Tuesday, August 23, 2016

As If You Need Me To Tell You How Great This Slumberland/Fortuna POP! Split Compilation Album Is?

I guarantee you that in four short months, lots and lots of music writers are going to be looking back to this release and declaring it one of the musical high points of 2016. Well, heck, I'm going to do that right now. A release split between acts from the wonderful Slumberland Records and Fortuna POP! labels, Continental Drift offers up 8 tracks from 4 of the hottest bands operating in the indie arena today. The results are like the best mix-tape you ever paid someone to make.

Collecting cuts from Philadelphia's Mercury Girls (pictured up above), Baltimore's Wildhoney, London's Tigercats, and Edinburgh's The Spook School, this mini-album is a pure blast from start to finish. The 2 Mercury Girls cuts here -- "Holly" and "Beverly" -- are deliciously shimmering bursts of fuzzed-out guitars and girl pop vocals. Think The Primitives, think Black Tambourine, think Shop Assistants. Like everything I've heard from Mercury Girls -- even their demos up on Bandcamp! -- the 2 tunes are concise reminders of all the things you like in this genre, and a significant nudging of those things into the 21st century. And, like with every bit of music this lot releases, a listener is left wondering how long the wait will be to the first full-length from Mercury Girls.

Elsewhere, Edinburgh's The Spook School share "Sometimes I Hide From Everybody", all C86 head-bobbing goodness, and the more wistful "Gone Home" which charms as a sort of blend of Belle and Sebastian and Heavenly.

Baltimore's Wildhoney seem to take more cues from the 4AD legacy than they do from any shambling C86 aesthetic, "Horror Movie" offers up pure early Cocteau Twins hooks with a trace of the superb-but-nearly-forgotten Swallow, and "T L (Reprisal)" closes out Continental Drift by treading a similar sort of territory.

And, finally, London's Tigercats bring the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-leaning "Sidney Street" and the more straightforward "Rent Control" which rides a Wannadies-style hook into indie-pop glory.

Continental Drift is a superb sampler of the young generation's take on the sort of music that shaped me in my twenties. I say that not to highlight how old I am but, rather, to draw attention to the fact that so much of this sort of music is timeless and right and wonderfully catchy. That a whole new crop of bands are updating this sort of thing for a new century makes this old indie fan very happy. Lots of these players here weren't born when C86 came out, or even when the first wave of bands in the U.K. (and significantly a whole lot of U.S. acts coalescing around the College Park, Maryland-formed Slumberland Records) were picking up guitars to produce similar music. But that's okay. The kids are alright, as they say, and every cut on Continental Drift will make you happy and have you smiling. Shouldn't all indie do that?

Continental Drift is out on Friday. Containing acts from both the Slumberland Records and Fortuna POP! labels, the best place to get it is probably via Slumberland Records if you are in the USA.

Follow Mercury Girls via the band's official Facebook page. Follow The Spook School via the band's official Facebook page. Follow Wildhoney via the band's official Facebook page. And, of course, follow Tigercats via that band's official Facebook page.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Let It Expand: My Review Of The New Sansyou Album (Plus A Chance To Get A Free Sansyou CD!)

I took the title for this post from one of the finest tracks, "Let It Expand", on the superb new Sansyou album, The Glistening One, out Friday via Moon Sounds Records. The song, like so many from this D.C.-area 3-piece, has a certain propulsive energy and, yeah, it sounds as if the tune is expanding outward. This band makes a lot of numbers like that and it's significant that this trio releases music that is usually instrumental and yet the tunes invariably have a sort of unassuming accessibility about them. For those of you who might be new to the music of Sansyou, I think that The Glistening One could be a fine introduction to the work of these musicians and an easy way to become a fan of this trio.

The band -- Matt McGarraghy and David Nicholas on guitars with Davis White on drums -- utilize "Subtle Energies" to -- quoting another song title here -- offer up that rarest of thing in the alt-rock universe: instrumental music that is entirely unpretentious yet wholly serious. Cuts like "Docking Fish" and "My Figurine" sound, in so many ways, like the sort of college rock you grew up on (The Trash Can Sinatras, R.E.M., Ride), just without vocals. The tunes are, like most of the Sansyou output, concise: ideas are offered by the 3 players, there's a certain riff-riding, and the melody is explored and things brought to a conclusion before any sort of muso wankery could even possibly happen; in the hands of 3 other people, this sort of music would lend itself to the very worst of those tendencies but, thankfully, Nicholas, McGarraghy, and White keep things in check, their sound (as always) more Durutti Column than fusion or even prog.

That said, there are some indulgences here but they are welcomed ones: "Level Flight", which in its use of treated guitars sounds like nothing so much as a cousin to the sort of music found on the classic The Moon And The Melodies (1986) release from the members of Cocteau Twins and keyboardist Harold Budd; and the title cut which very effectively juxtaposes some Vini Reilly-style guitar licks with White's near-jazzy kit work. Album closer "Field Of View" positively soars as the drums and twin guitars race over a pure indie melody that is part Marr, part Bernard Sumner. At their best, as on most of The Glistening One, Sansyou can make this kind of thing sound so easy that to write about it almost makes it far more complicated than it really is. And that's sort of why I like this band so much: their tune-age is concise, their playing masterful, and their ambitions modest yet serious. The music on The Glistening One shines and chimes in equal measure but it never overstays its welcome. Those little moments here make up, in aggregate, a fine, fine album and surely the best showcase of this band's music to date.

The Glistening One by Sansyou is out on Friday. I urge you to order it via the link below. The picture up above was taken me fairly recently at a show in Takoma Park. The artwork on the album, on the other hand, was taken by a professional: D.C.'s Nalinee Darmrong, author of that fabulous new book of photos of The Smiths that I wrote about recently.

Thanks to the band, I have a sealed copy of the CD to give away to someone in the USA. So if you would like to win a copy of The Glistening One from Sansyou, simply answer this fairly easy question and email it in to me (kenixfan [at] gmail [dot] com):

What Slumberland Records band is Davis White in?

The Glistening One by Sansyou will be out Friday via Moon Sounds Records. More details on the band's official website, or on the band's official Facebook page. Sansyou is playing a gig with Thalia Zedek (ex-Live Skull, ex-Come), and The Caribbean, at the Black Cat in D.C. on October 6.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Told Everyone: A Few Words About The New Dinosaur Jr. Record

I'm a little late to this one but, yeah, the new Dinosaur Jr. album, Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is a thing of concise, messy indie beauty. The return of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph on the Jagjaguwar release is something to be thankful for as the results here are quite splendid.

From the opening one-two punch of "Goin' Down" and "Tiny", it's apparent that the boys are in fine form this time out. These cuts, like so many here, are blistering slabs of indie energy. "I Told Everyone" offers up a sort of refined take on the early stuff that Dinosaur Jr. was cranking out some 3 decades ago, while "Love Is..." shines as a bit of Sebadoh-like bit of business, which makes perfect sense given the return of Barlow to this group. On the longer "I Walked For Miles" and "Lost For Days", Mascis unleashes more expansive guitar solos and the tunes are closer to some fine blend of the best of early Sonic Youth and peak-period Neil Young, which is to say that they sound like the classic Dinosaur Jr. you grew up with in the college rock-saturated late Eighties. Album closer "Left/Right" is a damn beautiful near-ballad that unfurls with a sort of deliberateness that nearly holds in check the fire of these players.

Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is out now via Jagjaguwar. Follow Dinosaur Jr., and get dates for their current tour, via the band's official website.

[Photo: Levi Walton]

Chasing My Tail: A Look At The Modest Miracles On The New Mild High Club Record

The new Mild High Club album, Skiptracing, out Friday via Stones Throw Records, is, I guess, largely the work of one guy despite that picture up there. The guy in question is Alexander Brettin. And he's a bit of a musical genius.

Parts of Skiptracing are modest little gems that recall things like solo Lennon cuts, Al Stewart singles, or even Alan Parsons Project album tracks ("Chasing My Tail"). If "Cary Me Back" adds some traces of The Beach Boys, or The High Llamas, to that list of worthy influences, that's fine. Brettin can make this work as well as make it look so easy. The title cut made me think of late period Steely Dan releases and yet Brettin doesn't belabor things here. This is largely tuneful, simple material that, like the best work of a similar revivalist like Jon Brion, nods in the direction of the best Seventies stuff. If "Homage" sounds a little glam-y, it also sounds a tiny bit like Nilsson. What is remarkable throughout the course of Skiptracing is how uniformly catchy and melodic this all is; Brettin (wisely) keeps things concise here and the album is over nearly as soon as it's begun.

Skiptracing is a modest success only due to the modest goals of Mild High Club. This could have easily turned into something pretentious but Brettin keeps things intimate and melodic throughout. Every cut on this album is tuneful in a way that recalls the best songs you might have heard on AM radio in 1974 but Brettin's accomplished that feat without being ridiculously retro about the whole endeavor. Brettin is a sharp songwriter on his own and, here at least, his work brings to mind the finest moments from the best Jon Brion or Sean O'Hagan sides.

Skiptracing by Mild High Club is out Friday via Stones Throw Records. Follow Mild High Club via the band's official Facebook page.

A Quick Review Of The New Covers Album From Katy Goodman (La Sera) And Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore)

When I was playing the new Take It, It's Yours punk covers collection from Katy Goodman (La Sera) and Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore), out Friday via Polyvinyl Records, I kept thinking of that Jeff Goldblum meme that's going around. You know the one I mean? There's a pic of Goldblum from 1993's Jurassic Park with his character's line, "You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn't stop to think if you should." Now, we're not talking about creating dinosaurs here but, yeah, when I got around to playing the lilting, near-lullaby-like spin on Bad Brains classic "Pay To Cum" included here, I was asking that same question. And there are 9 other covers of similarly well-regarded punk staples on this record besides that one.

Now, I guess the good news is that a lot of these covers work. "Sex Beat" (The Gun Club) and "Ever Fallen In Love" (The Buzzcocks) retain a certain charm in these new, blissful versions. As Katy and Greta wrap their warm vocal performances around these languid renditions, a listener goes from sort of laughing at to sort of loving what's being attempted. When the experiment succeeds (The Jam's "In The City" recast as something with a tinge of both Blondie and Nico about it), it does so remarkably well. When it doesn't (a slow and sad run at Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell"), the result is the sort of thing that looks cute on paper but which doesn't need to actually exist. And there's a bit of truth to that point: reading about these 2 indie singers turning "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by The Stooges into a 4AD-style, moody slow-burner is certainly better than actually hearing the thing. Really, did this ever need to exist? It's a fair question, frankly.

Now, with that bit of cynicism out of the way, I can say that there's a lot of love for the original material here and it's clear that Katy and Greta did this out of a genuine affection for the classic numbers, and not 'cause they wanted this to get played in a lot of Starbucks across the county (as it surely will). And, yeah, their enthusiasm makes this record more fun than it might have been in other hands. That said, I'm not sure that many of these renditions do more than attain a certain curiosity value. Yes, "Bastards Of Young" (The Replacements) and "Dreaming" (Blondie) are memorable in these new versions but that's due both to the performances here on Take It, It's Yours as much as it is to the strength of the songwriting behind these 2 cuts; they would work in any style, am I right? But, let's be honest, this album triumphs where it does on the sheer novelty of hearing these punk and new wave standards being recast in such a laid-back fashion.

Take It, It's Yours from Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan, out Friday on Polyvinyl Records, might not make you forget the original versions of the songs covered on this record but at least, in some spots, it may make you love the songs a little bit more.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will buy this and go out and buy some Gun Club and Misfits records after playing the covers here. Maybe.

Take It, It's Yours by Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan is out Friday via Polyvinyl Records.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Quick Review Of The Fine New Album From San Francisco's Cool Ghouls

There's something perfect about the music of Cool Ghouls. Unassuming and unpretentious, these throwback jams echo a whole generation's worth of Byrds and Nuggets sides and, like the best moments from Allah-Las, for example, update a very basic rock and roll template for modern listeners.

Cool Ghouls are dropping their third album, Animal Races, today on Empty Cellar Records. Recorded by Kelley Stoltz, who also plays on the album, Animal Races is a little blast of the past done right. "Sundial" unwinds with the sort of spiky insistence that recalls the best bands from England's C86 wave as much as it does another era's best college rock stalwarts (R.E.M., The Three O'Clock). The mini-epic "Time Capsule" marries bits of McGuinn guitar to a V.U.-style breakdown, while "Days" has a melody that suggests bits of both Brian Wilson and Alex Chilton tunes. Simple but intricate, the cut is, like many on Animal Races, a slice of Sixties revivalism that isn't trying too hard to be a note-for-note recreation of some earlier, familiar hit. Stuff like the superb "Never You Mind" soars a bit like The Feelies attempting a run at a Jefferson Airplane number, which is to say how familiar the pieces are here even if the presentation makes everything feel new. If closer "Spectator" sounds a bit like "Eight Miles High", that's great; what better way to close an album?

Cool Ghouls are not trying to recreate the glory of Lou and and the boys, nor are they purely a Sixties tribute band. But, still, it's worth noting that their influences are apparent even if they have managed to again put them in the service of material that commands attention without being insistent about how note-perfect it is in spots. Animal Races by Cool Ghouls joins the likes of the first 2 Ultimate Painting albums as being an example of current indie that attempts to pay homage (at times) to the legends of the past.

Animal Races by Cool Ghouls is out today via Empty Cellar Records. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Born To Be Adored: A Word About The New 3-CD Momus Compilation On Cherry Red

A little Momus goes a long way. In small doses, the work of the Scottish indie singer-songwriter seems the stuff of brilliance, full of sexual repression, hedonistic abandon, and wild forays into intellectual alleyways. In aggregate, as collected on the magnificent 3-CD compilation, Pubic Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016, out tomorrow via Cherry Red Records, the work of Momus is frustrating and alternately precious and precise. The first set to span the guy's entire career and the various labels he's worked with (Creation, etc.), this new superbly curated set is, to use words best suited to something more mainstream, the ultimate Momus album.

Born Nicholas Currie, the singer is the cousin of Justin Currie of Del Amitri, a fact that seems embarrassing for those of you who only know that band's cheesy MOR hits and impressive for those of you who -- like me -- think that the first, self-titled Del Amitri album is an absolute masterpiece of its kind. But enough about them. What's the deal with this Currie, this Momus?

I first became aware of his odd brand of indie-pop thanks to the inclusion of "Murderers, The Hope Of Women" -- here, of course -- on the essential 1988 Creation Records compilation, Flowers In The Sky 1984-1987. Like that haunting ditty, the other early ones here -- "I Was A Maoist Intellectual", "The Homosexual", "The Hairstyle Of The Devil", "Born To Be Adored" -- are semi-precious, semi-ironic missives that blend the witty misanthropy of the best Morrissey cuts with the detached self-awareness (and self-love) that Jarvis Cocker would bring to full flower later in the peak years of Pulp. Momus here is refining his craft and finding a balance between what are -- let's face it -- the tropes of folk music and a decidedly more arch delivery. At his best in these early years, like on the brilliant "Closer To You", for instance, Momus finds some weird balance between material that is comparable in some ways to that of other performers in the era and which becomes in spots also sort of tongue-in-cheek takes on the sonic sexual explorations of Prince or Marvin Gaye. If someone hasn't already written it about Momus it's worth writing now: he's the child of the 2 legends that kicked in 2016: Bowie and Prince. And I reckon that that description would make Momus wildly happy.

After this early period, as Momus lets his Orientalism percolate, the sound is more intricate, the instrumentation more adventurous within the limits of his bed-sit electronica, and -- yes -- this Disc 2 stuff is vaguely on par with the best material from Pet Shop Boys ("London 1888") but somehow less arch. Currie's intellect usually insists on taking the wheel when sometimes his heart would be a better driver. Still, things remain largely catchy here, even if the results are less warm and more clever. "I Want You, But I Don't Need You", for instance, is very nearly as peppy as a Lilac Time cut yet Momus keeps things a bit more highbrow even as the tune gets more lively. Despite his best efforts to make these efforts more than pop songs, his tunes here are uniformly jaunty. And I say that as a compliment.

And that, in a nutshell, is the crux of the craft of Momus: there's a conciseness here that is remarkable for someone so prolific, so prone to attempting to do something that is Art with a capital A. With the possible exceptions of Morrissey and Robert Pollard, I can think of no other artist who has written so many songs that are so consistently good and yet so succinct, for the most part. Momus indulges his intellect and rarely does the music itself feel indulgent. Yes, there are moments of real beauty on Disc 3 of Pubic Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 -- "Love Wakes The Devil", for example -- but the songs by this point feel more like brief experiments with style and genre than anything else. Marvelous and inventive, the more recent tunes from Momus on this set sacrifice a certain directness for explorations into matters of technique. If the instrumentation in spots ("Widow Twanky", "The Art Creep", "System Of Usher") is fascinating, the cuts here don't grab in the same way that the earlier tracks still do. There is a parallel here to what Stephin Merritt was doing in this same period with the big difference being that the Magnetic Fields guru always seemed more interested in matters of the heart than Momus did. Currie is using the 4-minute single to explore the very notion of what a pop song can be and Merritt is (always) trying to write The Great Love Song, it seems. And yet both artists are willing to experiment within the brief forms on offer as indie artists. Within those confines, Momus thrived and Disc 3 of this collection showcases his boldest, bravest forays into the permutations of his art ("The Vaudevillian", "Bibliotek").

That's a rather simplistic comparison but, really, the work of Momus confounds at times and that is why he has remained a fascinating artist for so long. Certainly less lovable than heart-on-his-sleeve Moz, and less obviously funny than Jarvis, Momus strikes a similar figure of odd British obsessiveness with matters of the loins. Incapable of writing something easy or plain, Momus rewards a listener who is looking for a moment of high art buried in the forms of the rabble. Had he been less confounding, he would have written "Help The Aged" but he can't; he writes something as absurd and obscene (and obscenely funny) as "The Manticore", you know?

With pithy, witty liner notes from the artist himself, Pubic Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 is the perfect Momus compilation. The first offering to survey his entire career across numerous labels I'm too lazy to mention, this Cherry Red Records release is the easiest way to get re-acquainted with this indie legend, or to get familiar with his stuff for the first time. Alternately illuminating and infuriating, Momus offers up the fruits of his intellect here and the results charm and inspire throughout. What makes this release so fine a way to listen to Momus is that each disc of this 3-CD set serves as a sort of standalone offering of a period in the 3-decade career of Momus. Distinct in style, each CD provides example after example of the clever craft of this guy. And yet, taken as a mammoth whole, the 50+ cuts here deserve attention as the samplings of one of the most prodigious talents to have ever wed his wits to such a silly, wonderful thing as the pop single. In his mind, and in mine, Momus is McCartney and these cuts, in so many odd ways, are perfect and catchy little bursts of the greatest popular art form the 20th century produced.

Pubic Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 by Momus is out tomorrow via Cherry Red Records. Follow the adventures of Momus via his official website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Making A Scene: A Look At The New 4-CD Collection From The Scientists

The Scientists were a bunch of misfits. In an era of new wave, they were Stooges fans. Impeccably dressed, the Kim Salmon-fronted outfit married a certain sartorial sense with a completely dirty sound. Collected on the superbly-assembled new set A Place Called Bad, out Friday from Numero Group, the music from the peak years of The Scientists was part Bad Seeds, part Standells. This voluminous 80-song, 4.5-hour box set assembles the very best, nearly complete work of the Perth, Australia-originating group. Casual fans will now be hardcore ones, while newcomers to The Scientists will surely be rabid converts with one listen to this monster of a comp.

Collecting the releases (largely) featuring the classic line-up of Kim Salmon (vocals/guitar), Boris Sujdovic (bass), Tony Thewlis (guitar), and Brett Rixon (drums), A Place Called Bad also showcases some earlier iterations of The Scientists. Discs 1 - 3 cover the studio releases while Disc 4 is a previously unavailable live recording from 1985 or so. But for me at least, it's the earlier stuff that still captivates.

Diving into Disc 1, a listener is assaulted with bad intent: "Frantic Romantic" is like something out of a beach movie, all attitude and Erich Von Zipper-braggadocio set to simple chords, while "Girl" and "I'm Looking For You" are similar Big Beat era-styled throwback rockers. It's worth noting that 2 future members of Hoodoo Gurus (James Baker and Ian Sharples) are on this set and stuff like "Making A Scene" and "Walk The Plank" crank with the sort of hip nods to the Sixties that the Gurus did so well. Catchy and uniformly perfect, all the cuts from The Scientists (1981), collected whole on Disc 1, are fine, fun gems of the sort of alt-rock few make anymore. That The Scientists would change styles a bit after this is okay as their eventual morphing into something closer to Nick Cave's Boys Next Door is a worthy artistic progression of its own.

By the time they got around to performing tunes like "Swampland" and "Blood Red River", Kim Salmon had steered the group firmly in the direction of the sounds of The Gun Club and Nick Cave. It is not an overstatement to say that one simply can't escape the fact that a lot of this peak period Scientists material echoes those other acts. Touring with The Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees in the era, stuff like "Solid Gold Hell" and "If It's The Last Thing That I Do" surely would have gone over well with those goth crowds since both cuts -- and so many on Discs 2 and 3 of this set -- have a genuine sense of the sinister about them. Having shed the Nuggets-era influences for the most part -- "It Came Out Of The Sky" being a notable exception -- and moved further in the direction of the sort of style that would eventually influence everyone from The Cult to the grunge pioneers, The Scientists were charting their own path in an era that was surely unfriendly to grotty, attitude-infused rock like this.

And, despite their flirtations with goth, a tag which seemed largely due thanks to their tour-mates in the era (Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy), The Scientists were doing something much more interesting than some of the other acts saddled with that unfortunate label. On a track like "Atom Bomb Baby" a listener can hear about 5 genres slamming up against each other with the overall effect being every bit as good as the best bits from The Gun Club, an act that The Scientists seemed to feel a certain kinship with. On the positively riotous "Temple Of Love", Salmon and the group sound like they are preaching the end of the world, the music clattering behind them in a souped-up amalgam of Fifties tropes -- think Eddie Cochran doing Birthday Party numbers. Elsewhere, on "Braindead" and the superb "Human Jukebox" the sound is closer to pioneers The Cramps. If anything The Scientists were doing the same thing as that lot, only a bit louder and without the sense of camp that plagued late-period releases from Lux Interior, Poison Ivy, and that crew; even a cover of "You Only Live Twice" is delivered straight-faced, the sound like something out of a Dracula movie more than it is the sexy sleek lines of a James Bond theme single. The Scientists spent their lifetime as a group channeling the things they loved into something infectious and dirty. For the most part, they were entirely successful as most of A Place Called Bad illustrates very well.

This box set closes with a disc's worth of live cuts, culled largely from the mid-Eighties, I believe, and a listener is given another window through which to view The Scientists. Live, the band married their love of Bad Seeds and Stooges sides with a driving sense of performance ("Strangers In The Night") that is remarkably ferocious. On live versions of tracks like "Blood Red River" and "Slow Death" one can even detect traces of influences as disparate as early Joy Division and The Buzzcocks, respectively. Still, The Scientists operated largely outside of the genres of the day and if they were indeed cribbing riffs from those 2 legends of the first post-punk wave in the U.K., they were nicking the cool bits and not aligning themselves so much with that generation of Brit proto-New Wavers. In the end, it was what sounded cool, what looked cool that worked so well with The Scientists and their music and presentation.

The victims of label reissues and clueless repackagings of their own material, The Scientists got a raw deal in the Eighties and if anything A Place Called Bad should re-write the picture we have of The Scientists prior to 1987's Weird Love at least. As complete as can be expected given the seemingly never-ending stream of offerings of the band's early catalog, this 4-CD set offers up 80 tracks and hours and hours of marvelous Rock and Roll in the purest, truest sense. Perhaps now the music of The Scientists will be spoken of in the same breath with that of The Birthday Party, The Cramps, and The Gun Club. History is being fixed with the release of A Place Called Bad and, thankfully, The Scientists will now get the sort of serious attention they always deserved. Fans of everything from grubby Nuggets one-offs to Nick Cave's early act, The Boys Next Door, will find a moment to love here, if not dozens of them. Play this as loud as possible until the paint peels off the wall and the neighbors pound on the door. And when the cops show up and you toss a match behind you to burn the house down as you're dragged in cuffs towards the paddy wagon, let A Place Called Bad be the soundtrack. The Scientists would love to be the house band for such a moment, I'm sure. Bad eggs all and thank goodness for that!

A Place Called Bad by The Scientists is out Friday via the Numero Group.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

This Is The Way: A Look At The New Reissue Of The Absolutely Essential Kaleidoscope World By The Chills

Long overdue, the new reissue of Kaleidoscope World from The Chills, out Friday via Flying Nun Records, should serve as another set of reminders of why this band is so, so important, their tunes things to be cherished. The Martin Phillipps-fronted outfit has been making music for nearly 4 decades now, through a shifting line-up with Phillipps being the constant. Riding a new wave of much-deserved appreciation following 2015's superb release on Fire Records, Silver Bullets, Phillipps has been performing with the band around the world -- no shows in the USA beyond NYC yet though! -- and it seems as if The Chills are now finally getting the sort of serious attention their music has demanded for so long. And as newer fans are getting acquainted with the band's back-catalog, that job is a good deal easier now that this compilation of early Chills recordings has been reissued.

Originally released in 1986, Kaleidoscope World was quite a bit shorter before in previous iterations; my version was 18 cuts and this new edition has been expanded to 24. Originally meant to collect the band's releases prior to 1987's Brave Words, Kaleidoscope World stands on its own as a sort of introduction to the band's sound, spanning as it does the chamber pop of seminal tracks like "Satin Doll" and the title cut, all the way to the band's somewhat harder explorations like "Never Never Go" and "Bite". Of note in this edition of Kaleidoscope World is the early version of "The Oncoming Day" that's included here. Positively rollicking, the track bristles with a sort of DIY vibe typical of the music of The Chills, the difference being that the early efforts of Martin Phillipps never felt like those of a small, lo-fi songwriter, his tunes being sometimes big, always intimate numbers, every bit as Beatlesque ("The Great Escape", "Doledrums", "Rolling Moon") as those of acts who had more money for grander exploits in the studio.

Of course, the familiar gems are all here: "Pink Frost", as haunting as ever -- has despair ever sounded so radiant? -- the oddest song about death ever written perhaps; "I Love My Leather Jacket", all crunchy riffs and hippest of hip nods in the defense of the ultimate fashion accessory; "This Is The Way", all languid lines and calm vocals; and the shuffling, understated, charming familiarity of "Frantic Drift" -- all here, all crisper and brighter than ever before on this new edition of Kaleidoscope World thanks to the work of the folks at Flying Nun Records. Last year, when I interviewed Martin Phillipps, he mentioned the "third atmosophere" that sometimes occurs as a result of the pairing of his music and lyrics and the contrasts that ensue. At its best, the music of The Chills is full of that sort of thing and there's something wonderfully happy and sad about some of this stuff as a result of the juxtaposition of Phillipps' lyrics, the music, and the overall presentation. And, thankfully, the edges are rough enough on the cuts on Kaleidoscope World that things remain fresh for a listener even now, 30 years later. The bonus tracks on this edition further highlight that clash between the unhurried chamber pop and the spiky DIY nature of the first releases from Martin Phillipps' outfit, releases that sort of forged the template for the sound of the Flying Nun label in those early years of its existence. And, thankfully, all the extras here feel integral to the story being told by Kaleidoscope World of the progression of the craft of perhaps the best songwriter to ever emerge from New Zealand.

Of those additions to Kaleidoscope World this time out, there's the charging early take of Submarine Bells (1990) staple "The Oncoming Day" and an "unplugged" version of "Dan Destiny And The Silver Dawn" from Brave Words (1987). "I'll Only Ever See You Alone Again" rattles impressively, all big hooks and indie power, while the flip, "Green-Eyed Owl", offers up a near-waltz figure and shifting time signatures. The additions to this version of Kaleidoscope World come to a close with "Smile From A Dead Dead Face", a live rarity that showcases a rougher, looser side of The Chills that's sometimes obscured by the band's more ornate works.

Kaleidoscope World (1986) is, if it wasn't obvious enough by now, an absolutely essential addition to the Chills catalog in any version, this expanded edition being the preferred one. While a compilation, there's a coherence and integrity here throughout that belies the fact that this is indeed not a proper album. Every bit as necessary to the charting of the evolution of the art of Martin Phillipps as Brave Words (1987) a year later, 1986's Kaleidoscope World is the Hatful Of Hollow (1984) in this lot's discography. Containing some of the band's best material, and serving as a perfect entry point to the artist in question, Kaleidoscope World (1986) is the first great Chills album (even if it is a compilation). With the inclusion of an additional 6 cuts, the collection is now even more essential.

Out on Friday, August 19, Kaleidoscope World by The Chills should be on your radar if you don't already own this one. And if you do, the extra material and sonic upgrade in this version should be reasons enough to convince you to re-buy this album if you already have it in an older edition.

More details on Kaleidoscope World via Flying Nun Records. Follow The Chills on the band's official website: SoftBomb.com.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Quick Look At The New Singles Compilation From The Turtles

You know these songs. And if you don't, it's gonna feel like you do. All The Singles by The Turtles, out in about a week via Manifesto Records, is the most concise part of an impressive Turtles reissue project by the label that also encompasses a reissue of the complete albums from the band. Still, if you're not ready to grab that many releases yet, you'd be wise to get this collection of the band's A- and B-sides. And, for you oldies nerds out there, it's worth noting that The Turtles sometimes released their singles in mono and their albums in stereo -- a practice apparently somewhat common in the era -- and that's the way these classic cuts are presented here. So if you want the original, mono mixes of stuff like "It Ain't Me Babe" or "She'd Rather Be With Me", then you've come to the right place. Read on.

What one hears here is the first great flourishing of American power-pop in the wake of the success of The Beatles. Of course, there are moments ("Makin' My Mind Up" and the Warren Zevon-penned "Outside Chance", for instance) where The Turtles sound like they are consciously trying to replicate the sound of Beatles singles and other gems from the British Invasion and yet, over there, The Turtles managed to take those obvious influences and absorb them in the service of something more decidedly American in style (the glorious "Can I Get To Know You Better", for instance).

Elsewhere, on The Beach Boys-like "The Story Of Rock And Roll", or the Beach Boys-parodying "Surfer Dan" one gets the feeling that The Turtles were straining at the bonds of the pop single. Layered vocals, smooth harmonies, and neat little guitar frills mingle in these mid-period cuts and one can only wonder still why some of this stuff wasn't more popular in the era.

Of course all the hits are here, most notably the big ones: "Happy Together" and the sublime "Elenore", written, as the liner notes indicate, almost as a take-off of the sort of sentiments in the earlier big hit. Both staples of Oldies radio still shine with the sound on each being remarkably crisp and nuanced even without the benefit of the stereo mixes as these are, after all, the original mono versions. Those mono mixes, obviously, benefit the early singles -- stuff like the P.F. Sloan classic "You Baby" -- the most.

Elsewhere, the singles from the Ray Davies-produced Turtle Soup (1969) are still fabulous slices of the kind of songwriting this country has rarely produced since. If the band went into the sessions thinking that the guy from The Kinks was gonna make their tunes sound like his, they were wrong as Davies, instead, brought out all the things that made this band so unique while refining slightly the group's approach. There's something soaring and direct about cuts like "You Don't Have To Walk In The Rain" and "Love In The City", even as "Bachelor Mother" does, indeed, sound remarkably like something Davies himself would have written in the late Sixties. While "House On The Hill" is haunting and a bit unlike what one would expect from a song on a Turtles "hits" collection.

By the end of the band's career as hit-makers, The Turtles were struggling to find their place in the music world. Despite their ability to turn a Judee Sill number ("Lady-O") into something approaching a Top 40 single, and an admirable stab at an era staple ("Eve Of Destruction"), the band's efforts in this late era couldn't compete with changing tastes. Still, the attempts collected near the end of this compilation are remarkably well-done pop songs, especially the adventurous "We Ain't Gonna Party No More", a Left Banke-esque anti-war anthem.

If you only know "Happy Together" and 1 or 2 other singles from The Turtles, let All The Singles serve as a crash course into one of the great American pop acts of any era. Bridging the work of The Beach Boys and even The Four Seasons with that of The Beatles, The Turtles blended so many styles and genres that the end result was sometimes dizzying. A listener could be forgiven for taking for granted how easily -- and concisely! -- these guys did this sort of thing. Never once getting bogged down in anything too heavy -- despite the serious nature of some of the tunes here -- the singles of The Turtles are all little lessons in how to craft a pop song. More varied than the singles of The Left Banke, more peppy than those of The Beau Brummels, and certainly more Beatle-esque than the A- and B-sides of The Association, the singles of The Turtles are, in many spots, evidence of the act that was the closest this country ever got to producing a band in the same league as The Kinks, The Zombies, or The Beatles.

All The Singles by The Turtles is out next Friday via Manifesto Records. Nearly 50 classic cuts, plus a few bonus radio commericals, are here. The complete albums from The Turtles will be reissued soon too. Check out the Manifesto Records website for more details.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Word Of Praise About This New Compilation Of D.C.'s Own Gene And Eddie On Omnivore

I grew up with a D.C.-area father who played almost nothing but pre-Beatles-era soul and doo wop sides. There's a very good chance he had some of these singles somewhere in his voluminous collection but even if I didn't know these Gene and Eddie cuts already, I can say that they all rock mightily.

Following on from that recent fantastic Winfield Parker compilation, the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings have now turned their attention to another legendary act from the Washington, D.C./Maryland area. True Enough: Gene And Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac, out Friday, is a superb set of hard driving, Stax-influenced rhythm and blues of the sort that working bands here on the East Coast made so vital in the Sixties.

Collecting 16 cuts billed to some variant of Gene and Eddie (Gene Dorsett and Eddie Best), this compilation adds in 5 songs from Sir Joe (Joe Quarterman, the producer and partner of Gene and Eddie). The cuts, uniformly swinging, highlight the filtered sound of the giants of the era. There's the shadow of Sam and Dave in "If I Tell You", for example. And over there is the weight of the legacy of Otis Redding shining through "Sweet Little Girl". Still, for all that sort of thing one would expect from any soul artist in that era, these songs are remarkably fresh for what was, admittedly, just a local act in the D.C. area.

Efforts were made to hit it big and Gene and Eddie and the various incarnations of that act did indeed tour with some heavyweights but nationwide success seemed to elude the duo. And that's a shame, really, for stuff like "It's No Sin" from 1970 and "Darling I Love You" hit the same kind of high points that acts like The O'Jays and The Delfonics were also hitting in their songs. If those acts were more successful, at least True Enough: Gene And Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac puts the record straight and reminds listeners and music scholars that those Philly sound groups were not operating in a vacuum on the East Coast. Elsewhere, there's the monstrous, noisy soul of "If You Give Up Your Love" which positively rocks. Billed to Sir Joe, and perhaps more the work of Joe Quarterman than anyone else, the cut is cacophonous in spots with vocals and backing vocals that sound a tiny bit trippy as the drums and cymbals crash behind them. Part Sly and the Family Stone and part James Brown on a new bag, this was by far my favorite track on this compilation.

Real fans of this era will probably love this set as much as I did and even casual fans of Joe Tex or Wilson Pickett should find a lot to enjoy here as so much of this owes such a huge debt to artists like those giants. And rest assured that the liner notes booklet tells the full story of D.C.'s own Gene Dorsett, Eddie Best, and Joe Quarterman. Of tremendous importance to the full accounting of this region's music history, True Enough: Gene And Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac should be this week's essential purchase for fans of great music.

True Enough: Gene And Eddie With Sir Joe At Ru-Jac is out on Friday via Omnivore Recordings.