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95 Bulls live set on FLTV

First, a shout out to all those musical acts who choose to use defiantly G**gle proof name. Some of these acts have been profiled in these pages recently such as Navy Blue, Woods, and Slut Magic (ok not so much the latter tho’ that particular phrase does have an Urban Dictionary entry which sounds totally bogus but I digress) and now we can add 95 Bulls to this special list.

In theory, anyway. Maybe it’s only because the Big Googly Eye In The Sky knows me too well but the band’s Instagram account came up as a first page search result, plus another first page hit courtesy of our good friend(s) at Bands Do BK who in late October premiered the 95 Bulls’ two-track debut single “Big Fight”/“Crazy” and shared vital stats on the band's origins (basically an indie rockin' punk rawkin' bartender and barback and barfly supergroup formed at Our Wicked Lady) and motivation for formation (quarantine-itis).

Maybe it’s got something to do with the latter but I'd respectfully submit that 95 Bulls could furnish an appropriate soundtrack for any of your potential choices in a game of “F*ck, Marry, Kill” (well dunno if you'd wanna get married to any of their songs but they've got good tunes for people you wanna f*ck or kill for sure). This F*CK/KILL duality comes across even more strongly on stage where the band members flirt and rage musically in equal measure like if you can imagine a more aggro B-52s--plus the groovy-warbly Farfisa keyboard makes this comparision even more apt and ups the dance ante significantly--or maybe they're more like a Great Dane getting overly frisky and thrusting his snout deep into your crotch to the point where you get kinda turned on but fear for your genitals at the same time. Anyway I've used up my allotted number of analogies so will leave it at that.


And yeah you heard right I said *on stage* because you can at this very moment watch a live set and an interview with 95 Bulls as part of Footlight Bar’s “FLTV” series filmed under safe conditions at Brooklyn’s Starr Bar. Check out the link HERE where for a small fee you'll not only see the last-danceless Bulls play live and hear some of their unreleased songs like “Red Nails,” “Trichotillomania,” “Young Love,” “Golden Tooth,” and “Your Father’s Watch,” but you'll also witness exclusive footage of the band drinking heavily in the recording studio and also a couch-based convo with sparkle-masked host Kendra during which intimate thoughts are shared on penguin orgasms, band Tinder accounts, getting twerked on at Covid testing sites, meeting depressed divorceés In New Jersey, and the ultimate dream of receiving a Popeye’s sponsorship. (Jason Lee)

   

RIP Sylvain Sylvain: "Belligerent, hostile and deafeningly loud” (well his guitar playing anyway!)

In 1973 a local news report on the "social phenomenon" of "New York street bands" centered around the nightclub Max's Kansas City--where Debbie Harry could very well be your waitress and William Burroughs passed out at the bar--zeroed in on an exotic group of young men called the New York Dolls. In somber tones the newscaster described their music as "rough not polished" with "lyrics [that] are shouted, not sung" and live shows that are "always belligerent, hostile and deafeningly loud." Now there's a sales pitch!

And while the New York Dolls' guitarist Sylvain Sylvain (he also played piano/keyboard) was by all accounts neither particularly belligerent or hostile or loud in person--just the opposite, in fact, he was credited with holding the highly-volatile group together both personally and musically during their initial five-year run from 1971 to 1976--his guitar playing sure as hell was all three of those things. What's more Sylvain has been credited for coming up with the band's name and their (for the times) highly provocative look and for being their musical anchor with his slashing, rock solid and memorable guitar lines.

Rather than trying to tell Sylvain's story here or making a case for his significance, I'll simply point out that Sylvain and his guitar playing are very likely buried deep in your DNA. In other words if you're someone who listens to and/or creates what is referred to "indie" or "alternative" music, the New York Dolls were one of the central bands/central strands in the musical DNA of so-called proto-punk music (alongside the Stooges and MC5 and Death) leading directly to punk rock, obviously, and then to post-punk and alternative and indie rock. 

Here's a few good obits that were published today if you wanna know more about the man, the Dolls, and Sylvain Sylvain's post-Dolls career.

A British perspective from The Guardian (without the New York Dolls there'd been no Sex Pistols): 
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/jan/15/sylvain-sylvain-the-new-york-dolls

And here's what some obscure old hippie rag has to say about Sylvain Sylvain:
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/sylvain-sylvain-new-york-dolls-dead-1114962

Versus a more punk rock perspective from Alternative Press:
https://www.altpress.com/news/sylvain-sylvain-obituary-the-new-york-dolls

Last but definitely not least, Sylvain's memoir published in 2018:
https://omnibuspress.com/products/theres-no-bones-in-ice-cream-sylvain-sylvains-autobiography

Now for some sounds and visuals cuz that's what matters. Exhibit A: If th song "Frankenstein" with its glorious twin guitar assault by Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders, taken from the Dolls' 1973 eponymous debut LP, doesn't send chills up your spine then maybe you should pay a visit to your local cardiologist and have her check to see if you still have a pulse:

This is probably the New York Dolls' best known song, though there's a case to be made for "Personality Crisis," in which David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter) kicks things off by quoting the Shangri-Las' "Give Him A Great Big Kiss":

And this is probably the best known filmed performance by the Dolls--appearing live on the German pop music show Musikladen, with two more songs taken from New York Dolls (1973):

Footage of the Dolls performing live in 1974 following the release of their oft-overlooked sophomore LP Too Much Too Soon. Rock entrepreneur and announcer Don Kirshner poses the $64,000 question: Are the Dolls "outrageous and bizarre" or "incredibly talented"? But Don, why they can't be both!

Excellent instrumental B-side from a band called Criminals, one of Sylvain's post-Dolls projects, 1978's "The Cops Are Coming" is a rocked-out rewrite of the iconic "Peter Gunn Theme."



Slyvain Sylvain's first solo album in 1979 contained this very cool track which could easily be passed off as an overlooked gem from the Goffin & King catalogue ("King" as in Carole King).

Nice live set here from Sylvain Sylvain & the Teardrops, again from German TV, a musical project whose one one and only album came out in 1981. Note the retro-rockabilly vibe and note that this was the same year of the Stray Cats' debut album. Sylvain was often on the cutting edge but often not getting due credit. Bonus content: you get to see Sylvain talking a bit about the Dolls during the wonderfully awkward interview segment.

And finally here's a song off One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (2006), the first of several well-received New York Dolls' reunion albums co-written by surviving members Sylvain Sylvain and David Johansen. 

When it comes to the rest of the Dolls: Johnny Thunders passed away in 1991; drummer Billy Murcia died in 1972 on tour in the UK before the first album was even recorded, and subsequent drummer Jerry Nolan died in 1992; bassist Arthur Kane held out until the next decade and played the first Dolls reunion show in London in 2004 but died shortly thereafter before the Dolls had started work on their mid-aughts album. This excellent article from Classic Rock magazine traces the band's path of self-destruction and their salvation of rock 'n' roll. Today, only Buster Poindexter survives to carry the torch. (Jason Lee)

 

   

Sunflares EP

One good thing about playing in a one-man shoegaze band is that you always know whose shoes you’re gazing at. And for a style of music that’s the aural equivalent of cocooning, this sense of isolation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On Sunflares EP, which you guessed it, is the coming-out EP by Sunflares, a project said to be inspired by the isolation of quarantine (wait, better make that the “staying in EP”) the alone time appears to have paid dividends.

And the same goes for listening to the EP for those of us under our fifth or sixth lockdown. When lines like “Are you out there?” and “I wanna know your secrets” emerge from the layers of fuzz and flange they sound eerily familiar as they’re questions I’ve been asking myself after sitting at home for the whole night, drinking an entire case of Bud Light that was planned to last for the rest of the week or longer, but at least existential crises keep things interesting. Shoegazer, know thyself.

Sunflares’ opening track “Numb” kicks things off with some nice Lush-like swirly guitars, but any trace of Sweetness and Light is quickly interrupted when the song shifts into Superblast mode with distortion turned up to 13, but with a cool little Cure-like melody over the top and some satisfying tom-tom fills, before settling into the first verse with this enterprise’s Kevin Shields fully engaged and phaser pedals set to stun, all ready to swoop in and take out the Ringo Deathstarr. And here’s a couple music videos for those two very subtle Lush references I made because I’m always looking for a good excuse to post Lush videos.

In other words, Mr. Sunflare hits the major signposts you’d hope to hear on a 2021 shoegaze album (or shoegaze EP let’s not be pedantic here) with satisfying walls of sound and layers of effects-laden guitar smeared across this EP like strawberries and cream. But at the same time there’s some enticing twists and things are mixed up nicely overall, between and within the four tracks on offer, with shifting tempos and textures and heavy-devy parts and dreamy ambient parts. And finally here’s a video for the even more artfully subtle Cure reference contained in this paragraph. (Jason Lee)

   

Navy Blue "Song of Sage: Post Panic!"

Depending on your existing knowledge of skate culture, streetwear, and Frank Ocean minutia you may or may not know Navy Blue by the name of Sage Elsesser. Under his birth name he achieved teenage/early adulthood renown as a professional skateboarder sponsored by such obscure niche brands as Supreme and Converse before branching out into modeling, sneaker design, and art direction, then going on to appear on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and collaborate musically with his roomie Earl Sweatshirt, which makes sense given their shared taste for blunted beats and razor-sharp lyrics and laid back but tongue twisting flows. Today Elsesser draws more than occasional comparisons to legends like Dilla (RIP) and Doom (RIP) which is enough to make the rest of us reassess our five-year plans.

On Song of Sage: Post Panic!, his second full-length released under Navy Blue, the moniker is linked (“I been feeling Navy Blue just like my father’s cigarettes," referring to a now-obscure brand of British cigarettes) in one single turn of phrase to familial heritage and chemical addiction and struggles with depression which just happen to be a few of the recurring themes on the album. Across eighteen tracks of introspective, incantatory raps and equally incantatory, trance-inducing production, Song of Sage bridges the gap between the blues and hip hop with its emotional power and musical aesthetics. It would be interesting to test the theory but I bet open-minded fans of old-school Hill Country blues artists (see Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, Rosa Lee Hill, R.L. Burnside) would get into this album intuitively given their overlap in mesmerizing grooves and plaintive vocals and heady vibes.

Tracks on the album like “Tired", “Post Panic!” and “Self Harm,” with their unsparing accounts of trauma and its PTSD-inflicted aftermath, act as mental health mic checks (in high demand these days) but by the final track the light at the end of the toll tunnel shines on our guide with hard-won “tears of joy / my pain fixed.” Further musical solace is provided throughout Song of Sage, which some Internet heads have deemed the best produced album of 2020, with production duties shared by Animoss, Bori, Nicholas Craven, Evidence, Jacob Rochester, Alexander Spit, Chuck Strangers, and Roper Williams, alongside five tracks produced by Navy Blue himself.

Throughout the album Navy Blue has seemingly no fear when it comes to exposing open-wounded vulnerability like on “Moment Hung” where he dives straight into the troubling ambiguity of its title vacillating between states of grace, resignation, rage, and pacification just in its opening bars--“I’m moving graciously through all the nonsense / I was complacent when this shit was toxic / fuck all these racists they getting their tops split / your lucky day ‘cause I’m not with it / never fazed by a white critic [that's me, admittedly] crucial / most this shit not unusual”--going on to lament the by-now-tragically-routine dehumanization of bodycam/cell phone public lynchings that “televise the demise” of “our fathers, our aunties and uncles.”

Despite this painful subject matter, the Ryosuke Tanzawa directed music video for the song features Mr. Blue taking his adorable pooch for a walk down a snow-covered Brooklyn block and across a neighborhood park while massaging the doggie’s ears, and listeners' ears, with a melodious flow backed by a buttery Natalie Cole-sampled track produced by Jacob Rochester. Taken together the music, lyrics, and video are a beautifully executed example of the centuries-old tradition of signifyin(g) where familiar one-to-one associations and seemingly incompatible impulses are mashed up and subverted and inverted, using the language of the oppressor as a means of subverting the language of white supremacy itself. In other words, it’s complicated, just like real life.

 

Along these same lines of colliding impulses and emotions, it’s no mistake that the crossroads is the storied origin of the blues, as in the famous Mississippi crossroads where Robert Johnson made his famous Faustian bargain, serves as a stand-in for all the deals with the devil made in the nation's history and bringing us to our current state of affairs. On Song of Sage Navy Blue deals with all kinds of crossroads especially those moving across space and time. For example take the opening track “Dreams Of A Distant Journey” with a hook evoking the tangled roots of uprooted peoples, linked to the Yoruban veneration of sacred points of intersection as preserved in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions

I got a fam in Santiago, I got a fam in Tennessee
Child of Ogun his spirit walk amongst the trees
Proper dearest came from Nashville, it’s Choctaw in me
It’s Choctaw in me

Moving from spatial crossroads to temporal crossroads on “1491,” the legacy of Christopher Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Americas is traced forward to its echoes in the present--a crossroads reaching across centuries that's yet to be transcended. But in the meantime and in these mean times, at least we have music like Navy Blue's as a way to transcend and to acknowledge all those who are simultaneously bleeding. 

 

   

2020 Year In Review: Fiona Silver

Forgive me, dear reader, for I am still willfully stuck in "2020 Year In Review" mode and refuse to believe that 2021 has even begun yet. Not without reason obviously. So let's agree to decree the past week as the messy afterbirth of 2020 and now officially move on to the actual start of 2021 if nobody minds. And let's pray we're not dealing with evil twin years because a conjoined 2020/2021 would no doubt make those creepy twins from the Overlook Hotel look like nothing more than adorable "cousins...identical cousins." And on that note we recommend you listen to "2020," a song released by Fiona Silver near the end of the year, to help us usher it out the door and into oblivion: 

Fittingly for its subject, the song is a blooze-rockin' gutbucket punch to the gut but just think what it's doing for your abs. Fiona's lyrics liken the year just past...whoops I mean about to pass...to a petty thief (maybe a slumlord too judging by imagery in the video) and then to a leather daddy who likes to play rough. It all builds to a frenetic guitar solo and a sound collage of news reports laying out some of the lowlights of the year before thankfully wrapping up with a final rousing chorus.

Speaking of all things fit for a masochist, back in the halcyon days of January 2020 Ms. Silver released what turned out to be an oracular track for January of this year called "Violence" whose lyrics describe abuse and its aftermath ("My sweet Lord, you bring me down / swinging low sweet chariot of sound / violence, I hit the ground [...] will you come and dig me out / six feet under no voice left to shout / pushing daisies I'm home sweet home") but this song comes swaddled in a funky uptown arrangement with a strong Daptone vibe which creates quite the interesting juxtaposition. Check out the live rendition below with full-on horn section and wah-wah pedal in full effect.  

"Violence" could soon also be found on Fiona's Hostage of Love EP released on Valentine's Day appropriately enough. These five songs are plenty enough for our guitarist-songwriter-chanteuse to show off her range--the slow burning title track being one example and the mid-tempo groover "Hot Tears" being another. Now, this may be wishful thinking and at the risk of jinxing it, here's hoping 2021 shows us some of its range soon by getting as far the f*** away from 2020 as humanly and humanely possible. (Jason Lee)