Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Few Words About The Marvelous Debut Album From Marrow

Every so often a band will come along who'll change up things and mix styles in an attempt to get a listener's attention. The results are usually not great. Marrow are not one of those bands. Marrow have managed to really stun this listener with their debut album, The Gold Standard, out Friday on the band's own Foxhall Records.

Marrow blend elements of multiple genres -- indie, jazz, even prog rock -- in a seemingly effortless fashion and the results are glorious. Rarely does an album provide as much pure pleasure as does The Gold Standard. When was the last time a record surprised you?

For example, "Darling Divine" unfurls on the back of a jazzy piano line while singer Macie Stewart does her best Rickie Lee Jones. And then, the big chorus kicks in and the song takes on another vibe altogether. It's music that is nearly impossible to describe in words but music that is easy to love.

Earlier single "Paulson" is here and it sits surprisingly well next to more risky ventures like "Ocean of Glory" which bridges the sort of folk rock that the Dead would have dabbled in a few decades ago with a decidedly more prog rock ending section. This is bold, adventurous music and Marrow are to be applauded for not only making it but for even attempting it.

"Cities" is simple and affecting while "Corsicana" succeeds thanks to Liam Kazar's soulful vocals. The cut bears favorable comparisons to both Rufus Wainwright and Tom Waits and yet it remains, like the rest of the songs on this record, something wholly of its own.

Album closer "Quarter to Three" closes with Macie doing that Rickie Lee Jones thing again only to have the band rave up behind her. Imagine Carly Simon in her classic era fronting an indie band and you'd have some idea of what this sounds like.

Marrow are doing something remarkable on The Gold Standard. These are songs full of bold stylistic moves and wild leaps between genres. Still, Marrow pull everything off. There is not one misstep here, nor one unsure moment. Marrow confidently and assuredly combine expert musicianship with a sense of fun. It is a very rare thing indeed for a band to be able to do this so well. And, frankly, I can't remember the last time I was so pleasantly surprised by a band as I was when I first listened to Marrow.

I realize that when put in writing the risk-taking of the 11 cuts on The Gold Stardard is hard to describe. It doesn't sound like this music would work when you write it all out but it does work. Beautifully. Play what you can online and then go get this album as soon as you can.

The Gold Stardard by Marrow is out September 4 on the band's own Foxhall Records label. Follow the band on their official Facebook page or on their official website.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Best Thing You're Gonna Hear This Week Is This Cut From Boys

This is just stunning. Sounding remarkably like Temple Songs and The Pink Teens -- the label PNKSLM is home to The Foetals, after all -- Sweden's Boys are here to knock your socks off.

Somewhere between shoegaze and C86, and altogether its own sound, "Ever Before" is infectious and haunting and a delight. It takes a lot of skill to make music sound simultaneously this out there while remaining so catchy and Boys have seemingly mastered the ability to do that. I cannot wait for the full EP.

Follow Boys on their official Facebook page. The EP from Boys will be out soon on PNKSLM.

Heads Up About The Awesome New Album From Blank Realm

The problem with Australia's Blank Realm is that they are simply too good at so many different styles of music. This means that's it hard to pin them down and describe them easily. Brimming with passion, the tunes on their new one, Illegals in Heaven, out Friday on Fire Records blaze a path that takes them near artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, Th' Faith Healers, and The Clean.

When Brisbane's Sarah Spencer takes over lead vocals we're treated to something vaguely close to Kim Gordon's old band ("No Views") or even Garbage ("River of Longing"). When one of her brothers -- there are 2 of them in Blank Realm -- takes over the lead vocals on "Dream Date" the effect is something like Luna covering a Lou Reed cut.

There are only 9 songs on Illegals in Heaven and they all succeed impressively on bold terms. From the Britpop-infused hooks of the spry "Palace of Love", to the near Tom Verlaine-isms of "Flowers in Mind", and then on to closer "Too Late Now", all Evil Heat-era Primal Scream spruced up with a a notion of brightness amid the grime, Illegals in Heaven offers up some of the most listenable indie rock of this late summer season.

I really hope that this album gets the attention it deserves outside of Australia 'cause Illegals in Heaven is remarkably consistent and frequently a blast of energy through the eardrums.

Illegals in Heaven by Blank Realm is out September 4 on Fire Records.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thank Goodness ThIs Is Back In Print: My Review Of The New Reissue Of The Magical World Of The Strands

I'm going to tell you the secret of Michael Head's success as a musician. And before you say "What about that old refrain about Shack/Pale Fountains/anything-Michael-Head-touches not making the money the music deserves?" Well, I'm not talking about cash here, folks. I'm talking about what will make Head and his work revered for decades.

It is quite simply his ability to make music that is tender and gentle without being pretentious and precious about it. What this is is magic. This is the new reissue of The Magical World of The Strands from Michael Head and The Strands. This new edition, out now via Megaphone Music, comes with 2 bonus tracks not on the original 1997 album. The release is paired with The Olde Worlde, a collection of Strands and Head rarities meant to serve as a sort of thematic companion to the original treasured album. That The Olde Worlde sits so comfortably next to The Magical World of The Strands ought to tell you how essential this release is as well.

It doesn't hurt that The Magical World of The Strands (1997) still remains a thing of sublime beauty. Surely worn out by the comparisons to his inspirations Love, Head and his band place themselves here close to the quieter moments on the first Lilac Time, to come up with a description of this music for the uninitiated. "X Marks The Spot" is a spry bit of business despite the dark thematic concerns and "Queen Matilda" mines a gentle sound not entirely unlike the stuff that The Left Banke laid down in the Sixties. If the cut, here in both its original album version and in a demo form, is not ornate in the same sense, it still enthralls. "Glynys and Jacqui" seems to be from another age when a band like The Zombies could make music like this and get on the radio with it, while "The Prize" admirably rides what approaches a catchy riff in the Magical World of The Strands.

There's no need to belabor how staggeringly essential this album is. The Magical World of The Strands by Michael Head and The Strands is easily the better when pitted up against Head's old Pale Fountains but that's 'cause production here by sympathetic producer Stephane Bismuth never once overpowers Head's work with anything extraneous. Compared to Shack, the stuff here is similar but somehow more perfect. There is something here -- like on the best early Durutti Column records, or on Richard Thompson sides where he'd push at the edges of what constituted folk music -- that remains so pure and so warm. This is music to be savored but not in a dilletantish fashion. Simple, direct, and then even baroque in spots, the cuts on The Magical World of The Strands (1997) still pack a big soft punch, to paraphrase a Clean song title. The record is a thing to cherish and so it remains with each listen.

Now, what of that rarities collection, The Olde Worlde?

There's stuff like the rough, band version of "It's Harvest Time" and a strings-only version of "Something Like You" which both shed light on how the original album was pieced together. And if The Magical World of The Strands (1997) is one of those records, like Love's Forever Changes, that seems fully-formed, then The Olde Worlde is a looser version of the music that The Strands and Michael Head were perfecting on that album. One listen to the decidedly Beatles-esque hook of "Poor Jill" convinces a listener that Michael Head is one of the greats of the Liverpool scene, if one is to describe the long and rich musical history of the city that way. An instrumental version of "Hocken's Hey" places this band next to Fairport Convention or their folkie peers from an earlier era. The splendid "Lizzie Mallally" would later surface as a Shack b-side but here it's a hint of what The La's should have sounded like on their first record; there must be something in the water in Liverpool to make these two acts so sound similar here.

"The Olde Worlde" closes this collection in a fashion that the Gallaghers would truly appreciate. Vaguely prefiguring what Oasis would do a decade or so later, this 1985 cut blazes in on a wave of upbeat emotion. It's very nearly a singalong with a guitar solo that sears. Just a gem.

If you already have The Magical World of The Strands by Michael Head and The Strands, buy it again 'cause it sounds better than ever now. If you don't have it? You are missing out on one of the handful of genuine masterpieces from the Britpop era that didn't sound vaguely like Slade.

Seriously, The Magical World of The Strands and its new companion collection The Olde Worlde are records of stunning clarity full of moments of seemingly effortlessly expressed beauty. Straddling styles and bridging genres separated by decades, Michael Head and The Strands created a masterpiece -- or two, I guess you can say now -- and will reap rewards from listeners for ages even if the sales will probably never rival those of stuff like Be Here Now (1997) from the same year that The Magical World of The Strands was released.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Few Words About The Fine New Album From Woolen Men

Somewhere in the marketing for this band was something that made me think I might not like the album. I don't remember what it was but whatever it was, it gave me the idea that this might be too precious or something. It's not. It is a glorious racket in spots.

Temporary Monument is the new album by Woolen Men and it's out next week on Woodsist. One listen to the expert blending of Camper Van Beethoven and Mission of Burma that is "University" had me hooked. Elsewhere, like on stuff like "Alien City", the 3 guys in this band imagine a sort of near-acoustic version of Big Black. "The Dissolving Man" twitches admirably in the style of The Embarrassment, while "The Wheel" rides an update on a Ramones riff into oblivion. "After the Flood" channels solo Tom Verlaine to fantastic effect but the 3 lads in Woolen Men seem to work best when they've got the amps up and the chords fast and choppy -- think an American Wedding Present in spots.

The tunes on Temporary Monument are simple ones on some level but they also pack a lot of fury. Alternately exuberant, unpolished, and catchy, the songs of Woolen Men are something new to wrap your ears around.

Temporary Monument is out on September 4 on Woodsist. Follow the band on their official Facebook page.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Few Words About The New One From Willis Earl Beal

Let's get one thing clear right now: Willis Earl Beal has got a fantastic voice. Pick any cut on Nocturne, out Friday via Tender Loving Empire, and you'll see what I mean. From the emotional "Lust" to the yearning "Able to Wait", Beal mesmerizes with his voice. It is as an impressive instrument as the axe that any guitar whiz wields.

That said, the album is nearly too holistic, for lack of a better word. For all the considerable strengths of Nocturnes as a record, it remains something that's easier to appreciate than love. I can imagine reaching for this one when I'm in the car alone at night and a long highway beckons. That's the risk of making what others might call "mood music" and Nocturnes is nothing if not superb mood music. There are moments here -- Beal's ultimately very real growl on "Survive", for example -- that work beautifully and I feel churlish for nitpicking what others would not be able to do so well.

Willis Earl Beal possesses one of the best voices in music today. I feel safe in saying that. If I have any criticisms, and they are minor ones, they are more about Nocturnes as a record. I just would have wanted, as a new fan of the guy, to hear more variety in what was being presented.

Still, I can't fault what's here and Nocturnes by Willis Earl Beal is affecting and expertly produced music of the sort that labels like Mute and 4AD would have put out in earlier eras had they had on hand a guy with a voice like this.

Nocturnes is out Friday on Tender Loving Empire. Follow Willis Earl Beal on his official Facebook page.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

New Video From Literature (Plus Reminder About How Great Chorus Is)

I picked a pic I found from the band's Facebook page of Literature behind D.C.'s Black Cat to remind myself that I'm an idiot for missing the band's recent gig there with Expert Alterations. Now that I get up at 5:30 in the morning for work, I've got so much less enthusiasm for seeing work-night shows in D.C. or Baltimore.

Or maybe I'm just old? Still, I'm not too old to not enjoy the youthful pop of Literature. Their last album, the spry Chorus, is available via Slumberland Records and it's still a charmer, in case you haven't grabbed it yet.

Songs you may have heard already are here, like "Tie-Dye (Your Life)" with its swooning backing vocals, rippling Roddy Frame-aping guitar hooks, and glorious chorus. Likewise, stuff like "Court/Date" add a slightly sleek veneer to the sort of indiepop that owes equal debts to the melodies of The Smiths and the guitar effects of the Cocteau Twins.

And if "New Jacket" can be described at all, it's best written about as a sort of breathless update of "Lost Outside The Tunnel" by Aztec Camera. Sublime, aching, and full of promise, this is -- like a lot of the cuts on this record -- the sort of thing that reaffirms your faith in indie rock.

The joyous and totally unnecessary guitar rave-out that closes "Jimmy" made me grin like a fool, while album closer "Kites" warmed my old heart with its layers of guitars and breathy vocals.

All in all, Chorus by Literature remains a pretty flawless piece of indie rock. Giving jangle-pop a good name, the lads in Philadelphia's Literature have sort of reclaimed some things from earlier Brit influences to make music that manages to sound fresh and wholly worthy of comparison to tunes from Aztec Camera.

And if those weren't all great reasons to love this band, they went and named a song after an old TV movie they are not possibly old enough to remember. There's a new video for album opener "The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything" and you can play that below.

Chorus is out now via Slumberland Records. Follow Literature on official Facebook page.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cherish What You Got: My Review Of The Blazing New LP From D.C.'s The Jet Age

Here's the secret to The Jet Age: We're hearing the inner battle between frontman Eric Tischler's dueling loves of The Who and My Bloody Valentine. Usually, thanks to the ferocious drumming of Pete Nuwayser, it seems as if The Who more often than not wins that fight. This time out, on next week's Destroy.Rebuild, it could very well be a draw. That's not to say that Pete's drumming is not superb, nor that bassist Greg Bennett's bass-runs are not worthy of comparison to The Ox but, rather, that Tischler seems to have more successfully blended his musical influences on the new album. There's something seamless and organic and "whole" about Destroy.Rebuild, and if the record is not as edgy -- or maybe twitchy? -- as this trio's been in the past, that's cool 'cause they might finally find a lot of new fans with this one, perhaps their strongest record yet.

But in making something that seems so much more accessible, have the band members somehow sacrificed anything? No, 'cause the relationship drama of Tischler's lyrics is more refined, the drumming and bass playing more integrated with what Eric's doing as the singer-guitarist, and the leader-man himself has also held back on the effects pedals, or simply more strategically employed them. If last year's Jukebox Memoir was the bold risk-taker, the band jumping genres with glee, and 2012's Domestic Disturbances the obvious fulfillment of the Jet Age sound of the earlier records, then this album is the beginning of a new era for this three-piece.

Destroy.Rebuild sounds like The Jet Age and yet I still can't quite put my finger on the crucial differences this time around. Instead, as I replay these 11 cuts, I sort of see new angles of this band's music, angles that may have been there all along.

"Don't Make a Sound" and "I Wrote You This Song" certainly feel familiar -- that awesome mix of strum-and-clang that these cats can do so well -- but then we get some new flavors in "It Always Starts With a Bang" and "It Cuts Both Ways", two tunes that serve as slow-burn rave-ups. "In Time, All Want Will Cease" sorta perfects the format as the guitars ripple and one can guess that Tischler's been listening to some Ride lately. "Who Can I Sing This Song For" sways comfortably and then "Hand Upon The Throttle" kicks in and suddenly a listener is caught in a hard, deep groove that Nuwayser and Bennett command admirably. The song is all theirs and we're off in vaguely near-fusion territory, an even bolder move than anything on Jukebox Memoir (2014).

And, like on every Jet Age record, there's a tune that makes me stop in my tracks and go "Wow, that's one of my favorite Jet Age songs ever!" The nearly perfect Isn't Anything cast-off of "I Can't Breathe" is more than an MBV imitation. Thanks to Tischler's exquisite guitar solo, the song acts as an expansion on what other bands would see as the shoegazer template. Just an impressive, impressive piece of music.

"I Figured It Out" refreshingly calls to mind older Jet Age cuts while the wonderfully-titled "The World Is Bigger Than My Two Hands" updates what Ted Leo used to do in Chisel -- there's that Who influence again! -- with a nod in the direction of pre-Sire Husker Du -- another legendary power trio! -- with the sort of fuzzy rave-out that Swervedriver were so good at pulling off. Not for nothing was Adam Franklin on the last Jet Age record.

Destroy.Rebuild closes with the "When The Levee Breaks"-isms of "Epilogue", Bennett and Nuwayser doing their best Jones and Bonham approximations here. Far removed from those old, blues-y Zep roots, these are 3 guys largely functioning in the indie rock world and bravely pushing at the edges of the box.

By sticking to a relatively basic format -- the personal, first-person lyrics, the Moon drums, the Geezer Butler bass -- the three members of The Jet Age have sort of created their own genre over time. Criminally underrated, even here in D.C., Tischler, Bennett, and Nuwayser have made one of their most seamless albums this time out.

To a casual fan, The Jet Age sound like...The Jet Age again. Great. To the hardcore, it's like they've discovered the perfect mixture of each of the three elements in their formula. Things sound new here and Destroy.Rebuild is nothing if not a refinement of the essentials of this group.

Destroy.Rebuild by The Jet Age will be out in a week. The band is playing the At The Edge of the Sea festival soon. If you're in the U.K., check that out. If not, make time to see them when they play D.C. in a few weeks at their record release show in Bethesda. Follow the band on their official website.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Word About The Simple Pleasures Of The New Stolen Jars Record

The new album from Stolen Jars, Kept, didn't quite grab me until I put it on one recent very foggy morning. As the vocals and melodies of Cody and Molly filled the car, I felt really content and unusually calm for someone driving in to a busy office at 7 AM.

What made me a fan of this band was that nothing is really overdone and things don't get too precious. It seems to me that this sort of music could have led to something dangerously precious. But, as you can see from the video below, Cody and Molly apply expert musicianship to stuff like "Folded Out" and other cuts on Kept. The title cut is jaunty and the spry "Wreaths Rakes" plots a course somewhere between early James and Michael Hedges. "Another November" nods in the direction of pioneers like Jane Siberry even as the plucked guitar figures dance under the vocals. If "Waves" brings to mind something jazzy -- Tuck and Patti anyone? -- then "Wheel" is a tiny bit more contemplative.

Kept by Stolen Jars isn't going to change the world of rock with its force and fury but...that's ok, isn't it? In the right moment, at the right hour, this positively charming music will fill you up with a lot of warmth. And even I'm not too churlish to admit that that's a nice proposition.

Follow Stolen Jars on official Facebook page. Kept is out in a few days.

The New Slim Twig Record Is Here So Dig It!

This cat is an odd one to describe. His work is an even odder proposition.

Thank You For Stickin' With Twig, out now on DFA, is the latest from Slim Twig. His last album, 2014's pretty darn good A Hound At The Hem, was decidedly more lyrical and melodic in spots. If that one owed a huge debt to Tom Waits, this one owes a pay-out to the late Frank Tovey and his Fad Gadget.

Of course there are pleasant moments here, like on "Textiles on Mainstreet" which careens like a stoned Van Dyke Parks down a darkened alley, or the Air-like "She Stickin' With Twig", but the album is largely a bit denser one than the last one. Cuts like "Fadeout Killer" marry the hooks of both Waits and Dr. John with something that sounds like a Captain Beefheart rough track playing underneath, while the awesome "Live In Live On Your Era" offers up a sort of techno-crunch in line with Sparks and Suede, in some weird way. "Trip Thru Bells" unleashes some power-chords in search of some Tolkien lyrics to make this a near Zep stomper. That delicate balance between rock and something else -- electronica? -- is what makes this album a compelling listen overall. Thank You For Stickin' With Twig is bold and a bit crazy but it's also one of the most pleasantly surprising records of this summer.

Thank You For Stickin' With Twig is out now via DFA. Follow Slim Twig via his blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Past And You: Stream Sublime New Expert Alterations Single Here Ahead Of D.C. Gig On Wednesday Night!

This band just keeps getting better and better. Expert Alterations, from Baltimore, previously wowed with a great EP on Slumberland Records. They are now set to drop a new full-length album on Kanine Records in a few months and the first taste -- "The Past and You" -- is here to be savored and enjoyed. The cut, like the rest of the upcoming record, was mixed by Archie Moore, whiz kid from Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, and the sound mixing on Salad Days (2014). The instruments sound organic and expertly separated here. And, if that wasn't enough to get some music geek love going for this track, the tune is a big one.

This is just a superb example of how to do indiepop. That needs to be said 'cause so many have failed at trying to do exactly what Expert Alterations are doing here with so little apparent heavy lifting.

Follow Expert Alterations on their official Facebook page. You Can't Always Be Liked will be out in a few months on Kanine Records.

Expert Alterations play D.C.'s Black Cat tomorrow night with the also excellent Slumberland Records band Literature.

[Photo: Megan Lloyd]

A Quick Review Of The Rats On Rafts Racket

On their new album, Rats on Rafts make an enormous racket. Seemingly riding a trend lately of bands pushing things up into the high end -- see White Reaper for reference as well -- the boys in this Dutch band ride the sort of riffs not heard since Porcupine by Echo and the Bunnymen a few decades back. The epic "Sleep Little Child" unfurls like the Stone Roses in spots, only without the beats, and "Powder Monkey" clatters like a bunch of naff garage rockers practicing, stewed to the gills.

At their best, Rats on Rafts channel bands as diverse as early Spiritualized and late period Primal Scream in the service of "Zebradelic" and other propoulsive rockers. At their worst, they are still more interesting than a ton of bands I've sampled this year.

Tape Hiss by Rats on Rafts is out now via Fire Records. Follow the band on their official Facebook page or via RatsOnRafts.com.