Mod music for a colonial

I’ve always admired the UK’s mod scene. I love the scooters and suits, the streamlined aesthetic and confident cool. And of course I love the music, but mod’s kind of unique this way–much of the most beloved music in mod culture could never have been made by the kids themselves. They revered American R&B and Jamaican ska as much as homegrown rock bands like the Who and Small Faces. Contrast that with almost any other subculture scene–punk was about snotty kids forming their own rude bands, and what could be more metal than learning to shred the guitar yourself? Some of the best compilations of mod and Northern Soul music are out of print or unavailable in the U.S, so I decided to recreate a set using YouTube. Enjoy!

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Everything old is new again, and again, and again

Never was¬†a metaphorical sword so dangerous to its owner as nostalgia. We remember our childhood (or nation)¬†through a golden haze of “the good old days,” and even more surely judge music when¬†thinking of¬†the songs that played over the intense emotions of our youth. I repeat this mantra¬†to help keep myself clear-eyed when ruminating on some of the musicians who are reviving the sounds, techniques, and feel of 1970s rock and soul.

Some of these are just the continuation of longer-term trends like stoner rock. Find some way to get Wolfmother or Blood Ceremony onto an 8-track and pass it to a hesher in 1976; they’ll be¬†completely fooled. But the past few years have also seen a resurgence in ambitious, complex soul/fusion from geniuses like Janelle Monae, Brownout, and Thundercat. There’s also an interest in the gentle, gorgeous sounds that emanated from Laurel Canyon–First Aid Kit and Fleet Foxes are both international sensations.

This kind of music always runs the risk of slavish copying–well done and enjoyable in its own way, but ultimately pointless, endlessly circling an artistic cul-de-sac laid down long ago. That’s why I most admire acts who take the spirit and techniques of those times and do something totally new. Jonathan Wilson and Midlake make albums that are producer-centered, evoking a time of dropping the needle on pristine vinyl, playing it in your bedroom with a friend or two and a joint to keep you company, lying back, and¬†listening. Troker starts with an unlikely combination of party funk¬†and Zappa style freakout, then adds sampling and hip hop elements. Russian Circles make post-rock (itself just a sneaky way for indie kids to avoid saying they like prog) and injects a hard-edged energy to get heads bobbing in the concert halls.

As per my usual strategy here’s a playlist of some music that I think falls into this modern revival. By all means let me know if you want to recommend more, or if you disagree what’s here!

Sleazefest 94!

Back when I was a college radio programmer (that an a buck will buy you a cup of coffee) Chapel Hill, North Carolina was one of the most musically exciting communities in the world. One of my favorite rock and roll bands, Southern Culture On the Skids, helped organize a local festival called Sleazefest. It’s been going on and off ever since, but this was the very first one, and they made a documentary about it. There was never a DVD release–this was 1994, kids!–but¬†you could find it on videotape if you were lucky. Apparently it was available online at one point, but that site’s gone dark.

So I’ve rectified that. If you want some great performances from underground American music in the early 90s, check out some of the great psychobilly performances of Sleazefest.

Hop Along, “Painted Shut”

Hop Along band

Hop Along, a Philadelphia rock band

Let’s talk about Frances Quinlan’s voice first. Best to get that out of the way because it demand and requires our attention: a yearning like Janis Joplin, a bold surety like Patti Smith, a gravel like Lucinda Williams. Quinlan’s voice–both the physical instrument and the lyrical perspective–is all about American aspiration. But for my money what puts Hop Along over the top is guitarist Joe Reinhart. He (along with bassist Tyler Long and drummer Mark Quinlan) have stepped up to collaborate on songwriting duties for the new album and the results are intriguing.¬†Painted Shut rewards close attention; it’s made for sitting down and, you know, listening to a whole album like we did back in the day.¬†That way you’ll hear the¬†little unexpected guitar licks and rhythm flourishes that were obviously never part of the song’s original idea. In lesser hands it would disjointed or muddy, but here it’s accomplished. “Waitress” looks uncompromisingly at the singer’s own failure; “Sister Cities” invites you in to the dangerous lives of drifters on the edge; “Texas Funeral” is simply the car song of the year. The band is going down the East Coast for a few weeks before heading off for a European tour; the album¬†Painted Shut can be listened to on Spotify or purchased wherever fine music is sold.

Review: Pleasure Leftists

Album cover for The Woods of Heaven

Album cover for The Woods of Heaven

All right, post-punk band, jangly guitars, 80s retro sound, dark goth¬†vocals. I KNOW you’ve heard it before, but here’s why you should listen to Pleasure Leftists: they rock HARD. The band comes out of the Rust Belt hardcore scene and their rock and roll shines through in every¬†song. The drumming in particular is some of the strongest, most engaging rhythm I’ve heard all year. I am always, always a sucker for a good janglepop guitar line, and this album has them in abundance–it’s like the Mighty Lemon Drops were asked to help out at a punk show. The singer . . . Haley Morris has a great voice. Not just raw talent, but real control and passion, throwing herself into every song. However, I think that after this VERY solid album (The Woods of Heaven on Deranged Records) she should work on finding her on voice. We’ve heard Siouxsie, Ian Curtis, Wayne Hussey: what can the new century of post-punk sound like?

The Woods of Heaven can be heard on Stereogum’s website. Looks like a brief summer tour is ended, but I hope they make it up to the Northeast sometime soon.

I want my . . . I want my . . .

All right, as usual I’ve been listening to a ton of new music over the past few months. Some folks I know rightly bemoan the lack of¬†120 Minutes, etc. where you can just tune in and hope to hear some cool new music. Well¬†a curated¬†YouTube list makes that process EVEN BETTER in the 21st century. Don’t like a song? Hit next! More good songs, fewer commercials, everybody’s happy. Enjoy!