Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ex Hex - It’s Real (Merge, 2019)

Ex Hex
It’s Real

Rating: 9 boxy yellow birds out of 10

Did you fall in love with the last Ex Hex record, “Rips,” like I did?  If your answer is “yes” - congratulations, allow me to introduce you to their sophomore follow-up “It’s Real,” one of the very best albums of 2019; that descriptor will be holding strong no matter how many other quality releases come out this year.  If your answer is “no” – I quite literally want nothing to do with you, please go away, you make me sad.  “It’s Real” feels so much like a continuation of “Rips” that I’d completely believe both were recorded during the same session, and I mean that as the highest compliment – when you have a sound so dialed in and perfect right from the start, why fuck with a good thing?  My review of “Rips” was downright middling compared to how much I would go on to listen to (and love) that debut; because of that I came into this one with guns blazing and expectations astronomical, and gladly, I’ve not been left wanting.  Betsy Wright handles lead vocals on a few tracks, including my favorite of the record “Rainbow Shiner,” a song that would have fit in great with her excellent side project Bat Fangs (think a slightly glammier Ex Hex if you’ve never heard them); Mary Timony is in the lead for most of the album though, and her best track “Diamond Drive” is nearly as good.  In fact, it should come as no surprise given my effusive praise and the high rating above that literally every song on “It’s Real” is great, and I truly can’t wait to listen to this over and over and over.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Polvo - Vibracobra 7'' (Rockville, 1991)

Vibracobra 7''

Rating: 1 billion million out of 10


I'm so stoked I finally found a copy of this.  

No review is ever necessary for Polvo.  It's perfect.  The end. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Superchunk - Our Work Is Done 7'' (Merge, 2018)

Our Work Is Done 7''

Rating: 9 dancing zephyrs out of 10

Superchunk has been pumping out so many great singles the last few years it's about time for a fourth singles comp so I can listen to these things in an efficient fashion.  The title track is very catchy, and features Fucked Up singer Damian Abraham on guest vocals during the chorus.  His voice is so gruff it kinda doesn't fit in the composition, but I still like it and I'm not sure if this is in spite of or because of Abraham's contribution.  The b-side, "Total Eclipse," is a cover of a Klaus Nomi song from his 1981 self-titled record.  The cover sounds nothing like the original electro dance pop classic outside of the same basic song structure - 'Chunk definitely make it their own.  Will be interesting to see if they ever play it live - despite their love of covers, the only one they seem to regularly include in their set is "100,000 fireflies" by Magnetic Fields.    

Unwound - Corpse Pose 7'' (Kill Rock Stars, 1996)

Corpse Pose 7''
Kill Rock Stars

Rating: 8.5 big bold boys out of 10

A classic band with a classic seven inch featuring a classic song.  Classic!  One of my great regrets was only getting to see Unwound live once (circa their last album "Leaves Turn Inside You," an amazing fucking show), but as a consolation I've listened to "Repetition" four billion times so I've got that going for me.  The a-side here, "Corpse Pose," can also be found on that record.  The flip is a track called "Everything Is Weird," a song unique only to this release* that sounds like Unwound covering Sonic Youth.  Yeah, Unwound often sounds like Sonic Youth, but this track is extra Sonic Youth-y.  It goes without saying you should pick this one up if you ever get a chance, and just listen to more Unwound in general.

*That is until the 2014 Numero Group comp "No Energy," which compiled all of these b-sides into one place.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Twilight Sad - It Won/t Be Like This All The Time (Rock Action, 2019)

The Twilight Sad
It Won/t Be Like This All The Time
Rock Action

Rating: 8 sticky green tabs out of 10

I’ve legitimately been meaning to or actively trying to write about this newest Twilight Sad album “It Won/t Be Like This All The Time” for two months now, and I’ve gotten nowhere.  What’s worse, I have no idea why – it’s a very good record but it’s not like it’s some transcendent piece of art that defies words.  It’s probably my favorite release by the Scottish band since their debut full-length “Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters,” and may well be one of my favorites at the end of 2019, but ultimately it’s only slightly better than the bulk of their consistently great catalogue.  There is decidedly more keyboards/electronics here than you typically get on one of their releases – it often verges into “Disintegration” era Cure* territory, with the most obvious difference being singer James Graham’s insanely thick Scottish accent (which has never stopped being one of the most delightful aspects of this band, FYI).  I think of the Twilight Sad as being a fairly morose/downer band, but there is a tinge of brightness to the songs of “It Won/t Be Like This All The Time” that almost push it into the vibe of a spring/summer record instead of something that sounds like the soundtrack to being hunkered down under blankets in a blizzard. 

*I read after writing the bulk of this review that the Cure’s Robert Smith actually had a hand in helping the Twilight Sad make this record, so duh.  Also, I listen to a shitload of the Cure so there is no wonder I made this connection, even if subconsciously.  More bands should probably get Robert Smith into the studio, because the world would be a better place if more bands sounded like the Cure. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Flat Worms - Into The Iris EP (God?, 2019)

Flat Worms
Into The Iris EP

Rating: 8 Morgan Freeman poetry readings out of 10

Flat Worms are old-fashioned jittery punk/post-punk in the vein of Wipers, A-Frames, the Intelligence…you know, that Pacific Northwest shit.  Yeah, these guys are from LA, but let’s just call it “close enough” mostly because holy shit this is fucking great.  I hear some Fugazi in here too, particularly in the rhythm section – many of the songs have these very deliberate, bold bass lines that really stand out more than you typically hear in the punk world (this is particularly evident in the track “At The Citadel”).  I suppose one of the big selling points to get the kids through the door is that Flat Worms feature current/past members of the Oh Sees and Ty Segall’s band, but for my money I’d rather listen to “Into The Iris” than anything those two acts have ever put out.  All of the songs here feel so tense and tightly wound, like a pack of puppies in a carrier about to be let out in a large yard.  The title track “Into The Iris” is a top contender for best song of the year, or at least best song of the first quarter of 2019.  I now need to go back and spend some time with their self-titled full-length from 2017, because I need way more Flat Worms in my life.   

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Magic Kids - Hey Boy 7'' (Goner, 2009)

Magic Kids
Hey Boy 7''

Rating: 7 special leather harnesses out of 10

The short-lived Magic Kids were a real throwback to the Elephant 6 days of the mid-nineties where every band was trying to do their own imperfect spin on recreating the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds."  (It's all in the sleigh bells, folks.)  Side A, "Hey Boy," kicks off with a chorus before turning into a song catchy enough to almost be a deep cut on a Brian Wilson rarities collection (that's a compliment, for the record).  The B side, "Good To Be," is such a slight wisp of a song song it barely exists - it's mostly just them saying "it's so good to be" over and over.  I always thought this band should have been more popular, and maybe they would have been if they had recorded more than one record (oh yeah, both of these tracks are also available on the only full-length, titled "Memphis").     

Friday, February 22, 2019

Herman Dune - I Wish That I Could See You Soon 7'' (Source Etc, 2007)

Herman Dune
I Wish That I Could See You Soon 7''Source Etc

Rating: 6.5 junebug casseroles out of 10

It never struck me before how much Herman Dune sounds like Jonathan Richman.  This is such an egregious oversight on my part it has me questioning everything and anything I've ever thought about music.  I was well aware of the title track "I Wish That I Could See You Soon" when this was released and I quite liked it - I probably put the song on a number of different mixes around 2007.  It's damn catchy, it has horns, and I love the backing vocals.  In a move I've never seen before, that track is followed by a cover of the same song by someone named Lisa Li-Lund.  This version does nothing for me - it sounds as thin and as cheap as the Casio that appears to responsible for the music that backs it.  The flip side, "Song Of Samuel," is back to another Herman Dune song that is fully on the Jonathan Richman sound-alike train, only this is the b-side for reason because it definitely doesn't measure up to the title track.  Not terrible mind you, know.  It's there.  

Also, the record is on clear green wax, which looks fantastic, if you care about such things. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Pedro The Lion – Phoenix (Polyvinyl, 2019)

Pedro The Lion

Rating: 7 copies of North vs. South out of 10

15 years ago David Bazan released his last Pedro The Lion record “Achilles Heel,” but the band* has thankfully returned to the pocket and delivered “Phoenix**.”  This record is an instant return*** to the form of his material fifteen plus years ago, an enjoyable***** and very familiar listen.  “Clean Up” is one of the most upbeat tracks the man has ever released, it could almost be a radio hit******.  The world is a better place******** with Pedro The Lion back on the scene, Bazan’s direct, Eeyore-esque take on modern life will always have a place in my heart*********.     

* I’m not sure there is a fan alive who thinks Pedro The Lion is a band and not just David Bazan.

** Yes, Pedro The Lion has risen from the ashes or some such shit, we all get it. 

*** Are we supposed to pretend he hasn’t released at least six “solo” records**** since the last PTL offering, all of which more or less sound exactly like PTL since it’s the same dude writing and recording all of this?

**** Most of these records were great, just so it’s clear I’m not being bitchy here – I particularly liked the electronic-pop angle has last couple of solo releases leaned heavily on. 

***** Obviously, enjoyable is a relative term when talking about anything Bazan releases, given the often morose nature of his songs, but the point stands.

****** Not current pop radio mind you, college radio*******. 

******* Does college radio even have hits?  What the fuck am I talking about?

******** The world doesn’t give a shit.  My nostalgia pleasure centers, on the other hand, are happy. 

********* This is a ridiculous way to write a review. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Emma Ruth Rundle - On Dark Horses (Sargent House, 2018)

Emma Ruth Rundle
On Dark Horses
Sargent House

Rating: 8.5 intentionally calm enemies out of 10

There is still value to be gained from reading the myriad “best of <insert year>” lists that dominate the internet in December – sure, most of them are all pimping the same handful buzz-approved (mostly mainstream pop & hip hop) acts that you can easily ignore if you want, but occasionally a gem you’ve never heard of slips through.  That was the case with Emma Ruth Rundle and her fourth record “On Dark Horses” - the cat over at Swan Fungus put them high on his list, included an mp3 (yes, I still download and listen to those), and I was sold.  He posts a lot of metal and noise/experimental music that I rarely dig, but he hits me with something out of the blue often enough that I keep checking back, and this hit was a grand slam.  God knows I love a comparison, but I’m struggling with this one; the best touchstone I have is Bellafea, Heather McEntire’s pre-Mount Moriah band, a band that is barely known outside of the Triangle (and given how long ago they ended, only known in the Triangle amongst old folks like myself).  And the more I think about it, it’s really just the voices of Heather and Emma that make the connection in my head. 

So with no direct comparison available, “On Dark Horses” might be best described as dark folk-pop that at all times sounds like it might turn into metal, but never does.  It‘s dark and gloomy and minor-key’d and feels like a walk on a chilly, overcast day where it’s threatening to start raining at any minute, but you’re walking fast hoping to get to your destination before the clouds open up.  It’s fucking brilliant and would have easily finished high on my best of 2018 list had I heard it in that calendar year, I’ve been listening to it non-stop for the last month.  The pseudo-title track “Darkhorse” is the gold standard of the album, but there isn’t anything close to a weak link from start to finish.  The felt real goddamn smart thinking this has an almost-metal vibe when I learned just recently that Emma also plays in Red Sparowes, the (probably defunct?) post-metal act that were hot shit in my circle back in the mid-oughts.  I liked Red Sparowes, but this solo work of hers blows them out of the water.  Best of all, learning about a new artist on their fourth record means I have so much more new Emma Ruth Rundle music to discover! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Drunk Horse - Bambi 7'' (Wantage USA, 2001)

Drunk Horse
Bambi 7''
Wantage USA
2001 (I think...)

Rating: 7 lost daughters out of 10

Drunk Horse were local stalwarts back when I lived in the Bay Area - I was never a super fan, but it was impossible not to see a bill with them on it at some point.  This seven inch is a pair of Prince covers, though I didn't realize it until I heard "Bambi."  With the catchy guitar line that dominates the chorus, it doesn't sound all that different from the original - a little rougher around the edges, scuzzier I suppose.  The other side is "Dirty Mind," a real boogie rock jammer with synthy bursts (I don't ever remember any synths in their live show, but it's been a long damn time...), like ZZ Top combined with the Cars.  The record is marbled purple and the sleeve is screen-printed, real nice looking package - outside of the fact that the labels have been put on the wrong sides. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Skull Cult - New Mutilator EP (Self-Released, 2018)

Skull Cult
New Mutilator EP

Rating: 8 hearing aids for lions out of 10

I didn’t know a single damn thing about Skull Cult going into this, just one of the many punk and punk-adjacent releases I often download from the glorious giving basket that is the internet.  I still don’t know a ton, they don’t hold a huge web presence – they’re a scuzzy synth-punk band from Bloomington, Indiana, they’re allergic to long songs, and the keyboards they’re using sound chintzy as hell.  Also, this entire EP is super catchy and rules.  RULES!  Male and female vocals, very distorted – it’s like if the Booji Boys sounded more like Devo (yes, Skull Cult sounds way more Devo than the band named after a Devo character).  This whole five song EP ends before the clock reaches ten minutes – it opens with a scorcher called “Braindead” that sounds like a modern KBD classic, and ends with a (not particularly faithful) cover of the Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer” called “Cyco Killer.”  As near as I can tell this is web only, at least for now – but I really hope this gets a proper physical release because I would love to own it.  Listen goddammit, I’m old and I like a physical manifestation of my musical tastes!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Terry & Louie - A Thousand Guitars (Bachelor, 2018)

Terry & Louie
A Thousand Guitars

Rating: 7 mauled bullies out of 10

If you didn’t know Terry & Louie (aka Terry Six and King Louie Bankston) were from the late, great Exploding Hearts before listening to “A Thousand Guitars,” you certainly knew about five seconds into the first song “Rebel Ways.”  Obviously I’m assuming you know who the Exploding Hearts are; if you don’t, stop reading this now and search out their one and only record “Guitar Romantic,” probably the best punk/glam-tinged power pop record of the last quarter decade, and one of my favorite things ever.  One of the biggest musical regrets of my entire life is skipping their show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco the night before the tragic crash that took three of their members. 

After quite a few years apart, Terry & Louie decided to get back together and do their best to recreate the magic of their old band, at least on a few songs.  Stylistically “A Thousand Guitars” is kinda all over the place, but it still works for me.  The title track sounds like a Cheap Trick outtake, they churn out a bluesy rocker with “(I’ve Got The) Highway To Take,” go back to nearly the doo-wop years on “Pink Razor Blade” – it’s almost a rock music revue from 1960 to present.  Undoubtedly the high points are always going to be the tracks that sound the most like their former group – “It’s All Mine” sounds like an Exploding Hearts song that just accidentally got left off of their album, and “(I’m) Looking for a Heart” is in the same ballpark. 

Now if only a US label would release the damn vinyl of this keeper so I don’t have to pay import prices from the Euro label it’s currently on…(get your shit together, Dirtnap!). 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Two Medicine - Astropsychosis (Bella Union, 2018)

Two Medicine
Bella Union

Rating: 7 bastard scents out of 10

Two Medicine is the solo effort of Midlake bassist Paul Alexander, wherein he also employed the help of pretty much every other Midlake member for bits and pieces.  I want everyone to brace themselves, but the result sounds like…a Midlake record.  Shocking, I know.  It’s maybe a little mellower and not quite as, well, “folk prog” as Midlake can get sometimes, but if you told me this was the new Midlake record I doubt many people would bat an eye. 

Here are some things I think about all of this that I don’t feel like making into a proper paragraphs:
1.  “Will Not” and “Voice” are the highlights – I particularly like the synth vibe to “Will Not,” reminds me a lot of the Mary Onettes. 
2. The record is…pretty good.  I fear it’s one of those that you’ll enjoy plenty while you’re listening, but you totally forget about later.  You could probably say that about most Midlake to be fair…
3. …Except for “The Trials Of Van Occupanther,” which is one of the very best records of the entire first decade of this century. 
4. I still have no idea what or who a Van Occupanther is and I’ve listened to that album 5000 times.  I’d like to think it’s a big cat that’s taken up residence in your vehicle ala the scene in “Talladega Nights” when Ricky Bobby is learning how to drive again.   
5. In case you don’t know, Two Medicine is a lake in Glacier National Park, which might be the greatest national park after Yosemite.  Holy shit that place is beautiful.  Even on an overcast day it looks amazing – the below pic is from our visit there a couple of years ago.  Must go back again. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Jeff Tweedy – Warm (dBpm, 2018)

Jeff Tweedy

Rating: 6.5 rabid cats out of 10

The first* solo Jeff Tweedy record is finally here, which is kinda hard to believe after listening to him for so long and in so many different bands.  The question is, what do you even expect from the solo output of a man who has such an extensive back catalog, nearly all of which he was the key (or one of the key) contributor and voice?  Honestly, if you’re as familiar with the man’s work as I am, it sounds exactly like what you’re already hearing in your head – mellow, folky rock that would fit right in with the seventies AOR era.  Tweedy has often been paired with other dominant personalities that heavily influenced his work – the twang/Americana of Jay Farrar (circa Uncle Tupelo), the bubblegum pop of Jay Bennett (circa Wilco’s early golden years), and the jam vibe of Glenn Kotche, Jim O’Rourke, and Nels Cline (circa the second half of Wilco’s output and his side project Loose Fur).  At times these songs almost feel like demos or sketches of tracks that never made the cut of a Wilco record, so Tweedy decided to flesh them out for this full-length.  That isn’t meant to imply they are second-run or unworthy – if nothing else, Tweedy is a damn good songwriter, even if he does sometimes require the flourish of others to put the tracks over the top.  “Warm” takes a few listens to really sink in, but I’m really liking it now - I’ve revisited the combination of “Some Birds” and “Don’t Forget” quite a few times.  There are no weak spots at all in “Warm,” it’s a perfectly enjoyable listen.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to “Summerteeth” for the four billionth time.    

*I’m not counting that mostly instrumental soundtrack he recorded, for obvious reasons.