Six months ago, I reviewed the marvelous debut single “I Like It Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico (which you can read here). Formed in early 2020 and named after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of Nottingham, Express Office Portico consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums). Now the talented five-piece are back with a gorgeous new single “Mishmesh“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
The band states “Mishmesh” (whose title means a collection or mixture of unrelated things) explores the dangers of alcohol dependency, and how our coping mechanisms and compulsive tendencies can manifest themselves in toxic habits. To drive home their message, the band starts with a rapid, pulsating synth line, then adds deep bass and punchy drumbeats to produce a powerful hypnotic groove that quickly draws us in. Soon, the song expands with lush swirling synths and gorgeous layers of chiming and jangly guitars, creating a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for Tara and Billy’s stunning vocal harmonies. The song is really breathtaking, and I’m blown away by the bandmembers’ exceptional musicianship.
Barring any changes, those of you in the UK can catch Express Office Portico at one of these upcoming shows:
Friday, August 6 - Chameleon Arts Cafe, Nottingham, w/Oliver Marson & Ben Bickley
Thursday, August 12 - The Lexington, London, w/Oliver Marson & Conspirators
Thursday, August 28 - The Bodega, Nottingham, w/Swim School, Scuttlers & Grayce
The Marigolds are an alt-rock group based in Liverpool, a city rich in music history and the birthplace of many a band. I’ve featured more artists and bands from Liverpool than I can recall, and The Marigolds are the latest. They formed in 2018 when bassist/vocalist Joe Green and guitarist Joe Morgan met at the University of Liverpool, and bonded over their love of such acts as Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Weather Report, Stevie Wonder and Tame Impala. Drummer Lucas Pidgen was soon added to the mix, and they began writing songs together and playing gigs in and around Liverpool. Their rather bucolic sounding name stands in contrast with their music, which is an intense, high-energy blend of punk, funk and psychedelic elements, delivered with blistering riffs, crushing bass and fierce vocals.
The guys released their terrific debut single “Magnetic” in May, which was well-received by fans and music publications alike. Now they’ve returned with an explosive new single “Smash and Grab“, which dropped July 12th. The song’s title is a fitting description, as the song literally blasts through the speakers, laying waste to the airwaves and sending shivers up and down our spines. Wow, these guys really know how to rock! The song opens with Green’s deep, gnarly bassline, then erupts into a hard-driving, fast-paced onslaught of Morgan’s scorching, fuzz-coated riffs and Pidgen’s smashing drumbeats that never let up for a single moment.
Green’s vocals are downright fearsome as he wails and screams the lyrics touching on themes of insecurity, loneliness and poor self-esteem, viciously railing against those who are making him feel this way: “It’s a smash and grab at my feelings! Eat me, cause I feel numb. Just tear into my flesh cause I’m so done. Consume me, and swallow me whole. Keep me inside you in that deep, deep fucking hole!” Two and a half minutes into the song, the tempo abruptly shifts to a frantic punk groove that’s even more intense than before. Now Green screams with such ferocity, it’s a wonder he has any vocal chords left! I’ve written about some pretty hard-hitting music lately, but this song blows them all out of the water, and I love it!
Now that restrictions against live performances have lifted in the UK, the guys are excited about returning to the stage and sharing their new songs at their first scheduled gig on the 7th of August at Jimmy’s Liverpool.
Blight Town are a five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed in 2019, the band consists of brothers Jake (vocals) and Sam Hough (guitar), Will Emmerson (guitar), Scott Taylor (bass) and Joseph Smith (drums). Together, they combine elements of progressive, math, pop and metal rock with bold instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their wildly explosive sound. In short order, they dropped their debut single “Jejunum” in September 2019, but since then have taken their time releasing new music. Nearly a year later in August 2020, they followed up with their second single “Argument Bargument“ (which I reviewed), and now return with their self-titled debut EP Blight Town, which dropped July 16th. The EP features the two aforementioned singles, plus two new tracks.
The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Frostilicus“, instantly demanding our attention both musically and lyrically with an unrelenting thunderous barrage of grungy guitars and pummeling drums as Jake screams “She needs to listen to us right now!” I have no clue as to what the song’s title means, but the lyrics seem to be about confronting a duplicitous and self-destructive person: “Such whack shit is going down. The bullshit she’s churning out. If you don’t say the words to her then I will. Such a shame that you haven’t got the guts to still. Tell me where do I go? I wish that I didn’t know. A slave to the wages of sin. Where do I begin?” The scorching, intricately layered guitar work is fantastic, and a testament to the guys’ impressive musicianship.
“Jejunum” continues on a similar theme, delivering another onslaught of fearsome riffs and explosive percussion, accompanied by a marvelous, almost skittering bassline. Once again, the intense, richly-textured guitars are mind-blowing, turning hauntingly beautiful at the breakdown that occurs at the 1:06 minute mark. Jake’s vocals are downright fearsome throughout much of the song, but also soften to an enchanting ethereal calm in the interlude. As for the song title, a quick Google search revealed that ‘jejunum’ is a part of the small intestine in both humans and most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the title’s meaning. The lyrics seem to speak to a similar type of unpleasant person we were introduced to in “Frostilicus”, who Jake roundly denounces: “You already know you made my life a living hell.“
The cheekily-titled “Argument Bargument” is a prog-rock gem, opening with an atmospheric strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb. Suddenly, we’re hit with a burst of chaotic gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and aggressive drumbeats as the song evolves into a rousing, melodically complex and discordant banger. Amid some terrific guitar noodling punctuating the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocal gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he transitions from pleasing croon to scary screams. The band states that the song is “A wistful retrospective on the transient nature of modern relationships and the lengths we will go to in order to rationalise our lived experience.” Jake emphatically snarls “You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it. And that’s why they call me the cynicist.”
The guys unleash their full arsenal of sonic weaponry on the final track “Don’t Touch Me I’m Covered in Poisons“. The instrumentals are heavier and more intense than ever, with Sam and Will’s dual intertwining guitars laying waste to the airwaves while Joseph nearly blows the speakers with his smashing drumbeats. Then there’s Jake’s feral vocals, which are positively spine-tingling as he screams like a wild beast. It’s a wonder he has any vocal cords left!
Blight Town is a great little EP, a literal bundle of explosive TNT packed into 12 minutes and 51 seconds, beautifully showcasing this band’s outstanding songwriting and composition talents, as well as their impressive technical skills. Though their music is both complex and intense, it’s still surprisingly accessible and melodic.
Blight Town also offers an array of merchandise, including tee shirts, hoodies and caps made from sustainable and vegan-friendly materials, which you can purchase at https://slugapparel.com/.
London-based alternative rock band Oli Barton & the Movement are a long-time favorite of mine, and I’ve featured the marvelously talented five-piece several times on this blog since first learning about them four years ago. (You can read some of my reviews by clicking the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) So it goes without saying that it’s always a happy day when they drop new music, and on April 23rd they released a fantastic new single “Martyr“. The song is a bit of stylistic departure from their previous offerings, and I loved it at first listen.
As indicated by their name, the band is headed by hyper-creative and charismatic singer-songwriter Oli Barton, with the Movement consisting of four outstanding musicians – Ryan Wilson on lead guitar, Jamal Lagoon on rhythm guitar, Marco Paone on Bass, and Josh Needham on drums. Their eccentric yet sophisticated style of alternative rock is a colorful mix of post-punk, psychedelia, funk, grunge and pop, and always totally original with a sound like no other band I know of. “Martyr” follows their previous single “Get Out” released last October, which became their most successful single to date.
About the new single, Oli elaborates “This last year has really proved something to us. You have to look beyond the negativity, beyond the politics, beyond the media and you will find that people are ultimately always there for each other. We’ve seen these amazing people laying their lives on the line for others and being completely selfless. Lyrically, I wanted to pay tribute to these unsung heroes because they prove that we are always stronger together. The production on this track too is my favourite yet, utilising multiple synth layers and huge drums to bring that pure 80s vibe.“
Well, I’m a lover of a lot of 80s music, with their big synth sounds and anthemic choruses, so “Martyr” is right up my alley. The lush synths are gorgeous, and when paired with Ryan and Jamal’s stunning layered guitars, Marco’s throbbing bass and Josh’s bold drumbeats, the result is a gloriously cinematic and uplifting soundscape that soars to the heavens. I love Oli’s distinctive, resonant singing voice and rich accent, and he’s never sounded better as he passionately sings of his admiration and devotion for another who’s given him support: “But when I’m alone, more will come to me. And when I’m alone, suffering the c’est la vie. Well I say, I’ll just be a martyr for you, if you would be a martyr for me. And when I’m lying flat on the ground, it’s your face I want to see.”
It’s a brilliant song on every level, and I’m confident it will become their biggest hit yet.
It was a year ago almost to the day when British band Young Decades released their beautiful debut single “Islands”, on April 24, 2020. A few weeks later, I wrote a review of the song, in which I went into some detail about the band’s back story, which you can read about here. Formed during the early onset of the Covid pandemic, like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live. The guys decided to make the most of their down time, setting themselves on a frenetic mission to build up a catalog of songs and get them out to the listening public. Following the massive success of “Islands”, they released four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five of their singles.
A few months after I wrote my review, the band parted ways with their drummer, and soldiered on as a three-piece. Since they weren’t able to play live, not having a permanent drummer did not prevent them from recording new music. Nevertheless, just this week they’ve recruited a new drummer named Lee Cameron, so they’re back to being a foursome. In addition to Lee, their lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards) and Liam Downey (bass). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent.
Today, April 23, they drop their latest single “Sinner“, which I’m pleased to name my New Song of the Week. The track was produced by band songwriter and vocalist James Tidd, with assistance from Human League bassist Ian Burden and long-time friend and engineer Tom Longworth, and mastered by Mike Marsh, who’s also worked with such bands as Phoenix, Chemical Brothers and Empire of the Sun. The song is a gorgeous sweeping anthem, with exuberant swirling synths and layers of roiling and jangly guitars. I love the throbbing bass and strong thumping drumbeats that make up the track’s powerful driving rhythm, and the dramatic piano flourishes add wonderful texture and depth.
The song’s buoyant, uplifting melody contrasts with the rather cynical lyrics. As I previously noted in my review of “Islands”, James has a phenomenal singing voice, and his vocals are beautiful and heartfelt as he plaintively sings of his personal failings, admitting he’s a sinner who doesn’t want to be saved. “A funny thing is this life. You only get what you take. Ever feel you’re surrounded by wolves? Cause I do, I saw them in the news. But I’m not that guy. I’m not that good. I pray you do. I say not what I do. I’m a sinner now. I’m a sinner. And I don’t need saving.”
“Sinner” is a stellar track, and I think it’s Young Decades’ best single yet. So long as they keep making outstanding music like this, their star will surely continue to rise.
The Left Backs are an indie rock band originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland and now based in Liverpool. They were formed in 2015 by three lifelong friends Lucas Macpherson (vocals and bass), Max Lozowsky (guitar) and Benjamin Watt Doak (drums), who later relocated to Liverpool to attend university. Influenced by some of their favorite bands The Strokes, Nirvana, The Libertines and The Ramones, they make infectious, high-energy punk rock. Their songs have received airplay on BBC Introducing, and they’ve had the pleasure of performing at Threshold Festival and the renowned Sound City in their adopted home of Liverpool.
In 2017 they released their terrific debut EP The Morning After the Night Before, then followed with a number of singles, the latest of which is “The Feeling“, which dropped March 26th. With the pandemic lockdown preventing them from recording in studios, the guys decided to create their own studio in their apartment so they could record and produce their music themselves. Their last single “Welfare Lady” was the first to be recorded in their home studio, and “The Feeling” is the second. About the single, the band states “‘The Feeling’ comes at just the right time, not only dropping a couple of days before some UK social restrictions are lifted, but also it’s upbeat sound coupled with it’s feel-good nostalgic imagery make it the perfect soundtrack to the summer months being just around the corner.”
The song is a rousing, grunge-soaked banger, featuring a bombastic torrent of gnarly guitars dripping with reverb, giving it a lo-fi, yet intense, garage rock vibe. Max lives up to his name as he shreds his guitar to the max, letting loose with a blistering solo in the bridge, while Benjamin smashes his drum kit with equal fervor. Lucas lays down a punishing bass line as he wails the sparse lyrics “You know the feeling. But you can’t remember when. You want to feel it again!” It’s totally badass from start to finish!
One of my favorite new* acts to emerge in 2020 was British rock band Amongst Liars. I placed an asterisk by their name because, while the band was technically new, each of its members are all seasoned musicians who came together after the breakup of their previous bands Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Thus, they had the advantage of starting out with a built-in following that’s grown exponentially since their rebirth. In little more than a year, Amongst Liars have written and recorded 18 songs, including their debut album to be released later this year.
They released four of those songs as singles in 2020, beginning in February with their spectacular debut “Over and Over”, followed by “Wolf Machine”, “Burn the Vision”, and “Mind”. I wrote about three of those singles on this blog, which you can read by clicking on the related links at the end of this post. I like their music so much that two of their singles – “Over and Over” and “Burn the Vision” – ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list. Now the guys are back with their fifth single “Black Days“, delivering more of the fiercely aggressive hard rock and in-your-face lyrics we’ve come to expect from them. The track was produced, mixed & mastered by David Radahd-Jones at Red City Recordings in Manchester.
Based in the Brighton/Eastbourne area, Amongst Liars consists of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums). Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. And while they don’t consider themselves a political band per se, they haven’t shied away from expressing their opinions and anxieties about what’s been happening in the world. On “Burn the Vision” for example, the band took aim at political leaders who’ve sought to profit from the misfortune of others by distorting the media with fake news to spread their own narratives and lies. With “Black Days”, the band launches a full frontal assault on the last 10 years of Tory rule in the UK, calling out austerity measures, questionable decision making, incompetence, lies and self-serving political bias.
The band further elaborates: ”The last 10 years have seen some really despicable and self-serving politics in the U.K, which have caused huge division across the country, with hardship, suffering and ultimately many deaths amongst some of the most vulnerable people in society. Even in the last year there has been a huge contradiction in the approach to dealing with Covid and a large number of people still remain excluded from help and support. It just seems to be one thing after another, with nepotism, cronyism, greed and a ‘one rule for them, another for us’ mentality – and no accountability for government actions at all. This song reflects our frustration, and we had to release ‘Black Days’ as a commentary on everything happening and the desperation that a lot of people have felt during the last 10 years. The black days and the fires we sing about are both caused and fueled by the very people voted in to supposedly protect and develop a healthy society.“
Amongst Liars always push their respective instruments to the breaking point in the creation of their signature explosive wall of sound, and they don’t disappoint on “Black Days”. The song opens ominously, with sounds of a buzzing alarm announcing an unfolding crisis, then Ian’s fearsome vocals enter as he wails at the top of his lungs “Black days are here now! Start the fire, burn it out!” From there, the guys deliver an unrelenting onslaught of shredded guitars and thunderous rhythms, laying waste to the airwaves like a rampaging sonic beast. They fully channel the strong sense of anger and frustration expressed in their searing lyrics into their music with a ferocity that’s positively mind-blowing in its intensity and raw power. As I’ve noted on my reviews of their previous songs, Ian’s a literal beast on vocals as he unleashes a full-throated denunciation of our failed and duplicitous leaders. It all makes for an electrifying, cathartic and highly satisfying listening experience.
The provocative and sometimes disturbing video shows footage of leaders like Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, juxtaposed with scenes of political protests and violence, patients dying of Covid, and vintage footage of nuclear explosions. It was produced, directed and edited by Josh R Lewis, with assistant editing by Robert Ruardy.
Like for all their singles, the terrific surreal artwork for “Black Days” was created by the artist Pierre Engelbrecht.
Dunes is a British stoner rock band based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch, they play an aggressive style of what they call “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, followed by their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which they released in September 2019 (you can read my review here). Now the guys are back with their first new single in 16 months, “This Must Be the Plague“. Released through Sapien Records Ltd., it’s four minutes of hard-driving stoner rock goodness, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
The song blasts through the gate with an explosive barrage of grungy riffs slicing through the airwaves like a rogue buzzsaw, driven by a powerful chugging bass line and thunderous drums. The guys are all strong musicians who play as a tight unit, and despite the time gap between the release of their album and this single, not to mention the fact they’ve not been able to perform live, it’s clear they’ve not lost their groove one bit. Davies’ nimble guitar work is superb, and Huggins and Watson do a masterful job keeping the pulse-pounding rhythms at full throttle.
About the song’s meaning, I guessed it to be a commentary about how the Covid pandemic is our modern version of The Plague, with the line “We’re the disease, and that’s the cure” suggesting that people are both the cause and the solution. When I asked Davies about it, he said I was basically correct, but elaborated: “The track was originally written early 2020 pre-pandemic world. It’s a reflection on the feeling that we’re staring down the complete downfall of society with people becoming more and more polarised and divided day by day. It didn’t feel like there was a way back. Then a pandemic happened. We’re not hopeful, but we’ll at least make some noise and have a drink while the ship goes down.”
It appears the pandemic made “This Must Be the Plague” all the more relevant and timely. And though it may not be a solution, I’m certainly always down for some good music accompanied by an adult beverage!
Given all the political, social and economic upheaval of the last couple of years, greatly amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that so many artists and bands are writing songs addressing some of the anxiety and stress impacting their – and our – collective mental health. I’ve featured a fair amount of those kinds of songs over the past many months, and my latest is the wonderful debut single “I Like it Weird” by British synth-pop band Express Office Portico, which dropped January 29th. The Nottingham, England based five-piece, who named themselves after the entrance to an old newspaper distribution office in the center of town, consists of Tara Freeman (lead vocals, keyboards), Billy Townsend (lead vocals, keyboards), Reuben Tobolewski (guitar), Ben Phipps (bass) and Olly Walton (drums).
The song was inspired by band member Billy Townsend’s struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), combined with emotions of love and jealousy about previous lovers. The band told webzine IndieCentralMusic.com, “Once Billy was able to realise that OCD massively exaggerates events, which in most cases may not have even happened, he was able to detach the OCD and the intrusive thoughts that came with that from his emotions, resulting in the inspiration for the song.” The band coupled their hopeful lyrics with a dreamy, upbeat vibe to drive home their message and reassure us that overcoming our personal demons and challenges is possible.
“I Like it Weird” is really quite marvelous, opening with a terrific little bass riff that serves as a strong rhythmic foundation for the song. Soon, our ears are bathed in a lush soundscape of sparkling synths, subtle guitar notes and crisp percussion, all melding together beautifully to create a captivating backdrop for Tara and Billy’s gorgeous harmonies. I’m a big fan of dreamy synth-pop, and this song hits me in all the feels, both musically and vocally. Express Office Portico have struck sonic gold with their debut single, and I cannot wait to hear more from this very promising group.
I’ve touched on this a number of times on previous posts, but one of the advantages of being a music blogger is becoming exposed to all kinds of music I otherwise might not have ever heard. So it was a nice surprise to receive a message from British ska collective Zen Baseballbat – is that a fantastic name for a band, or what! – asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing their new album Rations. Let me state up-front that I dislike writing album reviews, as they’re a lot of work, plus my Attention Deficit Disorder makes it difficult for me to focus my thoughts on a large number of songs, further compounding my stress levels.
That said, the moment I pressed play, I was delighted by this album. It’s wild, it’s zany, it’s fun, and as thoroughly eclectic as any record could possibly be. Besides ska, which itself is an eclectic mash-up of Caribbean mento and calypso, American jazz and R&B, the songs feature generous helpings of electro, punk, new wave, reggae and dub, as well as an unexpected touch of bluegrass just to keep us on our toes – all served up courtesy of nearly every conceivable instrument known to man, along with seemingly silly lyrics that brilliantly reflect deeper meanings.
I’d never heard of Zen Baseballbat previously, however, from what I can tell they were formed some time during the first half of the 1990s by twin brothers Gary and Carl Gleavey, along with several other musicians. Their earliest recording I could find was the 1994 EP Kneel Down To The Mothers Of The Slums, released via Toebunger Records. They later released two albums under the Moon Ska Records label – I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer in 2000, followed by For Refund Insert Baby in 2004. They disbanded in the late 2000s, but reformed a decade later with a new lineup and a newfound burst of creativity.
Based in Widnes, England, a mid-size city located between Liverpool and Manchester, Zen Baseballbat now includes Gleavey twins Gary on guitar & vocals, and Carl on bass & backing vocals, Jordan Donaldson on keyboards & backing vocals, Mike Wilkinson on drums, Jonathan ‘Jogga’ Parker on guitar & backing vocals, as well as Anoushka Wittram-Gleavey and Colin Mackay, who produced the album. In 2020, they released an EP You Won’t Get Paid and two singles “Place Like This” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. On New Years Day, they released Rations, which features reimagined versions of 11 songs that previously appeared on I Am The Champion Concrete Mixer and For Refund Insert Baby.
About the album, the band explains: “Rations conjures up images of need, neglect, desire and food banks in the modern world. It definitely shouldn’t sound this positive and joyful. ‘Rations’ is the sound of misery turned on its head. This CD is a radar pulse crossing borders and political divides and says firmly, we are internationalists. These are songs of love, loss, hurt and a knee to the neck from every cunt who wants to keep you in your place. Words have space to breath and weave, voices sound measured with biting intent, bass lines jerk and slide under polyrhythmic prose, whilst organs bounce from corner to corner. This body of work has emerged clear eyed and victorious, handled to a T by producer Colin McKay.“
They kick things off with “Whipping the Lash“, which opens with a woman chanting German numbers translating to “seven eight zero seven nine nine” to a synth beat. Things quickly expand into a bouncy retro new wave dance groove that sounds like it could have been produced by Missing Persons or Thomas Dolby. Though the track is heavy on synths, that driving bass line and those jangly guitars are fabulous. The song seems to be a love song told through clever car-oriented lyrics describing feelings of lust: “I just love the way you move your fingers up and down the wheel, Into such mechanical force. It’s the way that you want me to feel.”
Next up is the delightful “Captain Midnight“, a ska song at heart, but given a dramatic synthwave treatment that nicely plays off the lyrics: “Nobody knows who I really am. Nobody knows. Under my vest I’m a Superman. Well I’m a perfect stranger. They even baptized me danger.” On the hilarious “Masochistic Motown“, which to my ears has a bit of a Talking Heads vibe, they touch on a situation where there’s simply no pleasing the man, no matter how hard she tries: “He gets porn at his fingertips, but snubs her new knickers. She’s gone from mouse to blonde, but he never noticed it. She wants him back, she wants him back. She wants him back, she wants him.”
The tables are turned on “Year of the Dog (That Bit Me)“, as this time she’s left him, and he’s feeling like a loser: “Here I am at a municipal dock pond. Oh my god love hurts. She upped and left me in mid sausage, punctuating end with burps.” The song opens with a man’s voice saying “I wish you good luck, but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it“, and ends with that refrain, followed by another man exclaiming that he is in fact a loser: “You lose! Good day sir! It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal. You lose!” The song’s jaunty vibe, replete with an upbeat ska rhythm, exuberant horns and lively organ, belies the rather morose lyrics.
“Brown Cows of Elocution” is a lovely serving of dub reggae delight, and I dare anyone to keep still while hearing it. The cheeky lyrics poke fun at high society’s penchant for verbal diarrhea: “In a compost heap where a language grew, us duffers in the meat yard never had a clue. Our vowels were strangled by the cattle gas. / Sure it’s a laugh sure it’s a gas.”
The great tunes keep coming on strong as the album continues. “The Injection of Love is Wearing Off” features more of those lovely horns and organ, and speaks to a relationship in which love is fading” “The injection of love is wearing off. My heart’s wide open. There goes the heat. The magic carpet pulled from under my feet. She made me feel like an out of season seaside.” And have I mentioned that I love Gary’s distinctive singing voice, in which his charming accent is quite pronounced? On “Signed Off R. Mutt“, Zen Baseballbat delivers a surprising injection of rousing hillbilly-flavored bluegrass to lament about the soul-killing downside of most jobs: “I left the job club torture room with little applause. They broke up my horizons over them there town hall walls. I offered them the services of a Marcel Duchamp. They gave me the post of a lavatory attendant. / We know exactly where we are, going under together in a gas filled car.“
“Bananas” is a fascinating and darkly humorous track with a macabre vibe, thanks to an abundance of spooky synths and eerie guitar notes. The lyrics seem to address a downtrodden social milieu, sort of a Les Misérables meets Sweeney Todd, told through rather repulsive food and restaurant metaphors: “Where’s the crapper? They’re ready to order, ready to murder a braison elephant paddling in batter, two galloping gonads, and the next man’s earlobes. Mine’s a grated brick. And a ballbuster special seasoned with a banana skin. My gastronomic exit. Fly, there’s not enough waiters in my soup!” And on “Matching Houses“, they contrast a breezy reggae melody with pointed lyrics about the banality of suburban life: “Making the most of our matching houses in the middle of nowhere special./ Polluting the back of our nostalgic settee with lies and social security. Painting brown carpets with sunshine. Moving for the last time.”
Continuing on that theme of socio-economic ennui, “The Returner Prize” speaks to the frustrations of being stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of upward mobility, and expected to be thankful for the crumbs you’re thrown by the high and mighty: “Meet your average working stiff, pushing a button in a light bulb factory. Meet your average working stiff, I never touch my salmon paste sandwiches. When Her Majesty came to our dumb town we had a whazz in her brew. Down Stewards Avenue when Her Majesty came to our dumb town, we had to clear up the streets after the mess that she had left.” The closing track “Whipping the Drop” is a mostly instrumental dub reggae song with a strong techno vibe, and seems to be a sort of conclusion to opening track “Whipping the Lash”. The spooky yet stylish industrial synths, throbbing rhythms and whispered vocals repeatedly chanting “Sieben acht null sieben neun neun” give the track a sultry otherworldly vibe.
To expand on some of what I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Rations is a truly delightful album, filled with lyrical and instrumental brilliance that surprised me at every turn. There’s so much going on in every track that, even on my sixth listen, I still discovered another instrument or little nuance I hadn’t previously noticed. I did listen to Zen Baseballbat’s earlier recordings of some of the songs featured on Rations, with their more pure ska stylings, and they were also quite good. But with their reimagined treatments, I think they’ve taken these songs to the next level, giving them a whole new life.