Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ty Segall Drops Stripped-Down Album: My Quick Review of Sleeper

It's no joke that Ty Segall is owning that kit and axe in that pic. No joke at all that he looks so confident 'cause on the new Sleeper (just dropped on Drag City), he's playing everything 'cept the violin and viola.

It's a pullback of all the noise on his other releases. Compared to the 3 records I reviewed recently, Sleeper is a more modest, though no less ferocious, affair.

One listen to the title track and -- like many other rock critics out there -- my mind goes back to T.Rex. It's inescapable. The chords and vocals, as well as the hard acoustic sound of the axe, make me think of Bolan and hsi crew. It's a jam and a half, really.

"The Keepers" brings the blues into the picture while "She Don't Care" pulls out Bowie...and a hint of Love and Rockets, I think.

At first listen, Sleeper has more of the feel of a White Stripes record in spots. The blues-y bits loom large, let's face it. However, on the next listen I started to hear the audio nods in the direction of English eccentrics like Barrett and even Jimmy Page -- play "Crazy" and dig that mix of Led Zeppelin III and that Crazy Diamond himself, Syd Barrett.

"The West" and a few other tracks on Sleeper lean hard on that American blues tradition. Still, album closer "Queen Lullabye" ups the trippy and makes music that I don't quite know how to categorize. And maybe I shouldn't even try. A really glorious piece of whimsy with a surprising depth, this is the highlight of the record for me. It's a long way from the freakouts of those other Ty records but maybe not. Maybe this is the base for that stuff. Maybe Ty is breaking things down here to the essential pieces. Maybe given more time he'd have layered guitars over this?

Who knows? As it's supposedly going to be Ty Segall's only release in 2013, let's dig it now and crank it up. Grab Sleeper at your favorite retailer either online or in the real world and follow Ty Segall on his Facebook page here.

Play Serpentine by cleen Here!

Aileen Alonzo is in Dark Himaya -- and you can read all about their new album here -- and she's in cleen along with Claudio Canzonetta. And cleen have just shared a wonderful and atmospheric new track called "Serpentine" which you can play below.

The track, especially Aileen's vocals, recalls the more atmospheric side of Tori Amos with a hint of Toyah Wilcox (for those who remember her!). The synths are great, equal parts sinister and equal parts warm and inviting. And that Jon Hassell-like trumpet from Michal Garcia is a nice bonus.

Follow cleen on their official Facebook page:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

You Can't Turn Back The Hands Of Time: A Review Of The Triumphant Third Record From Dot Dash

My biggest fear is that if I rave too much about this record that you guys will think I didn't really like the first 2 albums from D.C.'s Dot Dash.

No. I think you can go back and read how much I loved 2011's Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash.

And it seems like barely a year ago when I was playing Winter Garden Light for the first time on my iPod as my morning commute began from Lamma Island to Hong Kong proper -- I started the record right as the ferry pulled out of Yung Shue Wan towards Central. I hit "play" and heard Danny Ingram's sticks tap out the intro to "Faraway" and I started to compose another rave review for these guys in my head.

I've rung the bell for these dudes. You all know I love The Dash.

So now, onward to the matter at hand.

What of "Record 3" from Dot Dash? What of Half-Remembered Dream, out now on The Beautiful Music?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a magnificent album!

If the first one was the boys piling all their favorite records into a ramshackle old roadster and heading out, and the second slab was that car getting a tune-up while the boys chucked records (and influences) out the window as their machine revved-up and roared forward, then this record is the ensuing joyride with a bitchin' mix-tape in the cassette deck.

From the bliss of "11th Hour" -- Marshall Crenshaw pushing Morrissey out of the way to front Marr's Smiths in 1986 -- to the goth-stomp of "A Light in the Distance" -- drummer Danny going all Budgie on us like he did when he pounded beats for D.C.'s seminal Strange Boutique and England's Swervedriver -- Half-Remembered Dream is a delight!

Somehow the boys -- Terry Banks, Bill Crandall, Hunter Bennett, and Danny Ingram -- have reassembled those familiar parts and tinkered with them. They've gone under the hood and snapped some wires and added a Road Warrior-style nitro-booster to the engine. The 10 songs here purr with that familiar effortless power pop wit and grace we've come to expect from these guys -- as usual, there's nothing wasted -- but somehow they've added a few frills this time around.

There's the breakneck "Brassneck"-rush of opener "(Here's to) The Ghosts of the Past", for example. And if Dot Dash are not necessarily copying The Wedding Present -- Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash producer Eric Tischler's The Jet Age did open for TWP a few times so maybe his Gedge-love rubbed off on these guys? -- they do bottle-up some of the delicious pop-blur of David Gedge's guitar attack.

Still, they'll never sound entirely like The Wedding Present, not while Hunter Bennett's bass throbs like Peter Hook on songs like this one.

Then there's "Hands of Time".

If I really wanted to convert someone to Dot Dash, I'd use this song 'cause this is the track that this three-time former record shop clerk knows could send a store's worth of record-stack-flippers rushing up to the counter to ask:

"Wow, that's good. Who's that? Is this for sale?"

It's that kind of tune. At once a typical Dot Dash jam and so much more than anything they've done before. Terry Banks' voice here is subdued and a bit...trippy. There are hints of Sumner in his delivery -- think "All Day Long" -- but Bill Crandall's riff-machine is an altogether different thing. There's a Steve Diggle-worthy soaring guitar-line and a few slashes that sound like Ride-era Andy Bell -- Banks on second guitar? -- but those hooks all add up to a shockingly fresh slice of indie rock and quite possibly the standout cut on the record.

"Bloom/Decay" is chiming bliss. Crandall's guitar and Bennett's bass duel it out and the tune skips forward. Instantly catchy and downright summery, things end in a crash of drummer Ingram's Clem Burke-isms on the kit as things go from power pop back to punk in seconds.

"11th Hour" opens with a hook that vaguely recalls the first album's "Alright, Alright" but then blends some Johnny Marr-style guitar riffs with what sounds like pre-Tommy Who aping the Beach Boys -- think an outtake from The Who Sell Out.

"Do Re Mi" -- after that false start intro -- rockets along and bears a strong hint of Banks and Bennett's earlier Julie Ocean.

(For more details on that band, be sure to go back to my interview with Terry Banks.)

"Broken Halo" is a bit heavier and sounds like the best moments on Winter Garden Light. But there's another great guitar-hook and a little descending bit of the melody that really adds another shade to the Dot Dash box of colors. That subtle and tiny little downward motif (?) is the real hook of the song for me.

"If not now, then when?"

"Shopworn Excuse" is a look back to America's best college rock -- think the glory days of The Connells and R.E.M.

"Fiction Section" -- despite Crandall's nod of the axe in the direction of the Buzzcocks -- is pure Tommy Keene. I hope D.C.'s own Tommy is hip to the charms of Dot Dash. He should be really proud that these guys are now in his league.

The vocals on the chorus are really nice -- Banks sounds perfectly at ease here -- and Bennett's bass anchors things as Ingram plays less punk and more Ringo.

(One of the best things I ever did with this blog was chronicle Danny Ingram's career as a drummer -- someone had to do it!)

And then, on track 9, things got a bit ugly.

I had heard "A Light in the Distance" already but couldn't wait to hear how it sounded when it finally made it onto the record. If Danny Ingram is drumming with the force of Budgie on "Spellbound", the other Dot Dashers are thinking of punk rockers other than Siouxsie and the Banshees. The guitars and bass roar like Strummer, Jones, and Simonon with the police on their backs as Banks channels early Stranglers and Damned cuts.

Album closer "The Sound in Shells" pulls together those British punk influences with all the American college rock these guys heard in the 1980s. Banks' delivery here is sublime as the instruments rock-and-crash around him.

Like just about every cut from these guys, "The Sound in Shells" is approximately two dozen influences fighting it out. Somehow out of that chaos and clash of influences, these four guys manage to make concise pop that sticks in your head.

And now, on Half-Remembered Dream, they've made it sound even easier.

They used the same producer on Half-Remembered Dream as on Winter Garden Light but things sound crisper here. Producer Branden Funkhouser might have moved the knobs in different directions this time. Whatever he did at that studio in Baltimore, he's to be commended as the record sounds great...especially at a deafening volume on my iPod headphones as I navigate crowded streets in Kowloon, but I digress.

You know, I grew up in a good era for music -- listened to most of the same bands as these guys and saw Ingram in Strange Boutique at the old 9:30 Club before I knew anything else he'd done -- and I sort of have always reacted against the earlier generation's Rolling Stone-style seriousness about album rock.

At the end of the day, I'd rather make a mix and pepper it with "What You're Doing" and "The Night Before" than sit down and put on a serious face and listen to Sgt. Pepper's like I was at the symphony.

I like singles, individual cuts. That's my barometer.

So by that standard, Half-Remembered Dream is a set of 10 outstanding tracks.

And, by my more modern barometer, Half-Remembered Dream is 10 songs that will all sound great on a mix-tape, mix-CD, or popping up random-like on an iPod between Superchunk and The Undertones.

Half-Remembered Dream is out now on The Beautiful Music.

Follow Dot Dash on their Facebook page:

It will be a D.C. Scene love-in when Dot Dash opens up for Slumberland Records' Terry Malts at DC9 in September. Details here.

(One blurry pic credit to Todd Savitch and the below pic credit to Sam Ingram.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Download New Single From Rose Elinor Dougall Here!

Rose Elinor Dougall is back with a new single and a new label (You Records) and hints about a new album in the near-future.

It's been 3 years since the wonderful Without Why but, of course, she's released a few EPs in that time which flew a bit under the radar.

(I almost referred to her as an ex-Pipette again but it's about time to put away that label considering how much wonderful music she's released since leaving that group.)

The new single is "Strange Warnings" and it's a lovely ditty. Less straightforward than some of the tracks she's done in the past but a joy all the same.

I eagerly await her new album.

Follow Rose Elinor Dougall on her Facebook page:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dark Himaya's Breaking The Spell Album Is Up On Soundcloud!

It's sort of silly but I've still never seen Dark Himaya play live here in Hong Kong. My wife and I caught a few minutes of their set at last year's Lamma Fun Day (heck, we could hear them from our balcony as their tunes soared up from the beach).

But I enjoy their music and now their full-length CD is out.

So what better way to spend the rest of this typhoon-ruined day than to enjoy the full album from Dark Himaya up on Soundcloud? You can play it for free but then you should buy it.

There are a lot of currents here in this album. The clear and powerful vocals from Ivy Fernie and Aileen Alonzo really carry these songs through sometimes atmospheric elements.

Overall, the production and audio mix of the instruments is quite good too -- the drums (a solid Keith Woodfin) and guitars sound live, like they were recorded together and I always like that. The keyboards and piano do the heavy lifting on quite a few of these tunes -- "Isadora" and its hint of mid-period Kate Bush mixed with Heather Nova -- but there's also something funky here too -- the Tony Levin-isms of the bass-work from Ales Dini are supple and affecting. There's a hint of Tori Amos in a few places -- "Running to Lust" -- and even a faint trace of Enya -- a few piano-runs -- and Alanis Morissette (!) in "Cursed Muse". (But don't worry 'cause it's post-"You Oughta Know"-Alanis after she got a lot of things out of her system!)

Dark Himaya manage to make dark music without giving in to a lot of goth nonsense -- there's nothing too heavy here -- and the tunes are light and nimble but still serious.

No mean feat to pull that off.

I'm making my way through these tunes as I watch the dark clouds hover over Lamma Island.

You can buy the album on

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Play And Download NEW Bongos Track Here! (Yes, I Said "New" Bongos Track!)

In what is surely the coolest reissue news this summer, a new record from The Bongos will be out in October on a revived JEM Recordings label.

The legendary band recently reunited to play the final night at Maxwell's in Hoboken, as you've probably read about already, and they've also dug up a previously unreleased album called Phantom Train which will be out on October 1.

The short version is that back in 1985, after a bit of success with Drums Along The Hudson and Beat Hotel they were being wooed to Island Records. They recorded some stuff and put it on hold...until now.

Richard Barone and the other lads in the group have revisited and remixed the tracks and they're going to release the full-length this fall but you can play and download lead single "My Wildest Dreams" here.

Download "My Wildest Dreams" by The Bonogs

In the meantime, please check out the new "official" Facebook page for The Bongos for all the details on the group's 2013 and 2014 activities.

Pull Back My Spring: The Swimming Pool Q's Drop Amazing Reissue Package!

In 1984 I was a 17-year-old music nerd who listened to WHFS and I went to see The Swimming Pool Q's open for Lou Reed at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on October 8.

That was my first real concert even though my parents had taken me to see Gladys Knight and the Pips and The Jackson 5 when I was a kid.

I barely knew anything about Lou Reed and what I did know was thanks to my friend Wolfgang who was one of the only kids in my high school who knew music like that -- we met after he walked into class in 10th grade with a copy of X's Under The Big Black Sun under his arm.

I was a Senior and he was a Sophomore -- I think -- and we went with some hot freshman cheerleader whose sister was a year older than me and who had notoriously dated (and later married) my HS psychology teacher. And another girl from another school.

Wolfgang had given me a crash course in Lou -- I was a big fan of New Sensations that summer -- but it was me who'd heard The Swimming Pool Q's first. I LOVED their first record on A&M and I had no doubt found it thanks to some review in Rolling Stone or Musician magazine. I was the one who was raving about this record in the fall of 1984.

Now, nearly 30 years later, and thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, that album and the follow-up, Blue Tomorrow, are finally on CD in a spectacular package.

The 38-page booklet in this package breaks down the band's bio so I'm not going to repeat that too much except to note that in 1984 it seemed like American college rock was booming.

In a pre-indie universe, there were loads of great bands bubbling up to the surface and getting signed by major labels willing to take a bit of a risk for the prestige of having the bands on their rosters. None of these bands were what you'd call mainstream. Still, R.E.M. was getting a lot of good press on the back of second full-length Reckoning and, despite what X lamented in "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts", a few American bands were getting some radio-play on alternative and college rock radio.

The Q's rode that R.E.M.-generated hunger for Georgia bands for a brief moment and they produced two pretty damn superb records for A&M.

On the self-titled 1984 A&M record, The Swimming Pool Q's consisted of Jeff Calder on vocals and rhythm guitar, Anne Richmond Boston on vocals and keyboards, Bob Elsey on lead guitars, J.E. Garnett on bass, and Billy Burton on drums and percussion. The David Anderle-produced record is a delight.

Really, the album sounds as good, if not better, than it did in 1984. Even after my wholehearted switch to the CD format in 1988, I always had a copy of this close at hand on cassette (since that's how I got it in 1984). It was always in my collection and now it's finally on CD!

The one-two punch of "The Bells Ring" and "Pull Back My Spring" still astonishes. You've got the lovely Anne Richmond Boston vocals dueling with those guitars in the first cut and the Ed Stasium-assisted roar in the second. Assistant Producer Stasium would soon go on to work his magic on Julian Cope's Saint Julian and the guitar-rush there is here on this record.

What's funny now is that in 1984 you could hear the influence of Peter Buck here but now the first Q's record seems to somehow oddly foreshadow the louder tracks R.E.M. would soon unveil on Document in 1987.

Really, there is no dud on this record, From the honey-voiced "Purple Rivers" to the new country of "Some New Highway" and "Just Property", The Q's and their song-craft charm and amaze a listener.

The shared vocals on "The Knave" recall the punkier early cuts of Exene and John Doe in X.

"Something's crawling through the lining of my suit!" Jeff shout-sings and the overall effect of that David Byrne-esque line is not so much horror as joyous rage as "The Knave" thunders forward.

it's worth remembering that 1984 saw the release of some nearly perfect records from R.E.M. (Reckoning) and X (More Fun In The New World) and it's no stretch to say that The Swimming Pool Q's is every bit the equal of those two records.

It is just that good and I've been saying that for nearly 30 years now.

Doubt me? Spin this one.

In 1986, I considered Blue Tomorrow a bit of a disappointment -- (How could it not be after that nearly-perfect first A&M record!?!) -- but after listening to it now, I think that it seems a lot stronger than the work of other lauded American bands from that era; I'd still play this before any Del Fuegos record, obviously.

The line-up is the same on Blue Tomorrow but the production is now being handled by Mike Howlett who worked with A Flock of Seagulls. Nothing against those guys but that sort of production was never going to work with The Q's.

Still, Blue Tomorrow has many charms for a listener.

Like its predecessor, the record opens with a double-punch -- "Now I'm Talking About Now" and "She's Looking Real Good (When She's Lookin'") -- but it's "Pretty On The Inside" with those glorious vocals from Anne Richmond Boston, and squalling-and-scrawling guitars from Bob and Jeff, that seems like the lost classic now. There was always something pure and beautiful about Anne's vocals and the contrast between them and the guitars here creates something unique. There's a hint of X but, really, The Swimming Pool Q's were -- for a brief moment here -- creating their own special sound.

"Laredo Radio" is The Blasters by way of Georgia and "Wreck Around" sounds like The Boss trying his hand at penning a college rock tune.

"More Than Just One Heaven" remains catchy and a downright perfect near-hit. Why wasn't this huge? Why didn't this have a great video and break through on MTV like XTC's "Dear God" or something?

"Big Fat Tractor" seems to sum up the sound of Southern alt-rock from that era and the title-track gets by on its superb hook.

Decades later and Blue Tomorrow sounds less and less like a misfire and more-and-more like a gem. Every bit as good if not better than critically praised albums by Guadalcanal Diary, Blue Tomorrow may have failed 'cause tastes were changing but it's a fantastic set of tunes.

Spin this.

Now it's on to the bonus CD and bonus DVD!

What to know what's on these bad boys? Achin' to see what the extra goodies are? Feast your eyes on this.

"Power and Light" is a stomper! This roaring rocker would have fit in perfectly on either of the band's A&M records. It's a joy to hear this now.

There's a touch of Lone Justice to the country version of "The Bells Ring" here and the Scott Litt remix of "More Than One Heaven" sounds even more like a lost hit than it would have in 1986 or so.

Pow Wow Hour functions more than a collection of 17 rarities. It's both a peek behind-the-scenes of those 2 A&M records as well as a resurrection of a few genuine gems -- "Big No Vacancy" and the cover of "Tears Of A Clown" to name two -- which serves to solidify the reputation of The Q's. Beloved by music critics (and me) at the time, they never quite got the recognition that they so richly deserved.

As a listener and fan who remembers that era fondly, I can remember hearing stuff "More Than One Heaven" and cursing the fickle whims of the Top 40 market. In my mind, college rock was where it was at. Why listen to the likes of Expose and Bon Jovi when stuff like "Blue Tomorrow" was spinning on some college radio station somewhere?

Drive "Some New Highway" and find it "left of the dial" somewhere.

And there's a DVD in this set!

Crammed with live clips and stuff, the DVD is worth the price of this package alone.

(And none of these clips are on YouTube so don't bother lookin'!)

There are two scorching live videos from D.C.'s own 9:30 Club from early 1985 when the band swung through town after that earlier Lou Reed gig; there's a great clip of "Pull Back My Spring" from some obscure North Carolina TV show; there are bits with the band in a record store while Springsteen plays on the store record player; and loads more.

The Swimming Pool Q's are one-step closer to getting the recognition they so richly deserve with this deluxe reissue set. If nothing else, the press attention will reaffirm the band's place in American rock history -- that sounded pretentious, didn't it? -- but, really, it seems downright unfair that Anne Richmond Boston and Jeff Calder and the rest of The Q's never totally broke big on the scale of other bands like 10,000 Maniacs.

When I worked in a college record store and someone would buy a Guadalcanal Diary record, I'd always mouth-off like a typical record store snob about how The Swimming Pool Q's were "doing that sort of thing first and better"...and there's some truth to that.

I always thought that, apart from the presence of Anne Richmond Boston, that The Q's sounded like what a Peter Buck-fronted R.E.M. would have sounded like if Michael Stipe wasn't in the picture.

The Swimming Pool Q's were not quite X, certainly not Lone Justice, and most assuredly not roots rockers like The Long Ryders. They were too smart to pretend to be dumb and too clever by far for Top 40 radio.

For a moment in 1984, I felt like I had discovered something magical. Driving through Southern Maryland, I was pretty certain that I was the only kid in my high school cranking out that first A&M record. As "The Knave" would blare out of my Duster's tape deck in the school parking lot, I'd reflect on all the great bands I'd started listening to in 1984.

In my mind at least, The Swimming Pool Q's were poised for the big time.

In a mere two or three years, with the likes of The Del Fuegos and Dreams So Real -- two fine bands, I guess -- getting played on WHFS, this Q's fan felt cheated.

It's taken nearly 30 years to finally have these two albums on CD and to have them in such a nice and lovingly-produced package -- complete with a 17-track bonus CD and a DVD -- is something that this fan is very, very grateful for.

Here are the details on the set.

But better still, check out the band's website for details on their current activity as well as this beautiful reisssue set:

The Amazon link for the 2-CD set is here.

The Amazon link for the 3-CD and 1-DVD set is here.