Sunday, November 18, 2018

Transport And Travel: A Quick Review Of The New Hen Ogledd Album

The new record from Hen Ogledd, Mogic, out as of Friday via Weird World and Domino, is a blistering set of folk-punk, the material here skirting the edges of both industrial stuff and lighter passages from past U.K. stalwarts of the folk-rock boom.

Hen Ogledd is Richard Dawson, Rhodri Davies, Dawn Bothwell, Sally Pilkington, and guest Will Guthrie. And the collective makes music that is lovely and otherworldly (the free jazz-tinged "Love Time Feel"), along with other offerings that batter the psyche with a melange of sounds that suggest both Gorky's and recent Blur numbers ("Problem Child"). The supple and rhythmic "Tiny Witch Hunter" is part Throbbing Gristle, part Talking Heads, the hooks tied to the pulsing bass here, while the looser "Transport And Travel" suggests debts owed to the On-U-Sound label, specifically seminal recordings from African Head Charge. Elsewhere, Dawson leads the group on a rough work-out on the near-avant "Welcome To Hell", a cathartic ramble through some unsavory territory. For all that is truly adventurous here, there are other moments that indicate the crew here have found a way to bring something lovely forth ("Sky Burial") the folky tendencies enveloped by a broader, more expansive music.

Mogic is out now via Weird World and Domino.

More details on Hen Ogledd via the band's official website.

[Photo: Rosie Morris]

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hippy Priest: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Keiron Phelan

The new album from Keiron Phelan, Peace Signs, is the sort of thing that should charm both fans of The Incredible String Band and acolytes of The Jazz Butcher. Out today on Gare Du Nord, the release is tuneful and elegant chamber pop of the very highest order.

Opener "New Swedish Fiction" excellently mines a vein of indie similarly mined by acts like the current line-up of The Lilac Time and The Divine Comedy. Keiron has a way with this sort of stuff, expertly blending the strings and samples around simple, clear hooks. "Satellite Hitori" is spry and playful, while the title cut is an amped-up run at The Clientele. Elsewhere, "Apple Shades" chimes beautifully, Phelan here veering into territory that's very nearly chamber music. "Ain't She Grown" is the sort of thing that Stephen Duffy would love to keep writing, while the fun "Hippy Priest" is Britpop filtered with flashes of early Seventies folk rock, contributions from the wonderfully-ubiquitous Ian Button helping here and elsewhere.

Keiron Phelan has seemingly made one of the best albums on Gare Du Nord so far, and that's quite a compliment. Making this look so easy, he has here straddled a few sub-genres with a real deftness of touch. Peace Signs should please fans of The Kinks, The Lilac Time, and early Prefab Sprout.

Peace Signs is out today via Gare Du Nord Records.

More details on this album and other releases from the label via the Gare Du Nord Facebook page.

[Photo: Annie O'Rourke]

Thursday, November 15, 2018

In Dreams: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Chorusgirl

The new album from Chorusgirl, Shimmer And Spin, out tomorrow on Reckless Yes, is a fabulous record. I went into this a bit blind, having heard only a tiny bit by the band before, but I came away as a big fan of the group after a few plays of this new one.

Opener "In Dreams" is an elegant purr, all Florence and the Machine with more melody, while the brighter "No Goodbye" buzzes with flashes of the same kind of wit and verve that propelled Sleeper to such success in the Britpop boom. Elsewhere, "Demon Baby" is eerie goodness, while the languid and complex "Not Yours" bears a faint trace or two of Eighties-era Siouxsie about it. At their very best here, these players -- Silvi Wersing on vocals and guitar, Udo Westhoff on bass, Michael Boyle on drums, and Faith Taylor on lead guitar -- crank out ornate soundscapes that skirt the edges of shoegaze ("Kinetic Theory"), or travel a path that suggests Kate Bush and The Long Blondes ("Stitches") at the same time. Chorusgirl manage to make some familiar tropes feel altogether new, and each cut is wonderfully tuneful so, yeah, I'm a big fan now.

Shimmer And Spin is out tomorrow via Reckless Yes.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New Disguise: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Axis: Sova

The trio Axis: Sova create music outside most genre labels. The act's newest record, Shampoo You, drops this Friday on God? via Drag City Records and it's an invigorating slab of psychedelic garage rock.

On a shorter number like the spry "New Disguise" the trio -- Brent Sova, Tim Kaiser, and Jeremy Freeze -- crank the amps up and stroll through some Nuggets-influenced territory, while the fuzzy "Dodger" harks back to older Ty Segall stuff, the woozy rock tinged with flashes of bright melodic joy. It makes sense that they sound like there's a debt owed to Ty since God? Records is his imprint. Elsewhere, the longer "Same Person Twice" sees the group pursue a trippy form of electro-pop even as the tight "Shock Recognition" calls to mind Love and Rockets numbers.

At their very best here, Axis: Sova offer up the sort of music that should please Ty fans, and even those who worship at the altar of the Super Furry Animals. Without denying the Sixties bands that have clearly inspired them, Axis: Sova at least have found a way here on Shampoo You to pay tribute to the past while pointing a sonic path towards the future.

Shampoo You is out on Friday via God? / Drag City Records.

More details on Axis: Sova via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Grant Engstrom]

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"I Love Playing With These Guys": My Interview With Greg Norton Of Porcupine (And Husker Du!)

It's hard to quantify just how important Husker Du was to me when I was 19 or 20. I'm sure other young men would say the same thing but, really, I can remember stuff "These Important Years", from 1987's mammoth Warehouse: Songs And Stories, really speaking to me at a low point in my life, and giving me some kind of hope.

A few months after that album dropped, the band played Lisner Auditorium in D.C. My friend Wolfgang and I went. He knew some guy from The Meatmen -- not sure if it was Tesco Vee -- who worked at Tower Records across the street. After the show, Wolfgang and I got separated and I saw this Meatmen guy in the line to get backstage at Lisner. I sidled up to him, made small talk, and pretended to be with him when the line moved backstage. I remember WHFS DJ Tom Terrell (RIP) being in line too and everyone knew Tom (I'd know him better a few months later when I'd start working at the Record and Tape Exchange in College Park and Tom would sometimes unload stuff there).

Seeing the 3 members of the band goofing around on a couch back-stage like actual dudes and not as huge rock-stars made an enormous impact on me. The ferocious music that the trio cranked out -- stuff like "Crystal", and "New Day Rising", come to mind here -- ringed in the ears and lingered in the heart. The act's straddling of the boundaries between hardcore punk and college rock seems even more impressive now, especially given that the band actually crossed over a tiny bit.

Still, they were never going to be as big as R.E.M., but that was okay too. Their music was invigorating and life-affirming in an era filled with cynical New Wave and silly hair metal, and I thank them for making it.

Bassist Greg Norton has recently joined Porcupine and, having reviewed the band's superb new album, What You've Heard Isn't Real, I sat down yesterday to call the legendary musician for a wide-ranging discussion of the past, present, and future.

On the break-up of Husker Du:

GREG NORTON: "The break-up of the band was pretty contentious... And pretty well-documented between Bob's point-of-view and Grant's point-of-view. Bob had already been in the back of his mind preparing himself for the 'Bob Mould' career. According to Grant, he quit the band the night we got off the stage at the Blue Note in Missouri."

The fact that Grant had a side project (The Swallows), irritated Bob and that didn't help matters, it seems. And years later, tensions remained high.

"Bob's not talking to any of us. I think Grant always liked to include me in some things, like it was Grant and Greg against Bob, even though I was trying to remain neutral..." Things remained strained, Greg explained, since the very legacy of Husker Du was still in the process of being determined.

"The 3 of us started trying to get the SST catalog back out and reissued and that led" to a conference call between the band members and some lawyers, "but that didn't go anywhere but it started a dialogue which led to Numero Group" putting out the Savage Young Du box-set.

[Note: That amazing box-set was reviewed by me here late last year.]

On the death of Grant Hart in 2017 and the possibility of further Husker Du reissues:

GREG NORTON: "Last summer, the summer of '17... I would still see Grant," and "Grant would always have his idea of how things should go." And in 2017, "Grant was headlining a small club called the Hook and Ladder," at an event put together by Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland, at a time when Grant was clearly not doing well in terms of his health, having kept details largely private. The night at the club served as a tribute to Grant and that's where Greg and Porcupine did a 5-song Husker Du set: "What Do I Want?"; "What's Going On?"; "Dead Set On Destruction"; "It's Not Funny Anymore"; and, finally, "Standing By The Sea" from Zen Arcade (and a song included on Porcupine's new album, What You've Heard Isn't Real).

"We literally moved some people to tears in the audience when we played 'Standing By the Sea' and," Greg explained, after that, "Grant and I talked for the first time as friends, good friends, in a real long time. It was like... It was kinda liberating to push the bullshit of the band business aside and get back to the 'you were my friend and you always will be my friend'-kind of thing."

"The last time I saw Grant he said, 'Let's get together for a coffee soon'... and I regret we never got to do that."

"But shortly before he died, Bob flew in from Berlin," and apparently he and Grant, "talked about a bunch of stuff... I don't know if they buried the hatchet..." Greg explained, sounding cautiously optimistic.

"Maybe we could have gotten together at the time of the box-set, or something."

On Husker Du signing to a major label and confounding expectations in the Eighties:

"We started getting major label interest right after Zen Arcade came out, and we continued to put out records on SST because we didn't think there was anything a major could offer us that was better than what SST was doing for us at that same time," Greg explained. "Warners was not going to mess around with us in the studio," he said about the band's decision to sign to Warner Brothers thanks to the efforts of Karen Berg. "Flip Your Wig could have been pretty substantial for Warners," but, having held out on SST for a bit longer, "We gave them Candy Apple Grey," a record that Greg feels was the first evidence, perhaps, of the emerging "battle" between Bob and Grant as songwriters, with Bob recording "Too Far Down" on his own, and then Grant running off to record "No Promise Have I Made" on his own.

"I think that the tension between Bob and Grant was evident," on Candy Apple Grey and in that era, and, coming after the straightforward Flip Your Wig, the band goes and gives Warners that record and the reaction was, as you can imagine a bit of shock. "Once we did sign to Warners and we ran into people who said 'Wow, you guys sold out', but we were like, 'What do you mean we sold out?' since we had complete control over what we were doing." Not only that, but they had made an idiosyncratic and personal record in Candy Apple Grey (1986).

As far as the SST records getting the reissue treatment, "It's long overdue," Greg explained. "But the whole SST thing exists in a universe of its own. It all boils down to can Greg Ginn be persuaded to work with that stuff? I don't know. I'm holding out hope that it happens sooner rather than later."

On joining Porcupine:

"I saw them for the first time in La Crosse opening for the Meat Puppets," and, he elaborates, "I hadn't seen Curt and Cris [from the Meat Puppets] in years," but he ended up being blown away by Porcupine. Having struck up a friendship with Casey Virock in Porcupine, Greg became a fan of the trio, while having his own band (Con Queso) around the same time.

So when Porcupine needed a bassist, Casey called and asked if Greg was still playing bass -- "Um, yeah!", Norton remembers saying to Casey on that call -- and Virock then asked Greg to join the group at a time when Porcupine were actively searching for a bass-player.

On the songwriting process in Porcupine:

"In Husker Du, Grant would come with something on guitar, or something rough on bass, and then we'd hammer it out together. Bob, on on the other hand, would come in and say 'Here is a song, and here are the chords, and here's the arrangement.'" But with Porcupine, "Casey is handling all the lyrics but those kind of 'evolve' as the song is being processed, and the song is being worked out live. For the 4 Casey tunes on the new release, he finalized the lyrics at the time of recording," the process a considerably looser one that plays to the strengths of Greg, Casey Virock, and drummer Ian Prince. "We start out where someone will have an idea for something, real basic, then eventually the intricacies of the whole thing will fall into place. Ian's got a unique way he hits the drums... and that's a real fun thing," to play opposite. "It does remind me of the earliest days of being in Husker where the 3 of us would work out things together."

"And I love playing with these guys!"

For now, the future belongs to Porcupine and Greg Norton couldn't sound happier. For a guy who lists Chris Squire and John Entwistle as 2 of his bass-heroes, it gives this long-time fan real pleasure to hear this bass-legend enjoy himself so much in Porcupine, the supple and rhythmic alt-rock of the band indicating that 3 players are meshing supremely well together.

On the legacy of Husker Du, and their unique inspiration on fans and bands in the Eighties:

"It's something that's always nice to hear, that what we did had a positive impact on so many people."

Many thanks to Greg Norton for his time today. And thanks also to Leigh Greaney at Big Hassle for arranging the interview.

What You've Heard Isn't Real is available on vinyl from Dead Broke Records, and on CD and digital from DC-Jam Records.

More details on Porcupine from the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photos: Husker Du pictures from Husker Du official merchandise Facebook page by Doug Humiski (leaping Greg), January 20, 1984, and Jennifer Leazer (group shot), April 4, 1983; Porcupine group photo by Dan Corrigan]

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stealing Gold: A Brief Review Of The New Reissue From Jane Weaver

The Silver Globe from Jane Weaver dropped in 2014 but the folks at Fire Records are bringing it back out. The album is a transcendent thing, and one should be thankful that the record's here again.

Weaver offers up longer, more ambient numbers like "Argent" alongside stuff like "The Electric Mountain", a track that nods in the direction of stuff from Goldfrapp and Kate Bush. Elsewhere, the bright "Don't Take My Soul" shines like something from Laurie Anderson, while the elegant folk of "Stealing Gold" haunts. At her very best, Jane Weaver blends art rock with flashes of electro-pop, perhaps nowhere as successfully as on "Your Time In This Life Is Just Temporary", the Jane Siberry-ish closer to The Silver Globe. Hard to pin down, the compositions here are largely successful attempts to navigate multiple genres while offering up music that lingers in the brain.

The Silver Globe is out now via Fire Records.

More details on Jane Weaver via her official Facebook page, or her official website.

[Photo: Jane Weaver/Fire Records]

Friday, November 9, 2018

Shine A Light: A Quick Review Of The New Reissue From Spiritualized

Originally released in 1993, Fucked Up Inside is perhaps the definitive Spiritualized document. Recorded in L.A. in 1992, the album, out again as of today via Glass Modern Records, sees the band burn their way through some familiar numbers from Lazer Guided Melodies and Pure Phase.

That the live setting allowed "J. Spaceman" to find the soulful heart of these compositions is a given, but that Jason Pierce was such a good frontman is perhaps surprising considering how focused Pierce seemed on the studio recordings on achieving a kind of blissed-out detachment. An epic "Medication", for instance, sees the Spaceman blend elements of soul and free jazz in the service of what was getting called shoegaze way back when. Elsewhere, a spacious "Angel Sigh" skirts the distant edges of the sort of near-ambient music that bands like Seafeel once cranked out, while a throbbing "Smiles" finds Spiritualized employ a motorik rhythmic pattern under a glorious rush of fuzz-rock. A reflective cover of Pierce's own Spacemen 3 number, "Walking With Jesus" links Pierce's past and present in excellent fashion, while a lengthy run at "Shine A Light (Clear Light/Clear Rush)" finds J. Spaceman and crew whipping up a furious racket that ebbs and flows like the waves from a distant tsunami.

A superb document of one of the most vital bands from the first, big wave of shoegaze acts, Fucked Up Inside delights. The reissue on Glass Records sounds fantastic and the material nearly glows in spots thanks to the mastering by John Rivers. This is the rare live album that seems as essential as a studio release.

[Photo: Colin Bell]

Work Of Art: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Rays

The new album from Rays, You Can Get There From Here, out today on Trouble in Mind Records, is the sort of thing that bears favorable comparison to The Feelies and even Comet Gain. The tunes here from this Oakland band are effervescent and full of spiky energy.

Songs like "The Big One" bristle in a charming way, while longer numbers like "To The Fire" bear the faintest traces of Pavement about them. Elsewhere, "Around The Town" makes one think of early offerings from The Go-Betweens, while the tuneful "Yesterday's Faces" reminded me of a number from a band like EZTV or even Expert Alterations, all worthy C86-hooks wrapped up in a big alt-pop package. At their very best here, Rays blend a whole lot of fairly obvious influences into fresh, riveting indie, even as a few numbers ("Work of Art", "Ray Johnson") suggest a rougher path that this group could pursue, hints of The Kinks and Richard Hell brushing up against each other.

You Can Get There From Here is out today via Trouble in Mind Records.

More details on the band's official Tumblr.

[Photo: Troy Hewitt]

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Traveling Music: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Jonathan Franco

The new album from Jonathan Franco, the self-released Swimming Alone Around The Room, is an intimate set of lyrical and lovely compositions. That Franco's material defies easy categorization only adds to the appeal of this sort of music.

While some numbers here, like the gently-surging "A Topiary" and "Season", suggest selections from Elliott Smith, others, like the ambient "Traveling Music", dip even further back, to the earliest solo recordings from Brian Eno. Elsewhere, the percolating "Distance" and the spry "Airplanes" recall both Durutti Column and Badly Drawn Boy offerings. Franco is a master at this sort of bedsit indie, and while the tracks here on Swimming Alone Around The Room very nearly seem to be light as air, Jonathan, to his credit, doesn't let things get too precious. The cuts on this record are just simple, airy bits of business, the quiet passages every bit as important as the moments that (quietly) surge.

Fans of The Blue Nile, Dif Juz, Eno, and His Name Is Alive should find things to love here. Swimming Alone Around The Room is out tomorrow and it's one of this week's most enjoyable records.

More details on Jonathan Franco via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited artist Bandcamp pic]

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Expressive Machine: A Quick Review Of The New Album From J Fernandez

The new record from J Fernandez, Occasional Din, out Friday via the fine Joyful Noise Recordings label, is a revelation of talent. Fernandez here bridges a few genres with the sort of ease one doesn't encounter too often in the current indie field. That the release sounds like Elliott Smith and Stereolab teamed up on a long-player is further, high praise.

On numbers like "Expressive Machine", J Fernandez reveals a debt owed to not only that Sadier-centric band, but Broadcast and The Clientele, while the brighter, Beatles-y "Don't Need Anything" is lite power-pop. Fans of Young Guv and Papercuts, for instance, should find lots to love here, especially on the wildly-catchy "Volcanic Winter", or the chamber rock-recalling "Wildfire", an expressive rumination.

J Fernandez is a distinct voice, so don't mistake my litany of comparison points as some sort of knock on his talents. I mention those other bands in order to highlight the real beauty and melodic grace found here on Occasional Din. At his very best, like on closer "Light Years", J Fernandez veers very close to the best stuff from The Clientele, a band I mentioned earlier. And while Fernandez is a bit trippy here in spots, the production drawing nearly as much attention as his voice, the singer is also wise enough to know that the melodies should be memorable, and they certainly are.

Occasional Din is out on Friday via Joyful Noise Recordings.

More details on J Fernandez via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promo image]