April Album Reviews

Rock Cellar Magazine StaffCategories:Music

Depeche Mode – Delta Machine

This is the blues – Depeche Mode-style – and Gahan, brilliantly channeling Martin L. Gore’s lyrics, no longer wants to be your personal Jesus.  A new Lucifer, he wants to possess you, to “sleep the devil’s sleep” with you, to “make your visions sing.” And by the time that the song starts to build with soaring synthesizer washes, Depeche Mode have made the devil’s music of sexual temptation into a psalm of spiritual redemption.
Indeed, Depeche Mode have soared since 2005’s Playing the Angel – the first in a trilogy of albums (which also includes 2009’s Sounds of the Universe and Delta Machine) produced by Ben Hillier.
Hillier is doing something right,  because he’s fully filled the gap left by Alan Wilder, who left Depeche Mode in 1995. Wilder was the band’s musical foundation – the man who could best execute in the studio the musical ideas that flooded Gore’s head.
Hillier is the new Wilder. When he came on board in 2005 to produce Playing the Angel – the band’s first album after 1997’s mediocre Ultra and 2001’s Exciter –  his presence inspired and revitalized Depeche Mode.  Gahan’s singing lessons began paying off – especially on the high notes of the classic track Precious – and he began to write songs for the band.  Gore, meanwhile, decided to explore his love of analog synthesizers to give the band a more organic sound.
depeche mode new album
The key word here is “organic.” Working in concert with Gore’s synths, Hillier’s production of Delta Machine is spacious – giving both the band and listener breathing room.  This is in stark contrast to the dense production style of Flood, who who used all of the technology at his disposal to produce Depeche Mode’s Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion.
In taking the opposite approach to Flood, Hillier brings Gahan’s voice and Gore’s lyrics and guitar to the forefront.
Throughout the record, Gahan sounds inspired – his voice fluctuating between the clean baritone for which he’s known, and a rough growl. On Angel you hear both:  his vocals are all spit and grunts in the verses, counterpointed by a smooth clarity in the chorus.   On the first single – Heaven – he grabs hold of Gore’s gospel melody and gives the performance that he only wishes he could have given to the gospel-tinged Condemnation back in 1993.  Heaven is pure and simply a vocal showcase, helped greatly by the stripped-down arrangement.
Gore provides the powerhouse backing vocals on Heaven, as he does throughout the record.  When he takes his solo vocal turn on the ballad The Child Inside, his incredible ability as a lyricist shines through.  Classic songs like A Question of Lust, The Things You Said, Sweetest Perfection, and Judas demonstrate that Gore often saves his best lyrics for the songs he sings, and these songs tend to set the theme for the album.
The Child Inside is no different. Gore sings, “Each tear that flows down your face / Trickles then picks up the pace / And turns to a river inside, / A river that will not subside.” Gore reiterates suffering as the source of the blues – whether it comes from the Mississippi Delta or the English Romantic tradition of which he’s a part.
The lyrics of The Child Inside may read like the English poets Keats and Shelley, but Gore plays a more American version of the blues on Slow and Goodbye. The Delta thrives in the blues licks of Slow, in which Gahan sings of the glories of slow sex. But the longing in the vocal reveals vulnerability in the need for the lover to “go as slow as you can go.”
On the album closer Goodbye, Gore offers up another blues riff and a lyric that ties the end of Delta Machine to the beginning.  Hopefully Delta Machine isn’t “goodbye” for Depeche Mode, although the band has already announced that it’s the last album they’ll make with Hillier.
Whatever the future holds, the Depeche Mode-Hillier partnership has worked out wonderfully.  Delta Machine completes a trilogy of records that stands alongside the classic tetralogy of Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, Violator, and Songs of Faith and Devotion as Depeche Mode’s finest work. – P.G.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Specter at the Feast

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Specter at the Feast
One of the most affecting characteristics of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s new album Specter at the Feast is its pacing.
The band’s brand of grizzly, fuzzed-out garage/psychedelic noise rock does show up its fair share of times, but overall this is a rather subdued record. Contextually, that makes sense – a driving theme for this album was the passing of bassist/vocalist Robert Levon Been’s father, Michael, who died in 2010 while working as BRMC’s sound man.
As such, the album has a bit of a cathartic feel to it, mourning Been as both a family member and an integral part of the band’s sound.
Ominous tones lead the way for the opener Fire Walker, before a sleazy bass & drum rhythm kick into gear. It’s a mellow introduction to the band’s seventh LP.
The somber vibes of Fire Walker lead into Been’s tribute to his late father, Let The Day Begin – a cover of a song from Michael Been’s band The Call, given some almost Brit-pop-like shimmery production flourishes.

This is where the pacing comes back into play – rather than front-load the album with energetic “classic” BRMC songs, Returning and Lullaby continue the self-reflection offered up by Fire Walker. Sounding almost hymn-like with its organ and wavy guitars, Returning is especially strong, featuring lines such as part of you is ending/but part of you holds on.
The revved-up rockers show up halfway through the album, Hate the Taste led by a grimy bass line and the line I got a fatal heart/I’m tied to the living/Got a tortured soul/Can’t give it away. Rival amps up the energy even higher, crashing cymbals and thunderous drums pounding along with the snarling riffs and shouted vocals. The angsty, disjointed energy of Teenage Disease elevates it to highlight status as well.
After that three-song burst of energy, things slow back down a bit. The organs and pseudo-hymns come back with Some Kind of Ghost and Sometimes the Light, before heading into the album-capping one-two punch of Sell It (more buzzy guitars) and Lose Yourself (a nearly 9-minute foray into spaced-out garage psychedelia that brings things to an end rather effectively).
Specter at the Feast’s themes and energies are rather mixed, with a particular reliance on sprawling, slow-burning atmospheric numbers rather than BRMC’s classic straight-ahead rock song approach. That results in an album that doesn’t quite flow together seamlessly – instead, the changing tempos, moody passages and musical emotions swirl around at an erratic pace.
Still, there should be enough here to please longtime fans, and it’s always nice to see bands venture out of their comfort zone a bit – just don’t expect this album to sound as amped-up as past records like Baby 81. (Stream the album here). – A.G.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Low The Invisible Way

In 2005 Low took a chance. The Duluth trio abandoned the slowcore sound that they’d pioneered in the 1990s and early 2000s, turned up the distortion on Alan Sparhawk’s guitar, and made The Great Destroyer – their best record to date.
Destroyer put Low at the forefront of American indie rock – showing a band that was growing as artists, a band unafraid of possibly leaving their core audience behind.  Low knew that their tried-and-true slow tempos and reverbed guitars simply wouldn’t work with the harrowing anger of Sparhawk’s lyrics, which dealt with his suicidal depression.
Ever since the Destroyer sessions, which produced the classic song Silver Rider (you may have heard Robert Plant’s stunning version), Low have been on a roll.  2007’s Drums and Guns was just as emotionally cathartic as Destroyer, with the band making its first overtly political record – angrily mourning the war in Iraq.
2011’s C’mon – which the band recorded in a Catholic church-turned-studio in Duluth – saw Low attempting to craft a mellower sound in which to search for answers left in the wake of the chaotic Destroyer and Guns.
The Invisible Way – Low’s new record (and 10th overall) – demonstrates that C’mon didn’t quite satisfy guitarist-singer Sparhawk, drummer-singer Mimi Parker, and bassist Steve Garrington’s longing for inner peace. The band is thankfully as restless as ever – so restless that they brought in Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to produce and shake things up.

Photo by Zoran Orlic

Tweedy – honed on the alternative country sounds of Wilco and his lesser-known but equally important band Uncle Tupelo – makes his presence known from the start.  The album’s opener Plastic Cup starts off with Sparhawk’s country-tinged acoustic guitars and keyboards, joined by the gorgeous vocal harmonies of Sparhawk and Parker.   But a tune that could have been just a pleasant jaunt down country roads benefits from the harsh nastiness of  “Maybe you should write your own damn song.”

This isn’t slowcore as you know it.  It’s something more rare – country slowcore.

Sparhawk’s Mother is not merely a traditional country ode, but rather an introspective tune about time and the finality of death.  Amethyst – one of two epics on the album on which Sparhawk sings lead – showcases his ability to finger and pick his acoustic around the vocals and the dark piano chords, adding a deep emotion to a song about the fears of digging into the mine of the self.
On My Own begins with some light acoustic strumming, and a poppy Sparhawk melody, and then bam! – some unexpected and crazily distorted guitar that could have come from Tony Iommi’s riff bag.  This combination of metal and country is just as innovative as anything that Wilco did on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Tweedy’s tutelage is in evidence.
Parker sings lead on 5 of the 11 songs on The Invisible Way, and she is much more than one of the best harmony singers in rock, evidenced by the powerhouse lead she delivers on To Our Knees.  The ballad Holy Ghost shows Parker showing off a newfound country twang in her vocals, and on Just Make It Stop, she sings one of the best melodies she’s ever written…harmonizing with herself to perfection.
By working the country into Low, Tweedy’s collaboration has produced some of the best music of the band’s career.  The Invisible Way is moving, innovative, and musically complex. As such it stands with The Great Destroyer and 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire as one of their classic albums. – P.G.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Strokes Comedown Machine

After a five year break between 2006’s First Impressions on Earth and their 2011 album Angles, the Strokes didn’t wait around long before releasing Comedown Machine, their new album out this week on RCA Records.
Perhaps feeling especially inspired by the fact that Comedown Machine is the final entry in the band’s 5-album contract signed with RCA (hence the gigantic, maybe sarcastic ‘RCA’ logo on the artwork), the Strokes convened and turned out 11 eclectic new songs that are almost unrecognizable when compared to the tinny garage-rock sound that put them on the map with 2001’s Is This It. Stylistically, it lends more to front man Julian Casablancas’ 2009 solo album Phrazes of the Young more than it does any of the Strokes’ past music.
Opener Tap Out sets the mood appropriately – a thick, 1980s-styled percussive groove and front man Julian Casablancas’ high-pitched delivery is a far cry from the band’s “signature sound”. The band tried songs like this on Angles but Tap Out accomplishes it much more effectively.
Lead single All the Time sounds like familiar Strokes territory, Casablancas’ voice and the guitar tones of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. whipping around with a bouncy melody that makes it the obvious choice for a single.
The weirdness (or ‘branching out’, if that suits your fancy) returns with One Way Trigger, a mash-up of ‘80s video game bloops and Casablancas adopting an offbeat vocal approach until the song’s midway point.
Key tracks on the album include Welcome to Japan (more groove and chippy guitar leads), the energetic 50/50, Slow Animals (another experimental foray into smooth indie/pop), and Partners in Crime.

The Strokes

Watch the ‘All the Time’ video by clicking the image above.

The songs that miss the mark include the appropriately-titled 80s Comedown Machine and Chances, the latter muddled with its New Wave-like atmospherics and Casablancas donning an extremely high-pitched vocal approach. It barely sounds like the Strokes at all – representative of Comedown Machine’s steadfast desire to go totally against the proverbial grain.
The album closes out with Happy Ending (flashy, cascading guitar plucks and super-slick percussion) and the irreverent Call It Fate, Call It Karma – a tune that sounds like what would happen if the Strokes were asked to pen a tune for the lobby of an upscale luxury hotel. It’s a high-class send-off to the record.
With Comedown Machine, the Strokes defy the odds once again, refusing to return to their “glory days” and release an album of Last Nite, Reptilia and Hard to Explain rehashes. Rather, this album is varied, eclectic, and challenging, all things the band seems to have tried hard to achieve with these 11 songs.
If this album signifies the band’s final chapter, which very well may be the case, it’s a pretty poignant, defiant way to go out. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens, won’t we? – A.G.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Wire Change Becomes Us

It was all there from day one.  It was in the ominous groove, paranoia-inflected vocals, and apocalyptic lyrics of Reuters – the first track on Wire’s classic first album, 1977’s Pink Flag.
It was in the singular combination of intelligence and body-moving rhythms. It was in the sheer inventiveness of a song written from the perspective of a news correspondent reporting incipient destruction to (seemingly) all of civilization.
With Reuters, the rest of Pink Flag, and their 12 other studio albums, the English rock band Wire has been so passionate, so innovative, that their songs are inimitable.  They’ve accomplished what most bands can only dream of – creating a solid catalogue of music that no other band could have written or performed.
Their foundational trilogy of albums from the late-1970s – Pink Flag, Chairs Missing (1978), and 154 (1979) made punk music danceable, synthesizers prominent, and influenced bands from The Cure to Radiohead, R.E.M. to My Bloody Valentine.
Wire’s new record, Change Becomes Us is based on songs that they performed live in 1979 and 1980: singer/songwriter/guitarist/Colin Newman describes the material as existing “as quickly prepared sketches for one-off performance.”  Indeed, the very reason that Change Becomes Us jumps out of the speakers with such powerful exuberance may be due to the fact that Wire originally had only intended to perform these songs in a live setting.
Wire live London Newman Lewis
Energy simply flows from the very first cut – Doubles & Trebles.  Newman’s innovative chord progression combines dark synths and an exciting arrangement to create a sense of ominousness and danger – perfect for delivering bassist Graham Lewis’ tale of a restless “ally in exile,” whose cover has been blown.
Something is new here – and it has to do with the title of the album and the album’s thematic consistency.  Change just doesn’t become Wire (or us) as an experimental rock group; it also becomes “us” as a people whose world has become more and more dangerous.  This political danger originates in our unwillingness to change our personal lives for the better, and to accept the inevitability of change.
The narrator of Keep Exhaling, unaware of the possibility of change says, “I don’t feel much / I don’t feel at all” – exposing the hollowness of a static existence in which his breathing is the only indication that he’s alive.
Time and the inevitability of death are other processes of change that paralyze human beings:  B/W Silence begins with a narrator announcing that he’s “Mourning the passing / Of a moment / In black and white silence.”  The dynamic Adore Your Island stares into the face of death, as does the punky Stealth of a Stork – which ponders a man who forgets that nothing is immortal, and who is “bound to forget change.”
Re-Invent Your Second Wheel ultimately takes an optimistic turn, as the narrator offers up himself as a person to whom the lover can express her true self.   Accompanied by some beautiful Newman guitar work, the lyrics address a potential lover: “Your past is cloaked in mystery / A book without a history / Your guard is up / You’re masking clues.”
As Change Becomes Us enters its second side, the atmospheric Time Lock Fog, the rocking Love Bends, and the gorgeous & Much Besides explore change as a very real prospect.  Second Wheel, Fog advises us to face our fears, and to discover the place where faith was lost.  Love Bends announces that “Love bends the rules / Making good out of bad / Opens your eyes / Helping you understand.
And finally, & Much Besides gives the thesis of the album, with Newman’s spoken-word monologue looking to a future “where bringing a culture of new beginnings . . . must surely be the desired result.” He then emphatically concludes “But change becomes us all in time / The course is set.
Wire’s most philosophically consistent album, Change Becomes Us is also one of their best. It’s deserving of the highest compliment imaginable: it lives up to the high standards that Wire set for themselves when they first entered Advision Studios in 1977 to record Pink Flag. – P.G.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience

Justin Timberlake has been out of the music game for 7 years – a near eternity considering his last album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, was released before the first iPhone, Taylor Swift’s debut album, and we’re pretty sure Justin Bieber had just been born.
He’s managed to stay in the spotlight through his acting, five critically-acclaimed hosting stints on Saturday Night Live, and other business ventures (including his own tequila, interior design company, and becoming the Creative Director of the “new” Myspace).
Yet Timberlake’s newest album, The 20/20 Experience, is this year’s (decade’s?) most hotly anticipated release.  He certainly has a lot to prove – especially his ability to remain musically relevant.
Well, the good news is The 20/20 Experience isn’t some throwaway pop piece like most records on the Top 40 chart today.  It’s just that: an experience, (however self-indulgent) that solidifies Timberlake’s standing as an artist above almost every other male pop-star out there.
The Experience starts off with Pusher Lover Girl, a drugged-up ode with an old-Hollywood opening and big band sound, properly setting the tone for the rest of the album.  It then swings through Suit & Tie – the album’s lead single – to Don’t Hold the Wall, certainly one of the most unexpected sections of the album.
Beginning with a do-wop vocal harmony, producer Timbaland drops into hard-hitting tribal drums and oozing chants that are reminiscent of Timbaland’s own Bombay from his 2008 album Shock Value.  Though Timbaland may outshine Timberlake on the first half, the production takes a darker, near electronic turn that manages to tell a story worth the 7-minute track.
The follow up, Strawberry Bubblegum, cools off in a mellow slow-down, complete with sexual-innuendo laden lyrics (“I’ll love you ‘till I make you pop!”).  Timberlake feels at home on this r&b track, crooning his Marvin Gaye-styled voice over a smooth jazz soundscape.
Tunnel Vision delves into FutureSex territory, complete with Timbaland’s background vocals and Timberlake’s obligatory beatboxing.  Though the track may not be able to sustain the seven minutes it runs, it’s beats continue to build and rearrange themselves that make it worth a re-listen.
Spaceship Coupe takes a silly turn lyrically (“Hop into my spaceship coupe…we’ll cruise around, land and make love on the moon”), as well as production-wise, with its alien love noises in the background throughout the second half of the track.  Though the song’s highlight is a guitar solo by Elliot Ives, the track leaves a bit to be desired from producers as strong as this duo.
The album comes back from its futuristic detour with That Girl, another high for the album. The retro sound with a booming horns section remind us of Amy Winehouse, perfectly complementing Justin’s vocals on the album’s shortest track.  Unfortunately one of the best songs on the album is followed by the weakest – Let the Groove Get In – a Gloria-Estefan-meets-Michael-Jackson track that repeats the same chant throughout the merciless 7-minute run.
Mirrors, the album’s second single, harks back to JT’s boy-band roots, as he sings with a chorus of himself on the album’s most emotionally naked song.  Mirrors is certainly one of the stronger tracks, mixing Coldplay, ’80s hair band guitar, and signature Timbaland beats.  The album ends on a high note with Blue Ocean Floor – a peaceful track with stretched-out melodies and underwater sounds that showcases Timberlake’s vocal ability.  The melancholic Thom Yorke tone makes Ocean Floor the most distinguished track on the album, while bringing the album to a proper, and well tied-together close.
Though 20/20 Experience lacks the immediate storming hits like Cry Me a River or My Love, the production sets itself far away from what’s on the radio today.  Exploring big band, r&b, soul, worldbeat, and even atmospheric territories, 20/20 is also distinctly Justin, providing reminders of why his first two solo albums set such a high standard.
It is a more mature sound, certainly reflecting a more mature artist who has come a long way since FutureSex/LoveSounds in 2006.  The 20/20 Experience was released on March 19th, and is available in the Rock Cellar store. – R.N.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Various Artists The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver

You came on my pillow” – so sings Eric Idle, right before he’s strangled to death on Farewell to John Denver, a track on Monty Python’s 1980 Contractual Obligation Album. But Denver didn’t like the fact that the Pythons changed the lyrics to Annie’s Song for a raunchy skit, and the comedy troupe had to omit the track from all future pressings of their LP.
Denver’s beef with the Pythons says a lot about the man’s sincere and earnest songwriting. But, more importantly, it says something about his cool factor.
When Denver was at the height of his powers in the 1970s, he performed an embarrassing cover of Good Vibrations with Karen Carpenter, recorded a Christmas album with the Muppets, and filmed a campy movie in which George Burns actually played God.  JD was known for his huge glasses, even huger bangs, and for saying, “Far out!” He was – for many hipsters – the epitome of everything that was uncool about music.
So what happens when a set of today’s hipsters join forces to make a tribute record to John Denver?
You get The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver, which features My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews, J Mascis and Sharon Van Etten, Lucinda Williams, Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris, Josh Ritter, and others. You get a host of well-respected musicians and songwriters reintroducing you to a handful Denver’s greatest hits and lesser-known tunes as well.

The argument here is that Denver’s songs are phenomenal, almost in spite of his 1970s’ image of being popular music’s biggest square.

Most of the hits are here, including the song that the Pythons parodied. Brett Dennen and Milow cover Annie’s Song and sing it as a duet. The transformation of the song into a dialogue between lovers adds a new dimension of intimacy to the song that isn’t present in Denver’s original version.
One of music’s greatest singer-songwriters – Lucinda Williams – brings the country to Denver’s tune, This Old Guitar.  Backed with a weeping steel guitar, her gin-soaked voice sounds tired and experienced, convincing you that she and her instrument have been through a lot of almost unendurable times together.  Denver’s original is more about the guitar; Lucinda’s version is more about herself.
To be certain, there are a few Rocky Mountain lows on this tribute album.  The usually-adventurous My Morning Jacket do a surprisingly too-faithful version of Leaving on a Jet Plane that offers nothing new.  Same with Evan Dando’s take on Looking for Space, despite the addition of grunge guitars.  In the hands of the pop band Train, Sunshine on My Shoulders,  not surprisingly, suffers a similar unimaginative fate.
But Allen Stone’s stunning singing and guitar playing on Rocky Mountain High present the song as a work of poetic wonder – something that Denver didn’t quite accomplish in his more upbeat original.  And Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris utterly nail Take Me Home, Country Roads.  The acoustic guitars and Carlile’s vocals are as rough and ready as the West Virginia of which she and Harris sing in this stripped-down version.  Denver brings the joy to this track; Brandi and Emmylou bring the grit.
Leave it to Dave Matthews to find the more obscure songs from Denver’s back pages. He sings Take Me to Tomorrow (from Denver’s 1970 LP of the same title) in his inimitable fashion, taking the melody to new heights full of bright optimism.

J Mascis teams with Sharon Van Etten on the John Denver Tribute album "The Music is You."

J Mascis teams with Sharon Van Etten on the John Denver Tribute album “The Music is You.”

Indie faves J Mascis and Sharon Van Etten’s duet provides the most satisfying cover of a rather obscure track.  Their take on Prisoners (from Denver’s 1972 Rocky Mountain High album) features Mascis’ always-innovative guitar playing and infuses the Denver track with enough raw power to convince you that maybe – just maybe? – Denver could have been in Dinosaur Jr.
Josh Ritter and Barnstar! contribute a dynamic cover of the traditional Darcy Farrow (which Denver didn’t write but recorded for Rocky Mountain High) that contains some wonderfully bright vocal, fiddle, and banjo work.  Edwin Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros bring a driving momentum to the lyrically-biting Wooden Indian (1:38 on 1971’s Poems, Prayers & Promises LP), stretching out the original with choruses of vocals and horn-filled instrumental passages.
The artists who appear on The Music Is You have accomplished their mission.  The performances bring new coloring to Denver’s tunes, and, in some instances, help discover fresh lyrical interpretations.  Most importantly, they claim Denver as one of their own – a great songwriter.
Complete Track Listing for John Denver: The Music Is You
1. My Morning Jacket – Leaving on a Jet Plane
2. Dave Matthews – Take Me to Tomorrow
3. Kathleen Edwards – All of My Memories
4. J. Mascis & Sharon Van Etten – Prisoners
5. Train – Sunshine on My Shoulders
6. Old Crow Medicine Show – Back Home Again
7. Lucinda Williams – This Old Guitar
8. Amos Lee – Some Days Are Diamonds
9. Allen Stone – Rocky Mountain High
10. Brett Dennen and Milow – Annie’s Song
11. Evan Dando – Looking for Space
12. Emmylou Harris & Brandi Carlile – Take Me Home, Country Roads
13. Blind Pilot – The Eagle and the Hawk
14. Mary Chapin Carpenter – I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado
15. Josh Ritter and Barnstar! – Darcy Farrow
16. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Wooden Indian

Rating: 4 out of 5

– P.G.

Mudhoney Vanishing Point

The whole ‘grunge’ music scene wouldn’t have happened if not for the snarling, supremely confident swagger of Mudhoney, the Seattle-based band that inspired countless angsty young Pacific Northwestern musicians in the 1980s.
The band has been chugging along for nearly 30 years, and their new album, Vanishing Point, is one hell of a statement from vocalist Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters and bassist Guy Maddison. 
Vanishing Point is the band’s ninth album, and first in five years (since 2008’s The Lucky Ones), and the band sounds as strong as ever. The confidence shines on opener Slipping Away, its snappy drum sound setting the tone before Maddison’s bass and Turner’s guitars wake up. By the time Arm’s unmistakable voice kicks in, the song has evolved into a focused, hard-charging garage rock jam.
mudhoney promo (300 x 200)
Overall, Vanishing Point effectively showcases Mudhoney’s best attributes – pissed-off lyrics (see I Don’t Remember You, in which Arm details a frustrating encounter with someone from his past at the grocery store), defiant self-worth (I Like It Small – “I’ve got big enough balls to admit that I like it small”) quirky groove-laden songs putting Arm’s deliberate vocal delivery at the forefront (What To Do with the Neutral and The Final Course), attitude (I Like It Small, led by a great lead riff from Turner), and more pissed-off goofiness (the punked-out Chardonnay, in which Arm tells “the drink that launched a thousand strippers” to “get the hell out of my backstage”).
There really isn’t a dull moment on this record. The Only Son of the Widow from Nain blasts ahead with a fuzzed-out but precise riff befitting a song written from the perspective of the son raised by Jesus Christ in the Book of Luke (there’s a random reference, huh?).  

The album ends with the Sing This Song of Joy, which may be one of the strongest songs here, and the rousing finale Douchebags on Parade, which finds Arm snarling the phrase over and over, set to a defiant, bitter cacophony of guitars and drums. It’s quite a send-off.
If you haven’t gotten the hint yet, Vanishing Point is excellent, and is easily one of the most consistently enjoyable albums from Mudhoney through their course of their iconic career. The best characteristics of their music – Arm’s lyrical wit and engaging voice and the band’s accomplished brand of grunge-y blues-rock sound has rarely sounded this formidable.
Go grab it from our Online Store (once it’s available) at this link – they’ve been doing this for far too long to not have earned your attention. – A.G.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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