Dead Confederate have wedged their way into a genre that doesn’t really have many followers or compatriots. Grunge country-rock could come close; maybe heavy alt-country? All kinds of bands come to mind when shooting for comparisons. We know they loved Pink Floyd and most likely Sabbath in their youth, but growing up in Georgia results in a starting point with acoustic guitars and bearded roots rock. My Morning Jacket always comes up and so does Nirvana; lead singer and guitarist Hardy Morris does seem to echo Kurt Cobain at some heavier moments. Yet Dead Confederate seem unconcerned with fitting in and with their sophomore LP, Sugar, they position themselves as pioneers of a new sound.
Their 2008 full-length debut, Wrecking Ball, had a standout single in “The Rat,” a song where Morris begs to be shot—behind a “bang bang” refrain, no less—and subsequently buried. Its hauntingly simple video shows a boy pushing a cowboy-booted foot into a trash bag and hauling it into the woods on his Radio Flyer wagon to bury it. Interspersed with shots of the band playing in a church with sparsely populated church pews and you’ve got yourself one hell of a debut single. While part of the Athens, Georgia scene they’re certainly closer to the Deerhunter and Whigs camp than to R.E.M. or The B-52’s—these guys are a little darker than most and we’re all the better for it.
For this record they chose John Agnello to produce, a man who’s worked with The Hold Steady, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. The second track on Sugar, “Run from the Gun,” is one of the slowest and softest of the batch but finds Morris’ voice front and center. Even after lumbering kick drums, keyboards, other voices and feedback, his positioning aids in understanding the complexity of their songwriting.
Another far different keeper is the two-minute “Mob Scene,” where from the get-go you get a barrage of chaotic percussion, keys, and herky-jerky guitar; it sounds like a hectic Radiohead song mixed with Queens of the Stone Age. Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis makes an appearance on the stellar “Giving It All Away,” where the band’s energy and tone suggest Band of Horses on a bender.
There’s nothing revolutionary about what Dead Confederate do. They’re a five-piece with a simple drums/two guitars/bass/keyboard equation. And with the title track to finish you off at the end of Sugar, you realize that injecting feedback, noise and charm into stoner rock is all the genre needs to offer back to them some well-deserved Southern hospitality.
The Melvins are a wonder. They’ve been at if for over 20 years and with The Bride Screamed Murder, their 20th LP (or so), they’ve given us one of the best of their discography. These guys don’t usually do staid and steady; they take detours and experiment. On 2009’s Chicken Switch they recruited friends to remix their brand of sludgy, chunky metal and it was turned into nearly unlistenable noise. Here they return to form with new originals and an epic cover of The Who’s “My Generation.”
Album opener “The Water Glass,” is a bizarrely awesome thrasher that turns into a call-and-response march halfway through. It seems a suitable starting point for a band who have done whatever they wanted. They started in Washington alongside Nirvana and rode the wave to Lollapalooza, but with album titles like Prick, Stoner Witch (both ‘94) and Electroretard (’01), a record deal with Atlantic just wasn’t their destiny. With Mike Patton and Ipecac Records, however, they’ve found a new home where their creative whims aren’t questioned.
Traditionally, The Melvins have elicited comparisons to the likes of Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Dead Kennedys and The Stooges, and “Evil New War God” churns and burns like the best stoner metal around. The funny and funky presence of an off-kilter cowbell does this song good, a hint that it’s not all long hair and headbanging. They’re into moments of dark silence with dramatic builds and crashes, and with standout “I’ll Finish You Off” their haunting, pounding metallics are accented nicely by an organ that’d fit right in at the Addams Family estate.
The whopping seven-and-a-half-minute version of Pete Townshend’s anthem sounds nothing like the original. It starts out very slowly with spare drums and a low, crunchy guitar before the choral vocals of “People try to put us down” comes in. For a song that was honest-to-goodness radical and poignant for a moment in time, covering it needs to be taken seriously and the Melvins do, which is a relief. The whole album is a relief, frankly. With the state metal’s in, the old weirdos who started it all need to drop gems like this on the heads of hardcore’s youth.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (Hollywood Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Fiery VT native beefs up her band, employs a big producer, and gets some classy packaging to strive for indie rock success a la Florence & the Machine FREE ASSOCIATION: A few feel like young Bonnie Raitt, some an old Carrie Underwood FOR FANS OF: Lucinda Williams, Susan Tedeschi, recent Norah Jones
The Maine Black & White (Warner Brothers/Sire) SOUNDS LIKE: Arizona dudes' sophomore and major label debut is more mature than their debut, but that just means it's less emo and punk, more soft and adult FREE ASSOCIATION: The love child of Avril Lavigne and Rob Thomas has a band!?! FOR FANS OF: The Starting Line, Boys Like Girls, Yellowcard Miniature Tigers Fortress (Modern Art Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Phoenix boys moved to Brooklyn and took up with the Morning Benders' Chris Chu which gives their whimsical freak folk song that trendy edge FREE ASSOCIATION: What often starts with acoustic guitar turns raucous and ecstatic FOR FANS OF: Animal Collective, Arcade Fire x Grizzly Bear
The Books The Way Out (Temporary Residence) SOUNDS LIKE: Typically weird hiccupy pastiche of samples, found sounds, electronic music and instrumentation; their brilliant fourth has a New Age/self-help theme FREE ASSOCIATION: These brilliant weirdos make it seem like your life is just right FOR FANS OF: Notwist x Aphex Twin, Squarepusher x Bon Iver, hypnosis
Miley Cyrus Can't Be Tamed (Hollywood Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Why does it sound like every song's been fed through a pasta machine of auto-tunage; it's like this woman is actually a robot, a Disney slut robot FREE ASSOCIATION: She covers Poison! This is darker than the usual Ms. Montana BS FOR FANS OF: Zac Efron, Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale, Hillary Duff
Perfume Genius Learning (Matador/Turnstile) SOUNDS LIKE: A Seattle gay goes home to his mother in the woods of Washington and starts crafting painfully emotional and personal songs with a piano FREE ASSOCIATION: Every song seems performed on the verge of tears, in a good way FOR FANS OF: Sufjan Stevens, Xiu Xiu, Antony and the Johnsons, journaling
Lost in the Trees All Alone in an Empty House (Anti-/Trekky) SOUNDS LIKE: A re-issue of the 2008 sophomore LP from North Carolina's Ari Picker and his small army of orchestral and folk friends creating a lush folk pop dream FREE ASSOCIATION: Ahhh! It's from NC; they got lots a beards n' grass down there FOR FANS OF: St. Vincent x Joanna Newsom + Bonnie Prince Billy Buckcherry All Night Long (Eleven Seven Music) SOUNDS LIKE: LA's "hard" rockers were introduced by a tattoo artist nearly 15 years ago and on their fifth you wonder what their secret is; surgery and Monster, methinks FREE ASSOCIATION: Remember "Crazy Bitch"? Man, that was awesome FOR FANS OF: AC/DC, Aerosmith, RHCP, Collective Soul, McFadden's
Eli "Paperboy" Reed Come and Get It! (Capitol Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Where is white soul going to go? Not with Eli, the Boston-bred cool dadio whose spin on modern soul, horns section and all, is boring and tepid FREE ASSOCIATION: Oh, Amy, please snap out of your drunken rage and put out a record FOR FANS OF: Black Joe Lewis, Sharon Jones, Mayer Hawthorne
Street Sweeper Social Club The Ghetto Blaster EP (Gold Village Entertainment) Sounds Like: Tom Morello and Boots Riley are a duo of '90s-inpsired rap rock activists choosing to fight the good fight with covers of MIA and LL Cool J FREE ASSOCIATION: Sometimes, nay often, rap and rock do not mix; leave LL be, pls, thx FOR FANS OF: Rage, The Coup, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, fist pumping
Screamin' Cyn Cyn & The Pons Damn, Girl (Crustacean Records) SOUNDS LIKE: Bizzare theatrical punk rock filled with moments of absurdity and rife with curses, male v. female banter and cringe-worthy low budgetness FREE ASSOCIATION: Kind of like a harder B-52's but they did it right and thirty years ago FOR FANS OF: Leslie and the LYs, King Khan & BBQ, press-on nails
Dan Mangan Nice, Nice, Very Nice (Arts & Crafts) SOUNDS LIKE: Vancouver songwriter's second is more complex than strums and heartbreak, guests and instruments abound on a lively, thoughtful folk rock record FREE ASSOCIATION: Moments of melancholy are punctuated by joy and swells of sound FOR FANS OF: Louder Bon Iver, Jason Collet, Great Lake Swimmers Mystery Jets Serotonin (Rough Trade Records) SOUNDS LIKE: A grandiose third record from Brits adore XTC and Pink Floyd but here use throwback synths in romantic ways to flavor their baroque power pop FREE ASSOCIATION: With each LP they change labels and sound, keep em' comin'! FOR FANS OF: Arcade Fire x ELO, Travis x Smiths, Noah and the Whale
It’s August. Labor Day is a mere month away and with our last installment in the Song of the Summer battle, we named a Top Ten. Only a couple songs seem to have any kind of steam to push their way into consideration before a winner is crowned but a couple will enter into the list this week and push a couple suckers out of the way. But first, let’s talk about charts.
Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” currently sits on the top of the Pop chart having needled its way into your skull for 11 weeks now. Do we admit defeat? Do we let Katy lower that sash across her torso? Absolutely not. That shit is tired. A quick look at the rest of the Pop chart’s Top Ten is revealing, in that we needn’t let the charts weigh heavily on our consideration of what is actually good and gay. B.o.B. (or Bobby Ray) hit it big with “Airplanes,” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” is still at it. Both of these songs are completely boring minus Hayley Williams’ (of Paramore) appearance on “Airplanes.” She’s adorable.
Mike Posner, now this one’s interesting. This “Cooler Than Me” song’s doing really well, and he’s sexy as hell. But, this song is brutal. The video is shiny and intoxicating, but the song just won’t cut it. Eminem’s success is slightly mystifying; “Love the Way You Lie” made it to our list, mostly because of Rihanna, but his presence on the Pop chart makes him a little gay, no? Must be tough for him.
Usher, Jason Derulo and Taio Cruz are holding down the R&B heavy hitting with “OMG,” “Ridin’ Solo” and “Dynamite.” Usher’s got it going on, always has and always will. But Derulo and Cruz are forgettable times ten. Rounding out the Top Ten are La Roux—the Brit electropop duo’s “Bulletproof” has been on the chart for 21 weeks—and the lovely and fresh-faced Shontelle, whose “Impossible” is a delightful power ballad. She’s a keeper and perhaps August will be hers for gracing magazine covers and talk-show couches.
As for our picks... LAST WEEK’S LIST:
1. Adam Lambert – “If I Had You”
2. Nicki Minaj – “Your Love”
3. Eminem featuring Rihanna – “Love the Way You Lie”
4. Kylie Minogue – “All the Lovers”
5. Ke$ha – “Your Love Is My Drug”
6. Robyn – “Fembot”
7. Scissor Sisters – “Fire with Fire”
8. Big Boi featuring Cutty – “Shutterbugg”
9. Usher featuring will.i.am – OMG
10. Kelly Rowland featuring David Guetta – “Commander”
THIS WEEK’S LIST: 1. Nicki Minaj – “Your Love”
2. Kylie Minogue – “All the Lovers”
3. Robyn – “Hang with Me”/“Dancing on My Own”
4. Scissor Sisters – “Fire with Fire”
5. Ke$ha – “Your Love Is My Drug”
6. Big Boi – “Shutterbugg”
7. Shontelle – “Impossible”
8. Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope”
Adam Lambert discreetly disappeared off of the charts and out of people’s minds, it seems. His big gay video was so exciting and it still is. But maybe America’s not ready for a huge forest rave with weird cabaret outfits. Eminem will never helm a gay man’s Song of the Summer, period. Kelly’s “Commander” sunk on the charts. Her November LP release is worth getting excited over but the lead single just doesn’t have what it takes to become a national gay sensation.
Robyn’s been kicking ass and taking names this year, including a raved-about performance at Chicago’s Pitchfork festival. And I’m totally cheating by naming two songs but whatever, the new single for a danced-up version of the stunning Pt. 1 single “Hang with Me” is the lead single from September’s Pt. 2 and it feels like a perfect end-of-summer reflection on the summer flings that will undoubtedly come to a screeching halt in the next few weeks. And with “Dancing on My Own” currently banging in clubs on the regular, she actually concocted dance moves to fit the lyrics and they’re the gayest.
Nicki, Kylie and Ke$ha are all in tight contention and their singles are neck and neck at the moment. Scissor Sisters, Big Boi, Shontelle and Janelle are the wild cards, really. The newbies, “Impossible” and “Tightrope,” have been slow builders but after watching Janelle on Ellen the other day, she’s just got to be involved with this list. I’d rather have “Cold War” or “Faster” from The ArchAndroid register on people’s pop-culture radar but it’s just not the case. She’s got loads of charm. “Impossible” feels like the perfect melancholic conclusion to a sweaty, hot summer. This will be the comforting ballad for your summer-fling breakup that’ll get you moving to the club again. —Bill Chenevert
If you didn't know, I can tell you for certain: Robyn is the hottest thing on Earth at the moment. She is talented as hell and she murdered a performance at the Trocadero last night in her usual charming way. She can move. She can fucking dance her ass off and you know what? It was hot as Hades in there and it was pretty packed. She came out in these high waisted white pants with a bold red floral, a small little halter tank and a billowy black jacket that she wore for about one half of a song before it came off. She got covered in sweat and thank goodness, for it. She put on a beret. She was like a sexy pop machine.
And she's working that futuristic vibe in the most delicious and almost understated way. She's slowly but surely buildinger herself up to giant international pop star status and while I will be absolutely pumped to check out future legs of this tour, when her other two Body Talk records are out, this might be one of the last times to have seen her at a smaller place like the Troc. Soon enough she'll be at the Electric Factory or the TLA. She came out with "Fembots" blazing, the charming should-be single from June's Body Talk Pt. 1 in which she likens herself to a sex machine. These are some of the most playfully sexual pop lyrics in recent memory: "Pull up in docking position, Pop the hatch and hit ignition" and "In fact I'm a very scientifically advanced hot mama, Artificially discreet no drama, Digitally chic titanium mama." One of the things I love most about Robyn is how hot she is in a modest, urban kind of way with clothes that are baggy on purpose. She's got a great body but because she's healthy, she dances her ass off every night.
I'd been YouTubing and watching Vimeo videos of hers for a few nights leading up to Tuesday night. I had to educate myself on her self-titled 2005, her triumphant return to America's airwaves after the monster hit "Show Me Love" in '96. Robyn has some phenomenally solid pop tunes on it, too. I'd listened to the new Body Rock record on repeat, over and over, late at night coming home from the bar, cleaning house, drinking beers. I've grown to know this record very intimately and somehow I hadn't found the self-titled until recently. There are some awesome hits and she busted them out last night including the Knife collaboration "Who's That Girl?" The beat is drowsy and funky and she coos about good girls, they're "always pretty, like all the time, I'm just pretty, some of the time." Such a clever little girl, isn't she? I was slightly disappointed that she didn't perform "Handle Me," a quirky hip hop flavored single, but she did pull out the old favorites "Be Mine!" and delivered an unforgettable closing encore version of "With Every Heartbeat."
She also nailed versions of Body Talk gems "Dancehall Queen," "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do" and, most importantly, the seriously infectious and powerful single "Dancing On My Own." This is the song she performed on Letterman flawlessly and passionately, and made a video for that is outstandingly well made. In it she sings of that familiar feeling of being in a club and seeing the one you want kissing another guy, or girl. You can run to the bar and be the drunk one, or you can say 'Eff that, I'm gonna just dance really well and enthusiastically. He will notice and he will admit his mistake.' Obviously Robyn chooses option 2 and she even made up some dance moves in the process. They're so simple but they fit in perfectly with the opening of the second verse: "I'm just gonna dance all night." Her arms shoot up to her chest and she pops them cheerleader-like across her chest, then they fly up, fists pumped then down to her hips, one after the other. "I'm all messed up, I'm so out of line" she plays invisible drums to the left, to the right, more quick arm pops, slowly at tics with her right arm, swing it around to the other. "Stillettos and broken bottles, I'm spinning around in circles" and she punches right right, left left, spins her arm like a windmill and then herself. It's just so damn charming.
What was missing from last night show was the new and deliriously charming single from the upcoming Pt. 2. "Hang With Me" is on Pt. 1 as a slow, acoustic plee and for this new single she's turned it into a joyous, shimmery dance track. It's a perfect summer love song: "Don't fall recklessly, headlessly in love with me, Cause it's gonna be, All heartbreak, Blissfully painful and insanity." A perfect video accompanies of our pop heroine on tour in buses, backstage, getting primped and lying around in hotels, and working a whipped up crowd into a frenzy. I'm finding it more and more difficult to take her advice with this one, I'm just gonna go ahead and fall in love with you. I want the blissful painful insanity.
An upstate country boy who was Johnny HighSchool, went to an expensive liberal arts college and took about 20 English classes, went to graduate school in Oregon for a couple years then came back to the Empire state and tried to pass as a city boy for a minute. Now I'm Philly and I love it.