Sunday, June 17, 2018

Same Face In A Different Mirror: A Brief Review Of The New Protomartyr EP

If anyone thought that the presence of Kelley Deal (The Breeders) on a few cuts was gonna somehow soften the attack of Protomartyr, they were so wrong. The band's sound, even on this new EP featuring the R. Ring leader, is still a punch in the solar-plexus, an unforgiving shove into a jagged realm. The EP, Consolation, dropped on Domino, on Friday, and it's a reliably-stark offering from this crew.

"Wait" rolls on like an unearthed gem from Gang of Four that's been ginned up with a more precise rhythmic focus, while the nicely-titled "Same Face in a Different Mirror" is elegantly understated, all coiled tension stretched into new melodic shapes for this lot. When Kelley Deal joins the group for the remaining 2 cuts on this Consolation EP, things take a nice turn, if not a radical one. The lengthy, and ragged "Wheel of Fortune" charts landscapes once occupied by the Bad Seeds, or Crime and the City Solution, while the more concise "You Win Again" offers similarly woozy charms, more sounds of a few folks at their desolate end.

Consolation is out now via Domino.

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

[Photo: Daniel Topete]

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Talking Straight: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

I've had Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever for a few weeks and, even though the record is dropping on Sub Pop on Friday, the release feels like something I've been listening to for years, the Australian's five-piece's brand of indie-pop being that easy to embrace. The band have offered up some pretty impressive tracks before, but this new record is nearly flawless, and fans of stuff like The Go-Betweens or Television will find so much to love here.

This, the group's first full-length album proper, kicks off with the sharp, precise power-pop of "An Air-Conditioned Man", before the slightly-harder "Talking Straight" nods in the direction of old records from acts like The Verlaines, or even Tom Verlaine. The hook here, like so many on Hope Downs, is a huge one and it anchors, like on so many of the tracks on this Sub Pop release, a composition that harks back to an era when bands like The Chills or The Go-Betweens could make alt-rock that fed the brain as much as the heart. I mean, I'm not quite entirely sure what "Mainland" is going on about, but I do know that it has that literate pop-quality that one found on so many of the best selections from Forster and McLennan, for example. The rougher, twangier "Sister's Jeans" nods further back to stuff from Lou Reed or Verlaine for inspiration, the guitar-attack here an angular one behind the lyrics, while the bright "Cappucino City" sparkles and chimes, all easy "Streets Of Your Town"-charms wrapped around a lovely vocal performance.

So much of this, even harder stuff like "Exclusive Grave" and "The Hammer", places the music of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever within reach of a favorable comparison to the classic releases from The Feelies, Pavement, and The dB's that we grew up with. The sound of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is a familiar one, but that's not to say that all of Hope Downs is simply derivative. Whatever they have learned from past bands, the boys in Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have poured into their material here, as every song on Hope Downs feels like something you've loved for ages, or something you're gonna spin for a long time in the future over and over again.

Hope Downs is out on Friday via Sub Pop.

More details on Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Warwick Baker]

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

You Make My Dreams: A Few Pictures From The Hall And Oates / Train Show in D.C. Last Night

Hall and Oates brought their current tour to Washington, D.C. last night and the crowd at Capital One Arena were richly rewarded with a whole lot of great American rock-'n'-soul, to use a phrase fans might recognize.

Openers Train did a pretty good job at warming up the crowd, such that even non-fans like me were starting to enjoy the band's set, loaded with numbers like "Drops of Jupiter" and other radio hits.

Still, it was Hall and Oates the arena wanted to see and the crowd erupted as Daryl and John and their 6-piece band took the stage to a bright, peppy run through "Maneater", the first big hit of the night. As things moved on to a punchy "Out of Touch", and a soulful "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", it was easy to sit back and marvel at how good these 2 are at this sort of thing. "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" got a spacious workout, the players in the band getting chances to explore the tune's near-jazzy spaces, while a heartfelt "Sara Smile", and a tight "She's Gone" pleased long-time fans like me immensely.



As Hall and Oates marched through "Kiss On My List", "Private Eyes", and "Is It A Star?", the crowd got hit with some of the best pop-rock this country has produced in the last half-century. Even new single with Train, "Philly Forget Me Not" felt like a classic in the making, Pat Monahan joining Daryl Hall on the mic for this one and for "Wait for Me", an unexpected surprise.

Still, by the time the show ended with a rousing "You Make My Dreams", it's safe to say that an entire auditorium wanted even more. While Hall and Oates have taken their show further on up the road, fans outside this town still have a chance to catch the duo. Tour dates are on the band's official website, HallandOates.com.

[Photos: Me or my wife]

Friday, June 8, 2018

Be Released: A Brief Review Of The New Virginia Wing Album

Manchester duo Virginia Wing mine the same sort of electro-infused indie that proplled Goldfrapp and Ladytron to wide acclaim. However, on their newest record, the sleek Ecstatic Arrow, out today on Fire Records, the band have tempered their previous risk-taking with a real awareness of how to made material that's both accessible and bravely adventurous. As such, Ecstatic Arrow is clearly the best Virginia Wing release to date.

Virginia Wing -- Alice Merida Richards (vocals, synths, organ) and Samuel Pillay (synths, guitar, noises, bass) -- imbue stuff like "Be Released" with a bright sort of percussive fury, the song harking back to the first flourishing of post-punk some decades ago, even as "Glorious Idea" charts similar territory in a slightly more accessible fashion. Elsewhere, on slower numbers like "For Every Window There's A Curtain", the duo seem to be lining up next to forebears like Stereolab and Broadcast, Alice's vocals purring with precision next to Pillay's synths. The effect is a stately, Art-with-a-capital-"A"-kind of thing, even as there's not any real pretension here. One can, on this one and others like the smart "Seasons Reversed", trace a line back to those early Ladytron records, Richard's icy vocals imbuing this with a seriousness that is infectious.

Filled with the sort of music we'd once have called Art Rock, Ecstatic Arrow certainly owes debts to previous artists like Toyah, or The Human League, even as it refines the approach of this Manchester-London duo. What's here on Ecstatic Arrow is largely seamless electronica of the sort that should appeal to fans of everything from Black Box Recorder to Anne Clark.

Ecstatic Arrow is out today via Fire Records.

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp pic]

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Negative Vibes: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals)

Gruff Rhys, the distinctive front-man for Super Furry Animals, has returned from whatever unique realm he inhabits to grace us with a new record. Called Babelsberg, and out on Friday via Rough Trade, the album blends the lush with the lyrical, the lovely, sweeping tunes within serving to anchor some of Gruff's best, most aware compositions.

From the easy-and-catchy "Limited Edition Heart" and on to the friendly "Take That Call", Gruff sounds in command here, less concerned with defining himself as a solo artist anymore, and more content to serve the music itself, in these cases a kind of modern indie that nods as much in the direction of previous Furries albums as it does old Van Dyke Parks ones. The elegant "Drones In the City" allows Gruff to sing about drones -- presumably, the non-violent kind -- while the music echoes that of Aaron Copland underneath him. The cut is one of the best things he's served up outside the Furries, and one marvels at how easily he and the assorted players here -- Kliph Scurlock (ex-Flaming Lips, drums), Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo, multiple instruments) and Osian Gwynedd (multiple instruments) -- pull off this sort of chamber pop. Similarly, "Negative Vibes" soars. A faint cousin to "Fragile Happiness" from SFA so many years ago, the track finds Rhys reassuring himself (and us) that things may be falling apart, but they're not that bad after all. There is, like in so many of his best compositions, something starry-eyed here, but Gruff Rhys, like Lennon and Davies before him, manages to earn his sentimentality. Nothing about this one feels too easy or too pat, you know? And with Swansea composer Stephen McNeff and the 72-piece BBC National Orchestra of Wales behind the tunes, it's hard for this selection, and so many here, not to sound majestic in every way.

Elsewhere, "Same Old Song" unfurls with the same sort of deliberate stride as found on opener "Frontier Man", while "Oh Dear!" mourns the sorry state of things even as Gruff purrs his trenchant lyrics over top of the Jimmy Webb-style music. Rhys speaks more directly about the work of the deranged politicians controlling our discourse, especially the madman in Washington, on the sleek "Architecture of Amnesia", the words flowing as easy as honey as Rhys delivers one of his loveliest performances as a singer in quite some time. As the record closes on a duet with Lily Cole, one gets a sense that "Selfies in the Sunset" is Gruff's bemusedly down-tempo take on the apocalypse, the seriousness of the lyrics undercut not at all by the lite-as-air, near-country twang of the tune.

And I think, rather than hit us with a mallet, Gruff Rhys has wisely decided to ease himself into our souls here on Babelsberg. The moments in the lyrics that strike us as indications of just how real the world's collapse seems on every level are made more vivid because they are set against music that is so beautiful and fragile.

Babelsberg will be out on Friday via Rough Trade.

More details on Gruff Rhys via www.gruffrhys.com, or his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Alain Bib]

Punching Up: A Review Of The Debut Full-Length Record From D.C.'s Flasher

It's almost a shame that so much attention will be paid to where the 3 members of Flasher come from. Sure, it bears some attention that Taylor Mulitz is from Priests, and that Daniel Saperstein is from Bless, and drummer Emma Barker is from Big Hush. But, really, the music on Flasher's debut full-length record, Constant Image, out Friday on Domino, is so fresh that it seems better to approach this material without any preconceived ideas of what one's going to find here, or how this is gonna fit in with the grand tradition of this city's rich musical history.

Opening cuts "Go" and "Pressure" offer up the sort of throbbing electro-rock one typically seeks out on records from British bands from some 4 decades ago, while the bright lead single "Skim Milk" soars on a similar wash of percussion and keyboards even as the thrust of the tune suggests the propulsive work of D.C.-area forebears like Q And Not U, or Romania. The slower "Harsh Light" is elegant, equal parts old O.M.D. and "Behind The Wheel"-era Depeche Mode, while "Punching Up" recalls the brand of sinister electronica pioneers like Gary Numan once made their life's work. If the soundscapes on these more deliberate numbers make these tracks on Constant Image more slow-burners, they remain proof of the talents of these 3 players, the moods here modulated via fuzzy bass-work, or cavernous drumming, or the sharp sparks of a guitar hook, or washes of keyboards, or -- in the case of the sinister strut of "Business Unusual" -- the squawk of a saxophone, this time played here by D.C. music legend Mark Cisneros (Des Demonas, Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds, Deathfix).

One would be correct in finding parallels here on Constant Image to those early New Order records, when the band was defining a new music, and perhaps unconsciously bridging 2 musical eras, as it seems as if Flasher is nearly doing the same, wedding up the current electro-clash-style of punk with earlier forms from the capital's musical past. And yet, so much of Constant Image is so good that one remains a bit startled at how vital this sounds, and how it seems as if Flasher just appeared out of the blue, without any connection, or debt owed, to any musical forebear here. Of course, those of us in the D.C. area know that Flasher has been gigging a lot over the course of the last few years, so the sound here on Constant Image is the refinement of the band's attack, a modern, thoroughly American spin on the template crafted by a bunch of moody misfits in Manchester some half-century ago, bursts of Magazine, or Joy Division, or Buzzcocks bobbing to the surface here in the sea of hooks on this record.

Constant Image will be out on Friday via Domino.

More details on Flasher via the link below, or via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Jen Dessinger]

Sunlight From Another Life: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Billy And Dolly

I was barely 30 seconds in on the first track on the new album from Billy and Dolly, "Sunlight From Another Life", when I knew I was hearing something unique. From the Glitter Band-stomp to the faint hints of recent Blonde Redhead records, the tune here was unearthly and thoroughly unsettling. The cut, the first on the band's newest release, Five Suns, out on Friday via Shit Krystal, is, like so much here, music that draws from the past -- Zep hooks, proggy flourishes, etc. -- to make selections that sound like something from the future.

If the gentler "Please" suggests a debt owed to the Swingin' Sixties, and "Everything is Off" one owed to Tom Petty, lots else here indicates the influence of late-period Primal Scream ("Just Wrong"), or any number of proto-shoegaze acts ("Marooned"). Similarly, "Bobby" is eerie electro-pop with flashes of "No Quarter" sprinkled throughout its grooves, while "Setting Sun" chugs with enough force to earn favorable comparisons to early numbers from The Cult, of all things. Still, the parts I liked the most on Five Suns were the glammy bits, when San Francisco duo Bill Rousseau and Dahlia Gallin Ramirez sounded like they were on the same wavelength as Luke Haines on some of his recent releases.

If this San Francisco duo seem to be channeling lots here on Five Suns, they are doing it with ease and making the results sound entirely natural. As such, while Five Suns echoes worthy forebears from the past, it remains a record of stunning originality, and odd beauty.

More details on Billy and Dolly via the band's official Facebook page. Five Suns will be out via Shit Krystal on Friday.

[Photo: Andres Ramirez]

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Now I Feel It: A Quick Review Of The New Sam Evian Album

The new record from Sam Evian, You, Forever out Friday via Saddle Creek, is the sort of album that is so full of easy hooks, and buoyant charm, that a listener can't but help and fall in love with it. The release from Evian is the newest project from Sam Owens, along with Brian Betancourt (bass), Austin Vaughn (drums), Adam Brisbin (guitar), and Hannah Cohen (backup vocals), and the release is marvelously appealing.

"Where Did You Go?" purrs and coos, a faint hint of Nineties Yo La Tengo creeping through the groove, while the rougher "Health Machine" crunches with dashes of glam-stomp and solo Lennon. Elsewhere, the lyrical "Summer Day" offers up the kind of vulnerable loveliness that the late Elliott Smith was the master of producing, while "Now I Feel It" twangs like solo George, all All Things Must Pass-style hooks pushed in new directions for appreciative indie-pop listeners in this century. The peppy "IDGAF" is obviously catchy, while the more languid "Next To You" is quiet and sublime, an aching beauty at work here, whiffs of Prince and Bolan seeping through the melodic hooks on this one.

You, Forever is an album that seems to exist outside of any easy genre categorizations even as it dabbles a tiny bit in many. While gentle nods in the direction of worthy forebears can be heard here, Owens and his team have offered up music that is heartfelt, light-as-a-feather, and catchy here on this new record. It's nearly impossible to find fault with much here.

You, Forever will be out on Friday via Saddle Creek.

More details on Sam Evian via the official website.

[Photo: Josh Goleman]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Should Be: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Deeper

Chicago's Deeper make music that recalls in some obvious ways that of peers EZTV and Omni. That said, there's a robustness at work on the band's self-titled debut record, out on Friday via Fire Talk, that suggests a firmly emotional engagement with this sort of material, rather than just a perhaps ironic dabbling in the forms of forebears like Television and Talking Heads.

Opener "Pink Showers" twists and turns like stuff from Field Music, while the more forceful "Should Be" suggests some odd pairing of a young, yelping David Byrne with the instrumentation of The Voidoids behind him. The comlex "Transmogrified" offers up a spry XTC-like interplay between guitars and bass and vocals that is positively exhilarating, even as the down-tempo "Message Erased" made me think of both Slanted-era Pavement as much as it did Nineties Fall stuff. Still, for all that talk of those comparison points, there's a real sense of heart here as the song swells that brings a certain lushness to what would otherwise be a too brainy brand of art-rock. The players here -- Nic Gohl (guitar and vocals), Michael Clawson (guitar), Drew McBride (bass), and Shiraz Bhatti (drums) -- attack this material with a real sense of mathematical purpose even as flashes of sweetness, or a warm melodic hook, pop up throughout the post-rock found here on Deeper.

Deeper is out on Friday via Fire Talk.

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

[Alexa Viscius]

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Gift: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Wand

Wand have certainly not been getting enough attention over the last few years. The band have released a string of interesting, challenging records that straddle the sort of new psychedelic that Ty Segall is perfecting on a seemingly daily basis, as well as the more traditional breed of chamber pop that front-man Cory Hanson pursued on his superb solo album nearly 2 years ago. The L.A. collective's newest record, Perfume, out Friday on Drag City, is perhaps their most seamless yet.

If obvious single "Pure Romance" sees Hanson offer up the sort of lush lyricism he's known for, even as the chorus charges, Segall-like, towards the heavens, many other tracks here seem intent on breaking the mold of what this group's achieved previously. Elsewhere, the more complex "The Gift" made me think of old Flaming Lips, or Super Furry Animals, numbers, the rhythmic track an insinuating offering here on Perfurme, even as the title cut serves up an epic-length, percussive attack. The rough "Town Meeting" is countered by the gentle "I Will Keep You Up", all Bolan-isms churning with a dash of VU.

Wand make music that really stands so far apart from what other contemporaries are crafting in today's indie environment, even as one can, clearly, hear a hint of Ty Segall about things here on Perfume. Still, don't let that be seen as a knock on Hanson's skills as he is truly one of the real visionaries in rock today.

Perfume by Wand will be out on Friday via Drag City. More details on Wand via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Abby Banks]

Friday, May 18, 2018

Holding: A Quick Review Of The New All India Radio Album

The new album from All India Radio, Space, out next week, is the sort of release that straddles a line between ambient and dream-pop, all while explicitly harking back to the glory days of Pink Floyd. The album is spacious and full of soundscapes that enlarge a listener's sense of the cosmic. No mean feat that.

Opener "Vega" and follow-up "Monsters" nod in the direction of Floyd circa Dark Side, even as the more supple "Heirs of Ineptune" pulses and throbs with bits of Can and Kraftwerk pieces being referenced by the musicians here, as does the spry "Holding". Elsewhere, "Eurydice in Scarlet" recalls bits from The Church, especially so since Steve Kilbey makes an appearance here for a spoken word passage, while "Anja's Eternal Light" is equal parts Eno and late Cocteau Twins, soothing stretches punctuated by electronic bits that embellish the song with subtle flashes of emotion.

Space is a more lyrical release than earlier offerings by All India Radio, even as the lyricism is of a stretched out and blissful nature. Martin Kennedy and his crew have imbued this with enough touches that suggest the early Seventies that heads from the era should love this as much as younger fans of newer ambient releases.

Space by All India Radio is out next week. More details on All India Radio via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.