Monday, April 22, 2019

Little Sister: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Claude Fontaine

The new self-titled album from Claude Fontaine is a record that simultaneously references reggae and French ye-ye pop. Claude Fontaine, out on Friday via Innovative Leisure, is a charming, if schizophrenic, release. And, it should be said, Claude's warm vocals go a long way towards making this succeed as much as it does.

The first half of Claude Fontaine finds Claude's breathy vocals layered over the top of largely skankin' rhythms, with the real highlights here being the sly "Little Sister" and the dubby "Cry for Another", where Fontaine's reverb-soaked performance feels like a natural part of a melody that sounds like something The Specials could have written. But just as soon as you find yourself falling in love with this odd mix of styles, Fontaine changes things up on the second half of the record. "I'll Play the Fool" is as light as air, a run at Jobim territory, while the bright bossa nova of "Strings of Your Guitar" is excellent, Claude's purr of a performance fitting perfectly with the light percussive touches.

It's worth highlighting the players here that make Claude Fontaine such a success, namely guitarist Tony Chin (Althea and Donna, among others), and Airto Moreira, the legendary Brazilian drummer. Along with those two formidable musicians are bassist Ronnie McQueen of Steel Pulse and Ziggy Marley drummer Rock Deadrick, and Sergio Mendes percussionist Gibi Dos Santos and Flora Purim bassist Andre De Santanna. There's a really impressive lineup here on Claude Fontaine, and the players give Fontaine enough space to fill these numbers out with the right mix of insouciance and swagger. But ultimately it's Claude's vocals here throughout this record that make what sounds like a mad experiment on paper work so well in actuality.

Claude Fontaine is out on Friday via Innovative Leisure. More details on Claude Fontaine via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Claude Fontaine / B+]

Sunday, April 21, 2019

You're Twistin' My Melon, Man: A Quick Review Of The New Book Of Lyrics By Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays, Black Grape)

While the late Tony Wilson compared him to Yeats, I don't think anyone else was ever really viewing Shaun Ryder, vocalist for the Happy Mondays and Black Grape, as a poet. Frankly, I think most people, even hardcore fans, were thinking that Ryder was the sort of singer who stumbled into greatness. And while that might be true, he's earned his reputation due to a string of classic recordings that have come to define the whole Madchester era, and the baggy thing far better than the best Stone Roses songs do. While the Roses' numbers still warm the heart, it's the cuts from the Mondays that move the feet.

Shaun Ryder seemed intent on getting a reaction from a crowd, and starting a party every minute he was fronting a band, which furthers my hunch that he might have not spent so much time on his lyrics. Now, thanks to the folks at Faber Social, the lyrics of Shaun Ryder can be held up for study on their own. Wrote For Luck: Selected Lyrics by Shaun Ryder presents the words of the Mondays leader in a handsome volume that's anchored by Ryder's bright and straightforward prose in-between verses and choruses. Really, this is an approach that's nearly Nabokov-ian, so big ups to whoever came up with this format.

Here, in a format that makes one think of Pale Fire, where the epic poem tells one story, and the citations tell another, Ryder's commentary sprinkled seemingly at random in spots between the verses here, and elsewhere, relates the story of the rise of Ryder and his mates in the Mondays, the band's collapse in a riot of drugs, and his second life as leader of Black Grape. Here, within the margins of "Fat Lady Wrestlers", for instance, is the story of how the band dealt ecstasy, and how E took over a scene then beginning to coalesce around the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. And there, in the sidelines of "Do It Better", one of my faves from the Mondays, is further evidence of how chaotic things became as the band did drugs and gave themselves over to a 24-hour party. And while "Step On" is sort of a cover, Ryder's performance on the cut made it a classic, and now I know how an old interview quote about a young Steve McQueen gave up that "You're twistin' my melon, man!"-line.

Wrote For Luck: Selected Lyrics by Shaun Ryder is a slim, beautiful book. Lovingly produced by Faber Social, it's a codification of the chaos one would see in a Happy Mondays performance in those days, with Ryder's lyrics the only guide through what would amount to a rave on-stage. I can tell you, having seen the Happy Mondays open for The Pixies in 1989 at D.C.'s old 9:30 Club, that Ryder and Bez and crew put on a far more memorable show than Black Francis and his team then. What I saw was something that was barely contained on that small stage, with Ryder, shaman-like, leading whoever was listening into territory that was gleefully debauched. Perhaps the very fact that Shaun Ryder wasn't trying hard to pen something important is why he did pen richly memorable lyrics, his very lack of attachment allowing him to offer up the kind of street poetry that only a few in that era could dare hope to match.

Wrote For Luck: Selected Lyrics by Shaun Ryder is out now via Faber Social.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Show Me: Heads Up About This New Single From Johari Noelle

Johari Noelle is an up-and-coming vocalist from Chicago who makes warm and richly evocative contemporary soul. Her newest EP, Things You Can't Say Out Loud, will be out in May but for now she's sharing "Show Me", one of the highlights of the release.

The track recalls for me stuff from Syd and The Internet, though Johari has that ability to easily hit some upper ranges with real force and power just like Beyonce does. On this cut, Johari uses her voice naturally, and the overall effect is a fantastic one where both vocals and instrumentation seem all intertwined wonderfully. This is a song with subtle and effective production from Matt Hennessy of VSOP Studios, and, obviously, an affecting vocal performance at its center. One listen and you can see how Johari took inspiration from Janet Jackson, and how being mentored by Kelly Rowland paid off.

Johari Noelle's new EP Things You Can't Say Out Loud will be out next month. For now, follow her via her official Facebook page, or her official website.

[Photo: James McCarter]

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Wonder: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Wand On Drag City

Somehow, and without nearly enough fanfare for doing it, Wand have become perhaps the best band in America today. The group's latest release, the epic Laughing Matter, drops on Drag City tomorrow. It covers both familiar territory, as well as maps out a slightly new style for these musicians.

Opener "Scarecrow" feels like Radiohead trying their darnedest to cover Yo La Tengo only to have the whole thing turn into a mild freak-out, while the brighter "Thin Air" melds the kind of melody Syd Barrett might have once written with a faintly jazz-y brand of indie-pop. Despite bursts of feedback in this one and others, Wand are far more interested in texture on Laughing Matter than they have been in the past. Where they'd once pursued what we could usually stand up next to something from Ty Segall or another peer who looks to the acid rock days for inspiration, now Wand seem to have perfected their own unique style of post-rock. If anything, lots of Laughter Matter is to me as richly evocative as that superb solo album from leader Cory Hanson.

Still, the other players here -- Evan Burrows, Sofia Arreguin, Lee. Landey, Robert Cody -- imbue these new tunes with plenty of melody and spark. While some of this, like the fine "Wonder" or "Walkie Talkie", seems very accessible, a nice blending of the band's experimental past compositions with really big hooks, there's even more on Laughing Matter that pushes the envelope a bit. The lengthy "Airplane" feels like old King Crimson at times, while the fuzzy "Lucky's Sight" roars like an early Medicine side. This is bracing stuff, and its placement on Laughing Matter before the aching and beautiful album closer, "Jennifer's Gone", creates a nice juxtaposition of moods that Wand didn't always maintain on earlier albums. For that reason, and others, I'd rank Laughing Matter as the best Wand record to date.

Laughing Matter is out tomorrow via Drag City.

More details on Wand via the band's official website.

[Photo: Abby Brooks]

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Please Bring Me To Safety: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Yes We Mystic

The Canadian band Yes We Mystic has a big sound, and it's one that defies easy description. At times on the group's new record, Ten Seated Figures, out on Friday via DevilDuck Records, the tunes straddle something approaching art rock, even as at others the music veers towards something far more mainstream. This is bold stuff, and if the group sometimes over-reaches, their ambition alone makes this a masterpiece. Where else are you going to hear choral bursts brush up against flashes of New Wave, alongside instrumental flourishes worthy of an early King Crimson record?

If "Young Evil" suggests some odd mix of Kraftwerk with The Virgin Prunes, the lovely "Italics" leans into the sort of thing that fuels MGMT. Elsewhere, the lush "Please Bring Me To Safety" is elegant, nearly-mainstream synth-pop, even as the complex "Panthalassa" reveals layers upon layers of sounds piled up until the overall effect is nearly ravishing. "Felsenmeer" is chamber pop perfection, while the rippling "Last Known Sighting" finds the group offering up the sort of keyboard figure that reminds one of Philip Glass compositions. The players here in Yes We Mystic -- Adam Fuhr (guitar, vocals), Keegan Steele (synthesizer, mandolin, vocals), Jodi Plenert (keyboards, cello, vocals), Jensen Fridfinnson (violin, synthesizer, guitar), and Jordon Ottenson (drums, electronic drums) -- approach these compositions with a near-classical seriousness even as the songs remains vibrant and light. With perhaps the exception of Dead Can Dance, it's rare to find a group who can tackle material like this with a real easy touch. That's a complicated way of saying that this might seem pretentious on paper, but it's wildly listenable when actually heard.

Ten Seated Figures is out on Friday via DevilDuck Records.

More details on Yes We Mystic via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited pic from band's Facebook page]

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Harbor In The Storm: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Elva (Ex-Allo Darlin')

Elva is Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris and Ola Innset of the Norwegian bands Making Marks and Sunturns. For those of you who are coming here because you were a fan of releases by Allo Darlin' on Slumberland Records, or the late Fortuna Pop! label, you're in luck as you'll probably like Winter Sun a lot. However, it's worth noting that the style is different this time around for Morris.

While "Athens" is laconic folk, the superb "Ghost Writer" suggests an updating of the template laid down by Black Tambourine's Pam Berry in her Glo-Worm project. Elsewhere, "Harbour in the Storm" and "Everything is Strange" see both Elizabeth and Ola taking turns on lead vocals, with each cut the sort of delictate pop that Elliott Smith once perfected, with flashes of Nick Drake peaking through the loose seams. And while lots of what's on Winter Sun is fairly down-tempo, when Elva let themselves catch the energy of a tailwind, like, for example, on the appropriately-named "Tailwind", the results are delightful, with a listener thinking how well this sort of stuff will sit next to nearly anything Allo Darlin' recorded in the not-so-distant past.

Winter Sun will be out on Friday via Tapete Records.

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

[Photo: Jørgen Nordby]

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lost In My Dream: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Drugdealer

The new album from Drugdealer is called Raw Honey, a title that makes me think of both the Raw Power album from Iggy and the Stooges, and the "Just Like Honey" single from The Jesus and Mary Chain. Drugdealer sounds almost nothing like either of those legends and yet there's something here that suggests a similar approach to rock-and-roll, a path that combines Mr. Osterberg's all or nothing approach to embracing a style, and the Reid Brothers' knack for appropriating pieces of the past in the service of some new form of pop The tunes here on Raw Honey, out on Friday via Mexican Summer, are big throwback charmers, and yet they are still indications of a new approach to all of this.

It's sort of a collective at work here on Raw Honey, a record engineered by Mac DeMarco. And that connection, along with the fact that the players were loosely associated with Ariel Pink, indicates the sort of indie-pop one can hear on Raw Honey, with even opener "You've Got To Be Kidding" becoming a retro-futuristic work-out, the sort that sounds like the soundtrack of an old sci-fi flick, while the supple "Honey" is given over to the command of Natalie Mering (AKA Weyes Blood). The number is some blend of Laura Nyro-style chords with the kind of slide guitar licks one would have found on a George Harrison record in the early Seventies. And rather than sound like a lark, the cut works spectacularly. Elsewhere, "Wild Motion", featuring vocalist Dougie Poole, imagines Roy Orbison doing a solo Lennon composition. It's an odd but affecting number, the sort of thing that, briefly, sounds like the players are having a goof until it kicks in and transports a listener into the stratosphere. Lush and decidedly over the top, it's perhaps my favorite track here on this record.

There are moments here on Raw Honey, like the laconic "Fools", that feel like the band is trying too hard to adopt an MOR persona. However, there's also a lot on Raw Honey that is genuinely beautiful and affecting. With a huge cast of players, including Ben Schwab from the much-loved by this blog Golden Daze, Drugdealer succeed far more than than fail here on this record.

Raw Honey is out on Friday via Mexican Summer.

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

[Photo: Richard Quintero]

Sunday, April 14, 2019

This Time: A Brief Review Of The Omnivore Recordings Record Store Day Offering From Culture

The Nighthawk Recordings from Omnivore Recordings, released for Record Store Day 2019, is an essential document for anyone who loves Culture and the vocals of the late Joseph Hill. With backing by both Roots Radics and The Wailers band, these recordings from 1981 and 1982 are further proof of the brilliance of Hill and Culture.

"This Time", one of the group's earliest compositions, sees itself fleshed out here in this early Eighties version. The classic song sits nicely next to the lovely "Calling Rastafari" which is a perfect example of the sort of blending of rhetoric and melody that Hill and his band-mates were so good at crafting. Elsewhere, there are four tracks here with backing from The Wailers that are superb, with the two versions here of both "Mister Music" and "Can They Run" adding to the group's already-voluminous and excellent back-catalog. Originally recorded for the Calling Rastafari compilation on the old Nighthawk label, the tapes have thankfully been rescued from the vaults by the folks at Omnivore. The cuts are similar to lots of what Culture recorded in the era, with Joseph Hill deftly blending his sort of smooth performance style with the slicker production one found in those years. This is not to diminish what's here, but to say that Hill was able to adapt his message to the group's progressing sound.

The Nighthawk Recordings is a succinct reminder of the greatness of the late Joseph Hill, along with Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes. The music of Culture remains the sort of thing that can lead even a casual fan into the realm of being a completist, with each song heard making one think, "Hey, I need to get this too!" This is another nice addition to the sort of Culture collection that many of us are building.

The Nighthawk Recordings by Culture is out now via Omnivore Recordings.

[Photo: Leroy Jodie Pierson]

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Distractions: A Quick Review Of The Record Store Day Reissue Of Euphoria By Insides (4AD)

Back in 1993, Euphoria by Insides was a very atypical record to find on the 4AD label. It was airy in a way that suggested something new was being heard, and less ornamented than nearly anything on that label at that time. The band's one album for that esteemed label, Euphoria, has been reissued for Record Store Day 2019 by Beacon Sound and I'm here to share some of that good news.

Julian Tardo and Kirsty Yates were Earwig before they were Insides and they had a devoted following. For the rest of us, it was the allure of a new band on 4AD that made us pick up Euphoria in shops in 1993. The music within was light and easy to digest ("Distractions"), veering nearly towards the sort of thing that certain Brian Eno solo records had once predicted. The tunes here were also carefully constructed, with Yates and Tardo favoring simplicity over fussiness, like on opener "Walking in Straight Lines", a number that owed far more to 808 State, for example, than it did to Cocteau Twins. Elsewhere, "Carly Simon" seems a riff on the piano ballad, recast for the then-looming 21st century, while the percolating "Relentless" is a good example of why this band shared stages with Seafeel back then.

A record that deserves new assessments and a deeper level of appreciation, Euphoria gets the release it's always deserved in this fine set from Beacon Sound. With brief but helpful liner notes from Simon Reynolds, this edition of the sole 4AD Insides album is a release worth seeking out this Record Store Day 2019.

[Photo: Phil Nicholls, 1993]