After a few weeks where our music critic Andrew Tobias has pronounced his love for the music of his youth he now turns his focus on another area, part in thanks to the recent release of the band Arkells new single Knocking at the Door.
For some strange reason I have always had a strange adoration for music from Canada. It does not make a whole lot of sense, for the music produced in the great white north is not that dissimilar to that written in the southern part of the Americas. From the first meeting with Bryan Admas, to the anger in Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, the soft lilting tones of Sarah MacLachlan and the qurkiness of Barenaked Ladies it seems as if Canada has been close to my heart for a long time.
So when I discovered Arkells a year ago when they were closely connected to Frank Turner, well then it was as if fate had intervened. I must say that I am a big fun of their music and lyrics that tread that fine line between sarcasm and seriousness, wrapped in a simplistic package. Their new single Knocking on the Door is a tune that includes all the pieces that have made their previous releases so great; a catchy melody, quick witted lyrics and a sharp message. It is reminiscent of a southern preachers sermon to a congregation, complete with a climatic baptist choir at the end. It gets the listener going and their hearts racing.
So get off the couch and answer the knock at the door, because it’s the Arkells waiting for you to open and discover them.
In this week’s fresh tracks segment Andrew Tobias, music reviewer at large, highlights American pop trio Jukebox the Ghost’s new single and ponders how age makes us gravitate towards certain artists.
The pursuit of new music has always been very important to me although it has changed over the year. Like a sex addict I found, in my younger years, that I was increasingly looking for stranger and more disjointed music to explore. As if a lone singer songwriter with a guitar just didn’t cut it anymore. Now on the other hand when I am closing in on my forties I find that I look for songs that have a familiar air instead. Jukebox the Ghost, a power pop trio from Washington D.C., is such a band. They play a style of music that is a wonderful blend of tunes hinting on songs you have heard before and a lyrical ingenuity about everyday issues. It wakes a comfort and familiarity in ones bosom in a way that is reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne, OKGO and Scouting for Girls. It is easily digestible, fun and the songs stick in ones head.
They have returned, after a few years of absence, with the song Stay the Night. It continues where there last album ended with a similar poppy feel and quirky lyrics. The difference her is that they are channeling Queen by using the choir vocals and the distinct use of piano. It is also an anthem to platonic love, or the want to spend the night with that special someone, but apparently not being able to.
In short Jukebox the Ghost’s new single is well worth a listen for anyone interested in something dance-able and quirky.
After a brief hiatus Andrew Tobias returns with Fresh Tracks, this time with a declaration of love fueled by the release of his new album Whole New World.
To me Francis Dunnery has always been one of the music industries best kept secrets. No matter how much I have enjoyed his songs it has never bothered me that I was the only one among my friends. It has always been like a brotherhood with a secret handshake, a knowing wink or nod to people behind the record store counter pr someone wearing an It Bites T-shirt one happens to see on the street.
I was first introduced to Dunnery as a teenager, when I heard American Life in the Summertime, and the album Fearless became the soundtrack to the summer of ’96 for me. Since then he wandered in and out of my life and I was even introduced to his band It Bites. At times it can be trying to be a Dunnery fan. He likes to experiment and some of his production has been a highly dubious adventure in various soundscapes, but I guess that is part of his charm. This does lead to the fact that whenever a new album is released one enters into it with a sense of trepidation.
Whole New World Remix does evoke a variety of feelings and questions. Is it a remix album where songs from Dunnery’s catalog is enhanced with ambient sounds, very much in the style of his Made in Space or a re-imagining of the same like his work with The New Progressives. To my joy it was more of the latter than the former. The remix in this case are Dunnery’s interpretations of It Bites tunes as well as some of the more classic progressive songs of the seventies and eighties. Songs like The Faces’ Glad and Sorry or Genesis’ Back in New York City.
This is definitely Dunnery at his best. Most of the songs are flavored with a goodly dose of Steely Dan and other fusion jazz acts. It is a more mature sound, maybe aimed at a more mature audience with a taste for quality and excitement in composition. IT may not be an introduction to his musical history, but it is an introduction to his world, his amazing voice and wonderful ability. This is Francis Dunnery at his absolute best.
The Guild’s music reporter Andrew Tobias has always tried to keep his finger on what is fresh on the music scene. The goal is to highlight a new release from an artist every week. Here is the first one:
It seems to me like John Darnielle and his band always have had a theme in their songs or their albums, even though they never really were that type of act. It also seems to me that they are headed in that very direction. Their previous album, Beat the Champ, had a clear thematic red thread in wrestling and wrestlers and the forthcoming album will treat the phenomenon of Gothic Music. I guess both cases can be argued; Darnielle’s clearly personal songs have always had an overhanging theme of alienation and being an outsider and that in itself might be seen as a concept, on the other hand one might claim that any artist’s catalog is one long concept and that what The Mountain Goats are doing now is structuring it through in actual album form.
Bassist Peter Hughes stated on the band’s homepage that this theme is dearer to his heart, as is true for the rest of the group and may very well be true for most people who grew up in the 80s. The Gothic music scene, I would venture to say, has been more important and influential than we might realize. So far only Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds has been released as a single and it sets the bar high for the coming Goth album. Eldritch, as the founder and remaining member of The Sisters of Mercy one could well argue that he is one of the more important characters of the scene. With the very recognizable sound that is the Goats the tune discusses all the feelings of middle age people who return to their old haunts after success and the adoration of all. It becomes deeply thought provoking and at times sad, with some hope at the end.
The song truly brings a longing for what The Mountain Goats will bring to the new album.
Breaking is the first album from the Brooklyn based band Cold Wrecks, well that’s not the whole truth. This is a new version of the band Eli Whitney & the Sound Machine, which leaned towards the Ska genre. In this new iteration the band has garnered comparisons to Modern Baseball, Weakerthans and Against Me!, but that is to simplify things a bit. This is not going to be a knock on the more or less repetitive world of modern American nondescript punk, but there is reason to have it in the back of your mind while talking about Cold Wrecks. For bands that classify themselves as punk rock today, or the even vaguer term emo, it is easy to fall into the trap that is the aforementioned style and doing so one runs a risk of sounding more like Sum 41, New Found Glory or a myriad of other forgettable bands. To truly stand out in the world of punk bands just might need to look elsewhere to find inspiration and that might just be what the Brooklynites have done.
Th opening salvo of Breaking is called Price and is truly promising, a musical nod to British post-punk like Smiths, Joy Division and more modern counterparts like The Courteneers. Unfortunately it ends there. Most of the album falls back into a punk sound. It is the same problem bands like Fightstar’s album Be Human where the best track by no means represents the other songs. It’s as if Cold Wrecks don’t quite know what they want to be. The tracks on the album are everywhere without a real cohesiveness and with a disjointed feel. One could argue that the need for a unified collection of tracks is unnecessary in the digital age, where listeners concentrate more on individual songs than the sum of its parts, but for new listeners consistency is key.
This said Cold Wrecks style of punk rock is by no means bland. There is heart here and a willingness to experiment with the form, especially when it comes to content and themes. It’s more than your run of the mill punk and deals more with heart ache and loneliness instead of high school angst or parties.
Cold Wrecks show that they are a band that have a bright future in front of them and if they continue to experiment they can go far.
– Andrew Tobias
Andrew Tobias is a music collector, musician and cultural scholar as well as the Guild’s resident music reviewer. His former girlfriends also describe him as perpetually broken.
Between reviews of new music our intrepid music reporter Andrew Tobias would like to recommend an artist he believes you should know about.
If this had been anytime during 1990 to 2010 recommending the band The Hardy Boys might just seem foolish seeing how the band broke up in 1990, and you would be right. Although there is nothing idiotic about discussing a band, no matter when they disbanded, plenty of people will still talk about Nirvana or the Beatles, as long as the catalogue is timeless. Luckily for us this particular act reformed in 2010 and released their second album in 2011.
The Hardy Boys, not to be confused with the band/TV show of the sixties, were formed in 1985 in Greenock, Scotland and broke up due to problems within the band members in 1990, not long after the bands debut album was released. Songs From The Lenin and McCarthy Songbook was a collection of the songs the band had produced from the inception and contained remastered recordings. The break up of the band did not diminish the interest from the public, rather the opposite and the they would become labelled as a cult indie act; a lot due to the oft cited fact that their 12″ single Wonderful Lie would sell on Ebay for quite the high sum. It seemed as if The Hardy Boys would forever be lost in the sea of bigger name Scottish acts from the same era.
But they returned, came out of indie obscurity and strengthened by the vocals of Karlyn King to release the second album British Melancholy on Bubblegum Records. They did release an E.P. in 2009 containing one new track called under The Picadilly Clock, so they had resurfaced a bit. I’m not here to write a review of the two albums, but there is an interesting aspect that needs to be lifted. With a span between albums of 22 years there is more of a difference between the first release and its subsequent follow up, more than you might see from other bands. While the first album strongly resembles The Smiths in composition with a quick melodic pace, but with a great deal of cynicism in the lyrics, dark music that one can dance to. A more polished Joy Division and a style that would dominate the American market in the mid to late nineties with bands like Everclear or Third Eye Blind. British Melancholy is slower and to quote singer King; The new album is a darker affair than “Songs from the Lenin and McCarthy Songbook”, exploring the meaning of the arts amid heartbreaking love.
It seems as if the development that fans usually follow from one album to the next, the tweaking, the maturity in lyrics and vocals happened during the hiatus and that the follies, the experimental albums were conveniently skipped. Not saying that every band should leave fans hanging for two decades, but for The Hardy Boys it has worked and the transition is seamless.
So why should you know about The Hardy Boys? It’s the collection of delicate lyricism, fueled by witty sarcasm at times and true feelings of heartache and being on the outside. They have managed to epitomize the music of the post punk of their contemporaries and brought it into the new era of music without compromising. They are a fine blend of The Smiths, House of Love, Joy Division and even Deacon Blue and they curate this mix like a wine aged to perfection. So make your way to Bandcamp or Spotify, for physical copies of the albums will be hard to find, and give them a try, I think you’ll be happy you did.
Andrew Tobias is an avid record collector and hobby musician who hasn’t read a single Hardy Boys novel in his life and was horrified by the TV-show he accidentally watched on Youtube.
When it was announced that Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf were once again teaming up to make music my interest was naturally peaked. Bat Out of Hell, as well as their sophomore project Dead Ringer and the long awaited follow up Bat Out of Hell II are some of my favorite albums ever and I often times view them as two of the most complete works of rock ever constructed. Meat Loaf’s production outside this collaboration has not left any lasting impression on me apart from the odd tune here and there, 2003’s Couldn’t Have Said it Better has become a perennial top ten listen.
Going All the Way is the first single from the upcoming album Braver than We Are a project in development since 2013. The upcoming album will contain tracks written by Steinman, new and ones that have been previously recorded by other artists. For a Meat Loaf/Steinman trifecta fan this indeed sounds promising.
But if the lead off single Going All the Way is any indication most of us who fall into that particular fandom will be sorely disappointed. Meat has enlisted some old friends; Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito, who both performed on Paradise By the Dashboard Lights and they are unfortunately the saving grace. For gone is the bombastic grandness that captured the heartstrings of the teenagers of the nineties when I Could Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) would start playing at the high school dance, well at least in my neck of the woods. Instead we are quickly thrown into the song like a child thrown into a cold lake on the first day of summer, and a similar shock ensues. The strength of a Steinman tune is the intro, it sets the mood and tone more than most songs do. It’s the way he constructs it, like a piece of a musical number, the audience gets to feel what the performer is feeling and we are usually in step with Meat Loaf as he serenades the world. This experienced is completely lost and as a listener you are left confused and bewildered about how to feel.
Meat Loaf himself can give no comfort or guidance in the matter either. Whether it is his hectic touring schedule, his recent health scare or just plain old age, but his voice isn’t what it has been in the past. I once read in Time magazine that they very nearly, not quite, but nearly compared him to the old opera singer Jussi Bjorling and Steinman’s epic tunes would not be complete without his voice. When that voice has seemingly lost its potency, well then the entire illusion falls.
Last, but by no means least the compositions itself just doesn’t make it all the way. Steinman’s ability to write a great tune has already been discussed, but his lyrics have always been the heart of the affair. Part nostalgic throwback to a simpler time with outdoor movie theaters, the smell of motor oil, lost loves and reckless youths and part general rebellion, all melded into a baroque anthem. This is not it though. Going all the way is a jumbled mix of nonsensic words and the result is such a mess that one has to step back and say; huh? If this is one of Steinman’s older, rejected songs recycled, then it should have been left on the editing room floor, much like Prince’ later production should have been.
So, is my love affair with Loaf/Steinman over? Only the release of Braver Than We Are in September can answer that question, but this single does not make it look promising and in saying that, this is not a fitting end for Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman.
Andrew Tobias is a songwriter, music collector and writer who generally believes that Two out of three ain’t bad.