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2005 Record Reviews

The Hold Steady Separation Sunday review

The Hold Steady
Separation Sunday

A year ago, I was so sure no one would top it, I proclaimed The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me to be the best rock album of 2004. In a deliberate attempt to confuse me, Comets on Fire released the most rock album of the year, but I realized the difference and remained confident in my proclamation. The problem was that most of my friends were already tired of me trying to convince them of the genius of Sammy Hagar and Larry Norman, so my endorsement was often just met with raised eyebrows. It didn't help that the most accurate descriptions I could come up with ("they sound like Keith Morris and The Silver Bullet Band parodying Lou Reed's 'New York', but with tons of clever in-jokes") made me sound like an idiot. By now, though, a lot of people have heard the record, so I feel somewhat vindicated.

The Hold Steady's new one is called Separation Sunday, and it expands the sound of the first, while staying true to the band’s unique vision. The bar-band schlock is way less Beaver Brown and way more E-Street, and the classic rock riffing isn't so much a pastiche - now they manage some genuine invention. Main guy Craig Finn's lyrical onslaught of pop-culture riffing remains, but he's lightened the density and strengthened his storytelling abilities. On the first number, "Hornets! Hornets!", he winds references to Powell Peralta, Nabakov, and Kate Bush, an ...Almost Killed Me lyric, a St. Paul, Minnesota geography lesson, and an insistent boogie-riff that's half-Rush, half-ZZ Top around the story of a late night hookup that probably shouldn't be happening.

While guys like Broooce Springsteen have characters that let it rip on the open road, The Hold Steady's songs are populated by losers in night club parking lots, waiting for a ride to the party where they can get some free drugs. Throughout the album, close encounters with 'killer parties', a crazy drug-runner named Charlemagne and numerous conniving "little hoodrats" (maybe they look like cardinals? I don't know, I never went to church) are peppered with the language of the lapsed Catholic having second thoughts. Some end up bad, some not so bad. There but for the grace of...

Mickey Maracas

READ: An interview with The Hold Steady

BBQ Tie Your Noose review

Tie Your Noose

Eh, I don’t really need this in my life. I guess a one-man band who sounds pretty much like the Crickets as portrayed in The Buddy Holly Story is impressive on a purely academic level. Lacking that knowledge, though, I’m not impressed in any visceral sense by the air moving in front of my speakers. It sounds like this guy is just too good at what he does. One-man-band-ism if it’s about anything, should convey some sense of physical challenge, and this here don’t do that. Plus, the songs are boring and I’m listening to it on a gol-dang laptop, which doesn’t do anybody any good, either.

Oliver Trask

DMBQ The Essential Sounds From The Far East

The Essential Sounds From The Far East

The "Dynomite Masters Blues Quartet"'s a great and nutty heavy psychedelic demolition team from Japan. To my ears, they do a more tightly composed, though no more "in control" sounding, take on whatever it is that Comets on Fire are supposed to be doing. The berzerkest moments of early (but not Rod Evans-early (if you know what I mean)) Deep Purple could be a useful reference point for where these three gents and one lady lift off from. Whew, the sheer gonzo-ness of the band's attack—wild riffs, wandering fuzz bass, wailing he-man vox, and drums that may be operated by an unusually limber octopus—is just alot of fun to listen to.

The musical action doesn't barrel forward so much as float above the ground erratically like a hot-air balloon that's lost its captain overboard. While a band this great and uncategorizable may seem a little out of place on the Estrus label, I'm not going to complain or hold it against anybody. More people should make records like this.

Country Joe McDonald's

Black Mountain self-titled

Black Mountain

Black Mountain manages a pretty boss update of late 60s, early 70s-non-metal heavy-ish rock that refreshingly steers clear of the slavish genre retread, pointlessly forceful “rock” moves and tedious nyuk-nyuk pseudo-pomo ironic posturing that tends to doom most projects of this sort to minimum relevance and maximum suckitude. They explore a healthy variety of sounds and moods, without ever straining to be, y’know, eclectic. They stick mostly within the framework of the probabilities of an imagined gospel- (rather than blues-) informed Crazy Horse Tonight’s The Night / Zeppelin III (and a little ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ tossed in for snicks) melange and the resultant tunage is very easy on the ears.

Black Mountain‘s a very good front-to-back album, with but one possible drawback: some of the songs are a bit draggy , and most of the ‘grabbers’ are on what I guess would be side one of the vinyl edition. But then again, they’re authentically draggy. And who am I to come to this conclusion after, what, two-three listens? How long did it take me to get hip to Forever Changes, for instance?

JD Guckert

Mahjongg Raydoncong review

[Cold Crush Records]

The American Boredoms? Their thank you list includes Don Bolles, 'Hot' Doug Sohn, and Tux Dog? They mold complete and utter nonsense into the approximate shapes of Led Zeppelin (to use one example) and Third World (to use another) by sheer force of will? Yes, yes, and yes. And much more. 2005 sure is a much better year for albums so far than a person in my situation has any business knowing. And this here Mahjongg item is another black mark on my permanent record.

Fats Domino's

Om Variations on a Theme review

Variations on a Theme
[Holy Mountain]

Truth in advertising, man. The titular ‘theme’ is a “Snowblind” riff played on a drum kit and Rickenbacker bass with the fuzz and volume dialed up to “bulldoze”. The two dudes from Sleep's "classic" line-up who aren’t in High on Fire keep it simple with a perfect single-mindedness which, over the course of just three tracks and a whopping forty-five minutes, hardly changes color, and never gets boring. The vocals are chanted and incanted and the lyrics about…. I dunno, something pseudo-mystical, I’m sure. But who listens to the lyrics for the words? Not me. I'm here for the music bro. Totally sublime. Record of the year? Maybe, my dude, maybe.

Snort Johannson

The Priests Tall Tales review

The Priests
Tall Tales
[Get Hip]

Totally competent and by-the-numbers. If someone (an alien? The Pope?) asked you what rock music sounded like, you could play them this. This would do. No doubt about that. The Priests have every stock move down pat and show professional courtesy by executing them at each and every exact moment listeners are accostomed to hearing them. They always stay inside the lines of their Seeds Coloring Book. Um.... it's like they've got one of those old-fashioned dance-step diagrams, but it says "garage rock" on top of it. How many more ways should I come up with to say "this is really generic and uninteresting"? The only thing less original and uninspired than The Priests music, is the lame 'Unleashed in the East' send-up on the back cover of their CD. Okay, I'm done.

Larry "Burger" King

Robert Pollard Relaxation of the Asshole review

Robert Pollard
Relaxation of the Asshole
[Yuk Yuk Motherfucker Productions]

It was perhaps inevitable, given the “what the fuck” nature of his release schedule, but Robert Pollard’s first official post-Guided By Voices release is, get this, a COMEDY ALBUM. Technically speaking, it’s actually “just” a compilation of drunken GBV stage banter by the most tediously prolific artist in the history of rock. Taken as a whole, it paints a fascinating picture of a man who started smoking at the age of 35.

A few of the many, many highlights:

“Hey, did the Who play here? Did Meat Loaf play here? Did Joe Cocker play here? Did Cocker, Meat Loaf and Daltrey play here?”

“We like to keep a cooler of beer on stage because we’re hopeless pathetic alcoholics. But we say ‘fuck you’. Anybody who says we have a drinking problem, we say ‘fuck you’. I said it to my mom.”

“Let me get a cigarette. Jesus Christ.”

“Rolling Stone sucks! They can blow me forever! I tell you what, they’ve got the Top 100 Living Guitar Players in the Rock and Roll and they’ve got Joan Jett, and they’ve got both guitar players from Radiohead. What? Those motherfuckers have never played a good fucking riff in their life!”

“I’m 44 fucking years old, and I’ve got a small dick anyway, but how the fuck does the guy from the Counting Crows get to fuck all the girls from ‘Friends’. He’s an ugly motherfucker, he’s fatter than me… What’s he got?!!! Money. Money. I’ve got some fucking money, goddamit.”

“When you play big clubs like this, you’ve got to say ‘Thank you’ louder. Like this: THANK YOU!”

And so on...

Jesus Atkins

Switchblade self-titled review

[Trust No One/Icarus Records]

"Scary" cover art, no song titles, and unintentionally hilarious lyrics printed on the cd case (ex: "Bring your needles and glasspipes for meditation in contempt / Stone yourself to heaven as another pitstop to Hell") made putting this one a dicey proposition, especially with all those unheard Cheap Trick bootlegs to listen to, but duty called. Not bad at all. I was expecting some pitiful nu-style-metal, but instead, Switchblade brings it heavy and droney with the mathematical, mostly instrumental spider-metal. Nice! Turns out they're from Sweden, which goes a long way toward explaining the lack of ironic b.s. posturing.

Rick Pencilman, Rock and Roll Dad

Underminded Hail Unamerican! review

Hail Unamerican!
[Kung Fu]

Once again, I assumed when I shouldn't've, and made an ass out of u and me. I was expecting - I don't know, what I think Fall Out Boy and Taking Back Sunday and all that bullshit sounds like, even though I've never heard any of it. Instead I got whay Metallica should probably be doing these days. Which is what Metallic a used to do. Excellent, precision guided stop-start, boomboom, wheedley-wheedley feats of inhuman crunch and crush. The tunes are nice and short, and boy oh boy do these gents have the chops. My only complaint is that the singers throat-shredding howl sounds a little thin. Guys: promise me next album you'll put a little reverb on the vox. That'd be great.

S.B. Sweaty

Yo La Tengo I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Yo La Tengo
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

There is a new Yo La Tengo album and it has a bunch of songs that start and then go on for a while and then end. The songs are enjoyable, as is the album as a whole. You can buy it on cd or on vinyl lp, or you can even pay to download it from a website. Or I suppose you could even find a place to download it for free, if you don't have an ethical problem with or a fear of being punished for doing that sort of thing. Nevertheless, in addition to the many ways you can get the music, there are even more "places" to find reviews to read. As far as we're concerned here, though, the most important thing about the record is it's cover, and specifically it's artist - the inspirationally indefatigable Gary Panter - with whom we conducted an exclusive interview, which you can read by manouvering your computer mouse over and clicking this line of text.

S.B. Sweaty

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