The Shape of Punk to Come (Deluxe Edition)
Goes well with: Born Against, Nation of Ulysses, Hoover
Although they were certain enough to proclaim, in a song title on this seminal 1998 release, that “Refused are Fuckin Dead,” it turns out it's not true after all. Or, at the very least, this reissue / live CD / documentary three-disc edition proves that the Swedish hardcore group's third and final release still has some life. And, really, that's the way it should be.
Shape was never wholly original—it copped plenty of late '80s / early '90s DIY punk and hardcore sounds. Nor was it truly groundbreaking—not only did it fail to successfully predict the future of punk; things actually became less eclectic and more pop-oriented after its release. But the record took the band's unforgiving hardcore and uniquely fused it with the occasional insertion of atmospherics, jazz and electronic blips. The result was an incredibly successful, underappreciated, face-melting epic, and it deserved another go-round.
Add the fact that it was constructed on the Scandinavian Peninsula by a quartet of fanatical, in-fighting socialists who broke up after its completion, and you have the makings of a minor masterpiece. “Can I scream?!” singer Dennis Lyxzén famously shrieks on “New Noise.” Of course you can, Dennis. Again and again.
Goes well with: Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees, Moonhearts
Ty Segall is back with a new record close on the heels of last year's Lemon, but if you're looking for no-frills garage rock, then Melted might leave you with a sour taste.
The distorted guitars are anchored with bottomed-out bass lines and muddy beats. They're perfect platforms for Segall's vocals, which have always been moody and expressive. But the tempo here is neither brash nor bratty. He's still got that signature snotty sound, but it's subdued. Segall's in your living room, not your face.
“Girlfriend,” one of the more upbeat numbers, features fuzzed-out guitars and warbling vocals and relies on a clap track to get the song off the ground. “Mrs.,” a bluesy lament to the Mississippi River, is folksy, ghostly and seriously bad-ass (oddly prescient, too, in light of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico).
“Imaginary Person” is probably the most dynamic song here and has all the elements that make good garage tunes great, but it's the exception, not the norm.
Segall seems poised to fill Jay Reatard's shoes in the most-prolificsinger/songwriter category. A list of records he's been involved in during the past year would fill more space than this review allows. But since joining Sic Alps in '09, Segall's songs have tilted toward the psychedelic. As anyone who has ever made a grilled-cheese sandwich while stoned can attest, you can only melt something so long before it burns.
Square Shells EP
Goes well with: Tom Petty, Guided By Voices, Robert Johnson
Sometimes it takes several listens to get a proper feel for an album, and, at first, Square Shells didn't seem to have much soul. Given away for free on Matador's website, it felt suspiciously like a stopgap between Vile's brilliant Childish Prodigy and the Philly rambler's forthcoming full-length—a series of throwaway tunes mashed together with no rhyme or reason but to simply serve as new material.
But Vile is someone who doesn't have throwaway tunes, part of his appeal being that each track could easily have been culled from one endless, reverb-drenched session. On Square Shells, the songs aren't quite as submerged in the same watery effects as before, which may give some insight that Vile's opening up a little, like on “Invisibility: Nonexistent,” where his zoned-out guitar is coupled with drum-machine clicks and analog synths in a way that resembles The Beta Band's Three EPs.
Take “I Wanted Everything” for example, which might be his most naked song to date. Poignant lines like “I wanted everything / but I only got most of it,” and “I'm gonna sit around until I get wise / I ain't never gonna go to work no more / 'Cause I was an old man and that's all I ever did,” reveal that Vile's truly living out his dreams. If anything, Square Shells shows his essence more than any of his other releases, even if it takes a little more effort to find it.