Welsh youngsters New Cowboy Builders just dropped a great new single over on Bandcamp. It’s snotty post-punk most obviously indebted to The Fall and Gang of Four. It’s got a freshness and swagger that can only come from the exuberance of youth. But under the veneer of UK austerity is what appears to be more than a passing familiarity with American noise-rock, recalling nibs and nobs of Big Black and Amphetamine Reptile. Pre-order the vinyl 7-inch record now and revel in some real fucking punk rock. — Russell Emerson Hall
Amps for Christ – Canyons Cars and Crows. Shrimper Records, 2014.
As a writing tutor at a local college, I read students’s papers pretty much all day. In recent years, predictably, more and more of these papers have been argumentative essays explaining why marijuana should be legalized. Some of the arguments are quite silly, but every year, I see better, more thought out reasons why legalizing the drug would only benefit the United States.
One of the best arguments against the legalization of marijuana I’ve heard recently is Amps for Christ’s new album, Canyons Cars and Crows.
On the album, Henry Barnes does this Noise-Folk thing, which on paper sounds intriguing. And he certainly does marry this late 60’s/early 70’s folk-as-channeled-through-machines thing. Here’s the thing: I’m a pretty left-leaning guy. Amongst my closest friends, I’m probably the most left-leaning (or second-most, anyway) of the group, and on the To Eleven Spectrum of Political Leftness (which is totally a thing), I rank closer to Russell than to Jayson. I know Global Warming is a very real threat that I’m contributing to just by powering my laptop to write this post, and I think that in pretty much all international affairs, the US should approach diplomacy as peacemakers rather than warmongers. I’m about 2 sticks of patchouli from being a straight-up hippie.
Amps for Christ are well over that line. Barnes sings about humanity destroying the earth. He sings about loving your neighbor. And sometimes, he does it in the same song, such as in “Barely Breathe,” when he sings:
Time will come, when the oceans will rise
And the coldest place seems so nice
And through it all, love is still king
Love your neighbor, it will save your life
It comes off as a song about all the things, and sonically, it sounds like the Velvet Underground, Neil Young, and the Grateful Dead all got together and started playing different songs in the same room.
This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate what he’s trying to do here. Barnes is into noise, and there’s plenty of that, both in the “Lots of instruments doing different stuff” variety, and in the “I made my machines buzz and glitch” variety, such as in the electronic “bagpipes” in “Hills of Padua.” It’s an interesting experiment, but not one that I found particularly entertaining. The whole album sounds like a bunch of guys got high and started jamming, only half of them were playing production equipment. I’m confident this is not the case, but it’s all I could imagine while listening to this.
Oddly enough, I almost feel like this would be much better as some sort of live performance piece. I could see how sitting in a room with Barnes while he plays with knobs and sings would actually be kind of unsettling, something to pull you out of your comfort zone. But on an album, it’s just noise.
In short, my recommendation is this: if you’re familiar with Amps for Christ, and you like it, you’ll probably like Canyons Cars and Crows. It’s Henry Barnes doing his Noise Folk thing. If you’re not a fan, pass on this one.
Canyons Cars and Crows is available on Shrimper Records.
Will Stratton – Gray Lodge Wisdom. Self-reeased, 2014.
“Why sing about death when I almost died? Why sing about life when I’m still alive?”
So begins the title track of Will Stratton’s Gray Lodge Wisdom, an album written in the wake of Stratton’s advanced-stage testicular cancer diagnosis and treatment. He’s better now, and he’s crafted an album about acceptance: the acceptance that we all die, the acceptance that some things are out of our hands, and the acceptance that sometimes, we have to put our lives into the hands of others and trust that they will do what they can to save us.
It’s not a melancholy album, nor is it a celebration. Rather, it’s a meditation; quiet, solemn, reflective. Through his recovery, Stratton rethinks his view of the universe and his place in it. In the title track, he says “Why sing about God when she don’t exist. Compare that to the refrain of the closing track, “Fate Song,” in which he says, “I must thank some god that I’m alive today.” It’s not a huge stretch from atheist to agnostic, but it keeps with the theme the things might just be out of our hands.
Musically, Stratton is a little bit Americana, a little bit folk, and on tracks such as “Do You Love Where You Live?”, a lot bit Nick Drake. While his sound is, as I said, quiet and solemn, it is also complex, with layers of strings over his skillful guitar. It’s the perfect blend of solid musicianship, thoughtful lyrics, and the perfect, most appropriate atmosphere.
Will Stratton’s Gray Lodge Wisdom comes out on April 29th. Check Stratton’s Website for details.