Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hey Hey: How Great Is This New Album From The Castillians?

I will freely and openly confess my sins today. I have a very pro-PNKSLM bias. I've loved everything I've heard on the label so far and I've no reason to hide that fact. The newest album to join my list of faves is You and Me by The Castillians. I think the band is from Birmingham, U.K. It doesn't really matter where they're from 'cause they sound like they're from outer space.

"Hey Hey" burns through the speakers like the very best, very grimiest Primal Scream track you've ever dreamed of hearing, while "Badboy" is the Sixties Beat Group-raver that the Arctic Monkeys have been trying to make so badly ever since the young Mr. Turner greased his mop of hair. On the title cut of this LP, The Castillians make a racket not unlike the best stuff on the first Supergrass record but with more ugliness lurking in the dark shadows of the cut. As the chorus sparks, I can't understand a damn word of the background vocals but it matters little as the song is infectious. "Piggy in the Middle" and "Coat Tails" hit at the same sort of vibe and there's something really unsettling here but also something wonderfully poppy. Very, very few bands since The Sonics have been able to affect this sort of dark tunefulness so effortlessly.

While there are a few bluesier songs here ("Come What May"), The Castillians are at their best when they are noisy and a bit obviously rude. If "Midnight Ride" is more punk than Page and Plant, there's no mistaking it's Led Zeppelin II-stomp which is sharp and punchy instead of muso and wankish. You and Me ends on the rather trippy charms of "I'll Come Running" which hits at a sort of T. Rex-version of a blues ballad.

The Castillians make warped indie-pop like the best bands on PNKSLM and You and Me is a superb addition to the label's catalog of rawk. I thoroughly recommend this one. Grab it now!

Follow The Castillians on their official Facebook page. More details on the PNKSLM website.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Quick Review Of The New Yuck Album

Yuck's had some good luck. Or is it determination? The band has stuck it out despite line-up changes and label flips. And, yeah, Stranger Things, the new album that just dropped yesterday, is pretty darn solid so it was probably all worth it.

"Hold Me Closer" kicks things off in fine fashion -- all Ash-like hooks wrapped up inside Dinosaur Jr.-noise. Yuck are at their best when they stick to the sort of singalong indie exemplified by the shiny pop of "Only Silence", which is supremely catchy, or the obvious single "Cannonball" that's every bit as immediate and tasty as that old Breeders cut of the same name. The slower numbers on Stranger Things didn't grab me as much as the uptempo numbers, though the slow-burn of "I'm OK" did offer up a Pavement-like vibe that I really dug, and closer "Yr Face" admirably channeled both Sonic Youth and Medicine to pretty good results. Also of note here is the lilting title cut which blends a decided Sixties-sort of riff with a Nineties-sense of indie to shape a cut that has a truly beautiful chorus.

Yuck are not going to set the world on fire but they seem okay with that. As another reviewer pointed out -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- Yuck seem like a band in the wrong decade. And, well, that's okay 'cause I dig all the reference points here on Stranger Things. If I've heard other bands do this sort of thing already that doesn't diminish the charms of the Yuck approach. Yuck have made a largely pleasing album with modest goals. Throw any one of these tracks on an indie mix (tape/CD/playlist), and you'll be very happy indeed.

Stranger Things by Yuck is out now. More details on the band's official website.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Look At The New Album From Emitt Rhodes (The Merry-Go-Round)

Emitt Rhodes was the main creative force behind Sixties legends, The Merry-Go-Round. That he's back is cause for celebration. The reason for his return is the warm and affecting new solo album from Rhodes, Rainbow Ends, out today on Omnivore Recordings. Filled with contributions from power pop legends -- Jason Falkner, Susanna Hoffs, Roger Manning Jr. -- who were inspired by this very legend, the album offers up the sort of showcase of rich songwriting that one should welcome with open arms.

"If I Knew Then" charms like a Randy Newman melody smoothed out into a radio-friendly hit, while "This Wall Between Us" channels the peak years of ELO and Paul McCartney and Wings into something direct and catchy. Speaking of the Seventies, there's a decided Doobies-vibe to "Put Some Rhythm To It" -- all hooks and harmonies in the back. "What's a Man to Do" offers a languid lament that, instrumentally, is in the same ballpark as Buckingham's bits in Fleetwood Mac, while album closer and title cut "Rainbow Ends" is a gentle and affecting bit of optimism that recalls the best moments on something like Paul Simon's Hearts and Bones (1983).

Emitt Rhodes' Rainbow Ends is the product of one of the best, most underrated, songwriters of the Sixties. Simplifying his approach on this album has enabled Rhodes to deliver some of his most affecting music in decades. Welcome back Emitt, you were missed!

Rainbow Ends by Emitt Rhodes is out today on Omnivore Recordings.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Spin Fantastic Power-Pop Goodness From Loop Line Here!

I know almost nothing about these guys except that one dude lives in Minneapolis and one lives in Phoenix. Like a whole lot of acts these days, the Internet has made it possible for the musicians to still collaborate despite the vast differences. Thankfully, the results here are pretty awesome!

Loop Line sound a lot like Jason Falkner, about a dozen acts produced by Jon Brion, and even underrated indie geniuses The Sneetches. The band's new EP, Wakes, just dropped and I urge you to grab it. Opener "Nothing About You" crunches in a very "Buddy Holly"-esque way, while "Grin" is more quirky with an insistent guitar riff that is nearly Zappa-like. "Parts Unknown" sounds like these kids found a bunch of Beach Boys and XTC albums and are spinning them in turn, while EP closer "Dusty Keys" nods in the direction of Partridge and co. (again), along with a hint of the whimsical indie-pop of The Apples in Stereo.

Get with the program and follow Loop Line. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go download everything else these dudes have released so far!

Follow Loop Line on the band's official Facebook page, or via the band's Bandcamp page.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Best Thing You're Going To Hear This Week Is Likely Going To Be This New Beach Skulls Cut

The newest act to sign to the fantastic PNKSLM label, U.K. band Beach Skulls are here to celebrate...in a laconic and blissed-out way, of course. I mean, I dig this and I can't see how anyone could not, you know?

"Santa Fe" is a drawled out bit of business, all early Beck meets Medicine meets the druggy end of a Primal Scream single. Perfect in my book, frankly.

While waiting for more Beach Skulls music, please follow the band's official Facebook page and be sure to keep an eye out on the PNKSLM site for details on their upcoming releases.

A Quick Review Of The Superb New Kane Strang Album

Kane Strang must have the weight of New Zealand music history on his shoulders. His hometown is Dunedin and, as you well know, there's a lot of Flying Nun Records history in that town. The best bands on that label came from there, or had connections to the place, and now Kane Strang's on that historic label too (at least in other parts of the world). But here in the USA, his new album, Blue Cheese, will be dropping on the equally wonderful Ba Da Bing Records.

Now, despite that whole legacy I described above, Kane Strang's music, specifically the fresh Blue Cheese, is not necessarily all Chills and Clean riffs recycled for the kids today. Rather, on stuff like the hooky "What's Wrong?" the effect is closer to an old O.M.D. single before the band hit pay-dirt in John Hughes soundtrack land. Guitars carry the weight on most of this record but there's a certain electronic element in some spots -- maybe the way Kane's voice is centered in the tracks? -- that lends this whole album an air of electro-pop from the Eighties. Think Split Enz ("You Think") or even China Crisis (the propulsive "Things Are Never Simple"). Elsewhere, on the oddly insistent but cleverly-titled "Never Kissed a Blonde", Kane nearly hits at the same sort of quirky pop that Sparks tried their hands at in the Eighties. On the supremely catchy "Full Moon, Hungry Sun" the music chimes and swirls in the manner of recent bands like Gardens and Villa, or even MGMT. Like those other acts which seem to take their cues from old solo Brian Eno albums, there's a bit of backwards-looking here too but things never get too lost in the distant rock past. Like the best stuff from Stereolab, the music of Kane Strang has a decided retro vibe to it even as it remains largely fresh and current.

Blue Cheese is full of hooks and cleverness. It's a smart record in that I'm still having a hard time thinking of exactly what this sounds like. I mean, I can name-check some worthy bands that apparently influenced Kane Strang but...there's also something undefinable here. There are certainly pieces that make me think of stuff from earlier eras but, remarkably, Kane Strang has produced something that sounds entirely unique. In this day and age, that's quite an accomplishment.

Blue Cheese by Kane Strang will be out on Friday via Ba Da Bing Records. If you are outside the USA, you might be getting this one on Flying Nun. Follow Kane Strang via his official Facebook page.

A Few Words About The New Bill Pritchard Album

Bill Pritchard is an artist who, I'm happy to report, has made a return. The musician, famous mostly for his 1989 LP on Nettwerk, is due to release a new album, Mother Town Hall, on Tapete Records this Friday. It is a warm record, full of pep and heart and it is, quite surprisingly, a bit more upbeat than some of Pritchard's earlier work. That's sort of something that made me raise an eyebrow and smile when I played this one.

Diving into Mother Town Hall, I was entering a world of buoyant indie-pop hooks. "Mont St. Michel" is as good as anything on recent Lilac Time albums and every bit as rollicking. "Deja Vu Boutique" is more of a ballad, recalling both Bowie and Ian Hunter in some odd way, while "Heaven" unwinds like a classic Lloyd Cole cut, full of an equal amount of wit and melody. "September Haze" has a slow-burn hook that made me think of late-period Aztec Camera. Every bit as confident as Roddy Frame, Bill Pritchard seems to have hit a sort of artistic peak on Mother Town Hall, forging ahead of his earlier stuff into new territory like "Victorious" which -- and I mean this in the best possible way -- sounds a tiny bit like some of Morrissey's recent material.

Similar in terms of general delivery and presentation to both Moz and The Wild Swans, this sort of stuff tends to get called chamber pop and yet that term makes it sound serious and morose. If anything, Bill Pritchard has loosened up and suffered no loss of quality. The things that made his work so memorable when I was 22 are all still here. Pritchard is older and wiser and yet...he somehow sounds looser on this release. Mother Town Hall works as a reminder of Pritchard's talents and a fine album on its own terms. If you never heard his stuff before, that's okay 'cause this one will make you a new fan of the guy. Superbly tuneful and expertly performed and arranged, the songs on Mother Town Hall are sublime little indie gems full of charm and grace.

Mother Town Hall is out on Friday via Tapete Records. Follow Bill Pritchard via his official website.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Spin New Tunes Here From The Persuasion (Nick From The Yetis)!

The bad news is that The Yetis are no more, apparently. The good news -- (and it's very good news indeed) -- is that front-man Nick Gillespie has got a new project, The Persuasion, and the act is releasing a bit of music to get listeners primed for this new venture.

Coming on like "Help The Aged"-era Jarvis Cocker cooing in front of mid-period Roxy Music, "Leave Her Alone" is a true space-age love song and an expertly produced little slice of Americanized Britpop. "Just Like Torture" rattles like "Icing Sugar" from The Cure but less goth and more New Romantic in the overall vibe.

For the moment, follow The Persuasion via their official Facebook page and then look for new stuff to hopefully show up on Soundcloud in the future.

The Jazz Butcher Reissues Start Here: A Look At 2012's The Last Of The Gentleman Adventurers (Out Now On Fire Records)

England's The Jazz Butcher were one of those bands who got lumped in with the C86 explosion, the flowering of Creation Records talent -- (the first or second ones, at least) -- and who knows what other wave of another set of bands. Despite that hard to pin down-ness, The Jazz Butcher make witty, heartfelt indie of the sort that has rewarded listeners for 30 years so far. The esteemed Fire Records outfit has now begun an impressive Jazz Butcher re-issue project with the first release being 2012's The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers.

Out today on Fire Records, the album is a delight. If the band has mellowed a tiny bit with age, the music and lyrics here are still as elegant and snappy as they always were. So it's safe to say that Pat Fish and his crew have rarely sounded better.

"Shame on You" rings with the sort of jangle that the best jangle rock bands perfected in an earlier era. That the music of Pat Fish and Max Eider predated that term says a lot and it would be perhaps unfair to label this music so easily. Similarly, the languid title cut and the insinuating "Count Me Out" beguile a listener with something beyond just simple alt-pop charms, while "All The Saints" reminds one of the best Wreckless Eric or Joe Jackson cuts but with better guitar-work throughout. Things are somewhat subdued in spots on The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers but it's appreciated when the material is as strong as "Saints Prayer" or "Shakey" which captivate with the hint of real jazz throughout both. Recalling both Grant McLennan and Robert Forster solo albums, The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers (2012) is a perfect example of how to do smart indie that doesn't belabor its smarts. Like those ex-Go-Betweens, Pat Fish, Max Eider, and the rest of the players in The Jazz Butcher have a sense of their own talents. That this set of material is so strong, even if a bit down-tempo, helps too.

Look, despite being a fan of this band from nearly 30 years ago, and being on the 'Net as it were, I somehow didn't know about this record until fairly recently and that's sad. This is a beautiful album that should reward long-time fans of The Jazz Butcher, or simply new fans who appreciate an expert blending of chamber pop and indie rock.

The Last of the Gentleman Adventurers by The Jazz Butcher is out now via Fire Records. Follow The Jazz Butcher on their official website.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Few Words About The Sublime Debut LP From L.A.'s Golden Daze

A few months ago I brought you word, here, on a track from Golden Daze, an L.A. duo consisting of Ben Schwab and Jacob Loeb. The band's debut full-length release is out tomorrow on Autumn Tone Records and I urge you to order it now after reading this brief review.

From the opening Stereolab-out-west vibes of "Ghost" and up to the superb catchiness of "Never Comin' Back", the album starts off strong, strong, strong. This is, as I mentioned before, more or less the U.S. version of what U.K. act Childhood does so well. I lean on that comparison in order to avoid leaning on even easier comparisons. Many will write about the West Coast feel of this album, or the laid back grooves, which are abundant, but the music of Golden Daze is more than that. Think a happier, less nerdy Granddaddy, or the sound of Radiohead on vacation, their angst largely washed out in the summer sunshine.

If stuff like "Foreigner" recalls the glory days of a bunch of 4AD bands from the early 1990s, then "Sleepin' in the Sun" hits a Jesus and Mary Chain-like near-roar that buoys up the song's peppy hooks. Fantastic stuff!

At their best, Golden Daze transcend the trippy bits of material like "Low" with a strong sense of melody and a concise presentation. Too many bands would get lost in the bits on the edges of this sort of music and turn themselves into a shoegaze act that no one would want to hear twice but, thankfully, Golden Daze retain a firm grasp on the controls and keep things focused even as the music fuzzes out around them. Fans of Ultra Vivid Scene, for example, will thoroughly dig this release.

Golden Daze by Golden Daze is out tomorrow on Autumn Tone Records. Follow Golden Daze on their official Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Word About The Still-Incendiary Pop Group And The Band's Latest Reissue

Mark Stewart's band, The Pop Group, were a grenade being lobbed against the walls of the Establishment. Bracing like a slap in the face, the band's music still has the power to shock and thrill, more so than any so-called "rule-breakng" Class of '77 Brit punk act. With the possible exception of The Slits, this music sounds more revolutionary than almost any other music released in that era. Now, the band's second proper album, 1980's For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder is being reissued and I'm happy to report that the tunes here still seem transgressive and explosive.

From the legendary "We Are All Prostitutes" on to the nearly-deranged sounding "Blind Faith" this is tune-age beyond punk. Prefiguring the clipped beats of Gang of Four, Mark Stewart and his crew here managed to hit on something timeless that transcended the genre conventions of the era. "Justice" finds Stewart wailing like Nick Cave would do in The Birthday Party even as the music unravels in a sort of sinister funk around him. "Communicate" rivals contemporaries P.i.L. in skirting the edges of listen-ability, while "Rob a Bank" throbs and boils like the sound of a riot about to kick off.

Essential and incendiary, the music of The Pop Group is oddly timeless and altogether still exciting. Vital and hypnotic, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder may be the peak of The Pop Group's recording career. Grab this new re-issue now and revisit a music that seeks to inform, enrage, and excite. Rarely has a band seemed this genuinely dangerous.

More details on The Pop Group via the band's official website. For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder will be re-issued later this week.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Still Looking For Lewis And Clark: A Look At Final Wild Songs, The Long Ryders Box Set From Cherry Red Records

Despite those early rallying cries of "Join My Gang", The Long Ryders were a band sometimes hard to embrace. And that's an odd thing to say when one considers the pains the group took to have such broad appeal. Far too lefty to appeal to hardcore country music fans, too country to appeal to U2 fans, and far too rootsy at a time when that sort of thing was giving way to synthesizers and drum machines, The Long Ryders were, Byrds references notwithstanding, the Eighties answer to Credence. Punchy and beefy, the songs of The Long Ryders bridged multiple genres with ease. The band is perpetually in need of a rediscovery and now we've just about got the ground-work for one.

Final Wild Songs by The Long Ryders is out now on Cherry Red. It collects...just about everything this band put out and for that I'd like to first say "Thank you!" to the good folks at Cherry Red Records. They've done the world a favor 'cause these are some of the best releases of an era that gave birth to too much forgettable music.

Rising from the Paisley Underground, The Long Ryders, led by Sid Griffin, blended a healthy dose of Byrds worship with nods in the direction of the more mainstream style of songwriters like John Fogerty. That journey from the U.S. jangle wilderness (in an era when R.E.M. seemed like the only band lucky enough to be gaining traction with McGuinn-affectations) to the realms of wannabe stadium rock is charted here on Final Wild Songs since the set collects just about everything this band ever recorded, throwing in a live album for good measure. Fans of The Long Ryders should rejoice. Not a fan yet? You will be the end of this one.

Disc 1 kicks off with 1983's nearly-perfect 10-5-60 EP, the anthemic "And She Rides" rubbing up against the Blasters-like twang of "You Don't Know What's Right", and all 5 cuts of that seminal EP previewing the fuller sound of the debut full-length Native Sons. If the band sounds just as assured here as they did on 10-5-60, they are also more comfortable taking risks -- the positively beautiful and Beatlesque "Too Close to the Light", or the rough rockabilly of "Tell It To The Judge On Sunday", for example. "Ivory Tower" with its Byrds-isms immediately and understandably became a staple of the Long Ryders live canon but it's on "Run Dusty Run" that Sid and the boys sound most at ease. Bonus cuts on this first disc include the cover of blues standard "Black Girl" better known as "In The Pines" in its Nirvana cover version, along with a pretty good stab at Dylan's "Masters of War", a song that seems tailor-made for this incarnation of The Long Ryders.

State of Our Union, the band's breakthrough album on Island Records, takes up the bulk of Disc 2 and it actually sounds better than it did 30 years ago. Little is dated here as stuff like "Looking for Lewis and Clark" and "Lights of Downtown" positively burst out of the speakers. The CCR grind of "W.D.I.A." really works well still, in some ways a better cut now than I considered it back when I was 18. Now it sounds like something that prefigures U2's "Angel of Harlem" in some odd way. The big draw among the bonus cuts on Disc 2 is probably "Southside of the Story" which remarkably rivals John Cougar Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." in such a way that one wonders if the artists were intentionally referencing each other. "Christmas in New Zealand" is a humorous novelty song that also hints at the surprising lack of love that Brit DJ John Peel showed for these guys.

Two Fisted tales was the last album from The Long Ryders to date and it's a semi-misstep. Released on Island in 1987, the year of The Joshua Tree, it's clear that the band -- or their producers -- was going for a big sound this time out but the band was never going to break big in the way that that year's fluke hit from Georgia Satellites did, for example. And it's worth mentioning that Southern-influenced band here 'cause there are certainly similarities sonically on this album. Like the Georgia Satellites, The Long Ryders were a fine band whose fate was ultimately decided by the band's inability to stick to one genre. That makes it harder for mainstream listeners to grab on to the music but it's also, on the plus side, a sign of a band's versatility. The Long Ryders here shine brightest on a cover of "I Want You Bad" by NRBQ. While it sounds like a hit single to me, it obviously wasn't. "Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home" and "Spectacular Fall" don't so much show the strengths of The Long Ryders as much as they reveal the extent to which Island Records was hoping that this band would be another U2. Not horrible but not nearly as interesting and exciting as anything on the earlier releases from this band. "Gunslinger Man" is a nearly country punk jab at President Ronnie and it probably worked better in 1987 than it does now. Highlights of Disc 3 include a few impressive demos and the superb "Ring Bells" which rocks as hard as much of the canon of this band.

The final CD in Final Wild Songs is a 1985 live concert recorded in the Netherlands. The band burns through their back catalog including a stab at country standard "Six Days on the Road" and another take on "Masters of War" from Dylan. The Long Ryders sound amazing here and one still marvels at why this band wasn't more popular despite the genre-hopping.

Final Wild Songs confirms the greatness of The Long Ryders. There's a breadth and depth in the material here that shames most of the stuff from the band's peers in the era. And, in some ways, The Long Ryders were rewriting the rules as they went along in attempting to make genre-hopping, country-tinged rock more accessible. Louder than The Blasters, more MOR than Los Lobos, and certainly more Byrds-influenced than X, The Long Ryders were, as this 4-CD set makes clear, the equal of those bands in many ways. If Two Fisted Tales remains a low point, it's not entirely a disaster. And despite some sense of the earlier State of Our Union trying too hard to take the band's sound to the mainstream, that album sounds a good deal more consistent than it did so many years ago. And, yeah, "Looking for Lewis and Clark" is an anthem that now sounds as striking and important as anything The Boss put out in those Reagan years.

This set from Cherry Red Records is the sort of thing that fans should truly appreciate. Containing nearly everything The Long Ryders put out, a bunch of rarities, and a live album, Final Wild Songs is the definitive Long Ryders release and perhaps offers a way that new fans can dive into the varied back-catalog of this fabulous American band.

Final Wild Songs by The Long Ryders is out now on Cherry Red Records.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

There Are No Times Like These Ones: My Look At The 2 Superb Earl Brutus Reissues From Cherry Red Records And 3 Loop Music

Dear God in Heaven, they were a magnificent band, weren't they?

The only thing that took the sting out of the death of David Bowie for me was to hear these records from inveterate Bowie-acolytes again in January. Earl Brutus put out just 2 albums and they are both, thankfully, back in print now in fine fashion thanks to the folks at Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music. For those of you who know these albums, the bonus discs on each release will only further solidify your appreciation of these glorious unhinged bastards. For those of you who have previously only read about this lot, prepare to have your minds blown.

The 1996 debut album was called Your Majesty... We Are Here and, in some weird way, that title nodded in the direction of both Queen and The Sex Pistols, as did the music within the grooves. In some similar style to what Oasis managed to pull off on their early, rowdy, rafter-shaking and raucous flip-sides -- the ones where they sound like they are finally admitting to being Slade and not trying to be the Beatles -- Earl Brutus took the previously contradictory glam and punk legacies of their native England, threw them up against one another, rubbed, and...rawked. Gloriously.

Your Majesty... We Are Here seems more direct and simultaneously more experimental than parts of the next album. The result here is a sonic slap in the face but one which you love, from a dominatrix you will gladly pay again and again. The brash and cheeky "Navyhead", "I'm New", and "Male Milk" send the album off to regions of glory before the decidedly disturbing "On Me Not In Me" -- a tart's description of services, if one's to believe the press materials with this reissue -- takes things into areas last explored by Throbbing Gristle, or even Pulp before they hit the big time. The singalong "Don't Leave Me Behind Mate" pitches the late Nick Sanderson's vocals down a deep well and the overall effect is like Joe Meek producing The Jesus and Mary Chain...while playing a Mud record. Did anything else sound nearly as imaginative as this in 1996? Has anything since?

For all the bold, upbeat stuff here on Your Majesty... We Are Here, there are also tracks that veer into the realms of nearly-dark electronica ("Curtsy"), and others ("Life's Too Long") that seem like big choruses that never need to end.

The bonus disc of Your Majesty... We Are Here offers up treasures like the wickedly-titled "Mondo Rotunda" or "North Sea Bastard", but it's stuff like the sly "Like Queer David", all faux-string passages and near-Jarvis-cooing, that makes a listener marvel. One of the highlights here, this track mashes up about a dozen things into a blender to produce the sort of indie-pop that made the Nineties not entirely a waste.

Elsewhere, there are a few remixes on this bonus disc, and the most interesting is probably Suicide's Alan Vega's take on "On Me Not In Me" which renders the already odd song a bit odder and colder still. Bold but not nearly as essential as the original version.

The band -- Stuart Boreman, Nick Sanderson, Jim Fry, Gordon King, and Rob Marche, and Shin-Ya Hayashida - took their act to Island Records for 1998's Tonight You Are The Special One. Rather than suck up to the majors, the Brutus lot managed to amp up the weirdness, even if the thing sounds a bit cleaner in audio terms. Big album opener "The S.A.S. and The Glam That Goes with It" -- named after a videotape that had footage of an S.A.S raid jutting up next to a glam doc -- is the sort of thing that makes me want to flip over a table every time I hear it. Gleaming and sleek keyboard lines underline a thoroughly raucous rock-noise whirl as Sanderson rails against "quiche lorraine attitudes" and such. If the rabble ever storm Parliament, one can only hope that they are playing this on boom-boxes as they march through London. As radically abrasive and catchy as "God Save The Queen", this cut gives me chills and remains one of the weirdest ways to rock that my iPod holds in its bowels. This one is bliss, really.

If "Midland Red" continues the experimental excursions of the softer songs on the first record, then "God, Let Me Be Kind" refines them into something heartfelt -- dare I say that? -- and beautiful like Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie with a metallic underpinning. "Come Taste My Mind" is a noble stab at the charts but it's up to the absurdly lovely "Don't Die Jim" to prove the genius of Earl Brutus once and for all. Sanderson's treated vocals warble over an acoustic guitar as tinkling keys behind him lead the song higher and higher to make this the sort of song that, oddly, is like some punk version of a Brian Wilson ballad. Warped, out there, and yet gloriously adventurous and affecting, this is pure Brutus; I have little idea what Nick's going on about here but, dammit, when that Ronson-esque guitar kicks in, a little tear wells up in this old rock fan's eye every single time. Yeah, I know, that none of this makes sense on paper, and what I'm grooving on here is the sort of thing that would be a tough sell to new listeners. Still, I'd put this one up against anything in the Radiohead canon.

The album still contains its share of rockers ("East"), but the glory of Tonight You Are The Special One lies in those numbers that push the envelope -- the Numan-on-Bolan weirdness of "Edelweiss", for instance.

The bonus disc for Tonight You Are The Special One contains a few live rarities, a William Reid (The Jesus and Mary Chain) remix of "Come Taste My Mind" and the glam-stomp of "Larky", a 1999 one-off single. They probably had little inkling at the time but this, the sorta last official Earl Brutus release, perfectly sums up the charms of both albums in one cut. "There are no times like these ones" the late Nick Sanderson roars and he's certainly right. There would be nothing like this lot again, try as the surviving members might in the still-admirable The Pre New. Grab this release again if you already have it for this cut and wonderfully-titled oddities like "Gypsy Camp Battle" and "England Sandwich" -- you know as well as I do that somewhere Morrissey was grousing that he didn't come up with that title first, eh?

Taken together, Your Majesty... We Are Here (1996) and Tonight You Are The Special One (1998) are 2 of the best albums that unfortunately found themselves released in the midst of the Britpop boom. Thoroughly and wonderfully more British than any Noel Union Jack axe, the tunes on these releases are the products of English eccentrics with amps, goons with chops, yobs with a vendetta, the last drunk in the pub blaring his way through "Starman" with tears in his ears and bitter spilling out of his glass.

Perpetually underrated even after the tragic early death of frontman Nick Sanderson, Earl Brutus remain the great lost U.K. band. Thank God in Heaven that Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music resurrected these. Hey, the albums have never been far from my side but I was happy to get them again for those bonus discs alone. Superbly assembled and remixed, these 2 records contain more wit than most Moz releases, more bluster than a brace of Slade singles, more edge-riding than Thom Yorke's so-called risky music. Earl Brutus had no equals and one realizes how hard it is to even compare this music to any of the band's peers from the era, or even earlier eras despite some avowed Bowie, Bolan, and Numan bits sprinkled throughout. Your Majesty... We Are Here (1996) and Tonight You Are The Special One (1998) by Earl Brutus are both available now via Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Early Notice About How Great This Quilt Album Is

Quilt make music that recalls Unrest and Yo La Tengo. There, do I have your attention now? The band's upcoming album is called Plaza and it's out very soon on Mexican Summer and it's fantastic.

Opener "Passerby" unfurls like the Velvet Underground, or even Luna, while the blissful and catchy "Roller" charms like any Bridget Cross-sung song from the peak days of D.C. area indie-pop legends Unrest. Most of Plaza is similar and just as delightful.

Quilt is John Andrews (vocals, drums), Anna Rochinski (vocals, guitar, organ), Shane Butler (vocals, guitar), and Keven Lareau (vocals, bass) and the band's music seems most memorable when Anna is taking the vocal duties. That said, when one of the guys in the band -- not sure which one -- takes over on "Searching For" the results are just as good and the tune bounces along like Luna, or even The Feelies. This is superb American indie-pop and I'm sort of embarrassed that this band dropped 2 albums before this that sort of slipped past me.

If "Padova" recalls the Sixties-leanings of bands like Ultimate Painting in some small way, then "Your Island" nods in the direction of old Mazzy Star cuts but with a good deal more pep. Plaza ends with "Own Ways" which rattles in the manner of Jefferson Airplane, or even early American alt-rock like The Swimming Pool Q's.

Plaza is a wonderful surprise. Quilt seem to be experts at blending a few influences into something fairly fresh and unique. Languid and catchy, the tunes here are all charmers. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go buy their first 2 albums.

You can follow Quilt via their official Facebook page or via their official website.

A Few Words About The Lovely Dream-Pop Of Winnipeg's Living Hour

I realize that dream-pop is a loaded term. It's a term that would have been a better word to describe the breadth of music on the recent "shoegaze" box set on Cherry Red Records, as "shoegaze" doesn't always do the trick. That there are still bands making music as splendid and beautiful as the work of those pioneers is something to be happy about as a music fan, as is the music of Winnipeg's Living Hour.

The band is set to drop its self-titled debut album on Lefse Records in a matter of days and I'm here to sing that record's praises. If the wonderfully-titled "Summer Smog" recalls late period Cocteau Twins, or even 4AD winners Swallow, then "Seagull" offers up something close to what could best be described as a rather catchy take on Slowdive's expansive dream-pop. There's that word again!

Perhaps my favorite track is the gloriously languid "Steady Glazed Eyes" which charms in the style of those slower, early Lush numbers. Living Hour closes on the nearly Sigur Ros-like "Feel Shy" which unfurls with a sense of deliberation and ease, all careful bliss mapped out by these players.

Living Hour by Living Hour is a superb collection of the sort of dream-pop one wishes more bands made with this degree of skill these days. Serious without being too pretentious, this is one for fans of Mojave 3 or The Moon and the Melodies. Out in about a week or so on Lefse Records, Living Hour by Living Hour should be on your radar.

Follow Living Hour via their official Facebook page or via their official website.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Somewhat Early Review Of The Splendid New Album From Pete Astor (The Loft, The Weather Prophets) On Slumberland Records

I kept putting off reviewing the fabulous new album from Pete Astor, Spilt Milk, mainly 'cause the "official" release date is February 12, 2016, and I didn't want to rave about this one too early, you know? But then I keep seeing people post pics of the "vinyl" on "social media", and I knew that Slumberland Records indicated that they were going to ship pre-orders early, so I thought: why not just go ahead and join in with the growing chorus of people telling you how good this one is?

In case you need a refresher, Pete Astor was the leader of The Loft and The Weather Prophets, and he's also done stuff under the Wisdom of Harry banner as well. This time out, he's tried a relatively direct approach and paired up with James Hoare of Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls to offer up Spilt Milk. The album is so good and so effervescent and charming that it seems somewhat silly to cast a critical eye at the music contained herein, not that I even need to be at all critical.

Stuff like "Very Good Lock" recalls the third album from the Velvet Underground, or early Lou solo stuff, and it doesn't hurt that James from Ultimate Painting -- inveterate VU fans -- is on board here as sorta album co-pilot. "My Right Hand", blogged about me earlier here, charms on the back of a supple melding of influences -- a hint of Dylan on this one, maybe? Better still, it could be a trace of Tom Verlaine that I'm hearing in the rhythms of this cut.

Elsewhere, Astor seems to be able to channel both halves of that wonderful Go-Betweens formula with some cuts ("Good Enough") nodding in the direction of the work of the late Grant McLennan and some others ("Mr. Music") venturing into Robert Forster territory.

What's remarkable about Spilt Milk is how unlike Astor's earlier stuff it sounds. It's not that he's entirely shunning his Loft past -- (be sure to read my interview with some of the members of The Loft from last year when the Cherry Red Records Creation Records box set came out) -- it's that he's expanded his sound significantly and the range of absorbed influences seems broader here. Still, there would be nothing wrong with Spilt Milk sounding like a Weather Prophets album but it doesn't, and that's a great thing when the results are cuts like "Sleeping Tiger", all buoyant wistfulness and yearning.

Spilt Milk closes on "Oh You", a cut whose instrumentation broadly recalls some of the tracks on those 2 wonderful Ultimate Painting records. Working with James Hoare has loosened up Astor and things feel natural here, on this album closer and the rest of the record. Credit must also be given to some of the other players on this release: Pam Berry (Black Tambourine, Glo-Worm) on vocals, Jack Hayter (Hefner) on pedal steel guitar, Alison Cotton (The Left Outsides) on viola, and Robin Christian (Male Bonding) and Susan Milanovic (Feathers) on drums. But, yeah, a lot of this sounds like Astor sitting down with Hoare to make something very similar to those Ultimate Painting records. And saying that is my way of giving this LP a huge compliment.

Pete Astor's Spilt Milk is a remarkably warm record and that counts for a lot in 2016. If the album is not showy in any obvious way, that's something to be admired. Astor, like that rare breed of songwriter in today's world, can pull off this sort of thing and make it look effortless. The music here, on gentle, ruminative numbers like "Perfect Life", for example, is not going to set the world on fire but it is going to light a little spark in the hearts of long-time fans of this man, his many bands, and the associates he's assembled on this very nearly-career-defining turn. Spilt Milk is yet another example of the rich new strain of music being mined by artists on Slumberland Records. Like the folk-indie on that Withered Hand album -- also on Slumberland Records and also featuring Pam Berry of label boss Mike Schulman's legendary Black Tambourine -- the tune-age on Pete Astor's new record blends a few genres with ease to produce something better than the majority of what passes as indie-pop these days.

Spilt Milk by Pete Astor is out on Friday via Slumberland Records in the USA.

Follow Pete Aster on his official website.