Friday, May 18, 2018

Holding: A Quick Review Of The New All India Radio Album

The new album from All India Radio, Space, out next week, is the sort of release that straddles a line between ambient and dream-pop, all while explicitly harking back to the glory days of Pink Floyd. The album is spacious and full of soundscapes that enlarge a listener's sense of the cosmic. No mean feat that.

Opener "Vega" and follow-up "Monsters" nod in the direction of Floyd circa Dark Side, even as the more supple "Heirs of Ineptune" pulses and throbs with bits of Can and Kraftwerk pieces being referenced by the musicians here, as does the spry "Holding". Elsewhere, "Eurydice in Scarlet" recalls bits from The Church, especially so since Steve Kilbey makes an appearance here for a spoken word passage, while "Anja's Eternal Light" is equal parts Eno and late Cocteau Twins, soothing stretches punctuated by electronic bits that embellish the song with subtle flashes of emotion.

Space is a more lyrical release than earlier offerings by All India Radio, even as the lyricism is of a stretched out and blissful nature. Martin Kennedy and his crew have imbued this with enough touches that suggest the early Seventies that heads from the era should love this as much as younger fans of newer ambient releases.

Space by All India Radio is out next week. More details on All India Radio via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Get Back Down: A Few Words About The New Modern Studies Album

The new record from Scotland's Modern Studies, Welcome Strangers, out tomorrow via Fire Records, is chamber pop of the highest order. Expanding the band's palette from earlier releases, Modern Studies have here offered up affecting music that uses strings to add emotion and shades of meaning to the superb indie-rock on offer this time out.

Opener "Get Back Down" churns a bit, tension uncoiling, while the smoother "Mud and Flame" sees the vocals from Emily Scott and Rob St. John suggesting any number of classics from that other great chamber pop band from Scotland (The Delgados). "It's Winter" is elegiac and yearning, while the supple "Young Sun" has a faint whiff of The Go-Betweens about it, the highest praise I could give something like this. Elsewhere, "Fast As Flows" builds up a significant momentum, while the epic closer "Phosphene Dream" made me think of both Crime and the City Solution and The Triffids, even as emotions are kept closer to the vest here.

Welcome Strangers is a remarkably good record, and one that offers up expertly-realized chamber pop that sounds utterly unlike anything else you're going to encounter out there in mid-2018. Ambitious and yet grounded, the music of Modern Studies is a special thing. Grab Welcome Strangers on the format of your choice tomorrow when it drops via Fire Records.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Almost Had To Start A Fight: A Brief Word About The New Parquet Courts Record

They've hooked up with producer Danger Mouse, and have artwork and band photos in a new, Eighties-style color scheme so, yeah, Parquet Courts have entered that dangerous phase of wanting to do a band reinvention. I suppose that's good; far too many comparisons to Pavement in reviews of earlier records from this crew, and, obviously, no one is going to compare Wide Awake!, out Friday on Rough Trade, to a release from Malkmus and the boys.

Yes, "Almost Had To Start A Fight / In And Out Of Patience" bristles with a kind of infectious energy, and it's the sort of refinement of this band's approach that suggests a need to set things moving in a new direction. If anything, Danger Mouse has made things clearer in the group's sonic attack, the vocals and instruments perfectly separated in the headphones to offer up a listener a burst of jittery pleasures. Opener "Total Football" seems to me to be one of the band's very best songs to date, A. Savage's Richard Hell-like performance on the mic brushing up against a backing band that's part Fall circa "Hit The North", even as the chorus recalls that big hit from The Godfathers back in the dawn of college rock. It is, frankly, the sort of track that screams "bid for a wider audience", even as it plays to the considerable, and familiar strengths of this band. Elsewhere, "Freebird II" sees a smart-ass title wedded to a rather lovely melody, while "Death Will Bring Change" is art-rock by way of Ray Davies, an imagined run at an early Roxy tune by a bunch of Muswell Hillbillies. If the title track of Wide Awake! largely failed for me -- too much Remain In Light without the musical chops to back it up -- lots of this album works in small doses, even if it's not nearly the sea change this band believes it to be.

Wide Awake! is an okay record. I didn't love it, nor did I hate it, but I suppose it's going to get highly rated by critics who see it as a rather bold stylistic change for this post-punk crew. In offering up the best production this band has ever had, Danger Mouse may have inadvertently highlighted the relative paucity of real hooks in the Parquet Courts quiver. There's a lot of busyness on Wide Awake, but don't mistake that for progress.

Wide Awake! is out on Friday via Rough Trade.

More details on Parquet Courts via the band's official website, or official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ebru Yiliz]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Solid Silk: A Brief Review Of The New Stephen Malkmus Album

The new record by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Sparkle Hard, out Friday on Matador, is yet another notch in the former Pavement front-man's belt. Alternately playful and precise, the album sees the indie hero entirely at ease as a performer, maybe more than he's been in the nearly 2 decades since his other band called it a day.

Now, it goes without saying that despite having had a longer career post-Pavement than he had with them, Malkmus efforts are automatically-if-unfairly judged by the yardstick of that other act. And, frankly, there are parts of Sparkle Hard that do favorably compare to Pavement songs, if that sort of thing is important to you. The bouncy "Shiggy" charms on the back of a fuzzy guitar hook, while the lighter "Middle America" sees Malkmus refine the sort of loose twang he first offered up on "Range Life" in the Clinton years. Importantly, Malkmus has not neglected to bring a lot of hooks with him here on Sparkle Hard, and the record has more melodic treasures within its grooves than some, much-earlier Jicks releases had. And yet, even as the slowly-insistent melody of "Solid Silk" segues nicely into the brighter "Bike Lane", the later song, however, very nearly confirms fears that Malkmus is a cynical hipster a-hole.

Now, I say that because "Bike Lane" is about Freddie Gray and one wonders why we should view the rare appearance of a real world concern in a Malkmus song with anything less than skepticism, given the tone of his past compositions. The jaunty tune doesn't help ease our worries here, but let's give Malkmus the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is, like Mark E. Smith before him, juxtaposing the music against the concerns of the lyrics. One can't possibly believe that Malkmus would turn the senseless death of the young man from Baltimore into an indie-pop song, so one must remember that beneath the smart-assedry, Malkmus is still calling our attention as listeners to the tragedy of Gray's demise at the hands of the cops. Elsewhere, a duet with Kim Gordon nudges parts of Sparkle Hard into real Glimmer Twins territory, "Refute" having a decided grime about it that is indeed infectious. For all that's catchy here throughout the record, Sparkle Hard sees Stephen Malkmus indulge himself a bit on the longer cuts here, "Kite" and "Difficulties / Let Them Eat Vowels" re-affirming his real skill as a guitarist, with the riffs coming loose and fiery on both.

Sparkle Hard sounds enough like Pavement classics that long-time fans should be as happy as I am with this record. The album also fits neatly in with the most recent releases from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks in offering up a pretty good -- superb in spots, really -- showcase for the talents of Malkmus as a singer, composer, and guitarist.

Sparkle Hard by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks will be out on Friday via Matador Records.

More details on Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks via the band's official Facebook page, or official website.

[Photo: Leah Nash]

Monday, May 14, 2018

Affirmation: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Red Hare

For those of you who still listen to a lot of classic harDCore tunes only to lament, "They don't make stuff like this anymore", I'm here to tell ya: they do make stuff like that now. One listen to the superb new record from Red Hare, Little Acts of Destruction, out now via the band's own Hellfire label and Dischord, is enough to convince even the most jaded of aging rockers, that this form has a lotta life in it yet. Of course, it helps immeasurably to have Shawn Brown on the mic, as the cat was the original vocalist for the seminal Dag Nasty. He's joined here by band-mates Dave Eight and Jason Farrell (from Swiz, along with Shawn), and Joe Gorelick, and the D.C.-based four-piece make thunderously-good rock-and-roll.

Recorded and mixed by J. Robbins of Jawbox and Channels, Little Acts of Destruction bristles with life, from brief opener "Distractor", and on to the affirmations of..."Affirmation", and on into "Binary", a train full of dangerous cargo roaring down the tracks. Lots of this, like the pulsing "Surrogate", positively burns in the fashion of any number of acts Brown's been associated with in the past, but it's on slower numbers, like the tense "Live Wire", that the other players get chances to shine, the rhythm section of Eight and Gorelick keeping things moving under Farrell's prickly guitar-lines. Similarly, the nicely-titled "When My Stars Sleep, It's Forever" offers up some sort of journey through a tense landscape, while the surging "Panic Training Session" seems on the verge of lift-off even as the players keep things coiled and edgy throughout. While so much of this feels like a punch in the solar-plexus, there's more texture and interplay in stuff like "That's Not The Same" than one might expect, as these players from the first few waves of harDCore explore the edges of what's possible in this genre in the 21st century.

Red Hare are not re-inventing the wheel here, even as they push down the pedal as the car goes off the highway. Little Acts of Destruction is focused chaos, the sound of rage barely being contained, and the sort of record that delightfully recalls late-period Bad Brains stuff, when the punk was leavened with blasts of the ole' metallic K.O.. A record that deserves to be played at deafening volume, gleefully, Little Acts of Destruction is out now via Dischord.

More details on Red Hare via the band's official Facebook page.

Red Hare are playing Black Cat D.C. for a record release show in a few weeks.

[Photo: Uncredited promo shot from band's Bandcamp page]

Saturday, May 12, 2018

New For You: A Few Pics From Last Night's Hinds Concert In D.C.

Spain's Hinds took the stage in D.C. last night to a rapturously-responsive audience. Having played here a few times already, the band's infectious live show was a known quantity, and the audience seemed to receive the newer songs, like "The Club", with as much affection as they did the older numbers, like "Bamboo" from way back in 2014.

I reviewed I Don't Run back in April, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the new songs that Ana, Carlotta, Amber, and Ada performed with such energy last night.

I Don't Run is out now via Mom + Pop Music, and folks can catch up on the adventures of Hinds via the band's official Facebook page, or via their official website.

[All photos here were taken by either myself or my wife, except for the one of us with the band which was shot by some dude walking up U Street after the show.]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

End Of Time: A Quick Review Of The New Boys Album

The debut full-length album from Sweden's Boys is the sort of thing that one would expect the PNKSLM label to release. And that's another way of saying that Rest In Peace, out tomorrow, is an excellent, haunting record brimming with hooks and otherworldly melodies.

Nora Karlsson, the main driving force behind Boys, uses tracks like "Hemtjansten" to positively haunt a listener, the tune echoing classic tracks from the likes of Julie Cruise and Cranes. "Rabbits" is brighter, some big, catchy chords here carrying this one into the sort of territory once inhabited by old Dusty Springfield singles, while "Love Isn't On My Mind" is more direct still, dashes of Broadcast and early Stereolab popping up here liberally. Karlsson succeeds in preventing lots of this from being too ethereal or precious, and the grounding of the material is in her sharp pop-sense. For all the parts of "End Of Time" that sound breathy and fragile, the underlying riffs are precise, a sharp march into new pop lands, while the epic "What If You Would Die?" sounds like Lesley Gore being remade by the Cocteau Twins. Utterly unlike anything else on the market these days, these tunes from Boys here on Rest In Peace are exquisitely lovely, and perfect cures for the cynicism jaded listeners of indie-pop may feel from time to time.

Nora Karlsson, working here with Hannes Ferm from label-mates and some-time band-mates Holy, has crafted a record in Rest In Peace that straddles a fine line between what some would call dream-pop and what others would call classic songwriting, the tunes wrapped up in effects even as they retain rather traditional, classic forms. Lots and lots of Rest In Peace is breathtaking and, of course, it's yet another PNKSLM release that stands head and shoulders above so much of what passes for indie these days.

Rest In Peace will be out tomorrow via PNKSLM.

More details on Boys via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Anna Rauhala]

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Dark Spring: A Quick Review Of The New Beach House Album

Beach House make music that lends itself to lazy categorizations. The truth is, to reduce this sort of stuff to dream-pop or shoegaze would be both wrong and far too simplistic. The reality is that this duo, from Baltimore originally, craft sonic landscapes that blend elements of those genres with bits and pieces of other things -- soundtracks, Brill Building pop, ambient -- in the process of making their brand of sublime, totally unique American indie.

The new album from Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally is called 7 and it's the 7th Beach House album proper, and a set of tunes that marks the 77th songs the 2 have released together, according to the press materials. All that suggests a band that might be on the verge of running out of ideas but, with 7 producer Sonic Boom in tow, Beach House have brought forth something special here. The album, out on Friday via Sub Pop, kicks off with the pulsing otherworldly charms of "Dark Spring", a cut that is still grounded in traditional pop-craft. "Drunk in LA" and "Black Car" are breathy explorations of the space between trip-pop and drone-rock, the production by Sonic Boom surely seen here by astute listeners as the progression from the sort of tunes he was pursuing in Spacemen 3 and, later, Spectrum. Elsewhere, the more direct "Lose Your Smile" suggests a debt owed to West Coast pop of the past, think faint hints of Jimmy Webb and Neil Young here. If "Girl of the Year" sees Legrand coo in the fashion of Liz on a Cocteau Twins record circa 1990, then album closer "Last Ride" is a near-epic rumination that's closer to Seefeel, or a Ride ballad, than anything else.

And to name-check other artists is, perhaps, to do a disservice here as the music of Beach House remains indelibly one of a kind. The duo manage to imbue their explorations in these genres with a freshness that the offerings of any number of new, proto-shoegaze, or dream-pop wannabes will never possess. So, name-dropping in a review like this is only meant to place this fine material in a sort of context for newer fans of this duo. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have made a record here in 7 that envelopes, and rewards a careful listener. Effortlessly easy to embrace, 7 is something to seek out when it drops on Sub Pop on Friday.

More details on Beach House via the band's official website, or via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Shawn Brackbill]

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Walking Into The Sun: A Review Of The New La Luz Record

The new record from La Luz, Floating Features, out on Friday from Hardly Art, feels like a reward. For those of us who were late to discover the joys of the band's music, or who came in on the release of Weirdo Shrine in 2015, it's been quite a wait for new La Luz music. And now, with Finally Floating, it feels as if the band has hit the sort of artistic peak that rewards our patience over the last 3 long years.

The epic "Cicada" sets the tone with a mix of surf and soundtrack hooks mixing up in a blast of tune-age that's damn hard to describe in writing. The excellent video for the song nearly threatens to eclipse the significant charms of the cut itself, but the offering is a nice sample of what's going on here on Floating Features. La Luz blend a lot of stuff up in the pursuit of some real pop pleasures, like on the roiling "California Finally", or the very lovely "Mean Dream", all Margo Gruyan-tinged, sun-dappled dreaminess. Elsewhere, the epic "Loose Teeth" nods in the direction of both early Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds as well as Los Lobos, while the sinister "The Creature" builds tension through the use of some throwback vibes and eerie riffs. The deliberate "Walking Into The Sun" is a standout too, as is unsettling closer "Don't Leave Me On The Earth" which marries a near-C86-style bit of vocal business with the band's usual guitar attack.

The real problem with La Luz is that the band's music is likely to get labeled dream-pop -- a label that's seen frequently if defined far more infrequently -- or as surf rock. And while I can understand that need to put this music somewhere, it's far easier to say that it's simply damn near impossible to really describe what makes this stuff magical. The players here -- singer/guitarist Shana Cleveland, drummer Marian Li Pino, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, and bassist Lena Simon -- have used Floating Features to reveal the sort of musicianship that modern indie bands rarely possess. All the pieces fit here, even if a listener can't quite describe the infectious symmetry being heard brought to life. The soundtrack to the David Lynchian imaginings in your head, Floating Features is vitally enjoyable.

Floating Features is out on Friday via Hardly Art.

More details on La Luz via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Chona Kasinger]