Thursday, November 30, 2017

When We Were Born: A Few Words About The New Album From Burgess Meredith

The band Burgess Meredith come from Austin, Texas, and they sound like they've listened to a lot of old British rock albums from the Sixties. The band's newest offering, A Dimension in Sound, is out now and it's a whole lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of the same bands these fellas have been listening to.

If opener "When We Were Born" chimes in the style of The Apples in Stereo, "Wendy" and "Olivia" bop along like numbers from Jellyfish, circa their first record. Burgess Meredith manage to pull this sort of thing off without seeming too precious about what they are doing. "Outside" positively soars on the strength of the strong harmonies of this band, while "Summers End" rides an Elton John-like melody forward, the song offering up the kind of pop that the indie scene just hasn't produced in ages. A Dimension in Sound closes with the T.Rex-inspried, near-glam hooks of the fine "After You", a number with a rockier edge than other selections on this record.

What surprised me about this Burgess Meredith long-player is how effortlessly the band hits a certain kind of peak. I really haven't heard American indie-pop this buoyant and unashamedly tuneful in decades. These players in Burgess Meredith are not shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves, and when the influences are Village Green-era Kinks and a bunch of early singles from The Move, for example, an attentive listener should seek this record out immediately.

A Dimension in Sound by Burgess Meredith is out now. More details on Burgess Meredith via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Blushing: A Quick Review Of The Fine New EP From Hater

I was a fan of Sweden's Hater when they were on the superb PNKSLM label, and I remain a fan now that they've made the jump to Fire Records. The band's newest release, the lyrical and lush Red Blinders EP, will be out on Friday and it is, like everything this band have offered up so far, excellent indie-pop.

The swirling "Blushing" unfurls with a rare beauty, while the more angular "Rest" chimes with a slight, jittery grace. Elsewhere, the title cut proceedds with a deliberate sense of pop-craft, all while remaining a catchy tune, while the surging "Penthouse" suggests coiled energy nearing its lift-off point. Each cut here is a blast of perfect indie-pop and, as always, Hater make this sort of thing sound so easy. I suppose a quick comparison point would be Bettie Serveert and, yeah, there are moments here that recall that band, but the music of Hater is less insistent, more insinuative and suggestive, and full of the kind of near-shoegaze loveliness that one can find in stuff like those comeback albums from Ride and Slowdive.

Elegantly understated, Red Blinders is yet another excellent release from Hater. It drops on Fire Records this Friday. Follow Hater via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ludvig Hedlund]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Brief Review Of Rhys A Meinir From Cian Ciaran (Super Furry Animals, Zefur Wolves)

Way back in the summer of 2016, I sat down in D.C. to have a chat with Super Furry Animals keyboardist Cian Ciaran. In that wide-ranging interview, Cian discussed not only the Furries and Zefur Wolves (the band he's in with his wife), but also his orchestral ambitions, namely the then-upcoming unveiling of his symphonic work, Rhys A Meinir. The large-scale piece, based on the famous Welsh folktale, had its world premiere in November 2016 and now, this Thursday, the film of that event will debut on S4C in Wales, and the BBC's iPlayer in the rest of the United Kingdom. For those of us not in Wales or the UK, it will be available to watch, with English subtitles, for 35 days from SC4 via this link. Also, Rhys A Meinir will be released as an album via Strangetown Records on Friday.

The album is, frankly, a revelation. A listener shouldn't be surprised that Cian Ciaran is a man of prodigious talent but, rather, that he is so easily capable of branching out so effectively. Rhys A Meinir is a record that alternates between lush orchestral passages, and stark, soundtrack-like pieces of music that convey the sadness and lyricism of the Welsh tale to a listener. In my interview with Cian Ciaran, he mentioned an appreciation for the music of John Barry, Bizet, and Ennio Morricone, an appreciation that one can hear here in the selections on Rhys A Meinir. A track like "Haul o rywle'n tywynnu" early in the record even bears a faint trace of Randy Newman's soundtrack work about it, while the lighter-than-air "Safodd yn stond" offers a rich abundance of harp figures. The more direct "Marwydos" brings a kind of folk music to the classical work, while the absolutely stunning "Rhedeg" chills and moves the soul in the style and spirit of the best Bernard Herrmann film scores. It's not entirely a surprise that this is an affecting work, but that it's so atypical of what one would expect from a Super Furry Animal. The band used strings before but never quite like this, Ciaran here embracing the larger forms and offering up something both Modern and Romantic.

Rhys A Meinir should rightly get as much attention as any Super Furry Animals release. It is such a departure for Cian Ciaran -- and simultaneously a natural progression for him as an artist -- that it could not only appeal to a whole new audience, but reach listeners outside Wales interested in Welsh folklore and history. Fans of Brahms, Nilsson, Miklos Rozsa, and The High Llamas should find bits here to embrace. Fans of the Super Furry Animals should, naturally, find lots to love here from the mastermind behind the electronic textures of the band's legendary releases. Rhys A Meinir by Cian Ciaran will be out this week via Strangetown Records.

More details on Rhys A Meinir via Pledge Music.

There are a few details on the project in my 2016 interview with Cian Ciaran ahead of the Super Furry Animals concert in Washington, D.C..

[Photo of Cian Ciaran: Glenn Griffith, 2016]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Do No Wrong: A Brief Review Of The Debut Album From Des Demonas

I suppose I could pretend to be objective here. But, really, that would be a futile gesture given the grooves inside these grooves. And why adopt a tone of pretend objectivity when I am very happy that D.C.'s own Des Demonas are about to drop their absolutely incendiary debut album on In The Red Records. The self-titled release, out this Friday, is a fiery mix of Nuggets-era fuzz-rock and somewhat unhinged (though sharply focused) post-punk.

Now, for those of you in this area who've seen them perform, it's a given that Des Demonas are a tight machine in a live setting, uncoiling Fall-inspired hooks and exhortations with a remarkable amount of fervor. It is the sort of live effort that is sometimes hard to capture on tape. That it has been, and that so much of Des Demonas succeeds at accurately delivering the fire and fury of this lot, makes this a release to rave about.

Opening with one of the most pointed and infectious cuts of 2017, Des Demonas roar out of the gate with "The South Will Never Rise Again", a certifiable anthem for our times, before numbers like "Liez" and "Do No Wrong" proceed to kick off and throw everything into the blender. What's here is so many things -- a dash of early Joy Division, bursts of The Birthday Party, a snatch of The Standells -- and yet, the results throughout are marvelous and inspired, from the Mark E. Smith-fronting-The Cramps-roars of "Teen Stooge", and on to the Farfisa-swirls of "Golden Eggs" with its Sixties inflections, and back to "Do No Wrong", all jittery Joy Division busyness that is positively on fire. Still, for all the wicked energy that positively courses through Des Demonas, there are a few more down-tempo offerings -- namely, the acerbic "There Are No Vampires In Africa", and the languid and rhythmic New Wave of "Brown Rooster" -- amid the riotous rawk of the rest of the record.

The guys in Des Demonas -- Jacky Cougar Abok (vocals), Mark Cisneros (guitar), Paul Vivari (organ), Joe Halladay (bass), and Ryan Hicks (drums) -- are guys who've earned their dues in other D.C. groups, and it gives me a lot of joy to report that they've finally offered up a full-length record here with this band. Des Demonas is such a hoot, such a perfect distillation of about a dozen things being done right, that I urge other bloggers and music writers to hold off on those Best of 2017-lists until they've heard this long-player. Fans of bands as disparate as Q And Not U, Swell Maps, The Specials, and Television can find much to love here, though these fellas owe some huge, admitted debts to the pioneers of Manchester rock. That these 5 guys have managed to corral so many influences into such a tight offering is, frankly, a marvel. And, as you can see, I've happily sacrificed my objectivity by raving so openly about this one. Much like a previous Mark Cisneros-associated project, namely Deathfix, Des Demonas is the sort of record that explodes preconceptions about what D.C. rock remains in the 21st century. Less beholden to the bands that have put this city on the map in the past than they are in thrall to a bunch of Brits from the first few waves of post-punk, the 5 members of Des Demonas have caught fire here and managed to produce something every bit as exciting as their live set.

Des Demonas by Des Demonas is out on Friday via In The Red Records.

More details on Des Demonas via the band's official Facebook page.

Des Demonas will be opening up for Ex Hex on December 30 at Black Cat in D.C.

[Photos: Glenn Griffith, 2017]

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Passing Through: A Look At The Upcoming Reissue Of Union Cafe From Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Penguin Cafe Orchestra frontman Simon Jeffes, pictured up above there, died 20 years ago. On the anniversary of his death (December 11, 2017), the surviving members of Penguin Cafe Orchestra will play the band's last album, Union Cafe, in full in London. To prep listeners for that event, the record is being reissued via Erased Tapes this Friday. It remains the very best sort of unclassifiable release, full of music that touches the heart and produces a sense of sonic wonder in an attentive listener.

From the Irish jig of "Organum" and on to the drone-rock of "Thorn Tree Wind", the tunes here on Union Cafe span a host of styles. The 1993 album, the band's last record, deals in a kind of jazz in spots, but it also features a number of piano-centered numbers, like the lyrical "Silver Star of Bologna", that charm and inspire still. And to say that is to sound surprised that wry instrumental numbers like "Nothing Really Blue" could somehow age, or become dated? The very genius of Penguin Cafe Orchestra was a blithe disregard for trends, or stylistic bandwagons passing by. The group produced the purest of musics, with the minimum of pretension about the whole endeavor.

On the whole, Union Cafe remains an engaging, if long, listen. It is the sort of record that really and truly has no easy comparison points, especially as the record segues from the lite jazz of "Kora Kora" and into the chamber pop of "Lie Back and Think of England", near the album's conclusion before the gallop of "Passing Through" officially closes this record (ahead of a "hidden" track, that is). Those little jumps in style sound jarring on paper but make perfect, magical sense in the universe created by Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

Union Cafe will be out via Erased Tapes on Friday.

More details on Penguin Cafe Orchestra, including the upcoming concert in London, via the band's official website.

[Photo: Matt Anker]

Be My Dream: A Quick Review Of The New Suicide Reissue

The late Alan Vega and Martin Rev formed Suicide in an era when there simply was no other music being made like what they were envisioning in their heads. That they succeeded so well at pruning back rock 'n' roll to its very vital core essence is remarkable. That this music still sounds revolutionary is a testament to how truly visionary these 2 musicians were. And thankfully we have a glimpse into the duo's creative process as the folks at Superior Viaduct are reissuing First Rehearsal Tapes from Suicide now. While this material has been out before, this is the first time that the music has been offered up on its own as a standalone release. And with liner notes by Henry Rollins, First Rehearsal Tapes is an essential offering. Read on!

Revealed here are not just a bunch of demos, but peeks inside the fertile minds of Rev and Vega as they scale back the trappings of rock music to something potent and vaguely disturbing. If a number like "Creature Feature" gurgles with bad intent, something like "Be My Dream" seems to be an alien's interpretation of the sounds of The Ronettes. Elsewhere, the gently-percolating "Too Fine For You" prefigures a whole generation of Mute Records acts, namely Cabaret Voltaire and Non, while the piano-planks of "Tough Guy" create a sense of unease in a listener. "Space Blue Bambo" undulates with a faint trace of jazz, while "Into My Eyes" maintains a keyboard-based proto-New Wave groove that foreshadows the triumphs of this band later in the Seventies. The superb "Do It Nice" rides a vaguely industrial hook into territory that suggests later recordings from Throbbing Gristle. And yet, when surveying the many excellent tracks here, one could say that Suicide were not entirely averse to making accessible music and, if anything, First Rehearsal Tapes reveals a band working at making Pop music, while deconstructing Pop music.

Bravely reductive, wildly uncompromising, and brutally economic, First Rehearsal Tapes reinforces the importance of Suicide. If The Ramones get the credit for inventing punk rock, surely Suicide should get the credit for inventing New Wave as this music is both wildly avant-garde and wholly accessible. Even in their earliest moments as musicians, Alan Vega and Martin Rev were capable of making something so striking with only the simplest tools, and the starkest melodies.

First Rehearsal Tapes from Suicide is out now via Superior Viaduct.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Look Again: A Word About The New Virginia Wing And Xam Duo Album

The unlikely marriage of the minds of bands Virginia Wing and Xam Duo has produced a striking album here. Tomorrow's Gift, out on Friday via Fire Records, is a bold and brave release, one that skirts at the edges of the avant-garde and yet which remains fairly accessible for attentive listeners.

Virginia Wing are Sam Pillay and Alice Merida Richards and Xam Duo are Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall. In teaming up here, the electronic pop portions of previous Virginia Wing releases have found an almost unlikely match in the more languid indie textures from the guys from Deadwall and Hookworms. Even though opener "Birch Polygon" oozes out for more than 20 minutes with a kind of No Pussyfooting insistence, shorter numbers, like the lovely "Look Again", play to the strengths of these players, expanding on the slight Stereolab-isms of earlier Virginia Wing records to offer up something totally unique. Elsewhere, the title cut works a slight and sublime rhythm, while "Good Roads Fair Weather" hints at the kind of risk-taking that saw the Cocteau Twins drift towards near-ambient music in the mid-Nineties. Playing to the strengths of vocalist Alice Merida Richards, this number is one of the highlights here on Tomorrow's Gift. "Person to Person" near the end of the record rides a nice groove forward, while album closer "A Tunnel" uses spoken-word passages to further the band's experimental ends.

One of the more adventurous records a listener is likely to encounter at year's end, Tomorrow's Gift is out on Friday via Fire Records.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Friday, November 24, 2017

My Dear One: A Quick Review Of The New Nick Garrie Album

The new album from Nick Garrie, The Moon and the Village, out today on Tapete, is a special record. It is, unfortunately, the sort of thing that may slip under the radar without a little bit of extra attention, which is why I'm here today to write about it.

Garrie has worked with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub in the past but here he's being helped by Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transistor. The textures on The Moon and the Village are warm and inviting, and what could have been a folk record, for example, is now something else, something stronger. If the title number suggests a debt owed to the late Leonard Cohen, the superb "I'm On Your Side" reveals the influence of Mick Head. Elsewhere, strings creep around "My Dear One" to place the number somewhere near something like a John Cale composition, while the beautiful "Early Morning in the Garden" marries Garrie's Cohen-like observations (and delivery) with backing music that is poised somewhere between the ache of Nilsson and the lyrical wit of Randy Newman. Nick Garrie manages to make this work so well as he remains such an engaging player, delivering the spry "Bacardi Summer" and the doleful "Got You On My Mind" with equal degrees of mastery.

The Moon and the Village is the sort of album that is not entirely easy to describe, seeing as how it skips around a few genres with ease, but it is a superb record, and one that's quite easy to recommend. Out today, this new Nick Garrie offering is one of the most heartfelt and warmly human releases of this Fall.

More details on The Moon and the Village via Tapete Records.

[Photo: Alison Wonderland]

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Everything Must Be: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Telescopes

I honestly never thought that The Telescopes would have lasted this long. To say that is not to disparage the considerable talents of front-man Stephen Lawrie but, rather, to acknowledge the presence of something a bit unhinged underneath the band's music, the sound of chaos roiling underneath the normal, a faint hint that things could go dangerously wrong at a moment's notice. Now, some 30 years or so after this group first burst forth, The Telescopes are releasing their second album of 2017. Stone Tape, out now, follows the superb As Light Return earlier this year. The new record is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a slight departure from the last record, preferring instead a ride on some sinister undercurrents instead of a flash or two of feedback. In short, Lawrie's gift for conjuring up something that transports a listener is undiminished.

Now, it's worth sharing a bit of the press material for this record, especially since this one is, apparently, a concept album:

"'Stone Tape' is a concept album inspired by the 'Stone Tape Theory', theorized by Thomas Charles Lethbridge in 1961. The archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer developed the idea that inanimate materials can absorb energy from living beings, and that this mental electrical energy, released during emotional or traumatic events, could somehow be 'stored' in such materials and 'reproduced' under certain conditions."

So, given that bit of information, Stone Tape may become a richer listening experience but, as it is, it's a fairly rewarding, if brief, one. Opener "Become The Sun" is near drone-rock, pure coiled tension ready for release, while the evocative "The Desert In Your Eye" slows things down even further, Lawrie nearly slurring the lyrics. Elsewhere, the excellent and epic-length "Everything Must Be" marries a space-rock sense of openness to the drone to delicious effect, Lawrie here venturing far beyond his old shoegaze haunts, while the slight-gallop of "Dead Inside" sees Stephen return, if only briefly, to some flashes of feedback-drenched unease. This leaves the more accessible "Silent Water" a standout here on Stone Tape in terms of direct indie-pop appeal.

All that being said, I found Stone Tape enormously rewarding. Wisely, Lawrie didn't make it a very long album, and so even a longer song doesn't feel too tedious on what is a short(er) release. Given the record's relative brevity, a patient listener can indulge Lawrie as he goes quietly off the rails here, producing music that is unsettling, unnerving, and damn beautiful all at once. Oddly, like Gillespie getting "Higher Than The Sun", Lawrie has found some sort of inspiration here as these drawled-out dreamscapes are enormously pleasurable to listen to. Set aside some time and give this one a spin for further indication of the continued, if sometimes neglected, genius of Mr. Stephen Lawrie.

Stone Tape is out now. More details on The Telescopes here, or here on Facebook, or even on Twitter.

[Photo: Raul Divaev]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Intricate Image: A Quick Look At The New Bill Nelson Soundtracks Box On Cherry Red Records

The fine folks at Cherry Red Records have been recently reissuing a bunch of crucial Bill Nelson recordings without a great deal of fanfare. Given the waves of difficulty that sometimes have faced fans trying to find the ex-Be-Bop Deluxe main-man's stuff in the past, the recent tide of fresh reissues is something to be welcomed, if not shouted about.

Adding to this impressive string of reissues, Cherry Red are putting out a 3-CD box this Friday called Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory, a set that collects 3 instrumental recordings from Bill Nelson. Disc 1 starts with 1981's Sounding The Ritual Echo (Atmospheres For Dreaming), a largely New Wave-y set of short tunes sans vocals originally released as a free bonus disc with the same year's Quit Dreaming and Get On The Beam. Cuts like "My Ritual Echo" and "Annunciation" recall a bit classic Bill Nelson songs from the same era, just without any singing on them, while the spry "My Intricate Image" uses what sounds like a bit of backwards tape to carry the sleight tune forward. Elsewhere, the languid "Vanishing Parades" sounds like something from a film score, a sentiment which segues us nicely into a look at the next 2 discs in Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory.

On Disc 2, we find the score Bill Nelson composed to accompany the classic 1920 film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Largely eerie pieces, a few here -- like the evocative "Cesare The Somnambulist" -- manage to hit at a nice beauty that suggests the possibility that even someone who was not familiar with the film could find something to enjoy here. The material on Disc 3 of Dreamy Screens sees Nelson move on to a film that really didn't need a score: Jean Cocteau's classic Beauty and the Beast (1946). The film famously featured music composed by Georges Auric so, truly, the existing score didn't need to be improved upon. Still, Nelson is to be commended for the effort as his score here is a fairly rich one. That Nelson completed this using a minimum of keyboards and samples is something to marvel at still, 30+ years after the album's original release. And, even more than the other discs in this set, the soundtrack here to Beauty and the Beast tells a story through sonic means. It succeeds in a remarkable way, offering a listener unfamiliar with the film a sort of sense of what Cocteau accomplished visually. I can say that, having heard this album before I ever saw the Cocteau film, I felt like I had a working knowledge of what to expect when I finally did see the 1946 masterpiece.

Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory is out on Friday from Cherry Red Records. It is essential for anyone who wants to hear Bill Nelson at work on actual soundtracks to films, and not simply soundtracks, like his famous instrumental records, to just the dream-movies of his mind as an artist.

Monday, November 20, 2017

I Bury The Living: A Few Words About Low In High School From Morrissey

I have tried to only post positive, or moderately positive, reviews here over the course of the last decade in an attempt to encourage enthusiasm (mostly mine) about music rather than foster negativity. And, it's worth noting that one of this site's very first posts was my review of Morrissey's concert in Washington, D.C., way back in November 2007. So I'm a fan. All that being said, let what follows be seen as less a screed about the abysmal new album from Morrissey but, rather, a corrective gesture meant to highlight some of the many, many missteps on Low in High School. Ultimately, I am writing here in the perhaps vain hope that Morrissey will, at some point in the very near-future, return to even the moderate successes found on his records of just a decade ago.

Over the course of 12 tunes, Morrissey offers up his weakest batch of music since 1991's Kill Uncle. And yet, to say that is to malign the record that gave us "Sing Your Life" and "Our Frank", 2 of the best Moz singles from the early Nineties. In 20 years, I doubt that many people will be looking at this record and using a similar argument, as the apparent singles here -- the jaunty "Spent The Day In Bed", for example, or the almost-catchy "Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage" -- fail to do much more than generate a sense of bemusement in a listener. And while I can applaud Morrissey's risk-taking here on stuff like the epic "Israel", I can also say that it is a song I need never hear again. The cut is lugubrious piddle, as is "Home is a Question Mark", a selection that, like so many numbers here, can be imagined as a far better song given its title. Morrissey has perhaps finally lived down to that famous Elvis Costello quote: "Morrissey writes wonderful song titles, but sadly he often forgets to write the song."

"I Wish You Lonely" is moderately successful and spry, but it remains more like a B-side from the days when Moz was vainly fighting the good fight amid waves of Britpop ruling the airwaves, while "The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel" earns points for at least fully committing to its vaguely rhumba-like hook. "I Bury The Living" gets credit for its apparent anti-war stance but it's frankly excruciating, toddling along for more than 7 minutes in a haze. Risky? Yes. Brave? Yes. Wise? Not in the least.

Morrissey has spent his career making choices that would have felled other, lesser performers, and even at his absolute worst, he at least provides grist for the mental mill. That said, the cuts here on Low in High School arrive in a cloud of controversial statements, and a string of odd actions from the man himself that have prejudiced a listener from the start, even before the record can begin. And I tried to love this one in some small way, but I simply cannot find much to recommend here on Low in High School. Stream this legally on Spotify and save your money. Heck, simply read the titles and imagine what kind of songs Morrissey would have made out of these back in 1992 or so, when Morrissey seemed to want to please as much as he wanted to provoke. Messy, muddled, and boringly unhinged in many spots, Low In High School is out now.

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]