I know it’s cold. Winter comes ever year, you know. Some cope better than others-some get mad, some get s.o s.a.d. I think the real depths are hit by those that want to fight it, that think the atmospheric conditions are somehow unfair. Some seem to take the changing of the seasons personally. I know I talk about the weather a lot (don’t we all?) and I guess that’s because in running a music blog my moods dictate what I feel like listening to and therefore influences the type of stuff I post. There’s no point resisting how the atmospheric conditions make you feel, as R. Buckminster Fuller said “Don’t fight forces, use them”.
So with the onset of the big grey I’ve found myself snuggling up with the usual suspects and a few new acquaintances. Jason Molina is in my ears pretty much year round but come May his music takes on a deeper, somehow even sadder, dimension. A friend recently pointed me back towards the lovely ashen sounds of Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. And of course, ladies and gentlemen…Mr Leonard Cohen. This clearly isn’t a diet to be sustained regularly, but I can assert that it goes well with red wine, midnight drizzle and, yeah, seasonal orientated sadness affective disorder.
When I started listening to Gunman & The Holy Ghost it actually made me laugh. Such misery! This is melancholy with gristle! This album is barefaced in it’s misery-it doesn’t resist it, it uses it. Song titles like “I Don’t Believe In Love Anymore” and “Oh Lord, Let Me Die In Pain” are pretty good indication of what we’re in for here, though there’s great variation on this deliciously dark album. Opener “The Eight To Five Train To Nothing” snared me right in the lip and I was willfully dragged up through that ink black water and onto the good ship Gunman. A relatively upbeat tune, it has some sad, sad lyrics:
"I would want you here but you’re nowhere near so I just keep steaming on; Into the wilderness and unhappiness right back where I came from"
Lines like this are so damn dark, they bring a smile to my face. Like when I’m listening to Molina’s “Let Me Go , Le Me Go, Let Me Go” and it’s so, so fucking despondent that all you can do is smile. Enjoying something cutting to the bone may be seen as sadomasochistic, but that’s ok. Music should provide all manner of sensations.
There’s a great range of styles played with here, mainly in the realm of folk rock. Rollicking country tales of a cowboys solitude (“Outlaw’s Shout”) mid tempo jaunts of misery (“Oh Lord, Let Me Die In Pain”) and yearning R ‘n B tinged folk (“Lonely”). “Like A Soldier…” is the most Cohen-esque number, undoubtedly paying homage to the great poet in sound and lyrics. The military beat used is a stroke of simple genius and lends itself beautifully to the metaphor the song - that love is war. Closer “Dream Of A Highway” opens softly enough and builds superbly, before unfolding into it’s noisy, dramatic conclusion. It’s a song that reaches great heights and, like all good albums do, leaves us hungering for more.
I’ve seen depression and experienced it, I understand the paralysing affects it can have. I don’t think it’s something to be glorified. What I do admire is when an artist makes something out of their sadness. I’m sure it’s therapeutic for them and I wish I had the capacity to do so it but I don’t, so I listen instead and share the pain. Albums like this from Gunman & The Holy Ghost exist to share the dark and the cold with, to be enveloped by. To soundtrack the settling of the fog, to provide a pale sun on the bleakest of days.
I don’t want to do you like that but you make it so easy babe
A couple of weeks back I was fortunate enough to catch the great Red Kross (supported by locals faves Iowa). Hoo boy, what a terrific night of music it was. What a band. Four guys hurling themselves into three minute, three chord punky power pop over and over again-it was exhilarating and cathartic and joyous, it was a total thing. And oh man the drummer. Let’s just say I don’t feel so sad about never getting to see Keith Moon now (my previous closest connection to the dude was my dad pointing out the spot on his head where a piece of exploding drum kit struck him at a Sydney show in, like, ‘68). All in my very favourite Melbourne venue, the band room of the Northcote Social Club. But this isn’t another gush about Melbourne. This is about my love affair with rock and roll.
I didn’t start listening to music, on a serious level, or attending gigs until my late teens and early twenties, despite my fathers exemplary music taste and history of injuries inflicted by rock gods. The music bug did certainly bite me though and once I’d escaped the small town I was raised in I was seeing gigs as often as possible, though one band cut through like no other. You Am I were a three piece when I first saw them, and I’m glad I got to see them in those early days. I’d fallen hard for their albums but the live shows were a whole other thing. Soul shaking, bombastic affairs of sweat, booze and big stupid smiles, best described by a phrase I discovered around that time and still often use - “music that makes you want to pour a beer on your head”. Most importantly these shows (I stopped counting after about 42) were great fucking fun and instilled in me a passion for top shelf rock and roll-this was my education on the Stones and The Who and The Replacements and Husker Du and so, so much more. I won’t carp on, we need to talk about another band, so just watch this clip.
I mention all this because in seeing Red Kross and discovering Nude Beach I’ve had my rock and roll embers stoked unlike any time I recall since those hedonistic days of the late 90’s. It ain’t just pure nostalgia, it’s a tangible reaction to music that plugs something into me and flicks the goddamn switch. For all the rock and roll that’s around, much is worthless. Pale and pissweak. Nude Beach aren’t that. Nude Beach are very, very good.
Well the radio’s playing a sad song I don’t wanna hear
We’re away with “Radio” and already I’m in this until the end, already I’m thinking about how to get these cats to Australia. That frenetic riff, those yelping vocals, that visceral beat. Yeah it’s informed by early Boss and Westerberg, sure, but this is classic NYC rock and roll, folks. Let’s leave the influences at the door and enjoy ourselves huh? Importantly Nude Beach are a three piece-there’s a something about a great three piece that makes gives them more urgency, makes their ability to power out such whipsmart rock even more impressive. I mean look at these cats-don’t you wanna be there?
If you’re not in by track two “Walkin’ Down My Street” you’re probably taking life too seriously. You’re probably missing out on a whole heap of fun shit.
I don’t care if you see me cry or bleed, I just need you bayyyy-ah-beee
The lyrics are here are almost exclusively concerned with love and heartbreak, mostly from a charmingly juvenile place. Chuck Betz ( no shit!) has a terrific rock and roll voice, he swings beautifully from considered delivery to roof-down-throwing-firecrackers-at-pedestrians-swilling-Budweiser wailing and his phrasing is spot on.
Coz baby this kind of love could bring me dooooooooooooooown
The album is put together as all great rock and roll records are, pretty much. A few crackers to start off, a mid tempo one or two in the middle before a couple more barn burners. The last two don’t quite follow suit though-usually you’d expect a quiet number or two to close and “Don’t Have to Try” is that R’nB flavoured heart bleeder at track 10 but this album closes with a couple more party starters - “Loser In The Game” is one of the albums standouts and one of it’s most energetic.
And though I wouldn’t lie; you just can’t find the secret places I hide; cos they’re so deep inside my mind
It’s as is if Nude Beach don’t want to fade into the night, they want to own the night. They want to be with you until the horrible, glorious end. It’s rock and roll that exists in a realm few can reach and I think that’s mainly that’s because it’s honest and simple-I think it’s a reflection of these guys lives. I don’t know a thing about them, but I’m utterly convinced by the genuine passion beating in every note of this album. Yes, this sort of rock and roll is indeed rare, music that reminds you of the best times of your life and soundtracks the ones still to come.