Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mount Moriah - Calvander 7'' (Merge, 2015)

Mount Moriah
Calvander 7''
Merge
2015

Rating: 7 bloody bags out of 10

The last Mount Moriah album "Miracle Temple" was still a pretty good effort, but I loved their self-titled debut so much and had such high expectations they really had nowhere to go but down.  Happily, I like this new seven inch by them so much it re-ignited my excitement and I've already pre-ordered their next album that's coming out in the next month or two.  The title track and the demo version of "Baby Blue" are both going to be on that next record, and both are totally great - a little twangy, a little dark, just the way I like their jams.  The best track is the final one though, and the biggest reason to hunt this wax down -  a live version of "Plane" from their self-titled effort.  Probably my second favorite song of theirs ever, and the recording is resplendent.  I'm real happy with this. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Royal Headache - High (What's Your Rupture?, 2015)

Royal Headache
High
What's Your Rupture?
2015

Rating: 7.5 poor socialites out of 10

I'm pretty sure I initially thought this release by Royal Headache was Royal Baths, a band from San Francisco I saw live once that was kinda boring.  Because of that, I didn't listen to this for ages, just sitting there on my computer collecting digital dust.  Eventually I threw it on and...oh yeah, it's a totally different band and I'm an idiot.  Every year there is at least one release that I listen to the shit out of the next year...my money is on "High" being very high on that list.

The band's sound is a little all over the place, and don't really sound anything like the rest of the indie/punk crowd coming out of Australia these days.  I suppose it is a big ass country and there would be no reason for things to be homogeneous to begin with, but it's easy to put other places in those nice neat boxes.  More than anything they do a jangly pop-punk thing, but certainly not only that.  The singer can get a little soulful, see "Wouldn't You Know";  the band can sound like they are doing a Style Council cover, see "Need You", or perhaps Soul Asylum, see "Carolina"; and probably my favorite is the opener "My Own Fantasy," which would sound right at home on a Terry Malts album.  The main thing that unites all these different influences is the band does all of them really well, and I'm already looking forward to listening to this record on repeat for a good chunk of 2016. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Low - Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop, 2015)

Low
Ones and Sixes
Sub Pop
2015

Rating: 8 breathing snails out of 10

I've long been a total fanboy of Low, both in recorded form and live, ever since I randomly bought a used copy of "The Curtain Hits the Cast" in college...nearly twenty years ago.  I don't feel good about typing that.   I do, however, feel good about this new Low record "Ones and Sixes."  There are never any great leaps or changes in what Low does - it's always subtle, and often takes a few listens to pinpoint.  The two most noteworthy items on "Ones and Sixes" are the use of electronic drums to augment the simple drum beats that usually populate their tracks, and a strong Cocteau Twins vibe from the guitars on a few songs.  Make no mistake though, any fan of Low is going to feel right at home with this one.  As is always the case anytime they release a record, it's one of my favorites of the year. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Destroyer - Poison Season (Merge, 2015)

Destroyer
Poison Season
Merge
2015

Rating: 8.5 male potency drugs out of 10

It wasn't until I read another review that I realized this latest Destroyer album, "Poison Season," carried a New York City theme throughout much of the songs.  Listen, I hardly ever pay attention to lyrics - so long as they aren't super blatantly stupid, singers can pretty much be saying whatever they want.  The thing is that musically, this album sounds very much like the late seventies in the greater New York City area - there are easy comparisons to Springsteen, Lou Reed and Bowie of that era.  Not the vocals mind you - Dan Bejar sounds nothing like those three titans, but is amazing all the same on his own terms.  The second track on the album, "Dream Lover," is instantly one of the top five best songs Destroyer has ever released - very strong praise in my opinion.  I keep waiting for the inevitable downhill slide with Bejar and Destroyer, but album after album they not only meet but surpass my expectations. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Archers of Loaf - Curse of the Loaf - Live at Cat's Cradle (ARRA, 2015)

Archers of Loaf
Curse of the Loaf - Live at Cat's Cradle
ARRA
2015

Rating: vs. the Greatest of All Time

As a self-professed superfan of the Archers of Loaf, the only thing that could possibly keep me from loving this is if the live recording was bad.  It's not.  I've seen them a good half-dozen times since their reformation, including one of the nights when this was recorded (August 19-20, 2011) if I remember correctly, and they give me that same excitement that they did when I saw them for the first time more than twenty years ago.  No, a live recording isn't quite as good as the live experience, but it's still a damn fine representation of what is so great about this band. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Flesh Wounds - In the Mouth EP (Snot, 2015)

Flesh Wounds
In the Mouth EP
Snot
2015

Rating: 8 political journals out of 10

Running through six songs in about thirteen minutes, Flesh Wounds like to get right to the point.  This is aggro old school-style punk that almost borders on hardcore at times.  On the opener "Attack," it feels like you're being attacked for the entire 78 seconds of the song.  This is a lot closer to early Black Flag or Negative Approach or the punk coming out of DC than it is the modern happy-go-lucky garage punk that the kids love so much.  Most of the songs sound like singer Montgomery Morris is eating the microphone while he sings...I can attest after seeing them live a number of times that this is actually the case.  As a side note, they have a song called "Joy Division Killed My Boner."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Caspian - Dust and Disquiet (Triple Crown, 2015)

Caspian
Dust and Disquiet
Triple Crown
2015

Rating: 7.5 headphone planets out of 10

I honest to god couldn't tell you much of anything that sets Caspian apart from Explosions in the Sky or Mono or This Will Destroy You or <insert the name of other post-rock band here>, but I can tell you it sounds totally fuckin' great.  They do occasionally sing, and I mean very occasionally, so that's one small difference.  Maybe a little more piano in their music?  that's total speculation.  They do the whole quiet-loud-quiet thing as well as anyone.  I recently saw them perform live on the tour for this record, and it was outstanding.  As with all of these bands, this is much better when listened to through headphones...jamming it through your car radio while cruising down the freeway, you're going to lose a lot of the nuance.  This is definitely worth a listen though, regardless of format. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pavement - The Secret History, Vol. 1 (Matador, 2015)

Pavement
The Secret History, Vol. 1
Matador
2015

Rating: 9 distant voices out of 10

A compilation of B-sides, Peel sessions, live records, and miscellaneous other tracks from one of my favorite bands of all time, Pavement.  If you're already a fan like myself, you'll recognize the B-sides from some of their seven inches, but it's nice to have them all in one spot.  The recordings on the Peel sessions are obviously excellent as is usually the case with Peel sessions.  The live recordings are all from a 1992 concert in Brixton, and these are A+ as well - and as someone who's seen a couple of "phoned in" Pavement gigs, it sounds like the band is on their game here.  Owning this is a no-brainer for fans like myself; anyone new to Pavement would probably still enjoy this, but I'd suggest grabbing a copy of "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" and/or "Slanted and Enchanted" first. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers (Merge, 2015)

Mac McCaughan
Non-Believers
Merge
2015

Rating: 7.5 fresh limes out of 10

Portastatic seemed like it was already basically the solo act of Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, a place for him to record and release his poppier songs.  Apparently for reasons I'm not aware of and too lazy to try and look up, he needed to distance himself from that outlet as well, releasing his first ever solo record "Non-Believers" under his own name.  Not that I'm complaining obviously - I'm a huge fan of everything the man puts to tape, and this album is no different.  Except for some guest appearances by label-mates Michael Benjamin Lerner (Telekinesis), Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), and Annie Hayden Spent), everything on this album was written and recorded by Mac himself.  Despite the name change, this feels and sounds A LOT like a Portastatic record, not that there's anything wrong with that - I'm certainly digging it, one of my favorite records of the year.  

A possible side note - these songs take on a much more rockin' vibe live, as Mac has recruited the punk band Flesh Wounds to be his backing musicians when playing gigs most of the time.  It's definitely worth seeing them perform and gives the songs a whole new life - it wouldn't be terrible idea for Merge to record the Flesh Wound versions of these tracks and release them as well...it would almost be like an entirely new Mac McCaughan record. 

The Dodos - Individ (Polyvinyl, 2015)

The Dodos
Individ
Polyvinyl
2015

Rating: 7 synaptic trees out of 10

I'm pretty sure everyone has a band or bands that fall into this category - every time you hear them you love their music, and yet you rarely ever listen to them..and you have no idea why.  That's where I've always been with the Dodos.  I'm listening to this record, "Individ," as I type this, and it sounds fantastic - every song is strong, very catchy and should be something I revisit frequently.  "The Tide" and "Goodbyes and Endings" are especially noteworthy, both heavily driven by the drums (not uncommon with this band) but held together by the vocals of Meric Long.  But if my past history is any indicator, I'll forget about this record nearly as soon as I stop listening to it...likely forgotten until the Dodos' next release, when I have this exact same revelation.  Sorry Dodos, you deserve better because you're definitely holding up your end of the bargain. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bandway - Buddies (The Man Who Drives the Van, 2015)

Bandway
Buddies
The Man Who Drives the Van
2015

Rating: infinity + 1

I've used "bandwayrules" as my name on message boards and in email addresses for nearly 20 years now...go ahead and guess how excited I am that Bandway released their first new record in thirteen years.  

I don't have the words for it.  "Buddies" is amazing.  Everything they do is amazing.  They have a song on here called "White Nipples."  Last time I saw them live Brooks played air guitar on a vacuum cleaner.  They are everything.  Buy all of their records.  The end.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

American Aquarium - Wolves (Self-Released, 2015)

American Aquarium
Wolves
Self-Released
2015

Rating: 7.5 green goats out of 10

American Aquarium are well loved here in Raleigh where I live and where they hail from, and I've known the singer BJ Barham for a number of years now.  In some ways that connection actually plays against them for me, because it's kinda weird to critically write about people you've played basketball and shot the shit with...then again I'm not much a of a critic so I'm not sure it matters.  

Anyways, blah blah blah, this record is damn good.  I find more often than not I prefer a band's earlier output to their later work, but AA has grown steadily into their sound over a few records, and without a doubt "Wolves" is their best album.  I'm sure getting Megafaun's Brad Cook didn't hurt (content aside it sounds amazing), but I think the real credit just comes with age and maturity and the band growing into the professional musicians they are today.  They also play 300ish shows a year, so I'm sure that hasn't hurt either.  Their music floats somewhere on the spectrum of shit-kicker alt-country, but somehow that seems a little too limiting for what they are trying to do.  If I were to give a specific comparison I would say Bruce Springsteen with more slide guitar and less saxophone...and knowing BJ, he'd be more than happy that someone compared him to his idol Bruce.  "Man I'm Supposed To Be" is one of the best songs to come out this year and the title track "Wolves" is very strong, but there isn't a bad track here.  Nice job fellas - now get back to town and let's play some basketball. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monsterland - Insulation 7'' (Seed, 1993)

Monsterland
Insulation 7''
Seed
1993

Rating: 6.5 offensive clippers out of 10

Despite having been featured on a split with my beloved Archers of Loaf, I never paid much attention to Monsterland during their active years.  I probably should have, as I quite like both tracks here.  The title track has an early Soul Asylum/Husker Du vibe, and I'm really feeling it.  The b-side is a cover of the Fall's "Totally Wired," which is kinda weird but I give them a thumbs up for giving it a shot.  It's sorta odd the Fall doesn't get covered more often. 

Looper - Impossible Things 7'' (Sub Pop, 1998)

Looper
Impossible Things 7''
Sub Pop
1998

Rating: 5 fat red-headed girls out of 10

To be totally honest, I only bought this Looper record because it was dollar and it has a Belle & Sebastian connection.  Both tracks sound like pop versions of something Arab Strap would have done.  I love the Strap but I'm not sure there was ever a need for another like them. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art, 2015)

Protomartyr
The Agent Intellect
Hardly Art
2015

Rating: 8.5 reds and greens out of 10

Protomartyr didn't really win me over until I saw them live, and then everything changed.  Like a bolt of lightning straight to my head, all of their recordings went from "that's pretty good" to "holy shit this is my favorite thing in the entire world."  With "The Agent Intellect," somehow they got even better and I didn't think that was possible. 

Starting with the opener "The Devil in His Youth," the songs always feel like they're trying to jump out of the speakers - so much pent up energy...like force-feeding a fidgety kid a half-dozen Red Bulls and then locking him in a closet.  And yet, they hold that restraint, never really breaking through, always teetering on the edge of exploding musically but keeping their shit together, so to speak.  The band always gets called post-punk, but they are so much more than that.  At their best, Protomartyr are a more melodic version of the Fall, minus the overbearing Napoleonic front man (but retaining his genius).  I also get a heavy Jonathan Fire*Eater vibe, which was the more rockin' precursor to the Walkmen.  All the other comparisons have their place as well, from Pere Ubu to Les Savy Fav to Joy Division to US Maple, but the Fall is the big one, the important one.  They're not a cover band though, don't get that impression - but pretty much everyone is a confluence of those that came before them, and those groups are the building blocks of Protomartyr in my mind.   
It took me about half a listen to realize this was going to be one of the best records of the year.  Top three almost certainly...maybe even landing my personal top spot.  Don't miss out on this one.