J.R.C.G., “Dogear” (Sub Pop)

It's always heart-warming when Sub Pop, Seattle's most famous record label, signs an up-and-coming artist from the region. This the company's done once more with Tacoma's J.R.C.G., the combative band that sprang out of Dreamdecay and which is led by powerhouse drummer/vocalist Justin R. Cruz Gallego.

With 2021's Ajo Sunshine (on John Dwyer's Castle Face label), J.R.C.G. established themselves as an inventive and intense rock unit, allergic to cliché and radiating so much nihilistic energy that it flipped over into a strange kind of uplift. That rare feat surfaced when they opened for UK buzz band Dry Cleaning at Neptune Theatre three years ago. In a review of that show on Slog, I wrote that Gallego and company "came across like a mad collab between early-'70s Hawkwind and mid-'80s Swans while still sounding like an urgent response to 21st-century crises."

J.R.C.G.'s new album, Grim Iconic...(Sadistic Mantra) (out August 2), is no mere retread of past gory glories. Electronic elements play a much bigger role here, and there's also a stronger emphasis on non-rock rhythms. In the press release, Gallego notes, "I grew up in punk and DIY subcultures, but before that I had Latin music playing in the background through my childhood and every phase of adolescence. It was surprisingly natural to incorporate. I realized I wanted to go deeper into these rhythms. I wanted to make a record that felt as experimental as much as it felt from the perspective of a Latino. When I got a glimmer of that possibility, it felt exciting."

You can hear this on the second song, "34," which features a kind of chunky funk rhythm slapping over piercing synth drones, followed by a rococo guitar solo Zappa-ing all over the beats. Gallego's vocals are zoned and distressed, like a Pacific Northwest Thom Yorke, but far less enervating. A chaotically noisy electronic coda caps off this shocking new direction for Gallego. Speaking of British singers, "Drummy" finds Gallego nearly out-glumming Robert Smith, while mercifully being much less whiny. Justin's effect is more like a stunned resignation. 

The surprises continue on "Liv," an odd electronic fugue with a slowed, muted Apache beat. Then it suddenly accelerates and ascends into a bongo-fueled party jam, as if Gallego's MDMA just kicked in while in the studio. A very cool switcheroo. "Cholla Beat"—the most straight-ahead rocker here—could be the album's second single. It's a pugnacious, dark-hearted growler with exciting guitar shrapnel and synth surges triggering adrenaline spikes. ("Cholla" means cactus in Spanish and is also equivalent to the English slang term "noggin.")

Grim Iconic's first single, "Dogear," begins with a steamrolling, dynamite funk rhythm somewhere between NYC party-starters Konk and Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." The melody splits the difference between lament and celebration; it sounds like an anthem's struggling to emerge from a deep pit of angst. Play it often enough and you'll begin to feel invincible.

"World i" is a dazed bruiser shot through with aching, arcing synth wails and anchored by a methodical, muscular rhythm not unlike that in Can's "Yoo Doo Right." A heroically forlorn sax spirals out of the guttural churn, followed by anguished guitar feedback squalls, until all of the elements build into a frenzied, unstoppable force—a fantastic way to end an album. 

J.R.C.G. performs August 3 at Clock-Out Lounge. 

Louis Cole, “Life” (Brainfeeder)

Keeping with the theme of exceptional drummers, let's talk about Louis Cole. Recording for Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label, Cole has proved himself to be not just a phenomenal timekeeper, but also a deft writer and arranger of songs that excitingly fuse jazz, funk, and electronica. He also possesses one of the most compelling falsettos in the biz. Much like his musical polymath brethren Jamie Lidell and Jeremy Ellis, Cole's got soul for days (and nights). 

Whereas Cole's last album, 2022's Quality Over Opinion, abounds with stripped-down party bangers to help you strip down, his fifth album, nothing (out August 9), seems destined to revel in glorious symphonic excess, judging by its first two singles. For this record, Cole's enlisted Metropole Orkest and Grammy-winning composer/conductor Jules Buckley to bulk up his compositions. 

The album's first single, "Things Will Fall Apart," offers spacey, orchestral funk with Cole singing in his best Daryl Hall voice. The music's expansive and menacing in that patented "Barry Adamson scoring a fake James Bond film" way. Hearing pessimistic lyrics sweetly crooned in a massive-sounding opus such as this makes for some nice cognitive dissonance.

nothing's second single, "Life," starts out with an homage to Bernard Herrmann's stabbing strings motif from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho before shifting into an ever-soaring orchestral jazz-funk rave-up for the ages. David Binney's sax solo lends jazz fire while Sam Wilkes's fleet-fingered bass channels Jaco Pastorius and Squarepusher for maniacal fusionoid propulsion. Throughout, Cole doles out lightning-quick, intricate beats while trading vocals with a dulcet female choir—including his creative foil Genevieve Artadi—whose delivery is comically stoic. The lyrics appear to have a "seize the day" gist, which complements the inspirational gush of creativity. Watch the video below—in which the musicians wear skeleton suits to drive home the "be here now" theme—to really appreciate the immaculate timing, tight arranging, and phenomenal musicianship going down here.