There’s something enormously comforting about a new Old 97’s album. You know what it will sound like: giant, resonant guitar, Rhett Miller’s clever lyrics and busted yelp, a chugging beat. Songs to sing along with. There have been the barest of forays into other sorts of music, influences splashed on their otherwise perfect template, but if you can say one thing about Old 97’s it is this: they are consistent.
Sondre Lerche is going through some changes. His latest, Pleasure, bears the hallmarks of a breakup album: heartbroken, aching lyrics and a complete shift in musical style. Pleasure sounds nothing like any previous Lerche album, which, to be fair, touched upon a variety of musical styles. From the indie pop of his debut, Faces Down to the glorious jazz inflections of Duper Sessions, to the edgier kick of Phantom Punch, Sondre Lerche isn’t shy about dipping into disparate genres. On Pleasure, he goes full on 1980s revival, faceted through his undeniable talent.
Levi Petree’s debut album is called It’s Country, but it isn’t. It’s a delicious melange of things that might fit neatly under the Americana umbrella: pastoral balladry, kick-ass stompers, folksy sunniness, and more than a little punk-rock snarl. They come together to make a debut that is strong and assured, with loads of personality.
Forgive me, Papa Emeritus III, for I have sinned. Upon first hearing Ghost’s latest album Meliora, I dismissed it as pedestrian and perhaps even representing a stumble backwards for you and your Nameless Ghouls. O how wrong I was! Additional time spent worshipping at its sooty, cloven hooves has revealed my mistake. It is indeed Glory Incarnate.
While Ghost’s first album, the cleverly titled Opus Eponymous, introduced the world to the band’s unique blend of Satanic lyrics, syrupy vocals, and sharp guitar solos, their “sophomore psalm,” 2013’s Infestissumam, showed that the band’s brand of evil was evolving to include psychedelic-tinged organ music. Meliora reveals the full flower of what fans of Ghost have always suspected: they are as much of a hidden threat as any conjured by fundamentalist Christians. Their music might seem less obviously scary than heavyhitters from their death and black metal peers, but it’s no less diabolical. The songs on Meliora are as catchy as Satanic Panic.
Opening tune “Spirit,” devoted to the “Green Fairy” absinthe, includes a quote from an Edgar Allen Poe poem and Gothic, ghostly harmonies. Tracks like “From The Pinnacle To The Pit” (dig that monstrous bass riff!) and the sinister “Mummy Dust” have the power to induce the creeps, but there’s a melancholy in the madness on Meliora. “Cirice” feels like a throwback to early 1980s metal at first, but alternates that quality with a romantic melody complete with tinkling piano and timpani. It’s followed by the heartbreakingly beautiful harp solo of “Spöksonat,” which leads into “He Is,” a rapturous paean to The Infernal One that is both uplifting and downright poignant.
“Majesty” starts like a Deep Purple jam, but soon turns into straight-up prog rock, as if Rush had gone full Beelzebub back in the early 1980s, but with Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on vocals. “Devil Church” is the kind of organ music you’d hear in the place referenced in its title, while “Absolution” boasts a choir of dark angels, malevolent metal guitar crunch, and gleefully grim lyrics as Papa Emeritus III alternates between a hellish hiss and sublime, soaring vocals. “Deus In Absentia” provides a gorgeous end to Meliora‘s grandeur, complete with Gregorian chant-like vocals.
There may still be unbelievers out there, those who criticize Ghost for being all shtick and no substance, a band who relies on the visual trickery of corpsepaint, costumes, and masks to conceal the fact that these emperors of the underworld wear no clothes. Oh, that way madness lies! Baudelaire once said, “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” When you find the songs on Meliora trapped in your skull and catch yourself singing lyrics like “The world is on fire / and you are here to stay and burn with me” out loud, you will realize it’s too late: you’ve already been seduced by their Satanic spell.
This review was originally published on Dirge Magazine.
Now I see clear and have no fear / I know what I must do
—Ty Segall, “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”
There’s no such thing as a typical Ty Segall release. The singer/songwriter/musician extraordinaire has often explained that every time he tackles a new album, he does so from a totally different starting point than the previous one. This would explain why 2014’s Manipulator sounds very different from last year’s Emotional Mugger, or how Sleeper was probably not the follow up to Twins that everyone expected.
Fans of industrial music have likely heard all the heavy-hitters already: Throbbing Gristle, Test Dept., Einstürzende Neubauten, Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy, and beyond. Last year, Dark Entries re-released the eponymous debut EP from Philadelphia’s Executive Slacks, who are rarely mentioned in the same breath as those other seminal bands, if they are mentioned at all. Originally released in 1983 on Red Records, the release was an appetizer that contained just four songs.
“After 15 albums, i’ve taken all of my thoughts about the history of racial injustice and created a musical interpretation for modern times,” says trance blues artist Otis Taylor. His latest, Fantasizing About Being Black is shattering and thought-provoking. By looking backwards, Otis Taylor has made an album that is unfortunately still prescient.
The latest Son Volt album, Notes Of Blue, may just be precisely the album that will put your anxious brain at ease. It’s inspired by Nick Drake, but it’s also inspired by Mississippi Fred McDowell and Skip James. While the influences of the latter are more easily evident, Son Volt’s leader Jay Farrar says he was “aiming for where blues and folk and country converge.” He’s certainly hit his mark.
By Tim Murr
Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mick Harvey will likely be best known as Nick Cave’s longtime collaborator, from their first 1band The Boys Next Door, to the Birthday Party, to Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Harvey worked with Cave for 36 years, but he’s also had a distinguished solo career in his own right with Crime And The City Solution, The Wallbangers, and under his own name. It seems whatever Harvey has touched has been at the very least a fascinating addition to the annals of rock and roll.
Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough have written songs, recorded, and toured together for years, but with their album Mockingbird Soul, they are putting both their names on the collaboration. And Mockingbird Soul is a true partnership, one that is evident in their instinctive harmonies, their quietly literary lyrics, and the grace of their musicianship. It’s a beauty of an album.