Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shadow In Twilight: A Review Of The New Pram Album

The band Pram never got a fair shake. Either overlooked in the years when Stereolab were seen as champs of this sort of thing, or compared to that outfit or Broadcast. Such comparisons were, of course, apt, if a bit unfair; Pram always seemed the most inscrutable of the lot, pieces of soundtrack music and krautrock mingled up with...calypso figures, near-baroque bits, and traces of post-punk. The band's been away for 11 years but they are, thankfully, back with the fine Across The Meridian, out tomorrow on Domino.

Lead single "Shimmer and Disappear" glides in on the back of a hook that's pure Raymond Scott, big band horns blaring off in the distance, while the lighter "Footprints Towards Zero" hints at a debt owed to Martin Denny's material. Elsewhere, the Birmingham band ease things into a slower tempo with the elegant "Shadow in Twilight" and the stately "Electra", numbers that suggest that the group are content to stake out new territory outside their previous familiar goal-posts. The peppy "Sailing Stones" segues into the wonderfully-titled "Where The Sea Stops Moving", the sound the one that Tim Burton characters hear in the trees at night. If there's some faint-jazz here (flashes of Mingus-inspired whimsy peeking through "Ladder to the Moon"), it remains the haunting numbers, like "Doll's Eyes", that linger in the memory, and provide reassurance that this band remain as great as you'd remembered.

Out tomorrow on Domino, Across The Meridian is a superb record, one that blends risky, downright edgy music, with the welcomed beats and throbs that this band rode to some level of indie popularity a few years ago. Delightfully familiar, and wonderfully strange, the music of Pram remains fantastic and entirely unique.

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

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from band's official Facebook page]

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

New Feelings: A Brief Review Of A Pair Of Soul Asylum Reissues From Omnivore Recordings

I will admit that I picked up my first Soul Asylum record, 1986's Made To Be Broken, back in 1986 simply because it was produced by Bob Mould. At the time, I thought I could detect a faint hint of Husker Du in the tunes of Soul Asylum. Though, when listened to now, this record more than stands on its own. Reissued this Friday with 1984's Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen thanks to the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings, the first 2 Soul Asylum releases sound fresh and vibrant, further proof that the mid-Eighties was an era when genuinely punchy and edgy offerings could be found in the domain of college rock

And while the specter of the woolly-haired Dave Pirner miming to "Runaway Train" lingers, an MTV-ghost from the days when it was a big deal when an alt-rock band broke through thanks to Cobain and co. paving the way first, it's worth remembering that Soul Asylum were legitimate players long before grunge crossed over. Rising in the Midwest in the shadow of Husker Du (a band they borrowed some punch from) and The Replacements (a band they borrowed drunken tunefulness from), Soul Asylum hit the ground running on Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen. Produced by Bob Mould, this debut feels surprisingly ramshackle, the loose "Voodoo Doll" crashing past in a rush, the woozy "Sick of That Song" revealing a debt owed to Westerberg. Elsewhere here, there are a clutch of songs from Loud Fast Rules, the predecessor band to Soul Asylum featuring members Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy, and Karl Mueller. The tracks are of their era, traces of hardcore showing through the seams of "Your Clock", even as an X influence rears its head in "Nowhere to Go", a rough cow-punk attempt. Rounded out by a fun stab at CCR's "Bad Moon Rising", this reissue of Say What You Want... Anything Can Happen re-establishes the punk credentials of this lot.

In the Spring of 1986, I got Candy Apple Grey on cassette. I loved the album so much that I sought out any Husker Du release, straying so far from the band itself that I bought Made to Be Broken by Soul Asylum simply because Bob Mould produced the record. To my surprise, the release was a neat blend of the things I loved about Husker Du, with large doses of the sort of ragged melodicism I dug about Replacements releases. Lots of what was Side 1 still carries an impressive level of heft, from the country-honk hooks of "Ship of Fools", to the rough alt-country traces peaking through the edges of the title song, but it's the harder selections on what was Side 2 of this release that still pack a huge punch. "Whoa!" is still, gloriously, abrasive, the sound Mould would have made fronting Westerberg's band, while "New Feelings" and "Lone Rider" suggest the lingering influence of earlier American punk bands on the sound here. The rarities and unreleased tracks on this Omnivore Recordings reissue suggest an even rougher iteration of Pirner and crew, numbers like "Song of the Terrorist" and "20 Year Itch" positively brutal, indications that the influence of labels like SST and Dischord was reaching the middle of America.

Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen and Made to Be Broken hold up fairly well and kudos to the folks at Omnivore Recordings for reissuing both of these in such fine editions. A band that was sorely in need of a re-evaluation, these recordings re-affirm the greatness of Soul Asylum, a band so much more than a bunch of one-hit wonders from the Clinton years.

Say What You Will... Anything Can Happen (1984) and Made To Be Broken (1986) are both out this Friday from Omnivore Recordings.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional images from label]

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I'll Keep You Right Here: In Which I Recall Meeting The Go-Betweens

I frequently say how the only time I ever cried (nearly) when meeting a celeb was when I stood in line to get an autograph from, and picture with, Ray Harryhausen. The rush of emotions at seeing the man who made so many creatures come to life in so many films from my formative years was just too much. I looked at Harryhausen's hands, busily signing autographs for appreciative fans, and marveled at how those digits had moved the heads of hydra in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), for example.

But, the truth is, that I very nearly welled up with emotion when I met Grant McLennan and Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens in D.C. in 1999. It's a memory I've been repeating in my head a lot lately, as I make my way through the superb Grant and I by Robert Forster. And as I devour that wonderful book, I've been on a quest to find my autographed Go-Betweens poster. See, I rarely got things autographed back in my record store days, and I didn't even get John Cale to sign anything when I met him or was corresponding with him some years back -- that's another story -- but when I saw The Go-Betweens in 1999 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., I figured I better get some tangible evidence (for future reminiscences) of the event. It was an especially important mission given that this was in the era before cellphone pictures were a routine thing. The poster that Robert and Grant signed was one I gave to my buddy Mike (for safe-keeping) when I sold off all my stuff and moved to Hong Kong in 2011. I didn't want to sell it, and it wouldn't have been easy to fit a poster into either of the 2 suitcases I took with me to the former British colony, the 2 suitcases carrying (nearly) every remaining possession I had.

I haven't been able to find any copy of the show listing, but I'm pretty sure that the mid-week event was billed as a Go-Betweens gig, and not a Robert Forster and Grant McLennan show. And this would make sense, given that this was about a year before the official Go-Betweens reunion in 2000 when the band released The Friends of Rachel Worth. There was a newspaper preview of the show, and the remarkable thing here is a reminder that the concert was only $10, which was a ridiculous bargain, even for 19 years ago.

The year earlier I had met John Cale at the 9:30 Club when he played there with The Creatures (Siouxsie and Budgie of Siouxsie and the Banshees), and so I knew that if I stood upstairs where the backstage doors were, I just might see a glimpse of Grant or Robert, or even get to say something to them -- something like how their music had filled my life with so much joy for so many years.

So, sure enough, there was a small line forming back there -- the concert wasn't a sell-out show, an amazing thing to consider now -- and it seemed as if the duo was going to graciously let fans come back and say hello. My friend Mike and I had snagged 2 promo posters from the walls of the club, posters promoting the recent release of Bellavista Terrace: Best of The Go-Betweens, a fairly decent compilation of the band's work, and the poster from the label was two-sided, a fact that would be significant later.

We get back and there are Grant and Robert. There was some kind of bunk-bed in the room, a bed that hadn't been there when I met Cale (just a long set of benches), and my memory says that the taller Robert was standing and Grant was laying on the top bunk so that their heads were nearly parallel when a fan approached. I approached. The songwriting geniuses were gracious and kind, very much the way I'd hoped they'd be. And as Mike and I asked them questions and expressed our love of their music, they seemed genuinely touched that there were fans like us in America.

When it came time to sign the poster, in a fitting, poetic bit of business, Robert signed one side, Grant the other. Robert signed in a flamboyant flourish, what one would expect of the guy who danced like Prince in the video for "Head Full of Steam", while Grant signed the flip with an admonition to "Hang in there", a phrase given extra poignancy by Grant's death at the young age of 48 only 7 years later.

The concert wasn't so memorable -- I barely recall much of that -- but meeting them was magical. For an indie-rock fan who'd met quite a few bands over the years -- and even had John Cale call him at work a few times -- chatting with Grant McLennan and Robert Forster seemed the sort of thing that would be hard to top. Ever.

And thank goodness my buddy found my poster. Memory jogged, tunes re-played, and Forster book clutched in my hand, I am content.

Oh, and I framed it Grant side up.

Robert Forster's signature...


And Grant McLennan's.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Waiting For Summer: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Smokescreens On Slumberland Records

The new album from Smokescreens is so good and so perfectly realized that one only hopes that it reaches as many ears as possible. Blending elements of jangle-rock and power-pop with a real debt owed to pioneers of the C86 era, as well as legends from the Flying Nun label, Used To Yesterday positively chimes. Out on Friday on the seminal Slumberland Records label, it is another in a long line of fabulous releases from Mike and his crew, as well as further indication that with this, and recent offerings from Bent Shapes and Young Guv, the Slumberland team's knack for finding this sort of music is still as strong as ever.

If "Someone New" opens the record with a real bit of intent, all Flatmates fuzz amped around a big hook, then the title cut here signals a debt owed to Shoes or The Records, power-pop genius for sure. Similarly, the sublime "Waiting For Summer" blends a Byrd-riff with the kind of tune The Clean once routinely cranked out. Focused, ringing with promise, and catchy, this is sure to be an anthem of this season for lots of indie-heads like me. Elsewhere, the propulsive "The Lost Song" carries a faint whiff of early Go-Betweens about it, even if the guitars are decidedly louder, while "Jolly Jane" chimes in the tradition of loads of bands on Slumberland Records, think early releases from Veronica Falls or The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. And, to their credit, Smokescreens lose none of their appeal on slower-tempo songs like "Buddy" and "It's Not Right" where things take a turn towards the sort of soundscapes found on early Yo La Tengo and Galaxie 500 sides.

Superbly performed and effortlessly tuneful, Used To Yesterday is pure listening pleasure. Make sure you buy it when it drops on Slumberland Records this Friday.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Night Signs: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Ophelias

The new record from The Ophelias, Almost, out Friday from Joyful Noise Recordings, is a lovely thing, full of the textures of neo-classical music, as well as a genuinely infectious indie sensibility. The release from the Ohio four-piece caught me by surprise.

From the Suzanne Vega-like coos of "Lover's Creep" and on to the baroque arrangement of "Night Signs", the music of The Ophelias remains the sort of thing that defies very easy description. Sure, "Lunar Rover" purrs with the kind of precision one found on old Jane Siberry recordings, even as the more deliberate "Zero" suggests debts owed to, say, Philip Glass, or even John Adams. Still, this remains indie-rock, even as something like the waltz-like "Moon Like Sour Candy" harks back offerings from those years when artists like the previously-mentioned Vega and Siberry could redefine what alt-rock was capable of.

Almost is a really special record and one which deserves a lot of attention from attentive listeners. Tuneful, and full of rich harmonies, these songs are haunting and oddly fun.

Almost is out on Friday via Joyful Noise Recordings.

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

[Photo: Katerina Voegtle]

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Cool And Collected: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Let's Eat Grandma

The new album from British duo Let's Eat Grandma, I'm All Ears, out now on Transgressive, is the sort of release that's nearly impossible to categorize. Blending elements of indie with electro-pop, the tunes on the record from the oddly-named act are haunting and playful at the same time.

The first big song on I'm All Ears, "Hot Pink" bursts out a big chorus after bits of percussive New Wave, while the expansive "Falling Into Me" adds the kind of instrumentation that recalls older singles from O.M.D.. Elsewhere, the lovely "I Will Be Waiting" sees the singers coo and croon over the top of a track that successively recalls classic solo recordings from Bjork, even as the lengthy "Cool and Collected" adds near-symphonic textures to the approach of Let's Eat Grandma. So much of this release shines on purely instrumental terms that it would be easy to neglect praising the vocals of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth. As performers, they allow this material to be served, rather than simply smother it with vocals and effects, even while they do allow themselves moments to shine as fine vocalists. Similarly, the haunting "Donnie Darko" closes I'm All Ears in epic fashion, equal parts electro-pop and the soundtrack to an as-yet-unmade film.

I'm All Ears is out now on Transgressive.

More details on Let's Eat Grandma via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: Charlotte Pattmore]

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Golden Boy: A Quick Review Of The New Simon Love Album

The new album from Simon Love is the sort of thing that should charm that swatch of the indie community who cherish both Momus and The Monkees. Sincerely, S. Love x, out Friday on Tapete Records, is delightful and archly funny. That the record succeeds at being both emotionally fulfilling and ironically effete is no mean feat, really.

The too clever by half "God Bless The Dick Who Let You Go" is a blast, while the lush "Joey Ramone" imagines a world where Brian Wilson is off writing odes to the front-man of that seminal punk band. Elsewhere, "I Fucking Love You" soars, equal parts The Divine Comedy and Jellyfish, while "Golden Boy" is pure-Dukes of The Stratosphear goodness. At his very best, like on the lovely "All This Dicking Around (Is Bringing Me Down)", Simon Love manages to pen a song that compares favorably to stuff from the peak years of the Britpop boom, nods to both Oasis and Blur apparent here. Still, for all that's a bit silly here lyrically, there are lush moments that reference the best compositions from earlier legends. And that Simon Love makes this work without seeming like he's just an arched eyebrow goof is impressive. The material here is so good that the funny bits don't really distract a listener.

Fans of Martin Newell, Damon Albarn, Bowie, and Supergrass will dig lots of Sincerely, S. Love x as much as I did. A favorable bit of Britpop and power-pop, this album charmed me immensely.

Sincerely, Simon Love x is out on Friday via Tapete Records.

[Photo: Rose Stone]

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Plum: A Quick Few Words About The New EP From Fred Abong (Throwing Muses)

Fred Abong played bass in The Real Ramona-era Throwing Muses, as well as on the first slate of releases from Tanya Donelly's Belly. He's now a solo artist as his debut EP, Homeless, dropped last Friday. The record is a fine, introspective offering and I'm here to recommend it highly.

Opener "Plum" and the title cut here percolate with slow intensity, while the spry "Rattler" shocases Fred's fine guitar playing. Elsewhere, "Equinox" alternates between a kind of quiet intensity and a gentler rhythmic energy.

Homeless is a brief taste of Fred Abong's talents but it's full of music that is both memorable and affecting. Fans of Throwing Muses, particularly the sort of releases Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly once offered up as solo artists, should find a lot to love here.

Homeless is out now via the link below. More details on Fred Abong via Fred's official website.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A Few Pics From Last Night's Des Demonas / Algiers Concert In D.C.

D.C.'s own Des Demonas took to the stage at Black Cat last night to showcase songs from their fiery self-titled debut LP, out now on In The Red Records (and reviewed by me here), as well as premiere at least one new song.

Crammed together on the back-stage, the 5 members of Des Demonas revealed (yet again) that they collectively make up one of the most powerful acts in this city at the moment. The combined strength of these players, most notably leader Jacky Abok and guitarist Mark Cisneros, is formidable. And when the rhythmic attack of organist Paul Vivari, bassist Joe Halladay, and drummer Ryan Hicks gathers steam, it drives this five-piece into the void, the stark-and-sharp lyrical insights of "There Are No Vampires In Africa" made ever clearer, and the riotous "The South Will Never Rise Again" shown to be an anthem for these desperate times.

Still, for all that, and for all the love that singer Jacky Abok has for The Fall, and for the band's obvious nods to the Nuggets era, it was new song, working title "Immigration", that revealed some growth in the band's approach. The cut, all early Gary Numan mixed with some faint Movement-era New Order moments, was a real stunner last night, and an indication that album number 2 from Des Demonas will be something special.

Des Demonas by Des Demonas is out now via In The Red Records. More details on Des Demonas via the band's official Facebook page.




Algiers -- vocalist Franklin James Fisher, bassist Ryan Mahan, guitarist Lee Tesche, and drummer Matt Tong -- brought the kind of energy that that stage at Black Cat could barely contain. Part revival show, part punk hoedown, the set from the Atlanta band was borderline revolutionary, at least in spots. Singer Fisher delivered the songs from the band's 2 records on Matador with the kind of fervor very few performers bring to their art these days. The other 3 players behind him followed him to the brink of chaos as he exhorted the crowd. These were numbers that promised as much as, say, the early numbers of Nation of Ulysses or Priests did. That the selections delivered so much, and that the band performed them with the kind of fire those other acts exhibited routinely, says a lot about why Algiers is one of the best bands in America today.

The Underside of Power is out now via Matador Records.

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