Welfare Jazz – Viagra Boys
Where to start with Viagra Boys? Think Huey Lewis And The News but if they were a punk band. Fun tunes with great rock sensibility but with ripping sax parts…maybe your dad will even like it!
The band comes out hard (pun 110% intended) with Ain’t Nice, a song about straight up not giving a hoot about others, and being kind of a dick. “I’ll borrow your stuff and never but it back, I’m kinda hungry can you get me a snack?”, vocalist Sebastian Murphy sings over a driving, distorted bassline, and a honking sax. Toad keeps the theme going. It’s a tune about being more interested in being married to the open road as opposed to a lover. Don’t tell Viagra Boys when to go to bed or brush their teeth or play by the rules – they’re not interested in settling down!
The band keeps you guessing switching it up between punk songs, outlaw country, and whatever else they feel like throwing at you. Creatures throws some funky disco grooves at you…you’ll feel like a badass blasting this in the car on your way to grab essential items for lockdown.
After several songs about partying, drinking, and smoking, To The Country takes on a less sarcastic tone and is about what the title implies trying to maybe escape the rock & roll lifestyle and is followed by the album’s grand finale, a killer cover of John Prine and Iris Dement’s In Spite Of Ourselves.
Overall, Welfare Jazz is an awesome sophomore album from a band that fans of The Stooges and Pissed Jeans will be sure to enjoy.
Soul – Jon Batiste/ Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
One of the few decent things about being cooped up in quarantine is that it gives us some quality time to digest the arts. During the holiday season, Disney released their latest animated feature Soul about a middle school music teacher/jazz musician who is trying to find his way back to the world of the living after an unfortunate accident. The movie is fantastic, but we’re here to talk about the music!
Soul essentially gives us a two-for-one vibe throughout, Jon Batiste’s (Stay Human, Stevie Wonder, and bandleader/musical director for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert) contributions focus more on the upbeat and jazzy parts of the film, while Trent Reznor (who’s come a long way from wanting to fuck us like an animal…I wonder what a Disney version of that tune would sound like?!) & Atticus Ross (scores for The Social Network, The Watchmen,The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) handle the music used to reflect The Great Beyond.
Tracks like Born To Play are very playful and melodic, and have a swing to them,, while Collard Greens And Cornbread has a very New Orleans feel to it…already we get a sense that our lead character had dedicated his life to music and knows his stuff. Even if you’re not a big jazz fans these tunes will have you feeling it! 22’s Getaway features a wicked walking bass solo as well as a splashy hi-hat, Apex Wedge delivers a nice Latin flavor, and Spiritual Connection will have you tapping your toes and bobbing your head…it’s just a shame some of these tunes don’t last longer, but with all the tunes by Batiste/ Reznor & Ross we’re dealing with a whopping 42 tracks!
Speaking of Reznor & Ross, the duo have added another gem to their resume with their work on Soul. Grainy synths, ambient flourishes, and chiming percussions are what we’ve come to expect from them, but it’s pretty impressive in the context of a Disney movie.
The Great Beyond is a solid example, a dark buildup creating a sense of tension and atmosphere while a whirling distorted synth fades in and out, making you wonder “how did they get away with this?” The Great Before feels like trying to meditate in traffic, one second the reverb-heavy piano makes you feel like you’re on a cloud, and the next the arpeggiating synths bring you right back down…it’s an amazing contrast!
The soundtrack also features some fun single efforts by Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Blackish, clipping.) and a lovely tune by Cody Chestnutt that are a little more appreciated in the context of the film but are still pretty good regardless.
Collapsed In Sunbeams – Arlo Parks
As far as debut albums go, I can’t think of a more stunning offering than Collapsed In Sunbeams by Arlo Parks! At just 20 years old, Parks has laid her soul bare and given listeners a raw and honest look into her life…it’s like reading someone’s journal – you feel guilty for doing it but it’s just too juicy and gripping to put down.
The album opens with the title track, a poem over some sparse guitar that really helps set a mood. “The turquoise in my ring matches the deep blue cramp of everything/ We’re all learning to trust our own bodies, making peace with our own distortions/ You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me. I promise”, Parks tells us. It’s nice to know we don’t need to feel weird about crying!
A beautiful thing about modern music is that the line between genres gets blurrier and blurrier. Collapsed In Sunbeams gives us elements of emo, indie rock, and R&B…think Hiatus Kaiyote meets Radiohead, but a little more radio-friendly. Hurt delivers a wicked beat and a grooving bassline before busting wide open in the chorus, and Hope keeps the spacious arrangements going giving every instrument a chance to shine through and allowing Parks to do her thing.
“I was waiting for the bus one day/ Watched a fight between an artsy couple escalate/ Strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage/ Then he spilled his coffee as he frantically explained”, Parks sings on Caroline, over a guitar part that wouldn’t be misplaced on a mid 00’s emo album. The lyrical wit continues on Black Dog, a heartbreaking song about being there for a friend/partner through their depression. “I’d lick the grief right from your lips/ You do your eyes like Robert Smith/ Sometimes it seems like you won’t survive this/ And honestly it’s terrifying”, Parks sings in the songs opening verse. I’ll save you a track by track, but Arlo Parks is definitely an artist to watch after such a promising debut.
I’ve Seen All I Need To See – The Body
After several collab albums including releases with Uniform, Full Of Hell, Bummer, and a couple of side projects, one of the most experimental bands in metal (if you can even still call it that!) is back with their new effort I’ve Seen All I Need To See. ISAINTS sees the duo of Chip King and Lee Buford return to their guitar and drums roots, but with tons of tricks along the way with some help from producer Seth Manchester.
The opening track A Lament is a percussive and noisy piece of music that follows an unnerving spoken-word piece,it really throws you off with its production, almost like an intentionally skipping CD player (remember those?). Tied Up And Locked In picks up the pace a little bit with more pounding drums and thick sludgy guitars, it strangely sounds like a hip-hop tune played through a thousand distortion pedals, but instead of the precise timing and flow of a talented MC, we get the ear-splitting caterwaul of Chip King!
They Are Coming continues the theme set by the duo with a HUGE wall of noise disguised as drums and guitar, it’s glacial pace will leave you needing a coffee! The album wraps up with Path Of Failure, even if you made it to the end of the album, this track might be too out there for you. Its loose song structure is jumbled and unforgiving making for an uneasy listen (not that the rest of the album was a walk in the park).
Overall, I’ve Seen All I Need To See is a welcome addition to the band’s already stunning catalog. If you enjoyed this, you’ll be happy to know that the band isn’t done with 2021 yet and a collab with Montreal’s drone giants Big Brave has already been recorded!
Written by Russ Walsh, owner of Sour Cat Records in Owen Sound