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Har Mar Superstar – The Handler

The Handler is the perfect party album; it’s got the most lovable pervert in the world writing the songs and the most bloated production values for twenty years. Really, what’s not to love?



You might want to sit down before reading this, but the pot-bellied Prince parody seems to have *grown up* since his last incarnation in You Can Feel Me. This maturity seems true musically, anyway: anyone who writes the couplet “we’re in motion / we brought lotion” can’t be that far off puberty. From the lyrics, it is business as usual in the ‘Lothario’ sense; most songs have their dials firmly set to ‘Pervert.’ They’d look down your shirt and up your skirt and anywhere your mother told you not to let vaguely creepy men look at. Even if you’re a man. Har Mar Superstar seems to have spent the last year listening to early Prince, Stevie Wonder, and seemingly, Hall and Oates, although I’m sure the Hall and Oates was purely ironic. Honestly. He’s also dragged a host of famous mates into this sordid world of 80’s synthesizers and bulging bass. Karen O and Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), rappers Northern State (me neither) and even pop tart and occasional Neighbors actress Holly Valance pop up on a couple of songs, the little harlot. Anyway, Har Mar seems less enthused with electric bleeping and squelching this time around, swapping it for some surprisingly authentic soul, R&B and some hilariously bad rapping.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Har Mar’s ability to get the party started. The first thing you think when you hear the opening synthesizers of “Transit” is that he’s copied this off “Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain. The money he spent on production really pops its head up here: the song sounds clean, fresh and sexy and the mixture of bongos, Stevie Wonder pianos, Jackson 5 vocals and Wham! bass forces you to go out and scream “Where’s the party at?” at people. Actually, don’t do that. “Body Request” sounds like the funktacular son of Flashdance mixed with Footloose and then pumped with cocktails with sparklers in it, possibly in a nightclub called Rio Nites or Spangles or something. It’s not Morrissey, at any rate. If you haven’t heard “DUI” yet, I don’t want to be your friend: The most radio-friendly jam Har Mar has ever produced should be on the national curriculum, under ‘Fantastic song studies’. “DUI” sounds impossibly like the Jackson 5, and is therefore brilliant. Even the weird falsetto rapping halfway through can’t touch the groove the song generates.

Crikey! Everything goes all Fischerspooner (remember them?) on “Cut Me Up”! Karen O verbally spars with our favorite funkateer over something generated out of a broken Casio found in a skip. Its X-rated vocals, moans and groans will have mothers the world over reaching for the pen and paper to write very stern letters. Keep that one on the top shelf, next to all the Penthouses and Playboys, is my advice. “Sugar Pie” is basically every Stevie Wonder song ever written, complete with string section and vocal gyrations to put Justin Timberlake to shame. “As (seasons)” is one of the weaker songs on The Handler, a sub-Usher flick through the ‘Big Book of R&B Clichés.’ Crap guitar bit? Check! Vaguely Hispanic sound? Check! You’re better than this, Har Mar. Next song “Save the Strip” is also a bit rubbish: the same forgettable boy-band vibe, although with some pretty filthy lyrics.

”O” is where it gets sad. Imagine “Take My Breath Away” done by Duran Duran and Boyz 2 Men, and you’re halfway there. In a single stroke, the Har Mar facade has been broken: he parties all night, and cries in the morning. It’s a good song, and even a little tear jerking. Don’t cry Har Mar, we love you … Ah! Back to funk excellence with “Back The Camel Up.” The first line ”All the panties you’ve been throwing on stage / I still got them” pretty much sums up Har Mar, and think “Killing An Arab” by The Cure as done by Missy Elliot and you’ve got the right sort of tune. “Bird in the Hand” and “Back in the Day” are like a lot of other songs on the album, mourning ladies lost, and celebrating new ones. If The Handleris a big night out, then “Alone Again (Naturally)” is the black-hole hangover the next day: a subdued, bleeping rage against love, sex and romance (but especially sex). A strange end to an overwhelmingly hyperactive album, but as it’s a good song, we’ll let it off.

So is The Handler deserving of your hard-earned money? On the whole, yes. There’s some fantastic pop here, and the music will appeal to 30-somethings wanting to relive their early-eighties childhood, or even teenagers wanting something a bit more mature than the usual boy band pap floating around. It’s also the perfect party album; it’s got the most lovable pervert in the world writing the songs and the most bloated production values for twenty years. Really, what’s not to love?

(Record Collection Music)


The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

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



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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Allweather – Through the Floor

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



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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