Thursday, April 19, 2018

Be Positive: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Trevor Burton (The Move)

Founding member of The Move, Trevor Burton has returned to offer up a really affecting album of cover versions, and a few originals. The release, Long Play, drops on Gray Sky Records this week, and it's a nice blend of the sort of English pop one would expect from the guy behind "Blackberry Way", as well as a record of modern British folk.

Burton wisely chose some good songs to cover here, from the sweet "Flirted With You All My Life" by the late Vic Chesnutt, and on to the loveliest song Tom Petty ever wrote ("Wildflowers"), Burton reveals himself to be an expert interpreter of these compositions. Elsewhere, "After It Ends" offers up a hook that's vaguely reminiscent of a Move single, even if the cut was written by the genius John Vanderslice, while "Just Breathe" by Eddie Vedder allows Burton an opportunity to inject a good deal of emotion into his performance here on Long Play. The odd "Be Positive", originally by Refrigerator, sees Burton approach the track like he would have the rougher numbers on the final Move records, while the more familiar "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel allows Burton a chance to move beyond the folk-y vibe here into something more complicated.

Trevor Burton has revealed talents here that are markedly different than those that allowed him to create so much great music with The Move. And yet, there's something familiar here in his delivery that allows, say, a cover of a Mountain Goats song to sound vaguely like those wonderful Move singles from so many decades ago.

Long Play by Trevor Burton is out this week via Gray Sky Records.

More details on Trevor Burton via

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Come Down Softly To My Soul: A Few Words About A Few Spacemen 3 Reissues

In the very near-future, the fine folks at the fine Superior Viaduct label are going to be offering up a bunch of Spacemen 3 reissues. For lots of you, this material is stuff you're familiar with. For lots more, it's stuff that you probably have on some format, but which you now want on vinyl. Whatever the reason for your attraction to these releases, these records are some of the best proto-shoegaze offerings from an era when indie rock in the U.K. was lurching through the diminishing C86 wave, and about to crash into another one, with bands like My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 at the helm of the ship.

Originally released in 1990 or so, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To is a collection of demos from the early days of the band, when Jason Pierce and Peter Kember were finding their way, and before Spacemen 3 settled into being the garage-y outfit found on records like The Perfect Prescription. Tracks here bristle with life, with numbers like "The Sound of Confusion" and "Come Down Easy" serving in these versions as rough templates for the longer, more out there editions that were released later on subsequent Spacemen 3 albums. The sharp brutalism of "Amen" is the V.U.-style of drone rock reduced to its most basic elements, a shadow of "No Fun" by Iggy and crew casting itself over the track as well. Elsewhere, "Things'll Never Be The Same" rips things up, while the eerily-lovely "Transparent Radiation (Organ Version)" sees a familiar number from the band's catalog in its earliest, purest form.

The essential Playing With Fire from 1989 finds Spacemen 3 riding between musical poles that suggest pure bliss ("Come Down Softly To My Soul") and the start of an anarchic uprising ("Revolution"). What's here from Sonic Boom (Peter Kember) and the guy who'd form Spiritualized (Jason Pierce) is the melange of the sounds that both musicians would unveil in other outlets later. At their best here, like on the brief "I Believe It", one can hear the very sound that Bobby Gillespie would use as the basis for his best tracks on the Screamadelica album some time later, or, on "Honey", the kind of thing that suggests what bands like Slowdive and The Telescopes would pursue in the years after the release of Playing With Fire. And to say that is to acknowledge that this release is indeed that seminal to the entire genre. Kember and Pierce may have been on the outs here but what's on the record is remarkably coherent and cohesive. This remains one of the great, underrated shoegaze records.

Recurring from 1991 is an album I didn't really like back then but which I sort of appreciate now. Of a piece with the sort of band-simplifying-their-sound-approach found on the self-titled Love and Rockets album from 1989, Recurring sees the sonic attack of Spacemen 3 polished and refined to its simplistic core. Gone are the Nuggets-style work-outs from earlier releases, and in their place are gems like the spacious and space-y "Hypnotized" and similar numbers that foreshadow what Pierce would do on the best Spiritualized records, and Kember would do on those Sonic Boom releases. Still, for the moments that shine here, there's stuff like the lengthy and unwieldy "Big City (Everyone I Know Can Be Found Here)", a 10-minute trip through the detritus of acid summer in England, that is far less successful for being too of its era.

The very essence of the sound of Spacemen 3, and, as such, some of the building blocks of an entire genre of music in England and elsewhere, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, Playing With Fire, and Recurring make the collective case for the continuing importance of Spacemen 3, and, by extension, the genius of Peter Kember (Sonic Boom, J. Spaceman) and Jason Pierce (Spiritualized). The records remain expansive, near-visionary listening experiences.

Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, Playing With Fire, and Recurring are all out this week via the Superior Viaduct label.

Monday, April 16, 2018

You Could Be Better: A Quick Review Of The New Drinks Album

Some few years ago, I expressed my befuddlement at the first Drinks record -- and I also explained why I simply refuse to write the band's name in all-caps as it's shown elsewhere. And, since I only review things here that I like, I faced the challenge of trying to outline the positives of a record that really sort of puzzled me.

Well, now, in 2018, I'm happy to report that the new Drinks album, Hippo Lite, out Friday on Drag City, is a good deal easier to embrace. If anything, Hippo Lite sacrifices none of the experimentation of the first album from the band, while offering up a new layer of accessibility. "Blue From The Dark" blends a bit of Sixties-style chamber pop with an insistent melody to start the album, while the jittery "Real Outside" echoes both early Talking Heads and Slits records. To name-drop those artists is not to suggest that Tim Presley sounds like David Byrne, nor that Cate Le Bon sounds like Ari Up, but, rather, that Drinks clearly owe a huge debt to artists that pursued new textures and rhythmic attacks in the immediate post-punk years some decades ago. "In The Night Kitchen" is more angular, while "Greasing Up" nods in the direction of those V.U. cuts where John Cale took the lead, to go even further back for a comparison point. "Leave The Lights On" is a good showcase for Cate Le Bon as a vocalist, while closer "You Could Be Better" marries the more avant-garde approach of Drinks with something that sounds a bit like the sort of thing routinely offered up by bands like Broadcast or Lake Ruth.

Drinks have taken a lot of risks here on their second album, even as they've edged a tiny bit closer to what makes up a fairly mainstream strain of alternative music in the 21st century. Given that, I'd heartily recommend Hippo Lite to both fans of Tim Presley (White Fence) or Cate Le Bon, as well as to listeners in search of something a bit more adventurous than lots of what's out there at the moment.

Hippo Lite is out on Friday via Drag City.

[Photo: H. Hawkline]

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Made Out Of Honey: A Quick Review Of The New Azalia Snail Album

Azalia Snail has been a mainstay of the American indie scene for a long time. And one can understand her longevity when one hears the sort of bright pop she routinely cranks out. Her newest record, Neon Resistance, is out now via Silber Records and it's as fine a record as any in her rich back-catalog.

The trippy "Celeste (Can You Feel It)" kicks things off, before the percolating electro-pop texture of the peppy "Field Rep" propels things forward into the ether. This is spacious, nearly-dazzling indie, the sort of thing that should soundtrack a spring day nicely. Elsewhere, the lovely "Cherry Blossom" recalls stuff from Broadcast a bit, as does the more languid "Made Out of Honey" after that. The very best tunes here, namely "Weekend Back" and "The Moral Chemist", nod in the direction of The Go! Team and Danielle Dax, respectively, Snail wisely layering multiple electronic effects upon the tracks to offer up lo-fi that's less reliant on guitars than other stuff out there in the market-place. The subtle and space-y "I Am The Night Sky" closes the record in splendid fashion, the tune a nice cousin to the sort of thing Laetitia Sadier has been attempting as a solo artist recently.

Every Azalia Snail record is interesting. That's a given. But I'll venture that Neon Resistance is one of her better, bolder recent releases. Azalia has taken some chances here and the results are some of the lightest-and-loveliest compositions in her rich back-catalog. Subtly brave, the electro-tinged indie on Neon Resistance is great stuff that's easy to love.

Neon Resistance is out now via Silber Records.

More details on Azalia Snail via her official Facebook page.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Never Coming Back: A Brief Review Of The New Album From A Place To Bury Strangers

Three years, A Place To Bury Strangers dropped a record which was loud and boisterous. Back then, I found a lot to enjoy in the band's music. With the release today of their new album, Pinned, out now on Dead Oceans, I find myself not as enamored of what this crew is doing.

Whereas before it seemed as if the band was at least cribbing a bit from My Bloody Valentine and Loop, now, it seems like they have been listening to and taking notes from a bunch of Interpol and Sisters of Mercy records. Admittedly, "There's Only One of Us" has a nice throb reminiscent of Eighties electro-poppers, while the brighter "Execution" offers up a more interesting set of textures. "Look Me in the Eye" suggests Nine Inch Nails, while the catchy "Never Coming Back" is more 21st century Depeche Mode than anything else. The harder songs here -- "Attitude", "Act Your Age" -- are moderately enjoyable but, really, for a band that was previously a bit derivative, I kinda wish that A Place To Bury Strangers had picked more interesting reference-points this time around.

Pinned by A Place To Bury Strangers is out today via Dead Oceans.

More details on A Place To Bury Strangers via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ebru Yildiz]

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Everybody Needs You: A Quick Review Of The New Laura Veirs Album

The new Laura Veirs record, The Lookout, out tomorrow via Raven Marching Band, is the sort of release that both surprises and soothes. There's a lot of rich and artistic material here from the prolific singer-songwriter, and one gives thanks to whatever deity is watching over indie-pop that music like this is still being made.

From the bright, skittering rhythms of lead single "Everybody Needs You" and on to the rolling chords of "Watch Fire", a number with Sufjan Stevens, lots of what's here on The Lookout is superbly-realized art-folk, for lack of a better term. Veirs understands both how to construct a hook, as well as how to create texture, and that's darn important. "Lightning Rod", for instance, uses a loping rhythmic figure underneath vocals from Laura that makes the composition seem to recall songs from both Nanci Griffith and Jane Siberry. To name those other artists is to place this in some sort of context for newer fans such as myself. While some of this, like "Seven Falls", nods in the direction of past giants like Judee Sill, lots of other cuts here, namely the rich "Canyon", recall the more lyrical work of The Roches, for instance. There's even something vaguely Stones-y about "Mountains of the Moon", another highlight here.

For all her tremendous talent, Laura Veirs remains an artist who can control her gifts, as the material here is concise, and expertly-performed. The Lookout is so easy to enjoy, and so full of moments of grace and heart, that it stands as one of the best releases of this season.

The Lookout by Laura Veirs is out tomorrow via Raven Marching Band.

More details on Laura Veirs via her official website.

[Photo: Jason Quigley]

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Soundtrack To The Void: A Quick Review Of The New Manic Street Preachers Album

There's something so big, so majestic about the chorus of "International Blue", the lead single off of Resistance is Futile from Manic Street Preachers, that one marvels at how this band have consistently not been embraced on this side of the Atlantic the way they have overseas. Then again, look who's president now, eh? So much for the mystery of Yankee bad taste. As the Welsh band prepares to drop this, their 13th album, there's something reliably ambitious about the kind of pop being pursued and crafted by this lot here.

And what we're confronted with here on Resistance is Futile is an assessing and an assimilating. For as much as some of this sounds like bits from Send Away the Tigers (2007), or has flashes of the futuristic sheen of Futurology (2014), or even dashes of the odd punchiness of Know Your Enemy (2001), there's something new here, something slicker, more refined. If the Manic Street Preachers have done anything here on Resistance is Futile it's to swing for the fences (to use a baseball metaphor about a bunch of guys from Wales). And what this all means for fans, both old and casual, is that we've to give ourselves over again to that strange mix of brain-and-heart at work here in the music of Sean Moore, Nicky Wire, and James Dean Bradfield. What's here is, as always, the sound of a trio of smart fellows surrendering to their own pure-pop inclinations, with the result being the band's best -- and most consistent -- record in ages.

Now, for all that, there's also a lot of cribbing here, perhaps more than is normal for a trio of guys who've always worn their love of a bunch of diverse influences proudly on their sleeves. Maybe even more than on any recent release, the band seem content to nod in the direction of dozens of fine reference points: "In Eternity" is all Ultravox-pining-for-Bowie's-Berlin, echoes of the Manics' own Futurology (2014) abounding, while "Hold Me Like a Heaven" is easier to get stuck in the head, the tune's big hook decidedly radio-friendly, almost like an Imagine Dragons chorus. The song is, like a few here, almost catchy in spite of itself, the Manics pushing themselves dangerously close to the mainstream yet again, even as the more contrary "Broken Algorithims" ends up sounding more like Rush than anything else.

"Dylan and Caitlin", featuring guest vocals from The Anchoress, about Dylan Thomas and his wife, is this band's "Angel of Harlem", which is to say an unexpectedly peppy throwback to an era when Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick were in the Top 40, while AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" seems to have been the inspiration for "Sequels of Forgotten Wars", another clear winner here thanks to Bradfield's success with a skewed, understated guitar-line. On "Song for the Sadness", James nicks the faintest hint of a Slash guitar hook to serve as the central riff of the track, even as drummer Sean Moore seems to be channeling every John Bonham skin-smash ever sampled by the Beastie Boys. The cut is the more bombastic cousin to earlier numbers like "The Second Great Depression", but more buoyant, while the chugging "People Give In" has all the "Autobahn"-like precision of cuts from Futurology, even as it breaks into grand, sunshine-dappled string-breaks, the peaks of "Australia" writ even larger.

Those moments, and many in the first 2 singles ("International Blue" and "Distant Colours"), highlight the genius of this band, that unique blend of intellect and emotion that is rarely pulled off so deftly and precisely. The moments that move here -- and there are many, especially on the Hillsborough-referencing "Liverpool Revisited" -- season tracks every bit as big and shiny as those of, say, ELO, with the sort of smart pop that post-punk perpetually promised (and rarely delivered). Resistance is Futile sounds like the culmination of something, the search, sans Richey, for those moments when rock-and-roll truly can deliver us from our misery, and reveal something large and majestic within us as listeners and fans.

Resistance is Futile is out on Friday everywhere.

More details on Manic Street Preachers via

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture from band's Facebook page]

Monday, April 9, 2018

Just Passing By: A Brief Review Of The New Anton Barbeau Album

The new album by Anton Barbeau blends the musician's familiar, playful take on power-pop, with a more lyrical, inspired spin on the sort of stuff Todd Rundgren could once be reliably counted on to provide. Natural Causes, out on Friday via Beehive, is a fine record, one that is sure to appeal to fans of XTC and Jellyfish, and, of course, Rundgren's stuff.

Robbie McIntosh of McCartney's band adds some guitars to the lush "Disambiguation", one of the highlights here, and "It's The Coffee" reminded me of Split Enz a bit, another major compliment to the skills of Barbeau at delivering this sort of thing. Elsewhere, "Magic Sandwiches" sounds like you might imagine, but it's less silly and brighter than you'd figure, while "Just Passing By" positively rocks, the chords sharp and crackling ones. And while I suppose that a lot of listeners will be drawn to this because of how Rundgren-ian lots of Natural Causes sounds, or because of the guests on this record (Andy Metcalfe, members of Bevis Frond, Karla Kane, etc.), but what those listeners should really be attracted to is Barbeau's ease here at crafting material like this. This is really good stuff for power-pop fans, especially anyone who's worn out their copy of Oranges and Lemons.

Natural Causes will be out on Friday via Beehive Records.

More details on Anton Barbeau via his official website.

[Photo: Kristine Chambers]

Friday, April 6, 2018

Unnatural Act: A Quick Review Of The New Wreckless Eric Album

The new album from Wreckless Eric, Construction Time and Demolition, out today, is as good a showcase for the multiple talents of the legendary singer-songwriter as one is likely to encounter. A ramble through multiple genres, Eric Goulden (birth-name of Wreckless Eric) tries his hand at various styles here and succeeds at most of them.

From the twang-y near-glam of "Unnatural Act" and the absolutely lovely "The World Revolved Around Me", the cuts here are uniformly excellent, with Eric operating with a level of assurance that is wonderful. Goulden uses "Wow and Flutter" to tell a cautionary tale, while the brighter "Flash" offers up a jaunty hook in an all-too-brief song. The pointed "Gateway to Europe" stands as one of Goulden's very best compositions to date, even if the longer, rambling "Forget Who You Are" seems less successful.

Construction Time and Demolition sees Wreckless Eric traipse through the forms of both classic pub rock, and the sort of singer-songwriter stuff that owes far more to Luke Haines, for example, than it does to Richard Thompson. An excellent record, Construction Time and Demolition works for a listener who's deeply familiar with this guy's back-catalog and for those who only know that one big hit from "40 Years" ago (as the track here goes).

Construction Time and Demolition is out today. More details via

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp image]