cleaning out the drafts folder

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From the last 18 months, a bunch of record reviews I didn’t finish writing. You, too, can wonder where they were going! You can try to figure out why I was so bad at blogging last year! You can hope that I am better at this shit next year!

First up, some two sentence reviews from summer 2014:

Stone Jack Jones — Ancestor: the cover of this record is a foggy, moody, black and white shot of, I assume, Jones, in the distance, walking in a field by himself; sometimes people pick out album art that’s perfectly tuned to describe the album even before you listen to a single track. Ancestor is minor key and almost out of tune; his vocals are almost a flat drone, with just enough power and well-placed harmonies to keep them atmospheric and deliciously creepy instead of just creepy. It’s a sonically poignant and pointed record, more focused on the feel of the whole thing than the individual songs, and Ancestor pulls that off extremely well.

Lake Street Dive — Bad Self Portraits: it’s funny; about ten days before this dropped and the music writing world lost their collective fucking minds over it (deserved, but more on that in a minute), I was curled up on Trav’s couch and he was playing me the video where Lake Street Dive covers “I Want You Back” on a Boston sidewalk — the bassist’s brother graduated from college with him. Anyway, it was just proof that Travis is way more plugged in than he thinks, because he introduced me to these guys before the whole internet tried to. (He wants you to know that he saw them play the 7th Street Entry in 2006. Indie cred!) This is a great record, too, just like everybody says — it’s modern torch songs with punk rock drums and tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. The title track is completely my theme song.

John Howie Jr & The Rosewood Bluff — Everything Except Goodbye: so, you know, John Howie Jr, he’s been making fucking excellent country records that don’t get national notice for, oh, like, twenty years now. This is another one, with his post-Two Dollar Pistols band, and it is, again, a fucking excellent country record that not enough people will hear. The Rosewood Bluff are the cream of the Triangle crop in terms of backing bands, and this twangs and smokes all over with John’s voice aching through the broken hearted songs of love and loss and more loss and then some drinking.

Dave Hause — Devour: okay, this came out last year, hence “reasonably” new, but, my God, it’s good. Dave’s mournful howl over churning drums and loads of guitars, Devour is far less stripped down than Hause’s debut solo Resolutions, but it’s equally as devastating. It’s filled with phrases like I promise and words like better and feelings like regret and hope and heartbreak. I really can’t get over how true my mantra that everything needs more Dave Hause is, but listening to this album just makes me centered, and calm. I might not feel better, but I feel less like spinning out into the universe out of control. I don’t know if that actually tells you anything about Devour, but it’s loud and fierce and it fights against giving up with everything’s it’s got. So maybe it does.

Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien: I’m not sure how I feel about this record, even after a couple of times through; it has the same kind of big feeling that Gee was good at with My Chem, but it’s way less … cinematic in its bigness? The guitar sounds are rougher and less melodic, the vocals are hidden behind the soundscape a little more, and overall, I think it’s a pretty good album, but I’m not sure that I like it, necessarily. I didn’t need Gerard Way to make me the next My Chemical Romance record, but I’m also not sure this is the record I did need from him. On the other hand, “Brother” is one of my favorite songs of 2014. So what do I know?

Noah Gundersen – Ledges: start to finish gorgeous heartbreaking alt folk. One of the best records of 2014.

And now, my thoughts on the Gaslight Anthem’s Get Hurt:

“This is either a supreme Jersey punk record about heartbreak, or a really supreme Jersey punk concept record about vampires. I haven’t decided which one yet.”

That’s what I said to Trav back over the summer, the night I got my review copy of Get Hurt, and I only sort of meant it: it is, obviously, a supreme Jersey punk record about heartbreak, not vampires, but seriously, before I get into this review, go listen to it and think about vampires and you will find them all over this album. I’ve improved your listening to this spectacular record 1000% elephants with this. I promise.

Okay.

Now that you’re not thinking about vampires any more, think about the Gaslight Anthem’s Get Hurt, their 5th studio album, the “different” record, according to lead singer Brian Fallon. Gaslight, and Brian, are, obviously, one of my favorite topics — one of my favorite bands, one of my favorite songwriters, and I am usually quick to jump on writing about their new stuff. This one, though, was in fact different for me. I listened to Get Hurt endlessly over the summer after its release, mostly late at night, mostly on headphones, mostly in the dark. And I didn’t write about it because some weird different part of my brain said that if I didn’t write about it, it only belonged to me. If I didn’t write about it, I didn’t have to share it with anyone else.

A single paragraph about Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material, which I really, really loved:

I suppose that someone with no taste could level the accusation at Kacey Musgraves’ sophomore album that it’s simply more of the same tongue in cheek mind your own business observational country songwriting that made Same Trailer, Different Park so much fun, and sure, maybe that’s the case. “Biscuits” definitely has that flavor, but so what? That’s what Musgraves does well, and if that’s all she wanted to do, I’d still be buying her records and enjoying the hell out of them. But after a couple of listens, Pageant Material is a lot more than that, as well. It’s still tongue in cheek observational country songwriting, but there’s even more depth, and thus bite, to it, although it bites in some different directions than Trailer did.

2016: let’s actually finish things.

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concerts: the gaslight anthem & cory branan @ cat’s cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

Setlist: ’59 Sound / Old White Lincoln / Biloxi Parish / Howl / Stay Lucky / Film Noir / The Patient Ferris Wheel / 45 / The Queen Of Lower Chelsea / Boxer / Too Much Blood / Wooderson / Drive / American Slang // Encore: National Anthem / Handwritten / Great Expectations / House of the Rising Sun / Blue Jeans & White T Shirts

Glorious as always. I want the new album so badly I can taste it.

cory branan @ cat's cradle

Second Cory Branan set in a month, and he was fabulous, again. He played “The Corner” for me. between what I want, and what I intend to get.

the gaslight anthem @ the lincoln theatre, raleigh

the gaslight anthem @ lincoln theatre

the gaslight anthem @ lincoln theatre

I wrote about last night’s Gaslight show for Speakers In Code. Brian Fallon is still my favorite forever and ever amen.

matrimony @ lincoln theatre

cory branan @ lincoln theatre

Charlotte’s Matrimony and Bloodshot Records’ Cory Branan opened; Matrimony was really enjoyable, but a little less electric guitar-y than I expected from a Gaslight opener. Cory was genius as always, and closed with “Girl Named Go”. Finally seeing him with a camera and a Bloodshot release means I get to check him off my list, too. Just such a lovely human. If you haven’t checked out his 2012 release Mutt, do it. It’s brilliant.

Full set here. Extra smoochy thanks to Tito from Big Hassle for the tickets and the photo pass, and extra smoochy thanks to the venue for the photo pit. Easy life!

the gaslight anthem @ the cat’s cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

Great Expectations / 45 / Old White Lincoln / Even Cowgirls Get The Blues / Howl / Casanova, Baby! / The Diamond Street Church Choir / Here Comes My Man / I’da Called You Woody, Joe / Angry Johnny And The Radio / Blue Jeans & White T Shirts / Film Noir / American Slang / The Queen Of Lower Chelsea / Here’s Lookin’ At You Kid / The Backseat — > Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

She Loves You / Changing Of The Guards (Bob Dylan cover) / Senor And The Queen / Boomboxes and Dictionaries / We Came To Dance / ’59 Sound

Full set, including a whole bunch of shots of opener Dave Hause, is here.

Check out Songwriters on Process’s interview with Brian from last year here. I missed it the first time around and, whoa, boy, is it a great one.

(Also, just as a polite warning: if you steal my photos and repost them anywhere without my full name and a link to my website, you will find yourself in a polite world of unpleasant but polite legal pain. Link here, link to Flickr, that’s great, but do not repost my images without my permission. Kisses!)

photo preview: the gaslight anthem @ cat’s cradle

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

I’ll have photos up tomorrow and a full write-up on SIC on Monday, but this photo really says it all: my heart is aching and singing in a way that transcends words, and if you have never loved a band that much, so much that it makes you ache with longing and want and joy and gratitude, well. Well.

The Gaslight Anthem makes me feel all those ways; I will not see a better show this year*.

Because people are searching for it, the setlist from last night:

Great Expectations / 45 / Old White Lincoln / Even Cowgirls Get The Blues / Howl / Casanova, Baby! / The Diamond Street Church Choir / Here Comes My Man / I’da Called You Woody, Joe / Angry Johnny And The Radio / Blue Jeans & White T Shirts / Film Noir / American Slang / The Queen Of Lower Chelsea / Here’s Lookin’ At You Kid / The Backseat — > Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

She Loves You / Changing Of The Guards (Bob Dylan cover) / Senor And The Queen / Boomboxes and Dictionaries / We Came To Dance / ’59 Sound

It took me forever to identify “Film Noir” in my scribbled on a receipt set list, because it mostly appeared as “Lit Film Would Noomie”, which is what I get for writing in the dark.

* Okay, except for Josh Ritter with shep. in two weeks. Because Josh Ritter is pure joy in human form. Gaslight and Josh. And Two Cow Garage on July 31. I mean. If I could get a Mason Jennings show in between tonight and July 31, I could die happy on August 2. I don’t want to! But I could, I’m just saying.

album review: the gaslight anthem – handwritten

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

if i put too much blood on the page

If you’re already a fan of swaggering Jersey rockers the Gaslight Anthem, then you already know what Handwritten, the band’s fourth full-length and major label debut, sounds like: it sounds like the Gaslight Anthem, and it’s merely a matter of where it ends up falling on your own personal Gaslight album ranking scale. If you don’t know the band, on the other hand — and what have you been doing since 2008, living under a rock? — then Handwritten is as good a Gaslight album as any to introduce you to the clever word play of frontman Brian Fallon’s lyrics and the bombast of the straight up guitar rock that, yes, obviously, draws conclusions to the band’s openly-admitted influences Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

(And, my God, if you haven’t heard last year’s startling, note-perfect cover of “Tumbling Dice”, put Handwritten down slowly and back away until you run into it. Then listen to it ten times in a row. Then come back.)

Handwritten opens with ’45’, the first single from the record and Fallon’s overt love song to music, a theme that’s always run through his music but comes to forefront in the chorus here: hey hey, turn the record over. It’s a great opener, but the album roars into full gear with the title track afterwards, guitars that crash into agreement with no introduction, and the wailing Whoa-oh of the vocals before backing off into Fallon’s growl — “Handwritten”, as its own song and as the title track to the record, confirms the subject here is the universality of song, of lyrics painstakingly copied as a declaration of love. It’s a new guitar sound for them, as well, clear like a bell under the verses, and pealing off after the final verse: I’m in love with the way you’re in love with the moonlight.

The whoa-ohs of “Handwritten” segue into the oh sha la las of “Here Comes Your Man”; there’s a sense of a deeper delving into what came before them in this record. If The ’59 Sound sounded like Bruce Springsteen, then Handwritten pulls as much from the pop songs of the late ’60s, even with the line I’ll grow my hair back out as a nod to the ’70s that came after the era of harmonized choruses and syllables where words can’t fill the void of too much feeling: not one moment will I stand for it.

It isn’t all gems — “Mulholland Drive” and “Keepsake” are run of the mill middle of the road Gaslight tracks; good but not outstanding — but when Handwritten picks back up, it backs back up with a resounding crash and, well, “Howl”. Everyone is raving about this track, and it’s all correct: it’s a two minute shot straight to the veins, old pop songs on scratchy records and Brian roaring over the guitars and drums and bass. It’s the most punk song they’ve released in years, it’s the fiercest driver on this album, and it’s in the perfect place, an album turner, a song that should rattle into your bones live, raising goosebumps on your whole body and bringing tears to your eyes and the desire to dance without caring what anyone thinks. The lyrics, oh, they burn and shift and drive: does anything still move you since you’re educated now and I love the country movement and the way your dress would wave on your hips and do you believe there’s still some magic left inside our souls. It is a perfect two minute punk song, and it reminds me that Gaslight started out as punks, and it reminds me that their hearts still are.

Handwritten rolls out to its conclusion with the catchy “Biloxi Parish”, featuring a scorching Alex Rosamilia guitar solo, the ’50s pop chorus of “Desire”, the Gaslight heroine anthem “Mae”, and the quietly bombastic “National Anthem”. “Biloxi Parish” is an ear wormer, and “Desire” sounds like it would be a gorgeous stripped down acoustic as it does with the thumping drums that hold its center together. It peaks at “Howl”, this record, but that song as a central point is worth it. It makes everything else around it better, it pulls back the curtain and illuminates the way the band has grown since the early days, even if the record feels “familiar”.

And if this record does feels familiar or derivative, as detractors will say it does, well, perhaps that’s the point: Brian Fallon writes ineffably human songs, about love and fast cars and vinyl records, and that’s always been what Gaslight does best. Fallon and the band take things that everyone feels, loneliness and a song that feels written only for you — he’s penned a few of those for me, in fact — and turn it into a summer windows down stereo up sort of song. It’s more punk than American Slang, it’s more polished that Sink or Swim, it’s fiercer than The ’59 Sound, which for all its genius is still a kind of elegy. It probably isn’t Gaslight’s best — likely they’ll never surpass the 12 song perfection of ’59 Sound which as I said when I wrote about American Slang is fine because shit, wouldn’t you love to have made one this as perfect as that record — but it’s them, right there open-hearted, and it’s great.

The Gaslight Anthem plays a totally completely sold out show at the Cradle tonight, with my beloved Dave Hause opening, but if you’re really desperate — and you should be, as this is likely the last gasp of club tours for the band before they move up to arenas and sell that shit out, too — somebody in the parking lot or on Craigslist will probably sell you a ticket for three times face value, not that either I or the Cradle endorses that, I’m just saying. Twice would be worth it if you can negotiate. Cat’s Cradle, doors 7PM show 8PM. (PS If you have tickets, make sure you don’t miss Dave. I promise you’ll walk out in love and ready to spread my Everything Needs More Dave Hause theory to the world.)

the gaslight anthem — american slang

the gaslight anthem @ cat's cradle

the Gaslight Anthem, American Slang. Out 6/15, SideOneDummy Records.

Let’s get this out of the way first, because it’s the only thing reviews will be able to talk about until it’s said: American Slang is not as good an album as The ’59 Sound.

And now, lest you think everything else I say is a backhanded compliment, that doesn’t mean American Slang isn’t a very, very good album, because it is. It’s just that The ’59 Sound is a singular, once-in-a-lifetime album. It’s a masterpiece, flawless from start to finish, and it’s actually unfair to compare anything else that Gaslight does to that album. That album is untouchable, so far above the rest of the standards that it can’t even count. So throw it out. (Don’t actually throw it out. And, hell, if you’re one of, like, fourteen people who still haven’t heard it, what the hell are you waiting for? Your next favorite song is on that album, I promise. Go get it and stop being stubborn. Unless you’re my Mom, because you probably wouldn’t like it, Mom. It’s not your style.)

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