Saturday, September 6, 2014

FIRST IMPRESSION: il Sogno del Marinaio – Canto Secondo

Mike Watt is a bad motherfucker.  Dude has wiped the floor of almost every club, church basement and American Legion post in the US with his full on bass assault, and he is (rightly) revered as one of the architects of modern punk.  His musical appetite, however, isn’t as simply reductive as that, and his newest venture, il Sogno del Marinaio, is one of his most relaxed outlets (more in line with the exploratory Banyan than his recent stuff with the Missingmen).  Formed in 2009 ostensibly to play a European festival, this ain’t no sidemouse venture…this is a BAND, with Watt joined by two talented Italian cats – guitarist Stefano Pilia and drummer Andrea Belfi.  It would be for too easy and cheap to say that they contribute a “worldliness” that is missing from most of Watt’s other work, but the group has a more prog and “European” bent than much else in his immense discography.

Belfi is a powerhouse and smacks the drums with an insistence that propels the songs and he locks in well with the bass monster, while Pilia is a more textural player than Nels Cline or Tom Watson.  He underplays nicely on tracks like “Auslander” and “Us In Their Land” before exploding into a flurry of notes. The closest il Sogno comes to the agit-funk Watt’s known for is probably on “Stucazz?!!”, a stuttering piece punctuated by Watt’s blurting out the titular Italian curse….it’s as awesome and hilarious as you would think!  Overall, the album (and band) is an intriguing excursion from a guy who has made a career of doing exactly what he wants, which is exactly as it should be.  As the man himself might say, “Watt out!”

Check back at the end of the month for my lengthy chat with Watt, Pilia and Belfi in advance of their October 8th date in Buffalo! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

FIRST IMPRESSION: Sugar Stems – Only Come Out at Night

Where the hell did these folks come from???  Milwaukee apparently!  Releasing what is hands-down the finest power-pop album of the year thus far, this five-some comes careening out of the gate on a wave of pure sugar and adrenaline that (other than acoustic closer “Million Miles”) barely lets up over 39 minutes.  Fizzy, fuzzy, big and buzzy, the band crafts perfect pop songs that sound not too dissimilar to the sadly-overlooked What Made Milwaukee Famous (a band that inexplicably hailed from Austin, TX) – nearly every song is overflowing with hooks, passion and the gale force voice of lead singer Betsy Heibler. 

Heibler’s voice, equal parts Belinda Carlisle sexiness and Jenny Lewis cool, jumps out of the speakers on songs like opening barnburner “Baby Teeth” and late album highlight “Elm Tree Eulogy”.  A force of nature in and of itself, she is ably supported not only by the rest of the band (special mention goes to newbie Andy Harris on keys and organ) but by the sturdiness of the songs.  The best stuff here is as indebted to early-80s California new wave as it is 60s girl groups – “Sun Rise, Sea Change” could quite seriously be mistaken for a lost Go-Gos jam – and there ain’t a stinker in the bunch!  If movie studios start remaking late-90s teen comedies, the title track here would serve as the perfect song to play over the title credits.  Bop your head, swivel your hips, put on your scuffed Chucks and give yourself over to the most joyous record of the year.