Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lambchop - FLOTUS (Merge, 2016)


Rating: 7.5 big box deals out of 10

If you've ever wondered what would happen if Lambchop recorded a record where nearly all of the vocals were sung through tweaked-out autotune, have I got a treat for you...  Honestly, it works a lot better than you might expect.  Then again, when it comes to Kurt Wagner & company, it's best not to have any set expectations because they're surely gonna fuck with them in their own subtle way.  Even by Lambchop standards this is a very mellow album, more piano-led electronic lounge music than the off-kilter orchestral country in which the band typically traffics.  "FLOTUS" begins with the twelve minute long "In Care of 8675309" that sounds like the best song Bon Iver didn't write; ends with the eighteen minute long "The Hustle" that could have just as easily been on Wagner's electronic side project Hecta; and inbetween, tracks generally meander between different combinations of electronic beats, piano/keyboards, and (mostly) distorted vocals.  It sounds different from other Lambchop records, but right at home at the same time. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lydia Loveless - Real (Bloodshot, 2016)

Lydia Loveless

Rating: 7 Arkansas hair pieces out of 10

I discovered Lydia Loveless by seeing her live at Hopscotch Music Festival a couple of years ago, and I've been totally infatuated ever since. I listened to her last record "Somewhere Else" to the point where if my loved ones actually cared about me, they would have been worried about my health with the level of obsession I was displaying.  I listened to it so much that it has had a negative effect on my reaction to her other records, because when I listen to this other material I just want it to be exactly like "Somewhere Else."  I listen to "Real" and enjoy it (especially the second song "Longer"), but about halfway through I'll start getting impatient and want to just put on "Somewhere Else."  Sometimes when I have this obsession with an artist it will subside and I find I can more easily enjoy their other offerings, sometimes not. It might take another Loveless album or two to figure out exactly where I stand here. 

Oh yeah, I should probably talk at least a little about Lydia and this record - she gets lumped into the alt-country world (or even worse, the stupid moniker "country punk"), and her voice does have the occasional twang to it, but these days, and on this new record especially, she's a lot closer to Beth Orton or Aimee Mann than she is Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn.  Shit, if you cleaned up the guitar in "Heaven" a little bit you could probably convince someone it was Everything But the Girl...that song is a little weird here, not going to lie.  It's a good record overall though, and I would imagine her fans who aren't idiots like me can enjoy "Real" just fine. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flock of Dimes - If You See Me, Say Yes (Partisan, 2016)

Flock of Dimes
If You See Me, Say Yes

Rating: 7.5 speedy game changers out of 10

Flock of Dimes is the solo project of Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak...and like with Wye Oak, it's more or less universally fantastic.  The woman has the Midas touch when it comes to writing pop songs. I would be curious to know how she decides when she writes something if it's for Wye Oak or Flock of Dimes.  A few years ago you could have said Flock of Dimes lacks the live instrumentation (particularly the guitar) of Wye Oak, and is a little...I dunno, dancier.  But then more recently Wye Oak released tons of songs on "Shriek" and "Tween" that fit exactly that description, so I'm really not sure what the difference is.  I guess it's just that Andy Stack isn't on this record, but given that he plays electronic drums as often as he plays real drums on Wye Oak songs these days, even that fact isn't really obvious.  I'm not sure where I'm going with this meandering nonsense...let's just say if you like Wye Oak I would be shocked if you didn't like Flock of Dimes, because the two sound mostly the same.  And that's ok, because Jenn Wasner is so damn talented and amazing no matter what the band name is on the record, I'm in. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wilco - Schmilco (dBpm, 2016)


Rating: 7 winged paintings out of 10

Hey, Wilco made another album, and it totally sounds like Wilco!  It's as Wilco-y or even Wilco-ier as the last album they put out!  Pretty much everything they've released since "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" has hit me the same way - I would be somewhat lukewarm to middling on the record to start, would randomly listen to it on occasion, and then a couple of years later would find that I quite like (but don't love) the album.  There is one major reason for this - the departure (and then much to early death) of Jay Bennett.  Tweedy knows songwriting, but Bennett knew pop hooks, and together they crafted some of my favorite records of all time - "Summerteeth" in particular is likely one of my top ten records of all time.  Without Bennett, Tweedy can meander and get a little long winded, and certainly adding Nels Cline's guitar wankery didn't help, but there's still enough there to hold my attention.  So "Schmilco" is just ok right now...but I would be all my money that by this time next year you could ask me again and I would say it's a pretty damn good release.  

And now I'm going to go listen to "Summerteeth" again. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

ISS - Studs (Self-Released, 2016)


Rating: 8 glasses of frozen hamburger juice out of 10

ISS is Rich from Whatever Brains (now of Bodykit) and another dude from Brain F≠, and together they make this industrial punk that's got kind of a...dance pop vibe too it?  Because Rich is singing it's impossible for me not to automatically compare this to Whatever Brains because I've listened to them so damn much, but it's as if the goal here was to write the songs in the style of Le Tigre, and this is what came out.  I hear this particularly in the first two songs "Part-Time All the Time" and "Five Hours to Midnight."  Possibly thecraziest track is "Peniss Envy," where I guess they decided they wanted everyone to think they were a Revolting Cocks cover band.   

Only fifty of these tapes were made, so if you see one grab one.  It's only ten minutes long (six songs total), so you'll never get bored.  According to Rich/Sorry State, "some of these songs will be on the new FULL LENGTH TAPE on NEW BODY TAPES out later this year. that will be pro dubbed. These kinda sound shitty. Sorry!"

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Constantines - Constantines / Feist 7'' (Arts and Crafts, 2008)

Constantines / Feist 7''
Arts and Crafts

Rating: 8 blood moons out of 10

This ended up being a very informative seven inch!  The a-side is Constantines and Feist combining forces to cover the classic Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton song "Islands in the Stream."  But then I'm looking at the back of the sleeve and it says the song was written by the Gibb brothers, aka the Bee Gees!  According to my exhaustive research (aka wikipedia), they actually wrote it for Marvin Gaye but Kenny Rogers ended up using it instead.  Ain't that some shit!  Oh yeah, this Constantines/Feist version is totally great.  I'm not usually a Feist fan but she works really well here.  And the b-side is the Constantines' song "Trans Canada" from their album "Kensington Heights" - love that song.

Belle and Sebastian - The Blues Are Still Blue 7'' (Rough Trade, 2006)

Belle and Sebastian
The Blues Are Still Blue 7''
Rough Trade

Rating: 7 hillbilly pot farms out of 10

Not my favorite Belle and Sebastian single, but worth having nonetheless.  Fittingly, this is on blue vinyl.  The title song can also be found on "The Life Pursuit" - I wasn't super into this song at first, or really this album, but it has grown on me quite a bit over the years.  The other side, "Whiskey in the Jar," feels more like an idea for a song than a fully fleshed out one.  Not terrible, just not really anything.  It was never included in any of their b-sides comps, and I've never heard it live, so I'm guessing the band isn't nuts about it either. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Braid - Rainsnowmatch 7'' (Polyvinyl, 1996)

Rainsnowmatch 7''

Rating: 6.5 lost sumbitches out of 10

A repress of the first single Braid ever released.  All three songs - "Sounds Like Violence," "Motion Light," "Perfect Pitch" - can also be found on their compilation "Movie Music Vol. One."  It's decent enough, but I was a much bigger fan of Braid's later material than their early stuff (not something I can say about very many bands). 

Portastatic - Naked Pilseners 7'' (Matador, 1994)

Naked Pilseners 7''

Rating: 7 furry criers out of 10

The second seven inch from Portastatic.  Why was this on Matador and not Merge?  Who knows.  Well, Mac probably knows, based on his Instagram that dude never forgets anything.  The title track here is also on the debut Portastatic full-length "I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle."  Both b-sides only seem to appear here - "Feel Better" and the highlight of the wax, "Josephine," a Magnetic Fields cover.  Mac really likes covering Magnetic Fields, and why shouldn't he, Stephen Merritt writes fantastic songs.    

Belle and Sebastian - Funny Little Frog 7'' (Rough Trade, 2006)

Belle and Sebastian
Funny Little Frog 7''
Rough Trade

Rating: 8 red convertibles out of 10

"Funny Little Frog" is one of the best songs/singles Belle and Sebastian have recorded in their late period*. It is not uncommon for this to be stuck in my head at any given time, or even all of the time.  The track can also be found on the album "The Life Pursuit."  The b-side, "The Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House" sounds so much like a Madness song that I had to verify that it actually wasn't one (it's not).  In addition to here, it can also be found on their singles comp "The Third Eye Centre" as well as some charity benefit that it was originally written for.   

*The early period was everything up to and including "Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant"; the late period is everything from "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" to present day.  These delineations exist only in my head because I've listened to this band so damn much.

Constantines - Hard Feelings 7'' (Arts & Crafts, 2008)

Hard Feelings 7''
Arts & Crafts

Rating: 7 costly give-aways out of 10

The title track of this Constantines seven inch is also the opening track on their third & final album "Kensington Heights."  Criminally underrated band in my opionion, and really damn good live to boot.  Had a strong Fugazi vibe in person that isn't quite as obvious on the recordings.  The b-side is a song called "Easy Money," a quality song that would have also fit in well on their final record, but only seems to be available here. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pavement / Medusa Cyclone - Split 7'' (Third Gear, 1994)

Pavement / Medusa Cyclone
Split 7''
Third Gear

Rating: 7 James Browns reading braille out of 10

I didn't even know this Pavement seven inch existed until I randomly found it in a used bin a few weeks ago.  Their song here, titled "Dancing with the Elders" is an early version of "We Dance" from "Wowee Zowee."  They're about 80% the same, some minor tweaks to the pace and lyric delivery being the differences.   If you're a Pavement completist, probably worth getting - won't cost you much anyways.  

As for the b-side, "Chemical" by Medusa Cyclone, I had never heard of them before buying this.  Kind of had that dark, noisy AmRep vibe, but not nearly as distorted or angry as most of their acts back in the early-to-mid-nineties.  If I happened upon more by them in a bargain bin I'd probably pick it up just to see what's going on. 

Total Shutdown - Broadcast Performances 7'' (Life Is Abuse, 2002)

Total Shutdown
Broadcast Performances 7''
Life Is Abuse

Rating: 6 sloppy chemicals out of 10

Total Shutdown were one of those Bay Area bands that my friend liked and the cool kids liked, but I could never get that excited about.  They were hardcore crossed with skronky noise rock, and better live than recorded.  Still, I bought this seven inch anyways just for the sake of nostalgia I guess.  There are six songs here, and as this plays on 45 I guess you can figure out on your own this band isn't one for long songs.  In fact, if I remember correctly 15 minutes was a long set by them.  I guess the takeaway is if you don't like a song, you'll get to hear a different one in about a minute.  

Side note - I'm impressed that a band that hasn't been active in a decade still has a working website. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Wye Oak - Tween (Merge, 2016)

Wye Oak

Rating: 8.5 squid landmines out of 10

All of the sudden, with little to no fanfare, Wye Oak put out a new record called "Tween."  If you were listening closely when I found this out you might have heard me squeak with excitement, because I've been all about some Wye Oak for the last couple of years.  A small part of it might be that I'm in love with singer/multi-instrumentalist Jenn Wasner, but it's mostly because they have such good damn songs (which certainly is one of the factors that makes me love Jenn so much SHHH NO ONE TELL HER I WOULD BE SO EMBARRASSED YOU GUYS).  

Anyways...good record overall, possibly great.  I don't love it as much as "Civilian" or "Shriek" yet, but I would not be surprised if it matched those two classics with more listens.  After burying her guitars under a pile of keyboards and basses on "Shriek," Jenn seemingly rediscovered a love for them here - though still not at the level of shredding you hear in "Civilian."  The best songs for my money are "Better (For Esther)," with it's badass synthy guitar solo, and "If You Should See," which sounds like a modern Cocteau Twins song, but better.

Definitely one of the best albums of the year, the only question is how high it will finish.  Right now I would guess top 5, minimum. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth (Atlantic, 2016)

Sturgill Simpson
A Sailor's Guide to Earth

Rating: 7 empty bottles out of 10

On "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," there is a song called "Sea Stories" that really turned my ear - "Maybe get high, play a little GoldenEye on that old 64."  It might seem like a somewhat minor line, and definitely reminds me of college, but to me it's another pebble on the mountain of evidence that Sturgill Simpson is running in a different direction from typical modern country.  The fact that the very next song is a cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom" is even further proof.  He countrifies the cover up so well though that if you weren't familiar with the original (I'm assuming these people exist somewhere, mostly very young or only recently revived from a coma) you'd think it just another of his songs - songs that sound mainstream, or at least what should be mainstream if modern country wasn't just regular pop music with an occasional slide guitar.  The best track, "All Around You," features a horn section (the Dap Kings!, and they're actually on a number of songs here) and is as much a soul song as it is country.  This is a good record, worthy of your attention, especially if you have any interest in non-pop country at all. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Konvoi - Konvoi (Snot, 2016)


Rating: 7.5 soft rubber lids out of 10

Konvoi is from Boone, North Carolina.  For any non-locals reading this, Boone is a hippy town in the mountains, and absolutely nothing good ever comes out of there (I say this as someone who grew up right down the road).  Apparently Konvoi didn't get this message, and instead decided to release this blast of post punk snarl that sounds like the Fall, early Whatever Brains, and maybe Ex-Cult all blended together.  I even hear a little bit of Strokes-style garage-pop catchiness to a couple of their songs, but there's a good chance no one else will agree with me on that one.  This is a great record (or actually, tape only much to my chagrin) on any level, but locally it might be the best thing this year and is definitely my favorite "new" local band/release of the last few years.   Nice job for once, Boone, keep up the good work. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Big Business - Command Your Weather (Joyful Noise, 2016)

Big Business
Command Your Weather
Joyful Noise

Rating: 6.5 shining lenses out of 10

Having seen them live so many times and being a huge fan of their performances, it's hard to know what to say about a Big Business record.  First and foremost, they're almost nothing alike - the recordings are melodic, well-produced, shit there are even vocal harmonies!  You get none of that live - live, it's just pummeling, sludgy noise metal, and I love it even if I can rarely tell one song from another.  You can listen to their records all you want, when you see them play the songs in front of you and that wall of amps is blasting your face and laughing at your ear plugs you're likely not going to know what the fuck they're playing, and you're also likely not to care - or at least I don't.  Because of this, I don't think about their recordings very much to be honest - recordings that are totally fine, though not particularly spectacular.  I may or may not listen to this album very much, but you can be damn sure I'll be at the show the next time they come through town. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Incredible Kidda Band - (Watch Out) Thief 7'' (Last Laugh, 2011)

The Incredible Kidda Band
(Watch Out) Thief 7''
Last Laugh

Rating: 8 dead subscribers out of 10

There are two things the Incredible Kidda Band do well - pub rock and power pop.  It just so happens that the title track falls into the pub rock fold, and a decent example of it...not a genre I always love, but this track works.  Side B is a power pop gem "You Belong To Me" -  all of their best songs are power pop for my money, this one is no different. 

Fugazi - 3 Songs 7'' (Dischord, 1990)

3 Songs 7''

Rating: 10 lady fighters out of 10

I've owned/known these three Fugazi songs forever as they are also available on the CD version of "Repeater," which I bought in the mall in Boone on a Model UN trip around 1991.  I'm stoked to now finally own the seven inch version, for no good reason larger than "just because." "Song Number One" is an all-timer, "Joe Number One" is probably their second best instrumental (after "Sweet and Low" from "In On The Killtaker"), and "Break-In" is classic Guy Picciotto.  If you needed a perfect three song primer on what Fugazi is all about, you'd be hard pressed to do better than this trio. 

Barren Girls - Hell Hymns 7'' (Merge, 2013)

Barren Girls
Hell Hymns 7''

Rating: 5.5 psychedelic periodontists out of 10

Barren Girls are an interesting case...despite being from the same town as them, they somehow showed up with this EP on Merge out of nowhere before I had ever heard their name mentioned.  Then they seemed to play a couple of shows, and then promptly disappeared off the face of the earth. The music is fine if a little forgettable, female-fronted garage punk that sounds like a thousand other bands...I'm sure they were fun live though.  They didn't stick around long enough for me to find out. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Outer Spaces - A Shedding Snake (Don Giovanni, 2016)

Outer Spaces
A Shedding Snake
Don Giovanni

Rating: 7.5 moving bags out of 10

I've been thinking and thinking of what I want to say about this Outer Spaces record, and not a lot is coming to me...it's just a really damn pleasant pop record - no frills, no fuss, no muss, just solid, catchy songs.  Singer Cara Beth Satacino has a great, warm voice that sounds instantly familiar, and is very comforting.  With her voice and the way the songs are structured, this almost feels like an alt-country record minus all the twang.  That probably doesn't make any damn sense but it's something that keeps popping into my head while I listen.  This just doesn't move me to many words, but I'll be damned if I don't really like it.  Also: excellent live. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wolf Parade - EP 4 (Self-Released, 2016)

Wolf Parade
EP 4

Rating: 8.5 drippy bottles out of 10

Hey, Wolf Parade is a thing again!  Color me glad, because I'll finally get to see them later this summer at Hopscotch after missing out the first time around.  During their hiatus or break-up or whatever the hell it was, I listened to a lot of the excellent solo efforts of the two frontmen: Dan Boeckner's Handsome Furs (as well as Divine Fits) and Spencer Krug's Moonface (as well as Sunset Rubdown).  So now when they get back together and come out with a new Wolf Parade EP, it no longer sounds like Wolf Parade to my ears but rather their solo endeavors, depending on the singer of the particular song playing obviously.  But...I don't really fucking care.  All four tracks on this EP are fantastic no what act they make you think of.  It's actually quite impressive that nearly everything either of those dudes touch sounds like gold to me...usually a split means weaker output, but somehow both Dan and Spencer have tapped a bottomless well of catchy goddamn songs.  Friggin' Canadians right?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pipe / Rubbermaid - Split 7'' (Amish, 1996)

Pipe / Rubbermaid
Split 7''

Rating: 7 expressed men out of 10

The was final Pipe seven inch I need to complete my collection of all of the Pipe seven inches.  All five of them!  I could have ordered it cheap off of Discogs but there's something more exciting about finding that final piece in the wild.  Their track "Raceway Park" can also be found on their "International Cement" full length, a good song but probably wouldn't have been my first choice for a single.  At no point have I ever known anything about Rubbermaid, and this one song hasn't changed that.  Pretty typical mid-nineties indie punk I guess. 

Spoon - Someone Something 7'' (Merge, 2002)

Someone Something 7''

Rating: 7 boom screams out of 10

The title song can otherwise be found on the great 2002 Spoon record "Kill the Moonlight." Damn do I love that record, nearly every track is gold.  There are actually two b-sides here, "Is This the Last Time?" and "In the Right Place the Right Time."  Neither is in the top tier of the band's work, which is probably why they got stashed on the other side of a single and are not on an album proper.  But it's still a couple of Spoon tracks from their golden era, so I'll take it.   

Teenage Fanclub - Free Again 7'' (K, 1992)

Teenage Fanclub
Free Again 7''

Rating: 8 dumb hopes out of 10

Two non-album covers from one of the greatest pop bands to ever exist, Teenage Fanclub.  Side A, "Free Again," is an Alex Chilton number that sounds just like a track that Fanclub might have written early in the oeuvre.  It's a match made in heaven.  The flip track "Bad Seeds" is originally a Beat Happening piece that doesn't work quite as well, but then again I've never gotten my feathers ruffled over the Beat Happening so I'm sure that's a big part of it.  Regardless, anything Teenage Fanclub releases is worth having, and I was excited to stumble upon this. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Moonface / Siinai - My Best Human Face (Jagjaguwar, 2016)

Moonface / Siinai
My Best Human Face

Rating: 8 butter funks out of 10

I guess Moonface (aka Spencer Krug from Wolf Parade & Sunset Rubdown) enjoyed his first pairing with Finnish krautgazers Siinai so much that both groups decided to do the whole damn thing over again.  Before this pairing Moonface was plenty enjoyable, but could sometimes get a touch repetative with the organ dirges.  The addition of a full band to the proceedings have really given the songs focus, no more so than on the second track "Risto's Riff" - goddamn does that track burn white hot.  "Prairie Boy" also has a strong kraut vibe that I'm way into.  My only complaint really, and it's more an observation than a complaint, is that when you add a full band to what Moonface was already doing, you kinda just end up back at Wolf Parade...I'm guessing casual fans wouldn't be able to spot the difference.  I'm almost positive I don't really care though, as I'll definitely be spinning this record quite a bit for the next while, no matter who it sounds like. 

Also, we've got a real contender here for worst album cover of the year, right?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fruit Bats - Absolute Loser (Easy Sound Recording, 2016)

Fruit Bats
Absolute Loser
Easy Sound Recording

Rating: 7.5 fresh fish bets out of 10

It seems like bands don't really go away anymore, at least not like they did in my youth.  Not that I have a problem with that, mind you, just an observation.  Fruit Bats (aka Eric Johnson and whoever he gets to play with him for any particular record or tour) have been making really terrific, occasionally twangy, seventies-style soft rock since the early 2000s.  They would sort of disappear and reappear from time to time (or so it seemed), depending on if there was a new record to promote or not.  There was even an actual "break-up" of the band announced on the usual music websites a couple of years ago...and though it's not clear to me how (what is essentially) a one man band breaks up, apparently he patched things up with himself because here we have a new record, "Absolute Loser."  

All of that nonsense aside, this is a great "return" by the Bats.  Things kick off with the best track on the release, "From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town," and never really let up.  Well, I guess they must let up at least a little bit if the first song is the best, otherwise they would all the best or better, and that makes even less sense than most things I write.  "Baby Bluebird" is also excellent, and there's honestly not a dud in the bunch.  That's typically true of everything Fruit Bats have released - I can't think of a bad song they've ever recorded.  

A few years from now when Fruit Bats release yet another excellent record, it's entirely possible I'll write this same stupid review again.  Next time it might include even more run-on sentences and grammatical errors!

Friday, June 17, 2016

David Bazan - Blanco (Barsuk, 2016)

David Bazan

Rating: 7 brown napkins out of 10

I've not paid a ton of attention to David Bazan (aka Pedro the Lion) lately, but I've loved the guy for years.  Since college even, and I'm old!  Those first three Pedro records are permanently burned into my psyche, and I'm always happy to lend any new material the dude releases a friendly ear.  "Blanco" might be dressed up a little different with it's synth contortions and electronic drums, but at it's heart it still sounds like a classic Pedro the Lion album.  Bazan's deep, raspy voice, morose lyrics, and the the pacing of his songs dominate his sound no matter what name he records under or how much some tracks might superficially sound like Grandaddy ("Kept Secrets"), Peter Gabriel ("Trouble with Boys"), or Gary Numan ("With You").  I like it though, this additional layer of artificial melody peppering his songs...a little extra texture never hurt anybody.     

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (XL, 2016)

A Moon Shaped Pool

Rating: Unnecessary

There is absolutely no point in reviewing a new Radiohead record.  Unless you're a little kid just now getting into music or you've been in a coma for twenty years, you know what you're getting here.  I will say: I like it, but it's not my favorite record by the band.  Aesthetically, feels pretty much like their last record "The King of Limbs."  Might make my favorite records of the year list, I'd say it's a toss-up at this point.  It always takes me a while to fully digest my feelings on any given Radiohead release. 

I doubt Radiohead fans are gonna be disappointed, and I doubt anyone changes their mind about the band based on "A Moon Shaped Pool."  You pretty much already know what this is and whether you give a shit about it. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Little Scream - Cult Following (Merge, 2016)

Little Scream
Cult Following

Rating: 6 additional pleated fans out of 10

Based solely on most write-ups of this or any other Little Scream record, it's highly doubtful I would have paid much attention had it not been released by Merge.  That label is batting about .750 or .800 for my tastes, so anything they sign off on is worth a once over.  

The bad - I'm not crazy about the whole record.  There is an insane amount of genre hopping from one song to the next, with Prince-like falsetto funk-pop being the most frequent comparison.  There's also spacy folk pop, weirdo art rock, and god knows what else.  It can almost be dizzying.  I'm not often in the mood to hear all types of music all the time. 

The good - there are a few songs though that are beyond fantastic.  "The Kissing" features guest vocals from Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, and has guitar solos reminiscent of the Wyld Stallyns from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure."  Yes, I recently watched that movie again so it was fresh in my mind.  "Someone Will Notice" gives me a strong Aimee Mann vibe, and both it and "Wreckage" really make me think of Wye Oak - and I mean that in the best possible way.  Wye Oak is everything.   

I wish I was excited about this whole record as I am about those few songs, but it's worth a listen just for those alone.  And maybe I'll grow into the rest...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Egyptian Lover - 1983-1988 (Stones Throw, 2016)

The Egyptian Lover
Stones Throw

: 8.5 tadpole shrimp out of 10

I had no idea Egyptian Lover even existed until Moogfest in 2014.  A friend and I had driven up to Asheville just for the day to see Kraftwerk (one of the best shows I've ever seen in my entire life, for the record), and while wasting time that afternoon walking around downtown, came across the free, outdoor portion of the festival.  It was five in the afternoon, and here was this older, slightly chubby gentleman (and his assistant?) blasting some of the raddest 808 beats and synth layers on top of rapping that was straight out of the playbook of Afrika Bambaata.  It literally felt like I'd traveled back in time, and I loved every minute of it.  It was the perfect hip hop accompaniment to Kraftwerk, an urban version of their sound in a lot of ways. 

After that gig I searched out his material, but outside of Discogs it's not super easy to find.  Thankfully, the good folks at Stones Throw got a hold of the masters from the Lover himself, and released a four record compilation of all of his jams called "1983-1988" (despite the name, these songs are actually all from the period of 1983 to 1987).  It sounds so goddamn great, I want nothing more than to drive around and bump this in my car as if I was a kid again.  So many jams here - "Egypt, Egypt," "Computer Power," "Dial-A-Freak," "My House (On the Nile)," ...seriously, I love everything on here.  Just writing about it makes me excited to listen again and again and again.

King Khan - Never Hold On 7'' (Khannibalism / Ernest Jenning Record Co, 2016)

King Khan
Never Hold On 7''
Khannibalism / Ernest Jenning Record Co

: 8 hot, buttered corn-on-the-cobs out of 10

Despite being a fan for a long ass time of all things King Khan related, over the last couple of years my fervor for keeping up with his every release has somewhat waned.  Then he comes out with this stone cold jam called "Never Hold On," all lush and smooth, and I'm totally back in.  This track sounds like a throwback to the Brill Building days, complete with string section arrangements.  I couldn't love this any more than I do.  The b-side "A Tree Not a Leaf Am I" is fine, not special or boring really, just there.  Sorta slow and sultry, but not particularly exciting.  That a-side is fire though, and worth the price of admission alone. 

Apparently the songs from this release (along with another seven inch from Khan called "America Goddamn" that I'm not feeling quite as much as this one) are taken from the soundtrack to a documentary called "The Invaders" that may have some involvement with the world's strangest filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky.  I can't find out a lot about it though.  I may not have tried very hard, to be honest. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mean Jeans - Tight New Dimension (Fat Wreck Chords, 2016)

Mean Jeans
Tight New Dimension
Fat Wreck Chords

: 7.5 pink plumber pills out of 10

I'm not sure if Mean Jeans wins the award for best album cover or worst album cover of the year, but it's gotta be in the running for one of those (my vote is best, but I have notoriously bad taste).  Regardless, if you take anything from listening to Mean Jeans, it's not to take shit too seriously.  Their music is basically a modern version of three-chord Ramones punk with some Jeff the Brotherhood-style riffs thrown in; the songs are catchy as hell (though maybe a tad overproduced for my personal taste), and the lyrical content probably couldn't be any stupider.  Song titles like "Michael Jackson Was Tight," "Are There Beers in Heaven?," "4 Coors Meal," and "Croozin'" sorta let you know exactly what you're in for...punk party rock for dudes who like to wear short cut off jean shorts, thrift store hats, and drink a lot of a terrible beer.  On paper that sounds terrible to most people, but seriously...the songs are crazy catchy.  

Eric Bachmann - Eric Bachmann (Merge, 2016)

Eric Bachmann
Eric Bachmann

: 8.5 pink highlighters out of 10

I'm sure the "why" has been explained somewhere, but Crooked Fingers is no more, and now Eric Bachmann is just recording under his own name.  He's released recordings under his name before, and everyone knows Crooked Fingers was really just Bachmann solo anyways, but if he felt the need to jump through this hoop to keep going as an artist, who am I to argue.  I'm just glad he's still making music and I've got a new record to listen to...and a really, really damn good new record at that.  The second track "Mercy" is one of the best songs he's ever written, and certainly the closest he's ever come to producing music that would be confused with a sixties girl group.  there's actually quite a bit of backing female vocals ("Dreaming" and "Seperation Fright" are a couple of other outstanding examples, and there are more), which adds a nice extra layer you don't usually get with his sound.  I could see some (stupid) people being turned off of this slight turn, but Bachmann's deep voice still dominates - there is no changing that.  I feel pretty good saying this will be one of my favorite records of the year...then again, I can often say that about any music Eric Bachmann releases. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Damien Jurado - Visions of Us on the Land (Secretly Canadian, 2016)

Damien Jurado
Visions of Us on the Land
Secretly Canadian

: 7 demolition men out of 10

I've listened to Damien Jurado for a long time now, but this is the very first time I've ever thought he sounded like the Zombies.  The voice still sounds like Damien to be sure, but the music has taken a decidedly lush, psychedelic turn.  I will confess I haven't paid as much attention to him these days as I did with his earliest records ("Ohio" remains one of my very favorite songs of all time) where it was mostly just the man and his guitar, so maybe he made this transition a little sooner, but it's still somewhat shocking to hear.  Perhaps the trippy-ass cover art should have been a giveaway.  But a good song is a good song no matter how it gets dressed up, and "QACHINA" is a fantastic effort, as is "A.M. AM."  Not to fret, there are still a few songs on here like "Orphans in the Key of E" that harken back to his old sound.  I'm into this new direction though, and I suppose I'll have to start paying a little closer attention again.   

Konono No. 1 - Konono No. 1 Meets Batida (Crammed Discs, 2016)

Konono No. 1
Konono No. 1 Meets Batida
Crammed Discs

: All the likembes!

I'm not even going to pretend I'm smart to be able to tell much of a difference from one Konono No. 1 record to another, I just know they're really fuckin' good at what they do, and this album "Konono No. 1 Meets Batida" is no different.  Totally mesmerizing, repetitive beats layered with electric likembes and lots of different vocals from multiple members (the band has a shitload of members).  There may well be other artists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere who are better at this particular style of music, but I've yet to hear them.  It certainly doesn't hurt That these cats (as well as the popular Tuareg musicians to the north of Congo) have hooked up with wealthy western artists who can not only get high quality recordings from top-notch studios, but world distribution contacts as well. 
Oh, in case you were wondering, Apparently Batida is a Portuguese DJ and producer who recorded this record, but it's not clear what he did beyond that to actually deserve his name in the title of the album. 

And let it be known that if you ever get a chance to see Konono No. 1 live, run, don't walk.  They're out-fuckin-standing. 

Bleached - Welcome the Worms (Dead Oceans, 2016)

Welcome the Worms
Dead Oceans

: 7 biscuit cups out of 10

I saw Bleached a number of years ago right after they released a couple of "hot shit" seven inches that had people buzzing, enjoyed the show, and then promptly forgot all about them.  We're talking AGES ago people, like 2011 or 2012 ya know?  This new album "Welcome the Worms" popped up on the internet, and why not see what they are up to these days?

According to my diligent research, I totally missed their debut album "Ride Your Heart" in 2013, which is probably why it felt like it had been so long since I had heard from them.  Still, three years for a sophomore follow-up seems like a long time for such a young band.  I guess not everyone is Ty Segall, pumping out material constantly like a modern garage rock Robert Pollard. 

Anyways, as to what this record sounds like - a really polished, poppier version of the Runaways crossed with the "nineties slacker" vibe that seems so popular with this young crop of musicians who were toddlers during the meat of that decade. There's almost an early Weezer-ness to their best songs, or maybe a more current, timely reference would be Jeff the Brotherhood since Weezer has sucked since the late nineties.  The songs are very catchy and the record is almost over-produced in a Haim sort of way, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing for the overblown pop these ladies are making.  "Wednesday Night Melody" is a great track, as is opener "Keep On Keepin' On" - more importantly, not a dud to be found.  I'd definitely go see them play again if they came through town. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mind Spiders - Prosthesis (Dirtnap, 2016)

Mind Spiders

Rating: 8 giant codes out of 10

Despite this being their fourth record in five years and having connections to a ton of great bands (Bad Sports, Marked Men, Radioactivity, etc), somehow the Mind Spiders have totally escaped my attention.  It's punk, but that dark, synthy type that I always find myself drawn to.  The Devo-esque music combined with distorted vocals immediately made me think of Jay Reatard's side-project Lost Sounds, some of the heavier moments from Total Control...and hell, maybe one of the closest comparisons might be the late, great Whatever Brains, but I doubt anyone outside of the greater Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area would have any idea what I was talking about.  Either way, this is catchy, good shit - gonna get a lot of spins. 

Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are (Barsuk, 2016)

Nada Surf
You Know Who You Are

Rating: 7.5 radio kidnappers out of 10

The thing with Nada Surf is that even when you hear a new song by them for the first time, it already feels like music that has been in your life for a long time.  In particular, you could fully convince me that "Cold to See Clear" and "Rushing" were on other albums of theirs and I had just forgotten about it.  I suppose some could read that as the band being complacent and not growing, but when you write and perform pop songs as well as these guys do...well, I'm certainly glad they haven't changed anything and their sound is so consistently familiar.  Leave the "growing" to bands that still have shit to sort out - Nada Surf figured this all out quite a while back.  

As an aside, it still cracks me up to think of these guys as "one hit wonders," which I'm sure is how a lot of people still remember them (ditto for another amazing band that was more than that moniker, Superdrag).  I'm sure the band is well over it by now, but they must get the occasional drunken idiot at a gig who only wants to hear "Popular."  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Skylar Gudasz - Oleander (Daniel 13, 2016)

Skylar Gudasz
Daniel 13

Rating: 7.5 made-for-TV-movies out of 10

Despite being local I know next to nothing about Skylar Gudasz.  And because of that, it's easy for me to entertain the rumor (that I just completely made up) that this is actually a long lost Karen Carpenter record that Skylar found in an old dusty barn and decided to release under her own name. Yeah, there's probably a little bit more twang to this than you would expect from a Carpenter record, but maybe that's the direction she was heading in before the recordings got lost in that barn!  I mean, it's possible right?

According to this much better write-up by my man Grayson, someone who is actually paid to give his opinion on music, Gudasz employed a "who's who" in creating "Oleander" - Chris Stamey (the dBs) recorded it, and she had musical assistance from a wide swath including the North Carolina Symphony, Django Haskins (Old Ceremony), Brad Cook (Megafaun), and even the one-and-only Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub)!  Her high-quality choices in musical accompaniment fall right in line with the high-quality of her songwriting - there is a timeless nature to her material...these songs (and by extension, her fantastic voice) feel like they've been around forever.  Fans of Sharon Van Etten, Aimee Mann, and fellow locals Mount Moriah would be well served to pick this one up.  

Mount Moriah - How To Dance (Merge, 2016)

Mount Moriah
How To Dance

Rating: 7 cannery workers out of 10

The third record from Mount Moriah, and absolutely no drop off in quality - not a small feat considering how outstanding their self-titled debut was.  That release is still my favorite, to be honest, but I'm not calling anyone to complain about "How To Dance" - hell, I'm such a fan I pre-ordered it months before it came out.  

Nothing on this record is an instant gut punch like "Lament" from their debut, but opener "Calvander" is a damn fine effort.  Heather's voice is as strong if not stronger than ever, and let's not kid ourselves that is the main draw of this band, at least for me (and I'm the stupid person writing this).  If there is anything negative to be said at all, it's the lack of sparse songs ala "Plane" from their first record - very little instrumentation and Heather's voice doing the heavy lifting.  Yeah that's a weird thing to fuss over, but I really dig that style.  But the entire new record is a keeper, even if it is a hair more upbeat than I would prefer.  I'm gonna listen to it a lot regardless. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dan Sartain - Century Plaza (One Little Indian, 2016)

Dan Sartain
Century Plaza
One Little Indian

Rating: 8 paddlin' belts out of 10

Dan Sartain has always been a garage rocker type of dude, recording and performing music that was ok but never got me overly excited.  He's been around for nearly a couple of decades, releasing an album seemingly every year, and to be perfectly honest I stopped paying attention a long time ago.  I honestly don't know how this new album "Century Plaza" even got on my computer, but I've had a lot more free time to listen to music this past month or so, so why not see what the hell Dan Sartain is up to these days?

Well, it ain't garage rock anymore.  It appears that for at least this album, Sartain has re-invented himself as a new wave electro-pop artist writing dark, almost gothy songs that would make Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and Suicide all proud.  The highlight is the album opener, a remake of his own song "Walk Among the Cobras" that would sound right at home on the "Drive" soundtrack.  All of the sudden I'm a big Dan Sartain fan now because I absolutely love this.  Keep going in this direction Dan!

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop, 2015)

Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop

Rating: 8 dinging ringers out of 10

Courtney Barnett is the extremely rare example where the tastemakers that decide who gets to be popular actually picked someone making really great music, and moreover really great music that I quite like.  There are about a million reviews of this already so consider this "review" more of a "thumbs up popular media, you actually got one right!"  Also, it's almost a year old at this point and nobody gives a shit.  Additional thumbs up to Courtney's voice, because I love it when I can actually hear the accents of where they are from when they sing...or sorta sing-talk, in Courtney's case.  Even more thumbs up for the production on this record - it sounds goddamn amazing.  I'm totally out of thumbs now. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Benji Hughes - Songs in the Key of Animals (Merge, 2016)

Benji Hughes
Songs in the Key of Animals

Rating: 6.5 well-fed giraffes out of 10

I have no idea what to make of this Benji Hughes record.  He's from Charlotte so he's sort of a local, but despite playing live A LOT all over the Triangle over at least the last five years if not longer, I've never paid much attention.  By all accounts he puts on a tremendous live show, so not seeing him after all of these years is probably a personal failing on my part.  This record, "Songs in the Key of Animals," his first for Merge, is stylistically all over the map.  He'll span from Parliment-like funk one song to a modern impression of Dr. John on the next song to something that sounds like an outtake from a National album after that.  Thing is, he does a damn fine job of all of these different styles without any of them feeling like mimicry or he's ripping the original artists off.

As interesting as this record is, I'm not sure how much I would actually listen to it just out of the blue.  It's almost too all over the place, like a mixtape with no theme.  But I definitely want to go see him live now, because there's no way these songs aren't fun
performed with a full band.  

Bully - Feels Like (Columbia, 2015)

Feels Like

Rating: 7.5 old habits out of 10

The sound of the nineties are alive and well with the new kids, and Bully are as good an example as any currently on the scene.  I see lots of PJ Harvey comparisons, and maybe I hear that a little in the vocals, but musically I'm not there at all.  I've even seen some Hole comparisons, which get a huge "hell no" from me (I never liked Hole so there's a lot of bias in that reaction).  On Bully's best songs like "Milkman," "I Remember," and "Brainfreeze," the most apt comparison might be the driving indie punk guitars of Superchunk or the mid-nineties version of Dinosaur Jr (when it was really just J Mascis solo even though he still called it Dinosaur Jr.).  Bully doesn't sound exactly like Speedy Ortiz, but both acts are mining the same territory musically - and for my money, Bully are doing it just a little bit better.  I'll be honest, not nuts about their slower songs, but hopefully they grow on me.  The upbeat tracks (such as those mentioned above) are so damn good it doesn't matter though, as this record is a keeper for sure. 

Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down... (Matador, 2015)

Kurt Vile 
B'lieve I'm Goin Down...

Rating: 7.5 giant chocolate chip cookies out of 10

I often wonder if my brain would automatically think of Kurt Vile and War on Drugs at the same time if I didn't already know of their connection, because it's what I always get stuck in my head whether I like it or not.  The War on Drugs went in more of a rock direction ala Tom Petty or Dire Straits, and Vile likes to hang out in the folkier/Bob Dylan-esque part of town - but the same vibe is there for me for both artists.  I kinda feel like either act could cover the work of the other and make it feel like they were the original authors of the songs.  Why does any of this matter?  It doesn't, but my stupid brain was really stuck on this topic as I listened to "B'lieve I'm Goin Down...". 

Long story short, this record is probably Vile's best work; "Pretty Pimpin'" is an amazing opener and the best song on the album; and I'd give anything to hear War on Drugs take Vile's folky songs and get real loud and stretchy with them like they do so well. 

Parquet Courts - Monastic Living EP (Rough Trade, 2015)

Parquet Courts
Monastic Living EP
Rough Trade

Rating: 5.5 coozy bottle openers out of 10

I appreciate that Parquet Courts got a wild hair and decided they would try to do a Devo imitation for this EP, but it instantly reminded me that I'd rather just listen to the real Devo.  I suppose points to them for reminding me to listen to Devo, and that's not a bad thing.  Everyone should listen to more Devo.