Bob Dylan has always been, and continues to be, a complete enigma: mysterious and brooding, romantic and charming, dirty and doubting. Dylan is a lover and a fighter, and seems to have found his groove in the blues of old with his newest endeavor, Modern Times. Being called by Columbia Records the third installation of Dylan’s ten-year “trilogy,” (preceded by 2001’s Love and Theft and 1997’s Time Out of Mind) Dylan summons music-makers and poets of old to conjure up a sound that is both ancient and culturally relevant; he mentions Alicia Keys, Hurricane Katrina and alludes to the current state of affairs. Modern Times (who’s title refers to an old Charlie Chaplin film) is a romping mix of sentimental ballads, rockabilly beats and dirty Delta blues.
“Thunder on the Mountain” starts the record out with a bang, but isn’t over the top. Dylan, with a gritty sound only he can deliver, speaks of doubt and redemption, bad luck women, love and work; he’s a world-weary wanderer and an everyman, evidenced on “Workingman’s Blues #2.” (“It’s a new path we trod / They say low wages are a reality / If we want to compete abroad”) “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”is a bluesy rattlesnake rocker (I got troubles so hard / I can’t stand this dream / some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains) and has Dylan and the boys getting down so low they’re on the ground.
“Someday Baby” has a shot-a-man-in-Reno-just-to-watch-him-die nonchalance, (“I don’t care what you do/I don’t care what you say / I don’t care where you go, or how long you stay”) and is a strong and steady freight train. The bass drum beat and sweet lyrics of “Nettie Moore” are endearing, (“I’d walk through a blazing fire, baby / if I knew you was on the other side”) and “The Levee’s Gonna Break” (no Zeppelin here, kids) is an old Memphis Minnie song that just straight up swings. The record ends with the cello-laden “Ain’t Talkin’”, a yearning county-western song. (“I practice a faith that’s been long-abandoned / Ain’t no waters on this long and lonesome road”)
Dylan recently told Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Lethem that the band he’s with now is “…the best band I’ve been in,” and makes mention on “Nettie Moore” that he’s “in a cowboy band.” Produced by the man himself under surname Jack Frost, Modern Times is stripped-down to its bare bones … just a few folks playing some good music in a room. (Kinda like how records were made back in the day.)
There is not much happening in mainstream music right now can be compared to this record. It is, quite honestly, a breath of fresh air in a stale musical atmosphere; Dylan has taken old sounds and resurrected them, made them new. Thus, Modern Times couldn’t be a more perfect title for this record.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.