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Tag: political rock

Savagely Funny, Politically Insightful Songs from Matthew Grimm, the Stephen Colbert of Heartland Rock

On one hand, Matthew Grimm is true to his name: his songs can be devastatingly bleak. On the other, his new album Songs in the Key of Your Face is his catchiest and maybe his funniest, something of an achievement considering how savagely amusing his others have been. One reason why this one might be somewhat more lighthearted than his black humor-drenched work with the late, lamented, occasionally resurrected Americana rockers the Hangdogs, or on his first solo album, is that the Bush regime is over, at least nominally speaking. There are too many LMFAO lines on this album to spoil here: as political humor goes, this guy is several steps ahead of the Colbert Report.

Musically speaking, Grimm writes short, catchy , propulsive rock tunes with ringing guitar, tight bass and drums and a little piano and organ in places. He’s got a purist pop sensibility but loves country; sometimes Social Distortion comes to mind. Grimm gets in, makes his point, gets out, leaves you humming along and probably laughing. And his Iowa twang has returned since he more or less left New York

The album’s opening track, Woody Guthrie’s 33rd Resolution recycles that Cure hook that every lame Bushwick band has stolen and actually does something with it. Guthrie was a compulsive list-maker, and #33 turns out to be “wake up and fight!” Union Maid updates the old folk song I’m Sticking with the Union for the age of globalization i.e. the new slavery. In case you haven’t noticed, your boss is “making the case for you to know your place like back in the 19th century.” Then the fun starts. Little Black Dog is a wickedly catchy take on a canine deus ex machina “who saved us all from aliens, mortality and old men white men.” Grimm looks back on the days “When we used to get old and died, until that fateful pet therapy day, now we’re all 29 and we all get laid.”

My Lesbian Girlfriend is another funny one: she hates tv, he thinks “cable is a basic human right…she digs Tegan & Sarah where I’d rather shove chopsticks through my ears,” but at the end of the day they bond over a love of freedom and contempt for fascists. Likewise, the towering anthem Real Americans reminds how much we have in common despite all attempts by the corporate elites to keep us divided and conquered:

Sometimes it’s a storm, sometimes someone dies
And phone calls breed phone calls and potluck and pies
And if you need it someone’s got room
They don’t ask for your papers or voter ID
It’s from each others’ haves to each others’ needs
In small towns and cities, all colors and creeds
And mostly it’s just what people do

The album’s centerpiece, Enemy, has a similarly Woody Guthrie-esque insight and defiance, once again calling bullshit on the divide-and-conquer game. In the race to the bottom, if your enemies are the people who plow the roads and drive fire trucks and teach school and heal the sick, isn’t pretty much everyone the enemy? Grimm doesn’t preach – he leaves it to the listener to do the math and figure out the corollary of that equation.

Kickass Wake offers a keg party salute to a guy who “took a karmic bullet for your ass,” a life that “ended way too soon but that’s way more than you walking corpses do.” Back Booth offers a sardonic look back at a missed chance at hooking up with a girl. The funniest song here is Go the Fuck Home Mindy. It’s not one of the political ones but it’s about someone we all know. This girl is wall-hugging drunk, making no sense and annoying everyone within earshot. “I know it’s the pot calling the kettle drunk, but if the cops came, you’d get tased,” Grimm tells her knowingly.

He rewrites Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom (or, the Gates of Rhymney, if you prefer) as Ideology, a bitter chronicle of what happens “when one voice rules a nation ’cause they were born at the top of the pile.” He ends the album on a surprisingly optimistic note with the highway anthem Out of the Darkness, which sounds a lot like fellow heartland rockers the BoDeans. There are also a couple of hard-charging covers here: the Townes Van Zandt classic Pancho & Lefty, and a doublespeed version of Dire Straits’ early 80s recession epic Telegraph Road, turning it into a desperate, Springsteen-esque escape anthem.

But the best song here, maybe the best song of the year, is West Allis. It’s the album’s most towering, epic number, a clear-eyed, sobering account of a suicide in this Wisconsin town that wasn’t discovered until after “four years of unshoveled sidewalks, four walls enclosing perfect desolation.” The guy gets laid off, “the days swept by like grey winter birds, and he forwarded his mail and paid the bills, and took out the gun, and he went to a place where nothing hurts.” The story is all the more shattering for being so matter-of-fact:

Maybe you’re your brother’s keeper not by code or creed or canon
But a simple hope that someone will be yours

Grimm’s implication is that, or lack thereof, had to be a factor in the guy’s decision to turn the gun on himself. The irony that such a haunting portrait of alienation would be the best track on this otherwise very funny album speaks as much to the strength of Grimm’s songwriting as to the state of the nation in 2013. Since his days fronting the Hangdogs, Grimm has been a fixture on the year-end best-of lists at this blog and its predecessors on the web and elsewhere; look for this one here in December if we make it that far. Grimm and the Hangdogs are playing one of their infrequent reunion shows this Friday Sept 13 at Rodeo Bar.


Outernational Brings the Revolution with a Free Download

You have the new Outernational album, right? It’s all over the web. If you don’t, grab it for free (or throw some money at the band if you’re one of the few who have any). It’s a concept album about Mexican immigration: music doesn’t get any more relevant than this. Todos Somos Illegales: We Are All Illegals is an important moment in US rock history: many others (including Woody Guthrie, who gets covered here) have chronicled the cynical cycle of exploitation faced by immigrants from south of the border, but this album goes deeper than most. It’s also a good listen: as biting and insightful as the mostly English-language lyrics are, it’s a lushly produced, frequently gorgeous mix of brooding Mexican melodies set to rock and ska rhythms, along with some ferocious ska-punk and gypsy punk tunes and even a klezmer punk song.

“Why do people come here from all over the world? Because you’ve fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you’ve done in this country.” That’s one of the many between-song samples here. The band alternates these between the songs, caustically and amusingly pillorying the cynicism and hypocrisy of the anti-immigrant movement. La Migra can demonize illegal immigrants til the cows come home, but in the end, somebody’s got to pick the strawberries. Through a mix of Gogol Bordello-ish oompah gypsy punk, an unexpectedly ferocious klezmer-punk romp, a majestic hip-hop/metal anthem featuring Tom Morello on guitar, and a creepy Mexican funk tune done as reggae (with darkly lurid vocals by Mexican rocker Ceci Bastida), the band paints a withering picture of the despair and disappointment that waits for anyone brave enough to go up against the Mexican desert, the Rio Grande and the rednecks waiting on the other side.

The best song here is First Among Equals, a brutally sarcastic arena-rock march lit up by an unhinged, noisy metal guitar solo, mocking the futility of American exceptionalism:

There’s blood on the streets and blood on your hands
The same blood that’s in my veins, as the blood on the sand
If these words draw blood,the emperor is doomed…
The first among equals are the worst of all alltime

There’s also a version of the Woody Guthrie classic Deportees, updated for a new century; a brooding backbeat rock song that might be a chronicle of the new generation of Americans, or just a parade of redneck Texans on their way to a revival meeting; a bitter account of an immigrant hidden away in a secret (and probably privately operated) prison; a surprisingly purist, oldschool soul song; and the triumphant Que Queremos (What We Want), a gorgeously accordion-fueled anthem for a new century.

Immigrants tend be smart people. They’re ambitious, they want a better life and they’re unafraid of drastic change. A cynic might say that drastic change is something they’ve become used to: after all, economic depressions always hit the third world harder than the first since the gap between rich and poor there is even worse than in the so-called developed nations. Americans’ choice now is either to embrace these people and the rich cultural traditions they bring with them, or face the consequences of failing to acknowledge the reconquista. That’s what some immigrant advocates call America’s shifting demographics. If we do this right, we can make this a reconquista for everyone and take back this country from parasites like Romney so that todo el gente – immigrants and nonimmigrants, Anglos and Latinos alike – can share in the promise of what America still represents despite all indications to the contrary.

Two Tracks You Might Like

Bobby Vacant & the Worn’s new video Nobody’s There is surprisingly upbeat, apprehensive and distantly creepy rock from the Swiss-based songwriter whose 2009 album Tear Back the Night with noted Chicago producer/multi-instrumentalist George Reisch was one of that year’s best. This rocks a lot harder yet more opaquely than this guy’s recent work (those reverb tank explosions kick ass…). And the video – old Midnight Cowboy-style neon-lit downtown Main Street footage from the 60s – is choice. From the forthcoming album Virginia Neon, due out on Swiss label Weak Records next month.

And speaking of relevant socially aware songwriters, Stephan Said has a completely kick-ass new site  with a global mix of related, politically-fueled artists, plus a new album, difrnt, and some killer tracks up at soundcloud including Aheb Aisht Al Huriyah (the classic 1920s Mohammed Abdel Wahab levantine anthem I Live the Life of Freedom), updated for the Traquair Square/Zucotti Park era with a gently swaying trip-hop/rock edge that gives way to a blistering psychedelic guitar solo at the end. The other tracks on the page, including the more hip-hop flavored Take a Stand give you a taste of how eclectic this guy is.