Friday, December 19, 2014

A Few Kind Words About The New Album From Today's Man

You know, when I wrote about this band before, I compared them to China Crisis. I realize now that that comparison could be a dangerous one if someone read it and went out and got any China Crisis album that wasn't Flaunt the Imperfection (1985). Sure, there are moments on the self-titled debut from Silver Spring's Today's Man that sound like that band but they also have a more expansive sound. If anything, a better comparison would be 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion from Depeche Mode. On that album, the Mode added a streak of bold emotion to their signature electronic style and ended up producing something that seemed all the more human. Today's Man are mining a similar vein of music.

On Today's Man, out now on Chateau Hits, Edmund Douglass and Neal Hoage have crafted 8 tunes that echo the best risk-takers from earlier waves of alternative music -- think Talk Talk's leap from their early stuff to what they sounded like on Spirit of Eden (1988).

The press material for this band name-drops Tears for Fears and there's a bit of them here -- "The New Unknown" wouldn't have sounded too out of place on Songs from the Big Chair -- and there's another mention made of Peter Gabriel -- "Dissolved in Blue" is like something off one of those early, good Gabriel solo records before he got too popular -- but, really, Today's Man have a unique sound. If "Coming 'Round" sounds slightly like Shriekback or even Killing Joke, that's fine and good but the cut is also something else entirely -- a weird mix of very warm vocals and layered textures and keyboards.

And if I tell you that the harder "New Age Defector" sounds like some odd collaboration from 1986 label-mates Psychedelic Furs and Wire Train, you'd think I was crazily reaching for comparisons but it's not quite so easy to pigeon-hole these Today's Man cats. And that's a great thing.

While there are bits and pieces here that will fit an old new wave fan like a glove -- or skinny tie, as the case may be -- it's apparent that Today's Man thought long and hard about their style and presentation long before they committed themselves on the path to making this record. Seemingly fully-formed and of a whole, Today's Man is a remarkably strong album.

Fans of The Killers, New Order, OMD, and Depeche Mode would be well advised to seek out Today's Man. I can't wait to see what they unveil next. Discovering this band has been one of my most pleasant surprises as a blogger this fall/winter.

Follow Today's Man on their official Facebook page or on the Chateau Hits website.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

One Of My Fave New(er) Bands Covers My Fave Christmas Song: Connections Tackle The Kinks!

Well, honestly, my very favorite Christmas song might very well be "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses -- it wasn't Christmas for me in the 1980s until D.C.'s WHFS played it -- but "Father Christmas" by The Kinks runs a very close second. And it rocks a helluva lot harder.

As do Connections. These cats from Ohio have quickly established themselves as one of my favorite bands in a very short span of time. They are cranking out the rock on their new 5 Imaginary Boys EP, out now on HoZac Records. It's also up on iTunes too.

So follow Connections on their official Facebook page and enjoy this holiday classic.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Take A Trip Into The Dunes With Noveller

Noveller is Sarah Lipstate. She's a film-maker and a musician. Noveller creates music that sounds ageless. Imagine modern era Swans mixed with a bit of Harold Budd (only played on guitars). The tunes are big and there's room to listen and get lost in music like this. "Into the Dunes" is the sound of the moment before something momentous and terrifying occurs. It's Eno with a dark streak.

Noveller's new record, Fantastic Planet, will be out in late January via Fire Records.

In the meantime, follow Noveller via Sarah Liptstate's official website.

Spin Rocking New Cut From Fawn Spots Here

The press about this new(ish) band name-dropped both D.C.'s own Rites of Spring and legendary trio Husker Du. I like both bands a lot. Do I like Fawn Spots? Yep. I do. A lot.

"New Sense" is a blast of energy -- rage or joy -- and a scream into the void. The intricate playing hints that these cats have a few Minutemen records in their collections but the sheer force of this one puts them much closer to "Real World"-era Husker Du as was mentioned above.

And -- dare I say it? -- there's even a trace of Swervedriver here but Swervedriver if they were doing hardcore tunes.

Follow Fawn Spots on their official Facebook page. From Safer Place will drop in a few months.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My Top 10 Albums Of 2014 (Sorta!)

I did my very first Top 10 Tracks of the Year-sorta list a week ago and now it's time to do the harder Top 10 Albums of 2014 list. Harder? Yeah, 'cause there were just too many good ones this year and even now I am regretting leaving off a couple of things you might be able to guess if you peruse my reviews from earlier in the summer. That's okay. I cheated. The number of ties ought to show you how much I cheated but I really had no choice.

Okay so here is my Top 10 Albums of 2014 list. That there are actually more than that here should tell you how much I genuinely loved these records and how determined I was to get all of these releases onto this list.

(And I didn't include any reissues on this list even though there were some great ones this year!)

1. Futurology by Manic Street Preachers

The album that every Manics fan was waiting for was this one. Somehow the Welsh legends pulled off the impossible by sounding as on fire as they did 20 years ago. Channeling the punk-inspired rage that fueled their best and brainiest Richey era songs, they honored the missing Manic's memory with an album every bit as dense as his most cherished work with the band. From the Mr. Edwards references in "Walk Me to the Bridge" to the twists and turns of the hooks of "Let's Go To War", the many joys of Futurology have been written about endlessly since its July release. You can analyse this one 100 different ways but one thing is clear: it's the most direct and immediately affecting Manic Street Preachers album in almost a decade. James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, and Sean Moore have cranked out another masterpiece with this one.

2. Lacuna by Childhood

After blogging about these cats for more than 2 years I can only say one negative thing about their debut full-length album Lacuna and that is...I wished they hadn't re-recorded "Blue Velvet" and made a new video for it too. But, heck, it's still downright magnificent and moving. And guess what? Every cut on this record is. Mashing together the ghost of the most memorable A.R. Kane cuts with the best bits of Ride only without the moments of guitar overkill, Childhood managed to produce something that feels wildly expansive while remaining concise and focused. And that is a supremely hard thing to do. Ask The Stone Roses. If, like Brown and the boys, Childhood are one-trick ponies who can never top Lacuna I don't care. I've been listening to The Stone Roses for 25 years and I guess with tracks like "Solemn Skies" and "Falls Away" on it I can assume that I'll be listening to Lacuna for years to come too.

3. (tie) Rips by Ex Hex / Into Sixes by Connections

Rips from Mary Timony and Ex Hex is a strange beast. Wildly catchy and yet abrasive, the record shouldn't work but it does. Spectacularly. Engineered by the legendary Mitch Easter (producer on the next Dot Dash record, btw), Rips is a clean album that winks knowingly back at stuff like Rick Springfield and Pat Benatar while updating that style for a new century. How can something with the punch of a Dischord record sound as clean as a Journey hit and be so good? This is how. The biggest surprise of the year is probably just how damn catchy the tunes on this one were. Connections toured with Ex Hex this year and I sincerely hope that the band gathered loads of new fans. It was damn depressing when I first heard of this band and noticed that their Facebook page had less than 1,000 "likes" but things are different now. Into Sixes is the supremely worthy heir to the stuff Pollard did with early line-ups of Guided by Voices. Connections really delivered on this one and, if hard pressed, I may rate this one higher than their earlier releases but all of their stuff is great. Spin "Aylia" for a taste of the hard power-punk of Ohio's Connections.

4. (tie) Wooden Aquarium by Mazes / Ultimate Painting by Ultimate Painting

Jack Cooper was an extremely busy boy in 2014. That's sort of why I had to feature both bands he's in on my list. The sound of Mazes and Ultimate Painting is not too far off but there are marked differences. Wooden Aquarium featured marvelous music that owed a debt to stuff like the music of The Feelies and The Dream Syndicate. Still, that's not to peg this as a revivalist act. No, these are vital, vibrant tunes that build upon the successes of past bands. Spin "Universal Me" and hear a trace of stuff like Camper Van Beethoven filtered through a modern sensibility. There is focus here that was lacking in that earlier group. And then after all the many successes of the Mazes record, Cooper one-upped himself when he teamed up with Veronica Falls' Jack Hoare to form Ultimate Painting. Their sublime self-titled debut owed more of an obvious debt to earlier acts, specifically stuff like The Velvet Underground and The Feelies (again) but the tunes were strong enough to succeed on their own even if you didn't know anything from those older bands. Spin "Ten Street" and search your brain for the precursors of this wonderful sound. How can something sound so good and not be some long-lost outtake from The Velvet Underground album?

5. Wild Onion by Twin Peaks

Was there any way that this wasn't going to be on here? Wild Onion from Chicago's Twin Peaks was more than a dozen fantastic cuts asking to be thrown onto a mix CD next to The Strokes, Richard Hell, Television, and The Replacements. Still, it was the moments of Malkmus-like genius that charmed me after I rocked out with the harder songs on the record. Watch the video of "Makin' Breakfast" below and thank your god of choice that a band like this exists in 2014. Wildly catchy tunes and a bunch of American smartasses goofing off? Yes please! I haven't been this happy since I saw the "Gold Soundz" video for the first time back in 1995.

6. Return to Bohemia by The Cleaners from Venus

Criminally underrated songwriter Martin Newell trotted out the Cleaners from Venus name to release one of the overlooked gems of 2014. Return to Bohemia was English whimsy done right. Fans of Robyn Hitchock and XTC should take this one to heart in a big way. Whether you only know one previous release from Newell or a dozen, Return to Bohemia was a splendid return to form, to use a ridiculously overused phrase. Doubt me? Spin the achingly beautiful "Imaginary Seas" and get back to me. If you ever wondered what The Move would have sounded like had they recorded something with McCartney in the mid-Sixties, here's your lovely answer.

7. New Gods by Withered Hand

I'm happy to be highlighting something that I consider as good as The Go-Betweens that features someone I used to sell Go-Betweens records to. Little did I know in 1988 or 1989 that Pam Berry would have a future as part of the legendary Black Tambourine, even though future Velocity Girl whiz-kid Archie Moore eventually brought in the first Slumberland Records piece of vinyl to show off to those of us working in the University of Maryland Record Co-Op in late 1989/early 1990. But I remember Berry as one of the kids who bought the good stuff from our record bins. Customers like her gave me hope that I wasn't the only guy in the Maryland area that knew who Forster and McLennan were. And, truth be told, I may like Pam's work here on this album even more than I do her work in Black Tambourine or Glo-Worm (with future Dot Dash main-man Terry Banks). But Withered Hand is mainly Dan Wilson and not just a bunch of superstar helpers. He deserves all the credit for making this such a worthy heir to The Go-Betweens and their sort of pop. Wilson put together a stable of key players to join him this time out and his New Gods is a near-masterpiece as a result of that. Buoyed by the strength of singles like "Black Tambourine" and "Horseshoe", this album broke through in a big way in 2014. Music like this is to be applauded and celebrated. Dan Wilson, Berry, Eugene Kelly from The Vaselines, and everyone else who appears on this marvelous record should be wallowing in all the praise they can get. Thanks for making some of my favorite songs of 2014 guys and gals!

8. Sun Structures by Temples

It seems like I've known these songs for ages. And I have 'cause I started blogging about some of them in 2012. The debut full-length record from Temples finally dropped in 2014 and the wait was worth it. Sun Structures was magical and transcendent. The band managed to produce something like the "greatest hits" of 10 different bands. Lyrical, trippy, and a mind-blower, Sun Structures only begs one question: "Where can these guys possibly go after this?"

9. Purgatory/Paradise by Throwing Muses

Throwing Muses rewarded fans in early 2014. The wildly ambitious book/album project of Kristin Hersh and her team needs to be on many "best of" lists this year. What other band would attempt something like this? There were 2 CDs of music, downloads, a book, and a commentary track. The exquisite package of Purgatory/Paradise also gave me a chance to wax lyrical about this band in my very personal review earlier in the year. Hearing Purgatory/Paradise boom over the balcony of my old apartment on Lamma Island as I looked out to the South China Sea is one of my favorite moments of the last few months of my life in Hong Kong.

10. (tie) Keltic Voodoo Boogaloo by The Earth / Lots of Dots from The Pale Blue Dots / Season Sun by Gulp

Was there any possible way that I could have narrowed my choice down to only 1 Super Furry Animals spin-off record in 2014? Nope. With leader Gruff Rhys off making highly acclaimed solo albums, and keyboard wizard Cian Ciaran running Strangetown Records and promoting his own wonderful 2013 solo album, it was up to the other 3 Furries to dazzle listeners in 2014. And they did. Drummer Daf teamed up with the guitarist of Catatonia and powerhouse vocalist Dionne Bennett to become The Earth. Their 2014 release, Keltic Voodoo Boogaloo, was unlike anything else I heard this year. A stirring mix of psychedelia and soul -- those vocals! -- The Earth's album was an instant classic crammed with ace tunes. SFA guitarist Bunf took his band, The Pale Blue Dots, into sort of familiar territory with equally splendid results. While there were cuts on Lots of Dots that sounded like Super Furry Animals there were new textures and new expanses of melody. And what of bassist Guto? His Gulp released one of the gems of the summer of 2014 in Season Sun, all warm electronica and subtly sinister and soothing vocals from Jackie Leven.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Prepare To Start Hearing More And More About The Awesome Mourn

Deers seemed to kick open the door for new Spanish bands but I think Mourn have been cranking out tunes for just as long. This four-piece from Spain channels a lot of great stuff to make music wholly original and wildly infectious. Check out the video for "Misery Factory" and hear how the band take elements of Patti Smith ("Piss Factory") and Sleater-Kinney ("Call the Doctor" or something like that) to forge something else entirely. The band has more snarling tunes like this one as well as cuts that are more sinister and melodic and closer to the spirit of PJ Harvey.

Now is the time to get on board with Mourn. Follow them on their official official Facebook page.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Heads Up About The Awesome New EP From Connections

No sooner had I thrown a song by Connections into my first Top 10 Tracks of the Year list, then I learned that the band had a new EP out. Maybe I should have left a slot open for one of the fine tunes on 5 Imaginary Boys, out now on HoZac Records?

On opener "Dream Girl" the band hit near-Big Star-like levels of melody while "In II Deep" treads ground similar to the stuff on the excellent Into Sixes. "I Got Time" is zesty indie-rock while "That's All" for some strange reason reminded me of a Ramones song being covered by Robert Pollard. If that sounds like a ridiculous proposition than you are reading the wrong blog 'cause it sounds like perfection to me. "It's Trivial" offers a hint of a somehow condensed Built to Spill song as the EP closer.

Columbus, Ohio's Connections have rapidly become one of my favorite current bands. As with all of their previous releases, I highly recommend 5 Imaginary Boys. Grab it now via HoZac Records.

Follow Connections on their official Facebook page.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Happy Ever After: A Quick Look At The New Stockholm Monsters Reissue

Manchester's Stockholm Monsters were never gonna be huge. In an era where they were competing with Factory label-mates A Certain Ratio and New Order they were too similar to completely stand out and too unique to entirely appeal to the fanbases of either act. Stockholm Monsters made smart, sharp, complicated rackets that worked well when nudged in the direction of dance music and almost as well when they veer towards the then-burgeoning post-rock sound. At their best -- and this new reissue does a great job at showcasing that and more -- Stockholm Monsters presented a hint of what the Happy Mondays would do so well later. That Stockholm Monsters did the same sort of thing but without a lot of humor could be the key to their lack of a huge breakthrough.

Brooklyn label Captured Tracks has done a the world a favor by reissuing pretty much all of the essential Stockholm Monsters stuff on a beautiful 2-LP set. All at Once collects the singles and the debut album, Alma Mater (1984). It's a significant re-issue and a splendid package of music.

On the best tracks, the band seems to be mining a similar vein as New Order and A Certain Ratio and one wonders now how people differentiated between these acts back in 1981 or so. That sounds like a stupid thing to say but, really, the bands sounded a lot alike back then and only a year or so later would New Order perfect their sound with "Blue Monday" and subsequent singles and A Certain Ratio produce funkier, more expansive music.

Of course, I'm saying all that as a guy who was in his teens in 1980, 1981, and who was, if anything, only reading the name of New Order in Creem at most.

Still, there's no shame in sounding like New Order circa 1981. The superb "Life's Two Faces" answers the question of what Human League would have sounded like with Peter Hook playing bass in the band. It's a gloriously bright bit of electro-pop business with urgent, nearly-punky vocals from Tony France. Produced by Hooky, it's no shock then to hear how much bassist Jed Duffy's instrument of choice is favored on these tracks. The second half of the album is, in some ways, more focused and better conceived than Movement. This is the sound of the direction that New Order could have gone in had they not released Power, Corruption and Lies in 1983.

Martin Hannett and Peter Hook both had a hand in the production of a lot of this music and it's apparent. Take for example "Fairy Tales" which is the sprightly cousin of "Leave Me Alone" from that 1983 New Order album I already mentioned. "Milita" ends the New Order comparisons a bit as France's vocals approach a sort of forceful delivery that Sumner was not pursuing in that era.

Look, let's be honest: Stockholm Monsters are never gonna make you forget New Order but they don't really have to. Stockholm Monsters, as this compilation illustrates, brought a lot of energy to the Factory template of the era. On first listen you might think how much these guys sound like other bands on the label. On second listen you might notice the many ways in which they were vigorously pursuing a new sound.

All at Once by Stockholm Monsters is out now on Captured Tracks.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Download Free Cleaners From Venus (Martin Newell) Christmas Single Here

Here's something to brighten your day as we inch towards the inevitable: a free Christmas single from The Cleaners from Venus. Martin Newell has brought us a touch of glam-rock in this tune. "Glammy Little Christmas" is a sprightly bit of business and will sit well on a mix CD next to any of the songs from this year's Return to Bohemia from The Cleaners from Venus.

Find out more about that album via Soft Bodies Records and follow Martin Newell and The Cleaners from Venus on Martin Newell's official website.