Monday, July 9, 2018

Howard Ivans - Red Face Boy 7'' (Spacebomb, 2013)

Howard Ivans
Red Face Boy 7''

Rating: 7.5 loved things out of 10

Howard Ivans = Ivan Howard, best known as the singer of the Rosebuds.  So as not to repeat myself (aka I'm lazy), see my live review from last year here if you need further information about what this is.  

This single actually predates the last record from the Rosebuds "Sand + Silence" (I don't think they ever officially broke up, but I would be shocked if they were ever a band again), but it falls right in line with his solo full-length from last year "Beautiful Tired Bodies."  Both tracks - "Red Faced Boy" and "Pillows" - sound like modern takes on seventies-era Chicago.  Given that the Spacebomb collective not only released this seven inch but also served as the backing band for this recording session, it totally makes sense it would sound like Chicago.  Ivan has a perfect voice to compliment this style of funky soul instrumentation, and to nobody's surprise both tracks work quite well.  

Morrissey - This Is Morrissey (Parlophone, 2018)

This Is Morrissey

Rating: <insert gif of a confused child shrugging their shoulders>

In the grand tradition of the classic Morrissey cash-grab , I present to you “This Is Morrissey.”  No one loves continually releasing and re-releasing his own music as much as he does, and I guess why not if people keep buying it?  I’m never entirely sure how to rate this things – if it’s purely on music, it’s a 10 out of 10.  A ton of his very best songs are here, including a remastered version of what might be my favorite track of his, “Speedway” (it’s at least top three with “Sing Your Life” and “Boyracer”).  If instead you rate the release for its necessity to exist, the number drops to almost zero.  Maybe the biggest issue is I have no idea what the theme is – there are some of his biggest hits like “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “The Last of the Famous International Playboys”; obscure cuts like a live cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” (really good, and probably the best argument for actually buying this) and a remix of “Suedehead” (one of the worst things I’ve ever heard); plus run-of-the-mill (but perfectly fine) album tracks like “Have-A-Go Merchant” and “Whatever Happens I Love You.”  It’s too pedestrian for the super fans, and has too strange a tracklist to be recommended to someone new to the curmudgeonly crooner.  Plus the track order is beyond bizarre – who puts “Everyday Is Like Sunday” as the last song on anything?  Honestly, I think the compilation might have been created by just loading every Morrissey song into iTunes, putting it on shuffle, and then taking the first random 12 songs and calling it a new release.  Good job by all!

Friday, July 6, 2018

American Aquarium - Things Change (New West, 2018)

American Aquarium
Things Change
New West

Rating: 7 flooring modules out of 10

“Things Change,” indeed – American Aquarium is back with their seventh full-length, and an entirely new line-up short of frontman BJ Barham.  He might cycle through band members as often as the Fall’s Mark E. Smith did, but like Smith it’s Barham’s voice and vision that makes the band tick anyways…things change, but things also stay the same. 

If I didn’t know the backstory, I’m not sure I would even notice the change – the last set of dudes were damn good musicians, and it these new cats seem just as good.  What does seem to improve album after album is Barham’s songwriting – I’m almost always a “their earlier material was better” sort of person, but AA seem to up themselves with each successive release.  I can say definitively that the second song “Crooked+Straight” is the best thing they’ve ever released, or at least my favorite – it sounds like Bruce Springsteen meets Drive-By Truckers in the best possible way.  The lead slide work on the Tom Petty-referencing “When We Were Younger Men” will worm into your head and sit there for days.  “I Gave Up The Drinking (Before She Gave Up On Me)” sounds like the type of seventies outlaw country (complete with organ and wah guitar) with which Merle or Waylon would be proud to be associated.

Can American Aquarium continue this upward trajectory with each successive release?  Is it possible the band will eventually cycle through every active musician in the known universe?  Can anything be done to get that slide guitar line out of my head?  I guess we'll find out next time around.   

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Jeff The Brotherhood - Whatever I Want 7'' (Third Man, 2011)

Jeff the Brotherhood
Whatever I Want 7''
Third Man

Rating: 7 unreleased boys out of 10

I'm always down for a couple of tasty Jeff The Brotherhood songs, and these please the palate.  The title track is one of the classic "stoner rock" type jams, and would later be found on their 2015 record "Global Chakra Rhythms."  This version actually features Jack White playing the organ part, not that you can tell that from listening...just a fun fact for your next White Stripes trivia night.  The b-side is "Everything I Need" by a German band I'd never heard of called Tiger B. Smith...I really dig it and will be digging up their albums from less reputable sources online pronto. 

The Mary Onettes - Cola Falls EP (Cascine, 2018)

The Mary Onettes
Cola Falls EP

Rating: 9 lucky fat horns out of 10

I’m calling “Cola Falls” from the Mary Onettes an EP, but that’s only because I have no idea what to call a digital only single with two songs (three if you count the instrumental version of the title track, which is still damn great).  It is a step up from their previous two releases “Ruins” and “Juna,” which were only a single song each.  Listen goddammit, this band put out one of my favorite records of the past decade with 2013’s “Hit The Waves,” and I really really REALLY need them to get busy in the studio.  Isn’t Sweden covered in a ten-foot thick solid sheet of ice 3/4ths of the year?  What the hell else do they have to do with their time in their beautiful socialist utopia full of gorgeous blond women that I am in no way super jealous of?

My dumb nonsense aside, anyone who holds “Hit The Waves” in the same esteem I do will be ecstatic at the two songs here, "Cola Falls" and “Wait Out A Ghost.”  Their dreamy/synthy/breezy pop sounds like a convertible ride along the coast on a beautiful summer day, and shockingly are as good as anything they've ever released.  If they can put out a new full-length even close to as good as this release, it will be my favorite album of whatever year it comes out.  That this band isn’t gargantuanly popular continues to be totally dumbfounding.  Also: my kingdom for a live show!  

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Finger - Ship Full Of Holes 7'' (Jettison, 1992)

Ship Full Of Holes 7''

Rating: 6 chaste firetrucks out of 10

This Finger slab is one of those rare instances where the b-side is much better than the actual single.  Finger were active in the Raleigh in the early nineties, notable for being the first(?) band of local legend John Howie (Two Dollar Pistols, tons of solo work, and playing with Sarah Shook these days).  The title track is nothing special: sludgy, mid-tempo "alternative" rock that would have fit in fine on the "Singles" soundtrack.  The real treat is side b, where they do a fun cover of "All This And More" by the Dead Boys, a song I'm happy to hear no matter who plays it.  If you were to happen across it, it's worth a listen just for that cover. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Chromatics - Arms Slither Away 7'' (K, 2002)

Arms Slither Away 7''

Rating: 5.5 appetizing grease fires out of 10

This might technically be the glossy, coke-hazed, electro-pop group Chromatics, but outside of the name you'd never guess it.  Instead, you've got a noisy indie rock band who clearly hadn't discovered or couldn't afford synthesizers yet.  Neither the title track or the b-side "Skill Fall" are bad, they're just not what you're expecting if you came in only knowing their modern incarnation, nor are the songs good enough to overcome those expectations.  This will eventually get filed away into my seven inch bins, and then at some point in the future I'll forget what it is, pull it out expecting catchy electro-pop, and go through this all over again. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive (Acoustic) 7'' (Merge, 2018)

What A Time To Be Alive (Acoustic) 7''

Rating: Yes.  Softly.  

Superchunk loves to release a new seven inch on Record Store Day, and this year it's a pair of acoustic versions of tracks from their latest record "What A Time To Be Alive."  It's on clear vinyl and "limited" to 1500, which doesn't seem all that limited to me, but whatever.  Other than the title track they also perform my favorite song from that record, "Erasure," minus the Stephin Merritt backing vocals but apparently still with the Katie Crutchfield ones (I guess she had more time to stick around the recording studio).  If you're a fan of their new record or the band in general this is kind of a no brainer, obviously it's great. 

Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends / Quivers - Split 7'' (Seismic Wave Entertainment, 2018)

Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends / Quivers
Split 7''
Seismic Wave Entertainment

Rating: 7 beautiful ballerinas out of 10

This is a double dose of friend rock for me - both bands feature dudes I've known for nearly two decades now (it makes me feel really old to say that).  Don't hold that against them though - this is still a damn fine pair of catchy songs worth lending your ear to.  

This is actually the second entry in series (out of four so far) where Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends release a split seven inch with them on the a-side and a different band on the flip.  Their track "Hate Secretary"is guitar rock, very catchy and melodic.  A lot of what Conan did in the past (specifically Replicator) would get compared to Shellac, but this material is closer to Foo Fighters-esque heavy alternative than anything to which Steve Albini would lend an aluminum guitar.  It's very sing-along-able.  That's a word right?

The b-side "Master Of Dirt" is from Quivers, a San Francisco band full of dudes from other bands - most notably a couple of cats from Charmless, and my pal Colin from Ex-Boyfriends (and a bunch of other bands).  To no surprise if you've listened to any of those groups this is very Superchunk influenced, and I'm not just saying that because I know Colin loves them almost as much as I do.  Colin has always had an ear for hooks.

Both of these songs would fit in great on any indie rock comp from the mid-to-late nineties.  Given these guys are basically as old as me or not far off, that's not really surprising. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tracyanne & Danny - Tracyanne & Danny (Merge, 2018)

Tracyanne & Danny
Tracyanne & Danny

Rating: 8 focused camels out of 10

I truly can’t imagine anyone having anything bad to say about this Tracyanne & Danny record…it’s the musical equivalent of purring cat in your lap on a cozy Sunday afternoon.  Tracyanne is the golden-voiced Tracyanne Campbell of twee pop superstars Camera Obscura, a group whose future has been in limbo since the tragic death of keyboardist Carey Lander – wherein we must note, as if it needs to be said, fuck cancer.  I’ve been a Camera Obscura fan since they came on the scene in the early 2000s, and I would probably buy a record of Tracyanne singing CSPAN transcripts, so my love of this was pretty close to certain.  The only wildcard was the other half of the duo, Danny Coughlan of Crybaby, a band/performer I knew not a single damn thing about.  Tracyanne still dominates the vocals (or at least it feels that way), but Danny adds a nice counter-balance with his deep, smooth tones; he also knows his range, and doesn’t try to do too much thinking he can musically keep up with her.  Honestly, this isn’t terribly different from the sixties twee vibes  of Camera Obscura in their later years…just with more male vocals really.  If you’re a sensitive person at all, good luck not tearing up a little bit listening to the country-tinged “Alabama,” their tribute to Lander…I’m not even a lyric person usually, but this one really hits me right in the feels.  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

David Bowie ‎– Welcome To The Blackout (Live London '78) (Parlophone, 2018)

David Bowie
Welcome To The Blackout (Live London '78)

Rating:  It's fuckin' Bowie.

This review will be brief, because there is absolutely no reason to review the actual music...again, it's fuckin' David Bowie.  What I am here to note is how good the sound quality is - this is in the upper echelon of clean, well-mixed live recordings I've ever heard.  This is always a huge issue with live albums, so I just wanted to put that out there for those on the fence or wondering if they should drop the cash for this triple disc Record Store Day "exclusive" (I can't find an actual number of these pressed, but my guess is it's not actually that exclusive because they would be really stupid to limit this one, or not do a second pressing).  

Side note: this was recorded later in the same 1978 tour that another famous Bowie live album, "Stage," was recorded.  Why release two live records from the same tour?  When it sounds this good, why not.  If money is no object, pick up "Welcome To The Blackout" - though you can usually grab "Stage" for a sawbuck so just get both...because it's fuckin' Bowie.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The New Pornographers - High Ticket Attractions 7'' (Concord, 2017)

The New Pornographers
High Ticket Attractions 7''

Rating: 7 fancy door cyborgs out of 10

Another promo seven inch I snagged on the cheap, this one promoting the 2017 album from the New Pornographers, "Whiteout Conditions."  The A-side is the perfectly cromulent "High Ticket Attractions," which sounds exactly like a New Pornographers song should - shiny, poppy, bright, full, other adjectives.  I suppose the B-side is what makes this promo a keeper - a non-album track, specifically a cover of the Jigsaw song "Sky High."  Leave it to a pack of Canadians to cover Jigsaw of all bands. 

Las Rosas - Tax Man 7'' (Greenway, 2018)

Las Rosas
Tax Man 7''

Rating: 6 pneumonia games out of 10

Grabbed this one-sided flexi seven inch off a free table at a local record store, it would appear Las Rosas (or their label Greenway) released it as a Record Store Day giveaway to promote their new full-length "Shadow By Your Side."  Nothing special but certainly worth the price - based on this one song they sorta have a clean garage rock vibe, maybe a little too over-produced for my tastes, but not bad.  I'd like to hear the full record to form a final opinion though. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Matador, 2018)

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
Sparkle Hard

Rating: 7 dried-out highlighters out of 10

It’s still completely lost on me what the difference is between Stephen Malkmus versus Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks, but this new record “Sparkle Hard” is the latter.  It’s very Jicky obviously!  Regardless of title, with Stephen’s voice and song-writing style it’s always going to sound like an extension of Pavement.  A pig is still just a bacon machine even if it wears a dress and dates a frog.  After a few years paying only middling attention, I really got into 2014’s “Wig Out At Jagbags,” and was subsequently quite looking forward to this one.  In three words: I’m digging it.  Does “I’m” count as only one word?  Anyways, while still operating in the well-established pocket he has created for himself these past few decades, “Sparkle Hard” feels…mellower, more mature even?  In this case ”mature” really just means there are some strings and not as many guitar solos and one song sounds a little country (that song is “Refute,” but it’s not as country as Pavement’s “Range Life”).  There are more keys/synths here than I remember him employing in the past, but that could be more my faulty memory than an actual stylistic change. 

I’m trying to imagine a Malkmus fan seeking out & reading this (or any) other review of “Sparkle Hard,” his eighth solo record after five Pavement releases, and trying to decide whether or not they might give this new release a chance…I can’t imagine this person exists.  These people already know how you feel about this man and his art.  If you’re not a fan, this ain’t changing your mind – he’s as Malkmus-y as ever.  And if you have no idea who he is, maybe you’re super young or you just woke from a nearly thirty year coma – just go buy “Slanted & Enchanted” and branch out from there.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Nocturnal Projections - Complete Studio Recordings (Dais, 2018)

Nocturnal Projections
Complete Studio Recordings

Rating: 8 big brother fiddles out of 10

Happening upon the “Complete Studio Recordings” by Nocturnal Projections has been one of the best random finds I’ve had in quite some time.  Sitting in my cubicle every day I listen to a lot of music in my search of anything good – some is garbage, most is forgettable mediocrity, but it’s all worth it when you find a gem like this.  I liked it so much that after listening to three songs or so I went online and immediately ordered the vinyl from Dais, not wanting to chance missing out on this terrific slice of vintage post-punk.  What I know here could fit in a thimble, and available at the label website in a little more detail – the band is from New Zealand, existing just a couple of years in the early eighties.   The group make-up is a pair of brothers and a couple of their friends, they record a few singles that never really made it off the island, played some gigs locally, and that was it.  Some of the members went on to be in other influential NZ groups such as This Kind Of Punishment and the Cakekitchen.  The result are goddamn spectacular: the Joy Division/Wire comparison is undeniable, but this band was a little poppier and had a much more consistently driving sound than those British contemporaries.  The second song “Isn’t That Strange” is worth the price of admission alone, but the whole damn release is gold from start to finish 36 minutes later.  Dais also released a live/rarities comp called “Inmates In Images” that I’m dying to hear as well.   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.