Ladyfinger (ne): Dusk

The second album by the Omaha band lives up to the promise shown on their 2006 debut.

Ladyfinger (ne)


Label: Saddle Creek
UK Release Date: Available as import
US Release Date: 2009-02-03

Whichever way you look at it, Ladyfinger (ne) has always been somewhat of an awkward fit. As far and away the heaviest band on Conor Oberst's Saddle Creek Records, their sound isn't exactly one that would seem very enticing to fans of labelmates Bright Eyes or Tokyo Police Club. They draw heavily from punk and post-hardcore, but don't pander to those crowds, going for a broader style than many of their peers are willing to attempt. And while they're capable of executing a massive, almost stoner/desert rock sound to offset the more discordant hardcore riffs, when recorded by metal producer extraordinaire Matt Bayles (who has produced and mixed classic albums by Mastodon, Botch, and Isis) the songs can be perceived as sounding too mainstream-friendly to appeal to the more insular-minded metal audience. At the rate the foursome is going, however, it shouldn't be much longer before enough people from all sides realize just what Ladyfinger (ne) is capable of.

The Omaha, Nebraska band has enormous crossover potential, which was evidenced on 2006's debut album Heavy Hands. The follow-up Dusk marks an even bolder step forward. On the last album, the mixture of rock, metal, and punk tended to be a little awkward at times, Bayles's trademark robust production playing up the heavy rock influence a little too much for Ladyfinger (ne)'s own good. With the new album, though, both the band and Bayles have found a comfortable middle ground, the band delivering far more dynamic songwriting without betraying the visceral power of the arrangements, the producer adding a more subtle touch from time to time. Consequently, we're left with a bold record that's as accessible as it is visceral.

Despite the band's considerable musical chops, their one ace in the hole is singer/guitarist Chris Machmuller, whose warm, drowsy croon fits somewhere between Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and Coldplay's Chris Martin. Cynics might derogatorily attach the label "emo" upon hearing that throaty voice singing introspective lyrics, but Machmuller never relies too heavily on the sensitive side, playing the contrast from soft to aggressive to great effect. Nowhere does his approach work better than on the single "Little Things". His charismatic delivery is underscored by a varied yet cohesive, contagious arrangement, a choppy punk intro backing up a gentle vocal melody, which then gracefully shifts into something out of the Constantines' book of tricks, exploding into a wickedly catchy, Fugazi-inspired riff at 1:23. Brooding yet hard charging, it sets the tone for the rest of the album, and is one of the better rock singles of early 2009.

For the most part, the other nine tracks hold their own very well. "Over and Over" expertly blends a Queens of the Stone Age groove with dissonant post-hardcore guitar tones, while the pummeling "A.D.D." goes for a far more physical approach. Bayles's mix helps create a gigantic bottom end, the song anchored by the Jesus Lizard-inspired rhythm section of bassist Ethan Jones and drummer Pat Oakes. Machmuller's exhortations of, "You're just a kid, just a kid!" are a well-timed moment of melody. "Two Years" starts off in the contemplative direction of Cursive, but suddenly explodes with an up-tempo arrangement reminiscent of Drive Like Jehu. Previously released as a single in 2007, "Work Party" is given a good spit and polish by Bayles, and the scorching version we hear on Dusk absolutely obliterates the original. While Machmuller's Josh Homme worship is a bit shameless, the song's rampaging pace and its raucous shout-along chorus make it simply undeniable.

The album gets a little bolder during the final 14 minutes, starting with the surprisingly gentle "Plans", which if it were not for the soaring guitar work by Machmuller and Jamie Massey throughout the track, could be described as "lilting". If "Little Things" doesn't help attract a larger audience, "Let's Get Married" just might. Machmuller's "us against the world" sentiment is considerably more tongue-in-cheek than one would expect in a song of that name. Interestingly, the seven-minute "Born in the 80's" is the album's sole minor stumbling block, in which the band goes for a gigantic sound akin to Isis and tries to act as Generation Y spokesmen at the same time, but with Machmuller's lyrics lacking any of the eloquence he shows throughout the rest of the record ("It might be time we prove our use / We kind of suck in the workplace / It's high time that we made an excuse"). Still, the entire band's performance on the track is blistering, capping off an album that fully deserves to be a crossover success on the same level as the Gaslight Anthem in 2008, and not be confined to a mere 20-minute slot on Warped Tour.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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