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.    

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Häxxan - The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II (Slovenly, 2018)

The Magnificent Planet Of Alien Vampiro II

Rating: 7 scheduled bathroom breaks out of 10

Based on the band name I expected Häxxan to be metal; based on the album name and cover art, I expected bedroom indie pop…so basically I had no idea what this was going to sound like.  I fixed this by, you know, listening to the album - and in reality it’s jangly, slightly sloppy  garage punk - from Israel!  I’m never surprised when a band from Canada or the UK or even Scandinavia sounds like something that a band that lives right down the road from me might make, but when the group is from halfway around the globe for some reason it seems much more impressive!  I know with the internet everything is as  local as you want it to be…get off my ass, if I find it interesting and intriguing so be it.  That said, ultimately all that matters is that the music is good; in this case, I’m definitely feeling it.  “Jeff Casanova” sounds so much like Jeff The Brotherhood it might as well be a cover song…or maybe, based on the song’s name, it’s intended as a love letter to the Tennessee duo.  Other songs like “Circle Of Quantum” and “Nothing Ever Changes” also come close to a JTB comparison, and that’s totally fine with me to be honest because JTB are great.  The rest of this record is a decent listen - poppy, quirky garage jams that sound like they’re from kids who grew up on Thee Oh Sees and Parquet Courts (or at least the same bands that influenced Thee Oh Sees and Parquet Courts). 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Sea And Cake - Any Day (Thrill Jockey, 2018)

The Sea And Cake
Any Day
Thrill Jockey

Rating: 8.5 expired boxes of fried chicken out of 10

In the least surprising news ever department, all of my favorite records so far in 2018 are by bands I’ve been listening to for two decades or more.  Is it because the new music sucks?  Maybe a little bit, but I’m sure that’s mostly just the crusty old dude inside of me talking.  Is it because all these groups I’ve loved forever are still going strong, putting out some of the best music of their careers?  This seems like the biggest reason for me…most of these groups used to break up after a short run of a few records, never to be heard from again.  Now they either stay together forever, or get back together for shits and giggles (and money) and remember how fun it was to play together in the first place. 

The Sea And Cake are one of those bands that have been going strong since the mid-nineties, though they’ve always worked (and toured) at their own pace.  It’s been six years since their previous album “Runner,” their longest break, but multiple years between releases is not unusual.  With “Any Day,” it seems like that long break might have reset the group back to their early years stylistically – the electronic/synth elements that had been infiltrating their songs over the past 10-15 years is almost totally gone, giving us an album that sounds like it could be the companion of 1995’s “The Biz,” my all-time favorite release (amid a large catalog of very strong output).  Between Sam Prekop’s breathy vocals and Archer Prewitt’s jazzy guitar lines, the group’s music is some of the most easily identifiable in the business…it rests like a warm blanket on an old nostalgic jackass like me.  “Cover The Mountain,” “Day Moon,” and “Circle” are as strong as anything they’ve written since the mid-nineties, and there isn’t a weak spot to be found anywhere on “Any Day.” 

I’m pretty jacked I get to see these old dudes live in a few days when they pass through town on tour – it’s not often you say this about a band with a catalog this long that you’ve been listening to for two decades, but I’m really excited to hear the Sea And Cake perform these new songs live.  If that’s not a testimony to the quality of the new material, I don’t know what is.    

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Leon Bridges - Good Thing (Columbia, 2018)

Leon Bridges
Good Thing

Rating: 6 terminated water intake systems out of 10

There is nothing wrong with this new album from Leon Bridges, “Good Thing” - it’s just not the Leon Bridges record I wanted.  His debut, “Coming Home,” was a nearly flawless throwback to the golden era of soul, the soul I grew up listening to and still love over all other music of its ilk.  It was an untouchable homage to the classic R&B sound of the sixties and seventies, and I listened to the shit out of it – more so than any soul record released in the last 30-40 years (or whenever those classic Sade releases came out).  Sadly, Mr. Bridges decided to go a more modern route this time - it’s still not really like what you hear on the radio these days, but much more in that ballpark than his first record.  “Good Thing” is more of a nineties Brand New Heavies/jazzy version of soul, and for what it is, it’s pretty damn good; it just isn’t what it was.  I obviously don’t begrudge the man, an artist grows and the fans don’t get to pick the direction, but you can certainly be disappointed in the results.   You still get some hints of his old sound in album opener “Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand” and “Mrs.”, which are just enough of a taste to remind you of what could have been, but isn’t. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Beach House - 7 (Sub Pop, 2018)

Beach House
Sub Pop
Rating: 6.5 altered page collations out of 10
I've never been a Beach House fan.  I've never hated them by any means either, they were just one of those perfectly tolerable bands playing perfectly tolerable music.  I always thought of them as a cut-rate Cocteau Twins for today's kids - which sounds dismissive on my part, but honestly there ain't nothing wrong with being compared to the Cocteau Twins because they are rad.  I saw Beach House live once at a local festival and between the low, blue lights and an immense amount of fog machine smoke, you might as well have been listening at home, because you couldn't see shit.  Much like their recordings, it didn't move the needle much for me. 
This new record of theirs, "7," is totally fine though.  This may be on me more than any change out of the band - I'm now spending my days sitting in a cubicle, and it's definitely possible that the best way to enjoy Beach House is through headphones.  If I wanted to get all scientific I'd go back and revisit their first six releases (that's why they named this one "7," get it?!?) and see if this office setting changes my mind on those as well...but I'm probably not going to do that.  Or hell, maybe it's not me at all and instead "7" is just an outstanding record that outshines it's predecessors, and I chose the exact right time to listen to Beach House again.

"Dive" is the stand-out track, and probably the most upbeat one on the record.  I like it best when they get upbeat.