Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds
Powers is a second generation Mexican American. In 1976, he was president of The Ramones fan club, then ran a fanzine for The Screamers. After traveling to London and New York City he returned to L.A. and in 1979 met Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Pierce taught him to play guitar using open tuning, and they formed 'The Creeping Ritual', which became The Gun Club. Powers left that group before their recording debut, instead joining New York-based band The Cramps in December 1980. He rejoined the Gun Club briefly in 1983, rejoining again between 1985 and 1988, when he again left to join Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in Berlin, for several albums and associated tours. Powers has also played with The Divine Horsemen, The Angels of Light, Die Haut and The Fall.
Most recently, Powers has collaborated with New York City guitarist Jack Martin on projects like The Pink Monkey Birds, Congo Norvell and Knoxville Girls.
Slim Cessna's Auto Club
In September 2016, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club released their newest album, The Commandments According to SCAC. It has been twenty-four years since Slim Cessna parted ways with The Denver Gentlemen, that grand progenitor of the peculiar strain of Gothic Americana unique to the Mile High City, to form Slim Cessna’s Auto Club with a group of talented peers. Many bands with a long and successful run like that would stick close to its roots. But rather than rest on well-earned laurels, the Auto Club challenged itself to break with well worn modes of operating for the new record.
Wallace Stenger may have captured the spirit of the west in his 1971 novel Angle of Repose. Jim Thompson surely exposed the lurid underbelly of the Western experience. Cormac McCarthy definitely evoked the conflicted, tortured spirit of small town life on the frontier. William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor informed all of them with a humor and soulfulness. It is that literary tradition that imbues the harrowing and celebratory sound and riveting stories of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. And for a full twenty years it was largely in that realm of art that the Auto Club reveled and garnered a loyal cult following well beyond the boundaries of The Queen City of the Plains.
But no band can be satisfied with treading the same territory that it helped to define forever. The Commandments According to SCAC, will be the first full length album of original material released on the Auto Club’s own imprint, SCACUNINCORPORATED. The title evokes the themes of cosmic punishment and redemption that have served the band’s songwriting engine so well in the past. But this set of songs sounds more hopeful and expansive, a quality that was always there but this time out the brighter sides of the songwriting are emphasized. Hints of this saw early full-flown expression on 2008’s Cipher and Unentitled from 2011. With The Commandments, however, the Auto Club seems to step forward into the promise of its own possibilities. It remains capable of the heady darkness and celebratory intensity with which it made its name. Now that charmingly dusky and spare sound breathes with a color and delicacy of feeling that perhaps sat in the background in times past. Maybe it’s partly due to the greater creative contributions from longtime collaborator Rebecca Vera and The Peeler or the inclusion of upright bass player Ian O’Dougherty. But the core of the band’s songwriting and sound is anchored firmly in the vision of Slim, Munly Munly and Lord Dwight Pentacost.
Whatever the true source of this transformation, The Commandments According to SCAC sounds like a band marshalling its creative inspiration to mark out a new chapter of its existence. When you get to see the Auto Club tour following the album’s release, you’ll get to see an already mighty band reinvigorated by this new spirit as well as by the fire that has long burned in its collective belly.
– Tom Murphy, Denver, CO, Spring 2016.
Jail Weddings' epic second full length is quite aptly titled. Meltdown: the flailing emotional implosion often borne of a triumvirate of frayed nerves, volatile substances and excessive external pressure is clearly evidenced in the words and music herein. But, there's also a newfound sense of musical genres and histories mixing together like molten wax where the band's signature Shangri-La's, Bad Seeds, noir-hued pop merges with hazy psychedelia, bombastic rock and even essences of bizarre Eastern European folk. It's the sound of a band that's always been at the brink of self-destruction actually growing and thriving on its own chaotic impulses.
It's now six years into something that wasn’t expected to last six months -- this “thing” called Jail Weddings. While the songs have always been timeless and top notch, they're also a band whose initial popularity often hinged on the fact that it could all fall apart at any given moment -- with frequent dagger eyes or fistfights both onstage and off -- where it was always clear to the audience that the high-drama of the songs often spilled into the band members' own precarious lives. They are a group that audiences could live through vicariously, a band capable of not just inspiring listeners' ugly catharsis, but often enacting its own in public. One of few that could claim they are not just a band, but a lifestyle all their own.
It was late 2012 when we had last checked in with frontman Gabriel Hart, who explained that last year’s Four Future Standards EP (described by VICE Magazine as “music to have knife sex to”) was also the gradual bridge to their more grandiose work-in-progress second full-length. Hart ensured that anyone who thought they were any sort of “party band” would be gravely mistaken upon hearing what they had been stirring up in their charred cauldron. Little did he know it would take well over 365 days to finish what he had started, where the stakes were raised, bank accounts drained, sanity/sobriety and sleep compromised, and their longtime rhythm section and one of their back-up singers lost…where towards the end it would cause him and his eight-headed collective to treat it with all the intensity a band would as if it was the last record they would ever record, even though their present locomotive momentum will prove at least that part otherwise.
And what better process to make a record, Meltdown – A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion which Hart describes as a somewhat conceptual “dissection of the personal Apocalypse.” A record whose liner notes cite such patron saints as disparate as philosopher Carl Jung and enfant terrible Francis Farmer as touchstones? But, this is only for the uninitiated to understand – as within the first listen of Meltdown one will soon realize this record is indeed a vast, universal tantrum, where the best path of protest is often to create one's own atmosphere, to secede from pain through a self-imposed baptism of fire. And, the end inspiration proves once again one must look no further than Jail Weddings' own twisted, snake-eating-its-tail world they’ve created.
Meltdown begins somewhat similarly to their 2010 debut Love Is Lawless -- Hart’s lone baritone accompanied by minimal instrumentation slowly building the anticipation that something is about to leave a crater in its wake. But, instead of the Broadway schmaltz approach of their previous effort’s intro, the song explodes as if they are going into battle, marching drums and ominous war siren back-ups announce that they are going into this nervous breakdown unabashed. And before we get a chance to catch our breath, they blow right into the electric 12-string guitar of “May Today Be Merciful” where Hart sets the real tone of the record as if Echo and The Bunnymen were lost in some bad trip section of L.A.’s Paisley Underground scene. Elsewhere, "Why Is it so Hard To Be Good?" lumbers to a start with thunderous early-Swans sounding drums leading a dark lament of our collective penchant to do wrong. Throughout the album there's chiming power-pop ("Dead Celebrity Party"), somber balladry ("Summer Fades", "Obsession"), dramatic pageantry that would make Born To Run era Springsteen blush ("Angel of Sleep") and so many other twists and turns that the album's dramatic title will make perfect sense.
Sessions for Meltdown commenced once again at their home base of The Station House in Echo Park with engineer and co-producer Mark Rains (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Waylon Jennings, etc). The line-up on Meltdown proves to be their most enduring, sturdiest and studied yet – familiar faces from their last effort being Hart’s right hand man Christopher Rager on guitar (and co-producing), last O.G. member Hannah Blumenfeld on strings (the group has since turned her into an octopus string quartet in the studio – recently earning her full-string duties on the new Ghostface Killer record), secret weapon Marty Sataman on piano/synths, vocalists Jada Wagensomer, Marianne Stewart and Kristina B holding steady as three-part harmony dream team, with Wagensomer occasionally moving front and center as Hart’s female counterpart, where they duet on “Why Is It So Hard To Be Good?” and “…Keeping The Faith,” also seeing her solo spotlight on “A Promise” and “…Never Going To Find Me.” The new fierce rhythm section that came swinging to rescue the group from mid-recording uncertainty includes Morgan Hart Delaney on bass (and blood, as Hart’s own cousin) and Hart’s long co-conspirator Dave Clifford (The VSS, Pleasure Forever, Red Sparowes, Hart’s own Starvations/Fortune’s Flesh) on drums.
Meltdown -- A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion will be available on LP and download via Neurotic Yell Records on August 27th, 2013.