Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Pelican - Nighttime Stories (Southern Lord, 2019)

Nighttime Stories
Southern Lord

Rating: 8 corporate trend reports out of 10

This "review" is more a note of me saying that (a) Pelican have a new record out called "Nighttime Stories" and (b) it's really good.  For the uninitiated, Pelican are an instrumental metal band from Chicago that occasionally include prog, sludge, and post-rock tendencies into their sound.  They've released at least a half dozen consistently great records in their 15+ year career, and I'm not entirely sure what words I can throw out there to spice up what they are - you either like this type of music or you don't.  Pelican are one of the godheads of the genre, and "Nighttime Stories" is a damn fine continuation of their legacy.  I'm particularly a fan of the second track "Midnight and Mescaline," but the whole damn record is in top form. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

House Of Large Sizes / Treepeople - Split 7'' (Toxic Shock, 1991)

House Of Large Sizes / Treepeople
Split 7''
Toxic Shock

: 6.5 slapped bastards out of 10

I bought this split seven inch for one reason - Treepeople.  I mean, I guess the max number of reasons would be two so I'm not sure why I pointed this out, but...yeah.  Their track is "Neil's Down," which is also available on their second album "Guilt Regret Embarrassment," but it's not like I paid much for this slab of repitition.  Like most Treepeople songs it just sounds like a noiser, more chaotic version of Built To Spill (an inevitable comparison given I worked backwards from Built To Spill to this band).  This particular track is almost a little Jawbreaker-ish, which is not something I've ever thought before when listening to Treepeople. 

The other side is a band called House Of Large Sizes with "Bankrupt In Hoven."  I had literally never even heard the name of this band before buying this, which is actually an accomplishment given the number of years I've been listening to exactly this genre of music.  This track is mid-tempo, grunge-adjacent, and has a weird time signature...it sounds a bit like an old Chapel Hill band called Capsize 7, but since almost no one remembers them or even knew them in the first place, let's just say this band is definitely influenced by Sonic Youth.  It's not bad - I'd be curious to hear more of their music. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Superchunk - AF (Acoustic Foolish) (Merge, 1994 / 2019)

AF (Acoustic Foolish)
1994 / 2019

Rating: Subdued perfection.

Superchunk are easily one of my top three favorite bands of all time.  “Foolish,” their fourth record released in 1994, is easily one of my top three favorite albums by Superchunk.  You want to make an educated guess on how I feel about a reworked, fully acoustic version of this classic album? 

Given the nature of “AF,” there’s no real reason to rehash the content, but rather what makes it different and worthwhile.  First, and most importantly, it sounds goddamn fantastic - any avenue with which you choose to listen to “AF” is a perfectly cromulent choice, but do yourself a favor and ingest this with some headphones at least once.  It is perfection.  Second are the guests – to no surprise, many members of the Merge family show up: Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Flock Of Dimes) and Allison Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) add backing vocals, Owen Pallett (Arcade Fire, Hidden Cameras) provides strings here and there, Matt Douglas (Mountain Goats) does his saxophone thing, and finally none other than the legendary Peter Holsapple (The dB’s) plugs away on the piano on a couple of tracks.  On top of that, many of the songs have been slightly reworked – as an example, “Saving My Ticket” is almost a bossa nova song now.  Third – it’s fucking Superchunk.  Don’t be an idiot, buy everything they put out, it’s the only way to live life successfully. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Christian Fitness - You Are The Ambulance (Self-Released, 2019)

Christian Fitness
You Are The Ambulance

Rating: 7.5 skull tongues out of 10

It’s pretty exciting to come across an album from a new band that immediately sounds familiar – it sounds like a record you might already have in your collection, only you don’t know these particular songs.   I had that feeling with the ridiculously named Christian Fitness and their newest release “You Are The Ambulance.”  As is typical for me, my very next thought is who does this new band sound like?  I hear elements of PIL, some Devo for sure, the Fall in their quirkier moments, but what it sounded most like was McClusky – a little less agro than McClusky could sometimes be, but the comparison was undeniable.  Now, being a learned man of science, my next step was to do a little research on Christian Fitness (aka punch their name into Discogs) – it appears this is a solo project (it doesn’t sound like it), or they were just too lazy to list the rest of the band.  The one member listed?  Andy Falkous… and if that name sounds as familiar to you as it does to me, it’s because he used to be the frontman of… McClusky.  I’m not sure If this means my band comparison skills are incredibly accurate, or it’s more of a “no shit they sound the same you simpleton, it’s the same dude playing basically the same type of music just under a different name.”  Regardless, I like it, it scratches that spazzy/post-punk/angular/noise rock itch that I pretty much always have in the back of my brain, and that’s good enough for me.  Also: apparently this is Andy’s sixth album under this moniker (all of which seem to be self-released & digital only), so not only is the artist not new, this particular outlet for him isn’t new either.  Well it’s new to me, dammit!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Amyl And The Sniffers - Amyl And The Sniffers (ATO, 2019)

Amyl And The Sniffers
Amyl And The Sniffers

Rating: 7.5 speckled rock hens out of 10

Australia have absolutely dominated the punk scene for at least the last decade, and based on this self-titled offering from Amyl And The Sniffers, the land of koalas and kangaroos is showing no signs of letting up.  I feel like I’ve been hearing about this band forever, having released a half-dozen singles/eps over the last few years, but this is surprisingly their debut full-length.  I’m not sure why it took them so long to release a proper debut, but IMO it was a smart decision, as it allowed the band to refine their sound and channel their anger into this thirty minute survey of the entire punk landscape.  At times they can come off as anything from garage (“Angel”) to verging on hardcore (“GFY”), and nearly every subgenre inbetween.  But my favorite moments of the album are the opener (“Starfire 500”) and closer (“Some Mutts”), which are closer to a Stooges-esque proto-punk sound, and by far the best version of the band.  “Some Mutts” is especially good, my pick for top song of the record, and a direction I hope these Aussies expand on in the future.      

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Flaming Lips - King’s Mouth (Music And Songs) (Warner Bros, 2019)

The Flaming Lips
King’s Mouth (Music And Songs)
Warner Bros

Rating: 8.5 triangle pants out of 10

If you would have told me going in that on their fifteenth full-length release, “King’s Mouth (Music And Songs),” the Flaming Lips would release a (typically oddball for them) concept album about a hero taking down an evil king baby, with narration by Mick Jones from the Clash/Big Audio Dynamite throughout, and it would be the best record they’ve released since their career high water marks of “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”…well, here we are, and I’m just as shocked as you are.  Shocked that the narration and goofy story doesn’t annoy me, shocked that they have gone back to their sound from that perfect period of the early oughts, and more than anything, shocked that more people aren’t talking about this fantastic album.  Part of that might be because it’s not been released widely yet (there was limited release for Record Store Day, with full release is coming in July), but in this modern age of internets and streamery it’s not that hard to find.  Perhaps equally at play is fatigue for the band – maybe other folks are less willing to tolerate the silliness of Wayne Coyne and company in search of perfect psychedelic pop, but the Lip’s whole aesthetic still works on me.   I totally get that the band isn’t for everyone, but as an avowed non-lyric person, their particular brand of nonsensical fantasy is so tied in with the idea of incredibly catchy songs that it’s hard to imagine it not being this way.  I mean, and obviously I’m not the first to say this, all of this shit is just the continuation of the Beach Boys ethos in the “Pet Sounds” years or the Beatles during the heyday of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”…nothing is too weird if it sounds good and has a hook.

I know this whole record is tied in with some sort of art exhibit that Coyne created, but the true calling of “King’s Mouth” is to be the soundtrack of a fantastical cartoon…something along the lines of what Harry Nilsson did with “The Point,” just some beautiful, trippy animation that visually tells the story of this terrific album.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Marbled Eye - EP 2 (Melters / Digital Regress, 2017)

Marbled Eye
EP 2
Melters / Digital Regress

Rating: 6.5 snake aunts out of 10

I legitimately don't remember buying this Marbled Eye seven inch, even though it's clearly brand new and not just something grabbed out of a bargain bin.  It's a good thing I like it I guess!  Four songs total (two each side), I'd describe it as by-the-books Sonic Youth-inspired post punk.  Not new or original, but totally fine.  My main complaint are the vocals are too low through the entire thing, making the lead guitar feel more like the lead than the actual vocals - and maybe that was intentional, but I'm not sure it's the right choice.  There's something here though...like a baseball player that needs seasoning in the minor leagues for a couple of years, I'd like too check out what these kids are doing a couple of years from now and see how they've progressed. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Pavement - Trigger Cut Plus Two 7'' (Matador, 1992)

Trigger Cut Plus Two 7''

Rating: How do you rate perfection?  Oh yeah, 10. It's a 10.

How to put into words the strength of my feelings of one of the greatest songs ever, from one of the greatest albums ever, recorded by one of the best bands ever?  Let's go with...it's pretty good.  Pavement could do no wrong for the bulk of the nineties, and if "Trigger Cut" isn't the top of the heap it's real damn close.  

And I know the b-sides here nearly as well as the title track...I'm not even sure how I know "Sue Me Jack" by heart (maybe an old mix tape?), but "So Stark (You're A Skyscraper)" was also on the bootleg "Stray Slack," which I might have as memorized as I do all of "Slanted & Enchanted."  From an era when bootlegs had real value, and I may have spent WAY too much money on a few import ones. 

For the love of god, buy this if you ever come across it. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Paws - Your Church On My Bonfire (Ernest Jenning, 2019)

Your Church On My Bonfire
Ernest Jenning

Rating: 7 fixed conglomerates out of 10

Most know Paws as a pop-punk band from Scotland.  Not that kind of pop punk, the kind you think of when you first hear that genre name mentioned, the kind that go on the Warped tour and put their releases out on Fat Wreck Chords.  But it’s still an apt descriptor given their music (a) on the punk spectrum and (b) the songs are usually really goddamn catchy.  The thing is, on their most recent offering “Your Church On My Bonfire,” Paws have shifted their location on that pop punk spectrum WAY more towards the pop end.  I’m not complaining – it’s the hooks that drew me to this band in the first place, and there are still plenty of those on this fourth full-length release from this trio of Glaswegians.  Standout tracks like “Not Enough” and “Honoured To Be Honest” still feel enough like classic Paws to hold the attention of old fans, but the mellower, more somber vibe definitely dominate the bulk of the album.  It made sense after listening to “Your Church On My Bonfire” a few times that I found out Frightened Rabbit’s Andy Monaghan recorded the record, because…well, Frightened Rabbit is exactly the best comparison to this new, softer version of Paws.  Which is fine, and honestly wouldn’t have been a surprising natural progression for the group even without the obvious connection, but once you hear it you can’t un-hear it.    

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Starflyer 59 - Young In My Head (Tooth & Nail, 2019)

Starflyer 59
Young In My Head
Tooth & Nail

Rating: 7 hard pears out of 10

Outside of a few specific songs, I would likely be hard pressed to differentiate between Starflyer 59 records.  There is a sameness to the music of Jason Martin, sure, but that’s ok: not everything has to be groundbreaking and new, it’s ok for some music to function basically as modern nostalgia (hell, that’s mostly what I listen to OLD PERSON ALERT).  Or better yet: when you’re this damn good, why fuck with a sure thing?  Martin has held steadfast to his version of laid-back, poppy shoegaze since the mid-nineties, and more than twenty five years and fifteen full-lengths later, nothing has really changed – nor should it IMO.  When I saw there was a new Starflyer 59 record, I had very specific expectations on what this would sound like, and those expectations were fully met.  The title track “Young In My Head,” easily my favorite of the release, could be stuck in the middle of any of Starflyer’s other records and fit perfectly.  Even by my own usually short-and-pointless review standards I don’t have a lot to say here...this music is like an old favorite t-shirt: familiar, comfortable, and a part of your life for a long time.  I look forward to entirely recycling this review for the sixteenth release. 

Also, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, someone fucking re-issue their 1998 record “The Fashion Focus,” my personal favorite of all fifteen of the band’s albums.  I mean, they need pretty much their entire catalog re-issued, but that’s the most important one.  And make it more than 500 copies!!!  They did a re-issue of their first record “Silver” last year (which I would also like to have) and it sold out quickly and now costs an arm and a leg.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Fontaines D.C. - Dogrel (Partisan, 2019)

Fontaines D.C.

Rating: 8.5 unavailable connections out of 10

The timeline of my history with “Dogrel”:

1. I listened to this debut record from Ireland’s Fontaines D.C. a few weeks ago.  Though it was fine if unremarkable, falling comfortably in the margins of the post-punk style a lot of the kids have been mining lately, particularly across the Atlantic in the UK.    
2. Noticed they were the opening act at the Idles show I would be attending the first of May – even though they didn’t blow my socks off with that first impression, it still seemed like it would be worth getting there early to see them live. 
3. I was completely blown away by their performance – so visceral and agitated and tense, and it really made me want to revisit this album. 
4. Unsurprisingly, spurred on from the strong feelings their live show left with me, I’m now listening to “Dogrel” almost obsessively, to the point that it’s definitely one of my favorite records of the year so far. 
5. Now when I listen to them all I can hear is the second coming of the Fall.  Perhaps after he died some part the spirit of Mark E. Smith passed directly into Fontaines D.C. singer Grian Chatten.  Much like Smith would sometimes do, Chatten paced the stage like a caged tiger while staring at the crowd ominously; unlike Smith, he didn’t spend half the set fucking with the levels on his bandmates’ amps.

What’s the moral of the story here?  Listen to “Dogrel,” and even if your first impression isn’t strong – listen to it again.   And go see Fontaines D.C. live if you get a chance. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Spiral Stairs - We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized (Nine Mile, 2019)

Spiral Stairs
We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized
Nine Mile

Rating: 7 inky fingerprints out of 10

With two albums in three years, this is what Spiral Stairs (aka Scott Kannberg) working at an unrelenting, breakneck pace looks like.  Much like his last release “Doris & The Daggers,” it’s impossible to escape the Pavement comparisons – too much baggage at this point (both for Spiral Stairs and long-time listeners like myself), and given his penchant for “covering” Pavement songs live, Scott appears to be happy (or at least content) walking towards the comparison, not away from it.  With his own material, he’s taken that quintessential Pavement indie-slacker vibe and paired it with an attempt to create modern classic rock – lots of eighties-esque horns & keyboard arrangements, chiming guitars, and a clear nod to the legacies of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and their ilk.  Second track “The Fool” is an especially strong offering, as is the album opener, the pseudo-title track “Hyp-No-Tized.”  The rest of the album might not be great but it’s still pretty damn good.  I’m by no means claiming this is a groundbreaking piece of art, but I know I like it while I’m listening to it, and sometimes that’s good enough.  Not all good rock music needs to require a lot of thinking (or words written about it).   

Monday, May 6, 2019

Epic Beard Men - This Was Supposed To Be Fun (Strange Famous, 2019)

Epic Beard Men
This Was Supposed To Be Fun
Strange Famous

Rating: 7.5 prepaid marshmallows out of 10

Today in breaking news: middle-aged dude who historically loves rap but doesn’t understand the appeal of modern hip hop, greatly enjoys album by fellow middle-aged dudes.  That Epic Beard Men sounds like a throwback to a past era I’m sure is just a coincidence.  The group is Sage Francis (who I’ve enjoyed for a long time) and B. Dolan (who I didn’t know at all and is apparently big in the slam poetry scene, which I guess is still a thing?), and the combination of the two feels like a more cerebral version of Run The Jewels.  Being close to my age, these cats came up on the same style of rap that shaped me as a teen – Gang Starr, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, all the Native Tongues groups, Wu-Tang, etc – and much to my delight they’ve held true to that aesthetic.  These songs often tell stories, frequently employ jazz samples as the foundation of the music, the guest stars (members of Atmosphere, Wu-Tang, and a few others) fit nicely in the flow…shit, there’s even goddamn record scratching!  I’d be hard pressed to a name a release that felt so immediately familiar even upon first listen.  “Pistol Dave” and “Shin Splints” are the stand-outs here, but truly the whole of “This Was Supposed To Be Fun” is great.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Martha - Love Keeps Kicking (Dirtnap, 2019)

Love Keeps Kicking

Rating: 7 albino alligators out of 10

Can I just say Martha is the British version of Swearin’ and leave it at that, or do I need to say more on the topic?  Both are more or less punky pop (as opposed to pop punk, obviously), have both male and female lead vocals, lots of mid-tempo numbers, and just an overall similar vibe.  Hell, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining the comparison I went back and listened to some Swearin’ and reaffirmed I wasn’t just making this up.  They’re not exactly the same obviously - Martha is a little janglier, has more harmonies between the lead vocalists (and in fact, though the dynamic is the same, the vocalists for each group sound very different from one another), and occasionally venture into a Promise Ring-like emo pop territory (see album highlight “Sight For Sore Eyes” or “Wrestlemania VIII”).  The best song on “Love Keeps Kicking” is actually the title track, a tune that will immediately get stuck in your head and that sounds like an outtake from the debut Exploding Hearts record (I seldom offer praise this high in this genre).  This song is so good that it actually makes the rest of this otherwise very enjoyable release seem lackluster in comparison.  Strong, strong contender for song of the year, if I actually kept track of such things. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ex Hex - It’s Real (Merge, 2019)

Ex Hex
It’s Real

Rating: 9 boxy yellow birds out of 10

Did you fall in love with the last Ex Hex record, “Rips,” like I did?  If your answer is “yes” - congratulations, allow me to introduce you to their sophomore follow-up “It’s Real,” one of the very best albums of 2019; that descriptor will be holding strong no matter how many other quality releases come out this year.  If your answer is “no” – I quite literally want nothing to do with you, please go away, you make me sad.  “It’s Real” feels so much like a continuation of “Rips” that I’d completely believe both were recorded during the same session, and I mean that as the highest compliment – when you have a sound so dialed in and perfect right from the start, why fuck with a good thing?  My review of “Rips” was downright middling compared to how much I would go on to listen to (and love) that debut; because of that I came into this one with guns blazing and expectations astronomical, and gladly, I’ve not been left wanting.  Betsy Wright handles lead vocals on a few tracks, including my favorite of the record “Rainbow Shiner,” a song that would have fit in great with her excellent side project Bat Fangs (think a slightly glammier Ex Hex if you’ve never heard them); Mary Timony is in the lead for most of the album though, and her best track “Diamond Drive” is nearly as good.  In fact, it should come as no surprise given my effusive praise and the high rating above that literally every song on “It’s Real” is great, and I truly can’t wait to listen to this over and over and over.