Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Top 20 Albums Of 2016

The first thing you're gonna notice in this list is the absence of some big names. Yeah, David Bowie put out an exceptional album right before his death early in 2016, and a few other mainstays of the indie world released records this year that pushed at the edges of their established sound. Still, I was a bit brutal this time around. It's not that these were necessarily the albums that I played the most in 2016 -- heck, I probably played the reissue of Kaleidoscope World from The Chills more than some of these selections; and the release of the complete Third from Big Star made that band's music just as current and vital as a lot of what's here -- but that these are the ones worth highlighting, the ones that seemed to grab my attention, held my interest, offered something special, inspired me.

And, it's worth noting that this list is only albums proper, hence none of the fine EP releases that graced my year are here. So no 2016 offerings from Angelic Milk, Chemtrails, The Close Lobsters, Tony Molina, or Butterfly Child.

So, all that being said, here we go. Here's my list and in no particular order beyond release date (roughly). Links to the bands' websites and labels are in my original reviews (linked where available).

My Top 20 Albums Of 2016

1. In Search Or Harperfield by Emma Pollock

The former Delgados singer offered up one of her best solo releases with 2016's In Search of Harperfield, a lyrical-and-lush rumination on aging and family. Cuts like "Old Ghosts" offered an aching understanding of what it means to care for one's parents in their old age.

2. Spilt Milk by Pete Astor

Pete Astor was the leader of both The Loft and The Weather Prohets but one didn't need a knowledge of those bands' back-catalogs in order to appreciate the buoyant Spilt Milk. The Slumberland Records release began a year of exceptional releases for the label, and signaled the start of a new era for this underappreciated songwriter.

3. Wolves Of Want by Bent Shapes

Did someone mention Slumberland Records? The latest long-player from this Boston crew, on that label, was an absurdly catchy affair, indie hooks ringing throughout. Stuff like "New Starts in Old Dominion" was smart-not-snarky and a number -- like so many here -- with some of the biggest hooks of 2016. So many cuts on Wolves of Want didn't leave my iPod for the last 12 months that it feels like I've been loving this one for years.

4. Searchlights by Dot Dash

The D.C. quartet turned up the volume in 2016 and -- full confession -- I didn't quite dig this new one on first listen as I expected to despite being a huge fan of the band. A few more plays did the trick and everything clicked for me. Searchlights is louder and longer than earlier Dot Dash releases but it's also one of their best releases, Steve Hansgen now a strong, firm presence in the production of the group's sound. The Minor Threat legend joins these other D.C. legends in cranking out power-pop of the very finest caliber, with "Woke Up Saturday Night", in a video shot by Lorelei/Sansyou drummer Davis White, being a prime example.

5. Antares by Tone

Speaking of D.C. legends, these cats have been producing superb music for decades. Antares was the 2016 release from Tone and it rewarded fans of this band, as well as casual listeners, with the sort of muscular post-rock this outfit has staked their lives on. Blurring lines between genres here, the return of Tone was one of 2016's blessings for a listener.

6. Actual Entity by Lake Ruth

Actual Entity by Lake Ruth was the surprise release of this year for a lot of people. The band, featuring Hewson Chen from The New Lines and singer Alison Brice, put out an album that managed to echo past greats like Pram and Komeda while offering up something stately, otherworldly, and haunting.

7. Tonight's Music by The Moles

If anything, The Moles, fronted by superb songwriter Richard Davies, didn't make things easier for listeners. A dense album packed full of cryptic references and difficult melodies jutting up next to lush ones, Tonight's Music was one of this year's most rewarding listens.

8. The Glistening One by Sansyou

This D.C. trio offered up one of 2016's best albums with The Glistening One. If Sansyou doesn't use a vocalist, it doesn't really matter as they still manage to make what can only be termed "catchy" music. Full of hooks that recalled Cocteau Twins, Ride, and Johnny Marr, this trio's tunes blended multiple sub-genres within the indie world with ease.

9. Here by Teenage Fanclub

Of course the return of Teenage Fanclub was something to be applauded. That the results were as excellent as those found on Here made that applause even louder. Their sharpest set in ages, this album charmed and offered up downright life-affirming music from these indie legends.

10. La Arana Es La Vida by Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds

I'm still mad that I was sick the last time this lot played D.C. 'cause I'm sure the show I missed was just as much of a sonic riot as La Arana Es La Vida is. The newest one from Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds offered up the soundtrack to the greatest party in the world, or only the psychotronic one running in your head like an old B-movie.

11. Adult Contemporaries by Ablebody

I didn't really expect a band with 2 members of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart to sound like this. Anton Hochheim and his brother Christoph offered up the O.M.D.-influenced Adult Contemporaries and each cut here was a pleasant bit of ear candy. Echoes of past bands like Altered Images and Associates abounded, and yet Ablebody were serving up something modern and forward-looking at the same time. Superbly constructed, performed, and produced, Adult Contemporaries still deserves far more attention even as the year winds down.

12. Wordless Wonder by Real Numbers

Sounding like every C86-era band that inspired Mike Schulman to start up Slumberland Records in the first place, the music of American band Real Numbers was more than a note-perfect recreation of an earlier set of indie classics. Wordless Wonder offered up chiming number after chiming number. And yet, for all the nods to the past, the tunes here charmed in fresh ways. One of 2016's most listenable records starts here.

13. Lost At The Party by Terry Malts

The punk-pop band Terry Malts, pictured up above, re-invented itself in 2016 and dropped the superb Lost At The Party. Sleek Eighties edges and strong New Wave hooks were the key ingredients this time out and if Terry Malts didn't sound much like they had in the past, they sounded like one of the best bands operating in this country in 2016. With every cut a gem, Lost At The Party was one of the best releases from Slumberland Records in a banner year for the label.

14. Beneath a Yellow Moon by I Have A Tribe

I Have A Tribe is Patrick O'Laoghaire, more or less, and the band released one of the most haunting records of 2016 with Beneath A Yellow Moon. Doubt me? Spin "Buddy Holly" and other numbers from this record in the car when you're alone and driving late at night. Beautiful and aching, the music of I Have A Tribe, carried forward by Patrick's rich voice, surprised me in a year full of musical surprises.

15. Ten Hymns From My American Gothic by St. Lenox

Let's face it, if you asked me to simply name the best record of 2016 there's a very good chance I'd say this one. Ten Hymns From My American Gothic by St. Lenox is smart, emotional, brave, and bold big music. I've never heard anything like this, frankly, and each time I play it something grabs me, whether it's the humor of "Conspiracy Theories" or the poignancy of "People From Other Cultures".

16. Metal Frames by Split Single

Metal Frames may have featured the drummer from Superchunk and the bassist from Wilco but the sound of this act was entirely fresh. The superb power-pop cranked out by the Jason Narducy-fronted Split Single was bright, listenable stuff. The kid's now a real peer to those acts he's played with (Bob Mould, Superchunk, Guided by Voices).

17. The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo by Cory Hanson

I never ever would have expected that the singer from Wand would have offered up something like this. The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo revealed Cory Hanson to be a genuine chamber pop force. Echoes of Nick Drake and Elliott Smith were here, but there were also bits that sounded like old Van Dyke Parks records. Lush, lyrical, and altogether haunting, each tune on this one is perfectly crafted and entirely affecting.

18. We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest

The end of a bad year saw one thing to excited about: the surprise return of A Tribe Called Quest. Offering up one of their strongest releases, the Tribe, with contributions from the late Phife Dawg recorded before his death, delivered a thing of force in We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service. Brilliant blasts of lyrics and an excellent selection of samples filled We Got It From Here..., and this is exactly what hip hop, and the the world, needed in 2016.

19. Another's Blood by Young Romance

I had literally been waiting for years for this one and I wasn't disappointed. The debut full-length from London duo Young Romance, Another's Blood, offered up bright indie mixed with traces of shoegaze and C86 stuff. Claire and Paolo delivered on the promise of those early singles with one of 2016's most concise and sharp releases.

20. Love And Cannibalism by The New Lines

Featuring Hewson Chen from Lake Ruth and Davis White from Sansyou, 2 bands that appear elsewhere on this list, The New Lines make similarly affecting indie. While there are moments here on Love And Cannibalism that do indeed owe a debt to Silver Apples, or Stereolab, or The Velvet Underground, what makes the music here so memorable is how effortlessly those sorts of influences are blended together in the service of utterly unique tune-age. This is a release that will reward over time and one that reveals something new each time I spin it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My Top 20 Tracks Of 2016

There's no way that 2016 can be rated as a good year for music considering the deaths of David Bowie and Prince early in these 12 months. So many acts favored by those of my generation were peers of those 2 giants, or a performer that was influenced by those 2 artists. And, frankly, little released in 2016 is going to endure in quite the same way that "Life on Mars?" or "Purple Rain" endures.

Still, a lot of bands and singers put out some great tunes over the course of the last 12 months and I did have to whittle this down a bit to get to my usual 20. So, offered up in no particular order, is my list of the 20 tracks that really grabbed me in 2016.

Kenixfan's Top 20 Tracks of 2016

1. "I Can't Give Everything Away" by David Bowie (from Blackstar)

The final cut on the final album released by Bowie during his lifetime, "I Can't Give Everything Away" has taken on a grim subtext for listeners now. Looking for clues to to the singer's disease, and the secrets he kept while suffering so long with it, listeners can revel in this song's beautiful melody and vocal performance as it closes what is an otherwise bold and jarring (in spots) Bowie album.

2. "Really Something" by Pete Astor (from Spilt Milk)

The most recent solo album from the one-time Weather Prophets and The Loft front-man is a thing of beauty. Seemingly revitalized by being on Slumberland Records, Astor is in fine, fine form on Spilt Milk, nowhere more so than on "Really Something", the first single from the record. Winsome indie like this is always to be cherished. Welcome back Pete!

3. "Never Comin' Back" by Golden Daze (from Golden Daze)

The cut that jumped out at me from the debut from L.A.'s Golden Daze was the catchy-yet-understated "Never Comin' Back". Sure, the rest of Golden Daze is nice but this low-key number really stuck in my head throughout the year.

4. "Realization Hits" by Bent Shapes (from Wolves of Want)

I had a hard time narrowing down what Bent Shapes cut was gonna make this list. There are so many smart, infectious numbers on the band's debut, Wolves of Want, that I was really struggling for a bit. "Realization Hits" won me over instantly and I defy you to get this hook out of your head.

5. "Like Kids" by Suede (from Night Thoughts)

On an otherwise dour album, "Like Kids" soared. Suede sounded more alive than they had in ages and, dammit, if that wasn't a great, great hook (even if the rest of Night Thoughts was nothing like this one).

6. "Make Me Like You" by Gwen Stefani (from This Is What The Truth Feels Like)

I never bothered to get the new Gwen Stefani album but I certainly ran to my computer to buy this number from iTunes as soon as I heard it on TV. "Make Me Like You" is a rush of Altered Images-style New Wave pop that is quite possibly this year's catchiest mainstream single. One of the few songs on this list that my wife and I liked in equal measure, "Make Me Like You" is a burst of sunshine.

7. "Crooked Cop" by Beverly (from The Blue Swell)

I didn't think that The Blue Swell from Beverly was quite as good as the band's first album. Perhaps the absence of Frankie Rose contributed to that feeling, but who knows? That may be an oversimplification. Still, "Crooked Cop" charmed on the strengths of a superb melody. With a hint of shoegaze, this throwback indie number remains one of this band's very best numbers, and proof that this act probably didn't need Frankie Rose after all.

8. "Searchlights" by Dot Dash (from Searchlights)

D.C.'s own Dot Dash took a lot of chances with 2016's Searchlights. The band's longest record to date, and maybe their loudest, Searchlights seemed to signal that the group had finally fully integrated Steve Hansgen's guitar into the Dot Dash sound. No longer seeming like a power-pop group with a member of Minor Threat in it, Dot Dash had figured out a way to blend the pop and punk influences churning up from the members' past lives, even while turning the amps up a bit louder this time around.

9. "Rebel Black" by Angelic Milk (from Teenage Movie Soundtrack)

The song on this list that I played the most in 2016 was "Rebel Black" by Angelic Milk. The Russian band dropped a fine EP, Teenage Movie Soundtrack, on my favorite current label, PNKSLM, but it was this first single that blew my mind this year. Absolutely perfect as far as I'm concerned, "Rebel Black" could very well be my favorite cut of the year.

10. "Under London Skies" by The Close Lobsters (from Desire and Signs EP)

Few things made me as happy as hearing new music from The Close Lobsters in 2016. The legends were back, with the Desire and Signs EP, and "Under London Skies" seemed to be both a look back and a start in a new direction for the Scottish pioneers.

11. "Pretty Fucking Sick (Of It All)" by Joanna Gruesome (from single of the same name)

The Welsh trouble-makers were back in 2016, even if only for a one-off single. "Pretty Fucking Sick (Of It All)" is probably the punk-iest thing released on Slumberland Records in quite some time and it's aces. A blast of pure energy, the band seems to sum up a lot of the negative vibes in this most negative of years.

12. "I'm In Love" by Teenage Fanclub (from Here)

The first single from the fine new Teenage Fanclub album, Here, "I'm In Love" is also one of the band's most lyrical releases in ages. Channeling a whole lot of Big Star this time out -- maybe more than they normally do -- The Fannies here offer up one of the very best love songs in recent memory. Sublime and affecting every time I spin it, this is "I'm In Love" and if you don't love this, you probably should stop reading my blog.

13. "Seen Everything" by Terry Malts (from Lost At The Party)

The new Terry Malts album, Lost At The Party, served up a stylistic about-face for the Slumberland Records mainstays. If "Seen Everything" and the rest of the album offered up a slicker ride than earlier Malts releases, the long-player and single were still parts of a smart bit of indie business. Harnessing influences that ranged from The Nerves to New Order, Terry Malts cranked out one of their best albums with this one and "Seen Everything" was clearly a highlight.

14. "In A Moment" by Warm Sun (from single of the same name)

The newest D.C. super-group is Warm Sun. Featuring Basla Andolsun (Beauty Pill), Jason Hutto (Aquarium), Renata Ocampo, and Devin Ocampo (Faraquet, Medications, Deathfix), Warm Sun channel the best bits of The Dream Syndicate and Opal to make compelling indie with a trace of the West Coast about it. A new act, the band has only dropped a half-dozen cuts on Bandcamp so far with the standout being the sharp "In A Moment". Here's hoping that 2017 sees more music from Warm Sun.

15. "Blind Hills Chapel" by Diamond Mind (from Heavy Metal Sunshine)

Diamond Mind's Heavy Metal Sunshine is a fine album but it's not gonna make my 2016 'best albums' list. That said, this cut from the record was a shoe-in for this 'best tracks' list. The Bowie-isms of "Blind Hills Chapel" seemed very affecting in 2016, never mind that the number sounds like Rufus Wainwright covering the Thin White Duke more than it sounds like the late, great singer himself. Still, it's a haunting cut that I found hard to shake this year.

16. "Thurgood Marshall" by St. Lenox (from Ten Hymns From My American Gothic)

I was a bit late to the party when it came to St. Lenox but, dammit, am I on-board now! The busy "Thurgood Marshall" is unlike anything you've heard this year, or probably in this century, and it's also a good deal more inspiring than most of what passes for indie these days. Invigorating, intellectually stimulating, and hella catchy, this ode to the late Supreme Court Justice is one of the best cuts from one of 2016's very best albums.

17. "Our Own Devices" by J. Robbins (from the single of the same name)

Even as he teased about a new Channels record on Facebook, D.C. legend J. Robbins was also releasing new music under his own name. The shoegaze-y "Our Own Devices" married some awesome guitar noises with a strong pop hook. Sounding a tiny bit like an early Medicine release here, the post-Jawbox J. Robbins has not so much mellowed with age as he has harnessed a new set of sounds.

18. "Dis Generation" by A Tribe Called Quest (from We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service)

The brightest ray of sunshine in 2016 was the surprise return of A Tribe Called Quest. If the new album carried traces of Phife Dawg -- the rapper having thankfully recorded some new material before his early, tragic death -- tracks like "Dis Generation" belonged to energetic front-man Q-Tip. Bouncing along on a few buoyant samples from "Pass The Dutchie" by Musical Youth, "Dis Generation" made me happy and glad to be alive. When was the last time a rap single did that, am I right?

19. "Which Part's The Dream?" by The Jet Age (from single of the same name)

D.C.'s The Jet Age did not release a new album in 2016. They did, instead, drop a set of 6 new songs that hinted at a pretty darn good album to come in the new year. Narrowing down these 3 song-pairs to the best single number for this list wasn't easy. But, finally, the unique instrumental mix of "Which Part's The Dream?" easily secured this cut its place here. The way that the guitars from front-man Eric Tischler come in over top of drummer Pete Nuwayser's fine stick-work is a sublime thing on this expansive number. Anchoring all of this is, as always, the Geezer Butler-like bass-work of Greg Bennett. Even without the dream pop-style vocals, this single would be one of the best recent Jet Age releases. I can hardly wait for the next album!

20. "Aeons" by Chemtrails (from Love In Toxic Wasteland)

Pretty much everything released on PNKSLM gets my attention 'cause -- let's face it -- the label has been on a roll as of late. That said, this blast of C86-ish business immediately captivated me. A burst of pure noise pop of the very best kind, "Aeons" from Chemtrails may be full of lyrics that smack of some sci-fi dystopia, but the tune itself is a buzzsaw of promise, and one of the only genuinely chill-inducing indie-pop singles of the year. Hard to categorize, "Aeons" is a unique blend of earlier genre classics with something entirely modern.

[Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Same Old Madness: A Look At The New Ministry Rarities Compilation

In Autumn 1988 I started working at the Record Co-Op in the Stamp Student Union building at the University of Maryland. I had dropped out of college, was a few months away from re-starting at community college, and more than a year from actually going to the University of Maryland. Still, working on campus in a record store was my dream job. I envisioned -- somewhat correctly -- that my daily retail life would be spent selling students the best new college rock -- (what they called this sort of music then) -- and that I would be sort of a taste-maker in the shop. The deal-breaker -- the cut that could clear the store sometimes -- was "Stigmata", the 1988 breakthrough single from Ministry. It goes without saying that in Autumn 1988, "Stigmata" was just too abrasive for some techno fans. For others, it was the welcomed stab of genuine danger that this kind of music desperately needed.

But, truly, the word "breakthrough" is probably the wrong term as Ministry already had a fan-base in 1988. Earlier singles and albums had given the band the sort of recognition that placed them among bands like Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, and Erasure. Sure, Ministry had an edge even then but their spark of genuine danger wasn't apparent right away. All that being said, rarities from the early years of the band are now collected on the new compilation Trax! Rarities. Out today via Cleopatra Records, the collection highlights the best material from the very beginnings of the career of Al Jourgensen and Ministry. Poised somewhere between what's on releases like Twitch and sides on Wax Trax!, the songs here retain a certain edge despite the bits that sound a tiny bit dated.

What's here -- live cuts, demos, spin-off project numbers -- presents a robust picture of the full genius of Al Jourensen. If material like "Love Change" sounds like early Depeche Mode, stuff like "Game is Over" is more interesting. Hints of late-period Killing Joke pop up here. If Jourgensen is not quite the industrial godfather he would become later, he's at least nudging himself down darker paths than some of his peers in this era. If a remake of "Same Old Scene" reveals Jourgensen to have been beholden to the usual stylistic tropes of the new wave of the early Eighties, there's something here in this Roxy Music cover that hints at a fuller potential. The previously-unreleased "I See Red" sounds remarkably like what Reznor would do on the first Nine Inch Nails release, Reznor himself totally in debt to what Jourgensen was doing in that time period. Certainly closer to industrial styles than anything groups like A Flock of Seagulls or Erasure were doing then, Jourgensen's Ministry was a group that was inching towards the outer edges of the alternative scene. Far closer to that revolutionary stuff is the spin-off project stuff here on Trax! Rarities. "Don't Stand in Line (Dub Mix)" by Pailhead throbs with techno promise, while a Revolting Cocks cover of "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John is the blueprint for so much of what would come later. In 1988, Jourgensen perfected the industrial crossover, clearly, and yet the move was not an attempt to generate sales as much as it was to get asses onto the dance-floor even as the material got harder and harder and harder. While the majority of Trax! Rarities offers up various windows into the genesis of the early Ministry sound, stuff like Revolting Cocks' "Drums Along the Carbide" shines a light on what Jourgensen would unleash later, the fury of the beat sublime.

Wax! Rarities by Ministry is an essential peek into the mind of Al Jourgensen. His reputation climbing as the years progress, Jourgensen essentially created a genre starting in 1988, even after he had had some real successes earlier in more traditional areas. If the new wave on this compilation is not as dangerous as that techno stuff, it's at least inventive and forward-thinking. For that reason, this compilation is a must-purchase for fans of Jourgensen's various projects, and even casual students of alternative and industrial music in America's recent past.

Out today on Cleopatra Records, Wax! Rarities by Ministry is available now. Follow Al Jourgenson via his official website.

[Photo: Brian Shanley]

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I Had A Dream...That New Jet Age Tunes Were Up On Bandcamp!

In a clever bit of band marketing, the fellas in The Jet Age have decided to release new tunes in 2016 two-at-a-time. We've had a few of these music drops this year but perhaps none has been as strong as today's offering.

"The Glow Won't Fade" ups the Jet Age formula with a subtle build-up that manages to showcase drummer Pete Nuwayser and bassist Greg Bennett as much as it does singer-guitarist Eric Tischler. All the players here are at their peak powers and the instruments sound perfectly balanced in this mix. The cut builds and grabs a listener even as the music veers into controlled chaos.

"I Had A Dream" is a step into more familiar territory. Recalling stuff from earlier albums like 2011's Domestic Disturbances, the number finds Tischler in superb form, vocals and riffs up-front in this new number's sharp (and smart) mix. Waves of near-shoegaze-style feedback wash in behind him as the rhythm section keeps things grounded.

Hopefully 2017 will see a new full-length release from The Jet Age. This D.C.-area band continues to make music that seems essential and vital to me, and they are still capable of surprising me when they venture into new stylistic and sonic territory. Criminally underrated as I've said before, The Jet Age remain one of the very best bands in the nation's capital.

Until the new record drops, and after you've bought all the cuts released in 2016, you can follow The Jet Age via their official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Glenn Griffith, 2015]

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Do Not Go Gentle: A Look At The New Reissue Of John Cale's Fragments Of A Rainy Season

I guess I could say that my odd multi-year correspondence with John Cale began because of a song on this album. In 1998 I worked for Jane's. I got a message that a customer was having trouble with a subscription to one of our email newsletters and the name was "Kale". I called, heard that delicious Welsh accent, and suddenly realized I was on the phone with the Velvet Underground legend, a guy whose name I knew how to spell correctly. Long story short: I was wise enough to not pepper him on that call with a bunch of VU-related comments. Instead, I mentioned some more obscure releases from his back-catalog, notably his Dylan Thomas-inspired album, Words For The Dying (1989). A few cuts from that release are spread out on Fragments Of A Rainy Season (1992), Cale's superb live album. That release is being prepped for a 2-CD reissue and that version is going to drop on Domino this Friday. Here's my take on this live album, more on my multi-year correspondence with Cale at a much later date.

John Cale has always been an artist hard to pin down as a solo performer. He's flitted from classical to rock to new wave to torch songs and back again. His prodigious talents allow him this luxury and he usually makes those leaps look easy, his mastery of each form so complete that this genre-hopping has never seemed dilettantish. And perhaps the best, most basic way to understand Cale as an artist -- to grasp this Welsh gentleman's command of so many styles -- has been to dive into Fragments Of A Rainy Season. First released in 1992, the album gained attention for Cale's timeless interpretation of the late Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", or Cale's own tortured run at "Heartbreak Hotel", more horrific than anything the King could have ever imagined in a pill-haze. But more than as a showcase for those 2 incendiary covers, Fragments Of A Rainy Season works best as a career overview of this musical genius. Here, on this new edition, the work has been expanded, the bonus cuts thankfully removed to the second half of this set and the first live set largely intact.

Tackling the Thomas material on the piano, the melodies of his compositions based around the poems "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and "Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed" retain their radiance, the sharp angles of Cale's score plonked out by the Welshman himself. The material from Words For The Dying works on the keyboard, especially so if you know the orchestral versions of these cuts. Elsewhere, Cale tackles numbers from his older records on the guitar, "Guts" and "Ship of Fools" getting by on a good deal of Dylan-style appeal. "Style It Takes" from 1990's elegant Songs For Drella still sparkles like a ruby, while "I Keep A Close Watch" remains the most perfect Sinatra song never essayed by Frank himself. Mixed in among the bonus cuts are rough live stabs at the Velvet Underground nugget "Waiting for the Man" as well as "Antarctica Starts Here", which shines as one of Cale's absolutely best compositions in terms of tune and lyric.

This new 2-CD set of Fragments Of A Rainy Season doesn't alter my opinion that the live album is one of Cale's most essential releases. Sure, the bonus tracks are nice to have but there was little worry that anything could diminish the perfect presentation of the original release. Still, the extra numbers expand the overall impact of this set, some of them showing a rougher Cale than those cuts on the original edition itself. Think of this as the shiny, simple distillation of Cale's genius now made shinier, more perfect, more direct, each piece adding to the overall effect. In some remarkable way, this is Cale's "best of" disc. I can imagine some kid today gorging on the first few Velvets' releases, then starting his Cale quest with this career-spanning disc much the same way I might have started on my education into Lou's solo stuff with Rock 'n' Roll Animal. But more than Lou's somewhat turgid release, John Cale's Fragments Of A Rainy Season is a dynamic live album, the finest set of solo Cale tunes one could possibly cull, performed by the man at arguably the height of his second, or third, career peak -- (he's had many). What I'm trying to say, man, is if you own some VU stuff and no Cale albums, start here, preferably with this new 2-CD version.

The essential Fragments Of A Rainy Season from John Cale is out on Friday via Domino.

Follow John Cale via his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited from YouTube]

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Will Of The Beast: A Look At The Superb New EP From London's Chemtrails

London's Chemtrails burst on to my radar with "Aeons" a few months ago. If I had somehow not found the band because I was already following everything released by the fab PNKSLM label, I'd have surely encountered the group once I read about how great that single was. Well, it's here, along with 5 similarly great bits of indie on the five-piece's new Love in Toxic Wasteland EP, out Friday via PNKSLM.

If "Aeons" was an updating of shoegaze forms from some decades back, stuff like "Golden Tombs" and the interestingly-titled "Will of the Beast" are further refinements of elements offered up by the best so-called alternative acts of a previous age -- a Lush guitar hook in the one cut, a skewed Pixies-style melody line in another. The genius of the work of the crew in Chemtrails is that they make this all sound new and fresh. Hardly derivative at all, the tunes here positively crackle with energy and spark, mad jumbles of Primitives and Jesus and Mary Chain chord figures rush past atop beds of lyrics about some odd future full of toxic zombies or something.

The band -- Mia (guitar, vocals), Laura (guitar, vocals), Another Laura (bass, vocals), Ian (keyboard), and Sam (drums) -- crank out stuff that charms with a good deal of fuzzy pop wooziness and wit. The spry "I'd Like To Rule The Ice Age" sounds like nothing so much as Altered Images essaying a Mekons cut. The absolutely superb "Burnt Shadows" is all Glitter Band and Slade riffs amped up with a bit of Bolan cleverness had he somehow survived and lived to make music in a post-grunge world. Deliriously catchy, this material is unlike so much of what passes for indie these days, and yet it's certainly full of echoes of stuff from a few other eras. Rather than seem nostalgic, Chemtrails manage to stir this all up in a new way. The EP ends with the MGMT-ish title cut, all sci-fi-flavored words astride a punchy new wave-y beat.

Every single cut on Love in Toxic Wasteland is full of melody and inventiveness. This is fuzzed-out pop that races by in a blur of tunefulness and cheek. The soundtrack to a dystopian future perhaps, the 6 songs on their debut EP confirm the many current talents of Chemtrails.

Love in Toxic Wasteland is out on PNKSLM on Friday. Follow Chemtrails on the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Chemtrails Facebook page, uncredited]

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Striving: A Look At The New 4-CD Adrian Sherwood On-U Sound Box Set From Cherry Red Records

You want to start to understand the importance of Adrian Sherwood? You have just a basic understanding of dub? Start here. Buy this set immediately. Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood, out now from Cherry Red Records, is a 4-CD crash course that will make crystal clear why Sherwood, and these assorted musicians, are so crucial, their music so vital, and their legacy so large.

First up in this set is the 1984 Leaps and Bounds collection billed to Singers and Players. Highlights here are "Striving", all Bim Sherman yearning and smooth vocalizing, and "Moses" with Congo Ashanti Roy. The "Players" here include Prince Far I, Mikey Dread, Sherman, and a few other big names. If the set feels like the most accessible of the 4 in this box, then that makes it an easy way to work your way into the world of Sherwood's sound.

The second disc in this collection is the superb Threat to Creation (1981) from Creation Rebel/New Age Steppers. Largely instrumentals, the cuts here showcase the kind of deep rhythmic hooks Sherwood was fond of. The genesis of the fame of the On-U Sound sound is here. Trippy dub like "Ethos Design" prefigures the kind of stuff Sherwood would bring to remixes of Primal Scream, for example, decades later. The skittering "Last Sane Dream" echoes the sort of thing bands like Gang of Four and P.i.L. -- (Keith Levene is on this record) -- were pursuing in this era, while the spacious and space-y title cut is unlike most of the reggae you've probably got in your collection. If nothing else, Sherwood, as shepherd of this flock of players, brought a sense of the modern to this music, bridging the worlds of post-punk and dub with ease. If "Ghost Town" by The Specials was the sound of new England, the plot lost and pub closed, then "Painstaker" is the bleak, mecchanik reggae beat as if it's been re-imagined by some folks at Factory Records. And what I'm trying to say is that this cut is as futuristic and vital as that from Dammers and his lot. Entirely unlike probably anything being made in the U.K. at the time (aside from Throbbing Gristle sides), this sort of material is both an injection of bleak postmodernism into the rich reggae tradition, but also an attempt to expand the form and find a new audience beyond the proverbial dancehall. If you need one reason you must buy Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood, let it be Disc 2.

Lows and Highs (1982) was billed to Creation Rebel but it's a far more straightforward release than anything else in this collection. If the epic "Rubber Skirt (Parts 1/2/3)" sounds like ska stretched into something relaxing and soothing, "Rebel Party" is pure crowd-pleasing reggae of the sort not meant to ruffle too many feathers. Sherwood may have pushed the envelope more times than not but on this release he's bringing things in from too far out, stuff like "Love I Can Feel" being as mainstream as -- gasp -- early UB40 tracks.

Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood closes with the fantastic Wild Paarty Sounds Vol. 1 from 1981. A compilation from acts who probably only existed in the studio, the sounds here range from the protest rock of "Things That Made U.S." from Jeb Loy and the Oil Wells, to the Bollywood-meets-electro-clash of "Asian Rebel" by Sons of Arqa. Elsewhere, the essential "Quante Jubila" from Prince Far I and Creation Rebel offers up somewhat accessible dub that's still a good taste of the genius of the Sherwood approach to producing. If "Quit the Body" by the inexplicably-named The Chicken Granny is nearly punk, then "Afghani Dub" by The Mothmen is dub that's near industrial in approach, the drums clanging ominously and the guitars sounding like slowed-down sirens. The echo of the dire present of early Eighties Thatcher England is here.

Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood is absolutely essential. If you have even a little bit of interest in the studio wizardry of Adrian Sherwood, or in the legacy of Prince Far I, or the birth of deep, heavy dub, buy this. Don't even hesitate. Groundbreaking, forward-looking, and utterly unlike anything you've heard, the music here -- especially Disc 2, Threat to Creation -- is the sort of thing to entirely change the way you hear reggae and so-called "dance" music. Radically beyond genre labels and entirely rooted to reggae traditions, the tunes on this 4-CD set blew my mind, to put it simply. I had a working knowledge of some of Adrian Sherwood's stuff but I think I wasn't aware of the expansiveness of his vision until I heard this set, which is to say that I didn't know he had his hand in anything as seemingly mainstream as a few cuts on that Lows and Highs release. Still, even when the material is concise and direct, there's something interesting going on in the production or instrumentation and the hand of maestro Sherwood is surely at the controls of all of these tracks. And for that reason, a listener is rewarded at every point of this compilation.

Out now via Cherry Red Records, Dread Operator - From the On-U Sound Archives - Produced by Adrian Sherwood is worth your time and money. Buy it as soon as possible.

More details on Adrian Sherwood via his official website:

[Photo: Adrian Sherwood's website]

Friday, December 2, 2016

Down For The Outing: A Look At The Fine New One From Peter Doherty

Unbelievably, we now live in a world where there's no Pete(r) Doherty drama, just an album release. Seemingly without a lot of fanfare, the former Libertines genius -- (and I don't use that word lightly) -- has offered up perhaps his most assured solo recording with Hamburg Demonstrations, out today on Clouds Hill/BMG. I've absorbed this one and, you know what? Maybe it's time to fire up those trumpets for this cat again 'cause this one is just that good folks.

It is something worth stressing: Doherty has perhaps never sounded more in command of his material than he does here. If most of Hamburg Demonstrations (necessarily) lacks the youthful storm-the-barricades fire of the Libertines recordings, or even the fuck you fervor of the first Babyshambles ones, it retains Doherty's sense of wearing the mantle of a poet in a doomed world. The dour-but-beautiful "Down For The Outing" mines a mournful melody, while the robust "Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven" ramps up the energy for a missive on the Paris terror attacks. Some of Doherty's best work is here, not on the last Libertines release. He has found, at last, a way to corral his prodigious talents in a new way, and not to run amok in the search of the perfect moment. One listen to the absurdly beautiful "Flags From The Old Regime" ought to convince anyone of how fantastically gifted this gentleman is, his skills now sharpened and capable of offering up a Jobim-meets-Cale-like bit of business like this number. The old music hall charms of the wistful "I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone)" linger and gain subtle power through the precise instrumentation -- the violin and soft drums making this cut with its Morrissey-worthy title one of the absolute standouts of Hamburg Demonstrations. Similarly, "A Spy In The House Of Love" here takes on a more polished vibe. A long-time fan of The Libertines and Doherty could well imagine that this sort of thing would have been a toss-off for the guy some years ago, all fast and loose and played with abandon. Here, while light as a feather, the cut is more refined and it shows every sign of Doherty now, at this point in his career as an artist, laboring (properly) over his compositions with the results being every bit as great as the singles from The Libertines even if it's a different sort of great. "The Whole World Is Our Playground" is the younger Doherty now playful where he was once end-of-the-world-wild, the melody coming easy and effortlessly.

Without a doubt, Hamburg Demonstrations is surely the most polished solo Peter Doherty release so far. And with that polish comes a sense of growth, Doherty now no longer the wild child of Brit indie, no longer on death's doorstep. Having cheated death, he's earned this. Hamburg Demonstrations is, frankly, a bold new step in the right direction for Doherty as a solo artist. If the echo of the Libertines trumpet sounds again, he'll surely rise to answer it. Until then, Doherty is off crafting near-chamber pop of the finest sort, a blend of folk, English music hall, and Pogues-inspired ramshackle rock. Doherty has, finally, found a way to harness his demons and the results are, if not the end-of-the-world indie of The Libs, nor the "fuck-it"-shrug-and-slouch of Babyshambles, at least something sublime. Hamburg Demonstrations is that good, that much of a career turning point for a guy who truly needed this new start in his (musical) life.

You can follow Peter Doherty via many social media outlets. Hamburg Demonstrations is out today via Clouds Hill/BMG.

[Photo: Pinterest]

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Silence Of Something Else: A Look At The New Reissue Of Getaway By The Clean From Merge Records

If nothing else, the new reissue of Getaway (2001) from The Clean, out on Friday from Merge Records, makes a case for David Kilgour being one of the most interesting guitarists to ever pick up the instrument in the post-punk era. And, sure, in some ways Getaway was the signal of a new era in the sound of The Clean but it was also one of the band's bravest releases, a claim now bolstered by the addition of a full disc of incendiary bonus material.

The band -- a trio of vocalist/guitarist David Kilgour, drummer Hamish Kilgour, and bassist Robert Scott -- in 2001 set about to record what would be the band's most expansive release to date. If the angular riffs of early Clean singles were gone, what remained was a sense of exploration and a fearlessness in approaching material so loose ("Circle Canyon", "Silence of Something Else") that it served really as a base from which these players could chard new territories. Stuff like "Crazy" sounds as much like early Clean sides as it does American bands like Pavement or Built to Spill. Considered in hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley from Yo La Tengo were on this release as, frankly, Getaway sounds as much like one of that band's long-players as it does a Clean one. "Stars" offers up a fine showcase for David Kilgour's vocal-and-guitar approach, equal parts Neil Young and pure Kiwi indie, while more expansive cuts like "Aho" provide the space necessary for Kilgour to cut loose. More than anything else, this record prefigures the fine solo albums David Kilgour would release after this on which he would pursue traditions more closely aligned with Neil Young and Robert Quine than those of his New Zealand compatriots.

Now what makes this reissue of Getaway by The Clean such an essential purchase is not just the remastering job that the folks at Merge Records have performed -- and, believe me, this record sounds better than it ever has -- but the wealth of bonus cuts they have loaded this thing up with. Disc 2 is more than 80 minutes of extra material including the rare EP Slush Fund. Crammed with familiar Clean nuggets like "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" and "Fish", the EP features some of Kilgour's best guitar playing. Transcendent, really, these lines unfurl with echoes of Lloyd, Verlaine, and Young, especially the epic "Quickstep" which features Martin Phillipps of The Chills on the omnichord.

The rare live album Syd's Pink Wiring System from 2003 shows up here too. Featuring wild and loose versions of Clean standards like "I Wait Around", this set showcases the strengths of this trio to excellent effect. If a cut like "Do Your Thing" from Modern Rock sounds practically unhinged here, it's a fine kind of unhinged; the players, particularly Kilgour, of course, mastering material that allows such a workout. With perhaps the exception of Yo La Tengo, few bands of this era were capable of cranking out stuff like this without getting lost in a sea of guitar effects. Early cut "At The Bottom" here takes on a sort of White Light/White Heat artiness that stands in sharp contrast to those earlier more concise moments on Clean albums. Still, what we're hearing here is a band largely unconstrained by the need to make the material too manageable. What we're hearing is, obviously, Kilgour and Kilgour and Scott (and Martin Phillipps) enjoying a certain freedom. If The Clean were revisiting their earlier material for this live session captured on Syd's Pink Wiring System, they seemed to be doing so in order to push the envelope of their signature sound even further out. Short of being proof of a full-blown reinvention, this bonus material on this new edition of Getaway offers up the proof that The Clean remain one of the boldest bands to emerge from the Flying Nun Records-based flowering of talent. Post-2001, Kilgour's crew took remarkable chances, chances that paid off in the discovery of new directions for these players to explore. Clearly the template for Kilgour's solo releases some years after this, this material is fiery and brash and untrained. And that makes it essential for even a casual fan of this band and those who've been following the entirety of New Zealand rock history.

Getaway by The Clean is being reissued this Friday by Merge Records. Available in multiple formats, there's more than 2 hours of music here with Disc 2 being some of the most vital material this band ever produced. This is this week's most necessary purchase for the discerning music fan.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

It's Not All In Your Head: A Look At The New Album From The New Lines

The news that a new album is coming soon from The New Lines is always good news. The band makes music that is haunting and memorable, chamber pop for a new century even if it's tune-age that's suffused with traces of decades past. The new album, Love and Cannibalism, will drop on Feral Child next week with a digital release forthcoming soon after that. The set is, as expected, magical and that's a word I don't use for much music these days.

The line-up for The New Lines on this recording is Hewson Chen (vocals, guitar, synth), Mark Di Donna (bass), Rene Dennis (farfisa, piano, electric piano), and Davis White and Matt Schulz (drums). And it is worth quoting from the press materials to give Love and Cannibalism some context and explain how the album:

"...was conceived of as a series of vignettes concerning a child mourning the death of a companion; the child's fantasy about reviving the dead; and a series of hallucinogenic visions on religious strife and the order of the universe resulting from the child's nascent forays into the occult."

All that being said, Love and Cannibalism is remarkably easy to dive into, each cut serving up a distinct take on some familiar elements that fans of this band should appreciate. Rather than ramble on about each individual song as I'm wont to do sometimes, I've decided to focus on those moments that jumped out at me after playing this one a few times in an attempt to give you an overall sense of this fine record.

The Stereolab-like "Mass Observation" worms its way into a listener's brain with a kind of circular figure on the bass and keys, while the more straightforward "Weatherman's Apology" rings with the sort of indie promise that once propelled early Belle and Sebastian sides, or deep album cuts from The Clientele. The punchy "Ventriloquism" allows Lorelei/Sansyou drummer Davis White one of his best outings on this record, the tune positively soaring atop his precise beats. One of the standouts of Love and Cannibalism, this cut is absolutely radiant and it stands as the sort of transcendent rock that continues to make me a firm fan of this band.

Whatever traces of the Sixties you might be hearing throughout the course of this long-player do not invalidate the very modern sense of pop-craft at work here with these players. Chen and his crew are updating -- with some force -- the templates drafted so many years ago by bands like The Left Banke and The Zombies. Elsewhere, on the space-y "The Phylactery's Lesson", the band engage in the sort of propulsive workout that populated so many Pram releases a few decades back. More direct than it is experimental, the song feels like a bold step in a new, slightly jazz-y direction for The New Lines. "It's Not All In Your Head" recalls the Silver Apples should they have aimed more squarely for the Top 40, the various effects here only augmenting what is a fine, fine piece of song-writing. The title cut nods again in the direction of Sixties pioneers like The Left Banke, while the lovely "Johnny Appleseed" unfurls precisely after Chen's Robin Guthrie-ish opening guitar figure. Here, it's Lake Ruth player Schulz's turn to draw attention to the drums which beat with a kind of heaviness that keeps the song from becoming something too ethereal. Love and Cannibalism closes with the superb "The Fateful Exposition of Captain Socko", all Dots and Loops-era Stereolab hooks dressed up in a more deliberate, less obfuscated, presentation.

At their very best, The New Lines are capable of making some of the most distinctive music you are likely to hear in this decade. And if on first glance Love and Cannibalism seems an arty proposition, the reality is that this music is remarkably accessible and direct. The frilly trappings -- for lack of a better term -- only embellish what's here. And if the tune-age is bolstered significantly by the bits that feel like Sixties chamber pop, the songwriting is of such a high quality, the melodies so sharp throughout, that the material never feels on the verge of getting subsumed in the musical trappings that abound on this release. This is, to state it again, remarkably precise music where every piece of instrumentation, every effect, has a purpose in conveying the overall power of the individual compositions. Superbly realized, confidently played, and incessantly tuneful, Love and Cannibalism is perhaps the best album from The New Lines so far.

Love and Cannibalism is out Friday via Feral Child in a limited edition. Digital versions available at the usual places. More details via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from the band's Facebook page]

Friday, November 25, 2016

Above The Wall: A Review Of The Long-Awaited Full-Length Album From Young Romance

It's been years since I've been writing about this London duo. In fact, I first heard "Pale" by Young Romance in early 2014, when I was still living in Hong Kong. That seems so long ago but the wait was worth it as the band's debut long-player, Another's Blood, out today via Banquet Records, is a set of brash and joyous tunes, each wrapped around a great big hook. Guitar music has rarely sounded so exuberant in this century.

Of course early singles "Pale" and "Wasting Time" are here, the former in a slightly reworked version similar to what Childhood did with "Blue Velvet" when it showed up in a mildly different form on their long-awaited debut album. And, like that tune by that other U.K. band, "Pale" remains a glorious bit of business in any form. "Cracks" is more gentle, Claire's vocals sounding even more Kate Bush-like than they usually do, to borrow an idea from other reviewers. "Disappear" is crunchier and more dangerous still, while the rollicking "Pulling at the Grey" is the revved-up big beat indie of early Jesus and Mary Chain releases with more pop sense. "Never Learn", another previously-released number dressed up here, is similarly a bracing bit of indie, Black Tambourine and Lush reshaped for the 21st century. "Wild" slows things down a bit even as it provides a fine showcase for Claire's amazing vocals, while "Room to Breathe" recalls stuff like "Insects" by Altered Images, another band whose sound was anchored by such a striking and commanding female vocalist. Another's Blood closes on "Cold", a piano ballad that nods in the direction of post-punk pioneers like The Cure pre-indie-pop stardom, or Joy Division on Closer-era single sides.

Claire and Paolo have produced something here on Another's Blood that is admirable. It would have been far too easy to descend into near-shoegaze riff-making. And, make no mistake, there are a few intermittent moments here that will allow some critics to say that this band is part of a new wave of shoegaze practitioners. To these ears at least, Young Romance are creating indie-pop far closer to those first few Jesus and Mary Chain sides, or the best singles from The Primitives, than anything that would sound at home on a mix-tape next to Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine. Above all, the search for strong and potent melodies is what guides the success of Another's Blood, not an empty pursuit of feedback-for-feedback's-sake. This duo has served up this debut album as a sort of spin on the templates laid down by the earlier C86 generation, or those crafted by the scores of bands who signed to Slumberland Records a few decades ago. Yes, shoegaze fans might gravitate to this but the charms of Another's Blood are those of big pop, Dusty and Gene Pitney and Lesley Gore hooks dressed up in a new century's fuzzy guitar-and-drum theatrics. Superb throughout, as far as I'm concerned.

Another's Blood by Young Romance is out today via Banquet Records. Follow Young Romance via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: Young Romance Facebook page]

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ready For The Magic: In Which I Catch Up With The New Honeyblood Record

Somehow, through some inexplicable set of circumstances for this music blogger, I didn't realize that the new Honeyblood record was out already. Considering how much I loved the band's first LP, I was eager to hear Babes Never Die and, thankfully, the folks at Fat Cat Records obliged me. I'm so glad that they did as, in some ways, Babes Never Die is even better than the band's debut album.

The line-up is now Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale on vocals and guitars and Cat Myers on vocals and drums. The duo whip up a furious-yet-delicious racket throughout Babes Never Die and I enjoyed every bit of it. The title cut roars in a familiar way, while "Ready For The Magic" offers up an Ash-like crunch, the chords echoing both punk stuff and Seventies album rock. The catchy "Sea Hearts" serves up a sort of spin on late-period Ramones singles, while the lyrical "Love is a Disease" unfurls at a more languid pace. At their best, Honeyblood make fuzzy indie-pop like "Justine, Misery Queen" ring with promise. Here, as on so many cuts on Babes Never Die, Stina's vocals are confident and sunny, the brightness in her delivery contrasting so nicely with some of the grunge-y aspects of the instrumentation. On stuff like "Walking at Midnight", Honeyblood expand their vocabulary a bit to make something looser than earlier singles, while on the superb "Hey, Stellar", Stina delivers one of her best vocal performances as the strong melody carries the song forward. If anything, the material on Babes Never Dies confirms an undeniably strong bond between these 2 musicians with the results being confident and buoyant indie-rock that is, in many ways, an improvement on the band's first few releases.

Despite a change in personnel, Honeyblood remains one of the most vital acts in indie today. More fully-formed than the tunes on their debut, those on Babes Never Die are supremely catchy and infectious. Stina and Cat have cranked out some gems this time out, gems that will lodge in your brain with ease. Melodic and memorable, the numbers on Babes Never Die are all fine examples of the strengths of Honeyblood as a power-pop proposition.

Babes Never Die by Honeyblood is out now on Fat Cat Records. Follow Honeyblood via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited pic from band's website]

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stupid Kid: A Look At The New Swampmeat Album On PNKSLM

The band Swampmeat features Dan Finnemore. Dan's warped sense of indie-pop might be familiar to a few of you thanks to his work in The Castillians, another band on PNKSLM, the home label of Swampmeat. This band's new album, Gin and Tonic, is out on Friday and it is, like so many releases on this fine label, a set of fine-if-skewed melodic rock jams that lodge themselves in a listener's brain almost instantly.

Finnemore, joined by T-Bird Jones, serves up languid takes on the blues tradition ("Stupid Kid") as well as riff-rockers that sound a whole like the less lyrical bits on a Tom Waits album ("Farmhouse Barn"). Elsewhere, there's a real sense of the vibe of the early Pixies stuff on tracks like "Crooked Heart", while a song like "Camp Heartbreak" suggest an odd combination of Arctic Monkeys and PJ Harvey. On the title cut, Swampmeat deliver a reverb-y rocker in the style of Eddie Cochran or something, the Fifties-tinged bits adding a lot of flavor to this sort of material. By the time we get to the rough "Girl, You Ain't Done It", a listener has been primed for this sort of vaguely roots-y updating of so many familiar rock styles. It's as if Swampmeat are somehow merging rockabilly and Nineties indie with a spirit of wild abandon, the debt to Surfer Rosa looming large here. Still, for all those references I just made, the duo make the material on Gin and Tonic seem original and fresh. Things are rollicking and ramshackle in spots but that's by design as Finnemore and Jones are getting at the core of the appeal of these tunes. And sometimes the result is something abrasive and sometimes it's something wildly catchy like "Right Here".

Gin and Tonic by Swampmeat is out on Friday via PNKSLM. Follow Swampmeat via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited label promo pic]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Low Cool: A Few Words About The Fab New Album From D.C.'s Title Tracks

Bands like Dot Dash and Title Tracks have ushered in a new power pop golden age in this harDCore-linked city. Like the Dischord heritage that guides a few of the fellows in Dot Dash, John Davis has moved in a new direction from his time in Q and Not U as leader of Title Tracks in recent years. The band makes music closer in spirit to that of The Smithereens, Chisel, or Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, and yet the punch is decidedly punk-y, nowhere more so than on the harder numbers on superb new album Long Dream, out Friday on Ernest Jenning.

If the one-two jab of opener "Low Cool" and "I Don't Need To Know" signal that things are edging closer to the power-chord nirvana of bands like Shoes, The Rubinoos, or early Cheap Trick, the Elliot Smith-on-a-Beatles-tip-vibe of "Empty Heavens" adds a whole lot of other colors to the Title Tracks paint-box. Elsewhere, the absolutely superb "Protect Yourself" marries a Byrds-y hook with a near-shoegaze sense of dynamics. Fans of solo Bob Mould releases should grove on this one even as Davis and crew -- Michael Cotterman (bass) and Elmer Sharp (drums) -- push things in unexpected directions, the familiar brand of Title Tracks-stamped power pop becoming so lyrical here. Stuff like "Circle You" rocks in welcomed ways, but the chiming "When You Come Back" charms as a sort of updating of what R.E.M. did early on, the cryptic lyrics and marked obscurity replaced with ringing confidence and harmonies that soar in subtle ways. Long Dream closes on the all-too-brief "False Awakening", a near-rootsy riff-rocker that manages to simultaneously evoke memories of Husker Du at their most accessible and The Plimsouls at their perpetually-catchy best.

Long Dream isn't a radical rewrite of the Title Tracks formula. Still, it's remarkably consistent and inspired throughout and it's the sort of thing that will send chills up the spine of any listener who's a fan of this sort of chord-happy indie-pop. John Davis has served up some of his sharpest material here and bandmates Sharp and Cotterman hold things down with finesse behind him. Now is the time to catch up with Title Tracks as this stormin' new one is set to expand their fanbase a whole lot more.

Long Dream by Title Tracks is out on Friday via Ernest Jenning or via the link below. Follow Title Tracks via the band's official Facebook page.

Title Tracks is playing a record release show at Comet Ping Pong Friday, November 18. You won't see me there bopping my head along to this infectious power pop 'cause I'm out of town on business but I can't wait to see the band on another D.C. date soon.

[Photo: Christopher Grady via the band's Facebook page]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Much Wants More: A Brief Review Of The Recent Eyeless In Gaza Compilation On Cherry Red Records

Eyeless in Gaza were never nearly as goth as I'd hoped they'd be, for a band with that name and those song titles. Picking up their evocatively-titled releases in import bins in the D.C. record stores in the Eighties, I vaguely hoped the band were going to sound like This Mortal Coil. They didn't, of course. But their music was something to be treasured, even if I never quite could grasp the charm of it even as I bought more import CDs from the band so many years ago.

The task of catching up with the duo's output is now a good deal easier as Cherry Red Records has just released the first truly career-spanning retrospective from the band. Called Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016), the 2-CD anthology is a handsome product that does as good a job as could ever have been done at capturing what this band was all about.

Split between Disc 1, which covers the years 1980-1985, and Disc 2, which features the band's material from their reunion in 1993 up until the current year, the music of Eyeless in Gaza takes on an odd uniformity. There's very little here that would indicate that the band -- Peter Becker and Martyn Bates -- ever had to compromise, or ever even slightly watered down their approach. "Much Wants More" from Disc 2 sounds remarkably organic and intimate, and not entirely unlike earlier cuts like "Tell". The band's material was always like this and what we're hearing here over the course of these 2 discs is less a progression and more a maintenance of quality, Bates and Becker pursuing their unique muses with clear-eyed precision over the decades.

Yes, Disc 1 has more familiar indie standards like "Back From The Rains" where Eyeless in Gaza very nearly touched something approaching the conventional borders of the DIY post-punk world circumscribed by their peers in the early Eighties, as well as the bright "One by One" and "Kodak Ghosts Run Amok", cuts that remain far more accessible than I perhaps remembered them as being. The best material here, stuff like "New Risen", is a kind of cousin to the more mainstream sounds of bands like China Crisis and O.M.D. in the same era. Eyeless in Gaza were, clearly, more literate, in a sense, and their goals were never the same as those other acts.

Disc 2 is more problematic. In many ways, it's comforting to sift through so much of what's here -- from the rollicking "Fracture Track" and on to the stately "You Know Nothing" -- only to find so much that's familiar for fans of this group's earlier material. Still, for the marginally more direct approach on the tracks collected on this second disc of Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016), there is something lost, some sense of mystery removed. Eyeless in Gaza never quite slacked up in terms of quality but the more recent stuff just doesn't feel as timeless, despite the expert playing on stuff like "Among The Blue Flowers and the Yellow" and "Summer Salt".

For the simple fact that it is the first compilation to truly survey their entire career, Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016) by Eyeless in Gaza is an absolutely essential anthology. And, yeah, it goes without saying that if you didn't want to do a deep-dive into this band's back catalog, you could get this set and feel like you had heard pretty much the important portions of their work. That's in no way meant to suggest that you don't investigate more Eyeless in Gaza stuff but, rather, that this compilation is so perfect on its own terms that it may very well be all that you need if you're at all new to Eyeless in Gaza.

Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016) by Eyeless in Gaza is out now via Cherry Red Records. Follow Eyeless in Gaza via the band's official website.

[Photo: Philippe Carly, Eyeless in Gaza official website]

The Garden Of Delight: A Review Of The Stunning Debut Album From Wand's Cory Hanson

I never was expecting this. I never would have thought that the guy behind Wand, the band who dropped the mind-blowing 1000 Days and Golem, could unleash something this beautiful and lush. The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, the solo debut from Wand main-man Cory Hanson, is out on Friday via Drag City. That it is a magnificent record is something that I'm happy to report.

On the title cut and the lyrical "Replica" there is a trace of the influence of Wand compatriot Ty Segall. However, by the time we get to "The Garden of Delight", Hanson has wholeheartedly embraced an "Across the Universe"-style approach, the Lennon-y bits here shining through. Melodic and lush, the tune is a revelation. On the haunting "Violent Moon", Hanson's material nods in the direction of Syd Barrett stuff even if the production is certainly more ornate than anything that the one-time Floyd singer ever attempted. "Ordinary People" unfurls like something off of the third Big Star album if Chilton and crew had asked Van Dyke Parks to do the string arrangements. This is affecting and memorable material that is elevated by subtle strings and orchestral trappings in the production. "Flu Moon" is understated folk, while closer "Arrival" manages to recall both Nick Drake and Marc Bolan thanks to Cory's winsome delivery.

An absolute classic of modern chamber pop, Cory Hanson's The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo is surely one of 2016's best releases, and the type of project that is going to surprise a lot of people. Hanson here has created something timeless, something that is alternately emotive and refined. Current indie was sorely in need of something this downright magnificent.

The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo from Cory Hanson is out on Friday via Drag City.

[Photo: Kyle Thomas]