Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Brainshift: A Look At The New Album From Circuit des Yeux

Circuit des Yeux is essentially Haley Fohr. And Haley Fohr, as the driving force behind Circuit des Yeux, has made the band's new album, Reaching For Indigo, a bold, artistic statement. The record, out Friday on Drag City, is a strikingly original release, and one that rewards attentive listeners.

A number like "Brainshift" unfurls with a sort of classical sense of precision, while the more relaxed "Black Fly" suggests a folk-y take on the kind of material routinely offered up by Antony and the Johnsons. Elsewhere, the superb "Paper Bag" pops, sputters, and clangs in the manner of Broadcast, while the lush and aching "Geyser" returns again to the classical styles that underpin lots of Reaching For Indigo. A listener could be forgiven for hearing a faint echo of Diamnada Galas in closer "Falling Blonde", but where Galas seems intent on barely containing her discordant musical fire, Fohr, instead, pieces her voice into the mix in such a way that it's another instrument, like a cello in a string quartet, for example.

Superbly realized, Reaching For Indigo is a record that attempts to be something more than just the usual indie-rock slab of vinyl. That it is also remarkably listenable and largely free of any heavy-handed pretension says a lot about the skill and talent of Haley Fohr at perfecting her vision as a recording artist. This weeks' most ambitious new release, Reaching For Indigo is available from Drag City on Friday.

[Photo: Julia Dratel]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Accelerated: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Flat Worms (ex-The Babies)

The new one from Flat Worms, out Friday on Castle Face Records, is a fine blast of scuzzy American indie-rock. The band features a few people from other bands: Will Ivy (Dream Boys, Wet Illustrated, Bridez), Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies), and Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sic Alps). So, I suppose that there are going to be lots of people seeking out this release because of those people, and not because this is good garage-y rock.

At their best, Flat Worms deliver a kind of riff on the Ty Segall kind of riff-rocker that lots of folks love. So, that's a quick way of saying that "Motorbike", "Pearl", and "Accelerated", for example, offer up the goods and roar past in a parade of trashy glee. A few numbers here, like "Faultline" and "Red Hot Sand", try to vary the formula but, by and large, most of this self-titled release from Flat Worms is music that's more or less of one style. And the degree to which a listener likes this record is down to how much he or she is willing to tolerate 10 songs where every song is fuzzy and scuzzy, and each track is regressive and borderline disposable. I found lots of this a lot of fun, but admit that there's a certain sameness here that could use some of the tempo changes one might find on a Ty Segall record, for instance. Still, Flat Worms works remarkably well in small doses.

Out Friday on Castle Face Records, Flat Worms by Flat Worms is one of this week's best releases.

[Photo: Cayal Unger]

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Curious Man: A Brief Review Of The New Cut Worms EP

The debut EP from Cut Worms, Alien Sunset, out Friday on Jagjaguwar, was a pleasant surprise to me. Max Clarke, the guy who is Cut Worms, has really crafted a few striking songs here.

If the title cut echoes certain mid-Sixties numbers from Ray Davies and The Kinks, the far more twang-y "Don't Want To Say Good-Bye" suggests both Phil and Don, as well as, oddly, T. Rex. Similarly, the aching "A Curious Man" looks to earlier eras for inspiration, while the lengthy-yet-lovely "Song of The Highest Tower" made me think of Girls and even Pavement, even as the vocals nodded in the direction of the the more vulnerable moments on Syd Barrett solo records. It, and the sublime "Like Going Down Sideways", are the clear highlights of this fine EP.

Alien Sunset will be out on Friday via Jagjaguwar. More details on Cut Worms via the band's official website, or via the official Cut Worms Facebook page.

[Photo: Caroline Gohlke]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Big Bad Thing: A Few Words About The Fine New Jazz Butcher Box From Fire Records

It's odd now to think that I once thought of The Jazz Butcher as a Creation Records band. Well, they were a Creation Records band for a time but, having given a listen or two (or few dozen) to the new 4-CD box from Fire Records called The Wasted Years, I think it's safe to say that the earlier version of this band were far too iconoclastic and original to be pigeonholed by any easy label, um, label. The music here spans the band's first 4 records -- In Bath Of Bacon (1983), A Scandal in Bohemia (1984), Sex and Travel (1985), and Distressed Gentlefolk (1986) -- and the selections here routinely offer up to an even half-attentive casual listener some of the best UK indie one is likely to encounter from this era. For those of us who knew some of this, or lots of this, and were well-aware of front-man Pat Fish's skills and genius, this set is a gift that reaffirms all that, and serves as an easy way to re-acquaint ourselves with this band's very best material.

In Bath Of Bacon (1983) succeeds when it offers up music that largely doesn't give a fig about any trends of the era, like the throwaway "Love Kittens" or the fun "Sex Engine Thing", Fish crafting material that's witty, if not entirely well-considered (the regrettable "Chinatown", for instance). Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that some of this is indeed jazzy in a roundabout way ("Bigfoot Motel", for example). Still, there remain a few genuine nuggets here ("Zombie Love", or the aching "Party Time", perhaps).

Album number 2 from The Jazz Butcher is what some might argue, the first real Jazz Butcher record. A Scandal in Bohemia (1984) opens with the big, bright, witty pop of "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)", a number that sees front-man Fish name-check band-mates Max Eider and David Jones (David J), 2 big factors into why this record is so good and essential. What pleases the ear still is the extent to which A Scandal in Bohemia (1984) reveals how well Fish and his crew were able to deliver such buoyant and lovely music without having a lot at their disposal. The light "Soul Happy Hour" sees Fish and his band serve up something that has echoes of both Brian Wilson and Roy Orbison in it, and yet which remains delightfully light of touch. Given a bigger budget, and a larger studio, one wonders what Fish could have made of the rollicking "Real Men", or the airy "Mind Like A Playgroup", for instance. Still, that's not to knock what's here but, rather, to highlight how much Pat Fish, Max Eider, and David J were able to deliver within the confines of early Eighties indie trappings.

Sex and Travel from 1985 is a superb record, and it's clearly the highlight of this Fire Records set. Opening with the lyrical "Big Saturday", the album serves up some of Pat Fish's best material. As he straddles territory that's both indie proper, and something a bit more adventurous, Fish seems to have finally found his style here, and so, The Jazz Butcher is a real band here, at least on this record. The spry "What's The Matter Boy?" nods in the direction of the band's earlier records but with far more success and confidence, while the pointed "President Reagan's Birthday Present" reflects the era's very real political concerns, as does "Red Pets" to some extent. And, as others have undoubtedly pointed out, "Holiday" seems Pat Fish's grab at the Ray Davies mantle, even if it sounds a bit like stuff from Robyn Hitchcock in the era.

If 1986's Distressed Gentlefolk was anything, it was likely the entry-point into The Jazz Butcher for a lot of Yanks, given the album's release via the BMG-associated Big Time label here in the States. "Big Bad Thing" sounds more robust and it's an indication that this record marked a turning point for the band. As Fish says on the band's official website, the band were drinking a lot at this time, making things a bit wobbly. And, sure there's a slight disconnect between the more routine indie of "Nothing Special" and the lovely and genuinely-jazzy "Who Loves You Now", for example. Still, there's a real breadth of material here and a listener shouldn't gripe too much about the leap from the gently-ramshackle "Domestic Animal" to the lush "Still in the Kitchen" when the difference in material indicates how in command Pat Fish remained in these years. The final record before the band's leap to Creation Records, Distressed Gentlefolk remains an odd collection of suitably odd indie-pop but there is, like elsewhere on The Wasted Years, a lot of heart and insight on offer here.

Perhaps wisely, the folks at Fire Records didn't attempt to compile the "best" Jazz Butcher cuts here on The Wasted Years. Rather, by serving up the first 4 albums, The Wasted Years serves, instead, as a 41-track crash-course into one of the best, more underrated, and creative acts from those wilderness years between the first few waves of post-punk and the semi-renaissance of the C86 period and after. Wildly unlike anything else being cranked out in the early Eighties on either side of the Atlantic, the music of The Jazz Butcher was richly lyrical, decidedly melodic, and wholly fresh. And it remains so now, more than 3 decades later. One of the odd side-effects of the fact that The Jazz Butcher have been perpetually underrated is that, finally, they will get some real attention as The Wasted Years is a superb introduction into their music, as well as a remarkably and convenient way to get a lot of great music all at once.

The Wasted Years is out on Friday via Fire Records. More details on The Jazz Butcher via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited from label]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Your Picture: A Few Words About The New One From King Leg

Discovered by Dwight Yoakam, King Leg is a whiz-kid from the West Coast who's got a knack for channeling Roy Orbison and "Sing Your Life"-era Morrissey with equal measures of success. Quite simply, one of the freshest voices I've heard in ages, the debut record from King Leg, called, appropriately enough, Meet King Leg, is the sort of thing that deserves a lot of attention and some real word-of-mouth praise.

As album opener "Great Outdoors" bursts forth in a blast of chiming, Byrds-ian glee, a listener should rejoice that somethings can still surprise. Building on the successes of the Paisley Underground bands from the Eighties, and from mentor Yoakam's stuff too, King Leg is here delivering music that's catchy and joyously melodic. If the deliberate "Your Picture" suggests some weird-yet-wonderful melding of the styles of Billy Bragg and The Proclaimers, the fine "Loneliness" sees King Leg sound less like Roy Orbison for a bit and more like a young, hiccup-y Buddy Holly. With a backing band offering up a sound that compares favorably to those first few Georgia Satellites tracks, the tune here is, like so much of Meet King Leg, a superb mix of genres. And while "Another Man" shows a softer side of King Leg's approach, the twang-y struts of "Seeing You Tonight" and "Walking Again" recall the fertile Eighties when listeners could find music like this coming regularly from both Los Lobos and Marshall Crenshaw. Still, all that being said, what surprises the most about King Leg is his voice; how could a singer like this only just now be getting some mainstream attention? And, in what only makes perfect sense given those Morrissey-meets-Roy Orbison-descriptions of this cat, he's added a cover of "Running Scared" to the selections here on Meet King Leg. A successful cover that Orbison himself would probably have enjoyed, King Leg and his band embellish the number with a rich backing track that suggests both the glory days of country music, as well as the sort of lush pop from the era in which Roy himself recorded most of his best work.

Meet King Leg is, quite simply, a blast. Delightfully retro and entirely of the moment, the record offers suitably appreciative nods to past pioneers while striking out on a sonic path that suggests something new altogether. Fans of BoDeans, Roy Orbison, and The Plimsouls, for instance, should find lots to love here. It is indeed rare that I can say I was surprised by something given the vast amount of music I routinely consume, but, dammit, this one caught me wonderfully off-guard. What a lot of fun Meet King Leg is!

Meet King Leg will be out on Friday via WBR. More details on King Leg via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Emily Joyce]

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Glow Won't Fade: A Few Words About The New Album From The Jet Age

Okay, Friday the 13th might seem like an unlikely day to drop a new album, but maybe the fact that At The End Of The World is album number 7 from The Jet Age should offset any bad juju lurking in this Halloween season.

I think Eric Tischler, front-man of the long-running D.C.-area band, would argue that the current White House resident is scarier than any ghoul or ghost, and he'd be right about that. And, to that end, the new one from The Jet Age has a cover that suggests a political point to some of these new compositions and, while there is some of that here -- the twin title-cuts with their bracketed locations, for example -- Tischler still excels at chronicling the world inside the everyday man, the personal becoming political, as matters of heart and home become grand things.

All that being said, At The End Of The World is, perhaps, this band's easiest record to jump into, seeing as how it's NOT a concept album, per se. While 2014's Jukebox Memoir, reviewed by me here, seemed the "Fun" outlier in the band's catalog, it was also an indication that Tischler was broadening his focus and beginning to divorce himself of the very Townshend-like need to couch things in a narrative shell. So, while At The End Of The World seems to largely exist on its own as a collection of individual songs, it serves the purpose of being the Who's Next to the band's earlier attempts at Quadrophenia, if you get my meaning. And, somehow, the material has lost none of its heft through this approach.

If "The Ice Is Cracked" suggests a frantic undertow roiling underneath it all, the more familiar "I Had A Dream" reassures that this band -- Tischler, bassist Greg Bennett, and drummer Pete Nuwayser -- still have things under control, as the cut fits what we expect -- and want -- from every Jet Age record. So, while "Tied To The Mast" charts a new path via some nearly-pretty hooks, the churning "The Glow Won't Fade" marries a Nuggets-era kind of recorded chaos with Tischler's comfortable Who-nods. Similarly, "Your Sweet Nothings" sees the band return, if only furtively, to the funk-pop tributes of the Jukebox Memoir (2014) record, before "A Field Of Green" shatters the mood, Tischler working in a few guitar roars that suggest nothing so much as highlights from the superb Nowehere (1990) from Ride. Similarly, the woozy "Which Part's The Dream?" indicates that no matter how much Tischler looks to The Who, he still yearns to be in a shoegaze band.

And, at his best, Tischler manages to corral an undeniably potent force in this band -- not for nothing was his previous group called The Hurricane Lamps -- with Bennett and Nuwayser next to him. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the magnificent sonic-riot of "The Script", a cut which, anchored near the end of the record, serves as a rich stew of all of the influences that have shaped this group over the last 11 years or so. Because if At The End Of The World is anything, it's a nice return to the styles from the earlier years of this band, Tischler and crew sounding nearly loose and improvisational here, despite the necessarily grim bookend tunes, and the album's title. For if the last album proper from The Jet Age, 2015's magisterial Destroy. Rebuild, reviewed by me here, was the band's big push to try on new, Important lyrical concerns -- "I Can't Breathe", a standout in that regard -- this one serves as sign of the band's mature ability to harness sonic power and sharp lyrical concerns outside of a rigid concept album structure, and without being too heavy-handed about things.

So, yeah, to circle back to the review's title, the glow hasn't faded here; if anything, The Jet Age sound more in command than ever before. And At The End Of The World, then, is surely proof that they are comfortable diverging from their own formula, however slightly, in pursuit of something elusive that Tischler's guitar slashes at, Bennett's bass counts down to, and Nuwayer's drum-hits attempt to beat into submission. Like Tischler's lyrical protagonists, The Jet Age are constantly straining against their own self-imposed shackles, and the glory for a listener is in that tension, the moments of its release, and the spaces in-between all that.

At The End Of The World is out now. More details via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: me]

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Quick Review Of The New Album From Weird Owl

The new record from Weird Owl is a a head-trip, really. Produced by Psychic TV guitarist Jeff Berner and with a guest appearance by Genesis P-Orridge, Bubblegum Brainwaves is the band's sixth release in recent years and it's a lot of fun.

Numbers like "Invisibility Cloak" bristle with a nice blend of psych-rock and New Wave, while "Black Never White" offers up sleeker textures. If "Such A Myth" is downright lovely, that moment of calm on the record is offset by the blistering "War" which is fuzzier and rougher around the edges. If some of this is a little loose, like the epic-length "Bartholomew Iris", far more successful is "Tired Old Sun" which closes the record on a nice melange of the many elements at play in the output of Weird Owl.

Bubblegum Brainwaves is out tomorrow. It is an adventurous and lively record of the sort that should please fans of bands as diverse as MGMT, Super Furry Animals, and The Flaming Lips. More details are available via the Bandcamp link below, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited from band's Facebook page]

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Off The Lot: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Melkbelly (Ahead Of Their D.C. Show At Comet Ping Pong Next Week)

The new album from Melkbelly, Nothing Valley, out on Wax Nine on Friday, is a record that's full of energy and sparks of wild creativity. That it also sounds like a few classic alt-rock pioneers doesn't hurt either.

If opener one-two-punch "Off The Lot" and "Kid Kreative" echoes stuff from Bettie Serveert and The Breeders, an astute listener can also hear the parts where Melkbelly add their own unique spin on these tested college rock styles. Elsewhere, the languid "Greedy Gull" marries bits of Goo-era Sonic Youth to the Melkbelly formula. Even more successful is "Helloween" which offers a more expansive form of this sort of thing. This Chicago-based band are not necessarily re-inventing the wheel here, but they have managed to find a way to invest this all with a lot of fire and passion.

Melkbelly's music feels familiar and I didn't mind that when I listened to this record. Instead, I sort of enjoyed how pieces of Nothing Valley reminded me of bands I really liked. And I especially enjoyed the pieces here that seemed to offer new spins on this sort of music. Melkbelly work up a tremendous amount of energy here and there's enough distinctive material to make me recommend this one to fans of stuff like PJ Harvey, Th' Faith Healers, or Wussy.

Nothing Valley is out on Wax Nine on Friday. More details on Melkbelly via the band's official Facebook page.

Melkbely is playing Washington, D.C. next week at Comet Ping Pong, Wednesday, October 18. Comet is on Connecticut Avenue. Dig it!

[Photo: Lenny Gilmore]

Have You Met Me: A Few Words About The New One From Spectrums (ex-Sansyou)

Spectrums is a new D.C.-area trio made up of members of Sansyou, Cobra Collective, and The Third Proramme. The players here include David Barker on guitars, Simon Ley on drums, and David Nicholas on guitars. David Barker was in Cobra Collective and The Third Programme, as was Simon Ley, while David Nicholas was, of course, in Sansyou. The band's debut release, Thanks For Your Kind Words, is out via Bandcamp now.

The music of Spectrums is blissfully unpretentious instrumental stuff, with respectful references to bands from the Eighties waves of 4AD bands, as well as suitably appropriate nods in the direction of obvious shoegaze pioneers. The fine "Have You Met Me" echoes Sansyou, while the more deliberate and forceful "It's All You Need" and "Seven" expand the formula by pursuing a less contemplative path. If "Who Asked" references Brotherhood-era New Order a bit, it's the rippling closer "Permanent Victims" that signals another course that this band could pursue as the twin guitar-lines of Barker and Nicholas knit an intricate sonic figure over Ley's jazzy drum fills. Part Dif Juz and part Johnny Marr, the cut is, like the others here, an indication of where Spectrums are drawing inspiration from.

Fans of Pale Saints, Cocteau Twins, and The Durutti Column should find a lot to love here with these 5 cuts from Spectrums. Here's hoping that the band releases more music soon. Thanks For Your Kind Words is out now via Bandcamp. More details on Spectrums via the band's official Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Scene Here: A Quick Review Of The New One From Sisters

The new one from Sisters, Wait Don't Wait, is the band's second full-length release in 2017. Out on Friday via Tender Loving Empire, it is a lively set of indie-pop. In fact, the band manages to hop over a few genre labels with a nice sort of ease.

Emily Westman and Andrew Vait are Sisters and the duo kicks things off here with the rollicking "Scene Here" and the more New Wave-flavored "Heart Beats". Elsewhere, the less-jittery "Bird" and "Glitter Lights" serve up sleek and lush electro-pop, while "Y Do U Take So Long?" refines that formula down into something approximating Eurythmics at their best. Closer "Love You Too" showcases the rich vocals of Emily Westman to great effect.

Wait Don't Wait is largely a fun record, and it's at its most fun when Sisters don't seem to be trying too hard. Westman and Andrew Vait have a way with a jaunty melody and lots of this is a blast. Full of tunes and buoyant hooks, this new one from Sisters is a nice little surprise for listeners this Fall.

Wait Don't Wait is out on Friday via Tender Loving Empire. More details on Sisters via the link below.

[Photo: Stanton Stephens]

Monday, October 9, 2017

Phantom Limbo: A Brief Review Of The New One From A. Savage (Parquet Courts)

I've made it a habit on this site to not post too many negative (music) reviews so I guess the fact that I'm posting this at all tells you that I liked some things about the debut solo record from a member of Parquet Courts. A. Savage is offering up Thawing Dawn on Friday via Dull Tools. And, guess what? It sounds nothing like Parquet Courts so don't get your little indie hopes up.

What Thawing Dawn does sound like, instead, is a decent artist dabbling in a few other genres. A more cynical view would be to to say that it's modern indie-rock's hot take on the far superior Exile On Main Street, or any number of Neil Young records from the start of the Seventies. At his infrequent best here, Savage works himself up into a neat approximation of Leonard Cohen and Beat Happening ("Indian Style", "Wild Wild Horses"). At his worst, he meanders down roads that are best left untrod as the drawled-out "Ladies From Houston" and "What Do I Do" make abundantly clear. Gone here are the sharp edges of virtually any Parquet Courts record. In the place of something marginally sharp and bright, we get this sort of sub-stoner rock stuff that suggests the very worst sort of material one could make by copying Palace Brothers without any of Will Oldham's heartfelt delivery. Still, at least on the title cut and "Phantom Limbo" A. Savage offers up a few noisy moments that suggest a more adventurous path, one that, regrettably, A. Savage didn't take on so much of this record.

Thawing Dawn by A.. Savage is out on Friday via Dull Tools.

[Photo: Vince McLelland]

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Where Does The Sadness Come From? A Few Words About The Fine New One From The Granite Shore (The Distractions, The June Brides)

That fellow up there is Nick Halliwell. He was in The Distractions, a band you probably should have heard of. These days he's in the band The Granite Shore with Phil Wilson of The June Brides. The group is about to release the follow-up to their excellent 2015 long-player in a few days. Suspended Second will be out on Friday via Occultation Records and it is, as you might expect, also something of a masterpiece, an epic of precise instrumentation and trenchant lyricism. Put simply, I cannot stress enough how special this record is.

Along with Halliwell and Wilson, The Granite Shore features Arash Torabi on bass, Ian Henderson on drums, Steve Perrin on guitars and backing vocals, and John Howard on piano and backing vocals. The players, and the passages of music they provide, are all under the watchful eye of leader Halliwell, who is also the producer of this one as that pic up there illustrates. Of a piece, the numbers here make up what some would call a sort of concept album but that shouldn't scare you off. What that term should indicate, instead, is how intricately intertwined the cuts are here.

As opener "So It Begins" gently starts only to build up into something with the wit and liveliness of a rollicking mid-Nineties single from Pulp, a listener is brought into the world of The Granite Shore easily. If this is chamber pop, Halliwell is intent on finding the big pop hooks that this material can yield, even amid borderline-dour lyrical concerns. The superb "Outside, Looking In" tackles Brexit with a deftness of touch that is really remarkable. If Halliwell's lyrics indicate a cynicism and weariness with the whole issue, the tune itself brings those emotions forward with all the pep of an old June Brides single. Even more so than on the band's first album, Halliwell seems entirely in command here, his vision one that has been translated easily by these players. "There's Always One" speaks, perhaps, to bands breaking up and players moving on, but it follows the Granite Shore formula of a string of small, intimate moments offered up before a big chorus. "Where Does The Sadness Come From?" pulls in pre-disco Bee-Gees numbers for inspiration for its surprisingly-infectious chorus, while the epic-length "The Performance of a Lifetime" looks again at Brexit but also at something else, perhaps.

The admirable thing about the lyrics here on this new album from The Granite Shore is that the words matter, even as things remain a bit opaque and obscure at times. Rather than offer up a clutch of polemics, Halliwell has served up something with a bit more nuance, something from the pen of a classicist. And so, Suspended Second is that rarest of things: a concept album that isn't pretentious. The closest comparison point seems to be Odessey and Oracle where the elegant rock of The Zombies found its full perfection. Similarly, The Granite Shore have delivered a stately song-cycle here with Suspended Second, an album where the individual songs sound fantastic but better when taken as a whole.

Seemingly a record of the British zeitgeist these days, the music made by The Granite Shore in 2017 is elegiac and necessarily mournful. That it is also buoyantly tuneful is praise that should be added to that description. Still, Suspended Second captures a mood in the air, and Halliwell has here offered a eulogy for something that has been snuffed out in England. For the record isn't just about Brexit but, rather, something larger, something that's died in the modern character. There's a seriousness of intent here that -- thankfully -- did not load this down with too much weight, despite all my talk hereabouts of the Brexit stuff.

The Granite Shore make music that strives to be something more than just the usual fluff. What this is is the elevation of the pop song into something approaching Art, and that that elevation has been achieved 9 times here on Suspended Second is thanks to the strengths of Halliwell, Wilson, Torabi, Henderson, Perrin, and Howard. And if the lyrics speak of the death of modern England, or somehow obliquely mourn the passing of drummer Mike Kellie who was on the first Granite Shore record, that's just a few more layers of meaning on an already richly-rewarding record.

Suspended Second is out on Friday via Occultation Records. More details on The Granite Shore via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: studio pic by Jason Mitchell; Nick Halliwell live pic by Angie Knight]

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Dream Ain't Dead: A Quick Review Of The New One From Sacha Mullin (Dead Rider)

It's hard to believe that Sacha Mullin had anything to do with that abrasive record from Dead Rider that I reviewed a few weeks ago seeing as how the lush electro-pop on his new record, Duplex, sounds absolutely nothing like the tunes from that U.S. Maple spin-off.

Duplex is a lovingly-performed homage to the the sort of stuff that was easily labelled New Wave at one point in the past. The aching "Crow" echoes Eighties Erasure and even David Sylvian singles, complete with Sakamoto-style piano chords throughout. If "Dive" is similar, with nods to early Rufus Wainwright creeping through as well, the more adventurous "ユーレカ" pursues a more rhythmic path, bursts of percussion underpinning Mullin's soaring vocals. The cut is in Japanese, no less, with a title that translates to "Eureka", according to Google. The excellent "Dream Ain't Dead" marries a vocal performance that bears worthy comparison to Billy Mackenzie sides, with piano hooks that recall early Tori Amos singles. The second half of Duplex is more conventional but no less endearing, cuts like "Accept Treasure" and the spry "Applejack" recalling the things one loves so much about Rufus Wainwright ballads, for lack of an easier comparison. This is really distinctive stuff and Mullin is to be applauded for not only drawing inspiration from such worthy artists, but for pulling off this whole thing without a whole lot of pretension about the entire endeavor.

This is the sort of album that shouldn't slip under the radar as Duplex is lovely and adventurous in the right doses. Fans of The Associates, Depeche Mode, Japan, and The Blue Nile should find lots to love here, as I did.

More details on Sacha Mullin via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Jim Newberry]

Friday, October 6, 2017

In The Mirror: A Few Words About The New One From Nurses

Aaron Chapman and John Bowers are Nurses. They make music that falls outside of any easy genre label. They have made a new album called Naughtland and it's out today. That's about all I can say about this record that will sound conventional.

If opener "In The Mirror" has a nice lush majesty, then the clanging "Fortress" edges closer to territory usually occupied by the likes of MGMT, maybe. Elsewhere, the lovely "Afterlife" nods in the direction of electro-pop pioneers from earlier decades, while "Why" goes even further back, to early post-punk provocateurs, for inspiration. As Naughtland progresses, it gets more interesting and difficult, with numbers like the title cut echoing old Marc Almond records, or even Fad Gadget ones. Still, things end on a lovely note with "Yours To Keep", a bridge between the "difficult" and "lush" on this record.

Naughtland is out as of today. More details via the link below, or from the band's official Facebook page

[Photo: Chantal Anderson]

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Word Or Two About The New Album From Nazoranai

The new album from Nazoranai, Beginning To Fall In Line Before Me, So Decorously, The Nature Of All That Must Be Transformed, is out tomorrow on Superior Viaduct. It is a challenging record of what some would call "extreme" music, but it's also a brave and fairly-accessible release from this super-group of sorts.

Keiji Haino, Oren Ambarchi, and Stephen O’Malley are Nazoranai. Haino is in the Japanese band Fushitsusha, while Ambarchi is a leading figure in Australia's heavy rock scene, and O’Malley is from Sunn O))), a band that's got its own multitudes of fans of its brand of drone rock. There are only 2 tracks on this album and neither one has a title beyond Part 1 and Part 2. Each track is about 22 or so minutes long and each is distinctive and, simultaneously, a perfect match to the other section, like a loop that can keep going into infinity. If Part 1 is more like Fripp, a lengthy exploration next to and over top of a metallic squeal, then Part 2 is more Mogwai, rhythmic bits undulating in waves until moments of release.

A superb exploration in sound, Beginning To Fall In Line Before Me, So Decorously, The Nature Of All That Must Be Transformed, is out tomorrow on Superior Viaduct. Nazoranai are making music on another level here, and attentive and appreciative listeners should rejoice for that.

[Photo: Superior Viaduct]

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kept It All To Myself: A Word Or Two About The New One From The Weather Station

The band The Weather Station is essentially Tamara Lindeman. The band's fourth album, one that is self-titled, is out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors, and it's a fine record.

Stuff here like "Free" and "You and I (On The Other Side of the World)" has an easy, lilting quality that bridges the folk and rock worlds with ease, but it's other numbers here, like the spry "Kept It All For Myself", that really charmed me. The cut, like a few others here, succeeds largely because Tamara Lindeman sounds a lot like Joni Mitchell, and others of that generation of revered singer-songwriters. Even on something down-tempo, like the striking "Thirty", Lindeman delivers a song that owes as much to Laura Nyro as it does to Mitchell. And that's not to say that this is derivative but, rather, that it's of a piece with the work of those classic songwriters. Elsewhere, the supple "Complicit" rides a jazzy hook to pop success, while other numbers on The Weather Station blend a touch of alt-country with modern folk to great effect.

The Weather Station by The Weather Station is an unassuming record that offers up the kind of well-crafted folk-pop, for lack of a better term, that the world needs more of. Listeners should find a lot to love here in the same way I did. The Weather Station is out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors. More details via the official Facebook page for The Weather Station.

[Photo: Shervin Lainez]

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I Want You: A Brief Review Of The Fab New Album From Alex Lahey

Alex Lahey put out an EP earlier this year and I somehow didn't cover it. She played D.C. earlier this year and I missed that due to work commitments and I regret that. And now, having heard the absolutely superb I Love You Like A Brother, her new album that drops on Dead Oceans on Friday, I am determined to make up for my mistakes in the past and trumpet, loudly, how wonderful this Australian woman's brand of indie-pop is.

A record that is seemingly that rare "album full of hit singles", every cut on I Love You Like A Brother positively pops with the sort of contagious joy that New Wave used to have. From the buzz of opener "Every Day's The Weekend" and on to the delightful title cut, Alex Lahey commands this material like an expert. The ebullient and witty "I Haven't Been Taking Care Of Myself" marries a faint glam-stomp with the sort of bright pop-crunch listeners haven't heard much of this decade for a number that is instantly buried in your ears. Blissfully punchy, this is power-pop of the very best sort, closer to old Cheap Trick singles than it is to current Courtney Barnett ones. Elsewhere, "Awkward Exchange" offers a mid-tempo dabble in electro-pop, while the more successful "I Want U" serves up New Order-style textures underneath a vocal delivery that's equal parts Chrissie Hynde-style bravado and vulnerability. Lahey is a remarkably charming singer and it's hard to believe that this is her first full-length album given how successful so much of this is. Still, the more introspective churn of "There's No More Money" wasn't as memorable for me, even as the complex "Lotto in Reverse" seemed to suggest that she's got a knack for melding her witty lyrics with something more intricate, the hook a big one still, even awash in electronic sheen.

Delightfully self-assured and full of the sort of material that one used to proudly call New Wave, the tunes on I Love You Like A Brother are just things of joy. Winning the prize for "2017 Record That's Easiest To Instantly Love", this Alex Lahey release is just a blast. I can think of few other offerings this year that have yielded so many cuts to put on mixes for the car stereo, if you know what I mean? Bits of The Plimsouls, The Go-Go's, and Fountains of Wayne are here as influences but it's Alex's charm as a front-person that really makes so much of this work so well. What an enjoyable record this one turned out to be!

I Love You Like A Brother will be out on Dead Oceans on Friday. Follow Alex Lahey on her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Giula McGauran]

Monday, October 2, 2017

Light A Candle: A Few Words About The New Album From Ducktails

The new Ducktails album, Jersey Devil, drops on Friday via the artist's own New Images label. That it is something special will probably not be news to this guy's fans as those legions know the sort of indie-pop that's going to be on offer here.

Matt Mondanile -- Ducktails -- got John Anderson (Girls, Sky Ferreira) to produce, compose a few pieces, and play some guitar. Back-up vocals were provided by Malcolm Perkins and Samira Winter, and John da Costa played drums. Chi Yoon Hae of South Korean band Parasol played bass. All that being said, Jersey Devil is really Mondanile's baby.

Numbers like "Map To The Stars" and "Light A Candle" use Eighties New Wave textures in the service of indie-pop that is more of this century. Richly lyrical, cuts like "Keeper of the Garden" echo both earlier acts like O.M.D. and Nineties mainstays like Death Cab for Cutie. The effect is a distinctive one but Mondanile seems to have a knack for making this work without a lot of pretension. Elsewhere, "Solitary Star" and "Mannequin" are a bit more buoyant, percolating with rhythmic inspiration. Still, Mondanile and his crew are better when they let the lushness of the material take over, like on the closer "The Rising Sun" with its waves of keyboard figures undulating under the smooth vocals.

Jersey Devil is simple, melodic pop of a unique sort. The closest comparison point I can offer is, maybe, stuff from East River Pipe or Durutti Column. But whatever the strengths of those 2 formidable acts, Ducktails pursues other avenues, ones full of sharp New Wave hooks wrapped up in lo-fi packages, little bedsit symphonies, to borrow a phrase.

Jersey Devil is out on Friday via the New Images label. Follow Ducktails via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook photo]

Sunday, October 1, 2017

These Are The Days: A Few Words About The New One From Speaking Suns

The new record from Ohio's Speaking Suns is a lengthy, exhaustively-tuneful record. Out last Friday on Anyway Records, Range is also full of bright, mature power-pop that deserves some real attention.

This Ohio four-piece have a knack for melding a bunch of disparate influences into a fairly distinctive brand of alt-rock. If "Modern Love" recalls a few New Zealand bands from earlier decades, the lyrical and poppy "Honing In" and "The Void" echo numbers from more current acts. Elsewhere, stuff like "Out Of Range" and "So Sure" suggest an odd mix of Eighties Pink Floyd and Jellyfish, while the buoyant "These Are The Days" earns favorable comparisons to mid-period stuff from The Jayhawks, or Wilco. One negative here is that the songs are all a bit long, with the expansive "River" topping out near the 10-minute mark. For a new band, Speaking Suns are perhaps biting off more than they can chew with this approach, despite some strong strengths on display here. That said, the numbers are all relatively fine examples of modern power-pop, even if they are all uniformly too long.

There's a lot to love on Range, out now on Anyway Records, and I do highly recommend it to fans of bands of robust and decidedly-melodic alt-rock. Follow Speaking Suns via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited, via Anyway Records]

In Blue: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Yumi Zouma

New Zealand's Yumi Zouma make music that seems so simple, and yet it is rich and wildly melodic. The band's new album, Willowbank, drops on Cascine on Friday and I'm here to tell you why you should get it.

Numbers here, like the soaring "December" and the undulating "Half Hour", are bits of sleek modern rock that recall the glory days of bands on the 4AD label, as well as disparate influences like Frente! and New Order. The line-up here -- Christie Simpson, Charlie Ryder, Josh Burgess, and Sam Perry -- offer up a remarkably easygoing take on this sort of thing, and the tunes flow past without a lot of pretension or over-production. A number like "Us, Together" is gloriously lush even if it's modest and mellow. Elsewhere, the lyrical "Persephone" sees Christie Simpson sing over the top of a sleek, supple electronic texture that, oddly, recalls some moments on earlier Pale Saints records, or mid-Nineties ones from Cocteau Twins. None of my praise is meant to peg this lot a shoegaze outfit, but, clearly, fans of "ethereal" stuff might find a lot to love here. A closer comparison, rather, is the newest one from Slowdive as, like that band, Yumi Zouma have a knack for taking the simplest of elements and crafting them into something lovely and simplistically compelling.

Willowbank is out on Cascine on Friday. You can follow Yumi Zouma via the band's official Facebook page, or via the band's official website.

[Photo: Aaron Lee]

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Do You Like That Style? A Few Words About The New Sneaky Feelings Album Out Now On Flying Nun

Yeah, I said new. I can understand your shock, seeing as how the band hasn't released a record in about 30 years. Rather than focus on the story of why they're back and all that, we should praise whatever god or goddess oversees Kiwi rock and its rich history, 'cause that deity has brought back to fans one of the best, most underappreciated Flying Nun bands from that's label's early, peak years.

Sneaky Feelings -- Matthew Bannister, Martin Durrant, John Kelcher, and David Pine this time around in 2017 -- make wildly-melodic indie-pop that, now as then, sits nicely next to that of The Chills and The Verlaines. Progress Junction opens with the easy, loping groove of "Do You Like That Style?", and hits an early peak on "Summer Song", a tune that suggests not only the band's finest earliest offerings but those of The Feelies, for example. The melody swirls and gently circles an organ figure, with Durrant's drums popping like he was trying to ape the Help!-era Ringo. Progress Junction does feature songs that sound very much like lost-gems from the glory days of the Flying Nun label ("Can't Get You High", "Don't Come Down"), but it is the near-ballads here that truly surprise and delight. "I Don't Blame You" is just lovely, echoing in some weird way stuff from the American band The Sneetches, while "Mettle" unspools with a gentle slide-guitar underpinning things, as the vocals sound decidedly like those on earlier Sneaky Feelings records. When they hit the peaks here on this reunion record, Sneaky Feelings manage to update that unique sound they always had back in the Eighties, with something more mature in outlook, as the easily rhythmic and catchy "Eyes On The Horizon" shows, all mid-tempo hooks and smooth vocals dripping over the top of the gently-rollicking melodic hooks.

At their very best, Sneaky Feelings always tempered the sort of alt-pop that The Chills offered with something more lush and lyrical. The lilting melodies here, and the bits that recall McCartney's early solo records, for example, seem utterly in-line with everything this band has ever produced. And if a long-time fan were to play Progress Junction and then that recent reissue of the band's classic Send You record, said fan would not hear anything out of sorts. The remarkable thing here is that this group didn't record for 30 years. But that doesn't matter as the results are of a piece with earlier offerings, and nothing here suggests that the players are not ready to return to making beautiful indie-pop. And then as now, Sneaky Feelings have a truly unique place in the Kiwi Rock universe, as the gentle taste of this album offering below, "Don't Come Down" illustrates, the familiar sort of hook that the best Flying Nun bands used, wrapped up in a package of sublime hooks and rich harmonies. So much of this record achieves a similar effect and this fan is just so happy and pleased that the band have not only returned, but that they are still capable of making magic like this.

Progress Junction is out now via Flying Nun. Follow Sneaky Feelings via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Courtesy Matthew Bannister, photographer unidentified]

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bold: A Review Of As You Were,The Triumphant Solo Debut Album From Liam Gallagher

Was that headline too much? Is the secret out that I have heard As You Were, the solo debut record from Liam Gallagher, and that I love it? The album, out Friday, October 6 on Warner Brothers Records, is, quite simply, the finest showcase yet for what is, arguably, the greatest voice of the modern rock era. As You Were provides what even the triumphs on Oasis and Beady Eye albums couldn't provide, and that is definitive proof that Liam Gallagher is the best rock 'n' roll singer of his generation.

Sure, there was some familiar and welcomed fire on "Wall of Glass", lead-off single from As You Were, but it's the near-ballads here that crackle with life, from the trippy "Universal Gleam" and on to the splendid "Paper Crown", an achingly lovely number that sees Gallagher engage with the material in a manner that suggests Lennon ('natch), as well as Weller. It's evidence of a refinement of his technique that builds upon past successes like "The Morning Son" from the first Beady Eye record, or even mid-period Oasis single "Songbird", among others.

It's almost as if the cliche of "Liam's grown into his voice" is somehow being proven here, as the rich lyrical turns on the yearning "When I'm In Need", and the supple melodic swells on "I've All I Need" seem to suggest. That latter cut does that usual Beatles chord-thing that old Oasis tracks did, but Liam sounds proverbially older and wiser here, the material his as he purrs through the arches of the tune. And to praise that song so specifically is not to say that there's no trace of the rowdy Our Kid here on As You Were, 'cause, truly "I Get By", the Stones-y "You Better Run", and the more successful "Greedy Soul" rawk with the sort of menace that those early Oasis offerings delivered in a more ramshackle fashion. If things here are sleek and reasonably well-produced (by The Bird and The Bee's Greg Curstin, among others), it's only in service of the material as, at least this time around, until the inevitable reunion with his brother at some point in our future, Liam's intent with As You Were is to offer his record, one entirely under his thumb, as it were. So, if things sound less like the products of an indie band, and more like numbers from a charismatic lead singer and a backing band, that's fine when the material has the kick and heft that "Bold", a fine and mature rocker, has, for instance.

And as Liam coos a reckoning for past behaviors ("For What It's Worth"), or seemingly takes the high road against his brother (the beautiful "Paper Crown"), long-time fans of the guy are rewarded. This is finally his moment in the sun. And while some of us raved about that first Beady Eye record, and praised Liam's wrangling of a bunch of guys who used to be in Oasis, and Ride, and Heavy Stereo, into a fighting-fit Rock Band, there were loads more who didn't give him and that group the praise they deserved. So now it's time for us to sit back and watch as Liam lights the fuse and tosses the grenade into a moribund music scene, a scene that desperately needs front-men with the charisma and personality that this guy's brought to any material he's sung for more than a quarter-century now.

What As You Were is, then, is all the usual Liam vocal tricks and flourishes wrapped into material that actually serves him extraordinarily well. The tracks here are uniformly strong, with some ("Paper Crown", "I've All I Need") being among the very best recordings Liam Gallagher has ever been a part of. So, ignore the genuflecting of this fan and just dip into any part of As You Were and remind yourself why this is The Voice that Rock as an institution needed so badly back in 1994. That he's maintained it, and that he's (finally) been able to put that voice into the service of songs that suit it so well are things to be happy about.

And if you're a fan of his in any way, if he's touched you with his tunes, or given you the soundtrack of a night out, or roared like the hooligan you'd always wanted to be, buy As You Were when it's released next week.

As You Were is out Friday, October 6 on Warner Brothers Records.

Follow Liam Gallagher on his official Facebook page, on his official website, or via Twitter.

[Photos: Rankin]

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Howl: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Pere Ubu

The new Pere Ubu album, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo, drops tomorrow on MVD here in America. That it is a blistering slab of post-punk from the lot that very nearly invented that term, goes without saying. That David Thomas, shown in a pic from the band's tour-stop in D.C. last year above, is more on fire now than he was, perhaps, in the Eighties is something that also needs to be said. And as album opener "Monkey Bizness" roars out of the gate, a listener and long-time fan of this lot is grateful, again, for this band.

As "Prison of the Senses" whirls and twirls in the style of oldie "Birdies", a listener can appreciate how this outfit have managed to build on their rich legacy by continuing to offer music that pushes against the mainstream every second of their existence. "Toe to Toe" and "Swampland" churn, a peek or two inside the whirlwind, and I recall again how I first listened to this band because Husker Du referenced them in an interview some 30 years ago. I can understand the reference now as the bridge between punk and the avant-garde is here in grooves like these, just like it was in "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Final Solution" so very long ago. Elsewhere, "Howl" unspools some weird jazz as Thomas howls at the moon, while "I Can Still See" offers something that's beautiful and a bit eerie at the same time.

What's remarkable here on 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo is how this band, under the perennial leadership of David Thomas, manages to continue to push at the edges of established forms of alt-rock and its associated sub-genres. Thomas and his crew this time out -- Keith Moline (guitar), Gary Siperko (guitar), Kristof Hahn (guitar), Darryl Boon (clarinet), Robert Wheeler (synths), Gagarin (synths), Michele Temple (bass), and Steve Mehlman (drums) -- keep up the intensity as they pursue a singular, albeit noisy, muse. That Thomas has been inspired for so long is something I'm grateful for, as other loyal fans of this band have surely been as well. Full of both risky moments, and fairly conventional -- by Pere Ubu standards, at least -- ones, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo crackles with a uniquely American energy, the sort of fiery out there-ness that musicians routinely reached some decades ago. Thomas, a legend, manages to keep this sort of thing fresh. And, it goes without saying, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo perpetuates this band's fairly recent resurgence, their latest renaissance rollicking ahead at full tilt.

Out tomorrow on MVD, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo is another notch in David Thomas' belt, and another borderline classic in the band's growing library of vitally abrasive music.

More details, as always, via

[Photo: me]

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dandification: A Few Words About The New Luke Haines Box Set From Cherry Red Records

Has it really come to this? Have we finally reached the point where this outsider is lauded -- yet again -- with a box set? I mean, how did we get to the point where even solo Luke Haines needs an Uncut-magazine-style career overview? Maybe I am being too cynical about things.

The new 4-CD box set Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017, out Friday on Cherry Red Records, makes a compelling case for the greatness of Haines as a solo artist. That he even has enough material is a testament to his longevity in an industry he largely shoots flaming arrows at. And that so very much of this succeeds at all is significant as, frankly, I don't think anyone's going to offer up a very good 4-CD set from Noel Gallagher's solo years, you know? But while that cat is still trying to recapture the glories of some point in his past, Luke Haines has moved on. This is not to say that he's forgotten The Auteurs and how absolutely superb they were, nor that he's diminishing the perfection of those Black Box Recorder recordings, but, rather, that he's made peace with himself as a solo artist, and a solo artist who's taken some real chances in the last 16 years.

Disc 1 wisely serves as a sort of "best of" of Haines' output early in this century, favoring tracks from albums like the pop-leaning The Oliver Twist Manifesto from 2001, or the sleek austerity of the same year's Christie Malry's Own Double Entry, represented here by "England Scotland and Wales", one of Luke's finest numbers. By 2006, Haines had sort of refined his shtick as a solo artist in order to offer up the solid-but-not-entirely-inspired Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop. Make no mistake, there were some remarkably good tracks on that record (the near-anthem of "Leeds United", or the sinister strut of "Bad Reputation"), but none of them seemed to hit the peak that certain late-period Auteurs songs had hit, for example. Still, if Haines wasn't exactly on fire here, he was making astonishingly consistent work and the tracks on the end of Disc 1 make up a nice reminder of that.

Oddly, Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 splits up the selections from 2009's 21st Century Man between Discs 1 and 2. But an unexpected result of that is that the track "Suburban Mourning", kicking off the second CD here, serves as a sort of indicator of a shift in Haines' solo work, while also acting as a nod to past, similar glories as echoes of "Unsolved Child Murder" and "Goodnight Kiss" abound here. Elsewhere on Disc 2, there are a few cuts from his truly-odd 2011 offering, 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early '80s, with only "Big Daddy Got a Casio VL Tone" surprising after all these years. The record was not as successful as even the mainstream-eyeing Off My Rocker... but it was at bare minimum more essential than 2013's absurd Rock And Roll Animals. Whatever he intended by recording that record, Haines failed. The tracks seem silly and entirely inconsequential now with only "A Badger Called Nick Lowe" making any kind of dent in a listener's consciousness.

Disc 3 sees Haines right the ship a bit with a few surprisingly pleasant ditties from his New York In The '70s with "Lou Reed Lou Reed" and "Alan Vega Says" sticking out as more than just cheap nods in the direction of obvious influences. More significantly, Disc 3 of Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 shines a little light on the truly brave and risky British Nuclear Bunkers album from Haines. That the drone-y and noise-y record from 2015 is represented at all is something to be applauded as the release seemed to be Haines' ultimate kiss-off to an industry that never fully appreciated or deserved him. Before the rarities kick in, this box set highlights a few numbers from the surprisingly-strong Smash The System (2016) including the glam-y "Marc Bolan Blues" and the warped electro-pop of that album's title cut.

And, of course, the final disc here is the one that really and truly offers up the real rarities. Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 kicks off its final disc with "Black Sun", a cut from a teenage Haines' first band. Superbly unhinged, it is the sort of the ragged-and-raging indie-pop that this guy would pursue with a good deal more refinement later, first in The Servants and later in The Auteurs. Elsewhere on Disc 4 are a few previously-unreleased gems that should now be counted as some of the finest solo numbers Haines has ever offered. The lyrical "1963" and acerbic "Dandification" are just superb and they stand on their own as essential Haines cuts even if they are leftovers from an earlier, unfinished project of the artist's. There are a few BBC sessions here that accompanied 2009's 21st Century Man before we encounter the odd "Me and the Birds", a nice meditation on the opposite sex, or Luke's own place in their eyes, that is haunting and melodic, and then the smooth "Jeff Starship Superstar", a sonic and thematic cousin to "The Rubettes" from an older Auteurs record. Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 closes with 2 brief but excellent tracks: the stomping "68P In My Pocket" and the eerie "Rave", as perfect an ending track as Haines has composed since "Future Generation" from The Auteurs' How I Learned To Love The Bootboys very nearly 2 decades ago.

If I'm speaking negatively about a handful of songs here, I'm praising dozens more. If you've missed any part of the solo career of Luke Haines, Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 is essential. If you love everything he's done, you need Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 for Disc 4 and assorted other rarities. If you preferred The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder albums, you need Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 to see the error of your ways as some of this -- lots of this! -- is just as good and just as precisely composed and performed. Luke Haines has taken some risks, failed, succeeded, and persevered across a few decades. He's outlasted the wave that brought his talents to public consciousness in the first place 25 years ago, and stood firm against the allure of cheap nostalgia and revisionism. For those reasons, and for the sheer wealth of sublime chamber pop collected and presented here, Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 remains an absolutely essential purchase. Smart, sharp, cynical, sentimental (within reason), and aware, Luke Haines remains an artist worth paying attention to. Just maybe not on Twitter.

Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 is out on Friay via Cherry Red Records. For news of Luke Haines, wade through his Twitter feed, or, more simply, check out his official website.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Set It Off: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Effects

There is something pathetic about the fact that I'm writing this while missing The Effects in concert in D.C. tonight. It's not like I haven't seen Devin Ocampo in other bands here (Deathfix, Warm Sun), but I did want to see this band at some point. However, as usual, work commitments got in the way for me.

Regardless of that, I'm exceedingly happy to tell you that the new Effects record, Eyes To The Light, out Friday on Dischord, is a fine release and one that showcases these 3 musicians to, well, marvelous effect. The Effects -- Devin Ocampo (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Matt Dowling (bass, vocals, keyboards), and David Rich (drums, percussion) -- offer up blistering and oddly soulful post-punk of a sort that seems to push this music as a genre into a new space. That sounds pretentious but long-time fans of this sort of thing will understand my meaning.

Opener "New Isolation" burns with a nice fury, while "Numbers" positively pops and crackles with a spry bit of energy. As Ocampo coos over the simple chord changes, the drums and bass of Rich and Dowling burst out of the speakers (or headphones, as your case may be). The tune seems to evolve as it goes on and there's a decidedly prog vibe going on here that recalls Eighties King Crimson, or solo Belew releases. The best tracks on Eyes To The Light let the rich melodies take center-stage even as the 3 players show off their chops. "Anchors Aweigh" churns and unspools with a gentle lilt as the instruments hit with force all around Devin's easy vocal-lines. The lyrical "Set It Off" lets a looping melody drive things, while the Zenyatta Mondatta-isms of "Back and Forth" suggest the faintest hint of jazz-rock as an influence here. Producer J. Robbins (Jawbox, Channels, Office Of Future Plans) deserves a lot of credit for recording this in such a way that a listener can pretty much feel the hooks in a big way.

For all my talk of musicianship, or prog or fusion influences, the selections on Eyes To The Light are uniformly tight and concise, and hardly pretentious or too wonky. Less angular than the tunes Ocampo worked out with Smart Went Crazy, the ones here on Eyes To The Light are every bit as sharp and smart. It's just that they are far more focused. Only the final cut here, the longer "Moving On", offers up the sort of wider space that allows these players to explore and make riffs, riffs that are borderline indulgent. The other tracks on this debut album are all fairly refined nuggets of the sort of post-punk (for lack of a better word) that Ocampo threw down in Faraquet and Medications, for instance. What The Effects have done so well here is create music that allows for musician-y moments -- a bit of flash here, a burst of indulgence there -- but which also maintains a real focus. The cuts on Eyes To The Light breeze past in fits of wild inventiveness in small bites, with impulses to show-off largely restrained. Fans of Medications and Faraquet, for example, will find lots here that sounds familiar while constantly marveling at the very economy with which Ocampo and Rich and Downling have managed to get this one down on tape.

Eyes To The Light is out on Friday. You can order it via the Bandcamp link below, or via Dischord. More details on The Effects via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Michael Honch via the band's Facebook page]

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Few Words About The New Mother Ethiopia EP From Paul Weller

In a career that has seen some remarkable risks taken, Paul Weller has decided to go, however briefly, in an altogether unexpected direction for his new EP. Out Friday via Warner Brothers Records, Mother Ethiopia offers up 3 expansive cuts that reveal that The Modfather remains a genuinely adventurous musician.

Teaming up here with The Stone Foundation again on "Mother Ethiopia Part 1", Weller indulges his best dancehall instincts to contribute to a truly infectious groove. Weller previously worked with The Stone Foundation on their recent album, reviewed by me here, and now he is content to almost take a backseat to the rhythm-heavy commotion going on around him. Bongo Bob joins Paul for the second version of the track on this EP, while "Mother Ethiopia Part 3" sees the former Jam frontman link up with the Ethiopia-by-way-of-London-group Krar Collective to plunge further into the bubbling hooks of the title tune of this EP. A deft plucked guitar underpins the percussion as a theremin coos in the background. But it is the vocals (in Amharic) from Genet Assefa of Krar Collective that make this so memorable. Invitingly percussive and full of plaintive work from the singer, this track is truly stunning. Weller is to be commended for bringing this sort of music to the market as it deserves a wide audience.

Mother Ethiopia will be out on Friday via Warner Brothers Records. Follow Paul Weller via his official website, or via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Tom Beard]

Tongue Slap Your Brains Out: A Few Words About The New One From Torres

The music of Torres is simultaneously like that of other bands and wholly unique. It is strangely tactile music, music where the electronic textures seem like things that could be touched, not just heard. The newest record from Torres is called Three Futures and it's out on Friday via 4AD and it's a strange beast, but one that demands the attention of listeners everywhere.

Produced by Rob Ellis and mixed by David Tolomei, Three Futures sounds absolutely fantastic. And if some credit is thrown the way of those guys, the rest -- the lion's share, obviously -- must go to Mackenzie Scott AKA Torres, the guiding force behind this sonic journey. The sinister and wonderfully-titled "Tongue Slap Your Brains Out" opens the album and it's all slo-mo vibes, dance music stretched out until it resembles something from another world, or a dream. Elsewhere, the superb "Righteous Woman" channels Kate Bush in a Buck Rogers century, the old mixing with the new to become a tune that is timeless in its directness and futuristic in its delivery. The weird pop of "Bad Baby Pie" suggests an update of the Eurythmics template for a more severe future, while the lovely-and-percolating "Marble Focus" recalls some mid-period Peter Gabriel stuff, where percussion was fully subsumed in the entire presentation. Torres has a remarkable knack for making this all feel largely natural. In other hands, lots of this might end up ponderous or obvious, but there's something easy here, something utterly unforced that renders the offerings of Torres Art of the best kind.

Pretentious in the right ways, and in the (right) small degree, Three Futures is an updating of earlier styles from earlier pioneers (Laurie Anderson, Eno, Kraftwerk), while also a fairly convincing argument that, in 2017, electronic music is capable of being some of the most human music one is likely to encounter. Warm and yet austere, stark and yet lush, Three Futures is largely sublime and compelling. As always, Torres remains an artist to follow with rapt attention.

Three Futures by Torres is out on Friday via 4AD. More details on Torres via the official website.

[Photo: Ashley Connor]