Thursday, April 19, 2018

Be Positive: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Trevor Burton (The Move)

Founding member of The Move, Trevor Burton has returned to offer up a really affecting album of cover versions, and a few originals. The release, Long Play, drops on Gray Sky Records this week, and it's a nice blend of the sort of English pop one would expect from the guy behind "Blackberry Way", as well as a record of modern British folk.

Burton wisely chose some good songs to cover here, from the sweet "Flirted With You All My Life" by the late Vic Chesnutt, and on to the loveliest song Tom Petty ever wrote ("Wildflowers"), Burton reveals himself to be an expert interpreter of these compositions. Elsewhere, "After It Ends" offers up a hook that's vaguely reminiscent of a Move single, even if the cut was written by the genius John Vanderslice, while "Just Breathe" by Eddie Vedder allows Burton an opportunity to inject a good deal of emotion into his performance here on Long Play. The odd "Be Positive", originally by Refrigerator, sees Burton approach the track like he would have the rougher numbers on the final Move records, while the more familiar "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel allows Burton a chance to move beyond the folk-y vibe here into something more complicated.

Trevor Burton has revealed talents here that are markedly different than those that allowed him to create so much great music with The Move. And yet, there's something familiar here in his delivery that allows, say, a cover of a Mountain Goats song to sound vaguely like those wonderful Move singles from so many decades ago.

Long Play by Trevor Burton is out this week via Gray Sky Records.

More details on Trevor Burton via TrevorBurton.net.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Come Down Softly To My Soul: A Few Words About A Few Spacemen 3 Reissues

In the very near-future, the fine folks at the fine Superior Viaduct label are going to be offering up a bunch of Spacemen 3 reissues. For lots of you, this material is stuff you're familiar with. For lots more, it's stuff that you probably have on some format, but which you now want on vinyl. Whatever the reason for your attraction to these releases, these records are some of the best proto-shoegaze offerings from an era when indie rock in the U.K. was lurching through the diminishing C86 wave, and about to crash into another one, with bands like My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 at the helm of the ship.

Originally released in 1990 or so, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To is a collection of demos from the early days of the band, when Jason Pierce and Peter Kember were finding their way, and before Spacemen 3 settled into being the garage-y outfit found on records like The Perfect Prescription. Tracks here bristle with life, with numbers like "The Sound of Confusion" and "Come Down Easy" serving in these versions as rough templates for the longer, more out there editions that were released later on subsequent Spacemen 3 albums. The sharp brutalism of "Amen" is the V.U.-style of drone rock reduced to its most basic elements, a shadow of "No Fun" by Iggy and crew casting itself over the track as well. Elsewhere, "Things'll Never Be The Same" rips things up, while the eerily-lovely "Transparent Radiation (Organ Version)" sees a familiar number from the band's catalog in its earliest, purest form.

The essential Playing With Fire from 1989 finds Spacemen 3 riding between musical poles that suggest pure bliss ("Come Down Softly To My Soul") and the start of an anarchic uprising ("Revolution"). What's here from Sonic Boom (Peter Kember) and the guy who'd form Spiritualized (Jason Pierce) is the melange of the sounds that both musicians would unveil in other outlets later. At their best here, like on the brief "I Believe It", one can hear the very sound that Bobby Gillespie would use as the basis for his best tracks on the Screamadelica album some time later, or, on "Honey", the kind of thing that suggests what bands like Slowdive and The Telescopes would pursue in the years after the release of Playing With Fire. And to say that is to acknowledge that this release is indeed that seminal to the entire genre. Kember and Pierce may have been on the outs here but what's on the record is remarkably coherent and cohesive. This remains one of the great, underrated shoegaze records.

Recurring from 1991 is an album I didn't really like back then but which I sort of appreciate now. Of a piece with the sort of band-simplifying-their-sound-approach found on the self-titled Love and Rockets album from 1989, Recurring sees the sonic attack of Spacemen 3 polished and refined to its simplistic core. Gone are the Nuggets-style work-outs from earlier releases, and in their place are gems like the spacious and space-y "Hypnotized" and similar numbers that foreshadow what Pierce would do on the best Spiritualized records, and Kember would do on those Sonic Boom releases. Still, for the moments that shine here, there's stuff like the lengthy and unwieldy "Big City (Everyone I Know Can Be Found Here)", a 10-minute trip through the detritus of acid summer in England, that is far less successful for being too of its era.

The very essence of the sound of Spacemen 3, and, as such, some of the building blocks of an entire genre of music in England and elsewhere, Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, Playing With Fire, and Recurring make the collective case for the continuing importance of Spacemen 3, and, by extension, the genius of Peter Kember (Sonic Boom, J. Spaceman) and Jason Pierce (Spiritualized). The records remain expansive, near-visionary listening experiences.

Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To, Playing With Fire, and Recurring are all out this week via the Superior Viaduct label.

Monday, April 16, 2018

You Could Be Better: A Quick Review Of The New Drinks Album

Some few years ago, I expressed my befuddlement at the first Drinks record -- and I also explained why I simply refuse to write the band's name in all-caps as it's shown elsewhere. And, since I only review things here that I like, I faced the challenge of trying to outline the positives of a record that really sort of puzzled me.

Well, now, in 2018, I'm happy to report that the new Drinks album, Hippo Lite, out Friday on Drag City, is a good deal easier to embrace. If anything, Hippo Lite sacrifices none of the experimentation of the first album from the band, while offering up a new layer of accessibility. "Blue From The Dark" blends a bit of Sixties-style chamber pop with an insistent melody to start the album, while the jittery "Real Outside" echoes both early Talking Heads and Slits records. To name-drop those artists is not to suggest that Tim Presley sounds like David Byrne, nor that Cate Le Bon sounds like Ari Up, but, rather, that Drinks clearly owe a huge debt to artists that pursued new textures and rhythmic attacks in the immediate post-punk years some decades ago. "In The Night Kitchen" is more angular, while "Greasing Up" nods in the direction of those V.U. cuts where John Cale took the lead, to go even further back for a comparison point. "Leave The Lights On" is a good showcase for Cate Le Bon as a vocalist, while closer "You Could Be Better" marries the more avant-garde approach of Drinks with something that sounds a bit like the sort of thing routinely offered up by bands like Broadcast or Lake Ruth.

Drinks have taken a lot of risks here on their second album, even as they've edged a tiny bit closer to what makes up a fairly mainstream strain of alternative music in the 21st century. Given that, I'd heartily recommend Hippo Lite to both fans of Tim Presley (White Fence) or Cate Le Bon, as well as to listeners in search of something a bit more adventurous than lots of what's out there at the moment.

Hippo Lite is out on Friday via Drag City.

[Photo: H. Hawkline]

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Made Out Of Honey: A Quick Review Of The New Azalia Snail Album

Azalia Snail has been a mainstay of the American indie scene for a long time. And one can understand her longevity when one hears the sort of bright pop she routinely cranks out. Her newest record, Neon Resistance, is out now via Silber Records and it's as fine a record as any in her rich back-catalog.

The trippy "Celeste (Can You Feel It)" kicks things off, before the percolating electro-pop texture of the peppy "Field Rep" propels things forward into the ether. This is spacious, nearly-dazzling indie, the sort of thing that should soundtrack a spring day nicely. Elsewhere, the lovely "Cherry Blossom" recalls stuff from Broadcast a bit, as does the more languid "Made Out of Honey" after that. The very best tunes here, namely "Weekend Back" and "The Moral Chemist", nod in the direction of The Go! Team and Danielle Dax, respectively, Snail wisely layering multiple electronic effects upon the tracks to offer up lo-fi that's less reliant on guitars than other stuff out there in the market-place. The subtle and space-y "I Am The Night Sky" closes the record in splendid fashion, the tune a nice cousin to the sort of thing Laetitia Sadier has been attempting as a solo artist recently.

Every Azalia Snail record is interesting. That's a given. But I'll venture that Neon Resistance is one of her better, bolder recent releases. Azalia has taken some chances here and the results are some of the lightest-and-loveliest compositions in her rich back-catalog. Subtly brave, the electro-tinged indie on Neon Resistance is great stuff that's easy to love.

Neon Resistance is out now via Silber Records.

More details on Azalia Snail via her official Facebook page.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Never Coming Back: A Brief Review Of The New Album From A Place To Bury Strangers

Three years, A Place To Bury Strangers dropped a record which was loud and boisterous. Back then, I found a lot to enjoy in the band's music. With the release today of their new album, Pinned, out now on Dead Oceans, I find myself not as enamored of what this crew is doing.

Whereas before it seemed as if the band was at least cribbing a bit from My Bloody Valentine and Loop, now, it seems like they have been listening to and taking notes from a bunch of Interpol and Sisters of Mercy records. Admittedly, "There's Only One of Us" has a nice throb reminiscent of Eighties electro-poppers, while the brighter "Execution" offers up a more interesting set of textures. "Look Me in the Eye" suggests Nine Inch Nails, while the catchy "Never Coming Back" is more 21st century Depeche Mode than anything else. The harder songs here -- "Attitude", "Act Your Age" -- are moderately enjoyable but, really, for a band that was previously a bit derivative, I kinda wish that A Place To Bury Strangers had picked more interesting reference-points this time around.

Pinned by A Place To Bury Strangers is out today via Dead Oceans.

More details on A Place To Bury Strangers via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ebru Yildiz]

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Everybody Needs You: A Quick Review Of The New Laura Veirs Album

The new Laura Veirs record, The Lookout, out tomorrow via Raven Marching Band, is the sort of release that both surprises and soothes. There's a lot of rich and artistic material here from the prolific singer-songwriter, and one gives thanks to whatever deity is watching over indie-pop that music like this is still being made.

From the bright, skittering rhythms of lead single "Everybody Needs You" and on to the rolling chords of "Watch Fire", a number with Sufjan Stevens, lots of what's here on The Lookout is superbly-realized art-folk, for lack of a better term. Veirs understands both how to construct a hook, as well as how to create texture, and that's darn important. "Lightning Rod", for instance, uses a loping rhythmic figure underneath vocals from Laura that makes the composition seem to recall songs from both Nanci Griffith and Jane Siberry. To name those other artists is to place this in some sort of context for newer fans such as myself. While some of this, like "Seven Falls", nods in the direction of past giants like Judee Sill, lots of other cuts here, namely the rich "Canyon", recall the more lyrical work of The Roches, for instance. There's even something vaguely Stones-y about "Mountains of the Moon", another highlight here.

For all her tremendous talent, Laura Veirs remains an artist who can control her gifts, as the material here is concise, and expertly-performed. The Lookout is so easy to enjoy, and so full of moments of grace and heart, that it stands as one of the best releases of this season.

The Lookout by Laura Veirs is out tomorrow via Raven Marching Band.

More details on Laura Veirs via her official website.

[Photo: Jason Quigley]

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Soundtrack To The Void: A Quick Review Of The New Manic Street Preachers Album

There's something so big, so majestic about the chorus of "International Blue", the lead single off of Resistance is Futile from Manic Street Preachers, that one marvels at how this band have consistently not been embraced on this side of the Atlantic the way they have overseas. Then again, look who's president now, eh? So much for the mystery of Yankee bad taste. As the Welsh band prepares to drop this, their 13th album, there's something reliably ambitious about the kind of pop being pursued and crafted by this lot here.

And what we're confronted with here on Resistance is Futile is an assessing and an assimilating. For as much as some of this sounds like bits from Send Away the Tigers (2007), or has flashes of the futuristic sheen of Futurology (2014), or even dashes of the odd punchiness of Know Your Enemy (2001), there's something new here, something slicker, more refined. If the Manic Street Preachers have done anything here on Resistance is Futile it's to swing for the fences (to use a baseball metaphor about a bunch of guys from Wales). And what this all means for fans, both old and casual, is that we've to give ourselves over again to that strange mix of brain-and-heart at work here in the music of Sean Moore, Nicky Wire, and James Dean Bradfield. What's here is, as always, the sound of a trio of smart fellows surrendering to their own pure-pop inclinations, with the result being the band's best -- and most consistent -- record in ages.

Now, for all that, there's also a lot of cribbing here, perhaps more than is normal for a trio of guys who've always worn their love of a bunch of diverse influences proudly on their sleeves. Maybe even more than on any recent release, the band seem content to nod in the direction of dozens of fine reference points: "In Eternity" is all Ultravox-pining-for-Bowie's-Berlin, echoes of the Manics' own Futurology (2014) abounding, while "Hold Me Like a Heaven" is easier to get stuck in the head, the tune's big hook decidedly radio-friendly, almost like an Imagine Dragons chorus. The song is, like a few here, almost catchy in spite of itself, the Manics pushing themselves dangerously close to the mainstream yet again, even as the more contrary "Broken Algorithims" ends up sounding more like Rush than anything else.

"Dylan and Caitlin", featuring guest vocals from The Anchoress, about Dylan Thomas and his wife, is this band's "Angel of Harlem", which is to say an unexpectedly peppy throwback to an era when Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick were in the Top 40, while AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" seems to have been the inspiration for "Sequels of Forgotten Wars", another clear winner here thanks to Bradfield's success with a skewed, understated guitar-line. On "Song for the Sadness", James nicks the faintest hint of a Slash guitar hook to serve as the central riff of the track, even as drummer Sean Moore seems to be channeling every John Bonham skin-smash ever sampled by the Beastie Boys. The cut is the more bombastic cousin to earlier numbers like "The Second Great Depression", but more buoyant, while the chugging "People Give In" has all the "Autobahn"-like precision of cuts from Futurology, even as it breaks into grand, sunshine-dappled string-breaks, the peaks of "Australia" writ even larger.

Those moments, and many in the first 2 singles ("International Blue" and "Distant Colours"), highlight the genius of this band, that unique blend of intellect and emotion that is rarely pulled off so deftly and precisely. The moments that move here -- and there are many, especially on the Hillsborough-referencing "Liverpool Revisited" -- season tracks every bit as big and shiny as those of, say, ELO, with the sort of smart pop that post-punk perpetually promised (and rarely delivered). Resistance is Futile sounds like the culmination of something, the search, sans Richey, for those moments when rock-and-roll truly can deliver us from our misery, and reveal something large and majestic within us as listeners and fans.

Resistance is Futile is out on Friday everywhere.

More details on Manic Street Preachers via Manics.co.uk

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture from band's Facebook page]

Monday, April 9, 2018

Just Passing By: A Brief Review Of The New Anton Barbeau Album

The new album by Anton Barbeau blends the musician's familiar, playful take on power-pop, with a more lyrical, inspired spin on the sort of stuff Todd Rundgren could once be reliably counted on to provide. Natural Causes, out on Friday via Beehive, is a fine record, one that is sure to appeal to fans of XTC and Jellyfish, and, of course, Rundgren's stuff.

Robbie McIntosh of McCartney's band adds some guitars to the lush "Disambiguation", one of the highlights here, and "It's The Coffee" reminded me of Split Enz a bit, another major compliment to the skills of Barbeau at delivering this sort of thing. Elsewhere, "Magic Sandwiches" sounds like you might imagine, but it's less silly and brighter than you'd figure, while "Just Passing By" positively rocks, the chords sharp and crackling ones. And while I suppose that a lot of listeners will be drawn to this because of how Rundgren-ian lots of Natural Causes sounds, or because of the guests on this record (Andy Metcalfe, members of Bevis Frond, Karla Kane, etc.), but what those listeners should really be attracted to is Barbeau's ease here at crafting material like this. This is really good stuff for power-pop fans, especially anyone who's worn out their copy of Oranges and Lemons.

Natural Causes will be out on Friday via Beehive Records.

More details on Anton Barbeau via his official website.

[Photo: Kristine Chambers]

Friday, April 6, 2018

Unnatural Act: A Quick Review Of The New Wreckless Eric Album

The new album from Wreckless Eric, Construction Time and Demolition, out today, is as good a showcase for the multiple talents of the legendary singer-songwriter as one is likely to encounter. A ramble through multiple genres, Eric Goulden (birth-name of Wreckless Eric) tries his hand at various styles here and succeeds at most of them.

From the twang-y near-glam of "Unnatural Act" and the absolutely lovely "The World Revolved Around Me", the cuts here are uniformly excellent, with Eric operating with a level of assurance that is wonderful. Goulden uses "Wow and Flutter" to tell a cautionary tale, while the brighter "Flash" offers up a jaunty hook in an all-too-brief song. The pointed "Gateway to Europe" stands as one of Goulden's very best compositions to date, even if the longer, rambling "Forget Who You Are" seems less successful.

Construction Time and Demolition sees Wreckless Eric traipse through the forms of both classic pub rock, and the sort of singer-songwriter stuff that owes far more to Luke Haines, for example, than it does to Richard Thompson. An excellent record, Construction Time and Demolition works for a listener who's deeply familiar with this guy's back-catalog and for those who only know that one big hit from "40 Years" ago (as the track here goes).

Construction Time and Demolition is out today. More details via WrecklessEric.com.

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp image]

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Few Words About This New Henry Kaiser Project

This new Henry Kaiser project is full of music that's both sublime and jarring. En Las Montanas de Excesos, out on Friday via Self Sabotage Records, is the sort of thing that straddles a few genres with the sort of bravery that far too few players attempt these days.

The players here -- Chris Cogburn (drums), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (electric bass), Bob Hoffnar (pedal steel guitar), and Henry Kaiser (electric guitar) -- attack these 4 long tracks with gusto, with even a shorter number like "The Shadow Over Overkill" seeing Kaiser run up and down the neck of his guitar like some odd combination of Fripp and Vai, the rhythm section pulsing behind him. Elsewhere, the epic "The Luxuriance Horror" spools out over the course of 22 minutes, quiet sections alternating with thunderous drum-rolls, and throbbing bass-runs, and throughout Kaiser's absurdly-supple guitar-work. The slightly-shorter "The Dream Quest of the Unknown Plethora" sees these 4 players ride the swells and crests of the fusion-y number with a real fearlessness.

En Las Montanas de Excesos, out on Friday via Self Sabotage Records, is the sort of record that deserves attention from astute listeners, the work of Henry Kaiser here alone something marvelous and consistently-inventive.

Chris Cogburn / Ingebrigt Håker Flaten / Bob Hoffnar / Henry Kaiser "En Las Montañas de Excesos"

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

To The Morning Light: A Review Of The Second Album From Hinds

What the world doesn't need is a long, rambling review of the spry new album from Hinds, I Don't Run, out on Friday via Mom + Pop Music. I mean, the music of the band on 2016 debut Leave Me Alone was unpretentious, and full of the sort of easy indie-pop hooks that were absolutely infectious to even the most jaded of listeners. And, really, I Don't Run is more of the same, with some indications of subtle growth.

And to say that is not to suggest that this is the dreaded difficult second album, but, rather, that I Don't Run varies the Hinds formula just enough to keep things interesting for fans both old and new. It's not that things are more complicated this time out, but that it seems like there was more deliberation in the crafting of this second Hinds long-player, a fact that's apparent within seconds of the start of the record. Ade Martin's throbbing bass on thumping opener "The Club" sets things moving in the right direction, the cut a superbly-produced, richer variation on earlier, more casual numbers (and the closest Hinds have yet come to sounding a lot like Luscious Jackson). If this is maturity in the world of Hinds, I'll take it. Lead single "New For You" is a sunny singalong, the obvious hit here, while "Echoing My Name" is enough of a throwback to the first Hinds releases (when the band was called Deers) to please die-hard fans who pine for something a bit gentle. Elsewhere, "Linda" charts a winding melodic path underneath Ana Perrote's earnest vocals on perhaps the loveliest composition on I Don't Run, further proof of the care with which these selections were composed and arranged.

If the easy and familiar interplay of vocalists Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote is what originally made Hinds such a delightful proposition a few years back, the singers are now also parts of a musically-muscular four-some. And what makes so much of I Don't Run work so well, most notably the sublime "Tester" with its rev-ups and wind-downs, is the way the players here work together. That cut, a faintly Pixies-ish approximation, is invigorating and the sort of thing that soars, even amid the Janet Weiss-style attack on the kit from drummer Amber Grimbergen on this one. The clear highlight of I Don't Run, "Tester" is followed by "Finally Floating", this album's "Garden", a hooky bit of indie-pop business. And those cuts, like the fun "To The Morning Light", and the peppy "Rookie", nod back to those early releases from this band, when things sounded spontaneous and carefree.

If lots of I Don't Run retains that sort of appeal, the overall sound is more robust this time around, with the musicians having found a way to make music that's both thoughtful and (seemingly) effortlessly simple. There was always something pure and unaffected in the music of Hinds, and if that quality now vies with moments that (clearly) indicate a greater level of attention paid in the studio, the overall effect is still a wonderful one, as the tunes here positively bounce with life.

It's just so hard to be impartial about this group. And that's great. The world needs more indie-pop like this, stuff that reminds a listener how much fun life can be, even as people grow up.

I Don't Run by Hinds will be out on Friday via Mom + Pop Music.

More details on Hinds via the band's official Facebook page, or their official website.

[Photos: Neelam Khan Vela (top); Alberto Van Stokkum (middle)]

Monday, April 2, 2018

You Dreamt: A Quick Review Of The Debut Album From MIEN (Members Of The Horrors, The Black Angels, The Earlies)

MIEN is sorta a super-group. And admittedly what will draw listeners to this is the fact that the members are from other bands: Alex Maas from The Black Angels; Tom Furse from The Horrors; Rishi Dhir from Elephant Stone; and John-Mark Lapham from The Earlies. However, and most importantly, there's really compelling music on the self-titled debut from MIEN, and one's enjoyment of this music doesn't depend on a working knowledge of any of those other bands.

If some of this, like "You Dreamt" and "Earth Moon" recalls "Swastika Eyes"-era Primal Scream with ease, the more troubling and invigorating "(I'm Tired Of) Western Shouting" suggests a lifetime spent absorbing Can and Cabaret Voltaire records. The supple and insinuating "Ropes" and "Other" are down-tempo purrs of electronica, throwbacks to an age when more artists were attempting to map out territory like this. Elsewhere, the more driving "Ropes" and the spry "Odessey" seem to owe debts to early New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen, the bright surfaces of the latter song being particularly inviting.

There's a lot here in the grooves of this MIEN record that you may have heard in bits and pieces elsewhere -- swatches of MGMT here, a blast of Chemical Brothers over there -- but the way the pieces were assembled on this release renders MIEN a largely compelling listen.

MIEN by MIEN is out on Friday. More details via the link below. And more details on MIEN via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Speaking In Tongues: A Very Brief Review Of The New Cavemen Album

It would seem silly to spend more time writing a review of the new Cavemen album, Nuke Earth, out Friday on Slovenly, than it would to listen to the record. And as the album is only 24 minutes long, I best get typing, eh?

The New Zealand band whip up an infectious blend of The Cramps, The Misfits, Iggy and The Stooges, and a dash of fellow countrymen Hoodoo Gurus here on this record, and if this kind of rock-and-roll doesn't inspire you in some way, you're probably already dead inside. From the bad intent of "Lust for Evil", and to the buzzing "Batshit Crazy", and then on to the Dead Boys-aping "Chernobyl Baby", the cuts here on Nuke Earth are all effortlessly-cool bits of garage rock done in the trappings of all the best bands in your record collection. The nicely-titled "Don't Wanna Hang" sees the boys take a flash of inspiration from The Ramones, while the lively "Elvis is Alive" updates the Cramps template for a new century. By the time you get to "Speaking in Tongues" at the end of Nuke Earth, you're wired and amped up. I can think of no higher praise than that. The Cavemen are doing it right.

Nuke Earth is out on Slovenly on Friday. More details on The Cavemen via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited photo from the band's Facebook page]

Don't Look Back: A Brief Review Of The New Pere Ubu Box From Fire Records

The remarkable series of Pere Ubu reissues from Fire Records has seen the label bring back into print one of the best back-catalogs in the entirety of post-punk. And if the albums on Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991, the next box-set, out on Friday on Fire Records, seem like less essential ones than other, earlier ones from the David Thomas-fronted band, the 4 discs here may very well upend that conventional wisdom, offering up proof that the vitality of Ubu continued well into those bleak years before Cobain made alternative music safe for more listeners.

Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991 is the last set to be released in this series, but the third in chronological terms, what with Elitism For The People 1975-1978, Architecture Of Language 1979-1982, and Drive, He Said 1994-2002 coming out in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. And if disc 1 of Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991, 1988's The Tenement Year, suggests a bridging of earlier, rougher post-punk styles with more accessible alt-rock ones, it's really 1989's Cloudland that does that work. Still, there's a lot to enjoy here on this 1988 album: the art-roar of "Something's Gotta Give"; the jazzy whirl of "George Had a Hat"; the gallop of "The Hollow Earth"; the plaintive balladry of "We Have The Technology" and so on.

Still, all my praise up there is sort of obliterated once a listener gets to breakthrough album Cloudland (1989). The record is such a pleasant surprise when you hear it again after all these years, that it's a wonder that it's not more often mentioned as a sort of crucial link in the leap from New Wave to college rock in general. "Race the Sun" positively soars, and "Love Love Love" is all peppy goodness, the very sort of thing one imagines being in short supply in David Thomas' world, while the band's big hit, "Waiting For Mary" is gloriously of the era and also the culmination of the rise of American post-punk. Famously mixed at Paisley Park, it's not that this long-player sounds like Prince, but that maybe some of the Purple One's joy when performing can be heard here in these grooves, the band sounding like they are having obvious fun. What a radical concept that was then when considering Pere Ubu!

Disc 3 of Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991 is taken up by 1991's Worlds in Collision, a record remembered perhaps more for its atrocious cover art than what's actually burned into the grooves. And now, having heard this for the first time in quite a few years, I feel criticisms of this one are kinda misplaced. "Don't Look Back" surges like The Pixies, a band who owed quite a lot to David Thomas and Pere Ubu, while "Mirror Man" and the title cut offer up jaunty alt-rock that still tickles the brain while causing the toes to tap. Elsewhere, "I Hear They Smoke The Barbecue" is one odd bit of business, part-Americana, and part-college rock stomper. The song remains surprisingly good, a tight offering from the Ubu that still provokes a curious thrill in a listener.

One would expect Disc 4 of Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991 to be 1992's Story of My Life, but, alas, it's given over to a Lost Album that is essentially a collection of demos. While one can wonder about the fate of that really lost album that would have nicely connected this set with Drive, He Said 1994-2002, it's better to just dive into what's here and enjoy it all. "Postman Drove a Caddy" is weird and vaguely like Tom Waits material circa Frank's Wild Years, while "Invisible Man" is more accessible. "Like a Rolling Stone" is, thankfully, not a cover of the Dylan song. What it is is another reminder of this band's bravery in throwing so many ideas at the wall. The group's sense of abandon at times saw the musicians pursue dead-ends, and at others vast highways leading into undiscovered countries. The soundscapes here, on rare cuts like "Wine Dark Sparks", are little bits of proof of the greatness of this band, and their endurance through multiple decades of trends that drew listeners in different directions.

And while so much of Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991 seems to indicate an era in which Pere Ubu were intent on going a bit more mainstream, I prefer to play these albums and hear Pere Ubu seize their chance to break through, and grab a whole new class of fans. Reminders of the consistent greatness of David Thomas and his evolving team of players, and testaments from an age when post-punk found itself morphing into alt-rock, the 3 studio albums on Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991 are all superb. And if the 4th disc is more of a curiosity, at least it's one from Pere Ubu when the band was still on fire, and still offering up the sound of something legitimately subversive and alternative, a respite from the mainstream.

Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales 1987-1991 by Pere Ubu is out on Friday via Fire Records.

More details on Pere Ubu via UbuProjex.com.

[Photo: Frank Ockenfels, 1991]

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The High Price: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Charnel Ground (Members Of Codeine, Yo La Tengo, Oneida)

If the first big instrumental record of Spring 2018 was, obviously, that superb Messthetics album, the second of note is surely the new release from Charnel Ground. The players here -- Chris Brokaw (Come/Codeine/The New Year) on guitar, James McNew (Yo La Tengo, Dump) on bass, and Kid Millions (Oneida/Man Forever) on drums -- use this record, out on Friday via 12XU, to deliver the sort of punishing riffs that post-punk as a genre once offered up to the masses, before things got too ironic and self-aware.

Opener "Jimmy" is brief and nearly accessible, but the bludgeoning "The High Price" is the sound of a train being driven through a demolition derby. It is delightful and the sort of thing that remains brave and a little subversive in an era where far too many acts are playing it safe. Elsewhere, "Playa De Ticia" is a brief respite from the sonic assault, while the spry "Skeleton Coast" suggests the faintest hints of rock-jazz fusion creeping in, though not enough to diminish the force of what's here. Finally, as we fall into the orbit of the epic "Charnel Ground", the band Charnel Ground enters an arena of complexity, bits of noise and elegant quiet trading places as the 18 minutes of the cut move past a listener.

Charnel Ground is the sort of record that is worth seeking out. Obviously, there's some appeal if you were a fan of the many bands these 3 players were a part of in the past. However, forgetting their pedigrees, it's still a remarkable release, and one that delivers more post-punk power than lots else I've heard in 2018, I can tell you that.

Charnel Ground by Charnel Ground is out on Friday via 12XU.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from label]

Friday, March 30, 2018

Diggin' For Something: A Quick Review Of The New Album From D.A. Stern

The debut record from D.A. Stern, Aloha Hola, reissued today via Slumberland Records, is the sort of release that's going to get a lot of reviews mentioning the power-pop charms of the album. And, yeah, Aloha Hola is full of numbers that seem like the sort of tunes one would have found on old records from the Yellow Pills era, but there's also something here that's a bit blissful and dreamy, and so certainly in line with the early releases from the fine Slumberland Records. And it's this effortless blending of a few genres that makes the music on Aloha Hola so wonderful.

From the instantly-catchy opener "Am I Ever On Your Mind?" and on to Fifties throwback "When I Said You Were Right I Was Wrong", it's clear that Stern has a knack for this sort of graceful rummaging of pop's past, the crunchy riffs in the first cut as memorable as the old-fashioned hooks in the other. Elsewhere, the spry Cure-isms of "Bluedgenes" sit nicely near the peppier "Diggin' For Something", all New Wave fuzz wrapped up in a farfisa swirl.

If David Aaron Stern seems a memorable new voice in the world of power-pop, the easy equal in spots to recent champions of the form like Jason Falkner or Jon Brion, it's the more elegant "Giving Up" that suggests some odd mix of lyrical alt-rock with ELO. And that's an impression earned less because of the supple verses here but more because of the simply gorgeous break in the middle of the song that seems like a ray of sunshine piercing a bleak February sky. Lush in the way that a Jeff Lynne ballad would be, but with the seriousness of mind about it that's all Ocean Rain-era McCulloch crooning over his first string section, the track is the sort of thing that elevates what was already a very good release in Aloha Hola into something superb.

And if the George Harrison-style ballad "Rising Suns" suggests another direction for D.A. Stern to pursue, and the Big Star-recalling "Miami" yet another, I think it's safe to assume after hearing Aloha Hola that D.A. Stern will probably head off in pursuit of his own unique pop muse. Sure, so much of what's here is gonna be familiar to fans of the very best bands, but it's the way that the pieces are put together without a lot of force that impresses a listener so much. D.A. Stern seems such a natural that it feels safe to review this record and pepper the prose with nods to all those other famous bands and musicians. Look, I know little of where D.A. Stern was before Aloha Hola, but I know that, having heard this record, I'm prepared to follow this guy down whatever modern pop alley he chooses to explore.

Aloha Hola is out today via Slumberland Records.

More details on D.A. Stern via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Daniel Gonzelez AKA Danny Kokomo]

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Freedom: A Brief Review Of The New Amen Dunes Album

The new record from Amen Dunes, Freedom, out on Sacred Bones tomorrow, is the sort of release that has a lot of easy charm, even for folks like me who are relatively late to the band. For long-time fans of Amen Dunes, I'm sure there's also a lot to love here.

Numbers like "Blue Rose" and "Skipping School" possess a sound that made me think of recent tracks from The War on Drugs, while the far more supple "Time" uses a variety of textures underneath Damon McMahon's voice to great effect. Elsewhere, the spry "Miki Dora" and the subtly-rhythmic "Dracula" are memorable and engaging, McMahon here offering up fairly natural performances. The 2 longer songs that close Freedom, work so well largely thanks to Beach House producer Chris Coady's efforts here. "Freedom" and "L.A." unfurl at languid paces, McMahon riding the grooves with his voice masterfully. This is not all entirely original -- and listeners to the last 2 War on Drugs records will agree with me there -- but the songs of Amen Dunes here retain a certain imprecise charm, the wisps of hooks lingering in the head just long enough to make a listener really dig this record, and want to throw a few of these cuts on mixes for the car, for those late-night drives down the highway.

Freedom from Amen Dunes is out tomorrow via Sacred Bones. More details on Amen Dunes via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Michael Schmelling]

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

This Stuff: A Few Words About The New Frankie Cosmos Album On Sub Pop

I'm a bit late to the party with Frankie Cosmos but I think I'm a real fan now. The band's new album, Vessel, drops on Sub Pop on Friday and it's equal parts semi-rollicking indie-pop and bits of easy nu-folk. There are 18 songs here and the majority are fairly short but all are -- thanks to the work of song-writer and band-leader Greta Kline -- bright bits of business, each sort of causing a listener to remember how much fun indie-pop can be, and how smart it remains when crafted by the right players.

Numbers like "Being Alive" and "Apathy" find a way to hit at everyday struggles, the sort that make most people want to give up. The folks in Frankie Cosmos are having none of that, of course, and tracks like the summery "Accommodate" and "Same Thing" suggest past bits of indie-pop greatness, like tunes from The Softies and Mary Lou Lord, for example, while serving as examples of a totally original set of voices in contemporary rock. Greta Kline manages to make this stuff work and there's a real sense of economical songwriting here that would cause even Robert Pollard to get a little jealous. Still, Greta's not alone here as she's joined by David Maine on bass, Lauren Martin on keys and guitar, and Luke Pyenson on drums, and each player adds a lot of life to what are relatively simple songs. Some tracks here, like the gentle "This Stuff" and the lovely "Jesse" are a bit more relaxed, but it's the more buoyant numbers here that set the toes a-tapping and create a memorable buzz in the eardrums, with so much of that buzz one that manages to inspire even the most jaded of listeners.

Vessel by Frankie Cosmos is an excellent record, and one that's so excellent that I sorta regret being so out of it when it comes to earlier Frankie Cosmos and Greta Kline releases. The sort of release that will casually re-affirm your faith in the power of pop music, Vessel is 18 tracks of lively, non-cynical rock. Have a blast and buy this one when it drops on Sub Pop on Friday.

More details on Frankie Cosmos via the band's official Facebook page, or their official website.

[Photo: Loroto Productions]

Monday, March 26, 2018

How Was I Supposed To Know: A Brief Review Of The New Holy Wave Album

There are only 8 songs on the new album from Holy Wave, Adult Fear, out on Friday via The Reverberation Appreciation Society, but they are each special. The Austin, Texas-based band make music that's reminiscent of acts as disparate as The Clientele and Temples. And to say that is to acknowledge how lovely the music is here.

Opener "Nation in Regress" is a bit space-y with the band seeming to be channeling something from the late Sixties, while the more elegant "How Was I Supposed To Know" veers into chamber pop territory, bits of The Left Banke brushing up against pieces of the Broadcast back-catalog. The epic "Habibi" showcases the instrumental prowess of the players here, the vocal portions of this one almost secondary to the overall effect, while "Dixie Cups" suggests nothing so much as the first few waves of bands from the 4AD label some decades ago. Elsewhere, "David's Flower" hits a kind of lovely peak on this album, while the longer title track purrs and percolates with a faint sense of abandon.

So much of Adult Fear is ornate and downright baroque in its presentation, and that's sort of why I liked this album so much. What Holy Wave are doing here, while not entirely original, is the sort of thing that's hard not to love. Fans of The Zombies will love this, and so will fans of mid-period Helium, you know what I mean? This is wonderful music, really.

Adult Fear by Holy Wave is out on Friday via The Reverberation Appreciation Society.

[Photo: James Oswald]

Sunday, March 25, 2018

To Come Back: A Quick Review Of The New Kristoffer Bolander Album

The new record from Kristoffer Bolander, What Never Was Will Always Be, out on Friday via Tapete Records, is a supple and lyrical release. A refinement of the art-pop found on 2015's debut from the Swedish singer, I Forgive Nothing, this new Kristoffer Bolander album is affecting indie-pop that skirts the edges of greatness in spots.

"To Come Back" and "Animals" suggest the music of The National and Bon Iver, among many others, and it's clear here on this newest release that Kristoffer Bolander is seeking a wider audience. However, there appears no indication anywhere here that he's compromised his vision as cuts like "Untraceable" and "Cities" reveal sleek electronic-pop of the very finest order, Bolander's voice blending nicely with the keyboard textures that anchor the tunes. Elsewhere, the mournful and methodically-paced "Unborn" downplays Bolander's prodigious skills as a vocalist in order to let the rhythmic texture underpinning the track impart the real emotional heft here, and there's the real secret of why What Never Was Will Always Be is so good. It's not that Kristoffer Bolander has tried to diminish the effect of his wildly-expressive voice, but that he's found a way here on this record to use that voice as one more instrument in these finely-arranged and expertly-produced songs.

What Never Was Will Always Be is a superbly-realized release, and one that uses Kristoffer Bolander's voice to great effect, even as it places it within a certain alt-rock context. So much of what's here works precisely because there's a nice balance at work here between the extraordinary gifts of the singer and the assembly of the instrumental pieces behind him.

What Never Was Will Always Be by Kristoffer Bolander will be out on Friday via Tapete Records.

[Photo: Kristoffer Hedberg]

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Music In The Air: A Few Words About The New Holger Czukay Box Set

Holger Czukay would have been 80 today. He died only a few months ago, likely while this superb box-set was being prepared. Cinema, out as of yesterday via Groenland, serves as a sort of exhaustive look at Czukay's work as a solo artist away from Can. It is superbly realized and breathtaking in its scope, spanning 5 records or discs, along with a DVD.

Disc 1 of Cinema opens with a brief, previously-unreleased piece before the epic "Canaxis" kicks off. More than twenty minutes of near-drone-rock, the cut, from the 1969 album of the same name, is progressive in the best sense of that word, the ebbs-and-flows of the tones of the track both soothing and challenging a listener. Elsewhere, on Disc 2, the compositions from 1979's Movies seem a touch more accessible, the lengthy "Oh Lord Give Us More Money" showcasing Czukay's bass skills, as well as ease at crafting a languid landscape of sound, while the classic "Persian Love" from the same album remains a spry touchstone of samples and electronic variations of what we'd call world music when I was younger.

On Disc 3 of Cinema there seems even more variety for a listener, with the pulsing title track from 1981's On The Way To The Peak Of Normal positively oozing out of the speakers, while "Witches Multiplication Table" brings a trace of fusion to things, the music, in typical Holger Czukay fashion, brushing up against so many genres than a writer is a bit adrift when trying to describe it. The far longer and intoxicating "Ode To Perfume" serves as a showcase of both Czukay's subtly-visionary approach to bass-playing and skillful ease as a composer. "How Much Are They?" from 1982's Full Circle LP with Jaki Liebezeit and Jah Wobble sounds like something from the glory days of the On-U-Sound label, the 3 musicians exploring rhythmic textures and sonic moods here with an ease that other players would never have with such material.

More cuts from that 1982 record spill-over onto the final disc here, with "Trench Warfare" being a standout, while 2 selections from 1987's Rome Remains Rome -- "Hey Baba Reebop and "Hit Hit Flop Flop" -- remaining bright, spry offerings even now, while another ("Music in the Air") suggests a more ambient approach from Czukay. Similarly, the numbers from 1991's Radio Wave Surfer, suggest a slight movement towards more mainstream material, with Holger Czukay here doing his part to join the then-surging alt-rock boom with the title cut. Still, the highlight of this disc of Cinema, and probably the box-set itself, is "Breath Taking", a previously-unreleased track from sessions for 2008's Second Life that sees Czukay collaborate with Stockhausen, his mentor who died the year prior. The track is full of undulating grace, and near-ambient textures, Holger Czukay taking us into new realms here, punctuated by sampled vocals and washes of keyboards.

One could listen to some of this -- like the New Wave-y and horn-laced "Cool in the Pool", for instance -- and try to pin Holger Czukay down to one genre. But it would be a wasted effort as the guy defied easy categorization. This is music that stands on its own outside of contemporary styles and trends. So much of what makes Cinema great is that the music varies so much, sometimes in the space of one disc or record in the set. The late Czukay was supremely talented, and his was a restive genius. For that reason, Cinema serves as a fitting tribute to his solo work, showcasing as it does the wild variety of styles found in his rich back-catalog.

More details on Cinema and Holger Czukay can be found on the Groenland website.

[Photo: Andrew Cotterill]

Thursday, March 22, 2018

This Is Not A Fugazi Reunion: A Look At The Debut Album From The Messthetics

In an inexplicable bit of business, the very same culture that allowed a lot of young people to pick up instruments and form punk bands in this city also allowed a whole lot of space within that same scene for musical exploration. In other cities, there would have been little tolerance for such pursuit of music-for-music's-sake, with the practitioners being labeled traitors to the cause. Here, in Washington, D.C., the scene -- an admittedly insular one -- fostered such a sense of community, that when acts like Fugazi, Smart Went Crazy, and Lungfish went in directions that veered slightly from the styles of the early days of harDCore, the bands were encouraged, and praised for doing so. And, consequently, a band like Fugazi was able to make music that had a message, but also music that saw a more intricate form of post-punk being introduced to indie listeners in this region, and the nation at large.

And now, with the release of The Messthetics, out on Dischord on Friday, half of Fugazi has teamed up with a guitarist who's entirely comfortable skating along the edges of heavy fusion and prog-rock. The Messthetics -- Brendan Canty on drums, Joe Lally on bass, and Anthony Pirog on guitar -- make music that's as far from, say, early Fugazi, as Minor Threat was from, say, Hawkwind. And yet, one could draw up a Venn diagram of harDCore fans who'll be drawn to this, and prog-rock fans who'll love it too, and a whole swatch of overlap indicating the presence of the very great kind of openness in this city's music scene that I was describing up above.

The Messthetics is, of course, a blazing affair, with these 3 players unleashing their talents in the service of a pure music. A number like "Serpent Tongue" sees Pirog unfurling a brittle, percolating hook over a downright-brutal rhythmic attack from Canty and Lally underneath it. The effect is reminiscent of Eighties King Crimson without the oppressive sense that the players are trying to show off. Elsewhere, the epic "Quantum Path" sees Pirog veer into Vai territory as Canty drops hard jazz hits on the kit behind him. On a track like this, it's up to Joe Lally to anchor the tune, his bass-work unwinding the melodic thread that ties the other players' efforts together. "Mythomania" and "Crowds and Power" offer up similarly-ferocious bits of music, the players working together like the best fusion band you've never heard of, and one without a lot of baggage, just a desire to burn through the music.

Still, for all that obvious musical force, lots of what's here is also subtle and nearly-introspective. The lovely "Once Upon a Time" uses a few near-ambient moments, and Lally's bass-pulses, to deliver a tune that's far more inward-looking than one might expect when reading about this band's debut, while the expansive "The Inner Ocean" sees the trio relax and explore a soundscape markedly more languid than others on this record. The 2 cuts suggest the power of this band to hold things back, and restrain themselves when need be.

The Messthetics should appeal to fans of late-period Fugazi records, sure, as well as the sort of listener who bought up the early Beauty Pill releases on Dischord. And, yeah, the record seems the obvious point of progression for wildly-talented D.C. legend Anthony Pirog, but, significantly, The Messthetics will appeal to listeners beyond just fans of the previous work of these 3 musicians. And that's why it's such an important release. For a scene that was seen by some outsiders as far too restrictive, D.C. has allowed so much talent to flourish in unique ways that The Messthetics can be seen as sort of a reminder of how far harDCore progressed in this city, and how far it can still go.

The Messthetics by The Messthetics is out on Friday via Dischord.

More details on The Messthetics via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Antonia Tricarico]

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Club: Play Fab New Video From Hinds Here

It's fitting that the video for the new single from Hinds, "The Club", echoes that "Ticket To Ride" sequence in Help! as, frankly, this new tune from the Spanish four-some is every bit as fun as those early numbers from that four-piece from Liverpool. Another taster from the band's upcoming album, I Don't Run, out everywhere on April 6, the cut is a blast, full of singalong appeal and bright, bubbly charm.

"The Club" is the second song to drop from the upcoming April 6 release and it's a bit rockier than the earlier "New For You" but every bit as infectious and catchy as that first 2018 single from the band. Hinds -- Ana Perrote (vocals, guitar), Ade Martin (bass, backing vocals), Amber Grimbergen (drums), and Carlotta Cosials (vocals, guitar) -- are here prepping the follow-up to their full-length debut album, 2016's Leave Me Alone. And if expectations are necessarily high for I Don't Run, I think it's safe to assume that these 4 players will find a way to surprise listeners in positive ways, and leave long-time fans with a big smile on their faces.

Some 4 years ago, guys like me were raving about this band (then called Deers), and I'm happy to be still raving as, frankly, Hinds make music that's such a pleasure to listen to, that one wonders why so much of the rest of modern indie-pop has to be so dour and joyless.

I know: The world's going to hell, but people can still be awesome, and pop music can still be a great thing, so dig this new one from Hinds!

More details on Hinds via the group's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Alberto Van Stokkum]

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I Discovered Lightning In A Jar: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Guided By Voices

The new record by Guided By Voices, Space Gun, out on Friday via Rockathon, is exactly the sort of record one would expect this band to make after the superb one-two punch of August By Cake and How Do You Spell Heaven in 2017. Space Gun is the sound of a group throttling things into overdrive after catching their second -- or third, or fifth, or twelfth -- wind. In very simple terms, Space Gun is the punchiest and most obviously rockin' record that Robert Pollard has been a part of since, perhaps, one of those Boston Spaceships releases a few years ago. If the last 2 GBV albums were, respectively, attempts by this crew to try their hand at Beatles-style classic rock and Yellow Pills-inspired power-pop, Space Gun is the group's roaring pillage of post-punk, echoes of Big Dipper and hardcore records brushing up against each other as Uncle Bob rifles through rock's past.

From the Ziggy-nods of the opening title cut, and on to the soaring "See My Field", Pollard and his mates -- Doug Gillard, Kevin March, Mark Shue, and Bobby Bare Jr. -- seem to have found new chords with which to build fresh -- and HUGE -- hooks. Gloriously tuneful, these 2 numbers on their own make Space Gun an obvious addition to any list of the best records of 2018. Elsewhere, the faux-glam-stomp of "Colonel Paper" sits easily next to the rippling "King Flute", a nice throwback to the styles of Mag Earwhig!-era offerings from Pollard and company. The more complicated "Sport Component National" packs a bunch of riffs from Tommy into a compact form, Pollard here offering up something that both feels familiar and a touch different, even as the cut segues into the silly-but-fun "I Love Kangaroos", one of those effortlessly-perfect Pollard compositions that one expects on each release from the legend.

And while a reviewer of Space Gun would be remiss for not highlighting the sharp Who-like chord changes of "Flight Advantage", or the expansive rambles of "Evolution Circus", lots of ink will likely be rightly spent by reviewers on "That's Good", one of Bob's best ballads in decades. More "Don't Stop Now" than "Hold On Hope", "That's Good" sees Pollard seize a melody that seems like something Lennon would have latched onto in his later years, around the time that the boys in Cheap Trick briefly acted as his backing band. The cut, a clear highlight of Space Gun, marries Pollard's appreciation of classic rock-era songwriting with his ability to routinely and consistently conjure a sound that owes as much to, say, mid-period Husker Du as it does to ELO.

Robert Pollard is surely some sort of wizard, one assumes when listening to Space Gun, his latest dabbling in the power-pop dark arts. Marvelously assured, this LP is the sort of thing that Pollard and his crew need to produce more of. Concise but not lean, adventurous but not indulgent, the music on Space Gun is some of the best that Robert Pollard has composed in years, the players here firing on all cylinders behind him. To long-time fans, I'd simply say that this is the sort of combo of Alien Lanes-era GBV and Boston Spaceships stuff that lots of us longed for. Which is to say that Space Gun is a superb record, and one that stands as a clear peak in the output of Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices in the 21st century.

Space Gun is out on Friday via Rockathon Records.

More details on Guided By Voices via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited photo from the band's official Facebook page]

Monday, March 19, 2018

Take Me Away: A Few Words About The New Bonny Doon Album

The new album from Bonny Doon, Longwave, dropping on Woodsist Records on Friday, is the sort of release that sneaks up and surprises you. Largely down-tempo indie, the tunes here are uniformly good, and likely to appeal to fans of acts as disparate as Big Star and Built To Spill.

"A Lotta Things" works up the sort of slacker charm that Malkmus and his kinsmen in Pavement routinely conjured, while the more languid "Take Me Away" recalls The Jayhawks, of all things, or even The Pernice Brothers. If the members of Bonny Doon seem to be drawing from a bunch of inspiration points, at least there's a uniformity on Longwave that suggests that the band have learned to internalize all this in order to produce uniformly-great music. Elsewhere, "Saved" nods in the direction of Exile-era Stones, while the lovely "Saw A Light" blends a bit of neo-folk up with something approaching the sort of thing that usually gets compared by critics to the music of Gram Parsons.

Bonny Doon manage to make lots and lots of this work, and a reader shouldn't infer from my comparison-points that Longwave is simply derivative alt-rock, as it's not. At their very best, like on the supple title track, Bonny Doon make music that makes me think of some of the stuff that Beulah did towards the end of their career. And what that means in 2018, is that Bonny Doon have a knack for doing this sort of couldn't care less-ness with ease, the melodies easy to sink into, and the hooks gentle things unlikely to rock too many boats. And that's sort of the genius of Longwave as a record, I think.

Longwave is out on Friday via Woodsist Records.

More details on Bonny Doon via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Chloe Sells]

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bigger Than The Storm: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Jack Hayter (ex-Hefner)

The new record from Jack Hayter, Abbey Wood, out on Friday via Gare Du Nord Records, is the sort of mournful, quietly beautiful record that demands attention. Hayter, a member of Hefner, here makes folk-y music that channels the legacies of artists from the British folk-rock boom (the explicit Richard Thompson references in "The Stranger Fair", for example) as well as indie-rock (the guitar feedback in "At Crossness Pumping Station", for another).

Hayter uses a light, intimate touch on songs like "I Am John's Care Home", and an even more intimate one on "But I Don't Know About Frankie", an affecting spoken-word piece. The lyrical "The Mulberry Tree at Abbey Wood" suggests something from the glory days of Irish folk, Hayter's voice and guitar-plucks things from some timeless age, while the lighter-than-air "Fanny on the Hill" offers up Hayter's tremulous voice against faint strings, a combination that is, oddly, reminiscent of early Peter Gabriel recordings to these ears. Elsewhere, Hayter wisely allows guest vocalist Suzanne Rhatigan to take over lots of the singing duties on the lovely "Bigger Than The Storm", one of the strongest tunes here, while "At Crossness Pumping Station" mourns the passing of time and a changing Abbey Wood.

Jack Hayter has, in a sense, made a concept album here on Abbey Wood, and it's one that largely works even if you've never been to the neighborhood in question. Alternately soothing and gently prodding, Hayter's vocals here, and his precisely-composed songs, strike at something in an astute listener's ears, and one finds something moving here that echoes far beyond the confines of London.

Abbey Wood by Jack Hayter is out on Friday via Gare Du Nord Records.

More details on Jack Hayter via his official Facebook page, or via his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited 2013 photo from Jack's Facebook page]

Drive Common Sense Away: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Montreal's Look Vibrant

The new album from Montreal's Look Vibrant, The Up Here Place, is an indulgent bit of business, but it's also a reasonably interesting record. Out on Friday, the album dabbles in a few genres with ease, and hops all over the place in terms of style.

Here on their full-length debut release, the members of Look Vibrant -- Justin Lazarus, Matthew Murphy, Alex Rand, and Eli Kaufman -- make music that sounds a bit like that of Ariel Pink and MGMT in lots of spots. If a number like "Last One To Survive" coos-and-pops with a bright, electronic sheen in a neat approximation of the previously-mentioned MGMT, it's the whirling "Sweater in the Lake" that offers up a lo-fi approximation of the sort of panoramic psychedelia that The Flaming Lips perfected in the mid-Nineties. The lovely "Drive Common Sense Away" segues into the catchy "Numb Your Spirit", a neat melding of Temples and Foxygen records. There's a certain amount of sonic overload here that makes the music of Look Vibrant far better in small doses than large ones, but one must still applaud the artistry here. The members of Look Vibrant are hardly careful here, but I sort of appreciated how much they threw into the mix on The Up Here Place as the result is, if not compelling in every moment, at least very interesting.

The Up Here Place is out on Friday. More details on the album via the link below, and more details on the band via their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo picture]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Undead: My Interview With The Legendary Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Tones On Tail, Love And Rockets) About His New Book On Bauhaus

On Friday, Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets), will offer up his new book, Bauhaus – Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus via Cleopatra Records. While the physical version was not sent out to reviewers in advance, I can safely say, having seen some of the photos and artwork in the book, that fans of Bauhaus will love this one. Lavishly-illustrated, Bauhaus – Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus is a rare look at one of the seminal bands of the post-punk era.

Given his undoubtedly busy schedule this week in the run-up to the book's release, I'm grateful that Kevin Haskins took some time today to sit down for a phone interview with me here.

"A good friend of mine, Matt Green at Cleopatra Records, knew I had a huge collection of ephemera and suggested I put this out," Kevin explained about the genesis of the book. The project, while all Kevin's, has been met with appreciation from the other members of Bauhaus (Daniel Ash, Peter Murphy, and David J, Kevin's brother), and they all "gave their blessing from the get-go, and they all sent really nice emails of congratulations."

And while fans of the band might find that surprising, given that the impression is that the group split into 2 camps -- Peter Murphy, and the other 3 members of the band -- Kevin feels now more sanguine about those years, looking back with a sort of amazement at how easily the group came together in 1978 and progressed into a musical unit. "The first song we wrote and recorded was 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' and it was kind of remarkable." As he explains, what listeners got with that single, "was basically our first run-through as a group, and that's what you hear on the record."

That single, and its appearance in the 1983 film, The Hunger, helped Bauhaus get labelled a goth band. "I don't think any band really wants to be pigeon-holed, but it's a natural thing humans do," Kevin recollects now. "We just felt that, you know, goth put certain parameters on things, and it puts you in a box," he says, "But we dressed a certain way, put out a song about a vampire, drove around in a hearse," he laughs. "But we were more art-rock," he suggests now.


That picture up there from the book suggests a kind of schism in the band, a rift that one wonders might have lead to the formation of Tones on Tail (Kevin Haskins and Daniel Ash), and then Love and Rockets (Kevin Haskins, Daniel Ash, and David J), but Haskins now seems more realistic in his assessment of how things work in bands. "Daniel, David, and Peter all have very strong characters, and we all have egos, so, you know, there was a lot of friction all the time," which is "pretty normal in bands, and it's kind of why bands work, as it helps the dynamic of the band in a way." So Bauhaus disbanded and "David, Peter, and Daniel didn't want to carry on, but I did, and Daniel pretty quickly called me and asked if I wanted to play in Tones on Tail."

Tones on Tail seemed to be a harder sell for the loyal acolytes of the goth styles of Bauhaus, but the band's dance-y numbers, like "Go", earned them a whole lot of fans. "Tones on Tail was very experimental, and eclectic, with varieties of styles," Kevin recollects. "Each song had its own unique, distinct vibe," and as musicians, "everything went with Tones on Tail, whereas Love and Rockets had a more defined sound."

Tones on Tail became, in a way, Love and Rockets once David J joined Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins, and that band used a different approach than the earlier bands. As Haskins explains, they didn't really start with a plan when approaching the creation of some of their records, like Earth, Sun, Moon (1987), but, as Haskins says, "We knew we wanted to do something different," and the result was the first of many stylistic shifts in the career of that fine trio.

Now, that band, and Bauhaus have reformed and played shows and gone on tours, and tried to give fans what they want to hear. "The same way, when I go and see a band from back in the day, I don't want to hear reworked versions, so we try to make it as close to the records as possible, [and it's] like putting on an old glove, or boot, or whatever. And in some ways it feels like only a week ago we were playing all this back in the day."

Kevin Haskins' newest project, Poptone, sees Kevin teaming up with Daniel Ash yet again. Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins had been DJ-ing together and Ash proposed a DJ tour. At that point, Kevin said "'Daniel, instead of going to all that trouble to tour like that [as DJ's], why don't we tour [as a band] instead?'" So they are, with the addition of Kevin's daughter on bass in the band.

I ended my interview asking a question suggested by my long-time buddy, Don. Now, when I worked with Don at the Record Co-Op at the University of Maryland, I estimate that he played the Tones on Tail CD at least as much as he played Truth and Soul from Fishbone, which is to say a lot. Don, who proudly recounts that his first CD purchase back in the mid-Eighties was the import disc of Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven from Love and Rockets, said that I should ask Kevin Haskins, drummer for Love and Rockets, what his preferred format was when listening to music for pleasure.

"Vinyl," Haskins said without a second's hesitation. And while he admits that digital formats have made it easier and more convenient to listen to music, "I still have all my records and it's what I grew up with so..."

Bauhaus – Undead: The Visual History and Legacy of Bauhaus is out on Friday via Cleopatra Records and it looks like a must-purchase-sort of book.

More details on Kevin Haskins can be found via his official Facebook page.

[Photos: Graham Trott; Brian Shanley; Fin Costello; Jean Ramsey; Mitch Jenkins]