Without A Song: The Replacements | Let It Be

The Replacements Let It BeWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: The Replacements
Album: Let It Be
Originally Released: 1984
Label: TwinTone

Go to your nearest record store. Preferrably an independent, but given the urgency of the task before you we’re not going to be picky. Rush in through the front door, stride with purpose up to the counter and request in a polite but firm manner to purchase a copy of Let It Be by The Replacements. Once you have handed over the cash (or most likely swiped, tapped and wrapped, these days), return home forthwith. More haste, less speed people.

Walk in to your abode, wherever it may be. Turn on the power to your stereo equipment / computer / other generic listening device. Put the CD in to the appropriate tray. Plug in your headphone jack and position the headphones themselves upon your own noggin in the preferred position. Adopt your listening pose, turn up the volume to a loud – but still healthy! – volume.

Finally, push play.

Now tell me Kurt Cobain wasn’t a fan.

Released in 1984, Let It Be seems to be precisely the sort of album that would have been a monstrous success had it been released ten years later. Utterly ragged yet unbearably melodic, it is chock full of wry observations about life in the margins. The album captures the moment when Paul Westerberg’s songwriting developed into something rounded and beautiful. The music and playing have come along, too since the days of their sloppy hardcore debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to take out the trash.

It’s the raw passion and desperation that carry the day. Westerberg seems to sum it up in the mini-tornado of We’re Comin’ Out: “One more chance to get it all wrong / One more chance to do it all wrong / One more night to get it half right.” The band feel as though they are living right on the edge. This is the last chance they have to prove what they’re worth. And boy do they prove it.

Following two earlier, largely ignored releases, the album proved to be the ‘Mats critical crossover. Here was the ultimate balance between high and low brow. Just enough snotty, brash attitude to keep ‘the kids’ happy; just enough thought and emotion to please those beyond their adolescence. Where else would you find two minutes of rock n’ roll bluster along the lines of Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out, alongside the wracked, heart-on-sleeve, acoustic-led Unsatisfied and still have it all seemingly hold together (just.)

Westerberg’s throat must have been an open wound after recording some of these songs. The delicate balance between laceration and heart molestation is what brings to mind the grunge phenomenon that was Nirvana. Not only did the Seattle rockers seem to take some cues from the sonics of Let It Be, the whole template seems to be there in some primitive, primordial way. But just when you’re starting to take this album seriously, along comes Gary’s Got A Boner to bring you back down to earth with a bump (and a childish snigger.)

The Replacements went on to sign with Sire records and released what many consider to be their masterpiece, 1985 album Tim. But it was here, a year earlier, that so many fell in love with the ramshackle brand of rock n’ roll that the ‘Mats dealt in to such great effect. As such, it remains to many the record that captures that time in their life; that moment of coming of age. For it is truly a coming of age LP.

Now skip back to the beginning and listen again. If you don’t like it, don’t take it back to the store from which you bought it. Give it to someone else with the good sense to love it in the way that it deserves.

Find out more about The Replacements at their official website
You can buy the album from: The Skin Back Alley Music Store.

Without a song: Sanctorum – Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis Album CoverWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: Sanctorum
Album: Semper Fidelis
Originally Released: 2011
Label: Auburn Fox Records

The first thought that occurs to me when listening to Sanctorum’s third album, Semper Fidelis, is usually: “Bugger me! Why the f**k are this band not global metal superstars by now?!”

I then take a moment to briefly consider the swathes of shit that have crossed over into the realms of worldwide adulation, my synapses working overtime in order to try and and understand why this blazing display of dynamism, technical proficiency and yes, hook-laden melody, has not somehow delivered the same level of fanaticism for this Colchester cohort.

Tours supporting LA metal stalwarts My Ruin; sets at Bloodstock; appearances alongside the likes of Napalm Death, Evile and God Forbid; production from David Chang of earthone9 and Orange Goblin fame and, most importantly, as engaging and hair-raising a slab of molten metal as you’re ever going to launch down your lugholes. Amongst all these high points, there has been an unfathomable lack of cross-over and traction.

I just don’t get it.

From the opening title track onward, Semper Fidelis beats you violently around the head in a sonic attack sure to leave you breathless and yet begging for more. The band bring together elements of death, thrash, groove and good old fashioned British heavy metal in a heady blend. Across its 13 tracks and 59 minutes, the album is never less than thrilling.

“Dying Breed” is an excellent example of Sanctorum’s songcraft; A combination of Aaron Sly’s serrated screams combined with melodic, clean-cut metalcore vocals, thundering percussion from Matt Alston that is crisp, precise and consummate without being inaccessible, and Alex Commons’ and Sly’s walls of gnarled and biting guitar, over which Commons lets rip with prudently placed solos that soar and stalk with the minacious power of a bird of prey. The whole thing builds throughout it’s running time to a devastating climax, executed with skill and spine-tingling potency.

Sanctorum 2014 Lineup Promo Shot - Cropped

Elsewhere “Rise Of The Underdog” thrashes along at breakneck speed, demonstrating the band’s astounding skill, and delivering a heads-down, horns-up, explosion of a song. “Empty Glass” brings the doom-laden, foreboding atmosphere, all picked guitar and melodic vocal lines that gather momentum and erupt with volcanic intensity, laying waste to all in its path.

“Crown Of Scars” is an epic ending to proceedings, just shy of 7 minutes in length and weaving a fibrous tapestry along the way. It takes in NWOBHM-esque guitar, searing speed, breakdowns that Rage Against The Machine would give their eye teeth for, and groove the likes of which hasn’t been heard since Pantera’s early 90s golden age.

My extremely basic understanding of Latin suggests that Sanctorum roughly translates as “Saints”, and Semper Fidelis “Always Faithful.” The fact that Sanctorum are still here and making peerless heavy metal (the likes of which many other bands can’t come close to matching) and yet have still to make a more significant impact upon the world of music, makes them saintly and faithful in the best possible way.

On the eve of playing a summer tour this August in support of My Ruin, and about to unleash their new album on the world, it’s about bloody time that the heavy metal community – in the UK in particular, but the world over too – sits up and takes notice of one of the very best bands that these isles have to offer. For their music not to be heard is, to my mind, unthinkable.

Rise Of The Underdog? Quite. Together, let’s make it happen.

~ oOo ~

Watch the video for “Rise Of The Underdog” – shot on tour with My Ruin in 2012 – below:

Sanctorum will play:

Friday 15th Aug: Alt-Fest, Kettering
Saturday 16th Aug: Underworld, Camden
Sunday 17th Aug: The Haunt, Brighton
Tuesday 19th Aug: Sound Control, Manchester
Wednesday 20th Aug: O2 Academy, Birmingham
Thursday 21st Aug: The Fleece, Bristol
Friday 22nd Aug: The Duchess, York
Saturday 23rd Aug: The Waterfront, Norwich

Semper Fidelis is out now on Auburn Fox Records and can be ordered from the band’s official merch store

For news on the imminent release of the band’s new album, keep your eyes on Skin Back Alley, and check out Sanctorum’s official Facebook page and Twitter feed

Album Reviews | Live Reviews | News | SBA Lists | The Playlist | Under The Skin | Without A Song

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’

As the summer weather seems to have arrived in earnest here at Skin Back Towers, we couldn’t resist sharing this earworm from The Boss on this fine Monday morning!

‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’ features on Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album, Magic.

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Without A Song: Holly Williams – The Highway

Holly Williams - The HighwayWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: Holly Williams
Album: The Highway
Originally Released: 2013
Label: Georgiana Records

I remember vividly the first time I heard Holly Williams’ music.

It was August of 2013 and it was the middle of the night. Insomnia was whispering in my ear and the bedroom ceiling was rapidly starting to loose it’s appeal as a source of entertainment. As is so often the way, I turned to music to ease my troubled mind.

Via the wonders of modern technology, a music streaming service suggested that I might like to listen to The Highway. Being brutally honest, my prejudices and previous disappointments got the better of me. I looked over the album details and, with low expectation of another anonymous pop-country wannabe, hit play.

And that is when Holly’s voice punched through my chest, pulled all the air from my lungs, slapped my heart upside the head, and made that bedroom ceiling – the entire room, even – disappear.

Astonishing, epiphanic, unexpected and transporting, now I really was awake. Wide awake.

Three quarters of an hour later, I hit play again, and didn’t care what time of the day, night or year it was. I’d also ordered my own copy of the album, and didn’t want it to end.

Opening track, “Drinkin'” showcases Holly’s soulful, smoky, heart-rending voice in the most raw and captivating way. Over gently picked guitar, her impassioned cry of “Why are you drinkin’ like the night is young?” is an overwhelming emotional suckerpunch. The fact that the lyric develops across characters and genders, from “Why are you screamin’ like I don’t have ears?” to “Why are you leaving like we don’t exist?”, probably tells you all you need to know about the calibre of songwriting and the heft of the subject matter.

The musical arrangement grows beautifully in tandem with the lyric, introducing a full band of electric guitar, upright bass, mournful fiddle and drums, that perfectly complement rather than overpower. And the song delivers one killer final blow in it’s last poetic line, turning the earlier desperate questions on their head in a mix of scarred sadness, fateful acceptance and battle-weary wishing – “Hope we don’t die drinkin’ like the night is young.”

Of course it was only after my initial astonishment at what I was hearing that research availed me of Holly’s family heritage. In the firmament of American roots music, that heritage doesn’t come any more prestigious than country legends Hank Williams Jr. or Snr. But whilst Holly’s family and her relationship with it’s history make up a key part of the songs here, it is abundantly clear that Holly is an incredible talent in her own right.

“Waiting On June”, is a masterclass in deeply affecting, carefully crafted storytelling. Documenting the relationship of Holly’s maternal grandparents from initial meeting, through war, marriage, children, infirmity and death, at just shy of seven minutes it may sound like heavy going. And on a profound level, in presenting what Williams describes as the “… precise and true story of my grandfather’s relentless love…”, it is. Yet it is full of light and warmth and connection too, and brings the album to a close on a tender and life-affirming high.

Other songs explore Holly’s relationship with husband, multi-instrumentalist and musical soulmate, Chris Coleman; her deep-seated need to write, play and tour her music; death and the destructive nature of addiction. The record is, in short, a stunning 46 minute exploration of life, the universe and everything, influenced in attitude as much by a love of “…Radiohead and Jay Z…” as it is of the Americana and Country greats.

Guest appearances from Dierks Bentley, Jakob Dylan, Jackson Browne and Gwyneth Paltrow of course do the record no harm whatsoever. Combined with Charlie Peacock on production duty, The Highway is a future classic that demands – and deserves – to be heard.

You can listen to The Highway via the SoundCloud playlist below. Just click on the songs to listen.

Read why we chose The Highway as one of our Top 5 Albums of 2013 here

Holly plays The Ruby Lounge in Manchester, UK on the 25th June and you can buy tickets here

Find out more about Holly, her music, clothing store and other assorted activities via her official website


Album Reviews | Live Reviews | News | SBA Lists | The Playlist | Under The Skin | Without A Song

Without a song: Diemonds – The Bad Pack

Diemonds The Bad PackWithout a song throws a spotlight on albums and tracks beloved of Skin Back Alley. Old, new, classic or cutting edge, our aim is to share good music that has touched us through the years.

Artist: Diemonds
Album: The Bad Pack
Originally Released: 2012
Label: Underground Operations

You can vote for Diemonds to be added to the bill of the 2015 Sweden Rock Festival by heading over to the official festival website!

The wider world may have fallen out of love with the sleazy fire of US west-coast rock n’ roll in the wake of the all-conquering tidal wave of grunge, but for fans of loud guitars, big beats, bratty lyrics and ratted hair, a select few have kept the flame burning warm and bright.

The self-excoriating introspection that provided a more credible sonic experience for Generation-X didn’t manage to sweep away the love that many still have for an over-driven Gibson Les Paul turned all the way up to 11. Bolt on gang-chant vocals, youthful lyrical rebellion and an appetite for a good time, and many are still in, well, nirvana.

One such set of flag wavers for the Sunset Strip sound are Toronto’s very own Diemonds. Self-styled as the Canadian provincial capital’s “hungriest band”, they’ve slowly but surely risen to prominence on the North American rock and metal circuit since their formation in 2006. And after a listen to their debut full length LP, The Bad Pack, it’s not hard to understand why.

A skin-shredding wall of sand-blasted guitar? Check. A heart-rending dose of soaring melody? Yup. A deadly blast of down and dirty rock n’ roll? You bet. There are reasons, after all, why Classic Rock Magazine voted their 2008 EP, In The Rough, the best of the year, and their 2012 music video for the anthemic ‘Get The Fuck Outta’ Here’ the 4th best of the previous 12 months.

Opening manifesto ‘Take On The Night’ ensures that the album starts as it means to go on, powerfully and with pure rock n’ roll dynamics, vocalist Priya Panda’s voice soaring cleanly and crisply above the high-octane wall of sound, occasionally breaking and delivering the gritty edge the band’s signature style demands. You’re left with the distinct impression that guitarists C.C. Diemond and Daniel DeKay know their way around their respective six-stringers, and that there’s more than a hint of irony in the image conjured up by Priya’s nom-de-plume.

Diemonds Band ShotIt’s an impression that the following track, ‘Lil’ Miss’ does nothing to dispel, before ‘Loud N’ Nasty’ sums up the bands entire raison d’etre in 3 heart-stopping minutes. Drummer Aiden Tranquada and bassist Tommy Carvalho build a solid foundation for fan favourite ‘Get The Fuck Outta’ Here’, which calls to mind the similarly titled song by those renowned sleaze-metal merchants, Skid Row. Rather than a vaguely misogynistic rant about throwing last night’s conquest out of the front door however, Diemonds turn the concept on it’s head and deliver a slab of rock that hints at the burning desire to leave an anonymous and unremarkable life behind for pastures new and green.

Just as you expect the pace to slow and a power ballad to hove in to view, The Bad Pack delivers it’s title track at pace and not inconsiderable volume. “The underworld reigns supreme, I’m living proof of it,” sings Priya, as the band thrashes wildly behind her, stamping all over the competition and leaving them for dead. ‘Overboard’ and – appropriately enough – ‘Left For Dead’ then lay on the low-end, more than proving the point. Perhaps the heaviest songs on the album, they’re full of murk and menace.

‘Livin Tonight’ and ‘Trick or Treat’ power through their respective running times with no small amount of brio, and the whole album is then rounded out by ‘Mystery.’ The longest track on the album by far at five and a half minutes, it nevertheless delivers on the band’s promise to have “one boot in the gutter and the other in your teeth.”

When bundled up with this supersonic salvo of a debut LP, a successful set at Canada’s Heavy MTL festival along with support slots for the likes of Slash, Steel Panther and HellYeah! mean it is surely only a matter of time before many more are tuning in, getting down and rocking out to the rough and ready sounds of Diemonds.

The Bad Pack is out now via Underground Operations
Find out more about Diemonds at their official website: Diemonds.net
Follow the band on: Twitter and Facebook

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