Monday, December 21, 2015

Flowers For The Holidays From Dot Dash: New Video And Free MP3 Here!

No sooner had I slotted them into my Top 20 Albums Of 2015 list than Dot Dash dropped a new video for the excellent "Flowers" from the equally excellent Earthquakes And Tidal Waves (2015).

If the video of the fellas -- Terry Banks (St. Christopher, Julie Ocean, Glo-Worm), Steve Hansgen (Minor Threat), Danny Ingram (Youth Brigade, Swervedriver, Strange Boutique), and Hunter Bennett (Julie Ocean, David Thomas of Pere Ubu's band) -- makes you want to take this song home for the holidays, feel free to download the MP3 for free here and then buy Earthquakes And Tidal Waves via the same link, or via the home label of TheBeautifulMusic.com.

Follow Dot Dash via their official Facebook page.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Top 20 Albums Of 2015

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know how last year I posted a Top 10 Albums of the year list and how it was the first time I had done such a thing at the end of a year in the 8 years I've run this site. And I know how 10 is a nice, tight number but, dammit, there were just too many great albums released in 2015 and I guess if I start with 20 this time, I can do the same again in 2016...assuming there are another 20 albums this good released in the upcoming calendar year.

So, here goes, cats and kittens. Here are my Top 20 Albums of 2015 (in order of release, roughly).

1. No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney

"A return to form" is an overused phrase -- especially here when talking about Carrie Brownstein and crew since this band never went downhill -- but, really, it suits a discussion of No Cities To Love since this one was the most direct and enjoyable Sleater-Kinney record in ages. I was a bit late to catch up with the band again but, wow, what a great album this one is!

2. Mourn by Mourn

Spain's Mourn need to get as much press as Hinds (f.k.a. Deers) do. The band released its debut earlier in 2015, my review is here, and it's a record that is alternately abrasive and beautiful, like Sonic Youth straddling melody and noise.

3. 360 by The Supernaturals

Scotland's The Supernaturals were one of my fave bands from that first big Britpop wave. The band's mix of Jellyfish-ish whimsy, Nilsson-worthy melodies, and Beatlesque hooks thoroughly worked its magic on me so I was thrilled when I got word that a new album, 360, was out. The album is not quite at the level of the band's first 2 records but, as I stressed in this review, the songwriting is still superb.

4. Ripe 4 Luv by Young Guv

This Young Guv record on Slumberland Records is probably my favorite album of 2015. I don't usually narrow things down like that on here but, really, Ripe 4 Luv was just so good. As I raved in my review, the spring release managed to whip up a heady brew of power pop, and Prince-style electro-funk, and supple new wave. Whether you swing with the mellow bits or the crunchy ones, there's no denying the utterly perfect stadium rock appeal of "Crawling Back to You", winner of the "Kenixfan's Most Cranked in the Car" award for 2015.

5. Once More From The Top by The Granite Shore

The Granite Shore got pegged as a super-group what with a June Bride (Phil Wilson), a Blue Orchid (Martin Bramah), and a Distraction (Nick Halliwell) in the band. That's all fine and good but what really matters is that Once More From The Top is chamber pop of the very highest order. Perhaps no other album in 2015 betrayed such a careful and considered approach to indie-pop, even if the results feel entirely organic and fresh and not overly studied. A masterpiece in many ways, more details on the album are available in my review.

6. Time To Go Home by Chastity Belt

It seems unfair to lump the new class of female-fronted bands together, as if such a wave was some big revelation. But the reality is that Courtney Barnett is gonna show up on a lot of lists like this one. And while her record was pretty great, as was the Colleen Green one, and the La Luz one, it was the Chastity Belt album that really made me happy this year. The band managed to be smart and funny at the same time and for a guy like me who hates bands that try to be funny (as a rule), that's a major compliment. I probably mentioned that already in my review of Time To Go Home but it bears repeating 'cause this band know how to pull this sort of thing off without seeming obnoxious about it. No small feat.

7. Earthquakes And Tidal Waves by Dot Dash

Anyone's who's come to this site more than once probably knows how much I love the music of Dot Dash. The D.C. collective has guys who've been in Dischord legends (Steve Hansgen from Minor Threat, Danny Ingram from Youth Brigade, a band whose first demo got reissued this year), a guy who's backed up Pere Ubu's David Thomas (Hunter Bennett), and a guy who's been in Slumberland Records and Sarah Records bands (Terry Banks). I hope that in the very near future they will be recording with Mitch Easter again and I'm sure that the results will be as strong as the punchy Earthquakes and Tidal Waves, my review here.

8. No Sad Songs by The Lilac Time

The latest one from The Lilac Time, No Sad Songs, reviewed by me here, is not a perfect album but it has moments of perfection on it. Stunningly beautiful in spots, the return of Stephen Duffy and co. was one of 2015's most appreciated surprises.

9. Expect Delays by Evans The Death

Evans The Death dropped a noisy, messy, and altogether delightful record in 2015's Expect Delays, reviewed by me here. The Slumberland Records band seem to have boldly redefined the shapes of English indie on this one.

10. Non-Believers by Mac McCaughan

Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan went solo for a spell in 2015, long enough to drop and tour behind the excellent Non-Believers, reviewed by me here. I'm not sure if other 'Chunk fans liked this one as much as I did but I don't see how anyone couldn't like these excellently constructed, ruminative tracks. If Mac seemed more in thrall to New Order this time around, that was fine as the subtle production worked well on this one.

11. Destroy.Rebuild by The Jet Age

When I think of my favorite tracks from D.C.'s The Jet Age, I think of songs from earlier records. But if you ask me to name the band's best album? I'm pretty sure I'd pipe up that it was 2015's Destroy.Rebuild. The record, reviewed by me here, seemed to offer up the most perfect blending of the band's shoegaze and Who leanings. Direct as always, frontman Eric Tischler's cuts here showed a sharp focus as drummer Pete Nuwayser and bassist Greg Bennett tightened up behind him. Musically, the band never sounded this on fire even as that fire was more carefully controlled this time around.

12. Rest And Be Thankful by Linden

Linden's Rest And Be Thankful was perhaps the warmest record of 2015. Released on Slumberland Records here, the project from the one-time BMX Bandit offered up a whole slew of easy-going rockers in the mold of classic era Teenage Fanclub, as I probably stressed one too many times in my review.

13. Brain Cream by Jaill

This album isn't going to set the world on fire but it is going to burn its way into your head through a clutch of catchy melodies and wicked indie hooks. Brain Cream by Jaill, reviewed by me here, charms largely on the strength of those little riffs that Jaill make so infectious.

14. Songs to Play by Robert Forster

Robert Forster sounded thoroughly confident and invigorated on this year's Songs To Play. I think I gushed a bit in my review and that's only natural 'cause it is, after all, a former Go-Between here. The fact that he's delivered his best batch of new material in at least a decade is indeed a cause for rejoicing. Grab this album and rejoice with me.

15. The Gold Standard by Marrow

Chicago's Marrow managed to surprise me in 2015. They crafted something I'd never quite heard before. The fusion-y vibes of The Gold Standard worked splendidly. I never expected to like something like this one this much, certainly not when I use terms like near-prog rock to describe some of this now. As I hinted at in my review, Marrow have really pulled off something special here, and their expert blending of styles only hints at further greatness on future releases.

16. Dissolver by Young Husband

The fact that Dissolver, reviewed by me here, was produced by someone from seminal shoegazers Loop got Younghusband a lot of attention, even of the misguided sort. The truth is that every Beulah-like cut on this album is fantastic and, taken as a whole, Dissolver remains one of 2015's most pleasing listening experiences.

17. Silver Bullets by The Chills

For those of us who never stopped loving The Chills, Silver Bullets, reviewed by me here, was like a big reward for waiting nearly 19 years for a new full-length from Martin Phillipps and company. That the album was so good, so listenable, and so adventurous in spots ("Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon"), was not so much a surprise as a delightful affirmation of all the things that The Chills have done so well for so long. As he hinted at in my interview with him recently, The Chills are hoping to tour America again in 2016 and I am positively thrilled to hear that news, having seen the band the last time nearly a quarter of a century ago.

18. You Can't Always Be Liked by Expert Alterations

Baltimore's Expert Alterations made the switch this year from Slumberland Records to Kanine Records but they took a Slumberland legend with them. Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine guy Archie Moore mixed the tracks on the band's debut full-length, You Can't Always Be Liked, reviewed by me here, and the results ended up being some of the most perfect indie I've heard in years. Frankly, there are too many bands trying to do this sort of thing and most of them fail routinely to pull it off. Expert Alterations (and tour-mates Literature) can do this sort of thing perfectly and if you want proof, just spin any random cut on the band's superb You Can't Always Be Liked.

19. Real Lessons in Cynicism by Soccer Team

It seems like I missed a few Soccer Team shows in D.C. this year and that bums me out still as the Dischord band are probably great live. The interplay on the band's newest, Real Lessons in Cynicism, reviewed by me here, hints at a mastery of multiple genres from the Shudder to Think-ish "Friends Who Know" to the more supple and nearly Unrest-like "Too Many Lens Flares".

20. Meet The Foetals by The Foetals

As I tried to hint at in my review of Meet The Foetals, there's a sense that on this one Jolan Lewis (Temple Songs, The Pink Teens) has finally found a way to merge his more experimental leanings with some of his best pieces of songwriting in years. If you want to learn a little about how Lewis crafts this sort of music, read my recent interview with him. If you want to hear something supremely catchy and altogether affecting, spin a cut like "Fine" from Meet The Foetals and then try to get it out of your head.

A Look At The New Pinemen EP On PNKSLM

I've been riding the PNKSLM wave pretty hard lately but that's 'cause the label is on a roll. There are just too many damn good things on there, frankly, to keep up with sometimes. Case in point: the new Pinemen EP just dropped and I was a bit late in getting on board with it. I'm on board now, man.

Pleasant Pain by the Pinemen is out now and it's 6 tracks of corking Sixties-vibed indie in the style of American acts like Allah-Las. "That Certain Flavour" glides by like those Twin Peaks kids from Chicago, while "Essence of Easy Going" offers up some skewed pop that bears a hint of angular new wave like Talking Heads. "Praise Yourself" rages (a bit), while "I Never Cry" unfurls at a deliberate pace.

Sweden's Pinemen are yet another in a string of great, new bands from that country. They've found the perfect home on PNKSLM. Pleasant Pain, the newest EP from the cats, is out now.

Follow Pinemen via their official Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Point Of Origin: My Interview With Jolan Lewis (The Foetals, The Pink Teens, Temple Songs)

At a certain point in the last 3 years, Jolan Lewis became one of my favorite musicians. That so many people aren't aware of his talents (yet) matters little to me; I spent most of my youth trying to explain who Robyn Hitchcock or Andy Partridge were so I'm used to loving music that doesn't quite have widespread appeal. There are, however, so many more people now who are aware of Jolan Lewis and his skills thanks to the music he's made in Temple Songs, The Pink Teens, and, now, The Foetals, that I'm thankful that he's reaching a wider audience. I suspect that the warped pop of Meet The Foetals, reviewed by me here, and out now on PNKSLM, is going to get the tunes of this Jolan Lewis project some broader form of attention. If you've heard "Fine" or any other number of the numbers from The Foetals LP then you'll understand why I think that now is the time for Jolan Lewis to expand his fanbase beyond Mancunians, a slew of U.K. music press types, and general fans of skewed British indie.

Having recently been sidelined with some grim health news, covered below, Jolan Lewis had to briefly postpone the release of Meet The Foetals until late in 2015. Now that it's been released and garnering some degree of acclaim, Jolan is doing a bit of press to get the word out. I was thrilled, honored, and delighted that he decided to participate in this interview with me.

Glenn, kenixfan: How did you first get into music -- influences, early attempts? Am I right in highlighting what I hear as a set of big Sixties influences in your music (Beatles, psychedelia, garage rock)?

JOLAN LEWIS (THE FOETALS, THE PINK TEENS, TEMPLE SONGS): When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11 or so, my parents gave me their record collection -- it was pretty good, a lot of Cramps, Buzzcocks, Bowie. By the time I was 16 and had met the guys who eventually wound up in Temple Songs, it turned out that they were the same kind of people. We had Ween, Captain Beefheart, and Can in common, so I got them into garage and outsider music, and they got me into obscure American punk. My first band was called Horse Hair. We put out a couple of releases on a local label called Hearing Aid. I went through a big psyche thing for a few years, but I'd become mostly bored of it by the time it had become the hip thing it is now. Garage and psychedelic music is not something I listen to all that much anymore, but I guess that being so obsessed with it when I first started learning how to write songs means that there's always going to be a thread of that in whatever I do.

Glenn, kenixfan: As the main-man behind Temple Songs, The Pink Teens, and The Foetals, can you explain a little about how each band came together, what personnel were involved with each project, and what separates each project? Why not simply continue on as Temple Songs, for example?

JOLAN LEWIS: I hope this whole thing makes sense -- Temple Songs was, for the first 2 releases (the self-titled EP and 15 Bygones LP), just me on my own. I was living in France at the time they came out, and it picked up a very minor amount of "buzz", or whatever you want to call it. Eventually, I moved back to Manchester and got some of the friends I'd made in college together so I could play it live. That was Andrew Richardson (drums), Jean Hughes (guitar), and Dave Hardy (bass). Now, these guys had come from pretty much a punk background, so the sound changed pretty drastically when we tried to play the lo-fi dream-pop stuff I'd already released. We just kind of stuck with that sound, it felt more natural.

That went on for a while, did okay, but eventually I got bored and wanted to start a project which was just me recording on my own again, so I did some stuff under the name Pink Teens. I put out a couple of tracks and a split cassette with Fruit Tones. I started to realise that Temple Songs had kind of become something I wasn't wholly interested in... We told everyone we were changing our name, but in actuality, we all quit Temple Songs and joined The Pink Teens. I know that's effectively the same thing, but psychologically, for us, it helped us to be able to move on and start from scratch. Eventually, Dave quit, so our friends Tom McClung (guitar/keys/sax) and Alex Hewett (bass) joined.

Temple Songs had been an attempt to make music which was 50% pop and 50% noise, and when we switched to Pink Teens, the idea was that we would downplay the pop side of stuff and focus on the more experimental, "free" side of things. But still, most of the time when I write a song, it's a pop song, so still I needed an outlet for that, which is why I started The Foetals. Again, that first record is just me playing everything, but I guess my track record indicates that it will become more of a "full band"-kind of thing. We played one show before I got ill -- Andy was on drums, his brother David was on bass, and Tom (who is at least as much of a Beatles nerd as I am) was on 12-string guitar.

Glenn, kenixfan: On a track like "More Than I Can Bear" by The Pink Teens, there's an effect that I find as a listener in a lot of your best songs and it's one where -- for lack of a better description -- it sounds like when a record is being played and maybe the vinyl is slightly warped and the track is almost imperceptibly speeding up and slowing down. How on earth do you pull this sort of thing off? How to you make that "sound" that's is so uniquely yours, no matter what project we're talking about?

JOLAN LEWIS: I've always liked that woozy kind of sound, like a Walkman running out of battery. See, I appreciate that there are correct applications for "hi-fi" sound... Steely Dan wouldn't be anywhere near as good if their records sounded like Paris 1942. But we're not Steely Dan, and a lot of the records I admire -- private press records, obscure garage, outsider music, whatever -- have this hazy quality which enhances the fact that you often don't know much about the artist. I guess I go for that to some degree. There are various things happening; tremolo arms, vibrato pedals, tape delays, mixing down to the most beaten-up tape I have lying around, that kind of stuff. I think I bend the neck a lot when I play.

Glenn, kenixfan: One of my favorite releases of yours has been the "I Can't Look After You/She's Away" single. Each cut is pretty much perfect in my book. Can you describe the recording process for those tracks? Without ruining the magic, how did you make the songs sound like lost tracks from some Nuggets-era band even while preserving the carefully crafted pop of each song?

JOLAN LEWIS: After "Passed Caring", I think it was suggested that it might be beneficial to try making the next single sound a bit "cleaner", which I did try to do; the vocals are mixed a lot higher, none of the instruments really distort (apart from the feedback in "I Can't Look After You"). These are the kinds of songs which feel more like Foetals tracks to me now. I kind of wish I'd saved them. Like I said earlier, I think that the garage influence is always going to be there, it's just that sometimes it's more at the surface than others -- I never much liked the fuzz-blues, "I'm a Man"-kind of garage, as a kid it was always stuff like The Choir and The Dovers which I liked. The really melodic garage-pop. "I Can't Look After You" is kind of a combination of those 2 things, the lead guitar is all basic pentatonic minor stuff, but the chords aren't 12-bar blues.

Glenn, kenixfan: How do you feel about being labelled a Manchester band by the UK Press and others? Do you see yourself as part of some Manchester heritage of any kind?

JOLAN LEWIS: It's hard to tell -- most people around here like The Fall, a few people like The Smiths (but *no one* likes Morrissey or Johnny Marr)... The Buzzcocks are kind of a Manchester band... Joy Division are okay. All the late 80's/early 90's Madchester stuff, no one is interested in that. Even so, not much of that stuff has much of an influence on what Manchester groups are doing now -- the scene in Manchester doesn't really have one unifying musical theme, which is probably why there hasn't been much coverage of it. It's totally disparate, no one sounds like each other. But everyone likes each other, everyone collaborates. I can't help but think that there must be some cities where the experimental-noise-punk guys wouldn't hang out with the lo-fi, blue-eyed soul guys, or whatever. So in that respect, I'm more than happy to be considered a Manchester band, but only because of what's happening now.

Glenn, kenixfan: How would you describe your songwriting and demo-ing process?

JOLAN LEWIS: I don't really demo... to be honest I try to put as little thought into songs as possible. Tom from Francis Lung lent me a book called "Songwriters On Songwriting", it has all these people like Townes Van Zandt and Paul Simon, and it was a relief to see that they all pretty much said the same thing... kind of like, you don't "write" a song, it just happens. I guess it's slightly different for everyone, but for me, the chords, melody, and most of the structure come at the same time. So since I didn't consciously sit down and put it together, I feel like it's not really my place to go changing it -- I try to keep it as close to the initial thing as possible. I have to work on the lyrics, they come later. But a song like "Point of Origin" -- that took less time to write than it does to listen to. That's why I try not to demo anything... I want to stay as close as possible to the first time I ever played it.

Glenn, kenixfan: How did you end up on PNKSLM?

JOLAN LEWIS: I had become aware of them through Andy's brother David, who moved to Stockholm a few years ago. When I finally decided that maybe this album I had recorded might be worth showing people, they were pretty much the first label I thought of. I've always been involved with RIP Records, and still am, but I knew that this record was too lo-fi for their tastes. So I sent a couple of the tracks to PNKSLM, and they asked for the rest of them, I sent them over and they replied within a couple of hours saying they wanted to put it out. It was the least complicated thing in the world. I was always so impressed with their roster, I felt like "These guys really get it!", so it was pretty nice for them to be so interested in this little record I had made.

Glenn, kenixfan: I feel as if your recent health issues are, obviously, a private matter but since the news was posted on the Foetals' official Facebook page and mentioned elsewhere, I feel like I should ask how are you and what happened? What's the future prognosis in terms of your health and how will that affect your music?

JOLAN LEWIS: About a month after announcing the Foetals record, I was about to go into the studio to record the second one. I had a really bad flu or something, I went to a few doctors and got told different things, given antibiotics. My throat started swelling up, and eventually it got to the point where I was waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air. Then there was one morning where my throat pretty much just closed up. It was one of those things, you know, where the more you freak out then the worse it gets. Anyway, I managed to calm myself down enough that I could kind of breathe again, phoned a doctor who sent me to the hospital. I stayed in overnight and in the morning they told me it was cancer. It's some kind of leukemia, so it's in the blood, but it was also all over my chest and throat. They fixed the swelling pretty quickly, I stayed in hospital for about a month and then started chemo. I'm no good with the details, but it's probably going to be at least another year or so of intensive chemo I think. But right now I feel totally fine, not throwing up, eating again, I can go outside again if I'm careful.

The worst thing about all this is that I can't record. That's the only thing which really bothers me... I can put up with feeling kind of shitty a lot of the time, but I have a second Foetals album, the Pink Teens album, and a couple of other things ready to go, but I'm stuck here for the time being. I really can't stand being unproductive, but I guess I just need to wait it out.

Glenn, kenixfan: What's next? Do you continue you as The Foetals and with what line-up?

JOLAN LEWIS: I'll probably do the second Foetals record first, because it seems like it will be more fun -- the Pink Teens record is going to be complicated and probably stressful. I have about half of the Foetals third album written, and I have a few other things I had discussed doing with various people, so hopefully I'll find time to do that too. As I said, the worst thing about my current situation is that I'm pretty much stuck in my flat or at the hospital, so there's really no way for me to get to the studio... but this first Foetals record was done, from having about 3 songs written to it being how you hear it now, in two days, so if I can keep up that pace on the second one, maybe it won't be too long before I can put something else out.

An enormous Thank you! to Jolan Lewis for taking the time to answer my questions in this interview. And here's hoping that Jolan Lewis heals as quickly as humanly possible and gets back to the studio as soon as he can to record all those albums he mentioned.

Meet The Foetals by The Foetals is out now via PNKSLM. Follow The Foetals via the band's Facebook page.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Time To Catch Up With The New Magic Potion EP On PNKSLM

Sweden has produced a lot of great bands but, luckily, the latest doesn't sound like Abba, The Cardigans, or even Eggstone. Magic Potion are instead mining a vein of warped pop best described in terms like those devoted to the early recordings of Temple Songs.

That seems a fitting comparison as Melt, the latest EP from Magic Potion, is on the same label as the latest release from The Foetals, the new project from Temple Songs frontman Jolan Lewis. Melt is 4 songs of twisted near-psychedelia, each a little bit beautiful and unsettling in the best possible way.

Something like "Booored" revs up in the manner of the more affecting Temple Songs cuts, while "Deep Web" exhibits the sort of blissful world-weariness that Grandaddy conveyed so well on their early recordings.

The other highlight of this too-short EP is "1995" which purrs like some mix of My Bloody Valentine and Beulah, for lack of a better comparison. While traces of those worthy influences are found here, the music of Magic Potion is wholly original and affecting and there's a gentle lyricism here that tempers the more experimental bits of the music.

Melt by Magic Potion is out now via PNKSLM. More details via band's official website.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Play New Hinds Video Here Ahead Of Album Drop Next Month

That pic up there is the cover for the debut Hinds (f.k.a. Deers) album. Yeah, it's finally gonna drop, kids. It seems like the hype has been going on for years -- nearly 2 years now -- and the ladies are ready to deliver the goods.

Leave Me Alone is out in early January 2016 and it's loaded with Hinds cuts both new and familiar. It's a bit too early to post a review of the record even though I have it legally already -- and I'm positively thrilled to be able to say that! -- but I can post a recent video of one of my favorite newer Hinds cuts.

I hope my friends in Hong Kong enjoyed Hinds at their recent appearance there and maybe the band will tour the east coast of America and stop in D.C. in 2016 and I'll finally get a chance to see them live in person.

Leave Me Alone is out in less than a month now. Those of you in the USA can pre-order it already for a pretty reasonable price from iTunes here.

Follow Hinds via their official website or via their official Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Quick Look At The Indie Charms Of Stonerism By Strange Faces

I will freely admit that I first played Stonerism, out Friday on Autumn Tone Records, 'cause it was being released on the same label that puts out Twin Peaks albums. And like that band, Strange Faces have a way with cranking out energetic, shambolic indie that manages to quickly captivate a listener.

There are 11 cuts on Stonerism and yet Strange Faces manage to crank 'em out in just under a half-hour's time. "Don't Feel Bad" unfurls on the back of a great hook, while the marvelously fuzzed out "Still Lit" adds a hint of JAMC circa "Reverence" to the aural assault. These kids are the real deal on this one!

If the boys in Strange Faces do sound a bit like label-mates Twin Peaks, that's okay 'cause they still manage to mix things up a bit, like on "Such A Drag" which washes out with a the insolence of early Oasis (think "Supersonic"). "Skippin' Town" is Twin Peaks in all but name only and that's not to knock Strange Faces as derivatives but, rather, to highlight how good they are at this sort of thing. Though they're probably too young to remember the big flashes of Britpop in its heyday, late album cut "Brand New Way" owes a big debt to brassy rockers of that era like "Crashin' In" by The Charlatans.

This debut from Strange Faces is a corker. Fans of Twin Peaks will love it like I did. Fans who want something a bit rougher will also appreciate the energy behind Stonerism by Strange Faces. Ramshackle in all the right ways and entirely catchy and direct, this record's 11 cuts all made me a fan of Strange Faces on the first go-round.

Stonerism by Strange Faces is out on Friday via Autumn Tone Records.

Follow Strange Faces on their official Facebook page.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pics From Last Night's Rocket From The Tombs (Pere Ubu) Gig In D.C.

Due to work commitments, I simply couldn't make the Rocket From The Tombs gig last night in D.C. even though I wanted to see the Pere Ubu precursors in action so badly. Luckily, my pal Davis White (drummer for Slumberland Records legends Lorelei), was able to take a few shots. The good news is that he's a far better photographer than I'll ever be and he was kind enough to share the pics with me here.

The new Rocket From The Tombs album, Black Record, is out now on Fire Records and it is a beast of an album -- fiery and ferocious in all the right ways and full the stuff of life that countless younger indie zombies will never harness. If you remember my recent interview with Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs frontman David Thomas you'll remember that the artist himself made a point of stressing how disconnected his crew felt from punk. That may be but there's simply no other way to describe the fire of this band's output than the word punk, especially since Pere Ubu approached something closer to art rock at times.

Grab Black Record from Rocket From The Tombs now. It's out on Fire Records. A big "Thank you!" to Davis White of Lorelei, Sansyou, and The New Lines. Go see Lorelei in a rare gig at the Black Cat in D.C. on December 28, 2015.

Follow Rocket From The Tombs via the official Pere Ubu website: UbuProjex.com. Black Record from Rocket From The Tombs is out now via Fire Records.

(All photos Davis White, 2015)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Top 20 Tracks Of 2015

You know last year, I did my first ever Top 10 list and I'm all set to do the same for 2015. However, there was a lot of great music in 2015 so it would seem rather silly to simply limit myself to only 10 choices like I did in December of 2014 in this post when that was sort of an arbitrary number. So I'm going to go with 20 this time out because...just because.

(Really, it's because I don't want to leave out too much in this year of great tune-age and even 20 seems like not enough!)

So, while I work on my Top Albums of 2015 list -- a list that may or may not be more than 10 choices -- here's My Top 20 Tracks Of 2015 list in roughly order of release.

(Details of band and label websites in the links to my reviews of each release, where appropriate.)

Kenixfan's Top 20 Tracks Of 2015

1. "Sledgehammer" by Evans The Death (From Expect Delays)

The superb second album from the U.K.'s Evans The Death, reviewed by me here, dropped early in 2015 on Slumberland Records (Fortuna Pop! elsewhere). It was anchored by the vocals of Katherine Whitaker whose pipes brought a lot of passion to indie churners like "Sledgehammer" and the other tracks on Expect Delays. Recalling bands as disparate as The Long Blondes and The Shop Assistants, the tunes of Evans The Death are exactly the sort of indie that this world needs more of.

2. "Wasting Time" by Young Romance (From The Wild EP)

London duo -- sort of -- Young Romance have only dropped a handful of tracks in the last 2 years but they've all been winners. The striking and soaring "Wasting Time" was no different. A kiss-off and affirmation simultaneously, the cut is borderline shoegaze and so much more. More details on the Wild EP are here in my review.

3. "Crawling Back To You" from Young Guv (from Ripe 4 Luv)

Hands down winner of the award for track I played most in 2015, "Crawling Back To You" by Young Guv is a crushingly good bit of power-pop crunch. I think I gushed about this album, out on Slumberland Records, quite a bit back in this review and I'm happy to rave a bit more here. Look, there are a few other cuts on this release that could have -- and should have -- also been on this list but this one wins due to sheer re-play-ability.

4. "Walls Closing In" by Dot Dash (from Earthquakes and Tidal Waves)

Nowhere was the addition to the band of Minor Threat guitarist Steve Hansgen shown to be a good idea than on this cut from album number 4 from D.C.'s own Dot Dash. Earthquakes And Tidal Waves was produced by Mitch Easter -- and he's apparently soon going to produce album number 5 -- but the results were gloriously not jangle-pop a la early R.E.M. and instead something more muscular. Original DD guitarist Bill Crandall was fantastic, sure, but Steve Hansgen brought a real sense of punk power to the band to bolster Youth Brigade legend Danny Ingram's pounding on the kit. If the band sometimes sounds like half a Dischord band and half a Creation one -- Terry Banks was in St. Christopher, after all -- the tension between those 2 styles is what seems to be driving the band now. "Walls Closing In", more than any other cut on Earthquakes And Tidal Waves, reviewed by me here, is the perfect example of that stylistic tension in the band. Good thing bassist Hunter Bennett can play with such panache as his bass intros here are some of the musical high points on this record.

5. "She Writes A Symphony" by The Lilac Time (from No Sad Songs)

The return of The Lilac Time was one of the bright spots in my year as a music fan. Stephen Duffy and crew unleased the superb No Sad Songs, reviewed by me here, in the spring and the album seemed to be the perfect set of pastoral pop to soundtrack drives in a blooming countryside. I'm being poetic but this music brings that out in me, maybe nowhere more so than on the achingly beautiful cut below.

6. "Cool Slut" by Chastity Belt (from Time To Go Home)

I think Time To Go Home is going to show up on a lot of Best of 2015 lists in the near future and probably rightly so. In my review of the album, I tried to get at why I was so reluctant to get on-board with Chastity Belt but I was eventually won over by a cut like "Cool Slut" which managed to be funny and smart in equal measure.

7. "Lost Again" by Mac McCaughan (from Non-Believers)

He's done a lot of projects over the years, but Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan really surprised fans with his excellent and heartfelt debut solo album, Non-Believers. In my review of the record, I tried to highlight how Mac managed to channel some Eighties electro-pop vibes in the service of his set of tunes and nowhere was that mix of New Order-and-Merge more apparent than on "Lost Again", the early single from the record. A testament to te supremely underrated songwriting skills of McCaughan, "Lost Again" could have been amp-ed up and made into a Superchunk song, of course, but Mac wisely chose to turn it into this ruminative number.

8. "I Can't Breathe" by The Jet Age (from Destroy.Rebuild)

D.C.'s The Jet Age really crossed a threshold with 2015's Destroy.Rebuild. After releasing a string of concept albums, main-man Eric Tischler wisely decided to simply focus on the tunes this time out. And while one can still trace Tischler's love of The Who through the bass-runs of Greg Bennett and drum-fills of Pete Nuwayser, it was Tischler's Kevin Shields approximations on this one that really stole the show. I didn't mention it in my review of the album, but highlight "I Can't Breathe" was, obviously, inspired in part by the last words of the tragically lost Eric Garner. Tischler turned that tragedy into one of his sharpest tracks ever, one that sounds like the perfect update on the Swervedriver template, as well as the ultimate Jet Age cut.

9. "Ong Ong" by Blur (from The Magic Whip)

This may be the only song out of the 20 here that's from an album I didn't bother to review on this site. Blur's The Magic Whip was a pretty solid affair, one that had special resonance to me due to the Hong Kong references, as heard on this number. Shortly before my wife and I left the former British colony for America, the local papers were littered with news of Albarn and co. camping out in the city to record some new music. I sorta got sick of the hype back then in 2014 when I was there, but now when I hear him sing about "Kowloon emptiness" I get a bit nostalgic, naturally. If The Magic Whip had come out earlier, I bet I'd have been playing this one everyday as I rode the ferry from Lamma Island to Central and back again.

10. "Rest And Be Thankful" by Linden (from Rest And Be Thankful)

Linden's "Rest And Be Thankful", from the album of the same name, was one of those tracks that sort of caught you by surprise in 2015, as I hopefully got at in my review of the album. Riding a real Teenage Fanclub-vide on this one, the former BMX Bandit really hit a peak here. The additional musicians on this one, like Stuart Kidd, deserve some praise too. This may have dropped in the summer but this is the sort of tune that is gonna warm my heart long into winter.

11. "Getaway" by Jaill (from Brain Cream)

I knew nothing about Jaill before I got the album and I wrote my review in an attempt to try to pin down the appeal of the band. There's nothing earth-shaking here but every cut is catchy and the band has a sort of easy slacker-ish charm that is hard to resist. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the instantly memorable "Getaway" which seems familiar and fresh even on first listen.

12. "Be What You Are" by The Cairo Gang (from Goes Missing)

If I knew nothing about Jaill at first I guess I could say the same thing about The Cairo Gang. The tracks on Goes Missing, reviewed by me here, are all uniformly good and interesting. However, it was the sublime Phil Keaggy-meets-Todd Rundgren pop charms of "Be What You Are" that thoroughly captivated me. If the whole album had sounded like this cut, it may have ended up my fave record of the year.

13. "Fixations" by Gardens and Villa (from Music for Dogs)

The awkwardly-named Gardens and Villa make great, perplexing tunes that straddle a fine line between early, glam Roxy Music and the witty electro-pop of Sparks and MGMT. If Music for Dogs, reviewed by me here, was a pretty solid affair, it was never going to be as great all the way through as early single "Fixations", was it? That cut dazzled my eardrums and I'm still not sick of it yet as I keep telling people about this utterly fabulous single, one of the real musical high-points of 2015 for this listener.

14. "Dream Date" by Salad Boys (from Metalmania)

If New Zealand's Salad Boys are gonna get compared to The Clean and other Kiwi acts by writers like me, it's with good reason. The band has quicly earned its place next to Kilgour and his crew through its brand of guitar rock. However, one must acknowledge the utter infectiousness of lead single "Dream Date" which seemed to be more a Weezer or Pavement cut than a Clean one. I dare you to get this riff out of your head after you play it!

15. "You Can't Always Be Liked" by Expert Alterations (from You Can't Always Be Liked)

Baltimore's Expert Alterations may have left Slumberland Records for their debut full-length release but, never fear, 'cause the Slumberland gang was represented on this one by the mixing of Archie Moore (Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl). Archie's expert work made Expert Alterations sound like indie geniuses on most of this album, perhaps nowhere more so than on the title track on You Can't Always Be Liked, reviewed by me here. The cut seems to combine the best bits from classic singles from The Wedding Present and The Sundays but it remains a unique jam all the same, one that instantly elevated Expert Alterations to serious contenders level. And, as if you needed me to tell you this, the rest of the album is just like this and just as great.

16. "The Milkman's Horse" by The Libertines (from Anthems For Doomed Youth)

I didn't post much about the return of The Libertines 'cause it was simultaneously over-hyped and a bit of a letdown. That said, Anthems For Doomed Youth was a decent album, if a mixed bag. Sounding nothing like The Libertines and everything like the best parts of Barat's Dirty Pretty Things and Pete's Babyshambles, the record is a hard one to love but "The Milkman's Horse" jumped out at me on first listen. Maybe it's those "Get out of my dreams, you scum" lyrics or the slow build of this kiss-off/re-affirmation but whatever, this song at least joins the ranks of the best things these 4 have committed to tape ever, as far as I'm concerned.

17. "Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" by The Chills (from Silver Bullets)

It's no secret around these parts how much I loved Silver Bullets by The Chills. My review positively gushed over this return from one of my favorite bands ever and why shouldn't I have gushed when the results were this grand? Silver Bullets is an album that manages to span every era of the band and yet the standout track is one that took enormous risks musically, making it a breathtaking bit of business. As Martin Phillips explained to me in a recent interview, the pieces of "Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" existed separately and then were put together when the band was making the album. The overall effect is a sort of chamber pop that retains the usual warm humanism of Phillipps' best stuff while breaking some new ground sonically. Recently released as a single in a shorter version, the cut is still one of the year's best in any version.

18. "Ever Before" by Boys (from the Kind of Hurt EP)

Insanely catchy, instantly memorable, and altogether affecting, "Ever Before" by Boys is the sort of thing you want to tell all your cool friends about. The cut, from the Kind of Hurt EP from Boys, is one of those songs I played a lot this autumn. Boys is fronted by Nora Karlsson from Holy and the songs here are all worthy additions to the library of my new favorite label (PNKSLM). A few words from me about the Kind of Hurt EP are here.

19. "Best Employed New Beau" by Soccer Team (from Real Lessons in Cynicism)

I tried very hard in my review of Real Lessons in Cynicism, the second album from D.C.'s own Soccer Team, to highlight how much the band have managed to update the Dischord template. Simultaneously sounding nothing like most of the past Dischord bands that still get so much attention, Soccer Team make smart, expertly-played indie of the sort that is sometimes in short supply in the USA. The supple charms of "Best Employed New Beau" are darn hard to resist. Let this cut be your gateway drug to the addictive appeal of Soccer Team.

20. "The World Isn't That Big" by The Foetals (from Meet The Foetals)

Jolan Lewis may have suffered trough some real health issues this year but Meet The Foetals, the debut one from his new project, finally saw release only a few days ago. The Foetals make music every bit as memorable and affecting as that performed by his 2 other, earlier projects (Temple Songs and The Pink Teens) but here the tunes are more concise, the focus sharper. Lewis has sacrificed none of his indie genius even as he has delivered some of his best tracks in years. "The World Isn't That Big" is a bit world-weary, and a bit trippy, but it's also a perfectly constructed, big pop song, and the best way to end this list of my favorite tracks of 2015. More details on Meet The Foetals are in my review of the record.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Best New Track Of The Week Has To Be This One From Golden Daze

Coming on like a West Coast USA version of the U.K.'s fantastic Childhood, Golden Daze really have brought the goodness on this one, haven't they? Is it too late to cram this one into my best tracks of 2015-mix?

"Salt" by Golden Daze is the first taste of the band's upcoming debut on Autumn Tone, the same label as the decidedly more ramshackle Twin Peaks. Golden Daze mine a vein of indie pop that stretches from the laid-back tunes of the nearly-forgotten Beulah, over to U.K. stuff like Childhood and Temples, and even back to the old East Coast shoegaze excursions of the D.C. area's own The Ropers.

Call this what you want but let this song wash over you and make you forget all that talk of genre. The 21st century's version of what the Beach Boys were trying to do? Yeah, maybe. An update on the near-shoegaze template? Yeah, sure, whatever.

Look, "Salt" by Golden Daze is a bit of warm summery bliss on days that are getting increasingly brisk here in D.C. Dig it now and get ready for the release of the full-length debut in February.

Follow Golden Daze via their official official Facebook page or via Autumn Tone Records.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Play The New Django Django Video Here (And Make Sure You Grab Born Under Saturn While You're At It!)

Even though the band-mates met at school in Edinburgh, the music of Django Django throbs with the energy of London. The pulsing, cosmopolitan beats of the cuts on Born Under Saturn, out now via Ribbon Music, bristle with the spirit of a large city while retaining some sort of organic musical interplay. That sounds pretentious but the music straddles a line between rock and funk in a way that few have attempted since the glory days of A Certain Ratio. If there's an almost jazz-like musical spirit at work in the tunes on Born Under Saturn, Django Django have managed to keep things modern and interesting and largely song-structured. Where others would have turned this kind of thing into experimental music, Django Django made pop songs out of it, like new single "Shot Down", the video of which you can play below.

Like a lot of the songs on Born Under Saturn, the band seems to find a way to channel the sleek new wave of a modern act like MGMT with an almost playful pop tone worthy of early O.M.D. On something like "Shake and Tremble" Django Django work an almost Beach Boys-worthy sense of harmony into the mix to produce something at once catchy and a bit out there. Elsewhere, on "First Light", the band hits on a mix of late period Depeche Mode and Eno-produced U2 at their most spacious. The cut is, like most of the tracks here, supple and insinuating and decidedly warm despite the electronic textures.

If the music of Django Django is deceptively simple, it's also complex where it needs to be. There's nothing wasted here and the guys in this London-based collective all seem masters of making a sort of modern take on early Eighties new wave that, oddly, owes as much to stuff like Peter Gabriel albums as it does to, say, Remain in Light.

Born Under Saturn by Django Django is out now via Ribbon Music. Follow the band via their official website or via their official Facebook page.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Few Words About The Fine Cherry Red Reissue Of The First Album From The Passions

It's a shame that The Passions are sometimes relegated to being one hit wonders. Sure, it's a helluva one hit (1981's "I'm In Love With A German Film Star") but to think of the U.K. band just in terms of that one track is to overlook the superb new wave stylings on the band's first album, 1980's Michael and Miranda, recently reissued by Cherry Red. The album has been expanded with some bonus tracks but, really, the 12 cuts of the debut album itself together make up a sort of template for what new wave of the era should have always sounded like.

Tracks like "Oh No, It's You" positively chime in a way that recalls, oddly, early New Order as well as a less strident Gang of Four. Frankly, there's a lot here that seems to have paralleled Gang of Four's stuff. Barbara Gogan's vocals on "Man on the Tube" are shouty in a way that links them up with her peers in the era, and those who came a bit earlier (Poly Styrene, for example). The funky "Suspicion" swirls in a glorious mess of clashing riffs that seem to coalesce unexpectedly around her worried vocals.

Stuff like "Pedal Fury" belongs to bassist Claire Bidwell and drummer Richard Williams. Bidwell would leave the band after making Michael and Miranda and it's unfortunate as her work here anchors this sort of vaguely propulsive new wave. It makes perfect sense that The Passions were on Fiction, the home of The Cure, as something like "Brick Wall" sounds like the distant cousin of "Killing an Arab" or another early Smith and Co. single.

Michael and Miranda succeeds largely as a time capsule of what guitar-based new wave was at its best. If there are synths on this album, I didn't hear them. Decidedly not of its era and entirely of its time, Michael and Miranda, out now in a lovely new reissue package from Cherry Red, is a buried treasure that's been recovered. Current bands like Shopping work so hard to sound like this and that's a compliment to the lasting appeal of The Passions, a band worth revisiting for so many reasons more than just for that one other single.

Michael and Miranda, with 3 bonus tracks and photos and a discography in the lovely liner notes booklet, is out now via Cherry Red.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Quick Review Of The Superb New Album From The Foetals (Temple Songs/The Pink Teens)

It's been more than 3 years since I first posted about the pop genius of Jolan Lewis. I like to mention that I was writing about his band as early as 2012 'cause it seemed like it took a lot of the rest of the online world so long to catch up with his brand of musical wizardry. Back then, I was writing about the skewed indie of his outfit Temple Songs. Then, at some point in 2014, that Manchester-based band morphed into The Pink Teens and then, very recently, Jolan Lewis set out on his own -- more or less -- as The Foetals. The debut album, Meet The Foetals -- a title that at once nods in the direction of both The Beatles and Peter Jackson if you get the references -- is out Friday via the exemplary new(er) label PNKSLM. Earlier this year, in the summer, Jolan unleashed a few cuts, like the Sixties-leaning "Fine", all beat era sensibilities put through the ringer, and then gradually more of this fine release seeped out to bloggers like me. The album from The Foetals, Meet The Foetals, is exactly what you'd expect if you heard that last Pink Teens EP. Still, that said, the Lewis formula has been refined and the mix perfected on this full-length from The Foetals.

Shortly after the release of "Fine" Jolan had some health issues to deal with. To not mention those in this review and how they impacted and delayed the release of this debut from The Foetals would be disingenuous; to address them and pretend to know more than a fan like me knows would also be disingenuous. So, in the interest of discussing the music, let's not pretend we have anything to say about Jolan's health beyond "Get Well Soon, Mate!" as, you see, this review is about Jolan's art, not his health.

Meet The Foetals is significant in another way as it seems to be the first Jolan-fronted release to be so concise and focused. That's not a slam on the outputs of The Pink Teens or Temple Songs but, rather, an acknowledgement that he's sharpened things up this time out and seemingly made the experimental bits take the backseat. For example, the stompin' "Nearly" -- ahem -- nearly chimes with power pop hooks like old Let's Active. But if the music here is largely a straightforward affair, on tracks like "Moment" one can hear a trace of the out there charms of Temple Songs peeking through, even as Jolan indulges in an early Beatles-style guitar solo.

Elsewhere, like on "Nothing", the effect is more traditional and Jolan's work here almost approaches what one would call mainstream U.K. indie, even if that may or may have not been his intention.


Perhaps the best track on Meet The Foetals, and the one song that easily ranks as one of the most beautiful things that Jolan's ever penned, is "The World Isn't That Big", a cut that positively aches with longing and hope in equal measure. This one is the sort of thing that I played so much when I first got this record that I nearly diminished the power of the track for me. I said "nearly", didn't I? I still get a little tingle up the spine when I hear this. The sort of thing that perfectly summarizes the unique pop skills of Jolan Lewis, "The World Isn't That Big" is a blissful bit of business indeed.

Meet The Foetals by The Foetals succeeds by doing one thing remarkably well and that is bridging the warped rawk of Jolan's earlier work in The Pink Teens and Temple Songs with a decided conciseness and sense of song-craft that one suspects he was capable of all along. Here, songwriting takes the driver's seat and one can revel in hearing this cat's talents unleashed so effectively. Meet The Foetals is surely going to get Jolan Lewis more fans and that's a great thing. In any band, his work remains some of the best and most inventive indie-pop that you are likely to have heard in ages. Owing as much to the classic songwriting of Ray Davies, Roy Wood, and John Lennon, as he perhaps does to the DIY spirit of Bob Pollard and fellow Manc Mark E. Smith, Jolan Lewis has here, on Meet The Foetals, taken his rightful place as a one of the best musicians we are likely to see in this era.

Meet The Foetals by The Foetals is out on Friday via PNKSLM. Follow The Foetals via the band's official Facebook page.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give Thanks Once Again For Big Star: A Look At The New Jesus Christ EP From Omnivore Recordings

This year, Black Friday will be a whole lot brighter. As one of their Black Friday Record Store Day releases, Omnivore Recordings will be unleashing a special new EP from Big Star. Called Jesus Christ, the 7-song release is significant for including a whopping 5 previously unreleased Big Star tracks. For a legendary band like Big Star that's a pretty impressive number considering how many times people have probably been combing the vaults for lost classics from these guys.

The release features the album version of "Jesus Christ" from Third, along with a demo version from the recent Keep An Eye On The Sky box set. There's also a pair of untitled instrumental songs, a demo version of "Big Black Car" and an odd cut called "Another Time Another Place and You" which sounds a lot like something off of Led Zeppelin III to these ears.

The EP is rounded off by what seems like a fitting song to highlight today: "Thank You Friends" (TV Mix). The string-infused cut is affecting and a nice spin on such a perennial Big Star classic.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the release is that on the back of the liner notes booklet there's a notice that the demo version of "Jesus Christ" is from the forthcoming Complete Third which, presumably, Omnivore is now prepping for 2016 release. Good news indeed.

More than a collector's curio, this Jesus Christ EP by Big Star offers up at least a few cuts that should find their way into the hearts of Alex Chilton and Big Star fans this holiday season. I'm thankful to have this in my collection, I know that.

Jesus Christ by Big Star is out tomorrow, Black Friday Record Store Day, via Omnivore Recordings.

"The Beatles wanted to hold your hand; The Sonics wanted to kick your ass." My Look At The New Sonics Box Set From Light In The Attic

ROB LIND (Sax Player, The Sonics): "Our whole goal was just to get people dancing immediately. We wanted a wall of sound; we wanted power. We always structured everything that way, and it just kinda evolved; we saw what worked. We were just a six-hundred-pound gorilla live, and we could never get that feeling, in our estimation, onto the records."

Every regional scene in the Beatles era had a band like Tacoma, Washington's The Sonics. Usually these were beat combos quickly learning fast-tempo cuts to place at dances and the like. Here in the D.C. area there were bands like the legendary British Walkers (with a young Roy Buchanan on guitar) who thrilled my mom and her friends back in the mid-Sixties.

In Tacoma, Washington, there was The Sonics, a now-legendary group that seemingly invented both garage rock as well as punk depending on what music critic you read. That The Sonics were incendiary is beyond doubt and if you want a crash-course in why there's still such a following of these cats, you'd be well-served by the upcoming The Sonics: 50 box set from Light in the Attic Records.

Dropping tomorrow, on Black Friday Record Store Day, this amazing set contains some of the most vital music you're going to hear in 2015. That most of the music was made 50+ years ago adds to myth of The Sonics; how can music this old sound so fresh and downright threatening in spots? After listening to The Sonics: 50, I understood why the music of these guys survived when thousands of other bands' stuff has been long forgotten. Like The Ramones, The Sonics stripped rock back to the basics, subverted the typical love song-formula, and rocked out with abandon. It's that simple. Arguably the first important American band, The Sonics refined a template here and it's one that's been used by acts as disparate as The Stooges and The White Stripes decades later.

Disc 1 contains Here Are The Sonics (1965), Disc 2 contains Boom (1966), and Disc 3 is full of rarities including a bunch of Christmas-themed cuts from the band. Despite some differences in production and original label-backing, discs 1 and 2 are full of immediate, punchy rock. If you only know Nuggets-era standards like "The Witch" and "Strychnine" then you only know one aspect of the band. As great as those cuts are, the band was capable of covering the hits of the day with ease and abandon ("Roll Over Beethoven" on Here Are The Sonics and "Louie Louie" on Boom). If those cuts were surely just recorded versions of the sort of stompers the band would trot out in live gigs, the album renditions still pack a wallop. If nothing else, they indicate the steamroller effect of the band and one can easily imagine how these would have gone down live in some sweaty club 50 years ago.

A large part of the force of The Sonics' sound is owed to revered drummer Bob Bennett. Through a mix of primitive recording techniques as well as Bob's unique skills on the kit, the band used the percussionist as a force of nature behind their wall of noise.

ANDY PARYPA (Bass Player, The Sonics): "The whole band played to Bob [Bennett, Drums] and that changed our whole approach to everything, really."

And one remembers that quote from the informative liner notes booklet as one listens to Discs 1 and 2. On stuff like "Psycho" the entire force of the song starts with that beat. The drums sound like Bennett is playing right behind you. On stuff like "Dirty Robber" the sax anchors the cut as a party tune even if Bennett plays like he's inventing the Ramones with every hit on the kit. Another highlight here is "Boss Hoss" which remains the sort of tough-and-odd lost classic that is aching to be rediscovered and put on a Tarantino soundtrack.

If Discs 1 and 2 are full of the very stuff of the bedrock of, well, rock, then Disc 3 is more of the sort of rarities disc that diehards will enjoy more than others. Full of some mildly misguided-but-still fascinating Christmas-themed tunes, the set also has a few alternate versions too. The big non-holiday highlight here is probably "The Hustler", a ditty penned by piano and organ player Gerry Roslie. Cut from the same mold as "Dirty Water" by The Standells, the song is a blast of snarling energy. Another classic that warrants rediscovery.

GERRY ROSLIE (Piano and Organ Player, The Sonics): "After all these years, the interest in The Sonics is amazing to me; I’m dumbfounded. It’s great!"

I don't think it's too surprising that The Sonics are so fondly remembered. There's attitude here in spades and besides the beat of Bennett, the band acquit themselves admirably. Bridging that beat era stuff with a darker edged kind of garage rock, the tunes of The Sonics still hold up in large measure. The Sonics: 50 is a concise and easy way to dive into this band's back catalogue. The fantastic liner notes -- loaded with awesome pics -- add to the allure of the band.

The Sonics: 50 box set is out tomorrow from Light in the Attic Records.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"I Occasionally Surprise Myself With My Own Optimism": My Interview With Martin Phillipps Of The Chills Following The Release Of Silver Bullets (Fire Records) [Updated With New Chills Video]

The music of The Chills is finally getting a bit more attention, the sorts of levels of attention it's always deserved. A perennial fave of critics -- and us wannabe "cool kids" -- the New Zealand band's stuff, largely the product of the genius of main-man Martin Phillipps, is the subject of so much ink lately thanks mainly to the release of the band's newest record, the sublime Silver Bullets (2015). The music on the album, out now on Fire Records, is an effortlessly perfect blending of so many different eras from Phillipps' back-pages: the warmth and wit of Brave Words (1987), the intellectual indie of Submarine Bells (1990), the chamber pop of Soft Bomb (1992) -- all those fine, fine releases get referenced here on the tracks of this new record. That it's been nearly 2 decades since the last full-length Chills album is sort of stunning to consider 'cause the music of Martin Phillipps has been with us all along...at least it's never left my stereo, my iPod, and my earbuds.

I tried to not be too overwhelmed as a fan when I got the chance recently to interview Martin Phillipps and, instead, I attempted to focus on the process of making Silver Bullets (2015) and how The Chills songs take shape. So here is my interview with Martin Phillipps of The Chills.

Glenn, kenixfan:: How does it feel to be back promoting and touring a new record again?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Because there have been so many near-tours and near-albums over the last two decades I was genuinely nervous that this album might never happen but it is finally out and I can relax. We are very proud of it and the reception has been so positive that I am at times almost overwhelmed. I knew there had been a growing awareness of the band over the last few years but I did not anticipate the level of emotion with which our return would be greeted.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Tell me about the process of making the new album, Silver Bullets (2015).

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Some of the basic riffs have been kicking around for years but most of the album is reasonably fresh material -- in particular the lyrics because, although I had pages of ideas for some of these tunes, most of the older ideas were thrown out as I realised I needed to address some of the difficult issues that have been bothering me about the state of our world. Once I truly accepted that this album was going to happen then it was as if my subconscious came to life and all my skills as a songwriter came to the surface and I remembered the sheer thrill of creating music again.

Glenn, kenixfan:: There is a lot of water imagery on this new record, as well as in your past body of work. Is this a result of your upbringing in New Zealand?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: New Zealand is an island nation and the impact from the surrounding oceans on its population both physically and psychologically are often apparent in all our arts. I have always found it impossible to maintain a purely urban or humanistic stance when writing and I still feel that our stories are better set against these enormously powerful landscapes and that that is part of what makes The Chills' sound both recognisable and a little different to any other band.

Glenn, kenixfan:: On the new album, "Pyramid/When the Poor Can Reach the Moon" is a positively epic track. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful in spots, it's ambitious and complex -- like an expansion of a Soft Bomb (1992) track. How did this song take shape?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Parts of "Pyramid" had been floating around for a while and then most of "When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" arrived in one big lump and I understood that both were different sides to the same coin in terms of topic and also that both were not prepared to be fully realised songs in their own right. So I found a way to join them together and the little linking phrase we referred to as "lotus" has apparently become an album highlight for many people.

"When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" will be released as a single by Fire Records on December 11. You can play the brand new video below!

Glenn, kenixfan:: On songs like "Brave Words", "Look For the Good In Others And They'll See The Good In You", "The Male Monster From The Id", and others you seem to be wrestling with ideas and working out personal issues in the course of the songs -- almost like a kind of therapy. The method seems more intellectual in nature and your songs are not cathartic in the way that old Throwing Muses songs are, for example, nor are they simply intellectual exercises. Can you speak about your songwriting process, especially in terms of the songs that don't exactly fit the traditional love-song template?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I like the contrast between the musical setting and a lyric and the fact that this can create a third atmosphere altogether and that this can be more real in terms of the true complexities and contradictions of our experiences. I will often write very bare lyric ideas as prose deliberately using no set rhythm and then I'll look at what I've written and start to substitute words for more interesting or beautiful ones -- sometimes using a thesaurus. Then the rhythms and the images begin to appear and that's when the actual craft of songwriting kicks in and then it can take minutes or months before I accept that the song is ready to be released into the world.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Why did it take so long for Silver Bullets to come out? It's been nearly 20 years since Sunburnt (1996) with only Stand By (2004), the EP, in-between.

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I never stopped writing and we never stopped performing but most of the world stopped listening and it was very hard to maintain forward momentum without active support from record labels or management. Then we got good management but the realities of a career in music in the new "download age" while based in a small country in the Southern Hemisphere repeatedly showed how difficult it was going to be to ever be able to record or tour internationally again. Many tours and recordings and documentaries nearly happened but collapsed at the last minute. But finally the right people believed in us and we were offered the opportunity to prove ourselves once again.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Do you still look for the good in others?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I can still be too trusting and too accepting and I occasionally surprise myself with my own optimism but I also have a lot more doubts and anger about the state of human affairs and our future.

Glenn, kenixfan:: You once sang "Does apathy come with age?" Does it? How have you managed to stay sincere in an era of irony? What keeps you centered as a person?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: There was an awful transitional stage where I had to accept that I was no longer young and that trying to rock out and stay true to some sort of punk-energy ethic was just making me look old and ridiculous but then I discovered that the music I was making still had truth and intensity -- only now in different ways, and I became comfortable with that. I have even gained confidence as a solo performer and found my strengths there and that took a long time.

Glenn, kenixfan:: Will you be touring the USA this time out or did "America Says Hello" rule out that possibility? Is there a sense that Americans are finally "getting" what you've been doing for so long?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: We have not performed in the States since 1996 and I really hope we can tour there mid-way through 2016 which is the current plan. America has always had one of our biggest audiences and we are aware that that has been growing as younger people have been introduced to our music.

Glenn, kenixfan:: I just wanted to say "Thank you" for the music you've made and for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview. I appreciate it very much.

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Thank you for asking interesting questions and I'm sorry about the delay in responding. There has been a lot of media and some things were overlooked.

A big "thank you!" to Alice Gros at Fire Records for arranging this interview!

Silver Bullets (2015) by The Chills is out now on Fire Records. Follow The Chills via www.SoftBomb.com.

[Photos: Jon Thom Moodie]