This week’s Rock-a-Ramas were written by Fred Pessaro, Zachary Lipez, Grace Scott, Dave Carnie, Maria Sherman, and Joe Sicilio.
Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive
Before the White Stripes got huge and I gave up, my old band played second out of four bands, opening for them at some small club. Jack White took a long moment during his set to thank every band that played—but us. I can trace a lifetime of bitter grievance from that moment on. Now, finally, after all these years, Jack White’s comeuppance is at hand...
Ah, fuck. Actually the new album is pretty good. Entering Heaven Alive. Damnit.
It still hurt my feelings though.—Z.L.
Phantasia, Ghost Stories
Did you see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? You know how there was one album that united the world into perfect harmony, eliminating wars and creating a guitar-based utopia? That wasn’t fiction, it was a prophecy, and it was fulfilled by Phantasia’s Ghost Stories. One listen to this album and I immediately decided that the Beatles were shit, all other music was null and void, and that entertainment as a whole would never be the same. In fact, I gave up on sex, film, basketball, smoked meats, hazelnut gelato, even writing. This is my last communiqué. Thanks for the memories! (Our editor Grace is one of the brains behind this album.)—F.P.
Imperial Triumphant, Spirit of Ecstasy
These guys play “metal” and dress like the fucking Statue of Liberty. Newsflash, Ayn Rand never listened to Master of Puppets, let alone In the Nightside Eclipse. This is peak graphic designer metal—complete with Berklee circle jerk noodling and exploding with what could only be described as anti-riffs (riffs that somehow negate the existence of Trey Azagoth). Take a wild guess at what I think of this record.—J.S.
Beach Bunny, Emotional Creature
Look, you’re either going to hear Letters to Cleo, Velocity Girl, and, like, Snail Mail in Beach Bunny’s perfectly sunshine-y indie pop rock, or you’re going to hear early-00s Disney pretween pop a la Aly and AJ and Demi Lovato’s bangs-and-Chuck-Taylors days, where the height of junior high delinquency was scribbling an anarchy “A” on your shoes and removing your purity ring. I suppose it’s based on your outlook. (True heads would hear and appreciate both, but don’t take my word for it, trust Bob Odenkirk, who adores this band maybe more than I do. Just kidding. But his co-sign seems to mean a lot to men-people, so there you go. Throwing y’all a bone! It’s hard out here for dudes.)—M.S.
Dawes, Misadventures Of Doomscroller
Speaking of dudes, Dawes has a new record out. Honestly, I could get behind the instrumentation; this shit is catchy. A little bit Shakedown Street and a little bit ’80s adult pop, especially in lyrics feature a particular backwards-gazing cynicism you only really start to hone in your late 30’s. That being said, in 1983 Bruce Cockburn was singing about how he wanted to launch a rocket at Guatemala's dictator, now everyone just sings about being bummed.—G.S.
Cuco, Fantasy Gateway
Are you allowed to write about Cuco if you’ve never lived in California? “Aura” is kinda tight, if you wanna pretend to be a person who isn’t constantly crippled by anxiety for three minutes. You know, the New York way.—M.S.
Karl Sanders, Saurian Apocalypse
This dude was in NILE, bro. One of the singles from this record is called “Skull Fuck Ritual,” but this sounds a lot more like he’s trying to summon a snake out of a basket than he is trying summon an undead pharoah’s army. Where are the big daddy dump truck riffs that he did on Annihilation of the Wicked or Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka?—F.P.
Voxtrot, Cut From the Stone: Rarities & B-Sides
Tracks on tracks. If you like the Smiths but aren’t a member of the Animal Liberation Front or somehow aren’t tired of he-who-will-not-be-named’s extreme holier-than-thou rhetoric, then dive into this lush, sunny collection of excellent twee songwriting that eliminates all that emotional and political baggage. The word indiepop is cringeworthy at this point in time, but if everyone sounded even remotely like Voxtrot—in this case the band’s B-team material, which still owns—it wouldn’t be.—F.P.
Ty Segall, “Hello, Hi”
It can’t be easy being one of the survivors of the Flaxen Haired Troubadour Wars of the 2010s. Ariel Pink couldn’t make it past 2016 without finally making an entire personality of his circus music. Bon Iver’s been reduced to renting himself out to his social betters just to maintain his four star GPA at Rolling Stone University. Kurt Vile (who’s more flaxen-souled than haired, but we’re all essentialists over here) made it through okay I guess, but the rest of War On Drugs have leaned so far into The Living Years-esque profundity/dross that Vile’s been forced to change his phone number, like Neil Young did after American Dream, on the off chance that having an embarrassingly old soul might be catching.
As for Ty Segal, whose languid/bittersweet way around a melody, lite-psych (in the best, actually catchy, sense), and skill at making garage crunch feel like an overcast but still-warm spring day, always made him the most flaxen of them all? “Hello, Hi,” Segall’s 563rd album, is arguably his best. Breathy Bolanisms ride high over the expected-but-still-welcome Summer of Love/This Ain’t the Summer of Love riffology, with the added pleasure of a garlands’ worth of plaintive, often genuinely moving, folk vibes.—Z.L.
Joey Bada$$, 2000
I pick the bands/albums I’m going to review for Rock-A-Rama the same way I pick horses at the track: by name. I’ve tried studying jockeys, trainers, past results, etc., but it never works—I lose no matter what, but the name game is fun and requires less work. If I saw “Joey Bada$$” on a racing form, I’d put money on that horse and therefore it’s also an artist I will review. Joey Bada$$? What a peculiar band name. My first thought was “Joey Bada$$” was going to be some sort of a punk band from New Jersey and they chose the name as a tribute to a colorful character from their hometown who refers to himself, in the third person, as Joey Bada$$ and is always getting in trouble. “Joey Bada$$ ain’t goin back to jail, nuh-uh, not tonight,” says Joey Bada$$. I would imagine that Joey Bada$$ would also have a large tattoo of “Joey Bada$$” across his tummy. I like to imagine that my imaginary NJ Joey Bada$$ suffers from some minor mental disorders but is generally friendly and approachable, except when he drinks too much, which is often. Then he tends to get a little surly and likes to take his clothes off to fight. Joey Bada$$ is often seen wearing only one flip flop. But, much like the horses at the racetrack, I was completely wrong about Joey Bada$$. In reality(?) Joey Bada$$ is a solo hip-hop artist who has a thing for jewelry. I’d still pick a horse named, Joey Bada$$, to win—especially if it were wearing a bunch of jewelry. Horse jewelry is pretty badass.—D.C.
Joey Bada$$, 2000
Remember too-tight v-necks and wearing your three row belt with everything? Looking back and saying that shit was cool, even for a goddamn minute, reminds us all how stupid we were to follow the herd. Living and dying by trends is a plague that affects all genres, especially hip-hop: like how the term “real hip-hop” is reserved for people who are probably too old to be in the game in the first place. All self-righteousness aside, the whole boom-bap thing, guys like DJ Premier, and being an actual lyricist will never get stale, even after the world finally realizes that there are other drum hits besides the 808. Joey Bada$$ may be a younger guy doing it the old guy way, but that doesn’t make it any less ill. It just reminds us all never to grow a chin strap again.—F.P.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, When The Lights Go
I don’t think Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (TEED) is a very good racehorse name—although I’d be delighted to see it on a racing form and it would be hilarious to hear the call for that race. “Joey Bada$$ is in the lead as they come into the first turn followed closely on the outside by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaur!” It is, on the other hand, a very good band name. While it fails miserably in the “chantability” department, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs makes up for that shortcoming with its unwieldy weirdness—it’s an enormous name in both actual size (four words, 31 characters) and in concept. Although, I’m not sure why the solo electronic artist that is TEED even came up with a “band” name to begin with because his given name is equally enormous and peculiar: Orlando Tobias Edward Higginbottom. Yes, he’s English. I mean, even if Mr. Higginbottom was uncomfortable using his personal name, he’s got plenty of letters in it to work with (also 31 characters) to form all kinds of band names with. I think that “Angora Rabbit Holds Down Timid Stooge,” for instance, would make a fine band name for a melancholy electronic artist named Orlando Tobias Edward Higginbottom. I wonder who would win in a race between Joey Bada$$ and Orlando Tobias Edward Higginbottom? I think I’d put my money on Joey Bada$$.—D.C.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, When The Lights Go
I see your Higginbottom name game and raise you a very merry bleepy-bloop, cheerio, mate! As far as UK indietronica/future house music goes, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs’ only mistake is naming himself after a very depressing children’s book about grieving (at least, that’s what it sounds like to my ears.) It’s been a decade since his debut LP, so yeah, get on to your rave, loves, When The Lights Go is bangers and mash. Banter!—M.S.