Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Mounir Chami]

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Even Tetreault]

Monday, May 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic]

Sunday, May 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

Malenkost by Cindy Lee is out now via Superior Viaduct.

[Photo: Superior Viaduct]

Saturday, May 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Martin Kennedy]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Alice Hannah]

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lights Flicker: A Few Words About The New Faust Album

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

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

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

[Photo: Jan Lankisch]

Friday, May 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Rebecca Lupton]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Ryan Aylsworth]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Sarah O'Driscoll]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: James Smolka]

Monday, May 15, 2017

Your Voice On The Radio: Yet Another Superb Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie) Song Drops

Dave Depper of Death Cab For Cutie is building up an impressive buzz ahead of the release of his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique. That record will be out in June on Tender Loving Empire and it is going to be a splendid offering if the end product is anything like the three cuts that have dropped so far.

Most of the tracks that have been shared so far have hinted at a kind of modern New Wave that owes as much to, say, mid-period O.M.D. as it does to Depper's own Death Cab For Cutie. The latest song to be revealed, "Your Voice On The Radio", sees Depper share vocal duties with Laura Gibson for a single that is remarkably similar to some of the stuff that band-mate Ben Gibbard produced in The Postal Service. Depper, like Gibbard, seems wonderfully at ease in commandeering these styles from the past to produce something that is at once modern, a bit retro, and entirely full of heart. This cut, like the previous 2 tastes of the upcoming full-length, is delightfully melodic and the very best kind of emotional, unassuming, and direct indie-pop.

For the time being, enjoy yet another fine track from Dave Depper, and then follow him on his official website in the run-up to the release of his upcoming solo album, Emotional Freedom Technique on Tender Loving Empire next month.

[Photo: Jaclyn Campanaro]

Good Evening: A Brief Review Of The New High Sunn EP

As many, many others have recounted by now, High Sunn is the project of the wildly prolific Justin Cheromiah. And Justin is only 17 years of age. The musician has already released dozens of tracks himself but now he's signed to the wonderful PNKSLM label and they are set to drop the latest High Sunn EP, Hopeless Romantic, on Friday.

Opener "Joy Of Romance" chimes with a sort of faux-Fifties vibe mixed with the usual implements of indie rock. It is a delightful opening track and one complemented by the following number, "Ramen Waitress", all Wedding Present hooks revved up for the 21st century. Elsewhere, "Holding Hands" rings with echoes of the same sort of indie touchstones that one heard in early tracks from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, while offering up a uniquely spry take on this kind of thing. "Tears" takes things down a bit until "Polaroids" finally embraces the brand of dark, largely down-tempo alt-rock once perfected by The Cure in the late Eighties. While the music here is decidedly not derivative, a listener can't help but hear so many worthy influences filtered through Justin's fresh approach to making indie-pop. And, given the self-produced back-catalog that Cheromiah has so far offered up on his own, one would be tempted to perhaps call this lo-fi, but that would be a huge mistake as Justin, clearly, invests this material with so much energy and heart that there's nothing half-assed about any of it. Our attempts as music writers to peg this easily to one genre or style are just us being not quite sure of what this new, awesome music is. Closer "Good Evening", for example, bursts forward with big hooks and fuzzy guitars and it seems, like all 6 of the tracks here, so fresh and so new that to just lazily reference other bands when attempting to describe the High Sunn sound seems the depth of laziness indeed. So, time to come up with some new genre labels then?

Bold and bright, the half-dozen tunes here on Hopeless Romantic are, like so many things on the PNKSLM label these days, some of the best indie-pop you're going to hear. Precisely familiar in all the right ways, and full of a youthful joy throughout, Hopeless Romantic from High Sunn is one of the most essential releases of this busy late-Spring release season.

Hopeless Romantic by High Sunn is out on Friday via PNKSLM. Follow High Sunn via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Grace: A Review Of The Essential New Look Blue Go Purple Reissue From Flying Nun Records

Look Blue Go Purple remain the ultimate neglected New Zealand band. That's not to deny the appeal of the group, or the fact that there are loads of us who are well aware of the greatness of this set of musicians. The problem has always been finding the material easily, but now that problem has been solved. The fine folks at Flying Nun have finally re-issued the band's work in a what could be termed a virtually-complete package called Still Bewitched. Out now, the compilation collects the band's earlier EPs: Bewitched (1985), LBGPEP2 (1986) and This is This (1987). Rounding out this collection are a whole bunch of live cuts too.

Look Blue Go Purple -- bassist Kathy Bull (now Francisca Griffin), keyboard player and vocalist Norma O’Malley, guitarists Denise Roughan and Kath Webster, and drummer Lesley Paris -- made music that veered into the territory of the kind of pop released by The Clean early on, while also offering up something that roughly corresponded to the post-punk being created by The Raincoats in other parts of the world. "Safety In Crosswords" rattles like early Chills classics, while the hypnotic "Grace" bears the slightest trace of the sort of rhythm-heavy alternative rock once created by The Slits. If the sound here was not quite as heavy, perhaps that's to be expected of a New Zealand band, especially one from this era of the boom in that region. Like their peers in The Verlaines and The Chills, Look Blue Go Purple were capable of crafting material that seemed bright and witty ("Cactus Cat"), or a bit more literate -- for lack of a better word -- than the sort of alt-rock gaining audiences elsewhere in the West. If "Circumspect Penelope" sounds like anything, it is indeed early Martin Phillipps-penned stuff but to simply peg this as somehow beholden to another big NZ band is to do a huge disservice to the musicians here. That song, like the superb and catchy "I Don't Want You Anyway", chimes with promise and a kind of brightness that even Martin Phillipps was not always capable of. If the guitarists in Look Blue Go Purple sometimes briefly got lost in a sort of neo-psychedelic jungle, the melodies remained strong, the focus sharp ("Winged Rumour"). Admittedly, there is something shambolic here, the cuts echoing in some weird way the sort being cranked out almost simultaneously up in England by the C86 and C87 bands. But, ultimately, the music of Look Blue Go Purple remains very much typical of the remarkably high standards of the acts signed to Flying Nun in the first few waves of the label's heyday.

If Still Bewitched only collected those 3 superb Look Blue Go Purple EPs, it would be an absolutely essential release. As it is, the compilation adds in a half-dozen rare live cuts that attest to the skills of these musicians in live settings. If the material in spots ("Spike") seems a bit unformed, there are other numbers here ("Ralta", "Eyes Are The Door") that compare favorably to the early tracks from The Clean, or even England's Felt. And what I appreciated as a listener was that Still Bewitched offers a rounded portrait of Look Blue Go Purple, the live cuts serving to show another sound of the band that is not so typically a Flying Nun records-sound.

Still Bewitched by Look Blue Go Purple is out now via Flying Nun Records.

[Photo: Uncredited label photo]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Deranged: A Look At The Awesome New EP from London's Chemtrails

London's Chemtrails continue to amaze. Their earlier EP, Love In Toxic Wasteland, reviewed by me here, contained one of my favorite tracks ("Aeons") of 2016, along with a few other pretty stunning cuts. The band's new EP, Headless Pin Up Girl, drops this Friday on PNKSLM, and it is, like nearly everything on that fine label, unique and inventive. It's also a pretty darn worthy follow-up to the band's first release.

The title track kicks things off with that odd mix of styles that has been the hallmark of the Chemtrails sound. The vibe is something like both The Fall and Echo and the Bunnymen circa 1987. And, like so much of this group's material so far, there's that end-of-the-world-thing going on in the lyrics. Call this apocalyptic indie if you will then. The wonderfully-titled "Most Of What They Pour On Me Is Scorn" is also a lovely number, the effect vaguely akin to stuff from the C86 generation but decidedly more direct and less shambolic, to oddly describe it. "Killer Bees" is a disaster movie mindset set to music, New Wave as envisioned by Irwin Allen, while the brilliant "Deranged" chimes around one of the best and brightest hooks that Chemtrails have yet revealed as a band. If "Digitalis" offers a few hints of glam rock, then closer "Forever Watching The Skies", like most of the numbers on the band's first EP, distills the whole appeal of this group into one succinct and spry song: sharp guitar lines and sci-fi sensibilities.

Chemtrails -- Mia Lust (vocals, guitar), Laura Orlova (vocals, guitar), Laura Sumner (vocals, bass), Ian Jubb (keyboard) and Sam Nuebär (drums) -- create some of the weirdest pop you're likely to encounter these days but it's also some of the freshest. Wildly inventive and full of ringing indie-pop, Headless Pin Up Girl furthers the vision of this London group. If it's not as starkly revelatory as Love In Toxic Wasteland, it is every bit as consistent, if not more so. What seemed a fluke before, now seems like that Chemtrails sound coming to fruition. The band are making some of the best, and most unique, indie you're going to hear in 2017. One of the finest additions to the already-strong PNKSLM roster, Chemtrails have delivered something striking and vibrant here. That it's wildly tuneful and catchy is only another reason to love it.

Headless Pin Up Girl is out on Friday via PNKSLM. You can follow Chemtrails via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Monday, May 8, 2017

Heads Up About The New EP From D.C.'s Numbers Station (ex-Alarms And Controls, Oswego, Garland Of Hours)

The new D.C.-area band Numbers Station make music that doesn't fit neatly into any easy category. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise given that bassist Michael Honch was in post-rock -- for lack of a better term -- Dischord band Alarms And Controls, while bassist Mike Markarian was in Oswego, and drummer Stefan Bauschmid was in Garland Of Hours. And, if you were paying attention, the line-up here is 2 bass players and 1 drummer. So, yeah, no kidding that this music doesn't fit neatly into any one category.

Numbers Station have just dropped a fine new EP that was recorded with J. Robbins (Jawbox, Office Of Future Plans, Channels) and it's an invigorating quartet of tunes that rewards careful listening. Opener "Windows For Submarines" marries a dual Tony Levin-like attack on the bass instrument with some very precise drumming from Bauschmid, while the wonderfully-titled "We Need To Talk About Some Basics Before You Get Fancy With Oil Paints" sees the trio work out some slowly undulating bass lines against Stefan's hard rimshots. The cut has a coiled tension that signifies some seriousness here but the brevity of the tune indicates that the players are not trying to be too heavy as a band. Elsewhere, the longer "Sheets, Kitchen Knife, Underwear" unfurls with a kind of Mick Karn-like sensibility to the bass lines which serve as wildly melodic things as the drums and cymbals add splashes of color around them. Closer "Don't Warn The Tadpoles" made me think of The Durutti Column, oddly. A decidedly punkier Durutti Column, but you get my meaning. The bass-lines are spry even as the drum hits are deadly.

The 4-Song EP from Numbers Station is out now via the link below. Hopefully the band is working on more new music to follow the release of this 4-track release. And I'm sure they are lining up some gigs in this area too. More details on the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook photo]

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Mean Something: A Brief Review Of The New One From Silver Screams

The Boston band Silver Screams are, to my mind, an honorary harDCore band. Band member Sean Koepenick was in Sleeper Agent! with John Stabb after all, and the band's music offers up a nice mix of post-Revolution Summer-style punk that blends the emotion and energy of those early Dischord acts with a bit of East Coast attitude. The band is set to drop a new album, Defective Machines, next Friday and the release is full of the kind of furious riffs I'd be wise to highlight here in this brief review.

"Dead Air" kicks things off with a blast of raw energy that treads a line between hardcore punk and metal, while "Moscow" confirms the power of this Boston act. "Brownbagger" is pure adrenaline, while "Mean Something" is lean muscle, early Misfits mixed with a dose of Black Flag. Elsewhere, "Straightjacket" offers up early SST Records-style punk, while "Freak Show" very nearly sounds like a cut from a John Stabb-fronted project, if not a Government Issue side then maybe a Factory Incident number. And, in a way, that makes sense since it's a cover of an old punk standard by Boston band The Freeze, an act that probably played a stage or two with G.I. back in the day, one imagines. The version here is one of the highlights of this release from Silver Screams.

However, it is the covers on Defective Machines that really won this listener over. A brutally effective run at "Disorder" by Joy Division seems to get at the heart of the song more than most bands have when covering any Ian Curtis-penned number. If this band's run at this venerable Joy Division nugget is a pretty simple and pure modern distillation of the appeal of the musicianship of the song's composers, the Silver Screams version of "Crocodiles" by Echo and the Bunnymen is a riskier proposition, the band treading into the territory of material decidedly less direct and punk-y. That they succeed so well at making this oddity from the Liverpool legends thoroughly their own is pretty darn impressive.

Defective Machines by Silver Screams will be out on Friday. It is the sort of thing that will surely please fans of the perennially classic sort of hardcore punk found on this release.

For more on Defective Machines and Silver Screams, follow via the band's official Facebook page. To read band-member Sean Koepenick's nice, heartfelt tribute to John Stabb, click here.

[Photo: Keith Pierce]

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Getting Better: A Quick Word About The New Live Album From Twin Peaks

The boys in Twin Peaks just released a live album without a great deal of fanfare. The group is still on tour -- aren't they always on tour!?! -- and they play D.C. on Tuesday. But, in the midst of a busy schedule, the fellas decided to capture their live magic on the Urbs In Horto release.

As expected, the group share a generous selection of cuts from both 2014's Wild Onion and 2016's Down In Heaven, as well as a few other nuggets. So familiar songs like "Flavor" from that first album are here pummeled into submission, the results sounding like something from The Replacements, while "Holding Roses" from that 2016 album reveals the band to be quite capable of Stones-like levels of showmanship. Elsewhere, "Getting Better" offers a ramshackle charm reminiscent of old Little Feat records. That's not to suggest that Twin Peaks are a jam band -- though there are weed references on this live record, rest assured -- but that they are a unit at ease with each other as players. So much at ease that a languid stab at Rolling Stones classic "Dead Flowers" can easily flow into the rougher, Pavement-like rockier vibes of Twin Peaks standard, "Strawberry Smoothie" from Wild Onion. Still, at their very best Twin Peaks create a sort of racket that remains wholly unique, as witnessed by the fun-yet-frazzled run at Making Breakfast" here on Urbs In Horto.

Out now, Urbs In Horto is a good introduction to the appeal of Twin Peaks, and a pretty good showcase for the talents of these kids. More details on Twin Peaks and Urbs In Horto via the band's official website, or on the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Daniel Topete]

Friday, May 5, 2017

New Dawn: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Moon Duo

It wasn't too terribly long ago that I was trying to stifle a few giggles when reviewing the last album from Moon Duo. That album seemed drenched in a sort of bullshit doom-and-gloom vibe that felt totally affected. On the band's follow-up, Sacred Architecture Vol. 2, out on today on Sacred Bones Records, the band seems more in control of the material and less prone to turning this sort of thing into a kind of half-assed stab at Non-level nonsense.

Now, I like genuinely extreme music and my big problem with the last album from Moon Duo was that the attitude felt fake and forced. At least now the band approach these cuts with more confidence, and, on opener "New Dawn", a kind of blissful swagger that suggests a combination of Spiritualized and early Stereolab. "Mirror's Edge" is lovely, while "Sevens" nods in the direction of The Dream Syndicate while referencing a bit of old Anita Lane solo stuff at the same time. It's a stretch but the cut works fairly well and I couldn't help but be impressed at how much better Sacred Architecture Vol. 2 was compared to the previous volume. Elsewhere, "Lost In Light" mines a vein of indie similar to some Broadcast sides, while the epic, 10-minute closer "The Crystal World" achieves a fine Kraftwerk-style feel thanks to a deliberate, mid-tempo melodic line that carries the cut forward.

Remarkably more accessible and enjoyable than their previous release, Moon Duo's Sacred Architecture Vol. 2 is, if not entirely original, at least an inspired set of stabs at styles that are difficult to pull off successfully. That Moon Duo make so much of this succeed is something to be applauded.

Sacred Architecture Vol. 2 is out today on Sacred Bones Records. Follow Moon Duo via the band's official website.

[Photo: Mehdi Benkler]

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I Got Lost: A Review Of The New Afghan Whigs Album

I can't say that I was ever a huge Afghan Whigs fan. I mean, I'd liked certain releases in the past but I wasn't really actively following the band's ups and downs. However, I can say that I'm now going to do just that as the band's new album, In Spades, out on Sub Pop on Friday, is just so good that to not see what comes next would be to rob yourself of something special.

Here on In Spades, The Afghan Whigs -- Greg Dulli, guitarists Dave Rosser and Jon Skibic, drummer Patrick Keeler, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, and Whigs co-founder/bassist John Curley -- unveil a kind of music that easily defies simple genre categorization. From the funky strut of opener "Birdland" and onto the weird Zeppelin-recalling "Arabian Heights", a listener is reassured that the fire of this band never diminished. That's a cornball thing to say but The Afghan Whigs have survived and outlasted so many waves -- college rock to post-grunge to indie and on and on -- and yet they've somehow managed to retain the ability to make material that sounds so fresh and original even now. Sure, bits of "Copernicus" reveal a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fix on Dulli's part, and "Light as a Feather" recalls both the Stones and (oddly) early Aerosmith, but to nitpick on the influences seeping through the tunes here is to ignore the consummate skill that Dulli and crew have in making such soulful -- in a real way -- and fiery songs. "I Got Lost" sounds like "Desire"-era U2 done right, an approximation of white boy blues done with a real sense of conviction and intent.

And that is perhaps why In Spades is so, so good. Older and wiser now, Dulli is no longer some young upstart trying to approximate the sound of some legendary soul singer; he is, in a weird way, a legendary soul singer and he's imbued the 10 tracks here on In Spades with a helluva lot of emotion. There's nothing ironic or detached in this music, and nothing fake either. Dulli and the players have created what could be their most consistent release.

In Spades by The Afghan Whigs is out on Friday via Sub Pop. Follow the band via their official website.

[Photo: Chris Cuffaro]

Monday, May 1, 2017

Everyone Knows: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Slowdive

It's time to make a full confession that may not endear me to a lot of people: I am not a huge Slowdive fan. Never was. That said, my non-fandom never approached Nicky Wire-levels of antipathy; I did, after all, see Slowdive spin-off act Mojave 3 in 1996 or so with Lush. Slowdive, however, were never quite loud enough to thoroughly win me over like My Bloody Valentine did. Still, they were remarkably good at crafting a kind of shoegaze that allowed room for more than just feedback-drenched workouts. And their new, self-titled album, their first record in 22 years, is a wonderful thing.

Seemingly having learned how to blend their earlier styles with the forward-thinking vibe of landmark record Pygmalion, Slowdive seems to me to be the band's most consistent record yet. If single "Star Roving" very nearly roars by, it's material like the Cocteau Twins-recalling "Don't Know Why" that thoroughly made me a fan of this band again. If "Sugar For the Pill" allows Neil Halstead to offer up one of his best melodies in decades, "Everyone Knows" chimes and then erupts into great big swashes of harmonic color, the effect nearly a sublime one. Elsewhere, "Go Get It" strays into more conventional, rockier territory, while epic-length closer "Falling Ashes" sees the band ride a simple, Sakamoto-like keyboard line into musical glory.

At their very best here, Slowdive seem to be channeling something like the sounds found on that album the Cocteaus made with Harold Budd. Still, the music here is far too focused to be labeled ambient, for example, but it's also not as hard-edged as that of the bands who rose up in the first wave of shoegaze. A far more apt comparison would be to the music of Seefeel but, frankly, the 8 tunes on Slowdive are far sturdier, and more traditional, in the ways that they need to be to allow this material to remain both expansive and grounded.

Slowdive by Slowdive is out on Friday via Dead Oceans. The band is touring behind this one too. Follow Slowdive via the band's official website.

[Photo: Ingrid Pop]