Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Creepin': A Word About The Silly Sinister Vibes Of The New Album From Moon Duo

There is something silly about the music of Moon Duo. As President Trump and his rubes run rough-shod over the Constitution, am I really supposed to get worked up about a Portland, Oregon duo play-acting at making Satanic music? Can the work of a couple of proto-goths really get anyone spooked in an era when just reading the news sends chills down the spine on a daily basis? All that said, these two are quite good at this sort of thing and, sure, the comically-named Occult Architecture Vol. 1 does sound pretty cool in spots. It's just that I would have cared a whole lot more about this sort of thing when I was 19, you know?

Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada make up Moon Duo. Their music is Evil Heat-era Primal Scream throb ("Cold Fear") mixed with a trace of Seventies Iggy ("Creepin'"). At their best, they manage to evoke something sinister ("Cult of Moloch") that's rarely found this side of a Non album, or perhaps an old Sisters of Mercy record ("Will of the Devil"). At their very best, they very briefly transcend the silliness of this entire premise in order to get at something genuinely affecting, like opener "The Death Set" with its nods in the direction of early Loop sides. The epic "White Rose" manages to reference a peer of those Loop shoegazers with its Spiritualized-like hook, stretched to the breaking point over the course of 10 minutes.

Look, if you're driving alone late at night and want to pretend that sinister forces are chasing you, or that you're part of the criminal element from a David Lynch film, you're going to love spinning Occult Architecture Vol. 1 on your car stereo. Just don't take this too seriously as I have a hunch that the 2 players aren't either.

Follow Moon Duo via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page. Occult Architecture Vol. 1 is out on Friday via Sacred Bones Records.

[Photo: Howard Wise, post-art by Jasmine Pasquill]

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Quick Look At Spoke, The Salad Days Companion Book, Ahead Of Book Signings With Scott Crawford And Jim Saah (And Your Chance To Win A Free Copy Of The Book!)

The 2014 film Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) told the oft-told tale of harDCore with the kind of deft and brisk story-telling that the complex history deserved. Certainly D.C. had punk bands before 1980, and loads after, of course, but writer and director Scott Crawford wisely focused on arguably the most vital decade in the long history of alternative music in this city and, in so doing, tackled political and cultural issues that other film-makers had missed when recounting the rise of a key part of this city's musical heritage. Along with photographer Jim Saah, Crawford made perhaps the definitive document on D.C.'s brand of hardcore punk, as well as the sort of documentary that rewards any fan of music, and scholar of the rise of alternative culture in America.

Now, Scott Crawford has returned with Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene. The book, out now from Akashic Books, serves as both a companion volume to the Salad Days film, as well as a fine visual document of that same crucial era in harDCore. And, wisely given this area's rich sense of community and the scene's familial relationships, Crawford has let the participants tell their own stories. A kind of oral history, Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene is a fan's book and I mean that in the very best possible way. Loaded with photos (lots from photographer Jim Saah), the volume is a joy to thumb through, or read cover-to-cover. The images practically jump off the page and a reader can't but help be energized just looking at this. And if you lived through any part of this decade here in the D.C. area, the book is a sort of souvenir of a time when music could clearly affect change -- change for the better, I might add.

The late great John Stabb of Government Issue, Wilson Center, 1983 [Photo: Jim Saah]

Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, Wilson Center, 1983 [Photo: Jim Saah]

Sean Finnegan of Void, Newton Theater, 1983 [Photo: Jim Saah]

If you want to see Scott Crawford and Jim Saah speak about Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene, you are in luck as the dynamic duo of the history of harDCore has a few appearances lined up this week. On Thursday, they will be speaking with Michael Hampton (The Faith, Embrace) and Andy Rapoport (King Face) at WORD in Brooklyn. Then, on Friday, Scott and Jim will be at Cindergarden in Philadelphia. Details here. And, finally, on Saturday, Scott and Jim will be speaking with WTOP radio reporter (and one-time mod musician in Modest Proposal) Neal Augenstein at the famed Politics and Prose here in D.C. Details here.

Now, full confession time: I cannot be entirely impartial about Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene because I wrote 4 brief band biographies in the book (Jawbox, Shudder to Think, Gray Matter, and Fire Party), but, really, was any fan of harDCore ever totally impartial? Of course not! The musical history of this city is important and electrifying! Who can be impartial about that!?!

If you want to win a free copy of Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene, I have a trivia contest for you to enter. The good folks at Akashic Books will send out a copy of the book to 2 lucky winners here in the USA.

What's the name of the band featuring J. Robbins of Jawbox that just released a new single this month?

Email your answer to me at kenixfan [at] gmail [dot] com and then I'll get the winners' names to the good folks at Akashic Books who will then mail out the free copies to the 2 winners. [Big thanks to Susannah Lawrence and Johnny Temple at Akashic Books!]

[Photos: Jim Saah]

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Have A Wonderful Day: A Few Words About The New Jigsaw Seen Compilation

The new one from The Jigsaw Seen offers up some of the best power pop this side of the Atlantic can offer. The Jigsaw Seen For The Discriminating Completest (Rarities And Singles 1989-2015), out Friday on Burger Records, is a set of gems that shine with the wit of The Kinks and the spark of the best Nugggets-era bands.

A run at "The Best is Yet to Come" kicks things off in a decidedly fine fashion, the cut nothing like what Mr. Sinatra ever did with the number, while "Celebrity Interview" charms with the sort of pop that the Davies brothers made at one point with The Kinks. Elsewhere, a cover of the Bee Gees standard "Melody Fair" does right by the original, even as the fiery "Have a Wonderful Day" sounds like the best power pop stuff from the Seventies. "My Name is Tom" churns like something from The Standells or The Electric Prunes, while album closer "Another Predictable Song" rocks out with the kind of hard riff-age favored by The Smithereens.

A fine compilation, The Jigsaw Seen For The Discriminating Completest (Rarities And Singles 1989-2015) collects a bit of the past of The Jigsaw Seen. Serving as a nice introduction to the band's blend of power pop, the set works as the sort of thing that is sure to appeal to fans of bands as disparate as Fountains of Wayne, Barenaked Ladies, and The Plimsouls.

The Jigsaw Seen For The Discriminating Completest (Rarities And Singles 1989-2015) is out Friday on Burger Records. Follow The Jigsaw Seen via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Theresa Donoghue]

Friday, January 27, 2017

I See Rainbows In The Evening: A Look At This Spectacular CD/DVD Move Set From Cherry Red Records

Released today on Cherry Red Records, Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move is the single best one-disc compilation of The Move that I've yet to encounter. That the disc comes with a bonus DVD full of the band's TV appearances and promotional films is another tremendous reason to rejoice. This is, quite simply, the most perfectly on-point presentation of one of the strongest back-catalogs in rock.

Now, if you grew up like me, you first heard of The Move because every book on The Who mentioned the band as a serious rival for the Daltrey-fronted outfit. Of course, American album rock radio stations were not exactly playing a lot of Move cuts in the Eighties. It was more likely that you might hear the ELO version of "Do Ya", a number that Jeff Lynne first trotted out when he joined The Move before forming his own band. This lack of easy access to the recordings of The Move meant that I first went into the band's back-catalog with a certain amount of ignorance. If you approach this band's material that way, you're liable to default to simply thinking either one of two things: "Oh, this is that band Jeff Lynne was in before he formed Electric Light Orchestra!", or "This is that band that that nut-job Roy Wood was in!" Both of those statements are true, of course, and, frankly, the band really became a showcase for Roy Wood's odd genius, despite the significant contributions from the other members of the group, Lynne included.

All that being said, what it comes down to here is an elaboration of reasons that new and old fans of The Move need to buy Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of The Move as soon as possible. It is essential, it's that simple. How to further explain it?

Disc 1 offers up 21 Move tracks that chart the range of this band from a near-psychedelic act, fronted by Carl Wayne, a singer whose considerable talents seemed better suited to more mod material, to a full-on fly your freak-flag!-level proto-glam band. In the space of a handful of years the band went from releasing singles that were like Beatles lite ("I Can Hear The Grass Grow") to cranking out numbers that brought new definitions of heavy to the charts ("Brontosaurus"). Now, I'm not saying that there aren't numbers here that are -- let's be honest -- the equal of some Lennon/McCartney stuff ("Blackberry Way", for example) -- but that one gets the sense that the band was a bit at odds with the different styles in their own repertoire. This lot might have been mod legends at some point -- one can see why -- but they were also rivals in the head-expanding stakes laid down by the Beatles and others in 1967 or so.

Judging from the live clip, one could make a case for the 5-piece version of The Move being the one with the strongest set of musical chops. Bassist Ace Kefford brought -- as the liner notes to Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of the Move explain -- an awareness of soul and rhythm-and-blues styles to what The Move were doing; a number like "Walk Upon the Water" might be a cousin of the sort of English whimsy that The Kinks were mastering at the same time in this era but it was, as the live clip on this DVD illustrates, a blast of melodic pop equal parts shouty white soul and psychedelia. Drummer Bev Bevan and singer Carl Wayne meshed perfectly with bassist Kefford in this period and they made stuff like "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" punch harder than it would have in other hands.

Still, it's clear when watching this with a bit of rock history hindsight on the brain, that The Move was always going to be Roy Wood's child, the oddball musician in these clips looking more of the era than even grunge-y bassist Skip Price in a studio-based run-through of "Blackberry Way". In a "Beat Club" clip of the band miming to "Fire Brigade", the group is now a three-piece, Wayne having fled the scene.

The material in this post-Carl Wayne era is certainly harder, Wood having jettisoned the rhythm-and-blues trappings that had made this group such a formidable mod proposition. From the silly-but-beautiful "Curly" and on to the positively monumental "Brontosaurus", Wood is inventing glam rock even as he's trapped in the flower power era. If the addition of Jeff Lynne meant that the band was touching on more epic, orchestral material (the mysterious and magisterial "What?"), they were also pushing at the edges of the bubbling acid rock of the time period and crafting pretty concise bursts of energy (the loud and poppy "Ella James", or the Lynne flip-side "Do Ya") that retained all the melodic invention that earlier singles had displayed...only with the volume turned up to 11.

Near the end of the CD portion of this compilation is one of Wood's finest compositions, the glammy "China Town", and it is a truly marvelous blend of catchy riffs and Fifties stomp. Interestingly, it indicates, like "Do Ya" does too, that Lynne and Wood were on the same wavelength; listening to this now, it makes perfect sense that Wood would be in an early line-up of Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra, you know? That said, Wood was clearly interested in something heavier at the time. One listen to the glorious racket of "When Alice Comes Back to the Farm" ought to convince you of that. The video for that number features a hairy, bespectacled Wood sitting down playing a slide guitar as a Floydian light-show projects behind him. Things had come a long way from simply hearing the grass grow, eh?

Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of the Move serves as the sort of thing that long-time Move fans need -- the more than 60-minute DVD makes this release pretty essential -- and the kind of compilation that can be a crash-course into one of the most vital and exciting bands of the British wave of the Sixties. If I started this review by highlighting how hard it was to easily get into The Move in the past, it's incredibly easy now. This set is the perfect entry-point. And, frankly, the sound on this CD is so good that I would also recommend getting this even if you already have all of these tunes on other compilations or albums.

The folks at Cherry Red Records have done a fantastic job with this. I urge you to order this set now. You will enjoy every second of it.

Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best of the Move is out now from Cherry Red Records.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Looking For Sunshine: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Bats

The Bats are still going strong. The New Zealand legends have never really gone away and indie fans should be thankful for that. The group is set to release their newest album, the excellent The Deep Set, on Flying Nun tomorrow in New Zealand and Australia, and the rest of the world next week. The record is, like the best Bats releases, perfect and unassuming.

Things get underway with the spry "Rooftops" which segues nicely into the understated "Looking for Sunshine", all loping rhythms and sublime Robert Scott vocals that veer close to early John Cale territory in terms of delivery. Elsewhere, the churning "Walking Man" has that distinctive Flying Nun sound that echoes not only old Bats records but stuff from label-mates The Clean, while the supple "Diamonds" leans more in the direction of a languid bit of Neil Young-style business. The first single from The Deep Set is "Antlers" and the cut illustrates in a succinct package the appeal of The Bats. While there are bits here that are, clearly, reminiscent of all of the other great New Zealand bands -- bits that place this band as the sonic equal of The Verlaines in many ways, for example -- there are other touches here -- a nod in the direction of Tom Verlaine and Television, a hint of early Feelies -- that provide quick examples of what sets this Robert Scott-fronted band apart from their peers down under. Similarly, the beautiful "Shut Your Eyes" is far closer to Galaxie 500 than it is to The Chills, if you get my meaning. The cut unfurls with a deliberate and quiet grace that is something to be savored. Things get more up-tempo on the rockier "No Trace", a nice showcase for Robert Scott's guitar-work. Closer "Not So Good" is, like so much of what's on this record, the sort of indie-rock that chimes and rambles in the best kind of way. A listener to this one is taken by the idea that so many bands have taken a cue from The Bats, acts as disparate as Pavement and Built to Spill, for example.

The Bats are pioneers and one of the most consistently high quality acts to have come out of the boom of New Zealand alt-rock so many decades ago. That they have survived so many eras is a fact that I very much appreciate. That they are making music that's so rich is another thing to be thankful for. The Deep Set is warm and human in the very best ways. Without a trace of unnecessary pretension, The Bats can release music like this and make it look so easy, each cut unwinding with a precise kind of unhurried musicianship.

The Deep Set by The Bats is out tomorrow on Flying Nun in New Zealand and Australia, and then everywhere else next week. Follow The Bats via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Spin New Split Single Video Here!

Jason Narducy has a sense of humor, it seems. The delightful video for his new single, "Untry Love" is a funny affair. With help from Dave Hill and Anya Marina, the Superchunk touring member learns how to work on his rock-star front-man on-stage skills. Narducy should be riding high and enjoying life at the moment as he deserves to be proud of the success of his superb new Split Single album, Metal Frames. I reviewed the album a few months and I loved it. It is a wildly accessible record full of catchy tunes.

Now, if you don't have Metal Frames already, play this video and you'll get a good sense of the sort of sharp power-pop skills Jason is bringing to this new Split Single record. Having gigged with the Bob Mould Band, Superchunk, and Robert Pollard has surely rubbed off on the cat as his own brand of that sort of muscular-and-melodic indie is worthy of comparison with those other acts.

Everything you need to know about Jason Narducy and Split Single is on the official Split Single website. Metal Frames is out now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Break A Guitar: A Quick Word About The New Ty Segall Album

Ty Segall has probably broken a guitar or two. Maybe in anger, maybe in stage-rockin' fury, or maybe just from over-use? Who knows, but the guy's made a lot of music lately so he's probably cracked an axe in half, you know? But hopefully he's not going to break one when he goes out on the road in support of his fine new self-titled album, out Friday on Drag City.

The record kicks off with that previously-mentioned "Break a Guitar", all Floyd "The Nile Song" riffs driven into overdrive, while "Freedom" offers up something funkier and looser. Ty sounds more in command of this one than he may have on tracks on previous albums and it's a sign of the overall quality found on Ty Segall. This is, quite simply, one of his most consistent records.

Now, that consistency is not jeopardized at all by Ty's usual brand of risk-taking, here exemplified by the epic 10-minute "Warm Hands (Freedom Required)", part acid blues, part space rock freak-out. It's a blast of fun and, oddly, it's dropped down right in the middle of the record. The other players that have been assembled this time around -- Emmett Kelly (The Cairo Gang), Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart and Ben Boye -- join Ty in making some of his best songs in some time, from the wilder stuff like this 10-minute jam to other, more traditional cuts. "Talkin' is beautiful, Sixties-style melodies and lazy day guitar licks, while the T.Rex-inspired "Thank You Mr. K" roars atop one of the best Segall hooks in ages. If "Orange Color Queen" offers up a lilting Beatles-esque melody, it's an indication that Segall has more firmly harnessed his considerable gifts, gone are the blasts of feedback and wig out stuff. I mean, Segall is still pushing the envelope but, somehow, Ty Segall is more cohesive than some of his previous releases, a fact made clear by the gorgeous purr of the final full-length song on the record, "Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)".

Ty Segall is a prolific fellow. At some points in the recent past, I've worried that his prodigious output ran the risk, like that of Robert Pollard's, of offering up a resulting set of tunes with layers of diminishing success. Those fears were misplaced as it seems that with Ty Segall the guy has managed to both maintain his usual style while producing something that is remarkably tight and cohesive. There has been, perhaps, no better sample of Ty Segall's sound than the appropriately-direct Ty Segall.

Ty Segall is out on Friday via Drag City. Follow Ty Segall via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Kyle Thomas]

Heads Up About This New Channels (J. Robbins Of Jawbox) Single

I might not be able to pronounce the title but I can sure enjoy rocking out with this one!

"Backpfeifengesicht" / "Airstrip One" is the blazing new single from Channels, that near-prog-rock, near-power pop three piece commanded by J. Robbins (Jawbox, Office of Future Plans). The band -- Robbins, Janet Morgan, and Darren Zentek -- reconvened their considerable forces in 2016, a process teased on the band's Facebook page -- and the result is this 2-song digital single.

A-side "Backpfeifengesicht" is a hard-charging post-punk number that blends a bit of old Jawbox with the kind of forceful urgency that these grim times deserve (though that march last Saturday in D.C. restored my faith in the kids in the streets here). Flip-side "Airstrip One" is more melodic, Janet's vocals soothing things out a tiny bit on this one.

These 2 tracks are surely a taste of more Channels music to come hopefully in 2017. The band's one studio album is available from Dischord, and there are links there to buy this digital single, or you can use the Bandcamp link below.

Follow Channels via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Rock N Roll Socialite]

Monday, January 23, 2017

Please Don't Make Me Be Someone With No Sympathy: A Quick Review Of The Absolutely Incendiary Debut Full-Length LP From D.C.'s Own Priests

On a certain level I wonder if you even need to read this review. The critical mass is in favor of Priests. The D.C. group has been on an upward trajectory for more than 2 years now and the culmination is the release of the band's full-length debut album. Called Nothing Feels Natural, it's out this Friday on the band's own Sister Polygon Records. It is, to state it simply, one of the most electrifying things I've heard in quite some time. This is, really, one instance where it's safe to believe the hype 'cause, brothers and sisters, this is the real deal. And I'm not just saying that due to that fact that these cats and kittens are from D.C. either.

With a beat that (intentionally) echoes that of P.i.L.'s "Flowers of Romance", "Appropriate" unleashes the post-punk fury that is the heart of Nothing Feels Natural. As Katie Alice Greer rails about "new hope in the great unwashed", the song catches a spark, the players on fire behind her, and other listeners are presumably in positions like my own when I play this one: ready to pick up the flag of whatever movement this singer is leading and follow her and her brethren over the ramparts. Things modulate a bit on the infectious "JJ", all mid-period X swirled up with a dash of PJ Harvey. The best showcase on Nothing Feels Natural for the members of Priests -- Daniele Daniele (drums), Katie Alice Greer (vocals), G.L. Jaguar (guitar), and Taylor Mulitz (bass) -- "JJ" was the first cut on this album that absolutely floored me with its blend of snarly punk and shouty angst. Which is not to unfairly pigeonhole this as just harDCore 2.0 'cause it's catchy as all hell, folks!

Katie Alice Greer sings that she's "the stubbornest girl in the world" on the churning "Nicki", all early Siouxsie attitude mixed with "Atrocity Exhibition" by Joy Division. Elsewhere, on the pulsing "No Big Bang", the lyrics, written here by drummer Daniele Daniele, take on an urgency that's married to the Le Tigre-style wash of beat-and-riff. That nod to the era of Ian Curtis and the peers of his post-punk generation shows up again on the sublime and affecting title cut where Katie's near-coo rides over top of a hook that is pure Cure. The easiest cut on this record to love, "Nothing Feels Natural" is a clear highlight here of this debut full-length release. When Katie purrs "Ooh baby, my American dream" in the brilliant "Pink White House", she's using the same sort of deft, consumer culture-skewering lyricism that Poly Styrene brought to those very best X-Ray Spex songs. As the guitars buzz around her, and those drums pound, pound, and pound, Greer unleashes a litany of rage at the mundane and plastic, and yet the song is anything but strident. Sharp and aware, Priests here are operating at the sort of peak that other bands take decades to hit. Confident and economically performed, the cut is just fantastic, that rare thing that can make you dance while you're setting the cop car on fire to kick off the revolution.

Closer "Suck" drops in a rhythmic underpinning that's faintly reminiscent of something from Seventies radio even as the sax recalls Lora Logic from X-Ray Spex. The blend here of soothing and jarring is hard to pull off, sort of like when Mark E. Smith from The Fall tries to sing over a pretty melody, you know? That Priests so thoroughly own this style of music says so much about why Nothing Feels Natural succeeds so well, and on so many levels. On paper, Nothing Feels Natural might sound like a mess of bad ideas, a jumble of influences callously rubbed up against each other. Instead, when you spin this one, you're hit with a rush of electricity. Greer, Daniele, Jaguar, and Mulitz sound like a D.C. band, certainly -- they have that kind of organic DIY vibe that so many post-Revolution Summer Dischord acts had -- and the way they have sort of cultivated their own style is a very harDCore kinda thing. Sure, there are bits here that you will find familiar, but the overall effect is so fresh and fun (in the right kind of way), that I'm a bit stunned at how much this did actually warrant the hype leading up to its release.

Look, Nothing Feels Natural is flat-out freakin' fantastic. This year belongs to Priests and they deserve all the attention they are surely going to get when this one breaks big. More importantly, I expect loads of kids to hear this and get some ideas on starting bands. This is proof that you can make smart music, that has edge, and some political points to make, without being boring about it. As effortlessly perfect as those late-period Fugazi albums remain, and as light-years ahead of its peers as Germfree Adolescents was in 1978, Nothing Feels Natural is gonna be hard to better in 2017 in terms of musical vision and lyrical precision.

And, hey, you can dance to it too, so...

Nothing Feels Natural by Priests is out on Friday via Sister Polygon Records. You can follow Priests via the band's official website.

[Photo: Audrey Melton]

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nothing And Everything: A Few Words About The New Bernard Butler-Produced Mark Eitzel Record

It might seem petty to highlight the producer of a record in the headline of a review of said record but, really, it is significant that the former guitar whiz of Suede has hooked up with American indie legend Mark Eitzel for Mark's new album, Hey Mr. Ferryman. The album, which drops on Merge Records on Friday, is the sort of thing that will please fans of both of these gentleman and that's saying something.

By handling loads of the guitar, bass, percussion, and keyboards on this record, Bernard Butler is fulfilling the role of someone like Nelson Riddle or Gordon Jenkins to Eitzel's place as a sort of Sinatra for the post-grunge world. That Butler has brought along drummer Mako Sakamoto from Suede spin-off The Tears ought to tell you what a big hand the producer had in making Hey Mr. Ferryman such a fine record.

Still, this is, after all, a Mark Eitzel record and his rich voice and soul-scraping tunes are the things that fans of this guy crave. That the material is so rich, so lush, and so memorable is a testament to the strengths of the man as a songwriter, performer, and artist. The most apt description for this record is that Eitzel has made the equivalent here of The Boatman's Call (1997). That said, there's something a good deal lighter here than what Mr. Cave offered up on his similarly-titled record.

Opener "The Last Ten Years" kicks things off with a simply gorgeous melody, while the Jimmy Webb-influenced "An Answer" similarly benefits from the rich production Mr. Butler has brought to this album. If "Nothing and Everything" harks back to the sort of singer-songwriter tradition that Gordon Lightfoot and Cat Stevens pioneered, the bright and airy "An Angel's Wing Brushed the Penny Slots" rides by on a faint bossa nova beat, Eitzel's voice so clear and distinct over top. It's a splendid bit of business and one of those very rare things that is a miracle of both composition and performance, Butler's hand at the producer's deck a big help too. If "Mr. Humphries" carries a trace of Scott Walker about it, "La Lloma" has something harder about it, something darker too like those cuts on post-Violator Depeche Mode records only without so much electronic business slathered on top. It's worth highlighting that this number contains a fiery guitar solo and it's a joy to hear Bernard Butler cut loose on the axe again.

In his very best moments on Hey Mr. Ferryman, Mark Eitzel here shows that he is a master of both jazzy material ("Just Because") as well as more lush numbers ("Let Me Go"). And what remains remarkable about this record as a listening experience is how wonderfully whole this whole thing sounds, even as individual cuts take subtle chances and risks. Bernard Butler has helped Mark Eitzel make perhaps his most organic record yet and found a way to perfectly convey the whole range of the singer's performance style. Hey Mr. Ferryman is the type of record that demands your full attention. It is that very rare record that demands to be listened to all the way through in one sitting and not parsed out on your iPod. Intimate, brave, and heartfelt, this is the return of un-ironic music of the very highest order. And it's easy for me to declare that Hey Mr. Ferryman might just be the first big album of 2017.

Out Friday on Merge Records, Hey Mr. Ferryman is one of Mark Eitzel's very best pieces of work. Follow Mark Eitzel on his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Mark Holthusen]

Turn It On: My Look At The Excellent New Live Album From Sleater-Kinney On Sub Pop

I am attempting to review a new Sleater-Kinney release with the disappointment still fresh in my mind that I wasn't able to buy tickets to see the band when they were in D.C. this weekend for the Women's March. My disappointment is, of course, silly since I'm happy that this perennially-excellent band were here in this town to support such an important cause. That they are about to release an absolutely fiery live album -- their first, actually -- is another reason to be happy.

Live in Paris from Sleater-Kinney drops on Sub Pop on Friday. Recorded on a recent tour for their "comeback" album (the amazing No Cities To Love), the record is a deft updating of that very Seventies live album idea. In an era when it seems as if live albums are not quite as necessary as they once were, Live in Paris sort of upends that theory, reminding even casual fans what a magnificent back-catalog this crew has got, and what great players they are in a concert setting.

A blazing "Price Tag" segues into a rhythmic run at "Oh" from 2002's excellent One Beat. Elsewhere, No Cities Left To Love standout "A New Wave" here takes on a vibe reminiscent of early, punk-y Pretenders, or even Gang of Four standards. A raging "No Cities to Love" pleases the clearly appreciative audience in Paris, while "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" -- one of the first songs I ever heard from this trio and the one that made me an instant fan -- roars with riot grrl intent, its fire actually stoked up a bit in the ensuing 21 (!) years since its first release. "Turn It On" remains the band's rallying cry, Janet Weiss absolutely destroying it on the kit on this one, while "Dig Me Out" is pure punk, and a blast of both energy and hard melody. Live in Paris closes with an absolutely stunning stab at "Modern Girl" from 2005's The Woods.

Live in Paris is pure energy barely contained and one cannot help but marvel at how Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss have maintained the fire and drive for more than two decades. A crash course into one of the most essential back-catalogs in American indie, Live in Paris from Sleater-Kinney is one of this week's best new releases. Old fans will surely embrace this as much as I did, while new(er) fans will find it a usual and masterful primer on the tuneful anarcho-uplift of Sleater-Kinney.

Out Friday on Sub Pop, Live in Paris by Sleater-Kinney is available on a variety of formats from the seminal label. More details on Sleater-Kinney via the band's official website.

[Photo: Jason Williamson]

Faded Heart: A Quick Look At The New One From Stef Chura

Coming out of the Detroit area, Stef Chura is now a force to be reckoned with. Recalling the best moments from early Throwing Muses or Mary Margaret O'Hara releases, her new album, Messes, out Friday on Urinal Cake Records, is a burst of youthful creativity captured on tape. Bridging the worlds of bedsit folk and lo-fi fuzz, Messes is a darn infectious album which I'm happy to offer a brief review of here.

From the woozy reel of the title cut and on to the Kristin Hersh-recalling "Slow Motion", it's obvious that Stef Chura is in command of her material. These cuts are, if not blistering indie spins on the folky formula, intimate and brash moments of song-writing. There's somewhat more accessible, (college) radio-friendly stuff here ("Human Being"), as well as cuts that suggest an updating of The Raincoats for a new set of listeners ("On and Off For You"), a nod in the direction of Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders ("Faded Heart"), or even a spin on those great Seventies Joni Mitchell albums ("You").

Remarkably, for a record that flirts at the edges of something that could become too precious, too falsely intimate, Stef Chura's Messes remains a darn impressive release. Earning such favorable comparisons to songwriters like Kristin Hersh or Joni ought to tell you that this is something special. Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good To Me) plays bass on a lot of this, along with some guitar and drums, while Ryan Clancy (Jamaican Queens, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.) plays most of the drums on Messes but, really, this is clearly Stef's show. She is totally in command of this material and the risks she takes here are worth it. Fun in spots, brash in others, and introspective in others, Messes is a wonder.

Messes is out on Friday via Urinal Cake Records. You can find out more about Stef Chura via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Zak Bratto]

Space To Be: A Rave Review Of Stellular, The Superb New Album From Rose Elinor Dougall

I'm not gonna bore you with the usual bullshit. Not gonna do that whole backstory thing again about how Rose Elinor Dougall left The Pipettes to re-invent herself as a sort of cross between Kate Bush and Harriet Wheeler, nor how her debut, 2010's Without Why, remains such a well-loved record by so many people. Frankly, more than half of a decade has passed since that album dropped which makes talk of her origins in The Pipettes such a waste of time now. She's a fully-formed solo artist circa 2017, one capable of producing striking Brit chamber pop -- when she chooses to, of course -- and now she's gone and recorded a long-player that is, in many ways, as much of a leap forward as that first solo LP was from The Pipettes.

Stellular, out this Friday, is such a well-conceived set of tunes -- all precisely arranged and immaculately produced -- that I feel as enthusiastic when writing about this record as I did about Without Why some few years ago. The big difference now is that, clearly, Rose has been listening to more than just Sandy Denny and Stereolab, to be a bit blunt about it. If that earlier full-length debut was the product of a singer going solo and attempting to put her love of her influences onto tape, Stellular is said singer joining those influences as an equal. The material here is so strong, so good, and so effortlessly rich that I'm more than happy to hype a collection of tunes like this.

Opener "Colour of Water" glides in on a wash of keyboard figures, a spry electronic hook carrying things forward like the best, brightest moments on early Eighties Roxy Music records, while the airy title track bounces forward like a Human League single with Alison Moyet on the mic. I name-drop those kinds of acts not to suggest that Rose Elinor Dougall is somehow trying to shoehorn that stuff into her music but, rather, that she is confidently creating the sort of music that warrants comparison to those acts while offering something warmer than some of those earlier artists did. If "Closer" didn't quit do it for this fan, "Take Yourself With You" sent chills up my spine, the melody perfectly suiting Rose's vocal range. If somehow Sandy Denny had managed to commandeer the good ship Blondie for a brief, inexplicable moment, the subsequent pairing would have sounded like this, a more European, world-wearier "Sunday Girl" the result here. If "All At Once" echoes Goldfrapp a tiny bit, the dusky charms of the piano-driven "Answer Me" provide listeners with one of the best showcases for Rose's voice on a record full of them. A big chorus -- the stuff of Seventies AM radio, really -- makes this a winner. That the cut bears a slight resemblance to mid-period Everything But The Girl doesn't hurt either.

The rockier "Dive" is a collaboration with one-man band Boxed In and it's a bit of a departure from what you might expect to hear here. It's a fine experiment, really. And, yeah, 2 tracks ("Strange Warnings" and "Poison Ivy") are re-dos of earlier numbers from Rose Elinor Dougall's superb 2013 Future Vanishes EP, but they fit seamlessly into the overall presentation of this release. Near the end of Stellular we get the real highlights of this album: "Hell and Back and "Space To Be", the former a gorgeous, soaring number that suggests nothing so much as a less arch (and less French) Laetitia Sadier. As Rose's multi-tracked vocals overlap in the background, and she explains how she's tried to rid herself of her own demons, the effect is a nearly-transcendent one, absolutely perfect pop closer to an Eighties Bowie or Bryan Ferry single than anything from our indie age. That other big highlight is next and "Space To Be" is this album's equivalent of "Carry On" from the first long-player. Rose is here in fine form and that space-y bit before the big, big chorus takes this song to another level entirely. That the tune is wildly catchy and smart and lush makes it so easy to play on repeat. In some odd way, this reminded me of a classic Suede number and I couldn't help but recall, as Rose beautifully gives into the melody during this performance, of those moments in something like "Trash" where Brett Anderson stops trying to be Bowie and turns into a vocalist just as good.

By the time that Stellular ends -- on the old-fashioned piano balladry of "Wanderer" -- one gets a real sense of self-assurance this time out. If the first full-length saw Rose finding her place in a post-C86 landscape, ditching the witty irony that briefly made the music of The Pipettes more of an intellectual affair than an emotional one, Stellular is the sound of her in control, mastering some material and experimenting with some other styles.

Rich, lush (in spots), and performed with confidence, Stellular is already one of 2017's best albums and it's not even out yet. Fans of Rose Elinor Dougall's solo career will be very happy with this one and they, like me, may find it hard to not rave about this record. Less indie than Without Why, this one is full of material that shines a flattering light on an artist who really should make music more frequently. That said, Stellular was well worth the wait.

In the USA, you can order Stellular via iTunes here. Outside of the USA, check your favorite online retailers and, of course, the brick-and-mortar record shops wherever you are.

Follow the official Facebook page for Rose Elinor Dougall for the latest news and tour and release information.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from Rose Elinor Dougall Facebook page]

Friday, January 20, 2017

Perfect: A Few Words About The Cherry Red Records Reissue Of The First Fairground Attraction Album

In 1988, this was a total fluke hit record. Coming in from nowhere, and sounding like absolutely nothing else on the airwaves either here or in the U.K., The First of a Million Kisses from Fairground Attraction was a burst of infectious musicianship and peppy tunes. The album, reissued this week in spectacular, expanded fashion from Cherry Red Records, holds up remarkably well and listening to it now one is still charmed immensely by these modest and unassuming numbers.

Of course, what started this whole thing rolling was the single "Perfect", which, as the liner notes explains, was pretty much a perfect second take that got released as a single. Eddi Reader's warm, playful vocals stride atop the music laid down by Mark Nevin, Simon Edwards, and Roy Dodds. Listened to now, one can even hear the barest hint of the near-rockabilly hooks Nevin would shortly bring to his compositions with Morrissey just a few years after this. Still, there's nothing Smiths-like about the stuff here, Fairground Attraction instead bridging the worlds of folk and country -- swing country -- to create something unique. "Find My Love" bounces with a sort of Spanish vibe, while the lullaby of "A Smile in a Whisper" shines with the kind of gentle lyricism few have been able to master since. What makes so much of The First of a Million Kisses work even now is that nothing was forced on this one. The players sound like they are having fun ("The Moon is Mine" with its faint skiffle beat), or simply running through the cuts for the sheer joy of it (the jazzy "Clare").

Most of Disc 1 is the original album version of The First of a Million Kisses with a few bonus cuts but it's Disc 2 of this fine set from Cherry Red that really offers up the treasures here for fans old and new. Chock full of demos and live cuts, Disc 2 is the reason you need to buy this set, even if that means that you're buying The First of a Million Kisses for the second time.

With 20 or so bonus cuts, this edition of The First of a Million Kisses is the definitive version of this record that fans needed. The second CD features a clutch of live cuts that showcase the chops of this act. Stuff like "Don't Be a Stranger" or "Goodbye to Songtown" sound remarkably like the cuts on the album proper which shows just what a flawless record The First of a Million Kisses was in the first place. The rare release that offered up something uncomplicated and about a million miles away from pretension, the debut from Fairground Attraction is expanded here with the bonus CD acting as a sort of perfect companion to the album proper. If the live cuts highlight the strengths of these players, the demos provide further evidence at the naturals they were. "I May Never Be Queen" is a demo that could have been a fine album cut with a little bit of polish, while the superb "Red Ribbon" trots out a near-swing hook that suits Eddi Reader's pipes perfectly. A fine cover of Patsy Cline standard "Waltzing After Midnight" closes out the second disc here.

Look, it's unlikely that a record company could do anything to duplicate the unaffected charms of this sort of album but it's worth recalling an era when a major label could get behind something like this in the first place. The First of a Million Kisses wasn't exactly a "cool" record, even in 1988, but it was a supremely listenable one. Joyous and full of heart, the players here made something special, something magic, something perfect. I'm so happy that The First of a Million Kisses is the subject of the sort of reissue it's deserved for so long.

The First of a Million Kisses by Fairground Attraction is out today via Cherry Red Records.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On The Rocks: A Look At The Brash New Album From Bash And Pop (Tommy Stinson Of The Replacements)

I simply cannot resist sharing a Tommy Stinson anecdote on the occasion of the release of the fab new Bash and Pop album, the sharp and blistering Anything Could Happen, out tomorrow on Fat Possum.

In a story I've shared here at least once, Throwing Muses and The Replacements were both separately playing D.C. one April night in 1989. Everyone else I worked with at the Record Co-Op at the University of Maryland was going to see The Replacements while I went to see Throwing Muses. I didn't, that night, regret my decision as I loved the Muses (and still do) and, oddly, I had a closer encounter with one of the 'Mats than any of my coworkers did at the other concert when I saw Tommy Stinson pop up in the back of the old 9:30 Club with local hero Tommy Keene in tow. Fittingly, he was wearing the same outfit he wore in the "I'll Be You" video which he had presumably been sporting at the band's concert earlier that evening across town. He was very gracious and funny as he signed my autograph.

Seeing him in that outfit, like he had stepped right out of that then-current video for that college rock hit from Don't Tell A Soul (1989), made him seem larger than life. And for a band with such chaos and hoopla around them at every moment, The Replacements were certainly larger than life. And yet no member of the band, Westerberg included, has even come close to releasing something subsequently that captured some of the fun and glory of the best Replacements records. Thankfully, at least in some ways, the new one from Stinson's Bash and Pop does. Anything Could Happen isn't going to change the world but it's going to warm a lot of hearts out there, especially for those of us who held the music of the 'Mats so close at such important moments of our lives.

From the sharp, punchy opener "Not This Time" and on to the woozy-boozy lurch of "On The Rocks", it's immediately clear that Bash and Pop are on fire. It's been a few decades since the band's last album but, dammit, we should have been missing them more. The title cut rocks with a sense of abandon reminiscent of early Seventies Rolling Stones singles, while the mid-tempo "Anybody Else" brings the vibe of "Talent Show" into this century. Similarly, there's something deliciously world-weary about "Bad News" that gives the tune the sort of swaggering poignancy that so many of the best Replacements cut had even while the bright and sharp "Never Wanted To Know" suggests nothing so much as a more-rough-around-the-edges Cheap Trick. The brash "Jesus Loves You" brings a bit of boogie-woogie attitude to the record even as Stinson wails over the strutting melody, while the gentle "Anytime Soon" adds some slide guitar-inflected balladry to the album. Anything Could Happen ends with the beautiful and relatively mellow "Shortcut", a gem that's every bit as good as lots of solo Westerberg material.

Comparing Tommy Stinson to the main 'Mat seems appropriate given the fact that, based on what's on this record, Stinson clearly deserves more attention as a songwriter. The cuts here are uniformly energetic and affecting and one can't help but be a little surprised at just how good this record is; I don't think anyone was thinking that we needed Bash and Pop to come back after so many years away but, hey, thank God they did 'cause the results are a blast from start to finish.

Anything Could Happen from Bash and Pop is out tomorrow via Fat Possum. Details on Tommy Stinson and the Bash and Pop tour in 2017 are there too.

[Photo: Uncredited promo photo from label site]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Rise Of A Bunch Of Tone Benders: A Look At The Fine New Reissue Of The First Great Album From Lilys

In 1992, it was clear that with In The Presence of Nothing, reissued now from Frontier Records, Lilys were planting a flag in the land of shoegaze. Listened to now, the album seems like, if not the Evervest of the genre, a pretty darn tall mountain, and Lilys, rather than a bunch of Yank upstarts, a crew of brave pioneers, venturing into territories previously best left to Brits with long(er) hair and louder guitars.

How's that for a florid opening, one keeping with the beauty of the original album cover art for In The Presence of Nothing?

What matters now, and what shines through when you play this record, is the amount of success these kids achieved. I can remember hearing this not too long after it was released and thinking "Who the heck do these guys think they are?" I thought that 'cause, yeah, the shadow of My Bloody Valentine looms damn large here and these cats are really chasing it with intent at times. There is just no escaping the idea that a bunch of D.C. area indie upstarts had heard Loveless and were brazenly attempting to make something similar. That so much of this worked then and works now is what is remarkable in 2017. And that so much of this is not simply routine shoegaze posturing surprises still. Is it any wonder that these tracks succeed because, unlike a lot of what was in the shoegaze genre at the time, so much of the material here is shot through with flashes of Sixties guitar-pop (the revving "Claire Hates Me"), a vaguely Joy Division-style sense of rhythm (the throbbing "Periscope"), or a near-punk kind of riffage (the post-rock lunge of "Collider")? The members of Lilys in 1992 were smart enough to see outside the boundaries of their preferred genre.

And, it must be noted for those outside this area, In The Presence of Nothing is the product of the D.C. scene. If Dischord had had a few peaks by 1992, the label was -- for a time, surely -- being supplanted by the D.C. area's other important labels: Teenbeat and Slumberland Records. Originally released on Mike Schulman's label, later offered up by SpinArt, and now reissued by Frontier Records, the album featured a veritable all-star team of D.C. indie: Archie Moore (Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl), Harry Evans (Poole), and Mike Hammel (The Ropers). And that's not to mention the guys and gals from Pennsylvania's Suddenly, Tammy! who appear on this record. Sure, Kurt Heasley was the power hitter here, to continue that metaphor, but it was the folks next in the line-up who were insuring that this was a set of home runs. This album remains a highlight from that first big wave of non-harDCore D.C. area bands hitting it big, crossing over to the college rock crowds, and getting taken seriously outside of the Beltway.

And all the attention this release got back in 1992 or so is due to the fact that In The Presence of Nothing is, in hindsight, clearly very nearly an equal of the all-mighty Loveless. And yet, to say such a thing is to perhaps relegate this debut long-player from Lilys to that bucket of MBV clones that both sides of the Atlantic produced after 1991. To label this simply a shoegaze release is to miss the little bits in "Elizabeth Colour Wheel" that recall an amped-up Galaxie 500, or to deny the New Order-ish rhythmic moments in "It Does Nothing For Me", or "Snowblinder" and its whole loud-quiet-loud, slight-grunge dynamic.

What all of that means for astute listeners is that In The Presence of Nothing might seem to be a perfect recreation of Loveless-style shoegaze from an East Coast indie super-group -- and, frankly, sometimes I recall it that way -- but it is, upon the fresh assessment provided by this fine reissue, something else too, something more mature and subtle, and harsh and darker (the Mogwai-foreshadowing epic "The Way Snowflakes Fall").

If the first 9 tracks that make up the original In The Presence of Nothing release were not enough, this Frontier Records reissue of the album adds 3 bonus cuts, including the seminal Slumberland Records single from the band, "February Fourteenth", all pummeling riffs ridden into the void; only a bunch of American kids could have taken the template of MBV's "Drive It All Over Me" and added an almost Nirvana-like sense of abandon to the material. Pop that very nearly goes spectacularly off the rails, the single is joined by by the flip "Threw A Day" with its rhythmic attack that's pure Hook and Morris. Finally, we get the spacious "Eskimo" from the Tone Bender EP.

In 1992 or so, shoegaze seemed to be purely British territory to a lot of people but not for very long. With the rise of bands from the Slumberland Records stable, the genre got a much-needed shot in the arm from the influx of a bunch of Yanks. And, remarkably, after sort of mastering the form here, most of these players went in new directions after this: Kurt Heasley used the Lilys vehicle to explore a kind of Sixties-style indie-pop; Archie Moore continued on with the more C86-inspired Velocity Girl whose full-length debut dropped the year after In The Presence of Nothing was released; Harry Evans eventually crafted a bunch of fab power-pop albums with the bright Poole; Mike Hammel pursued the kind of melodic alt-rock favored by Ride with his band The Ropers; and Beth and Jay Sorrentino offered up superb piano-driven indie with a clutch of releases from their band Suddenly, Tammy! Still, in 1992, Lilys were -- more or less -- an American shoegaze band and never more so than on this release.

And the measure of the success of In The Presence of Nothing is not only what a great shoegaze album it remains, but what a fantastic indie record it is too. Fans of the genres here, or the other bands these players came from, are going to love this reissue of In The Presence of Nothing. And if you're relatively new to the touchstones of shoegaze, it makes sense to spin this next to Loveless as it's that good and so much more than simply an American riff on the MBV classic. Students of the D.C. scene, and the rise of American indie, will also be thrilled with this reissue.

In The Presence of Nothing by Lilys is out now via Frontier Records.

[Photos of Lilys from the era courtesy of Archie Moore but original photographer unknown.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Follow The Leader: A Quick Word About The New Foxygen LP

A few years ago, Foxygen dropped a pretty long album. ...And Star Power was not nearly as successful as it should have been but, as I said then, the ambitions of the players made it a worthwhile proposition for a listener. Now, with a good deal more success, the band is back with the shorter Hang. Out Friday on Jagjaguwar, this new record, despite its brevity, is fairly bold and similarly ambitious. However, things sound a lot more organic this time around and I am now more firmly a fan of this group. Read on.

Sam France and Jonathan Rado have employed a full orchestra on each cut this time out and rather than make things too over-the-top, the addition of those strings has sharpened the focus of this duo. Opener "Follow The Leader" is all Steely Dan-worthy catchy hooks mingled with a Jellyfish-like sense of a big melody, while the superb "Avalon" offers up what sounds like an early Queen number as re-imagined by Rufus Wainwright. Elsewhere, the odd "America" brings a near-Broadway stomp to things, while the excellent "On Lakershim" rolls like mid-period Roxy Music mixed with the tune-age of peak Elton John. If "Trauma" very nearly adds a Crime and the City Solution-style morose mood to the proceedings here, things peak up on the beautiful closer "Rise Up", a blast of triumphant Seventies song-craft decked out in modern trappings.

Foxygen have refined their focus this time around. And if the results are far shorter than what was on their earlier, much-acclaimed previous album, that's okay 'cause the tunes here are bigger and easier to embrace. France and Rado have grabbed hold of an earlier generation's sense of what makes a good song and applied that logic here. Rarely has a band made music this big -- there's an orchestra on every cut, for God's sake! -- that wasn't overbearing or too florid. Hang manages the mean feat of being concise and precise while being simultaneously lush and nearly baroque in spots. An excellent step forward for the guys in Foxygen.

Hang is out Friday on Jagjauwar. Follow Foxygen via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo Cara Robbins]

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Know You Know: A Look At The New One From The Proper Ornaments (James of Veronica Falls, Ultimate Painting and Max Of Toy)

The new one from The Proper Ornaments is a thing of modest perfection. Foxhole, out here on this side of the Atlantic on Slumberland Records this Friday, offers up a set of quiet-yet-precise indie rockers that are, nearly, as significant as those made by the bands that these 2 guys are normally performing with.

James Hoare, he of Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls, and Max Oscarnold, he of Toy and Pink Flames, were friends first (according to the press materials) and band-mates later. That sort of makes sense as the recordings here -- stuff like "Memories" and "I Know You Know" -- suggest a wealth of languid Sundays spent bonding over classic Zombies sides, late-period Teenage Fanclub albums, and select tracks from Big Star's Chris Bell. At their very best, The Proper Ornaments make stately chamber pop that charms like a warmer version of something off of Floyd's Obscured By Clouds ("The Frozen Stare"), or a less-VU-obsessed version of Hoare's own Ultimate Painting ("Bridge By A Tunnel"). On something like "Cremated (Blown Away)", the light effect is similar to that of a spry early McCartney solo track, while "Back Pages" echoes The Byrds and The Beau Brummels in fine, memorable ways. If the band bring a classic Eighties DIY-slash-C86 approach to this sort of stuff, they are, clearly, mentally stuck in "1969" to reference another highlight here. Still, this sort of backward-looking stuff works spectacularly here.

Bridging the Lou-abides vibe of mid-period Feelies numbers with a sort of less angular take on the art pop of Felt at their most inward-looking, The Proper Ornaments make sublime tunes that owe as much to The Zombies, or Lennon, as they do to Yo La Tengo and early Lilac Time. Foxhole succeeds brilliantly by ratcheting back the big gestures and large moments. By doing this sort of thing so well, and without seemingly breaking a sweat while chasing past pop ghosts, the boys in The Proper Ornaments have elevated this kind of music beyond the rote revivalism it would have become in other hands. Instead, this material is vital and full of life even as it seems to quietly slip into your ears and stay.

It's not too much of a stretch to say that 2017 is unlikely to see an album that does what it sets out to do so well. Utterly infectiousness and possessing a subdued glory that is hard to deny, Foxhole by The Proper Ornaments is an album every bit as wonderful as those produced by the other bands featuring James Hoare and Max Oscarnold.

Foxhole will be out on Slumberland Records this Friday. Outside of the USA, check out Tough Love Records. Follow The Proper Ornaments on the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Do It Now: A Look At The Fab New Half Japanese Album On Fire Records

That the new Half Japanese album is worth listening to is a given. The band's been making indie of the highest order before we even had a term for this sort of thing. What's remarkable this time out is how direct and accessible this band's tracks have become. Not only is Hear The Lions Roar, out Friday on Fire Records, one of the best Half Japanese releases in quite some time, it's also surely going to be seen in the future as one of the best albums of 2017. And in this grim, grim year, we need all the hope we can get.

The line-up of Half Japanese this time out is John Sluggett (guitar, keyboards, timbales), Gilles-Vincent Rieder (drums, percussion, keyboards), Jason Willett (bass, keyboards), Mick Hobbs (guitar, glockenspiel) and Jad Fair (vocals). Together, the effect of these players is, perhaps, a bit more seamless than other line-ups in the recent past. Still, the power of the Half Japanese material is really thanks to Jad Fair's unaffected-and-heartfelt delivery as vocalist and front-man.

Of course, there's the usual kind of fascination with alt-culture (b-movie love in "Attack of the Giant Leeches"), and forceful optimism (the title track), and the sort of ramshackle fuzz-punk fans of this band have long come to expect ("Here We Are"). For all the moments here that feel familiar, there are loads that surprise. "The Preventers" explores a more languid texture for the tune-age, things unfurling at a deliberate pace like a rough, near-blues piece. Elsewhere, Jad Fair delivers one of his most beautiful compositions in the direct "Do It Now", an ode to love and one of the most life-affirming and simple things I've heard in quite some time.

Other places on Hear The Lions Roar see this similar sort of music-making from Fair and his crew. "It Never Stops" shines like a ray of sunshine, a tune full of the usual optimism that Fair brings to his recordings even if he's distracted by fears of the "fury of the wolfman" lyrically. On the spry "Super Power" Fair allows the band to skip through a near-ska rhythmic pattern as he croons over the top. The cut shows the risk-taking this line-up is willing to engage in in 2017, next to the Cure-like hook that underpins "On The Right Track", Fair penning his own riff on "The Lovecats" here.

One has to thank Jad Fair for making so much good music for so long. If he had simply decided to go the route of resting on his laurels, or touring some revival circuit for old indie guys, it would be understandable and acceptable. What he's done instead is assemble a pretty tight outfit and offered up some of his best recent material to start 2017. Hear The Lions Roar is full of bright, invigorating alt-rock that makes me smile. There's nothing too heavy here but in its simplicity Jad Fair has somehow tapped into something beautiful and real. Emotional in the way that old Robyn Hitchcock recordings could be, and unaffected in delivery throughout, the songs of Jad Fair and Half Japanese here are marvelous and simple. I cannot stress how much I enjoyed this record.

Hear The Lions Roar by Half Japanese is out on Friday from Fire Records. Follow Half Japanese on the official Jad Fair website.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from label]

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Turntable Exiles: New Tunes From New D.C. Supergroup Foxhall Stacks (ex-Minor Threat, Government Issue, Jawbox, and Velocity Girl)!

Such a new proposition that they don't even have any cool band shots up on their Facebook page yet, but what they do have is a pair of killer tunes. Foxhall Stacks is a new D.C. supergroup. Featuring Jim Spellman (Velocity Girl, The High-Back Chairs), Bill Barbot (Jawbox, Burning Airlines), Peter Moffett (Government Issue, Wool, Burning Airlines), and the legendary Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Government Issue, Dag Nasty, The Meatmen), Foxhall Stacks make sharp, punchy power-pop that the indie world needs more of.

The band dropped their first bit of music tonight and the 2 cuts are superb. The cleverly-titled "Turntable Exiles" throws down like the best tracks from Superchunk, Dag Nasty, or even D.C.'s other supergroup, Dot Dash. The flip, "Worried", is more conventional but no less affecting. Recalling the more memorable numbers from The Posies, circa Frosting on the Beater, or even Sloan, this one hints at the strong heft of this band's brand of power pop.

Now, after you've played these tracks a few times, get ready for the band's upcoming gig at Comet Ping Pong on January 21. Details here.

Follow Foxhall Stacks via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Bill Barbot]

Monday, January 2, 2017

Play New Split Single Video Here To Clear The Dust Of 2016 From Your Minds!

Jason Narducy -- better known as the bassist in the Bob Mould Band, touring bassist for Superchunk, and other stuff -- has written and performed perhaps the perfect end of 2016-song in his Split Single guise. Spin this to clear the dust and cobwebs and negativity of 2016 out of your mind and then get ready for a (hopefully) better 2017...even if El Trumpf is in the Oval Office.

Metal Frames, the new one from Narducy's Split Single, is out now. It's a fab record and it was a shoe-in for my recent Top 20 Albums Of 2016 list.

More details on Jason Narducy and Split Single via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Marina Chavez]