Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stay Young: A Quick Look At The Fab New Album From NE-HI

Chicago band NE-HI offer indie-pop of the sort that seems effortlessly tossed off. On the band's second album, Offers, out Friday on Grand Jury, the group cranks out some fairly memorable, and always enjoyable, bits of tune-age that should please fans of certain other bands I'm going to reference here later. Read on.

If early track "Sisters" recalls stuff like EZTV, the far better "Don't Wanna Know You" offers up the kind of insouciant sonic snarl that fellow Windy City band Twin Peaks has sort of perfected over the course of the last few years. On the title cut, a burst of something darker rears its head, while "Prove" snaps with a sort of rhythmic appeal. NE-HI seem to be aware of the limitations of their sound which explains the nearly-tender "Out Of Reach", an attempt at a near-ballad, or the excellent "Stay Young", an instant classic as far as I'm concerned. At their very best, NE-HI find a way to channel the angular post-punk of a generation of bands with a lot of Fall and Pavement records in their collections into something more accessible. I guess you could say that makes them more fans of Weezer than the boys behind Slanted and Enchanted and, yeah, that would be a fair guess (though one could never be sure of such a hypothesis). That said, the music of NE-HI seems legit and, in small doses, it works exceedingly well.

There might not be anything entirely original here on Offers but the record's numbers all seem fresh. NE-HI have found a way of wading into this genre and cranking out tunes that at least feel new and full of youthful fire. Tuneful and surprisingly catchy, the cuts on Offers are uniformly solid indie-pop workouts with a bit of wit and sass underpinning each.

Offers by NE-HI will be out on Friday via Grand Jury. Follow NE-HI via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Bryan Allan Lamb]

Monday, February 20, 2017

You Make Me Shatter: A Look At The Superb Indie Charms Of The Debut Album From Kissing Is A Crime

The debut full-length release from Kissing Is A Crime, out Friday on Don Giovanni Records, is surely the most significant album you're likely to contemplate purchasing this week. And, in this bit of rambling from me, I'm going to try to convince you how much you need this one in your collection, on whatever format suits your lifestyle.

The New York-based band -- Matthew Molnar (vocals, guitar), Beatrice Rothbaum (vocals, bass), Larry Sass-Ainsworth (lead guitar, vocals), and Alex Feldman (drums) -- make indie-pop that sparkles with the sort of charms that a whole slew of C86 legends possessed. And yet, to say that is to sort of assign this band a genre label that they are quite capable of transcending. If opener "Nervous Conditions" bears a trace of earlier groups like The Wolfhounds or Close Lobsters (to continue that C86-based line of thinking), the next track, the superb "Permanent Damages", is all Echo and Bunnymen hooks circa Heaven Up Here, something dark and buoyant all at the same time. The effervescent "Sheila's Gone" places this group's sound next to that of a few recent Slumberland signings like Literature or Expert Alterations, while the excellent "You Make Me Shatter" made me think of early Aztec Camera, or even something off the first Prefab Sprout album. The tune-age here is so well thought-out and conceived that one hesitates in using the usual adjectives that one would trot out for indie-pop like this; jangle-y would just not work here, you know? So I'm left thinking of which parts here sound like so many of my favorite bands.

If "Kids" offers a brief nod in the direction of "You Made Me Realise"-era MBV, then the excellent "Crown Royal" chimes with a bright sense of purpose that suggests some new spin on these familiar touchstones of inspiration. The darker "Blind Bruises" dips again into something heavier, a dash of Joy Division and those early Echo records (again). After indulging in a bit of near-hardcore with "You Would Never Understand", Molnar and Kissing Is A Crime offer up the ringing album closer "Unanswered Prayers", all Johnny Marr-riffs and Shop Assistants vocals paired perfectly.

I've tried to put this release into some sort of context for the hypothetical indie fan who's on the fence about purchasing this one, but, frankly, I don't see how there could be any doubt that Kissing Is A Crime by Kissing Is A Crime is a superb record. The charms of this one are immediate and memorable, and every cut very nearly rings with the sort of promise that makes me want to follow this band carefully from here on out.

Kissing Is A Crime by Kissing Is A Crime is out on Friday from the fine Don Giovanni Records label. Pre-order it on the format of your choice. Follow Kissing Is A Crime via the band's official Facebook page.

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

Time Will Tell: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Feelies

The Feelies are, quite simply, the most consistent rock act that this country has produced. I say that because, unlike just about any other group I can think of that's lasted this long, The Feelies have never had a weak period, nor some album run where they tried to (embarrassingly) court bigger success. The things that make up the appeal of this band have never faltered, and the group has continued to offer up music that has been worn many labels -- college rock, and then alt-rock, and now indie -- and it's always been wonderful. And, on the occasion of the release of the band's newest album, the fine In Between, out Friday via Bar-None Records, it's worth repeating all those things about the music of The Feelies once again.

From the gentle rhythmic pull of "Time Will Tell" and on to the languid "Pass The Time", it's clear that the members of The Feelies are at least cursorily aware of the passing of the years. While the group members are all older, the music has remained pretty much the same as it's been for most of this band's albums. If "Gone, Gone, Gone" works up a near-sweat like something off of Time For A Witness, the majority of the cuts here are more subdued, recalling Only Life tracks more than Crazy Rhythms ones, for example. A song like "When To Go" spirals down with a certain relaxed calm, Glenn Mercer leading the group through its paces, and "Make It Clear" adds a slight hint of a Western vibe with a slide guitar joining the mix. Elsewhere, on the title cut, The Feelies echo their earlier records with a deliberate and quiet confidence.

The Feelies -- here in the original line-up of Glenn Mercer (guitars, vocals), Bill Million (guitars, vocals), Stan Demeski (drums and percussion), Brenda Sauter (bass guitar, violin and backing vocals), and Dave Weckerman (percussion) -- remain the sort of act that listeners should be thankful for. If In Between doesn't radically alter the Feelies formula that's okay as the material is a joy to listen to and the sort of thing that will reward fans both old and new.

In Between by The Feelies is out on Friday via Bar-None Records. Follow The Feelies via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited image from the band's Facebook page]

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Oh Yeah: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Dutch Uncles

For even the most casual fan of Dutch Uncles, the news of a new album is something to get excited about. The Brit band makes distinctive indie pop that draws from a whole range of influences from past decades. The results are typically robust offerings, like those tunes on new album, Same Plane Dream, out tomorrow from Memphis Industries. The band has a knack for this sort of thing, clearly.

And, let's be honest, the vocals of Duncan Wallis are a big part of the appeal of this band. As he sings and hiccups on the King Crimson-like "Baskin'", a listener has to commend this band's risk-taking within the genre of indie. On the title cut and the lead track, "Big Balloon", one can hear a trace of Kate Bush, notably "Sat In Your Lap" from the masterpiece, The Dreaming. Where Kate used that album to tell stories, Dutch Uncles use a similar supple form of new wave to craft what are pretty accessible pop songs. On the bright "Streetlight", things progress in the manner of the catchiest Blue Nile numbers, while "Hiccup" offers up the sort of spry new wave that the best China Crisis numbers once featured. Elsewhere, the bouncy "Oh Yeah" sounds a natural retro-futuristic single, all late Seventies Bowie mixed with early Japan, and this despite a title that echoes -- perhaps intentionally? -- a classic Roxy Music single.

More than ever before, Dutch Uncles have managed to their harness their own style in the service of something remarkably consistent. Same Plane Dream isn't quite as beautiful as bits on earlier records, but it is a darn strong release. Never once riding an idea too far beyond what it can offer the tune, the boys in Dutch Uncles have made some fantastic music here on this new record.

Same Plane Dream is out tomorrow via Memphis Industries. Follow Dutch Uncles via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sebastian Matthes]

Wonders Never Cease: A Look At The Splendid Reissue Of My Secret Studio - Volume 1 By Bill Nelson

Previously wildly out-of-print, My Secret Studio - Volume 1 by Bill Nelson is now back out again thanks to the fine folks at Esoteric Recordings, an imprint of Cherry Red Records. The 4-CD set collects 4 hours of music made by the ultra-prolific musician between 1988 and 1992. The set, once nearly impossible to lay your hands on, offers up what I'd argue are nearly-essential recordings from the one-time leader of Be-Bop Deluxe.

While 3 of the 4 albums containted in this box set were available on their own before, it wasn't as if they've been easy to find in the last 20 years. And, obviously, the same goes for the entire set itself. Originally released in a limited run, My Secret Studio - Volume 1 remains a marvelous showcase for the maturing talents of Bill Nelson from a period of time commonly described as quite difficult for the musician. However, for an artist so perfectly self-contained, little obvious outside drama seeps into this music. This is, instead, the stuff of Nelson's heart, soul, and mind transcribed quickly in his home studio. That said, it's a set of 4 albums that hold up remarkably well and which should surprise long-time listeners and new(er) fans who might remember these releases as being full of half-finished cuts. The truth is the opposite; so much here sounds finished, if lightly produced, and this listener for one was so happy to hear this stuff again and find out that my memory had been wrong as this stuff is great, and -- dare I say it? -- so much better than what I had recalled.

Disc 1 is Buddha Head and it's full of what one could argue is the most direct release in this set. Stuff like "Killing My Desires" and "Big River" bubble with the sort of bright Eighties production that graced 1986's Getting The Holy Ghost Across [released on these shores as On A Blue Wing]. The tunes here are marvelously put together and one doesn't get a real sense that Nelson was going through a lot of drama in his personal life, frankly. Still, "The Heart Has Its Reasons" glows with the kind of self-assured awareness that his best instrumentals from this era possessed, while "The Big Illumination" gets at the larger questions of life that have always concerned this guy. Nelson, as always, had a way with getting extremely serious but never pretentious. There's a lightness of touch here that, as always, astounds.

On Disc 2, Electricity Made Us Angels, Nelson more clearly links up these vocal recordings with his mid-Eighties instrumental records. Stuff like "Sweet Is The Mystery" and "Ocean Over Blue" pair Nelson's soaring guitar lines up with supple bass-heavy backing tracks. On these numbers Nelson is in his element, the music echoing stuff from the previously-mentioned Getting The Holy Ghost Across. At times here, on tracks like "Wonders Never Cease", Nelson reveals himself not only a great guitarist but a fine vocalist,, the vulnerability in his voice something listeners can be forgiven for not picking up on previously.

Deep Dream Decoder, Disc 3 here in My Secret Studio - Volume 1, contains tracks that reminded me a lot of the stuff on The Love That Whirls (Diary Of A Thinking Heart). Now, I say that knowing that the cuts here have none of the buoyant new wave styles of that classic 1982 album but, really, bouncy numbers like "Golden Girl" and "God Bless Me" see Nelson completely at ease, his myriad ideas contained here in concise alt-rock packages. The noticeable progression here on Deep Dream Decoder is his comfort at deploying more rhythmic material ("Dreamnoise and Angel", "Wing And A Prayer"). Nelson sounds totally comfortable on these tracks, his spiritual concerns finding homes in these bursts of alt-pop, even as he veers into material that might make a listener think of Shriekback numbers.

Disc 4 of My Secret Studio - Volume 1 is the one release that was probably the rarest of this lot. Juke Box For Jet Boy offers up some of the most accessible material on this box set: "All You Need To Know" shines oddly like an INXS single from the era, while the spry "Only Dreaming" pops with the kind of vibe that China Crisis brought to their more mainstream material. The bounciest CD in this set, Juke Box For Jet Boy should surprise some fans as it reveals a Nelson nearly touching the mainstream. Of course, he was doing that from the safety of his secret studio, the risk-taking here really for his own pleasure primarily.

Full of revelations and surprises, My Secret Studio - Volume 1 is a wonderful thing to have back in print. The efforts of those at Esoteric Recordings and Cherry Red Records are to be applauded. The one risk Bill Nelson always ran was that some of his artistic endeavors would be neglected since he produced so very much music. That said, out of that huge body of work, some stuff should by necessity rise to the top. And, hopefully, with a little fanfare applied, these marvelous albums and this expertly-curated box-set will see a wider audience now. Certainly fans of his earlier new wave classics and those who gravitated towards his late Eighties instrumental records should find much here to love, the albums bridging multiple periods of this artist's enormous output. More perfectly realized than lots of what Nelson put out in this era, the 4 albums on My Secret Studio - Volume 1 remain essential time capsules of this guy's prodigious talents. Spectacularly inventive, concise, and full of flashes and flourishes of guitar glory, the albums here are uniformly wonderful.

My Secret Studio - Volume 1 by Bill Nelson is out tomorrow via Esoteric Recordings via Cherry Red Records. Follow Bill Nelson via his official website.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Found My Limit: My Brief Review Of The Debut Solo Album From Tim Darcy (Ought)

Tim Darcy is probably better known as the guy from Ought, a band I'm not entirely familiar with. That said, after hearing Saturday Night, Darcy's debut solo album, out Friday on Jagjaguwar, I feel like I want -- need -- to hear everything else this guy has recorded.

Saturday Night is full of fuzzy bits of intimate indie that each bristle with heart and spark. "You Felt Comfort" blazes past like an old Chris Knox solo record, all melody and riffage jutting up against each other, and that one is immediately followed by the rather gentle "Still Waking Up", Tim Buckley updated for a new century. The 2 cuts I've just named illustrate the more accessible parts of Saturday Night. The title cut, of course, is another story altogether. The number is harrowing and stark, discordant guitar lines and sluggish drums anchoring the mournful tune that's carried by Tim's vocals. Elsewhere, on the sorrowful "Found My Limit", Darcy veers into neo-folk territory, touching something that is reminiscent of Will Oldham stuff, while the stunning "What'd You Release?" echoes the best Leonard Cohen material with the sort of starkness that few are capable of pulling off so successfully.

As this is Tim Darcy's debut solo album it seems fair to say that the mix of styles on this record is to be expected; the guy is testing the waters outside of his usual gig with Ought. On some level, the mix works as each cut showcases Darcy's brand of serious indie. Still, I'd have liked to have more cuts like opener "Tall Drink of Water", frankly, as its charms are a bit more direct than some of the "sadder" numbers here.

Saturday Night by Tim Darcy is out on Friday via Jagjaguwar. Follow Tim Darcy via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Shawn Brackbrill]

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Swimming Through Dreams With John Fryer: A Look At The Recent Black Needle Noise Singles

Everything I held close to my heart when I was 19 or 20 was something that this guy touched as a producer. John Fryer was half of This Mortal Coil, for Crissakes! And the litany of bands he produced or mixed is like a peek into my cassette collection circa 1987: Depeche Mode, Xmal Deutschland, Love and Rockets, Swans, and so on. His CV is one of the most impressive I can imagine.

So, it's with great delight that I share the news that he's recording again under the name of Black Needle Noise. Utilizing a few guest vocalists, Fryer's new band serves up music that is sure to please fans of his earlier work. Let me take you quickly through a few recent tracks.

"Swimming Through Dreams" recalls Fryer's material with This Mortal Coil and its spin-off project, The Hope Blister. Shimmering shards of treated guitar come at us in waves as vocalist Mimi Page (from Front Line Assembly spin-off Delirium) delivers some beautiful vocals. Any references I could make here would be to classic 4AD label bands and I suppose that is a huge compliment. The slightly sinister keyboard line that cuts through things made me think of early Ministry, or even the quieter moments on an old Xmal Deutschland record, and there's a trace of the icy beauty of an early Bel Canto single here too. Marvelously evocative stuff!

"Teeth to Grey" with Omniflux is jittery electronica that skirts an edge between late-period Cocteau Twins and early NIN. A strong melody carries this one into the memory as the production reveals the further skills of Fryer.

"Treasured Lies" with ZiaLand is a spin on "Another Day" from the first This Mortal Coil album mixed with the force of a classic Curve number. The waves of static and sound that surround the vocals serve as sort of a rhythmic device while the big chorus is what grabs the listener's spine.

The superb "This Kind of Road" is the closest that Black Needle Noise get to Depeche Mode in what is a nice echo of stuff off of Songs of Faith and Devotion. The vocals from Kendra Frost recall Sarah McLachlan from her early years when she was the big highlight of the Nettwerk label and long before she was a Top 40 artist, while the guitar and keyboard figures here weave a delicate-and-yet-forceful pattern under the vocals that suggests nothing so much as figures trudging up a lonely road. Evocative and warm, this is exactly how electronica should be done, less ambient and more human.

"Warning Sign", the other Black Needle Noise single with Kendra Frost, is sharper, all clear vocal lines and precise beats. Frost's vocals here suggest Annie Lennox, while Fryer's instrumental bits veer between hard riffs and supple flashes of symphonic keyboard textures. There's a lot going on here in the mix but it's unleashed with a great deal of economy and deliberation in order to convey the overall effect so successfully.

The pounding "Heaven" with Jennie Vee offers up a hint of Eighties Siouxsie and the Banshees thanks to Vee's delivery, while the drums and guitars and keyboards made me think of the end of side 1 of It'll End In Tears, Fryer's masterpiece with This Mortal Coil. The drums here link up those nods to the classic 4AD stuff with the new wave of Depeche Mode. Superb!

The breathy vocals of Andrea Kerr carry "She Stands On A Storm" and a listener could be forgiven for recalling Cranes material even as the drums pound like NIN, or a Chapterhouse single. A song that shifts between ethereal (to use an over-used adjective) and industrial styles, "She Stands On A Storm" is a blast of energy for fans of anything John Fryer's touched in his pre-Black Needle Noise years. Seemingly referencing so many things in this guy's past at once, the cut was one of the highlights of this recent batch of singles from his new project.

"Swimming Through Dreams" is available now via that Bandcamp link, as are the rest of these fine Black Needle Noise singles. For more details on John Fryer's Black Needle Noise, please follow via the project's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Tom Delpech]

A Quick Review Of The Reissue Of The Soundtrack From Ann Margaret's The Swinger From Cherry Red Records

It might seem odd that I'm reviewing this but I had the hots for Ann Margaret as a kid. So sue me. The 1967 film The Swinger is a sort of camp classic. That said, the songs remain not half-bad, as revealed by the recent reissue of the score by Cherry Red Records on a CD called Songs From The Swinger And Other Swingin' Songs / The Pleasure Seekers (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack).

With a -- no pun intended -- swingin' title song, The Swinger benefits immensely from Ann Margaret's considerable vocal talents on the majority of these selections. If the Previn-penned title cut sets the scene, Ann's scorching "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" imbues that old nugget with oodles of sex appeal. The brash "Swinger's Holiday" showcases the talents of composer Marty Paich, the guy behind the music here, while tunes like "More" belong to Ms. Margaret and her breathy way of performing these songs. "You Came A Long Way From St. Louis" is full of bright horn-lines and Ann's semi-belting delivery, while "The Good Life" showcases a relatively subdued spin on that familiar number. If the rest of the score is a bit dated at least the soundtrack to The Swinger serves still as a fine, fine showcase for Ann Margaret as a pop vocalist.

The soundtrack to The Swinger is here paired with the music from the earlier The Pleasure Seekers. This one doesn't have as much camp appeal mainly 'cause the 1964 film's score is just not as fun. That said, there are joys here, notably Ann Margaret's run at "Something To Think About", one of a handful of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen tunes on offer here. If anything, the score of The Pleasure Seekers would have benefited from more numbers like the superb "Next Time" being included. The tune, an understated gem, serves as a pretty good example of Ann Margaret's skills as a vocalist. Rather than simply knock this one out of the park, Ann delivers a powerful but modulated performance that is really special.

Songs From The Swinger And Other Swingin' Songs / The Pleasure Seekers (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is out on Friday from Cherry Red Records.

Creatures: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Orwells

In case you didn't know, The Orwells were, like The Strokes or Kings of Leon, one of those Yank bands who first found success on the other side of the Atlantic. And, like songs from those acts, there's something here on the band's new record, Terrible Human Beings, that is direct and effectively American-with-a-capital-'A' (even if it's material that's derivative of those earlier bands' better singles).

Terrible Human Beings, the new one from The Orwells, drops on Friday and it is, like so much of this band's back-catalog, the kind of vaguely alternative rock that is sort of dumb on purpose. In another decade, the talented folks in The Orwells would have tried to write simple-but-smart tunes like those of The Smithereens or Fountains of Wayne. Instead, taking a lead from the Southern-but-brainy-appeal of the Kings of Leon, The Orwells craft (with a knowing wink) big, silly numbers ("Vacation", "Creatures") that work best when cranked at high volume and in small doses. For example, lead single "They Put A Body In The Bayou" sounds exactly like you'd guess it would sound if you saw that title and knew anything of this band's other songs. Elsewhere, an ode to the genius behind The Pixies, the appropriately-titled "Black Francis", rides a riff that is only the very slightest bit similar to stuff on Surfer Rosa. And yet, in some way, a bit of rawk glory is attained for a moment. The cut is, like so much here, nothing exceptional, and it certainly lacks the wit of even the weakest Pixies number but it is, marginally, the sort of riff-rocker that works on its own limited terms.

When they succeed, The Orwells do so with a blend of early Ash and a dash of Hoodoo Gurus. The excellent "Buddy" works so well precisely because the band finally sounds like they don't care about sounding like anyone else (even if they do a tiny bit). Similarly, "Ring Pop" roars impressively and offers up nothing so much as a sort of 21st Century spin on Nirvana's big singles, the rough, genuinely dangerous edges smoothed away entirely. That's not a jab but, rather, the reality here. The Orwells are never going to change the pop universe but they are, in their own way, capable of cranking out stuff that is very nearly the best kind of rabble-rousing rock that this world has far too little of. The absolutely excellent "Last Call (Go Home)" sounds like -- don't laugh -- early Supergrass crossed with Mewswear -- have this Florida lot been going through the Britpop bins at those used CD and record shops in Camden Town? -- and the melody is a big winner.

Like so many of those Britpop bands, or The Strokes updating No New York templates, The Orwells are refurbishing earlier styles for a new generation. If nothing here is The Ramones' "1, 2, 3, 4"-mock simpleton brilliance, there's lots on Terrible Human Beings that is perfectly serviceable and certainly better than a lot of what gets played on the few remaining real rock radio stations in this world. And, for that reason, and the delicious hooks of a handful of these numbers, I'm going to give this a guarded recommendation. The Orwells are not quite as good as they think they are but their songs are certainly the sort of thing that goes down real easy in small doses. Serve up any cut from Terrible Human Beings on a mix, and you'll probably like this band as much as I do, if not more.

Terrible Human Beings is out on Friday. You can follow The Orwells if you must via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Kelly Puleo]

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Be Happy: A Look At The Return Of Judge Roughneck, The New Album From Neville Staple (Of The Specials, Fun Boy Three)

How can anyone not be happy when listening to ska like this? There's something timeless here, and it's not a stretch to say that listening to Return of Judge Roughneck, the new album from Neville Staple, out on Friday from Cleopatra Records, made me recall when I was 16 and first buying Specials albums on cassette at the mall. It appeals to that part of me as a fan of this kind of music.

Neville Staple, the "original rude boy", as they say, is back and he's returned with the buoyant ska and dub of Return of Judge Roughneck. While the founding member of both The Specials and Fun Boy Three is older, he's not old, if you catch my meaning. Hence, my reference to the timeless quality of this music. When Staple tackles classics like "Be Happy" and "Enjoy Yourself", he does so in such a way as to spin them in new directions. He's not so much trying to up the originals as he is to remind you how great this music is.

And that's the reason that Return of Judge Roughneck is, like that recent album from The Selecter, such a joyous thing, the sort of record that inspires waves of nostalgia in fans of my age as much as it does stir the urge to dance. The infectious "Down My Street" is full of spark and a playful beat, while the more catchy "Run" rides a big hook like those found on old Bad Manners or Madness records, peers of this man's earlier bands. Staple tries new spins on the familiar ska styles with "Bangarang", the familiar bits from an old Specials-kinda single updated for a more modern age.

Towards the second half of this double album, Neville and his band engage in some dub tracks here with the results being fairly interesting. Highlights here are "Roadblock (Slam Door Dub Mix by Ed Rome)", an earlier Neville Staple track here stretched out impressively in its remix form, and the trippy "Dub Fever", a reworking of this album's "Gang Fever" into a sort of Adrian Sherwood-style remix. I think the biggest surprise of Return of Judge Roughneck is how compelling the dub tracks are. I mean, yeah, I gravitate towards the peppy ska numbers as they make me think of the glory days of The Specials but, hey, The Specials also put out one of the greatest singles of all time in the dubby "Ghost Town" and Neville is an artist who wisely pays tribute to that side of his legacy, as well as offer a nod in the direction of a Fun Boy Three classic with "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)"-referencing "Dub Crazy (Feat. Jessy Greene)" towards the end of Return of Judge Roughneck.

Return of Judge Roughneck by Neville Staple is exactly what I needed to hear in this bleak mid-winter season. It's a blast of energy and a reminder of the potency of ska to get the feet, as well as mind, moving in the right direction. Featuring appearances from violinist Jessy Greene (The Jayhawks, The Geraldine Fibbers), producer Ed Rome, and Christine ‘Sugary’ Staple, Neville's wife, who co-produced the album with Neville and Tom Lowry, this record was a pleasant surprise for me. The timeless appeal of ska is something that can't be denied and certainly not when the man at the wheel is a legend in the field. Mr. Neville Staple, you were missed. Thanks for returning with this Return of Judge Roughneck

More details on the adventures of the original rude boy, Neville Staple, via his official website, or via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: John Coles]

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Unveiling: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Noveller

Sarah Lipstate is a film-maker, artist, and Noveller, and the new Noveller album is about to drop this Friday. A Pink Sunset For No One, out on Fire Records at the end of the week, is an expansion of the textures heard on the last Noveller record, the excellent Fantastic Planet. Where the previous album sounded suitably airy, this one sounds more purposeful and precise. That slightly harder edge is what makes this new Noveller long-player such a compelling listen.

A Pink Sunset For No One opens with the spacious "Deep Shelter" before segueing into the superb "Rituals", all Thurston Moore hooks from "Shadow of a Doubt" updated for a new century. As Sarah's voice breathe the faintest trace of a vocal line in the background, the guitar lines weave a pattern of spiky points and looser bursts of noise. The title cut mines a similar vein while the enthralling "Lone Victory Tonight" offers up soundscapes that recalled for me nothing so much as those treated piano samples on that Harold Budd album with the Cocteau Twins. The Fripp-ish "Trails and Trials" hypnotizes, while the minimalist "Another Dark Hour" is the sound of a dream realm enveloped in flames. At times, Lipstate's guitar can find moments of quiet beauty ("The Unveiling"), and at others the axe is the instrument that traces a line that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a score by Philip Glass ("Corridors"). It is throughout as expressive as a human voice.

A progression from her earlier work, A Pink Sunset For No One is the perfect showcase for the unique artistry of Noveller. Occupying some space between what we once called ambient music and what we might call modern classical (for lack of a better term), the selections on A Pink Sunset For No One are gems of invention and melodic exploration. Rarely has something this genuinely alternative been so accessible to a listener with a bit of time and patience. Fans of Brian Eno, Fripp (obviously), and Rhys Chatham should embrace this record the way I did. And for those of us who were already fans of Noveller, A Pink Sunset For No One is a step forward in some indefinable way.

Out Friday on Fire Records, A Pink Sunset For No One by Noveller is a superb album of adventurous music. Follow Noveller via Sarah Lipstate's official website.

[Photo: Priscilla C Scott]

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Rising: Heads Up About The New Teen Daze Album

Teen Daze is really one guy (Jamison Isaak) but he's got collaborators who have pitched in to make the new album, Themes For Dying Earth, a very special record. Out Friday on Isaak's own FLORA label, the release is electronic music, in a sense, but it's also beautiful and lushly lyrical in its own unique way.

While there are cuts here with vocals (the aching "Lost"), the others that are instrumentals are just as easily affecting. A guitar strum on "Cherry Blossoms" carries the song into territory last explored on the instrumental half of Gone to Earth by David Sylvian, while "Dream City" similarly recalls the music of earlier eras that prized mood over literalness. If "First Rain" echoes anything it's perhaps those post-Wire recordings Colin Newman made for the esteemed 4AD label, and one can hear a trace of Eighties-era Durutti Column in the spry "Rising" which follows after. And, given the title of this album, it's clear that there are ecological concerns here in the material, concerns reflected in the limited lyrics and the titles of the tracks, but it's a remarkably unforced sort of concern. If anything Themes For Dying Earth recalls marvelous Talk Talk albums like Spirit of Eden in at least attitude, if not style.

The rarest of albums, Themes For Dying Earth is serious without being pretentious, and that's no mean feat. Isaak and his assorted collaborators have created something here that, in its own way, recalls an updating of Brian Eno's Another Green World. Music full of electronic effects and embellishments but which remains achingly human and full of warmth, this is one of the highlights of this month's releases.

Themes For Dying Earth is out on Friday via FLORA. More details via that link.

[Photo: Sharalee Prang]

Your Occasion: A Few Words About The New One From Snowball II

This is one oddball album. I say that as the highest compliment, really. Flashes of Quincy from Snowball II is the sort of skewed indie that few acts can entirely commit to, much less pull off. But this lot have succeeded in making something that is full of wildly creative bits and big, brave hooks.

If "Anais and Me" sets the stage, "Groan's" kicks things into high gear. Sounding like some weird combination of early Cheap Trick and Ariel Pink's stuff, this number is a blast. On the superb and instantly-catchy "CR-VUC" the band is joined by Kurt Heasley from Lilys on backing vocals. Less shoegaze and more lo-fi, this number was the clear highlight of Flashes of Quincy for this listener. Later, on the languid "Your Occasion", the tune stretches out like one of those classic Olivia Tremor Control numbers, all warped-yet-beautiful guitar lines. If "Meet Yr. Dad" is fuzzy power-pop, all weirded-out takes on early Guided By Voices styles, then closer "Is All" is the attempt to make something more expansive and vaguely psychedelic. Bits of early Grandaddy show up here, as do flashes of Syd Barrett-esque song-craft but the best bits on this track, as on the rest of this Snowball II album, sound utterly unlike any other band at work these days.

Flashes of Quincy is out on Friday. More details can be found on the band's official Facebook page. This album was a pleasant surprise for me and I am sure that the band's brand of skewed power-pop will appeal to listeners looking for something more than just the usual indie-pop.

[Photo: Sienna Rose Moffitt]

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sunshine Daydream: A Quick Review Of The New One From Mr. Elevator And The Brain Hotel

The new one from Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel, When The Morning Greets You, out Friday on Rad Cat Records, is a burst of saccharine, one of those pieces of candy that bursts sugary juice when you bite into it. There's nothing very substantial here but the record is, almost in spite of itself, a lot of fun.

It's hard to take seriously this brand of neo-psychedelia when numbers here sound like the theme song to "Lidsville" ("Dreamer"), or that song Wonka sang as the riverboat went into the tunnel ("Are You Hypnotized"). And, I suppose, that's sort of intentional. The California-based Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel are mining a similar vein of Sixties-tinged pop that gave rise to that Paisley Underground wave on the West Coast so many years ago. Still, unlike those bands, Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel seem to be taking their cues more from The Electric Prunes than The Byrds. That said, the superb "Cosmic Bloom", the band ditches the chirpy-ness in favor of something more sinister and sinewy. Elsewhere, on the rough "Fuzz Phantom", Mr. Elevator sound a tiny bit like early Redd Kross, a comparison I think that the members of this band would appreciate.

For all that's here that is a bit too silly, for lack of a better word, there's a lot to enjoy. Every track on When The Morning Greets You is tuneful and full of bright riffs of the sort that propelled old Apples in Stereo records. At the same time, as stuff like "Let Me Be" shows, there's another side of this band more interested in texture and mood than a quick, tasty hook. At their very best, Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel manage to sometimes harness the strengths of those 2 sides of their style at once and produce pretty good, vaguely neo-psychedelic tunes.

When The Morning Greets You from Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel will be out on Friday from Rad Cat Records. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sofia Karchi]