Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The King Khan Experience - The King Khan Experience EP (Scion, 2011)

The King Khan Experience
The King Khan Experience EP

Rating: 6.5 sleepy time tea bags out of 10

Scion has been releasing a ton of great, free garage and punk music this past year, including this EP by King Khan under the guise of The King Khan Experience.  It very much falls in line with what you expect from the man, garage rock stompers with a little bit of a weird edge.  Like putting a flute solo in one of the songs ("Come Levitate With Me") or covering a Jay Reatard song in German ("Hammer Ich Vermisse Dich" aka "Hammer I Miss You").  "I Got Love" is the best of the bunch, along with the Reatard cover.  It feels sorta disjointed, like some sort of odds-n-sods compilation, but it's free and there is some good music to be heard here so no real complaints. 

Grab the free download here

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Fall - Ersatz G.B. (Cherry Red, 2011)

The Fall
Ersatz G.B.
Cherry Red

Rating: Fall Falls out of The Fall

3,496 albums into their existence, how the hell do you even write a review of a Fall record?  It's a Fall record.  It sounds like the Fall.  It can't possibly sound like anything else at this point.  Mark E. Smith will be approaching his 100th birthday (probably not that far from it now, honestly), working on his millionth release, and it will still sound like pretty much everything else the Fall has released. 

So here's the review - it sounds like a Fall record.  A good Fall record, though they're all pretty good to great.  Very straight-forward and rockin', just like you want a Fall record to be.  Not sure they're winning over any new fans at this point, but us old folks will enjoy it.  I'f you've never listened to them before, go buy "Grotesque (After the Gramme)" or "Hex Enduction Hour" or...shit, pretty much everything from the late seventies to the early/mid-eighties is worth a listen.  But this is good.  It sounds like the Fall, after all. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mastodon - The Hunter (Reprise, 2011)

The Hunter

Rating: 5 octopus fingers out of 10

The production is a little too thin and tinny, a lot of the hard edge to the music is gone, half the record sounds like it was written by Tool (not a compliment), the overly melodic vocals are a bad fit...but fuck it, it's still a Mastodon record, it can't be all that bad right?  And in the grand scheme of things, it isn't...most bands would probably love to put this out.  But this is the band that brought us "Leviathan", and this simply isn't good enough.  Maybe that's unfair, but when you produce one of the best metal records of the last twenty years, you're going to be held to a higher standard after that.  I know when I'm wanting to hear Mastodon I'm definitely not reaching for this newest record anytime soon. 

Brown Sugar - Sings Of Birds And Racism (Feeble Minds / Feral Kid, 2011)

Brown Sugar
Sings Of Birds And Racism
Feeble Minds / Feral Kid

Rating: 7 Circle K skanks out of 10

In my old age I don't get nearly as excited about hardcore as a did when I was a wild-ass teenager, but I really like what Brown Sugar is bringing to the table.  Despite being from New York, they're not going down that hockey jock route of hardcore but instead bringing a sloppier, more lackadaisical approach ala my favorite hardcore band of all time, the Circle Jerks.  No, they're not as good as the Circle Jerks, but in this modern age they do a decent enough job getting close.  Not a release that's going to save the world, but a nice reminder that there are still people out there making good hardcore music. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jay Reatard - You Get No Love 7'' (Shattered, 2011)

Jay Reatard
You Get No Love 7''

Rating: 6.5 memphis minnies out of 10

This Jay Reatard seven inch represents the last known recordings he made before his untimely death, put to tape just a couple of days before that sad date.   Musically, they might not be the strongest thing he has ever released, but it's a nice (and sad) reminder of this once great performer cut down in his prime.  Both tracks have a solo/bedroom feel to them, just him and his guitar, exorcising some demons.  This is an extremely limited record, so you're going to be paying a lot for it on ebay or if you're like me, you'll "find" it online. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bare Wires - Cheap Perfume 10'' (Southpaw, 2011)

Bare Wires
Cheap Perfume 10''

Rating: 7 strange bottles of cologne out of 10

I wrote about Bare Wires this summer - the "Don't Ever Change" 7" - and this almost-a-full-length album shares that title track in common (but failed to include the amazing b-side "Ready To Go", one of the best songs of the entire year).  Sound-wise, it's still all very familiar, mostly because it calls beck to some of the best music of all time: Thin Lizzy, Big Star, Cheap Trick, T. Rex, etc.  Any music that is this simple and so packed with hooks is going to sound like a lot of other well-established bands no matter what - and nobody really cares because if a song is catchy, a song is catchy, even if it's the same song you've heard a thousand times by a thousand different bands.  You keep going back and listening again and again, singing along, not a care in the world.  Catchy music has that effect on me at least, and I'm certain I'm not alone.  Bare Wires are making some of the catchiest music of anyone writing songs these days. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor (Merge, 2011)

Crooked Fingers
Breaks in the Armor

Rating: 7.5 horse hearses out of 10

Eric Bachmann, the main force behind Crooked Fingers, reunited his old band the Archers of Loaf (aka my favorite band of all time) and played a few shows...I got to see them three times, and it was some of the best shows I had ever seen them play.  What does this have to do with the new Crooked Fingers record?  I'm not entirely sure, but I think the recent reappearance of AoL had me hoping that the Crooked Fingers sound might shift, at least slightly, back towards Bachmann's early sound.  Which is a silly thing to hope for honestly, as I love everything Crooked Fingers have released nearly as much as the Archers, and this newest record continues his outstanding tradition of well-written, unique folk songs.  His voice does seem less "Neil Diamond" these days and much closer to his Archers voice, and the use of a sampler in the track "Went to the City" reminds me of one of my all time favorite AoL songs "Form and File", but that's about all the parallels you could draw to his former act.  

Man this review is a rambling mess.  I often have that problem with music and bands I really love and have listened to for, well, over a decade now.  Just know this - if you've liked Bachmann's previous work as Crooked Fingers, you definitely won't be disappointed here - it's one of his stronger albums under that moniker.  If you've never heard him before, grab the first one, the self-titled one, but this would be a fine choice as well.  

In whatever form he's willing to give himself to us, I'm a happy listener. 

Future Islands - On The Water (Thrill Jockey, 2011)

Future Islands
On The Water
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 7.5 New Balance sneakers out of 10

It didn't seem to take too long for Future Islands to go from a relatively obscure local band to filling up pretty big clubs every night.  Turns out you can still build a buzz and a larger fan base with constant touring and releasing one good record after another.  

Last year's "In Evening Air" was indisputably my favorite album on the year, so it only seems natural that any follow-up by the band would have to be a letdown.  And, technically, this album fits that description, but that isn't to say it isn't still a damn good record.  There may be no single song as powerful as "Tin Man" here, but "Before The Bridge" and "Give Us The Wind" and "Balance" are all scorchers, and there ain't a bad track in the set.  Perhaps it comes from some of the band members growing up on the coast, but I get a heavy "sea side" vibe from this record.  And I'm not talking summertime fun-in-the-sun beach antics...more like off-season, when it's cold and dreary and you have the pier and everything else to yourself.  Not sure that makes sense, but that's the vibe I'm getting.  And it's a great vibe to get sometimes.  

As a side note, this record makes a great companion when driving through the sparsely populated stretch of I-95 between Rocky Mount and Richmond on a brisk fall day. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation (Fat Possum, 2011)

Youth Lagoon
The Year of Hibernation
Fat Possum

Rating: 5.5 summer loves out of 10

I've had folks trying to sell me on Youth Lagoon and his debut album "The Year of Hibernation" for a few months now, so I finally broke down and gave it a listen.  Verdict - it ain't doing much for me.  Far from being bad or awful, it's just...boring.  Lo-fi bedroom pop, it sounds like what you might get if Grandaddy's Jason Lytle had a kid who was really into Sparklehorse and recording songs where he sets up a tape deck at one end of a long hall, and performs them at the other end.  After a couple of listens the only song that stood out to me was "Montana", and that is most like due to it being the loudest/most upbeat song on the release.  I'm certain this is going to get a lot of year-end love, and that's fine, though misplaced in my estimation. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small Black - Moon Killer (Jagjaguwar, 2011)

Small Black
Moon Killer

Rating: 7 moon rainbows out of 10

I'm pretty sure Small Black is the result of some kids wanting to start a Primal Scream cover band (early nineties material only), but then they got really into all the 4AD bands from the late eighties, specifically the Cocteau Twins, and decided to release a free record of these sounds where and got Heems from Das Racist to guest on it in a couple of spots.  It's surprisingly good, even if it does wear it's influences boldly.  I can't get over how much the new "hot" music sounds like that era though, with the tinny recordings and swirling guitars and vaguely dance-pop-but-still-rock songs that everyone and their brother was releasing between 1988 and 1991.  All I pretty much wanted to listen to then was Slayer and DRI and Bolt Thrower, but I can dig it.

Grab the free album here - you could definitely do worse, and the price is right.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Flaming Lips - The Strobo Trip: Light and Audio Phase Illusions Toy (Warner Bros, 2011)

The Flaming Lips
The Strobo Trip: Light and Audio Phase Illusions Toy
Warner Bros

Rating: 8 epicly long fingernails out of 10

I've been known to churn out some pretty poorly written reviews on music I haven't listened to very much, but in the case of this new Flaming Lips release, it's going to be written about something I haven't even listened to fully.  Sure, it's only three songs, but the middle song is six hours long.  Yes, six hours long.  And we're not talking six hours of droning noise, but an actual song with drums and musical instruments and vocals and such.  From my skipping around it goes through a number of different changes and movements, so it might be closer to a mixtape than one solid song...but it's six hours long no matter how you describe it.  I have nowhere near the patience to sit through this at home, but it seems like a good experiment to play with yourself if you were working at some boring office job - see how long you can make it.  Given how much I've enjoyed the snippets I've heard, it actually wouldn't be that difficult of a task I don't think.  

Oh yeah, there are two other songs also - both are pretty damn good.  As a whole this is the strongest (and most pop-oriented) release they've put out this year honestly.  Apparently it also comes with some weird light toy to trip out on, but given the limited edition nature of this release I'm settling for just hearing the songs.  Which are definitely worth seeking out.  I was expecting to just give them a thumbs up for originality here, but they've made a great chunk of music. 

Ty Segall - Ty Rex EP (Goner, 2011)

Ty Segall
Ty Rex EP

Rating: 5 wooden salamanders out of 10

Ty Segall releases records almost as often as Robert Pollard, but to my knowledge Pollard has never released an EP entirely made up of T. Rex covers. I appreciate the effort, but I don't see this as something I'll be listening to all that often.  It sounds exactly as you'd expect - mostly straight-forward lo-fi, dingy recordings of the originals.  No interesting arrangements or anything special really, just a garage rock version of some pop classics.  To be perfectly honest, it just makes me want to listen to the originals.  Not to say that this release is terrible, and I'm sure his super fans are well into it, but...meh.  Mostly meh. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Real Estate - Days (Domino, 2011)

Real Estate

Rating: 6.5 green blocks out of 10

All I can think of when I listen to this Real Estate album is the Stone Roses self-titled first record.  That's a good thing I suppose, because that is one of the all-time great albums, but it might be a little too on the nose.   After all, that album did come out 22 years ago (sweet jesus that makes me feel old), and nothing wrong with giving the young kids their own mellow, hazy pop record that feels like a lazy country drive.  But singer Martin Courtney sounds like he's actually impersonating Ian Brown, down to even sounding slightly British...maybe he's from section of New Jersey where they all sound like that, otherwise it makes me wonder if it's intentional or just coincidence.  

Snarking aside, it's a pretty enjoyable record.  Very listenable and instantly catchy, though again, when you sound exactly like the Stone Roses this shouldn't be that surprising.  And regardless of their originality, I'm guessing I'll still listen to this album a number of times, because good songs are good songs no matter how you get there. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Craig Wedren - Wand (Nerveland, 2011)

Craig Wedren

Rating: 7 rectory pools out of 10

I'm a huge Shudder to Think fan, and a few years back I went to a Craig Wedren solo show and got the chance to meet him, and totally fanned out like a backwoods goofball, but he was super friendly and chatty and I guess I'm telling you all of this in one long run-on sentence because you probably shouldn't expect a very unbiased review here.  

So, on his sophomore record, Wedren continues down the path he set forth in "Lapland", an album of pop songs that are just a little too weird for the mainstream but sounds like top 40 compared to his work with Shudder to Think.  And there are moments that I'm not crazy about, the production might be a little overkill, but...that voice.  It's always that voice.  The man could, to borrow a cliche, sing the phone book and I'd listen intently and with rapt attention.  He sounds as fantastic as always, and the high points like "Make Me Hurt You" and "Ladyghost" far outweigh any negative criticism. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wavves - Life Sux EP (Ghost Ramp, 2011)

Life Sux EP
Ghost Ramp

Rating: 7 sand mice out of 10

I've never been particularly big on Wavves, but this new EP may have me changing my tune.  It could be that it's short and to the point, or maybe Wavves main man Nathan Williams is growing as a songwriter, and I suspect it's partly both of these things...either way, I found myself immediately really liking the first three tracks "Bug", "I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl" and "Nodding Off" (which is a collaboration with Best Coast) - all three are incredibly catchy and worth the price alone.  "Bug", while not a cover of Dinosaur Jr, could probably be classified as a rip-off of them if it wasn't such a damn fine tune.  The rest of the short player is fine, but nothing really stands out.  Still, a step in the right direction for this band as far as I'm concerned, enough so that I'll definitely perk up when the next full-length gets released. 

Total Control - Henge Beat (Iron Lung, 2011)

Total Control
Henge Beat
Iron Lung

Rating: 7.5 hammer bibs out of 10

Even without knowing they are from Australia (which I did know before listening) and share a member (which I did not know before listening), your first reaction is going to be to compare Total Control to Eddy Current Suppression Ring.  Which is fine because ECSR totally fucking rule.  Honestly, based on the band's name I was expecting a hardcore album, but that doesn't really matter.  Yes, this smells strongly of ECSR and probably A-Frames, it's sort of post-punk with gothy new wave tinges, a description that sounds eactly like the best work of Suicide and yeah you could throw that comparison in there too.  These songs are a lot catchier than most anything Suicide released though.  Anyways, the point of this short meandering review is to say that Australia is killing it lately and you should probably jump on the bandwagon now before it gets too full.  This is a great record.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Admiral Radley - I Heart California (The Ship, 2010)

Admiral Radley
I Heart California
The Ship

Rating: 6 ho ho plants out of 10

Running a little tardy on this review...Admiral Radley sounds exactly what you would get if the members of Grandaddy and Earlimart got together and dicked around enough in the studio to produce a record.  Wait, that's exactly what happened here.  It really couldn't sound more like a mash-up of those two bands if you tried.  And it also probably makes perfect sense that I don't enjoy this nearly as much as Grandaddy (an all-time favorite band of mine), but more than Earlimart (who I've never been too excited about).  Even if this isn't Jason Lytle's best output, I'm still magnetically drawn to anything he produces like a moth to a flame...well, maybe not exactly like that, cause it won't kill me if I touch the music.  A couple of standout tracks - "GNDN" is a nice mellow number that would have fit in right on Grandaddy's perfect pop album "The Sophtware Slump", and "The Thread", a nice waltz-like track with Arianna Murray singing, and is probably better than anything else Earlimart has ever been a part of. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jacuzzi Boys - Glazin' (Hardly Art, 2011)

Jacuzzi Boys
Hardly Art

Rating: 7 kool kats out of 10

Jacuzzi Boys are from Miami, Florida...cause when you think scuzzy garage pop, you think southern Florida.   "lo-fi jangle pop" might be an even better descriptor, but they are part of the whole modern garage rock scene so why not just go with it.  This isn't groundbreaking material, no one is trying to reinvent the wheel - it's just a trio of young dudes who wrote a really enjoyable, catchy record of pop jams that would be perfect for listening to with the windows down in the middle of the summer.  Being November, it might not have the same effect, but if you feel the need to roll your windows down go for it.  It's got sloppy Beach Boys hooks without the harmonizing, Ramones punk simplicity and sensibility, and the songs seem to all have the same stoned pace, like the band smoked out before every recording session.  

This isn't the best thing I've heard all year, and it might get lost in the shuffle as the years were on, but it's very enjoyable to listen to in the here and now.  Given how many bands there seem to be like this these days (and 94% of them coming from San Francisco), this is definitely one of the better ones. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Wolfroy Goes To Town (Drag City, 2011)

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Wolfroy Goes To Town
Drag City

Rating: 6.5 quail cows out of 10

So Will Oldham aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy released a new album...is it just me or is he starting to approach Robert Pollard territory with the number of releases he's putting out these days?  And like Pollard, not every song is a gem but his batting average is high enough that you'll give anything they put out a listen. 

Lately it's felt like Oldham has been going for a bigger, almost alt-country full-band sound, but this album is a step back to simpler, Palace-style songwriting and performing.  Very sparse instrumentation, exceedingly mellow, songs based mostly around just the man's voice and a guitar, with maybe a little organ or mellotron filling the background and the occasional female voice for accompaniment.  "Black Captain" is a quality track and there are no stinkers on the record, but I'd be lying if I said this release was overly exciting.  It's just good, and sometimes that's good enough.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TOW3RS - Summertime EP (DiggUp Tapes, 2011)

Summertime EP
DiggUp Tapes

Rating: 7.5 positron numericals out of 10

TOW3RS (or Towers if you don't speak young folk computer nerdese) are one of the new hot shit bands coming out of the Triangle these days.  Or maybe they're just hot shit to me, because they jumped way up my list of favorite local bands upon seeing them play live only once.  They have an amazing amount of energy, strongly channeling early Of Montreal before they went disco, a little bit of the quirkiness of Danielson Famile, and locally speaking, they probably owe a nod towards the great local act Lonnie Walker.  That last comparison being particularly apt, as the first song and name of this EP, "Summertime" is actually a Lonnie Walker song - but the TOW3RS version is certainly different enough from the original to make it a compelling listen.vvThe remaining three songs on the EP are no slouches either, with closer "Versailles" having a bit of Shins vibe going on with it.  

This appears to be their first recorded output to be released to the masses, and on those terms I'd have to give a strong thumbs up - they sound much more mature than their physical age and the age of the group.  But this release comes nowhere near the energy and excitement of the band in live form - and they may never capture that magic on tape, but here's to hoping. 

If you're interested, you can grab this EP on the cassette label DiggUp Tapes for pretty cheap over here.  I'd definitely recommend it. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mikal Cronin - Mikal Cronin (Trouble in Mind, 2011)

Mikal Cronin
Mikal Cronin
Trouble in Mind

Rating: 7.5 future pomegranates out of 10

Mikal Cronin might be usually get lumped in with the Bay Area garage rock crowd because of his work with Ty Segall, but this self-titled debut album by him is a pop record.  Yeah, it might get a little fuzzy from time to time, but this is pop through and through.  Lot's of oohs and aahs and tra-la-las and a million moments where you want to sing along with the man.  The one-two punch of "Is It Alright" and "Apathy" is one of the best intros to a performer that I've heard since Superdrag's "Slot Machine" and "Phaser" on "Regretfully Yours".

That's not to say the record doesn't rock out as well, with "Green and Blue" and "Gone" two fine examples where the guitars and tempo get turned up.  But the main impression is that of a young man who has a strong sense of melody, hooks, and sucking people like me into listening to their album many times in a row.  

As a side note,that flute you hear in the opening track "Is It Alright" - none other than Bay area wildman John Dwyer.  Is this a signal that his band Thee Oh Sees will soon be taking a Jethro Tull turn towards flute prog-rock?  Let's just assume the answer is yes.

Belle & Sebastian - Come on Sister EP (Matador, 2011)

Belle & Sebastian
Come on Sister EP

Rating: 5 church bracelets out of 10

This Belle & Sebastian EP is definitely only for the super fans who have to have a copy of everything.  It contains three "reworkings" of two different songs from their last album "Write About Love" - all of which are but none of which are necessary.  The final song "Blue Eyes of a Millionaire" appears to be an unreleased track, and is quite great - though a track from the recording sessions of their last LP, it feels like a classic outing by the band.  So maybe make a point to download that song, but the rest of it?  You ain't missing much.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Strange Boys - Live Music (Rough Trade, 2011)

The Strange Boys
Live Music
Rough Trade

Rating: 6 granite boas out of 10

First, it must be stated that despite the name of this new release by the Strange Boys, it is not a live album.  It's entirely possible I was the only person dumb enough to jump to that conclusion, but just in case, now you've been informed.  No, it's a regular new record by this Texas band, though quite a bit different from their previous releases...where they could before mostly be classified as catchy garage punk, all the fuzz has been stripped away and we're left with something more akin to seventies AOR rock.  Comparisons to Tom Petty, Faces and that ilk are pretty spot on for this band now, surprisingly.  There are even a couple of Spoon moments, which probably isn't all that surprising since Jim Eno of Spoon produced half of the record.  

I'm going to be completely honest, I don't know how to feel about this release, and probably won't come to my final conclusion for quite some time.  I like the garage sass of the old Strange Boys, and I'm generally not against the type of music they are playing now.  But I'm not sure how well it sits with me when a band changes their sound so drastically.  I wouldn't be surprised if this new turn brought them more fans though, and if the group is still having fun, who am I to gripe?

Monday, November 7, 2011

M83 - Midnight City EP (Mute, 2011)

Midnight City EP

Rating: 4 stale caramels out of 10

As much as I hate to speak ill of one of my favorite bands going today, this releases by M83 is pretty...meh.  The song itself, "Midnight City", the first single off of their newest record, is fantastic, and that's what kicks this EP off.  The remaining four tracks are all remixes, none of which I particularly like.  The first one, by Big Black Delta, took a cheesy eighties horn riff and murdered the song with it throughout.  The next two are by Trentemoller and Man Without Country, and are completely forgettable.  The final remix is by Team Ghost, and while the best of the four, still isn't much...and makes me feel like I'm in a cough syrup-induced haze.  Just buy the full length record, which is amazing, and save this EP for the OCD completists. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Russian Circles - Empros (Sargent House, 2011)

Russian Circles
Sargent House

Rating: 7.5 bologna sandwiches out of 10

On their fourth record, Chicago's Russian Circles put out a damn nice slab of instrumental metallic post-rock.   Just like they did on their third record.  And their second.  And, as you might have already guessed, their first. The changes from one album to the next with a band like this are somewhat subtle, probably only noticeable if you've followed their career.  I've followed them a little bit, no super fan or anything, but I could tell this newest record was special right from the start.  I'm not sure I have the vocabulary to describe why though...it sounds "bigger" maybe.  The music isn't busier, but it feels like more of it is there, and it's all around you, enveloping your ears and head.  One thing is for sure, it is a great damn record to listen to and seems like a real likely candidate to make a number of top ten lists.

Acid House Kings - Heaven Knows I Miss Him Now 7" (Labrador, 2011)

Acid House Kings
Heaven Knows I Miss Him Now 7"

Rating: 7 Bob Villas out of 10

A nice little two-shot jolt gleeful pop from Sweden's Acid House Kings.  The title track of the single actually features the lead vocals of Dan Treacy from Television Personalities, and that's exactly what it sounds like - the two bands blended together. The b-side sounds like a regular Acid House Kings song, all sweet and bubbly and cute.  My descriptions of twee pop never sound like something I would listen to, but man I love this shit. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DJ Shadow - I'm Excited EP (Island, 2011)

DJ Shadow
I'm Excited EP

Rating: 6.5 star slingers out of 10

Another EP "previewing" the new DJ Shadow record (which I've still not gotten around to listening to).  Two album tracks, two exclusive tracks. According to Shadow's website this one isn't even available anymore due to sample clearance issues, but if you want a copy of it I'm pretty sure you can figure out how to make that happen.

So anyway, as to the actual music - opening track "I'm Excited" features (obviously British) rapper Afrikan Boy and it sounds like it would have fit on his last full-length "The Outsider".  The second track is soundscape non-entity in my book.  The final two tracks are apparently on the new full-length - "Come On Riding (Through the Cosmos)" is a Shadow-style mellow rocker, and was instantly likeable.  Closer "Let's Get It (Bass, Bass, Bass)" sounds like it should have been a b-side on the "Number Song" single - it's very much that style of construction.  Not amazing, but OK.  

EP is worth seeking out, even if you have to do a little digging.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump (Deluxe Edition) (Universal, 2011)

The Sophtware Slump (Deluxe Edition)

Rating: 10+ wives of farmers out of 10

Given that the original release of this classic Grandaddy album is complete perfection in my book, re-releasing it with an extra disc of rare tracks has gotta be...beyond perfection.  Is that even possible?  The first disc is the same as the original, only remastered; the second disc collects demos of songs on the album along with some b-sides that any fan would be excited to get.  While I knew some of these songs from other collections, hearing this compilation of rarities almost feels like getting a new Grandaddy album.  And there are few joys in life as great as a new Grandaddy album.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic (Matador, 2011)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Mirror Traffic

Rating: 7 galloping stick figures out of 10

After five Pavement records and this the fifth solo record, I think the majority of folks are more than familiar with Stephen Malkmus and his detached cool indie pop songs.  Now, it's not about what the records sound like, cause they all sound kinda the same...no, now it's about how good and/or catchy is this particular chunk of songs.   And this is a quality collection of songs.  Malkmus seems to have stepped away from his Blue Oyster Cult-style fascination with seventies hard rock, and perhaps as a result of the Pavement tour he seems to be coming back to some mid-nineties catchy-as-hell indie pop.  Not as many guitar solos but a lot more hooks.  I've sorta wandered away from most of his solo records, but this one has reeled me back in.

Bad Sports - Kings Of The Weekend (Dirtnap, 2011)

Bad Sports
Kings Of The Weekend

Rating: 7 pretentious bombers out of 10

Bad Sports, out of Texas, are not breaking new ground, and I'm pretty sure they couldn't give a shit.  This is pop punk the way it's been heard for decades, and the way it should always be heard.  "Sweet Sweet Mandi" sounds like it was taken off of a classic Ramones album.  "Teenage Girls" is a dead ringer for an Exploding Hearts track.  You could probably make a Marked Men comparison in here too, and there is a little garage fuzz here and there, but this is a pop record with loud guitars - and the world is better off for it. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps (Sub Pop, 2011)

The Twilight Singers
Dynamite Steps
Sub Pop

Rating: 7.5 cocktail glass holders out of 10

I'm coming in pretty late on this review, but good music is good music and deserves a mention regardless of tardiness.  So, a new Twilight Singers record - it sounds exactly like what you expect a Twilight Singers record to sound.  Greg Dulli has been making his own brand of troubadour rock-n-roll for so long that you can only compare him to himself.  And this album compares quite favorably, as good as probably anything post-Afghan Whigs - and some of the tracks, like "Waves" for example, are as good as anything he has ever been a part of.  And this is coming from someone who has religiously listened to this man since I bought the Whig's "Congregation" on cassette in 1992.  I might have partially bought that tape because there was a naked woman on the cover, but that is neither here nor there.  

I could go on and on about all the guests on the album - Mark Lanegan obviously, but also Ani Difranco and Petra Haden and a ton of other folks - but outside of Lanegan (whose voice pairs perfectly with Dulli), I'm not sure any of it matters.  You're listening to this album because you're either already a part of or curious about the cult of Greg Dulli.  I've been a member for years.  It's a great place to be. 

The Cellar Seas - The Cellar Seas EP (Self-Released, 2011)

The Cellar Seas
The Cellar Seas EP

Rating: 7 slim jackpots out of 10

The Cellar Seas are a fairly new Triangle outfit playing what the kids call "roots rock".  Which is to say, pretty much straight-forward rock music, with a heavy influence of country and/or folk.  All four songs on the EP are quite catchy, with closer "Carousel" getting the highest marks.  Singer and guitarist Roy Bourne has a nice voice, especially when he really let's go with it and hits those long notes.  It's by no means a perfect EP, but for a debut it ain't too shabby.  Plus it's free, which automatically bumps the score up in my cheapskate world.  Grab it over on their bandcamp page, and check them out live as well if you get a chance.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Wrong Words - The Wrong Words (Trouble in Mind, 2011)

The Wrong Words
The Wrong Words
Trouble in Mind

Rating: 7.5 fanciful mustaches out of 10

Power pop!  Praise be to the bands that are keeping that late seventies sound alive.  The first band I think of in this genre of modern pop performers is Gentleman Jesse & His Men, but Bay Area rockers The Wrong Words are quickly climbing their way into my heart and brain and ears and I guess the rest of my body.  Yes, even my genitals.  These guys literally rock, er pop my cock off.  Every single track is catchy as all hell and worm their way into your ear canal like one of them creepy bugs.  These songs could have been hits thirty years ago, when popular radio preferred hooks and bands like Cheap Trick were selling out huge arenas.  I might have been pretty young when that was going on, but it doesn't stop me from celebrating the current crop of pop purveyors...even if you have to dig a little harder to find it these days.

Friday, October 14, 2011

And the Giraffe - Something for Someone EP (Self-Released, 2011)

And the Giraffe
Something for Someone EP

Rating: 7 magic rats out of 10

When you write reviews, even shitty reviews like I do, you sometimes get random solicitations from bands.  And most of the time the music is...boring.  Typical.  Hum drum.  Sometimes it's shitty, which you'll at least take notice of, as it stands out from the rest of the field.  And then once in a blue moon, it's pretty damn good.  

And the Giraffe are a couple of young kids from Florida, or maybe Tennessee and Florida, or who the fuck cares really.  What you should care about is despite their young age they are crafting some really mature, beautiful blissed-out mellow pop songs.  A lot of music gets called "bedroom pop", but as this was actually recorded in a bedroom, I can't think of a better descriptor.  They really really REALLY make me think of Mojave 3, and I love the shit out of Mojave 3.  Everything about this sounds like it  should be coming out of a person twenty years older than these kids - the vocals, the delicate musical arrangements, the production, everything.  I suppose you could gripe there is a bit of sameness to the songs, but if all the songs are good does it really matter?  "Welshrats" particularly stood out for me as the best track, but there really isn't a weak duck in the bunch.      

If you're intrigued, you can download the EP on their bandcamp page.  It's available for whatever you want to pay - in other words, if you aren't their parents, you're probably taking it for free like some damn dirty freeloader.  Just like I did. 

Richmond Fontaine - The High Country (El Cortez, 2011)

Richmond Fontaine
The High Country
El Cortez

Rating: 6 run down Nevada cities out of 10

Richmond Fontaine has been doing their alt-country thing for well over a decade now, crafting a wide variety of twangy, honky tonk tinged music for the masses to enjoy.  And I've enjoyed everything they've released, from the more upbeat Lucero-like punk-tinged country, to their mellower, delicate folk-based songs - which would probably be the best descriptor for this newest album "The High Country".  

The thing is, it's not just another sparse album of dirges on depressed peoples, but it has a structure, telling a story...that I kinda spaced out on since these sorts of things are generally lost on me.  I don't do concept and stories - I just want the music to sounds goo to my ears.  And while the whole album feels like a musical play, with weird spoken word tracks, there are some good songs in there too.  But it's a little frustrating, and after the first listen I just want to skip these non-musical moments, yearning for just a regular album.  

So this isn't their best record.  Try "Post to Wire" or "Thirteen Cities" for that.  But if you're a fan you're still going to want to hear this. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stephin Merritt - Obscurities (Merge, 2011)

Stephin Merritt

Rating: 7 train phobias out of 10

This isn't just a Stephin Merritt record - it's an all-things-Stephin-Merritt record.  With the exception of Future Bible Heroes, all of his bands made it onto this collection of obscure and previously unreleased tracks - The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, and of course solo material (plus what appears to be a cover of the great Magnetic Fields song "Plant White Roses" by someone called Buffalo Rome, and I'm way too lazy to look into them further but this is one of my all-time favorite songs of theirs if you are keeping score at home). 

I'm never quite sure how you review these sorts of compilations, as they are clearly aimed at folks who are already fans (like myself) and not necessarily to be the first thing you hear by a performer.  And if you're already a fan I'm sure you'll love this, already being familiar with some of the songs (the alternate take of the Magnetic Fields' "I Don't Believe You" is fantastic) and eager to hear the rare and unreleased ones.  If you're not a fan, well obviously don't buy this, and why are you even reading the review doofus?  And if you've never heard the man's work, just pick up "The Charm of the Highway Strip" or "Get Lost" or "69 Love Songs" and thank me later. So I'm reviewing this for the fans - it's a really nice comp.  Some of the songs might be a little strange, but not a bad one in the bunch. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Generationals - Medium Rarities EP (Park the Van, 2011)

Medium Rarities EP
Park the Van

Rating: 6 bowls of jambalaya out of 10

Generationals are giving away an EP for free, and god knows I love free.  Two regular songs and two remixes of their best known songs - "Trust" and "When They Fight, They Fight".  The "Trust" remix, by Bent Black, is subtle and works great on this song that I absolutely love.  The other remix - a little bit cheesy, a little bit eighties...in a bad way.  The other two tracks are fine, nothing to write home about.  I may not be 100% on this group's bandwagon, but they definitely seem to understand sixties-inspired pop hooks and how to use them.  But shit, free is free.  You can't complain much about free. 

Download the album here.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Wax Museums - Eye Times (Trouble in Mind, 2011)

The Wax Museums
Eye Times
Trouble in Mind

Rating: 6.5 midlife sunburns out of 10

The Wax Museums  = catchy punk who puts out records on hot labels, 13 songs in a little over 20 minutes.  Simple, to the point, and like a million other bands out there...yet still awesome.  What is it that has coming back time and time again to these types of punk bands that keep reinventing the same wheel?  It's the hooks.  I can hear 50 variations on a catchy song and love every one of them...must be the wiring in my brain.  These Texans have the simplicity of the Ramones, the lyrical goofiness of Mean Jeans, and maybe just a hint of Devo's herky-jerky tempos here and there. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mark Sultan - Calloused Hands 7" (Every Night Is A Saturday Night, 2011)

Mark Sultan
Calloused Hands 7"
Every Night Is A Saturday Night

Rating: 7.5 shiny woodies out of 10

Another day, another release Mark Sultan is part of.  This time, it's just under his name instead of one of his many bands; and like all the rest, the songs crunchy garage pop gems.  Both of these songs sound like they were mined from some collection of obscure rock 45s from the early sixties - especially the side B track, "Git It", which features these great backing vocals very reminiscent of how the backing vocals are used in the Beach Boys "Surfin' Safari".  This might be a tough one to get a physical copy of, but it shouldn't take too much searching to find the songs online. 

Ganglians - Still Living (Lefse, 2011)

Still Living

Rating: 7 jungle cousins out of 10

Apparently on their most recent album Ganglians decided it would be a good idea to become the Beach Boys.  They don't really have the vocal chops to pull it off completely, but the effort and ideas are good and the songs are plenty catchy for the most part.  And I'm talking later, Van Dykes Park-influenced Beach Boys, without the whimsy and with some folk leanings mixed in.  One of the greatest pop bands in musical history? You could choose worse musical directions as a band, that's for sure.  I suppose for a modern comparison, the kids might like that they are reminiscent to Fleet Foxes, though the Foxes are considerably mellower and not nearly as full of hooks as this album is.  I'm not sure how long this album will hold my attention, but it sounds great right now. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Americans in France - Crawling (Odessa, 2011)

Americans In France

Rating: 7 red white and blue baguettes out of 10

Local rock group Americans In France keeps on bringing the weird and off-kilter, both live and recorded.  Any band that sounds like the combination of Sonic Youth, The Fall and Danielson Famile are doing things the way they ought to be done.  Hell, I swear there was even one moment that made me think of the Shaggs.  If someone were to use the phrase "art rock", this sophomore album by AIC should be the poster child.  The songs feel agitated and wound up like a female cat in heat that's been locked in the house - just eager to burst out but never quite getting there.  Definitely an album to seek out if you are a fan of the genre.

Monday, October 3, 2011

M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (Mute, 2011)

Hurry Up, We're Dreaming

Rating: 8 bright flashes out of 10

Probably my worst reviewing misstep of all time was my review of the M83 album "Before the Dawn Heals Us".  My initial impression was that of mediocre electronic music, only to come back to the record a few weeks later and have it become one of my very favorite releases of the last ten years.  I'd like to say this taught me something about making rash judgements about music, but all it really taught me is to love M83.  

This new record - it's no "Before the Dawn Heals Us".  I'm not even sure it's on par with "Saturdays = Youth".  But it's still one of the best records of the year, that's how strongly I feel about the work of Anthony Gonzalez.  This double album seems to continue down the same path of "Saturdays = Youth" - electronic-tinged, overblown shoegaze pop for the most part.  It's a lot of music to ingest in one sitting, 22 songs and a little under an hour and a half long, but can there ever be too much of a good thing?  Well, yes there can be...but not here. There can never be too much M83. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

GG King - Esoteric Lore (Rob's House, 2011)

GG King
Esoteric Lore
Rob's House

Rating: 6 metaphysical magazines out of 10

GG King used to sing for the Carbonas.  the Carbonas were awesome.  Now GG King sings for GG King.  GG King is...well, not as awesome as the Carbonas, but definitely decent.  This album doesn't have the hooks that the Carbonas had - it's a little weirder, more off-kilter, and kinda reminds me of that early eighties punk that would occasionally cross over into hardcore, like Black Flag or the Germs or well, a shitload of other bands.  I have no proof but I suspect this might have been recorded on one of those old seventies tape recorders, housed inside of a giant tin can, and placed way on the other side of the room from where the band was playing.  This is probably awesome live though.  Hopefully he comes to town and I can find out for myself. 

Allo Darlin' - Darren 7" (Self-Released, 2011)

Allo Darlin'
Darren 7"

Rating: 7 golden arms out of 10

I have a well established love of British music where you can hear the accents when they sing.  I've also got a well established love of twee music.  So Allo Darlin' fall right into my sweet spot.  This self-released seven inch is fantastic, both sides.  Side A, "Darren", is apparently about the singer of Hefner Darren Hayman.  It opens up with furious hand-clapping and is catchy as hell.  Side B is apparently an old song actually written by Hayman called "Wu Tang Clan".  It might be about the iconic hip hop group, but not surprisingly it sounds nothing like them.  It's about as white a song as you could ever come up with about rappers, and it's quite good.  I'd be curious if any of them have heard the song, and their reactions. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lambchop - Turd Goes Back: Essential Tracks from Secret Secret Sourpuss & Big Tussie (Grapefruit Record Club, 2011)

Turd Goes Back: Essential Tracks from Secret Secret Sourpuss & Big Tussie
Grapefruit Record Club

Rating: 6 pooped hula girls out of 10

This Lambchop record is not your typical release - it's part of a subscription-based club and obviously somewhat hard to come by, unless you have said subscription.  I've never been much a of a gambler so these sorts of clubs where you pay a chunk of money up front but don't know what you'll be sent never appealed to me, though I do like them in theory.   This particular release, to quote the label's website "...is an assemblage of Kurt Wagner’s early recordings, taken from two rare cassettes."  And it sounds like it - specifically, the audio quality makes it sound like those cassettes were inside of an answering machine or something worse.  This is definitely a "die hard fans only" type of release, but then again anyone going to the trouble of seeking this out probably fits that moniker.  There are still a few gems on this - early versions of "My Cliche" and "Soaky in the Pooper" are nice to hear, die hard or not.  

Mogwai - Earth Division EP (Sub Pop, 2011)

Earth Division EP
Sub Pop

 Rating: 5.5 drunk hounds out of 10

 The last Mogwai full length might have been a return to their earlier form, but this most recent EP is more like their later, more docile (aka more boring) material. All of the songs sound like they could be outtakes from the soundtrack of a mediocre horror movie...or maybe used in one of those Debeers diamond commercials where the silhouettes act douchey.  "Drunk and Crazy" does start getting interesting during the final third of the song, but by then most of the time I've already skipped to the next track.  This one is for die hard fans only in my humble opinion.  Heck, I'm a pretty big fan and I'm not sure I even need it. 

Mahmoud Ahmed - Jeguol Naw Betwa (Mississippi, 2011 - Reissue)

Mahmoud Ahmed
Jeguol Naw Betwa
Mississippi (Reissue) / Self-Released (Original)
2011 (Reissue) / 1978 (Original)

Rating: 8 daktari dashikis out of 10  

Mississippi records continues their tradition of re-releasing obscure and out of print music from all around the world, this time tackling legendary Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed.  Apparently this album of blistering african pop had never been reissued since it's original pressing, so I'm quite thankful that Mississippi did the legwork and got this back out into the ears of everyone. 

I feel vastly under-qualified to talk about the merits and abilities of Mahmoud Ahmed, but I know I like them.  And I'm not someone who usually gets worked up over seventies African pop.  I've got a few of his records and a bunch of random songs on my computer, mostly because his haunting voice grasps hold of me within seconds of leaving the speaker.  The music is beyond bad ass too, but not too dissimilar to the rest of the music being made in that area in those years.  Hell, it's probably the same musicians.  But that voice...no one has that voice.  It grabs you in a way few other musicians to ever walk this planet have achieved.