The Damned
So, Who’s Paranoid?
The English Channel

The Damned’s punk vamp has always been steeped in ’60s pop psychedelics, but not since the band covered “White Rabbit” has it been so apparent as on So, Who’s Paranoid? With gothic overtones kept to a minimum and some of ye olde spitfire mellowed with age, the record hearkens back to the band’s precursors. As such, Paranoid doesn’t so much resemble the work of punk legends, but that of a well heeled rock band, which may be the most the Damned can hope for at this point in a career that has produced lows much lower than this (Anything anyone?).

Which is to say that Paranoid is pretty hit-or-miss. Thankfully, I guess, the Damned threw enough material on here to find the mark on more than one occasion. “Under the Wheels” shows some of the spark and tenor of classics like “Smash It Up,” longtime partners in crime singer David Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible finding some of the bubbly chemistry of the past. Likewise, “A Danger to Yourself” may not be piss and vinegar, but there’s vigor there along with a knockout Sensible riff and Monty Oxymoron’s retro keyboard sounds. Same with “Perfect Sunday.” But for the most part, all this is just filler for the album’s finale, “Dark Asteroid.” Beginning as a playful trip on the light fantastic, the song morphs into a 14-minute psych dirge, one equivalent in power to anything from the then or now. While not what one expects from the Damned, it’s a powerful capping for what’s an otherwise rudimentary record, and it only makes one wish the damn Damned had tapped this direction sooner and more frequently. As one never knows if the Damned will be heard from again, at least they made sure the very last note was a good one.
Stephen Slaybaugh

Alice Russell
Pot of Gold
Six Degrees

If the new British invasion of soul-influenced performers is any indication of things, the Motown brand of soul still has an iron grip on the hearts, ears and vocal cords of UK songbirds. Add to the ever-growing list Alice Russell and her latest record Pot of Gold.

Russell is best known for her work with Nostalgia 77, and its cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” However, she’s been putting out records since 2004 under her own name and has worked steadily with other UK acts. But with the success of Amy Winehouse comes a new interest in all things British soul, so it’s time to step up and deliver. Luckily, Pot of Gold knocks it out of the park.

It’s a tricky balance to invoke the classic sounds of Motown without sounding like a tribute act. And it’s an even harder trick these days to be a British female soul singer without invoking the looming specter of Winehouse. But Russell’s Pot of Gold leaps over both obstacles with ease. While Winehouse is a jazz-influenced singer, Russell is an old-school belter. If you need someone whose voice has enough has enough power to peel the paint off the walls, Russell is the one to do it. The other obvious difference is that while Russell is the name on the cover, the album is clearly the work of a band. The interplay shows that this is a cohesive unit that has worked together pretty extensively, evident on tracks such as “Turn and Run” and the bluesy take on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

One of the trickiest things that Pot of Gold does well is switch from retro to a more modern sound with only the slightest twist in arrangements. There’s a huge sonic and style difference between the most modern sounding cut, “Let Us Be Loving,” and many of the other tracks on the record, but it still sounds cohesive. It’s a trick that has eluded many other singers but the experience of Russell and her band shines through.

While Russell many never be the media magnet that Winehouse is, Pot of Gold shows that she can neatly avoid the shadow of that infamous beehive.
Dorian S. Ham

Ty Segall
Ty Segall
Castle Face

Ty Segall is often associated with John Dwyer of the Coachwhips, Thee Oh Sees, and whatever other band the dude is playing in this week. Seagall tours and plays shows with Thee Oh Sees, and his new album is the second release on Dwyer’s Castle Face label. As such, it’s tempting to compare Ty Segall to the various Dwyer projects, but while Segall’s debut full-length does sound a bit like the late great Coachwhips, his brand of blown-out garage punk is a little tighter and more structured. Actually, the record sounds like it could be a lost Nuggets band, and tracks like “The Drag” and “You’re Not Me” could have come from any time or place. Ty even makes the Ramones’ “You Should Never Have Opened That Door” his own.

The other difference between Seagall and Dwyer is Ty’s tendency to change up the pace. Unlike the relentless primal stomp of the Coachwhips, Ty slows things down throughout the record. For every rave up like “The Drag,” “Pretty Baby (You’re So Ugly),” or “Oh Mary,” there’s a broken down ballad like album closer “An Ill Jest.” These brief moments of respite give the album a good flow. After being pummeled with fuzzed-out vitriol for a few tracks, you get to catch your breath. And that Seagall makes this much noise by himself—and is able to play it live—makes it even more impressive. Highly recommended for fans of Black Time, the Lamps, Jay Reatard, and of course, any of Dwyer’s projects.
Tom Butler

Rivers Cuomo
Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo

Making records isn’t a streamlined process. For every album full of pure gold, there are hard drives and cassette piles full of songs that hit the cutting room floor. For the most point these songs never see the light of days. But there are occasions where the songwriter decides to show how exactly the sausages are made. For Rivers Cuomo, the previous experience was so nice that he decided to do it twice. The result is Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo.

Alone II is complied from Cuomo’s demos that span from 1993 to 2008. The record features songs that didn’t make the cut for the Blue, Green, Red or Make Believe albums, three songs from the unreleased second album, Songs From the Black Hole, and other nonspecific songs. As a result it’s a little all over the place. Lo-fi song fragments are placed next to more polished performances; jokey tunes are followed up by painfully sincere declarations. Yet despite what could be a train wreck, it’s surprisingly cohesive.

While Alone II could have been an off-the-cuff collection of throwaways aimed for a quick cash-in, the project is a thoughtful look at the mind of Cuomo. In probably the best move to encourage physical CD sales, the liner notes feature detailed information about each song. If you’re only hearing the music you’re only getting half the story.

The most surprising thing about the record is that it shows that even without help, Cuomo does a pretty good Weezer impression. The other surprise, considering Weezer’s recent output, is rediscovering that Cuomo can write thoughtful songs that are well crafted. After the super shinny, surprisingly popular but deeply stupid Make Believe record it’s almost a shock to rediscover the Cuomo that made the Blue Album and Pinkerton so great. This may even result in a reexamining of the much maligned Green Album, at least as an example of Cuomo’s pure pop songwriting abilities.

This isn’t a record for fans looking for a “Beverly Hills” or even a casual music fan just seeing what all the hype is about. Vocally there are some rough moments and some songs sound like they were recorded over a telephone. But where else can you hear Cuomo’s take on an unreleased Jermaine Dupri cut or a solid version of the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” highlighting the pretty solid stylistic link between Cuomo and Brian Wilson. For the Weezer fan that wants a little bit more or to just erase some of the latter day missteps from their brains, Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo is the album to own.
Dorian S. Ham