Essential New Music: Royal Trux’s “Platinum Tips + Ice Cream”

Royal Trux is back, playing shows with a new album supposedly in the works. While we wait to see if that promise holds, Platinum Tips + Ice Cream offers a documentation of the band’s initial reunion shows last year. For better or for worse—we’re guessing Matador has given up on getting its advance back?—the reconvening of Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty sounds as raw and raucous, howling and horrified, pained and pixie-like as when they first burst on the scene as a drug-addled mess in the late ’80s. At these gigs, Hagerty and Herrema sounded as expected: like their guitar and vocal contributions were red-lining and bordering on out of control. But the rhythm section kept the sleazy blues and gutter grunge on track and moving forward with bass locked into a pocket provided by some seriously pounding battery while still allowing for a loose feel that gives you the sense you’re peeking in on a cathartic discharge of energy.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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Normal History Vol. 435: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Excerpt from my YA novel-in-progress from 17-year-old drummer Curt Frost’s perspective.

Chapter 24
Some guys want to own a hot car. Me? I just want to be in a band.
Normal people make plans. They plan to go to college or they plan to get a job. They know what they’re gonna do after they graduate. I can’t seem to get past just wanting things to happen. Like wanting to be in a successful band. And by successful I mean one that writes decent songs, records and tours. There’s no point in planning to sell a million records. It’s really hard work and luck. Apollo 13 is exactly the right band for me, but it seems like every time I turn around there’s someone or something ruining everything.

I get up from the table.

“You’re not going for a swim are you?” Static asks.

“No,” I say with a laugh. “I’m gonna go get those clowns out of the pool and try and get us out of here.”

As I walk toward the open sliding glass door, Lizzy steps inside wearing her dripping wet clothes.

“Go back outside,” I say. “I’ll find you a towel.”

I turn around and practically bump straight into Carol who’s holding a stack of neatly folded, navy-blue towels.

“I’ll take those,” I say, extending my arms.

“Thanks, Curt!” she says, handing them to me. “You’re a good egg.”

“You’re a good egg,” Lizzy says, mocking me in tone of voice I’ve never heard her use.

“Better than being a rotten egg,” I say, holding out the towels for Lizzy to grab one.

“Speaking of rotten eggs,” Lizzy says. “Did you see that blinding yellow swimsuit Isabella’s got on?”

“I did, actually. Yes,” I say, still holding out the stack of towels. “But at least she put on a friggin’ swimsuit before she went in the friggin’ pool, Lizzy.”

“Oh, Curt,” she says, sounding like she’s gonna cry. “I’m such a friggin’ mess.”

“Come on, Lizzy,” I say. “Take a friggin’ towel. I’m standing here like I’m some sort of glorified pool-boy/butler. Help me out!”

She laughs, wipes her nose with the back of her hand and takes a towel, but she just stands there holding it. I set the remaining towels on the back of the couch, take her towel and swing it over her shoulders.

“There,” I say. “Now go get a shower and stop drinking.”

“Sure, Curt,” she says, reaching behind the pillow on the couch. She grabs the whiskey, tucks it under her towel and heads for the stairs.

“Lizzy!” I hiss in a half-whisper. She ignores me. I go after her. She’s nearly halfway up the stairs when I accidentally step on the corner of the towel trailing behind her. She falls backward, silently, toward me. I try to grab her by the arm as she tumbles past me, but I can’t get a grip. She lands in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. The bottle of whiskey rolls across the fake wood laminate flooring until it is stopped by Nate’s right foot.

“Deep Dark Secret” from Water Cuts My Hands (K, 1991) (download):

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Essential New Music: Sam Amidon’s “The Following Mountain”

After five rewarding albums of artful, evocative (re)interpretations of primarily traditional material (and the odd contemporary pop cover), this Vermont troubadour and multi-instrumentalist makes a seemingly sharp pivot with his first offering of entirely original compositions. That the results rarely register as a major departure indicates Sam Amidon’s deep understanding of folk traditions—his groaning lamentations on “Fortune” and “Ghosts” creak with the weight of centuries, while the melodies at the heart of “Gendel In 5” and “Juma Mountain” (both titled for musicians who play on them) lilt like timeless lullabies. Underscored throughout is how thoroughly Amidon embodies all of his material, regardless of its origins (technically speaking, he does still draw on age-old sources for some content here), and how much his art lies not simply in the songs themselves but in the distinctive, impressionistic atmospheres—tender or jagged, unsettling or serene—that he and his collaborators build around them. This time out, those treatments involve more jazzy/avant-garde edges, even without counting the full-on, shambolic improv blowout (featuring pioneering free-jazz drummer Milford Graves), a surprising closer to the record.

—K. Ross Hoffman

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Chastity Brown: Magic And Loss

Chastity Brown does dark on her new album

The songs on Silhouette Of Sirens (Red House), Chastity Brown’s latest album, are delivered with a quiet force that makes the emotions she’s singing about come to vibrant life. She deals honestly with many aspects of lost love, looking at them with a poet’s sympathetic eye.

“I was in a dark place for part of the time I was writing these songs,” she says. “When you go through some heavy shit, it gives you empathy for other people’s stories, so I drew on the experiences of many people for these songs. Still, there’s a personal element to them that feels very vulnerable. The words are simple, but the way I’m singing is very broken. I wanted to explore different types of heartbreak, because there’s more to that experience than someone leaving and someone being left. Am I singing about losing my father, my lover or my own sense of self? When you’re disconnected from what matters, you need someone who loves you to jar you back into reality. I try to do that for myself in these songs, in hopes that it will do the same for the others who listen.”

Brown recorded most of the record in four days, playing with musicians who have backed her on tour, as well as on local dates in her hometown of Minneapolis. The band’s bright, wide-open sound makes a startling contrast to the intimate lyrics and Brown’s confessional vocals. “I like that big, bouncy electric-guitar sound,” says Brown. “I wanted to capture the interaction of a live show, the way I respond to the band and the way they respond to me. I didn’t have the intention of creating a specific sound, but I wanted a lot of atmosphere and a lot of different colors in the music.”

—j. poet

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From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: Best Songs By Anyone Ever, Volume 5 (The Bangles “Dover Beach”)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

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Thebeau: Speaking of the Bangles, I nominate “Dover Beach” as one of the Best Songs by Anyone Ever. I would never have heard this song if not for St. Louis band the Love Experts, who covered the song as their set closer at a show they played at, you guessed it, Cicero’s Basement. (I seem to be working on a theme, but since I never saw Neil Finn or Don McGlashan at Cicero’s, I can’t weave that thread all the way through.) I didn’t recognize it as a Bangles song, in part because the Love Experts’ singer, Steve Carosello, is a guy. After the show, I asked about the song, thinking it was one of their own. Carosello hipped me to the early Bangles and we’ve been friends ever since. That’s also the night I first met Love Experts’ bassist Steve Scariano, who would later become the bass player in Finn’s Motel.

In 1991, Susanna Hoffs released her first solo album, When You’re A Boy. At that time, my friend Toby Weiss was editor of the fanzine Jet Lag. I begged and begged until Toby agreed to let me interview Susanna. I had been given strict instructions about being sure to ask about the new album, but I couldn’t help sneaking in a question about my favorite song, “Dover Beach.” I wanted to know who wrote what bits, music, lyrics, etc. I don’t think Susanna was as interested in answering questions about the Bangles at the time. The call ended mysteriously, mid-sentence. I did at least learn that she and Vicki Peterson had written it together. Of course, in the internet age, that information is no longer as mysterious as it to be seemed then.

“Dover Beach” starts with Vicki and Susanna banging on complimentary voicings of an E major chord. They build it up to a crescendo and then let it ring. Susanna’s plaintive voice steps in with, “If I had the time/I would run away with you/To a perfect world/We’d suspend all that is duty or required.” The band comes in with Vicki playing a snaking lead guitar behind verses about star-crossed lovers who can only ever seem to be together in dreams. There’s a T.S. Eliot reference in one of the verses, when Susanna croons, “We could come and go/And talk of Michelangelo,” borrowing from “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The meaning of the Eliot line is somewhat unclear, though some have said it’s about making idle chit chat. In this context, I wonder if it’s just meant to be a bit of secret code shared between lovers.

I don’t think the song actually has a chorus. There are refrains of “oh, oh” in the magical way only the Bangles can do it. But, no chorus. After the second verse, there is a guitar solo. When they come out of the solo, the song changes to what would normally be a bridge. The bridge carries us to the last verse, which in turn leads back to a repetition of the first verse that slides into the ending. The outro is a guitar solo that collapses over a repetitive drum beat that fades out. It’s an ending almost as mysterious as the sudden disconnection of my interview phone call to Susanna Hoffs.

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Film At 11: A Giant Dog

A Giant Dog will release new album Toy on August 25. While you wait, you should check out the band’s new video for “Bendover,” which covers everything from firecrackers to flames to dancers in fishnets. Watch it below.

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MP3 At 3PM: Erin K

“Couldn’t,” from folk artist Erin K, is as quietly longing as its title suggests. The track, which comes from Erin’s record Little Torch, is an evening sigh, twinkling along in solemnity as she sings, “I couldn’t have tried to feel ready for this.” Check it out below.

“Couldn’t” (download):

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MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of David Barbe’s “$1.79,” From His Upcoming “10th Of Seas”

Early on, David Barbe performed in several Athens, Ga.-area bands (Bar-B-Que Killers, Mercyland, Buzz Hungry) before accepting Bob Mould’s invitation to join Sugar. Barbe left that group to concentrate on family and co-founded Chase Park Transduction studios, becoming noted for his production work for Drive-By Truckers, k.d. lang, R.E.M. and Deerhunter, among others. Finally, Barbe crafted his first LP under his own name (with the Quick Hooks), 2010’s Love It, Don’t Choke It To Death, followed five years later by his first true solo album, Comet Of The Season, although it was comprised of late-’90s/early-’00s tracks.

10th Of Seas, out August 18 via the Orange Twin label, represents Barbe’s first new material in seven years, and it’s a shambling wonder that’s buzzy, lo-fi and immediate. Says Barbe, who plays everything on the LP, of 10th Of Seas track “$1.79,” “It was inspired by some real events from my wayward teenage years, and then the song just went its own way. In one instance—the summer when I was 15—I lied about my age to get a fast food job so I could have a shot with a girl who worked there. That particular subterfuge did not exactly play out in real life as imagined. Hopefully, it works a little better as a song.”

We are proud to premiere “$1.79” today on magnetmagazine.com. Check it out below.

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Essential New Music: U2’s “The Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition”

Maybe it’s not too surprising after the critical drubbing and commercial failure of 2014’s Songs Of Innocence that U2 might choose to revisit the majestic achievement of 1987. The Joshua Tree was the Irish quartet’s (with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno) leap from the Emerald Isle, all things U.K., even European, to the land that the band loved and mythologized: America. From sea to shining (and not-so-shiny) sea—Reagan, J.F.K., M.L.K., GM, independence, our racist past—this was U2’s Dos Passos-like U.S.A. with all the ambient morass, flanged Edge-y guitar, grooving syncopated rhythm and poetic Bono yelping, howling and bleating found in the hummable, ascending “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the searing “One Tree Hill,” the mad dog-attacking “Bullet The Blue Sky,” the brooding “With Or Without You” and such.

And at 30 years of age, it’s only better than it was. Burnished and tawny by maturity; taut in its accuracy; bourbon-soaked in the influence of American icons from Huey Newton to Tom Wolfe; the airy, silt-ish tones of the original Joshua Tree stand as an anthem to its moment and testament to the collective’s sense of melody and atmosphere mixed with intimate personal reflections on the big issues. It gets zero help from unnecessary remixes and wee heft from an era-appropriate Madison Square Garden concert recording. Rather, the happy burden of expansion’s worth falls to its oddities and non-LP b-sides such as the sensual “Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)” and the wisely woeful “Wave Of Sorrow.” Add those rarities and the entirety of The Joshua Tree blossoms anew.

—A.D. Amorosi

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From The Desk Of Finn’s Motel: Top Five Coolest Cheap Trick Shows I Ever Saw (2. “First Album Show,” Cabaret Metro, Chicago)

Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.

Thebeau: In 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were chasing major league baseball’s single-season home run record. That same year, Cheap Trick booked the Cabaret Metro in Chicago for four nights in a row in May to play each of their first four albums. We made the drive up from St. Louis to Chicago. As luck would have it, our Cardinals were playing the Cubs that same weekend. It was still early in the season, but there was already a buzz about McGwire and Sosa being on pace to do something special. It’s still a controversy in our family to this day, but my wife didn’t want to get baseball tickets to the Friday afternoon game that would precede the Cheap Trick show later that evening. I think I finally forgave her after McGwire admitted to using steroids.

I’m a fan of all four of the first four Cheap Trick records, but I only had enough resources to get tickets to see the first-album show. It was electrifying! That first album contains some of the darkest songs in the Cheap Trick oeuvre: “ELO Kiddies,” “Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School,” “He’s A Whore” and “Ballad of TV Violence,” just to name a few. Hearing them rip through those songs with what amounts to a hometown crowd was mind blowing. You can check out the results for yourself on the album Music For Hangovers, which was recorded during that four-night stand.

One amusing note: Cheap Trick’s debut album, when released on vinyl, was labeled as Side A and Side One, and it was never really clear what side was supposed to be played first. That night they put the mystery to rest by starting with “ELO Kiddies.”

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