Newspaper article International New York Times

Southern Rock, Proudly Revised, and Anarchic British Ranting

Newspaper article International New York Times

Southern Rock, Proudly Revised, and Anarchic British Ranting

Article excerpt

Reviews of new albums From Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Sleaford Mods and Owen Pallett.


From Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Black Crowes to the Drive-By Truckers, Southern rockers have been acutely self-conscious about where they come from, writing songs steeped in history, local color, memories, everyday life, expectations and paradoxes. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, a four-man band from Alabama, proudly join the Southern-rock tradition of wild-eyed music hitched to serious deliberation. "Dereconstructed," the band's second album, ponders Southern identity in a welter of cranked-up guitars, bristling drums and rasping, hollering vocals. It's pandemonium with a conscience.

Mr. Bains played guitar in the last lineup of the Dexateens, a fondly remembered Alabama band that supercharged Southern rock with punk. (The Dexateens' bassist, Matt Patton, also appears on "Dereconstructed.") Mr. Bains's 2012 debut album with the Glory Fires, "There Is a Bomb in Gilead," eased off the noise and speed, looking toward the lucidity of the Allman Brothers, but "Dereconstructed" blasts anew. Mr. Bains accelerates all the way into punk in "Flags," raging through lyrics that touch on slavery, the Civil War, women's-clinic bombings and the Pledge of Allegiance.

But most of "Dereconstructed" is genre-proud Southern rock with 21st-century momentum. In "Dirt Track," Mr. Bains sings about "squeezing glory out of three rusty chords," which is one task he sets himself. The Glory Fires repatriate the two-guitar mesh of the Rolling Stones back toward a raw swampland twang that sounds like the band's own birthright. In "Burnpiles, Swimming Holes," the Glory Fires merge the bristling snare-drum beat of old rural Mississippi fife and drum bands with Bo Diddley syncopations and grungy guitar tones, while Mr. Bains urges listeners to get off the Internet and experience the physical world.

Throughout the album, the guitars provide friction and rough-and- tumble tension, and there's more of both in Mr. Bains's words. He's a loyal Alabamian who's trying to come to terms with where he lives and its heritage of endless contradictions: honeysuckle sweetness and meth labs, admirable individuals (particularly his "grandaddy," who appears in several songs) and historical wrongs, church teachings and crude prejudice.

The album begins with a blare of distorted rhythm guitar and Mr. Bains working himself up, unscripted, moaning and soon yowling, "Oh, yessir, tell me why, tell me why, tell me why, yeah, yeah, YEAH," followed by a high, flat-out scream. He never finds out why, but that spirit of questioning, flailing and just letting rip makes every song crackle.

Sleaford Mods, from Nottingham, England, are fantastic complainers. In their charismatic hopelessness, they seem to descend from the billowing, storytelling rap of the Streets; early-'60s English kitchen-sink realist drama and fiction; the anarcho-punk yarns and provocations of the band Crass; the performance poet John Cooper Clarke; and surely some West Midland energies I wouldn't know about. But they hide their research well. They're self-conscious, if not exactly conscious, in the hip-hop sense. They're not offering solutions. They're not acting as a positive force, at least not on the surface.

The band is two guys: Jason Williamson, hoarse ranter, semirapper; and the musician Andrew Fearn, who creates the bass lines, lumpen four-four beats sampled from a bad drum set, and other seriously economical backgrounds. Mr. Williamson starts his flow on the second beat of the bar, ends wherever, tends to rhyme the final two lines of a block of text, then takes a deep, phlegmy breath before heaving out another long stanza. At a certain point comes the chorus, a woof in step with the beats. (Such as: "dead weight is living flesh/we are no longer spesh.")

Sleaford Mods have been doing this since 2006, first as Mr. Williamson's solo project, and with Mr. …

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