Jenn Vix – Unlocked

The last few years offered up some unexpected challenges to Rhode Island’s Jenn Vix. A medical misdiagnosis that almost lead to death would alter anyone’s perspective on life – with Vix this was especially true. The latest EP follows 2015’s Strange Buildings EP and in Vix’s words “This EP is inspired by feelings I had when I became ill…I wanted to explore different sounds, and it felt good to do so. After my illness, it took me a year and a half to be able to even listen to music again. Change is scary, but it can also be refreshing. I recently had to burn a few bridges, but they say that the brightest light can come from the bridges you burn. I agree.” The EP once again features a host of ridiculously talented collaborates including John Ashton of The Psychedelic Furs & Satellite Paradiso, Frank Coleman of Satellite Paradiso, and Danny Chavis of The Veldt who provides an outstanding remix. What’s the result? Jenn Vix is a standout among a cast of standouts who has delivered a masterfully executed EP that is breathtaking.

 

Alive Again kicks off the EP with spiky post punk guitar and vocals that balance the line between rage & beauty. Happiness never sounded so good. “I feel alive today / Something good is taking me over / I feel joy again / I feel a power surging in me”. Complicated Man is the single and I can see why – it is a catchy post modern gem that is lyrically focused on covert and destructive relationships. It never comes off as bitter though you’d be forgiven for thinking that while singing along with words like “He’s a complicated man with an agenda / He knows all the right things to say”. Vix’s vocals sell the tune completely, a compelling mix of Siouxsie and Nico. The track is appears in remixed form by Danny Chavis and it creates an even more haunting atmosphere. Both versions are spectacular. Unlocked closes the EP and features John Ashton on guitar. It is simply stunning – the band locks into a groove, the bass creating a hypnotic groove while Ashton creates a holy squall of white noise & Jenn Vix sings her heart out. That’s Paul LF on bass and Frank Coleman on drums by the way. I wouldn’t mind hearing a full length from that core group. Perfect.

You can pick up the album from Jenn Vix’s bandcamp. You can also follow her on Facebook to keep up with the latest news. A classic mini album, one that I will surely return to many times. Recommended.

Verdict: dark gem

For Fans of: The Psychedelic Furs, Nico, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Slits

Tracks:

  1. Alive Again
  2. Complicated Man
  3. Nerve
  4. Complicated Man (Into The Veldt mix)
  5. Unlocked

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Downfall 2012 – We Welcome The Pain

Do you remember the mid to late 90’s when nu metal became the dominant sound of the airwaves? The music scene was struggling to find the next big thing in the wake of grunge, and the angst of nu metal became the next big thing. The debut album by Downfall 2012 would fit right into that sound – a nice mix of angst, aggression, and slower moments. Downfall 2012 have made an impression on the national scene, having shared the stage with Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, and many others. The band hails from Houston, TX and has won multiple “Texas Buzz” awards. We Welcome The Pain is the band’s 2017 offering, a compilation of reworked older tunes alongside new songs.

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Bruce Springsteen – Dream Baby Dream

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It would seem an unlikely cover – Bruce Springsteen, considered not cool for as long as I remember (though that is changing) – giving his own interpretation of an old electro punk classic by the band Suicide who came up on the late 70’s and are about as uncompromising as they come – harsh, minimal beats by Martin Rev and beat poetry sung in a somewhat appealing croon by Alan Vega. But Bruce’s roots go deep with dissonant music and the two would strike up an acquaintance that was founded on mutual respect. In the mid 00’s Bruce & the E Street Band started covering Dream Baby Dream  – a song that perfectly balances hope & sadness, traits right at home on a Bruce Springsteen record. The Suicide version veered towards the sadness and the Springsteen version adds a layer of hope. In fact – some Springsteen fans may not realize it is a cover. Before he passed away, Alan Vegas said this of Springsteen’s cover “A lot of bands have done my stuff, Suicide stuff, and they basically try and copy and do it the way that you do it. Thank God – finally somebody did their version of it. He did it his way, and such a great way, that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all any more.” The song was released on a 10″ single in 2008 and later was re-cut for the High Hopes album in 2014. The 2014 version features Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello on guitar which brings the punk roots of the song full circle. A perfect cover.

Ella Atlas – The Road To Now

Ella Atlas features Stephen Masucci on guitars, bass, and keyboards, and Tarrah Maria on vocals, guitars, and keyboards. Stephen’s name might be a bit familiar to those who follow the indie scene – as a member of The Lost Patrol and The Lovely Tangibles, he has made his mark on the scene with his Twin Peaks worthy musical styles. Tarrah co-wrote some of my favorite songs by The Lovely Tangibles, so I knew this had the potential to be a match made in heaven. The duo have influences ranging from Pink Floyd to Ella Fitzgerald and have a dynamic that is uniquely their own. The Road To Now is their debut album, arriving just a month or so after their 1st single. The band more than delivers on their promise – this is a striking debut album that will reward listeners after repeated spins.

When The Gods Are Fading is the 1st single from the band and fittingly, it opens the album. A slow fade in to an ethereal lament of love & loss. A dreamscape that sets the tone for the entire record. I love these lines “When the war is done / Paradise isn’t safe / Will you believe now?”. Waking Up does the slow fade in trick again with the song announcing its arrival with a glorious wave of white noise, surf guitar, and impassioned vocals. A tone poem dedicated to uncertainty, this is one of my favorite songs on the album. “I used to hear the trumpets / You were right / Nothing’s ever certain”. Horses On The Run 1st appeared on an album by The Lovely Intangibles and was a co-write with Tarrah Maria. Here, Tarrah sings her heart out performing the tune. Again, this is a standout track – an instantly memorable moment on the album. Calm gives way to the storm – an explosive chorus that is begging to be played on the radio. Can’t Go Back is a sad lament to the end of a relationship, the music & words expertly evoking a sense of loss. Shades of Cocteau Twins on this song. Skin And Bones closes the record on a strong note – in some ways, it encapsulates all the band’s strengths. Emotive vocals, strong lyrical content, and music inspired by – but not tied to – the sounds of shoegazing. “If you’re feeling like you’re haunted / Come and dance with your ghost”

You can follow the band on Facebook and buy the album on Bandcamp. It is a debut worth seeking out – enchanting, unique, original. You’ll hear shades of Stephen Masucci’s earlier work with The Lost Patrol and The Lovely Intangibles but it feels like this partnership with Tarrah Maria has brought something different to the mix (not better – different, in my best Eddie and the Cruisers impersonation). Seek out Ella Atlas – follow them, support them. You won’t regret it.

Verdict: promising debut

For Fans of: Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, Luna, Slowdive, Lush, Ivy

Tracks:

  1. When The Gods Are Fading
  2. Red Kingdom
  3. Hotel You
  4. Waking Up
  5. Horses On The Run
  6. Breaking Ice
  7. Something To Be Desired
  8. Blindful & Bliss
  9. Can’t Go Back
  10. Leave Me In Blue
  11. Skin And Bones

Nutopians – Rewind

Ian and Phil Jackson – the father / son duo known as Nutopians – return with their 2nd full length album, RewindThe album was preceded by two EP’s that gave us a taste of what was to come – post punk tunes that’ll stay with you long after the album is over. The new album isn’t so much a new direction – it is the band finding their strengths and pushing themselves towards greatness. The guitar lines are crisp, the bass has me thinking of Pornography era Cure in places, and the singing is more confident. Post punk revival? It never went away. Ian also fronts a punk tribute band called 1977 and you can hear that influence throughout the tracks as well. A bit U2, a bit Buzzcocks, and a whole lot of The Chameleons and Joy Division. Sounds like heaven, right?

The album starts off with Rewind – a statement of intent. Shimmering guitars, soaring melodies, emotional vocals – it has everything. A Matter of Conscience shares its title with an old song by The Sun and the Moon but it isn’t a cover – instead, it is a showcase for Phil Jackson’s melodic bass playing. These 1st two songs serve as an opening punch – masterful. The Final Walk taps into darkness in a way that is really unsettling. Opening synths evoke an unholy alliance of Joy Division & The Cure on their saddest days. An instrumental showcase, this is a truly stunning song. Underworld provides a lighter moment – a mid tempo deep album cut. A Life Worth Living was released on an earlier EP but is worth mentioning again – in an alternate universe this would be a hit song. A slow build towards the chorus and then when it hits you – you’ll be singing “a life worth living” right along with the band. It is emotive, transcendent, magnificent. Perfection. The Scarlet Sea closes the album in epic fashion, an emotional release that engages the listener in a visceral way.

Nutopians have avoided the sophomore slump – not that I had any doubts. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. You can buy the album here and follow them on Facebook to keep up with their latest activities.

Verdict: post punk classic

For Fans of: The Chameleons, Joy Division, The Cure, Brian Eno, David Bowie, U2

Tracks:

  1. Rewind
  2. A Matter of Conscience
  3. For a Moment (They Took My Soul Away)
  4. Claustrophobia
  5. (Is This) Where The Story Ends?
  6. The Final Walk
  7. Fast Forward
  8. Underworld
  9. Delay the Day
  10. A Life Worth Living
  11. The Scarlet Sea

Rowland S. Howard – Life’s What You Make It

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Late 2009 saw the release of Pop Crimes the 2nd solo album by Rowland S. Howard. Famous for his stints in The Birthday Party, These Immortal Souls, and Crime & the City Solution – he was sometimes overshadowed by the antics of his band members. Make no mistake about it – Rowland was also a genius. The album arrived in October of 2009 and he was dead by December. Sadly, it was also his most cohesive artistic statement. Recording sessions were quick – he was given a limited time to live based on the condition of his liver and with a transplant unlikely, it became a statement of intent. Every song pulses and sways with abandon. Much like Joey Ramone’s last statement to the world it was clear that Rowland wanted to live. Life’s What You Make It  is the 3rd track on the album and a cover of the song written and originally performed by Talk Talk. The original showed Talk Talk edging away from their synth pop work – here, Rowland S. Howard & company add in some trademark guitar squall and lock into a motorik groove. Having Mick Harvey on drums only adds to the allure – a mini reunion of The Birthday Party alumni. The words ring true and lend the atmosphere a vibe of both euphoria & sadness. “Baby, life’s what you make it / Celebrate it / Anticipate it / Yesterday’s faded / Nothing can change it / Life’s what you make it”. RIP Rowland. 12-30-09.

Paul Draper – Spooky Action

A year after reintroducing himself to the music world with the 1st of 2 EP’s, Mansun’s Paul Draper returns with his debut solo full length album – over a decade in the making. EP1 and EP2 from last year showcased Paul’s writing partnerships with Catherine Anne Davies (The Anchoress) and Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame). Older, wiser – packing a punch. The lyrics hinted at sadness & hurt – which makes for great songs, even if the experiences were painful. Not one to dwell on nostalgia, the new songs remained true to the Mansun sound while forging a new way forward. It was exhilarating music to listen to, but it made me wonder – could the long-awaited full length Spooky Action live up to expectations? I’ve lived with the album for a bit now, and the answer is a resounding yes.

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Natalie Merchant – Butterfly

A couple of weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to see Natalie Merchant in concert again at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, WA. It had been about 16 years since I last saw her in Philadelphia on the Motherland tour. All those years ago in Philadelphia – a concert emblazoned in my memory. Natalie had just released her 3rd solo album, her set list was tight, and her vocals were powerful. Even then, she refused to rely heavily on her hit heavy back catalogue with 10,000 Maniacs. Lost in the moment, lost in the music – it was an amazing show. Flash forward 16 years or so and I found myself surrounded by people of all ages anticipating Ms. Merchant’s arrival to the stage. The open air filled with her unique voice, songs, and strings. Fiery and a bit more wise, she played for over 3 hours, again eschewing most of her hits with 10,000 Maniacs in favor of her lustrous solo career. Older, wiser, leaning more heavily on string embellishments – different, yet familiar. Natalie Merchant is like no other.

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