Friday, April 21, 2017

Spring Is In The Air: A Quick Look At The New Woods EP

It was the song "Spring Is In The Air" that made me love the new Woods EP so immediately. The cut, one of 6 new songs from the band, is part of Love Is Love, the new EP that drops today on Woodsist.

The tunes here are all superb, of course, with the standouts being the previously-mentioned "Spring Is In The Air" and the Sixties-tinged title cut. Equally impressive is the horn-assisted "Bleeding Blue" which recalls Orange Juice, and perhaps a few C86 bands. It is expertly arranged and played but it doesn't, of course, seem too mannered. Front-man Jeremy Earl has a real knack for tossing this sort of material off and making it look effortless. The excellent "Lost In A Crowd" sounds a bit like a classic from The Clientele, while the woozy "Hit That Drum" unfurls with more than a bit of a neo-psychedelic vibe to it.

As a stop-gap to the next full-length Woods album, Love Is Love is a fine addition to the Woods catalog. And as a stand-alone release, this EP is equally essential.

Love Is Love by Woods is out today via Woodsist.

[Photo: Chiara V. Donati]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Quick Look At Early Recordings From Priests, Out Tomorrow For Record Store Day 2017

Before they were earning raves for their full-length debut, Nothing Feels Natural, raved about by me here, D.C.'s own Priests were crafting idiosyncratic and abrasive stabs of post-punk, the results poised somewhere between the earliest, roughest bits of harDCore and maybe those first Wire records.

That comparison is an awkward one but I think if you listen to Early Recordings, out tomorrow on Tough Love Records, you'll get what I mean. The release, timed for Record Store Day 2017, collects the first bits of this band's sound ever committed to tape. That not all of it is accessible shouldn't be a surprise as the group, from the word "go", was an uncompromising lot.

From the somewhat strident, decidedly political "Diet Coke" and "USA", and on to the more poised, even Joy Division-ish, riffs of the down-tempo "Talking", the material compiled here reveals a band -- even in its earliest version of just a few years ago -- in command of its unique musical vocabulary. "Cobra" and "Say No" bridge the early scratchings of the Dischord pioneers with the sort of shouty punk that burst out of England in the late Seventies. The 2 most revealing cuts on Early Recordings are, perhaps, "Leave Me Alone", all Peter Hook-riffs ridden into a dark place, and "Lillian Hellman", a more direct form of punk closer to what bands like Fugazi and (even) Shudder To Think once unveiled here in this city.

What's apparent from a quick listen to Early Recordings is that Priests were, from the outset, combining a series of disparate influences from both the rich heritages of this city (D.C.) and that of the U.K. with the result equaling a significant advancement of both harDCore as well as American post-punk in general.

Early Recordings by Priests is out tomorrow via Tough Love Records. Follow Priests here.

[Photo: me, at 03/11/17 Priests show at Black Cat D.C.]

"We Tried To Realize The Spirit Of The Songs": Chris Stamey Shares Some Insights Into The Creation Of New Big Star Tribute Film "Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third...And More"

The most important music release of this week is a film. Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More is both a movie and a 2-CD set. The extraordinary DVD (or Blu-Ray) captures a recent concert organized by Chris Stamey of The dB's to honor the artistry of Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel -- Big Star -- and, more specifically, imagine the songs on the "difficult" third Big Star record as ones that could be performed and fleshed out (in a sense) in a live setting. That so much of this succeeds so well is a testament to both the enduring strength of these compositions, and the musical acumen of Stamey as a sort of project ring-leader for a concert that, on this night, involved names like Jeff Tweedy, Robyn Hitchcock, Dan Wilson, Ira Kaplan, Jody Stephens, Mitch Easter, Skylar Gudasz, and many others.

Chris Stamey was, of course, a member of The dB's, but he remains a fine solo artist, as I explained in my rave review of his last album, and he was, of course, tied up in the power-pop and New Wave scenes in the late Seventies, both in Chilton's band at one point, and as a member of the seminal Sneakers, subject of a recent fine reissue, along with Mitch Easter.

And, frankly, what better time for this film about Third than now, just a few months after Omnivore Recording's amazing reissue of the record? I reviewed that release here a few months ago and I remain impressed by how wonderfully it presented the genius of Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, and the associated players.

The concert project centered on Big Star's Third album, captured on Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More, began in North Carolina, the home of both Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter. And as Stamey explained to me in an interview about Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More:

"There are a lot of well-known music scenes around the country, but I remember when I was playing with Alex [Chilton] in the late Seventies, I was very unimpressed with the level of musicianship around the CBGB scene, and I told Alex and he said: 'You know Chris, good things come from the provinces.' I do think that North Carolina is a province that has a high degree of musicality, especially now." Stamey further revealed the central place that the Cat's Cradle venue played in getting this started and hosting early versions of what is here in the film.

Soon after that, Stamey got the original scores for Big Star's Third from Carl Marsh and then it became a task of "trying to perform it live, or attempt to perform a version of it live." Still, there were some scores that were lost but "John Fry at Ardent gave us the multitrack tapes to work off of" and "We tried to realize the spirit of the songs."

And a viewer finds while watching Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More, it is the songs, not the guest vocalists, that are the stars here. As Stamey says, "this was different than a 'tribute' show since we were trying to learn what was there in order to, in some ways, depart from it." The influence of the approach of composers like Mingus was a touchstone for many of the players and Stamey behind the scenes, and the end results offered very different versions of Big Star, even as the tunes remained perennial tributes to the enduring genius of Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens. And, most importantly to Stamey, the concert version offered here in Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More was a unique form of tribute to those performers and it was "very meaningful to hear the songs in a big room."

But the mechanics of how this was put together were probably daunting, not the least being how to pair up the right performer with the right track. As Stamey explains, "I thought of this as if we were making a stage version of a movie" with the performers "coming up with different solutions than they had on the record" but the chosen performers were, ultimately, trying to get across the same thing, including the "juxtaposition of elements" that makes Third such an odd, touching, and affecting record. Still, Stamey says, it was like "casting" as to who would sing which track: "I would go through and figure out ranges based on other things they've recorded" and adapt the arrangements for the performers. "So the ranges are high on some songs," Stamey explains. "But in the end it was a matter of not only range but also 'Who has the gravitas for this?'" That was the method that guided the process of pairing up a performer with a Big Star song for the project, Chris adding that in "every case it was done very carefully."

One of the highlights of Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More is the inclusion of Chris Bell's solo song, "I Am The Cosmos", sung by Stamey in the film, the guy who released the original single so many decades ago. On singing such an untouchable track, Stamey says, "Sometimes it's overwhelming, overwhelmingly emotional as there's a lot that goes on with that song" but in "I Am The Cosmos" in the end "I was just just trying to hit the notes" as it was the end of the concert and a fairly poignant peak in the set. "It's always a point in the concert where we can get lost in the moment and get swept up in the emotions."

But ultimately the release of Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More should serve, for newer fans, as a sort of introduction to Alex Chilton, an artist who evolved, certainly, beyond the 3 main Big Star records.

Chris Stamey referenced Picasso when thinking of that changeability of Chilton: "I think about someone like Picasso who was very changeable and that impulse to evolve and take it further was something that was once very valued" by listeners, but "if Picasso got asked about those sad clowns all the time and then but 'What are all these cubes?' even Picasso would have been ticked off." Stamey says that he thinks, "Alex would have been sad that people weren't paying more attention to his solo records." And, he adds, "I do hope that, if bands are a gateway drug to other Big Star records, I do hope that the movie will lead people to investigate other parts of Alex's catalog".

While Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More remains an amazing CD and DVD release, Stamey retains a tiny bit of doubt if it was the perfect representation of that concert experience: "It was definitely on that night and we really got lucky" and "I am very happy, but 'definitive?' I don't know. But I am really happy with it."

Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live...And More is out on Friday via the Concord Music Group.

To keep track of Chris Stamey's other endeavors, including the Occasional Shivers series of performances, follow on his official Facebook page, or via his official website.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Guess The Good Parts: A Review Of The Fine New EP From The Darling Buds

I am thrilled to report that not only are The Darling Buds back but they are back in support of a thoroughly excellent release. The new EP, Evergreen, out on Friday via Odd Box Records, is so good, so effortlessly tuneful that a listener wants to immediately go and fall in love with this group's back-catalog all over again.

The group this time out -- original singer Andrea Lewis-Jarvis, bassist Chris McDonagh, guitarists Paul 'Chaz' Watkins and Matt Gray, and drummer Erik Stams -- gel remarkably well, so well, in fact, that one might forget that the 2 guitarists are from different eras of the band's past (Watkins from the Crawdaddy line-up and Gray from the Erotica one). Opener "Evergreen" positively soars, Andrea's vocals sounding more or less as they have for 30 years now, the anchor in the group's rockier take on the sort of Sixties styles that inspired so many in the C86-C87 generations. "Guess The Good Parts" roars past on the back of a killer hook and an assured performance from Lewis-Jarvis, with the results being the sort of tune that begs to be cranked up as one cruises the highway in a car with the windows down. "Complicated" achieves the same kind of thing, the overall effect here being a good deal similar to those magnificent early Catatonia singles, that Welsh band surely owing a huge debt to this Welsh band. Evergreen ends with the more down-tempo "Twenty-One Aches", a number that wouldn't have sounded out-of-place on Erotica, though the mood here is one achieved with more guitars than keyboards this time around.

It seems hard to believe that this is the first new Darling Buds music to be released in 25 years. It really doesn't seem that long ago that I was putting "Sure Thing" on mix-tapes in my final year of college. And it doesn't seem like 26 years ago that I saw the band do a wonderful cover of "Temptation" by New Order when they played D.C. on the Crawdaddy tour, nor does it seem like it's been 28 years since I worked in a college record store and played "Let's Go Round There" off Pop Said... at a dangerously loud volume in the shop. So, believe this fan when I say that Evergreen is not only a set of 4 great Darling Buds songs, it's one of the very rare cases where a comeback release deserves to sit right next to a group's earlier records. There's nothing here in the grooves of Evergreen to suggest that the band have been away or anything like that. The Darling Buds sound, if possible, even a bit more invigorated here than they did on some of their major label albums. And for that reason, I can only hope that Evergreen is just the first in a string of new Darling Buds releases as, surely, a full-length record is the next logical step for these genuine Welsh legends.

Evergreen by The Darling Buds is out on Friday via Odd Box Records. Follow The Darling Buds via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Look At The Fab New Single From The Chills For Record Store Day 2017

Thank God for The Chills, really. Martin Phillipps, Chills front-man, is currently in the midst of one of his most fertile periods as an artist and long-time fans are being rewarded again and again by this group's excellent brand of indie-pop. This latest run started with 2015's excellent Silver Bullets, and it continues here this year with this superb new single, "Rocket Science / Lost In Space", also on Fire Records, for Record Store Day 2017.

Phillipps remains one of the very few artists who can write about important matters without the resulting songs sounding like lessons. His best songs possess a lightness of touch that allows him to easily slip in some big ideas without hectoring listeners. And, as he told me in a 2015 interview when discussing the build-up to the release of Silver Bullets: "I realised I needed to address some of the difficult issues that have been bothering me about the state of our world." That sort of need is surely what inspired Phillipps to write the punchy "Rocket Science", a song that frankly addresses the risks of silence when living in a world with horrible figures like Trump in power. Sonically, it is a cousin to "The Male Monster From The Id" from 1992's Soft Bomb, and, as I tried to explain abovr, it shares a similar serious-yet-peppy vibe.

The flip this time out is "Lost In Space", a composition that Phillipps can trace back to his earliest years with this act. Unrecorded until now, the tune does indeed sound a bit like some of what ended up on Brave Words, for instance, even as the new(er) members of The Chills imbue this with a good deal of modern heft. The personal to the political of "Rocket Science", "Lost In Space" is a worthy flip-side for this Record Store Day 2017 single and a pretty good showcase for Phillipps' talents as a fine guitarist.

Released on Friday via Fire Records, "Rocket Science" / "Lost In Space" is, hopefully, a bright harbinger of new music to come from The Chills. As a standalone single, the 2-sided release works remarkably well. I think "Rocket Science" is every bit as strong as any cut on Silver Bullets, and I can only hope that Phillipps and his crew are busy at work on the full-length follow-up to that superb album.

"Rocket Science / "Lost In Space" is out on Friday on Fire Records for Record Store Day 2017.

[Photos: Jon Thom Moodie Tuesday]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

They Walk Among Us: A Word About The Fine New EP From Barry Adamson

Barry Adamson remains the sort of artist that one sits up and takes notice of. There's nothing in this gentlemen's back catalog -- and I'm counting recordings done both as a prodigious solo artist and as a member of Magazine and then Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds -- that doesn't drip with invention and the sort of big, bold, brave music-making that far, far too few musicians dare risk anymore. The new EP, Love Sick Dick, out Friday, is no exception.

Rolling in like he's starring in his own spy flick, Adamson starts the release off with the swagger of "I Got Clothes" which segues nicely into the jazzy "Sweet Misery", all smooth edges and hard beats. "People Like Us" ought to be a huge hit. It is the sort of thing that bands like Primal Scream and Spiritualized tried to pull off so many times at the turn of the 21st century but Barry, as one would expect, can do this sort of thing with his eyes closed. Effortlessly cool, the cut is a dash of the Swingin' Sixties wrapped up in a sleek, modern package. "On Golden Square" is more traditional in its supple electro-pop attack, while "They Walk Among Us" recalls the best bits from Barry's early solo recordings, the cut a soundtrack to Adamson's own dreams, or yours. "One Hot Mess" ends the EP with a nod in the direction of stuff like The Wolfgang Press, or even Fad Gadget, acts who, one realizes now, probably cribbed a trick or two from the Adamson play-book some decades ago. This final cut on Love Sick Dick manages to rides a big hook in a song that feels rather intimate in its presentation. Adamson has always had a knack for pulling this sort of thing off and so many of his compositions share this similar rare trait of being accessible but personal and introspective.

I suppose that one could call some of what Barry's produced post-modern soul as it would be an easier way to describe this sort of material, the 6 songs on Love Sick Dick included, seeing as how so much of what he's done as an artist doesn't fit nicely into any one musical category. If anything, Barry Adamson's solo career has been one spent assimilating styles and then releasing material that effectively blurred genres with a great deal of ease. The 6 cuts here are worthy additions to that back-catalog, and further bits of proofs of the man's enduring musical genius.

Love Sick Dick by Barry Adamson is out on Friday. More details via the official Barry Adamson website, or via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook picture]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

This Is Not Communication: Another Superb Single From Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie)

It wasn't too many weeks ago that I was bringing you news of the first solo single from Dave Depper of Death Cab For Cutie. That single, "Do You Want Love?", drew favorable comparisons to the music of The Associates around these parts and this new cut, "Communication", is just as good, and just as worthy of similar comparisons to the material of other electro-pop pioneers.

Depper is doing something interesting here on this second taster from his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique. That album, out in June on Tender Loving Empire, promises to be one of Summer's best releases and I'm starting to get a bit hyped for it. Much like Death Cab mate Ben Gibbard did with The Postal Service, Depper here is melding about a dozen different New Wave touchstones into something new, something fresh. "Communication" is similar to more understated Depeche Mode cuts from the turn of the Nineties, or a China Crisis ballad mixed with a dash of The Blue Nile circa their second album. It is, like the earlier Depper solo single, really lovely and quite subtle in spots as it builds and then unfurls in a bright instrumental pattern.

For now, you can follow Dave Depper on his official website in the run-up to the release of his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique on Tender Loving Empire in June.

[Photo: Jaclyn Campanaro]

Monday, April 10, 2017

Daydream: A Quick Review Of The New Album From So Many Wizards

It would be easy to label the new album from So Many Wizards a neo-psychedelic release. The record, Heavy Vision, out Friday on Lolipop Records, is full of bright, chiming indie numbers that positively drip with homages to earlier pioneers like Syd Barrett and The Byrds. That said, the band manages to imbue a great deal of this with the sort of fresh approach that renders this record more than just a simple tribute album to the Sixties.

Opener "Sic Boys" rings with a hint of paisley-era pop, while the rollicking "Swimming Pool" rocks in a more traditional fashion much like recent album tracks from up-and-coming band Twin Peaks. Elsewhere, "Daydream" bounces along with the sort of mid-tempo vibe found on early Blur records, while the lovely "Modern Way" recalls some stuff from Temples. At their best, So Many Wizards seem to be capable of blending together a whole lotta things at once. The perky "Just Poison" rides a hook like something from a C86 band, while "Hash" and "No One Cares" showcase a more mellow side of this band's output, the vibe a strongly-melodic one.

So Many Wizards are not re-inventing the wheel here but they are bringing a great many influences together in the service of their own very winsome indie-pop. Fans of stuff like Twin Peaks, and Wowee Zowee-era Pavement should find a lot to love here.

Heavy Vision from So Many Wizards drops Friday on Lolipop Records. Find more details on the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: James Juarez]

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Let It Drop: A Few Words About The New Buttercup Record

San Antonio, Texas is not the place you might expect an art rock band to hail from but Buttercup counts the place as its hometown. The band is set to drop their new album, Battle Of Flowers, on Friday via Bedlamb Records, and I'm here to tell you about why you should be interested in this fine record.

Album opener "Let It Drop" pops and crackles with a kind of wit, while the lovely "Acting Through Music" travels territory once occupied by artists as disparate as Todd Rundgren and Jellyfish. "How To Think More About Sex" recalls both Big Dipper a bit even as the title and POV nod in the direction of The Embarrassment, while the languid-but-beautiful "Vicious Rewind" made me think of Beulah and Camper Van Beethoven. The ghost of Eighties college rock rises again on the peppy "Henry B. Gonzalez" and the catchy "68 Playmate", both numbers that seem comparable to a lot of the best stuff cranked out by King Missile and Too Much Joy in an earlier decade.

If the music of Buttercup is hard to describe, that's a sign that the band is doing something right. Battle Of Flowers bridges a few genres with ease while offering up something fresh and full of spark. Witty without being too silly, melodic without being sappy, the tunes here from Buttercup are uniformly well-crafted and infectious and that's a pretty good reason to seek out Battle Of Flowers when you can.

Battle Of Flowers by Buttercup is out on Friday via Bedlamb Records. More details on Buttercup via the band's official website.

[Photo: Mark Greenberg]

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Pinch The Dream: In Which I Explain How This New CFM Record Rocks

To say that the new album from CFM, Dichotomy Desaturated, out tomorrow on In The Red Records, rocks is to state the obvious. Given that this is Charles Moothart, he of Fuzz and Ty Segall's band, it shouldn't be any surprise that this is full of similarly unhinged acid rock head-bangers.

There are numbers here that are clearly heirs to the Segall lineage ("Lethal Look"), and others ("Voyeurs", "Desaturated") that echo material further back from rock history, namely stuff like Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan catalog selections. Elsewhere, tracks like "Pinch The Dream" and "Rise And Fall" burn with a sort of Blue Cheer-like vibe similar to what Segall employed so successfully earlier in his career. The late Sixties/early Seventies were certainly a fertile ground for this sort of thing and Moothart, like Ty Segall before him, is wise to mine it carefully. That some of this even transcends its obvious points of inspiration is something to be applauded too, Moothart having produced something that is more than just one long homage to an earlier era. Much of Dichotomy Desaturated is exactly what you'd expect from a Ty Segall band-mate but it's still a blast and a whole lot of fun. There's no need to get too heavy about this, nor try to analyze it too deeply. For the most part, CFM is just rocking out, even as a rare cut or two here tries to do more (the longer "Dead Weight", or the lovely-but-trippy "Message From The Mirror").

Dichotomy Desaturated by CFM is out tomorrow via In The Red Records.

[Photo: Denee Segall]