Lucern Raze is part band, part project and all Luke Reilly; the founder of Stockholm’s PNKSLM records (Pronounced Punk Slime). Luke is from the UK but lives in Stockholm and runs the label with Johan Alm. International Breakdown is a great example of how a global pandemic can focus the mind. Do you sit around in your pants and eat your body weight in ice cream or pour yourself another breakfast whisky or make a toothpick Eiffel Tower? All good suggestions, but the right answer is spend six weeks pulling together remote contributions from friends and PNKSLM artists and produce an album taking their parts and mixing everything into a gritty Big Beat stew of dirty drums, enough guitar twang to warp space and time and more catchy hooks than a fleet of trawlers.
The albums kicks off with a louche lounge track that would not be out of place on the jukebox at Twin Peaks’ saucy nightspot One-Eyed Jacks and this gives way to a tumble round the drum kit announcing the first of three tracks that feature Oregon-based rapper Bryson the Alien (BTA). ‘Super Fun Apocalypse’ is a tickle-fight of super-catchy vocal “Bap-ba-dap-bap-bap”s, funky bass, guitar, keyboard trills and 8-bit punctuation over which BTA’s rap is filtered through the studio equivalent of a 1920’s radio speaker. ‘Let’s Be Badder’ features one of my favourite PNKSLM acts: Cherry Pickles. The guitar hook throughout is a killer and punches through the quiet spoken passages of CP’s perfect laissez faire delivery. ‘Hindsight 2020’ gives Lou King space to deliver a coruscating poem on life, love and religion (imagine an even more scathing Jarvis Cocker) with a soothing balm in the form of a vivacious bongo-filled chorus. The second BTA track is ‘Ain’t No Time For That’ with its looped-and-drooped guitar and stop n’ drop bass allowing BTA’s lush drawl to drive through the song laidback-wise with only one hand on the wheel.
At the album’s halfway point ‘Stockholm Syndrome 2’ gives the us the same shot of adrenaline that Mia gets in Pulp Fiction. Chemtrails guest and they provide a glorious round of “Nah-Nah-Nah”s throughout (they currently have a new album under their belt and with radio plays growing they are well worth checking out). ‘Cabin Fever’ sees another PNKSLM fave of mine the febrile Black Mekon who play like they are sound-tracking a drag race, pool party at the local diner; all 50s cool and modern swagger. Lucern Raze step up next with the mighty ‘Trädgården’ which builds a wall of guitars, bass and wailing synth. There’s only one person who is fearless enough to shout for Sweden over the top of this lush cacophony and that’s ShitKid. She has more front than Cox’s Bazar Beach and is one of the most fearless performers I have seen on stage. Sudakistan were the band that brought me to PNKSLM so they will always have my eternal gratitude and they put their “Latino garage punk” to excellent use on ‘Elvis Ronaldo’ which is a delicious carnival for the ears.
We’re in the home straight now and get two in a row from Lucern Raze: ‘Silver Ghosts, We Ride at Dawn’, a moody instrumental that has the feel of driving through the desert at night and ‘Honey’ which harnesses the power of 100 reverb pedals over dirty drums and wonky vocals adding to the feeling of a woozy night-bus ride home when you’re acres of happy but think you might throw up. The penultimate song is the album’s stand-out track for me and the final outing for Bryson The Alien. ‘Return of the Scarecrow’ is a haunted fairground ride that feels like it has the DNA of ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and BTA is front and centre riding the underlying menace like a pro-surfer. The final track is ‘Metaphysical Sacrifice’ featuring Birmingham’s Swampmeat Family Band. It feels like everyone gathered round in the bar (or Zoom call) at the end of the evening to have a singalong and it’s a touching and bitter-sweet end to International Breakdown.
Hip-Hop and Big Beat that helped wean me off soulless prog and the super-noodling of jazz rock that was one of the many musical embarrassments of my youth. A Tribe Called Quest, Jurassic 5, De La Soul and compilation albums like Big Beat Royale, Big Kahuna Kicks opened my ears to other musical worlds and International Breakdown is a glorious joyride that takes the baton from those days and hurtles like an Olympic sprinter into its future. How big are these beats? These beats are so big they will push your headphones out of your ears and the album kicks the asses of people who kick asses for a living. I for one welcome our new Big Beat Overlords and although it is definitely a contender for one of my albums of 2020 the only downside is that is doesn’t have Volume 1 in the title.
International Breakdown is available as a digital download, a super-limited vinyl and, if you’re very quick, an even more limited, 25 only, deluxe package (well 24, as I have already pre-ordered one).
Review by Paul F Cook