Saturday, October 21, 2017

Play The New Howard Track Here!

The new song from NY band Howard is a blast. I think I sort of overlooked the band's first record. But this, the first single from their upcoming second album, makes me think I made a big mistake back then.

Howard -- Howard Feibusch (guitar, vocals), Alex Chakour (guitar, synth, backup vocals), Myles Heffernan (bass), and Chris Holdridge (drums) -- have here offered up something with "Mother's Wedding" that sounds vaguely like Radiohead trying to cover a track from The White Album. Inspired by a dream that leader Howard Feibusch had, the track was apparently recorded with different sets of instruments and guitars on each verse. Lyrical and dream-like, the cut is a nice first taste of the band's upcoming album, the follow-up to their Please Recycle EP from 2016, and their first long-player in 2015.

For more details on Howard, follow the band via their official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Sonya Kitchell]

Friday, October 20, 2017

Time To Forget: A Few Words About The New One From David West

The new album from David West and Teardrops, Cherry on Willow, is a rich stew of influences. Everything from glam-rock to New Wave to post-punk shows up here. The record, out today via Tough Love Records, not only references those key styles from rock's past, but it remains a blast of fresh musical energy.

Opener "Morning Rain" purrs in the manner of Nineties Luke Haines releases, while the boogie rock of the title cut echoes some of the best T. Rex stuff. Elsewhere, the spacious and space-y "Time to Forget" sounds a bit like a Bowie number, or something from Suicide with more varied levels of instrumentation. The disco-tinged "Soft" percolates with a nice rhythmic sense, while the excellent "Swan's Beat" marries a glam-stomp to Eighties-influenced electro-pop styles.

As much credit as David West undoubtedly deserves for Cherry on Willow, lots ought to go to the players here, notably Raven Mahon of Grass Widow, Bob Jones of Eaters, Louis Hooper of Rat Columns, Mikey Young of Total Control, and a few others. David West and Teardrops make music that largely defies easy genre labels, even as it draws some easy inspiration from a few obvious touchstones.

Out as of today on Tough Love Records, Cherry on Willow is one of this week's boldest releases. More details on David West and Teardrops via the band's official Facebook page.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flower Of Light: A Quick Look At The Debut Album From Headroom

The new album, Head in the Clouds, from Headroom is a blast of noise-rock, the likes of which we've not heard in ages. That this can be labelled gloriously old-fashioned proto-shoegaze should be read as a ringing endorsement of this band's debut long-player, out on Friday via Trouble in Mind Records.

The band, fronted by guitarist Kryssi Battalene, craft somewhat long, fairly expansive riff-rockers that make me think of the best tracks from Loop (opener "How To Grow Evil Flowers"), and a less-concise My Bloody Valentine ("The Second Blazing Star"), and Spacemen 3 (the drone-y and excellent title cut). I'm name-dropping those other bands to place this music in some sort of general context for listeners but, really, the band deserve a lot more respect for managing to pull this sort of thing off so well on this, their debut. On "Millers Pond", the only track here with real vocals, Kryssi croons over the top of a track that manages to echo early Mazzy Star, peak Opal, and late-period Pale Saints. It is a superb stab at this sort of thing and that it does not descend into a mess of simple and lazy shoegaze nods is an enormous compliment to the talents of this outfit. By the time that epic closer "Flower of Light" hits a kind of noise-y peak, an attentive listener has been completely sucked into this sonic world.

Headroom have delivered a mini-masterpiece within the confines of this genre of music. That they've done it so well, without a whole lot of heavy-handed pretension is just remarkable to me. Fans of all those acts I've mentioned, should thoroughly enjoy this one. Head in the Clouds from Headroom is out tomorrow on Trouble in Mind Records.

[Photo: Ellen Goggins]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Brainshift: A Look At The New Album From Circuit des Yeux

Circuit des Yeux is essentially Haley Fohr. And Haley Fohr, as the driving force behind Circuit des Yeux, has made the band's new album, Reaching For Indigo, a bold, artistic statement. The record, out Friday on Drag City, is a strikingly original release, and one that rewards attentive listeners.

A number like "Brainshift" unfurls with a sort of classical sense of precision, while the more relaxed "Black Fly" suggests a folk-y take on the kind of material routinely offered up by Antony and the Johnsons. Elsewhere, the superb "Paper Bag" pops, sputters, and clangs in the manner of Broadcast, while the lush and aching "Geyser" returns again to the classical styles that underpin lots of Reaching For Indigo. A listener could be forgiven for hearing a faint echo of Diamnada Galas in closer "Falling Blonde", but where Galas seems intent on barely containing her discordant musical fire, Fohr, instead, pieces her voice into the mix in such a way that it's another instrument, like a cello in a string quartet, for example.

Superbly realized, Reaching For Indigo is a record that attempts to be something more than just the usual indie-rock slab of vinyl. That it is also remarkably listenable and largely free of any heavy-handed pretension says a lot about the skill and talent of Haley Fohr at perfecting her vision as a recording artist. This weeks' most ambitious new release, Reaching For Indigo is available from Drag City on Friday.

[Photo: Julia Dratel]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Accelerated: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Flat Worms (ex-The Babies)

The new one from Flat Worms, out Friday on Castle Face Records, is a fine blast of scuzzy American indie-rock. The band features a few people from other bands: Will Ivy (Dream Boys, Wet Illustrated, Bridez), Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies), and Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sic Alps). So, I suppose that there are going to be lots of people seeking out this release because of those people, and not because this is good garage-y rock.

At their best, Flat Worms deliver a kind of riff on the Ty Segall kind of riff-rocker that lots of folks love. So, that's a quick way of saying that "Motorbike", "Pearl", and "Accelerated", for example, offer up the goods and roar past in a parade of trashy glee. A few numbers here, like "Faultline" and "Red Hot Sand", try to vary the formula but, by and large, most of this self-titled release from Flat Worms is music that's more or less of one style. And the degree to which a listener likes this record is down to how much he or she is willing to tolerate 10 songs where every song is fuzzy and scuzzy, and each track is regressive and borderline disposable. I found lots of this a lot of fun, but admit that there's a certain sameness here that could use some of the tempo changes one might find on a Ty Segall record, for instance. Still, Flat Worms works remarkably well in small doses.

Out Friday on Castle Face Records, Flat Worms by Flat Worms is one of this week's best releases.

[Photo: Cayal Unger]

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Curious Man: A Brief Review Of The New Cut Worms EP

The debut EP from Cut Worms, Alien Sunset, out Friday on Jagjaguwar, was a pleasant surprise to me. Max Clarke, the guy who is Cut Worms, has really crafted a few striking songs here.

If the title cut echoes certain mid-Sixties numbers from Ray Davies and The Kinks, the far more twang-y "Don't Want To Say Good-Bye" suggests both Phil and Don, as well as, oddly, T. Rex. Similarly, the aching "A Curious Man" looks to earlier eras for inspiration, while the lengthy-yet-lovely "Song of The Highest Tower" made me think of Girls and even Pavement, even as the vocals nodded in the direction of the the more vulnerable moments on Syd Barrett solo records. It, and the sublime "Like Going Down Sideways", are the clear highlights of this fine EP.

Alien Sunset will be out on Friday via Jagjaguwar. More details on Cut Worms via the band's official website, or via the official Cut Worms Facebook page.

[Photo: Caroline Gohlke]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Big Bad Thing: A Few Words About The Fine New Jazz Butcher Box From Fire Records

It's odd now to think that I once thought of The Jazz Butcher as a Creation Records band. Well, they were a Creation Records band for a time but, having given a listen or two (or few dozen) to the new 4-CD box from Fire Records called The Wasted Years, I think it's safe to say that the earlier version of this band were far too iconoclastic and original to be pigeonholed by any easy label, um, label. The music here spans the band's first 4 records -- In Bath Of Bacon (1983), A Scandal in Bohemia (1984), Sex and Travel (1985), and Distressed Gentlefolk (1986) -- and the selections here routinely offer up to an even half-attentive casual listener some of the best UK indie one is likely to encounter from this era. For those of us who knew some of this, or lots of this, and were well-aware of front-man Pat Fish's skills and genius, this set is a gift that reaffirms all that, and serves as an easy way to re-acquaint ourselves with this band's very best material.

In Bath Of Bacon (1983) succeeds when it offers up music that largely doesn't give a fig about any trends of the era, like the throwaway "Love Kittens" or the fun "Sex Engine Thing", Fish crafting material that's witty, if not entirely well-considered (the regrettable "Chinatown", for instance). Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that some of this is indeed jazzy in a roundabout way ("Bigfoot Motel", for example). Still, there remain a few genuine nuggets here ("Zombie Love", or the aching "Party Time", perhaps).

Album number 2 from The Jazz Butcher is what some might argue, the first real Jazz Butcher record. A Scandal in Bohemia (1984) opens with the big, bright, witty pop of "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)", a number that sees front-man Fish name-check band-mates Max Eider and David Jones (David J), 2 big factors into why this record is so good and essential. What pleases the ear still is the extent to which A Scandal in Bohemia (1984) reveals how well Fish and his crew were able to deliver such buoyant and lovely music without having a lot at their disposal. The light "Soul Happy Hour" sees Fish and his band serve up something that has echoes of both Brian Wilson and Roy Orbison in it, and yet which remains delightfully light of touch. Given a bigger budget, and a larger studio, one wonders what Fish could have made of the rollicking "Real Men", or the airy "Mind Like A Playgroup", for instance. Still, that's not to knock what's here but, rather, to highlight how much Pat Fish, Max Eider, and David J were able to deliver within the confines of early Eighties indie trappings.

Sex and Travel from 1985 is a superb record, and it's clearly the highlight of this Fire Records set. Opening with the lyrical "Big Saturday", the album serves up some of Pat Fish's best material. As he straddles territory that's both indie proper, and something a bit more adventurous, Fish seems to have finally found his style here, and so, The Jazz Butcher is a real band here, at least on this record. The spry "What's The Matter Boy?" nods in the direction of the band's earlier records but with far more success and confidence, while the pointed "President Reagan's Birthday Present" reflects the era's very real political concerns, as does "Red Pets" to some extent. And, as others have undoubtedly pointed out, "Holiday" seems Pat Fish's grab at the Ray Davies mantle, even if it sounds a bit like stuff from Robyn Hitchcock in the era.

If 1986's Distressed Gentlefolk was anything, it was likely the entry-point into The Jazz Butcher for a lot of Yanks, given the album's release via the BMG-associated Big Time label here in the States. "Big Bad Thing" sounds more robust and it's an indication that this record marked a turning point for the band. As Fish says on the band's official website, the band were drinking a lot at this time, making things a bit wobbly. And, sure there's a slight disconnect between the more routine indie of "Nothing Special" and the lovely and genuinely-jazzy "Who Loves You Now", for example. Still, there's a real breadth of material here and a listener shouldn't gripe too much about the leap from the gently-ramshackle "Domestic Animal" to the lush "Still in the Kitchen" when the difference in material indicates how in command Pat Fish remained in these years. The final record before the band's leap to Creation Records, Distressed Gentlefolk remains an odd collection of suitably odd indie-pop but there is, like elsewhere on The Wasted Years, a lot of heart and insight on offer here.

Perhaps wisely, the folks at Fire Records didn't attempt to compile the "best" Jazz Butcher cuts here on The Wasted Years. Rather, by serving up the first 4 albums, The Wasted Years serves, instead, as a 41-track crash-course into one of the best, more underrated, and creative acts from those wilderness years between the first few waves of post-punk and the semi-renaissance of the C86 period and after. Wildly unlike anything else being cranked out in the early Eighties on either side of the Atlantic, the music of The Jazz Butcher was richly lyrical, decidedly melodic, and wholly fresh. And it remains so now, more than 3 decades later. One of the odd side-effects of the fact that The Jazz Butcher have been perpetually underrated is that, finally, they will get some real attention as The Wasted Years is a superb introduction into their music, as well as a remarkably and convenient way to get a lot of great music all at once.

The Wasted Years is out on Friday via Fire Records. More details on The Jazz Butcher via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited from label]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Your Picture: A Few Words About The New One From King Leg

Discovered by Dwight Yoakam, King Leg is a whiz-kid from the West Coast who's got a knack for channeling Roy Orbison and "Sing Your Life"-era Morrissey with equal measures of success. Quite simply, one of the freshest voices I've heard in ages, the debut record from King Leg, called, appropriately enough, Meet King Leg, is the sort of thing that deserves a lot of attention and some real word-of-mouth praise.

As album opener "Great Outdoors" bursts forth in a blast of chiming, Byrds-ian glee, a listener should rejoice that somethings can still surprise. Building on the successes of the Paisley Underground bands from the Eighties, and from mentor Yoakam's stuff too, King Leg is here delivering music that's catchy and joyously melodic. If the deliberate "Your Picture" suggests some weird-yet-wonderful melding of the styles of Billy Bragg and The Proclaimers, the fine "Loneliness" sees King Leg sound less like Roy Orbison for a bit and more like a young, hiccup-y Buddy Holly. With a backing band offering up a sound that compares favorably to those first few Georgia Satellites tracks, the tune here is, like so much of Meet King Leg, a superb mix of genres. And while "Another Man" shows a softer side of King Leg's approach, the twang-y struts of "Seeing You Tonight" and "Walking Again" recall the fertile Eighties when listeners could find music like this coming regularly from both Los Lobos and Marshall Crenshaw. Still, all that being said, what surprises the most about King Leg is his voice; how could a singer like this only just now be getting some mainstream attention? And, in what only makes perfect sense given those Morrissey-meets-Roy Orbison-descriptions of this cat, he's added a cover of "Running Scared" to the selections here on Meet King Leg. A successful cover that Orbison himself would probably have enjoyed, King Leg and his band embellish the number with a rich backing track that suggests both the glory days of country music, as well as the sort of lush pop from the era in which Roy himself recorded most of his best work.

Meet King Leg is, quite simply, a blast. Delightfully retro and entirely of the moment, the record offers suitably appreciative nods to past pioneers while striking out on a sonic path that suggests something new altogether. Fans of BoDeans, Roy Orbison, and The Plimsouls, for instance, should find lots to love here. It is indeed rare that I can say I was surprised by something given the vast amount of music I routinely consume, but, dammit, this one caught me wonderfully off-guard. What a lot of fun Meet King Leg is!

Meet King Leg will be out on Friday via WBR. More details on King Leg via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Emily Joyce]

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Glow Won't Fade: A Few Words About The New Album From The Jet Age

Okay, Friday the 13th might seem like an unlikely day to drop a new album, but maybe the fact that At The End Of The World is album number 7 from The Jet Age should offset any bad juju lurking in this Halloween season.

I think Eric Tischler, front-man of the long-running D.C.-area band, would argue that the current White House resident is scarier than any ghoul or ghost, and he'd be right about that. And, to that end, the new one from The Jet Age has a cover that suggests a political point to some of these new compositions and, while there is some of that here -- the twin title-cuts with their bracketed locations, for example -- Tischler still excels at chronicling the world inside the everyday man, the personal becoming political, as matters of heart and home become grand things.

All that being said, At The End Of The World is, perhaps, this band's easiest record to jump into, seeing as how it's NOT a concept album, per se. While 2014's Jukebox Memoir, reviewed by me here, seemed the "Fun" outlier in the band's catalog, it was also an indication that Tischler was broadening his focus and beginning to divorce himself of the very Townshend-like need to couch things in a narrative shell. So, while At The End Of The World seems to largely exist on its own as a collection of individual songs, it serves the purpose of being the Who's Next to the band's earlier attempts at Quadrophenia, if you get my meaning. And, somehow, the material has lost none of its heft through this approach.

If "The Ice Is Cracked" suggests a frantic undertow roiling underneath it all, the more familiar "I Had A Dream" reassures that this band -- Tischler, bassist Greg Bennett, and drummer Pete Nuwayser -- still have things under control, as the cut fits what we expect -- and want -- from every Jet Age record. So, while "Tied To The Mast" charts a new path via some nearly-pretty hooks, the churning "The Glow Won't Fade" marries a Nuggets-era kind of recorded chaos with Tischler's comfortable Who-nods. Similarly, "Your Sweet Nothings" sees the band return, if only furtively, to the funk-pop tributes of the Jukebox Memoir (2014) record, before "A Field Of Green" shatters the mood, Tischler working in a few guitar roars that suggest nothing so much as highlights from the superb Nowehere (1990) from Ride. Similarly, the woozy "Which Part's The Dream?" indicates that no matter how much Tischler looks to The Who, he still yearns to be in a shoegaze band.

And, at his best, Tischler manages to corral an undeniably potent force in this band -- not for nothing was his previous group called The Hurricane Lamps -- with Bennett and Nuwayser next to him. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the magnificent sonic-riot of "The Script", a cut which, anchored near the end of the record, serves as a rich stew of all of the influences that have shaped this group over the last 11 years or so. Because if At The End Of The World is anything, it's a nice return to the styles from the earlier years of this band, Tischler and crew sounding nearly loose and improvisational here, despite the necessarily grim bookend tunes, and the album's title. For if the last album proper from The Jet Age, 2015's magisterial Destroy. Rebuild, reviewed by me here, was the band's big push to try on new, Important lyrical concerns -- "I Can't Breathe", a standout in that regard -- this one serves as sign of the band's mature ability to harness sonic power and sharp lyrical concerns outside of a rigid concept album structure, and without being too heavy-handed about things.

So, yeah, to circle back to the review's title, the glow hasn't faded here; if anything, The Jet Age sound more in command than ever before. And At The End Of The World, then, is surely proof that they are comfortable diverging from their own formula, however slightly, in pursuit of something elusive that Tischler's guitar slashes at, Bennett's bass counts down to, and Nuwayer's drum-hits attempt to beat into submission. Like Tischler's lyrical protagonists, The Jet Age are constantly straining against their own self-imposed shackles, and the glory for a listener is in that tension, the moments of its release, and the spaces in-between all that.

At The End Of The World is out now. More details via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: me]

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Quick Review Of The New Album From Weird Owl

The new record from Weird Owl is a a head-trip, really. Produced by Psychic TV guitarist Jeff Berner and with a guest appearance by Genesis P-Orridge, Bubblegum Brainwaves is the band's sixth release in recent years and it's a lot of fun.

Numbers like "Invisibility Cloak" bristle with a nice blend of psych-rock and New Wave, while "Black Never White" offers up sleeker textures. If "Such A Myth" is downright lovely, that moment of calm on the record is offset by the blistering "War" which is fuzzier and rougher around the edges. If some of this is a little loose, like the epic-length "Bartholomew Iris", far more successful is "Tired Old Sun" which closes the record on a nice melange of the many elements at play in the output of Weird Owl.

Bubblegum Brainwaves is out tomorrow. It is an adventurous and lively record of the sort that should please fans of bands as diverse as MGMT, Super Furry Animals, and The Flaming Lips. More details are available via the Bandcamp link below, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited from band's Facebook page]

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Off The Lot: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Melkbelly (Ahead Of Their D.C. Show At Comet Ping Pong Next Week)

The new album from Melkbelly, Nothing Valley, out on Wax Nine on Friday, is a record that's full of energy and sparks of wild creativity. That it also sounds like a few classic alt-rock pioneers doesn't hurt either.

If opener one-two-punch "Off The Lot" and "Kid Kreative" echoes stuff from Bettie Serveert and The Breeders, an astute listener can also hear the parts where Melkbelly add their own unique spin on these tested college rock styles. Elsewhere, the languid "Greedy Gull" marries bits of Goo-era Sonic Youth to the Melkbelly formula. Even more successful is "Helloween" which offers a more expansive form of this sort of thing. This Chicago-based band are not necessarily re-inventing the wheel here, but they have managed to find a way to invest this all with a lot of fire and passion.

Melkbelly's music feels familiar and I didn't mind that when I listened to this record. Instead, I sort of enjoyed how pieces of Nothing Valley reminded me of bands I really liked. And I especially enjoyed the pieces here that seemed to offer new spins on this sort of music. Melkbelly work up a tremendous amount of energy here and there's enough distinctive material to make me recommend this one to fans of stuff like PJ Harvey, Th' Faith Healers, or Wussy.

Nothing Valley is out on Wax Nine on Friday. More details on Melkbelly via the band's official Facebook page.

Melkbely is playing Washington, D.C. next week at Comet Ping Pong, Wednesday, October 18. Comet is on Connecticut Avenue. Dig it!

[Photo: Lenny Gilmore]

Have You Met Me: A Few Words About The New One From Spectrums (ex-Sansyou)

Spectrums is a new D.C.-area trio made up of members of Sansyou, Cobra Collective, and The Third Proramme. The players here include David Barker on guitars, Simon Ley on drums, and David Nicholas on guitars. David Barker was in Cobra Collective and The Third Programme, as was Simon Ley, while David Nicholas was, of course, in Sansyou. The band's debut release, Thanks For Your Kind Words, is out via Bandcamp now.

The music of Spectrums is blissfully unpretentious instrumental stuff, with respectful references to bands from the Eighties waves of 4AD bands, as well as suitably appropriate nods in the direction of obvious shoegaze pioneers. The fine "Have You Met Me" echoes Sansyou, while the more deliberate and forceful "It's All You Need" and "Seven" expand the formula by pursuing a less contemplative path. If "Who Asked" references Brotherhood-era New Order a bit, it's the rippling closer "Permanent Victims" that signals another course that this band could pursue as the twin guitar-lines of Barker and Nicholas knit an intricate sonic figure over Ley's jazzy drum fills. Part Dif Juz and part Johnny Marr, the cut is, like the others here, an indication of where Spectrums are drawing inspiration from.

Fans of Pale Saints, Cocteau Twins, and The Durutti Column should find a lot to love here with these 5 cuts from Spectrums. Here's hoping that the band releases more music soon. Thanks For Your Kind Words is out now via Bandcamp. More details on Spectrums via the band's official Facebook page.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Scene Here: A Quick Review Of The New One From Sisters

The new one from Sisters, Wait Don't Wait, is the band's second full-length release in 2017. Out on Friday via Tender Loving Empire, it is a lively set of indie-pop. In fact, the band manages to hop over a few genre labels with a nice sort of ease.

Emily Westman and Andrew Vait are Sisters and the duo kicks things off here with the rollicking "Scene Here" and the more New Wave-flavored "Heart Beats". Elsewhere, the less-jittery "Bird" and "Glitter Lights" serve up sleek and lush electro-pop, while "Y Do U Take So Long?" refines that formula down into something approximating Eurythmics at their best. Closer "Love You Too" showcases the rich vocals of Emily Westman to great effect.

Wait Don't Wait is largely a fun record, and it's at its most fun when Sisters don't seem to be trying too hard. Westman and Andrew Vait have a way with a jaunty melody and lots of this is a blast. Full of tunes and buoyant hooks, this new one from Sisters is a nice little surprise for listeners this Fall.

Wait Don't Wait is out on Friday via Tender Loving Empire. More details on Sisters via the link below.

[Photo: Stanton Stephens]

Monday, October 9, 2017

Phantom Limbo: A Brief Review Of The New One From A. Savage (Parquet Courts)

I've made it a habit on this site to not post too many negative (music) reviews so I guess the fact that I'm posting this at all tells you that I liked some things about the debut solo record from a member of Parquet Courts. A. Savage is offering up Thawing Dawn on Friday via Dull Tools. And, guess what? It sounds nothing like Parquet Courts so don't get your little indie hopes up.

What Thawing Dawn does sound like, instead, is a decent artist dabbling in a few other genres. A more cynical view would be to to say that it's modern indie-rock's hot take on the far superior Exile On Main Street, or any number of Neil Young records from the start of the Seventies. At his infrequent best here, Savage works himself up into a neat approximation of Leonard Cohen and Beat Happening ("Indian Style", "Wild Wild Horses"). At his worst, he meanders down roads that are best left untrod as the drawled-out "Ladies From Houston" and "What Do I Do" make abundantly clear. Gone here are the sharp edges of virtually any Parquet Courts record. In the place of something marginally sharp and bright, we get this sort of sub-stoner rock stuff that suggests the very worst sort of material one could make by copying Palace Brothers without any of Will Oldham's heartfelt delivery. Still, at least on the title cut and "Phantom Limbo" A. Savage offers up a few noisy moments that suggest a more adventurous path, one that, regrettably, A. Savage didn't take on so much of this record.

Thawing Dawn by A.. Savage is out on Friday via Dull Tools.

[Photo: Vince McLelland]

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Where Does The Sadness Come From? A Few Words About The Fine New One From The Granite Shore (The Distractions, The June Brides)

That fellow up there is Nick Halliwell. He was in The Distractions, a band you probably should have heard of. These days he's in the band The Granite Shore with Phil Wilson of The June Brides. The group is about to release the follow-up to their excellent 2015 long-player in a few days. Suspended Second will be out on Friday via Occultation Records and it is, as you might expect, also something of a masterpiece, an epic of precise instrumentation and trenchant lyricism. Put simply, I cannot stress enough how special this record is.

Along with Halliwell and Wilson, The Granite Shore features Arash Torabi on bass, Ian Henderson on drums, Steve Perrin on guitars and backing vocals, and John Howard on piano and backing vocals. The players, and the passages of music they provide, are all under the watchful eye of leader Halliwell, who is also the producer of this one as that pic up there illustrates. Of a piece, the numbers here make up what some would call a sort of concept album but that shouldn't scare you off. What that term should indicate, instead, is how intricately intertwined the cuts are here.

As opener "So It Begins" gently starts only to build up into something with the wit and liveliness of a rollicking mid-Nineties single from Pulp, a listener is brought into the world of The Granite Shore easily. If this is chamber pop, Halliwell is intent on finding the big pop hooks that this material can yield, even amid borderline-dour lyrical concerns. The superb "Outside, Looking In" tackles Brexit with a deftness of touch that is really remarkable. If Halliwell's lyrics indicate a cynicism and weariness with the whole issue, the tune itself brings those emotions forward with all the pep of an old June Brides single. Even more so than on the band's first album, Halliwell seems entirely in command here, his vision one that has been translated easily by these players. "There's Always One" speaks, perhaps, to bands breaking up and players moving on, but it follows the Granite Shore formula of a string of small, intimate moments offered up before a big chorus. "Where Does The Sadness Come From?" pulls in pre-disco Bee-Gees numbers for inspiration for its surprisingly-infectious chorus, while the epic-length "The Performance of a Lifetime" looks again at Brexit but also at something else, perhaps.

The admirable thing about the lyrics here on this new album from The Granite Shore is that the words matter, even as things remain a bit opaque and obscure at times. Rather than offer up a clutch of polemics, Halliwell has served up something with a bit more nuance, something from the pen of a classicist. And so, Suspended Second is that rarest of things: a concept album that isn't pretentious. The closest comparison point seems to be Odessey and Oracle where the elegant rock of The Zombies found its full perfection. Similarly, The Granite Shore have delivered a stately song-cycle here with Suspended Second, an album where the individual songs sound fantastic but better when taken as a whole.

Seemingly a record of the British zeitgeist these days, the music made by The Granite Shore in 2017 is elegiac and necessarily mournful. That it is also buoyantly tuneful is praise that should be added to that description. Still, Suspended Second captures a mood in the air, and Halliwell has here offered a eulogy for something that has been snuffed out in England. For the record isn't just about Brexit but, rather, something larger, something that's died in the modern character. There's a seriousness of intent here that -- thankfully -- did not load this down with too much weight, despite all my talk hereabouts of the Brexit stuff.

The Granite Shore make music that strives to be something more than just the usual fluff. What this is is the elevation of the pop song into something approaching Art, and that that elevation has been achieved 9 times here on Suspended Second is thanks to the strengths of Halliwell, Wilson, Torabi, Henderson, Perrin, and Howard. And if the lyrics speak of the death of modern England, or somehow obliquely mourn the passing of drummer Mike Kellie who was on the first Granite Shore record, that's just a few more layers of meaning on an already richly-rewarding record.

Suspended Second is out on Friday via Occultation Records. More details on The Granite Shore via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: studio pic by Jason Mitchell; Nick Halliwell live pic by Angie Knight]

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Dream Ain't Dead: A Quick Review Of The New One From Sacha Mullin (Dead Rider)

It's hard to believe that Sacha Mullin had anything to do with that abrasive record from Dead Rider that I reviewed a few weeks ago seeing as how the lush electro-pop on his new record, Duplex, sounds absolutely nothing like the tunes from that U.S. Maple spin-off.

Duplex is a lovingly-performed homage to the the sort of stuff that was easily labelled New Wave at one point in the past. The aching "Crow" echoes Eighties Erasure and even David Sylvian singles, complete with Sakamoto-style piano chords throughout. If "Dive" is similar, with nods to early Rufus Wainwright creeping through as well, the more adventurous "ユーレカ" pursues a more rhythmic path, bursts of percussion underpinning Mullin's soaring vocals. The cut is in Japanese, no less, with a title that translates to "Eureka", according to Google. The excellent "Dream Ain't Dead" marries a vocal performance that bears worthy comparison to Billy Mackenzie sides, with piano hooks that recall early Tori Amos singles. The second half of Duplex is more conventional but no less endearing, cuts like "Accept Treasure" and the spry "Applejack" recalling the things one loves so much about Rufus Wainwright ballads, for lack of an easier comparison. This is really distinctive stuff and Mullin is to be applauded for not only drawing inspiration from such worthy artists, but for pulling off this whole thing without a whole lot of pretension about the entire endeavor.

This is the sort of album that shouldn't slip under the radar as Duplex is lovely and adventurous in the right doses. Fans of The Associates, Depeche Mode, Japan, and The Blue Nile should find lots to love here, as I did.

More details on Sacha Mullin via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Jim Newberry]

Friday, October 6, 2017

In The Mirror: A Few Words About The New One From Nurses

Aaron Chapman and John Bowers are Nurses. They make music that falls outside of any easy genre label. They have made a new album called Naughtland and it's out today. That's about all I can say about this record that will sound conventional.

If opener "In The Mirror" has a nice lush majesty, then the clanging "Fortress" edges closer to territory usually occupied by the likes of MGMT, maybe. Elsewhere, the lovely "Afterlife" nods in the direction of electro-pop pioneers from earlier decades, while "Why" goes even further back, to early post-punk provocateurs, for inspiration. As Naughtland progresses, it gets more interesting and difficult, with numbers like the title cut echoing old Marc Almond records, or even Fad Gadget ones. Still, things end on a lovely note with "Yours To Keep", a bridge between the "difficult" and "lush" on this record.

Naughtland is out as of today. More details via the link below, or from the band's official Facebook page

[Photo: Chantal Anderson]

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Word Or Two About The New Album From Nazoranai

The new album from Nazoranai, Beginning To Fall In Line Before Me, So Decorously, The Nature Of All That Must Be Transformed, is out tomorrow on Superior Viaduct. It is a challenging record of what some would call "extreme" music, but it's also a brave and fairly-accessible release from this super-group of sorts.

Keiji Haino, Oren Ambarchi, and Stephen O’Malley are Nazoranai. Haino is in the Japanese band Fushitsusha, while Ambarchi is a leading figure in Australia's heavy rock scene, and O’Malley is from Sunn O))), a band that's got its own multitudes of fans of its brand of drone rock. There are only 2 tracks on this album and neither one has a title beyond Part 1 and Part 2. Each track is about 22 or so minutes long and each is distinctive and, simultaneously, a perfect match to the other section, like a loop that can keep going into infinity. If Part 1 is more like Fripp, a lengthy exploration next to and over top of a metallic squeal, then Part 2 is more Mogwai, rhythmic bits undulating in waves until moments of release.

A superb exploration in sound, Beginning To Fall In Line Before Me, So Decorously, The Nature Of All That Must Be Transformed, is out tomorrow on Superior Viaduct. Nazoranai are making music on another level here, and attentive and appreciative listeners should rejoice for that.

[Photo: Superior Viaduct]

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kept It All To Myself: A Word Or Two About The New One From The Weather Station

The band The Weather Station is essentially Tamara Lindeman. The band's fourth album, one that is self-titled, is out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors, and it's a fine record.

Stuff here like "Free" and "You and I (On The Other Side of the World)" has an easy, lilting quality that bridges the folk and rock worlds with ease, but it's other numbers here, like the spry "Kept It All For Myself", that really charmed me. The cut, like a few others here, succeeds largely because Tamara Lindeman sounds a lot like Joni Mitchell, and others of that generation of revered singer-songwriters. Even on something down-tempo, like the striking "Thirty", Lindeman delivers a song that owes as much to Laura Nyro as it does to Mitchell. And that's not to say that this is derivative but, rather, that it's of a piece with the work of those classic songwriters. Elsewhere, the supple "Complicit" rides a jazzy hook to pop success, while other numbers on The Weather Station blend a touch of alt-country with modern folk to great effect.

The Weather Station by The Weather Station is an unassuming record that offers up the kind of well-crafted folk-pop, for lack of a better term, that the world needs more of. Listeners should find a lot to love here in the same way I did. The Weather Station is out on Friday via Paradise of Bachelors. More details via the official Facebook page for The Weather Station.

[Photo: Shervin Lainez]

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I Want You: A Brief Review Of The Fab New Album From Alex Lahey

Alex Lahey put out an EP earlier this year and I somehow didn't cover it. She played D.C. earlier this year and I missed that due to work commitments and I regret that. And now, having heard the absolutely superb I Love You Like A Brother, her new album that drops on Dead Oceans on Friday, I am determined to make up for my mistakes in the past and trumpet, loudly, how wonderful this Australian woman's brand of indie-pop is.

A record that is seemingly that rare "album full of hit singles", every cut on I Love You Like A Brother positively pops with the sort of contagious joy that New Wave used to have. From the buzz of opener "Every Day's The Weekend" and on to the delightful title cut, Alex Lahey commands this material like an expert. The ebullient and witty "I Haven't Been Taking Care Of Myself" marries a faint glam-stomp with the sort of bright pop-crunch listeners haven't heard much of this decade for a number that is instantly buried in your ears. Blissfully punchy, this is power-pop of the very best sort, closer to old Cheap Trick singles than it is to current Courtney Barnett ones. Elsewhere, "Awkward Exchange" offers a mid-tempo dabble in electro-pop, while the more successful "I Want U" serves up New Order-style textures underneath a vocal delivery that's equal parts Chrissie Hynde-style bravado and vulnerability. Lahey is a remarkably charming singer and it's hard to believe that this is her first full-length album given how successful so much of this is. Still, the more introspective churn of "There's No More Money" wasn't as memorable for me, even as the complex "Lotto in Reverse" seemed to suggest that she's got a knack for melding her witty lyrics with something more intricate, the hook a big one still, even awash in electronic sheen.

Delightfully self-assured and full of the sort of material that one used to proudly call New Wave, the tunes on I Love You Like A Brother are just things of joy. Winning the prize for "2017 Record That's Easiest To Instantly Love", this Alex Lahey release is just a blast. I can think of few other offerings this year that have yielded so many cuts to put on mixes for the car stereo, if you know what I mean? Bits of The Plimsouls, The Go-Go's, and Fountains of Wayne are here as influences but it's Alex's charm as a front-person that really makes so much of this work so well. What an enjoyable record this one turned out to be!

I Love You Like A Brother will be out on Dead Oceans on Friday. Follow Alex Lahey on her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Giula McGauran]

Monday, October 2, 2017

Light A Candle: A Few Words About The New Album From Ducktails

The new Ducktails album, Jersey Devil, drops on Friday via the artist's own New Images label. That it is something special will probably not be news to this guy's fans as those legions know the sort of indie-pop that's going to be on offer here.

Matt Mondanile -- Ducktails -- got John Anderson (Girls, Sky Ferreira) to produce, compose a few pieces, and play some guitar. Back-up vocals were provided by Malcolm Perkins and Samira Winter, and John da Costa played drums. Chi Yoon Hae of South Korean band Parasol played bass. All that being said, Jersey Devil is really Mondanile's baby.

Numbers like "Map To The Stars" and "Light A Candle" use Eighties New Wave textures in the service of indie-pop that is more of this century. Richly lyrical, cuts like "Keeper of the Garden" echo both earlier acts like O.M.D. and Nineties mainstays like Death Cab for Cutie. The effect is a distinctive one but Mondanile seems to have a knack for making this work without a lot of pretension. Elsewhere, "Solitary Star" and "Mannequin" are a bit more buoyant, percolating with rhythmic inspiration. Still, Mondanile and his crew are better when they let the lushness of the material take over, like on the closer "The Rising Sun" with its waves of keyboard figures undulating under the smooth vocals.

Jersey Devil is simple, melodic pop of a unique sort. The closest comparison point I can offer is, maybe, stuff from East River Pipe or Durutti Column. But whatever the strengths of those 2 formidable acts, Ducktails pursues other avenues, ones full of sharp New Wave hooks wrapped up in lo-fi packages, little bedsit symphonies, to borrow a phrase.

Jersey Devil is out on Friday via the New Images label. Follow Ducktails via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Facebook photo]

Sunday, October 1, 2017

These Are The Days: A Few Words About The New One From Speaking Suns

The new record from Ohio's Speaking Suns is a lengthy, exhaustively-tuneful record. Out last Friday on Anyway Records, Range is also full of bright, mature power-pop that deserves some real attention.

This Ohio four-piece have a knack for melding a bunch of disparate influences into a fairly distinctive brand of alt-rock. If "Modern Love" recalls a few New Zealand bands from earlier decades, the lyrical and poppy "Honing In" and "The Void" echo numbers from more current acts. Elsewhere, stuff like "Out Of Range" and "So Sure" suggest an odd mix of Eighties Pink Floyd and Jellyfish, while the buoyant "These Are The Days" earns favorable comparisons to mid-period stuff from The Jayhawks, or Wilco. One negative here is that the songs are all a bit long, with the expansive "River" topping out near the 10-minute mark. For a new band, Speaking Suns are perhaps biting off more than they can chew with this approach, despite some strong strengths on display here. That said, the numbers are all relatively fine examples of modern power-pop, even if they are all uniformly too long.

There's a lot to love on Range, out now on Anyway Records, and I do highly recommend it to fans of bands of robust and decidedly-melodic alt-rock. Follow Speaking Suns via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited, via Anyway Records]

In Blue: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Yumi Zouma

New Zealand's Yumi Zouma make music that seems so simple, and yet it is rich and wildly melodic. The band's new album, Willowbank, drops on Cascine on Friday and I'm here to tell you why you should get it.

Numbers here, like the soaring "December" and the undulating "Half Hour", are bits of sleek modern rock that recall the glory days of bands on the 4AD label, as well as disparate influences like Frente! and New Order. The line-up here -- Christie Simpson, Charlie Ryder, Josh Burgess, and Sam Perry -- offer up a remarkably easygoing take on this sort of thing, and the tunes flow past without a lot of pretension or over-production. A number like "Us, Together" is gloriously lush even if it's modest and mellow. Elsewhere, the lyrical "Persephone" sees Christie Simpson sing over the top of a sleek, supple electronic texture that, oddly, recalls some moments on earlier Pale Saints records, or mid-Nineties ones from Cocteau Twins. None of my praise is meant to peg this lot a shoegaze outfit, but, clearly, fans of "ethereal" stuff might find a lot to love here. A closer comparison, rather, is the newest one from Slowdive as, like that band, Yumi Zouma have a knack for taking the simplest of elements and crafting them into something lovely and simplistically compelling.

Willowbank is out on Cascine on Friday. You can follow Yumi Zouma via the band's official Facebook page, or via the band's official website.

[Photo: Aaron Lee]