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.
Last week I talked about being jaded and expecting bands to eventually trip up, and how Have Gun was defying those odds. I thought I’d stick with that theme and talk about Arliss Nancy and their new album, Wild American Runners.
The music industry hasn’t been incredibly kind to these kids from the great state of Colorado. They released their first two albums for free on Death From Above Records before signing to Suburban Home Records for the release of their third album, Simple Machines. Suburban Home promptly closed it’s doors, leaving a ridiculously great album without out any US distribution. Rather than tucking their tails and getting day jobs, the boys pushed forward. All the while their internet buzz kept gaining momentum, and by the point Wild American Runners hit American ears, kids were already shedding former allegiances and donning Arliss Nancy tshirts (I literally own three) at the big shows.
Arliss Nancy’s sound is basically the foundation of what you might call the ninebullets wheelhouse. It’s a pretty simple formula; big guitars, sad songs created because you fucked up one night after too many beers and a properly mistreated set of vocal chords delivering them. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity, like food, the simpler a song is, the easier it is to see and focus on the weakness. With that said, Arliss Nancy have rarely fucked up over their career, and Wild American Runners is no exception.
Wild American Runners is a collection of twelve songs with an over-arching theme of desperation, disappointment and uncertainty. And while you might say there is nothing new about that, I would argue that no one has done it this well since Lucero and Two Cow had to worry about where they would sleep or eat the next night.
The album closes with “Vonnegut”, a song that perfectly captures everything that this 40 minute album offers you in a simple three and a half minutes.
Three chords and desperation is Essential Listening every time it’s done right, genre be damned.
For the firs time ever we took the show on the road this weekend. It was weird and I was a little uncomfortable but the music was spot on. So, locate a free 2 hours and put some earholes on the archive of the show.
Below is the playlist for November 09, 2013 [Artist - Song (Album)]
01. Sunday Valley – All The Pretty Colors (To The Wind and On To Heaven)
02. White Trash Blues Revival – She Don’t Care (Now Honey, Now Baby, Now Listen…)
03. Husky Burnette – Highway 41 (Tales From East End Blvd.)
04. Scott H. Biram – Sinkin’ Down (Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever)
05. McDougall – Ready, Begin (A Few Towns More)
06. Lincoln Durham – Beautifully Sewn, Violently Torn (Exodus of the Deemed Unrighteous)
07. The Dexeteens – Sunsphere (Sunsphere EP)
08. John Moreland & The Dust Bowl Souls – Low (Everything the Hard Way)
09. Valerie June – Wanna Be On Your Mind (Pushin’ Against A Stone)
10. Drive By Truckers – My Sweet Annette (Decoration Day)
11. Chuck Ragan – Nomad by Fate (Covering Ground)
12. Todd Farrell – My Currency is Doubt (All My Heroes Live In Vans)
13. Chris Knight – Nothing On Me (Little Victories)
14. The Fox Hunt – i’ll drink cheap (Long Way To Go)
15. Tim Barry – (Memento Mori) (28th & Stonewall)
16. Frank Turner – Photosynthesis (Last Minutes & Lost Evenings)
17. Possessed By Paul James – Sweet But Bitter Life (There WIll Be Nights When I Am Lonely)
18. Arliss Nancy – Benjamin (Wild American Runners)
19. Lucero – The Closer You Get (High Cotton)
20. Andrew Combs – Emily
21. I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House – Mayberry (Mayberry)
22. Have Gun Will Travel – Standing at the End of the World (Fiction, Fact or Folktale?)
23. Two Cow Garage – Hey Cinderella (Death of the Self Preservation Society)
24. The Builders And The Butchers – Dirt In The Ground (Western Medicine)
25. Brother Paul – Never Ending Dream (Brother Paul)
26. Matt Woods – Deadman’s Blues
27. Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside – Do Me Right (Untamed Beast)
28. Austin Lucas – So Much More Than Lonely (Stay Reckless)
29. The Vansaders – End of the Line (Stuck In New York City)
30. Drag The River – History With History (Drag The River)
31. The Whiskey Gentry – Holly Grove (Holly Grove)
32. Hellbound Glory – The Feud
Bold = Request
Ninebullets Radio on Facebook
You can stream Ninebullets Radio here
You can download Ninebullets Radio here: Hour 1 / Hour 2
If you like Ninebullets Radio please drop a 5 spot in the Tip Jar.
P.S.: If you like this show, do me a favor and post about it on your Facebook/Twitter/Blog. It’ll do a lot to help these bands reach new ears…and in the end, that’s what this is all about. It’ll also help bring the existence of the radio show to more people’s attention & the more people there are listening/paying attention to the show the more likely it is to stay on the air.
Episode 149: aired 11.09.2013
It’s a weird thing that happens amongst music fans and, to an even worse extent, music bloggers. We find bands we like, and with each release after we fall for them, we get more and more sure that this will be the album they fuck it all up on. Maybe we’re a culture of mistrust, maybe we’re jaded, or maybe we’re all just assholes, but I see it in our scene (and others) every time I get into music conversations. Mind you, I don’t type this with a wagging finger. I am as guilty, if not moreso, than any of y’all. Which brings us to Fiction, Fact or Folktale?.
Now, a moment of disclosure. I know the Have Gun guys. Very well. We live in the same Tampa Bay area. We see one another out a lot. We share drunken and sober hugs. That said, I didn’t know them when I started writing about them here on 9b and I don’t think a bad review on a mediocre blog would act as any sort of speedbump on their road to wherever they are going in their career.
Now, where were we? Oh yes! The ‘these guys can’t continue on this trajectory’ line of thought. They have to fuck up at some point, right? Including Fiction, Fact or Folktale?, HGWT has released 4 albums as a full band. The first, Casting Shadows Tall As Giants, was a ridiculously high water mark, but the band had managed to top it with each subsequent release. At some point there has to be a regression to the means, right?
Color me an asshole, ‘cause I do believe that, but I can say that the regression is not happening with Fiction, Fact or Folktale?. An album that finds the band as tight as ever, the instrumentation more experimental than any other release and a set of 10 songs that really showcase Have Gun’s trademark of powerful songs with a surprisingly delicate sound.
I offer the album’s closer, “Take Me Home Alice”, as a shining example of the power/fragility dichotomy. Nothing about this song’s music is powerful. Hell, it’s restrained and yielding, but beautiful. You’ll notice it long before you notice a lyric in the song beyond the chorus and that’s why “Take Me Home Alice” won’t be your favorite song on the album the first time you listen to it. Like gumbo, it takes time. A few spins through the album, then you’ll hear the song. The forest instead of the tree. Then you’ll see how well put together the song actually is. Like a complex food dish, it all works together. Nothing can be removed. Nothing is overdone.
And that is what Fact, Fiction or Folktale? is. It’s a well-balanced, incredibly complex and mature album from a group of guys I happen to know personally, but would love their music all the same if they lived in Fargo, North Dakota.
Needless to say, this shit is Essential Listening.
The band is currently on tour. You can catch them in these cities: