Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Getting To Me: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Caroline Rose

The new album from Caroline Rose, Loner, is a hard one to describe in words. That said, it is an easy record to love, full of richly-observed New Wave that bears favorable comparisons to artists as diverse as Aimee Mann and Alex Lahey. The album drops on Friday on New West and it's the sort of record that is going to catch a lot of people off-guard.

If opener "More Of The Same" is a near-mournful slow-burner, the revved-up "Cry!" echoes countless acts from the Eighties. If there's something retro here, it's not simply an exercise in kitsch appeal as Caroline clearly spent a lot of time crafting this set of songs, with most cuts here on Loner being ones that are impeccably-produced and fully-realized. If "Money" is both funny and insanely catchy, it's "Getting To Me" that offers up something more sublime, Rose here cooing like Kate Bush on one of her mid-period risk-taking releases. The excellent and chiming "Soul No. 5" made me think of recent cuts from Courtney Barnett and Alex Lahey even as I tried to wrap my head around the sort of smart pop that Rose was laying down here. What carries most of Loner is a fine blend of sharp indie that delivers something intelligent and quirky while remaining wildly accessible. On a number like "To Die Today", Caroline Rose attempts a more austere approach, but it's stuff like "Animal" that really charmed me, and one almost wishes that the whole album was as direct as this number.

Sardonic yet heartfelt, simple yet complex and ornate in spots, Loner is an excellent release and one that should reward listeners looking for something clever and smart, as well as those in search of a batch of electro-pop numbers that you can sing along with in the car in the summer-time.

Loner is out on Friday via New West Records. More details on Caroline Rose via her official website, or her official Facebook page.

[Photo CJ Harvey]

Cut To The Quick: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Olden Yolk (Quilt)

I suppose one could call Olden Yolk a spin-off from Quilt. I didn't really pick up on that until after I listened to the fine debut from Olden Yolk but, armed with that knowledge now, it makes a certain sense as the tunes here bear a slight resemblance to those of Shane Butler's other band. Still, the music on Olden Yolk, the band's debut album, out on Friday via Trouble in Mind, is superb whether or not you've heard the equally-fab Quilt recordings or not.

There's a real folk-y vibe here to some numbers, with offerings like "Cut to the Quick" and "Gamblers on a Dime" owing a real debt to pioneers in that genre from earlier generations. Still, on other cuts here, like the sublime "Vital Sign", Caity Shaffer takes over the singing duties and the end result resembles the music of Widowspeak and Quilt. Caity's quietly-soaring vocal performance here renders the track one of the real highlights of Olden Yolk. Elsewhere, "After Us" and "Verdant" stray into the sort of territory occupied by Broadcast and Mazzy Star. Still, to reference those other artists is not to diminish the significant charms of what's on offer here on Olden Yolk as the record truly is something special, the band's brand of folk-tinged indie something that is both catchy and accessible and also near-classicist in its approach to pop.

A really superb record, Olden Yolk is yet another excellent offering from the very reliable Trouble in Mind Records. Possessing a quiet grace, Olden Yolk is one of this week's very best releases. More details via the label site, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Daniel Dorsa]

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ecstasy In Slow Motion: A Few Words About The New Spacemen 3 Reissue From Superior Viaduct

The folks at Superior Viaduct are on a roll as of late. There are a few very fine original albums in their upcoming slate, but it's the reissues they've got going on that are most-deserving of a lot of attention. And none of those could be more worth your time than the upcoming Dreamweapon reissue from Spacemen 3, out on Friday.

The 1987 album is largely 2 long, drone-y pieces billed "An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music" parts 1 and 2, and each is a 22-minute slow roar that burns through the speakers and rewards a fan of this band with a new angle with which to view their output. Where other Spacemen 3 offerings hued more closely to a sort of Sixties acid rock-template, these 2 epic tracks signify an allegiance to other styles from the Sixties, namely those of Cale and LaMonte Young, and Tony Conrad. Moderately abrasive and utterly hypnotic, these 2 sides from Spacemen 3 make Dreamweapon essential, with the bonus tracks here sealing the deal for potential purchasers. "Ecstasy in Slow Music" undulates with a sort of quiet grace, while the peek behind the curtain of "Spacemen Jam" shows Jason Pierce and Sonic Boom engaging in a dual-guitar attack that is as compelling as the longer tracks are insinuating.

Dreamweapon by Spacemen 3 is out on Friday via Superior Viaduct.

Friday, February 16, 2018

What's Chasing You: A Brief Review Of The New Marlon Williams Album

The new album from Marlon Williams, Make Way For Love, dropped today on Dead Oceans. It is that rare record that oozes both warmth and invention while offering copious throwback charms.

If opener "Come To Me" echoes other acts from Williams' home of New Zealand with hints of the orchestral majesty of late-period Chills stuff percolating through the melody, then "What's Chasing You" nods more in the direction of Americans Chris Isaak and Roy Orbison. Similarly, "I Know a Jeweller" layers in a rough rockabilly twang to the cut, while the title track and "The Fire of Love" positively haunt by stripping things back even further, Suicide songs updated for a new century. On the mournful numbers here, like "Love is a Terrible Thing" and a few others, Williams certainly commands a listener's attention, his voice cooing and careening like Jimmy Scott, but on the more upbeat selections something more interesting is happening as Williams attempts to meld his talents with more elegant arrangements.

Marlon Williams is a prodigious vocalist and if a listener prefers the ballads, Williams certainly delivers a rare and beautiful experience for said listener. However, I found it more interesting when Marlon tried to change things up and add a bit of a more jaunty outlook to the songs here. Still, Williams manages to make both approaches work and Make Way For Love is a remarkably compelling record to encounter in 2018.

Make Way For Love is out today via Dead Oceans.

More details on Marlon Williams via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Steve Gullick]

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

You Better Dream: A Brief Review Of The New Pete Astor Album

The front-man of The Loft and The Weather Prophets is in the midst of a bit of a renaissance. Following on from 2016's Spilt Milk, Pete Astor is now back with a spry new record. One For The Ghost, out on Friday via Tapete Records, is another fine release for a guy who's quietly been building a stellar catalog as a solo artist as of late.

The twang-y "Water Tower" sees Astor joined by Pam Berry (Black Tambourine, Withered Hand, Glo-Worm) on backing vocals for one of his best singles in ages. The cut is an assured melding of U.K. indie with a hint of of Americana. Elsewhere, "Golden Boy" continues the fascination with Yankee styles, while the more natural title cut rides a hook reminiscent of mid-period Lloyd Cole and The Commotions stuff, all brainy pop being played by guys who want to be Gram Parsons almost as much as they want to be Lou Reed. The superb "Magician and Assistant" is clever without being pretentious, and very nearly the sort of thing Robert Forster would have killed to have written on one of his solo albums, while the gentle "You Better Dream" offers up the sort of easy and direct melodic hook that Astor perfected as leader of The Weather Prophets so many decades ago. At his very best here, like on the Go-Betweens-recalling "Tango Uniform", Astor manages to easily convey a kind of world-weariness that suits him well. Pete seems to have grown into his current guise, and the adoption of a trace of a country-and-western style seems natural for the most part, and less an artistic device.

It's important to note that one of Astor's partners on this record is James Hoare, from Ultimate Painting. That makes perfect sense as some of this sounds a bit like the music of that now-defunct band, a band that owed a huge debt to earlier British indie musicians like Astor himself. The rhythm section is from The Wave Pictures: Franic Rozycki (bass) and Jonny Helm (drums). And, of course, it's worth mentioning the presence of Pam Berry again as her subtle backing vocals add a real warmth to lots of One For The Ghost. This is a more obviously serious record, it seems, than the slightly-poppy Spilt Milk, but the charms here are richer ones.

One For The Ghost is out on Friday via Tapete Records.

More details on Pete Astor via his official website.

[Photo: Suzanne Ballhausen]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lost My Brain: A Quick Review Of The New Superchunk Album

It would be tremendously silly to waste a lot like of time rambling about the new Superchunk record. Recorded in the space of just a few months after the election of the monstrous Oval Office resident became a grim reality, What A Time To Be Alive, out on Friday via Merge Records, burns with an energy that is positively infectious, and which is unlikely to be captured adequately in words here. Superchunk have always been wired tight, but in recent years, as the members of the group have eased into middle-age, they've been happy to modulate their rage when offering up their indelible brand of American indie-pop. Now, given the situation this country is in, the band have turned their attention outward to offer up their most obviously-relevant and fiery record in decades.

A real, old-fashioned rooted-in-hardcore-punk rage-to-live burns through the tracks here on What A Time To Be Alive, from the title cut, on to the boundary-shattering concerns of "Break The Glass", and on to the superbly-direct "I Got Cut" with its call for male sexual responsibility. The songs here on What A Time To Be Alive are as unaffected and sincere as any this four-piece have ever committed to tape. Recorded by Beau Sorenson, the album has an immediacy that even the lo-fi early singles from Superchunk didn't quite have. "Erasure" eases the tempo down a bit to offer a catchy track that will sound familiar to fans of this band's more recent releases, with backing vocals from Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) and Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) smoothing things a bit, while "Bad Choices" rides the sort of easy rhythmic hook that anchored so many of the best Nineties numbers from this act. This cut, and especially the ringing "All For You", benefit immensely from the presence of Jon Wurster on drums and Laura Ballance on bass. Elsewhere, "Reagan Youth" positively soars on the strength of the familiar yearning in Mac McCaughan's voice and Jim Wilbur's relentless guitar-hook. If a listener doesn't even know the band Mac is singing about, it matters little as his vocals convey everything, a triumph (again) of one of the best, most underrated voices in American post-punk. Similarly, the brief "Lost My Brain" and "Cloud of Hate" roar past in unforced tribute to the best tunes from the pioneers from the first flourishing of this country's hardcore scene.

What A Time To Be Alive is immediate and invigorating, the sort of of-the-times recording that bands like The Clash and Public Enemy used to routinely offer up. Superchunk have surprised here by the ease with which they responded with such energy and force, for What A Time To Be Alive is a real punch in the gut. Cathartic and a thing to inspire optimism just for even existing, this record is a refinement of the Superchunk attack, and a sharpening of the band's post-punk power. There's always been something oddly inspiring about the music of this North Carolina quartet, but perhaps never more so than now with the release of what's here on What A Time To Be Alive.

What A Time To Be Alive is out on Merge Records on Friday.

[Photo: Lissa Gotwals]

One Of Your Own: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Lake Ruth

One can only marvel at Birds Of America, the new one from Lake Ruth. The record, out on Friday officially, is a huge leap forward from the band's 2016 offering Actual Entity, an album that was itself something of a chamber-pop masterpiece. Birds Of America, quite simply, sees Lake Ruth offer up their best release to date.

I suppose one could still trot out a few Broadcast references when describing the sound of Lake Ruth but, really, a tune like "Julia's Call" is so bright and direct that it feels less a nod to an obvious inspiration point and more like a strong bit of songwriting from a trio using a near-classicist approach. The members here -- multi-instrumentalist Hewson Chen (The New Lines), drummer Matt Schulz (SAVAK), and vocalist Allison Brice -- sound so confident here that one is a bit surprised at how direct "One Of Your Own" is, all rippling keyboard lines and supple hooks bouncing under Brice's soaring vocals. Elsewhere, the near-jazzy "Radiant City" sees the group pursue more down-tempo pleasures, Schulz's drumming here being especially impressive as he and the players shift genres with ease, while the more precise and propulsive title cut allows the band to venture into the sort of territory once mapped out by Stereolab on their earliest releases. Brice's vocals here are especially marvelous, and, if anything, the entire album sounds more like the work of a group this time around than a bunch of superb players, as on previous releases.

From the retro-trippyness of "VV" and on to the Cardigans-recalling "Westway", Birds Of America is a thing of beauty, and the sort of shimmering indie-pop that is rarely found anymore these days. Fans of Laetitia Sadier and The Clientele, for instance, should find lots to love here. Elegant and unpretentious, the chamber pop of Lake Ruth is gorgeous, glittering stuff. If previous Lake Ruth offerings seemed almost as concerned with the production and instrumental flourishes as the compositions themselves, Birds Of America is wonderfully straightforward in its presentation of a set of great songs. The strengths of the players and vocalist are being used to great effect here, thanks in part to the production from Geoff Sanoff, and a listener can't help but think that Lake Ruth sound more confident here than they ever have before. That assured command of the material makes Birds Of America a fantastic record, and easily the most enjoyable Lake Ruth release to date.

Birds Of America by Lake Ruth is available via the link below. More details on Lake Ruth via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from band]

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Off The Rails: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Tres Oui (ex-Literature)

I was a huge fan of every release from Literature so I was thrilled to learn that Nate, their front-man, now had a new band. Called Tres Oui, the band's debut full-length record drops tomorrow. Poised To Flourish is every bit as bright and chiming as the best releases from Literature so I'm fairly certain that others will love this one as much as I did.

Now, it makes perfect sense that some of this -- "Off The Rails", "Shy", and "Seance", for instance -- sound remarkably like the best Literature numbers. And, it goes without saying, that that's a good thing and not a knock on Nate's new act. That familiarity in style is forgotten when one hears the numbers on Poised To Flourish that sound like a progression from the earlier Literature tracks. "Looking For", for example, sounds a bit like both Tommy Keene and The Ocean Blue, nods to the glory years of American college rock abounding, while the even more robust "Red Wine and Dry Ice" echoes recent material from EZTV and other acts looking back even further, to the first few years of the post-punk boom in the late Seventies. For every moment here that feels like something we've heard from Nate and loved already, this track is the one that positively soars and surprises. Elsewhere, the rippling "Wash Away" recalls The Wild Swans a bit, while the more languid "Sunday's Crowd" very nearly trips into shoegaze-y territory thanks to the waves of guitars that propel this one forward. It's a real testament to the strength of the players here that a tune like this doesn't just float away in a haze of hooks from a bunch of effects pedals.

Decidedly tuneful, the songs here on the debut full-length from Tres Oui are consistently fine bits of C86-style indie-pop laced with real bursts of robust American power-pop. Much like the music from the earlier Literature, the compositions here reveal their influences while attempting to glide past them. We can probably easily guess the records that the members of Tres Oui love even while loving this one, you know? Fans of Wire Train, Velocity Girl, The Flatmates, and O.M.D. should find as much to love here as I did.

Poised To Flourish is out tomorrow via Shrimper Records and Bandcamp. More details on Tres Oui via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp picture]

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Triumphant: A Quick Look At The Reissue Of The Debut Butterfly Child Album

Originally released in 1993, Onomatopoeia from Butterfly Child got unfairly lumped in with a lot of what was making up the tail-end of the first shoegaze wave back when it was first put on the market. But, in fairness, the songs of Joe Cassidy here are richer and more classically-structured than lots of what was getting attention early in the Nineties. Finally back in print on both CD and vinyl thanks to the folks at the Dell'Orso label, Onomatopoeia reveals itself as a real, somewhat neglected gem from the pre-Britpop boom.

A number like "Lunar Eclipse" owes a faint debt to early band champions A.R. Kane, as evidenced by the subtle rhythmic clip running throughout the song, while the more languid "One Lady Mississipp" sounds like nothing so much as what The Boo Radleys were drifting towards in the same era. Elsewhere, "Young Virgins Call For Mutiny" is gleefully laid-back, all trip-hop grooves made safe for rockers, while the epic "X: Celcius" is like something from Seefeel that's very nearly been stretched tighter. Cassidy, wisely, keeps a firm rein on this material, and for every number here that is in danger of drifting away ("Queen Glass"), there's another ("Triumphant") that is more concise and focused. The best tunes on this debut, like "Verte Ecole", for instance, stand up as some of the very loveliest numbers from the era, less shoegaze-y noise-attacks, than throwbacks to late Sixties songwriting styles.

As we all know, Joe Cassidy pursued similar textures with later Butterfly Child recordings but there remains, truly, something magical here on Onomatopoeia. If the record didn't get quite enough attention back in 1993, maybe it will now, thanks to this fine set of CD and vinyl reissues from the Dell'Orso label.

Onomatopoeia is out on Dell'Orso on Friday.

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

In View Of The Circumstances: A Quick Review Of The New This Kind Of Punishment Reissues

New Zealand band This Kind of Punishment may have been on the famous Flying Nun label at one point in the past but their music sounds almost nothing like any other band on that label. Ever. The band's self-titled debut album from 1983 and their second album, 1984's A Beard Of Bees, are being reissued on the superb Superior Viaduct label this week. Each release is a revelation for those of us who are fond of Kiwi rock, and eager to learn about some real unsung pioneers of the post-punk era.

This Kind Of Punishment straddles a stark line between what Bauhaus and Joy Division were doing in the era, with drone-y cuts like "Don't Take Those" and "In View Of The Circumstances" striking out into morose territory, while the more propulsive "Two Minutes Drowning" ventures into the sort of areas John Cale pursued on his more experimental solo records. Elsewhere, the very nearly-lovely "Ahead Of Their Time" sounds like "Spirit" by Bauhaus, to mention that obvious point of inspiration again.

The second album from This Kind Of Punishment, A Beard Of Bees, sees the band use a more robust approach, with a cut like "From The Diary Of Hermann Doubt" offering up a more conventional guitar-oriented attack than the eerie ballads that filled up the group's first record. "Although They Appear" suggests that the band were heading into a folk rock-flavored direction, with the prominent acoustic guitar here softening the starkness of the band's approach. A Beard Of Bees ends with the epic "An Open Denial", a track that leavens the group's semi-dour methods with a softer, minimanlist melody underpinning things.

The band This Kind Of Punishment never made music that was easy to love. They were, as these 2 records illustrate, clear pioneers, and the sort of band that were truly operating on their own, largely outside of trends in the era. If the music here feels a bit timeless, that's a plus, as the 2 records hardly sound like ones made in the early Eighties by the band's peers in the music world. Instead, This Kind Of Punishment and A Beard Of Bees are semi-masterpieces of a sort, serving as nice reminders that the New Zealand rock scene was capable of producing more than just memorable guitar-rock, even as the 2 members here -- Peter and Graeme Jefferies -- had more traditional careers as musicians after this, Peter as a solo artist, and Graeme as a member of The Cakekitchen.

This Kind Of Punishment and A Beard Of Bees by This Kind Of Punishment are both out on Friday via Superior Viaduct.

[Photo: Uncredited]

Monday, February 5, 2018

Usual Freaks: A Few Words About The Fab Debut Album From Chemtrails

Sometimes a record comes along that is such a bold stab at melding a few dozen genres that a reviewer would look like a fool attempting to be "impartial" about such a risky-but-rewarding artistic gesture. And Calf Of The Sacred Cow, out on Friday via the ever-superb PNKSLM label, is just such a record. This album, the debut full-length recording from London band Chemtrails, is so invigorating and downright infectious that it makes even a jaded reviewer like myself a bit excited about indie-pop all over again.

I suppose a listener unfamiliar with this lot would be a bit surprised by the dystopian sci-fi landscapes described in the lyrics of songs like "Tendrils", but for those of us who've eagerly awaited this record while feasting on earlier releases from this band, the song seems the sort of casual brilliance this lot have managed to crank out routinely so far. Elsewhere, the chiming "Usual Freaks" suggests that the band have found a way to blend their glam rock attack with a more accessible tunefulness of the sort that acts like Ty Segall pursue on this side of the Atlantic. And if the T. Rex-stroll of "Lizard Empire" doesn't immediately grab you like it did me, try the roaring "Dead Air" instead, all Buzzcocks chords whipped into a futuristic frenzy. The song is utterly unlike anything else you're going to hear in 2018, and yet, like so much of the music of Chemtrails, it remains supremely catchy and buoyant. If something called "A Beautiful Cog in the Monolithic Death Machine" doesn't charm you on the strength of that title alone, let the cut's electro-buzz wash over you, all Ramones-riffs-as-played-by-robots goodness.

The music of Chemtrails just pleases me greatly. I suppose I would be happy if every song by this act was as good as the bouncy New Wave of "Watch Evil Grow", or as gloriously glammy as "Milked", but I'm also glad to hear the band branch out into new territory here on Calf Of The Sacred Cow as the glistening electronica of "Ghosts Of My Dead Cats" illustrates before things on this debut long-player end on "Overgrown", all 4AD-style effects layered over a truly lovely melody.

Chemtrails -- Mia (vocals, guitar), Laura (vocals, guitar), Another Laura (vocals, bass), Ian (keyboard), and Sam (drums) -- make music that really shouldn't work so well when you describe it in words, given that the melding of a C86-style DIY approach with a near-glam-stomp sounds like a car crash. Still, it works spectacularly for Chemtrails, with the selections virtually riots of sound, and Calf Of The Sacred Cow being a truly kaleidoscopic assault on the senses when taken as a whole.

Gloriously different and instantly catchy, the music here is unhinged goodness, and the sort of risky indie-pop of big, BIG tunes that few are willing to chance making these days. Thank God that Chemtrails do.

Calf Of The Sacred Cow is out on Friday via PNKSLM.

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

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from label]

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Give Me Your Youth: A Review Of Both The New Monochrome Set Album And The New Box Set

This Friday should be a joyous day for fans of The Monochrome Set as the band is set to drop not only a new album, but also a 6-CD or 6-LP box-set of their complete recordings from the first 6 years of their existence. Maiseworld is, as you would expect, another fine example of this act's powers going into the future, while 1979-1985: Complete Recordings is, as you can tell from the title, a collection of everything that the band released in those years in the title. Both releases are coming out on the Tapete Records label and both releases are every bit as essential as most of the albums from this group have been in the past.

1979-1985: Complete Recordings takes a rather straightforward approach, offering up the band's first 4 records on the first 4 discs/records here, with the final 2 discs/records being given over to the band's singles from the era. The early numbers from The Monochrome Set -- ones like "Love Goes Down The Drain" and "Martians Go Home" -- indicate the arrival of a new, arty approach to British post-punk. And one can only imagine how odd some of Strange Boutique would have seemed back in 1980. Released in the same year, the band's second record, Love Zombies, saw the rougher edges of the band's attack smoothed, with numbers here ("Adeste Fideles" and the title cut) serving as New Wave-y nods in the direction of British styles from earlier decades. If one can detect a faint trace of British music hall, and even glam rock, in the style of early Bowie, here, it's probably intentional. The Monochrome Set were always nothing if not out of place, and listening to these early records released in the years that acts like The Clash were hitting a peak only confirms that feeling. It's not that fans of Strummer and his gang couldn't appreciate something like "The Man With The Black Mustache", but that it was asking a lot.

Eligible Bachelors from 1982 is one of the real highlights here, with familiar numbers from the band ("Jet Set Junta" and "The Midas Touch") making appearances on this one. If the music sounds more robust here, it's largely in service of tunes that seem bigger than the band's earlier numbers. "I'll Scry Instead" and "The Devil Rides Out" are both more robust and thought-out than selections on the group's first 2 records, and yet they contain every bit as much of the wit and brains as listeners would expect from Bid and his boys. The final studio album here, 1985's The Lost Weekend, reveals a band that should have been far more successful in terms of sales and notice back in those years. Lead singer Bid was poised to try a solo career in this era, but tunes here like the big "Jacob's Ladder" place this band's work firmly in place as a possible point of inspiration for both The Smiths and all those C86-era acts. There's a real brainy vibe here even as the offerings reveal a truly varied approach from the act, from the twich-y "The Twitch" to the more cerebral "Letter From Viola", an easy dip into chamber pop. The subsequent 2 discs after this provide a nice overview of the Monochrome Set's approach by giving us a bunch of their best singles all in a row. And for every repeat here that's a number from albums 1 to 4, there's something fresh like "He's Frank" that reveals just how nimble and sharp this lot were then.

That sharpness -- a refinement of wit coupled with real pop chops -- is still there as the new album, Maiseworld, from The Monochrome Set clearly shows. From the bright bounce of "Give Me Your Youth", and on to the rollicking "I Feel Fine (Really)", the cuts here are nearly as vibrant as those on those early records. Elsewhere, "Silence Is Rusty" is a jaunty romp, while the more propulsive "Oh Yes, I'm Going To Be In Your Dreams Tonight" ebbs and swells in a manner that suggests nothing so much as the sort of thing that The Smiths would have once penned even as they owed such a huge debt to this lot while doing it. Lots of Maisieworld is suitably skewed pop of the sort that once ruled British indie charts in the past, which is not to say that the approach here is quaint but, rather, that it's a return to the sort of classic songwriting the lads in The Monochrome Set have always championed.

There are, frankly, not many bands who could drop a career-spanning set on the same day that a new album is released without one of the offerings suffering by comparison, but The Monochrome Set is that sort of band. So much of the greatness of what's here is down to the presence of constant front-man Bid. Under his leadership, this outfit has succeeded through various line-ups without a flagging of creativity being exhibited once. Maiseworld and 1979-1985: Complete Recordings are both out on Friday via Tapete Records.

More details on The Monochrome Set via the band's official website.

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from label]

Shake Your Lonely: A Few Words About The New Twin Peaks Compilation

The Chicago band Twin Peaks dropped a series of song-pairs on vinyl singles in 2017. The singles were very limited releases so only a few hundred people got each one of these, or all of them. Now, Grand Jury Music is putting all 12 of the cuts out on a compilation called Sweet '17 Singles, and the set drops on Friday. That the release is, in some ways, more cohesive than the last Twin Peaks album proper is sort of a pleasant surprise.

If tracks like "Shake Your Lonely" and "Blue Coupe" offer up bits of Stones-like lite swagger, the far better "Sun and The Trees" and "In The Meadow" reveal distinctive melodic hooks that suggest that the band have progressed beyond simply regurgitating Exile On Main Street-style rock dressed up in indie-pop trappings. If the brainy stonerisms of the band's very earliest records is long gone, at least a number like "Just Because" indicates that a new sort of lyrical alt-rock, full of ramshackle charm, has found its way into the band's set of tricks. On that song, and the Big Star-ish "On The Line", Twin Peaks succeed immensely, the Mick-and-Keef stuff now subsumed into the the group's very DNA. What that means is that these tunes are easy to love, and far more natural fits for the band than some of what was found amid the risk-taking of Down In Heaven.

Utterly engaging, the things I loved about Twin Peaks a few years ago are back here on Sweet '17 Singles. The compilation, out on Friday via Grand Jury Music, is such a breezy joy to listen to that it's very nearly like hearing these cats for the first time.

Sweet '17 Singles is out on Friday via Grand Jury Music.

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

[Photo: Daniel Topete]

Friday, February 2, 2018

Maelstrom: A Few Words About The New Album From The Cold Spells

The Cold Spells are dropping a new album today on Gare Du Nord Records. The record is the name of the band in Morse code so forgive me for not trying to type it out. Such an odd choice for a title seems to fit the deliberate obfuscation of the band's approach, a sort of skewed neo-folk that suggests acts like John Cale and Soft Machine.

If "Terry" is languid unease set atop a tune, then the superb "Wooden Horse" is like early James stuff, back when the band had a bit more mystery amid their brand of Manc-rock. Elsewhere, "Roll Me Over" rides a nice, rather gentle melody into territory once charted in the early years of The Lilac Time, while the eerie epic "The Ghosts Of Them What Didn't Make It" quietly lurches with a kind of carnival creepiness. Lots of what's here on the new one from The Cold Spells follows a similar trajectory, rendering the rather simple tunes imbued with an admirable and interesting undercurrent of British melancholia. Epic closer "Maelstrom" pulls everything together in a longer example of broken chamber pop, bits of Sixties-era acts jutting up with stuff one recalls from the new acoustic wave that swept through the realms of Britpop in the first year or two of this century.

The Cold Spells make unique music that sounds utterly unlike lots of what's being made these days. And if there are bits here that seem in debt to earlier sonic pioneers, at least the tunes are memorable in large ways, delivering quirky hooks and unsettling melodies consistently.

The Cold Spells by The Cold Spells is out today via Gare Du Nord Records.

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

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from Bandcamp]

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Turn It Up: A Review Of The Rock Majesty Of The New Album From Bat Fangs

The new, self-titled album from Bat Fangs, out tomorrow via Don Giovanni Records, is the sort of record that is so simple in approach that a listener wonders why more bands don't sound this good. Betsy Wright (Ex Hex) and Laura King (Flesh Wounds) have taken the hard-rock genre-tropes of the last few decades and invigorated them with a hearty dose of enthusiasm. That these 2 women are staking a claim to every hoary hard rock riff attack of the Eighties and earlier makes this record even more of a revolutionary statement; who knew that party metal could sound so vital still?

The hooks of opener "Turn It Up" are ENORMOUS, more Andrew W.K. than Ex Hex, for those looking to gauge how much this Wright project owes to the big hair Eighties like her earlier band's stuff did, while the thunderous drums of "Rock The Reaper" seem an updating of the best Joan Jett and the Blackhearts numbers, only even louder. King's attack on the kit is a relatively simple one, but the force and power with which she imbues every smash on the cymbals or stomp on the kick-drum indicates a seriousness of intent that sits nicely next to the hair metal trappings Wright and her ax apply to the cut. Elsewhere, there's the sass of "Boys of Summer" and the buzzsaw riffs of "Wolfbite", a number that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Scorpions album in 1985 or so. If "Mercury" is a brief respite from the thunderous rawk, album closer "Fangs Out" is cacophonous glory, all bad intent wrapped up in a real big hook.

If Bat Fangs is all caveman rock, at least it's being made by women. This is one hell of a record, and proof that two women can deliver a sound every bit as big and glorious as that of any bunch of dudes in spandex from the old days -- cock rock usurped, indeed. Smart, sharp, and full of bright riffs, Bat Fangs is the sort of album that makes a listener remember how much fun rock-and-roll is, and ought to always be. And that the very existence of Bat Fangs is sort of subversive, is yet another reason to love this band and their new full-length release.

Bat Fangs is out tomorrow on Don Giovanni Records.

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

[Photo: Soleil Konkel]

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

New Direction: A Quick Word Or Two About The New Foundations Compilation From Varese Sarabande

The Foundations remain a band usually labelled a "one-hit wonder" despite the fact that the group had a few hits besides "Build Me Up Buttercup" back in the Sixties and early Seventies. And, yes, the other obvious one was "Baby, Now That I've Found You", the track that leads off the fine new compilation from the band The Very Best Of The Foundations, out now from Varese Sarabande.

The Foundations also remain the sort of act from the past usually the subject of cheap, rip-off comps from labels you and I have never heard of. And that's all the more reason to applaud Varese Sarabande for finally putting out such a nice, single-disc collection of the music of these guys. The Very Best Of The Foundations delivers about an hour's worth of some of the best soul-pop one is likely to encounter from the era, with numbers like "New Direction" and the peppy "Back On My Feet Again" sounding immediately like songs that should have been big, big hits too.

And if a lot of the success of the songs of The Foundations is down to singer Clem Curtis, just as much credit needs to go to pop-wizard Tony Macaulay who wrote so many of the best tracks here. Better known, perhaps, for his compositions for Edison Lighthouse and other bands of that ilk, his songs here seem to fit perfectly the unique pop-soul blend of The Foundations' approach. Stuff like "In The Bad, Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)" and "That Same Old Feeling" swing with the sort of confidence and pop-sass that the very best, biggest singles of the era also possessed. And listening to these numbers now, it's sort of sad to think that they weren't not hits as big as "Build Me Up Buttercup", for instance. Elsewhere, "My Little Chickadee" is a touch wistful, while "I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving" has a jaunty edge that suggests era peers like The Beau Brummels, for instance.

Still, not every number here is a Macaulay gem as the odd "Solomon Grundy" shows. A near bit of bubblegum rock, the cut is, like a few others here, thankfully presented in its original mono single version. And for that reason, and many others, the folks at Varese Sarabande are to be praised for bringing out such a fine composition of this lot, one of the best British pop acts of the Swingin' Sixties.

The Very Best Of The Foundations is out now on Varese Sarabande.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Caught Up In My Own World: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Montero

The new record from Montero, Performer, out Friday via Chapter Music, is the sort of thing that is going to get labeled glam rock or something but the music here is far more intricate and complex than that label would otherwise indicate. What's here on Performer is beautiful and trippy in the manner of the best songs from The Flaming Lips and MGMT.

Other reviewers will likely highlight the presence of Jay Watson from Tame Impala on parts of this, or the fact that the record was recorded at Mark Ronson's studio, despite this really being the work of just one man: Ben Montero. That Ben has managed to create an album so distinctly otherworldly and defiantly tuneful is something to be praised as, given the glammy aspects of what's here, it could easily have turned into a project that was too kitschy and precious.

A lush number like "Caught Up In My Own World" is a real headphone epic, while "Vibrations" sounds decidedly like both John Lennon circa Walls and Bridges and that second album from Temples. The cut rises easily about its considerable inspiration points to stand on its own as something really original, and certainly a bit more tuneful than the music of the much-lauded Foxygen. Elsewhere, the elegant "Aloha" nods however slightly in the direction of acts indebted to both progressive rock and those intent on charting new courses in the post-rock landscape. There is a slight sameness here as the numbers pile on the same sort of ascending chord structures in each track, the effect very much like listening to Jeff Lynne run up his keyboard in search of the big hooks for those songs he composed for the Xanadu soundtrack. And if something like "Tokin' The Night Away" feels decidedly slight, it's at least wildly tuneful and pleasing to the ear. Ben Montero has mastered this sort of thing and deserves far more praise than those guys in Foxygen, in my opinion, but he desperately needs to expand his sonic attack a bit as he probably can't survive simply on the strength of his big melodies forever.

Performer by Montero is out on Friday via Chapter Music. More details on Montero via the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Maria Damkalidi]

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Works: A Few Words About The New Sunwatchers Album

The new record from New York's Sunwatchers, II, out Friday on Trouble in Mind Records, is the sort of release that's darn hard to describe. Incorporating elements of drone rock, flashes of jazz fusion, and hints of near-prog with an almost No New York-aesthetic, the band unleashes torrents of noise and bits of skewed melody in a fashion that suggests both madness and a level of genius lacking in lots of what passes for truly alternative music these days.

A listener can find lots to latch onto in a track like "The Works", for instance, as the Can-like rhythmic hook drives things forward, even as free jazz sax skronks arrive at crucial points in the cut. Elsewhere, "The Hot Eye" rattles and percolates like the best material from The Magic Band, while the more straightforward "Silent Boogie" sees a sort of Sun Ra-like sense of abandon guide -- however loosely -- the players through the cosmos, horn-bursts and drum-blasts peppering the proceedings around the heavy, central riff of the tune. That the tune actually swings says a lot about why I loved II so much. And for all that, the band is still capable of truly getting out there, as the epic-length "There Are Weapons You Can Bring To School" shows, the band venturing into territory that suggests artists as diverse as Mingus and King Crimson.

The players in Sunwatchers -- Peter Nye Kerlin (bass), Jim McHugh (guitars, keyboards, harmonica, piano), Jason Robira (drums), and Jeff Tobias (sax, keyboards, etc.) -- deserve all the credit here for really challenging a listener while delivering something entirely listenable. Sunwatchers understand how to push the envelope even while finding a scarp of melody to toss our way in the midst of the stirring of the chaos. What is here is extreme but not obtuse or un-enjoyable. This is music that is bold and brave, but also music that remains easy to love for more adventurous listeners.

II is out on Friday via Trouble in Mind Records.

More details on Sunwatchers via the band's official Facebook page. The band is playing D.C.'s Rhizome on Friday with the legendary Eugene Chadbourne, and Time is Fire, with details here.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from label]

Friday, January 26, 2018

I Get Frightened Too: A Few Words About The New, Lost Television Personalities Album From Fire Records

There have been a wealth of Television Personalities re-issues in the last few years, and a reader has only to click on that TVP tag at the bottom of this post to see my take on those. And for a band that's long been deserving of the proper treatment in terms of re-issued music, it's been Dan Treacy's lucky day as his genius seems more appreciated now than back in the Nineties. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, a lost Television Personalities album has been unearthed. A sort of demo version of Closer To God (1992) in some ways, the record works on its own as a document of Treacy in the era.

Beautiful Despair, out today on the fine Fire Records, is an album that was recorded in 1990 with just Jowe Head and Dan Treacy. The tracks are, in spots, a tiny bit lo-fi, but they are every bit as original and inventive as the best Treacy compositions. At times here, like on the funny "Love Is A Four-Letter Word" and the title cut, Treacy edges into the sort of territory later covered by Jarvis Cocker in Pulp. Elsewhere, "I Get Frightened Too" oozes a kind of bedsit drama, while the excellent and subtly soaring "Goodnight Mister Spaceman", from the band's Closer To God record, sees Treacy and Jowe Head attempt a Bowie-style number on a limited budget. That the song works so well says a lot about the seemingly-unflagging talents of Treacy in the era in which these cuts were recorded. "My Very First Nervous Breakdown", also from Closer To God, is suitably claustrophobic in this version, while "Honey For The Bears", also from that same record, is languid and sublime in the rendition presented here on Beautiful Despair.

A genuine curiosity for fans of Television Personalities, Beautiful Despair works as both a document of Dan Treacy's methods as a songwriter, and as a record on its own. Decidedly intimate, and wonderfully under-produced, this is one record that reveals a great deal about how the legendary Dan Treacy crafted such enduring material, in this setting with only Jowe Head (Swell Maps) helping him out.

Beautiful Despair is out today via Fire Records

[Photo: Alison Withers]

A Few Pics From The Inara George (The Bird And The Bee) Concert In D.C. Last Night

Inara George is the much-loved vocalist of The Bird and the Bee, the act she's in with Greg Kurstin (producer of recent work from Foo Fighters and Liam Gallagher, among others). She's been on the road lately in support of her latest solo album, Dearest Everybody, out now. Last night she hit D.C.'s DC9 but I wasn't able to attend. However, Michael Lynch kindly contributed his shots from the gig for the site.

For more on Inara George, please check out her official website, there you'll be able to find more details on her latest solo record, Dearest Everybody.



[Photos: Michael Lynch]

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Dreaming Still: A Few Words About The New Album From Holy

The new album from Holy, All These Worlds Are Yours, drops on PNKSLM Recordings tomorrow. That it is a sonic marvel shouldn't be a surprise given the label that it's on. But that it is extraordinary and downright otherworldly in spots is sort of a revelation. What's here on this record is some of the most out there and wildly-tuneful indie-pop one is likely to encounter in 2018.

Opening track "Night on Earth" bursts forth from the speakers like Phil Spector mixing The Glitter Band, all booming drums and echoed vocals, while the more stately "Dreaming Still?" marches to the heavens on the backs of a bunch of chord-patterns that nod in the direction of acts like The Flaming Lips and Radiohead without all those pretentious bits. The tunes here are, understandably, big -- huge, really! -- and the measure of the success of this record is that, unlike offerings on those Foxygen's albums, for instance, the music here feels like something that is genuinely capable of transporting a listener elsewhere. I mean, the title cut is a near-epic, undulating over the course of nearly 9 minutes in rolls of Spiritualized hooks and bursts of Broadcast-style melodic invention. That sort of retro-futuristic indie-pop rears its head again on "Wish" which sees Hannes Ferm, the main member of Holy now, offer up coos and purrs like something from a Komeda record. Rather than seem like another in a long line of bands who are pursuing that sort of thing, the music here remains utterly unique and unlike anything else you are going to hear anywhere. In some spots here, Hannes also manages to work in some near-chamber pop-levels of a sort of a classicism that recalls the best tunes from The Left Banke or The Zombies, rendering "Heard Her" and "In Lack of Light" nearly charming and old-fashioned despite the trappings here that seem so downright trippy (for lack of a better adjective).

I really have a hard time being objective about releases on the PNKSLM label simply because they have yet to put out a dud. So, sometimes I have to step back from one of their releases and sort of force myself to assess it impartially. And, forgetting for a moment all the great releases from PNKSLM in the last few years, All These Worlds Are Yours still feels revolutionary in sonic terms. It is a record that sounds so original that my references to a few easy comparison points up above seem like lazy writing on my part. But the truth is that it is simply damn near impossible to describe what's here in words. Holy have made an extraordinary record that will blow your mind, really. Make plans to crank it up from your sound-system, or mark time to put on the headphones and drift away, but find your way to this record and buy it as soon as you can.

All These Worlds Are Yours by Holy is out tomorrow via PNKSLM. More details via the official Facebook page for Holy.

[Photo: Marcus Wilen]

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

You Say All The Nice Things: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Ty Segall

There is simply no stopping Ty Segall at this point. He is very nearly entering into a Robert Pollard prolific-sort of territory with the wealth of material he's intent on releasing. His newest record, Freedom's Goblin, is out on Friday on Drag City. That it is perhaps his finest record to date is not hyperbole as this double-album is positively stuffed with goodness, even when accounting for a near-quarter-hour jam that closes the record.

Freedom's Goblin succeeds as much as it does simply for the ease with which Segall has this time out harnessed all the parts of his delivery in the service of remarkably strong songs. It is, in a way, his Daydream Nation. And if that means that parts of this are a bit messy, and sprawling, then that's true too.

On numbers like "Rain" and "Cry Cry Cry" Segall lets forth melodies that are lovely and beautiful, with nods in the directions of Lennon and Bowie throughout. That the melodies are not buried in feedback and fuzzy rock bits is what elevates many of the compositions on Freedom's Goblin in my estimation. There is -- even given the length of this record -- a refinement here that suggests Ty is more in control of his strengths than ever before. Even as numbers like "You Say All The Nice Things" and "My Lady's On Fire" echo bits from the back-catalogs of both T. Rex and Syd Barrett, the cuts seem less indulgent than similar ones on earlier Segall releases, more precise in their weirdness, if you will. Elsewhere, a funky-and-odd cover of a Hot Chocolate nugget succeeds and pushes the release forward without derailing things, while "I'm Free" sees Segall try as hard as he can to sound more like Brian Jones than Bolan for once, with a listener impressed at how wonderful the end-result is. Near the end of the record, the peppy "5 Ft. Tall" burns through about a dozen familiar tricks from the Ty Segall trick-bag, and, rather than feel routine, the song feels transcendent, the sound of Segall harnessing so many things and fully maturing into his powers as a pop wizard. Even as the epic "And Goodnight" closes Freedom's Goblin as one might expect -- in a monster freak-out -- Segall seems to have earned these dozen moments of indulgence.

Freedom's Goblin is, despite its length, so sharp and focused that I'm even more impressed with Segall than I was a few years ago. It used to feel as if Ty was returning too frequently to the same handful of records for his inspiration, but here he's seemingly digested them and moved forward. Sure, there are noise-y bits here, bits that are just awash in feedback, but, for the most part, Freedom's Goblin is about Ty Segall and his abilities as a craftsman of songs. For a guy who I thought couldn't surprise me anymore, color me surprised, downright amazed at how much I thoroughly loved Freedom's Goblin.

Freedom's Goblin is out on Friday via Drag City. More details on Ty Segall via his Facebook page.

[Photo: Denee Segall]

R.I.P Mark E. Smith (March 5, 1957 - January 24, 2018)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Best Of Intentions: A Brief Review Of The Fab New Album From The Spook School

There's a note of defiance that rings almost immediately during the start of the first song on the new album from The Spook School and it's a wondrous thing. "Still Alive" kicks off the band's third album, Could It Be Different?, out on Friday via Slumberland Records in America, and the cut is, like so many here, bursting with a youthful pep that is positively contagious. If the band started out a few years ago betraying a few debts owed to the C86 generation, they're decidedly owned those inspiration points this time out as this record is gloriously self-assured and wholly original.

The Spook School -- Nye Todd (guitar and vocals), Anna Cory (bass and vocals), Adam Todd (guitar and vocals), and Niall McCamley (drums) -- have used the cuts here on the new album to sort of stake out territory that few other indie-pop acts are likely to pursue with such fearlessness. And if the lyrics of songs like "Body" and "Bad Year" look at matters that are personal, and matters that hint at how personal matters can shape larger political concerns -- or one's entire outlook on the world -- the music is largely bright and buoyant, and the sort of thing acts as disparate as Spearmint and The Wedding Present routinely pulled off a few decades back with a similar sort of sonic force. Of course, those acts didn't quite put themselves out there in lyrical terms as boldly as the members of The Spook School do here, but that's why Could It Be Different? is such a triumph. And as the lyrics of "Alright (Sometimes)" make clear, things can be shitty in the era of Trump, so shitty that folks would be forgiven for giving up hope entirely. And where The Spook School succeed here is in making highly personal music that feels downright revolutionary in its directness. There's a universality in stuff like "High School" that hits a listener, regardless of the fact that this lot are from Scotland, and that their individual back-stories may be quite different than mine or yours. What's here are anthems for those looking for the light, and if the chiming "Best of Intentions" and the fuzzy-and-buzzing "I Only Dance When I Want To" do not inspire even the most jaded of indie listeners, then everything is wrong with the world.

A successful melding of the best songs from the best bands of the C86 generation, along with a few dozen dashes or so from the generation or two of American indie-pop acts who kicked up a fuss during the early days of Slumberland Records, Could It Be Different? is a joyously invigorating refinement and sharpening of so many things you and I have loved over the course of the last few decades. And for all that, it feels new in its POV and damn near revolutionary in its humanistic concerns. If things are getting you down, spin this and sing along when the lyrics go "Let's pretend we're doing fine" and maybe, just maybe, these little indie-pop gems will make you feel a little bit better as the very best pop usually does.

Could It Be Different? is out on Friday via Slumberland Records in America. More details on The Spook School via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Chris Bellou]

Monday, January 22, 2018

In Your Beat: A Quick Review Of The New Django Django Record

The U.K. band Django Django have gotten a lot of press over the course of the release of their previous 2 records. And now, with the band's third album, Marble Skies, about to drop on Friday, the band is sure to get even more attention. Out on Friday via Ribbon Music, the album is another in a string of supple pop masterpieces from this lot.

If the title cut nods in the direction of unexpected inspirations -- like maybe The Zombies and The Moody Blues -- the sharper "In Your Beat" bubbles and percolates like a classic O.M.D. number. Elsewhere, the light-as-air "Champagne" flits past effortlessly, while the sleek "Surface to Air" purrs in a blast of perfect electro-pop. If there's a certain sameness here, at least the music of Django Django feels unforced and natural, the sort of updating of New Wave and post-punk foundations that seems like something a little bit new each time you hear it. On certain numbers here ("Sundials", "Fountains"), the band hit at a kind of breathy electronica that briefly suggests a few years spent listening to records by China Crisis and The Associates. And if the members of Django Django don't have quite the same knack for composing big hooks as Billy Mackenzie did, at least this lot -- David Maclean (producer/drummer), Vincent Neff (vocalist/guitarist), Jimmy Dixon (bass), and Tommy Grace (synths) -- seem to be on a mission to push a certain kind of modern indie into new shapes, for broader audiences. Simple and yet never boring, the music of Django Django keeps a listener enchanted even as it remains a bit airy and ephemeral.

Marble Skies is out on Friday via Ribbon Music. More details on Django Django on the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Fiona Garden]

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Punishment: A Word Or Two About The Pleasures Of The New EXEK Record

The new record from Australia's EXEK, Ahead of Two Thoughts, out Friday on the superb Superior Viaduct label, is the sort of thing in dreadfully short supply these days. Reminiscent of challenging earlier releases from acts like Crime and the City Solution, Public Image, and In Camera, the album is full of sharp edges and surprising bits of beauty. Brutal and yet oddly lovely in spots, Ahead of Two Thoughts is the sort of post-punk that 2018 desperately needs more of. Read on!

How to describe a band with such a sound? I suppose I could say that "Elevator Etiquette" slinks like something leftover from Unknown Pleasures, the guitars and bass charting out a veritable path to Hell? Or I could explain how "U Mop" echoes both early P.i.L. and Pere Ubu with some measures of abrasive success? EXEK here are pursuing a very unique muse, and the result is that their music sounds utterly unlike anything else one can find in contemporary indie-pop in 2018, hence the dated comparison points. Elsewhere, "Prawn Watching" traces an angular form of angst, while the near-catchy "Punishment" positively purrs in spots, nods in the direction of Simon Bonney stuff abounding. The players here -- Albert Wolski on guitar and vocals, with Andrew Brocchi on synthesizer, Henry Wilson on bass, Sam Dixon on the drums, and Nell Grant on saxophone -- have a real rapport and the resulting music sounds natural, unearthly, and a bit eerie, but always unforced in its refinement of earlier bits from the band's obvious inspiration points. That said, Ahead of Two Thoughts seems fresh and focused, a brutally uncompromising updating of all the best bits from the geniuses of post-punk.

More details on EXEK via the band's official Facebook page. Ahead of Two Thoughts is out on Friday via Superior Viaduct.

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

Rules: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Khruangbin

The music of Khruangbin defies description. It is a blend of Seventies drive-in movie-stuff, Tex-Mex rhythms, and a mix of about a dozen world music bits and pieces. The band's newest record, Con Todo El Mundo, out Friday on Dead Oceans, is a blast of energy, and one of the best releases of a week littered with big releases.

On a number like "Maria Tambien" there's something going on that sounds like surf rock of the sort that Tarantino might throw onto the soundtrack of one of his flicks, while "Shades of Man" nods faintly in the direction of Seventies soul. Elsewhere, "Rules" and "A Hymn" are more languid and expansive, while "Lady and Man" bops along with a real sense of looseness, a bit of free jazz jutting up against something closer to an odd pop tango, for lack of a better comparison point.

Khruangbin -- Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums -- are one of the most unique acts in the post-punk world today. Their music is utterly unlike anything you're going to hear these days, and it is also infectious and a whole lot of fun.

More details on Khruangbin via the band's official website, or official Facebook page. Con Todo El Mundo is out on Friday via Dead Oceans.

[Photo: Mary Kang]

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Taking Our Time: A Look At The New Album From Skytone

The new album from Canada's Skytone, Janglewaves, out now via TheBeautifulMusic.com, is something approaching yacht rock, with echoes of Milk and Honey-era Lennon and early Eighties Lindsey Buckingham abounding. It is also, if that statement didn't get your attention, the band's very best record to date. Effortless tuneful and near joyous in its execution, Janglewaves is the sort of thing that should get Skytone a whole lot of new fans.

If "Taking Our Time" and "Bright and Better Days" positively chime with a real rollicking grace, the more intricate "Second Hand Shops" offers up a kind of indie-pop that is eager to blend a few familiar genres at once. The title suggests a kind of self-awareness that indicates Skytone know their audience quite well, while the hook charms in a bigger, less anorak fashion. It is a big song, of indie-minded concerns. Elsewhere, "Lonely Holiday" rides a riff that sounds a tiny bit like something from Josef K with more modern production, while the sleek "Slow Down" suggests a whole generation of AM Radio tunesmiths from these shores from a few decades past. And to say that the music of Skytone here on Janglewaves owes as much to, say, Robbie Dupree as it does to Crowded House, is to say that the band have really hit a peak here in their output. The effortless blending of a whole lot of influences in the pursuit of that commonality from the band's many influences -- the big pop hook -- has allowed Skytone to make their most personal, sharpest record to date. Janglewaves is, quite obviously, a huge leap for this band and the sort of album that is easy to love and enjoy.

Janglewaves is out now via TheBeautifulMusic.com. You can get more details below, or via the band's official Twitter feed.

[Photo: Uncredited from the band's Bandcamp page]

Friday, January 19, 2018

Sweetness And Light: A Few Words About The New Album From The Fiction Aisle (Electric Soft Parade, Brakes)

The Fiction Aisle is, more or less, Thomas White from Electric Soft Parade and Brakes. The band's music is superb, and in line with the sort of thing one heard on later Boo Radleys records, for an easy comparison point. The new album from The Fiction Aisle is called Jupiter, Florida and it's out today. I really can't stress enough what a wonderful listen this one was for me.

Tracks like "Gone Today" see White favor a kind of languid spaciousness in his sound that is inviting rather than indulgent, while the downright lovely "The End of the Affair" suggests those Aztec Camera records where Roddy Frame favored smooth production and sleek surfaces in his sound. "Sweetness and Light" percolates like the best sort of Britpop stuff that White clearly draws a lot of inspiration from even still, while the longer "Memory" is trippy and closer to what Spiritualized was doing at one point in the past. If Thomas White is using parts of the output of The Fiction Aisle to explore some interesting sonic corners, he's also clearly a strong songwriter and one who is interested in classic forms. Looking to predecessors as diverse as Lennon and Bacharach, White can pen a really strong hook, like on "Some Things Never Die", even as the final cut on the record, the epic "Will I Get Where I'm Going Before I'm Ready?", nearly drifts away even as it gently enchants with waves of the melody-line coming in like slow ripples from a distant ship on the horizon.

Jupiter, Florida was such a pleasant surprise to me that I am almost angry that I hadn't heard of this band so much earlier. The Fiction Aisle make beautiful and affecting music that both fits with the sort of Brit-rock I consumed some decades ago, even as it expands the genre in some interesting and unexpected ways.

Jupiter, Florida is out today. See the link below. More details on The Fiction Aisle via the band's official Facebook page.

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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Right Time: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Salad Boys

New Zealand's Salad Boys manage to draw upon a whole range of influences but, invariably, descriptions of their sound usually involve a lot of references to earlier generations of Kiwi bands like The Clean and The Cakekitchen. Comparisons to those Flying Nun Records legends are apt as Salad Boys favor a kind of ruminative alt-rock that features a lot of superb guitar-lines wrapped around a strong hook. The tunes on the band's new record, This is Glue, out Tomorrow on Trouble in Mind Records, are as engaging as those on earlier releases from this lot, so rest assured that the winning streak of Salad Boys is continuing, even as the band explores other avenues of sound.

Opener "Blown Up" channels stuff like Television, while the next 2 cuts -- the languid "Hatred" and the sharp "Psych Slasher" -- nod in the direction of David Kilgour and The Clean, and offer a neater approximation of early Hoodoo Gurus jams, respectively. There's so much here in the space of just 3 cuts that a listener can only marvel at how exceedingly excellent and consistent this band have remained. Salad Boys can really do no wrong as most of This is Glue is just as good. Elsewhere, stuff like "Right Time" and "In Heaven" suggest a lost team-up from Nirvana and Sonic Youth, while the punchier "Under The Bed" and "Scenic Route to Nowhere" blend stabs at a kind of C86-inspired approach to tunes that are very nearly examples of straightforward power-pop. Of course, there's something a bit undone here, and it's that sort of ramshackle charm that makes the songs of Salad Boys so memorable and affecting. If mellower numbers here like "Going Down Slow" indicate a softening of this band's sonic attack, the pleasures remain subtle and lingering ones as even the less obviously-catchy cuts on This is Glue succeed upon first listen.

A record that is more consistent than the band's last album, This is Glue is that rare release that possesses a bit of mystery and complexity even as it unveils pleasures that any listener can easily obtain. The most excellent kind of post-punk, the songs of Salad Boys are some of the best you're likely to hear in 2018.

[Photo: Brian Feary]

This is Glue is out tomorrow on Trouble in Mind Records.

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