Editor’s Note: Welcome to V7, an all-day series on May 15, 2020 that celebrates Vanyaland’s 7th anniversary. We launched back on May 15, 2013 with a brand new publication and a livestream (yeah, before it was cool), and to celebrate the day, Vanyaland’s editors, senior writers, and publisher have offered up their own personal favorites from the world of music, film, and comedy. Below is a contribution from Senior Writer Michael Christopher.
Everyone has an artist or two they adore and think it’s only matter of time before they blow up. You see them play a place like Great Scott (R.I.P.) and silently tremble at the thought of how in a few years you’ll be paying over $10 a beer when you have to catch them at the Garden. The fact is, acts like Muse — Bill’s Bar in the summer of 1999, then TD Garden April 2019 — are few and far between, while the seven below are more the norm. It’s unfortunate and can be frustrating as hell for those with a deep appreciation of music they want to share, so here’s hoping a few ears are opened. See you at the clubs.
7. The Brian Jonestown Massacre
One needs to look no further than the fantastic 2004 documentary DIG! to realize Brian Jonestown Massacre mastermind Anton Newcombe has a history of being a bit polarizing, confrontational and — some would argue — batshit crazy. He’s also a fucking musical genius. There’s hardly a misstep in a nearly 40 work deep catalog of LPs and EPs he’s put out under the BJM banner beginning with 1995’s shoegaze ode Methodrone. Since then, the music has morphed through phases of ‘60s-inspired garage rock, druggy experimental, psychedelia, bluesy folk and compositions best experienced under mind-altering substances. Does Newcombe’s reputation scare people away? Are the sometimes dozen or so members — of the more than 100 who’ve passed through the San Francisco outfit’s ranks — onstage at any given time too daunting? Who knows! Taking their name from a founding member of the Stones, they deserve to be at least half as big as England’s onetime newest hitmakers.
6. Dark Blue
While I’m fully aware this could be construed as a case of deep-seated homerism, as Dark Blue are the best band to come out of my Philly neighborhood since Cinderella and also managed to completely capture the essence of said region in a post-punk homage, that would be a disservice to the genuine brilliance the group possess. Though John Sharkey III’s vocal delivery is reminiscent of Ian Curtis at times, another in a long line of Joy Division knockoffs they’re not. There’s so much emotion bubbling to the surface in some of their material, like the heartbreaking “Bombs on the Beach”, but the brooding, layered melodies will keep drawing you back.
5. Raised Fist
Raised Fist is one of the prime reasons I’ll die on the hill that Sweden has the most musical talent per capita of any country, and certainly when it comes to punk. Borne out of the country’s Burning Heart Records, which also gave us Refused, The Hives, and Division of Laura Lee, the band deliver fist-pumping anthems by the dozens, but simply doesn’t tour enough outside of Europe to be more well-known. It’s a shame, because their brand of hardcore punk stands up with the best around, with frontman Alexander “Alle” Hagman a legitimate badass, who has been knocked out onstage by electric shocks and knocks out people as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor. Ten years after it came out, I still get nonstop chills when hearing or watching the video for “Friends and Traitors.”
4. Sleaford Mods
Vanyaland has been on the Sleaford Mods tip for quite some time, going so far as to proclaim them “the most important band in the U.K. right now” way back in 2014. It was true then and is even more so today, as their post-Brexit homeland is further burdened with Covid-19 and a much-criticized response to the pandemic by the powers that be. See, with a contented Andrew Fearn bopping away to his masterful laptop beats as vocalist Jason Williamson frenetically spit lyrics, the pair are living, breathing critics of governmental bullshit. “Champions of the working class” even — thought they’d tell you to properly fuck off for saying so. Like any artist tagged as being political, some people just stay away out of habit, more so perhaps with such thick British sentiments and a presumption that it won’t translate outside of those borders. Unfounded — all of it.
3. Local H
A few years ago, a lot of people were pissed off when Local H won a contest where fans could vote for a regional band in select radio markets to open five dates for Metallica on their 2017 stadium tour. Those angry reasoned the group was on a major label throughout the ’90s, released a series of charting singles — including the hit “Bound for the Floor” — and the winner should’ve been an up and coming artist instead. To all those who complained: It’s your own fucking fault. If the duo had been shown the proper respect for being one of the most consistent hard rock acts over the past three decades, they would’ve been too busy touring arenas to open for Lars and James. Despite the misdirected bitching, which frontman Scott Lucas handled brilliantly, Local H drop covers like nobody’s business and continue to put out new shit that’s just as good — if not better — than their older material.
2. The Sounds
Every single The Sounds have released, from 2002’s “Living in America” to this year’s “Things We Do for Love”, is like a new wave classic with a fresh sheen. Led by singer Maja Ivarsson, who isn’t afraid to use the drop dead sexy that oozes from her very being in both her lyrics and captivating live presence, the Swedish fivesome is dynamic as they come. The music leans heavy on synths and pianos often melded exquisitely with throbbing bass and jittery just-below-the- mix guitar lines, making it easy to worm inside the brain. The only possible good that might come out of the current pandemic is in the wake of the band’s postponement of a tour of the States scheduled to be taking place at this very moment, is someone will come to their senses and add a Boston date.
1. The Afghan Whigs
Like Liam Gallagher often punctuates his must-see Twitter feed, “c’mon you know,” Vanyaland co-founder/EIC Michael Marotta knew he was gonna get an Afghan Whigs obsessive when he brought me onboard. Previously at The Boston Phoenix, as music editor, he allowed for a “Stalking Greg Dulli” series where I followed the then recently reunited Cincinnati post-grunge, rock and soul outfit across the country in 2012. The road trip was meant to inform those out of the loop they were missing out on legit greatness. Dulli destroys it as one half of The Gutter Twins with Mark Lanegan, softens the sheets as the chief of The Twilight Singers and continues to “make par-ty” as the Whigs have gone from abrasive hooligans to reliable innovators who even had a veteran like David Letterman famously give pause. There are rumors that Andre 3000 lifted the main groove of “66” for “Hey Ya,” but we’ll never know for sure. When it comes to The Afghan Whigs though, why everyone else hasn’t joined in, I’ll never understand.