Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Brief Review Of The Excellent New Boys EP

Sweden's Boys, featuring Nora Karlsson from the excellent Holy, are set to drop a new EP next Friday. Called Love On Tour it is, like the previous releases from this band, on the excellent PNKSLM label. And I urge you, like the other releases on that label, to get it as soon as you can.

Not too very long ago I brought you word of the first track, "Happy Hour" with its percolating and rolling Broadcast-style riffage, but what of the other 3 cuts on this release? "All My Friends" manages to marry the styles of The Velvet Underground and Lesley Gore more perfectly than perhaps anyone since the Reid brothers first picked up guitars, turned their backs on us, and plugged in, while "In My Mind" revs up like The Primitives being remixed by Kevin Shields. I name-drop those pioneers of shoegaze but -- make no mistake -- the music made by Boys is entirely more focused, concise, and tighter than 90% of that Nineties genre. The melodies are strong and the sonic adventurism going on around them is truly wonderful. I'm only lacking other genres to compare this to.

The Love On Tour EP closes with "Seventeen" which is a bit playful compared to the previous 3 songs, Nora's vocals sounding positively youthful here as the melody ambles all about her. Equally trippy and summer-y, it's another blast of meloic sugar from the superb Boys.

Love On Tour by Boys is out on Friday, May 20, via PNKSLM. Follow Boys via the band's official Facebook page.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Heavenly Showers: A Look At The New Twin Peaks Record

Out today, on the Grand Jury label, the new long-player from Twin Peaks, Down In Heaven, is a bit of a head-scratcher for fans of this band. So look, let's cut the bs folks: those of you looking for Wild Onion (2014) "Part 2" are gonna be sorely disappointed. However, those of you looking for a really fun listening experience are gonna have...a really fun listening experience, but I don't want to lowball the charms here by saying that.

I mean, my first thought when playing a lot of this was: "Oh boy, someone's gotta a hold of some Royal Trux records!" Yeah, the changes in styles are *that* apparent on some of this as the Twin Peaks guys have gone from indie riffs in some spots to nearly bedraggled styles in others. But, hey, if you're gonna hold up Down In Heaven and complain that the band have expanded their sound, and that they are taking too many risks here? Too bad; you'd never be happy anyway even if all the big hooks were still here. I mean, how the hell could anyone not like the utterly snide and sublime "Butterfly", all Standells-snarls jutting up against old Monkees-style coo-ing. Gloriously catchy and impossible to adequately describe so just let me say it's aces! "You Don't" and "Cold Lips" betray hints of earlier American indie stalwarts like Pavement and Sonic Youth, but the melodic dissolution of "Heavenly Showers" feels more Brit -- think The Libertines only Yanks. "Getting Better" has a near-honky-tonk strut that recalls the Stones as well as bits of Led Zeppelin III while being entirely more concise than it has any right to be; this sort of stuff easily slips into near-parody in other hands but things stay together here. Twin Peaks, remarkably at times, keep the focus on the tunes even if proceedings sound decidedly sloppy.

At least I can say that on Down In Heaven there's rarely a mis-step amid the disarray. Only "Stain" feels forced, as if someone pointed out the blues-y bits in the music and the kids just ran with it. "Holding Roses" even manages to nod in the direction of The Faces and T.Rex with some measure of success despite also being a bit of a reach for these cats.

Twin Peaks made something of a perfect album last time out but there are many traces of perfection on Down In Heaven too. Just forgive me for not loving it instantly as much as I did Wild Onion. All that being said, there are some delightful and invigorating moments here in the cuts, especially the ones that feel like singles. At their best, Twin Peaks can craft a kind of disheveled indie that fits them as naturally as languid poeticism fits Pete and Carl in The Libs.

Down In Heaven is out today via Grand Jury Music. Follow the band on their official website, or via their official Facebook page.

It's A Good Day To Be Of Welsh Descent: Play New Music Videos From Super Furry Animals And Manic Street Preachers Here!

Both the Manic Street Preachers and the Super Furry Animals (above) have released new music today. And while it might be hard to even play that Manics video outside the U.K., I found it on YouTube in a version that will work in the U.S. Both cuts from both bands are tunes linked to the Euro Cup and the Welsh football (soccer) team with the Manics one being a rousing anthem and the Furries one being a head-twister that may or may not be about footie at all...despite the video imagery.

Look for both at your retailer of choice online, or in the physical world.

And, yeah, I'm of Welsh descent since my grandfather's grandfather was probably the first one off the boat here from Wales.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Few Words About The Sublime English Pop Of The New Picturebox Album, Songs Of Joy

I first got into Picturebox 'cause a member of Derrero (David Hirst) was in the band. And while I certainly liked what I heard, and loved subsequent releases, it would be unfair to compare the music here in the Robert Halcrow-led Picturebox with the tune-age of the Welsh act. Picturebox seem to have channeled a whole generation or two's worth of English pop and managed to distill it to the best bits. If I wanted to just cut to the chase, I'd say that the new one, Songs Of Joy, out tomorrow via the link below (for one), is like a Blur album shepherded by Graham Coxon, not Damon Albarn.

That's a bit simplistic but, really, "The Barrow Monkey" sounds remarkably like the sort of thing that Blur were doing on "Coffee and TV" even if opener "Friday Morning 11 AM" pounds like the best Supergrass stuff. "Too Late Now" reaches back to the Syd -years of The Pink Floyd for inspiration, while "Garden Song" sounds like some stuff from Ash Cooke's post-Derrero project, Pulco (and Ash is on the album, by the way). "Speedway Rider" unfurls like a trippy Kinks track...if they ever did any trippy tracks, and the fine "All Day Sunday Morning" nods in the direction of stuff like The Move mixed with elements from the Britpop generation.

Towards the end of Songs Of Joy things get more pastoral for a stretch and Halcrow seems able to pull off both the blissful bits as well as he does the music that is best described as "Beatle-esque" (despite owing more to the peers of Fab Four than the band itself). Halcrow has played some gigs with Pete Astor of The Weather Prophets lately but I'm glad he's got time to craft his own unique music and release it under the Picturebox name. This is fine, fine pop with more than a hint of what one should call English whimsy. Fans of Martin Newell and Blur will dig this a lot.

Follow Picturebox on their official Facebook page. Songs Of Joy is out tomorrow via Gare Du Nord.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Few Words About The Late Great John Stabb (R.I.P.)

It would be wildly presumptuous of me to claim to be a long-time friend of John Stabb. And yet the way he would greet you and make you feel like a long-time friend is precisely why his tragic death hurts so many so much, including even me. I mean, the last time I saw him -- at an early 2016 benefit gig for the family of the late Doc Night -- he hugged me as if I was a buddy (right after he had been hugging someone else in the crowd). He was eagerly telling me and my wife about his plans to join Scream on stage to run through an old Government Issue tune. Sadly, that didn't happen that night for whatever reason.

The few times I interacted with John on a personal level, I was struck by his enthusiasm and love. If the D.C. punks had a rep for being so gosh-darn serious back in the day -- precisely why I never warmed to that movement for so long even though I was working in D.C. record stores in the era -- then John was the John Lennon of the scene. A hippy in a sea of skinheads, he stuck out in the scene in a wonderful way.  Positively buoyant and perennially youthful, he was relentlessly upbeat and seemingly happy and those vibes were contagious; how could you ever meet Stabb and not love the guy?

When I saw him at the Salad Days (2014) premiere in December 2014, he was standing in the lobby alone as the second screening of the masterful film kicked off that night. My wife and I were working the t-shirt booth. I walked over and started talking to John having briefly talked to him a few years earlier at some other gig related to the film. He started gabbing with me as if I was a long-lost friend. He was carrying a CD of his earlier project, The Factory Incident, with him and he gave that to me. Not sure if no one else had wanted it or what but it made me happy to take it and enjoy it. We chatted a bit. I had just moved back to America after living in Hong Kong. I told John I was looking for an editing job and he mentioned that he was working on his memoirs. I offered to edit them for him if he ever tried to get them published. I wasn't sure how much he had actually put together but I relished the idea of helping him as the guy had some stories to tell, no doubt about that. And then later, as the film let out and more people came to the lobby, I got that pic with him and the film's director Scott Crawford.

A few nights later I saw him again at another Salad Days (2014) gig and he and Mina greeted my wife and I very warmly. I introduced Tony Porreco, from Black Checker and loads of podcasts, to John and felt like I was really arranging an important meeting of the minds that night. They hit it off immediately 'cause that's how John was, apparently, to the many younger musicians in this city.

I really don't have many more words to say about Stabb. I wanted to write something because to not write something seemed silly when so many voices are chiming in on how wonderful the guy was. The tragedy of his death has robbed this city of one of Punk's true originals. Beyond the Dischord scene (which owes him a tremendous artistic debt, obviously), his legacy as a very central figure in the rise of alternative music in America will live on.

Of course I can't pretend to have been his best friend but his life did touch mine a few times and his spirit was one that I admired. It was only years later that I realized that in the old days (1987-1990) when I worked at record stores in the D.C. area and had tried so hard to avoid the pervasive influence of the bands of the peak years of the Dischord era, I had actually seen Stabb in Weatherhead when they opened for my friend Rich's band, The Now, at the old 9:30 Club. There's a pic of the flyer here. I guess I'm lucky to have seen him in action back in the day, despite all my best efforts to avoid local music during those years when I was listening to U.K. stuff mainly, and before I heard "Waiting Room" by Fugazi and caved a bit to the great music being made here in the nation's capital.  It seems fitting now that I had at least seen one of the titans of harDCore in person back then, and even more perfect in retrospect that it had been the great John Stabb.

And, of course, I saw him a few times in the last few years. He was an extraordinary performer whether there were a 1,000 or 10 people in the room.


John Stabb gave Music -- as a way of of life and a form of expression -- his all and he gave his heart so gladly to those he came in touch with that I can't help but mourn him in my small way. As a music fan, I should add my voice to the growing chorus of those who are writing about him now simply to say that yes, I was touched by him too, even if I wasn't part of that whole scene back in the actual Salad Days era itself. The largeness of his personality and the generosity of his spirit are what will be missed, not just the guy who sang on a bunch of hardcore records. It's really what he did with his place in the D.C. scene that makes his death such a tragedy now; there was still unlimited creative potential there and even a casual fan could only eagerly wait to see what he would do next as a musician, performer, and D.C. artist.

John Stabb, you will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace Stabb.

Some pics from the Stabb-heavy Salad Days premiere evening at AFI.

John Stabb's History Repeated rocked IOTA so hard when I saw them.

A bit about John Stabb's Glee Club project.

You can play some demos from Emmapeel here, a project from Stabb, Youth Brigade's Danny Ingram, and Steve Hansgen from Minor Threat.

A look at the 2012 Salad Days gig at Black Cat with an on-fire Government Issue with Brian Baker on guitar and Tom Lyle on bass.

In typical John Stabb fashion, he mugged it up gleefully in this pic of me and Pete Stahl (Scream), Danny Ingram (Youth Brigade), Andy Rapoport (Kingface), Bert Queiroz (Youth Brigade), and John Stabb (Government Issue, Emmapeel, The Factory Incident, History Repeated, etc., etc., etc.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It's Coming: A Look At The New Spice Boys EP On PNKSLM

At a certain point, one doesn't even know how to describe the abrasive-yet-gloriously-tuneful racket heard on the new EP from Sweden's Spice Boys. Spice City, out now on the label that has yet to make a misstep (PNKSLM), is 6 tracks of clattering, clangin' near-punk noise wrapped about some pretty buoyant melodies.

If "It's Coming" is Parquet Courts on acid, then "Lost Time" is a ragin' take on early Pavement raved up to 11. "Black Scarabs" and the wonderfully-titled "Fuk Luv" are more of the same, with rich melodies shining out from underneath the Birthday Party-like sonic trappings. "Can't Turn Back" offers up some "Beavis and Butthead" samples amid the feedback, while closer "Vessel" is a catchy bit of business like classic Swell Maps singles done up for the 21st Century.

I really don't know what to expect from this band next. Seemingly coming out of nowhere to drop such an EP, Sweden's Spice Boys, like any band at the moment on PNKSLM, offer up a uniquely tuneful take on the post-punk paradigm where noise meets melody. Retro and of the future, the music of Spice Boys is infectious and a bit dangerous. Dig it folks!

Follow Spice Boys via the band's official Facebook page or on the PNKSLM website.

Monday, May 2, 2016

You Said It: A Look At The Fab New Beverly Album

Within a few seconds of opening track "Bulldozer" kicking off I knew that I was in for a great listening experience with the new album from Beverly. The Blue Swell, out Friday via Kanine Records, is a superb set of surging indie rock of the kind that the world always needs more of.

Perhaps it's the utterly glorious "Crooked Cop" that will be the single that gets this band even more attention. I can only hope so. The song, all Teenage Fancclub hooks done up in Pale Saints instrumentation, is at once familiar and new. The tune feels like something you already heard, know, and love, and yet the combination of elements here is an entirely fresh one. Just a fantastic cut and candidate for one of the best singles of 2016 already.

Beverly, now a two-piece of Drew Citron and Scott Rosenthal, will no longer be judged on the same terms as those which impacted the reviews of the first album (reviewed by me here) in 2014. Back then, the LP got some initial notice because of the Frankie Rose bits on the record. Frankie didn't tour with the band and that's good 'cause it gave the group a chance to shine on its own terms. Opening for The Drums that fall -- (and I saw them in D.C. at the first gig I attended after my wife and I moved back home from Hong Kong) -- the band perfected a sort of American indie that owed some debts to shoegaze pioneers of the past, as well as more traditional stuff like The Pretenders.

That link to Hynde's style is apparent here on The Blue Swell on cuts like "You Said It", even as more lyrical numbers such as "Victoria" blissfully hearken back to bands like Blake Babies. If "South Collins" nods in the direction of anything it's earlier 4AD stuff like Swallow, while "Lake House" throbs with the sort of insistent beats that suggest an odd-but-wonderful collab between peak-period Cocteau Twins and late-period Primal Scream.

If so many of the high-points on The Blue Swell do point in the direction of past shoegaze classics, it is stuff like the utterly sublime "The Smokey Pines" that signals a new way to blend those influences from the past with something new, something American, and something freshly indie in all the best ways. Drew's vocals here on this song are just beautiful and the song is every bit as good as a lot of the output of Mazzy Star, for instance, even if Beverly tend to use more feedback and have less of a reliance on anything approaching a blues hook.

What The Blue Swell does so well is blend a few obvious genre touchstones together effortlessly. It would be far too easy to only focus on the bits of stuff like album closer "Don't Wanna Fight" that do indeed sound like Lush, or Elizabeth Fraser, or even The Jesus and Mary Chain. But a closer listen will reveal how wonderfully Drew Citron and Scott Rosenthal have intuitively used those influences in the service of creating something full of rich hooks and deft bits of songwriting. If anything, The Blue Swell feels like the first real Beverly album and the band's sound now seems to have been refined and honed. This is great stuff, and since so many of the tracks on The Blue Swell are affecting indie rockers I can't do anything but urge you to grab this new Beverly album as soon as you can.

The Blue Swell by Beverly will be out on Friday via Kanine Records. Follow Beverly via the band's official Facebook page.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spin This Marvelous New Track From Big Deal Here!

I wonder how many other Yanks have heard Big Deal and know the tunes of Alice Costelloe's previous outfit, Pull in Emergency? That earlier band got rave reviews here on this site a few years back and it's a safe bet to say that Big Deal will be too. The new Big Deal track, "Avalanche", is a taster for the band's first album, Say Yes, which will drop in about a month on FatCat Records.

This cut, like earlier tracks from Big Deal, is all kinds of awesome. Equal parts PJ Harvey and Pixies, the tune is a glorious mess of noise kept from descending into chaos by these 4 smart young players. Fans of Th' Faith Healers and late-period Sonic Youth should thoroughly enjoy this as much as I did.

Until the album drops, please follow Big Deal via the band's official Facebook page.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

You're Gonna Have To Play It Cool: A Look At The 2 Magnificent Move Reissues From Cherry Red

You know, I came to The Move late. I thought that I didn't really like the band based simply on hearing "California Man" and "Brontosaurus" which, truth be told, I knew mainly first from the Cheap Trick versions.

And then I heard "Blackberry Way".

Yeah, I had been stupid before that. Sure, I had read about The Move in every Who biography I devoured as a teen, those tomes where The Move were spoken of as this legendary U.K. band that never quite made it here. And, yeah, I should have known better but things really didn't click until I heard an import Move compilation thanks to a record store friend who spun it for me far too late in my life.

Now, I'm thrilled to regale you with news of these 2 magnificent and expertly-assembled Move reissues from Cherry Red Records. Move and Shazam! are each presented in multiple-disc formats with loads of radio sessions and rarities, and the overall effect of hearing 5+ hours of Move music over the course of these 2 releases is a revelation. Think the band were just psych dabblers? Spin the covers on the final disc of Shazam!. Think the band were only mod wannabes? Spin the near-chamber pop on any side of Move.

Released in 1968, Move, released here in a 3-CD edition, shines -- at least in spots -- as the equal to the Beatles' output in roughly the same era. The line-up here -- Roy Wood on multiple instruments and vocals, Carl Wayne on lead vocals, Ace Kefford on bass, Trevor Burton on guitar, and Bev Bevan on drums -- hits all the right marks as they rattle through what sounds like a greatest hits album. "(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree", "Flowers in the Rain", "Fire Brigade", and "Cherry Blossom Clinic" -- some of the finest singles of the psych era, really -- they are all here.

What's also of note are other tracks (like the superb "Useless Information") and smart covers ("Weekend" by Eddie Cochran) that buttress the strength of this release, even in its mono form on Disc 1. On Disc 2 we've got stereo mixes and alternate takes as well as singles like "Night of Fear" among others. And then on CD 3, we have a whole bunch of radio sessions and interviews that make a pretty good case for the strengths of The Move as a live act. If the studio cuts and singles further the idea of The Move as The Great Psych Band, then these live cuts -- especially stuff like a cover of The Byrds' "So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star", and a live version of "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" -- serve as evidence of this band being a set of superb musicians who were perhaps too polished to be peers of the fiery Who and too rough-around-the-edges to be thought of as equivalents of The Kinks.

Down to a four-piece with the departure of Ace Kefford (Burton switched to bass), The Move moved forward. Eventually, Rick Price would take over bass duties and the band would record Shazam! for release in 1970. Coming at the tail-end of the genuine psychedelic movement, the album broadened the sound of The Move considerably. While familiar singles like "Wild Tiger Woman" sound like The Move we all know and love, longer cuts like "Fields of People" push the sound of the band into what was then becoming known as progressive rock. Admittedly, these longer cuts are harder to take for those of us who want stuff like "Beautiful Daughter" on auto-repeat. The sound on the prog stuff is harder and the musical path certainly one that is more experimental. That said, The Move were still capable of crafting utterly beautiful pieces of pop in this time period: "Blackberry Way" and "Something" are here as singles of the era, as well as alternate mixes of "Omnibus" and other earlier cuts.

Disc 2 of Shazam! serves as a showcase of the band's sheer versatility. Who would have thought that the same band that did "Cherry Blossom Clinic" could also do a pretty good take on that Janis-standard "Piece of My Heart"? Or that Wood and his crew could make stuff like "Higher and Higher", and even "California Girls", sound like Move originals? Even a perhaps-misguided cover of "Sound of Silence" very nearly works largely due to the intentions of the musicians here.

Looking back now, it makes perfect sense that I got into The Move so late, even after reading about them before. They remain a hard band to pin down, and one that switched styles a bit in the space of a few years. If the genius -- (is there any other word to describe him?) -- of Roy Wood tends to overshadow the contributions of the other members of The Move, that's a real shame given the wonderful vocals of Carl Wayne, and Bev Bevan's risk-taking on the kit. Too psych to be a pop band, too polished to be r'n'b heirs like Mick and Keith's Stones, far too rough to be another Beatles, The Move were a band of their time who kept their eyes on the horizon of experimentation. With far lovelier melodies than anything Syd and the Floyd folks could dream up, Wood and The Move made music that was considerably countercultural at the time even if it sounds now more like great mainstream pop. Quite simply: some of the best singles of the era are on these collections. If it's damn-near impossible to summarize The Move in 2 releases, Move and Shazam! make a pretty good case for this being nearly all the Move you need.

Now, of course that's not true 'cause I for one am anxiously awaiting and hoping that Cherry Red Records is prepping more Move reissues even as I type this. But until that day, please grab these sets as soon as you can. Move and Shazam! are out now (they dropped on Friday) via Cherry Red Records. There is so much greatness here that one can only listen and marvel at what The Move accomplished in a mere 2 or 3 years and what this music hints at in their collective futures (Bev and Roy Wood in ELO eventually).