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The Nuclears sail off into the Seasides

Warning: This blog entry is rated ‘R’ for rockist content and for frank discussion of cock rockery

The Nuclears make rock ’n’ roll about rock ’n’ roll and god bless ‘em for it. Led by the brothers Dudolevitch, Mike D and Brian D share vocal and electric guitar duties and are ably assisted by Bobby Sproles (bass) and Kevin Blatchford (drums) who function as the control rods to this long-running Brooklyn-based musical nuclear reactor with additional assistance from vocalist/tambournist Briana Layon who acts as the band’s steam generator with her Tina-Turner-meets-Valerie-Brown-meets-Julie-Brown-rapped-in-the-body-of-a-white-girl-soulful-belting-and-on-stage-shimmying-and-tambourine-shaking. 

Earlier this year the band released what is said to be their final studio album Seasides (Rum Bar Records) and last week they played a farewell-to-Manhattan show at Mercury Lounge that burned with a white hot molten intensity (check out the Deli’s Instagram account for a clip from the show in question alongside the super fun self-described "Maximum Oi'N'B" opening act 45 Adapters who shared sensible advice like "don't trust anyone who doesn't dance") and in case you missed that one their very very last NYC show will happen at TV Eye in Brooklyn-adjacent Ridgewood, Queens on 9/18—the giant centerfold portrait of Iggy Pop in the front room couldn't be more appropriate for this stacked bill alongside The Fleshtones (!), Televisionaries, and Spud Cannon—and really you’d be crazy to miss it. Over their decade-plus existence The Nuclears’ sound has been compared to everyone from Chuck Berry to the Stones, the Ramones to the Dolls, the Kinks to Kiss, Deep Purple to Black Sabbath and the list goes on—not to mention their own self-stated musical influences such as The Who, MC5, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Radio Birdman, Turbonegro, and the Hellacopters. In other words, they don’t just rock. They rawk.

And speaking of “rock about rock” (sorry, make that “rawk about rawk!”) The Nuclears are/were essentially a living breathing rock ’n’ roll Hall of Fame traveling circus with intertwining stands of ‘50s rock und roll, ‘60s garage, ‘70s punk, ‘80s metal, and ‘90s grunge and the result is one hell of a lot more fun than staring at Mick Jagger’s slacks behind a glass case in Cleveland, Ohio (not to deny that “Cleveland rocks”) while still putting across their own singularly opened-hearted let’s-get-the-party-started vibe especially live. Speaking of which it’s a shame The Nuclears never recorded a live album because the band’s insane level of shreditude and kinetic livewire energy in the flesh can’t entirely be captured in the studio kind of like a vampire trying to comb his hair in a mirror.

But hey don’t let it discourage you from giving Seasides a spin because for one thing it contains a couple honest-to-Abe “rock about rock” songs that truly rawk (both feature Briana on lead vox) right smack in the middle of the album. First there’s “Mystery Slinger” about meeting a guitar slinger “down at the crossroads” (could it be…Satan?!?) who “possessed a magic in his fingers” (not to be confused with the Magic Fingers™ at your finer hourly rate motels) and Bonnie Raitt oughta cover this song on her next record because there’s some insanely groovy blooze clues to be detected here; and then next comes the equally self-referential “Bow To The Queen” (“I’m the best this world has ever seen…burn it down with gasoline”) with some serious-as-a-sheer-heart-attack heavy metal wailing both vocally and in the Dudolevitch's truly juicy Judas Priesty twin leads. 

All of which raises the question: Should the Nuclears be classified as roots rockers; or is it more accurate to call them meta-rock postmodernists? Which raises the answer: Who cares?!? Because Seasides should convince any remaining skeptics not to “knock the rock” with songs that measure up majestically next to classics by Queen and Zep and Joan Jett (and of course “The Tap!”) when it comes to rock songs about rock that also happen to rawk. ROCK! And not to worry they don’t forget to throw in some sex (“Make the First Move,” “Small Talk”) and drugs (“Siamese Connection”) for the masses with that lastly mentioned song adding some social commentary into the mix with lyrics about the CIA importing narcotics into the USA (“it’s not a crime / if you’re on the right side”) but don’t worry this isn’t a message album unless that message is "let's rock!" 

Speaking of postmodernism, the next song is called “I Just Wanna Have Nothin’ To Do” which is a title the Ramones somehow never came up with and they make doing nothing sounds pretty fun (especially when they wanna do nothing with you) but peel back the onion and it’s a straight-up deconstructive text about wanting to want nothing, desiring to be free of desire, because desire is akin to being stuck on a “hamster wheel…going nowhere slow” and I’m starting to wonder if these boys and their side chick are Buddhists or maybe they’re just students of Schopenhauer. This impression is only solidified in the next song on the album “Doin’ the Same Thing Twice” which further explores the futility of striving with lines like “one day you’ll find / you’re just a cog in the machine / trying to turn into a bigger cog / well that’s the American Dream.” And once a band’s arrives at this stark realization well how can they not break up so yeah it’s all starting to make sense now.

The Nuclears fittingly bow out with two truly head-banging-devil-horn-displaying-fist-pumpers. The first of which being “Slash Run” which opens with the lines “There’s a place that speaks right to my soul / the best parts of rock ’n’ roll / a drug (drunk?) house full of degenerates like me / and I never wanna leave” and admittedly I may be misinterpreting a word or two in there but misinterpretations can be revealing and then the song segues into a cover of KISS’s “Strutter” and it's hard to misinterpret a couplet like "everybody says she's lookin' good / and the lady knows it's understood" so of course she struts her stuff and I mean wouldn't you. And then finally comes “Flat and Nasty” where The Nuclears look back to a pre-Internet-porn era when rock ’n’ roll jollies could only be had by non-Paul-Stanley-types through such primitive rites as heading to your local ShopRite to buy a pack of smokes then going back to your bedroom and shuttering the blinds and, well, “the only way I could get my release / was all the flat girls on the TV screen.” 





So lest you accuse these New Yawk "rock about rock" meta-rock-masters of being masturbatory musically or otherwise, well guess what, they just beat you to it (!) by writing a terminal song that’s literally about “beating it” but which also speaks directly to this particular band's artistry. Because in typical Nuclears fashion they make the love of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll sound like the most wholesome thing you could ever aspire to—especially, again, at their tent revival style live shows—a Hellfire Holy Trinity suffused with a nostalgic cathode glow that's as "All American" as that well known perv Norman Rockwell eating a slice of warm apple pie and then using the rest of the soft yielding pastry to pleasure his love gun American Pie style. (Jason Lee)

Photo by Kem Ettienne (@primo34)

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Pom Pom Squad's Death of a Cheerleader and the Endless Summer

Now that the calendar reads "August" we've officially entered the dog days of summer which begs the questions of why summer is always so fleeting and what does it all reeeeally mean maaan so to help in considering the larger significance of summer in our daily lives it would probably help to name an Official Musical Statement of the Summerfor the year 2021 and herein we officially bestow this honour upon Pom Pom Squad’s inaugural full-length release Death of a Cheerleader (City Slang Records) which is not only a great record that happened to be released the first week of summer but it's also a record that powerfully evokes summer itself.

On Death of a Cheerleader Pom Pom Squad take elements of classic girl group R&B and balladry and combine them with power pop and post-punk and hints of psychedelia and emo (imagine a mashup of the Shirelles and the Pleasure Seekers and the Savage Rose and Cheap Trick and Joan Jett and Elastica and the Muffs and Rainer Maria and and Hot Sundae and Sleater-Kinney but that’s a vast oversimplification) which are well-chosen ingredients for a summer album that’s equally sweet as candy and gritty as sand. Against this musical backdrop squad leader Mia Berrin (alongside bassist Mari Alé Figeman, drummer Shelby Keller, and co-guitarist Alex Mercuri) paints a vivid picture of endorphin-rushing desire and brash F.U. bravado beset by waves of self-doubt and lovelorn ache. If this record were a book instead of a record it’d make a great beach something like the musical equivalent of a pulpy novel about forbidden love and crushing heartbreak and a voyage of self-discovery that hits harder than you'd expected cuz yeah we see those little puddles of mud next to your beach towel.

Plus there's something about summer's odd mashup of physical immediacy, romantic longing, and built-in nostalgia that this album taps into in a major way making it a worthy entry into the summer song canon, a musical repertoir notable for oscillating wildly between extremes of heedless abandon and pleasure seeking versus heedful self-reflection and lamentations hoping for something better—especially when it comes to the subject of summer flings, breif encounters that paradoxically linger in the memory forever—the escapism of having “Fun, Fun, Fun” (“Fun”) forever haunted by mournful Pet Sounds and that’s how this album hits imho. 

Death of A Cheerleader opens with “Soundcheck” which is something like the music you’d hear in a movie when the picture goes all wobbly and the protagonist get sucked into a daydream or fantasy or past recollection—here represented by a vortex of swirling vibraphone tones and a static-y radio signals beaming a spectral distorted voice from a distant star—thus setting the reflective and hyperreal tone for the rest of the album. After passing through this sonic portal we’re thrust straight into the sugary headrush of “Head Cheerleader” with its interrelated admissions that “I’m going to marry the scariest girl on the cheerleading team” and that “my worst decisions are the ones I like best” coyly delivered with a hint of Valley Girl uptalk—the exhilaration and vulnerability of the lyrics mirrored in a musical arrangement that audibly squirms with anticipation (“I’m squirming out of my skin”) and buzzes with nervous butterflies (“stay away from girls like me”).

The specters of Roy Orbison and Phil Spector haunt the next number, “Crying”, which shares a title and a theme with Orbison’s “Crying” but whose opening line (“it hits me and it feels like a kiss”) paraphrases Phil's most notorious song (“He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” was written by Gerry Goffen and Carole King and recorded by the Crystals with Spector producing and arranging) but with Mia belting the song out Ronnie Spector style which complicates an already complicated dynamic despite the relative straight-forward simplicity of the lyrics—a pleasure/pain dialectic further amplified by Sarah Tudzin’s crucial role in co-producing/co-arranging/mastering/mixing the album which on this song results in a Spector-worthy Wall of Sound with glissing violins and angelically strummed harps creating an otherworldly tableau of tears streaking down the singer's cheeks as Berrin soars and sobs over the chorus and really this song is not fooling around (Tudzin is the lead hottie in Illuminati Hotties in addition to being a prolific and distinctive producer-engineer). 

Continuing down this intertextually referential path “Second That” reworks the titular phrase of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ soul music staple “I Second That Emotion” but re-imagined as internal dialogue more than romantic entreaty (“I saw someone you were with in the summer / and now I wanna be just like them”) with a fittingly minimalistic arrangement matched to the song's sense of isolation. Next up is “Cake” which is more punk rock confrontational and chaotic with the half-sung, half-spoken vocals eventually splitting into two parts Sybil-style between an upper register and a menacing low growl reflecting the multi-layer cake mix of assuredness and insecurity in the lyrics.

 

The identity play continues on the Joan Jett-inflected cover of “Crimson and Clover” and then on “Lux” where Mia provides an inner voice (“How do you expect me to figure myself out / when I cannot tell the difference between good and bad attention”) for Lux Lisbon, the mysterious lead protagonist of The Virgin Suicides, that's absent from both the book and the movie and in the song Lux redirecting her fury from inward to outward in a galvanizing ninety-nine second rave-up (just a few songs on Cheerleader crack the three-minute mark and just barely at that) followed by another crimson-themed song “Red With Love” that's flush with unflinching desire and defiance (“I need you closer and you’re not even an inch away”) and then next comes a soul-baring/spine-chilling ballad called “Forever” that marries a mournful string choir to an octave-jumping vocal and a “Be My Babybeat.

 

In its final act Death of a Cheerleader moves from the frenetic “Shame Reactions” wherein Ms. Berrin alludes for the first time to the album’s title and and its implication of murderous desire (“Is there a way for me to kill the girl I wish I were?”) followed by the sodden rebuke/pledge of devotion of “Drunk Voicemail” and the sign of resignation “This Couldn’t Happen” and the spent emotional afterglow of “Be Good” reprising the flashback vibraphone theme of the opening “Soundcheck” as if we’ve woking up from the album-long dream/flashback/fantasy before concluding with the short backmasked coda of “Thank You and Goodnight.”

In (almost) closing it’s worth noting that the title of Death of a Cheerleader is taken from a 1994 NBC-TV movie (originally titled “A Friend To Die For” but wisely renamed upon its many reairings on Lifetime and in that same network’s 2019 remake) which follows the trials and travails of a geeky-cute but deeply insecure girl-next-door type (portrayed by Kellie Martin who was known at the time for playing the similarly characterized albeit less murderous “Becca” on ABC’s Life Goes On) entering her sophomore year in high school who totally loses her marbles when she gets rejected by the yearbook committee and fails her cheerleading tryout on the same damn day. 

And so naturally she uses the rather large and sharp knife her older vegetarian sister keeps in the car for cutting up cucumbers as a makeshift murder weapon to dispose of the Heather Chandler-esque mean girl cheerleader who gives her shit (played by Tori Spelling aka “Donna” from Beverly Hills 90210) a crime of passion provoked in part by the high school’s principle who insists at a pep rally that secon best equals total failure and also most likely more than a touch of dissociative identity disorder which further manifests itself when the Homicidal Girl Next Door briefy takes over Mean Girl’s social standing after the murder while still remaining a Nice Girl and it’s like she’s a hybrid of Heather Duke and Heather McNamara but then finally the gnawing sense of guilt and a local priest’s sermon gets the better of her and she confesses and goes to trail with many upper-middle-class Santa Mira townies in attendance (the setting being a clever touch given that Santa Mira itself is an illusory town—the fictional setting for films ranging from the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers to the Sharknado franchise g*d help us) who come to the difficult realization that they themselves helped create this situation through their materialism and aspirationalism resulting in a mere second degree murder conviction and really I gotta say it’s the happiest ending that a cheerleader slayer could hope for especially one in a Lifetime movie.



Anyway, the movie is really more of a trenchant examination of late capitalism and social class in America and their mental health impacts than it needed to be for a pulpy TV movie, but maybe this unexpected resonance had something to do with making Death of a Cheerleader the most watched TV movie of 1994 because surely it wasn't that viewers wanting to see Donna from 90210 stabbed to death by a goody-goody character from another show because you just know Americans aren't sick that way as a nation. And perhaps it’s maybe no wonder either that Mia Berrin and her Pom Pom Squaders would also identify with the TV movie because in certain respects it's deeply queer and plus it addresses double consciousness which is an ontological state familiar to individuals and social formations where the individual or social formation in question is effectively denied membership in the ruling class's hegemonic social world, a world they must nonetheless interact with on a daily basis—thus necessitating the development of a kind of adaptive split personality in order to cope with the unreal reality of being forced to live between two worlds, between two distinct and segregated realities.

Along these lines, Mia Berrin has explained elsewhere how her choice to take on the persona of the badass rule-breaking cheerleader was based in part on the overwhelming whiteness of indie rock subculture and how it can make a Queer Jewish-Puerto Rican Woman of Color feel more than a little out of place—a state of affairs that is (arguably) slowly improving thanks to bands like Pom Pom Squad—not to mention the Mean Girls and Mean Boys Ms. Berrin was forced to deal with in high school especially before she transferred to a private school (New York City’s public school system is one of the most segregated in the nation) and here it’s worth pointing out that Mia’s father happens to be MC Serch (Michael Berrin) who himself happens to be one of the most respected “white” (Jewish more specifically) emcees in hip hip history lauded for his work with 3rd Bass but who also helped bring the talents of major figures like Nas and Zev Love X (better known later as MF Doom (RIP)) to a bigger audience at a crucial point in both their careers and then standing back afterwards. 

And what does all this have to do with summer songs? Hmm. Well maybe this is reach but I’ll take a stab at it anyway (heh heh) because from the discussion above summer is basically the most “Other” of all the seasons—with summer viewed as a temporary reprieve from the more mundane day-to-day existence of fall, winter, and spring with summer desired and fantasised about but also straight-up exoticized. And then after it's over, summer is largely cast aside as irrelevant to “normal existence” (and maybe even disavowed, depending on one's extent of mischief) which probably goes some way to explaining the odd duality (double consciousness) of summer’s mix of carefree fun and complicated longing. So that's a working theory, but for now the more immediate takeaway is that all you weirdos who've read this far had better enjoy the rest of this summer to the fullest (because who knows if we'll have one next year, hello 2020) and either way try not to fogget about it once it's over. (Jason Lee)

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Dirty Fences reveal pyramid scheme on recent singles

There are bands out there that are willing to form a human pyramid for the sake of their art and others that aren’t. For one example of the former take Radiohead for instance—no human pyramids happening there there. And they’ve even got a song called “Pyramid Song” but even with the help of Weird Al and Adele they couldn’t make it happen or couldn’t produce photographic evidence of it anyway.

Dirty Fences are clearly a band who are staunchly pro pyramid and they’ve got the esprit de corp and the overall musical moxie to pull it off convincingly too, with a sound falling in the Venn Diagram sweet spot between Bay City Rollers, Misfits, and Motörhead with some junk-shop glam a la Sweet and Slade thrown into the mix as well to sweeten the pot.

The band’s latest singles is called “Pony On” and it’s a power-popping toe tapper that could easily be a long forgotten ‘90s sitcom theme song and also you could do the pony to it pretty easily if you can do the pony. Plus it’s got a catchy b-side about a “Heartache Parade” where “high is fine and I can’t complain.lhAnd then there’s the single they put out earlier this year where both sides (“Pepper Ann / “One In Ten”) lean into the Misfits side of things, while their late 2020 single “Garbage Man”/“Sometimes Sunshine” is even more on the punkier side of things but still super melodic and if you need more musical examples they also put out a retrospective comp recently called Hand Pickled Melodies. Seriously these guys could be full time jingle writers if they didn’t already have too much integrity to go in such a crassly commercial direction.

But if you’re one of these people who subscribes to the theory that bands are best judged by how well they can pull off a Public Access TV live gig then check out the video above to make a fully informed verdict. (Jason Lee)

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New Emily Wolfe Single to Make you Feel “Better”

Emily Wolfe lets her light shine in her latest single “Something Better.” The song takes the listener on a ride by starting soft and sweet, then showcasing huge vocals, catchy guitar licks and powerful drums along the way. Simply put, after listening to “Something Better,” one can’t help but feel “better.” Even though the lyrical content is rooted in loneliness, the overall vibe is undoubtedly positive and it’s clear that Wolfe has been able to turn a painful experience into an uplifting pop-rock anthem.

Wolfe wastes no time jumping into the lead single from her upcoming album “Outlier.” Right away, she pulls you in with her distinct, high-registered vocals that straddle the line between classic rock and modern pop. It’s something that’ll appeal to many generations of music listeners, almost as if Stevie Nicks and Demi Lovato put their voices in a blender. The intro is gradually complemented with a straightforward drum beat and Wolfe’s scorching guitar riffs. There have been many artists who blend elements of pop and rock, but Wolfe does so in a way that should satisfy purists from both genres. She possesses the look, attitude, and guitar chops of a true Rock n’ Roller. Yet her crisp, dynamic vocal style, polished production, and uncanny ability to create an earworm chorus could easily land her on some of the biggest pop stations around the world. 

Wolfe repeats that she’s “alone” and “tired” and looking for “something better.” She laments about the monotony of it all, and her yearning for a more exciting life is highly relatable -- it’s easy to fall into a rut and mindlessly go about your everyday routine without ever stopping to ask, “Why?” Though this can be a sad reality, Wolfe ultimately is sending an optimistic message -- that it’s never too late to fully go after what you want, and though we may find ourselves stuck at times, there’s always hope that we’ll find “something better.”

It’s easy to see why Emily Wolfe has accomplished so much in her young career thus far. She has her own sound, the edge and the “it” factor that appeals to a wide spectrum of listeners. “Something Better” highlights her ability to craft music that is catchy and pop-oriented, while also rocking out in the process.

 

- Quinn Donoghue

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VIDEO: In “Fool,” Jonny Kosmo Makes A Surreal New Friend

Photo: Joseph McMurray

LA artist Jonny Kosmo has built a dedicated following fusing immaculately-produced 70’s-vintage funk/soul tunes with an at-times truly surreal visual sense that evokes contemporaries Unknown Mortal Orchestra, albeit with a seemingly more playful and innocent heart. But with his latest video, “Fool,” which also serves as a preview for his upcoming album, “Pastry” (out June 4th on Feeding Tube Records in the States), he’s upped his game on both fronts. 

The track itself is a warm, pleasantly viscous slab of gently psychedelic slow-funk steeped in 70s Stevie Wonder-era synths, shimmering tremoloed guitars with occasional wah-wah lead flourishes, a bass line as thick as hash oil, and soulfully gauzy close-mic’d vocals.  

The accompanying video, however, left us questioning our sanity in the best way. Set in a hilly beige meadow that could’ve served as a Windows ’95 desktop background, Kosmo sings the title track while intently at work with a metal detector. He ends up crossing paths with an unusual new friend, and the dance party ensues. It’s simultaneously hilarious and unsettling, another example of the David Lynch-lite vibe that is quickly becoming a Jonny Kosmo signature. Gabe Hernandez

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