On a recent trip up north, M and I were surprised beyond belief to find not one but several new releases already in a used CD store bin. (Before any artists panic at the thought that their hard work has already reached the clearance rack in a matter of weeks, we later found out that the CDs in question were likely promo materials and thus could not be sold as new.) We couldn’t just leave them there homeless, so we scooped up all we could find, bought them, and started listening through the stack on our long ride back south. One of the albums that quickly caught our attention was “Apocalipstick,” the latest release from Vancouver-based blues band The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer. From the opening bars of “Get Ready,” the first track, we were both hooked. (And we thank the band for making what is usually a thoroughly monotonous stretch of road in northern Pennsylvania fly by so painlessly.) The group’s sound is part blues, part rock, and all addictive. In particular, their utilization of multi-part background harmonies (including the incomparable Alexa Dirks, AKA Begonia) is pure genius and pairs beautifully with the guitar- and harmonica-laden instrumentation.
“Get Ready” opens the album with just the sort of apocalyptic mindset you might expect from the album’s title, urging the listener to get ready for what’s coming (a particularly apt message right now, although perhaps the band didn’t expect just how appropriate it would be). “Nancy,” the track that follows, offers an articulate plea against bullying and judging others based on appearance (or our perception of their appearance), while “Forever Fool” is a slow burner of a “love done wrong” song.
“Pretty Please” – which begins with an absolute barnburner of a harmonica solo – comes closest in style to what might be considered a somewhat traditional blues song. (Although The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer have often been categorized as blues artists, this project encompasses a wide swath of musical styles while making them sound wholly their own.) “Treat Me Kind” is by far the quietest track on the record, pairing Matthew Rogers’ acoustic guitar with Shawn Hall’s wailing voice (accompanied by some breathtaking background harmonies) in a lover’s plea for kindness. “Promises Promises” features not only piano but also some bouncy and terrific 1980s-style synth sounds from guest musician Geoff Hilhorst (from Deep Dark Woods). “Fragile” closes the album with the same kind of apocalyptic, dark attitude with which it opened.
Of all the CDs we’ve adopted (we like to think of it as giving good music a loving home) in the last several months – and, let’s be honest, there have been a fair few – this is far and away one of my favorites. Even if you are not a fan of traditional blues, there is enough variety and scope here to interest any listener – highly, highly recommended.