Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Damien Jurado - Visions of Us on the Land (Secretly Canadian, 2016)

Damien Jurado
Visions of Us on the Land
Secretly Canadian

: 7 demolition men out of 10

I've listened to Damien Jurado for a long time now, but this is the very first time I've ever thought he sounded like the Zombies.  The voice still sounds like Damien to be sure, but the music has taken a decidedly lush, psychedelic turn.  I will confess I haven't paid as much attention to him these days as I did with his earliest records ("Ohio" remains one of my very favorite songs of all time) where it was mostly just the man and his guitar, so maybe he made this transition a little sooner, but it's still somewhat shocking to hear.  Perhaps the trippy-ass cover art should have been a giveaway.  But a good song is a good song no matter how it gets dressed up, and "QACHINA" is a fantastic effort, as is "A.M. AM."  Not to fret, there are still a few songs on here like "Orphans in the Key of E" that harken back to his old sound.  I'm into this new direction though, and I suppose I'll have to start paying a little closer attention again.   

Konono No. 1 - Konono No. 1 Meets Batida (Crammed Discs, 2016)

Konono No. 1
Konono No. 1 Meets Batida
Crammed Discs

: All the likembes!

I'm not even going to pretend I'm smart to be able to tell much of a difference from one Konono No. 1 record to another, I just know they're really fuckin' good at what they do, and this album "Konono No. 1 Meets Batida" is no different.  Totally mesmerizing, repetitive beats layered with electric likembes and lots of different vocals from multiple members (the band has a shitload of members).  There may well be other artists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere who are better at this particular style of music, but I've yet to hear them.  It certainly doesn't hurt That these cats (as well as the popular Tuareg musicians to the north of Congo) have hooked up with wealthy western artists who can not only get high quality recordings from top-notch studios, but world distribution contacts as well. 
Oh, in case you were wondering, Apparently Batida is a Portuguese DJ and producer who recorded this record, but it's not clear what he did beyond that to actually deserve his name in the title of the album. 

And let it be known that if you ever get a chance to see Konono No. 1 live, run, don't walk.  They're out-fuckin-standing. 

Bleached - Welcome the Worms (Dead Oceans, 2016)

Welcome the Worms
Dead Oceans

: 7 biscuit cups out of 10

I saw Bleached a number of years ago right after they released a couple of "hot shit" seven inches that had people buzzing, enjoyed the show, and then promptly forgot all about them.  We're talking AGES ago people, like 2011 or 2012 ya know?  This new album "Welcome the Worms" popped up on the internet, and why not see what they are up to these days?

According to my diligent research, I totally missed their debut album "Ride Your Heart" in 2013, which is probably why it felt like it had been so long since I had heard from them.  Still, three years for a sophomore follow-up seems like a long time for such a young band.  I guess not everyone is Ty Segall, pumping out material constantly like a modern garage rock Robert Pollard. 

Anyways, as to what this record sounds like - a really polished, poppier version of the Runaways crossed with the "nineties slacker" vibe that seems so popular with this young crop of musicians who were toddlers during the meat of that decade. There's almost an early Weezer-ness to their best songs, or maybe a more current, timely reference would be Jeff the Brotherhood since Weezer has sucked since the late nineties.  The songs are very catchy and the record is almost over-produced in a Haim sort of way, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing for the overblown pop these ladies are making.  "Wednesday Night Melody" is a great track, as is opener "Keep On Keepin' On" - more importantly, not a dud to be found.  I'd definitely go see them play again if they came through town. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mind Spiders - Prosthesis (Dirtnap, 2016)

Mind Spiders

Rating: 8 giant codes out of 10

Despite this being their fourth record in five years and having connections to a ton of great bands (Bad Sports, Marked Men, Radioactivity, etc), somehow the Mind Spiders have totally escaped my attention.  It's punk, but that dark, synthy type that I always find myself drawn to.  The Devo-esque music combined with distorted vocals immediately made me think of Jay Reatard's side-project Lost Sounds, some of the heavier moments from Total Control...and hell, maybe one of the closest comparisons might be the late, great Whatever Brains, but I doubt anyone outside of the greater Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area would have any idea what I was talking about.  Either way, this is catchy, good shit - gonna get a lot of spins. 

Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are (Barsuk, 2016)

Nada Surf
You Know Who You Are

Rating: 7.5 radio kidnappers out of 10

The thing with Nada Surf is that even when you hear a new song by them for the first time, it already feels like music that has been in your life for a long time.  In particular, you could fully convince me that "Cold to See Clear" and "Rushing" were on other albums of theirs and I had just forgotten about it.  I suppose some could read that as the band being complacent and not growing, but when you write and perform pop songs as well as these guys do...well, I'm certainly glad they haven't changed anything and their sound is so consistently familiar.  Leave the "growing" to bands that still have shit to sort out - Nada Surf figured this all out quite a while back.  

As an aside, it still cracks me up to think of these guys as "one hit wonders," which I'm sure is how a lot of people still remember them (ditto for another amazing band that was more than that moniker, Superdrag).  I'm sure the band is well over it by now, but they must get the occasional drunken idiot at a gig who only wants to hear "Popular."  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Skylar Gudasz - Oleander (Daniel 13, 2016)

Skylar Gudasz
Daniel 13

Rating: 7.5 made-for-TV-movies out of 10

Despite being local I know next to nothing about Skylar Gudasz.  And because of that, it's easy for me to entertain the rumor (that I just completely made up) that this is actually a long lost Karen Carpenter record that Skylar found in an old dusty barn and decided to release under her own name. Yeah, there's probably a little bit more twang to this than you would expect from a Carpenter record, but maybe that's the direction she was heading in before the recordings got lost in that barn!  I mean, it's possible right?

According to this much better write-up by my man Grayson, someone who is actually paid to give his opinion on music, Gudasz employed a "who's who" in creating "Oleander" - Chris Stamey (the dBs) recorded it, and she had musical assistance from a wide swath including the North Carolina Symphony, Django Haskins (Old Ceremony), Brad Cook (Megafaun), and even the one-and-only Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub)!  Her high-quality choices in musical accompaniment fall right in line with the high-quality of her songwriting - there is a timeless nature to her material...these songs (and by extension, her fantastic voice) feel like they've been around forever.  Fans of Sharon Van Etten, Aimee Mann, and fellow locals Mount Moriah would be well served to pick this one up.  

Mount Moriah - How To Dance (Merge, 2016)

Mount Moriah
How To Dance

Rating: 7 cannery workers out of 10

The third record from Mount Moriah, and absolutely no drop off in quality - not a small feat considering how outstanding their self-titled debut was.  That release is still my favorite, to be honest, but I'm not calling anyone to complain about "How To Dance" - hell, I'm such a fan I pre-ordered it months before it came out.  

Nothing on this record is an instant gut punch like "Lament" from their debut, but opener "Calvander" is a damn fine effort.  Heather's voice is as strong if not stronger than ever, and let's not kid ourselves that is the main draw of this band, at least for me (and I'm the stupid person writing this).  If there is anything negative to be said at all, it's the lack of sparse songs ala "Plane" from their first record - very little instrumentation and Heather's voice doing the heavy lifting.  Yeah that's a weird thing to fuss over, but I really dig that style.  But the entire new record is a keeper, even if it is a hair more upbeat than I would prefer.  I'm gonna listen to it a lot regardless. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dan Sartain - Century Plaza (One Little Indian, 2016)

Dan Sartain
Century Plaza
One Little Indian

Rating: 8 paddlin' belts out of 10

Dan Sartain has always been a garage rocker type of dude, recording and performing music that was ok but never got me overly excited.  He's been around for nearly a couple of decades, releasing an album seemingly every year, and to be perfectly honest I stopped paying attention a long time ago.  I honestly don't know how this new album "Century Plaza" even got on my computer, but I've had a lot more free time to listen to music this past month or so, so why not see what the hell Dan Sartain is up to these days?

Well, it ain't garage rock anymore.  It appears that for at least this album, Sartain has re-invented himself as a new wave electro-pop artist writing dark, almost gothy songs that would make Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and Suicide all proud.  The highlight is the album opener, a remake of his own song "Walk Among the Cobras" that would sound right at home on the "Drive" soundtrack.  All of the sudden I'm a big Dan Sartain fan now because I absolutely love this.  Keep going in this direction Dan!

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop, 2015)

Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop

Rating: 8 dinging ringers out of 10

Courtney Barnett is the extremely rare example where the tastemakers that decide who gets to be popular actually picked someone making really great music, and moreover really great music that I quite like.  There are about a million reviews of this already so consider this "review" more of a "thumbs up popular media, you actually got one right!"  Also, it's almost a year old at this point and nobody gives a shit.  Additional thumbs up to Courtney's voice, because I love it when I can actually hear the accents of where they are from when they sing...or sorta sing-talk, in Courtney's case.  Even more thumbs up for the production on this record - it sounds goddamn amazing.  I'm totally out of thumbs now. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Benji Hughes - Songs in the Key of Animals (Merge, 2016)

Benji Hughes
Songs in the Key of Animals

Rating: 6.5 well-fed giraffes out of 10

I have no idea what to make of this Benji Hughes record.  He's from Charlotte so he's sort of a local, but despite playing live A LOT all over the Triangle over at least the last five years if not longer, I've never paid much attention.  By all accounts he puts on a tremendous live show, so not seeing him after all of these years is probably a personal failing on my part.  This record, "Songs in the Key of Animals," his first for Merge, is stylistically all over the map.  He'll span from Parliment-like funk one song to a modern impression of Dr. John on the next song to something that sounds like an outtake from a National album after that.  Thing is, he does a damn fine job of all of these different styles without any of them feeling like mimicry or he's ripping the original artists off.

As interesting as this record is, I'm not sure how much I would actually listen to it just out of the blue.  It's almost too all over the place, like a mixtape with no theme.  But I definitely want to go see him live now, because there's no way these songs aren't fun
performed with a full band.  

Bully - Feels Like (Columbia, 2015)

Feels Like

Rating: 7.5 old habits out of 10

The sound of the nineties are alive and well with the new kids, and Bully are as good an example as any currently on the scene.  I see lots of PJ Harvey comparisons, and maybe I hear that a little in the vocals, but musically I'm not there at all.  I've even seen some Hole comparisons, which get a huge "hell no" from me (I never liked Hole so there's a lot of bias in that reaction).  On Bully's best songs like "Milkman," "I Remember," and "Brainfreeze," the most apt comparison might be the driving indie punk guitars of Superchunk or the mid-nineties version of Dinosaur Jr (when it was really just J Mascis solo even though he still called it Dinosaur Jr.).  Bully doesn't sound exactly like Speedy Ortiz, but both acts are mining the same territory musically - and for my money, Bully are doing it just a little bit better.  I'll be honest, not nuts about their slower songs, but hopefully they grow on me.  The upbeat tracks (such as those mentioned above) are so damn good it doesn't matter though, as this record is a keeper for sure. 

Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down... (Matador, 2015)

Kurt Vile 
B'lieve I'm Goin Down...

Rating: 7.5 giant chocolate chip cookies out of 10

I often wonder if my brain would automatically think of Kurt Vile and War on Drugs at the same time if I didn't already know of their connection, because it's what I always get stuck in my head whether I like it or not.  The War on Drugs went in more of a rock direction ala Tom Petty or Dire Straits, and Vile likes to hang out in the folkier/Bob Dylan-esque part of town - but the same vibe is there for me for both artists.  I kinda feel like either act could cover the work of the other and make it feel like they were the original authors of the songs.  Why does any of this matter?  It doesn't, but my stupid brain was really stuck on this topic as I listened to "B'lieve I'm Goin Down...". 

Long story short, this record is probably Vile's best work; "Pretty Pimpin'" is an amazing opener and the best song on the album; and I'd give anything to hear War on Drugs take Vile's folky songs and get real loud and stretchy with them like they do so well. 

Parquet Courts - Monastic Living EP (Rough Trade, 2015)

Parquet Courts
Monastic Living EP
Rough Trade

Rating: 5.5 coozy bottle openers out of 10

I appreciate that Parquet Courts got a wild hair and decided they would try to do a Devo imitation for this EP, but it instantly reminded me that I'd rather just listen to the real Devo.  I suppose points to them for reminding me to listen to Devo, and that's not a bad thing.  Everyone should listen to more Devo. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mount Moriah - Calvander 7'' (Merge, 2015)

Mount Moriah
Calvander 7''

Rating: 7 bloody bags out of 10

The last Mount Moriah album "Miracle Temple" was still a pretty good effort, but I loved their self-titled debut so much and had such high expectations they really had nowhere to go but down.  Happily, I like this new seven inch by them so much it re-ignited my excitement and I've already pre-ordered their next album that's coming out in the next month or two.  The title track and the demo version of "Baby Blue" are both going to be on that next record, and both are totally great - a little twangy, a little dark, just the way I like their jams.  The best track is the final one though, and the biggest reason to hunt this wax down -  a live version of "Plane" from their self-titled effort.  Probably my second favorite song of theirs ever, and the recording is resplendent.  I'm real happy with this. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Royal Headache - High (What's Your Rupture?, 2015)

Royal Headache
What's Your Rupture?

Rating: 7.5 poor socialites out of 10

I'm pretty sure I initially thought this release by Royal Headache was Royal Baths, a band from San Francisco I saw live once that was kinda boring.  Because of that, I didn't listen to this for ages, just sitting there on my computer collecting digital dust.  Eventually I threw it on and...oh yeah, it's a totally different band and I'm an idiot.  Every year there is at least one release that I listen to the shit out of the next year...my money is on "High" being very high on that list.

The band's sound is a little all over the place, and don't really sound anything like the rest of the indie/punk crowd coming out of Australia these days.  I suppose it is a big ass country and there would be no reason for things to be homogeneous to begin with, but it's easy to put other places in those nice neat boxes.  More than anything they do a jangly pop-punk thing, but certainly not only that.  The singer can get a little soulful, see "Wouldn't You Know";  the band can sound like they are doing a Style Council cover, see "Need You", or perhaps Soul Asylum, see "Carolina"; and probably my favorite is the opener "My Own Fantasy," which would sound right at home on a Terry Malts album.  The main thing that unites all these different influences is the band does all of them really well, and I'm already looking forward to listening to this record on repeat for a good chunk of 2016.