Friday, August 15, 2014

Spider Bags - Frozen Letter (Merge, 2014)

Spider Bags
Frozen Letter

Rating: 7.5 stages of healing out of 10

There is much to like on this new album by the Spider Bags called "Frozen Letter" - but like in the past, the recorded material just doesn't do their live performances justice.  On wax they come across as a very likeable but somewhat straight-forward garage rock band; not a damn thing wrong with that, and in fact I'm certain I'll listen to this record quite a lot just like I did with their previous effort "Shake My Head."  The songs offer plenty of hooks paired with fuzz and distortion and even the occasional cowbell - immediate highlights include "Japanese Vacation" and "Summer of '79."  There are also jams that fall out of the garage rock mold, "Coffin Car" and "Walking Bubble" specifically,  that approach something akin to Giant Sand's take on fractured country.  

But live, they're a different beast, a squirming mass of caged animals in the form of a rock band, sweaty and ferocious and usually a little drunk and it's just a scene that is hard to adequately put into words no matter how many times I have the pleasure of seeing them.  So listen to this record for sure - it may end up one of my favorites of the year.  More importantly, if they ever play anywhere near you, drug your own father* and steal his car if that's what it takes to get to the gig.     

*Don't be an asshole and actually drug your father or anyone else for that matter.  Just steal his keys when he isn't looking. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Easybeats - Friday On My Mind 7'' (United Artists, 1966)

The Easybeats
Friday On My Mind 7''
United Artists

Rating: 8.5 sweaty bottles out of 10

The song, "Friday on My Mind" by the Easybeats, the "Beatles of Australia," is one of my all-time favorites from this era. So catchy and upbeat, it's the sort of song that I think a lot of people forget about until they hear it and then exclaim "oh yeah I love this song!"  The track hit number 16 on the US charts...should have been much higher.  The b-side is also good, but the name is better - "Made My Bed: Gonna Lie In It."  The rare colon in a song title!  It's the small pleasures...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Capitol City Dusters / Aina - Split 7'' (Superbad / Dischord, 1999)

The Capitol City Dusters / Aina
Split 7''
Superbad / Dischord

Rating: 7 reported casts out of 10

I'm not sure where I have heard the Capitol City Dusters track at other than this release, but it sounds very familiar to me.  Maybe it just comes from the same place as their other Washington DC indie punk songs, but wither way it's pretty decent.  I'd never even heard of the band on the b side before, Aina, but their track "Lutton Can Wait" sounds like a mash-up of Jawbox and the Archers of Loaf, so I'm backing it. 

Varnaline - The Hammer Goes Down 7'' (Zero Hour, 1996)

The Hammer Goes Down 7''
Zero Hour

Rating: 6.5 chain reactions out of 10

A Coke bottle clear promo-only seven inch by Varnaline that was likely given to me by a friend who used to be roommates with one of the Zero Hour honchos (or maybe the only honcho, who knows).  Title track was also on his first record, and a b-side called "Hear the Birds Cry" that might only be here.  Both tracks are perfectly fine folk rock like most Varnaline releases, neither inciting excitement or derision much like most of their catalog. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Camera Obscura - 4AD Session EP (4AD, 2014)

Camera Obscura
4AD Session EP

Rating: 6.5 bowling balls out of 10

This EP by Camera Obscura was released as part of the 2014 Record Store Day shenanigans.  Despite my having a great love for these Scots, this isn't anything particularly special - all four songs on this release are also found on their most recent (and fantastic) record from 2013 "Desire Lines," and the versions found here aren't different enough to make it necessary.  Everyone should get "Desire Lines" though, so many catchy pop songs. 

Protomartyr - Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art, 2014)

Under Color of Official Right
Hardly Art

Rating: 7.5 pinched shovels out of 10

Similar to how I felt after seeing them live, I'm sort of at a loss as to what exactly Protomartyr sounds like...and god knows if can't compare one band to another, it will drive me completely crazy.  You might call them an American version of the Fall after hearing a song like "Ain't So Simple" or "Bad Advice," but that doesn't quite capture it; plus, as great as Protomartyr singer Joe Casey is, he's no Mark E. Smith.  Other tracks like "Trust Me Billy" sound like a punkish version of GBV, catchy and upbeat in the best sort of way.  And this might be a stretch, but I even hear a little bit of the National here and there.  Whatever the formula or combination of known and/or unknown vibes, I'm really into this album, definitely recommended.   

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Urban Legends - Dance and Burn 7'' (Tree, 1997)

Urban Legends
Dance and Burn 7''

Rating: 6 dead things out 10

Urban Legends is more noteworthy for what it would lead to than for what it actually is.  Hutch Harris is the story here, and after Legends he would go on to form the fantastic Thermals.  Three songs here, all sorta mining the early Mountain Goats territory if I had to make a comparison.  Nothing overly exciting honestly.

Tristeza - Macrame 7'' (Rocket Racer, 2000)

Macrame 7''
Rocket Racer

Rating: 6.5 ebola scares out of 10

Another slab of slowcore post-rock from Tristeza.  Nice song but nothing special in the title track on side A, and a remix from Rafter on side B.  I wish I had more to say about it than that.  Great looking record though.  Probably bought this at a Tristeza show back when it came out. 

Pontiak - Innocence (Thrill Jockey, 2014)

Thrill Jockey

Rating: 8 puffy chairs out of 10

Somewhere between their last record "Echo Ono" and this new one called "Innocence," I went from Pontiak casual fan to a Pontiak super fan.  We're talking "pre-order the record to get the special vinyl" level of fandom, something I rarely do.  This was largely due to seeing them live three or four times, which made me appreciate the records more, which then made me love their live performances more, and so on and so on as the snake ate it's tail. 

Their live shows tend to be pretty heavy from start to finish, but their albums mix things up a little, and "Innocence" is no different.  You have "Ghosts" as likely the best song of the record, sounding like a new genre called kraut metal; and then shortly thereafter you get a pair of songs in "Noble Heads" and "Wildfires" that make me think of a folky version of Pink Floyd.  It seems like this trio of brothers can go in pretty much any direction and do fantastic work, and this new album is only further proof of that. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Warm Soda - Young Reckless Hearts (Castle Face, 2014)

Warm Soda
Young Reckless Hearts
Castle Face

Rating: 6.5 dead doves out of 10

The first Warm Soda record, "Someone for You," was a glammy power pop gem that received a lot of plays from me.  It had just the right amount of hooks and crunch and attitude and vibe that made you want to listen again and again.  Their sophomore record "Young Reckless Hearts" returns with only part of that formula dialed in.  The hooks are definitely there - the album's title track along with "Save This Dance for Me" might be the two catchiest songs the band has ever written.  The crunch though...the crunch is really is missing.  The record feels very subdued, very low energy - I suspect this is mostly on the production side, but I'm no Steve Albini and that's just a guess.  Without that crunch, the attitude and vibe are left lacking.  

It's still a pretty good record, don't get me wrong - not many people these days understand how to write a good pop song as well as Matthew Melton does, and I'll probably "warm" to the sound of the record as I listen more.  I'd also bet these new songs kill live, when things are naturally a little more raw and raggedy.  Let's just hope on their third offering they revisit the same studio as their first record and get the feel of their music back on track. 

Alan Sparhawk / Charles Atlas - Split 7'' (Star Star Stereo, 2000)

Alan Sparhawk / Charles Atlas
Split 7''
Star Star Stereo

Rating: 7.5 reckless hearts out of 10

I'm not entirely sure why the a-side here, "Sleep Song," is called an Alan Sparhawk solo track when it sounds exactly like Low and I'm pretty sure even has Mimi contributing backing vocals.  Of course anything that has him (or them) singing on it is just going to sound like a Low song.  Good track too, for the record. 

The Charles Atlas b-side "Pondcup" is good but not particularly exciting.  It's basically just some nice guitar playing and nothing else, a style I've never gotten worked up about but given the popularity of William Tyler and that ilk, seems like this would be popular if released today.

Tristeza - Foreshadow 7'' (Caffeine vs. Nicotine, 1998)

Foreshadow 7''
Caffeine vs. Nicotine

Rating: 7 airplane toilets out of 10

Sure, why include the playing speed of this Tristeza record, a band known for slow building instrumental songs?  It's not as if I'd like to be playing it from the proper speed from the start, I'd rather spin it for a couple of minutes and then see if I guessed correctly.  I dig both songs though, even if they kinda sound the same.  Tristeza are sorta like Explosions in the Sky without the bombast, in case you are wondering. 

Tortoise - Why We Fight 7'' (Soul Static Sound, 1995)

Why We Fight 7''
Soul Static Sound

Rating: 6.5 buried surgeons out of 10

I've had this Tortoise seven inch since it came out, but barely listened to it.  Both tracks are the very mellow side of the band.  It's not really anything special to be honest, especially the title track.  B-side "Whitewater" is a little better, but either way this record was clearly just the result of clearing out the back catalog of unreleased songs. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tortoise - Tour 1998 7'' (Thrill Jockey, 1998)

Tour 1998 7''
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 7 broken floors out of 10

This is exactly what it says - a seven inch Tortoise sold on their 1998 tour.  Two songs - "Madison Ave." and "Madison Area," both very much sounding like Tortoise of that time period.  Not only did I buy this record on that tour, I even had stuck the ticket stub in the seven inch sleeve, something I never do but sixteen years after it's pretty cool that I did it.  On white vinyl. 

Licorice / Kendra Smith / Red House Painters - Split 7'' (4AD, 1995)

Licorice / Kendra Smith / Red House Painters
Split 7''

Rating: 7 years away out of 10

Let's ignore the first two artists here because who gives a shit.  The key here is the last song, which is Red House Painters covering the Yes song "Long Distance Runaround."  The notes say "not available on the CD Ocean Beach," but it was on the double 10'' version of the record (long out of print).  It would later also be used on their album "Songs for a Blue Guitar."  You're welcome for this useless information!  Oh, and it's an awesome cover.