I like Primal Scream. I think their blend of rock and electronica provides some of the most consistently challenging dance music of the last 13 years (if I have the release date of their brilliant mission statement, Screamadelica right), and if one can ignore their lyrics (which, honestly, is a concept one must utilize with most dance music), there’s plenty to like.
I like the Lo-Fidelity Allstars. Their sound may initially sound derivative of a group like Primal Scream or The Stone Roses, but their sheer bombast and close adherence to the idea that techno need not be austere, empty, beat driven, migraine inducement, but instead can be funk, melodic and poppy, puts them on every dance party mix I’ve ever made.
I should like Kasabian, a group already receiving massive hype in the UK press for their self titled debut, a fusion of rock and techno that hasn’t been seen since … well … the last Lo Fidelity Allstars album two years ago. The elements are all here- the band has a full lineup, including a very skilled drummer who knows how to use a simple bass-drum pattern to bring all the party people out to the dance floor, a keyboard player who has clearly studied up on old organ riff from both ? and the Mysterians and James Brown songs, and club-friendly track names like “Butcher Blues,” “Processed Beats,” and, for the goth fans “LSF (Lost Souls Forever).” Unfortunately, the group is simply too indie for their own good.
If you’ve ever been to a concert by an indie-approved dance group like Hot Hot Heat, The Fever, or (recently) Modest Mouse, then you’ve surely seen the types. Sipping away on their first (and only) beer, with crossed arms, one leg slightly bent, equally mocking and scowling at audience members who are dancing, flailing, or otherwise freaking out and enjoying the music, the indie concert goes begs the question- if you’re going to go to a concert just to stay sullen and look, ahem, “cool,” then why bother showing up? I’m sure there’s a music store just down the street where you can go make fun of people buying Coldplay CDs.
And, sadly, Kasabian would be the guys, right up front, standing completely rigid. Sure, their bassist may occasionally nod his head, and the drummer will tap his feet and smile when the skinsman on stage pulls off that difficult fill, but soon both of them will resort to stoicism after getting nasty looks from the singer. If this were a CD of rock songs that simply had techno elements, then my major gripe would be with the lyrics on the CD, but you get the idea the band really wants people to get their freak on to this, so the problems run much deeper. All the band needs to do is forget about being cool for a moment and attempt the music equivalent of a double flying jump kick. “Processed Beats” has a great, danceable riff, and, typical of clubland, a paper-thin refrain of “I ran from the tide / Won’t let you hide, Won’t let you hide.” But singer Sergio Pizzorno sleepwalks through his delivery with nary one sign that he really cares whatever it is he is singing about. Of course, it would be easy for a person to throw back the example of Primal Scream, whose singer Bobby Gillespie’s delivers his words with a syrupy haze. His voice, I would argue can be energetic when it needs to (see “Rocks” for proof), but usually is much more fitting accompanying the slow, drug-fueled song that Primal Scream are prone to writing. With Pizzorno, it sounds like he just can’t keep up with his backing band, but also like he doesn’t really want to. The idea of putting energy and passion into his delivery would require breaking the sullen image he projects. Over an amazing bassline and menacing keyboard line in “I.D.” Pizzorno mumbles, “music is my world,” and the listener is left wondering whether he means the statement ironically, or whether that’s actually all the enthusiasm he can muster.
In fact, the album’s absolute best song is one of only a few downbeat numbers on the album, “Butcher Blues.” The track might work because of its warmer production, its Albini sounding drums and bass, or its eastern-tinged keyboards. More likely, though it’s the lack of struggle between Pizzorno’s indifferent delivery and the track’s serene music. In this instance, the elements all come together to make a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Screamadelica.” Closer “U-Boat” (the rationale for the title evades me, except perhaps as a shout out to Primal Scream’s controversial, “Swastika Eyes”), evokes Muse, of all things, and thanks to another unexpected and well placed drum beat, the tracks ends the album on a high note.
But really, all one needs to do to really see this CD’s place among other techno rock hybrid acts is to compare its album art to other bands. Primal Scream art is colorful, blurry, and basically the equivalent of viewing the world after a bowl or two. The Lo Fidelity Allstars take a grittier approach, but their collage-artwork still intrigues, as does the lack of any band photos. In contrast, the artwork for Kasabian is cold, and brings up imagery of communist Russia. In their individual shots in the booklet, the band let forth their most dour Gap-model expressions. Only one question, guys; isn’t dance music supposed to make people happy?
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.
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.