Morbid Stuff (BMG)
There are those who will argue that guitar rock is dead and punk is dead and it’s not relevant and… yadda yadda yadda. These people have a point. Look at the Spotify charts. The relevance of rock is undeniably waning, to the point that it’s considered "genre music" rather than "mainstream" in certain circles.
Of course, the only proper response is "who cares." Especially if you’re a fan of PUP (an acronym for "pathetic use of potential"), the unabashedly punk-influenced two-guitar band from Toronto that has been one of the foremost purveyors of soaring punk-pop choruses, catchy six-string riffs, snotty attitudes and darkly humorous lyrics since its 2013 debut.
As its title suggests, PUP’s third full-length record, Morbid Stuff, is a collection of songs about struggling to cope with modern living — but it’s a short, sharp and hard-hitting one, leavened by the band’s intensity and the sense that, even at his lowest ebb, singer/lyricist Stefan Babcock knows he’s really just a "grown man whining." That said, Babcock makes plenty of salient points as he levels his endearing emo-kid-meets-Craig-Finn worldview (and voice) at everything from bad breakups (See You at Your Funeral, Closure) to depression (Scorpion Hill) to drinking too much and losing oneself in self-pity (Full Blown Meltdown).
Babcock’s clearly been there and, with the help of producer Dave Schiffman, the band matches the intensity of these feelings with a full-on, tuneful roar that somehow mimics the way we all seem to fight our way through to the light, even amid the darkness that surrounds us.
★★★★ out of 5
Stream these: Morbid Stuff, Kids, Full Blown Meltdown
— John Kendle
Cage the Elephant
Social Cues (RCA)
The new Cage the Elephant album begins with a spacy, otherworldly hum that’s interrupted by some throbbing, insistent knocking. That leads to some machine-gun drumming and, as if a door has been opened, an infectious, high-tempo post-punk glam tune comes on. It’s the sound of Cage the Elephant finally uncaged.
After taking a detour into fuzzy guitars, tambourines and a ‘60s vibe with 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, the Kentucky alternative rockers have put out arguably their best collection of songs with Social Cues.
The band’s sound seems more genuine, their strut into personal disorder authentic. Singer Matt Shultz punctuates the opening song, Broken Boy, with the occasional slurry, cocky "Yeah!" Confidence runs throughout this assured album as if the band has finally found a hard-fought consistency.
Their last album was produced by Dan Auerbach, who seemed to make the band bend toward his sound. Social Cues is produced by John Hill, who has let the band explore and play and really just breathe. The music is bouncy and filled with swagger, even as the lyrics reveal trauma.
Broken love is a prominent theme, the product of Shultz’s marriage cracking up and lyrics return to infidelity ("unfaithful friend" and "you sound shifty"). The superb first single, Ready to Let Go, brings us into a raw moment when a vacation between lovers breaks apart and the singer is "trying to hide this damage done." Shultz isn’t angry as much as sorry in the gloomy What I’m Becoming, singing "I’m so sorry, honey/For what I’m becoming."
But the album isn’t completely devoid of hope. "Let the love light guide me home," Shultz sings on the melancholy Skin and Bones. There’s fatigue in The War Is Over, but he acknowledges there was "love was on both sides."
The band does veer over the cliff with the overindulgent Love’s the Only Way, but team up with Beck for the truly terrific, driving Night Running. The super title track also is a raw picture of insecurity: "Hide me in the back room/Tell me when it’s over/Don’t know if I can play this part much longer."
The album ends with Goodbye, one of the saddest and most tender breakup songs ever recorded: "I won’t cry/Lord knows how hard we tried," Shultz sings. His heart may be broken, but thanks to this new album, you’ll fall in love all over again with this band.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Ready to Let Go, Goodbye
— Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press
Blessed Is The Boogie (Alive Naturalsound)
So-called "boogie" music has had a long and illustrious career beginning back in the early 20th century. Blues, big-band swing, country and rock music have all had their perfect purveyors of the form that bases its sound on a steady repeated rhythm illuminated by a lead instrument dancing on top of the predetermined tempo.
Every type of rock band has boogied in some form or another and top-shelf exemplars include ZZ Top, Status Quo, Savoy Brown and now, according to the album title at least, Australia’s Datura4. Leader Dom Mariani has been at the game since the 1980s and has never shied away from guitar-centric music and Blessed Is The Boogie is no exception.
This album is eminently loud, proud and uncomplicated, but no less enjoyable in its’ simplicity. Rather than taking the easy route and diving heads down into barre chord oblivion, Mariani, along with drummer Warren Hall, bassist Stu Loasby and keyboardist Bob Patient, deliver a variety of tones and timbres on these 10 tracks. The multi-guitar harmony riffs and chiming background vocals on Run With Lucy will bring back memories of Thin Lizzy’s finer moments, while the grinding Looper is a mid-tempo earworm initiator that won’t leave your memory quickly.
There are a nice variety of tunes and the slow-burn ballads. Cat on a Roof and Not For Me exemplify the bands’ ability to stay heavy while dialing down the sonic intensity. The only cover song here, Jessie Hill’s signature Ooh Poo Pah Doo, is taken to new heights of boogie brilliance and will hopefully extend the song’s life into another generation.
★★★★ stars out of five
Stream these: Sounds of Gold, Cat on a Roof
— Jeff Monk
Échos La Nuit (Out Of Your Head Records)
One of the favourite components of my love of jazz is the incredible range and constant surprise of the musical offerings of its musicians. Last week, I reviewed a 12-CD epic release. This week, it’s a solo album by alto player and pianist Michaël Attias.
This intensely personal album sounds like a could be a gimmick: Attias, indeed, plays both alto and piano, but often simultaneously and with no overdubs. In fact, there are times when one can believe two people are being recorded. As well, the music is completely improvised. There are overtones and reverbs that make the listener feel as if they are in the room with Attias.
The music has influences from various sources, with free jazz expression being the predominant one. With sustained notes, shifting rhythms and effective silences, this album sneaks quickly into your head and heart. Most of the tracks are fairly short, and develop into moods and directions that always surprise and delight. The melodies are dissonant without jarring. The effect is that of being personally entertained in your living room by a friend.
The two-part Autumn, for example, is a tone poem that calls up the melancholy of the season. Clearly this is not explosive or aggressive music. Whether Attias is playing fast or slow, the gentle shifts and moods here offer an extraordinary peek into the character of this talented musician. Frequently jazz folks shy away from using the term beautiful. With albums like this, that’s a shame.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Grass, Trinité
— Keith Black
The Yiddish Cabaret (Harmonia Mundi)
This release celebrates Yiddish culture and its sizable impact on western culture as a whole, featuring a trio of works performed by the world-renowned Jerusalem Quartet.
The album’s cornerstone is Five Songs for Voice and String Quartet, comprising five songs rooted in Poland’s Yiddish cabarets during the 1920s and ‘30s. They evoke the decadent spirit of Kurt Weill, and are arranged for soprano and string quartet by Leonid Desyatnikov.
Each of the songs, performed in Yiddish by Israeli soprano Hila Baggio, is crafted with a distinct character and style, with Desyatnikov’s textural string writing idiomatic while also wholly contemporary. Of the five offerings, the final two pieces: Yosl un Sore-Dvoshe and Won’t Steal Anymore (translated) are particularly haunting, with Baggio often infusing her storytelling with grit and world-weary pathos (all texts provided in liner notes).
Also included is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s String Quartet No. 2 Op. 26, with its four movements further showcasing the simpatico sensibility of the players, including their graceful renditions of second movement: Intermezzo, and finale Waltz, contrasted with the third, Larghetto and a brighter opener, Allegro.
Five Pieces for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff, a communist and Jewish composer from Czechoslovakia who was ultimately deported to a concentration camp where he died of tuberculosis, is arguably the sleeper hit of the entire album, with the composer creating five colourful, knotty movements ranging from folkloric dance-like pieces to a more serene serenade.
But it is during the final tarantella, fuelled by its driving ostinato figures and rhythmic syncopations, in which the full brunt of Schulhoff’s compositional voice is heard, seeming to rise from beyond the grave with an insistence that’s not soon forgotten.
★★★★ stars out of five
Stream this: Five Pieces for String Quartet — V: Alla Tarantella.
— Holly Harris