Monday, November 30, 2015

A Few Words About The Fine Cherry Red Reissue Of The First Album From The Passions

It's a shame that The Passions are sometimes relegated to being one hit wonders. Sure, it's a helluva one hit (1981's "I'm In Love With A German Film Star") but to think of the U.K. band just in terms of that one track is to overlook the superb new wave stylings on the band's first album, 1980's Michael and Miranda, recently reissued by Cherry Red. The album has been expanded with some bonus tracks but, really, the 12 cuts of the debut album itself together make up a sort of template for what new wave of the era should have always sounded like.

Tracks like "Oh No, It's You" positively chime in a way that recalls, oddly, early New Order as well as a less strident Gang of Four. Frankly, there's a lot here that seems to have paralleled Gang of Four's stuff. Barbara Gogan's vocals on "Man on the Tube" are shouty in a way that links them up with her peers in the era, and those who came a bit earlier (Poly Styrene, for example). The funky "Suspicion" swirls in a glorious mess of clashing riffs that seem to coalesce unexpectedly around her worried vocals.

Stuff like "Pedal Fury" belongs to bassist Claire Bidwell and drummer Richard Williams. Bidwell would leave the band after making Michael and Miranda and it's unfortunate as her work here anchors this sort of vaguely propulsive new wave. It makes perfect sense that The Passions were on Fiction, the home of The Cure, as something like "Brick Wall" sounds like the distant cousin of "Killing an Arab" or another early Smith and Co. single.

Michael and Miranda succeeds largely as a time capsule of what guitar-based new wave was at its best. If there are synths on this album, I didn't hear them. Decidedly not of its era and entirely of its time, Michael and Miranda, out now in a lovely new reissue package from Cherry Red, is a buried treasure that's been recovered. Current bands like Shopping work so hard to sound like this and that's a compliment to the lasting appeal of The Passions, a band worth revisiting for so many reasons more than just for that one other single.

Michael and Miranda, with 3 bonus tracks and photos and a discography in the lovely liner notes booklet, is out now via Cherry Red.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Quick Review Of The Superb New Album From The Foetals (Temple Songs/The Pink Teens)

It's been more than 3 years since I first posted about the pop genius of Jolan Lewis. I like to mention that I was writing about his band as early as 2012 'cause it seemed like it took a lot of the rest of the online world so long to catch up with his brand of musical wizardry. Back then, I was writing about the skewed indie of his outfit Temple Songs. Then, at some point in 2014, that Manchester-based band morphed into The Pink Teens and then, very recently, Jolan Lewis set out on his own -- more or less -- as The Foetals. The debut album, Meet The Foetals -- a title that at once nods in the direction of both The Beatles and Peter Jackson if you get the references -- is out Friday via the exemplary new(er) label PNKSLM. Earlier this year, in the summer, Jolan unleashed a few cuts, like the Sixties-leaning "Fine", all beat era sensibilities put through the ringer, and then gradually more of this fine release seeped out to bloggers like me. The album from The Foetals, Meet The Foetals, is exactly what you'd expect if you heard that last Pink Teens EP. Still, that said, the Lewis formula has been refined and the mix perfected on this full-length from The Foetals.

Shortly after the release of "Fine" Jolan had some health issues to deal with. To not mention those in this review and how they impacted and delayed the release of this debut from The Foetals would be disingenuous; to address them and pretend to know more than a fan like me knows would also be disingenuous. So, in the interest of discussing the music, let's not pretend we have anything to say about Jolan's health beyond "Get Well Soon, Mate!" as, you see, this review is about Jolan's art, not his health.

Meet The Foetals is significant in another way as it seems to be the first Jolan-fronted release to be so concise and focused. That's not a slam on the outputs of The Pink Teens or Temple Songs but, rather, an acknowledgement that he's sharpened things up this time out and seemingly made the experimental bits take the backseat. For example, the stompin' "Nearly" -- ahem -- nearly chimes with power pop hooks like old Let's Active. But if the music here is largely a straightforward affair, on tracks like "Moment" one can hear a trace of the out there charms of Temple Songs peeking through, even as Jolan indulges in an early Beatles-style guitar solo.

Elsewhere, like on "Nothing", the effect is more traditional and Jolan's work here almost approaches what one would call mainstream U.K. indie, even if that may or may have not been his intention.

Perhaps the best track on Meet The Foetals, and the one song that easily ranks as one of the most beautiful things that Jolan's ever penned, is "The World Isn't That Big", a cut that positively aches with longing and hope in equal measure. This one is the sort of thing that I played so much when I first got this record that I nearly diminished the power of the track for me. I said "nearly", didn't I? I still get a little tingle up the spine when I hear this. The sort of thing that perfectly summarizes the unique pop skills of Jolan Lewis, "The World Isn't That Big" is a blissful bit of business indeed.

Meet The Foetals by The Foetals succeeds by doing one thing remarkably well and that is bridging the warped rawk of Jolan's earlier work in The Pink Teens and Temple Songs with a decided conciseness and sense of song-craft that one suspects he was capable of all along. Here, songwriting takes the driver's seat and one can revel in hearing this cat's talents unleashed so effectively. Meet The Foetals is surely going to get Jolan Lewis more fans and that's a great thing. In any band, his work remains some of the best and most inventive indie-pop that you are likely to have heard in ages. Owing as much to the classic songwriting of Ray Davies, Roy Wood, and John Lennon, as he perhaps does to the DIY spirit of Bob Pollard and fellow Manc Mark E. Smith, Jolan Lewis has here, on Meet The Foetals, taken his rightful place as a one of the best musicians we are likely to see in this era.

Meet The Foetals by The Foetals is out on Friday via PNKSLM. Follow The Foetals via the band's official Facebook page.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give Thanks Once Again For Big Star: A Look At The New Jesus Christ EP From Omnivore Recordings

This year, Black Friday will be a whole lot brighter. As one of their Black Friday Record Store Day releases, Omnivore Recordings will be unleashing a special new EP from Big Star. Called Jesus Christ, the 7-song release is significant for including a whopping 5 previously unreleased Big Star tracks. For a legendary band like Big Star that's a pretty impressive number considering how many times people have probably been combing the vaults for lost classics from these guys.

The release features the album version of "Jesus Christ" from Third, along with a demo version from the recent Keep An Eye On The Sky box set. There's also a pair of untitled instrumental songs, a demo version of "Big Black Car" and an odd cut called "Another Time Another Place and You" which sounds a lot like something off of Led Zeppelin III to these ears.

The EP is rounded off by what seems like a fitting song to highlight today: "Thank You Friends" (TV Mix). The string-infused cut is affecting and a nice spin on such a perennial Big Star classic.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the release is that on the back of the liner notes booklet there's a notice that the demo version of "Jesus Christ" is from the forthcoming Complete Third which, presumably, Omnivore is now prepping for 2016 release. Good news indeed.

More than a collector's curio, this Jesus Christ EP by Big Star offers up at least a few cuts that should find their way into the hearts of Alex Chilton and Big Star fans this holiday season. I'm thankful to have this in my collection, I know that.

Jesus Christ by Big Star is out tomorrow, Black Friday Record Store Day, via Omnivore Recordings.

"The Beatles wanted to hold your hand; The Sonics wanted to kick your ass." My Look At The New Sonics Box Set From Light In The Attic

ROB LIND (Sax Player, The Sonics): "Our whole goal was just to get people dancing immediately. We wanted a wall of sound; we wanted power. We always structured everything that way, and it just kinda evolved; we saw what worked. We were just a six-hundred-pound gorilla live, and we could never get that feeling, in our estimation, onto the records."

Every regional scene in the Beatles era had a band like Tacoma, Washington's The Sonics. Usually these were beat combos quickly learning fast-tempo cuts to place at dances and the like. Here in the D.C. area there were bands like the legendary British Walkers (with a young Roy Buchanan on guitar) who thrilled my mom and her friends back in the mid-Sixties.

In Tacoma, Washington, there was The Sonics, a now-legendary group that seemingly invented both garage rock as well as punk depending on what music critic you read. That The Sonics were incendiary is beyond doubt and if you want a crash-course in why there's still such a following of these cats, you'd be well-served by the upcoming The Sonics: 50 box set from Light in the Attic Records.

Dropping tomorrow, on Black Friday Record Store Day, this amazing set contains some of the most vital music you're going to hear in 2015. That most of the music was made 50+ years ago adds to myth of The Sonics; how can music this old sound so fresh and downright threatening in spots? After listening to The Sonics: 50, I understood why the music of these guys survived when thousands of other bands' stuff has been long forgotten. Like The Ramones, The Sonics stripped rock back to the basics, subverted the typical love song-formula, and rocked out with abandon. It's that simple. Arguably the first important American band, The Sonics refined a template here and it's one that's been used by acts as disparate as The Stooges and The White Stripes decades later.

Disc 1 contains Here Are The Sonics (1965), Disc 2 contains Boom (1966), and Disc 3 is full of rarities including a bunch of Christmas-themed cuts from the band. Despite some differences in production and original label-backing, discs 1 and 2 are full of immediate, punchy rock. If you only know Nuggets-era standards like "The Witch" and "Strychnine" then you only know one aspect of the band. As great as those cuts are, the band was capable of covering the hits of the day with ease and abandon ("Roll Over Beethoven" on Here Are The Sonics and "Louie Louie" on Boom). If those cuts were surely just recorded versions of the sort of stompers the band would trot out in live gigs, the album renditions still pack a wallop. If nothing else, they indicate the steamroller effect of the band and one can easily imagine how these would have gone down live in some sweaty club 50 years ago.

A large part of the force of The Sonics' sound is owed to revered drummer Bob Bennett. Through a mix of primitive recording techniques as well as Bob's unique skills on the kit, the band used the percussionist as a force of nature behind their wall of noise.

ANDY PARYPA (Bass Player, The Sonics): "The whole band played to Bob [Bennett, Drums] and that changed our whole approach to everything, really."

And one remembers that quote from the informative liner notes booklet as one listens to Discs 1 and 2. On stuff like "Psycho" the entire force of the song starts with that beat. The drums sound like Bennett is playing right behind you. On stuff like "Dirty Robber" the sax anchors the cut as a party tune even if Bennett plays like he's inventing the Ramones with every hit on the kit. Another highlight here is "Boss Hoss" which remains the sort of tough-and-odd lost classic that is aching to be rediscovered and put on a Tarantino soundtrack.

If Discs 1 and 2 are full of the very stuff of the bedrock of, well, rock, then Disc 3 is more of the sort of rarities disc that diehards will enjoy more than others. Full of some mildly misguided-but-still fascinating Christmas-themed tunes, the set also has a few alternate versions too. The big non-holiday highlight here is probably "The Hustler", a ditty penned by piano and organ player Gerry Roslie. Cut from the same mold as "Dirty Water" by The Standells, the song is a blast of snarling energy. Another classic that warrants rediscovery.

GERRY ROSLIE (Piano and Organ Player, The Sonics): "After all these years, the interest in The Sonics is amazing to me; I’m dumbfounded. It’s great!"

I don't think it's too surprising that The Sonics are so fondly remembered. There's attitude here in spades and besides the beat of Bennett, the band acquit themselves admirably. Bridging that beat era stuff with a darker edged kind of garage rock, the tunes of The Sonics still hold up in large measure. The Sonics: 50 is a concise and easy way to dive into this band's back catalogue. The fantastic liner notes -- loaded with awesome pics -- add to the allure of the band.

The Sonics: 50 box set is out tomorrow from Light in the Attic Records.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"I Occasionally Surprise Myself With My Own Optimism": My Interview With Martin Phillipps Of The Chills Following The Release Of Silver Bullets (Fire Records) [Updated With New Chills Video]

The music of The Chills is finally getting a bit more attention, the sorts of levels of attention it's always deserved. A perennial fave of critics -- and us wannabe "cool kids" -- the New Zealand band's stuff, largely the product of the genius of main-man Martin Phillipps, is the subject of so much ink lately thanks mainly to the release of the band's newest record, the sublime Silver Bullets (2015). The music on the album, out now on Fire Records, is an effortlessly perfect blending of so many different eras from Phillipps' back-pages: the warmth and wit of Brave Words (1987), the intellectual indie of Submarine Bells (1990), the chamber pop of Soft Bomb (1992) -- all those fine, fine releases get referenced here on the tracks of this new record. That it's been nearly 2 decades since the last full-length Chills album is sort of stunning to consider 'cause the music of Martin Phillipps has been with us all least it's never left my stereo, my iPod, and my earbuds.

I tried to not be too overwhelmed as a fan when I got the chance recently to interview Martin Phillipps and, instead, I attempted to focus on the process of making Silver Bullets (2015) and how The Chills songs take shape. So here is my interview with Martin Phillipps of The Chills.

Glenn, kenixfan:: How does it feel to be back promoting and touring a new record again?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Because there have been so many near-tours and near-albums over the last two decades I was genuinely nervous that this album might never happen but it is finally out and I can relax. We are very proud of it and the reception has been so positive that I am at times almost overwhelmed. I knew there had been a growing awareness of the band over the last few years but I did not anticipate the level of emotion with which our return would be greeted.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Tell me about the process of making the new album, Silver Bullets (2015).

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Some of the basic riffs have been kicking around for years but most of the album is reasonably fresh material -- in particular the lyrics because, although I had pages of ideas for some of these tunes, most of the older ideas were thrown out as I realised I needed to address some of the difficult issues that have been bothering me about the state of our world. Once I truly accepted that this album was going to happen then it was as if my subconscious came to life and all my skills as a songwriter came to the surface and I remembered the sheer thrill of creating music again.

Glenn, kenixfan:: There is a lot of water imagery on this new record, as well as in your past body of work. Is this a result of your upbringing in New Zealand?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: New Zealand is an island nation and the impact from the surrounding oceans on its population both physically and psychologically are often apparent in all our arts. I have always found it impossible to maintain a purely urban or humanistic stance when writing and I still feel that our stories are better set against these enormously powerful landscapes and that that is part of what makes The Chills' sound both recognisable and a little different to any other band.

Glenn, kenixfan:: On the new album, "Pyramid/When the Poor Can Reach the Moon" is a positively epic track. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful in spots, it's ambitious and complex -- like an expansion of a Soft Bomb (1992) track. How did this song take shape?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Parts of "Pyramid" had been floating around for a while and then most of "When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" arrived in one big lump and I understood that both were different sides to the same coin in terms of topic and also that both were not prepared to be fully realised songs in their own right. So I found a way to join them together and the little linking phrase we referred to as "lotus" has apparently become an album highlight for many people.

"When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" will be released as a single by Fire Records on December 11. You can play the brand new video below!

Glenn, kenixfan:: On songs like "Brave Words", "Look For the Good In Others And They'll See The Good In You", "The Male Monster From The Id", and others you seem to be wrestling with ideas and working out personal issues in the course of the songs -- almost like a kind of therapy. The method seems more intellectual in nature and your songs are not cathartic in the way that old Throwing Muses songs are, for example, nor are they simply intellectual exercises. Can you speak about your songwriting process, especially in terms of the songs that don't exactly fit the traditional love-song template?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I like the contrast between the musical setting and a lyric and the fact that this can create a third atmosphere altogether and that this can be more real in terms of the true complexities and contradictions of our experiences. I will often write very bare lyric ideas as prose deliberately using no set rhythm and then I'll look at what I've written and start to substitute words for more interesting or beautiful ones -- sometimes using a thesaurus. Then the rhythms and the images begin to appear and that's when the actual craft of songwriting kicks in and then it can take minutes or months before I accept that the song is ready to be released into the world.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Why did it take so long for Silver Bullets to come out? It's been nearly 20 years since Sunburnt (1996) with only Stand By (2004), the EP, in-between.

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I never stopped writing and we never stopped performing but most of the world stopped listening and it was very hard to maintain forward momentum without active support from record labels or management. Then we got good management but the realities of a career in music in the new "download age" while based in a small country in the Southern Hemisphere repeatedly showed how difficult it was going to be to ever be able to record or tour internationally again. Many tours and recordings and documentaries nearly happened but collapsed at the last minute. But finally the right people believed in us and we were offered the opportunity to prove ourselves once again.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Do you still look for the good in others?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I can still be too trusting and too accepting and I occasionally surprise myself with my own optimism but I also have a lot more doubts and anger about the state of human affairs and our future.

Glenn, kenixfan:: You once sang "Does apathy come with age?" Does it? How have you managed to stay sincere in an era of irony? What keeps you centered as a person?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: There was an awful transitional stage where I had to accept that I was no longer young and that trying to rock out and stay true to some sort of punk-energy ethic was just making me look old and ridiculous but then I discovered that the music I was making still had truth and intensity -- only now in different ways, and I became comfortable with that. I have even gained confidence as a solo performer and found my strengths there and that took a long time.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Will you be touring the USA this time out or did "America Says Hello" rule out that possibility? Is there a sense that Americans are finally "getting" what you've been doing for so long?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: We have not performed in the States since 1996 and I really hope we can tour there mid-way through 2016 which is the current plan. America has always had one of our biggest audiences and we are aware that that has been growing as younger people have been introduced to our music.

Glenn, kenixfan:: I just wanted to say "Thank you" for the music you've made and for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview. I appreciate it very much.

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Thank you for asking interesting questions and I'm sorry about the delay in responding. There has been a lot of media and some things were overlooked.

A big "thank you!" to Alice Gros at Fire Records for arranging this interview!

Silver Bullets (2015) by The Chills is out now on Fire Records. Follow The Chills via

[Photos: Jon Thom Moodie]

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Quick Look At The New Neil Finn/Paul Kelly Live Album Out On Record Store Day

It seems inconceivable that Neil Finn and Paul Kelly have not released an album like this so far. The two songwriters, Finn from New Zealand and Kelly from Australia, have toured before but maybe the idea of putting out a live album never occurred to them until recently? If you are, like me, a fan of these guys, you'll be delighted to learn that Omnivore Recordings has prepped a double-disc live album, recorded in Sydney in early 2013, that will drop in early December. In the meantime, there's a single disc version that features highlights from the concert and that album is out on Friday, November 27, 2015 (Record Store Day, in case you didn't know). That album, which you can get on vinyl, is called Goin' Your Way (Highlights) and it showcases the best of the 2-CD set with quite a few obvious high-points along the way, notably Finn's sublime take on "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House and Kelly's "To Her Door" in all its late period Dylan-like glory.

But, really, is there any doubt that "Distant Sun" shines -- sorry, no pun intended -- here in blazing fashion? One marvels at the resilience of Finn's songwriting skills when Kelly takes over vocal duties on parts of this. What was well-crafted pop as a perfect Crowded House single, unfurls in a rockier style with the former leader of the Messengers at the helm. Truly, this is one of the songwriting gems of the last 25 years and a fine, fine example of exactly how to write pop that remains smart and nearly too good for the Top least in this country.

Elsewhere, Paul Kelly's "Before Too Long" chimes with the sort of effortless grace that the world's best songwriters routinely deliver. What's the takeaway here is the way the cut rides a modest hook to such success. There's a sort of casualness here that makes the track so enjoyable -- especially in this version -- and Kelly seems to be having a grand time on this one.

On the 2-CD version of Goin' Your Way, Kelly and Finn offer up Finn's take on "Not The Girl You Think You Are" from the first Crowded House "best of" compilation, along with Kelly's soaring "Love is the Law" which turns into a near-anthem here. Splendid and transcendent. If ever there was a song that you wish U2 would cover, it's this one.

Along with a trippy version of Split Enz classic "One Step Ahead", Finn also serves up a singalong take on "Better Be Home Soon" that opens up the song in ways not possible on the classic Temple of Low Men (1988) album version.

Neil Finn and Paul Kelly remain 2 of the best songwriters to ever emerge from the Southern hemisphere. And there are many reasons why both of these cats have such loyal followers and most of those reasons are on display on Goin' Your Way. Still, even if your knowledge of their respective back catalogues is shallow, you'd be well-served by either version of Goin' Your Way. This live album, in either version, shines a deserved light on the talents of these 2 artists and I think both casual and long-time fans of either one will be very happy with this release.

Goin' Your Way (Highlights) by Neil Finn and Paul Kelly is out on Friday from Omnivore Recordings. The 2-disc version of Goin' Your Way will be out on December 11 from Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

You Set My Soul: A Look At The Essential New Telescopes Reissue On Cherry Red Records

This is proof of the greatness of The Telescopes. More than anything, this compilation does a fantastic job at making the case that The Telescopes were one of the most underrated bands of the shoegaze era.

Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 covers the most fertile period of the output of The Telescopes. The 2-CD set, out on Friday via Cherry Red, does one thing marvelously and that is further the argument that the missing link between The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine was The Telescopes. If those 2 other bands were -- rightly or wrongly -- praised and blamed for redefining what made up the Creation sound, then The Telescopes' stuff -- at least the stuff on this expertly produced comp. -- illustrates how spectacularly good The Telescopes were at bridging genres within the indie world.

Dive in and you'll see that far more than just another shoegaze band, The Telescopes gave us longing of a sort ("Precious Little"), blissed-out near-dance rave-downs (the epic "Celestial"), and Sixties-style rave-ups ("High on Fire"). One could approach Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 as a document of how the band's music evolved to suit changing tastes in Creation's first golden era -- a point hinted at in the well-written liner notes -- but I choose to look at this compilation as a showcase of how good The Telescopes were at so many things. Frankly, I sort of now need to redo my assessment of the band as a result of the absurdly high quality of the music on these 2 discs.

The highlight of this 2-CD set is, of course, 1992's # Untitled Second, originally released on these shores as The Telescopes. The album now seems far better than I remembered, effortlessly blending the druggy malaise of "You Set My Soul" with the sublime and gentle pop of "The Presence of Your Grace" which seems to glide by with a Ride-like sense of -- well, dare I go ahead and say it? -- grace. "Flying" is here in its chiming glory, while "Ocean Drive" serves up a pretty good example of how The Telescopes so successfully bridged the sound of The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine while offering up a bit more melody than either one did in the era. Album closer "To the Shore" strikes one now as the sort of precursor to the more mainstream stuff that Creation would ride to the top of the charts later (namely "Champagne Supernova"). For a band so abrasive, so fucked up and wrecked, "To the Shore" is damn lovely, isn't it? This half of the comp. is dominated by this raggedly beautiful masterpiece of a record and I feel a fool for not ranking # Untitled Second much higher when I first heard it years ago. Just simply liking it back then seems not enough now since its placement here on Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 reveals it as an epic piece of work in all regards.

Disc 2 of Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 also features covers of The Velvet Underground ("Candy Says") and The Who ("The Good's Gone"), along with the propulsive and supple "The Sleepwalk (Sitar Version)", an alternate version of an earlier track. Put side-by-side with anything on the Glider EP by My Bloody Valentine, this cut seems nearly as significant.

Rounding out this 2-CD set is a 4-track Peel session from 1991 where the band rip through 4 tracks from the then-upcoming # Untitled Second. For songs that really benefited so much from the band's studio approach in that era, these radio sessions succeed on their own terms, with "To The Shore" unfurling like a Cocteau Twins classic, and "The Presence of Your Grace" reaching peaks not unlike those found on a Rolling Stones jam from 1967 when that band was trying to sound like a high(er) version of The Beatles.

And, as if there weren't so many reasons to love this set already, this compilation helpfully labels the releases these tracks are taken from on the back of the packaging. Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 works splendidly but it works on another level when a listener can easily see where the cuts originated and so follow the band's progression.

Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 is the sort of release that surprises a formerly casual fan. Going into this, I had a bunch of Telescopes releases in my collection and thought I sort of had the group pegged. Listening to this, in sequence, and considering how the sound of The Telescopes progressed from JAMC wannabes making a racket, to forced shoegazers tipped by McGee to find a hit like "Soon" by MBV, to wholly inventive pioneers (every cut on 1992's # Untitled Second) expanding the very parameters of what UK indie was capable of in the wilderness of those pre-Britpop years, one learns to love The Telescopes all over again. That Stephen Lawrie and co. survived and continue to make music is all the more reason to rejoice.

Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992 by The Telescopes is out on Friday via Cherry Red Records. Follow The Telescopes via their official Facebook page.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hinds Release "Best Of" And New Single Ahead Of January Album Drop

It seems like an eternity since the Hinds (FKA Deers) hype kicked off. I blogged about them relatively early on and I'm glad I did 'cause their music has been consistently wonderful; indie can be, and probably should be, fun and the gals in Hinds remember that. That they have a way with a catchy tune doesn't hurt either, eh?

Helping fans out in the run up to the January release of full-length Leave Me Alone, Hinds have dropped an EP that's called The Very Best of Hinds So Far. It's up on Amazon and you can buy it for less than $4 right now. It's entirely worth it and an easy way to jump on the Hinds bandwagon before it metaphorically steamrolls across this country.

Now if the band would only play the D.C./Baltimore area, I'd really be happy.

In other Hinds news, the band have dropped another song called "San Diego" from their upcoming album, Leave Me Alone, and you can play that below.

While you're waiting for the full-length, follow the band on their official website or via their wildly popular official Facebook page.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parquet Courts Continue To Confound Expectations: A Quick Look At The New Monastic Living Release On Rough Trade

For a band who've surely gotten sick of the ol' Pavement comparisons, Parquet Courts have really done one better than that opening blast of noise that Malkmus and co. unleashed on "Texas Never Whispers" some 2 decades ago. Dropping the new EP -- but it's 30 minutes long, so not too shabby, boys -- Monastic Living on Rough Trade Records next week, the Courts have offered up a real big middle finger to fans and foes alike. This is a bigger "F.U." than releasing an album under a different name. That said, I sort of like this one despite wanting to hate it.

Yeah, here's the thing: Monastic Living is vital and all that but it's also an instrumental release nearly all the way through. In some cases, like on the slow-burn of "Prison Conversion", that's a plus as the music takes on a certain aggressiveness that vocals would only possibly diminish. Somehow, without a singer, the guys in Parquet Courts have made what could be spikier music than anything on Sunbathing Animal. On the wonderfully-titled "Frog Pond Plop" there's almost a sense of catharsis in the din, while on the downright creepy "Vow of Silence" the band approaches a sort of Throbbing Gristle-like bliss, joining the company of Genesis P. and his/her crew in the service of music that is not necessarily loud but which is altogether disturbing. When you listen to this all the way through a second time, the near-vocals on "No, No, No!" actually seem like a distraction from the chaos.

Monastic Living was never gonna win Parquet Courts any new fans -- heck, they will probably lose a few with this one! -- but that was never the point. This is as bold as indie can possibly get these days without morphing into something else entirely. If the textures and riffs here are borderline rock 'n' roll it's only 'cause the EP is short and easily digested. This is music to be admired perhaps more than loved but, honestly, I did end up embracing this despite every intention of being angry that I was listening to a great rock band go rogue and clam up.

Out next Friday on Rough Trade Records, Monastic Living by Parquet Courts is one of this year's most challenging releases, and perhaps one of its best too.

The First Big Album Of 2016 Is Gonna Be The New Pete Astor On Slumberland (And You Can Spin A Track Here Now!)

When I recently reviewed the absolutely essential Creation Artifact: The Dawn of Creation Records 1983-1985 box set from Cherry Red, I tried to make the point that the real stars of that collection were The Loft. The Pete Astor-fronted band seemed to define the Creation Sound before bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine re-defined it only to have Oasis and Super Furry Animals come along and re-define it again. One could make the argument that in the early days of Creation, Astor's crew were the most consistent act on the label. And while The Loft have reformed and performed recently, something covered in my recent interview with members of The Loft, Pete Astor has never stopped making music, whether it's been with The Weather Prophets, or The Wisdom of Harry, or as a solo artist. Astor remains one of the legends of McGee's label, and one of the legends who's managed to keep making great music since those glory days.

And now he's set to release what is sure to be one of the highlights of 2016 with his new album, Spilt Milk, on the esteemed US label Slumberland Records. Out in February, the record was produced by James Hoare of Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls and the album features Hoare as well as Pam Berry (Black Tambourine, Glo-Worm, Withered Hand) on vocals, and Jack Hayter of Hefner on guitar.

The first single is here and it's a gem. Sure to burrow into your brain the way that those Withered Hand singles did not so long ago, "My Right Hand" is a Tony Hancock-referencing blast of indie goodness.

If you had sat around in a (good) record shop in 1988 wondering what a Feelies/Loft mash-up might sound like, this might be the result of your daydreaming. One could be forgiven for thinking that Mercer's crew were involved with this due to the strong and effective VU-vibe Hoare's brought to this. Astor's vocals are warm and direct in ways that recall Lou's delivery on the third Velvet Underground record. But, for all the talk of the past I'm throwing down here, this is a fresh and invigorating single, the sort of thing to put a spring in your step on a dreary November day.

Let it do that for you as it did for me today and head over to Slumberland Records for more info on the upcoming Spilt Milk from Pete Astor.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Everybody's Gotta Live: Remembering The Genius Of Arthur Lee Thanks To 2 New Love Reissues On High Moon Records

Nowhere is the burden of greatness more apparent than on these 2 Love reissues on High Moon Records. A listener could almost be forgiven for neglecting the fine music on each disc thanks to that burden of trying to listen to see if this measures up to the guy's previous stuff, notably Forever Changes (1967). And, of course, we're hearing Arthur Lee try to measure up to his earlier successes as well.

And, yeah, that's tremendously unfair 'cause Arthur Lee had many masterpieces in him and 1974's Black Beauty, out now, and Reel To Real, out November 27, are 2 of them. The reissues, the projects of the fine new(er) label High Moon Records, highlight many sides of Lee beyond the ones we usually get to see.

At their best, these 2 albums, both from 1974, illustrate the prodigious talents of the late, gifted performer, with Black Beauty showcasing his own Hendrix-like stylings and Reel To Real demonstrating that he could make heavy R'n'B that sounds now like the equal of stuff Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone were cranking out in the very same era.

I mean, "Midnight Sun" on Black Beauty sounds so much like Hendrix that one imagines Jimi's estate suing Arthur's. That's a bit unfair since both musicians were contemporaries and peers and it's doubtful that Arthur was cribbing from Jimi any more than McCartney had to crib from Jagger or Richards. Still, it's music of a kind and if you like one you'll probably like the other, to put it bluntly. And it's a marvelous track thanks also to the guitar playing of Melvan Whittington whose axe is on fire all over this record.

Elsewhere, there's the reggae-infused "Beep Beep" and the trippy beauty of stuff like "See Myself In You" which seems to clearly want to bridge the sort of melodic legacy of earlier Love with where Arthur's head was at in 1974, so to speak.

If Black Beauty (1974) is not entirely as great an album as it should be, it's still a fantastic re-issue package. High Moon Records have outdone themselves with this one. The CD comes in a hardback book loaded with photos from the era and pretty great liner notes from Ben Edmonds. The addition of a 22-minute interview with Arthur Lee makes the CD more than just a great collection of previously-lost music, as do the handful of live cuts which round out the set.

Out on November 27, Reel To Real seems to me the more consistent album from this iteration of Arthur Lee's Love. Now, I know that might now be the popular thing to say given this album's ventures into near-funk but it just seems better. That's not to say that it sounds much like Forever Changes (1967) but no one ever said it had to. At least here we can hear Arthur Lee expanding his musical horizons and seemingly enjoying himself. This album serves, if nothing else, as a hint of what might have been had he made more records like this later in the decade.

Opener "Time is Like a River" unfurls with a sort of grace and seems the very best example of the kind of thing that one could describe as the type of song that only Arthur Lee could write. There's a cover of then-contemporary hit "Be Thankful For What You've Got" on this record and it sounds like Arthur is indeed thankful for his talents on this record, and he's intent on demonstrating them. If Reel To Real lacks the the group cohesion of Black Beauty it's every bit a more consistent release, frankly, and a far better set of examples of Arthur Lee's enduring genius.

The slide guitar of John Sterling, up there in that pic with Arthur, adds a unique layer to what are largely heavy soul tunes of the sort that Sly and Stevie were making in 1974. While "Singing Cowboy" may not be the same sort of thing, it's at least the sort of thing that sounds like Arthur Lee, even if it sounds totally different than most of the tunes we think of when we think of earlier Love records. And yet, that's sort of the genius of this guy. Arthur Lee sounded like a cat who was intentionally trying to broaden his horizons on each record and nowhere is this more obvious than on Real To Reel. Let this quote from a 1974 interview with Lee, included in the liner notes booklet, explain further:

"So that's my trip, man. Getting as black and as funky as I can, man, on my music side. That's what I feel right now. I've been exposed to a lot of different types of music and there are a lot of things that I can contribute to the so-called music world. I want to do that. I don't want to leave no rock unturned."

And, certainly, there's no stone unturned here on Reel To Real (1974) frankly. From the funk of "With a Little Energy" to "Busted Feet" with its dangerous stomp, this is hard music but music that remains wildly melodic as only Arthur Lee-penned tunes could possibly be. Loaded with bonus tracks and alternate takes, this edition of Reel To Real is pretty darn spectacular but this review would be worthless if I did not mention the sublime "Everybody's Gotta Live", the official album closer. An acoustic shuffle that builds in intensity, the cut is surely one of the finest things that Lee ever wrote and the kind of song that warrants purchasing this album if you were even a bit on the fence about it. Direct, poetic, and communal in the best possible way, the cut is positively invigorating.

Black Beauty (1974) is out now and Reel To Real (1974) will be out next week. Both of these Love album are essential releases and the good folks at High Moon Records have done the world a service by putting these out in such fine fashion. Surely what are 2 of the more significant reissues of 2015, I urge you to get these releases now on vinyl or CD. Of course you can buy the downloads too but you might miss out on the wonderful liner notes and packaging if you do that.