Tuesday, March 19, 2019

More Than I Do: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Sleeper

Dateline 8 September 1996: Sebadoh and Elliott Smith are playing the "new" 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. (Seeing as how the club had only been open about nine months, it really was "new" then.) Not too far away, Britpop darlings Sleeper are playing the "old" Black Cat club (the one that seemed smaller, about half-a-block down 14th Street from the current location).

I chose to see Sleeper instead of Sebadoh and Smith, forgoing the hip American ticket that night in favor of the chance to see one of my then-favorite U.K. acts here on these shores. Sleeper burned through most of their first two albums in the course of delivering what I'd rank right up there with one of the best concerts I've ever seen in this city. And I saw Loop and Nirvana in 1990, and The Pixies and Happy Mondays in 1989, so...

Sleeper went on to release a third album the next year, the underrated Pleased To Meet Me, and Britpop tottered on, with this fan obsessing over Kenickie and theaudience in the next few years after that. Still, Sleeper were remarkably good back then, which makes it more shocking to report how wonderful they still sound now in 2019. Here with a reunion record no one asked for (and even fewer people expected), Sleeper are dropping The Modern Age via their own Gorsky Records label this Friday.

The line-up this time around features three original members -- Louise Wenner on vocals, Jon Stewart on guitars, and Andy Maclure on drums -- and one new player -- Kieron Pepper from The Prodigy on bass -- but the group sounds nearly the same as they did in 1996. Opener "Paradise Waiting" echoes "She's A Good Girl" but with more punch, while lead single "Look At You Now" recalls, despite some sleek production effects, the louder songs on the band's fine debut LP from so many decades ago. Wenner, one of the best front-persons in rock ever, leads this material into a few new places, while offering up the very kind of thing that made The It Girl such an essential record back in '96.

And while lots and lots of The Modern Age has more heft than the band's last official release, I found myself drawn more to the mid-tempo selections here like "Car Into The Sea", one of Wenner's finest vocal performances, I think, and "More Than I Do", a languid ramble that seems of a piece with "What Do I Do Now?" but with a far bigger pay-off in sonic terms. Still, even with numbers like those, and the odd-but-lovely closer "Big Black Sun", fans of this band are going to line up here for tracks that sound a whole lot like the sort of thing that propelled this band to popularity in the first place. So rest assured that "The Sun Also Rises", "Cellophane", and especially "Dig" can safely sit next to lots of the best stuff from Smart.

The Modern Age works very, very well. It's the rare reunion album that actually feels necessary. So much of what's here is more urgent than what was on Pleased To Meet Me and a fan could be forgiven for wishing that this had been the band's third album, and not their fourth, some 22 years removed from their last public offering. Produced by Stephen Street, The Modern Age roars and soars where necessary, reminding again just what a fantastic singer and songwriter Louise Wenner is, especially when fronting a tight outfit like this one.

The Modern Age is out on Friday via the band's own label, Gorsky Records.

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

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vaporwave Headache: A Brief Review Of The New Album From USA/Mexico (ex-Butthole Surfers)

It's been two years since the last USA/Mexico record and, if anything, the band's sound has gotten even more unremittingly punishing. Which is another way of saying that I *loved* Matamoros, out Friday on one-time Homestead Records honcho Gerard Cosloy's 12XU label.

"Matamoros" kicks off with the pummeling title cut, a rager that sounds like an argument being held in the apartment next door, and the dude-half of the equation is cranking an old scratchy Aerosmith record -- at the wrong speed -- in an attempt to drown out the yelling. Elsewhere, the wonderfully-titled "Eric Carr T-Shirt" nods in the direction of drummer King Coffey's Butthole Surfers stuff, while the brisk "Vaporwave Headache" is nearly hardcore in its deliberateness. Coffey, along with Craig Clouse and Nate Cross, sees USA/Mexico as a weapon and, thankfully, there remains something uncompromising here about the group's "music"; if you don't get it, you're just (rightfully) left in the dust. George Disher of Spray Paint shows up here, as does Kevin Whitley of Cherubs, the band responsible for the song "Shoofly" covered with some zeal here on this record.

Matamoros closes with the side-length "Anxious Whitley", a 17-minute epic that feels like the band's shoving you in front of tracks, the tune itself the train barreling forward onto you with unforgiving power. It's an admirably courageous thing to release in 2019, a throwback to stuff on 12XU label owner Gerard Cosloy's old Homestead Records, and a reminder of the sort of genuinely dangerous bands he signed back in the Eighties.

Stubbornly old-fashioned, bludgeoning and brilliant in its intentional stupidity, Matamoros is even better than the last USA/Mexico album. It is out on Friday via the 12XU label.

More details on USA/Mexico via what may be the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Sunday, March 17, 2019

TRACK FEATURE: Forces Of Nature By Maryjo Mattea

Maryjo Mattea is making the kind of alt-rock that I like a whole lot. If there's something here in her music that harks back to stuff like Belly and Letters To Cleo, that's a huge compliment as far as I'm concerned. Maryjo has been playing around D.C. and her brand of music is yet another flavor to a scene here in the nation's capital that is wonderfully diverse and consistently interesting.

"Forces of Nature" is charming, chiming, and winsome. A listener hears this and thinks back to stuff like "Bright as Yellow" from The Innocence Mission. And I realize that that might not be the most perfect comparison to make given the heft here in Maryjo Mattea's tune, but it was the first thing this aging indie-rock fan thought of. She's assisted in delivering this one by Scott Manley on drums, Joshua Hunter on additional guitar, and Eamonn Donnelly on bass. The players anchor this cut that succeeds mainly because of Maryjo's soaring vocals.

More details on Maryjo Mattea via her official website, or her official Facebook page. Check out those sites for news on her upcoming gigs this month in D.C.

[Photo: Cina Nguyen]

My Interview With Anthony Reynolds, Author Of Cries And Whispers, A New Book On Japan

Anthony Reynolds was the front-man of the band Jack, one of the real treasures of the old Too Pure Records label. He's also an author, and his new book, Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 looks at the solo careers of the members of Japan. Seeing as how I came in on Gone To Earth from David Sylvian in 1986 and worked my way backward to Japan, and forward through a succession of solo releases from Sylvian, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri, and Steve Jansen, this book is something I was eager to see. I have the eBook version and I can tell you just from reading that that it's an impressive piece of work.

Before you run off and order Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 here, I urge you to read this interview I recently conducted with Anthony Reynolds. For anyone else who's a fan of this material, the book is sure to be of appeal, as is this brief interview with the author.

Glenn, kenixfan: What made you interested in Japan? Were you a fan of the band when they were still active?

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: I was aware of Japan before I got into them but I was 11 when they split up and I wasn’t a fan then. I think I was into Madness and comics in 1982 both of which were much more visible and available in Wales. Japan were kind of mysterious, rarely on TV, so it seemed certainly not particularly popular where I lived. They were probably seen as a bit ‘elitist’ if i think back, a bit rarefied for the working class environment I lived in. But in time that became part of their appeal to me. In fact, I had friends who had big brothers who had the most exotic collections of something called "12 inches"! What were these strange, beautiful objects? I remember vividly flipping through such a collection and getting to the 12" of "Ghosts" and the big brother saying in his strong Cardiff accent, "That’s a bloody good song that is". That really stayed with me. How a song like that could infiltrate the deepest recesses of the ghetto... Eventually, in 1985 my cousin gave me a tape of Tin Drum. I was listening to the likes of the Thompson Twins, Nik Kershaw, and Howard Jones at the time as I was 14, and they suddenly seemed like cartoons next to Japan.

Glenn, kenixfan: It might not be a popular opinion, and I may be saying this because I really followed these musicians’ work quite a bit during the era covered in the book, but I’ve always felt that Japan was the rare band where the individual solo projects were far more interesting, innovative, and risky than the music made in the original band. What do you think about that idea?

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: Japan were a band and as such there were compromises to be made despite what Sylvian may have tried to dictate. All that talent and ego in one room...! So by default, the solo works may have been allowed to be a bit more unedited, a bit more indulgent. And also, those solo works -- especially Mick Karn’s Titles album -- were in some part a reaction to being in Japan. So I guess by default those solo works would seem more personal, or interesting and ‘risky’... But I actually prefer the boundaries that are inherent in a band such as Japan. I think constraints and boundaries can sometimes -- especially in pop music -- work to the music’s advantage. And someone may be a great instrumentalist when part of a group but when left alone, their work can lack focus. When I hear some of the ex-members' of Japan’s solo work, especially the instrumental stuff, it sometimes sounds to me less like true instrumental music but more like music without a singer. If I imagine Sylvian singing it, it becomes much more palatable and complete. Similarly, when I saw Sylvian do his "Slow Fire" tour in 1995, which was just him with guitar and piano, I felt it wore a bit thin after a while, and I missed the band arrangements. But as I say, this may be just my taste and I still haven’t worked out where taste comes from...

Glenn, kenixfan: Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 does a good job at balancing things, necessarily shedding a bright light on David Sylvian’s solo career while not neglecting the many efforts made by Mick Karn and Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri as solo artists. Was that an easy thing to do, given how prolific Sylvian was following the dissolution of Japan?

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 isn’t a biography of Sylvian; it’s an account of what all the ex-members of Japan did when that group split up. That was my remit. As a writer and researcher I have a particular tenacity and a fondness for trying to shine a light into dark musical corners. I get pleasure from focusing on the most obscure release or live appearance. If you think of just one day in the life of your subject, and if you could get enough detail on just that day, how it would be a book in itself. Of course, that’s easier said than done and, in real terms, because Sylvian’s albums were more popular, there is more press available on them, so it was hard to write as much about Jansen and Barbieri’s Worlds in a Small Room as it was about Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees. But my starting point, my approach, was to treat both equally.

I feel that just as much effort went into Karn’s Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters as it did into Gone To Earth. It’s just that the former wasn’t as popular as the latter. But that’s almost irrelevant to me as I’m writing primarily about the work and how it was conceived and made, and not how it was received by the public. So, no, attempting to cover all releases wasn’t an issue for me in terms of attitude, just in finding enough material.

Glenn, kenixfan: Having written about Japan more than once now, how do you, as a fan, feel about Rain Tree Crow, the "reunion" album from 1991? Perhaps unfairly marketed at the time as a "Japan reunion record", it feels stronger to me when viewed as a one-off that doesn’t attempt to be a Japan record; it sounds a bit like any number of projects from each member, only they’re all together this time.

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: The Rain Tree Crow album is tied to a period of my life. As I said earlier, I was too young to appreciate Japan first time around, but by 1991, being 19 I was more ‘awake’ and was buying the NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds, every week. So I was able to actively ‘take part’ in its release at the time, checking chart positions, listening to radio interviews, and so on...all the joys of being a fan! Rain Tree Crow was a worthy effort but it always felt a bit unfinished to me, the sound of a band finding their feet again. Unlike Sylvian's stuff, I wasn’t very taken with the instrumental pieces on it so in this regard it feels uneven... Also, Mick seems to be absenting himself from his playing almost, and I wanted to hear more of his ‘flamboyance’. It’s as if he’s treading on eggshells which, if you read the book you’ll see that he was in a way. It has some gorgeous, fully realized pieces on it for sure, like "Pocket Full of Change", but other tracks just never did much for me.

I want to thank Anthony Reynolds for his time today, and urge you to order his new album, A Painter's Life, here, and play some of his music via the Bandcamp link below.

Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 is up for order now here.

[Photo of David Sylvian by Tony Barratt; Photo of Barbieri and Jansen by Tim Goodyer]

Saturday, March 16, 2019

An Early Review Of Boy Howdy! The Story Of Creem Magazine, The New Documentary From Scott Crawford, Director Of Salad Days

Scott Crawford, director of 2014's Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90), has done something remarkable in his new feature, Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine: he's documented the heart and soul that sustained a magazine famed for its irreverence. Who would've thought that behind that famed periodical there was a story with such richness?

The magazine was so much more than the home of writers like Lester Bangs, but, of course, for those looking for all the Lester Bangs stuff, a lot of it's here. And while there's a case to be made for letting Lester dominate a narrative of Creem, Scott Crawford, wisely to my mind, doesn't do that. Instead, Crawford favors a holistic approach that takes in the environment of Detroit and the whole music scene there in order to chronicle the point in time, and place, that birthed the magazine.

And while the brief Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine is indeed the inside scoop on that mag and the shenanigans behind its issues' creation every month, it's also a crash course in Detroit rock-and-roll. Scott Crawford here turns his eye towards the Detroit scene with as much affection, and reverence, as he did the D.C. scene in Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) a few years ago. Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, The Stooges, The MC5, and, of course, Kiss, all feature prominently here, with Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine making a concise case for the importance of that fertile era between the psychedelic Sixties and the first wave of American punk. This documentary reminds over and over again that the Seventies were not all James Taylor and disco, and that real counter-culture music was being made on these shores then, and being written about, and championed, by the writers and staff of Creem magazine.

Necessarily, there's a lot on publisher Barry Kramer and writer Lester Bangs here, including the pair's hi-jinks, and Lester's feuds with Kramer and editor Dave Marsh. Director Cameron Crowe may very well have the best quote in Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine (not counting the wonderful one Legs McNeil has about Dave Marsh), when he says that Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh got to argue about "why and how to love the thing they love." I think that's significant as there was a lot of love behind the pages of Creem back then. With Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone the nearest competition, Kramer and his crew, up in their commune in Michigan for a time, were doing whatever the hell they were doing out of love for the tunes, not necessarily to be political, or get closer to the mainstream.

And, in terms of how Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine works as a rock documentary, the film delivers generously in terms of giving the viewers what they want, which is lots and lots of expertly-chosen talking heads bits, with Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. serving up some of the best, more personal anecdotes in the film. And beyond those, there are dozens of sequences here where even a casual fan of the era will find lots to smile about, with stories of artists from Iggy Pop, to Lou Reed, to Joan Jett peppering the narrative.

Still, acknowledging that things have changed for the better, Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine goes to great lengths to allow Jaan Uhelszki, Creem co-founder and writer, and Susan Whitall, editor and writer, among others, to offer up some thoughts on the kind of misogyny that regrettably fueled the pieces in the magazine back then. While it was a boys' club at times, it was also a product of its era, and, as such, given to silliness. That boys' club vibe gave birth to stuff like Stars' Cars, or the Boy Howdy! beer-ads, both covered here in the film, even if those features usually ran alongside genuinely fine pieces of music journalism.


Ultimately Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine is both a concise history of a magazine that miraculously challenged mainstream music publications in the lean years between the dissolution of The Beatles and the rise of MTV, and a story of the late Barry Kramer and his family, and how they corralled some disparate, unhinged talents in order to produce a monthly love letter to rock-and-roll. At its very best, Scott Crawford's film works in a similar way, a mix of nostalgia and scrutiny here serving the material well. Given some of the things in the magazine back then, it would have been impossible to look at Creem in 2019 without acknowledging the puerile ugliness that showed up in the pages at times.

Still, for a rag that was made by the "bozos on the bus", to quote Lester Bangs via Jaan Uhelszki, Creem did something remarkable every month. Kramer and his crew, as this film shows, pioneered a way of looking at rock, and writing about it, that seemed revolutionary at the time, and it was an approach that was thoroughly in debt to the same scene and attitude that birthed Wayne Kramer and The MC5, for example. And, taking all of that into account, Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine gets the tone right, and tells the story with an admirable brevity, the insights flying so fast here that the film is an absolute blast from start to finish.

For more details on Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine, visit www.CreemMag.com, or the official Facebook page for the film.

[Photos: Top picture of Barry Kramer, Dave Marsh, and Lester Bangs by Charles Auringer; other photos credited to original photographers]

Friday, March 15, 2019

Desert Fire: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Turning Jewels Into Water

The music of Turning Jewels Into Water is outside what I might normally cover here on this site but the duo's newest record, Map of Absences, out today on FPE Records, is a progressive and brave genre-bender. It is a record full of of percussive experimentation and a thoughtful sense of stillness when necessary.

Turning Jewels Into Water, Indian-born drummer/producer Ravish Momin and electronic percussionist Val Jeanty from Haiti, make music that skirts the edges of both electronica and world music, with a number like "Talang" here on Map of Absences lodging itself in the brain on the back of its rhythmic insistence. "Warm winds of Jaipur" is percussive too, but faint melodic hooks peppered throughout the track make it one of the standouts here on Map of Absences, while "Cave rain drumming in my ear" is very nearly the sort of thing that one would find on a film soundtrack. Elsewhere, the bright and fun "Desert Fire" rides a sample forward into the sun, the poly-rhythmic base-track insistent and exciting.

The tunes here on Map of Absences are lush in spots even as they're filled with striking bits of sampled beats, or flashes of funky instrumental swatches. The music of Turning Jewels Into Water is dance-y, but it's also oddly contemplative. It's the sort of thing that fans of the collaborations of Brian Eno and David Byrne should enjoy, as well as those who find themselves lost in the music under an M.I.A. rap.

Map of Absences is out today via FPE Records.

More details on Turning Jewels Into Water via the official website, or the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ed Marshall]

Thursday, March 14, 2019

These Are Dangerous Times: A Quick Review Of The Debut Album From Dragon Welding (Andrew Golding From The Wolfhounds)

The debut self-titled album from Dragon Welding is an impressive set of post-punk songs. The band's name is an anagram of Andrew Golding, one of the founding members of the esteemed British band, The Wolfhounds. And, like those legends from the C86 era, the music here is bracing, angular, catchy, and smart all at once.

Dragon Welding, out tomorrow on A Turntable Friend Records, opens with the determined chug of "The Builders", before the drone-y "One Miserable Summer" unfurls like one of the slower numbers on The Holy Bible. If Andrew Golding is not as obsessed with metal-ish guitar pyrotechnics as was the young James Dean Bradfield, he is, like his mates in The Wolfhounds, addressing, however obliquely, the state of a U.K. wrapped in the throes of Brexit. Elsewhere, "These Are Dangerous Times" marries a faint folk-y strum with a real purposeful, striding hook, even as the rougher "Join the Dots" edges a bit closer to classic Wolfhounds material. Dragon Welding gets more abstract as it goes along, with the closer "Lament for Common Sense" revealing itself as an epic Fripp-inspired drone that stretches into the void for nearly 7 minutes.

There's a seriousness here that befits this sort of project, and, like The Wolfhounds, Andrew Golding understands how to make indie-pop. For any serious theme, or near-avant-garde musical idea that he puts forward, he makes sure that Dragon Welding is, on the whole, a listenable record. It's that, and an really fantastic piece of work. I would love to hear more from this Wolfhounds spin-off.

Dragon Welding is out tomorrow via A Turntable Friend Records.

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

[Photo: Courtesy Dragon Welding / Shameless PR]

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Great Escape: A Brief Review Of The New Album From La Fille

The debut album from Seattle's La Fille, Alright Already, is a nice collection of power-pop. The record, out on Friday, suggests that Jay Louis, Joe Oakes, and Michael Benjamin Lerner are part of something special and darn-near old fashioned here, with fans of classic Yellow Pills-era stuff advised to grab this one as soon as possible.

The title cut is all crunchy goodness, while "Letting Go" is even punchier, flashes of Flamin' Groovies shining through here. Elsewhere, the languid "Skyline" sends things in a new, more subtle direction, while "Great Escape" is reminiscent of the slower songs on those first superb records from Silver Sun. In fact, for fans of that band, and this kind of thing, I'd say that lots and lots of Alright Already sounds like those early sides from that British band, even as bits and pieces here should remind us Yanks of stuff that originated on our own shores, way back in the early days of bands like Cheap Trick and The Raspberries rising to prominence.

Alright Already is out on Friday.

More details on La Fille via the official Facebook page, or the official website.

[Photo: Michael Benjamin Lerner]

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Come Get Me: A Brief Review Of Groove Denied From Stephen Malkmus

Amid a good deal of hype that I thought was largely bullshit at the start of the new year, Stephen Malkmus was said to be prepping an album of electronica. Groove Denied, arriving Friday on Matador Records, features a lot of keyboards but it feels, for the most part, like a Malkmus record, not like, say, one from Aphex Twin.

Of course, Groove Denied contains a handful of numbers that sound as much like Pavement and solo Malkmus as God will allow, electronic effects be damned. "Rushing The Acid Frat" is all stoned sluggishness, the sort of lazily catchy sort of thing that Super Furry Animals still routinely crank out, while "Come Get Me" is even more interesting, waves of instrumentation and samples washing over the kind of melody the Beach Boys would have killed for in the early Seventies. And while the first three cuts here on Groove Denied owe huge debts to Frank Tovey and Fad Gadget, they're also easy to love, especially the affected "Viktor Borgia", a fairly chirpy ramble. Some of what's here on this short record, specifically the lilting hesitation of "Ocean of Revenge", and the spry indie of "Love the Door", feels just familiar enough to please a fan of any era of this man's wonderful career. And yet, the real highlight of Groove Denied, a long-player billed as electronica, is the ballad, "Grown Nothing", that closes this album in a fashion that suggests nothing so much as "Major Leagues" rewritten by Nilsson. It's an absolutely stunning track and the sort of thing that nearly floored me when I heard it the first time.

Maybe the loads of copy about the new direction the former Pavement singer was going to pursue on Groove Denied set fans up for disappointment at the prospect of something wildly experimental arriving right after Sparkle Hard. But instead of making something truly transgressive, Malkmus went and crafted a record that feels at once somewhat disposable in terms of his solo work, and yet entirely endearing. Groove Denied is, at least in spots, nearly as pleasurable a listen as Stephen Malmus from years ago. And for a release that was pitched as a new direction for this guy, the best numbers on Groove Denied seem more natural than some of the moments on past post-Pavement releases where Stephen Malkmus sounded like he was desperately chasing the ghost of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. If the melodies here are, largely, more languid than on some of his better albums, the selections are also a lot more fun than some of his more indulgent compositions with The Jicks.

Groove Denied is out on Friday via Matador Records.

More details on Stephen Malkmus via the official Facebook page, or the official website.

[Photo: Robbie Augspurger]

Monday, March 11, 2019

That Old Feeling: A Quick Look At Two Recent Alex Chilton Collections

Two new Alex Chilton compilations have dropped from Bar/None Records and I'm here to write a few words about each. Songs From Robin Hood Lane and From Memphis To New Orleans, both out now, each offer up a lot of reasons for fans to seek these records out, even if the pleasures on each are disparate ones.

Songs From Robin Hood sees the former front-man of Big Star tackles a lot of standards. And the results are uniformly affecting and good. "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" reminds fans what a warm singer Chilton could be, while "That Old Feeling" reveals a vulnerable, imperfect crooner trying his hand at a new form. If Chilton here sounds like he's having a lark, and not entirely positioning himself as the next Chet Baker -- despite a cover of "Let's Get Lost" here on this new compilation -- he's at least willing to make himself tackle material that might be a bit out of his reach ("Like Someone in Love"), or that's far beyond needing a fresh interpretation ("All of You"). Still, for a guy who was likely doing this on a whim, the jazzy run at "Time After Time" proves that Alex Chilton had real chops as a cover artist in the Reagan era, beyond being simply a legendary songwriter.

Having moved to New Orleans in the Eighties, Chilton was out of the limelight by choice in those years, releasing a string of iconoclastic and sometimes difficult records to listen to for anyone who was hoping for something like a Big Star album. Collected here on From Memphis to New Orleans are the highlights from those releases, selections from Feudalist Tarts and High Priest, among other records, carefully culled to make up this set. "Underclass" has a fine sting, while the acerbic "No Sex" is clever and sorta funny. Elsewhere, "Dalai Lama" has a nice Nuggets-like vibe to it, while a ripping cover of "Little GTO" takes things even further back, to the kind of past inhabited by Chilton's own, pre-Big Star group, The Box Tops.

What we've got here on these two compilations are the two sides of post-Big Star Alex Chilton from right around the time that guys like Paul Westerberg started writing about the guy's legacy. Songs From Robin Hood Lane is the picture of the crooner that Alex always wanted to be, a fairly successful, intimate set of runs through standards that should warm the ears and heart, while From Memphis To New Orleans is a compilation of material from that odd string of records he made in the mid-Eighties. If this one didn't work so much for me it's probably down to me having worked in record stores in that era, and hearing his solo stuff far more than his Big Star classics on the turntables in the shops.

Songs From Robin Hood Lane and From Memphis To New Orleans are both out now via Bar/None Records.

A Storm Is Coming: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Arre! Arre! On PNKSLM

The new album from Swedish band Arre! Arre!, Tell Me All About Them, is a blast. Full of good old-fashioned punk energy, the record sees the superb PNKSLM label serve up an incendiary (yet fun) record that tackles the sorry state of the world today. That this is the most political offering on the label to date is worth pointing out, even as I stress just how enjoyable this release is.

"Anthem" roars out of the gate, the sort of thing that sounds like the bands from the first wave of British punk, as well as more modern acts, while the title cut is even shorter and rougher. Elsewhere, the excellent "All Time Low" is early Siouxsie and The Banshees mixed up with the sort of buzzy guitar-hook that propelled the very first Joy Division singles to success. At their best here, Arre! Arre! convey a sense of political urgency through the mad rush of the music. "A Storm is Coming" is more subtle, the mid-tempo number echoing pioneering sides from Sleater-Kinney and earlier bands, like Penetration. This is necessarily brutal music at times, but it's also entirely catchy stuff. Arre! Arre!, their name from an important podcast in their native Sweden, breathe fire into this stuff, and a listener can barely find time to catch a breath as this rock-and-roll rockets into the future.

Arre! Arre! is out on Friday via PNKSLM.

[Photo: Matilda Bogren]

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Come My Way: A Quick Review Of The New Album From R. Stevie Moore

I was feeling bad that I neglected to review this when it was released last month, but then I realized that R. Stevie Moore puts out so much music that it's only likely that a prospective listner might miss an album or two, and that it's never too late to play catch-up with this kind of thing. So, I'm here to remind fans, and new listeners, that Afterlife exists, and that it is, like so many of Moore's albums, a superb ramble through the realms of power-pop and alt-rock. Or something like that.

The excellent opener "Irony" is mid-Sixties Beatles hooks wrapped up in a new kind of package, while the oddly-soaring "Pop Music" feels like something Sparks and Queen could have collaborated on. It's a blast of a tune, and a clear highlight here on Afterlife. Similarly, the prickly "National Debate" is more proggy, a marching beat overtaken by a gentle busyness in terms of instrumentation, while the excellently-titled "What Do I Do With The Rest Of My Life?" is all sleek New Wave, the surfaces here shiny and bright. Elsewhere, the peppy "Come My Way" sees Moore joined by younger pop wizards Jason Falkner and Ariel Pink for a number that sounds a tiny bit like "How Are You?" by Cheap Trick, of all things. "Love Is The Way To My Heart" is, as you can guess from that title, lovely, all big power-pop hooks and lilting melodies. In a word, the sort of thing R. Stevie Moore has cranked out thousands of times, and the sort of thing which seems new and fresh every time he does it.

Afterlife is yet another example of the talents of R. Stevie Moore, one of this country's real musical treasures. Moore's skill at crafting concise gems of the pop-form remains amazing. His nearest rival is Robert Pollard and Stevie's been doing this a good deal longer than Bob.

Afterlife is out now on various formats, and available via the links below. More details on R. Stevie Moore via the official RSM website.

[Photo: Uncredited BC pic]

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Grow: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Bill Pritchard

I've been following Bill Pritchard for decades and I can honestly say that his newest album may very well be his best yet. Midland Lullabies, out tomorrow on Tapete, sees the British singer-songwriter offer up material that compares favorably to that of The Divine Comedy and Nilsson. Put in simpler, more direct terms: this is a great chamber pop record, folks.

Opener "Iolanda" sounds a bit like Rufus Wainwright, even as Pritchard shares a vocal performance that recalls the sort of thing Ray Davies cranked out in the Seventies. Elsewhere, "Lullaby" rides in on a glorious hook, all string-swells and gently rolling melodic magic, while the elegiac "Thanks" is superb. Fans of Lennon's best solo ballads -- think "Out Of The Blue", among others -- should take this one to heart just like I did, even as "Grow" adds a faint hint of British music hall to things. This is elegant music, and Midland Lullabies is the sort of release that is going to bring Bill Prtichard's talents to even larger audiences, especially with catchy numbers here, like "Tuesday Morning", being impossible to dislodge from the brain once heard.

What we've got here on Midland Lullabies is the sound of an artist evolving, with Bill Pritchard looking to past pioneers for inspiration, even as he incorporates those bits of inspiration effortlessly into his own uniquely tuneful brand of indie-pop. New fans should find it easy to embrace this record, while long-time fans of Pritchard's skills should see this record as his masterpiece.

Midland Lullabies is out tomorrow on Tapete.

More details on Bill Pritchard via his official website.

[Photo: Nicholas Despis]

My '90s: A Brief Look At The New Book Of Photos From Craig Wedren (Shudder To Think)

The former front-man of Shudder To Think continues to surprise. While he's done some great soundtrack work, he's also released some transcendent solo albums, like 2017's Adult Desire, reviewed by me here, and now he's sharing yet another side of his talents.

My '90s is a book of photographs, Polaroids specifically, taken by Craig Wedren during the Nineties, while on tour with Shudder To Think, and on the road for various other projects. That the pics reveal more than just the usual band hi-jinks shouldn't be surprising. That Craig was brave enough to include a pic or two here in this book that acknowledges his past fight against Hodgkin's is something to also be respected. The book is up for order now via CraigWedren.com, or here, and with a limited print run, this tome will sell out fast.

That pic up above, labelled simply "Me and Stuart Hill, desert", shows the Shudder To Think singer and bassist out West in America, presumably, looking every bit the picture of Nineties alt-rock royalty. Fans of the harDCore scene will find a lot to lovingly gaze over here in My '90s, obviously, including shots of each of the four members of Fugazi taken separately on stage. Below is one of drummer Brendan Canty (now hitting the skins in The Messthetics) taken from the side of the stage.

And for fans of Shudder To Think, there are naturally a few photos here of the band members, like the hazy pic up above, and lots more of the musicians individually. And, since Shudder To Think famously signed to a major label after recording harDCore classics on Dischord, there are photos here in My '90s of the bands Craig and Shudder To Think toured with, like Pearl Jam. Similarly, for those who are looking at My '90s for signs of Craig Wedren's years as a soundtrack composer of note, there are a few shots here, like of Frances McDormand at Cannes, which reveal that side of that (continuing) era of his artistic career.

My '90s is a fascinating look inside not only life on the road from the viewpoint of a member of one of the really brave and adventurous legends of the alt-rock boom, but it's also an intensely personal bit of artistic sharing. Craig Wedren has compiled here what were mementos, and curated their presentation in such a way that a viewer gets a sense of a journey, flashes of beauty appearing before the eyes, like in the "Stained Glass Towers" shot below.

My '90s by Craig Wedren is available for order now, via Craig Wedren.com, or here.

[Photos: Craig Wedren]

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tricks: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Stella Donnelly

The new album from Stella Donnelly, Beware Of The Dogs, out on Friday via Secretly Canadian, is the sort of thing that (rightly) is going to get a lot of press attention. Stella writes sharp, observant tunes that are layered with an abundance of pop hooks, such that the smartest bits here go down as easily as sugar.

And while the lyrical concerns of "Boys Will Be Boys" and "Old Man" are deadly serious ones, the melodies are buoyant, and very nearly pretty. Donnelly's knack for this sort of thing rivals that of Aimee Mann, or even Elvis Costello, and her kind of rock intellect is one that understands how to make the biggest of points with an economy that's impressive. Elsewhere, the ebullient "Lunch", with its memorable "I get homesick before I go away" refrain, is cryptically concerned with leaving one continent to go to another. Hearing Stella's Australian accent at times might make an older indie fan think up faint comparisons to Frente!, but a more astute listener might think back even further, to gems like "Bye Bye Pride" and "To Reach Me" from fellow Aussies Forster and McLennan and crew. And if the down-tempo "Watching Telly" made me think of stuff from that second album from Kenickie, I think long-time readers of this site would know exactly what I meant with that bit of praise. This is big Pop but it's also a contemplative and intellectual record.

To rave about Stella Donnelly's skill at writing a big pop tune is not to diminish her lyrical prowess. It is meant, rather, to say that she is as adept at crafting a winning melody as she is at writing a line that pierces the heart with its truthfulness. You will be humming along to virtually every number here on Beware Of The Dogs, but you'll also be considering the points raised in these songs, and I remain a big fan of artists who can do this sort of material with the kind of deftness displayed here.

Beware Of The Dogs is out on Friday via Secretly Canadian.

More details on Stella Donnelly via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Poone Ghana]

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Meet Me: A Brief Review Of The New EP From Fred Abong (Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave)

Following on from his superb EP last summer, Fred Abong is back with yet another one. Pulsing is out on Friday and it is an expansion on the sort of heavy folk one found on that earlier effort, along with more elaborate layers of production.

The former member of both Belly and Throwing Muses here offers up the kind of introspective alt-rock that should feel a bit familiar to fans of those two bands, even if "Meet Me" here is a bit starker than one might expect. The title cut on Pulsing is evocative, the sort of thing that one might expect to find on a Iron & Wine release, or something from Red House Painters. Elsewhere, the production on "Firefly" imbues the song with eerie menace, while the rough "Wire" rides an awesome riff into the sun, a hint of harder material lurking in Fred Abong's songbook.

Fred Abong will be going out on tour with Kristin Hersh where he will likely have copies of this fine EP for sale on physical formats. For now, you can order it via the link below. Pulsing is out on Friday.

More details on Fred Abong via his official website.

[Photo: Peter Mellekas]

Monday, March 4, 2019

King Of Nothing: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Babybird

I'm here to tell you that "Vacuous", from the new Babybird album, Happy Stupid Nothing, is one of the best things that Stephen Jones has ever written. I'm also here to tell you that that long-player is a bit too long. Still, as a reminder of the genius of Stephen Jones, the release remains highly recommended.

Along with the aforementioned "Vacuous", other real highlights here on Happy Stupid Nothing are "King of Nothing" and "I Am Not Done", both fairly direct rockers. Stephen Jones can command real power with this sort of material, his voice and lyrics meshing as a perfect weapon. The far less successful numbers here are the selections, like "I Am Not Here" and a few even longer ones, where Jones sounds like he's a prisoner of the studio, the production effects overpowering whatever germ of an idea he had originally started with. Still, for an artist who's this prolific, and generous with big hooks, one feels churlish almost for highlighting the things I didn't like here.

Happy Stupid Nothing has more than enough Babybird material on it, but there's enough here that is superbly written and perfectly performed, to recommend this record highly. Fans of his old hits and his more recent material should find lots to love on this epic offering.

More details on Babybird and Happy Stupid Nothing via the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp pic]

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Come Down To Get Down: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Jonny Kosmo

The shenanigans on the new self-titled record from Jonny Kosmo are decidedly lo-fi, and yet they are remarkably interesting. The album dropped on Friday and it's the sort of thing that blends elements of Seventies pop, disco, and even Britpop with the resulting music in its grooves being uniformly fun.

"Come Down to Get Down" is a breezy bit of business, equal parts soul-pop and something else, while the elegant "Parrots of Highland Park" is a bit like Lindsey Buckingham covering Lennon, kinda. Kosmo has skills, and while lots of this stuff is nearly too clever for its own good, it's also decidedly sincere. And for that reason, Jonny Kosmo is a recommended listen. Fans of Grandaddy, Temple Songs (whose Jolan Lewis worked with Aldous RH, the bassist here), and even Jellyfish will find lots to enjoy here.

Jonny Kosmo can write great chamber pop but he's a tad too in love here with the trappings of recording, such that a listener sometimes notices the electronic effects, or production elements more than the actual tunes on Jonny Kosmo. And yet if Jonny Kosmo is capable of composing the breathless pop of "Circus of Dreams, one can forgive the parts here that seem overthought and a bit busy.

More details on Jonny Kosmo via the official Facebook page. Jonny Kosmo is out now.

[Photo: Joseph McMurray]

Friday, March 1, 2019

Daydreamer: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Filipino-American band Wander

I hesitate to label Wander simply a Filipino-American band but, that's the way they were pitched to me by PR materials, and, since my wife is from The Philippines, I was naturally a bit curious when I saw that. That the band are excellent is what's really important here, with their new album, March being one of today's best new releases. If they draw attention to themselves and other excellent Filipino-American, or even Asian-American, bands, that's great too.

Fans of early Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky will find lots that feels familiar on March, but Wander manage to imbue this stuff with a degree of vigor that makes this kind of thing seem fresh again. The title cut, with its fine video, is cinematic in scope, the soundscape built off of a few simple chords and hooks. Similarly, the even longer "Faraway" features a bit more variety, and a few challenges to the quiet-loud-quiet formula, here made enticing and a bit hypnotic.

The four members of Wander -- Christian Francisco (guitar), Bernard Barcela (guitar), Joseph Aguda (bass), and Ryan David Francisco (drums) -- have a jazz-like sense of coordination here, with the players displaying the sort of intuitive understanding of sonic dynamics that it usually takes other musicians decades to achieve. The two middle tracks on March, "Parade" and "Catch", are direct and punchy, and redolent with a few hints of the material of a few harder post-rock bands, while the lyrical "Daydreamer" takes things in an introspective direction, with closer "Eveleth" being almost catchy despite its length, and lack of lyrics.

I liked March a lot. And while I can make easy comparisons here to earlier acts, the music of Wander feels special. There's something elemental at work here, such that a listener feels like the musicians are intentionally holding things back a bit in order to make the bright flashes of their prowess more impressive when they arrive in the middle of a tune. I guess when described in writing, it sounds so simple. But when it's heard, it's something large and positively epic.

March is out today.

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

[Photo: Christina Dao]