The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer: A Real Fine Mess

This is a streamlined collection of a standard sound with some sonic detours into pop territory, and it draws inspiration from both the classic and the contemporary styles of blues.

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer

A Real Fine Mess

Label: Tonic / Universal
US Release Date: 2014-06-17
UK Release Date: Import
Artist website

The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer is a most unusual name, and perhaps even more so for a blues-based outfit. However, the only thing getting murdered is that axe: the guitar, and in a good way. This is a Canadian West Coast outfit that consists of Shawn "The Harpoonist" Hall and Matthew "The Axe Murderer" Rogers and, man, can they shred. However, their third album, A Real Fine Mess is actually more blues pop-rock than pure blues, and has moments of soul music, courtesy of backup female singers. Blues purists may snivel their nose at this sort of stuff, but A Real Fine Mess is a burning, energetic album wall to wall with material that will lodge deep inside your head. This will probably be the duo's breakout album, and, according to the publicist I conversed with, they absolutely kill live. I would believe it because the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer bring an off-the-floor kind of feel to the album, while polishing down the rough edges. This is an album that's honed for pure pop perfection. It's a real blues kitchen with all sorts of ingredients in the pan.

What makes this album so refreshing is that it doesn't strictly adhere to a standard blues formula all the time. "Feel Me Now" is an outright soul number with a bouncy piano riff, and it sort of reminds me, a little bit, like something from the '70s Frankie Valli songbook, buoyed in part by some stunning falsetto vocals. It's probably the real highlight of the album, and there's nothing really remotely bluesy about it, save perhaps for the song's intro, which features blistering harmonica playing. "My Paradise", meanwhile, sounds a little like the old rock chestnut "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, just again with more of a soul edge – I guess making it nestle a lot closer to the Tina Turner cover version. There's also a funky synth breakdown that lasts for about four bars that's quite something too, and you wish that the group rode that line a little more. On the other hand, "Sweat This Pain" is a funky little rock ditty, and it seems a bit Danko Jones-ish. I dare you to not tap your toe to this. I even hear a little bit of Aretha Franklin's "Freeway of Love" in the track, too. "Mama's in the Backseat" is a bit of a rockabilly number, and is absolutely scorching when the harmonica and fuzzy guitars kick in. And what writer could ignore album closer "A Real Fine Noise", which it is – it feels a lot like '70s AM gold, and is another example of stellar songwriting with a midsection that even sounds remotely John Lennon-ish.

However, there's plenty of good ol' fashioned blues for those who like that sort of thing. The album opens with a trifecta of bluesy numbers, from the Rolling Stones-baiting "Black and Blue", which features some pretty nimble guitar playing, to the slow burning "Do Whatcha", which has some mean harmonica, to the poppy and infectious "Tea for Two". Elsewhere, "Cry a Little" is a much more standard blues number with a shuffling beat, and dang if that harmonica playing doesn't make the song. "Act Your Age" is a rollicking number, kept afloat by a thudding beat and sweet female backing vocals. "In and Out of Love" has a shuffling country rock feel to it, but it's peppered by that strong harmonica playing by Hall, it turns out, and there's no surprise that he was nominated for Harmonica Player of the Year at the Maple Blues Awards last year. So there's plenty for those who are more traditionalists to a blues approach, but there's also more poppy numbers for those who want to make the blues more accessible to them.

If anything, the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer will garner comparisons to the Black Keys, though the former isn't really as garage based as the latter. A Real Fine Mess is a slick, radio-friendly production. It's essentially a musician's and songwriter's showcase of what can be accomplished with an arsenal of great songs that run the gamut of a variety of styles and feels. It's also a very crowd pleasing album, and you listen to this and can almost close your eyes and hear this duo playing live in front of you. Whatever energy this group brings the blues festival stages and clubs is evident throughout A Real Fine Mess and it is hardly a mess at all. This is a streamlined collection of a standard sound with some sonic detours into pop territory, and it draws inspiration from both the classic and the contemporary styles of blues. There's even a song on this record called "Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To". This album has fourteen examples that, maybe, sometimes they do. In the end, A Real Fine Mess is stand-up stuff, and the group has a bracing challenge ahead of them following up this exemplary act.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.