Old 97’s, Most Messed Up (ATO Records)
Funny to think cowpunk purists once howled in protest when these Texas boyos abandoned the farm for power pop - think they’ll notice Rhett Miller and Ken Bethea are back on the figurative range? With beercan bravado indebted to an aesthetic of fevered slop and such classic rock totems as pussyhound Tom Petty (“Guadalajara”) and under-the-eaves Warren Zevon (“The Ex Of All You See”), these anthems of rank maturity and its malcontents tread the same sentimental paths as Mott the Hoople (“rock stars were once such mythical creatures”) while celebrating booze/weed ‘Mats mythos with the help of actual ‘Mats notable Tommy Stinson. Shrugging how there’s “only so many words you can rhyme with heart,” Miller’s right to get a little coy about how self-referential such routines can be. Must be why the band pushes back so emphatically via no-frills guitar-guitar-bass-drums first-take clatter. Really, who cares if anybody in this outfit could ever be the most messed-up motherfucker in any town? They assume the role with skill for as long as there’s a stage to command. The consequences hinted at in “The Disconnect” and “Intervention” can be more fully examined next time out.
Cloud Nothings, Here And Nowhere Else (Carpark Records)
If every track here was as catchily insistent as closer “I’m Not Part Of Me,” maybe audiences wouldn’t be underrating Dylan Baldi’s latest whirl through amerindie’s back pages. But that cut’s power pop simplicity is the beneficent salve to the preceding barrage, and besides, just beneath the laissez-faire production and subsidiary vocals lie melodies with hooks to spare. Skeptics may claim Baldi’s taken refuge behind band clangor after previously baring his soul to Steve Albini. I’d note that if at age 20 our singer propounded “getting tired of living till I die,” his gripes at 22 have grown both vaguer and more personalized: “There’s something wrong here,” “I don’t like that sound,” “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else”. So while ambitions peak on the dissonant “Silver Rocket”-pummel of mini-epic “Pattern Walks,” elsewhere these guys achieve indie transcendence the old-fashioned way - lumpen Ohio plugs in, blows vocal chords, ducks out after 31 minutes.
Peter Stampfel and the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Banjo Squadron, Better Than Expected (Don Giovanni Records)
Stampfel’s communal psychedelic banjo project exemplifies boho New York’s humanistic drive - Star Spangled To Death in G tuning, as openly jubilant as it is deeply furious, with jubilation assuming center stage to force the anger downwards. The fury surfaces in “NSA Man,” a crowd-sourced update to the Fugs’ “CIA Man”: “Who has drones to watch you on the shitter? / Who would kill to get his hands on Snowden?” The jubilation is everywhere, from the circular clawhammer workouts and the Kyu Sakamoto whistle-along to a roadkill number so inane it turns “Dead Skunk” into As I Lay Dying. Comradely clamor that needn’t be over-intellectualized, just the NYC loft party of your dreams, fellowship and calmatives shared on some torrid August night, windows flung open unto the bustle below.