Strange Weather, Isn't It?
Goes well with: LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Out Hud
For more than a decade, New York City-by-way-of- Sacramento eight-piece !!! (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”) have served up shrewd, sexy dance-punk that owes as much to Donna Summer as it does to Gang of Four. But a lot has changed: Vocalist / drummer John Pugh left in 2007, and drummer Jerry Fuchs died last November when he accidentally fell down an elevator shaft.
On their fourth record, Strange Weather, !!! is more or less the same band it was on its self-titled 2001 debut, incorporating pulsating synths, slick female vocals and four-to-the-floor house beats into a groovy stew, heavy on rhythm and texture. Their guitars are as dreamy as they are funky, and Nic Offer still has that sassy, low-slung croon. The funkiness falls flat at some points, but highlights like “The Most Certain Sure” and “Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks” have lingering hooks.
Strange Weather doesn't break any new ground for the band—to say nothing of dance music in general. It won't blow your mind, but it'll make an ideal soundtrack for a hipster dance party.
As the Ox Plows
(Paper and Plastick)
Goes well with: Tiltwheel, Leatherface, Vena Cava
The first thing you need to know about Dan Padilla is this: Dan Padilla is a band, not a person. The second thing you need to know about Dan Padilla is this: Dan Padilla is not Tiltwheel.
Davey Quinn and J. Wang play in both bands, and if you stumble into Tower Bar one night to see Davey with his iconic beard, ball cap and beer gut, it can be hard to tell which band is playing, especially if you're shitfaced. Here's a clue: Tiltwheel has three-members; Dan Padilla has four. To add to the confusion, Tiltwheel is also releasing a new record, which raises an interesting question: Does Davey ever get confused about which band he's playing in?
As the Ox Plows follows last year's release of A Collection, Not Perfection, offering 12 tracks of melodic, mid-tempo punk rock. The songs are a strident mix of the personal and the political. Even nostalgic laments like “MNPLS” are expressed with martial urgency.
But the track that hits the hardest is “Something After,” a countrified number that soulfully summarizes the situation for many in the scene: What do you do when your friends keep dying, you're stuck in a rut of drinking and drugging and you're all out of excuses? You look for something after, and pray you don't find it.
Dan Padilla plays Sunday, Sept. 5, at The Office.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
The Brutalist Bricks
Goes well with: The Clash, Elvis Costello, Squeeze
Ted Leo has become the Energizer Bunny of the alternative-rock circuit. As scenes change and trends evolve, Leo continues to march through towns at a standard clip, beating on his faithful drum with his loyal band of Pharmacists in tow.
Leo's sixth album with the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks, is notable because it's his first on New York's influential Matador label. He seems to have found a cozy new home after his previous label, Touch and Go, went tits-up recently. It's also comforting to know that friends in high places are unwilling to let him drift into obscurity, as he's still one of the best acts on the circuit.
Though Leo's past is rooted in punk, he's most effective when he ventures into the same power-pop territory that Elvis Costello banked on in the late '70s. Leo has a knack for crafting strong pop songs like “Bottled in Cork,” in which a brilliantly placed, rapid-fire opening slows into an acoustic number reminiscent of “Up the Junction” by Squeeze. It's clever storytelling in the catchiest sense and easily one of the best songs of the year so far.
Like Costello, Leo's secret weapon is his ace backing band. The Pharmacists execute these numbers with jarring precision in a climate filled with sloppy two-pieces and lazy backing tracks. It's further proof that years of touring does a band good. The Brutalist Bricks captures Leo and his Pharmacists firing on all cylinders, but whether the world will finally pause to properly praise them remains to be seen.
Ted Leo plays Thursday, Sept. 2, at The Che Café and Friday, Sept. 3, at The Casbah.