By Peter Lindblad
Violence and beauty come together this month, as The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart takes on all comers in a dystopian, genre-hopping album of inspired, rabble-rousing collaborations. Sea Power ponders immortality, following a slight rebranding. Tess Parks emerges from a Covid shutdown with a new sense of purpose, former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss embraces glam-rock with Slang, the Bleeding Hearts tell a remarkable Riches to Rags tale and The Trypes sound younger than 40.
Sea Power – Everything Was Forever (Absolute/BFD/The Orchard)
No longer sailing under any country’s flag, the art-rock auteurs of Sea Power — formerly British Sea Power — are back out on maneuvers with the breathtaking Everything Was Forever, steering their dreamy vessel into the mystic of “Lakeland Echo” and crashing into waves of swirling, post-rock ecstasy, like those of “Folly” and “Green Goddess.”
The navigation system is still in good working order, allowing for continued exploration of emotional, tension-and-release dynamics as they boldly soar like Muse and nostalgically brood like Elbow, just as they did upon arrival with 2003’s The Decline of British Sea Power LP, their stormy and captivating debut. It was, by turns, atmospheric and raging, wistful and defiant. Cinematic in scope, with beautifully written lyrics, Everything Was Forever experiences similar sea changes, as the nervous energy and drive of “Transmitter,” “Two Fingers” and a grandiose “Doppelganger” thrill and the graceful curves and elegant expansiveness of “Scaring the Sky” and “Fear Eats the Soul” leave witnesses with mouths agape. Enjoy the rapture.
Tess Parks – And Those Who Were Seen Dancing (Fuzz Club Records/Hand Drawn Dracula)
Singing in the rain of a drizzly, reverb-soaked “Saint Michael,” Tess Parks walks beside heavy, depressed piano, her witchy, throaty vocals echoing through the gloom. Time slips away, memories fade, as the lazy closer to And Those Who Were Seen Dancing distractedly kicks at puddles with itchy beats and floating filaments of distorted guitar, lost in a melancholic reverie.
Rather dismal and grey, its sonic runoff trickling down a storm drain, “Saint Michael” is a sadly beautiful exit to the moody, psychedelic-pop funhouse And Those Who Were Seen Dancing, informed by pandemic ennui and isolation. In its mirrors, reflections of Mazzy Star’s mesmerizing, droning beauty gradually form in controlled burns “WOW” and “Suzy_Sally’s Eternal Return,” even as the buzzy, pulsating “Happy Birthday Forever” trips to the drugged-out, acid-house grooves of the Happy Mondays and “Do You Pray” sends a shoegazing mating call to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club through howling darkness.
The sun rises on “Good Morning Glory,” expansive and radiant, while the kaleidoscopic “I See Angels” hallucinates, spinning drowsily in surreal splendor. The hypnotic draw of And Those Who Were Seen Dancing– the title copped from a Friedrich Nietzsche quote – is undeniable, as its circling, trance-inducing electric keyboards, textured noise, and Park’s raspy serenades entice and consume visitors. Is it any wonder then that Parks often surfaces as a creative foil to the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe? She could be his Stevie Nicks.
Slang – Cockroach in a Ghost Town (Kill Rock Stars)
After closing the door on Sleater-Kinney, others swung wide open for Janet Weiss, including one marked Slang. Behind it were matching glam-rock outfits for the queen of indie-rock drumming and singer/guitarist Drew Grow. They were a perfect fit, although it took more than 10 years for Slang to dress up in the audacious, melodic drag of their well-conceived debut, Cockroach in a Ghost Town.
“I have dreams about the endings, but I don’t dream about the end,” sings Grow, addressing mortality as the silvery swells of the astral title track become fully realized, freaking out in a “Moonage Daydream” of David Bowie’s making. With its growling guitar riffs, the escalating churn of “Hit the City” builds a towering monument to Mick Ronson and the Spiders from Mars, as the theatrical “Wrong Wrong Wrong,” “In Hot Water” and “Chipped Tooth” shift fluidly and confidently into dramatic Ziggy Stardust-inspired overdrive. The stomping opener “Wilder” assumes Marc Bolan’s swagger, with its Vaseline-smeared choruses – the kind that ascend and stream upwards throughout the gliding rush and powdery glow of Cockroach in a Ghost Town – blowing up amps. Slang speaks glam fluently.
The Trypes – Music for Neighbors (Pravda Record)
There’s no need to call the cops on the quirky Music for Neighbors to complain about the noise. Inside its paneled, basement walls are the low-key home and live recordings of The Trypes, the anxiety-ridden, twee-pop collective birthed years ago in Haledon, New Jersey, with members of The Feelies and Speed the Plough among its ranks. That fact alone should pique some interest.
Released to celebrate The Trypes’ 40th anniversary, Music for Neighbors comprises The Explorer’s Hold EP, which includes the vigorous, up-tempo strumming of “The Undertow,” the insistent, lightly electric “(From the) Morning Glories” and a hazy, psych-folk cover of The Beatles’ “Love You To” that grows increasingly frantic. Among other ephemera, the nervy and spare lo-fi tunefulness of “Foreign Doctors” and “Force of Habit,” as well as that of a hypnotic “The Inner Light” and its shambolic charm, intrigues and enthralls. Although, it’s the bruised “A Plan, Revised” – from the 1985 Coyote Records compilation Luxury Condos Coming to Your Neighborhoods Soon – that’s the most memorable character of this eccentric cast, its winsome, aching beauty retrieved from Fleetwood Mac’s smokey past.
More urgent are rough treatments of “Always There,” “Dancing Barefoot” and another pounding version of “Love You To” taken from Live at the Bottom Line, 1984, while the folky, flute-infused mystery of a misty “Dark Continents” from a 2017 reunion hints at Nick Drake’s humble greatness. Eccentricity never sounded so alluring.
Bleeding Hearts – Riches to Rags (Bar None/Fiasco Records)
Have some sympathy for the Bleeding Hearts and Bob Stinson, and some taste. Booted out of the mythologized Replacements in 1986, the troubled Stinson drifted from project to project. Then, along came a regular of the Uptown Bar, a Twin Cities’ watering hole frequented by Stinson. It was the Bleeding Hearts’ Mike Leonard, a Stones’ devotee in search of a guitarist.
They were kindred wild spirits. Stinson was brought aboard, and eventually, the band recorded Riches to Ragsin 1993, musical differences leading to angry blowups and Stinson’s unceremonious departure. The Bleeding Hearts imploded, Leonard landed with The Magnolias and Stinson crashed, sadly ending up in an early grave. Riches to Rags sat gathering dust, until coming out as a Record Store Day 2022 exclusive – on blood-red vinyl no less, with Replacements biographer Bob Mehr penning the fully loaded, unvarnished liner notes.
The Riches to Rags story is a perfect epilogue for Stinson. Ragged yet tuneful, it’s a raucous, spirited dumpster dive through The Replacements’ trash, a showcase for Stinson’s wayward, unpredictable solos – nestled comfortably in compact songs – and edgy, sharpened chords, the most serrated of which cut through the bittersweet delinquency of “Guilty” and a racing “Poker Face.” More fast and furious punk rock is found in “Happy Yet” and “Gone,” while a rollicking “Imagination” struts drunkenly around shaking piano and “What Do You Want” is a messy clothes pile of blistering early Soul Asylum rebellion and adolescence.
A little bit of that old Paul Westerberg magic is present in Leonard’s songwriting, as a mature “100 Ways” exudes wry charm, with its acoustically strummed, shaggy smile, while tight, catchy hooks jab and push through the fertile dirt of punchy tracks “Tonight” and “Know It All.” If only there was more of this somebody could get out of storage.
Mark Stewart – Vs (eMERGENCY heARTS)
Let’s play matchmaker with agent provocateur Mark Stewart, of post-punk agitators The Pop Group. On the dizzying, subversive Vs, with its futuristic, danceable mashups of industrial machinery, dub grooves, underground hip-hop and electro-rock, sparks fly as Stewart welds his experimental lawlessness to confrontational collaborations with likeminded anarchists.
The most soothing and organic work here is “Alpha,” a spacey, slowly evolving dub odyssey through Stewart’s unfinished work with the late Lee Skratch Perry, sculpted posthumously by Adrian Sherwood and Lee co-conspirator Peter Harris. More dub deconstruction is carried out in “Outlaw Empire,” an atmospheric, rolling Sherwood mix that alters and transforms a Nun Gun vs. Stewart original. Elsewhere, Vs is the stuff of nightmares, as the harrowing “Cursed Child” – featuring Ye Gods reanimating leftover swatches of Pan Sonic’s dearly departed Mika Vainio – throws scratchy, rounded beats into a metallic stew of glitchy, clattering noise seemingly cooked by Aphex Twin.
Brains are scrambled beyond repair in the unsettling and abrasive “NEW ERROR,” where legendary Japanese noise artist Zeni Geva brings forth KK Null to face off with Stewart, and “All My Senses” grounds the mind-warping insanity of KK Null with a cool, seductive Mike Watt bass line. In “Rage of Angels,” Front 242 throbs and bounces against Stewart’s oddly compelling, vocal manipulations, and a hard-hitting “The Last Enemy” raps to Consolidated’s alien soundscapes and outbursts of frenzied skitter. Stewart does play well with others.