Sundowner is alternately a lone, limp-eared horse and a stampede. Marshaling it all is Chis McCaughan, also songwriter/guitarist for darling Chicago punk band The Lawrence Arms. Neon Fiction is his third and most anticipated album as Sundowner–following his surprising debut Four-One-Five-Two (2007) and the understated but deeply satisfying We Chase the Waves (2010)–and it succeeds at showcasing everything McCaughan does well. The somber solo-acoustic songs shaded with his blue roan voice, the full(er)-band palominos that would impress fans of The Jayhawks and The Smoking Popes alike. Neon Fiction also offers a new breed of Sundowner song; on ”Concrete Shoes” and “We Drift Eternal” things get a little Schwarzenbach-ier, dancier, spiked with venomy libations. In-and-out in 34 minutes, this a damn good record; a Chicago (though McCaughan now lives in the northwest) songwriter record worth mentioning with Steve Goodman‘s; a cold-weather novella to bookmark with red leaves, to read with brown liquors.
It is not news to compare songwriters that we feature on Ninebullets and those featured on MTV and say–see, they’re different! But Nato Coles’ career stands in such stark contrast to everything popular media portrays music careers to look like and what stories pop songs can tell, that the comparison is worth mentioning briefly. Looking over the VMA winners from a few weeks ago, the only songs with any specific details in them at all are Mackelmore’s “Same Love” and “Can’t Hold Us.” They’re on the hip-hop side of pop, where specific details and characterization often come in the form of cultural references, which don’t turn out to be so indicative of real characters, though they do effectively characterize a type of person who would speak in that cultural dialect. I’m not saying details make all songs better or that pop music is stronger for details–Buddy Holly and Barrett Strong songs are general and universal to great ends–but I’m saying that when pop songs, to such a pervasive degree, evade any specific socio-economic, political, or subcultural details of their characters, that it speaks to what we think of ourselves. It speaks to which parts of us deserve to be sung. The parts of us that fall in love and remain as young as possible and have fun–absolutely those deserve songs! The parts that know every TV or fashion reference in a hip-hop song–also meaningful! But the parts of us that make up the rest of our time–the working parts, the misinformed parts, the parts that didn’t make it out of your youth with you–those are fucking important, too. And if Bruno Mars, who I like, can be propped up in front of teens and sing to them “Your sex takes me to paradise” then I think you can give teens or any music fan enough respect to write them a real character and expect them to respond. I mean, any time Tim Barry opens for Gaslight or Against Me, the kids who’d never heard him before walk away loving him forever; so that’s not far off.
Nato Coles writes songs that hammer specific characters into accessible stories. He’s a true statesman of punk, he knows how to play probably every great punk song, he’s been in some of the best unsung bands of the last fifteen years–Modern Machines (from Milwaukee), Used Kids (out of Brooklyn, also featuring badass Kate Eldridge currently of Big Eyes), Radio Faces, and for the past few years he’s been up in Minneapolis fronting The Blue Diamond Band. Over that time his songwriting has steadily risen from basement punk to basement rock. He’s always had one of the strongest senses of rock melody around, and with the Blue Diamond Band the focus is on those catchy and devastating songs. Their first full-length, Promises to Deliver, works as a big song to the unsung–from the luckless subjects of Nato’s songs to his choice to cover “Rudes and Cheaps” by the New York band Bent Outta Shape, who themselves ran out of luck and into tragedy when their frontman Jamie Ewing died at 25. Sonically, the Blue Diamond Band has a place amongst Midwestern bands like the Replacements (though less shambly, at least on record) and “blue collar” rockers such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Phil Lynott. Say what you will about the financial success of Springsteen and Seger by the time they wrote “Glory Days,” and “Night Moves,” respectively, those songs pack some whalloping choices. I think those are the choices Nato Coles is interested in on this album–how to tell the story of his generation of punks and friends and heroes, how to reconcile the lives they set out to live with where they are now. And Promises to Deliver delivers with fucking awesome anthemic rock music. It works. It’s one of the most compelling and exciting albums of this year. It’s Essential Listening.
Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band – Hard To Hear The Truth
Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band – Julie (Hang Out A Little Longer)
Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band – Rudes And Cheaps (Bent Outta Shape cover)
Stream and purchase Promises to Deliver on digital, vinyl, or CD from Dead Broke Records or A.D.D. Records or directly from Nato’s own Bandcamp. Check Nato Coles’ blog and Facebook for his relentless tour schedule. This album really feels to me like a companion piece for the Aaron Cometbus novel I Wish There Was Something I Could Quit, so check that out, too, via the awesome Microcosm Publishing.
“All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots.” ~ Don DeLillo
To try and describe the effect of Simone Schmidt’s voice is to commit yourself to an ill-fated plot. Though she uses prose, guitars, voice–all the usual weaponry of the music we talk about here–she succumbs to none of their standards. Her work lives on a different dimension. It is so slowed down that as it oozes through time and space, it seeps into every dimensional crevice in its path–it could pass through glass, it could saturate wood, it could come from 1974, it’s traveling to your funeral to wait for you. It’ll take up as much space as you give it–between your ears or your side of the Mississippi. It’s pop music for atoms and waves. George Jones taking Neil Young’s drugs. Zombie spirituals. Elemental Listening.
Instead you take the “passive” plot of experiencing Schmidt’s voice. But when your storyteller is as strong as she is, this is no less visceral. She will have your knees buckling in-time to drum machines, your intestines singing “Home on the Range.” The last song is called “Undertaker;” there is, indeed, a deathward trajectory to this thing; if you lose the plot, the plot will find you; still, a passive trajectory that ain’t.
Find Lost the Plot at Triple Crown Audio Recordings of Canada, at iTunes. Check out Fiver’s original 7″ at their Bandcamp and Indoor Shoes Records. Follow Fiver on Facebook and bookmark Ms. Schmidt’s blog Entropic Forces for news of all her bands (Fiver, One Hundred Dollars, The Highest Order).
A blast of furious locomotive southern rock like State Champion, Centro-Matic, the Dexateens, West End Motel–the first four songs from Atlanta’s Anchor Bends are worth a reckoning. It’ll get you off your ass, it’ll make your coffee speedier, your steering wheel thicker, your boots louder, your voice hoarser. The band features David Lee from Leatherface (LEATHERFACE), Kelsey Wilson from the Weight and All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, and Atlanta institution Jeremy Ray. I needn’t say more. You have 15 minutes, you have the financial security to name your price for digital music–go get this and listen to it a lot.
Listen, donate, and grab the First Four Songs by Anchor Bends at their bandcamp.
The single best record buying experience I’ve ever had ever ever was the day Lenny Lashley’s first Gang of One 7″ came in the mail. I didn’t know Lenny beyond the Piss Poor Boys record (the DTR cover, etc.) and I didn’t know anything about this record beyond the fact that it existed–Snodgrass mentioned it in an interview. The record was #HF001, the first and, so far, only release by a record store in Asbury Park called Hold Fast. They sent me the Record Store Day release-party edition of the 7″– a picture disc and a flyer autographed by the Gang of One, which I was surprised to learn wasn’t just Lenny. Reading the autographs, my jaw dropped lower and lower: Joe “the Kid” Sirois from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Streetdogs! Pete “The Pete” Steinkopf and Bryan “Papillon” Kienlen from THE BOUNCING SOULS, the band that changed the course of my life at nine years old. I never expected to see those names in my mailbox. I never expected the songs to be so great. And that’s what this band feels like to me now–a surprise family reunion. You never know when this band will show up, but when they do it’s with such warmth, sincerity, and lack of bullshit that it feels like exactly the hug you need so badly. That was in 2011; now the Gang of One full-length is finally finally out! Family sometimes disappoints (not blaming) but the Gang of One doesn’t. This is Essential Listening.
Illuminator picks up where the 7″ left off with a holy, sanctimony-devoid, bar-rock-street-punk-country-soul sound that nobody else does. The Gang of One offers no airs; this is not a mysterious band; I don’t think they expect strangers to listen to their records. However true that is, the record certainly comes out uncanny. Think about what a music career has given Lenny Lashley–from his Boston punk band Darkbuster, who were hometown battle-of-the-bands champs in their time but don’t get talked about at all anymore, to the quiet original release of the Piss Poor Boys record, the botched Suburban Home reissue, a broken hand, a nervous breakdown–it’s made him dear in many hearts, and I don’t mean to speak for him, but I’m sure it has been hard as fuck and not reliably profitable.
And then think about what this guy still gives to music–this album, this lonely and brilliant thing, the hard-won concord he’s able to anthemize, the desolation he balladates–he gives it his therapy, he trusts his zen assets, his songs, to a world/audience/void he knows isn’t going to fix much for him, but it’s still stabilizing to try–still a flexing of trust like what happens after finally seeing your parents as mortal, mistaken people, or watching a loved one move out, or standing by while a career demystifies without reward–it all comes back to you and things you can’t keep from admitting to yourself and finding a strength you can build with after that deconstruction. That’s what this band is about to me. Recalibrating your compassion and your self-worth in the face of total shit. Lenny Lashley is great at writing songs that deal and move on. Every single song on this album is important to that end. And he ends the album, either stubbornly or heroically, with the lines, “I could never reach out and go that way anymore / I don’t need re-covering / I’m fine the way I am.” Deal, sing along, and go.
Stream Illuminator at New Noise Magazine. Buy the physical from Pirate’s Press Records or Panic State Records. Buy the digital from iTunes, but Panic State also sells a digital version for cheaper, so buy it from them.