Alvvays Album Review


Recently I was checking out album reviews at Rolling Stone.  There is a band called Alvvays that got a four star review and thought I’d investigate further.  I liked what I heard in the samples, as I am a fan of finely crafted girl pop melodies and fast picked jangle guitar playing, and I though I would investigate further.  The record is even produced as if it came from that interesting period of early 80’s post punk, when real alternative music to the mainstream was quite interesting.  The production is muddy in the right way that adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, although it continues the terrible trend of mixing the vocals low, so that most of the words are lost on you without a lyric booklet.

They band has a keyboard player as well as featuring two guitars, and the keyboards add just enough of an extra dimension at times so the music doesn’t seem completely formulaic.  The melodies are effervescent in the way that Kirsty MacColl’s were, although the singer, Molly Revkin, does not possess the unique personality or wit of the undeniably great Kirsty MacColl.

But the more I listen to the band the more the music dissipates.  The lyrics are clever in that cute kind of way, but nothing more.  The music sounds great, in that kind of way that would make it perfect listening to an afternoon of reading or talking to a friend, but again the more I pay attention the less I seem to care.  I can’t help but feel that this is an almost great record.  But at the end of the day it feels like style over substance.

There is some nifty guitar playing going on, and again the melodies are quite good.  However, I wish there were lyrics that lived up to the rest of the proceedings.  I wish there were words that were either simple and universal poetry the way old 60’s pop songs used to be, or even better conveyed some kind of subversive intelligence that made you feel as if something was on the line.

Recently I have been listening to Louder than Bombs by the Smiths.  The music on the Alvvays record seems quite influenced by Johnny Marr’s jingle jangle guitar, but without any of the weirder eccentricities that he would often introduce into the music.  And again the lyrics fall far short of a Morrissey or even a Kirsty MacColl.  (Johnny Marr was in the Smiths with Morrissey and also wrote with Kirsty MacColl.)  I feel like I can neither relate to the lyrics on any day to day basis, nor are any secrets of the universe being unlocked.

As far as first albums go, there is enough in the way of style to think that there might be a promising future ahead.  However, to do something great they are going to need to push themselves further and, especially lyrically, to think more outside the box.  The lyrics are just clever enough to make you realize that they are not dumb.  I hope that Miss Rankin, or whoever writes the lyrics, will keep reading and pushing herself.  If you are looking for some good summer background music this album does have its charms.  However, if you are looking for something more substantial look elsewhere.


The joy brings many things

It cannot bring you joy
Sons of mothers huddle here
Men and boys

1850 swung the doors
And human sewage swept inside
Where victims speak in whines
And where the hardened cried

I was sent here by a 3 foot half-wit in a wig
I took his insults on the chin, and never did I flinch

A swagger hides the fear in here
By this rule we breathe
And there is no one on this earth
Who I’d feel sad to leave

You see we all lose
We all lose

What those in power do to you
Reminds us at a glance
How humans hate each others guts
And show it given a chance

We never say aloud the things
That we say in our prayers
Cause no one cares

Many executed here
By the awful lawfully good
But the only thing that makes me cry
Is when I see the sky

Brendan Behan’s laughter rings
For what he had or hadn’t done
For he knew then as I know now
That for each and every one of us
We all lose
Rich or poor, we all lose
Rich or poor, they all lose

Mountjoy by Morrissey.  The new album is up and streaming at  it is fantastic.  I will review it in full once I get my hands on a copy next week and can spend more time with it.  It is hard streaming it on tour from my phone.  First listen blew me away as I feel like he is really pushing himself to new places on this one. 

Mountjoy is a prison where, among regular inmates, famous prisoners like Brendan Behan spent time.  I am coincidentally reading Behan’s Borstal Boy at the moment. 

These lyrics are stunning, especially when married to the music.  Although they look backwards they could not be more contemporary given the sad state of justice in the world…


Rising Above the Tribe

While I was listening to Irish singers I thought that I would also post one by Damien Dempsey. This is the title track from his Almighty Love album.  (I am reading Borstal Boys by Brendan Behan which has me diving back into Irish music.) Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor have also sung together on numerous occasions. I love their new single Woe to the Holy Vow about the Catholic Church scandal if you haven’t heard it. Dempsey has been one that has never been afraid to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden. On his early albums he predominately sang about the Irish poor and working class. I remember reading someone say, before the last album came out, that he hoped that Dempsey could rise about his tribe and speak for all of the oppressed. When I heard this song I realized that he had made that jump.

One of the biggest problems that we have in politics is getting people to see outside of their tribe. People often cling to their tribe because it creates a sense of identity. But in forming an identity through a group of people, you end up creating “the other”. Too often “the other” might be someone that, despite coming from different cultures, you may have a great deal in common with politically. They have been dividing poor whites and poor blacks in the South forever. Enjoy and learn from your heritage, your tribe, your clan, but don’t let it define you.

World Peace is None of Your Business Single Review

I have been a lifelong Morrissey fan.  I’ve listened and read enough about him to notice when things were missing in Mozipedia, the encyclopedia based around his life.  I should confirm my bias that he is probably my favorite musical artist of all time and that only very few of his songs have failed to connect with me. (Noise is the Best Revenge being an example.)  Although I haven’t collected every version of every single and b-side, I don’t have money like that, but I do have all of his studio albums, most of his singles, and most of the b-sides and unreleased tracks that are easily acquired.  So keep that in mind when I write a review of his new single.  I have a history with the man.

I don’t know if I would write the same exact review of his new single had I not just read two very powerful books.  These books are Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers and Matt Taibbi’s The Divide.  Kinzer’s book about the Dulles brothers and Taibbi’s book about the injustice of our justice system both include horrible examples of state sanctioned violence both at home and abroad, and by state I mean America.  One only needs to read the news to see state sanctioned violence happening in places across the globe.

Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business is a song that’s lyrics are blunt about state violence and the kind of especially middle class existence that allows you turn a blind eye to this violence.  This song is left wing, but it is also anti-government.

Morrissey has always sung songs championing the outsider’s in society.  This is why this most British of pop stars has fans in every corner of the globe.  Many people wonder why, for instance, he has a large Latino fan base in the U.S., but it is because despite any specific details of his songs, he sings of those that are not accepted by the mainstream.

There are basically two types of Morrissey songs that have been his mainstay since his comeback album You Are the Quarry was released in 2004.  There are his blunter political songs which feature simple language, exemplified by American is Not the World from You Are the Quarry, and his more poetic character studies and personal reflections in songs such as The Father that Must Be Killed from You Are the Quarry’s follow up album Ringleader of the Tormentors.  I believe Morrissey is smart enough to know what he is doing.  I’ve read some fans online criticizing his more blunt political approach, saying they don’t live up to his rich poetic heritage, but I believe when he wants to make a specific point he simply gets rid of any language that could get in the way of making that point.  He is being blunt and to the point on purpose.

World Peace is None of Your Business is this kind of political song.  However, even in language that is relatively simply and which will never leave you confused which side he is on; there are shadows and different ways of interpreting lines.  A pop song is like a good piece of propaganda.  It will get you to turn your head and look a certain way, but there isn’t the time and space for a well reasoned argument covering all of the ground of an essay or book.  Morrissey is a master of this form.

Morrissey is also an excellent provocateur, he throws out lines and statements like bombs and the intent is to start a conversation as much as it is to finish one.  He is savvy enough to still cut through to the headlines in this age of constant information.  When he called the Chinese “sub-human” over their treatment of animals, many blasted his choice of words, but many like me also saw for the first time the cruel treatment of dogs and other animals in China.

In this single Morrissey is making cause with the oppressed masses of the world.  He specifically mentions Egypt, Bahrain, Brazil and the Ukraine.  The rich who run our governments and corporations are his antagonists.  He also is belittling the safe middle class life that allows those oppressors to keep their power.

In the middle of the song he sings the provocative line, “Each time you vote you support the process.”  Now I am someone that believes one should always vote.  However, like Chuck D has said, voting should be like taking a bath in that you should always do it, but it’s the least you can do and you shouldn’t feel too proud of yourself for doing so.  I am still someone that believes strongly in voting as it is one of the many tools we have for influencing a democracy.

However, this is where the books that I mentioned earlier and Morrissey’s nationality come into play.  Morrissey was a vehement critic of Thatcher in the 80’s, especially for how she destroyed the working class.  However, it was Tony Blair’s Britain that aided the U.S. in its criminal invasion of Iraq.  Both Labor and Tories, the two major parties in Britain, are tainted.  He is also an anti-royalist and someone that has noted the police abuse in Britain on many occasions.

As for myself, especially after reading Matt Taibbi’s The Divide, I have realized that both American political parties allow a great deal of state sponsored violence to take place.  Bill Clinton’s presidency ushered in many of the problems that we face today.  I still believe the Democrats are better, especially when held up to the insane right wing Republicans of today, but no one is completely innocent.  We need to do more than pay our taxes and vote to be good citizens.  We need to bare witness to the injustice that is being done in our name with our money.

All of this works for the reason that so many of Morrissey’s songs work.  He is simply one of the best and most original melody writers of our time.  Listen to this song several times and it will get stuck into your head.  He excels at all aspects of the pop song, although I will note that this song’s arrangement is more complex than some of his other singles.  One of his best tricks has always been his scathing words married to his beguiling melodies.  I believe Tony Visconti, one of Morrissey’s producers, said that Morrissey’s main aim was to get people to feel something when listening to his songs, even if that feeling was being uncomfortable.  This song is full of emotion and a large part of that comes from his absolutely stellar melody.

The music and production on this song are excellent.  While not as layered as his masterpiece, Vauxhall and I, the production is probably as large of scale as anything he has put out since.  It starts with percussion and what sounds to me like a didgeridoo before a tinkling piano brings us into the true song.  Despite being just over four minutes it is an epic with a frayed guitar solo, remember when pop songs had those, and an outro of jackbooted drums.

One of the most important things is that the words are actually clear in the mix.  This is normal for a Morrissey record, as you buy his records as much to hear the music as to hear what he has to say, but in much of rock and indie rock has become something of an anomaly.  Often vocals are buried in the mix or treated so heavily that they become another part of the music.

Love him or hate him he is one of the only pop stars that consistently not only has something to say, but is willing to say things that will make certain people uncomfortable, and not just by being sensational.  He wants to see a different world than the one that he lives in.  He still views the pop song as a place for ideas and revolution.  Some may laugh at this, but just last year there was a girl photographed bravely in front of riot police at a protest in Britain.  Guess what, she was wearing a Smith’s shirt.

World Peace is None of Your Business

The great Moz is returning.  For all those of us that love Morrissey, it was just announced today that he is putting out his new record in late June or early July.  The title of the record is World Peace is None of Your Business.  I love this title as there are several different ways you can interpret it.  Looking forward to seeing the album artwork that goes along with it.  His last album, Years of Refusal, gave me a good laugh when I saw the album title with the finished artwork.  I was just listening to his version of Magazine’s A Song From Under the Floorboards.  I’ve needed some new Morrissey in my life for awhile.  Thank god he’s out there…

No Show Ponies During SXSW

And now for a brief moment of shameless self promotion:  My band No Show Ponies will be playing two shows this Thursday during SXSW:

At Noon we will be doing a live TV Taping at South Austin Brewery.  

At 10pm we will be playing at 10pm at Sam’s Town Point

More information to follow.  In the meantime check out our new record, A Manual for Defeat, at  

Another Day in America

And so finally here we are, at the beginning of a whole new era.
The start of a brand new world.
And now what?
How do we start?
How do we begin again?

There are some things you can simply look up, such as:
The size of Greenland, the dates of the famous 19th century rubber wars, Persian adjectives, the composition of snow.
And other things you just have to guess at.

And then again today’s the day and those were the days and now these are the days and now the clock points histrionically to noon.
Some new kind of north.
And so which way do we go?
What are days for?
To wake us up, to put between the endless nights.

And by the way, here’s my theory of punctuation:
Instead of a period at the end of each sentence, there should be a tiny clock that shows you how long it took you to write that sentence.

And another way to look at time is this:
There was an old married couple and they had always hated each other, never been able to stand the sight of each other, really.
And when they were in their nineties, they finally got divorced.
And people said: Why did you wait so long? Why didn’t you do this a whole lot earlier?
And they said: Well, we wanted to wait until the children died.

Ah, America. And yes that will be America.
A whole new place just waiting to happen.
Broken up parking lots, rotten dumps, speed balls, accidents and hesitations.
Things left behind. Styrofoam, computer chips.

And Jim and John, oh, they were there.
And Carol, too. Her hair pinned up in that weird beehive way she loved so much.
And Greg and Phil moving at the pace of summer.
And Uncle Al, who screamed all night in the attic.
Yes, something happened to him in the war they said, over in France.
And France had become something they never mentioned. Something dangerous.

Yeah, some were sad to see those days disappear.
The flea markets and their smells, the war.
All the old belongings strewn out on the sidewalks.
Mildewed clothes and old resentments and ragged record jackets.

And ah, these days. Oh, these days.
What are days for?
To wake us up, to put between the endless nights.

And meanwhile all over town, checks are bouncing and accounts are being automatically closed.
Passwords are expiring.
And everyone’s counting and comparing and predicting.
Will it be the best of times, will it be the worst of times, or will it just be another one of those times?

Show of hands, please.

And ah, this world, which like Kierkegaard said, can only be understood when lived backwards.
Which would entail an incredible amount of planning and confusion.
And then there are those big questions always in the back of your mind.
Things like: Are those two people over there actually my real parents?
Should I get a second Prius?

And you, you who can be silent in four languages: Your silence will be considered your consent.

Oh but those were the days before the audience, and what the audience wanted, and what the audience said it wanted.

And you know the reason I really love the stars is that we cannot hurt them.
We can’t burn them or melt them or make them overflow. We can’t flood them or blow them up or turn them out.
But we are reaching for them.
We are reaching for them.

Some say our empire is passing, as all empires do.
And others haven’t a clue what time it is or where it goes or even where the clock is.

And oh, the majesty of dreams.
An unstoppable train. Different colored wonderlands.
Freedom of speech and sex with strangers.

Dear old God: May I call you old?
And may I ask: Who are these people?

Ah, America. We saw it. We tipped it over, and then, we sold it.
These are the things I whisper softly to my dolls. Those heartless little thugs dressed in calico kilts and jaunty hats and their perpetual white toothy smiles.

And oh, my brothers. And oh, my sisters.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They flow and then they flow. They come, they fade, they go and they go.
No way to know exactly when they start or when their time is up.

Oh, another day, another dime.
Another day in America.
Another day, another dollar.
Another day in America.

And all my brothers. And all my long lost sisters.
How do we begin again?
How do we begin?

Another Day in America by Laurie Anderson.  I was just walking my dog and listening to this.  Many of you may find this depressing.  If I told you it was making me laugh would you think me strange?  Is it because I heard a piece of art by another soul that said something out loud that I think from time to time?  Is it because of the piece’s truth telling mixed with its wonderfully surreal absurdity?  I honestly don’t know myself.  I love Laurie Anderson.  I am thankful she has always followed her own strange muse.  

Link to the recording:

The Joy of Maggot Brain

One the albums I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain.  I really can’t believe how great it is; especially Eddie Hazel’s opening ten minute guitar solo.  I’ve always been a fan of the P-Funk world.  However, most of their music I can only listen to in certain moods.  Because of its chaotic nature and densely stacked arrangements, it takes me being somewhat relaxed to truly appreciate the artistry that lies within.  I wouldn’t want to put something on like Electric Spanking of the War Babies while I am in a traffic jam, for instance.  My nerves would be on edge! 

However, Maggot Brain is different.  For those of you that are only associated with the more popular part of the P-Funk universe, whether you like it or not, you should try it out at is different than the direction that they ended up going in.  In fact the title track has a kind of minimalism to it.  Other than Hazel’s solo, and he plays his ass off, the rest of the musicians play with real restraint.  The middle five songs, which hint at the P-Funk to come, are still minimalistic compared to where they would go.  These songs are more in line with the psychedelic direction of the Temptations with a little extra strangeness thrown in thanks to George Clinton.    The final song, Wars of Armageddon, is the first song that is a complete sonic freak out. 

Let’s get back to that title track and that guitar solo.  I’ve read a lot of reviews that compare it to Hendrix’s best work and some even say that Eddie Hazel tops it.  As a whole career Hendrix clearly has the upper hand, but those that write that this song is comparative to Hendrix and possibly even better aren’t far off.  Ten minutes is a long song, but I am telling you this thing flies by.  It creates such a mood, and there is so much emotion involved, that you find yourself getting lost.  When it gets to the end you ask yourself where you just were for the last ten minutes.  It is simply stunning! 

I know that everyone that knows this album regards it as a classic.  However, I am sure there are plenty of you that don’t know about it, and probably already have a preformed opinion when you hear the names Fuckadelic or Parliament.  You might love this albums blend of soul and rock even if you don’t really care for the chaotic funk that came after it.  This album is much less keyboard and much more guitar based than most of the work that would follow it. 

Usually when I write something about an album I try to tie it in to the culture at large.  However, I have been writing some negative things lately about the radio, TV ads, and certain kinds of music in general.  I just wanted to write something positive about something I loved.  Where do you go when the radio is terrible and TV ads are making your head explode?  Go to Maggot Brain and hear some psychedelic rock and soul music that will blow your mind, in a good way!  

The Second Coming (Slouching Towards Bethlehem)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

By W.B. Yeats.  I thought after the last entry it would be fun to do something completely different.  My Mom sent me this poem last night after I had mentioned the Joni Mitchell song Slouching Towards Bethlehem from her Night Ride Home album.  

Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania Review

It is easy for me to say that Marah Presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania is a great album, but it is a lot harder for me to describe why.  It is a strange, unique, and ultimately rewarding listen.  It is more of an enigmatic experience than a typical record made of a collection of songs.  Although there are some incredible songs on this record, it is a true album in that the sense that the whole is more than just the sum of its parts.

Here at Windup Wire I usually don’t write typical album reviews.  Although I have written a couple, I am much more interested in how a piece of work ties into bigger ideas in our culture.  Why something is important or not important is much more interesting to me than whether something is good or bad.  If you want to know how this record came to be, a rock band that found a bunch of old folk song lyrics and then used their fellow small town citizens to be their back up band, I highly suggest going to and reading about it.  It’s a really interesting story and Dave Bielanko, Marah’s lead singer, is a really great writer that will tell this story much more in depth and much more poetically than I could here.  The creation of this album is a story unto itself and is worth reading about.

If I was going to compare this album to anything, I would be more likely to compare it to a Werner Herzog movie than any album that comes to mind.  It is full of ecstatic truth that is part beauty and part danger.  It is full of strong emotions, but because emotions are abstract, it is easier to feel them than to put them into words.  This record is infused from top to bottom with mystery.

The first revelation I had while listening to this record is that great art demands to be met on its own terms.  That does not necessarily mean that the best of art, or this record, is challenging, although it can be, but that they aren’t asking you to like them, they simply just are.  Although there are moments of discord on this record, and this definitely isn’t the middle of the road Americana music that is so in fashion right now, this also isn’t Public Image Limited’s Metal Box.  It’s not actively challenging you so much as it is simply going down its own path, unafraid of losing some people along the way if they don’t get it.  In fact a moment ago when I hinted that it was an Americana record, this really isn’t true other than in the broadest sense.  It does rely heavily on traditional instruments, and because the lyrics come from old folk songs it does have one foot in traditional American roots music, but only one foot.  Although there are plenty of things you could say this record is sort of like, it really is truly unique and needs to be met on its own terms.

The first song, The Falling of the Pine, is a perfect example.  The first half of the song is traditional folk instruments with a very traditional folk melody.  (Although the Jew harp in this part of the song hints at things to come.)  About halfway through the song it breaks down.  The next thing you know a rock n roll rhythm section comes in and all rules are thrown out the window.  And by this I don’t mean that the song continues as is just with bass and drums.  I mean that it takes a completely left turn.  The past and the present collide in one song.

A thing that is really interesting to me about this record is the way that the past and the present do collide.  This is both in the arrangements and the technology that is used to make the record.  The record was recorded live in an old church using analog tape and minimum microphones.  This gives a great deal of the record a far away dream like quality.  Instruments blur together in ways that you are not always one hundred percent sure what you are listening to.  However if the recording sound of the record is old, the music is fresh.  It makes you feel as if you are viewing our present as the past.  It’s almost as if someone from some future age had unearthed a bunch of records that were being made right now, but time had dilapidated them and the person that discovered them was wondering what life must have been like at this time and place.

Marah has three basic characteristics that have defined them to me throughout the years.  The first is that they have one of the best rock n roll singers of recent years in Dave Bielanko.  Whether they are playing blistering rock music or beautiful folk songs you can always recognize his voice.  It has the grittiness and heart of someone like Paul Westerberg, but there is a good deal of inner city grime to it as well.  Once you hear it you’ll understand.  They have often displayed, again with whatever style they are tackling, a throw everything in including the kitchen sink sense of arrangement.  Occasionally they will pair down to a simpler sound, but often there are all kinds of instruments thrown together that one wouldn’t think would belong together.  But it always does.   Their arrangements are often over stacked, but in a way that is charming.  Unlike most modern records where grand arrangements hint at slickness, Marah’s retain a great deal of looseness and feel to them.  Banjos, electric guitars, fiddles, a Jew harp, barbershop singers, handclaps, whistles, and much, much more collide on this album.  Marah have always created a big atmosphere and this album is no different.  The third thing that always defines Marah for me, and the most important outside of Dave’s voice, is the fact that they always, and I mean always, get the rhythm right.  Their songs always have the perfect groove for whatever style they are attempting.  Even when there are no drums, their songs are deep in the pocket.  All of these attributes are present on this record and on many of Marah’s recordings in the past.

There is one thing that is new here for a Marah record.  It is the sense of community that this is not just a band record.  Dave and Christine Smith, the two members that makeup Marah at this point, are joined by the townspeople of and surrounding Millheim, Pa.  The town is their band.  8 year old Gus Tritsch actually sings two of the songs and wrote one of them.  This country used to have more regional music.  Although that is still true to a degree, technology and mass communications has homogenized music to a much higher degree than in the past.  With this album you feel as if you are transported to a specific time and place.  A moment in time never to be captured again.

This record is again an album in the truest sense.  Although there are some glorious songs on this record, its true strength is in the sum of its parts.  (The song Luliana is a stunningly beautiful ballad.  I also must say that I was very happy to hear a reference to the Susquehanna River which I grew up near.)  Marah have always been great songwriters whether it is Dave and Christine or whether it was Serge Bielanko when he was still in the band.  However, there are moments on this album that drift purposefully towards sound and atmosphere.  The last song is an instrumental.  Some of these moments if taken alone, while still retaining a certain ramshackle charm, gain a weight when listened to in the correct sequence.

If I have any criticism of this record it is merely one of taste.  Occasionally I would like to see Dave’s vocals higher in the mix.  I understand why the choice was probably made to have the vocals somewhat submerged in the mix.  It adds to the sense of mystery that permeates the album.  However, Dave really is such a great rock n roll singer that I occasionally want to hear more of him.

This album is strange mutant folk music infused with rock n roll spirit.  When 8 year old Gus sings the dread infused Rattlesnake it is more punk rock than any punk rock I’ve heard it years.  The hazy mysterious quality of this record may lose a couple of people along the way, but it’s their loss.  This record has a truly cinematic quality to it.  Again I can’t help but think of Werner Herzog and at times the American surrealism of David Lynch.  Yet even that doesn’t scratch the surface.  For every moment of weird surrealism there is probably one of straight folk music and another of rock n roll passion.  It’s a hell of a thing.  If you want to hear something new and go someplace you haven’t been before, give it a go.

Listen to a clip of Ten Cents at the Gate from the album here: