Sunday, June 25, 2017

Greatness Yet To Come: A Few Words About The New James Elkington Record

Drawing on diverse influences, James Elkington offers up a unique blend of folk-rock on his debut album, Wintres Woma. Out Friday on the influential Paradise of Bachelors label, the record is the sort of thing that deserves a lot of attention from careful listeners.

Opener "Make It Up" sees Elkington offer up a Bert Jansch-like ramble on the guitar underneath his deep vocals. The cut is a spry, if understated, one and it's a fine example of this distinctive performer's style. On "Grief Is Not Coming", Elkington uses a near-country-twang to deliver his quiet-yet-upbeat composition, while on the longer "Greatness Yet To Come", there's the faintest hint of acoustic Jimmy Page in Elkington's plucking on the guitar as the vocal delivery veers more into Elliott Smith-style territory. Elkington's strength is his ability to meld a few very specific influences into something wholly his own. If "My Trade In Sun Tears" recalls, however slightly, something from a performer like Jeff Buckley, or even Tim Buckley, it's still Elkington's show here and the singer-guitarist manages to touch the heart even if some listeners will be grooving on what he's clearly drawing inspiration from on this cut, and throughout the record.

A stunning melange of folk-y stuff, with nods in the direction of artists as disparate as Johnny Greenwood, Badly Drawn Boy, and Nick Drake, Wintres Woma by James Elkington is a superb slice of music. Out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors, Wintres Woma is the fine debut solo LP by James Elkington.

[Photo: Tim Harris]

Jaded: A Look At The Thoroughly Fab New Single From Winter

How can something sound so perfectly like some really classic acts from the past while remaining a thoroughly fresh-and-fab slice of modern indie-pop? That's the question I'm asking about the new single from Winter.

Called "Jaded", the single sounds like Juliana Hatfield, Letters to Cleo, Belly, and Veruca Salt -- all Nineties acts I love(d) un-ironically -- and yet it sounds now too, baby. Frankly, it's a blast of infectious noise-rock that's catchy and full of the sort of spark that made indie an interesting proposition back then, and which the current scene could use more of. Samira Winter recorded this while on tour recently and while it speaks of being "jaded", it's hardly that. Produced by Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast), it's a fun slab of modern rock.

Winter's tour continues even as we speak. More details can be found on the band's official Facebook page, or via Burger Records.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Silence Overgrown: A Look At The New Kane Strang Album

The last album from Kane Strang, reviewed by me here, offered proof that the New Zealand music scene was alive and well. Offering up more distinctive indie-pop, the new Kane Strang record, Two Hearts and No Brain, is out on Friday via Dead Oceans and it's the sort of thing that expands on his earlier material while keeping his signature sound intact.

Opener "Lagoons" offers up a Pavement-like shuffle, while "Silence Overgrown" shines thanks to a bright melodic hook. Elsewhere, on "Oh So You're Off I See", Kane shares a near-surging riff-rocker, while "My Smile Is Extinct" is the sort of angular indie that recalls the work of fellow countrymen The Clean from decades earlier. A big chorus elevates this one so that it's a clear highlight of Two Hearts and No Brain. The superb "Summertime In Your Lounge" cranks along with a bit of a woozy rhythm, a rougher variation on the sort of songs that Kane cranked out on his earlier album.

A fine, thoroughly solid record, Two Hearts And No Brain is out on Friday on Dead Oceans.

Follow Kane Strang via his official Facebook page, or via his official website.

[Photo: Loulou Callister-Baker]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heart Take Flight: A Few Words About The New Bedouine Album

The new self-titled album from Bedouine, out Friday on Spacebomb Records, caught me totally by surprise. Expecting something wispy, I got a record that bears favorable comparisons to some Joni Mitchell releases. While the compositions are not quite as complex, Bedouine's supple voice gives these cuts a depth that the songs of other current singers simply do not have.

If opener "Nice And Quiet" eases a listener into Bedouine's world via some simple and direct neo-folk stylings, the more sultry "One Of These Days" offers up something pitched between Joni and early Linda Rondstadt. At her best, Bedouine sinks into these cuts in such a way that one marvels at not only her voice, but her compositions as well. There are songs here that tread a semi-safe path ("Dusty Eyes") and a few others, most notably the marvelous "Solitary Daughter", where Bedouine's voice recalls that of Peggy Lee even as the material takes a more arty turn that places it vaguely in Laura Nyro territory. On some tracks, like "Mind's Eye", there's even a trace of a sort of Sandy Denny-vibe to things. What makes this record so special is the ease with which Bedouine pulls all this together, navigating a few styles with a remarkable naturalness. Relaxed and fully in command as a vocalist, Bedouine reveals one of the warmest new vocalists one is likely to encounter in the current musical climate. Fans of Emma Pollock (The Delgados), Judee Sill, and solo Natalie Merchant should find a lot to like in these largely down-tempo numbers.

Bedouine by Bedouine is out tomorrow on Spacebomb Records. Follow Bedouine via her official website, or via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Antonia Barrowman]

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Still Ticking: A Look At The New Album From Hollow Everdaze

The music of Hollow Everdaze is not going to set the world on fire but it will certainly please fans of a certain strain of indie-pop, myself included. The new album, Cartoons, is out on Deaf Ambitions on Friday and I'm here to clue you in to the charms of this record.

If "Still Ticking" swoons with a sort of Travis-like melodic-ism, the more languid "Poisoned By Nostalgia" adds a faint alt-country twang to the sound being refined by the group here. If "Out Your Window" reveals an approach that could best be described as a nod in the direction of I Am Kloot, or early Alfie, then the fine title cut finds inspiration in more recent U.K. bands (Childhood, Temples). Elsewhere, the superb "Never Going Back" blends a nice Sixties chamber pop-mood with some fuzzy guitars to create something poised perilously close to both The Left Banke and The La's. It is a very good track and one of the many standouts here, along with the sleek string-laced "Running Away" and the chiming "Same Old Story", all pre-disco Bee Gees hooks stretched out and given breathing room.

Drawing from inspirations as disparate as mid-period Radiohead, Beulah, The Bluetones, and even The Pernice Brothers, Hollow Everdaze make perfectly serviceable modern indie of the sort that very nearly rises to the realm of greatness in certain moments. This Australian band is now one of the acts on my radar and I'd urge you to pay attention to them too.

Cartoons by Hollow Everdaze is out on Friday via Deaf Ambitions. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Matt Neumann]

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Heads Up About The New Jack Cooper (Ultimate Painting) Single

I've shown a lot of love 'round these parts to Ultimate Painting and now I'm about to start showing a lot of love to a new solo project from one of its members. Jack Cooper was not only in Ultimate Painting but he was in the earlier Mazes and now he's prepping a solo album that should be out on August 25th from Trouble in Mind Records.

The first taste of that album is called "North of Anywhere" and it's a fine, languid rumination on life that recalls both solo George Harrison as well as down-tempo Pavement to this listener. It is the sort of thing that's got me intrigued about the upcoming album now.

Sandgrown will be out on Trouble in Mind in August. Follow that site for more details on Jack Cooper in the mean-time.

[Photo: Tsouni Cooper]

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Word About The Fine New Frankie Rose Single

The good news of the week is the return of Frankie Rose (Vivian Girls, Beverly, etc.). Ahead of the the new album, Cage Tropical on Slumberland Records and Grey Market in August, Frankie's dropped a lovely new single.

Called "Trouble", the number soars with a blissed-out vibe that recalls an unlikely mix of a Giorgio Moroder-produced Donna Summer classic with a solo Laetitia Sadier cut. A heady mix, the single is the sort of assured, future-looking indie-pop that Frankie's been pursuing in the last few years. The result is a sleek bit of alt-rock machinery, the sort that sounds like it's capable of hitting some stratospheric heights on its way to the cosmos.

Cage Tropical will be out on August 11. In the meantime, keep track of Slumberland Records for news of Frankie Rose's activities in the run-up to the release date, and be sure to follow Frankie via her official website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Damaged: A Brief Look At The New Album From Rips

The new, self-titled album from Rips, out today on Faux Discx, is a fine example of modern indie-pop successfully mining the past for inspiration. That so much of this record from the Brooklyn act sounds like one from a NYC band from the Seventies should be seen as a good thing, after all.

"Malibu Entropy" blends a nice Television-style vibe with some guitar-lines that echo those of the acts of a generation later (The Bongos, Sonic Youth), while "Break" is a serviceable number that sounds a tiny bit like a more refined version of recent Twin Peaks offerings. Elsewhere, the rougher "Damaged" shines with the sort of spark missing from a lot of what passes for American indie these days, while the bright "Vs" recalls the sort of fine alt-rock found on early releases from EZTV. On the near-epic "Psychics", Rips try to broaden their sound a bit, some nice effects jutting up against vocals and a main riff that both nod in the direction of Thurston Moore stuff, while closing track "Spell" adds a faint trace of angular post-punk in the manner of Joy Division to the sound being cultivated by Rips here.

If Rips by Rips is not entirely original, it is fresh. There's a lot of enthusiasm here and that makes up for the fact that so many of the hooks do feel familiar. Still, they feel familiar in a good way. If the compositions of Rips are not quite (yet) as memorable as the tunes of the bands who've so obviously inspired this crew (Pavement, The Feelies, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids), nor the rough-edged equals of cuts from producer Austin Brown's Parquet Courts, the tracks here on Rips are certainly moving in a similar direction. Rips by Rips is a modest, thoroughly enjoyable record that I recommend quite a bit.

Out today on Faux Discx, Rips by Rips is one of this week's pleasant surprises. More details on the record and the group via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Dan Abary]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Blue Is The Frequency: A Look At The New Royal Trux Live Album On Drag City

Was it ever in doubt that they would be back? Royal Trux are here again, to infect our eardrums with scuzzy glory. This time around, on the fine Platinum Tips+Ice Cream, out on Friday via Drag City, the results are live versions of some of the band's best material. The overall effect is one that reaffirms the low charms of the band while reminding a listener of just what a fine live proposition they remain.

The album opens with the rough "Junkie Nurse" before easing into the T.Rex-meets-Aerosmith stroll of "Sewers Of Mars", Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema languidly exploring the nuances of this near-blues-y stuff. Elsewhere, on the excellent and essential "Esso Dame", originally from the band's first album, the Trux blow the doors off with a whole lot of sinister intent. This is brutal stuff, as is the more-polished "Blue Is The Frequency" from the band's classic Veterans Of Disorder album. Royal Trux seem to be able to casually blend up a nasty melange of Exile-era Stones hooks, with some Johnny Thunders-type nastiness, and a blast of early Gun Club to whip up tunes that have somehow stood the test of time despite sounding like they were written yesterday in a rush (the lanky "Mercury", or the rather lovely "Sometimes" come to mind here). A clear highlight in this regard is "Ice Cream" from Twin Infinitives, here stretched to the breaking point in a neat approximation of acid rock that, however briefly, puts this band squarely next to Spacemen 3 and Primal Scream.

Platinum Tips+Ice Cream is the sort of live album that is so good that it makes you want to go back and get your older Royal Trux albums out again. And, I guess, there are probably a few people out there who maybe missed the recent string of Royal Trux reissues on Drag City and needed this reminder that this band was always on fire, always full of a real nasty streak, the kind that usually inspires the very best rock-'n'-roll of all

Out on Drag City on Friday, Platinum Tips+Ice Cream is the addition to the library of Royal Trux that both long-time fans and new ones so desperately needed. Get in on the woozy goodness now folks!

[Photo: Unknown photographer, courtesy Drag City]

Monday, June 12, 2017

I See Progress: A Look At Best Of Crime Rock From Chain And The Gang

That guy up there leaning off the speaker? That cat is Ian F. Svenonius, in case you didn't know. He was once front-man of The Nation of Ulysses on Dischord, and leader of The Make-Up (recently revived from the dead for a series of live shows, that pic from the D.C. one last month), and he's also the singer for Chain and The Gang as well. The Chain, like The Make-Up, have returned for some more time in the public eye. The reason? The release of new record, Best Of Crime Rock, out this Friday on In The Red Records.

In spite of what you might think 'cause of that title, the release is not a best of comp., in the purest sense. What it is is an exploration of the band's back-catalog and a re-casting of so many classic songs with the force of the current line-up of the band behind them. Of course, there are some legitimately "new" tunes here, like the Standells strut "The Logic Of Night", but it's the revitalized cuts, like the pounding "Devitalize", that showcase the formidable strengths of this act. The line-up here -- Ian F. Svenonius on vocals and rabble-rousing, Francy Graham on guitars and such, Anna Nasty on bass and strategy, and Mark Cisneros on drums and things -- tackles these songs with a mixture of abandon and confidence. For a cat who's such an amazing band-leader, Ian could be forgiven for sticking to just one outfit but he clearly feels affection for the sort of tunes on offer here, enough so that one can see the difference in mission between The Make-Up and Chain and the Gang, for you newbies out there. Stuff like "I See Progress" sees this act firing on all cylinders, to use an overused expression, with bass/guitar/drums/vocals purring with a sinister intent, Sixties slink with free jazz underpinnings. Elsewhere, the hard bop indie-pop of "Free Will" percolates with a real sense of fun, a looser take on the original from 2012's In Cold Blood, while "Why Not?", from 2011's Music's Not For Everyone, is here trotted around the track in a quick saunter, the Nasty bass and Francy riffs dueling it out under Ian's easy vocal performance.

On the down-tempo "What Is A Dollar?", the original number, from 2009's Down With Liberty... Up With Chains!, has been stretched out a bit to allow a looser take, the players here having a go at working some jazzy hooks into the cut, while "Certain Kinds Of Trash", from 2012's In Cold Blood, has been tightened up into a sort of take on early Bad Seeds. While Chain and The Gang lack the arty lugubriousness of that Nick Cave-fronted crew when tackling stuff like this, they are much better at infusing this kind of thing with a lot of wit and charm. One gets the sense that Ian doesn't necessarily take himself too seriously...even if he clearly is very serious about what he's doing here. A good case in point is "Deathbed Confession" which here seems much better and more vital than even the original. Stationed at the end of Best Of Crime Rock, this version of the number is haunting, surprisingly stark, and just heavy enough to signal another shade on this group's palette. Built over a live vocals-and-piano-take with overdubs from various guests, including local D.C. legend, DJ Baby Alcatraz (Alyssa Bell) on backing vocals, the song is sublime here. And it is pretty good proof of why there's no shame in the band re-recording the "hits" from their back-catalog, especially if the results are gonna be this good, this essential, and this subtly incendiary.

So, what are we to make of Best Of Crime Rock then, in total? On paper, it seems a naff idea. Frankly, if it was any other band, I'd run when I heard that the band was re-recording their own back-catalog. Here, in the hands of these players, my feeling is different. What this is is perhaps the tightest live line-up of Chain and The Gang re-taking these cuts from the past in a largely-successful attempt to show how gosh-darn with it this group is now. The current version of Chain and The Gang now owns these numbers in every sense of the word. The tunes have been been retrieved, "stolen" from their younger selves, as it were, and recast as lost classics, the kind we knew and maybe didn't know well enough. Could this be the only Chain and The Gang record you need to own? Well, that's a bit unfair considering the expansive genius of Ian F. Svenonius; it remains the sort of intellect one wants to follow on any release, at any time. That said, is this as fine a distillation of one Ian-fronted project as one is likely to encounter? Yeah, yeah it is. The heart of Chain and The Gang beats here, under the hood of this supple beast. Four players in cahoots, committing the sort of transgressions against the boring norms and conventions of indie-pop in order to rescue us from ennui. Liberate us brothers and sisters. Bring it down Brother Ian!

Best of Crime Rock is out on Friday via In The Red Records. There are many ways to follow the adventures of Chain and The Gang including the band's Facebook page, and their Bandcamp page for the earlier releases.

[Photos: Ian F. Svenonius by me at The Black Cat D.C., 2017; Chain and The Gang group photo by Jamie Goodsell]