Thursday, December 20, 2018

Jeff Tweedy – Warm (dBpm, 2018)

Jeff Tweedy

Rating: 6.5 rabid cats out of 10

The first* solo Jeff Tweedy record is finally here, which is kinda hard to believe after listening to him for so long and in so many different bands.  The question is, what do you even expect from the solo output of a man who has such an extensive back catalog, nearly all of which he was the key (or one of the key) contributor and voice?  Honestly, if you’re as familiar with the man’s work as I am, it sounds exactly like what you’re already hearing in your head – mellow, folky rock that would fit right in with the seventies AOR era.  Tweedy has often been paired with other dominant personalities that heavily influenced his work – the twang/Americana of Jay Farrar (circa Uncle Tupelo), the bubblegum pop of Jay Bennett (circa Wilco’s early golden years), and the jam vibe of Glenn Kotche, Jim O’Rourke, and Nels Cline (circa the second half of Wilco’s output and his side project Loose Fur).  At times these songs almost feel like demos or sketches of tracks that never made the cut of a Wilco record, so Tweedy decided to flesh them out for this full-length.  That isn’t meant to imply they are second-run or unworthy – if nothing else, Tweedy is a damn good songwriter, even if he does sometimes require the flourish of others to put the tracks over the top.  “Warm” takes a few listens to really sink in, but I’m really liking it now - I’ve revisited the combination of “Some Birds” and “Don’t Forget” quite a few times.  There are no weak spots at all in “Warm,” it’s a perfectly enjoyable listen.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to “Summerteeth” for the four billionth time.    

*I’m not counting that mostly instrumental soundtrack he recorded, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Shannon Shaw - Shannon In Nashville (Easy Eye Sound / Nonesuch, 2018)

Shannon Shaw
Shannon In Nashville
Easy Eye Sound / Nonesuch

Rating: 7 moon viruses out of 10

It didn’t even take a full listen of “Shannon In Nashville” to realize that this is the optimal format to enjoy Shannon Shaw.  No Clams, Hunx, or Punx necessary - her true calling is this earnest attempt at becoming Dusty Springfield for the 21st century, and she’s pretty much fuckin’ nailed it on her first attempt.  Some may not agree, but the best compliment for this particular brand of “throwback” soul is how immediately familiar it sounds - I feel I could be easily convinced that gems like “Cryin’ My Eyes Out,” “Broke My Own,” and “Golden Frames” are actually covers of tracks I’ve known all my life.   Part of the narrative of this record is Shannon not only went to Nashville to record this with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, but the session players they employed were old-school pros – vets from artists you may have heard of such as Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison, and an up-and-comer named Elvis Presley.  The music quality is untouchable, the arrangements lush (and often string-filled), and Shaw’s voice is powerful enough to match the firepower that is backing her.  If there is any knock at all, there are a few too many slow/mid-tempo numbers and “Shannon In Nashville” could use a couple more tracks that jump, but that’s more a personal taste than a knock on the excellent product presented here.   

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Cold Cream - Cold Cream (Self-Released, 2018)

Cold Cream
Cold Cream

Rating: 8 simple beans out of 10

Cold Cream is a supergroup, so long as you consider a local band made up of other established local bands “super.” Since I love all the bands these folks are from, it certainly qualifies as super to me!  The line-up of the band is: Clarque Blomquist (Kingsbury Manx) on drums, amazing drummer Laura King (Flesh Wounds, Bat Fangs) for some reason on bass, Ronald Liberti (Pipe) on guitar, and Montgomery Morris (Flesh Wounds, Last Year’s Men) on vocals.  Pipe is one of my favorite bands of all time and Bat Fangs put out one of the best records of the year, so I was particularly excited about hearing this release.  It measures out at 10 songs in 20 minutes, and is the poster child for the phrase “all killer, no filler.”  With Montgomery on vocals, it’s impossible to ignore the Flesh Wounds comparisons, as both bands definitely have a somewhat similar sound, but this feels…more fun than Flesh Wounds maybe?  Looser, more adventurous, crazier lyrics – Flesh Wounds always felt so angry and serious, so perhaps injecting local poster king (and master of stage banter) Ron Liberti into the mix results in what we have here.  If there is such a genre as “feel good hardcore punk,” I might file this in that section.  There are also plenty of moments that aren’t hardcore at all - my favorite track, “See You On The Somme,” reminds me of Eddy Current Suppression Ring – a high compliment in my house. 

There are two important things to note about Cold Cream and this particular release…

The good news: you can download this for free at the link in the band name right up there!  Well, technically it’s “Name Your Price,” but we all know what that means, you cheapskates!  There are also cassette versions floating around out there at some local stores (All Day, Bull City, and Sorry State would be your best bets), I’m sure you could mail order a copy if you wanted from one of those stores or just contact the band.  As I no longer possess a car with a cassette player I would gladly pay for a vinyl version, so cross your fingers that will happen someday. 

The bad news: Montgomery is moving across the country and I have no idea what that means for Cold Cream.  On their social media posts they just say it’s his last show with the band before he moves, but I have no idea if that means they will continue without him, or if the band only exists sporadically when they can get together…who knows.  Time will tell I suppose.  I would certainly hate for this to be the only Cold Cream release, that’s for sure.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

J Mascis - Elastic Days (Sub Pop, 2018)

J Mascis
Elastic Days
Sub Pop

Rating: 7.5 door prizes out of 10

From the very first chord on the very first song, you know this is J Mascis – and if not, you definitely know by the time he gets to that first signature guitar solo.  Is it that the man has become that predictable, or has he just crafted such a signature sound that anyone who has spent time listening to him can spot one of his songs from a mile away?  It’s probably a chicken/egg situation, and anyways, when the songs are this consistently excellent who gives a shit.  Using an abacus I’ve determined I’ve had a strong relationship with Mascis for nearly 30 years – I vividly remember buying the cassette of Dinosaur Jr’s “Whatever’s Cool With Me” EP after a girl I had a crush on told me what a great band they were, and thankfully she had good taste because I might have bought literally anything she foisted upon me.  There isn’t a chance in hell that any other old-ass fans like myself would listen to “Elastic Days” and not come away pleased with the results.  J Mascis is the Old Faithful of catchy indie pop songs with blistering guitar solos (and don’t think that just because these songs are mostly mellow/acoustic affairs that he still doesn’t do his signature six-string wizardry). 

I’m not sure what the point of this review is other than I haven’t written anything in a while and I guess I felt the need to let everyone know the new J Mascis record is good, even if everybody already assumes that is the case.  And that I was easily susceptible to suggestions from cute girls in high school. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Tommy And The Commies - Here Come… (Slovenly, 2018)

Tommy And The Commies
Here Come…

Rating: 7 shiny purple gemstones out of 10

Tommy And The Commies sound pretty much just like the Buzzcocks.  Sometimes a slightly mod Buzzcocks, but still the comparison holds.  And that’s fine, because I love the Buzzcocks, and not enough bands do the catchy, upbeat buzzsaw punk thing for my liking.  This album is eight songs in sixteen minutes – even Robert Pollard is telling them they need to stretch their legs a bit.  But for the sixteen minutes they do give us, the results are terrific – “Devices” and “Permanent Fixture” are stompers, while “Suckin’ In Your 20’s” should be an anthem to anyone in that age group.  Truly the only bad thing I can say here is it’s way too short.  Just like this review!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Storm Of Light – Anthroscene (Translation Loss, 2018)

A Storm Of Light
Translation Loss

Rating: 7.5 full-length rulers out of 10

There doesn’t seem to be an adequate genre or simple descriptor for the type of metal A Storm Of Light plays, which is unfortunate because it’s honestly the kind of metal I like the best.  I guess some folks call it “post-metal,” but it doesn’t seem post-anything.  I suppose the thinking is it’s a combination of post-rock and metal, but that still leaves a huge gulf of possibilities, as post-rock is already a label used for a thousand different bands who sound nothing alike (and yes, I’ve used it a ton myself because above all else I’m lazy as shit).  Let’s just put it this way – the music is heavy but not super heavy, and the vocals are melodic and clear – think Baroness / Pallbearer, crossed with maybe a little Tool.  I’ve honestly never cared much for Tool, but they are undoubtedly an important lynchpin in this type of heavy, melodic…well, post-metal, I guess.  I think I’ve now used the word “post” more in this paragraph than any man should who isn’t talking about mail delivery.

All that is to say: “Anthroscene” is really damn good.  If you asked me if I was a metal fan I would unequivocally say yes, but the truth is only a couple of metal records (at most) come out a year that really hold my attention – and this is definitely one of them.  I find I’m kinda picky when it comes to new metal, but when I do find something I like I’m all in.  This is one of those “all in” situations to be sure. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Idles - Joy As An Act Of Resistance (Partisan, 2018)

Joy As An Act Of Resistance

Rating: 9.5 Polish butchers out of 10

I’ve been struggling a little bit on what to write about “Joy As An Act Of Resistance,” the sophomore effort from Bristol, England’s Idles.  It’s my favorite release of the entire year, an instantaneous punch in the gut from the very first listen; sometimes you love something so much it can be tough to put your thoughts into a concise couple of paragraphs.  Yeah I’ve said other releases were my favorite of the year (Hot Snakes and Superchunk come to mind), but they’re all running in second place to Idles at this point.  The musical comps for Idles are surprisingly easy – bits of Les Savy Fav, Protomartyr, Fucked Up, and Birthday Party are all easy touchstones here.  What takes this record up a notch is it’s energy and positive earnestness – “fuck the fascists” and “love everybody” are the universal themes, themes that seem especially important these days.  When Joe Talbot growls “this snowflake is an avalanche” in “I’m Scum” it might be a little on the nose, but fuck it, things are real shitty right now and sometimes you just need someone with a megaphone yelling exactly what you want to hear.  The first two lines from the uber-inclusive “Danny Nedelko” tell you everything you need to know about this band’s politics: “My blood brother is an immigrant / A beautiful immigrant.”  This band knows where they stand, and give the rest of us a musical salve, like an imaginary arm around your shoulder letting you know we’re all in this together, this shit situation is gonna get better…now let’s go fuck some shit up. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

No Sister - The Second Floor (Self-Released, 2018)

No Sister
The Second Floor

Rating: 7 fantastical gourds out of 10

There have been somewhere in the neighborhood of a bazillion bands influenced by Sonic Youth since they came into existence nearly four decades ago, but leave it to Australia to finally give us a group of kids who apparently have decided to just become Sonic Youth, called No Sister.  And you know what?  It’s totally fine that No Sister sound exactly like them, because the kids need some Sonic Youth in their lives, and the chances of the real Sonic Youth reforming after that tumultuous Kim Gordon / Thurston Moore break-up are next to nil.  Sure, what Moore and Lee Ranaldo are still doing sounds Sonic Youth adjacent, but it doesn’t have the fire of their late eighties/early nineties material, and that’s the area No Sister are exploring.  Is it a coincidence their name is almost identical to one of the most important records from this era of Sonic Youth ("Sister"), the exact era they sound like?  I highly doubt it.   

I honestly don’t have a lot more to say about this.  I like it.  I don’t care if it’s sorta kinda basically a rip off of someone else I love.  My heart has room for both.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Eric Bachmann - No Recover (Merge, 2018)

Eric Bachmann
No Recover

Rating: 8 starry eyed clerks out of 10

The latest release by former Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann, “No Recover,” feels like a natural continuation of his excellent self-titled record from 2016.  That was my favorite album to come out that year and I still listen to it all the time, if we’re keeping score at home.  “No Recover” is missing the strong “doo wop-esque” female backing vocals that were heavily featured in 2016, instead opting this time for more subtle collaboration via his former bandmate/frequent collaborator/current wife Liz Durrett (backing vocals) and for the first time since Archers of Loaf ended, Eric Johnson (guitar). 

(That reminds me, I could really go for another Archers of Loaf reunion tour right about now…maybe they will get back together for Merge 30 next year.  While we’re making a wish list, lets also get reunions from Polvo and Breadwinner and Erectus Monotone and get Matt Suggs to come out of retirement or wherever the hell it is he's hiding.)

Anyways, back to “No Recover” – it’s just goddamn fantastic.  Bachmann’s output is stripped down and simple without being simplistic, catchy without being cloying.  Sure, I’m coming at this as a fanboy who loves every goddamn thing this man touches, but even within that framework I’m telling you this is an exceptional collection of Bachmann’s work.  Opener “Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter” sounds like a long lost Kris Kristofferson song.  “Daylight” is a masterclass in layered fingerpicking and Bachmann’s not-used-nearly-enough falsetto (or at least what I think is meant to be a falsetto, from a man with a voice as deep as his).  “Murmuration Song” is the highlight of the album, probably the most upbeat number and one that sounds like it would fit in nicely on the first “Crooked Fingers” album (that's a huge compliment in my book, that record is perfection).  And that’s just the first three songs - I could do this for every track on “No Recover” if pressed, but I think you get the idea. 

This won’t be my favorite record of 2018, but that has more to do with the quality of this year than anything negative about “No Recover.”  It will most definitely finish high on my list though, another excellent addition to the musical landscape from Eric Bachmann.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Beachtape - Fix It Up 7'' (PNKSLM, 2018)

Fix It Up 7''

Rating: 7 grandma spas out of 10

There are so many goddamn "Beach" bands right now that I actually downloaded this Beachtape single, along with a bunch of other "Beach" bands, just for shits and giggles and possibly to make fun of the whole lot of them.  The thing is, this pair of songs is pretty damn good and I can find nothing snarky to say about it.  The band is from the British beach town of Brighton, so maybe that "beach" name makes sense after all.  The music also has a sunny, summer vibe to it, leading further credence to the "beach" name... even if the sun hasn't actually shown on a British beach since at least the late nineties.  This reminds me a bit of early Teenage Fanclub with breathier vocals, and maybe a tinge of Weezer ("Blue Album" era) - specifically on the b-side "Figure It Out."  Maybe the best touchstone would be the long lost 764-Hero, but I'm not sure enough folks remember or were ever aware of them to get the reference.  I look forward to a full-length from these kids to see if they can replicate the high quality of these two tracks.  

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt (Fat Possum, 2018)

And Nothing Hurt
Fat Possum

Rating: 9 electrocuted ducks out of 10

It’s right there in the bible, clear as day – “and on the seventh day, god told Jason Pierce to stop dicking around and release a new friggin' Spiritualized record already, because he needed some new jams what with all the laying around on clouds he had planned.”  Pierce has done four and five year gaps recently, but this time it was six – and I’m not at all fan of the direction these waits are trending in.  In fact, there has been some talk this is the last Spiritualized album, but I flat out refuse to believe that.  Yeah, no one will be surprised if the next record takes forever, but I have a hard time believing Pierce will ever completely stop making music.  Gorgeous, amazing music, music the world needs, even if they don't know it.

The opening two tracks "A Perfect Miracle" and "I'm Your Man" got released a few weeks before "And Nothing Hurt," so I've been living with those for a while. They're damn near perfect encapsulations of what it is that makes Spiritualized so incredible - lush, mesmerizing orchestral compositions paired with British pop that often feels and sounds more like lullabies than rock music.  That's the bulk of the album at least - there are always a couple of harder rockers too, and for this release they are the upbeat bluesy numbers "On The Sunshine" and "The Morning After."  Both of which you could easily imagine as undiscovered outtakes from "Exile On Main Street" if Pierce's voice sounded at all like Mick Jagger.  You know what other songs are a highlight here?  Every goddamn one of them.   

I've already complained about how long it took Pierce to make "And Nothing Hurt," but when you listen you can kinda hear why - it gives off the vibe that every note was finely crafted and fretted over before it was ever agreed that it would be released to the world.  And even if I might get antsy about how long you have to wait between Spiritualized albums, I also wouldn't change a damn thing if this is the result.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Jayhawks - Back Roads And Abandoned Motels (Legacy, 2018)

The Jayhawks
Back Roads And Abandoned Motels

Rating: 7.5 jiggly auctioneers out of 10

It may or may not be fair, but when a band has been around as long as the Jayhawks, my expectations with their new material are fairly low - at this point, their back catalog of good music is so deep any new addition that's enjoyable is seen as a bonus, and anything bad is easily forgotten.  

The thing is, very little of "Back Roads And Abandoned Motels" is actually new - these are songs that front man Gary Louris wrote either with or for other performers (the Dixie Chicks, Jakob Dylan, and others).  Louris apparently liked these particular compositions enough that he decided the Jayhawks should produce their own versions of them as well - and I'm quite glad they did.  Louris even allows other band members tackle lead duties in a few places - particularly noteworthy is album opener "Come Cryin' To Me,"  supposedly sung by keyboardist Karen Grotberg but I'm not entirely sure it isn't really Aimee Mann singing and this is all an elaborate joke designed to fool fans*.  My other favorite is "Gonna Be A Darkness," written with Dylan for the show "True Blood" that thankfully got rescued and repurposed, because it's a high water mark in Louris' storied song-writing career.  He actually performs with Dylan on the original version, but this Jayhawks rendition is the superior version for my money.  

Let's get real - the band is highly unlikely to ever release another "Tomorrow The Green Grass" or "Hollywood Town Hall" or even "Rainy Day Music," but they're still producing high quality music that deserves to be heard, no small feat for a band with so many years and so many changes under their belt.  

*I actually saw Karen sing this song in concert quite recently, so I guess I have to accept this isn't Aimee Mann...but it still feels suspect.    

Monday, September 17, 2018

Honey Bucket - Furniture Days (See My Friends, 2018)

Honey Bucket
Furniture Days
See My Friends

Rating: 7.5 tasty piles of lemon trout out of 10

I’m not sure what prompted me to downloaded this HoneyBucket album more – the ridiculous cover art or that their name is a euphemism for a portable shitter.  Either way, I’m always looking for new music that I don’t forget about 15 minutes after hearing it, and this Portland band is currently doing the trick.  The music reminds of a weird crossroads between the Clean (the early years) and Devo, jangly and angular and thin in the right sort of way.  The vocals, which are mostly spoken rather than sung, seem clearly influenced by the Modern Lovers and early Jonathan Richman, or maybe even a non-jokey Dead Milkmen.  The press release I found online from their label made some mention of Captain Beefheart, and I can see where the comparison might come from, but this album is way too catchy and listenable to be compared to that band I’ve tried (and failed) to listen to more times than I can count.  I enjoyed this so much I ordered the record – see, downloading random bands from the internet just because they have a funny name does pay off!

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

The Rock*A*Teens
Sixth House

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

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

Death Cab For Cutie
Thank You For Today
Atlantic / Barsuk

Rating: 6.5 near-sighted ophthalmologists out of 10

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

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Superchunk - Fishing 7'' (Merge, 1991)

Fishing 7''

Rating: 10 bottles of railroad wine out of 10

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

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

Friday, August 17, 2018

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

Spider Bags
Someday Everything Will Be Fine

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

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

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

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

Rating: 9 quiet limos out of 10

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

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

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

Rating: 5.5 lost sisters out of 10

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

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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

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

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Hope Downs
Sub Pop

Rating: 8 parked wines out of 10

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

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

Howard Ivans
Red Face Boy 7''

Rating: 7.5 loved things out of 10

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

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

Morrissey - This Is Morrissey (Parlophone, 2018)

This Is Morrissey

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

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

American Aquarium - Things Change (New West, 2018)

American Aquarium
Things Change
New West

Rating: 7 flooring modules out of 10

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

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

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

Thursday, July 5, 2018

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

Jeff the Brotherhood
Whatever I Want 7''
Third Man

Rating: 7 unreleased boys out of 10

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

The Mary Onettes - Cola Falls EP (Cascine, 2018)

The Mary Onettes
Cola Falls EP

Rating: 9 lucky fat horns out of 10

I’m calling “Cola Falls” from the Mary Onettes an EP, but that’s only because I have no idea what to call a digital only single with two songs (three if you count the instrumental version of the title track, which is still damn great).  It is a step up from their previous two releases “Ruins” and “Juna,” which were only a single song each.  Listen goddammit, this band put out one of my favorite records of the past decade with 2013’s “Hit The Waves,” and I really really REALLY need them to get busy in the studio.  Isn’t Sweden covered in a ten-foot thick solid sheet of ice 3/4ths of the year?  What the hell else do they have to do with their time in their beautiful socialist utopia full of gorgeous blond women that I am in no way super jealous of?

My dumb nonsense aside, anyone who holds “Hit The Waves” in the same esteem I do will be ecstatic at the two songs here, "Cola Falls" and “Wait Out A Ghost.”  Their dreamy/synthy/breezy pop sounds like a convertible ride along the coast on a beautiful summer day, and shockingly are as good as anything they've ever released.  If they can put out a new full-length even close to as good as this release, it will be my favorite album of whatever year it comes out.  That this band isn’t gargantuanly popular continues to be totally dumbfounding.  Also: my kingdom for a live show!  

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Finger - Ship Full Of Holes 7'' (Jettison, 1992)

Ship Full Of Holes 7''

Rating: 6 chaste firetrucks out of 10

This Finger slab is one of those rare instances where the b-side is much better than the actual single.  Finger were active in the Raleigh in the early nineties, notable for being the first(?) band of local legend John Howie (Two Dollar Pistols, tons of solo work, and playing with Sarah Shook these days).  The title track is nothing special: sludgy, mid-tempo "alternative" rock that would have fit in fine on the "Singles" soundtrack.  The real treat is side b, where they do a fun cover of "All This And More" by the Dead Boys, a song I'm happy to hear no matter who plays it.  If you were to happen across it, it's worth a listen just for that cover. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Chromatics - Arms Slither Away 7'' (K, 2002)

Arms Slither Away 7''

Rating: 5.5 appetizing grease fires out of 10

This might technically be the glossy, coke-hazed, electro-pop group Chromatics, but outside of the name you'd never guess it.  Instead, you've got a noisy indie rock band who clearly hadn't discovered or couldn't afford synthesizers yet.  Neither the title track or the b-side "Skill Fall" are bad, they're just not what you're expecting if you came in only knowing their modern incarnation, nor are the songs good enough to overcome those expectations.  This will eventually get filed away into my seven inch bins, and then at some point in the future I'll forget what it is, pull it out expecting catchy electro-pop, and go through this all over again. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive (Acoustic) 7'' (Merge, 2018)

What A Time To Be Alive (Acoustic) 7''

Rating: Yes.  Softly.  

Superchunk loves to release a new seven inch on Record Store Day, and this year it's a pair of acoustic versions of tracks from their latest record "What A Time To Be Alive."  It's on clear vinyl and "limited" to 1500, which doesn't seem all that limited to me, but whatever.  Other than the title track they also perform my favorite song from that record, "Erasure," minus the Stephin Merritt backing vocals but apparently still with the Katie Crutchfield ones (I guess she had more time to stick around the recording studio).  If you're a fan of their new record or the band in general this is kind of a no brainer, obviously it's great. 

Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends / Quivers - Split 7'' (Seismic Wave Entertainment, 2018)

Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends / Quivers
Split 7''
Seismic Wave Entertainment

Rating: 7 beautiful ballerinas out of 10

This is a double dose of friend rock for me - both bands feature dudes I've known for nearly two decades now (it makes me feel really old to say that).  Don't hold that against them though - this is still a damn fine pair of catchy songs worth lending your ear to.  

This is actually the second entry in series (out of four so far) where Conan Neutron & The Secret Friends release a split seven inch with them on the a-side and a different band on the flip.  Their track "Hate Secretary"is guitar rock, very catchy and melodic.  A lot of what Conan did in the past (specifically Replicator) would get compared to Shellac, but this material is closer to Foo Fighters-esque heavy alternative than anything to which Steve Albini would lend an aluminum guitar.  It's very sing-along-able.  That's a word right?

The b-side "Master Of Dirt" is from Quivers, a San Francisco band full of dudes from other bands - most notably a couple of cats from Charmless, and my pal Colin from Ex-Boyfriends (and a bunch of other bands).  To no surprise if you've listened to any of those groups this is very Superchunk influenced, and I'm not just saying that because I know Colin loves them almost as much as I do.  Colin has always had an ear for hooks.

Both of these songs would fit in great on any indie rock comp from the mid-to-late nineties.  Given these guys are basically as old as me or not far off, that's not really surprising. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tracyanne & Danny - Tracyanne & Danny (Merge, 2018)

Tracyanne & Danny
Tracyanne & Danny

Rating: 8 focused camels out of 10

I truly can’t imagine anyone having anything bad to say about this Tracyanne & Danny record…it’s the musical equivalent of purring cat in your lap on a cozy Sunday afternoon.  Tracyanne is the golden-voiced Tracyanne Campbell of twee pop superstars Camera Obscura, a group whose future has been in limbo since the tragic death of keyboardist Carey Lander – wherein we must note, as if it needs to be said, fuck cancer.  I’ve been a Camera Obscura fan since they came on the scene in the early 2000s, and I would probably buy a record of Tracyanne singing CSPAN transcripts, so my love of this was pretty close to certain.  The only wildcard was the other half of the duo, Danny Coughlan of Crybaby, a band/performer I knew not a single damn thing about.  Tracyanne still dominates the vocals (or at least it feels that way), but Danny adds a nice counter-balance with his deep, smooth tones; he also knows his range, and doesn’t try to do too much thinking he can musically keep up with her.  Honestly, this isn’t terribly different from the sixties twee vibes  of Camera Obscura in their later years…just with more male vocals really.  If you’re a sensitive person at all, good luck not tearing up a little bit listening to the country-tinged “Alabama,” their tribute to Lander…I’m not even a lyric person usually, but this one really hits me right in the feels.  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

David Bowie ‎– Welcome To The Blackout (Live London '78) (Parlophone, 2018)

David Bowie
Welcome To The Blackout (Live London '78)

Rating:  It's fuckin' Bowie.

This review will be brief, because there is absolutely no reason to review the actual music...again, it's fuckin' David Bowie.  What I am here to note is how good the sound quality is - this is in the upper echelon of clean, well-mixed live recordings I've ever heard.  This is always a huge issue with live albums, so I just wanted to put that out there for those on the fence or wondering if they should drop the cash for this triple disc Record Store Day "exclusive" (I can't find an actual number of these pressed, but my guess is it's not actually that exclusive because they would be really stupid to limit this one, or not do a second pressing).  

Side note: this was recorded later in the same 1978 tour that another famous Bowie live album, "Stage," was recorded.  Why release two live records from the same tour?  When it sounds this good, why not.  If money is no object, pick up "Welcome To The Blackout" - though you can usually grab "Stage" for a sawbuck so just get both...because it's fuckin' Bowie.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The New Pornographers - High Ticket Attractions 7'' (Concord, 2017)

The New Pornographers
High Ticket Attractions 7''

Rating: 7 fancy door cyborgs out of 10

Another promo seven inch I snagged on the cheap, this one promoting the 2017 album from the New Pornographers, "Whiteout Conditions."  The A-side is the perfectly cromulent "High Ticket Attractions," which sounds exactly like a New Pornographers song should - shiny, poppy, bright, full, other adjectives.  I suppose the B-side is what makes this promo a keeper - a non-album track, specifically a cover of the Jigsaw song "Sky High."  Leave it to a pack of Canadians to cover Jigsaw of all bands. 

Las Rosas - Tax Man 7'' (Greenway, 2018)

Las Rosas
Tax Man 7''

Rating: 6 pneumonia games out of 10

Grabbed this one-sided flexi seven inch off a free table at a local record store, it would appear Las Rosas (or their label Greenway) released it as a Record Store Day giveaway to promote their new full-length "Shadow By Your Side."  Nothing special but certainly worth the price - based on this one song they sorta have a clean garage rock vibe, maybe a little too over-produced for my tastes, but not bad.  I'd like to hear the full record to form a final opinion though. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Matador, 2018)

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
Sparkle Hard

Rating: 7 dried-out highlighters out of 10

It’s still completely lost on me what the difference is between Stephen Malkmus versus Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks, but this new record “Sparkle Hard” is the latter.  It’s very Jicky obviously!  Regardless of title, with Stephen’s voice and song-writing style it’s always going to sound like an extension of Pavement.  A pig is still just a bacon machine even if it wears a dress and dates a frog.  After a few years paying only middling attention, I really got into 2014’s “Wig Out At Jagbags,” and was subsequently quite looking forward to this one.  In three words: I’m digging it.  Does “I’m” count as only one word?  Anyways, while still operating in the well-established pocket he has created for himself these past few decades, “Sparkle Hard” feels…mellower, more mature even?  In this case ”mature” really just means there are some strings and not as many guitar solos and one song sounds a little country (that song is “Refute,” but it’s not as country as Pavement’s “Range Life”).  There are more keys/synths here than I remember him employing in the past, but that could be more my faulty memory than an actual stylistic change. 

I’m trying to imagine a Malkmus fan seeking out & reading this (or any) other review of “Sparkle Hard,” his eighth solo record after five Pavement releases, and trying to decide whether or not they might give this new release a chance…I can’t imagine this person exists.  These people already know how you feel about this man and his art.  If you’re not a fan, this ain’t changing your mind – he’s as Malkmus-y as ever.  And if you have no idea who he is, maybe you’re super young or you just woke from a nearly thirty year coma – just go buy “Slanted & Enchanted” and branch out from there.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Nocturnal Projections - Complete Studio Recordings (Dais, 2018)

Nocturnal Projections
Complete Studio Recordings

Rating: 8 big brother fiddles out of 10

Happening upon the “Complete Studio Recordings” by Nocturnal Projections has been one of the best random finds I’ve had in quite some time.  Sitting in my cubicle every day I listen to a lot of music in my search of anything good – some is garbage, most is forgettable mediocrity, but it’s all worth it when you find a gem like this.  I liked it so much that after listening to three songs or so I went online and immediately ordered the vinyl from Dais, not wanting to chance missing out on this terrific slice of vintage post-punk.  What I know here could fit in a thimble, and available at the label website in a little more detail – the band is from New Zealand, existing just a couple of years in the early eighties.   The group make-up is a pair of brothers and a couple of their friends, they record a few singles that never really made it off the island, played some gigs locally, and that was it.  Some of the members went on to be in other influential NZ groups such as This Kind Of Punishment and the Cakekitchen.  The result are goddamn spectacular: the Joy Division/Wire comparison is undeniable, but this band was a little poppier and had a much more consistently driving sound than those British contemporaries.  The second song “Isn’t That Strange” is worth the price of admission alone, but the whole damn release is gold from start to finish 36 minutes later.  Dais also released a live/rarities comp called “Inmates In Images” that I’m dying to hear as well.   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Damien Jurado - The Horizon Just Laughed (Secretly Canadian, 2018)

Damien Jurado
The Horizon Just Laughed
Secretly Canadian

Rating: 7.5 one-armed workout partners out of 10

The opening song “Allocate” off of this new Damien Jurado record sounds just like “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts.  This means “Summer Breeze” gets stuck in my head every time I listen to this record…as opposed to the rest of my life, when that song is just stuck in my head only most of the time.  I’m not complaining, for the record – everyone knows “Summer Breeze” is one of the greatest songs of all time by any measure. 

I’ve been thinking about this review for a few days now, and I’ve kinda been struggling on what to say about “The Horizon Just Laughed” - other than I like it a lot.  It finds Jurado in his usual mellow, pensive mood, but the songs have just-so-slightly shifted from folk to soft rock a lot of the time (he even ends up in full tropicalia on “Marvin Kaplan,” and “Dear Thomas Wolfe” sounds like Lambchop is backing him).  The first half of the album is especially strong, some of the best work he’s ever done.  It’s also helped that I’ve done all of my listening through headphones…outside of seeing him live in a church-like setting (which I’ve managed a couple of times), it might be the only proper way to ingest his music.  I always like the man’s output, but it’s when I get to really sit with the music with limited distractions my feelings bump up from like to love.  I suppose this is typically true with the quieter artists, but the point remains. 

Damien Jurado has been around a long time, doing more or less the same thing.  It would be easy to ignore the work he’s doing – there are certainly records of his I haven’t done due diligence on – but give this one a chance.  It really pays off if you let it sit with you.

Oh, and go listen to his song ”Ohio” from a number of years ago – it’s only one of the best songs ever written. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop, 2018)

Courtney Barnett
Tell Me How You Really Feel
Mom + Pop

Rating: 7.5 stale chocolate pies out of 10

No jinx here, Courtney Barnett has followed up her excellent solo debut “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit” with an equally good sophomore response.  This makes me happy for a number of reasons:

1.     It’s nice to finally be high on the new record of an artist I haven’t been listening to for half my life or longer - which has been the case so far in 2018.  Superchunk, Hot Snakes, and the Sea & Cake have made my favorite albums of the year (so far), and all combined I’ve been listening to these three bands for 67 years.  By contrast, I’ve only known Courtney Barnett for 2 or 3 (I got into her first record a little late). 

2.     I’m glad to enjoy music by someone I would call a “popular” artist.  I mean, she’s not Beyonce popular, but she definitely has a certain cache – she’s been on Austin City Limits, Saturday Night Live, and a bunch of late night shows.  I’m often befuddled at what people see in acts that reach this level of cultural relevance, but not so with Barnett – the catchy, effortless songs she writes have a way of worming their way into your head.  There are a few others like Future Islands, War On Drugs, and Wilco that I love that have also reached this same level of success, but just like the bands mentioned in the first bullet point, I’ve been with those groups for a long time. 

3.     It’s always nice to find a new female artist I can really get behind.  I don’t mean that to be as sexist as it sounds, but ratio-wise there are just so many more male bands/performers out there, and I can be rather picky.  I’m more than aware of how much I listen to (mostly straight & white) dudes, but at the same time you can’t just make yourself like something for demographic reasons – you like the music or you don’t at the end of the day.  Luckily, digging Courtney Barnett comes real easy. 
The third through fifth songs (“Charity,” “Need A Little Time,” “Nameless, Faceless”) on this record are the strongest work Barnett has ever achieved IMO, and collectively cover all of the different styles you’d likely run into over the course of one of her records – the pop song, the slow song, and the rocker (in that order).  I keep going back and listening to this section over and over and over, it’s so goddamn good.  “Charity” in particular is a front-runner for one of my top songs of the year.