A quick preface from the editor:
At WKDU we receive new music every week from a huge variety of labels. We keep all of our new releases in our main control room (the room out of which our DJs do their thing) on our “New Music Shelf”. Our DJs pull from this shelf quite often, because our goal is to serve you the freshest underground cuts–FDA certified 100% organic, grass-fed, farm to table, FRESH. With “Off the Shelf”, our goal is to dive deeper than ever into our “New Music Shelf” favorites, and to share our thoughts with our community. Here’s hoping we inspire you to check out something NEW.
By Matt Squires
Parquet Courts’ new album, Wide Awake!, is a diverse collection of raw rock and rolls sounds, familiar to the American ear, yet unique and refreshing. The production is minimalistic, to focus the listener on the melodic and rhythmic aspects of the songs, which are undeniably catchy. The vocals are raw with minor imperfections as if performed in a live setting.
“Total Football” kicks off the album with a classic rock style sharp slow chord progression. Soon the beat speeds up and the bass riff kicks, forcing the listener to bounce back and forth, a feeling used many times on this album including, “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience” and “Extinction”. Growly vocals are introduced, seemingly untrained and raw, their voices fit the aesthetic perfectly. This riveting intro song ends like the streets of Philadelphia after the 2018 super bowl, “F___ Tom Brady!!”.
“Violence” shows the more serious side of this album. Smooth groovy rhythms and catchy riffs over a yelling monologue until coming in with the chorus “violence is daily life.” Parquet Courts makes their way around the genre spectrum while maintaining the same production aesthetic with the slowed jam, “before the water gets too high”. The repeating riff is memorizing and the organ-sounding synth chords hold the song together.
Next stop on this journey is a flashback to 90s alternative rock. Sounding like Pavements “Range Life”, “Mardi Gras Beads” takes the album to very familiar place. The smooth lush reverb-filled verse contrasts with the rigid power chords that come in the chorus creating a rich texture. “Almost had to start a fight” channels the bands Proto-Punk aesthetic with riffs sounding like MC5, the vocals match the rhythm to create a concrete, energetic jam. Merging into “In and out of Patience” with the phrase “If it stops i’m having a bad dream”, the pattern changes, putting another involuntary step in the foot of the listener.
The aptly named, “Freebird 2”, lives up to its name talking about drugs and getting older with pentatonic blues scales. The title song, “Wide Awake” combines a groovy bass riff with a dance party vibe. The use of Auxiliary percussion on this track makes it stand out from the others. A straight rhythm blues jam ends the album out with a piano melody doubling the vocals, making for an upbeat vibe. The chord progression is a mixture of simple chords and unusually dissonant chords that give an excellent texture to this familiar groove.
Parquet Courts have maintained their progressive classic rock style. Innovative yet so familiar and easy to latch on to, this album is an instant classic filled with songs that capture the last 50 years of rock music.
All People are led by Greg Rodrigue and Daniel “D-Ray” Ray. I met Greg last winter at a café he co-runs in New Orleans. I was buying a Woozy record, and we talked a bit. He also co-runs Community Records with Ray, home of bands like Woozy, Caddywhompus, and Pope.
Rodrigue and Ray trade lead and backup vocal duties throughout their self-titled album, as the band takes a step forward from 2015’s Learn Forget Repeat, helped by the addition of guitarist Josh Campbell. Rodrigue emphasizes each word, bringing a haunted energy at points. “Now I’m in the ground, do you miss me now?” he sings in “Naught”, the existential lead single. Side 1 ends with “Moonsteps”, a groovy jam that brings together some of the best parts of the band – it kicks off Ray’s energetic keyboards, followed by a killer baseline from Rodrigue, before settling into a smooth rhythm.
“Moon Steps” is the album’s centerpiece, a shot of light before the band winds down. Side 2 is much calmer than Side 1, and “Balloon” is nearly a ballad. Ray’s trombone plays a prominent role, taking the lead on “New Rain”, the penultimate track and a thoughtful instrumental. “Of You” caps off All People, peacefully fading away as the trombone wonders on. As far as punk albums go, All People is one of 2016’s most unique, and Ray and Rodrigue work well to create a cohesive, emotional effort.
All People is out May 20th on Community Records.
In March of 2014, I saw Radiator Hospital play for the first time. It was at a coffee shop in University City, and free donuts were given out for someone’s birthday. Try the Pie played one of her first shows, Crabapple played one of their last, and Sam Cook-Parrot’s band Radiator Hospital closed out the night. Stupid Bag Records honcho & RH drummer Jeff Bolt was selling tapes, so I picked up a copy of Great Thunder’s Strange Kicks EP, the only tape I ever bought.
I listened to Strange Kicks a lot after that. It even included a Mazzy Star cover. Great Thunder was Keith Spencer (of Swearin’) and Katie Crutchfield (of Waxahatchee), often noted as KS and KC. With Waxahatchee taking off and the years passing by, the lineup of Great Thunder has become a little less clear; one bio simply says “K and an ever changing line-up of incredibly talented people.” Naturally, Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital have been tied ever since. Imagine my excitement when Stupid Bag, back in May of 2015, noted that a Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital split LP was on its way. I’d been waiting ever since, unsure of what to expect.
A few weeks ago, The Wedding Album finally arrived. There were some updated old songs, new songs, covers, and collaborations. Great Thunder’s side came first, and started off with a couple of originals. KS & KC were both singing – the GT I knew. “I Was Fine Before” originally appeared on Sounds of Great Thunder, but is revamped three times the length. “I Can’t See the Sun” is the catchiest song of the year, and in a surprising twist, the light-hearted RH song “Big Cloud” is covered with professional production. The next song eventually revealed itself as a dark, sludgy version of RH’s “Sleeping House”. The sounds of Great Thunder embody many different textures, after all.
Radiator Hospital kicks off Side B with “Parting Glances”, from his split with Fred Thomas. It has much more percussion than typical RH songs and the whole side has a softer touch to it. Cook-Parrot’s regular bandmates are absent from this recording, so the quick pace of Torch Song falls away as well. “Old Me” is a new song, with a vocal cameo by KS, followed by KC helping out on “Waiting for You to Come Around”, a Strange Kicks highlight. “Singer’s No Star” is one of GT’s best songs, and Crutchfield join’s Cook-Parrot in a beautiful rendition. The Wedding Album closes with the devastating “Absent Year”. Cook-Parrot reminds us that he writes the best ballads, and Crutchfield has a wonderful verse, before he tears the song back. “And I’ve been waiting for so long / Oh I don’t want you to be gone / If you wanted me to dance / Why didn’t you say so?”
The Great Thunder & Radiator Hospital Wedding Album is one of the best of 2016; a truly special collaboration between three of Philadelphia finest musicians. Projects like this are often done for fun, but this is a fully realized piece of art. It was recorded in 2014, and while the wait was long, it was more than worth it. Listen to the album, and trace its roots for an even deeper experience.