This time around, punk rock is reborn in Dublin, Ireland; an American experimental institution comes to a striking end; and two archival releases affirm, again, that there is still astonishing music out there from the Sixties and Seventies that has never been heard before — and great stories to go with it.
Fontaines D.C., Dogrel (Partisan)
“My childhood was small/But I’m gonna be big,” singer-lyricist Grian Chatten declares in “Big,” the tight, fast blast that starts Dogrel, the debut album by these young post-punk sensations from Dublin, Ireland. Chatten’s promise is a long way toward coming true, following the band’s spring sweep through the U.S. But his certainty is affirmed in everything that follows on Dogrel: Conor Curley and Carlos O’Connell’s curt, shaved-fuzz guitar riffs, cycling across the pneumatic rush of bassist Conor Deegan and drummer Tom Coll in “Television Screen” and “Chequeless Reckless”; Chatten’s fighting verse, served in a jagged, half-shouted cocktail of Liam Gallagher in his arrogant, Oasis prime and the pub-bard confrontation of the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. “You’re not alive until you start kicking,” Chatten announces as the rest of the band shoots ahead in “Boys in a Better Land.” “Let’s go wrist to wrist and take the skin off of my blister.” Some of the 11 tracks on Dogrel have previously been out on singles (“Hurricane Laughter,” “Too Real”). Nearly all sound like rapid-fire greatest hits waiting to happen.
Pere Ubu, The Long Goodbye (Cherry Red)
Cleveland, Ohio’s Pere Ubu said hello in 1975 with the seven-inch apocalypse “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” initiating a legacy of avant-rock challenge and dissonance that comes to an end in The Long Goodbye, announced by founding singer David Thomas as the band’s last album. As tangled in shadows and slicing observation as Raymond Chandler’s namesake novel, the album — layered in dense, pictorial electronics — evokes Ubu’s early riff-driven reckoning in the electro-garage opener “What I Heard on the Pop Radio” and the high-noon noir “Flicking Cigarettes at the Sun.” The darkness and programming closes in even tighter as Thomas crosses a nation of ravaged landscapes and battered dreams in the long spoken fever of “The Road Ahead.” (“I am the last of the Americans,” he notes at one juncture. “After us come barbarians.”) But there is small, potent kindness too in “Fortunate Son” — that Creedence Clearwater Revival song comes up on a jukebox at a Waffle House — and The Long Goodbye actually culminates in light: the seaside reverie of “Lovely Day.” A bonus CD from a 2018 concert includes a reprise of “Heart of Darkness,” the B side of that ’75 single, bringing this ride full circle.
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Kinloch Nelson, Partly on Time: Recordings 1968–1970 (Tompkins Square)
“It was an exciting time to be writing music,” Kinloch Nelson, a guitarist-composer-teacher based in Rochester, New York, writes in the liner notes to this album of his earliest footprints: 12 pieces recorded as the Sixties ended and his style of solo finger-picking composition was receding with the folk boom. Nelson tells how he missed one shot at the big time — John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas was briefly interested in producing him — and details the modest odyssey of these tapes, made at a college radio station in New England. The rolling poise and cumulative harmonics of “Pearl St.” and “The Eyes of the Fair Molly” are partly descended, inevitably, from John Fahey. But there is some David Crosby — his penchant for jazzy, gently angled chord progressions — and a refreshing, unhurried pace in “Kittens” and the ’68 title piece. In a genre where players often seem to rush to mysticism, Nelson plays here as if he has all the time in the world to leave his mark. It just took more than he knew.
Big Front Yard, Big Front Yard (Thylacine)
In early-Seventies Britain, between the fadeout of psychedelia and the first stirrings of pub-rock, there was a scene of improvising acid-country bands — Man, Help Yourself, Bronco, the early Brinsley Schwarz — that wrote and played as if they had actually been born in San Francisco, sharing Fillmore and Avalon bills with the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Hard Meat — a progressive hard-rock trio from Birmingham — was not one of them. But when that group broke up after a solid crack at America (including two albums on Warner Bros.), founding brothers Michael and Steve Dolan — both singers, on guitar and bass respectively — tried again, with more rural iridescence, as Big Front Yard. The 14 tracks on this vinyl double album come from that band’s previously unreleased sessions between 1973 and 1975, Big Front Yard’s entire spell on studio tape (except for a U.K. 45 in 1976). Don’t mind those dates, though. “Daily Grind,” “On the Hill” and “Hogtied Pantomime” are warming rays of jangling guitar and new-day singing, as if it is actually 1970 in Marin County, while “Keep On Keeping On” brings to mind one of those Dino Valenti ballads on the later Quicksilver LPs. There is a contemporary ring here too; the earthy swagger of “Mad John’s Dream” sounds like it could have slipped in from a recent set list by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The Dolans did not live to see this work finally come out: Steve died in 2000, Michael in 2014. But they left a big glow.