Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Look At The Under The Covers Box Set From Matthew Sweet And Susanna Hoffs

I met both of those people in that pic in the Spring of 1989. I was working at the University of Maryland Record Co-Op and I got free tickets and backstage passes to see The Bangles in D.C. right when "Eternal Flame" was riding high in the charts and the band were at their absolute peak. I don't think that the many teen girls in the audience quite appreciated openers House of Freaks but I did, having seen them a few times at the old 9:30 Club already, but I digress. Shortly after that I saw Matthew Sweet open for Toni Childs -- remember her? -- at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University. D.C.'s own Tommy Keene was backstage too, chatting with Matthew, and he's a guy I had also just met at the 9:30 Club in an incident that I recounted here earlier.

I'm getting nostalgic 'cause that was a great era for pop and if nothing else Completely Under The Covers by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, out now via Edsel for the CD, or Demon for the vinyl, reminds a listener of the gems from that era and the decade or two before it. Collecting all 3 albums, plus a bonus release, from the Under the Covers series, this set serves as a crash-course in Great American Songwriting in the modern era. Hoffs and Sweet have sort of cherry-picked their favorite tunes in order to highlight what makes a great single, sometimes regardless of genre; where else are you going to hear Little Feat ("Willin') rub up against The Buzzcocks ("You Say You Don't Love Me")?

The first thing I noticed about this reissue was that the albums sound fantastic. As Susanna Hoffs rocked through a positively chiming version of "And Your Bird Can Sing" all I could think of was how crisp everything sounded. Not only that, but the Beatles cover is one that I sort of dreamed of back in the old days when I not only wanted to hear The Bangles cover The Beatles, but I also secretly hoped that "Manic Monday" composer Prince would one day try his hand at "Green Tambourine" by The Lemon Pipers. Maybe if Prince one day does his own Under the Covers compilation?

If "Different Drum" by Linda Ronstadt in her Stone Poneys days sounds like a song that was written for Susanna Hoffs to sing, then "Warmth of the Sun" reveals itself as a surprisingly fitting choice for Sweet to try. While I think of Matthew Sweet being aligned with the sort of power-pop of another era that places him closer to Tommy Keene than Brian Wilson, he really makes this song his own here, highlighting new aspects of his skill-set and the durability of the Beach Boys back catalog.

A stab at The Left Banke's "She May Call You Up Tonight" succeeds even more than an earlier cover by The Sneetches did. One could be forgiven for not knowing the original -- or even the Sneetches version -- because this rendition is so good, so perfectly suited to Susanna Hoffs' voice and method of delivery. She owns this one, folks.

Volume 2 highlights the singer-songwriters of the era (the Seventies) without neglecting to let shine any of the pop-sense that both Sweet and Hoffs possess in spades. If I'm not a fan of Clapton I have to admit that the version of "Bell Bottom Blues" here made me want to re-assess that opinion, while even the over-played radio staple of "Maggie May" sounds fresh when sung by Susanna Hoffs. The best track on this volume of the set may be "Back of a Car" which manages to find something direct and affecting in what's a sorta hazy Big Star classic. As rendered here, I could almost say that I liked this cover even more than the esteemed original.

Disc 3 of Completely Under the Covers contains a lot of bonus tracks that are also Seventies gems but the choices here are more left-of-center, like Sweet's noble attempt at "Marquee Moon" by Television Seeing as how Television guitarist Richard Lloyd was on a few Sweet albums, it makes perfect sense. Hoffs shines on this volume on "Dreaming", turning the Blondie classic into something more melodic and less propulsive.

Even though there are tons of tunes I love from the Seventies -- songs I heard on AM radio as a kid in the car with my parents at the wheel -- I guess my tastes were firmly set in the Eighties and that's the decade covered by CD 4 of Completely Under the Covers. Here, Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet deliver a fantastic set of covers of some of the standards from the era of New Wave.

Admirably picking a few songs that are the less obvious choices from some of the best bands of the era ("The Bulrushes" from Richard Barone's The Bongos, "Towers of London" from XTC), Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet also try their hand at some better-known faves from the decade ("More Than This" by Roxy Music, "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty). On perhaps the best CD out of this 4-CD Completely Under the Covers set, it's hard to pin down highlights but surely Hoffs' take on "Kid" by The Pretenders seems like the winner of the disc -- the sort of cover you can imagine just from reading about it -- and Sweet's rendition of "The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen is pretty damn good, especially when one considers how far removed Sweet's music seems from that classic period of Bunnymen goodness.

Still, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs show their pop smarts by choosing 2 tunes that are perhaps 2 of the best songs from the era, as far as I'm concerned: "Trouble" by Lindsey Buckingham and "You're My Favorite Waste of Time" by Marshall Crenshaw. And, as it might go without saying, both covers are fantastic.

Completely Under the Covers by Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet is available now as a 6-LP or 4-CD set and you can see all the details, including the full track listing, here. I've attempted to draw attention to some of the best moments on these 4 discs but the reality is that there are far too many great moments here to possibly mention them all. Not only that, but the CDs sound better than they did on the first version of these releases. Fans of these 2 performers will be richly rewarded here and I can think of very few releases this year that will provide so much joy to a listener as these cuts on these albums. The world doesn't need a lot of covers but it surely needs these 'cause Sweet and Hoffs have somehow rendered most of these in such a way as to remind a listener of what great songwriting is.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Quick Look At The Cherry Red Reissue Of Optimism By Bill Nelson's Orchestra Arcana

There was a point in my life when I was a real Bill Nelson junkie, buying everything the guy put out. This mania was made easier to manage by the fact that the late Enigma Records in the USA was putting out some Bill Nelson stuff in the late 1980s and I worked in a string of record stores around that time. For some reason, Enigma was sending out promo cassettes in those days so I sometimes had the Bill Nelson releases and re-releases on tape for the car before I had the CD (vinyl wasn't a factor for me back then).

1988's Optimism by Orchestra Arcana fit the patterns and template of earlier Nelson instrumental records but it broke some new ground in feeling less electronic and more organic; there's something funky here even if it's the sort of funk that's more Talking Heads than James Brown. Decidedly simple and still remarkably complex in spots, Optimism was the product of Bill Nelson locking himself up in his famed and -- in my mind, at least -- mythical home studio. One could only imagine the hours spent patching together tapes and snatches of sounds to make something like "Welcome Home, Mr. Kane" and other tracks on this one.

An instrumental like "Short Wave" nods in the direction of the earlier Getting the Holy Ghost Across [retitled On a Blue Wing for a Bible-thumping-USA market] and some cuts on that record, while "Everyday is a Better Day" is a cousin to the early-1980s electro-pop singles Nelson recorded that still sit favorably next to early Thompson Twins releases, for lack of a better comparison. The sound here is a tiny bit dated but it's also a uniquely Nelson-sort of track, mixing bass, found vocals, and ethereal keyboards to wonderful effect. The transcendent "Alchemia" jettisons the pop elements for music that lends itself to quiet moments of contemplation.

I suppose that at the time one could have accused Bill Nelson of being pretentious. After all, Optimism by Bill Nelson's one-man band Orchestra Arcana seems like music for an art exhibit, or something. But I never saw things that way. I saw Nelson as an extremely prolific artist pursuing his own strange muse. Nelson never seemed pretentious to me in the way that Sting was pretentious. No, Bill Nelson's only crime was making too much music in too short a time.

If Optimism by Bill Nelson's Orchestra Arcana, out today on Cherry Red Records, is not as immediately incendiary as Sunburst Finish by Nelson's old Be-Bop Deluxe, it is a mentally challenging work that remains easy to digest. Here, more than on some other releases, Nelson found a way to make music that sounded entirely lightweight but which bordered on high art by virtue of his intent as an artist and the presentation of the pieces.

Optimism by Bill Nelson's Orchestra Arcana, is out today on Cherry Red Records.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Interview With Dischord Musician (Government Issue, Artificial Peace) And Author (Descending Memphis) Robert Moss

There are 2 punk rock legends in that photo and 2 writers, and they've both got connections to the city of Memphis. Robert Moss, on the left, a one-time member of D.C. Dischord legends Government Issue and Artificial Peace, has written a remarkable novel set largely in the city and he was lucky enough to get a pic of Tav Falco, there on the right, with the book. Both of these musician-slash-writers have drawn inspiration from the city of Memphis and the very early days of rock 'n' roll with Moss having recently turned that inspiration into a fine, fine novel.

Descending Memphis is an assured genre-hopper set in the South of the Fifties. Populated by larger-than-life characters -- including some real-life ones like Johnny Cash -- the Memphis of the book is a place dripping with near-noir menace and atmosphere. Robert Moss has done something special here as the book is as much an accomplished bit of page-turning genre fiction, as much as it's an impressive stab at something more literary in nature. Tackling issues like racism and black/white relations in the South of the not-so-distant past, Descending Memphis covers a lot of ground with a mix of economy and style that made me really enjoy the novel. Serving as both a traditional detective story and a fictionalized journey through the early days of rock 'n' roll in the birthplace of the form, Descending Memphis was a blast to read and I was truly sorry to see it end. Here's hoping that Moss will decided to write another book and bring Tommy Rhodeen back to chase clues in perhaps another city and another era.

In the mean-time, while we're waiting for that, here's my interview with author Robert Moss where he discuses both his wonderful novel as well as his memories of the harDCore scene recently chronicled in the fine 2014 film Salad Days.

Descending Memphis by Robert Moss is out now and you can get it via Amazon.com. Here's my interview with Robert.

Glenn, kenixfan: What was the inspiration for Descending Memphis?

Robert Moss: It began with a question that popped in my head. What if Johnny Cash never made it as a musician, but instead became a private investigator with the same personality. A rebel who fights for the little guy, but is full of flaws and has a dark side. But then I came across a series of books about a fictitious Elvis Presley who, between concerts, moonlights as a private detective. Those books are pretty crass. I didn’t want to do anything that might seem connected to that. So I dropped the idea of fictitious Johnny Cash, P.I., and I created my own protagonist, Tommy Rhodeen. In the end, I’m glad it worked out this way.

Glenn, kenixfan: Did you do a lot of research before you wrote the novel?

Robert Moss: Yeah, I started by reading. Books, online, anything I could find about what was happening in Memphis in 1956, and not just about rock ’n’ roll. I spoke with Craig Morrison, the guy who wrote Go Cat Go!, which is a great book on the history of rockabilly. He recommended some guys to talk to. They introduced me to others. One was one of the last surviving members of the "Memphis Mafia", but he didn’t want to talk to me.

[So] I kept going. But besides the music, I needed to know what the city was like in those days and I came across two Memphis historians. Gene Gill and David French. Both grew up there and were about the same age as my protagonist around the time my story takes place. They answered my questions and told me about things -- like the odd liquor laws that existed in Tennessee, even after Prohibition -- that made their way into the book. I also met Ruth White, who’s been in the music business since 1947. She’s 85 years old. She’s from Nashville and worked on Music Row. Her husband, Howard, was a well-known steel guitar player. Ruth filled me in on the honky-tonks and other stuff.

Glenn, kenixfan: At some points, Descending Memphis reads in the best possible way like a lost bit of classic genre fiction from the era. At others, it reads as a sort of commentary on issues (race, drugs, rock ’n’ roll) from that era. Did you intentionally set out to write more than a thriller? How much were you aiming to do something more than just crank out a page-turner?

Robert Moss: Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were my two biggest influences when I began writing Descending Memphis. But much of that was stripped out during re-writes. I got rid of what seems like pages and pages of similes and metaphors. There are some left, but I began to look more to Raymond Carver and other writers for inspiration. But to answer your question about writing more than a thriller or a detective story. Yeah, I wanted the book to also be a coming-of-age story, and for the protagonist to experience significant life-changing events. That’s the opposite of a Phillip Marlowe or a Sam Spade. I still wanted those page-turner elements, but I wanted the reader to identify with Tommy Rhodeen, my main character, and to feel what he’s going through.

Glenn, kenixfan: The references to real people, like Johnny Cash, feel genuine and things are plausible. Can you describe your process as a writer when working on this book, knowing that you were writing about another era and one in which people like Johnny Cash were wandering around town?

Robert Moss: That was something that could have blown up in my face. Before I wrote the scene where Tommy meets Johnny Cash, I listened to recordings of Cash speaking and tried to write dialog that sounded like something he’d say. I also based characters on real people, but who were not as well known. Like Charlie Feathers, Eddie Bond, and Roland Janes. That gave me more latitude. And to keep things authentic I kept going back to my notes from talking with people who grew up in Memphis and Nashville, as well as what I’d read about the period. Sometimes I’d come up with a new scene and I’d call Ruth, or one of the others. They were pretty patient with me [laughs].

Glenn, kenixfan: Tell me about how Artificial Peace came together and what your place is in the Dischord legacy during that Salad Days era?

Robert Moss: There were several bands before Artificial Peace, leading up to that one. Different singers, different guitar players. Brian Gay was the first. He was also the original bass player in Government Issue. Before the GIs formed, Brian and I wrote songs that sounded more like what you’d hear on 30 Seconds Over DC than on Flex Your Head. All of us lived in Bethesda and, except for Pete, we all went to the same high school. That song "Outside Looking In" kind of summed us up at the time. Georgetown wasn’t really our hangout, and we felt like we were never completely part of the scene. In retrospect, that was probably more in our heads than in real life. Anyway, I was surprised when Ian called me in 2010, saying he wanted to release the entire November ’81 session as an album. That was the same session in which we recorded our three songs that are on Flex Your Head. Apparently, our demo tape had been playing in Ian’s tour van for years. The other sessions we recorded didn’t go as well, and were badly mixed.

Glenn, kenixfan: What was it like being in Government Issue during one of that band’s most fertile eras? Any good “touring with Stabb” stories?

Robert Moss: The GIs were friends of mine, and I’d known Marc Alberstadt since kindergarten. We did the ’83 US tour driving Stabb’s dad’s Buick, towing a U-Haul full of gear. No roadies. No driver. Tom Lyle and I drove nearly the entire time. John didn’t drive. I don’t think he has a license. We’d let Marc drive only during the day, never at night. Touring with John Stabb? He’d get on peoples’ nerves, but I think we all did so it evened out. The best part was just us showing up at all these towns. People knew all the words to our songs and they’d put us up at their place. We never slept a night in a hotel, but sometimes where we stayed was pretty rough.

Glenn, kenixfan: So how did you make the transition from harDCore to a regular job?

Robert Moss: The scene changed so much by the time I left Government Issue. That was the fall of ’83. It wasn’t fun anymore. For me, that is. I’d already put a lot of myself into putting a band together and writing songs with Artificial Peace, and I was ready for a change. I didn’t want to try to make a living in music. It was time to focus on something else. For a while, it was college.


Glenn, kenixfan: If you had to explain in one paragraph, how did you go from being a punk rocker in D.C., to doing marketing, to living in China, to writing a novel?

Robert Moss: I didn’t plan it. Things kind of happened and often not what I expected. I went to film school at NYU and concentrated in cinematography. It was after I’d graduated and was working that I realized I like coming up with ideas better than lighting and camera, I wanted to do something more conceptual, and I got into advertising. I didn’t actually live in China, but I’ve been there many times and stayed a while. My wife’s from Shanghai. She grew up there. Her parents still live there, and she has a lot of cousins, aunts, uncles and one grandma there as well. We met in Los Angeles. She and our son go back every year. During the summer. I visit every other year or so. As far as writing a novel, I wouldn’t have done it 10 or 20 years ago. Not just because the traditional publishing route was a game I didn’t want to play. And that distribution for self-published books didn’t exist like it does now. I wasn’t ready to write a story worth telling back then. I hadn’t lived yet. It’s the same reason I didn’t write a screenplay right after getting out of film school.

Glenn, kenixfan: How do you write dialog?

Robert Moss: Well there’s the sort of transactional dialog that helps you get from point A to point B. Like, “Pass the salt.” But a lot of the more interesting dialog I base on things I’ve heard people say. Either to me, or by eavesdropping on folks’ conversations. Things I may’ve heard years ago and filed away in my head. Then it’s tuning the phrase to sound like it belongs to the character. Word choice, grammar, or lack of it. Regional inflection. I try not to go overboard because it can call too much attention to itself.

Glenn, kenixfan: What’s next for you as a novelist or writer? Have you ever considered writing a non-fiction book on the early days of rock ’n’ roll in Memphis?

Robert Moss: I have some ideas for a follow up to Descending Memphis, but not in the conventional sequel or series type of story. The book would still be connected, just maybe not in a way most people would expect. But it would explain certain things that happened in Descending Memphis, which I deliberately left open ended. Non-fiction? My gut says no, but that could change. Like I said, I often end up doing things I hadn’t planned.

A big "Thank you!" to Robert Moss. Descending Memphis is available from Amazon.com and other fine booksellers, and be sure to check out the Descending Memphis website too.

[Photos: band photos by Jim Saah or Malcolm Riviera; top photo by Robert Moss]

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Heads Up About The Excellent New Soccer Team Album On Dischord

Washington, D.C. is home to a lot of great bands and invariably it's thought of as a harDCore town with Dischord Records being the home of many of those bands thought of as "D.C. bands" by those far outside the Beltway. There are limitations in defining the sound of a D.C. band so narrowly, or defining the sound of a Dischord act so carefully. The truth is that ever since the days of Shudder to Think and other acts on the label a few decades ago, what makes up the Dischord sound has broadened and expanded.

One of the best things I've heard on Dischord in ages that expands that D.C./Dischord sound is this new one from Soccer Team. Wonderfully titled Real Lessons in Cynicism, this second LP from the D.C. band is a supple and funky beast of an album that pushes at post-punk and genre conventions nimbly and with a great deal of musicianship and wit.

"Best Employed New Beau" glides in like some expert mash-up of hometown heroes Unrest and West Coasters Built to Spill. It's a lean and infectious jam and it's going to insinuate itself with your ears as soon as you hear it. "Lazy Colonist" and "Nose to Chin" offer up harder hooks of the sort that one would expect from the band's label, while "Short Term Expectations" unfurls gently on the back of Melissa Quinley's warm vocals. Poised somewhere between Versus spin-off Containe -- remember them? -- and a Mary Timony solo cut, the song showcases the flipside of the Soccer Team sound.

Still, it would be far too easy to say that harder stuff like "Friends Who Know" was the product of multi-instrumentalist Ryan Nelson and the mellower cuts were Quinely's work as one gets the sense here of a tight unit of players sharing in the musical glory. There's none of that indie hesitation or ironic sloppiness here that one might expect from this sort of post-punk that so precisely leaps over genres. It's clear that Ryan Nelson, Melissa Quinley, Dennis Kane, and Jason Hutto have polished their craft to the point where a cover of Sixteen Candles (1984) staple "Wish You Were Here" by the Thompson Twins comes across as borderline sincere and not smart-ass.

Other highlights of Real Lessons in Cynicism are the sleek and percolating "Too Many Lens Flares" and "Vacations on the Lam", all punchiness in the style of the largely forgotten Dambuilders.

This is one superb album and my immediate reaction upon hearing it was one of regret for not getting on board with these cats sooner (and for not seeing them live yet too). Real Lessons in Cynicism, out Tuesday on Dischord Records, is as good a D.C. album as one is likely to find in 2015. Quite possibly the best new thing I've heard on the label since that album from Brendan Canty's Deathfix, Soccer Team have suddenly catapulted to the front of my list of new(ish) bands to watch.

Follow Soccer Team on their official Facebook page.

Psychic Surgery: My Review Of The Superb New Expert Alterations Album

I was planning on going to see Expert Alterations and recent Slumberland Records signings Mercury Girls last Friday at the University of Maryland's WMUC radio station. Having been there fairly recently to shoot some pics of Dot Dash, I figured it was a cool venue in which to see Expert Alterations crank out tunes from their new album, You Can't Always Be Liked, out Friday on Kanine Records, live to an appreciative crowd.

But I missed it 'cause I didn't want to possibly and probably be the oldest guy in the room. I figured that this ex-record store flunky was probably too old to be propping up a wall at WMUC on a Friday night. But, speaking of the past, the young dudes in Expert Alterations are mining the same exact same style of indie that inspired the College Park crew that I knew back in my record store days a quarter of a century ago, when the University of Maryland had an on-campus record store, and future members of Velocity Girl and other seminal U.S. indie acts were customers. One of those customers (Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl member Archie Moore) mixed this album.

That bit of information is significant to this review of You Can't Always Be Liked 'cause the 3 members of Expert Alterations have somehow managed to so effortlessly make such perfect indie pop that one could forgiven for thinking that someone cherry-picked a bunch of C86 and early Slumberland Records releases and told these Balitmore musicians to go forth and study these. Maybe they did? It doesn't matter. What matters is that You Can't Always Be Liked is such a delight that I simply cannot praise these 12 songs enough.

You Can't Always Be Liked opens with the title track which, as I may have mentioned already, seems to be the perfect combination of the sort of hooks that both The Sundays and The Wedding Present favored circa 1989. Now, that's not to peg Expert Alterations as a nostalgia act meant to ease the aging pains of old-ass C86 fans just like me but, rather, to suggest that the music of Expert Alterations bears favorable comparisons to such seminal acts. This track and the others on this record effortlessly line themselves up with the sort of stuff Gedge cranked out in 1988, for example.

"Psychic Surgery" adds a few traces of U.S. rock history (early R.E.M., The Bongos) to the mix of Brit-influences on this record, while earlier EP track "Midnight Garden" shines again here just as it did on the earlier Extended Play release from Slumberland Records.

"Sort Out" made me think of The Smiths and the way they sounded on live bootlegs or Peel Sessions tracks, while "Don't Want To Go" serves, like a lot of tracks on You Can't Always Be Liked, as a sort of showcase for the skills of drummer Paul Krolian. His beats propel this one marvelously and his style on the kit is part of what makes the music of Expert Alterations so memorable when compared to loads of indie being made today.

Earlier single "The Past and You" is here, all Left Banke-isms updated with jangling guitars, while "Such a Stupid Fool" owes a pretty big debt to stuff from Archie Moore's previous outfit, think "Labrador" from Velocity Girl updated for the 21st Century.

The rest of You Can't Always Be Liked is loaded with similar gems. Nearly every cut here is a perfect little slice of indie pop, all chiming guitar riffs, propulsive bass-lines, and early Jesus and Mary Chain-style drum-work. Paul Krolian (drums), Alan Everhart (bass), and Patrick Teal (vocals and guitar) have made a sort of masterpiece here. I can't say that the music of Expert Alterations is not reminiscent of stuff that was made before these guys were even born but I can say that it's put together in such a way that it sounds new and fresh. Archie Moore's mixing job has polished these songs into chiming and bouncing little gems. The band sounds like they are playing live in the studio and if Moore's intention was to make You Can't Always Be Liked sound like the Peel Sessions album of some British band from 1987, he's succeeded. And that's meant as an enormous compliment 'cause one feels somehow that you've heard these songs before. They are familiar in just the right, small ways.

Still, that's not to narrow down the appeal of this music. No, the 12 tracks on You Can't Always Be Liked by Expert Alterations are both perfect updates of the C86 form as well as refinements of the sort of American power pop made by The Bongos, The Shoes, and The Rubinoos. Somehow by melding 2 different waves of music from both sides of the Atlantic the Baltimore trio of Expert Alterations have laid down a template here for how to make invigorating indie rock in 2015. You Can't Always Be Liked is surely one of the best, most consistent releases of 2015 and I would find it hard to imagine anyone not grooving on this the way I did.

You Can't Always Be Liked by Expert Alterations is out on Friday via Kanine Records. Follow Expert Alterations via their official Facebook page.

Let Me Tell You Just How Great This Younghusband Album Is

I really knew almost nothing about Younghusband before I played Dissolver, out Friday on ATP Recordings. Well, I knew that Robert Hampson of Loop produced this album but that's about it.

One listen to the opener, "Waverly Street", had me hooked. The music of Younghusband is decidedly American in spots but it's the American indie of artists like Elliott Smith or Beulah, acts that owe an admitted debt to the Beatles and their peers from the United Kingdom of the past. So this Brit four-some is channeling a bunch of Yanks who were themselves channeling a bunch of Brits. Case in point: the utterly sublime "Heavy Expectations" comes in all Pavement-like but then coasts out on backing vocals that recall nothing so much as parts of side two of Abbey Road. And, yeah, I had to keep reminding myself that the guy behind "Arc-Light" was the producer on this. Maybe he was a secret George Martin fan all along?

The subtle chord changes of "She Lies Awake" recall early Let's Active, or even stuff from Richard Barone of The Bongos, while "Broken Girls" imagines a Roger Waters who'd hooked up with Paul McCartney back in the old days, the result being slightly trippy pop instead of the muso-wankery of The Wall.

If the first few cuts on Dissolver seem to be perfect representations of chamber rock, then "Blonde Blending" races forward on the back of the sort of indie that Grandaddy perfected. "Orange Flare" and "Better Times" are gentle numbers that recall bands like Big Star and Teenage Fanclub in spots, while "Misguided Light" sounds like nothing so much as the underrated Pernice Brothers. It's a great cut that pairs the sound of Joe Pernice up with some melodic lines that would have not sounded out of place on an early solo album from John Lennon.

Dissolver ends with the Pink Floyd-circa Obscured by Clouds-isms of "Only for You" and the nearly-epic title track which does indeed -- finally and slightly -- show a trace of the influence of the sort of near-shoegaze that producer Robert Hampson made in Loop. I'm not trying to say that these guys -- Euan Hinshelwood, Joe Chilton, Adam Beach, and Pete Baker -- are following in the footsteps of Hampson but, rather, that they can seemingly master more styles than just power-pop should they choose to go in another direction next time out.

Dissolver remains one of the most consistent releases of 2015 for me each time I play it. There's not a dud on the whole record and I remain surprised that I hadn't heard about these guys until this year, and that a band this good was not getting even more attention. There's some similarity between what Younghusband are doing here and what Ultimate Painting did on their 2 albums but the singular difference is that Ultimate Painting, as great as they are too, are only drawing upon a few influences. Younghusband, on the other hand, bring to their art a wider range of inspirations. This is music that looks to the past while remaining wholly original and of the moment. Decidedly confident musicians, Younghusband have made one of the best records of 2015. I urge you to get on board with Dissolver now. Fans of Beulah, John Lennon, Big Star, Elliott Smith, Teenage Fanclub, and the Pernice Brothers will be very happy with this Younghusband record.

Dissolver is out Friday on ATP Recordings. Follow Younghusband on their official Facebook page or on their official website.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Here To Warn You About The New Wolf Eyes Album

I'm glad that this band has an official Facebook page 'cause I've never known quite how to describe their sound. Thankfully that Facebook page used the term "trip metal" so I might have to stick with that. Wolf Eyes are a three-piece. Anything else that makes them sound like a typical band is probably a lie. These dudes make abrasive and corrosive "music" that is closer to the best stuff from Swans than anything else. If that's your bag, then read on 'cause the band have got a new one, I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces, set to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world this Friday via Third Man Records.

You've been warned, folks.

If "Twister Nightfall" stews in the manner of the best M. Gira stuff, then "single" -- and I use that term loosely -- "T.O.D.D." simmers with a sort of suppressed rage that makes it one of the most siniser things I've heard in 2015. Of course, nothing on the awkwardly-titled I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces is an easy listen but the cuts here are frequently compelling in spite of themselves.

Still, with song titles like "Asbestos Youth" I don't think that Wolf Eyes are aiming for accessibility here. That's fine 'cause the world could use more music this unremittingly uncompromising. The cut is like something from a nightmare and I mean that in the best possible way.

Still, for all that, something like "Enemy Ladder" does surge forward in some traditional fashion. Propulsive and more obviously rock than a lot of what's here on I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces, this track possesses a certain infectious fury before the album closes in suitably epic fashion. "Cynthia Vortex AKA Trip Memory Illness" is an 8-minute near-drone that weaves its way into your skull. Decidedly unlike anything else you're likely to hear in 2015, this track is, like the rest of this record, required listening for anyone who wants to challenge him- or herself to discover something that pushes at the boundaries in a Throbbing Gristle-like manner.

I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces by Wolf Eyes is out on Friday via Third Man Records. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

A Few Words About The New One From Yoko And The Oh No's

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical that any band with a name like Yoko and the Oh No's was gonna be any good. My fear was that the kids in the band had spent more time thinking up that name than coming up with some tunes, you know? But I'm happy to report that the self-titled new one from the trio, out Friday on Autumn Tone Records, won me over and I'm now a fan of Yoko and the Oh No's.

The throwback guitar licks in "She Ain't Mine" worked their magic on me and I was quickly nodding my head along to the tune, same goes with the insanely catchy "Nobody Wants to Know" and its nods in the direction of The Strokes.

Yoko and the Oh No's share a label with Twin Peaks and there's a hint of that band on "She Knows It" and the other more straightforward cuts on this record. That sort of ramshackle Indie is offset by the charms of "Heart Attack" which is surprisingly direct and affecting. Never once sacrificing melody and a hook for any sort of other result, Yoko and the Oh No's have delivered a strong set of tunes on this self-titled record. This is music that owes a big debt to The Strokes and even the Arctic Monkeys in spots but it's also music that remains uniquely tuneful and melodic in ways that made me raise an eyebrow as a listener. I went into this one with pretty low expectations and I came out a fan at the end by the time the album was over. Dig this one folks!

Yoko and the Oh No's by Yoko and the Oh No's will be out on Friday via Autumn Tone Records. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

A Quick Look At The Stormin' New One From Timmy's Organism

The new album from Detroit's Timmy' Organism is about to drop and I'm here to tell you that it is a set of blistering garage rockers that is sure to earn this band loads of new fans. Called Heartless Heathens, the album is officially out on Friday via Third Man Records.

From the opening blast of "Get Up, Get Out" and on to the more sublime "Please Don't Be Going", the music of Timmy's Organism is like the stuff of every rock fan's dreams. There are traces here of stuff like Ty Segall and Blue Cheer, but also more straight-ahead cuts, like "Mental Boy" with its Iggy and the Stooges nods. "My Angel Above" sounds like something from the Sixties, a flip-side collected on a Nuggets compilation maybe, but it serves to showcase another side of this band besides the more fiery stuff.

The dudes in Timmy's Organism - Tim Vulgar on guitars/vocals, Jeff Giant on bass, and Blake Hill on drums -- have successfully channeled a host of Detroit bands here and done their city proud. Heartless Heathens is a short blast of fury in all the right ways. Hard riffs collide with snatches of melody to produce something sure to please fans of The Stooges and Fu Manchu.

Heartless Heathen by Timmy's Organism is out Friday via Third Man Records. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

It's Time To Catch Up With The Nearly-Lost Greatness Of Nashville's Raging Fire

I can't say that I remember much about Raging Fire even though I worked in 3 record stores in the era when they were active. I *do* remember the RCA compilation Ten of a Kind on which the band made an appearance but I really remember that one for the Material Issue cut.

Which is a shame 'cause after one listen to the superb new Raging Fire compilation, Everything is Roses: 1985-1989, I feel like I missed out on one of the great American bands of the era back then.

Raging Fire cranked out a near-country rock brand of college music -- as this sort of thing was termed at the time -- that's closer to Patti Smith than it is to Lone Justice. There are moments here, surely, where singer Melora Zaner does indeed put herself in the same class as Maria McKee ("A Family Thing" and "A Desire Scorned") but there are also moments where she's more in the same league as Exene Cervenka of X ("You and Me" and the title track of this collection). Those cuts also suggest the direction punk pioneer Patti Smith eventually pursued on 1988's Dream of Life, all punk fury dressed up with alt-rock trappings.

Despite that, I suppose that given the real elements of country rock on display here that critics now are gonna ride that Lone Justice comparison to death but, really, much of this is harder than most of what Lone Justice recorded. On the rockier "Locusts Sing" Raging Fire sound remarkably like a very American version of mid-period Siouxsie and the Banshees, Michael Godsey's guitars working up a great squall. Elsewhere, on the wonderfully-titled "Beware of a Man with Manners" the band blend hints of what was then current hardcore punk with the sort of riffs favored by the Rolling Stones in the late Sixties. There's an real sense here that this must have been a formidable live act in the era. By the time period covered by the tracks at the end of this compilation, a song like "The Dry Spell" hints at a more polished sort of alt-rock from Raging Fire and the cut is, like a lot of what's here, catchy and accessible.

The overall effect of listening to Everything is Roses: 1985-1989 by Raging Fire is surely what the makers of this compilation intended: an awareness that this was a band that you should have been listening to in the late Eighties, and a band you should be re-discovering now if you didn't hear them then. Raging Fire deserve a lot of attention and luckily this collection should do the trick of generating it. Fans of X, Patti Smith Group, Romeo Void, Lone Justice, and The Divinyls would be well advised to grab this one now. Then read the liner notes, put in the CD, and crank up the volume.

Everything is Roses: 1985-1989 by Raging Fire is out now.

More details via the band's website: www.RagingFire.us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Can't Wait Any Longer To Tell You How Great Silver Bullets From The Chills Is

In nearly 30 years of listening to this band I've never really stopped and tried to articulate why I love them so much. You see, ever since the first time I heard Brave Words on cassette -- thanks to the music-lover benefits in those glory days when U.S. indie label Homestead Records distributed some awesome New Zealand pop-stuff on these shores! -- I have struggled to mentally unravel what it is about the brainy pop of Martin Phillipps and The Chills that so captivates me.

I mean, beyond the marvelous melodies!

What I think it was -- and what it remains now -- is that Martin Phillipps writes intelligent pop that doesn't wear its smarts on its sleeves, to explain it messily. There's nothing post-modern or ironic here. Like an earlier generation's genius (Neil Finn) from the same region on this orb, Phillipps writes directly with a combination of emotion and insight that is a rare thing for any listener to encounter. Phillipps pens and sings from the POV of an optimist stuck in a cruel world.

That he has a way with a hook doesn't hurt either.

For the first full-length Chills album in nearly 20 years, Phillipps took this incarnation of the band to Fire Records, the same label that gifted us the sublime The BBC Sessions release last year. What's here, on the bright Silver Bullets, out next week, are some of the best songs this man has written in quite some time.

Phillipps and his crew here have created chamber pop of the very highest order. Opening with the instrumental rumblings of "Father Time" and easing into decidedly warm earlier single "Warm Waveform", there's a sense of confidence in Phillipps and his bandmates' presentation. If the title cut springs along jauntily like earlier singles of the sort collected on Kaleidoscope World, then the ruminative "Underwater Wasteland" serves to showcase the strengths of Martin Phillipps as a guitar player.

The trenchant "America Says Hello" offers some thoughts on American hegemony (presumably) with the sort of melodic rush Phillipps employed in "The Oncoming Day" back in 1990 on Submarine Bells. It's a testament to the guy's skills as a writer that he couches some very sharp criticisms of American foreign policy in such a delightful package. He remains a fairly subtle writer and even here he doesn't beat his points to death as other song-writers would do when tackling something similar.

"Liquid Situation" is a wisp of a number that leads into the positively epic "Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon" a song so achingly beautiful in spots that I had to pull the car over to the side of the highway when I played the review copy of this album for the first time a few months ago. Back in August, I sat by the side of the road in the early AM Annapolis fog with the Severn River looming in front of me as I heard a cut that seemed to expand the sound of The Chills in remarkable ways. I'm being a tiny bit dramatic but the effect here is so startling and perfect that I'm sort of shocked Phillipps pulled this off so easily. Think the best bits on Soft Bomb with more ornate trappings and wrapped around a longer track. A masterpiece and probably one of the 10 best songs this guy has ever written.

The rest of Silver Bullets after that is given over to the likes of the catchy "Aurora Corona" and the spindly pop permutations of "I Can't Help You", all circa 1983 Chills updated for a new century. "Tomboy" follows to offer a gentle ditty that made me think of Grant McLennan for some reason. Nostalgic and decidedly wistful, "Tomboy" is the sort of melding of sentiment and intellect that only Phillipps can get away with so effectively and seemingly effortlessly. Silver Bullets closes with "Molten Gold", that single from a few years ago. Recast here a bit, the tune is infectious and damn hard to get out of your head once you've heard it.

If I've sung the praises of Martin Phillipps quite a lot here it's not out of some plan to maliciously neglect his band-mates this time out. The Chills are now: Martin Phillipps (Guitar/Vox), James Dickson (Bass/Backing Vocals), Todd Knudson (Drums/Backing Vocals), Erica Stichbury (Violin/Backing Vocals) and Oli Wilson (Keyboards/Backing Vocals). The instrumentation here is uniformly superb and I'd be remiss if I didn't name the other players on this record at least once in this gushing review.

Silver Bullets is so good precisely because Phillipps has found a way to channel every aspect of his past seemingly at once. From the indie of Brave Words (1987), to the smart "college rock" of Submarine Bells (1990), and on to the expert chamber pop of Soft Bomb (1992), and even nodding in the direction of the more intimate moments on Sunburnt (1996), it's all here. Echoing a catalog that spans back nearly 30 years is no easy feat but Silver Bullets makes it look easy. What's here on this record is some of the best music you're going to hear in 2015 and I simply cannot listen to any cut here and fathom a world where this guy isn't hailed as a genius. In 1987, I could count on one hand the people I knew who knew who The Chills were -- and a few of them ended up in bands you've heard of from the D.C. area -- but now it feels as if there's finally a sense of the admitted greatness of The Chills swelling out there in the vast ocean of the Internet and elsewhere; being a Chills fan is no longer a lonely proposition. It's been revealed, finally and rightly, that Martin Phillipps belongs in the same class of songwriter as Morrissey and Marr, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, and even the previously mentioned Neil Finn.

And rather than rest on his past glories, Martin Phillipps has stepped back out into the limelight with a bunch of tunes that are sharp, memorable, and affecting. He sounds younger here than he did on Soft Bomb 23 years ago. With a tight band of relative youngsters behind him, Phillipps here leads The Chills through songs that are bright, brainy, and full of genuine heart. This is bracing, restorative music and, if possible, I love this band now more than I did in 1987.

Silver Bullets from The Chills is out on October 30 via Fire Records.

Follow The Chills via their website (www.SoftBomb.com) or via their official Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Few Words About The Upcoming Leaf Library Album

It took one listen to "Asleep Between Stations" to make me a fan of The Leaf Library. The track, the first one on the band's new album Daylight Versions, out October 30 via WIAIWYA, is a droning, surging jam reminiscent of the best Switched On-era Stereolab mixed with the early Medicine stuff. Alternately hypnotic and a little rough, the cut immediately grabbed my attention. The rest of Daylight Versions is pretty darn good too.

I hesitate to highlight only certain aspects of the band's sound 'cause cuts like "Tilting" and "Slow Spring" present a gentler style of music that's closer to a trippy Everything But The Girl than anything else, like the previously mentioned Stereolab. Kate Gibson's vocals anchor these tracks and others on this album. If the instrumentation sometimes seems a bit noodling when the band is not in the grasp of a strong hook, Gibson's voice is the thing that makes the music of The Leaf Library consistently interesting.

If "Rings of Saturn" is possibly drawing on the early stuff from Luna for direction, then the haunting folk-rock of "Summer Moon" takes inspiration from both The Velvet Underground and Virginia Astley -- noise-rock meets English pastoral pop.

Daylight Versions has many compelling moments that are gonna get this band compared to Stereolab but the truth is that there's more variety here than just songs that sound like that lot. The Leaf Library are making compelling, gentle music that insinuates itself with a listener. Daylight Versions by The Leaf Library is out on October 30 via WIAIWYA.

Follow The Leaf Library via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Michael Wood]

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ty Segall Has Gone Off The Rails: A Quick Review Of The New One From Fuzz

There was always a real risk that at some point Ty Segall was gonna go all furry freak brother on us and just unleash a record that dripped with acid rock goodness. Yeah, well, he's done just that. II is the new record by Fuzz and it's out on Friday via In The Red. It's a blast and I'm here to hip you to its charms.

If previously a Ty Segall project meant straddling the line between a certain appreciation for melodies worthy of the Beatles generation of pop-sters and fuzzed out rawk, then II and its tunes have altogether jettisoned the first part of that balancing act and gone over to the other side of just head-nodding, hair-thrashing goodness. To put it simply, II delivers the goods.

The colossal and wild opener of "Time Collapse pt. II/The 7th Terror" gives way to the more straightforward Sabbath-isms of "Rat Race", one of the highlights of this album. If most of the tracks on II are bludgeoning in their approach -- a trait I appreciate, by the way -- then "Pollinate" nods its long-haired head in the direction of some of Ty Segall's recent indie gems with more tunefulness than one might expect from this new act.

The styles are more varied on the second half of this album with "Say Hello" offering Ty Segall a chance to show off his skills on the drum-kit. The lead singer and drummer of Fuzz shines here in both roles. By the time we get to "Red Flag" the band is ready to try its hand at straight-ahead hardcore punk with some pretty solid results.

"Sleestak" changes up the style with something more trippy while keyboard riffs anchor "Silent Sits the Dust Bowl" admirably. II closes on the epic title track which lets Charles Moothart (guitar) and Chad Ubovich (bass) join drummer/frontman Ty Segall in just letting loose and going full tilt gonzo.

II by Fuzz is a fun listen for the most part. It might be a diversion for Ty Segall from his other projects but it's a cool one nonetheless. Largely given over to wild fuzzed out near-jams, the cuts here are in some ways not as memorable as some of those on other Ty Segall records but they are immediately gratifying in other ways.

II by Fuzz is out on Friday via In The Red Records. You can follow Fuzz via the band's official Facebook page.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Quick Review Of The New Album From Glenn Mercer Of The Feelies

The most remarkable thing about Incidental Hum, the new album from Glenn Mercer of The Feelies, out now on Bar/None Records, is how much the music doesn't recall The Feelies at all. Some of you might read that as an ominous warning, but it's really mroe of a bit of praise to what a versatile musician Mercer is.

As the title might have you believe, Incidental Hum is incidental music tailor-made for the film that might be running in your mind. Like the best albums from a past where this sort of risk-taking was encouraged among musicians, the cuts on the record exude a warmth and grace that's sorely lacking in a lot of what passes for indie these days. "Cheyenne" drips with attitude, while "Mobile" adds in an organ-swirl to great effect. If "Laramie" lets Mercer stretch out a bit on the axe, then "Moss Point" allows him to pull a Fripp and fire off some lines of guitar noise that are perhaps not the sort of thing you'd hear on many Feelies albums.

If the gentle "Winslow" nearly approaches the sort of rhythm that his old band were known for in spots, then it's up to the 3 expertly-chosen covers on this album to give Incidental Hum its more memorable closing moments. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" unfurls like a lullaby, while "Here Come The Warm Jets" has a hook that made me think of Yo La Tengo more than it did composer Eno. Incidental Hum ends with a brave version of "Third Stone from The Sun" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It takes a certain degree of bravado to attempt any Hendrix cover if you're a guitarist and Mercer, no longer just that guy in The Feelies, is more than capable of pulling this off. Focusing on the rhythmic hook of the tune instead of Jimi's axe flashes of fire, Mercer recasts the rock classic as a throbbing theme from some unmade sci-fi film.

Most of what's on Incidental Hum will please musicians and fans of Mercer's talents, and probably surprise any casual Feelies fans. This is an album meant to soundtrack something. Let yourself slip into Mercer's soundscapes and discover an altogether new aspect of this guy's musicianship.

Incidental Hum by Glenn Mercer is out now on Bar/None Records.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Look At The Splendid New Album From The Mantles

You're gonna be hearing a lot about the new album from The Mantles this week. And maybe you don't need me to join in too but I'm going to 'cause I really liked this album a lot and it deserves all the attention it's getting and will continue to get in the next week and after that.

All Odds End, out on Friday via Slumberland Records, is an expertly crafted collection of effortlessly catchy tunes that bear traces of Sixties greats as well as select indie trail-blazers. It's also the album on which The Mantles stake their claim at being one of today's best bands. Read on.

"Island" and "Lay It Down" kick off All Odds End with a one-two punch of pop that recalls The Verlaines, a few other Flying Nun bands, and Velocity Girl, pioneers of Slumberland Records. If "Hate to See You Go" is like some Nuggets gem brought back from the abyss of obscurity, then "Police My Love" more directly connects to the Sixties via the legacy of the the V.U. sound. "Lately" is more dramatic and drawn-out, while "Doorframe" chimes like The Byrds in spots.

"Time to Come Away" continues on in that vein, while the Clean-like "Undelivered" shines as one of the real highlights of All Odds End. "Best Sides" rides a strong riff that made me think of Translator and Wire Train and those 415 Records bands from the Eighties, while album closer "Stay" offers up a more familiar sort of modern indie with an organ hook holding things together.

All Odds End is a remarkably solid and consistent set of songs that made me more of a fan of The Mantles than I probably was before. Expertly performed and produced, this is one of 2015's best albums so far. Seemingly straddling more of a Sixties vibe than most other bands on the Slumberland Records roster, The Mantles manage to turn their reverence of that sort of song-craft into music that sounds timeless. Sure, you can find traces of indie forefathers here if you listen close and pick things apart, but what's most striking is how much this record defines the sound of The Mantles. I'm sort of embarrassed I didn't follow this band so much before. But, it's not too late to be a big Mantles fan. Listen to All Odds End and you'll see what I mean.

All Odds End by The Mantles is out Friday on Slumberland Records.

Follow The Mantles on their official Facebook page.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Few Words About Luke Haines And His Barmy British Nuclear Bunkers

There's a very real possibility that Luke Haines is just fucking with us at this point. Previously the pen behind such poisonous words about popular music, the guy has now given us the big middle finger we always expected. Seemingly just noise, this is his Pollock moment of throwing paint at the canvas and calling it "art", one supposes, but maybe it is Art. Maybe.

British Nuclear Bunkers, out Friday via Cherry Red, is nearly tuneless, positively atonal, and also one of the more interesting things he's done since the implosion -- or was it self-destruction? -- of Black Box Recorder. The only more subversive thing he could have done would have been an acoustic greatest hits tour of Auteurs numbers.

This album is sort of a concept album. A concept album from a guy I'm pretty sure hates the very idea of such things. One cannot imagine Mr. Haines sitting down with a nice cup of tea, slipping on the headphones, and spinning Tommy, for example. Still, whether you buy into the cod concept or not, British Nuclear Bunkers largely -- and freakin' remarkably -- works on its own limited terms. The sound of a possible future robbed of music and warmth the "tunes" here are largely tones expanded into riffs. Not nearly as off-putting as those Fripp/Eno albums, British Nuclear Bunkers is bracing listening and also pretty easy to digest. It's short and one can sort of absorb this, ruminate on it, and then decide what to make of this guy's motives anymore.

Look, there's a very real part of me that hates this cat for never writing another song as good as "The Upper Classes" again, for not pursuing a sort of neo-classical strain of pop best exemplified by the genius horror of "Unsolved Child Murder", for not getting BBR back together to subvert the U.K. charts again. But, I then have to remind myself that by putting out something like British Nuclear Bunkers, Haines has somehow lived up to the very potential he always had. The crank in him was born to do this, you know what I mean?

Now, I could do my usual thing and give you a run-down of these tracks but that would be the height of absurdity. There's the Eighties-filtered-through-the-Nineties chirping of "Bunker Funker" and the bleakness of "Camden Borough Council" which sounds rather uncomfortably like the instrumental bits on an old Gary Numan album. (I mean that in the best possible way, I should add.) And there's the wonderfully-titled "Mama Check the Radar at the Dada Station" which buzzes splendidly even without a trace of human warmth. All that said, these cuts are best presented together so that one can absorb the full impact of British Nuclear Bunkers.

This is a bold release and I can imagine that Mr. Haines has taken perverse delight in birthing it on an unsuspecting and still-loyal fanbase. And while I'm still sorta waiting for another "Lenny Valentino", I'll tolerate this old bitter fucker's screeds if they are this interesting.

God save Luke Haines!

British Nuclear Bunkers is out in a few days on Cherry Red. You've been warned.

A Quick Look At The Fire Records Reissue Of Boo! From Half Japanese

These guys are Marylanders and that sort of makes me proud to be one too. I was born in D.C. but I spent the majority of my life in Maryland, despite some stints down south (New Orleans) and overseas (Hong Kong). I'd like to say that there's something in the water here that explains the odd pop genius of Half Japanese and that there are loads of lesser-known bands just like this here but...nope. These guys are one of a kind. Or should I say "two of a kind"?

Jad Fair and David Fair are Half Japanese. They have been for almost 40 years. Their 1994 record of their live show in Europe in 1992, Boo!, is all set for a deluxe reissue on Fire Records next Friday. If you get the vinyl, you'll not only be getting this for the first time ever as a vinyl release but you'll be getting a nice Halloween mask in the record.

Please your neighbors and go as Jad Fair this Halloween.

What's on Boo! is a pretty good account of what makes these guys special. As the press release notes, this was recorded at a time when the band were about to get a lot more attention due to connections with Kurt Cobain on the Nirvana tour in 1993, and some associations with Teenage Fanclub and a few other bands. But, really, the band didn't necessarily need that sort of help. Their charms shine through on these 24 songs and the music is direct and infectious and sharply funny and poignant in spots.

It would be a futile effort to try to describe the small changes in style or tone in these cuts 'cause, let's face it, they are all little gems created through a limited set of tools by this two-piece. That said, there's some points to highlight: maybe the twang-guitar in "Big Mistake" or the Luna-like gentleness of "One Million Kisses" perhaps? The real highlight of the album for me was "King Kong" seeing as how it namechecks Willis O'Brien, the guy who did the stop motion for that classic 1933 film, a film I watched a dozen times as a kid in the Maryland. I like to think that while I was watching it late at night on some D.C. TV station maybe these 2 dudes were too. At least they understand the appeal of monster movies.

What charms most on Boo! is probably the warm affirmations of "Turn Your Life Around" which bears a trace of the previously-mentioned Teenage Fanclub, or even Velvet Crush. It's a great number and the sort of thing that reminds a listener what natural songwriters these guys are. Of course, there's also the funny "Sex at Your Parents' House" and tracks that are a good deal sillier, for lack of a better word. But if those cuts are silly, it's a sort of gentle and non-ironic silliness that seems to be the sort of thing that many would emulate but rarely pull off.

What made the music of Half Japanese so good was that it was natural and without a lot of artifice. In a sense, this is punk rock if only in terms of execution and presentation. There's not a lot of waste on this 24-track album. You either dig this or you don't and that's the kind of music that earns a lot of hardcore fans. If you're not one yet, or on the fence still, get with the Half Japanese program and grab Boo! this week from Fire Records.

More details on Half Japanese via the band's official Bandcamp page.

(I couldn't find any tracks from this release to share online so here's one of the cuts on Boo! from another Fire Records release!)

A Few Pics And Video From The Dot Dash Set At The Salad Days DVD Release Party

After being postponed last week due to a non-existent hurricane, the Salad Days DVD release party went off without a hitch at Comet Ping Pong Friday night. Despite a bit of rain earlier in the evening, fans and friends of the bands and film-makers showed up to celebrate the arrival of such a fine, fine documentary on DVD.

First up, following some opening remarks from Salad Days (2014) director Scott Crawford and producer Jim Saah, was Nox who played the songs from the band's Mary Timony-produced EP (recently reviewed by me here). The three-piece blended some expert indie hooks with some fierce punk riffs to produce the sort of music I'm anxious to hear more of. Hopefully they'll record more stuff in the near future.

Then Dot Dash took the stage for a all-too-short set of tunes new and old. Opening with a roaring version of "The Color and the Sound" from Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, the lads tore through a bunch of cuts that showed the band to be in superb form. A new song was trotted out -- didn't catch the name despite having the set-list -- and it sounded like The Jam circa "Running on the Spot" a bit, and then there was the loose and effortless indie-pop of "Hands of Time" which sounds more and more like one of those cuts that continues to sound better the more you hear it. It's got the ring of familiarity about it, like an old alt-rock standard, you know? New number "Woke Up Saturday Night" was there too and then it was time for a special guest.

The legendary Peter Cortner of Dag Nasty next hopped up on stage. The vocalist on the classic Wig Out at Denko's (1987) album was there supposedly to honor the D.C. hardcore legacy but what followed was pure pop magic.

Introducing their first song as a Void cover, I grabbed the phone. Saying they were going to do it as a waltz, the band surprised the crowd with a cover of the old Kirsty MacColl number "They Don't Know" (which I knew first as a Tracey Ullman hit in 1983 or so). They followed up this one with an epic run-down of "Smash It Up" by The Damned with Cortner sounding on fire.

A superb end to a splendid evening of music. Congratulations to Scott Crawford and Jim Saah for making such a great film about such a vital time in D.C. music history.

Details on Salad Days (2014) via the website or the official Facebook page for the film.

More details about Dot Dash via the band's official Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Heads Up About The All-New Pop Charms Of Boys Forever (Patrick From Veronica Falls)

These 2 tunes are only demos but they are still 2 of the best things I've heard this week. Patrick Doyle of Slumberland Records greats Veronica Falls has gone solo...for a bit. Maybe not permanently.

Like his bandmate James Hoare with his projects Mazes and Ultimate Painting, Patrick's Boys Forever mines the past to make the indie of the future. Or something like that.

"Brian" reminded me of one of those early Creation bands covering some obscure old Left Banke song. Catchy and simple, the track is sure to get stuck in your head after one play. "Underground" has more of a riff that makes me long to hear the full version as I can sort of imagine these hooks being expanded in interesting ways. Of the two tracks, this one bears more of a trace of the sound of Veronica Falls.

Follow Boys Forever on their official Facebook page for now.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Few Words About The New Protomartyr Album (Plus 2 Free Downloads!)

I wonder if it's even worth adding my two cents to the current online hype about Protomartyr? The band, like Parquet Courts about a year ago, seem to have reached that critical juncture where any criticism is wasted and any further praise would be redundant.

What I can do, seeing as how The Agent Intellect is released in a few days on Hardly Art, is tell you what this late-comer to the band's charms thought of the record.

In short: I totally dug it! The band makes a sort of pummeling rock not entirely unlike that of artists as diverse as Afghan Whigs or The Jesus Lizard. The edges are smooth here and the lines supple so what could be brutality unleashed is, instead, a punch -- or maybe a slap? -- wrapped in a velvet glove.

Opener "The Devil in his Youth" recalled for me the late period stuff from Wire but with more menace in the grooves. The slow-burn of "Cowards Starve" rewards both old and new fans of this band, while the near-Fall stomp of "I Forgive You" shows what this band would do when tasked with writing a hit single. "Dope Cloud" nods in the direction of stuff best described as inspired by early Nick Cave; there's even something vaguely Neubauten-like about this one. On the much written about "Why Does It Shake?" the band achieves a remarkably consistent tone of sly and funky rage. This is the sound of the moment before everything explodes.

If "Ellen" is a bit gentle, that's not to say that there's much on The Agent Intellect that is similar. This is largely music that manages to be both punishing and accessible and that's a rare thing to pull off. Channeling scores of previously more extreme acts, Protomartyr have made something full of rage that's a bit easier to digest. Sinister, thoroughly sleek, the cuts on this album all achieve a certain distillation of the band's appeal.

The Agent Intellect is out on Friday via Hardly Art. Follow Protomartyr on their official Facebook page or on their official website.