Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Please Bring Me To Safety: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Yes We Mystic

The Canadian band Yes We Mystic has a big sound, and it's one that defies easy description. At times on the group's new record, Ten Seated Figures, out on Friday via DevilDuck Records, the tunes straddle something approaching art rock, even as at others the music veers towards something far more mainstream. This is bold stuff, and if the group sometimes over-reaches, their ambition alone makes this a masterpiece. Where else are you going to hear choral bursts brush up against flashes of New Wave, alongside instrumental flourishes worthy of an early King Crimson record?

If "Young Evil" suggests some odd mix of Kraftwerk with The Virgin Prunes, the lovely "Italics" leans into the sort of thing that fuels MGMT. Elsewhere, the lush "Please Bring Me To Safety" is elegant, nearly-mainstream synth-pop, even as the complex "Panthalassa" reveals layers upon layers of sounds piled up until the overall effect is nearly ravishing. "Felsenmeer" is chamber pop perfection, while the rippling "Last Known Sighting" finds the group offering up the sort of keyboard figure that reminds one of Philip Glass compositions. The players here in Yes We Mystic -- Adam Fuhr (guitar, vocals), Keegan Steele (synthesizer, mandolin, vocals), Jodi Plenert (keyboards, cello, vocals), Jensen Fridfinnson (violin, synthesizer, guitar), and Jordon Ottenson (drums, electronic drums) -- approach these compositions with a near-classical seriousness even as the songs remains vibrant and light. With perhaps the exception of Dead Can Dance, it's rare to find a group who can tackle material like this with a real easy touch. That's a complicated way of saying that this might seem pretentious on paper, but it's wildly listenable when actually heard.

Ten Seated Figures is out on Friday via DevilDuck Records.

More details on Yes We Mystic via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Harbor In The Storm: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Elva (Ex-Allo Darlin')

Elva is Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris and Ola Innset of the Norwegian bands Making Marks and Sunturns. For those of you who are coming here because you were a fan of releases by Allo Darlin' on Slumberland Records, or the late Fortuna Pop! label, you're in luck as you'll probably like Winter Sun a lot. However, it's worth noting that the style is different this time around for Morris.

While "Athens" is laconic folk, the superb "Ghost Writer" suggests an updating of the template laid down by Black Tambourine's Pam Berry in her Glo-Worm project. Elsewhere, "Harbour in the Storm" and "Everything is Strange" see both Elizabeth and Ola taking turns on lead vocals, with each cut the sort of delictate pop that Elliott Smith once perfected, with flashes of Nick Drake peaking through the loose seams. And while lots of what's on Winter Sun is fairly down-tempo, when Elva let themselves catch the energy of a tailwind, like, for example, on the appropriately-named "Tailwind", the results are delightful, with a listener thinking how well this sort of stuff will sit next to nearly anything Allo Darlin' recorded in the not-so-distant past.

Winter Sun will be out on Friday via Tapete Records.

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

[Photo: Jørgen Nordby]

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lost In My Dream: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Drugdealer

The new album from Drugdealer is called Raw Honey, a title that makes me think of both the Raw Power album from Iggy and the Stooges, and the "Just Like Honey" single from The Jesus and Mary Chain. Drugdealer sounds almost nothing like either of those legends and yet there's something here that suggests a similar approach to rock-and-roll, a path that combines Mr. Osterberg's all or nothing approach to embracing a style, and the Reid Brothers' knack for appropriating pieces of the past in the service of some new form of pop The tunes here on Raw Honey, out on Friday via Mexican Summer, are big throwback charmers, and yet they are still indications of a new approach to all of this.

It's sort of a collective at work here on Raw Honey, a record engineered by Mac DeMarco. And that connection, along with the fact that the players were loosely associated with Ariel Pink, indicates the sort of indie-pop one can hear on Raw Honey, with even opener "You've Got To Be Kidding" becoming a retro-futuristic work-out, the sort that sounds like the soundtrack of an old sci-fi flick, while the supple "Honey" is given over to the command of Natalie Mering (AKA Weyes Blood). The number is some blend of Laura Nyro-style chords with the kind of slide guitar licks one would have found on a George Harrison record in the early Seventies. And rather than sound like a lark, the cut works spectacularly. Elsewhere, "Wild Motion", featuring vocalist Dougie Poole, imagines Roy Orbison doing a solo Lennon composition. It's an odd but affecting number, the sort of thing that, briefly, sounds like the players are having a goof until it kicks in and transports a listener into the stratosphere. Lush and decidedly over the top, it's perhaps my favorite track here on this record.

There are moments here on Raw Honey, like the laconic "Fools", that feel like the band is trying too hard to adopt an MOR persona. However, there's also a lot on Raw Honey that is genuinely beautiful and affecting. With a huge cast of players, including Ben Schwab from the much-loved by this blog Golden Daze, Drugdealer succeed far more than than fail here on this record.

Raw Honey is out on Friday via Mexican Summer.

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

[Photo: Richard Quintero]

Sunday, April 14, 2019

This Time: A Brief Review Of The Omnivore Recordings Record Store Day Offering From Culture

The Nighthawk Recordings from Omnivore Recordings, released for Record Store Day 2019, is an essential document for anyone who loves Culture and the vocals of the late Joseph Hill. With backing by both Roots Radics and The Wailers band, these recordings from 1981 and 1982 are further proof of the brilliance of Hill and Culture.

"This Time", one of the group's earliest compositions, sees itself fleshed out here in this early Eighties version. The classic song sits nicely next to the lovely "Calling Rastafari" which is a perfect example of the sort of blending of rhetoric and melody that Hill and his band-mates were so good at crafting. Elsewhere, there are four tracks here with backing from The Wailers that are superb, with the two versions here of both "Mister Music" and "Can They Run" adding to the group's already-voluminous and excellent back-catalog. Originally recorded for the Calling Rastafari compilation on the old Nighthawk label, the tapes have thankfully been rescued from the vaults by the folks at Omnivore. The cuts are similar to lots of what Culture recorded in the era, with Joseph Hill deftly blending his sort of smooth performance style with the slicker production one found in those years. This is not to diminish what's here, but to say that Hill was able to adapt his message to the group's progressing sound.

The Nighthawk Recordings is a succinct reminder of the greatness of the late Joseph Hill, along with Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes. The music of Culture remains the sort of thing that can lead even a casual fan into the realm of being a completist, with each song heard making one think, "Hey, I need to get this too!" This is another nice addition to the sort of Culture collection that many of us are building.

The Nighthawk Recordings by Culture is out now via Omnivore Recordings.

[Photo: Leroy Jodie Pierson]

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Distractions: A Quick Review Of The Record Store Day Reissue Of Euphoria By Insides (4AD)

Back in 1993, Euphoria by Insides was a very atypical record to find on the 4AD label. It was airy in a way that suggested something new was being heard, and less ornamented than nearly anything on that label at that time. The band's one album for that esteemed label, Euphoria, has been reissued for Record Store Day 2019 by Beacon Sound and I'm here to share some of that good news.

Julian Tardo and Kirsty Yates were Earwig before they were Insides and they had a devoted following. For the rest of us, it was the allure of a new band on 4AD that made us pick up Euphoria in shops in 1993. The music within was light and easy to digest ("Distractions"), veering nearly towards the sort of thing that certain Brian Eno solo records had once predicted. The tunes here were also carefully constructed, with Yates and Tardo favoring simplicity over fussiness, like on opener "Walking in Straight Lines", a number that owed far more to 808 State, for example, than it did to Cocteau Twins. Elsewhere, "Carly Simon" seems a riff on the piano ballad, recast for the then-looming 21st century, while the percolating "Relentless" is a good example of why this band shared stages with Seafeel back then.

A record that deserves new assessments and a deeper level of appreciation, Euphoria gets the release it's always deserved in this fine set from Beacon Sound. With brief but helpful liner notes from Simon Reynolds, this edition of the sole 4AD Insides album is a release worth seeking out this Record Store Day 2019.

[Photo: Phil Nicholls, 1993]

Friday, April 12, 2019

Never Grow Old: A Review Of Amazing Grace (2018) With Aretha Franklin

Whatever discomfort a fan might feel at watching something that Aretha Franklin never wanted released in her lifetime is eradicated within minutes of Amazing Grace (2018) starting. The film, "realized" by Alan Elliott following the failure of original director Sydney Pollack to see this film done correctly, Amazing Grace (2018) sees wider release this week, with a few theaters in the D.C. area having the film on offer. The documentary of the sessions that became Aretha's Amazing Grace album is extraordinary and there is no other word to use.

Filmed over the course of two nights at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in January 1972, Amazing Grace (2018) is the best sort of rock doc. Featuring no narration, the movie serves as a simple and straightforward document of the events of those two nights, delivered in a concise, 90-minute package that's full of rich detail. Backed by the Southern California Community Choir under the direction of Alexander Hamilton, and with Reverend James Cleveland guiding things, Aretha arrives on night one to offer up what feels and looks like a church visit, albeit one featuring the greatest female vocalist this country has ever produced. If lots of what's here during night one, namely a breathtaking interpretation of the then-current "Wholy Holy" from Marvin Gaye that sees the song recast as a gospel number, feels more intimate than what's seen during night two, it speaks to Aretha's ability to modulate her approach based on audience and venue. Ms. Franklin goes from performances here that are remarkably contemplative to ones, like a joyous "How I Got Over", that seem to serve up proof of the Holy Spirit's existence in the twentieth century. The power of Amazing Grace (2018) is in how unadorned things are here, and how it feels like we just walked in and sat down in a pew to witness this too. With even the flashbacks to earlier rehearsals in the church being interspersed with footage of night one in an inauspicious way, the first half of this film subtly builds to the emotional crescendo that is night two of Aretha's performances in 1972.

The second night of this event shown in Amazing Grace (2018) is almost a concert performance, despite the spiritual content. And if there's not quite dancing in the aisles, the sight of Stones Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts grooving in the back of the church is proof enough of the power of Franklin's voice, and the performances' success at converting any doubters of the glory of what's here. A deliberately-paced "Mary Don't You Weep" eases things forward as the second half of the film begins, but it's "Never Grow Old", with Aretha on the piano under the eyes of her father, C.L. Franklin, that transfixes. Ms. Franklin somehow imbues this Christian standard with a dose of earthiness that never feels cheap, and which results in a performance that's more real than nearly anything else I've ever seen that was labelled gospel. If the genre is being changed here right before our eyes, it's testament to Aretha's strengths as a singer that this still seems like one of her best, most natural performances ever, with moments that are so personal and deeply felt that it's likely that very few other singers could ever deliver something like this. Alongside of maybe only Al Green, Aretha understood how to move an audience through the voice the way a preacher can through words. In a film full of extraordinary moments for even a casual fan of this woman's immense career, the image of her father wiping the sweat from her brow as she delivers "Never Grow Old" on the piano is something that moves and inspires. It's a gloriously intimate, and tellingly Christian, moment in a film full of them.

Amazing Grace (2018) is essential viewing for those who revere this woman's music, and for students of African-American art in this country. Backed by some of the best players in music at the time, including Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Chuck Rainey on bass, among others, Aretha Franklin delivers what remain two of her best performances. I know that she sued to stop the original film from coming out, but this is a must see movie for anyone who cares about the progression of soul as an art form in this country. Amazing Grace (2018), with its gloriously simple and straightforward approach to documenting the two nights of Ms. Franklin's performances, offers up 90 minutes of music that consistently straddles the genres of gospel and rhythm-and-blues. With Aretha carrying the crowd to a place that feels sacred in the best sense of that word, Amazing Grace (2018) is an absolutely essential viewing experience.

Amazing Grace (2018) goes into wider release today, with numerous theaters in the Washington, D.C. area having the film on offer from today, so check your local listings.

Amazing Grace (2018) is being distributed by NEON.

[Photos and trailer courtesy of NEON]

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Too Real: A Brief Review Of The Debut Album From Fontaines D.C.

The hype is real, folks. For every group that gets prepped to conquer these shores only to fail, it looks like Dublin's Fontaines D.C. will succeed. With shows already sold out, and the debut album not even released yet (it drops tomorrow via Partisan Records), the band are racking up the sort of advance praise that reminds this fan of the run-up to the arrival of The Libertines, or the kind of good word-of-mouth from people with good taste that greeted the first EP from Australia's Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. And, like those bands, Fontaines D.C. take things back to a sound that owes as much to mid-career Clash as it does to, say, The Modern Lovers.

The Dublin outfit's debut album, Dogrel, is the sort of record that offers up what sounds like a singles compilation. Yes, nearly every cut is that good. If "Big" and "Sha Sha Sha" are pleasant reminders of the sort of thing that once issued forth from numerous bands from across the ocean in that window between punk and New Wave, the rougher "Too Real" is all fire, blasts of Richard Hell-style vocals carried aloft by churning guitars and primitive drumming. It's brilliant, really. Elsewhere, "Hurricane Laughter" brings the first half of Dogrel to a roaring close, even as "Roy's Tune" suggests the sort of smartly unstudied lyricism that Pete Doherty once offered up in those early Libs sides. The lovely tune feels almost too smooth, even as the second half of this album suggests that Fontaines D.C. are as adept at winning hearts as they might be at inciting riots.

Still, while I can acknowledge the pieces here that seem winsome, the raw elements on Dogrel are the ones that really warm the heart, with early track "Liberty Belle" working up a fine racket, even as "Boys in the The Better Land" takes the wheel and drives the car into the ocean. If it's not "London Calling", it's at least "Jail Guitar Doors", and there ain't no shame in that. What one thinks when listening to nearly anything here is, "Where the hell have this band been all along!?!" I mean, for those of us who remember the hype that surrounded Shame not too very long ago, it seems misplaced when you hear Dogrel. Not since the days of "Time For Heroes" have I really felt something in my bones like what I feel when I play lots of this record.

Dogrel is out on Partisan Records tomorrow.

More details on Fontaines D.C. via the band's official website, or the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional pic]

Heads Up About This Ocampo, Ocampo Plus Watt Single For Record Store Day 2019

The new super-group Ocampo, Ocampo + Watt debuted last fall at the first night of the two-day series of shows celebrating the anniversary of the Black Cat in D.C. The trio -- Devin Ocampo (guitar, vocals), Renata Ocampo (drums), and Mike Watt (bass, vocals) -- performed a clutch of Stooges songs, and were at one point joined by Mark Cisneros (Des Demonas, Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds) on sax. It was a blistering set that that seemed like a sort of once-in-a-lifetime performance.

I'm happy to report that the trio is back with a new single in time for Saturday's Record Store Day 2019. "Apparatus" / "Better Than A Dirtnap" drops on ORG Music and it's an indication of the skills of these players, and the ease with which they adapt their own strengths to original material. "Apparatus" is supple and spindly, like something Devin would have once recorded with Medications or Faraquet. Watt's heavy bass thumps and runs sit nicely next to Renata Ocampo's purposeful drum-work, while Devin croons over what sounds not entirely unlike the sort of rhythmic ramble one once heard from Eighties-era King Crimson or XTC. The flip, "Better Than A Dirtnap", is entirely different. A shuffling roots rocker, the cut feels like a Minuteman number in some ways, with Watt's bass anchoring Devin's spry and subtle guitar solos, and Renata's fills carrying this forward.

I'm certainly one of those who is hoping that this trio makes a whole record soon. Devin Ocampo and Renata Ocampo are busy musicians in this city, what with their work in Warm Sun, and Devin's current service in The Effects, but I'm sure if Mike Watt wanted to make a full-length record, they'd find time for the legend. "Apparatus" / "Better Than a Dirtnap" is one of the real pleasant surprises of this week's set of releases, and a nice treat for fans of these players for Record Store Day 2019.

"Apparatus" / "Better Than A Dirtnap" is out on Record Store Day 2019 via ORG Music.

[Photos: me, 2018]

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Art Of Living: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Bibio

The new album from Bibio, Ribbons, out on Warp on Friday, is the sort of release that defies easy categorization. Bridging ambient with folk-rock, Bibio offers up here a record that is warm and affecting.

"The Art of Living" sees Stephen Wilkinson singing over a supple sort of hook, while the more delicate "Ode to a Nuthatch" is pure folk, easy to fall into. Elsewhere, "Watch The Flies" manages to work itself into a brisk ramble, while the lovely "It's Your Bones" veers into territory once occupied by Simon and Garfunkel and The Incredible String Band. Wilkinson, however, seems more interested in pursuing his own style rather than simply let himself drift into an established genre here on Ribbons, with lots of the material, like "Curls", subtly mixing in faint traces of the sort of production or electronic effects that earlier pioneers on this label favored.

A record that seems tailor-made for Springtime, Ribbons is a fine surprise from a label that has consistently offered up boundary-pushing artists. Bibio here pursues the sort of music that is sure to please fans of Warp, as well as those who maybe have not considered that the label could put out something this gentle and affecting.

Ribbons by Bibio is out on Friday via Warp Records.

For more details on Bibio, check out the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Joe Giacomet]

Friday, April 5, 2019

It's Not Real Life: A Quick Review Of The Reissue Of Autoclave (pre-Helium, pre-Slant 6) From Dischord

Autoclave was the Dischord band that famously launched Mary Timony and Christina Billotte into the world. Timony would, of course, go on to record solo, and with Helium and Ex Hex, and now Hammered Hulls, while Billotte would go on to form Slant 6. As such, the band's lone self-titled release, reissued today on vinyl from Dischord Records, stands as an essential document of the post-Revolution Summer era, and an indication of the new directions the music on this label would explore in the Nineties.

Listening to this now, there's a real temptation to retroactively label this riot grrl given the era (1991-1992) this material originated from, but I think, stylistically, the tunes are more varied than that appellation would indicate. "I'll Take You Down" is spindly and spiky, while "It's Not Real Life" builds upon a slightly ominous riff to reach the sort of territory covered by bands like Live Skull in the Eighties. Some of what's here, namely "Dr. Seuss", revs up nicely, foreshadowing the path Billotte would pursue in Slant 6 after this, while the skewed "Still Here" sees Timony craft the kind of music she'd later refine further on a set of solo albums in the Nineties.

Autoclave, also featuring Nikki Chapman and Melissa Berkoff, occupied a unique space in terms of the history of this label, as their tunes were not quite the sort of post-rock that bands like Smart Went Crazy would offer up later, nor did their sound fit entirely easily next to that of compositions from pioneers like Fire Party. If anything, some of what's here on Autoclave, namely "Hot Spurr" and the edgier "Bull's Eye", owe as much to the music of post-punk bands like LiLiPUT and Ut as they do to any group from this city's harDCore past.

Autoclave is back in print today via Dischord.

In The Garden: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Proper Ornaments (Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls)

The new album from The Proper Ornaments, Six Lenins, out today via Tapete Records, is the sort of release that's not necessarily going to surprise any long-time fans of this band, or those who came here because James Hoare was in both Veronica Falls and Ultimate Painting. That said, this long-player is full of lovely tunes, and it's also a more spry release than the last record from this band.

The line-up here -- James Hoare (Ultimate Painting and Veronica Falls), Max Claps (Toy), Danny Nellis (Charles Howl), and Bobby Syme (Wesley Gonzalez) -- manages to imbue what seems like rather simple material with real depth, such that a number like "Where Are You Now" lingers in the brain like something from Galaxie 500, even as the perkier "Song for John Lennon" suggests something a tiny bit peppier, like a classic Teenage Fanclub single.

James Hoare isn't interested in changing things up too much, and if you're a fan of the other Proper Ornaments albums, or were a fan of the late Ultimate Painting, you'll be able to dive into any part of Six Lenins with ease. And while "Old Street Station" sounds entirely familiar given that information, the nearly-bouncy "In The Garden" messes with the formula, however slightly, marrying a faintly insistent rhythm with a vocal performance that feels as light as air. It is, in a subtle way, a new direction for this band, even if it's just a brief experiment here. Elsewhere, "Apologies" and "Crepuscular Child" offer up nods to an expected influence (The Velvet Underground), but there's also a moment or two on those and other numbers here that suggests The Clientele. If Hoare and crew are less concerned with making pretty chamber pop than they are with pursuing a unique, single-minded sort of style in indie-pop terms, that's okay considering how successful Hoare has been with this formula so far, over the span of three separate bands.

Six Lenins is out today via Tapete Records.

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

[Photo: Anna Sampson]

Thursday, April 4, 2019

In Another Realm: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Shana Cleveland (La Luz)

Shana Cleveland has released solo material in the past, and she's known as well, of course, for her leadership of the superb La Luz. That said, her new album, Night of the Worm Moon, out tomorrow on Hardly Art, is a remarkable record, and the sort of thing that succeeds whether a listener is a fan of her other band or not, and that's because this is just a great album.

While "Don't Let Me Sleep" and "In Another Realm" are, like many cuts here, elegant bits of contemplative folk rock, it's other compositions on this record, like the twang-y "Face of the Sun", that positively haunt. If La Luz owe huge debts to earlier surf rock pioneers, lots of the numbers here on Night of the Worm Moon reveal links to earlier waves of folk-y artists, or even masters of classical guitar. I say that because "Castle Milk" and "I'll Never Know" succeed as much due to Shana's breathy vocals as they do thanks to her prodigious skills on her instrument of choice. The wonderfully-titled "Invisible When The Sun Shines" is reminiscent of early Mazzy Star offerings, for those seeking a point of easy comparison, while the spry title cut recalls Shana's own first solo LP, as well as sort of a slowed-down version of what La Luz routinely cranks out. Still, this is a unique record, and one which, I want to stress, works very well whether you know anything about La Luz at all.

Night of the Worm Moon is a release that's full of lovely songs that hold back just enough to retain some mystery, Shana Cleveland here preferring a lighter touch than the one favored by La Luz. And it's significant that that approach doesn't render the songs here too down-tempo as the record feels light and airy, even as the numbers on this release linger in the brain, like dreams barely half-remembered.

Night of the Worm Moon is out tomorrow via Hardly Art.

More details on Shana Cleveland via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Eleanor Petry]

Let's Be Bad: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Cherry Pickles On PNKSLM

The debut album from Cherry Pickles, the wonderfully-titled Cherry Pickles Will Harden Your Nipples, is one of the best things I've heard in ages. There's a wicked sort of inventive energy on this record, out tomorrow on PNKSLM, and fans of everything from The Ronettes to The Cramps should love this as much as I do.

"Let's Be Bad" is all bad intent wrapped around a big twang-y hook, while "Evil Exorcist" is the sort of thing that suggests The Chiffons covering Ian Svenonius. "I Still Miss Lux" is, presumably, possibly about the late Lux Interior of The Cramps, while the surging "Rapido" sounds like those early recordings from Hinds. Cherry Pickles Will Harden Your Nipples is a short record, but it's one of those albums where every cut seems to burn through all of its ideas in just a minute or two. In that regard, some of this is, oddly, reminiscent of stuff from the C86 generation, even as bits and pieces here, like the fine "We Are Cherry Pickles", or the tropicalia-tinged "It Will All End in Tears, suggest numbers from Helen Love, Talulah Gosh, or Throw That Beat In The Garbagecan!

A record that fully fits in with that whole skewed pop-vibe put forth by most of the best bands on PNKSLM, Cherry Pickles Will Harden Your Nipples is a delight. The Brit duo charm here, even as they sound like the sort of kids who might burn down your house and laugh about it as they roar away in a stolen car with the radio blaring.

Cherry Pickles Will Harden Your Nipples is out tomorrow via PNKSLM.

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

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Something Real: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Rose Elinor Dougall

Rose Elinor Dougall still continues to surprise as an artist. On her latest album, A New Illusion, out on Friday, the former Pipette favors a more stripped-down approach that allows her always radiant songs to really shine in a new manner. A New Illusion is, in some respects, Rose's best record to date, and a collection of her most assured compositions so far.

Some numbers here, like "That's Where The Trouble Started", or the contemplative and lovely "Wordlessly", seem influenced in huge ways by the artists of the heyday of British folk, while the title cut on A New Illusion is chiming indie-pop that wouldn't have sounded at all out of place on Rose's first solo album nearly ten years ago. Elsewhere, "Take What You Can Get" mines a similar sort of vein while sounding a tiny bit like a Lush single, even as "Something Real" veers into more delicate territory. The melodies all throughout A New Illusion should feel familiar for anyone who's picked up any of her solo releases, but Rose's approach to the music here in 2019 is more deliberate, with the pieces of instrumentation, including from two members of Younghusband in her band here, more precisely placed, the hooks sharper as a result of being placed in starker setups.

And while those songs are all fine, it's "Too Much of Not Enough" and "Christina in Red" that reveal the real progression of Rose as an artist. If the former feels like some odd mix of material from Virginia Astley and Sandy Denny, the elegant "Christina in Red" is a neo-classical excursion that is downright breathtaking. Both numbers, like many here on this release, see Dougall, as co-producer, strip the compositions down to their basest elements, and then build them up again with carefully chosen bits of instrumentation, or sparser production styles. The entire approach here on this record feels different, such that A New Illusion suggests the start of a new era in Rose Elinor Dougall's career, and a necessary simplification of her established brand of indie-pop.

A New Illusion will be out on Friday and you can buy it here, or the usual online stores.

More details about Rose Elinor Dougall via her official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional image]

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

I'm Clean: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Priests

Washington, D.C. is a town of purists. And remembering the chirps and howls of disapproval when Jawbox and Shudder To Think left Dischord so many years ago for the major labels, I can only hope that things have changed here, especially for those old-timers -- ahem -- who had appointed this city's Priests as the second coming of Fire Party or something. That's not to say that Priests have sold out -- whatever that would mean in 2019 is anyone's guess -- but that the stylistic changes on the band's new album, The Seduction of Kansas, out on Friday via their own Sister Polygon Records, are big ones. And while the more rigidly-minded out there might regret that this LP is not Nothing Feels Natural 2, some of us are delighted that this trio has decided to explore somewhat new territory.

Katie Alice Greer, Daniele Daniele, and G.L. Jaguar, along with touring bassist Alexandra Tyson and Janel Leppin, see Priests as, if not a harDCore band per se, at least one that's just as subversive and against the grain as any of the luminaries from this city's storied musical past. If anything, the band's use of Americana and its hoary tropes here on The Seduction of Kansas suggests the sort of broad musical vision that this town rarely gets to witness. And while Ex Hex can successfully "rock out" on a lot of Eighties-style riffs nearly with a straight face, Priests are more interested in ripping that stuff up and piecing it together again to suit their own ends, cue the lead single and title cut here. A sinewy number that is even dance-able, Greer peers at Middle America to stare down that beast and figure out what makes it tick. Elsewhere, "Jesus' Son" is rage barely coiled, hints of old Sleater-Kinney sides peeking through here, while "I'm Clean" is a slow-burn, the sort of thing Frank Tovey would have trotted out to the suits at Mute some decades ago. "Good Time Charlie" roars, Daniele's drum-work here just perfect, while "Not Perceived" recalls for me nothing so much as "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep" from The Cure's big 1987 opus, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Kudos to producer John Congleton for allowing some variety in tone here, with the sleek surfaces on lots of the tracks on The Seduction of Kansas giving way to bursts of raw power ("Control Freak") when necessary.

There's lots to absorb here ("Youtube Sartre") in terms of lyrical content as well, but if you just want to get your groove on, I think Priests might not have too much of a problem with that. And while it would be easy to suggest that "68 Screen" sounds a tiny bit like an early Madonna dance-floor filler, I think Greer would agree that there's no shame in that. I think it's safe to say that Madonna did more to change minds than so-called extreme artists like Lydia Lunch, you know? And if you dress up something smart and clever in a package that's shiny, like on the lovely "Carol", with its mentions of Target and other brands, that's nearly more of a transgressive act than making an alternative record that only the hip are likely to buy. Priests get that and that's what makes them one of the very best bands in America in 2019, and, as The Seduction of Kansas illustrates, that rarest of bands which can adapt and progress in terms of sonic attack.

The Seduction of Kansas is out on Friday via Sister Polygon Records.

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

[Photo: Drew Hagelin]

Monday, April 1, 2019

Nearer To Thee: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Weyes Blood

Even though I really enjoyed the last Weyes Blood album from 2016, I wasn't quite prepared for how wonderful the new one was going to be. Titanic Rising, out on Friday via Sub Pop, is phenomenal, and the sort of record that one realizes is going to take the artist behind it to even greater levels of adulation and respect.

Opener "A Lot's Gonna Change" hits at the same sort of affecting beauty as "Is That All There Is?" by Peggy Lee, or "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian. It is also a lush bit of business, and immediate proof that Titanic Rising is going to be yet another in a long line of masterpieces from Natalie Mering (AKA Weyes Blood). "Andromeda" imagines the kind of thing Judy Collins used to be famous for, done up in more modern trappings, while the looping "Everyday" marries a hook like those that Rufus Wainwright tends to favor with washes of strings and backing vocals that send this into the stratosphere. If "Movies" is more diffuse, atmospherics here almost as important as the catchy melody, or the big Philip Glass-style break at the mid-point, "Something To Believe" is anthemic, the kind of thing Laura Nyro could have written and given to a big AM Radio band a few decades ago.

Mering makes this all work spectacularly, and one is sort of overwhelmed at points, like during the aching Gershwin lilt of "Picture Me Better" near the end of the record. Wisely, Weyes Blood holds back just enough so that there's a real tension in some of these compositions, even as many unleash themselves at points, like boats being pushed out onto rolling waves. To that end, the instrumental closer "Nearer To Thee", with its faint echo of the melody from opener "A Lot's Gonna Change", eases a listener down from the swoon-y heights of the best parts of Titanic Rising.

Titanic Rising is breathtaking in spots, and I really can't stress that enough. Natalie Mering here offers up the sort of thing that should make her a huge star in 2019, with all the accolades this album is surely going to earn being well-deserved in every way.

Titanic Rising is out on Friday via Sub Pop.

More details on Weyes Blood via the official Facebook page.

[Photo: Kathryn Vetter Miller]