National Album Reviews: Chuck Prophet, Monotonix, Saviours, and WHY?
Let Freedom Ring (Yep Roc)
You've got to hand it to Chuck Prophet. While the rest of the world was panicking about the swine flu outbreak, the San Francisco-based songwriter was holed up in a sound studio in Mexico City, recording what ranks as the most staggering rock record of 2009. From the blistering opening chords of "Sonny Liston's Blues" to the plaintive refrain of "Leave the Window Open," Prophet has produced a suite of songs whose exuberance will call to mind not just the mid-'70s heyday of the Stones, but also vintage Cheap Trick.
Prophet's voice is pure Southern California drawl, and his Stratocaster seems never to have met a lick it couldn't shred. But what stands out here is Prophet's ability to survey the moral landscape of America, as the nation faces up to the brutal economic hangover of the go-go Bush years. "Let there be markets, let them run wild," he sings, on the rousing title track, "as the sisters of mercy just laugh/All the lost brothers can drink themselves blind/While good fortune breaks hard work in half." Not even the shimmering chorus can blunt the sting of that sort of truth. What's most remarkable about this album is that Prophet has told the ugly truth about our imperial ills and made it impossible for us not to sing along. -- Steve Almond
Where Were You When it Happened (Drag City)
Last year, Monotonix were just a bunch of long-haired Israelis playing shows that seemed to have people on the blogosphere talking that these guys might indeed be the "best band on the plane." Then they put out an EP on the venerable Drag City Records, and all of a sudden, everybody knew who they were. Now, after a touring schedule that would make Black Flag's head spin, they put fourth eight songs on their first LP, Where Were You Last Night, that all reek of Jesus Lizard worship. This is Maybe one of the dirtiest albums of the year. -- Jason Diamond
Accelerated Living (Kemado Records)
Back in 2005, metal quartet Saviours sprung forth from the raddest depths of Hades (a.k.a. Oakland) with a debut EP, Warship, that combined the evil chug of heavy legends, like Motorhead and Early Man, with the compact brutality of New York hardcore. Since then, the foursome has released a pair of full-length albums, Crucifire and Into Abaddon, elaborating (while not really expanding) the band's core concept. In other words, Saviours kills it every time -- and its latest release, Accelerated Living, is no exception. But the slaying style always remains, more or less, the same.
This sameness, however, reflects clarity of purpose rather than lack of vision. Unlike certain self-consciously kitsch metalheads, Saviours is a band that couldn't give a shit about irony. This crew means every minute. And from opener "Acid Hand" to last gasp "Eternal High," the new album is a rippling 50 minutes of unapologetically old-school riffage with enough barbwire vocals and razor-edged shredding to disembowel an entire arena's worth of groveling fans. So, buy a ticket, belly up, and get ready to be gutted. -- S. Pajot
Eskimo Snow (Anticon)
We have been waiting far too long for Yoni Wolf to take his rightful spot amongst names like David Berman (Silver Jews) and Bill Callahan (Smog) as an upperclassmen for the school of deep-voiced songsmiths. With Berman's recent retirement from music, now would seem as good a time as any for Wolf to make his move.
On his band's most recent long player, Eskimo Snow, Wolf ruminates upon his feelings of alienation with a much clearer perspective than before. He and his band sound like the precocious child of They Might be Giants, weaned on the Drag City Records catalog of the late '90s. Wolf also seems to share the perspective of discomfort and wonderment mastered by gentlemen like Jonathan Richman or Gordon Ganno of the Violent Femmes.
When Wolf sings, "I wish I could feel close to somebody but I don't feel nothing," on the confessional song "In the Shadows of My EMbrace," it's almost Dylanesque. There is the feeling that not only is he a songwriter in touch with his own dark feelings, but that he is also a keen observer of those around him. And whether he's singing about his own sins and screw ups, or yours, might be irrelevant. You're better off just focusing on the fact that Yoni Wolf is one of the finest songwriters in music today, and this album, on the usually hip-hop-focused label Anticon, is a gem. -- Jason Diamond