[Author’s Note: I have no idea whether at this point in his life Paul actually drinks, and I do know that he could beat the stuffing out of me if he wanted to, so, please, realize this is just a hypothesis]
Paul Westerberg will never get old. He might slow down, and at some point he will die, but he never ages, nor does his music. Rather, the reason I offer the reader for the decreasing tempo, increasingly acoustic instrumentation, and increased lyrical honesty of his past few albums is not maturity, but instead something that I’d call alcoholism. Let’s look at the past, shall we? During his time with The Replacements, right up until “Pleased To Meet Me,” Paul was a raging alcoholic, and his music reflected such brilliantly, with chaos and undeniable power. With the coming of the somber and totally underrated “Don’t Tell a Soul” and the downright pathetic “All Shook Down,” he lost his band, lost his rowdy nature, and, I’d assume, stopped drinking as much. As his sporadic solo career begun, you could see the bottle coming back, with the seething (if overproduced) 14 Songs and Suicane Gratification. Since 2001, he has released several albums, each showing not an increased level maturity, but instead a further return to the reckless, sloppy as hell, and honest style that accompanies the raging man after he’s gotten a few beers into him, as he’s sitting on the couch, laughing at everything, and eventually puking in the bushes.
You can see it everywhere on Folker, his most recent offering, starting with opener “Jingle (Buy it).” The track must’ve seemed like a cutting satire on the music industry after a few shots of whisky, but when sober, it comes off as nothing more than a slightly entertaining chuckle set to two and a half chords (by the way Paul, you’re not on a major label any more. Stop complaining). With the second track, “When Will We Arrive,” the album settles into an ambling pace that spans nearly the rest of Folker. Anyone thinking Westerberg has mellowed with age needs simply to hear his caustic sneer on the songs chorus of “We’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t / But one thing is true, if I’m wrong, I’m not alone.”
We next move onto the stage of drunkenness in which the drinker, stripped of the inhibitions of his or her mind, is able to express emotions more clearly than ever before. It can be seen in the simplicity of “My Dad’s” conclusion; “My dad, I love” or the near- embarrassed whisper of “I love you” in the one of Westerberg’s finest love songs, “Looking Up In Heaven.” These moments of unguarded sentiment are to be treasured.
Two other stages haunt the drunkard: first, the outbursts of anger, where the only way to get a point across is to smash the glass coffee table with a cheap wooden chair. Yeah, you have moments of sheer aggression, with some of his most propulsive rockers since Tim. His backing band, while never precise, managed a level of synergy on the driving “As Far As I Know” and the ranting “Gun Shy.”
Secondly, the pure garbage, the musical equivalent of the slurred conversations which involve far too many uses of the words “society” “façade” and “dude.” There has never been an album bearing Westerberg’s name that didn’t have tracks one gets sick of before the first listen is complete. Here are their names and their crimes, “23 Years Ago” for being overly sentimental, “What About Mine” for sheer boredom, and “Folk Star” for possessing the same one-liner appeal as the album’s opening cut, and dragging it out for over four minutes.
Such are the perils of inebriation. Much like that party in which you spent half the night involved in intimate conversations before jumping in the pool with all your clothes on and almost punching some guy in the face, Folker is far from a perfect record or a steady record, or even an easy record. In fact, its probably Westerberg’s most “warts and all” recording thus far in his career. But in the same way that at the party you’re willing to put up with the occasional rant, the broken doorknob and the smashed window because of everything else occurring, Folker is nothing less than an intriguing, wildly uneven, and yet altogether compelling release.
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.