I’ve been excited for this record since before I even knew they were making it.
I was musing, as it is often my tendency to do, the other day, that as a DJ to varying extents for pretty much my entire adult life I have taken a different path to many people who are, as some people call them, “career deejays” and for many years now have been an almost constant feature at various live gigs in various dark and dingy underground shows. For me, the much of the joy of being a DJ comes from discovery of new music; crate-digging is a vital part of the craft. And, some years ago, it struck me that the place you could hear and discover new music at it’s earliest incarnation was obviously the first time that a band played the song at their gig.
Running Cheese on Toast and sharing my views, experiences and opinions of these shows is, in fact, DJing. Bumping into that guy I haven’t seen in a few years this afternoon in Grey Lynn and him asking me what I’m listening to and me telling him about a New York based rapper (Angel Haze) is DJing. And making a special trip today to Southbound Records to buy my copy of this record on glorious red vinyl despite receiving a promo copy of the CD in the mail just hours before is DJing.
I fell in love with the power, rawness and emotion of Heart Attack Alley the very first time I ever saw them, although I confess to not being able to recall the precise date, time or venue of that very first spark now, having seen them play many, many times since and never, not once, ever being in any way in the slightest bit disappointed, but always leaving the show wishing for just a little bit more. As it should be. And so, yes I think I have been excited for this record since before it was even enough songs to be a record.
Heart Attack Alley are a powerhouse of a band. Their set-up, for those not familiar, is deceptively simple. There is no drummer or drums; instead a steady percussive thud of Karl’s amplified foot stomp meets Kristal’s pulsating rhythm guitar. Karl’s harmonica dances a deadly dance with the powerful, raw and darkly sweet vocals of Caoimhe Macfehin.
The record kicks off at full steam; Karls harmonica dallies with Caoimhe’s dusky and gutsy vocals on live favorite Too Hot Blues before quickly following with the gut-wrenchingly good Cryin’ – when Caoimhe practically inhales the words “You’ll fall in love again” every single heartbreak you’ve ever experienced returns to you again intensified into less than a heartbeat – and it’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling. And the dark sweetness of her voice comes to the fore in My Beating Heart – such a painfully beautiful song.
Title track Living In Hell sounds like what I imagine a western funeral might sound like; Karl’s harmonica is a circling vulture waiting for the final life-breath to expire from the songs protagonist.
Other ho-down live favorites Slave To Your Mo and Spit It Out survive recording translation to perfectly capture their live essence and excitement. “Well y’know you don’t love me honey; but I got the sweetest cakes in town” / “When the night time comes I know you don’t want to go” Caoimhe wryly respectively observes.
This its rhythm and blues. It’s raw, dark, vital and the best thing in the mutha-fucking world. Heart Attack Alley is why I have always been, and will never stop being a DJ.
- review / rant by Andrew Tidball
RATING : FREAKIN’ AWESOME
Cheese on Toast is phasing in a new album ratings system. I have always struggled with a numerical scale; it feels so finite and arbitrary. So the new scale looks like this :
FREAKIN’ AWESOME / JUST AWESOME / REALLY GREAT / GREAT / GOOD / PRETTY COOL / NOT BAD / COULD BE BETTER / PRETTY BAD, ACTUALLY / NOT RECOMMENDED FOR EARS