Sunday, September 23, 2018

Selfies In The Sunset: Play New Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) Video Here!

The lead singer for Super Furry Animals consistently amuses and enlightens. His latest record, Babelsberg, out now on Rough Trade, and reviewed by me here, is a special thing. Full of elegant alt-rock, and flashes of bright chamber-pop, the long-player reaffirms Gruff's special place in the world of indie.

One of the better tracks from Babelsberg, "Selfies In The Sunset" now has a fine, and funny, video featuring Lily Cole. The video has dropped as Gruff Rhys is heading out on the road abroad and here, including a stop in D.C. at DC9 next month.

More details on Babelsberg and Gruff Rhys' tour via his official website, or his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Delphine Ghosarossian]

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Secret Escapes: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Picturebox

The new album from Picturebox, Escapes, out tomorrow via Gare Du Nord, is perhaps the finest this band has released to date. Fans of The Great Escape-era Blur should find lots to love here. And I can think of no higher praise than that.

Now, even as main-man Robert Halcrow (bass, keys, guitar and lead vocals) sounds a tad like Albarn on the sly "Divvy Cabs", or on the languid and lovely "Sirens", there's loads more here on Escapes that reveals debts owed to The Kinks, XTC (in their The Big Express phase), or even Television Personalities. The fun "I Got The Pox" nods in the direction of "I'm A Boy" from The Who, or even something from Jilted John, the effect a gently-unhinged one that made me smile. The track seems a distant cousin of stuff from Go-Kart Mozart, and drummer Ian Button was featured on the last album from that Lawrence-fronted act. Elsewhere, the title cut borrows a bit from the glory days of power pop to give energy to an infectious hook, while the elegant "Nice Boys' Mobile Disco" again channels Go-Kart Mozart and even Luke Haines for a cut that's at once elegiac and a bit silly.

On Escapes, Halcrow and the rest of his crew -- Ben Lockwood, Button, Alex Williams, Jack Hayter, and Matthew Dutra -- manage to make this material seem entirely original despite the bits and pieces that clearly owe so much to earlier pioneers like, say, Martin Newell and Andy Partridge. Escapes works so well because Halcrow and company exercise a light touch. Nothing feels forced here, and the strong melodies and clever lyrics shine with a listener left to sort of marvel at how refined the Picturebox approach has become in just the space of a few years.

More details on Picturebox via the band's official Facebook page, or via the Gare Du Nord website. Escapes is out tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

How Far Is Spaced-Out? A Brief Review Of The New Album From Lonnie Holley

The new album from Lonnie Holley, MITH, out this Friday on Jagjaguwar, is a transcendent thing, the sort of record that illuminates, educates, and invigorates. Not since the peak years of Patti Smith has an artist really tried to bring the worlds of Art and rock together like this. Bits of poetry bump up against riffs, rhythms caress vocals, and it's all in the service of something that aims so much higher than most of what's out there right now.

The timely and urgent "I'm A Suspect" sees Holley blend his soulful voice with free jazz and atmospherics, while the excellent "How Far Is Spaced-Out?" skirts the edges of coherence, a Sun Ra-like sense of performance imbuing the cut with a loose verve. Elsewhere, on the harrowing and epic "I Snuck Off The Slave Ship", Holley uses his voice like an instrument, purring and roaring underneath and around the jazz and ambient passages. The song is nearly 18 minutes long and seems the sort of bold and brave endeavor that only an artist of Holley's stature would attempt. A Big Music that is nearly impossible to pin down to one genre, the cut reaches out and grabs the soul, quite frankly. "I Woke Up In A Fucked Up America" is far more direct, the necessary anthem for these awful times, while the lighter "There Was Always Water" recalls Monk and Mingus even with Lonnie's plaintive vocals over top of things. There's a near-funky looseness on album closer "Sometimes I Wanna Dance", Holley pulling everything together here in order to leave a listener with something vaguely hopeful after the earlier, starker selections.

MITH is a staggering work, the sort of album that will rightly be feted on year-end lists. Lonnie Holley has done some serious stuff here, but it's a release that rewards a listener, despite the heaviness of the subjects covered within. An adept visual artist, Holley is equally adept here as a musician.

MITH is out via Jagjaguwar on Friday.

Follow Lonnie Holley via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Tim Duffy]

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Heads Up About The New Album From Skeeter Enoch Thompson Of Scream

That guy is Skeeter Enoch Thompson. The world knows him as the bassist in harDCore legends Scream but now he's gone and recorded a solo record. That the album, The Book Of Enoch In E Minor, is full of ferocious rock-and-roll shouldn't be a surprise, but I think a few folks are going to be impressed at how far outside the confines of hardcore punk Skeeter strays here.

Opener "Andalusian Dog" roars in the fashion of early material from The Cult or Hanoi Rocks, even as the more adventurous "Spoiled To The Facts Of..." offers up flashes of funk and dashes of reggae, the insinuating rhythm one of the highlights of this album. Elsewhere, a rough cover of "Down In The Hole" by Tom Waits charms, while the fierce "You Wanna See Me Bleed?" sees Skeeter at his best as a singer and performer, the cut a deft blend of both punk and metal forms. And while Scream took some chances, broadening the palette of punk, Skeeter pushes things a bit further with "Dirt", a languid near-blues-y work-out with some excellent guitar hooks.

Lots of us know and love Skeeter for everything he's brought to this city's legacy of harDCore, but it's clear that the guy has many skills as a performer and musician. And for many fans, it is a real pleasure to hear Skeeter venture into new territory, and succeed so admirably.

The Book Of Enoch In E Minor by Skeeter Enoch Thompson is out now via CDbaby, and other online retailers.

[Top photo: me, 2012]

Monday, September 17, 2018

Written In Lightning: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Mutual Benefit

The new album from Mutual Benefit, Thunder Follows The Light, out Friday on Transgressive, is a lovely piece of work. I suppose there's already a following around Jordan Lee, AKA Mutual Benefit, but I'm a bit late to that party. Having heard this new release, I'm now firmly on-board here as a fan of this guy.

Opener "Written in Lightning" pursues a path once trod by Jon Brion and the artists he's produced, while the achingly-beautiful "Storm Cellar Heart" coos with the sort of gentle melodic grace found on certain Lennon records, and late-period Elliott Smith offerings. Elsewhere, "Come to Pass" succeeds thank to a faint folk-y hook, while the elegant "No Dominion" purrs by with a real neo-classical sense of deliberation. Lee has a knack for crafting compositions that feel like ornate contraptions with some of the pieces removed. At times, like on "Mountains Shadow", his music makes me think of early efforts by Ed Harcourt, but Jordan Lee seems to owe less to forefathers like Tom Waits, say, than Harcourt does, and that absence of messiness adds a real vibe of care to things. And what Lee is doing here is presenting an updating of familiar chamber pop forms, albeit in decidedly modern trappings.

Fans of Radiohead ballads, Badly Drawn Boy, and Philip Glass, should find many things to love here. Thunder Follows The Light is lovely and contemplative, and yet never pretentious. Jordan Lee as Mutual Benefit has grounded his material in such a way that each cut shines around a central hook, the pieces around the hook carefully-chosen ornamentation designed to remind a listener what a great songwriter is capable of.

Thunder Follows The Light is out on Friday via Transgressive.

More details on Mutual Benefit via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Ebru Yildiz]

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Here In The Shadows: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Film School (Featuring Adam Wade Of Jawbox, Shudder To Think)

The band Film School makes music that's perched somewhere between that of Swervedriver and Slowdive. To suggest that the tunes found on the band's newest album, Bright To Death, were shoegaze would not be entirely wrong. Still, there's a lot more life here than that genre-label might suggest, and things are buoyed considerably by the presence of stellar drummer Adam Wade (Jawbox, Shudder To Think) on lots of the cuts.

"Don't Send My Love" shimmers and chimes, shades of early Church singles popping up here, while the bright "Bye Bye Bird" offers up a faint hint of the sort of electro-throb that propelled many an O.M.D. or New Order single in the Eighties. If Film School are interested in the textures of that era, they are also keen to update the sounds for a new century. The excellent "Two In Sun" is a model of how to marry a melody to a pristine arrangement, and every bit as affecting as the slower numbers from that recent Ride record, even as "The Celebration" goes all-in on the sort of twitchy New Wave that soundtracked an era between post-punk and alt-rock. If this superb cut sounds a bit like, say, both Bauhaus and Wire Train (think "Chamber of Hellos"), that's the highest praise I could give the music of Film School. I wouldn't want to label this group a retro-act but I do think that by highlighting the portions of this record that feel so familiar, a prospective listener can get a better idea of what these superb musicians are capable of, and the ease with which they blend some worthy influences.

Bright To Death is out now via HausKat Records and the link below.

More details on Film School via the band's official Facebook page, or via the band's official website.

[Photo: Howard Wise]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ivory Past: A Quick Review Of The Next 5 Felt Reissues From Cherry Red Records

Following on from their reissues of the first 5 albums from Felt earlier this year, the fine folks at Cherry Red Records are set to offer up reissues of the next 5 (and final to date) albums from the band. Collected here in a box-set are Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986), Poem Of The River (1987), The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988), Train Above The City (1988), and Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989), along with scattered singles. The releases cover both the peaks of this band's output, and the odd detours they were to take later in their career.

Let's dive in, shall we?

Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986)

When people talk about Felt, the sound of this record is what they're really talking about. "Rain Of Crystal Spires" and "Grey Streets" positively chime, even as Martin Duffy's organ takes a more prominent role in conveying the melodic aspirations of this band. If a few numbers here sound a bit like contemporaries Lloyd Cole and The Commotions ("Gather Up Your Wings And Fly", "Down But Not Yet Out"), it's likely that Lawrence was, like Cole, revealing a huge debt owed to Tom Verlaine, and a smaller one due to Bob Dylan. Still, there's no mistaking that this is British indie, and for the morbid wit displayed here ("All The People I Like Are Those That Are Dead"), a listener would be right in holding this band's work in 1986 right up there with that of The Smiths.

Poem Of The River (1987)

Produced by the legendary Mayo Thompson (The Red Krayola), Poem Of The River (1987) sees the band's sound expanded a bit, enough to take in the languid "She Lives By The Castle" as well as the brief "Stained Glass Windows In The Sky", an easy, organ-fueled swirl. Perhaps nothing here is as adventurous as "Riding On The Equator", which, at nearly 9 minutes, sees Felt venture into new territory even as familiar guitar-figures (played by front-man Lawrence himself) trace patterns that one could almost say prefigured the work of shoegaze bands not so long after this.

The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988)

Released here in slightly-altered running order, 1988's The Pictorial Jackson Review features some lovely, spry numbers (the bright "Apple Boutique", the Lou Reed-aping "Ivory Past"), even as a few other cuts here ("Tuesday's Secrets", "Christopher Street") seem to prefigure the sort of jangle-rock acts that would, in the early Nineties, name-check Felt as a big influence. A strong contender for being their most consistent long-player, The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988) sees Lawrence at the height of his powers, his best compositions here ("Jewels Are Set In Crowns", "Don't Die On My Doorstep") offering proof of the man's talents and examples of his knack for both a hook and an effect.

Train Above The City (1988)

Train Above The City (1988) is a mess. It's a record that I really don't feel bad about not loving. More a curiosity than an essential release, the brief offering sees Martin Duffy and Gary Ainge deliver an album's worth (barely) of near-jazzy instrumentals. And, as if it needed to be said, without Lawrence, selections like "On Weegee's Sidewalks" and "Run Chico Run" are nothing more than tracks that sort of make you scratch your head. Bully to Lawrence for letting the band put this out under the Felt name as the move seems more astute and clever now than it did then, when it seemed like an act of career suicide.

Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989)

The final Felt album, Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989) offers up both familiar moments and quick flashes of a new style in the band's arsenal. Produced by Adrian Borland (The Sound), the record finds Lawrence adding more players than in the past, even going so far as to include B.J. Cole on pedal guitar. Some of what's here works spectacularly ("Free"), but parts of this ("New Day Dawning", "Down An August Path") seem like leftovers from a Dire Straits record. There was no way that Lawrence could have produced such great music for so long, and after nearly a decade, one can't be surprised that quality finally flagged a bit here. And, for all that snark on my part, Me And A Monkey On The Moon does contain "Mobile Shack", a Sixties-tinged ramble, and the simply-effective "Get Out Of My Mirror", a neat approximation of "Foggy Notion"-era Lou and the Velvets.

Spread throughout this batch of reissues from Cherry Red, are a few of the absolutely essential singles from Felt's back-catalog, notably "I Will Die With My Head In Flames", the sublime and affecting "The Final Resting Of The Ark", and "Primitive Painters", an utterly-transcendent collaboration with members of the Cocteau Twins. Felt were, in some ways, a singles band, and that case can be made just by listening to these 10 or so singles from this set. And yet, the albums here show a real progression of Lawrence and his assorted band-mates. Frankly, there remains more variety on these final 5 Felt albums than I remembered from the era, and only a churlish old grump would deny that the band took some spectacular chances, and succeeded far more times than people remember. The building blocks of the output of every indie band you've listened to in the last 20 years are here, really, and there's no other way to explain just how essential this handful of records is.

You can order Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986), Poem Of The River (1987), The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988), Train Above The City (1988), and Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989), from Cherry Red Records now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Losing Myself: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Goon Sax

The Goon Sax make music that sounds a whole lot like 1996. I say that by way of offering a compliment, really. The band is set to drop their second album, We're Not Talking, this Friday on Wicita Recordings, and the release features so many passages that are reminiscent of the glory days of alt-rock that anyone even close to my age bracket should love this one as much as I do.

Opener "Make Time 4 Love" drips with a sort of lazy collegiate charm, while "Losing Myself" sees the boy-girl vocals serve as enticements to the brand of smart pop contained within. Melodic and richly tuneful, the music of The Goon Sax is also unhurried and a bit hazy, even on a spry cut like "A Few Times Too Many" or the ramshackle "Get Out", early NZ rock riffs peeking through those of this Aussie trio. So much of what's on We're Not Talking has a similar kind of appeal, equal parts Pavement and Beat Happening, for instance, jumbled up with enough bright hooks that one can guess that there's a Clean album or two in this lot's record cabinet. These 3 young Australian musicians -- Louis Forster, Riley Jones, and James Harrison -- have mined a quarter-century's worth of indie rock and managed to still make something strikingly unique here, no mean feat considering that Forster's dad was in The Go-Betweens. We're Not Talking feels familiar in spots, and yet it's fresh enough that it still surprises with its brief, direct flashes of creative spark.

We're Not Talking is out on Wichita Recordings this Friday.

More details on The Goon Sax via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ben O'Connor]

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Some Deep Belief: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Chills

It is with some mixture of gratitude and relief that I share with you today my review of the newest album from The Chills. Snow Bound, out this Friday from Fire Records, is the sort of thing that makes long-time fans of this band grateful that these New Zealand legends are still around, and relieved that the talents of front-man Martin Phillipps have not diminished a whit since 2015's comeback album, Silver Bullets.

if anything, Snow Bound is evidence of a new energy in Phillipps' craft, tracks like "Bad Sugar" and "Scarred" positively bouncing out of the speakers. If matters here seem more general, a quick look at lines like "...all shades build a fairer nation" (from "Complex") reveals that Phillipps has sacrificed none of his compassion in these difficult times, his voice now that of someone searching for some more enlightened era ("The Greatest Guide Has Died"), or realizing the need to face a grim reality ("Time To Atone"), or pointing the way towards an ideal ("In Harmony"). And if Phillipps' lyrical concerns are serious -- sometimes grave -- ones, the lightness of touch throughout the music on Snow Bound is impressive, these players -- James Dickson, Todd Knudson, Erica Scally, and Oli Wilson -- creating a humble racket behind Martin's plaintive-yet-hopeful vocals. At his best here, Martin Phillipps seems to have found renewed purpose in life, and a more devout faith in his own gifts as, truly, "Deep Belief" stands as one of the finest things he's penned in decades, and every bit the equal of earlier Chills classics like "Double Summer" from Soft Bomb (1992) or "Singing In My Sleep" from Submarine Bells (1990). Simply put, the cut is the sound of this songwriter finding his own secure place in the world of rock-and-roll.

A tight collection, Snow Bound is economically-great, the kind of casually-brilliant record Phillipps can routinely create, his brain and heart ruling things here in a way that few other performers would allow. In other hands, there would be no such deftness as that found on this record. And, to his enormous credit, Martin Phillipps renders these compositions beautiful things, chamber pop that's smart and heartfelt, never labored or smug. I'm so grateful for this man's music and have been for more than 30 years now.

Snow Bound is out on Friday via Fire Records.

More details on The Chills via the band's official Facebook page, or their official website, softbomb.com.

[Photo: Alorx]