Monday, March 28, 2016

A Quick Review Of The New Monochrome Set Compilation

If you never heard The Monochrome Set before and spun "Something About You", the lead track on the new compilation Volume, Contrast, Brilliance... Vol. 2: Unreleased and Rare, you'd be right in thinking that this band's stuff is hard to easily summarize. Riding a "Pleasant Valley Sunday" riff into the UK indie scene of 1985, the cut is impressively sharp and less jangle-y than lots of that era. The Monochrome Set were always a bunch of misfits so I suppose it's okay if I tell that this odds and sods collection is, in some ways, a great way to ease into the band's stuff, the band's eclectic charms being perfectly represented here.

Following on from last year's fine Spaces Everywhere album, the band are back on Tapete Records to offer up some of their leftovers. That these tracks are uniformly excellent speaks volumes about this lot; their rarities are better than most bands' album cuts. "Cilla Black", for instance, snarls with a little Sixties-sort of hook in service of a song that may or may not be about the famed singer of the title, while "Reach For Your Gun" from 1985 offers up a shimmering guitar figure underneath some beautiful vocals from Bid that places the cut somewhere near what The Wild Swans were doing at the time up in Liverpool.

What strikes one upon listening to Volume, Contrast, Brilliance... Vol. 2: Unreleased and Rare by The Monochrome Set is the sheer variety on offer here. Sure, this is all indie of a sort, but within the genre restrictions are bits of marshmallow-soft pop ("Stories From The Book Of Love") as well as flashes of real wit ("Whoops! What a Palaver"). I have, perhaps wrongly, always associated The Monochrome Set with the C86 sound and yet what the band are in debt to is really the same strain of Brit indie that gave birth to The Smiths and The Housemartins. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that both of those bands -- as well as countless others -- owe huge debts to the sort of music that The Monochrome Set did so well on tracks like those collected here. Which is a long way of saying that most of those bands on the original C86 cassette wouldn't have existed without The Monochrome Set coming first. And by playing this comp., you'll hear why I say that.

Far too coherent to be labelled a mere rarities compilation, this new release is a semi-perfect introduction to the charms of The Monochrome Set. Volume, Contrast, Brilliance... Vol. 2: Unreleased and Rare is out now via Tapete Records.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Few Pics And A Bit Of Video From Tonight's Expert Alterations Gig In D.C.

Expert Alterations, fresh from their gigs at SXSW, brought their excellent indie-pop to D.C.'s Comet Ping Pong tonight. The band -- singer/guitarist Patrick Teal, drummer Paul Krolian, and bassist Alan Everhart -- delivered a brisk, invigorating set of songs culled mostly from the band's superb 2015 album, You Can't Always Be Liked, reviewed by me here. The album, out now on Kanine Records, was anchored by cuts like the title track and "The Past and You", both put through their paces tonight, along with deep album cut "Buildings" near the end of the set.

Also of note was relative rarity "Dear Thomas", all Left Banke hooks sped up with C86 vigor. The song was a delight tonight and if you want it, you need to head over to the link below to buy it via Bandcamp 'cause the vinyl, a split with Literature, is probably a tiny bit harder to find.

Another highlight tonight was "Midnight Garden", a track that first surfaced on the band's earlier EP on Slumberland Records. That EP, reviewed by me here, and You Can't Always Be Liked are uniformly excellent and I am excited about the prospect of new Expert Alterations music eventually...perhaps when the guys get a chance to catch their breath after so many gigs recently.

Follow Expert Alterations via the band's official Facebook page, or via Kanine Records. And, heads up: the band is playing a show with the legendary Jowe Head (Swell Maps, Television Personalities) in Baltimore in a few weeks, details here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Look At The New Winfield Parker Compilation On Omnivore Recordings

Presenting an important piece of American soul history, and local history too considering the artist's ties to the Baltimore, Maryland, area, Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac, out tomorrow via Omnivore Recordings, is a superb set of classic sides. The equal of the best Wilson Pickett stuff from the same era, these Parker cuts are lost gems now lovingly reissued so that fans of American soul can enjoy them again, or for the first time.

This set of Ru-Jac label tracks is a remarkable time capsule of a period when U.S. soul stylings were positioned between the earlier doo wop era and the harder stuff bubbling up from the South via the Stax/Volt label. Parker, at least judging from these cuts, could master nearly all styles within the rhythm-and-blues genre itself. The 1964 single "When I'm Alone/Rockin' In The Barnyard" offers 2 of the best tracks on this exemplary collection with the "A" side being an Otis-like slow-builder, and the "B" side succeeding as a kind of jokey, but still swingin', dance stomper. The plaintive 1967 "Go Away Playgirl" sounds now like some lost Sam Cooke number, with Parker's vocals perfectly suited to the riffs here. "She's So Pretty" is a burst of James Brown-style showmanship with a dash of The Wicked Pickett thrown in, think "Land of 1000 Dances" for a reference point. "Mr. Clean" is Parker's version of something like "Mr. Pitiful" from Otis Redding, though the female backing vocals here hint at the tunes that would rule the r'n'b charts a bit later. Horns drive this cut and Parker reveals himself to be supremely confident with this sort of strutting soul, so much so that a new(er) listener can only marvel at the lack of easy availability of these recordings earlier; this is fantastic stuff for any fan of Stax/Volt and the whole Sixties era itself.

Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac, is out tomorrow via Omnivore Recordings. The set collects 17 "A" and "B" sides along with another 6 unreleased tracks (demos and alternate takes) from the Ru-Jac label. For those who are new to Parker's stuff, this set should be a revelation. For those who want to hear a bit of history from the "Chitlin' Circuit" of the past here on the East Coast, get this. Containing music that places the D.C.-Baltimore area firmly on the map of soul music history, this is a superb introduction to one of the unjustly overlooked giants of American r'n'b around these parts.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Few Words About Patch The Sky, The New Bob Mould Album, Out Friday On Merge

There's really no reason to waste a lot of words of praise on the new Bob Mould. A reviewer could just have a big graphic of a massive thumb pointing up for every Mould release, you know? This new album is no difference from that pattern. Patch The Sky, like most of the stuff that this guy has been a part of from Husker Du to Sugar and onward, is a thing of simple beauty and stark immediacy. Mould, joined by Jon Wurster (Superchunk) on drums and Jason Narducy (Split Single, Superchunk) on bass, offers up here cuts that are full of fire and basic chords. Volume takes the place of anything approaching an unnecessary bit of filigree and one can only marvel -- again -- at the skills of Mould in crafting stuff that hits a listener in the chest with such wonderfully direct force. Fans of Beauty And Ruin (2014) should note that Patch The Sky (2016) is more from the same template...only louder. Much louder.

"Voices In My Head" and "The End Of Things" are catchy riff-rockers of the highest order, while "Hold On" shows Bob to be the reigning master of the upbeat hook; like the straight edge legends of his adopted hometown of Washington, D.C., Mould makes punk of a sort that is big on affirmation and not negation. Throughout his career, from "Something I Learned Today", and on to "These Important Years", and up to these tracks, he's dispatched a sort of positive rock that almost none of his peers can touch. And I'm sure that I'm not the only fan of my generation to say that those Husker Du songs nearly saved my life when I was younger. There was something human there that was more than just anger, or blind rage, at the adult world. And I should probably thank Bob Mould for writing like that then, with such a distinct voice, for so many years after.

For catchy appeal, it would be hard to top "You Say You" here, while "Losing Sleep" offers up a bit of a slow-burn before "Pray For Rain" ramps up things again. Elsewhere, "Hands Are Tied" roars like early Superchunk, or mid-period Husker Du, as does "Losing Time" elsewhere on this record. Patch The Sky hits a sort of emotional peak on the closer, the slow-climbing "Monument", the longest cut on Patch The Sky, and the one track that seems more expansive and contemplative than the other 11 cuts here.

There's not a single misstep on Patch The Sky and that's what makes this such a gift to fans. Rather than try to venture off into territory ill-suited to his talents, Mould has simply refined and sharpened his. Now knife-like, his skills can do more with 3 players and a clutch of chords than other bands can do with 5 players and a string section, for instance. Quite possibly one of his best solo records, and certainly the equal in spots of some of the Sugar releases, Patch The Sky is a marvelous collection of new material. Fans of Flip Your Wig (1985) -- the song and the album -- are sure to love this as much as I did.

Patch The Sky by Bob Mould is out on Friday via Merge Records. Follow Bob Mould via his official Facebook page.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Quick Look At The New Reissue Of David Kilgour's Sublime Second Solo Album, Sugar Mouth

David Kilgour of The Clean released his second solo album in 1994. Sugar Mouth, out again in a fine reissue edition from Flying Nun, and Captured Tracks in the USA, is an altogether more traditional affair than some of the guy's more recent albums. In 2014, I reviewed End Times Undone from David Kilgour and The Heavy Eights. On that one, Kilgour seemed to be channeling Neil Young. That's an easy task given the guy's considerable talents. On earlier releases, like on Sugar Mouth, Kilgour was more interested in making music that feels more familiar to anyone who's picked up and cherished a Flying Nun release in the first decade or so of that label's existence.

Tracks here like "Fallaway" unfurl with The Clean's sense of pop intact. Kilgour is interested in textures on this second solo album, like on the near-shoegaze touches in "Filter" which sounds like one-time label-mates Straitjacket Fits, and he's also intent on keeping things concise. If recent albums feature guitar work-outs, Sugar Mouth keeps those moments brief and to the point. Sure, "Crazy" has a charging riff that recalls The Clean's "Getting Older", so much so that the song sounds just like The Clean, but the track never once overstays its welcome. Elsewhere, on stuff like "Never End" and "Look At It", Kilgour very nearly comes close to hitting on folk rock territory. Fans of early Chills releases will dig these tracks especially as the tunes are gentle and ruminative in ways that recall label-mate Martin Phillipps' band more than they do Kilgour's own. That's not to say that large swathes of Sugar Mouth don't sound just like Kilgour's Clean but, rather, that this album, more than many in his solo output, is largely in line with the sound of Flying Nun.

This new edition of Sugar Mouth (1994) features 10 bonus tracks which include demos and a few outtakes like "Winter" with its ringing hook, and "Middle Of Nowhere" with its mid-period Kinks-style languid rhythms. Sugar Mouth (1994) benefits from this wealth of extra material as the demos illustrate Kilgour's songwriting process and the final tracks shine with the added layers of production and instrumentation.

Quite simply, Sugar Mouth (1994) may indeed be David Kilgour's best solo album to date. I say that fully acknowledging how much it sounds like The Clean. Of course, if you want to hear Kilgour unleash fire on the axe, this one might not be your first choice to pull down from the shelf. However, if you want to hear the best indie-pop that Kilgour's ever procuded aside from his main group, Sugar Mouth (1994) should probably be the record you grab.

Sugar Mouth (1994) by David Kilgour is out now via Flying Nun and Captured Tracks.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Kingdom Come: Another Pere Ubu Box Is Upon Us From Fire Records

Last year saw the release by Fire Records of what can only be called a seminal collection. Elitism For The People 1975-1978, reviewed by me here, collected the early releases from Cleveland's Pere Ubu. If the tunes on that set showcased the band's near-punk roots, then the new set from Fire Records, Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, out tomorrow, spotlights -- over and over -- those moments that made Pere Ubu such pioneers of sound. Everywhere on the 4 discs of this set is the material that would set these cats apart from any peers in the era. The music here is difficult and challenging and, at times at least, terrifying. This is brave, bold stuff all around and one should approach this with both an open mind and a bit of excitement at challenging one's boundaries when considering what makes up so-called alternative music.

Disc 1 contains 1979's New Picnic Time which is more extreme than anything even Captain Beefheart released. I mean, the drone of "All The Dogs Are Barking" and the stomp of "One Less Worry" are immediate and brutal in ways that few other bands' tunes were in that era, or ours. At least by Disc 2 we have music that is borderline beautiful, at least on the Tiny Tim-like "Rhapsody In Pink", for instance. Elsewhere, on this CD that contains 1980's The Art Of Walking, there are moments that would find themselves on some odd "Best Of Pere Ubu" set, should one attempt to make one. "Birdies" is -- at least in terms that David Thomas understands -- nearly a "single" when played next to stuff like "Misery Goats". If David Byrne in 1980 was wedding his twitchy nervousness to new rhythms, David Thomas was leading his group of misfits through stricter paces, and into territory previously unexplored by any American pop band.

By the time we get to 1982's Song Of The Bailing Man, Disc 3 of Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, it's clear that Pere Ubu were largely operating without a net. Still, despite the unorthodox approaches, stuff like "The Long Walk Home" is nearly accessible, all galloping rhythms and unexpected time changes. On the strange, nearly-free jazz exploration of "Stormy Weather" -- not the standard, obviously -- one feels as if this is music that is free of genre. David Thomas, in his interview with me last year, stressed how outside he and the band felt from all movements in those early years. And, yeah, he has a point. Presumably lumped in with new wave acts in the era, the band were instead closer in spirit to some radical composers of earlier decades. "Use Of A Dog" alternates horn runs and bits of hummable melody to produce something that is altogether discordant. It's not that the pieces here are abrasive but the way they have been sewn together by Thomas The Mad Genius makes them seem so. On the epic "A Day Such As This" we hear the band riding the sort of hard beat that propelled Talking Heads cuts in the same era. However, the rest of the 7-minute track here is, again, avant-garde instead of twitchy New Wave.

The final CD of Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 is called Architectural Salvage and it's made up of rarities and alternate mixes from this era but the best and probably most familiar song on this set is a version of "Lonesome Cowboy Dave", another staple of the Ubu back-catalog.

Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 by Pere Ubu contains 4 discs' worth of difficult music. Will you be playing this on a summer day with the windows down as you cruise America's highways in your Ford? Probably not but I guarantee you that if you devote some time to this 4-CD set and embrace this music you will be rewarded. The natural progression from the hard edges of the band's earlier stuff, these 3 releases and 1 compilation chart the growth of this band of musicians as Artists. Risky, annoying, inspiring, and corrosive, the cuts spread across the expanse of this set showcase one of the great American bands. Compared to Pere Ubu, The Velvet Underground nearly sound like The Monkees. Concerned not one little bit with making pop, David Thomas and Pere Ubu instead crossed every genre before them with a mixture of bravado and absurd risk-taking. And yet, they still kept things largely concise and that's remarkable when one considers where music like this could have gone instead.

Tomorrow will see the release of Architecture Of Language 1979-1982 by Pere Ubu on Fire Records. I urge you to buy this on the format of your choice and discover the tunes of perhaps some of the last real pioneers in American song-craft.

Follow Pere Ubu via their official web home, or via the band's official Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Everything Must Change: A Semi-Exhaustive History Of The Hurricane Lamps (And How They Became The Jet Age)

You know, sometimes people say stuff to me like "Boy, you know about a lot of bands!" but the truth is that sometimes I'm an idiot. For some weird reason, many years ago, I got this odd idea in my head that The Hurricane Lamps had a bunch of horn players in the group and were, hence, some sort of dreaded party band. So that sort of explains why I stupidly didn't listen to the 5 Hurricane Lamps albums until well later.

Hardly a party band, The Hurricane Lamps were a D.C. area indie group made up of Eric Tischler, guitarist/singer/songwriter, and bassist Greg Bennett and whoever was on drums (Jason Merriman in that picture up above). Now, that's not to knock the various THL drummers but, rather, to acknowledge that they went through 'em a bit. Of course, once Eric and Greg found the perfect drummer in Pete Nuwayser, the guys were in The Jet Age. Each act has produced a remarkably consistent set of releases with key to that consistency being the presence of Tischler and Bennett.

So today, as I discover a lot of this music for the first time, and attempt to rectify my boneheadedness of years past, I'm going to write about each of the 5 albums from The Hurricane Lamps and offer up some recollections from frontman Eric Tischler himself on the long road from The Hurricane Lamps to The Jet Age.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): On October 13, 1992 (my 21st birthday), a really cool record label called to say they liked the demo I'd sent them, and they'd like to release some 7"s. Awesome. But I was a senior, and my rhythm section was composed of underclassmen who were, y'know, gonna keep going to college, and [so] we folded. As the school year wound down, I ran into Greg Bennett at a bar. He was two years ahead of me but had stayed in town to work at a nearby publishing company. I knew Greg played bass, so I recruited him with the promise of some Jam covers to fill out a set. I'd already convinced a buddy of mine to play drums, and we were off.

Upon graduation, the three of us were at loose ends, so we all moved to D.C., which was close to our college, and was my hometown and Greg's. Almost as soon as we arrived, I saw a listing for a new club that was opening, called The Black Cat. I sent them the same demo and they asked us to open for Lois and The Spinanes. Awesome, right? Shortly before the gig, our drummer cancelled because he had to attend some training for his new job as a manager at Lord & Taylor, and thus The Hurricane Lamps’ DNA was fully cast.

We went through 13 drummers, had serious talks with several labels that never went anywhere, and took 7 years to release our first record. On the flip-side, we got to share stages with Superchunk, Swervedriver (and Adam Franklin), Versus, Seam, Come, The Verve, and Superdrag, among others, and the legendary Bus Stop Records came out of retirement to release a 7" by us (although they'd planned on releasing two). It was an emotional rollercoaster.

So, by 1999, when we released our first record, Tales From the Sink, I'd written dozens of songs over three intense affairs. I strung together a loose narrative and thus the record was born. At some point after its release, Archie Moore approached me in a bar to say he liked the record, and I couldn't have been happier -- Velocity Girl were a huge influence on me -- [this all] made the idea of moving back to Silver Spring after college seem downright smart. I still remember playing a demo of the title track for the Afghan Whigs’ John Curley in 1994, when he came into the Tape World at Mongtomery Mall. In retrospect, the collection might have been a little schizophrenic, but I liked the variety in songwriting.

In this blogger's opinion, Tales From The Sink is clearly the weakest of the lot here. That said, there's a fire in the playing that is a nice updating of what late period Dischord acts like Jawbox were doing a few years earlier. Standout track "Soda Tower" would get reworked years later by The Jet Age as the flip of the superb "Had A Plan" single.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Drummer Mike Mann moved to San Francisco, but we found Jason Stewart to fill in on You Deserve What You Want. These songs were written about my now-wife, so maybe that's why they're among my favorite; I mean I like all of my songs, but these make me a little happier. Soccer Team's Jason Hutto was living with me and our equally-gifted friend, Craig Gates (briefly a Lamps drummer), and the house was full of music; it was a really great time.

Here, on this one, you can hear Tischler and Bennet and crew trying their hand at various genres. There are moments that will sound familiar to any Jet Age fan, but just as many that are surprises: the glorious My Bloody Valentine-isms of "There's Been A Mutiny", or the percolating, mechanik rhythm of "I Need To Know Something Good Will Last", all Stereolab's "Pack Yr Romantic Mind" updated for a power trio. And, yeah, the seeds of 2014's Jukebox Memoir are there in "Baby's Learned A Brand New Dance" even if it's by The Hurricane Lamps and not The Jet Age.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Jason quit (we never found out why), and Jason Merriman finally took a seat on the drum throne. This Jason had played the Swervedriver show with us back in '98; I can't recall why he wasn't able to join us then, but he wasn't, which was a bummer because that show was amazing. By this point, I think I'd finally honed in on my aesthetic, and Jason totally locked it down on Tilting at Windmills. Playing these songs was always a joy.

By this point, we were touring regularly (if not frequently), playing cool clubs in big cities, getting great reviews in Magnet (from the esteemed Fred Mills) and The Big Takeover (often from Dot Dash's Terry Banks) and it felt like we had momentum.

Yeah, this is the one where The Hurricane Lamps became The Jet least in terms of sound, if not name. And there's no Nuwayser on drums, of course. "Parade" bursts with energy in the manner of Gedge and his Wedding Present gang, a bunch of folks that The Jet Age would tour with more than once, while "Don't Turn Around" shows some signs of a lingering shoegaze fixation on Tischler's part but at least the tune's strong and not just a showcase for a bunch of pedals. It's significant that I started noticing Bennett's bass playing on this album; unlike on The Jet Age records, he's not as forward in the mix it seems and that's a shame. Thankfully on Tilting At Windmills you can at least start to sort of groove on the riffs Bennett uses to anchor these cuts. The album closes on the surprisingly twangy "Stranded" which still rattles impressively despite some slide guitar(?) on the number.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Sing Me A Song is probably my favorite Lamps record; if we'd been peaking, this was the crescendo. It was diverse without being directionless, and I felt like I could stretch a bit on the production front. Even Pitchfork liked it!

A solid and supple record, Sing Me A Song is buoyant indie of the very best variety. "All These Things" bounces and crashes behind Tischler's yearning vocals and one can clearly see the path of The Jet Age before at least 2 of these cats. "A Promise" shimmers and Tischler's vocals have rarely been this affecting, while the title cut roars like The Who in the very best way.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): Pitchfork liked our follow up, More, More, More, too, but I felt like we stumbled somehow. As a writer, I was trying to stretch in directions that Jason just wasn't into, and the band was founded on the notion that I wasn't a micromanager, so I didn't feel comfortable pushing for different performances. We hit the road in late October of 2003, and the tour started wonderfully, but as we worked our way back from the West Coast (where we played with a then-new Blitzen Trapper), George Bush was "elected" president. At every show, the audiences were smaller and more subdued, and everyone would talk in hushed tones about how depressed they were. It was awful. By the time we reached home, Jason decided he was going to quit the band and go to graduate school and Greg, perhaps more pragmatically, decided he was just gonna fucking move to Norway. And he did.

As a swan-song, More, More, More seems pretty fantastic to this listener. "Everything Must Change" is phenomenal -- up there with The Jet Age's "Left For Dead" for me. "If You Leave Right Now, Where Will You Wake Up Tomorrow?" refines the conversational and direct style of Tischler's lyrics that would come to fuller fruition on The Jet Age releases, while the nearly-sweet "Oh, Candy" -- NOT the Cheap Trick classic, I should add! -- bounces with pep, for lack of a better term. "The Lesson You Haven't Learned" works up an impressive, near-Swervedriver-like roar as it progresses. And while there's a lot of energy throughout More, More, More, a new listener can perhaps understand Tischler's feelings that this album isn't as good as, say, Tilting At Windmills or Sing Me A Song.

ERIC TISCHLER (guitarist, singer, songwriter The Hurricane Lamps and The Jet Age): To me, the Hurricane Lamps were always me and Greg. The Jet Age formed with a different bass player. He moved to Colorado, and Greg moved back to the States just in time. I think The Jet Age is a better name, and I knew Pete didn't have Jason's limitations, and, frankly, we probably needed the refresh. At one point, the Lamps could headline The Black Cat on a weekend, but it was getting harder to do.

And that, kids, is why Eric Tischler and Greg Bennett ended up in The Jet Age with Pete Nuwayser. "Everything Must Change" indeed! So, over the course of 11 albums now -- (5 Hurricane Lamps releases and 6 The Jet Age ones [so far]) -- Bennet and Tischler have refined a sort of ongoing approach that is, on some level, the equivalent of that mid-period Superchunk stuff where Mac's fire had not been tempered by adulthood, when the fury of punk -- and maybe a love of The Who, in Tischler's case -- could still instill songs with something indefinable that felt immediate and heartfelt and entirely uncontrived. Devoid of artifice, but aiming high, the tracks of The Hurricane Lamps, like those later of The Jet Age, are ones that tackle the fears, hopes, and joys of maturity with all the rough bravado of a bunch of kids picking up instruments for the first time. Looked at now, I can see that I missed out on music I would have enjoyed back when these 5 Hurricane Lamps were first released, especialy considering how much I loved Versus and Superchunk then.

As of today, 3 of the 5 Hurricane Lamps albums are up on Bandcamp. Just follow those links above. For details on The Jet Age, please check out the band's official website, or the band's offiical Facebook page.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

New Dot Dash Video And Pics From John Stabb Benefit Concert At Comet Ping Pong Tonight

Dot Dash rocked Comet Ping Pong tonight in honor of John Stabb. As you've probably read, the former Government Issue lead singer has been diagnosed with cancer and he's undergoing treatment now. Stabb's a tough guy and I am sure that if anyone can fight cancer in any way, it's gonna be him. And if you couldn't make it tonight to join in this benefit concert, you can still give to John and Mina via the GoFundMe link below or on the sidebar.

And, in case you didn't know it, 3 members of Dot Dash have served time with John Stabb in bands before: bassist Hunter Bennett was in Weatherhead with John, and drummer Danny Ingram and guitarist Steve Hansgen were in Emma Peel with John -- (you can download demos from Emma Peel here on this blog) -- but singer/guitarist Terry Banks was never in a band with John Stabb.

The bill tonight was 3 bands and I missed most of the other ones but I was anxious to hear Dot Dash who were fresh from recording album number 5 in North Carolina last week. Speaking of fresh, did I mention that every cut minus one tonight was a new Dot Dash number? Yep. Check out this set-list cribbed from Terry's perch on the stage after the set.

All the new ones had punch and kick even if the sound-mix in Comet Ping Pong left something to be desired on a few of the early numbers. Highlights for me were the lyrical "Wishing Star", and "Searchlights", with its Clash-like chord progression and power-pop hooks, and there's video of that one below.

Now, as much as I love the songs of Dot Dash, I must admit that perhaps the real high point of the evening had to have been when former Minor Threat-man Steve Hansgen took over vocal duties from Terry for a run-through of the classic "Written Word" by Government Issue.

What we saw of 7 Door Sedan was pretty good and Baltimore's War on Women were fantastic. And props to "scenester" and all-around good guy Tom Berard for handling DJ duties last night -- "Buick Mackane" by T.Rex was an especially good track to spin right before Dot Dash took the stage. I hated leaving early like an old man but then I felt a bit better when I saw original D.C punk legend Nathan Strejcek of The Teen Idles and Youth Brigade walking up the sidewalk on his way home. Even old punks gotta call it a night at a certain point.

(As always, these pics were taken by my wife since I'm sort of a klutz with the camera, though I did shoot the video.)

Dot Dash will be releasing their new album in May, most likely. For now, follow the band via their official Facebook page or on the band's home label

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Few Words Of Praise About The Fine New Holy Wave Album

Before we get into the tunes, it's worth noting that Holy Wave are a band from Texas and that dude is wearing a Washington Redskins tee. That might seem pretty insignificant, but for this casual D.C. sports fan, it's telling. Hatred of the Dallas Cowboy runs deep in the Beltway so he gets props for rocking that one.

Now, with that out of the way we can discuss the utterly splendid music found on Holy Waves' new album, Freaks Of Nurture, out now on Reverberation Appreciation Society. The album, which dropped yesterday, was a pleasant surprise for me as it contained music that was far more inventive and affecting than what I was expecting from what I had read about these guys earlier.

Freaks Of Nurture is a veritable smorgasbord of trippy tunes ("She Put A Seed In My Ear") and Sixties-aping vibe-fests similar to what Temples pull off routinely ("Wendy Go Round" and "Western Playland"). Elsewhere, on the propulsive "You Should Lie", Holy Wave hit at the kind of guitar-indie that Pale Saints perfected some ages ago. Still, the highlight of Freaks Of Nurture is the positively sublime "California Took My Bobby Away", all early Slowdive meets Pink Floyd (Obscured By Clouds era, at least). For a band that gets labelled psychedelic, this is surprisingly melodic stuff, think Zombies and Moody Blues singles and not anything ever released by any act of the U.S. Paisley Underground movement, for example.

Later, on "Air Wolf", Holy Wave refine this all into a palatable pop package, while the strutting "Our Pigs" puts the mix of influences here together into something closer in line to Temples (again). "Sir Isaac Nukem" and "Magic Landing" are worthy additions to the vaguely neo-psychedelic tune-age on offer on Freaks Of Nurture and yet it's album closer "Minstrel's Gallop" that thoroughly charms. Based around a swirling organ figure, the track is haunting and more traditional -- think chamber pop in the manner of The Left Banke -- than one would have expected to find here. Traces of early 4AD bands, and various shoegaze pioneers, litter Freaks Of Nuture but it remains the unique blending of those influences and others that makes this record such a compelling listen. Far more accessible and tuneful than any psych band has any right to be, Holy Wave have recorded a marvelous album this time out.

Freaks Of Nurture by Holy Wave is out now via Reverberation Appreciation Society. Follow Holy Wave via their official Facebook page, or via their Bandcamp page.

[Photo: Alison Scarpulla]

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Quick Review Of The 2 New Feelies Reissues Dropping Tomorrow On Bar/None

The Feelies were a mainstay of the American indie scene way before that term really existed. In multiple eras when that sort of music went from being called alternative to being called college rock, The Feelies provided listeners with accessible and comforting entry-points into something that was outside the Top 40, something that had its roots in the genuinely avant-garde. Much has been made of The Feelies debt to The Velvet Underground and, yeah, there's no getting around the bits that sound just like Lou and crew. Still, it's worth noting now how much here has also been influenced by stuff like Big Star, or even Neil Young. And that is to say that there was no "John Cale" in The Feelies to push things into genuinely dangerous territory, and that's not to knock what is here, or deny that The Feelies took their love of The Velvet Underground and went in unique directions with it. The truth is that The Feelies sound even better now than they did then. Remarkably consistent over the course of their 4 main releases, The Feelies refined the very terms of American rock and one must at least thank them for that.

If you haven't played any Feelies in a while, shame on you. If you haven't and want a reminder or two of why this band was so, so good, you'd be wise to get copies of 1988's Only Life and 1991's Time For A Witness, both dropping tomorrow on Bar/None in fine reissue packages complete with bonus tracks and new liner notes.

Only Life hit the streets in the fall of 1988, right around the time that I started working at the Record Co-Op on the campus of the University of Maryland. It was, at the time at least, the perfect record for that store and that era. Listened to now, it seems the "safest" of the Feelies set of releases. "It's Only Life" admirably swings and stuff like "The Undertow" and "Deep Fascination" do manage to work up grooves that are compelling. Still, compared to the first 2 Feelies albums, it can only seem a disappointment. If The Feelies had gone from herky jerky pop to pastoral college rock they were now, in 1988, becoming alternative in name only. Still, for all the smooth edges here, stuff like "Too Far Gone" offers up something affecting.

By the time of 1991's Time For A Witness it was as if The Feelies had regained their spark and thought of a way to marry their earlier styles with the more mellow riffs from their previous albums. Not entirely as kinetic as Crazy Rhythms, 1991's Time For A Witness at least has moments of real fire, most notably a well-done cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the sublime title cut. Regrettably, this was gonna be it for The Feelies for some time. If the band hit some sort of peak here, finally sounding comfortable with their more mature sound, they were also wrapping up the first long phase of their career.

In the wake of this release and 1991's grunge explosion thanks to the success of Nirvana's first Geffen album later in the year, college rock would become more of a defined commodity and loads of bands -- acts as diverse as The Posies, Beulah, and Teenage Fanclub -- would make music like what's here on these 2 Feelies releases. The influence of The Feelies would extend over countless acts much like that long shadow of The Velvet Underground had so guided Mercer and his crew for so long. A pleasant reminder of the pre-grunge era, when alt-rock bands could refine music like this, tour it relentlessly in the USA, and achieve some comfortable level of fan support, Time For A Witness and Only Life are 2 of the very best examples of the very best era in alt-rock, and pretty good refresher courses into what made American indie so good in an era when the Brits were flooding our shores with fantastic bands too.

Only Life (1988) and Time For A Witness (1991) are both out tomorrow on Bar/None. Each release has bonus tracks and new liner notes. I urge you to get these, or get them again as the case may be. You can follow The Feelies via the

"Away" from Only Life, live on MTV, 1988

"Doin' It Again" from Time For A Witness, live on the David Letterman show, 1991

A Word About The Trippy Welsh Weirdness Of Caru Cariad

Caru Cariad is one Ben Mason, more or less. He's from Wales. The "band" is gonna drop a new EP called Massive Brain Flex Vol. 4.2 tomorrow. It's a mind-eraser, really.

"I Will" is all samples and bits of noise that renders it close to an old Colourbox jam, while "Water Baby" is a chirpy riff riding off into eternity. "At David's" is an old slasher score redone in the spirit of an electro Barry Adamson. The EP closes on the short "Imagining Sound" which uses a nice beat, some spoken word samples, and a buzzing keyboard to pretty good effect.

Not entirely electronic and not a sampling act, Caru Cariad are here offering up some sonic explorations well worth undertaking. Dig it!

Massive Brain Flex Vol. 4.2 will be out tomorrow. For more information on Caru Cariad, please check out the act's official Facebook page.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Word About The New One From The Hanging Stars

The Hanging Stars are British and yet they probably own a few Eagles albums among them. To me, that is just pure craziness, obviously. That they are not memorizing Auteurs and Morrissey lyrics seems like heresy to me but, hey, these English gentlemen are drawn instead to the sounds of America. And on their new album, Over The Silvery Lake, out Friday, The Hanging Stars hit on a sort of refinement of the Americana that The Byrds and others perfected a few generations ago. That The Hanging Stars sound "American" here is probably a huge compliment to the band. So be it. I won't hold that against them.

On the supberb "Cure Your Ills" the band offer up rich harmonies that recall a past populated by bands like The Beau Brummels, the retro vocals carrying the song into the future. "For A While" sounds a tiny bit like The Jayhawks, as do quite a few cuts on Over The Silvery Lake, while the intricate and trippy "Rainmaker, Sunseeker" nods in the direction of Pink Floyd (at least the Floyd in that period between the Syd stuff and the Dark Side of the Moon). "The House on the Hill" marries a nearly-Tex-Mex guitar-line with vocals deep in the mix to produce something close to what Temples do so well but more melodic and less psychedelic. "I'm No Good Without You" recalls late period Teenage Fanclub in their Big Star phase. Like the Fannies, The Hanging Stars take the warm music of that earlier era to make songs that are comforting and vaguely haunting.

Over The Silvery Lake is a throwback to an era when singer-songwriters ruled airwaves and one could reliably be soothed by the musicianship of those riding the upper reaches of the charts. Without a lot of pretension, The Hanging Stars make vaguely rustic versions of what we once called Americana and I was quite charmed by most of what I heard here.

Over The Silvery Lake by The Hanging Stars is out on Friday. Find out more details on the band's official website.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Realization Hits (That This New Bent Shapes Album On Slumberland Is So Good)

The guys and gal in Bent Shapes are smart. That they've all got ways with a hook doesn't hurt either. The band ups the indie ante on Wolves of Want, out this coming Friday on Slumberland Records, to make the sort of music that fans of Literature and Expert Alterations will dig. I hate to just lazily toss out names of other bands -- (both connected to the same label, I should add) -- but I needed a way to get the reader on board quickly; if I had said that the band sounded like Comet Gain too I might not have grabbed as many readers (which is no insult to Comet Gain but, rather, a jab at how few people know the tunes of the wonderful Comet Gain).

At no point on Wolves of Want do brains get in the way of heart. A track like "Realization Hits" chimes with abandon, while "What We Do Is Public" is borderline early Arctic Monkeys all Americanized, if that makes any sense at all. Obvious single "New Digs in Old Dominion" recalls label-mates Gold-Bears, while "Samantha West" is more 1983 dB's than anything else. Sharply observed and put together with a lot of heart, songs like this simply charm even when you think you've heard everything a "guitar band" can do with a few chords. "86'd in '03" even somewhat oddly recalls earlier generations' brainy pop gods like The Embarrassment or The Modern Lovers and one can only marvel at the future potential of this band. Bent Shapes, clearly, are pushing at the edges of the indie genre and for every moment where they revel in those jangle-y guitars there's another on Wolves of Want where they cut loose and do something bright and new.

Look, if you spin this LP from Bent Shapes you're gonna hear echoes of a lot of bands you grew up with (if you're even a decade close to my age) but that's no knock on this four-some. Rather, it's the way that the pieces come together here that really made me happy. Catchy, punchy, and intellectual enough to not be too dumb or too smart, the tunes on Wolves of Want are exactly everything indie rock should be. It's on Slumberland Records so was there any doubt?

Wolves of Want is out on Friday via Slumberland Records. Follow Bent Shapes via their the band's official website.

[Photo: Avi Paul Weinstein]

What More Can Possibly Be Written About Robert Pollard? A Quick Review Of The New Album

Trying to review the new Robert Pollard album, Of Course You Are, out now on Fire Records, is at once an impossible task and a futile one: fans of this guy's stuff will want to hear it no matter what I write and non-fans cannot really be persuaded by one review of one release out of hundreds. Pollard has long since proven himself perhaps the most prolific artist in rock. Given that, it's also remarkable that quality control has been kept pretty high for a long time.

On Of Course You Are Pollard has opted for more direct song-writing than casual fans might remember in the past. Back then it seemed as if those short Guided by Voices songs were being tossed off like pieces of paper in the wind. Of late, with Boston Spaceships and now on his solo albums, Pollard is writing slightly longer cuts (but still pretty concise ones) that are more traditional in structure and execution. That the results are still gloriously rich in blasts of energy -- this album's lead single "I Can Illustrate", for example -- is something to be appreciated.

Elsewhere, on the rather gentle "Come and Listen", the strings take the place of guitars and the tune is still all coiled energy waiting to be unleashed; Pollard could never write "Eleanor Rigby" but he can sure as heck amp up a poor man's version of it, you know? If "Collision Daycare" is jittery power-pop of the sort that Pollard perfected early on, back when he sounded a tiny bit like Mitch Easter's Let's Active in places, then "That's The Way You Gave It To Me" is this release's obligatory nod in the direction of the Sixties Beat Groups, post-Beatles wannabes struming with hearts-on-sleeves. "Long Live Instant Pandemonium" is The Who (again), while "Little Pigs" is a rummage through R.E.M.'s back pages. The album closes on the restrained explorations of the title cut, Pollard sounding more in command than he has since the first few Boston Spaceships releases.

Of Course You Are by Robert Pollard is another winner from a guy who's got a streak like Babe Ruth. Will it light the world on fire? Nope. Will it rock your socks? Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

You can get with the program now since Of Course You Are dropped on Friday via Fire Records. Follow Robert Pollard at

A Few Words About The Unique Charms Of The New Anton Barbeau Album

I really wish I had a way to adequately describe the weird, warped pop of Anton Barbeau. Yeah, it's power pop of a sort. And if I told you that XTC's Colin Moulding was on a cut on Magic Act you'd expect something up the old Oranges and Lemons way, but, nope. It's odd-er than that. Anton sings with the vocal techniques of a young David Bowie circa-"Starman" and his lyrics are borderline nonsense, albeit somewhat highbrow nonsense in spots. So, yeah, Magic Act is one wild set of tunes.

If "Flying Spider" is something close to Robyn Hitchcock's stuff -- and, significantly, Barbeau's worked with Morris Windsor and Andy Metcalfe of Robyn's Egyptians -- then "Milk Churn in the Morning" is more in the style of the riff-riding rock of The Pursuit of Happiness. The music is remarkably accessible in spots; it's just the lyrics that make this a bit out there. The tunes on Magic Act lean into power pop territory and they are largely a bit crunchy and radio-friendly (lyrics not withstanding), however the lovely "Broken in Two" showcases a wonderful Marc Bolan-like vocal performance from Barbeau. "Swindown" reveals a Ray Davies-sense of pop-craft as Anton sings his presumed homage to the home of Andy Partridge. The guy can do variety, you know?

All told, the tunes on Magic Act are all uniformly interesting and affecting and wildly inventive in spots. If I can't figure out what the hell Barbeau is going on about, that's okay, I guess. With contributions from Moulding, and the lead singer of The Corner Laughers, Magic Act bridges disparate styles from across the power-pop spectrum. Fans of any of the acts I've referenced in this review would be wise to get on board with this artist.

Magic Act is out now. Follow Anton Barbeau and get more details on this magical record via

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Review Of The Fab New Ryan Adams-Produced La Sera Album

If anyone was afraid that marriage (to band-mate Todd Wisenbaker) and Ryan Adams production were going to dull Katy Goodman's talents, you were worried for nothing. If anything, things are sharper here on the brief and concise Music For Listening To Music To, out Friday on Polyvinyl. Unlike March 2012's Sees The Light, or 2014's Hour of the Dawn, this album is less fuzzy and more melodic. And for an act like La Sera who were already riding high in terms of melodic power, that's high praise indeed.

"High Notes" kicks things off with a slight twang before the near-ballad "A Thousand Ways" shuffles blissfully past. Sounding uncannily like Pam Berry of Black Tambourine and Glo-Worm in spots on this release, Katy Goodman has refined her approach into something direct and affecting. And, at least this time out, the vocal duties are shared on "I Need an Angel" and the result is nothing so much as a blending of The Smiths and Johnny Cash thanks to Wisenbaker joining in. That rockabilly rush of "Rusholme Ruffians" pushed further into true country territory, this cut is one of the clear stand-outs on Music For Listening To Music To.

Elsewhere, "Shadow of Your Love" offers up a kind of gentle mournfulness that seems like a new style for Goodman and her band-mate compared to the noisier tracks on the first 2 La Sera releases. Make no mistake, the beloved indie that informed and influenced Vivian Girls is still here but the songs are more traditional -- if that makes any sense -- and less bits of near-shoegaze pop. "Begins to Rain", for example, wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early Lloyd Cole and the Commotions album. The palette and techniques have reached further out this time around and Goodman and Wisenbaker are to be commended for taking a few risks on this one even as they have, in some ways, stripped things back. The production by the acclaimed Ryan Adams keeps things simple too.

Music For Listening To Music To is going to show up on a lot of Best of 2016 lists in about 10 months. It's not too early to say that. Perhaps surprised at how different the tone is on this album compared to their earlier collections of indie, real fans -- and new fans -- of Katy Goodman will eat this one up all the same. Simple, direct, lyrical, and heartfelt, the music on Music For Listening To Music To is a clever melange of country, folk, and even C86 stuff. Katy Goodman and Todd Wisenbaker -- La Sera -- have made perhaps their best album yet.

You can follow La Sera via the band's official Facebook page, or via the band's official website. Music For Listening To Music To is out on Friday via Polyvinyl Records.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Few Quick Words About The Fine Debut From Adult Books

California's Adult Books are not trying to reinvent the wheel on their debut, Running from the Blows, out Friday via Lolipop Records, but they are trying to inject a great deal of enthusiasm into the indie-rock genre.

Opener "Casual Wrecks" marries a Joy Division-like sense of dark pop to a near-punk structure to pretty solid effect. If "In Front Of Myself" shows that the band owes a debt to U.K. acts from earlier generations, then the wonderful "Suburban Girlfriend" is all American indie rock of the very best sort. Immediately catchy, the cut is power pop for the 21st Century. Perfect!

Elsewhere, on the swirling Drums-like patterns of "Firewalking", Adult Books hit on something a bit peppy and still moody. O.M.D. vibes permeate this one and the band shows that they've mastered more than a three-chord approach. "Lobby Talks" ups the ante and delivers a punchy blast of energy, while the outstanding and chiming "Hours on Hands" blends a Smiths-like sense of a hook with a New Wave kick for fantastic results.

Adult Books have made an auspicious debut here and have sort of jumped up in the list of bands I need to watch this year. The only thing that could make them a better proposition is if their name is indeed a nod to the song of the same name by Los Angeles legends X. Even if it's not, the cuts on Running From The Blows, out Friday on Lolipop Records, make up a fine collection of meaty riffs and maximum indie. Dig it!

Follow Adult Books via their official Facebook page.