Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive, 2018

Album Review

Following the 2016 presidential election, there was this kind of unsatisfying cliché going around: "We're gonna get some great protest music" or something like it. For their most recent album, and their first in four years, Superchunk have made some great protest music. And it's pretty damn satisfying, after all.

Written almost entirely between November 2016 and February 2017, What a Time to Be Alive, takes aim at some obvious targets without naming any names. It paints a dire picture of our current situation; but, throughout, there are glimmers of hope. The urgency of the music and the defiance in the lyrics convey a call to action rather than a sense of wallowing in despair.

The opener and title track sets the stage as it barrels along on trebly guitars, calling out those "who wanna take us all the way back" and who are angrily "clinging to the myth that you were cheated / the myth that you were robbed." From there, we go right into the frantic punk of "Lost My Brain" in which we're all victims of a grand, national gaslighting: "It's an intentional thing / making you wonder again and again / if you're the one that's insane." But we can help ground each other in reality: "So grab a hold and let's make a chain."

And there's lots of that on What a Time to Be Alive. "Break the Glass" is classic Superchunk power pop that gets an assist on backing vocals from A Giant Dog's Sabrina Ellis. It casts our current climate as an emergency; but as Mac McCaughan and Ellis sing, "Break the glass / Don't use the door / This is what our hands are for," you get the sense that people have it within their power to change things. Similarly, "Erasure" (this time, featuring Katie Crutchfield and Stephin Merritt) counters powerful attempts to stifle oppressed or minority voices with statements like "The haunt you want to kill won't die," "We don't just disappear," and -- simply -- "we're still here."

Early single "I Got Cut" comes in on a hail of feedback; and McCaughan delivers one of his most biting lyrics, waiting for the days when the old, white men making decisions on everyone's behalf "fade like vapors, you actual traitors / to the ones you say you love."

The song most relevant to what I mentioned at the beginning of this, though, is probably "Reagan Youth." In two minutes of noisy punk, McCaughan sings of being a suburban kid in the early 80s who was inspired by the anarchist punk band. The song references the beginnings of both Reagan Youth ('81) and Superchunk ('89!). It also warns not to stop with just protest songs: "Regan Youth taught you how to feel / Regan Youth told you what was real / But to tell the truth / There was more than one Reagan Youth." While some kids were pumping their fists and singing anarchist anthems, other kids were working their way up the political ranks.

What a Time to Be Alive is Superchunk's noisiest, angriest, and most hopeful album in a while. It contains punk rock burners and power pop gems. The title track admonishes those who hoped for a different outcome in 2016, "We can't pretend to be surprised;" and if the band have anything to say about it, we won't be caught slacking off again.

What a Time to Be Alive is out now on Merge Records.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cattle Decapitation Played The Bald Faced Stag in Sydney w/ Psycroptic and Daemon Pyre, 2/16/18

Cattle Decapitation

Contributor Ken Geiger is spending a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia. Ken loves going to shows, and he'll be seeing a few over the next few months abroad. This is his first dispatch from Down Under. All photos by Ken.

Sonic Annihilation in Sydney 

By Ken Geiger

I cannot speak for everyone, but I can imagine that anyone who goes to a concert in another country must have some first-time questions similar to mine:

"Is the headliner as well known over here as they are back in my home country?"

"Are the fans here cool?"

"Will the local openers be any good?"

Needless to say, all of these questions I posed were met with very positive responses as I attended California death metal outfit Cattle Decapitation's Australian Extinction Tour in Sydney this past Friday night.

People here sure do love their dose of heavy metal, which was evident by the clearly over-capacity audience that packed into the Bald Faced Stag. I made my way into the line about 30 minutes after doors, and there was still a line that nearly extended around the block. The fans I talked to on my way in were all beyond excited for the lineup of the evening. They had been patiently waiting several years for the return of Cattle Decapitation to their country. They treated me with respect and kindness, striking up casual conversation and asking about life back home in comparison to Australia. As I found my way into the room where the bands would be playing, I could already feel the temperatures rising. This heat would only continue to rise as the night went on.

The first band of the night was Sydney-based Daemon Pyre. I found out earlier that evening that the band was having a fill-in on vocals for the night, as their regular singer had recently made the decision to leave the band. In fact, they had only done a couple of rehearsals with the singer prior to this show. To me and the rest of those in attendance that night, it did not really matter who was up there singing; Daemon Pyre delivered a fantastic set of blistering melodic death metal. Anyone who is a fan of bands like Lamb of God or At The Gates would love these guys.

Daemon Pyre

Next to go on was Psycroptic, the main support to Cattle Decapitation for the whole length of this tour. Their specialty is in technical death metal, with a tinge of hardcore in there for good measure. I would soon find out from these guys that it did not matter whether or not I knew who they were, because every Australian in the crowd certainly did. All the words were sung by the crowd. Moshing went down for every song, and people were trying to rush past the security outside just to catch these guys. It was the truest representation that I could think of for the metal scene out in Sydney.


Last but not least was the mighty Cattle Decapitation. This band has come a long way from its early grindcore roots as a Locust side project to turn into the death metal institution that they are known as today. Most of their set was comprised of a mix of their last two releases, The Anthropocene Extinction and Monolith of Inhumanity, which made for an amazing and blistering set that just spanned a little over an hour. Singer Travis Ryan noted multiple times how he was sorry they did not make it over here sooner but was happy they finally made it all. The crowd clearly agreed with him as they ate up every song and riff with ferocious singalongs or wild applause.

Cattle Decapitation
Cattle Decapitation

If I were Cattle D., I would make sure to come back here first on their next album cycle because, damn, do these Aussies love their metal.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Battery Electric Played The Stone Pony's 44th Anniversary Weekend w/ The Vansaders, Lowlight, Little Vicious, Strange Eclipse, 2/17/18

The Battery Electric


The Battery Electric might be cursed. Guitarist Brent Bergholm even took a moment to thank whomever it was that doomed the band to play every one of their Asbury Park shows during a snowstorm. This past Saturday night resembled the band's The Heart and The Thrill release show as well as the show they played at House of Independents to close out 2017 with snow blanketing the streets as the night progressed.

The weather didn't seem to dampen the turnout too much, though; and those who did brave the elements got to hear five of New Jersey's finest rock n roll bands on a night set aside to celebrate the iconic New Jersey venue's 44th birthday. Asbury's own Little Vicious, Lowlight, and The Vansaders, along with young Roxbury garage / blues rockers, Strange Eclipse, got everyone nice and toasty warm for The Battery Electric.

Little Vicious have gone from a rough-edged, bluesy stoner two-piece to a rough-edged bluesy stoner three-piece fronted by the personality that is Marguerite King. Strange Eclipse are young worshippers of blues rock from the likes of Led Zeppelin or The White Stripes and put on a show that makes it seem like they've been at this for much longer than they have. Lowlight deliver their synth-soaked "roadhouse chic" with an honesty and conviction that never diminishes no matter how many times I hear them play their songs. The Vansaders' live performance is a physical punch in the gut with huge guitars and mammoth drums anchoring the songs of Doug Zambon and crew.

Little Vicious
Strange Eclipse

The Vansaders

The Battery Electric's set was, quite literally, a whiskey-soaked affair at times. The band played songs from their first LP all the way up through those they just completed recording with Jesse Hughes in Joshua Tree, CA as frontman Ron Santee doused people up front from a bottle of Seagram's. The crowd ate up all of The Battery Electric's rockstar energy, singing along and losing it to Bergholm's guitar solos. Several times, Santee dedicated songs to specific fans in the crowd; and the whole evening took on the feel of a big party among friends.

The Battery Electric

By the time we got outside, the snow had stopped and already started to melt. It's hard to tell if The Battery Electric are done with their curse. Maybe they could test it by -- and this is just an idea -- playing a show in the spring or summer and seeing what happens then.

Pics are up in the Flickr galleries and on the Facebook page.

Friday, February 16, 2018

New Stuff from Exmaid, Hysteria

Exmaid announced their debut LP and released the first single.


This is a big Friday of album releases from some venerable bands, and I hope to get to one or two of them over the course of the weekend. It's been kind of a busy morning around here, and CoolDaughter 2 is home for the beginning of her long weekend. I did want to hit you with a couple of quick ones, though, before we went out foraging for some lunch.

Exmaid, "Devoted"

Our friends in Exmaid released the first single from their upcoming debut LP earlier this week. Fair Sex is due from SRA Records on April 6th, and "Devoted" is our first taste of that.

Exmaid's first release was the excellent Neurotic Fantasies EP on which Miranda Taylor (Black Wine, Hunchback, Full Of Fancy) played mostly solo. Since then, Taylor has enlisted Philadelphia's Psychic Teens (Dave Cherasaro, Joe DeCarolis, Larry Ragone) as her band and collaborators. The foursome went into the studio this past summer to record Fair Sex.

With its jagged and staccato guitar and Taylor's crystal clear vocal, "Devoted" is probably the most assertive and straightforward song you'll ever hear about indecisiveness. I guess.

Hysteria, "New Wave"

Red Bank-based Hysteria are Michelle Nuccio, Lance Cashman, Matt Ramiz, and Nick Brucanti. Today, the band released their first single, "New Wave," which will appear on their upcoming 6 Songs EP.

The song is shoegaze-y post-punk that features Nuccio on, in what is probably a first for the genre, ukulele. I'm not sure that you can quite pick out the fact that there's a uke somewhere in the wall of sound; and, in fact, "New Wave" is a very good example of the dark and atmospheric post-punk that I always enjoy.