Way back in 1970, when Michael Jackson was still shimmying alongside Tito and Jermaine, singing about birds and letters, one Sylvester Stewart was the world’s most batshit crazy music-star. Stewart, known to the world as Sly Stone, was holed up in a Hollywood studio making his definitive creative statement 1971’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, increasingly paranoid of outside pressures from Black Panthers wanting him to go political, and record executives wanting him to finish up the album to capitalize on his growing fame after the surprise success of 1969’s Stand!. Sly, at that time, was known for his errant live performances, where the crowd was lucky if he showed up three hours late, if at all, and for his increased paranoia after finally achieving the fame he had set out for when he began his musical career. When Stone began to dig in and continue spending most of ’70 in his studio, shutting himself off to the world, his record company decided to put out Sly & The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits, as a stopgap between albums, and as a way to finance Sly’s last real opus.
Luckily for Sly’s record company, his greatest hits album did for his career, what Bob Dylan’s first greatest hits album did for his, as in expanded his fan base and made him seem essential. Listening to Greatest Hits, there’s no doubt he was. Sly, in 1970, seemed to foreshadow many separate phases of black music. There’s the beginnings of funk music on tracks like the bluesy “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Fun,” “Sing a Simple Song,” and album highlight “Thank You,” a song highlighted by very heavy drums and bass for the time, and nearly void of guitar at all, that bands varying from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to George Clinton are indebted to.
Sly should also be considered in his role of making R&B the most popular black music in the 1970’s along with the guys who made Motown a powerhouse. If someone had told me that “Stand,” “Life,” “Dance to the Music,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” and “M’Lady” were songs by The Temptations I’d have believed them. Sly could make catchy R&B group music as anyone in Detroit could in their heyday.
Sadly, to this generation Sly and the Family Stone are known as some relic pop group, a group that was cool like No Doubt was ten years ago. Or worse, the group is known for Sly’s erratic behavior and strange appearance at the Grammy’s in 2006, where he sported a white Mohawk. Maybe the repackaging and remastering of his band’s catalog will make Sly into the hero he should be, once and for all.
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.