Friday, November 24, 2017

My Dear One: A Quick Review Of The New Nick Garrie Album

The new album from Nick Garrie, The Moon and the Village, out today on Tapete, is a special record. It is, unfortunately, the sort of thing that may slip under the radar without a little bit of extra attention, which is why I'm here today to write about it.

Garrie has worked with Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub in the past but here he's being helped by Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transistor. The textures on The Moon and the Village are warm and inviting, and what could have been a folk record, for example, is now something else, something stronger. If the title number suggests a debt owed to the late Leonard Cohen, the superb "I'm On Your Side" reveals the influence of Mick Head. Elsewhere, strings creep around "My Dear One" to place the number somewhere near something like a John Cale composition, while the beautiful "Early Morning in the Garden" marries Garrie's Cohen-like observations (and delivery) with backing music that is poised somewhere between the ache of Nilsson and the lyrical wit of Randy Newman. Nick Garrie manages to make this work so well as he remains such an engaging player, delivering the spry "Bacardi Summer" and the doleful "Got You On My Mind" with equal degrees of mastery.

The Moon and the Village is the sort of album that is not entirely easy to describe, seeing as how it skips around a few genres with ease, but it is a superb record, and one that's quite easy to recommend. Out today, this new Nick Garrie offering is one of the most heartfelt and warmly human releases of this Fall.

More details on The Moon and the Village via Tapete Records.

[Photo: Alison Wonderland]

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Everything Must Be: A Quick Review Of The New Album From The Telescopes

I honestly never thought that The Telescopes would have lasted this long. To say that is not to disparage the considerable talents of front-man Stephen Lawrie but, rather, to acknowledge the presence of something a bit unhinged underneath the band's music, the sound of chaos roiling underneath the normal, a faint hint that things could go dangerously wrong at a moment's notice. Now, some 30 years or so after this group first burst forth, The Telescopes are releasing their second album of 2017. Stone Tape, out now, follows the superb As Light Return earlier this year. The new record is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a slight departure from the last record, preferring instead a ride on some sinister undercurrents instead of a flash or two of feedback. In short, Lawrie's gift for conjuring up something that transports a listener is undiminished.

Now, it's worth sharing a bit of the press material for this record, especially since this one is, apparently, a concept album:

"'Stone Tape' is a concept album inspired by the 'Stone Tape Theory', theorized by Thomas Charles Lethbridge in 1961. The archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer developed the idea that inanimate materials can absorb energy from living beings, and that this mental electrical energy, released during emotional or traumatic events, could somehow be 'stored' in such materials and 'reproduced' under certain conditions."

So, given that bit of information, Stone Tape may become a richer listening experience but, as it is, it's a fairly rewarding, if brief, one. Opener "Become The Sun" is near drone-rock, pure coiled tension ready for release, while the evocative "The Desert In Your Eye" slows things down even further, Lawrie nearly slurring the lyrics. Elsewhere, the excellent and epic-length "Everything Must Be" marries a space-rock sense of openness to the drone to delicious effect, Lawrie here venturing far beyond his old shoegaze haunts, while the slight-gallop of "Dead Inside" sees Stephen return, if only briefly, to some flashes of feedback-drenched unease. This leaves the more accessible "Silent Water" a standout here on Stone Tape in terms of direct indie-pop appeal.

All that being said, I found Stone Tape enormously rewarding. Wisely, Lawrie didn't make it a very long album, and so even a longer song doesn't feel too tedious on what is a short(er) release. Given the record's relative brevity, a patient listener can indulge Lawrie as he goes quietly off the rails here, producing music that is unsettling, unnerving, and damn beautiful all at once. Oddly, like Gillespie getting "Higher Than The Sun", Lawrie has found some sort of inspiration here as these drawled-out dreamscapes are enormously pleasurable to listen to. Set aside some time and give this one a spin for further indication of the continued, if sometimes neglected, genius of Mr. Stephen Lawrie.

Stone Tape is out now. More details on The Telescopes here, or here on Facebook, or even on Twitter.

[Photo: Raul Divaev]

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Intricate Image: A Quick Look At The New Bill Nelson Soundtracks Box On Cherry Red Records

The fine folks at Cherry Red Records have been recently reissuing a bunch of crucial Bill Nelson recordings without a great deal of fanfare. Given the waves of difficulty that sometimes have faced fans trying to find the ex-Be-Bop Deluxe main-man's stuff in the past, the recent tide of fresh reissues is something to be welcomed, if not shouted about.

Adding to this impressive string of reissues, Cherry Red are putting out a 3-CD box this Friday called Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory, a set that collects 3 instrumental recordings from Bill Nelson. Disc 1 starts with 1981's Sounding The Ritual Echo (Atmospheres For Dreaming), a largely New Wave-y set of short tunes sans vocals originally released as a free bonus disc with the same year's Quit Dreaming and Get On The Beam. Cuts like "My Ritual Echo" and "Annunciation" recall a bit classic Bill Nelson songs from the same era, just without any singing on them, while the spry "My Intricate Image" uses what sounds like a bit of backwards tape to carry the sleight tune forward. Elsewhere, the languid "Vanishing Parades" sounds like something from a film score, a sentiment which segues us nicely into a look at the next 2 discs in Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory.

On Disc 2, we find the score Bill Nelson composed to accompany the classic 1920 film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Largely eerie pieces, a few here -- like the evocative "Cesare The Somnambulist" -- manage to hit at a nice beauty that suggests the possibility that even someone who was not familiar with the film could find something to enjoy here. The material on Disc 3 of Dreamy Screens sees Nelson move on to a film that really didn't need a score: Jean Cocteau's classic Beauty and the Beast (1946). The film famously featured music composed by Georges Auric so, truly, the existing score didn't need to be improved upon. Still, Nelson is to be commended for the effort as his score here is a fairly rich one. That Nelson completed this using a minimum of keyboards and samples is something to marvel at still, 30+ years after the album's original release. And, even more than the other discs in this set, the soundtrack here to Beauty and the Beast tells a story through sonic means. It succeeds in a remarkable way, offering a listener unfamiliar with the film a sort of sense of what Cocteau accomplished visually. I can say that, having heard this album before I ever saw the Cocteau film, I felt like I had a working knowledge of what to expect when I finally did see the 1946 masterpiece.

Dreamy Screens: Soundtracks From The Echo Observatory is out on Friday from Cherry Red Records. It is essential for anyone who wants to hear Bill Nelson at work on actual soundtracks to films, and not simply soundtracks, like his famous instrumental records, to just the dream-movies of his mind as an artist.

Monday, November 20, 2017

I Bury The Living: A Few Words About Low In High School From Morrissey

I have tried to only post positive, or moderately positive, reviews here over the course of the last decade in an attempt to encourage enthusiasm (mostly mine) about music rather than foster negativity. And, it's worth noting that one of this site's very first posts was my review of Morrissey's concert in Washington, D.C., way back in November 2007. So I'm a fan. All that being said, let what follows be seen as less a screed about the abysmal new album from Morrissey but, rather, a corrective gesture meant to highlight some of the many, many missteps on Low in High School. Ultimately, I am writing here in the perhaps vain hope that Morrissey will, at some point in the very near-future, return to even the moderate successes found on his records of just a decade ago.

Over the course of 12 tunes, Morrissey offers up his weakest batch of music since 1991's Kill Uncle. And yet, to say that is to malign the record that gave us "Sing Your Life" and "Our Frank", 2 of the best Moz singles from the early Nineties. In 20 years, I doubt that many people will be looking at this record and using a similar argument, as the apparent singles here -- the jaunty "Spent The Day In Bed", for example, or the almost-catchy "Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage" -- fail to do much more than generate a sense of bemusement in a listener. And while I can applaud Morrissey's risk-taking here on stuff like the epic "Israel", I can also say that it is a song I need never hear again. The cut is lugubrious piddle, as is "Home is a Question Mark", a selection that, like so many numbers here, can be imagined as a far better song given its title. Morrissey has perhaps finally lived down to that famous Elvis Costello quote: "Morrissey writes wonderful song titles, but sadly he often forgets to write the song."

"I Wish You Lonely" is moderately successful and spry, but it remains more like a B-side from the days when Moz was vainly fighting the good fight amid waves of Britpop ruling the airwaves, while "The Girl From Tel-Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel" earns points for at least fully committing to its vaguely rhumba-like hook. "I Bury The Living" gets credit for its apparent anti-war stance but it's frankly excruciating, toddling along for more than 7 minutes in a haze. Risky? Yes. Brave? Yes. Wise? Not in the least.

Morrissey has spent his career making choices that would have felled other, lesser performers, and even at his absolute worst, he at least provides grist for the mental mill. That said, the cuts here on Low in High School arrive in a cloud of controversial statements, and a string of odd actions from the man himself that have prejudiced a listener from the start, even before the record can begin. And I tried to love this one in some small way, but I simply cannot find much to recommend here on Low in High School. Stream this legally on Spotify and save your money. Heck, simply read the titles and imagine what kind of songs Morrissey would have made out of these back in 1992 or so, when Morrissey seemed to want to please as much as he wanted to provoke. Messy, muddled, and boringly unhinged in many spots, Low In High School is out now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reverence: A Few Pics From The Jesus And Mary Chain Concert In Baltimore Last Night

Work commitments prevented me from going out to to see The Jesus and Mary Chain at Rams Head Live! in Baltimore last night. But, luckily, talented photographer Nalinee Darmrong was able to attend and shoot some pics that I could share here. If you haven't already, be sure to get her book of photos of The Smiths from when she followed the band around America and England in the Eighties. It is truly a fabulous document of a fabulous era. There's a link over there on the sidebar, or just go to Rizzoli Books to buy her book.

All photos are the property of Nalinee Darmrong.

More details via her official website, or her Facebook page

The Jesus and Mary Chain are touring in support of their latest record, Damage and Joy. More details on The Jesus and Mary Chain via the band's official website, or via the band's official Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Rocking Days: A Brief Review Of The New Compilation From The Cleaners From Venus (Martin Newell)

A new release associated in any way with Martin Newell is something to perk up about. That the release is a rarities compilation, like Martin Newell's Jumble Sale, is yet another reason to get excited. The odds-and-sods collection will drop on Friday and I'm here to tell you how wonderful it is. Now, if you are even halfway a fan of Martin's, you'll realize what an understatement that is.

When diving into Martin Newell's Jumble Sale, a listener should marvel at how consistent this stuff is, especially since it's not sequenced chronologically. That means that a cut like the Kinks-recalling "A Bluebeat Kid" from 1979 sounds fine when propped up next to the chiming XTC-isms of "Red Guitars and Silver Tambourines" from earlier this year. Similarly, the faux-rockabilly of 1980's "My Rocking Days" sits comfortably next to the Robyn Hitchcock-esque "The Lunatic Lantern" from 2011. Elsewhere, the gentle "English Girl on a Horse" from 2015 mines a vein less power-pop and more cocktail jazz, before the absolutely sublime "Moonraking" from 2003 proceeds to haunt the ear on first and every subsequent listen. The ballad is so thoroughly perfect that a long-time Newell fan is almost taken by surprise by how a beauty like this could be counted as a rarity and go (presumably) unreleased or hard-to-find until now. Similarly, "That Kind of a Day" marries a jaunty melodic-line with one of Newell's most playful vocal performances from recent years, the 2014 number shining as a highlight here on Martin Newell's Jumble Sale. The collection ends with the one-two punch of New Wave-y "Ain't No Silicone Chip" from 1979, Newell trying his hand at the sort of electro-pop then the rage on both sides of the Atlantic, and then the final cut, "Somewhere in 1975..." from 1975, all Bowie-styled glam pleading mixed with a McCartney-like way with a direct hook.

Thoroughly listenable, essential for fans, and a fine compilation of English power-pop, Martin Newell's Jumble Sale is this week's most necessary purchase. The compilation is out on Friday. More details below.

[Photo: Uncredited 2014 promo pic]

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lift A Finger: A Quick Review Of The New Album From OCS (Thee Oh Sees)

In the same year that they've changed their name from Thee Oh Sees to simply Oh Sees, timed to the release of their last album, Orc, John Dwyer's outfit have decided to confound expectations and change their name again (this time to OCS) and drop yet another record. Memory Of A Cut Off Head, out Friday on Castle Face Records, is also the group's best recent release and a contender for one of 2017's best American indie records.

Opening with the Jimmy Webb-isms of the title cut, and leading into the stately chamber pop of "The Remote Viewer", a spin of the record reveals a change in direction to go along with the name change. Less fuzzy garage rock and more like leftovers from a Left Banke session, the best numbers on Memory Of A Cut Off Head are superb examples of the strengths of Dwyer as a composer and front-man. Stuff like the spacious "On And On Corridor" recalls Broadcast a bit, Brigid Dawon's vocals bringing to mind those of the late Trish Keenan in spots here, while the more languid "The Fool" approaches a Nico-like starkness that is at odds with earlier Thee Oh Sees records. Maybe it was a good idea for Dwyer to change the band's name? Elsewhere, the complicated "Time Tuner" faintly echoes the Cale compositions from one of the first 2 Velvet Underground records, while the elegant closer, "Lift A Finger", somehow manages to channel early Stereolab and recent Clientele offerings with an ornate precision.

Memory Of A Cut Off Head is, in some ways, shockingly different from earlier Thee Oh Sees records, given its focus on a very specific kind of pop-craft. That said, it's still discernibly a John Dwyer affair, equal parts backwards glances to Sixties archetypes and forward looks into a kind of visionary future indie-rock.

More details on OCS via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page. Memory Of A Cut Off Head is out on Friday via Castle Face Records.

[Photo: John Dwyer]

Much More Than That: A Quick Look At The New Reissue Of The First Sharon Van Etten Album

The debut album from Sharon Van Etten, (it was) because I was in love, is the sort of record that seems nearly too intimate to be easily understood by a mass audience. That said, the rare ability possessed by Sharon as a singer is the ease with which she makes the personal something to be sung and shared. And with the reissue of her debut, out Friday on Vinyl Me, Please, and the usual digital outlets, more and more fans will be added to those who are already well-acquainted with her skills as a singer and songwriter.

At her best here, like on the aching "Consolation Prize", Van Etten bridges the kind of folk-rock played by Joni Mitchell with the indie-folk of early Elliott Smith. At times painful, the lyrics and tunes drip with a sort of lived-in warmth that very few other performers can pull off without appearing too precious. On "Much More Than That", the melodic turns and vocal-lines suggest the best material that Sandy Denny brought to life, while the more upbeat "It's Not Like" seems to draw equal bits of inspiration from Joni (again, for the vocals) and Jimmy Page (for the supple guitar hooks). Fans of Laura Nyro should find a lot to love with the gentle "Have You Seen" and the quietly-lovely "For You", 2 numbers that seem like confessions sung by Sharon with nary a thought given for the possibility of an audience, or a listener ever hearing them. The strength of Van Etten's approach remains that kind of fearlessness, an attempt to simply bring the song to life with the simplest of tools and little ornamentation. And for all those moments that feel like an updating of folk styles from an earlier era, something like "Tornado" stuns with its melodic verve, a sideways hook warped under a madrigal in the style of Mary Margaret O'Hara (for those who will get, and appreciate, that reference).

As essential in its approach as was Roman Candle by Elliott Smith, (it was) because I was in love from Sharon Van Etten is a masterpiece of simplicity. Van Etten is so good at this that a listener sometimes marvels at how very much is here behind these lyrics and guitar-lines. Human and unpretentious, Sharon Van Etten, in some ways, redefined the very nature of folk music with her debut record. Get it, or get reacquainted with it, this Friday.

More details via Sharon Van Etten's official website. The reissue of (it was) because I was in love is out on Friday via Vinyl Me, Please, and the usual digital outlets.

[Photo: Miche Williams]

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rattle On: A Brief Review Of The New Album From The Golden Boys

The new album from The Golden Boys, Better Than Good Times, is the type of release that's going to catch a lot of people off guard. The album, out on Friday via 12XU, is a collection of surprisingly riotous and rollicking American indie of the sort in short supply these days.

The Golden Boys -- Nay Nay Arbeitman, Matt Hoopengardner, Patrick Travis, John Wesley Coleman III, and Bryan Schmitz -- make raucous tunes like "So Cowoby" and the lyrical "Cincinnati" work in the manner of old Replacements numbers, for lack of an easier comparison. The nearly-lovely "Kick The Can" offers up a near-twang-y vibe, while the excellent and catchy "She's A Song" made me think of the music of The Grifters. Elsewhere, the title cut and the punchy "Lonely Girls" deliver pure adrenaline, while the ragged "Rattle On" clangs with an impressive sense of abandon. "Let The Cold Wind Blow" even adds a faint hint of Nicky Hopkins-era Stones to the mix as this record closes.

The sixth album from this lot, Better Than Good Times from The Golden Boys is a blast of a record. Thoroughly unpretentious and full of furiously direct indie-rock, this one is sure to please fans of bands as disparate as The Jayhawks, Pavement, and Big Black.

Better Than Good Times is out on Friday via 12XU. More details on the band via that link below.

[Photo: Angela Betancourt]

Space Mates: A Quick Review Of The New Sun Ra Reissue From Superior Viaduct

The folks at Superior Viaduct are truly doing God's work. Following a string of bold recent releases, including that John Frusciante reissue, and that visionary Cindy Lee record, the label is readying a vinyl reissue of Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold, a seminal live recording from the jazz legend. Joined here by sax player Pharoah Sanders prior to Sanders joining Coltrane's band, this is a vital and essential release.

Opening with the glorious cacophony of "Gods on a Safari", this 1964 live recording reveals some masterful playing by Sun Ra on the keys before the roar of "The World Shadow" unveils dueling saxes from Marshall Allen, long-time Sun Ra associate, and Pharoah Sanders. This album's version of the cut is, according to online sources, the earliest known recording of Sun Ra staple "The Shadow World" with its title here reversed. Far more appealing for Sun Ra fans is the swirling racket of "Rocket Ninety Nine" which finds all the player firing on all cylinders, and Sun Ra himself running wild on the piano. Flautist Harold Murray ("Black Harold") shines on both "The Voice of Pan" and "Dawn Over Israel" later on the record. Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold closes with the nearly-gentle "Space Mates", Sun Ra favoring a light touch on the keys on this one.

Sun Ra And His Arkestra Featuring Pharoah Sanders And Black Harold is out on Friday via Superior Viaduct. Fans of both classic jazz and Sun Ra's progression as a musical titan are advised to seek this one out.

Wrap Your Love Around My Heart: In Which I Catch Up With A Few Releases From Lia Pamina

Spanish singer Lia Pamina has recently offered up a few releases on the seminal Elefant Records label and now that I've caught up with these fine records, I'm here to tell you how wonderful the work of this singer is.

Single "Better Off Without You" purrs like an Astrud Gilberto classic, but it's flip "Record Collection" that thoroughly charmed me. The clever lyrical concerns about "...being alone with my record collection" indicate a sort of self-awareness that I liked, even if Lia's breathy vocals carried the light-as-air tune into the stratosphere. The track is that rare cut that manages to please both intellectually and emotionally.

Even more excellent is the Sycamore Tree EP whose title cut sees Lia sing a Sixties-influenced vocal-line over what amounts to a nice mix of bubblegum pop and something more refined. If "One Step" very clearly nods in the direction of Margo Guryan, the direct "Wrap Your Love Around My Heart" echoes Broadcast numbers a tiny bit. Lia reveals herself to be a fine purveyor of this sort of thing and a number like this hints at future greatness from this singer as her music is sure to grow further into something less reliant on its influences.

Lia's final release of 2017 was the "The Boy I Used To Know" single, another breathy throwback to the Bacharach era. The flip-side here, "Cards On The Table", is one of the best things Lia's recorded so far, an elegant bit of chamber pop business that references with measured certainty artists as disparate as Mary Hopkin and John Barry. The number is such a well-crafted piece of indie-pop that a listener spends less time placing the references and more time basking in Lia's voice and her mastery of this sort of thing.

Admittedly, the appeal of Lia Pamina rests on how well she can crank out this sort of very obviously Sixties-styled pop, but her skills run deeper than just those of a revivalist. While lots here will appeal to fans of Margo Guryan, Broadcast, and The Cardigans, the songs will also charm anyone who loves a good hook and who appreciates a very classic sense of how pop should be constructed. On the basis of these singles that I caught up with, I think it's safe to say that Lia Pamina understands what a wonderful art form the great pop single can be. That she also knows how to make great pop singles is why she's a name to pay attention to.

More details on these releases from Lia Pamina via the Elefant Records website.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I Don't Mind: A Quick Word About The New EP From Native Sun

New York's Native Sun sound like about a dozen other bands but they also manage to bring a great deal of energy to this sort of thing. And, for that reason mainly, I'm here to offer a few words of praise about their new EP, Songs Born From Love And Hate, out Friday via Paper Cup Music.

Naturally, some of this looks to The Strokes for inspiration, namely opener "Sister" which sounds like a band trying very hard to sound like the bands that inspired The Strokes maybe more than The Strokes themselves. Elsewhere, the superb "I Don't Mind" roars past like The Hives or early Supergrass, all revved-up riffs and approximations of a bad attitude, while the melodic "Palindrome" brings a nice power-pop snap to things. Far less successful are the 2 longer songs on the EP which seem a tiny bit aimless but, hey, this is a very new band and there's more to like on Songs Born From Love And Hate than there are things to nitpick.

Songs Born From Love And Hate is out on Friday via Paper Cup Music. More details on Native Sun from the band's official Facebook page.