Quick Hits is a new colum where I share my occasionally coherent thoughts on some (relatively) new releases.
The Black Keys – “Fever”
Here is a list of ways to describe “Fever” I scribbled down while mildly drunk and listening to this song for the first time:
- Like falling down a set of stairs into a moon bounce
- Like kissing a stripper you thought was your sister only to find she’s neither
- Like birds chirping in your ear because they wanna get busy with your beard
- Like drinking a beer, spilling it, and having the libation fall into a wormhole which opens back up in your mouth so you get to drink your dropped brew
The Black Keys – “Turn Blue”
And in a similar vein of questionable sobriety, here’s how I would describe their second single:
- Like stepping into quicksand, being pulled under and falling out the bottom into a pit of recently fluffed pillows waiting below
- Like getting high and listening to a rave three houses down while trying to watch the Earth turn
- Like watching your friend drop acid and wonder why the lights are suddenly looking at you funny while you slowly begin to believe he’s right
- Like getting lost in a strange city that’s speaking a foreign language and you’re tapped on the shoulder by a face you think you know but can’t quite place
Jack White – “Lazaretto”
I have nothing clever or interesting to say about this, I just have a feeling Jack White’s second solo album will be something really special. Also, the hornets nest buzz he gets between notes on his solos get me all giddy inside. It’s as if instead of playing guitar he just tears down some powerlines and shapes the resulting sparks into whatever unholy sounds he can concoct. It’s probably my favorite new wrinkle White’s added to his playing recently.
Rotary Downs – “Flowers in Bloom”
What’s that song about tripping on daisies or something? I don’t know. Anyways, this song sounds like tripping and falling into a face full of mud but being so high you think it’s a cloud and you’re floating away on gusts of Rotary Downs-patented psych-guitar counter-melodies as the voice of someone else’s god calls out, obscured by static and reverb. In less esoteric terms, these guys put out one of my favorite albums of the past few years with 2010’s Cracked Maps & Blue Reports, and although this song sounds like a return to their pre-Blue Reports ways, I couldn’t be more excited they are finally peeking their heads out of their New Orleans home for us fans in the rest of the world to get our fix.
HYPERCOLOR – “100 Hands”
A new song from Richmond, VA’s own HYPERCOLOR (they just released a new EP you can check out here) that also happens to feature two members also in RVA’s Avers who also just released an excellent record that I will be writing many words about when I get around to it. But more to the point of this song, can I just talk about the coda for a bit (except for a brief mention of that killer guitar solo in one of the instrumental breaks; the guy’s about to fall out his chair in the video and I really, really, really hope that’s the take they used)? It’s a continuation of the theme the song runs on but with a monstrous drop into a heavy groove; clean-tone guitars snaking through tom hits bouncing from ear to ear. It wraps the whole song together with a nice little bow before the hammer swings down and smashes the whole thing to pieces at the last second. I’m also listening to this song on repeat as a Spring downpour pummels the trees outside and this particular mix of sounds and circumstances makes the world seem like a pretty fucking amazing place.
I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I happened upon the Sleepwalkers debut release. I’ve seen them play a handful of times, and in each show they seemed to be juggling several identities. The songs cycled between near-stoner-rock riffology, Americana-tinged rock, glam-indebted psych-funk, and (inexplicably) 80’s pop rock. If this 7-inch is any indication though, they’re ready to bring it all together.
“Crisis” leads things off with a swinging bass line and stuttering drums underpinning Michael York’s coos and come-ons. The song builds and sways, layering melodies, reverbed harmonies, and descending guitar riffs. What could have been a concise pop song stretches out into a funky three guitar trance punctuated with tangles of pre-choruses, each catchier than the last, and the track’s all the better for it.
“Prey & Pressure” rounds out the set, a psych-rock workout with an indelibly simple riff. Equal parts ear worm and meat tenderizer, it’s a riff that strikes that cerebral sense of inevitability. You know it will reliably hit on the downbeat, yet through every iteration it seems to lag in mid-air for a second too long, you un-wince believing the danger gone, and finally it falls from the sky with a floor tom thud. This is a tricky kind of riff to pull of. It’s made all the more powerful when the chorus comes in, “I’m feeling pressure all the TIME!” It’s a commendable wail but I can’t help but want to peel off the glossy reverb and let some of the ragged tone the song calls for shine through.
Still, Sleepwalkers are showing they have a lot to offer and, if this initial release is any indication, they’re proper debut could be something special.
You can listen to and buy the single here.
Some nights just feel like an event. There was a buzz about this show that gave the impression that this night could be a turning point for this band. I arrived at Balliceaux and found a line waiting. There were murmurs we wouldn’t be getting in, that the venue was packed. A girl in front of me reassured her friend that this band was, indeed, quite funky. The line doubled in size. Word came down that we were, indeed, going to be getting in. Sighs of relief reverberated along the line. Not five feet away some guy took a piss in the alley, walked up to me and informed with more than a hint of confrontational swagger, “I just took a piss.” Like I said, this was an event.
Sleepwalkers opened the night and with their synthesis of 70’s riff-rock, soul, and the glam-rock influences that Black Girls execute so well it was easy to imagine why. Sleepwalkers build on that base though, shown especially well with show standout “Prey and Pressure”, sporting an almost stoner-rock descending riff, equal parts earworm hook and pounding tenderizer ushering in the shouted chorus with just a touch of manic energy, “I’m feeling pressure all the time!”. The back and forth between a supple rhythm section and the steady riffage made for an early highlight of the night. The sound didn’t do them many favors, though. When their lead guitarist (you’ll have to forgive this writer for not knowing which Yorke brother is which) regularly decimated songs with slashing guitar solos, they too often felt more like suggestions than star turns, a flurry of notes hiding underneath a suffocating rhythm section.
Anyways, the night continued. The line to the bathroom crawled. The guy who pissed in front of me in line made a pass at my date. Someone handed me a PBR that may not have been intended for me, but was drank by me regardless. And finally Black Girls took the stage with a trace more confidence than their typical swagger allowed. The night started with some old standbys from the excellent 2011 LP Hell Dragon. A sharp contrast to their recent shows that have been predicated on starting with the new stuff before easing into the familiar crowd favorites. The Claire Sinclaire cuts did come though, and they hit hard. The new songs show a stronger predilection towards funk and soul as disco backbeats abound while lead guitarist Mike Bryant often joins the rhythmic frenzy with wah wah stabs and staccato strums. “Low” was the standout it always is, with most of the room joining in on the chorus, “I’ve been low, but I’ve never been that LOW!” The call and response vocals on “So Sorry” ignited the crowd as well, some shouting along to both drummer Stephen Farris and singer Drew Gillihan, others choosing one or the other. The end result rather cacophonous but riotously fun.
Then the guests started coming in. First Charlie Glenn from The Trillions on keyboards, then a smattering of horn players from the NO BS! Brass Band stepping in as the horn section, sax and trombone in tow. And though they sat in as guests, it’s hard to imagine songs like “Lover” and “Broadway” without the call and response and loping horn lines they provide. The latter was, as it often is at Black Girls shows, a highlight of the night, the band locked in, horns flailing, bassist Jeff Knight ambling on the end of the maybe inch-high stage, rhythm guitarist Fletcher Babbs wandering into the crowd crossing at least half the venue, audience chanting back in response “NEW YORK CITY!! GAWWWWD DAMN!” Any semblance of band/audience separation long forgotten.
And that was it. We ushered ourselves from the mood lighting interior of Baliceaux into the night. Event over, album launched.