Friday, December 07, 2012

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: From the Sonic Garage

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Dec. 7, 2012

Here are a few new, or at least fairly recent, records from the sonic garage.

Just A.S.K. by Alien Space Kitchen. This Albuquerque group describes its sound as “hot interstellar space punk for consenting adults.” Dr. Rox (Dru Vaughter) handles guitar bass and most of the lead vocals, and Chiffon (Noelle Graney) plays drums and sings. They create a pleasant, upbeat, kind of garagey, kind of poppy sound with catchy tunes that might remind you a little of early New Pornographers.

Did I say catchy? Some of these melodies will stick in your head all day. “Lucky Boy,” the opening track, might be the best one on the album. It’s probably the hardest-rocking one, with lyrics extolling the joy of being a local rock hero. “Give those lucky bones another throw/Let’s get this rock ’n’ roll show on the road,” Vaughter sings.

 In “Parallel Universe,” an acoustic guitar is prominent, and the lyrics are dark. “In the new world paradigm, everyone’s a whore.” Though it doesn't sound like country music, in the last verse Vaughter name-checks the Hillbilly Shakespeare: “To quote the late Hank Williams, no one gets out alive.”

Graney sings lead on “Red Planet,” a dreamy tune aided by Steve Brittenham on organ and Vaughter’s wah-wah pedal. The group lives up to its space-alien heritage on “Alien Frontier,” thanks to guest theremin player Dan Vascko. And even though “Funky Russia” doesn’t sound particularly funky or remotely Russian, it’s a punchy little number.

The least interesting songs here are the folk-rock influenced numbers such as “I Can’t See It Anymore” and “The Cause.” Alien Space Kitchen should stick to the space pop and leave the warmed-over alt country to lesser mortals.

Just A.S.K. is available in vinyl, CD, and MP3 downloads.

Glow in the Dark by LoveStruck. The group isn’t well known in these parts, but it is one of the finest bands I’ve ever met hiding out at the GaragePunk Hideout. LoveStruck is a basic guitar/bass/drums trio seeped in garage punk with recessive rockabilly DNA.

The band is based in Brooklyn, though frontwoman Anne Mette Rasmussen is originally from Denmark. She sings and plays guitar. (Her day job is technical fashion designer.) Bassist Stu Spasm and drummer Rich Hutchins round out the band.

This is LoveStruck’s second full album, following 2010’s Will the Good Times Never End? And it’s no sophomore slump. The group hasn’t lost that original spitfire spirit and knack for writing good hooky tunes that made me like it in the first place. But the sound on the new album is more varied, more experimental (without sounding self-conscious), and ultimately more memorable than before. It’s the sound of a band that’s growing.

Lovestruck in action
I love LoveStruck’s rocked-out tough-chick tunes like “Dogs and Dolls,” “Don’t Look Down,” and “Stick a Fork in It” as well as frantic sonic craziness like “Ji Ha.” Another standout is “The Wolf,” a minor-key psychedelia-infused track (someone’s playing a lysergic organ on this one) that Nick Cave might appreciate.

I can’t tell what the song “Gypsy” is about, but the crazy rhythms are a nice showcase for drummer Hutchins. I’ve already praised the song “Shoot the Freak” in this column. Named after a now-defunct game booth on Coney Island, this brash little cruncher — with Rasmussen shouting “I am a lunatic!” — is one of the strongest cuts on the recent GaragePunk Hideout Halloween collection, Garage Monsters.

But the song against which I’ll measure all future LoveStruck material is the title track. It’s a slow, sleazy minor-key tune that might best be described as “garage noir.” There’s even a cello that comes in in the middle of the song, but it’s mixed so masterfully that it’s not overwhelming, as cellos sometimes are with rock ’n’ roll songs.

I’m tempted to complain that the album is too short — 10 songs weighing in at just 23 minutes. It left me wanting more. But LoveStruck accomplishes more in 23 minutes than a lot of bands do in an hour.

* Now More Than Never by The Nevermores. This high-energy St. Louis foursome is influenced by a lot of the usual garage-rock suspects — The Sonics, The Stooges, Billy Childish, Edgar Allan Poe — Well maybe the latter isn’t that usual. I understand that he wrote a poem about a bird or something.

Actually, the band’s previous album, Nevereverafter, featured several songs ripped from the pages of the poet —“Annabel Lee,” “I Lost Lenore,” “Tell-Tale Heart.” They aren’t the first musicians to be inspired by Poe. Folkie Phil Ochs put the poem “The Bells” to music in the ’60s.

On this album, The Nevermores’ Poe lore isn’t quite so obvious. For instance, I don’t think Edgar Allan had anything to do with the song “Tangerine Submarine.” But there are plenty of tracks to give listeners a mild case of the creeps as they rock out.

Among these are “Shallow Grave” (another one from Garage Monsters), “I’m Waiting” (in which the narrator appears to be a stalker), and “Adeline,” in which the narrator compares his love to the “ghostly remnants of an opium dream.”

* What kind of message does this send to the children? You might know Gregg Turner as a former Angry Samoan, a Roky Erickson accolade, and a writer of crazy songs about chupacabras and hantavirus. But he also loves children and has two beautiful little girls. Turner got bent out of shape when he heard about the financial woes of the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, so he organized a benefit with local favorite Jono Manson — who, like me, has the weird distinction of singing at Turner’s wedding many years ago. Also on the bill are Turner, naturally, and Art of Flying from Taos. I’ll make one of my periodic comical attempts to play a couple of songs. The show is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, at Gig Performance Space, 1808-H Second St. Admission is $10.

Blog Bonus: I couldn't find anything by Alien Space Kitchen, but here's a couple of videos from LovesStruck and The Nevermores.

This is from LoveStruck's first album

And here's The Nevermores ...

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