New music from Classics of Love, Lee Scratch Perry, RAD, Strange Boys

Strange Boys at The Echo (February 26, 2010)

Just because I’m not budgeted to hit any shows this month doesn’t mean that I’m not listening to music all the time. And some of it isn’t even from my childhood. This batch of new (and somewhat new) releases isn’t arranged alphabetically but more like how I’d place them on a mixtape. Start off with some garage-y rock, ease into classic reggae, and then hit the punk and thrash. Yeah, right? Longtime Giant Robot fans will recall that I interviewed Strange Boys and Lee Scratch Perry in the pages of the print magazine, while more current readers will remember the online interview with Classics of Love’s Jesse Michaels from just a few weeks ago. As for RAD, only the hardest core/borderline unhealthy Giant Robot maniacs would realize that the bass player Anthony worked at the GR shops on Sawtelle and played on the softball team back in the day.

Strange Boys – Live Music
This is the Austin band’s third long-player, and their deconstructed take on Americana hasn’t lost any of its shambling charm despite the extra layers of rich production and tighter songwriting. The music still sounds as if it were recorded on a porch–albeit a large one with a piano–but has extra range. “Doeh” channels the refined funk by Young Americans-era Bowie and “You and Me” (not to be confused with the first single, “Me and You“) comes across like Paul Westerberg doing Leonard Cohen. Most often, though, the honky-tonking vibe recalls the Let It Bleed-period Stones: loose but never sloppy and sometimes rollicking but never quite raging, with a deceptively effortless demeanor and subtle-yet-deadly hooks. [Rough Trade]

Lee Perry & The Upsetters – High Plains Drifter: Jamaican 45′s 1968-73
This smoking-hot collection of rare singles showcases Lee “Scratch” Perry at the top of his game producing soul-driven reggae hits and on the verge of going out of his mind at the Black Ark. Although the legendary producer’s full range of interests is on display, from spaghetti Westerns to kung fu movies, most of the songs are straight-up sizzlers with as much funk as skank. While AM hits from another dimension such as Busty Brown’s “It’s Growing” seem to have nothing to do with more twisted iterations to come (“Return of the Super Ape”), roots workouts like “Thanks We Get” and whacked-out dubs including “Amigo” provide both evidence and clues to the madness and genius that would soon ensue. [Pressure Sounds]

Classics of Love – S/T
Not content to revisit the territory staked out by singer Jesse Michaels’ more famous band from the late ’80s, Operation Ivy, he and and his new crew (a.k.a. Hard Girls) dig back a little further to harness the power of early hardcore and infuse it with the melody of Spirit of ’77 punk. With 13 songs in 22 minutes, there’s no time for fucking around. Indeed, every song features circle-pit inducing riffs that recall vintage 7 Seconds (“Dissolve“) and Bad Religion (“We Need a Change”) coupled with Michaels’ breathlessly shouting unabashedly humanist, blue-collar lyrics that you barely have time to absorb before the next stanza kicks in: “Life is a game where you see you gets the most money/Life is a  game where you see who gets the most power/Who fucking cares!” Timely, timeless, and essential. [Asian Man Records]

RAD – This Is RAD
While Southern California’s OFF! has brought back the danger, integrity, and charisma of early Black Flag, Sacramento’s RAD stands for the multitudes of forgotten contributors to Mystic compilations. The 7 songs packed on either side of the debut 7″ single recall the period when thrash and punk were crossing over, and the lyrics accurately capture the moment’s issues, anger, and humor. “Never Turn Your Back (on a Mosh)” and “Cover Your Tits in the Pit” are self-explanatory and time-tested to be true, while “Geekanomics” and “90s Punk” are new takes on the old problem of poseurs. Each song is spewed out in less than a minute, so you’ll want to refer to the lyric sheet in the safety of your own home before RAD tears up your local dive. [Sacramento Records]