For my last Pump Up The Jam column of 2016, I thought I’d talk about six 2016 releases that would make excellent gifts for the discerning music lover in your life (don’t forget to pick up copes for yourself while you’re at it). I’ll be back in 2017 with more new music!
Various Artists, Killed By Deathrock, Volume 2 (Sacred Bones)
It’s no secret that mining musical styles of the past informs much of the current independent and underground music scene. One subgenre that hasn’t been explored as much is Deathrock, an uneasy alliance of punk, post-punk, and Goth that emerged from the same fertile climate that birthed its forbears. If you’re still scratching your head, fear not: Sacred Bones has released Volume 2 in its look back at the subgenre, Killed By Deathrock. Featuring musicians and bands you’ve likely heard of (Mike Patton of Middle Class, Skeletal Family) and others you haven’t (Crank Call Love Affair), it’s a fascinating document, each track a treat just waiting to be rediscovered by music fans hungry for something different; for example, Veda’s “Whiplash” sounds as vital now as it did back in 1987. Volume 1, released in 2014, is also available.
Various Artists, Electri_City 2 (Groenland Records)
In the liner notes for this compilation, multimedia artist Eberhard Kranemann observes: “Musically Düsseldorf represented the centre of the world, but most people didn’t even have a clue. We didn’t have a clue; and we were part of it. It’s only afterwards that you start to slowly realise what the likes of Eno and Bowie knew straight away.” It’s a tantalizing statement about a time (1970s and 1980s) and a place (Düsseldorf, Germany) that was enormously influential upon the musical landscape. Electri_City 2 opens with two instrumental pieces— Wolfgang Riechmann’s, “Abendlicht” and NEU!’s “Isi”—that feel like they could have been recorded this year, despite being released in 1978 and 1975, respectively. From the incredibly catchy (Rheingold’s “Fluss” and Robert Görl’s “Darling Don’t Leave Me,” which features Annie Lennox) to the distinctly odd (Pyrolator’s “Max” and Der Plan’s “Gummitwist”), there is something here for everyone. Like Killed By Deathrock, Volume 1 of Electri_City (released in 2014) is also available.
Sleepies, Natural Selection (Mirror Universe Tapes)
How to describe Sleepies? They are definitely influenced by post-punk (witness their amazing cover of PiL’s “Annalisa” from 2013’s More Humans EP) but that doesn’t quite do them justice. One thing that is certain: they are ridiculously good. The songs on Natural Selection prove this, adopting a lyrically sardonic point of view on what could be a post-apocalyptic world. This assessment is partly due to lines about drinking “acid water” and “no more breathing for all of us,” but also because of Thomas Seeley’s sassy vocal style. Natural Selection is full of the band’s frequently impeccable hooks, courtesy of guitarists Seeley and Doug Eng, drummer Max Tremblay, and bassist Josh Intrator (Sleepies’ secret weapon). I don’t understand why Sleepies isn’t more well-known or well-loved outside of New York, but Natural Selection truly deserves to be enjoyed by everyone. In fact, it might be the album that prompts other people to finally pay attention. Follow the band on Facebook and Twitter.
Lust For Youth, Compassion (Sacred Bones)
A name like Lust For Youth conjures up many images: sensuality, vitality, volatility. All three qualities are found on this remarkable second album from the Danish trio of Hannes Norrvide, Malthe Fischer, and Loke Rahbek. Lush synths swell, guitars jangle moodily, and singer Norrvide’s gorgeous vocals seduce your senses. This is romantic dance music with emotionally charged lyrics: think Pet Shop Boys or New Order married to Morrissey’s musings. “Better Looking Brother” is the album’s clearest path to the singles charts, despite being more than seven minutes in length, but every track is a polished pop gem. The title of the final song, “Limerence” means “the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person.” It boasts lyrics like “she moves like a sunset,” which reveal the kinds of places in which Lust For Youth dwell. Equal parts gloomy Goth and swooning New Romanticism, Compassion is an album meant for chilly nights spent writing in journals by candlelight and clove cigarettes.
Marching Church, Telling It Like It Is (Sacred Bones)
Could an album title be more representative of a band than the actual band name? If that’s possible, then Marching Church’s Telling It Like It Is would be a perfect example. The band’s 2015 debut was one of my favorites of last year, but their latest release is a staggering gigantic leap forward, in every capacity. Take for example, the chorus of “Up For Days,” which melds singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s peerless vocal style to lurching bass and piano. Marvel in wonder at how the melodies of these shockingly talented musicians both guide as well as follow dense, poetic lyrics like “A firepoker’s wrenched into our embers / See them glowing at the ledge / I fall to my knees as I’m howling” from “2016.” There’s something irrefutably raw and immediate about Marching Church, something which truly takes your breath away, and to miss out on the experience of listening to them would be to do yourself a grave disservice.
JG Thirlwell, Music Of Venture Bros. Volume Two (Ectopic Ents via Adult Swim/Williams St. Records)
While a full discussion about the awesomeness of Venture Bros. deserves its own separate article, the symbiotic relationship between one of the greatest TV shows ever and JG Thirlwell’s music cannot be overstated. Thirlwell (a.k.a. Foetus, Clint Ruin, Wiseblood, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, etc.) wields his musical mastery like a weapon, slicing through the mediocrity of those who wish they were good enough to be considered his peers. This second volume of music from Venture Bros. showcases a genius (yes, I said genius) at the absolute apex of his game and you don’t need to know anything about the show to fall in love with this album (yes, you will fall in love with it). Even with a career spanning more than 30 years and encompassing innumerable musical styles and subgenres (all of them somehow still distinctively Thirlwellian), this is one of the best things he’s ever done. And that’s really saying something.