Sunday, June 25, 2017

Greatness Yet To Come: A Few Words About The New James Elkington Record

Drawing on diverse influences, James Elkington offers up a unique blend of folk-rock on his debut album, Wintres Woma. Out Friday on the influential Paradise of Bachelors label, the record is the sort of thing that deserves a lot of attention from careful listeners.

Opener "Make It Up" sees Elkington offer up a Bert Jansch-like ramble on the guitar underneath his deep vocals. The cut is a spry, if understated, one and it's a fine example of this distinctive performer's style. On "Grief Is Not Coming", Elkington uses a near-country-twang to deliver his quiet-yet-upbeat composition, while on the longer "Greatness Yet To Come", there's the faintest hint of acoustic Jimmy Page in Elkington's plucking on the guitar as the vocal delivery veers more into Elliott Smith-style territory. Elkington's strength is his ability to meld a few very specific influences into something wholly his own. If "My Trade In Sun Tears" recalls, however slightly, something from a performer like Jeff Buckley, or even Tim Buckley, it's still Elkington's show here and the singer-guitarist manages to touch the heart even if some listeners will be grooving on what he's clearly drawing inspiration from on this cut, and throughout the record.

A stunning melange of folk-y stuff, with nods in the direction of artists as disparate as Johnny Greenwood, Badly Drawn Boy, and Nick Drake, Wintres Woma by James Elkington is a superb slice of music. Out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors, Wintres Woma is the fine debut solo LP by James Elkington.

[Photo: Tim Harris]

Jaded: A Look At The Thoroughly Fab New Single From Winter

How can something sound so perfectly like some really classic acts from the past while remaining a thoroughly fresh-and-fab slice of modern indie-pop? That's the question I'm asking about the new single from Winter.

Called "Jaded", the single sounds like Juliana Hatfield, Letters to Cleo, Belly, and Veruca Salt -- all Nineties acts I love(d) un-ironically -- and yet it sounds now too, baby. Frankly, it's a blast of infectious noise-rock that's catchy and full of the sort of spark that made indie an interesting proposition back then, and which the current scene could use more of. Samira Winter recorded this while on tour recently and while it speaks of being "jaded", it's hardly that. Produced by Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast), it's a fun slab of modern rock.

Winter's tour continues even as we speak. More details can be found on the band's official Facebook page, or via Burger Records.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Silence Overgrown: A Look At The New Kane Strang Album

The last album from Kane Strang, reviewed by me here, offered proof that the New Zealand music scene was alive and well. Offering up more distinctive indie-pop, the new Kane Strang record, Two Hearts and No Brain, is out on Friday via Dead Oceans and it's the sort of thing that expands on his earlier material while keeping his signature sound intact.

Opener "Lagoons" offers up a Pavement-like shuffle, while "Silence Overgrown" shines thanks to a bright melodic hook. Elsewhere, on "Oh So You're Off I See", Kane shares a near-surging riff-rocker, while "My Smile Is Extinct" is the sort of angular indie that recalls the work of fellow countrymen The Clean from decades earlier. A big chorus elevates this one so that it's a clear highlight of Two Hearts and No Brain. The superb "Summertime In Your Lounge" cranks along with a bit of a woozy rhythm, a rougher variation on the sort of songs that Kane cranked out on his earlier album.

A fine, thoroughly solid record, Two Hearts And No Brain is out on Friday on Dead Oceans.

Follow Kane Strang via his official Facebook page, or via his official website.

[Photo: Loulou Callister-Baker]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Heart Take Flight: A Few Words About The New Bedouine Album

The new self-titled album from Bedouine, out Friday on Spacebomb Records, caught me totally by surprise. Expecting something wispy, I got a record that bears favorable comparisons to some Joni Mitchell releases. While the compositions are not quite as complex, Bedouine's supple voice gives these cuts a depth that the songs of other current singers simply do not have.

If opener "Nice And Quiet" eases a listener into Bedouine's world via some simple and direct neo-folk stylings, the more sultry "One Of These Days" offers up something pitched between Joni and early Linda Rondstadt. At her best, Bedouine sinks into these cuts in such a way that one marvels at not only her voice, but her compositions as well. There are songs here that tread a semi-safe path ("Dusty Eyes") and a few others, most notably the marvelous "Solitary Daughter", where Bedouine's voice recalls that of Peggy Lee even as the material takes a more arty turn that places it vaguely in Laura Nyro territory. On some tracks, like "Mind's Eye", there's even a trace of a sort of Sandy Denny-vibe to things. What makes this record so special is the ease with which Bedouine pulls all this together, navigating a few styles with a remarkable naturalness. Relaxed and fully in command as a vocalist, Bedouine reveals one of the warmest new vocalists one is likely to encounter in the current musical climate. Fans of Emma Pollock (The Delgados), Judee Sill, and solo Natalie Merchant should find a lot to like in these largely down-tempo numbers.

Bedouine by Bedouine is out tomorrow on Spacebomb Records. Follow Bedouine via her official website, or via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Antonia Barrowman]

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Still Ticking: A Look At The New Album From Hollow Everdaze

The music of Hollow Everdaze is not going to set the world on fire but it will certainly please fans of a certain strain of indie-pop, myself included. The new album, Cartoons, is out on Deaf Ambitions on Friday and I'm here to clue you in to the charms of this record.

If "Still Ticking" swoons with a sort of Travis-like melodic-ism, the more languid "Poisoned By Nostalgia" adds a faint alt-country twang to the sound being refined by the group here. If "Out Your Window" reveals an approach that could best be described as a nod in the direction of I Am Kloot, or early Alfie, then the fine title cut finds inspiration in more recent U.K. bands (Childhood, Temples). Elsewhere, the superb "Never Going Back" blends a nice Sixties chamber pop-mood with some fuzzy guitars to create something poised perilously close to both The Left Banke and The La's. It is a very good track and one of the many standouts here, along with the sleek string-laced "Running Away" and the chiming "Same Old Story", all pre-disco Bee Gees hooks stretched out and given breathing room.

Drawing from inspirations as disparate as mid-period Radiohead, Beulah, The Bluetones, and even The Pernice Brothers, Hollow Everdaze make perfectly serviceable modern indie of the sort that very nearly rises to the realm of greatness in certain moments. This Australian band is now one of the acts on my radar and I'd urge you to pay attention to them too.

Cartoons by Hollow Everdaze is out on Friday via Deaf Ambitions. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Matt Neumann]

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Heads Up About The New Jack Cooper (Ultimate Painting) Single

I've shown a lot of love 'round these parts to Ultimate Painting and now I'm about to start showing a lot of love to a new solo project from one of its members. Jack Cooper was not only in Ultimate Painting but he was in the earlier Mazes and now he's prepping a solo album that should be out on August 25th from Trouble in Mind Records.

The first taste of that album is called "North of Anywhere" and it's a fine, languid rumination on life that recalls both solo George Harrison as well as down-tempo Pavement to this listener. It is the sort of thing that's got me intrigued about the upcoming album now.

Sandgrown will be out on Trouble in Mind in August. Follow that site for more details on Jack Cooper in the mean-time.

[Photo: Tsouni Cooper]

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Word About The Fine New Frankie Rose Single

The good news of the week is the return of Frankie Rose (Vivian Girls, Beverly, etc.). Ahead of the the new album, Cage Tropical on Slumberland Records and Grey Market in August, Frankie's dropped a lovely new single.

Called "Trouble", the number soars with a blissed-out vibe that recalls an unlikely mix of a Giorgio Moroder-produced Donna Summer classic with a solo Laetitia Sadier cut. A heady mix, the single is the sort of assured, future-looking indie-pop that Frankie's been pursuing in the last few years. The result is a sleek bit of alt-rock machinery, the sort that sounds like it's capable of hitting some stratospheric heights on its way to the cosmos.

Cage Tropical will be out on August 11. In the meantime, keep track of Slumberland Records for news of Frankie Rose's activities in the run-up to the release date, and be sure to follow Frankie via her official website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Damaged: A Brief Look At The New Album From Rips

The new, self-titled album from Rips, out today on Faux Discx, is a fine example of modern indie-pop successfully mining the past for inspiration. That so much of this record from the Brooklyn act sounds like one from a NYC band from the Seventies should be seen as a good thing, after all.

"Malibu Entropy" blends a nice Television-style vibe with some guitar-lines that echo those of the acts of a generation later (The Bongos, Sonic Youth), while "Break" is a serviceable number that sounds a tiny bit like a more refined version of recent Twin Peaks offerings. Elsewhere, the rougher "Damaged" shines with the sort of spark missing from a lot of what passes for American indie these days, while the bright "Vs" recalls the sort of fine alt-rock found on early releases from EZTV. On the near-epic "Psychics", Rips try to broaden their sound a bit, some nice effects jutting up against vocals and a main riff that both nod in the direction of Thurston Moore stuff, while closing track "Spell" adds a faint trace of angular post-punk in the manner of Joy Division to the sound being cultivated by Rips here.

If Rips by Rips is not entirely original, it is fresh. There's a lot of enthusiasm here and that makes up for the fact that so many of the hooks do feel familiar. Still, they feel familiar in a good way. If the compositions of Rips are not quite (yet) as memorable as the tunes of the bands who've so obviously inspired this crew (Pavement, The Feelies, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids), nor the rough-edged equals of cuts from producer Austin Brown's Parquet Courts, the tracks here on Rips are certainly moving in a similar direction. Rips by Rips is a modest, thoroughly enjoyable record that I recommend quite a bit.

Out today on Faux Discx, Rips by Rips is one of this week's pleasant surprises. More details on the record and the group via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Dan Abary]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Blue Is The Frequency: A Look At The New Royal Trux Live Album On Drag City

Was it ever in doubt that they would be back? Royal Trux are here again, to infect our eardrums with scuzzy glory. This time around, on the fine Platinum Tips+Ice Cream, out on Friday via Drag City, the results are live versions of some of the band's best material. The overall effect is one that reaffirms the low charms of the band while reminding a listener of just what a fine live proposition they remain.

The album opens with the rough "Junkie Nurse" before easing into the T.Rex-meets-Aerosmith stroll of "Sewers Of Mars", Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema languidly exploring the nuances of this near-blues-y stuff. Elsewhere, on the excellent and essential "Esso Dame", originally from the band's first album, the Trux blow the doors off with a whole lot of sinister intent. This is brutal stuff, as is the more-polished "Blue Is The Frequency" from the band's classic Veterans Of Disorder album. Royal Trux seem to be able to casually blend up a nasty melange of Exile-era Stones hooks, with some Johnny Thunders-type nastiness, and a blast of early Gun Club to whip up tunes that have somehow stood the test of time despite sounding like they were written yesterday in a rush (the lanky "Mercury", or the rather lovely "Sometimes" come to mind here). A clear highlight in this regard is "Ice Cream" from Twin Infinitives, here stretched to the breaking point in a neat approximation of acid rock that, however briefly, puts this band squarely next to Spacemen 3 and Primal Scream.

Platinum Tips+Ice Cream is the sort of live album that is so good that it makes you want to go back and get your older Royal Trux albums out again. And, I guess, there are probably a few people out there who maybe missed the recent string of Royal Trux reissues on Drag City and needed this reminder that this band was always on fire, always full of a real nasty streak, the kind that usually inspires the very best rock-'n'-roll of all

Out on Drag City on Friday, Platinum Tips+Ice Cream is the addition to the library of Royal Trux that both long-time fans and new ones so desperately needed. Get in on the woozy goodness now folks!

[Photo: Unknown photographer, courtesy Drag City]

Monday, June 12, 2017

I See Progress: A Look At Best Of Crime Rock From Chain And The Gang

That guy up there leaning off the speaker? That cat is Ian F. Svenonius, in case you didn't know. He was once front-man of The Nation of Ulysses on Dischord, and leader of The Make-Up (recently revived from the dead for a series of live shows, that pic from the D.C. one last month), and he's also the singer for Chain and The Gang as well. The Chain, like The Make-Up, have returned for some more time in the public eye. The reason? The release of new record, Best Of Crime Rock, out this Friday on In The Red Records.

In spite of what you might think 'cause of that title, the release is not a best of comp., in the purest sense. What it is is an exploration of the band's back-catalog and a re-casting of so many classic songs with the force of the current line-up of the band behind them. Of course, there are some legitimately "new" tunes here, like the Standells strut "The Logic Of Night", but it's the revitalized cuts, like the pounding "Devitalize", that showcase the formidable strengths of this act. The line-up here -- Ian F. Svenonius on vocals and rabble-rousing, Francy Graham on guitars and such, Anna Nasty on bass and strategy, and Mark Cisneros on drums and things -- tackles these songs with a mixture of abandon and confidence. For a cat who's such an amazing band-leader, Ian could be forgiven for sticking to just one outfit but he clearly feels affection for the sort of tunes on offer here, enough so that one can see the difference in mission between The Make-Up and Chain and the Gang, for you newbies out there. Stuff like "I See Progress" sees this act firing on all cylinders, to use an overused expression, with bass/guitar/drums/vocals purring with a sinister intent, Sixties slink with free jazz underpinnings. Elsewhere, the hard bop indie-pop of "Free Will" percolates with a real sense of fun, a looser take on the original from 2012's In Cold Blood, while "Why Not?", from 2011's Music's Not For Everyone, is here trotted around the track in a quick saunter, the Nasty bass and Francy riffs dueling it out under Ian's easy vocal performance.

On the down-tempo "What Is A Dollar?", the original number, from 2009's Down With Liberty... Up With Chains!, has been stretched out a bit to allow a looser take, the players here having a go at working some jazzy hooks into the cut, while "Certain Kinds Of Trash", from 2012's In Cold Blood, has been tightened up into a sort of take on early Bad Seeds. While Chain and The Gang lack the arty lugubriousness of that Nick Cave-fronted crew when tackling stuff like this, they are much better at infusing this kind of thing with a lot of wit and charm. One gets the sense that Ian doesn't necessarily take himself too seriously...even if he clearly is very serious about what he's doing here. A good case in point is "Deathbed Confession" which here seems much better and more vital than even the original. Stationed at the end of Best Of Crime Rock, this version of the number is haunting, surprisingly stark, and just heavy enough to signal another shade on this group's palette. Built over a live vocals-and-piano-take with overdubs from various guests, including local D.C. legend, DJ Baby Alcatraz (Alyssa Bell) on backing vocals, the song is sublime here. And it is pretty good proof of why there's no shame in the band re-recording the "hits" from their back-catalog, especially if the results are gonna be this good, this essential, and this subtly incendiary.

So, what are we to make of Best Of Crime Rock then, in total? On paper, it seems a naff idea. Frankly, if it was any other band, I'd run when I heard that the band was re-recording their own back-catalog. Here, in the hands of these players, my feeling is different. What this is is perhaps the tightest live line-up of Chain and The Gang re-taking these cuts from the past in a largely-successful attempt to show how gosh-darn with it this group is now. The current version of Chain and The Gang now owns these numbers in every sense of the word. The tunes have been been retrieved, "stolen" from their younger selves, as it were, and recast as lost classics, the kind we knew and maybe didn't know well enough. Could this be the only Chain and The Gang record you need to own? Well, that's a bit unfair considering the expansive genius of Ian F. Svenonius; it remains the sort of intellect one wants to follow on any release, at any time. That said, is this as fine a distillation of one Ian-fronted project as one is likely to encounter? Yeah, yeah it is. The heart of Chain and The Gang beats here, under the hood of this supple beast. Four players in cahoots, committing the sort of transgressions against the boring norms and conventions of indie-pop in order to rescue us from ennui. Liberate us brothers and sisters. Bring it down Brother Ian!

Best of Crime Rock is out on Friday via In The Red Records. There are many ways to follow the adventures of Chain and The Gang including the band's Facebook page, and their Bandcamp page for the earlier releases.

[Photos: Ian F. Svenonius by me at The Black Cat D.C., 2017; Chain and The Gang group photo by Jamie Goodsell]

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Heads Up About A New Covers EP from Le SuperHomard Featuring Lake Ruth

The American band Lake Ruth have recently contributed a fine cover of a song by French band Le SuperHomard to an EP that features a whole handful of other stellar indie acts. The original swirls with the sort of retro-pop charms that Stereolab and The Cardigans once routinely released. The cut has been covered and remixed by a handful of bands on a new EP called Dry Salt In Our Hair, out now.

The Lake Ruth cover of the tune expands on that sort of appeal to add a more robust instrumental base to the cut. There remain, certainly, some parts that will appeal to those of us who were weaned on Pram and Broadcast, but the musicians around Allison Brice are working on those riffs with a real sense of purpose and, for that reason, the number has a uniquely live-in-the-studio vibe about it.

Play "Dry Salt In Our Hair" by Lake Ruth below and then get more details on Lake Ruth via the band's official Facebook page.

More details on Le SuperHomard via that band's official Facebook page.

[Photo of Lake Ruth by Matt Sculz]

Aboard My Train: A Short Review Of The New Kevin Morby Album

Kevin Morby was once in The Babies but that was a long time ago. He's an artist in his own right and his new album, City Music, out Friday on Dead Oceans, is such a stunning release that it seems silly to even highlight his previous gigs. This is a pretty damn special record on its own unique terms, is what I'm trying to say.

City Music opens with the Leonard Cohen-ish "Come To Me Now", a near-note perfect recreation of the best sort of material from the late master, while "Crybaby" shifts gears a bit, angling into mid-period Nick Cave territory in its languid, woozy appeal. The song here that's gonna get the critics salivating -- (and the one which I'm sure will end up in a car commercial eventually) -- is "1234", a homage simultaneously to The Ramones and Jim Carroll. This is, clearly, City Music, as the title goes, and as Kevin name-checks The Ramones -- "Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy" -- the music surges and swells in a pretty neat approximation of "People Who Died", the most famous Carroll number. On paper, it sounds a dreadful thing but it is, on record, a whole lot of heartfelt fun.

Elsewhere, the lovely "Aboard My Train" nods in the direction of both Cohen (again), but also late-period Lou Reed, and even Van Morrison, while the title cut spools out with a kind of lazy grace, hipster impressions of the genuinely dangerous stuff from the No NYC era. Still, for my cynicism there in saying that, I did love this record. Stuff like "Tin Can" is more traditionally beholden to both Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley than to anything else but it's a fine, catchy bit of business and Morby has sort of mastered this material in such as a way that the derivative bits -- and there are loads here, 'natch -- don't annoy too much. In fact, having a healthy working knowledge of the back-catalogs of John Cale, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Television, and Dylan might be a good thing when approaching City Music. I certainly appreciated the record more as tunes like "Night Time" and "Pearly Gates" seemed to owe so much to not only those NYC legends but others elsewhere like Tindersticks, The Saints, and The Triffids. And while it sounds as if City Music isn't wholly original, I'd still give Kevin Morby tremendous credit here as I think this record was done with a whole lot of affection for the work of the influences who inspired these (largely) very melodic and affecting tunes.

City Music by Kevin Morby will be out on Friday via Dead Oceans. More details on Kevin Morby's official website, or on his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Adarsha Benjamin]

Staying Home With The Peacers: A Look At The New Album

The new one from The Peacers, Introducing The Crimsmen, out Friday on Drag City, is the sort of album that is nearly impossible to describe. The lo-fi rewards here are such that the noise-y bits will appeal to one set of listeners, while the wildly melodic tunes will charm another. That this sort of dichotomy doesn't seem too jarring is one of the many reasons that the album is so successful.

If parts of this, like the skewed "Haptic Chillweed", owe huge debts to Syd Barrett and Ty Segall, then others, like the truly lovely "Staying Home", nod more in the direction of Roy Wood and John Lennon. The Peacers here cram a lot of ideas into material that remains largely concise. For every bit of warped pop that's here ("Windy Car"), there's something else ("Theme From Sonny", for instance) that offers up a flash of loveliness even as the odd bits come crashing in. At times, the specter of very early Pink Floyd looms so large that a cut, like "Aboriginal Flow", is nearly consumed in the influence-worshiping going on here. At others, the fellows in Peacers manage to harness this stuff and somehow shape the discordant bits into something that steers this side of coherence ("A Golden Age", "Child Of The Season"). Some of this ("Jurgen's Layout") very nearly suggests Bee Thousand-era Guided By Voices but where Pollard seemed to owe a huge debt to the legacy of The Beatles, the boys in Peacers clearly owe an even bigger one to Syd. There is just no getting around the one-time front-man of The Pink Floyd when listening to this new Peacers record. And I suppose a lot of you should be wise enough to read that as a compliment.

Introducing The Crimsmen by The Peacers is out on on Friday via Drag City. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Wen Gingeras]

Friday, June 9, 2017

What The Whole World Wants: A Look At The Reissue Of Game Theory's Final Studio Album From Omnivore Recordings

We are here at the presumed conclusion of one of the great string of rock reissues in the modern era. The folks at Omnivore Recordings have done an amazing job at resurrecting the works of the late Scott Miller. His band, Game Theory, offered up some of the sharpest -- intellectually and musically -- music of the college rock era and, thankfully, all that stuff is back in print and surrounded by dozens of rare tracks on each of these individual album reissues.

The band's last album, 1988's 2 Steps From The Middle Ages, is now here. Out today on Omnivore Recordings, this is probably the easiest Game Theory release to embrace. If the dense material of earlier records like 1987's Lolita Nation is here streamlined, the overall magic of the band remains intact. It is, of course, as fine a record from the era as one is likely to encounter and one that, oddly, doesn't sound very dated (thank producer Mitch Easter for that).

Playful opener "Room For One More, Honey" chimes like R.E.M. in the same era had they jettisoned stuff like "Orange Crush" from their catalog and stuck ringing guitars back in the grooves of their album cuts, while "What The Whole World Wants" bursts forth with the sort of power-pop that remains timeless. Choppy guitars and pounding drums (from the late Gil Ray) anchor this cut as they do so many here and a listener can't help but think how much louder this record seems compared to the earlier albums. Still, there's no shame in that as Scott Miller was pursuing his own unique muse with the sort of creativity that was the hallmark of his tenure as a singer and songwriter. The excellent "Rolling With The Moody Girls" echoes what a band like The Smithereens was doing in this era while owing more to the sort of alt-rock being pursued by XTC and The Pursuit Of Happiness in 1988. Miller was an odd cat, thankfully, and he could indulge himself with power-pop that had heft even as he refused to dumb it down. Was this proto-metal or what? Certainly more crunchy than anything Elvis Costello or Robyn Hitchcock was doing then, Miller was racing to catch up with them as a lyricist and he seems now, frankly, nearly their equal and certainly one of the most important, if sometimes overlooked, songwriters from the late Eighties.

Elsewhere, "Throwing The Election" opens with a nearly Deep Purple-worthy organ hook, while "Leilani" is a uniquely Miller-style near-ballad in the manner of so many of the tracks on the mammoth and (partly) unwieldy Lolita Nation but it is sort of sweet and a kind of breather near the end of the album proper here. 2 Steps From The Middle Ages ends with the lilting "Initiations Week", a Miller look at college life even as he's here perfecting what we called college rock back then. The cut has that sad, almost wistful sound that Miller could pull off so easily thanks to his lyrical and musical gifts and it eases a listener into the 11 bonus cuts here in this fine reissue of 2 Steps From The Middle Ages.

There's a subdued live run at "Together Now, Very Minor" from the earlier Lolita Nation, a slew of demos, and a stab at "Bad Machinery", then a current number from Mitch Easter's own Let's Active on the group's Every Dog Has His Day album, also from 1988. But, clearly, the bonus cut here that everyone is going to be talking about in reviews of this reissue is the beautiful, solo take on "America" by Simon and Garfunkel from Scott Miller. In 1988, the first election year post-Iran-Contra, it was the sort of thing that would have caused idealistic listeners like me to look back to a (supposedly) purer era and an embrace by Scott of that "idealistic" Sixties vibe, the same vibe that contemporary acts like The Rain Parade, The Bangles, and even early R.E.M. were wholly embracing. What all that means is that Scott Miller was, as always, making music that was timeless in the way that the music of his inspirations was.

The contributions to the liner notes booklet from musicians Franklin Bruno and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies), original album producer Mitch Easter, and reissue producer Dan Vallor sound a bittersweet note which is understandable given the fairly recent death of drummer Gil Ray. There's another bittersweet feel here thanks to this being the last studio album from the band and, presumably, the end of the run of Game Theory reissues from Omnivore Recordings. A direct record in the GT catalog, 2 Steps From The Middle Ages is a concise, easy-to-love album, rendered here even crisper and brighter by reissue producers Dan Vallor, Pat Thomas, and Cheryl Pawelski. Fans of bands as seemingly disparate as The Pursuit Of Happiness, Cheap Trick, Green-era R.E.M., and The Smithereens should easily warm to this one if they weren't on board already back in 1988. For those of us who knew and loved this record nearly 30 years ago, this is the version we've waited for. If Lolita Nation is the critical peak of Scott Miller's climb to the top of the songwriting Everest, this is his semi-relaxed "touchdown dance" upon victoriously reaching that summit. A rare, uniquely Eighties blend of power-pop and smart lyrics, 2 Steps From The Middle Ages from Scott Miller and Game Theory is clearly the neglected masterpiece in the band's back-catalog and, perhaps, their most listenable record.

Originally released in 1988, 2 Steps From The Middle Ages from Game Theory is out today in this new, expanded reissue package via Omnivore Recordings. It's time to offer up a big "thank you" to the folks at the label who have made this string of GT releases so important, and so much fun to absorb and enjoy.

[Photo: Robert Toren]

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Summer Days: The Album Of This Season Is The Fine New One From Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie)

I know I've been posting a lot about Dave Depper lately but his music deserves it. The anticipation for the album grew for me with each single he dropped this Spring, and now the final full-length record is here. Called Emotional Freedom Technique and out on Friday via Tender Loving Empire, the album is a fine, fine offering, full of both heart and artistry -- hence the title that plays up both "emotion" and "technique" -- spread across a clutch of tracks that effortlessly bridge the worlds of Eighties New Wave and recent indie.

I suppose, given multi-instrumentalist Dave Depper's place in Death Cab For Cutie, that a reviewer can't get around talking about band-mate Ben Gibbard's The Postal Service project when offering some thoughts on Emotional Freedom Technique. And, yes, there are some superficial similarities in approach. Still, where Gibbard's music almost seemed an ironic use of Reagan era-electronics, Depper seems more serious in his embrace of the keyboards and samples here. A track like "Lonely With You" purrs like a honky Barry White, or the sort of sound that The Human League gamely attempted when they enlisted Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to produce their album in 1986, and yet the effect is a serious one. While the tune here blatantly nods -- almost with one eyebrow raised -- to the music of those past artists, it retains a sincerity that elevates this number, like so many here, into something sublime. Elsewhere, on the bright "Anytime Anywhere", Depper goes for a direct effect that renders the tune the sort of thing that Paul Young or Hall and Oates would have composed in the Eighties, the sort of radio hit that aged better than so much from that decade. Retro to be sure, but heartfelt and less ironic than anything from the big hair days. Similarly, "Summer Days" bubbles and chimes like the best Erasure singles, the ones that crossed over from the alt charts into the periphery of the Top 40.

I've already raved to you here about the New Wave chops of "Communication", and the bright surfaces of the sublime album opener "Do You Want Love?", as well as the duet with Laura Gibson "Your Voice On The Radio", but what about the rest of the record? I can hear the questions. Is it as good? The answer is a resounding answer in the affirmative. Besides the previously-mentioned tunes, the one cut that grabbed my heart is bold album closer "Hindsight", a thing of marvelous beauty and escalating waves of emotion. The tune is so sweet, so warm in an un-ironic way, that I can't help raving about it. Simple and precise in the manner of certain Depeche Mode numbers from the recent past, the keyboards build and ring beneath Dave's recitation of memories and regrets about "the one that got away". It is the sort of happy-sad song that very few this side of Sondre Lerche, or Death Cab For Cutie, can pull off so well.

As emotional as the best Associates singles, as expertly arranged and performed as those early O.M.D. sides, and as catchy as any 45 that Phil Oakey and his lot ever laid down some decades past, the compositions here on Emotional Freedom Technique are superb examples of exactly how to integrate electronic effects, keyboards, and samples in the making of wholly human music. Fans of all those bands should love this album as much as I do.

Emotional Freedom Technique by Dave Depper is out on Friday via Tender Loving Empire. More details on Dave Depper via his official website.

[Photo: Jaclyn Campanaro]

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Up Against The Wall: New Music Is Finally Here From Superchunk!

The arrival of new music from Superchunk is always a reason to get excited. That the tunes are here to raise money for an exceptionally good cause (Planned Parenthood South Atlantic) is yet another reason to get busy and buy this now.

A-side "I Got Cut" is a gloriously crunchy bit of power-pop that suggests a punk-ier stroll through Superchunk's fairly recent nod to harDCore, "Void", and it's a superb, pointed number. The flip here is a cover of The Tom Robinson Band's "Up Against The Wall" and, like most of the covers that this lot have cranked out in the past, the band thoroughly wraps themselves around the tune in such a natural way that one could almost imagine that they wrote it themselves. Excellent!

There are limited numbers of vinyl copies of "I Got Cut"/"Up Against The Wall" but more details can be found via Merge Records. You can also buy the tracks via the Bandcamp link below. Additionally, 20 copies of the single will be available via Paddle8 beginning on June 15. A whole slew of artists (Amanda Barr, Trudy Benson, Brian Calvin, Christopher Chiappa, Casey Cook, Mira Dancy, Amy Feldman, Magalie Guerin, Harrison Haynes, Shara Hughes, Chris Johanson, Emma Kohlmann, Joyce Pensato, Melanie Schiff, Rebecca Shore, Amy Sillman, Xaviera Simmons, Cauleen Smith, Caroline Wells Chandler and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung) contributed original designs to these versions and you'd be wise to act fast as bidding closes on June 29.

More details on Superchunk's activities this summer via Merge Records.

[Photo: Jason Arthurs]

It Could Be Me: Young Guv Finally Drops Some New Tunes On Slumberland Records

Readers of this site know how very much I loved the last Young Guv album, Ripe 4 Luv. As I explained in my review of that record more than 2 years ago, Young Guv's variety of power-pop on that 2015 long-player was something fun and smart. And now, thank goodness, Ben Cook is finally back as Young Guv with a new release on Slumberland Records. "Traumatic"/"It Could Be Me" is the first in what I hope is a string of new releases from this guy and it's a superb indie-pop offering.

"Traumatic" comes on like a solo Lindsey Buckingham single, all perfect pop buffed to a fine sheen and expertly performed and produced. It is more Eighties-style AOR wizardry than it is three-chord power-pop and yet it's every bit as wonderful. If Young Guv is going to broaden his sound a bit, let him do it in this way, in an expert blending of a decade's worth of Top 40 hits and Reagan-era New Wave. The flip-side, "It Could Be Me", is more in the style of the title cut from Young Guv's last record, a bright patch of Halls and Oates-style pop mixed with a dash of the lightest-hearted numbers from Fountains of Wayne.

Both of these cuts are superb, as you can imagine if you heard even just one or two selections from Ripe 4 Luv in 2015, and I urge you to buy them now and get ready -- fingers crossed -- for more music soon from Ben Cook, AKA Young Guv.

"Traumatic"/"It Could Be Me" is out now via Slumberland Records.

[Photo: Video cap]

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Different Now: My Review Of The Superb New Album From Chastity Belt

The new album from Chastity Belt, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, out tomorrow on Hardly Art, is the sort of release that is gonna beg some serious music journalism somewhere. Given the critical mass that this group has (rightly) achieved, it's inevitable that there will be little "think pieces" on why this album is so important at this point of time in the Trumpian dark ages. All that is necessary, of course, but my job today is simply to sort of guide you through my own enjoyment of this excellent release.

If I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is, as you can tell from the title, concerned with serious concepts of change, growth, and escapes from stagnation, it remains, thankfully, a wildly accessible record, and a warm one too. Opener "Different Now" immediately offers up the main theme of this record (change) over the top of a rather spry, mid-tempo melody. The players here -- Julia Shapiro, Gretchen Grimm, Lydia Lund, and Annie Truscott -- create a nearly hypnotic melodic swirl that wraps itself around a listener. As the album progresses, there are certainly louder songs ("This Time Of Night") and ones that seem more direct ("Complain"), but the overall sound remains the one that Chastity Belt mastered on earlier releases, if a shade darker. If the obvious traces of humor in the lyrics are largely gone, they've been replaced by something more complex and richer. As the members of the band work their way through these cuts, there's a sense of progress, and reflection on past mistakes in a few cuts ("Stuck In A Lie", "Stuck"), while others (the excellent "Something Else") hint at the urge to move beyond one's immediate circle, or current rut ("We're all talking about nothing," goes part of the lyrics). The music here on most of the album's stand-out cuts is remarkable, equal parts down-tempo Smiths or Feelies mixed with a trace of Luna, or Galaxie 500, with the overall effect being a striking one. The material has a lightness of touch that simultaneously echoes earlier, more overtly "serious" bands like Sonic Youth (the undulating "It's Obvious"), or even Young Marble Giants ("What The Hell") while retaining a real lightness of touch utterly unlike the tunes of those influential bands. As I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone progresses, the music reaches a mini-peak on the penultimate cut, "Used To Spend", which works up the sort of coiled tension-and-release pattern one hasn't heard so much of since the peak years of Built To Spill, or Sebadoh. The album closes on the more expansive "5am", a rough proto-Velvet Underground rhythm spiraling under hints of Sister-era Sonic Youth hooks which all ends with a burst of feedback that, like the appearance of the teenage Groot at end of the recent Guardians Of The Galaxy sequel, hints at an altogether different kind of pay-off awaiting fans in the next installment of this particular adventure.

I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is, clearly, a progression for this band. That that progression should be so easily expressed is what makes this record remarkable. That's another way to say that this isn't a too serious record but one which, like the best, more straight-faced old Pavement tracks, for instance, manages to tackle real ideas of growing up and changing in a way that is rare. I mean, there was some of that going on here before (the down-tempo bits of "Cool Slut", for example), but now Chastity Belt have embraced those moments and crafted something that is serious but not a burden to enjoy, and an album that rewards careful listening even if the musicians perform the tunes with a natural easiness that suggests this is almost second nature to them. Lovely and quietly affecting, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is, obviously, one of the best records of 2017; I can't imagine anything else dislodging this from my Top 10 by the time we make it to December. That is, assuming that Trump and his minions don't destroy us all by then.

Out tomorrow on Hardly Art, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone by Chastity Belt is the one release this week you must buy on the format of your choice. Follow Chastity Belt via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Conner Lyons]

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sister And Suns: A Few Words About The New One From Hooded Fang

I regret that I kinda missed that a new Hooded Fang album had already dropped as I loved their earlier albums. Dynasty House came out a few weeks ago on the band's own Daps Records label and the release is a fine album, and one that is perhaps a bit noisier and more raucous (in a good way) than the band's previous records.

Hooded Fang -- Dan Lee, April Aliermo, Lane Halley, D.Alex Meeks, and Jon Pappo -- have used this record to offer up something personal as each song uses lyrics that speak of the experiences of the players' family-members in migrating to Canada from Germany, The Philippines, and Suriname as a sort of basis for the tracks. Opener "Queen Of Agusan Del Norte" rattles with a sort of vibe that is pitched somewhere between old Pavement sides and Eighties Fall singles, while the wildly-percussive "Sister And Suns" bounces along with a coiled energy that blends late-period Sebadoh-style indie with a touch of prog. The combination sounds an odd one here but, trust me, it works. Elsewhere, the epic "Nene Of The Night" offers up the loveliest melody on Dynasty House even if the band's wonderfully-warped pop-sense remains the driver of the tune, while "Donamelia" chimes in the manner of some of the brightest and more raucous recent Radiohead numbers, the players here in command of the tune throughout. The album closes on the bouncy "Mama Pearl" which, oddly, mixes a slight techno-ish drum pattern with guitar riffs and bass-lines that run rampant in a looser manner than anything this band has attempted prior to this.

Full of risky moves that (largely) pay off, Dynasty House advances the very sound of this band in a substantial way. Hooded Fang have taken some chances here but the material is expansive enough that it never loses focus and a listener remains engaged throughout. That these players are adept at riding these harder hooks in a nearly jazz fusion fashion is another plus to what we're hearing here. Dynasty House is a big, bold record.

Dynasty House is out now via Daps Records. Follow the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Mounir Chami]

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Closer Everywhere: A Quick Review Of The Fine New Album From Beach Fossils

Don't let the fact that the band's from Brooklyn scare you away; the new album from Beach Fossils is not the work of a bunch of hipsters. Somersault, out Friday on Bayonet Records, is as fine a collection of modern chamber pop as one is likely to find in 2017. Fans of The Clientele, or The Left Banke, should eat this one up with a spoon as it's a delicious piece of indie-pop cake.

From the strummy opener "This Year" and on to the delectable "Tangerine" with guest vocalist Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, Somersault seems an immediate classic. Songs like "Saint Ivy" and "Closer Everywhere" blend a sense of Sixties-style song-craft with a handful of strings on each track to offer up music that's uniquely modern, and at once ancient and beautiful. Elsewhere, the spry "May 1st" echoes the type of down-tempo indie favored by other current bands like Ablebody, while the gorgeous "Social Jetlag" imagines something that seems like an Association number as covered by Radiohead, to offer up a very lazy bit of music writing there. Near the end of the record, the pace picks up a bit and there's more than one hint of Beachwood Sparks, or even recent Teenage Fanclub singles, in the almost-jangle-y "That's All For Now", and "Be Nothing" which adds slight nods towards territory charted by Spiritualized or The Verve to that mix of influences.

Writing about the largely sublime Somersault is a tricky affair: if I play up the more languid moments here, I run the risk of making the band seem like a bunch of slack rockers, and if I highlight the expert pop craftsmanship on offer here I take a chance that I'd be seen as labeling this group as a bunch of revivalists intent on trying to recreate Odessey And Oracle. With some small thanks to Jonathan Rado of Foxygen, who engineered part of this one, Beach Fossils -- Dustin Payseur, Jack Doyle Smith, and Tommy Davidson -- have made a fine record here and Somersault positively rings with the sort of nearly-sunny pop that very few acts this side of The Clientele can pull off successfully anymore. This is, clearly, the best Beach Fossils release so far and that's saying quite a bit, isn't it?

Somersault by Beach Fossils is out on Friday via Bayonet Records. Follow Beach Fossils on their official website, or on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Even Tetreault]

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Means To An End: A Look At A Bunch Of Live Albums From Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order)

Oddly, one of the many things I regret about my nearly 3 years in Hong Kong was that I missed a Peter Hook concert in 2014. That I had a +1 on the 'list for it only makes it seem worse that I didn't go. However, as I recall, the usually crappy Hong Kong weather was a bit worse that night and the prospect of possibly riding back to Lamma Island in a near-typhoon on a rickety ferry was enough to get my wife and I home early that night. There's a pic down there of the concert poster for Hook's concert that I saw in a Hong Kong Island MTR station shortly before the night of the event to rub salt in the wound for me here.

I suppose that now I'm lucky 'cause I can, like so many fans, hear the sort of concert I missed as the folks at Westworld Recordings have released a string of live albums from the bassist of Joy Division and New Order. The four albums, covering the tours centered around the material on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Closer and that of New Order's Movement and Power, Corruption, And Lies, present an impressive record of an (older) artist rediscovering the vibrancy of his youth and paying some kind of psychic debt to the tunes that have meant so much to him, his fans, and even the very culture of the post-punk era.

But Hooky is not alone here. He's joined in this band by his son Jack Bates, on bass, along with Monaco members David Potts on guitar, Andy Poole on keyboards, and Paul Kehoe on drums. The band is called The Light, as in Peter Hook and The Light, and they are not Joy Division. Nor are they New Order, for that matter. But, still, they offer up fairly robust versions of these post-punk classics.

And what must immediately be addressed before I get into any kind of album-by-album review of these records is the idea that these didn't really need to exist. Of course, as records of the Peter Hook tours that these came from, I suppose that it is a good thing as attendees of those shows could, indeed, want some kind of souvenir document of the concerts. But, as interpretations of the material, the albums are, of course, not entirely necessary. The records then work best for fans who know and love the Joy Division and New Order releases and who remain open-minded enough to sit through fairly faithful runs at them. I mean, look, Hook isn't going to upset the lucrative apple-cart, is he? And, yeah, that's why these are rather straight sets.

Still, I suppose it's worth looking at each individual release with a slightly less cynical POV, right?

On the Closer - Live In Manchester, Hook is in his element as he plays to a receptive hometown crowd in 2011. Standouts here include a glistening "Isolation" and a churning "A Means To An End", among others from that seminal 1980 album. If the audience is a bit too loud in spots, and Hook a bit too enthusiastic for material such as this, those are minor annoyances given the excellence of the non-album cuts here, including a riveting "Transmission" and the punk-y one-two punch of "Warsaw" and "Failures" from early in the Joy Division song-book.

The performance on Unknown Pleasures - Live in Leeds shows a sort of progression in approach, Hooky letting loose more often in this 2012 set as the material here is rougher. A fairly strong stab at "Digital" is a draw here, as is a superb exploration of "Shadowplay", Hook's bass riffing off the very same bass hooks he composed some decades earlier. Elsewhere, the non-album tracks are a mixed bag of singles and rarities with highlights being a tough-as-nails run at "Something Must Break" and a loose rendition of "Ceremony", here expanded a bit into something closer to the sound of Nineties-era New Order (even with Hook's gruff vocals).

After tackling most of the Joy Division catalog, Peter Hook naturally turned to the New Order stuff. A 2013-era recording, Power, Corruption, And Lies - Live In Dublin remains one of the better albums in this series of releases. With Hook sounding supremely at ease running through buoyant classics like "The Village", a listener can certainly understand the appeal of revisiting this material for the bassist. The dance-y stuff on the original album keeps Hook on his toes here with spry numbers like "Age Of Consent" sounding positively radiant and fresh. The release is expanded with a whole bunch of non-album cuts from both the era and earlier ("Everything's Gone Green"). The highlights of this one are, of course, numbers like "True Faith" which, in this performance, deftly connects the New Order numbers from 1983 with those of the band circa 1987, the elements of the band's sound having found their full fruition in that 1987 single from Substance.

A 2013 set, Movement - Live In Dublin sees Peter Hook revisit the first New Order LP along with a whole slew of Joy Division and New Order numbers. If album tracks like "Dreams Never End" and "The Him" are easy ones for the bassist to master (again) in this live setting, it's the other, non-Movement tracks here that are standouts for a listener: a hard "Atrocity Exhibition" and a sleek "She's Lost Control", all shiny surfaces and popping bass-lines.

One couldn't say with a straight face that these live albums on Westworld Recordings were essential, or that they even needed to exist. But as records of one of the process of one of the composers and band-members claiming parts of his back-catalog as his own, they are necessary documents. Peter Hook sounds at ease throughout lots of this and if the Joy Division renditions sometimes lack the necessary gravitas, the material remains durable and open to these looser interpretations in spots. All that being said, the New Order cuts here are more fun as they allow more room for Hook to expand and elaborate on the original numbers.

For fans of New Order and Joy Division, these albums are certainly ones that should be sought out. If anything, the renditions here remind a listener of just how fantastic the original compositions were and how timeless they remain.

Follow Peter Hook via the official website, or the official Facebook page. The live albums are out now via Westworld Recordings.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hopeless In A Trance: A Look At The New Cindy Lee Record

I am a bit late to this release but, really, don't let that diminish the importance of this statement: Malenkost by Cindy Lee is one of the most striking and original albums I've heard so far in 2017. Released on the W.25TH imprint of the Superior Viaduct label a few weeks back, Malenkost is a set of near-otherworldly recordings which are the fruits of the creativity of Patrick Flegel, previously of the Canadian band Women. He has here crafted some incredibly distinctive work, work that defies easy description, frankly.

If "No Worth No Cost" bristles with the slightest hint of the sort of early Joy Division-kind of approach to post-punk, the beautiful-and-strange "Always Lovers" recalls Broadcast, or even tunes from that "Radiator Lady" in Eraserhead (1977). At their best, Cindy Lee can marry discordant noise with more accessible elements to produce something nearly accessible ("Hopeless In A Trance"), while at other times the elements that seem so harsh are put into the service of songs that, like those on the first His Name Is Alive album, skirt at the edges of both ethereal rock and more conventional forms of alt-rock ("I've Seen His Face Before", "A Message From The Aching Sky"). Still, despite the moments of nearly obviously lovely music here on Malenkost, there are others ("Coroner Of The State") that suggest the pervasive and huge influence -- (understandably so, of course) -- of both early Velvet Underground releases, as well as pre-VU John Cale recordings. Similarly, "Death Sentence" near the end of this long-player clearly owes a huge debt to Cale-produced Nico stuff, the icy beauty here positively dripping out of the speakers (or headphones, as may be the case).

In spots, Flegel's approach seems to be a near-avant-garde one, the music harsh on purpose as the more conventional moments are subsumed in clanging noise. At other times, Flegel allows the beauty of the compositions to be highlighted, even as a near-Shaggs-like sense of abandon pervades the performances, however briefly. Malenkost is very nearly impossible to describe, as you've seen if you've read this review, but it remains one of the few truly original releases of the first half of 2017.

Malenkost by Cindy Lee is out now via Superior Viaduct.

[Photo: Superior Viaduct]

Saturday, May 27, 2017

They Know: A Look At The New LP From Steve Kilbey (The Church) And Martin Kennedy (All India Radio)

The new album from Kilbey and Kennedy, Glow And Fade, is the sort of release that builds upon the musical legacy of each player here. Steve Kilbey, of course, was in The Church, and Martin Kennedy is in All India Radio. Both bands make music that has been called space-y, and yet the tunes of each artist are fairly durable pieces of alt-rock craftsmanship. However, the songs here on this new album, out now on Golden Robot Records, are a bit more adventurous and expansive than those that these 2 musicians have released before.

The epic 16-minute "The Game Never Changes", for example, marries electronic hooks like those from a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack with something nearly on the level of Animals-era Pink Floyd. The effect is an impressive one as the cut never lags despite its length. "They Know" treads a safer path, while the lovely "We Are Still Waiting" sees Steve Kilbey offer up one of the best melodies released under his name in decades, the guest vocals from Selena Cross adding to the beauty of the track. Elsewhere, "Levitate" travels a space rock route, while the ominous "The Story Of Jonah" blends a slightly sinister vibe with a bright, electro-pop sheen. "One Is All" is simple and direct like the best slow songs on those 4 essential Brian Eno vocal albums from the Seventies.

Glow And Fade is just enough like a Church album, or an All India Radio one, that fans will not feel totally lost when listening. At the same time, the songs are risky in the right kind of way, full of quiet moments of transcendent beauty and musical enlightenment. Trippy and suitably futuristic in scope, the music on Glow And Fade is impressive and proof that these 2 work wonderfully together.

Glow And Fade is out now via Golden Robot Records. Follow Kilbey and Kennedy via the duo's official website, or on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Martin Kennedy]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Be Good To Me: A Word Or Two About The Reissue Of Step Off By ESG On Fire Records

Originally released 15 years, Step Off was one of the most consistent releases from one-of-a-kind post-punk art-funk band ESG. Now decked out with a new cover by artist Alice Hannah, the seminal album is being reissued tomorrow by Fire Records.

The band -- Renee Scroggins (lead vocals), Valerie Scroggins (drums), Marie Scroggins (congas), along with Chistelle Polite (guitar) and Nicole Nicholas (bass) -- make music that defies easy categorization. Spanning the worlds of dance music and early hip hop, the tunes of ESG remain vibrant and vital. "Be Good To Me" opens things up with a languid groove of the sort that bands as diverse as The Gossip and The Rapture echoed, while the peppy "Talk It" rides a hook that is hard to shake. Elsewhere, the spry "Six Pack" bounces with a lightness of touch that shines a light on how easily the ladies here take to this sort of thing, while the buoyant title cut is a more focused rhythmic affair.

Step Off isn't a long record but it is, like most of what ESG has produced, an essential release. Funky and fun, the music of ESG is so simple and yet so precise that it would be hard for another act to ever quite copy this sort of thing. The charms here are ones that would be difficult to entirely successfully mimic. But the real thing here on this seminal ESG album is something all music fans should embrace.

This fine new reissue of Step Off by ESG is out tomorrow via Fire Records.

[Photo: Alice Hannah]

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lights Flicker: A Few Words About The New Faust Album

Legends of what's commonly termed Krautrock, Faust -- or, as they're listed here FaUSt -- make music that challenges a listener. That the tunes remain somewhat accessible says a lot about the group's approach to this sort of thing. The band, now centered around Werner "Zappi" Diermaier and founder Jean-Hervé Péron, are set to release a new album. Called Fresh Air and out on Bureau B on Friday, the record is bracing and yet still easy to enjoy.

Opening with the epic, 17-minute title track, Fresh Air offers music that pushes at the boundaries of accessibility while remaining somewhat approachable. If that title cut is borderline sinister in spots, the fuzzy "La Poulie" edges towards something that even fans of Sonic Youth could appreciate, feedback and noise bubbling against each other. "Chlorophyl" uses Barbara Manning in a spoken word performance to anchor the cut, while the percussive "Lights Flicker" rumbles towards free jazz territory. When Fresh Air ends with the 11-minute "Fish" it's on a track that sums up the appeal of this record. What's here is, in spots, wildly unsettling, yet it's unsettling in a way that invites astute listeners. The music of Faust has remained fairly consistent over the years and one can be thankful that Fresh Air is at once serious-minded, risky music but also the sort of thing that doesn't feel too serious. One can embrace this music easily, I think.

Fresh Air by Faust is out on Friday via Bureau B. News about Faust can be found here.

[Photo: Jan Lankisch]

Friday, May 19, 2017

Did You See The Butterflies: A Look At The New Jane Weaver Album On Fire Records

The new album from Jane Weaver, Modern Kosmology, out today on Fire Records, is the sort of release that beguiles a listener. Jane has crafted something special here. She's hit a peak that's a long way from her beginnings with the folks at Twisted Nerve.

On "Did You See The Butterflies" Weaver coos in a manner that should appeal to those of us who grew up on Kate Bush, or even Sandy Denny, records, the sound a nice blend of alt-rock conventions with folk-y ones, while on the title track things get more adventurous, the backing tracks under her voice exploring a faint electro vibe. Elsewhere, on the rockier "Loops In The Secret Society", there's the trace of a Sixties flavor in the background as the guitars work out a near-Krautrock sort of rhythm with Jane singing confidently over top of it all, while on the Stereolab-inspired "The Lightning Back", Weaver hits another peak on this fine record, the tune one of the best here. Things are sent in another direction on the sublime "Valley" which sounds like nothing so much as early Nineties Cocteau Twins, while the trippy "Ravenspoint" edges into the sort of territory that past pioneers like Broadcast once explored.

This is a remarkably confident album and I can say that Modern Kosmology is clearly a career watermark for Jane Weaver. She's been a criminally underrated vocalist for a long time but, hopefully, this release will get her the sort of attention she's long deserved. The record is a superb melding of a few styles into something that feels familiar in spots but which remains inventive and (most importantly) tuneful throughout.

Modern Kosmology by Jane Weaver is out today via Fire Records. More details on Jane Weaver via the official website.

[Photo: Rebecca Lupton]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How Life Works: A Brief Review Of The New Gothic Tropic Album

The band Gothic Tropic is really Cecilia Della Peruti. And Cecilia is both an amazing guitarist and an effective vocalist. The new album from Gothic Tropic, Fast Or Feast, is out tomorrow and it is a truly superb melding of New Wave influences with bright, modern production. I was totally surprised by how much I enjoyed this one on first listen.

On tunes like "How Life Works", Della Peruti channels late-period Altered Images and imagines Clare Grogran crooning over something more supple like Eighties King Crimson hooks. The effect is at once clever and buoyant. On a number like "Your Soul", the sound is closer to Kate Bush with a sleek sheen under the vocals like late Eighties-era New Order singles, while the superb "Stronger" offers up catchy indie-pop that suggests a smarter, sharper Katy Perry-kind of approach. On the down-tempo "Teenage Behavior", Della Peruti coos over a smooth melody and the result is something that's nearly mainstream even if it remains a bit alt-rock, while the subtle "Cry Like A Man" is effortlessly appealing, like an American version of Rose Elinor Dougall's recent material.

Fast Or Feast by Gothic Tropic is exceptionally well-crafted indie that manages to bridge a few genres and styles with ease. That it's so hard to easily compare to a lot of what's out there these days should be read as an indication of how fresh and unique this album seems to me. Cecilia Della Peruti is offering up some really lovely and catchy tunes here and I am now firmly a fan of Gothic Tropic.

[Photo: Ryan Aylsworth]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You Don't Know: It's Time To Get Hip To The Charms Of The Debut Album From She-Devils

The appeal of Canada's She-Devils is pretty clear. One would have to be a pretty hard-hearted listener to not appreciate the charms of the band's music as revealed on their self-titled debut album. Out on Friday via Secretly Canadian, the release is full of the sort of infectious alternative pop that was so prevalent in the Nineties. And that's not to say that this duo are some kind of retro act but, rather, that they perfectly understand how to make music like this in a way that far too few acts do anymore.

"Hey Boy" saunters in with a vibe reminiscent of underappreciated Aussies Frente!, while the mid-tempo "Darling" coasts by on a kind of sound that recalls Blondie. Elsewhere, "How Do You Feel" and "Blooming" echo Catatonia and The Cranberries, respectively, with each cut a perfectly composed and performed little marvel. At their very best, like on the Smiths-like swagger of "You Don't Know", or on the languid, near-tropical "The World Laughs", Kyle Jukka and Audrey Ann Boucher offer up material that's as light as a feather but with just the right amount of seriousness. There's nothing silly here, even if the mood and touch are natural and unforced. And, it's worth saying, that She-Devils seem to understand exactly the limits of their sound. While the cuts on She-Devils are not particularly revolutionary, they are expertly performed. Rather than make any big radical moves, She-Devils are more content at quietly edging things towards something more challenging, as indicated by the slightly-squalling guitars of "Never Let Me Go" which briefly sees the duo hint at something darker. But, truly, She-Devils don't need to get serious, or dark, as the indie-pop here is fresh and charming in all the right ways.

Tuneful and quietly upbeat, the 10 cuts on She-Devils are sure to worm their way into your ears like they did mine. She-Devils is out on Friday via Secretly Canadian. Follow She-Devils via the band's official website, or via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sarah O'Driscoll]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lucky Charm: A Brief Review Of The New Rarities Compilation From Helium (Mary Timony)

The music of Helium occupied a weird space, even in the odd, rudderless years following the end of the grunge wave after Cobain checked out, and before the whole Britpop thing swept in from overseas. Not quite shoegaze -- though a few of us from that camp certainly gravitated to early Helium recordings 'cause of the noise -- and not exactly folk -- though there were folk-y elements to the way front-woman Mary Timony constructed melodies -- the tunes of Helium were odd and wonderful. Skewed things that simultaneously frightened and entranced listeners. Those downright magical early recordings are now collected on the superb new compilation Ends With And, out from Matador Records on Friday.

Ends With And gathers together those early EP releases from the three-piece (Mary Timony, drummer Shawn Devlin, and Polvo bassist Ash Bowie), as well as a few rare live numbers, and a handful of demos. It makes a pretty convincing case for the greatness of this band. But, I suppose that a lot of you reading this already considered this band great. On early cut "Baby Vampire Made Me", one can hear a faint trace of Sonic Youth's earlier explorations condensed into something more college rock, while the career-making "XXX", from the essential Pirate Prude EP, offers up a kind of faux-amateurishness from a Helium clearly finding their own sound. On first listen, one is struck by how simple and disjointed the cut is; I can remember thinking at the time "Do they even know what the fuck they are doing?", as if it was the return of The Shaggs or something. But, of course, like The Ramones, it takes a lot of smarts to sound so simple. On subsequent listens, one hears something closer to what Pavement was perfecting in this era, only slowed down and plucked out precisely on the guitar and bass. And, of course, Mary Timony's distinctive drawl sounded unlike anyone else behind a mic in the first few years of the first Bill Clinton term. Frankly, there's little here on this 19-track release that would clue you into the fact that Timony had just come from a Dischord band (Autoclave) before landing in Helium. The sound is that odd and unique and more space rock than punk rock.

Of course, early single "Hole In The Ground" reveals a brief moment when this band did indeed sound a tiny bit punk-y. Timony here in command in a way that recalls Kim Gordon's triumphant "Bull In The Heather" with Sonic Youth from nearly the same era. Similarly, the superb "What Institution Are You From?" from the "Superball" single remains one of this band's finest moments. Containing more punch than some of the more meandering early Helium numbers, the song unfurls with a sort of sinister vibe reminiscent of Television, only with a worse attitude, while the chorus grounds things in a more conventional way, Timony's vocals briefly even approaching something one would call "pretty" in style. And, of course, a version of "Superball" had to be here. Even in its demo form on Ends With And, the cut reigns as the closest this group ever got to a "Cut Your Hair"-style breakthrough moment.

Having seen this band a few times in 1995 or so, including once with Polvo on the same bill, bassist Ash Bowie a busy guy that night, I can say that Helium were criminally underrated. The records sometimes didn't do the band justice, with the artwork or Timony's vocal style, unfortunately, getting this act lumped in too easily with space-y bands like Stereolab or Pram, or noise-niks like My Bloody Valentine thanks to the fuzzy guitars throughout the material. And yet, what made Helium great was that the trio was unafraid to experiment and push the boundaries of college rock in a very real way, in an era when record labels were still looking for another Nirvana even as grunge was dwindling in importance. The brief early compilation track "Puffin Stars" sounds utterly unlike anything else you were going to hear in the Nineties, for instance, and maybe that was why it was so hard for this band to get the sort of attention they deserved beyond that from certain critics. Listen to what's going on in the subtle "Fantastic Castle", the eerie "Lucky Charm", or the demo of "Ghost Car" included here and revel in what Timony's doing as a guitarist. Combine the risks she's taking there on the instrument, with the skewed melodies of the tracks, and the odd time signatures and perhaps it makes perfect sense now why this was too out there for a college rock audience in the early Nineties who wanted to hear stuff that sounded like Pearl Jam. Helium were, ultimately, an experimental band. That so many of their experiments worked is amazing now.

Ends With And from Helium is both a reminder of how great this band was, as well as a nice addition to all the band's records you probably already have in your library. If you are new to the band, this is a fine place to start as this compilation is a good overview of what made Helium so special. If you are a fan of this band, you still need this for the rarities contained here.

Out on Friday via Matador Records, Ends With And by Helium is one of this Spring's most essential reissues.

[Photo: James Smolka]