Tuesday, November 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

[Photos: Young Romance Facebook page]

Thursday, November 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited pic from band's website]

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited label promo pic]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Kyle Thomas]

A Few Words About The New Album From Melbourne's Redspencer

The new album from Redspencer is the long-awaited debut full-length release from a band some of us have been following for a while now. Perks, out Friday via Deaf Ambitions, is a refinement of a certain kind of loose-yet-focused indie-pop that few others are attempting these days. The cuts here are uniformly supple and full of limber rhythmic invention.

If the beautiful "Fuss" and "Spare Me" recall the first wave of mellow bands that the United Kingdom offered up following the wake of Coldplay's early successes, then the title cut and "Petrol" from this Aussie crew nod more in the direction of the angular workouts of The Beta Band releases, or more recent numbers from Field Music. The superb "Ride It Out" suggests nothing so much as a Britpop ballad infused with Obscured By Clouds-era Pink Floyd ambiance. There are moments here that hark back to the earlier work of bands like China Crisis, the legacy of Steely Dan carried into the New Wave era and referenced again here, yet for the most part Redspencer are not as concerned with that sort of wonky melodicism. Instead, the Melbourne-based band are fans, clearly, of big hooks even as the instrumentation throughout Perks remains rather understated and subtle. Simple, direct, and lyrical, every cut on Perks has an unassuming lyricism that is very hard to resist.

Perks by Redspencer is out on Friday via Deaf Ambitions. Follow Redspencer via the band's official Facebook page

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Erase Myself: A Look At The New One From D.C.'s Flasher (Priests-Related)

Flasher make bracing and uncompromising music. That the band features a member of D.C.'s Priests ought to convince you of the veracity of that statement. Flasher is set to reissue their 2016 self-titled cassette on vinyl and other formats this week and I'm here to tell you how great this is.

Out Friday on Sister Polygon Records (future home of the upcoming Priests release), Flasher by Flasher is vaguely New Wave as filtered through a harDCore sensibility. If opener "Tense" echoes pre-bombast era Simple Minds releases, the excellent "All Over" surges like a combination of P.i.L. and "Disorder"-era Joy Division. Austere and full of knife-sharp hooks, the tunes of Flasher channel a whole lotta great influences into something modern. "Erase Myself" is marginally more accessible, catchy without being compromised, while the buzzing "Throw It Away" rings like Interpol if the band had stuck to their indie roots and not smoothed out anything dangerous from their output. "Love Me" marries a Nation of Ulysses-like brand of shouty harDCore with something more angular, like a Gang of Four 45, and then the subtle closer "Destroy" adds a near-shoegaze kind of guitar fuzz to what remains a blistering bit of post-punk noise.

At their very best, Flasher serve up something close to what the very best bands in the first wave of U.K. DIY punk promised routinely. The hooks here are uniformly strong and the overall effect is one of very, very early U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen material going in some dark and hard directions. Fantastic!

Flasher by Flasher is out on Friday via Sister Polygon Records. More details via the link below too.

[Photo: Michael Andrade]

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Look At The Alt-Rock Legacy Of Punk Pioneer Mike Watt On The Occasion Of The Release Of His Ring Spiel Tour '95 Album

That Mike Watt is a legend is not something that even needs to be said anymore. Hopefully, his rich legacy from both The Minutemen and various other projects is something that's at least acknowledged more widely these days. In 1995 he put out his first solo album. Ball-hog or Tuboat? might have been a Mike Watt release but it featured members of Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and The Meat Puppets. It was a linking-up of the earlier American hardcore traditions with those of the alt-rock era and, as such, it was a seminal record. Almost as important as that album was the subsequent tour which saw Dave Grohl join Watt's band even as Dave was getting Foo Fighters underway. The addition of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder to the group was a further solidification of the ties between earlier hardcore styles and those of the grunge boom. Luckily for us, that tour was captured in recordings and the result is the new album, Ring Spiel Tour '95, out today via Sony.

On the best cuts here, stuff like the Vedder composition "Habit", one is hearing a sort of dream super-group of Mike Watt on bass, Grohl on drums, and Vedder on guitar and vocals. That there's fire in these recordings is an understatement. On "Against the '70s", the trio burns through the material, the effect an incendiary and rabble-rousing one that recalls briefly the best of harDCore in its shouted fury. On some of the cuts Grohl switches to guitar with the kit handled by William Goldsmith from Hovercraft, an opening band for Watt on this tour in 1995. On the odd alt-rock radio hit "Piss-Bottle Man", Watt takes over lead vocals with Grohl and Vedder helping him out on backing vocals and guitars while Goldsmith pummels the skins. So refreshingly bright and bold that it's hard to believe this sort of thing did get played on the radio, "Piss-Bottle Man" is even more forceful in its live version than it was in its original form.

A Minutemen classic, "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing", gets an airing in tribute to the late D. Boon with Watt taking over vocals as Vedder and Goldsmith hold down things behind him. Another notable cover here is a weird run at Madonna's "Secret Garden" with Fear's Pat Smear on backing vocals. But, truly, perhaps the highlight of the Ring Spiel Tour '95 live album is the scorched-earth stab at "The Red and the Black" by Blue Oyster Cult. Here, Watt, Grohl, Vedder, and Goldsmith sound like the best punk group that never got signed, their playing collectively recalling the glory days of the American (music) underground. The album closes with the entirely solo "Powerful Hankerin'", Watt singing and unleashing a few unbelievable runs on the bass that blur the lines between punk rock and jazz fusion.

One of the more significant releases of 2016, Mike Watt's Ring Spiel Tour '95 offers up not only proof of the talents of the players involved, but confirmation of how vital and richly important the music made in the Eighties and Nineties was. Watt here has, with these players, offered proof that the independence of The Minutemen was appreciated and honored by the work done by Grohl and Vedder and others in their generation later. Rather than see grunge and its rise as the moment that the underground was co-opted by the MTV-aided mainstream, we should see a sort of unbroken tradition in American alternative music that extends from The Minutemen and their peers all the way up to the more accessible tunes made by Grohl and Vedder and their bands as their popularity skyrocketed. They weren't selling out but, rather, bringing the tradition laid down by Watt and other pioneers to the masses.

Ring Spiel Tour '95 by Mike Watt is out today via Sony on a whole lot of formats.

Follow Mike Watt on his official website.

[Photo: Maikki Kantola, Mike Watt's web page]

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I'm Sleeping: A Quick Review Of The New Young Mammals Album

The guys in Young Mammals have taken quite a few cues from the glory days of Britpop. That this Houston band have done so in a seamless way says a lot about their talents as songwriters. And that song-craft is on full display on the band's new album, Jaguar, out Friday.

Some tracks on this release -- "I'm Sleeping", "Mango Beach", for instance -- ring with the sort of winsomeness that U.K. acts brought to listeners' ears some decades ago. That said, Young Mammals make this sort of effortlessly chiming pop sound so easy to create and, yet, obviously there's been a lot of care taken in creating this material. Elsewhere, on the hooky title cut, Young Mammals crank out the sort of music that recalls Brit-inspired American acts like The Drums. There's a trace of Temples on "Crane", and the barest hint of shoegaze on "Auroras" even as the song springs forward with a lot of post-punk bounce. On the superb "Morning Vice", Young Mammals bring something to the indie pop game that's part MGMT, part Air, and part late-period Supergrass. The overall effect on the majority of tracks on this Young Mammals long-player are catchy and supple in similar ways, making Jaguar one of this week's best releases.

More details on Young Mammals via the band's official Facebook page. Jaguar is out Friday. Details below.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Miserable World: A Look At The New Virginia Wing Album

Virginia Wing produced something fascinating and forward-looking previously and so I'm happy to report that the band's new album, Forward Constant Motion, out Friday on Fire Records, is even more of a risk-taker of a record. It's not that 2015's fine LP from this band, Measures of Joy, wasn't nearly perfect for that sort of music but, rather, that this new release is a huge leap forward.

Cuts like "ESP Offline" and "Miserable World" percolate like mid-Nineties Stereolab or Pram singles while also bringing in elements of world music and techno. Alice Merida Richards and Sam Pillay have here taken huge chances in making tunes that are decidedly not directly catchy, and ones which push envelopes in some big ways. The abrasive "Local Loop" offers up an updating on the early template laid down by Cabaret Voltaire, while "Hammer a Nail" is Depeche Mode at their most adventurous, all thought of a big hook thrown out the window. If the bouncy "Grapefruit" is nearly something one could enjoy on the dance-floor, then closer "Future Body" is The Normal's "Warm Leatherette" revamped for a new century. So many of the cuts here tread a similar line between the truly avant-garde and the more mainstream sort of indie so many of us have embraced in the last few decades. At their best here on Forward Constant Motion, Virginia Wing have looked to the peak years of the post-punk boom for inspiration in how to pursue a DIY-sort of new wave while wholeheartedly trying, in some measure, to make things marginally accessible. This is indie pop, after all, even if it's edgy and unsettling at times.

Superbly bold in its thinking, the music of Virginia Wing seems to be of a new genre even as it retains so many familiar elements that listeners such as myself can enjoy. Forward Constant Motion by Virginia Wing is out Friday on Fire Records.

Follow Virginia Wing via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Maisie Cousins and Penny Mills]

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Quick Look At The Fine New Album From England's Wolf People

There is something utterly undefinable about the music of England's Wolf People. The mix of folk and metal sounds like an unholy one when described on paper but, truly, the cocktail works on the band's new album, Ruins, out Friday via Jagjaguwar.

The 4 men in Wolf People -- Jack Sharp (guitar, vocal), Tom Watt (drums), Dan Davies (bass), Joe Hollick (guitar) -- create songs that sound, oddly, like amplified versions of Fairport Convention numbers. If that description makes you think that this whole thing is going to creak like "The Battle of Evermore", you're wrong. While that Sandy Denny/Zeppelin standard retains a certain appeal, the songs here on Ruins feel less classic rock and far more modern. The opening one-two-punch of "Ninth Night" and "Rhine Sagas" pushes things refreshingly in the direction of old Cream or Cult jams. That said, the freshness of the blending of folk motifs here with blues-y hooks is invigorating. The lyrical "Kingfisher" offers up the strongest melody on this record, while "Crumbling Dais" adds a touch of early Sabbath to the spry hook as something sinister seems on the verge of overtaking the cut. Ruins ends with the superb "Glass", part Pentangle, part King Crimson. You're probably never heard any other band like Wolf People, at least not in this century.

Ruins, out Friday via Jagjaguwar, is such a unique mix of folk and metal flavors that I can simply urge you to get it as soon as possible. Pre-order it now, frankly. This is music unlike anything else you are listening to now, I can assure you of that.

More details on Wolf People via the band's official Facebook page.

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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Goodnight World: My Review Of The Excellent New Album From Split Single (Jason Narducy Of Bob Mould's Band And Superchunk)

I had a weird thought during my spin of "Untry Love" from Metal Frames, the new album from Split Single, out Friday, November 18. My thought was, "This sounds a whole lot like 60FT Dolls but Jason Narducy isn't Welsh and damn few people are going to get that reference if I mention the band in my review of his new record." I'm not saying that the new long-player from the Superchunk (touring) bassist and Bob Mould band heavyweight is an ushering in of a new era of Britpop-inspired American indie but there's something resilient and direct about Narducy's brand of power-pop, something that very nearly echoes the sound of the tunes on the first 60FT Dolls album.

But, heck, lots of this also echoes the Foo Fighters too ("Perilous Pill", "Goodnight World") and quite a few moments that make a listener think of Cheap Trick ("Leave My Mind", "Blank Ribbons"). Now, I throw those reference points out there not to diminish what Narducy's accomplished on this fine, fine new record but, rather, to highlight how damn good this is. Invigorating and refreshingly un-ironic and uncomplicated, the music offered up throughout Metal Frames is some of the best indie rock an artist is likely to produce on these shores in this crazy year. On something like "White Smoke" the presence of Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster gives the song a whole lot more punch that it already has, the propulsive power-popper now turned into a near-punk workout thanks to those crashes and beats. Elsewhere, there's a near Jam-like bass-line worked out on "Still Invisible" and that bit of bounce is due to the magic fingers of John Stirratt of Wilco. The Wurster/Stirratt rhythm section here is a force of nature, to use an overused turn of phrase.

For all that talk of the power on this release, there's an amazing amount of melody too, Narducy's growl opening up the emotions behind the opener "Glori" and giving "Tried Goodbye" a more lyrical effect than material like this might otherwise have. At times he sounds like a young Rod Stewart when he sings and I almost hesitate to say that for fear of turning off any readers who don't get what I mean, who don't know the heft and punch of the best Faces releases that I'm thinking of at this moment. And, clearly, Narducy can make a listener think of the better years of Robin Zander too; the positively beautiful "Evaline Make Believe" is like Jason Falkner trying his best to pen a Cheap Trick near-ballad, while "Silences Mercy" is "The Flame" recast as a real indie ballad. By the time the early Oasis-echoing closer "Goodnight World" rolls around all too quickly, a listener can only wish that Narducy and Split Single were busy at work recording a follow-up to Metal Frames already. Fans of Chisel and Ted Leo, The Marvelous 3, Fountains of Wayne, Bob Mould, and all the other bands I've already referenced are going to love this album as much I do. Metal Frames by Split Single is easily one of the most listenable records of 2016 and there's not a single wasted chord or cymbal crash on this one. Jason Narducy and his band-mates have rewritten the book on how to make power-pop with this release.

More details on Split Single and Metal Frames via the band's official website, and the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: James Richard IV]

A Quick Few Words About The Fine New One From Major Stars On Drag City

There is a certain kind of neo-psychedelia that was popular in the Eighties. Pioneers of the style included Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, and Opal. It's a style that hard's to replicate. Still, the new one from Major Stars, Motion Set, out Friday on Drag City, comes darn close to presenting a similar sort of music. Major Stars -- Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar on guitars, Tom Leonard on bass, and other assorted players, notably vocalist Hayley Thompson-King -- conjure up worthy comparisons to those Eighties acts here and one would be advised to get this one as soon as possible.

If "For Today" and "Change Your Memory" roar like Blue Cheer, then "Fade Out" channels Sonic Youth, and the title cut nods in the direction of "All Tomorrow's Parties" by Velvet Underground. If Major Stars are at all producing music influenced by the Paisley Underground bands from the Eighties, they are at least going back to other acts that both inspired and took inspiration from those bands. At their best, Major Stars present the sort of music that at least reminds one of the glory days of alternative rock from an earlier era. That's not to say that this is not original music but, rather, that it's music worthy of comparison to that of those acts I mentioned earlier.

Motion Set is out on Drag City on Friday. Follow Major Stars on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Naomi Yang]

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Romantic: A Brief Review Of The New Slow Hollows Record

There's something vaguely new wave-y about the music on the new album from Slow Hollows. Romantic, out yesterday on Danger Collective Records, is the sort of pleasant surprise that my listening week needed. Superbly performed, highly melodic music of this kind is something to be applauded.

Opener "Spirit Week" is more Japan than anything else, while "Again" offers up the sort of indie last heard on 2015's fine Gardens and Villa album. It's a bit retro and also contemporary. At their best, this outfit produce tunes that range from the supple "Easy" to the more varied, Roxy Music-tinged "Softer", the cuts here revealing a whole set of worthy influences from the last few decades. That front-man Austin Feinstein can lead this group to so successfully absorb those influences in the service of producing music this easy to enjoy and absorb is another reason to praise what's on Romantic. If one can hear a bit of Radiohead in the awkwardly-titled "Luxury of Lull", and a trace of Pavement in the title cut, it's something wholly original that we hear in the chiming "Last Dance", part Ed Harcourt, part Nineties guitar-based indie.

The songs on Romantic from Slow Hollows are all brisk, economical examples of how to successfully meld a few disparate strains of New Wave and modern indie. Lean and lyrical, the tracks here are all uniformly excellent and memorable, no mean feat given what passes for alt-rock these days.

Romantic by Slow Hollows is out today via Danger Collective Records. Follow Slow Hollows via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Riley Donahue]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Waiting On The Line: A Look At The New One From Flower Girl

I have a strict policy 'round these parts that I only blog about stuff I like. The stuff I get sent that I dislike doesn't even warrant a mention on this site, as a rule. And, to be honest, I really thought that I wasn't going to write about the new one from Flower Girl, Tuck In Your Tie-Dye, out next Friday via BUFU Records. Let me explain, if you will.

I have a very, very low tolerance for "Hey look at me, I'm quirky"-kinda music. I like clever stuff but whenever a band or artist tries too hard to be funny, I get turned off. Needless to say I hate Zappa, most of Ween's stuff, and a whole lot of the output of The Violent Femmes and They Might Be Giants. I get the appeal of all of those acts but really don't enjoy much music from any of them. All that said, Flower Girl's stuff edges dangerously close to that sort of thing. Still, by the time I got to "2late 2be a Cowboy" with its late-period Blur-isms, I was more or less hooked. If the brief "I Saw a Mouse" is a bit insufferable, at least the rollicking "Hi5s" manages to work up a Malkmus-meets-The Kinks-sort of vibe that is very hard not to love. Elsewhere, the excellent "Waiting on the Line" is the best attempt to pull off a Camper Van Beethoven number since Lowery and the boys were an actual working band. If "Dorothy Says" nods in the direction of solo Syd Barrett, then "Business Plant" edges impressively close to Brighten the Corners-era Pavement, enough so that I started to like this goofy band even if I can't entirely recommend every single cut here.

I can't say that my review of Tuck In Your Tie-Dye by Flower Girl is a rave but there were certainly enough moments here that I enjoyed to make me want to write a bit about this crew. Out next Friday on BUFU Records, the new LP from Flower Girl is sure to please fans of Ween, Weezer, and other bands from the glory days of American alt-rock.

Tuck in Your Tie-Dye is out Friday via BUFU Records. Follow Flower Girl via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Terrible Youth: A Quick Review Of The Wonderful New Album From American Wrestlers

Gary McClure, the Brit-transplanted-to-America front-man of American Wrestlers, has accomplished a truly remarkable thing on the band's new album, Goodbye Terrible Youth, out today on Fat Possum: he's made music that sounds positively American. And if anything on the fab release sounds at all British, it's the sound of UK indie as filtered through Yank sensibilities; think second wave Slumberland bands with more of an AOR outlook on tune-age.

Despite an opener called "Vote Thatcher", this release is decidedly Yank in outlook and temperament as it's stuff like "Give Up" that offers up shimmering alt-rock in the style of both Philly's Literature as well as Boston's The Cars. That combination sounds an odd one but on tracks like "Hello, Dear", McClure and his bandmates -- Bridgette Imperial (keyboard), Ian Reitz (bass), and Josh Van Hoorebeke (drums) -- make it make perfect sense. If this lot have, thanks to McClure, a decidedly Anglocentric sense of what pop is supposed to be, they've got a decidedly American, Pixies-inspired way with a big hook. Even "Terrible Youth" sounds like Ash covering some American band, if that makes any sense at all. There's volume galore here as well as terrific melodies. If "Amazing Grace" delivers shoegaze that sounds as much like power-pop pioneers Shoes as it does My Bloody Valentine, then the superb "Blind Kids" adds a touch of New Order to the mix, the effect being not unlike Velocity Girl covering an old O.M.D. track. At their very best, McClure and his wife and other 2 band-mates make music that feels like a few familiar acts in spots only, the overall effect on something like "Someone Far Away" being a wholly fresh one.

For the majority of the tracks on this brief release, American Wrestlers have created something close to a new strain of indie. As much as so much of this feels like records you already love, it also feels new in some significant ways, as if McClure and co. have found a way to put the pieces together in a new pattern. And regardless of how you genre-label this set of songs, one thing is clear: American Wrestlers are making some of the most melodic and catchy rock of 2016.

Goodbye Terrible Youth is out now via Fat Possum Records. Follow American Wrestlers via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Evan Cuttler]

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Few Words About The Power-Pop Charms Of The New Album From Earwig

The Columbus, Ohio band Earwig probably get a lot lame-ass comparisons to the punk-pop stuff from a decade ago. That their sound compares favorably to that of underrated bands like The Marvelous 3 is something worth mentioning. However, lumping what Earwig's doing on their new album, the infectious Pause for the Jets, to what so many AOR bands did in the waning years of the (first) Clinton presidency is to do this band a disservice. Like Butch Walker's outfit, Earwig have taken a form and improved upon it even as others have sought out easier paths to rock success.

Rather, this band demands some higher praise than that. And if I told you that within seconds of opener "Wisdom Teeth" kicking off that I immediately recalled the fine power-pop of the best Todd Rundgren-produced moments on the early albums from The Pursuit of Happiness, would you appreciate that reference as the highest sort of praise? Earwig make smart, bracing rock of the sort that almost no one is making anymore. The last smart -- as in smart and not smart-ass -- power pop band I can think of was probably Fountains of Wayne and Earwig, at least on stuff like "Lovers Chords", rock a whole lot harder than that group did. England's Silver Sun would be another worthy reference point, especially when discussing punchy-yet-lyrical numbers like "I Don't Want To Go" or "Silverheels". Elsewhere, Earwig echo Foo Fighters on the blistering "Holy Ghost Letter" before launching into the superb "Wasted on You" featuring vocals from Lydia Loveless. If "All My Sins Are Blotted Out" goes on a tiny bit too long that minor misstep is cancelled by the melodic "Shine" which sounds better than anything you're going to hear on the radio these days and a good deal catchier too.

Pause for the Jets is sure to please fans of the power pop genre and anyone who's spent time with Sloan releases, or that 1997 comeback album from Cheap Trick, or Ash singles is going to probably love this as much as I did. Sharp and bright without being too clever for its own good, the tunes on Pause for the Jets are all uniformly invigorating. Dig it folks!

Pause for the Jets by Earwig is out tomorrow on Anyway Records. Follow Earwig via the band's official Facebook page or via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook photo]

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Axe To Grind: A Look At A Bunch Of Tad Reissues From Sub Pop Records

There's absolutely no way I could write about grunge legends Tad without referencing that quip. At some point in the early days of the boom of this sort of music (1989-ish), I read an interview with Tad Doyle and the members of Tad in a British music mag (NME or Melody Maker) in which Doyle described the musical mission of Tad as a search for the frequency which causes people to shit their pants. Even typing it now I'm laughing at the absurdity of the quote that I'm badly paraphrasing.

That Tad Doyle was large, a "Behemoth", to quote one of their early songs, made me like them more; as a fellow member of the Big Men's Club, I'm naturally partial to fat guys trying to rawk. And believe me, Tad RAWKED. And nowhere more than on their first few releases, now reissued by Sub Pop. These records are the absolute ground zero of the whole grunge thing as far as I'm concerned. Mudhoney had far too much wit and panache, Nirvana too much angst, and Soundgarden too many Beatles-y hooks. Folks, Tad was the ultimate grunge band, the sludge-y butter through which the alt-rock knife of those other bands sliced.

Tad -- Tad Doyle on vocals and guitar, Kurt Danielson on bass, Steve Wied on drums, and Gary Thorstensen on guitar -- burst forth in a calamitous wall of noise with God's Balls in 1989. Their first full-length release was perhaps their purest offering. Trying to write about music this fundamentally backward is to defy logic; smashing your keyboard with a mallet would be a more appropriate way to get across the nature of this stuff. If "Sex God Missy" is the big hit single, the attempt to at least marginally reach out to normal people, the rest of this slab is bludgeoning proto-metal that makes early Sabbath look like Miles Davis. Simple to the point of being ridiculous, this is an audio monster truck rally. I mean, is there any point in even writing a bunch of prose to differentiate "Satan's Chainsaw" from "Cyanide Bath"? And all that said, this is bracing, bold stuff that still -- some 3 decades later -- manages to send bursts of pleasure through the solar plexus with all the force of a punch. Has anything been this heavy? If Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom" was real, it would be "Pork Chop" or a similar number from this debut.

In what makes absolutely perfect sense now as it did then, Tad hooked up with producer Steve Albini for 1990's Salt Lick EP. The release was, thankfully, not so much a progression as it was a refinement of the Tad cudgel. Listened to now, tracks on this one like "Axe to Grind" and "High on the Hog" compare favorably to those of Albini's own Big Black. Bludgeoning but interesting, the sound here is an all-out assault on the senses and still more menacing and liberating in some ways than most music made since then. The glorious "Potlatch" deserves special praise for somehow sounding like a jetliner landing on top of a shoegaze concert. It is punishing music and the sort of thing that only functions thanks to the players actually knowing some chords. Without those hooks, this would be the Shaggs-inspired mix-tape of a bunch of cavemen and I can offer no higher praise than that for anything from the first wonderful, reductionist wave of grunge.

By the time that Tad recorded what is undoubtedly their masterpiece, 1991's 8-Way Santa, the fellows had wisely sought out producer Butch Vig due to his involvement with band heroes Killdozer. Doing so enabled Tad to offer up what is surely the cleanest sounding record they ever produced. If things here are crisp, the material is still a mallet to the head: "Hedge Hog" a lumbering beast of a tune that lives up to that title, "Trash Truck" the sort of lean stoner rocker that bands like Fu Manchu would later attempt with a bit less menace, and so on. Overall, the songs are certainly more straightforward, less of that gloriously lugubrious mass of the earlier stuff, and, for the most part at least, things work. If "Jack" sounds a bit too much like Primus for my taste, then the slab-rock of "Jinx" ensures that listeners of Tad were not missing out on what they purchased this record for. At its best, 8-Way Santa seems as significant a distillation of the grunge ideal as Nirvana's Nevermind from the same year. And listening to this now, one can recall a time when one could list on one hand the "real" grunge bands in this world: Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Tad.

The fine folks at Sub Pop have done an impressive feat with this set of reissues. All told, there are some 14 rare or unreleased tunes spread over these 3 releases. Of those the clear highlights are the corrosive "Tuna Car", the raw "Damaged" from a split-single with D.C.'s legendary Pussy Galore, and the grimy "Pig Iron". Admittedly, cuts like those -- the blistering ones -- are more essential than any demo version but those are useful too as they provide a fuller picture of the (thankfully) limited progression of this band during its time on Sub Pop.

It might be too soon to begin a critical re-assessment of grunge -- (or too late?) -- and the world probably doesn't need a long Uncut-mag-style think-piece on this quartet. Tad would have hated that idea back in 1990. But it's worth writing a bit more in summary of this crew's impressive early burst of material. Remarkably, at least in this run on Sub Pop featuring the original line-up of the group, Tad did one thing perfectly. At least until Nirvana stormed the charts with Butch Vig fiddling the knobs, no other grunge band had so successfully conveyed the power and punch of this music. And, as I probably already wrote, other acts in the scene added to the genre's basic template, but by hewing so closely to the style's blueprint, Tad managed to -- maybe for a moment or two, for sure -- be the perfect grunge band. Pummeling, bracing, radically uncool music, the output of Tad from 1988 to 1991 remains the sort of thing that few could possibly even attempt now. Rock in its purest form, the tunes of Tad are superb even now nearly 3 decades later.

God's Balls (1989), Salt Lick (1990), and 8-Way Santa (1991) are being reissued on a variety of formats this Friday from Sub Pop.