Samuel Locke Ward/Toby Goodshank split 7″ Three short lo-fi tunes each from two anti-folk heroes. First, Sam’s trademark mix of soaring melodies with dark humor and violent revenge fantasies, accompanied here with violin and saxophone. Actually, it starts out with what seems like a really sweet song, at least at first, “Bliss Blue Skies,” but Sam usually doesn’t sing this sort of thing wthout a slightly exaggerated yet masterful air of sarcasm. “The Top” will definitely stick with you after spinning this record. The flip makes for quite a contrast: Toby Goodshank, who if you’re not familiar with the name came to prominence in The Moldy Peaches, brings a much gentler approach, I would even call it “chill.” The minimally-instrumented songs take you to lazy late-summer bonfire parties on the beach with your best buds, with just enough specks of dark weirdness to keep it relateable. The closer “Virgo Song” especially fits this description and is the laid-back high point of the record.
Dead Milkmen The King In Yellow The heralded return of the Dead Milkmen may not be an unmitigated triumph, at least not in my ears — Joe Jack Talcum’s output outside of this band in 2011 surpasses it in quality for me; it’s taken me a few listens to find what I really like in The King In Yellow — but there is something there.
Mostly, I think the album starts out awkwardly. The first track is a two-parter, beginning with the album’s title song, a surfy guitar instrumental in the vein of classic Dead Milkmen B-side “Vince Lombardi Service Center”, which then segues into a sort of rowdy black-humorous Irish folk number, specifically a cover of Raymond Calvert’s “The Ballad of William Bloat”. Next, in “Fauxhemia”, Rodney Anonymous muses about how he just doesn’t get Norah Jones. Is she still popular? Did he write this song in 2004? I kind of get what he’s expressing — he feels out of touch with his liberal middle-aged peers and their safe, wannabe-intellectual, bourgious Stuff White People Like interests — but the complaint seems nonetheless petty and a bit curmudgeonly, and is grafted incongruously onto a total non-sequitur of a chorus, a wacko rant about a “300-pound psychic baby,” an image that on its own feels rather Dead-Milkmen-by-the-numbers. “She’s Affected” comes off similarly petty — I think we can all point to someone we know that’s like the character he’s describing, but if there’s anything that’s become nearly as tiresome as pretentious twits, it’s people bitching about pretentious twits. In “Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song” Rodney throws a jab at child beauty pageants, disclaiming “yes, I know they’re an easy target.” Well actually, Rodney picks on a whole lot of easy targets on The King In Yellow.
But once you get to or past “Meaningless Upbeat”, which is track 4, the next several songs aren’t half bad. “Hangman” hilariously envisions the traditional kids’ game brought to life as a game show where the contestants literally get hanged, with spooky theremin to boot. “13th Century Boy” is pretty clever and “Commodify Your Dissent” is dead on in its criticism of mass-media’s co-opting of dissidence. “Can’t Relax” is another damn fine Joe Jack tune. There are still a number of lyrical headscratchers and awkwardly dated references; in “Some Young Guy,” Joe Jack’s portrayal of a secretly depraved older man stalking a younger man for eventual murder, the protagonist tells us of his target, “he’s not a rocker, he’s not a mod.” Are there mods and rockers anymore? And if there are, is it realistic for this character to be concerned with them? It’s unclear whether or not “Solvents (For Home and Industry)” is intended with outrage at the chemical industry or just as a funny story or what.
If you’re hoping for another Big Lizard or even Beelzebubba, you might be a bit disappointed in The King In Yellow. None of it’s quite as funny or even just bizarre in the way you might expect from this venerable institution if you’re familiar mainly with their most revered work. You do, however, get the sensationalized portrayals of society in decline and references chosen for shock value tossed loosely about. Loyal fans won’t find anything to turn them off. The King In Yellow aims for a balance of the social commentary the Dead Milkmen tried for in their Hollywood Records period and their distinctive skewed Weekly World News-infected worldview and sense of humor, and doesn’t miss the mark by quite as far as they have at times in the past.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats Blood Lust “I was born a wicked man, no hopes or dreams / I get my kicks from torturing and screams,” explains the harmonzed falsetto, half-buried in the mix, that will lead us through Blood Lust, at its entrance in opening track “I’ll Cut You Down” (following an ambient intro featuring, seemingly apropos of nothing, a TV switching channels). Thus is introduced the album’s central concept, a diaristic account of the doings of a serial killer who imprisons and tortures his exclusively female victims, this story delivered to a heavy retro acid-rock musical setting. This album made a bit of a splash in doom/stoner/retro metal circles in 2011 after coming literally out of nowhere, specifically, a backwoods England sort of nowhere, leaving the band and associates scrambling to fill unexpected demand from the small pressing. It was recorded on an old tape machine in a crumbling old barn and it sounds that way, all blown-out and in the red. In digital format this lends the charm of a scratchy old record played on your old turntable, but I have to wonder whether it’s even listenable on vinyl for people with less than high-end gear. At a few points the songs feel a bit samey, relying heavily on that swingy acid-blues rhythm, so that it can be hard to remember just which track some of its many memorable hooks actually came from, but those hooks are definitely there and will find you at later moments. Everything grooves hard and feature some seriously badass guitar riffs and leads and several very tasteful uses of keyboards. It’s not hard to see why this made a few year-end lists.
Admiral Browning Battle Stations Uh-oh, instrumental prog-metal jams with fusiony jazz inflections. But Admiral Browning emphasize texture, mood, melody, and badass riffs rather than wankery, yet the agile playing still impresses. This jams hard, has a lot going for it, and pretty cool cover design too. Very cool.
Captain Three Leg Monkey and the Blue Jay EP One of C3L’s many interesting diversions from grindcore. The homebrew recording M.O. of Andy Koettel and crew, and the rawness of some of the musicianship involved, gives these diversions a charming amateurism that’s an enjoyable quality in this set of three goofy ramblin’ blues-rock tunes. Probably not essential, but good fun, and fuck it, it’s free.
Pennyhawk Another Layer By now this release is rendered obsolete by the recently released Sisterbones which includes at least some, if not all, of these songs (possibly same recordings even). This material definitely deserved a slicker presentation when these CD-Rs surfaced because Kate Kennedy’s folkishly inclined songs and wisecracking lyrics are more than good enough to keep up with the Ames boys she’s usually found in proximity to.