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Garbage – Absolute Garbage

Absolute Garbage (the Deluxe Edition in particular) as it is feels either indulgent, poorly conceived, or just plain gratuitous

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Garbage had the good fortune, or luck, of landing in that post-Cobain gray area where no one was quite sure what “alternative” meant anymore. Along with a handful of esoteric company, including Beck and Smashing Pumpkins (whose Siamese Dream album Garbage drummer/producer/svengali Butch Vig produced, in addition to Nirvana’s Nevermind), Garbage helped bridge the gap in the second half of the 1990s between the waning flannel days of grunge and the neuron-numbing rise of nu-metal. One would think that compiling a Best Of collection of one of ’90s alternative’s bellwether groups would be easier than one for, say, Norman Greenbaum or Ugly Kid Joe, but while Absolute Garbage does hit on the obvious high points, those rascally minor quibbles do tend to crop up more than they should. 

With groups who have enough well known hits to fill out a true Greatest Hits compilation (a phenomenon becoming increasingly rare by the minute), the self-imposed rules for what is included are usually pre-determined. The standard angle that is traditionally explored is a group’s chart entries. Of course, in the most worthwhile cases, this is only possible primarily with major label groups who can funnel their singles directly into the mainstream without much resistance. Garbage had the exposure and the touring pull of a major group, but their singles were largely relegated to the alternative realm in America rather than the pop charts. “Stupid Girl”, their highest charting pop single in the U.S., peaked at only #24. By comparison, their major charting activity came elsewhere, especially in Australia and the U.K., where their singles landed in the pop charts with much greater frequency. 

Taken strictly as a collection of radio hits, Absolute Garbage doesn’t commit any major crimes for the uninitiated (to whom the single-disc Standard Edition is presumably targeted), but when it begins to change the rules in the middle of the game, you start to wonder how they thought their choices improved on conventional wisdom. 

The first disc of the Deluxe Edition collects the band’s singles in chronological order, with five tracks each from both their self-titled debut and Version 2.0, almost all essential, and a pair of non-album charters, “#1 Crush” from the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack, and their Bond theme, “The World Is Not Enough.” Once you get past the band’s heyday, the set’s momentum begins to flag, and the exclusions after this point don’t help at all either. 

“Androgyny” and “Breaking Up the Girl”, off of their third record beautifulgarbage, were non-factors on the U.S. charts, but did make a dent overseas after the turn of the millennium. Unfortunately, they both get left off here. In their place we get the disposable new track “Tell Me Where It Hurts” and an extra-disposable remix of “It’s All Over But the Crying”, which for some reason isn’t included on the second disc, which is dedicated entirely to…  remixes. You do get two tracks from beautifulgarbage, “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)” and “Shut Your Mouth”, as well as a pair from their most recent LP Bleed Like Me, which while necessary for the requisite “”complete snapshot” of their career, feel foreign to Garbage’s established sound, with their colorless, Dave Grohl-stoked hard rock bent. 

The second disc is even more baffling, less for its content than its mere presence. It does feature an impressive cast of remixers, including U.N.K.L.E., Massive Attack, Timo Maas, and Crystal Method. But dedicating an entire extra disc to reworkings more intended to emphasize the deconstruction of the material diminishes the work of the original performer, especially on a group’s Best Of compilation. This would be less of an issue on a random 7 or 12-inch built upon a catchy, obscure sample, but Garbage was always a rock band first, writing conventional pop-based songs, even if they were often danceable. The grooves and electronics on Garbage’s first three albums were no mystery to anyone who lent them even the slightest critical ear; having that fact flanged into your skull for the length of a whole disc is just too much to ask for even the hardest of hardcore fans.  

With only four albums and a handful of non-album tracks to nick from, Absolute Garbage (the Deluxe Edition in particular) as it is feels either indulgent, poorly conceived, or just plain gratuitous. The group’s future is up in the air, but at this point it would still seem too early to try and capitalize on a wave of nostalgia. With a DVD of the group’s music videos being released as a separate item, one wonders why the inferior remix concept wasn’t ditched in favor of a Deluxe Edition with the videos on a second disc. True, all of Shirley Manson and company’s best moments, “Only Happy When It Rains”, “Stupid Girl”, “Push It”, they’re all here, next to their other major singles. Only when the second-tier tracks begin to not show up does the listener wonder if just picking up secondhand copies of the albums might be a more prudent idea.

(Geffen Records)

Interviews

The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!

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It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

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Reviews

Allweather – Through the Floor

Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen

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Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.

It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.

“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.

For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.

(Paper Street Cuts)

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