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The Most Interesting Bands to See This Summer

8th June

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The summer touring season is upon us, and while the dull and faint of heart are once again lured to the same old Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam shows (Jesus, people, can the pot really be THAT good?), we thought we’d introduce you to a tentative “top ten” (er, um, eleven) list of the most interesting bands on tour this summer. We’d like to think we’re turning you on to some bands you’ve never heard of here, but we know you’re way cooler than that. So here it is, for what it’s worth:

Voodoo Glow Skulls: These guys are completely ridiculous, but ridiculous in a kind of once-in-a-lifetime spectacle sort of way. You know, the way you just HAVE to go see Dick Valentine scream about taking you to a gay bar one more time. It’s not quite “Rock ‘N Roll McDonald’s,” but it’s close enough. The Glow Skulls are what might happen if the Squirrel Nut Zippers took Dave Navarro to a polka party hosted by Everlast. Yes–seriously. They’re currently touring in support of their new LP, Southern California Street Music, featuring the single “Fire in the Dancehall” (Speaking of Dick Valtnine, he oughtta sue.) Find their tour dates here.

Colour Revolt: We’ve finally figured out the recipe for Colour Revolt: one part Modest Mouse, one part The Walkmen, one part Sparklehorse, and one part whatever the fuck you want–yields endless servings. These guys are quite possibly the most schizophrenic band on the scene right now. Just when you think you’ve got them tagged as another whiney whispering Emo outfit with tracks like “A New Family” or “Mattresses Underwater”, they transform into an offshoot of Sparta with a gritty and raw rock-out like “Circus.” They’re touring in support of their first LP, Plunder, Beg and Curse on the revered Fat Possum label; and a stream of their debut, eponymous EP is available on their website. Check out tour dates here, where you can also hear tracks from the new LP (we especially recommend “A Siren” and “Naked and Red“.)

Skulls
Voodoo Glow Skulls

Death Cab For Cutie: Meh. You know. Tour dates here.

Young Knives: Excellent indie pop that’s not afraid to show a fang now and then with tougher tracks like “Up All Night“–a kind of exceedingly English Hot Hot Heat–but only kind of. Speaking of which, this is perhaps the most shamelessly English group since Syd Barrett was cutting tracks like “Astronomy Domine” with Pink Floyd–“Knives” is British for “Knaves,” for instance, which is exactly how they got their band name. These tweed-clad Brits made a rather auspicious entry onto the scene by declaring themselves “Dead” on their debut EP, The Young Knives . . . Are Dead. But they’re not, you see. Last year they were nominated for the really important-sounding “Nationwide Mercury Prize,” and now they’re giving geek rock a good name with their strong new LP Superabundance, which they’re currently supporting with a series of summer gigs. Check out dates here, where you can also catch a streaming audio of their new album.

Vampire Weekend: Right. Them. Tour dates here.

Sleepercar: More excellent indie pop but with a vague hankering for country. But don’t let that bullshit fool you–these guys are the side project of Jim Ward (of Sparta and At The Drive-In fame), even though they put out albums called West Texas, a title that’s about as instructive of the band’s creative origins as a White Stripes album called “Nashville” would be. And while Ward and the boys pull off the whole alt-country thing as convincingly as an Uncle Tupelo album, it’s in their departures from that sound, as on the blistering “Sound the Alarm,” that things really start to get interesting. Tour dates here. And check out their video for “A Broken Promise“–good stuff!

 

Young Knives
Young Knives

MGMT: We fucking LOVE these guys. If you want to know why, then check out the story we did about them a while back. Or just go to their myspace page, where you can get tour dates AND hear how cool they are. Wow.

The Boxing Lesson: As we said in our recent review of The Boxing Lesson’s Wild Streaks and Windy Days, these guys confirm that to label a band is to kill a band. It is too easy to dismiss The Boxing Lesson as a post-punk new wave act and move blithely on to your next victim. But as Whoopsy Magazine puts it, “there’s a lot more going on here . . . catchy backing vocals, surreal lyrics, and a modern pop sensibility stand out the most.” But The Boxing Lesson aren’t just another upstart “indie” band pushing the praise of rags called “Whoopsy.” The Onion calls them “a hard-charging trio,” and The Austin Chronicle praises them for “opening a Pandora’s box of psychedelia.” Check out tour dates at their myspace page.

Detroit Cobras: If you don’t already know about these people, then it’s about god-damned time. This is balls-to-the-wall, no frills garage rock of the highest order–with a penchant for delicious covers of songs so old you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to them otherwise. It’s brought to you by the sexiest voice rock ‘n roll has heard in decades–the incomparable Rachel Nagy–whose vocals will slap a sloppy lipstick kiss across your face, smack your ass raw and call you queer. And you’ll LIKE it, too. Tour dates.

Raconteurs: As depressing, boring and unnecessary as their debut may have been (and it was), their new LP actually has us believing there’s a reason for their existence–no easy task given our loathsome indifference to the crap they served up the first time around. Check out our recent review of their new album here, and, while you’re at it, get a load of their summer tour dates.

Hiatt Live
John Hiatt

John Hiatt: So maybe he’s old enough to be your dad, but after sitting through one of his shows, you’ll also understand that he’ll kick the shit out of your dad, too. This guy doesn’t fuck around. Check out our review of his new album, Same Old Man. And see tour dates here.

This Bike is a Pipe Bomb–No, NOT Really

17th April

Pipe Bomb!

Stand back N.W.A., and make way for This Bike is A Pipe Bomb, America’s newest terrorist conspirators. This folk-punk outfit is Straight Outta Pensacola, pissed as hell, and destined to terrorize a bike rack near you. They are, after all, reportedly “concerned with the civil rights movement,” an antagonistic sentiment if we’ve ever heard one. Thanks to the collective and eternal vigilance to which our great nation was summoned after the 9/11 attacks, however, it appears that we will all be spared the vicious tactics of these “musicians.” (The current terror-alert color, by the way, is a light shade of fuschia today–just in case you were wondering. “Light Fuschia,” the Department of Homeland Security advises, means that you must evaluate your supply of duct tape immediately and make sure you know where your children are. Godspeed to all!)

The good people of Ohio University, for instance, had their conscientious fellow-citizens to include in their traumatized prayers when, after a student’s bicycle was spotted ouside the Oasis restaurant “bearing a promotional sticker for the band,” emergency responders closed off large parts of the campus, classes were canceled, the Athens, Ohio bomb squad moved in to apprehend, detain, and eventually destroy the bike, the student was charged with a “misdemeanor”–for what, we’re not exactly sure, but we suspect the student was rightfully charged with the offense of “parking bike while liking music,” an increasingly visible threat to national security–and accused of “inducing panic.”

Bafflingly, though, all charges were later dropped and the student was awarded money for the loss of his bicycle. Not to worry–we here at Culturespill pledge to follow-up on this story to assure ourselves and our readers that the “student”–A.K.A. “terrorist”–was only absolved of wrongdoing after a thorough water-boarding that squeezed out the names of various accomplices believed to be roughing it in the hills of Tajikistan. “The university updated its emergency response procedures after Sept. 11,” Dean of Students Terry Hogan, who “encouraged student fans of the punk rock band to think carefully about the ways they show their support,” assured concerned parties, adding that those procedures were followed. We ARE able to assure you at this time that the student was indeed “charged criminally,” as University Spokesman Jack Jeffrey put it.

Culturespill promises to push for a more thorough explanation, but we must also confess to being equally puzzled after learning that “the team found no explosives.” There were, however, “short, explosion-like sounds heard in the area” that caused a stir (Junior Lisa Ball reported hearing a “boom”), though these were “created not by a detonation but by a water device used to assess if the bike contained a bomb.” Right–we know you guys just have to pretend it was nothing to protect the confidential security secrets you harvested from your assessment of the bicycle of evil. It’s OK.

bikers

But this band of evildoers and scare-ifiers collectively known as “This Bike is a Pipe Bomb” continued their reign of terror following this initial strike. At a so-called “peace rally” (read “terrorist training camp”) in Austin, Texas, an officer spotted a woman whose bicycle also sported the band’s promotional sticker. She too was quickly detained, but released after “the band’s existence was confirmed.” (I would have loved to be a fly on THAT wall. Seriously. What the hell do you say to a cop who looks you in the eye and demands that you please “confirm your existence” at once?)

Yet another bicycle with the offending sticker was discovered on the second floor of Bellarmine Hall at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Culturespill is heartened to learn that “security officers” took such appropriate measures as evacuating the entire hall, sounding the fire alarms, and demanding that students “back farther away from the building” in full anticipation that the whole thing would be blown halfway to the moon any second. Powerful devices, these “bicycles.” Philly cops were then called in “to secure the situation” while security officers “monitored the scene and blocked every exit.”

Be at ease, America–these are just a few of many anecdotes available to confirm that we have indeed become a safer nation since September 11th, 2001. But we’re equally grateful to the many fine officers and officials who, through their hard work in these chilling instances of bicycle terror, also brought to our attention a band that is most worthy of greater notice. The endearingly misspelled “The Arguement,” one of four tunes found on the band’s MySpace page, evokes the analog aggression of true punk greats like Cock Sparrer, Dead Kennedys, or Lou Reed’s Blue Mask album-an appealingly straightforward rock that’s raw enough to pass as a De Stijl-era White Stripes demo or an alternate take of Electric Six’s “Germans in Mexico.”

Cock Sparrer: We Love You

Replete with rhetoric that’s guaranteed to send them packing to Gitmo in no time, their songs hilariously anticipate exactly the kind of ignorance they’ve exposed at bike racks from coast to coast. ” You think things are bad now,” they sing on “Body Count” from 2002’s Front Seat Solidarity, “well they’ve always been scared that kids have guns.” But it’s on “A Hundred Dollars,” a track from the same album, that they summarize their credo with the sneering directness of authentic punk:

When I walk downtown you know I gotta walk with my head held high,
because those stupid southern yuppies they don’t like
to see a punk rock kid with his head held high.
They like the way that their money feels.
They got bank accounts and boob jobs and a fast set of wheels.
They fear a smile on the young, they fear the actions of the young.

Indeed they do. Especially those among “the young” who ride bikes, listen to music, and go to college–otherwise known as “enemy combatants.” Be on the lookout, everyone, and report any suspicious behavior–such as the riding of bikes with headphones on–to the authorities at once!

Culturespill’s Plea to Electric Six: Ease the Seat Back!

29th March

E6

 

In light of troubling news that Electric Six has has hit the studio to record their fifth album in as many years, we at Culturespill thought we’d pose a question their most recent album begs us to ask: what’s the rush, dude? The uncharacteristically boring I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Becoming the Master, out last year from Metropolis Records, made an even more convincing case than its timid predecessor (Switzerland, 2006) for the need to, as Dick Valentine might put it, “ease the seat back.”

It would seem that Valentine, the band’s brainchild, agrees. “Our feet hurt. We need to soak our feet in salt water,” he confessed on the band’s website earlier this year, “We have to address our pediatric issues first and then we’ll worry about the release date of our next record on Metropolis Records. We have begun recording though. It has already begun.” OK–funny funny ha-ha. But as reviews of their latest–and easily their most forgettable–album indicate, a nice warm epsom bath and a cool year off might not be such a bad idea.

Just a few short years ago, we didn’t hesitate for a second before calling E6 the best band currently walking the face of the Earth. There was a ferocious abandon about the band’s debut, Fire–how its stinging combo-pack of punk, disco, arena rock and grade-school sex puns so wholly dismantled the cliches of ’70s rock excess that you loathed yourself for ever pondering that Styx album in your iPod. Even the deeply flawed follow-up, Senor Smoke, which was released in England long before it hit American stores due to distribution snags, evinced a sporadic brilliance that kindled widely-held hopes that the band would find a way back to the addictive blaze and boom of their debut.

It was hardly surprising that E6 had trouble finding Senor a distributor in America, where people no longer distinguish between music and bull piss because FM radio continues to force-feed them overproduced treacle that is about as memorable as a slice of processed cheese. It was equally unsurprising that such tepid reviews welcomed the album upon its release, as Fire was so brilliant, fearless and new that Senor Smoke sounded worse than it actually was.

Most rags in England, where the band scored dance-floor hits with “Gay Bar” and “Fire in the Disco,” trashed the album unmercifully because Valentine danced on Freddy Mercury’s grave during a video for a lame cover of “Radio Ga Ga.” Whatever. The song sucked then and it sucks now, and if E6 intended to prove this with their cover, they succeeded brilliantly. And anyway, Valentine concedes that he only included the cover on Senor Smoke to appease the demands of tasteless roadies who heard the band perform it one time. Like the band itself, it was probably meant as an absurd joke that went horribly wrong.

E6 Video: “Danger! High Voltage”

But that’s exactly the point: there was a time when the bad joke that is Electric Six sounded so right. “Devil Nights,” “Rock N’ Roll Evacuation,” “Dance Epidemic” and “Boy or Girl” were unmistakable E6 gems worth the price of the album alone. And then there’s the hideous “dance moves” Valentine employs on stage—especially those sloppy, half-naked push-ups he performs about 7 beers into every setlist. “I do sit-ups, too,” Valentine told Crave in an interview last year, “but nobody wants to talk about those.” Damn right, Dick. I’m sorry, but there’s something about a guy named Dick doing naked calisthenics for public audiences that’s deeply unsettling. But that’s the whole point with these guys; trauma is their currency. Well, it was.

If Senor Smoke as a whole was a damned mess—and it was—the band did have their excuses: record company strife, the loss of E6’s original lineup, and external pressures such as (“Oh, man! Radio Ga Ga! You gotta put that one on there, dude!”) that all came together at the same time to condemn the album to hopeless oblivion. It’s a testament to Valentine’s fortitude that he even scraped enough tunes together to put out a product that at least resembled an E6 LP.

When Switzerland was recorded so quickly on the heels of Senor Smoke–the chaos that distracted those sessions replaced by a combination of urgency and liberty that might have been the stuff of the next great E6 LP–the watery turd they served up as a finished product gave fans as much pause as it should have given the band. Then came that Exterminate Everything blah blah blah stuff, and suddenly each successive E6 album began to feel like the continuation of some agonizingly prolonged gesture of farewell.

Those who, like yours truly, cling to the band for echoes of the Fire-era E6 in pursuit of further elaboration on Valentine’s three favorite subjects–fire, nuclear war, and gay bars–are treated instead to an evolving aesthetic that’s shocking in its self-importance, given the band’s devotion to self-deprecating absurdity. “When you have a couple hits, people automatically assume that just because you have one song, you can’t write any other sort of song,” Valentine whined in another interview last fall, “Like clearly, based on hearing ‘Danger! High Voltage,’ this band is not capable of doing anything but ‘High Voltage.’ Like right out of the gate. ‘Based on this one song, this band will never, ever have another song besides this song.'” Boo-hoo.

There comes a time when every self-confessed “bar-band”–as Valentine himself describes his crew–must decide whether they will continue to be who they are or become “artists.” As so many bands who’ve gone the “artist” route in the past have proven–The Red Hot Chili Peppers come to mind–it might make you more popular at the local wheat-grass bar, but it isn’t worth a drink of water on the dance floor.

Few acts are capable of delivering the narcotic and unthinking thrill of rock and roll with more abandon or abundance than E6. There is nothing shallow about looking to them for something other than the sober lectures of a Billy Brag album. Sometimes it’s OK for a band to have fun and for fans to go looking for it; but with each increasing album and interview, it sounds like the same guys who waged “nuclear war on the dance floor” in 2003 are more likely to wage war on their fans in 2008.