Atlanta, GA’s Black Swan Lane has become an institution in the modern post punk scene. Formed in the mid 00’s by Jack Sobel, John Kolbeck, and Mark Burgess, they’ve remained dedicated to nurturing emotional responses out of listeners worldwide through an intoxicating mix of lyrics, soulful vocals, and stellar instrumentation. Early listeners may have been attracted to the band by the connection to The Chameleons, which is understandable – but the years after Mark Burgess (lead singer of The Chameleons) moved on have seen the strongest Black Swan Lane albums. Now down to a duo, the band features multiple guest players on each album. Vita Eterna is the 8th full length offering from Black Swan Lane – and their finest album to date.
Paul Den Heyer deserves to be more widely known. He made his first splash with Fishmonkeyman in the 90’s – who’s If I’ve Told You Once was a memorable Britpop hit in the early 90’s. From there he’s played with and produced many memorable bands – two of them very dear to my heart. I’m talking about the summer drenched tunes of Sunstack Jones and John Lever’s project The Red-Sided Garter Snakes – whose two albums showcased several artists influenced and inspired by John and his work with The Chameleons and The Sun and the Moon. It was a last influx of creativity before John passed away and it left me wondering what would come next from these artists, chief among them Paul Den Heyer. I didn’t have to wait long, as Paul’s been in touch with me letting me know about his solo work and sharing snippets over the “world wide web”. And now that it is here, how does it stack up? Does it live up to everything I had hoped?
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.
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).
We last heard from the Nutopians in early to mid 2015 with the release of their EP, Time. Musically indebted to the post-punk scene of Manchester in the early 80’s, it struck a chord with me that has remained. I felt that the duo’s debut album would be stunning, and – well, I’m not wrong. As a refresher, the Nutopians are made up of a a father and son combo – Ian & Phil Jackson. I quite like the idea of a father and son working together in the arts, it lends the proceedings a gravity that feels different from friends bashing out a record. Personally, the last two weeks of my life have been marked by some unexpected tragedies and I’ve been able to do little but work, engage with friends & family, watch movies, and listen to music (writing has taken a backseat). This album by the Nutopians has been my go to album as I’ve sorted out heavy emotions. What I love about this band is that the lyrics deal in heavy life issues but always offer solutions. Or at least, wistfulness without regret. Musically, think post-punk with a slant towards power pop.