Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Ted Leo is one of the finest songwriters of our generation, even if it’s not entirely clear what generation that is. Starting in New York Hardcore with Citizen’s Arrest, making the ‘90s safe for power-pop and Weller-esque hair with Chisel, then singing our turbulent lives like we were smarter than we were with The Pharmacists, and most recently providing equal parts sweetness and solace with Aimee Mann as The Both, Ted never let us down. And now, seven years after The Brutalist Bricks, he has a new solo album. And it’s wonderful.
The songs on The Hanged Man, recorded at a home-studio-in-transition in Wakefield, RI, with Ted playing almost all the instruments, are some of the finest and most finely wrought of Ted Leo’s career. Ted describes the time working on the album as one of “personal desolation that felt fallow but was actually very fertile” and, indeed, lyrically, The Hanged Man is suffused with hope of sorts but crushingly heavy. The concerns addressed, whether personal trauma or the national disaster we’re all currently existing in, matched with the range and vitality of the songcraft is inspiring, even uplifting.
The Hanged Man offers the sharp bursts of skinny tie pop-punk fury one would expect from Ted—and even these feel streamlined like never before—but they are offset with an adventurousness in both tone and structure. The intention was to upend expectations but, on songs like the bookends of “Moon Out of Phase” and “Let’s Stay On The Moon,” the intention never gets in the way of the result. There’s no strain of effort in songs that are unlike anything Ted has done previously. The Hanged Man is a career high, born through industry soul sickness, nausea-inducing crisis, and a talent that feels like secular grace.
Led by guitarist/vocalist Jessica Boudreaux, the Cannibals initially cut their teeth on the local Portland circuit, sharing the stage and receiving encouragement from peers including The Thermals. Along the way, they released a pair of fantastic full-lengths -- 2013’s No Makeup and 2015’s Show Us Your Mind — on their own label, New Moss Records. Show Us Your Mind appeared on NPR’s Sound Opinions Best of list in 2015. The band has since spent an unhealthy amount of time on the road, earning accolades and adding plenty of fresh converts to their highly-charged, no frills attack.
It seemed only logical that when the band decided to sign to a label, they chose Kill Rock Stars, which has a long history of putting out fearless, female-led bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. Their most recent release, Full Of It, is the band’s defining statement to date. Recorded with producer Chris Woodhouse (Thee Oh Sees, Wild Flag), the LP is one of those massive leaps forward that every band hopes to achieve at least once in their career. Aided by rhythm guitarist Marc Swart, drummer Devon Shirley and bassist Jenny Logan, the 11 songs spark that perfect mix of snotty attitude, unbounded energy, and window rattling volume.
Since the band's formation they've had the opportunity to play with some their musical heroes, including: Guided By Voices, Mudhoney, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and The War on Drugs. They've toured the country with The Thermals and CHVRCHES as well as played some major festivals including Sasquatch, Project Pabst and Riot Fest.