Heavy Trash: Midnight Soul Serenade

The rockabilly/trash rock titans keep it goofy on album number three.

Heavy Trash

Midnight Soul Serenade

Label: Fat Possum
US Release Date: 2009-10-26
UK Release Date: 2009-10-19

It's no coincidence that the album cover for each of Heavy Trash's three records has been a drawing -- after all, there's something more than a little cartoony about the offerings coming from HT's Jon Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray; to reduce their revved-up, sorta-ironic-but-still-fun as-hell rockabilly/trashrock raves to something as straightforward as a photograph would be to sell the band seriously short. I didn't think JS and MVR were going to find a more apropos image to accompany their sound than the cover of 2007's Tony Millionaire-drawn Going Way Out With Heavy Trash, which depicted our bindle-and-guitar-toting heroes chasing a train under a UFO-saturated sky... until I opened Midnight Soul Serenade and saw on the inside cover an ink and paper drawing of two snarling dogs leaping out of a Victrola along with the words "romance" and "worry" -- and oh, the devil's sitting on the record player, strumming a guitar. Game, set, match goes to artist Jean-Luc Navette. If you can picture that, uh, picture, you've got a pretty fair idea of what Spencer and Verta-Ray have conjured on Midnight Soul Serenade.

As is the case with nearly all of Spencer's projects dating back his Pussy Galore days, figuring out what part of the song/album/etc he's putting in airquotes is half the fun (or maybe just half the "fun", if you don't buy his pomo-bluesman shtick). To these ears, though, nobody plays that parlor game quite as well as Spencer does -- think Going Way Out's "They Were Kings" or the how-sincere-is-he-really? "Crazy Pritty Baby" -- but Soul Serenade feels like the least self-conscious of Heavy Trash's three releases to date.

Whether or not JS and MVR "mean" anything, Soul Serenade still sounds like a helluva good time. Opener "Gee, I Really Love You" threatens to go careening off the rails from the get-go, clambering on MVR's rickety guitar riffs and guest Mickey Finn's piano, and a cover of LaVerne Baker's "Bumble Bee" (also covered by both Billy Fury and the Searchers in the early '60s) fits in nicely with the band's originals -- a testament to how well Spencer has internalized the style and approach of early rock 'n' roll... plus, you can't help but smile when Spencer snarls "Shoo-wee / You hurt me like a bee / A bumble bee /an eeevil bumble bee!". Meanwhile, the two tracks the band cut at London's legendary Toe Rag Studio, the surf instrumental "Pimento" and the bluesy, swaggering "Bedevilment", are two of the best things the band has ever done -- the latter confident and cheeky enough to compare Snoop Dogg and Jeffrey Lee Pierce's drug addictions to Spencer's narrator's love jones without sounding like a (complete) asshole.

The duo does tweak their established formula, here and there, with varying results. The faux-Waitsian spoken-word acid trip "The Pill" goes nowhere, and takes five minutes to do so (though Spencer's lysergic realization "'Click your heels and say there's no place like home?' I don't have that kind of power" is a gem), but I'm happy to report the band's experiment with moving their internal musical reference calendars up a decade, from 1958 to 1968, works on the filthy, hilarious Nuggets send-up "(Sometimes You Got To Be) Gentle," an ode to, shall we say, Spencer's old band, and rife with double entendres like "Help me to grow / Evolution is too slow!" (Ain't it always?) And the closing one-two punch of "That's What Your Love Gets You" and "In My Heart" ends the record on a high note.

These guys know rock 'n' roll, love rock 'n' roll, and hell, who cares if they're taking the piss? You can't see airquotes coming through your speakers.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.