Sunday, September 24, 2017

Logic Of Night: A Few Words About The New One From Chain And The Gang

Ian Svenonius is an exceedingly busy man circa Fall 2017. He's not only playing gigs with a reunited line-up of The Make-Up (that pic up there by moi during the band's blistering set at The Black Cat last May), he's also about to unveil a semi-solo debut on Merge with his Escape-ism project, and he's now gonna drop an all-new Chain and The Gang record this Friday. Called Experimental Music, the record is, quite frankly, very nearly the most consistent long-playing release this band has ever put out on the market.

Recorded in Michigan with a line-up that includes a bunch of solid players (Fred Thomas, Danny Kroha, Shelley Salant, Ben Collins, Madie McCormick, and Amber Fellows), this new one from Chain and The Gang is a concise slab of retro-leaning, DIY-style alt-rock of the sort that only Ian could possibly pull off. In other hands, this would devolve into kitsch but the former Nation of Ulysses front-man has a knack for this sort of yeh-yeh stuff, delivering it with just the right mix of fervor and farce that it requires, as the team flays behind him. If the opening title track is like Brill Building song-craft as imagined by the young fellas in V.U., then the strutting "Logic Of Night" is an on-target mish-mash of Standells and other Nuggets legends. Similarly, the wonderfully-titled "Rome Wasn't Burned In A Day" sounds exactly like you'd imagine it would, all "Look out, look out, look out!" Shangri-La rabble-rousing wrapped around organs and drums that pop like cheap cap-guns. Wisely, Svenonius keeps things revved up here, steering away from the down-tempo numbers that littered older Chain and The Gang albums in favor of sharp rockers like the party tune "Come Over" and "Temporary Insanity", a track that brings to mind the charms found on the End Of The Century release from The Ramones. The trend here on Experimental Music towards stompers hits a kind of peak on the intriguing "Don't Scare Away the Ghost", a cut that sees Svenonius ride a riff into oblivion with a certain degree of conviction that's a good deal more serious than the song's clever title.

Succinct and superbly delivered, Experimental Music is the most intense Chain and The Gang record yet. It is punchy, smart, and fun. Full of delicious swing, Svenonius has marched Chain and The Gang through some real paces here, and on towards the light. He's seen it, they've seen it, and now fans can see it. Get with the program and sign up with the Gang.

Experimental Music by Chain and The Gang is out via Radical Elite and you can order it via Dischord, or the link below.

[Photos: me]

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Here Is The Thing: A Quick Review Of The Masterful New One From Protomartyr

The new one from Protomartyr is, of course, a beast. It is a thing of brute force and subtle mood, a simultaneously undulating and restive animal. Relatives In Descent, out Friday on Domino USA, is the band's 4th record and it's sure to be the sort of thing that sustains listeners with real music in an age of disposable pop nonsense.

There are points here on Relatives In Descent that feel fresher and lighter than on previous Protomartyr records, and yet the undeniable force of the band's music is still palpable even, for instance, on "A Private Understanding", the early taster of this long-player. "Here Is The Thing" swings in a neat approximation of Eighties Wire, while "Caitriona" crackles with a fuzzy Fall-like energy. If "Don't Go To Anacita" is positively catchy, other numbers, like the spacious "Windsor Hum", seem designed more for maximum mood than to become a ditty that one whistles upon the album's conclusion. Sometimes, like on the blistering "Male Plague", Protomartyr find a way to merge the divergent impulses in their art and, like Queens of the Stone Age or something, make largely compelling music that burns with intensity and which remains easy to appreciate and absorb.

If Relatives In Descent is more nuanced than other titles in the Protomartyr catalog, it's no less full of fire. Protomartyr make music that remains remarkably distinctive in an era when so much of what passes for alternative music is anodyne and generic. Brimming with menace, this new Protomartyr record is a furtherance of the band's mission, an extension of their uniquely sinister brand of angular post-punk just a little more into the near-mainstream.

Relatives In Descent is out on Domino USA on Friday. More details on Protomartyr via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Daniel Topete]

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sound Of The Moon: A Brief Review Of The New One From Nick Nicely

Nick Nicely has orbited at the edges of the mainstream for a long time. Now, the electronic music pioneer is poised to offer up a new record. Sleep Safari, out Friday on Tapete Records, is a collection of sleek and supple space rock, a taste of the future from a voice from the past.

Numbers like "Rainmaker" and "Sound Of The Moon" find Nick cooing and purring over rippling keyboards and spacious soundscapes, the effect not entirely unlike some odd mix of Leonard Cohen and New Order. On a few cuts here, like "Souvenir" and "Gliding (Call Centre Splendour)", Nicely adds in a vaguely percolating beat to make things bounce just this side of the dance music spectrum, while he takes things down again for the lovely "Heaven's Kate", all "Learning To Fly"-era Floyd with a good deal more melody and heart. Elsewhere, stuff like "Dance Away" bears favorable comparison to early O.M.D. and late-period Butterfly Child, 2 acts that surely took some inspiration from Nick's Seventies recordings.

Sleep Safari, out Friday on Tapete Records, is an affecting mix of a few sub-genres in a package that seems wholly unique. This is proof that electronic music can be just as authentic for expressing emotion as any musical form.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Few Words About The Fine New One From Wand On Drag City

The release of Wand frontman Cory Hanson's solo album, The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, reviewed by me here last year, probably caught a lot of listeners by surprise. The record was full of frankly lush arrangements that positioned Hanson's output closer to that of, say, Nick Drake or Kevin Ayers, than the near-psychedelia of his own band. And, I'm happy to report, a touch of that lyricism has seeped into the newest Wand record, Plum, out Friday on Drag City.

The title cut here positively oozes a late-period Beatles-kinda-vibe, while the lovely "Charles De Gaulle" mines a vein similar to early 21st Century Radiohead numbers. Elsewhere, the more robust "Bee Karma" and "High Rise" offer up only slightly noisy takes on the sort of post-punk that was first thrown down by bands like Dinosaur Jr., for example. The second half of Plum takes a decidedly mellower approach, with selections like "The Trap" and "Ginger" shining in the manner of Galaxie 500 or a more down-tempo Sonic Youth. The last 2 numbers here, "Blue Cloud" and "Driving", are the longest cuts on Plum and each offers up a refinement of the approach that Wand used on earlier albums, even if things here seem to have been influenced more by Jon Brion and Nilsson than any obvious, noisier band from the Eighties.

Listeners should be happy at the progression that Wand have shown over the course of 4 albums. If the music on Plum is prettier than that on earlier Wand records, it's still music that's full of spark and creativity. And I feel confident in saying that Wand are really shaping up to be one of the more interesting bands in America these days.

Plum is out on Friday on Drag City. More details on Wand via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Kyle Thomas]

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Age Of Miracles: A Quick Review Of The New One From The Clientele

Over the course of 6 earlier albums, a bunch of singles, a clutch of EP's, and a few compilations, The Clientele have maintained a remarkably consistent run. And that run is going to be extended by the release, on Friday, of the band's latest album. Out on Merge Records here in the USA, Music For The Age Of Miracles is another batch of superb chamber pop from this group, and further proof of why The Clientele remain an understandably-treasured band for so many listeners.

The Clientele -- Alasdair MacLean (guitar and vocals), James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums, piano, percussion) -- have perfected a modern take on Sixties styles to such an extent that it's almost as if the group was creating their own genre by refining those styles on each subsequent release. That push-and-pull between Beatles-era influences and Eighties ones is something that a listener can hear in the traces of pre-disco Bee Gees in album opener "The Neighbour", even as lead single "Lunar Days" channels a vibe that one could say was poised closer to the more mannered moments on a Galaxie 500 release. The spry "Everything You Tonight Is Different From Itself" recalls a whole slew of Creation Records bands from a few decades ago, while the stately "The Circus" mines a vein that The Lilac Time sometimes worked while also offering up a relaxed expansion of the usually-precise arrangements that this band is so fond of. Elsewhere, the supple "Everyone You Meet" echoes music made in that era when The Beatles had inspired so many and before that inspiration had turned into something shaggier. The track is elegant and full of the sort of effortless class that MacLean and co. have brought to the creation of indie-pop over so many years. Throughout their career, The Clientele have channeled this sort of thing so easily that one could forgiven for sometimes taking them for granted. Treading a path between a sort of relaxed folk ("Constellations Echo Lanes") and a very refined breed of British pop ("The Age Of Miracles"), The Clientele here share the ends of their artistic spectrum.

And while there aren't any shocks or surprises here, that is precisely why this band has remained so treasured for so long. The Clientele do one or two things so extraordinarily well that one can forgive them for not taking any huge risks this time out. Music For The Age Of Miracles shines in the manner of most Clientele records and long-time fans should be able to embrace this one as easily as, say, Strange Geometry. And, for new(er) fans of The Clientele, Music For The Age Of Miracles offers up as clear a single-disc distillation of this band's strengths as one is likely to ever encounter.

Music For The Age Of Miracles is out on Friday via Merge Records here in the USA. More details on the Clientele via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: Andy Willsher]

Monday, September 18, 2017

Calling Direct: A Few Words About The New LP From Omni

Atlanta trio Omni are back with a new record that expands upon the jittery art-pop of their debut, reviewed by me here. The new long-player, Multi-Task, drops on Trouble In Mind Records this Friday and it's an album that's full of fine bursts of smart indie of the kind that deserves to be championed by discerning listeners.

Opener "Southbound Station" surges on a take on the Talking Heads '77 formula, while selections like "Equestrian" and "Calling Direct" seem to be taking inspiration from points in the past as disparate as early Gang of Four records and classic Orange Juice singles. At their very best, Omni make this sort of stuff feel natural and a reader shouldn't infer that I'm implying a lack of originality here due to my name-dropping of earlier acts. The propulsive "Tuxedo Blues" blends in a dash of early Postcard Records lyricism even as other numbers ("After Dinner", "Heard My Name") seem sharper and more in thrall to early Joy Division and A Certain Ratio numbers.

A reasonably concise expression of the sort of indie-pop being perfected elsewhere by bands as diverse as EZTV and Expert Alterations, the angular and nimble music of Omni is effortlessly unassuming and largely pretty charming. Multi-Task will, hopefully, get this band even more attention than their last album did.

Multi-Task by Omni is out on Friday via Trouble In Mind Records. More details on Omni via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sebastian Weiss]

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Ideal: A Word About The New One From Dead Rider

Dead Rider is apparently an offshoot of the late, lamented U.S. Maple. My memory of that band's stuff is pretty weak but I am pretty sure that the music on the new one from Dead Rider, Crew Licks, out Friday on Drag City, sounds nothing like anything from U.S. Maple. I can report that what's here is disturbing and invigorating at the same time, even if Dead Rider are not exactly breaking any new ground on this long-player.

The sinister "Grand Mal Blues" kicks off Crew Licks with the sort of noise that one could have found on an early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record, while the more successful and original "Ramble On Rose" works on a groove that veers, however slightly, into territory once occupied by the Stones in the early Seventies. If "The Listing" catches spark for a bit, the spry "The Ideal" nudges itself into the direction of the sort of riffs once thrown down by Jon Spencer and his crew. Similarly, "Too Cruise" manages to work up some serious sweat, while the epic closer "When I Was The Frankenstein's" successfully blends the influences that are so clearly seeped through this stuff with something else entirely in order to produce a result that feels unique.

Crew Licks isn't exactly re-inventing the wheel here but it is furthering the sort of scuzzy rock that was once more commonplace. Given that, a listener has to at least applaud the fact that a band like Dead Rider is willing to pursue this sort of thing. Unfashionable, the bad intent rock here is good stuff.

More details on Dead Rider and Crew Licks via Drag City.

[Photo: Bread Casey]

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Play Video Of One Of The Best Songs From New Alex Lahey Album Here!

I've been a fan of almost everything Alex Lahey has released in the last year or so and I am now very happy to report that her debut full-length album, I Love You Like A Brother will be out on October 6.

I will, of course, be posting a review of that record closer to that official release date but, for now, I'm here to rave about the newest single from the record that's out now in the form of a video. "I Haven't Been Taking Of Myself" is a bright near-glam-stomper mixed with a bit of the ol' New Wave. It is a fantastic number and one that, like so many of the highlights on Alex's album, manages to blend about a half-dozen influences into a rich indie-pop blast of energy.

I Love You Like A Brother will be out on October 6. You can find out more details on Alex Lahey via her official Facebook page, or official website.

[Photo: Giulia McGauran]

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

There Was A Light: A Quick Look At The Omnivore Reissue Of I Am The Cosmos From Chris Bell

At a certain point, the world doesn't need another version of "You And Your Sister", am I right? And, at the same time, the world realizes that the wealth of versions of Chris Bell's classic out there is the result of the slipshod nature of Big Star and Chris Bell releases in years past. Now, thanks to the masterful series of reissues recently undertaken by the folks at Omnivore Recordings, the world has what amounts to the first comprehensive look at the late genius who, along with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens, formed Big Star.

Without a lot of self-congratulatory fanfare, Omnivore Recordings has been establlishing itself as the keeper of the Big Star legacy, and fans can rest securely in that knowledge. Following this year's Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star, and last year's Complete Third set from Big Star, the team at Omnivore Recordings has now turned their attention to the one official solo release from Chris Bell and expanded that. The result is, like those other offerings mentioned above, now the definitive document on the market.

Disc 1 of this 2-CD I Am The Cosmos set offers the crispest sounding version of I Am The Cosmos we're likely to ever hear, with standards like "I Got Kinda Lost" and "There Was A Light" rocking and chiming in the styles of Badfinger and The Rolling Stones, respectively. The Rykodisc compilation of Chris Bell's work -- his one "album" -- originally released in 1992, has here been expanded and rendered in a stunningly clear mix that presents stuff like the Sabbath-like chord progressions in "Better Save Yourself" as things of immediate menace, while the gentle "Speed Of Sound" sounds like Bell is in the next room, the guitar plucks nearly tangible things as you hear them in your headphones, or through your speakers. Here, more than ever, the case is being made -- again -- for the greatness of Bell as a solo artist, one who was, however briefly, the equal of the newly-solo Paul McCartney (as others have pointed out), and mid-Seventies Todd Rundgren (a comparison others may not have yet tried to make).

So, what's extra here on this 2-CD version of I Am The Cosmos? Well, over the course of these 2 discs there are 8 songs previously unreleased. And, naturally, a large part of Disc 2 is made up of alternate versions of Bell's best, most familiar tracks. That said, the versions recorded at Shoe Studios are remarkably different iterations of some of these familiar numbers, and there are a few nuggets mixed in here too: "In My Darkest Hour", a lilting duet with Nancy Bryan; "Stay With Me", an Eagles-like ramble with Keith Sykes; and an absolutely awesome version of "I Am The Cosmos" with some piano parts that make the song seem even more like a classic than it already did.

There are folks out there who will never get tired of Big Star and I count myself as one of them. That said, the prior haphazard packaging of the band's legacy was an annoying thing. So with every Big Star-related release from Omnivore Recordings the team there should be praised a little bit more for rescuing this legacy, righting sonic wrongs, and rendering this treasure trove of material as it was always meant to be presented. This version of I Am The Cosmos is superb and I think that one can hear even more clearly the spark of the late singer's genius. What's here on these 2 discs is a flowering of artistry that was cut tragically short, and it's an artistry that seems a necessary extension to the Big Star story and not just an epilogue to that musical drama. I Am The Cosmos makes a compelling case that Chris Bell's solo work was the equal of not only Alex Chilton's stuff, but that of the band they were both in together. And, thanks to the backstory on Bell in the liner notes from Bob Mehr, and the wildly informative track notes from Alec Palao, I Am The Cosmos is now an educative experience for any fan of Bell or Big Star. Absolutely essential.

I Am The Cosmos is out on Friday via Omnivore Recordings.