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!

The Rock*A*Teens - Sixth House (Merge, 2018)

The Rock*A*Teens
Sixth House

Rating: 7 bottles of raven’s blood out of 10

The Rock*A*Teens were a Merge records mainstay in the late nineties and early oughts, frequently opening for Superchunk or one of the other Merge bands I was always seeing play live.  I never really liked or disliked them, but I was often annoyed that I had to sit through another set by them to get to the band I actually wanted to see.  Fast forward nearly two decades later, and after a lengthy hiatus the band returns with “Sixth House,” their sixth album (I’m sure that name was a coincidence)…and I quite dig it.  Have the Rock*A*Teens changed?  Honestly, not really – a little more mature I guess, and a little less noisy, but they’re still doing the same southern, jangly indie pop that’s the musical equivalent to a humid southern night.  The bulk of the original line-up remains intact, including frontman Chris Lopez - whose distinctive vocals have always defined the sound of the Rock*A*Teens.  He manages to somehow sound angry, intoxicated, and hurt all at the same time when he sings, no small feat.  I think my change of opinion with this act is more on my maturing tastes than anything the band has or has not done.  There is no finer moment on this album than the anthemic “Go Tell Everybody,” a song begging to be sung along to after the first listen even if all you know is the chorus, and an easy choice as one of the best tracks of the year.  The rest of "Sixth House" is pretty swell as well, and certainly worth a listen even if you were never a fan the first time around.    

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Death Cab For Cutie - Thank You For Today (Atlantic / Barsuk, 2018)

Death Cab For Cutie
Thank You For Today
Atlantic / Barsuk

Rating: 6.5 near-sighted ophthalmologists out of 10

Hey guys, there’s a new Death Cab For Cutie record out called “Thank You For Today“!  It sounds just like that Postal Service band, only less electronic!

To put it quite simply – the songs that sound like classic Death Cab For Cutie songs?  I quite like those.  There’s a place in my heart for somber Ben Gibbard indie pop, a place that’s been there for twenty years now, a place that I doubt ever goes away.  But the bad eighties pastiche of “I Dreamt We Spoke Again” and “Gold Rush,” the song that sounds like an Imagine Dragons cover?  Oof, that’s some hot garbage, and it actually seems even worse than it actually is because those two are the first and third songs - putting a bad taste in your mouth from the start.  Luckily, I stuck with it and the good far outweighs the bad, and unless you’re listening to this on cassette it’s damn easy to skip to the next track.  The entire second half of the record is especially good – “Autumn Love” and “Northern Lights” should have been the first two songs, and album closer “60 & Punk” is one of their best tracks this century.  A little better tracking during post-production to bury the couple of turds floating in the pond would have worked wonders here. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Superchunk - Fishing 7'' (Merge, 1991)

Fishing 7''

Rating: 10 bottles of railroad wine out of 10

What can I possibly be expected to say about a single featuring two of the best ever Superchunk songs, other than to sing it's praises of perfection?  In 10th grade I bought my first ever album by the band, "Tossing Seeds" on cassette (probably from the Radio Shack in my town, the only store that carried music; and I most likely had to have them special order it for me).  Yeah, it's not actually an album but rather a compilation of their first few singles, but regardless I listened to that tape so much I'm truly shocked it never broke.  Both "Fishing" and the b-side "Cool" were on there, holding down the end of side A and beginning of side B - "Cool" probably got a few more plays because I definitely listened to side B more as it featured my favorite Superchunk song of all time, "Cast Iron."  It's impossible to listen to this and not feel nostalgic for simpler times, driving around in my beater Mazda 323, skating parking lots with my friends, and dreaming of what the future might bring when I finally got to escape that small town.  These aren't just songs, they're integral building blocks of my childhood and the adult I came to be. 

Added bonus: they actually made a video for "Fishing," in case you want to remember what Jim Wilbur looked like with hair.  

Friday, August 17, 2018

Spider Bags - Someday Everything Will Be Fine (Merge, 2018)

Spider Bags
Someday Everything Will Be Fine

Rating: 8 of those red flashing lights you see at the top of radio towers out of 10

This is obviously just one dumb old man’s opinion, but our local scene here in the Triangle of North Carolina hasn’t been much to speak of the last few years.  It’s always gone through peaks and valleys so I’m not overly concerned about it, but either way it’s still particularly nice that we have a few acts out there carrying the torch that this area still matters musically.  There’s the immortal Superchunk of course, Sylvan Esso has a large following, and we get to at least sorta claim Future Islands, but for my money Spider Bags is just as important as any of them.  There’s not really anyone else around here doing exactly what they do, a hybrid of punk and garage and country that over the years, at their best, is a blend of the Replacements, Meat Puppets and James Gang.  Second track “Oxcart Blues” is an automatic top five song by the band, “Cop Dream/Black Eye” proves they can just turn into the Oblivians if the notion strikes them, and “My Heart Is a Flame In Reverse” might be the song Hank III has been trying to write his whole career.  “Someday Everything Will Be Fine” sounds live and sweaty and immediate, like seeing the band perform live but only with your ears (obviously, you should definitely see them live with the rest of your body if they ever come to your town).  It may or may not be their best record – I really, really loved “Frozen Letter” – but it’s damn good, and the closest they’ve ever gotten to capturing what this band sounds like in my brain when I think about them. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cause Co-Motion - Which Way Is Up? 7'' (What's Your Rupture?, 2006)

Cause Co-Motion
Which Way Is Up? 7''
What's Your Rupture?

Rating: 9 quiet limos out of 10

Quite simply, "Which Way Is Up?" by Cause Co-Motion is one of the best pop songs of the last 25 years.  Maybe even longer.  I've thought that for a damn long time, and the conviction of my feelings have not wavered one bit.  I don't even care about the b-side ("Falling Again") here - it's fine, but inconsequential in comparison to the lead track.  The song is a little quirky, a little jangly, and if you're anything like me it will be instantly stuck in your head FOR TWELVE FUCKING YEARS.  Honestly, I'm totally fine with it. 

The Rocking Horse Winner / Electro Group - Split 7'' (Slide The Needle, 2002)

The Rocking Horse Winner / Electro Group
Split 7''
Slide The Needle

Rating: 5.5 lost sisters out of 10

I grabbed this out of the bargain bin because I've enjoyed a few Electro Group songs over the years, not even realizing it was a split at first.  That means only one song by them called "Panzer Treat."  It's a decent enough track, the band continues down their path as poppy My Bloody Valentine acolytes, though the production is a little more muddled than I would like. 

The other side is a band with a terrible name I'd never heard of called Rocking Horse Winner - "Tomorrow" is Velocity Girl-ish indie pop, interesting enough when you're listening to it, but ultimately forgettable.  I think there are some Dashboard Confessional ties with one or some of the members of this group, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence that I would want to hear more from these guys/gal. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs (Sub Pop, 2018)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Hope Downs
Sub Pop

Rating: 8 parked wines out of 10

1. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is a dumb name, and I’ll be calling them RBCF because I’m not typing out all that shit again.  Apparently even the band feels the same way, because they have their name as “Rolling Blackouts C.F.” (a pretty half-assed attempt at brevity) on the cover on this, their debut full-length.  It’s odd you would opt to go by such a long, weird name, and then not even use the whole thing on the first record you release.

2. I think the name is the only actual gripe I have about “Hope Downs,” and I’m not entirely sure why I led with it.  It sets an unnecessarily grumpy tone for an album I quite like and whose content isn’t grumpy whatsoever. 

3. In fact, I’d call this music breezy…like a modern, more upbeat version of yacht rock from the late seventies and early eighties.  I deem this new genre sunglasses rock, because it’s the sort of music where you can imagine the guitarist wearing sunglasses during the show and looking completely non-plussed the entire time.  There’s also a surf rock vibe to the guitar, and I’m pretty sure surfers also like sunglasses so…

4. Fans of Real Estate, Vampire Weekend, and that ilk should definitely give RBCF a spin.  I actually like this quite a bit more than either of those bands listed.  You could also draw a line to some of the kiwi rock acts like the Chills or 3ds, and since this group is Australian that comparison might even make them mad so that’s a bonus.  In my mind Aussies and Kiwis hate each other, but I have no idea if that’s true.       

5. The back-to-back jams “”Talking Straight” and “Mainland” could both be contenders for any list compiling the best songs of the year.  “Bellarine” is also a strong contender.  RCBF is one of the best new bands made up of actual young people I’ve listened to in quite some time.  Get on it. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Howard Ivans - Red Face Boy 7'' (Spacebomb, 2013)

Howard Ivans
Red Face Boy 7''

Rating: 7.5 loved things out of 10

Howard Ivans = Ivan Howard, best known as the singer of the Rosebuds.  So as not to repeat myself (aka I'm lazy), see my live review from last year here if you need further information about what this is.  

This single actually predates the last record from the Rosebuds "Sand + Silence" (I don't think they ever officially broke up, but I would be shocked if they were ever a band again), but it falls right in line with his solo full-length from last year "Beautiful Tired Bodies."  Both tracks - "Red Faced Boy" and "Pillows" - sound like modern takes on seventies-era Chicago.  Given that the Spacebomb collective not only released this seven inch but also served as the backing band for this recording session, it totally makes sense it would sound like Chicago.  Ivan has a perfect voice to compliment this style of funky soul instrumentation, and to nobody's surprise both tracks work quite well.  

Morrissey - This Is Morrissey (Parlophone, 2018)

This Is Morrissey

Rating: <insert gif of a confused child shrugging their shoulders>

In the grand tradition of the classic Morrissey cash-grab , I present to you “This Is Morrissey.”  No one loves continually releasing and re-releasing his own music as much as he does, and I guess why not if people keep buying it?  I’m never entirely sure how to rate this things – if it’s purely on music, it’s a 10 out of 10.  A ton of his very best songs are here, including a remastered version of what might be my favorite track of his, “Speedway” (it’s at least top three with “Sing Your Life” and “Boyracer”).  If instead you rate the release for its necessity to exist, the number drops to almost zero.  Maybe the biggest issue is I have no idea what the theme is – there are some of his biggest hits like “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and “The Last of the Famous International Playboys”; obscure cuts like a live cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” (really good, and probably the best argument for actually buying this) and a remix of “Suedehead” (one of the worst things I’ve ever heard); plus run-of-the-mill (but perfectly fine) album tracks like “Have-A-Go Merchant” and “Whatever Happens I Love You.”  It’s too pedestrian for the super fans, and has too strange a tracklist to be recommended to someone new to the curmudgeonly crooner.  Plus the track order is beyond bizarre – who puts “Everyday Is Like Sunday” as the last song on anything?  Honestly, I think the compilation might have been created by just loading every Morrissey song into iTunes, putting it on shuffle, and then taking the first random 12 songs and calling it a new release.  Good job by all!

Friday, July 6, 2018

American Aquarium - Things Change (New West, 2018)

American Aquarium
Things Change
New West

Rating: 7 flooring modules out of 10

“Things Change,” indeed – American Aquarium is back with their seventh full-length, and an entirely new line-up short of frontman BJ Barham.  He might cycle through band members as often as the Fall’s Mark E. Smith did, but like Smith it’s Barham’s voice and vision that makes the band tick anyways…things change, but things also stay the same. 

If I didn’t know the backstory, I’m not sure I would even notice the change – the last set of dudes were damn good musicians, and it these new cats seem just as good.  What does seem to improve album after album is Barham’s songwriting – I’m almost always a “their earlier material was better” sort of person, but AA seem to up themselves with each successive release.  I can say definitively that the second song “Crooked+Straight” is the best thing they’ve ever released, or at least my favorite – it sounds like Bruce Springsteen meets Drive-By Truckers in the best possible way.  The lead slide work on the Tom Petty-referencing “When We Were Younger Men” will worm into your head and sit there for days.  “I Gave Up The Drinking (Before She Gave Up On Me)” sounds like the type of seventies outlaw country (complete with organ and wah guitar) with which Merle or Waylon would be proud to be associated.

Can American Aquarium continue this upward trajectory with each successive release?  Is it possible the band will eventually cycle through every active musician in the known universe?  Can anything be done to get that slide guitar line out of my head?  I guess we'll find out next time around.   

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Jeff The Brotherhood - Whatever I Want 7'' (Third Man, 2011)

Jeff the Brotherhood
Whatever I Want 7''
Third Man

Rating: 7 unreleased boys out of 10

I'm always down for a couple of tasty Jeff The Brotherhood songs, and these please the palate.  The title track is one of the classic "stoner rock" type jams, and would later be found on their 2015 record "Global Chakra Rhythms."  This version actually features Jack White playing the organ part, not that you can tell that from listening...just a fun fact for your next White Stripes trivia night.  The b-side is "Everything I Need" by a German band I'd never heard of called Tiger B. Smith...I really dig it and will be digging up their albums from less reputable sources online pronto.