Saturday, May 27, 2017

They Know: A Look At The New LP From Steve Kilbey (The Church) And Martin Kennedy (All India Radio)

The new album from Kilbey and Kennedy, Glow And Fade, is the sort of release that builds upon the musical legacy of each player here. Steve Kilbey, of course, was in The Church, and Martin Kennedy is in All India Radio. Both bands make music that has been called space-y, and yet the tunes of each artist are fairly durable pieces of alt-rock craftsmanship. However, the songs here on this new album, out now on Golden Robot Records, are a bit more adventurous and expansive than those that these 2 musicians have released before.

The epic 16-minute "The Game Never Changes", for example, marries electronic hooks like those from a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack with something nearly on the level of Animals-era Pink Floyd. The effect is an impressive one as the cut never lags despite its length. "They Know" treads a safer path, while the lovely "We Are Still Waiting" sees Steve Kilbey offer up one of the best melodies released under his name in decades, the guest vocals from Selena Cross adding to the beauty of the track. Elsewhere, "Levitate" travels a space rock route, while the ominous "The Story Of Jonah" blends a slightly sinister vibe with a bright, electro-pop sheen. "One Is All" is simple and direct like the best slow songs on those 4 essential Brian Eno vocal albums from the Seventies.

Glow And Fade is just enough like a Church album, or an All India Radio one, that fans will not feel totally lost when listening. At the same time, the songs are risky in the right kind of way, full of quiet moments of transcendent beauty and musical enlightenment. Trippy and suitably futuristic in scope, the music on Glow And Fade is impressive and proof that these 2 work wonderfully together.

Glow And Fade is out now via Golden Robot Records. Follow Kilbey and Kennedy via the duo's official website, or on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Martin Kennedy]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Be Good To Me: A Word Or Two About The Reissue Of Step Off By ESG On Fire Records

Originally released 15 years, Step Off was one of the most consistent releases from one-of-a-kind post-punk art-funk band ESG. Now decked out with a new cover by artist Alice Hannah, the seminal album is being reissued tomorrow by Fire Records.

The band -- Renee Scroggins (lead vocals), Valerie Scroggins (drums), Marie Scroggins (congas), along with Chistelle Polite (guitar) and Nicole Nicholas (bass) -- make music that defies easy categorization. Spanning the worlds of dance music and early hip hop, the tunes of ESG remain vibrant and vital. "Be Good To Me" opens things up with a languid groove of the sort that bands as diverse as The Gossip and The Rapture echoed, while the peppy "Talk It" rides a hook that is hard to shake. Elsewhere, the spry "Six Pack" bounces with a lightness of touch that shines a light on how easily the ladies here take to this sort of thing, while the buoyant title cut is a more focused rhythmic affair.

Step Off isn't a long record but it is, like most of what ESG has produced, an essential release. Funky and fun, the music of ESG is so simple and yet so precise that it would be hard for another act to ever quite copy this sort of thing. The charms here are ones that would be difficult to entirely successfully mimic. But the real thing here on this seminal ESG album is something all music fans should embrace.

This fine new reissue of Step Off by ESG is out tomorrow via Fire Records.

[Photo: Alice Hannah]

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lights Flicker: A Few Words About The New Faust Album

Legends of what's commonly termed Krautrock, Faust -- or, as they're listed here FaUSt -- make music that challenges a listener. That the tunes remain somewhat accessible says a lot about the group's approach to this sort of thing. The band, now centered around Werner "Zappi" Diermaier and founder Jean-Hervé Péron, are set to release a new album. Called Fresh Air and out on Bureau B on Friday, the record is bracing and yet still easy to enjoy.

Opening with the epic, 17-minute title track, Fresh Air offers music that pushes at the boundaries of accessibility while remaining somewhat approachable. If that title cut is borderline sinister in spots, the fuzzy "La Poulie" edges towards something that even fans of Sonic Youth could appreciate, feedback and noise bubbling against each other. "Chlorophyl" uses Barbara Manning in a spoken word performance to anchor the cut, while the percussive "Lights Flicker" rumbles towards free jazz territory. When Fresh Air ends with the 11-minute "Fish" it's on a track that sums up the appeal of this record. What's here is, in spots, wildly unsettling, yet it's unsettling in a way that invites astute listeners. The music of Faust has remained fairly consistent over the years and one can be thankful that Fresh Air is at once serious-minded, risky music but also the sort of thing that doesn't feel too serious. One can embrace this music easily, I think.

Fresh Air by Faust is out on Friday via Bureau B. News about Faust can be found here.

[Photo: Jan Lankisch]

Friday, May 19, 2017

Did You See The Butterflies: A Look At The New Jane Weaver Album On Fire Records

The new album from Jane Weaver, Modern Kosmology, out today on Fire Records, is the sort of release that beguiles a listener. Jane has crafted something special here. She's hit a peak that's a long way from her beginnings with the folks at Twisted Nerve.

On "Did You See The Butterflies" Weaver coos in a manner that should appeal to those of us who grew up on Kate Bush, or even Sandy Denny, records, the sound a nice blend of alt-rock conventions with folk-y ones, while on the title track things get more adventurous, the backing tracks under her voice exploring a faint electro vibe. Elsewhere, on the rockier "Loops In The Secret Society", there's the trace of a Sixties flavor in the background as the guitars work out a near-Krautrock sort of rhythm with Jane singing confidently over top of it all, while on the Stereolab-inspired "The Lightning Back", Weaver hits another peak on this fine record, the tune one of the best here. Things are sent in another direction on the sublime "Valley" which sounds like nothing so much as early Nineties Cocteau Twins, while the trippy "Ravenspoint" edges into the sort of territory that past pioneers like Broadcast once explored.

This is a remarkably confident album and I can say that Modern Kosmology is clearly a career watermark for Jane Weaver. She's been a criminally underrated vocalist for a long time but, hopefully, this release will get her the sort of attention she's long deserved. The record is a superb melding of a few styles into something that feels familiar in spots but which remains inventive and (most importantly) tuneful throughout.

Modern Kosmology by Jane Weaver is out today via Fire Records. More details on Jane Weaver via the official website.

[Photo: Rebecca Lupton]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How Life Works: A Brief Review Of The New Gothic Tropic Album

The band Gothic Tropic is really Cecilia Della Peruti. And Cecilia is both an amazing guitarist and an effective vocalist. The new album from Gothic Tropic, Fast Or Feast, is out tomorrow and it is a truly superb melding of New Wave influences with bright, modern production. I was totally surprised by how much I enjoyed this one on first listen.

On tunes like "How Life Works", Della Peruti channels late-period Altered Images and imagines Clare Grogran crooning over something more supple like Eighties King Crimson hooks. The effect is at once clever and buoyant. On a number like "Your Soul", the sound is closer to Kate Bush with a sleek sheen under the vocals like late Eighties-era New Order singles, while the superb "Stronger" offers up catchy indie-pop that suggests a smarter, sharper Katy Perry-kind of approach. On the down-tempo "Teenage Behavior", Della Peruti coos over a smooth melody and the result is something that's nearly mainstream even if it remains a bit alt-rock, while the subtle "Cry Like A Man" is effortlessly appealing, like an American version of Rose Elinor Dougall's recent material.

Fast Or Feast by Gothic Tropic is exceptionally well-crafted indie that manages to bridge a few genres and styles with ease. That it's so hard to easily compare to a lot of what's out there these days should be read as an indication of how fresh and unique this album seems to me. Cecilia Della Peruti is offering up some really lovely and catchy tunes here and I am now firmly a fan of Gothic Tropic.

[Photo: Ryan Aylsworth]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You Don't Know: It's Time To Get Hip To The Charms Of The Debut Album From She-Devils

The appeal of Canada's She-Devils is pretty clear. One would have to be a pretty hard-hearted listener to not appreciate the charms of the band's music as revealed on their self-titled debut album. Out on Friday via Secretly Canadian, the release is full of the sort of infectious alternative pop that was so prevalent in the Nineties. And that's not to say that this duo are some kind of retro act but, rather, that they perfectly understand how to make music like this in a way that far too few acts do anymore.

"Hey Boy" saunters in with a vibe reminiscent of underappreciated Aussies Frente!, while the mid-tempo "Darling" coasts by on a kind of sound that recalls Blondie. Elsewhere, "How Do You Feel" and "Blooming" echo Catatonia and The Cranberries, respectively, with each cut a perfectly composed and performed little marvel. At their very best, like on the Smiths-like swagger of "You Don't Know", or on the languid, near-tropical "The World Laughs", Kyle Jukka and Audrey Ann Boucher offer up material that's as light as a feather but with just the right amount of seriousness. There's nothing silly here, even if the mood and touch are natural and unforced. And, it's worth saying, that She-Devils seem to understand exactly the limits of their sound. While the cuts on She-Devils are not particularly revolutionary, they are expertly performed. Rather than make any big radical moves, She-Devils are more content at quietly edging things towards something more challenging, as indicated by the slightly-squalling guitars of "Never Let Me Go" which briefly sees the duo hint at something darker. But, truly, She-Devils don't need to get serious, or dark, as the indie-pop here is fresh and charming in all the right ways.

Tuneful and quietly upbeat, the 10 cuts on She-Devils are sure to worm their way into your ears like they did mine. She-Devils is out on Friday via Secretly Canadian. Follow She-Devils via the band's official website, or via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sarah O'Driscoll]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lucky Charm: A Brief Review Of The New Rarities Compilation From Helium (Mary Timony)

The music of Helium occupied a weird space, even in the odd, rudderless years following the end of the grunge wave after Cobain checked out, and before the whole Britpop thing swept in from overseas. Not quite shoegaze -- though a few of us from that camp certainly gravitated to early Helium recordings 'cause of the noise -- and not exactly folk -- though there were folk-y elements to the way front-woman Mary Timony constructed melodies -- the tunes of Helium were odd and wonderful. Skewed things that simultaneously frightened and entranced listeners. Those downright magical early recordings are now collected on the superb new compilation Ends With And, out from Matador Records on Friday.

Ends With And gathers together those early EP releases from the three-piece (Mary Timony, drummer Shawn Devlin, and Polvo bassist Ash Bowie), as well as a few rare live numbers, and a handful of demos. It makes a pretty convincing case for the greatness of this band. But, I suppose that a lot of you reading this already considered this band great. On early cut "Baby Vampire Made Me", one can hear a faint trace of Sonic Youth's earlier explorations condensed into something more college rock, while the career-making "XXX", from the essential Pirate Prude EP, offers up a kind of faux-amateurishness from a Helium clearly finding their own sound. On first listen, one is struck by how simple and disjointed the cut is; I can remember thinking at the time "Do they even know what the fuck they are doing?", as if it was the return of The Shaggs or something. But, of course, like The Ramones, it takes a lot of smarts to sound so simple. On subsequent listens, one hears something closer to what Pavement was perfecting in this era, only slowed down and plucked out precisely on the guitar and bass. And, of course, Mary Timony's distinctive drawl sounded unlike anyone else behind a mic in the first few years of the first Bill Clinton term. Frankly, there's little here on this 19-track release that would clue you into the fact that Timony had just come from a Dischord band (Autoclave) before landing in Helium. The sound is that odd and unique and more space rock than punk rock.

Of course, early single "Hole In The Ground" reveals a brief moment when this band did indeed sound a tiny bit punk-y. Timony here in command in a way that recalls Kim Gordon's triumphant "Bull In The Heather" with Sonic Youth from nearly the same era. Similarly, the superb "What Institution Are You From?" from the "Superball" single remains one of this band's finest moments. Containing more punch than some of the more meandering early Helium numbers, the song unfurls with a sort of sinister vibe reminiscent of Television, only with a worse attitude, while the chorus grounds things in a more conventional way, Timony's vocals briefly even approaching something one would call "pretty" in style. And, of course, a version of "Superball" had to be here. Even in its demo form on Ends With And, the cut reigns as the closest this group ever got to a "Cut Your Hair"-style breakthrough moment.

Having seen this band a few times in 1995 or so, including once with Polvo on the same bill, bassist Ash Bowie a busy guy that night, I can say that Helium were criminally underrated. The records sometimes didn't do the band justice, with the artwork or Timony's vocal style, unfortunately, getting this act lumped in too easily with space-y bands like Stereolab or Pram, or noise-niks like My Bloody Valentine thanks to the fuzzy guitars throughout the material. And yet, what made Helium great was that the trio was unafraid to experiment and push the boundaries of college rock in a very real way, in an era when record labels were still looking for another Nirvana even as grunge was dwindling in importance. The brief early compilation track "Puffin Stars" sounds utterly unlike anything else you were going to hear in the Nineties, for instance, and maybe that was why it was so hard for this band to get the sort of attention they deserved beyond that from certain critics. Listen to what's going on in the subtle "Fantastic Castle", the eerie "Lucky Charm", or the demo of "Ghost Car" included here and revel in what Timony's doing as a guitarist. Combine the risks she's taking there on the instrument, with the skewed melodies of the tracks, and the odd time signatures and perhaps it makes perfect sense now why this was too out there for a college rock audience in the early Nineties who wanted to hear stuff that sounded like Pearl Jam. Helium were, ultimately, an experimental band. That so many of their experiments worked is amazing now.

Ends With And from Helium is both a reminder of how great this band was, as well as a nice addition to all the band's records you probably already have in your library. If you are new to the band, this is a fine place to start as this compilation is a good overview of what made Helium so special. If you are a fan of this band, you still need this for the rarities contained here.

Out on Friday via Matador Records, Ends With And by Helium is one of this Spring's most essential reissues.

[Photo: James Smolka]

Monday, May 15, 2017

Your Voice On The Radio: Yet Another Superb Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie) Song Drops

Dave Depper of Death Cab For Cutie is building up an impressive buzz ahead of the release of his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique. That record will be out in June on Tender Loving Empire and it is going to be a splendid offering if the end product is anything like the three cuts that have dropped so far.

Most of the tracks that have been shared so far have hinted at a kind of modern New Wave that owes as much to, say, mid-period O.M.D. as it does to Depper's own Death Cab For Cutie. The latest song to be revealed, "Your Voice On The Radio", sees Depper share vocal duties with Laura Gibson for a single that is remarkably similar to some of the stuff that band-mate Ben Gibbard produced in The Postal Service. Depper, like Gibbard, seems wonderfully at ease in commandeering these styles from the past to produce something that is at once modern, a bit retro, and entirely full of heart. This cut, like the previous 2 tastes of the upcoming full-length, is delightfully melodic and the very best kind of emotional, unassuming, and direct indie-pop.

For the time being, enjoy yet another fine track from Dave Depper, and then follow him on his official website in the run-up to the release of his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique on Tender Loving Empire next month.

[Photo: Jaclyn Campanaro]

Good Evening: A Brief Review Of The New High Sunn EP

As many, many others have recounted by now, High Sunn is the project of the wildly prolific Justin Cheromiah. And Justin is only 17 years of age. The musician has already released dozens of tracks himself but now he's signed to the wonderful PNKSLM label and they are set to drop the latest High Sunn EP, Hopeless Romantic, on Friday.

Opener "Joy Of Romance" chimes with a sort of faux-Fifties vibe mixed with the usual implements of indie rock. It is a delightful opening track and one complemented by the following number, "Ramen Waitress", all Wedding Present hooks revved up for the 21st century. Elsewhere, "Holding Hands" rings with echoes of the same sort of indie touchstones that one heard in early tracks from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, while offering up a uniquely spry take on this kind of thing. "Tears" takes things down a bit until "Polaroids" finally embraces the brand of dark, largely down-tempo alt-rock once perfected by The Cure in the late Eighties. While the music here is decidedly not derivative, a listener can't help but hear so many worthy influences filtered through Justin's fresh approach to making indie-pop. And, given the self-produced back-catalog that Cheromiah has so far offered up on his own, one would be tempted to perhaps call this lo-fi, but that would be a huge mistake as Justin, clearly, invests this material with so much energy and heart that there's nothing half-assed about any of it. Our attempts as music writers to peg this easily to one genre or style are just us being not quite sure of what this new, awesome music is. Closer "Good Evening", for example, bursts forward with big hooks and fuzzy guitars and it seems, like all 6 of the tracks here, so fresh and so new that to just lazily reference other bands when attempting to describe the High Sunn sound seems the depth of laziness indeed. So, time to come up with some new genre labels then?

Bold and bright, the half-dozen tunes here on Hopeless Romantic are, like so many things on the PNKSLM label these days, some of the best indie-pop you're going to hear. Precisely familiar in all the right ways, and full of a youthful joy throughout, Hopeless Romantic from High Sunn is one of the most essential releases of this busy late-Spring release season.

Hopeless Romantic by High Sunn is out on Friday via PNKSLM. Follow High Sunn via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Grace: A Review Of The Essential New Look Blue Go Purple Reissue From Flying Nun Records

Look Blue Go Purple remain the ultimate neglected New Zealand band. That's not to deny the appeal of the group, or the fact that there are loads of us who are well aware of the greatness of this set of musicians. The problem has always been finding the material easily, but now that problem has been solved. The fine folks at Flying Nun have finally re-issued the band's work in a what could be termed a virtually-complete package called Still Bewitched. Out now, the compilation collects the band's earlier EPs: Bewitched (1985), LBGPEP2 (1986) and This is This (1987). Rounding out this collection are a whole bunch of live cuts too.

Look Blue Go Purple -- bassist Kathy Bull (now Francisca Griffin), keyboard player and vocalist Norma O’Malley, guitarists Denise Roughan and Kath Webster, and drummer Lesley Paris -- made music that veered into the territory of the kind of pop released by The Clean early on, while also offering up something that roughly corresponded to the post-punk being created by The Raincoats in other parts of the world. "Safety In Crosswords" rattles like early Chills classics, while the hypnotic "Grace" bears the slightest trace of the sort of rhythm-heavy alternative rock once created by The Slits. If the sound here was not quite as heavy, perhaps that's to be expected of a New Zealand band, especially one from this era of the boom in that region. Like their peers in The Verlaines and The Chills, Look Blue Go Purple were capable of crafting material that seemed bright and witty ("Cactus Cat"), or a bit more literate -- for lack of a better word -- than the sort of alt-rock gaining audiences elsewhere in the West. If "Circumspect Penelope" sounds like anything, it is indeed early Martin Phillipps-penned stuff but to simply peg this as somehow beholden to another big NZ band is to do a huge disservice to the musicians here. That song, like the superb and catchy "I Don't Want You Anyway", chimes with promise and a kind of brightness that even Martin Phillipps was not always capable of. If the guitarists in Look Blue Go Purple sometimes briefly got lost in a sort of neo-psychedelic jungle, the melodies remained strong, the focus sharp ("Winged Rumour"). Admittedly, there is something shambolic here, the cuts echoing in some weird way the sort being cranked out almost simultaneously up in England by the C86 and C87 bands. But, ultimately, the music of Look Blue Go Purple remains very much typical of the remarkably high standards of the acts signed to Flying Nun in the first few waves of the label's heyday.

If Still Bewitched only collected those 3 superb Look Blue Go Purple EPs, it would be an absolutely essential release. As it is, the compilation adds in a half-dozen rare live cuts that attest to the skills of these musicians in live settings. If the material in spots ("Spike") seems a bit unformed, there are other numbers here ("Ralta", "Eyes Are The Door") that compare favorably to the early tracks from The Clean, or even England's Felt. And what I appreciated as a listener was that Still Bewitched offers a rounded portrait of Look Blue Go Purple, the live cuts serving to show another sound of the band that is not so typically a Flying Nun records-sound.

Still Bewitched by Look Blue Go Purple is out now via Flying Nun Records.

[Photo: Uncredited label photo]