Discount – “Half Fiction”

I played Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards the other day.  I’m not sure why I picked that particular album that morning.  I’ve had it for a few years and probably only listened to it two or three times, but for some reason I felt like it would be good to revisit.  And it only took a couple of minutes for me to be reminded of something.

Alison Mosshart is amazing.

So much so that as soon as Sea of Cowards was done I switched immediately over to The Kills so I could hear more of her voice in all of it’s raspy, pissed off, angst-ridden punk rock glory.  The thing that gets me the most about Mosshart is while she’s a great rock singer with the perfect voice for the type of music she performs with The Kills and Dead Weather, she also has a beautiful voice – if you don’t believe me, go listen to “The Last Goodbye” on Blood Pressures.  I’m pretty sure she’d be a successful vocalist in almost any genre.

So with me in the throes of having a musical crush on Alison Mosshart I got online to see if I could find any of her earlier stuff with the Florida punk band Discount.  Their material was original put out on vinyl and cassette, and the records have been recently re-released, but I opted to go the cheaper route and picked up used CDs of Half Fiction (1997) and Crash Diagnostic (2000) online from Zia Records (neither is available on iTunes).  And thanks to the magic of the internet I had them less than a week later.

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I didn’t get what I expected from Half Fiction.  I thought I was going to get some raw, gritty punk, but what I got was more pop-punk.  And don’t think that’s an insult, because it’s not – there’s some solid pop-punk out there, and Half Fiction is a perfect example.  The songs are tight and fast, all coming in at under three minutes with a handful at less than two.  And Mosshart… her voice… not at all what I’ve been used to hearing from her.  She still has that sort of half talking/half singing quality, but her singing follows the cadence of the songs throughout the album, which to me came a a surprise since I’m used to her sounding like she’s actually fighting to break out from the music with The Kills.  This is a “cleaner” sounding Mosshart, more in the standard singer role.

Because the songs are so tight it can be a little harder for individual tracks to stand out.  Musically the pace remains brisk throughout and Mosshart generally sticks with the sort of hi-lo-hi-lo enunciation/cadence, and this can make some of the songs sort of blend together.  The first two tracks, “Half Fiction” and “Clap and Cough,” are the best representations of the general sound of Half Fiction, though I think “Keith” does the best job in breaking the mold with a bit of a guitar solo and Mosshart breaking free from her vocal rhythm, even adding in some of her own backing vocals.  “Toxic Home” is also solid, one of the few (maybe only, really) slower tracks, almost sounding like an acoustic number and giving Mosshart more of a chance to showcase her voice.

Half Fiction is pretty damn good, so if you’re a fan of bands like Green Day and Blink 182 I think you’ll like this a lot.  Even if you’re more just a straight forward pop fan I think it’s worth a listen if you can find a copy.

The Kills – “Live at Third Man Records”

I discovered The Kills thanks to Spotify.  I input one of my favorite bands, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Spotify came back with one of those, “if you like BRMC, then you’ll like The Kills”.  And it was right!  Oh so right.  So the other day when I saw on Facebook that Jack White’s label, Third Man Records, released a live LP by The Kills recorded at Third Man, I had to place my order.  Mail order always makes me nervous, especially after the USPS destroyed my copy of Sub Pop 1000 a while back, and given that Live at Third Man Records was due to arrive during some high temps in Seattle (yes, we do get hot weather here…. exactly one week a year), I was a bit concerned I’d have a wavy pile of junk when I opened the box… but it was all good.  Maybe one of these days I’ll break down and actually order some stuff from overseas…

The Kills are guitarist Jamie Hince and singer Alison Mosshart.  Hince keeps the guitar tuned down and the sound moody, while Mosshart… oh Mosshart… sings in that deep, passionate voice that makes me really love this band.  Hince and Mosshart are perfect together, from the song writing to the harmonizing, it’s like they were meant to be together on stage.  Their initial collaborations took the form of mailing tapes back and forth between Florida (Mosshard) to England (Hince) to exchange ideas, and some cuts from these tapes even made it onto their ablums.  That, my friends, is dedication.  And all that hard work paid off in four fantastic studio records, and now this great live album.

Six of the eight tracks on Live at Third Man Records are from The Kills’ 2011 studio release Blood Pressures, with “Tape Song” being pulled from Midnight Boom (2008) and “Kissy Kissy” from Keep on Your Mean Side (2003) to round out the set list.  I’ve got to give Third Man credit, because the sound quality of the live set is exceptional – I had to to turn up the volume a bit from where I had it set for The KLF records I was listening to earlier in the day… but there was plenty of room on the volume knob to get where I wanted to go with ultra clean sound.  In fact I liked it so much I went onto their site and ordered live records by Cold War Kids and The 5.6.7.8’s as well.

The Kills stay fairly true to their studio versions on Live at Third Man Records.  Their recorded stuff has always had that raw, live sound to it, so this isn’t a huge departure, though Hince’s backing vocals sound a lot better than normal.  Mosshart is, of course, awesome, oozing sexiness and energy and anger and power, especially on “Tape Song”.  And on “The Last Goodbye” she’s unbearably amazing, sounding like a modern Edith Piaf and showing that she does indeed have an impressive pure singing voice to go along with her normally punky sound.

If you haven’t listened to The Kills before, you owe it to yourself to at the very least check them out.  Get on iTunes and listen to some clips, especially “Future Starts Slow” and “Heart is a Beating Drum”, and maybe “The Last Goodbye” if you feel like shedding a tear.