Friday, December 19, 2014

Whatever Brains - SSR-63 / SSR-64 EPs (Sorry State, 2014)

Whatever Brains
SSR-63 / SSR-64 EPs Sorry State

Rating: 8 broken pet hospitals out 10

I'm doing this review as a list because yes. 
1.  Whatever Brains is one of my favorite things in the entire world and they can do no wrong in my eyes.  Know that going into reading any of this dribble. 
2.  I have been struggling for years to come up with a fitting comparison for them, to no avail.  These days the closest you can come is parts of some of their songs sound like Liars somewhat, and I'm not sure anyone even agrees with me on that.  I keep hearing it though. 
3.  I took the photo the band used for one of these EP covers (if you can't tell which one, it's the cover that is a photo and not a drawing).  I didn't know the band at all before this, so them finding my photo out of the blue and asking to use it as a cover ranks pretty high on my list of life successes. 
4.  If item one didn't point to how biased this review might be, item three should have definitely given it away right? 
5.  As much as I love all of their records, live is the way to enjoy this band.  They don't tour out of the area a ton but if they ever do, don't miss it.  It's a cacophonous wall of enjoyable noise, and frontman Rich Ivey has a gift for performance.   
6.  Why release two EPs (with each EP one side a 12'' record) instead of just calling it a full length?  Who knows.  And yet somehow with this band it makes sense. 
7.  The "titles" of these EPs are actually the Sorry State catalog numbers, so as to differentiate them from the band's other releases.  Technically both EPs are self-titled, just like the three LPs the band has already put out.  For those that can't count, that is five self-titled albums by Whatever Brains.  They really don't like thinking up titles for their records apparently. 
8.  The entire first EP SSR-63 is one 22 -minute long track called "///////," and it's all about the true story of a hermit Russian family living in Siberia that had not contacted another human in over 40 years.  There was a long article about it in Smithsonian (read it here) - the article is as fascinating as the song is awesome.  That is to say, very. 
9.  The second EP, SSR-64, is a more straight-forward four song affair.  The band seems to slowly be moving into a more keyboard/noise/electronic beat direction, hence the previous mention of Liars.  It works for them. 
10.  I don't have a tenth point, but I do have an affection for lists of ten.  Go buy this record. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ex Hex - Rips (Merge, 2014)

Ex Hex

Rating: 7 piles of pork out of 10

It actually wasn't until I saw them live that I felt like writing anything about this Ex Hex record.  Probably best known as one of Mary Timony's bands (not to intentionally give short shrift to bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris, they're just not as well known), I listened to the album at first and just thought it was a decent, run-of-the-mill punkish power pop record that I might pop on the player here and there.  Then the band played a local club with the also great Speedy Ortiz, and something about seeing these songs live totally brought them to life for me, no cheesiness intended.  The band put on a really great performance, and something about that made the tracks...I dunno, catchier or more intriguing or something.  It made me want to listen to this album a lot more, that's for sure.  "Rips" feels like an album that could have been released in 1975, and that is a high compliment in my book.  

Moreover, go see the band live when you get a chance if you like to have fun.  If you do not like fun, there's probably a Mark Kozalek show somewhere. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Solids - Blame Confusion (Dine Alone, 2014)

Blame Confusion
Dine Alone

Rating: 7.5 annoying cats out of 10

A whole lot of what I said in the Paws review just below this one would apply to Solids - youngish kids from another country (in this case, Canada) heavily mining the nineties indie rock hooks I was raised on and continue to adore.  In other words, it almost feels as if this album was made just for me.  These cats lean fairly heavily towards the Superchunk side of the aisle, with a strong dose of ...Trail of Dead thrown in there (props to the review on Allmusic for that comparison, it was driving me crazy until I read it on there and it finally clicked in my brain).  "Off White" is especially good, as well as the title track, but there isn't a dud on here.  

Catchy indie punk, flannel shirts and beards - the nice thing about the world we live in is if you're stuck in a permanent rut like I am, eventually the trends will come around to what you've always been & loved. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Paws - Youth Culture Forever (Fat Cat, 2014)

Youth Culture Forever
Fat Cat

Rating: 8 foggy trees out of 10

I love hearing something I like this much completely out of the blue.  I had no idea who Paws was, or why this album "Youth Culture Forever" was even on my computer, but I decided to give it a listen.  I wasn't even all that taken at first, but when I hit the third track "Someone New" my ears perked up; by the fifth track "Give Up," I was completely sold.  It is so goddamn catchy, an album begging to be sung along to either live or while driving in your car, two of my favorite pastimes.  There is an immediate"nineties indie rock" feel here, and as someone permanently stuck in that decade I welcomed it.  The biggest comparison would be the Thermals, but you hear elements of Superchunk and Archers of Loaf and even a little Weezer (the Weezer of the first two albums, aka the "good" Weezer, obviously). 

I'm going to listen to this so much I get sick of it, and that's ok.  In fact I'm excited for it.  New bands that give me this tingly happy vibe don't come along too often. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

David Kilgour And The Heavy Eights - End Times Undone (Merge, 2014)

David Kilgour And The Heavy Eights
End Times Undone

Rating: 7 restful swallows out of 10

New Zealander David Kilgour is best known for his work in the Clean, and I love the Clean.  Somehow that fact has never translated into my listening to Kilgour's solo work much if it all.  Hell, I've even seen him play solo live a couple of times and loved the shows, and still didn't act on it.  Who knows why we do or don't do some things, but this is where I stand with Kilgour's recorded material. 

Which is a damn shame for my dumb ears, because I'm quite enjoying "End Times Undone" as I listen to it right now and jot down these barely intelligible musings.  The Clean comparison is obvious, but I get very strong Yo La Tengo vibes here (that's probably because Yo La Tengo were likely heavily influenced by the Clean and Kilgour and the whole Kiwi pop sound).  You could also go down a Television/Tom Verlaine path with the guitar work, but regardless it adds up to a lot of mellow, melodic rock songs that I fully plan on listening to more. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fugazi - First Demo (Dischord, 2014)

First Demo

Rating: 9 carbonated flyers out of 10

This isn't a review of this "new" record by Fugazi as much as it is a PSA in case you weren't aware it was recently released.  The album is exactly what the name says - their first studio demo, where they began flashing out what would be their signature sound.  It sounds exactly how you would expect it to - like a looser, not fully formed version of Fugazi.  When you have all of these songs like "Merchandise" and "Waiting Room" and "Song #1" memorized like I do, it's fun to hear these slightly different versions.  To be sure, if you've never listened to the band just go buy "Repeater" or either of their first two EPs and branch out from there, but for an old fan like myself, someone that considers these guys one of my top three favorite bands of all time, this is a special treat. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Various Artists - Radio Ready: Wisconsin (Cheap Rewards, 2014)

Various Artists
Radio Ready: Wisconsin - Lost Power Pop Hits 1979-1982 
Cheap Rewards

Rating: 8 felt glasses out of 10

You had me at power pop.  The title kind of says it all - this is a collection of power pop songs from the prime years of the genre, all performed by Wisconsin bands.  Some of the songs have been featured on other similar compilations and the the Shivvers are pretty well known, but it's still a collection worth digging up.  Nearly every song is catchy beyond belief, as it should be.  Some highlights include songs by the Shivvers "No Substitute" (also available on their recently reissued full-length), the Wigs "180 Degrees," and the Orbits "The Waiting Game."  The material ranges from Dictators-like novelty pop to Elvis Costello-ish crooner jams, but there isn't a bad track in the bunch.  The vinyl is already out of print at Cheap Rewards, but there are copies ot be found at some of the distros and on discogs for fair prices.   

Built to Spill - Ripple 7'' (Warner Bros, 2011)

Built to Spill
Ripple 7''
Warner Bros

Rating: 7 rat dogs out of 10

Having heard Built to Spill play this cover of the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" live on a couple of occasions, I was hoping this record of the track was a proper studio version.  Alas, just another live take, though the audio is high quality to be fair.  Same song on both sides - if you're cool with releasing a live track why not just throw any live Built to Spill song on the other side?  Seems like a waste.  Add another song or make this a studio version and this gets a much higher score. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Run the Jewels - RTJ2 (Mass Appeal, 2014)

Run the Jewels
Mass Appeal

Rating: 8 paint owners out of 10

Someone whose opinion I generally respect called this new record by Run the Jewels the best rap record of the last ten years.  While I definitely don't feel that strongly about "RTJ2," I'll definitely give it the nod of best rap album of the year.  I listen to so little rap these day though, that might be even less informed than my general musical opinion...regardless, I love the album.  Both El-P and Killer Mike are firing on all cylinders, especially on tracks "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" and "Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)," the latter which also features Zach from Rage Against the Machine, someone I hadn't thought of in decades.  If there is a complaint it's that the record feels short - you really want more from this terrific duo.   

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reigning Sound - Shattered (Merge, 2014)

Reigning Sound

Rating: 7 orange wrappers out of 10

Reigning Sound might be releasing their records on the hot shit indie label Merge now, but that has apparently had zero bearing on the group's output.  And why would it?  The band got signed to the label for their rootsy garage pop, and by god that is exactly what you get on "Shattered."  Greg Cartwright know his strengths, and it's catchy rock songs played through hollow body electric guitars and with just the slightest touch of twang to take it over the top.  Sure, you could complain that all of their records kinda sound the same, but I want their records to sound the same - they're comforting like an old friend, and this is a very comfortable record.  "Once More" and "My My" are a great one-two punch right in the middle of the album that perfectly sums up why these guys are so great.  Long live Reigning Sound, may you never change. 

Eleanor Friedberger / Spoon - Split 7'' (Merge, 2014)

Eleanor Friedberger / Spoon
Split 7''

Rating: 6.5 mini bars out of 10

The first side of this Merge subscription split is Eleanor Friedberger doing a cover of the Yoko Ono song "Open Your Soul To Me."  Eleanor is/was a member of Fiery Furnaces - I'll admit I've never been much of a fan of that band or Yoko, so this track didn't do much for me.  She has a nice voice and it's a decent enough song, it's just not my bag.  On the flip Spoon does a cover of a Fiery Furnaces' song - "Waiting To Know You" - I've never heard the original, but Spoon very much Spoons this one up, I honestly wouldn't have even thought it was a cover if I didn't know better. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hiss Golden Messenger / Matt Suggs - Split 7'' (Merge, 2014)

Hiss Golden Messenger / Matt Suggs
Split 7''

Rating: 8 pretty tigers out of 10

The Merge subscription series keeps on rollin' - this time with Hiss Golden Messenger and Matt Suggs.  The HGM offering, "Rock Holy," is an upbeat track with MC Taylor's vocals dominating the scene as per usual.  The better of the two songs is Sugg's "This Is My Light," reminding me of why I listened so obsessively to his album from 2000 "Golden Days Before They End."  The former Butterglory frontman has a way of writing new indie pop songs that sound like late sixties / early seventies AM gold classics.  This track is actually very upbeat for him, and way too's been over ten years since he released a new record, hopefully this is a sign of things to come?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Braid - No Coast (Top Shelf, 2014)

No Coast
Top Shelf

Rating: 6.5 strips of sealant out of 10

After roughly sixteen years, Braid decided to put out a new record.  It sounds pretty much like an old Braid record, as if they had never aged or dug "No Coast" up from a time capsule - it is maybe a little more polished than their older albums, but the guts are the same.  I absolutely loved (and still love) me some old Braid records, the problem is I'm not the same person I was nearly twenty years ago, and these new songs hold no nostalgia for me the way that "Frame & Canvas" or "The Age of Octeen" do.  This isn't the fault of Braid or my listening tastes or anything really, we've just grown apart.  They still do the punkier side of emo better than anyone probably, and if they play some shows locally I still might go see them just for the chance to sign along to "A Dozen Roses" and feel like I'm 22 again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Superchunk - The Majestic 7'' (Merge, 1999)

The Majestic 7''

Rating: 7 monster trucks out of 10

Both songs on this Superchunk record are also the two opening tracks on the "Cup of Sand" comp, but shit I like having the tiny record of them as well.  Both the title track and the flip "Reg" are strong efforts that might get forgotten since they weren't on a proper album, but I haven't forgotten you!

Superchunk - John Peel Session May 31, 1992 7'' (No Label, 1992?)

John Peel Session - May 31, 1992 7''
No Label

Rating: 7 stranger's laughs out of 10

As the title states, this is record is a Peel session Superchunk recorded in 1992.  There is no indication on the record on when this was actually released or who put it out, but that is just nerd information that really doesn't matter anyways.  Like all Peel sessions the quality is good, and like most Peel sessions there are four songs - "Let It Go," "Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus," "Fishing" and "Untied."  You know the band, you know the songs, and Peel never disappoints, so this was a no-brainer pick-up for me. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

David Bazan and Passenger String Quartet - Volume 1 (Undertow, 2014)

David Bazan and Passenger String Quartet
Volume 1

Rating: 7 worn out rugs out of 10

If you ever said to yourself "I wish David Bazan would re-record some of his songs with a string quartet," well have I got a treat for you!  As a fan of Bazan and Pedro the Lion, it was a shoe-in I would like this, the question was just how much.  I might have picked some different tracks to include here, but since he did include a couple of my favorite songs ("When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run," "Priests and Paramedics") there will be no need to riot or protest.  To be completely honest I'm not sure I needed to hear his songs with strings added - his voice carries all the emotion of his music in my opinion - but it's pretty, and dammit sometimes that is enough of a reason to do something. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Spoon - They Want My Soul (Loma Vista, 2014)

They Want My Soul
Loma Vista

Rating: 6 depressed orangutans out of 10

I was surely gonna write something deep and insightful about this new Spoon record like I do with all of my reviews, but I just can't.  I don't think I care anymore.  Not sure if it's the band or me or (most likely) a little of both, but I just haven't given a shit about any of their records since probably 2005's "Gimme Fiction."  It still sounds like Spoon though, and it always will as long as Britt Daniel is piloting the ship, but something is might just be overproduced and not raw enough, or maybe it's more.  It's probably no coincidence that their best record is still "Girls Can Tell," and it sounds like it might have been recorded in the janitor's closet of a run-down laundromat. 

Most bands can't manage one great album, Spoon has had two or three.  This isn't one of them...but it's fine.  Totally fine, and forgettable.  Does make me want to listen to "Girls Can Tell" or "Kill the Moonlight" though. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Rosebuds - Sand + Silence (Western Vinyl, 2014)

The Rosebuds
Sand + Silence
Western Vinyl

Rating: 7.5 scratching dogs out of 10

It's not like I ever wrote an unbiased review of any recording by the Rosebuds, but now with one of my best friends touring with them it's definitely right out the window.  Nonetheless, I maintain this is a great collection of pop songs, possibly their best since 2005's "Birds Make Good Neighbors."  Opener "In My Teeth" is an instant top five favorite by the band, and the following title track isn't that far behind.  Unfortunately it goes downhill from there, but only on a slight downgrade; the fourth song "Blue Eyes" seems to be the one I get stuck in my head the most even if it does sound more like a tune from a decade ago they are just now putting on a record.   This album is their first since their break with Merge, who have released all of their other full-lengths.  Regardless of label, the Rosebuds still manage to churn out catchy songs that I would definitely love even if I didn't know these kids for nearly two decades. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Redd Kross / Vertical Scratchers - Split 7'' (Merge, 2014)

Redd Kross / Vertical Scratchers
Split 7''

Rating: 7 freaky dates out of 10

More Merge subscription madness.  This recent resurgence of Redd Kross has been delightful, from their 2012 record "Researching the Blues" to their half of this split, "Leave It Where You Found It."  So catchy and rad.  To continue my trend from the last couple of splits, I don't know shit about Vertical Scratchers...I thought I was more tuned in on most/all Merge releases, but apparently not!  I like their song here, "Jackie's Favorite," a jangly pop creation with some interesting falsetto vocals on top.  Need to track down their full-length now. 

Also, the record is pink so I'm not sure where the color is in the picture above.  Somebody done fucked up. 

The Polyphonic Spree & Grandaddy - Split 7'' (Birdman, 2003)

The Polyphonic Spree & Grandaddy
Split 7''

Rating: 7.5 Bolivian tornadoes out of 10

A split from the two of the hot shit acts of the early oughts.  The Polyphonic Spree delivers "The March," which sounds, um, pretty much like other Polyphonic Spree songs of the era.  That is to say, orchestral and big.  The better of the two is the Grandaddy track "The Rugged and Splintered Entertainment Center," which sounds like it was conceived, performed and recorded underwater.  Goofy ass band, but I love them.  Neither of these songs are anywhere else - well, the Spree song was also on another single I think, but that's it. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guided By Voices - Males Of Wormwood Mars 7'' (Guided By Voices Inc., 2014)

Guided By Voices
Males Of Wormwood Mars 7''
Guided By Voices Inc.


Rating: 7 partial airedales out of 10

As always it's next to impossible to keep up with the release schedule of Guided by Voices, but this seven inch caught my ear.  Both the title track and the b-side "A Year That Could Have Been Worse" sound like vintage GBV with plenty of hooks and a lo-fi crunch to the sound.  In fact the b-side sounds so, well, wonky, that it sounds like one of their very early songs.  I'm digging it.  The actual vinyl is sold out so you'll have to let the internet fix things for you here like I did.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fujiya & Miyagi - Artificial Sweeteners (Yep Roc, 2014)

Fujiya & Miyagi
Artificial Sweeteners
Yep Roc

Rating: 7.5 blind snares out of 10

Fujiya & Miyagi is a band stuck between two worlds - the electronic party anthems of Daft Punk and the vintage krautrock of Kraftwerk.  Well, stuck isn't the right word, because that makes it sound like they're in a position they don't wanna be in, when I'm guessing they're exactly where they hoped to be.  You have an opener like "Flaws" that sound like it is destined for the dance floor, and then two songs later the instrumental "Rayleigh Scattering" sounds like a partner song for Kraftwerk's "Tour de France," and the next track "Artificial Sweeteners" employs the same type of lyrical repetitiveness as "Autobahn" or "Pocket Calculator."  It's a nice mix that really works well for me, and I'm glad to have randomly stumbled upon this.  

As a side note, it's totally weird this is out on Yep Roc, home to lots of  aging (gracefully) rockers, adult pop, and alt-country, but it was totally smart on their part to infuse a little fresh (and hip) blood in with the vets. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

East River Pipe / Reigning Sound - Split 7'' (Merge, 2014)

East River Pipe / Reigning Sound
Split 7''

Rating: 7.5 fundamental flossings out of 10

East River Pipe are one of a very small set of bands on Merge that I've never really listened to.  No reason why really, they just never entered my radar.  Now that I finally own something by them - it's good!  If this song is indicative, laid-back keyboard pop, makes me think of other "adult indie pop" as I call it, stuff like Fruit Bats and Pernice Brothers and all that.  

That was side A - side B is the Reigning Sound, and I'm plenty familiar with them.  Their track is an acoustic version of "Falling Rain," with the regular version on their most recent album "Shattered."  Great song regardless of how it's played, but it is interesting hearing Greg Cartwright play by himself with just an acoustic guitar and a little backing pedal steel. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Superchunk - Ribbon 7'' (Merge, 1994)

Ribbon 7''

Rating: 9 fetal vans out of 10

Two great classic Superchunk songs that I previously only knew from the "Incidental Music" singles compilation, but now own on vinyl.  These are from their golden era when they had so many good songs they didn't even bother putting some of them on proper full-lengths. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Superchunk - Live in NYC 7'' (Merge, 2014)

Live in NYC 7''

Rating: 7.5 motorized questions out of 10

I got this Superchunk seven inch in my goody bag when I picked up my Merge 25 festival pass.  While I'd like to think I'm special, I'm pretty sure everyone who bought a pass got one.  This would get a thumbs up if I paid for it, and it gets a super duper thumbs up since I got it for free.  And now, out of sheer laziness, I'm going to steal the description of the release straight from the Merge website (where you can now buy a copy if you are so inclined):

On September 28, 2013, Eleanor Friedberger joined Superchunk onstage at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC to lend her vocals to covers of The Ramones’ “Oh Oh I Love Her So” and Patti Smith’s “Free Money.” Those two recordings are collected on this limited-edition 7-inch, which features cover art by Casey Burns.

Les Savy Fav - Let's Get Out Of Here 7'' (Frenchkiss / Wichita, 2010)

Les Savy Fav
Let's Get Out Of Here 7''
Frenchkiss / Wichita

Rating: 7 squeaky feet out of 10

I think the record store gave me this when I bought Les Savy Fav record "Root for Ruin," and I always thought it was an odd giveaway / bonus considering both of the songs on this record (the title track and "Sleepless in Silverlake") are also on the full length.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to own anything Les Savy Fav put out, but this is pretty redundant.  Still, both of the songs are excellent regardless. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Total Control - Typical System (Iron Lung, 2014)

Total Control
Typical System
Iron Lung

Rating: 7.5 sassy dogs out of 10

I'm trying to think of a smart or witty way to say this Total Control record "Typical System" sounds pretty much exactly like an early Gary Numan record, but I can't find my way around it.  Bear in mind this is definitely not a complaint - I've actually been listening to a fair amount of Numan lately, and this slides nicely into a playlist with him.  The vocals are a little more laid back/less paranoid sounding than Numan, but I'd be hard pressed to find many more differences than that.  I actually thought the second song "Expensive Dog" was a Tubeway Army cover at first, and don't get me started with the following song "Flesh War" - I'm pretty sure that synth line is directly lifted from Numan. 

Let me really reiterate that I don't give a shit, not even a little one, that these songs sound just like Gary Numan.  Catchy songs are catchy songs, and I plan on listening to these quite a bit...can't say that I give a good goddamn if it's a rip-off of someone else or not. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Spider Bags - Frozen Letter (Merge, 2014)

Spider Bags
Frozen Letter

Rating: 7.5 stages of healing out of 10

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

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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

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

The Easybeats
Friday On My Mind 7''
United Artists

Rating: 8.5 sweaty bottles out of 10

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

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

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

Rating: 7 reported casts out of 10

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

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

The Hammer Goes Down 7''
Zero Hour

Rating: 6.5 chain reactions out of 10

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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

Camera Obscura
4AD Session EP

Rating: 6.5 bowling balls out of 10

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

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

Under Color of Official Right
Hardly Art

Rating: 7.5 pinched shovels out of 10

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

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

Urban Legends
Dance and Burn 7''

Rating: 6 dead things out 10

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

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

Macrame 7''
Rocket Racer

Rating: 6.5 ebola scares out of 10

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

Pontiak - Innocence (Thrill Jockey, 2014)

Thrill Jockey

Rating: 8 puffy chairs out of 10

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

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

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

Warm Soda
Young Reckless Hearts
Castle Face

Rating: 6.5 dead doves out of 10

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

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

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

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

Rating: 7.5 reckless hearts out of 10

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

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

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

Foreshadow 7''
Caffeine vs. Nicotine

Rating: 7 airplane toilets out of 10

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

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

Why We Fight 7''
Soul Static Sound

Rating: 6.5 buried surgeons out of 10

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

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

Tour 1998 7''
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 7 broken floors out of 10

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

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

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

Rating: 7 years away out of 10

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

The Comas - You Got the Bumblebee, I Got the Stinger 7'' (Sit-N-Spin, 2001)

The Comas
You Got the Bumblebee, I Got the Stinger 7''

Rating: 6 love pretenders out of 10

The Comas were one of the few local Triangle bands that completely existed between my first stint here in the nineties and were gone by the time I moved back in 2008.  I've picked up a number of their releases over the years out of bargain bins, this picture disc included.  The band plays a slightly country-tinged version of jangly indie pop, and they manage to neither be great or awful but do have an occasional great song.  This seven inch is three songs total, with the last (and shortest) song "1:30" being the stand out and catchiest track available. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unwound - Rat Conspiracy (Numero Group, 2014)

Rat Conspiracy
Numero Group

Rating: 9 sad dolls out of 10

Unwound was a criminally underrated noise punk band that existed in the nineties and early oughts.  They made a few of my very favorite records of all time, and one of those records is a part of this collection "Rat Conspiracy."  As stoked as I am Numero Group is reissuing these near-perfect records on vinyl, I really wish they were being done individually instead of grouped together as we have here.  "Rat Conspiracy" is actually three different releases - their first record "Fake Train," their second record "New Plastic Ideas," and a collection b-sides/demos/rarities from that era.  "New Plastic Ideas" is a must have, and while the other parts are totally great I wish I could just buy that record right away and maybe come back to the other parts later.  Honestly, this isn't one of my shitty reviews as much as it is notice that this release exists, and for me to bitch about it not being to my liking.  Here's to hoping they continue though, regardless of approach, because I need vinyl copies of "Repitition" and "Leaves Turn Inside You" in the worst way. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jimmy Eat World / Blueprint - Split 7'' (Abridged, 1996)

Jimmy Eat World / Blueprint
Split 7''

Rating: 7 transparent doctors out of 10

A double helping of mid-nineties emo.  Jimmy Eat World takes side A with a pair of songs called "Christmas Card" and "Untitled," but if memory served "Untitled" is a barely a song at all.  It's a very catchy song though, very much inline with their early sound that was poppy but not completely polished for a radio-friendly audience.  The song would even be included as a bonus track on later versions of their first full-length "Clarity."  The B side is Blueprint with "In-Between Angels," a much lesser-known band that follows the same basic recipe musically as Jimmy Eat World.  If it weren't for the vocals being a little different you'd probably assume it actually was JEW. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast (Sub Pop, 2014)

The Afghan Whigs
Do To The Beast
Sub Pop

Rating: 6.5 dull pens out of 10

For months I've put off listening to this new record by the Afghan Whigs.  I'm not entirely sure why - Greg Dulli has made plenty of great music since the Whigs' broke-up via the Twilight Singers.  They were also fantastic live on their reunion tour in the fall of 2012. Then again Frank Black did plenty of great solo work and were great on their (first) reunion tour, and look where we are with them now...

Anyways, "Do To The Beast"'s good.  Pretty good.  Not great.  Not an embarrassment to their catalog and legacy, but not likely to get the top ranking on any "greatest Afghan Whigs' records" list.  The best song for my money is "Royal Cream," but further listens may change that.  And I definitely want to listen to it more, which I suppose is the best indication that it's an enjoyable record - there is just too much out there to waste your time listening to junk.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Lambchop / Hospitality - Split 7'' (Merge, 2014)

Lambchop / Hospitality
Split 7''

7.5 bowls of beans out of 10

As far as I know, this is the first of the Merge subscription seven inches that feature music that was previously recorded and available elsewhere.  The a-side is the Lambchop song "FA-Q" that first appeared on one of their very earliest releases, though this version appears to be a new (fancier) recording of the track.  And it's a great song, but then again most Lambchop songs are.  Also, bonus points that the song is a reference to "Dazed and Confused."

The b-side is "Inauguration (Super Timeline Version)" by Hospitality, one of the few Merge bands I've never paid much attention to.  The track is also featured on their most recent record "Trouble," though presumably in non-"Super Timeline Version" whatever that means.  Let's just assume it's code for "alternate take."  Regardless, it's a very catchy song, sounding a little bit like a more upbeat, modern version of Camera Obscura.  I've gotta check out that full-length by them now. 

The Honeydrippers - Sea of Love 7'' (Es Paranza, 1984)

The Honeydrippers
Sea of Love 7''
Es Paranza

Rating: 9 drunk danishes out of 10

My folks had the one EP the Honeydrippers released and I used to listen to it all the time.  White soul crooner suited Robert Plant, and it's a shame he didn't record more of this type of music.  I found it interesting that the title track here charted higher in the US than any Led Zeppelin song ever did.  It's certainly a great cover, and despite already owning the EP I was still happy to grab this 45 of the song.  The b-side "Rockin' at Midnight" is also on that EP, so this really doesn't offer anything new other than just a different release of a great song. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wye Oak / Telekinesis - Split 7'' (Merge, 2014)

Wye Oak / Telekinesis
Split 7''

Rating: 7.5 dirty hats out of 10

Another batch from the Merge subscription series has arrived, much to my great joy.  This split, on opaque blue vinyl, has Wye Oak on one side and Telekinesis on the other.  The Wye Oak song is fantastic and well worth the wax, and I think it even has guitar on it unlike most of their most recent record.  At a minimum, download this song when you get a chance.  The Telekinesis song is fine too, though not nearly as catchy as most of his material. 

The First Edition - Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) 7'' (Reprise, 1967)

The First Edition
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) 7''

Rating: 8 banged gongs out of 10

The First Edition was Kenny Roger's band from before he was the Kenny Rogers we know today.  I'm guessing a lot of people, especially the younger set, know this track from it's important placement in the classic "The Big Lebowski," and proud we are of all of them.  The band did a very radio-friendly version of psyche rock that was catchy, weird and safe all at the same time.  I dig it.  The b-side is called "Shadow In The Corner Of Your Mind," and I think we can all imagine what that sounds like.