Tag Archives: garage rock

Albums Worth Revisiting: “Ultraglide in Black” – The Dirtbombs

I wrote about the Dirtbombs a few months back, placing them among my “Top 20 Concerts List“.   Ultraglide In Black, an album consisting of (mostly)  old soul and funk songs – (“Your Love Belongs Under a Rock” is the only original).The album will turn 10 this week, so now is the perfect to write about this under-rated gem.  Like the songs that The Dirtbombs tackle here, Ultraglide in Black is a full-on party album.

The Dirtbombs attack these song with punk furor, but never taking away what made the originals so great and timeless. It would be easy to suggest that The Dirtbombs were trying to put a contemporary spin on these songs, but the album plays more like musicians playing songs they love, because they want to.  With two drummers and two bassists, The Dirtbombs have turned these covers into tightly controlled jams, that lie somewhere between absolute chaos and sheer enthusiasm.  Singer Mick Collin’s voice in an instrument in itself.  He’s clearly in command here, pushing his bandmates as he shouts his way through J.J. Barnes’ “Chains of Love”.  Elsewhere on, “Kung Fu”, he croons in a soulful voice that is more than homage to the music that has clearly inspired him.  Smokey Robinson’s “If You Can What” is a sing-along fury, that nearly flies out of control.  Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City” is given a slow, fuzzed out treatment, that sounds like a cross between funk and the noisy experiments of the Velvet Underground.

Ultraglide in Black is the sound of a great band deciding for one drunken night that they are the best soul and funk cover band.  And with one listen to the album, you’d be crazy to think otherwise.

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The 10 Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 6. The Strokes

(I apologize for the lack of updates, especially in the middle of a list, but I was sick for over a week.  So I promise, I’ll finish the remaining artists in a much quicker pace.)

I can’t remember when I first heard of The Strokes.  It was probably sometime in the summer of 2001 when they just starting to explode, and their debut Is This It was creating a firestorm in the rock world.  Although I like Is This Is It? now, I decided before I even heard The Strokes, I decided that they would be a band that would annoy me.  The hype surrounding them just seemed too much.  I had already experienced that with Nirvana, only to find out once you actually listen to the records and take away the the hype – the band was really just mediocre at best.

It wasn’t until 2003 when I actually first heard a Strokes song.  A friend of mine made me a Mix CD and it contained both “Last Night” and “Someday”.   While I found “Last Night” to be a pretty good song, it was really “Someday” that caught my attention.  Julian Casablancas sang in a way that felt disconnected and insincere, yet somehow still managed to connect with the listener even if his voice was buried in the mix.  Musically, I thought the song was really interesting.  It seemed like a ballad, but the beat was extremely fast and propelling.  One guitar played a single note repeatedly throughout the verses, and while the other almost veered out of control.  Not too long after, I went out and got Is This It? and quickly became hooked.  Two years later, I had discovered what everybody else already knew: The Strokes were the coolest and best rock and roll band in over a decade.

Looking back, it seems odd that this little album could have such a profound effect on the music world.  There are no grand gestures on the album.  Each song is a perfectly little garage-rock gem.  If anything the only criticism you could make about the album is that The Strokes tried a little too hard to be cool and sound like The Velvet Underground.

But The Strokes aren’t important because Is This It? blew up, or because they both looked and acted cool.  With Is This It? The Strokes proved in an era of boy-bands and stream-lined pop, that rock and roll could still exist – and that it was still vital.  There was still some life left it in it.  And ten years later, it still sounds as fresh and vital upon its initial release (even if I didn’t listen to it until years later.)  Modern rock had become stale, and with grunge artists seemed to take their work and themselves too seriously.  The Strokes bought back some of the fun back in rock and roll, by not caring.  Even if the Strokes were known for their partying image, they didn’t seem to care about that either.  “Fuck going to that party,” Casablancas would later declare, in “12:51” the first single off their sophomore effort, Room on Fire.

Though garage-rock had been around for decades, The Strokes were the ones that blew the door open for it to become mainstream just as Nirvana “broke punk” some ten years before.  Lo-fi suddenly became the new standard for young bands starting out.  Bands such as The Hives and Jet would never have gotten the attention that they did without The Strokes.  Even Kings of Leon, who came out a year or two after The Strokes were unofficially billed as “the southern Strokes”.

While Is This It? remains essential, The Strokes have yet to live up to its (and the audiences) expectations since.  I’ve yet to figure out whether they’ve tried too hard or too little since their debut.

On another note, I also think that any self-respecting hipster owes The Strokes a huge debt.  They made skinny jeans, ray-bands and a smug attitude popular outside of New York.

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Great Songs By Terrible Artists: “The Way” – Fastball

By all rights “The Way” shouldn’t work – there’s too many classic rock influences all jammed into one song.  But it’s so catchy, and so good. The theme of the song is pure Springsteen – traveling and driving to get away, without ever really knowing your destination.  Jesus, it even unfolds like a story just like “The River”.   The organ that plays in the beginning of the song is early 60’s garage rock, and the band clearly have that in mind with their nicely fitted suits, and well groomed side-burns as seen in the video.  And when the guitars finally kick in – it’s The Edge’s delay pedal they’ve found.  This song is destined for a higher calling, and the chorus haven’t even arrived yet!  The harmonies, well try as Fastball may, they’re certainly not the Beach Boys.  But does it matter at this point?

As the drummer bops his head just like Ringo as he plays, you’re smiling too.  And as if you think Fastball has gone too far cramming the entire history of rock into one singular song – they release not one, but TWO rockabilly style solos so perfect that they made Brian Setzer all but disappear!

For all of these reasons, “The Way” earns a spot for one for one of the best single of the 90s.

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