MOSSING ABOUT: WINGNUT DISHWASHERS UNION – Burn the Earth! Leave it Behind! (2009)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

So I only got into Pat the Bunny like, literally yesterday, but right now i’m digging his stuff a lot, but then again I kinda purposely decided to go through a folk punk phase before I started listening, for the aesthetic. 

I do sincerely enjoy this album a lot though. There’s something very endearing about Pat the Bunny’s style, the simple, derivative acoustic (and occasionally electric) guitar riffs, his scruffy, whiney sing-shouted voice, the funny lyrics, anarcho-socialist lyrics, and of course, the overriding sincerity of it. The music could definitely be called lo-fi, but not in the artsy affected way Pavement were- for like one album, their worst album incidentally- in a ramshackle way. This gives the album its messy charm, like an enthusiastic child playing in a sandpit and throwing sand at the other kids, without meaning anything by it. Well, I just consulted fellow To My Most Alas writer Francelino and he told me he hates sand, so I guess for that simile replace it with whatever you prefer. 

I guess I don’t talk about lyrics that much, because I mainly review rock music, and most rock lyrics are garbage, but the lyrics on this album are fantastic! They don’t seem like they were written in maybe more than half an hour but that just speaks for Pat the Bunny’s natural wit and occasional poetic turns of phrase. As I said earlier, Pat is (or was) an anarchist, and anarchist themes frequently pop up, but not in a boring dogmatic Rage Against the Machine way, Pat is a natural anarchist, and consequently something of an individualist, but there’s lots of nice leftist touches, hell, the first song is called “Proudhon in Manhattan”. The lyrics don’t touch solely on that, with lines that are just generally amusing and autobiography. When I first listened to this album I was in a group chat and I repeatedly typed the lyrics that stood out to me in caps locks, so i’m gonna do that here. “A PUNK ROCK SONG WON’T EVER CHANGE THE WORLD, BUT I CAN TELL YOU ABOUT A COUPLE THAT CHANGED ME”, “CAUSE URINE SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS ON A POLITICIAN OR ON A PRISON WARDEN”, “FUCK EVERY COP WHO EVER DID HIS JOB, FUCK EVERY BANK THAT NEVER GOT ROBBED”, “THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR ‘CAUSE PROPERTY IS ROBBERY”, “SO I DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD BUT I’M NOT AN ATHEIST”. 

Well, that’s me made that paragraph longer and more annoying than it needs to be. A lot of the songs are fuck-catchy as well! The album is mainly comprised of Pat strumming his guitar, and like I said earlier the riffs aren’t particularly original, but Pat knows how to strum his acoustic guitar in an aggressive and catchy way. “Proudhon in Manhattan” is the first track and its a really fun one, especially at the end with the aforementioned “property is robbery” bit. “Fuck Shit Up” is a very good song, it has a great crunchy electric guitar joining in, making it more conventionally punk I guess. The “TONIGHT WE’RE GONNA FUCK SHIT UP” chorus has a jubilant tone to it which makes it a minor feelgood anthem. “For a Girl in Rhinelander, WI”, is a more peaceful melancholic tune, with cute lyrics referencing Kathleen Hanna and Bikini KIll. 

I must admit, I really do enjoy the way Pat alternates between singing and shouting. It sounds so organic, like he can’t help it, he just has to shout, and he’s a really good shouter, he can be funny and passionate, depending on the lyric. 

Speaking of lyrics, boy are the lyrics on the last song good, and boy is the last song in general good! It’s named “My Idea of Fun” and at six and a half minutes its the longest song on the album. It’s quite a poignant song, with a calming strummed acoustic riff alternating with a pretty, melancholic picked riff. Also I really like the lyric “Like if you don’t want to work, then that becomes your job, there’s a lot of overtime, there’s not many days off, I hope you know that I’m not trying to complain.” The ending of the song is soothing in an almost neofolk way, with a beautiful piano line repeating the pretty guitar melody, wistful horns, chiming bells, violins. It’s just a very pretty wistful song, with philosophical angsty lyrics, you’ll connect to it!

SO, this is a very good album, and its like 29 minutes long. It has endless replay value and a good variety of styles, with great lyrics!

MOSSING ABOUT: CHICO SCIENCE AND NAÇÃO ZUMBI – Da Lama ao Caos (1994)

Review dedicated to Margaret Murdoch and Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Written by: Jonathan Moss 


The more Brazilian music I listen to the more I think it’s unjust that its countries like the USA and Britain that are focused on. However, this is a review of a specific album, not a thinkpiece on the implicit white supremacy of the music industry. 

Well, when I get assigned these sort of albums, albums I don’t know the background to, it can be quite exciting, because I get to listen to them completely context free, no pressure to conform to any sort of opinion, positive or negative. So my friend France gave me this album to review and I listen to it on Spotify, quickly ascertain that I enjoy it, i listen to it more times, find more things to enjoy, specific tracks I like and so on. I discover it’s an energetic, brash catchy album with a fun, likeable, charismatic singer. Then I actually look it up and discover that the singer died in a car accident at the age of 30. Oh, and that the album is critically acclaimed. So, looks like without having to feel the pressure of conformity I still picked the right opinion! 

And man, for an album which I’ve seen compared multiple times to Rage Against The Machine I really don’t hear it. Rage Against The Machine are a kind of dour, grey band with no range and a singer who, whilst angry, doesn’t really have any charisma. Da lama ao caos (which, according to google translate translates to “from mud to chaos”) instead is a rather lively and varied album. This isn’t to deny or downplay the politics. Though I can’t understand what Chico Science is singing, the album certainly does have a strident militant vibe, and occasional moments of melancholy as well, but with the funky and occasionally abrasive guitars I would more compare them to Gang of Four than Rage Against The Machine, if I have to compare them to any other leftist band. However, the album is fun as well, unlike either of those bands! How so? Well, first of there is the percussion, which is very rhythmic and erm….latin (sorry France), giving the album a danceable feel, like a hypothetical caribbean soviet disco. This interacts smoothly with the bass as well, which is funky and melodic, while still being understated and holding shit together. Then of course there’s Chico himself, who as I mentioned before is quite charismatic. He’s not the most tuneful singer but he has a lot of energy and passion, like a guy you could hang around with and get occasionally into heated debates with, but end it all with some friendly joke wrestling. Intense but affable. This dialectic is echoed perfectly in the guitar playing as well, which is rough and distorted and on a few tracks even heavy metal, but despite this retains a looseness and spontaneity.  

These elements are all demonstrated beautifully in the opening song “Montologo ae Pe do Ouvido”, a fiery anthem opening with strident blood pumping percussion (hand percussion played by Chico I understand) and clanging psychedelic guitar playing. Chico speaks ominously over it and from there a lighter percussion part starts as well as a groovy little bassline, and then the guitar comes right in, turning it into a fantastic rock song with a great intense rhythm part and a menacing but funky lead part! Chico kind of rap-sings it, very enthusiastically and with a passion that demands respect. Perfect music for the upcoming revolution. Got me air guitaring like an idiot. 

The title track is a masterpiece as well, with a seismic crunchy lumbering riff and spat out vocals from Chico. Lucia Maia also does several quick searing guitar solos. The song in general has a stormy paranoid vibe, like Black Sabbath but sublated from fantasy to reality, perhaps Chico is singing about some war that happened (yes, I know Black Sabbath had songs about wars, but there’s involved witches and fairies). The following song is a classic as well, “Maracatu Tiro Certeiro”, with a fantastic scratchy funky rhythm guitar, like an erupting volcano which people from the beach are partying on top of. Antene-Se is another fab song, funky slapped bass playing and a wah-wah guitar! It sounds so self-assured and confident, like a renegade businessman who has joined the cause and is bombing his old company! Okay, with “slapped bass” (i’m not actually sure it’s slapped, it just sounds like it. Either way its fluid and melodic) and “wah-wah guitar” i may have made it sound cheesy, but trust me, the punkish spirit of it, melodicity of the guitar, badass groove of the song and Chico’s fun but militant shouted vocals give it a lot of personality and vigour. It even ends with a short ominous synth bit!

There’s a couple of good short instrumentals as well. The first one is a very busy song with an agitated vibe and melodic bass. The second one has more awesome heavy metal guitar part which is built up by militaristic drumming and a weird sound that could be an air horn or something. They’re cool interludes and both come before amazing songs, working to enhance them in creating a build-up and tension. 

The last two songs end the album on a bleaker vibe. “Computadores Fazem Arte” is an intense melancholic rocker with more melodic singing from Chico. He sounds almost nostalgic and kind of wails in a slightly lower range, not baritone, but more romantic sounding. The bass line is hooky and ambiguous sounding, the guitar playing an angular shuffle, with a passionate mourning lead line occasionally showing up. “Coco Dub (Afrociberdelia)”, as its name suggest is a slow, psychedelic number, with a sorta apocalyptic vibe. The guitar line is really interesting, it sounds kinda like morse code being tapped out, but if morse code had been created by a depressive post-punker. Chico makes weird bird sounds at one point, there’s a catchy sci-fiish synth sound and groovy, tribalesque percussion. 

There’s some other great songs on the album but this review is already too fucking long and I think I covered the best ones. All the songs are cool though, try to ignore the fact that Rolling Stone Magazine likes this album and check out it!  

MOSSING ABOUT: LEONARD COHEN – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

A Tribute to Leonard Written by Jonathan Moss

“Yo! Fuck You! Review!”- Alex Alex 

Now that we’ve had our moment of levity let’s talk about Leonard Cohen, who, of course, recently passed away. As someone who listened to “Songs of Love and Hate” a lot while depressed I couldn’t help but take his death somewhat hard. Unfortunately I had college that day, so I wasn’t able to spend the day moping and listening to his first four albums on repeat. It was a strange day, one of my friends from college sent me a message while I was waiting for my train expressing their own grief over it. There was a bit of levity in college as I explained who Leonard Cohen was by saying “the guy who wrote the song in
Shrek”. 

Of course, Hallelujah is a good song but his first album is where it’s at! The album has such a curious vibe, Leonard’s elegantly picked and strummed guitar playing, all the ornate instruments (flutes, mandolins, accordions, violins) backing it up to create this almost hazy, dream popish atmosphere: his dreary, haunting plain mostly spoken vocals and the deep melancholia of the whole thing. It may be a folk album, but you can easily hear the seeds of bands like Swans and Godflesh in it. Fuck, with the darkness of it you could even argue it a proto-neofolk album, though I’m sure some Jewish people would take exception to this. I want to go back to Leonard’s guitar playing, for a man known for his lyrics (which, to avoid misunderstanding I will clarify now are great) he was sure a hell of a guitar player. Of course, not in terms of technical skill but if you give a shit about that we have fundamentally different ways of enjoying music. No, what I’m talking about is his style. The lulling, hypnotic vibe of it. You could remove Leonard’s vocals from it and the guitar playing would still convey the melancholy of the album. Okay, probably not as well but hyperbole is a good tool. Anyway, to use another good tool- simile, I’ll say the guitar playing for me conjures the image of a an elegant yet decaying mansion in a rural area abandoned by time, possibly with squatters. 

“Suzanne” is a very strong way to open the album. If you’re not paying full attention you won’t realise what a powerful song it is, especially the way it builds up. The crescendo from the minimalistic verse to the chorus made more impactful by an orchestra and cooing female choir culminating with the lyric “for you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind” is in a lot of ways more emotionally walloping than the crescendos that Godspeed You! Black Emperor excel at. The simple and repetitive guitar line running through the song is impacting in another way, how catchy it is, albeit in a subdued kind of manner. This, along with the references to Jesus in the lyrics, gives the song a very religious vibe, but not the dispassionate religion commonly practised, the personal existentialist religion preached by philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard. 

After “Suzanne” the album gets into a comfortable groove, a calming groove. You could call this album lullabies for clinical depressives, in fact! “Master Song” has more pretty, spidery guitar playing, and a distant sounding horn sound which gives it a sense of grandeur, amongst other odd instruments. In comparison to “Suzanne” it has a slightly more sinister vibe, not sure why this is, the lyrics don’t really convey it. Maybe it’s the sweeping string arrangements.There’s also what sounds to me like an electric guitar which would fit in the context of a surf rock song! Probably a melancholy one, maybe “The Death of a Surfer” or something like that. 

I know Leonard himself didn’t like it, but I love the production style of this album. The horn sound as I said on “Master Song” is fantastic and “Winter Lady” has some lovely piano chords which have a haunting vibe, like a grand piano playing of its own accord in a haunted house, but you’re not scared, you’re comforted. A lovely oboe (?) melody as well, like a fucking river full of molten gold. The guitar playing in the chorus has a twanging Eastern vibe, almost psychedelic. This on the whole serves to give the song an ornate, stately feel. 

“The Stranger Song” is a rougher song by comparison, with a gruff guitar pattern, minimalist production and lyrics about drug dealers. There is a string arrangement, but it’s subtle, and mostly serves to enhance the atmosphere of the song, rather than show off on its own merits. The song seems kind of intense, just the guitar melody repeated over and over again with an agitated severity and Leonard repeating “he was just some Joseph looking for a manger”. Spooky song. 

“The Sisters of Mercy” is a classic Cohen song, with a pretty, melodic picked guitar line and sweet vocals. There’s a nostalgic sounding gypsy accordion, odd pipe instruments that would find favour with Tom Waits in his weird period, and dainty, chiming percussion. This pairs well with “So Long, Marianne” which is the poppiest song on the album, with choir girls enthusiastically belting out the title of the song with Leonard in the chorus. The strummed guitar line is very warm and catchy, and paired well with a tuneful mandolin giving the song a sort of romance. There’s something very ebullient about it, it’s not depressing at all, though it is sorta melancholy. It’s possible the song had an influence on jangle pop, it sounds like it did. The accordion in it gives it a nice eastern folk vibe as well. So, it’s a layered, fun song. Definitely picks up the pace of the album and helps give it variety. 

Most of the songs on the second side of the album seem faster paced than the ones on the first side, outside of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” which is a slow pretty folker, and the last song, which i’ll get to later. “Stories of the Street” isn’t as fast paced but it’s still imbued with a certain dark enthusiasm. It has a pretty tense vibe to it, with fast guitar playing and an anxious horn (?) sound. Something that sounds like it was blown, wikipedia just says “Eastern instruments”. “Teachers” has very fast paced picked guitar playing, more mysterious twangy Eastern instrumentation and vocals from Leonard that kinda sound like they influenced Lou Reed. It has a seedy, severe sound. I enjoy it, its almost punkish! 

“One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” is a great way to end the album, smoothly bringing us back to depressive lullaby land. One of the things I enjoy about Leonard’s vocals on the album is how nice they sound, and that’s probably because of the weary, defeated tone they have. On this song Leonard curbs that a bit, he drunkenly yelps along with pretty whistling! Gives you hope for him. This contrasts well with the subdued vocal melody of the song, pretty whistling and hypnotic guitar playing. 

So, criticisms?  Well, the album is pretty samey, but it never really seems to be repetitive, because Leonard makes the songs stick out, adorning them all with individual hooks, whilst John Simon gives them nice different backing instrumentation. So, all the songs are individual, but you do have to pay attention to this or it will sound repetitive as hell. It’s a great vibe though so it really shouldn’t matter either way. 

Anyway, you should have heard this album already, and if you haven’t, do. 

MOSSING ABOUT: THE PLASTIC OTHER – The Plastic Other (2016)

Review by: Jonathan Moss 


Joe Middleton-Welling is one of the greatest guys I know. Most of you will never have the pleasure of knowing him like I do, but to fill that huge gaping hole you can listen to one of his musical projects, in particular the one I’m reviewing. It’s a three song EP so you don’t have much to lose.

I’ve got to admit, sorry Joe, that in general the debt the band owes to The Fall is pretty obvious. But The Fall are a great band, and the album isn’t derivative, it’s just informed by that sound: catchy basslines, spastic drumming, mumbled English vocals, bizarre lyrics, a lo-fi vibe and a punkish yet artistic sensibility. The guitarist is called Alex Smith and he has a lot of fun, catchy guitar riffs and a pleasant jagged, ringing style. Joe shouts a lot and occasionally screams, and his voice has a kind of muffled quality, like it was recorded in a separate room from the band at a lower volume. Personally I enjoy this, I think it adds to the aesthetic and it kind of emphasises Joe, in the way a pond with a lone with a single drowned swan would emphasis the swan. And Joe is a lot of fun, so he deserves to be emphasised! It’s a very hooky EP as well, with a lot of energy. “Computers for Leisure”, in particular, would be suited for radio, if it wasn’t for the naughty words.

We’re not going to talk about that song yet, though. We’re going to do the EP in reverse! So the last song is a nine minute romp with the unforgettable name “German Sex Dungeon”. It’s a very fun, anarchic tune which definitely sounds like it was born out of a jam session. It starts off with hypnotic krautrock style guitar line and bass line, and Joe shouting the words “sweat” and later, “victory” repeatedly. The drumming goes from being more manic to subdued, like he started to fall asleep. It’s got more energy than one of those crappy energy drinks, kind of like a motorik beat but sublated to be really fucked up and fast, like if that steady German road it metaphorically symbolised had a fuckton of car crashes. There’s a cool, crunchy Boris-esque guitar line which gives the song an aggressive vibe. Lotta screaming! It slows down near the end and gets pretty menacing, almost black metally. Before that there’s “Your Favourite Things?” which is the least memorable song on the album, though I do enjoy the lyric “I’m always hungry for cock” a lot (Joe told me the lyrics are taken from some newspaper). The drum line that opens the song is pretty catchy, and the bass line has a demented circus vibe, with creepy echoing guitar reinforcing this. It’s a kind of shuffle revolving around these elements, with Joe angrily speaking over it. It’s definitely a fun song, it’s just surrounded by two better ones.

Speaking of better songs, “Computers for Leisure” is a fucking masterpiece! It’s the song where The Plastic Other fully transcend their Fall influence, sounding more like a mopey pop rock band informed by slowcore. It opens with an extremely catchy jangly guitar riff, topped off by a melancholic, nostalgic vibe. In general the song seems reminiscent of what I imagine it’s like in Industrial England; trying to get shagged and looking for meaning in a decaying late capitalist landscape. Joe vocally isn’t muffled at all, and he sounds a lot more like himself, he’s even louder than the band! The lyrics he speak-sings are fantastic, with lines like “sometimes i really wish i was miserable, at least then I would have something to complain about”, and “i mean, don’t you ever look out the window and think, i wish i was somewhere else”? He also does some ace cathartic screaming, like these nihilistic thoughts do give him pain. This intensity combined with the sad vibe of the song gives it such a depressing yet paradoxically sweet vibe. There’s more jagged post-punkish guitar playing which is catchy as fuck, but the ringing undistorted guitar line that goes throughout the song is what makes it.

So hopefully I’ve managed to convey what a great song “Computers for Leisure” is and, y’know, the other two are fun as well. Check it out for great post-punkish music that isn’t derivative shite like Bloc Party!

Link: https://theplasticother.bandcamp.com/album/the-plastic-other-self-titled

MOSSING ABOUT: COIL – Horse Rotorvator (1986)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

Alright motherfuckers, I just finished Lolita and I’m ready to write my Nabokovian masterpiece in the form of a Coil review. Well, John Balance would probably prefer something more Blakeian in tone, so I guess I’ll just be myself. 

Look, I like to think when people read my reviews they listen to the albums, but sometimes I’m not so sure, so please please please listen to Coil. Specifically this album, but most of their shit is great. But I find this one in particular to have a strong mix of songs and a good eclectic style. They’re a very underrated band, especially since that fucker Clive Barker booted them off Hellraiser.

Coil are kind of part of the same underground containing bands like Current 93 and Nurse With Wound (hence why the three bands were covered together in Englands Hidden Reverse) but, despite enjoying C93 and NWW a lot, I prefer Coil. Sleazy was a production genius, and Balance wrote great poetry, and sang it pretty great as well! Sure his voice betrayed his bourgeoisie origins, but he sounded really menacing all the same. An upper class punk! Well, he’s also quite capable of tenderness as well, but you can tell especially from this record that he was taking inspiration from stuff like Throbbing Gristle. But maybe he had a couple of classic prog era Genesis records as a guilty pleasure. Back to Sleazy though, his production on this album is so varied, from great electronic stuff to much more out there shit, but in general united by the same kind of lo-fi patchwork style, it almost reminds me of those hammer horror movies, but if they had been inspired by romanticist poetry! 

Hey, I just came up with a great idea, I’m going to try and avoid using the word “esoteric” in this review! 

“The Anal Staircase” is the first song on this album and I imagine it’s introduced a lot of people to Coil. It’s probably the most industrial Coil get on the album, but it’s very catchy as well. And erratic! And sloppy! It really is like an anal staircase (what a great title). The song starts with a strident sample from The Rites of Spring, then this spastic chiming keyboard line joins in. There’s also the sound of what sounds like children playing (this ends the song), clanging percussion, and what sounds like a crappily synthesized horn line, as well as other beautifully low quality keyboard shite. Also a weird sort of fast whooshing sound. Now imagine all that stuff happening at the same time. It’s a very dizzying performance. John Balance sounds in complete power over it, especially when he commands “blow the fucking thing apart, blow the fucking thing apart”, in his slightly high-pitched voice. If Halloween had retained its pagan roots this song would be played during it. So yes, this is a supremely good introduction to Coil. 

“Slur” follows on and manages to be great in a different way. John Balance’s vocal melody is quite subtle but it’s there and once you notice it you won’t be able to get it out of your head. The song has a sort of rustic post-punk vibe, very Nick Cavesy. There’s a really gothic harmonica sound. It sounds like the harmonica has become very rusty with time, fading into the desert atmosphere and becoming an integral part of it. The guitar sound is kind of goofy and baritone, but very catchy and bouncy, like a snapping elastic band. The song has a pretty menacing atmosphere but it’s a different menace from “The Anal Staircase”, it’s the menace of a saloon being slowly burnt by the sun with the people inside unable to escape and being too drunk to notice or care. 

“Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)” is a fucking tune as well. It starts off with creepy atmospherics, a kind of melancholic but jeering harpsichord line and a very passionate eastern sounding violin. This makes it a rather tense, majestic song. It shits all over “Kashmir” by Zep, that’s for sure. And most Led Zeppelin songs, for that matter. Balance delivers another great vocal performance, cool modulation, and the “throw his bones over, the white cliffs of dover, and murder me!” The gloomy repetition of the song gives it an intensity, so that when the next song, an interlude comes on, blasting a brass band, the juxtaposition is hilarious. 

The next few songs to me don’t stick out as much but they’re still good. “Penetralia” doesn’t seem so much a proper song as a collection of bizarre sound effects and a heavy guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Killing Joke album (well it would, plagiarism is always out of place, after all) . It’s still a lot of fun to listen to, I love the blurting horn instrument. And the song in all has a nice cheap and dirty quality, maybe their attempt at doing Foetus. “Ravenous” is a creepy song with creaking sound effects, droning choir, and an eerie harpsichord. There’s also a melodic horn line as well. “Circles of Mania” is the gayest song on the album, and it has a great agitated jazz punk vibe. But dirty and synthesized! “When you swallowed one you just swallow another”. Fun acoustic bass line and screaming from John! Fab slurping noises at the end. “Blood from the Air” has this weird, clinical buzzing sound, maybe Steve Stapleton had a hand in it. More clanging noises, some gothic synth and harpsichord. Menacing shit, Balance is at his lowest, most sinister croon. 

“Who by Fire” is one of the best covers I’ve heard! And with the recently and sadly departed Leonard Cohen everyone should listen! It has a very catchy keyboard line at the beginning, ghostly groaning background vocals from Marc Almond, the keyboard line getting louder and other various instruments swirling around it. John Balance sounds great as well, delivering a convicted performance doing Leonard justice, and bringing his own gothic vibe to it, not that Leonard wasn’t gothic, of course. 

“The Golden Section” is a rather jaunty tune with some pseudo-scientific occultist narration, and a gothic choir underneath. It’s a bit cheesy but it’s a fun song and the martial drumming gives it a driving vibe. Good music to walk to. “The First Five Minutes after Death” is a great piece of wintery melancholic electronica, with a catchy as hell synth line that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tangerine Dream song. The percussion is neat well, kind of African or whatever, and there’s some woodwind instrument that’s very pretty. And some nice noise as well! Hell yeah! 

So, to conclude, with the styles included on this album and the considerable vocal and lyrical talents of John Balance, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to listen to it. Unless you’re a cunt. 

MOSSING ABOUT: DEVO – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

 

I’ll admit bias straight away, Devo are one of my favourite bands of all time. They’re far better than The Residents. This album in particular is a good example of that, it’s such a bizarre and wonderful collection of odd styles, but with a cynical current which stops it from ever feeling superfluous or lightweight. The lyrics are similarly fantastic, witty and ironic, but with depth. Critics in the 70s and 80s didn’t get Devo, they thought they were misanthropic clowns, but there was a bruised heart driving them, a sadness for what they perceived as the end of 60s idealism. So yeah, they were cynical, but not for the sake of being dicks. Of course, they also had a tremendous sense of fun as well, to the point where they are remembered by most people as a novelty band. I’m not exactly sour about this, “Whip It” is a great song, but just like the comedian who’s remembered for one great joke amongst many, Devo deserve more.

The weird thing about the album is the almost retro 50s vibe. This doesn’t manifest so much in the sound as the aesthetic, though some of the synth noises sound like they’re influenced by cheesy 50s sci-fi. The guitar playing of Bob Mothersbaugh also has that twinge. Speaking of Bob 1, what an underrated guitarist! It’s probably because they only done two albums that were properly guitar based but during them he showed himself as someone capable of all sorts of catchy riffs, bizarre sounds and a general kind of good rock feel, but demented too. If Laurie Anderson used guitars more they’d be similar to Bob’s. The other instruments are cool as well, the synth playing is colourful and varied, the bass playing is pleasantly melodic and the drumming is very tight. The sounds are pretty varied as well, there’s upbeat pop rock songs, nerdier pieces and some goshdarned rock and roll that sounds like one of them mechanical bulls, up and down up and down up and down!

Raucous.

The album in general has a weird vibe, but very pleasant and tuneful as well. Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale handle the singing between them and they both have sort of goofy new wavey voices. Baritones, but very enthusiastic. Fucking manic at times. Mark in general sounds zanier, with Gerald being the more cynical one. For me the album sounds kind of like if slightly offbeat critical theorists decided to record an album together, moving from their homeland to some place in decaying industrial America and chronicling the negative dialectics of life there. And I guess, what with me trying to impress upon you my critical authority, I’ll say the album should sound like that for you as well. And if not that, it should at least sound damn good, which I will now illustrate by writing about the tracks. Then, after that, if I can find anything to negatively critique, I’ll do that.

Well, it starts off excellently with “Uncontrollable Urge”, a bright punkish energetic pop rocker. It has really cool computerish synth noises as well, a catchy joyous guitar riff and very enthusiastic vocals from Mark Mothersbaugh. Jesus, the song really captures the spirit of its title well. There’s a great robotic call and response bit at the end where Mark says “and I say yeah” to which Bob and Gerry respond things like “he says yeah”. That section is tense, and then it launches into Mark yelling “And I say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!!” as if his testicles had just been tased and he took a perverse joy in it. This is fabulously followed by their herky jerky cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, a classic piece of deconstruction where the song is nerdified to make the lyrics seem much more accurate, fuck, you can hear the sexual tension in the nervous bassline, queasy guitar line and almost militaristic dancey drums. Over which Mark sings very nervously.

The next two songs are “Praying Hands” and “Space Junk”, which for whatever reason I’ve always lumped together. They’re both great songs, “Praying Hands” is lyrically a satire of religion, comparing it to a dance craze. Musically it’s really upbeat and bouncy, with a fun squiggly high pitched synth and catchy stuttery guitar. Mark’s vocal sound amusing and are quite hysteric. “Space Junk” opens with a kind of chiming guitar (or keyboard?), it sounds like it could be a sound used for an elevator button. In the chorus Gerald Casale lists off countries and American states, assuming a hick accent for the hick states. This is accompanied by a wild guitar line and a sorta angsty sound.

Then we’re on to possibly the two best songs on the album! First off is Mongoloid, which is a perfect example of how to create a tense song. It opens with a pulsating, gloomy bass line, this is followed by some eerie synth noises, the bass line gets louder and more ominous and then the choppy guitar line joins in. The song is sung in unison by Gerald and Bob 1, in a nasally nerd voice. The song continues to grow in aggression, with screeching synth sounds culminating in a solo, while Bob and Gerry chant “mongoloid he was a mongoloid happier than you and me”. Menacing song, but catchy too! Then there’s “Jocko Homo”. It starts off with a menacing fast punkish riff, leading on to a jerkier one. Over this Mark kind of sing-shouts the lyrics, to call and response from Bob and Gerry (Mark: Are we not men? Backing vox: we are devo!) This is done with various tones of voice. It’s a fun song, their mission statement. Not that the idea of de-evolution is original or intelligent, though it serves the band well for their satire. Appropriately, the song does have a sort of primordial energy to it. The bridge is probably the catchiest part, with Mark enthusiastically singing “God made man, but he used a monkey to do it!”, leading back to the call and response, this time with more tension. And monkey noises! Courtesy of Brian Eno! Who produced the album! With the help of David Bowie! Okay let’s go!

I’m not huge into “Too Much Paranoias”, it’s a cool song, lots of build up, borderline filler. “Gut Feeling” is one of their most beautiful songs though, opening with a catchy guitar line that reminds me of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” (I got this from Mark Prindle, he’s totally right), with a nice driving rhythm guitar as well. Then a melancholic, strangely electronic sounding piano. This build up goes on for about a minute, when Mark starts finally singing with a nice guitar burst it’s pretty orgasmic. Mark sounds frustrated singing “I’ve got a gut feeling!” and when he sings the “got a gut feeling, centered ’round long time ago, on your ability to torment” it’s almost touching. This segues into Mark shouting “I’ve got a gut feeling” with blasts of guitar feedback, then seguing into a short one minute punker called “slap your mammy”. It’s got a lot of energy and feels kind of like a hoedown, but it’s not a great song. This is followed by “Come Back Jonee”, a fun kind of rock and rollish sounding tune, with really nice guitar playing and a vibrant sound. Then “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Getting)”, which perfectly captures the sensation of losing an erection, with Mark almost yodelling “I think I mised the hole-ah” over what sounds like a synth disappointedly powering down. “Shrivel Up”, is one of the best songs on the album, and a great way to close! What a creepy fucking song. Gerry sings in this kind of wry, menacing voice over plodding electronic noises and a droning synth. The guitar playing has a processed, otherworldly sound. This all helps make the song sound very strange and unnerving, kind of like a song that would play over a sewer system in a rural alien planet.

Well, as I’ve wrote this review I have developed some criticisms. There’s not enough Gerry songs goddamnit! I read in a book about Devo that someone felt they lost something when they lost the McCartney (Mothersbaugh) and Lennon (Casale) dynamic and I really agree, Gerry just sounded more spiteful and cynical than Mark and the few songs he does get to sing are amongst the best. I also wish they had allowed Brian Eno more influence in the production, the songs that he added to the most sound really great.Erm, outside of that not much, the album is structured perfectly and most of the songs are top tier.

So yeah, very good album, essential if you want to be a respectable human being.

MOSSING ABOUT: SUMO – Llegando Los Monos (1986)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Dedicated to Charly Saenz 

 

A CERTAIN SOMEONE was supposed to review this album for round 13 but he failed horribly and here I am, kicking ass. 
This is a very strong album. The instrumentation throughout is clear and poppy, whilst having a punkish energy and a new waveish sense of fun. Even when the instruments fail to move past the conventions and stereotypes of pop rock they’re saved by a feeling of excitement. Kind of like a B-Movie. The groovy melodicity of the album is responsible for moving it past this as well, like a bonfire party! (one that doesn’t scare animals). Vocalist and main man behind the band, Luca Prodan, is a really good singer. You can tell he was influenced by the British punk explosion but vocally, at this point anyway, he sounds a lot more sophisticated, though still retaining a snarl. He’s multifaceted, he can sound romantic, witty, passionate, angry. Fairly conventional human emotions for sure, but that only ensures he’s genuine in expressing them. The lads got a lot of charisma, and adding this to the hookiness of the tunes makes it a joyfully fun listen.
The album is definitely rock music but within that paradigm it’s got enough varied songs and moods to stop it from becoming dull. It opens with a short, eerie synth piece, which is immediately and amusingly contrasted with the first song, the short pop-punker “El Ojo Blindado”. Melodically it sounds very similar to Blondie’s “One Way Or Another”. It has a tense, energetic chorus, like a person trying to grab a one million pound cheque out of an arcade grabber. It’s quite short as well, making it the perfect energetic punk opener, with a fab guitar solo. Not that the album stays in that groove, the subsequent song is a synth laden funky tune, with a dark yet quirky vibe. The vocals are almost spoken, the opening lyrics “She had my head on a plate/With her sweet and sour sauce/She was riding in her car/I was riding on my horse/Neck and neck along the road/Well, well I have nothing left to hide/So, what a heck/Firefly cars, women rushing past” are great. Luca’s enunciating of “what the heck” is amusing, like a mischievous kid. This is well contrasted with the epic romanticism of the chorus. The guitar playing is suitable, having a sort of jagged moodiness, reminiscent of the guitar playing on a Wall of Voodoo record. “TV Caliente” has funky scratchy guitars and a coy, sardonic feel. This is continued on the next song “Next Week”, but its a lot more raucous and hard rocking, like a sarcastic comedian got drunk and became more manic and mean. 
“Cinco Magnificos” is the strangest song on the album. It has really creepy ominous synth playing, violin that reminds me of Laurie Anderson (her music, not Laurie herself), a spaced out echoey vibe, spy rock guitar, bouncy echoed drum machines and a druggy vocal performance. Some of the synths wouldn’t sound too out of place in a synthwave song. The violin playing gives it an intense driving momentum, and the keyboard playing evokes images of a dark road surrounded by desert and gas stations. After the unnerving vibe of this song there’s “Rollando”, which has a sweet reggae rhythm guitar track, swirling gypsy violin playing and sardonic, sexy vocals. It’s still a dark song, but it’s got a cool urban feel, unlike the rural gothic of Cinco. Like the protagonist of the song made it from the empty desert to the big city. You can even tell he came from the desert because of the harmonica in the song! Luca singing “ooh, survival time” is dark, but he does it in such a beautifully haunting way, as if he knows that the apocalypse will bring time for heroism and sexy girls. “Los Viejos Vinagres” follows, which has a wonderfully funky scratch guitar and melodic horn combination. It has the energy of a punk song. Luca’s singing is incredibly fun as well. Groovy pop-funk is what the album needs after the darkness, like a handjob after an autopsy.
“No Good” is a pleasant, lazy shuffle, with catchy reggae guitar, but it’s one of the lesser songs on the album, especially compared to what follows. “Heroina” is definitely my favourite song on the album. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the it, and in theory I should hate it, with it coming very close to arena rock. But it’s such a well constructed song, with great dark ironic lyrics. In the chorus Luca enthusiastically and bombastically shout-sings “HEROIN” over a mellow catchy guitar line and epic saxophone playing, its one of the funniest things I’ve encountered recently. Hell, it’s more punk than the punk song on the album. It’s like a dark Springsteen song, if Bruce wasn’t one of the least talented songwriters out there. The verses are great as well, being genuinely emotionally touching yet gauche and barroomy. Luca delivers a sneering mock-romantic performance and there’s silly female vocals to back it up. Maybe it would veer too close to parody if it wasn’t so catchy and genuinely rousing, making it strangely touching, especially knowing Luca did suffer from heroin addiction. And died at a tragically young age because of drink.
The album ends on a reprise of the synth piece at the beginning, but not before one last song, the decadent party viber “Que Me Pisen”. I wouldn’t call it a highlight but it has a cool live feel and an amusing performance from Luca. 
Anyway, forget charlatans like Bono and Springsteen. Luca Prodan is where its at, the rightful heir to Joe Strummer.