Punk Before Anyone Coined The Phrase or The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics!!!

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No one quite did early garage rock like The Sonics. They were a musical mess of fuzzy guitar, earth pounding drums, screaming vocals and lyrics that were dirty and just plain asinine at times. This was the early sixties and while The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do” The Sonics were belting out “she’s gonna make you itch / ‘cause she’s the witch” (from the song “The Witch”) and as the Stones sang about “Mother’s Little Helper” these guys were blasting out a tune named “Strychnine.” It was a sound that reverberated from the 60’s and had enough impact to influence everyone one from The Stooges to Nirvana. The fact is that they were punk long before anyone even coined the phrase.

That The Sonics are not a household name is more at testament to poor timing than quality of expression. They were loud and crass before it became popular, and when they tried to move in a more commercial direction, that sound changed again and the band wasn’t thrilled about their new path anyway. Their debut, Here Are The Sonics!!!, was released in 1965 and by ’68 they called it a day. However, punk in the 70’s and grunge in the 90’s brought renewed interest in the band. Nirvana and later the White Stripes and Hives hailed them as influences while cover versions of their songs were played by the Flaming Lips, The Fall, L7, The Cramps, LCD Soundsystem and more.

If you are considering giving these guys a try the best place to start is with Here Are The Sonics!!! which provides the best overall example of their sound. On vinyl, you have a few choices, but your best bet is actually the 1998 mono edition released on regular vinyl. Mono being how it was originally recorded, it sounds far better. The great thing is that it is still widely available, NEW, for around the twenty dollar mark. A re-united Sonics has been touring and recently released a new album, This Is The Sonics.

Like Riding A Rollercoaster Blindfolded… or Crocodiles – Boys

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A touch of psychedelia, a smidge of shoegaze and sounding like they spent a whole lot of time in a garage playing covers of The Shondells is the basic Crocodiles recipe. So the real question, if one dares to ask, is this any different from the plethora of bands also trying to mine this vein?

Well, yes and no…

Heading into summer lets use baseball as an analogy. Major League Baseball has thirty teams all trying to attain a single goal – win the World Series. There are a lot of both good and bad teams that resemble one another but only the best really stand out while the rest are merely background noise until the playoffs arrive.

The Crocodiles are contenders.

Many bands have similar sounds but the pure catchiness and fun they exude is what keeps bringing me back for more. Hell, if they hired Rick Rubin to produce they would likely end up sounding like The Cult during the Electric era.

As it is, their brand of ‘riff-riding’ gives them a different team from others. They’re not as angry or skillful as Detroit’s Dirtbombs and they’re not as trippy as California’s Best Coast, but they carry your attention down the stretch.

“Crybaby Demon” starts things off with a “She Sells Santuary” guitar intro that takes a left turn towards the Happy Mondays. “Do The Void” plays with a 90’s alt-rock sludge guitar than breaks towards a early 70’s Banana Splits party. To a certain degree, listening to the Crocodiles is a bit like riding a rollercoaster blindfolded – it’s a great adventure and half the fun is not knowing where the hell you’re going next.

You can get the new Crocodiles album Boys on multiple formats at all those places music is being sold.

The Beauty Found In Power-Pop & Introspection or Best Coast – California Nights

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The early days of Best Coast were filled with simplistic images of happy places and troubles no bigger than a rival for someone’s affection or a need for the sun. Not that there is anything wrong with that; after all Best Coast was providing the kind of indie-pop, garage, lo-fi, reggae influenced tunes that kept us northerners warm all winter.  It was a return to the myth that California is the place of adolescent dreams come true, and no one will argue that once wrapped in a sonic blanket watching a fire burn.

Still it has been five years since the Best Coast debut Crazy For You and one can only live in dreams for so long? Eventually there is a reckoning…

Right?

The answer is California Nights. Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill bottles. Actually, dare I say it, it seems Cosentino has grown introspective and the guitar work of multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno has risen to match. No longer are songs restricted to the quick “pop” length of two three minutes, but now the sound sometimes goes all ‘shoegaze’ and rides a guitar riff for all its worth. To some extent, the title track itself conjures more images of brit-pop than anything that could come out of a California night.

It isn’t all happy smiles as the sun sets to the west, there is anger and melancholia in the air as opener “Feeling OK” rightfully has you questioning the validity of such a statement. The song at its heart reveals that “OK” isn’t a satisfactory resolution to any question worth asking – especially one as loaded “how are you.” Even if one is asking it of themselves.

The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it more. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself. It’s worth every cent spent and more.

You can pick this album up at your local record stores or get some special packages from the band site – here.

The Nature of Withdrawal or April 26/15 Playlist

“Beneath The City Of Dreams” – Calexico

I missed out on their advance release when I wasn’t paying attention. Still, a great record I’ll probably talk about soon. Maybe even in the next few hours. They just create such great imagery.

“Don’t Wanna Fight” – Alabama Shakes

Reviewed this on Tuesday and it’s just so damn hard to listen to anything else. It is such an awesome piece of work I’m going to need copies for all my relevant locations.

“Bobby Jean” – Bruce Springsteen

Looked back at this earlier in the week, than I got word that a childhood friend had died; suddenly this song started making me cry. Just the idea that we never really say goodbye before people leave us, and we never have a clue what they meant until that door is forever closed.

“Just Like Anyone” – Aimee Mann

Another song about loss, except this one… well it speaks for itself.

“Don’t Look Back In Anger” – Oasis

Not sure what it is about this song, how it works as both depressing and up lifting at the same time. It pulled me out of a darker mood.

“The Rescue Blues (Live)” – Ryan Adams

Officially the most freakin’ expensive vinyl I own after shipping and duty charges. I wish someone would tell me how much duty I’d have to pay before I finish my order, as good as this record is I had to pay an extra frickin’ charge when UPS showed up at my door!

“I Don’t Want Control Of You” – The New Mendicants

Joe Pernice and Norman Blake were playing in town yesterday, unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, so I drowned my sorrows in their music.

“It Don’t Come Easy” – Ringo Starr

Back in university a friend and I wrote a movie script that featured this song in a very prominent position. It would have been hilarious…

“I Don’t Mind” – Sebadoh

Sebadoh just announced a show and the release of a new single… a cover of a famous Canadian single just because they love us. You can order here.

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“Real Wild Child” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

The first song off her RSD 15 offering Flashback… which rocks in case you were wondering.

“The Witch” – The Sonics

I’ll cover this song and album soon, but wow, I wish I had known about them when I was a teen.

“Ong Ong” – Blur

Off the new Blur album, I’ll have a review for ya by Tuesday.

“Blue Orchid” – The White Stripes

Posted about this album… holy cash grab, and I’m not talking about the record company or artist. Just look for Get Behind Me Satan on e-bay and you’ll understand.

“Limelight” – Rush

The original song before the Sebadoh cover arrives in May.

“Gold” – John Stewart

Sad storytelling at its AM radio best! Took me a while to find as all I had remembered was a couple lines and that Stevie Nicks was doing background vocals.

“Raspberry Beret” – Hindu Love Gods

You’ll understand why they’re included when I put the Blur review out. Besides, it’s a great cover of a great song.

“Spectacular” – Graham Coxon

Graham Coxon takes a most rockin’ riff and turns it into a sing along anthem.

“Black Nite Crash” – Ride

Think I’ll write about this album next week, so it gave me an excuse to add this song.

“Sophisticated Gentleman” – Gabby Glaser

My son used to ‘rock out’ in the backseat as we drove around and this song was playing. I actually sent a quick message to her about it and she wrote back thanking me. Seems odd getting thanks from the person who provided my son and I with the soundtrack to happy memories! Oh yeah Luscious Jackson got back together and have a kids record out, you should check it out here.

“Happy Kid” – Nada Surf

Just a damn good song by a damn good band! After the past week I needed something that would make me smile?

Where Have You Been All Of My Life? The Dirtbombs – Ultraglide In Black

Something about ‘garage rock’ makes it so timeless. Maybe it’s the fuzzed out guitars or the berserker energy with which the six-string is played, but it certainly rocks the house when done right.

Perhaps that’s why I got so excited the first time I heard the Dirtbombs. They had even more than I could’ve imagined going for them. Backing the vocals and guitar ‘riffage’ of Mick Collins is a band that boasts dual bass guitar and dual drums and every song they power through is uniquely their own, even when they pull off a great cover.

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Which is exactly what Ultraglide In Black is, a covers album (with one original). Every bit as powerful as anything the White Stripes have done, Ultraglide in Black looks back at some classic R&B and soul and channels it through the ghost of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and MC5.

If you take a song like Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City” which thematically deals with systemic racism, the original comes off musically with a gospel and hopeful air. Under Collins, the Dirtbombs version is anger and seething. It strips away the hope and with the help of both a sinister sounding bass and guitar the songs conclusions ‘of just enough’ sounds angry and futile.

In fact, this album is Collins interpretation of ‘Black America’ through the songs of the artists he grew up with. You get Sly Stone’s “Underdog”, Curtis Mayfield’s “Kung Fu”, Phil Lynott’s “Ode to a Black Man” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” blasting out the speakers with this tremendous power that Mick Collins finds for every damn song on the record.

As you finish Ultraglide In Black, you find yourself wondering why this album has sat under the radar for most people. It isn’t just a great record worth of songs, it is a classic record that should be in everyones collection.

You can get it here.