Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Damien Jurado - The Horizon Just Laughed (Secretly Canadian, 2018)

Damien Jurado
The Horizon Just Laughed
Secretly Canadian

Rating: 7.5 one-armed workout partners out of 10

The opening song “Allocate” off of this new Damien Jurado record sounds just like “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts.  This means “Summer Breeze” gets stuck in my head every time I listen to this record…as opposed to the rest of my life, when that song is just stuck in my head only most of the time.  I’m not complaining, for the record – everyone knows “Summer Breeze” is one of the greatest songs of all time by any measure. 

I’ve been thinking about this review for a few days now, and I’ve kinda been struggling on what to say about “The Horizon Just Laughed” - other than I like it a lot.  It finds Jurado in his usual mellow, pensive mood, but the songs have just-so-slightly shifted from folk to soft rock a lot of the time (he even ends up in full tropicalia on “Marvin Kaplan,” and “Dear Thomas Wolfe” sounds like Lambchop is backing him).  The first half of the album is especially strong, some of the best work he’s ever done.  It’s also helped that I’ve done all of my listening through headphones…outside of seeing him live in a church-like setting (which I’ve managed a couple of times), it might be the only proper way to ingest his music.  I always like the man’s output, but it’s when I get to really sit with the music with limited distractions my feelings bump up from like to love.  I suppose this is typically true with the quieter artists, but the point remains. 

Damien Jurado has been around a long time, doing more or less the same thing.  It would be easy to ignore the work he’s doing – there are certainly records of his I haven’t done due diligence on – but give this one a chance.  It really pays off if you let it sit with you.

Oh, and go listen to his song ”Ohio” from a number of years ago – it’s only one of the best songs ever written. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop, 2018)

Courtney Barnett
Tell Me How You Really Feel
Mom + Pop

Rating: 7.5 stale chocolate pies out of 10

No jinx here, Courtney Barnett has followed up her excellent solo debut “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit” with an equally good sophomore response.  This makes me happy for a number of reasons:

1.     It’s nice to finally be high on the new record of an artist I haven’t been listening to for half my life or longer - which has been the case so far in 2018.  Superchunk, Hot Snakes, and the Sea & Cake have made my favorite albums of the year (so far), and all combined I’ve been listening to these three bands for 67 years.  By contrast, I’ve only known Courtney Barnett for 2 or 3 (I got into her first record a little late). 

2.     I’m glad to enjoy music by someone I would call a “popular” artist.  I mean, she’s not Beyonce popular, but she definitely has a certain cache – she’s been on Austin City Limits, Saturday Night Live, and a bunch of late night shows.  I’m often befuddled at what people see in acts that reach this level of cultural relevance, but not so with Barnett – the catchy, effortless songs she writes have a way of worming their way into your head.  There are a few others like Future Islands, War On Drugs, and Wilco that I love that have also reached this same level of success, but just like the bands mentioned in the first bullet point, I’ve been with those groups for a long time. 

3.     It’s always nice to find a new female artist I can really get behind.  I don’t mean that to be as sexist as it sounds, but ratio-wise there are just so many more male bands/performers out there, and I can be rather picky.  I’m more than aware of how much I listen to (mostly straight & white) dudes, but at the same time you can’t just make yourself like something for demographic reasons – you like the music or you don’t at the end of the day.  Luckily, digging Courtney Barnett comes real easy. 
The third through fifth songs (“Charity,” “Need A Little Time,” “Nameless, Faceless”) on this record are the strongest work Barnett has ever achieved IMO, and collectively cover all of the different styles you’d likely run into over the course of one of her records – the pop song, the slow song, and the rocker (in that order).  I keep going back and listening to this section over and over and over, it’s so goddamn good.  “Charity” in particular is a front-runner for one of my top songs of the year.    

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Häxxan - The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II (Slovenly, 2018)

The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II

Rating: 7 scheduled bathroom breaks out of 10

Based on the band name I expected Häxxan to be metal; based on the album name and cover art, I expected bedroom indie pop…so basically I had no idea what this was going to sound like.  I fixed this by, you know, listening to the album - and in reality it’s jangly, slightly sloppy  garage punk - from Israel!  I’m never surprised when a band from Canada or the UK or even Scandinavia sounds like something that a band that lives right down the road from me might make, but when the group is from halfway around the globe for some reason it seems much more impressive!  I know with the internet everything is as  local as you want it to be…get off my ass, if I find it interesting and intriguing so be it.  That said, ultimately all that matters is that the music is good; in this case, I’m definitely feeling it.  “Jeff Casanova” sounds so much like Jeff The Brotherhood it might as well be a cover song…or maybe, based on the song’s name, it’s intended as a love letter to the Tennessee duo.  Other songs like “Circle Of Quantum” and “Nothing Ever Changes” also come close to a JTB comparison, and that’s totally fine with me to be honest because JTB are great.  The rest of this record is a decent listen - poppy, quirky garage jams that sound like they’re from kids who grew up on Thee Oh Sees and Parquet Courts (or at least the same bands that influenced Thee Oh Sees and Parquet Courts). 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Sea And Cake - Any Day (Thrill Jockey, 2018)

The Sea And Cake
Any Day
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 8.5 expired boxes of fried chicken out of 10

In the least surprising news ever department, all of my favorite records so far in 2018 are by bands I’ve been listening to for two decades or more.  Is it because the new music sucks?  Maybe a little bit, but I’m sure that’s mostly just the crusty old dude inside of me talking.  Is it because all these groups I’ve loved forever are still going strong, putting out some of the best music of their careers?  This seems like the biggest reason for me…most of these groups used to break up after a short run of a few records, never to be heard from again.  Now they either stay together forever, or get back together for shits and giggles (and money) and remember how fun it was to play together in the first place. 

The Sea And Cake are one of those bands that have been going strong since the mid-nineties, though they’ve always worked (and toured) at their own pace.  It’s been six years since their previous album “Runner,” their longest break, but multiple years between releases is not unusual.  With “Any Day,” it seems like that long break might have reset the group back to their early years stylistically – the electronic/synth elements that had been infiltrating their songs over the past 10-15 years is almost totally gone, giving us an album that sounds like it could be the companion of 1995’s “The Biz,” my all-time favorite release (amid a large catalog of very strong output).  Between Sam Prekop’s breathy vocals and Archer Prewitt’s jazzy guitar lines, the group’s music is some of the most easily identifiable in the business…it rests like a warm blanket on an old nostalgic jackass like me.  “Cover The Mountain,” “Day Moon,” and “Circle” are as strong as anything they’ve written since the mid-nineties, and there isn’t a weak spot to be found anywhere on “Any Day.” 

I’m pretty jacked I get to see these old dudes live in a few days when they pass through town on tour – it’s not often you say this about a band with a catalog this long that you’ve been listening to for two decades, but I’m really excited to hear the Sea And Cake perform these new songs live.  If that’s not a testimony to the quality of the new material, I don’t know what is.    

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Leon Bridges - Good Thing (Columbia, 2018)

Leon Bridges
Good Thing

Rating: 6 terminated water intake systems out of 10

There is nothing wrong with this new album from Leon Bridges, “Good Thing” - it’s just not the Leon Bridges record I wanted.  His debut, “Coming Home,” was a nearly flawless throwback to the golden era of soul, the soul I grew up listening to and still love over all other music of its ilk.  It was an untouchable homage to the classic R&B sound of the sixties and seventies, and I listened to the shit out of it – more so than any soul record released in the last 30-40 years (or whenever those classic Sade releases came out).  Sadly, Mr. Bridges decided to go a more modern route this time - it’s still not really like what you hear on the radio these days, but much more in that ballpark than his first record.  “Good Thing” is more of a nineties Brand New Heavies/jazzy version of soul, and for what it is, it’s pretty damn good; it just isn’t what it was.  I obviously don’t begrudge the man, an artist grows and the fans don’t get to pick the direction, but you can certainly be disappointed in the results.   You still get some hints of his old sound in album opener “Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand” and “Mrs.”, which are just enough of a taste to remind you of what could have been, but isn’t. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Beach House - 7 (Sub Pop, 2018)

Beach House
Sub Pop
Rating: 6.5 altered page collations out of 10
I've never been a Beach House fan.  I've never hated them by any means either, they were just one of those perfectly tolerable bands playing perfectly tolerable music.  I always thought of them as a cut-rate Cocteau Twins for today's kids - which sounds dismissive on my part, but honestly there ain't nothing wrong with being compared to the Cocteau Twins because they are rad.  I saw Beach House live once at a local festival and between the low, blue lights and an immense amount of fog machine smoke, you might as well have been listening at home, because you couldn't see shit.  Much like their recordings, it didn't move the needle much for me. 
This new record of theirs, "7," is totally fine though.  This may be on me more than any change out of the band - I'm now spending my days sitting in a cubicle, and it's definitely possible that the best way to enjoy Beach House is through headphones.  If I wanted to get all scientific I'd go back and revisit their first six releases (that's why they named this one "7," get it?!?) and see if this office setting changes my mind on those as well...but I'm probably not going to do that.  Or hell, maybe it's not me at all and instead "7" is just an outstanding record that outshines it's predecessors, and I chose the exact right time to listen to Beach House again.

"Dive" is the stand-out track, and probably the most upbeat one on the record.  I like it best when they get upbeat.       

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Nest Egg - Nothingness Is Not A Curse (Fuzz Club, 2018)

Nest Egg
Nothingness Is Not A Curse
Fuzz Club

Rating: 7 spiral-bound carpets out of 10

Let me put it this way – I’m seeing Oneida in a few months, and Asheville’s Nest Egg is scheduled to open for them…I’ve got no issue with similar bands on the same bill, but this one is WAY on the nose.  If you walked into the club not already knowing which band was which, you’d probably be totally confused (pro tip: Nest Egg are the young dudes, Oneida are middle-aged dad types).  They do the whole psyche-krautrock thing – repetitive, driving, mesmerizing.  You could also compare to Wooden Shjips/Moon Duo if you were so inclined.  Nest Egg does a damn good job of it, similarity to other artists be damned…if you’re good at what you do and the songs you perform are a fun listen, I’ll ride with it regardless. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs (Merge, 2018)

Wye Oak
The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs

Rating: 8 sunk fishing boats out of 10

I’ve been listening to this new Wye Oak record for a couple of weeks now and I can’t think of anything noteworthy to say about it.  Not that “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” isn’t noteworthy itself - it’s really damn good and I’ve listened to it a lot, and will surely be one of my favorites of the year.  It’s just…it sounds pretty much just like the last couple of Wye Oak records, and the Flock Of Dimes record (Jenn Wasner’s solo project)…this doesn’t lead to that many fresh talking points to tackle.  I suppose I could prattle on about how I have a rock star crush on Jenn akin to the way most seventh grade girls feel about New Kids On The Block (that’s still a thing right?  Is it still 1989?), but nobody cares to hear about that.  This band has a sound and they’re sticking with it, and that is a-ok with me.  You should definitely go see Wye Oak live if you get a chance, they are a delight.  Buy this record.  Buy all the rest of their records while you’re at it.  And the Flock Of Dimes record.  And anything else Jenn Wasner has even the slightest hand or influence on. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guided By Voices - Ogre’s Trumpet (Guided By Voices, 2018)

Guided By Voices
Ogre’s Trumpet
Guided By Voices Inc

Rating: 7 bulletproof federales out of 10

As someone who has seen Guided By Voices many times, I can definitively say that “Ogre’s Trumpet” does a pretty damn good job of giving you a small glimpse into what seeing them perform live is all about.  At a little over an hour it’s way shorter than one of their shows…when I saw them a few months ago I left after two and a half hours, and the band was still going (I think their set list that night was in the neighborhood of 60 songs if not more).  The one big feature lacking here: the recording is very clean, likely straight from the soundboard with additional mastering, and you miss out on all the crowd singing/participation - something that would be annoying with almost every other band, but with GBV it almost works like an extra band member.  The track list is about one-third classics and two-thirds post-reunion tracks, which is a fair mirror to what you get in person - of course everyone always want more of the OG songs, but it’s not a bad ratio given the sheer size of the band’s song catalogue.     

Belle & Sebastian - How To Solve Our Human Problems (Matador, 2018)

Belle & Sebastian
How To Solve Our Human Problems
Rating: 6.5 rusty frying pans out of 10
1.    Technically the new Belle & Sebastian release “How To Solve Human Problems” is three EPs and not one single album, but I’m reviewing the whole lot at once because:
a.     I’m lazy. 
b.     I’m always going to listen to this as an entire single record, not three small ones. 
2.     There are a number of good songs here, but on the whole I’m not super enamored with this…hopefully it will grow on me.  You can’t win them all…I’ve consider myself a pretty big fan, but I’ve still barely listened to “Storytelling.” 
a.       For the record, those good songs include:
                                                               i.      We Were Beautiful
                                                             ii.      The Girl Doesn’t Get It
                                                            iii.      Everything IS Now (Part Two)
3.     It feels like this is the least Stuart Murdoch has ever sang on one of their releases.  Feels like a lot more lead vocals from the other band members…I love Stevie and the rest of them, but Stuart is the main draw here and let’s not lose sight of that. 
4.     Is this a much dancier record than in the past?  I may have said the same thing with 2014’s “The Party Line.”  Maybe it’s just the dancey songs that stand out and that’s why I feel that way.  Or maybe I’m an idiot.   
5.     My list-based OCD is forcing me to put a fifth entry even though I don’t have anything else to say. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

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

What A Time To Be Alive

Rating: 9.5 broken rakes out of 10

I’ve “reviewed” a lot of Superchunk releases, and by “review” I mean fanboy rambling from someone who has considered them one of his top three favorite bands for nearly thirty years (holy shit I’m old)...so don’t expect any earth-shattering insight here.  Guess what?  You'll never believe it, but it is my opinion that this record rules.  RULES!!!  Due to the current sad state of this country under the leadership of King Grab-Ass, Superchunk has come out with the most upbeat, angry/aggro record that they’ve released since their first couple of records in the early nineties.  Much to my delight, it also appears to be the most talked about record they’ve probably ever had - the critical praise is effusive, plentiful, and has come from nearly every media outlet of note.  I would suggest reading some of those for a more critical breakdown of what’s going on in “What A Time To Be Alive,” but the crib notes are: everything is fucked, it's time to burn the motherfucker down and let a better class of people (aka not old rich white people) try again.  There’s exactly one mellow track here, the closer “Black Thread” - everything else sounds like…well, I can already picture how sweaty drummer Jon Wurster is going to get playing these songs.  No stranger to having help from the occasional guest vocalist on their albums, this time they threw down the gauntlet and roped in five of them – Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog), Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee), Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields), David Bazan (Pedro The Lion), and Skylar Gudasz – can’t really blame them for wanting to be a part of such a great record, one that is going to be played in my car a lot all summer long.  Gonna be tough not driving fast listening to this one. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

6 String Drag - Top Of The World (Schoolkids, 2018)

6 String Drag
Top Of The World

Rating: 7 changed minds out of 10

I had somehow missed that our local record store chain here in the Triangle, Schoolkids, was now also a label, but here we have the latest 6 String Drag offering “Top Of The World” as proof.  Since they’re a local band and I at least moderately keep up with the scene I knew that they had reformed, but I’d be lying if I said I’d given them much thought since the late nineties when they were part of the alt-country scene that dominated Raleigh (Whiskeytown being the best known act of that era).  The thing is – despite the very country-sounding name, despite a smidge of twang in the guitar here and there…6 String Drag are a pop band.  “Adult pop” as I call it, very much in line with the likes of Elvis Costello or Big Star or Elvis Costello or Pernice Brothers or…I mean, this record really, really, REALLY sounds a lot like Elvis Costello.   Guess what, you know what is an awesome compliment for any artist?  You sound like fuckin’ Elvis Costello!  Of course I say all that and the best song here, “Small Town Punks,” sounds the least like Costello – an organ driven bar rocker that’s probably a hoot live.  “Every Time She Walks On By” might as well be from Costello’s “This  Year’s Model” though.   This is a quality pop record that hopefully folks give a listen and don’t just write off as post-reunion garbage (like so much post-reunion music is, unfortunately). 

Bonus points for using the locally infamous Dorton Arena in their cover art...the first structure in the world to have a cable-supported roof!  It looks like a space ship!  I saw Superchunk there once!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Shannon & The Clams - Onion (Easy Eye Sound, 2018)

Shannon & The Clams
Easy Eye Sound

Rating: 6 greasy mouths out of 10

This latest record by Shannon & The Clams – “Onion” – is pretty good…quality musicianship, original but immediately familiar in a retro-throwback way, and Shannon Shaw has one hell of a voice, on par with about any singer currently operating in any genre of music (and Cody Blanchard has a damn fine voice himself).  More importantly, the album opener “The Boy” could possibly be the best song of the year.  All of this leads me to the following question: are my lukewarm feelings about the rest of the record after that first song because “The Boy” sets an impossibly high standard, or would I have been non-plussed about this material regardless to how it kicks off?  I’m pretty sure I don’t have an answer to this question, nor is it even answerable.  I may just have to come back and re-visit the rest of the record at a later date when the shiny newness of "The Boy" has worn off.  The band made an actual official video for the song, so they must think it’s pretty special too – you can view that here

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Hot Snakes - Jericho Sirens (Sub Pop, 2018)

Hot Snakes
Jericho Sirens
Sub Pop

Rating: Perfection.

You could say I was pretty excited when Hot Snakes announced they were getting back together.  Excited enough to plan a trip to other side of the country just to see them perform.  At that show they played nothing but their old material - almost all of it actually – because that’s what the people want out of a reunion, right?  Now that I’ve listened to “Jericho Sirens” multiple times, I can say, unequivocally, they could have easily added any or all of this new record into the set list that night and no one would have batted an eye or been angry about having to hearing their "new shit."  This entire new album sounds so much like their first three releases that if you didn’t know better, you could easily assume it was just something they had in the can from years ago that they just got around to releasing now.  Listen, when you’ve got a sound that is this goddamned good and special and perfect, why fuck with it? 

I’m trying to imagine a scenario where this isn’t my favorite record of the year, but I can’t picture it right now.  If by some impossible scenario anything else gets released that tops "Jericho Sirens," well I guess that will make us all winners in this game of life. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Yo La Tengo - There’s A Riot Going On (Matador, 2018)

Yo La Tengo
There’s A Riot Going On

Rating: 1000 tasty hoagies from Hoagie Haven in Princeton, NJ

I’m a bald, overweight, white dude in his forties that’s listened to “indie rock” for pretty much his entire life…do you think there is a chance in hell I don’t love this new Yo La Tengo record, “There’s A Riot Going On”?  Or any new Yo La Tengo record?  Or anything with which Yo La Tengo is in any way affiliated?   Hell, it might even technically be illegal for someone with my particular demographic makeup to dislike them, but I’ll need to consult the “WFMU Rules & Regulations” handbook to be sure though. 

I'm sure there are already a shitload of smart reviews written by brainy people (likely also bald, middle-aged, and white) on why this record is great, and I ain’t trying to compete with them.  I’ll just say this is quite good, as if that wasn't already clear - it’s on the mellower/more atmospheric side of their sound more often than not.  I prefer their poppier fare, but this is still totally enjoyable.  Most importantly, this is the ideal time to re-post this gem from the Onion, as it’s one of the best things they’ve ever written. 

And as I’ve likely said before in every other equally un-enlightening blurb I’ve ever written about this trio, if you’re totally unfamiliar with the work of Yo La Tengo, just snag a copy of their 1997 album  “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One” and go from there.  That record perfectly encapsulates what is so good about them in one tidy package.