The Kills
Ash & Ice

Domino Records
Street: 06.03
The Kills = Raveonettes – Phil Spector  + The Rolling Stones

On the surface, Ash & Ice is a prototypical album from Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince. The arrangements are made up of distorted, bluesy guitar riffs over minimal electronics and Mosshart’s vocals standing at the forefront with Hince adding in backing vocals that are buried in the mix. It’s a formula that the duo has done well for some 15 years. And yet, there is something incredibly different about Ash & Ice.

Comparisons to The White Stripes suddenly feel off base. Hince’s guitar playing is less abstract and features a certain Peter Hayes swagger that moves the group closer to the lovechild of T. Rex and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, if they were fronted by The Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss. It sounds hungry, like a debut album where nothing is held back. In the past, there was a sense of detachment. Not that Mosshart or Hince weren’t putting in the effort or offering up the emotion, but compared to this release, the older material feels like it was being forced through a filter. This is every bit as fearless, but there’s an exactness here that was missing before.

Purists, don’t fre: The Kills haven’t abandoned their lo-fi aesthetic—they’ve just made the material more direct. Every song, from the opening “Doing It to Death” to the closer, “Whirling Eye,” has a memorable hook. Like The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers, The Kills have always written pop songs. They’ve just buried the traditional aspects of their songwriting in the rawness of the recordings.

Ash & Ice doesn’t sound polished so much as it feels celebratory. With good reason, in fact: It was only a couple years ago that Hince thought a hand injury would keep him from ever picking up a guitar again—the future of the band was in question. Hince was forced to try to learn new instruments, one-handed. Fortunately, following a series of surgeries, Hince was able to return to guitar playing. It’s a detail I didn’t know until after I had listened to the album at least a dozen times, but you can hear the euphoria in the mix.

Not that Ash & Ice should be misconstrued as a happy record, particularly when it comes to the melancholy of “That Love,” a painfully on-the-nose song about a dysfunctional relationship. The track breaks up the uptempo nature of the album before pushing back into the groove of “Impossible Tracks.” The juxtaposition is a bit rough. I probably would have placed “That Love” as the album’s closing track, or at least swapped places with “Echo Home,” the album’s other slightly slower, more atmospheric track, which comes second to last. Some might suggest removing “That Love” and “Echo Home” altogether, but I think that they offer a sense of variety and depth that the album needs.

I’d never wish hardship upon anyone, but when it inspires art as good as this, that’s one hell of a silver lining. –ryanmichaelpainter

Nadine Shah | Holiday Destination | 1965 Records

Nadine Shah
Holiday Destination

1965 Records
Street: 08.25
Nadine Shah = Bad Seeds – Nick Cave + The Creatures

Unusual rhythms and a myriad of genre influences make singer/songwriter Nadine Shah a difficult artist to pin down. There are obvious jazz elements, but they are underscored by exotic keyboards, funk guitars, pulsing electronics, gothic atmospheres, traditional rock and a pervasive sense of drama—a version of Bauhaus if they took their cues from David Bowie‘s Blackstar. It’s apocalyptic post-jazz doused in a psychedelic tonic.

The chaotic nature of the influences could make for a rather disjointed experience, but Holiday Destination is held together by Shah’s distinctive voice and delivery. Her vocals have the sort of souring quality that could fill the Royal Albert Hall while still being well suited for a smoke-laden jazz club. It’s a fuller take on PJ Harvey with Siouxsie Sioux‘s theatricality.

Lyrically, Holiday Destination is a vicious little protest album with a landscape decorated by refugees, heroines, dead musicians and a “fascist in the White House.” Shah is British, but her concerns are universal.

The album begins with “Place Like This,” a funky groove with guitar that nods toward Bowie’s “Fashion” and The Cure‘s “Hot Hot Hot!!!” Shah’s vocals here feel a little disembodied, trance-like. The title track, “Holiday Destination,” feels like a visit to a B-movie horror excursion to the Twilight Zone, a parable of greed in a decimated city. With “2016,” Shah addresses the consequences of turning 30, the changing relationship she has with the world and its evolving political nightmare. The arrangement is fairly stark, underlined by a gurgling bit of electronics and punctuated by the sharp strum of guitars. 

“Out the Way” features military drums, the drone of horns and a punchy vocal that overemphasizes each word. It feels a bit too repetitive for its own good—a shame, because it ends rather well. If only the entire journey were as adventurous. The album takes a distinctive shift with “Yes Men,” which features a guitar riff that recalls early ’90s ethereal shoegaze, a nod to His Name is Alive, Faith and the Muse or The Moon Seven Times. It’s the most conventional song on the album, and while I can see it being the standout track for some, it feels too contained and restrained.

“Evil” is another stark track where Shah addresses those who pass judgement. It has a wonderful experimental arrangement that utilizes aspects of Mogwai‘s soft-loud-soft formula. The only problem is that the song should have been stripped back to a three-minute blast, rather than a five-minute drone. The repetition of the chorus distracts from what could have been. “Ordinary” is a nice recovery, a straightforward dash with piano runs, buzzing electronics and backing vocals pushed through a vocoder. It’s a little too polished, not nearly as reckless as I would have liked, an instance when the musician’s precision is a little too exact.

“Relief” is filled with sci-fi sounds, horns and a general vibe that David Lynch could dream up. “Mother Fighter” is a more traditional track with a great hook, but again, it feels a little too grounded. I’d be interested to hear what this particular track sounds like live. The album ends with “Jolly Sailor,” a somber electronic ballad that builds to the musical equivalent of a sunrise.

Holiday Destination is a good album, but it fails to live up to its full potential. Shah and her band are extremely talented and their ability to pull from numerous influences is exciting, but often some of the thrill is lost in the exactness of the performance. Sometimes, in music, one plus one needs to equal seven. –Ryan Michael Painter

Photo: David Conn

When I discovered Howard Jones in 1989, I felt like I was arriving late to a party that everyone else had been dancing at since the release of “New Song” in 1983. Even the fashionably late had been there since Live Aid in 1985. I didn’t see Jones in concert until 1992, an acoustic show at Kingsbury Hall.

I wasn’t as late as I initially thought, as Jones has continued to release albums and tour to this day, nearly 25 years after the Kingsbury Hall show. I’ve seen him a countless number of times and never walked away disappointed.

I set out to be a musician because I loved doing it. I wanted to play, do gigs and make records. All of the other stuff is kind of ephemeral really, it can go overnight. But the desire to be an artist, if it is genuine—it will be there through [your] whole life.
As you get older you can be more confident about things because you aren’t feeling like you are competing with other people. It’s like you suddenly realize, ‘Oh right, there’s only one of me and no one else can do what I do. So, go and do it confidently.’
I think that’s something that comes from being around for a while because you’ve seen a lot of things come and go, but you’re still there.” -Howard Jones

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Photo: David Conn
Photo: David Conn

SLUG: Many musicians seem to run out of ideas the further they get into their careers. Your willingness to experiment with your sound has kept my interest. Was that a choice you made on purpose, or are you simply following your muse?

Howard Jones: I think that to be constantly experimenting and trying new things and developing what you do is part of being an artist. If you’re going to follow somebody, as a fan, you really should demand that from your artist. That they keep throwing curves at you and taking a direction you didn’t expect them to go and enjoy the ride. That’s what I really love about my favorite artists. That’s what they always did. They took a few risks and tried something different. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but you still love them.

SLUG: Is there new material in the works?
Jones: I’m halfway through a new album. I’ve been writing quite a few songs for films recently, so three of those will be on the new album. There’s a film called Animal Crackers, an animated fantasy film coming out in April in the U.S., and I wrote a song specifically for a point in the film, so I’m very excited about that. It turned out really well, in my opinion. That’s a track that will be on my new album later in the year. I’m playing it live as well; I always like to play something new for people so that they know that new stuff is coming.

I’ve two songs from Eddie the Eagle. I ask the audience which they’d rather hear, the Animal Crackers track or the Eddie the Eagle song that they haven’t heard. [The second Eddie the Eagle track] is actually in the film, but you really can’t hear it.

SLUG: What can audiences expect from the shows at the Egyptian Theatre?
Jones: There’s a lot of audience involvement. Because I’m doing five shows, I’m sure that there will be people who come to more than one night, so it won’t be the same show each night. I’ll change it up.

SLUG: Do you enjoy these more intimate performances?
Jones: When you play the small, intimate venues, there’s no way to hide. You can’t hide behind the lighting production or having other members onstage with you. You’ve really got to deliver, and I find that as an artist, that is where you develop the most. You develop your piano playing, your singing, your storytelling and your confidence level. I’ve always tried to build an element of those show into my career because I move forward every time I do it.

SLUG: Over the past few years, you’ve done a lot of touring. Does it ever start to wear on you? If it does, it doesn’t show.
Jones: I got to 60 years of age, and it was a bit of a turning point. I realized that this was the last section of my life and I felt like I actually knew how to do this now. I thought, “If you’re at the top of your game, you really should be out there doing it while you can.” Because there will be a point where the voice isn’t in as good of shape, and I never could perform if it wasn’t, so while there is a window where everything is firing on all cylinders, just get out and do it while you can. I think I would regret it if I didn’t. That’s coincided with the fans really responding to the music and coming out to the shows. It’s a great partnership, isn’t it? Artists and fans, it’s a symbiotic relationship.  It needs to be nurtured and fed. If you don’t go out and connect with people, then it is going to fizzle out.

SLUG: How would you explain your relationship with fans in Utah? Is it something unusual?
Jones: I would say it is unusual. I’ve great fans all over the States, but in Utah there was a connection that we made in the early ’80s. It was something about the parks where we choose to play. Something about Park West. Something about the times, the weather, the things I was singing about, it just made this real connection and it stuck through the decades. That’s all I can say really.

SLUG: It’s kept me coming back over and over again.
Jones: It’s like going back to see how your old friend is doing.

SLUG: Either that, or it’s the fact that I’m still waiting to hear “Last Supper.”
Jones: Then that will be it. You’ll hear it and we won’t see you again.

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No, it’s going to take a whole lot more than me getting what I want to keep me away.

Howard Jones returns to Utah for four-night residency at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre Feb. 7–11, 2018. For more information, visit egyptiantheatrecompany.org.

 

Sugarhouse has been among the most eclectic communities that Utah has to offer. Over the years skaters, soapbox philosophers, college professors, punks, metal heads, tech savvy geeks, pseudo intellectuals, artists, vagrants, goths, rude boys and girls and the occasional hip hop aficionado peaceably mingled in the vast array of locally owned and operated shops. If you were looking for anything coffee, tie-dyed, new-age, fetish themed, palm readings, mocha injected, alternative lifestyle, extra-potent cigarettes, CDs, cassettes, vinyl LPs, vintage toys, obscure books, a cheap lunch, new or second hand clothing on the bus route where the closest thing to a corporate logo was “Raunch” or “Heavy Metal Shop” tattooed across a t-shirt or hoodie Sugarhouse was where you’d wind up.

It’s low rent, no maintenance and it is decidedly not beautiful according to the corporate aesthetic, but the cultural diversity in a rather cultural stagnant State make up for the decaying buildings. It isn’t a slum, a red-light district or an area where your average rebellious 13-year-old is going to find the trouble they thought they wanted. It is safe, local and by its very nature promotes social equality in a way that public education never could.

I was there for the better part of the 90s. Long before Barnes and Noble dominated the intersection and the burnt out school was turned into condominiums. Many afternoons were spent digging through stacks of old LPs and band stickers to plaster school binders with as a silent scream of independence before meeting friends at whatever coffee shop had become the welcomed flavor of the month. Then I’d head down the street to Club Confetti where I’d spin away the night amongst the creepy and beautiful to the chaotic sounds of goth and 80s spiked synthpop and industrial.

Some 15 years later most of what’s left of the Sugarhouse I love is scheduled to be torn down to make way for an upscale shopping complex with condominiums and office space; as if we desperately needed another open air mall to cater to those who think the Gateway isn’t new enough to be trendy anymore. If we’re lucky we’ll also get a beautiful parking garage. Not that this is what the people of Sugarhouse, those who live there or those who frequent the shops wanted. There was an outcry, but in this day and age it isn’t about public opinion when money is involved.

On August 1st the “Granite Block” building that has housed Sugarhouse Coffee, the Blue Boutique and Orion Records among other locally owned stores will be razed. Leaving the future uncertain. Will Sugarhouse keep its local friendly environment or plunge into the sterile nature of big name chains?

To commiserate and celebrate what was Sugarhouse and further the idea of buying local first the Sugar Rush Music & Arts Festival will take place on July 28. The festival will feature the same two stage set up as the annual Sugarhouse 4th of July celebration. The Sugar Rush Festival will, much like the recent 337 Project, be highlighted by murals from local artists painted on the boarded up exteriors of the Granite Block. The art will be available to purchase as part of a silent auction. Starting at 10 AM and running through 9:30 PM with live performances on the Performance Audio Stages from local and regional bands, a rock wall for climbing enthusiasts and fire dancers weaving among booths to help former Sugarhouse businesses liquidate inventory and announce their new locations.