Friday, March 30, 2018

H.C. McEntire - Lionheart (Merge, 2018)

H.C. McEntire

Rating: 8 black teeth out of 10

“Lionheart” is the first “solo” record for H.C. McEntire (aka Heather McEntire), but I’ll be perfectly honest – outside of a lack of Jenks Miller’s guitar, I’m not at all sure what distinguishes this from any other Mount Moriah release (and based on the last time I saw Mount Moriah live, I’m not even sure Jenks is still in the band).  Mount Moriah was always a delivery vehicle for McEntire’s voice anyways, which for my money is one of the very best in all of music-dom, so it’s really no surprise that it sounds like her group efforts.  I did think coming in that this might be a pretty mellow effort, just HC and her guitar for the most part because this is how she had been presenting many of these songs live around the Triangle.  She went in the total opposite direction though – this album is packed, musically-speaking - clearly she threw up a bat signal to half of the musicians in the greater North Carolina area, and plenty more beyond that – amongst many other collaborators, included here are Phil Cook (Megafaun, a ton of different Justin Vernon projects), Amy Ray (Indigo Girls), William Tyler (Lambchop plus all his rad solo work), Tift Merritt, Ryan Gustafson (Dead Tongues), Angel Olsen, Daniel Hart (Polyphonic Spree, Dark Rooms, Rosebuds, friggin’ major Hollywood film scores), Mary Lattimore…I’m going to stop naming names now, but I think you get the point.  “Lionheart” hits its peak right in the middle – “Quartz In The Valley,” “When You Come For Me,” and “Red Silo” are as good as anything she’s written since “Lament” (not only the best Mount Moriah song, but one of the best songs of the last decade period).  This album really pays off after multiple listens – the score goes higher and higher with each successive play through.   

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat - Riddles (Carpark, 2018)

Ed Schrader’s Music Beat

Rating: 7.5 mall phone kiosks out of 10

It’s kinda weird to hear such a “mature” record from Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, a band that seems to proudly wear their weirdo primitivism on their sleeves.  I mean, the drums are more than floor toms (sometimes)!  There are other instruments than just drum and bass (also sometimes)!  Dan Deacon did stuff and things!  I suspect the real heavy lifting is done in the recording/post-production/whatever the fuck you call it – so many layers, so dense…both in the music and vocals – I think this is where Deacon really made his presence felt.  It’s entirely possible I’ve made the comparison of  Devo-meets-Cabaret Voltaire to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat before, but now you can add some early Animal Collective into the blender before you puree this musical smoothie.  Shit, the title track “Riddles” could damn-near be confused for a radio-friendly pop single, not something I thought I’d ever say about the band that brought us “Gas Station Attendant” and “Rats.”  It’s still close enough to their original, raw sound that I think most fans will be fine with this – I’m certainly down. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Bat Fangs - Bat Fangs (Don Giovanni, 2018)

Bat Fangs
Bat Fangs
Don Giovanni

Rating: 9.5 pipeline curls out of 10

The world needs more well-crafted arena pop…and Bat Fangs are here to help with that.  Nominally a side project of Betsy Wright (best known as the bassist from Ex Hex) and Laura King (best known as the drummer from Flesh Wounds, aka the band that backed Mac McCaughan on his last solo tour, aka that dude from Superchunk), in a just and righteous world the duo will be known as the musicians from Bat Fangs after this self-titled debut.  At nine songs in twenty five minutes, the only thing keeping this from getting a perfect score is I want so so SO much more (though the album being short, sweet, and to-the-point is likely a sizable part of the appeal).  I really don’t want to compare them to Joan Jett because since Wright kinda looks like her the comparison seems too obvious, but still…it fits.  If not Jett specifically, very much the sound of the early-to-mid eighties - guitar heavy in that glam metal way, but without all the pomp and cheesiness; combined with the late seventies power pop of Cheap Trick or 20/20 or Shivvers or [insert two-thirds of the bands I listen to here].  It’s a combination that’s worked for decades, and Bat Fangs are doing it as well as anyone right out of the gate.   

The most recent time I saw Bat Fangs live (the release party for this album, actually), they closed their set with a cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me.”  This wasn’t some ironic screw around from the cool kids – they’re legitimate fans of that song and sound, and why not?  Strip away the baggage of it being a bunch of dudes in hairspray and lycra (assuming that bothers you), and it’s just an incredibly catchy tune.  If they had thrown a faithful cover of that track on this record it would have fit right in, and kinda wish they had. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Number Ones - Another Side Of The Number Ones 7’’ (Sorry State, 2018)

The Number Ones
Another Side Of The Number Ones 7’’
Sorry State

Rating: 9 Costa Rican hoodies out of 10

I’m always excited to hear some quality power pop, especially if it’s a new band and not a dug-up relic from 1979 (no offense to those relics, it's some of my favorite music of all time).   It’s especially exciting is to find out this was released by a label in the same town as you!  Sorry State* mostly tends towards hardcore and heavy/weird punk, some of it good. a lot of weird, but generally not the catchiest music that would remotely be confused for pop; so I was pretty shocked to see they had released this four-song seven inch from Dublin’s the Number Ones.  If, like me, you find yourself perpetually mad that Gentleman Jesse hasn’t released a new record since 2012, let this quick burst of nearly identical hooks soothe your savage soul.  In fact, when I first heard the opening track “Lie To Me,” knowing nothing of the band, I jumped online to see if this was actually a new project from Jesse himself.  You could make some Exploding Hearts comparisons too, particularly on “You’re So Happy I Could Cry.”  Those are two comparisons I don’t make lightly, two acts that figure very heavily into my music fandom of the last couple of decades.  My only complaint here is the record is only four songs long…please god let a full-length be in the works. 

*They also have a brick and mortar record store in downtown Raleigh that is fantastic – tons of variety, great prices, and has taken way too much of my money.

Superchunk - Break The Glass 7’’,(Merge, 2017)

Break The Glass 7’’

Rating: 7 confused oranges out of 10

I know Mac loves them, and hell even I like them fine, but it’s really weird to hear Superchunk cover a Corrosion Of Conformity song.  The song in question is “Mad World,” from CoC’s 1985 record “Animosity.”  Surprisingly, this rendition by Superchunk is fairly faithful to the original.  Granted, the 1985 version of CoC skewed slightly more punk/hardcore than the metal band they are known as today, but it’s still very different from Superchunk’s catchy punk-tinged pop.  Even if I don’t find myself yearning to hear this cover that often, I appreciate them branching out with a different type of cover than what you would expect from them for the b-side of this record. 

The title track here is from their most recent (really great) record “What A Time To Be Alive” that I need to get around to writing up, as if my take on anything Superchunk releases isn’t going to be full-on fanboy gushing. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Salad Boys - This Is Glue (Trouble In Mind, 2018)

Salad Boys
This Is Glue
Trouble In Mind

Rating: 8.5 St. Bernard puppies out of 10

There was something comforting and familiar about Salad Boys upon the very first listen, but I had no idea why.  After a modicum of research (aka I googled their name), it was immediately obvious – they’re from New Zealand.  I don’t mean to lump all acts from that country together, because certainly there is some variance (Lorde, Flight Of The Conchords, I'm sure there's a weird white rapper from there that people like), but in the indie world there is a definitive Flying Nun/Kiwi rock sound that so many of these acts put off, even if they don't mean to.  It’s got the jangle and hooks that most think of with that scene (see the Clean, the Bats, the 3ds, the etc.), but there’s an additional element here that I can’t quite put my finger on…at times they’re a type of upbeat that makes you think of a pop-punk band that traded in their SGs for Telecasters – the tracks “Psych Slasher” and “Choking Stick” are particularly strong examples of this. 

“This Is Glue” is an early contender for album of the year right now, but obviously there is a lot of time to go.  I'm not sure Salad Boys are adding anything new or unique to this particular sound or the world at large, but they've written the shit out of some catchy songs I want to keep listening to again and again.  Trouble In Mind have rewarded me yet again for listening to one of their artists without knowing a damn thing about them going in. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Destroyer - Ken (Merge, 2017)


: 8 stick built condominiums out of 10

At this point a new Destroyer album is much like their live shows - if you're already familiar with what they do and how they sound, anything new is pretty much more of the same thing.  But they’re so damn good at that same thing, you keep coming back for more, or at least I always do.  I actively dislike the song “Cover from the Sun”, which might be the only thing I can say that's different about "Ken" versus their other records...I also couldn't tell you why I feel that way.  

Honestly, I'm at a loss as to what to say's their thirteenth record (!?!?!), it sounds more or less the same as the last five or so ("Your Blues" was the last one that was decidedly different), and it was one of my favorites of 2017 because I'm old and set in my ways and why fuck with a good thing?  

Protomartyr - Relatives In Descent (Domino, 2017)

Relatives In Descent

Rating: 8.5 valuable autographed footballs out of 10

Another hot-shit slab of professor punk from Protomartyr, everyone’s favorite Detroit band this side of classic Motown.  This is their most mature/best produced/insert euphemism for “they added strings to some of the songs” record to date, and thankfully that didn’t ruin it like it so often does with a lot of bands getting access to that big label money for the first time.  Side note: is Domino even a big label?  I’ve always thought so, but opinions may differ.  Surely though they have more money to throw at recordings than Hardly Art does.  But Hardly Art is backed by Sup Pop so maybe I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about.  

Anyways - the broad view here as it has always been with Protomartyr is the Fall meets Fugazi meets Nick Cave, but they have definitely crafted this sound of theirs into its own animal.  Moreover, the musicianship has gotten SO GOOD, which you really notice if you give this a peep through headphones.  The lyrics still sound like passages from a grad school reading list aka way too smart for me, but at this point it would be weird if I wasn’t confused about what Joe Casey was going on about.  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Metz - Strange Peace (Sub Pop, 2017)

Strange Peace
Sub Pop

Rating: 7 white Reeboks out of 10

Was Metz always this heavy?  I don’t remember them pummeling my ears this hard in the past, but I’d have to go back and listen to the old records to be totally positive.  They certainly were this heavy when I saw them live last fall, for the record.  It’s definitely not metal, but at times they’re as heavy as a lot of that genre.  “Strange Peace” almost veers into industrial territory at times, like Ministry played organically, (mostly) without the electronics and synths and such.  There’s for sure a punk edge too, but the driving brutality of the guitars on most of the songs…I don’t want to say overwhelms, but it’s definitely the lead story.

In case it wasn't clear, let it be known I like this quite a bit.  Have fun trying to listen to this while driving and not speed.  Opener “Mess of Wires” sets the tone immediately; the drummer sounds super angry on “Lost in the Blank City,” and it likely required the reskinning of at least a few of the drums; and “Dig a Hole” is the soundtrack of a cartoon cat running around on fire (PSA: don’t set real cats on fire).  “Strange Peace” is 36 minutes long but honestly feels shorter, and there is zero fuck around in it.  I like that. 

Mind Spiders - Furies (Dirtnap, 2018)

Mind Spiders

Rating: 7.5 pedantic theme parks out of 10

There’s not nearly enough catchy synth-punk bands in the world for my taste...bands that heard Gary Numan and said “let’s make all of our music sound like that, but more aggressive.”  But at least we have Mind Spiders, who yet again have put out an outstanding collection of just such tunes.  “Furies” kicks off with a driving barnburner titled “Outside,” and never lets up for the duration of it’s half-hour run time.  “No Ground” is the strongest track here, sounding like KMFDM if they were more angry and less dancey.  Any fan of this more recent version of Mind Spiders will be way in on this, as it very much sounds like what they were doing on their last release “Prosthesis.”  These guys deserve a larger audience because these songs are damn good, and fun. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jeremy Enigk - Ghosts (Lewis Hollow, 2017)

Jeremy Enigk
Lewis Hollow

: 8 meaningless fruit out of 10

I can’t seem to form these thoughts into a coherent paragraph(s), so I’m going bullet points with this one.

  • My initial thought in writing about this new Jeremy Enigk record was to note that he had released a new record, thinking this was a unique thing.  I honestly thought 2006’s “World Awaits” was the last thing he put out, but it looks like he’s released two albums between that one and this newest one, “Ghosts.”  I guess the bright side is I have two additional “new” Enigk records to listen to in the near future.
  • ...It’s almost like I half-ass everything and wait and do all of my research literally while I’m writing the review (which is totally true).
  • This is where I remind people that his solo debut “Return Of The Frog Queen” is one of the great lost classics of the nineties, true chamber pop perfection and Sub Pop really needs to get off their ass and reissue the vinyl on the goddamn thing.  Getting to see him perform live just after it came out, complete with a mini-orchestra, is one of the live music highlights of my life.
  • I thought “Ghosts” was a decent record on first pass, but multiple listens really pays off.  It’s got some of that chamber pop of “Frog Queen,” some of the subdued rock of Sunny Day Real Estate’s “The Rising Tide,” and a fair amount of straight-forward folk elements as well.
  • Side note, if you’re interested: “The Rising Tide” was apparently recently reissued on vinyl, so if that’s something you care about, get on it.  I’ll be going shopping this weekend.
  • If I had managed to really sink my teeth into this record a little more before the end of 2017, I’m certain it would have finished as one of my favorite records of the year. 

Escape-Ism - Introduction To Escape-Ism (Merge, 2017)

Introduction To Escape-Ism

: 7 Downtown Julie Browns out of 10

Having seen Ian Svenonious perform many, many times, and specifically having seen Escape-Ism at Hopscotch last September, it’s extremely tough to separate my feelings on this record from how much I love watching that man play live.  Ah, who the fuck am I kidding - this is my stupid blog it’s not like I’ve ever “separated my feelings” on any other goddamn thing I've written here.  Ian more or less dominates any and every group he participates in, but in this case the band consists of only him.  Nation of Ulysses had their punk vibe, the Make-Up had more of a soul sound, Chain & the Gang/Weird War have a primitive call & response thing going on…but truthfully they’re all delivery systems for Ian’s peculiar and delightful vocals and affectations.  For this solo effort, he employees sparse guitar, synth, and a drum machine – it oddly sounds like dirty garage rock and Kraftwerk had a baby, and I’m into it.  The music is quite simple, which is fine – necessary even…when I saw him perform these songs live, it was abundantly clear he has no idea how to play a guitar, so god knows how long it took him to record even the simple lines in these songs.  You’re here to listen to Ian anyways, and in typical Ian fashion all of the songs are about bringing down the man, ending capitalism, etc. – honestly, at this point if it was anything different you’d hope the man got checked for a brain tumor.

Your love of “Introduction To Escape-Ism” will be entirely dependent on your love of Ian, but then again that’s the case with anything this nut records.  And I love him.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Alvvays - Antisocialites (Polyvinyl, 2017)


: 7.5 old gray jugs out of 10

I had no idea that Alvvays were so popular - they sold out their upcoming show at one of my local clubs, Motorco, super fast (too fast for my broke then-unemployed ass).  I'm left wondering - why has this band taken off and not the dozens of others that sound roughly the same?  That sound being timeless pop with just enough 80s synth throwback to keep the kids interested and don't realize it's kind of a rehash of the past.   Alvvays are the type of band where the singer's voice is so adorable that you just know she's super cute without needing photographic evidence (I call this the "Cardigans Condition").  I wonder if this might be the closest guys like me come to feeling the way a lot of teen girls feel about boy bands...

Here's the thing - sure there's nothing particularly new here, but Alvvays are really damn good at this style of music, so why not make them leader of the pack.  This second album of theirs, "Antisocialites," is so goddamn catchy and sweet it makes my teeth hurt.  If you like pop music at all, it's hard to imagine this wouldn't make you happy.  

Still...don't you feel like this top pop spot should be held by Camera Obscura in perpetuity?  I don't care if they're broken up.