Goes well with: Beach House, Luna, The xx
It seems trite to mention it, but you know that old line about how The Velvet Underground never sold many records, but everyone who heard them went out and started a band? Well, the same could probably be said about Galaxie 500. Like Lou Reed and Co., they were a New York band and made a few killer records that were embraced in the U.K. but largely ignored in America.
Yet, Galaxie 500 made one hell of an impression on the few who heard them, influencing everyone from Low and Mazzy Star to Belle & Sebastian and Bon Iver. Recently reissued for the second time since its original 1989 release (and packed with outtakes and Peel sessions), their second album, On Fire, remains an understated masterpiece. Dean Wareham, with his nasal, indie-rock Neil Young imitation, sings of love and hate, while bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski jam like 'ludes are back in vogue. Lyrically and sonically, it's depressing as hell, but coming out in the late '80s, it was exactly what music fans needed to hear.
Wareham went on to form Luna and Dean & Britta, while his rhythm section went on to play as Damon & Naomi. But whether they like it or not, Galaxie 500 and On Fire will likely remain their crowning achievement. Three kids not knowing what the future held, crafting the soundtrack to the death of youth and not caring if anyone heard.
High On Fire
Snakes for the Divine
Goes well with: Motörhead, Slayer, Celtic Frost
It's possible that High on Fire singer / guitarist Matt Pike is the most metal guy in the world. He transforms Lemmy's whiskey-damaged bellow into a frightening scream, could tear Tony Iommi to shreds in a riff competition and looks like the grown-up amalgamation of every muscle-car-driving, dope-selling bad apple at high schools across the country. He's a genre icon in the making, whether or not the current generation of denim-clad longhairs recognizes it.
Here, he takes one step closer to immortality by way of crafting the band's most dynamic set of songs to date. But this is High on Fire's idea of compromise, and with a few exceptions—mellower passages on “Frost Hammer” and “Bastard Samurai,” along with a mix that places slightly more emphasis on Pike's guitar and vocals—they're still the kind of band that sounds like an apocalyptic nightmare come to life.
Metallica used to write complex, multi-layered songs like Snakes' title track in their prime (Master of Puppets), but never with the brutal, galloping overtones that Pike, drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz summon here. Still, that level of crossover success should prove elusive to HOF, because it's impossible to imagine them penning anything as accessible as “Enter Sandman,” even if it's clearly within their capabilities.
No, High on Fire are too fucking metal for that and probably always will be. Besides, when was the last time you threw on the Black Album, anyway?
High on Fire play Sunday, April 25 at The Casbah.
The Whitefield Brothers
Goes well with: Budos Band, El Michels Affair, The Meters
On their 1992 song “Soul Flower,” The Pharcyde repeatedly ask the question, “How long can you freak the funk?” Oddly enough, it took a pair of German brothers and nearly 20 years to come up with the correct answer.
Jan and Max Weissenfeldt got close with their tenure in the Poets of Rhythm, the band that made Lyrics Born's “I Changed My Mind.” But it wasn't until they adopted an American translation of their own name and dropped 2002's In the Raw that they really came into their own. The album was a fabulous, ass-shaking collection of instrumental funk—check out “Prowlin'”—that occasionally drew from African and Caribbean influences.
It took them eight years to bust out Earthology, but it was worth the wait, as this record ups the ante considerably. Where their debut only hinted at sub-Saharan rhythms, the new record sounds like an all-star, late-night jam session at Mulatu Astatke's house. Their intoxicating, African-inspired psychedelic funk-jazz is perfectly augmented here by MCs Mr. Lif and Percee P, as well as friends Quantic and El Michels Affair.
The result is both a retro and contemporary mixtape of grooves and vibes that's impossible to ignore. How long can they freak the funk? Alle nacht lang.