Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reverence: A Few Pics From The Jesus And Mary Chain Concert In Baltimore Last Night

Work commitments prevented me from going out to to see The Jesus and Mary Chain at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore last night. But, luckily, talented photographer Nalinee Darmrong was able to attend and shoot some pics that I could share here. If you haven't already, be sure to get her book of photos of The Smiths from when she followed the band around America and England in the Eighties. It is truly a fabulous document of a fabulous era. There's a link over there on the sidebar, or just go to Rizzoli Books to buy her book.

All photos are the property of Nalinee Darmrong.

More details via her official website, or her Facebook page

The Jesus and Mary Chain are touring in support of their latest record, Damage and Joy. More details on The Jesus and Mary Chain via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.






Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Rocking Days: A Brief Review Of The New Compilation From The Cleaners From Venus (Martin Newell)

A new release associated in any way with Martin Newell is something to perk up about. That the release is a rarities compilation, like Martin Newell's Jumble Sale, is yet another reason to get excited. The odds-and-sods collection will drop on Friday and I'm here to tell you how wonderful it is. Now, if you are even halfway a fan of Martin's, you'll realize what an understatement that is.

When diving into Martin Newell's Jumble Sale, a listener should marvel at how consistent this stuff is, especially since it's not sequenced chronologically. That means that a cut like the Kinks-recalling "A Bluebeat Kid" from 1979 sounds fine when propped up next to the chiming XTC-isms of "Red Guitars and Silver Tambourines" from earlier this year. Similarly, the faux-rockabilly of 1980's "My Rocking Days" sits comfortably next to the Robyn Hitchcock-esque "The Lunatic Lantern" from 2011. Elsewhere, the gentle "English Girl on a Horse" from 2015 mines a vein less power-pop and more cocktail jazz, before the absolutely sublime "Moonraking" from 2003 proceeds to haunt the ear on first and every subsequent listen. The ballad is so thoroughly perfect that a long-time Newell fan is almost taken by surprise by how a beauty like this could be counted as a rarity and go (presumably) unreleased or hard-to-find until now. Similarly, "That Kind of a Day" marries a jaunty melodic-line with one of Newell's most playful vocal performances from recent years, the 2014 number shining as a highlight here on Martin Newell's Jumble Sale. The collection ends with the one-two punch of New Wave-y "Ain't No Silicone Chip" from 1979, Newell trying his hand at the sort of electro-pop then the rage on both sides of the Atlantic, and then the final cut, "Somewhere in 1975..." from 1975, all Bowie-styled glam pleading mixed with a McCartney-like way with a direct hook.

Thoroughly listenable, essential for fans, and a fine compilation of English power-pop, Martin Newell's Jumble Sale is this week's most necessary purchase. The compilation is out on Friday. More details below.

[Photo: Uncredited 2014 promo pic]

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lift A Finger: A Quick Review Of The New Album From OCS (Thee Oh Sees)

In the same year that they've changed their name from Thee Oh Sees to simply Oh Sees, timed to the release of their last album, Orc, John Dwyer's outfit have decided to confound expectations and change their name again (this time to OCS) and drop yet another record. Memory Of A Cut Off Head, out Friday on Castle Face Records, is also the group's best recent release and a contender for one of 2017's best American indie records.

Opening with the Jimmy Webb-isms of the title cut, and leading into the stately chamber pop of "The Remote Viewer", a spin of the record reveals a change in direction to go along with the name change. Less fuzzy garage rock and more like leftovers from a Left Banke session, the best numbers on Memory Of A Cut Off Head are superb examples of the strengths of Dwyer as a composer and front-man. Stuff like the spacious "On And On Corridor" recalls Broadcast a bit, Brigid Dawon's vocals bringing to mind those of the late Trish Keenan in spots here, while the more languid "The Fool" approaches a Nico-like starkness that is at odds with earlier Thee Oh Sees records. Maybe it was a good idea for Dwyer to change the band's name? Elsewhere, the complicated "Time Tuner" faintly echoes the Cale compositions from one of the first 2 Velvet Underground records, while the elegant closer, "Lift A Finger", somehow manages to channel early Stereolab and recent Clientele offerings with an ornate precision.

Memory Of A Cut Off Head is, in some ways, shockingly different from earlier Thee Oh Sees records, given its focus on a very specific kind of pop-craft. That said, it's still discernibly a John Dwyer affair, equal parts backwards glances to Sixties archetypes and forward looks into a kind of visionary future indie-rock.

More details on OCS via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page. Memory Of A Cut Off Head is out on Friday via Castle Face Records.

[Photo: John Dwyer]

Much More Than That: A Quick Look At The New Reissue Of The First Sharon Van Etten Album

The debut album from Sharon Van Etten, (it was) because I was in love, is the sort of record that seems nearly too intimate to be easily understood by a mass audience. That said, the rare ability possessed by Sharon as a singer is the ease with which she makes the personal something to be sung and shared. And with the reissue of her debut, out Friday on Vinyl Me, Please, and the usual digital outlets, more and more fans will be added to those who are already well-acquainted with her skills as a singer and songwriter.

At her best here, like on the aching "Consolation Prize", Van Etten bridges the kind of folk-rock played by Joni Mitchell with the indie-folk of early Elliott Smith. At times painful, the lyrics and tunes drip with a sort of lived-in warmth that very few other performers can pull off without appearing too precious. On "Much More Than That", the melodic turns and vocal-lines suggest the best material that Sandy Denny brought to life, while the more upbeat "It's Not Like" seems to draw equal bits of inspiration from Joni (again, for the vocals) and Jimmy Page (for the supple guitar hooks). Fans of Laura Nyro should find a lot to love with the gentle "Have You Seen" and the quietly-lovely "For You", 2 numbers that seem like confessions sung by Sharon with nary a thought given for the possibility of an audience, or a listener ever hearing them. The strength of Van Etten's approach remains that kind of fearlessness, an attempt to simply bring the song to life with the simplest of tools and little ornamentation. And for all those moments that feel like an updating of folk styles from an earlier era, something like "Tornado" stuns with its melodic verve, a sideways hook warped under a madrigal in the style of Mary Margaret O'Hara (for those who will get, and appreciate, that reference).

As essential in its approach as was Roman Candle by Elliott Smith, (it was) because I was in love from Sharon Van Etten is a masterpiece of simplicity. Van Etten is so good at this that a listener sometimes marvels at how very much is here behind these lyrics and guitar-lines. Human and unpretentious, Sharon Van Etten, in some ways, redefined the very nature of folk music with her debut record. Get it, or get reacquainted with it, this Friday.

More details via Sharon Van Etten's official website. The reissue of (it was) because I was in love is out on Friday via Vinyl Me, Please, and the usual digital outlets.

[Photo: Miche Williams]

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rattle On: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Golden Boys

The new album from The Golden Boys, Better Than Good Times, is the type of release that's going to catch a lot of people off guard. The album, out on Friday via 12XU, is a collection of surprisingly riotous and rollicking American indie of the sort in short supply these days.

The Golden Boys -- Nay Nay Arbeitman, Matt Hoopengardner, Patrick Travis, John Wesley Coleman III, and Bryan Schmitz -- make raucous tunes like "So Cowoby" and the lyrical "Cincinnati" work in the manner of old Replacements numbers, for lack of an easier comparison. The nearly-lovely "Kick The Can" offers up a near-twang-y vibe, while the excellent and catchy "She's A Song" made me think of the music of The Grifters. Elsewhere, the title cut and the punchy "Lonely Girls" deliver pure adrenaline, while the ragged "Rattle On" clangs with an impressive sense of abandon. "Let The Cold Wind Blow" even adds a faint hint of Nicky Hopkins-era Stones to the mix as this record closes.

The sixth album from this lot, Better Than Good Times from The Golden Boys is a blast of a record. Thoroughly unpretentious and full of furiously direct indie-rock, this one is sure to please fans of bands as disparate as The Jayhawks, Pavement, and Big Black.

Better Than Good Times is out on Friday via 12XU. More details on the band via that link below.

[Photo: Angela Betancourt]

Space Mates: A Quick Review Of The New Sun Ra Reissue From Superior Viaduct

The folks at Superior Viaduct are truly doing God's work. Following a string of bold recent releases, including that John Frusciante reissue, and that visionary Cindy Lee record, the label is readying a vinyl reissue of Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold, a seminal live recording from the jazz legend. Joined here by sax player Pharoah Sanders prior to Sanders joining Coltrane's band, this is a vital and essential release.

Opening with the glorious cacophony of "Gods on a Safari", this 1964 live recording reveals some masterful playing by Sun Ra on the keys before the roar of "The World Shadow" unveils dueling saxes from Marshall Allen, long-time Sun Ra associate, and Pharoah Sanders. This album's version of the cut is, according to online sources, the earliest known recording of Sun Ra staple "The Shadow World" with its title here reversed. Far more appealing for Sun Ra fans is the swirling racket of "Rocket Ninety Nine" which finds all the player firing on all cylinders, and Sun Ra himself running wild on the piano. Flautist Harold Murray ("Black Harold") shines on both "The Voice of Pan" and "Dawn Over Israel" later on the record. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold closes with the nearly-gentle "Space Mates", Sun Ra favoring a light touch on the keys on this one.

Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold is out on Friday via Superior Viaduct. Fans of both classic jazz and Sun Ra's progression as a musical titan are advised to seek this one out.

Wrap Your Love Around My Heart: In Which I Catch Up With A Few Releases From Lia Pamina

Spanish singer Lia Pamina has recently offered up a few releases on the seminal Elefant Records label and now that I've caught up with these fine records, I'm here to tell you how wonderful the work of this singer is.

Single "Better Off Without You" purrs like an Astrud Gilberto classic, but it's flip "Record Collection" that thoroughly charmed me. The clever lyrical concerns about "...being alone with my record collection" indicate a sort of self-awareness that I liked, even if Lia's breathy vocals carried the light-as-air tune into the stratosphere. The track is that rare cut that manages to please both intellectually and emotionally.

Even more excellent is the Sycamore Tree EP whose title cut sees Lia sing a Sixties-influenced vocal-line over what amounts to a nice mix of bubblegum pop and something more refined. If "One Step" very clearly nods in the direction of Margo Guryan, the direct "Wrap Your Love Around My Heart" echoes Broadcast numbers a tiny bit. Lia reveals herself to be a fine purveyor of this sort of thing and a number like this hints at future greatness from this singer as her music is sure to grow further into something less reliant on its influences.

Lia's final release of 2017 was the "The Boy I Used To Know" single, another breathy throwback to the Bacharach era. The flip-side here, "Cards On The Table", is one of the best things Lia's recorded so far, an elegant bit of chamber pop business that references with measured certainty artists as disparate as Mary Hopkin and John Barry. The number is such a well-crafted piece of indie-pop that a listener spends less time placing the references and more time basking in Lia's voice and her mastery of this sort of thing.

Admittedly, the appeal of Lia Pamina rests on how well she can crank out this sort of very obviously Sixties-styled pop, but her skills run deeper than just those of a revivalist. While lots here will appeal to fans of Margo Guryan, Broadcast, and The Cardigans, the songs will also charm anyone who loves a good hook and who appreciates a very classic sense of how pop should be constructed. On the basis of these singles that I caught up with, I think it's safe to say that Lia Pamina understands what a wonderful art form the great pop single can be. That she also knows how to make great pop singles is why she's a name to pay attention to.

More details on these releases from Lia Pamina via the Elefant Records website.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I Don't Mind: A Quick Word About The New EP From Native Sun

New York's Native Sun sound like about a dozen other bands but they also manage to bring a great deal of energy to this sort of thing. And, for that reason mainly, I'm here to offer a few words of praise about their new EP, Songs Born From Love And Hate, out Friday via Paper Cup Music.

Naturally, some of this looks to The Strokes for inspiration, namely opener "Sister" which sounds like a band trying very hard to sound like the bands that inspired The Strokes maybe more than The Strokes themselves. Elsewhere, the superb "I Don't Mind" roars past like The Hives or early Supergrass, all revved-up riffs and approximations of a bad attitude, while the melodic "Palindrome" brings a nice power-pop snap to things. Far less successful are the 2 longer songs on the EP which seem a tiny bit aimless but, hey, this is a very new band and there's more to like on Songs Born From Love And Hate than there are things to nitpick.

Songs Born From Love And Hate is out on Friday via Paper Cup Music. More details on Native Sun from the band's official Facebook page.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On The Edge Of A New Age: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Teen Daze

Following on from his earlier offering this year, the exquisite Themes For Dying Earth, Jamison Isaak is back with a new Teen Daze record already. The sublime Themes For A New Earth is out today on Jamison's own FLORA label and it's the sort of release I would highly recommend to attentive listeners.

Opening with the feather-light "Shibuya Again", Isaak then segues into the gently-propulsive "On The Edge Of A New Age" with its rippling guitar-figures and delicate keyboard-lines. Elsewhere, "River Walk" reminded me of the sort of thing found on the second half of David Sylvian's sprawling Gone To Earth, Isaak's axe echoing hooks from both Fripp and Bill Nelson in spots, while the quietly-lush "Station" offered up nods in the direction of both Harold Budd and The Blue Nile. Teen Daze pulls this sort of thing off with a great deal of ease and a decided lack of pretension. In that regard, Isaak seems to be placing himself (rightly) next to musicians like Vini Reilly who favor a kind of deliberate and delicate music-making that sometimes hints at more than it delivers. As Themes For A New Earth ends with "Prophets", an attentive listener feels transported and thankful that music like this is still being made somewhere on this earth.

Perhaps more easily accessible than his last record, Themes For A New Earth is out today on FLORA. More details on Teen Daze there.

[Photo: Cameron Ballensky]

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Special: A Quick Review Of The New Angel Olsen Compilation

Angel Olsen is having a good year. The singer has released an acclaimed record, gained a boatload of new fans, and has now prepped a rarities and B-sides compilation. Phases is out tomorrow on Jagjaguwwar and it's as fine a release as one would expect from this singer, and a fairly succinct summation of her enormous skill as a performer too.

"Fly On The Wall" opens things with a slow-surge of near-alt-country, while the more languid "Special" sees Olsen croon around a slinky melodic line that positively haunts. Elsewhere, "All Right Now" offers up delicate folk, while the woozy alt-rock of "Sweet Dreams" suggests a marriage of the styles of solo Kendra Smith and Maria McKee. The softer songs here, like "Endless Road", certainly charm with a sort of hypnotic grace but the numbers that are more direct, like a fine cover of Springsteen's "Tougher Than The Rest", possess an equal kind of power. Taken as a whole, this variety of styles indicates -- once again -- that Angel Olsen is one of the best vocalists working today. Her mastery of a range of material is impressive, as is her ability to deliver a full palette of emotional colors. From hints of vulnerability, to bursts of forcefulness, Angel Olsen somehow manages to seem the heir to both Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry, for two easy comparison points. And still, ignoring those worthy influences, a listener is simply overwhelmed with the quiet fire and sure power of Olsen's voice, especially so here on Phases. The overall impact of her singing is something special, and something so rare that even a bunch of B-sides and rarities can seem major pieces of art.

More details on Angel Olsen via her official website, or on her official Facebook page. Phases is out tomorrow on Jagjaguwwar.

[Photo: Kylie Coutts]

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Lonely At The Top: A Few Words About The New Album From Escape-Ism (Ian Svenonius) On Merge Records

That fellow up there has had a busy year. Not only has his band, Chain and The Gang, released 2 records (reviewed by me here and here), but he's been on the road fronting a revived and revitalized Make-Up, as shown from my pic up there of their triumphant gig at D.C.'s Black Cat a few months ago. And now, just in time for all those year-end best-of-2017-lists, he's finally brought forth the debut full-length record from his Escape-ism solo outfit. The fittingly-titled Introduction To Escape-ism drops on Merge Records this Friday and it is, frankly, one of the strongest Svenonius-related projects in quite some time.

Now, I say that not to knock his work with other bands recently but, rather, to highlight just how impressive this new endeavor is. That's especially true when one considers that this is basically a one-man thing for Ian. As such, a listener can sense a palpable lo-fi despair creeping through numbers like "Walking In The Dark", even as others, like the superb "Lonely At The Top", deliver Fad Gadget-like levels of unease and paranoia exceptionally well. Similarly, "Rome Wasn't Burnt In A Day" is fuzzy bravado mixed with a little taste of rage at the establishment, especially now in these days of having a sociopath in the White House, while the sneer of "Almost No One (Can Have My Love)" casts a disproving eye at nearly the entire swath of the mainstream (and rightly so, one might add). The political is personal-rule applies to this former Dischord Records legend, especially on "They Took The Waves", the closet thing to a direct protest song this cat is likely to write in the 21st century. I don't mean to fault for Svenonius for not being more explicit but, instead, want to signify that this dude's skills run so deep that he can get a whole lot across without beating a listener over the head to make his points. Couching his screeds in music like this was a wise move as the message is more wonderfully insidious and subversive in spots. And for the selections that are not even halfway trying to make some larger points about society, the level of success achieved here is significant, with the claustrophobia of "I Don't Remember You" recalling any number of bands from the early days of Mute Records, while the catchy "Crime Wave Rock" manages to work in a Nuggets-worthy bit of garage snarl even if the only guy rocking out is Ian himself, and not a band of miscreants.

Quietly incendiary, the songs on Introduction To Escape-ism are some of the best compositions Ian Svenonius has offered up in years, and that's saying something considering his recent burst of creativity. Using a limited set of tools, and a simple palette of sonic colors, Svenonius has here delivered something bracing which remains largely tuneful. The guy may have been frontin' the revolution a few years ago with both Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up but there are many ways to kick things off. If those bands' tunes were rabble-rousing anthems, these cuts here on Introduction To Escape-ism are whispered suggestions, the hint of an incitement to action purred in the ear. Heed the call, folks.

Introduction To Escape-ism drops on Merge Records on Friday.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Win A Pair Of Tickets To See The Jesus And Mary Chain In Baltimore Right Here!

The Jesus and Mary Chain are heading out on the road here in the States in support of their fairly recent album, Damage and Joy, and I have a pair of tickets to their November 14 show in Baltimore, Maryland for one lucky person!

Jim Reid and William Reid and the rest of The Jesus and Mary Chain hit Rams Head Live in Baltimore next Tuesday and I have a pair of tickets to give away to one contestant who answers this question correctly:

Which member of Primal Scream was the drummer for an early line-up of The Jesus and Mary Chain?

Email me at kenixfan [at] gmail [dot] com and give me the answer! The winner will be chosen at random at approximately noon EST tomorrow (Wednesday, November 8).

If you don't win this pair of tickets, you can still buy tickets for what should be a fantastic show via the official site for Rams Head Live! in Baltimore.

More details on The Jesus and Mary Chain via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Steve Gullick]

Monday, November 6, 2017

Hyponotised: A Few Words About The New Album From Glassmaps (Ex-Howling Bells)

The new album from Glassmaps, Strangely Addicted, out on Friday via Lost In The Manor, is a sublime thing. That it is shouldn't come as a big surprise given that Glassmaps is a new project from Joel Stein from Howling Bells.

From the Bowie-recalling title cut and on to the near-glam stomp of "Summer Rain" with its faint echoes of peak Oasis numbers, Glassmaps is making music here on Strangely Addicted that demands to be noticed by fans of British rock. On the more experimental "Hyponotised", Stein unfurls a bunch of nice guitar-lines underneath a swirling hook that echoes recent releases from Temples, while the lovely "I'm Sorry" serves as an aching piano-ballad that fits neatly next to the solo offerings from Gaz Coombes for those reading and looking for another comparison point. Elsewhere, there's some neo-folk patterns underpinning "Golden Dayze" even as the space-y "Daddy's Gone" closes out Strangely Addicted with a final burst of light experimentalism.

With this record, Joel Stein as Glassmaps has delivered one of the most pleasant, and unexpected, surprises of this season. Fans of not only Howling Bells but Boo Radleys and Spiritualized, for instance, will find loads to embrace here on this fine album.

More details on Strangely Addicted and the work of Glassmaps via the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website. Strangely Addicted is out on on Friday via Lost In The Manor.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional photo]

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Something For The Longing: A Few Words About The New Orchids Compilation From Cherry Red Records

The new Orchids compilation from Cherry Red Records, Who Needs Tomorrow: A 30 Year Retrospective, is nearly essential. The Glaswegian group have long been deserving of a collection like this and its availability now should greatly enhance the ease with which newer fans discover this wonderful music.

Disc 1 of Who Needs Tomorrow is a "best of" set and a listener can survey the metamorphosis of the group from being nearly-jangle-pop purveyors on early cuts like "Apologies" and on to later tracks like "The Way That You Move" that seem more like Prefab Sprout stuff than anything else. It's not that the band entirely changed as an earlier offering like "Something For The Longing" sees the group breaking free of the shackles of the Sarah Records label in an attempt to make a more robust form of U.K. indie-rock. Similarly, "Another Saturday Night" has a gently surging melodic line that is damn near hypnotic. In an odd way, a cut like this places the sound of The Orchids closer to, say, that of Echo and the Bunnymen then to any C86-influenced set of peers. By the time we get to the chiming "Something's Going On", the sound of this band is light-years away from that of those mid-Eighties jangle-poppers and far closer to something nearly anthemic, like the kind of music made by The Wild Swans, and even New Order and The Railway Children in that era.

The second half of Who Needs Tomorrow is given to demos and assorted rarities. And while some things here feel essential (that cover of "Magic In Here" by The Go-Betweens, for instance), lots of CD 2 here is not quite as vital as Disc 1. A re-recording of the Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink EP, for example, may be of interest to long-time fans but is unlikely to win over newer converts who are still probably out there looking for copies of the original release from 1988. Still, the compilers of Who Needs Tomorrow have stuffed this with a lot of rarities rather than simply pad this out with only previously-released numbers, and genuine fans will buy this likely just to get CD2.

The sort of compilation these Scottish pioneers always needed, Who Needs Tomorrow: A 30 Year Retrospective presents the full range of styles that The Orchids pursued. From the early jangle-y indie stuff, to the more produced pop experiments, and on to some new versions of songs from this band's back-catalog, this 2-CD set is the definitive document of the 3 decades of The Orchids' career.

Who Needs Tomorrow: A 30 Year Retrospective by The Orchids is out now via Cherry Red Records.

Signals From Above: A Review Of The Magnificent New Husker Du Box Set, Savage Young Du, From The Numero Group

I'm given to a lot of hyperbole 'round these parts but, really, trust me when I say that Savage Young Du, the new Husker Du box set from The Numero Group, out Friday, is a magnificent achievement. Simultaneously a thing of beauty sure to please music collectors everywhere and a necessary addition to the canon of American punk rock, the set delivers the impossible (a new perspective from which to survey the work of a familiar act) and the unexpected (47 previously-unreleased tunes). Sure to further the legacy and legend of Husker Du, Savage Young Du serves up nearly 3 hours of spectacular hardcore that (largely) hasn't seen the light of day already.

Opening with previously-unreleased numbers from 1979 sessions, Savage Young Du reveals a fairly familiar take on American punk rock with "Do You Remember?" echoing NYC rockers like Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and more melodic and quirky numbers like "All That I've Got To Lose Is You" and "Sore Eyes" edging closer to the sort of proto-power pop that the trio would end up making on swathes of the mammoth Warehouse: Songs And Stories (1987). If "Data Control" betrays a debt owed to Joy Division, the spry "Insects Rule The World" rockets forward on a hook that's largely revved-up Ramones stuff with a dash of Diggle-etched hooks from a Buzzcocks single. And, frankly, we shouldn't be too surprised that Husker Du in the early years of its existence as a band, in the first few years of the Reagan era, should be heard drawing from so many disparate quarters besides the burgeoning hardcore scene in the USA as the band tried out various aspects of its coalescing sound. There's real variety here and a listener should be pleased that Savage Young Du reveals a more diffuse version of the band we've come to think of as one of the pioneering acts from this country's punk boom of the Eighties. If a number like "Sexual Economics" sees Husker Du trying on a sort of issue-oriented approach to hardcore, learned perhaps from D.C. bands in the era, then early single "Statues" and flip "Amusement" indicate that this trio owed a big debt to the more adventurous bands from the post-punk years as these tracks are clearly longer than nearly anything one would hear in the U.S. hardcore world back then, and more experimental too. For a band like Husker Du who used to name-drop Pere Ubu in interviews, the link is now more apparent as, at least on these cuts, the Minneapolis trio is drawing more from David Thomas and crew than, say, Ian MacKaye and his partners here in D.C.

Disc 2, largely all live cuts, sees the ragged glory of "Drug Party" kick things off, Husker Du here adopting a directly caustic tone that was rare for them, while the simmering "Private Hell" is all Wire raggedness wrapped up in a snarl, Mould delivering one of his best and nastiest hooks here. Elsewhere, an early version of "Diane" pops up, the future Metal Circus standout here early proof of Grant Hart's genius as a songwriter. The live cuts here -- and there are loads of them -- all roar past in a style that's typical of the era with a few -- "Guns At My School" and "Gilligan's Island", for instance -- sounding a bit like the sort of tunes that Husker Du would serve up on Zen Arcade. This is tense, anxious, and sharp post-punk that offers up -- within the strict confines of the fast tempo of American hardcore, that is -- some flashes of melodic invention of the sort that Husker Du would later be famous for. Still, this is a young band and there are still cuts that sound like a band finding its way amid the sounds of the era. For instance, "Let's Go Die", a number composed by bassist Greg Norton, recalls the sounds erupting from the nation's capital in the early years of the Eighties, stuff like Government Issue shouters and Iron Cross scorchers. And even as they attempted to match the fire and fury of their sonic peers, Husker Du were charting new paths, including paths that would lead to the recording of what would be their first long-player. If 1982's debut album from Husker Du was not entirely a great introduction to the sound of this trio, Disc 2 of Savage Young Du thankfully offers up alternate versions of the tracks from Land Speed Record and a listener can now sort of recreate that troubled release as he or she sees fit.

Selections from Everything Falls Apart make up big chunks of Disc 3 of Savage Young Du, with numbers like "Signals From Above" and a cover of "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan indicating future directions this band would pursue. What we're hearing here is, quite simply, the groundwork for the entirely unique sound that Husker Du would swiftly perfect on those SST-label albums in the mid-Eighties. Bristling against the strict confines of the hardcore form, and eager to work in some elements that were more melodic, Husker Du were crafting a uniquely American form of punk rock here. And proof of its uniqueness is how many bands cite this one as an influence and yet how few bands ever sounded this good. Even a lumbering number like "Gravity" has that tonal momentum that later Du numbers like "It's Not Peculiar" and "Tell You Why Tomorrow" would have. And by the time that a live version of "Real World" shows up, the track is not just a taste of the future greatness to come on Metal Circus, but also a blueprint for what Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton were doing so well, and with such force and fury in those pre-SST years.

Remarkably, this is one of those rare compilations that truly does force a reassessment of the artist on offer. The folks at The Numero Group have done such an amazing job here stuffing this set full of previously-unheard tunes, and adding in a book-length liner notes booklet, that there should be little hesitation now in November in calling this the reissue of the year. Staggeringly full of essential American punk, Savage Young Du also makes a case for the early diversity of Husker Du. If that diversity was the result of the trio finding its sound, the fact remains that Husker Du were, from the outset, remarkably dedicated to blasting away the shackles of the very genre they were perfecting. And if this group was not the best hardcore act ever, they were, instead, something more. The sheer panoply of styles here serves as proof of the talents of Mould, Hart, and Norton. When taken in total, the material reveals a band we thought we knew in a fairly new light. More varied in tone than lots of what ended up on their early albums, the 69 cuts here showcase Husker Du finding their place in a world of alternative music that was largely being dominated by British New Wave acts and earnest American punks back when these songs were recorded live and in the studio. If Husker Du could play as fast as, say, Minor Threat, they were hardly content in being that kind of band. And so, Savage Young Du is then a demonstration of a band sharpening their attack so that they would sound like an SST band, in a way, even as they would rapidly expand their sound once signed to that label. Savage Young Du offers us, in a sense, the real Husker Du for the first time. And for that, the set's contents are a series of revelations of a group whose output both live and in the studio was, clearly, far more varied than those first few releases ever indicated.

Savage Young Du by Husker Du is out on Friday via The Numero Group.

[Photos: The Numero Group]

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Noise Field: A Quick Review Of The New Reissue From Gruntruck

The back-story on Seattle's Gruntruck is a complicated one, and one that I'm not going to rehash here. Still, it's worth recalling that lead singer Ben McMillan died on the verge of the band making an attempt at a comeback in the post-grunge years of the mid-Nineties, and the band's album from that era was never released. At least not until now. Produced by studio whiz Jack Endino. the self-titled album is out now on Found Recordings and it's a rewarding slab of loud, raucous rock-and-roll.

If "Bar Fly" and "Trip" roar in the manner of early Soundgarden singles, Gruntruck strike a more unique, and less peer-influenced, vibe on the lurching "Noise Field" later in the record. At moments here, like on "Build A Hole", the material sounds a bit like stuff that Alice in Chains produced, even if Gruntruck seem a bit harder to my ears. Still, at their best here on Gruntruck, the band infuse a number like "It's Alright" with a fair degree of melodic heft, while the superb "Flang" hints at the sort of material that this band could have produced had McMillan lived. His vocals here are sublime as the tune unwinds behind him, far more hard rock that grunge sludge, thankfully.

Gruntruck feels familiar in a good way. A welcomed reminder of the power behind this band's brand of Seattle rock, the album is concise and punchy and a pretty good example of exactly how to make a grunge record that doesn't collapse under the weight of the usual genre conventions.

Out now on Found Recordings, Gruntruck can be purchased via the usual outlets, with more details on the band via their Facebook page.

[Photo: Karen Mason Blair]

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Quick Review Of The New One From Walt Wagner On Sub Pop

Pianist Walt Wagner has found a way to make alt-rock standards, of a sort, fresh again. His new album, Reworks, out today on Sub Pop, sees the performer tackle numbers from Fleet Foxes, Prince, and My Bloody Valentine with ease.

Opening with a run at a DJ Shadow number, Wagner works his way around "Desiree" by The Left Banke, infusing the chamber pop classic with some real jazz spunk. Elsewhere, a stab at "I Only Said" sees the melody fully revealed in the 1991 number from Loveless, the My Bloody Valentine composition a real highlight of Reworks, while the spry "1901" from Phoenix is here tossed off with a surprising lightness of touch from Wagner. Still, that said, the clear standout cut from Reworks is Walt Wagner's lush take on "Purple Rain" from Prince.

Less a curiosity and more of a sort of successful reclamation of the hooks and melodies behind a few numbers from the college rock canon, Reworks is a winning recasting of familiar music. Reworks is out today on Sub Pop.

[Photo: Creative Living]