Monday Mixtape: The Regrettes, Slipknot, Ra Ra Riot & Kool Keith
Every Monday, I make myself a playlist of (mostly) new songs. It gets me in the habit of hunting for new music and hopefully gets me embracing fresh trends. This is the Monday Mixtape.
The Regrettes, “More Than a Month”
There’s a trend from the ‘90s that my old buddy Zack used to describe as the “hard jangle,” which describes the sound of a certain type of alternative-adjacent pop band. Though many of these bands had punk roots and shambolic histories, they bent their sound toward cascading melodies and a cleanliness in their guitar sound with just the right amount of crunch. Some of these bands, like Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls, became huge crossover phenomena. Toad the Wet Sprocket is a definitive hard jangle band. Some moments on Weezer’s self-titled debut are hard jangly. Not all of it was great (the first Maroon 5 album is also very hard jangle), but the best ones among them were female-fronted like Belly and Letters to Cleo.
That tradition is currently being carried on by another batch of alternative-adjacent acts, including Los Angeles’ the Regrettes. Their 2017 debut Feel Your Feelings Fool! was a revelation, all twitchy and driving guitars supporting bubblegum melodies and low-fi production. Their follow-up, the just-released How Do You Love?, pushes the band in both directions: it is simultaneously prettier and more raw. The Regrettes songwriting has become exponentially more evolved in the past two years, but at heart they still love celebrating their kinship while flailing around a garage. “More Than a Month” is aggressive enough to start a pit but contains plenty of bittersweetness if you need a good mope, and it does it with a bit of cocksure rockabilly flair. I love this band and I hope they become like Buckethead where they release an album every three weeks.
Half Alive, “Runaway”
The thirst for druggy, dreamy dance music is real, and Half Alive stand out from the pack with a real commitment to song craft. I expect these guys to be third-lining every major festival in the country from now until the heat death of the universe.
Ra Ra Riot, “An Accident”
My time at venerable music publication Rolling Stone (which was nearly all of calendar year 2008, no more no less) was deeply, profoundly unpleasant. They didn’t really know what they wanted out of me, I wasn’t fully prepared to do the job, and everybody who worked there (with a few notable exceptions) was a colossal asshole. Among those exceptions was my old reviews editor from Spin, who assigned me what was at the time my most high-profile review for Ra Ra Riot’s remarkable full-length debut The Rhumb Line. (I had reviews published before, but this was a half page in Rolling Stone, and I was still brandstruck enough to dig it at the time.) The band had been steadily picking up traction since the release of their self-titled 2007 EP, both for their impeccable low-fi chamber pop constructions but also because of the sudden tragic passing of a band member. The Rhumb Line is an album about mourning and moving on, and it’s still a near-perfect bit of indie pop bliss. (I still put “Dying Is Fine” on all my most melancholy playlists.) They’ve evolved a ton in the decade since, almost self-consciously trying to put the entirety of their past behind them. Their latest album Superbloom does a swell job of incorporating a lot of their old tricks and signatures while still pushing the experiments forward. Superbloom sounds the most like the Ra Ra Riot I remember from 2008, but it’s a fuller and more fully-realized iteration. Sometimes you have to go back to go forward, and “An Accident” is the gloriously lovely result.
I can’t remember if I’ve written about this in the past or not, but it bears repeating: At one point, Slipknot saved my life. I was living in New York on September 11th, 2001. I was a sophomore at NYU where I was a theater major, and I was already having doubts about my future when the World Trade Center disappeared. The weeks following that Tuesday were a heightened blur, full of sadness and paranoia and existential dread and the expectation of the end times. I tried to keep the demons away with a combination of terror sex and excessive drinking, but the one thing that truly kept me tethered to my own humanity was a burned copy of Slipknot’s second album Iowa that rarely left my Discman that fall. It had been formally released only two weeks before 9/11, but I had snagged a leaked version via Napster (or was it Morpheus?) some time in mid summer. I was just OK with the band’s debut, but there was something about the raw churn of Iowa that matched my brainwaves at the time. I have personally thanked members of Slipknot for that album, and I always tell them why. That kind of healing also buys you a spin whenever a new album arrives, and though I haven’t really dug a Slipknot record in a good long while, I always tune in for a listen. And so I gave We Are Not Your Kind a look, and I’ll probably never come back to it. They’re basically a prog band now—King Crimson in rubber masks—but “Orphan” has some of that old time crunch.
Filter, “Captain Bligh”
When Filter first arrived in 1995 with their debut album Short Bus, my dirtbag friends and I were pretty excited. Here was a band made up of two dudes who were in Nine Inch Nails and who had the same sort of angsty industrial instincts as Saint Trent. Short Bus wasn’t nearly as inventive as Nine Inch Nails’ legendary The Downward Spiral, but it offered enough big riffs and electronic grind to act as Reznor methadone. By the time they got around to releasing their second album in the summer of 1999, Filter had shed one of its founders (Brian Liesegang ducked out in the summer of 1997) and expanded its sonic palette. Their follow-up Title of Record, which just got the deluxe reissue treatment in honor of its 20th birthday, was most famous for “Take a Picture,” a dreamy slab of robo rock that crossed over to pop radio at the turn of the century (it peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100). But along with those self-same dirtbag friends (who had not evolved as much since Filter’s first album), I was obsessed with the pounding thunderclap of “Captain Bligh,” a delightfully post-modern slab of industrial noise. Angry music you can dance to still makes me go hard with the lights out, and “Captain Bligh” is no exception.
Kool Keith, “Lost in Space”
For a brief window at the end of the ‘90s, Weirdo Hall of Famer Kool Keith was my favorite rapper alive. I fell hard for his Dan the Automator noise-hop collaboration Dr. Octagon, got sucked into his old crew records with Ultramagnetic MCs and was entranced by the absurdist charms of Sex Style and his Dr. Dooom persona. I just loved how remarkably odd he was. But he was also a great rapper, able to find pockets and turn nonsense phrases into boasts. His 1999 album Black Elvis/Lost in Space, which just turned 20 years old, was released on a major label but very hard to find amidst the record stores available to me in suburban Connecticut. I remember reading the review of Black Elvis/Lost in Space in the pages of Spin and obsessing over finally getting to hear it. It’s a great record, with some twisted sci-fi production tricks and Keith’s jabberwocky flow, but I also loved it just a little more because I felt like I had to earn it. (I remember the day I finally found it for sale: I was working at an answering service that summer, and had just completed another remarkably terrible shift; the highlight was the bottle of Mountain Dew I chugged on my break. The record store in the strip mall across the street was largely useless, mostly trafficking in new pop releases and rarely stocking indie rock or even most hip-hop. But there it was, and I cranked it up all the way home. I still remember that feeling of absolute freedom in new sonic adventures.) Anyway, “Lost in Space” slaps, and I wish more rappers tried to rip off Keith.