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Babyshambles – The Blinding EP

Like the Babyshambles live show, The Blinding EP is pretty darn good when the band actually shows up

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Pete Doherty. Pete. Doherty. There are few names in music today that bring up as many descriptions as his manages to draw forth. A drug addict? Without a doubt. A general, overall douche bag as a person? It’s darn likely. A talented, potential-filled musician? Heck yes. If there’s one thing that Doherty proved in his early years with the Libertines, it was that he can, in fact, make some hella-cool music when he actually puts forth an effort. He was erratic at best when in the Libertines, always popping up in the press for some misdemeanor or another, and often pissing off his fellow band members in the process.

When the Libertines finally did implode, Doherty soon haphazardly formed his current vehicle Babyshambles. On this set of wings he has put out the marginally passing indie long-player Down In Albion not too long ago—and has even managed to miss more concerts than he has actually played on his sporadic touring schedule (which is for the most part often dictated by jail sentences and probation stemming from his apparently unbreakable drug habit). If an example of the “self-destructive rock & roller” ever existed; it would without a doubt be Pete Doherty.

Now, after knowing all this, how does the music actually stack up? Once you push all the headlines, the missed gigs, the affairs with supermodels, and pissing contests to the side; is there any substance actually left to find? As with most things concerning Doherty, the answer is complicated.

One thing Babyshambles, unlike the fantastic rock group the Libertines, will never be accused of is being the saviors of rock and roll. On Ghosts In Albion the band put together some passable rock and dark pop tracks. But now, on The Blinding EP, they’ve lain down their rocker status and instead opted to expand on from that into the range of pop greats such as John Lennon, and the like. 

Things open familiar enough, with the promising up-beat rocker “The Blinding,” but then a swift change of pace sweeps in with the remaining four tracks. From second song “Love You But You’re Green,” all the way to the closer “Sedative,” Doherty delivers at times dazzling, and at times pathetic, efforts at making himself immortal. The promise is still there, and it boggles the mind to imagine just how good a musician he could be if he would actually put forth some effort toward it.

Like the Babyshambles live show, The Blinding EP is pretty darn good when the band actually shows up; but almost half of the time you’re still left standing with your friends in the bar, disappointed and wondering what ditch Doherty has passed out in this time. 

(Parlophone / EMI)

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Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.

Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.

The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.

The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.

Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.

(Wiretap Records)

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Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.

“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.  

“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.

This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.

(GRNDVW)

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