Written by: Dave Cantrell
When faced with the prospect of what to do when you find yourself in the cathedral city of Chichester, West Sussex once night falls, the options are not many. What Adam and his mate Leigh did was what any of us would do, they headed downtown for a promising club night they’d heard about. Hosting the event was an agreeable sort named Stu and soon enough, inevitably perhaps, the three were bonding over their love of krautrock, Television, Pavement, Mclusky, even Abe Vigoda and, there still being those other six nights of the week to fill, thought it a good idea to begin gathering on one of them to bang together some noise and here we are two years down the road and we’ve got TRAAMS’ debut LP Grin as the happy result, released in the US September 24th on FatCat Records.
No time is wasted in asking us to help celebrate those above-enumerated influences with them, either, as “Swimming Pool” sounds every bit like a young band, um, swimming backwards through the skewed aggressive (and fringier) indie rock of the early-to-mid 90’s (Steel Pole Bathtub comes to mind) toward a post-punk fever dream of what a Sussex-bred band aiming its missiles at the autobahn would sound like. “Flowers” is the track where all the cylinders are firing to their fullest potential, a three-minute strop that out-Franzes Ferdinand with disconcerting ease, swiveling guitar, stiff little fingered bass and vocals like an eager 15-year-old David Thomas. There is, however, an ever ready supply of sharp-suited, punky gems here that put TRAAMS in a league with Parquet Courts (they’ll remind a bit, enough to attach a solid ‘RIYL’ to this review). “Reds” is utter mayhem somehow tightly coiled, “Hands” rather hypnotizes with an insistent tribal rhythm and is likely the most hook-fashioned of the lot though that’s an unfairly tough call, while the title track, with its perverted casbah beat, unveils, in the snaky drone of its guitar and its intense, dragging persistence, the lads’ now-paid debt to Television that was heretofore hidden.
Not sure how close TRAAMS get to Düsseldorf but they do end their debut with a 7+ minute track called “Klaus” that has a throbbing motorway feel to it so let’s give benefit of doubt and say they’re at least half way there – 83%
Pressure, released in August on the unimpeachable Guilt Ridden Pop, is the sophomore outing from Minneapolis-based Kitten Forever, three young women – Liz Elton, Corrie Harrigan, and Laura Larson – who were apparently born in a fearsome pop-punk hurricane. Exhibiting all the de rigueur tropes that description should have triggered – snappy punchy basslines, tireless drumming that explodes behind the sound with a smashing precision, brash, exclamatory vocals just this side of shouty – the album is also a tad impatient, classically so, in fact, thirteen tracks ducking in under just 23 minutes. At that rate there isn’t a second to waste and indeed the band are mercilessly proficient.
Winking Beastie Girl opener “Get Loud” (“yeah, you know you wanna” goes the refrain) claps out at 42 seconds while peristaltic stomper “Black Ice” earns opus honors by stretching all the way to 2:19 but that’s perhaps because thematically it’s in complicated territory, a skeptical but willing romantic warning the object of her affection that “you’re too nice.”
What there’s no shortage of here, of course, is attitude, as they spit and pounce and claw their way through issues of body awareness (“Little Beasts”), bullshit scenester coolness (“Rat Queen”), shallowness and exploitation (“Famous Friends”), being women in the still male-dominated rock game (“Dirt Nap”), or, what the hell, just a good time night out even if you are by yourself (“Double Disco”). Distilled by the brutal compactness of the album’s length and pressure-treated (ha!) by the unrelenting, immaculate thrash, the sentiments sung here can’t help but sting, can’t help but agitate, can’t help but get all up in your grill at times. No question that Kitten Forever, being so nakedly declarative, have a righteous streak in their sound suggesting all manners of banner-waving, middle finger-raising, pride, toughness, vulnerability, snarling love, intemperate longing, all those things, just like it oughta be, we wouldn’t have it any other way. File this one, then, under ‘In the finest punk tradition’ – 77%
Neko Case is touring right now with the Atlantan force of nature Kelly Hogan singing by her side. It’s a great show, no doubt, but if they want to keep the audience’s attention focused on them and not the support act they better not let Those Darlins open. The comparison is germane, pure spirit rock ‘n’ roll bands (after all is said and done), fronted by strong women (in Those Darlins’ case, Jessi Zazu and Nikki Kvarnes) that trade in an Americana indebted to classic rock traditions that often explores – or at least never shies away from – bawdy innuendo and bodily desire. And though Neko and her boy- and girlfriends may be the odds-on favorite in this (very) particular genre (the Heartless Bastards always making the race interesting), now, with the rather suddenly career-defining Blur The Line, just released a week ago on Oh Wow Dang, Those Darlins just might be the better wager.
After the sincere if underwhelming charm of their debut in 2009 – the honky tonk a bit too tame, the pronounced inflections overfried – 2011’s Screws Get Loose kicked up the promise – and the rawk – several notches and the rare prescient among us might have foretold the fortunes to come based on that album’s wider dynamics and the confidence behind them, but for most everybody else it would’ve been seen as inadvisably wild conjecture to anticipate a third record this damn wicked good.
Even as it’s as consistently infused as ever by the flavors of their native Nashville (though, yes, Murfreesboro originally), Blur The Line trawls the megahertz, wandering through a varied landscape of tempos, styles, points of view. The diversity alone is enough to capture the curious but it’s the plumbed depth inside these songs, wherever they come from and wherever they go, that will capture hearts.
Every track is damn near a standout, and from the start, as “Oh God”‘s extended ‘Down By The River’ guitar break adds further dimension to a countrified, regret-filled confessional that pulls Southern Gothic out on to the sawdust dancefloor. “In The Wilderness” next invests itself in that expected honky tonk except it’s of the type that riffingly confirms Zazu and Kvarnes as bona fide honky tonk women. The rocked out “Optimist” sports an almost power-pop panache, its singalong energy irresistible, while producer Roger Moutenot brings some of that YLT stardust to “Can’t Drive,” as it and the indie-driven, supple “Baby Mae” could both vie for spots on the college charts (they still have those?) alongside Kurt Vile and Bon Iver.
One could go on, but other than the aptly named “Too Slow,” which is also too long to be so short on ideas and spark, it would just be a shower of superlatives in the long-withered land of country rock. Drought’s over, folks, drink up – 86%
– Dave Cantrell