Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Tommy And The Commies - Here Come… (Slovenly, 2018)

Tommy And The Commies
Here Come…

Rating: 7 shiny purple gemstones out of 10

Tommy And The Commies sound pretty much just like the Buzzcocks.  Sometimes a slightly mod Buzzcocks, but still the comparison holds.  And that’s fine, because I love the Buzzcocks, and not enough bands do the catchy, upbeat buzzsaw punk thing for my liking.  This album is eight songs in sixteen minutes – even Robert Pollard is telling them they need to stretch their legs a bit.  But for the sixteen minutes they do give us, the results are terrific – “Devices” and “Permanent Fixture” are stompers, while “Suckin’ In Your 20’s” should be an anthem to anyone in that age group.  Truly the only bad thing I can say here is it’s way too short.  Just like this review!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Storm Of Light – Anthroscene (Translation Loss, 2018)

A Storm Of Light
Translation Loss

Rating: 7.5 full-length rulers out of 10

There doesn’t seem to be an adequate genre or simple descriptor for the type of metal A Storm Of Light plays, which is unfortunate because it’s honestly the kind of metal I like the best.  I guess some folks call it “post-metal,” but it doesn’t seem post-anything.  I suppose the thinking is it’s a combination of post-rock and metal, but that still leaves a huge gulf of possibilities, as post-rock is already a label used for a thousand different bands who sound nothing alike (and yes, I’ve used it a ton myself because above all else I’m lazy as shit).  Let’s just put it this way – the music is heavy but not super heavy, and the vocals are melodic and clear – think Baroness / Pallbearer, crossed with maybe a little Tool.  I’ve honestly never cared much for Tool, but they are undoubtedly an important lynchpin in this type of heavy, melodic…well, post-metal, I guess.  I think I’ve now used the word “post” more in this paragraph than any man should who isn’t talking about mail delivery.

All that is to say: “Anthroscene” is really damn good.  If you asked me if I was a metal fan I would unequivocally say yes, but the truth is only a couple of metal records (at most) come out a year that really hold my attention – and this is definitely one of them.  I find I’m kinda picky when it comes to new metal, but when I do find something I like I’m all in.  This is one of those “all in” situations to be sure. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Idles - Joy As An Act Of Resistance (Partisan, 2018)

Joy As An Act Of Resistance

Rating: 9.5 Polish butchers out of 10

I’ve been struggling a little bit on what to write about “Joy As An Act Of Resistance,” the sophomore effort from Bristol, England’s Idles.  It’s my favorite release of the entire year, an instantaneous punch in the gut from the very first listen; sometimes you love something so much it can be tough to put your thoughts into a concise couple of paragraphs.  Yeah I’ve said other releases were my favorite of the year (Hot Snakes and Superchunk come to mind), but they’re all running in second place to Idles at this point.  The musical comps for Idles are surprisingly easy – bits of Les Savy Fav, Protomartyr, Fucked Up, and Birthday Party are all easy touchstones here.  What takes this record up a notch is it’s energy and positive earnestness – “fuck the fascists” and “love everybody” are the universal themes, themes that seem especially important these days.  When Joe Talbot growls “this snowflake is an avalanche” in “I’m Scum” it might be a little on the nose, but fuck it, things are real shitty right now and sometimes you just need someone with a megaphone yelling exactly what you want to hear.  The first two lines from the uber-inclusive “Danny Nedelko” tell you everything you need to know about this band’s politics: “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant.”  This band knows where they stand, and give the rest of us a musical salve, like an imaginary arm around your shoulder letting you know we’re all in this together, this shit situation is gonna get better…now let’s go fuck some shit up. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

No Sister - The Second Floor (Self-Released, 2018)

No Sister
The Second Floor

Rating: 7 fantastical gourds out of 10

There have been somewhere in the neighborhood of a bazillion bands influenced by Sonic Youth since they came into existence nearly four decades ago, but leave it to Australia to finally give us a group of kids who apparently have decided to just become Sonic Youth, called No Sister.  And you know what?  It’s totally fine that No Sister sound exactly like them, because the kids need some Sonic Youth in their lives, and the chances of the real Sonic Youth reforming after that tumultuous Kim Gordon / Thurston Moore break-up are next to nil.  Sure, what Moore and Lee Ranaldo are still doing sounds Sonic Youth adjacent, but it doesn’t have the fire of their late eighties/early nineties material, and that’s the area No Sister are exploring.  Is it a coincidence their name is almost identical to one of the most important records from this era of Sonic Youth ("Sister"), the exact era they sound like?  I highly doubt it.   

I honestly don’t have a lot more to say about this.  I like it.  I don’t care if it’s sorta kinda basically a rip off of someone else I love.  My heart has room for both.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Eric Bachmann - No Recover (Merge, 2018)

Eric Bachmann
No Recover

Rating: 8 starry eyed clerks out of 10

The latest release by former Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann, “No Recover,” feels like a natural continuation of his excellent self-titled record from 2016.  That was my favorite album to come out that year and I still listen to it all the time, if we’re keeping score at home.  “No Recover” is missing the strong “doo wop-esque” female backing vocals that were heavily featured in 2016, instead opting this time for more subtle collaboration via his former bandmate/frequent collaborator/current wife Liz Durrett (backing vocals) and for the first time since Archers of Loaf ended, Eric Johnson (guitar). 

(That reminds me, I could really go for another Archers of Loaf reunion tour right about now…maybe they will get back together for Merge 30 next year.  While we’re making a wish list, lets also get reunions from Polvo and Breadwinner and Erectus Monotone and get Matt Suggs to come out of retirement or wherever the hell it is he's hiding.)

Anyways, back to “No Recover” – it’s just goddamn fantastic.  Bachmann’s output is stripped down and simple without being simplistic, catchy without being cloying.  Sure, I’m coming at this as a fanboy who loves every goddamn thing this man touches, but even within that framework I’m telling you this is an exceptional collection of Bachmann’s work.  Opener “Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter” sounds like a long lost Kris Kristofferson song.  “Daylight” is a masterclass in layered fingerpicking and Bachmann’s not-used-nearly-enough falsetto (or at least what I think is meant to be a falsetto, from a man with a voice as deep as his).  “Murmuration Song” is the highlight of the album, probably the most upbeat number and one that sounds like it would fit in nicely on the first “Crooked Fingers” album (that's a huge compliment in my book, that record is perfection).  And that’s just the first three songs - I could do this for every track on “No Recover” if pressed, but I think you get the idea. 

This won’t be my favorite record of 2018, but that has more to do with the quality of this year than anything negative about “No Recover.”  It will most definitely finish high on my list though, another excellent addition to the musical landscape from Eric Bachmann.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Beachtape - Fix It Up 7'' (PNKSLM, 2018)

Fix It Up 7''

Rating: 7 grandma spas out of 10

There are so many goddamn "Beach" bands right now that I actually downloaded this Beachtape single, along with a bunch of other "Beach" bands, just for shits and giggles and possibly to make fun of the whole lot of them.  The thing is, this pair of songs is pretty damn good and I can find nothing snarky to say about it.  The band is from the British beach town of Brighton, so maybe that "beach" name makes sense after all.  The music also has a sunny, summer vibe to it, leading further credence to the "beach" name... even if the sun hasn't actually shown on a British beach since at least the late nineties.  This reminds me a bit of early Teenage Fanclub with breathier vocals, and maybe a tinge of Weezer ("Blue Album" era) - specifically on the b-side "Figure It Out."  Maybe the best touchstone would be the long lost 764-Hero, but I'm not sure enough folks remember or were ever aware of them to get the reference.  I look forward to a full-length from these kids to see if they can replicate the high quality of these two tracks.  

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt (Fat Possum, 2018)

And Nothing Hurt
Fat Possum

Rating: 9 electrocuted ducks out of 10

It’s right there in the bible, clear as day – “and on the seventh day, god told Jason Pierce to stop dicking around and release a new friggin' Spiritualized record already, because he needed some new jams what with all the laying around on clouds he had planned.”  Pierce has done four and five year gaps recently, but this time it was six – and I’m not at all fan of the direction these waits are trending in.  In fact, there has been some talk this is the last Spiritualized album, but I flat out refuse to believe that.  Yeah, no one will be surprised if the next record takes forever, but I have a hard time believing Pierce will ever completely stop making music.  Gorgeous, amazing music, music the world needs, even if they don't know it.

The opening two tracks "A Perfect Miracle" and "I'm Your Man" got released a few weeks before "And Nothing Hurt," so I've been living with those for a while. They're damn near perfect encapsulations of what it is that makes Spiritualized so incredible - lush, mesmerizing orchestral compositions paired with British pop that often feels and sounds more like lullabies than rock music.  That's the bulk of the album at least - there are always a couple of harder rockers too, and for this release they are the upbeat bluesy numbers "On The Sunshine" and "The Morning After."  Both of which you could easily imagine as undiscovered outtakes from "Exile On Main Street" if Pierce's voice sounded at all like Mick Jagger.  You know what other songs are a highlight here?  Every goddamn one of them.   

I've already complained about how long it took Pierce to make "And Nothing Hurt," but when you listen you can kinda hear why - it gives off the vibe that every note was finely crafted and fretted over before it was ever agreed that it would be released to the world.  And even if I might get antsy about how long you have to wait between Spiritualized albums, I also wouldn't change a damn thing if this is the result.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Jayhawks - Back Roads And Abandoned Motels (Legacy, 2018)

The Jayhawks
Back Roads And Abandoned Motels

Rating: 7.5 jiggly auctioneers out of 10

It may or may not be fair, but when a band has been around as long as the Jayhawks, my expectations with their new material are fairly low - at this point, their back catalog of good music is so deep any new addition that's enjoyable is seen as a bonus, and anything bad is easily forgotten.  

The thing is, very little of "Back Roads And Abandoned Motels" is actually new - these are songs that front man Gary Louris wrote either with or for other performers (the Dixie Chicks, Jakob Dylan, and others).  Louris apparently liked these particular compositions enough that he decided the Jayhawks should produce their own versions of them as well - and I'm quite glad they did.  Louris even allows other band members tackle lead duties in a few places - particularly noteworthy is album opener "Come Cryin' To Me,"  supposedly sung by keyboardist Karen Grotberg but I'm not entirely sure it isn't really Aimee Mann singing and this is all an elaborate joke designed to fool fans*.  My other favorite is "Gonna Be A Darkness," written with Dylan for the show "True Blood" that thankfully got rescued and repurposed, because it's a high water mark in Louris' storied song-writing career.  He actually performs with Dylan on the original version, but this Jayhawks rendition is the superior version for my money.  

Let's get real - the band is highly unlikely to ever release another "Tomorrow The Green Grass" or "Hollywood Town Hall" or even "Rainy Day Music," but they're still producing high quality music that deserves to be heard, no small feat for a band with so many years and so many changes under their belt.  

*I actually saw Karen sing this song in concert quite recently, so I guess I have to accept this isn't Aimee Mann...but it still feels suspect.    

Monday, September 17, 2018

Honey Bucket - Furniture Days (See My Friends, 2018)

Honey Bucket
Furniture Days
See My Friends

Rating: 7.5 tasty piles of lemon trout out of 10

I’m not sure what prompted me to downloaded this HoneyBucket album more – the ridiculous cover art or that their name is a euphemism for a portable shitter.  Either way, I’m always looking for new music that I don’t forget about 15 minutes after hearing it, and this Portland band is currently doing the trick.  The music reminds of a weird crossroads between the Clean (the early years) and Devo, jangly and angular and thin in the right sort of way.  The vocals, which are mostly spoken rather than sung, seem clearly influenced by the Modern Lovers and early Jonathan Richman, or maybe even a non-jokey Dead Milkmen.  The press release I found online from their label made some mention of Captain Beefheart, and I can see where the comparison might come from, but this album is way too catchy and listenable to be compared to that band I’ve tried (and failed) to listen to more times than I can count.  I enjoyed this so much I ordered the record – see, downloading random bands from the internet just because they have a funny name does pay off!

The Rock*A*Teens - Sixth House (Merge, 2018)

The Rock*A*Teens
Sixth House

Rating: 7 bottles of raven’s blood out of 10

The Rock*A*Teens were a Merge records mainstay in the late nineties and early oughts, frequently opening for Superchunk or one of the other Merge bands I was always seeing play live.  I never really liked or disliked them, but I was often annoyed that I had to sit through another set by them to get to the band I actually wanted to see.  Fast forward nearly two decades later, and after a lengthy hiatus the band returns with “Sixth House,” their sixth album (I’m sure that name was a coincidence)…and I quite dig it.  Have the Rock*A*Teens changed?  Honestly, not really – a little more mature I guess, and a little less noisy, but they’re still doing the same southern, jangly indie pop that’s the musical equivalent to a humid southern night.  The bulk of the original line-up remains intact, including frontman Chris Lopez - whose distinctive vocals have always defined the sound of the Rock*A*Teens.  He manages to somehow sound angry, intoxicated, and hurt all at the same time when he sings, no small feat.  I think my change of opinion with this act is more on my maturing tastes than anything the band has or has not done.  There is no finer moment on this album than the anthemic “Go Tell Everybody,” a song begging to be sung along to after the first listen even if all you know is the chorus, and an easy choice as one of the best tracks of the year.  The rest of "Sixth House" is pretty swell as well, and certainly worth a listen even if you were never a fan the first time around.    

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Death Cab For Cutie - Thank You For Today (Atlantic / Barsuk, 2018)

Death Cab For Cutie
Thank You For Today
Atlantic / Barsuk

Rating: 6.5 near-sighted ophthalmologists out of 10

Hey guys, there’s a new Death Cab For Cutie record out called “Thank You For Today“!  It sounds just like that Postal Service band, only less electronic!

To put it quite simply – the songs that sound like classic Death Cab For Cutie songs?  I quite like those.  There’s a place in my heart for somber Ben Gibbard indie pop, a place that’s been there for twenty years now, a place that I doubt ever goes away.  But the bad eighties pastiche of “I Dreamt We Spoke Again” and “Gold Rush,” the song that sounds like an Imagine Dragons cover?  Oof, that’s some hot garbage, and it actually seems even worse than it actually is because those two are the first and third songs - putting a bad taste in your mouth from the start.  Luckily, I stuck with it and the good far outweighs the bad, and unless you’re listening to this on cassette it’s damn easy to skip to the next track.  The entire second half of the record is especially good – “Autumn Love” and “Northern Lights” should have been the first two songs, and album closer “60 & Punk” is one of their best tracks this century.  A little better tracking during post-production to bury the couple of turds floating in the pond would have worked wonders here. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Superchunk - Fishing 7'' (Merge, 1991)

Fishing 7''

Rating: 10 bottles of railroad wine out of 10

What can I possibly be expected to say about a single featuring two of the best ever Superchunk songs, other than to sing it's praises of perfection?  In 10th grade I bought my first ever album by the band, "Tossing Seeds" on cassette (probably from the Radio Shack in my town, the only store that carried music; and I most likely had to have them special order it for me).  Yeah, it's not actually an album but rather a compilation of their first few singles, but regardless I listened to that tape so much I'm truly shocked it never broke.  Both "Fishing" and the b-side "Cool" were on there, holding down the end of side A and beginning of side B - "Cool" probably got a few more plays because I definitely listened to side B more as it featured my favorite Superchunk song of all time, "Cast Iron."  It's impossible to listen to this and not feel nostalgic for simpler times, driving around in my beater Mazda 323, skating parking lots with my friends, and dreaming of what the future might bring when I finally got to escape that small town.  These aren't just songs, they're integral building blocks of my childhood and the adult I came to be. 

Added bonus: they actually made a video for "Fishing," in case you want to remember what Jim Wilbur looked like with hair.  

Friday, August 17, 2018

Spider Bags - Someday Everything Will Be Fine (Merge, 2018)

Spider Bags
Someday Everything Will Be Fine

Rating: 8 of those red flashing lights you see at the top of radio towers out of 10

This is obviously just one dumb old man’s opinion, but our local scene here in the Triangle of North Carolina hasn’t been much to speak of the last few years.  It’s always gone through peaks and valleys so I’m not overly concerned about it, but either way it’s still particularly nice that we have a few acts out there carrying the torch that this area still matters musically.  There’s the immortal Superchunk of course, Sylvan Esso has a large following, and we get to at least sorta claim Future Islands, but for my money Spider Bags is just as important as any of them.  There’s not really anyone else around here doing exactly what they do, a hybrid of punk and garage and country that over the years, at their best, is a blend of the Replacements, Meat Puppets and James Gang.  Second track “Oxcart Blues” is an automatic top five song by the band, “Cop Dream/Black Eye” proves they can just turn into the Oblivians if the notion strikes them, and “My Heart Is a Flame In Reverse” might be the song Hank III has been trying to write his whole career.  “Someday Everything Will Be Fine” sounds live and sweaty and immediate, like seeing the band perform live but only with your ears (obviously, you should definitely see them live with the rest of your body if they ever come to your town).  It may or may not be their best record – I really, really loved “Frozen Letter” – but it’s damn good, and the closest they’ve ever gotten to capturing what this band sounds like in my brain when I think about them. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cause Co-Motion - Which Way Is Up? 7'' (What's Your Rupture?, 2006)

Cause Co-Motion
Which Way Is Up? 7''
What's Your Rupture?

Rating: 9 quiet limos out of 10

Quite simply, "Which Way Is Up?" by Cause Co-Motion is one of the best pop songs of the last 25 years.  Maybe even longer.  I've thought that for a damn long time, and the conviction of my feelings have not wavered one bit.  I don't even care about the b-side ("Falling Again") here - it's fine, but inconsequential in comparison to the lead track.  The song is a little quirky, a little jangly, and if you're anything like me it will be instantly stuck in your head FOR TWELVE FUCKING YEARS.  Honestly, I'm totally fine with it. 

The Rocking Horse Winner / Electro Group - Split 7'' (Slide The Needle, 2002)

The Rocking Horse Winner / Electro Group
Split 7''
Slide The Needle

Rating: 5.5 lost sisters out of 10

I grabbed this out of the bargain bin because I've enjoyed a few Electro Group songs over the years, not even realizing it was a split at first.  That means only one song by them called "Panzer Treat."  It's a decent enough track, the band continues down their path as poppy My Bloody Valentine acolytes, though the production is a little more muddled than I would like. 

The other side is a band with a terrible name I'd never heard of called Rocking Horse Winner - "Tomorrow" is Velocity Girl-ish indie pop, interesting enough when you're listening to it, but ultimately forgettable.  I think there are some Dashboard Confessional ties with one or some of the members of this group, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence that I would want to hear more from these guys/gal.