Friday, February 22, 2019

Springtime: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Le SuperHomard

I hate winter but I have springtime in my heart now having heard the new album from Le SuperHomard. Meadow Lane Park, out today via the esteemed Elefant Records label, is a downright invigorating record. If you can remember the joy you felt when you first heard Stereolab, you will likely feel that vibe again when you play much of this one.

If opener "In The Park" recalls Broadcast a bit, the more expansive "Springtime" is even better, bits of Saint Etienne's best singles mixed up with faint hints of mid-tempo New Order numbers. This is, like so much on Meadow Lane Park, pop music of the very best sort, even as the delicate "Snowflakes" veers into the sort of territory frequently occupied by peers Lake Ruth. Elsewhere, "Paper Girl" is an instant classic, all classic French ye-ye music revved up to 10 and polished with the sort of sheen the best Cardigans singles had, while the elegant "Karaoking" is more deliberate. While those two numbers are just fantastic, Le SuperHomard seem not content to simply make masterful and sublime chamber pop, as the percolating "SDVB" illustrates, even as the title cut is all Dubstar hooks and Francoise Hardy-style vocals.

The players here inject this material with enough heft that one never feels like the whole thing is simply an exercise in mastering a style. And, of course, the superb hooks here are enough to ensure that this one gets noticed. Frankly, there are moments so lovely and catchy on Meadow Lane Park that I'm sort of surprised that I barely knew many of the band's songs before now. Effortlessly cool, easily affecting, and the sound of a beautiful day, or the memory of, or wish for, one, this is an absolutely fantastic record.

Meadow Lane Park by Le SuperHomard is out today via Elefant Records.

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

[Photo: Alice Lemarin]

Everybody Play: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Sunwatchers

The new album from NYC quartet Sunwatchers is a bold blend of free jazz and fusion. The propulsive rhythms of the tunes on Illegal Moves, out today via Trouble in Mind Records, suggest a real appreciation of rock-and-roll even as the instrumentation feels closer to, say, what one would find on a record from the tail-end of the hard bop era.

"New Dad Blues" is breezy, percussive funk-jazz, while the bouncy "Beautiful Crystals" is a neat blend of the sort of riffs that both Frank Zappa and King Crimson once rode to success. If the music here on this one is a bit more rock than jazz, the loose "Everybody Play" is more improvisational, horn-runs, guitar-skronks, and brush-work taking a listener back a few decades to an era when this sort of thing was more in vogue. Elsewhere, "Psychic Driving" is a descent into the tornado, shards of guitar carrying this thing through into the light, while closer "Strollin' Coma Blues" is, as its title suggests, nearly a blues number, albeit the form of the blues once practiced by the players in Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band.

The musicians here -- guitarist Jim McHugh, drummer Jason Robira, bassist Peter Kerlin, and Jeff Tobias on sax -- are on fire on every track on this one. A record that is super-easy to enjoy and which remains bravely iconoclastic, Illegal Moves is a blast, frankly. Fans of cool music, and superb musicianship should find this one an essential release, just like I did.

Illegal Moves is out today on Trouble in Mind Records.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Your Beauty Could Not Save You: A Brief Review Of The New Album From James Yorkston

The new album from James Yorkston, The Route To The Harmonium, out tomorrow on Domino, is the sort of release that may be labelled neo-folk. And while Yorkston delves into that territory, I found his newest record closer in spirit to earlier offerings from Radiohead and David Sylvian. There's a real inventiveness here to the music which, when coupled with James' rich vocals, made me think of those acts, despite the instrumentation here which is more organic and less reliant on electronic textures than those other artists.

While "Your Beauty Could Not Save You" and "Like Bees To Foxglove" echo old compositions from artists as disparate as Bert Jansch and Syd Barrett, the elegantly-constructed "Shallow" made me think of Thom Yorke and his crew. James Yorkston has a unique skill at blending decidedly old styles with hints of the modern, such that a number like "Solitary Islands All" floats into a listener's consciousness through a few simple, concise folk hooks. Elsewhere, the elegiac "The Villages I Have Known My Entire Life" explores the sort of sonic expanses once mapped out by artists as disparate as Robert Wyatt and Ed Harcourt.

If lots of James Yorkston's newest album feels like a set of interpretations of prior forms, lots more here feels new. The Route To The Harmonium is, certainly, more complex and intricate than some earlier releases that I'd term folk-rock, and, similarly, Yorkston's downright warm vocals are mixed perfectly here, such that a listener feels like something is being shared in confidence. An intimate album, The Route To The Harmonium is also a visionary one, and the kind of album that winds its way into the soul with real ease.

The Route To The Harmonium is out tomorrow via Domino Records.

More details on James Yorkston via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Ren Rox]

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

To The Top: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Murray A. Lightburn (The Dears)

This new album from Murray A. Lightburn of The Dears is the sort of release that instantly seeps into the soul. Full of rich, vaguely retro approaches to pop and rock forms, Hear Me Out is a fantastic record. Out on Dangerbird Records on Friday, fans of The Dears should embrace this too, even as the band's leader breaks new ground here.

"Centre of My Universe" sways with a hint of pre-Beatles-era soul, while the downright lush "I Give Up" takes things even further back, Lightburn turning the number into a sort of torch song. Elsewhere, the propulsive and insistent "To The Top" seems the sort of thing Weller would have written some years ago in The Style Council, with Murray's vocals here natural and perfect, while the title cut is all Al Green-wooziness, a heartfelt spin through the past. At his very best here on Hear Me Out, like on the aching "Changed My Ways", Murray A. Lightburn approaches the sort of territory once trod by Leonard Cohen. I think that makes perfect sense given that producer Howard Bilerman worked with Cohen. And some mention should be made of the other players here, including jazz guitarist Steve Raegele, and jazz bassist Rémi-Jean Leblanc, along with drummer Jeff Luciani (The Dears), and singers Catherine McCandless (Young Galaxy) and Ariel Engle (Broken Social Scene).

The line-up here is stellar but Murray A. Lightburn is the amazing performer at the center of this, and his warm and expressive vocals suggest past artists such as Sam Cooke and Van Morrison even as the material veers into newer, more modern territory. I can't think of many singers today who could caress something like "Anew" with such grace and power. Fans of the most recent Arctic Monkeys records, and that last superb album from Childhood, will love this one as much as I did.

Hear Me Out by Murray A. Lightburn is out on Friday via Dangerbird Records.

More information on Murray A. Lightburn via the official website for The Dears, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

It's Here: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Half Japanese

The music of Half Japanese remains the sort of thing that defies any current trends. These tunes are oddly timeless, ridiculously large things that seem simultaneously frivolous and fraught with meaning. The band's newest album, Invincible, drops on Friday on Fire Records, and it's a special record.

Long-time fans of Jad Fair and Half Japanese will find lots to love here just by scanning the song titles. And, trust me, "Return of the Vampire" and "The Puppet People" more than live up to their titles when heard. Elsewhere, "It's Here" is a boisterous racket, while the lovely "Swept Away" suggests the generosity of spirit Jad Fair has always shown as a performer and song-writer. "All at Once" marries a faint Mod-stomp to one of the most direct compositions here, while the elegant "Forever in My Heart" unfolds with a deliberateness that adds momentum to the music under the vocals. The players here -- Jad Fair, John Sluggett, Gilles-Vincent Rieder, Jason Willett, and Mick Hobbs -- attack these tunes with a nice blend of indie-pop chops and a near-improvisational flair.

And while so much of Invincible is likely to feel familiar to long-time fans of Jad Fair, there's nothing here that feels lazy. If anything, Jad sounds invigorated throughout, or lost in the joy that the lyrics are trying to convey. There's an insistence within the grooves on stuff like the twang-y "Love Explosion" that is infectious, even as the title cut and "Indestructible" modulate the pace a bit. Still, Invincible remains an ebullient record, and the sort of thing that is easy to love, for new fans of Jad and old.

Invincible by Half Japanese is out on Friday via Fire Records.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture from the label]

Monday, February 18, 2019

Under The Sun: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Spellling

The new album from Spellling, Mazy Fly, out on Friday via Sacred Bones Records, is the sort of release that straddles so many genres with ease that it's darn near impossible to describe the music in its grooves in words. An elegant, at times lyrical record, this second album from Chrystia Cabral is really a special thing in a season ripe with good new releases.

While a tune like "Melted Wings" and its washes of keyboards bear the faintest of traces of earlier pioneers like Ryuichi Sakamoto, the strangely-catchy "Under The Sun" echoes Fad Gadget and Berlin, Spellling's breathy vocals here the sound of a comedown after a night out. Elsewhere, "Dirty Desert Dreams" is very nearly a club tune, while the stately "Secret Thread" sounds a bit like some mix of Donna Summer and early Gary Numan, electronic music that's decidedly human and warm. Spellling makes this all sound remarkably easy, with the bits and pieces of other forms stirred together naturally here.

There are things here on Mazy Fly that give some of this a retro vibe, but most of Mazy Fly feels like those early records from Broadcast or Goldfrapp, where a listener felt like something familiar was being heard, even as there was so much more there that was new and unearthly. The sound of dreams and wishes, the frequently lush Mazy Fly is the sort of record one can get deliriously lost in, and it's a record that deserves a lot of attention.

Mazy Fly is out on Friday via Sacred Bones Records.

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

[Photo: Catalina Xavlena]

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Black Temptation: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Flesh Eaters

It was only a few days ago that I was reviewing a new album from The Long Ryders and here I am now reviewing one from The Flesh Eaters. The Eighties-era super-group is back, with a fine new one, I Used To Be Pretty, out now on Yep Roc. And, I'm happy to report, the release is a largely scorching record from a band who always took a scorched earth-approach to their brand of shockabilly.

The Flesh Eaters -- Chris D., Dave Alvin and Bill Batemen of The Blasters on guitar and drums, respectively, John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake of X on bass and percussion, respectively, and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and other bands on sax -- crank through this material with an admirable sense of conviction. Covers of "She's Like Heroin To Me" by The Gun Club and "The Green Manalishi" by Fleetwood Mac (and Judas Priest) are the highlights here on I Used To Be Pretty with these cats sounding nearly like they did some three decades ago. Elsewhere, "Miss Muerte" suggests an evil Los Lobos, while the lengthy "Ghost Cave Lament" nods in the same dark direction that early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds records did. While The Flesh Eaters imbue a lot of this with real bad intent, it's worth noting that the faster songs work better than the slow ones, at least in this reviewer's opinion. While "Black Temptation" roars, a real voice-from-the-grave-kinda thing, "My Life To Live" is more straightforward. It's a bracing bit of alt-rock, and the closest this record comes to the mainstream.

It's downright remarkable that this band can still summon up decidedly un-right sounds like this. There's a truck-load of bad vibes here, and thankfully for listeners, I Used To Be Pretty is a fairly worthy successor to earlier Flesh Eaters recordings.

I Used To Be Pretty is out now via Yep Roc.

[Photo: Frank Lee Drennen]

Saturday, February 16, 2019

On And On: A Brief Review Of The New Gladys Knight And The Pips Anthology From Cherry Red Records

It always annoys me when Gladys Knight and The Pips get labelled a Motown band. While, yes, the band did have a long, early run on that seminal label, they were far more successful later, on labels like Buddah and Columbia. Thankfully, the fine folks at Cherry Red Records have offered up a refresher in On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, a new 2-CD set that collects all the best singles from the group from those eras.

The songs that made me love this band as a kid -- "Midnight Train To Georgia", "I've Got To Use My Imagination" -- are, of course, here, on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, along with loads more from the real prime years of this group. The songs I consider some of the best Gladys Knight and The Pips tunes are here, with stuff like "Where Peaceful Waters Flow", and the aching "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me", sounding just as wonderful now as they did a few decades ago. I saw the band in Maryland when I was about 7 or 8 and they put on an amazing live show, so I'm sure I'm not the only kid who had a huge crush on Gladys Knight back then. And when one plays lots of the hits here, especially the songs for the film Claudine composed by the legendary Curis Mayfield, one marvels again at Knight's ability to interpret a song, and the four-piece's ability to take the vocal group-style of performing into more modern territory in the Seventies. Gladys Knight owns "To Be Invisible", and very nearly makes "The Makings Of You" her song, not Curtis's, and, of course "On and On" stomps, a perennial classic that doesn't get near enough attention in overviews of the era.

The second disc of On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology is devoted to the Columbia Records years, after 1978 and up to 2013. The scope is broader here and the material is, naturally, a bit more uneven. Selections like "Landlord" still swing, while "Taste Of Bitter Love" very nearly equals some of the earlier numbers from Gladys Knight and The Pips. On its own, this second disc might not stand on its own except for the most devoted of fans, but here, in the context of the more than 2.5 hours of tunes on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, it provides a nice overview of the second half of the band's career.

As anyone who watched her sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2019 knows, Gladys Knight is still a legend. And while her solo material is good, and worth seeking out, most of what you're ever going to need is here on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology. Simultaneously concise and generous, and lovingly curated, this set reaffirms yet again what an absolutely great group Gladys Knight and The Pips were, and what superb material they were given to work with in the first half of the Seventies.

On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology by Gladys Knight and The Pips is out now via Cherry Red Records.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Make It Real: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Long Ryders

I almost can't believe I typed that headline. Yeah, you didn't read that wrong. There is a new album from the classic line-up of The Long Ryders and it's here. Psychedelic Country Soul, out today in America on Omnivore Recordings, and in the U.K. via Cherry Red, is the first new long-player from these cats in more than 30 years. That it sounds like they've never been gone should be read as a huge endorsement from this long-time fan.

The fine folks at Omnivore have, of course, been doing God's work with a carefully-chosen catalog of exemplary new releases and reissue projects, while the fine folks at Cherry Red recently put out that Long Ryders box-set I raved about, so the band's in good hands on both sides of the Atlantic. And, frankly, both labels are lucky to have this record as Psychedelic Country Soul is a refreshing reminder that roots rock never really went away, and that the genre's concerns are just as important today as they were in the Reagan era.

Opener "Greenville" kicks, the sort of tune that wouldn't have sounded out of place on State Of Our Union, for instance, while the lyrical "Molly Somebody" sees The Long Ryders expertly blend twang-y swatches of music with faint hints of the sort of thing that McGuinn once got away with in The Byrds. The band -- Sid Griffin, Stephen McCarthy, Tom Stevens, and Greg Sowders -- makes this stuff sound fresh, even as they seem to be reaffirming the vitality of the kind of tunes the players once cranked out to some levels of success in the college rock era. And if something like "Make It Real" sounds a bit like The Jayhawks, an astute listener realizes that that's 'cause The Jayhawks sounded a whole lot like The Long Ryders from the get-go!

Elsewhere on Psychedelic Country Soul, "What The Eagle Sees" rockets across the sky with real intent (special thanks to producer Ed Stasium for the heavy lifting on this one and others), while a nice cover of "Walls" from Tom Petty offers up a chance for half of The Bangles to provide some lovely backing vocals. After proving how vital they remain, The Long Ryders round out Psychedelic Country Soul with the cut that gives this record its name, a number that seems to touch on each of the styles in that song's title. The longer track also provides the four-piece a chance to indulge a bit, with the instrumental passages revealing an openness that may have been lacking on some of the earlier albums. It's a great way to finish off a really refreshingly powerful record.

Psychedelic Country Soul is out today in America on Omnivore Recordings, and in the U.K. on Cherry Red.

More details on The Long Ryders via the band's official website.

[Photo: Henry Diltz]

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Old Desires: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Perfect Son (Coldair)

The new album from Perfect Son, Cast, out tomorrow on Sub Pop, is the sort of record that reveals its emotional depth through perfectly-crafted bits of somewhat-stark electro-pop. Tobiasz Biliński, formerly of Coldair, is the guy behind Perfect Son and he's mastered this sort of thing already, even as Cast finds Perfect Son making new strides in the form.

A number like "Lust", and especially "It's For Life". sees Biliński couch his warm vocals in a setting that recalls Nineties Depeche Mode, for lack of a better comparison point, even as "High Hopes" suggests something with a bit more soul. While lots of this is what I'd peg as electro-pop, Perfect Son are really creating a new spin on the formulas here, with lots of Cast pointing out a new way to blend souful vocals with icy textures. If the hooky "Old Desires" is nearly retro in its deliberateness, the quietly-cathartic "So Divine" is oddly lush. Perfect Son finds a way to imbue this rather simple stuff with a strange sort of power, such that a listener feels like something new is being heard, even as so many pieces echo the pioneers of the past.

Cast by Perfect Son is out now via Sub Pop.

More details on Perfect Son via the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Weronika Izdebska]

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Far From Home: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Ladytron

The last time I wrote about Ladytron was way back in 2011, when I reviewed Gravity The Seducer. Back then, it seemed as if the band had been away for ages when it had only been three years. This time around, it's legitimately been a long time. With Ladytron dropping on Friday, we're seeing the first new Ladytron record in more than seven years. That the band still, even after so many years, manages to churn up a magnificently-evocatve brand of electronica is something that should be praised.

Opener "Until The Fire" is all bright and shiny surfaces, while the poppy "This Island" sees the band blend their styles successfully for something that sounds a whole lot like the best material from early in the career of O.M.D. The vocals this time out are more modulated. If the icy grace of earlier releases has been tempered, Helen Marnie and Mira Arroyo have offered a more expressive set of vocal performances here on this record, with "The Animals" and "Far From Home", for instance, nearly warm. At their best here on Ladytron, the players -- Mira, Helen, Daniel Hunt, and Reuben Wu -- seem more in command of the textures, the keyboard figures more supple and inviting. "Figurine", for instance, is just this side of a Lady Gaga number, while "The Mountain" is a revelation, and one that showcases this group's knack for creating and inhabiting a sonic landscape that, while in debt to past pioneers of New Wave, remains something decidedly current.

Ladytron have on Ladytron entered the sort of territory that Gary Numan once mapped out. Much as he did on Telekon, Ladytron have found a way to meld electro-pop of the sort that feels almost robotic with something human and subtly affecting. The vocals here are the key, with Ladytron finally sounding, if not just magisterial, at least a tiny bit vulnerable.

Ladytron by Ladytron is out on Friday via Pledge Music.

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

[Photo: uncredited promotional picture]

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Never Enough: A Brief Review Of The Debut Album From Piroshka (ex-Lush, ex-Moose, ex-Modern English, ex-Elastica)

A super-group like this was never gonna please every fan of each of the members' previous bands. Whatever music ended up on the debut from Piroshka, Brickbat, out on Friday via Bella Union, was sure to disappoint someone. Whether it's a fan of Lush (guitarist and vocalist Miki Berenyi), or a fan of Moose (guitarist KJ “Moose” McKillop), or a devotee of Elastica (drummer Justin Welch), or even a fan of 4AD legends Modern English (bassist Mick Conroy), someone was going to play this and gripe. So, going in to this, from whatever angle you're approaching it, realize that it's not the second coming of any of those bands, but it is a remarkably listenable record, full of real throwback charm and a few genuinely great hooks.

From the faux-glam stomp of opener "This Must Be Bedlam" and on to chiming lead single "Everlastingly Yours", one realizes this is really Miki's show. And for those of us who loved Lush, particularly Lovelife (1996), that's great news as it almost feels like a follow-up to that final Lush LP. And, yeah, some of this, like the punchy "Never Enough", sounds a lot like Miki's old band, but maybe that's enough, especially once Berenyi's coo kicks in over Welch's pounding drums on the deliberately-propulsive "Run For Your Life", for example, and a listener thinks back to "Ladykillers" from 1996. Elsewhere, the superb "Hated By The Powers That Be" nicks the hook of "Kiss Chase" from Split (1994) in the service of one of the very brightest numbers here, with all the players sending things into overdrive, while the lighter "Village of the Damned" offers up a really lovely melodic line of the sort that one found on the more down-tempo Lush numbers.

All throughout Brickbat one hears echoes of earlier masterpieces peeking through the seams of these fairly decent numbers. If there's no "Melt With You" or "Connection" here, that's okay given how easy this record is to enjoy. Familiar in the right ways, and yet still different enough to suggest new territory found and tentatively explored, Brickbat gets a listener wanting more from this new band, and I can think of no higher praise than that. Whether this was a one-off or not, I don't know, but I really do hope that Mike Berenyi stays around because lots and lots of these songs really did the trick for me.

Brickbat is out on Friday via Bella Union.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image from Facebook]

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sentimental Mind: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Golden Daze

It's been three years since the last sublime record from L.A.'s Golden Daze. That self-titled release in 2016 had a really infectious West Coast vibe, and the band's newest record, set to drop this Friday on Autumn Tone, is similarly wonderful. Simpatico sees Ben Schwab and Jacob Loeb turn further towards the sun, the tunes here gossamer-light and simultaneously intricate contraptions. With the exception of perhaps Beach House, no one working today can pull off this sort of stuff so easily.

While lead single "Blue Bell" and (especially) "Amber" seem to owe a debt to Blue Bell Knoll-era Cocteau Twins in terms of overall effect, if not production values, the easy-to-love "Within" rides a hook that sounds a bit like that of "Rock and Roll Friend" by The Go-Betweens into territory that's closer to that of the late Ultimate Painting. The twang-y "Lynard Bassman" feels like a classic from Teenage Fanclub, while the elegant "Wayward Tide" seems closest to me to the pure bliss of the numbers from the band's last album. "Sentimental Mind" is lyrical and almost folk-y, while the breathy "Flowers" imagines re-imagines an early O.M.D. single through a SoCal sensibility.

If Ben and Jacob are more interested in texture at times than those other bands mentioned up above, that's okay considering the lush results here on Simpatico. And to say that is not to diminish what's here on this release, but, rather to acknowledge the subtle progressions abounding this time out. The tunes here on Simpatico are uniformly excellent, bits of sugar-spun chamber pop wrapped up in a package that *seems* simple, and yet which rewards attentive listeners, especially those who can hear how the band's music is evolving.

Simpatico by Golden Daze is out on Autumn Tone on Friday.

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

[Photo: Vinyl Williams]

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Just A Feeling: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Holiday Ghosts

The music of Holiday Ghosts is ramshackle and rough, the sort of thing that owes as many debts to the first wave of American punk as it does to C86. The group's new record, West Bay Playroom, is out on Friday on the fine PNKSLM label and it is a fun thing, the sort of record that reminds listeners like me that the kids these days have studied the best records from the past.

West Bay Playroom is the band's second LP, and there's been a line-up change since the first release, with drummer Katja Rackin and guitarist Sam Stacpoole remaining, as they are joined by Ryan Cleave on bass and Charlie Fairbairn on guitar. The four-piece makes music that, on "B.S. Porsche", for example, sounds a bit like The Kinks circa 1965, while on a number like, say, "Thinking Of You", one thinks of band's like Look Blue Go Purple thanks to Katja's turn on the vocals on this one. Holiday Ghosts can turn things on a dime, and for every cut here that nods in the direction of a worthy forebear like Talulah Gosh ("Stuck Here", for instance), there's likely another that blends bits of Velvet Underground up with a dash of early Go-Betweens ("The Dodger" or "Human Race").

Something like "Just A Feeling" sounds a whole lot like the sort of thing Robert Forster would have written in 1985, and like the tunes of his old band, lots of the songs by Holiday Ghosts here reveal their influences easily even as the resulting music sounds utterly unique and unlike anything else in the marketplace at the moment. That embrace of their inspirations makes the compositions of Holiday Ghosts cohesive and propulsive things, and it's what makes West Bay Playroom such a fun record.

West Bay Playroom is out on Friday via PNKSLM. More details via the official PNKSLM Facebook page.

More information on Holiday Ghosts via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Johnny Griffiths / PNKSLM promo pic]

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Nothing Could Be Better: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Homeshake

The new album from Homeshake, Helium, out on Friday via Sinderlyn, is a fine example of how to do electro-pop in an indie style. Homeshake is essentially Peter Sagar and there's a real DIY feel to his record, but it's the sort of vibe that makes the music affecting.

"Anything At All" is neo-soul filtered through keyboard washes and effects, while the elegant "All Night Long" is poised between pop and New Wave, bits of O.M.D.-style electronia made a bit more elegant. Sagar keeps things simple here, and while a number like "Nothing Could Be Better" is catchy, it's also quietly subdued. As a performer, Sagar aims to maintain the low-key nature of this, with few numbers bursting out of the confines of the style on this release. Still, for all that, lots of Helium works for what it is. It won't change anyone's life, but it is a pleasant record, and one with both a lot of heart and melody within its grooves.

Helium is out on Friday via Sinderlyn. More details on Homeshake via the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Salina Ladha]

Friday, February 8, 2019

That Voice Again: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap)

I don't know how I didn't know about this album until today. I mean, I keep up with a lot of music, and I've certainly followed Malcolm Middleton's career both with Arab Strap and after (solo, Human Don't Be Angry), but somehow, it was down to my long-time friend Stan -- the same Stan who "coached" me for my recent interview with Lawrence of Felt -- to prod me to seek out this beautiful record.

And while it might be natural to assume that there would be traces of Malcolm's earlier band peeking through these grooves, you'd be wrong. The compositions here on Bananas are bright, nearly-buoyant bits of indie-pop, with the cuts on Bananas uniformly straddling multiple genres with real ease. Opener "Gut Feeling" bounces with the charm of a big tune from the pen of Ray (or Dave) Davies circa 1968, while the wonderfully-titled "Love Is A Momentary Lapse In Self-Loathing" sees Middleton marry a hook that sounds a lot like that of "Oh Yoko" to lyrics that are ripped from the heart. The song is a remarkable bit of business, equal parts confessional rock and big, big Pop. The bold "Buzz Lightyear Helmet" sees Malcolm leap over a few genres, from near-folk-y strum-rock into bits of louder post-punk, while the fantastic "That Voice Again" finds Middleton riding a rhythmic pattern that made me think of New Order while offering up one of this album's best vocal performances, 'natch given the song's title. And while lots of this is upbeat, "Twilight Zone" and "Salamander Grey" are elegant ballads of the sort that Badly Drawn Boy and Ed Harcourt once routinely offered up, and further proof that Middleton can do down-tempo material in a style entirely unlike that used in Arab Strap.

If Malcolm Middleton is a bit more idiosyncratic as an artist and performer than some of those acts mentioned up there, that's fine. I think his material is braver in spots too. There's a tightrope dance happening here on Bananas, and it's one that sees Malcolm Middleton not only balancing his emotions, but also balancing his musical approaches. On the longer songs, more risks are taken, and on the tighter ones, the one-time Arab Strap member skips dangerously close to mainstream indie. And I thought that made up for an awesome album.

A rewarding listen, Bananas by Malcolm Middleton is out now via the link below, on a variety of formats.

More details on Malcolm Middleton via MalcolmMiddleton.com.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Surreal New Year: A Quick Review Of The New EP From Flat Worms

The new EP from Flat Worms, Into The Iris, drops tomorrow on Drag City imprint, God? It is, as one would expect having heard the band's previous releases, fuzzy goodness, rock-and-roll laced with traces of the sides from the pioneers of the acid rock era.

"Surreal New Year" offers up garage rock, while the even rougher "Plastic At Home" mixes that sort of thing up with elements of No Wave stuff. Elsewhere, "Shouting At The Wall" positively roars, while "At The Citadel" whips up bits of The Stooges with faint hints of classic Sonic Youth.

This band knows how to do this kind of thing just right, all the pieces in place with nary a riff wasted. Flat Worms is bassist/vocalist Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees), drummer Justin Sullivan (Night Shop), and guitarist/vocalist Will Ivy (Dream Boys), and the band's new EP is out tomorrow via Drag City.

[Photo: David Evanko]

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Sunny Love Songs: A Quick Review Of Sunshine Rock, The New Album From Bob Mould

The new Bob Mould album, Sunshine Rock, out on Friday from Merge Records, is a remarkable thing. It is, quite simply, the sort of record fans of Mould have been waiting for since at least the Sugar days, if not the Husker Du ones. Full of invigorating, bright numbers, the release might very well be my favorite solo album from the man so far.

Lead track "Sunshine Rock" roars out of the gate on a wave of exhilaration that's positively infectious. Not since maybe "Australia" by Manic Street Preachers have I heard a single with this sort of genuine and transformative immediacy. Similarly, "Sunny Love Song" and "Send Me A Postcard" marry the force of Husker Du classics with the big hooks of some of those Sugar hits. Mould is helped in cranking out this sort of thing by the other two players in what is his most solid three-piece since the days of Warehouse: Songs and Stories: Jason Narducy of Split Single on bass and Jon Wurster of Superchunk on drums. Not for nothing do I say that some selections here, like "What Do You Want Me To Do", mine the same vein of indie-rock that Wurster's main band mines. Mould perfected this sort of emotive power-pop-style long before Mac McCaughan did, admittedly, but I like how this record almost draws a circle from Husker Du to Superchunk and back to Mould again.

And for every number here that will sit nicely next to a 'Chunk track, or, heck, a Split Single one, Mould has imbued lots of this with real nuance, the sort of nuance that indicates he's interested in pursuing other styles. The elegant and elegiac "The Final Years", for instance, soothes as it soars, while the hushed "Camp Sunshine" offers up what seems -- at least to this long-time fan -- as lyrics that perhaps hint at Bob's old band(s), and, possibly, departed friends, like the late Grant Hart. Remarkably, and perhaps not too surprisingly, Bob Mould never slips in anything that's too sentimental here on Sunshine Rock; his brand of mature power-pop in 2019 is the well-earned kind, and the product of the lessons learned and shared in the grooves of Candy Apple Grey, Copper Blue, and Patch The Sky.

The sort of record that feels simultaneously like a summation of an outstanding career, and the start of a bold new sound, Sunshine Rock rocks my soul. Full of at least a few contenders for what will surely end up some of my favorite tracks of 2019, it is highly recommended, especially for those of us who, in our younger years, cranked up "These Important Years" for succor in difficult times. Bob Mould understood then, and understands now, just how powerful a tonic rock can be, and Sunshine Rock is a bracing one.

Sunshine Rock is out on Friday via Merge Records.

More details on Bob Mould via his official website, or his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Alicia J. Rose]

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Home Free: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Panda Bear

The new album from Panda Bear, Buoys, is out on Friday via Domino, and it's a sweet, light-as-air confection. A listener can hear the distinct layers of instrumentation that make up these tracks, and yet the compositions remain gossamer weight and never dense. Rarely has something so simple ended up being so complex, though.

Opener "Dolphin" builds on the top of a sample of a drop plopping into the water, while the subtly soaring "Token" sees Panda Bear divide his attention between washes of keyboards and snatches of acoustic guitar. The cut, a real highlight of Buoys, floats in and enchants almost before one has a chance to pick through the pieces here. I think that gets at the easy genius of this artist because, clearly, the Animal Collective member is adept at this sort of thing, with the tracks here rarely overstaying their welcome. The title is bright electro-pop, indie made new on the instruments of past generations of New Wave, while the more deliberate "Home Free" feels a trifle more direct, Panda Bear moving his vocals forward in the mix when appropriate. It is, like so many of the cuts here, simultaneously linear and full of small diversions for the ear to follow.

Panda Bear is really one of the few artists today who can get away with this sort of thing without making the resulting music seem too precious. Buoys captivates without ever becoming burdensome in its approach. To his enormous credit, Panda Bear has made a wonderfully-precise record, and one which rewards with each listen even as the overall effect seems to fade away in the air.

Buoys is out on Friday via Domino.

More details on Panda Bear via his official website, or his official Facebook page.

[Photo: Fernanda Pereira]

Monday, February 4, 2019

What You Deserve: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Get A Life

I don't know quite what to make of the new album from Get A Life, Our Band Could Be Your Life Or Debt, out on Friday from Very Jazzed. On the one hand, the new one from Chase De Master is a Beck-like lo-fi affair, and on the other hand, it's a meticulously-crafted pop record.

Stuff like "What You Deserve" is abrasive bedsit indie, while the more interesting "Slow Me Down" recalls offerings from Jason Falkner and Fountains of Wayne, just more low rent. De Master is something of a genius on some of these compositions, offering up chord changes and hooks that are as good as anything on that Young Guv record from a few years ago, for example. I mean, "Here Comes The Fun" takes the whole home studio conceit one step further, layering a Brian Wilson-like vocal-line over a bright guitar-riff. The effect is, like on "2050", something like a mix of Guided By Voices and The Apples in Stereo. Similarly, "Spotless" sees power-pop juxtaposed with crunchy noise, the result something unique that provides just enough nods to past artists that a new listener to Get A Life should feel plenty comfortable.

Odd, ramshackle, and sporadically brilliant, Our Band Could Be Your Life Or Debt by Get A Life is a highlight of this week's release schedule. Fans of those bands I've mentioned above should seek this out, as well as anyone who just likes great DIY indie-pop.

The new album from Get A Life, Our Band Could Be Your Life Or Debt, is out on Friday from Very Jazzed.

[Photo: Anthony Flores]

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Brings Me Joy: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Rustin Man (ex-Talk Talk)

The new album from Rustin Man, Drift Code out as of Friday on Domino, is a stunning record. And I guess that shouldn't be too surprising given that this is Paul Webb from Talk Talk. Paul last recorded an album with Beth Gibbons of Portishead and so his return here signals the arrival of something special.

And while the first few songs on Drift Code meld a slightly folk-rock approach to the kind of expansive post-rock found on the Spirit Of Eden LP from Talk Talk, the absolutely stunning "Brings Me Joy" offers up something that's nearly a classical composition, Paul Webb's near-whispered vocals paralleled by an angelic backing vocalist. The cut is, clearly, the highlight of this album, and it's very nearly equaled by the elegiac "The World's In Town", a number that echoes both The Blue Nile and Nilsson. Elsewhere, "Martian Garden" nods in the direction of Seventies mainstays Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, a mid-tempo ramble, while album closer "All Summer" sees Webb pursue a climbing melodic figure that seems like the sort of thing his old band would have used, even as the piano-hook reminded me of stuff from Virginia Astley albums.

A uniquely English record, with flashes that sound like Traffic, for example, Drift Code is beautiful and haunting in spots, with Paul Webb as Rustin Man adding folkier textures to the sort of material that quietly lingers in a listener's ears and heart. Fans of Talk Talk, at least the mid-period releases, should love this as much as I did.

Drift Code is out now via Domino.

More details on Rustin Man via the official website, or the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Lawrence Watson]

Saturday, February 2, 2019

I Feel Fine: A Quick Review Of The Debut Album From Balms

The thing that most appealed to me about Balms was that the band understood how to modulate their sound. What I mean by that is that there seem to be a lot of groups who come out of the gate favoring volume, offering up feedback-drenched workouts that are clearly in debt to the first few waves of shoegaze classics. And, yeah, Balms crank it up effectively at times on Mirror, their debut LP that dropped yesterday, but they also understand tension, and dynamics, and how to create more than just ear-splitting noise.

A track like "I Feel Fine" roils and ripples, waves of big chords layered over purposely-rudimentary drumming, while "Dark Rider" immediately sees the boys here hit the pedals, the fuzziness nearly deafening for a few moments. The tunes owe as much to bits of late Sixties Floyd as they do to, say, Mogwai, with a selection like "Plane" even nodding in the direction of Disintegration-era Cure. To name-drop those acts is to attempt to get at the sound on this LP as there's real nuance here, despite the fact that it would be indeed easy to label a few of these numbers as proto-shoegaze. Still, with material as sharp and precise as "Setting Sun" in their arsenal, the sonic attack of Balms is sure to charm those looking for something like Loop, and those looking for something closer to Explosions in the Sky.

Mirror is out now. More details on Balms via the band's official Facebook page, or their official website.

[Photo: Uncredited press pic]

Friday, February 1, 2019

TRACK PREMIERE: "Flowers From Hell" From Des Demonas

I'm thrilled to premiere a new song from Des Demonas today. "Flowers From Hell" is the flip-side of a new single from the D.C. band, and it burns with real garage rock fury. Out in February via Trick Bag Records, the two tracks make up the follow-up to last Autumn's Bay Of Pigs EP, reviewed by me here.

While A-side "The Hyena" roars, a rich stew of garage rock organ and frenzied post-punk, it's the flip, "Flowers From Hell" that really makes my blood race. Over a squall of guitar, bass, organ, and drums, Jacky Cougar sings "You're gonna burn at the gates of hell!" And man, you better believe it.

For a band that's always owed a huge debt to The Fall, this new single from Des Demonas suggests a whole new angle of attack, the group's sound expanding in other directions. And if this new track sounds a bit like something from The Birthday Party, that makes a bit of sense given that guitarist Mark Cisneros is also in Bad Seeds member Kid Congo Powers' current band.

"The Hyena" / "Flowers From Hell" will be out from Trick Bag Records in February. More details on the label, here, or you can order it here.

Des Demonas by Des Demonas is out now via In The Red Records.

For more details on Des Demonas, visit the band's official Facebook page.

Thanks to Mark Cisneros, Jacky Cougar, and the band for arranging this track premiere.

[Photo: Glenn Griffith, 2018]