Thursday, November 29, 2018

Before The Time: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Shadowgraphs

The new album from Shadowgraphs, Another Time, out tomorrow via Golden Brown, is the sort of release that straddles multiple genres with the resulting record ending up being a pretty wonderful thing. If you are desperate for a label, call this chamber pop, even though shoegaze elements abound.

"I've Been Around" and "Before The Time" chime and ring from under a bright, electronic sheen, like offerings from Temples, while the lighter title cut echoes recent releases from Papercuts, for instance. Elsewhere, the superb "Run For Your Life" sees Bryan Olson and Charles Glade embrace production that places the lush music somewhere close to early O.M.D. sides, or the best material from Butterfly Child. The tunes here on Another Time rarely drift away into the ether, though they nearly do as some of these cuts seem to run together in a listener's ears. Still, a number like "Peninsula Park" is so easy to love that it seems churlish nitpicking anything about this band's music. When they do this properly, Shadowgraphs hit all the right notes and, in small doses, parts of Another Time are truly transcendent.

Another Time is out tomorrow via Golden Brown.

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

[Photo: Bridgette Aikens]

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Keep Your Ear To The Ground: A Brief Review Of The Salad Days Soundtrack

Director Scott Crawford surveyed the harDCore history of the nation's capital succinctly and generously in the 2014 film, Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. The documentary managed to cover so much so easily that a viewer could perhaps forget how challenging it must have been to impart so much information in just a single film. Similarly, one imagines the difficulties in trying to soundtrack the whole thing.

While the film featured a ton of songs -- and, it's worth reminding readers, with an expert sound-mix by Archie Moore of Velocity Girl -- there was no corresponding soundtrack available for purchase. Until now. Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 will be out on black and red vinyl via SaladDaysDC.com on December 10.

And since lots and lots of what's heard in Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 literally soundtracked the youth of so many men and women in this area, it was surely a daring concept to suggest a single soundtrack record; how could one album possibly cover the birth of harDCore in this city, and the next decade of music made here? Well, thankfully, Scott Crawford has compiled -- curated, really -- a fantastic record here in Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. I never thought I'd say this about a release that *doesn't* feature Fugazi and Minor Threat (or Scream and Rites of Spring, I might add), but this set really does a fantastic job at encapsulating an entire scene, while simultaneously shining a light on the gems that outsiders may have never heard.

I mean, a very compelling case could be made that the genre-bending, pre-Riot Grrl, Revolution Summer-inspired rock of Fire Party, represented here by "Drowning Intentions", was every bit as vital to this city as the tunes of Rites of Spring, for example. Or that the nearly-metal stylings of the ubiquitous-in-the-era Kingface, whose "Tired" shows up here, neatly foreshadows the crossover appeal of this music, and provides a hint of why a good hook was sometimes just as important as good intentions (especially in a sometimes rigid scene). One could even make the case that the never-on-Dischord Black Market Baby effectively showed, through stuff like "Downward Christian Soldiers", on offer here, that it wasn't only straight edge acts who could make some political points in the nation's capital and environs.

And while there are a few numbers here that serve up some expected harDCore pleasures (the propulsive "Motorist" from reliable stalwarts Jawbox, or the punky power-pop of Marginal Man's "Under A Shadow"), there's loads more that surprises on Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90. "Sensations Fix" reminds a listener of the corrosive power of United Mutation, while the familiar evisceration of "Who Are You?" from Void still amazes like much of that band's brief catalog always does. And while loads of listeners may first gravitate towards "Now I'm Alone" from Mission Impossible featuring a young Dave Grohl, I like to think that lots of fans are also going to buy this for "Swann Street" from Three, a classic of the era, rendered here by Gray Matter from a 2013 reunion concert at D.C.'s Black Cat.


Amidst other essential tracks here from Holy Rollers, Soulside, and Iron Cross, are important atypical numbers from this city's harDCore past, including "Chocolate" from the genre-defying and effortlessly-brilliant Shudder To Think, and "Godspeed" by Swiz featuring the ridiculously-fiery vocals of Shawn Brown, the original singer of Dag Nasty. Brown's performance here, alongside Jason Farrell (Bluetip), is fantastic, an unleashing of the sort of fury that the power-punk tunes of Dag Nasty didn't always allow space for. Similarly, "It's About Time That We Had A Change" from Youth Brigade reminds a listener of just how precisely on-point this scene's players could be, drummer Danny Ingram here hitting the skins with machine gun-like precision, and bassist Bert Queiroz providing a pulsating energy that he brought over from his earlier band, Double O, also represented on this soundtrack by a rare cut.

And while Nathan Strejcek's vocal-work on that Youth Brigade selection is energetic and rallying, full of the kind of energy one rightly associates with the early days of harDCore, it's the late John Stabb's performance on "Where You Live" from Government Issue that resonates still. A song that is as direct as a punch in the arm, the tune not only features J. Robbins, future leader of Jawbox, but Tom Lyle, the guy who mastered this soundtrack, on bass. For a band that's remembered sometimes more for Stabb's iconoclastic antics than the actual tunes, it's nice to hear a track from Government Issue that highlights just what a fantastically-tight musical unit the band was during their peak years.

At its very best, Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 serves as a sort of audio scrapbook, serving up the familiar memories one wants to revisit time and time again, along with a few nearly-overlooked mementos of a special time and place. For a scene that produced so many seminal bands, there's been a real lack of any essential, curated compilations. So Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 fills that gap with 18 reminders of the variety and versatility of harDCore, the cuts here sounding crisper and more electric than they've perhaps ever sounded.

Music From Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 is out on December 10 on black and red vinyl via SaladDaysDC.com. Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC 1980-90 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from the same site, and available to stream from the usual outlets.

[Photos: Gray Matter, 2018, by me; Swiz, 2014, by me; Youth Brigade, 2012, by me; soundtrack cover and back-cover courtesy SaladDaysDC.com]

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sewer Rock: A Brief Review Of The New Compilation From Wurm (Pre-Black Flag)

If The Ramones (or Richard Hell) created punk rock on the East Coast in the first half of the Seventies, it's fair to say that Wurm -- not gonna try to do the umlaut-thing, folks -- invented grunge, or something like it, on the West Coast around the same time. Formed in 1973 by bassist Chuck Dukowski, who would later join Black Flag, the band recorded one album that didn't get released until 1985. Now, in honor of Record Store Day, Org Music has dropped a compilation of essentially all of the band's work.

The release, called appropriately-enough Exhumed, hit stores on Friday but I'm here to alert you, in case you didn't know that yet, or didn't know just how very essential this set is. Feast finally came out in 1985 and it makes up the first 9 tracks here on Exhumed. It's sludge-y, as others have pointed out, but endearing, with numbers like "Bad Habits" revealing a debt owed to both Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, even as other numbers like "Should We Be Proud" decidedly closer to the sort of stuff that The Cramps were cranking out. In addition to Feast, Exhumed presents the rest of the prime Wurm material, with singles like "We're Off" positively burning out of the speakers. Elsewhere, there's something really sinister lurking in "Time Has Come", the band's cover of the old Chambers Brothers classic. The cut is, like the rest of the tracks that made up the I'm Dead EP, punishing and brutal and ever bit worthy of re-discovery by anyone who's fascinated in the first steps of West Coast hardcore. Exhumed is rounded off with a batch of demos, of which "Sewer Rock" leaps out as an indication of the band's ability to focus as a tight musical unit.

Chuck Dukowski would help unleash a lot of fury with Black Flag but there's plenty of it here on Exhumed. Wurm were nothing if not remarkably ahead of their time, prefiguring dozens and dozens of Mudhoney and Tad offerings, for example, here in the grooves of the tracks on this essential compilation.

Exhumed is out now via Org Music.

[Photo: XO Publicity]

Saturday, November 24, 2018

I See It: A Brief Review Of The Western Tapes From Lone Justice

The new Lone Justice EP, The Western Tapes, out now via Omnivore Recordings, is further proof from the past just what a great band Lone Justice was. The early tapes of this group, from 1983, a full 2 years before their debut dropped on Geffen, reveal a fiery, cowpunk act creating thoroughly corrosive roots rock at odds with the big hair metal and synth-pop of the era.

All but one of the tracks here have never been released before, and that's sort of a shame as these demos are extraordinary in spots, a rough "Working Late" seeing Maria McKee cut loose more than she did on the version on the debut album, and a lovely "Don't Toss Us Away" aching a bit more plaintively than its final version did on Lone Justice. And while the appeal is, of course, largely, in hearing the rough versions of songs we know from the ones on the 1985 release, The Western Tapes nearly stands on its own as an absolutely necessary Lone Justice collection, mainly because of the rousing "I See It", and the plaintive "How Lonesome Life Has Been" at the end of the set.

The Western Tapes is out now via Omnivore Recordings.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Getting Out Of Hand: A Brief Review Of The New Paisley Underground Tribute Album Featuring The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Dream Syndicate, And The Rain Parade

The new compilation 3X4 drops tomorrow on Yep Roc. It is, essentially, a tribute to the Paisley Underground scene featuring The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Dream Syndicate, and The Rain Parade covering each other's songs. It's a fine effort, even if it's no Rainy Day.

Some numbers here, like The Bangles' take on "Jet Fighter" from The Three O'Clock, or The Rain Parade's ruminative stroll through "When You Smile" from The Dream Syndicate, work perfectly. The tunes are, of course resilient, and the players here were all part of the same scene so, yeah, nearly easy to pick up on the vibe from a contemporary, one guesses. Elsewhere, The Three O'Clock turn "What She's Done To Your Mind" from The Dream Syndicate into something that sounds a bit like The Wonders, and that's a fine thing, as far I'm concerned, while The Dream Syndicate take The Rain Parade's "You Are My Friend" and make it sound a whole lot like a classic Dream Syndicate number, which I guess was the point here.

Still, for all those successes, there are a few minor missteps here, namely The Dream Syndicate's evisceration of the spry "Hero Takes A Fall" by The Bangles, the power-pop classic mangled here, or "That's What You Always Say" by The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate number retaining little of its nasty spark anymore. But I don't want to focus on those moments because lots of what's here is fine indeed, stuff like "Real World" from The Bangles revealed to be a real trippy masterpiece by the members of The Rain Parade, or "Getting Out Of Hand", also from The Bangles, revved up perfectly by The Three O'Clock near the end of 3X4.

This compilation works best for those who love at least a few of these 4 bands a lot, and who are willing to hear each act take some huge chances. Now, if only Rainy Day was back in print. 3X4 remains a nice reminder of that L.A. scene for the time being, I guess.

3X4 is out tomorrow via Yep Roc.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Show Me Magic: A Brief Review Of The New Super Furry Animals At The BBC Box Set

Listening to the new Super Furry Animals box-set, SFA At The BBC, out on Friday via Strangetown Records and Pledge Music, is an experience much like listening to one of those Pink Floyd comps that goes from "See Emily Play" up to The Dark Side Of The Moon. Now, I'm not at all suggesting that the later SFA repertoire is at all as lugubrious as that of the Floyd in the Seventies but, rather, that there's an enormous amount of growth evident here in these live recordings, just between April 1996, when this set starts, and 2001 when it ends (going by the digital version). And that demonstrable and dramatic progression of the Furry sound is thoroughly evident here on this excellent compilation of radio and live sessions.

As the fine liner notes get at, Super Furry Animals were the prototypical Peel band, the sort of live indie stalwarts who could achieve greatness largely with ease in front of a microphone, and who were lucky enough to hit their (first) creative peak during the Britpop wave, when adventurous listeners were finally paying attention to other acts on the home-label of Oasis. Super Furry Animals would have found fans regardless of those Mancs, however, and the first session here, from April Fool's Day, 1996, is a riotous blur (no pun intended), an indication of something unique being unleashed. When Gruff Rhys introduces the rest of the band in his Welsh accent, it was a moment one imagines being the sort of thing to inspire national pride. Other Welsh acts were gaining traction, but none with the sort of inspired creative power of the Furries in the mid-Nineties. "God! Show Me Magic" whips the eardrums like a punk tape playing in a wind tunnel, the players showing their fire right off the bat, while a lyrical-and-lush "Hometown Unicorn" reveals that odd, yet distinctive blend of indie-rock and The Beach Boys that the boys seemed to have perfected even at the start. That these first 4 songs are so amazing shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who had Fuzzy Logic in their collection in 1996.

By the time the band was ready to bring out "Demons" from 1997's Radiator in a session from that same year, it was clear that the group had moved into new territory, the tune the sort of thing that Noel Gallagher wishes he could have written. Similarly, an embryonic "The Turning Tide" from 1998 reveals Gruff Rhys' ability to conjure something direct and emotionally affecting out of disparate elements, bits of folk rock brushing up against hints of progs from Cian Ciaran's keyboards on a number that wouldn't be officially released until 1999.

Around the time of the 2K hysteria, the Super Furry Animals were proudly showcasing more songs in their original Welsh, ahead of the release of the surprisingly-successful Mwng. A run at "Ymaelodi Â'r Ymylon" from that record reveals the carnival heart at the center of the tune, organ swirls suggesting a jaunty day out, even as the melody climbs dangerously higher and higher. The follow-up long-player to that Welsh-language record was the more mainstream Rings Around The World from 2001. From that release, the band trotted out some of the less-obvious choices for Steve Lamcq's Evening Session, offering up a transcendent "Fragile Happiness" that nearly betters the version on the album itself. The same session saw the band finally cave in and provide hard proof of their Beach Boys fandom with an elegant and elegiac "The Warmth of the Sun", Gruff's voice blending nicely with some excellent and understated guitar from Huw Bunford.

The rarities here on SFA At The BBC include not only that Beach Boys cover, but a track called "DX Heaven" from 2000 that sees Cian Ciaran dip into a bag of ambient tricks, for lack of a better description, along with another previously-unreleased number from the same session, "Charge", that marries a Criswell voice-over introduction with the sort of driving riff that Primal Scream were pursuing in the first few years of this century. The cut is shockingly different compared to lots of what else the band was doing back then but it's a blast to hear now, as is a very early version of "Zoom" from 2001 that is nearly a classical composition in its rendition here, the layers precisely falling into place in the piece in a manner that's light-years away from the cuts that make up the first half of this compilation.

Super Furry Animals really sound utterly fantastic on these live recordings, with the individual players here -- Gruff Rhys, Cian Ciaran (interviewed by me at a gig in D.C. here in 2016), Dafydd Ieuan, Guto Pryce, and Huw Bunford -- all operating at the peak of their Furry power. That blend of musicianship (albeit without any muso wankery) and attitude was what charmed about the band in 1996. They managed to blend so many things in such a delightfully infectious way that it seems sort of astonishing now. Listening to these sets from 1996 through 2001, one is reminded again just how versatile this lot was, and just how durable their brand of indie-rock was, and remains.

SFA At The BBC is out on Friday via Strangetown Records and Pledge Music.

More details on this and the Super Furry Animals via SuperFurry.com.

[Live photo: me, Washington, D.C., 2016]

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

We Must Bleed: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Gestures

This album is like a hammer to the skull, and I mean that in the best possible way. Funny Games, out now via the superb PNKSLM label, is the debut full-length release from Sweden's Gestures. This is a punishing and oddly invigorating record, one that reaffirms the label's adept skill at tapping into some arcane rock-and-roll magic time and time again.

Funny Games opens with "Dialogue", a number whose lyrics are mainly "Shut the fuck up!" roared over and over as the guitars roar by, while the next song, the brief "Don't Know, Don't Care", marries a surf rock riff to the sort of vocal performance Iggy would have killed to give in his youth. The effect here is enormously cathartic and one's tempted to just play these first 2 cuts on Funny Games over and over before surveying the rest of the record.

Still, there's more here than just pummeling hooks. The title cut blends flashes of the sort of melodic invention one found on albums 3 and 4 from The Ramones, while the subtly surging "This Town" marries some grunge-y attitude with sharp playing from these musicians. Elsewhere, "We Must Bleed" imagines Joy Division as a speed punk band, while the pulsing "It Comes At Night" bears the faintest traces of The Sex Pistols about it, rough edges made razor-sharp and precise.

Funny Games is an amazingly great slab of a certain kind of indie rock that suggests nothing so much as the freedom of absolute chaos. For all the precision in the riffs on Funny Games, one senses only bad intent in these grooves. The folks at PNKSLM have captured something unsavory here and it's a glorious, beastly thing, this Gestures form of music.

Funny Games is out now via PNKSLM.

More details on Gestures via the band's official Facebook page, or the PNKSLM Facebook page.

[Photo: Olle Forsberg]

Monday, November 19, 2018

Eternity: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Josephine Foster

The new double-album from singer and multi-instrumentalist Josephine Foster, Faithful Fairy Harmony, out now from Fire Records, is a bravely iconoclastic release. The record showcases Josephine's unique brand of folk-tinged music to great effect.

On something like "Force Divine", a near-John Barry-like sense of instrumentation underpins Foster's haunting vocals, while on material like the transcendent "Eternity", the singer offers up a composition that suggests a neat blend of Joni Mitchell and classical music. Elsewhere, on the elegant "The Peak of Paradise", one can hear a trace of two of the work of earlier pioneers like Kate Bush and June Tabor, while "Lord of Love" lets the folk-y influences on Foster's art shine through a bit more obviously, Josephine's quavering voice anchored by flashes of acoustic guitar.

Faithful Fairy Harmony is a bold release, one that should please fans of any of the acts I've mentioned above, even as it offers up a new form of folk-rock. The double-record, out now on Fire Records, is ambitious and intimate, the sort of thing that confounds nearly as much as it enlightens.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Transport And Travel: A Quick Review Of The New Hen Ogledd Album

The new record from Hen Ogledd, Mogic, out as of Friday via Weird World and Domino, is a blistering set of folk-punk, the material here skirting the edges of both industrial stuff and lighter passages from past U.K. stalwarts of the folk-rock boom.

Hen Ogledd is Richard Dawson, Rhodri Davies, Dawn Bothwell, Sally Pilkington, and guest Will Guthrie. And the collective makes music that is lovely and otherworldly (the free jazz-tinged "Love Time Feel"), along with other offerings that batter the psyche with a melange of sounds that suggest both Gorky's and recent Blur numbers ("Problem Child"). The supple and rhythmic "Tiny Witch Hunter" is part Throbbing Gristle, part Talking Heads, the hooks tied to the pulsing bass here, while the looser "Transport And Travel" suggests debts owed to the On-U-Sound label, specifically seminal recordings from African Head Charge. Elsewhere, Dawson leads the group on a rough work-out on the near-avant "Welcome To Hell", a cathartic ramble through some unsavory territory. For all that is truly adventurous here, there are other moments that indicate the crew here have found a way to bring something lovely forth ("Sky Burial") the folky tendencies enveloped by a broader, more expansive music.

Mogic is out now via Weird World and Domino.

More details on Hen Ogledd via the band's official website.

[Photo: Rosie Morris]

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hippy Priest: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Keiron Phelan

The new album from Keiron Phelan, Peace Signs, is the sort of thing that should charm both fans of The Incredible String Band and acolytes of The Jazz Butcher. Out today on Gare Du Nord, the release is tuneful and elegant chamber pop of the very highest order.

Opener "New Swedish Fiction" excellently mines a vein of indie similarly mined by acts like the current line-up of The Lilac Time and The Divine Comedy. Keiron has a way with this sort of stuff, expertly blending the strings and samples around simple, clear hooks. "Satellite Hitori" is spry and playful, while the title cut is an amped-up run at The Clientele. Elsewhere, "Apple Shades" chimes beautifully, Phelan here veering into territory that's very nearly chamber music. "Ain't She Grown" is the sort of thing that Stephen Duffy would love to keep writing, while the fun "Hippy Priest" is Britpop filtered with flashes of early Seventies folk rock, contributions from the wonderfully-ubiquitous Ian Button helping here and elsewhere.

Keiron Phelan has seemingly made one of the best albums on Gare Du Nord so far, and that's quite a compliment. Making this look so easy, he has here straddled a few sub-genres with a real deftness of touch. Peace Signs should please fans of The Kinks, The Lilac Time, and early Prefab Sprout.

Peace Signs is out today via Gare Du Nord Records.

More details on this album and other releases from the label via the Gare Du Nord Facebook page.

[Photo: Annie O'Rourke]

Thursday, November 15, 2018

In Dreams: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Chorusgirl

The new album from Chorusgirl, Shimmer And Spin, out tomorrow on Reckless Yes, is a fabulous record. I went into this a bit blind, having heard only a tiny bit by the band before, but I came away as a big fan of the group after a few plays of this new one.

Opener "In Dreams" is an elegant purr, all Florence and the Machine with more melody, while the brighter "No Goodbye" buzzes with flashes of the same kind of wit and verve that propelled Sleeper to such success in the Britpop boom. Elsewhere, "Demon Baby" is eerie goodness, while the languid and complex "Not Yours" bears a faint trace or two of Eighties-era Siouxsie about it. At their very best here, these players -- Silvi Wersing on vocals and guitar, Udo Westhoff on bass, Michael Boyle on drums, and Faith Taylor on lead guitar -- crank out ornate soundscapes that skirt the edges of shoegaze ("Kinetic Theory"), or travel a path that suggests Kate Bush and The Long Blondes ("Stitches") at the same time. Chorusgirl manage to make some familiar tropes feel altogether new, and each cut is wonderfully tuneful so, yeah, I'm a big fan now.

Shimmer And Spin is out tomorrow via Reckless Yes.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New Disguise: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Axis: Sova

The trio Axis: Sova create music outside most genre labels. The act's newest record, Shampoo You, drops this Friday on God? via Drag City Records and it's an invigorating slab of psychedelic garage rock.

On a shorter number like the spry "New Disguise" the trio -- Brent Sova, Tim Kaiser, and Jeremy Freeze -- crank the amps up and stroll through some Nuggets-influenced territory, while the fuzzy "Dodger" harks back to older Ty Segall stuff, the woozy rock tinged with flashes of bright melodic joy. It makes sense that they sound like there's a debt owed to Ty since God? Records is his imprint. Elsewhere, the longer "Same Person Twice" sees the group pursue a trippy form of electro-pop even as the tight "Shock Recognition" calls to mind Love and Rockets numbers.

At their very best here, Axis: Sova offer up the sort of music that should please Ty fans, and even those who worship at the altar of the Super Furry Animals. Without denying the Sixties bands that have clearly inspired them, Axis: Sova at least have found a way here on Shampoo You to pay tribute to the past while pointing a sonic path towards the future.

Shampoo You is out on Friday via God? / Drag City Records.

More details on Axis: Sova via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Grant Engstrom]

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"I Love Playing With These Guys": My Interview With Greg Norton Of Porcupine (And Husker Du!)

It's hard to quantify just how important Husker Du was to me when I was 19 or 20. I'm sure other young men would say the same thing but, really, I can remember stuff "These Important Years", from 1987's mammoth Warehouse: Songs And Stories, really speaking to me at a low point in my life, and giving me some kind of hope.

A few months after that album dropped, the band played Lisner Auditorium in D.C. My friend Wolfgang and I went. He knew some guy from The Meatmen -- not sure if it was Tesco Vee -- who worked at Tower Records across the street. After the show, Wolfgang and I got separated and I saw this Meatmen guy in the line to get backstage at Lisner. I sidled up to him, made small talk, and pretended to be with him when the line moved backstage. I remember WHFS DJ Tom Terrell (RIP) being in line too and everyone knew Tom (I'd know him better a few months later when I'd start working at the Record and Tape Exchange in College Park and Tom would sometimes unload stuff there).

Seeing the 3 members of the band goofing around on a couch back-stage like actual dudes and not as huge rock-stars made an enormous impact on me. The ferocious music that the trio cranked out -- stuff like "Crystal", and "New Day Rising", come to mind here -- ringed in the ears and lingered in the heart. The act's straddling of the boundaries between hardcore punk and college rock seems even more impressive now, especially given that the band actually crossed over a tiny bit.

Still, they were never going to be as big as R.E.M., but that was okay too. Their music was invigorating and life-affirming in an era filled with cynical New Wave and silly hair metal, and I thank them for making it.

Bassist Greg Norton has recently joined Porcupine and, having reviewed the band's superb new album, What You've Heard Isn't Real, I sat down yesterday to call the legendary musician for a wide-ranging discussion of the past, present, and future.

On the break-up of Husker Du:

GREG NORTON: "The break-up of the band was pretty contentious... And pretty well-documented between Bob's point-of-view and Grant's point-of-view. Bob had already been in the back of his mind preparing himself for the 'Bob Mould' career. According to Grant, he quit the band the night we got off the stage at the Blue Note in Missouri."

The fact that Grant had a side project (The Swallows), irritated Bob and that didn't help matters, it seems. And years later, tensions remained high.

"Bob's not talking to any of us. I think Grant always liked to include me in some things, like it was Grant and Greg against Bob, even though I was trying to remain neutral..." Things remained strained, Greg explained, since the very legacy of Husker Du was still in the process of being determined.

"The 3 of us started trying to get the SST catalog back out and reissued and that led" to a conference call between the band members and some lawyers, "but that didn't go anywhere but it started a dialogue which led to Numero Group" putting out the Savage Young Du box-set.

[Note: That amazing box-set was reviewed by me here late last year.]

On the death of Grant Hart in 2017 and the possibility of further Husker Du reissues:

GREG NORTON: "Last summer, the summer of '17... I would still see Grant," and "Grant would always have his idea of how things should go." And in 2017, "Grant was headlining a small club called the Hook and Ladder," at an event put together by Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland, at a time when Grant was clearly not doing well in terms of his health, having kept details largely private. The night at the club served as a tribute to Grant and that's where Greg and Porcupine did a 5-song Husker Du set: "What Do I Want?"; "What's Going On?"; "Dead Set On Destruction"; "It's Not Funny Anymore"; and, finally, "Standing By The Sea" from Zen Arcade (and a song included on Porcupine's new album, What You've Heard Isn't Real).

"We literally moved some people to tears in the audience when we played 'Standing By the Sea' and," Greg explained, after that, "Grant and I talked for the first time as friends, good friends, in a real long time. It was like... It was kinda liberating to push the bullshit of the band business aside and get back to the 'you were my friend and you always will be my friend'-kind of thing."

"The last time I saw Grant he said, 'Let's get together for a coffee soon'... and I regret we never got to do that."

"But shortly before he died, Bob flew in from Berlin," and apparently he and Grant, "talked about a bunch of stuff... I don't know if they buried the hatchet..." Greg explained, sounding cautiously optimistic.

"Maybe we could have gotten together at the time of the box-set, or something."

On Husker Du signing to a major label and confounding expectations in the Eighties:

"We started getting major label interest right after Zen Arcade came out, and we continued to put out records on SST because we didn't think there was anything a major could offer us that was better than what SST was doing for us at that same time," Greg explained. "Warners was not going to mess around with us in the studio," he said about the band's decision to sign to Warner Brothers thanks to the efforts of Karen Berg. "Flip Your Wig could have been pretty substantial for Warners," but, having held out on SST for a bit longer, "We gave them Candy Apple Grey," a record that Greg feels was the first evidence, perhaps, of the emerging "battle" between Bob and Grant as songwriters, with Bob recording "Too Far Down" on his own, and then Grant running off to record "No Promise Have I Made" on his own.

"I think that the tension between Bob and Grant was evident," on Candy Apple Grey and in that era, and, coming after the straightforward Flip Your Wig, the band goes and gives Warners that record and the reaction was, as you can imagine a bit of shock. "Once we did sign to Warners and we ran into people who said 'Wow, you guys sold out', but we were like, 'What do you mean we sold out?' since we had complete control over what we were doing." Not only that, but they had made an idiosyncratic and personal record in Candy Apple Grey (1986).

As far as the SST records getting the reissue treatment, "It's long overdue," Greg explained. "But the whole SST thing exists in a universe of its own. It all boils down to can Greg Ginn be persuaded to work with that stuff? I don't know. I'm holding out hope that it happens sooner rather than later."

On joining Porcupine:

"I saw them for the first time in La Crosse opening for the Meat Puppets," and, he elaborates, "I hadn't seen Curt and Cris [from the Meat Puppets] in years," but he ended up being blown away by Porcupine. Having struck up a friendship with Casey Virock in Porcupine, Greg became a fan of the trio, while having his own band (Con Queso) around the same time.

So when Porcupine needed a bassist, Casey called and asked if Greg was still playing bass -- "Um, yeah!", Norton remembers saying to Casey on that call -- and Virock then asked Greg to join the group at a time when Porcupine were actively searching for a bass-player.

On the songwriting process in Porcupine:

"In Husker Du, Grant would come with something on guitar, or something rough on bass, and then we'd hammer it out together. Bob, on on the other hand, would come in and say 'Here is a song, and here are the chords, and here's the arrangement.'" But with Porcupine, "Casey is handling all the lyrics but those kind of 'evolve' as the song is being processed, and the song is being worked out live. For the 4 Casey tunes on the new release, he finalized the lyrics at the time of recording," the process a considerably looser one that plays to the strengths of Greg, Casey Virock, and drummer Ian Prince. "We start out where someone will have an idea for something, real basic, then eventually the intricacies of the whole thing will fall into place. Ian's got a unique way he hits the drums... and that's a real fun thing," to play opposite. "It does remind me of the earliest days of being in Husker where the 3 of us would work out things together."

"And I love playing with these guys!"

For now, the future belongs to Porcupine and Greg Norton couldn't sound happier. For a guy who lists Chris Squire and John Entwistle as 2 of his bass-heroes, it gives this long-time fan real pleasure to hear this bass-legend enjoy himself so much in Porcupine, the supple and rhythmic alt-rock of the band indicating that 3 players are meshing supremely well together.

On the legacy of Husker Du, and their unique inspiration on fans and bands in the Eighties:

"It's something that's always nice to hear, that what we did had a positive impact on so many people."

Many thanks to Greg Norton for his time today. And thanks also to Leigh Greaney at Big Hassle for arranging the interview.

What You've Heard Isn't Real is available on vinyl from Dead Broke Records, and on CD and digital from DC-Jam Records.

More details on Porcupine from the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photos: Husker Du pictures from Husker Du official merchandise Facebook page by Doug Humiski (leaping Greg), January 20, 1984, and Jennifer Leazer (group shot), April 4, 1983; Porcupine group photo by Dan Corrigan]

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Stealing Gold: A Brief Review Of The New Reissue From Jane Weaver

The Silver Globe from Jane Weaver dropped in 2014 but the folks at Fire Records are bringing it back out. The album is a transcendent thing, and one should be thankful that the record's here again.

Weaver offers up longer, more ambient numbers like "Argent" alongside stuff like "The Electric Mountain", a track that nods in the direction of stuff from Goldfrapp and Kate Bush. Elsewhere, the bright "Don't Take My Soul" shines like something from Laurie Anderson, while the elegant folk of "Stealing Gold" haunts. At her very best, Jane Weaver blends art rock with flashes of electro-pop, perhaps nowhere as successfully as on "Your Time In This Life Is Just Temporary", the Jane Siberry-ish closer to The Silver Globe. Hard to pin down, the compositions here are largely successful attempts to navigate multiple genres while offering up music that lingers in the brain.

The Silver Globe is out now via Fire Records.

More details on Jane Weaver via her official Facebook page, or her official website.

[Photo: Jane Weaver/Fire Records]

Friday, November 9, 2018

Shine A Light: A Quick Review Of The New Reissue From Spiritualized

Originally released in 1993, Fucked Up Inside is perhaps the definitive Spiritualized document. Recorded in L.A. in 1992, the album, out again as of today via Glass Modern Records, sees the band burn their way through some familiar numbers from Lazer Guided Melodies and Pure Phase.

That the live setting allowed "J. Spaceman" to find the soulful heart of these compositions is a given, but that Jason Pierce was such a good frontman is perhaps surprising considering how focused Pierce seemed on the studio recordings on achieving a kind of blissed-out detachment. An epic "Medication", for instance, sees the Spaceman blend elements of soul and free jazz in the service of what was getting called shoegaze way back when. Elsewhere, a spacious "Angel Sigh" skirts the distant edges of the sort of near-ambient music that bands like Seafeel once cranked out, while a throbbing "Smiles" finds Spiritualized employ a motorik rhythmic pattern under a glorious rush of fuzz-rock. A reflective cover of Pierce's own Spacemen 3 number, "Walking With Jesus" links Pierce's past and present in excellent fashion, while a lengthy run at "Shine A Light (Clear Light/Clear Rush)" finds J. Spaceman and crew whipping up a furious racket that ebbs and flows like the waves from a distant tsunami.

A superb document of one of the most vital bands from the first, big wave of shoegaze acts, Fucked Up Inside delights. The reissue on Glass Records sounds fantastic and the material nearly glows in spots thanks to the mastering by John Rivers. This is the rare live album that seems as essential as a studio release.

[Photo: Colin Bell]

Work Of Art: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Rays

The new album from Rays, You Can Get There From Here, out today on Trouble in Mind Records, is the sort of thing that bears favorable comparison to The Feelies and even Comet Gain. The tunes here from this Oakland band are effervescent and full of spiky energy.

Songs like "The Big One" bristle in a charming way, while longer numbers like "To The Fire" bear the faintest traces of Pavement about them. Elsewhere, "Around The Town" makes one think of early offerings from The Go-Betweens, while the tuneful "Yesterday's Faces" reminded me of a number from a band like EZTV or even Expert Alterations, all worthy C86-hooks wrapped up in a big alt-pop package. At their very best here, Rays blend a whole lot of fairly obvious influences into fresh, riveting indie, even as a few numbers ("Work of Art", "Ray Johnson") suggest a rougher path that this group could pursue, hints of The Kinks and Richard Hell brushing up against each other.

You Can Get There From Here is out today via Trouble in Mind Records.

More details on the band's official Tumblr.

[Photo: Troy Hewitt]

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Traveling Music: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Jonathan Franco

The new album from Jonathan Franco, the self-released Swimming Alone Around The Room, is an intimate set of lyrical and lovely compositions. That Franco's material defies easy categorization only adds to the appeal of this sort of music.

While some numbers here, like the gently-surging "A Topiary" and "Season", suggest selections from Elliott Smith, others, like the ambient "Traveling Music", dip even further back, to the earliest solo recordings from Brian Eno. Elsewhere, the percolating "Distance" and the spry "Airplanes" recall both Durutti Column and Badly Drawn Boy offerings. Franco is a master at this sort of bedsit indie, and while the tracks here on Swimming Alone Around The Room very nearly seem to be light as air, Jonathan, to his credit, doesn't let things get too precious. The cuts on this record are just simple, airy bits of business, the quiet passages every bit as important as the moments that (quietly) surge.

Fans of The Blue Nile, Dif Juz, Eno, and His Name Is Alive should find things to love here. Swimming Alone Around The Room is out tomorrow and it's one of this week's most enjoyable records.

More details on Jonathan Franco via his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited artist Bandcamp pic]

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Expressive Machine: A Quick Review Of The New Album From J Fernandez

The new record from J Fernandez, Occasional Din, out Friday via the fine Joyful Noise Recordings label, is a revelation of talent. Fernandez here bridges a few genres with the sort of ease one doesn't encounter too often in the current indie field. That the release sounds like Elliott Smith and Stereolab teamed up on a long-player is further, high praise.

On numbers like "Expressive Machine", J Fernandez reveals a debt owed to not only that Sadier-centric band, but Broadcast and The Clientele, while the brighter, Beatles-y "Don't Need Anything" is lite power-pop. Fans of Young Guv and Papercuts, for instance, should find lots to love here, especially on the wildly-catchy "Volcanic Winter", or the chamber rock-recalling "Wildfire", an expressive rumination.

J Fernandez is a distinct voice, so don't mistake my litany of comparison points as some sort of knock on his talents. I mention those other bands in order to highlight the real beauty and melodic grace found here on Occasional Din. At his very best, like on closer "Light Years", J Fernandez veers very close to the best stuff from The Clientele, a band I mentioned earlier. And while Fernandez is a bit trippy here in spots, the production drawing nearly as much attention as his voice, the singer is also wise enough to know that the melodies should be memorable, and they certainly are.

Occasional Din is out on Friday via Joyful Noise Recordings.

More details on J Fernandez via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promo image]

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Nature Erased: A Quick Review Of The New Album From SAVAK

The new album from SAVAK, Beg Your Pardon, out on Friday via Ernest Jenning Record Co., is a blistering thing. A work of unbridled energy, the tunes here nevertheless reveal a tight focus, and expert musicianship.

The members here -- Sohrab Habibion (Edsel), Michael Jaworski (The Cops), James Canty (The Make-Up), and Matt Schulz (Lake Ruth) -- are consummate players. And to highlight just those bands from their resumes is to perhaps downplay their skills. Those skills are brought to bear here on energetic pieces, like opener "Dead Dick", a spry bit of business, and on "Nature Erased", a number that bears more than a trace of harDCore about it. Elsewhere, the lyrical "We Lead Them To Our Doors" imagines XTC as a post-punk band, the hooks here big ones, while the more supple "A Normal Speed" excellently blends a Talking Heads-like sense of rhythmic play with some downright punchy drums from Schulz. The choppy "Silhouettes" is a fine workout, while the driving "Bad Eyes" is a model of economic force. While these players function like a machine, there's still lots that's loose and organic here, as the heart at the center of many of these compositions is more than evident. Still, the cleverly-titled "Agronomy Domine" suggests a gentler, brainy path for SAVAK to pursue, while the elegantly-precise closer "They Are Not Like Us" sees SAVAK ride a bouncy, near-Polvo-esque hook to alt-pop success.

The music of SAVAK blends so many things that one could get kinda lost in the influences peeking through the seams here. Still, it's safe to say that the way SAVAK mixes these pieces is what's ultimately so interesting about SAVAK's music. Fans of bands as disparate as King Crimson, Girls Against Boys, and Television should find things here that please the ears.

Beg Your Pardon is out on Friday via Ernest Jenning Record Co.

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

[Photo: Reuben Radding]

Monday, November 5, 2018

Standing By The Sea: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Porcupine (Greg Norton From Husker Du)

The new album from Porcupine, What You've Heard Isn't Real, is a blast. The power-trio -- Casey Virock (guitars, vocals), Greg Norton (bass, guitars, vocals), and Ian Prince (drums) -- manages to crank out music that should satisfy both post-rock fans, and those of us who admittedly were drawn to this band due to the presence of the Husker Du bassist. What You've Heard Isn't Real is out on vinyl from Dead Broke Records, and on CD and digital from DC-Jam Records and it's overflowing with punchy punk and melodic rave-ups.

Opener "Lifetime" churns with the sort of alt-rock tunefulness one expects from most Foo Fighters or Killers releases, while the bouncier-and-catchier "Distraction" bears the faintest trace of the band whose (best) album gave this trio its name, Virock positively purring the vocals here. Elsewhere, "Pull" is the friendlier cousin to early Queens of the Stone Age offerings, Norton's bass a veritable Pogo-stick atop the supple melody, while the effervescent "Tell Me" allows Ian Prince to shine on the kit, the pounds here loud punctuation marks between the hooks. At their very best, Porcupine manage to harness a few other disparate influences in the service of accessible, and yet fiery, alt-pop.

Still, there's no denying the presence of the legendary Greg Norton on this one, and for me to pretend as if he doesn't bring some significant firepower to this trio is to do potential listeners of What You've Heard Isn't Real a disservice. Now, that's no knock on the talents of Prince and Virock but, rather, an indication that Norton sounds as if he is at home next to these two. No one is going to mistake a cover of Du's "Standing By The Sea" here on What You've Heard Isn't Real for the real thing, but that it works so darn well is a bit surprising. The old Grant Hart (RIP) composition is durable and cathartic, even as Porcupine here have seemingly been able to find its more traditional, though still ferocious, heart, the classic now nearly rendered an album rock standard. And for those of us who grew up tethered to the big riffs of Husker Du songs, I think you'll understand why I loved this so much, the raw energy of punk wrapped up here in a big alt-pop package. I dig this.

What You've Heard Isn't Real is available on vinyl from Dead Broke Records, and on CD and digital from DC-Jam Records.

More details on Porcupine from the band's official Facebook page, or the band's official website.

[Photo: Dan Corrigan]

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Brief Review Of The New Album From Orchestra Of Spheres

The new album from Orchestra of Spheres, Mirror, out now via Fire Records, is so far outside the realm of the usual alt-rock on offer these days that I find myself at a loss for how to describe it. The album from the New Zealand act is bold, unconventionally melodic, and downright brave. It is, obviously, a rewarding release for any attentive listener.

The title track veers close to territory once occupied by Cocteau Twins, while the brighter "Chimes" and "Summer Fungus" offer up world music-influenced rhythmic workouts that hark back to the early Eighties run of records from Talking Heads and King Sunny Ade. Elsewhere, the epic "Koudede" stirs the music towards that of soundtracks, while the lovely and proggy closer "Foggy Day" echoes Eno's stuff from the Seventies, among other things.

The music here on Mirror is iconoclastic and far beyond the possibility of easy description. For those reasons, it's safe to say that this new Orchestra of Spheres record is the sort of thing that should please those who mourn the days when releases like this were more routine in the world of alternative music.

Mirror is out now via Fire Records.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Friday, November 2, 2018

Dark Of My Shadow: A Review Of The Second Album From Young Romance

It's been two years since the release of the debut LP from Brit duo Young Romance, but believe me, the wait was worth it as Don't Look, out today via Banquet Records, is every bit as invigorating as Another's Blood. This new album from the London duo reveals a real progression of the group's sound, and an embrace of tunefulness that is a rarity in acts that straddle the shoegaze label.

Claire and Paolo have, frankly, upped their game here on Don't Look, with the music sounding more spacious and simultaneously more subtle. The opening one-two punch of "Alice" and "By My Side" suggests that these two have found a way to blend some obvious influences (JAMC, The Primitives) into something fresh, the seams no longer at all showing. If earlier releases revealed the influence of the most-played records in this pair's collections, stuff here on Don't Look is easier to love, oodles of natural charm evident all throughout this second full-length release. "Dark Of My Shadow" lets Claire sound like Kate Bush a bit, but the grinding hook is all Kevin Shields circa 1988, bits of feedback used almost like string passages here on this mid-tempo stunner. It is, quite simply, a ridiculously good pop single on an album full of them.

Some of the selections here ("Ramona") buzz wonderfully, but it's on other tracks here that a listener is surprised at how this lot's sound has advanced into new territory. The superb "Bruise Easy" shows faint signs of the bands of the C86 generation, but Claire and Paolo sound so in command here that one could never say that their music was just the product of some worthy influences. While "All I Know" and "Toughen Up" are near-ballads, shards of Siouxsie from the Juju years peeking through the riffs here, lots of Don't Look works best when Claire and Paolo jump in and sound a bit uninhibited. On many cuts on Don't Look, there's a ramshackle racket whirring around Claire's pristine voice, and that effect is a unique one, and it's the very key to the appeal of Young Romance. Well, that and the excellent buzzing hooks that are peppered all through the 10 tracks on Don't Look.

Don't Look by Young Romance is out today via Banquet Records. Follow Young Romance via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photos: Young Romance Facebook page]

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Heads Up About This New Thurston Moore Live Album

Thurston Moore is offering up a rare live album from 1995 for the first time in America. Originally released on CD in New Zealand then, Klangfarbenmelodie.. And The Colorist Strikes Primitiv will be out tomorrow on Glass Modern. The release is, of course, challenging but it's always wildly rewarding.

The first long run at the cut that gives this album its title sees Moore and drummer Tom Surgal conjure up rough, rolling landscapes of sound. If Thurston Moore seems interested in whipping up walls of feedback, or Coltrane-like sheets of shrieking sound, Surgal favors a jazzy approach, his attacks on the kit somewhat subtle ones, his roiling drum-patterns undulating in like waves. On the second slightly shorter run at the title cut, things get rougher, with more feedback being in the mix, before Moore offers up some near-harp-like figures on the guitar even as Surgal broadens his percussive palette. The final track on Klangfarbenmelodie.. And The Colorist Strikes Primitiv sees the players turn things in a more ambient direction, with "Phase II" serving as an unsettling, yet oddly lovely, coda to the longer passages found earlier on the record.

Klangfarbenmelodie.. And The Colorist Strikes Primitiv is out tomorrow via Glass Modern. More details can be found via the links below, or the Glass Modern Facebook page.

[Photo: Paul Hudson]