Monday, August 31, 2015

Connections Do Aerosmith (And The Result Is A Sloppy And Glorious Mess, As Well As A Free Download!)

Somehow -- and I really don't know how -- Columbus, Ohio's favorite sons, Connections, have managed to out Aerosmith Aerosmith. I mean, this cover of the hair metal-era Aerosmith "classic" "Cryin'" sounds more like respectable hard rock-era Aerosmith than seems possible. In this cover of a Nineties nugget, the dudes in Connections have found a kernel of badassery the dad of Liv Tyler had lost along the way. Well done, fellas.

Connections are busy working on a new album and continuing to perfect their uniquely American brand of ramshackle indie rock. They are supremely underrated and with every bit of attention they get, I keep thinking they deserve even more. We don't have Guided By Voices anymore but we've got Connections and that's okay with me.

Follow Connections on their official Facebook page.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Quick Review Of The Splendid New Album From Pugwash

I've been avoiding becoming a fan of Pugwash for so long now but, really, it's a losing battle. With the upcoming release of Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends), out Friday on Omnivore Recordings, I think I'll be firmly in the Thomas Walsh and Pugwash camp. All of my friends with similar taste in music should be happy that they don't have to yell at me anymore about how good this band is. I mean, with appearances from Jeff Lynne and Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy) on this one, how could I fight it anymore? "Hung Myself Out To Dry", to use an example, insinuates on the back of a melody that's equal parts Hannon and Lynne. And to think that only a few years ago I'd never have envisioned a band who'd make that necessary leap between those acts and link them up sonically.

This is really a splendid record and even if "Oh Happy Days" didn't manage the miracle of getting Ray Davies of The Kinks to appear alongside Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Andy Partridge of XTC it would still be a great song. Ironically, it's the supple "Silly Love" that sounds more like Partridge than a lot of the other cuts on this record as it mixes a late period XTC buildup with a chorus like something Paul McCartney would have written in the 1980s, and yet, Partridge is not on this one.

"The Fool I Had Become" uses a jazzy approach, while "Clouds" charms in a style not entirely unlike that of a Jobim classic. "All The Way From Love" offers up a sublime tune that Roy Orbison would be covering if he were still alive now. An absolutely stunning melody, this one. Elsewhere on the record, you've got the upbeat charms of "Kicking and Screaming" which recalls the best power pop gems of earlier eras -- even throwing in the faintest hint of late period Cheap Trick, oddly enough -- and the assured mid-tempo beat of "Lucky in Every Way" which sounds like something left off of the That Thing You Do! (1996) soundtrack in some weird way and I guess that means that I'm offering up an admission that it sounds vaguely American and like the Fountains of Wayne then.

Album closer "We Are Everywhere" takes another approach altogether and mixes what sounds like a spin on The Beatles' "Because" with the sort of backing track that the Flaming Lips would kill for. It is a beautiful piece of music even if it's not riding such a buoyant melody like most of the best Pugwash songs do.

There's something reassuredly great about Pugwash. Quality control here is remarkably high and a listener or new fan is constantly asking him- or herself: "How the hell did I not discover this band earlier than now!?!"

Yes, they are that good. Pure pop treasures all, the cuts on Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends) are destined to find their way into your heart in a matter of days. Pre-order your copy now via this link.

Follow Pugwash via Omnivore Recordings or the band's official Facebook page.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Few Words About The Marvelous Debut Album From Marrow

Every so often a band will come along who'll change up things and mix styles in an attempt to get a listener's attention. The results are usually not great. Marrow are not one of those bands. Marrow have managed to really stun this listener with their debut album, The Gold Standard, out Friday on the band's own Foxhall Records.

Marrow blend elements of multiple genres -- indie, jazz, even prog rock -- in a seemingly effortless fashion and the results are glorious. Rarely does an album provide as much pure pleasure as does The Gold Standard. When was the last time a record surprised you?

For example, "Darling Divine" unfurls on the back of a jazzy piano line while singer Macie Stewart does her best Rickie Lee Jones. And then, the big chorus kicks in and the song takes on another vibe altogether. It's music that is nearly impossible to describe in words but music that is easy to love.

Earlier single "Paulson" is here and it sits surprisingly well next to more risky ventures like "Ocean of Glory" which bridges the sort of folk rock that the Dead would have dabbled in a few decades ago with a decidedly more prog rock ending section. This is bold, adventurous music and Marrow are to be applauded for not only making it but for even attempting it.

"Cities" is simple and affecting while "Corsicana" succeeds thanks to Liam Kazar's soulful vocals. The cut bears favorable comparisons to both Rufus Wainwright and Tom Waits and yet it remains, like the rest of the songs on this record, something wholly of its own.

Album closer "Quarter to Three" closes with Macie doing that Rickie Lee Jones thing again only to have the band rave up behind her. Imagine Carly Simon in her classic era fronting an indie band and you'd have some idea of what this sounds like.

Marrow are doing something remarkable on The Gold Standard. These are songs full of bold stylistic moves and wild leaps between genres. Still, Marrow pull everything off. There is not one misstep here, nor one unsure moment. Marrow confidently and assuredly combine expert musicianship with a sense of fun. It is a very rare thing indeed for a band to be able to do this so well. And, frankly, I can't remember the last time I was so pleasantly surprised by a band as I was when I first listened to Marrow.

I realize that when put in writing the risk-taking of the 11 cuts on The Gold Stardard is hard to describe. It doesn't sound like this music would work when you write it all out but it does work. Beautifully. Play what you can online and then go get this album as soon as you can.

The Gold Stardard by Marrow is out September 4 on the band's own Foxhall Records label. Follow the band on their official Facebook page or on their official website.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Best Thing You're Gonna Hear This Week Is This Cut From Boys

This is just stunning. Sounding remarkably like Temple Songs and The Pink Teens -- the label PNKSLM is home to The Foetals, after all -- Sweden's Boys are here to knock your socks off.

Somewhere between shoegaze and C86, and altogether its own sound, "Ever Before" is infectious and haunting and a delight. It takes a lot of skill to make music sound simultaneously this out there while remaining so catchy and Boys have seemingly mastered the ability to do that. I cannot wait for the full EP.

Follow Boys on their official Facebook page. The EP from Boys will be out soon on PNKSLM.

Heads Up About The Awesome New Album From Blank Realm

The problem with Australia's Blank Realm is that they are simply too good at so many different styles of music. This means that's it hard to pin them down and describe them easily. Brimming with passion, the tunes on their new one, Illegals in Heaven, out Friday on Fire Records blaze a path that takes them near artists as diverse as Sonic Youth, Th' Faith Healers, and The Clean.

When Brisbane's Sarah Spencer takes over lead vocals we're treated to something vaguely close to Kim Gordon's old band ("No Views") or even Garbage ("River of Longing"). When one of her brothers -- there are 2 of them in Blank Realm -- takes over the lead vocals on "Dream Date" the effect is something like Luna covering a Lou Reed cut.

There are only 9 songs on Illegals in Heaven and they all succeed impressively on bold terms. From the Britpop-infused hooks of the spry "Palace of Love", to the near Tom Verlaine-isms of "Flowers in Mind", and then on to closer "Too Late Now", all Evil Heat-era Primal Scream spruced up with a a notion of brightness amid the grime, Illegals in Heaven offers up some of the most listenable indie rock of this late summer season.

I really hope that this album gets the attention it deserves outside of Australia 'cause Illegals in Heaven is remarkably consistent and frequently a blast of energy through the eardrums.

Illegals in Heaven by Blank Realm is out September 4 on Fire Records.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thank Goodness ThIs Is Back In Print: My Review Of The New Reissue Of The Magical World Of The Strands

I'm going to tell you the secret of Michael Head's success as a musician. And before you say "What about that old refrain about Shack/Pale Fountains/anything-Michael-Head-touches not making the money the music deserves?" Well, I'm not talking about cash here, folks. I'm talking about what will make Head and his work revered for decades.

It is quite simply his ability to make music that is tender and gentle without being pretentious and precious about it. What this is is magic. This is the new reissue of The Magical World of The Strands from Michael Head and The Strands. This new edition, out now via Megaphone Music, comes with 2 bonus tracks not on the original 1997 album. The release is paired with The Olde Worlde, a collection of Strands and Head rarities meant to serve as a sort of thematic companion to the original treasured album. That The Olde Worlde sits so comfortably next to The Magical World of The Strands ought to tell you how essential this release is as well.

It doesn't hurt that The Magical World of The Strands (1997) still remains a thing of sublime beauty. Surely worn out by the comparisons to his inspirations Love, Head and his band place themselves here close to the quieter moments on the first Lilac Time, to come up with a description of this music for the uninitiated. "X Marks The Spot" is a spry bit of business despite the dark thematic concerns and "Queen Matilda" mines a gentle sound not entirely unlike the stuff that The Left Banke laid down in the Sixties. If the cut, here in both its original album version and in a demo form, is not ornate in the same sense, it still enthralls. "Glynys and Jacqui" seems to be from another age when a band like The Zombies could make music like this and get on the radio with it, while "The Prize" admirably rides what approaches a catchy riff in the Magical World of The Strands.

There's no need to belabor how staggeringly essential this album is. The Magical World of The Strands by Michael Head and The Strands is easily the better when pitted up against Head's old Pale Fountains but that's 'cause production here by sympathetic producer Stephane Bismuth never once overpowers Head's work with anything extraneous. Compared to Shack, the stuff here is similar but somehow more perfect. There is something here -- like on the best early Durutti Column records, or on Richard Thompson sides where he'd push at the edges of what constituted folk music -- that remains so pure and so warm. This is music to be savored but not in a dilletantish fashion. Simple, direct, and then even baroque in spots, the cuts on The Magical World of The Strands (1997) still pack a big soft punch, to paraphrase a Clean song title. The record is a thing to cherish and so it remains with each listen.

Now, what of that rarities collection, The Olde Worlde?

There's stuff like the rough, band version of "It's Harvest Time" and a strings-only version of "Something Like You" which both shed light on how the original album was pieced together. And if The Magical World of The Strands (1997) is one of those records, like Love's Forever Changes, that seems fully-formed, then The Olde Worlde is a looser version of the music that The Strands and Michael Head were perfecting on that album. One listen to the decidedly Beatles-esque hook of "Poor Jill" convinces a listener that Michael Head is one of the greats of the Liverpool scene, if one is to describe the long and rich musical history of the city that way. An instrumental version of "Hocken's Hey" places this band next to Fairport Convention or their folkie peers from an earlier era. The splendid "Lizzie Mallally" would later surface as a Shack b-side but here it's a hint of what The La's should have sounded like on their first record; there must be something in the water in Liverpool to make these two acts so sound similar here.

"The Olde Worlde" closes this collection in a fashion that the Gallaghers would truly appreciate. Vaguely prefiguring what Oasis would do a decade or so later, this 1985 cut blazes in on a wave of upbeat emotion. It's very nearly a singalong with a guitar solo that sears. Just a gem.

If you already have The Magical World of The Strands by Michael Head and The Strands, buy it again 'cause it sounds better than ever now. If you don't have it? You are missing out on one of the handful of genuine masterpieces from the Britpop era that didn't sound vaguely like Slade.

Seriously, The Magical World of The Strands and its new companion collection The Olde Worlde are records of stunning clarity full of moments of seemingly effortlessly expressed beauty. Straddling styles and bridging genres separated by decades, Michael Head and The Strands created a masterpiece -- or two, I guess you can say now -- and will reap rewards from listeners for ages even if the sales will probably never rival those of stuff like Be Here Now (1997) from the same year that The Magical World of The Strands was released.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Few Words About The Fine New Album From Woolen Men

Somewhere in the marketing for this band was something that made me think I might not like the album. I don't remember what it was but whatever it was, it gave me the idea that this might be too precious or something. It's not. It is a glorious racket in spots.

Temporary Monument is the new album by Woolen Men and it's out next week on Woodsist. One listen to the expert blending of Camper Van Beethoven and Mission of Burma that is "University" had me hooked. Elsewhere, like on stuff like "Alien City", the 3 guys in this band imagine a sort of near-acoustic version of Big Black. "The Dissolving Man" twitches admirably in the style of The Embarrassment, while "The Wheel" rides an update on a Ramones riff into oblivion. "After the Flood" channels solo Tom Verlaine to fantastic effect but the 3 lads in Woolen Men seem to work best when they've got the amps up and the chords fast and choppy -- think an American Wedding Present in spots.

The tunes on Temporary Monument are simple ones on some level but they also pack a lot of fury. Alternately exuberant, unpolished, and catchy, the songs of Woolen Men are something new to wrap your ears around.

Temporary Monument is out on September 4 on Woodsist. Follow the band on their official Facebook page.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Few Words About The New One From Willis Earl Beal

Let's get one thing clear right now: Willis Earl Beal has got a fantastic voice. Pick any cut on Nocturne, out Friday via Tender Loving Empire, and you'll see what I mean. From the emotional "Lust" to the yearning "Able to Wait", Beal mesmerizes with his voice. It is as an impressive instrument as the axe that any guitar whiz wields.

That said, the album is nearly too holistic, for lack of a better word. For all the considerable strengths of Nocturnes as a record, it remains something that's easier to appreciate than love. I can imagine reaching for this one when I'm in the car alone at night and a long highway beckons. That's the risk of making what others might call "mood music" and Nocturnes is nothing if not superb mood music. There are moments here -- Beal's ultimately very real growl on "Survive", for example -- that work beautifully and I feel churlish for nitpicking what others would not be able to do so well.

Willis Earl Beal possesses one of the best voices in music today. I feel safe in saying that. If I have any criticisms, and they are minor ones, they are more about Nocturnes as a record. I just would have wanted, as a new fan of the guy, to hear more variety in what was being presented.

Still, I can't fault what's here and Nocturnes by Willis Earl Beal is affecting and expertly produced music of the sort that labels like Mute and 4AD would have put out in earlier eras had they had on hand a guy with a voice like this.

Nocturnes is out Friday on Tender Loving Empire. Follow Willis Earl Beal on his official Facebook page.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

New Video From Literature (Plus Reminder About How Great Chorus Is)

I picked a pic I found from the band's Facebook page of Literature behind D.C.'s Black Cat to remind myself that I'm an idiot for missing the band's recent gig there with Expert Alterations. Now that I get up at 5:30 in the morning for work, I've got so much less enthusiasm for seeing work-night shows in D.C. or Baltimore.

Or maybe I'm just old? Still, I'm not too old to not enjoy the youthful pop of Literature. Their last album, the spry Chorus, is available via Slumberland Records and it's still a charmer, in case you haven't grabbed it yet.

Songs you may have heard already are here, like "Tie-Dye (Your Life)" with its swooning backing vocals, rippling Roddy Frame-aping guitar hooks, and glorious chorus. Likewise, stuff like "Court/Date" add a slightly sleek veneer to the sort of indiepop that owes equal debts to the melodies of The Smiths and the guitar effects of the Cocteau Twins.

And if "New Jacket" can be described at all, it's best written about as a sort of breathless update of "Lost Outside The Tunnel" by Aztec Camera. Sublime, aching, and full of promise, this is -- like a lot of the cuts on this record -- the sort of thing that reaffirms your faith in indie rock.

The joyous and totally unnecessary guitar rave-out that closes "Jimmy" made me grin like a fool, while album closer "Kites" warmed my old heart with its layers of guitars and breathy vocals.

All in all, Chorus by Literature remains a pretty flawless piece of indie rock. Giving jangle-pop a good name, the lads in Philadelphia's Literature have sort of reclaimed some things from earlier Brit influences to make music that manages to sound fresh and wholly worthy of comparison to tunes from Aztec Camera.

And if those weren't all great reasons to love this band, they went and named a song after an old TV movie they are not possibly old enough to remember. There's a new video for album opener "The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything" and you can play that below.

Chorus is out now via Slumberland Records. Follow Literature on official Facebook page.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cherish What You Got: My Review Of The Blazing New LP From D.C.'s The Jet Age

Here's the secret to The Jet Age: We're hearing the inner battle between frontman Eric Tischler's dueling loves of The Who and My Bloody Valentine. Usually, thanks to the ferocious drumming of Pete Nuwayser, it seems as if The Who more often than not wins that fight. This time out, on next week's Destroy.Rebuild, it could very well be a draw. That's not to say that Pete's drumming is not superb, nor that bassist Greg Bennett's bass-runs are not worthy of comparison to The Ox but, rather, that Tischler seems to have more successfully blended his musical influences on the new album. There's something seamless and organic and "whole" about Destroy.Rebuild, and if the record is not as edgy -- or maybe twitchy? -- as this trio's been in the past, that's cool 'cause they might finally find a lot of new fans with this one, perhaps their strongest record yet.

But in making something that seems so much more accessible, have the band members somehow sacrificed anything? No, 'cause the relationship drama of Tischler's lyrics is more refined, the drumming and bass playing more integrated with what Eric's doing as the singer-guitarist, and the leader-man himself has also held back on the effects pedals, or simply more strategically employed them. If last year's Jukebox Memoir was the bold risk-taker, the band jumping genres with glee, and 2012's Domestic Disturbances the obvious fulfillment of the Jet Age sound of the earlier records, then this album is the beginning of a new era for this three-piece.

Destroy.Rebuild sounds like The Jet Age and yet I still can't quite put my finger on the crucial differences this time around. Instead, as I replay these 11 cuts, I sort of see new angles of this band's music, angles that may have been there all along.

"Don't Make a Sound" and "I Wrote You This Song" certainly feel familiar -- that awesome mix of strum-and-clang that these cats can do so well -- but then we get some new flavors in "It Always Starts With a Bang" and "It Cuts Both Ways", two tunes that serve as slow-burn rave-ups. "In Time, All Want Will Cease" sorta perfects the format as the guitars ripple and one can guess that Tischler's been listening to some Ride lately. "Who Can I Sing This Song For" sways comfortably and then "Hand Upon The Throttle" kicks in and suddenly a listener is caught in a hard, deep groove that Nuwayser and Bennett command admirably. The song is all theirs and we're off in vaguely near-fusion territory, an even bolder move than anything on Jukebox Memoir (2014).

And, like on every Jet Age record, there's a tune that makes me stop in my tracks and go "Wow, that's one of my favorite Jet Age songs ever!" The nearly perfect Isn't Anything cast-off of "I Can't Breathe" is more than an MBV imitation. Thanks to Tischler's exquisite guitar solo, the song acts as an expansion on what other bands would see as the shoegazer template. Just an impressive, impressive piece of music.

"I Figured It Out" refreshingly calls to mind older Jet Age cuts while the wonderfully-titled "The World Is Bigger Than My Two Hands" updates what Ted Leo used to do in Chisel -- there's that Who influence again! -- with a nod in the direction of pre-Sire Husker Du -- another legendary power trio! -- with the sort of fuzzy rave-out that Swervedriver were so good at pulling off. Not for nothing was Adam Franklin on the last Jet Age record.

Destroy.Rebuild closes with the "When The Levee Breaks"-isms of "Epilogue", Bennett and Nuwayser doing their best Jones and Bonham approximations here. Far removed from those old, blues-y Zep roots, these are 3 guys largely functioning in the indie rock world and bravely pushing at the edges of the box.

By sticking to a relatively basic format -- the personal, first-person lyrics, the Moon drums, the Geezer Butler bass -- the three members of The Jet Age have sort of created their own genre over time. Criminally underrated, even here in D.C., Tischler, Bennett, and Nuwayser have made one of their most seamless albums this time out.

To a casual fan, The Jet Age sound like...The Jet Age again. Great. To the hardcore, it's like they've discovered the perfect mixture of each of the three elements in their formula. Things sound new here and Destroy.Rebuild is nothing if not a refinement of the essentials of this group.

Destroy.Rebuild by The Jet Age will be out in a week. The band is playing the At The Edge of the Sea festival soon. If you're in the U.K., check that out. If not, make time to see them when they play D.C. in a few weeks at their record release show in Bethesda. Follow the band on their official website.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Word About The Simple Pleasures Of The New Stolen Jars Record

The new album from Stolen Jars, Kept, didn't quite grab me until I put it on one recent very foggy morning. As the vocals and melodies of Cody and Molly filled the car, I felt really content and unusually calm for someone driving in to a busy office at 7 AM.

What made me a fan of this band was that nothing is really overdone and things don't get too precious. It seems to me that this sort of music could have led to something dangerously precious. But, as you can see from the video below, Cody and Molly apply expert musicianship to stuff like "Folded Out" and other cuts on Kept. The title cut is jaunty and the spry "Wreaths Rakes" plots a course somewhere between early James and Michael Hedges. "Another November" nods in the direction of pioneers like Jane Siberry even as the plucked guitar figures dance under the vocals. If "Waves" brings to mind something jazzy -- Tuck and Patti anyone? -- then "Wheel" is a tiny bit more contemplative.

Kept by Stolen Jars isn't going to change the world of rock with its force and fury but...that's ok, isn't it? In the right moment, at the right hour, this positively charming music will fill you up with a lot of warmth. And even I'm not too churlish to admit that that's a nice proposition.

Follow Stolen Jars on official Facebook page. Kept is out in a few days.

The New Slim Twig Record Is Here So Dig It!

This cat is an odd one to describe. His work is an even odder proposition.

Thank You For Stickin' With Twig, out now on DFA, is the latest from Slim Twig. His last album, 2014's pretty darn good A Hound At The Hem, was decidedly more lyrical and melodic in spots. If that one owed a huge debt to Tom Waits, this one owes a pay-out to the late Frank Tovey and his Fad Gadget.

Of course there are pleasant moments here, like on "Textiles on Mainstreet" which careens like a stoned Van Dyke Parks down a darkened alley, or the Air-like "She Stickin' With Twig", but the album is largely a bit denser one than the last one. Cuts like "Fadeout Killer" marry the hooks of both Waits and Dr. John with something that sounds like a Captain Beefheart rough track playing underneath, while the awesome "Live In Live On Your Era" offers up a sort of techno-crunch in line with Sparks and Suede, in some weird way. "Trip Thru Bells" unleashes some power-chords in search of some Tolkien lyrics to make this a near Zep stomper. That delicate balance between rock and something else -- electronica? -- is what makes this album a compelling listen overall. Thank You For Stickin' With Twig is bold and a bit crazy but it's also one of the most pleasantly surprising records of this summer.

Thank You For Stickin' With Twig is out now via DFA. Follow Slim Twig via his blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Past And You: Stream Sublime New Expert Alterations Single Here Ahead Of D.C. Gig On Wednesday Night!

This band just keeps getting better and better. Expert Alterations, from Baltimore, previously wowed with a great EP on Slumberland Records. They are now set to drop a new full-length album on Kanine Records in a few months and the first taste -- "The Past and You" -- is here to be savored and enjoyed. The cut, like the rest of the upcoming record, was mixed by Archie Moore, whiz kid from Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, and the sound mixing on Salad Days (2014). The instruments sound organic and expertly separated here. And, if that wasn't enough to get some music geek love going for this track, the tune is a big one.

This is just a superb example of how to do indiepop. That needs to be said 'cause so many have failed at trying to do exactly what Expert Alterations are doing here with so little apparent heavy lifting.

Follow Expert Alterations on their official Facebook page. You Can't Always Be Liked will be out in a few months on Kanine Records.

Expert Alterations play D.C.'s Black Cat tomorrow night with the also excellent Slumberland Records band Literature.

[Photo: Megan Lloyd]

A Quick Review Of The Rats On Rafts Racket

On their new album, Rats on Rafts make an enormous racket. Seemingly riding a trend lately of bands pushing things up into the high end -- see White Reaper for reference as well -- the boys in this Dutch band ride the sort of riffs not heard since Porcupine by Echo and the Bunnymen a few decades back. The epic "Sleep Little Child" unfurls like the Stone Roses in spots, only without the beats, and "Powder Monkey" clatters like a bunch of naff garage rockers practicing, stewed to the gills.

At their best, Rats on Rafts channel bands as diverse as early Spiritualized and late period Primal Scream in the service of "Zebradelic" and other propoulsive rockers. At their worst, they are still more interesting than a ton of bands I've sampled this year.

Tape Hiss by Rats on Rafts is out now via Fire Records. Follow the band on their official Facebook page or via

Monday, August 17, 2015

Outrunning Shadows: The Pleasant Surprises Of This New Cold Beat Record

The new album from Cold Beat, out soon via Crime on the Moon, is a sleek and assured bit of business. Into The Air channels any number of earlier electro bands into influences that shape this impressive record.

"Outrunning Shadows" throbs and purrs like a machine but with decidedly warm human vocals and guitar licks around it while "Am I Dust" rocks like mid-period Lush. "Spirals" is the best Ladytron track that band never managed to produce and "7 Sisters" crashes with a sort of fresh indiepop swagger.

Into The Air is not going to rewrite the rock rule-book but it will probably pleasantly surprise most listeners. Never overstaying its welcome, and zipping past in a brisk 31-minute running time, the album largely succeeds on its own modest terms.

Follow Cold Beat on their official Facebook page.

A Few Words About This Drinks Record With Cate Le Bon And Tim From White Fence

There are enough moments of interest here to warrant a review of this. See, I only write about stuff I like which is why all of my reviews are largely positive ones. This will be right on the edge of that rule, folks.

Hermits on Holiday, out Friday on Heavenly Recordings, is the first album from Drinks -- I simply refuse to write the band's name in the pretentious all caps format! And who the hell names a band "DRINKS" anyway? -- and Drinks is Tim Presley from White Fence and Cate Le Bon from...a lot of critically acclaimed stuff that has yet to grab me. Still, she worked with the Manic Street Preachers so she gets a pass from me.

She also gets a pass 'cause on stuff like "Cannon Mouth" she charms with a vibe largely reminiscent of Broadcast at their best. Then, when we get to the nearly unlistenable tracks on this record -- something like "She Walks So Fast" -- one can be forgiven for asking why this album even exists. Is it simply an experiment between these two obviously talented artists? Who knows?

That said, "Laying Down the Rock" takes a simple pattern and creates a marvelous hook out of it, while "Cheerio" successfully melds the edgier work of Fad Gadget and his ilk with more accessible vocals thanks to Cate. Album closer "Time Between" uses the combined efforts of Tim Presley and Cate Le Bon to produce a track that Can would have been proud to call their own.

Still, this album is not entirely a success. I guess I'm writing about it because, on some deep level, I respect these two for trying but, in all honesty, I'm probably never going to play most of this again.

Hermits on Holiday from Drinks is out Friday on Heavenly Recordings.

"We never felt connected to punk or new wave": My Brief Interview With Pere Ubu's David Thomas

David Thomas, leader of Pere Ubu, is the type of guy who's intimidating even via email. One gets the impression that this legend -- and, if it's not clear already, he's a legend in an age when very few seem to exist anymore -- "does not suffer fools gladly" as another person wrote. There was a sense in my mind, as I penned some brief interview questions, that I might ask the wrong question, or maybe commit some error in my email and get back a terse response like:

"You used an em dash instead of a semi-colon. Our interview is off!"

I really did feel a sort of amateur's hesitation when even thinking of approaching the guy. And that's even knowing someone (Hunter Bennett from Dot Dash) who played in David Thomas' band briefly a few years back.

But, in all honesty, there was no way I was not going to try my hand at a few interview questions when I learned that Thomas was game as he promotes the amazing and essential new Pere Ubu box set, Elitism For The People 1975-1978, out in a few days on Fire Records.

Not only was David Thomas gracious but he didn't even rebuke me when I made a stupid guess about Dub Housing (1978). I really appreciate that.

I also appreciate his time and genius. Now, here are my "5 Questions with David Thomas of Pere Ubu" conducted via email last week.

Glenn Griffith, kenixfan: In the era covered by the excellent and essential Elitism for the People 1975-1978 box set, how aware were you in Pere Ubu of your place -- if you had one -- in the punk or new wave scenes of the era? The music seems, more than ever, outside of anything being made, certainly in the USA, at the time, and it's probably a stretch to lump Pere Ubu in with other acts from the same time period.

David Thomas of Pere Ubu: We clearly were aware of what was going on in the world. We came from an environment in which if you didn't know the latest Popul Vuh record you shouldn't show your face in town, in which playing "Sweet Jane" in 1973 was considered utterly naff - like doing "Smoke On The Water" or something. We never felt connected to punk or new wave - at least I didn't. The whole ethos was wrong. Naff. Stuff people who weren't serious would do. Remember from the first Sex Pistols tour support band thing that the natural environment for punk was joke bands. That's not because American musicians were not with it - it's because we were dismissive of the baff-ness. (Note that I am a big John Lydon fan.)

Glenn Griffith, kenixfan: One gets a sense, especially when listening to Dub Housing now, that the tracks were expansions of material worked out in live settings -- it sounds like a recording of a performance, in spots. How did you approach recording in a studio in that era? How did the live performances shape what you brought to the studio and how did your studio time and the experience of making albums change the live shows back then?

David Thomas of Pere Ubu: Dub Housing was actually much more of a record composed in the studio than Modern Dance. After Modern Dance we had used up most of the stuff we knew. Modern Dance had all been material worked up live except maybe "Chinese Radiation" which we had played once or twice - I played congas on it at the Pirate's Cove residency the one time I remember! "Humor Me" had been written a few weeks before the session but not played out. The first real run-through is on the 390 Degrees record. We were very efficient in the studio - studios were expensive. All the singles had been recorded and mixed, both sides, in three hour sessions... max. Some of Modern Dance was remixes of the singles ("Modern Dance" and "Street Waves") or sides we'd recorded for single release that hadn't actually been released - "Nonalignment Pact". When we went in to the studio to finish Modern Dance, we worked as quickly as we did for the single sessions. The band and songs were the same on stage and in the studio though "Sentimental Journey" had gone through a major deconstruction by the time we recorded it.

Glenn Griffith, kenixfan: Why now for this box set and why such a narrow range? Are you worried that by looking at only 3 years, new fans will not see the achievements of the other 37?

David Thomas of Pere Ubu: We signed to Fire Records recently and brought the catalog. Fire's intentions are to go thru the years via box sets. I am now working on the next one covering 1979-1982, tentatively titled The Architecture of Language.

Glenn Griffith, kenixfan: Pere Ubu always seemed like a more holistic, for lack of a better word, act than Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, despite some general stylistic similarities. How have you maintained such cohesion over the course of 40 years leading various versions of Pere Ubu?

David Thomas of Pere Ubu: Pere Ubu is an idea. That idea is unchanged by even an iota. There are rules that fix that idea. We don't make the rules - we obey them.

Glenn Griffith, kenixfan: What inspires you? What drives you to continue Pere Ubu? What are the new possibilities, or new challenges, you face as a band-leader in 2015?

David Thomas of Pere Ubu: I am driven by an overwhelming sense of failure and the need to get it right - just once.

I offer my sincerest thanks to David Thomas for his time in conducting this interview. And enormous thanks to Alice at Fire Records for arranging this. Elitism For The People 1975-1978 is out on Friday. Follow Pere Ubu via The Ubu Projex.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It Goes Without Saying That This New Royal Headache Album Rocks Like A Beast

Don't let that picture fool you: these cats cannot possibly be sitting down when they roar through the rockers on this new one. High, out Friday on What's Your Rupture?, is the latest, thoroughly superb record from Australia's Royal Headache.

As the band blazes through tracks like "High" and "Need You", the mind races at how to write about what is probably best described as an Australian version of early Superchunk. Not quite punk, and certainly more robust than any indiepop, the beefy rock of Royal Headache is, in large measure, in a class by itself. "Another World" channels both those North Carolina legends I mentioned above as well as earlier hits from The Buzzcocks. If "Wouldn't You Know" is a slight misstep, at least it's a catchy one and it's remedied quickly by the nearly-hardcore punch of "Garbage".

"Love Her If I Tried" buzzes with promise while "Carolina" adds a softer shade to the band's usual black-and-white rock. The album closes, like it began with the transcendent-and-raging "My Own Fantasy", with the punchy and invigorating "Little Star" and the GBV-like short-and-hard "Electric Shock" which is is over all too soon.

But there's one, very simple reason that I love Royal Headache and their music so much: it makes me happy. These songs made me glad to be alive. There's a lot of music that I enjoy but only so many tunes that I can say that about. Stuff like "High" sends chills up the spine and a big grin across the face. Without a sense of ironic detachment, a wistful-but-punchy tune like "My Own Fantasy" is the sort of rocker that The Ramones could crank out at their peak. The cut brims with self-awareness but it never sounds like Royal Headache are trying too hard. It is the very rare act that can pull this sort of thing off so successfully and without making it seem so forced and Royal Headache are that sort of act. Effortlessly rockin' and thoroughly inspiring, High by Royal Headache is a nearly seamless set of jams that blend the best of hard rock and punk with a healthy dose of power pop riffs.

High is out on Friday via What's Your Rupture?.

Follow Royal Headache on their official Facebook page.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

You Should Be Listening To Titus Monk, Out Now On Strangetown Records

The new one from Titus Monk, out now via Strangetown Records, is like the greatest soundtrack to the greatest exploitation film you've only read about but haven't seen. The exemplary "Carl Weathers" buzzes with menace and bits of theremim. Sounding a lot like the under-score for a 1970's cop show, the cut is a winner.

On stuff like "Whatever Mulatu Said", things get a bit percussive and bear a slight trace of the influence of a track like "Northern Lites" from Strangetown head honcho Cian Ciaran's old band, Super Furry Animals. And on the fantastically-titled closer "The Man with Fire on His Face", Titus Monk adds some vocals to the mix and things get a bit closer to The Beta Band but with a more funky underpinning.

...Introducing by Titus Monk is out now via Strangetown Records.

A Few Words About The New Mind-Blower From Herbcraft

I'm not gonna lie to you and tell that this record is full of top tunes but I'll level with you and tell you that it's a mind-blower all the same. Acidic, rough, blissful, and extraordinary, the new LP from Herbcraft, Wot Oz, out Friday on Woodsist, is the sort of thing that very few bands are wiling to attempt these days.

Sure, there are some relatively shorter and more accessible tunes here but when you're faced with something like the 10+ minute Stooges-like dirge of "Fit-Ur Head" you can only crank it up, nod along, and hope the headphones don't fall off.

"Au's Nation" calms things down for a spell and then "Push Thru The Veil" does just what its title indicates. Blending a Hendrix-like hook and some harder beats, the cut rides a groove into the void.

As "No More Doors" nods in the direction of early Loop and Spacemen 3, fans of those acts should easily gravitate towards this band. Herbcraft are not making pop but they are making challenging and invigorating music.

Wot Oz is out Friday via Woodsist.

Heads Up About Government Issue Spin-Off Glee Club Up Online

It's apparent now that at some point in 1983 John Stabb and Tom Lyle of Government Issue may have gone off the deep end. I say that 'cause I've listened to Glee Club, the self-titled EP from the "band" of the same name.

The recording consists primarily of Stabb and Lyle -- they did almost everything here -- and it's a brave, bold, and challenging listen. This is not the straight up punk of your daddy's days, kid. No, this is something that pushes the boundaries every bit as much as Swans did back in 1983 -- as someone on Facebook astutely noted a sonic similarity between Stabb and Lyle and Gira's crew.

The "tunes" here are expansive and spacious explorations compared to the harDCore these cats made in their more famous band, and which they gleefully -- no pun intended -- resurrected in that 2012 Salad Days gig at the Black Cat where my pic above was taken. By Stabb's own admission on Bandcamp, he was listening to a lot of The Birthday Party at the time and there are moments here that recall Cave and those guys, but far more that bring to mind Swans or even Non.

This is not an easy listen but it's a necessary one. Let's be thankful that this bold and brave experiment from 2 D.C. rock legends is now available for purchase again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In Which I Sing The Praises Of The Superb New Album From Gardens And Villa

I guess it was about 2 months ago that I heard "Fixations" and suitably raved about it here. The most distressing thing is that the band already had 25K followers on their official Facebook page and somehow I had not heard of them before that moment.

I mean, it's not like I'm not blogging about lots of new music, am I right?

Whatever the reason for the gap in my consciousness, the matter has been put to rights now 'cause I've heard Music for Dogs already -- legally -- and I'm here to rave about that too. The album, out on August 21 via Secretly Canadian is sublime and invigorating and fun and affecting. It is, to put it simply, music that is quite hard to describe and which remains wholly unique in its overall effect each time I play this album.

Of course the previously mentioned "Fixations" is on the LP but its sugar-pop-rush of Sparks-like riffs is here paired with more somber and beautiful pieces like "Alone in the City" which recalls nothing so much as Thomas Dolby when he'd try to do a ballad. "Maximize Results" purrs by like something from the Valley Girl soundtrack while "Everybody" manages to infuse its Depeche Mode-isms with enough of a trace of the second album from The Blue Nile to make this listener supremely content and happy to grin like an idiot.

But for all the deserved attention this group got for "Fixations" its melding of styles almost pales in comparison to the genius of "Paradise" which -- besides having a killer melody -- sounds like Gary Numan singing a Hall and Oates hit. Rather than come off as a gimmicky contrivance, that blending of genres works superbly here and the results are entirely natural and the stuff of the hit parade in some perfect future world.

"Happy Times" and a few other tracks on Music for Dogs nod in the direction of the best stuff from China Crisis and Tears for Fears but the warmth of album closer "I Already Do" approaches the sort of effortless, unmannered pop that those acts couldn't ever manage to pull off successfully. Coming on like some cut from Lindsay Buckingham -- think "Trouble" -- this tune aches with beauty of the sort that few can produce these days.

Music for Dogs by Gardens and Villa is a revelation, especially for those of us who are new to this band. For anyone, it's an album that rewards a careful listen as well as a nearly-permanent place in the car stereo. Put this in, drive around at night, and become enchanted with Gardens and Villa and the music they make.

Follow Gardens and Villa on the Secretly Canadian website or via their their official Facebook page.

Music for Dogs by Gardens and Villa is out on August 21.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Elitism For The People: My Look At The Essential New Pere Ubu Box Set

In about 10 days a box set is gonna come out that will change your life. It's easy to fall into that trap of over-praising music but, honestly, some of the tracks on this one are mind-bending and consciousness-expanding. Elitism For The People 1975-1978 collects the first two albums (The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, both 1978), a bunch of singles (The Hearpen Singles), and a live set (Manhattan) that make the case collectively for Pere Ubu being heirs to the throne of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. That they had that throne ages ago doesn't diminish my point.

More than punk rock, these early recordings are like music from another planet at times. Tribal, funky, jazzy, austere, pretentious, invigorating, life-affirming -- the music here can't help but change your perspective. For every cut that roars, there's one that sounds like madness. Bridging free jazz and art rock, David Thomas' Pere Ubu blazed a trail that others would have been insane to follow. Nothing if not shockingly bracing, these tracks distill the 40-year career of these cats down to its bright, burning core.

Things begin with the debut. The Modern Dance, from 1978, oozes with naive rage. It's primal and exhilirating in spots, riding a wave of Fifties nonsense that crashes like Zappa destroying the Cochran song-book. "Street Waves" takes what could have been a blues riff and bludgeons it. The song pulses and surges forward and remains lodged in the brain for hours after you hear it. The title cut and "Non-Alignment Pact" remain essential singles for any listener. The cheeky faux Chuck Berry-isms of the latter give chills up the spine as Thomas wails and something like a drill is played in the background. Simple chords and a driving beat anchor this and the world changes every time you play it.

Dub Housing, also from 1978, is more expansive. Lacking the obvious fire of the first record, this one takes more risks and remains more experimental ("Blow Daddy-o" and the title cut). Still, for all the weird spaces explored on Dub Housing, there's the relatively normal "Navvy" which seems to have single-handedly laid the template for the early Pixies in some weird way. "On The Surface" approaches the edges of what was new wave at the time in 1978 but remains far too dense to have ever reached the levels of Devo-like mainstream acceptance...and Mothersbaugh and his crew were never that mainstream so you get my point.

This is ground zero, folks. The Hearpen Singles is a version of a box set that collected early Pere Ubu singles in one collection. This version has an "Untitled" track that is added to the other 8 tracks that were out before. However you slice it, this set is worth the price of Elitism For The People 1975-1978 alone. What we have here are 9 cuts every bit as vital as anything The Clash ever put out. "Final Solution" still astounds -- complex, beautiful, and chaotic. I probably first picked up a Pere Ubu album when I was younger thanks to Husker Du name-checking the band as an influence in interviews and Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy covering this track on his first solo LP. His version is not bad but it's The Monkees compared to The Beatles when you hold it up alongside the original cut. "Heart of Darkness" uncoils with more fury than most American bands could muster in 1977 or so. It remains another touchstone for how to make music and why Pere Ubu remain so important.

Elitism For The People 1975-1978 closes with the 6-song Manhattan live set which isn't nearly as chaotic as some of this music would have you believe. Rage on the records is turned into nearly jazz-like excursions in a live setting. "Over My Head" opens up and sounds like a vast desert of despair while "Life Stinks" rattles like Nuggets-era nobodies who had a few free minutes in a recording studio. It is gloriously unhinged and insanely catchy.

At their core, Pere Ubu were experimentalists who weren't averse to riding a hook. Somehow, in the course of making a clangorous racket, they made music that was perversely tuneful in spots. It's almost as if the songs are hook-y in spite of themselves. Seemingly intent on destroying music as they make it, Thomas and the Ubu crew in this era are without genre as they burn down multiple ones behind them.

Elitism For The People 1975-1978 by Pere Ubu is the most important compilation you can buy this month, and maybe this year. Confounding no matter how many times you play these songs, this is large, messy music. More obtuse than Beefheart, more serious than Zappa, more subtly dangerous than Iggy, David Thomas and Pere Ubu were outsiders whose music makes the rawest Joy Division demo sound positively polished. And, like those cats from the other side of the ocean, Pere Ubu pushed the envelope into the void and pulled out a bunch of notes and banged them into something resembling songs.

Out next week on Fire Records, Elitism For The People 1975-1978 by Pere Ubu is an essential purchase for fans new and old.

[Photo: Marcus Portee]

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Well Of Loneliness: A Quick Look At A New Reissue of McCarthy's I Am A Wallet

In 1987, McCarthy released I Am A Wallet. The C86 band's debut album was suitably praised and it's since been re-released and reissued many times in the last 28 years. However, I think it's safe to say that the guitars have never chimed as blissfully as they do on the new vinyl reissue from Optic Nerve Recordings.

Decked out with a generous sampling of singles and EP cuts from the era, this release of I Am A Wallet could very well be the definitive version of this album.

One listen to "The Way of the World" here reveals a band that were hardly strident Marxists. With the benefit of hindsight one can wonder how much of the rhetoric of the lyrics of early McCarthy was genuine. It's probably a better option, in my humble opinion, to think of McCarthy's lyrical content as designed primarily to provoke thought and possibly instigate change, not incite riots. In an era when a band like Easterhouse were taken seriously as Marxists, McCarthy were doing so much more as musicians. It would be unfair to paint them with the same brush and lump them in with the same movement even if there are lyrical concerns that are similar and perspectives that are coming from the same place.

"A Child Soon in Chains" positively rings with truth here. I can't recall ever hearing it sound this clear before and the separation between the instruments is something approaching the miraculous. The folks at Optic Nerve are to be praised to the heavens for making a release that sounds this good. The massed acoustic guitars on "The Wicked Palace Revolution" bring a chill up the spine as Malcolm Eden's vocals make this sound even closer to era-mates The Smiths and The Housemartins than it probably ever did for me before. Hearing this, one hears an era of spectacular music and if The Smiths and The Housemartins were chronicling life at home and the pub, respectively,then McCarthy were chronicling the life of the mind in Britain in 1987. Making highly intellectual music that burned with passion, McCarthy somehow made smart pop that still transcends the limitations of the era of its genesis.

"God Made the Virus" sarcastically addresses the thinking of those on the Right with the sort of acerbic wit sadly lacking in indie rock these days. If the Manics managed to crib from the McCarthy playbook, they never did so with this much cheek. The Manic Street Preachers make smart, intellectual pop too but they are rarely this light of touch when doing it.

There's something gloriously invigorating about the pop rush of "Monetaries" with its buoyant guitar-crash. If you were ever going to use the term jangle rock -- an overused term, I would like to add -- then now's the time to use it. This cut positively chimes as it blazes forward. And for all the serious concerns of the lyrics on this record, "Unfortunately" still sounds as spry as any Housemartins single from the same era.

Even if this edition of I Am A Wallet (1987) didn't sound so great, you could make the case for this being the best version of this LP thanks to what the fine folks at Optic Nerve Recordings have added to this release.

Of the bonus tracks here, of particular note are the 2 versions of "In Purgatory" here including the re-recorded version that was originally released on the It Sells Or It Smells (1987) compilation. There's also the re-recorded version of "Comrade Era" from the "Red Sleeping Beauty" 12 inch release. And if that isn't enough we've also got the 3 tracks from the ultra-rare "In Purgatory" 7 inch single on Wall of Salmon from 1985. The 3 cuts have all been remastered from the original tapes of that legendary single and they all sound fabulous and crystal clear. If you already own I Am A Wallet, you still need to buy this version to get those remastered "In Purgatory" tracks. They are a revelation for a listener.

I Am A Wallet is out this week from Optic Nerve Recordings. It is a spectacular reissue of a spectacular debut. Blessed with the awareness of what the post-C86 years have wrought, the tunes on this first record from McCarthy sound even better now than they probably did in 1987. A large part of that praise is due to whoever remastered this one for Optic Nerve Recordings.

I'd venture to say that McCarthy's place in the jangle pop hierarchy is forever sealed with the cuts here. Forget the consciousness-raising lyrics, however thoughtful they are; no, what makes this record have more currency, and what makes I Am A Wallet by McCarthy a record up there with Meat is Murder is the musicianship here on display. And the musicianship of McCarthy has never been so clearly presented as on this reissue from Optic Nerve Recordings.

Early Heads Up About The Fabulous New Album From Wilding (And A Free Download Too!)

How to describe a Scouser that's gone down under but who sounds like a bunch of Taffs?

Let me explain with a bit of background on the pop genius behind the sublime album we're discussing today.

Wilding is one Justin Wilding Stokes. The guy moved from Liverpool to Australia but found time last year to record with Super Furry Animals keyboardist Cian Ciaran on one-off single "Missing Her", a nice slab of pop, and now he's back with a new album. The cut rears its head here in a radically different version. On that collaboration, the SFA keyboardist sounded like he was branching out and here on his new album, Molecules to Moons, Wilding sounds like he's paying serious tribute to the best work of the Super Furry Animals.

It's a long way from Liverpool to Oz and back to the home of the Super Furry Animals, innit?

Out in about a week or so on Half A Cow, the album is a set of perfect pop gems. Molecules to Moons is one of the most melodic and smile-inducing records I've heard in months. Beatlesque in the best possible way, tracks like "I'm Not Leaving" show a masterful command of studio technology in the service of a strong, big tune. And on cuts like "Carry Me Over" the one-time Mr. Stokes offers up the sort of indie-pop ballad that Gruff Rhys and Damon Albarn have mastered so well -- think the perfect mash-up of "Demons" and "The Universal" folks. And if you think I'm probably over-hyping this one, just give it a listen first.

It makes sense to learn that Wilding performed with more than one Furry when you spin "Deep River" with its lush chorus that shows that Wilding's time with Gruff Rhys was well spent. Still, it would be unfair to peg Wilding as only a SFA fan for this track, like others on Molecules to Moons, also nods in the direction of Nilsson and Elton John. It's a very soulful sort of pop that Wilding Stokes is plying here. In the perfect world, he'd be all over Top 40 radio.

"I Walked Her Home" bears a trace of fellow Scouse legends The Coral. Here Wilding gives us something jaunty that sounds like a lost Sixties gem updated with better production. "Monkey House" offers up The Beatles-by-the-way-of-Blur, while "Lost the Moon" is decidedly more experimental and expansive.

"Goodbye" nods in the direction of "Mile End"-era Pulp even as it mines a familiar vein of Britpop, while "Everybody is the Same" -- the free MP3 download below -- is a mid-tempo singalong that's funny even as it's catchy before descending into nice, horn-based cacophony.

The bonus track on Molecules to Moons is the haunting "Evalina" which bears a trace of Air's "Playground Love" in its sound even if it probably truly owes a bigger debt to Jeff Lynne's work with the Electric Light Orchestra.

Molecules to Moons from Wilding is one of the most pleasant surprises of a summer full of pleasant surprises for astute listeners. Buoyantly tuneful and wildly melodic, this collection of songs is sure to please fans of Super Furry Animals. If not as exuberantly experimental as the Furries once were, Justin Wilding Stokes is every bit as interesting and lyrical in his work as those Welsh legends. Somehow by moving so far away from his Liverpool roots Wilding has rediscovered them 'cause for every moment here that recalls the Furries from Wales there's another that pays tribute to Liverpudlian McCartney's solo stuff. These are small, intimate tunes dressed up as big ballads with clever and subtle instrumentation carrying them aloft. Expertly produced and performed, Molecules to Moons shows the tremendous promise and potential of Mr. Stokes. He may be thousands of miles away, but his heart is clearly in Liverpool, with an ear cocked towards Wales.

Molecules to Moons by Wilding will be out next week via Half A Cow and MGM. Follow Wilding on his official website or his official Facebook page.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Elemental: A Look At The Monumental New Box Set Of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience From Fire Records

What we're talking about today is, quite simply, one of the most significant reissue projects of 2015, and a project that surely took years to birth. I Like The Rain: The Story of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, out now from Fire Records, compiles pretty much everything this band released. And considering the sporadic nature of their releases on these shores, that's major news.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, as the tracks on this set reveal as they progress, evolved from a rough-edged early Flying Nun act into a near-punk, near-shoegaze band that somehow sounded more accessible even as they got more and more adventurous.

The first album, Love Songs from 1986, is a messy collection in either edition of the record. Released with a radically altered track listing in the U.S., the original New Zealand version juxtaposes catchy singles like the classic "I Like the Rain" with more jarring, near-blues-y explorations like "Einstein", a cut that rivals The Clean's work from the era.

The tracks here, aside from the more accessible ones that made up the U.S. version of this album, are not as engaging as where the band would go shortly after this. Stuff like "All the Way Down" shows the band finding its way and searching for focus. But that focus was sharpened considerably by the time they made their next album.

Take for example, "Shadows" from 1989's The Size of Food. The cut, clearly influenced by rock pioneers like Neil Young, sounds remarkably like the kind of music that Nikki Sudden was producing in various projects. Tinged with a sort of world-weariness, the song captures only one aspect of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, a band with many, many aspects. It is a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of The Size of Food (1989).

The songs on this second album show the band trying new styles, including the rather abrasive "Elemental" which sounds almost nothing like other Flying Nun bands of the era. One wonders if the Pixies records were making headway down under when you hear something like this. The guitars crash a bit and the vocals strain with yearning as the steady beat guides the song forward.

Billed as "The JPS Experience" by the time of 1993's Bleeding Star, long-time fans of the band were both rewarded by the new brilliance of the band's songs on this record and sorta disappointed that they were losing that familiar Flying Nun sound in some way.

I can recall at the time the sentiment that the band had been renamed in an attempt to appeal to dumb American fans who didn't like their bands smart enough to know who Jean-Paul Sartre was, or who didn't appreciate a nod to philosophy in their rock-and-roll. Whatever the reason, The JPS Experience here is a much more assured one. As they blaze through "I Believe in You" they sound fully confident in their bridging of shoegaze, for lack of a better term, and other styles. The cut, like many from this era, is somehow more accessible even as the band gets louder and louder. Taking a page from Nirvana's playbook, there's a genuine sense of fire here that might have been lacking on some of the earlier tracks (the fantastic singles excepted, of course).

And then you've got tunes like that one. "Spaceman" bears a resemblance to the more mainstream stylings of The Jesus and Mary Chain from that era but it also still sounds a tiny bit like The Clean doesn't it? A revelation when listened to in the context of this box set on Fire Records, it's just a standout example of how to successfully fuse multiple genres.

But it's not all shoegaze and near-grunge on the tracks from the Bleeding Star era, as "Still Can't Be Seen" makes so clear. Sounding delightfully like Big Star, or even acoustic T. Rex, here, the band adds a gentle lyricism to their sound that makes it clear that they'd travelled light years from "I Like the Rain" by the time of 1993's Bleeding Star

One of the real revelations of this box set for me was hearing a track like "Into You (Freegard Mix)" next to earlier songs. Crashing in with a wave of guitar noise not entirely unlike that riff in MBV's "Soon", the song is direct and forceful and an indication of the direction this band could have easily pursued following the triumph of 1993's Bleeding Star.

I Like The Rain: The Story of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience manages to chronicle one of the great, under-praised bands of the alternative era. Spanning the birth of the Flying Nun sound, eras of jangle pop, and what could only be called shoegaze, the tracks here are all glorious examples of not only those previously mentioned styles but how that rare sort of band could sort of master them all. And, as should be obviously clear from this collection, The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience were that very sort of band.

The folks at Fire Records are to be commended for their work here as they have presented in one neat 54-track package, the work of these cats. Serving as sort of a history of those genres I was talking about earlier, I Like The Rain: The Story of the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience is surely one of the most important reissues of the year. Making the previously nearly impossible tasking of collecting the work of this band supremely easy, the box set makes a case for the renewed and continuing importance of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience. A tad overlooked in the wake of The Chills, The Clean, and The Verlaines a few decades ago, The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience now sound like a band that was every bit as extraordinary as those other Flying Nun legends.

I Like The Rain: The Story of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience is out now via Fire Records.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Going Out On A Different Kind of Buzz: My Look At The Reissue Of The Debut Album From 60FT Dolls

The major labels in America were always pretty much clueless. When Nirvana broke big somewhat inexplicably, they signed anything vaguely grunge. And in the wake of "Wonderwall", any Brit -- or in this case, Welsh -- band with guitars and haircuts got signed...even if the labels here had absolutely no clue of what to do with the band in question.

60FT Dolls burst onto the scene with the corker of an album that was The Big 3. And here, thanks to the misguided folks at Geffen in 1996, the promo of the CD was in every $1 bin in the D.C. area for years. Much like what happened with Catatonia's International Velvet a bit later, the CD must have been sent to every critic and outlet in the area only to wind up in the bins for a buck. This says more about the stupidity of Americans than it does about the quality of the band or their album.

For anyone even halfway following Britpop back then, it was a masterpiece. Now reissued in superb fashion by the folks at Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music, The Big 3 (1996) is back in a deluxe edition. The album, to put it simply, sounds even better and more consistently great than it did nearly 20 years ago. The b-sides and the Peel Sessions provide further proof that 60FT Dolls -- guitarist Richard Parfitt, bassist and vocalist Mike Cole, and drummer Carl Bevan -- were one of the most exciting bands to burst out of that Britpop signing boom...even if their American label was relatively clueless about how to market these guys back then.

The Big 3 reissue is spread over 2 discs with CD 1 being the original album which has been remastered to great effect. If "New Loafers" pits 60FT Dolls near the likes of early Supergrass, and "Talk to Me" bears a hint of the sort of influence of Definitely Maybe-era Oasis that was prevalent among certain acts back in 1995 or so, then "Stay with Me" remains the greatest single of the era that never quite soared up the charts the way it deserved to. Blending Weller and Rod the Mod into something instantly catchy, the cut grabs the throat and the heart with both hands.

It remains, of course, "Happy Shopper" and "The One" that still assault a listener with riffage. If "Happy Shopper" is the weird love-child of Slade and Weller, then "The One" is The Only Ones updated for a new era. Insanely catchy, the tune gives me chills as a listener and fan even 2 decades after its release.

The album sounds better than it ever has and if The Big 3 (1996) was previously a joyous, boisterous punch in the plexus, it's now a more nuanced, complex one. "Loser" never had this many layers before, did it? And the separation of instruments on stuff like "Hair" and "Pig Valentine" was never so sharp.

The 2015 remastering shines most obviously on closer "Buzz" where Cole's rasp positively seeps through the speakers and Parfitt's guitar lines unfurl like John Squire trying his hand at pub rock. Look, it was easy to convert people to this band back in 1996 or so when you played the likes of "Pig Valentine" for them, but "Buzz" showed another side of the band that wasn't so apparent on the rest of The Big 3. And it was that expert blending of the high and low that made 60FT Dolls such an interesting proposition for a listener in the late Nineties.

Still a classic. Now, what of CD 2?

On CD 2 of the deluxe edition of The Big 3 we've got a bunch of flip-sides, the most notable of which are the shoulda-been-an-album track blast of "White Knuckle Ride", a cover of The Beatles ("Everybody's Got Something To Hide [Except For Me And My Monkey]"), a cover of the Small Faces ("After Glow"), and the sublime "Rosalyn" from the "Stay" single. The song, lyrical and melodic in ways that the band's earlier stuff was not, is a revelation and a hint of what this band could have accomplished if they'd progressed beyond the styles of this first record (and I'm not saying I am not a fan of Joya Magica but it was nowhere near as good as this LP).

The odd "60FT Dolls vs. Pastor Ray Bevan" lets the drummer's dad relate to his parishoners a tale of his son's drunken night out and the capacity of a father's love. It's funny and touching and hearing the Welsh minister's "sermon" brought a tear to this Taff's eye...even if I'm at least 4 generations removed from Wales.

The 5 tracks from the band's 1996 Peel Session collected here reveal a supremely assured live band. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "Streamlined" works better here in this setting than it does on the album. What almost derails the momentum of The Big 3 brings out varied aspects of the band's sound here in this version. Similarly, "Stay" and "New Loafers" roar with even more life than they do on the album itself.

The Big 3 remains a masterpiece. This new 2-CD edition from Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music solidifies the band's place in the rock history books. Sounding significantly better than 90% of their peers from the Class of 1995, 60FT Dolls are the argument to those who dismissed that wave of UK acts as a mere musical phase. Supremely more than just a Britpop act, 60FT Dolls were simply a great band who never got their due, despite being signed to a big label in America. Neglected a bit over time, this reissue should get the band the respect they've always had among certain quarters of rock fans from larger swathes of listeners.

"Of course, the one that you're looking for is me!"

For a good retrospective on the band, read David Owen's piece on 60FT Dolls here.