Saturday, March 28, 2015

Play Slammin' New Single From D.C.'s Mittenfields Here!

You know why I like this so much? 'Cause it sounds remarkably like old Big Dipper and Volcano Suns cuts. I can think of no higher compliment for an American indie band than that.

The last time I blogged about D.C.'s Mittenfields it was as I was literally selling off my possessions and about to move to Hong Kong. Well, now I'm back (with a wife) and the band is finally ready to release a full-length album. Not only that, but they're prepping a record release gig at the Black Cat in D.C. in a few weeks.

Before that gig occurs, you need to listen to this, like, about a dozen times. It's loud and catchy and a blast of pure energy. I thoroughly dig this!

Follow Mittenfields on their official Facebook page.

Is There A Heaven Singing: A Look At The Astonishing New Translator Compilation From Omnivore Recordings

It's a miracle that a band like Translator ever existed.

In the dark days when Duran Duran was ruling the so-called "alternative" scene -- when it wasn't even called that -- and bands like Men Without Hats were hitting the Top 40 thanks largely to having popular videos on MTV, a band like Translator couldn't get a break. That they did and that "Everywhere That I'm Not" is now seen as sort of a standard of the era says a lot about how great this band was

The trajectory of Translator's career as a band may have been relatively brief but, at a minimum, it means that even people who don't remember much about this band probably recognize that single to this day.

Decidedly diverse, able to leap a set of styles with ease, and never as easy to categorize as even R.E.M., Translator were cats from another planet. Like I said, it's a miracle that this band ever existed, let alone got some airplay. And here's the blueprint of that miracle.

The good folks at Omnivore Recordings, alchemists all at piecing together treasures from the vaults of our musical past, have given us what will be seen as one of the most important reissues of 2015. Sometimes People Forget is a 22-track collection of (nearly all) previously unreleased cuts from Translator. That these "demos" are so remarkably good says so much about why this band was so great. This is music of an astonishingly high quality and I'm happy to say that I'd reach for this one on the shelf way before I'd reach for a lot of current bands' records.

Take, for instance, "Fiendish Thingy" which, back then, may have sounded like someone's attempt to redo early Talking Heads cuts with more force, but now sounds like a stroke of genius, all abrasive guitar-lines and nervous vocal bits that seem like The Feelies with an attitude. Punk-y, it's a gem. "Optimism" takes that vibe and goes further back to Nuggets-era notions of rock attitude -- rage, swagger, and furious drum fills.

But things here are not all rough 'cause, if anything, Translator were too diverse for their own good. As founding member Steve Barton explains in the excellent liner notes:

"We were a very powerful and original-sounding trio -- and a pretty unique band on the scene. We'd play a bashed-out song and follow it up immediately with a ballad. Sometimes we would play 'The Girl From Ipanema' -- not in an ironic way but really play it."

And one gets a sense here that Translator's fatal flaw was that they were too good at too many things. Refined a bit, they could have been another R.E.M. More overtly quirky and they would have morphed into the West Coast's version of Byrne's gang.

Still, a cut like "Get Out" is far more overtly political than anything any US band was recording in 1983. And, politics or not, the song is a masterful and sinewy jam that seems an odd version of the slower cuts XTC were cranking out simultaneously in the UK at about this time. Funky but not like the Gang of Four stuff, this is a great, great song both lyrically and musically.

And then, after that one, we get the Byrds-ian "Everything is Falling" which is thrilling in a whole other way and which sounds remarkably unlike "Get Out" earlier in this collection. By the time we reach "Gravity", we can hear a real R.E.M. -- or is it early Let's Active? -- influence. The song positively chimes and you can detect something here that recalls one-time label-mates Wire Train too -- a band desperately in need of the Omnivore Recordings reissue treatment!

When you hear tunes like "Inside My Mind" it's with the sense that some of the rough edges of early Translator material have been stripped away 'cause the band sounds too tight to be recording "demos" this good. The song has a decided smoothness that places it -- again -- closer to R.E.M. but without the obscured vocals. Direct and affecting, "Inside My Mind" is better viewed as being similar to what bands in the Paisley Underground would soon be doing in this era.

"Is There a Heaven Singing", even in its demo form, shows signs of growth for the band. The mood is closer to Opal or The Dream Syndicate. "These Old Days" is all wistful hooks -- that glorious and emotional coda! -- and thoughts of the passage of time, while "Friends of the Future" is, in an odd way, like an American spin on Bauhaus styles.

Sometimes People Forget showcases the progression of this band and while it appears that certain rough edges were being turned into sleek and shiny alternative rock bits as time went on for Translator. "Standing in Line" briefly brings back the punk attitude in the service of a pretty darn good chorus.

"I'll Be Your Summer" closes this collection in fine fashion, all summer-y vibes and a big dose of catchy-ness and the song serves as a sort of reminder of the guitar-based strengths of this American band. Funky or punky, Translator were also masters of making music that was sublimely pop. One could almost jokingly call them The Raspberries of American alt-rock based on something like this, or other tracks here.

But why insist on pigeon-holing them like that?

This compilation does what all good compilations should do: It makes you want to get out all of the band's records and reassess their place in rock history. And if that sounds like a dry endeavor, it's not because this is genuinely thrilling alt rock, for lack of a better term.

Really, in terms of pure listening pleasure, Sometimes People Forget was just a joy to play. And play again. The music of Translator is music that I enjoyed and mentally appreciated but it may not have been music that I can say I really loved. Until now.

This is an absolutely essential compilation.

Sometimes People Forget by Translator is out early next week via Omnivore Recordings.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Dream That Woke Me: My Take On The Lovely New Lilac Time Album

To my recollection, there were 3 significant events in my life in the otherwise moribund spring of 1988: 1) I got into Creation Records; 2) I graduated from the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin to the NME and Melody Maker thanks to a big stack of back issues of both in the record shop I was working in; and 3) the first Lilac Time album came out.

I link those 3 things up in my head for various reasons, the most important of which is that The Lilac Time were the first band that I followed contemporaneously via the British music press. While the band would indeed end up on Creation Records for a brief spell, in 1988 they seemed more of a style that was not too dissimilar to the best stuff on that label; no shame then in putting tracks from The Jasmine Minks next to a cut from The Lilac Time (1988) on a mix-tape for the car stereo, you know?

In 1989, when I was working at another record store, Paradise Circus came out and the band broadened their sound quite a bit. That broadening was even more apparent on the next year's Andy Partridge-produced long-player. Each one of those first 3 records is unique and somehow similar. And, naturally, there's always been a bit of sweet nostalgia for me when I think of the band for I so closely associate them and their first 3 records with that great era in my youth when I worked at a string of 3 record stores in a college town.

But, enough about me. It's time to share the news that The Lilac Time are back and their new album, No Sad Songs, will be out next week on Tapete Records.

Again a 3-piece -- Stephen Duffy, Nick Duffy, and Stephen's wife Claire -- the band sound invigorated here and in full command of their gentle method of creating pop magic.

"We wont' fade away" goes the soft refrain of the jaunty "Babylon Revisited" and one breathes a sigh of relief and thinks: "Thank God for that." I say that 'cause The Lilac Time were one of those bands that even a devoted fan such as myself may have taken for granted. And if I may have missed a bit when following their more recent albums, I can say that I never got bored with their earlier output. It was always held in my heart in a special place next to the first Aztec Camerca record, or the best albums from The Go-Betweens.

No Sad Songs, I am very happy to report, belongs in that same special place in my heart and yours. These are perfectly constructed mini-symphonies of blissful indie pop.

Of course there's the enormously upbeat "The First Song of Spring", all drum-rolls and lines like "You make everything golden" to make a listener feel at home again. Then there's the expertly titled "She Writes a Symphony" which seems the natural, adult progression from "Return to Yesterday", all sinewy lines and hints of banjo. When Duffy sings "We'll live where the blossoms bloom" you can feel yourself go a bit weak in the knees. For with the possible exception of the young Roddy Frame or the peak Morrissey, no one writes like this. "She Writes a Symphony" might be a love song but the odd, little near-Echo and Bunnymen rhythmic device underneath the lyrics adds a hint of something else here, something dark but hopeful. Really, this is one of the masterpieces on this record and I say that with no hesitation.

Then take for instance the forceful "The Dream That Woke Me" which echoes "Black Velvet" from the first record. Though this time one must admit, the bridge here is so strong that this cut seems like a huge leap forward for The Lilac Time. Somehow both refined and full of passion, this is music that no one else but Stephen Duffy (and 2 other Duffys) could possibly make, in 1988 or 2015.

From the near-country twang of "Prussian Blue" and on to the sublime "The Western Greyhound", each cut on No Sad Songs unfurls as a potent reminder of Stephen Duffy's seemingly effortless pop genius. On the surface, these tracks seem so simple but Duffy, like those guys in The Blue Nile, or earlier British folk legends, understands that sometimes less is more. A turn of phrase coupled with a slight chord change can announce a wave of emotion as great as any big shout-y chorus on an old Motown single. I can remember playing "The Last to Know" over and over again in 1989 in an attempt to try and decipher how Duffy was working his magic. And, still not a musician myself, I find myself doing it again in 2015 with "She Writes a Symphony" and other songs on No Sad Songs.

But the secret is clear. It's the pop-craft that counts and here, on No Sad Songs, each piece of production, each instrumental little bit, each backing vocal line, seems in service of something perfect. The elements all make sense and nothing seems too much and, for that reason, Stephen Duffy remains one of the world's greatest songwriters.

Stephen Duffy has done something miraculous here. He's managed to make what sounds like a progression from his earlier classic stuff. Look, as big a fan as I am of the guys, I will readily admit that every time I picked up an Aztec Camera record that was not High Land, Hard Rain (1983), it was with the awareness that Roddy was never gonna write anything as good as those songs again. And while the reunion of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan not so very long ago in a version of The Go-Betweens filled me with profound joy as a fan it also filled me with regret that, despite some wonderful new tunes being penned, those blokes were never gonna give me another Tallulah (1987). But here, on No Sad Songs (2015), I can say that Stephen, Nick, and Claire Duffy have almost improved upon the template laid down some 27 years ago. No Sad Songs doesn't disappoint. There's no moment here where one wishes they were playing an old Lilac TIme record instead. The only regret here for me as a listener is that I didn't listen to every single damn thing that The Lilac Time did following those first 3 records.

No Sad Songs offers up a Lilac Time that is older and wiser, 'natch, but Duffy's stuff was always the sound of an old (wistful) man trapped in a young fellow's body. That sense of the passing of time has not turned this guy into a dour folkie but, rather, a guy who is determined to savor each joy of life.

Warm without being cloying, sentimental without being sappy, pop without being ridiculous, No Sad Songs is a nearly-perfect record. These 10 songs will restore your faith in what music can mean to a careful listener. And, as a fan of this band, I can say that the group sounds fantastic here.

You want to feel better about life? You want something to warm your cold heart as you wait for spring? Spin just about anything on No Sad Songs. Yeah, it's that good.

Thank God that we have The Lilac Time back again! You were so missed.

No Sad Songs by The Lilac Time will be out early next week via Tapete Records.

Follow The Lilac Time on their official website.

(Photos: Nick Duffy)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

In Which I Happily Get On The Courtney Barnett Bandwagon


(Photo: Viktor Ruiz)

I should start a new "late to the party" tag on here 'cause I am really slipping. Sure, I wrote about Childhood and Temples a good 2 years before those debut records dropped but I feel like a fool for not listening to very much Courtney Barnett until this week. What was I thinking, man!?!

Courtney Barnett has released a scorching record in Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015), out now on Mom and Pop Music here in the USA. It's a fantastic set of affecting music that deserves every bit of praise it's currently getting.

Take for instance the awesome "Dead Fox" which astonishingly seems to effortlessly blend Liz Phair -- when she was still indie -- with early Pretenders. Catchy and effervescent, the song is a pure delight. And those guitar squalls don't hurt either.

"Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To the Party" recalls nothing so much as a bit of Nick Lowe-penned pop over top of Barnett's ferocious axe-work. Her solo here is just pure joy. What makes this such good music is that a tune like this is eminently easy to appreciate and yet complex. There are ways in which music like this could have been done in a lazy manner but Courtney seems to be pushing herself on every track to do something inventive or different. There's no shame in being smart and catchy, you know?

When she sings "I'm not finished..." near the end of "Debbie Downer" and the band pounds behind her, the effect is glorious. There are touchstones for this sort of thing but, really, those touchstones don't do justice to how great this record is and I'd be doing more harm than good comparing this to other stuff. Barnett deserves better than that because there's something original here that is so hard to pin down but so, so easy to love.

And then she switches it up on the eco-minded "Kim's Caravan" which features guitar lines worthy of comparisons to the best Richard Thompson tracks. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the very structure of the song -- the build-up and release -- is classic Richard Thompson.


(Photo: Dan Briggs)

All throughout Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) there is more invention and heart on display than a 100 indie bands. Courtney Barnett is thoroughly engaged and thank God for that, eh? There is nothing here that is "Pedestrian at Best", to quote one of her song titles. She may sing lines like "Why even bother?" but Barnett knows the answer and gives this record her all. And, remarkably, the results are never strident or embarrassingly heartfelt. Courtney Barnett has managed to make music that sounds borderline effortless that never descends into cheap heart-on-the-sleeve stuff, nor does it turn into slacker rock from the Clinton era. This is bracing and invigorating rock the very existence of which is a sort of miracle. I reference the early stuff from Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders only for some sort of easy comparison. If the sound is not quite the same, the attitude nearly is. What's different now is that Barnett does not sound like she needs to prove anything to the boys. No, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) is the sound of someone who's won the argument already.

In an age when people are detached and unnecessarily ironic hipsters, the music of Courtney Barnett offers something legit and real without any of that heavy lifting of other bands who try so hard to make something this direct. I can think of no other record you're gonna hear in 2015 that will be this easy to love. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) is a blast and I reckon that as more time passes, it will seem more and more like the masterpiece it is.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015) is out now on Mom and Pop Music in the States.

Follow Courtney Barnett on her official Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Take On The Excellent Documentary I'm Now: The Story Of Mudhoney

What makes I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) so extraordinary for even casual fans of the band is that the film somehow also effortlessly and almost accidentally tells the story of how the U.S. major labels discovered indie rock and then dropped the ball entirely.

Directed by Adam Pease and Ryan Short, I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) is a joyous, funny, and enthralling rise-and-fall-and-rise doc about the band that sorta defined grunge long before Nirvana got lucky and became household names. Perpetually seen as the underachievers of the Seattle scene, Mudhoney really did hit the big time, relatively speaking, before any of their Sub Pop brethren. The film so expertly chronicles the appeal of the 1988 to 1989 wave of Sub Pop acts that one gets a crash course and a reminder that grunge didn't begin and end with Cobain and his crew.

Equally successfully I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) recalls the tactics that the Sub Pop label so perfectly used to get their sound some attention beyond the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps the first time I ever heard of Sub Pop was in 1988 reading issues of NME or Melody Maker 'cause it seemed that this scene happening on these shores was being covered better by those across the Atlantic. That era seems to coincide in my mind with the Sub Pop Singles Club in the same year or so. That was when I first started to know people actively into the scene, even if I still knew more people via The Record Co-Op who were into collecting Sarah or Creation records. But still, it was apparent that the Sub Pop Scene was a reality and the fandom around the label's acts was real and growing.

In that early era, there was a misconception that grunge was this sort of heavy, sludge-y rawk akin to the stuff the Blue Cheer cranked out. And while there was a lot of that then, there were other bands adding humor to the proceedings (Mudhoney, Tad) or pursuing new melodic styles (Soundgarden, soon to be on SST and then A&M by early 1989).

To the film-makers, and Mudhoney's, credit, Mark Arm here in this film not only works in a reference to Australia's Scientists but he does so in order to set the record straight on where the word "grunge" came from and where it got used long before Sub Pop started up.

What follows in the longest section of the film is the "formation" sequence where the band's origins are explained along with nice little bios of each member of Mudhoney. Along with Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters, and original bassist Matt Lukin recall the sort of roundabout way that the band came together. To hear them all tell it, it was really a case of Arm and Turner bonding in Green River, and then the rhythm section sort of falling into place. Lukin, a pure delight to hear in this film, serves as the sort of comic voice of the picture while Peters takes on the role of the unlucky guy who was almost in Foo Fighters when they got signed to Geffen and who was almost in Screaming Trees when they got popular.

What I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney does so well is define these 4 original members of the band as unique personalities and totally unlike certain stereotypes of the grunge scene prevalent in that era. An unfortunate side-effect of the success of Nirvana was that Kurt Cobain sort of ended up defining the scene for many in this country. A better example of the diversity of the scene is shown here in the story of Mudhoney. There's a lot more humor in the stories here than one would expect and while Adam Pease and Ryan Short have done a fantastic job of telling the story of this band, they've done an even more remarkable job at perhaps inadvertently debunking the idea that the grunge scene was all serious and humorless.

The other fantastic thing that this film does is connect the grunge scene to the earlier hardcore scene, thanks largely to drummer Dan Peters' hysterical anecdote about playing a Dead Kennedys record in school for his classmates.

You know, growing up in D.C. in the Eighties, and working at 3 record stores in the era, one could be forgiven for thinking that punk began and ended with harDCore. After all, there was no one here that seemed to be writing about grunge and, judging from those articles in the UK music press, it was apparent that the grunge stuff was a reaction against the dogmatism of American Hardcore, especially D.C. hardcore, in some way. I mean, you'd listen to almost any early Sub Pop single and go: "Yep, these dudes are high!" So much for straight edge, eh?

Can you even imagine "Touch Me I'm Sick" being considered as a song title by any Dischord band in 1988? Of course you can't. And while the song still pummels with Stooges-like abandon, it seems remarkably harder and more concise than a lot of the other stuff from that era from the West Coast. The recording and release of that cut, thoroughly detailed in I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012), is seen now as the birth of the whole grunge scene. That I first read about it in the UK press, not Rolling Stone, ought to tell you a lot about the mood at the time.

But I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) is, miraculously, not just a look back at the glory days of that era. Where the film succeeds is in telling of the major label feeding frenzy following the blast of Nevermind (1991). The story is then as much about that process as it is about Mudhoney. As the band navigates the era and eventually signs up with Reprise the film actually gets funnier thanks to the anecdotes about certain Reprise executives. And for these reasons I so thoroughly recommend this film 'cause there is just so much here to absorb about the era when indie went mainstream.

But, more than anything else, I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) is the story of 4 friends who formed a band and got signed and went home to Sub Pop again. Remarkably, replacement bassist Guy Maddison seems to be taken as just as much part of the Mudhoney story as original bassist Lukin.

I'm Now: the Story of Mudhoney (2012) is as much the story of these grunge legends as it is the story of the decline of the American recording industry. Tracing the career of Arm and associates from a hip indie label, to a major, and then back to the hipper-and-wiser indie label, tells a viewer so much about how Nirvana changed things, at least as far as American indie was concerned, and so much about how mainstream corporations are clueless about what's "cool" at any one time. Miraculously, Mudhoney did put out so much great music on a major label and that seems now to be the sort of thing that could only have happened so easily in that post-Nevermind (1991) era.

Fans of grunge and indie rock should make sure that they seek out I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney (2012) as soon as possible. Adam Pease and Ryan Short have managed to tell more than one story here and I highly recommend this film.

More details at www.MudhoneyMovie.com

The Monochrome Set Are Back: A Quick Review Of Spaces Everywhere

I suppose it's silly to say that The Monochrome Set are back since they've been putting out quality music for a few years recently. The postpunk legends -- 3 original members Bid, Lester Square, and Andy Warren, along with drummer Steve Brummel -- are still exploring the sideways of quality indiepop and crafting intricate and odd songs in an inimitable fashion. New album, Spaces Everywhere, out now on Tapete Records, is no exception.

A set of 10 spiky songs that go in unexpected directions, Spaces Everywhere is a spry reminder of the strengths of this band. There's the Duane Eddy-tinged "Iceman" opener and then the splendid "Fantasy Creatures" which charms like a Go-Betweens cut in some weird way. "Avenue" reveals itself as one of the band's best recent melodies while "Rain Check" adds a jazzy touch to the group's music. Bid croons how "...you've got to make your own luck in this world..." and a listener could be forgiven for thinking that he was speaking for himself 'cause, really, was there ever any other band this good that's been this unfairly overlooked by so many critics and listeners, especially on this side of the Atlantic?

"When I get to Hollywood" brings something optimistic to the proceedings while "The Scream" swirls and weaves a spell not entirely unlike an old Zombies song. Only with a banjo.

Spaces Everywhere closes on the sublime title track which is surely one of the catchiest things I've heard in ages. That melody is positively insinuating, really, and the cut itself is expertly produced near-chamber pop of a sort that predates even The Smiths.

The Monochrome Set can't but help and represent a better era in indiepop, when that term didn't even exist. Not punk and barely postpunk, the tune-age of The Monochrome Set is the sort of thing that -- thankfully -- continues to be hard to define. This is smart music that remains accessible. It's complicated stuff but, luckily, catchy rock too. Spaces Everywhere is a remarkably consistent album and that it's from a bunch of "legends" makes it all the more special. Listen to this in the context of the other Monochrome Set records or just listen to this on its own. Either way, Spaces Everywhere is a special bit of business indeed.

Spaces Everywhere by The Monochrome Set is out now on Tapete Records.

Follow The Monochrome Set on their official website or on their official Facebook page.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Let's Talk About How Awesome This Chastity Belt Record Is: My Review Of Time To Go Home

You know, I'm an idiot sometimes. I saw those recent promo pics of Chastity Belt and went:
"Uh oh, they're one of those 'funny' bands!"

I say that 'cause I'm the guy who used to want to throw my shoe at the radio when They Might Be Giants would come on. And I nearly started a fistfight at an otherwise excellent Robyn Hitchcok show 'cause the old dude next to me kept yelling out "Uncorrected Personality Traits" as if he was that "Freebird" guy.

He was reducing the musician who was singing something beautiful on stage into a joke act. I hated that.

Which is a long way of explaining why I'm so, so late to the party with Chastity Belt. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't judge this band by those admittedly funny promo pics.

Chastity Belt are the real deal. And Time to Go Home, their second album, drops tomorrow on Hardly Art and I urge you to get it immediately.

"I made choices without reason..." sings Julia Sharpiro on opener "Drone", and as she relates the woes of "...just another man trying to teach me something..." the guitar waves ripple out behind her voice and the effect is as punk rock as the loudest Bad Brains record. "Trapped" ramps things up a bit in a similar fashion as the music alternates between a VU-style chug and the big cooing choruses. The guitar recalls stuff like King Sunny Ade and the cut swirls into a propulsive jam.

"Why Try" positively chimes as the players create a delirious racket behind the vocals. The song is one of desperation, presumably given that title, but the overall effect is one of delightful abandon.

The awesomely titled "Cool Slut" is sure to get the band loads of attention. And they deserve it. While the other pundits are busy pouring over these lyrics, I'm not gonna get all heavy on you guys but I will say that this cut reminded me in some weird way of The Smiths, and not least because of the fantastic guitar hooks here. The way Morrissey once sang of that double-decker bus and how you couldn't quite be sure if he was being funny or serious -- or both -- and maybe it doesn't even matter either way -- is sorta the way I heard this one. Done with a straight face, these lyrics would be like a blast of riot grrl rage, but delivered in the service of this Chastity Belt rocker, the lyrics take on more than one shade of meaning.

And that, kids, is when this old crank became a huge fan of Chastity Belt!

"On The Floor" unfurls with early 4AD-styled indie murkiness while "The Thing" rocks in tribute to an awesome John Carpenter flick. "Joke", the first of 2 free Mp3s in this review, is another slice of deceptively casual genius from the four members of Chastity Belt. The song moves beyond the bits of some of the cuts that echo The Raincoats of The Vasellines or Young Marble Giants to result in something more direct. In some odd way, the tune is like an old Built to Spill song pulled together and made concise and poppy (in all the right ways). It would be too easy compare the guitar-work here to something from Vampire Weekend but I won't do that. Those guys annoy the heck out of me and Chastity Belt do not at all.

"Lydia" and "IDC" further explore the complex moods of being young in the 21st century but they're hardly heavy cuts. "IDC" dances between rage and boredom even as the music hits some of the highs of the record behind the lyrics.

Album closer and title track "Time To Go Home" is poised somewhere between Mazzy Star and The Slits until the song turns into a more adventurous jig in spots. "I just wanna have a good time..." Shapiro sings and one can't be sure if the singer of the cut really means that or is questioning that very sentiment. The way the song makes you feel happy and sad all at the same time is just something marvelous and special.

It would be far, far too easy to lump Chastity Belt in with other female-fronted acts like Hinds (Deers) or the equally excellent Colleen Green -- also on Hardly Art, by the way -- but I think a more apt way to approach this record -- especially for us old geezers -- is to think of it as a sort of American equivalent to the first Arctic Monkeys. Sure, there are similarities here in the thematic concerns, and the guitar and drum bits, but it's more the overall effect that makes me think of that comparison.

Time To Go Home is a youthful record that brims with joy even while it contains moments of real doubt and self-introspection. If I was 20 years younger, I'd be picking up a guitar after hearing this one. It's sort of inspiring and not 'cause it'a s feminist record -- though it can be one, certainly -- but because it's a youthful record. Time To Go Home stuns and slays with its seemingly effortless vibe. But it's not a lazy album. It's one that creates a unique mood you're not likely to find in most other contemporary music now.

Chastity Belt -- Julia Shapiro, Gretchen Grimm, Lydia Lund, and Annie Truscott -- make human music of the very best sort. There are so many ways that this kind of thing could go wrong, or become a strident, joyless record. Instead Chastity Belt have a blast, express doubts about chasing that feeling of having a blast, and look inward a bit. Time To Go Home is, in some ways, an audacious record and I reckon that it will only be with the passing of time that more and more people will see it for the masterpiece it is.

Time To Go Home by Chastity Belt is out tomorrow on Hardly Art.

Follow Chastity Belt on their official Facebook page.

Get Hip To The Swingin' Boho Vibe Of The Sound Of Pop Art

The Sound of Pop Art are a band and they are...the sound of pop art. Fitting that, eh?

The group, made up of folks who've all been a load of bands, create peppy, poppy hits that seem like lost treasures from another era that you've never heard until now.

Their latest album, Pop Art Trip, dropped in 2014 on Heavy Soul! Records and it's a bright and breezy set of hep tunes that are sure to put a smile on your world-weary face.

Doubt me? Spin the effervescent "Genevieve" below.

The record is a grab-bag of pop goodness. There's the girl group-meets-The Turtles vibe of "True to Your Soul" and The Kinks-ish concerns of "Suburban Living" which is less swingin' and more contemplative. The album nods in the direction of The Mamas and the Papas, or even "Stoned Soul Picnic" by The Fifth Dimension, on "Let's Get Lost" with its lazy Sunday mood and closes on the equally strong "Scavengers and Thieves" which recalls nothing so much as The Style Council.

The Sound of Pop Art are not remaking the wheel here but they are creating the sort of pop that makes a listener happy. And there's never any shame in that.

Follow The Sound of Pop Art on their official Facebook page.

(Thanks to Wally from Dot Dash's home label TheBeautifulMusic.com for hipping me to The Sound of Pop Art!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Review Of The Splendid New Record From The Granite Shore (The June Brides, The Distractions)

For a band like The Granite Shore, there are multiple methods of approaching the act. Some of us might get into the band because of the connection to Phil Wilson of The June Brides, even though the band is largely the project of Nick Halliwell of The Distractions. And if we start listening to The Granite Shore because of either of those 2 legendary musicians, is that to neglect the other talented players in this group, like one-time Only Ones drummer Mike Kellie? Or the appearances of guys like Martin Bramah of The Blue Orchids and an early line-up of The Fall?

So, yeah, The Granite Shore is a super-group of sorts. But what of the music on new album, Once More From The Top, out very soon on Occultation Recordings? What does The Granite Shore sound like?

Well, this is serious music that is not pretentious. It's music that skirts the edges of folk, chamber rock, and C86-inspired stuff while seemingly creating a new genre. It's music that is quietly affecting and still pretty catchy.

So I'd like to now get the word out on the beautiful tune-age on Once More From The Top from The Granite Shore.

"Artiste & Repertoire" opens with talk of how we "...torn the old world down" even as the cut feels like something from another, more perfect era. Halliwell's vocals here are warm and the effect is one of enveloping you in the world of this band. "Nine Days' Wonder" offers a sprighly melody and a hook that is poised somewhere between the tunes of The Lilac Time or The Wild Swans.

The languid "The Management" gives way to the nearly-jaunty "Fan Club Newsletter no. 44" which bears worthy comparisons to stuff like "The Wrong Road" by The Go-Betweens.

"Backstage at the Ballroom" adds in a vaguely country-ish sort of twang to the music, though it's a subtle twang, and "Recorded Sound" shares a truly beautiful melody and a supremely wistful mood for one of the highlights of Once More from The Top.

"Keepting Time" and "Now, Therefore..." mine similar veins of stately chamber pop while "Widows and Orphans" soars on its bright and big chorus. There's something here that made me think of The Moody Blues but what Halliwell and crew are really concerned with on Once More from the Top are personal spaces and not cosmic planes. This is personal music that rewards a listener's attention.

Album closer "Be that as it may" is a nearly-epic, meditative song that sums up the thematic concerns of the record. The way Nick Halliwell sings this made me recall the Richard Davies-led tracks on the Cardinal album, or even something from The Apartments. This song, like most of the cuts on Once More from the Top, is the sort of well-constructed indie pop that is of another era. That is not to peg The Granite Shore as revivalists but, rather, to peg them as classicists, of a sort.

What the players here have done so well is create what will be seen as one of 2015's most sublime records. I know I tout myself as a fan of stuff that's crunchy and poppy and meant to be played loudly on a car stereo, but I grew up on thoughtful pop like The Go-Betweens and The Blue Nile too. And the music of The Granite Shore belongs in a class with the music of those bands.

If The Granite Shore do get lumped in with anything it will undoubtedly be a sort of return to the glory days of the C86 "jangle rock" movement, probably 'cause of the presence of June Bride Phil Wilson here. But, really, that's a lazy attribution because this sort of music is not so easy to simply categorize. There are shades of feeling here that bear repeated, careful listenings and I'd say that with Once More from the Top a listener should devote him- or herself completely to this entire record in one sitting.

Once More from the Top is now available for pre-order from Occultation Recordings.

You can follow the exploits of The Granite Shore on their official Facebook page.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Quick Review of The Silence From Masaki Batoh (Ghost)

With Ghost, Masaki Batoh pushed the envelope of what psychedelic music could be. With his new band The Silence he seems to be exerting a firm hand as a band leader. While the tracks on the self-titled debut from The Silence, out next week on Drag City, are indeed trippy, they are also anchored by the band's exceptional playing and a strong sense of song-craft.

While "Jewels in Tibet" has a country-ish twang to the guitar-lines, a cover of Can's "Tango Whiskeyman" exudes a genuine catchy vibe. The lovely "Triptycon" uses the flute to create a pastoral mood even as the song otherwise displays a few flashes of more experimental music. "Pesach" rocks with prog-rock abandon while the album closes on the quieter, near chamber music "Overture" with its violins and flutes.

Like the best music from Ghost, the music of Masaki Batoh's The Silence is similarly challenging and expansive. Still, things here feel easier to grasp at times. The Silence by The Silence is a lovely record and it's sure to please old fans and possibly serve as a bridge to new ones.

The Silence by The Silence is out on Tuesday from Drag City.

A Few Words About The New Album From Glasgow's Pale Fire

Glasgow's Pale Fire produce human music of the very highest sort. I say that 'cause in an era of Mumford and Sons and their ilk, there's been a rush at forced authenticity. So what the world needs now is more real music and less affected authenticity. Which is a way of saying that Pale Fire are making simple and authentic rock that feels more from the heart than a band just adding a banjo to the mix, but I digress.

Pale Fire are nothing if not heartfelt rock music of the sort that is in short supply these days. If I was to compare them to stuff like early tracks from The Waterboys, you'd think they were a folk-y lot. Or if I said they sounded like mid-period U2, you might run in terror. But, no, those comparisons would be meant to highlight what Pale Fire does so well. A song like "City of the Dead" cranks along with a directness that is bracing and refreshing.

"Sleep the Horses" has a hint of The Delgados to it, which makes perfect sense since one-time Delgados player and Emma Pollock associate Jamie Savage produced this record at the famed Chem19 studios. If The Delgados had more of a classical bent, then Pale Fire seem intent on reaching right for the heart in a less complicated manner.

The self-titled debut from Pale Fire is a record to savor and absorb. This is big music -- to reference the early Waterboys again -- and, as such, it's music that requires your full attention. For that attention you'll be rewarded with some earnest and inspiring rock.

Follow Pale Fire on their official Facebook page.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Heads Up About Big Deal (ex-Pull in Emergency) And Free Mp3!

It was awfully lonely being a Yank fan of Pull in Emergency a few years ago. The band released one full-length record and then went their separate ways. I loved that record!

Well the good news is Alice Costelloe is back with her new mates in Big Deal.

The tunes are big ones and the hooks here are infectious. Start off by jamming with free Mp3 "Swapping Spit" below and then go head over to the band's official Facebook page for more details.

How's This For A Friday Flashback? New Song From Hard Left Recalls The Glory Days Of Oi Punk

Apparently, judging from the sound of this one, the kids are indeed united.

Hard Left is made up of members of Boyracer, Lunchbox, and the head of Slumberland Records and the band is getting ready to drop their debut record in May. Called We Are Hard Left, the LP will be out on Future Perfect soon and I'm sure it will be full of stompers like this one.

While you're waiting for that one to come out, get wise on the righteousness of Hard Left by visiting the official Hard Left Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Earthquakes And Tidal Waves: My Review Of Album Number 4 From Dot Dash

What's most surprising about Earthquakes and Tidal Waves, album Number 4 from D.C.'s Dot Dash, and out in the near-future from TheBeautifulMusic.com, is that it's a hard record in spots. With all the attention that D.C. punk LEGENDS Danny Ingram (drums) and Steve Hansgen (guitar) have garnered lately with the superb D.C. hardcore documentary Salad Days (2014), you'd be forgiven for thinking that those 2 punks had somehow commandeered Good Ship Dot Dash and steered it in the direction of 1983, fellow one-time John Stabb band-mate Hunter Bennett (bass) hitching a ride as Terry Banks (vocals and guitar) was left at the dock.

That scenario would have been far too easy. Instead what's transpired here is downright remarkable, especially given the presence of legendary -- there's that word again! -- producer Mitch Easter at the helm this time out. Instead, what's happened is that Easter has found a way to marry the rough edges of the band's superb debut Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash (2011) with the sprightly tune-age of 2013's excellent Half-Remembered Dream on this new one. If anything, Earthquakes and Tidal Waves resembles nothing so much as Winter Garden Light with far catchier tunes.

And what about those 10 tunes?

"The Winter of Discontent", with Terry's growl about how he "kicked up a four-leaf clover", marries Hansgen's Diggle-like guitar lines with Bennett's supple bass playing and Ingram's inventiveness on the kit. Whoever's doing the backing vocals also deserves mention. As Hansgen lets loose, the song burrows its way into your head. Harder than "Hands of Time" it may very well be but it's every bit as tuneful.

"Flowers" is like some gem from a Nuggets-era box-set that starts with Bennett's bass and Banks' rough vocals. Ingram's drum beat here anchors the song in another era as the other players strut their stuff around him.

"Rainclouds", in some weird way, reminded me of late period Ramones stuff. It's not as fast but it's certainly as hook-filled. Terry runs through a litany of pop lyric tropes here in a sort of duel with Hansgen's wailing axe and the result is something that feels like a new direction for Dot Dash.

"Satellite (Far Out)", a song I'm pretty sure I heard the band do live already, is the cousin to "11th Hour" from Half-Remembered Dream (2013), but the edges are rougher here even as the melody is just as sharp and strong.

There's a real Byrds-y mood on "Tatters" as the tempo slows a bit. Immensely tuneful, this is one of the best Banks melodies on record so far. Whether due to Easter's influence or not, there's a palpable Peter Buck vibe on the guitar hooks behind Banks' vocals on the verses. "Tatters" is Terry Banks' Go-Betweens moment even if the music nears R.E.M. territory all around him. The lilting melody and the bookish mood of the song all seemed to remind me of nothing so much as a Robert Forster-penned song being sung by the late Grant McLennan.

Steve Hansgen and Danny Ingram were in a lot of punk bands, including Emma Peel with Government Issue's John Stabb, and Hunter Bennett was in Weatherhead with John Stabb, so it makes sense that the opening of "Walls Closing In" is gloriously unabashed harDCore. While that places it outside the rest of the Dot Dash oeuvre, the chorus -- the big hook of the song -- is pure Terry Banks. Somehow, it all works. It sounds like a mess on paper but it positively soars on the record.

"Transperent Disguise", already a near-staple of Dot Dash live shows, is a crunchy blast of Buzzcocks-style energy and melody. Catchy in all the right ways, it's the obvious progression from "Countdown" a few years ago.

"Thru the Dark" is this album's "Fiction Section" while "Semaphore" belongs to Ingram's drums. The cut marries Steve Hansgen's near-Skids-inspired guitar hook and weds it with Bennett's hard bass-lines in the service of Danny's pounding on the skins. Almost a throwback to the way he drummed when he was in Swervedriver or Strange Boutique, his playing here is exceptional and a new element in the Dot Dash playbook.

"Sleep, Sleep" closes Earthquakes and Tidal Waves (2015) on a slower note and Banks and the other 3 members of Dot Dash modulate their sound a bit to fit the muted style. Backwards effects add to the mood of this one, as does the faint keyboard line. There's a hook here but "Sleep, Sleep" is more moody than obviously catchy.

Leave it to a producer like Mitch Easter to nearly confound expectations. I think based on the fact that he was going to be producing Dot Dash Long-Player Number 4, and stuff like "(Here's To) The Ghosts of The Past" on their last album, a few people probably expected this record to be, essentially, Terry Banks singing "Pretty Persuasion", or something. Instead, Easter has overseen what appears to be a big step forward in the music of this four-some. If Half-Remembered Dream was the perfection of what can now be called The Dot Dash Sound, then Earthquakes and Tidal Waves (2015) marks a move in a slightly harder direction.

And was there any doubt that that was going to happen with Minor Threat legend -- again with that word? -- Steve Hansgen in the band now? The first album recorded without founding guitarist Bill Crandall, Earthquakes and Tidal Waves reveals a rougher edge to the hooks this time out. Never once forsaking tunefulness, Banks' compositions are expanded and flushed out in new ways. Those of you expecting chiming guitars like on a Let's Active record are in for a pleasant surprise.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Dot Dash didn't take the easy way out here. They have, in some way, purposefully pushed themselves a bit while still delivering an incredibly tuneful record. I mean, look, you've only got to listen to "Walls Closing In" to understand this line-up of Dot Dash perfectly; all harDCore until Banks glides in with a sublime vocal hook. The success of that marriage of styles is probably down to what Terry Banks has learned in the bands he was in before Dot Dash, as well as the effect of Mitch Easter in the producer's chair this time out.

More than ever, Dot Dash now sound like a D.C. band. Some of you outside this area might read that and think the cats have gone all punk, bowing down to the mighty legacy of Hansgen, perhaps. But, no, what that really means is that finally, with Earthquakes and Tidal Waves (2015), this area has got a record that blends that real, huge harDCore sound with the lilting melodicism of the best early records on Slumberland Records before they left the College Park 'hood.

I don't know if Dot Dash intended to do all that but to me, a fan of all that stuff, and a huge fan of this band and these 4 people, that's what I hear.

And it's glorious. Congratulations cats, you keep getting better!

Earthquakes and Tidal Waves (2015) is out now via TheBeautifulMusic.com.

Follow Dot Dash on their official Facebook page.

(All pics in this review taken by me or my wife in late 2014.)

The New Wand Record Has Officially Blown My Mind: My Quick Review Of Golem

At a certain point in "Reaper Invert" I could feel my head nodding as if I was a bitter hippie at a Sabbath concert in 1971. The song, like most of the cuts on Golem, out as of yesterday on In The Red, is a blast of energy dressed in stoner rock garb. Trippy, inventive, and fun, the music of Wand is something entirely out there.

While one might be tempted to reference Ty Segall here due to a few stylistic similarities, Wand's music is somehow looser and more expansive than Segall's stuff. Take the soaring "Climbing Rope" for instance which seems to bridge acid rock from the Altamont era with shoegaze from only a few decades ago. It's a mind-blower.

Wand -- Cory Hanson (vocals, guitar, synth), Evan Burrows (drums), Daniel Martens (guitar), and Lee Landey (bass) -- make tunes that are big, beautiful, and still scuzzy. "Cave In" alternates between a near-early Soundgarden riff and downright lovely vocals from Hanson.

"Floating Head" takes the sort of riff-rocker thing that Ty Segall does so well and turns up the amps a bit and sets off for the heart of the sun. What's remarkable here on so many tracks on Golem is how Wand never lose the plot. There's not a lot wasted here. The tracks are fast, punchy, and concise bits of fuzzy-wuzzy rock.

"Planet Golem" throbs with early Sabbath abandon, while "The Drift" slows things down and ends the record way, way out there.

Golem by Wand, out now on In The Red, is a blast. A head banger and mind expander, the album struts and rawks with the sort of energy most music these days is sadly lacking. I dug it. A lot. I urge you to get on board with Wand as soon as possible.

Find out more details on Wand on the band's official website.