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.

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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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Lorde – Melodrama

Many years ago a friend gushed to me about pop star Lorde – telling me that she was the absolute best he’d heard in a bit. Now, most of the aging hipsters in my age range (mid 30’s to mid 40’s) DO seem like pop music – ironically or genuine, i have no idea. I filed his advice into the back of my head and forgot about it, hipster that I am. Now, I i don’t live under a rock – I’ve seen her name pop up over the years and really enjoyed the cover of Royals by Puddles Pity Party (the sad clown you’ve probably seen on YouTube or season 12 of America’s Got Talent). Anyway – my point is, though I new of her and knew she was talented, I’d never sat down and indulged myself in her particular brand of pop prowess. Until now.

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Dog Toffee – The Future Has Been

It is a classic case of “what could have been”. Local Manchester, England band gets some buzz, records an EP, quickly gets signed to a label and the EP never comes out. But what if the EP had pointed to an alternate future? A future not dictated by the whims of record label executives following trends? Dog Toffee fit that scenario perfectly. Led by Gav Rourke & Sean Lyons and backed by a string of drummers (finally solidified w/ long time drummer Phil Nelson), the band tapped into punk, grunge, girl group sounds, and white noise inspired by The Fall. The band would go on to support legends in concert (Dwarves, Misfits, and Dee Dee Ramone to name just a few), headline shows, and record with Seattle legend Jack Endino. But until now, their debut recordings have never been released. 20 years later is as good as time as any.

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Ride – Weather Diaries

In late 2015 I had the chance to see the recently reunited Ride play in Seattle at the Neptune Theater. Though they were / are beloved for their early shoegaze records, I have a soft spot for their brief flirtation with Britpop. Not sure what to expect, I went into the show eager to be blown away (and to catch Andy Bell up close so I could snap a photo for my Oasis loving brother). What I experienced was one of the best shows i’ve ever seen (as well as the loudest). A set heavy on 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again, I could feel the venue shaking as the white noise built and built. Unexpected, transcendent, euphoric. Well, what’ll you do for an encore?

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Träd Gräs och Stenar – Tack För Kaffet (So Long)

About 16 or 17 years ago I came across a review of an obscure Swedish psychedelic band that was compelling. Pärson Sound conjured up visions of free form mind melting workouts, Sonic Youth inspired punk jams, and something fresh. The double disc anthology dd not disappoint. I eagerly hunted down later incarnations of the band – all under different names. International Harvester, Harvester, and finally, Träd Gräs och Stenar. Translation: Trees, Grass, and Stone. Throughout the various phases of the band a common theme can be seen. Communal spirit, restless experimentation, jams that flirt with punk, and the sense that there is nothing else like this in the world – past, present, or future. It is one of those bands that I eagerly tell people about – especially if they have an adventurous spirit. Sometime in the mid 70’s, the band splintered apart – some members devoted themselves to organic farming. Reuniting on occasion to jam, the band officially reunited in the late 90’s and released the albums Ajn Schvajn Draj in 2002 and Homeless Cats in 2009. Then, tragedy struck the band.

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More Ric Zweig & Fresh Air

Ric Zweig is an unusual artist within the music industry, having put his music career on hold many years ago to pursue a career as a successful lawyer and circuit court judge in southern Florida. Now retired, Ric reignited his music career a little over a decade ago, receiving many accolades along the way. Deeply imbued with a sense of wisdom, nostalgia, and Epicurean philosophy, the music is at once memorable and familiar. Ric handles lead & harmony vocals along with guitar. His band goes by the name Fresh Air and consist of Alex Mallet on lead guitar, Ricky Risquez on bass, and Miguel Cruz on drums. Songwriting is primarily handled by Ric, though band members also contribute to lyrics & music. The latest album More Ric Zweig & Fresh Air features 10 songs that will bring to mind the feeling of having a cold beer on a warm summer day, life’s problems far from mind (if you’ve never experienced that, I highly recommend it). It also is one of the finest records released in 2017 thus far.

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