-->
Music

Atomic 7: ...En Hillbilly Caliente

Stephen Haag

Atomic 7

...En Hillbilly Caliente

Label: Mint
US Release Date: 2004-07-06
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Best known -- if at all -- from his days with surf rock weirdos Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (and then probably best known for providing the theme song for sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall), Brian Connelly doesn't (presumably) let his below-the-radar status get him down. He's a definite cult-level star, and it's a stretch to say that Connelly should be a breakout star, but the man, with his guitar virtuosity and Ringling Brothers-like ability to juggle numerous musical styles, should be known in more circles than he is. Perhaps it's no surprise that Connelly's latest, ...En Hillbilly Caliente, the sophomore offering from his current outfit, Atomic 7, illustrates both why he should be more well-known and why he'll always remain at the cult level. Hillbilly is great for those already in the know, but potentially disorienting for those new to the scene.

Connelly's guitar sound may most be associated with surf rock, but don't pigeonhole him. In a clever quote in the press packet accompanying Hillbilly, Connelly notes, "They used to call the Ventures a surf band and they were from Tacoma, WA and if you went surfing there you'd kill yourself." Alright, so he's not a surf rocker. Besides, such a reductive label ignores Connelly's mastery over swing, Bakersfield, lounge, rockabilly, and country and western guitar. But, on ...En Hillbilly Caliente, what should be an asset -- the abovementioned mastery -- turns into a liability if (if) Connelly wants to expand his fanbase. To wit, album opener "Bury My Foot at Wounded Mouth", with its happy-go-lucky, quasi-Bakersfield vibe, yields to the swingin' "Celebrity Cocktails", which in turn leads to the faux-spy movie theme "That Leftover Savoir Faire". ...En Hillbilly Caliente is the aural equivalent of New England weather: it changes every five minutes. Fans hip to Connelly and knowledgeable of the pool from which he draws his tunes will rave; newbies may find themselves wishing the album came with Dramamine, or at least footnotes.

The above paragraph may be damning Connelly with faint praise, but that's not my intention. Lemme try re-wording it: Connelly's love for his influences runs deep, and is palpable pouring out of the speakers. At the risk of putting words in his mouth, if you can't keep up with him, that's your problem, not his. That attitude informs many a cult artist, and Connelly seems to be no exception.

The other "problem" "plaguing" (quotes very intentional, and words used for lack of better terms) Hillbilly is the album's bizarre song titles: "Kicking at the Ghost of Ass", "Funeral Hotpants" (okay, I sorta like that one), and "The Wreck of the Dick Family Weiner" are all great, lively tunes, but the obstinate song titles are off-putting; Connelly belongs to the Zappa-Claypool school of song titling. Again, Connelly counts on listeners to accept the songs on his terms: look past a silly title like "Devil's Mittens", and you'll be treated to a loungey/rockabilly number that damn near spirals off into outer space. (A word about metaphorically taking flight: Kudos to Connelly's bandmates bassist Mandi Bird and drummer Mike Andrioso for both grounding Connelly (in a good way) and exhibiting plenty of their own virtuosity; Bird's work on the big rig rockers "Funeral Hotpants" and "Stab It and Steer It" are standout moments for thunderstick lovers.)

If you're one of the lucky ones who isn't tormented and anguished by willful cult status and near-dizzying genre hopping (that is to say, you're not a jerk like me), there's plenty more to marvel at on ...En Hillbilly Caliente: "Daddy's Little World", the ESPN highlight-music to be; the alternately noirsh-and-sunshiney "Meet Me Tonight in the Shadows of Love"; the fake TV sitcom theme "So Long Happy Days"; the C&W guitar lament "Riding the Sorry Train to Dumpsville". Needless to say, ...En Hillbilly Caliente is brimming with ideas.

I fear my classification of Connelly and Co. as cult artists reads as a condemnation; please don't interpret it as such. Those willing to go down Connelly's rabbit hole with ...En Hillbilly Caliente will find many sonic rewards. Just remember to play by his rules.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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

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

rating-image