Album Review: Allah-Las ‘Self-Titled’
“We live in a post-authentic world. And today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history. And at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters.”
Critics have written an understandable narrative around Allah-Las’ debut, self-titled LP that centers around an argument that the band’s sound is of an earlier era. Each review comes with a requisite laundry list of comparisons that chronicle the godfathers of late 1960s garage rock. Fellow Indianapolis writer Justin Wesley summed this up as well as anyone in his excellent review for The Silver Tongue, saying: “The songs get more lived-in with every obsessive listen; soon enough, you’re assuming a rewritten history where Allah-Las had a string of late ‘60s #1s, and you know their iconic history from Little Steven’s Underground Garage, vintage super 8 films, tell-all bestsellers and their late-career resurgence as touring relics.”
This is true. There are certainly traces of The Zombies, The Kinks, The Byrds and a litany of more obscure references in the analog production found on Allah-Las. My dispute has nothing to do with the validity of these comparisons, but rather the assumption that garage rock is something of an earlier time. For 50 years, the genre has been a mainstay in popular music, albeit with relative swells in relevance. At this point, it’s an essential element in the compound that forms our understanding of American culture. As such, bands like Allah-Las serve less as revivalists, and more as participants in an ongoing conversation.
By the same logic, we don’t consider pulling over for a roadside cheeseburger a nostalgic return to 1950s car culture. Cheeseburgers are no more of that decade than garage rock is of the one following. They’re timeless – part of our DNA. It just so happens that Allah-Las is no ordinary debut, characterized by a romantic sloppiness and an excess of fuzz. It’s informed, polished, and deserving of consideration with artists whose work defined the genre, which makes the comparisons all the more tempting.
The songwriting is as timeless as the tube amps that carry it to fruition. On the murder ballad “Busman’s Holiday,” lead singer Miles Michaud crafts a tale of a soldier’s return home to discover his woman in the arms of another man. The storyline is as readily applicable to 1945 or 1975 as 2012. Women are everywhere on this record. “Catalina” contains all of the crystallized regret of The Stones’ 1971 classic “Dead Flowers.” Follow-up “Vis-A-Vis” is a meditation on the sweet, innocence of young love and the pangs of longing that an old photo can inspire. Even the Spanish-tinged instrumental “Ela Navega” calls to mind a tipsy tango in the courtyard at dusk.
Garage rock may not be as cerebral as jazz or as old-timey as the railroad songs that inspired Dylan, but for those of us under the age of 60, this sound is as much a part of our heritage as anything created in the public houses of New Orleans or hills of Appalachia. Grab Allah-Las’ self-titled debut on CD or vinyl from your local record store. Download via iTunes.
Connect with Allah-Las via Facebook | Twitter
Written by Rob Peoni
Fresh Track: Adam Green & Binki Shapiro “Collage”
Last month, we featured “Here I Am” the debut single from Adam Green and Binki Shapiro‘s forthcoming self-titled LP. “Here I Am” was the type of gorgeous bedroom folk that falls neatly within any rational expectations for an album from the co-founder of The Moldy Peaches and the indie songstress/heartthrob. Yesterday, the duo dropped “Collage” – a track that shatters and exceeds any and all expectations affirmed by “Here I Am.”
On “Collage,” Green and Shapiro wrap a restrained pop melody around bold horn charts, perfectly placed strings and an undercurrent of polyrhythms. The track culminates in a cacophony of distortion and dissonance between the strings and horns, reminding listeners that the two big D’s that have come define the indie sound have their origins in work by modern composers like Liszt and Schoenberg. Green and Shapiro use color to coat their lyrical canvas: “Blue for the blue I feel when I’m feeling down…”, “Green for the eyes…”, “Red for the light / Gotta stop this thing / Find a song to sing that has everything / That I meant to say…”.
“Collage” is a jam that legitimizes my excitement over this record. Green and Shapiro’s self-titled debut will be released on January 29. Pre-order your copy of the LP via Amazon. Listen to “Collage” here:
Written by Rob Peoni
Album Review: Barna Howard LP
“Twenty-four years old and writes like he’s about two-hundred and twenty. I don’t know where he comes from, but I’ve got a good idea where he’s going. We went away believers, reminded how goddamned good it feels to be turned on by a real Creative Imagination.”
That quote was taken from the liner notes of John Prine’s 1971 self-titled, debut LP. Yet Kristofferson’s words prove equally applicable to the debut release from Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Barna Howard. At just 27, his is a voice that offers insights into our selves and our interactions with others. Each phrase crafted and whittled until each breath proves meaningful and essential.
They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. If this is true, I want the eyes of Barna Howard. I hope, one day, to view the world with half the clarity that Howard writes his songs. He paints a series of vignettes, shedding light on those moments never cast as the subject of the camera’s eye. Too trivial for documentation, these are the snapshots that comprise life. A grandmother’s laugh. The knotty, grass and gravel covered knees of children playing in the yard.
The album opens with “Horizons Fade”, a reflective piece that finds Howard grappling with a fondness for his Missouri home and the satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that his decision to leave has helped to define him. Howard’s understanding of his roots appears to have crystallized since viewing them from afar. He’s content with his decision to depart, despite the genuine ache that comes with an absence of friends and family. These sentiments are echoed later in the release on “It Hurts to Know.”
On “Promise, I won’t Laugh and “I Don’t Fall Much Anymore” Howard crafts narratives of lost love with the same powerful remorse that gave life to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Unlike those Dylan tunes, Howard’s are written with a greater distance between the present and the pain. He spoke of the effect that this space had on his ability to write lead single “Promise I Won’t Laugh” in his interview with Creative Loafing:
“…it’s kind of the song that I always wanted to write. Just to kind of bring across the point of celebrating it instead of being sad it happened. We were sad for a reason, and that reason was because that thing that was there wasn’t there anymore, and when it was there it was great. And just because it’s gone doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it still lives on and it’s still celebrated for me.”
Detractors will inevitably point to the album’s music as redundant. But those willing to listen will recognize that the continuity of the guitar play allows a greater focus on the main event – the writing. Besides, the finger picking is immaculate. It offers a rhythm and tone reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt. The strength of the release makes it easy to forget that this is a debut, and Howard has an entire career to explore new sounds.
Like Kristofferson watching Prine play for the first time in that dimly lit Chicago bar, records like Howard’s and Hip Hatchet’s Joy and Better Days have reinvigorated my belief that some of music’s most powerful contributors require no more than an acoustic guitar and a fresh perspective. They serve as a reminder that at the end of the day, you better have something to say, and you better say it with conviction. They are songwriters that bring us closer to truth. What more could you ask from art? Grab your copy of the Barna Howard LP from Mama Bird Recording Co.
Connect with Barna Howard via Facebook
Written by Rob Peoni
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