Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Top 30 Albums Of 2018

You might notice that I've expanded the list this year. Last year I upped my top tracks list to 30, a practice I continued this year. So why not up the albums list too? After all, there were a lot of great records released in 2018.

So here goes, in no particular order...

Kenixfan's Top 30 Albums of 2018

1. Could It Be Different? by The Spook School

The Spook School dropped Could It Be Different? on Slumberland Records early in 2018. Invigorating indie-anthems filled this record, as I explained here, and one would be hard-pressed to name another album as inspiring as this one this year.

2. What a Time To Be Alive by Superchunk

As soon as it dropped, What A Time To Be Alive seemed like one of the best records the Merge Records band had ever released. Timely and vital, the music here was, as I raved here, full of energy and spark. I loved this band before this record and I love them a little bit more now.

3. I Don't Run by Hinds

Hinds released their second album this year, and, sure, I Don't Run had compositions that indicated that members of the band had grown up a tiny bit. Still, despite that, the tunes here were just as much fun as anything this band had released before. I reviewed the album here, and I'm still playing many of the tracks from the record every week even now at the end of the year

4. Resistance Is Futile by Manic Street Preachers

Leave it to the Manics to surprise yet again. After a string of releases where the band sounded more revitalized and bristle-y than ever, the Welsh trio went and made something that's nearly a pop album. Resistance Is Futile is a superb record, as I raved back here back in April, but it's also an album full of superbly-realized near-anthems that felt familiar to long-time fans of this band, and which seemed boldly accessible too.

5. Little Acts of Destruction by Red Hare

Red Hare (ex-Swiz, Dag Nasty) dropped a punk-bomb in 2018. The Dischord release Little Acts of Destruction is one I hyped up here earlier this year, and it's a release that felt like one of the best, recent releases from a D.C. scene that continues to offer up vital examples of the original harDCore spark.

6. Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Hope Downs, the debut full-length from Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever was easily one of the most-listenable releases of 2018. As I said in my review of the album, the long-player was full of effortless blends of The Go-Betweens and C86 bands, with each cut seeming like a big (indie) hit single.

7. Floating Features by La Luz

Floating Features found La Luz expanding their normal sound, and, as I said in my review, the band still managed to make music that felt at once similar to their earlier releases, and a bit adventurous.

8. Constant Image by Flasher

The debut full-length from D.C. band Flasher, Constant Image, reviewed by me here, was a set of bright, bold New Wave numbers. If the D.C. band didn't seem to make music that fit in neatly with the legacy of this city, the tunes bore more than a hint of stuff from Priests, and the other bands the members of Flasher first played in.

9. Babelsberg by Gruff Rhys

The concise and elegant Babelsberg was, as I said in my review, a fantastic record, and one that's likely the best solo release from the Super Furry Animals singer so far.

10. Future Me Hates Me by The Beths

The latest album from New Zealand's The Beths, Future Me Hates Me is full of the sort of indie-pop that harks back to the glory days of bands like Belly, and That Dog, among others. As I wrote in my review, The Beths made one of the most enjoyable releases of 2018.

11. Everything Is Love by The Carters

I didn't review it but I sure played it. A lot. Back in summer-time, this seemed like a masterpiece. And if the pairing of husband-and-wife Jay-Z and Beyonce as The Carters didn't exactly set the world on fire, at least speakers were banging, with tunes like "Black Effect" and "Nice" the anthems of summer as far as I was concerned.

12. Across The Meridian by Pram

The return of Pram should have received a lot more fanfare. If Across The Meridian re-affirmed anything, it was this band's ability to be more than just one of those bands who get compared to Stereolab. As I stressed in my review, Across The Meridian saw Pram mix elements of post-rock, free jazz, and soundtrack music all together in the service of their otherworldly tune-age.

13. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino by Arctic Monkeys

I didn't review Arctic Monkeys' new record when it came out but I liked it a lot. Despite hints on earlier records of this new direction for the Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino was still a bit of a stylistic surprise. An enveloping record, full of soul and New Wave textures whipped up together, each cut here was nearly hypnotic.

14. Digital Garbage by Mudhoney

More than grunge, the music on the superb new record from Mudhoney, Digital Garbage, was sharp and energetic, the sort of post-punk that did more than just crank up the volume. I loved the record, and I think it's fair to say it might be one of the band's best releases ever.

15. The Lost Record by Escape-ism

Ian Svenonious offered up a new Escape-ism LP on Merge Records in 2018, and The Lost Record was an excellent concept record from the only artist who could possibly have made that hoary device work again. In fact, the whole record also works as a parody of the reverence feted upon classic rock albums. Meta, man, and, remarkably, The Lost Record managed to be both fun and incendiary.

16. Snow Bound by The Chills

The new album from The Chills, Snow Bound, on Fire Records, was a rollicking record. As I said when I reviewed the album, there was a new vigor here that was positively infectious, a point Martin Phillipps seemed to acknowledge when I interviewed him last Fall.

17. Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love by St. Lenox

St. Lenox offered up another one-of-a-kind album in Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love, and the compositions here have that familiar wordplay his earlier records had, even if the music offered up a few new touches.

18. Possible Dust Clouds by Kristin Hersh

The new Kristin Hersh album, Possible Dust Clouds, on Fire Records, found Kristin revealing a sonic debt owed to Led Zeppelin, with the tunes benefiting from slight blues-based hooks. Still, it was a Kristin Hersh record, and the former Throwing Muses leader did not disappoint, as my rave review indicated.

19. Proto Retro by Dot Dash

Proto Retro, the new album from D.C.'s Dot Dash, was, as I raved here, a near-masterpiece of the power-pop form. Terry Banks' compositions are tight and economical masterclasses in how to write this sort of thing, and with Hunter Bennett and Danny Ingram beside him, the band is punching with the sort of focus that recalls the glory days of Tommy Keene and his band.

20. There's A Riot Going On By Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo offered up one of their most mellow, and yet best, records in 2018. There's A Riot Going On was nearly elegiac in spots, but it was also a superb release, as my review explained. For fans of this band, it felt like further confirmation of their continuing greatness.

21. Modern Meta Physic by Peel Dream Magazine

The debut album from Peel Dream Magazine, Modern Meta Physic, was one of the best releases on Slumberland Records in 2018 and that was saying something. A nice riff on Stereolab, the music here also owed some debts to Unrest and other indie bands of the Nineties. Still, the music here was affecting, even if reviewers like me were left fumbling for comparison points when writing about this release.

22. Parallel Universe Blues by Papercuts

The new release from Papercuts, Parallel Universe Blues, was yet another essential record from Slumberland Records in 2018, and one which was full of music that mixed the best elements of shoegaze with a bunch of really strong melodies. When I reviewed the album, I hesitated to call it shoegaze because it's so much more. If the term dream-pop was ever to be used, it would be here, because these are tunes from a pop-music lover's dream.

23. Code Word by The Moles

The Moles offered up an unruly record in Code Word this year. Still, as I said when I reviewed Code Word, it was a superb release, full of elegant chamber pop and raging post-punk, amid an assured White Album-like presentation.

24. Space Gun by Guided By Voices

Space Gun, reviewed by me here, was an absolutely fantastic record. Further proof that Robert Pollard is leading Guided By Voices through a new heyday of power-pop greatness, the LP was a blast.

25. Don't Look by Young Romance

The second album from Young Romance, Don't Look, was, as I explained in my review,an expansion of the band's expert blend of shoegaze and C86 styles. Claire and Paolo served up an excellent record here, one which is even better than their earlier releases.

26. Always Ascending by Franz Ferdinand

The latest record from Franz Ferdinand was, like the latest from Arctic Monkeys, the band's first in 5 years and a stylistic leap. If the electro-pop on Always Ascending sounded a bit like earlier FF releases, it also revealed a new iteration of the band's sound, one mixed with a larger dollop of Talking Heads-style white boy funk and sleek New Wave.

27. Birds Of America by Lake Ruth

Lake Ruth served up their best release to date with 2018's Birds of America. And while reviewers like me still reached for Stereolab and Pram as comparison points, the music being made here by Allison Brice, Hewson Chen, and Matt Schulz was uniquely elegant chamber pop. A lovely and captivating record, Birds of America deserved all the praise it earned by reviewers.

28. MITH by Lonnie Holley

MITH is more than just a pop record, or a jazz record. It is, as I stressed in my review, a fantastic album that blends genres while leaping over them. Lonnie Holley, an artist in every sense of the word, crafted something here that veered from protest rock ("I Woke Up In A Fucked Up America"), to epic, free jazz ("I Snuck Off The Slave Ship"). That Holley can get away with those kinds of stylistic strides spoke volumes to his talent and command of the material at hand. One of the very few releases on this list that could possibly change the very way you think, MITH by Lonnie Holley is high art.

29. Rest In Peace by Boys

The debut full-length from Boys, Rest In Peace, was another in a string of excellent releases from the PNKSLM label. It was also, as my review indicated, full of otherworldly pop of the sort that defied easy categorization but which was remarkably easy to enjoy.

30. What You've Heard Isn't Real by Porcupine

The latest record from Porcupine was a real pleasant surprise. Full of alt-rock that sounded punchy and forceful like stuff from Foo Fighters, the Midwest trio's power was undoubtedly amplified by the presence of Husker Du bassist Greg Norton in the band. I reviewed What You've Heard Isn't Real earlier this year here, and I was delighted to be able to further explore the creation of the band's music when I interviewed Greg Norton later in the Fall.

[Photo: Flasher by Jen Dessinger]

Monday, December 10, 2018

My Top 30 Tracks Of 2018

There are not going to be any huge surprises here today. I mean, if you've followed my site the last year, you could almost have guessed some of these entries. That said, there was a lot of fantastic music released in 2018, a lot of great songs. In about a week, I'll be offering up my Top 20 Albums Of 2018 list. And while that may contain a few surprising choices, for now, enjoy this list of my top songs of the year, in no real order.

Kenixfan's Top 30 Tracks of 2018

1. "Still Alive" by The Spook School (from Could It Be Different?)

The Spook School kicked 2018 off with a bang, with the energetic Could It Be Different? on Slumberland Records. The record was full of life-affirming indie-anthems, as I explained here, and "Still Alive" was one of the best.

2. "What a Time To Be Alive" by Superchunk (from What A Time To Be Alive)

I've been a Superchunk fan for a quarter-century now and even I was surprised at how vital What A Time To Be Alive was. The Merge Records release, reviewed by me here, was full of timely, and punk-y numbers and the title track seemed like the best selection to highlight here.

3. "The Club" by Hinds (from I Don't Run)

Hinds finally dropped their second album this year, and while I Don't Run did show signs of a more mature sound, the band's music was every bit as compelling and invigorating as it had always been. The first single from the album, "The Club", positively rocked, a subtle rock-funk number that seemed like a masterpiece to me back at the start of 2018, as I probably gushed in my review of the album.

4. "Dylan and Caitlin" by Manic Street Preachers (from Resistance Is Futile)

There were so many great songs on Resistance Is Futile that I felt a real challenge here in picking just one. Still, this ode to Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin, with The Anchoress singing the wife's part here, really hit a nerve with me, taking me back to being an idealistic 17-year-old clutching a book of Thomas' poetry in high school. I raved about Resistance Is Futile back in April here, but, in truth, this song is the one that I seemed to play the most in 2018.

5. "When My Stars Sleep It's For Ages" by Red Hare (from Little Acts of Destruction)

The latest album from Red Hare (ex-Swiz, Dag Nasty) rocked my socks off in 2018. The Dischord release is one I gladly reviewed here earlier this year, and it's a record that popped and soared with a surprising amount of energy.

6. "Make Me Feel" by Janelle Monae (from Dirty Computer)

This was Janelle Monae's year, and not least because of her good taste in choosing projects, or the excellence of the forward-looking Dirty Computer. At her very best here on this contender for single of the year IMHO, Janelle adds a cute-as-fuck Tessa Thompson to the video to showcase not only a monster hook, but Janelle's skills that have (rightfully) earned her comparisons to Prince. If he had an heir, it's Monae.

7. "Mainland" by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from Hope Downs)

Hope Downs, the debut full-length from Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever was every bit the record us fans of this band's earlier EP's had been eager to hear. I probably mentioned back in June in my review of the album, how much I loved this song, and what an absolutely cracking live band this lot are.

8. "Cicada" by La Luz (from Floating Features)

Floating Features saw La Luz broaden their unique surf-y sound in some subtle ways. I loved the record, as my review explained, with one of the standouts for me being the surging "Cicada", a song that had a great, fun video.

9. "Skim Milk" by Flasher (from Constant Image)

The debut full-length from D.C. band Flasher, Constant Image, reviewed by me here, was a neat updating of New Wave and post-punk forms, with tracks like "Skim Milk" burned into the memory because of a great hook.

10. "Selfies in the Sunset" by Gruff Rhys (from Babelsberg)

The Super Furry Animals front-man released perhaps his best, most concise solo record this year, in the elegant Babelsberg. I think I said in my review what a superb number "Selfies in the Sunset" was but I'm saying it again.

11. "Future Me Hates Me" by The Beths (from Future Me Hates Me)

The title cut from the latest album from New Zealand's The Beths, "Future Me Hates Me" is a blast of bright power-pop of the sort that indie-pop desperately needs more of. The rest of the album is great too, as I wrote here.

12. "Waiting for Summer" by Smokescreens (from Used To Yesterday)

The superb "Waiting for Summer" from Smokescreens is a standout on an excellent record, Used To Yesterday, reviewed by me here. The Slumberland Records band made this sort of hooky indie work so well that it was impossible not to love this single, and the rest of the record.

13. "Betting on the Sun" by Bird Streets (from Bird Streets)

I'll admit that I picked up Bird Streets because I heard Jason Falkner was on it. But I came away loving the release from main-man John Brodeur. While the whole album is good, "Betting on the Sun" positively soared, a fact I highlighted in my review.

14. "Nothing I Can Say" by Tony Molina (from Kill The Lights)

The newest album from Tony Molina is a brief bit of brilliance. Full of the sort of songs that seem the direct heirs to the legacy of what was heard on albums from The Left Banke or The Zombies, the cuts are all short but excellent. "Nothing I Can Say" is a standout from yet another Slumberland Records release that I loved in 2018.

16. "How Long Will This Last?" by Blossoms (from Cool Like You)

This single caught me off-guard late this year. A neat blend of The Feeling and The Killers, the single from the U.K. band Blossoms was instantly catchy and instantly a fave of mine this year.

16. "Kill Yourself Live" by Mudhoney (from Digital Garbage)

The grunge legends returned this year. Mudhoney dropped the superb Digital Garbage on Sub Pop and the release saw the band offer up acerbic, smart, and blistering rock with the sly "Kill Yourself Live" being a standout on the great record.

17. "I'm A Lover (At Close Range)" by Escape-Ism (from The Lost Record)

Ian Svenonious offered up a second Escape-Ism record this year on Merge Records and while I loved The Lost Record, I was also a bit unnerved by it. I think that's sort of what Ian wanted here, with stuff like "I'm A Lover (At Close Range)" serving as a good example of the kind of claustrophobic indie found on this record.

18. "Deep Belief" by The Chills (from Snow Bound)

The newest release from The Chills, Snow Bound, on Fire Records, was a record full of spry, energetic indie-pop. Still, it was the elegant ballad "Deep Belief" that shone as one of the very best things Martin Phillipps has written in ages. I raved about the track when I reviewed the album, and I made a point to ask Martin Phillipps about writing the song, when I interviewed him last Fall.

19. "First Date" by St. Lenox (from Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love)

St. Lenox offered up another singular album in Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love, with "First Date" being one of the best compositions on the record. Andrew Choi (St. Lenox) is making some of the most unique indie-rock today and thank goodness for that.

20. "That's When I Feel It" by Richard Ashcroft (from Natural Rebel)

I haven't followed Richard Ashcroft's career much since "A Song For The Lovers" but darn it if "That's When I Feel It" didn't immediately grab me. Catchier and less ponderous than a lot of his back-catalog, the tune is a joy.

21. "Gray Blue Green" by Dot Dash (from Proto Retro)

Heck I could have picked any song off of Proto Retro the newest record from D.C.'s Dot Dash because the album is just that good and full of rich power-pop gems. Still, having heard "Gray Blue Green" live before the record came out, and in an even rougher mix from the band, it seemed like the obvious choice for this list.

22. "Usual Freaks" by Chemtrails (from Cult Of The Sacred Calf)

London band Chemtrails dropped their debut full-length in 2018 and while nearly any song on Cult Of The Sacred Calf could have made the cut for me, I went with the spindly, glam-racket of "Usual Freaks" for this list. The track, like so many from this band (and others on the fine PNKSLM label), is warped-indie, a skewed pop hit from a realm where Ziggy and Slade are still ruling the tops of those pop charts. Divine!

23. "Qi Velocity" by Peel Dream Magazine (from Modern Meta Physic)

The debut release from Peel Dream Magazine, Modern Meta Physic, was a superb approximation of early Stereolab, which made perfect sense considering that Peel Dream Magazine are on Slumberland Records, the label that introduced so many of us here in America to the early singles of Stereolab some decades ago. All that being said, "Qi Velocity" was a haunting bit of business, and clearly one of the most memorable tracks of 2018.

24. "Laughing Man" by Papercuts (from Parallel Universe Blues)

The latest album from Papercuts, Parallel Universe Blues, was yet another superb offering from Slumberland Records in 2018, and one which served up a whole lot of great music. When I reviewed the album, I was hard pressed to single out just one highlight from the album, but "Laughing Man" is exceptionally catchy and effervescent.

25. "Queen Anne" by The Moles (from Code Word)

The Moles brought forth an unruly-yet-magnificent set in Code Word this year. When I reviewed the record, I stressed the disparate styles on the release. And yet even so, some numbers seem quite accessible. "Queen Anne" is a catchy bit of business, perfect indie-pop as far I'm concerned.

26. "See My Field" by Guided By Voices (from Space Gun)

Robert Pollard is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. Even while hyping up a few releases for 2019 during his current concert stops, he is rightly leading the band through recent winners like "See My Field" while on tour. The number is one of the best selections on Space Gun, reviewed by me here, and that's saying something since any Pollard-penned release is full of equally high-caliber gems.

27. "Sunshine Rock" by Bob Mould (from Sunshine Rock)

Sunshine Rock won't be out on Merge Records until February but Bob Mould thankfully shared the title track earlier this year. The song is positively glorious, the sort of soaring guitar-rock that sees Bob once again draw inspiration from his own past (Sugar and Husker Du), as well as the best numbers from The Who.

28. "By My Side" by Young Romance (from Don't Look)

The second album from Young Romance, Don't Look, was an expansion of the sounds on the band's debut. With so many good songs here, as I explained in my review, it's hard to focus on just one cut but "By My Side" seemed a nice encapsulation of the band's unique shoegaze-y appeal.

29. "Bay Of Pigs" by Des Demonas (from Bay of Pigs EP)

Des Demonas didn't drop a new album in 2018 but they did unleash a ferocious single. "Bay Of Pigs", the A-Side, was a recent live favorite. While the whole garage rock-as-done-by-The Fall-vibe is still present here in the band's attack, there are new bits too, snatches of electro-pop and post-rock jostling for pole position. More details on the EP here.

30. "Don't You Know" by Durand Jones and The Indications (from American Love Call)

The new album from Durand Jones and the Indications won't even be out until March of next year but "Don't You Know" arrived late this Fall. The cut knocked my socks off! A neat blend of The Chi-Lites and modern rock-soul, the song is elegant and easy to love and I can't wait to catch up with everything this band has recorded.

[Photo: Hinds by Alberto Van Stokkum]

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Beyond Hidden Words: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Moderate Rebels

The new album from London's Moderate Rebels, Shared Values, dropped on Everyday Life Recordings last Friday. The record is a bit abrasive but within reason, melodies jutting up against angular post-punk flourishes.

Even as numbers like "The Value of Shares" and "Faith and Science" suggest bits and pieces of acts like Pere Ubu, The Fall, and The Raincoats, the lighter "Facade" goes down easier, hooks not entirely submerged under New Wave affectations. Similarly, "Beyond Hidden Words" nicely nudges things into other directions, brief indications of a Joy Division-like sheen heard throughout the song. Elsewhere, "Have To Save Myself" and "Eye In The Sky" offer up hints of American acts like Television and Sonic Youth, the sound of Moderate Rebels here more accessible even amidst brief, largely safe excursions into the truly transgressive.

Shared Values is a decent record, and one that indicates that Moderate Rebels have crafted a compelling sound, even if it's one that owes so much to many acts from the glory days of post-punk. If the band's influences remain crystal-clear, at least the resulting music stands on its own as something cohesive and compelling.

Shared Values is out now via Everyday Life Recordings.

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

[Photo: Colin Williams]

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

It Will Never Be Simple: A Brief Review Of Two New EP's From Guided By Voices

When I saw Guided By Voices a few months ago in D.C., front-man-slash-legend Robert Pollard kept telling the audience about the band's many intended releases for 2019. One of those, Warp and Woof, is due out in April even as 2 EP's featuring songs from that record will be available to buy as of this Friday. Of course, even as I'm typing this, the band is hyping up another release: Zeppelin Over China, and that record drops on February 1.

Now as for these 2 EP's, let's start with 100 Dougs, the home of earlier single "Cohesive Scoops", a bright bit of power-pop business. And while 100 Dougs starts with the dirge-y "Bury The Mouse", a recent live favorite, it closes with the lovely "It Will Never Be Simple", an instrumental that recalls both Reckoning-era R.E.M. and earlier offerings from The Durutti Column. The track is sublime, as is the very fun "Coming Back From Now On", a stadium rock stomper.

The second EP that's going to drop this Friday is called Wine Cork Stonehenge and it starts with the superb "My Angel", a number that wouldn't have sounded out of place on last year's Space Gun. The cut is very nearly eclipsed by the great "Skull Arrow", think Bee Thousand-era stuff spruced up to be more crunchy. Elsewhere, "The Pipers, The Vipers, The Snakes" is glorious, equal parts angular post-rock tinged with flashes of real glam glory.

I'm thrilled to report that Bob Pollard and the boys in Guided By Voices are on such a roll. Pre-order 100 Dougs and Wine Cork Stonehenge via the links below. And then, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a Guided By Voices-riffic 2019!

More details on Guided by Voices via the band's GuidedByVoices.com, or from the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: GBV in DC by me, 2018]

Born To Its Image: A Quick Review Of The New Chemtrails EP

London's Chemtrails continue to push the envelope with their unique blend of indie-pop and glam rock. The band's newest EP, Cuckoo Spit, will be out this Friday via PNKSLM, and it is a remarkable release, as one might expect from this group and this label.

While the title cut climbs an ascending figure like that found on some of the band's best, earlier numbers, "Born In Its Image" expands the Chemtrails sonic palette with subtle additions to the group's approach. The tambourine and percussion hark back to singles from the C86 boom, even as the main hook treads a path somewhere between Love and Rockets and early Blondie. It's aces, really. Elsewhere, "Vultures" surges with purpose, while the nicely-titled "Tedium's Jaws" marries a nearly Queen-like sense of guitar-rock with a very cool vocal turn from leader Mia Lust. As Laura Orlova cranks out the big guitar riff alongside Mia's performance, a fan of this band is rewarded with a song that soars like so many of the best Chemtrails songs soar, even as bits and pieces in this one suggest a richer mix of influences creeping into the group's music. Cuckoo Spit ends with the more languid "Pink Fog", an appealing mix of Syd and Bolan over a more expansive melody.

In the space of just a few years Chemtrails have managed to emerge with a truly distinct sound. And Cuckoo Spit certainly rewards those of us who've been following this PNKSLM act from the start. You might be able to hear things here on this latest EP from Chemtrails that seem familiar, hints of past gems from the popular genres of the Seventies and Eighties, but so much of this music is so richly unique that it still surprises.

Cuckoo Spit is out on Friday via PNKSLM.

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

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from band's Facebook page]

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Heads Up About This Fab New Christmas Song From St. Lenox

Fresh from recording one of the best records of 2018, Ten Fables Of Young Ambition And Passionate Love, out now via Anyway Records, and reviewed by me here, St. Lenox (Andrew Choi) has returned with a superb Christmas song called... "Christmas Song", conveniently. The tune is, like most of what this guy produces, buoyant and full of the sort of energy of life that too much American indie is sorely lacking.

As Andrew has explained elsewhere, the narrator of the song is an unreliable one, but it doesn't necessarily matter as the lyrics -- "Don't fade away again, it's almost Christmas" -- retain the sort of poignant power his best songs usually do. It helps that the tune here is elegant, flashes of Charlie Brown piano-chords stretched out under Choi's plaintive vocal performance. "Christmas Song" is exactly the sort of Christmas song you'd expect St. Lenox to release and I can't offer higher praise than that.

"Christmas Song" is out now via Amazon, iTunes, or the link below.

Follow St. Lenox via the official website, or his official Facebook page.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Play New Video Here From Durand Jones And The Indications

It was about 25 seconds into "Don't You Know?" from Durand Jones and the Indications when I knew I was a fan of the band. The tune sounds a whole lot like stuff I heard on the radio and at home as a kid, namely The Delfonics, Curtis Mayfield, and The Spinners. And it is, quite frankly, one of the best singles I've heard in the second half of 2018.

The song, with its video set at a race track, is the first taste of the band's new album, American Love Call, which drops on March 1 via Colemine Records and Dead Oceans. You should probably pre-order it now. And then go play this a few more times.

Keep track of Durand Jones and the Indications via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Rosie Cohe]

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Before The Time: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Shadowgraphs

The new album from Shadowgraphs, Another Time, out tomorrow via Golden Brown, is the sort of release that straddles multiple genres with the resulting record ending up being a pretty wonderful thing. If you are desperate for a label, call this chamber pop, even though shoegaze elements abound.

"I've Been Around" and "Before The Time" chime and ring from under a bright, electronic sheen, like offerings from Temples, while the lighter title cut echoes recent releases from Papercuts, for instance. Elsewhere, the superb "Run For Your Life" sees Bryan Olson and Charles Glade embrace production that places the lush music somewhere close to early O.M.D. sides, or the best material from Butterfly Child. The tunes here on Another Time rarely drift away into the ether, though they nearly do as some of these cuts seem to run together in a listener's ears. Still, a number like "Peninsula Park" is so easy to love that it seems churlish nitpicking anything about this band's music. When they do this properly, Shadowgraphs hit all the right notes and, in small doses, parts of Another Time are truly transcendent.

Another Time is out tomorrow via Golden Brown.

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

[Photo: Bridgette Aikens]

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Keep Your Ear To The Ground: A Brief Review Of The Salad Days Soundtrack

Director Scott Crawford surveyed the harDCore history of the nation's capital succinctly and generously in the 2014 film, Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. The documentary managed to cover so much so easily that a viewer could perhaps forget how challenging it must have been to impart so much information in just a single film. Similarly, one imagines the difficulties in trying to soundtrack the whole thing.

While the film featured a ton of songs -- and, it's worth reminding readers, with an expert sound-mix by Archie Moore of Velocity Girl -- there was no corresponding soundtrack available for purchase. Until now. Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 will be out on black and red vinyl via SaladDaysDC.com on December 10.

And since lots and lots of what's heard in Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 literally soundtracked the youth of so many men and women in this area, it was surely a daring concept to suggest a single soundtrack record; how could one album possibly cover the birth of harDCore in this city, and the next decade of music made here? Well, thankfully, Scott Crawford has compiled -- curated, really -- a fantastic record here in Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. I never thought I'd say this about a release that *doesn't* feature Fugazi and Minor Threat (or Scream and Rites of Spring, I might add), but this set really does a fantastic job at encapsulating an entire scene, while simultaneously shining a light on the gems that outsiders may have never heard.

I mean, a very compelling case could be made that the genre-bending, pre-Riot Grrl, Revolution Summer-inspired rock of Fire Party, represented here by "Drowning Intentions", was every bit as vital to this city as the tunes of Rites of Spring, for example. Or that the nearly-metal stylings of the ubiquitous-in-the-era Kingface, whose "Tired" shows up here, neatly foreshadows the crossover appeal of this music, and provides a hint of why a good hook was sometimes just as important as good intentions (especially in a sometimes rigid scene). One could even make the case that the never-on-Dischord Black Market Baby effectively showed, through stuff like "Downward Christian Soldiers", on offer here, that it wasn't only straight edge acts who could make some political points in the nation's capital and environs.

And while there are a few numbers here that serve up some expected harDCore pleasures (the propulsive "Motorist" from reliable stalwarts Jawbox, or the punky power-pop of Marginal Man's "Under A Shadow"), there's loads more that surprises on Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. "Sensations Fix" reminds a listener of the corrosive power of United Mutation, while the familiar evisceration of "Who Are You?" from Void still amazes like much of that band's brief catalog always does. And while loads of listeners may first gravitate towards "Now I'm Alone" from Mission Impossible featuring a young Dave Grohl, I like to think that lots of fans are also going to buy this for "Swann Street" from Three, a classic of the era, rendered here by Gray Matter from a 2013 reunion concert at D.C.'s Black Cat.


Amidst other essential tracks here from Holy Rollers, Soulside, and Iron Cross, are important atypical numbers from this city's harDCore past, including "Chocolate" from the genre-defying and effortlessly-brilliant Shudder To Think, and "Godspeed" by Swiz featuring the ridiculously-fiery vocals of Shawn Brown, the original singer of Dag Nasty. Brown's performance here, alongside Jason Farrell (Bluetip), is fantastic, an unleashing of the sort of fury that the power-punk tunes of Dag Nasty didn't always allow space for. Similarly, "It's About Time That We Had A Change" from Youth Brigade reminds a listener of just how precisely on-point this scene's players could be, drummer Danny Ingram here hitting the skins with machine gun-like precision, and bassist Bert Queiroz providing a pulsating energy that he brought over from his earlier band, Double O, also represented on this soundtrack by a rare cut.

And while Nathan Strejcek's vocal-work on that Youth Brigade selection is energetic and rallying, full of the kind of energy one rightly associates with the early days of harDCore, it's the late John Stabb's performance on "Where You Live" from Government Issue that resonates still. A song that is as direct as a punch in the arm, the tune not only features J. Robbins, future leader of Jawbox, but Tom Lyle, the guy who mastered this soundtrack, on bass. For a band that's remembered sometimes more for Stabb's iconoclastic antics than the actual tunes, it's nice to hear a track from Government Issue that highlights just what a fantastically-tight musical unit the band was during their peak years.

At its very best, Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 serves as a sort of audio scrapbook, serving up the familiar memories one wants to revisit time and time again, along with a few nearly-overlooked mementos of a special time and place. For a scene that produced so many seminal bands, there's been a real lack of any essential, curated compilations. So Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 fills that gap with 18 reminders of the variety and versatility of harDCore, the cuts here sounding crisper and more electric than they've perhaps ever sounded.

Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 is out on December 10 on black and red vinyl via SaladDaysDC.com. Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from the same site, and available to stream from the usual outlets.

[Photos: Gray Matter, 2018, by me; Swiz, 2014, by me; Youth Brigade, 2012, by me; soundtrack cover and back-cover courtesy SaladDaysDC.com]

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sewer Rock: A Brief Review Of The New Compilation From Wurm (Pre-Black Flag)

If The Ramones (or Richard Hell) created punk rock on the East Coast in the first half of the Seventies, it's fair to say that Wurm -- not gonna try to do the umlaut-thing, folks -- invented grunge, or something like it, on the West Coast around the same time. Formed in 1973 by bassist Chuck Dukowski, who would later join Black Flag, the band recorded one album that didn't get released until 1985. Now, in honor of Record Store Day, Org Music has dropped a compilation of essentially all of the band's work.

The release, called appropriately-enough Exhumed, hit stores on Friday but I'm here to alert you, in case you didn't know that yet, or didn't know just how very essential this set is. Feast finally came out in 1985 and it makes up the first 9 tracks here on Exhumed. It's sludge-y, as others have pointed out, but endearing, with numbers like "Bad Habits" revealing a debt owed to both Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, even as other numbers like "Should We Be Proud" decidedly closer to the sort of stuff that The Cramps were cranking out. In addition to Feast, Exhumed presents the rest of the prime Wurm material, with singles like "We're Off" positively burning out of the speakers. Elsewhere, there's something really sinister lurking in "Time Has Come", the band's cover of the old Chambers Brothers classic. The cut is, like the rest of the tracks that made up the I'm Dead EP, punishing and brutal and ever bit worthy of re-discovery by anyone who's fascinated in the first steps of West Coast hardcore. Exhumed is rounded off with a batch of demos, of which "Sewer Rock" leaps out as an indication of the band's ability to focus as a tight musical unit.

Chuck Dukowski would help unleash a lot of fury with Black Flag but there's plenty of it here on Exhumed. Wurm were nothing if not remarkably ahead of their time, prefiguring dozens and dozens of Mudhoney and Tad offerings, for example, here in the grooves of the tracks on this essential compilation.

Exhumed is out now via Org Music.

[Photo: XO Publicity]