By Peter Lindblad
Let’s jet off for a tropical vacation with Josh Rouse’s new side project, Isla, in the latest edition of Modern Rock in Motion, and maybe go dancing with Electric Six and their glossy new set of cover songs. Mudhoney knows a good place to get some Fudge, Divine Horsemen’s Ice Cream is melting and Lanterna won’t ask for directions to whatever destination it has in mind.
Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Sub Pop Records)
Mudhoney never cared about its hygiene, at least sonically. In fact, they abandoned well-scrubbed 1990 recordings set to tape at Seattle’s fancy Music Source studios in the aftermath of their feverishly hot and gritty single “Touch Me I’m Sick,” the contagiously nasty Superfuzz Bigmuff EP and 1989’s self-titled album for being too pristine. “It didn’t have the dirt,” said guitarist Steve Turner.
A reboot was necessary. Reacquainting themselves with original punk era singles brought back stateside from UK tours between 1989-90 was a start. Moving their operation underground to snug, makeshift Egg Studios came next, as its owner, Conrad Uno, served as a sort of midwife in birthing the lean, mean Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, which came out kicking and screaming, covered in grimy garage-rock viscera. They had rediscovered their stolen identity, returned in its naturally raw, primal state. And a newfound creativity was emerging, too, with the creepy Farfisa organ orgies of “Generation Genocide” and a surreal “Check-Out Time” sleeping with the incessantly dark, droning “Broken Hands” and idolatry of Neil Young’s stinging “Cinnamon Girl” guitar morphing into a space-rock meltdown worthy of Hawkwind.
The bold remastering of this fully loaded reissue sharpens and clarifies the compellingly ugly essence of Mudhoney, as “Let it Slide” sneers and hisses wickedly, the overdriven “Thorn” and “Shoot the Moon” scratch and claw with even more feral intensity, and blunt, fuzzed-out riffs exuberantly lash out from “Into the Drink” and the classic “Who You Drivin’ Now?” It’s also packed to the gills with extras. Newly mixed tracks from the Music Source sessions – almost all of them never released before – are unexpected gems, as is the wild and wooly Billy Childish tribute “Paperback Life” and a seedy, updated mix of the excitable “Singles” soundtrack favorite “Overblown” that sounds like it was living in a diseased crack house. And that’s a good thing.
Electric Six – Streets of Gold (Cleopatra Records)
The power’s been turned on again for Electric Six, the glammy, disco-driven punk and garage-rock lightning bolt that struck UK charts in the early 2000s with sleek, tongue-in-cheek, dance hits “Gay Bar” and “Danger! High Voltage.” The eclectic Michigan-based outfit, still led by the delightfully louche lead singer/founder Dick Valentine, decided to remake both – so unnecessary, and yet so enjoyable – for its slick, ridiculously fun, and completely over-the-top covers album Streets of Gold. Somehow, they hit harder and groove more infectiously than the originals.
None of the choices here is more surprisingly, though, than their disarmingly reverent, electro soul take on “Yah Mo Be There,” while the INXS classic “Don’t Change” makes more sense, given the song’s thrilling, widescreen adventure and euphoria. Electric Six’s version is a flood of technicolor energy, whereas they get down with The Pixies’ classic “Hey” and easily convert it into a sweaty R&B workout, complete with sunny, full-on horns. They also light up Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” like a stadium, while adding even more glittery swagger and muscle to the KISS classic “Strutter” and a warm buoyancy to the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” Still, their lounge-lizard rendering of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” is a bit tacky.
Isla – The Mediterranean Gardener (Yep Roc Records)
Josh Rouse is almost unrecognizable as The Mediterranean Gardener. Taking a break from his usual bouts of folky, roots-music rusticity and earthy storytelling, Rouse basks in the cool, calming, improvised electronica and breezy, island escapism of Isla, his restorative and refreshing new solo side project. Rouse may never leave.
Not as cold or as distant as similar waves of sound still emanating from Washed Out’s 2020 release Purple Noon, The Mediterranean Gardner was conceived in a cozy little studio close to Rouse’s residence in Valencia, Spain, during pandemic-induced downtime. Sequenced so that its chilled-out ease never stresses out, even with the scratchy, unsettling ambience of opener “Buenas Noches Baby,” the record is an inviting spa of unhurried tunefulness and airy beauty.
Fetchingly, it drifts through the relaxed, hopeful pop of the slightly autotuned “It’s Not Too Far” and “Attention,” turning even gentler for “A Sunny Day” and the yearning “Until the Sun Comes Out,” while a lightly buoyant and tropical “12 Bars” is smeared with trumpet echoing from afar, as if Rouse is waving to the Pet Shop Boys from 2021. Romance and reconciliation are contemplated lyrically, with chilled-out instrumentals “Color De Vida” and “Night Moves” showering off the dirt of the day and retiring to beach bungalows of sonic contentment to rest. Rouse has earned this holiday.
Divine Horsemen – Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix (Red Records)
Couples therapy for singers Chris Desjardins and Julie Christensen is back in session, as the former partners in marriage and dark, vividly poetic post-punk rekindle their stormy musical relationship by reviving the seminal Divine Horsemen. Formed after the breakup of Desjardins’ other landmark L.A. punk band, The Flesh Eaters, Divine Horsemen hotwired three albums and an EP for SST Records before the partnership fizzled, both personally and professionally.
Having already authored a comeback for the ages with The Flesh Eaters’ rumbling 2019 reunion LP I Used to be Pretty, Desjardins turned his attention to a Divine Horsemen revival, eager to again toss billowing, blood-and-guts harmonies with Christensen into infernos of fiery guitars, riotous piano and brawling bass and drums. They gnash their teeth in the growling opener “Mystery Writers,” as slashing, Stooges-inspired garage-rock violence overcomes “Handful of Sand” and the hook-filled, accordion-squeezed “Mind Fever Soul Fire” throws the Velvet Underground’s arty New York City vibe in a van and dumps it out upon arrival back in seedy Los Angeles. Where the slow-burning “Falling Forward” and “Any Day Now” – the latter originally written by Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee – feel ominous and unsettling, a kiss of roots-rock twang and an embrace of Rolling Stones swagger recommend their reimagining of “Can’t You See?” by Charley Cuva and Robert Downey, Sr. Here, the visceral vocal interplay of Desjardins and Christensen isn’t always pretty, but it is real and gripping, stoked by passion and madness. Divine Horsemen ride again.
Lanterna – Hidden Drives (Badman Recording Co.)
Turn off the GPS and throw away the maps. Where Lanterna’s going on Hidden Drives, their seventh album of lush, pastoral shoegaze artistry, it’s best to just follow along with guitarist Henry Frayne and get blissfully lost in instrumental, bucolic daydreams of dusty roads, rolling hills, fields that go on forever and the wild blue yonder.
It’s where the luxurious, dreamy acoustic strum and captivating build-up of “Chagrin Boulevard” almost melt into the gorgeously melodic, similarly cast “Redwoods,” where the meandering rivers of “Flag” and “Nice” – a more celestial trip – float through serenely and the grassy textures of the atmospheric “Cupola” sway, allowing for deep meditation on the bittersweet nostalgia of an affecting title track. Getting swept up in the galvanizing rush of “Aqueduct” is more thrilling, as these meticulously arranged pieces flow together perfectly and Frayne’s melodic guitar intricacies captivate and soothe.
Frayne has also played with other Champaign, Illinois bands like The Moon Seven Times, The Syndicate, Area and !Ack-Ack! Lanterna is the side project he’s been working on for 30-some years, with Hidden Drives folding in more electric guitar and synthesizers for a fuller, more expansive sound. Perhaps he should make it his main preoccupation.