Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So True: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

In the space of barely a decade Kip Berman has refined the approach behind his band, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, and gone from the wilds of twee-pop to a more polished space, one accented by keyboard fills and sharper production methods. If The Pains were once a charming group of kids balancing on a fence, slightly shoegaze-y and slightly C86-ish, then the new iteration of the band is a slick beast, one that produces numbers far closer to those of New Order, for example, than those ever cranked out by My Bloody Valentine. If there's a certain regret in my words, it's tempered with pleasure as a listener (and fan) as the band have continued to polish their alt-rock attack to marvelous effect so that the results of this metamorphosis have been good ones.

The new album from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, The Echo Of Pleasure, is out on Friday and while the cuts here are a long way from the perky-and-perfect jangle-noise of something like "Everything With You" from the first album, they are fine examples of expertly-produced and performed alt-rock of the sort that modern listeners are usually in dire need of. Produced by Andy Savours, The Echo Of Pleasure is a shiny package, full of sharp numbers that retain the sort of bright sheen that makes them sound notably different than those earlier, more carefree offerings. Opener "My Only" unfurls with a deliberate pop sense around a swirling organ figure, while the delightful and catchy "Anymore" is peppier, all mid-Eighties-style stabs at the sort of buoyant alt-rock that The Cure perfected in the Reagan years. If "The Garret" nods in the direction of New Order, as so many of the recent Pains tracks do, then the superb "When I Dance With You" attempts to meld a few disparate influences in the service of a truly excellent melody, Berman at ease leading this one into the stratosphere. Elsewhere, the title cut takes a few cues from O.M.D., while the sublime "So True" succeeds largely thanks to the guest vocals from Jen Goma of Another Sunny Day In Glasgow. Here, on this track, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart sound rejuvenated and a listener could almost wish that Goma was on more cuts on The Echo Of Pleasure as, here at least, the band seems to have found a way to corral all the influences that one can hear frequently in their music in the service of a truly wonderful pop single. The downbeat "Stay" is less successful but the oddly-titled "The Cure For Death" is a bit better, patches of easy brightness found in Berman's vocal-lines atop a few modest hooks.

The Echo Of Pleasure is a fine record if one can accept that Kip Berman has progressed from the rougher charms of the band's first record. And if some of that Slumberland Records-style charm is gone, it's been replaced by other pleasures, ones that bear favorable comparisons to late Eighties New Order and Cure tracks. And, as I can attest having seen the band in concert recently, the group has benefited immensely from the addition of the Hochheim brothers from Ablebody to the line-up for live appearances. Berman, like those guys from that band, has now sort of mastered a more keyboard-based sound that results in the sort of sleek New Wave-y alt-rock that should reward fans of multiple genres.

The Echo Of Pleasure is out on Friday and you can get more details on the record and the band by visiting the official website of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

[Photo: Ebru Yildiz]

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Good Thing Going: A Quick Review Of The New One From Jad Fair (Half Japanese), Tenniscoats, And Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub)

I somehow didn't hear about this one when it first dropped but I am thoroughly a fan of this record now. Raindrops by Jad Fair, Tenniscoats, and Norman Blake, out now on Joyful Noise Recordings, is an expansive, double-album of material from one member of Half Japanese, one member of Teenage Fanclub, and Japanese band Tenniscoats. That the record sounds little like a Half Japanese or Teenage Fanclub record is worth mentioning up front. However, what's on offer here is expansive and bold indie-pop that largely succeeds on the strength of the various players involved.

On songs like "My Heart Has Wings" and "I Know That We Can", Jad Fair delivers the main vocal-lines in a manner that does suggest his stuff with Half Japanese, but it's a brief and rough comparison as the loose instrumentation from Tenniscoats and Blake allows this material to expand and take on an improvisational vibe. The 23 cuts here make up a double-album's haul of music and, for the most part, the most notable tunes here have a nice, gentle sense of musical urgency, like the nearly-unfinished "Sudden Ghost" or the lovely and understated title cut. Elsewhere, the pretty and lilting "How's Your Summer" sees Saya of Tenniscoats take over most of the vocals with Fair providing simple back-up. An adventurous listener will find it easy to wade through this wealth of material as some cuts sort of go off in some unexpected directions and some others, like "Powerful Love", shine in a way that's sure to please fans of these acts, and fans of good indie-pop in general. Loose, relaxed, and subtle, the 23 songs here on Raindrops are unlike so much of what you're going to hear these days but they are, on the whole, little bursts of expertly performed and crafted pop that will bring a smile to any listener's face.

Raindrops by Jad Fair, Tenniscoats, and Norman Blake is the rarest of records: one that doesn't insist upon itself and one that allows plenty of space for the players involved to find melodies and hooks in unexpected places. Raindrops is out now via Joyful Noise Recordings.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Against The World: A Quick Review Of The New Pinact Record

The new album from Scottish group Pinact is called The Part That No One Knows and it's out tomorrow on Kanine Records. It is a fine slab of modest-yet-furious alt-rock full of the sort of youthful energy that makes music like this so easy to enjoy.

After a fake-out with the lovely title tune, the album proper kicks in with the Nirvana and Pixies-referencing "Bring You Down", all crystal-clear Nineties riffs that practically burst out of the speakers. If that one seems to ride by on some obvious points of inspiration, the better "Seams" surges like mid-period Superchunk, or even Green Day. At their best, Pinact make this sort of material seem fresh, even if numbers like "Regrettable Thrill" and the radio-friendly "Separate Ways" seem a touch too familiar. Still, for that minor bit of criticism, it's also worth noting that this stuff flies by with a lot of contagious energy around it so that a listener sort of forgives these guys for treading such well-trod paths again. If "Bughouse" recalls Brit power-poppers Silver Sun in a favorable way, the more expansive "Forever" and "Against The World" seem more original and fresh, even if they're not as obviously upbeat and instantly infectious.

The Part That No One Knows is largely a bunch of pop-punk slammers that quickly please the senses without a lot of pretension attached to them. I dig that. I really do appreciate that. So don't mistake my nitpicking at how familiar parts of this seem as a rejection of what Pinacat are offering. On the contrary, I miss music like this being so easy to find. Pinact have mastered a few key styles quite well and they are extraordinarily adept at turning those influences into something reasonably fresh and energetic.

The Part That No One Knows is out tomorrow on Kanine Records. Follow Pinact on the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook picture]

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Keys To The Castle: A Quick Review Of The New One From Oh Sees

It's worth mentioning (and downright necessary to say) that Oh Sees used to be call Thee Oh Sees. The band is now just Oh Sees but the music remains challenging and bracing indie-rock that, largely, surges with infectious energy. The new one from Oh Sees, Orc, drops on Castle Face Records on Friday and it's a fine release worthy of all the attention that it's likely to get.

Opener "The Static God" bursts out of the gate with a lot of bad intent, only to be followed immediately by the proggy "Nite Expo, and the cod-speed metal of "Animated Violence", the bass of Tim Hellman on this one anchoring the ship as it sinks into the whirlpool. Elsewhere, the epic "Keys To The Castle" sees the band march through territory that recalls both early Yes and early Sabbath, if that's possible, while the percolating "Paranoise" features the nimble guitar-work of John Dwyer to great effect. The superb and sludge-y "Drowned Beast" mixes elements of early Floyd and various metal acts from the early Seventies for a tune that is borderline hypnotic in its attack, while closer "Raw Optics" serves, primarily, as a showcase for Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, the 2 drummers in Oh Sees. On this number, the music is very nearly jazz fusion but it's certainly harder than anything that would fit neatly in that genre.

For the most part, the tunes on this new Oh Sees album are full of fire and spark, even if the band members sometimes go off on weird paths. That the music is unconventional in those spots gives this record from Oh Sees a lot of appeal. Oh Sees are not just making the usual American indie-pop but are, instead, trying to add a few new colors to the customary palette available to musicians these days. More attune, at times, to the stuff that saw the light of day a few decades ago in the acid rock boom, the cuts on Orc are inventive and rockin' in the best possible way.

Orc is out on Friday via Castle Face Records. More details on Oh Sees on the band's official website, or on their official Facebook page.

[Photo: John Dwyer]

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On A Pier In The Wind: A Look At The New Solo Album From Jack Cooper (Ultimate Painting)

Previously part of Mazes and the more critically-lauded Ultimate Painting, Jack Cooper is striking out on his own for a new record. Called Sandgrown, the album, out on Friday via Trouble In Mind Records, is a lyrical and melodic triumph, expanding on the sort of stuff he's done before in an assured fashion.

If the fellows in Ultimate Painting took their main cues from The Velvet Underground (and The Feelies, a fact I can attest to having recently seen UP in D.C. a few months ago), Jack Cooper on his own seems to be looking elsewhere for the touchstones of what will make up his craft. If earlier single "North Of Anywhere" brought a slight twang to things, don't fear that Cooper has gone all Gram Parsons on us (not that that would be a bad thing). "Stranded Fleetwood Blues" uses a similarly slight country-and-western hook to anchor things even as Cooper's vocals remain closer to those of British artists like Roddy Frame and Phil Wilson, while "Glynn Square" also trods roughly the same sort of path. The slightly churning "A Net" recalls Yanks Yo La Tengo, while the superb "On A Pier In The Wind" sees Cooper wrap his distinctive vocals around a haunting, languid melodic line that bears favorable comparisons to early solo George Harrison cuts. On the lovely "Estuary" Cooper seems to be channeling Nilsson in a respectable fashion, while the aching "Memphis, Lancashire" nods in the direction of early Seventies folk-y and blues-y pioneers even as Cooper vocalizes in the style of Lennon on those few few solo records post-break-up of The Beatles. The effect on this one is, like that on so many of the tunes on this brief record, haunting.

If Ultimate Painting seem intent on whittling down their music to a handful of the purest of influences, Jack Cooper as a solo artist finds himself expanding slightly in a few new directions. This is not a radical surprise of a record, and fans of Ultimate Painting will probably like Sandgrown as much as I did, but, still, Cooper deserves some credit here for taking a few modest risks while striking out on his own. Sandgrown, out on Friday via Trouble in Mind Records, is a quietly-beautiful album, and one that should please fans of Cooper's other acts (Mazes, Ultimate Painting), as well as gain the guy a few new followers.

[Photo: Tsouni Cooper]

Monday, August 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photos: Uncredited promotional pictures]

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Saturday, August 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Greg Stephen Reigh]

Thursday, August 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photos: Uncredited promotional images]

Sunday, August 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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