Midnight Soul Serenade
A larger-than-life personality throughout the ’90s, Jon Spencer’s not the first artist you’d expect to fade away. But that’s exactly what the Blues Explosion frontman did, sprouting up a few years back strumming alongside Matt Verta-Ray as Heavy Trash. The new Midnight Soul Serenade continues on the group’s country waltz back in time, taking cues from six-string-slinging forerunners such as Link Wray and Eddie Cochran.
It’s not a huge surprise that Spencer wears the rockabilly shtick so well; it’s as if he simply traded in his blues hat for a fresh tub of Murray’s Pomade. Now that he’s firmly middle-aged, his gruff growl suits the material perfectly, purring through the country swing of ‘Good Man’ or the foreboding, gravelly voiced narration oozing through ‘The Pill’. The funky thump of ‘Isolation’ and the honky-tonk shuffle of ‘Bedevilment’ vividly illustrate this expertly tailored twang, with Spencer’s flawless drawl betraying his New York roots. Doused in reverb and tremolo, the guitar-heavy collaboration has nailed the formula for noir Americana.
This metal supergroup – its members have done time in esteemed heavy outfits such as Neurosis, Melvins, Sleep and Saint Vitus – conforms closely to its impeccable pedigree. Predictably, Shrinebuilder’s self-titled debut hinges on Sabbath-exalting riffs and dire bellowing from twin vocalist-guitarists Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich and Scott Kelly. At its core, the album feels like by-the-numbers doom metal, but several spacey psych interludes – built around the pleasingly dublike bass throb of Al Cisneros, also of the droney duo Om – indicate that the band could eventually learn to speak in its own mystical tongue.
Never Cry Another Tear
By the time Peter Hook left New Order in 2007, the reigning kings of brooding electro-pop were long overdue their valedictory bow. Now former Order boys Bernard Sumner and Phil Cunningham have formed Bad Lieutenant, a band whose name, inspired by Abel Ferrara’s cult film about a rogue cop, doesn’t quite forecast the brooding edge we’d hoped for.
There’s no way around it: this is shameless, throwback, ’80s-friendly, big-hair pop. With studio visits from Blur bassist Alex James, the album’s best moments evoke the melodicism of vintage REM (‘Sink or Swim’) and the harmonic uplift of a U2 outtake, circa ’85 (‘Dynamo’). None of it sucks, but it makes us wonder how musicians who invented one of the most distinct sounds of the past 20 years could choose to be so generic.