The last embers of 2011 are finally squashed in the gutter existing only in memories and hazy cell phone photographs. Whether 2011 was a great, horrible indifferent, or another number on the calendar, if you’re reading this, congratulations, you made it to another year.
Sometimes, that is all that matters.
Best wishes to all for 2012. And who needs things like the History Channel like to remind us that the Mayans say it will be our last. I don’t really put a lot of stock in that stuff. I think the Mayans should have stuck to worrying about their own civilization. Who knows, maybe they’d have made it past the fall of the Roman Empire. That said, in 2012 Rhode Island made a big mark on the global music scene with bands like Deer Tick, The Low Anthem and Brown Bird releasing records and touring all over.
It’s hard to remember a year that Rhode Island bands have left as big of a mark outside of the tiny borders. To recap, here are 11 of my favorite local rock ‘n’ roll releases for 2011 and a few things coming up to get you pumped for Armageddon 2012!
If you don’t believe the Mayan hype, just assume I mean Armageddon Records on Broadway Street in Providence. That is an excellent source for local music.
Hope Anchor –Pile on the Dirt (75orLess Records)
Hope Anchor have been aptly crowned a treasure trove of mid-90’s Providence rock royalty, featuring a stacked lineup of Terry Lineham (Waterdog, Frustrators), Jack McKenna (Backwash), Paul “Pip” Everett (Blizzard of 78), and Eric Fontana (Mother Jefferson). From the stomping rhythm of “Halfway Home,” it comes pretty clear that these guys aren’t interested in resting on the laurels of their past accomplishments. The gargantuan hook-fueled “You Were the One” shows people can still write hit songs with big guitars. Hope Anchor uses a salsa-like rhythm during the verses of “Go” before shifting to a more conventional rock beat to take the song home. “Lucky” falls somewhere on the specter between Television and old fashion barroom rock glory. On Pile on the Dirt, Hope Anchor come across somewhere between a post-punk and contemporary alternative rock while successfully eluding the trappings of either.
Prayers For Atheists – New Hymns for an Old War (PFA Records)
On New Hymns for an Old War (PFA Records), Prayers For Atheists unleash a barrage that goes everywhere from Minor Threat-style hardcore to post-punk indie rock to hip hop without skipping a beat. On the first single off New Hymns for an Old War, “Guns Up,” singer Jared Paul tells the tale of the 1972 Harlan County coal miner’s strike over a breakneck ’80s hardcore beat that celebrates the struggle and hope with the refrain “Guns Up! “Guns Up! “One day, we will win.”
“Ramsey County Blues” is straight-out thrash that, interestingly enough, was written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Ramsey County Jail for protesting the 2008 Republican National Convention. Prayers For Atheists do take a timeout from politics to celebrate the Renaissance City in “Hope City Sky,” which the free form vocal style of listing off local places and institutions reminds me a little of the late Jim Carroll. Prayers For Atheists are anything but pessimists though, as the optimism of tracks like “Strength of Doves” and “May 1st, 1886” give hope to get up another day and fight the forces of imperialist oppression.
Psychedelic Clown Car – New Record Every Week
Matt Martin embarked on an ambitious crusade as we told you last summer – to put out a new album every week for one year. Rating the 23 releases (24 by the time this issue hits the street) would be impossible and at the very least would require a separate Psychedelic Clown Car column. For the sake of being inclusive, I decided to count the series as one release under the logic that even if Martin had only one good song on each of the 23 releases to date, that would qualify as being a classic double album. The current Psychedelic Clown Car, Eph, features the blues rock of “Accidental Bonus,” demented freak-out metal of “Peruvian Flute,” a few classic blues covers. Martin reminds me a little of a blues version of Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard with his ability to pump out a shit load of material without sacrificing quality. Psychedelic Clown Car’s new release is available every Tuesday at The Spot Underground as part of their “Free Creation: Tuesdays.” Never a cover and always a good time but if you can’t get out of the house on a weeknight, you can hear the latest installment of Psychedelic Clown Car online at www.sullyscafe.com.
The Blood Moons / Six Star General split 12’ release (75orLess)
This split LP from 75orLess Records pits the garage rock blues of New Bedford’s Blood Moon together with the sonic tsunami of Warren’s Six Star General in a knee buckling combination. The Blood Moons kick off things on the split ratcheting up the intensity with “Glassy Eyes” which just has that certain something that Apollo Creed called the “Eye of the Tiger” in Rocky III. The Blood Moons tone things down on this release, from their debut with a set of three downright ballad/wistful slow rockers. The Blood Moons make the slow jams work though with “Goodbye” and “Can’t Make You Mine” in a kind of Seeds-like ’60s garage way work. The latter one almost borrows the title of The Seeds’s “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.”
Six Star General’s half of the split, titled These Woods Smell like Grape, kicks off appropriately with a track titled “Sonic Boom.” The track features all the staples of Six Star from Kyle Jackson’s air siren guitar raid, the thumping bass and yelps from Mark “Slick” MacDougall, and the skin shattering drumming of Dan Ulmschneider. This time out Six Star General were joined by Kraig Jordan to further buttress the wall of sound. Six Star General continue a trend from their last album, Six (75orLess Records), by including three instrumentals in their 7 tracks. Standout tracks here include the pounding “No Knows No” and an ethereal cover of T Rex’s “Life’s a Gas, the latter of which features guest vocalist from Jodie Treloar.
Knife Party – 3 song EP
The first time I saw Knife Party was an “oh my God, these guys are awesome” moment for me. These guys kill it with straight out loud and unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll. Tunes like “Body Shop” and “Ride Little Pony” are high octane thrill rides that recall bands like The Supersuckers and Motorhead mixed with a ’70s cock rock swagger. Knife Party’s EP is only available for digital download right now but there are plans for an official CD release sometime early this year. Since it is available for purchase on ITunes now, it makes the cut!
Maria Monk / Garage Sale Picasso CD Release (75orLess)
Another day, another 75orLess Records split release that this time has Maria Monk and Garage Sale Picasso dealing. I’m not going to lie, this release makes the cut primarily because of Maria Monk. I did see Garage Sale Picasso recently and came away impressed, just don’t think they have mastered getting their sound down in the studio yet. My favorite Maria Monk tune here is the uber-infectious “Middle Man” that reminds me of the ’90s indie band Magnapop. I could picture this song killing at a late night dance party at Occupy Oakland. On “Cave In,” Maria Monk get ethereal in a My Bloody Valentine-meets-James in a sunrise duel drenched in acid washed guitar squalls complete with ominous chants.
Garage Sale Picasso offer up some indie pop that has its moment with shimmying guitars on tunes like “Ghost” and the tension building chorus of “Long Gone.” Garage Sale Picasso pull back on throttle and let things rip a little with the low-fi crunk of “Wasting Away” which is always a positive. “Wasting Away” and “Long Gone are definitely the two highlights on Garage Sale Picasso’s contribution.
The Throttles let it rip on their self-titled debut that takes you down the backwoods of dirty Americana rock ‘n’ roll. The Throttles flow effortlessly from the dark blues tinged stomp “All Gone Bad” to “Sailing Off” which sounds like what I’d imagined The Pogues would sound like, if they were from Nashville. “Leanne” is a love song that fuses rockabilly while channeling Blonde on Blonde era Dylan. Singer/guitarist Greg Burgess quickly changes his tune and proves he is not just a softy with the matter of a fact snarl of “Cut Loose and Go.” “La Belle Carmelita” works in a flamenco flavor with Burgess’s guitar shimmering on top of the rhythm section. The one thing that jumps out about The Throttles is Burgess, bassist Jack Hanlon, and drummer Matt Mclaren. Not only can they really play, but more importantly, they write infectious choruses and that really makes this record special. After all, there is nothing lazy about flamenco guitar in my book. The Throttles singlehandedly create a new genre of Americana funk with “100 Guns” and it doesn’t suck.
Sharks Come Cruisin’ – A Past We Forgot that We Need to Know
The kings of the sea shanty, Sharks Comes Cruisin’ dropped anchor with a new biscuit titled, A Past We Forgot that We Need to Know. Sharks Come Cruisin’ are sort of like a New England version of The Pogues in terms of the ways they work in their heritage by having a repertoire that consists entirely of traditional New England sea shanties. Sharks Come Cruisin’ come out of the gates swinging with “Raise Up” and a track I want to call ‘Rolling Down to Old Maui’ but on the promotional download it’s simply titled, “Track 2.” This brings up an interesting question . . . .how does a song with no title survived more than 100 years? You would think someone somewhere would have just called it something. “Track 2” makes me think of The Pixies in terms of the utilizing the soft – loud dynamic – particularly during the last verse, if The Pixies ever tackled a sea shanty and/or utilized banjos and fiddles. Sharks Come Cruisin’ invent a new genre of sea shanty-punk with “Farewell to Nova Scotia.” The opening guitar jangle had me expecting the tune to launch into a Husker Du-type thrash till then the rest of the band joins in and adds a Flogging Molly/Dropkick Murphys flavor but arguably better. A Past We Forgot that We Need to Know closes strong with “Leave Her Johnny” that is a sea shanty twisted into a Warren Zevon style tune.
Lloyd’s Llamas (self titled) (75orLess)
The debut disc from Lloyd’s Llama kicks off with a blast of guitar swagger in “Lost Weekend,” that reminds me of some combination of the Stones meets the Mooney Suzuki dressed up Kiss costumes. That is until the inexplicable outro, which kills the momentum and comes across as a jam band riffing on The Who’s “Eminence Front” for no good reason. Lloyd’s Llamas pick things back up with “Lion Love” that succeeds in channeling both Johnny Thunders (musically) and the Discovery Channel (lyrics). The blues in “The Mooch” reminds of the one slow number on any random AC/DC record. The country-tinged rock of “Stars and Stripes” is the first song that could possibly be pro-flag burning. The honky tonk tinge returns with “Alcoholic’s Heaven” which is a funny tale about dying and going to a Heaven where there is no last call and “Jesus Christ never shuts you off.” This is a much improved version of the afterlife from the one I remember hearing about in CCD growing up.
Reverend Bastien & The Congregation of the Traveling Empire – Roadside Attraction
I don’t know why, but occasionally I get asked for suggestions for bands to fill out bills for shows. I don’t know why. I always say the same three bands – The Blood Moons, White Devils, and Reverend Bastien & The Congregation of The Traveling Empire. The traveling good Reverend was one of my favorite discoveries this past year. Roadside Attraction boasts some of my favorite tunes released anywhere this past year in “Denver Sunrise” and “Scores to Settle in Vegas.” Reverend Bastien kind of mixes Neil Young’s storytelling narratives with a sound that would probably fall under Americana. Rev Bastien is almost too Americana to be Americana as they come across as a rougher barbed wire mix of old country and folk sung by a railroad hobo forever on the run. The bouncing bass lines in the verses of tunes like “Single Lane” and “Is She Smarter than a Fifth Grader” sounds like some sort of pre-funk meets folk science experiment while the lyrics take the adventure theme and run with it.
Reverend Bastien& The Congregation of The Traveling Empire will be kicking out the jams along with Filthy Still, Voodoo Fix, and Wolf Hongs at Firehouse 13 in Providence on January 13th.
Deer Tick – Divine Providence
It is unfair including Deer Tick in a “Best Local Releases” column because they are a national band. Then they had to go name their album Divine Providence… and make it one of the top 5 balls to walls testament of messy drunken rock ‘n’ roll thunder released anywhere – so I re-thought and decided you know what? This is such a great album that I want to write about it again.
Divine Providence kicks off with a not-uncommon simple thumping beat of “The Bump” where John McCauley’s vocal line serves notice that Deer Tick’s days of being known as the darlings of the Americana scene are over. “Love is a Funny Word” is a straight ahead steamrolling rocker that comes across as punk rock band mixing the smarts of early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The triple combo opener is capped off by “Let’s All Go to the Bar” which channels the Modern Lovers “Roadrunner.” This is probably the first time a Jonathan Richman song has ever been morphed into a drinking song.
Ian O’Neil takes over the vocals on the downright, should-be-quarantined because it is so contagious, “Walking Out the Door.” McCauley gets back in the saddle with the jangly wistful mid-tempo “Main Street,” where the lyrics to the chorus just seem to be a series of Rolling Stones references. The hits just keep coming with ‘Make Believe” which mixes a Latin salsa beat with 70’s FM rock ‘n’ roll. The torrid stomp of “Something to Brag About” channels Chuck Berry in a Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash-era Replacements manner. This Replacements influence hasn’t gone unnoticed nationally as there is a hidden track penned for Deer Tick by Paul Westerberg, called “Mr. Cigarette.”
Top 3 Favorite Records From Everywhere Else
Mister Heavenly – Out of Love
The Barreracudas – Nocturnal Missions
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Coming Attractions for theMayan Apocalypse
Lolita Black’s 2nd record has been delayed a couple of months while the bands looks for a distribution deal. But having heard it, I can assure it is worth the wait. John McCauley’s new side project, Diamond Rugs (an indie super group with members of Six Finger Satellite, The Black Lips, Felice Brothers, Deer Tick and Los Lobos) is about the only thing that has gotten me to stop listening to Divine Providence for any extended period of time. Last One Out are finishing up work on EP titled Lover’s Trance that could be out by the end of the month.
The Famous Winters headline a bill that also features Woodsy Pride, and Zachary Café at AS220 on January 14th.
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