Cooker – Setting the Head on Fire

The post grunge landscape of the late 90’s / early 00’s is littered with Nirvana-lite failures – bands that grabbed the limelight for a brief moment with catchy songs full of faux pain, then disappeared – missing the roots and point of the Seattle original scene. Puddle of Mudd didn’t fit within that convenient narrative. Formed in 1991 by Wes Scantlin, Jimmy Allen, Sean Sammon, and Kenny Burkitt it’d be another decade before the band had a breakthrough with the Jimmy Allen / Doug Ardito / Wes Scantin penned song, Blurry. By this time, Jimmy Allen was no longer with Puddle of Mudd, having moved on to writing for other bands and working with independent projects. The late 00’s saw Jimmy Allen form Against All Will, which released various EP and singles from 2007 through 2013 to critical acclaim. Late 2019 saw the release of a new project – Cooker featuring Jimmy Allen on guitar and former Puddle of Mudd bassist Troy McCoy. This is the real deal – it might be the finest album Jimmy Allen has been involved with.

The album kicks off in high gear with Settle the Score – intricate guitar work, a killer bass line, and howled vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place in Seattle circa 1989 (or 2019 – Seattle’s like that). Choke Up is the single getting spins on hard rock radio – and no wonder. It has the catchiest melody and has the verse chorus verse structure that Kurt Cobain famously talked about in Nirvana’s music long ago. This isn’t retro – it is an invigorating and decidedly modern anthem. The musicianship is outstanding – everyone is firing on all cylinders. Brown Girl is another highlight – a mid-tempo stroll through the emotive side of the band. The song builds and builds until it reaches a crescendo 2/3 of the way through, truly allowing the listener to experience the same catharsis as the performers. Roach is a perfect way to end the album – a pure visceral outpouring that serves as an encapsulation of the band’s strengths. It leaves the listener wanting more.

The album is out now and comes highly recommended. Jimmy and Troy are calling this a side project, but I hope to hear more from them in the future.

Verdict: Masterful

For Fans of: Puddle of Mudd, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Mudhoney

Tracks:

  1. Settle the Score
  2. Sugarmilk
  3. Bad Unit
  4. Choke Up
  5. Robot
  6. Brown Girl
  7. Loop
  8. Subconscious
  9. Roach

Nutopians – Civilisation

Ian and Phil Jackson are the father / son duo that ARE the post punk band Nutopians. Not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, they’ve become one of my go to bands over the last few years. Indebted to The Chameleons (that’s The Chameleons UK to us in the US), Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Buzzcocks (among others), the band has a way of writing post punk gems for the modern era. Over the last few releases, Ian’s vocals have become more confident, Phil’s instrumentation more articulate. The band’s latest full length – their 3rd – is their strongest offering to date. Indeed, Civilisation is an early contender for album of the year.

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The Lost Patrol – Redemption

It’s been about 4 years since we’ve last heard from New York City’s The Lost Patrol. A lot has happened in that time, including the resurgence of Twin Peaks. Mention of David Lynch’s masterpiece is apt, as I’ve always thought The Lost Patrol’s music would be right at home in that fictional world (Note: I live about 30 minutes from where the series was filmed). Atmospheric, emotionally resonant – The Lost Patrol have always operated in their own world. And it is a world that I love being in. Redemption serves as a reintroduction to the band, an EP of 4 originals with 2 remixes. You know, in the 70’s they’d call that an album. Anyway – all the elements that I love about The Lost Patrol are here – hypnotic vocals by Mollie Heckerling, dream like musical backing by Stephen Masucci, and assorted help from familiar names & friends. So how does it stack up to past efforts?

Redemption has been on constant repeat since I received the album – an embarrassingly long time ago (this review is long overdue). Opener Some Other Time is all eerie synths, mysterious vocals, and tugging at the emotional heartstrings. Perfection, in other words. But the 2nd song Your Own Medicine might be my favorite song by The Lost Patrol ever. 60’s girl group vibes, heartbreak, heartache, and an epic sound for the broken. “I’m gonna make you feel / Like you have no other choice / I wish I could make you hear / Nothing but my voice”. Lyrics that cut like a knife. Don’t Cry 
is not a Guns ‘N Roses cover, but nevertheless it is a great song. It continues the girl group heartbreak vibe in stunning fashion. It’s Time continues the vibes, with an atmospheric guitar lick coursing through the song. The EP is rounded out with two remixes, which enhance the vibes quite a bit.

Verdict: Short But Sweet

For Fans of: Lush, David Lynch, Lan Del Rey, Cocteau Twins, Chris Isaak

Later Fortune – s/t

Later Fortune is the brainchild of Philadelphia’s Chet Delcampo and Heyward Howkins – two indie artists who have made their mark with solo records that stood apart from the crowd by using intelligent lyrics married to ridiculously strong melodies. Chet Delcampo (real name Chris Madl) took his name from Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen Brothers’ classic, Barton Fink. He’s released a few solo records and singles along with two records under the Hong Kong Stingray moniker. Indie rock at its finest. Heyward Howkins might be familiar to some of my readers as I’ve reviewed both of his solo albums. I really have always loved his folk / pop sensibility as filtered through historical anecdotes by way of his Philadelphia roots. A band formed around these two huge talents is a major force to be reckoned with.

The band started out as a way for friends to get together and record spontaneous collaborations. The idea of recording a song a month was thrown around, with the result being an album released at the end of 12 months. Sometimes the best ideas start out with the best intentions but lead to a different result. And here’s what we have – the brand new, debut single from Later Fortune. As an introduction to a new band, it is perfect. It makes an impact and leaves the listener wanting more. A 12 Year Audition is a low-key gem, hushed vocals and resonant, joyful melody that builds as the song progresses. Birds of Papau is an instrumental b-side, evocative in the atmosphere it builds over the course of 3 minutes or so.

You can pick up the record here. I’m really looking forward to what comes next from Later Fortune , this is an impressive debut.

Verdict: Stunning Debut

For Fans of: Mojave 3, Neil Young, Honeychurch, Simon & Garfunkel

 

Live – Local 717

My background with the band Live coincides with my discovery of “alternative” music in the early 90’s, my desire to seek out bands that did things their own way, and a mentor who helped introduce me to many bands that I still love to this day. The band cut a record in the late 80’s while still in high school under the Public Affection moniker, fell in with Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and released their masterful debut as Live in 1991, Mental Jewelry (still my favorite). From there the band became more and more popular, selling tens of millions of records along the way. Throwing Copper, Secret Samadhi, and The Distance to Here all were records that helped solidify Live as a household name. From there, the band experimented with their sound (V), released a somewhat underappreciated album (Birds of Pray), and released an album with some strong songs but overall didn’t showcase the band’s strengths (Songs From Black Mountain). The band went on hiatus, followed by solo albums, one-off projects, and a Live album cut with Chris Shinn of Unified Theory fame. A reunion of the original four members seemed to be an impossible scenario.

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The Classic Hunt – The Lyrids EP

The Classic Hunt are a new – but not new to the scene – band based out of Philadelphia, PA. My hometown and where I spent my 1st 24 ½ years. The band describe themselves as “psychedelic-folk-jazz-punk-blues” and I can’t think of a more apt description. The confidence displayed in their first officially released recordings betrays the depth of experience that each member brings to the table. The band was founded by keyboardist and singer Tyler Hayduk who has made a name himself in various Philadelphia bands – even opening for GZA on the 2012 Liquid Swords tour. After laying down songs that hinted at a new direction, the full band came together through jam sessions in early 2017. The band is now composed of Tyler, Brendan Burke (guitar), Andrew Haff (guitar), Jude Alvarez (bass), and Aaron Wolf (drums). Full disclosure – Jude is related to a relative of mine, though we aren’t officially related. All through “the law”. The Lyrids is the band’s debut. And what a debut it is.

The Lyrids takes its title from the annual meteor shower that takes place from April 16th to April 26th each year. A nice variation on the “April Showers” expression, the EP release coincides with these celestial happenings. The title of the EP is a nod towards the in-depth intellectual wit on display in the lyrics on all 4 songs. Back to Life starts the album with a bit of a jangle pop feel. Hayduk’s vocals kick in and sound like a mix of 90’s alternative and Bob Dylan. A tone poem story longing for simplicity in the face of life’s complexities, it keeps coming back to the phrase “I’m dying to…fuck you…back to life”. And the way it is phrased comes off as a statement of intent. Perfect. The sound fades out on a Guns ‘N Roses / Slash type guitar solo. Which is the way to my heart, truly. Catalina has my favorite line on the record: “The company was on point / They smell like lavender and pumpkin pie”. I can picture that, I’ve been there, you probably have too. The guitars shimmer like something from The Chameleons and the bass line just kills – anchoring the whole thing down. The song does a great job of building – and sustaining – a mysterious vibe that keeps the listener entranced. A catharsis of sorts is reached in the last minute or so when the band jams to another killer guitar solo. Sunflowers for Rye continues with the cryptic atmosphere. The band’s interplay is particularly exceptional on this track, the space between the instruments really allowing the players to flourish. Lyrically, this is devastating stuff. “Are you holding me / Or are you holding me back?”. Star Vultures brings things full circle – jangle pop that is an altogether lighter affair than the previous two songs. This is also the song where the EP takes its title from. Of course, that’s not in the chorus. The chorus reminds me of a big 90’s alternative hit single. I can envision the video filmed in downtown Philly as Hayduk sings “Don’t watch me walk away without saying goodbye”. A perfect way to end a perfect EP.

The EP is available now on Bandcamp. You can also follow them on The Social Network. The band has an album release show coming on May 18th at Orlieb’s in Philadelphia. Limited edition CD’s will be available at that show. I can’t praise this band enough – absolutely worth checking out. They just may be the next addition to the legacy of great bands hailing from Philadelphia.

Verdict: Promising Debut

For Fans of: The Essex Green, Lilys, Mojave 3, The Band, The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub

Tracks:

  1. Back To Life
  2. Catalina
  3. Sunflowers for Rye
  4. Star Vultures

Eels – The Deconstruction

Eels have always presented a conundrum for me – for every heartbreaking song that touches my soul they’ve had a bland middle of the road mid-tempo rocker that did nothing for me. 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues was the rare album that hit me fully on just about every song. Nuanced, emotional, depressing – it hit everything that I love. Other albums have come close, while others have been forgettable. It’s been 4 years since Mark Oliver Everett’s Eels have released an album. That album – 2014’s The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett represented a solid record with a few mix tape worthy songs of note. 2018’s The Deconstruction betters this in just about every way. In fact, it might be my favorite Eels album in almost 20 years.

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