Black Swan Lane – Under My Fallen Sky

I don’t know of too many artists who continually reach new heights with each album release, but Black Swan Lane are an exception to the rule. Formed from the ashes of The Messengers, the early albums included members of The Chameleons and The Sun & The Moon in their midst. Comparisons to The Chameleons were apt – Black Swan Lane excels in ethereal guitar work and haunting vocals that give power to the lyrics. The last few records found Black Swan Lane working with the core duo of Jack Sobel and John Kolbeck, leaving some of the connections to Manchester, England behind. It has made no impact on the quality of the records the band is putting out – each release feels like its own majestic universe. Under My Fallen Sky the band’s first release since 2014continues the trend.

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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

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.

The Chameleons – In Shreds

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.

I was shocked yesterday (3-13-17) to wake up to the news that John Lever – drummer for The Chameleons, The Sun & the Moon, and The Red Sided Garter Snakes – had passed away after a brief illness. It is not often that you find yourself in touch with your musical heroes, but over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to do that many times. I’d been in touch with John to discuss his departure from ChameleonsVox as well as get information on his latest stunning project, The Red Sided Garter Snakes. It amazed me that not only had John read some of my ramblings on this site, he also seemed to like them. John’s body of work is incredible – his musicianship added that intangible quality to a song that made it rise above the rest. One of the first tracks that John cut with The Chameleons was In Shreds. A blistering punk tune, it was released in March of 1982. A more aggressive track than most of what would be featured on the debut album Script of the Bridge, it features stunning work from Mr. Lever. The song builds and build to a punk breakdown “It seems to me / to be so contradictory / it seems to me / you’ve become a part of the machinery”. Mark Burgess, Reg Smithies, Dave Fielding, and John Lever were on the cusp of something great – and you can feel it begin with this song. RIP John, your art will be here long after us mere mortals are gone from this Earth.

Nutopians – Claustrophobia

nutopians

Nutopians duo return with a stunning EP as a teaser for the upcoming full length. Led by Father / Son duo Ian and Phil Jackson, the band have forged their own path of stunning post punk tunes. A short 3 track primer, the Claustrophobia EP is a masterful release that betters what we’ve previously heard in every way. Lead off track is the title track. Claustrophobia is melodic, anthemic, and a masterpiece. It reminds me of early 80’s U2 with the way it builds to a cathartic chorus. “Feeling trapped, alone in despair / Like I was in the womb”. Haunting stuff. A Life Worth Living is one of those new wave inspired songs that makes you want to hop in the car and sing at the top of your lungs while driving the top down on a sunny day. Really feeling the early U2 vibe with this track as well. Sing a long chorus, what’s not to love? The Final Walk is a doom laden instrumental that was quite unexpected the 1st time I gave this EP a spin. Think Faith by The Cure. This is funeral music, and I mean that in the best possible way. It invokes a sense of loss & longing in the listener. An absolutely stunning way to close this short release, it has spine tingling riffs that’ll stick with you long after you are alone with your thoughts.

You can pick up the EP here. I cant wait to see what comes next from Ian and Phil Jackson

Verdict: post punk masterpiece

For Fans of: The Cure, Joy Division, U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Sound

The Red-Sided Garter Snakes – Blue Lake

blue-lake

Less than 18 months after the debut album Endless Sea from The Red-Sided Garter Snakes comes the follow-up Blue Lake. What began as John Lever’s project designed as a catharsis in the wake of his split from Chameleonsvox has become something special in its own right – something reigniting the magic found on those 4 studio albums from The Chameleons. Anger is an energy as Johnny Rotten once said – but what you do with that energy is what counts to me. The Red-Sided Garter Snakes use that energy wisely. Musically, we are drawn into post-punk, shoegaze, britpop, and psychedelic worlds. Lyrically, the songs are imbued with a sense of poetic mysticism. It’d be easy for me to say that it is a group worth exploring just because John Lever was the drummer for the legendary Manchester band The Chameleons – but the truth is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (to quote the original hipster, Aristotle).

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