Category Archives: Reviews

Review: 1986 – “Everybody Is Whatever I Think They Are”

Everybody Is Whatever I Think They Are Cover1986
Everybody Is Whatever I Think They Are
(Palentine Records)


When a new band puts out a solid album of swaggery guitar rock like 1986 did with “Nihilism is Nothing to Worry About” a few years ago, what you really want them to do is come back with album that does the same thing, but better. The infamous sophomore slump is a cliché more or less because it’s true more times than it’s not, or at least more times than anybody wishes it were.

Luckily for everybody, 1986 have come back with “Everybody Is Whatever I Think They Are”, which is not only a good album title (and presumably some sort of deliberate mangling of Arctic Monkeys, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” [which, as long as I’m getting parenthetical here, is a lousy title, also a lousy band name, also a lousy album, also a … well, let’s close all these brackets and parentheses and get back to the matter at hand; where was I?]), but is also an album that delivers the swagger and the songs that the first 1986 album did, but more so. The Dino Jr-ishness—“Black Spring” could be straight from “You’re Living All Over Me”—is still intact (this is good), but the songwriting is a little more tightly controlled and complex (this is better), and the playing is more confident, and more swaggering (this is best). This album, while not saturated in it, makes more comfortable use of the band’s psychedelic impulses (for example, the intense and deranged “Aunts Marching”, which descends gradually into more of a drunken stagger than a march), and they pack a lot of mean guitar, big drumming, juddering basslines, mood and tempo changes into songs that hover more or less in the three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half minute range.

Let’s come back to those paired titles, because it sums up what I like about 1986: where “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not”, as a title and an album, is a semi-interesting idea (and music) riding on a pose, “Everybody Is Whatever I Think They Are” is a genuine posture, with an implied and casual fuck you, and you don’t get the impression the band shrug themselves out of it when they’re behind closed doors: this is music with brains and with guts and integrity, and it’s got that third one because it’s using the first one and doesn’t even think about the second. But anyway, I gotta go, because Jesus Is on the Phone.

Review: Titus Andronicus – “The Monitor”

The Monitor CoverTitus Andronicus
The Monitor
(XL Recordings/Merok)

As in 2001 Lift to Experience investigated the intersection between Texas and Jerusalem, so here in 2010 Titus Andronicus maps the routes running through the American Civil War and contemporary New Jersey. And they discover that tramps like them, baby they were born to die. This is E-Street Band New Jersey, but with Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis leading the sides, Walt Whitman nursing the injured and William Lloyd Garrison leading the calls for emancipation.

Proceedings begin in the foreign territory of Massachusetts, out on the highways and out by the powerline with the radio on, and tear ass with no small amount of loathing of self and other for the Garden State Parkway, for Mahwah, for bars and parties and drugstores and pisspots and “The Battle of Hampton Roads”. Just where the borders lie between the new New England of Titus Andronicus and the torn-apart land of 1861-1865 remains blurred and shifting across the hour, and the music strikes tones from the opening gusto of the Boss to the Irish-punk-folk lilt of the Pogues, constantly laced through with snapping military snares, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “John Brown’s Body” (same tune, different anthems). Glory, glory, hallelujah, you’ll always be a loser and the enemy is everywhere… this is an album as blistering and intense as it is intelligent and weird and wonderful.

Review: White Hills – “White Hills”

White Hills CoverWhite Hills
White Hills
(Thrill Jockey)

White Hills blast big psychedelic blues-rock that expands and expands and expands and expands, surfing the ever-rippling and rising wake of the silver machine, cresting up over Monster Magnet and rolling up into a tsunami, seven songs, sixty minutes, sprawling guitar riffs and treading bass, drumbeats collecting fill after fill upon fill and fill, one wave of song ebbing only long enough for the next to crash down upon it. Plus, on “Let the Right One In”, church bells. Listen loud.

Review: Deskaya – “Le Printemps Est Là”

Le Printemps Est Là CoverDeskaya
Le Printemps Est Là

DISCLAIMER: The fourth song on this album, “Owen Noone & Marauder”, uses text from the French translation of my novel, Owen Noone and the Marauder, as its lyrics. Although I had nothing to do with the song, and nor do I know the band personally, I’m nonetheless flattered into a compromised position as a critic. With that in mind, read forth:

This album begins with a woman singing in a kind of Arabic way (not in Arabic, please understand), and develops into an increasingly louder, rockinger swell until it breaks down for spoken lyrics (en français… I don’t speak French, so I have idea what the guy is saying, but he sounds increasingly agitated or excited), then builds to a blister of an ending.

Deskaya is a band intent on blending a variety of influences—dub, reggae, ska, Arabic—into a prog-rock format, and they blend their influences well. Without reaching the dizzying heights and complexities of Mike Patton, they earn the right to be compared to that Faith No More style of music (not so much many of the other Patton projects). Deskaya’s songwriting in much more straightforward than that comparison would suggest, and perhaps in both the comparison and the exception lies the one thing about this album that itches a little bit: after a while, the structures sound a little (only a little, I would emphasize) formulaic: songs tend to rise to a swell, then recede or drop, to build back up to a second swell. The thing is, their songwriting is good—the songs aren’t at all boring, and they have good riffs, the musicians play extremely well, and the instrumentation—guitars, percussion, keyboards, sometimes wind instruments—blend and create a full and complementary sound that rocks and swaggers. They engage your listening interest over songs that last as long as seven minutes. So it’s not like they are beating a formula to death or anything even close to that. But this band’s technical ability means they can afford to be more adventurous with their songwriting; but Deskaya are a fairly young band, so maybe that’s more of a hope for the future direction of the band than an actual criticism of the present record, which uses its brains pretty well while also rocking them out.

Review: Schooner – “Duck Kee Sessions”

Duck Kee Sessions CoverSchooner
Duck Kee Sessions


Schooner has released “Duck Kee Sessions” on cytunes.org, which means it’s download-only, but when you download it, the proceeds of your $5 goes to cancer research.

This charitable aspect presents you with the perfect opportunity to discover Schooner if you’re not aware of them already: it’s only five bucks, and it’s a charitable donation, so if you end up not liking the album, it’s a tax write-off anyway.

But if you don’t like Schooner, then there’s something wrong with you, friend. Their album, “Hold on too Tight” was one of the best things I heard in all 2007, and it still gets regular rotation at my house. This release, a 16-minute E.P., has a slightly less-polished sound to “Hold on too Tight”, without losing any of the quality. Schooner’s strength is blending country and pop influences into beautifully constructed songs. So on the opening track here, “Feel Better”, and you get a surf-inflected country stomp, you get a little mariachi inflection on “Fortuition”. The songs always seem to be hovering over a meeting of Rick Nelson, Brian Wilson and John Lennon. But again: these are influences used by a band that exudes an authentic originality, not the direct pinpoints of some derivative songwriting and playing. This is a band with brains: they are lyrically smart without being smartass, and when it comes to instrumentation the songs don’t rest on a couple guitars and drums and bass; piano comes and goes, “Duck Kee Nights” is an instrumental tack piano (I think) piece with the sounds of the crickets and the highway as a rhythm section, some ukulele helps you “Lose Yourself”, and across these songs there are various percussion and other instruments lending subtle and effective underpinning to the fabric. There’s also much to be said for the vocal arrangements: harmonies and backing vocals are consistently beautiful and/or dynamic (witness the woo-oo-oos on the opener, or the ba-ba-ahs that course through the final track, “In All Probability”).

When I reviewed “Hold on too Tight” a few years ago, I said you should be prepared to make Schooner your new favorite band. I don’t want to repeat myself, so this time I’ll just say go to cytunes.org and buy this album. It’s worth way more than the five bucks it’ll cost you, and the money’s going to a good cause. Once you’ve done that, then go and buy “Hold on too Tight” so you can support this outstanding band, too.