Monday, March 27, 2017

Play Myself Some Music: A Brief Review Of The New Album From R. Stevie Moore And Jason Falkner

It goes without saying that R. Stevie Moore is what you'd call a cult figure. And, it's probably fair to say, so is Jason Falkner. I can recall how ardently I'd search out any of the many releases bearing Falkner's name in the mid- to late Nineties. He's on the Eric Matthews solo albums in that era, was in Jellyfish, The Grays, and The Three O'Clock, and he released at least 2 superb records under his own name back in Clinton's second term. He was, at least then, also the sort of artist worthy of having a cult following, myself included.

That these 2 disparate artists have paired up is something of a head-scratcher but, as the very recently-released Make It Be makes clear, the team-up is hardly that odd as the 2 work decidedly well together. As soon as "I H8 Ppl" kicks off and Moore's Beefheart-ian growl gets going over the top of some crunchy Falkner power-chords, a listener is assured that this album is a genuine musical marriage more than it is a dalliance between 2 legends. At their best, like on the lovely "Another Day Slips Away", the material here concocted by Moore and Falkner finds a nice balance between the back-catalogues of both of these cats. Elsewhere, on the soaring "Horror Show", Moore falls in line behind Falkner for a cut every bit the equal of any solo Falkner composition from the late Nineties. "That's Fine, What Time?" is vaguely Zappa-esque, while the absolutely gorgeous "Play Myself Some Music" chimes with both a sense of Falkner's flair for Beatlesque tune-age and Moore's knack -- (that's an understatement, eh?) -- for lo-fi pop of the highest order. The track is, seriously, just sublime and probably worth the price of this album itself. "I Am The Best For You" moves things back to the abrasive even as Moore, in his own inimitable way, wraps his gruff vocals around an admittedly lovely melody. And to single out all of those cuts I've mentioned is to neglect to mention the handful of brief guitar-based instrumentals that lace this all up.

Make It Be is one of the big surprises of 2017 and the year's only a third up so far. Who'd have thought that these 2 gents could come up with something like this, something that squanders none of the appeal of either member's signature sound.

Out now on Bar/None Records, Make It Be by Jason Falkner an R. Stevie Moore is very nearly a masterpiece and the sort of thing that should warm the hearts of both fanbases of these 2 artists.

More details via Jason Falkner's official site or via R. Stevie Moore's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Open Your Heart To The World: A Quick Notice About The New Album From Stone Foundation (With Contributions From Paul Weller, William Bell, And Bettye Lavette)

With contributions from Stax legend William Bell, and soul singer Bettye Lavette, the new album from Stone Foundation, Street Rituals, out Friday on 100% Records, would be the type of thing to warrant one's attention. Add Paul Weller to that mix, and it's this week's essential release.

Opener "Back In The Game" sees Weller channel some Style Council vibes, while the supple "Open Your Heart To The World" offers a throwback to the sort of soul that saw its heyday in the Seventies. Elsewhere, the easygoing charms of "Strange People" are thanks in large part to the presence of recent Grammy winner William Bell on the cut, while "Your Balloon Is Rising" reveals Weller to be somewhat of a decent hand at this sort of old school stuff.

Street Rituals, out Friday from Stone Foundation, is the kind of exercise in retro music-making that some would perhaps overlook in favor of something newer and sharper. The truth is that this album is a fine attempt at rekindling the kind of magic so many of the classic numbers of the Seventies had. Fans of both Style Council and The Stylistics, for instance, should find equal reasons to love this record.

Out Friday on 100% Records, Street Rituals by Stone Foundation is a fine, fine album.

[Photo: PaulWeller.com]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Undying Love For Humanity: A Look At The New Album From The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble On Drag City

In a wonderfully odd-yet-fitting set of circumstances, Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier has never released solo material that sounded more like Stereolab in her post-Stereolab career than she has now, by finally forming a new band and cranking out this superb long-player. Find Me Finding You, the new album from The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble, out Friday on Drag City, is the riskiest thing she's probably released in decades. The group here is a collective but some names -- Emmanuel Mario and Xavi Munoz -- have worked with Laetitia before, while others -- keyboard player David Thayer, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip -- are relatively new to Laetitia's material. And yet, this works more than perhaps any other album Sadier has performed on in the last decade or so. And it works precisely because Sadier has returned to the kind of risk-taking we heard on so many mid-period Stereolab records.

Superb opener "Undying Love For Humanity" offers up the sort of faux-bossa nova rhythm heard on the best tracks from 1997's Dots And Loops, while the languid "Double Voice: Extra Voice" recalls a less operatic (and shorter) run at "I Feel The Air (Of Another Planet)" from The First Of The Microbe Hunters (2000). To suggest these things is not to say that, as an artist, Laetitia Sadier is going backwards -- odd to qualify this statement considering the sort of past-looking retro-futurism that's been this singer's mission in Stereolab for so long -- but, rather, that she's returned to one of her most fertile periods of creative endeavor. Elsewhere, on "Love Captive", Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip joins Sadier, while later "Reflectors" achieves a sort of proto-Stereolab vibe in its simplicity as a tune. One could be forgiven, for instance, for thinking that this one, or the bright "Galactic Emergence", were some lost gems left off that excellent, early Switched On compilation. Near the end of Find Me Finding You, The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble gels around the sci-fi-tinged "The Woman With The Invisible Necklace" before closer "Sacred Project" takes listeners to another plane entirely. The final cut is perhaps the riskiest here as it is nearly ambient music, but, again, it's not exactly a new phase for Sadier given certain tracks on Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (1993), for example.

A record that should serve as a big reset in her solo career -- not that she needed one, mind -- Find Me Finding You by The Laetitia Sadier Ensemble is an abundantly-fine album that challenges listeners with material that has already challenged the artist herself a tiny bit. By pushing in new directions, Laetitia Sadier has gone backwards to go forwards and the results make up this thoroughly excellent and adventurous release.

Find Me Finding You by The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble is out on Friday via Drag City. You can follow Laetitia Sadier on her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Olia Eichenbaum]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

No Comparison: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg Of Pavement)

Spiral Stairs, better known as Scott Kannberg, is a member of Pavement. It must be hard to shake the shadow of that band. And, frankly, Scott hasn't tried too hard to do just that. He's recorded under the Spiral Stairs name, then as Preston School of Industry, and now as Spiral Stairs again, with each excursion sort of touching on parts of the Pavement sonic legacy. The results this time out have taken the form of the new album, Doris And The Daggers, and the record, out Friday, is just enough like a Pavement release to please long-time fans like me, as well as people who only know a tiny bit about that band's back-catalogue.

If "Emoshuns" sounds like anything, it sounds like tracks from that first Stephen Malkmus solo album, while the remarkably catchy "Dundee Man" chimes like something off of Brighten The Corners. Those 2 cuts were the first ones to grab me off of Doris And The Daggers and as I went further, more and more of this LP seemed extraordinarily good. With contributions from members of Broken Social Scene, this album feels semi-modern, and more than just a nostalgic trip through the best bits of Scott's previous band. The funky "No Comparison" sounds a bit like old Orange Juice or Josef K stuff, while the lyrical "The Unconditional" is, oddly, like some wonderfully unexpected mix of Richard Hell and Elliott Smith. It's a warm number and one at odds a tiny bit with some of the arch bits from the old days with the boys in Pavement. Still, there was a lot of genuine emotion in some of those classic tunes even if the band seemed a bunch of bright eggheads at times. Here, Kannberg uses the sort of melody Malkmus would have loved on the heartfelt "Angel Eyes", while the title cut is very nearly Britpop of the sort that Pulp did so well in the first half of the Nineties. Really, there is no denying the influence of some big names from U.K. rock here, especially when one spins the New Wave-tinged "Dance (Cry Wolf)" which remains as much sleek, mid-Eighties Bowie-influenced Duran Duran, as it is Iggy doing his best Bowie impression from the same era, while "AWN" even bears a slight trace of C86-style guitar-pop. If anything, Kannberg has turned to another set of influences than those that first inspired him in the Pavement days.

Really, the biggest surprise about this Spiral Stairs record is how much of it doesn't sound like Pavement at all. That said, a whole lot of it does, and that's probably a good thing. There's really no need for Spiral Stairs to try to distance himself from his legacy since he's far better served by embracing it. Doris And The Daggers has just enough traces of the old Pavement wit and charm to make this a must-own for even casual, "Cut Your Hair"-level fans. Similarly, this is a fine representation of current indie styles.

Doris And The Daggers will be out on Friday. Details on this album and Spiral Stairs from his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Spencer Selvidge]

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Do You Want Love? Heads Up About The New Single From Dave Depper Of Death Cab For Cutie

That this new single from Dave Depper sounds more like early Human League than it does Death Cab For Cutie, the band Depper normally spend his time in, is interesting. In fact, one could say that there's little here to link this to that other band.

"Do You Want Love?" is the first single from Dave Depper's upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique. That album will be out in June on Tender Loving Empire but it's worth getting on-board now with Depper as this single is just so good.

There's something here on this first solo single that recalls the best material from The Associates, or that second album from The Blue Nile, and Depper's found a way to make expansive new wave that is fresh and not just some exercise in retro music-making. What's here is both a nod to earlier pioneers, and a sort of furthering of the intimate indie that Death Cab For Cutie perfected in the recent past.

Follow Dave Depper on his official website for more details on his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique.

[Photo: Jaclyn Campanaro]

Real Enough To Believe: A Look At The New Cairo Gang Record

The previous album from The Cairo Gang, 2015's Goes Missing, reviewed by me here back in 2015, was a real surprise. The songwriting skills of Emmett Kelly seemed the sort of thing that I should have been aware of much sooner. Kelly is back with a new Cairo Gang record, Untouchable, out Friday on Drag City, and the results are more of the same sort of clever indie-pop that made the band's earlier record such a success.

The lovely "Real Enough to Believe" marries an airy Beatles-in-1965 melody with instrumentation similar to that found on the last Cairo Gang record. It is the sort of tune that sounds so perfect, so effortlessly sublime, that it makes a listener want to start telling everyone about this Emmett Kelly cat. On the title cut, Kelly channels Chris Bell solo sides to glorious effect, his voice achingly emotional in the right, subtle way. Elsewhere, on the bristling "In The Heart Of Her Heart", Kelly marries a trace of early Joy Division and other mainstays of post-punk's first wave with a power-pop kind of tune. The result is the sort of all-too-brief gem that one wishes there were more of on Untouchable. The album is a bit brief but at least there's nothing wasted here, not when something like "Will It To Be" shows up. A gentle, odd melange of bits of solo Lennon and pre-disco Bee Gees nuggets, the cut is like some gem someone found on an old 45 in a thrift-store in England. Gloriously poppy and altogether too bright to be called pop, it is, like so much of what Emmett Kelly commits to vinyl, fabulous music. As Untouchable ends, on the excellent "What Can You Do?", a listener is further convinced of the genius of this Kelly fellow. This final tune is so good, combining so many things loved by so many music junkies -- a bit of early ELO, a hint of a George Harrison solo single, a burst of cleverness from an old Chilton composition -- that it's hard not to fall rapturously in love with music like this.

When he's on, Emmett Kelly is one of the very best songwriters operating in the world today. And, luckily, he's on throughout much of Untouchable, the new Cairo Gang record.

Untouchable is out on Friday via Drag City. Follow The Cairo Gang via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Nancy Neil]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dulling Senses: A Few Words About The Debut LP From Mind Rays

When the first song on Nerve Endings, the debut full-length record from Belgium's Mind Rays, kicks off, a listener could be forgiven for thinking that he or she was playing a Nuggets compilation instead of a new release on the excellent PNKSLM label. The song, like so many here, positively roars with promise.

If Mind Rays are beholden to the past, it's the past of The Scientists, The Birthday Party, The Saints, and The MC5. The superb "Follow Suit" rides a near-surf riff into your ears, while the infectious "Radiate" marries a shouty bit of punk business with a hook that's pure mid-Sixties garage rock. This band is most likely a powerhouse live and, luckily, a listener to the vinyl gets a sense of that too. There's something gloriously alive about the tracks on Mind Rays and stuff like "Trespass" seems barely contained. If the brief nods in the direction of early Fall singles found on "Dulling Senses" hint at some post-punk sense of control for this act, the next song, the raging "Demuie", takes things back into the realm of early Nick Cave or Gun Club sides. At their best, like on the peppy "Sunbreak", Mind Rays find a way to marry about a dozen styles into one churning racket.

Unhinged in the very best way, the tunes of Mind Rays inject a healthy dose of genuine chaos into an indie scene that's increasingly gone soft. A worthy addition to the already tremendous PNKSLM roster, Nerve Endings by Mind Rays is one of the highlights of this spring for me. Boisterous, loud, rude, and radical, it is pure rock-and-roll fire, folks. Buy it now and play it at a dangerously loud volume.

Nerve Endings will be out on Friday on PNKSLM. Follow Mind Rays via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo photo]

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Out Of Reach: A Quick Review Of The Fine New Bardo Pond Album

It's remarkable to think that Bardo Pond have been doing this sort of thing for so long. I guess what's striking still is that the band feels underrated and, if not overlooked, at least not noticed often enough. Their new one, Under The Pines, drops Friday on Fire Records, and it is, obviously, a trippy affair.

Opener "Crossover" gets things stirring thanks to Isobel Sollenberger's rich vocals and a churning guitar attack underneath that. The epic "Out Of Reach" places this group closer to some of the shoegaze acts that sprang up a few decades ago, even if the sound of Bardo Pond remains, as always, nearer the neo-psychedelic material whipped up so long ago by pioneers Dream Syndicate and Opal. Elsewhere, "My Eyes Out" comes in on waves of feedback, equal parts Sixties freak-out stuff, and Nineties Spiritualized riffs, while the long and languid "Moment To Moment" is perched somewhere close to what that early Mazzy Star stuff sounded like. Of course, the other players here, notably the Gibbons boys on guitars, manage to unleash alternately subtle and fiery hooks amid the squall. The superb title cut adds a near-folky hint of flavor, while closer "Effigy" sounds like Mogwai a tiny bit. And yet those mentions of other bands are only lazy reference points as, obviously, the sound of Bardo Pond remains a unique thing, even on the lengthy cuts where things remain adventurous and never routine.

Under The Pines is another excellent release from this band and one that manages to be expansive in scope and wholly intimate in the moments that make up its tracks. Bardo Pond have found a way to make music that references a few earlier eras but which consistently feels new and brave. The excursions here are ones worth taking and a listener, new or old, will be rewarded by the offerings of the players here.

Under The Pines is out on Friday via Fire Records. Follow Bardo Pond via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited label photo]

Pristine Spirals: A Word About The New Album From Deadwall

The Leeds quartet Deadwall make music that recalls that of acts from that big new acoustic boom that swept U.K. indie some years ago. It was a wave that included bands as disparate as Coldplay, I Am Kloot, and Clearlake but the over-arching common trait was that the groups' material favored flashes of gentle melodicism more than it did the short-and-sharp punk styles of the Class of '77. The Zero Cliff, out Friday on Hatch Records, similarly works its wonders through a rare mix of musicianship and mystery more than it does through a bunch of punchy hooks.

Deadwall -- Thomas Gourley (vocals, guitar), Christopher Duffin (keyboards), Tom Basri (bass), and Dominic Deane (drums) -- make music that recalls nothing so much as the numbers on Obscured By Clouds and other post-Syd, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd records. If "Hall Of Mists" and "Cirrus Song" certainly sound like that stuff from the glory days of the Gilmour/Waters partnership, the spry "Heartlands" is a burst of catchiness that echoes Talk Talk and Seventies Genesis in equal measure. It is a clear single, gloriously supple and soaring in equal measure. Elsewhere, the down-tempo "Errant Love Song" charms easily, while the lush "Pristine Spirals" nods in the direction of recent material from Dutch Uncles and Wild Beasts. At their very best, like on the absolutely gorgeous "The Battle Of Kasumi", Deadwall use the vocals of Thomas Gourley to marvelous effect as a sort of instrument the other players can navigate around. As the melody on this one falls like a leaf slowly dropping to the ground in Autumn, the other musicians circle the vocal-line from Gourley until a guitar solo cuts through the mist and things sharpen again. It is a simply marvelous moment on perhaps the best song on The Zero Cliff.

On this, their second album, Deadwall have crafted something special. It is rare that I encounter music that's so hard to categorize but, hopefully, by name-dropping a few other acts I have done an adequate job at telling you what this sounds like, and the overall effect here awaiting astute listeners.

The Zero Cliff will be out on Friday via Hatch Records. Follow Deadwall via the band's official Facebook page, or on the band's official website.

[Photo: Deadwall Facebook page]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tell All: Free Tunes From D.C.'s Ain't No Mountain High Enough (History Repeated, The Key Figures)

Blurring genres with the ease of Superman leaping a tall building, Ain't No Mountain High Enough are here with some new tunes. The D.C.-area band make music that some might call metal upon a quick listen but there's far more going on here than in most metal tunes. Melodic and riff-driven, these new cuts are supple beasts indeed, and one shouldn't be too surprised at that fact given that a few members of this band were in seminal local acts like The Key Figures and History Repeated.

The new EP, More Entertaining, kicks off with the roar of "Cut 'Em Off", all mid-period Slayer riffs reshaped into something more palatable and accessible. "Tell All" is a touch punk-ier, harDCore mixed with early Black Flag and revved up considerably. Meanwhile, "Amfortas" and "Pennies" similarly bridge the worlds of speed metal and American hardcore with ease and an economic approach ensures that the maximum effect is achieved with just 4 players. Really, these numbers sound massive, like the best early Andrew WK cuts, the genres of indie-pop and metal melded so easily.

More Entertaining is out now from Ain't No Mountain High Enough. More details via the band's Facebook page.

[Photo: Band's Facebook page]

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Heaven Couldn't Wait: A Few Words About The New One From Emotional

The new one from Emotional is the sort of record that sounds like a dozen others, and yet still seems wholly unique. The Band, out tomorrow on Long Live Death Records, contains a lot of indie-pop that is by turns affecting and quietly adventurous.

If "Heaven Couldn't Wait" vaguely recalls Big Star circa Third, the superb "Ballad of the Band" brings to mind T. Rex, despite sharing a song title with a great Felt cut. Elsewhere, the spry "Jealousy" picks up the pace a bit, while the bright "TV and Newspapers" vaguely references key moments from the back-catalog of Stephen Malkmus as a solo artist. The Band was partially produced by Alex Brettin from Mild High Club and one can hear a trace of that act's simple melodicism on tracks like "Ain't Going Back", one of the standouts on this record, even if some of this ("Japan", for instance) is far more upbeat and vibrant than certain selections on the last Mild High Club record.

The Band is the second album from Emotional and it's a pleasant release. There's nothing earth-shaking here but the sounds made by this group so successfully recall earlier acts that it's hard not to like this a lot.

The Band from Emotional is out tomorrow on Long Live Death Records.

[Photo: Mark Quines]

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Can I Join Your Band? A Look At The Fine New Compilation From The Creation

Perhaps they're known for the inclusion of "Making Time" in the 1998 classic film Rushmore, or maybe for inspiring the name of one of the U.K.'s best indie labels (Creation Records), and one of its best acts (Biff Bang Pow!)? Whatever the reason, The Creation remain one of the great underappreciated British acts of the Sixties. As a recent spate of Move reissues has shown, some bands finally get their due, even if it's decades later. But The Creation have never quite received that level of acclaim. Maybe they will now. With the release of Action Painting this Friday from the Numero Group, The Creation should finally get the attention they've always deserved.

The 46 tracks here make a strong case for this band being an equal of The Who in this era. That's a bold statement to make but, really, take a listen to "Making Time", or the "My Generation"-referencing "Biff Bang Pow" if you don't believe me. Drummers Dave Preston and Jack Jones both pound the skins with the force of Moon on many of these tracks. And the slow-burn of "How Does It Feel?" recalls an era when Mod acts were morphing rhythm-and-blues forms into something louder and more in your face. Elsewhere, "Can I Join Your Band?" imagines a mix of The Move and The Small Faces, tough guy whimsy of the best sort, while the stomper "Painter Man" sounds like the work of the kids who would have bullied The Kinks on the schoolyard, all British Invasion riffs put through the ringer, as it were. "For All That I Am" reveals a nod in the direction of The Yardbirds, or early Floyd, faint traces of psychedelia creeping through in Eddie Phillips' vocal delivery, while "I Am The Walker" offers up a near-garage rock-sense of chaos in its big hooks.

All of those tracks make up Disc 1 of Action Painting and, clearly, this half is the meat of this set. Still, that's not a slight on Disc 2 as it contains a few fairly-rare tracks from Creation precursors The Mark Four, along with numerous stereo mixes of the more familiar cuts on Disc 1, along with a few select covers. If "Hey Joe" and "Like A Rolling Stone" are not entirely successful they do reveal the skills of these players at adapting the era's big hits into something that sounds like their own material. The same goes for the surprisingly peppy "Cool Jerk" cover, here in stereo on Disc 2. The Creation, bridging mod and Beat Group-era sounds, made big, beefy rock that holds up remarkably well. And a listener who is only marginally familiar with this material should perhaps think of Disc 1 as the greatest hits half of this compilation and Disc 2 as the rarities portion of this release.

Action Painting should clearly serve as the definitive compilation of the work of The Creation. Housed with an impressive booklet with scores of rare photos of the band, along with essays by Dean Rudland and Alec Palao, Action Painting offers up 46 tracks from this band all lovingly remastered by Who-mastermind Shel Talmy. The sound here is superb, like a punch in the chest on the mono half, and a buzzsaw to the senses on the stereo ones. There are many, many reasons to get this and even if you already have a compilation from The Creation, you're going to want this one for the remastering and for the book.

It's only March but 2017 is unlikely to see a more impressive reissue than Action Painting by The Creation, out Friday. More details can be found on the Numero Group website.