The cover art for Going Dark — a single pink life preserver casting its shadow far below still blue water — provides an allegorical clue as to the content within. Following his mother’s death after a long battle with cancer, Pullmen frontman Shane Cohn spent a considerable amount of time staring out the window of his Ventura apartment confronted by the bleak certainty of his neighbor’s laundry and a steady supply of liquor. In relative seclusion he explored the deep end of his grief. Because of its ability to inspire great work, pain can hold a dangerous allure for artists. Thankfully, Cohn passed through it (because one doesn’t get over such a loss), transmuting his dark night of the soul into raw rock and roll for the band’s third and best album. From the first song “We’ll Never Be a Part of It” — an ’80s-style pop ’n’ roll number that channels The Jam — to the last, “Royal Deluxe,” a reminder that the band hasn’t abandoned its Western thrash roots or its crazed protagonist, Going Dark is a triumph. In five years, a relatively short maturation timeline for any creative project, The Pullmen has burned the beer belly off its signature quick and dirty blue-collar party anthems for a leaner, more nuanced but no less raging result that no longer mimics its influences but expounds on them. From contemplative to angry, folk to punk, we not only see Cohn’s transformation as a songwriter, but the whole band’s evolution as it accepts the challenge. The greatest albums are forged with the grime and glory of real life, the grip of loss and gain, the revelation of release. This is one of those albums.
— Michel Miller
Available at Salzer’s Records, Grady’s Record Refuge and www.thepullmen.com.
The rap game, and it’s important to note it’s the only genre that refers to itself as a game, is arguably at a creative low point. Often the biggest hits in the hip-hop genre are repetitive, R&B-infused nursery rhymes. That’s what makes Craw (formerly Crawdad) and his full-length debut so interesting. It’s a throwback to the late-’90s when the biggest artists dropped profane and shocking lyrics but delivered with brutal honesty and from personal experience. Fifteen years ago, Craw could very well have been taken for an Eminem clone, but these days it’s downright refreshing to hear an MC actually open up on serious issues, including his own battle with substance abuse, and personal family problems like his mother’s cancer scare. The beats are simple and effective, and Craw’s raspy and tight delivery lets him fit more clever rhymes into one verse than a lot of rappers do on an entire track. Not every track hits the mark. For instance, “Same Ol’ Same” with its refrain of “I pissed on a cop today, shook off my dick and I walked away,” is a juvenile response to the very serious problem of police brutality. It certainly won’t make the fraternal order of law enforcement’s annual mix tape, but you can’t say Craw doesn’t speak his mind. Whether the current, short-attention-span rap audience will embrace or can even appreciate what Craw does as an MC remains to be seen, but he proves on Escape Artist that he’s undoubtedly one of the finest rappers in the game — the 805 game, that is.
— Chris Jay
Available at www.crawdadmusic.com.