Monday, August 21, 2017

Are You Ready: A Look At The New James Compilation On Cherry Red Records

One of the things that happened after James hit it big with "Sit Down", was that long-time fans of this Manchester band had to awkwardly explain how great they were on their first record. And while there were a lot of folks who were somehow hip to that somewhat overlooked release, there were even fewer who remembered the band's long-out-of-print second album from 1988. If the band's commercial peaks revolve around the singles "Sit Down" in the U.K., and the subsequent "Laid" in the post-grunge U.S., the band's real artistic peaks were arguably their first 2 albums, Stutter in 1986 and Strip-mine in 1988. Now, thankfully, those 2 records are back in print along with everything else the band recorded for the Blanco Y Negro and Sire labels in that era. Compiled on a fine 2-CD set called Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco Y Negro Recordings 1986-1988 from Cherry Red Records, those offerings from the early days of this band reaffirm this Manc act's place as one of the most innovative groups to emerge in the mid-Eighties.

Released in 1986 and never on CD in America, Stutter was produced by Lenny Kaye from The Patti Smith Group. The record, one of my most-prized cassettes in 1986 upon its release by Sire Records in the USA, is less like The Smiths than you might expect. Arising in the shadow of that band then, it was only natural that critics name-checked the other act when writing about James. And when Morrissey himself praised James, the connection was furthered, with listeners expecting a similar thing here. Still, despite those links, James' debut is pretty daring and even more of a risky endeavor than the first or second Smiths long-players. "Skullduggery" opens the record with talk of earwigs and things just get weirder from there. Still, "So Many Ways" and "Billy's Shirts" are fairly conventional stabs at the sort of indie-rock that many were making in the U.K. in the C86 era. There's a certain rhythmic looseness here that was surprising and appreciated in the era, as was the odd and loping "Scarecrow" which seemed to simultaneously recall both the second Velvet Underground record and a few things from The Feelies. On the epic and undulating "Johnny Yen", the band hits an early career peak where all the elements of this lot's approach seem to be working perfectly. The song sounds so fresh still and one should probably credit producer Kaye in some small way in encouraging the creation of this kind of non-traditional indie-pop in an era when acts like The Smiths were actually charting in the U.K. Disc 1 of Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco Y Negro Recordings 1986-1988 concludes with 4 bonus tracks, including early and essential single "Chain Mail", as well as the ramshackle track that gives this collection its title.

Disc 2 of Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco Y Negro Recordings 1986-1988 is made up of the neglected Strip-mine from 1988. The band's second album saw a U.S. release and even made it to the compact disc format on these shores. And, having worked in a college record store when it was released, I can say that it sold well enough in certain circles here. Still, it wasn't a huge hit and time has seen the record unfairly forgotten, not least because it didn't stay in print. "What For" is a fine slice of Smiths-style alt-rock, while the more lyrical "Are You Ready" unwinds in a manner that will make listeners now think of this band's releases later in the Nineties. Listening to this stuff now, along with numbers like "Ya Ho", and one can certainly understand why, in 1988, this band was being talked about as if they were the obvious heirs to The Smiths' legacy. Less adventurous than Stutter, Strip-mine remains a fine slab of U.K. indie that still earns favorable comparisons to other similar albums in the era, like Bringing Home The Ashes by The Wild Swans, for instance. Strip-mine makes up most of Disc 2 of Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco Y Negro Recordings 1986-1988 but it's expanded with a full 7 bonus cuts, including a brief interview with the band recorded for promotional purposes. More interesting are the sea shanty-like "Left Out Of Her Will" and the rollicking "Mosquito", 2 more risk-taking numbers that were probably too adventurous for Strip-mine, which, in 1988, was being marketed here at least as a college rock record.

Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco Y Negro Recordings 1986-1988 is out now. It is as perfect a distillation of the appeal of James as one is likely to find. If the band expanded both their sound and fan-base later, that's okay but it's this early stuff that some of us continue to love so much. Thanks to Cherry Red Records for putting this collection together and re-releasing these 2 essential albums for appreciative fans like me and many others of my generation.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hold On To Your Hate: A Few Words About The Swaggering New One From Black Mekon On PNKSLM

I have raved a bit about the stuff coming out on PNKSLM lately and one can't hardly blame me for cranking up the hype machine when discussing this stuff. The material on Punk Slime Recordings seems genuinely transgressive and yet it's all simultaneously been fairly listenable indie-pop. The folks behind this Sweden-based label have been doing a remarkable job at scouting out this stuff and now one of their early signings is back to up the ante.

The new record from Black Mekon, One In The Hate, out Friday, is a blistering slab of bad vibes that swaggers between a Nuggets-inspired sense of fast-and-dirty garage rock and a whole lot of sinister intent dressed up as something approaching the kind of post-punk thrown up by The Birthday Party and The Boys Next Door in decades past. If opener "Janey Was A Klepto" soars with a nearly-conventional melodic roar, the unhinged bluster of "Natural Disaster" and the white boys-trying-to-be-Howlin' Wolf skonk of "Salt Liquor" are something else entirely. This is dangerous stuff, kids, and as Black Mekon burns down the world ("Rats Out") and then pens a love song to croon atop the rubble ("I Just Really Wanna Be Your Man"), one forgets bands that have trod this path before (The Gun Club, early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and gleefully grooves along with this lot instead. At their very best, Black Mekon modulate this attack so that certain cuts, like the nearly-lovely "Hold On To Your Hate", achieve the kind of mood that late-period Royal Trux mastered so well. And that is to say that this is worn, dirty stuff but it's played with a lot of youthful spark. And what's here that can be clearly traced back to earlier models of inspiration is still fresh and fiery, and the sort of music this world sorely needs more of.

If the other bands on PNKSLM have been pushing at the more expected edges of the alt-rock umbrella, leave it to the guys in Black Mekon to burrow underground to find out what the Devil is rockin' out to. Unsavory and unhinged, One In The Hate is a glorious racket throughout. Fans of early Led Zeppelin, anything associated with The Birthday Party, The Gun Club, and early X should love this record as much as I do. Dig it!

One In The Hate drops on Friday via PNKSLM. More details on Black Mekon via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: Uncredited promotional pictures]

Here Among You: A Look At The New Album From Bodies Of Water

The Los Angeles-based band Bodies Of Water make music that sounds like a few acts you probably enjoy already (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Scott Walker), as well as a handful you probably need to seek out (The Triffids, Crime and the City Solution). The band's newest record, Spear In The City, is out on Friday and it's a record full of the best sort of American music that certainly deserves a lot of attention.

If "Here Among You" nods in the direction of Scott Walker, and even Gene Pitney, the more sedate "I'm Set Free" suggests Canada's The Dears. David and Meredith Metcalf, the main 2 musicians driving the ensemble in Bodies Of Water, seem fully in command of a variety of styles here on Spear In The City, and those range from the vague gospel-isms of "Hold Me Closer", to a nod to Motown styles on the superb "Echoes", and on to the title cut with its gentle folk-y perambulations. At their very best, like on the bold "New World", the band sounds like they are taking equal inspiration from Mike Scott, Simon Bonney, and even the young Bono. This is big music, to reference Mike Scott again, and it's also very American music of the sort that is rarely attempted anymore. Nearly epic while remaining concise, each tune here on this album delineates a neat little stretch of wide-eyed sonic exploration. Taken as a whole, Spear In The City could be the soundtrack to the most epic road trip you'd ever dream of making across the American Heartland.

For more details on Spear In The City and Bodies Of Water, check out the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Spirit Cannot Fail: A Quick Look At The New Cherry Red Records Reissue Of Bill Nelson's Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights

Originally released in 1987, but more familiar to listeners on these shores thanks to its appearance on Enigma Records (via a licensing deal with Cocteau Records) in 1988, Bill Nelson's double-album Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights remains one of the musician's most important instrumental albums.

Consisting of 63 tracks, and more than 2 hours of music, this new edition of Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights, out now on Cherry Red Records, presents Nelson's music in splendidly-fine fashion. The tunes here, all brief and composed in moments of "intense stillness", to quote Nelson's note in the original LP, are little snippets of melodies stretched out and expanded in slight and subtle ways. A track like "The Spirit Cannot Fail" on Disc 1 is built around a vocal sample that anchors the wisps of piano and keyboards that encircle the cut, while the spare "Gnosis" uses the faintest hint of a vocal chorus in the keyboard sound that ebbs and flows in the center of the track. Like so many moments here, the effect is one that is casually spiritual. Bill Nelson on this record seems to have perfected the sort of instrumental music he was making in the Eighties and, in doing that, he's stripped things back. Even slighter than some of the soundtrack tracks he produced in the decade, the "songs" here on Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights all are nearly over before they've begun, a brief keyboard figure in something like "The Dove Consumed (The Serpent Slumbers)" gaining its momentum as a listener contemplates that greatly evocative title as the minute or so of music unfolds. The best stuff here, like "Hastening The Chariot Of My Heart's Desire", sounds like the sort of thing that Bill could have expanded into a conventional song earlier in the Eighties. That he chose, instead, to strip things back to their very essence, and allow so much of the weight of this material to be carried by the titles of the songs themselves, is an interesting approach that yielded his most affecting set of instrumental tracks. Bill Nelson managed to somehow make deadly serious music here on Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights that is, oddly, shockingly free of pretension. The songs arrive, you read the song title, contemplate the meaning, and then there's a fade-out. I can think of no other album that's made me look inward as much as this one has, so many times, over so many years.

Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights is out now in a wonderful deluxe reissue from Cherry Red Records. The label's re-packaged this one in a nice fold-out case with a quality booklet that largely reproduces the original liner notes in a nicer fashion. And the sound here is superb, as the tunes sound more expertly mixed and a bit clearer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Burn It Down: A Few Words About The New One From Crown Larks

The Chicago band Crown Larks make the sort of music that remains, in spots, genuinely transgressive, even as portions of this act's new record will seem fairly accessible to braver listeners. The band's latest album, Population, is out now and it's a brash, swooning ride through the maelstrom.

At their very best, like on the affecting "Goodbye", the vocals of Lorraine Bailey and Jack Bouboushian blend nicely as the various players lay down an undulating rhythmic pattern behind them that's punctuated by flutes and keyboards. Elsewhere, there are tracks that are full of a sort of near-psychedelic sense of exploration ("Circus Luuv"), and others that disintegrate into free jazz chaos ("React"). There are many times here on Population where Bouboushian's vocals echo those of both Bobby Gillespie or Jason Pierce which is not to deny that this listener would have still liked to have heard more from Lorraine Bailey beyond the lovely bits she contributes here, like her Grace Slick-meets-Diamanda Galas-style crooning on closer "Stranger (Unce Down To The New Store)".

Still, as an ensemble, Crown Larks are remarkably tight -- listen to the controlled chaos of "Burn It Down" -- and they seem to be able to pull off this sort of thing with a naturalness that few others would be capable off. Reminiscent of mid-Eighties Sonic Youth offerings, and even recent Radiohead records (in spots), Population is a genuinely brave record. And it's one that successfully pulls off a few genre leaps with remarkable ease. Bits of free jazz brush up against a revival of No New York styles in a fresh way and a listener is rewarded with an album that's both genuinely risky and simultaneously listenable. Crown Larks may sound like they are going to torch the building but they're going to make the crackling flames sound lovely, you know?

Population by Crown Larks is out now and you can check it out on the Bandcamp link below. For more details on the band, look to their official Facebook page, or their official website.

[Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh]

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Looking For A Spark: A Quick Word About The New Kelley Stoltz Album

Fans of what is called power-pop need to immediately get this record. Que Aura, out tomorrow on Castle Face Records, is the new solo album from Kelley Stoltz. Kelley is a guy who's been making this sort of music for some time but it feels as if this release is the sort of thing that is going to get him the high level of attention he's deserved all along.

If opener "I'm Here For Now" bristles and crackles like early solo numbers from Brian Eno, tracks like "Get Over" coo in the manner of classic-era Todd Rundgren. Stoltz is so good at this sort of thing that one can forgive him as he dabbles in a few separate genres, from the Seventies wash of "Empty Kicks", to the angular New Wave of "No Pepper For The Dustman", and on to the sleek electro-pop of "Same Pattern". At his very best, each cut, no matter the style, retains the kind of sense of precise song-craft that few artists pursue anymore. On "Looking For A Spark", there's a trace of mid-Nineties Britpop, a vibe extended in the Pulp-like "Feather Falling", even as the odd "For You" nods in the direction of Lodger-era Bowie. Still, for all of those moments that make a listener recall some worthy artist that may have inspired this material, or even Echo and the Bunnymen's stuff, a band that the guy was in recently, Stoltz manages to keep this fresh, and less a revival act's last gasp. At his very best here on Que Aura, Stoltz seems intent on perfecting his art even while he keeps listeners whistling. Supremely catchy and sometimes light as air, the tunes on Que Aura earn favorable comparisons to all the best records in your record collection. And rather than make this a slap-dash affair as a result, Stoltz has a firm hand on this stuff, the cuts serving as some of the best examples of the power-pop genre one is likely to hear in 2017.

Que Aura is out tomorrow via Castle Face Records. More details on Kelley Stoltz via his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dancing Down The Hall: A Look At The Rapturous New Album From Frankie Rose On Slumberland Records

In a similar fashion to what U.K. band Childhood did on their most recent album, American singer Frankie Rose has looked to the Eighties and earlier for some inspiration for her new record. Called Cage Tropical, the new long-player, out Friday on Slumberland Records, is full of wildly-lyrical New Wave numbers that immediately charmed this listener. If there are pieces here that are traces of past alt-rock styles mixed with other familiar genre elements, the presentation, and the big tunes, make up Rose's best solo release yet, and one that should be wildly accessible to new fans who didn't follow her in Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts, or Beverly, or elsewhere.

While opener "Love In Rockets" offers a play-on-words that references a certain band (and comic), it sounds more like classic-era Psychedelic Furs, even as the buoyant "Dyson Sphere" uses washes of keyboards to even greater effect, building on the sort of material Frankie has been releasing in the last handful of years. For every track here, like "Trouble", that is nothing but bouncy and bright electro-pop, there's at least another, like "Dancing Down The Hall", that is more expansive and spacious, a kind of stately take on both mid-period Altered Images and early Cranes, for lack of any easier comparisons. Some of this (the title cut, "Game To Play") seems to be the kind of music that would sit nicely next to stuff from the last solo record from Rose Elinor Dougall, the former Vivian Girl seemingly on a similar wavelength to that of the one-time Pipette, but there remain touches here that indicate that Frankie may be interested in exploring riskier material with Cage Tropical. One listen to the closer, "Decontrol", and one can hear both echoes of those Nineties Cocteau Twins albums, and a few faint passes at earlier indie stuff from these shores (those more ambient moments on Unrest or Air Miami releases stretched to a new breaking point, for instance). And on the rippling "Red Museum" there's a deftness of touch that suggests the kind of indie-pop approach favored by Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine on their first offerings even if the instrumentation here on Cage Tropical is more adventurous and lush, more Factory Records than American C86, for example.

Still, for all my talk of so many worthy comparison points, Frankie Rose has, in some ways, released her best, most unique record here. Wonderfully tuneful, and full of sleek bits of instrumental glory, Cage Tropical is a fine distillation of all the things that make solo releases from Frankie Rose so treasured. When the chorus breaks in "Art Bell", for example, a listener should get chills and feel a sense of liberation. As the song opens up, it's abundantly clear that on this tune, and so many here, Frankie Rose is bringing something new to these New Wave styles, her embrace of them a method to master them and transcend them, and deliver new listeners and old fans a new kind of American indie.

If I sound like I'm gushing about this one that's 'cause Cage Tropical by Frankie Rose is a record worth gushing about. It's the very rare album that, like that Childhood one that I referenced earlier, hits a lot of familiar buttons in a new way and pleases a listener over and over again. Play it once and you'll want to play it again immediately, I am sure of that.

Cage Tropical by Frankie Rose is out on Friday via Slumberland Records. More details on Frankie Rose via her official website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photos: Uncredited promotional images]

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Low Flying Perfection: A Quick Review Of The New Guided By Voices Album, How Do You Spell Heaven

In a fit of creativity that rivals the audacity of the production of their string of classic mid-Nineties offerings, Guided By Voices have dropped a new LP less than a half-year after the release of the sprawling double-album, August By Cake. The new record, How Do You Spell Heaven, is out on Friday via Rockathon Records, and it's a joyously-dense collection of riffs, a bright distillation of so many of the things that have made this band so good for so long. Robert Pollard has tapped into something here on his 101st release and one can only rave about most of what he's shared with us on this record.

If a number like "Steppenwolf Mausoleum" recalls pre-Tommy Who, the slow-burn of "Pearly Gates Smoke Machine", an instrumental, lets this line-up of the band indulge a bit in the style of T.Rex, swatches of Sixties-era Rock-with-a-capital-R setting the scene for what Guided By Voices are after this time around. The line-up on How Do You Spell Heaven -- Doug Gillard, Bobby Bare Jr., Mark Shue, Kevin March, and Robert Pollard -- here exhibit a real mastery of past forms, tackling the sharp power-pop of "The Birthday Democrats" with the same sort of confident ease they bring to the more ornate title cut, a burst of both chamber pop and hard rock that stands out as an instant classic in Pollard's oeuvre. It is, like so many numbers here, tightly constructed and there's a certain conciseness at work on How Do You Spell Heaven that was missing from the otherwise masterful August By Cake earlier this year. Whether it's due to the GBV line-up this time out, or Robert Pollard's joy at hitting release 101 with this one, it's noticeable. Even on something more ambitious, like the multi-tracked "Low Flying Perfection", the boys sound comfortable whipping up a blend of Simon and Garfunkel-style vocal harmonies with early Kinks-inspired hard riffs. Elsewhere, on the beautiful "Nothing Gets You Real", Pollard pursues a more gentle melodic and lyrical peace, one that's closer to The Beatles than it is to The Who, to refer again to an era that's given this guy so much in terms of inspiration. Still, for all the lovely bits here, there are plenty more that surrender to the joy of riding a riff into oblivion (the punchy "Diver Dan", or the mod-ish "Boy W", or the near-roar of "King 007").

And as Robert Pollard sings "I dreamed of drinking" in the spry "Cretinous Number Ones", a listener can take a certain satisfaction in realizing how familiar this track, like many here, feels. To say that is not to say that Bob is stuck in a rut but, rather, that he's captured for a glorious near-40 minutes, a clutch of the mojo he was high on in 1997 as, really kids, How Do You Spell Heaven is as good as so much of we'd call classic Guided By Voices records from nearly 2 decades ago. In any other hands, with anyone other than Robert Pollard at the helm, this sort of ride into the maelstrom in search of past glories would be a colossal failure. But, here, on the hard "How To Murder a Man", or the choppy "Paper Cutz", long-time fans can hear so much of what we loved about this lot back in the early Clinton years brought back to life. I'm all for allowing this band to explore new paths, and pursue new goals, but, sometimes I just need Pollard on the mic, the band rocking behind him, perpetually -- or at least for two-thirds of an hour -- in search of the perfect riff, the most majestic hook one can crank up so as to feel like the world is still a bright and bouncy place to be. Go play "Diver Dan" when this one drops and see if you feel the same way.

How Do You Spell Heaven will be out on Friday via Rockathon Records. More details can be found about Guided By Voices on the band's official website, or on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Screencap of Robert Pollard from the album trailer]

Friday, July 28, 2017

Life's A Lie: A Quick Review Of The New Album from Katie Von Schleicher

Despite having a title that suggests an early Liz Phair-style sense of ironic detachment, Shitty Hits from Katie Von Schleicher, out today on Ba Da Bing Records, is a heartfelt record, and the closest thing to an Aimee Mann LP we're likely to get this side of Ms. Mann herself. Tuneful and lushly disconsolate in equal measure, the album is something to be savored and embraced.

On something like "Midsummer" Von Schleicher delivers a Peggy Lee-like slow-burn number, while the building "Paranoia" suggests early Fiona Apple if Jon Brion had had an even bigger role in the composition of the cuts. If "Soon" earns some lazy comparisons to Lana Del Rey that's understandable, as is the near-shoegaze-like sense of abandon that pervades "Nothing", beautiful despair atop a lush arrangement. Elsewhere, the brighter "Life's A Lie" suggests the material of Springtime Carnivore, while the sparse "Isolator" nods in the direction of both Victoria Williams and Laura Nyro, despite an ornate arrangement that suggests near-glam rock aspirations in Katie Von Schleicher and the other players here. Shitty Hits succeeds despite a certain sameness among the down-tempo tracks, even as the few upbeat ones display more interesting bits of instrumentation. That's a minor criticism, really, as so much of this is affecting that it seems churlish to fault parts of it.

Shitty Hits by Katie Von Schleicher is out now on Ba Da Bing Records. More details on Katie Von Schleicher via her official Facebook page

[Photo: Bao Ngo]

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I've Been Seeing You In My Dreams: A Few Words About The New Album From Annie Hart Of Au Revoir Simone

There was always a certain icy quality to the music of Au Revoir Simone, despite all the bits that harked back to the days of French ye-ye pop on their early tracks. Gradually, the music of the band morphed into something unique that occupied a place near to the material of Saint Etienne and even more ambient-oriented bands like Bel Canto. Furthering that vibe, the lead singer, Annie Hart, has decided to release a solo record. Called Impossible Accomplice, the record drops tomorrow and it's a thing that needs to be praised.

Opener "I Don't Want Your Love" pops and percolates like Nineties electro-pop (in a good way), while "Run To You" slows things down and offers a cut that's every bit as catchy as something by Lady Gaga even if it sounds like it owes a huge debt to the earlier work of Annie Clark. Elsewhere, "Hard To Be Still" rides a bright, Ladytron-like sheen to pop success, while the sinister-sounding "Breathing Underwater" purrs like the darker numbers on a Nineties Depeche Mode record, or even a Cabaret Voltaire one if that band had tried to be a bit accessible. Still, for all the trappings here that recall the electronic music pioneers of alternative rock years past, there are some that are all Annie's, like the stunningly-beautiful "I've Been Seeing You In My Dreams", all stark and serene song-craft.

During the best portions of Impossible Accomplice, a listener can realize how much Annie Hart has stood on her own here, even if this record should also please fans of Au Revoir Simone. This is a lovely record, and one that deserves a lot of attention as one of this week's new releases.

[Photo: Sebastian Kim]

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Everyday's The Weekend: Play The New Alex Lahey Video Here

I realize now that I somehow never wrote about the B-Grade University EP from Alex Lahey earlier this year. And that's a shame 'cause I loved that one. Well, now's my chance to make up for that mistake by raving about the new tunes coming our way from Alex Lahey.

The debut full-length album, I Love You Like A Brother, will be out on Dead Oceans on October 6, and the first taste of the record is the superb "Everyday's The Weekend", a single that's got a funny new video as you can see for yourself below. You can play that video underneath this and dig the Fountains of Wayne-meets-Liz Phair-vibe that Alex is throwing down here in this new tune. It's a superbly bright bit of power-pop business and a more direct version of the sort of tracks I liked so much on her earlier EP. I, for one, can't wait to hear the full-length record.

For now, spin this, and then head over to the official Alex Lahey website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Giulia McGauran]

Monday, July 24, 2017

Play A Brand New Tune From Basic Plumbing (Patrick From Veronica Falls, Boys Forever) Here!

Patrick Doyle is in Veronica Falls. He's also in Boys Forever. Regular readers of this site will recall how much I enjoyed the debut album from Boys Forever, reviewed by me here. And I'm happy to report that Patrick is now making new music under the name Basic Plumbing.

The new track is called "LILAC" and it's the first taste of the upcoming Basic Plumbing album that Patrick's working on now. The spry song already has a video and you can play that below. There's a slightly harder riff running through this one than on earlier tracks, and I thoroughly dig how the song seems to be paying homage to the simple pop charms of Modern Lovers numbers while simultaneously sounding a bit like something from The Pastels. Fans of C86-inspired modern indie-pop should also love this and have just as tough a time getting it out of their heads as I am now.

After you've played this a few times, head over to the Boys Forever Facebook page, or band's Tumblr site for more details on the upcoming Basic Plumbing project and the music of Patrick Doyle.

[Photo: Band's Facebook page]

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fol De Rol: A Few Words About The New Album From The Fall

The only 2 things for sure in this life are death and taxes. Oh, and that Mark E. Smith will keep making Fall albums. He's made so many albums that I'm almost certain that I'm not the first writer to come up with that clever quip. The newest album, the sinister New Facts Emerge, drops on Friday on Cherry Red Records and it's a delightful bit of nastiness.

I say that 'cause, frankly, there's something unsettling here and something murky. First big track "Fol De Rol" pounds in, all drums and harsh riffs under the usual Mark E. Smith screed-speak, while the sharper "Brillo De Facto" pursues a nice rhythmic path. Elsewhere, the title cut marches in like something off of This Nation's Saving Grace, all proto-Brit rock pieces stitched up neatly, while the wonderfully-titled "Couples Vs. Jobless Mid 30's" sprawls out in a fine clatter, Mark E. Smith worked up as usual about...something. More interesting is "O! ZZTRRK Man" where the fellow seems to be singing through a megaphone, the effect like one of the more difficult numbers off of I Am Kurious Oranj. The spry "Gibbus Gibson" saunters a tiny bit, a bright spot amid the otherwise dark clutter of New Facts Emerge, while the racket of closer "Nine Out Of Ten" offers up one of the best Mark E. Smith compositions in recent memory, and certainly one of the loudest, I think.

The line-up of The Fall for New Facts Emerge is Mark E. Smith (lead vocals), Peter Greenway (guitar, synths, backing vocals), Dave Spurr (bass, Mellotron, backing vocals), and Kieron Melling (drums). The band here is a remarkably tight unit, throwing down nearly Krautrock rhythmic bits that jostle up against clattering guitars and scratchy Smith yelps and growls. An alternately purring and roaring beast, The Fall here on New Facts Emerge sound a bit angrier than any line-up of this outfit has lately and that's a good thing, Smith recalling the fire of his earlier stuff in spots on this 2017 release. Concisely malevolent, New Facts Emerge is a surprisingly strong showing from The Fall, a band that have released compelling and utterly unique music in 5 separate decades.

New Facts Emerge is out on Friday via Cherry Red Records. More details on The Fall via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promo picture]

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chasing The Sun With Helvetia: A Quick Review Of The New EP From Jason Albertini (Built To Spill) And Crew

Jason Albertini was in both Duster and Built to Spill. The sound of those bands has informed that of his own Helvetia, who are due to release a new EP called Sun Chasers next week.

The title cut bursts forth with a real acid rock vibe, while the more languid "She Crashed" unfurls like an early Built to Spill track mixed with an early Dinosaur Jr. one. If that comparison suggests that Helvetia are in favor of loose, guitar-based slack anthems, then so be it. This is, after all, very good stuff, the musicians cultivating the same sort of feeling that one found on so many American indie records in the Nineties. "Cross Bone Pile" works up a sort of precise post-rock rhythm that recalls both Jawbox and Polvo a tiny bit, while EP closer "Yes Yes" channels early Grandaddy with a dash of mid-period Pavement in the service of a really excellent down-tempo number.

Sun Chasers by Helvetia is sure to please other fans of Built to Spill and not just 'cause Jason Albertini is in the current line-up of the band. Helvetia offer up a similar blend of slacker rock (for lack of a better term) and inventive indie-pop that favorably stands next to the work of all those bands I name-checked above.

More details on Helvetia via the band's official website, or on the band's official Facebook page. Sun Chasers will be out next week and you can get more details via the Joyful Noise label, or on the band's Bandcamp page.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Melody Says: A Few Words About The Superb Universal High From Childhood

Taking a chance and changing involves risk, you know? And for a band, it involves a whole lot of risk, especially if said band is a critically-acclaimed outfit crafting their much-anticipated second album. And yet, when a chance pays off, all those risks were worth the taking.

Happily, all the chances Childhood took on the path to second album, Universal High, were worth it. The new album, out Friday via Marathon Artists, is, admittedly, a bit of a stylistic shift into new territory but the material is so wonderfully melodic and -- to use an overused word -- "soulful" that only the most churlish of fans could fault Ben Romans-Hopcraft and the rest of the band for taking the big risks that have been taken here.

As soon as the record starts, with the smooth Brothers Johnson-like Seventies soul-pop of "A.M.D.", a fan could be forgiven for being surprised by the shift from, say, "Solemn Skies" on 2014 debut LP Lacuna to this but, really, the progression feels entirely natural, with the band laying down a supple groove as Ben Romans-Hopcraft coos like Prince on this and other cuts here. The buoyant first single "Californian Light" positively bounces out of the speakers before the sublime "Cameo" makes its appearance. Ben drops into the track, near spoken word-style, before the big chorus bursts forth, sonic sunshine out of your speakers. The effect is a transcendent one and it's one of those moments that feels entirely familiar, a welcomed holdover from the first era of this band's career when big-with-a-capital-"B"-moments graced early singles like "Haltija" and "Pinballs", early bits of 21st century indie-pop that got this lot briefly labelled a bunch of proto-shoegazers.

Of course, there are loads of more conventional pleasures on Universal High -- the fuzzy "Melody Says" and the roughly anthemic "Too Old For My Tears" -- but it is the future soul of stuff like the title track here that thoroughly captivates, the effect on this one a stunning and breathtaking one that reminded me what it was like hearing "Blue Velvet" for the first time back in 2012. Still, for every similar big moment in something like "Don't Have Me Back", there are more subtle charms to be found throughout Universal High -- the nods to the futuristic soul of A.R. Kane I can hear in "Understanding", the Serge Gainsbourg-covers-Barry White groove of "Nothing Ever Seems Right" -- and those charms seem very distinct from what the band offered some 4 or 5 years ago on their early singles. And yet, what captivates here as "new" for this band still sounds like evidence of the altogether-natural progression this band needed to make because if album closer "Monitor", for example, echoes about a half-dozen acts (Hall and Oates, O.M.D., Japan, The Associates, Donna Summer, Pulp), it echoes them in a way that doesn't feel like a band trying on a bunch of new hats for the heck of it. What we can hear is something organic, something true, and -- dare I say it again? -- soulful. And it's soulful in the way that pop music was in the era when Prince could pull off something like "Pop Life", or even earlier, when Curtis Mayfield was dropping rock licks into tracks like "Future Shock", and Bowie was sampling the joys of Philly soul on "Young Americans" in the Ford years. Universal High is, similarly, a genre-blending, convention-busting, risky record, but one that will reward attentive listeners who are ready to embrace music like this.

Childhood -- Ben Romans Hopcraft, Leo Dobsen, Jonny Williams, Max Fantin, and Thomas Fiquet -- are to be commended for taking so many chances here. And they're to be praised for pulling off so many so well. The whole "difficult second album" trope is famous for a reason and that reason is that bands have been too ambitious, too soon. Wisely, the fellows in Childhood keep things grounded, no one getting any idea that they needed to re-invent things here. And yet, they have re-invented something. For every fan that the band loses because nothing on Universal High sounds just like "Blue Velvet", they'll gain another 5 because of the fresh currency of what's here. The sound is the foundation of a new sub-genre, something that blends Seventies soul with Eighties New Wave via an approach from the world of modern indie. Universal High is flat-out superb, and this wildly tuneful and wonderfully lush record is an easy contender for one of the best releases of 2017, for sure.

Universal High is out on Friday via Marathon Artists. More details on Childhood via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: Joyce Ng]

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stop And Smell The Roses: A Look At The New Television Personalities Tribute Album From The Beautiful Music Featuring Dot Dash, Skytone, Robert Scott Of The Bats, And More

If you enjoyed the recent Television Personalities reissues from Fire Records, reviewed by me here, I think it's safe to say that you're going to love the new Television Personalities tribute album from Called Holding Hands Under A Cloudless Sky - A Tribute To The Television Personalities: Vol. 4, the set features a whole lot of great contemporary indie bands covering the songs of Dan Treacy and Television Personalities.

I suppose the first note of significance here is that this set contains a cover song from Dot Dash. The D.C.-area outfit, opening for Ultimate Painting this Wednesday at DC9, is notoriously reluctant about recording cover versions but here they turn in a spry and lilting run at "Jackanory Stories", from And Don't The Kids Just Love It. It is one of the clear highlights here on Holding Hands Under A Cloudless Sky - A Tribute To The Television Personalities: Vol. 4. Another is the Nuggets-y take on "Look Back In Anger" turned in by Spain's The Yellow Melodies, all big hooks and New Wave-style keyboards. Elsewhere, Robert Scott of The Bats offers up a gentle rendering of "Stop And Smell The Roses" from The Painted Word, as does Japan's The Penelopes who make the song a near VU-style drone. The Milestone Band, featuring members of Sarah Records mainstays The Sweetest Ache, turn in a stab at "Honey For The Bears" that bristles with pure fuzzy-pop delight, the original TVP standard here envisioned as an early Teenage Fanclub number. Skytone take a real rarity, "The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming", and turn it into a truly sublime thing, perfect harmonies and simple chords on an acoustic guitar hitting a near Gallagher Brothers-like level of directness. I live only 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C., and yet somehow I've never heard of The Dupont Circles but I am on the lookout now thanks to their gnarly cover of "How I Learned To Love The Bomb" here, all punk-y attitude and bad intent, while London band Chester also bring a bit of the old punk-pop to "Silly Girl", the original a standout on And Don't The Kids Just Love It. Also worth mentioning is "You Are Special And You Always Will Be" from New Zealand band The Puddle, who here render the Closer To God track in the manner of a Robert Forster-sung tune from mid-period in The Go-Betweens' back-catalog, Treacy's songwriting chops here given special attention.

Full of lots of great music besides the tunes I've mentioned, Holding Hands Under A Cloudless Sky - A Tribute To The Television Personalities: Vol. 4 will be out soon via TheBeautifulMusic. Be sure to keep your eye on the label's website for more details. And if you are one of the first 100 to order the album, you'll get a bonus disc!

[Photos: Dot Dash photo by me; album cover courtesy Wally Salem]

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What The World Is Waiting For: My Look At The Mammoth New Manchester Box-Set From Cherry Red Records

I suppose what first amazes is the sheer variety of music here. Despite my pics in this review, Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993, out tomorrow on Cherry Red Records, is not a box-set of just the usual suspects in the story of the city's musical past. This is not just 7 (!) CDs' worth of The Fall, The Stone Roses, New Order, and so on. What it is is perhaps the most comprehensive look yet at this town's rich legacy, a legacy that continues to this day, of course.

Now, despite the nearly 10 hours of music here, and despite the generous 7 discs, and the enormous booklet and lengthy essays, someone's gonna complain about the omission of The Smiths. And while that band's music is not here for what are presumably rights issues, Morrissey is here along with every other Manc act you could possibly think of. The set is, to put it simply, an amazing thing for anyone who's been a fan of punk, post-punk, New Wave, baggy, acid house, or Britpop in the 16 years covered here.

It's time to dive in so let's look at each disc a bit as I attempt to control my raving about this collection.

Disc 1 of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 wisely starts a bit earlier than Joy Division (pictured above). What's here to kick things off is "Breakdown (demo)" by The Buzzcocks, DeVoto-fronted and perfect in its economic attack. Setting a pattern that will spread over 7 discs, the set uses a big name to start off each disc to kind of give you what you expect before showering you with some obscure riches. Highlights here next to Joy Division and Magazine cuts, are the essential "Cranked Up Really High" by Slaughter and the Dogs and the near-pub rock of The Distractions whose "Maybe It's Love" sounds like a real classic. Elsewhere, a rarity from Jilted John livens things up before stunners from The Nosebleeds and The Smirks burn up the speakers. A final revelation on this one is "The Kill" by Spherical Objects, all Joy Division-y angst mixed with a Magazine-style sense of paranoia.

"Rowche Rumble" rudely kicks off Disc 2 and it's further proof of the unique and enduring charms of The Fall (pictured below). Also here are fine tracks from The Chameleons ("In Shreds"), The Blue Orchids ("The Flood"), The Durutti Column ("Lips That Would Kiss"), and A Certain Ratio (the bouncy-and-bright "The Fox"). Also here are more obscure numbers like the sleek New Wave of "My Cherry Is Sherry" by Ludus, the clattering raga-rock of "Does It Matter Irene" by Mothmen, and the absolutely wonderful "Yesterday's Love" from Any Trouble, Clive Gregson's band that ended up signed to Stiff Records.

Disc 3 sees an awareness of Manchester's importance seep through the material from Graham Fellows' "Love at the Hacienda" to disc-opener and dancefloor-filler "Temptation" from New Order. It is here that one can hear the impact of Factory Records and the beginnings of what we can see now was the Manchester sound coming into its own. So much of Disc 3 is significant, from the shiny electro-pop of "Looking From a Hilltop" from Section 25, to "All At Once" by Stockholm Monsters, all early New Order rhythms dressed up as a happy pop tune. Elsewhere, there's the lo-fi ramblings of "Working And Shopping" by Tools You Can Trust and the noisy and direct "Kitchen Sink Drama" by the criminally underrated A Witness. Since so much of what's on Disc 3 is important (and enjoyable), it seems fair to say that this disc stands as one of the most solid parts of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993.

The first pleasant surprise on Disc 4 is the appearance of rare, early James track "Chain Mail", a number that reminds a listener to include this lot in with the list of the big names in Manchester rock. A very early Inspiral Caprets track ("Garage Full of Flowers") foreshadows the Manchester wave that would sweep UK indie in the early Nineties even if this cut is more Nuggets-era noodling than anything else, while "Whistling In The Dark" recalls the band, Easterhouse, that I think some people -- me, at least -- once called the Commie U2, big hooks and big ideas still bristling with life 3 decades or so later. Also anchoring Disc 4 and providing a sense of time and place are a few numbers from C86-mainstays Big Flame and The Bodines, reminders of the pure joys of following Manchester indie in the tail-end of the years dominated by The Smiths.

If The Smiths are not here at least Morrissey, pictured above, is. His "The Last Of The Famous International Playboys" anchors Disc 5 of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993. Similarly Bradford's fey "Skin Storm" reminds one of what Morrissey's stamp of approval could do back then for a new band. Elsewhere, Chameleons spin-off The Sun and The Moon deliver "C'est La Vie", a slice of superb alt-rock that is, like the band's one album, smart and complex music that deserves a retrospective all its own, while "Voodoo Ray" by A Guy Called Gerald had to be here, all odd beats and warped rhythms offering up one of the seminal numbers of the acid house era. "24 Hour Party People" by Happy Mondays (pictured below) takes its place here as a sort of new standard of the age. The band was, like a few in this era and in this city, attempting to invent a new music, one that would be perched between indie rock and dance music.

Disc 6 wisely uses a flip-side from The Stone Roses (pictured up top) to make a case for the band's greatness and importance to the city's legacy, the shuffling, lopsided rhythm of the tune prefiguring so very much of what was to come out of this town in the early Nineties. Similarly, a few numbers from that era ("Box Set Go" by The High, "Big (edit)" by New Fast Automatic Daffodils) sound remarkably good still, while a few, namely "Shall We Take a Trip" by Northside, sound hopeless prisoners of the past. Still, that aside, lots of Disc 6 is fantastic, from New Order spin-offs (Revenge, whose demo of "7 Reasons" juts up nicely against early Electronic single "Getting Away With It"), to surprisingly strong guitar-based indie numbers from The Train Set ("Hold On"), The Mock Turtles ("And Then She Smiles"), and The Cygnet Ring (the excellent "18 Daze").

The final disc of Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 necessarily includes Oasis (pictured above) whose career changed the course of British pop and inspired a whole new generation of bands from the city. Naturally, the set ends with them, the demo of "Columbia" from 1993 signaling a sea-change in popular music in Manchester and England, while other numbers from Sub Sub (the pre-Doves lot's trippy "Space Face") and 808 State (the essential "Cubik") simultaneously indicate a temporary lull in guitar-rock as dance-y stuff was taking over, at least for a few years before the Gallaghers would hit it big. Admirably, this collection finds room for the non-rock numbers from the era, with fine tracks from Intastella, Lionrock, The Chemical Brothers, and Hypnotone indicating another legacy of Manchester. Still, it's the numbers here that blend the dance elements with the rock ones that succeed the most ("Sproston Green" by The Charlatans, the heavy-beating "Sons Of The Stage" by World Of Twist).

Shockingly comprehensive, Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 is an amazing piece of work. These 7 discs give a crash course into why "They're from Manchester" was a phrase that one could use for decades to convince someone to listen to a new band, or an obscure track. That notification that a group was from this city was usually enough to get one's attention, and here are dozens and dozens of reasons why. The folks at Cherry Red Records have performed a Herculean task here but they've somehow provided just enough music from Manchester's history, post-the first wave of punk and pre-Britpop, to offer up a near-encyclopedic musical portrait of the city, its people, styles, fads, and trends. Genre-hopping and somehow entirely cohesive, Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 presents a musical compilation that flows effortlessly, never once sounding forced in its leaps across styles. The peaks, valleys, and odd detours in that the path from early Buzzcocks to early Oasis is a fascinating journey and any listener with even a marginal interest in any of the bands here, or the city itself, would be wise to get this as soon as possible.

Manchester North Of England: A Story Of Independent Music Greater Manchester 1977-1993 is out tomorrow via Cherry Red Records.

[Photos: Mostly from Pinterest, credit to original photographers]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

We Need To Talk About Some Basics: A Quick Reminder That The Numbers Station East Coast Tour Starts Tomorrow

A few months ago I posted about the new EP from the relatively-new D.C. band Numbers Station. The members of the trio are bassist Michael Honch (ex-Dischord band Alarms And Controls), bassist Mike Markarian (ex-Oswego), and drummer Stefan Bauschmid (from Garland Of Hours). And I'm here now to tell you about the band's first tour that kicks off tomorrow in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Boston-area band Ghosts Of Sailors At Sea. The tour will, of course, have a D.C.-area stop and that's gonna happen Sunday at Galaxy Hut in Arlington, Virginia. And the other dates featuring the 2 excellent acts are listed in the poster below.

The 4-Song EP from Numbers Station is out now via the link below, and it's a release that I reviewed here. It's a bold EP from a trio of expert players who together manage to make serious music without any sense of pretension. I'm sure that the band will be performing more tracks than the ones on this fine EP on this tour, and Sunday at Galaxy Hut. More details on the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook photo]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We Know So: A Few Words About The New Dasher Album

There is something primal and unhinged about this music. Of the many new album releases this week, Sodium by Dasher, out Friday on Jagjaguwar, is perhaps the most challenging while being the most rewarding. Brutal and pummeling, the tunes of Dasher on this, the band's debut LP, are dangerously effective.

Opener "We Know So" sees leader Kylee Kimbrough brutalize both the drum-kit and her windpipes. The song positively roars, a deafening echo of both early Stooges and early harDCore, think Iggy strutting around as frontman of Void and you'll get an idea of what's being unleashed here. If "Resume" continues that whole hardcore vibe, the more expansive "Teeth" moves in other directions, part stoner rock and park No New York, loose waves of twangy guitar finding spaces within the still-punishing drum hits. The excellent title cut continues in a similar vein while the bristling-and-brief "Go Rambo" races past with a near-metal-like sense of fury on the instruments. At their best, like on the Big Black-styled "Slugg", or the Live Skull-like "No Guilt", Dasher manage to channel a whole lot of diverse influences in the process of refining their own brand of brutalist rock. Uncompromising and direct, the tunes on Sodium ooze a malevolent rage that feels wholly natural, like the dark undercurrents that ran through early Black Flag recordings, or the rhythmic unease that permeated Fun House. And, to their credit, Dasher manage to make this stuff relatively nuanced throughout (see closer "Get So Low" with its instrumental flourishes underneath Kimbrough's scorching vocals and harsh-but-precise kit-work).

Full of stunning displays of musical force, Sodium by Dasher is a remarkable record that straddles about a half-dozen different sub-genres with deadly ease. Fans of bands with punch, whose music makes you actually feel alive as a human being, should immediately seek this out. An invigorating blast, Sodium is out on Friday via Jagjaguwar. More details on Dasher via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Anna Powell Teeter]

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pulling All The Facts Together: A Few Words About The Fine New Album From The Stevens

From Melbourne, The Stevens sound a whole lot like American band Pavement. I suppose they'd appreciate that comment. They also sound a lot like the best bands from New Zealand circa 1987. I think they'd understand that that was a compliment too. Their new record, the simply-titled Good, is out on Friday via Chapter Music. It is a fine record that should please fans of angular indie-pop.

The Stevens is guitarists Alex Macfarlane (Twerps, Tyrannamen) and Travis MacDonald, with bassist Gus Lord (Twerps, Boomgates, Tyrannamen), and drummer Matt Harkin. Their stuff, like marvelous lead track "Chancer", is simple and uncomplicated. It is also, however, bright pop that rides the sort of riffs that bands like Twin Peaks and Parquet Courts routinely crave here in the States. If "Cruiser" suggests Pavement by way of Columbus, Ohio's fine Connections, then the more laconic "Pulling All The Facts Together" chimes like an old Clean track, or a slower Superchunk number from the mid-Nineties. Elsewhere, the fine "My New Hideout" refines a sense of post-punk pop that bears worthy comparisons to recent numbers from EZTV, while the lilting "Keep Me Occupied" is poised somewhere between Luna and Talking Heads, a duel between long guitar-lines and jittery, nervous rhythms. The press material for this group mentioned that they opened for R. Stevie Moore and one can certainly hear the influence of that guy in something like "Good Co.", while the supple "Furnace Town" nods in the direction of Television and The Feelies with its sharp hooks. At their very best, like on the fuzzy closer "Thirsty Eye", The Stevens make all of this look and sound effortlessly easy, the Flying Nun-style tune-age rubbing up against NYC post-punk for a marvelous effect.

Certainly not the kind of album that is going to change the world, nor the sort of band that would dream of attempting that, The Stevens, instead, have decided that they were going to synthesize the high points of all your favorite records and crank out something simultaneously familiar and fresh. Good is 18 songs of sharp, and sharply-observed, indie-pop that charmed me instantly.

Follow The Stevens via the band's official Facebook page. More details on Good via Chapter Music.

[Photo: Tahlia Palmer]

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Glittering Prizes: My Look At A Bunch Of Television Personalities Albums From Fire Records

The folks at Fire Records are doing listeners of good music a remarkable favor this week by reissuing the first 4 albums from Television Personalities. The band's influence has only grown in recent decades and their early releases were a direct inspiration on Alan McGee and others. Now, all that being said, the music stands on its own and remains remarkably listenable, full of wit and sharply-observed takes on Sixties psych-rock, all dressed up in early Eighties U.K. post-punk trappings.

The first album from Television Personalities was And Don't The Kids Just Love It. Released in 1981, the record's cover shot of Patrick McNee from TV's "The Avengers" and Twiggy made this lot's retro aspirations clear, as did a lovely track called "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives", all English whimsy done right, with tongue only slightly in cheek. Elsewhere, "Diary Of A Young Man" sounds like something the Small Faces would have tossed off as a B-Side, all mournful melodies drenched in rainy London attitude, while "Jackanory Stories" bounces along in the manner of something from The Who if Keith Moon had taken over the entire band. Superb and memorable, it is one of the standouts here along with the Kinks-ian riffs of "Look Back In Anger", and the poppy strumming of "The Glittering Prizes". There's no escaping the Swingin' London-vibe running through this ("World Of Pauline Lewis", "Parties In Chelsea"), but the TVPs inject these tunes with enough unique touches that to call early Television Personalities a "revival act" wouldn't be fair at all.

Decidedly more complicated, the band's second album, Mummy, Your Not Watching Me (1982), is a harder record to entirely embrace. There are moments here (the title cut, "Brian's Magic Car") that succeed admirably in steering the band in a decidedly more psychedelic direction, but some of this ("Where The Rainbow Ends") sacrifices a catchy hook for an embrace of the trappings of that earlier era. Still, there are some fantastic numbers here, notably The Creation-like "Painting By Numbers", and the expansive "If I Could Write Poetry", a track on which the band seems to have successfully achieved the very odd (for its era, at least) blend of Sixties psychedelia and post-New Wave pop they were aiming for all along. There are moments here where the Television Personalities very nearly get into territory that was once occupied by The Move and The Zombies but, of these 4 early albums, Mummy Your Not Watching Me seems the one with the thinnest pleasures.

Album 3 from Television Personalities, the wonderfully-titled They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles, is also from 1982 and it's a good deal more fun than its predecessor. "David Hockney's Diary", a title that's a variation on an earlier number, is here a spry Beat Era rave-up in the manner of early Who, while the superb "In A Perfumed Garden" is a nimble, playful run at the sort of naff-psychedelia perfected by The Move and early Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, "The Boy In The Paisley Shirt" makes clear the band's Sixties fix, in case you couldn't tell from the 2 covers of tracks from The Creation also on offer here ("Painter Man" and "Makin' Time"). This whole, fine record is so retro but it's from an age when the Paisley Underground was barely underway in the USA and in England, music fans with any taste at all were wrapped up in very early singles from The Smiths, or neo-goth stuff from The Cure, as anything like this was rarely on offer. They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles is a blast, a whole lot of fun, and a classic unlike so much of what this era had to offer.

From 1984, The Painted Word is the fourth album from Television Personalities and also a sort of reunion record seeing as how the band had broken up before this only to re-form. Things here are somehow harder, and even a gentle track, like the VU-aping "Stop And Smell The Roses", has more rough edges. If things are tougher here, the sentiments are not; "Someone To Share My Life With" is lovely even as the music prefigures, in a simple way, the kind of thing we'd hear later in countless Creation Records bands just a year or so after the release of this album. Elsewhere, the trippy "Paradise Estate" blends the sort of social commentary Paul Weller had already mastered in The Jam with a more decidedly psych instrumental approach, while album closer "Back To Vietnam" is an admirable attempt to do something serious even if it's unlike so many of the other Television Personalities tracks that I love.

Absolutely essential, the first 4 albums from Television Personalities occupy an interesting place in British alt-rock history sandwiched as they are between the first waves of punk and New Wave and the C86 stuff. Deliriously beholden to a vision of the Swingin' Sixties that is as (possibly) divorced from reality as was Syd's brain, Dan Treacy's talent was at crafting material that was wholly retro and yet entirely original in approach. Like Alan McGee a few years later, Treacy somehow paid his dues to his inspiration points without sounding entirely like them. That quality, and that talent of Treacy's, is why these records are still so listenable 30+ years later. Fans of the genuine article -- meaning fans of The Move, The Creation, and The Kinks, for example -- should be able to enjoy any of these cuts as much as fans of Eighties British indie will. Supremely melodic, full of lyrical invention, and joyously retro in outlook, these 4 records -- And Don't The Kids Just Love It (1981), Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982), They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982), and The Painted Word (1984) -- remain touchstones of the British psychedelic revival, the very same revival that would inspire Creation Records groups like Primal Scream, Biff Bang Pow!, and countless others later. They are also 4 records that stand out as rarities in a rather drab period of British indie, when New Wave bands were ruling the airwaves and fans of the Nuggets era had little to love. Television Personalities created some of the sharpest pop this side of The Move and the Kinks. Grab these and hear why I say that.

And Don't The Kids Just Love It (1981), Mummy Your Not Watching Me (1982), They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles (1982), and The Painted Word (1984) are all out on Friday via Fire Records.

[Photos: Fire Records]

Overboard: A Quick Review Of The Fine New Album From Lo Tom (David Bazan)

The new album from Lo Tom is surely going to be one of the highlights in an impressive week for new music releases. That this is the first release from a new indie super-group means that this record carries the need for an explanation with it. The band is David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Trey Many (Velour 100, Starflyer 59), TW Walsh (Pedro the Lion, The Soft Drugs), and Jason Martin (Starflyer 59). They have been making music since they were kids, to paraphrase the press release, and there is indeed a nice quality to this rather simple music here that suggests the sort of unity of purpose that so much of today's indie lacks.

There are 8 songs here and the album wisely gets in and gets out, as it were. A number like "Another Mistake" is a surging rocker of a sort that succeeds thanks to Bazan's impassioned vocals and Trey Many's pounding on the drum-kit. If "Find The Shrine" opens nearly like an old Pearl Jam cut, it's still more or less Bazan's show here and not some kind of grunge revival. The track is simultaneously "radio-friendly" and largely more genuine in tone than 90% of what you're going to hear on AOR stations, you know? Likewise, "Bad Luck Charm" is a Tom Waits-style downer dressed up in rawk trappings, Bazan's voice a bit rough here. Elsewhere, the faster "Covered Wagon" very nearly takes this record in a whole other direction in terms of style, while the absolutely superb "Overboard" blends a rough melodicism with some clean guitar hooks and lines from Martin and Walsh, the interplay with Bazan's bass and low voice a compelling and reassuring one. Album closer "Lower Down" is mournful but tuneful, riffs slowly shoving each other into some shadowy places.

Lo Tom is the sort of project that is going to generate a lot of attention given the past efforts of these 4 players. It should also get a lot of notice for the effective simplicity of the album on offer here. Lo Tom is fine, human music that seems to be doing what so many other acts have tried to do but with more success. Bazan, Many, Martin, and Walsh have stripped things back without turning the whole endeavor into a neo-folk project. The effect then is more like an indie record that sounds like a classic Neil Young album. That's a weak comparison but trying to pin Lo Tom down to some indie sub-genre is a largely futile exercise. What's here has elements of the acts that the players came from, for sure, but it's also simple and direct music that stands on its own without a lot of baggage. In this day and age, un-ironic indie, the kind that isn't patting itself on the back for a moment or two of juvenile cleverness, is a thing to be appreciated immensely.

Lo Tom by Lo Tom is out on Friday via Barsuk Records. More details on Lo Tom can be found on the band's official Facebook page, or on the band's official website.

[Photo: Barsuk Records]

Friday, July 7, 2017

My Life Is Right: A Look At The New Roots Of Big Star Compilation From Omnivore Recordings

A lot of Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star, out today via Omnivore Recordings, is stuff that you'll only play once. A lot of this is purely for the Big Star anoraks out there, those who hang feverishly on every scrap that Bell, Stephens, or Chilton touched. But, and this is significant, a lot of this places the music of early Big Star, especially the contributions of Chris Bell, into a context and that is enormously important.

For a lot of people of my age bracket, coming to Big Star was a sort of rite of passage in the Eighties. R.E.M. name-checked them, and The Replacements, of course, sang about them. And that meant that us kids gorging on the fruits of college rock's fertile years felt an obligation to seek out Big Star stuff. But we were listening to these albums almost in a vacuum. The crucial achievement of the fine Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star compilation is the providing of a sense of place, era, and time. We can hear here, the hard rock aspirations of Chris Bell and the guys in The Wallabys ("Feeling High"), or the psychedlic noodlings of a bunch of kids in Memphis in a band called Icewater who wanted to be the late-period Beatles ("Sunshine").

Of course, the majority of this stuff here on Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star has a Chris Bell connection so there's another angle here and that is a furtherance of the appreciation of the genius of the late Big Star member. An early version of "My Life Is Right" by Chris Bell in a band called Rock City is a good deal removed from what Big Star's version would sound like but it's still very Big Star-like and that is a blast to hear for any music fan. Elsewhere, the elegiac "The Wind Will Cry For Me" doesn't feature Chris Bell but a pre-Big Star Jody Stephens. It is a satisfying bit of chamber rock that places that Memphis act at least somewhere in the neighborhood of The Left Banke or The Cyrkle or other American groups of the same era. Still, it's the impact of Bell that we're looking for here and tracks like "Sunshine" by Icewater and "Shine On Me" by Rock City, while not written by Chris Bell, feel like Chris Bell tunes, and benefit so much from his presence that even a casual fan of Chris Bell -- and how could anyone be a "casual" fan of him, anyway? -- will find an enormous amount to love here, from the harder edges of "Think It's Time To Say Goodbye" by Rock City to the Badfinger-like "I Lost A Love" also by Rock City.

A portrait of a time and place, and a sort of who's who of those lurking around Ardent Studios in Memphis prior to the birth of Big Star, Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star is fascinating and surprisingly listenable. Spin this next to the fairly-recent Big Star compilation from Concord Music and you can almost hear all the non-Chilton bits take shape here in this compilation. Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star is a superbly-realized and compiled collection that adds the final, missing piece to the puzzle of Big Star. Even casual fans should be rejoicing over this one, and those who are already firm fans of Chris Bell will find lots to embrace here. The appreciation of his genius, already considerable, has been furthered by this set.

Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star is out today via Omnivore Recordings.

[Photo: Ardent Studios / Omnivore Recordings]