Friday, February 23, 2018

Reggie and The Full Effect
Pure Noise, 2018

Originally published at Apathy & Exhaustion

Reggie and The Full Effect are a funny emo band.  Both labels come with trappings and an unforgiving half life.  In general, I have no truck for “funny” artists, normally failing to deliver in either category, as if the sum of the two mediocrities adds up to a satisfying whole (reviews, on the other hand, should always be funny).  And with few exceptions, emo acts by tradition are supposed to age out of relevance while their audience doesn’t.  So logically, such a band shouldn’t really be making something as good as 41 by their 7th album.  Hell, if they’re somehow even releasing a 7th album it should be such a weak photocopy of whatever made them remotely entertaining in the first place that it’s utterly unworthy of your attention.  Combining the emo themes and humour seems, like an acid and an alkaline, to create something palatable.

James Dewees’ secret is being a motherfucker who can actually write songs.  He doesn’t lean on his characters to carry the records, and even the joke tracks are intriguing enough musically at the very least.  The only other current musician in this vein that comes to mind is Andrew "Falco" Falkous (Future of The Left/Mclusky) with his one man band Christian Fitness. (Fitness did a cut not long ago called Reggie Has Asbestos Training, which if these guys weren’t so rando-bonkers hard to analyse I’d consider a shoutout.)  His albums have always been a reliable grab bag of elements: catchy keyboard power-pop, electronic interludes, odd skits and inexplicable artwork.  Why would you make a joke cover based on a seven-year-old Adele LP?  The last outing, 2013’s No Country For Old Musicians, came out six years after the film it parodies, and features the seed of the new title in the wonderful birthday track 37 (where monsters kidnap Dewees for their own band).  It’s like he’s reveling in the difference between the speed of the mainstream and his own as an artist, completely uninterested in breaking through, just doing his own thing.  It’s hard to believe he hasn’t had something resembling a hit, to be honest.

This album is something of a grab bag too, but it might also be the most traditional Reggie work yet.  There’s a rough pattern to the ouvre where if Dewees is going through some shit in his life, he reigns the wild horses in a bit.  After his mid-to-late 2000s “serious” records, Songs Not To Get Married To (an emo divorce album, arguably showing that it’s not just a genre for kids who don’t yet know true pain) and Last Stop: Crappy Town (chronicling his daily journeys to drug rehab), Dewees seemed to get full-on back to the gonzo on NCFOM.  With 41, he’s having a hard time again at the age in question, having recently lost several close family members.  Which speaking as a mopey 33 year-old is uh, strangely comforting.  Common to all the projects though is that you can just as easily listen to the whole tracklist as drop in anywhere, as Dewees is good at ordering and flow -- a make or break skill when jumping between genres.

The first half mostly looks like it’s going to be sad.  But you can never trust how these things look.  The NCFOM tracklist was utter nonsense, yet the content itself was only largely nonsense.  The transition from that record comes in the form of il Sniffy Incontra.  It’s a single held organ note with a few church hall type lines over the top, that translates from the Italian as “Sniffy Meet.”  Maybe it’s a Chumbawamba cover of a 600-year-old peasantry resistance song, or maybe on closer inspection it’s just a stupid clip about going out to your car to snort cocaine before a show.  Who’s to say?  il Pesce Svedese (Swedish Fish) is the same sort of pummeling pop-rock-punk after a bizarre intro as From Me 2 U back in the day.  We continue to follow the golden-era emo mixtape momentum with a fast/slow bridge track as we go from Alone Again to Broke Down.  You’d be reasonable to expect some more weird insane shit by this point.  Patience, my kooky music lovers.

The breaks sustain with Heartbreak, synth bedroom pop that evokes Derby’s own Jyoti Mishra AKA White Town (best known for 1997’s gender bending one-hit wonder Your Woman, which still sounds great by the way).  There’s a few tracks with this same aura.  Karate School is a heavier, lurching rock song and is very silly.  You can tell it’s silly because Dewees gave an unrelated silly fan fiction explanation for it about The Boy Who Lived utilising martial arts and fighting alongside ducks (or possibly against them).  The next trio all seem to have a similar theme of mutual dependency with the ones you love, with the third being about someone named Maggie -- perhaps that target of derision of so many angry young men of 1980s Britain and beyond, Chumbawamba included?  Well no.  If anything it’s about feelings alien to the iron lady, of care and compassion for the people and animals around you.  (“Mrs. Thatcher’s heart… oh, fuck that!  I know, I’ll put a stone in.”) 

Finally, our hero seems ready to let it loose with the magnificently titled Channing Tatum Space Rollerblading Montage Music. Courtesy of his British electropop alter-ego Fluxuation, Channing is a warbling, beat-manic bit of Detroit techno that you might have heard on Mary Anne Hobbs’ Breezeblock in the early 2000s while waiting for Mike Davies to come on.  It’s a reference to a critically-panned Wachowski sisters film from 2015 called Jupiter Ascending, where Tatum had some zippy low-flying hoverboots; I was almost disappointed to learn that the title didn’t just bubble up organically from Dewees’ mind.  It’s great, but not as loose with sensibleness as the name suggests; like I wrote earlier, the humour has always been secondary for The Full Effect.  Move it into the background, and the important elements are still there.  As leftfield as the change in genre might hit an uninitiated listener, there’s no need to understand or even be aware that this is a so-called “fake” persona of Dewees.  He’s not taking the piss even though he appears to be, but using these characters as an avatar to try different things.

To a lesser degree, this is even true with Klaus of Common Denominator if you don't pay close attention to the foolish words he’s spouting over his twinkle-spackled metal.  Yes, not long after Channing Tatum comes Trap(ing) Music, where instead of rappers being caught “in the trap” we have bears and beavers being ambushed in the Finnish snowscape.  The opening notes are very similar to the equally un-animal friendly Flyswatter by Eels.  Perhaps rather than dumb fun this is a sick vision of the future: Scandinavian metal-influenced “brotrap” for cut whiteboy doofuses, signalling again the diminishing gas left in the tank of this hip hop era.  The cold times continue on And Next With Feeling, a grand, dazzling ice palace of a track, before the album ends with Off Delaware.  If there remained any doubt that middle age is still bringing the artist strife, this one brings it home in mum-friendly fashion, as a remembrance of Dewees’ own.  Off Delaware is a sad violin and piano-led dirge.  It’s not the visceral heartbreak of adolescence or the world-exploding volcano of late 20s divorce, but an all new sort of agony.  This is the last of several elegant non-whiny crooners (New Years Day, Broke Down).

Having gone the long division route with the 14 numbers of 41 a particular picture appears.  On paper, it seems obvious that this is more emo than funny, with lots of beauty and less fucking about than most previous albums (what our Tony of Nurgle described as “like trying to loot a corpse strewn battlefield with my hands tied behind my back to get to the good stuff”).  41 is more like the time Michael Moore reserved the pratfalls for a whole two-hour documentary to driving briefly around Congress in an ice-cream truck yelling through a loudspeaker while trying to oust George Bush from office.  It might be easier to talk about the off-kilter moments, but for the most part RATFE here delve deeper into their 80s influences, delivering finally on the promise of their old-fashioned name and debut’s title (Greatest Hits 1984 - 1987).  With all the soft whimsy, it’s a shame this was not released before Valentines Day.  Enough of it is upbeat for that variety effect though.  It adds to a positive start to the year for keyboard rock, with Jeff Rosenstock and Andrew WK also releasing new music (and yes when I come to write about AWK I’ll be sure to mention the other two).  Maybe if you like to laugh with your music you’ll disagree, but the full effect of 41 is that it largely gives me the same safe guarantee of enjoyment as James Dewees’ older material, even when it’s not full-on oddball.

Another review, another punk crowdfunding effort for hospital bills, and, regretfully, funeral costs.  Last week former Full Effect drummer Billy Johnson passed away.  A Gofundme account has been set up for his wife and kids.  Shite. 

41 is out February 23rd.  The vinyl will be available on white, white/black and white with black smoke right here.   The French bulldog from the last album centre also makes a welcome return.  Presumably the album will be available to stream in full at Pure Noise’s bandcamp page.  Reggie and The Full Effect are also starting a U.S. tour on that same day.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weather or Not
Rhymesayers, 2018

Image result for weather or not evidence
When I saw the Descendents in Blackpool 18 months ago, Dilated Peoples became one of the last heavy hitters on my liveage bucket list.  I remember back in 2002 making the 45 minute tram and foot journey to Manchester University, only for it to have sold out on my lazy, gleaming three-stripe wearing self off the surprise success of Worst Comes to Worst.  Since moving to the U.S. the Evidence 20/20 line “I toured the whole world but never been to Florida” has haunted me, and so far as I can tell has remained true aside from a few solo performances in 2011.  Until it happens I’ll have to make do with the fact that Evidence comes to me thematically with his English-friendly Weatherman moniker, the only rapper I can imagine my dad having a comfortable conversation with.

Weather or Not -- the third and final album in this series after The Weatherman and Cats & Dogs -- is like such a conversation with one of my people, in that the focus generally turns towards the damp.  It’s not exactly grand depictions of unstoppable hurricanes, hailstorms of frogs and sweltering summertimes.  Many of the beats sound like rain patterns, from the soft drips at dawn of lead track Throw It All Away, to the water-torture agony of Moving Too Fast, the ethereal Rain Drops, and the symphony of shower on Love is a Funny Thing, among others.  It’s the kind of production that makes you want to go on late night melancholy walks, protected in plastic perhaps, but physically there, feeling a breeze instead of a phone.  The panoramic artwork (reminiscent of Paul's Boutique, minimalism and all) is grey with turquoise tears.

It’s not just the Poms that The Weatherman is reaching out to.  DP’s current Wikipedia photo shows them holding their passports; of course the mixed-media celebrating, philosophical and racially Diverse Peoples appeal to the hip young folk of the world. And Weather or Not is littered with a world beyond America that the artiste feels a connection with.  “I'm celebrating globally, you celebrating locally” (The Factory), “My fam rock the planet” (Throw It All Away), “Got the fuck outta dodge and saw the world unfold” (To Make A Long Story Longer).  An irritable Englishman considers the album title in a few skits, while in another Perretta talks about whether his stage name is French (by way of old Latin, apparently -- a happy accident for his Italian heritage).  Comments on every platform (hah) are flooded in non-Anglosphere love; maybe there’s also something in the comprehensible slow flow that attracts ESL speakers?  If hip hop was ever about saying “fuck America if it doesn’t fuck with us,” Evidence and co. have casually accepted it.

Take another promo cut, Jim Dean.  Evidence is a bit like the opposite of the immortalised American boy Dean, having had a respectable and long career without massive success (chorus: “We're staying out the way, we get away with a lot”).  He’s not exactly making it rain.  Here Ev is glad not to have burned out in the spotlight, considering that a lot of extremely famous rappers have also died young (“Gangsters got this thing about flowers”).  Elsewhere he indulges in gangsterism, the third release 10,000 Hours almost inserting him into Dre and Snoop’s Nuthin’ But a G Thang as it samples it so much.  The producer on this one being DJ Premier only serves to highlight how Mr Slow Flow’s delivery resembles the calm demeanour of both Snoop and Guru (Gangstarrism?), and maybe it’s not so strange to be noticing this now.  Opening lines: “I was guarded as an artist from the first day I started/I lowered my voice deep and tried to rap hardest.”  Go back and listen to The Platform and Expansion Team and his tone is indeed noticeably higher here that it was then.  Keeping it real eventually and shit.

Speaking of which, we gatekeepers all know that real hip hop has a particularly narrow sound.  Weather or Not is mostly boom bap bumps with select sampling, so if you use hip hop to exercise the back of your neck by bouncing it at a couple of uniform speeds for extended periods, you’ll be happy. Opener The Factory is a confident proclamation with a beat of gold and concrete, of life as a gutterstar in a steamy industrial centre.  While not Tony Wilson related, I can see myself rocking this walking among the winter weak and weak-legged residents of Florida as easily as in Manchester.  Vaguely borrowing the tune of the distinctly uncool Never My Love by The Association, Powder Cocaine uses a male “ahhhh” harmony to incredible dreamstate effect, complimented by Catero’s hook and a standout verse by Slug (of Atmosphere, and Rhymesayers co-founder).  The underbelly of Sell Me This Pen sends the listener down a paranoid film noir Orson Welles wormhole, while What I Need rockets them into a delicate future with Metroid Prime style funk synths.  There’s a grow-slow burner in the granular guitar of Runners, with fellow go-slow rapper Defari heavily featured.

Evidence’s Step Brother collaborator The Alchemist produces four tracks here, and I’ve noted them all, the fourth being a major highlight, the aforementioned Love Is A Funny Thing.  It covers well worn territory (people who show a shallow love when they think someone is earning money), but the vulnerability of everyone on it is impressive, from the beautiful Khrysis hook to the guest verse from Rhapsody.  Nothing quite reaches the naked emotion of record closer By My Side Too however, an ode to sincere love about Evidence’s girlfriend Wendy struggling through cancer.  The child-looped beat gets to Michael Jackson levels of pop, and it sounds great, but with only a few bars on such a rough subject matter I wish it had been treated more like a full song, difficult as it may have been.

All the collaborations add welcome variety to the album (with the possible exception of Jonwayne, whose spot on To Make A Long Story Longer won’t be impressing most of the world’s hip young folk).  It was wise to include DJ Babu and Rakaa sparingly, because the latter’s lone verse simply made me want to listen to the group’s collective work.  Perhaps I am just showing my Peoples Preferences, but look at this on Wonderful World: “Street on tour is a trust fund traffic/They love to feel the edge they heard the history's graphic/All of a sudden it's gentrifying beards, ironic tattoos/Classic architecture, iconic statues.”  In fairness Evidence does talk about gentrification on What I Need, albeit briefly.  That’s the problem though: there is a lot to admire here, and he produces plenty of clever wordplay to be sure, but I struggle to identify spots where what the artist is saying captures my attention for a long period.  He doesn’t do long-form or even medium-length narratives, starting every bar at zero and matching his relatively monotone delivery.  And to release your third weather-themed, pro-globe record in 2018 and still not make any mention of global climate change -- what is this, the state of the fucking union?

Still, Weather or Not you’re in your carbon-belching car, or dry at home or hitting the cement, this album does the business, as you can see from the fact that I’ve praised almost every single one of its sixteen cuts.  The sunshine never so much bursts through as casts the occasional euphoric glow over proceedings.  It’ll make you appreciate the rain, an element both cleansing and grimy, as beautiful as it is ruinous to socks and picnics, as essential to life as it is deadly.  Traditional as his backing sounds might be here, Evidence is settling into middle age as an example of what the genres growing number of older emcee’s have to offer: using his natural voice, tempering narcissism with humility, facing a disease that can’t be beaten with bravado and talking of his love for his two-year old son Enzo.  It will be interesting to see where he goes now that he’s closing this climatological chapter of his career.  From now on he’ll just have to enjoy discussing the topic with the other dads.

You can buy and stream Weather or Not here:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Reality Asylum/Johnny Mile & The Kilometers/Mushmind
Saturday February 3rd, 2018
Planet Retro Records, St. Petersburg, FL

As the world spins further into more horrific insanity, we come to question whether it is not society that is mad, but ourselves.  Perhaps it’s just our perspective.  So we try to embrace the madness, as this seems like the only remaining rational option when so little else makes sense.  The names on this lineup seem like they ought to help in that regard.

Approaching Planet Retro however, I’m not so sure.  The first act is Ybor’s Mushmind, and my mind already feels rather mushed.  Would I be able to withstand the musical pulverisation of the band chronicled in the infamous Zero Warning “Mushumentary,” depicted breaking into posh Miami hotel swimming pools and fighting over chocolate milk?  It turns out that like the uniquely neat walls in our venue tonight (do record shops always intend to overwhelm with posters and junk over every available surface?), Mushmind wish for you to settle into their heaviness without screaming in your fucking face, which is to say that vocalist Chris actually sings.  His voice is clean even when it’s hard to hear over the dense, murky stoner punk, and aside from him getting a bit energetic no-one in the five-piece is losing their shit.  It’s a good, appropriate, medium level effort, with heavy bass grooves and an overall sound that would go well with any colourful acid rock mushroom artwork.  Just in case we get the wrong impression though, Chris concludes their no more than 20-minute set by telling us that he’s off to smoke some weed.

Next we have Johnny Mile & The Kilos, I mean Johnny Mile & The Kilometers.  Wasn’t Brexit supposed to remedy these continental crossover confusions?  In their defense, JM & TK do harken back to the pre-Brussels pub rock days of yore, making no bullshit fun music from a working class perspective.  Or maybe that should be American-style P(u)BRock, with bassist Chris Cardon politely asking for what might be the last “donation based” beer in the place.  This would help fuel his funky interludes on the likes of Second Hand Cool, while guitarist-singer Gino Capone stays cool and straightfaced no matter the song.  His voice reminds me of Notorious S.A.D.’s Devon Mackinnon, an act I saw at the previous Planet Retro a few years ago (RIP to the band, the old store, my attempt at that review, etc).  Amidst internal laughs and unforgivable threats of dragging one another to Chili's and Applebee's are morsels of the militant proletariat.  Fire in the Hole is a punked up number about racist cop shootings; As Long As You Want It is a piece of lovey sunshine pop with an intro riff incredibly similar to Baby, I’m An Anarchist!, while another riff elsewhere reminds of Sleep Now in the Fire.  As there is no actual Johnny Mile in the band, I expect any day now Johnny Marr will be in touch to offer to take them to the next level of fame, Cribs style.  The Kilometers released their second album Working Class Cool in December.

The next band also seem to understand that anarchism and similar disciplines are best spread subtly, without all the dusty old theory getting in the way.  The thing that tipped me over the wall of apathy into coming to this brainhumper of a show was the Reality Asylum Cassette Store Day compilation of local artists, given away free in October and containing their great track Intro To Drama (Car Bomb Driver and Chris Barrows Band also featured).  Before they begin they intrigue me further with Ricky Seelbach’s bright neon spaghetti Moog wiring and the sight of a veritable bundle of drumsticks.  In addition to the band being named after a Crass song and doing the selfless DIY-till-death thing, Lauren Elizabeth’s singing has a high-pitched resemblance to Eve Libertine’s.  She’s making prolonged eye contact, getting in people’s personal face space, climbing the furniture, unafraid to switch it up between racy, sobby and screamy.  It’s claustrophobic and uncomfortable in an awesome way (he says from semi-safely behind the new releases rack).  All the while the rest of Reality Asylum are hammering drums and producing throbbing colourful synths.  Sometimes it’s seeing yourself dancing in an 80s throwback club, others the beats are so big it’s not so much darkwave as ravewave.  If I may be so bold it might be a synthpunk sound for the times, a soothing balm in the night.  As if to apply such a balm, during the last song Lauren dons a pair of black gloves.  Penis envy?  Yeah maybe not.  

On my way home, a few blocks from the store, I come across two posters for the group Patriot Front, AKA white supremacist Blood and Soil-chanting fuckwits.  I tear them down.  We might all be in the asylum together, but I’m not letting these lunatics do the decorating.