Record review: ‘Danzig Sings Elvis’

Danzig Sings Elvis: Evilive/Cleopatra Records


Aside from the two installments of his demonic classical song cycle, Black Aria I and II, Glenn Danzig has released only two recordings outside of the group context—not with the band Danzig, but as Glenn Danzig. In 1981, he reclaimed the Misfits’ “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Spook City U.S.A” for a 7-inch single on his own Plan 9 Records. In 2020, he rolled out the disarmingly gentle Danzig Sings Elvis LP for Cleopatra Records, featuring 14 deep cuts from the catalog of the King of Kings.

When viewed as bookends of a nearly 40-year stretch of his career, both of these offerings illuminate a more mysterious, and a more human side of Danzig’s voice, presence, and persona.

The Misfits took their name from director John Huston’s 1961 film of the same name. When it comes to Elvis Presley’s influence, every punk kid in America recognized it the first time they dropped a needle on the Misfits’ 1982 LP Walk Among Us and heard that rockabilly werewolf  howl unleashed in “I Turned into a Martian,” Vampira,” and “Night of the Living Dead.”

The film, The Misfits, was the last feature-length movie in which Marilyn Monroe starred before her untimely death—the culmination of depression and work-related exhaustion from trying to beat the public’s perceptions about her, chronic insomnia, and consuming prescription drugs upon drugs and alcohol.

Elvis left the building under similar circumstances. Both Presley and Monroe were such larger than life stars that their deaths have been surrounded by decades of speculation, rumor, and conspiracy theories.

This dark history and mythology is subconsciously transmitted when Danzig eases into the first lines of “Is It So Strange,” the opening number from Danzig Sings Elvis. His voice reveals subtle depth as he drops the Danzig facade that he has honed since the 1970s. There’s a sensitive, passionate human behind his barrel-chested bark, and he’s more of a multi-dimensional character than we’ve been led to believe.

Courtesy Evillive/Cleopatra

Danzig’s voice has softened over the years. The full-throttle yowl of “Mother,” “Her Black Wings,” “Dirty Black Summer,” “Kiss the Skull,” and “On A Wicked Night” has settled into a husky range. Here, a layer of reverb over his singing draws out honesty, frailty, and a pensive atmosphere in the album’s first single, a touching and ethereal rendition of “Always On My Mind” b/w “Loving Arms (alternative vocal).” Danzig’s spare guitar rhythms and percussion are brought to a fine point by Prong and longtime Danzig guitarist Tommy Victor’s leads, which underscore a self-styled and uncompromised elegance in re-imagining these tunes.

This can be a difficult pill to swallow for anyone waiting for the punk-metal hammer to drop. After all, there are live bootleg recordings floating around capturing the Misfits tearing into “Blue Christmas” in the early ‘80s. Danzig even called down the thunder with a ripping cover of “Trouble” for 1993’s Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP. So there’s a bit of a precedent for expectation to rock when it comes to this terrain. But Danzig Sings Elvis is a more introspective listen that embraces these songs’ original forms.

The album is executed with such matter-of-fact passion, and the songs are so deeply felt  that it almost comes across as a novelty—at first. But Danzig’s interpretations perfectly combine his own soulful baritone with Presley’s drawn-out phrasing in songs such as “First in Line,” “Girl of My Best Friend,” and “Like a Baby.” So much so that it’s impossible to take in this record as anything other than a sincere homage, and a much needed break from the hard rock and heavy metal of latter era Danzig albums.

There is no mistaking the fact that Danzig is one of the greatest songwriters to rise above punk, hardcore, and metal, and his voice remains unmatched. If he has anything in common with Elvis Presley—and indeed Marilyn Monroe—it is an ability to find strength in being bold. What sets him apart, however, is a basic tenet of old school punk rock: Don’t give a damn about what anybody else makes of you. You’re not like the others. And when the rest of the herd cannibalizes itself, that’s when you thrive.

This is the message my antenna tuned into as a 13-year-old kid nodding along to “I Turned into a Martian.” It’s in the lyrics: “I walk down city streets on an unsuspecting human world. Inhuman in your midst, this world is mine to own, ’cause, well, I turned into a Martian. I can’t even recall my name!”

It’s a sentiment that resonates, albeit with a bit more resolve when he sings Elvis’ words as well: “And when you hear my name, you’ll say I’m from a strange world. But is it so strange to be in love with you?”

Nowhere on the album does this newly found energy burst with greater reverence than “Pocketful of Rainbows.” The song’s minimal arrangement, channeled through Danzig’s stylishly murky production, captures a glowing tension that feels as though the song could burst open at any moment. But the piano, percussion, and tremolo on the guitar sustain a vibe of hope and buoyancy.

Rare is the artist who can redefine their character so deep into a decades-long career. With Danzig Sings Elvis, the voice and the man behind so much horror business with the Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig breaks the public’s perceptions about him, and breathes new life into his legacy. — Chad Radford

PHOTOS: Wire at Variety Playhouse Saturday, March 7

Wire photo by Mike White of Deadly Designs.

Before Atlanta shut down over the COVID-19 pandemic, Wire played a show at Variety Playhouse on March 7, 2020. It was a Saturday night, and it was the last show I was lucky enough to catch before statewide shelter-in-place orders became too urgent to ignore.

It had been a few years since the British post-punk legends last made an appearance in Little 5 Points. For this show, co-founding members singer and bass player Colin Newman, guitarist and vocalist Graham Lewis, and drummer Robert Grey, along with guitarist Matthew Simms—the latter of whom has been a member of Wire since 2010—were playing shows on the heels of releasing their most recent album at the time, Mind Hive.

Striking a balance between intimacy and intellect—punk reflexes and avant-garde instincts—lies at the core of Wire’s singularly introspective brand of art rock in the post-aughts. There’s a tactile energy between Newman and Lewis’ words and the drawn-out musical atmosphere that billows around them. Channeling this for the Variety Playhouse’s mostly full 1,000-seat room is no simple feat. But on March 7, Wire reached deep with a 19-song set underscoring the strengths of Mind Hive, while breathing new life into a handful of classic numbers as well.

Perhaps one of the most stunning moments of the night’s performance—aside from “Oklahoma” being an absolute barnburner—was the spacious reinvention of “Over Theirs.” The song, which originally appeared on Wire’s 1987 LP The Ideal Copy, is a barbed and paranoid lurker, cut from the digital textures and sparse rhythms of an era when synthesizers were still a new thing for a foundational British punk band to push forward. At Variety Playhouse, “Over Theirs” went to a dark, muscular, and more cavernous place than its Reagan/Thatcher-era origins, showing off wholly new depth and nuance in the song’s menacing nature. When placed alongside both older and newer numbers such as “Be Like Them,” “German Shepherds,” and “Ex-Lion Tamer” the song unfolded like a cautionary anthem for the darkness that still lies ahead.

Mind Hive has been a solid contender for album of the year, at least in my book. That is, until yet another Wire album arrived in June, titled 10:20. The new album is a collection of upgraded rarities, distilling Wire’s post-2010s stylistic growth into an exquisite and wholly new offering that’s bursting with self-references that reach all the way back to 1978’s Chairs Missing LP. More on that later, but sure enough, the freshly reinvented “Over Theirs” appears on the B-side in all of its ominous glory.

Photographer Mike White of Deadly Designs was there, too, and captured these images from the show.

Setlist
“The Offer”
“Be Like Them”
“1st Fast”
“Cactused”
“Morning Bell”
“Question of Degree”
“Over Theirs”
“German Shepherds”
“I Should Have Known Better”
“Patterns of Behaviour”
“Primed and Ready”
“Ex Lion Tamer”
“It’s a Boy”
“French Film Blurred”
“Oklahoma”
“Hung”

Encore:
“Outdoor Miner”
“Former Airline”
“A Touching Display”

Don’t Sleep unveils first glimpse of debut LP with ‘Refine Me’

There’s an energetic wisdom possessing every word of “Refine Me,” a new single and video from Harrisburg, Penn./Washington D.C. post-hardcore quintet Don’t Sleep. When the group’s frontman Dave Smalley sings, “You can wound but you can never kill me/You want me in a prison/Of your misconception/But I’ll keep breaking free/From your deception,” self-empowerment becomes the message and the means to rise above.

“Refine Me” is more a personal mantra than it is a political rant—part-Sun Tzu, part-Black Flag in its ruminations on gaining strength through facing adversity in life head on. Or as Smalley states: “It is important to be forged and refined by the flames of adversity. Let your enemies make you stronger.”

Smalley’s anthemic whooaaas and guttural voice project a lifetime of experience in hardcore—he sang with the brawny “Boston Crew” outfit DYS, in Washington D.C. He did a stint leading guitarist Brian Baker’s post-Minor Threat group Dag Nasty, and in Los Angeles he fronted the post-Descendents outfit ALL. He also sings with the recently rekindled L.A. hardcore staple Down By Law. Smalley’s presence alone embodies American hardcore’s melodic DNA. In “Refine Me,” his words are imbued with everlasting depth, resilience, and an openness that allows anyone within earshot to connect the dots and find their own meaning.

“One of the label guys suggested these words are important in today’s environment of folks struggling to ensure every person is treated with dignity and respect,” Smalley says. “I wrote the lyrics last year, and it’s really about personal struggle and overcoming that terrible feeling of betrayal, and coming out stronger on the other side. But if it applies to today, and can give someone hope to come through this current moment looking to be stronger and forged by today’s heat, I’m all for it,” he adds. “The best lyrics are the timeless ones, where the words impact the listener as a human being, but also can be applied to our human family as a whole, and apply to the world. Hopefully this song counts.”

In 2017, Don’t Sleep came out of the gate strong with the arrival of a self-titled EP (Unity Worldwide), followed a year later by the Bring The Light 7-inch (Reaper Records). The group hit the ground running with a string of Warped Tour dates, sharing stages with legacy harcore acts such as Sick Of It All, Madball, and Hare Krishna juggernaut Shelter. But after piquing so many ears the group has remained somewhat in the shadows. Of course, in 2018 Smalley was busy putting together Down By Law’s latest album All In (Kung Fu Records). He also released Join The Outsiders (Little Rocket), the debut album from a new group he fronts with Spanish and Argentinian musicians dubbed Dave Smalley & the Bandoleros.

For Don’t Sleep, however, the downtime has been anything but idle. “Refine Me” heralds the September 4 arrival of the group’s debut full-length, Turn The Tide (Mission Two Entertainment). Smalley, alongside bass player Garrett Rothman, drummer Jim Bedorf, and guitarists Tom McGrath and Tony Bavaria have crafted a sound that expands beyond the tropes of classic hardcore with a balance of muscular riffs and angular rhythms over Smalley’s lyrical ruminations.

It’s a fresh take for a group that’s well aware of its hardcore roots, but isn’t willing to stay in one place for too long, or dwell on the past—literally and figuratively speaking. When the group hits its stride here, the music takes shape amid a powerful yet understated blend of visceral hooks and sophisticated instincts—the sound of five players going all in. 

A laundry list of producers and engineers contributed to the album including Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (August Burns Red), Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Youth of Today), Matt Holmes, and Battery singer Brian McTernan. The result is a sound that Smalley says was “a catharsis and a challenge” fleshing out.  “It’s one I hope will have the same kind of impact for people that classic albums had for me when I was coming up.”

“Refine Me” offers just a glimpse at this new melodic identity the group has honed with Turn The Tide, promising a purgative and empowering blast of songs that are hellbent on a brighter future.

Turn The Tide is out September 4 via Mission Two Entertainment.

Don’t Sleep: Turn The Tide (Mission Two Entertainment)

Turn The Tide tracklist
1. “Don’t Sleep”
2. “No Other Way”
3. “Reflection”
4. “True North”
5. “Abandoned Us”
6. “Prisoners”
7. “We Remain”
8. “Walking In Sinai”
9. “Refine Me”
10. “Foundation”
11. “The Wreckage”
12. “December”

Public Enemy’s ‘State Of The Union (STFU)’

Speaking truth to power has been standard operating procedure for Public Enemy since the group released its 1987 debut single, featuring classic cuts “You’re Gonna Get Yours,” “Rebel Without A Pause,” and “Miuzi Weighs A Ton.” Coming out of the gate strong amid the Reagan era, spouting Black outrage and ultra-political lyrical brilliance: “From a rebel it’s final on black vinyl / Soul, rock ‘n’ roll comin’ like a rhino,” Public Enemy made civil disobedience their calling card—their vocation.

Now, some 33 years later, the United States’ presidential administration goose-steps deeper into an Orwellian nightmare every day. The seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic has killed nearly double the number of Americans who died as a result of the VietNam War. The streets in every major city are alive with fiery protests over police brutality. “The Terrordome” has come to your home.

The group’s co-founding vocalists, frontman Chuck D and hype man Flavor Flav, backed by powerhouse DJ Lord have risen again from the smoke and ash of so much turmoil with “State of the Union (STFU),” a new song and video that jump-starts Public Enemy’s timeless charge. When Chuck D raps, “History’s a mystery if y’all ain’t learning / End this clown show for real a state bozo / Nazi cult 45 Gestapo,” his intentions are made blisteringly clear. Now is the time to fight harder than ever against the forces of racism, tyranny, and oppression. “The rest of the planet is on our side,” Chuck says. “But it’s not enough to talk about change. You have to show up and demand change. Folks gotta vote like their lives depend on it, ’cause [they do].”

Invoking the power of the voting booth is an unexpected move in an era where the electoral system appears to have been hijacked; everyone from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp have thrown wrenches into the gears at the poll booth. But the system is good and worth fighting for. It’s how laws are passed, and without it the Republic is lost. “Better rock that vote or vote for hell,” Chuck D raps as the song plays out.

Chuck and Flavor’s matter-of-fact delivery is particularly haunting in “State of the Union.” There is no joy when Flavor Flav delivers his repeating mantra: “State of the union, shut the fuck up / Sorry Ass mother fucker, stay away from me.” Chuck’s counter rhyme, “Vote this joke out or die trying,” is a no BS assessment from the weary but empowered outfit. The energy is propelled forward by DJ Lord’s spectral boom-bap rhythms and DJ Premiere’s bold, old school production. The cumulative experience and wisdom of Public Enemy’s decades-long legacy of navigating media pitfalls and broadcasting righteous sedition rings loud and clear under the hue of DJ Premiere’s modern sheen.

“State of the Union (STFU)” bears the marks of a more experienced outfit following P.E.’s 1980s peak when the group led the charge to “Fight the Power” in the streets of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, alongside hundreds—thousands of outraged New Yorkers. The instinct is there, sharper and more focused. Public Enemy has persevered in darkness amid eras of great change in the past. But when it comes to unfucking the world in this lifetime, the greatest obstacles lie ahead. STFU! Press play and let it ride.

Protest & Survive! GG King, Hyena, Ladrones, and more dominate legal defense benefit comp


Colonel Records comes out of the gate strong with Protest & Survive, a friggin’ 42-track compilation of covers, rare, live, and unreleased songs that benefits ActBlue, and other legal aid organizations providing bail funds for protesters and activists who are rallying to fight police brutality.

GG King, WYMYNS PRYSYN, More, Hyena, All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, Mongo, and many more Atlanta-based punk, post-punk, hardcore, and garage rock acts dominate a tracklist that also includes songs by Fletcher C. Johnson, U.S. Prisms, and the likes. Check out the full tracklist below.

The Protest & Survive comp is available via Bandcamp. It’s also pressed in a limited edition of 50 cassette tapes. Grab one before they’re gone, and support those on the frontlines, pushing for positive and lasting social change.

Tracklist:

  1. Douglas Graham: “Angela Davis”
  2. Tropical Trash” “Messenger (Wipers cover)
  3. GG King: “Melt On You”
  4. Paralyzer: “Paranoid Youth”
  5. Hyena: “Divisions”
  6. Long Knife: “No Rule” (Leather Nun cover)
  7. KPF: “Stress City”
  8. Blackout: “Eating Gas”
  9. Ryan Dino: “North Star”
  10. WYMYNS PRYSYN: “Lifeform”
  11. Neuflesh: “Coward World (Fuck 12)”
  12. Tropical Trash: “Korgüll The Exterminator” (Voivod cover)
  13. The Wilful Boys: “Muttley”
  14. Bob Mann: “Can You Come Home”
  15. Fletcher C Johnson: “Eventually”
  16. Shaken Nature: “Pony Don’t Cry”
  17. Rude Dude and the Creek Freaks: “World On Fire”
  18. Groovy Movies: “If You Wanna Go”
  19. Baby Shakes: “Down”
  20. All Night Drug Prowling Wolves: “Not Messing Around”
  21. Metalleg: “Ride Along”
  22. Mongo: “Degenerate”
  23. Paint Fumes: “Guess Who”
  24. The Schamones (feat. Members of Paralyzer and All Night Drug Prowling Wolves): “I Wanna” (live Ramones cover)
  25. Ladrones: “Remedio”
  26. Snoopy and The Who?!: “My Regeneration”
  27. Cuss: “The Cause”
  28. More: “Hourglass” (Wurve cover)
  29. Subcults: “Quarantine Dreams”
  30. Jordan Jones: “New Year’s Eve”
  31. Rikky IV: “Capable Of”
  32. Bad Moods: “New Song About An Old Ghost”
  33. Fuck Knights: “We’re All Essential”
  34. U.S.PRISMS: “State Control” (Discharge cover)
  35. Pagan Girls: “Chezron (Time Prescribes the Medicine)”
  36. Space Program: “Smoke & Flames Engulfed The Secret Hideout”
  37. A Drug Called Tradition: “Killing Game” (unreleased)
  38. Warm Deltas: “Face of the Mountain”
  39. Vow: “Endless Roads”
  40. Brother Hawk: “No Room For Rust” (Live)
  41. Thousandaire: “Thumb” (Dinosaur Jr. cover live)
  42. Ian O’Neil: “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (Chuck Berry cover)

The Cheifs: Liner notes for the group’s final 7-inch


I was honored to write the liner notes for the new and final 7-inch by the Cheifs.

Bob Glassley was a man out of time. He was a hardcore sleeper cell who reawakened in 2016 with the uncompromising spirit and forgotten insights of Los Angeles’ early ‘80s punk snarl…in Atlanta. And he arrived like a thief in the night.

James Joyce called me that summer to ask if I remembered or knew anything about an old punk band from California called the Cheifs. He explained to me that he had been tapped to play drums with a new version of the group and wanted to know if I was interested in doing a piece on them for Creative Loafing. It wasn’t long after that we were all gathered around a table at Manuel’s Tavern discussing the legend of the band, and listening to Bob’s stories about his involvement in the early West Coast hardcore punk scene. Absorbing so much Cheifs history and lore was like discovering another great band that had been there all along, albeit buried by the sands of time, now uncovered and brought into full view.

At the end of 1982 in a set of circumstances singular to Bob’s life, he stepped away from punk and playing music altogether. He traded his bass for a computer and never looked back. As a result, his knowledge and familiarity with punk was a perfectly preserved time capsule. It also fostered a beautiful state of arrested development; he knew West Coast punk circa 1978-1982, but nothing beyond that. However, he understood the art of the outsider, the art of being an individual driven by righteousness, and the self-reliance of punk before fashion and hairstyles eclipsed the lifestyle, and before mainstream attention introduced the elements of violence and intolerance that ultimately pulled the scene apart.

Bob’s return to music was a reaction to right-wing influences gaining a stranglehold on America. He took a no-bullshit political stance –– he was outspoken with his opinions, and punk gave him direction and purpose in the shadow of the Trump presidency. But Bob also projected a raw, down-to-earth wisdom, and a forgotten knowledge and etiquette that affected everyone with whom he crossed paths, from his bandmates to the faces in the crowd. While loading out after playing shows at The Earl and 529 in East Atlanta, he connected with homeless people who were asking for spare change. He treated everyone with dignity and respect.

With the new Cheifs lineup in place, the group gigged hard in Atlanta and eventually the Los Angeles area. Bob seemed to know, maybe subconsciously, that he didn’t have much time left on earth. Not wasting any time, the group played and recorded as quickly and as often as possible. Whenever Bob took the stage wearing a “We the People” T-shirt (brandishing an image of the Constitution of the United States), he embraced the audience, reveling in the moment and screaming defiantly into the void of mortality.

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, Bob unexpectedly died of complications related to liver cancer. He had been diagnosed with the disease a mere two weeks prior. He was 58. The following Saturday the Cheifs were set to play a sold-out show at the Masquerade supporting the Descendents, a big coup for the new lineup. Just four nights after his death, the Descendents opened the show by unleashing the most powerfully cathartic blast of “Everything Sux” the group had ever performed.

During the encore, James, Brad, and Scott joined Milo and Karl on stage for one last send-off, playing four final Cheifs songs as a dedication to Bob, and to all that the new lineup had worked to create.

The four songs captured here are bookends to the Cheifs legacy. Both “1988” and “Heart In Chains” were originally written and performed by Bob’s pre-Cheifs band, Portland, Oregon’s Rubbers. On the B-side, “Alienated” is a new jam that Bob penned. Loosely based on a forgotten early Cheifs song, “Mechanical Man” was partially reconstructed from memory, and hammered into a new form by the current lineup.

The 7” single you now hold in your hands stamps in time the one-year period of intense creativity and rediscovery that Bob and the reignited Cheifs unleashed. The distillation of ’80s punk songwriting and hardcore’s graceful, physical melodies, filtered through a lens of contemporary production, is filled with a new fire and spirit, channeled into a lifetime of fierce, empowering, and truly timeless songs. Fuck cancer. Cheif Out! — Chad Radford

Ladrones unveil new lineup with new single, ‘Saico’

LADRONES: Ray Hernandez (left), Valeria Sánchez, Jose Rivera, and Paul Hernandez. Photo by Brenlimar Castro.


Ladrones are back with a new lineup and a new single, titled “Saico.”

Since the group last checked in circa June 2019 with their self-titled debut LP (Slovenly), San Juan Puerto Rico transplants singer Valeria Sánchez and guitar player Jose Rivera have filled out the group’s lineup with bass player Paul Hernandez (Mongo) and drummer Ray Hernandez — no relation.

“Saico” builds upon the latin-inflected garage-punk riffs of Ladrones’ self-titled LP while veering toward a hair-raising punk-pop and rock ‘n’ roll circa ’77 strut. The song was recorded with four more new numbers at Rockcliff Sound with Lewis Lovely, in the hopes of seeing an EP release sooner than later. “We were gonna shop them around to different labels, but then the COVID situation happened. That put a stop to that,” Rivera says. “Now, our main thing is to keep writing as much music as possible, and prepare to go back on tour.”

In the meantime, press play!

Sonic Youth unleashes Blastic Scene (Live in Lisbon 1993)


Blastic Scene (Live in Lisbon 1993) was a semi-official bootleg, now unleashed via Bandcamp, celebrating 26 years of Sonic Youth’s 1994 album, Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star.

In many ways, Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star is a revelatory album for the group. Songs such as “Bull In the Heather,” “Self-Obsessed and Sexxee,” and “In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader” distil the sharp songwriting honed between 1988’s Daydream Nation through 1992s Dirty with the roughly-hewn drone and clatter of 1985’s Bad Moon Rising.

Blastic Scene captures a live, 17-song set, recorded July 14, 1993, in a bullring in Campo Pequeno, Lisbon. The recording stamps in time Sonic Youth’s first ever concert in Portugal. It also offers an early snapshot of many of the songs that later ended up on Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star when they were still works in progress.

The texture and the urgency that binds a number like “Skink” to careening renditions of “100%,” “Screaming Skull,” and “Sugar Kane” underscores the symbiotic flow and propulsive motion of the group’s larger vision.

“Starting around the time of Daydream we loved taking new material out and playing it live a few times before we recorded the new songs in the studio,” says drummer Steve Shelley. “Sometimes [we’d do it] in smaller clubs like the original Knitting Factory, where we previewed early Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No songs during an Ecstatic Peace! showcase, and later at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Boston where we played Daydream Nation material before it was recorded as the Steve Shelley Experience.”

For this summer of ’93 European festival tour, the group rolled out five or six Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No songs each night. “Playing the songs live before we recorded helped see what worked—it’s kind of like sink or swim—either the material worked or it didn’t and needed more help in the rehearsal room,” Shelley says.

The Blastic Scene recordings were previously released in Portugal via Moneyland Records in 1995. A portion of the CD pressing was made available via the group’s Sonic Death fan club and zine.

The recording, mastered by then unknown producer and electronic and avant-garde music composer and performer Rafael Toral captures all of the atmosphere and the energy in one cohesive swoop.

Picture One plumbs the depths of the imagination to find resolve

STRANGE MAGIC: Thomas Barnwell of Picture One. Photo by Todd Briner.


Thomas Barnwell is, perhaps, best known as the co-composer of the score to director Adam Pinney’s 2016 film, The Arbalest, and as the guitar player with the now-defunct indie rock groups Thy Mighty Contract and the Orphins. Alongside his film-composing partner Ian Deaton, Barnwell also runs Deanwell Global Music, compiling and re-releasing LPs of ‘80s material by acts ranging from French new wave outfit Asylum Party to Atlanta synth-punks the Modern Mannequins. The label has also released cassettes such as Deaton’s score to the imaginary film Atlanta Crime Wave, along with titles from hardcore and blackened metal tormentors Rapturous Grief, Waste Layer, and the Haunting, the latter being an early project that featured Cloak’s singer and guitar player Scott Taysom.

When left to his own devices, however, Barnwell writes and records songs using the name Picture One. With his self-titled 2015 debut, and again with 2019’s Bright Spot and the Midnight Sun, Barnwell relied on abstract imagery and purely instrumental arrangements to build spectral atmospheres. However, the arrival of Picture One’s third album, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes, marks a profound change in his songwriting. Here, Barnwell fleshes out a stylish blend of European and American indie, gothic rock, and post-punk influences, culminating in spellbinding soundscapes, and reaching new heights in his songwriting. 

Barnwell’s  low-register, atonal singing brings a more personal and transcendent touch to the album.

“I started singing on this record because I wanted to process a lot of what I have been going through over the last couple of years,” Barnwell says. “I am trying to be more creative lyrically than I have been — I haven’t done lyrics in maybe 10 years, and I wanted that connection again. When you play stuff live, people really connect with vocals.”

What he was going through while writing the album is the timeless fodder of reflecting on a relationship that has come to an end, and the whirlwind of social, psychological, and emotional turbulence that comes along with such upheaval. To make sense of, and ultimately resolve, his cycle of dark feelings, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes summons the strength of unearthly forces. The album’s title is taken from the lyrics of “Love Spell,” a song in which Barnwell sings, “Because distant power is what it takes, and tubes of light lead to this place, spread the flowers and snowflakes, across the depths of seven lakes.” Here, a spell is cast to break through a sense of powerlessness over his circumstances.

“When I wrote the lyrics, I was sitting there, thinking about how I wished I could just do something,” Barnwell says. “I had this idea of magic as a proactive thing that people do because they’re in situations where they can’t do anything. The lyrics came out about someone who wants to conjure love,” he adds. “But in the end it becomes something that helps them to move on.”

The songs and lyrics take on a more honest approach to songwriting than anything Barnwell has offered in the past. Even when fronting the Orphins, songs such as “Sea Song” and “Lost In the Wild” from the 2009 CD Wish You Well (Adair Park) relied on symbolism over real-time, confessional songwriting. Still, the songs on Across the Depths of Seven Lakes sidestep traditional songwriting as Barnwell adopts a wholly different internal persona.

“Singing in a way that I don’t normally sing, and thinking from the perspective of someone else — playing the part of an imagined person, maybe someone who was in a band in the ’80s — helped me be more honest,” Barnwell says.

A palette of constrictive, bass-driven rhythms, heavy chorus, and barreling melodies drive the noisy and claustrophobic opening number “Resolute: The Absolute,” the melancholy pop of “Lily Pad,” and the monolithic EBM dirge of “Chaser of the World.” Each number hands in a balance of graceful and monolithic darkness, fostering a fully-formed concept album that’s fueled by a greater sense of urgency and variety than anything Barnwell has created with Picture One’s previous releases.

“I wanted the first album to be a dark and emotionally melodic record with roots in ’80s cold wave and goth and post-punk,” Barnwell says. “I also wanted to see if I could write something both memorable and catchy without vocals. I wanted to explore a certain sound that I’ve always loved but had never had a chance to with my previous bands.”

Three albums in, Across the Depths of Seven Lakes moves one step deeper and higher into the framework he’s built. — Chad Radford

PREMIERE: ‘A Lighter Shade of Delorean Gray’

Delorean Gray. Photo by Brittany Wages.


Delorean Gray is back from exploring the farthest reaches of the cosmos with a new three-song EP to score the lingering feelings of early Spring ennui. This time around, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Chisenhall dials back on the posturing and conceptual elements of his whimsical space captain alter ego to present A Lighter Shade of Delorean Gray, his most guitar-driven round of songs yet.

Chisenhall, performing alongside keyboard player Jason Bronson and Freeman Leverett, who makes the switch from bass to guitar here, adopts a back-to-the-basics approach for a release that’s all about taking a pause to celebrate the moment. The Beach Boys’ soaring melodies circa Pet Sounds and the pop song reductionism on display throughout Of Montreal’s Lousy with Sylvianbriar are clear touchstones here. The breezy fantasy qualities of “Boys For the Summer” are enhanced by the most vibrantly layered upper-register singing that Chisnehall has summoned yet. Likewise, Andy Barton of sentimental pop outfit Reverie Rush takes lead on “Black Lipstick.” But it’s the instrumental demo, “Back To The Beach-Front,” that underscores the ambient depth and breadth of these songs.

It’s a staycation for the mind, so to speak, music to ease the mental burdens of the daily grind, whether coping with the mundane or the macabre — adopting a less-is-more approach after laying the foundation for a highly animated conceptual vehicle with previous releases such as 2018’s Star Tropics and 2019’s Otaku Punk. When taken in altogether, A Lighter Shade of Delorean Gray is as tropical, carefree, or as cosmic as the listener wants it to be. Press play.

In the interest of full disclosure, Jacob Chisenhall is RadATL’s go-to podcast engineer.