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Tunabunny / Bastards of Fate at Collapse Board

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Bastards of Fate and Tunabunny at Stereo Embers

Bastards of Fate:

Possibly the most challenging listen of all 40 albums on this list, the rewards unlocked by repeated spins are so rich and satisfying the word ‘ample’ barely suffices. Though one supposes that the gloriously inspired noise they make rather ensures a measure of obscurity, it’s nonetheless unfair. All the world should be basking in this Roanoke band’s mighty – and genius – oddity. Key track: “Winter of Our Discontent”


Did someone mention something about Athens rising? Oh, wait, that was us. Yeah, they’re coming in from all directions down there again. Not they ever really stopped, of course, it’s just recently it’s just kind of…gone boom, and there could be no better representative of the vitality of the scene down there than Tunabunny. In our review we put them in a league with Deerhoof. We weren’t wrong. Key track: “Power Breaks”


Bastards of Fate at Collapse Board

I have a Bastards Of Fate album here, clutched in my sweaty paws. Not literally. It’s called Vampires Are Real And Palpable.

‘Winter’ reminds me of Gogol Bordello fighting over who gets to keep the kitchen sink.

‘Further’ is like David Bowie if he still had some joy and imagination. With Antony And The Johnsons duking it out unmercifully on the sidelines. Last man standing kind of thing. Last woman standing. I am way disappointed it doesn’t end with a klaxon.

‘Chromosome’ isn’t. It scares, the way you don’t. A chaotic inchoate mess of light-bulbs swinging. Preparatory to instigating a criminal act. There’s no violence here, only violence in the backbone.

‘True Love’ makes me want to reproduce this blog entry in its entirety.


‘ID Theft’ is confusing like spiders. I’d describe it as circular except I fucking hate chainsaws. It’s all about the pause button.

‘Own’ is bedroom futuristic, the way someone else once was. A love song for the bedridden generation.

‘Ultimate’ grates, the way you can’t be arsed to. It is the fourth child. Trust me on this. It is the fourth child. Wonderfully, we have not been here before.

‘Credit’ is soda. I’ve seen your repulsion and it looks good on you. It is more pop than weasel. It grinds inexorably to a series of orgasms none the less potent for their brevity.

‘Copilot’ is the parachute falling on your head.

‘Optometrist’ is a paradigm and melee of bitter-fought virtues. It is destined to be misspelled and misunderstood, the way Melvins once were. A rumpus, a commotion, a disorder.

Here’s the website. What are you waiting for, sitting on your flaming arse looking like a Flaming Lips apologist? GO THERE NOW!


Bastards of Fate at Razorcake

This is a pretty trippy record. The songs switch from a pop sound to nursery music to a campy goth thing. The cover has a picture of a model-sized Swiss-looking mansion through psychedelic eyes. It’s a perfect image for their music. I should also mention there’s a great cat family album photograph on the back. This is the type of music that I imagine Beetlejuice listens to presently. BAF fall somewhere between Sparks and Mindless Self Indulgence. If you want to listen to the soundtrack of a bad trip without the effects of actual drugs, put this record on.


Bastards of Fate on Pure Honey

Bastards of Fate track featured on the Pure Honey sampler.


Bastards of Fate at Clash

A frantic seizure in pop’s cerebral cortex, The Bastards Of Fate will not be silenced.

The band’s cult debut album ‘Who’s A Fuzzy Buddy?’ committed gleefully evil operations on the flesh of pop culture, a tumbling mosaic of ideas which inspired at every turn.

Somehow, it found an audience. Leaving behind their home in Roanoke, Virginia, the group were able to take this mesh, this collage of disparate spirits out on the road. It was all rather inspiring.

A genuine blast from the left field, The Bastards Of Fate have now seen fit to deign the world with another full length.

The gloriously titled new album ‘Vampires Are Real And Palpable’ drops this Autumn, with Clash able to premiere the video for ‘One True Love’.

Sheer manic invention, it sits somewhere between Captain Beefheart’s demonic desert blues and the retro-Futurism of Ariel Pink.

All those are just trite comparisons, though, since The Bastards Of Fate come off like no one before or since.

Check it out now.


Bastards of Fate at Dagger

Where else could a bent bunch like this be from, yup, Athens, GA. Never heard of the label but checked out their site and seems like they have some righteous artists. The band hail from Athens, GA and VAMPIRES ARE REAL …is all over the map. Opening cut “Winter of Our Discontent” is a piledriver (by Greg “The Hammer Valentine) straight to the bleakness of hell, but they don’t stay there. These guys pick themselves up by the bootstraps and chug right into the chirpy “Go No Further” and then into the kinda synthy “Chromosome 1.” Flip the record over and a song called “Ultimate Death” will restore your faith in humanity (so will the final tune, “Optometrist’). Now I need to hear their previous record, 2012’s WHO’S A FUZZY BUDDY (and if you want to know band member’s names go ask someone else cos I have no idea). The back album cover of several cats staring at me kinda freaked me out, I have to admit. Make ‘em stop. No, not the band, the cats!


(Bastards of Fate are from Roanoke, VA!)

Bastards of Fate at Stereo Embers

First things first here, the band. Believe me, they deserve massive credit and deserve it up front:

Doug Cheatwood – vocals

Camellia Delk – keys/vocals

Benji Pugh – guitars

Jason Jackson Welz – bass/vocals

Doug Shelor – drums/samples


What constitutes a ‘rock’ record these days? In fact, what’s done so for the last ten years? Or fifteen, or twenty, or..? Certainly as far back as the early stirrings of (true) prog and electronic music in Canterbury and Cologne, as well the template-twisting (and sheer willful) brilliance promulgated by messrs. Zappa and Beefheart and/or the hyper-intelligent weirdsville theatrics being unleashed in San Francisco (think enigmas, think giant eyeballs) the outlines of the old leather-jacketed rebel beast – now approaching 60 years old though its precise birth date is in some dispute – began to expand in ways challenging to fan and critic alike, taking on shapes that Alan Freed couldn’t have imagined even if someone had double-dosed his morning MJB. Inevitably such adaptability, that level of elasticity, leads to efforts so outside the generally-accepted rock-crit dimensions (however loosely drawn) that they’re by default defining their own contexts. This leaves us often in a field of two-edged possibilities – the ground being broken is either truly essential and furthers the art form, or it’s utter dog-bollocked duff – where those two edges can easily blur or even transpose and the poor befuddled ‘rock’ writer must somehow differentiate.

It’s utterly subjective, of course, where and to what degree those markers get laid down, and often – some might argue too often – what was initially considered a lumpen misbegotten self-indulgent fuck-off fest is, thanks to time’s magic wand of reappraisal, later recognized as the sprawling masterwork it always was. Still others have some measure of greatness instantly bestowed upon them that can trigger in many of us an emperor’s clothes response that, as it turns out, is frequently justified when, ten or twenty years down the road, the work reeks of the pretense of its time. Then there are those records that land with their own awkwardly gracefulsui generis thud that, even as it’s understood that they will clearly require a few spins to sequence its genome, one perceives via whatever intuitive antenna that a gem of some magnitude has fallen into one’s hands. Multi-dimensional, crackling with wounded wit, vast and confined, blessed with tonal idiosyncrasies that run the gamut from brash to playful to sinuous to shocking that, taken together, are moving on a deeply satisfying level, Bastards of Fate’s new album Vampires Are Real and Palpable is, most decidedly, one of the latter. This is a record that’s going to live with me forever, that’s never going to leave me. Yes it took a spot of cocked-head patience but it’s now taken up permanent residence, joining precious few others that sound nothing like it but share with it a blinding conviction – and binding cohesion – of seemingly fractured purpose.

Beginning with the rush of a train whistle that gives way to an intro passage of dolorous, skewed-sweet piano balladry and ending forty-four minutes later in a spell of dissipating static and a single wooden drumstick-on-drumstick tap, Vampires is a breathtaking record, not just for the scope of sonic adventure – we are swimming in some vasty deeps here – but, more impressively, how the LP, as a whole, singular piece of work, holds together as a breathing, fully functioning 10-track creature that seems preternaturally aware of its own existence (It lives!!). This is accomplished, most simply, by anchoring each track, no matter how noised up chopped up whim-bedeviled it might be, in a core melody streambed that the reptilian music brain finds impossible to resist. The record’s accessibility, in the midst of its seeming madness, is not just its saving grace (vampires, if you think about it, don’t need saving anyway) but the ever-budding mantra emanating in waves from the heart of the beast.

Before going any further please keep in mind that whatever level of descriptive prowess I’m able to dredge from the muddied banks of my excited little mind is but surface-scratching, that multitudes are buried beneath these songs that merit your most fearless spelunker’s impetus. Explore and be rewarded, a simple enough dictum but one seldom offered with quite the depth of quirk and exhilarating abandon as served up on Vampires. Let’s delve.

With themes such as transience, restlessness, and the difficulty inherent in basic human communication (among myriad others but the prevalence of bells and rings and whistles stand out as clarion indicators of – and cries of desire for – when our senses of connection to others had what seemed a more solid footing), this would not seem at a glance a cheery record but the slightest engagement with it uncovers serpentine strands of humor – sometimes gallows, often open but a bit oblique – and the prickly resistance that comes with it. And anyway, for all this record’s winged flights of disorientation, alienation, the dashes of mortal disappointment, it’s all ultimately won over by a stubborn beauty, a beauty that not only refuses to dies, you can barely see its bruises.

That opening track, “Winter of Our Discontent,” for instance. Past that train whistle and somber piano the song emerges from itself with an epic shanty grace into an immense roiling plea to the great emptiness that stirs the soul and surrounds on all sides, a glorious cosseting din, singer Doug Cheatwood exhorting “I found her, her majesty” before the thing resolves in a dramatic, horn-driven coda and a whorl of synthesized wind. A marvel of pop agglomeration, it’s a perfect introduction, not just to the aesthetic M.O. here – build upward, build outward, layer with a bracing panache and tie it all up with snaking, and whistleable, and immortal, melody lines – but as well the innate emotional streak running through the album, a streak best described by that four-letter word up there: soul.

“Identity Theft,” despite its title and the electronic gargling that introduces it, exhibits a harmonica-assisted swing that suggests that the Bastards southern roots (they’re from Roanoke, VA) haven’t been wholly abandoned even as the band quite often comes across as more of a darkly spooked prog pop mutant, Caravan gone well off the rails, Crack The Sky cracked beyond repair. Due the relative madness, however, the results are viscerally more human than any such comparison might suggest. “Own It” takes a Kinks-y vocal hook and transmutes it through some new kind of time-warp app into a piece of Bran Van 3000-styled ecstasy pop that in turn gets manipulated – check that; Bastardized – into a supreme mindfuck masterpiece. These songs, I’ll just say right here, need to be heard to be believed.

“Chromosome 1″ has Neutral Milk Hotel, under hypnotic duress, making a murky mess of an undiscovered Beck track that wakes up surprised to find itself exposed and blinking in the sunlight, the arrangement a disorienting hybrid of airy and claustrophobic, the intricacies spinning but nevermind since, again (and I realize you might get tired of hearing this if you haven’t already), the melody tucked inside it all would draw even the most obstinately skeptical aesthete into lockstep head-nod mode, it – like much of the album – is almost dubby that way, sneakingly narcotic. The poignant “Ultimate Death” finds a jagged-edged prettiness fighting through a slip-sliding chaos always lurking about the edges and easily winning, Cheatwood’s vocals at their most effecting, powerful and gripping before the piece collapses in a fit of exaggerated cartoon snoring and there’s that humor again, I L’ed OL.

Though at first blush bordering perhaps on excessive and seeming indulgent, ultimately the wild collage of noise and interstitial effects begins to present as necessary and integral, an extravagance of nature the tracks would seem naked without. Vampires is almost lavish in its excursions to the fringe and it takes a deft hand on a loose-limbed impulse to make this kind of balancing act work. Taking the outlandish and laying it as if manor-born around a sublime pop furrow, asserting what appears sonically nonsensical and making it as indispensable as a rudder in a rough sea, this is to grab command of the mysterious as if it’s just another everyday conundrum easily solved with an errant Catskills sample and a juddering, rippling wave of (jarringly sympathetic) sound. It’d be enough to drown in were it not for the unshaking songcraft anchoring the proceedings with an authority to die for and an incantation-like presence strong enough to raise the dead.

For further examples because maybe you don’t believe me there’s the creepy drawl of “One True Love” with its dizzying miasma of crowded atmospherics – veins of subtly unhinged synth, a carnival organ back there going mad, a menacing growl that comes and goes from god knows what depths – ambling along at a mostly funereal pace, is kaleidoscopically delicate and deliciously unsettling and ends up sounding like a prog ballad with a blues hangover, while “Credit,” another stab at complicated prog-pop, re-imagines Canterbury as a place overrun by robots obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, spiraling spidery melodies with over-the-rainbow hopes and an orchestral amount of mechanical tinkering crowding in from every perimeter. It’s beautiful, it’s brilliant, and, it must be said, is the music Flaming Lips should still be capable of making but apparently aren’t, neurotic but transcendent, intelligent but instinctual, emphatic but curiously evasive, like life itself.

I’ll set you up with a couple more samples then let you go so you can go buy the thing. Out of “Go No Further”‘s ramshackle laugh-tracked intro emerges a horn-stacked monster of an earworm supplemented by a passel of ooh-ooh backing vox, a popping tempo and Cheatwood pitching up higher in his range for a bit to unspool a tale of some cheery bad luck and lost horizons (“you got no further than the street you grew up on“), all swirled in the usual, not-at-all-usual mix of unforeseen left turns that by all rights should snap the listener’s neck but instead rather soothes in rough approximation of genius. And though I’m not here to play favorites (impossible anyway), a highlight has to be “Copilot,” a moment of great yearn under gummy skies, melancholia spiked with psychedelia – there are slow, sleighbell tambourines, poking synthesizer sympathies, a tempo as deliberate as a careful prayer; there’s a theremin, even – that in the end amounts to a type of cathartic pathos, as disturbing as it is gorgeous and that suggests the plaintive heights of such that Mark Linkous used to bring us to, though Sparklehorse, to my knowledge, never ended a track with a 2-minute organ-funked coda a la Booker T in wigged-out departure lounge mode. That sort of canny shenanigans, I believe, is the exclusive domain of Bastards of Fate, and you, my friend, oughta get in on it.


Joe Jack Talcum at Jersey Beat

Joseph Genaro has recorded under many aliases, including Jasper Thread, Butterfly Joe and Joe Jack Talcum. He founded the seminal Philly punk folk antagonists The Dead Milkmen, first as a fictional band, then a real one with three college friends. Together they would create some of the funniest, most bizarre and unique sounds of 80’s punk like the Descendents high on Zappa, taking the piss out of American pop music, with a tremendous musical aptitude. Genaro, on guitar as well as providing the shy, thin voice behind Rodney “Anonymous” Lindeman’s more traditional frontman, steps out for a few lead vocals on each record, often some of the most heart wrenching and poignant moments in the band’s discography, like the stream of consciousness “Dean’s Dream”, environmentalist ballad “Watching Scotty Die” and the bittersweet “Dollar Signs In Her Eyes.” Throughout the career of the Milkmen and during their hiatus (they reunited in the recent years to a warm welcome), Genaro has been a prolific songwriter, working with many groups such as Low Budgets, Touch Me Zoo and The Headaches, as well as a solo acoustic performer. He has been making home recordings for the past 30 years, and the aptly named Valiant Death label has released his second set, this one from 1993-1999, years when the Milkmen were mostly inactive.

My first exposure to Joe’s solo music happened when I was in college and I had heard he’d been performing at local punk shows. I had been a fan of the Milkmen for some time, and decide to send him a MySpace message, asking him if he’d like to play with my band, the newly formed The Brooklyn What in the basement of the original Freddy’s Bar (now leveled to become the Barclay Center) and if he’d like to perform some Milkmen material with us. To my surprise, he agreed to both, and some weeks later, showed up at my mom’s basement to teach us Dead Milkmen songs and eat some 3 items for $5 chinese food. Later at Freddy’s Bar, he treated us to a set of both solo and Milkmen material that mad the audience laugh and cry in a very cathartic experience. There was not a dry eye left in the room, and I had never seen that type of command in a solo performer before. The night ended with The BKW, Talcum and a room packed with some of my best friends all sang and thrashed to “Punk Rock Girl”, “I Walk The Thinnest Line” and the classic “Life Is Shit.” It was one of the best nights of my life, and we would do it again a few times. Later, when the Milkmen returned to the stage, he gave me the gift of the actual best night of my life, opening for my punk rock heroes at the Bowery Ballroom. It is Genaro’s generosity and empathy that make him one of the greatest and most underrated American songwriters.

His solo tunes evoke the naivete and imagination of his peer Daniel Johnston, as well as the sweet and sour whimsy of predecessor Jonathan Richman, with melody and chord progressions worthy of Neil Young and Lennon/McCartney. Just as the extroverted and challenging Milkmen attack everything from bad parties to bad politics with great fervor, Talcum’s introverted side describes a fairly negative and morbid worldview with a great deal of beauty. “One False Move” opens the set, a funeral dirge about drinking, a topic that will appear many times in his songwriting (Genaro is, to my knowledge, currently sober), check the heavy ballad “Alcohol” from 2008 split with Mischief Brew. “Madonna’s Weep” is the type of acoustic balladry that tickles the eye socket, with strange but beautiful, Dylan-esque lyrics “I have a peaceful feeling that when this war is done/we’ll find a bottle lodged up in the sun/and in it is a message for all about the land/love is a weapon you can’t hold in your hand.”

An apt multi-instrumentalist, Talcum plays organ and piano on the psychedelic “Go” and provides himself his own punk rock rhythm section on a few of the tunes offered up, including the raucous instrument “Sweet and Sour.” “Call Me A Fool” is a bonafide bummer, sharing genetics with Weezer’s “Butterfly”, possibly written around the same time in different areas of the country, except this song explodes into aural psychosis in the middle with some synth and pedal type action before resolving gently back into acoustic guitar. The sweet pity party “Sense Of Humor” is a direct and personal jaunt, with a melody echoing early Kinks or The Monkees, with the hook “I’ve lost my sense of humor/somewhere behind the couch.” “The Sun Shines Out Of My Asshole” is the type of absurd humor that made the Milkmen stand out against their more rigid peers. A cousin of “You’ll Dance To Anything”, the set closes out with “Another Disgusting Pop Punk Song”, obviously targeting the Warped Tour generation that would come to commerical set after his more talented generation spent a decade in relative obscurity.

In the art and craft of songwriting, there are many intangibles. Some songs rock and some songs suck. Some songs are catchy and some songs are forgettable. Some songs make you think and some songs make you drink. As a songwriter, Talcum’s paramount quality is his songs move you. Weather working in the platform of the surreal, silly or dead serious, Talcum has an emotional and childlike quality that appeal to the most vulnerable moments as a listener. Stripped of his loud band, and with his distinctive high register, the home recordings of Joe Jack Talcum bring us up close and personal to a songwriter that deserves such investigation and then some.


Bastards of Fate at Jersey Beat

The Bastards of Fate could be the finest examples of indie rock anti-heroes alive today-their brand of music is so deliciously bizarre and wondrously off-putting that one is unable to turn away but it is not due to some type of desperate attention seeking exaggeration, but the irrepressible intelligence on display. Shattering the conventional paradigm of song structure is a goal of many bands, but it usually defines power electronics, grind, or other more abrasive genres. Roanoke’s Bastards of Fate are as mysterious and confounding as the disappearance of their hometown’s initial settlers; Doug Cheatwood sings, croons, rages, and emotes feelings one did not even know were human throughout ten twisted anthems that should be what indie rock sounds like, but is far too daring for most bands to attempt. By no means will this ever reach commercial success, hence the limited knowledge of the band’s debut record, but for those who appreciate distorted visions spun through delightfully dissonant chaos, Vampires is a scintillating listen. Gentle piano gives way to squalls of guitar noise, shrieking explosions of anti-melody cuddles up to warm harmonies, and waves of noise hold hands with pristine serenity as a perpetual darkness permeates each effort. The opening “Winter of Our Discontent” leads the listener down a path of harrowing intrigue as the song grows increasingly unbalanced and intimidating, setting the stage for a deranged carnival of musical genius. The closing “Optometrist” features barreling rolls of thunderous noise, while “Go No Further” rivals anything constructed by Beefheart or Zappa in their most inexplicable moments. “One True Love “ is a swirling mass of heartfelt emotion, constantly teetering on the verge of unraveling, hovering effortlessly between the worlds of campy fun and deeply unsettling depravity. Occasionally, bands emerge whose place in music cannot be readily defined or explained, and their contribution to society may be ignored but all but a select few, but for those who are fortunate enough to embrace The Bastards of Fate, their lives are enriched and their minds are opened. I am lucky to call myself a fan of this band.