Cloud Rat break the seal on their fourth LP Pollinator with the track, “Losing Weight.” It was the right choice. The song’s lyrics are less inscrutable than the majority of their discography. Frontwoman Madison Marshall snarls that she can’t keep weight on, that her hair is falling out, that she needs to talk to someone who can do more than listen. And then it descends. The bucking, punk-bruiser groove crumbles into a steam-seared break down, where it becomes obvious that the pain of living adds mass to her fury. A will to live that swells in inverse proportion to the ocean of anguish it struggles against. Later, on “Wonder” the stumbling beat and the mounting abrasion of its grooves part long enough for the words “My brain never shuts up!” to audibly surface amongst the fray. Cloud Rat is a band that has been defined for many people by the group’s politics. Veganism, deep-seated feminist critics, anti-racism, and paganism. But I don’t think any of these “ism” get to why the band resonates with grindcore fans in 2019. As the aforementioned descriptions allude, it’s not the just politics that have contributed to Cloud Rat’s ascension, but the fearless resolve to engage with the personal as well.
Cloud Rat are something of a legend these days. Often touring with conceptually weighty bands like Thou, they roll into town like a storm-cloud, setting minds ablaze at house shows and basements with the same frequency as clubs and theaters. Adhering to a DIY aesthetic and touring approach out of an almost ingrained feral instinct, they’re like Fugazi if Guy Picciotto could name every shell of the Qliphoth in descending order from memory. Marshall’s obtuse lyrics clash with the mundane like a biblical plague that befalls a tyrant, coating the oppressor in grain-eating amphibians and flesh-burrowing worms. Their tight and absorbing performances gnash and chew at the sorrow of living, the obtuse churn of guitarist Rorik Brooks’ riffs, and drummer Brandon Hill’s anxious pummel metabolizing the furrows of our discontent into sound, liberating you for however long you stand in their presence.
Brooks is on record with Kerrang, stating that Pollinator is the group’s most “complete and accomplished” record to date. I would be hard-pressed to disagree with him. From the opening four-song blitz, of “Losing Weight” through the doom-drizzled “Night Song,” to the moody and deliberate ceremonial feel and futile lament of “Luminescent Cellar,” it’s an album that takes its time exploring the sound the group has painfully cultivated over the past decade. But it’s not content to dwell on the fuming snout-meets-cement pit-thrash of Moksha or the black-crusted hardcore radiation storm that characterized their sound just a few years ago. Although these throwbacks are there, like on the savage skin-peeler “Last Leaf” and the deafening strangled cry of “Seven Heads,” they are not its definitive statements. This honor goes to "Al Di La" with its clawing vocal performance battering itself against an inward sliding guitar chord and an avalanche of tumbling rhythmic debris as well as the bittersweet brimstone of "Webspinner" and resilient skyward sweeping post-hardcore guitar work on "Perla." This is a cleaner, more sure-footed effort from Cloud Rat, a state of hard-won confidence only hinted at on early releases and now realized in its scared and lopsided glory.
Pollinator is a step beyond the Magrudergrinds of this shadow world, striding towards a future that is all the brighter for the darkness that it acknowledges at its perimeters. A madness with a logic written along its curiously intersecting folds. A splintering husk that cracks and sheds, germinating in its wake the fresh ideas and a challenge to power that is as durable as life itself, and as perennial as the seasons.
Cloud Rat is not touring at the moment, but rest assured, they will be again soon.
Emerging over the horizon on the waning days of summer, Chicago’s blustery post-metal sludge suckers, Snow Burial cascade into view with their second studio LP, Ostrava. An album about painful dualities, capricious contradictions, plain old lies, and the experience of living in a world where reality has little to do with anything real. Like putting a lawn chair on the curb to save your parking spot, Prosthetic Records have wisely staked their claim to benefit from the blizzard of interest that is sure to accumulate once people catch on to how brilliant Snow Burial really are. Ostrava demonstrates a dynamic potential that was only hinted at on 2016’s Victory in Ruin, and easily elevates Snow Burial to the company of fellow hometown plaque covered post-headbanger heralds, The Atlas Moth and Pelican.
The performances on Ostrava our tightly wound, multi-layered, and carefully constructed, with just enough of an unpredictable, sadistic edge as to keep the blood pumping and avoid the proceedings from feeling too clinical. Not surprising for a sludge metal band prone to tangential experimentation, they're big fans of the Melvins, an influence that bubbles to the surface on tracks like “Tyranny” and “The Aftermath.” Both of which also feature a distinctly, NoMeansNo post-hardcore melodic bark that rides the thin graphite line between hyper-real self-parody and arresting sincerity. Mastodon's impact weighs heavily on cacophonous crushers like “Sever the Bloodline” and “Burn Down The Crown,” the latter of which is interspersed with atmospheric folk contritions which prime the listener for the western tinged dirge of “Trinec." The intro for that track feels oddly in sync with the late-career Enslaved, with a second-half that devolves into a bone-breaking, marrow-sucking caveman stomp. All of these sonic elements carve a line to the heart of the album, which beats in the center of a yawning fistula of Converge esque-vocal jabs that splash through absorbing quicksand guitars, bridged by resonant cross-stitching leads: a maelstrom of hurt swallowed in a single force-fed serving on “Gapping Wound.”
Snow Burial heaps a lot of ideas on the listener over the course of their Ostrava. The whole pile of sorrowful vignettes, flesh rippling heaviness, and dastardly detours are assembled thoughtfully enough that nothing feels lost or packed on for cushioning effect. It’s a record that rewards repeat listens without ever feeling like it’s skating on thin ice. An appropriately blizzardy burst of brutality to give you something to contemplate as the seasons turn inexorably towards the bitterest months of the year and the sun slowly sinks from sight.
Stars Are the Light
Sacred Bones Records
Moon Duo’s music makes you feel like you’re high even if you aren’t (and pure bliss if you are). The cover art of Stars Are the Light lets you know that you are in for an intergalactic journey filled with happy, peaceful grooves. Guitarist Ripley Johnson and keyboardist Sanae Yamada are Moon Duo; together they create complementary layers of soundscapes and interwoven melodies. While listening, I picture a little orchestra of synth players and live instrumentalists. How is this just two people? The loops become more apparent. The guitar’s reverb sounds like it is being played into undulating mirrors. Creating reflections and long repeats that seem to talk to each other in the title track, “Stars Are the Light,” the staccato samples hit my pleasure center and make me smile, especially during the track “Lost Heads.”
The acoustic strumming that starts off “Fever Night” puts me in the mood of a country tune. But this country tune is 100% psyched-out. The vocals come in singing in harmony, but Johnson’s is slightly more clear, more forward. Yamada’s is almost obscured under their signature haze of reverb. “Sun city is the place to go. If you call me lately, call me scum, out of love.” Even as I am carried away by Moon Duo, I realize that not all dreams are good ones. They will be playing a Thalia Hall in the round. That is one trip I will definitely be making.
Temples is putting out spacious glistening rock ‘n’ roll for your listening pleasure. Hot Motion is so big it’s almost glam, or even sacred. But rougher around the edges. The drums have punch. The bass is phat with fuzz, grounding the sound. The vocals are spacious and echoing like shoegaze. But these rockers have their eyes set on distant horizons, stadiums of people, and the stars. The scope of this music is epic. My fav track “Holy Horses” has a jangly guitar sound that I crave. The balance of fuzz and clarity is in perfect harmony. The psych dream-scape described in the lyrics is a perfect match to the surreal music, “holy horses, see them run away.” The jaunty journey that “Not Quite the Same” takes us on is also worth a listen. I’m a sucker for a song that starts with a strong rhythm and bass line. As the other layers add space to the depth, it becomes an awesome soundscape.
All My Heroes Are Cornballs
NOTE: The words ‘disappoint,’ ‘disappointing,’ or ‘disappointed’ will not appear in the following review, because that meme dead since Jeff Tweedy got involved. It is also categorically incorrect in describing,
All My Heroes Are Cornballs is the third full length album from rap iconoclast, JPEGMAFIA (Peggy for short, Black Ben Carson for long). Rarely can an album’s sound be perfectly encapsulated by the cover art but here, with Peggy draped in richly colored satin, with his open shirt displaying his dog tags (in another life Barrington Devaughn Hendricks served in the military), and a look that is simultaneously seductive and predatory, can we get a sense of what’s to come, which is nothing less than a densely packed journey into the mind of arguably (by me, I’m arguing it) the most brilliant and terrifying voice in rap. Make no mistake, this is an album that demands repeat trip, as, at 18 songs, this is Peggy’s most intensive listen to date. JPEGMAFIA made his name with his full throttle intensity and pinballing lyricism, as well as a flow that is simultaneously silk smooth and unpredictably brutal. On Black Ben Carson, he declared war on the world, displaying a kind of breathless cynicism and frustration with the state of the nation, both in terms of music and beyond, that few musicians have ever even attempted. Meanwhile, on Veteran we saw him more traditionally vulnerable, though no less seething and churning.
Here, though, Peggy is full boil, bubbling and roiling through a smoother more refined set of tracks. If you’re fear after singles, “Jesus Forgive Me, I’m A Thot”, and “Beta Male Strategies,’ was that Peggy had mellowed, the soul stealing beat switch on the second track “Kenan vs Kel,” should assuage those fears and scare the shit out of the uninitiated. JPEGMAFIA’s utterly unique blend of mellow hip hop and discordant, digital mayhem is still more than present. In fact, the decision to let the more symphonic moments to breathe and expand, allows for the crashes to land harder, as on the debaucherous transition from the soaring anthem “Free The Frail,” into the poignant shifting sands of “Post Verified Lifestyle,” which is screeching one minute, head bobbing the next. This complexity is the defining quality of AMHAC, as Peggy shows little interest in guiding you through his mind, as he pushes you off his psychic cliff and allows you to fall through his consciousness. The samples are from across the digital landscape, while the lyrics are rapidly cycling through rap bravado, mind bending metaphors, moments of searing vulnerability, Internet and wrestling references, and pure anger. Make no mistake, Peggy has a lot to say about the state of the world but half the fun is deciphering some of the more obtuse critiques. Rarely has an album been so listenable and so impenetrable.
JPEGMAFIA’s mind is a frightening, destabilizing place, but this brief journey inside the hell in his cell is a vision of rap as something so absolutely and absurdly unique that all these words only serve to dilute the impact of this singular masterpiece.
Birth of Violence
Next time you are in an old book store checkout their dictionaries. It’s going to have to be a very old store though, because you want a dictionary that is close to a hundred years old. Keep your eye open for the kind of store where the disheveled and punchy owner doubles as the only employee and the overstock is stacked in front of the fire exit. Got the picture? Ok, once you’ve located your dictionary, look up the definition of “violence.” What you will hopefully find amongst the litany of anachronistic uses of the term, is the definition “strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force.” This description is likely the best you will find of Chelsea Wolfe’s sixth album, and ode to country byways of America, Birth of Violence. It is an album about strong emotions, embracing one's powers, and the devastation that some epiphany of the self can wrought.
Cooling down from the roiling chaos of 2017’s Hiss Spun, Birth of Violence is a return to Wolfe’s quitter, acoustic origins. Birth of Violence was written while on the road promoting her previous album. During sleepless nights, caressing and bonding with her acoustic guitar, she wove dark-toned tapestries, reflections of her journey through dismal nights spent in the enclave of an eight-wheeled stagecoach. It’s appropriate that the album opens with “The Mother Road,” the name that John Steinbeck gave to Route 66, a corridor Wolfe has become familiar with on her many cross country treks, and a perfect entry point for the album. The melancholic strumming of Wolfe’s guitar, the cold straining strings, sparse muted percussion, and the bobbing crest of the melody, convey the cinematic sense of traversing an endless night, riding in a restored ’69 Buick, rattlesnakes stirring in the coils as you pass. It’s too dangerous to stop, so you keep driving. Not only in the hope of finding a safe place to rest, but in the hope of escaping the venom of your own thoughts.
Birth of Violence’s highly visual style flows through other tracks as well. From the eerie, forgiving touch and inky atmosphere of “American Darkness” to the spidery chords and hot current of breathy melody that spreads between the folds of your ear as it runs through “Be All Things” like a spring cutting a route through a pasture. The threshold pushing nature of these songs, and the images they conjure, can be over helping at times. Thankfully such moments are interspersed with more traditional folk like that of the PJ Harvey-esque title track “Birth of Violence” and the delicate “Little Grave” harkening back to her early, dreary bedroom recordings. A theme of dirt as a potting ground for flourishes of emotion is pervasive throughout the album, examined on tracks like the resentfully overturned and troubled “Erde” and bloody healed, synth dusted ramble “Dirt Universe.” These offerings resonate qualities are matched by the more R’nB inspired pairing of “Preface to a Dream Play” with its moribund industrial soul and the dissociative trance-like blue of “Highway.” Birth of Violence is a profound look into the American spirit, adrift in the seemingly endless expanse of a greying existential clay. A strong a metaphor for life, as it is for death.
We depend on the earth for our lives, and we return to dirt in death. Through this passage, we acquire thorns in our palms and scorpion poison in our veins. Our flesh is seared by the sun and our hearts grow cold in the shadows of loved ones who have turned away from us. Who is to say that we don’t pay that pain forward, in our lives as well as our deaths. Offering our spoiled past as sustenance to future generations. A violence as tremendous as an earthquake, and as quiet as a moonless night.
The suburb of Berwyn’s add campaign has been all over the city for years. Their slogan “Nothing Like a Suburb ” paints the village as a place where you can get all the action of the city without being in Chicago. Without the crowds and the hustle and bustle. It sounds too good to be true, like a vision of perfection. On Euclid Avenue in this dreamy place lies a brick house that birthed a band you would never suspect came from Berwyn. With a shadowy interior and experimental flair the boys of Cardinal Harbor have grown into men and are fully reflecting this maturity with their sophomore full length Vulture Hottub. At once gloriously epic and extremely personal, creating a dichotomy of push and pull that draws one ever closer to the edge, Vulture Hottub takes on a vibe like nothing else in Chicago right now. Combining elements of dreamwave, power pop, folk rock, smooth jazz, synth pop and beyond into a stew so potent it will sink its hooks in right away; a hushed intensity that creates an aura of anxiety through its gauzy tempos and low down quivering layers. With influences as varied as the Stevies (Nicks and Wonder), John Maus, Big Thief and Aesop Rock it’s no wonder they have come at their sound with such a diverse palate, but the real challenge is rallying that assortment of influences into a cohesive whole. Something Cardinal Harbor has been able to accomplish with no blemishes to show. On the record’s peak “Weed N’ Reep” they threaten to come out of the shell with a slight build up, only to retreat back into their steady roll; and even the most straightforward attempt at a power ballad, “F.O.M.O,” devolves into a jumpy piece of smooth jazz and into alt-R&B auto tuned beauty by journey's end. This is what Cardinal Harbor does so perfectly throughout Vulture Hottub, create unexpected moments and make them seem just right.
Be on the lookout for more shows from this talented act.
Minutes, Seconds, Degrees
There is something about that power pop trio lustre that is instantly infectious, and Chicago’s The Locals are an unmistakable example of how a standard lineup of guitar, bass, and drums can bring shining life to the simple beauty of a well crafted pop song. Over the last decade Yvonne Doll (vocals, guitar), Joe Bates (drums) and Aaron Coleman (drums) have been creating catchy tunes for the city’s masses, and new record Minutes, Seconds, Degrees is a stunning deep dive into Doll’s life and psyche. It may have taken five years for The Locals to hit the studio again, but the breadth of life experiences between are written across this one like a skyplane banner. In opening breakup tune “Time Bomb Sounds” Doll wails “In a stone cold minute / you blew right through me / this hole is all I’ve got” and on highlight “Helium Head” she rants “your eyes are the last thing I see / before turning into debris,” giving the raw emotional core of the record it’s steady legs. Each and every tune exudes a moody vibe that is set off by the alt-pop sheen that encases them all. Working through life poetically is without exception the songwriters duty, and Doll has captured that essence at its very core. Musical therapy is no stranger to rock and roll, and The Locals have dusted off their instruments and come after our heart strings with Minutes, Seconds, Degrees.
They just hit Burlington last weekend but keep your ears open for more shows from this local dynamo.
Dan Whitaker & The Shinebenders
Far, Far Away
Dan Whitetaker and The Shinebenders of Chicago recently released, Far Far Away. This Country quartet brings on a lot of power and personality. This album has its fun incorporating blues, country, and traditional rock ‘n’ roll with different melodies into every song. It’s almost like musically traveling across the country. Dan Whitetaker and The Shinebenders seem to romanticize a bit, allowing the instruments to woo their audience, as opposed to the lyrics. Listeners can take a break from the narrative and just appreciate the artists and the genre in songs, “Bugz Bop” and “Biscuit Blues.” I always appreciate a sad, somber country song with heartbreak themes, where the man loses his best girl and relies on the healing touch of a beer or whiskey bottle. Well, in the song “The Bottle Knew Me,” traditional melodies and a slower guitar strum, cymbal beat, and lackadaisical fiddle elevate the moments as Whitetaker mourns of seeing his girl dancing with another man. The album turns from its rock’n’ roll/country mix, in song “Trucks Passing Trucks,” where for a moment the acoustic guitar solo has intricate techniques and entertainment. For a country band from Chicago, Dan Whitaker and The Shinbenders creates an extraordinary 4th album.
Multiple days in Chicago for this Country Quartet; first show on Thursday the 19th at Cole’s Bar. Cole’s is always FREE!