Against Me Band Photo 800

Three High Octane New Records Battle For Super Tuesday Supremacy

There hasn’t been much to get excited about at the record store this year, until now. On Tuesday, January 21, three of the best full throttle rock records of the current decade hit the shelves: Against Me!’s cultural milestone Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Reverend Horton Heat’s fast & furious REV, and a star is born new album, Hey Kid, by Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons.

Forgive the hyperbole in the introduction, it’s just an honest opinion based on the ton of music I filter through for this column and the few albums that blaze hot enough to make a lasting mark. As the POPDOSE writers’ table has long discussed, record reviews by their very nature are utter bullshit.  Most are snap judgments made by harried, underpaid writers racing to make a deadline. They’ll listen with one ear while penning a review with the other. They’ll scour the lyric sheet to find a narrative theme, make a guess about what the artist is going for, and most importantly fill word count by cut & pasting lyrics.

Hundreds of hours of an artist’s work in the studio can be shot down by 2-inches of a Rolling Stone or NME review made by some freelancer who was assigned the record instead of discovering it on their own. A knee-jerk, mid-range “three and a half star” or a “B-“ review is a brand that can stay with the album for eternity (which in the record industry equates to about six weeks).

Who knew the most punk rock person in music circa 2013 would be Beyonce who put her album out there without any hype. She invited her fans to a global collective listening experience before any reviews could be published — not that SPIN didn’t try with no less than 8 “impulsive reviews” before the sun rose.

So here are my takes on three albums that were worthy of my time to listen to time and again, let alone while away a football-filled Sunday to code and write this post.

Against Me Transgender

Against Me!

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Admitted Reviewer Bias:

  • Against Me! has been my favorite band on Earth since New Wave dropped in 2007
  • I didn’t discover them until SPIN named New Wave “Album of the Year”
  • The main theme is lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s search for gender clarity, a journey I personally undertook years ago and have been an advocate for ever since.
  • The album was rumored to be a concept album about a transgender prostitute. While I am sympathetic to the plights of transgender prostitutes, I can’t stand concept albums.

Number of album spins to write this review:

  • 47 between early December and today

Laura Jane Grace has done a ton of press to promote this album, so much so that it warrants an entire discussion that I’ll publish later this week. All we’re going to talk about today is the music.

Is this album good for the trans community?

Yes. It finally shines a light on the struggles many of us face from an insider’s perspective. The lyrics, while brutal, honest and deeply personal to Grace, are at times universal for anyone struggling with identity, overcoming oppression and longing to be loved.

Will hardcore Against Me! fans like it?

Yes and No. Fans of New Wave and 2010’s equally triumphant White Crosses will appreciate the sing-a-long verses and the monster hooks — yet they might miss the polish of Butch Vig’s multi-tracked production style. This album sounds like it was recorded live in one breathless take.

Fans of earlier albums will gravitate to the one-two hardcore punch of ‘Drinking With The Jocks’ and ‘Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ’. Fans who consider themselves purists to the Reinventing Axl Rose album and never shut up about it in the forums will never be happy; their inability to grow, accept change and get over it make the transgender dysphoria blues seem like a case of the sniffles.

Any complaints?

At first, the brief 28-minute run time irked me. That’s closer to an EP length. The more I listened, the more I liked it. You can usually roar through the entire album in one sitting. One workout. One drive to and from the store. That’s why it works. It is a single, swift, adrenaline punch.

I think the artwork is disgusting but I think that type of reaction is kinda what she’s going for.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues: Track-By-Track Review

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

This is a gut wrenching coming of age saga; desperately wanting to be noticed and deathly afraid of the consequences — the music is dressed in a Big Country rhythmic anthem and adorned with a fairly universal chorus: “rough surf on the coast, wish I could have spent the while day alone with you.”

True Trans Soul Rebel

A monster hook crowd-pleaser in concert for the past year, this is one of two songs on the album about the transgender prostitute character. The chorus: “Who’s going to take you home tonight? Who’s gonna take you home?” is heartbreaking enough for anyone whose lonely, and then the knife twists: “Does God bless your transsexual heart?”

I turn to the Thai for the answers — their culture feels the souls who were born in one gender and transition to another are on a difficult and important journey — they deserve compassion, respect and support; unlike in “Fuck Yeah America” where a guy in a skirt is perceived as weak and worthy to beat senseless.

Unconditional Love

A flat out, unabashed pop rocker with a handclap chorus, “Even if your love was unconditional, it still wouldn’t be enough to save me.” By this point, the theme for all 10 songs emerges — dark dark lyrics, wrapped in jubilant music.

Drinking With The Jocks

As someone who primarily hangs out with girls, I can feel the visceral 1:49 adrenaline rush of this song about hanging with meathead jock assholes and pretending to fit in, knowing damn well if they knew who you really were would beat the living shit out of you.

Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ

I suck at properly identifying lyrics, so I enjoyed attempts in the Against Me! forums to decipher the lyrics. By doing so, I learned something about the death of Benito Mussolini. This is a blistering political song, mosh pit fueler and history lesson all in one. Not surprising from the singer who turned the name of Vietnam era Secretary of Defense “Robert Strange McNamara” into a snappy chorus on 2010’s ‘High Pressure Low’.

Fuck My Life 666

When the haunting acoustic version of this came out on last year’s True Trans EP, I feared it was a suicide note and/or admission that Grace’s marriage to her wife Heather wasn’t working out after all. A recent NPR interview confirmed the latter. Surprisingly, such a raw, emotional song translates nicely as a full throttle rocker.

Dead Friend

This is the most ridiculous song on the album. Not for the subject matter — the tragic loss of Against Me’s touring lighting technician John Paul Allison (aka: Pope) — it’s the chorus, “I miss my dead friend/your cold dead hands/your cold dead lips/your cold dead heart/your cold dead kiss”. Macabre in a Tim Burton sort of way salvaged by the blustery back-up chorus.

Two Coffins

A lone acoustic guitar swept along by air brushed drums delivers the most beautiful ballad in the Against Me! discography. Proving how you can read just about anything into lyrics, what I imagined as a love song to Grace’s wife is actually a lullaby to their daughter (Per Grace’s recent NPR interview).

Paralytic States of Dependency

All those years Grace spent on the road as Tom Gabel are retold in this epic confessional. “Standing naked in front of her hotel bathroom mirror/in her dysphoria’s reflection she still saw her mother’s son.” While the lyrics cut deep into her soul, the song and production aim for the arenas.

Black Me Out

We first heard this song on YouTube with Grace backed up against the wall armed with nothing but a guitar to protect herself. During the chorus, her vocal delivery for the first time veers into a feminine, Linda Perry range. This is a huge song — a grandiose concert encore The Killers would be proud of. Just be prepared for the day your kid comes home singing the chorus “Black Me Out/I want to piss on the walls of your house/I want to chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers.”

Here, the prostitute frees herself from the pimp, the oppressed frees herself from her lies, the ashamed erases her old self and proudly claims her true identity. This is cathartic release of the album’s angst, a satisfying conclusion to Grace’s inspirational journey up to this point and an anthem for anyone who is on the cusp of self-discovery.

Get Transgender Dysphoria Blues on Amazon or directly from the band.

Reverend Horton Heat 800

Reverend Horton Heat

Reverend Horton Heat REV

REV

Potential Reviewer Bias:

  • I’ve been a huge fan of this band for 20 years. Of my Top 20 concert experiences ever, this Texan trio would own at least three of them.
  • I’ve bought most of their albums over the years, but as they’ve been sliding closer to traditional country, I find myself listening to their earlier output the most — especially Holy Roller one of the greatest single disc greatest hits records ever assembled.

Number of album spins to write this review:

  • 21 between early January and today

Chicago’s Victory Records, home to emo and screamo bands like Hawthorne Heights and Otep, might seem like a strange home for Psychobilly’s uncontested kings, but then again, so did North Carolina’s more Americana Yep Roc where they spent their last few albums. Now, 20 years after Ministry’s Al Jourgensen produced their breakout, Liquor in the Front, the mighty Heat return with their most aggressive album since that era.

‘Victory Lap/Smell of Gasoline’ is their best one-two punch album opener since ‘Big Sky/Baddest of the Bad’ kicked off both Liquor and Roller.

Jim Heath might look like an appliance repairman, but he packs one of the most sinister wits in rock and roll, not to mention deadly machine gun guitar chops. ‘Never Gonna Stop It’ is his manifesto on rock and roll as the last bastion of truth telling in our bought and paid for news conglomerate culture. Spooky Boots, on the other hand, is a totally for reals ghost story:

REV is an album that you MUST buy on CD, vinyl or with a digital booklet if one is offered. Heath enunciates just fine, so instead of a lyric sheet, he provides color commentary to every song on the album. His stories are hysterical, insightful and help you appreciate songs that have immediate appeal on an entirely higher level. If only Hollywood movies had commentary tracks this amusing.

Ever since I witnessed a teenage Jimmy Page playing a radical new sound called “Skiffle” on a 1957 British TV show (via the documentary It Might Get Loud), I’ve had a deeper appreciation for the roots of Rockabilly, Psychobilly and Surf Rock — all of which are well represented on REV. There’s nary a dud on this album and any attempts to sell it more would only ruin the twists, turns and surprises that lie throughout.

Buy REV on Amazon.

Better Angela Hi Res 800

Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons

Angela Perley Hey Kid

Hey Kid

Potential Reviewer Bias:

  • Since I don’t follow ‘em on twitter, and E! and TMZ have yet to track their every move, I have no idea which celebrities they are dating, what their political views are, or which restaurants they have checked into.
  • Guess I’ll have to form an opinion based solely on their music.

Number of album spins to write this review:

  • 15 between mid-January and today

When Hey Kid came across my desk, a few days after I featured the amazing second single, ‘Athens’ on POPDOSE, I assumed it would be just another easy and breezy Americana album that’s all the rage these days. I wasn’t prepared to be rocked like a ‘Hurricane’, the dazzling first single from this stunner of an album:

Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons plant sonic roots deep in the heartland between the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Lady Antebellum, Lita Ford and the Lone Below. The end result is one of the most promising breakthrough albums I have heard in years.

Perley is a gorgeous singer with an even prettier voice that is scuffed up and world worn in all the right places. The Howlin’ Moons — Billy Zehnal (bass), Chris Connor (lead guitar), Steve Rupp (drums) — deliver powerhouse rhythms and sing-along melodies that will blow the roof off the halls they are likely playing at this stage in their career. The guitar work here is incredible — in many cases lifting the melody like a duet partner for Perley. Despite the rock and roll prowess the band displays on the album’s first four tracks, their theme song, ‘Howlin’ at the Moon’, is one of the more traditional country songs in the set, as is another country ballad ironically titled ‘Rock and Roller’.

The country song suite veers back into rock and roll for ‘Bad Reputation’ — while neither a Joan Jett or Reverend Horton Heat cover, it holds its own against those classics.

All the way til the encore, the song parade on Hey Kid never lets up. The raucous honky tonk track, ‘Roll on Over’, appears late in the album. The whisper quiet ‘Down and Drunk’ and an instrumental reprise of ‘Athens’ bring the set to a triumphant final bow.

Look for the band on tour. In the meantime, connect with them on facebook and twitter.

Buy Hey Kid on Amazon.