Tuesday, February 19, 2019

It's Here: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Half Japanese

The music of Half Japanese remains the sort of thing that defies any current trends. These tunes are oddly timeless, ridiculously large things that seem simultaneously frivolous and fraught with meaning. The band's newest album, Invincible, drops on Friday on Fire Records, and it's a special record.

Long-time fans of Jad Fair and Half Japanese will find lots to love here just by scanning the song titles. And, trust me, "Return of the Vampire" and "The Puppet People" more than live up to their titles when heard. Elsewhere, "It's Here" is a boisterous racket, while the lovely "Swept Away" suggests the generosity of spirit Jad Fair has always shown as a performer and song-writer. "All at Once" marries a faint Mod-stomp to one of the most direct compositions here, while the elegant "Forever in My Heart" unfolds with a deliberateness that adds momentum to the music under the vocals. The players here -- Jad Fair, John Sluggett, Gilles-Vincent Rieder, Jason Willett, and Mick Hobbs -- attack these tunes with a nice blend of indie-pop chops and a near-improvisational flair.

And while so much of Invincible is likely to feel familiar to long-time fans of Jad Fair, there's nothing here that feels lazy. If anything, Jad sounds invigorated throughout, or lost in the joy that the lyrics are trying to convey. There's an insistence within the grooves on stuff like the twang-y "Love Explosion" that is infectious, even as the title cut and "Indestructible" modulate the pace a bit. Still, Invincible remains an ebullient record, and the sort of thing that is easy to love, for new fans of Jad and old.

Invincible by Half Japanese is out on Friday via Fire Records.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture from the label]

Monday, February 18, 2019

Under The Sun: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Spellling

The new album from Spellling, Mazy Fly, out on Friday via Sacred Bones Records, is the sort of release that straddles so many genres with ease that it's darn near impossible to describe the music in its grooves in words. An elegant, at times lyrical record, this second album from Chrystia Cabral is really a special thing in a season ripe with good new releases.

While a tune like "Melted Wings" and its washes of keyboards bear the faintest of traces of earlier pioneers like Ryuichi Sakamoto, the strangely-catchy "Under The Sun" echoes Fad Gadget and Berlin, Spellling's breathy vocals here the sound of a comedown after a night out. Elsewhere, "Dirty Desert Dreams" is very nearly a club tune, while the stately "Secret Thread" sounds a bit like some mix of Donna Summer and early Gary Numan, electronic music that's decidedly human and warm. Spellling makes this all sound remarkably easy, with the bits and pieces of other forms stirred together naturally here.

There are things here on Mazy Fly that give some of this a retro vibe, but most of Mazy Fly feels like those early records from Broadcast or Goldfrapp, where a listener felt like something familiar was being heard, even as there was so much more there that was new and unearthly. The sound of dreams and wishes, the frequently lush Mazy Fly is the sort of record one can get deliriously lost in, and it's a record that deserves a lot of attention.

Mazy Fly is out on Friday via Sacred Bones Records.

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

[Photo: Catalina Xavlena]

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Black Temptation: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Flesh Eaters

It was only a few days ago that I was reviewing a new album from The Long Ryders and here I am now reviewing one from The Flesh Eaters. The Eighties-era super-group is back, with a fine new one, I Used To Be Pretty, out now on Yep Roc. And, I'm happy to report, the release is a largely scorching record from a band who always took a scorched earth-approach to their brand of shockabilly.

The Flesh Eaters -- Chris D., Dave Alvin and Bill Batemen of The Blasters on guitar and drums, respectively, John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake of X on bass and percussion, respectively, and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and other bands on sax -- crank through this material with an admirable sense of conviction. Covers of "She's Like Heroin To Me" by The Gun Club and "The Green Manalishi" by Fleetwood Mac (and Judas Priest) are the highlights here on I Used To Be Pretty with these cats sounding nearly like they did some three decades ago. Elsewhere, "Miss Muerte" suggests an evil Los Lobos, while the lengthy "Ghost Cave Lament" nods in the same dark direction that early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds records did. While The Flesh Eaters imbue a lot of this with real bad intent, it's worth noting that the faster songs work better than the slow ones, at least in this reviewer's opinion. While "Black Temptation" roars, a real voice-from-the-grave-kinda thing, "My Life To Live" is more straightforward. It's a bracing bit of alt-rock, and the closest this record comes to the mainstream.

It's downright remarkable that this band can still summon up decidedly un-right sounds like this. There's a truck-load of bad vibes here, and thankfully for listeners, I Used To Be Pretty is a fairly worthy successor to earlier Flesh Eaters recordings.

I Used To Be Pretty is out now via Yep Roc.

[Photo: Frank Lee Drennen]

Saturday, February 16, 2019

On And On: A Brief Review Of The New Gladys Knight And The Pips Anthology From Cherry Red Records

It always annoys me when Gladys Knight and The Pips get labelled a Motown band. While, yes, the band did have a long, early run on that seminal label, they were far more successful later, on labels like Buddah and Columbia. Thankfully, the fine folks at Cherry Red Records have offered up a refresher in On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, a new 2-CD set that collects all the best singles from the group from those eras.

The songs that made me love this band as a kid -- "Midnight Train To Georgia", "I've Got To Use My Imagination" -- are, of course, here, on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, along with loads more from the real prime years of this group. The songs I consider some of the best Gladys Knight and The Pips tunes are here, with stuff like "Where Peaceful Waters Flow", and the aching "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me", sounding just as wonderful now as they did a few decades ago. I saw the band in Maryland when I was about 7 or 8 and they put on an amazing live show, so I'm sure I'm not the only kid who had a huge crush on Gladys Knight back then. And when one plays lots of the hits here, especially the songs for the film Claudine composed by the legendary Curis Mayfield, one marvels again at Knight's ability to interpret a song, and the four-piece's ability to take the vocal group-style of performing into more modern territory in the Seventies. Gladys Knight owns "To Be Invisible", and very nearly makes "The Makings Of You" her song, not Curtis's, and, of course "On and On" stomps, a perennial classic that doesn't get near enough attention in overviews of the era.

The second disc of On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology is devoted to the Columbia Records years, after 1978 and up to 2013. The scope is broader here and the material is, naturally, a bit more uneven. Selections like "Landlord" still swing, while "Taste Of Bitter Love" very nearly equals some of the earlier numbers from Gladys Knight and The Pips. On its own, this second disc might not stand on its own except for the most devoted of fans, but here, in the context of the more than 2.5 hours of tunes on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, it provides a nice overview of the second half of the band's career.

As anyone who watched her sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2019 knows, Gladys Knight is still a legend. And while her solo material is good, and worth seeking out, most of what you're ever going to need is here on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology. Simultaneously concise and generous, and lovingly curated, this set reaffirms yet again what an absolutely great group Gladys Knight and The Pips were, and what superb material they were given to work with in the first half of the Seventies.

On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology by Gladys Knight and The Pips is out now via Cherry Red Records.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Make It Real: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Long Ryders

I almost can't believe I typed that headline. Yeah, you didn't read that wrong. There is a new album from the classic line-up of The Long Ryders and it's here. Psychedelic Country Soul, out today in America on Omnivore Recordings, and in the U.K. via Cherry Red, is the first new long-player from these cats in more than 30 years. That it sounds like they've never been gone should be read as a huge endorsement from this long-time fan.

The fine folks at Omnivore have, of course, been doing God's work with a carefully-chosen catalog of exemplary new releases and reissue projects, while the fine folks at Cherry Red recently put out that Long Ryders box-set I raved about, so the band's in good hands on both sides of the Atlantic. And, frankly, both labels are lucky to have this record as Psychedelic Country Soul is a refreshing reminder that roots rock never really went away, and that the genre's concerns are just as important today as they were in the Reagan era.

Opener "Greenville" kicks, the sort of tune that wouldn't have sounded out of place on State Of Our Union, for instance, while the lyrical "Molly Somebody" sees The Long Ryders expertly blend twang-y swatches of music with faint hints of the sort of thing that McGuinn once got away with in The Byrds. The band -- Sid Griffin, Stephen McCarthy, Tom Stevens, and Greg Sowders -- makes this stuff sound fresh, even as they seem to be reaffirming the vitality of the kind of tunes the players once cranked out to some levels of success in the college rock era. And if something like "Make It Real" sounds a bit like The Jayhawks, an astute listener realizes that that's 'cause The Jayhawks sounded a whole lot like The Long Ryders from the get-go!

Elsewhere on Psychedelic Country Soul, "What The Eagle Sees" rockets across the sky with real intent (special thanks to producer Ed Stasium for the heavy lifting on this one and others), while a nice cover of "Walls" from Tom Petty offers up a chance for half of The Bangles to provide some lovely backing vocals. After proving how vital they remain, The Long Ryders round out Psychedelic Country Soul with the cut that gives this record its name, a number that seems to touch on each of the styles in that song's title. The longer track also provides the four-piece a chance to indulge a bit, with the instrumental passages revealing an openness that may have been lacking on some of the earlier albums. It's a great way to finish off a really refreshingly powerful record.

Psychedelic Country Soul is out today in America on Omnivore Recordings, and in the U.K. on Cherry Red.

More details on The Long Ryders via the band's official website.

[Photo: Henry Diltz]

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Old Desires: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Perfect Son (Coldair)

The new album from Perfect Son, Cast, out tomorrow on Sub Pop, is the sort of record that reveals its emotional depth through perfectly-crafted bits of somewhat-stark electro-pop. Tobiasz Biliński, formerly of Coldair, is the guy behind Perfect Son and he's mastered this sort of thing already, even as Cast finds Perfect Son making new strides in the form.

A number like "Lust", and especially "It's For Life". sees Biliński couch his warm vocals in a setting that recalls Nineties Depeche Mode, for lack of a better comparison point, even as "High Hopes" suggests something with a bit more soul. While lots of this is what I'd peg as electro-pop, Perfect Son are really creating a new spin on the formulas here, with lots of Cast pointing out a new way to blend souful vocals with icy textures. If the hooky "Old Desires" is nearly retro in its deliberateness, the quietly-cathartic "So Divine" is oddly lush. Perfect Son finds a way to imbue this rather simple stuff with a strange sort of power, such that a listener feels like something new is being heard, even as so many pieces echo the pioneers of the past.

Cast by Perfect Son is out now via Sub Pop.

More details on Perfect Son via the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Weronika Izdebska]

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Far From Home: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Ladytron

The last time I wrote about Ladytron was way back in 2011, when I reviewed Gravity The Seducer. Back then, it seemed as if the band had been away for ages when it had only been three years. This time around, it's legitimately been a long time. With Ladytron dropping on Friday, we're seeing the first new Ladytron record in more than seven years. That the band still, even after so many years, manages to churn up a magnificently-evocatve brand of electronica is something that should be praised.

Opener "Until The Fire" is all bright and shiny surfaces, while the poppy "This Island" sees the band blend their styles successfully for something that sounds a whole lot like the best material from early in the career of O.M.D. The vocals this time out are more modulated. If the icy grace of earlier releases has been tempered, Helen Marnie and Mira Arroyo have offered a more expressive set of vocal performances here on this record, with "The Animals" and "Far From Home", for instance, nearly warm. At their best here on Ladytron, the players -- Mira, Helen, Daniel Hunt, and Reuben Wu -- seem more in command of the textures, the keyboard figures more supple and inviting. "Figurine", for instance, is just this side of a Lady Gaga number, while "The Mountain" is a revelation, and one that showcases this group's knack for creating and inhabiting a sonic landscape that, while in debt to past pioneers of New Wave, remains something decidedly current.

Ladytron have on Ladytron entered the sort of territory that Gary Numan once mapped out. Much as he did on Telekon, Ladytron have found a way to meld electro-pop of the sort that feels almost robotic with something human and subtly affecting. The vocals here are the key, with Ladytron finally sounding, if not just magisterial, at least a tiny bit vulnerable.

Ladytron by Ladytron is out on Friday via Pledge Music.

More details on Ladytron via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: uncredited promotional picture]

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Never Enough: A Brief Review Of The Debut Album From Piroshka (ex-Lush, ex-Moose, ex-Modern English, ex-Elastica)

A super-group like this was never gonna please every fan of each of the members' previous bands. Whatever music ended up on the debut from Piroshka, Brickbat, out on Friday via Bella Union, was sure to disappoint someone. Whether it's a fan of Lush (guitarist and vocalist Miki Berenyi), or a fan of Moose (guitarist KJ “Moose” McKillop), or a devotee of Elastica (drummer Justin Welch), or even a fan of 4AD legends Modern English (bassist Mick Conroy), someone was going to play this and gripe. So, going in to this, from whatever angle you're approaching it, realize that it's not the second coming of any of those bands, but it is a remarkably listenable record, full of real throwback charm and a few genuinely great hooks.

From the faux-glam stomp of opener "This Must Be Bedlam" and on to chiming lead single "Everlastingly Yours", one realizes this is really Miki's show. And for those of us who loved Lush, particularly Lovelife (1996), that's great news as it almost feels like a follow-up to that final Lush LP. And, yeah, some of this, like the punchy "Never Enough", sounds a lot like Miki's old band, but maybe that's enough, especially once Berenyi's coo kicks in over Welch's pounding drums on the deliberately-propulsive "Run For Your Life", for example, and a listener thinks back to "Ladykillers" from 1996. Elsewhere, the superb "Hated By The Powers That Be" nicks the hook of "Kiss Chase" from Split (1994) in the service of one of the very brightest numbers here, with all the players sending things into overdrive, while the lighter "Village of the Damned" offers up a really lovely melodic line of the sort that one found on the more down-tempo Lush numbers.

All throughout Brickbat one hears echoes of earlier masterpieces peeking through the seams of these fairly decent numbers. If there's no "Melt With You" or "Connection" here, that's okay given how easy this record is to enjoy. Familiar in the right ways, and yet still different enough to suggest new territory found and tentatively explored, Brickbat gets a listener wanting more from this new band, and I can think of no higher praise than that. Whether this was a one-off or not, I don't know, but I really do hope that Mike Berenyi stays around because lots and lots of these songs really did the trick for me.

Brickbat is out on Friday via Bella Union.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image from Facebook]

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sentimental Mind: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Golden Daze

It's been three years since the last sublime record from L.A.'s Golden Daze. That self-titled release in 2016 had a really infectious West Coast vibe, and the band's newest record, set to drop this Friday on Autumn Tone, is similarly wonderful. Simpatico sees Ben Schwab and Jacob Loeb turn further towards the sun, the tunes here gossamer-light and simultaneously intricate contraptions. With the exception of perhaps Beach House, no one working today can pull off this sort of stuff so easily.

While lead single "Blue Bell" and (especially) "Amber" seem to owe a debt to Blue Bell Knoll-era Cocteau Twins in terms of overall effect, if not production values, the easy-to-love "Within" rides a hook that sounds a bit like that of "Rock and Roll Friend" by The Go-Betweens into territory that's closer to that of the late Ultimate Painting. The twang-y "Lynard Bassman" feels like a classic from Teenage Fanclub, while the elegant "Wayward Tide" seems closest to me to the pure bliss of the numbers from the band's last album. "Sentimental Mind" is lyrical and almost folk-y, while the breathy "Flowers" imagines re-imagines an early O.M.D. single through a SoCal sensibility.

If Ben and Jacob are more interested in texture at times than those other bands mentioned up above, that's okay considering the lush results here on Simpatico. And to say that is not to diminish what's here on this release, but, rather to acknowledge the subtle progressions abounding this time out. The tunes here on Simpatico are uniformly excellent, bits of sugar-spun chamber pop wrapped up in a package that *seems* simple, and yet which rewards attentive listeners, especially those who can hear how the band's music is evolving.

Simpatico by Golden Daze is out on Autumn Tone on Friday.

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

[Photo: Vinyl Williams]