Alexisonfire – Season Of The Flood
Alexisonfire has been giving us a bit of a runaround since their reunion in 2015, hitting the festival circuit and playing some Canadian dates was all well and good but the itch to hear new material was starting to wear on fans. Finally, in February 2019 they released “Familiar Drugs” as a single, their first new material since 2010’s “Dog’s Blood” and followed up a few months later with another single “Complicit” and rumors of a full-length album started buzzing. Almost a year has passed and we’re still without a full-length, but Alexisonfire are back again with another single “Season Of The Flood” to be released as a 10” in March
Opening with a dark, ambient passage reminiscent of the soundtrack for the movie “Mandy” (please for the love of god listen to the soundtrack for Mandy if you haven’t) that leads us on for a minute before a somber guitar melody comes in that takes over most of the 7-minute song followed by something new. Over the years fans have grown accustomed to the vocal Hydra that is AOF, the bark of George Pettit, the raspiness of Wade MacNeil, and of course the angelic delivery of Dallas Green, but “Season Of The Flood” gives us a new flavor…George sings “cleanly” and harmonizes with Dallas for a surprisingly great result. After building up the aforementioned riff for a few minutes the band stomps on their distortion pedals, and George returns to his comfort zone to deliver a heavy bridge, before returning to the main riff as an outro for the song.
While “Season Of The Flood” is another great track from the band, we still can’t help but wonder where they go from here. Are they going to keep releasing these singles every few months or is a full-length on the horizon? Hopefully “Season Of The Flood” keeps you company until the band plots their next step.
Human Impact – E605/ November
Featuring members of Swans, Cop Shoot Cop, and Unsane, Human Impact has delivered a couple of singles in prep for their self-titled debut LP to be released in March 2020. On “E605” the band take the established noise-rock roots from their member’s previous projects and give it an industrial twist right away. Starting with a low-tuned guitar hook and some active hi-hat work, “E605” is wrapped in a droning synth line backed by some creative volume swells on bass courtesy of Chris Pravdica (who if I’m being completely honest, turns me into a total fanboy every time I hear him play) immediately sucking away any hope that this would be a “feel-good hit”. The bridges are probably the most impressive part of this song, growling synths and angular guitars take over before going back into the main verse riff.
“November” is a bit more active kicking off with an interesting pitch-shifted bass intro before they dig into a high-pitched synth melody while the rest of the band plays a heavy rhythmic groove. “Watch the traffic flow/sweat burns my eyes/can’t lose empathy/still got to try” sings vocalist Chris Spencer in the songs first verse, for a band that has self-described this release as “(the) soundtrack to a challenging future fast approaching, as futuristic as it is grounded in its sordid heritage,” I think they’ve nailed it.
These 2 singles are a nice taste of what could potentially be a pretty great album. Human Impact’s self-titled debut is available for pre-order now through Ipecac Records (Mike Patton of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and a billion other project’s label).
World Peace – Towards A New Supreme Understanding
Usually, when a new band catches your attention there’s a cycle that happens, need, want, have. You catch yourself singing or humming the melody, the music wiggles its way into your subconscious until you can’t take it anymore and you go buy the record. Then there are those other times where all of a sudden your credit card is in your hand and you’ve spent more on shipping than you did the record….this is one of those times.
World Peace’s “Towards A New Supreme Understanding” is my first impulse purchase in a long time. I caught a glimpse of their lineup in an Instagram story and saw a trio featuring a drummer and two bass-players and followed the rabbit-hole. Released in October 2019 “TANSU” is 10 tracks of non-stop punishment and clocks in at a whopping 5:08 a fact that the band proudly displays on the cover art. Their twin bass attack and blast beat drumming immediately feel like a kick in the face and it doesn’t let up for the duration of the 7” record. By track 9 I’m reminded of that Simpsons quote where the little boy cries at the sight of Homer beating up the “Krusty-Burglar”…”Stop, Stop! He’s already dead”. The best part about a 5 minute(and 8 seconds) album is that there’s still lots of time to recover.
Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline
OK, Straight up, it was just downright unfair for Andy Shauf to release an “album of the year” contender this early into 2020. I mean I’m still trying to catch on some stuff I missed from 2019 and process the ones I’ve already written about in past articles. Shauf’s latest effort “The Neon Skyline” picks up off the success of his last work “The Party”, which garnered a lot of attention for its great musicianship and brilliant storytelling reminiscent of a modern-day Paul Simon, which Shauf seems to fully embrace on “The Neon Skyline”.
“Neon Skyline” kicks the album off with a flat and funky bassline, “I called up Charlie about a ¼ past 9 and said what’s going on tonight/ he said no plans but I wouldn’t mind holding a lighter head tonight/ I said come to The Skyline I’ll be washing my sins away/ oh he just laughed, said I’ll be late you know how I can be” Shauf sings, already painting a picture of the local watering hole where “somehow Rose, always knows” that serves as the setting for most of the story.
Shauf’s music has always relied on being very dynamic, never giving us to much of an instrument instead of coming in flurries…a wah pedal flourish here, a clarinet melody there, all played by Shauf himself and this album is no different. “Where Are You Judy” starts up with a great clarinet piece and Shauf tells us a tale of love lost between the protagonist and “Judy”, who apparently is back in town. “A telephone rings and I wish it were mine/with your voice on the other line/telling me that you were sick of everything/like we could pick it all up again” it seems our hero is still very much attached “I only miss you when the skies are above”, he says….I’m starting to think the night could get a little sloppy at the ol’ Skyline.
I know it seems weird to put a spoiler alert for an album but if you think you’re at all going to be invested in the story, maybe listen to the album before reading ahead.
“Clove Cigarette”, “Thirteen Hours”, and “Things I Do” tell us more about the relationship between the main character and Judy. “Clove Cigarette,” tells us about the romantic relationship between our main character and Judy when things were good and they seemed truly in love. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends, “Thirteen Hours” tells of a big fight the couple got into after a long flight home. After the main character leaves a bad tip for a cab-driver, Judy crosses the street to give the driver some more money and is struck by a vehicle driven by “some drunk asshole saying he was so sorry” while the clarinet and chord structure proceeds to set a darkened mood. Later in the hospital, Judy blames the protagonist for the accident “if you weren’t such a cheap bastard, I’d be at home/I’m not made of money you should have left it alone” they bicker. The song ends with a pretty cool fuzzed-out guitar solo.
“Things I Do” sees the protagonist asking “why do I do the things I do/when I know I am losing you?”. Trying to surprise Judy after telling the white-lie that he was working, he arrives at Judy’s to find her more upset than happy to see him….if you’ve seen any movie ever you know what’s about to happen next. That’s right, Judy had been cheating!
Back at our new favorite dive bar “The Neon Skyline” we’ve returned from the daydream of the last 3 songs, a new character “Claire” tells our protagonist and Charlie a depressing story over the heavy-handed acoustic guitar, about how she didn’t give her son the attention he was seeking after drawing her a picture in school earlier that day leaving the guys wide-eyed feeling like they’ve walked into a stranger’s “Living Room”. “Dust Kids” sees Charlie breaking the awkward silence by asking the protagonist if he believes in reincarnation and he humors his ideas over the modulated guitar riff and groovy beat.
“The Moon” strips things back to Shauf’s slurry voice and his acoustic guitar, for what is almost the ballad of the album. Charlie asks the protagonist if he’s going to mope all night, and suggests hitting another bar, they agree and Claire says she’s down as well. They pay their tab and guess who walks through the door…friggin’ Judy of all people! The group exchange pleasantries while the rhythm section fades in and out of the song, and somehow Judy gets invited and accepts the offer leaving the protagonist to ask “What the hell is going on?” While heading towards the bar around the corner he gets that sinking feeling in his stomach and drunkenly reaches for Judy’s hand and she says “you know it can’t be like that”.
“Try Again” sees a sort of return to the earlier songs on the album, being as it’s much more upbeat and fun than some of the middle section. The music features a very bouncy guitar melody (remember this is the guy getting all the Paul Simon comparisons), and a thumping kick drum that almost dares to be remixed. At the bar around the corner, the protagonist and Judy pal around speaking in British accents…the protagonist’s is so bad Judy sarcastically tells him to “Try Again” leading us into the type of chorus you’ll be singing forever. Judy runs into another old friend across the bar leaving the protagonist alone to wonder “how many years could there be to catch up on”. He then “somewhere between drunkenness and jealousy” makes a silent toast to the thing he does and doesn’t miss.
The night is winding down and a “Fire Truck” races by the bar reminding the protagonist of a night he spent waiting up for Judy, she grabs him and they dance to her favorite song. While they dance he reminisces about a family in the neighborhood watching their home burn down, while he feels jealous of their opportunity to find a new beginning. Relating the event to his failing/failed relationship with Judy, Shauf sings “now that I’m standing in the ashes/ I just want it to be whole”.*-
“Fire Truck” is a very fragile song that almost crumbles at the weight of the story Shauf has been singing to us. The song features an indescribably beautiful chorus where Shauf sings the melody over a lead riff subtly effected by a wah pedal as the clarinet counters it, it’s a very delicate part that put a frog in the throat and a tear to the eye of any listener. The Protagonist and Judy finish their dance and she leaves. Claire orders some shots at last call and they drink before they say their goodbyes and head home for the night. During “Changer” the protagonist reminisces some more about his relationship with Judy as the dizzying, hazy guitar lead sets the mood for drunkenly walking home from the bar. “Change on, changer” Shauf sings, leaving us to wonder if the protagonist is finally ready to move on.
After the success of Andy Shauf’s last record “The Party” it’s great he was able to follow it up with such a fantastic record. “The Neon Skyline” is the type of album that could make him a household name, and hopefully there’s some potential for some great unreleased tunes as well. Be sure to pick this album up, or try to catch Shauf on tour as there are lots of live dates February-May!
Written by Russ Walsh, owner of Sour Cat Records in downtown Owen Sound