THREE ALBUM REVIEWS — Death, Barbarossa, Live At Pickathon

Death, N.E.W.

Death, N.E.W.I first heard about Death on NPR. I remember thinking, this is what my life has come to. I’m getting punk recommendations from Terry Gross. Then I went out and bought the album …For The Whole World To See on iTunes.

The times were indeed changing.

The larger culture media seized on Death’s emergence (or re-emergence, as the case may be) because they were, in one sense, the last of a dying breed. The long lost band, a true gone and forgotten phenomenon that had vanished from the public eye, in this case, perhaps long before they ever arrived in their proper station. If you have not seen their back story as presented on A Band Called Death, it’s one of the best music documentaries in the last decade.

The 2015 version of Death is comprised of the sons of the original line-up of the Hackney brothers, Bobby and Dannis, and Bobbie Duncan. Their release of N.E.W. signals a fresh chapter in the band’s story, but really doesn’t signal a new sound. Much of this record feels like reimagined leftovers from …For The Whole World To See from the frenetic protopunk sound to the lyrical exhortations to look at your life, focus inward, see the world as something bigger.

When N.E.W. arrived I was stoked. I wanted to love it, but this collection feels like the proverbial mixed bag. They write and record a killer punk song, “The Times” and “Playtimes” classics by any estimation, stretching to include hot licks and a slathering of Detroit blues in the belly. These feel like older songs, which is their calling, but after a few times through the new, I was compelled to put the old on again.

Read more about the story of Death, as well as their new album, here at their site.

Barbarossa, Imager

Barbarossa, "Imager"When I first heard opening title track on Imager Barbarossa’s third album, my first thought was, oh, the xx are back. Or some facsimile, hopeful of filling the void created by the London band’s sparse recording schedule. Then I placed that venerable 2012 album Coexist on the player and felt a strong affirmation in my connection.

The connection however, while not intended as quick and easy access or a disparagement, came to feel in the long run like a slight to Barbarossa. Yes their sound is synth and beat heavy, featuring a back and forth, sensual male/female vocal pattern, but it is hardly a derivative. That first track is upbeat, strikingly infectious in an “off to the side of the dance floor” way, backed by “Home” which is a decidedly more sober reflection on what feels like the end of the evening. Their stuff, as compared to the xx, comes across a little more urgent than pretty, like their stay or go track, “Nevada” which begs the tough questions without a delicate sense of melodrama.

Barbarossa is also capable of the interminably catchy, as demonstrated on “Human Feel” a track which underlines how this band stands alone amidst its synth pop contemporaries. Since first playing Imager I’ve put the album on and allowed it to have its way with my mood, and each time the London band affects me in a slightly different way than the time before.

Check out Barbarossa’s site here for more about Imager. 

Diarrhea Planet/Those Darlins, Live At Pickathon

diarrhea planet, those darlins, live at pickathonOne of my favorite music deliveries is the split recording. My record collection, culled over years spent flipping through stacks, overflows with their curious pairings. My obsessive, neophyte mentality was that two bands, usually split across a single vinyl pressing, provided the most bang for the buck.

Right in time for Record Store Day, a pair of up and coming Nashville, Tennessee artists, Diarrhea Planet and Those Darlins, split the Live At Pickathon record. For those outside of the Pacific Northwest, Pickathon is a long-running summer music festival based in Happy Valley, Oregon, just outside Portland metro, featuring rock and acoustic artists from all over the country.

The first side belongs to Diarrhea Planet, their first words exhorting the crowd to get ready. Their five song set (or what of a longer set is captured here) thrashes about with a delightful sort of recklessness. The opening track “Spooners” brings out the live to live performance, feeling like a train, out of control. The band gives one of the most energetic performances I’ve ever heard, their medley “Separations/Raft Nasty” a rambling, hardly coherent blast off of bonfire, party rock of extraordinary sort. This recording was my introduction to Diarrhea Planet, and I look forward to more like “Ghost With A Boner” their finale which is as fun as it sounds.

The second side, while raucous, comes across a little tighter. Three piece Those Darlins evokes images of fast cars and fancy hair, drawing on familiar country and western Americana. Their opening track, “Red Light Love” is an absolute ground shaker and when I close my eyes, I can see the dense stand of Douglas firs beyond the stage waving in awe of their powerful, foot stomping sound. This was also my first chance to listen to Those Darlins, and overall I felt their set was a more lucid showcase for the band’s complexities, a sinister sort of brassy female vocal and clean rhythm section.

You can read about Diarrhea Planet at their site, and about Those Darlins on theirs. Want this record, you’ve got to hit your record store on April 18th.