Protomartyr : Relatives In Descent

The Motor City’s Protomartyr sound like modern harbingers of doom. Singer Joe Casey takes the podium front and center like a prophet telling us the secrets of our demise as a society in riddles, suggestions, and proclamations. Guitarist Greg Ahee blends melodic moments with outright blasts of contempt, while bassist Scott Davidson and drummer Alex Leonard lay the foundation to which Casey and Ahee can blast us with poetic chaos. They’ve been building their post-punk brand for nearly 10 years now and with each record they’ve honed their desolation music with precision, coming to near perfection with 2015s The Agent Intellect.

Protomartyr are back and have jumped from Hardly Art to Domino Records. Their debut with Domino is the poignantly titled Relatives In Descent, a post-punk/noise rock art piece that seems to reflect the current state of disarray our country is currently in. This record cuts delicately, but it still cuts deep.

One constant in the music of Protomartyr is the sense of urgency that pumps through each track. And yet you feel you must push forward there’s still an elegance in the poetry of Joe Casey and the music the band backs his words with. “A Private Understanding” opens with tension. A feeling that something important needs to happen. It opens with busy drums and the guitars trying to find resolve. There is a resolve in the chorus as Casey keeps repeating “She’s just trying to reach you”. “Here Is The Thing” sounds like Pere Ubu on a Gang of Four jag. Casey does his best street-level preacher; a dystopian philosopher preaching his sermon on the mound. “Windsor Hum” wonders if things might be better across the river, while “Night-Blooming Cereus” is much more of a contemplative track. This is the most Protomartyr have ever sounded like Wire. On the other side of that coin, “Up The Tower” explodes into musical shards and shrapnel with hardcore vigor. Mark E. Smith is somewhere in this track, rearing his angst-y, curmudgeonly head. “Corpses In Regalia” has an angular feel with the airtight rhythm section while Ahee lays down some almost Andy Sommers guitar vibe. “Half Sister” sounds like doom and gloom for the coffeehouse crowd.

I think where Protomartyr succeed most is when they disengage the fuzz and noise and go for more of a fierce Smiths sound. Jangly guitars, tight rhythm section, and plenty of room for Joe Casey to spit his vitriol all over the place. When things get too noisy Casey gets lost in the mix and that’s a shame as he’s got plenty to say.

Relatives In Descent is a continued steady march towards something greater. There are moments that feel they need a little tweaking, but those are few and far between. These Motor City prophets are still as urgent as ever. We just need to open our ears and take it all in.

7.6 out of 10

METZ : Strange Peace

I will admit that I have a bit of a dude crush on the Canadian rock band METZ. There’s just something about their intense brand of noise rock/post-punk gumbo that gets me in the gut. It’s a kind of rush that comes with a special sort of experience. Maybe like jumping out of a plane, taking part in the running of the bulls in high heels, or that exhilaration one feels as the last car of a rollercoaster gets pulled by sheer force over that first big hill. I liken the METZ experience to putting the pedal to the metal on some long, open country road. It’s something I used to do when I had a 1977 Chevy Nova. I’d push that 305 V8 to its limit. There was that feeling where you though your heart would jump from your chest to your throat to right out your mouth.

METZ makes noise that makes me feel weird and invincible.

Their debut self-titled record and its follow-up II were like beehives recently kicked and punched. They buzzed and hollered like years of misspent youth and broken dreams stewing in warm, stale beer looking for their car keys at a bummer of a party. The only cure for that kind of pent-up rage is to ignite a guitar amp on fire with buzzsaw riffs. Guitarist and vocalist Alex Edkins, bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies seem to tap into some kind of subconscious Cro-Magnon rage when they come together as three piece METZ. It’s an ancient magic that gets me every time.

Strange Peace is their newest record and their best. Some maybe thought this time around they’d try and clean up their act a bit, maybe even try and write a pop song. Turns out they’ve made their heaviest and most accessible record to date. How about that?

From that debut to II and all the 45 singles that came before, in-between, and after there’s been this unmistakable crash and grind to the METZ sound that always reminded me of Steve Albini. They pay tribute in their own unique way to Shellac and In Utero-era Nirvana. You can hear it in Edkins’ piercing guitar tones and his guttural vocal belting; as well as the concrete slab of a rhythm section in Slorach and Menzies. This time around instead of creating the Steve Albini sound on their own, METZ actually got the real Steve Albini to do it for them. The results are as loud and wonderful as you’d hope.

Even though there’s no pulling back of the aggression and noise, there’s a fine tuning happening to where all those sonic explosions can more easily be savored. Something like the jagged opener “Mess Of Wires” might’ve been almost unbearable to the senses on a previous record. A minute in and the ears would dull and the eyes would bleed. But here the menace and anxiety is blended into a cocktail easily swallowed and enjoyed, without losing any of the woozy pleasure. The vocals are turned into a sly pop hook. You’re given a catchy melody amidst the broken glass and bent rebar. Likewise, “Drained Lake” comes out of the gate with punk dexterity and alien-esque guitar noise. Soon enough though, vocal harmonies rise from the depths to give this song a pop undercurrent. Alex Edkins comes across like Jello Biafra on a steady diet of Big Black and the Feelies. This is the perfect blend of aggression and sly pop undercurrents. “Common Trash” is a pretty much straight guitar pop track, complete with hooky vocals and good time guitar riffing. Except this pop is wrapped up with a barbed wire bow. “Dig A Hole” sounds like sheet metal covering an Angry Samoans track, while album closer is a spring snapping in slow motion for nearly 6 minutes.

Don’t think that all this “pop” talk means our Ottawa noise rock bros have mellowed. They just seem to have found a way to keep things redlining but in a way that even the deadest of dead fish might end up whistling a METZ track in the shower some morning.

Strange Peace is the perfect balance of METZ at full force and METZ opening their doors for passerbys to walk in and check them out. This may end up being one of my favorite records of the year.

8.6 out of 10

LCD Soundsystem : American Dream

There’s always been something about James Murphy that I’ve been drawn to. Ever since I bought LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver on a whim back in 2007 I’ve been enamored with the guy. Maybe because he’s close to my age. Maybe because he’s a middle-aged guy acting like a middle-aged guy. He’s not posturing the dude-isms of a 25-year old and acting like a malcontent every chance he gets. His passsions seem to lie in vintage synths, coffee, early 70s electronic music, and David Bowie. How can I not feel that on some level James Murphy is my soulmate? Or at the very least someone I’d love to have a cup of coffee with and talk NEU! and Conny Plank.

When LCD Soundsystem called it quits back in 2011 I was sad, for sure. To my ears Murphy and his band seemed to have more to give to the world. This Is Happening was both a glorious record and a melancholy one. There seemed to be a hint of “where do we go next?” going on, and apparently Murphy felt it was time to move on. Their farewell show at Madison Square Garden was a beautiful eulogy for a band still very much alive but not sure where to go. The band went their separate ways and James Murphy took a shot at producing other artists. What he realized was that he didn’t like producing other artists, just him and all his friends. So just like that LCD Soundsystem rose from the ashes of retirement and have returned better than ever. American Dream is the best album James Murphy and friends have made. It’s still steeped in the fun dance punk of their self-titled and the self-aware cynicism of Sound Of Silver. But this time it feels that there’s absolutely no question as to where LCD Soundsystem are going.

“Oh Baby” opens the album on sweetly dreamy note. This song puts me in mind of Suicide’s sweeter moments. Vega and Rev could definitely create tension and anxiety like the best of ’em, but when he wanted to Alan Vega could sound sweet and sincere. “Oh Baby” is the sweeter side of Suicide, with a hint of early Kraftwerk. “Other Voices” is primo LCD. Groovy as hell with Murphy proselytizing from the pulpit of dance rock, it’s a song you won’t be able to keep still through. Nancy Whang jumps in for a verse or two as well. “Change Yr Mind” seethes with Berlin Trilogy-era Bowie. There’s some serious Low vibes going on here. With the guitar squalls, Murphy’s vocal delivery, and the heavy lean on bass this track feels like some sort of musical exorcism. “How Do You Sleep?” is the darkest I think LCD Soundsystem has ever gotten. Tribal drums, vocals sounding as if they’re coming from some endless void, and languid-sounding buzzes and bleeps make for some seriously grim vibes. Imagine Joy Division and Bauhaus trying to outdo each other in their melancholy prime. That would be this epic slow burner.

When the initial singles “American Dream” and “Call The Police” were released I remember feeling a little underwhelmed. They were decent songs, but not “back from the dead” kind of songs. Then “Tonite” was released and all was forgiven. In the context of the rest of the album they fit in quite nicely as these more shinier, upbeat songs. But “Tonite”, that’s just classic, funky LCD Soundsystem. It’s pure giddy dance fun. I hear that song(and watch the video) and I’m reminded of Prince and the Revolution. Maybe that’s a crazy comparison, but I think there’s something to be said for Murphy’s ability to lead a group of great musicians into funky, wonky musical territory.

I once had an emotional haircut. It was a few years ago when I realized I shouldn’t grow my hair out long, what with me being a man of follicle issues. I wish it had been as fun and punky as LCDs “Emotional Haircut”, but alas it was just sorta sad.

“Black Screen” is the epic ending to an epic new beginning. It’s quiet, dense, and hums with tube-driven emotion. I’m not sure James Murphy has ever written a song so subtle and vast as this 12-minute opus. There’s a melancholy feel as the song fades with a pulsating synth and distant piano chimes. Goodbye, cruel world.

Most of these “we’re retiring, goodbye….hey, we’re back!” shenanigans usually end up with the majority consensus being they should’ve stayed retired(I’m looking at you, Pixies.) But LCD Soundsystem breaks the mold as far as comebacks go. Murphy closed the door too soon on his band of electronic misfits, and I think he knew that the day after his retirement party at MSG. I’m glad he can admit when he’s wrong, because American Dream is a beautiful reunion for them and us. And us and them.

8.7 out 10

 

Preoccupations : Preoccupations

Preoccupations is the band formerly known as Viet Cong. Viet Cong was a band that put out one of my favorite albums of 2015. Preoccupations is a band that may havejag290-preoccupations-fc-1400 put out one of my favorite albums of 2016. Not only for the fact that their self-titled album is a beautifully dark concoction of post-punk abyss and bits of light shining through the grainy muck and mire, but for the fact that these four Canadian musicians persevered through a year of calamities, broken bones, desolate gigs, and ultimately a band name controversy that ended up seeing the band disappear for a few months as Viet Cong and reemerge as Preoccupations. This record is a testament to the frustration, broken relationships, loneliness, defeat, and desolation of a year of general misfortune and finding a beauty in it all.

There’s an industrial graininess to Preoccupation’s music. It sounds as if it came off an assembly line in some long dead factory located in an overgrown lot awaiting demolition. When you first hear album opener “Anxiety” that grey and soot-filled landscape of Eraserhead comes to mind. Singer/bassist Matt Flegel’s voice sounds like a cross between Peter Murphy and Neil Diamond. This is the guy that covered the former’s “Dark Entries” a couple years ago, but could pull off “Forever In Blue Jeans” like a champ. With “Monotony” that gravelly voice only solidifies the Diamond mannerisms, but only if the Jazz Singer would be down with Wire’s 154. The 11-minute “Memory” floats along on something that resembles a good vibe, or at least a smile as you sink into the ether. There’s some great guest vocals by fellow Canadian and Handsome Furs/Divine Fits singer Dan Boeckner. The track goes from driving force to melting into the abyss. It’s a mesmerizing listen.

I think what I find so amazing about this record and band is their ability to go so dark in mood, yet still put this sheen of optimistic light throughout the gloom. There are truly harrowing moments on this album, but there are also some nearly new wave-ish sounds happening here. “Degraded” rises through the speakers in a sheet of white noise and feedback before morphing into one of the most “pop” moments we’ve heard from these guys. There’s also more emphasis on rhythm this time around, as Flegel and drummer Michael Wallace lock in for some serious groove throughout the record. Guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen use their 6-strings just as much for creating swaths of noise and mood as they do for creating melody. They seem to be painting abstract over the skeletal grooves. “Forbidden” is dark and foreboding, while “Stimulation” sounds like The Police circa 1979 colliding with Rush circa 1984. A propulsive beat is painted in jangle guitar and Matt Flegel’s urgent vocals. “Fever” is a synth-heavy closer that has a doomed calm to it. “You’re not scared, carry your fever away from here” Matt Flegel sings as hazy synths consume everything till silence.

Preoccupations sounds like a band more comfortable as a band, but not necessarily content. There’s still plenty of push and pull on this record. There’s tension and skepticism about where we’re all going as humanity seems to continue to rot from the inside out. Despite what may sound like a downer of an album, Preoccupations self-titled is as engaging as it is harrowing. There’s beauty in the shadows and darkness, as Preoccupations point out one song at a time.

8. 4 out of 10

 

 

 

Cate Le Bon : Crab Day

Cate Le Bon makes music that is happy and sad at the same time. It’s a mix of 60s euro pop and 70s lower east side New York post-punk. The guitars never get too loud, but they’re played with an attitude by Le Bon that brings the Tom Verlaine/Richard Lloyd guitar interplay to mind. 2013s Mug Museum was the album that brought her to my attention. My ears perked up to her mixture of playful guitar and Nico-ish vocals. Le Bon seemed to have locked into something that so many before her had attempted to but could never do right. It’s a trick to give a little swing to something without making it too dance-y. She does it quite well. Cate Le Bon has returned with the quirky, catchy, and oddly child-like Crab Day. It’s a loose, fun, and artistically freeing album that feels like stream-of-consciousness put to bizarro nursery rhyme music.

“Crab Day” opens the album like a surreal call to arms. “It doesn’t pay to sing your songs”, Le Bon sings over and over before getting to the chorus of “I saw you see mecrab-day-for-web on Crab Day/Speak your eyes to me on Crab Day”. The idea of Crab Day came from Le Bon’s niece who after finding the idea of April Fool’s Day to be terrible exclaimed that everyone should instead celebrate “Crab Day”, where you draw pictures of crustaceans all day. This seems like a much better idea than pulling pranks on family and friends, so Le Bon ran with it. The result is an album full of quirky pop songs that feel like they’re forming right in front of your ears from thin air. “Love Is Not Love” has the sway of early Television, arty and pretzel-like. “Wonderful” sounds like Nico fronting The DBs on a rainy day practice session. Skronky horns are thrown in for good measure. “I’m A Dirty Attic” has a Velvet Underground vibe. VU in playful mode, not angry and despondent mode. “I Was Born On The Wrong Day” is an autobiographical song as it pertains to Le Bon finding out from her mother that they’d been celebrating her birthday on the wrong day for 30 years. Not earth shattering, but I could see how that could cause some sort of existential crisis of identity. It’s a rather lovely tune run with piano, horns, and guitar. “We Might Revolve” sounds like the onset of a panic attack. It’s manic pace and panned guitar parts only add to the vibe of oncoming anxiety.

Cate Le Bon seems to be working through some things on Crab Day. Nothing earth-shattering, per say, but maybe some bigger questions on who she is and what her place is on this big old blue rock we call home. A crisis of identity and how we figure out what we’re supposed to do with ourselves is something that can be workshopped quite easily through music. Le Bon seems to have opened her head and heart and replied with Dadaist-like musical responses to those questions. Crab Day sounds like a quirky call-and-response to the universe.

7.8 out of 10

 

 

Wire : Nocturnal Koreans

Wire have been one of the most quietly profound bands for the last nearly 40 years. They’ve been labeled punk, post-punk, art rock, pop, and I’m sure countless otherwire genres throughout their massive career, all the while being a band that has influenced and inspired generations of alternative and indie bands that have -for all intents and purposes- found far greater fame and attention than Wire ever did. This hasn’t seemed to stop Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey, and Matthew Simms from continuing the band’s pursuit of musical creation. Ever since 2011s Red Barked Tree the band has been on an artistic and creative streak with brand new full-length albums like Change Become Us and Wire; as well as the live The Black Session – Paris, 10 May 2011. Wire have returned once again with a brand new record called Nocturnal Koreans. Relatively lean at 8 songs clocking in at 26 minutes, the album is in and out and wastes no time in getting all heady and heavy. It’s Wire in Pink Flag form, but not nearly as mad. Or at least not mad at the same things.

They kick things off with the upbeat title track. Driving, propulsive pop with a touch of darkness. “Internal Exile” is soft spoken musically but packs a big punch. The Newman/Lewis songwriting team have always excelled at mixing art with catchy melodies and 40 years in that’s still the case. “Dead Weight” is another relatively quaint pop song with lots happening in the mix. “Forward Position” is a weightier track both in length(clocking in at nearly 5 minutes in comparison to the average 3 minute mark on most of the songs) and in sonically speaking. We’ve stumbled into 154 territory here. “Numbered” and its quirky vocals and jagged riffs pull out some Chairs Missing punches, showing those 30-somethings where the term “post-punk” really came from. “Fishes Bones” feels like a complicated puzzle being explained enthusiastically by a madman. It’s quirky and catchy and a little insane.

I’m sure there’s plenty of opinions on how far Wire’s winning streak goes, but there’s no question as to the genius and bulletproof status of their first three records. Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, and 154 are pretty much the beginning point of post-punk. They’re also the framework of what would become the alternative movement in the early 80s. For a band to continuously evolve and expand their creative and artistic horizons over the course of 40 years -especially in the stuffy and finicky world of alternative music- is a feat unto itself. While Wire have had their share of ups and downs, break ups, and solo records notwithstanding, they have remained vital and relevant throughout all that time. Nocturnal Koreans is further proof of that vitality.

7.8 out of 10

 

 

Kicking A Can Of Worms

Damn.

I don’t know what it is about Metz that really gets me wired up and ready to take on an army of replicant Ninjas with laser eyes, but I feel 10 feet tall, part man/part machine, and all jagged indifference when I listen to them. There’s an anxiety-driven angst in their music that pushes those special buttons in my brain that makes me want to drive on the freeway at 100 miles per hour before launching my rocket car into the atmosphere. This is bully ass whooping music folks. This isn’t machismo energy. This is the little guy transforming into a post-punk Avenger with the power of jagged guitar jangle, overblown bass, and exploding drum heads powering it. And the dorky guy in glasses playing the guitar for a room full of Budweiser-soaked meatheads, when he opens his mouth out comes years of alienation, disenchantment, and loner detachment that proceeds to blow those “brahs” on their designer jeans-covered asses. Metz make heavy music for the disenfranchised and fed up. It’s there in every note. It’s there in every scream. In every broken drum stick.

Anthems for the lost.

DSC04902I’ve been going back and revisiting some records from last year. METZ II was one that I felt got overshadowed by a slew of albums that all came out at the same time. I preordered it as soon as I could through Sub Pop, and when it arrived I was enamored by it for about a week then something else came out and that pretty blue vinyl got put off to the side. This is something that happens a lot when you buy too many a good amount of vinyl. But the nice thing about this “set aside” process is that you revisit those records in the future and it’s like discovering them all over again. This happens all the time for me, as I’m sure it does to you as well. METZ II was pulled out last week and it hasn’t left the turntable since. Goddamn what a good record. I was equally enthused with their debut METZ back in 2012. That album was as heavy as anything can be without hailing from Norway or a steel processing plant. I’ve always been a fan of heavy music, but I had my limits. Vocals that gurgle, growl, and sound like an elongated belch just aren’t for me(sorry Cannibal Corpse.) But screaming and blood-soaked squalls are okay. Alex Edkins has a way of sounding both melodic and on the fringe of a nervous breakdown. It’s like Jello Biafra and Kurt Cobain somehow became one being and were angry about it. His guitar playing is a constant sonic assault that seems to be chords slowly coming apart, like a rope fraying as it seems to be the only thing keeping you from falling 2,000 feet to your death. Bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies are a rhythm section to be reckoned with. That’s the backbone, man. Without a solid drummer and bass player, well you’re just Jack White and his ex-wife. Who wants to be that? Sure, there’s some heavy bands that are guitar and bass. And a few that are good, too. But nothing beats a great and gnarly-sounding trio. Metz are that.

DSC04904So METZ II. On first listen you think, “Okay. They’re not changing up the recipe and that’s fine. Why change it when all the ingredients are leveled just perfect?” So you listen and you smile and say “Cool”, and you move on. But going back and revisiting this record you start to hear some things that you missed. Like just how fucking heavy this album really is. It’s far gnarlier and jagged than their debut. There’s grainier production, the drums sound like they’re on the verge of exploding into a white light and disappearing into the ether all together. The bass and guitar become more of this “beast with two heads” as opposed to complete separate entities. Instead of working alone they come together to form this unhealthy noise union designed to give you tinnitus before the record ends. It’s truly beautiful. You’v got songs like “Acetate”, “The Swimmer”, “Spit You Out”, and “I.O.U.” that to my ears are just as heavy as putting on Snakes For The Divine or Seasons In The Abyss. They just go at heaviness from a different angle. It’s like if someone’s pissed off Id separated from their body and decided to cut a pop album. It’s sure not the kind of pop you hear on the radio(does that exist anymore?), but there is a pop sensibility in the blown speaker crackle of METZ II. It’s a relentless barrage of spittle and buzzing amps. There was no “Hey, lets add some piano and acoustic guitars this time around. Maybe we can break into some new markets.” No, instead they just trashed the place and set their instruments on fire which was all captured and put onto vinyl for us to savor for years to come.

DSC04903There’s a certain transcendence to music that is heavy and angst ridden. Metz make music that sounds like the middle of a nervous breakdown. It’s a white noise you begin to fall into and lose all sense of your surroundings. Much like their album covers, there’s a sense of stark black and white. No golden hues or bright moments of chipper technicolor. It’s all grey bleeding into black and white. Throughout all of their releases(both full-lengths and a bevy of 7″ singles and splits since 2009) these three Canadians have never wavered from their mission statement to annihilate the listeners senses. There’s no breaks or letting up. There’s no calm before the storm. The storm is in your face every moment. METZ II feels like a perfect sense of blistered presence. “Kicking A Can Of Worms” is the last song on Metz’ follow up and it really sums up them as a band. No story, no sense of some sort of singalong. It’s just this stark scene from some nihilistic film. Something Alex Cox would’ve directed. Edkins sings “It’s such a shame/Broken speakers at your finger tips/Caught in the rain/There’s no easy fix“, followed by “Still holding on/Caught you staring at your feet again/It won’t be long/Kick a can of worms“. Nothing doing. Just surrounded by broken shit, wasting time. You could do something about it maybe, but why?

Metz. Keeping shit real. And keeping it real loud.

 

 

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