Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flower Of Light: A Quick Look At The Debut Album From Headroom

The new album, Head in the Clouds, from Headroom is a blast of noise-rock, the likes of which we've not heard in ages. That this can be labelled gloriously old-fashioned proto-shoegaze should be read as a ringing endorsement of this band's debut long-player, out on Friday via Trouble in Mind Records.

The band, fronted by guitarist Kryssi Battalene, craft somewhat long, fairly expansive riff-rockers that make me think of the best tracks from Loop (opener "How To Grow Evil Flowers"), and a less-concise My Bloody Valentine ("The Second Blazing Star"), and Spacemen 3 (the drone-y and excellent title cut). I'm name-dropping those other bands to place this music in some sort of general context for listeners but, really, the band deserve a lot more respect for managing to pull this sort of thing off so well on this, their debut. On "Millers Pond", the only track here with real vocals, Kryssi croons over the top of a track that manages to echo early Mazzy Star, peak Opal, and late-period Pale Saints. It is a superb stab at this sort of thing and that it does not descend into a mess of simple and lazy shoegaze nods is an enormous compliment to the talents of this outfit. By the time that epic closer "Flower of Light" hits a kind of noise-y peak, an attentive listener has been completely sucked into this sonic world.

Headroom have delivered a mini-masterpiece within the confines of this genre of music. That they've done it so well, without a whole lot of heavy-handed pretension is just remarkable to me. Fans of all those acts I've mentioned, should thoroughly enjoy this one. Head in the Clouds from Headroom is out tomorrow on Trouble in Mind Records.

[Photo: Ellen Goggins]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Brainshift: A Look At The New Album From Circuit des Yeux

Circuit des Yeux is essentially Haley Fohr. And Haley Fohr, as the driving force behind Circuit des Yeux, has made the band's new album, Reaching For Indigo, a bold, artistic statement. The record, out Friday on Drag City, is a strikingly original release, and one that rewards attentive listeners.

A number like "Brainshift" unfurls with a sort of classical sense of precision, while the more relaxed "Black Fly" suggests a folk-y take on the kind of material routinely offered up by Antony and the Johnsons. Elsewhere, the superb "Paper Bag" pops, sputters, and clangs in the manner of Broadcast, while the lush and aching "Geyser" returns again to the classical styles that underpin lots of Reaching For Indigo. A listener could be forgiven for hearing a faint echo of Diamnada Galas in closer "Falling Blonde", but where Galas seems intent on barely containing her discordant musical fire, Fohr, instead, pieces her voice into the mix in such a way that it's another instrument, like a cello in a string quartet, for example.

Superbly realized, Reaching For Indigo is a record that attempts to be something more than just the usual indie-rock slab of vinyl. That it is also remarkably listenable and largely free of any heavy-handed pretension says a lot about the skill and talent of Haley Fohr at perfecting her vision as a recording artist. This weeks' most ambitious new release, Reaching For Indigo is available from Drag City on Friday.

[Photo: Julia Dratel]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Accelerated: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Flat Worms (ex-The Babies)

The new one from Flat Worms, out Friday on Castle Face Records, is a fine blast of scuzzy American indie-rock. The band features a few people from other bands: Will Ivy (Dream Boys, Wet Illustrated, Bridez), Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies), and Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sic Alps). So, I suppose that there are going to be lots of people seeking out this release because of those people, and not because this is good garage-y rock.

At their best, Flat Worms deliver a kind of riff on the Ty Segall kind of riff-rocker that lots of folks love. So, that's a quick way of saying that "Motorbike", "Pearl", and "Accelerated", for example, offer up the goods and roar past in a parade of trashy glee. A few numbers here, like "Faultline" and "Red Hot Sand", try to vary the formula but, by and large, most of this self-titled release from Flat Worms is music that's more or less of one style. And the degree to which a listener likes this record is down to how much he or she is willing to tolerate 10 songs where every song is fuzzy and scuzzy, and each track is regressive and borderline disposable. I found lots of this a lot of fun, but admit that there's a certain sameness here that could use some of the tempo changes one might find on a Ty Segall record, for instance. Still, Flat Worms works remarkably well in small doses.

Out Friday on Castle Face Records, Flat Worms by Flat Worms is one of this week's best releases.

[Photo: Cayal Unger]

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Curious Man: A Brief Review Of The New Cut Worms EP

The debut EP from Cut Worms, Alien Sunset, out Friday on Jagjaguwar, was a pleasant surprise to me. Max Clarke, the guy who is Cut Worms, has really crafted a few striking songs here.

If the title cut echoes certain mid-Sixties numbers from Ray Davies and The Kinks, the far more twang-y "Don't Want To Say Good-Bye" suggests both Phil and Don, as well as, oddly, T. Rex. Similarly, the aching "A Curious Man" looks to earlier eras for inspiration, while the lengthy-yet-lovely "Song of The Highest Tower" made me think of Girls and even Pavement, even as the vocals nodded in the direction of the the more vulnerable moments on Syd Barrett solo records. It, and the sublime "Like Going Down Sideways", are the clear highlights of this fine EP.

Alien Sunset will be out on Friday via Jagjaguwar. More details on Cut Worms via the band's official website, or via the official Cut Worms Facebook page.

[Photo: Caroline Gohlke]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Big Bad Thing: A Few Words About The Fine New Jazz Butcher Box From Fire Records

It's odd now to think that I once thought of The Jazz Butcher as a Creation Records band. Well, they were a Creation Records band for a time but, having given a listen or two (or few dozen) to the new 4-CD box from Fire Records called The Wasted Years, I think it's safe to say that the earlier version of this band were far too iconoclastic and original to be pigeonholed by any easy label, um, label. The music here spans the band's first 4 records -- In Bath Of Bacon (1983), A Scandal in Bohemia (1984), Sex and Travel (1985), and Distressed Gentlefolk (1986) -- and the selections here routinely offer up to an even half-attentive casual listener some of the best UK indie one is likely to encounter from this era. For those of us who knew some of this, or lots of this, and were well-aware of front-man Pat Fish's skills and genius, this set is a gift that reaffirms all that, and serves as an easy way to re-acquaint ourselves with this band's very best material.

In Bath Of Bacon (1983) succeeds when it offers up music that largely doesn't give a fig about any trends of the era, like the throwaway "Love Kittens" or the fun "Sex Engine Thing", Fish crafting material that's witty, if not entirely well-considered (the regrettable "Chinatown", for instance). Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that some of this is indeed jazzy in a roundabout way ("Bigfoot Motel", for example). Still, there remain a few genuine nuggets here ("Zombie Love", or the aching "Party Time", perhaps).

Album number 2 from The Jazz Butcher is what some might argue, the first real Jazz Butcher record. A Scandal in Bohemia (1984) opens with the big, bright, witty pop of "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)", a number that sees front-man Fish name-check band-mates Max Eider and David Jones (David J), 2 big factors into why this record is so good and essential. What pleases the ear still is the extent to which A Scandal in Bohemia (1984) reveals how well Fish and his crew were able to deliver such buoyant and lovely music without having a lot at their disposal. The light "Soul Happy Hour" sees Fish and his band serve up something that has echoes of both Brian Wilson and Roy Orbison in it, and yet which remains delightfully light of touch. Given a bigger budget, and a larger studio, one wonders what Fish could have made of the rollicking "Real Men", or the airy "Mind Like A Playgroup", for instance. Still, that's not to knock what's here but, rather, to highlight how much Pat Fish, Max Eider, and David J were able to deliver within the confines of early Eighties indie trappings.

Sex and Travel from 1985 is a superb record, and it's clearly the highlight of this Fire Records set. Opening with the lyrical "Big Saturday", the album serves up some of Pat Fish's best material. As he straddles territory that's both indie proper, and something a bit more adventurous, Fish seems to have finally found his style here, and so, The Jazz Butcher is a real band here, at least on this record. The spry "What's The Matter Boy?" nods in the direction of the band's earlier records but with far more success and confidence, while the pointed "President Reagan's Birthday Present" reflects the era's very real political concerns, as does "Red Pets" to some extent. And, as others have undoubtedly pointed out, "Holiday" seems Pat Fish's grab at the Ray Davies mantle, even if it sounds a bit like stuff from Robyn Hitchcock in the era.

If 1986's Distressed Gentlefolk was anything, it was likely the entry-point into The Jazz Butcher for a lot of Yanks, given the album's release via the BMG-associated Big Time label here in the States. "Big Bad Thing" sounds more robust and it's an indication that this record marked a turning point for the band. As Fish says on the band's official website, the band were drinking a lot at this time, making things a bit wobbly. And, sure there's a slight disconnect between the more routine indie of "Nothing Special" and the lovely and genuinely-jazzy "Who Loves You Now", for example. Still, there's a real breadth of material here and a listener shouldn't gripe too much about the leap from the gently-ramshackle "Domestic Animal" to the lush "Still in the Kitchen" when the difference in material indicates how in command Pat Fish remained in these years. The final record before the band's leap to Creation Records, Distressed Gentlefolk remains an odd collection of suitably odd indie-pop but there is, like elsewhere on The Wasted Years, a lot of heart and insight on offer here.

Perhaps wisely, the folks at Fire Records didn't attempt to compile the "best" Jazz Butcher cuts here on The Wasted Years. Rather, by serving up the first 4 albums, The Wasted Years serves, instead, as a 41-track crash-course into one of the best, more underrated, and creative acts from those wilderness years between the first few waves of post-punk and the semi-renaissance of the C86 period and after. Wildly unlike anything else being cranked out in the early Eighties on either side of the Atlantic, the music of The Jazz Butcher was richly lyrical, decidedly melodic, and wholly fresh. And it remains so now, more than 3 decades later. One of the odd side-effects of the fact that The Jazz Butcher have been perpetually underrated is that, finally, they will get some real attention as The Wasted Years is a superb introduction into their music, as well as a remarkably and convenient way to get a lot of great music all at once.

The Wasted Years is out on Friday via Fire Records. More details on The Jazz Butcher via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited from label]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Your Picture: A Few Words About The New One From King Leg

Discovered by Dwight Yoakam, King Leg is a whiz-kid from the West Coast who's got a knack for channeling Roy Orbison and "Sing Your Life"-era Morrissey with equal measures of success. Quite simply, one of the freshest voices I've heard in ages, the debut record from King Leg, called, appropriately enough, Meet King Leg, is the sort of thing that deserves a lot of attention and some real word-of-mouth praise.

As album opener "Great Outdoors" bursts forth in a blast of chiming, Byrds-ian glee, a listener should rejoice that somethings can still surprise. Building on the successes of the Paisley Underground bands from the Eighties, and from mentor Yoakam's stuff too, King Leg is here delivering music that's catchy and joyously melodic. If the deliberate "Your Picture" suggests some weird-yet-wonderful melding of the styles of Billy Bragg and The Proclaimers, the fine "Loneliness" sees King Leg sound less like Roy Orbison for a bit and more like a young, hiccup-y Buddy Holly. With a backing band offering up a sound that compares favorably to those first few Georgia Satellites tracks, the tune here is, like so much of Meet King Leg, a superb mix of genres. And while "Another Man" shows a softer side of King Leg's approach, the twang-y struts of "Seeing You Tonight" and "Walking Again" recall the fertile Eighties when listeners could find music like this coming regularly from both Los Lobos and Marshall Crenshaw. Still, all that being said, what surprises the most about King Leg is his voice; how could a singer like this only just now be getting some mainstream attention? And, in what only makes perfect sense given those Morrissey-meets-Roy Orbison-descriptions of this cat, he's added a cover of "Running Scared" to the selections here on Meet King Leg. A successful cover that Orbison himself would probably have enjoyed, King Leg and his band embellish the number with a rich backing track that suggests both the glory days of country music, as well as the sort of lush pop from the era in which Roy himself recorded most of his best work.

Meet King Leg is, quite simply, a blast. Delightfully retro and entirely of the moment, the record offers suitably appreciative nods to past pioneers while striking out on a sonic path that suggests something new altogether. Fans of BoDeans, Roy Orbison, and The Plimsouls, for instance, should find lots to love here. It is indeed rare that I can say I was surprised by something given the vast amount of music I routinely consume, but, dammit, this one caught me wonderfully off-guard. What a lot of fun Meet King Leg is!

Meet King Leg will be out on Friday via WBR. More details on King Leg via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Emily Joyce]

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Glow Won't Fade: A Few Words About The New Album From The Jet Age

Okay, Friday the 13th might seem like an unlikely day to drop a new album, but maybe the fact that At The End Of The World is album number 7 from The Jet Age should offset any bad juju lurking in this Halloween season.

I think Eric Tischler, front-man of the long-running D.C.-area band, would argue that the current White House resident is scarier than any ghoul or ghost, and he'd be right about that. And, to that end, the new one from The Jet Age has a cover that suggests a political point to some of these new compositions and, while there is some of that here -- the twin title-cuts with their bracketed locations, for example -- Tischler still excels at chronicling the world inside the everyday man, the personal becoming political, as matters of heart and home become grand things.

All that being said, At The End Of The World is, perhaps, this band's easiest record to jump into, seeing as how it's NOT a concept album, per se. While 2014's Jukebox Memoir, reviewed by me here, seemed the "Fun" outlier in the band's catalog, it was also an indication that Tischler was broadening his focus and beginning to divorce himself of the very Townshend-like need to couch things in a narrative shell. So, while At The End Of The World seems to largely exist on its own as a collection of individual songs, it serves the purpose of being the Who's Next to the band's earlier attempts at Quadrophenia, if you get my meaning. And, somehow, the material has lost none of its heft through this approach.

If "The Ice Is Cracked" suggests a frantic undertow roiling underneath it all, the more familiar "I Had A Dream" reassures that this band -- Tischler, bassist Greg Bennett, and drummer Pete Nuwayser -- still have things under control, as the cut fits what we expect -- and want -- from every Jet Age record. So, while "Tied To The Mast" charts a new path via some nearly-pretty hooks, the churning "The Glow Won't Fade" marries a Nuggets-era kind of recorded chaos with Tischler's comfortable Who-nods. Similarly, "Your Sweet Nothings" sees the band return, if only furtively, to the funk-pop tributes of the Jukebox Memoir (2014) record, before "A Field Of Green" shatters the mood, Tischler working in a few guitar roars that suggest nothing so much as highlights from the superb Nowehere (1990) from Ride. Similarly, the woozy "Which Part's The Dream?" indicates that no matter how much Tischler looks to The Who, he still yearns to be in a shoegaze band.

And, at his best, Tischler manages to corral an undeniably potent force in this band -- not for nothing was his previous group called The Hurricane Lamps -- with Bennett and Nuwayser next to him. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the magnificent sonic-riot of "The Script", a cut which, anchored near the end of the record, serves as a rich stew of all of the influences that have shaped this group over the last 11 years or so. Because if At The End Of The World is anything, it's a nice return to the styles from the earlier years of this band, Tischler and crew sounding nearly loose and improvisational here, despite the necessarily grim bookend tunes, and the album's title. For if the last album proper from The Jet Age, 2015's magisterial Destroy. Rebuild, reviewed by me here, was the band's big push to try on new, Important lyrical concerns -- "I Can't Breathe", a standout in that regard -- this one serves as sign of the band's mature ability to harness sonic power and sharp lyrical concerns outside of a rigid concept album structure, and without being too heavy-handed about things.

So, yeah, to circle back to the review's title, the glow hasn't faded here; if anything, The Jet Age sound more in command than ever before. And At The End Of The World, then, is surely proof that they are comfortable diverging from their own formula, however slightly, in pursuit of something elusive that Tischler's guitar slashes at, Bennett's bass counts down to, and Nuwayer's drum-hits attempt to beat into submission. Like Tischler's lyrical protagonists, The Jet Age are constantly straining against their own self-imposed shackles, and the glory for a listener is in that tension, the moments of its release, and the spaces in-between all that.

At The End Of The World is out now. More details via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: me]

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Quick Review Of The New Album From Weird Owl

The new record from Weird Owl is a a head-trip, really. Produced by Psychic TV guitarist Jeff Berner and with a guest appearance by Genesis P-Orridge, Bubblegum Brainwaves is the band's sixth release in recent years and it's a lot of fun.

Numbers like "Invisibility Cloak" bristle with a nice blend of psych-rock and New Wave, while "Black Never White" offers up sleeker textures. If "Such A Myth" is downright lovely, that moment of calm on the record is offset by the blistering "War" which is fuzzier and rougher around the edges. If some of this is a little loose, like the epic-length "Bartholomew Iris", far more successful is "Tired Old Sun" which closes the record on a nice melange of the many elements at play in the output of Weird Owl.

Bubblegum Brainwaves is out tomorrow. It is an adventurous and lively record of the sort that should please fans of bands as diverse as MGMT, Super Furry Animals, and The Flaming Lips. More details are available via the Bandcamp link below, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited from band's Facebook page]

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Off The Lot: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Melkbelly (Ahead Of Their D.C. Show At Comet Ping Pong Next Week)

The new album from Melkbelly, Nothing Valley, out on Wax Nine on Friday, is a record that's full of energy and sparks of wild creativity. That it also sounds like a few classic alt-rock pioneers doesn't hurt either.

If opener one-two-punch "Off The Lot" and "Kid Kreative" echoes stuff from Bettie Serveert and The Breeders, an astute listener can also hear the parts where Melkbelly add their own unique spin on these tested college rock styles. Elsewhere, the languid "Greedy Gull" marries bits of Goo-era Sonic Youth to the Melkbelly formula. Even more successful is "Helloween" which offers a more expansive form of this sort of thing. This Chicago-based band are not necessarily re-inventing the wheel here, but they have managed to find a way to invest this all with a lot of fire and passion.

Melkbelly's music feels familiar and I didn't mind that when I listened to this record. Instead, I sort of enjoyed how pieces of Nothing Valley reminded me of bands I really liked. And I especially enjoyed the pieces here that seemed to offer new spins on this sort of music. Melkbelly work up a tremendous amount of energy here and there's enough distinctive material to make me recommend this one to fans of stuff like PJ Harvey, Th' Faith Healers, or Wussy.

Nothing Valley is out on Wax Nine on Friday. More details on Melkbelly via the band's official Facebook page.

Melkbely is playing Washington, D.C. next week at Comet Ping Pong, Wednesday, October 18. Comet is on Connecticut Avenue. Dig it!

[Photo: Lenny Gilmore]

Have You Met Me: A Few Words About The New One From Spectrums (ex-Sansyou)

Spectrums is a new D.C.-area trio made up of members of Sansyou, Cobra Collective, and The Third Proramme. The players here include David Barker on guitars, Simon Ley on drums, and David Nicholas on guitars. David Barker was in Cobra Collective and The Third Programme, as was Simon Ley, while David Nicholas was, of course, in Sansyou. The band's debut release, Thanks For Your Kind Words, is out via Bandcamp now.

The music of Spectrums is blissfully unpretentious instrumental stuff, with respectful references to bands from the Eighties waves of 4AD bands, as well as suitably appropriate nods in the direction of obvious shoegaze pioneers. The fine "Have You Met Me" echoes Sansyou, while the more deliberate and forceful "It's All You Need" and "Seven" expand the formula by pursuing a less contemplative path. If "Who Asked" references Brotherhood-era New Order a bit, it's the rippling closer "Permanent Victims" that signals another course that this band could pursue as the twin guitar-lines of Barker and Nicholas knit an intricate sonic figure over Ley's jazzy drum fills. Part Dif Juz and part Johnny Marr, the cut is, like the others here, an indication of where Spectrums are drawing inspiration from.

Fans of Pale Saints, Cocteau Twins, and The Durutti Column should find a lot to love here with these 5 cuts from Spectrums. Here's hoping that the band releases more music soon. Thanks For Your Kind Words is out now via Bandcamp. More details on Spectrums via the band's official Facebook page.