Past Releases

Hollie Cook "Happy Hour"

The beating heart of Steve McQueen’s mighty historical film series Small Axe was the music of Black England during the mid-to-late 20th century, and its best episode was Lovers Rock. A celebration of the titular reggae subgenre, the hour-long film pivoted on a London house party dancefloor scene gloriously soundtracked by Janet Kay’s 1979 courtship referendum “Silly Games.” For some it was a reminder, for others a revelation, of a style that, in its heyday, got little traction beyond the UK and Jamaica—a Philly soul sibling less concerned with politics or Rasta theology than with battlefields of the heart. While men certainly distinguished themselves in lovers rock, it was a less male-dominated space than roots reggae, especially in the UK, where lovers rock fully bloomed and where women shone brightly, even if they were often denied agency. English artists beyond the genre felt its sweet and sultry pull: Sade reflected its influence on an album named after it, as did the Clash on a highlight of London Calling.

Hollie Cook, a London-raised singer in her mid-30s, missed the music’s golden era, but over the past decade she’s become its most notable booster, expanding its possibilities the way Sharon Jones revitalized 1970s soul. Her fourth LP (fifth if you count the Prince Fatty-remixed Hollie Cook in Dub), Happy Hour refines her muscular sound, which echoes tough British roots acts like Aswad as much as the silk sheet approach of Janet Kay and Caroll Thompson. The daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and Culture Club backing vocalist Jeni Cook (Boy George is Hollie’s godfather) started her career as a latter-day member of the Slits—all of which might explain her taste for rough edges. The tension between soft and hard animates her sound. Happy Hour’s title track bolts on Ben Mckone’s hot-stepping drums and cymbals, which bushwhack through clouds of reverb, conjuring the wooziness of being two or three drinks in, as the singer laments how margaritas can’t cure her jilted ache. In “Moving On,” she pledges to ditch a toxic mate while a tart string quartet telegraphs a queasy, echoing uncertainty.

Weed paeans are reggae tradition, like whiskey ballads in country, and “Kush Kween” advocates the psychic benefits of home gardening, as well as consuming the harvest, with a guest appearance from Jamaican singer Jah9. But the best moments veer from tradition. On “Gold Girl,” Cook side-eyes a femme fatale with old-school vocal drama, unfurled over strings and mixing-desk antics like a triangulation of British touchstones Shirley Basseythe Slits, and Soul II Soul. “Move My Way” updates the mix with a touch of ’90s UK garage, suggesting a new direction Cook’s sound could take, situating lovers rock in a continuum of Black British musical invention like the outstanding recent Soul Jazz compilation Life Between Islands.

Cook co-produced Happy Hour with Mckone and keyboardist Luke Allwood, taking the reins from Youth, the bassist and post-punk dub master who produced Cook’s 2018 Vessel of Love, though he returns to help out on the mix here. But the most notable guest spot is the most subtle. Dennis “Blackbeard” Bovell, known for his landmark work with Linton Kwesi Johnson, is an architect of UK dub and lovers rock who wrote “Silly Games” and even had a cameo in McQueen’s film. On “Praying,” the legendary producer joins Cook’s backing vocalists to express collective resilience in the face of heartbreak, wondering “what now?” and ruing “the mistaken hope that we were blessed.” With Cook insisting that “somehow we’ll make it through,” the song hints at the stealth cultural politics of lovers rock, while nodding to a creative forbear. But here, it’s Cook calling the shots, and carrying the torch with style.

Redd Kross "Neurotica (35th Anniversary Reissue)"

Redd Kross’ 1987 album Neurotica is getting a 35th anniversary reissue. It’s set to arrive on June 24 via Merge. The reissue features a series of recently unearthed unreleased demos from that era. The original album is now available on streaming platforms; listen below. The band’s last album was 2019’s Beyond the Door.

Neurotica’s 2xLP gatefold vinyl reissue comes in two different colors: translucent turquoise for the original album and translucent orange for the demos. It was remastered by JJ Golden.


Grumpster "Fever Dream"

For decades, musicians have relocated to big cities like New York, London, and Nashville for their internationally renowned music scenes and histories, but Grumpster vocalist/bassist Donnie Walsh (originally from Salem, Massachusetts) moved to the Bay Area to chase the melodic punk sounds that were bred at the DIY venue 924 Gilman. It was there that he met guitarist Lalo Gonzalez Deetz and drummer Noel Agtane, formed Grumpster, and put out a few early singles and a split before quickly catching the attention of the iconic Asian Man Records, whose founder Mike Park grew up going to shows at Gilman and has said Grumpster brings him right back to the classic Lookout! Records sound. They released their debut LP Underwhelmed with Asian Man in 2019, before signing to Pure Noise for its followup, Fever Dream, out today.

The album was produced by Anti-Flag bassist Chris #2, who told the band he wanted to work with them after they did a livestream with Anti-Flag during lockdown, and it picks right up where Underwhelmed left off, but finds the band sounding even sharper, tighter, and catchier. Like the debut, Fever Dream sits nicely next to early Green Day and Operation Ivy and The Mr. T Experience and others of that ilk, but it also has a fresh indie-punk vibe in the vein of more modern bands like Lemuria, Tigers Jaw, and Joyce Manor. It’s a no-frills, hook-filled record, and if you like punk songs with good melodies, you should give this record a spin.

Brooklyn Vegan


Harkin "Honeymoon Suite (Rough Trade Publishing)"

From fronting Sky Larkin to performing backing vocals for Dua Lipa on Saturday Night Live via touring as a live member of Sleater-Kinney and in Courtney Barnett’s band, Katie Harkin has become a master collaborator over the past decade and a half. The pandemic changed all that. Cooped up in the titular one bedroom flat above a pub, her second solo album was pieced together with scant contributors sending snippets over the internet. This new process has led to a new palette of sounds. Gone is the slacker indie of her self-titled debut – the electronics that punctuated it are now front and centre. Opener ‘Body Clock’ combines math rock bass with Four Tet-style arpeggios, while ‘Matchless Lighting’ builds from a minimalist synth to a tremolo crescendo, and ‘Listening Out’ throbs with a dubstep-style wobble. Guitars haven’t disappeared completely though, and ‘(Give Me) The Streets Of Leeds’ and ‘A New Day’ are a reminder of why Katie has become one of the most sought-after touring musicians. The final 11 minutes of the album are the most striking of all: ‘Driving Down A Flight Of Stairs’ is a droning synth soundscape that crackles and glitches as it sways between beauty and dread. It’s a captivating palette cleanser. After years of collaborating, Katie Harkin is proving she has plenty to say on her own terms.

DIY Magazine