Okay Embrace leave a lasting impression with ‘Drought (Song of California)’

Centered around twenty-year-old wunderkind David Schaefer, who cut his teeth in the L.A. indie rock circles in his teens with the band French Negative, Okay Embrace find virtue in the bedrock of a bygone era of indie rock: the guitar solo.


On the group’s debut single “Drought (Song of California),” the comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo are obvious and tempting (as are the associations with Third Eye Blind and Semisonic), but it’s the forthrightness and immediacy of the Schaefer’s vocals/lyrics that distinguish Okay Embrace from the cluster of 21st century indie bands fighting for attention and adoration with flashy guitar tricks. Schaefer, with his grounded, commanding voice, finds empathy in the bedridden mother swapping poetry lines with her child and the fire abatement officer lamenting his own inefficacy.

The guitars are fuzzed out and sun-faded, which serve the clarity of Schaefer’s singular voice and hark back to alt rock’s heyday in the 90s. There’s a drought in California, as we all know, but through Embrace’s perspective, it’s a global concern. – sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

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The Melvins Shouldn’t Have Carried Pinkus Abortion Technician to Term

words fae sean hannah (@Shun_Handsome)rating 3

Locust Abortion Technician is the name of a seminal album by The Butthole Surfers. Jeff Pinkus plays bass on the record. These days, he plays with Montesano metal outfit The Melvins. He’s the namesake of their latest offering Pinkus Abortion Technician. This is all the background information you’ll need for the album.

Pinkus begins with a litmus test to the audience to determine just how much they’ll put up with. Stop Moving to Florida is a hybrid of Stop by AOR mainstays The James Gang and The SurfersMoving to Florida—the pairing seems ironic on paper, but both covers are played with what can be argued as sincerity and reverence. Still, the cover-by-numbers way The Melvins play each song (with little artistic license and even less edge) forces the listener to decide for him or herself if the album’s inaugural one-two punch really is a deferential rendition of two classic bands’ deeper cuts or just a lark. At any rate, neither cover surpasses its original.

The Melvins, after three decades of genre hopscotching, have landed on Blues/Southern Rock as their M.O. here on Pinkus. It’s in the bottom heavy chug of the instructional dirge Don’t Forget to Breathe and the slide guitar on the ridiculously titled Prenup Butter. The genre’s simple swagger suits the band’s flair for dumb-rock riffing and hardass guitar distortion, but given how heavily vocalist King Buzzo leans into eccentricity for the record, Pinkus Abortion Technician sounds more like a novelty album than a concerted effort by the sludge metal veterans.

Here, Buzzo delivers his melodies like Alice Cooper doing a parody of Alice Cooper: strangely accented vowels inflate the middles of his words on the aforementioned Prenup, gossamer vocals dust the grungy hoedown of Flamboyant Duck, and throaty howls turn Break Bread into a shock rock misfire. In the case of metal, showmanship is paramount (well, that and technical prowess), but when the band straddle the line between pastiche and seriousness so precariously, the whole album turns into a balance scale for the audience, forcing them to determine which song will eventually tip that scale to one side or the other. If the number of covers on the album is any indication (three out of eight songs), then maybe PAT actually is a bit of lighter fare just to tide fans over until the next big release.

Pinkus sounds more than anything else like it was culled together from songs that tested through the roof while on tour. The two Butthole Surfers interpretations no doubt pleased audiences who were already thrilled to see Pinkus splitting bass duties with Steven McDonald on stage. When played live, I Want to Hold Your Hand (yes, that I Want to Hold Your Hand) must have gotten some real mileage out of the meager guitar solo that wound up on the studio version. Unfortunately, much of the electricity of these live performances seems to have been lost during the recording process. This isn’t to say that there aren’t excitable moments on the album—the thrashing speed of Embrace the Rub eventually wins out over its outright strangeness, and the cacophony vocals on closer Graveyard show that the band haven’t lost their knack for piss and vinegar metal—but Technician ultimately proves more of a slog than anything else.

The cover art for the album was created by Mackie Osborne, Buzzo’s wife and frequent collaborator, who’s designed albums in the past for the likes of The Circle Jerks, Tool, and Social Distortion. She’s responsible for the Jerks’ iconic artwork on Group Sex and Wild in the Streets. But here on Pinkus Abortion Technician, the sinister, grinning mutt with a dismembered finger in its mouth and a vest that reads “GODDAM RIGHT I’M A SERVICE DOG” feels quaint. It’s like if Garfield creator Jim Davis were asked to design an album cover for a metal band. The artwork, unlike that dog, but sadly much like the music, feels toothless. The visceral moments are few and far between, resulting in a middling album by a legendary group.

David Byrne dwells on his career on American Utopia

words by sean hannah (@shun_handsome)
rating 6

Rock and roll is serious business. It thrives on angst and maladjustment. It must be delivered with unwavering despondency and grave seriousness.  The seed of this ethos was first planted by John Lennon’s stone-faced performance of Help on Ed Sullivan and solidified shortly thereafter by Jim Morrison’s pouty face and his misapprehension that death is romance par excellence.

So why has it always been so entertaining to watch David Byrne just have fun?

Byrne has never taken himself all that seriously as a musician. He doesn’t follow trends, he works with the artists he truly wants to, and every album he’s put out has been uniquely Byrneian. David is the quintessence of artistic integrity; always cognizant of his audience but never interested in pandering or catering to them, the Scottish-born polymath makes the music he likes first and foremost with the hopes that we will too. His music doesn’t draw you in against your will to try and make you enjoy it, but each release always raises the question why you shouldn’t. And on American Utopia, the singer’s first solo album since 2004, Byrne continues his streak of making music designed with himself in mind above anyone else.

David’s greatest asset has always been his lyrical abilities, but on Utopia, he finds himself articulating ideas with a certain tactlessness. Bullet, for example, details the human element in a vague scene of a man being shot, calling attention to its subject’s food-laden stomach and love-ridden heart. The song conflates a man’s physicality with his emotional impact on others, yet describes the path of that eponymous bullet as its “merry way,” resulting in an uncouth mixed message about gun violence that seems to conjure an alternate New York history in which Bernie Goetz never got his fifteen minutes.

Much of the album deals with Byrne wrestling with his legacy as Talking Heads’ frontman. He knows he’ll forever be held to the standard of lyricism that he presented as a younger man with the seminal New Wave four-piece. So in light of this reality, Byrne makes winking allusions to his former group. The meta-musical track This Is That finds David evoking the familiar imagery of flowing water and limited personal funds in a nod to the Heads’ flagship single Once in a Lifetime. Only here, these concepts are used as a sentimental nostalgia trip, far removed from Lifetime’s cautionary tale of the disengagement from the passage of time.

Perhaps the most Talking Headsesque track here is Every Day is a Miracle, a Latin-tinged Industrial number that recalls the band’s exaltation of the mundane as a profound philosophical phenomenon. Here, Byrne’s preoccupations lie with a cockroach’s appetite for the Mona Lisa, a perfectly pruned rose, and the significance of a donkey’s penis. But none of these things are actually mundane or crass: instead, they’re depicted as the makeup of one of many miraculous days in a lifetime. American Utopia wasn’t conceived just for fans to draw parallels back to his records with Talking Heads (though the return of producer Brian Eno will certainly elicit Fear of Music/Remain in Light comparisons), and in spite of its lyrical shortcomings, the album explores new territory without compromising Byrne’s singular, globally-conscious point of view.

American Utopia isn’t a perfect album. It’s not Byrne at his peak, but it is a David Byrne album, which means that there’s an undeniable craft and care to it, and just the appropriate amount of weirdness and experimentation to remind us why Byrne has been an inimitable figure in music for so many years. Even though the record’s hits and misses are fairly evenly stacked, Utopia is a welcome return for David after having withheld a proper solo effort for nearly fifteen years. And while the salad days of Talking Heads’ commercial apex may be long gone, the fact remains that Byrne still stands as an unassailable pop culture icon as his music career approaches its sixth decade. With every new album or collaboration, Byrne maintains the ability to make headlines and waves in the music world; he’s always elated to share with us his latest artistic venture. Everybody’s coming to David’s house, and we couldn’t have asked for a more gracious host.

Some Villains give a glimpse of new EP with The Skin

By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

The more alarming of the two words in Some Villains’ name isn’t its noun. It’s that determiner “Some.” It implies that there’s a formidable current of evil out there, but these four Englanders are no cause for concern. Comparatively, they’re benign, operating somewhere between the borders of villainous and just. The band’s villainy is small cog in some nefarious machine hell-bent on churning out dismay and dread; they’re only a blip on the radar, the lesser of many, many evils. They’re just some villains, nothing more.

This is the guiding principle behind Some Villains: to exist in the ether between facile classifications. Their Facebook mission statement explains that the band’s music is an attempt “to straddle the line between the experimental and the accessible.” And on the group’s latest track The Skin, the Villains strike that balance with aplomb.

Heralding the group’s forthcoming EP Outliers is this lead single, a slow burning rocker that distills the influences Some Villains have been championing all throughout their career. Musically, The Skin’s verses most immediately recall Sonic Youth, particularly their song Cross the Breeze (both numbers utilize the same two chord oscillation). Some Villains, however, are far cleaner than the New York No-Wavers, forgoing the dissonance that permeated Daydream Nation in favor of a clearer, more direct sound. The other major influence on Skin is that of Queens of the Stone Age. Featuring a hefty drum and bass foundation and singer Edward Graves’s fervent-yet-aloof vocal delivery, the band evoke the sound of QOTSA in a way that sounds neither contrived nor dispassionate.

Some Villains’ ethos charges them with the task that many bands before them have grappled with and faltered: creating wide-reaching appeal while still maintaining their artistic integrity. It’s nearly impossible to have it both ways, and SV know this. Still, their forays into experimental territory aren’t alienating and their use of familiar rock tropes never feel like a compromise. It’s a tightrope walk, to be sure, to play to the experimental crowd along with the tamer mainstream audiences. But sunny down snuff, they’re all right by the heroes and villains.

Best Tracks Of The Week (15th-21st Jan)

Contributions from Sean Hannah(@shun_handsome), Charlie Leach (@Yungbuchan), Ross Malcolm (@RossM98) and Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

Young Fathers – In My View

Continuing down a pop route shown on their previous single, In My View is a sultry, anthemic, heartfelt ballad for the Scottish trio Young Fathers. Through its pop leanings, this song still contains some of the hallmarks of a Young Fathers‘ song: lo-fi mixing, skewed and sometimes eclectic harmonies, and the varied and talented vocals of Massaquoi, Bankole and Hastings. If these two singles are anything to go by, their new album Cocoa Sugar could be an introspective, delicate, pop album – another exciting evolution for this excellent band. CL

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Peach Club – Venus

Opening up their latest EP Cherry Baby, this Norwich GRRRL band don’t wanna keep their first impression subtle or timid as they blow into a well-paced, menacing anthem on liberation and sexuality. Having impressed with last year’s Bad Bitch, another track that wasn’t afraid to spit back with venom, Peach Club have established themselves with this latest cut and EP that is chock-full of bravado, fierceness and outright badassery. LM

listen here

Rejjie Snow – Egyptian Luvr (feat. Aminé & Dana Williams)

In the run-up to his debut album dropping in February, Rejjie Snow releases a hint of what is to come in his first release of 2018: Egyptian Luvr.  Egyptian Luvr is a surprisingly bright and chipper track compared to others in his discography. Lyrically he exceeds his usual standards, going for a more emotional approach. If this track is anything to go by, the Irishman’s gonna have a belter of a year. RM

Preoccupations – Espionage

Heralding the group’s forthcoming New Material album slated for release on March 23, PreoccupationsEspionage finds the group in peak form, hitting all of the post-punk/goth tropes they’ve become known for. Moonbeam synths, cavernous drums, and Matt Flegel’s rasping vocal knell comprise this frantic dirge, which culminates in a call and response akin to Joy Division’s Interzone. “We are bound,” Flegel ululates, to which the band responds, “Till we’re deeper in a dead sea”. SH

Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake – King’s Dead

Featuring on the upcoming Black Panther soundtrack, King’s Dead is suitably epic without being bombastic. With Mike Will Made It and Teddy Walton on production duties, resulting in a beat that just won’t quit, this track is undoubtedly the best we’ve seen yet from this OST, packing in an insane amount of energy with incredible flow and playful lyricism on Jay Rock and Future’s part respectively. It’ll be exciting to see how a track like this fits into a family friendly Marvel flick, though. LM

Mount Eerie – Distortion

Last time we saw Mr Phil Elverum, he left us all bubbling messes in his heartfelt, grief full open letter to his late wife Geneviève. While he’s not completely put the situation behind him (and how could you), he has managed to make something into art by giving his work a wider scope: much like his memory of his partner, the guitars linger on as he crafts a 11 minute colussus that is utterly interesting and emotionally evoking. LM

Album Review: As Much as I Used To by Vagrant Real Estate

by Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)

rating 7

Foresighted listeners who read the song titles of this seventeen-track objet d’soul before actually listening to it will be able to glean its basic narrative. A thoroughgoing romantic tale to be sure, As Much as I Used To tracks all the important milestones of its hypothetical relationship: the serendipitous meeting (First Sight), inchoate affection and consummation (Lust, Rendezvous), mounting trepidation (Hesitate), allayment (Assurance), and the devastating quietus (No You Don’t, Plato’s Cave), which proves to be a felix culpa (Still Friends). Like the myriad soul records he deconstructs and reassembles, Vagrant Real Estate seeks to universalize romantic despair and felicity by way of deceptively simple music and lyrics coupled with sensationalized scenes of either unbridled affection or debilitating rejection. But this Aberdonian DJ imbues enough aural nuance into its story that his flash fictive romance avoids cliché while still maintaining the appeal of familiarity.

The bulk of Used To’s songs are signified by oblique leitmotifs. Lust is certainly informed by its repetitive “I want you so…” and “Come on, baby” interpolations, but only when the strings climax and the soundbite “I just make believe” emerges, backed by a chorine countermelody, does the track truly embody the carnal attraction its title suggests. Hesitate employs a striking, dissonant piano chord that, when treated with a stentorian bass pop and a fidgeting guitar flourish, only strays farther from attaining resolution, in effect cultivating the feeling of reticence to which the song’s name refers. But despite the album’s more erudite depictions of these abstract concepts, The Vagrant is still able to play his audience’s pleasure principle and demand for immediate gratification. Casual listeners will fawn over the demonstrable sexiness of Muscle Cars, the instant melancholy of Blinded, and the speeded-up desperation of its successor Talk.

The soul samples Real Estate chooses to employ are arcane enough—no Let’s Stay Together or Three Times a Lady to be found among the bricolage of plunderphonics—but as with most artists operating within this strain of instrumental hip-hop, this doesn’t matter to anyone but the producer. For the half-engaged listener or fledgeling soul enthusiast, the obscurity of an artist’s source material is incidental to the music itself.

Like DJ Shadow, Vagrant Real Estate scours his collection of esoterica to find an appropriate snatch of melody, an engrossing loop or a chipmunk-worthy vocal line. Impressive, sure, but too principled for a genre predicated on extravagance and surfeit. Recall that The Dust Brothers sampled Superfly for Paul’s Boutique, after all. Still, VRE isn’t above throwing us an easily recognizable soundbite, either. Just listen to the Zoolander clip at the :44 mark of First Sight.

Like his hero J Dilla, The Vagrant champions brevity and the hypnotic loop above all else. With its longest cut clocking in at just under three minutes and most tracks running about half as long, As Much as I Used To utilizes a laser focus to pare its songs down to their aesthetic and thematic cores. But also like Dilla, VRE misprizes the tension and release model lauded by EDM punching bag Skrillex and orgasm addicts The Chemical Brothers. As a result, Used To comes off as more ascetic than dynamic, showcasing an aptitude for austere song structures without the payoff of forte-pianissimo oscillations. Even Madlib knew when to layer his instrumentals.

Cluttering Vagrant Real Estate’s Soundcloud page is an olla podrida of referential hashtags that identify, according to him, the most astute artistic comparisons. These tags run the gamut of instrumental hip-hop icons and evoke varying levels of credulity. Here we have #yeezy (absolutely), #drake (defensible), #donuts (if you must), and #wu tang (come on!), among others. The Vagrant no doubt holds a great amount of deference for each of these vanguards, and the aesthetic he’s created for himself certainly pays homage to them, but he strives to distil too many influences into a singular work of art. Make no mistake, Vagrant Real Estate is a talented producer, and As Much As I Used To serves as a promising start for a beatmaker looking to hone his craft in the LP format, but he’s bitten off more than he can chew for this first record. Remember what Kendrick said: “You ain’t gotta lie to kick it… You ain’t gotta try so hard.”

Best Tracks Of The Week (8th-14th Jan)

Contributions from Sean Hannah(@shun_handsome), Will Sexton (@willshesleeps), Gregor Farquharson (@grgratlntc) Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

Shame – The Lick

Despite making repeated appearances on the band’s setlists, The Lick serves as the embodiment of this band’s ability to send a message with attitude and authority.

Appearing on their wittingly titled debut Songs of Praise, Shame don’t so much take shots at the current state of British lad rock as much as they spray their entire catalog of reserve but rage tinged lyrics at the unnamed culprits – along with a colossal hook that most bands would give their right arm to be able to pull off, The Lick serves as a highlight to what is sure to be an underrated gem of a record in 2018.

Woes – Real World

On the back of a huge 2017, Woes are ready to throw everything at 2018. Catchy chorus and huge riffs, Real World is a modern pop-punk classic. It shows what Woes can do, and how serious about the genre the boys are.

Car Seat Headrest – Nervous Young Inhumans

Dissatisfied with his 2011 lo-fi masterpiece Twin Fantasy, Will Toledo sought to update his internet-famous juvenilia after signing with Matador Records in 2015. This week saw the release of a reworked Nervous Young Inhumans, in which CSH retrofit the track’s muffled din into a hi-fi dance-punk mini-crisis.

Touching on Toledo’s formerly maladroit cursive, a tryst in the uncanny valley, and the great axiom “Art gets what it wants and gets what it deserves,” the updated Inhumans finds new verve in an old fan favorite.

Lil Peep & Marshmello – Spotlight

Released posthumously, Lil Peep and Marshmello recorded a song before his tragic passing. Two fast up and coming artists sound incredibly bittersweet on this track and it’s a reminder that Lil Peep was someone to watch. It’s excellent that it was released as it serves as a solid reminder of how Lil Peep was progressing. RIP Lil Peep.

David Byrne – Everybody’s Coming To My House

Co-written with long-time collaborator Brian Eno as well as features from the likes of Sampha, the first cut off Talking Heads frontman David Byrne‘s upcoming solo LP is enough to have you drooling at the mouth: with a seductive saxophone acting as the foundations for his vocals to bounce and pounce around, Everybody’s Coming to My House is a tasty sample of what’s to come.

Soccer Mommy – Your Dog

After a delightful LP last year, American singer-songwriter soccer mommy stays true to her “chill but kinda sad” mantra with new single Your Dog. Appearing on new album Clean, this track is anything but with some warped guitars leading the song alongside some disdain heavy lyrics from Sophie herself. We were left optimistic about her future after Collection and if this single is any indication, Clean will be another solid effort from the up and comer.