MUSIC BLUES: Things Haven’t Gone Well

HARVEY MILK SOLO MAKES MUSIC FOR BREAKDOWNS

An absolute hulk of a slow-chord surge opens the album in short but wildly heroic style. 91771 is slow enough to be doom but nowhere near sombre enough as it pulls you into the euphorically funereal, if that makes any sense. Drone and sustain pumps your veins with noisy nutrients. Feels good.

This is Music Blues, the solo project of Stephen Tanner, Harvey Milk bassist. 2014’s Things Haven’t Gone Well is his first, and so far only, solo record.

Shame. Things Haven’t Gone Well belongs in anyone’s sludge-noise collection, down at the squalid end where the fuck-ups and failures hang out, and Tanner trades on two strands of guitar-driven dronedoom: one is total pessimism, the kind that beats you down with airless oppression. The other is total pessimism piss-streaked with rock-ist uplift, like 91771 (Tanner’s birth date), and it’s those rock-acknowledging downers that make the record work, though you gotta be patient. Aside from those, a couple of short clips from the Tom Waits School of Freak keep the album broken and fragmented. There are no vocals.

Things Haven’t Gone Well … no shit

The autobiographical PREMATURE CAESAREAN REMOVAL DELIVERY follows straight on from 91771’s colossal awe, but the euphoric touch has evaporated to leave skeletal chords slamming. HOPELESSNESS AND WORTHLESSNESS and FAILURE’s Sunn O))) stylings lift the mood not one bit, and wedged between them is TRYING AND GIVING UP. Get through the defeated first drag and you’ll hear a guitar morph from death-slow one-chord reps to a rough-as-fuck blues lick drowning in diesel dregs. It’s the slowest, grimiest 12-bar you’ve never heard. ZZ Top on a dying battery.

Seven tracks in, you might feel there’s not much to grab hold of. You’d be right. 91771 and a mutant Texan blues tip is scant return.

But IT’S NOT GOING TO GET BETTER is where it picks up (relatively) after the ghostly DEATH MARCH interlude. Here we get guitar breaks and a real human touch instead of blackout basement isolation. Thick, sludgy beauty with light. It crushes, but it’s the crush of a communal gig pile-on.

Then the big one: TREMENDOUS MISERY SETS IN. Tremendous misery – nice. TMSI is final proof that, even on an album as depressed and damaged as this one seems, Stephen Tanner has a Propensity to Rock Out and here his Harvey Milk spilleth over in that Corrosion of Conformity-channelling-Thin Lizzy way, but inebriated, messy and mournful. ’tis majesty on a slow repeat. Then THE PRICE IS WRONG conquers all with a massive Rock ending, completing the album’s transformation from No Hope to Slight Hope.

The closing BONUS TRACK just has to be a Van Halen tribute – not Massive Hits Halen but Weirdo Least Halen, aka Sunday Afternoon in the Park from their toughest (best?) Fair Warning album.

Which means we’ve got a noise rock record that ploughs mental breakdown and dark autobiography, touches on ZZ Top and CSNY (Teach the Children) and ends with a Van Halen freakball …

… sounds about right. Things Haven’t Gone Well comes across as a journey through grief – it nails the slow, draining, disorienting feeling and physicality that grief brings, yet it’s distracted and sketchy too. Music Blues might be depression as expression, but in the end Tanner can’t restrain his need for primal oversized riffs. You can’t keep that down.

Things Haven’t Gone Well (2014, Thrill Jockey Records)
91771
Premature Caesarean Removal Delivery
Teach the Children
Hopelessness and Worthlessness
Trying and Giving Up
Great Depression
Failure
Death March
It’s Not Going to Get Better
Tremendous Misery Sets In
The Price is Wrong
Bonus Track

PLANT CARRIES FIRE

AUGUST REWIND: SPACESHIFTERS RETURN, A LOMBARDO-PATTON BEATDOWN, AND STETSO-SONIC METAL

ANY TIME NOW, said the robertplant.com homepage, May 2017.

Is it a Zep reunion? said the rock press, minutes later.

ffkkk?!?!?nnnrrrrrrrr…..

Talk about trying too hard to make something out of something else. NEVER GONNA HAPPEN, never was, let it be, make a note of the title of Zep II’s track two and apply it to pretty much any thought of a Zeppelin get-together. Robert Plant makes music – new music. Even when it’s a covers project, it’s fired by something new… band, genre, location, whatever, and the Zep stuff onstage is reworked with an earthly mystery. He follows the muse, man. Wanderlusting, collaborating, surrendering to music’s call, and now we learn there’s a new album – Carry Fire – on the way in October. Cannot wait (despite being priced out of the Bristol gig). Lead-off track The May Queen has a Bron-yr shuffle atop spaceshifter beats, echoing the ceaseless roar. What a voice.

Dead Cross

When Mike Patton guest presented Henry Rollins’s KCRW radio show the other week, of course they talked about Dead Cross. Patton said that when he got the call to ask if he wanted to sing, he had to think about it. Did he want to do a hardcore record? Could he do a hardcore record, pushing 50?

Check Seizure and Desist and get your answer: yes and yes. Hardcore to the power 11, short songs packed with structure, a proper singer doing screams with range AND Dave Lombardo pushing disbelief on our ears yet again. Dead Cross do not hold back. It’sDillinger Escape Plan manic – fitting, given Patton’s involvement – but thicker, fatter, heavier, and a lot of that’s gotta be the sticks. Lombardo Mindblow just has to be heard to be believed (Obedience School, Grave Slave), so whatever doubts Patton had about giving/taking a battering with Dead Cross, Lombardo must have had them as well. Or no? Anyway, get your h-core mojo strapped back on with 27-and-a-half minutes of no-WAAAAAY on Ipecac, and take a splintered pew at the Church of the Motherfuckers.

EX EYE

New track/new exposure of the month – Xenolith; The Anvil by EX EYE. Surging high-drama heavy prog instrumental, it’s ripe for Motorpsycho/Heliocentrics/Steven Wilson dabblers, perhaps not surprising when you find that EX EYE are Colin Stetson’s band. And the fact that they’re on Relapse Records tells you they’re not pissing about. Apocalyptic sax metal has landed.

Helpless

In the name of passing things on, the lovely Holy Roar record label sent out a link to a new video by Helpless – so here’s Sinkhole for you lot as well. It’s only a minute, it’s not polite. Dare you?

BACKTRACKS

Most of the time we’re not listening to new stuff, so what about those nuggets and deeper cuts that burrow down the e-hole from the many other albums we’ve got on a loop? Here are a couple that have wormed in this past month – see if they do the same for you.

Prince: Ain’t About 2 Stop

“If life is a B-side, my dream is the A” – throbbing right-now production on this HITnRUN Phase One hard hitter: groping cyborg beats, dense-dense-dense, and a semi solo as only Prince can do … you won’t find it on y’tube, though. Sorry.

Harvey Milk: Goodbye Blues

Non-immediate gratification. The anti-now, the slowest burn, the non-instant. They make you wait, this lot, bellowing like a beast in death throes, but you KNOW it’s worth it. Propping up the back end of Life….the Best Game in Town, Goodbye Blues slows your mind before bursting it with a Manic Depression-style triple-time pick-up, and a punishingly heroic solo to end.

Queens of the Stone Age: Suture up your Future

With Villains emerging, there’s been plenty of reason to seek out some Queens previous, and this light-footed swinger from Era Vulgaris is addictive. Sea-drifting melancholy and hazy shimmer, ending in chaos. The sound of life being let go? Maybe the words tell all. What do you think?

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

A pessimistic best-of-2014

REWIND DECEMBER: DC revivals, a cellar-bound phoenix and the heaviest music blues … things haven’t gone well

Festive greets and merry new years to anyone casting an eye over this page, even if you’ve got here by mistake. What tunes are you spinning over the hols? I don’t know about you but this time of year always brings about a change in listening choices over here. Plenty of storyteller stuff – Bob Dylan, Mark Lanegan, Tom Waits, Nick Cave – piling up alongside some warming Americana, cooling Icelandic/Scandi moods like Bjork and Cult of Luna, and an unhealthy dose of classic rock/metal by the bands we (I) grew up listening to, aka the DNA years.

And now that there’s an album called Rock or Bust grabbing a few acres of coverage in the music press, it’s AC/DC that are top-of-mind in the old band stakes. When was the last time you played For Those About to Rock end-to-end? Can’t remember? Then here’s what to do: crack open that blackengold gatefold, stand in front of the speakers and let its ten-track purity fire you back to simpler times. Sure, there are a couple of fillers, but with such stellar fare as Evil Walks, COD, Inject the Venom and Spellbound pressed into the wax, not to mention the triple A-grade quality of THAT title track, you’ve got a dead cert for a winter/Christmas playlist. Snowballed is even more of a seasonal bonus.

Before nominating a best-of-2014, what else has been going on?

Crippled Black Phoenix were in Oxford at the Cellar this month for a gig that was, sadly, a mite under-attended … by the band. To quote Commander Justin Greaves on this, the eve of a European tour:

‘You might have noticed we’re a couple short. The guitarist and bass player didn’t show up to rehearsals, they’re not here so … we’re gonna have to mix it up a bit. No guitar solos tonight. Well, not many.’ He introduces Arthur (?) on bass, who’s had to learn the songs in an afternoon.

Does it ruin the mood? Nah. I mean yeah, the solos are a soaring highlight when the Phoenix are in full flight (as they were at the Wheatsheaf a couple of years back) but, even without them, CBP’s modus operandi – expansive jams, Meddle-esque Floyd, Isis weight – is impossible to resist and a damn good show. Let’s hope they get everything resolved.

Right then. Best of 2014. It’s top 50 end-of-year mania in the real press, but we’re gonna cut that down by, I dunno, 47 or so, and mention a couple of highlights.

Earth: Primitive and Deadly. Mentioned this briefly <a title="REWIND<in the last Rewind so no need to witter further here. Immerse yourself.

Robert Plant and the Sensational Spaceshifters: Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar. The Spaceshifters’ time is now, as anyone who saw their Glastonbury or Glastonbury Abbey or BBC Maida Vale gigs knows – they’re in the zone and having a ball with their kaleidoscopic tapestry of the trad, the tripped and the trance via north Africa, north America, desert blues and, of course, Plant’s own sprawling roots and thirst for musical adventure. With a truly global spirit at work, they’ve grabbed Mighty Rearranger’s cross-culture essence and given it some serious float. Having read how the band put this record together, I bet there are hours of outtakes, loops, offcuts and jams that would be mindblowing … what do you reckon? Multi-disc Lullaby Sessions for 2015? We can but wish.

Time for our last 2014 highlight in this festive break.

Did someone say ‘season of good cheer’?

Hardly. Not with an album called Things Haven’t Gone Well. Not with track titles like Failure, It’s Not Going to Get Better, Hopelessness and Worthlessness, and everybody’s favourite Christmas knees-up, Tremendous Misery Sets In.

Welcome to Music Blues, the 2014 solo project by Harvey Milk’s Stephen Tanner.

Is he taking the piss with all that? Probably not. The album was written during times of personal crises and depression, but despite the none-more-bleak titles and the squalid cover art, there’s triumph and – dare we say – optimism in the widescreen wrecking-ball slams metered out by Tanner’s Harvey-heavy slo-mo instrumental surges. If the hugeness of Boris (the massive bonus track on Smile, say) and Melvins (Lysol) has you grinning with jaw-dropped loonacy, Music Blues will surely do the same.

Of course, there are bags of albums missed this year but so what? Can’t catch ’em all, there’s always next year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!