Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower – If You Cut Us We Bleed — Jeff Terich
The Prodigy – “Spitfire” (Maverick – Reprise)
So I see that Jared Padalecki, otherwise known as Dean from Gilmore Girls, is in this House of Wax flick, which would explain why dude’s been all but written off the show. But then they bring him back to warn Luke that Lorelai won’t settle down. And then he’s gone again, possibly to make more cheesy teen horror flicks. Nonetheless, Wax has a halfway (but no more than that) decent soundtrack, at least, featuring tracks by Joy Division and The Stooges, if not much in the way of good new material. But there is a brand new Prodigy track to be found on the compilation, and it’s called “Spitfire.”
It pretty much sounds like a Prodigy song. Really, there’s not much in the way of surprises here. Big pounding beats, a repetitive vocal loop, a hybrid feel between rock and dance music. It’s not too bad, I suppose. Just nothing terribly new. If you need something heavy and dancey, however, it’ll do in a pinch.
Similar Singles: Prodigy – Firestarter, Prodigy – Breathe, Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up — Jeff Terich