Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chasing The Sun With Helvetia: A Quick Review Of The New EP From Jason Albertini (Built To Spill) And Crew

Jason Albertini was in both Duster and Built to Spill. The sound of those bands has informed that of his own Helvetia, who are due to release a new EP called Sun Chasers next week.

The title cut bursts forth with a real acid rock vibe, while the more languid "She Crashed" unfurls like an early Built to Spill track mixed with an early Dinosaur Jr. one. If that comparison suggests that Helvetia are in favor of loose, guitar-based slack anthems, then so be it. This is, after all, very good stuff, the musicians cultivating the same sort of feeling that one found on so many American indie records in the Nineties. "Cross Bone Pile" works up a sort of precise post-rock rhythm that recalls both Jawbox and Polvo a tiny bit, while EP closer "Yes Yes" channels early Grandaddy with a dash of mid-period Pavement in the service of a really excellent down-tempo number.

Sun Chasers by Helvetia is sure to please other fans of Built to Spill and not just 'cause Jason Albertini is in the current line-up of the band. Helvetia offer up a similar blend of slacker rock (for lack of a better term) and inventive indie-pop that favorably stands next to the work of all those bands I name-checked above.

More details on Helvetia via the band's official website, or on the band's official Facebook page. Sun Chasers will be out next week and you can get more details via the Joyful Noise label, or on the band's Bandcamp page.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Melody Says: A Few Words About The Superb Universal High From Childhood

Taking a chance and changing involves risk, you know? And for a band, it involves a whole lot of risk, especially if said band is a critically-acclaimed outfit crafting their much-anticipated second album. And yet, when a chance pays off, all those risks were worth the taking.

Happily, all the chances Childhood took on the path to second album, Universal High, were worth it. The new album, out Friday via Marathon Artists, is, admittedly, a bit of a stylistic shift into new territory but the material is so wonderfully melodic and -- to use an overused word -- "soulful" that only the most churlish of fans could fault Ben Romans-Hopcraft and the rest of the band for taking the big risks that have been taken here.

As soon as the record starts, with the smooth Brothers Johnson-like Seventies soul-pop of "A.M.D.", a fan could be forgiven for being surprised by the shift from, say, "Solemn Skies" on 2014 debut LP Lacuna to this but, really, the progression feels entirely natural, with the band laying down a supple groove as Ben Romans-Hopcraft coos like Prince on this and other cuts here. The buoyant first single "Californian Light" positively bounces out of the speakers before the sublime "Cameo" makes its appearance. Ben drops into the track, near spoken word-style, before the big chorus bursts forth, sonic sunshine out of your speakers. The effect is a transcendent one and it's one of those moments that feels entirely familiar, a welcomed holdover from the first era of this band's career when big-with-a-capital-"B"-moments graced early singles like "Haltija" and "Pinballs", early bits of 21st century indie-pop that got this lot briefly labelled a bunch of proto-shoegazers.

Of course, there are loads of more conventional pleasures on Universal High -- the fuzzy "Melody Says" and the roughly anthemic "Too Old For My Tears" -- but it is the future soul of stuff like the title track here that thoroughly captivates, the effect on this one a stunning and breathtaking one that reminded me what it was like hearing "Blue Velvet" for the first time back in 2012. Still, for every similar big moment in something like "Don't Have Me Back", there are more subtle charms to be found throughout Universal High -- the nods to the futuristic soul of A.R. Kane I can hear in "Understanding", the Serge Gainsbourg-covers-Barry White groove of "Nothing Ever Seems Right" -- and those charms seem very distinct from what the band offered some 4 or 5 years ago on their early singles. And yet, what captivates here as "new" for this band still sounds like evidence of the altogether-natural progression this band needed to make because if album closer "Monitor", for example, echoes about a half-dozen acts (Hall and Oates, O.M.D., Japan, The Associates, Donna Summer, Pulp), it echoes them in a way that doesn't feel like a band trying on a bunch of new hats for the heck of it. What we can hear is something organic, something true, and -- dare I say it again? -- soulful. And it's soulful in the way that pop music was in the era when Prince could pull off something like "Pop Life", or even earlier, when Curtis Mayfield was dropping rock licks into tracks like "Future Shock", and Bowie was sampling the joys of Philly soul on "Young Americans" in the Ford years. Universal High is, similarly, a genre-blending, convention-busting, risky record, but one that will reward attentive listeners who are ready to embrace music like this.

Childhood -- Ben Romans Hopcraft, Leo Dobsen, Jonny Williams, Max Fantin, and Thomas Fiquet -- are to be commended for taking so many chances here. And they're to be praised for pulling off so many so well. The whole "difficult second album" trope is famous for a reason and that reason is that bands have been too ambitious, too soon. Wisely, the fellows in Childhood keep things grounded, no one getting any idea that they needed to re-invent things here. And yet, they have re-invented something. For every fan that the band loses because nothing on Universal High sounds just like "Blue Velvet", they'll gain another 5 because of the fresh currency of what's here. The sound is the foundation of a new sub-genre, something that blends Seventies soul with Eighties New Wave via an approach from the world of modern indie. Universal High is flat-out superb, and this wildly tuneful and wonderfully lush record is an easy contender for one of the best releases of 2017, for sure.

Universal High is out on Friday via Marathon Artists. More details on Childhood via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: Joyce Ng]

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stop And Smell The Roses: A Look At The New Television Personalities Tribute Album From The Beautiful Music Featuring Dot Dash, Skytone, Robert Scott Of The Bats, And More

If you enjoyed the recent Television Personalities reissues from Fire Records, reviewed by me here, I think it's safe to say that you're going to love the new Television Personalities tribute album from Called Holding Hands Under A Cloudless Sky - A Tribute To The Television Personalities: Vol. 4, the set features a whole lot of great contemporary indie bands covering the songs of Dan Treacy and Television Personalities.

I suppose the first note of significance here is that this set contains a cover song from Dot Dash. The D.C.-area outfit, opening for Ultimate Painting this Wednesday at DC9, is notoriously reluctant about recording cover versions but here they turn in a spry and lilting run at "Jackanory Stories", from And Don't The Kids Just Love It. It is one of the clear highlights here on Holding Hands Under A Cloudless Sky - A Tribute To The Television Personalities: Vol. 4. Another is the Nuggets-y take on "Look Back In Anger" turned in by Spain's The Yellow Melodies, all big hooks and New Wave-style keyboards. Elsewhere, Robert Scott of The Bats offers up a gentle rendering of "Stop And Smell The Roses" from The Painted Word, as does Japan's The Penelopes who make the song a near VU-style drone. The Milestone Band, featuring members of Sarah Records mainstays The Sweetest Ache, turn in a stab at "Honey For The Bears" that bristles with pure fuzzy-pop delight, the original TVP standard here envisioned as an early Teenage Fanclub number. Skytone take a real rarity, "The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming", and turn it into a truly sublime thing, perfect harmonies and simple chords on an acoustic guitar hitting a near Gallagher Brothers-like level of directness. I live only 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C., and yet somehow I've never heard of The Dupont Circles but I am on the lookout now thanks to their gnarly cover of "How I Learned To Love The Bomb" here, all punk-y attitude and bad intent, while London band Chester also bring a bit of the old punk-pop to "Silly Girl", the original a standout on And Don't The Kids Just Love It. Also worth mentioning is "You Are Special And You Always Will Be" from New Zealand band The Puddle, who here render the Closer To God track in the manner of a Robert Forster-sung tune from mid-period in The Go-Betweens' back-catalog, Treacy's songwriting chops here given special attention.

Full of lots of great music besides the tunes I've mentioned, Holding Hands Under A Cloudless Sky - A Tribute To The Television Personalities: Vol. 4 will be out soon via TheBeautifulMusic. Be sure to keep your eye on the label's website for more details. And if you are one of the first 100 to order the album, you'll get a bonus disc!

[Photos: Dot Dash photo by me; album cover courtesy Wally Salem]

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What The World Is Waiting For: My Look At The Mammoth New Manchester Box-Set From Cherry Red Records

I suppose what first amazes is the sheer variety of music here. Despite my pics in this review, Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993, out tomorrow on Cherry Red Records, is not a box-set of just the usual suspects in the story of the city's musical past. This is not just 7 (!) CDs' worth of The Fall, The Stone Roses, New Order, and so on. What it is is perhaps the most comprehensive look yet at this town's rich legacy, a legacy that continues to this day, of course.

Now, despite the nearly 10 hours of music here, and despite the generous 7 discs, and the enormous booklet and lengthy essays, someone's gonna complain about the omission of The Smiths. And while that band's music is not here for what are presumably rights issues, Morrissey is here along with every other Manc act you could possibly think of. The set is, to put it simply, an amazing thing for anyone who's been a fan of punk, post-punk, New Wave, baggy, acid house, or Britpop in the 16 years covered here.

It's time to dive in so let's look at each disc a bit as I attempt to control my raving about this collection.

Disc 1 of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 wisely starts a bit earlier than Joy Division (pictured above). What's here to kick things off is "Breakdown (demo)" by The Buzzcocks, DeVoto-fronted and perfect in its economic attack. Setting a pattern that will spread over 7 discs, the set uses a big name to start off each disc to kind of give you what you expect before showering you with some obscure riches. Highlights here next to Joy Division and Magazine cuts, are the essential "Cranked Up Really High" by Slaughter and the Dogs and the near-pub rock of The Distractions whose "Maybe It's Love" sounds like a real classic. Elsewhere, a rarity from Jilted John livens things up before stunners from The Nosebleeds and The Smirks burn up the speakers. A final revelation on this one is "The Kill" by Spherical Objects, all Joy Division-y angst mixed with a Magazine-style sense of paranoia.

"Rowche Rumble" rudely kicks off Disc 2 and it's further proof of the unique and enduring charms of The Fall (pictured below). Also here are fine tracks from The Chameleons ("In Shreds"), The Blue Orchids ("The Flood"), The Durutti Column ("Lips That Would Kiss"), and A Certain Ratio (the bouncy-and-bright "The Fox"). Also here are more obscure numbers like the sleek New Wave of "My Cherry Is Sherry" by Ludus, the clattering raga-rock of "Does It Matter Irene" by Mothmen, and the absolutely wonderful "Yesterday's Love" from Any Trouble, Clive Gregson's band that ended up signed to Stiff Records.

Disc 3 sees an awareness of Manchester's importance seep through the material from Graham Fellows' "Love at the Hacienda" to disc-opener and dancefloor-filler "Temptation" from New Order. It is here that one can hear the impact of Factory Records and the beginnings of what we can see now was the Manchester sound coming into its own. So much of Disc 3 is significant, from the shiny electro-pop of "Looking From a Hilltop" from Section 25, to "All At Once" by Stockholm Monsters, all early New Order rhythms dressed up as a happy pop tune. Elsewhere, there's the lo-fi ramblings of "Working And Shopping" by Tools You Can Trust and the noisy and direct "Kitchen Sink Drama" by the criminally underrated A Witness. Since so much of what's on Disc 3 is important (and enjoyable), it seems fair to say that this disc stands as one of the most solid parts of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993.

The first pleasant surprise on Disc 4 is the appearance of rare, early James track "Chain Mail", a number that reminds a listener to include this lot in with the list of the big names in Manchester rock. A very early Inspiral Caprets track ("Garage Full of Flowers") foreshadows the Manchester wave that would sweep UK indie in the early Nineties even if this cut is more Nuggets-era noodling than anything else, while "Whistling In The Dark" recalls the band, Easterhouse, that I think some people -- me, at least -- once called the Commie U2, big hooks and big ideas still bristling with life 3 decades or so later. Also anchoring Disc 4 and providing a sense of time and place are a few numbers from C86-mainstays Big Flame and The Bodines, reminders of the pure joys of following Manchester indie in the tail-end of the years dominated by The Smiths.

If The Smiths are not here at least Morrissey, pictured above, is. His "The Last Of The Famous International Playboys" anchors Disc 5 of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993. Similarly Bradford's fey "Skin Storm" reminds one of what Morrissey's stamp of approval could do back then for a new band. Elsewhere, Chameleons spin-off The Sun and The Moon deliver "C'est La Vie", a slice of superb alt-rock that is, like the band's one album, smart and complex music that deserves a retrospective all its own, while "Voodoo Ray" by A Guy Called Gerald had to be here, all odd beats and warped rhythms offering up one of the seminal numbers of the acid house era. "24 Hour Party People" by Happy Mondays (pictured below) takes its place here as a sort of new standard of the age. The band was, like a few in this era and in this city, attempting to invent a new music, one that would be perched between indie rock and dance music.

Disc 6 wisely uses a flip-side from The Stone Roses (pictured up top) to make a case for the band's greatness and importance to the city's legacy, the shuffling, lopsided rhythm of the tune prefiguring so very much of what was to come out of this town in the early Nineties. Similarly, a few numbers from that era ("Box Set Go" by The High, "Big (edit)" by New Fast Automatic Daffodils) sound remarkably good still, while a few, namely "Shall We Take a Trip" by Northside, sound hopeless prisoners of the past. Still, that aside, lots of Disc 6 is fantastic, from New Order spin-offs (Revenge, whose demo of "7 Reasons" juts up nicely against early Electronic single "Getting Away With It"), to surprisingly strong guitar-based indie numbers from The Train Set ("Hold On"), The Mock Turtles ("And Then She Smiles"), and The Cygnet Ring (the excellent "18 Daze").

The final disc of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 necessarily includes Oasis (pictured above) whose career changed the course of British pop and inspired a whole new generation of bands from the city. Naturally, the set ends with them, the demo of "Columbia" from 1993 signaling a sea-change in popular music in Manchester and England, while other numbers from Sub Sub (the pre-Doves lot's trippy "Space Face") and 808 State (the essential "Cubik") simultaneously indicate a temporary lull in guitar-rock as dance-y stuff was taking over, at least for a few years before the Gallaghers would hit it big. Admirably, this collection finds room for the non-rock numbers from the era, with fine tracks from Intastella, Lionrock, The Chemical Brothers, and Hypnotone indicating another legacy of Manchester. Still, it's the numbers here that blend the dance elements with the rock ones that succeed the most ("Sproston Green" by The Charlatans, the heavy-beating "Sons Of The Stage" by World Of Twist).

Shockingly comprehensive, Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 is an amazing piece of work. These 7 discs give a crash course into why "They're from Manchester" was a phrase that one could use for decades to convince someone to listen to a new band, or an obscure track. That notification that a group was from this city was usually enough to get one's attention, and here are dozens and dozens of reasons why. The folks at Cherry Red Records have performed a Herculean task here but they've somehow provided just enough music from Manchester's history, post-the first wave of punk and pre-Britpop, to offer up a near-encyclopedic musical portrait of the city, its people, styles, fads, and trends. Genre-hopping and somehow entirely cohesive, Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 presents a musical compilation that flows effortlessly, never once sounding forced in its leaps across styles. The peaks, valleys, and odd detours in that the path from early Buzzcocks to early Oasis is a fascinating journey and any listener with even a marginal interest in any of the bands here, or the city itself, would be wise to get this as soon as possible.

Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 is out tomorrow via Cherry Red Records.

[Photos: Mostly from Pinterest, credit to original photographers]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

We Need To Talk About Some Basics: A Quick Reminder That The Numbers Station East Coast Tour Starts Tomorrow

A few months ago I posted about the new EP from the relatively-new D.C. band Numbers Station. The members of the trio are bassist Michael Honch (ex-Dischord band Alarms And Controls), bassist Mike Markarian (ex-Oswego), and drummer Stefan Bauschmid (from Garland Of Hours). And I'm here now to tell you about the band's first tour that kicks off tomorrow in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Boston-area band Ghosts Of Sailors At Sea. The tour will, of course, have a D.C.-area stop and that's gonna happen Sunday at Galaxy Hut in Arlington, Virginia. And the other dates featuring the 2 excellent acts are listed in the poster below.

The 4-Song EP from Numbers Station is out now via the link below, and it's a release that I reviewed here. It's a bold EP from a trio of expert players who together manage to make serious music without any sense of pretension. I'm sure that the band will be performing more tracks than the ones on this fine EP on this tour, and Sunday at Galaxy Hut. More details on the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook photo]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We Know So: A Few Words About The New Dasher Album

There is something primal and unhinged about this music. Of the many new album releases this week, Sodium by Dasher, out Friday on Jagjaguwar, is perhaps the most challenging while being the most rewarding. Brutal and pummeling, the tunes of Dasher on this, the band's debut LP, are dangerously effective.

Opener "We Know So" sees leader Kylee Kimbrough brutalize both the drum-kit and her windpipes. The song positively roars, a deafening echo of both early Stooges and early harDCore, think Iggy strutting around as frontman of Void and you'll get an idea of what's being unleashed here. If "Resume" continues that whole hardcore vibe, the more expansive "Teeth" moves in other directions, part stoner rock and park No New York, loose waves of twangy guitar finding spaces within the still-punishing drum hits. The excellent title cut continues in a similar vein while the bristling-and-brief "Go Rambo" races past with a near-metal-like sense of fury on the instruments. At their best, like on the Big Black-styled "Slugg", or the Live Skull-like "No Guilt", Dasher manage to channel a whole lot of diverse influences in the process of refining their own brand of brutalist rock. Uncompromising and direct, the tunes on Sodium ooze a malevolent rage that feels wholly natural, like the dark undercurrents that ran through early Black Flag recordings, or the rhythmic unease that permeated Fun House. And, to their credit, Dasher manage to make this stuff relatively nuanced throughout (see closer "Get So Low" with its instrumental flourishes underneath Kimbrough's scorching vocals and harsh-but-precise kit-work).

Full of stunning displays of musical force, Sodium by Dasher is a remarkable record that straddles about a half-dozen different sub-genres with deadly ease. Fans of bands with punch, whose music makes you actually feel alive as a human being, should immediately seek this out. An invigorating blast, Sodium is out on Friday via Jagjaguwar. More details on Dasher via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Anna Powell Teeter]

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pulling All The Facts Together: A Few Words About The Fine New Album From The Stevens

From Melbourne, The Stevens sound a whole lot like American band Pavement. I suppose they'd appreciate that comment. They also sound a lot like the best bands from New Zealand circa 1987. I think they'd understand that that was a compliment too. Their new record, the simply-titled Good, is out on Friday via Chapter Music. It is a fine record that should please fans of angular indie-pop.

The Stevens is guitarists Alex Macfarlane (Twerps, Tyrannamen) and Travis MacDonald, with bassist Gus Lord (Twerps, Boomgates, Tyrannamen), and drummer Matt Harkin. Their stuff, like marvelous lead track "Chancer", is simple and uncomplicated. It is also, however, bright pop that rides the sort of riffs that bands like Twin Peaks and Parquet Courts routinely crave here in the States. If "Cruiser" suggests Pavement by way of Columbus, Ohio's fine Connections, then the more laconic "Pulling All The Facts Together" chimes like an old Clean track, or a slower Superchunk number from the mid-Nineties. Elsewhere, the fine "My New Hideout" refines a sense of post-punk pop that bears worthy comparisons to recent numbers from EZTV, while the lilting "Keep Me Occupied" is poised somewhere between Luna and Talking Heads, a duel between long guitar-lines and jittery, nervous rhythms. The press material for this group mentioned that they opened for R. Stevie Moore and one can certainly hear the influence of that guy in something like "Good Co.", while the supple "Furnace Town" nods in the direction of Television and The Feelies with its sharp hooks. At their very best, like on the fuzzy closer "Thirsty Eye", The Stevens make all of this look and sound effortlessly easy, the Flying Nun-style tune-age rubbing up against NYC post-punk for a marvelous effect.

Certainly not the kind of album that is going to change the world, nor the sort of band that would dream of attempting that, The Stevens, instead, have decided that they were going to synthesize the high points of all your favorite records and crank out something simultaneously familiar and fresh. Good is 18 songs of sharp, and sharply-observed, indie-pop that charmed me instantly.

Follow The Stevens via the band's official Facebook page. More details on Good via Chapter Music.

[Photo: Tahlia Palmer]

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Glittering Prizes: My Look At A Bunch Of Television Personalities Albums From Fire Records

The folks at Fire Records are doing listeners of good music a remarkable favor this week by reissuing the first 4 albums from Television Personalities. The band's influence has only grown in recent decades and their early releases were a direct inspiration on Alan McGee and others. Now, all that being said, the music stands on its own and remains remarkably listenable, full of wit and sharply-observed takes on Sixties psych-rock, all dressed up in early Eighties U.K. post-punk trappings.

The first album from Television Personalities was And Don't The Kids Just Love It. Released in 1981, the record's cover shot of Patrick McNee from TV's "The Avengers" and Twiggy made this lot's retro aspirations clear, as did a lovely track called "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives", all English whimsy done right, with tongue only slightly in cheek. Elsewhere, "Diary Of A Young Man" sounds like something the Small Faces would have tossed off as a B-Side, all mournful melodies drenched in rainy London attitude, while "Jackanory Stories" bounces along in the manner of something from The Who if Keith Moon had taken over the entire band. Superb and memorable, it is one of the standouts here along with the Kinks-ian riffs of "Look Back In Anger", and the poppy strumming of "The Glittering Prizes". There's no escaping the Swingin' London-vibe running through this ("World Of Pauline Lewis", "Parties In Chelsea"), but the TVPs inject these tunes with enough unique touches that to call early Television Personalities a "revival act" wouldn't be fair at all.

Decidedly more complicated, the band's second album, Mummy, Your Not Watching Me (1982), is a harder record to entirely embrace. There are moments here (the title cut, "Brian's Magic Car") that succeed admirably in steering the band in a decidedly more psychedelic direction, but some of this ("Where The Rainbow Ends") sacrifices a catchy hook for an embrace of the trappings of that earlier era. Still, there are some fantastic numbers here, notably The Creation-like "Painting By Numbers", and the expansive "If I Could Write Poetry", a track on which the band seems to have successfully achieved the very odd (for its era, at least) blend of Sixties psychedelia and post-New Wave pop they were aiming for all along. There are moments here where the Television Personalities very nearly get into territory that was once occupied by The Move and The Zombies but, of these 4 early albums, Mummy Your Not Watching Me seems the one with the thinnest pleasures.

Album 3 from Television Personalities, the wonderfully-titled They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles, is also from 1982 and it's a good deal more fun than its predecessor. "David Hockney's Diary", a title that's a variation on an earlier number, is here a spry Beat Era rave-up in the manner of early Who, while the superb "In A Perfumed Garden" is a nimble, playful run at the sort of naff-psychedelia perfected by The Move and early Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, "The Boy In The Paisley Shirt" makes clear the band's Sixties fix, in case you couldn't tell from the 2 covers of tracks from The Creation also on offer here ("Painter Man" and "Makin' Time"). This whole, fine record is so retro but it's from an age when the Paisley Underground was barely underway in the USA and in England, music fans with any taste at all were wrapped up in very early singles from The Smiths, or neo-goth stuff from The Cure, as anything like this was rarely on offer. They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles is a blast, a whole lot of fun, and a classic unlike so much of what this era had to offer.

From 1984, The Painted Word is the fourth album from Television Personalities and also a sort of reunion record seeing as how the band had broken up before this only to re-form. Things here are somehow harder, and even a gentle track, like the VU-aping "Stop And Smell The Roses", has more rough edges. If things are tougher here, the sentiments are not; "Someone To Share My Life With" is lovely even as the music prefigures, in a simple way, the kind of thing we'd hear later in countless Creation Records bands just a year or so after the release of this album. Elsewhere, the trippy "Paradise Estate" blends the sort of social commentary Paul Weller had already mastered in The Jam with a more decidedly psych instrumental approach, while album closer "Back To Vietnam" is an admirable attempt to do something serious even if it's unlike so many of the other Television Personalities tracks that I love.

Absolutely essential, the first 4 albums from Television Personalities occupy an interesting place in British alt-rock history sandwiched as they are between the first waves of punk and New Wave and the C86 stuff. Deliriously beholden to a vision of the Swingin' Sixties that is as (possibly) divorced from reality as was Syd's brain, Dan Treacy's talent was at crafting material that was wholly retro and yet entirely original in approach. Like Alan McGee a few years later, Treacy somehow paid his dues to his inspiration points without sounding entirely like them. That quality, and that talent of Treacy's, is why these records are still so listenable 30+ years later. Fans of the genuine article -- meaning fans of The Move, The Creation, and The Kinks, for example -- should be able to enjoy any of these cuts as much as fans of Eighties British indie will. Supremely melodic, full of lyrical invention, and joyously retro in outlook, these 4 records -- And Don't The Kids Just Love It (1981), Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982), They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982), and The Painted Word (1984) -- remain touchstones of the British psychedelic revival, the very same revival that would inspire Creation Records groups like Primal Scream, Biff Bang Pow!, and countless others later. They are also 4 records that stand out as rarities in a rather drab period of British indie, when New Wave bands were ruling the airwaves and fans of the Nuggets era had little to love. Television Personalities created some of the sharpest pop this side of The Move and the Kinks. Grab these and hear why I say that.

And Don't The Kids Just Love It (1981), Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982), They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982), and The Painted Word (1984) are all out on Friday via Fire Records.

[Photos: Fire Records]

Overboard: A Quick Review Of The Fine New Album From Lo Tom (David Bazan)

The new album from Lo Tom is surely going to be one of the highlights in an impressive week for new music releases. That this is the first release from a new indie super-group means that this record carries the need for an explanation with it. The band is David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Trey Many (Velour 100, Starflyer 59), TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion, The Soft Drugs), and Jason Martin (Starflyer 59). They have been making music since they were kids, to paraphrase the press release, and there is indeed a nice quality to this rather simple music here that suggests the sort of unity of purpose that so much of today's indie lacks.

There are 8 songs here and the album wisely gets in and gets out, as it were. A number like "Another Mistake" is a surging rocker of a sort that succeeds thanks to Bazan's impassioned vocals and Trey Many's pounding on the drum-kit. If "Find The Shrine" opens nearly like an old Pearl Jam cut, it's still more or less Bazan's show here and not some kind of grunge revival. The track is simultaneously "radio-friendly" and largely more genuine in tone than 90% of what you're going to hear on AOR stations, you know? Likewise, "Bad Luck Charm" is a Tom Waits-style downer dressed up in rawk trappings, Bazan's voice a bit rough here. Elsewhere, the faster "Covered Wagon" very nearly takes this record in a whole other direction in terms of style, while the absolutely superb "Overboard" blends a rough melodicism with some clean guitar hooks and lines from Martin and Walsh, the interplay with Bazan's bass and low voice a compelling and reassuring one. Album closer "Lower Down" is mournful but tuneful, riffs slowly shoving each other into some shadowy places.

Lo Tom is the sort of project that is going to generate a lot of attention given the past efforts of these 4 players. It should also get a lot of notice for the effective simplicity of the album on offer here. Lo Tom is fine, human music that seems to be doing what so many other acts have tried to do but with more success. Bazan, Many, Martin, and Walsh have stripped things back without turning the whole endeavor into a neo-folk project. The effect then is more like an indie record that sounds like a classic Neil Young album. That's a weak comparison but trying to pin Lo Tom down to some indie sub-genre is a largely futile exercise. What's here has elements of the acts that the players came from, for sure, but it's also simple and direct music that stands on its own without a lot of baggage. In this day and age, un-ironic indie, the kind that isn't patting itself on the back for a moment or two of juvenile cleverness, is a thing to be appreciated immensely.

Lo Tom by Lo Tom is out on Friday via Barsuk Records. More details on Lo Tom can be found on the band's official Facebook page, or on the band's official website.

[Photo: Barsuk Records]

Friday, July 7, 2017

My Life Is Right: A Look At The New Roots Of Big Star Compilation From Omnivore Recordings

A lot of Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star, out today via Omnivore Recordings, is stuff that you'll only play once. A lot of this is purely for the Big Star anoraks out there, those who hang feverishly on every scrap that Bell, Stephens, or Chilton touched. But, and this is significant, a lot of this places the music of early Big Star, especially the contributions of Chris Bell, into a context and that is enormously important.

For a lot of people of my age bracket, coming to Big Star was a sort of rite of passage in the Eighties. R.E.M. name-checked them, and The Replacements, of course, sang about them. And that meant that us kids gorging on the fruits of college rock's fertile years felt an obligation to seek out Big Star stuff. But we were listening to these albums almost in a vacuum. The crucial achievement of the fine Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star compilation is the providing of a sense of place, era, and time. We can hear here, the hard rock aspirations of Chris Bell and the guys in The Wallabys ("Feeling High"), or the psychedlic noodlings of a bunch of kids in Memphis in a band called Icewater who wanted to be the late-period Beatles ("Sunshine").

Of course, the majority of this stuff here on Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star has a Chris Bell connection so there's another angle here and that is a furtherance of the appreciation of the genius of the late Big Star member. An early version of "My Life Is Right" by Chris Bell in a band called Rock City is a good deal removed from what Big Star's version would sound like but it's still very Big Star-like and that is a blast to hear for any music fan. Elsewhere, the elegiac "The Wind Will Cry For Me" doesn't feature Chris Bell but a pre-Big Star Jody Stephens. It is a satisfying bit of chamber rock that places that Memphis act at least somewhere in the neighborhood of The Left Banke or The Cyrkle or other American groups of the same era. Still, it's the impact of Bell that we're looking for here and tracks like "Sunshine" by Icewater and "Shine On Me" by Rock City, while not written by Chris Bell, feel like Chris Bell tunes, and benefit so much from his presence that even a casual fan of Chris Bell -- and how could anyone be a "casual" fan of him, anyway? -- will find an enormous amount to love here, from the harder edges of "Think It's Time To Say Goodbye" by Rock City to the Badfinger-like "I Lost A Love" also by Rock City.

A portrait of a time and place, and a sort of who's who of those lurking around Ardent Studios in Memphis prior to the birth of Big Star, Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star is fascinating and surprisingly listenable. Spin this next to the fairly-recent Big Star compilation from Concord Music and you can almost hear all the non-Chilton bits take shape here in this compilation. Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star is a superbly-realized and compiled collection that adds the final, missing piece to the puzzle of Big Star. Even casual fans should be rejoicing over this one, and those who are already firm fans of Chris Bell will find lots to embrace here. The appreciation of his genius, already considerable, has been furthered by this set.

Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star is out today via Omnivore Recordings.

[Photo: Ardent Studios / Omnivore Recordings]