Back again with some slabs o' white hot music for ya! This time around I'm going to actually beat the guys to the punch and give my review of the new At The Drive-In record (sorry guys, but I couldn't sit on this one!) as well as look at some of the sludgy, stoner metal grooves of Hark, and lastly listen to the late-night smoky torch songs of Imelda May. Without further adieu....
After a long 17 year wait, El Paso band At The Drive In are back. It's a welcome return to these ears. Relationship of Command, their 2000 masterpiece was a force of nature and remained on my must play list for long after it came out. And if you ever had the chance to see them live (I didn't, but look up some clips on youtube) you knew what controlled chaos was when they were on stage. Internal tensions, drug use, exhaustion all led to a break for the band, which then split into two factions: The Mars Volta's prog craziness and the steady alt-rock of Sparta.
Inter Alia (I know, it's stylized differently on the album cover, but I'm just lazy enough to not want to type it that way) manages to temper the controlled chaos a bit. Perhaps after the extremes they were on 17 years ago, this was needed. Don't get me wrong: this record brings the noise, but it doesn't quite measure up to Command. This isn't a bad thing - it shows some growth. This isn't a direct continuation as much as a portrait of a band that have taken all of the side projects they were a part of and molded them into their original vision. Old school fans should be happy with this release, especially if they are willing to grow with the band. It definitely gets better with each listen.
Key songs: "Governed By Contagions", "No Wolf Like The Present", "Pendulum In a Peasant Dress"
Welsh band Hark recently released their sophomore album Machinations and if you are into the stoner metal type of music, this will be right up your alley. It's not up to the standards of Clutch or The Sword, but it will get your toes tapping and your head banging. The band started out in 2014 as a three piece, but have added another guitarist to the lineup. It helps to broaden the scope of the tunes, especially when you get towards the end of the album and they let a little bit of prog into the mix. I think it's a good direction for them to explore on the next record.
"Comnixant 30" is a short instrumental lead in to the last song on the record called "The Purge". I personally think these two songs combined are the future for this band. Let's hope they make good on this promise. That's not to say the rest of the album doesn't have it's highlights: There are riffs aplenty to be had - just like any good stoner metal record. If there is one weakness to this record, it's the vocals. In theory, Jimbob Isaac's voice should be perfect for the genre, and in small doses, it is. Over the course of the entire album it gets to wear on you a bit. It's forceful, but it needs to be a little more raw. But overall this is a very enjoyable album.
Key songs: "Son of Pythagorus", "Speak In Tongues", "The Purge"
After four albums of 50's rockabilly infused rock, Imelda May channels her inner Roy Obison for an album full of 60's torch songs and dark pop tunes. For longtime fans, it's a bit of a switch up but it suits her vocal style just fine. After the divorce from her longtime husband and musical partner Darrel Higham, the change in style is understandable. T-Bone Burnett lends his production skills here and conjures up his version of the "wall of sound" made legendary by Phil Spector.
The songs are mostly dark (although not nearly as depressing as you would think - there are some real toe tappers here) and the torch songs are definitely my favorites. "Black Tears" is helped by a guest performance from Jeff Beck and this one is really my favorite on the record. Jools Holland of Squeeze fame also puts in an appearance, playing piano on "When It's My Time". In many ways this record reminds me of Chris Isaak's Forever Blue - a break up record with a good beat.
Key songs: "Black Tears", "Bad Habit", "When It's My Time"