Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Best Thing You're Gonna Hear This Week Is This Single From Melbourne's Arbes

The members of Arbes are Sam, Jess, and Anita. I think Jess is doing the singing and playing the bass, Sam is on guitar, and Anita is on the kit. The sound here is something special and it recalls disparate bands -- a hint of Bettie Serveert here, a 4AD-worthy guitar-line there -- but the overall effect is one of something fresh and special.

"Beach Side" is from the band's recent Swimmer EP and I urge you to get your hands and ears on that one. In the meantime, follow Arbes on their official Facebook page.

This Cut from Chi-Town's Sweet Cobra Is Gonna Rock Your Socks Off

This is one monstrous jam, my friends. You need to dig this now.

Sweet Cobra is a band from Chicago and they make big rawk of the most awesome kind.

"Complaints" manages to combine a Prong-line bass-line with guitar hooks and vocals that are not too far removed from early Killing Joke. Is this metal or something else? It's something fantastic and I am now gonna seek out more stuff from these cats.

I say that but I think I need to play "Complaints" another dozen times.

Follow Sweet Cobra on their official Facebook page.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Works For Tomorrow: My Review Of The New Album From Eleventh Dream Day

Within about 30 seconds of the opening cut on the new Eleventh Dream Day album starting up, I knew this band was still as great as they were when I saw them at the (old) 9:30 Club back in 1990 or so. And now it's time to offer my review of their new record.

I could save myself a lot of time and creative heavy lifting if I just told you straight up that the new one from legends Eleventh Dream Day is awesome. I could just tell you that, Works for Tomorrow, out in a few days on Thrill Jockey, rocks in all the right ways. But I think that it's worth the effort to tell you how it rocks.

"Vanishing Point" rides a mean riff underneath the near-Grace Slick vocals of Janet Beveridge Bean to glorious effect. Simultaneously combining about a dozen different genres, the cut is a supple bit of nasty business and I dug it enormously! The title cut adds in a hint of classic Mission of Burma while "Cheap Gasoline" offers up something like what The Swimming Pool Q's used to do so well. The girl/boy vocals mesh and the hooks come fast and furious as the rest of the group cranks out the sort of music that one would happily call alternative from an era long before genres got so hopelessly segregated. The organ gives this one a retro touch which I also loved.

Janet Beveridge Bean unleashes her furious pipes on "Snowblind" which sounds like some unholy super group featuring half of Jefferson Airplane and half of The Standells, if such a thing had ever existed. A outright stomper, this is glorious rock 'n' roll of the sort that is in desperately short supply these days. Superb!

While "Go Tell It" succeeds largely thanks to its guitar hooks, "The People's History" charms on the basis of its sharp blending of roots rock with something close to the edgy post-punk offered up by early Mission of Burma. It's hard music to describe and it reminds one, again, of an era when bands like this took real chances as they climbed their way up American college radio playlists some 25 years ago.

"Requiem for 4 Chambers" is the male-voice twin of "Snowblind", while "The Unknowing" relaxes the pace a bit and unfurls a a more expansive sort of tune that made me think of The Reivers a little.

There was a moment back in the early 1990s when I first started getting into Yo La Tengo that I thought how much they probably owed to Eleventh Dream Day and I flashed back to that moment again when listening to "Deep Lakes" and its gentle vocal interplay and supple guitar/bass/drum dynamics.

"End with Me" closes Works for Tomorrow with a blistering yet reflective bit of guitar rock.

Janet Beveridge Bean and Rick Rizzo, original members from the start, ground the music of Eleventh Dream Day in a way that speaks volumes to the high quality of this band's back catalog and the era in which they started their rise. Risky but melodic, catchy but expansive, these are big American alt-rock cuts of the kind that few can do so well. Building on what The Dream Syndicate, Opal, and The Swimming Pool Q's did, and adding in something more modern and less rootsy, Eleventh Dream Day make music that rewards listeners searching for something genuine and direct in a world of ironic indie bands. Uncomplicated in its force, near-fusion-y in its executions, the tunes on Works for Tomorrow are sure to please both new and old fans of this band.

Works for Tomorrow is out on Friday from the seminal Thrill Jockey label. Follow Eleventh Dream Day on their official Facebook page or on their official website.

[Photos: Sam Prekop (yeah, the guy from The Sea and Cake)]

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Best Thing You Hear This Week Might Very Well Be This Free MP3 From Australia's The Oyster Murders

I have no friggin' idea what the band's name means but this single from The Oyster Murders is pretty damn good. The Australian band is making it available as a free download on their Soundcloud page and I would urge you to grab it now.

There are hints of Doves and The Arcade Fire here but I also hear a trace of late-period Supergrass in "When You're Wrong" and it's that spark of life that made me like this more than I expected to. And, most importantly, this is darn catchy despite the fact that it's, on some levels, serious music. The drums sound fantastic too and I'm a sucker for that so...

Grab the single and then follow The Oyster Murders on their official Facebook page.

Have You Heard This New Track From NE-HI?

Chicago's NE-HI share a city with Twin Peaks and a bit of a similar sort of vibe. Whereas Twin Peaks are brattier, NE-HI are making more angular rock that simultaneously recalls power-pop from the U.S. and disparate influences that hint at much more -- Let's Active? Translator? -- 'cause I can hear lots of good things here.

"Drag" is your first taste of the band's sound. Expect more soon. Follow the band on their official Facebook page.

Spin Another Superb New Cut From Royal Headache Here!

Australia's Royal Headache make superb post-punk of the sort that one imagines ruled the airwaves of England in some impossible past after the Class of '77 had all gone belly-up. Owing far more to The Rich Kids or The Buzzcocks than they do, apparently, to Nirvana or The Strokes, Royal Headache crank out punchy, succinct bursts of pop glory.

"Another World" is shouty rock of the very best sort. Bearing a trace of early Wire in the guitar hooks, the song is more emotional and propulsive than Colin Newman's band. Still, this one is another winner from the upcoming record from Royal Headache. Called High, the band's second album will be out in August on What's Your Rupture?.

While you're waiting for that one to drop, and busily playing this cut a few times, head over to the band's official Facebook page for more news on Royal Headache.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Quick Review Of The Awesomely Rockin' New One From White Reaper

In terms of playability -- is that even a word? -- the new one from Louisville's White Reaper, called White Reaper Does It Again, is easily one the best releases so far of 2015. Pure rock-'n'-roll in the mold of Stooges cuts remade for modern audiences, the tunes here are direct and infectious. Out in a few days on Polyvinyl, the album just never lets up.

From the opening one-two punch of "Make Me Wanna Die" and "I Don't Think She Cares", the record just kicks into immediate overdrive. While "Pills" opens things up a tiny bit in terms of style, the album is, largely, a gloriously fuzzed-out affair of riffs, riffs, and more riffs.

But it's worth mentioning the sound of the record. There's something delightfully odd about White Reaper Does It Again and I can say that I've not heard many albums that sound like this. Listening to this, one could almost be forgiven in thinking that the band were all playing and singing up on the mics. The treble on this release is dangerously high and the overall effect is of hearing a band rockin' out seemingly through the walls from the place next door. Every cut rides in on a riff and positively buzzes in such a way that it sounds like the speakers might blow at any second.

Stuff like "Sheila" takes on a glam rock vibe, while other tracks seem like American versions of the hook-laden jams on the first album from England's Supergrass. In fact, that seems like the best comparison to make when discussing White Reaper. It would be tempting to lump them in with the sounds of stoner bands like Fu Manchu in terms of volume and punch, or in with Ty Segall and his crew of offshoots due to the melodies, but it is probably more logical to place White Reaper in a class of their own.

White Reaper Does It Again isn't reinventing the rules for rock music but it sure is perfecting the form. Pure listening joy from start to finish, this is a wonderful racket meant to be cranked up loud on headphones or, better still, a car stereo as you cruise around in the summertime.

White Reaper Does It Again is out on Friday on Polyvinyl. Follow White Reaper on their official Facebook page.

Dig Some Tracks From The Upcoming Pere Ubu Box Here!

With a release date that depends on where you are in the world, the upcoming box set from Pere Ubu may or may not be already available for you to purchase. No worry 'cause by late August you will be able to buy this anywhere.

As I've already written, Elitism for the People 1975 - 1978 covers the first two albums from Pere Ubu, along with a rare live set, and a whole bunch of seminal singles. It is, quite simply, shaping up to be one of the most important reissues of 2015.

Dropping on Fire Records in August, Elitism for the People 1975 - 1978 by Pere Ubu is a crash course in the genius of the band if you've not already been indoctrinated. Further education is provided by the sampler up on Soundcloud now courtesy of Fire Records.

Dig it!

Quick Heads Up About This New Peacers Record

One of these dudes was in Sic Alps and the record's got Ty Segall all over it. Interested yet?

The self-titled debut from Peacers - Mike Donovan, Wendy Farina, and Eric Park -- is a sometimes trippy, sometimes stompin' sort of record. Mining a similar vein of rock to what Ty Segall does so successfully, Peacers are at their best when they underpin the jams with a strong hook ("Laze It" or the Flaming Lips-like "At the Milkshake Hop").

While stuff like "Heiress Chilton" is not going to set the world on fire but, rather, get stoned while it burns, a more direct effort like "Kick on the Plane" offers up sort of Royal Trux lite with a take on the Stones circa 1967 that is refreshing and hard not to like.

If "Mary Jane/Glorious Sunshine" provides more of the same, the chords of "Blume" give a listener something to grove to.

Wildly appealing in large dosages, Peacers by Peacers is a gem of the summer release season. Fans of Ty Segall will dig this even as their minds are expanded a bit.

Peacers by Peacers is out now via Drag City.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Play Rare Cut From Swirlies Here!

There was a brief stretch in 1993 when I was playing Blonder Tongue Audio Baton so much that I was almost ruining the music for myself. It was the sort of album you had to listen to all the way through for the full effect. More so than any other U.S. band at the time, it seemed, Swirlies knew how to blend a decided shoegaze style with something scuzzier and more American. In some ways, they paved the way for Pavement even if, now, you'd never think of the bands in the same breath.

On tour around the country right about now, the band is offering up this rarity from the sessions for that seminal 1993 record. Released on the local D.C. area legendary label, Simple Machines, the cut is more direct than a lot of what was on their albums in the era. I dig it more now than I probably did back then.

Follow Swirlies via their official website here.

The Best Thing You're Gonna This Week Is Probably This New Wand Track

I think that this is truly a beautiful and haunting jam. I was already a fan of Wand, thanks largely to their last album, Golem, but where that record pursued cuts that were more riff-based, this new tune is subtle and affecting.

Coming on like a less arch MGMT, Wand here offer up something that echoes early Roxy Music and classic era Sparks. "Stolen Footsteps" is our first taste of the band's upcoming record on Drag City. Called 1000 Days the record will be out in a few months.

In the meantime, my advice to you is to follow the band on their official website and play "Stolen Footsteps" a few dozen times. I have.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Power Pop Classic From Mark Helm (radioblue) Now Up On Bandcamp

This is great news for those of you who, like me, might not have been able to catch this album when it was first released on now-defunct Not Lame Recordings: Mark Helm's solo album, Everything's OK, is now up on Bandcamp.

Featuring Dave Newton from The Mighty Lemon Drops and Mr. Danny Ingram of Dot Dash, Swervedriver, Youth Brigade, Strange Boutique, and radioblue on drums, the album is a fine introduction to the many talents of this D.C. area legend. In case you somehow missed it, my interview with the members of radioblue, including Danny Ingram and Mark Helm, should give you a crash course in what made that band so special, so important, and so wonderful in the 1980s. Yes, D.C. is a town steeped in Dischord history, and the area was the birthplace of Slumberland Records and Teenbeat Records too, but radioblue occupied a crucial spot between the "Salad Days" of harDCore and the rise of those aforementioned indie labels. In that space, radioblue crafted sublime alt-rock that wedded the sounds of the popular British bands of the era (Echo and the Bunnymen, Ride) with hints of the American stuff (R.E.M., The Connells) you'd hear on D.C.'s famed WHFS radio station.

Mark Helm was an integral part of the success of radioblue and following the band's demise he went solo and played in a variety of projects. This 2001 record showcases his skills at creating something closer to earlier rock classics like Neil Young (the title song), Harry Nilsson ("dismantling the sun"), Todd Rundgren ("sweet dreams baby"), and The Beach Boys ("so faraway").

Now's your chance to get with the program. Grab Everything's OK by Mark Helm via the Bandcamp links below.

Here's the video for a single from this record, the splendid "Galaxy of Cars"...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Soft Tension: A Quick Review Of The Fabulous New Album From EZTV

There's just something spectacularly retro and simultaneously forward-looking in the tunes on this new album from EZTV. Calling Out, out in a matter of days from Captured Tracks, is a set of glittering gems of pop-craft. If "Pretty Torn Up" sounds like Tim Finn leading Split Enz through a cover of The Byrds, that's not an indication of musical schizophrenia but a sign of tuneful artistry.

EZTV is the brain-child of Ezra Tenenbaum who's joined in his pursuit of pop bliss by drummer Michael Stasiak of Widowspeak along with engineer-turned-bassist Shane O'Connell. The 3-piece have mastered a sort of careful cultivation of the right influences. And, like very few acts can successfully do, they've managed to make this stuff sound fresh again. "Hard to Believe" marries a hint of The Nerves with a brief nod in the direction of The Soft Boys. But, you know what? That's just a lazy writer's way of trying to pin down why this song -- like most of what's on Calling Out -- works so spectacularly well.

"Blue Buzz" adds a dash of Big Star to things even if the vocals made me think of those magical Syd Barrett solo albums. While most of the cuts on this record are what you would want to call power pop, this one is a bit more like alt-country, or something. I highlight that small shift in style to highlight the strengths of this band.

"Trampoline" recalls the early stuff from The Posies before they turned the amps up. At moments like this on this record, the band also sounds like The Bongos in spots. They certainly have a similar sense of how to make pop music even if they are, clearly, not exactly the same in terms of their sound.

By the time we get to "There Goes My Girl" one can hear a trace of both Davies brothers in the gloriously weary melody -- think "Death of a Clown" but with a stronger hook. It's an odd comparison but EZTV are making music that bears favorable comparison to acts like the legendary Kinks. "Long Way to Go" makes me miss the glory days of stuff like Wire Train or The Plimsouls. EZTV are expanding on the classic pop of those earlier bands who got labelled new wave acts.

Calling Out is expertly performed and produced but it never once seems forced or stiff. One wonders how these guys didn't get more attention before now? What kind of world are we living in when music like this is released without much more fanfare? There's not a single dud on this record. Pluck out any tune from EZTV's Calling Out and put it in the middle of a mix and you'll see how great each individual cut is.

Calling Out from EZTV is out next week via Captured Tracks. Follow the band on their official website.

[Photo credits: Daniel Topete, top, and Pamela Garavano, bottom.]

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Heads Up About The New Reissue Of Superchunk's Come Pick Me Up From Merge Records

I will freely admit that in the summer of 1999 I thought that Tearror Twilight and Come Pick Me Up were fairly big disappointments. Hindsight has proven me wrong, especially about the Superchunk. While I don't go back to that final Pavement record beyond a few singles, I had been dipping heavily into that Superchunk record even before Merge Records announced their upcoming remastered reissue of the record.

One of the benefits of having such a long commute in Hong Kong was that I was loading up my iPod with stuff I had sort of neglected for a few years. And while "Hellow Hawk" and "You Can Always Count On Me (In The Worst Way)" were always on my device and in heavy rotation, stuff like "June Showers" was not. It, like so many of the mid-tempo tunes here, is a fantastic piece of songwriting. Riding a sort of bass-hook for a spell, it suddenly erupts into one of Mac McCaughan's most hopeful, big choruses. When he sings "Don't give up" near the coda, I get a little tingle up my spine and remember why I love this band so much.

This remastered reissue of Come Pick Me Up, out next week via Merge Records, does indeed sound fantastic. There seems to be much, much clearer separation between the vocals and individual instruments now. And while I'm no audiophile genius, the record does indeed have a sharper sound in this edition. That's no slight on co-producer Jim O'Rourke but, rather, an acknowledgement that the record has now been matched with the latest technological advances since the year that The Phantom Menace came out.

O'Rourke's touch can be heard so clearly on stuff like "Pulled Muscle" which now positively rings with a sort of faux-soul veneer even as the guitars and bass wrestle underneath the smooth vocals.

"Cursed Mirror" chimes like The La's in spots while the glorious busyness of "1000 Pounds" is still apparent. "Good Dreams" offers a nod in the direction of early Superchunk offerings while "Low Branches" uses its lopsided time signature to wonderful effect. Laura Ballance's bass is highlighted in this new mix, most obviously on "Pink Clouds" while the guitars sound somehow more plaintive on "Honey Bee" than they might have 16 years ago.

And what of my 2 favorite songs on Come Pick Me Up? I can say that I still rate "You Can Always Count On Me (In The Worst Way)" highly. In fact, I'm pretty sure that a 10-track Best of Superchunk would, if compiled by me, include that closing cut. It's a subtle and inspiring song still. There's real complexity here in the way that eventual release in the song arrives. I still dig it tremendously.

As for "Hello Hawk" I can say that it's like hearing the song all over again for the first time as the remastering is that good. An odd choice for a single, the song still rocks and charms.

This reissue of Come Pick Me Up is rounded off with 3 acoustic versions of songs on this album, plus 5 demos. Of the demos, the highlight is a demo of "White Noise" from the 1,000 Pounds EP.

Grab this reissue of what I would now consider to be one of the best Superchunk albums. I was a critical jerk in 1999. Come Pick Me Up is loaded with songs I somehow didn't fully appreciate back then.

Come Pick Me Up is out next week via Merge Records.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Look At The Remastered Edition Of The Lover Speaks From Cherry Red Records

I'm thrilled to report that Cherry Red Records have reissued The Lover Speaks, the 1986 self-titled release from the band. Expanded and remastered in an impressive fashion, the album sounds better than it ever has. You can order it here.

Of course, I can't but help think of 2 things when approaching this album. One is that in early 1996, I think, I was one of many fans of The Lover Speaks yelling at the TV as Annie Lennox won a Grammy for her cover of "No More 'I Love You's'". It's not that I begrudged her success but, rather, that I resented the fact that 99% of the people clapping had probably never heard the original version of the song by The Lover Speaks, and certainly not when it was a new single.

And the other thing is that I'm reminded when I play this record now of a time in 1986 when I made the switch from listening to so much U2 and stuff like that to more artsy offerings on 4AD. I think the only reason I picked up The Lover Speaks record was that the cover art reminded me of the cover of the first This Mortal Coil. I knew nothing about this band and was thinking that I had stumbled upon another outfit like that Ivo-organized super-group.

I hadn't but what I took a chance with back then in 1986 was a great pop record. It remains so and it's certainly never sounded better than on this expanded reissue from Cherry Red.

What David E.D. Freeman calls in the track annotations, an "exercise in camp with a bouffant hairdo", the album is, instead, a sort of masterclass in how to maximize a studio in the service of creating literate pop. Looked at nearly 30 years later, The Lover Speaks seems now closer to stuff like Prefab Sprout and Scritti Politti than it did in 1986. It's an album of its era, certainly, but it's not entirely dated. There is -- as anyone who's heard any version of it can attest -- something quite literate about "No More 'I Love You's'" and the rest of the record still holds up in similar fashion betraying a great deal more care in pop-craft than I perhaps gave it credit for in 1986 when I was simply looking for another 4AD-style cassette.

"Every Lover's Sign" still seems like a classic pop song while "Never to Forget You" soars and remains a neglected gem from this record. What one takes away from The Lover Speaks now in 2015 -- and what's made even clearer when one reads the track-by-track notes from David E.D. Freeman and Joseph Hughes -- is that this is the sound of 2 guys pulling out all the stops in the studio. While The Lover Speaks were a real band, in 1986 one wasn't quite sure. And that was okay. A fan of the pop single, I could sense, even then, that they were pushing things in the direction of bombast at certain points but it was with a real sense of affection for this sort of thing. Hughes and Freeman certainly understood how to construct a single, for example. Listened to now, I can hear strains of Marc Almond here, or even George Michael, back then about to go solo. The bridge between mainstream pop and alternative was built in spectacular fashion on this record.

And that was probably the problem. The record straddled two worlds that in 1986 were pretty sharply defined; Smiths fans might have been put off by the production on The Lover Speaks, while fans of Madonna, might not have wanted to put on an album inspired by a Roland Barthes book.

This edition of The Lover Speaks is expanded by 8 bonus cuts, including the band's breathtaking version of "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten" by Dusty Springfield. Heard now, the song places the band closer to contemporaries and tour-mates Eurythmics. There's certainly more overt soul here than I expected to find but it's also that "camp" that Freeman mentions in the notes.

But, I think, that's what made The Lover Speaks such a unique proposition in 1986 and now. These were smart guys who'd assembled an amazing cast of players -- Springsteen's man Roy Bittan, one-time Mo-Dette June Miles-Kingston, and so on -- in support of crafting something that remains wholly self-contained and of its kind. I mean, I defy you to name one record that is entirely similar to The Lover Speaks. You can pin down certain things here that place the band's sound next to the sound of their peers in 1986 -- and The Lover Speaks holds up better now than the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-produced Human League record from the same year -- but you can't quite narrow this one down even now. What works so splendidly with The Lover Speaks is that it is of a piece and one doesn't entirely care if there's a real band behind this thing, or if the band were great live, or whatever. It is, perhaps as the makers intended, a sort of Phil Spector exercise in commanding a studio and creating pop music of the very highest order.

The Lover Speaks is now out again via Cherry Red. You can order it here.