Saturday, September 30, 2017

Do You Like That Style? A Few Words About The New Sneaky Feelings Album Out Now On Flying Nun

Yeah, I said new. I can understand your shock, seeing as how the band hasn't released a record in about 30 years. Rather than focus on the story of why they're back and all that, we should praise whatever god or goddess oversees Kiwi rock and its rich history, 'cause that deity has brought back to fans one of the best, most underappreciated Flying Nun bands from that's label's early, peak years.

Sneaky Feelings -- Matthew Bannister, Martin Durrant, John Kelcher, and David Pine this time around in 2017 -- make wildly-melodic indie-pop that, now as then, sits nicely next to that of The Chills and The Verlaines. Progress Junction opens with the easy, loping groove of "Do You Like That Style?", and hits an early peak on "Summer Song", a tune that suggests not only the band's finest earliest offerings but those of The Feelies, for example. The melody swirls and gently circles an organ figure, with Durrant's drums popping like he was trying to ape the Help!-era Ringo. Progress Junction does feature songs that sound very much like lost-gems from the glory days of the Flying Nun label ("Can't Get You High", "Don't Come Down"), but it is the near-ballads here that truly surprise and delight. "I Don't Blame You" is just lovely, echoing in some weird way stuff from the American band The Sneetches, while "Mettle" unspools with a gentle slide-guitar underpinning things, as the vocals sound decidedly like those on earlier Sneaky Feelings records. When they hit the peaks here on this reunion record, Sneaky Feelings manage to update that unique sound they always had back in the Eighties, with something more mature in outlook, as the easily rhythmic and catchy "Eyes On The Horizon" shows, all mid-tempo hooks and smooth vocals dripping over the top of the gently-rollicking melodic hooks.

At their very best, Sneaky Feelings always tempered the sort of alt-pop that The Chills offered with something more lush and lyrical. The lilting melodies here, and the bits that recall McCartney's early solo records, for example, seem utterly in-line with everything this band has ever produced. And if a long-time fan were to play Progress Junction and then that recent reissue of the band's classic Send You record, said fan would not hear anything out of sorts. The remarkable thing here is that this group didn't record for 30 years. But that doesn't matter as the results are of a piece with earlier offerings, and nothing here suggests that the players are not ready to return to making beautiful indie-pop. And then as now, Sneaky Feelings have a truly unique place in the Kiwi Rock universe, as the gentle taste of this album offering below, "Don't Come Down" illustrates, the familiar sort of hook that the best Flying Nun bands used, wrapped up in a package of sublime hooks and rich harmonies. So much of this record achieves a similar effect and this fan is just so happy and pleased that the band have not only returned, but that they are still capable of making magic like this.

Progress Junction is out now via Flying Nun. Follow Sneaky Feelings via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Courtesy Matthew Bannister, photographer unidentified]

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bold: A Review Of As You Were,The Triumphant Solo Debut Album From Liam Gallagher

Was that headline too much? Is the secret out that I have heard As You Were, the solo debut record from Liam Gallagher, and that I love it? The album, out Friday, October 6 on Warner Brothers Records, is, quite simply, the finest showcase yet for what is, arguably, the greatest voice of the modern rock era. As You Were provides what even the triumphs on Oasis and Beady Eye albums couldn't provide, and that is definitive proof that Liam Gallagher is the best rock 'n' roll singer of his generation.

Sure, there was some familiar and welcomed fire on "Wall of Glass", lead-off single from As You Were, but it's the near-ballads here that crackle with life, from the trippy "Universal Gleam" and on to the splendid "Paper Crown", an achingly lovely number that sees Gallagher engage with the material in a manner that suggests Lennon ('natch), as well as Weller. It's evidence of a refinement of his technique that builds upon past successes like "The Morning Son" from the first Beady Eye record, or even mid-period Oasis single "Songbird", among others.

It's almost as if the cliche of "Liam's grown into his voice" is somehow being proven here, as the rich lyrical turns on the yearning "When I'm In Need", and the supple melodic swells on "I've All I Need" seem to suggest. That latter cut does that usual Beatles chord-thing that old Oasis tracks did, but Liam sounds proverbially older and wiser here, the material his as he purrs through the arches of the tune. And to praise that song so specifically is not to say that there's no trace of the rowdy Our Kid here on As You Were, 'cause, truly "I Get By", the Stones-y "You Better Run", and the more successful "Greedy Soul" rawk with the sort of menace that those early Oasis offerings delivered in a more ramshackle fashion. If things here are sleek and reasonably well-produced (by The Bird and The Bee's Greg Curstin, among others), it's only in service of the material as, at least this time around, until the inevitable reunion with his brother at some point in our future, Liam's intent with As You Were is to offer his record, one entirely under his thumb, as it were. So, if things sound less like the products of an indie band, and more like numbers from a charismatic lead singer and a backing band, that's fine when the material has the kick and heft that "Bold", a fine and mature rocker, has, for instance.

And as Liam coos a reckoning for past behaviors ("For What It's Worth"), or seemingly takes the high road against his brother (the beautiful "Paper Crown"), long-time fans of the guy are rewarded. This is finally his moment in the sun. And while some of us raved about that first Beady Eye record, and praised Liam's wrangling of a bunch of guys who used to be in Oasis, and Ride, and Heavy Stereo, into a fighting-fit Rock Band, there were loads more who didn't give him and that group the praise they deserved. So now it's time for us to sit back and watch as Liam lights the fuse and tosses the grenade into a moribund music scene, a scene that desperately needs front-men with the charisma and personality that this guy's brought to any material he's sung for more than a quarter-century now.

What As You Were is, then, is all the usual Liam vocal tricks and flourishes wrapped into material that actually serves him extraordinarily well. The tracks here are uniformly strong, with some ("Paper Crown", "I've All I Need") being among the very best recordings Liam Gallagher has ever been a part of. So, ignore the genuflecting of this fan and just dip into any part of As You Were and remind yourself why this is The Voice that Rock as an institution needed so badly back in 1994. That he's maintained it, and that he's (finally) been able to put that voice into the service of songs that suit it so well are things to be happy about.

And if you're a fan of his in any way, if he's touched you with his tunes, or given you the soundtrack of a night out, or roared like the hooligan you'd always wanted to be, buy As You Were when it's released next week.

As You Were is out Friday, October 6 on Warner Brothers Records.

Follow Liam Gallagher on his official Facebook page, on his official website, or via Twitter.

[Photos: Rankin]

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Howl: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Pere Ubu

The new Pere Ubu album, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo, drops tomorrow on MVD here in America. That it is a blistering slab of post-punk from the lot that very nearly invented that term, goes without saying. That David Thomas, shown in a pic from the band's tour-stop in D.C. last year above, is more on fire now than he was, perhaps, in the Eighties is something that also needs to be said. And as album opener "Monkey Bizness" roars out of the gate, a listener and long-time fan of this lot is grateful, again, for this band.

As "Prison of the Senses" whirls and twirls in the style of oldie "Birdies", a listener can appreciate how this outfit have managed to build on their rich legacy by continuing to offer music that pushes against the mainstream every second of their existence. "Toe to Toe" and "Swampland" churn, a peek or two inside the whirlwind, and I recall again how I first listened to this band because Husker Du referenced them in an interview some 30 years ago. I can understand the reference now as the bridge between punk and the avant-garde is here in grooves like these, just like it was in "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Final Solution" so very long ago. Elsewhere, "Howl" unspools some weird jazz as Thomas howls at the moon, while "I Can Still See" offers something that's beautiful and a bit eerie at the same time.

What's remarkable here on 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo is how this band, under the perennial leadership of David Thomas, manages to continue to push at the edges of established forms of alt-rock and its associated sub-genres. Thomas and his crew this time out -- Keith Moline (guitar), Gary Siperko (guitar), Kristof Hahn (guitar), Darryl Boon (clarinet), Robert Wheeler (synths), Gagarin (synths), Michele Temple (bass), and Steve Mehlman (drums) -- keep up the intensity as they pursue a singular, albeit noisy, muse. That Thomas has been inspired for so long is something I'm grateful for, as other loyal fans of this band have surely been as well. Full of both risky moments, and fairly conventional -- by Pere Ubu standards, at least -- ones, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo crackles with a uniquely American energy, the sort of fiery out there-ness that musicians routinely reached some decades ago. Thomas, a legend, manages to keep this sort of thing fresh. And, it goes without saying, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo perpetuates this band's fairly recent resurgence, their latest renaissance rollicking ahead at full tilt.

Out tomorrow on MVD, 20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo is another notch in David Thomas' belt, and another borderline classic in the band's growing library of vitally abrasive music.

More details, as always, via www.UbuProjex.com.

[Photo: me]

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dandification: A Few Words About The New Luke Haines Box Set From Cherry Red Records

Has it really come to this? Have we finally reached the point where this outsider is lauded -- yet again -- with a box set? I mean, how did we get to the point where even solo Luke Haines needs an Uncut-magazine-style career overview? Maybe I am being too cynical about things.

The new 4-CD box set Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017, out Friday on Cherry Red Records, makes a compelling case for the greatness of Haines as a solo artist. That he even has enough material is a testament to his longevity in an industry he largely shoots flaming arrows at. And that so very much of this succeeds at all is significant as, frankly, I don't think anyone's going to offer up a very good 4-CD set from Noel Gallagher's solo years, you know? But while that cat is still trying to recapture the glories of some point in his past, Luke Haines has moved on. This is not to say that he's forgotten The Auteurs and how absolutely superb they were, nor that he's diminishing the perfection of those Black Box Recorder recordings, but, rather, that he's made peace with himself as a solo artist, and a solo artist who's taken some real chances in the last 16 years.

Disc 1 wisely serves as a sort of "best of" of Haines' output early in this century, favoring tracks from albums like the pop-leaning The Oliver Twist Manifesto from 2001, or the sleek austerity of the same year's Christie Malry's Own Double Entry, represented here by "England Scotland and Wales", one of Luke's finest numbers. By 2006, Haines had sort of refined his shtick as a solo artist in order to offer up the solid-but-not-entirely-inspired Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop. Make no mistake, there were some remarkably good tracks on that record (the near-anthem of "Leeds United", or the sinister strut of "Bad Reputation"), but none of them seemed to hit the peak that certain late-period Auteurs songs had hit, for example. Still, if Haines wasn't exactly on fire here, he was making astonishingly consistent work and the tracks on the end of Disc 1 make up a nice reminder of that.

Oddly, Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 splits up the selections from 2009's 21st Century Man between Discs 1 and 2. But an unexpected result of that is that the track "Suburban Mourning", kicking off the second CD here, serves as a sort of indicator of a shift in Haines' solo work, while also acting as a nod to past, similar glories as echoes of "Unsolved Child Murder" and "Goodnight Kiss" abound here. Elsewhere on Disc 2, there are a few cuts from his truly-odd 2011 offering, 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early '80s, with only "Big Daddy Got a Casio VL Tone" surprising after all these years. The record was not as successful as even the mainstream-eyeing Off My Rocker... but it was at bare minimum more essential than 2013's absurd Rock And Roll Animals. Whatever he intended by recording that record, Haines failed. The tracks seem silly and entirely inconsequential now with only "A Badger Called Nick Lowe" making any kind of dent in a listener's consciousness.

Disc 3 sees Haines right the ship a bit with a few surprisingly pleasant ditties from his New York In The '70s with "Lou Reed Lou Reed" and "Alan Vega Says" sticking out as more than just cheap nods in the direction of obvious influences. More significantly, Disc 3 of Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 shines a little light on the truly brave and risky British Nuclear Bunkers album from Haines. That the drone-y and noise-y record from 2015 is represented at all is something to be applauded as the release seemed to be Haines' ultimate kiss-off to an industry that never fully appreciated or deserved him. Before the rarities kick in, this box set highlights a few numbers from the surprisingly-strong Smash The System (2016) including the glam-y "Marc Bolan Blues" and the warped electro-pop of that album's title cut.

And, of course, the final disc here is the one that really and truly offers up the real rarities. Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 kicks off its final disc with "Black Sun", a cut from a teenage Haines' first band. Superbly unhinged, it is the sort of the ragged-and-raging indie-pop that this guy would pursue with a good deal more refinement later, first in The Servants and later in The Auteurs. Elsewhere on Disc 4 are a few previously-unreleased gems that should now be counted as some of the finest solo numbers Haines has ever offered. The lyrical "1963" and acerbic "Dandification" are just superb and they stand on their own as essential Haines cuts even if they are leftovers from an earlier, unfinished project of the artist's. There are a few BBC sessions here that accompanied 2009's 21st Century Man before we encounter the odd "Me and the Birds", a nice meditation on the opposite sex, or Luke's own place in their eyes, that is haunting and melodic, and then the smooth "Jeff Starship Superstar", a sonic and thematic cousin to "The Rubettes" from an older Auteurs record. Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 closes with 2 brief but excellent tracks: the stomping "68P In My Pocket" and the eerie "Rave", as perfect an ending track as Haines has composed since "Future Generation" from The Auteurs' How I Learned To Love The Bootboys very nearly 2 decades ago.

If I'm speaking negatively about a handful of songs here, I'm praising dozens more. If you've missed any part of the solo career of Luke Haines, Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 is essential. If you love everything he's done, you need Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 for Disc 4 and assorted other rarities. If you preferred The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder albums, you need Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 to see the error of your ways as some of this -- lots of this! -- is just as good and just as precisely composed and performed. Luke Haines has taken some risks, failed, succeeded, and persevered across a few decades. He's outlasted the wave that brought his talents to public consciousness in the first place 25 years ago, and stood firm against the allure of cheap nostalgia and revisionism. For those reasons, and for the sheer wealth of sublime chamber pop collected and presented here, Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 remains an absolutely essential purchase. Smart, sharp, cynical, sentimental (within reason), and aware, Luke Haines remains an artist worth paying attention to. Just maybe not on Twitter.

Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires: Heavy Frenz - The Solo Anthology 2001 - 2017 is out on Friay via Cherry Red Records. For news of Luke Haines, wade through his Twitter feed, or, more simply, check out his official website.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Set It Off: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Effects

There is something pathetic about the fact that I'm writing this while missing The Effects in concert in D.C. tonight. It's not like I haven't seen Devin Ocampo in other bands here (Deathfix, Warm Sun), but I did want to see this band at some point. However, as usual, work commitments got in the way for me.

Regardless of that, I'm exceedingly happy to tell you that the new Effects record, Eyes To The Light, out Friday on Dischord, is a fine release and one that showcases these 3 musicians to, well, marvelous effect. The Effects -- Devin Ocampo (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Matt Dowling (bass, vocals, keyboards), and David Rich (drums, percussion) -- offer up blistering and oddly soulful post-punk of a sort that seems to push this music as a genre into a new space. That sounds pretentious but long-time fans of this sort of thing will understand my meaning.

Opener "New Isolation" burns with a nice fury, while "Numbers" positively pops and crackles with a spry bit of energy. As Ocampo coos over the simple chord changes, the drums and bass of Rich and Dowling burst out of the speakers (or headphones, as your case may be). The tune seems to evolve as it goes on and there's a decidedly prog vibe going on here that recalls Eighties King Crimson, or solo Belew releases. The best tracks on Eyes To The Light let the rich melodies take center-stage even as the 3 players show off their chops. "Anchors Aweigh" churns and unspools with a gentle lilt as the instruments hit with force all around Devin's easy vocal-lines. The lyrical "Set It Off" lets a looping melody drive things, while the Zenyatta Mondatta-isms of "Back and Forth" suggest the faintest hint of jazz-rock as an influence here. Producer J. Robbins (Jawbox, Channels, Office Of Future Plans) deserves a lot of credit for recording this in such a way that a listener can pretty much feel the hooks in a big way.

For all my talk of musicianship, or prog or fusion influences, the selections on Eyes To The Light are uniformly tight and concise, and hardly pretentious or too wonky. Less angular than the tunes Ocampo worked out with Smart Went Crazy, the ones here on Eyes To The Light are every bit as sharp and smart. It's just that they are far more focused. Only the final cut here, the longer "Moving On", offers up the sort of wider space that allows these players to explore and make riffs, riffs that are borderline indulgent. The other tracks on this debut album are all fairly refined nuggets of the sort of post-punk (for lack of a better word) that Ocampo threw down in Faraquet and Medications, for instance. What The Effects have done so well here is create music that allows for musician-y moments -- a bit of flash here, a burst of indulgence there -- but which also maintains a real focus. The cuts on Eyes To The Light breeze past in fits of wild inventiveness in small bites, with impulses to show-off largely restrained. Fans of Medications and Faraquet, for example, will find lots here that sounds familiar while constantly marveling at the very economy with which Ocampo and Rich and Downling have managed to get this one down on tape.

Eyes To The Light is out on Friday. You can order it via the Bandcamp link below, or via Dischord. More details on The Effects via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Michael Honch via the band's Facebook page]

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Few Words About The New Mother Ethiopia EP From Paul Weller

In a career that has seen some remarkable risks taken, Paul Weller has decided to go, however briefly, in an altogether unexpected direction for his new EP. Out Friday via Warner Brothers Records, Mother Ethiopia offers up 3 expansive cuts that reveal that The Modfather remains a genuinely adventurous musician.

Teaming up here with The Stone Foundation again on "Mother Ethiopia Part 1", Weller indulges his best dancehall instincts to contribute to a truly infectious groove. Weller previously worked with The Stone Foundation on their recent album, reviewed by me here, and now he is content to almost take a backseat to the rhythm-heavy commotion going on around him. Bongo Bob joins Paul for the second version of the track on this EP, while "Mother Ethiopia Part 3" sees the former Jam frontman link up with the Ethiopia-by-way-of-London-group Krar Collective to plunge further into the bubbling hooks of the title tune of this EP. A deft plucked guitar underpins the percussion as a theremin coos in the background. But it is the vocals (in Amharic) from Genet Assefa of Krar Collective that make this so memorable. Invitingly percussive and full of plaintive work from the singer, this track is truly stunning. Weller is to be commended for bringing this sort of music to the market as it deserves a wide audience.

Mother Ethiopia will be out on Friday via Warner Brothers Records. Follow Paul Weller via his official website, or via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Tom Beard]

Tongue Slap Your Brains Out: A Few Words About The New One From Torres

The music of Torres is simultaneously like that of other bands and wholly unique. It is strangely tactile music, music where the electronic textures seem like things that could be touched, not just heard. The newest record from Torres is called Three Futures and it's out on Friday via 4AD and it's a strange beast, but one that demands the attention of listeners everywhere.

Produced by Rob Ellis and mixed by David Tolomei, Three Futures sounds absolutely fantastic. And if some credit is thrown the way of those guys, the rest -- the lion's share, obviously -- must go to Mackenzie Scott AKA Torres, the guiding force behind this sonic journey. The sinister and wonderfully-titled "Tongue Slap Your Brains Out" opens the album and it's all slo-mo vibes, dance music stretched out until it resembles something from another world, or a dream. Elsewhere, the superb "Righteous Woman" channels Kate Bush in a Buck Rogers century, the old mixing with the new to become a tune that is timeless in its directness and futuristic in its delivery. The weird pop of "Bad Baby Pie" suggests an update of the Eurythmics template for a more severe future, while the lovely-and-percolating "Marble Focus" recalls some mid-period Peter Gabriel stuff, where percussion was fully subsumed in the entire presentation. Torres has a remarkable knack for making this all feel largely natural. In other hands, lots of this might end up ponderous or obvious, but there's something easy here, something utterly unforced that renders the offerings of Torres Art of the best kind.

Pretentious in the right ways, and in the (right) small degree, Three Futures is an updating of earlier styles from earlier pioneers (Laurie Anderson, Eno, Kraftwerk), while also a fairly convincing argument that, in 2017, electronic music is capable of being some of the most human music one is likely to encounter. Warm and yet austere, stark and yet lush, Three Futures is largely sublime and compelling. As always, Torres remains an artist to follow with rapt attention.

Three Futures by Torres is out on Friday via 4AD. More details on Torres via the official website.

[Photo: Ashley Connor]

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Logic Of Night: A Few Words About The New One From Chain And The Gang

Ian Svenonius is an exceedingly busy man circa Fall 2017. He's not only playing gigs with a reunited line-up of The Make-Up (that pic up there by moi during the band's blistering set at The Black Cat last May), he's also about to unveil a semi-solo debut on Merge with his Escape-ism project, and he's now gonna drop an all-new Chain and The Gang record this Friday. Called Experimental Music, the record is, quite frankly, very nearly the most consistent long-playing release this band has ever put out on the market.

Recorded in Michigan with a line-up that includes a bunch of solid players (Fred Thomas, Danny Kroha, Shelley Salant, Ben Collins, Madie McCormick, and Amber Fellows), this new one from Chain and The Gang is a concise slab of retro-leaning, DIY-style alt-rock of the sort that only Ian could possibly pull off. In other hands, this would devolve into kitsch but the former Nation of Ulysses front-man has a knack for this sort of yeh-yeh stuff, delivering it with just the right mix of fervor and farce that it requires, as the team flays behind him. If the opening title track is like Brill Building song-craft as imagined by the young fellas in V.U., then the strutting "Logic Of Night" is an on-target mish-mash of Standells and other Nuggets legends. Similarly, the wonderfully-titled "Rome Wasn't Burned In A Day" sounds exactly like you'd imagine it would, all "Look out, look out, look out!" Shangri-La rabble-rousing wrapped around organs and drums that pop like cheap cap-guns. Wisely, Svenonius keeps things revved up here, steering away from the down-tempo numbers that littered older Chain and The Gang albums in favor of sharp rockers like the party tune "Come Over" and "Temporary Insanity", a track that brings to mind the charms found on the End Of The Century release from The Ramones. The trend here on Experimental Music towards stompers hits a kind of peak on the intriguing "Don't Scare Away the Ghost", a cut that sees Svenonius ride a riff into oblivion with a certain degree of conviction that's a good deal more serious than the song's clever title.

Succinct and superbly delivered, Experimental Music is the most intense Chain and The Gang record yet. It is punchy, smart, and fun. Full of delicious swing, Svenonius has marched Chain and The Gang through some real paces here, and on towards the light. He's seen it, they've seen it, and now fans can see it. Get with the program and sign up with the Gang.

Experimental Music by Chain and The Gang is out via Radical Elite and you can order it via Dischord, or the link below.

[Photos: me]

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Here Is The Thing: A Quick Review Of The Masterful New One From Protomartyr

The new one from Protomartyr is, of course, a beast. It is a thing of brute force and subtle mood, a simultaneously undulating and restive animal. Relatives In Descent, out Friday on Domino USA, is the band's 4th record and it's sure to be the sort of thing that sustains listeners with real music in an age of disposable pop nonsense.

There are points here on Relatives In Descent that feel fresher and lighter than on previous Protomartyr records, and yet the undeniable force of the band's music is still palpable even, for instance, on "A Private Understanding", the early taster of this long-player. "Here Is The Thing" swings in a neat approximation of Eighties Wire, while "Caitriona" crackles with a fuzzy Fall-like energy. If "Don't Go To Anacita" is positively catchy, other numbers, like the spacious "Windsor Hum", seem designed more for maximum mood than to become a ditty that one whistles upon the album's conclusion. Sometimes, like on the blistering "Male Plague", Protomartyr find a way to merge the divergent impulses in their art and, like Queens of the Stone Age or something, make largely compelling music that burns with intensity and which remains easy to appreciate and absorb.

If Relatives In Descent is more nuanced than other titles in the Protomartyr catalog, it's no less full of fire. Protomartyr make music that remains remarkably distinctive in an era when so much of what passes for alternative music is anodyne and generic. Brimming with menace, this new Protomartyr record is a furtherance of the band's mission, an extension of their uniquely sinister brand of angular post-punk just a little more into the near-mainstream.

Relatives In Descent is out on Domino USA on Friday. More details on Protomartyr via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Daniel Topete]

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sound Of The Moon: A Brief Review Of The New One From Nick Nicely

Nick Nicely has orbited at the edges of the mainstream for a long time. Now, the electronic music pioneer is poised to offer up a new record. Sleep Safari, out Friday on Tapete Records, is a collection of sleek and supple space rock, a taste of the future from a voice from the past.

Numbers like "Rainmaker" and "Sound Of The Moon" find Nick cooing and purring over rippling keyboards and spacious soundscapes, the effect not entirely unlike some odd mix of Leonard Cohen and New Order. On a few cuts here, like "Souvenir" and "Gliding (Call Centre Splendour)", Nicely adds in a vaguely percolating beat to make things bounce just this side of the dance music spectrum, while he takes things down again for the lovely "Heaven's Kate", all "Learning To Fly"-era Floyd with a good deal more melody and heart. Elsewhere, stuff like "Dance Away" bears favorable comparison to early O.M.D. and late-period Butterfly Child, 2 acts that surely took some inspiration from Nick's Seventies recordings.

Sleep Safari, out Friday on Tapete Records, is an affecting mix of a few sub-genres in a package that seems wholly unique. This is proof that electronic music can be just as authentic for expressing emotion as any musical form.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Few Words About The Fine New One From Wand On Drag City

The release of Wand frontman Cory Hanson's solo album, The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, reviewed by me here last year, probably caught a lot of listeners by surprise. The record was full of frankly lush arrangements that positioned Hanson's output closer to that of, say, Nick Drake or Kevin Ayers, than the near-psychedelia of his own band. And, I'm happy to report, a touch of that lyricism has seeped into the newest Wand record, Plum, out Friday on Drag City.

The title cut here positively oozes a late-period Beatles-kinda-vibe, while the lovely "Charles De Gaulle" mines a vein similar to early 21st Century Radiohead numbers. Elsewhere, the more robust "Bee Karma" and "High Rise" offer up only slightly noisy takes on the sort of post-punk that was first thrown down by bands like Dinosaur Jr., for example. The second half of Plum takes a decidedly mellower approach, with selections like "The Trap" and "Ginger" shining in the manner of Galaxie 500 or a more down-tempo Sonic Youth. The last 2 numbers here, "Blue Cloud" and "Driving", are the longest cuts on Plum and each offers up a refinement of the approach that Wand used on earlier albums, even if things here seem to have been influenced more by Jon Brion and Nilsson than any obvious, noisier band from the Eighties.

Listeners should be happy at the progression that Wand have shown over the course of 4 albums. If the music on Plum is prettier than that on earlier Wand records, it's still music that's full of spark and creativity. And I feel confident in saying that Wand are really shaping up to be one of the more interesting bands in America these days.

Plum is out on Friday on Drag City. More details on Wand via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Kyle Thomas]

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Age Of Miracles: A Quick Review Of The New One From The Clientele

Over the course of 6 earlier albums, a bunch of singles, a clutch of EP's, and a few compilations, The Clientele have maintained a remarkably consistent run. And that run is going to be extended by the release, on Friday, of the band's latest album. Out on Merge Records here in the USA, Music For The Age Of Miracles is another batch of superb chamber pop from this group, and further proof of why The Clientele remain an understandably-treasured band for so many listeners.

The Clientele -- Alasdair MacLean (guitar and vocals), James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums, piano, percussion) -- have perfected a modern take on Sixties styles to such an extent that it's almost as if the group was creating their own genre by refining those styles on each subsequent release. That push-and-pull between Beatles-era influences and Eighties ones is something that a listener can hear in the traces of pre-disco Bee Gees in album opener "The Neighbour", even as lead single "Lunar Days" channels a vibe that one could say was poised closer to the more mannered moments on a Galaxie 500 release. The spry "Everything You Tonight Is Different From Itself" recalls a whole slew of Creation Records bands from a few decades ago, while the stately "The Circus" mines a vein that The Lilac Time sometimes worked while also offering up a relaxed expansion of the usually-precise arrangements that this band is so fond of. Elsewhere, the supple "Everyone You Meet" echoes music made in that era when The Beatles had inspired so many and before that inspiration had turned into something shaggier. The track is elegant and full of the sort of effortless class that MacLean and co. have brought to the creation of indie-pop over so many years. Throughout their career, The Clientele have channeled this sort of thing so easily that one could forgiven for sometimes taking them for granted. Treading a path between a sort of relaxed folk ("Constellations Echo Lanes") and a very refined breed of British pop ("The Age Of Miracles"), The Clientele here share the ends of their artistic spectrum.

And while there aren't any shocks or surprises here, that is precisely why this band has remained so treasured for so long. The Clientele do one or two things so extraordinarily well that one can forgive them for not taking any huge risks this time out. Music For The Age Of Miracles shines in the manner of most Clientele records and long-time fans should be able to embrace this one as easily as, say, Strange Geometry. And, for new(er) fans of The Clientele, Music For The Age Of Miracles offers up as clear a single-disc distillation of this band's strengths as one is likely to ever encounter.

Music For The Age Of Miracles is out on Friday via Merge Records here in the USA. More details on the Clientele via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: Andy Willsher]

Monday, September 18, 2017

Calling Direct: A Few Words About The New LP From Omni

Atlanta trio Omni are back with a new record that expands upon the jittery art-pop of their debut, reviewed by me here. The new long-player, Multi-Task, drops on Trouble In Mind Records this Friday and it's an album that's full of fine bursts of smart indie of the kind that deserves to be championed by discerning listeners.

Opener "Southbound Station" surges on a take on the Talking Heads '77 formula, while selections like "Equestrian" and "Calling Direct" seem to be taking inspiration from points in the past as disparate as early Gang of Four records and classic Orange Juice singles. At their very best, Omni make this sort of stuff feel natural and a reader shouldn't infer that I'm implying a lack of originality here due to my name-dropping of earlier acts. The propulsive "Tuxedo Blues" blends in a dash of early Postcard Records lyricism even as other numbers ("After Dinner", "Heard My Name") seem sharper and more in thrall to early Joy Division and A Certain Ratio numbers.

A reasonably concise expression of the sort of indie-pop being perfected elsewhere by bands as diverse as EZTV and Expert Alterations, the angular and nimble music of Omni is effortlessly unassuming and largely pretty charming. Multi-Task will, hopefully, get this band even more attention than their last album did.

Multi-Task by Omni is out on Friday via Trouble In Mind Records. More details on Omni via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sebastian Weiss]

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Ideal: A Word About The New One From Dead Rider

Dead Rider is apparently an offshoot of the late, lamented U.S. Maple. My memory of that band's stuff is pretty weak but I am pretty sure that the music on the new one from Dead Rider, Crew Licks, out Friday on Drag City, sounds nothing like anything from U.S. Maple. I can report that what's here is disturbing and invigorating at the same time, even if Dead Rider are not exactly breaking any new ground on this long-player.

The sinister "Grand Mal Blues" kicks off Crew Licks with the sort of noise that one could have found on an early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record, while the more successful and original "Ramble On Rose" works on a groove that veers, however slightly, into territory once occupied by the Stones in the early Seventies. If "The Listing" catches spark for a bit, the spry "The Ideal" nudges itself into the direction of the sort of riffs once thrown down by Jon Spencer and his crew. Similarly, "Too Cruise" manages to work up some serious sweat, while the epic closer "When I Was The Frankenstein's" successfully blends the influences that are so clearly seeped through this stuff with something else entirely in order to produce a result that feels unique.

Crew Licks isn't exactly re-inventing the wheel here but it is furthering the sort of scuzzy rock that was once more commonplace. Given that, a listener has to at least applaud the fact that a band like Dead Rider is willing to pursue this sort of thing. Unfashionable, the bad intent rock here is good stuff.

More details on Dead Rider and Crew Licks via Drag City.

[Photo: Bread Casey]

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Play Video Of One Of The Best Songs From New Alex Lahey Album Here!

I've been a fan of almost everything Alex Lahey has released in the last year or so and I am now very happy to report that her debut full-length album, I Love You Like A Brother will be out on October 6.

I will, of course, be posting a review of that record closer to that official release date but, for now, I'm here to rave about the newest single from the record that's out now in the form of a video. "I Haven't Been Taking Of Myself" is a bright near-glam-stomper mixed with a bit of the ol' New Wave. It is a fantastic number and one that, like so many of the highlights on Alex's album, manages to blend about a half-dozen influences into a rich indie-pop blast of energy.

I Love You Like A Brother will be out on October 6. You can find out more details on Alex Lahey via her official Facebook page, or official website.

[Photo: Giulia McGauran]

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

There Was A Light: A Quick Look At The Omnivore Reissue Of I Am The Cosmos From Chris Bell

At a certain point, the world doesn't need another version of "You And Your Sister", am I right? And, at the same time, the world realizes that the wealth of versions of Chris Bell's classic out there is the result of the slipshod nature of Big Star and Chris Bell releases in years past. Now, thanks to the masterful series of reissues recently undertaken by the folks at Omnivore Recordings, the world has what amounts to the first comprehensive look at the late genius who, along with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens, formed Big Star.

Without a lot of self-congratulatory fanfare, Omnivore Recordings has been establlishing itself as the keeper of the Big Star legacy, and fans can rest securely in that knowledge. Following this year's Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star, and last year's Complete Third set from Big Star, the team at Omnivore Recordings has now turned their attention to the one official solo release from Chris Bell and expanded that. The result is, like those other offerings mentioned above, now the definitive document on the market.

Disc 1 of this 2-CD I Am The Cosmos set offers the crispest sounding version of I Am The Cosmos we're likely to ever hear, with standards like "I Got Kinda Lost" and "There Was A Light" rocking and chiming in the styles of Badfinger and The Rolling Stones, respectively. The Rykodisc compilation of Chris Bell's work -- his one "album" -- originally released in 1992, has here been expanded and rendered in a stunningly clear mix that presents stuff like the Sabbath-like chord progressions in "Better Save Yourself" as things of immediate menace, while the gentle "Speed Of Sound" sounds like Bell is in the next room, the guitar plucks nearly tangible things as you hear them in your headphones, or through your speakers. Here, more than ever, the case is being made -- again -- for the greatness of Bell as a solo artist, one who was, however briefly, the equal of the newly-solo Paul McCartney (as others have pointed out), and mid-Seventies Todd Rundgren (a comparison others may not have yet tried to make).

So, what's extra here on this 2-CD version of I Am The Cosmos? Well, over the course of these 2 discs there are 8 songs previously unreleased. And, naturally, a large part of Disc 2 is made up of alternate versions of Bell's best, most familiar tracks. That said, the versions recorded at Shoe Studios are remarkably different iterations of some of these familiar numbers, and there are a few nuggets mixed in here too: "In My Darkest Hour", a lilting duet with Nancy Bryan; "Stay With Me", an Eagles-like ramble with Keith Sykes; and an absolutely awesome version of "I Am The Cosmos" with some piano parts that make the song seem even more like a classic than it already did.

There are folks out there who will never get tired of Big Star and I count myself as one of them. That said, the prior haphazard packaging of the band's legacy was an annoying thing. So with every Big Star-related release from Omnivore Recordings the team there should be praised a little bit more for rescuing this legacy, righting sonic wrongs, and rendering this treasure trove of material as it was always meant to be presented. This version of I Am The Cosmos is superb and I think that one can hear even more clearly the spark of the late singer's genius. What's here on these 2 discs is a flowering of artistry that was cut tragically short, and it's an artistry that seems a necessary extension to the Big Star story and not just an epilogue to that musical drama. I Am The Cosmos makes a compelling case that Chris Bell's solo work was the equal of not only Alex Chilton's stuff, but that of the band they were both in together. And, thanks to the backstory on Bell in the liner notes from Bob Mehr, and the wildly informative track notes from Alec Palao, I Am The Cosmos is now an educative experience for any fan of Bell or Big Star. Absolutely essential.

I Am The Cosmos is out on Friday via Omnivore Recordings.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

So Young: A Word About The New Midnight Sister Album

The music of Midnight Sister is haunting and utterly unlike what any other band is going to provide you in 2017. The tunes on the band's new record, Saturn Over Sunset, are simultaneously odd and lovely in equal measure. The album, out as of last Friday on Jagjaguwar, is the sort of thing that I will have a hard time describing in words. But I'm going to try.

A track like "So Young", for instance, is fairly straightforward, even if it sounds like Carly Simon singles from the Seventies overlaid with an instrumental wash that recalls both Jon Brion and Nilsson. Elsewhere, "Leave You" channels both Damon and Naomi and Cocteau Twins even if the overall effect is decidedly hard to pin down; think of this as "eerie AOR", or "showtunes from whatever musical a character in a David Lynch film would be watching", to coin another description. "Blue Cigar" pursues a similar path while the simple and deliberate "The Drought" recalls earlier tracks from His Name Is Alive. If so much of Saturn Over Sunset sounds like the soundtrack to a film or play yet to be made, "Daddy Long Legs" is the big hit single from the show, all bright chords wrapped around a fairly clear hook. The superb "Shimmy" produces the same sort of effect early Broadcast singles produced, while the excellent tracks near the album's end ("Clown", "Their Eyes") are big, aching ballads that achieve a kind of sweetness even as they remain otherworldly, the result one that seems like Peggy Lee crooning a song composed for Julie Cruise.

So much of Saturn Over Sunset is utterly impossible to describe but it's all remarkably easy to absorb and enjoy. Fans of the lush productions offered on old Van Dyke Parks projects will enjoy this record, even while fans of early 4AD stuff will find loads to embrace here. A unique spin on portions of the legacies of those artists and labels, Saturn Over Sunset remains one of the most striking releases of this season.

Saturn Over Sunset is out now on Jagjaguwar. More details on Midnight Sister via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Nicky Giraffe]

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Natural Tradition: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Beaches

The music of Australia's Beaches is hard to describe. It is almost as if this stuff was beyond any genre, even while it's clear that it shares attributes with a few. The band's new album, Second of Spring, is out tomorrow on Chapter Music and it's an epic, double-length LP that affirms this band's place as masters of this sort of surging and propulsive post-rock, for lack of a better term.

If "Void" recalls anything it's the music of Brit band Loop, while "September" veers closer to Spacemen 3 stuff. Now, if you think there's not too much difference between those 2 comparison points, you're not an astute listener. The more languid "Natural Tradition" adds a space-y vibe to a number that sounds a tiny bit like Yo La Tengo in their most expansive moments, or those acid-y excursions from Eleventh Dream Day. Elsewhere, "Arrow" rides a supple rhythm into oblivion like a catchier take on Eighties-era Sonic Youth, or a harder version of Look Blue Go Purple's material. At their very best, Beaches modulate this sort of proto-shoegaze attack into something more accessible, like on the VU-inspired drone-rock of "Walk Around", while the lyrical and melodic "Grey Colours" suggests some wonderful combination of Disintegration and that latest Slowdive record. Second of Spring closes with the trippy "Mutual Decision", nearly 9 minutes of Fripp-ish guitar lines and half-buried vocals.

Beaches make compelling music of the sort that would easily be tedious in the hands of lesser musicians. That this double-album never really bored me is saying something as I can think of a few bands that have recently attempted this kind of music and failed. In the moments where Beaches blend a rich melodicism with some really brave guitar work-outs, the effect is a wonderful one. That so many of them pop up on the sprawling Second of Spring makes me recommend this highly.

Second of Spring is out tomorrow on Chapter Music. For more details on Beaches, check out the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Darren Sylvester]

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Runnin' Outta Luck: A Few Words About The New Alex Cameron Record

When I looked at the promo pictures of Alex Cameron, I assumed that this whole thing was a goof, an approximation of genuinely transgressive artists' past work. And when I noticed that my promo copy of Alex's new album, Forced Witness, came with a "letter from Alex" explaining his approach here, I assumed that not only was this a goof, but it was a goof that the artist wasn't entirely committed to, not if he felt the need to send out an explanation with his work; did Iggy send any letters out? Lou Reed? Bowie? Nah. They didn't, did they?

Now that said, a lot of this works, even if it's a goof. Forced Witness, out this week on Secretly Canadian, offers up a bunch of songs that channel fairly successfully the mid-Eighties material dropped by the previously-mentioned Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, among others. The superb "Stranger's Kiss", a duet with the copiously-talented Angel Olson, is a supple beast, one full of sleek hooks. Similarly, the bright "Marlon Brando" seems more of a natural fit for Alex's talents, poised as it is somewhere between mid-Eighties Bowie-inspired synth-pop and the kind of modern retro-pop that bands like Gardens And Villa do so well. Elsewhere, the easy indie-pop of "Runnin' Outta Luck" charms on first listen and every subsequent one, while the sharper "Country Figs" offers up something more challenging, a rough mix of Hall and Oates with INXS, or something, only darker. Now, if that darkness is approximated, it sometimes doesn't matter as Alex Cameron has at the very least made a highly listenable album here. These electro-pop songs are sometimes silly but they are always oddly compelling. So, ignore the letter and the silly poses in the pictures that accompany this release, and just focus on the music as it is something fresh in the parts that work. Fans of MGMT and LCD Soundsystem, for example, will find a lot to embrace here in Alex Cameron's brand of retro-tinged electro-pop.

Forced Witness is out on Friday on Secretly Canadian. More details on Alex Cameron on his official website, or on his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Chris Rhodes]