I first encountered Carcrashlander in 2009 when they released Mountains on our Backs. It was a dark, impressive album that kept me company through my teenage years, making me feel older, cooler and infinitely more sophisticated than I ever had before. Carcrashlander is the project of Cory Gray, a Portland-based songwriter, who works with an ever-evolving team to produce moody experimental rock. In January 2014, Carcrashlander released A Plan to Tell the Future, their fourth or fifth major release (depending if you count their 2010 EP You Were Born in a Hospital). I had a chat with Cory about the record.
It felt like long time between the last EP and the current release. I asked Cory what he’s been doing in the interim. “I spent much of 2011/12 in a residency at a recording studio called Scenic Burrows, and began cutting my teeth producing records for other folks. I’ve also enjoyed doing some scoring for a few films and documentaries. And a bit of touring in other bands here and there.”
Carcrashlander’s music has always been fairly filmic – every release so far has been deeply atmospheric, weaving together lyrical and melodic themes. A Plan to Tell the Future is particularly complex in this way, repeatedly returning to the idea of entrapment and enclosure, though Cory reckons that not all of the mentions of ‘walls’ and darkness are downbeat. “There are plenty of dark elements on this record, although I’d like to think that ‘Walls of the World’ is not necessarily one of them. It’s more of an explorative mission into the unknown.”
‘Walls of the World’ is A Plan to Tell the Future‘s opening track, which launches us into the album’s sinister but laid-back atmosphere with breathy orchestration and dual vocals. The most notable departure from earlier albums is in the use of drum tracks and experimentation with synthesised sounds. ”There is a lot of re-amping going on here.” (Reamping is a process in which a recorded sound is run through a reverb chamber or other sound-altering device.)
“And there’s a bunch of processed drums. I think I was drawn to them because they were something new for me, and also because many of the tracks were started by myself, and there were plenty of toys around to mess with that had beats to start foundations for songs.”
A Plan to Tell the Future is unmistakably a Carcrashlander record, thanks to both Cory Gray’s breathily-sung, intriguing lyrics and the eeriness of the melodies and harmonies; yet the increase in processed and synthesised sounds has allowed for new and interesting creations such as ‘Interstate Prelude’, in which slightly off-tune guitar sounds are broken by trip-hop beats and echoey background noises.
I asked Cory how this evolution came about. “I think this record is particularly different to the others because it was written, at least the music, in the studio, and because instead of having a week to finish the project, I had no real timeline. That made it possible to try anything and to have anyone who was around play something on it, whereas before making records had usually been a rehearsed and time-constrained process.”
As a result of this more relaxed approach to recording, there are 12 named musicians on this record, far more than in an average band line-up. “I am always being influenced by my peers and friends, it’s part of the process of documenting life with music, and on this record I was fortunate to have a lot of talented folks stop by for an evening here or there. It was not so much a planned team as a circumstantial one.”
At the moment, Cory’s favourite from the album is ‘One Shot Charlie’, one of the jauntiest and most accessible songs in Carcrashlander’s new material. “It’s named after a bar in the mountains of northern Idaho, where Carcrashlander spent a few days one summer between shows. It was the classic “music stops and the regulars turn and stare” type of place, but after a few rounds we ended up making a bunch of new friends and jamming them a few tunes out on the bar piano. I learned that the name One Shot Charlie refers not to the lone bullet hole in the ceiling as you would expect, but to the founder of the place, who had the shakes so bad that when he poured one shot it would fill up a bucket by the time he was done, and you would only need that one shot of booze.”
Unfortunately, U.K. residents haven’t had much chance to experience Carcrashlander’s intense live shows. Cory has played plenty of gigs in mainland Europe though, and he remembers them fondly. I ask Cory what his favourite musical memories are. “My old band played in every state in the US before I ever travelled abroad, and those poverty-stricken, cheap-beer-drinking, floor-sleeping days are undoubtedly some of the best memories I have. Also playing shows in Portugal has surely earned a place on that list. And this summer playing with The Dandy Warhols in Brittany we had a slot between Sinead O’Connor and Snoop Whatever, which was pretty surreal, as well as a slot in Brussels going on before Madness, who are still totally amazing. Playing with a variety of groups and touring has just been one way to see the world and meet its different sorts. I feel very lucky to have visited so many places I probably never would have otherwise.”
Music seems always to have been a part of Cory’s life, and he’s still attached to formats which more fairweather music listeners have long-since abandoned. As a result, Carcrashlander have released A Plan to Tell the Future on cassette and record as well as the usual formats. I questioned Cory’s decision to release the record like this because it seemed like a niche market to pursue.
“I am a record collector for sure, I love the act of dropping a needle, flipping over the disc. I also much prefer the template for art that is an LP, as well as the opportunity for setting the flow of each side of a record. Jealous Butcher has been making beautiful records for years and I am honoured to be on their roster. Also, tape cassettes are an interesting fidelity because of their dark degeneration. I have found some amazing music on tape cassettes that sounds completely different from their newer digitally remastered versions. And in releasing this record on Curly Cassettes, a tape label that is the home to many of my favourite Portland bands, I was also able to make an alternate version of the record with some different material that is not included on the digital or vinyl release.”
So there it is – Portland retains its reputation for producing quirky musical items – and I encourage you to listen to some of Carcrashlander’s material in whatever format you can find it.
A Plan to Tell the Future is out now, and can be bought from Carcrashlander’s Bandcamp for just £3, or on vinyl or cassette from Jealous Butcher or Curly Cassettes.
When I was about thirteen, I was madly into the Kaiser Chiefs. Writing that makes me feel like I’m introducing myself at an Arseholes Anonymous meeting, especially now the Chiefs’ lead singer Ricky Wilson is one of the panellists on The Voice. All the same, I loved them once, and as we look at our exes, we look at our past favourite bands – with disdain, and perhaps a little shame. Nevertheless, Kaiser Chiefs were my gateway into (better) rock music.
The way I fell in love with Kaiser Chiefs was through the internet. I don’t know what band forums are like today, but back when I was thirteen, they were really great fan communities full of people sharing articles, pictures, facts and gig stories relating to their favourite artists, and giving each other recommendations. Through the Kaiser Chiefs forum, I found bands like Maxïmo Park and The Cribs. Then, at some point, someone linked me to last.fm, a website which tracks your music listening and offers you personalised recommendations based on your taste, and through that I found some of my favourite bands.
Though we may be losing the wave-based culture of music fandom, I don’t think that musical communities have died out – they’ve just moved onto the web, and now co-exist instead of competing. Internet musical communities can be even better than real-life ones – they unite even the smallest fan groups, creating global social networks. Modern communications mean that friendships can be kept alive across huge distances, and musical taste is the perfect social glue. In real life, it’s all fine as long as you’re fashionable, enjoying the same thing as the people in your locale. On the internet, someone will undoubtedly share your taste, no matter how niche it is.
The internet is big. You won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. Over two billion people have access to it, and a lot of those like music. A smaller amount of those make music and a smaller amount of them actually put it on the internet. That’s still a lot of music on the internet – it’s practically saturated. Sites like Bandcamp and Kickstarter are great, but it’s so hard to actually get noticed. What’s more, so much is free, with Youtube and Spotify and other various sites, not counting the ease of straight-up piracy. So people get used to not having to pay for their music.
What this means is that, while there it’s very easy to get your music out there, and it’s entirely possible for someone in Zagreb to listen to that neo-folk EP that you recorded in your bedroom, there is a lot of competition between little-known bands, and people expect to be able to listen to your music for free. Getting out there is not necessarily any easier with the internet than without it, and the live music scene has waned now that so much is available for free wherever and whenever you want it.
The internet has massively affected the logistics of musicianship, and has really just raised the base amount of exposure that everybody gets. It’s still just as hard as before to get past that level, especially with all the additional competition. It’s important not to view the internet through rose-tinted glasses – in many ways, it’s made life harder for new artists
The monumental shift to internet music consumption has changed the way we all think about music. For some artists, it has proven to be a huge aid in their musical careers.
Go-to no-bullshit record engineer Steve Albini (below) is an outspoken advocate of the internet in terms of its potential for exposure. Whilst he has helped major label groups, like Nirvana, to make records, Albini has always been a firm supporter of independent music. He has talked in interviews about how the shift in the industry, while scaring the major labels, has allowed independent bands to find an audience and to become autonomous sustainable units. He used the example of his own band Shellac, who, because of the fanbase the internet has allowed them to reach, have been able to finance and manage their own tours without having to spend money on management and PR companies. This means that they have been able to tour places as far-flung as eastern Europe, something which just wouldn’t have been possible before the internet.
Sites like SoundCloud allow unknown artists and bands to upload their own material for free for the whole world to listen to and share. Dylan Baldi used MySpace to create numerous fake band accounts to share his original music. It just happened that the one picked up by promoters was Cloud Nothings, whose awesome 2012 album Attack On Memory was engineered by Steve Albini.
The internet gives bands the opportunity to act completely outside of the music industry. Bands can even become their own producers, using powerful software, such as Ableton and Logic, downloaded from the internet. Whilst the internet acts as a platform for mediocrity, it has also given artists the tools to be noticed and to build a career on their own merit.
It was to a sea of young teenagers clad in black denim, band shirts, Doc Martens and heavily applied kohl eyeliner that Mayday Parade played their penultimate UK tour date in Oxford’s 02 Academy. I caught up with the Florida-based alternative-rock band’s lead singer, Derek Sanders, and rhythm-guitarist, Brooks Betts, prior to their sold out ‘Meet-and-Greet’ to discuss their tour, albums and musical influences.
After spending time exploring the rainy city, Sanders was definitely excited for the night’s performance. “I woke up this morning and thought ‘There’s only two shows left in the UK, that’s wild! I’m looking forward to tonight, and obviously London’ll be the biggest night of the tour, so it’ll be good.” Two days before their sold-out show at London’s KOKO, the band certainly haven’t let the traditional British weather deter them from enjoying the tour – “Minus the rain, it’s been pretty awesome,” Betts laughed, “But one really cool thing about the tour was doing Dublin for the first time, that was awesome.”
After their London show, the band have been travelling across mainland Europe playing a string of sold-out shows, but they still greatly enjoyed their 2014 UK dates. Betts particularly enjoyed the familiarity of the country this time around: “It’s interesting because when I get off the bus, I may forget what certain cities look like, or what the venues looked like last time. However, this whole tour I wake up and look out, and it’s like yeah – I know where I am”. It appears that this has been the case for Sanders also, declaring that Monsters Overseas is “One of my favourite tours that we’ve done over here”. Mayday Parade picked Divided By Friday, Decade and Man Overboard as their support acts, and the bands certainly seem to get on – from watching the Superbowl together in Liverpool to enjoying Guinness in Ireland, their collective Instagram accounts have been very active the past few weeks. Sanders is especially enthusiastic about the other touring bands – “Sharing a bus with Man Overboard is great! They’re awesome dudes to be able to hang out with all the time. The rest of the bands on tour are great too, such nice people.”
Although the tour title directly references the band’s fourth studio album, Monsters in the Closet, the band’s set list included songs from their other albums. Sanders feels like the band’s latest offering is “a culmination of everything we’ve done before, with a step forward as well. It’s what we’ve tried to do with each album – and what we’ll probably keep trying to do.” Betts added that he feels it is “one of the most diverse records we’ve done”, before correcting himself, “No – it is the most diverse record we’ve done, and that’s pretty cool to me”. This diversity has made it the current favourite release of the group, although they admit that “generally it is the newer stuff that you like more”. This time, however, the band feel as though they have found their own sound – what Sanders has named “a Mayday Parade sound. I feel like we’ve accomplished that for this album, and it’ll keep moving that way in the future.”
The albums are definitely a collaborative effort from all five band members, with a Florida beach house being the hub of activity for the last two album writing periods. “Everyone brings material they’ve been working on over the last year or so of touring, and we just take it all and put it together.” The material apparently ranges from basic ideas to almost complete songs. “Once everyone adds their flavour, it becomes a Mayday Parade song,” Sanders explained. “Yeah, its interesting,” Betts added, “so if Derek has the idea, it’ll sound like a Derek song, and if someone else has an idea it sounds different – I think it comes from older influences we had growing up as kids, so I think its interesting how it works together.” This collaboration means once neglected songs can make a return – ‘Girls’, Betts favourite song on the newest album, was brought back by the band whilst in the beach house.
Keeping up with pop-punk tradition, Mayday Parade enjoy long song titles – ‘The Torment of Existence Weighed Against the Horror of Nonbeing and You Be the Anchor That Keeps My Feet On the Ground’, ‘I’ll Be the Wings That Let Your Heart Soar in the Clouds’ demonstrating this nicely. “I feel that for a lot of songs, if they’re gonna be a radio single, people like simple titles because then someone can go out and find what the song is, and purchase it easily,” explains Betts. “I like to think that we’re more of an album orientated band, so its more important to have an album title thats catchy and easier to remember than the actual song titles.” Sanders sees song-naming as an opportunity that the band like to “just have fun and do whatever we want with”. He also looks to other bands of the genre -”It was partly inspired by other bands, like Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy.”
Indeed, these bands were part of a collection that shaped and inspired the musical preferences of the band members during their late-teens. “Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, Brand New, Jimmy Eat World – all those bands at that time influenced us and are a big part of why we play that music that we play.” Jimmy Eat World are a band that Sanders is clearly a big fan of – he’s especially excited that they’ll be playing Australia’s Soundwave Festival alongside Mayday Parade in late-February and early March. A lot of big names are lined up for this festival, with Betts being particularly excited about seeing Stone Temple Pilots, System of a Down and Korn. He was even looking forward to Blink 182 being there, until Sanders gently corrected him – Green Day are playing instead. “It’s gonna be amazing,” he then continued, “We’ve done it once before and its such an incredible tour. They really do take care of you! There’s a lot of flying involved but there are also days off. It’s just a good time.”
Post-Soundwave the band are jetting off to South East Asia for four shows before returning to the USA, where, after a short time-off, they are playing Warped Tour from June to August. Sanders hopes that in the future the band’s touring schedule will be less intense – a sentiment most likely connected to his young daughter, who turns three this year. “We’ve been going at the same speed for a long time and doing amazing stuff all around the world. If we can keep doing this, but maybe slow down the touring part, that’d be great,” he mused. “We’ve been pretty full throttle for a while. So, maybe tour for six months out of the year, as opposed to eight. We want to just keep going out and making albums, going out and then supporting them – we love doing it, so that’d be amazing.”
Following the end of Warped Tour at the beginning of August, the band’s schedules are relatively clear. “We would love to do some big festivals in the UK,” Sanders confessed, “but we don’t know anything yet”. Fans of the band will certainly be hoping for appearances by the band across the festival scene, but it looks like only time will tell if Mayday Parade will be returning to the UK this summer.
The home leg of the Varsity jazz-off last Saturday was a roaring success. Two big band giants descended on Magdalen Auditorium for an intense contest of slick arrangements and bold solo chops: a jazz orchestra head-to-head. Tickets had sold out a good week before the night itself, and the atmosphere was suitably charged. This event has some history, and though it was my first encounter with a big-band-off I felt pretty sure by the time I had taken my seat that I had good reason to look forward to what was to come.
I did. It was Cambridge up first, in the form of CUJO (Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra). At times, their set was impressively intricate, including a rendition of Bob Florence’s composition ‘Carmelo’s By The Freeway’, which raced along in unforgiving swing, complemented by the precision of the horn section’s rhythmic fills.
CUJO were also unafraid to take on some of the more celebrated jazz repertoire including ‘God Bless the Child’: this was a tender arrangement worked out by one of Cambridge’s own. Joined by guest vocalist Hettie Gulliver, Charlie Mingus’ ‘Moanin’ and Ray Charles’ ‘Hallelujah I Love Him So’ were two further numbers which not only spot-lit the band’s evidently excellent sensibility for backing vocalists, but also said something of their versatility. By the time we had reached their Basie closer, the bar had well and truly been set.
There was nothing to fear, of course. For all the talk of versatility, OUJO were certainly not lacking in that department. The mercurial wit of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ was wonderfully executed, and their performance of ‘In A Mellow Tone’ was brilliant, loud, and infused with incomparable amounts of mid-tempo attitude. Yes, it was clear that the hometown heroes were not in the slightest fazed by their adversaries, and as the set continued I began to wonder whether it was simply the partisan spirit in me, or whether I could trust my growing suspicion that this band was swinging even harder than the last.
OUJO were blessed with two vocalist appearances, first with Will Gillett, whose great take on an ingeniously groovy reinvention ‘Wonderwall’ was matched by his idiosyncratic between-numbers commentaries, and second with Jessie Reeves, who sang a beautiful version of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’.
Was there a winner that night? I saw little that was conclusive. But I was sold on these two great bands like everyone else there, and if you’re wise you will make sure you’re there next year.
After moving from the coast of North Devon 5 years ago, folk singer Jess Hall (no relation, before you start crying nepotism…) has certainly not forgotten her roots on debut album Bookshelves. Classically trained and from a musical family, Hall has an undeniably stunning voice and her captivatingly pure vocals have seen her quickly established on the Oxford music scene, attracting attention from a number of big names.
A musical acquaintance of Hall’s for a number of years, renowned folk-roots cellist Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone) produced this debut, as well as providing accompaniment throughout. On hearing her performance with local band Flights of Helios at 2013’s Wilderness Festival, Stornoway’s Jon Ouin also expressed a keen interest to work with Hall and had a hand in arrangements and instrumentation. The result of such high profile collaborations is, however, still very much her own record. Instrumentally sparse, Bookshelves holds Hall’s hymnal voice centre-stage, with her own gentle guitar picking rippling beneath, there simply to accentuate her wistful and nostalgic musings. Morse-Brown’s subtle yet affecting cello movements exquisitely compliment Hall’s alto range – most notably on opener ‘Dearest Heart’ – lifting the touchingly open lyrics and adding emotional depth. ‘Apple’ (cover of traditional folk tune ‘I Will Give My Love An Apple’) is sung entirely unaccompanied, showcasing the power of the human voice as an instrument. This though, is the only song on the album that could be said to stem from the traditional heritage that inspires numerous folk artists. With Bookshelves, Hall instead focuses on the more personal, setting to her familiar back-drop of sea-spray and sand, stories of friendship, love and childhood memories, all narrated with a simplicity and honesty that is surprisingly emotive. On tracks such as ‘Sea Song’ and the playful ‘Maps’, this lyrical simplicity can sometimes come across slightly twee, but for the rest of the album, it works perfectly. Achingly tender vocals, choral at times, wash over the poignant undercurrent of rising riffs and hooks, crafting the purest declaration of love on stand-out track ‘Duet’, while building heart-rending pathos on break-up song ‘Winter Branches’.
Although elements of influences such as Laura Veirs and Lisa Hannigan are visible on Bookshelves, Jess Hall has certainly carved her own style and this simple but strikingly beautiful debut is a confident entry to the UK folk scene.
Bookshelves is out on 24th February 2014
With drinks dripping off the low ceiling, an average of three (visible) piercings per audience member and an enthusiastic warm-up by Less Than Jake, the O2 was transformed from a corner of miserably-rainy Cowley Road into a slice of alternative Californian sunshine. Reel Big Fish are the champions of fusing lyrics about jealousy, relationship hell, your girlfriend turning out to be a lesbian and all other kinds of “sucky” situations with music so chirpy you’ll find yourself pissed off at life but happy about it at the same time. As viewed through kaleidoscopic effect of the impressive ‘flesh-tunnels’ of the man in front, Reel Big Fish were resplendent in a veritable mix of Hawaiian shirts, military regalia, and extreme hairstyles. They came out to a crowd that welcomed them like old friends, and their opening song ‘I Want Your Girlfriend to Be My Girlfriend’, was sung back to them word for word, firmly establishing that the aim of this gig was going to be reminiscing about the good old days.
Front man Aaron Barrett wasted no time in creating a sense of intimacy. He questioned a couple at the front about their relationship before announcing that they were “weird”, which, to be honest, was probably meant as a compliment considering that revelling in a sense of weirdness seemed to be what a Reel Big Fish gig was all about. That, and agreeing that a lot of things in life really suck. The band’s confident crowd-talk seemed apt considering they have been going in various formations for over 15 years, achieving mainstream success in the mid-90s before building up a strong cult following ever since. Back on Cowley Road, the band cemented their status as the soundtrack to teenage angst, with classic anthems ‘Where Have You Been?’ and ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ whipping the crowd into a mob of flailing skankers. If nothing else, ska-style dancing is worth it for the intense cardio workout and the stone you will lose through sweat. This was a crowd that were reliving their youth and yelling back the lyrics that had captured the dramas they faced 10 years ago.
Reel Big Fish are no longer in their 20s, and beer belly and double chin jokes bounced about between members of the band, with a cover of ‘Monkey Man’ dedicated to their ‘hairy’ bass-player Derek Gibbs. This tomfoolery made lyrics such as ‘I hate your guts and I think you suck’ more fun than embarrassing, with the crowd embracing each statement of refusal to grow up more triumphantly than the last. However, a word of warning about the sight of a 39-year-old in a Hawaiian shirt attempting to ‘twerk’: once seen, it can never be unseen.
‘Dancing’ aside, the timing of the band was faultless, with the trombone, sax and trumpet bringing each song to a rollocking crescendo and the 6-string base providing an interesting dynamic on the beat. The trumpet solo in ‘Another Fuck You Song’ was particularly impressive, leading what seemed to be half-song, half-group-therapy session, as the crowd held up their swivel fingers and roared “fuck you” in beautiful harmony. The sci-fi theme continued and a man in a ‘Bazinger’ t-shirt got particularly excited when the Star Wars theme introduced the last set. A cheek cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ and “everyone’s worst nightmare: a new song” called ‘I Dare You to Break My Heart’ were well received. Certain of their strong appreciation from the crowd, the band wasted no time in staging an encore, and after starting their own chant of “one more tune”, went straight into a stirring finale of the band’s biggest hit, ‘Sell Out’. Then it was time for the colourful crowd to re-emerge into 2014 and for the band to go and stick naughty post-it notes on their manager, or whatever it is that almost-40-year-old men do of a Tuesday evening.
In a world where there are more female artists than one can count, it takes more than just a good album to make the artist: for Taylor Swift, an her ability to write hit after hit has kept her from disappearing into the crowd (tabloid image aside). So as a fan genuinely determined to like her, watching her live was going to be an experience.
I’ll say it now: Taylor Swift can sing live. Gone are the questionable days on the CMT awards in the first flush of success, when her voice was perhaps a little shaky. The Taylor flushed with the success of her fourth album is more polished than before, and her ability to hit high notes and sustain in front of a packed audience proves that whilst she will never be a Whitney, she has the pipes to make the scornful rethink.
It seems that when you sign up to a Taylor Swift gig you are also subscribing to the Swifty phenomena: the fans, the signs and thousands of voices all mouthing the same lyrics without any fail. From the moment you step into the arena you cannot escape this. This might be a million miles away from her first intimate shows, but she plays the crowd well throughout the whole show. Taylor is well known for having different special guests on every show, some of her past ones being The Script, Cher Lloyd, J-Lo and, of course, Ed Sheeran, and it was a treat seeing the two, albeit very different voices, singing together on stage.
Certain songs thrive in the concert arena: songs like ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ use the heavy beats to their advantage – and the crowd goes crazy. By contrast, the concert also manages to showcase Taylor back with her country roots, away from the pristine production and commercialization that she is occasionally accused of. Her acoustic rendition of ‘Fearless’, one of her best songs, was a reminder that despite all her awards and success and celebrity pals, the songs are still hers.
Visually, the tour is not necessarily a stand-out draw-dropping extravaganza, in the way that tours such as Take That’s The Circus Tour or the U2 360 Tour, and whilst the set pieces are interesting, they are by no means a game changer. However, I return to the point I made earlier: you go to see Taylor Swift not to be dazzled by the set, but because of her. Does the concert reaffirm her status as the queen of country pop? Most certainly.
Sacred Bones is one of those special, rare labels which shows faith in its artists. They put out whatever they want – reissues of forgotten 80s British punk (UV Pop), twisted folk (Cult of Youth) or even danceable psyche (Moon Duo) – and believe in those they sign, including The Men. When they released Leaving Home in 2011, their second release but first on Sacred Bones, they were down as a noise-rock band. There was the odd flirtation with blues and touch of folk on the record, a trait which was much expanded on their follow-up, Open Your Heart, which was The Men’s breakthrough. The album blended a plethora of influences into one of the highlights of 2012. New Moon, released the following year, again pushed the number of styles you can fit in an album, but this time felt ramshackle and, bar an odd moment or two, lacked the aggression of previous releases. They had strayed too far from their roots – there was a bloody harmonica!
However, another year, another record – for 2014 we get Tomorrow’s Hits. This, their fifth, is their first proper studio album, recorded in two days and completely live.
Horns are all over Tomorrow’s Hits – a welcome respite from the harmonica, which only makes a brief appearance. These horns add a sense of The E Street Band to their slower numbers, giving a quintessentially “American” sound to tracks such as ‘Another Night’. It’s not all Bruce Springsteen though; ‘Pearly Gates’ sees the horns up their tempo, freewheeling with the guitars. The band have reigned in the country on this album and the record is all the better for it. The soft twang on ‘Settle Me Down’ is testament to this more controlled approach.
The highlights of Tomorrow’s Hits come at the end of either side of the album. ‘Different Days’ and Going Down end sides A and B but would fit happily on ‘Leaving Home’ or ‘Open Your Heart’, acting as the heaviest numbers of the record. They hold the special ability of making your knee bob, but are more rounded than your typical noise rock tracks.
When Pitchfork reviewed their first album on Sacred Bones, they noted that “The Men’s modest catalogue thus far presents no such linear evolutionary trajectory [from chaos to control]” like their SST-influences (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth). How wrong they would appear now. The Men haven’t let themselves be held back by punk – they have taken influences from all types of rock’n’roll and crafted something very much their own. Tomorrow’s Hits feels like a homage to the history of guitar in the US and more so than any of their other genre-mashing records. Though lacking the full visceral bite of Open Your Heart, The Men’s fifth outing is a return to form. Maybe fewer horns next time.