Sunday, August 20, 2017

Here Among You: A Look At The New Album From Bodies Of Water

The Los Angeles-based band Bodies Of Water make music that sounds like a few acts you probably enjoy already (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Scott Walker), as well as a handful you probably need to seek out (The Triffids, Crime and the City Solution). The band's newest record, Spear In The City, is out on Friday and it's a record full of the best sort of American music that certainly deserves a lot of attention.

If "Here Among You" nods in the direction of Scott Walker, and even Gene Pitney, the more sedate "I'm Set Free" suggests Canada's The Dears. David and Meredith Metcalf, the main 2 musicians driving the ensemble in Bodies Of Water, seem fully in command of a variety of styles here on Spear In The City, and those range from the vague gospel-isms of "Hold Me Closer", to a nod to Motown styles on the superb "Echoes", and on to the title cut with its gentle folk-y perambulations. At their very best, like on the bold "New World", the band sounds like they are taking equal inspiration from Mike Scott, Simon Bonney, and even the young Bono. This is big music, to reference Mike Scott again, and it's also very American music of the sort that is rarely attempted anymore. Nearly epic while remaining concise, each tune here on this album delineates a neat little stretch of wide-eyed sonic exploration. Taken as a whole, Spear In The City could be the soundtrack to the most epic road trip you'd ever dream of making across the American Heartland.

For more details on Spear In The City and Bodies Of Water, check out the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Spirit Cannot Fail: A Quick Look At The New Cherry Red Records Reissue Of Bill Nelson's Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights

Originally released in 1987, but more familiar to listeners on these shores thanks to its appearance on Enigma Records (via a licensing deal with Cocteau Records) in 1988, Bill Nelson's double-album Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights remains one of the musician's most important instrumental albums.

Consisting of 63 tracks, and more than 2 hours of music, this new edition of Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights, out now on Cherry Red Records, presents Nelson's music in splendidly-fine fashion. The tunes here, all brief and composed in moments of "intense stillness", to quote Nelson's note in the original LP, are little snippets of melodies stretched out and expanded in slight and subtle ways. A track like "The Spirit Cannot Fail" on Disc 1 is built around a vocal sample that anchors the wisps of piano and keyboards that encircle the cut, while the spare "Gnosis" uses the faintest hint of a vocal chorus in the keyboard sound that ebbs and flows in the center of the track. Like so many moments here, the effect is one that is casually spiritual. Bill Nelson on this record seems to have perfected the sort of instrumental music he was making in the Eighties and, in doing that, he's stripped things back. Even slighter than some of the soundtrack tracks he produced in the decade, the "songs" here on Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights all are nearly over before they've begun, a brief keyboard figure in something like "The Dove Consumed (The Serpent Slumbers)" gaining its momentum as a listener contemplates that greatly evocative title as the minute or so of music unfolds. The best stuff here, like "Hastening The Chariot Of My Heart's Desire", sounds like the sort of thing that Bill could have expanded into a conventional song earlier in the Eighties. That he chose, instead, to strip things back to their very essence, and allow so much of the weight of this material to be carried by the titles of the songs themselves, is an interesting approach that yielded his most affecting set of instrumental tracks. Bill Nelson managed to somehow make deadly serious music here on Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights that is, oddly, shockingly free of pretension. The songs arrive, you read the song title, contemplate the meaning, and then there's a fade-out. I can think of no other album that's made me look inward as much as this one has, so many times, over so many years.

Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights is out now in a wonderful deluxe reissue from Cherry Red Records. The label's re-packaged this one in a nice fold-out case with a quality booklet that largely reproduces the original liner notes in a nicer fashion. And the sound here is superb, as the tunes sound more expertly mixed and a bit clearer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Burn It Down: A Few Words About The New One From Crown Larks

The Chicago band Crown Larks make the sort of music that remains, in spots, genuinely transgressive, even as portions of this act's new record will seem fairly accessible to braver listeners. The band's latest album, Population, is out now and it's a brash, swooning ride through the maelstrom.

At their very best, like on the affecting "Goodbye", the vocals of Lorraine Bailey and Jack Bouboushian blend nicely as the various players lay down an undulating rhythmic pattern behind them that's punctuated by flutes and keyboards. Elsewhere, there are tracks that are full of a sort of near-psychedelic sense of exploration ("Circus Luuv"), and others that disintegrate into free jazz chaos ("React"). There are many times here on Population where Bouboushian's vocals echo those of both Bobby Gillespie or Jason Pierce which is not to deny that this listener would have still liked to have heard more from Lorraine Bailey beyond the lovely bits she contributes here, like her Grace Slick-meets-Diamanda Galas-style crooning on closer "Stranger (Unce Down To The New Store)".

Still, as an ensemble, Crown Larks are remarkably tight -- listen to the controlled chaos of "Burn It Down" -- and they seem to be able to pull off this sort of thing with a naturalness that few others would be capable off. Reminiscent of mid-Eighties Sonic Youth offerings, and even recent Radiohead records (in spots), Population is a genuinely brave record. And it's one that successfully pulls off a few genre leaps with remarkable ease. Bits of free jazz brush up against a revival of No New York styles in a fresh way and a listener is rewarded with an album that's both genuinely risky and simultaneously listenable. Crown Larks may sound like they are going to torch the building but they're going to make the crackling flames sound lovely, you know?

Population by Crown Larks is out now and you can check it out on the Bandcamp link below. For more details on the band, look to their official Facebook page, or their official website.

[Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh]

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Looking For A Spark: A Quick Word About The New Kelley Stoltz Album

Fans of what is called power-pop need to immediately get this record. Que Aura, out tomorrow on Castle Face Records, is the new solo album from Kelley Stoltz. Kelley is a guy who's been making this sort of music for some time but it feels as if this release is the sort of thing that is going to get him the high level of attention he's deserved all along.

If opener "I'm Here For Now" bristles and crackles like early solo numbers from Brian Eno, tracks like "Get Over" coo in the manner of classic-era Todd Rundgren. Stoltz is so good at this sort of thing that one can forgive him as he dabbles in a few separate genres, from the Seventies wash of "Empty Kicks", to the angular New Wave of "No Pepper For The Dustman", and on to the sleek electro-pop of "Same Pattern". At his very best, each cut, no matter the style, retains the kind of sense of precise song-craft that few artists pursue anymore. On "Looking For A Spark", there's a trace of mid-Nineties Britpop, a vibe extended in the Pulp-like "Feather Falling", even as the odd "For You" nods in the direction of Lodger-era Bowie. Still, for all of those moments that make a listener recall some worthy artist that may have inspired this material, or even Echo and the Bunnymen's stuff, a band that the guy was in recently, Stoltz manages to keep this fresh, and less a revival act's last gasp. At his very best here on Que Aura, Stoltz seems intent on perfecting his art even while he keeps listeners whistling. Supremely catchy and sometimes light as air, the tunes on Que Aura earn favorable comparisons to all the best records in your record collection. And rather than make this a slap-dash affair as a result, Stoltz has a firm hand on this stuff, the cuts serving as some of the best examples of the power-pop genre one is likely to hear in 2017.

Que Aura is out tomorrow via Castle Face Records. More details on Kelley Stoltz via his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dancing Down The Hall: A Look At The Rapturous New Album From Frankie Rose On Slumberland Records

In a similar fashion to what U.K. band Childhood did on their most recent album, American singer Frankie Rose has looked to the Eighties and earlier for some inspiration for her new record. Called Cage Tropical, the new long-player, out Friday on Slumberland Records, is full of wildly-lyrical New Wave numbers that immediately charmed this listener. If there are pieces here that are traces of past alt-rock styles mixed with other familiar genre elements, the presentation, and the big tunes, make up Rose's best solo release yet, and one that should be wildly accessible to new fans who didn't follow her in Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts, or Beverly, or elsewhere.

While opener "Love In Rockets" offers a play-on-words that references a certain band (and comic), it sounds more like classic-era Psychedelic Furs, even as the buoyant "Dyson Sphere" uses washes of keyboards to even greater effect, building on the sort of material Frankie has been releasing in the last handful of years. For every track here, like "Trouble", that is nothing but bouncy and bright electro-pop, there's at least another, like "Dancing Down The Hall", that is more expansive and spacious, a kind of stately take on both mid-period Altered Images and early Cranes, for lack of any easier comparisons. Some of this (the title cut, "Game To Play") seems to be the kind of music that would sit nicely next to stuff from the last solo record from Rose Elinor Dougall, the former Vivian Girl seemingly on a similar wavelength to that of the one-time Pipette, but there remain touches here that indicate that Frankie may be interested in exploring riskier material with Cage Tropical. One listen to the closer, "Decontrol", and one can hear both echoes of those Nineties Cocteau Twins albums, and a few faint passes at earlier indie stuff from these shores (those more ambient moments on Unrest or Air Miami releases stretched to a new breaking point, for instance). And on the rippling "Red Museum" there's a deftness of touch that suggests the kind of indie-pop approach favored by Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine on their first offerings even if the instrumentation here on Cage Tropical is more adventurous and lush, more Factory Records than American C86, for example.

Still, for all my talk of so many worthy comparison points, Frankie Rose has, in some ways, released her best, most unique record here. Wonderfully tuneful, and full of sleek bits of instrumental glory, Cage Tropical is a fine distillation of all the things that make solo releases from Frankie Rose so treasured. When the chorus breaks in "Art Bell", for example, a listener should get chills and feel a sense of liberation. As the song opens up, it's abundantly clear that on this tune, and so many here, Frankie Rose is bringing something new to these New Wave styles, her embrace of them a method to master them and transcend them, and deliver new listeners and old fans a new kind of American indie.

If I sound like I'm gushing about this one that's 'cause Cage Tropical by Frankie Rose is a record worth gushing about. It's the very rare album that, like that Childhood one that I referenced earlier, hits a lot of familiar buttons in a new way and pleases a listener over and over again. Play it once and you'll want to play it again immediately, I am sure of that.

Cage Tropical by Frankie Rose is out on Friday via Slumberland Records. More details on Frankie Rose via her official website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photos: Uncredited promotional images]

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Low Flying Perfection: A Quick Review Of The New Guided By Voices Album, How Do You Spell Heaven

In a fit of creativity that rivals the audacity of the production of their string of classic mid-Nineties offerings, Guided By Voices have dropped a new LP less than a half-year after the release of the sprawling double-album, August By Cake. The new record, How Do You Spell Heaven, is out on Friday via Rockathon Records, and it's a joyously-dense collection of riffs, a bright distillation of so many of the things that have made this band so good for so long. Robert Pollard has tapped into something here on his 101st release and one can only rave about most of what he's shared with us on this record.

If a number like "Steppenwolf Mausoleum" recalls pre-Tommy Who, the slow-burn of "Pearly Gates Smoke Machine", an instrumental, lets this line-up of the band indulge a bit in the style of T.Rex, swatches of Sixties-era Rock-with-a-capital-R setting the scene for what Guided By Voices are after this time around. The line-up on How Do You Spell Heaven -- Doug Gillard, Bobby Bare Jr., Mark Shue, Kevin March, and Robert Pollard -- here exhibit a real mastery of past forms, tackling the sharp power-pop of "The Birthday Democrats" with the same sort of confident ease they bring to the more ornate title cut, a burst of both chamber pop and hard rock that stands out as an instant classic in Pollard's oeuvre. It is, like so many numbers here, tightly constructed and there's a certain conciseness at work on How Do You Spell Heaven that was missing from the otherwise masterful August By Cake earlier this year. Whether it's due to the GBV line-up this time out, or Robert Pollard's joy at hitting release 101 with this one, it's noticeable. Even on something more ambitious, like the multi-tracked "Low Flying Perfection", the boys sound comfortable whipping up a blend of Simon and Garfunkel-style vocal harmonies with early Kinks-inspired hard riffs. Elsewhere, on the beautiful "Nothing Gets You Real", Pollard pursues a more gentle melodic and lyrical peace, one that's closer to The Beatles than it is to The Who, to refer again to an era that's given this guy so much in terms of inspiration. Still, for all the lovely bits here, there are plenty more that surrender to the joy of riding a riff into oblivion (the punchy "Diver Dan", or the mod-ish "Boy W", or the near-roar of "King 007").

And as Robert Pollard sings "I dreamed of drinking" in the spry "Cretinous Number Ones", a listener can take a certain satisfaction in realizing how familiar this track, like many here, feels. To say that is not to say that Bob is stuck in a rut but, rather, that he's captured for a glorious near-40 minutes, a clutch of the mojo he was high on in 1997 as, really kids, How Do You Spell Heaven is as good as so much of we'd call classic Guided By Voices records from nearly 2 decades ago. In any other hands, with anyone other than Robert Pollard at the helm, this sort of ride into the maelstrom in search of past glories would be a colossal failure. But, here, on the hard "How To Murder a Man", or the choppy "Paper Cutz", long-time fans can hear so much of what we loved about this lot back in the early Clinton years brought back to life. I'm all for allowing this band to explore new paths, and pursue new goals, but, sometimes I just need Pollard on the mic, the band rocking behind him, perpetually -- or at least for two-thirds of an hour -- in search of the perfect riff, the most majestic hook one can crank up so as to feel like the world is still a bright and bouncy place to be. Go play "Diver Dan" when this one drops and see if you feel the same way.

How Do You Spell Heaven will be out on Friday via Rockathon Records. More details can be found about Guided By Voices on the band's official website, or on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Screencap of Robert Pollard from the album trailer]

Friday, July 28, 2017

Life's A Lie: A Quick Review Of The New Album from Katie Von Schleicher

Despite having a title that suggests an early Liz Phair-style sense of ironic detachment, Shitty Hits from Katie Von Schleicher, out today on Ba Da Bing Records, is a heartfelt record, and the closest thing to an Aimee Mann LP we're likely to get this side of Ms. Mann herself. Tuneful and lushly disconsolate in equal measure, the album is something to be savored and embraced.

On something like "Midsummer" Von Schleicher delivers a Peggy Lee-like slow-burn number, while the building "Paranoia" suggests early Fiona Apple if Jon Brion had had an even bigger role in the composition of the cuts. If "Soon" earns some lazy comparisons to Lana Del Rey that's understandable, as is the near-shoegaze-like sense of abandon that pervades "Nothing", beautiful despair atop a lush arrangement. Elsewhere, the brighter "Life's A Lie" suggests the material of Springtime Carnivore, while the sparse "Isolator" nods in the direction of both Victoria Williams and Laura Nyro, despite an ornate arrangement that suggests near-glam rock aspirations in Katie Von Schleicher and the other players here. Shitty Hits succeeds despite a certain sameness among the down-tempo tracks, even as the few upbeat ones display more interesting bits of instrumentation. That's a minor criticism, really, as so much of this is affecting that it seems churlish to fault parts of it.

Shitty Hits by Katie Von Schleicher is out now on Ba Da Bing Records. More details on Katie Von Schleicher via her official Facebook page

[Photo: Bao Ngo]

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I've Been Seeing You In My Dreams: A Few Words About The New Album From Annie Hart Of Au Revoir Simone

There was always a certain icy quality to the music of Au Revoir Simone, despite all the bits that harked back to the days of French ye-ye pop on their early tracks. Gradually, the music of the band morphed into something unique that occupied a place near to the material of Saint Etienne and even more ambient-oriented bands like Bel Canto. Furthering that vibe, the lead singer, Annie Hart, has decided to release a solo record. Called Impossible Accomplice, the record drops tomorrow and it's a thing that needs to be praised.

Opener "I Don't Want Your Love" pops and percolates like Nineties electro-pop (in a good way), while "Run To You" slows things down and offers a cut that's every bit as catchy as something by Lady Gaga even if it sounds like it owes a huge debt to the earlier work of Annie Clark. Elsewhere, "Hard To Be Still" rides a bright, Ladytron-like sheen to pop success, while the sinister-sounding "Breathing Underwater" purrs like the darker numbers on a Nineties Depeche Mode record, or even a Cabaret Voltaire one if that band had tried to be a bit accessible. Still, for all the trappings here that recall the electronic music pioneers of alternative rock years past, there are some that are all Annie's, like the stunningly-beautiful "I've Been Seeing You In My Dreams", all stark and serene song-craft.

During the best portions of Impossible Accomplice, a listener can realize how much Annie Hart has stood on her own here, even if this record should also please fans of Au Revoir Simone. This is a lovely record, and one that deserves a lot of attention as one of this week's new releases.

[Photo: Sebastian Kim]

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Everyday's The Weekend: Play The New Alex Lahey Video Here

I realize now that I somehow never wrote about the B-Grade University EP from Alex Lahey earlier this year. And that's a shame 'cause I loved that one. Well, now's my chance to make up for that mistake by raving about the new tunes coming our way from Alex Lahey.

The debut full-length album, I Love You Like A Brother, will be out on Dead Oceans on October 6, and the first taste of the record is the superb "Everyday's The Weekend", a single that's got a funny new video as you can see for yourself below. You can play that video underneath this and dig the Fountains of Wayne-meets-Liz Phair-vibe that Alex is throwing down here in this new tune. It's a superbly bright bit of power-pop business and a more direct version of the sort of tracks I liked so much on her earlier EP. I, for one, can't wait to hear the full-length record.

For now, spin this, and then head over to the official Alex Lahey website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Giulia McGauran]