By Peter Lindblad
Appetizers in the form of two EPs are served in this edition of Modern Rock in Motion, along with two main courses of archival recordings – one an exhilarating live effort, the other an endearing odds-and-sods collection. Sides of fruit and vegetables make it a healthy meal, and for more adventurous appetites, there’s something strange and foreign from the Sea. Just be sure to wear White.
Born Ruffians – Pulp (Yep Roc Records)
The last of the orphans have been sent off to live with Pulp. Coming on the heels of 2020 releases Juice and Squeeze, this colorful patchwork EP from Born Ruffians is another home for strays from 2018’s Uncle, Duke & The Chief, completing a trilogy of sorts for the Toronto indie-pop eccentrics who had nowhere else to put them.
Oddly enough, the seven songs of the psychedelic Pulp coexist comfortably, despite their genre-hopping differences. Next to a vivid ‘60s garage-rock stomper such as “Checkin’ Out,” with its cycling guitars turned inside out, the infectious New Wave pogoing of a taut, rubbery “Types of People” could feel like a square peg, but it doesn’t. Even the soft, yearning ballad “Heat Wave” seems to usher in the full-on, power-pop riot and dirty golden radiance of “Beyond the Lightning,” while the arty swoon and breezy, Shins-like wonder of “Ring Finger” find companionship with the joyously trippy “Happy Parasites” and its baroque flourishes. With its vibrant energy and playful creativity, the question has to be asked: Who wants more Pulp?
The Cucumbers – The Desk Drawer Tapes (Life Force Records)
Don’t look for hidden meanings in the title to The Desk Drawer Tapes. True to the unassuming nature of The Cucumbers, the eclectic indie-pop pixies who emerged as one of the brightest and most engaging acts from the fertile ‘80s indie-pop scene of Hoboken, New Jersey, it literally refers to where these forgotten tracks were found completely by accident. That’s all there is to it.
Embedded on old cassettes and discs, these delightful recordings – made between 1988 and 2005 – were unearthed in a fit of COVID-inspired cleaning and organizing mania, and they tell an interesting story. Every era of The Cucumbers’ charm-offensive evolution is represented, with the clean, off-kilter funk of “The Boss’s Song,” “Do It Yourself” and a swaying “You Are the Match” – the latter so sweet and innocent – grooving easily from early on when co-founders Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried had a thing for horns. They rediscovered brass in 2005 for a charming and soulful “Thinking of Midnight,” but in 2002, The Cucumbers dug up their slightly edgy college-rock roots for “Handle with Care” and a thorny, bristling “Shout to be Heard,” both here picking up the mantle from Juliana Hatfield and Throwing Muses.
Catchier still is “How Far Can You Go,” with its jumpy country swing, while “Our Love is What We Are” turns wistful and “Beauty from Afar” sinks slowly into a lovely, Mazzy Star-like reverie. What a bounty. Is there more in the attic?
Six Organs of Admittance – The Veiled Sea (Three-Lobed)
Wading into The Veiled Sea, it’s easy to just disappear, to be completely absorbed into its alien soundscapes and materialize elsewhere, disoriented and dazed. Ben Chasny, it seems, has no interest in making listeners feel the least bit comfortable on the latest LP from his Six Organs of Admittance project.
Even an ambient oasis like the undeniably moving “Old Dawn,” its washing tones so airy and refreshing, feels cold and unfamiliar, like an empty interplanetary airport. Celebrated for his avant-garde guitar exploration, Chasny gives himself plenty of room to roam on The Veiled Sea, with the shimmering, spacey chimes and epic sprawl of “Somewhere in the Hexagon of Saturn” contrasting with his spiraling, distorted soloing, which also cuts through the pristine, pulsating funk of an ominous “All That They Left You” like a welder’s torch. It’s what Daft Punk would sound like having Hans Zimmer soundtrack their nightmares.
As for Chasny, he’s not dreaming, as he savagely shreds in frenzied, serrated coils over soothing, warm hum and haunting vocals in an otherworldly “Last Station, Veiled Sea,” an astronaut on a lonely journey. Can you still hear him, ground control?
The Black Watch – The White EP (Eskimo Record Label)
Unlike his beloved Beatles, who doubled down and threw caution to the wind in stretching The White Album to two LPs, John Andrew Fredrick’s The Black Watch adopts a “less is more” approach for The White EP. Recording sessions for the upcoming Here & There full-length yielded brilliant showers of literate, melodic post-punk and shoegazer sparks for this five-song teaser, whetting appetites for what’s to come with the rousing, yet resigned, “There & Here” and two gripping versions of the bittersweet beauty “Off You Go.” The driving, slightly fried guitars on the successor to 2020’s sublime The Nothing That Is EP sting a little, pouring alcohol into open wounds on a somewhat edgy and dreamy “They May Be Grey,” while “In Two Different Ways” delivers its rush of lovely melancholy via more electronic conveyances. Still on duty, The Black Watch seemingly never sleeps.
The Reducers – Live: New York City 2005 (Rave On Records)
Arlene’s Grocery in New York City was the site of a fiery, hit-and-run live set from highly combustible Connecticut rockers The Reducers on June 4, 2005. In lieu of leaving a note at the scene, they’ve released a crisp, clear soundboard recording of the long-running outfit’s electrifying performance, which captured them in the wild.
Fame and fortune may have eluded The Reducers, who once seemed on the cusp, but those in the know fell hard for their irresistibly catchy blend of rollicking English pub rock and raw, supercharged pop-punk thrills. It’s hard to imagine them ever sounding as hungry or as vital as they do here, with the sweet, punchy savagery of The Buzzcocks running through “Turning Grey,” “Fistfight at the Beach, “Hurt by Love” and “Meltdown.” Meanwhile, the sharp, stabbing “Avoidance Factor” and a defiant “San Antone” stir memories of Stiff Little Fingers’ explosive devices, as does their fast, rip-roaring cover of Teengenerate’s “Don’t Mind,” but “I Call That Living” and “On the Road Again” offer toasts to Joe Strummer’s 101ers.
Not that the comparisons really matter. What does is that, for three decades or so, The Reducers played with such wild, reckless passion and attitude that they could have burned out quickly. It’s a good thing they didn’t. Otherwise, Live: New York City 2005 might not exist.