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Leatherface – The Stromy Petrel (Big Ugly Fish/No Idea)
(Half a year later, this is still my favorite album of this year if we don’t count Joy Formidable, since theirs is a mini-LP or EP, and since it had some kind of limited 2009 release! The full review in case you missed it:) Hurrah! Only the third LP from Sunderland, England’s punk powerhouse since returning from a four-year ‘90s breakup, the storming Stormy is immediately Leatherface’s best work since 1999’s split album with Hot Water Music . The profound difference is Dickie Hammond , AWOL co-writer/co-lead guitarist extraordinaire, who’d left shortly after Leatherface reformed at his urging in 1998. (That 1999 split was the last he’d had a hand in, albeit he quit before its recording.) The way Hammond trades his Ruts/Dag Nasty-inspired Paul Fox/Brian Baker leads/interplays with founder/frontman Frankie Stubbs is a stunner to regard for the first time in 16 years, since 1994’s astonishing The Last . Wow! And his hooky, guitar-plucking/writing influence ignites song after song for the already capable Stubbs. True, the loss of über-pounding original drummer Andrew Laing is regrettable. But replacement Stephan Musch is fluid, hard, and game, and Grame Philliskirk is their most nimble bassist since the late Andy Crighton. The result? A record that flies with a headwind and sleek glide rarely seen in punk—or thick, riffy rock in general—highlighted by the incredible “Never Say Goodbye,” with its soaring, agonizing “Don’t you ever say goodbye!” chorus that could stop trains. We’ve come to expect Stubbs’ emotional Louis Armstrong/Tom Waits bellow, letting loose his raw, wounded, thoughtful sentiments, and he’s an unstoppable force again. Indeed, from the post-divorce angst frenzy of “(Welcome to) My World’s End” and fury of the disgusted “Diego Garcia” (about a Indian Ocean native island depopulated by the Brits for a U.S. military base) and “Nutcase,” to the power riffs of “God is Dead” and the mid-tempo “Broken,” all 12 songs are ticking time bombs of dynamic, crashing guitars, drums, and huge human feeling—captured again by engineer Fred Purser (ex- Penetration ). Now that the prodigal Hammond is back, let’s hope Leatherface returns to their prolific Mush ‘n’ Minx -era recording frequency. Because Petrel is one beautiful monster. (noidearecords.com)
Darker My Love – Alive as You Are (Dangerbird)
Very different kettle of fish on this third LP for the L.A. band. The hard, melodic psych-pop has been traded in for a Buffalo Springfield/ later Action/late ’60s Byrds/Jefferson Airplane/latest ’60s Pretty Things vibe. Still incredible but a large adjustment indeed!
Verbow – Live at Schubas (Verbow)
live at schubas (Verbow)
Remember 1997’s high-octane, Bob Mould -produced Chronicles and 2000’s White Out ? An explosive Chicago four crossing Mould’s Sugar and Nirvana, and boasting subtlety to boot? Singer/guitarist Jason Narducy , an original ‘80s Chicago punk with Verböten , was primed to pour punk passion into Verbow with cellist Alison Chesley and a hot rhythm section. Given their unique approach—harsh rock bands still don’t apply stinging cellists!—and Narducy’s great songs, full-throated voice, and searing ensemble play, if this live LP is your intro, then great! They sure were vicious live, as heard on these 12 songs from Chicago’s Schubas, March 13, 1998, and July 2001. The unknown “Savior’s Line” showcases Verbow at its howling best, with a stomping, crash-cymbal-destroying rhythm, soaring chorus melody, blasting guitar, and quieter, moodier breakdown parts that still stand out (as much as Chesley’s singular sound cutting through the bottom end). Even the later lineup from 2001 without Chesley keeps the energy coming. If live performance is the true document of any band’s measure, than Verbow were great from the “years that punk broke,” carried away by furious but well-crafted rock ‘n’ roll. (Note, Narducy continues in that vein, in today’s Bob Mould Band!) (Another note: I wrote the liner notes for this release, and this is a tiny bit of them!) (myspace.com/verbowfans)
Maximo Park – Quicken the Heart (Warp)
Isn’t it time for album number four from these Newcastle killers? All three to date have been pretty incredible. That I am still listening to this one a year or so after I first heard it says a lot in this here-today-gone-tomorrow disposable age.
Innocence Mission – My Room in the Trees (Badman)
With luck we fully appreciate the unspeakably beautiful things, like waterfalls, fall foliage, sleeping toddlers, Karen Peris ’s voice, and her albums with husband Don as Lancaster, PA’s The Innocence Mission. All have the secular ability to make you feel as profoundly spiritual as the couple’s religious faith does for them (see the revealingly-titled “God is Love” for the latest example, although their assurance is a quietly welcoming feeling). Theirs is the music of swooning acoustic guitar scratch, brushed drums, gorgeous chamber piano, and occasionally, as on the opening “Rain (Setting Out in the Leaf Boat),” the grasshopper hum of sweet strings. With now seven proper LPs in 21 years, Don’s lovely beds ever bear the whispery melodies Karen composes and trills in her feathery-warm, breathy, wind-touched voice that could melt butter. Luxuriously hushed and as moving as a Nick Drake record sung by Joni Mitchell, My Room is another remarkable gem. (badmanrecordingco.com)
Sebadoh – Bakesale (Sub Pop)
This third-to-last album from these indie-rock staples/founders was probably their most consistent and hardest-hitting. And it still finds its way into my player 16 years after it first appeared. Wish this lineup would reunite and make a new LP.
Rat Wakes Red – Acres (Rat Disc)
James Raftery , AKA Rat Wakes Red (I still expect a hardcore band with that moniker, not a transcendently beautiful alternafolkie!), is not like modern solo artists with release diarrhea. He takes his time, crafts, plots, plans, processes, and perfects; Acres is only his third LP in 11 years (a couple of modest EPs helped plug the passing years), and together with crucial producer Jeral Benjamin , he bequeaths warm sonic gifts. 1999’s more acoutic Dizzy on Daddy and 2005’s more electric Horizon Drops were morsels of chamber-pop in the old 4AD aesthetic. This time, RWR has chosen equally resonant, persistent piano as his principal love bomb, plus copious strings (far beyond Benjamin’s charming viola on “Dizzy”) among deep orchestral touches that delight the senses betwixt his earnest voice. Big T favorite Hannah Fury chips in sweet guest harmonies, completing a hell of a record, another lovely affair from this consistent pairing of artist and loyal producer. (ratdisk.com)
Posies – Blood/Candy (Ryko) out Sept. 23!
This Seattle institution can do no wrong, as seen on this new 7th LP and first in five years.
Teenage Fanclub – Shadows (Merge)
These people write songs like McCartney did in his Beatles era. Just effortless magic.
Pernice Brothers – Goodbye Killer (Ashmont)
Joe Pernice is a genius, volume 10 or so!
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