Friday, February 22, 2019

Springtime: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Le SuperHomard

I hate winter but I have springtime in my heart now having heard the new album from Le SuperHomard. Meadow Lane Park, out today via the esteemed Elefant Records label, is a downright invigorating record. If you can remember the joy you felt when you first heard Stereolab, you will likely feel that vibe again when you play much of this one.

If opener "In The Park" recalls Broadcast a bit, the more expansive "Springtime" is even better, bits of Saint Etienne's best singles mixed up with faint hints of mid-tempo New Order numbers. This is, like so much on Meadow Lane Park, pop music of the very best sort, even as the delicate "Snowflakes" veers into the sort of territory frequently occupied by peers Lake Ruth. Elsewhere, "Paper Girl" is an instant classic, all classic French ye-ye music revved up to 10 and polished with the sort of sheen the best Cardigans singles had, while the elegant "Karaoking" is more deliberate. While those two numbers are just fantastic, Le SuperHomard seem not content to simply make masterful and sublime chamber pop, as the percolating "SDVB" illustrates, even as the title cut is all Dubstar hooks and Francoise Hardy-style vocals.

The players here inject this material with enough heft that one never feels like the whole thing is simply an exercise in mastering a style. And, of course, the superb hooks here are enough to ensure that this one gets noticed. Frankly, there are moments so lovely and catchy on Meadow Lane Park that I'm sort of surprised that I barely knew many of the band's songs before now. Effortlessly cool, easily affecting, and the sound of a beautiful day, or the memory of, or wish for, one, this is an absolutely fantastic record.

Meadow Lane Park by Le SuperHomard is out today via Elefant Records.

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

[Photo: Alice Lemarin]

Everybody Play: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Sunwatchers

The new album from NYC quartet Sunwatchers is a bold blend of free jazz and fusion. The propulsive rhythms of the tunes on Illegal Moves, out today via Trouble in Mind Records, suggest a real appreciation of rock-and-roll even as the instrumentation feels closer to, say, what one would find on a record from the tail-end of the hard bop era.

"New Dad Blues" is breezy, percussive funk-jazz, while the bouncy "Beautiful Crystals" is a neat blend of the sort of riffs that both Frank Zappa and King Crimson once rode to success. If the music here on this one is a bit more rock than jazz, the loose "Everybody Play" is more improvisational, horn-runs, guitar-skronks, and brush-work taking a listener back a few decades to an era when this sort of thing was more in vogue. Elsewhere, "Psychic Driving" is a descent into the tornado, shards of guitar carrying this thing through into the light, while closer "Strollin' Coma Blues" is, as its title suggests, nearly a blues number, albeit the form of the blues once practiced by the players in Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band.

The musicians here -- guitarist Jim McHugh, drummer Jason Robira, bassist Peter Kerlin, and Jeff Tobias on sax -- are on fire on every track on this one. A record that is super-easy to enjoy and which remains bravely iconoclastic, Illegal Moves is a blast, frankly. Fans of cool music, and superb musicianship should find this one an essential release, just like I did.

Illegal Moves is out today on Trouble in Mind Records.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Your Beauty Could Not Save You: A Brief Review Of The New Album From James Yorkston

The new album from James Yorkston, The Route To The Harmonium, out tomorrow on Domino, is the sort of release that may be labelled neo-folk. And while Yorkston delves into that territory, I found his newest record closer in spirit to earlier offerings from Radiohead and David Sylvian. There's a real inventiveness here to the music which, when coupled with James' rich vocals, made me think of those acts, despite the instrumentation here which is more organic and less reliant on electronic textures than those other artists.

While "Your Beauty Could Not Save You" and "Like Bees To Foxglove" echo old compositions from artists as disparate as Bert Jansch and Syd Barrett, the elegantly-constructed "Shallow" made me think of Thom Yorke and his crew. James Yorkston has a unique skill at blending decidedly old styles with hints of the modern, such that a number like "Solitary Islands All" floats into a listener's consciousness through a few simple, concise folk hooks. Elsewhere, the elegiac "The Villages I Have Known My Entire Life" explores the sort of sonic expanses once mapped out by artists as disparate as Robert Wyatt and Ed Harcourt.

If lots of James Yorkston's newest album feels like a set of interpretations of prior forms, lots more here feels new. The Route To The Harmonium is, certainly, more complex and intricate than some earlier releases that I'd term folk-rock, and, similarly, Yorkston's downright warm vocals are mixed perfectly here, such that a listener feels like something is being shared in confidence. An intimate album, The Route To The Harmonium is also a visionary one, and the kind of album that winds its way into the soul with real ease.

The Route To The Harmonium is out tomorrow via Domino Records.

More details on James Yorkston via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Ren Rox]

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

To The Top: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Murray A. Lightburn (The Dears)

This new album from Murray A. Lightburn of The Dears is the sort of release that instantly seeps into the soul. Full of rich, vaguely retro approaches to pop and rock forms, Hear Me Out is a fantastic record. Out on Dangerbird Records on Friday, fans of The Dears should embrace this too, even as the band's leader breaks new ground here.

"Centre of My Universe" sways with a hint of pre-Beatles-era soul, while the downright lush "I Give Up" takes things even further back, Lightburn turning the number into a sort of torch song. Elsewhere, the propulsive and insistent "To The Top" seems the sort of thing Weller would have written some years ago in The Style Council, with Murray's vocals here natural and perfect, while the title cut is all Al Green-wooziness, a heartfelt spin through the past. At his very best here on Hear Me Out, like on the aching "Changed My Ways", Murray A. Lightburn approaches the sort of territory once trod by Leonard Cohen. I think that makes perfect sense given that producer Howard Bilerman worked with Cohen. And some mention should be made of the other players here, including jazz guitarist Steve Raegele, and jazz bassist Rémi-Jean Leblanc, along with drummer Jeff Luciani (The Dears), and singers Catherine McCandless (Young Galaxy) and Ariel Engle (Broken Social Scene).

The line-up here is stellar but Murray A. Lightburn is the amazing performer at the center of this, and his warm and expressive vocals suggest past artists such as Sam Cooke and Van Morrison even as the material veers into newer, more modern territory. I can't think of many singers today who could caress something like "Anew" with such grace and power. Fans of the most recent Arctic Monkeys records, and that last superb album from Childhood, will love this one as much as I did.

Hear Me Out by Murray A. Lightburn is out on Friday via Dangerbird Records.

More information on Murray A. Lightburn via the official website for The Dears, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

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]