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2021 In Review: Spud Cannon shoots down too-easy expectations on Good Kids Make Bad Apples

Spud Cannon is a band that can make some new initiates a bit apprehensive at first. I mean sure they seem like wholesome kids but that’s just it, maybe too wholesome? The rosy cheeks. The peppy demeanor. The preppy-ish fashion sense. In other words all those things that typically indicate “crazed serial killer” in our culture. Not to mention the band’s adherence to an all-white dress code much like that creepy cult from The Leftovers but also not unlike that other spud-referencing band with a thing for matching outfits and catchy tunes and underlying anxiety.

But once you drop the needle on Good Kids Make Bad Apples any such apprehension melts away. Or least it does once the Spud Cannon squirts out the first of the album’s many glucose-infused musical hooks (apples and potatoes are full of natural sugars) just 17 or 18 seconds into the opening track “Juno” (don’t worry, it’s not about teen pregnancy) a distilled hit of surf-rock-power-pop-girl-group-dance-rock that makes social anxiety sound downright intoxicating when the tempo shifts into overdrive and the notes start bouncing off each another like a bunch of bumper cars with broken brake lines bumping each others' asses off.

But then the first melodic hook ends almost before it begins (no wonder the singer sings “got me feeling like I’m never gonna get enough” in double time) so you gotta go back to the back of the line and make it through the next verse (classic tension and release) which is no terrible hardship, after which you’re rewarded with a double hit of the hook followed by a post-hook afterglow made up aphsia-induced ‘ooh-ooh-ooh’s!’ and then the whole thing cycles around again but with some subtle guitar and keyboard counter-melodies thrown in for good measure building up and further up before reaching one last ecstatic, extended apex. And just like that it’s over in under three minutes time.

Lyrically, “Juno” is a song about missing your ride home from a party but taking it all in stride, taking notes on every intriguing stranger and every missed connection along the way (missed because the band’s too loud, your forgot your opening line, they’re not the right type, oops spilled your wine, etc.) but never giving up hope that “I could meet someone” or more existentially “I could be someone” which establishes a major theme for the album which is full of stories told by (and told about) all those who “can’t get no satisfaction” out of life (most of us, no?) or from being in love or being not in love, but still sounding pretty darn buoyant about it, an unbeat-downbeat dynamic nicely captured in the song and song title “You Got It All (NOT)”.

In this respect it’s pretty cool how the songs on Good Kids Make Bad Apples seem to be in dialogue with one another, with good kids calling out the bad apples even when they may be staring into the mirror. Like how on “Juno” near the end the party-going protagonist declares “I won’t be wasting my time / on garbage highs / I can go all night” but the next song “Supersonic” starts with the lines “uh-oh you’re lost on a cheap high / wide eyes on the hunt for your next ride.” Or how the wordless “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-boop-be-doop” refrain from “You Got It All (NOT!)” is echoed by the wordless title phrase of “Na Na Na” which itself echoes the title and the “let the loser go” message of the late ‘60s hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” crossed with the chiding “na na na na’s” of the early ‘80s J. Giles Band. Some might call this “intertextuality,” both internal and external, and I would be surprised if the Five Spuds did too because these kids-cum-young-adults met at Vassar College and odds are at least one or two of them were Semiotics majors.

And speaking of Vassar College, GDMBA was recorded on “Squash Court #1” (self-produced no less) which sounds like some hipster Brooklyn studio but no it’s an actual squash court on Vassar College that was quite possibly maybe but not for sure surreptitiously taken over by the band late at night to get the impressively big, expansive Wall of Sound sound of the album which only magnifies its big shiny hooks and wide-ranging arrangements (with the core band augmented by brass, glockenspiels, and tubular bells or at least that’s what it sounds like) which makes me think squash courts should be used this way more often. Plus in the clip below you can see the Vassar squash coach isn’t even upset with Spud Cannon for scuffing the court with their glockenspiel what a good sport!

So in sum this Spud Cannon album released in Summer 2021 is perhaps even better-suited to the cold, snowy January of our discontent, proving that shiny happy people sounding music doesn’t have to be bad for you but instead can be part of a balanced musical meal providing all the vitamins and minerals found in stick-to-the-gut spud-based songwriting (going full-on punk rock for the anthemic “P.O.T.O.T.O”) creative implementation of squash courts, and songs about a bad apple or two or ten. (Jason Lee)

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Seasonal record roundup: The Heart Attack-Acks drop a "Love Bomb" and an Xmas banger

On “Love Bomb,” the debut single by The Heart Attack-Acks, the Queens-based duo of Candice and Cody bring an energy and dynamism to the disco-new-wave number that the world hasn't witnessed since Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley danced around awkwardly in front of a car repair shop circa 1983a car repair shop that just happened to employ a small crew of line-dancing mechanics plus a couple crop-top-wearing-popping-and-locking breakdancers—and by the way this is the second song called “Love Bomb” to be reviewed on this blog in the past several months so please no confused letters to the editor!

And if this seems like a pretty random comparison to draw just check out the Heart Attack-Acks press photo above and tell me there's not a downtown-guy-uptown-girl dynamic at work there–except since they’re from Queens it means Cody must live in Glendale, or maybe Ridgewood, whereas Candice must live up in fancy-pants Astoria Heights. And oh yeah there’s the matter of the band’s name too.

As far as “Love Bomb” goes, well, it doesn’t sound a whole heckuva lot like “Movin’ Out” that's true. But it’s clearly indebted to the music Billy J. was likely vibing to that same year (1977) on nights when he’d put on the ol' Groucho Marx disguise and drive from Long Island to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to hit the 2001 Odyssey discotheque with Tony and the boys. And also on nights when he’d drive into Manhattan to hear some next phase new wave down on the Bowery. Which is all just a way of saying that “Love Bomb” is a twitchily danceable mutant punky-disco-party-tune. And since there’s nothing more inherently New Yawk in musical terms than a twitchily danceable mutant punky-disco-party-tune it’s really quite a smart career on the part of T.H.A.A. to pay homage to their hometown musical heritage right out of the gate. 

Not to mention “Love Bomb” is a great kiss off song and that's very NYC toobut one that’s not so much about “creeps in the street” (see above) as it's about the creeps we all carry around in our pocket these days, like pick-up-artist wannabees who bombard potential victims with digital bum crumbs of approval and affection until suddenly withdrawing if-and-when the conquest is achieved (“first off, you blow up my phone / but in a month, you’ll leave me all alone”).

But the song’s narrator is clearly too astute to fall for such cheap tactics (unlike over at @thedelimag where we gladly accept transactional praise!) and instead turns the tables on her love bomber (“so in the meantime, I’ll take what you can give / train you like you’d do me, if I gave in”) which is clever (love bomber, bomb thyself!) and also clever because the majestically-adenoidal NYC-accented call-and-response overdubs make for a nice callback to classic empowered ‘60s girl group anthems except updated for the iPhone Generation. 



And speaking of updating, the Heart Attack-Acks also have a new Christmas single out called “No Sleigh Bells Tonight” and yes I know I know Christmas is over already but hey you’re well within your rights to play Christmas music up 'til New Year’s Day at least just like people keep their trees for that long so why not. And the song itself will get you back in that Santa spirit from the moment it hits you with a Motown-style bass line and some sleigh bells too in the intro (see what they did there!) soon going on to evoke a Phil Spector Christmas Album kinda vibe (peep that “Be My Baby” beat!) while lyrically dispensing with all this “Birth of the Messiah” business and instead rightfully focusing on the true meaning of Christmas just as God intended, which involves a mixture of devastating bone-chilling loneliness, forlorn romantic pining, and, quite possibly, murder (ok I’m inferring the latter, but Phil Spector!) all set to a jaunty sleigh-worthy beat. (Jason Lee)





Moon Kissed have something important to tell you and right now may be a good time to listen

Released earlier this Fall (shades of Milton’s Paradise Lost entirely intentional given recent trends) the second full-length by Moon Kissed, called I’d Like To Tell You Something Important (its title a callback to their first record) is a deeply human fusion of contradictory yet complimentary impulses—ranging from its chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out opener “Bubblegum” (“chew you up you're just like bubble gum / I’ll spit you out when I’m done”) to its chew-me-up-and-spit-me-out closer “Chameleon” (“Chameleon, I’ll change for you / I’ll do what you want me to / until I don’t know who I am”) a dialectical lyricism mirrored by Emily, Khaya and Leah's impressively wide-ranging musical palette—skipping like a stone across songs featuring sweet poptimistic flirtation, grinding electro trepidation, epic party-anthem-ification, hushed diary-entry introspection, operatic power-ballad salvation, stripped-down spoken-word elucidation. and last-call-for-alcohol piano-bar romantic resignation.

But no matter how varied the emotional and sonic landscape, it all comes across as a coherent statement—to the extent that raw, urgent passion can be considered “coherent" but let's not get off track here—with the full tapestry of the LP woven together by the consistently ultra-vivid, ultra-visceral nature of the songwriting and arrangements. Indeed, it seems Moon Kissed have got something important to tell us after all. 

Not to knock their first record at all (2019’s I Met My Band At A New Years Eve Party and I stand by my earlier statement that  “Runaway” should by rights be widely known as one of the top bops from the past several years) but in the interim Moon Kissed have taken things to the next level when it comes to making even their more synth-heavy numbers feel entirely organic to the point where practically every song feels like it’s about to crawl out of its own skin, whether due to anticipation or anxiety, dread or desire, morphing and mutating from one moment to the next, a quality that applies equally to Khaya’s vocalizing and also to the production work on ILTTYSI (and even to more lo-fi numbers like how on "Chameleon" the audibly squeaky piano sustain pedal makes you feel like you're sitting there in the same room where it's being performed) a sonic elasticity that helps account for how all the synthetic and organic textures blend together so seamlessly on the record (including the stark cowbell part on "Saturday Night" that nearly rescues the instrument from sketch comedy hell).

What’s more, I’d Like To Tell You Something Important coheres not just musically but also thematically, organized around a central theme of pleasure and its (dis)contents. Or, as Moon Kissed themselves put it on the penultimate track “Bender,” “Let me try to make this better / Let me evaluate my pleasures,” which is a song that both Lady Gaga and Lin Manuel-Miranda must desperately wish they’d written. Except they'd each probably choose to repeat the final rousing chorus a couple more times (at least) so kudos to Moon Kissed for displaying the restraint and self-confidence to leave us wanting more. 

Anyway, safe to say, many permutations of pleasure appear across the album’s 35-minute run time, not only in terms of the most simple-minded mission to “have a good time, all the time” but also in terms of the oft-overlooked complexities of pleasure--whether pleasure as politics (gender politics in particular), pleasure as escapism, pleasure as transcendence, pleasure as power, pleasure as surrender, pleasure as spiritual and/or psychological and/or physical salvation. In a word, pleasure! 

And Moon Kissed don’t limit their pleasure explorations only to making records either. Because their live shows bring an even bigger dose of pleasure to audiences with fearless heart-on-sleeve, inhibitions-stripped-away abandon and a determination to have a good time all the time. On this note, over the past several weeks Moon Kissed have undertaken a three-week residency at the Ridgewood, Queens D.I.Y. spot known as Trans-Pecos with each of the three shows organized around the theme of “Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice” with each ingredient engaged sequentially. (first show “Sugar,” second show “Spice,” etc.)



Except that the triptych-concluding “Everything Nice” event scheduled for tonight was cancelled/postponed out of an abundance of Omicron caution. And to think that tonight's opener Kate Davis should’ve been taking the stage right about now if not for that pesky mutating virus. But on the plus side at least it gives you more time to work on putting together a truly impactful outfit for Everything Nice, whenever it happens to happen, with potential inspirations including (quoting directly from the party flyer here) "poodle skirts, kitten heels, 50s fantasy housewife with a beard, 50s working husband but with a thong, sexism as an outfit, strap ons, breast plate, drag make up, curlers" and I’m gonna go ahead and add "cha-cha heels" to the list cuz I doubt they'd mind and I'm secretly hoping to receive a pair for Christmas.

Which brings us to one last newly-relevant-yet-again-selling-point for ILTTYSI which is that it’s a great lockdown listen, an album conceived and recorded in part during lockdown numero uno or are we still keeping count—meet the new year, same as the old year—that's chock full of the frustrated pent-up passion that's highly familiar to the socially-distanced set by now, besieged as we are by “lonel[iness] and heavy memories [that] linger like a gymnast on a beam that isn’t steady” prone to “walking off cliffs in [our] dreams / wak[ing] up in sweat and it’s hard to breath” counterbalanced by coping skills such as “buying…ice cream to see if it gets better / but nothing’s getting better at all” and finally resigned to the fact that “if the world is about to blow / [we] may as well lose control” to loosely paraphrase various lines from the album. 

And yeah I’m probably making it sound like a pretty despairing set of tunes but it’s really not—there’s plenty of life-affirming lyrics as well (“we should run around the city / everybody kissing everyone / cuz we all know what we all want”) not to mention the overall inspiring live-wire intensity of the music. In fact it’s one of the most life-affirming albums this writer has heard in a while.



So maybe just settle in for the evening, change into your best club duds and put on I’d Like To Tell You Something Important and then dance around your bedroom like it’s Your Own Private Idaho for the rest of the night (and the next night, and the next night) and when you get tired of ILTTYSI you can put on Moon Kissed’s single from earlier this year called “Clubbing In Your Bedroom” and its crowd-sourced, quarantine-themed music video and rave on for the rest of the night or the rest of your life. (Jason Lee) 

 





Josephine Network makes it rain on latest single

HOT TRACKS/HOT TAKES: Josephine Network “I Feel Like Rain” (release date: 12/03/21)

ELEVATOR PITCH: Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” meets Sylvester’s “I Need Somebody To Love Tonight” meets Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain” meets Arthur Russell/Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” with a dash of Steely Dan’s “Peg” thrown in for extra flavour—presented to the public with 3 count ‘em 3 alternative mixes available on limited edition cassingle to be found exclusively at Sam Goody’s Records & Tapes and also for order on the Josephine Network’s Glamcamp page (which redirects you to NYC-based “art pop cassingle label” Paris Tapes) if you’re too lazy to hit the mall.



KEY LYRIC: “Your love, your love is like water / one drop and I’m dripping wet”

PAST IS PROLOGUE: For an appetizing sample of Josephine’s pre-solo-artist musical career, check out Velveteen Rabbit’s “I Wanna Be Your Woman” below (sample lyric: “so lemme be your woman / and you can be my woman too”)  



MUSICAL PROFICIENCY: Junk shop glam slop. Drag yenta boogie rock. Yiddish-infused power pop. Gently-strummed “AM Gold” soft rock. Keyboard-driven Captain Fantastical melodic bops. Girl-group harmonizing in attractive frocks. And now, blissed-out sunshine-pop disco romps. 

Who is a Yenta today? https://www.jta.org/2020/02/04/opinion/who-exactly-is-a-yenta-these-days Captain Fantastic: 

MORE RECENT WORKS: Josephine’s debut LP Music Is Easy was released in early 2020 on Dig! Records. It’s been described elsewhere as walking “the line between sincerity & camp, with a stellar set of songs that’ll grab every rockin’ lover and true believer in pop music from the last half-century by the ears, rattling whatever’s left in-between them, and restoring their dormant faith in music—with ease and a wink.”



And just this year, in March, also on Dig! Records, Josephine Network released a collaborative album with Hershguy. It’s called Stocky Tunes and on Bandcamp it’s described as “a celebratory rock’n’roll smorgasbord of far-reaching sounds and sonic bedlam…[that doubles] down on the adventurous and genre-shirking spirit of their solo efforts [with] lyrics comprised of ribald Yiddish slang of yore (“Cockamun”, “Punim Pisher”, etc.) beside modernized protest songs of the day (“Walk Out Loud” and “This is Track 11”—FUCK 12!!!)" which as a music journalist who is always looking to report the cold and hard truth, I must point out here is actually track 4 on the record.

 

IN CLOSING: Personally, this writer wouldn’t mind if Josephine explored a little further down the “I Feel Like Rain” path on a subsequent EP or even a full LP, because this is such a groovy, vibey-yet-upbeat, danceable-yet-introspective, life-affirming tune. But the one thing that we can probably depend upon from Ms. Network is that there's no telling where she’ll go next musically. And that’s always a good thing for an artist in this writer's book. (Jason Lee)





Hot Tracks/Hot Takes: Dahl Haus in the house with 3 new singles

Over the past several months Brooklyn-based duo Dahl Haus has been on a new-single-per-month hot streak, and speaking of “hot” this column is the first in a series of DELI columns called Hot Tracks/Hot Takes where we’ll be focusing on recent singles (or heck maybe even a full EP occasionally) sharing off-the-cuff-yet-penetrating-insights and random associations and total speculations related to the song, or songs, in question. 

Got it? No? Good! Because the whole concept is as nebulous as “Silhouettes and Alibis.”

Dahl Haus are self-described creators of “noisy, dreamy music that's Kool Aid, Pop Rocks & razor blades mixed in a psychedelic blender & served in a dirty glass” and first thing I wanna know is where to find one of these psychedelic blenders. (but, please y'all, wash your glasses!) Next thing I’d like to know is “who’s in the band?” and turns out it’s singer/songwriter/producer/bass guitarist/rhythm guitarist Blaise Dahl and lead guitarist Daniel Kasshu aka Mevius. A couple fun facts from Ms. Dahl’s extensive resume: 1) she’s served as touring bassist for Jennie Vee (herself a bassist!) which means that Ms. Dahl is only two steps removed from Courtney Love (not a bassist!) since Ms. Vee toured with Ms. Love during her joint tour with Lana Del Rey (many of LDR's songs feature bass!); 2) As a teenager, Blaise admirable served on two MTV-sponsored outreach programs—one promoting an anti-bullying platform and the other an anti-bias initiative. Again, very admirable, but thankfully she wasn’t picked to play “Laura” in the commercial below because looks like it may have been pretty traumatizing even for a fictionalized portrayal.

Song #1: “Silhouettes & Alibis” (Release date: 9/17/21) — Forgive my obvious ‘90s bias here but the first couple minutes of S&A hit me like the Throwing Muses/Slowdive/PJ Harvey mashup (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea era on the latter) I never knew I needed so naturally that’s a good thing. But then a little over halfway through the song suddenly turns a corner and walks right into a wall of stone, stopping short on a next-to-last-sounding-note, before getting all dizzy-headed with an extended outro that opens with a strummed guitar floating in space and then a haunted funhouse organ before a drum fill bursts the song open like an overripe piece of fruit with layers of guitar and emotive lead vocals and ghostly backup singers entering the picture (or at least they sound like ghostly backup singers) before, again unexpectedly, concluding with a “jazz hands” style guitar chord. Hot-cha-cha-cha!

Key lyric: “I built a prison of my own / in solitary walls of stone”

Song #2: “Helium” (Release date: October 1, 2021) — Dahl Haus is a band unafraid to deploy its full array of flange pedals plus all their chorus and reverb and digital delay and overdrive and tremolo/pan pedals and maybe even some wah-wah when it’s called for. This one is the woozy drunk-in-love song of the bunch—think Cocteau Twins meets Bloodwitch and you’re on thew right track—and thus it works well as the sweet gooey marshmallow cream sandwiched between the other two singles plus it’s got a highly melodic and (it sounds like) heavily chorused bass part which also contributes to the weightless, woozy vibe.

Key lyric: “Surrender to the sweet delirium / Your love's like helium / Helium / Gravity's undone”

Song #3: Dreamscape” (Release date: November 19, 2021) — This is the seduction song but a song that warns against being seduced at the same time where “tangled sheets can tie you to this space” (thanks for the warning!) and just when it seems to be about over "Dreamscape" suddenly transforms from a shimmering dreamscape into a woken-with-a-jolt raveup in the vein of a surf or spy movie soundtrack right after the line “who knows if love is real?” (these kids got a talent for sudden transitions!) which makes you realize the whole dreamscape scenario was maybe a bit of a bait and switch when you’re left “looking for salvation / from daylight's rude awakening” which is exactly why you’re advised to buy black-out curtains before listening to this song.

Key lyric: “I charmed you like a snake in the grass”

Look for more hot tracks and more hot takes coming soon! (Jason Lee)

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