Sunday, November 30, 2014

Singing To The Sunshine: In Which I Get Reacquainted With Richard Davies (The Moles/Cardinal)

I came at Richard Davies because of Eric Matthews. Much like I stumbled onto the work of Bill Nelson largely 'cause of his association with David Sylvian, I started at one crucial point in an artist's career and went backward unlike those fans who were there from the beginning. With Davies and his Moles, that job of hearing this stuff was difficult 'cause in the era of the release of Davies' collaboration with Eric Matthews as Cardinal, the Moles albums were notoriously hard to find, especially on CD.

They were the sort of thing that one would buy and tape 'cause they were so rare they were getting big bucks on eBay. I know that's a horrible thing to say but one Moles CD could pay for a week of lunches and some gas fill-ups about 15 years ago.

Well no more of that. The fine folks at Fire Records have done the world a favor and put out the Cardinal album as well as pretty much everything from Richard Davies' earlier career as The Moles. Cardinal and Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles are both out now. They are both essential purchases and your life as a listener will be immensely better for owning these 2 superb and smartly produced reissues.

Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of the Moles collects the 2 Moles albums. Disc 1 has 1991's Untune the Sky and 1994's Instinct, while Disc 2 of this 2-CD set then offers up another hour or so of rarities.

So if you are reading this you probably already know about the studio albums. I don't need to beat you over the head by telling you how great "Nailing Jesus to the Cross" is, do I? And you surely know about the title cut from "Instinct" and its many charms? And you don't need me to remind you what a splendid piece of chamber pop exists in the form of "Raymond, Did You See The Red Queen?", do you? And of course you know that "Bury Me Happy" sounds like the best thing that The Clean never recorded?

Well, yeah, you know all that if you've heard these 2 official studio albums at least once. So what about the rarities?

There's the marvelous "We Need An Electric Guitar" which would win points for that title alone even if it was not a great tune. A mention should be made of the sinister "The Crown Souls" which charges like Straitjacket Fits doing a Sabbath classic. A real treat is also found in the inclusion of the Propeller (1990) 7-inch single. "With Body Wifes Seven Days" mashes up the Mekons and The Fall delightfully while the title cut from the single soars like The Chills from their own classic Brave Words era.

And then there are the 4 songs from The Moles EP. I may have heard it somewhere before years ago but I was delighted to hear again "What's the New Mary Jane?", the band's Beatles homage. Taking a title from a then unreleased Beatles cut without actually hearing the song (according to the liner notes), Richard Davies and his crew expanded on their idea of the lost Beatles classic and made something closer to the blissed-out feedback-drenched melodicism favored by Dinosaur Jr. The tune oddly works in an organ figure that wouldn't have sounded entirely out of place on an Inspiral Carpets record. A transcendent single, this one is worth the price of this whole set, frankly. "Saint Jack", from the same EP, charges forward with a Joy Division-style rhythm. If it turns out that the song is named after the Bogdanovich film, it will earn even more points in my book.

The Tendrils and Paracetamol EP is here too. Look, these 2 discs are awesome. You don't need me to tell you that. You need me to tell you that Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles is worth the money. Collecting pretty much everything The Moles recorded in their heyday, the 2-disc set is an essential refresher course in what made The Moles so special and ahead of their time. Get it now from Fire Records.

And now on to Cardinal.

In late 1995 I got the first Eric Matthews album and then quickly found the Cardinal album. I knew nothing about Richard Davies at the time. I got into his stuff a year or so later. On first listen, I liked Cardinal more than any solo Matthews record. The clash between the sensibilities of Davies and Matthews was like listening to the clash between Lennon and McCartney. And rather than try to unravel who did what on this record, let's just say that these 2 worked perfectly together as a recording act. If Cardinal succeeds it succeeds first and foremost as one of those records -- like the best of The Left Banke or The Zombies -- that a listener absorbs totally. It's a perfect album. It sounds amazing on headphones and it sounds like something that could never be replicated live. And I dig stuff like that.

But it also bears the traces of conflict, albeit healthy conflict. It's apparent on first listen that Richard Davies and Eric Matthews come from different places in the musical world. They overlap in some shared loves -- "Singing to the Sunshine" remains hard to pin down as a wholly Davies cut or a wholly Matthews cut much like Help!-era Beatles stuff sometimes blurs the Lennon and McCartney bits so seamlessly -- but there's also a sense that these two songwriters are also trying to one-up each other on every cut. That Cardinal works so well is testament to the strengths of this Welsh guy from down in Australia and the American guy who was in thrall to classic British songwriters.

"Dream Figure" seems like mostly Matthews but then you've got a hint of punk in the guitar which was surely the result of Richard Davies, right? "Angel Darling" has a lopsided melody like the best stuff of The Moles but it also has the familiar elements of Eric Matthews' stuff -- those horns and piano chords -- that would make his 2 Sub Pop albums such refreshing records in the bleak days of the post-grunge era.

Highlights of the 10 bonus cuts here are "Willow Willow" with its echoes of The Zombies and "Tribute to a Cow" which rocks like Beefheart being streamlined at the hands of Van Dyke Parks.

Demos of note on this reissue are the Felt-like "You've Lost Me There", more relaxed in its earlier form, and "Tough Guy Tactics" which sounds like The Velvet Underground as a demo.

A final joy is found in the 10cc-like B-side "Say The Words Impossible" where Matthews and Davies trade off in a tune that is equal parts Nick Drake and Robert Wyatt. A revelation for any fan of this band compared to the more upbeat chamber pop of the official Cardinal album, this is the tune that makes this whole set worth a purchase even if you already have the simple 10-track edition of Cardinal.

I think I can appreciate Cardinal more now than I did 20 years ago. Having heard more stuff from Eric Matthews and Richard Davies, I think I now better understand what went into the making of this one. If anything, the record sounds even more remarkable now especially when considering the era in which it was recorded.

Cardinal (1994) is out now via Fire Records. It has 10 bonus cuts and expertly written liner notes. It is one of the most important reissues of 2014 and you need it now.

Not convinced? Spin again this song, one of the best things ever written in the 1990s as far as I'm concerned.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Best Deals Of Black Friday? These 2 Game Theory Reissues

Well, I'm starting to sound like a broken record but it's time to hype some Game Theory reissues again.

Omnivore Recordings are putting out 2 more Game Theory releases: 1983's Pointed Accounts of People You Know and 1984's Distortion, both out today. The physical releases are on green vinyl and are strictly limited edition so act now 'cause they are gonna sell out fast.

Both EPs show Game Theory growing into the band most people grew to love based on later releases like Lolita Nation (1987). That pop sense is here. For those of you who already purchased this week's earlier reissue of Dead Center, I'm here to tell ya that while that excellent compilation overlaps with both of these EPs it does not include all the same tracks. So you need to get these too.

The cuts here are all great though. "Metal and Glass Exact" from Pointed Accounts of People You Know is near-perfect indie-pop a good 2 decades ahead of its time. There's also the wickedly titled "I Wanna Get Hit By A Car", and EP closer "37th Day" which quietly unfolds like early cuts from comrade Mitch Easter's Let's Active. The tune swaps the chiming chords of the other songs on the record for something more subtle and affecting.

The flawless Distortion, produced by Michael Quercio of The Three O'Clock, favors straightforward power pop as exemplified by "Shark Pretty" and "Nine Lives to Rigel Five", to name 2 of the familiar songs on this release. However, there is variety here with stuff like "Kid Convenience" which sounds oddly like some lost electro-pop gem left over from the early flourishing of the genre in England -- think the more obscure stuff from The Human League. It's a weird cut and a bit surprising compared to the other songs you probably know from Game Theory in this era.

But, really, there are 11 cuts spread out over the course of these 2 EPs and they are all gems. Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion are both out today via Omnivore Recordings.

You can buy Christmas presents for your friends and family later. Go buy these for yourself today instead!.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give Thanks For This: Legendary 1976 Sneakers (Chris Stamey) EP Is Now Available

In 1976, a few years before they were in The dB's, Chris Stamey and Will Rigby were in Sneakers. The band's output has been the stuff of legend, especially for those of us without access to collectible vinyl. Now, thanks to the good folks at Omnivore Recordings, the 6-track EP from the band has been re-issued along with 3 bonus cuts. The vinyl version of this release is limited to 1,500 copies and they come with a download card. I urge you to get this when it's released on Black Friday. Skip the shopping. Get this instead!

"Ruby" kicks things off. What's remarkable about this cut is how very modern it sounds. When the rest of the world seemed to be following the lead of The Ramones or The Clash, Stamey and his boys in Sneakers were translating the herky-jerky angst of Talking Heads into something closer to power pop in the style of the more upbeat Big Star cuts. More Chilton-ish than Knack-ish, "Ruby" and the other 8 cuts here are lost gems so good as to make a listener positively shocked at the fact that they weren't re-issued like this already.

"Condition Red" is more straightforward while the sublime "Driving" somehow crams a Velvet Underground-style skewed melody line into what could very easily be a Jonathan Richman song. The tune is artful in its seemingly casual artlessness. Unwinding with a very non-punk sense of melody, "Driving" provides proof why Sneakers are worth catching up with now. Not only is the cut an indication of future greatness from Stamey and The dB's but it's also a sort of template for the bands of the power pop boom that would erupt at the end of the 1970s. Sneakers are, however, infinitely better than the thousand skinny tie bands that would follow.

"Love's Like a Cuban Crisis" is chiming tunefulness while "On the Brink" sounds a bit like what contemporaries Cheap Trick would do on their debut album in 1977 but without the noisy bits -- think "Mandocello" made more concise.

There follows a cover of "Let's Live For Today" by The Grass Roots and then "Story of a Girl" which is easily worth the price of this release alone. The equal of anything Big Star's Chris Bell would commit to vinyl later -- Stamey's label put out not only the Sneakers EP but Bell's "I Am the Cosmos"/"You and Your Sister" single -- the song is haunting and affecting. A real revelation for any fan of power pop and not just fans of The dB's. A precursor of the sound of early R.E.M. is here with 2 future producers of that band at work on this EP (Don Dixon as engineer and Mitch Easter contributing guitar and drums to this track).

"Nonsequitar" and "S'il Vous Plait" round out this set and both are hints of the sort thing that Stamey would produce later in his career, both with The dB's and as a solo artist.

This is an amazing piece of history and a potent reminder of just what a great songwriter Chris Stamey was (and still is, for that matter). What strikes a listener first about these 9 cuts is how surprisingly modern they sound given the era in which they were recorded. Somehow, caught between the extremes of punk and disco, Sneakers managed to craft something this good and real. Omnivore Recordings are providing music fans a true gift here. One listen to "Story of a Girl" should be enough to convince you that these 9 cuts have more appeal than as just showcases of the admittedly talented geniuses who eventually formed The dB's.

Sneakers by Sneakers is out on Friday, November 28, 2014, via Omnivore Recordings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Have You Heard The Marvelous Ciaran And Wilding Single Yet?

These are two lovely songs. And they will probably be the best new things you hear this week.

Cian Ciaran from Super Furry Animals has teamed up with Aussie Justin Wilding Stokes, better known as musician Wilding, to record "Missing Her" from Ciaran and Wilding. The 2-track single is available now from Strangetown Records.

As you probably know, SFA man Cian Ciaran recently put out another fantastic solo album, the magnificent 2013 release They Are Nothing Without Us. He's also been busy working on records from the SFA's Bunf (the new one from The Pale Blue Dots) and Daf (the equally awesome new one from The Earth).

His influence looms very large over these two cuts. "Missing Her" is a reworking of an earlier Wilding cut which here turns into the sort of thing that Paul McCartney would have cut had he left Wings and joined 10cc. "Stuck in the Middle" sounds a lot like "Bleed Forever" from the Super Furry Animals 2003 masterpiece Phantom Power. I can think of no higher praise than that.

More details on the Ciaran and Wilding project are available here.

The "Missing Her" single from Ciaran and Wilding is out now via Strangetown Records.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Trailer For Manic Street Preachers Documentary No Manifesto

What's there to write about this upcoming film at this point? If you are even a casual fan of the band you already know about it and are anxiously awaiting its release...and have been for 2 years now, I guess it's been. It's been a long time coming but it looks like the Manic Street Preachers documentary No Manifesto is close to being ready.

Well, there's a new trailer for the film up online and the comments under that state that a January 2015 release date is planned.

Fantastic news, eh? Yes. Cross your fingers and play the trailer and stay tuned for updates between now and January 2015.

A Few Words About 2 New AJ Davila Releases

I feel like I've been missing so much by not hearing much from AJ Davila until now. The Puerto Rican superstar creates music that at once echoes the 1960s garage rock heyday as well as tunes that owe a bit to grunge and the best bands of the more recent past.

With Davila 666, you have tunes that are like lost Nuggets gems that someone found on a tape and just put out. Dig "Sabes Que Quiero" below and see what I mean. Infectious, ain't it?

The band also covers the old Nerves classic "Hanging on the Telephone" which most people know from Blondie's version.

The record is a trip. A stroll down an imaginary past filled with punk-y bits of tunefulness.

Davila also works with another band. The tunes from AJ Davila Y Terror Amor are harder. The cuts recall Primal Scream and some of the best early Nirvana stuff. Dig this tune below and see what I mean. There's a palpable sense of attitude here.

Both albums from AJ Davila's projects are highly recommended. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you'll find yourself at least humming along to these rockers.

Find out more details on the Burger Records website.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The First Of A Few Game Theory Reissues This Week Drops Today: My Take on Dead Center

Forget the big sales in the shops this Thanksgiving week. What you really need to be buying are a slew of Game Theory reissues due from Omnivore Recordings, the first of which drops today. The compilation Dead Center from 1984 has been "reimagined" and expanded and reissued in spectacular fashion. Grab it now and then on Black Friday grab another 2 Game Theory reissues from the label.

But for now, here's my look at Dead Center.

What's important to note is that this comp doesn't completely overlap with Pointed Accounts of People You Know (1983) and Distortion (1984) so you need to buy those 2 when they're re-issued on Friday. There are 4 songs each from those 2 releases here plus loads more. It's the "loads more" that should interest any fan of Game Theory.

Michael Quercio of The Three O'Clock provides some insights via the masterful liner notes and it's worth remembering how he was nearly in the band at this point. And Dead Center captures a band in a period of transition. This collection of EP tracks and live cuts is not so much a mixed bag as a smorgasbord of diverse riches. That it holds together so well speaks to the strengths of the band, the personnel involved, and Scott Miller's skill as a songwriter.

Michael Quercio's own contributions are best highlighted by the inclusion of "Too Late for Tears (Michael Q's 'George Martin' Rough Mix)", a highlight of this release. This version of the cut from Distortion (1984) is sleek despite the "rough" production. It's a tune that places Game Theory closer to their LA power pop peers like The Plimsouls. Spin this next to "Zero Hour" and you'll see what I mean.

But ultimately Game Theory were a far more complicated band. Scott Miller's brainy lyrics and sense of song-craft guaranteed that the band were never going to be easy to categorize.

And to further that point there's a cover of R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe" here which takes what was a fairly odd sounding single at the time and turns it into something direct like a Marshall Crenshaw tune. The guitar licks on this rendition are less Peter Buck and more Keith Richards. Miller seems at once to be "taking the piss" out of his then-rock rivals and also distilling what R.E.M. were doing then into its most basic parts. It's worth remembering that back in '83 - '84 R.E.M. were a bit mysterious compared to how they'd sound on "The One I Love" a few years later. And Miller seems to be picking apart that mystery, never mind that Game Theory were due to tour with R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter's Let's Active around the time period that Dead Center chronicles.

A similar result is found in the included cover of one of my favorite Roxy Music songs. "Mother of Pearl" doesn't seem to be the kind of song that power-poppers would gravitate to but Miller and his crew find the hook and turn it into something fresh.

What's revealed here in these and other covers is how adept Scott Miller was at this sort of thing. He was Robert Pollard before Robert Pollard was Robert Pollard. There's a feeling that he was cranking this sort of thing out effortlessly and at a fast clip. And for that reason he was a genius.

Or as The Three O'Clock's Michael Quercio says so eloquently about Scott Miller in the liner notes: "To me, he was an incredibly melodic rocket scientist."

Play "Shark Pretty" here with its near-rockabilly rhythms and Big Beat Era guitar lines. It's far better than most of the stuff that we hold in such high esteem from this era. How many times have you played a Culture Club record recently? Your nostalgia for that Valley Girl era would be far better served by smart pop like this.

Quite simply: Scott Miller was too good for his time. He joins his beloved Alex Chilton of Big Star in the list of those who were more appreciated by fans a generation later, fans who "got it" on first listen.

Maybe because Game Theory were not strictly a skinny tie act made it so hard to characterize them in 1983 or 1984? More Beatles-influenced than the Byrds-ian R.E.M., Scott Miller and his crew were like the sober Replacements, capable of both rockin' covers ("The Letter") and plaintive bits of genuine emotion ("The Red Baron"). And that breadth of skill in multiple styles made the band seem unique then. One listen to this reissue of Dead Center, out today on Omnivore Recordings, ought to remind you of just how great this band was.

I came of age when Paul Westerberg was constantly name-dropping Big Star in interviews -- or at least critics of the band were -- and even naming one of his best singles after "Alex Chilton". It's seems as if the time is ripe for someone to do the same for the late great Scott Miller.

The contemporaries of The Replacements, Game Theory were every bit as good. Hear that depth and variety here. After all, it's only a short hop to Rigel Five folks!

Dead Center by Game Theory is out today on Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Heads Up About Some Rocking Tunes From London's Cross Wires

You know I spent the last week thinking how Hard-Fi were unfairly maligned. I was listened to some of their singles on my iPod and enjoying them quite a bit for the first time in a few years.

East London's Cross Wires sound a tiny bit like Hard-Fi but here's the crucial difference: Cross Wires rock a lot harder.

Cross Wires -- Jonathan Chapman, vocals, Peter Muller, guitar, Pete Letch, bass, and Ian Clarke, drums -- create angular, punk-y music that earns well-deserved comparisons to The Buzzcocks and Glen Matlock's post-Sex Pistols band, Rich Kids.

The band is actively promoting their most recent release, the excellently named Your History Defaced EP. "Modern Art" is the charging cousin of Art Brut without the arched eyebrows and sheen of irony. "Tab Clear" mingles the barest hint of a ska skank with rhythms like those found on early XTC releases. The aces "Vultures" combines guitar hooks like ones out of a Wire record with pounding drums from Clarke that give the cut more of a punk feel.

Get on board with Cross Wires by following them on their official Facebook page here.

A Peak Into The Fiery Birth Of Lone Justice: My Review Of This Is Lone Justice

As I was about to graduate high school in the spring of 1985, I saw Lone Justice open for U2 at the Capital Centre in Maryland. I lived in Southern Maryland at the time and most of the area where I lived still didn't have cable yet, and this was a good year or two before I discovered magazines like Option and NME. So without MTV, or decent music magazines, you had to work to find the good stuff that was coming out, or maybe wait for it to be played on D.C.'s legendary WHFS radio station.

Recalling some tidbits about U2's opener gleaned from the pages of Rolling Stone, I sat in my nosebleed seat and wrapped my head around this new band. Maria McKee's voice filled that big stadium and the band behind her played like they were in a sweaty roadhouse and not a gleaming amphitheater. There were echoes of Loretta Lynn in McKee's performance, and even a hint of stuff like Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker in her vocal delivery, and I had heard plenty of those singers as a kid thanks to my parents and grandparents.

Which is all a long way of saying that it was easy for me to love Lone Justice in April 1985.

But, like with many bands in those days, I was sort of alone in my fandom. After the concert I remember asking some HS mates what they thought of the openers and one of them said: "I didn't like that country shit!"

What makes that comment hysterical is not so much the speaker's lack of good taste but the fact that we both lived in Southern Maryland...the epicentre of "country shit", both musically and culturally. But in an era when Duran Duran was still ruling the airwaves, his reaction to something decidedly genuine like Lone Justice isn't too surprising in hindsight.

What rankled some about Lone Justice was that they were peddling not the soft, safe country music heard on the radio then and now but, instead, something primal. And in the process they were turning out the fiercest sort of roots rock just as that mini-wave was entering its own heyday.

Now listeners are rewarded with perhaps the clearest peak yet into that ferocious rock of Lone Justice. This Is Lone Justice, out now on Omnivore Recordings, is quite possibly one of the most significant reissues of any genre of the last few years.

This direct-to-two-track set provides a glimpse of what made this band so vital and urgent long before AOR stations -- even the ones in this area -- started playing "Ways to be Wicked" later in 1985.

Recorded primarily to serve as a demo for the band in 1983, This is Lone Justice is more Patti Smith than Shelter. Lone Justice rock with raw abandon on this release. There's something wickedly uncompromising about the band here.

Example one: "Soup, Soap and Salvation" which here roars like X covering Them. Hearing this version makes one realize that the version eventually released on Lone Justice's 1985 eponymous debut could never be anything less than over-produced. Blurring the lines of a few genres, the tune succeeds still precisely 'cause it's unlike most of the stuff that was out there then. And, thanks to the release of This is Lone Justice by Omnivore Recordings, this 1983 version can now be rightly regarded as the definitive version of this set staple for the LA group.

"Nothing Can Stop My Loving You" has a rhythm that reminds one of some Smiths tracks, oddly, but this cover of the George Jones/Roger Miller tune is also a good example of just how much more honkytonk spirit was in the music of these kids than either of their 2 studio records ever captured.

A rendition of "Jackson" adds more to the band's country bona fides but in case you were somehow still in doubt, check out this high praise from Dolly Parton, quoted in the informative liner notes:

"I have loved Lone Justice and Maria McKee since they first started out as a group. I remember going to see them at The Music Machine in Los Angeles in 1983; I was so impressed. I especially love this album. It has some of my favorite old songs on it and some new favorites that I've never heard. Hope you enjoy Lone Justice, everybody! I know I will."

The wonderful "When Love Comes Home to Stay" is a lost classic for any fan of Lone Justice. Listening to this now 30+ years after it was recorded even a casual fan must wonder why it wasn't included on either of the band's 2 studio records. A sort of pastiche of some obvious overtly country tropes, the cut has a unique interplay between Maria and guitarist Ryan Hedgecock that hints at something great that was never captured on their studio records. Add some very Los Lobos-styled mandolin (?) runs from Hedgecock, I presume, and you've got a cut that at once sounds like the Lone Justice the world knows from the first album and another, altogether looser band.

There's only so much I can write about This is Lone Justice. Put simply, it is a revelation. The record provides an entirely new angle from which to view a band so many of us cherished in that era. Even in 1985, there was a sense that Lone Justice was too polished. And by the time that Shelter came out, that polish was even thicker. Seeing Maria McKee and the band genuinely rock out on "I Found Love" on TV's "Saturday Night Live" only made the second album harder to take in 1987 or so. As a listener I felt like the band was being diluted even if I had no idea of what they really sounded like prior to being over-produced.

Well, now I do! This is Lone Justice should by all rights serve as the introduction to this band for anyone who missed out on them the first time around.

Make no mistake: I still like the 2 studio albums these folks put out but I actually like this collection more than either of those "proper" records.

This is Lone Justice is out now on Omnivore Recordings.

Here's a song that appears on This is Lone Justice and should give you an indication of the fire of this pre-Geffen version of the band.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Did I Miss This? Play Lovely Collaborative Single From The New Lines And Sansyou Here

In what makes perfect sense, The New Lines and Sansyou collaborated on a single a few weeks ago. Somehow I missed this then which is a shame 'cause 1) I'm a fan of both bands, 2) Lorelei's drummer Davis White is in both bands, and 3) the single is marvelous.

"gowanus canal field inspection" not only combines these two bands but also combines the sounds of chamber pop circa the glory days of The Left Banke with the more expansive moments of early R.E.M. This really is a splendid single and it should earn both bands a few new fans in the process.

The New Lines are playing D.C.'s awesome Comet Ping Pong on December 6. Find out more details about The New Lines on their official Facebook page.

Sansyou are playing at The Pinch in D.C. on December 7. Find out more details about Sansyou on their official Facebook page.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ty Segall Drops Singles 2 This Week, Plus My Look Back at Manipulator

On Tuesday, Ty Segall will drop yet another album. The awesome Singles 2 -- or $ingle$ 2 as it's sometimes being written -- is a collection of singles made between the time he made a few of his recent albums, including Twins (2012) and Sleeper (2013). Singles 2 is a fantastic record and the perfect introduction to this guy's stuff for anyone out there who could have inexplicably not gotten on-board the Ty train by now. You can find out for yourself when Singles 2 is released by Drag City tomorrow.

"Mother Lemonade" is all Woodstock-era fuzz and Detroit-styled exhortations. It's amped out agression from decades ago made into the indie of the 21st century...and a succinct distillation of the Ty Segall formula as well.

An unrecognizable cover of "Femme Fatale" adds to the magic of the record. Shredding the soft edges of the song, Segall turns the cut into something T. Rex would have roared through in front of a sea of screaming Brit teens at Wembley some decades ago.

"Children of Paul" and "It's a Problem" bring the melodic charms. Both tracks echo the Beatles or, better yet, The Move when Roy Wood pushed them into being a louder band.

$ingle$ 2, or Singles 2, is a quick education into what makes Ty Segall's music so exciting and infectious. Spin the one-two punch of album openers "Spiders" and "Hand Glam" and you'll get the message. This is gloriously fuzzed out, grungy (in the very best sense of the word's meaning prior to the rise of Sub Pop), wigged out rawk. I defy anyone not to get turned on by this one.

Singles 2 by Ty Segall is out on Tuesday, November 18, via Drag City.

For some weird reason, I'm only now catching up with Manipulator, the August 2014 release from Ty Segall on Drag City. The record -- double album in length -- is a monster. It at once delivers the goods we know Ty is capable of but also shows signs of new directions -- the expansive and amazing "The Singer", for example.

The title cut is the sound of all those US bands who tried to sound British in the wake of The Beatles in the mid-1960s. If "The Flintsones" had turned The Way-Outs into a real band and hired a bunch of garage rockers to fit the suits Johnny Bravo-style, the results would have sounded like this. A masterpiece!

Ty stretches his vocal style a bit on "Feel" where the familiar formula is mixed with a new sense of melody to indicate how Manipulator can serve as an indication of new directions for the performer, as well as an awesome collection of the guy's music.

The record is long but just when you think he's running out of steam a new rocker rears its head. "The Crawler" is an unholy beast of a jam. Think MC5 and The Stooges playing a beach party for a bunch of rich kids. Riffs on top of riffs brothas!

Manipulator by Ty Segall, out now on Drag City, is an impressive collection of the best sort of stuff that this guy is capable of cranking out on a routine basis. It's a buffet of riches that best works as a collection of tunes and not as much as a cohesive, long record.

By no means is that a criticism; from me that sentiment is the highest compliment I can give any collection 'cause I want the cuts to to each work on their own, out of the context of the rest of the overall album. Manipulator plays like a compilation and you can cherry-pick any tune here and plop it down on your iPod and be rewarded when it comes around in a mix.

Better yet: plop all of these riff-rockers down on your iPod. It's easier that way.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Few Words About The New Album From Peter Brewis (Field Music) And Paul Smith (Maximo Park)

In what is sure to be marked as one of the most significant releases of 2014, we have the unlikely pairing of 2 blokes from 2 great bands. Paul Smith from Maximo Park and Peter Brewis from Field Music have teamed up to produce the singularly beautiful Frozen by Sight, out early next week via Memphis Industries.

The 2 musicians convened to set Paul's travel writings to music. The result is something unlike most of the records you've heard in 2014. It's an odd mix of classical figures and rock sensibilities. Aiming high without being pretentious about it, these two musicians have crafted something at once delicate and beautiful as well as bold and direct.

The arrangements favor strings and heavy bass which suits these cuts. Opener "Old Odeon" has chords that recall the best stuff from Field Music but a track like "Exiting Hyde Park Towers", for example, echoes Van Dyke Parks and even The Blue Nile.

"Barcelona (At Eye Level)" made me think of Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones in those moments when they sacrificed their jazz tendencies for their more lyrical ones, while "Perty to Bunbury" brought to mind a hint of the more experimental moments of The Associates even if these guys are using strings to get the music across and not synthesizers.

Brewis and Smith have made something magical here. It's not entirely an easy listen but nor is it an abrasive one. The closest cousin I could find to this record would be 1990's Songs for Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale. But while those VU guys made something punchy out of chamber music elements, Brewis and Smith are using the same implements of chamber pop to push the boundaries of indie rock. Frozen by Sight is at once aiming for something higher but it's also, thanks to the lyrics based on Smith's own writing, presenting something entirely personal.

Peter Brewis and Paul Smith have accomplished the unlikeliest of successes here. I will confess that I never imagined that the guy behind something as raucous and wonderful as "Going Missing" could be part of something so sublime and affecting.

I urge you to get Frozen by Sight when it's released next week.

Find out more details on the website for the project or the Memphis Industries website.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Pink Teens (Temple Songs) Are Set To Release A New EP: Here's My Early Review

In a wise move, the lads in Temple Songs have decided to re-brand their collective as The Pink Teens. And they are set to release a new EP called -- fittingly enough -- Good Luck, Pink Teens on November 24 via RIP Records.

It's a 9-cut EP so, you know, it's another spillover of riches from these cats.

(I say that as someone who was in on the secret more than 2 years ago when these guys -- as Temple Songs -- had a WHOLE LOT of good music up on Bandcamp for free. No more. But if you missed that buffet of tunes, here's a link from RIP Records that serves as a sort of free "greatest hits" of Temple Songs/The Pink Teens.)

I started blogging about this band slightly more than 2 years ago and then all of a sudden Temples popped up (and I blogged about them too). Temple Songs continued to put incredibly cool music but Temples got a bit more traction with the press. Well, that's okay. Temples are a good band too.

So now that problem of 2 similarly named British bands is over. From here on out it will be The Pink Teens and I hopefully won't even have to mention the group's old moniker many more times.

The Pink Teens make sounds that echo the best bands from your cool(est) friend's record collection. If he -- or she -- made you a mix-tape, the songs on it would be ones that would instantly grab your attention even if they were not already familiar hits to you. That's the best way to describe the effect of the music of The Pink Teens.

At their best moments they capture what sounds like chaos being shaped into meaning, to get a bit freakin' pretentious about it. They sound like the music you'd hear at a wild party as some guys rushed the floor, grabbed some instruments, frantically plugged in, cranked up the amps, and started playing. These tunes are the sounds of songs being found for the first time. There's a sense of excitement here that I just don't hear in many bands these days, frankly.

Good Luck, Pink Teens is a subtle refinement on what's come before. There are still those moments of beauty being pulled out of the mess but things sound slightly more focused here. It takes a lot of skill to sound this unhinged in spots.

Let's start with "Shanghaied" which takes the sort of guitar sound that Lush used so frequently on their first few releases only to turn that sound into a hook that gets repeated with fury over and over. The love child of shoegazers and The Wedding Present is here.

There are next 2 songs with the exact same title. The first "Easter Island Head" is warped goodness -- think the best stuff from Swirlies -- while the second one is shorter and all jagged edges like a Beefheart tunes being sung by Marc Bolan maybe. The vocals here by Jolan Lewis are is the tune.

"Spray Ark" has the band going at full tilt in a cut that reminds one -- oddly -- of early Talking Heads. Only early Talking Heads being worked over at a furious clip with drummer Andrew Richardson playing like a madman all the way through.

"More Than I Can Bear" is, quite frankly, one of the very best things these dudes have released so far. Melodic, yearning, and trippy, the cut expands on what they've done before to push the familiar parts of the group's signature style into a new area.

"Cola Girls" is the sound of Squeeze being played by a group of guys who love The Fall. It's the gloriously ramshackle result of such a pairing and it's every bit as catchy as the best stuff by either of those acts.

"Silver Hills/Sleepwalking" starts with a near-metal -- at least like old Sabbath metal -- hook that guitarist Jean Hughes and bassist Dave Hardy ride to abandon before letting the song end in a storm of feedback.

"Coco" is Sonic Youth doing a Syd Barrett ballad while EP closer "Hate" is all the catchy vibes of earlier Temple Songs songs like "I Can't Look After You" revved up to 11. I can't understand pretty every word that Jolan is singing here but it really doesn't matter in the least. The song rocks and it's got a hook.

Good Luck, Pink Teens by The Pink Teens is out on November 24 via RIP Records. It's not luck these guys need but access to eardrums. One listen of "More Than I Can Bear" out to create another wave of Pink Teens fans.

Follow The Pink Teens on their official Facebook page.

Since I've already shared the only (?) track from the new EP that's online up above, here's a fairly recent bit of brilliance from these Manc cats...just remember it's The Pink Teens now and not Temple Songs. Got it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sadness Is The Rich Man's Drug: A Look At The New EP By The Ropes

If nothing else, New York's The Ropes win the "Best Song Title of the Year"-award with the delightlfully named "Sadness is the Rich Man's Drug", the lead track from their new EP of the same name.

The band mine a vein similar to the sort of dark new wave music that Client, Dubstar, and Ladytron once produced. And, like those worthy influences, the band do not descend into the trappings of goth, or something. The cuts are closer to being the work of an evil Human League than The Sisters of Mercy, for example.

If anyone out there besides me remembers the superb Nettwerk band Single Gun Theory and their first 2 or 3 records, you might get my meaning when I say that The Ropes sound like those guys without the samples. Second track "Maiden Claiming" is pure Mute Records moodiness of the best kind while "I Am The Last Ghetto" is the weird child of Saint Etienne and The Long Blondes (at least the way they sounded on their second album). It's propulsive and futuristic in a refreshingly old fashioned way.

Fans of any of the bands I've mentioned here would be wise to get on board with The Ropes. You can find out more about the band on their official Facebook page or via the Bandcamp link above.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I'm Late To The Party With This Marvelous Cian Ciaran (SFA) Album: A Look At They Are Nothing Without Us

When he's not playing keyboards for Super Furry Animals, or helping to run Strangetown Records and putting out great albums by band-mates Daf (the wicked record from The Earth) or Bunf (the equally wicked album from The Pale Blue Dots), Cian Ciaran puts out fantastic music of his own. Back in January, I brought you one tune of his but now I'm here to give you the lowdown on his awesome 2013 record They Are Nothing Without Us.

Somewhere in the promotional material for this record was buried the nugget that keyboard wiz Cian Ciaran taught himself how to play guitar for this release. And while that tidbit might make you listen to this album with one eye -- or ear, really -- turned to that unique angle, it's best to approach this record as another indication of how much the best songs of Super Furry Animals owe to this guy.

You know, when Lennon and McCartney went solo listeners could hear the separate styles of the respective composers and imagine piecing them up together again to reproduce the sound of The Beatles. And that's to say nothing of George Harrison and his unique part of the Beatles sound. Or Ringo, for that matter.

But the cool thing about the Super Furry Animals -- and something that I really, really noticed when listening to Cian Ciaran's They Are Nothing Without Us -- is how much each of these records from Daf, Bunf, Cian, or Guto and his Gulp sounds like Super Furry Animals. No mean feat, that. Unlike that feeling of listening to "Listen to What the Man Said", or "Instant Karma", and thinking that for all the song's glory it still only sounded like a quarter of the Fab Four, here and on those other SFA spin-off records a listener is rewarded with the same sort of pop thrills that he or she first received when spinning Fuzzy Logic in 1996 or Radiator in 1997.

Which is a long way of saying that this sounds enough like the Super Furry Animals' best stuff to please any SFA fan.

Doubt me? Spin the sublime "Shape Control" and see if you agree. What starts as a Sixties-style trippy jam, morphs into a direct riff rocker that would have sounded perfectly at home on any SFA release from 1996 until 2001. And all that happens in the space of about 2 minutes.

A hint of The Beach Boys, not The Beatles, creeps through "No More" and a listener recalls the beautiful chord changes in something like "Demons" from earlier in Cian's band's life.

There are SFA-style, space-y near-doo wop backing vocals to buoy up the surging "Sewn Up" which thrills in a way that suggests America's own late, lamented Guided By Voices.

And then unexpectedly there arises the early Sabbath vibe of "43,000,000".

"Bee My Baby" and "Sleepless Nights" take things in a mellow direction -- think High Llamas covering Neil Young -- and then the rising chords of instrumental "Silver Sea" charm again with hints of an older classic like "Dim Brys: Dim Chwys".

The sublime "Pachamama", named after an Andean fertility goddess, showcases the strengths of Cian Ciaran as a solo performer. Yes, there are bits here in this one that sound like Super Furry Animals but there's also so much more. As the guitar lines unfurl, part nearly-blues-y and part nearly Fripp-like, the keyboard figures overlap and the song turns into an affecting, subtly ambient track with vocals.

They Are Nothing Without Us from Cian Ciaran is out now on Strangetown Records. I have no freakin' idea how I missed out on this one until now, especially considering that I already blogged about another Cian Ciaran release back at the start of this year.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Parkay Quarts (Parquet Courts) Drop New Album Content Nausea: Here's My Quick Review

Not so many months ago, Parquet Courts unveiled the excellent Sunbathing Animal. Now the band is back as Parkay Quarts to unveil the even better Content Nausea, out on Tuesday on What's Your Rupture?.

The record is marvelous. More direct than the angular Sunbathing Animal, Content Nausea is a perfect distillation of Fall-inspired American post-rock.

And there's a cover of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking" on the record!

Opener "Everyday It Starts" channels the expected Fall love in a direct anthem. Mark E. Smith's influence is enormous on this lead track but here the fellows make that influence into a very American-sounding sort of noise. The title cut is pure Pavement, even more so than a lot of other songs by these guys.

"Slide Machine" is more of that Pavement love, only Malkmus and the boys later in their career, while the similarly titled "Pretty Machines" shows signs of a Television influence more than anything else.

There's a hint of Beefheart on "The Map" while "Insufferable" marries a very Dischord-style rush of post-punk with a straightforward, nearly angry lyric.

After a few near-throwaway, shorter instrumental cuts, there's the magnificent album closer "Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth" to contend with. Part Silver Jews, part Pavement -- 'natch -- the near-epic stretches out and unwinds with a sort of triumphant sadness. The boys sound like they know that they're playing a fantastic cut and I think it's safe to say that over time this tune will be marked as one of the best songs from Parquet Courts...or Parkay Quarts, or whatever the hell they are calling themselves at that point in the future.

Content Nausea from Parkay Quarts (Parquet Courts) is out tomorrow digitally via What's Your Rupture?. It's a great record and, to me at least, a superior take on this band's formula and even better than Sunbathing Animal.

The trouble will be getting this digital release the attention it deserves. So get the record and get the word out folks!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I Normally Don't Play Christmas Music Until Christmas But Hard Left Dropped A Christmas Single

I'm not really a Christmas guy. In my teens I never even got into the so-called holiday spirit until I heard "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses on WHFS here in the D.C. area. That excellent single made me feel happy and Christmas-y, whatever that means.

Well now there's a new holiday tune to warm my heart and get my foot to tapping. Hard Left -- Mike from Slumberland Records and his crew (Donna, Tim, and Stewart) from various other projects and labels (Boyracer, 555 Records, Lunchbox) -- are here to blast your eardrums with "Skinheads Home for Christmas" and the bonus gift of a wicked Bay City Rollers cover on the flip.

You know, I sent a link to this to someone who didn't know anything about this band and they thought it might be a real, lost oi single from the UK.

I'd say that means these cats and kittens in Hard Left did a darn good job. The female backing vocals on this one made me think of X-Ray Spex and that's an enormous compliment.

Play "Skinheads Home for Christmas" below and then order it on the format of your choice.

More details on Hard Left can be found on their official Facebook page.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Empty Hearts Are Here: A Review Of The Supergroup's Debut Album

How is it that a band like this existed and I didn't know about them until yesterday?

The Empty Hearts is Wally Palmar from The Romantics, Elliot Easton from The Cars, Andy Babiuk from The Chestefield Kings, and Clem Burke from Blondie. And the band has released a stormin' debut record that sounds more like the bands that influenced these cats than it does the records they produced separately in the awesome 1980s.

As I've already recounted seeing and meeting Clem Burke a few years ago when D.C.'s Dot Dash opened up for Hugh Cornwell, it's time to share my funny anecdote about when I almost met Wally Palmar from The Romantics.

In 1982, when I was about 15 and vacationing with my parents in Asbury Park, New Jersey, we all went to this seafood restaurant near the beach and these dudes came in wearing leather and stuff. They looked like rock stars so we asked who they were and were told by the waiter that they were The Romantics. Shortly thereafter the band had a huge hit with "Talking in Your Sleep" and I instantly regretted not getting the autographs of those guys. In 1982, I was too busy listening to Rush to know much more than the name of that fantastic power pop group clad all in black leather in 100 degree August heat and sitting just a few tables away.

Okay, so now Wally from The Romantics is doing lead vocals for The Empty Hearts and the super-group is here to drop their superb debut record on us. The Empty Hearts by The Empty Hearts is a near-perfect distillation of so many wonderful influences that any fan is sure to find something to love here.

Rather than try to replicate the sound of The Romantics, or Easton's Cars, or Burke's Blondie, or even Babiuk's not-quite-so-famous Chesterfield Kings, the guys in The Empty Hearts have wisely decided to have fun and make some great music in the process. Giving full vent to their love for the best things in their respective record cabinets, these dudes have pulled off something remarkable and cool here.

Example number 1 is "I Don't Want Your Love (If You Don't Want Me)" from this record.

The song opens with a surprisingly blues-y turn from Elliot Easton and a near Bonham-esque stomping beat from Burke and then Palmar takes it into a slightly different direction. Think the heavier cuts from later period Cheap Trick records and you'll get an idea of the effect here.

Album opener "90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street" mixes hard drumming from Clem Burke with a solid nearly roots-y set of riffs from the rest of The Empty Hearts.

"(I See)No Way Out" is a fantastic updating of the sort of stuff The Romantics were doing in 1983. Modernized, the cut is charging and instantly catchy. It's the sort of song that sounds so familiar that you'll swear you've heard it before.

"Soul Deep" and "Perfect World" update a Nuggets-era template for the 21st century. With nothing wasted, The Empty Hearts tear through these stompers with a surprising fury. These tunes have punch, thanks in large part to Clem Burke's amazing drum-work and the masterful playing of the other members of The Empty Hearts.

It's not all hard power pop kick here thanks to the gentle melodicism of "Fill an Empty Heart", the country-inspired "I Found You Again", and the near-metal-isms of "Loud and Clear".

"Just a Little Too Hard" mixes some Mod-ish, manic Keith Moon-styled energy from Burke on the kit with a hook that recalls the very best early Romantics stuff. The harmonies from the lads here are a nice touch and the tune is the sort of thing that Tom Petty and Heartbreakers can sometimes pull off but maybe not with this much joy.

"Drop Me Off at Home" almost sounds like a Blondie tune...except a dude is singing it, while "Jealousy" has the sort of funky riff that Aerosmith wishes they could still pull off.

Album closer "Meet Me 'Round The Corner" cranks by like Mitch Ryder fronting Babiuk's old Chesterfield Kings. It's a funky, garage-y rocker that will sound fantastic on a car stereo with the top down.

The Empty Hearts by The Empty Hearts is an awesome treat for any listener who grew up on the stuff these guys cranked out a few years ago. Very admirably they are not simply trying to replicate past glories -- and nothing on here really sounds like The Cars in any way but Easton's playing is a highlight all the same -- but rather trying to remind listeners of how much fun rock and roll can be.

You know the best compliment I could give The Empty Hearts is that they sound like what The Wonders in That Thing You Do! (1996) would have sounded like had they made a sequel set a few decades after that film. I know that that was an imaginary band with the excellent Fountains of Wayne guys behind them, but I think you get my meaning. The Empty Hearts is an update on a template that The Beatles perfected before they stopped touring. It's the sound of American cats sharing their love of that Brit beat group era while updating it for modern listeners. Not entirely retro, The Empty Hearts function even if you don't know much about the bands these guys were in. Hearing The Empty Hearts is like buying the Greatest Hits from a one-hit wonder band from the Sixties only to discover they had another dozen should-have-been hits up their sleeves.

Dig it!

Follow The Empty Hearts on their official website or on their official Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I Mean, Does Apathy Come With Age? A Look At The Chills BBC Sessions Out Now On Fire Records

The Chills were never ever apathetic and for that I am very thankful. But when I get a bit apathetic, I listen to cuts on Brave Words and remember when I could find so much inspiration in music, and when such bands could inspire so many listeners like me.

In the spring of 1988 I bought Brave Words by The Chills on cassette. This would have been right before I bought my first CD player and in the era when Gerald Cosloy's wonderful Homestead Records was distributing stuff like this in America. They were doing God's work, really.

At that time, I knew quite a few people who loved The Smiths, then recently disbanded, and a few other folks who at least knew something about Creation Records, a label I was just discovering, but I knew no one, not a soul, who knew anything about Flying Nun Records from New Zealand. Like my purchase of the first Close Lobsters on cassette in that same era, I was relying solely on the good writers at magazines like Option as I took a chance on bands that were very new to me. (And, in a bit of irony, I was working at a good used record store at the time but, as I didn't own a turntable then, I had to rely on tapes.)

With The Chills I was rewarded and I continue to be rewarded the more I listen to them. With the exception of perhaps The Go-Betweens, there is no other band of that era that I still hold in such high regard. More than any subsequent shoegaze band, more than any band I loved so much back then on 4AD, The Chills really opened up a new world of sound to me.

Who were these literate musicians from the other side of the planet? Who could write something like the song "Brave Words" and not sound insincere singing those wonderful lyrics? The Chills were direct, smart, and witty in an era of ironic detachment and whatever you call the post-punk vibe that gave birth to grunge.

Well an answer to that first question is here in the form of the fantastic The BBC Sessions by The Chills, out now on Fire Records.

First, let's look at the details of these sessions.

Session 1 from November 12, 1985:
"Rollin' Moon"
"Brave Words"
"Wet Blanket"
"Night of Chill Blue"

Session 2 from April 5, 1987:
"Dan Destiny and the Silver Dawn"
"Living in a Jungle"
"Moonlight on Flesh"

Session 3 from December 12, 1988:
"Part Past Part Fiction"
"Christmas Chimes"
"Effloresce & Deliquesce"
"Dead Web"

First off, let's be honest about something. I have heard a few of these cuts floating around on the Internet and maybe you have too but these sound fantastic here! Fire Records has done an amazing job at cleaning up and remastering these nearly 30-year-old cuts and the results are immediately apparent within a few seconds of the start of "Rollin' Moon" on this compilation. "Wet Blanket" positively soars here while "Brave Words" has an immediacy that surpasses the version on the album. This first session is the rare case of a band being perhaps better represented by a radio session than the resulting studio album.

However, that unique phenomenon was a purely 1980s thing and it usually involved a band who had done a session on the John Peel radio show.

The highlights of the second session are the nearly punk-y version of "Dan Destiny and the Silver Dawn" that opens the set and the rare "Moonlight on Flesh" that gives a hint of the sort of thing that The Chills would do on 1990's perfect Submarine Bells. The near-instrumental here points the band in a slightly new direction as they try out textures they would use in their later recordings.

Speaking of Submarine Bells, "Part Past Part Fiction" shows up here in a slightly different version than what would end up on the 1990 album. It's closer to label-mates The Verlaines in this incarnation but it's still a glorious cut and one of the very best things the band would record in the 1990s. "Dead Web" also makes an appearance on The BBC Sessions and the song is tougher than it would sound on Submarine Bells -- there's more punch here, in my opinion.

The real treasure of this third session is the inclusion of rarity "Christmas Chimes" which charms in the style of "Satin Doll" or another older track.

The BBC Sessions by The Chills is out now on Fire Records. It is, obviously, one of the most significant re-issues of the year. I'm still trying to fathom how the NME only gave this an 8 out of 10. What!?! How is this in any way not a 10?

I say that as a Chills fan but also as a fan of simply expertly crafted pop and The Chills in these 3 sessions were quite possibly one of the 5 best bands in the world. And if you ask me why, I'm gonna play stuff from this period and probably now pick some of these versions over their album versions. The cuts are that revelatory.

Heads Up About The Marvelous Slim Twig Record On DFA

I'll admit that I first spun this one 'cause it's got a Lolita connection. As I've read every thing Nabokov wrote in English -- at least all the fiction -- I was intrigued by that connection. But, really, that connection doesn't matter.

What matters is that Slim Twig's A Hound at the Hem, out now on DFA, is an odd and delicious collection of chamber pop. It's Sparks filtered through Pulp's This is Hardcore as re-arranged by The Divine Comedy. It's a thoroughly strange record but also an unexpectedly tuneful one. Ornately produced, the album charms even as it perplexes and defies easy categorization.

Owen Pallett did the string arrangements and those add immeasurably to the success of the record. Spin a few of these and you'll hear what I mean. "All This Wanting" is the bastard of Van Dyke Parks and Jarvis Cocker. "Maintain the Charade" is Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy having a stroll through the underworld with Barry Adamson soundtracking the thing. The record is just nearly impossible to explain and yet easy to love.

Slim Twig's A Hound at the Hem is out now on DFA.

Follow Slim Twig on his official blog.

Free Download From Gareth Dickson

Gareth Dickson sounds like Nick Drake. Let's just get that right out of the way immediately.

But he also sounds like John Martyn and John Fahey and his guitar-work even sounds like Vini Reilly's in spots.

Gareth's new record is called Invisible String and it's an enthralling and captivating live album. Equal parts intimate and expansive, the one-time Vashti Bunyan collaborator will gain a lot of new fans with this one.

Find out more details on Gareth Dickson on his official website:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review Of The Great New Album From The Pale Blue Dots (Bunf from SFA)

I'd like to be impartial and review this like a professional but that's just darn near impossible.

See, I have to confess something: I am a massive Super Furry Animals fan and have been for nearly 19 years now. While I've only seen the band a few times -- not nearly enough, admittedly -- I did plan my first trip to the UK partially around a Super Furry Animals gig in Wolverhampton in April 1999. The band was magnificent and the sound in the hall the best at any concert I've ever been to. Having just seen the Furries in D.C. at the Black Cat a year earlier, the 1999 Wolverhampton gig, with openers Clinic, was a mind-blower. Grabbing the advance CD single of "Northern Lites" in a shop in London on that trip only made my first visit to the British Isles even more perfect.

So let's just say I was predisposed to dig this new record from SFA guitarist Huw 'Bunf' Bunford's band The Pale Blue Dots. Bunf is joined by Richard Chester and the resulting record, called Lots of Dots and out now on Strangetown Records, is a blast. Equal parts SFA-styled loveliness and funky and weird soundtrack-esque explorations, Lots of Dots is, like that Wolverhampton gig 15+ years ago, a mind-expander for me.

"No Motivation" purrs by like the ghost of George Harrison popping up via time machine in 1997 to record a b-side for a single from Radiator (1997).

And that cut comes a few tracks after the blissed-out "Slow Reaction" -- free MP3 below -- which feels like the perfect companion to many of the cuts on the last 2 SFA studio albums.

The sublime "Aquarium" coasts in on vocals Jeff Lynne would sell his soul for with a hook more worthy of the stuff his one-time ELO-mate Roy Wood was throwing down in service of The Move. The strings only add to the magic of the cut.

"Look Into My Eyes" adds a bit of Air to the mix. The cut is all sleek lines and smooth production in the service of something that veers a bit outside the familiar SFA terrain. Altogether fantastic, the tune is the space age disco cousin of the longer jams on the earliest SFA releases.

"Nebraska" is the very prog-y but very beautiful album closer. More like Gabriel-era Genesis than anything on Fuzzy Logic, for example, the tune succeeds due to both Bunf's acoustic guitar and Chester's electronic textures. Still, it doesn't matter which one of these guys played what when the results are this otherworldly.

Lots of Dots by The Pale Blue Dots will not disappoint any fan of Super Furry Animals. Heck, even a new fan will be drawn further into the exploits of these geniuses upon hearing this. And if nothing else the album makes me want to run out and get everything associated with Richard Chester too.

Whatever that indefinable SFA sound is remains prominent here, even as the music takes welcomed detours into new directions of near-soundtrack abstraction and bright bits of electronica.

Lots of Dots by The Pale Blue Dots is out now via Strangetown Records.

Follow The Pale Blue Dots on their official Facebook page.

A Few Kind Words About The Marvelous Springtime Carnivore Record

I never would have guessed that a band with a name like this could produce something so beautiful.

Springtime Carnivore by Springtime Carnivore is a lovely bit of pop akin to the best work of Aimee Mann. The record, out tomorrow on Autumn Tone, is a real surprise and I urge you to grab it ASAP.

Dig the Lesley Gore-meets-Garbage vibe of "Name on a Matchbook" and then play it a few more times again as I did. Greta Morgan, the main person behind this record, pours her heart out in this cut but the production by Richard Swift (producer of the latest Foxygen record) adds immeasurably to the overall effect.

The even peppier "Sun Went Black" adds fuzzy guitar to some O.M.D.-styled effects to produce a catchy piece of glorious pop.

"Foxtreat Freak (Something in the Atmosophere)" sounds like the best Aimee Mann cut that never made it into some unmade P.T. Anderson film. This is just a rapturous piece of music.

I think my favorite song on the record is "Last One to Know" which veers close to classic soul territory. The production here sounds a bit like what you might hear on a Philly soul record from the 1970s but it's been tweaked a bit. Greta's vocals on this one recall Chrissie Hynde for a listener and the tune is both languid and direct, no mean feat.

Springtime Carnivore by Springtime Carnivore was for this listener a marvelous surprise. Quite simply, this is a record of emotion and well-crafted Pop in the very best sense of that word. Fans of early Everything but the Girl, Annie Lennox, Aimee Mann, and Rufus Wainwright should find much to love here and I urge even a mildly curious listener to take a chance and get this record. I do not think you will be disappointed.

Springtime Carnivore by Springtime Carnivore is out tomorrow on Autumn Tone.

Follow Springtime Carnivore on their official Facebook page.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

New Picturebox EP Is Up For Pre-Order Now

Picturebox, led by Robert Halcrow, are set to release a delightful new EP called Graffiti. The EP is out on Gare Du Nord Records and there's an iTunes link up if you are in the UK.

The EP is really a pleasure to listen to. The title tune in particular is a sprightly indie rock bit of business that makes me want to go out and get everything else these guys have recorded.

Picturebox was, at one time, considered a spin-off of Derrero but I don't think Rob Hirst from Derrero is still in the band. However, the band still collaborates with Ash Cooke from Derrero (and Pulco and Poundstore Riot) sometimes.

More details on Picturebox's Graffiti EP are best expressed via the band's press release:

"Graffiti" – a short burst of indie pop, seizing an opportunity to spontaneously pledge love for a boy or girl (or football club) with little regard for the consequences. The video was shot beneath the Thanet Way in Herne Bay, where an ever changing display of graffiti can be seen.

"Giving It All I've Got" – originally by Canterbury lo-fi hero Luke Smith, this version alternates monotone robot vocals and wild, 60s interjections with added Soft Machine-style freakout. “Whenever I heard Luke play this around Canterbury I would hear this version in my head. So it's nice to get it out.” -Robert

"Papernut Cambridge" – a kind of “musique concrete” version of the eponymous song from Ian Button's 2013 GDN project, combining random elements and carefully arranged sound effects, by turns unsettling and comical.

"Bit Part" – a new version of the Lemonheads fuzz pop classic, featuring friend of the band Emily Kennedy filling the Juliana Hatfield role. Emily also contributes vocals (spoken and sung) to "Giving It All I've Got".

Follow Picturebox on their official Facebook page.

Here's a taste of recent Picturebox to get you in the mood for the upcoming Graffit EP by Picturebox.