Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Record Reviews - May 2015

Dig in, chew thoroughly, digest, then you're on your own.

Not even the more folkier acoustic guitars can pull me into the soultronica world of The Acorn. That should not stop fans of this genre as the band manages careful arrangements of layered electronics and synthesizers with drumbeats and acoustic guitars. The vocals move between a soulful style and a more straightforward pop attractiveness. I appreciated the variety of the rock moments and quiet acoustic guitar on “in Silence” and that song is one I could go back to.

This one is for the quirky indie rock crowd. Most songs have sharp edges to them with rhythmic bursts and tight vocal work. Generally this type of music is well past it’s ‘sell by’ date for me, but this band adds just enough potent rock and sharp songwriting to make it mostly work for me. They have just enough panache in the better songs to make you wonder how they dreamed up some of these transitions. I hope they continue exploratory sounds and daring songwriting, as they could be something quite exciting.

Songs to start with first:

WTLFO - The opener begins with what seems fairly typical indie rock, but then explodes into something a bit heavier.

Crawlspace - Acoustic beginning is a nice touch and they tone it down a bit, which is a nice contrast.

Any Robot but You - Almost a Funkadelic beginning and a sharp raucous song by the end (almost nine minutes, even).

I rather enjoy a good drone band and Complicated fits the bill with these eleven songs. Each is titled with one of the eleven letters in the word ‘complicated’ with the second ‘c’ being the fully worded title cut for some reason. It matters not, for even with some human voice in here, it is a series of droning passages that vary from 34 seconds to 10:39. There are quieter contemplative passages and stronger edgier drones. There is not any of the full throbbing drone, say of the Swans, so don’t look for that sort of mind numbing power. Instead, this investigates a few other areas of sonic steadiness. Variations are there between songs in rather sharp ways and within songs in subtle shifts. I like this style and I appreciate something a little different than turning the amps up to 11 where people think they can write like the Swans. You will know whether you want to try something like this on or not.

If you listen to those Nuggets and Pebbles compilations of 1960s psychedelic rock (and of course you should), you get a variety of styles that is quickly apparent. There are a few heavyweights that seem to anticipate Black Sabbath and Toronto's Crosss seems to be working an only slightly more modern territory than bands like the Litter. This is pounding psyche-rock with darting vocals that offset the music nicely. The clashing sonics are locked into this realm with the particularly brazen approach this band has in its core. And after eight songs, like the Stooges on Fun House, they end up with a freaky finisher that works a slow dark industrial noise terrain. Unlike the Stooges, this one runs for thirty minutes! A good way to go out and with eight songs to go back and listen to again after a long break.

Songs to start with first:

The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse.terlocutor - The opener establishes the sound, what a sound.

Golden Hearth - More divergence in this song between dirge and high end psychedelics.

My Body - They pull back a bit into more vocal focus during the last few songs (but they are still heavy)

This is the first recorded music I have heard from this Maryland duo after a couple of highly exciting live sets I caught in recent years. I was surprised by the complexity in these songs, but fear not fans of their live show, the crazed punk approach is still here as well. While so many young energized bands these days turn to speed and hormonal fury in their punk rock music, it takes a few savvy types to create something that was truly indicative of the first wave of punk rock music where anything went. This record has the spirit of the early days where you did not know what to expect, other than some bold band getting up there and creating an entertaining racket. Here, it is all bass, percussion, and vocals in a variety of tempos and intensities. All that is missing is the hilarious stage patter, but you should still be listening to this and catching the live show whenever possible.

If you are not already planning to see Mono, the DMA's, or Paul Weller on Tuesday June 9th, head to the Black Cat and you can experience this music on stage, at its best.

Songs to start with first:

Pantomime Jack - Both the complex slower bass driven style and manic punk percussion and vocal style are here.

Clock Weather - Bouncy ditty with speedy bass line, light percussion, and deep vocal work.

Pilot - Fine vocal work at two intensity levels and a strong undercurrent.

I am a big fan of this Netherlands artist. Jacco Gardner has a marvelous control of the pop elements of classic psychedellic rock music. His songs just drift away on a near tranquil sea, sharing their brightness along the journey. Harmonies are exquisite and the mix of guitars and keyboard create a strong pallet of emotions. I am not sure I like this album significantly more than the last classic I reviewed, but it’s close enough that this one will also be going on my permanent playlist. Still, Jacco Gardner remains the best popsike act out there in the world today. There are some imitators to the newer blood in this field, but Gardner is still at or near the top.

Songs to start with first:

Another You - The opening cut picks up right where his previous album left off with that warm popsike style.

Find Yourself - One of many psyche-folk songs that verge only slightly away from the popper songs.

Hypnophobia - Keyboard beginning almost defines the title as the rest of the psychedelics kick in.

Grounders grind out the spacey pop nuggets with plenty of electronic beats for added heft. They combine just enough interesting elements to overshadow the electronic sounds that I normally find a bit too predictable. Ultimately, the quality of their hooks and their creative components working those hooks forward are what lasts in the memory. This is attractive music with just enough bite for those of us that need that extra kick. This Toronto band is only coming as far south as Philadelphia on their spring tour, but it appears they will be down in DC in the fall and there should be an appreciative audience here for their sound and songs.

Songs to start with first:

Pull it Over Me - Nice spacey beginning, yet it is a pop song the whole way.

Blood Street and Pressure - Normally, I am not much for punchy drum machine cuts, but this one is cute and retains an edge.

Face Blind - Fascinating rhythmic shifts and gutsy guitar, too.

There is something intriguing about Joanna Gruesome’s odd punk rock sound. It has a classic ring to it, but it also features some ringing guitar that could be more from indie rock. The vocals also go from the occasional snarl to a sweeter harmonic style employed more frequently. Ultimately the pop moves bobble above the surface more times than not resulting in several pleasant songs that have some guts and pace to them.

Songs to start with first:

Last Year - Aggressive song morphs into something more contemplative, quite a mix for one song.

Honestly Do yr Worst - Contemplative rocker has a tough crunchy bit in the middle.

I Don’t Wanna Relax - And you won’t with this assertive white noise opening, although things settle into a catchy rocker.

This sophomore release by Danish band Iceage (whose members are just about old enough to be sophomores) is one that I looked forward to. How to follow up the brilliant debut which perfectly merged punk rock with post-punk and delivered a highly charged body blow that I think I still feel from that first listen. Here, the songs are stretched out more with a variety of backing instrumentation and textures within. The vocals are still in that breathy Nick Cave style. But with a few slower cuts, I think they could do with some more clarity in the vocals. But that is my only real complaint, well aside from not liking the song choice and video first released. Otherwise, the music is daring and powerful with even more mystery and post-punk power. I miss the burners somewhat, but the added drama and surprises here more than make up for that. This is still an exciting band and I look forward to their continual growth.

Come see their intensity live and up close at the DC9 on Monday, June 15th

Songs to start with first:

On my Fingers - The opener shows the exploratory nature of the album.

Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled - Passionate and exciting as this one bobs and weaves and delivers.

Forever - Trumpet? I don’t think they are using the kitchen sink, but there is fascinating clarity in this thick sound.

We have a fine singer song writer album that leans more heavily to folk with even a bit of lounge torch singing, along with some tasty country and western moves. This combination is common enough, but Chilina Kennedy has the skills to work them into intelligent songs. The arrangements are consistently enhancing the lyrics with fine keyboard work among the usual instrumentation. There are more contemplative songs than not and there are some powerfully sharp worded songs as well as fun toe tapping light rockers. I like a lot of these records and this one nearly comes up into a very high category for me. And also of interest, she is presently on Broadway playing Carole King! So it is exciting times for Chilina Kennedy.

Songs to start with first:

That’s How it Goes - Fine folk song, a bit of country sweetness, but a deeper air to it all.

This Year - Lilting melody sharpened up with a sing song chorus that is light in the air and a pleasure.

Now It’s Up to You - Powerhouse closer, but listen to the first 12 songs and it will have even greater impact.

There are four songs, each ten minutes and ten seconds long (thus, quarters of a 40:40 album). That usually spells electronic music or psychedelic music to me. The latter applies here, as I suspected as I have heard decent work from this band before. It is a bit too laid back here for me, as they have adopted an almost Grateful Dead approach without the rootsy country influences. Dead fans would probably add that there are not the complexities either, which may be true. It’s just that things are a bit too rosy and comfortable even with some of the nice jams here. Try the last cut, ‘Lonely Steel Sheet Flyer’ which is a bit spacier and more fun than the other cuts. They still would be a blast live where this material would pull you in to even deeper moods.

Just a four song EP here from this Swedish outfit, although that is time enough for this band to show off it’s smart pop moves. They have a vocal manner that shows care in the sense of a Fleet Foxes (sans harmonies) or Band of Horses. There is no Americana here, as the music is straightforward pop that rocks out a tad and has bouncy keyboard parts and a bit of washed out backing. The drum beats keep things alive with room for the guitars and keys to sparkle. Not bad at all.

This Los Angeles band builds this album song by song as if a new member were walking on stage after each song and adding a layer to the sound. After a few songs, they then have it well established with the amazing female vocal work leading the way to a blissful pop concoction that never loses its way. And they vary it up with just enough change in the intensity, to keep things fresh. But with their command of the textures underneath and the vocals above, they have a fine handle on their sound. So lean back and drift away to this fine album.

Songs to start with first:

Beware - They open with the title cut, with soft misty waves of sound and the vocals delicately floating above it all.

Porcupine Sheet - The second song builds on the soft layers with more assertive pop rock moves.

Our Ghost - A nod toward the Smoke Fairies with the harmonies even more ethereal.

This four song ep has an interesting melding of garage rock, classic rock, and even a few pop moves. I hear enough here that is extremely interesting as they seem to have a creative stance. I would like to see it play out of over more songs to know exactly where they fit into my world. But with these varying guitar textures and style shifts, this could be an excellent band. And the Budgie guitar moments in the title track are all too infrequently heard in rock music these days. Give me more of those and more of this band, please.

Pop electronica can sound so washed out. If performed with more instrumentation, there is a cottony hammering which takes me into a happy submission. Even better, when there are warm vocals and flowing steady hooks, you can find some smart modern pop music that can be as intriguing as any math rock/progressive jazz outfit. London’s Maribou State does that often enough here to make for some subtle and powerful listening. There is a touch within the instrumentation and a grace with the vocals that work well together to keep the songs woven together in attractive patterns. This is smart stuff, not too far from Radiohead in results. This was a nice surprise as I was not sure something that sounds so simple would turn out to be layered with much complexity.

Songs to start with first:

Pattern - It has a nice… ok, I’ll say it, pattern.

Reconfiguration - A lilting vocal pattern with a touch of soul atop the wash of melodic sound.

Easy Way Out - My choice for the single, although I won’t argue against 4-5 others.

After my brain stopped playing tricks on me by thinking this was Motorpsycho, I finally accepted the snappy pop music of this Seattle area band. And even better, like Motorpsycho, there a lot of elements at work at Motopony’s brand of music. I hear plenty of classic British pop moves reminiscent of the Kinks and the Beatles, but there are some striking rock elements at work as well. And the vocals are extremely flexible with a quiet warmth and blaring intensity that would be histrionic if they didn’t fit the song so well. I often talk about smart pop music, this is both smart and broad based pulling in some challenging elements and making them work. It ranks well with some of the classic bands of the past and will no doubt be the seed of a strong fanbase for this quality band.

Songs to start with first:

Daylights Gone - Such strength and assured playing in this pop rocker.

Changing - The vocals wrap around you like a warm embrace.

Gypsy Woman - Another brilliant hook, vocal performance, and some great progressive rock moves.

A bit of gothic post punk instrumentation with vocal work that will take you back to the days of early Siouxsie Sioux and Alice Bag. This is the tougher side of the Banshees, where there still is enough intricacy in the guitar to stand apart from the muddled masses. At times it gets a bit too throbbing for me, but mostly this stakes out an interesting terrain, which I am happy to explore. They ultimately succeed by bringing in a variety of sounds from the early punk days into something that although highly reminiscent of the past, still has a fresh appeal. And best of all, it’s head bobbing fun.

Songs to start with first:

Criticism - Nice spazzy solo bursts from their signature sound.

CPD - No, not a division of HUD where I used to work (acronyms!), but a gutsy rocker with pace and melody.

Saturday Night Sunday Morning - A bit of garage surf guitar into the mix on this fun cut.

This band combines a bit of garage punk with a post punk pop sound. But just when I thought this might be a good record, but a bit monotonous, they mix it various sixties psyche rock sounds and even toss in some quieter moments before finishing off with a bit of a pop ballad. Wild nights, indeed, Pins have some fine songs here in this album and it held my interest with the variety they offer.

Songs to start with first:

Baby Bhangs - Great pace to the opener will wake you up and prepare you for their sound.

Dazed by You - Fantastic sounds dart around to form a wildly hooky melody in this firm but poppy number.

If Only - A startling jangly rhythm guitar and reverbbed lead guitar lay the groundwork for this old fashioned gem.

This five song ep will give you a thick sound to drift away with. The vocals are chilly dream pop with warmth coming out in some songs more than others. The music goes more of a steady rock direction with electronic thickening agents filling out the sound. It’s fairly heady material for something that is catchy. I would not necessarily dance to it, but it gets my imagination swaying in its chilly breeze. This is well done.

And you can experience it live at the U Street Music Hall on June 22nd.

This six song EP reminds me a lot of Gang of Four meeting the Pixies in a ration of 90/10 perhaps. It is not overly heavy but filled with lots of space between throbbing bass, light percussion and those jagged Jon King like guitar stabs. Male and female vocals give off a dreamier feeling than Go4 usually did, so it’s unique enough… and frankly there’s enough room for more attempts at Jon King, as his style is always fascinating, even when his songs were less so.


I am usually on the receiving end when someone accuses a folk band I like of being too twee. That does not bother me at all in the folk world, even as I enjoy the tougher more psychedelic brands of folk as well. Well, allow me to dish it out this time with this pop rock band. The opener ‘Sunny Side’ is just short of parody, perhaps not even. The rest of the music goes a bit darker with odd quirky bits and some odd Americana guitar twang as well. Ultimately this does not add up to me in any sort of linear equation. There are moments, maybe a couple minutes of the 50+, but the rest of this is just borecore. I think I’ll take the advice of their third song, ‘Sleeping Practice’.

There are a lot of garage bands out there, in spite of Dave Grohl believing that the now canceled American Idol could hurt that approach. I pretty much eat up anything I find from the garage and enjoy most of the flavors. Often, as with Shark Tank, there are more modern elements integrated these days. In this case, there is a bit of shoe gaze in the sound and some electronic thrust surrounding the powerful core instruments. They are on to some nice things here. A bit more time and experience and they could really go the next time around. For now, this is fun stuff.

Songs to start with first:

Bronco - This bronco starts off the record in full gallop. Careful or it may buck you in the end.

Never last - Well, it lasted with me with its sharp driving melody.

Black Panther - Sounds like the type of garage hit that was happening when Eldridge Cleaver was THE Black Panther.


This is a heavy side of shoegaze/indie rock that plays around a bit with forms and creates some deep shimmering songs that should resonate with a lot of rock fans. They play around with lighter pop to heavier rock structures, tighten it, space it out, but keep a cohesive sound. This UK band sounds from that island in each of these nine songs, no mistaking that (unless they were a US band trying hard to sound British). The songs don’t fully come together into a stunning album, but still a strong album with some lovely highlights. Well worth a listen if you like this style and not a bad entry point either, for newbies.

Songs to start with first:

Burnt Black Cars - Fine shoegazey feeling at times but powerful crunching guitars and a nice pace take this to new heights.

Resurrection Blues - A little slower, bluesier, but great atmosphere beyond the basics.

Don’t Forget the Youth - Steady rocker with heavy guitars, Jesus/Marychain vocals, and a catchy hook.

If you enjoy the ten minute plus opener, ‘Neshel’, you should enjoy the other six songs. This Israeli band sings in Hebrew but plays in the best tradition of UK shoe gaze rock. This is very steady and shimmering, not unlike Ride, but with less power and dynamic shifts. Although some jolts of variety would be nice, I don’t mind it when the groove is working well enough and the band is locked in. All in all, this is a fine effort and the band are going to interest a lot of this genre’s fans. With just a bit more exploration, they can pull in even more progressive heavy rock followers.


I like popsike music quite a bit, but the ratios here are about 90/10, which is too poppy for my tastes. But if given a chance, Vows may just warm you if you share my formula. They brandish catchy songs and light vocals with some strength behind them to stay atop the wash of music. I would like to see them push a bit further next time and then I will be completely sold. I was happy to stay with all ten songs as the album got stronger as it went on.

Songs to start with first:

Day to Day - Good swirling intro merges into a light pop song with flitting vocal work.

The Snake - A bit on the second rate Beatles side of music… Badfinger? Klaatu?

Keeps Ridley - This has the right amount of psychedelics and it is still catchy.

The world needs more people that try to rediscover the territory Tim Buckley explored 45 years ago. It is a world of brazen intensity taking a folk starting point, heading toward rock one moment, free jazz the next, all with vocal intensity. Walker does not have the 5 octave range, but he is free and expressive with his vocal lines. Underneath is a flowing series of instruments that have loads of charismatic shifts into psychedelic territories as well as the arid ground. There is a lot of buzz about Ryley Walker and based on this fine album, it is fully deserved and then some. I hope he can continue to write fine songs and maintain this exploratory vision of worlds that we just don’t get to see and hear as much as we should.

Come see the live show at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on June 25th.

Songs to start with first (but just listen to them all):

Primrose Green - The opener establishes busy encircling instrumentation to ensure that everyone understands this is no ordinary folk or folk rock record.

Summer Dress - The second cut extends the record out further into Tim Buckley territory with stand up bass, jazzy singing, and jams.

Sweet Satisfaction - This 6 1/2 minute cut is wildly psychedelic and one of the coolest songs of the year.

This Brooklyn band has an interesting past meets present approach. They have plenty of their psychedelic garage elements here, but there is a spritely electronic attack working in as well. Sharp jabbing moments mix with cottony backdrops and when they add a solid melody, things really click. They don’t always nail it, but their creative push is worth exploring with some fine highlights along the way.

Songs to start with first:

Remote Viewing - Their classic psychedelic approach with some electronic trickery carefully woven into their sturdy fabric.

Glamour - The title cut is lovely psychedelia, even with some of that modern electronica feeling they have infused in this album.

Run to the Night - A little edgier on the motorik side of rhythmic psychedelia—catchy vocals, too.

This is the kind of radio fare I turned away from very quickly in life. It is pretty pop music with just a hint of R&B, but not enough for fans of that genre to take notice. As annoyed as I was at the ooh-ooh backing vocals, it was far better than hearing the banal lyrics here. I guess I was never a 12-year old romantic at heart, or at least I can dream I expressed myself better. Normally I try to find an audience that may like a record that I don’t, but this is just too far afield for me. After listening to this, I found that this record got some good press, so please read that. There is always something for everyone.

Thanks to the incredible vocals of Chomm Nimol and her band Dengue Fever’s dedication to promoting Cambodian music within an LA psychedelic context, Cambodian music has been highlighted on the musical map in recent years. This compilation showcases some of the riches that are there to discover (as Dengue Fever has with trips to Cambodia). There is garage brilliance in Baksey Cham Krong to traditional singing from Cheam Chansovannary. I learned that Public Image was not the first band to incorporate Swan Lake into rock music, as Chhoun Malay does a brilliant job with it here. And Sinn Sisamouth surely is the Cambodian Serge Gainsbourg. This is a brilliant album which will transport you to a time that sounds familiar, but to a place few of us have ever visited. This will be on my permanent playlist as collections are rarely this interesting. And even better news, this is a soundtrack to a film hopefully playing at a theater near you (or your tablet).

No comments: