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What A Rip, the latest album from Ryan Allen (Extra Arms, Thunderbirds Are Now!, Destroy This Place), is not the first “2020” album I’ve written about. Nor will it be the last. But it will surely go down as one of the best. The title is in some ways a humorous acknowledgement that Allen “borrowed” from a classic song or two in the process of writing this album. But the real rip-off Allen is referencing is 2020 itself. This was a year that deprived us of so much. We all missed out on time spent with family and friends. Kids missed out on going to school. Bands missed out on playing shows. Birthdays, graduations, and holidays were not the same. Many of us literally lost people we loved. What a rip indeed!
With What A Rip, Allen gives us a 2020-themed record that doesn’t try too hard to be a 2020-themed record. Like so many other musicians and artists, he made the best of a bad situation last year and used his pandemic downtime to focus on creative pursuits. Last year alone, he released a 20-song album titled Song Snacks Vol. 1, a demo collection called RCHIVES, two albums of cover songs, and several singles. While not super-intentionally a concept album, What A Rip clearly explores ideas that were running through Allen’s mind as the year progressed. In terms of musical inspirations, he went back to some of the most foundational bands in rock roll. The influence of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and The Who is all over this record. And seriously: if you’re gonna steal from other bands, those are the ones to steal from! It actually all started with a friend lending Allen a guitar pedal that mimicked the sounds of a Mellotron keyboard. And from there, the songs on this record just came to him. What A Rip brings together various elements of that classic mid-to-later ’60s era of popular music – from garage rock to melodic guitar pop to psychedelic rock to baroque pop to early glam rock. While it’s fun to joke about who he might be ripping off from track to track, Allen does a wonderful job of stealing creatively. And isn’t that what all of the best rock and roll of the last 40 years has basically done? “On My Mind” sounds like what would happen if “Paperback Writer” and “Last Train To Clarksville” made a baby. “Look In My Eyes” is probably meant to bring to mind The Nazz’s “Open My Eyes”, yet it’s by no means a straight rip. “Already Gone” steals a riff from T. Rex that was already stolen from Howlin’ Wolf and incorporates it into a very Ryan Allen sounding song. While very obvious in its inspirations, the material on this album is well-crafted and consistently strong. In my book, songs like the simple, sweet “Glad That I Have You” and the gorgeous, Lennon-esque ballad “Only Son” (featuring Allen’s dad Brad on guitar and brother Scott on keyboards) are two of the all-time high points in the Ryan Allen/Extra Arms songbook. Featuring an appealing mix of rockers, pop songs, and wonderful ballads, What A Rip is the sort of great all-around rock record that you just don’t hear often enough these days.
While I’ve enjoyed Ryan Allen’s two albums with the full band version of Extra Arms, What A Rip has a home-recorded, deeply personal charm to it that takes me back to when I first heard Heart String Soul six years ago and became an instant fan. Allen is one of those songwriters that you just can’t help relating to. In telling his own personal story through song, he touches on experiences we all share. In that respect, he was an ideal songwriter to make a 2020 themed album. What A Rip doesn’t try to be profound or deeply insightful. It merely tells the tale of one man trying to navigate his way through a year full of hardships, gloom, and chaos. This is an album about loss and uncertainty and despair – but also an album full of hope and gratitude for the loved ones who make this life so worthwhile. I know the term “dad rock” is often meant as a knock. But this album is an example of what all dad rock should aspire to be. Having previously made albums in the styles of power pop, alternative rock, and indie rock (as well as the genre-hopping Song Snacks Vol. 1, which I deeply regret sleeping on when it came out last summer), Allen now presents his tribute to rock and roll. Yet the constant throughout has been how much of himself he puts into his songs. Digging into his full catalog on Bandcamp is surely a multi-hour commitment. Yet it’s an endeavor I highly recommend!
Detroit’s legendary Trash Brats have been a huge part of my musical universe going back to my early days in the record-reviewing racket. Here was a band that was too punk for the glam rockers, too glam for the punks, and probably too pop for either! If nowadays “glam-punk” is a thing, that’s largely because the Trash Brats and a few like-minded bands made it a thing through years of exciting live performances and stellar releases that attracted devoted fans the old-fashioned way. It all started 30 years ago with the release of the Trash Brats’ self titled debut album. This would be the first of four proper albums released by the Trash Brats. It was originally released on cassette but had never come out on vinyl until earlier this month. The 30th anniversary vinyl reissue of Trash Brats is the first release on Jim Rinn’s I-94 Recordings in nearly 20 years! The bubblegum pink vinyl sold out in 24 hours, and the fancy wax mage art vinyl sold out in a few days (I wasn’t joking about the fans being devoted!). The album is still available on 180-gram black vinyl and well worth owning whether you’re a longtime Trash Brats fan or just discovering the band for the first time. It’s also available from the streaming sites if you just want to hear the songs again. Featuring fan favorite cuts like “Don’t Wanna Dance”, “Bubblegum Girl”, “3873 Marlborough Street”, “Gas Boy”, and “S-M-U-T”, this remains the definitive Trash Brats release. Grab a copy while you can!
Third Man Records
Out November 20
Southeast of Saturn illumines an entirely different Detroit Rock City than the one you think you know. It’s a sonic place you’ll want to visit.
The city of Detroit is no stranger to music. Long before it saw an emerging space rock scene toward the end of the twentieth century, it seemed impossible to think about Detroit in any aural sense without immediately hearing the sounds of Motown, and bands like The Supremes and The Temptations. Less than a decade later, the city earned a place in the foundations of punk history, skyrocketing MC5 to success. Iggy and the Stooges (known then as the Psychedelic Stooges) also played their first gig in Detroit. And of course, Suzi Quatro was born there. So it shouldn’t come as much of a revelation to learn that this place sparked new creative energies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although most of the bands on Third Man’s new Southeast of Saturn never saw any mainstream success, they’ve earned a cult following.
Speaking of the musicians so finely curated on this compilation, can I interest you in some lightning-quick time travel? Let me introduce you, reader, to some of the spaces where these bands honed their sound. First stop: Zoot’s Coffee, in Midtown Detroit. I’ll let you in on a little secret: not a lot of coffee got served there. The underground venue was home to a number of bands that defined the city’s music scene in the mid-90s, including Windy & Carl. The venue, as the story goes, was named after the owner’s Doberman. Down the road in Ann Arbor, Windy & Carl also booked gigs at the now-famous Blind Pig, which previously hosted performances by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Sonic Youth. That venue and its current owner appeared in an October 2020 ad supporting Joe Biden for US president. So, in more ways than one, the Blind Pig is on the right side of history. Back in the Cass Corridor district of Detroit, Majesty Crush, one of the more well-known bands on the compilation, played at Dally in the Alley – a community festival with roots in the mid-nineteenth century that also hosted a number of the other musicians represented on Southeast of Saturn.
Although arising out of the same geographic space and temporal moment, each of the bands channel their influences into distinctive tracks that conjure vastly different atmospheres of sound. Majesty Crush’s No. 1 Fan, the first track on the compilation, reveals the band’s acoustic connections to Britpop and American grunge. The sound is the band’s own, yet it contains hints of The Stone Roses and Nirvana as it engages in unassuming conversation with Oasis. In 1992, bassist Hobey Echlin told the Detroit Free Press that the band’s music “all comes out of punk rock simplicity.” Twenty-five years later, Echlin wrote a remembrance in the Detroit Metro Times for David Stroughter, the band’s lead singer who died in 2017. Echlin’s words describe Stroughter while illuminating the varied ways in which the band resonates: “He was the epitome of a late ’80s Detroit post-punk enigma . . . a multicultural iconoclast who grew up with the nephews and uncles of Motown royalty, who could be heard chatting with Einstürzende Neubaten in fluent German upstairs in the Burns Room of St. Andrew’s Hall after a show.”
A number of the tracks on Southeast of Saturn are instrumental, recalling early Durutti Column strings and keys. The Windy & Carl contribution to the compilation, Instrumental #2, feels like it could have been an outtake for the Durutti Column LP Lips That Would Kiss. I can’t help but wonder if Tony Wilson might have been interested in signing the band to Factory Records if the music had only got started a bit earlier. Beyond Windy & Carl, Miss Bliss’s Grey and Thirsty Forest Animals’s Nape are also sure to spark the interest of Durutti Column fans. In the summers of 1991 and 1992, Thirsty Forest Animals appeared on a number of bills with Majesty Crush, revealing how two bands with starkly disparate sounds could engage in a sonic dialogue simply because their music grew out of a corresponding space and time.
As the compilation moves forward, songs like Asha Vida’s Eskimo Summer, Ten Second Dynasty’s Continuum, and Astrobrite’s Crasher exemplify the aural qualities that have now become synonymous with shoegaze. My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain seem to haunt the compilation just as it’s time to flip to the B-side. As the tracks on the album shift from fuzzy guitars to trippy synth sounds, it becomes clear how these bands, collectively, defined the age of Detroit Space Rock. Yet even as the electronic vibrations come into clearer focus, Glider’s Shift insists on grunge connections to the West Coast while Calliope’s Laughing at Roadsigns calls across the Atlantic as an answer to a Britpop anthem.
Burnt Hair Records, a label that has since become synonymous with the Detroit scene of the 1990s, signed many of the bands on Southeast of Saturn. Radio DJ Larry Hoffmann, who hosted the locally famous Life According To Larry radio show, launched the label in 1990. While the collective sound of the compilation might ultimately be remembered as space rock, the nineteen songs together illuminate the varied influences and audiences these bands cultivated. This is a dazzling compilation from Third Man Records that you don’t want to miss.
Audrey J. Golden is a literature and film professor who lives in New York. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and you can check out her personal website to learn more about her writing and her archive of books, records, and ephemera.
The post Third Man Records: Southeast of Saturn Compilation — album review appeared first on Louder Than War.