Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers (Merge, 2015)

Mac McCaughan

Rating: 7.5 fresh limes out of 10

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

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

The Dodos - Individ (Polyvinyl, 2015)

The Dodos

Rating: 7 synaptic trees out of 10

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

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

The Man Who Drives the Van

Rating: infinity + 1

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

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

American Aquarium - Wolves (Self-Released, 2015)

American Aquarium

Rating: 7.5 green goats out of 10

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monsterland - Insulation 7'' (Seed, 1993)

Insulation 7''

Rating: 6.5 offensive clippers out of 10

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

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

Impossible Things 7''
Sub Pop

Rating: 5 fat red-headed girls out of 10

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art, 2015)

The Agent Intellect
Hardly Art

Rating: 8.5 reds and greens out of 10

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Rock*A*Teens - Turn on the Waterworks 7'' (Merge, 1997)

The Rock*A*Teens
Turn on the Waterworks 7''

Rating: 7 pacific jets out of 10

I always like/liked the Rock*A*Teens live much more than recorded (they played last year for Merge25, so I'm unclear how exactly to refer to them).   Both songs - "Leave What's Left Of Me" and "Bloodhound" - are pretty good, but the band are so raucous and excitable live you just know that would be the better way to hear these.  Oh, and both of these songs are on their 1998 release "Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall."  I'm always excited to find an old Merge record though. 

ABBC - Gilbert 7'' (Easy Tiger, 2001)

Gilbert 7''
Easy Tiger

Rating: 6.5 broken defenses out of 10

ABBC is Burns and Convertino of Calexico combined with a pair called the Amor Belhom Duo that I don't know anything about.  The title track sounds pretty much exactly like a Calexico song, and is the real draw here.  The b-side "Butterfly Mouth"is an instrumental, jazzy affair that I'm neither here nor there on.  Not bad for a random find.