Monday, March 27, 2017

Play Myself Some Music: A Brief Review Of The New Album From R. Stevie Moore And Jason Falkner

It goes without saying that R. Stevie Moore is what you'd call a cult figure. And, it's probably fair to say, so is Jason Falkner. I can recall how ardently I'd search out any of the many releases bearing Falkner's name in the mid- to late Nineties. He's on the Eric Matthews solo albums in that era, was in Jellyfish, The Grays, and The Three O'Clock, and he released at least 2 superb records under his own name back in Clinton's second term. He was, at least then, also the sort of artist worthy of having a cult following, myself included.

That these 2 disparate artists have paired up is something of a head-scratcher but, as the very recently-released Make It Be makes clear, the team-up is hardly that odd as the 2 work decidedly well together. As soon as "I H8 Ppl" kicks off and Moore's Beefheart-ian growl gets going over the top of some crunchy Falkner power-chords, a listener is assured that this album is a genuine musical marriage more than it is a dalliance between 2 legends. At their best, like on the lovely "Another Day Slips Away", the material here concocted by Moore and Falkner finds a nice balance between the back-catalogues of both of these cats. Elsewhere, on the soaring "Horror Show", Moore falls in line behind Falkner for a cut every bit the equal of any solo Falkner composition from the late Nineties. "That's Fine, What Time?" is vaguely Zappa-esque, while the absolutely gorgeous "Play Myself Some Music" chimes with both a sense of Falkner's flair for Beatlesque tune-age and Moore's knack -- (that's an understatement, eh?) -- for lo-fi pop of the highest order. The track is, seriously, just sublime and probably worth the price of this album itself. "I Am The Best For You" moves things back to the abrasive even as Moore, in his own inimitable way, wraps his gruff vocals around an admittedly lovely melody. And to single out all of those cuts I've mentioned is to neglect to mention the handful of brief guitar-based instrumentals that lace this all up.

Make It Be is one of the big surprises of 2017 and the year's only a third up so far. Who'd have thought that these 2 gents could come up with something like this, something that squanders none of the appeal of either member's signature sound.

Out now on Bar/None Records, Make It Be by Jason Falkner an R. Stevie Moore is very nearly a masterpiece and the sort of thing that should warm the hearts of both fanbases of these 2 artists.

More details via Jason Falkner's official site or via R. Stevie Moore's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Open Your Heart To The World: A Quick Notice About The New Album From Stone Foundation (With Contributions From Paul Weller, William Bell, And Bettye Lavette)

With contributions from Stax legend William Bell, and soul singer Bettye Lavette, the new album from Stone Foundation, Street Rituals, out Friday on 100% Records, would be the type of thing to warrant one's attention. Add Paul Weller to that mix, and it's this week's essential release.

Opener "Back In The Game" sees Weller channel some Style Council vibes, while the supple "Open Your Heart To The World" offers a throwback to the sort of soul that saw its heyday in the Seventies. Elsewhere, the easygoing charms of "Strange People" are thanks in large part to the presence of recent Grammy winner William Bell on the cut, while "Your Balloon Is Rising" reveals Weller to be somewhat of a decent hand at this sort of old school stuff.

Street Rituals, out Friday from Stone Foundation, is the kind of exercise in retro music-making that some would perhaps overlook in favor of something newer and sharper. The truth is that this album is a fine attempt at rekindling the kind of magic so many of the classic numbers of the Seventies had. Fans of both Style Council and The Stylistics, for instance, should find equal reasons to love this record.

Out Friday on 100% Records, Street Rituals by Stone Foundation is a fine, fine album.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Undying Love For Humanity: A Look At The New Album From The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble On Drag City

In a wonderfully odd-yet-fitting set of circumstances, Stereolab vocalist Laetitia Sadier has never released solo material that sounded more like Stereolab in her post-Stereolab career than she has now, by finally forming a new band and cranking out this superb long-player. Find Me Finding You, the new album from The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble, out Friday on Drag City, is the riskiest thing she's probably released in decades. The group here is a collective but some names -- Emmanuel Mario and Xavi Munoz -- have worked with Laetitia before, while others -- keyboard player David Thayer, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip -- are relatively new to Laetitia's material. And yet, this works more than perhaps any other album Sadier has performed on in the last decade or so. And it works precisely because Sadier has returned to the kind of risk-taking we heard on so many mid-period Stereolab records.

Superb opener "Undying Love For Humanity" offers up the sort of faux-bossa nova rhythm heard on the best tracks from 1997's Dots And Loops, while the languid "Double Voice: Extra Voice" recalls a less operatic (and shorter) run at "I Feel The Air (Of Another Planet)" from The First Of The Microbe Hunters (2000). To suggest these things is not to say that, as an artist, Laetitia Sadier is going backwards -- odd to qualify this statement considering the sort of past-looking retro-futurism that's been this singer's mission in Stereolab for so long -- but, rather, that she's returned to one of her most fertile periods of creative endeavor. Elsewhere, on "Love Captive", Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip joins Sadier, while later "Reflectors" achieves a sort of proto-Stereolab vibe in its simplicity as a tune. One could be forgiven, for instance, for thinking that this one, or the bright "Galactic Emergence", were some lost gems left off that excellent, early Switched On compilation. Near the end of Find Me Finding You, The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble gels around the sci-fi-tinged "The Woman With The Invisible Necklace" before closer "Sacred Project" takes listeners to another plane entirely. The final cut is perhaps the riskiest here as it is nearly ambient music, but, again, it's not exactly a new phase for Sadier given certain tracks on Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (1993), for example.

A record that should serve as a big reset in her solo career -- not that she needed one, mind -- Find Me Finding You by The Laetitia Sadier Ensemble is an abundantly-fine album that challenges listeners with material that has already challenged the artist herself a tiny bit. By pushing in new directions, Laetitia Sadier has gone backwards to go forwards and the results make up this thoroughly excellent and adventurous release.

Find Me Finding You by The Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble is out on Friday via Drag City. You can follow Laetitia Sadier on her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Olia Eichenbaum]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

No Comparison: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg Of Pavement)

Spiral Stairs, better known as Scott Kannberg, is a member of Pavement. It must be hard to shake the shadow of that band. And, frankly, Scott hasn't tried too hard to do just that. He's recorded under the Spiral Stairs name, then as Preston School of Industry, and now as Spiral Stairs again, with each excursion sort of touching on parts of the Pavement sonic legacy. The results this time out have taken the form of the new album, Doris And The Daggers, and the record, out Friday, is just enough like a Pavement release to please long-time fans like me, as well as people who only know a tiny bit about that band's back-catalogue.

If "Emoshuns" sounds like anything, it sounds like tracks from that first Stephen Malkmus solo album, while the remarkably catchy "Dundee Man" chimes like something off of Brighten The Corners. Those 2 cuts were the first ones to grab me off of Doris And The Daggers and as I went further, more and more of this LP seemed extraordinarily good. With contributions from members of Broken Social Scene, this album feels semi-modern, and more than just a nostalgic trip through the best bits of Scott's previous band. The funky "No Comparison" sounds a bit like old Orange Juice or Josef K stuff, while the lyrical "The Unconditional" is, oddly, like some wonderfully unexpected mix of Richard Hell and Elliott Smith. It's a warm number and one at odds a tiny bit with some of the arch bits from the old days with the boys in Pavement. Still, there was a lot of genuine emotion in some of those classic tunes even if the band seemed a bunch of bright eggheads at times. Here, Kannberg uses the sort of melody Malkmus would have loved on the heartfelt "Angel Eyes", while the title cut is very nearly Britpop of the sort that Pulp did so well in the first half of the Nineties. Really, there is no denying the influence of some big names from U.K. rock here, especially when one spins the New Wave-tinged "Dance (Cry Wolf)" which remains as much sleek, mid-Eighties Bowie-influenced Duran Duran, as it is Iggy doing his best Bowie impression from the same era, while "AWN" even bears a slight trace of C86-style guitar-pop. If anything, Kannberg has turned to another set of influences than those that first inspired him in the Pavement days.

Really, the biggest surprise about this Spiral Stairs record is how much of it doesn't sound like Pavement at all. That said, a whole lot of it does, and that's probably a good thing. There's really no need for Spiral Stairs to try to distance himself from his legacy since he's far better served by embracing it. Doris And The Daggers has just enough traces of the old Pavement wit and charm to make this a must-own for even casual, "Cut Your Hair"-level fans. Similarly, this is a fine representation of current indie styles.

Doris And The Daggers will be out on Friday. Details on this album and Spiral Stairs from his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Spencer Selvidge]

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Do You Want Love? Heads Up About The New Single From Dave Depper Of Death Cab For Cutie

That this new single from Dave Depper sounds more like early Human League than it does Death Cab For Cutie, the band Depper normally spend his time in, is interesting. In fact, one could say that there's little here to link this to that other band.

"Do You Want Love?" is the first single from Dave Depper's upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique. That album will be out in June on Tender Loving Empire but it's worth getting on-board now with Depper as this single is just so good.

There's something here on this first solo single that recalls the best material from The Associates, or that second album from The Blue Nile, and Depper's found a way to make expansive new wave that is fresh and not just some exercise in retro music-making. What's here is both a nod to earlier pioneers, and a sort of furthering of the intimate indie that Death Cab For Cutie perfected in the recent past.

Follow Dave Depper on his official website for more details on his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique.

[Photo: Jaclyn Campanaro]

Real Enough To Believe: A Look At The New Cairo Gang Record

The previous album from The Cairo Gang, 2015's Goes Missing, reviewed by me here back in 2015, was a real surprise. The songwriting skills of Emmett Kelly seemed the sort of thing that I should have been aware of much sooner. Kelly is back with a new Cairo Gang record, Untouchable, out Friday on Drag City, and the results are more of the same sort of clever indie-pop that made the band's earlier record such a success.

The lovely "Real Enough to Believe" marries an airy Beatles-in-1965 melody with instrumentation similar to that found on the last Cairo Gang record. It is the sort of tune that sounds so perfect, so effortlessly sublime, that it makes a listener want to start telling everyone about this Emmett Kelly cat. On the title cut, Kelly channels Chris Bell solo sides to glorious effect, his voice achingly emotional in the right, subtle way. Elsewhere, on the bristling "In The Heart Of Her Heart", Kelly marries a trace of early Joy Division and other mainstays of post-punk's first wave with a power-pop kind of tune. The result is the sort of all-too-brief gem that one wishes there were more of on Untouchable. The album is a bit brief but at least there's nothing wasted here, not when something like "Will It To Be" shows up. A gentle, odd melange of bits of solo Lennon and pre-disco Bee Gees nuggets, the cut is like some gem someone found on an old 45 in a thrift-store in England. Gloriously poppy and altogether too bright to be called pop, it is, like so much of what Emmett Kelly commits to vinyl, fabulous music. As Untouchable ends, on the excellent "What Can You Do?", a listener is further convinced of the genius of this Kelly fellow. This final tune is so good, combining so many things loved by so many music junkies -- a bit of early ELO, a hint of a George Harrison solo single, a burst of cleverness from an old Chilton composition -- that it's hard not to fall rapturously in love with music like this.

When he's on, Emmett Kelly is one of the very best songwriters operating in the world today. And, luckily, he's on throughout much of Untouchable, the new Cairo Gang record.

Untouchable is out on Friday via Drag City. Follow The Cairo Gang via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Nancy Neil]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dulling Senses: A Few Words About The Debut LP From Mind Rays

When the first song on Nerve Endings, the debut full-length record from Belgium's Mind Rays, kicks off, a listener could be forgiven for thinking that he or she was playing a Nuggets compilation instead of a new release on the excellent PNKSLM label. The song, like so many here, positively roars with promise.

If Mind Rays are beholden to the past, it's the past of The Scientists, The Birthday Party, The Saints, and The MC5. The superb "Follow Suit" rides a near-surf riff into your ears, while the infectious "Radiate" marries a shouty bit of punk business with a hook that's pure mid-Sixties garage rock. This band is most likely a powerhouse live and, luckily, a listener to the vinyl gets a sense of that too. There's something gloriously alive about the tracks on Mind Rays and stuff like "Trespass" seems barely contained. If the brief nods in the direction of early Fall singles found on "Dulling Senses" hint at some post-punk sense of control for this act, the next song, the raging "Demuie", takes things back into the realm of early Nick Cave or Gun Club sides. At their best, like on the peppy "Sunbreak", Mind Rays find a way to marry about a dozen styles into one churning racket.

Unhinged in the very best way, the tunes of Mind Rays inject a healthy dose of genuine chaos into an indie scene that's increasingly gone soft. A worthy addition to the already tremendous PNKSLM roster, Nerve Endings by Mind Rays is one of the highlights of this spring for me. Boisterous, loud, rude, and radical, it is pure rock-and-roll fire, folks. Buy it now and play it at a dangerously loud volume.

Nerve Endings will be out on Friday on PNKSLM. Follow Mind Rays via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo photo]

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Out Of Reach: A Quick Review Of The Fine New Bardo Pond Album

It's remarkable to think that Bardo Pond have been doing this sort of thing for so long. I guess what's striking still is that the band feels underrated and, if not overlooked, at least not noticed often enough. Their new one, Under The Pines, drops Friday on Fire Records, and it is, obviously, a trippy affair.

Opener "Crossover" gets things stirring thanks to Isobel Sollenberger's rich vocals and a churning guitar attack underneath that. The epic "Out Of Reach" places this group closer to some of the shoegaze acts that sprang up a few decades ago, even if the sound of Bardo Pond remains, as always, nearer the neo-psychedelic material whipped up so long ago by pioneers Dream Syndicate and Opal. Elsewhere, "My Eyes Out" comes in on waves of feedback, equal parts Sixties freak-out stuff, and Nineties Spiritualized riffs, while the long and languid "Moment To Moment" is perched somewhere close to what that early Mazzy Star stuff sounded like. Of course, the other players here, notably the Gibbons boys on guitars, manage to unleash alternately subtle and fiery hooks amid the squall. The superb title cut adds a near-folky hint of flavor, while closer "Effigy" sounds like Mogwai a tiny bit. And yet those mentions of other bands are only lazy reference points as, obviously, the sound of Bardo Pond remains a unique thing, even on the lengthy cuts where things remain adventurous and never routine.

Under The Pines is another excellent release from this band and one that manages to be expansive in scope and wholly intimate in the moments that make up its tracks. Bardo Pond have found a way to make music that references a few earlier eras but which consistently feels new and brave. The excursions here are ones worth taking and a listener, new or old, will be rewarded by the offerings of the players here.

Under The Pines is out on Friday via Fire Records. Follow Bardo Pond via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited label photo]

Pristine Spirals: A Word About The New Album From Deadwall

The Leeds quartet Deadwall make music that recalls that of acts from that big new acoustic boom that swept U.K. indie some years ago. It was a wave that included bands as disparate as Coldplay, I Am Kloot, and Clearlake but the over-arching common trait was that the groups' material favored flashes of gentle melodicism more than it did the short-and-sharp punk styles of the Class of '77. The Zero Cliff, out Friday on Hatch Records, similarly works its wonders through a rare mix of musicianship and mystery more than it does through a bunch of punchy hooks.

Deadwall -- Thomas Gourley (vocals, guitar), Christopher Duffin (keyboards), Tom Basri (bass), and Dominic Deane (drums) -- make music that recalls nothing so much as the numbers on Obscured By Clouds and other post-Syd, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd records. If "Hall Of Mists" and "Cirrus Song" certainly sound like that stuff from the glory days of the Gilmour/Waters partnership, the spry "Heartlands" is a burst of catchiness that echoes Talk Talk and Seventies Genesis in equal measure. It is a clear single, gloriously supple and soaring in equal measure. Elsewhere, the down-tempo "Errant Love Song" charms easily, while the lush "Pristine Spirals" nods in the direction of recent material from Dutch Uncles and Wild Beasts. At their very best, like on the absolutely gorgeous "The Battle Of Kasumi", Deadwall use the vocals of Thomas Gourley to marvelous effect as a sort of instrument the other players can navigate around. As the melody on this one falls like a leaf slowly dropping to the ground in Autumn, the other musicians circle the vocal-line from Gourley until a guitar solo cuts through the mist and things sharpen again. It is a simply marvelous moment on perhaps the best song on The Zero Cliff.

On this, their second album, Deadwall have crafted something special. It is rare that I encounter music that's so hard to categorize but, hopefully, by name-dropping a few other acts I have done an adequate job at telling you what this sounds like, and the overall effect here awaiting astute listeners.

The Zero Cliff will be out on Friday via Hatch Records. Follow Deadwall via the band's official Facebook page, or on the band's official website.

[Photo: Deadwall Facebook page]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tell All: Free Tunes From D.C.'s Ain't No Mountain High Enough (History Repeated, The Key Figures)

Blurring genres with the ease of Superman leaping a tall building, Ain't No Mountain High Enough are here with some new tunes. The D.C.-area band make music that some might call metal upon a quick listen but there's far more going on here than in most metal tunes. Melodic and riff-driven, these new cuts are supple beasts indeed, and one shouldn't be too surprised at that fact given that a few members of this band were in seminal local acts like The Key Figures and History Repeated.

The new EP, More Entertaining, kicks off with the roar of "Cut 'Em Off", all mid-period Slayer riffs reshaped into something more palatable and accessible. "Tell All" is a touch punk-ier, harDCore mixed with early Black Flag and revved up considerably. Meanwhile, "Amfortas" and "Pennies" similarly bridge the worlds of speed metal and American hardcore with ease and an economic approach ensures that the maximum effect is achieved with just 4 players. Really, these numbers sound massive, like the best early Andrew WK cuts, the genres of indie-pop and metal melded so easily.

More Entertaining is out now from Ain't No Mountain High Enough. More details via the band's Facebook page.

[Photo: Band's Facebook page]

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Heaven Couldn't Wait: A Few Words About The New One From Emotional

The new one from Emotional is the sort of record that sounds like a dozen others, and yet still seems wholly unique. The Band, out tomorrow on Long Live Death Records, contains a lot of indie-pop that is by turns affecting and quietly adventurous.

If "Heaven Couldn't Wait" vaguely recalls Big Star circa Third, the superb "Ballad of the Band" brings to mind T. Rex, despite sharing a song title with a great Felt cut. Elsewhere, the spry "Jealousy" picks up the pace a bit, while the bright "TV and Newspapers" vaguely references key moments from the back-catalog of Stephen Malkmus as a solo artist. The Band was partially produced by Alex Brettin from Mild High Club and one can hear a trace of that act's simple melodicism on tracks like "Ain't Going Back", one of the standouts on this record, even if some of this ("Japan", for instance) is far more upbeat and vibrant than certain selections on the last Mild High Club record.

The Band is the second album from Emotional and it's a pleasant release. There's nothing earth-shaking here but the sounds made by this group so successfully recall earlier acts that it's hard not to like this a lot.

The Band from Emotional is out tomorrow on Long Live Death Records.

[Photo: Mark Quines]

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Can I Join Your Band? A Look At The Fine New Compilation From The Creation

Perhaps they're known for the inclusion of "Making Time" in the 1998 classic film Rushmore, or maybe for inspiring the name of one of the U.K.'s best indie labels (Creation Records), and one of its best acts (Biff Bang Pow!)? Whatever the reason, The Creation remain one of the great underappreciated British acts of the Sixties. As a recent spate of Move reissues has shown, some bands finally get their due, even if it's decades later. But The Creation have never quite received that level of acclaim. Maybe they will now. With the release of Action Painting this Friday from the Numero Group, The Creation should finally get the attention they've always deserved.

The 46 tracks here make a strong case for this band being an equal of The Who in this era. That's a bold statement to make but, really, take a listen to "Making Time", or the "My Generation"-referencing "Biff Bang Pow" if you don't believe me. Drummers Dave Preston and Jack Jones both pound the skins with the force of Moon on many of these tracks. And the slow-burn of "How Does It Feel?" recalls an era when Mod acts were morphing rhythm-and-blues forms into something louder and more in your face. Elsewhere, "Can I Join Your Band?" imagines a mix of The Move and The Small Faces, tough guy whimsy of the best sort, while the stomper "Painter Man" sounds like the work of the kids who would have bullied The Kinks on the schoolyard, all British Invasion riffs put through the ringer, as it were. "For All That I Am" reveals a nod in the direction of The Yardbirds, or early Floyd, faint traces of psychedelia creeping through in Eddie Phillips' vocal delivery, while "I Am The Walker" offers up a near-garage rock-sense of chaos in its big hooks.

All of those tracks make up Disc 1 of Action Painting and, clearly, this half is the meat of this set. Still, that's not a slight on Disc 2 as it contains a few fairly-rare tracks from Creation precursors The Mark Four, along with numerous stereo mixes of the more familiar cuts on Disc 1, along with a few select covers. If "Hey Joe" and "Like A Rolling Stone" are not entirely successful they do reveal the skills of these players at adapting the era's big hits into something that sounds like their own material. The same goes for the surprisingly peppy "Cool Jerk" cover, here in stereo on Disc 2. The Creation, bridging mod and Beat Group-era sounds, made big, beefy rock that holds up remarkably well. And a listener who is only marginally familiar with this material should perhaps think of Disc 1 as the greatest hits half of this compilation and Disc 2 as the rarities portion of this release.

Action Painting should clearly serve as the definitive compilation of the work of The Creation. Housed with an impressive booklet with scores of rare photos of the band, along with essays by Dean Rudland and Alec Palao, Action Painting offers up 46 tracks from this band all lovingly remastered by Who-mastermind Shel Talmy. The sound here is superb, like a punch in the chest on the mono half, and a buzzsaw to the senses on the stereo ones. There are many, many reasons to get this and even if you already have a compilation from The Creation, you're going to want this one for the remastering and for the book.

It's only March but 2017 is unlikely to see a more impressive reissue than Action Painting by The Creation, out Friday. More details can be found on the Numero Group website.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Songs Are Bigger Than Me": My Interview With Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses)

As I've said before, there are very few albums I can truly say changed my life. It's such a cliched phrase, you know? But, the truth is that in 1987, coming out of the darkest time of my youth, I finally heard Throwing Muses and it just clicked in my head. Maybe I wasn't entirely crazy? The tunes had a certain resonance with me that just felt spooky at times. That early love of that record made me a firm life-long fan of both the band and its leader, the magical Kristin Hersh.

The early years of Throwing Muses have been chronicled more than once, most successfully on that fine, fairly-recent Anthology release, reviewed by me here. And while I applaud any look back at those essential early Throwing Muses tracks, or their fantastic recent material like 2014's superb Purgatory/Paradise (which I was thrilled to receive as a review copy all the way over in Hong Kong), I think it's worth highlighting not only Kristin Hersh's other band (50 Foot Wave), but her continuing string of excellent solo albums, including the most recent release, 2016's Wyatt At The Coyote Palace, which I was happy to review here last Fall.

That record was, like so much of Kristin Hersh's back-catalog, an uncompromising work, and yet one that didn't crumple under the weight of any forced artistic pretension. Kristin has, always, managed to deliver material that retains a seriousness of intent but which never feels too heavy. This is Art, yes, but it's also the personal musings of one of America's most important artists. Her vision is, like that of Patti Smith before her, a sort of cathartic force, and one that remains deeply rooted in the unique perspective of the composer. Wyatt At The Coyote Palace is, like House Tornado and Hunkpapa, the distilled, wild inspirations of the songwriter at the helm. And, like so much of her back-catalog, one wonders at how so much of this was able to be committed to tape in the first place. Hersh's best work has always retained a certain kind of intensity that gives it a near-stream of consciousness appeal, the poetry of the everyday and the fire of a muse barely contained on vinyl, or sharply translated into a rock song for 4 or 3 players.

So, let me just say simply, after that rambling, that it is both a thrill and an honor to be able to present my interview with Kristin Hersh here. The work of this artist has meant so much to me for so long that I really can't hype enough her importance to me and a whole lot of folks in my generation.

Glenn, kenixfan: Can you remember the first time you picked up a guitar? Or, failing that, what was the impulse that made you want to be in a band?

KRISTIN HERSH: My father told me not to touch the Yamaha he kept behind the couch when I was 8 years old. Thus began my obsession with guitar!

Glenn, kenixfan: Early material -- "Hate My Way", "Mexican Women", "Mania" -- almost seems like poetry set to music. Is that a fair assessment? How have you managed to balance "artistic aspirations" with the vagaries of being in a rock band?

KRISTIN HERSH: My lack of drive in the music business was certainly contrasted by my obsession with the next song. There are so many entertainers in the entertainment industry that we sometimes forget "the arts" were once a spontaneous human endeavor that didn't reward egos or pocketbooks. But I'm not alone in that ethos. When music takes over your life, you either hide in that world or you share it, and my band-mates made me share it. That said, I don't think real poetry kicked in until 50FootWave. My early lyrics were more like automatic writing.

Glenn, kenixfan: Have you ever felt like a ground-breaker, either as an alt-rock / college rock artist, or as a woman in rock?

KRISTIN HERSH: I don't feel particularly female OR groundbreaking. It would be so lame if I wrote music for straight, white women just because I am one. Songs are bigger than me, better than me, and I know it. They resonate with a certain kind of listener who doesn't align with the superficial in themselves or their soundtrack, but rather with substance over style. These people are not about gender, race, age, or anything that might categorize someone as less than their potential. Plus, when you speak your own musical language, it sounds organic to you regardless of how strange it sounds to people who are used to hearing only what they've heard before. I just want to make sure that I'm continuously refining my audience rather than selling to people who don't need this music. It's not for everyone.

Glenn, kenixfan: In 1988, working in and hanging out in record stores, I can very clearly recall a certain sort of college rock listener saying words to the effect of "I hate all that 4AD crap...except for Throwing Muses and The Pixies." Considering that the Muses were signed first, how did it feel being the outliers on that label?

KRISTIN HERSH: Lonely! That's why we talked Ivo [the head of 4AD] into signing The Pixies. We didn't feel like we belonged with all those precious, ethereal bands. Poor 4AD, though. All these goofy American kids bombarding their label.

Glenn, kenixfan: In hindsight it seems as if both 4AD and Sire (here in the States) were fairly supportive of Throwing Muses, a band who were making music that was admittedly hard to market and unlikely to cross over to the mainstream. What was your relationship like with Sire here compared to that with 4AD elsewhere?

KRISTIN HERSH: Sire/Warner Brothers told us that they didn't work our records because we were only signed to help them sign other bands with more marketable music. We were "musicians' musicians". Eventually, I bought us out of our contract by giving them my first solo record in exchange for my freedom.

[Kenixfan: here's my look back at when I saw and met Throwing Muses in 1989, on a night when the other employees at the record store I worked at chose to all go see The Replacements across town in D.C. Still, I was rewarded as I got to meet not only the Muses but Tommy Stinson and Tommy Keene at the old 9:30 Club. Read it here!]

Glenn, kenixfan: When you start writing a song, do you know if it's going to be a Throwing Muses song, or a solo song, or a 50FootWave song? How do you compartmentalize your muse?

KRISTIN HERSH: I write 50FootWave songs on my SG's or my Les Paul, Throwing Muses songs on my Tele or my Strat, and solo songs on my Collings or Gibson acoustics.

Glenn, kenixfan: On the last Muses record, the epic Purgatory/Paradise, and on your latest solo album, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, you've cranked out an impressive amount of music that spilled over into books and the presentation of the albums themselves. And yet, the material retained a certain intimate charm. How do you create something big without losing the personal focus? Is it a matter of having absolute control over your finished product?

KRISTIN HERSH: I think you have to have a certain amount of respect for each pixel, each 16th note, each word...personally, I feel overwhelmed by the scope of these projects, but maybe some musicians and writers are better at taking a step back and eyeing the big picture rather than the process. My best bet is respecting the whole image reflected in each particle of the hologram, so to speak.

Glenn, kenixfan: I always assume that the music just comes pouring out of you and yet I've got to wonder if you have some sort of set writing routine or ritual that you follow? I guess I'm asking if your process of creating art and making music is more regular now than it was in the Eighties, for example.

KRISTIN HERSH: I don't actually write songs any more. Or rather, I never did. I was recently treated for PTSD, which was cured, but the treatment revealed an alternate personality that was my music. This is why I had no memory of having written or performed my material. This is now called dissociative disorder, which was also cured. So the material I've been working and releasing was all written before I went through EMDR.

Glenn, kenixfan: What's next for you as a solo artist and as the leader of Throwing Muses?

KRISTIN HERSH: Throwing Muses is making a record in L.A. with Mudrock, 50FootWave's producer, and I'm recording a solo acoustic record this summer on the island where I grew up. After that, my songs will be all used up and I'll just have to see what happens.

Glenn, kenixfan: I want to thank you for not only your time today but for making music that is so incredibly important to me. I really can't overstate how wonderful it was to hear the first Throwing Muses record in 1987 as I was coming out of a very dark place in my youth. I have stayed a loyal fan after that and I'm sure I'm not the only one who can say that your music really did change my life. Thank you.

KRISTIN HERSH: I just welled up. There aren't many reasons to do what I do. It's always a struggle to keep my children fed and sheltered...the guilt is as intense as the drive to hear in the world what I hear in my head. Thank you for bringing as much to the listening process as we try to bring to the studio.

Massive thanks to Shauna McLarnon for arranging this interview and, of course, enormous thanks to Kristin Hersh herself, both for this interview and for the music she's made for the last few decades.

Wyatt At The Coyote Palace is out now. Follow Krisin Hersh via

[Photos: Peter Mellekas]

Mood For Trouble: A Look At The New Mix Of The First Soundgarden Album, Now On Sub Pop

In some ways, it makes perfect, obvious sense that Ultramega OK is now out on Sub Pop. In a new edition, just released Friday, the first album from Soundgarden is now no longer an SST album but, finally, a Sub Pop album.

Given the sound of this band in 1988, this sounds logical, right? It's like a fix to one of history's mistakes. But to do this little feat, the band had to get their hands on the tapes and turn them over to Jack Endino for a new mix of the record too. What we're hearing here is meant to be the band's "real" version of Ultramega OK, the version they've always wanted to present, and the verdict is, simply, that the record now sounds more like Nevermind than anything else. I'll leave it to you to answer whether that's a good thing or not. I guess it is; Soundgarden, even before Nirvana, broke the idea of grunge to the mainstream, crossing over to the "Headbanger's Ball"-crowd as a sort of metal act. What Soundgarden did here was to make the prospect of pummeling music more palatable to alt-rock fans. And now, on this new mix of Ultramega OK, the results are a clearer mix, a more obvious sonic punch, and less a muffled roar, to put it simply.

Now, in this new edition "Flower" sounds even more glorious, less a diminished scream and more a triumphant one, the start of the entire grunge wave in some way, while "All Your Lies" is revealed to be perhaps more fantastic than I had remembered it being, all Sabbath "Symptom Of The Universe"-style riffs cranked even faster. Elsewhere, the bad intent of "Beyond The Wheel" is still apparent, Chris Cornell's vocals perennially the work of one of the great vocalists of our generation. The metal edges of "Circle Of Power" are now even sharper, original bassist Hiro Yamamoto's vocal turn still an impressive performance, while the brief punk-y "He Didn't" serves as sort of reminder of drummer Matt Cameron's knack for delivering rapid-fire bursts of stick-work alongside the thundering material elsewhere on Ultramega OK. As you go through these tracks, and admire the new Jack Endino mix, you can't help but think how clear things sound now. And that's an odd thought when remembering that this was, for many of my age, the first big grunge full-length release. Still, with Cornell on the mic, and Kim Thayil working his wizardry on the axe, Soundgarden were never going to be relegated to being just another act from some sub-genre coming out of the Northwest. The collective talents of these players made Soundgarden if not the first important band of the grunge movement, at least the most enjoyable one.

That sounds harsh to those others acts in that first burst of this stuff but, remember, for many of us growing up near cities with scenes already -- harDCore, anyone? -- the quick rise of grunge was a thing to be skeptical of. Yet, and I can remember this clearly, the release of "Flower" and the rest of Ultramega OK was the thing that made me raise my eyebrows and drop my cynical pose and consider that maybe, just maybe, there was some great stuff being made up there in the Seattle area.

This new edition of Ultramega OK is filled out with some bonus cuts, including demos of "Incessant Mace", "Head Injury" and other cuts from this album and era. They shine a small light on the process behind the creation of these earliest of Soundgarden numbers and help make this the definitive edition of the band's debut album.

While one could argue that Louder Than Love was a more consistent release, that statement doesn't diminish the importance of Ultramega OK in the history of American alt-rock, and as an example of the sound of this genre. Really, grunge starts here even if so much of this doesn't sound particularly grunge-y. If anything, new listeners will have a hard time pinning this one to the sometimes sludge-y sounds of this genre's early years especially since this new Jack Endino-mix of Ultramega OK is so sharp, clear, and crisp.

This new expanded edition of Ultramega OK by Soundgarden is out now via Sub Pop. Follow Soundgarden via the band's official website.

[Photo: Charles Peterson]

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fountain Of Good Fortune: A Look At The New EP From Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

This band has an unwieldy name but they make delicious indie-rock. Wildly catchy and smart in all the right ways, the 6 tunes on The French Press EP, out Friday via Sub Pop and Ivy League, are some of the songs that are gonna soundtrack your spring. They've already soundtracked my late winter so I know of what I speak.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, or Rolling Blackouts C.F., are from Australia and yet the tunes here bristle with the wit of earlier bands from New Zealand, or late Seventies power pop acts from America. While the title cut is a semi-familiar brand of alt-rock, the buzzing "Julie's Place" worms its way into your earholes with a blend of Rubinoos and Let's Active riffs, all smart guy, skinny tie stuff. It's aces, obviously, as is the next cut "Sick Bug" which somehow marries an early Chills motif with a dash of Saints-style snotty attitude -- the melding of Eighties Kiwi rock and early Oz punk done right. "Colours Run" snarls in a brief flash of slapdash melodic invention, while "Dig Up" is very nearly a run at what could pass as a Go-Betweens number. The EP ends on the excellent "Fountain Of Good Fortune" which bears a slight trace of the legacy of The Triffids. I wouldn't necessarily compare Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever to that other great Australia band but I would put them in the same league in many ways.

Weaving together a sound that's been influenced by some fine artists, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever manage to make compelling indie-pop that's catchy and clever. This new EP is superb and I can heartily recommend The French Press, but its relative brevity only makes me want to hear more from this band. And soon please.

The French Press EP is out Friday via Sub Pop and Ivy League. Follow Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Rubin Utama]

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Way I Feel: In Which I Finally Catch Up With The Excellent Riffage Of The New Dude York Album

The music of Seattle's Dude York is direct and infectious. It is the sort of thing that comes along at rare intervals in the U.S. indie scene, if such a scene can be said to even exist anymore nationally. The arrival of music like this recalls when The Strokes burst onto the scene; the tunes were clearly influenced by past bands but the presentation was entirely modern and new. Dude York are fond of big hooks and every cut on their newest long-player, Sincerely, out now on Hardly Art, rings with promise. Given the justifiable hype that's greeted this album, I'm a bit ashamed to show how far behind the curve I am by posting this review so far after the release date of the record, but, hey, I'm a big fan of this band now.

Dude York -- Peter Richards on guitar and vocals, Claire England on bass and vocals, and Andrew Hall on drums -- have cranked out something approaching a masterpiece on some levels. Sincerely opens on the languid "Black Jack" but it's the next song ("Way I Feel") that takes things forward in a big, big way. Riding in with bad intent, the players sound like they are not even trying until the huge chorus kicks in and the song enters the sort of territory usually inhabited by Stephen Malkmus solo singles, or old Weezer sides. "Something In The Way" is more of the same, but it was the playful "Life Worth Living" that thoroughly charmed me with its rough takes on the Supergrass formula. I reference that Brit three-piece as some of the same bratty vibe is here if a bit rougher around the edges -- think less Beatles influences and more Richard Hell reference points. When Claire takes over vocals on "Tonight" the effect is closer to some of the better Donnas numbers, or a more user-friendly Hole kinda thing. The cut, one of the real highlights on Sincerely, sounds like a hit single to these ears but, heck, so much of this album does.

Elsewhere, "Love Is" and "Twin Moons" take things down a notch, the attitude more slacker resignation than anything else. Still, the tunefulness here never slacks as even these down-tempo numbers remain marvelous catchy, especially album closer "Time's Not On My Side". At their best, Dude York make music that seems vitally fresh and confident. Each cut on Sincerely seems like a single and it's the rare release that can get me to say something like that. I can only look forward to future offerings by this band.

Sincerely by Dude York is out now via Hardly Art. Follow the band on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional photo]

Don't Worry: A Look At The Latest Pere Ubu Box Set From Fire Records

The fine folks at Fire Records have been doing God's work lately, maybe more so than they normally do. They have been cranking out, over the course of the last 2 years, a whole lot of Pere Ubu material starting with the first box set, Elitism For The People 1975-1978, in 2015, and then the second box set, Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, in 2016, and now yet another box set, Drive, He Said 1994-2002. Out on May 26, this collection is another essential release from both Pere Ubu and Fire Records and I'm happy to tell you why.

The 3 sets in this ongoing series chronicle the most important recordings of this most important of bands while skipping over their brief forays on a few major labels. The albums that were skipped from the years in-between the second and third box sets are certainly worth seeking out separately on your own; I wouldn't want to imply that that music didn't matter too. Still, and perhaps more importantly, the music compiled here on Drive, He Said 1994-2002 represents the most recent flourishing of the "Ubu genius" prior to 2013's fine Lady From Shanghai, their most recent comeback from the abyss. This box contains 3 albums proper and an album's worth of rarities from the years stated in the title (1994-2002) and it, in essence, looks at the band during a time when they were done with their big label forays and returning to their true roots as part of America's genuine underground music scene.

Disc 1 here is Ray Gun Suitcase. Originally released in 1995, the album contains some of the best music to be found in this box set. Aside from lead single "Folly Of Youth" there's the throbbing "Electricity", a distant cousin to the Beefheart number with the same name, which rattles the psyche with admirably-understated force, while the spry "Turquoise Fins" melds a sort of Fifties-style melodicism with thoroughly "out there, man!" musicianship. Elsewhere, the excellent "Beach Boys" approaches the big alt-rock mainstream with a big hook even as other cuts here ("Vacuum In My Head") confuse and perplex. "Don't Worry" is fairly accessible, as is the revved-up "Red Sky", but, on the whole, Ray Gun Suitcase serves as a reminder that the power of the Ubu blade was rarely dulled when flashed this close to the mainstream as it was on some of the band's mid-Nineties albums.

Pennsylvania from 1998 takes up disc 2 of Drive, He Said 1994-2002 and the album is, if not weaker than Ray Gun Suitcase, at least a little more daunting for newer fans. Sure, stuff like "Muddy Waters" and "Woolie Bullie" should make perfect sense for a generation weaned on Pixies sides but there's something here that keeps them from being so easy to digest as earlier numbers in this set. "Mr. Wheeler", for example, is as bracing and abrasive as cuts farther back in the Ubu vaults, and the unwieldy "Fly's Eye" unsettles still, proof that Ubu sacrificed none of their vision in this era.

Far more successful is 2002 St. Arkansas which takes up Disc 3 of Drive, He Said 1994-2002. An album that I gather a few fans probably missed upon its original release, the 15-year-old release holds up fairly well. Opener "The Fevered Dream Of Hernando DeSoto" charges with the kind of directness that's rare in the Ubu arsenal, all pounding drums and plaintive vocals from leader David Thomas, its force equaled by the near-surf rhythms of the sharp "333" later on the album. If "Phone Home Jonah" features the kind of brutal dissonance found on the earliest, best Ubu albums, the more languid "Hell" charms almost in the manner of an old Tom Waits number. If certain cuts here ("Slow Walking Daddy", for example) should have been easy propositions for a bunch of listeners broken in on Nick Cave and Malkmus albums in the early part of this century, then the epic closer "Dark" remains the difficult proposition here by upping the ante through a plunge back into the avant-garde bath. Dense, nearly impenetrable, and plodding, the number is the difficult side of Pere Ubu that never quite went away. No matter how dangerously close to this side of accessible David Thomas and Pere Ubu briefly got (mainly on those albums not chronicled by Fire Records on any of these box sets), the band retained the sort of fire of intent that kept their instincts sharp.

And that seems to be the central takeaway from Drive, He Said 1994-2002: the push-and-pull between making music that might gain them more fans in an era when alternative music was making serious in-roads and continuing to crank out some of the bravest work that any composers on these shores ever undertook in the post-punk era.

On Disc 4 of Drive, He Said 1994-2002 the bonus cuts kick in and they remain as boldly iconoclastic as the tracks earlier in this collection. "My Name Is Ellipsis" rattles with a near-free jazz sense of propulsion, while the disconsolate "Surfer Girl" shines thanks to one of David Thomas' best fairly-recent performances. Also included here is a soundboard mix of "Electricity" that adds a bit more menace to the cut, along with a fine live run at "SAD.TXT" from Pennsylvania.

Drive, He Said 1994-2002 is essential. I really can't overstate that. It is a nice summation of the work of this band in a challenging era. Fans of their earliest material will find lots to love here, and see how the band never really compromised their vision even as some level of acceptance loomed, while those who came to this act in the Eighties or Nineties will find this material valuable as well. One could say that this was the last big burst of Ubu creativity before 2013's new surge of activity but that's probably too unfair; Ubu have always inspired and while the material on Drive, He Said 1994-2002 is difficult in spots, it's still wildly important to any understanding of post-punk music in America, or a grasp at this group's rich history.

Out on May 26 via Fire Records, Drive, He Said 1994-2002 by Pere Ubu is this week's most significant release. Follow the adventures of Pere Ubu via the band's internet home.

[Photos: top picture by David Ockenfels; bottom pic from Fire Records]

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Stay Gold: A Quick Review Of The Fine New Album From Hater

Following on from last year's excellent Radius EP release, Sweden's Hater have now prepped their debut full-length record. You Tried drops on Friday on PNKSLM and I'm here to tell you that it is, like everything on this label, a superb release.

The excellent "Mental Haven" chimes with a sort of resigned charm, while the fine "Had It All" alternates down-tempo wistfulness and more upbeat bursts of yearning. Elsewhere, "Cry Later" rattles with the sort of tunefulness that one found in the tune-age of the best alt-rock bands in the Nineties, while the all-too-brief "Stay Gold" wraps its tune around a big hook and a bit of noisy guitar. The languid title cut and the equally mellow "Common Way" use an approach similar to what The Delgados mastered a decade ago. These tunes are, at times, understated, but never dull, the simple bits sometimes suddenly erupting into a blast of mild feedback, or a vocal line that allows Caroline Lindahl to inject a dose of emotion into things.

At their best, Hater serve up post-punk that owes as much to predecessors like The Pretenders as it does to the music of earlier acts on the PNKSLM label. Hater have retained a kind of DIY aesthetic while making wholly melodic and accessible music.

You Tried will be out on Friday from PNKSLM. Follow Hater via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited press photo]

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stars Grow Cold: A Word About The New EP From Siamese

Siamese hail from Dallas, Texas, but, in some ways they sound like some British band aping the moves of early Siouxsie and the Banshees records in the late Seventies. That is meant as a compliment, of course. The band's debut EP, The Mesmerist is out tomorrow and it's certainly worth seeking out.

Opener "Goldmind" rocks with a sort of near-shoegaze sense of riff-making, while the undulating "Hounds At Sunset" mixes the art-pop of mid-period Kate Bush with the guitar theatrics of a classic Cocteau Twins side. "Chromatose" is a bit more routine, but "Party Alone" mines a unique mood that's poised somewhere between Sparks and Cranes. The band members of Siamese -- Paul Alonzo (bass), Paul Grass (drums), Nicole Marxen-Myers (keys, vocals), and Teddy Georgia Waggy (guitar, vocals) -- offer what I supposed you'd call uniformly interesting goth rock, and they are at their best when they sound confident in their collective ability to make something that transcends easy genre labels, like closer "Stars Grow Cold", all Sixties-inspired swirls of melody wrapped around a deliberately-paced post-rock melodic progression.

I suppose for some listeners I could compare this band to Caterwaul and Bel Canto but those bands are probably not remembered as fondly by as many as they should be. Siamese are making creative noises here and I highly recommend getting on-board now as I'm sure they're going to release something magnificent in the future.

The Mesmerist by Siamese is out tomorrow. More details via the band's official website, or from the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Judd Myers]