Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Quick Review Of The Sublime New Album From Nap Eyes

This is music that defies easy categorization. The band's home label, Paradise of Bachelors, mentioned some obvious touchstones (The Clean, Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed) while describing the sound of Nova Scotia's Nap Eyes but, really, the overall effect is decidedly more complicated.

The band's new album, their second, is called Thought Rock Fish Scale and it's out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors. It is an album of carefully pitched, sometimes delicately unhinged, music. If "Click Clack" sounds like a whole lot of early New Zealand bands, then "Alaskan Shake" offers up a sort of spin on John Cale's more straightforward material. Nap Eyes - Nigel Chapman (vocals, rhythm guitar), Josh Salter (bass), Seamus Dalton (drums), and Brad Loughead (lead guitar) -- have a sound unlike much else I've heard lately and there's both a real sense of pop-craft here even as it juts up against a more languid musicianship. Things expand in interesting ways and Chapman's vocals add a sort of world-weariness to the cuts that I found quite moving as a listener -- that melodic slow-down and "Could it be me?" refrain near the end of "Roll It" towards the conclusion of Thought Rock Fish Scale. Taken as a whole, this is a superb record that modestly recasts the sort of indie-pop you've known and loved for so long into something else entirely.

Thought Rock Fish Scale by Nap Eyes is out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

The World's Easiest Job: A Review Of The Fabulous Reissue Of Lolita Nation By Game Theory From Omnivore Recordings

This was the one that broke them big...at least as big as they'd ever make it. This was the album that reached a certain critical mass among the college rock masses. In an era of great double albums (Warehouse: Songs and Stories, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, and the next year's Daydream Nation), 1987's Lolita Nation was Game Theory's stab at making a great double album. It was, in many ways, the perfect representation of the band's sound and POV and a wholly perfect crash-course into the genius of Scott Miller as a songwriter and performer.

Lolita Nation, out Friday in a fabulous deluxe expanded edition from Omnivore Recordings, is a power-pop classic even as Miller pushes the boundaries of the form in weird ways all over this release. If some cuts like "Little Ivory" sound a trifle like other Mitch Easter-produced bands (R.E.M., for one), stuff like "We Love You Carol and Alison" chimes much like tunes from Easter's own Let's Active. Lolita Nation remains not only a showcase for Scott Miller and the rest of Game Theory but a pretty good example of why bands sought out Mitch Easter as a producer in the Eighties.

There are moments here that rock a bit harder than one would expect ("Not Because You Can") and others ("Together Now, Very Minor") that are a good deal trippier than tracks on earlier Game Theory releases, and still others that are weirder still (the chirpy and manic Three O'Clock-like "The World's Easiest Job"). But, on the whole, Lolita Nation still charms over the course of its 27 cuts. Certainly more odd than I had remembered it being, the album still remains a sort of skewed power pop primer. Ringing hooks abound and one can hear the sort of alt-rock that surely influenced and informed bands as diverse as Pavement, The Posies, and Guided by Voices later on.

All over the 27 songs on Lolita Nation, it's clear that Scott Miller had a knack for smoothing the rough edges of his art into something palatable. I mean, "The Real Sheila" sure as hell sounds like a big Top 40 hit but, yeah, that was never gonna happen. One imagines Miller trying to write the big pop classics but being smart enough, perpetually, to know he was never gonna be Journey. It would be up to contemporaries R.E.M. to somehow remake themselves and their diffuse and somewhat murky college rock into the sort of thing that MTV could pump out to the kids. In the same year that "The One I Love" was getting played by Casey Kasem, one could be a bit angry at the grim reality that it was Stipe, not Scott Miller, that was hitting the Top 10 in America.

How do you improve an album that's already a masterpiece? Well if you're the good folks at Omnivore Recordings you pump this reissue full of rare and previously unreleased tracks, demos, and live cuts; heck, Disc 2 of this version of Lolita Nation could be released on its own to waves of praise. There are radio sessions aplenty where Scott Miller and Game Theory try their hand at classics from Joy Division, The Sex Pistols, and The Smiths. The tracks are all uniformly interesting and not one really feels like a goof; one can hear Miller's love of this music shine through even as he tries to replicate it to somewhat mixed results. Elsewhere, Game Theory crank their way through a rough live version of "Public Image" by P.i.L. The result is something closer to alt-rock than it is to punk and it's like Miller discovered plutonium here by getting at the pop heart of Lydon's screed. There are also a few different versions of album cut "The Waist and the Knees" including one with decidedly Budgie-like drums by Gil Ray. The official version of Lolita Nation is 27 tracks and this bonus disc nearly matches that with 21 rare cuts. Taken as a whole, this is the ultimate Game Theory listening experience. The band hit a peak here that they'd never quite reach again and, in some ways, it's the best work Mitch Easter's ever done as a producer and I say that as someone whose friends have been produced by the guy (D.C. band Dot Dash).

The liner notes booklet tells the story that's not quite contained in the grooves of the album itself and there's almost nothing to fault here in Omnivore Recordings' presentation of Lolita Nation. Perfectly put together back then, Lolita Nation itself represents a high mark in American alt-rock from an era when it was probably being still called college rock by most people. The album is certainly far better than the majority of what passed for smart pop in that era -- listen how Miller makes Elvis Costello's "Tiny Steps" sound like his own song on Disc 2 -- and it's a grim irony that a band that had been produced by Mitch Easter (R.E.M.) was sadly watering down its sound and climbing the charts even as another, perhaps better (in some ways) band was being produced by Mitch Easter only to remain ignored by so many. Taken together with the 21 rarities on Disc 2, the 27 cuts on the official release showcase Game Theory's charms, and Scott Miller's genius. Fans of Scott Miller, Game Theory, and Lolita Nation are well-served here and, if anything, the work put into this release grants the late Miller and his crew the sort of attention they always deserved. As a whole, this release will be counted as one of 2016's best, and most essential, reissues.

Lolita Nation by Game Theory is out on Friday via Omnivore Recordings.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Few Words About The New Field Music Album (Out Friday On Memphis Industries)

I'm here today to share my opinions on the new Field Music album, Commontime, out Friday, February 5, 2016, on Memphis Industries. This is a difficult task in front of me 'cause I feel sort of torn. If I highlight the positives -- like the wonderfully supple and charming "It's a Good Thing", all Andy Partridge-meets-Steely Dan goodness -- then I'm probably going to do a poor job as a reviewer by mentioning how much of the album, if not disappointed me, at least left me slightly cold. I suppose Commontime is a grower for those of us not firmly in the Field Music camp?

Readers of this blog will remember the joy with which I greeted the Brewis brothers' work in SLUG, but that saw them pushing their own boundaries a bit. Commontime, flawlessly performed and expertly arranged as it may be, does not necessarily force them to take too many risks. One listens to something like "But Not For You" and hears moments to captivate, for sure. The problem is that too many songs here so too similar in tone and temperament. If Field Music are clearly influenced by late period XTC, then imagine if Moulding and co. had produced an entire album's worth of "King for a Day" -- yeah, it's a great single but that doesn't mean that the world needs a full album's worth of the track.

"I'm Glad" pops with admirable fire and there are hints here that Field Music are trying to push things a tiny bit and make at least the drums a bit harder. I suppose one could look at Commontime as a sort of refinement of the Field Music sound. Things here are sleek and little is wasted. The Brewis brothers and their associates have managed to purge a lot of stuff from the sides of their sound. Listening to this and knowing little else that they've done, a listener could be forgiven for thinking that the brothers only owned a few records...all of them by China Crisis, Steely Dan, King Crimson, Little Creatures-era Talking Heads, or XTC.

Now, look, I realize that that sounds like an awesome pool of sounds to whip up together and, okay, on lead single "The Noisy Days are Over" the music takes on an impressive degree of indie-pop bounce. Elsewhere, on the quieter "They Want You To Remember" or "That's Close Enough for Now", things relax and the urgent, propulsive pop seems more heartfelt and human. But, those facts don't make me entirely love the album overall.

Field Music fans are going to find a lot to love on Commontime, and I will too...once I put select tracks from this one on a mix, divorced from the similar-sounding songs on the parent album. I try to only write about stuff I like on this blog, and that's why there aren't too many negative reviews on here. And, really, this is not a negative review, per se, but, rather, an expression of mild disappointment that Field Music continue to make music that's somehow too perfect, and that the wit or spark seems, at least to this listener, to have gone a bit.

Commontime by Field Music is out on Friday via Memphis Industries. Follow Field Music via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Early Notice About The New Fall EP On Cherry Red Records

By this point, The Fall make up an "you either get it, or you don't"-sort of proposition. More than even the Grateful Dead, they are the sort of long-running institution that perpetually expands a very loyal fan-base. And, yeah, I hate the Dead, but I'm making a point.

Unlike Garcia's crew, The Fall produce music that's actually good and challenging and no matter at what stage you jump on the Fall bandwagon, you can easily submerge yourself in the music of this band. Somehow, over 4 or 5 decades, Mark E. Smith and his ever-changing crew have managed to continue to make music that remains utterly the same and art that constantly evolves. Now set to release a 34-minute EP called Wise Ol' Man, out in a few weeks on Cherry Red Records, this version of the band features a line-up of Elena Poulou on keyboards, David Spurr on bass, Peter Greenway on guitars and effects, Keiron Melling on drums, and -- of course -- Mark E. Smith on voice and everything else. The EP is a suitably raucous affair and it's highly recommended. Was there any doubt!?!

The title cut rides in on a wave of pounding drums and Smith's older-but-not-so-subdued vocals, while "All Leave Cancelled" takes a more experimental route over the course of 8 minutes, hesitant and nervous rhythms clanging and clanging. The nearly dance-y "Dedication (Remix)" leads into another version of the title cut, and then "Venice with Girls" roars in -- peak Smith, peak Fall, "Bombast" shoved into a sack and transported by night into the 21st Century. The splendidly-titled "Facebook Troll/No Xmas for John Quay" crams a whole lot of Fall racket into a handful of minutes. Part Beefheart and all Mark E. Smith, the cut is nearly the highlight of the EP. Things close with another version of "All Leave Cancelled", all low, rumbling menace.

Wise Ol' Man doesn't rewrite the Fall playbook but, dammit, if it doesn't sound exactly like a Fall record; it roars in all the right ways, and clatters admirably.

This U.K. institution remains a machine of glorious noise. I pray I never know what Mark E. Smith is raving about but I also pray that he continues to make music for a long, long time to come.

Wise Ol' Man by The Fall is out in a few weeks on Cherry Red Records. Further details on the Cherry Red Fall Facebook page.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sugar Your Mind (And Still In A Dream): A Look At The New And Impressive Shoegaze Box Set From Cherry Red Records

In case you didn't know, that pic is of one-time 4AD band Swallow whose "Sugar Your Mind", included here on Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1989-1995, a 5-CD set out Friday from Cherry Red Records, illustrates the conundrum presented by the term "shoegaze" itself. I mean, somehow in the ensuing 25 years, the sounds of 4AD Records acts and genuine shoegaze acts are being written about as if they were both coming from the same place. Perhaps they were, in a sense, but my memory is vivid and I worked in record stores in the era and I can remember when the lines were drawn a bit more obviously, and scenes didn't simply blend into one another for the sake of historical convenience.

Still, one must admire the folks at Cherry Red Records for casting a wide net in crafting this impressive set. It's worth noting that the very term "shoegaze" wasn't in wide use until 1991 and, prior to that, there was no real term to define all this stuff. If you talked about C86 bands, you were talking about bands on that seminal NME tape and many more of that generation who were inclined to have tunes anchored by jangling guitars; if you were talking about the "4AD sound" you were usually talking about something ethereal like Cocteau Twins, included here, and bands who wanted to produce music like that of Fraser, Guthrie, and Raymonde. But, hey, a lot of that was borderline goth too -- at least initially -- and the arrival of 4AD bands like Throwing Muses and Pixies upended the very idea that there was a "4AD sound" at all; I can vividly recall a few of the cool kids in this city at record shops in 1988 or so claiming that they hated all 4AD bands...until Surfer Rosa dropped. That kind of changed the dynamic, admittedly.

But, with the benefit of hindsight, we can use the term "shoegaze" in a far, far broader sense. What that means is that this box set takes in everything from admitted C86 followers (Velocity Girl), Creation Records stalwarts (The House of Love), and American noise-niks closer to the Velvet Underground's legacy than they were to the fuzzy charms of stuff like Slowdive (Galaxie 500, The Flaming Lips).

Here's the part where I indulge in a little personal history and nostalgia. I know those kids up in that pic (though I don't know Brian Nelson personally even if I know who he is). I can remember when Archie Moore (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, Lilys) walked into the Record Co-Op carrying the first Slumberland Records release. I couldn't believe that this guy -- one of the few people I knew at the time who knew C86 stuff, and My Bloody Valentine sides -- had made good on his fan-love of this kind of tune-age and created music that was worthy of being compared to his influences. Still an Anglophile at the time, I remained in that era a bit skeptical of any American act attempting to try their hand at "shoegaze" -- or whatever term we used for this music back then, 2 years before that label was bandied about -- and I probably should have paid more attention at the time to the tunes on that first Slumberland Records release. A few other people I knew from my time in College Park, Maryland record stores -- Bridget Cross (original singer for Velocity Girl, soon to be in Unrest -- a 4AD band!), Kelly Riles (Velocity Girl bass player and a man of impeccable taste in that era), Pam Berry (Black Tambourine lead singer and one of our best vinyl customers) -- are on this box set through the work of 2 bands (Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine) featured on that first Slumberland Records piece of vinyl.

I rattled on above to prove a point of how rare a thing it was in 1989 to know people who knew these bands and this music -- even a record store employee had trouble finding other like-minded music fans -- back then. Equally rare was to be even tuned in at all to a sound that was about to revolutionize the music world before there was even a term to describe it. All this was before grunge broke big, even though it's worth noting that the 2 rival "hip" underground genres bubbling up in 1989 were grunge, thanks to the early singles coming out on Sub Pop, and "shoegaze", even if those of us seeking out and bonding over Loop and Spacemen 3 (see pic below) releases were still sort of not quite sure what our movement was.

So, in some sense, by casting a really wide net, the folks at Cherry Red have re-captured some of that initial thrill of discovery circa 1988-1999 over the course of this set. By covering bands not necessarily "shoegaze" (as we'd think of that genre now), Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze shows that the genre itself was rather amorphous at the time, entirely fluid, and one that bridged multiple scenes. For example, I knew people who grooved on the Nuggets-era inspired freak-outs of Spacemen 3 and Loop and yet these same cats were ones who'd never think of picking up anything on 4AD, least of all albums from Cocteau Twins or Pale Saints. Alternately, I can think of a few folks who were down with the "ethereal" stuff represented by the Cocteaus, or Slowdive, who'd turn their noses up back then at the rather grubby fuzzy-ness of an early Flaming Lips cut.

But here, in the midst of a not-really-chronological collection, those tracks add up to make a set of 5 pretty good-to-great mix tapes, more or less. Rather than offer a history of a genre, Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze is more a survey of a sound, a series of snapshots of a scene -- or scenes -- gravitating towards noise and feedback and bliss. If disc 1 is dominated by the big names (Loop, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain), it's disc 2's job to show how the whole "shoegaze" scene -- even in its infancy -- birthed a whole lot of great music among C86 devotees here (College Park, Maryland's Velocity Girl, erroneously called a Washington [State!?!] band in the liner notes), and bands who were far too good to stay pigeonholed for long in the "shoegaze" ghetto (The Boo Radleys, Swervedriver). Still, this CD is basically the sound of 1990-1991 with the big names offered up on this one (Cranes, Lush, Ride -- shown below in that order).



Disc 3 shows some progression of the genre, even on a track from another College Park, Maryland-area band (Lilys), a super-rare Th' Faith Healers track, an untypical 4AD band (Spirea X), and a song from the next-best-thing-to-Stereolab that this compilation can offer (Moonshake). Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze hits a sort of peak here on what may be the most consistent disc of the 5 discs of this set. If the first 2 were full of the familiar big names, disc 3 is the one that sort of surprises with even second-rans like Smashing Orange shining here in context next to the heavy hitters of the era (Spiritualized, Moose, Curve).

And there are still 2 more discs of this collection to go!

With the exception of some big tracks from Adorable and Swallow, disc 4 offers up more obscure stuff, even as it kinda slots one of the best US bands to attempt something approaching "shoegaze" onto the tail end of this one (Swirlies, shown in the second pic below). And speaking of American acts who tried their hand at this kind of thing, "Winona" by Drop Nineteens (pictured in the first shot below) surely remains one of the essential "shoegaze" tracks to ever come out on this side of the Atlantic. Props also to the curators of this one for selecting my fave Medicine cut for disc 4 ("Aruca"). The song blurs the lines between noise-rock and "shoegaze" and very nearly destroys the conventions of the genre in a blur. Was there anywhere for this style to go after this one?

The stuff on disc 5 is very loosely "shoegaze", okay? In fact, I'd say it was a damn stretch to ever consider Luna a "shoegaze" act but, hey, I guess if you're gonna throw a Galaxie 500 cut onto this collection then it makes sense to include Luna. But that only raises the question of where's Damon and Naomi, an act who were far closer to "shoegaze", or at least the genre as it was represented by the likes of bands like Cranes on this set. By the time that Seefeel came along, the genre had morphed into something else. And, try as the curators at Cherry Red might, bands like Bardo Pond and Mercury Rev were never, even at their noisiest, "shoegazers". I mean, if they were than I guess Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth were too? Of course not.

Still, the inclusion of so much music from so far out of the strict limits of the genre only serves to highlight the strengths of the "more-is-more" approach of Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze. More a survey of the progression of indie from the simple melodic grace of the C86 flowering of acts and on to the expansive mind-altering explorations of bands on the Creation, 4AD, and Slumberland imprints, Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze works best as the ultimate mix tape of an era. Mingling up Brit and American acts with a degree of abandon makes it virtually impossible to see which US acts were inspired by which UK bands, especially when they are presented out of chronological order. Even given that, what a listener can hear is a certain affinity that transcended borders and styles to overwhelmingly color an entire generation of acts. See kids, it wasn't grunge that changed the world but, rather, Loveless (1991) that did, as I explained before in this post that tells the tale of my accidental meeting with Kurt Cobain when I went to see Loop and Nirvana was the opening act (along with D.C. noise-niks Thud).

Really, "teen spirit" moved the sweaty masses but there were loads of us searching for import singles from Ride at the time. Much like how as millions were being moved by the Beatles, there were pockets of resistance having their lives changed by the Velvet Underground, it was a bit like that here on this side of the Atlantic in 1990 or 1991 with Soundgarden ruling MTV and the "cool kids" reading Brit music papers for the latest news on acts like Spiritualized or Lush. It was as if you were speaking a secret language if you knew some of these bands back then. Sure, the term "shoegaze" may not have been heard until 1991 but, at least among certain people, it was a genre, even if one without a name, before that, as Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze illustrates by the volume, and volume, of music here.

That the first burst of "shoegaze" creativity would carry the genre and style forward for at least another 5 solid years remains sort of hard to believe now. The genre was, as this set shows so well, so spread-out and diffuse as to make longevity nearly impossible. You weren't there to follow much of this first-hand? That's okay 'cause you can at least ingest the whole of the "good stuff" via the 6+ hours of "shoegaze" genius found on Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze, out Friday via Cherry Red Records.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Quick Look At The Maximum Riffage Of Emotional Mugger, The New One From Ty Segall (Out Now On Drag City)

Much like Robert Pollard, Ty Segall pillages the past to prolifically pump the present full of riffs. The cat is unstoppable, am I right? Continuing on from a string of superb releases of late on Drag City and its various imprints, Segall just dropped Emotional Mugger on Friday. It's a gas, obviously, but I'm here to break it down for you cats and kittens.

Opener "Squealer" cranks things up immediately and the title cut, paired here with another song into "Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess", takes things back to 1968 again. Think the Stones in their Satanic phase jamming with the boys in Blue Cheer. Segall can do this sort of thing in his sleep but, thankfully, he still brings a degree of conviction to this stuff. Case in point, "Breakfast Eggs" simultaneously channels both Marc Bolan and Syd Barrett and that Segall pulls it off speaks volumes to his skills in these genres.

"Baby Big Man (I Want a Mommy)" very nearly strays into early Devo territory, while "Mandy Cream" recalls both Lennon's "Cold Turkey" and early punk stuff from the United Kingdom. "Candy Sam" -- Ty's "Telegram Sam"? -- riffs impressively with the drums expertly mixed for maximum nodding with headphones on. Similarly, album closer "The Magazine" is trippy and closer to something post-punk than it is to Ty's usual well of acid rock and Nuggets-era influences.

Ty Segall has managed to exert a high degree of quality control as he has continued to pump out rockers like Emotional Mugger. The album, out now on Drag City, is another set of winning riff-riders and wannabe acid jams. It's concise and bold, brash and melodic. It is, of course, another superb set from Ty Segall.

Follow Ty Segall via his official Facebook page. Emotional Mugger is out now via Drag City.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cannot Keep A Secret: My Review Of The New Emma Pollock Album (Out Next Friday On Chemikal Underground)

Has it really been 6 years since the last Emma Pollock album? Really? Well, I'm here to tell ya that it was worth the wait. In Search of Harperfield, out Friday, January 29, 2016, on Chemikal Underground, is as fine an album as any that Pollock has performed on. And that's very high praise indeed considering that she was one of the members of The Delgados.

Her last album, 2010's sublime The Law of Large Numbers, was a collection that broadened the sound of her solo material, first heard on her debut album under her own name (2007's Watch The Fireworks). And, similarly, In Search of Harperfield takes Pollock's art in new and beautiful directions. Read on!

"Cannot Keep a Secret" opens the LP with a pensive and brooding number that gets at the central themes of this record (the passage of time and ideas of age), while "Don't Make Me Wait" nods in the direction of something more accessible thanks to big hooks and a break near the chorus that is positively euphoric.

"Alabaster" and "Clemency" reach into the past to call up the sound of the The Delgados again, all dark folk and insistent chords, and that trip into her own recording past reaches a small peak on "Intermission" where the music takes on hues best described as sounding like something off of a Michael Nyman soundtrack. Emma Pollock's vocals here are assured and warm and somehow more direct despite the music's attempts at making things a bit mysterious. "Parks and Recreation", the first big single from In Search of Harperfield, throws out big riffs that make it immediate and catchy and in line with early Badly Drawn Boy, or even Elbow tracks. Big props to Pollock's hubby, one-time Delgados drummer Paul Savage for his work on this number as his playing is bold and it anchors the cut perfectly. Added kudos to Malcolm Lindsay for the arrangements on this one and elsewhere on the album.

"Vacant Stare" and "In the Company of the Damned" are a bit jaunty, while "Dark Skies" unfurls on the back of a gentle guitar line and a chill-inducing Pollock vocal performance. As she dips into Gaelic, presumably, the themes of the album become apparent and one can hear her wrestling with family concerns and her place in Scotland. The strings swell and one thinks, oddly, of the best moments on Rewind The Film (2013) by the Manic Street Preachers. Like those guys, Pollock has figured out how to let her place of birth inform her art without making the resulting piece of work too specific as to not be universal in its appeal. "Monster in the Pack" offers a bit of ruminative folk before the final track on the album appears.

If you come into this album knowing that Emma Pollock was going to attempt to deal with the death of her mother and the illness of her father through this album's music and lyrics then listening to "Old Ghosts" will be a moving experience for you as a listener. Clearly the highlight of In Search of Harperfield, this song took on added poignant meaning for me, as it will for many fans of a certain age who've got parents in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. The idea of approaching one's parents as people first and not just your parents is not a radical concept but it's sometimes hard to do. Look, my parents are reasonably healthy and even I tear up a bit every time I play this one. "Old Ghosts" is, simply put, one of the 5 best tracks Emma Pollock has ever performed on and one would not be exaggerating in saying that this was a highlight of her career as a singer and writer. This one is the equal of anything on Hate by The Delgados and I can think of no higher praise than that, frankly.

Emma Pollock has again hit a peak as an artist. It may have taken her 6 years to release a new solo album but it was, honestly, worth the wait as In Search of Harperfield is moving and affecting in ways that little other indie-pop is in 2016. Without a doubt, one can trace a level of quality from the earliest Delgados recordings, on to her tracks on that sublime Fruit Tree Foundation album, and here on her third solo album. Very, very few artists create music that is at once this serious and light on its feet. Accesible and arty, Emma Pollock has managed to make something uniquely personal here that should have wide, wide appeal beyond the borders of her native Scotland. As an artist, Emma's surprised this listener once again and made me consider matters of family and matters of the heart. In Search of Harperfield rewards a listener, that's the short version of my review.

In Search of Harperfield by Emma Pollock is out on Friday, January 29, 2016, via Chemikal Underground.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Early Notice About The New Cross Record Album (Out Next Week On Ba Da Bing Records)

I didn't know what to expect what I first spun this new album from Cross Record. Wabi-Sabi drops next Friday (January 29) via Ba Da Bing Records and it's one of the most pleasant surprises in a season of high quality music. Emily Cross, the main creative force behind Cross Record, crafts large music that breathes and evolves as it unfolds in waves of sound. Tough to categorize this? Yeah. Yeah, it is.

For example, the wonderfully-titled "Something Unseen Touches a Flower to My Forehead" offers up a sort of gentle, plaintive tune that wouldn't have been entirely out of place on an old Sandy Denny record, while "Wasp in a Jar", on the other hand, throbs with the sort of menace not heard since Jarboe joined Swans. That makes some sense as Thor Harris is on this album and he has, of course, worked with Swans, as well as Bill Callahan. Elsewhere, "High Rise" echoes Cranes, while "Basket" conjures up memories of the 2nd and 3rd albums from 4AD collective This Mortal Coil.

Emily Cross makes bold, somewhat stark, music and it's music that rewards a careful listener. Challenging without being abrasive, beautiful without being easy mood music, fans of late period Cocteau Twins, Julie Cruise, Dead Can Dance, and even Bjork should find much to appreciate here.

Follow Cross Record via their official Facebook page, or via the band's official website.

Wabi-Sabi by Cross Record is out on Friday, January 29, 2016 via Ba Da Bing Records.

Cross Record - Basket from Andrew McGlennon on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Few Words Of Praise About The New High Llamas Album (Out Friday On Drag City)

The High Llamas have prepped what is one of their most lovely releases. That it is a sort of "concept album" should not scare you off as the "narrative" simply exists to hold these wisps of beauty together. Here Come The Rattling Trees, out Friday via Drag City, is the band's first album since 2011's Talahomi Way and, like the more conventional indie on that release, this album provides the sort of moments of beauty that many listeners of this band will embrace with open arms.

After 2 understated and short introductory pieces, the title cut offers up a typically perfect Sean O'Hagan-fronted piece of work. Sounding more organic than they have in the past -- though there are keyboards and bits of gentle electronica on Here Come The Rattling Trees -- the High Llamas here sound older and more reflective than they may have in the past. By the time we get to "Bramble Underscore" we're in familiar Llamas territory as the tune aches with that same sort of plaintive tune-age that fans of Gideon Gaye (1994) will well remember. "McKain James" offers up a jaunty keyboard-anchored cut of the kind that most followers of this group will welcome. It's spry and sad at the same time and that sort of mix is one that only this band can really deliver.

Like other groups with such a unique and defined sound, The High Llamas are masters at crafting little moments that bridge the past (a Beach Boys-like sense of a good tune) and the future (the rough-and-retro futurism of their mates in Stereolab). That said, Here Come The Rattling Trees succeeds and broadens the Llamas' sound by virtue of its modesty. Penning a soundtrack has freed O'Hagan's imagination in some way and the music here is uniformly lovely and of the sort that one will find hard to categorize. I suppose that's a good thing as The High Llamas have, for more than 20 years now, existed outside of genre and convention. Their art is the sort that exists on its own terms and which remains quietly moving and affecting. Here Come The Rattling Trees fits in well in the band's catalog in that regard. Understated in the best way, this album charms with ease and a decided lack of pretension, especially amazing when one considers that this is indeed a "concept album" (of a sort).

Here Come The Rattling Trees is out on Friday via Drag City. Follow The High Llamas via their official website.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Boys Forever (Patrick From Veronica Falls) Single Drops On Friday

Boys Forever is the new project from Patrick Doyle of Veronica Falls. That the new single sounds more like early Teenage Fanclub than it does Veronica Falls is a huge compliment and not a comment meant to imply that Patrick has abandoned his own great band.

"Poisonous" is nothing short of rollicking and it's extremely catchy. You've been warned. You can get it via iTunes and Amazon in the USA, and the physical single via the Amour Foo label.

More details on Boys Forever via the band's official Facebook page or via the band's Tumblr site.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I'm Late To The Party When It Comes To The Pop Charms Of Montreal's Sheer Agony

Within a few seconds of the Field Music-like perambulations of album opener "Anthony Ivy" starting up and I was hooked. Who was this band and why hadn't I heard about them until recently.

Sheer Agony is a four-piece from Montreal. They named their newest album Masterpiece and, rather, than seem like a ballsy move that, it sort of is one.

If "Careers" continues in the vein of the album's first cut, then "I Have a Dream" ambles in the direction of some of Adrian Belew's solo stuff, or even Steely Dan. Sheer Agony have the chops and yet never once does Masterpiece descend into muso noodling. There's a hint of Robyn Hitchcock on the playful "So Many Zoes", while "I Used To Be Darker" even sounds a very tiny bit like modern-era XTC. "Fizzical Lime", another highlight of this record, recalled Split Enz to my ears.

If you detect a pattern here it's that, yeah, Sheer Agony sound like a lot of artists I've loved for a long time. Masterpiece may not be a masterpiece but it's damn close. Sheer Agony quickly and almost instantly won me over and I urge you to get on board with them now.

Masterpiece by Sheer Agony is out now via Couple Skate Records. Follow Sheer Agony on their official Facebook page.

Heads Up About The New Bonnie "Prince" Billy Compilation On Drag City

Direct and affecting, the music of Bonnie "Prince" Billy is the sort of thing that cuts to the core of your being. Lacking pretension or unnecessary artifice, the tunes of this guy usually work their magic on relatively simple, though profound, terms. This is large music that sounds, as a rule, as if Bonnie "Prince" Billy is tapping into something that's existed for ages and he was only lucky enough to capture it.

That sense of directness has never been more apparent than on the upcoming Pond Scum, a collection soon to be released on Drag City. The set collects a series of Peel Sessions that highlight this artist's skill at presenting the very heart of a song at its most basic, like on the heart-stoppingly beautiful "Death to Everyone". This cut contrasts nicely with the near-jaunty "Arise, Therefore" and the dark humor of opener "(I Was Drunk At) The Pulpit".

The songs on Pond Scum all benefit from the small-group arrangements used in these sessions and, perhaps as a result of that, there's a palpable sense of spontaneity here -- it sounds as if these musicians just grabbed their instruments and sat down and played these cuts with the tape deck running.

And if Bonnie "Prince" Billy is a master at this sort of thing, he's also a master at granting new context to something familiar, for example, his cover of "The Cross" by Prince. Sublime, heartfelt, and sincere, the song shines here in a manner that Prince's arrangement obscured. Bonnie "Prince" Billy has whittled down the tune to its essence and the overall effect is a transcendent one.

I suppose one could say that most of this release is transcendent. More than a set of Peel Sessions, Pond Scum is a superb collection of the genius of Bonnie "Prince" Billy.

More details on Pond Scum by Bonnie "Prince" Billy via Drag City.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Getting The Word Out Early On The Rad Charms Of The New Best Friends Album

Sheffield's Best Friends sound nothing like Arctic Monkeys and that's a good thing. A few years ago and any band from the same town as Turner and the boys would have gotten tagged with some comparisons to those guys. Luckily, Best Friends have sprung up more recently and they've taken their inspirations from a whole other set of acts. Those influences help the band shape their brand of raucous rock into something memorable. The new LP from Best Friends, Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane., is out in a few weeks on Fat-Cat Records.

On stuff like the expertly-titled "Shred Til You're Dead", Best Friends sound like nothing so much as an earlier wave of great U.K. bands who took their cues from even earlier U.S. acts. If you're old and cool enough to remember Llama Farmers or Yatsura, I think you'll know what I mean.

The soaring "Holy Mountain" recalls both early U2 and early Nirvana, no small feat, and the overall effect is an intoxicating and invigorating one, like much of what's on Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane. Similarly, "Fake Spit" surges ahead on a lot of youthful energy and the riffs come hard and fast. "Orange Juice" might not be named after the seminal Scottish band with Edwyn Collins but it's affecting all the same and it shows a side of Best Friends beyond the near-grunge hooks. "Cold Shapes" offers even more variety as things slow down slightly and the bass-and-drum patterns give a bounce to the song that really charms, as do those backing harmonies.

Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane. is not going to rewrite the rulebooks for indie rock but it is going to inject the genre without a helluva lot of spark and fire, and for that reason I highly recommend it. Fans of early Ash and early Teenage Fanclub will groove on what's here. Best Friends, like those earlier bands, know how to expertly blend crunchy chords and catchy choruses and I totally dig that.

Dig Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane from Best Friends when it drops soon. Follow the band on their official Facebook page, or via Fat-Cat Records.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The First Big Album Of 2016 Is Here: My Review Of Leave Me Alone By Hinds

It's been 2 years of hype, hasn't it? That Hinds, f.k.a. Deers, have been able to weather it says a lot. That they've been able to deliver something that simultaneously lives up to the hype and lives it down says a lot too.

Leave Me Alone, the debut full length from Spain's Hinds, drops on Friday. By now you've probably heard it streaming somewhere, or had a few of the singles burned into your brain already. The album is by turns wildly infectious, catchy beyond belief, and oddly affecting in some quiet ways. The 12 cuts here are all charmers, really.

"Garden" unfurls and unwinds with a dollop of attitude while the delightfully-titled "Fat Calmed Kiddos" offers up the first massive hook of Leave Me Alone. What started as 2 Spanish girls with guitars making videos and generating a buzz some 2 years ago has now turned into a real band of 4 -- Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote on vocals and guitars, Ade Martin on bass, and Amber Grimbergenand on the drums -- and nowhere is this more apparent than on this track which is the sort of thing that just makes me smile like an idiot every time I play it.

"Warts" builds slowly on the back of an infectious riff until the vocals of Ana and Carlotta blend in rough harmony and the guitars start to buzz a bit. The effect is, oddly, like some rough, uptight Smiths demo burnished into a party anthem. The yearning "Easy" leads into what is probably my favorite cut on Leave Me Alone, "Castigadas En El Granero" which starts with a few simple riffs and expands into a super-catchy singalong. A nearly plucked guitar-line anchors this cut as Ana and Carlotta trade vocals in the surging chorus. In some weird way, this sounds a tiny bit like the best early Artic Monkeys tracks and for that reason it should be easy to love for indie fans the world over.

Earlier fave singles like "Chili Town", "San Diego", and "Bamboo" are all here, of course (though "Trippy Gum" is not, oddly). And while those cuts remain pop perfection, the pleasant surprises on Leave Me Alone are things like "Solar Gap", a gentle instrumental. Elsewhere, "And I Will Send Your Flowers Back" shows that Hinds are adept at this sort of melancholic stuff, lest one thinks that Leave Me Alone is going to be all party tunes. Similarly, the sultry "I'll Be Your Man" offers up a lilting, simple tune that is quietly affecting and still supremely catchy thanks to the harmonies on the chorus.

Leave Me Alone closes with "Walking Home", a tune that rides a breezy, near-calypso -- of all things -- riff while Ana and Carlotta trade vocals and the songs coasts by as you imagine yourself ordering another mimosa while lounging at the beach.

That description makes it sound as if the music of Hinds is all the sort of thing that one could call party music. And, yeah, while the majority of Leave Me Alone is enormously upbeat and the kind of tune-age that makes a listener smile, it's the smaller moments on Leave Me Alone that reveal Hinds to be real players and a band who'll be around long after the deserved hype over this record dies down. A tinge of sadness in the party rock, like the best moments on that fab Chastity Belt album, adds depth to what would, in other hands, be fluffier songs. Hinds keep things simple and by doing so keep things uniformly perfect and thoroughly affecting. A lack of fussiness has made this album such a pleasure to listen to. Full of immediate hooks and bits of joy throughout, Leave Me Alone is a superb debut album and the sure-footed start of a long career for Hinds. As with all previous releases from this four-some, I simply can't wait to hear what's next.

Leave Me Alone by Hinds is out on Friday. Check your favorite real or virtual music seller to grab it, better to pre-order it now, frankly.

Follow Hinds on their wildly popular official Facebook page, or on the band's official website.