A Hero’s Death
When will I ever see a small-club rock show that’s as taut and explosive as Fontaines D.C. were at Johnny Brenda’s last year?
Hopefully not never — though with no end in sight to the COVID-19 concert shutdown, nights like that Saturday in September seem almost mythical. After the show, a sage and now deceased old friend said to me: “I haven’t been this excited about a young band since the Clash.”
The young band in question is an Irish post-punk quintet named after Johnny Fontane, the crooner in The Godfather whose career benefits from a horse’s head in a movie producer’s bed. The D.C. announces their origins: Dublin City.
A Hero’s Death is the fast follow-up to last year’s promising Dogrel, in which singer Grian Chatten proudly placed himself in a long ling of Irish storytellers: “Dublin in the rain is mine,” he announced. “My childhood was small / But I’m gonna be big.”
That grand ambition is heard on A Hero’s Death, which broadens the band’s sound beyond Chatten’s deadpan spoken-sung vocals and tightly-coiled attack drawn from punk-era bands Gang of Four and Television.
Its slow-burning approach sometimes takes a while to ignite, and songs like “Love Is The Main Thing” risk repetitiveness. But near-ballads like “Oh Such A Spring” project endearing romanticism. And when A Hero’s Death really hits its marks, as it does on the title cut, Fontaines D.C. sound like the rock-and-roll heroes this moment so desperately needs.
— Dan DeLuca
Microphones in 2020
(P.W. Elverum & Sun ***)
Phil Elverum started making home recordings as the Microphones in 1995 when he was 17, and for a fervent subset of indie-rock fans at the turn of the century, the Microphones were everything. The taste-making website Pitchfork called The Glow, Pt.2 the best album of 2001.
Alone and with others, Elverum melded lo-fi recording techniques with poetic lyrics that were part autobiography and part wonderment at the natural world. Then, in 2003, Elverum abruptly retired the Microphones and began releasing records as Mount Eerie.
On Microphones in 2020, Elverum weaves in allusions to old Microphones songs and looks back on his formative years to contemplate how experiences change us (or don’t). “What from these things do I carry with me still?” he asks. And in one captivating, entrancing 45-minute song — it’s the whole album — Elverum strives for answers.
The song/album is a journey that asks the listener to be attentive and patient. Elverum sings in a delicate, ruminative voice set to simple, repetitive acoustic guitar strumming that gradually shape-shifts with electric distortion and stretches of somber full-band arrangements.
Like a good memoir, it’s intensely personal while glimpsing universal truths (and avoiding solipsism). “I will never stop singing this song; it goes on forever,” Elverum sings quietly, referring both to Microphones in 2020 and to the work he has been doing all his life.
— Steve Klinge
Ray Wylie Hubbard
(Big Machine *** 1/2)
In the chorus of “Outlaw Blood,” Ray Wylie Hubbard sings: “Divine retribution don’t cause a flood / There’s more than one use for Vicks vapor rub / Nirvana was electric when they was unplugged / And some women got the outlaw blood.”
It’s Hubbard in a nutshell: Over an elemental, slide-guitar-accented groove, the wizened, Oklahoma-born Texas troubadour dispenses wisdom while sounding as if he’s simultaneously tapping into some ancient hoodoo and being fully grounded in the present. It’s the kind of thing that makes Hubbard one hip and thoroughly entertaining cat.
On his new album, music and the people who make it remain a preoccupation, from “Rock Gods” to a sweet tribute to country-blues great Mississippi John Hurt. There’s also a gospel-tinged acoustic blues track, “Hummingbird,” about a model of Gibson guitar. Hubbard will also go full meta: “I’m recording this with Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown,” he announces in the middle of “R.O.C.K.”
Veering from rock and blues, he also makes a killer contribution to the canon of country drinking songs with “Drink Till I See Double” (“and take one of you home”).
Co-Starring’s title refers to the album’s multigenerational list of guest accompanists, from Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson, and Ronnie Dunn to younger acts such as Bryant, the Cadillac Three, and Ashley McBryde. They all help Hubbard continue to realize a vision that remains as singular and sharp as ever.