Friday, December 15, 2017

Sunshine: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Monster Rally

The new record from Monster Rally, Flowering Jungle, out today on Gold Robot Records, is the sort of thing that charms immediately. It is also, it probably goes without saying, utterly unlike anything else being offered up in the current indie-pop landscape.

Ted Feighan, the man who is behind Monster Rally like Oz behind that curtain, has made something here that depends on a wealth of near-kitsch and wholly-retro samples in the service of the creation of something uniquely fresh and proto-modern. If light-as-air instrumentals like "Tideline" and "Sunshine" suggest anything, it's the sort of tunes once created by Martin Denny and folks in that generation. Similarly, tracks like "Giant Leaves" and "Rio" add in waves of tropicalia and other genres to flavor the selections with hooks that offer a sort of nostalgic joy, as well as a sense of escape. And, yes, there are loads of moments here where the songs seem suited to being played while waves lapped a shore, or palm trees swayed in the breeze ("Sunny Sloths", "Toucans"), and a few others ("Love", "Let's Go Faraway") that recall both cocktail jazz as well as instrumental numbers from the likes of Super Furry Animals and High Llamas, however briefly.

A pleasant and sun-dappled surprise,Flowering Jungle by Monster Rally is a burst of joy. It is the sort of thing to re-affirm one's determination to seek out new music, especially when stuff like this is out there waiting to be discovered.

Flowering Jungle by Monster Rally is out today on Gold Robot Records.

[Photo: Casey Catelli]

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Watch Yer Back: A Few Words About The New Compilation From The Magic Words (Lisa Walker From Wussy)

The Magic Words is Lisa Walker. The veteran of the fine Wussy has here unveiled a whole slew of great tunes that are both brash and vulnerable in equal measure. That this is a compilation with the consistency of a single album says a lot about how good The Magic Words, out Friday on Damnably, is.

On the near-whispered "Loaded For Bear", Lisa sounds a faint bit like both Exene and Shelby Lynne, though the material is decidedly less country-ish than that of either, while on the superb "Watch Yer Back" she snarls in the manner of one of the Deal sisters from one of their many bands. Still, for the moments here that bristle with a bit of spark, a few others, like the lyrical "New American Standard" and the gentle "Hello Goodnight", strike out for new territory. Lisa Walker's voice here is such a nimble thing that a reviewer can only grasp at distant comparison-points (Tanya Donelly's solo stuff, Bettie Serveert) in attempt to pin down what this sounds like. Still, for all my love of lots of what's here, I almost wish that Lisa had pursued harder material, like "Rigor Mortis", more often over the course of the 2 records compiled here.

The Magic Words by The Magic Words is one of the best and most satisfying releases one is likely to encounter this late in the year. More details can be found via Damnably Records.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture from label]

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Devitalize: A Quick Review Of Chain And The Gang Live At Third Man Records

That D.C.-area legend up there, Ian F. Svenonius has been incredibly busy this year. He took a revitalized line-up of The Make-Up back on the road -- my pic up there is of Ian at the band's scorching set at the Black Cat back in May -- and he's dropped what amounts to a solo record from his sinister Escape-ism project, reviewed by me here, along with 2 studio releases from Chain and The Gang, also reviewed by me here and here. That would be a full slate for anyone but Ian has also dropped a live album from Chain and The Gang which I somehow overlooked until now.

The release, called, appropriately enough, Live at Third Man Records, is apparently out now via Third Man Records, appropriately enough. It is as close as you're likely to get to a first-hand taste of this rock shaman's subversive shtick on vinyl, or disc. The set is pure fire, with the players here -- Francy Graham on guitar, Anna Nasty on bass, and Jim Thompson on drums -- burning through these standards from Chain and The Gang with near-abandon and prodigious force.

And for all the moments here that bristle with that odd brand of Svenonius wit -- when you're not quite sure if he means a comment as a joking aside, or if he's about to start the revolution with a scream into the mike -- like "Why Not?" and "Certain Kinds of Trash", there are others here that seem to be the best sort of blend of Nuggets-era stuff with the kind of punk rooted in Ian's harDCore past, like "Devitalize", punched-up pop, or "Come Over", all amped-up energy. "Livin' Rough" and "Logic of the Night" offer live takes on the sort of tunes Chain and The Gang have been perfecting in recent years, while an epic "Mum's The Word" provides further proof of Ian's skills as a front-man and general rabble-rouser.

Look, I'm not usually a fan of live records but Chain and The Gang's Live at Third Man Records is full of such palpable power that I can only recommend this one highly. There's more energy coming out of this band, and these 4 players, than whole armies of other bands can muster, with the twin attack of Graham's guitar and Nasty's bass positively launching this one into the heavens. This release is as much as a showcase for their skills as musicians as it is for the vocals and delivery of Svenonius.

Live at Third Man Records is out now via Third Man Records.

[Photo: me, Glenn Griffith, May 2017]

Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Top 30 Tracks Of 2017

Astute readers will notice that I have upped the number in this year's usual "Best Tracks of The Year"-list by 10. And while it might look like a lazy move on my part, designed to allow me to do this list quickly, the truth is that there were just too many great songs this year. And I felt like none of these could be left off my annual list.

So, without any further delay, here are the 30 tracks that made me so happy as a listener this year, presented roughly in order of release.

Kenixfan's Top 30 Tracks Of 2017

1. "Hell and Back" by Rose Elinor Dougall (from Stellular)

There were loads of songs on the latest Rose Elinor Dougall album, Stellular, reviewed by me here, that were haunting and memorable but perhaps none as lyrical and enticing as this one.

2. "Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)" by Ty Segall (from Ty Segall)

Ty Segall is, quite simply, a machine that won't quit. And the quality of his brand of psych-rock has not flagged. His 2017 self-titled album yielded this T.Rex-style charmer.

3. "The Last Ten Years" by Mark Eitzel (from Hey Mr. Ferryman)

Not that I don't like Mark Eitzel but I can't say that I'm a huge fan. That said, his 2017 album, Hey Mr. Ferryman, yielded this one. The production by Suede's Bernard Butler helped win me firmly over, as my rave review hopefully made clear.

4. "Julie's Place" by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from The French Press EP)

Perhaps the song this year that was the hardest to dislodge from my head once I'd heard it, "Julie's Place" from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever was an instant hit in my book. There were other gems on the band's EP, The French Press, reviewed by me here.

5. "JJ" by Priests (from Nothing Feels Natural)

An easy contender for the best record of 2017, Nothing Feels Natural from D.C. own Priests heralded the arrival of an absolutely superb, sharp, and smart band on the national stage. Infectious and bright, "JJ" rides a big hook that sees all the formidable players here in top form. My review of Nothing Feels Natural is here.

6. "Dundee Man" by Spiral Stairs (from Doris and the Daggers)

The ex-Pavement guy delivered a lot of fun tunes on Doris and the Daggers but probably none as catchy as this nugget.

7. "Riding a Lightning Bold" by Mr. Husband (from Plaid on Plaid)

The skewed indie-pop of this tune from Mr. Husband, from his fine Plaid on Plaid album, is the sort of thing that deserves a lot more word-of-mouth attention.

8. "Rocket Science" by The Chills (from the "Rocket Single" 7-inch single)

The Chills continued their latest renaissance with this punchy Record Store Day release, a bright politically-minded offering from Martin Phillipps and crew. More details here.

9. "Closer Everywhere" by Beach Fossils (from Somersault)

The latest album from Beach Fossils, Somersault, really won me over in 2017, thanks especially to Left Banke-inspired gems like the crystalline "Closer Everywhere", seen here in a more spacious live version.

10. "I Had a Dream" by The Jet Age (from At The End Of The World)

D.C.'s The Jet Age finally delivered a new record in 2017 after that trickle of 2-song drops in 2016. 2017's At The End of The World saw front-man Eric Tischler look for hope in the Trumpian landscape, with the quiet rage of "I Had a Dream" being one of the highlights of the record.

11. "Ramen Waitress" by High Sunn (from the Hopeless Romantic EP)

I'm a fan of just about everything on the PNKSLM label so it was a given I'd be thrilled when the band signed their first American band. The latest release from the wildly-prolific Justin Cheromiah and High Sunn was the bright Hopeless Romantic EP, reviewed by me here. Amid the skittering guitar hooks and breathless vocals, was this bouncy ditty that seemed to recall The Apples in Stereo a tiny bit.

12. "Hindsight" by Dave Depper (from Emotional Freedom Technique)

I loved Emotional Freedom Technique by Dave Depper so much that it was damn near impossible trying to determine what individual track to put on this list. However, if the truth were told, this number's ability to make me tear up with a sort of happy sadness every time I played it, made it the obvious choice. Such a great album!

13. "Staying Home" by The Peacers (from Introducing The Crimsmen)

The new album from Peacers, reviewed by me here, is a hard one to describe. But as the warped indie careens all over the place, a few gems -- like this John Lennon-inspired offering -- stand out immediately.

14. "Wha Do Wha Do" by Male Gaze (from Miss Taken)

In a perfect world, Male Gaze would be as big as Protomartyr. Doubt me? Listen to this excellent rocker from the band's latest album, reviewed by me here.

15. "Used to Spend" by Chastity Belt (from I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone)

I still wonder if Chastity Belt lost any fans by jettisoning some of the humor found on their previous releases for 2017's sublime I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, reviewed by me here. The record moved me, and none of the emotions on the slower numbers felt forced to me, with the title cut being a real standout.

16. "Cali" by Ride (from Weather Diaries)

If Weather Diaries was a bit overrated in my book, "Cali" was not. An epic single, the tune is one of Ride's very best numbers, in my opinion.

17. "Red Museum" by Frankie Rose (from Cage Tropical)

Frankie Rose took some real chances on her latest release on Slumberland Records, the sleek Cage Tropical. But, as I tried to stress in my review, Rose tapped into something both nostalgic and forward-looking on the record, with the bright sheen of New Wave-y numbers like "Red Museum" making the release one of 2017's highlights for me.

18. "Cameo" by Childhood (from Universal High)

Where to begin with Childhood? 2017 saw the band more or less re-invent themselves with the wildly successful Universal High, an album positively brimming with both Seventies AM radio-flavor and Philly Soul-heart. I started raving about the record in the summer and I'm still raving. One listen to the sun-dappled "Cameo" with its glorious breaks ought to explain why.

19. "Where Does The Sadness Come From?" by The Granite Shore (from Suspended Second)

The majestic new album from UK indie super-group The Granite Shore, Suspended Second, reviewed by me here, seemed to be simultaneously a very personal record and one that was concerned with larger issues affecting the British Isles. The gently soaring and wholly lyrical "Where Does The Sadness Come From?" was a standout on a record full of tunes just like this.

20. "So True" by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (from The Echo of Pleasure)

I didn't follow The Pains of Being Pure at Heart as closely once they jumped off the Slumberland Records ship, but I did like their newest record, The Echo of Pleasure, reviewed by me here, quite a bit. A real highlight of the long-player was this sleek ditty featuring Jen Goma of Another Sunny day in Glasgow on vocals.

21. "I Haven't Been Taking Care of Myself" by Alex Lahey (from I Love You Like A Brother)

Alex Lahey released an EP and a full-length record in 2017 and virtually any cut from either could go on this list. I Love You Like A Brother is superb, modern indie-pop and this is one of the real highlights from her first, stellar, full-length release.

22. "Great Outdoors" by King Leg (from Introducing King Leg)

In a year where Morrissey seemingly gave up trying, leave it to this Dwight Yoakum protege to step in and deliver what sounds as much like Moz as it does Roy Orbison. A real left-field gem, this tune from King Leg is a nice taste of his largely excellent debut album, reviewed by me here.

23. "Paper Crown" by Liam Gallagher (from As You Were)

As You Were by Liam Gallagher was a pretty good record, if not quite as great in my book as the first Beady Eye LP. That said, Liam's voice was in very fine form throughout, nowhere more so than on this lyrical and tender number, a shoe-in for inclusion on this list. As You Were reviewed by me here.

24. "The South Will Never Rise Again" by Des Demonas (from Des Demonas)

The debut album from D.C.'s own Des Demonas was full of scorchers, making it hard to narrow it down to just one track for this list. Still, the pointed lyrics and deliberate delivery here from front-man Jacky Cougar Abok made this one a stand-out. More details on the album in my recent review, but, for now, groove on this one with its guitar-hooks from the busiest musician in D.C., Mark Cisneros.

25. "Break The Glass" by Superchunk (from the "Break The Glass" 7-inch single)

Superchunk, gearing up for a new album in early 2018, dropped this stomper not too long ago, with proceeds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

26. "They Took The Waves" by Escape-ism (from Introduction to Escape-ism)

Ian Svenonius not only released 2 records with Chain and the Gang in 2017, he publicly debuted his largely-solo effort, Escape-ism, with a fine and funny debut album, reviewed by me here. The smart and acerbic "They Took The Waves" was a real stand-out, with Ian offering up one of his most pointed screeds in ages.

27. "Get Clear" by Light Beams (from Light Beams)

One of the catchiest tracks of 2017 was this rabble-rouser from D.C.'s own Light Beams, featuring Justin Moyer of a whole slew of other classic D.C. acts. The Gang of Four-ish "Get Clear" is, like a lot of the band's numbers, even more affecting and infectious live.

28. "New Shapes of Life" by Martin Carr (from New Shapes of Life)

The title cut from the latest Martin Carr album saw the Boo Radleys front-man hit the heights of his past group. It was, like lots on New Shapes of Life, the best kind of British indie-pop and proof that Carr has lost none of his considerable skills.

29. "Into the Blue Sky" by Craig Wedren (from Adult Desire)

Adult Desire, reviewed by me here last week, is one of the most direct and affecting records from Craig Wedren in quite some time. The ex-Shudder to Think front-man delivered tunes of a near-classical elegance here, with "Into The Blue Sky" being a stand-out for this listener and reviewer.

30. "International Blue" by Manic Street Preachers (from Resistance is Futile)

I spent all weekend trying to find a way to hear the new Manic Street Preachers single since the official versions on YouTube and elsewhere were only available to U.K. residents. Once I found it, I loved it. Here's looking forward to the new Manics record in the Spring!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

March Away: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Tom Rogerson With Brian Eno

The new album from Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno, Finding Shore, is a record full of warm electronic pop of the sort that Eno himself used to routinely crank out. The long-player is out tomorrow via Dead Oceans and it's a fine instrumental release that straddles a line between more austere forms and more accessible ones.

From the bright keyboard-sheen of "Motion in Field" and on to the near-classical "March Away", Rogerson and Eno deliver what sounds like something recorded during the peak years of Eno's flourishing as an instrumentalist in the Eighties. Most of the cuts here are fairly concise, like the simple and affecting "Eastern Stack", however, "Marsh Chorus" unfurls for more than 6 minutes with a deliberate holding back of larger flourishes. And for selections like that that favor subtlety, Rogerson and Eno offer up other tracks that succeed on the strength of Rogerson's precise and contemplative piano-work.

Out tomorrow via Dead Oceans, Finding Shore is a fine record for fans of stuff like Harold Budd and Brian Eno's own early Eighties records. More details on Tom Rogerson via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Matthew Parri Thomas]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

One For Me: A Few Words About The New Alex Bloom Album

The debut album from Alex Bloom, Blue Room, is the revelation of a prodigious talent. It is also one of the most tuneful releases of this season, and the sort of thing that deserves a lot of attention from attentive listeners, and bloggers who are willing to spread the word a bit.

From the gentle folk of "One For Me" and "Sunrise" and on to the Elliott Smith-inspired "I Don't Know You Anymore", Alex Bloom reveals his enormous skills as a songwriter here on Blue Room right away. The tunes are concise, melodic, and brimming with the kind of warmth little other modern indie possesses anymore. "It's Alright" hints at something uneasy, the tune going briefly wrong, and things are not quite as smooth as they are elsewhere on the record. The cut is a suggestion of something deeper than simply the usual balladry one could expect of a talent like Bloom's. And on "Something" and a few other tracks here, like the spry "Eyes In The Back Of Her Head", Bloom displays a knack for complicating (however slightly) what could have been more straightforward songs. The artistry here is rich, and Bloom is to be commended for his command of this material, and the ease with which he dispatches some truly Beatleseque hooks throughout the otherwise largely direct indie-pop of his wildly accessible debut.

Blue Room is out on Friday. Follow Alex Bloom via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Into The Blue Sky: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Craig Wedren (ex-Shudder To Think)

A couple of years ago when Scott Crawford asked me to write 4 brief band bios for his Salad Days companion book, Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene (Akashic Books), I jumped at the chance. When one of the groups assigned to me was Shudder to Think, I got extremely nervous. How on earth was I gonna adequately summarize these D.C. legends in just a page? Never mind their history in this city, the band's complicated and oddly beautiful brand of post-punk was something that seemed to exist outside of easy era histories and genre descriptions. And a lot of what made the near-glam rock and art pop presentation of Shudder to Think such a unique proposition was thanks to charismatic front-man Craig Wedren.

Wedren has kept busy with a whole lot of projects, namely soundtracks, since the dissolution of Shudder to Think and he's now in what sounds like a comfortable place in his recording life, if one can judge such a thing from a few listens to his haunting new record, Adult Desire. Out Friday, the album is full of simple, stark, and affecting alt-rock that brings a near-classical sense of execution to what's on offer here. "I Am A Wolf, You Are The Moon" yields a few casual nods to the sort of electronic pop most listeners will be familiar with from Hail To The Thief-era Radiohead, even if Wedren is a good deal more deliberate and direct than Yorke and co. ever were. As the bleeps and pops smooth out, the music swells with layers of keyboards and backing vocals carrying Wedren forward. The effect is an emotional and nearly-transcendent one as a listener is hearing a performer seeking to touch the heart, rather than obfuscate for the sake of obfuscation. Wedren is, as always, making Art-with-a-capital "A", but he remains remarkably unpretentious about his task. In other hands, this sort of thing would be willfully obscure and unnecessarily complicated. However, as the shiver-inducing waves of "Be A Man" indicate, Wedren is pushing emotional buttons, and not just intellectual ones.

In other spots on Adult Desire, Wedren pursues neo-folk (the sample-touched "Join The Zoo / Live Again"), or the sort of piano ballads that suggest a blend of Tim Buckley and Eighties Bowie ("Genies"). And, ultimately, the ex-Shudder to Think singer essays a style that is as simple and unaffected as his previous band's work was busy and complicated. Near the end of the album, "Into The Blue Sky" ushers forth one of Wedren's loveliest melodies wrapped up in a largely subtle electronic treatment that seems far closer to something from Philip Glass than it does to anything from Dischord Records. A listen to the title cut here on Adult Desire, for instance, or "I Am A Soldier", reveals a sort of foundational rock, the simplest of forms ornamented with bits and pieces of other instruments, brief samples, or electro-pop textures, and yet this ornamentation never extends to the point where the material itself is in danger of being overwhelmed. The hooks here on Adult Desire remain strong and sharp, with Wedren less interested in obvious flourishes than he is in the general mood of the piece, or the intended overall effect.

A record that's thoroughly easy to love, Adult Desire offers up all the obvious loveliness and modern sheen of any soundtrack recording from Craig Wedren, without the burden of being wed to another work. A genuine classicist, Wedren here combines, as always, Bowie's appreciative sense of the theatrical with Eno's ear for musical perfection. Surprisingly affecting in spots, Adult Desire is one of Craig Wedren's best solo releases and a rewarding record for astute listeners, be they fans of the glory days of harDCore or not. Wedren has with Adult Desire grown into something larger than his past material, even as he straddles a line between making serious Art and delivering direct indie-pop.

Adult Desire is out on Friday via the usual real world retailers, and online vendors, including Dischord Records and other outlets.

More details on Craig Wedren are available via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional pic from CraigWedren.com]

Monday, December 4, 2017

Heads Up About This New Baltimore-Based Bowie Compilation

The folks at Morphius Records in Baltimore, Maryland have put together a fab compilation of David Bowie covers from Baltimore bands. The set, titled Baltimore Does Bowie, is out now and the proceeds are going to The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University. For every sale of this compilation on vinyl, $6.00 will be donated to the Center.

The compilation features 19 diverse Baltimore-based bands doing covers of David Bowie classics. From relatively straightforward renditions, like the affecting run at "Soul Love" from Surf Harp, and on to more wholesale re-inventions of Bowie classics, like the reggae-tinged version of "Let's Dance" from The Scotch Bonnets, the selections re-affirm not only the durability of Bowie's compositions but the variety of talent in the current Baltimore rock scene. From the rough "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" from The Jennifers, and on to the fine cover of "Five Years" from Amiben Blackout, what's here is uniformly interesting, if not invigorating. While some bands have more success than others, the majority of acts here do well by Bowie's considerable legacy, even the bold rapper re-imaginings, the sort of re-inventions of the material that Bowie himself would have appreciated in theory.

For fans of D.C. rock, especially Dot Dash, there are 2 other things to note: Hunter Bennett of Dot Dash is on the "Panic In Detroit" cover from Octopus, a fairly hard glam rendition, while Dot Dash drummer Danny Ingram and a few other guys from radioblue as King Mixer tackle one of Bowie's best compositions with a lively stab at "Heroes" that imagines the song as a straight alt-rock charger.

If you want to support a worthy cause, please check out this compilation and buy it on the format of your choice via the link below.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

As The World Falls Down: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Georgio "The Dove" Valentino

The artist known as Georgio "The Dove" Valentino has listened to a lot of Nick Cave records. And a few Leonard Cohen ones too. That said, he makes somewhat interesting music that, however briefly, rises above the obvious influences on his craft. His newest record, The Future Lasts A Long Time, is out on Friday.

The very nearly-transcendent "Let Your Love Decide" suggests both Cave and Crime and the City Solution but it is, like a few other winners here, bogged down by being set down on the record next to the fairly ludicrous "Sobborghi (The Wonder Years)". In 2017, I doubt that listeners are going to have a lot of time for this sort of machismo, unless it's meant as a parody. And I don't think it entirely is. Elsewhere, the deliberate "Song For Syd Barrett" earns points for offering up something distinctive about the one-time Pink Floyd front-man that, wisely, doesn't try to sound like his stuff, while the necessarily brighter "Sunshine" rides a hook that suggests mid-Eighties tracks from The Triffids. When Georgio "The Dove" Valentino jettisons a lot of his Nick Cave-moves, he manages to offer up fairly fresh and affecting material, as "As The World Falls Down" illustrates. Hie rich voice offers up a faint hint of vulnerability here and it's a refreshing bit of directness amid the other bits here on The Future Lasts A Long Time, as is closing track "Heir Encore" with a bit of violin work from Blaine L. Reininger from Tuxedomoon.

The new record from Georgio "The Dove" Valentino is called The Future Lasts A Long Time and it's out on Friday. More details via Georgio's official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook page picture]

Come And See: A Few Words About The New Album From Spain's The Yellow Melodies

Spain's The Yellow Melodies are some of the finest purveyors of a modern take on classic indie one is likely to find active in 2017. The band's new album, the fine Life, is out now on TheBeautifulMusic.com. Unashamedly tuneful, it is a whole lot of fun for devotees of this genre.

If the title cut sounds like stuff from Television Personalities and their peers, that makes some sort of sense, given the band's appearances on TVP tributes from TheBeautifulMusic.com, as well as their own TVP tribute EP, but a pleasant surprise is how much a tune like "Flying Together" echoed even earlier pioneers like The Left Banke. The bright-and-buoyant "Come and See", and the more rollicking "Don't Think Twice" confirm that The Yellow Melodies are certainly capable of making fresh, modern jangle-pop, even as an astute listener appreciates the considerable nods to past artists peppered throughout this set. Elsewhere, "Our Time is Over" recalls The Housemartins a bit, while the more languid "The Urban Cyclist" suggests a debt owed to early Saint Etienne or Ivy. Still, for all my talk of those other bands, it's worth repeating how fresh lots of this feels. The Yellow Melodies are adept at making effortlessly engaging indie-pop of that sort that the world certainly needs more of.

Follow The Yellow Melodies on their official Facebook page or on their official website.

Life is out now on TheBeautifulMusic.com.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

When We Were Born: A Few Words About The New Album From Burgess Meredith

The band Burgess Meredith come from Austin, Texas, and they sound like they've listened to a lot of old British rock albums from the Sixties. The band's newest offering, A Dimension in Sound, is out now and it's a whole lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of the same bands these fellas have been listening to.

If opener "When We Were Born" chimes in the style of The Apples in Stereo, "Wendy" and "Olivia" bop along like numbers from Jellyfish, circa their first record. Burgess Meredith manage to pull this sort of thing off without seeming too precious about what they are doing. "Outside" positively soars on the strength of the strong harmonies of this band, while "Summers End" rides an Elton John-like melody forward, the song offering up the kind of pop that the indie scene just hasn't produced in ages. A Dimension in Sound closes with the T.Rex-inspried, near-glam hooks of the fine "After You", a number with a rockier edge than other selections on this record.

What surprised me about this Burgess Meredith long-player is how effortlessly the band hits a certain kind of peak. I really haven't heard American indie-pop this buoyant and unashamedly tuneful in decades. These players in Burgess Meredith are not shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves, and when the influences are Village Green-era Kinks and a bunch of early singles from The Move, for example, an attentive listener should seek this record out immediately.

A Dimension in Sound by Burgess Meredith is out now. More details on Burgess Meredith via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Blushing: A Quick Review Of The Fine New EP From Hater

I was a fan of Sweden's Hater when they were on the superb PNKSLM label, and I remain a fan now that they've made the jump to Fire Records. The band's newest release, the lyrical and lush Red Blinders EP, will be out on Friday and it is, like everything this band have offered up so far, excellent indie-pop.

The swirling "Blushing" unfurls with a rare beauty, while the more angular "Rest" chimes with a slight, jittery grace. Elsewhere, the title cut proceedds with a deliberate sense of pop-craft, all while remaining a catchy tune, while the surging "Penthouse" suggests coiled energy nearing its lift-off point. Each cut here is a blast of perfect indie-pop and, as always, Hater make this sort of thing sound so easy. I suppose a quick comparison point would be Bettie Serveert and, yeah, there are moments here that recall that band, but the music of Hater is less insistent, more insinuative and suggestive, and full of the kind of near-shoegaze loveliness that one can find in stuff like those comeback albums from Ride and Slowdive.

Elegantly understated, Red Blinders is yet another excellent release from Hater. It drops on Fire Records this Friday. Follow Hater via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ludvig Hedlund]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Brief Review Of Rhys A Meinir From Cian Ciaran (Super Furry Animals, Zefur Wolves)

Way back in the summer of 2016, I sat down in D.C. to have a chat with Super Furry Animals keyboardist Cian Ciaran. In that wide-ranging interview, Cian discussed not only the Furries and Zefur Wolves (the band he's in with his wife), but also his orchestral ambitions, namely the then-upcoming unveiling of his symphonic work, Rhys A Meinir. The large-scale piece, based on the famous Welsh folktale, had its world premiere in November 2016 and now, this Thursday, the film of that event will debut on S4C in Wales, and the BBC's iPlayer in the rest of the United Kingdom. For those of us not in Wales or the UK, it will be available to watch, with English subtitles, for 35 days from SC4 via this link. Also, Rhys A Meinir will be released as an album via Strangetown Records on Friday.

The album is, frankly, a revelation. A listener shouldn't be surprised that Cian Ciaran is a man of prodigious talent but, rather, that he is so easily capable of branching out so effectively. Rhys A Meinir is a record that alternates between lush orchestral passages, and stark, soundtrack-like pieces of music that convey the sadness and lyricism of the Welsh tale to a listener. In my interview with Cian Ciaran, he mentioned an appreciation for the music of John Barry, Bizet, and Ennio Morricone, an appreciation that one can hear here in the selections on Rhys A Meinir. A track like "Haul o rywle'n tywynnu" early in the record even bears a faint trace of Randy Newman's soundtrack work about it, while the lighter-than-air "Safodd yn stond" offers a rich abundance of harp figures. The more direct "Marwydos" brings a kind of folk music to the classical work, while the absolutely stunning "Rhedeg" chills and moves the soul in the style and spirit of the best Bernard Herrmann film scores. It's not entirely a surprise that this is an affecting work, but that it's so atypical of what one would expect from a Super Furry Animal. The band used strings before but never quite like this, Ciaran here embracing the larger forms and offering up something both Modern and Romantic.

Rhys A Meinir should rightly get as much attention as any Super Furry Animals release. It is such a departure for Cian Ciaran -- and simultaneously a natural progression for him as an artist -- that it could not only appeal to a whole new audience, but reach listeners outside Wales interested in Welsh folklore and history. Fans of Brahms, Nilsson, Miklos Rozsa, and The High Llamas should find bits here to embrace. Fans of the Super Furry Animals should, naturally, find lots to love here from the mastermind behind the electronic textures of the band's legendary releases. Rhys A Meinir by Cian Ciaran will be out this week via Strangetown Records.

More details on Rhys A Meinir via Pledge Music.

There are a few details on the project in my 2016 interview with Cian Ciaran ahead of the Super Furry Animals concert in Washington, D.C..

[Photo of Cian Ciaran: Glenn Griffith, 2016]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Do No Wrong: A Brief Review Of The Debut Album From Des Demonas

I suppose I could pretend to be objective here. But, really, that would be a futile gesture given the grooves inside these grooves. And why adopt a tone of pretend objectivity when I am very happy that D.C.'s own Des Demonas are about to drop their absolutely incendiary debut album on In The Red Records. The self-titled release, out this Friday, is a fiery mix of Nuggets-era fuzz-rock and somewhat unhinged (though sharply focused) post-punk.

Now, for those of you in this area who've seen them perform, it's a given that Des Demonas are a tight machine in a live setting, uncoiling Fall-inspired hooks and exhortations with a remarkable amount of fervor. It is the sort of live effort that is sometimes hard to capture on tape. That it has been, and that so much of Des Demonas succeeds at accurately delivering the fire and fury of this lot, makes this a release to rave about.

Opening with one of the most pointed and infectious cuts of 2017, Des Demonas roar out of the gate with "The South Will Never Rise Again", a certifiable anthem for our times, before numbers like "Liez" and "Do No Wrong" proceed to kick off and throw everything into the blender. What's here is so many things -- a dash of early Joy Division, bursts of The Birthday Party, a snatch of The Standells -- and yet, the results throughout are marvelous and inspired, from the Mark E. Smith-fronting-The Cramps-roars of "Teen Stooge", and on to the Farfisa-swirls of "Golden Eggs" with its Sixties inflections, and back to "Do No Wrong", all jittery Joy Division busyness that is positively on fire. Still, for all the wicked energy that positively courses through Des Demonas, there are a few more down-tempo offerings -- namely, the acerbic "There Are No Vampires In Africa", and the languid and rhythmic New Wave of "Brown Rooster" -- amid the riotous rawk of the rest of the record.


The guys in Des Demonas -- Jacky Cougar Abok (vocals), Mark Cisneros (guitar), Paul Vivari (organ), Joe Halladay (bass), and Ryan Hicks (drums) -- are guys who've earned their dues in other D.C. groups, and it gives me a lot of joy to report that they've finally offered up a full-length record here with this band. Des Demonas is such a hoot, such a perfect distillation of about a dozen things being done right, that I urge other bloggers and music writers to hold off on those Best of 2017-lists until they've heard this long-player. Fans of bands as disparate as Q And Not U, Swell Maps, The Specials, and Television can find much to love here, though these fellas owe some huge, admitted debts to the pioneers of Manchester rock. That these 5 guys have managed to corral so many influences into such a tight offering is, frankly, a marvel. And, as you can see, I've happily sacrificed my objectivity by raving so openly about this one. Much like a previous Mark Cisneros-associated project, namely Deathfix, Des Demonas is the sort of record that explodes preconceptions about what D.C. rock remains in the 21st century. Less beholden to the bands that have put this city on the map in the past than they are in thrall to a bunch of Brits from the first few waves of post-punk, the 5 members of Des Demonas have caught fire here and managed to produce something every bit as exciting as their live set.

Des Demonas by Des Demonas is out on Friday via In The Red Records.

More details on Des Demonas via the band's official Facebook page.

Des Demonas will be opening up for Ex Hex on December 30 at Black Cat in D.C.

[Photos: Glenn Griffith, 2017]

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Passing Through: A Look At The Upcoming Reissue Of Union Cafe From Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Penguin Cafe Orchestra frontman Simon Jeffes, pictured up above there, died 20 years ago. On the anniversary of his death (December 11, 2017), the surviving members of Penguin Cafe Orchestra will play the band's last album, Union Cafe, in full in London. To prep listeners for that event, the record is being reissued via Erased Tapes this Friday. It remains the very best sort of unclassifiable release, full of music that touches the heart and produces a sense of sonic wonder in an attentive listener.

From the Irish jig of "Organum" and on to the drone-rock of "Thorn Tree Wind", the tunes here on Union Cafe span a host of styles. The 1993 album, the band's last record, deals in a kind of jazz in spots, but it also features a number of piano-centered numbers, like the lyrical "Silver Star of Bologna", that charm and inspire still. And to say that is to sound surprised that wry instrumental numbers like "Nothing Really Blue" could somehow age, or become dated? The very genius of Penguin Cafe Orchestra was a blithe disregard for trends, or stylistic bandwagons passing by. The group produced the purest of musics, with the minimum of pretension about the whole endeavor.

On the whole, Union Cafe remains an engaging, if long, listen. It is the sort of record that really and truly has no easy comparison points, especially as the record segues from the lite jazz of "Kora Kora" and into the chamber pop of "Lie Back and Think of England", near the album's conclusion before the gallop of "Passing Through" officially closes this record (ahead of a "hidden" track, that is). Those little jumps in style sound jarring on paper but make perfect, magical sense in the universe created by Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

Union Cafe will be out via Erased Tapes on Friday.

More details on Penguin Cafe Orchestra, including the upcoming concert in London, via the band's official website.

[Photo: Matt Anker]

Be My Dream: A Quick Review Of The New Suicide Reissue

The late Alan Vega and Martin Rev formed Suicide in an era when there simply was no other music being made like what they were envisioning in their heads. That they succeeded so well at pruning back rock 'n' roll to its very vital core essence is remarkable. That this music still sounds revolutionary is a testament to how truly visionary these 2 musicians were. And thankfully we have a glimpse into the duo's creative process as the folks at Superior Viaduct are reissuing First Rehearsal Tapes from Suicide now. While this material has been out before, this is the first time that the music has been offered up on its own as a standalone release. And with liner notes by Henry Rollins, First Rehearsal Tapes is an essential offering. Read on!

Revealed here are not just a bunch of demos, but peeks inside the fertile minds of Rev and Vega as they scale back the trappings of rock music to something potent and vaguely disturbing. If a number like "Creature Feature" gurgles with bad intent, something like "Be My Dream" seems to be an alien's interpretation of the sounds of The Ronettes. Elsewhere, the gently-percolating "Too Fine For You" prefigures a whole generation of Mute Records acts, namely Cabaret Voltaire and Non, while the piano-planks of "Tough Guy" create a sense of unease in a listener. "Space Blue Bambo" undulates with a faint trace of jazz, while "Into My Eyes" maintains a keyboard-based proto-New Wave groove that foreshadows the triumphs of this band later in the Seventies. The superb "Do It Nice" rides a vaguely industrial hook into territory that suggests later recordings from Throbbing Gristle. And yet, when surveying the many excellent tracks here, one could say that Suicide were not entirely averse to making accessible music and, if anything, First Rehearsal Tapes reveals a band working at making Pop music, while deconstructing Pop music.

Bravely reductive, wildly uncompromising, and brutally economic, First Rehearsal Tapes reinforces the importance of Suicide. If The Ramones get the credit for inventing punk rock, surely Suicide should get the credit for inventing New Wave as this music is both wildly avant-garde and wholly accessible. Even in their earliest moments as musicians, Alan Vega and Martin Rev were capable of making something so striking with only the simplest tools, and the starkest melodies.

First Rehearsal Tapes from Suicide is out now via Superior Viaduct.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Look Again: A Word About The New Virginia Wing And Xam Duo Album

The unlikely marriage of the minds of bands Virginia Wing and Xam Duo has produced a striking album here. Tomorrow's Gift, out on Friday via Fire Records, is a bold and brave release, one that skirts at the edges of the avant-garde and yet which remains fairly accessible for attentive listeners.

Virginia Wing are Sam Pillay and Alice Merida Richards and Xam Duo are Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall. In teaming up here, the electronic pop portions of previous Virginia Wing releases have found an almost unlikely match in the more languid indie textures from the guys from Deadwall and Hookworms. Even though opener "Birch Polygon" oozes out for more than 20 minutes with a kind of No Pussyfooting insistence, shorter numbers, like the lovely "Look Again", play to the strengths of these players, expanding on the slight Stereolab-isms of earlier Virginia Wing records to offer up something totally unique. Elsewhere, the title cut works a slight and sublime rhythm, while "Good Roads Fair Weather" hints at the kind of risk-taking that saw the Cocteau Twins drift towards near-ambient music in the mid-Nineties. Playing to the strengths of vocalist Alice Merida Richards, this number is one of the highlights here on Tomorrow's Gift. "Person to Person" near the end of the record rides a nice groove forward, while album closer "A Tunnel" uses spoken-word passages to further the band's experimental ends.

One of the more adventurous records a listener is likely to encounter at year's end, Tomorrow's Gift is out on Friday via Fire Records.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Friday, November 24, 2017

My Dear One: A Quick Review Of The New Nick Garrie Album

The new album from Nick Garrie, The Moon and the Village, out today on Tapete, is a special record. It is, unfortunately, the sort of thing that may slip under the radar without a little bit of extra attention, which is why I'm here today to write about it.

Garrie has worked with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub in the past but here he's being helped by Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transistor. The textures on The Moon and the Village are warm and inviting, and what could have been a folk record, for example, is now something else, something stronger. If the title number suggests a debt owed to the late Leonard Cohen, the superb "I'm On Your Side" reveals the influence of Mick Head. Elsewhere, strings creep around "My Dear One" to place the number somewhere near something like a John Cale composition, while the beautiful "Early Morning in the Garden" marries Garrie's Cohen-like observations (and delivery) with backing music that is poised somewhere between the ache of Nilsson and the lyrical wit of Randy Newman. Nick Garrie manages to make this work so well as he remains such an engaging player, delivering the spry "Bacardi Summer" and the doleful "Got You On My Mind" with equal degrees of mastery.

The Moon and the Village is the sort of album that is not entirely easy to describe, seeing as how it skips around a few genres with ease, but it is a superb record, and one that's quite easy to recommend. Out today, this new Nick Garrie offering is one of the most heartfelt and warmly human releases of this Fall.

More details on The Moon and the Village via Tapete Records.

[Photo: Alison Wonderland]

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Everything Must Be: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Telescopes

I honestly never thought that The Telescopes would have lasted this long. To say that is not to disparage the considerable talents of front-man Stephen Lawrie but, rather, to acknowledge the presence of something a bit unhinged underneath the band's music, the sound of chaos roiling underneath the normal, a faint hint that things could go dangerously wrong at a moment's notice. Now, some 30 years or so after this group first burst forth, The Telescopes are releasing their second album of 2017. Stone Tape, out now, follows the superb As Light Return earlier this year. The new record is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a slight departure from the last record, preferring instead a ride on some sinister undercurrents instead of a flash or two of feedback. In short, Lawrie's gift for conjuring up something that transports a listener is undiminished.

Now, it's worth sharing a bit of the press material for this record, especially since this one is, apparently, a concept album:

"'Stone Tape' is a concept album inspired by the 'Stone Tape Theory', theorized by Thomas Charles Lethbridge in 1961. The archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer developed the idea that inanimate materials can absorb energy from living beings, and that this mental electrical energy, released during emotional or traumatic events, could somehow be 'stored' in such materials and 'reproduced' under certain conditions."

So, given that bit of information, Stone Tape may become a richer listening experience but, as it is, it's a fairly rewarding, if brief, one. Opener "Become The Sun" is near drone-rock, pure coiled tension ready for release, while the evocative "The Desert In Your Eye" slows things down even further, Lawrie nearly slurring the lyrics. Elsewhere, the excellent and epic-length "Everything Must Be" marries a space-rock sense of openness to the drone to delicious effect, Lawrie here venturing far beyond his old shoegaze haunts, while the slight-gallop of "Dead Inside" sees Stephen return, if only briefly, to some flashes of feedback-drenched unease. This leaves the more accessible "Silent Water" a standout here on Stone Tape in terms of direct indie-pop appeal.

All that being said, I found Stone Tape enormously rewarding. Wisely, Lawrie didn't make it a very long album, and so even a longer song doesn't feel too tedious on what is a short(er) release. Given the record's relative brevity, a patient listener can indulge Lawrie as he goes quietly off the rails here, producing music that is unsettling, unnerving, and damn beautiful all at once. Oddly, like Gillespie getting "Higher Than The Sun", Lawrie has found some sort of inspiration here as these drawled-out dreamscapes are enormously pleasurable to listen to. Set aside some time and give this one a spin for further indication of the continued, if sometimes neglected, genius of Mr. Stephen Lawrie.

Stone Tape is out now. More details on The Telescopes here, or here on Facebook, or even on Twitter.

[Photo: Raul Divaev]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Intricate Image: A Quick Look At The New Bill Nelson Soundtracks Box On Cherry Red Records

The fine folks at Cherry Red Records have been recently reissuing a bunch of crucial Bill Nelson recordings without a great deal of fanfare. Given the waves of difficulty that sometimes have faced fans trying to find the ex-Be-Bop Deluxe main-man's stuff in the past, the recent tide of fresh reissues is something to be welcomed, if not shouted about.

Adding to this impressive string of reissues, Cherry Red are putting out a 3-CD box this Friday called Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory, a set that collects 3 instrumental recordings from Bill Nelson. Disc 1 starts with 1981's Sounding The Ritual Echo (Atmospheres For Dreaming), a largely New Wave-y set of short tunes sans vocals originally released as a free bonus disc with the same year's Quit Dreaming and Get On The Beam. Cuts like "My Ritual Echo" and "Annunciation" recall a bit classic Bill Nelson songs from the same era, just without any singing on them, while the spry "My Intricate Image" uses what sounds like a bit of backwards tape to carry the sleight tune forward. Elsewhere, the languid "Vanishing Parades" sounds like something from a film score, a sentiment which segues us nicely into a look at the next 2 discs in Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory.

On Disc 2, we find the score Bill Nelson composed to accompany the classic 1920 film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Largely eerie pieces, a few here -- like the evocative "Cesare The Somnambulist" -- manage to hit at a nice beauty that suggests the possibility that even someone who was not familiar with the film could find something to enjoy here. The material on Disc 3 of Dreamy Screens sees Nelson move on to a film that really didn't need a score: Jean Cocteau's classic Beauty and the Beast (1946). The film famously featured music composed by Georges Auric so, truly, the existing score didn't need to be improved upon. Still, Nelson is to be commended for the effort as his score here is a fairly rich one. That Nelson completed this using a minimum of keyboards and samples is something to marvel at still, 30+ years after the album's original release. And, even more than the other discs in this set, the soundtrack here to Beauty and the Beast tells a story through sonic means. It succeeds in a remarkable way, offering a listener unfamiliar with the film a sort of sense of what Cocteau accomplished visually. I can say that, having heard this album before I ever saw the Cocteau film, I felt like I had a working knowledge of what to expect when I finally did see the 1946 masterpiece.

Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory is out on Friday from Cherry Red Records. It is essential for anyone who wants to hear Bill Nelson at work on actual soundtracks to films, and not simply soundtracks, like his famous instrumental records, to just the dream-movies of his mind as an artist.

Monday, November 20, 2017

I Bury The Living: A Few Words About Low In High School From Morrissey

I have tried to only post positive, or moderately positive, reviews here over the course of the last decade in an attempt to encourage enthusiasm (mostly mine) about music rather than foster negativity. And, it's worth noting that one of this site's very first posts was my review of Morrissey's concert in Washington, D.C., way back in November 2007. So I'm a fan. All that being said, let what follows be seen as less a screed about the abysmal new album from Morrissey but, rather, a corrective gesture meant to highlight some of the many, many missteps on Low in High School. Ultimately, I am writing here in the perhaps vain hope that Morrissey will, at some point in the very near-future, return to even the moderate successes found on his records of just a decade ago.

Over the course of 12 tunes, Morrissey offers up his weakest batch of music since 1991's Kill Uncle. And yet, to say that is to malign the record that gave us "Sing Your Life" and "Our Frank", 2 of the best Moz singles from the early Nineties. In 20 years, I doubt that many people will be looking at this record and using a similar argument, as the apparent singles here -- the jaunty "Spent The Day In Bed", for example, or the almost-catchy "Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage" -- fail to do much more than generate a sense of bemusement in a listener. And while I can applaud Morrissey's risk-taking here on stuff like the epic "Israel", I can also say that it is a song I need never hear again. The cut is lugubrious piddle, as is "Home is a Question Mark", a selection that, like so many numbers here, can be imagined as a far better song given its title. Morrissey has perhaps finally lived down to that famous Elvis Costello quote: "Morrissey writes wonderful song titles, but sadly he often forgets to write the song."

"I Wish You Lonely" is moderately successful and spry, but it remains more like a B-side from the days when Moz was vainly fighting the good fight amid waves of Britpop ruling the airwaves, while "The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel" earns points for at least fully committing to its vaguely rhumba-like hook. "I Bury The Living" gets credit for its apparent anti-war stance but it's frankly excruciating, toddling along for more than 7 minutes in a haze. Risky? Yes. Brave? Yes. Wise? Not in the least.

Morrissey has spent his career making choices that would have felled other, lesser performers, and even at his absolute worst, he at least provides grist for the mental mill. That said, the cuts here on Low in High School arrive in a cloud of controversial statements, and a string of odd actions from the man himself that have prejudiced a listener from the start, even before the record can begin. And I tried to love this one in some small way, but I simply cannot find much to recommend here on Low in High School. Stream this legally on Spotify and save your money. Heck, simply read the titles and imagine what kind of songs Morrissey would have made out of these back in 1992 or so, when Morrissey seemed to want to please as much as he wanted to provoke. Messy, muddled, and boringly unhinged in many spots, Low In High School is out now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reverence: A Few Pics From The Jesus And Mary Chain Concert In Baltimore Last Night

Work commitments prevented me from going out to to see The Jesus and Mary Chain at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore last night. But, luckily, talented photographer Nalinee Darmrong was able to attend and shoot some pics that I could share here. If you haven't already, be sure to get her book of photos of The Smiths from when she followed the band around America and England in the Eighties. It is truly a fabulous document of a fabulous era. There's a link over there on the sidebar, or just go to Rizzoli Books to buy her book.

All photos are the property of Nalinee Darmrong.

More details via her official website, or her Facebook page

The Jesus and Mary Chain are touring in support of their latest record, Damage and Joy. More details on The Jesus and Mary Chain via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.






Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Rocking Days: A Brief Review Of The New Compilation From The Cleaners From Venus (Martin Newell)

A new release associated in any way with Martin Newell is something to perk up about. That the release is a rarities compilation, like Martin Newell's Jumble Sale, is yet another reason to get excited. The odds-and-sods collection will drop on Friday and I'm here to tell you how wonderful it is. Now, if you are even halfway a fan of Martin's, you'll realize what an understatement that is.

When diving into Martin Newell's Jumble Sale, a listener should marvel at how consistent this stuff is, especially since it's not sequenced chronologically. That means that a cut like the Kinks-recalling "A Bluebeat Kid" from 1979 sounds fine when propped up next to the chiming XTC-isms of "Red Guitars and Silver Tambourines" from earlier this year. Similarly, the faux-rockabilly of 1980's "My Rocking Days" sits comfortably next to the Robyn Hitchcock-esque "The Lunatic Lantern" from 2011. Elsewhere, the gentle "English Girl on a Horse" from 2015 mines a vein less power-pop and more cocktail jazz, before the absolutely sublime "Moonraking" from 2003 proceeds to haunt the ear on first and every subsequent listen. The ballad is so thoroughly perfect that a long-time Newell fan is almost taken by surprise by how a beauty like this could be counted as a rarity and go (presumably) unreleased or hard-to-find until now. Similarly, "That Kind of a Day" marries a jaunty melodic-line with one of Newell's most playful vocal performances from recent years, the 2014 number shining as a highlight here on Martin Newell's Jumble Sale. The collection ends with the one-two punch of New Wave-y "Ain't No Silicone Chip" from 1979, Newell trying his hand at the sort of electro-pop then the rage on both sides of the Atlantic, and then the final cut, "Somewhere in 1975..." from 1975, all Bowie-styled glam pleading mixed with a McCartney-like way with a direct hook.

Thoroughly listenable, essential for fans, and a fine compilation of English power-pop, Martin Newell's Jumble Sale is this week's most necessary purchase. The compilation is out on Friday. More details below.

[Photo: Uncredited 2014 promo pic]

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lift A Finger: A Quick Review Of The New Album From OCS (Thee Oh Sees)

In the same year that they've changed their name from Thee Oh Sees to simply Oh Sees, timed to the release of their last album, Orc, John Dwyer's outfit have decided to confound expectations and change their name again (this time to OCS) and drop yet another record. Memory Of A Cut Off Head, out Friday on Castle Face Records, is also the group's best recent release and a contender for one of 2017's best American indie records.

Opening with the Jimmy Webb-isms of the title cut, and leading into the stately chamber pop of "The Remote Viewer", a spin of the record reveals a change in direction to go along with the name change. Less fuzzy garage rock and more like leftovers from a Left Banke session, the best numbers on Memory Of A Cut Off Head are superb examples of the strengths of Dwyer as a composer and front-man. Stuff like the spacious "On And On Corridor" recalls Broadcast a bit, Brigid Dawon's vocals bringing to mind those of the late Trish Keenan in spots here, while the more languid "The Fool" approaches a Nico-like starkness that is at odds with earlier Thee Oh Sees records. Maybe it was a good idea for Dwyer to change the band's name? Elsewhere, the complicated "Time Tuner" faintly echoes the Cale compositions from one of the first 2 Velvet Underground records, while the elegant closer, "Lift A Finger", somehow manages to channel early Stereolab and recent Clientele offerings with an ornate precision.

Memory Of A Cut Off Head is, in some ways, shockingly different from earlier Thee Oh Sees records, given its focus on a very specific kind of pop-craft. That said, it's still discernibly a John Dwyer affair, equal parts backwards glances to Sixties archetypes and forward looks into a kind of visionary future indie-rock.

More details on OCS via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page. Memory Of A Cut Off Head is out on Friday via Castle Face Records.

[Photo: John Dwyer]