Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru The Passion (Frenchkiss, 2019)

The Hold Steady
Thrashing Thru The Passion

Rating: 8 washable mouths out of 10

After a five year break the Hold Steady return with their eighth album, “Thrashing Thru The Passion,” though to hear it you’d never think they missed a single day apart.  Then again, during that break singer Craig Finn released a few solo albums, and as most people would likely point to Finn’s voice as the most defining element of the band, you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t even know this break happened.  Let’s not beat around the bush – all Hold Steady records sound basically the same, it’s just a matter of how enjoyable the particular set of songs are that make up any given release.  To quote Larry David, “Thrashing Thru The Passion” is “pretty, pretty, pretty good.”  They kick off on a very strong note with “Denver Haircut,” and seldom let up from there (“T-Shirt Tux” being the only song I’m not crazy about).  “Traditional Village” is also a standout, and I’d probably immediately place “Entitlement Crew” as one of the band’s all-time best tracks.  This is big, straight-forward rock music, noteworthy only in the fact that’s well made and stands up to repeated listens.  Hell, I’ve been listening to it for four months before finally getting around to writing this short blurb.  As always, a Hold Steady record is instantly recognizable even on the first listen, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Archer Prewitt - Southern Wall 7'' (Motorcoat, 1998)

Archer Prewitt
Southern Wall 7''

Rating: 6.5 dairy deer out of 10

A perfectly cromulent (though probably unessential) release from Archer Prewitt, best known for his excellent guitar work with the Sea & Cake and the Coctails.  Both tracks are in the jazz / lounge rock family as you expect from Archer, but the title track has a bit of a psychedelic twist to the production.  Oh, and there's a flute on it!  The song has vocals but they're rather minimal...but there really is a shitload of flute though.  The other side, "Coleman," is an instrumental offering that is fine.  Just fine, nothing special.  Probably should have put some flute on it. 

Mac McCaughan - Box Batteries 7'' (Merge, 2015)

Mac McCaughan
Box Batteries 7''

: 7 dead roots out of 10

I was certain I both owned and had reviewed this Mac McCaughan seven inch when it first came out on 2015, but here we are now. 

This version of "Box Batteries" is different than the version found on his full-length from the same year "Non-Believers."  Not drastically different mind you - really, this one just feels like the production is a little more lo-fi, lending it almost an old school Guided By Voices vibe. 

The b-side "Whatever Light" is fine - your typical straight forward, mid-tempo Mac / Portastatic / Superchunk song.  It would have fit in fine on one of the late nineties or early oughts Superchunk albums (aka "Indoor Living," "Come Pick Me Up," or "Here's To Shutting Up.")

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Ex-Vöid - Only One 7'' (Prefect, 2019)

Only One 7''

Rating: 8 sitcom lesbians out of 10

This band being named Ex-Vöid, complete with an extraneous umlaut, plus the cover art on this seven inch…there’s no way this isn’t a punk or hardcore band, right?  Or… maybe not, as the title track is about as twee a you can get.  It gives off a great Camera Obscura-meets-Best Coast vibe, with harmonized male and female vocals throughout, all backed by some very Teenage Fanclub-esque guitar work.  The song is an instant ear worm you’re likely play over and over and over if you love this style of music like I do.  If I get around to making a list of my favorite songs of 2019, which to be honest I rarely remember to do, this would definitely be on it, and very high in the countdown.  But then!  The b side, one of those rare, delightful occurrences where a band names a song after themselves, is a distorted punk scorcher less than a minute long.  A fine track, though nothing to get worked up for, and not even in the same universe as “Only One” in style or quality.

So now I’m confused.  And curious, very very curious at where Ex-Vöid goes next.  I’m damn near tempted to give this a perfect score for the title track alone, I can’t recommend it any more highly.   

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Wilco - Ode To Joy (dBpm, 2019)

Ode To Joy

Rating: 7.5 sparkly sandwiches out of 10

I was going to be a snarky dickhead and make the entire review of “Ode To Joy” something like “Wilco releases new record: sounds exactly like a Wilco record.”  Then I got super lazy about actually writing the review, which led me to listening to the album more and more over the last couple of months, and now I’m hearing a lot more nuance than had occurred to me on my earlier impressions.  It’s almost like you can have a much more thorough take on a piece of art the more you spend time with it.  Obviously, that’s not going to actually stop me from making snap judgements in the future, because life is short, there is way too much music to keep up with, and as a well-documented shitty writer, a crap take on things is my raison d'être.  Sometimes though, patience is rewarded, assuming you have some to spare.

My overall impression is that “Ode To Joy” is a much mellower album than their more recent releases…it actually sounds much more akin to Jeff Tweedy’s recent solo record “Warmer” than a typical post-Jay Bennett Wilco release – lots of acoustic guitar, most songs are slow-to-mid tempo, and (thank god) way less Nels Cline guitar wankery.  Cline is incredibly gifted, sure, but it almost never does anything for me and often feels tacked onto the music as an afterthought.  “Everyone Hides” is the obvious stand-out track, and the closest you’re going to get to a straight-forward Wilco-esque jangly pop song on this release.  Given that, it’s not that surprising it’s also the lead single with a fancy video.  “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” is also a strong offering, with a nice cinematic quality – and the rare instance where Cline’s noodling actually accentuates the track. 

“Ode To Joy” is a good record, and one worth exploring even for jaded old fans pining for the “Summerteeth” days.    It’s probably my favorite since 2009’s ridiculously titled “Wilco (The Album),” for those keeping score at home. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Oneida - Best Friends 7'' (Turnbuckle, 1998)

Best Friends 7''

Rating: 6 diddling tremolos out of 10 

The first seven inch from Oneida, and it sounds nothing like the heavy, synthy kraut rock you expect to hear from this band.  The title track is somewhere close to psychedelic pop, for lack of a better descriptor.  The other side, "The Land Of Bugs," sounds like a really mellow math rock song, the sort June Of '44 occasionally dabbled in.  Neither song is bad, they're just not what you expect from this Oneida.  

When I hear a release of this nature, I like to imagine somewhere out there exists some fans who were way into Oneida starting with this seven inch, but then just couldn't get into the way they sounded as their musical direction changed, even though I think their later years are far superior.  God knows I've been on that side of the coin from time to time (My Morning Jacket peaked with "At Dawn" and that's a goddamn fact).   

La Peste - Better Off Dead 7'' (Black / Bacchus Archives, 1978 / 2006)

La Peste
Better Off Dead 7''
Black / Bacchus Archives
1978 / 2006

Rating: 8 broken streets out of 10

I found this reissue of the only seven inch La Peste released during the band's short lifespan at the mostly subpar local record store which shall remain nameless because I'm a nice guy.  As happens in so many areas of life, they were once the top dog but others have surpassed them - such is life.  Their used full-length records are almost always overpriced, but on the flipside I often find good shit cheap in their (perpetually disorganized) seven inch bin.  

This was a no-brainer purchase, especially at the price.  The title song is one of the great underappreciated gems from the first wave of punk - extremely catchy, it gets stuck in my head nearly every time I hear it.  The b-side is more in line with the post punk movement that was just rearing it's head, a mid-tempo number that lacks the passion of the "Better Off Dead" and quite frankly is inconsequential.  

Nothing wrong with only having one really great song...there are a lot of bands that can't even claim that. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Belle And Sebastian - Days Of The Bagnold Summer (Matador, 2019)

Belle And Sebastian
Days Of The Bagnold Summer

Rating: 7.5 long-haired gravity bongs out of 10

Is a movie soundtrack also considered a new album if only one band is responsible for every song on the soundtrack, as is the case here with “Days Of The Bagnold Summer” by Belle And Sebastian?  I think most would say yes, assuming the plurality of the material is of the “typical song” variety.  But what if that material is a mix of new and old songs, does it still count as a proper release?  Well, now we’re getting into murkier water, but as the lone judge in this particular collection of word vomit, I’m going to narrowly rule in favor of this counting as a proper release.  Also, not one bit of this fucking matters, but at the same time this is the sort of shit that I will ruminate on for hours on end.  My brain might be broken.  Twenty five years into my fandom and I’m still not sure if it’s Belle “And” Sebastian or Belle “&” Sebastian, and for some reason this matters.   

And before you waste the same amount of time I have trying to sort out what the hell “Bagnold” means, apparently it’s the last name of a famous English playwright (Enid Bagnold), and knowing that has gotten me no closer to the definition.  I suppose you’ll have to watch the movie, which I’m sure I will eventually.  For now I’m just going to assume it means “stodgy & verbose,” since that’s the first thing I think of when an English playwright comes to mind.  The movie is based on a graphic novel of the same name, and seemingly has no connection to ol’ Enid.  The world is a confusing place sometimes. 

Rambling aside, let’s say at least a couple of things about the actual music…if you’re a fan of B&S you’re already aware of “I Know Where The Summer Goes,” and you sure as shit know one of their most famous songs of all time, “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” – the versions of these two tracks are slightly different here, new recordings and all that, but basically the same.  Of the other tracks, the one that really stood out on the first few listens was “Safety Valve” – my initial reaction was it sounded A LOT like it would fit right in with the very early B&S records.  Turns out, according to band leader Stuart Murdoch, it’s actually one of the oldest songs the band ever wrote and recorded, but I guess it just never found its way to a proper release.  The instrumental track “Jill Pole” reminds me heavily of John Barry’s “Midnight Cowboy” theme song (excellently covered by Faith No More in my high school years, which is why I know the song so damn well).  The two tracks aren’t exactly the same, but they sound like they could be siblings.  Plus there’s “Sister Buddha,” which feels like an old song because they’ve been playing it live for a while, but apparently this is the first official recording of it. 

“Days Of The Bagnold Summer” is a good record.  It doesn’t quite feel like a regular album, nor does it feel like a soundtrack either.  It also feels both new and old at the same time, for obvious reasons.  This is a no-brainer for long time fans, but also stands on its own for any lost soul that might find the group via this route. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Wye Oak - Strangers 7'' (Merge, 2011)

Wye Oak
Strangers 7''

Rating: 9 swamp poles out of 10

Now this is what I call good bargain bin seven inchery!!!  Though based on the prices on Discogs, it was a screw up selling it that cheap in the first place.  Wye Oak is already a very favorite band of mine, and this record is a compilation of two covers they recorded for the AV Club - "Strangers," maybe the greatest song of all time by the Kinks, and "Mother," Danzig's best work outside of the Misfits years.  Great songs recorded by great musicians is a no-brainer, just like it's a no-brainer that you should grab this should you ever stumble across it. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Idles - Mercedes Marxist 7'' (Partisan, 2019)

Mercedes Marxist 7''

Rating: 8 dead dizzy flies out of 10

Is there a more hot shit band than Idles right now?  The music is good, the lyrical content is “woke as fuck” which I think is what the kids want, and the live shows are bonkers.  It’s still kinda shocking I was able to see them in tiny ass Kings at the same time they were selling out 8-10,000 seat venues in the UK in minutes.  The two songs here, the title tracks and the b-side “I Dream Guillotine,” are unreleased recordings from the same sessions that produced the excellent “Joy As An Act Of Resistance.”  Both of these are fantastic, and it’s a shame most folks might miss out on them if they aren’t aware of this release.  Or maybe in the world of all streaming/digital consumption, this is no longer an issue.  I get that not every song can make the final cut for a number of different reasons, but “I Dream Guillotine” would surely be one of the favorites from the album had it been there.  But it’s not.  But it should be.  But it’s not.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Gino And The Goons - Rip It Up (Slovenly, 2019)

Gino And The Goons
Rip It Up

Rating: 8.5 popped knuckles out of 10

On first listen this Gino And The Goons record breezed right past my ears.  Normally, given the sheer volume of new music out these days, that would mean “Rip It Up” would have promptly gotten filed away and forgotten about.  A few days later though, I was out walking around at lunch time searching for a way to quench my angry stomach and decided to give it a second listen…maybe it was accentuated by my hunger, but goddamn did this sound perfect to me at that moment.  It served as a nice reminder, at least to myself, that some things don’t hit right away…sometimes a change in the listening experience will change the way you receive the tunes.  Sure, your first instinct that an album isn’t worth your energy is correct 99% of the time, but every once in a while something great slips through the cracks, and I’m glad I caught this one before it was too late.   

ANYWAYS – as for the actual band and music itself, Gino And The Goons are from Florida.  This has now brought the list of good things about this ridiculous state up to five – Tom Petty, the Everglades, manatees, and the abundance of Cuban pork being the other four.  I think this band & album would get lumped under the umbrella of “garage punk,” but more specifically it sounds like the best possible combination of the Stooges & the Heartbreakers, with a singer that sometimes reminds me of the New York Doll’s David Johansen in his delivery.  The music is distorted and catchy and everything you could possibly want from an album in this genre.  I’ve listened to this so many damn times now it’s hard to imagine how this didn’t get under my skin from the very first listen – opener “Watch You Shine” is a stomper that gets instantly stuck in your head, and it never lets up from there.  If this is a style of music that speaks to you at all, I would be shocked if “Rip It Up” doesn’t become a fast favorite.  

(Note: this record was actually self-released by the band last year, but since Slovenly just re-released it and it’s new to me I’m counting it as a 2019 release, goddammit.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains (Drag City, 2019)

Purple Mountains
Purple Mountains
Drag City

Rating: Sadness. 

I had been struggling with what I might write about the excellent self-titled Purple Mountains album that came out this past summer for a little while…and then David Berman committed suicide and now I don’t really want to write anything.  I’m mostly just sad about it all, and maybe a touch angry at the world, and subsequently it has made this a tough record to listen to these days.  Let it be known it’s very, very good though, very Berman in all the right ways, but to quote the youth – “I just can’t right now.”  I need some time to pass before I can revisit this one.  Hug your family and friends, life is short.  Get help if you need it, please.  Maybe once the sadness passes, listen to all things David Berman, because the man was really damn good at this…I just wish that had been enough to slake his demons.    

Ex Hex - It’s Real (digital single) (Merge, 2019)

Ex Hex
It’s Real (digital single)

Rating: 8 tongue mothers out of 10

On The Mouth” is one of the all-time best Superchunk songs.  Curiously, it was not actually included on their album “On The Mouth,” but rather was a b-side to the “Mower” single.  This always seemed like a strange choice to me…such a fantastic, up tempo jam, and one that is still a staple of their live shows.  Given their years of success it’s hard to argue with the decisions of Mac, Laura, and company, but this one always seemed like a strange oversight. 

None of that really has anything to do with my thoughts on this Ex Hex single “It’s Real,” other than the similarity in that this song is also not part of the record that shares it’s same name.  And my also finding it very curious.  It’s a very good song also, maybe not one of their very best as was the case with “On The Mouth,” but it certainly would have fit in fine on the full length “It’s Real.” Also, it’s kind of confusing, because now when I refer to “It’s real” you have to note if you’re talking about the album or the single.  THESE ARE SERIOUS LIFE PROBLEMS PEOPLE. 

Oh yeah, the b-side of this single is a great Slant 6 cover, “What Kind Of Monster Are You?”  If you don’t know Slant 6 you would totally believe this was an Ex Hex song, it sounds like something they would have written.  Note to self: listen to more Slant 6.  

Hopefully these two tracks make their way to wax at some point – I’d gladly buy the seven inch of this.  Until then, you can grab it from their Bandcamp here.   

Monday, September 23, 2019

Metz - M.E. 7’’ (Sub Pop, 2019)

M.E. 7’’
Sub Pop

Rating: 7.5 wrong tires out of 10

On my list of things I never expected to hear, Metz covering Sparklhorse has to be near the top of the list, assuming such a list actually existed and I didn’t just make it up for the purposes of this dumb sentence.  Apparently when a Canadian punk band tackles one of Mark Linkous’ rare upbeat tracks (“Pig”), you kinda almost get a Nirvana song.  That actually makes sense when you think about it: Nirvana is exactly what you would expect when you combine noisy angst and weirdo introspection.  The two other songs on this release are also covers – “I’m A Bug,” originally by Halo of Flies, which is no more interesting here than the original version; and the title track ”M.E.,” which most folks will know from the Gary Numan original, presented here in a scuzzier, more distorted format.  Two out of three keepers – not bad for a grip of cover songs…I’ll take it.   

Let it be noted: this is only a seven inch if you buy the Metz compilation “Automat,” as it is included as a bonus with that release (unclear if this inclusion was part of a limited edition release, or all releases).  But Sub Pop also had the good smarts to also put out the seven inch as a stand alone digital single…I guess for those folks who are avid cover song collectors?  Or dumbasses like me who only heard “Automat” via a definitely super legal download found randomly online that did not include these tracks. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Divine Fits - My Love Is Real 7'' (Merge, 2012)

Divine Fits
My Love Is Real 7''

Rating: 7 goddamn sweaters out of 10

I'm racking my brain but I can't think of a supergroup in the last few decades that made a lasting impression...I suppose Gorillaz might be the closest, but that was really just Damon Albarn, some fake cartoon band members, and the occasional hip hop guest star.  Or maybe Electronic is a better option?  That duo Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner always truck me more as just a new band they were in rather than a supergroup proper...it's a distinction that is in the eye of the beholder I suppose.  Back in the sixties, those drugged out ding dongs formed these type of bands left and right...Blind Faith, CSNY, etc.  

Divine Fits (Britt from Spoon, Dan from Wolf Parade/Handsome Furs, and Sam from New Bomb Turks) made a totally enjoyable record called "A Thing Called Divine Fits," but I couldn't tell you the last time I listened to it.  I do know I liked it.  The title track of this seven inch can also be found on that release, as is typical in these situations.  I suppose the real draw of this wax is the b-side, "I Was Born In A Laundromat," a Camper Van Beethoven cover that is highly enjoyable.  Is it worth making an effort to seek this out? If you're really into hearing Britt Daniel sing other people's songs, yes.  It is a fine cover, and reminds me that I should try listening to Camper again...they didn't really take in my younger years despite being well regarded by my peers.