Monday, February 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

Make Way For Love is out today via Dead Oceans.

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

[Photo: Steve Gullick]

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

More details on Pete Astor via his official website.

[Photo: Suzanne Ballhausen]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Lissa Gotwals]

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from band]

Thursday, February 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp picture]

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

Onomatopoeia is out on Dell'Orso on Friday.

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited]

Monday, February 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from label]

Sunday, February 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Uncredited band photo from label]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: Daniel Topete]