Reviews: New stuff from Hooded Fang, John Doe
HOODED FANG – ‘Venus On Edge’
If you’re not familiar with Hooded Fang, ‘Venus On Edge’ is the Toronto quartet’s fourth full-length release. And album after album, the band introduces new elements to their essential sound, so any attempt at gentrification of Hooded Fang’s sound/style would be both difficult and ridiculous.
The melodies from Lane Halley’s guitar provides an endless supply of lines and riffs that can range from diminished to unhinged, with subtle, but bizarre, accents that give some of the music along the way a cool, bent, Barnes & Barnes kinda slant with some tension-building ambiance. But ‘Venus On Edge’ is rich with curious atmosphere, so ambience is abundant. April Aliermo and D. Alex Meeks–bass and drums, respectively–build and handle a varied slew of animated rhythms that are always on the move. They keep the music constantly active but far away from busy for the sake of being busy. They can do the spastic an frenetic as effortlessly as they do the straight-forward, the rhythms carry the songs with absolute strength and deceptive ease. Daniel Lee seems uninterested in pander to any kind of ‘low-hanging fruit’, relying on the riffs, melodies, or progressions to dictate his vocal deliveries, vocal patterns, and their unique trajectories.
‘Venus On Edge’ is loaded with rock energy. “Shallow” has a great sense of punk urgency, and “Impressions” has subtle swagger planted within, going back and forth between a bounce and a strut. Tracks like “Dead Battery” and “Plastic Love” are colored with shades found in the so-called darkwave and post-punk fringes. But the wonderfully cacophonous nature of ‘Venus On Edge’ can’t be any more exemplified than it is in “A Final Hello”; a song that surpasses volatility and goes straight into a damn near glorious eruption of built tension in a caustic disjointed frenzy of controlled chaos. Everything about the execution and delivery–musically and vocally–all sounds surprisingly effortless, despite the complex nature of Hooded Fang’s comprehensive musical chemistry, that manifests in ways that can sometimes prove to be downright astounding and wonderfully uncomfortable; a halmark of any worthwhile exercises in the abstract.
Both ‘Venus On Edge’ and Hooded Fang’s always-evolving sound has a truly appealing way of testing and smashing sonic and aesthetic barriers, but it’s not attributable to any one element or discernible source, rather it sounds fundamental and natural, comprehensively. There’s no apparent contrivance or superficial pretenses to be found on ‘Venus On Edge’. Just a shitload of barbed, angular melodies and tones supported by erratic low end and grand mal fits of fragmented percussive divergence. And like any great album worth its salt, it gets cooler with every spin.
JOHN DOE –
Cool Rock Records/Thirty Tigers
Here we are, in 2016 and the same John Doe that helped shape so much of the music we love is still standing and thriving. His new full-length LP, ‘The Westerner’, is his first all-new studio release since 2011’s ‘Keeper’. This is an album John dedicates to his late friend, Michael Blake, who was an advocate for Native American rights and author, whose body of work includes Dances With Wolves. Whatever occurred in that half a decade–personally or professionally–certainly seems to have been creatively and artistically beneficial, whatever it or they might have been.
It’s said that the Arizona desert can be a really spiritual place. John Doe spent some time there, reportedly hanging out with a few other visionary artists from time to time. Those surroundings are what’s said to have influenced and inspired most of the creativity he poured out, and put back into ‘The Westerner’.
It would almost feel insulting to try putting this material into a little square genre box. There are so many different layers and to even attempt to say this is a soul record, or a blues record, or a psych record would be futile because as soon as you prove one to be the case, two more open paths appear. ‘The Westerner’ absolutely has its own individual spirit. And it has as much soul in its words as it does in its music. John’s well-written lyrics about plight, reflection, realizations and awareness of shortcomings make this particular collection of songs come alive in both a romantic way, as well as in a surprisingly real way. There’s a presence of an understanding of disposition and the human condition that’s conveyed, making ‘The Westerner’ easily relatable. Whether it’s a cut like “The Other Shoe,” which is a more generalized take on the inevitable, or a specific and candid perspective like that addressed in “Sweet Reward,” it’s that cognizance that really gives ‘The Westerner’ its human feeling. But it’s not all heavy emotion. The album’s opener, “Get On Board'” is a cool chunk o’ bluesy rock & roll and “Go Baby Go” is full of the spirit of rock & roll, and he’s got some help there from fellow trailblazer, Debbie Harry.
References to country, folk, or ‘Americana’ conjure specific ideas. The only reason that this could even have any relevance is because when an artist has, at one time, gone in such a direction, it becomes so easy to simply assign anything difficult to compartmentalize that the artist might do in the future as such, without giving it much real thought. And isn’t that something that art should do? Make us think?
It’s hard to believe sometimes that despite the influential work John Doe has done with his cohorts in X, his solo career has been more prolific. But that’s only because the time with X seems to be much more sensationalized. ‘The Westerner’ upholds his consistent tradition of turning in solid genre-defying sonic artistry. Prior to this, John Doe released a compilation album of selected works he called ‘The Best of John Doe, So Far’. ‘The Westerner’ is an absolute indication that he’s working to keep his word on that.