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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Shannon Shaw - Shannon In Nashville (Easy Eye Sound / Nonesuch, 2018)

Shannon Shaw
Shannon In Nashville
Easy Eye Sound / Nonesuch

Rating: 7 moon viruses out of 10

It didn’t even take a full listen of “Shannon In Nashville” to realize that this is the optimal format to enjoy Shannon Shaw.  No Clams, Hunx, or Punx necessary - her true calling is this earnest attempt at becoming Dusty Springfield for the 21st century, and she’s pretty much fuckin’ nailed it on her first attempt.  Some may not agree, but the best compliment for this particular brand of “throwback” soul is how immediately familiar it sounds - I feel I could be easily convinced that gems like “Cryin’ My Eyes Out,” “Broke My Own,” and “Golden Frames” are actually covers of tracks I’ve known all my life.   Part of the narrative of this record is Shannon not only went to Nashville to record this with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, but the session players they employed were old-school pros – vets from artists you may have heard of such as Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, and an up-and-comer named Elvis Presley.  The music quality is untouchable, the arrangements lush (and often string-filled), and Shaw’s voice is powerful enough to match the firepower that is backing her.  If there is any knock at all, there are a few too many slow/mid-tempo numbers and “Shannon In Nashville” could use a couple more tracks that jump, but that’s more a personal taste than a knock on the excellent product presented here.   

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Cold Cream - Cold Cream (Self-Released, 2018)

Cold Cream
Cold Cream

Rating: 8 simple beans out of 10

Cold Cream is a supergroup, so long as you consider a local band made up of other established local bands “super.” Since I love all the bands these folks are from, it certainly qualifies as super to me!  The line-up of the band is: Clarque Blomquist (Kingsbury Manx) on drums, amazing drummer Laura King (Flesh Wounds, Bat Fangs) for some reason on bass, Ronald Liberti (Pipe) on guitar, and Montgomery Morris (Flesh Wounds, Last Year’s Men) on vocals.  Pipe is one of my favorite bands of all time and Bat Fangs put out one of the best records of the year, so I was particularly excited about hearing this release.  It measures out at 10 songs in 20 minutes, and is the poster child for the phrase “all killer, no filler.”  With Montgomery on vocals, it’s impossible to ignore the Flesh Wounds comparisons, as both bands definitely have a somewhat similar sound, but this feels…more fun than Flesh Wounds maybe?  Looser, more adventurous, crazier lyrics – Flesh Wounds always felt so angry and serious, so perhaps injecting local poster king (and master of stage banter) Ron Liberti into the mix results in what we have here.  If there is such a genre as “feel good hardcore punk,” I might file this in that section.  There are also plenty of moments that aren’t hardcore at all - my favorite track, “See You On The Somme,” reminds me of Eddy Current Suppression Ring – a high compliment in my house. 

There are two important things to note about Cold Cream and this particular release…

The good news: you can download this for free at the link in the band name right up there!  Well, technically it’s “Name Your Price,” but we all know what that means, you cheapskates!  There are also cassette versions floating around out there at some local stores (All Day, Bull City, and Sorry State would be your best bets), I’m sure you could mail order a copy if you wanted from one of those stores or just contact the band.  As I no longer possess a car with a cassette player I would gladly pay for a vinyl version, so cross your fingers that will happen someday. 

The bad news: Montgomery is moving across the country and I have no idea what that means for Cold Cream.  On their social media posts they just say it’s his last show with the band before he moves, but I have no idea if that means they will continue without him, or if the band only exists sporadically when they can get together…who knows.  Time will tell I suppose.  I would certainly hate for this to be the only Cold Cream release, that’s for sure.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

J Mascis - Elastic Days (Sub Pop, 2018)

J Mascis
Elastic Days
Sub Pop

Rating: 7.5 door prizes out of 10

From the very first chord on the very first song, you know this is J Mascis – and if not, you definitely know by the time he gets to that first signature guitar solo.  Is it that the man has become that predictable, or has he just crafted such a signature sound that anyone who has spent time listening to him can spot one of his songs from a mile away?  It’s probably a chicken/egg situation, and anyways, when the songs are this consistently excellent who gives a shit.  Using an abacus I’ve determined I’ve had a strong relationship with Mascis for nearly 30 years – I vividly remember buying the cassette of Dinosaur Jr’s “Whatever’s Cool With Me” EP after a girl I had a crush on told me what a great band they were, and thankfully she had good taste because I might have bought literally anything she foisted upon me.  There isn’t a chance in hell that any other old-ass fans like myself would listen to “Elastic Days” and not come away pleased with the results.  J Mascis is the Old Faithful of catchy indie pop songs with blistering guitar solos (and don’t think that just because these songs are mostly mellow/acoustic affairs that he still doesn’t do his signature six-string wizardry). 

I’m not sure what the point of this review is other than I haven’t written anything in a while and I guess I felt the need to let everyone know the new J Mascis record is good, even if everybody already assumes that is the case.  And that I was easily susceptible to suggestions from cute girls in high school. 

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!