Thursday, December 31, 2015


There was truth in advertising when I read that Joel Ansett’s sound was folk-pop-rhythm&blues. There are clearly equal parts of these styles at work. It is an interesting collection of songs, as some songs lean heavily to each style, while others combine the styles in various percentages. At times, it engages the mathematical side of my brain more than I would like. Fortunately, Ansett’s warmth in his vocals keeps reminding you of the song and what he is musically saying. He has that seemingly easy going vibe that the more pop side of folk artist Al Stewart provided. Some songs are significantly better than others, mostly due to my taste, but other times the quality difference was noted. Joel Ansett is from my old home town of Denver and I hope he can make it out this way some time.

Songs to start with first:

Covered Up - The R&B side wins out in this song with the soulful vocal transcending it beyond the usual.

Give Our Hearts some Weight - Fine folk outing here, perfect in a coffeehouse or on a larger stage.

New York - Sumptuous vocals and delicate dreamy backing make this a highly attractive song.

A band like this reminds me of why I am just not as big a fan of British shoegaze music as some of my friends. This band is from Toronto and they certainly have enough of their own vision in here and are not trying to merely ride the long running wave. But the music just flows like lava from a shield volcano, slow, steady and the full tally of the effort comes much later on. In my case, too late to really get involved with. But if you are a fan, there are some nice variants in a few of the songs, so have a listen.

Songs to start with first:

1992 - Good chord progression sets the tone for the melodic vocal line to sink in.

Drown - A lighter deeper more melancholic type experience here.

Swooner - A few twists in this long closing cut.

Four classics given an updated electronica and distorted guitar touch. There is some acoustic guitar and piano, but most importantly a classic female voice that has the melody in full flight. Hey, it is Christmas music that has the right amount of classicism and recognition in the rendition to make it work for me. And oh that voice… that makes me want to check out this band further.

And come celebrate Leap Day with them when they are at the DC9 on February 29th.

Here’s a rich slab of funky rhythm & blues that has me wanting to dig deep into my Pam Grier and Carol Speed DVD collection. This music will take you back, even with some modern touches and not quite the edginess of those days. The rhythms vary enough and the songs are distinct and attractive. This is a fun record and I just need more of this in my life and it would not hurt most listeners to increase their fix of funk.

Songs to start with first:

Some Ol Dolls - Dim the lights, curl up in a velvety booth and enjoy the low-key funky R&B moves.

Church Burning Down - Driving funk rock, this will get you roused and moving.

Don’t Let Go - Quiet easy going folkish sounds invade the album to nice effect.

Five new songs comprise this EP from a North Carolina outfit (with local connections through singer Peter Vance) featuring a former member of the Clockwork Kids and Color Exchange. There is a strong spirit of dream pop embedded in a gutsy indie rock sound. They achieve a big sound as the production is strong as the guitars ring out steadily. It is the lead vocals that resonate profoundly, as the singer pulls and pushes his words with a dramatic flair with no shortage of grace. This is smart music, well produced, and with lots of heart. I fondly recommend it and am curious as to how it will turn out live.

And if you want to join me in that quest, you can catch the band live this Saturday, January 2nd when they play the Rock’n’Roll Hotel.

This is no two-faced album, although there are two sides of the sound with lots of explorations in between, as Matt Kivel writes lovely pop rock folk songs and occasionally infuses some jarring and exciting rock moves within. The result is somewhat between Tim Buckley and Chris Isaak with traces of Jason Pierce. Those are gigantic names for me and Kivel may not be quite at that level, but this album shows it is not too far a stretch to think that he could be. He is certainly doing some exciting things with his folk based style by adding drone like qualities to the longer songs and bursts of fascinating electric moments that sound quite otherworldly. His voice also transcends this world steadily as it is a reliable flowing melodic and emotional component throughout. Fine, fine fine.

Songs to start with first:

Janus - Incredible atmosphere with a subtle droning approach to this lush folk song.

Violets -  Flowing electric pop rock song with subtle yet exciting instrumental touches behind the lovely vocals.

Prime Meridian - Brief moments of King Crimson channeling in a Jason Pierce like soulful folk song.


This is quite an exciting collaboration that makes a lot of sense. Lucas is more the veteran creative songsmith and Klose the younger, though well beyond rookie status, singer songwriter. They both understand the trippier original aspects to song structures with Lucas’ resume bordering on unbelievable as he has worked with Beefheart, Pete Hammill, and Bryan Ferry, to name but three out of the dozens of amazingly original talents. He and Klose keep to the core in these songs with just voices and acoustic guitars, aside from a saxophone once. It has the feel of some of those excellent fingerstyle guitarists of old collaborating at the common starting point of the blues and then venturing out into their own trips and excursions into other musical territory. I would follow each of these artists separately, so together, well… try it and see.

Songs to start with first:

Secret Wings - Deep beginning smooths out into a sharp little song.

Jewel Julia - Spritely guitar melodies and a fine vocal line make the magic seem so simple.

Overture - Somewhere between Roy Harper and Tim Buckley, this one sends me into orbit.


This is Money’s second album and the first I have heard. They have a comforting style that sounds like you’ve heard it before, maybe many times before with different bands. Yet, it is not exactly lush British rock, shoegaze, or indie. Maybe checking off choice E. All of the Above is the best answer here. The real trick here is the confidence the band has to stretch out songs, twist them around, go bold and then quiet, quickly or slowly depending on the required setting. This is smart music with a nod to flamboyant entertainment. Quite possibly the only problem I had, was that the songs were slowly toppling over each other where a few more jarring short fast moments in between could work wonders. But I still wish more bands would aim this big even if you take the Icarus risk.

Songs to start with first:

I’m Not Here - Vocals move around with great extremes and contrast, while the music steadies it all out.

You Look Like a Sad Painting on Both SIdes of the Sky - Moody folk rock ballad like a twisted Radiohead.

Night Came - An epic clocking in at 8:35 and there is plenty going on even as the pace is oh so steady.

I had wondered if Joanna Newsom may have enough down deep within to retain both her charm and creativity given her extensive popularity by now. Clearly it is all there as this album sounds familiar to the fans, but adventurous and exciting enough to keep everyone involved. Her voice can be a bit twee at times, but it is easy to get used to and follow her stories amid complex arrangements. She gets help from a variety of musicians and there are different combinations in each songs. I prefer the focus on Newsom’s harp and the piano playing. The overly electric moments are a bit too Steely Dan for me (that is an insult coming from me). Ultimately this succeeds with me and I see no problem with it being a welcome addition to the Joanna Newsom catalog for her many many fans.

Songs to start with first:

Anecdotes - I am apprehensive at the start of this opener, but the magic is fully woven within by it’s conclusion.

Leaving the City - If you think this is too twee, give up now, or follow the paths out of the city into the netherworlds of imaginative psyche-folk.

Waltz of the 101st Lightborne - Flute, accordion, electric moments, strange vocals and spritely sounds really ramp up the ionization in this atmosphere.

This 2005 release is getting a tenth anniversary re-release on Jagjaguar, which should interest Okkervil River fans plenty. Of course the original eleven songs are here along with eight more songs from the band’s follow-up EP. There are also eleven cover songs recorded in the same general time period which gives a full 30 songs in which to discover and rediscover what Okkervil River was doing a decade back. I liked it then and still do, hearing the full array of songs and styles all here in one place. The varied style from hard rock to indie rock to Americana to dream indie-rock (not quite dream pop) really keeps a listener on their toes from song to song. The EP has stronger and even more varied material and is for people who really want to hear more than the expected. The covers interest me less as they are mostly stark arrangements of country or folk cuts, although the rousing ‘Good Liquor Carry Me Down’ was fun. So this release will definitely have enough for the fans and has plenty of music for the ‘neutrals’, much of which may convert you.

Songs to start with first:

For Real - Jarring electric guitar, hearty vocals and some smart arrangement choices add up to full to the brim song.

Missing Children - Spacey song of the EP sounds like a double dose of otherworldly.

Another Fine Radio Song - Gutsy intense rocker… great to see they have it in them.

This is the third album from an interesting post punk band that has more than a nod of influence to UK punk and post punk. The New Model Army comes to mind with the deep lead vocals atop a strong but clever rock sound. I also hear an Iceage like sound with less abandon and a bit more space between instruments. The guitars are a bit more psychedelic here and the songs are well formed with enough melodic and sonic shifts to make sure the post in post punk is still there. When the guitars are not overly atmospheric, their bite reminds me of the Wipers. So basically, there are a lot of great rock sounds in here supporting some very enjoyable songs. I am hooked.

Songs to start with first:

The Devil in His Youth - The opener should pull you in. If not, you probably never would have found my blog.

Pontiac 87 - A bouncy pop song with Chris Bailey or Iceage like vocals and strong rock guitar moves.

Clandestine Time - An almost serene rock song in between the noisy bits.


This band instantly grabbed me with its Syd Barrett style done in a more modern Jacco Gardner approach. There is also are jagged guitar bursts such as in Gang of Four and XTC that carve a unique musical space for this band. It is not often I discuss great popsike atmosphere with a gutsy post punk approach. Somehow they put it all together for an always interesting album. And when the songs are clever and playful, they really nail it. This is a fascinating little album that will uncover more levels with each listen, I would imagine. Masterpiece? Why not.

Songs to start with first:

Anthony Ivy - Whimsical and biting all in one short popsike song? Yes!

I Used to Be Darker - Lots of Gang of Four like space in this punchy pop song.

Literary Arts - Acoustic guitar and reverb vocals create a strong popsike atmosphere for this feel good song.


We have a full album from a new DC band, who sound more than ready for the stages that they have started playing on in recent months. They have a crisp indie rock that has the hooks but does not quite go the power pop route. Instead, they alter the volume of the guitars, add some acoustic guitars when needed and keep things fresh as the band keeps rocking. The vocals are solid and are confident enough to be bold and out front. They are working a familiar territory, but doing it well and they occasionally pull off a mild surprise, which is a good start for a new band. Hopefully a live review will follow in the early days of 2016. Stay tuned.

Songs to start with first:

Blissful Idiot - Snappy song with a great bassline and flowing parts from the rest. Catchy with just the right amount of toughness.

Drown - Good pace and melody.

Phosphorescence - I like the jagged acoustic guitar twist before more electric sounds—great sonic surprises here.

This somehow seems like a slick, timeless brand of pop music that I can not quite pin down. There is everything from a Dean Martin or Vicki Carr ballad on some long lost variety show mixed with modern post-Radiohead sounds. This record is not for everyone, but if you lived as long as I have, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the way Storrow injects so much charm in his music with such timeless devotion to different eras of popular music. This is a lot more unique than meets the eye if you listen to it as a single task.

Songs to start with first:

A True Christian - The big bold sound is quickly achieved and contrasts well with the more easy going pop vocals.

It’s You They Want - Quieter music, still rich with imagery and big, big vocals for a pop explosion.

Song of the Self-Reliant - Song of the 1960s crooner having a happy little David Lynchian dream.

It is hard for me not to enjoy wildly fuzzy guitars playing assertive psychedelic rock music. Some do it better than others and Strange Faces is on their way, but not quite at arrival point just yet. These sound more like raw outtakes to a Black Angels session, with moments of excellent pop hooks within, but not too steady and assured. They certainly may get there and if they are practicing too much stonerism, then perhaps some sober songwriting would be good right after. It is one thing to explore psychedelic terrain, but it sometimes works to write about it while sober and alert, with a good memory of what transpired. And if I am wrong, do the opposite, just keep at it.

Songs to start with first:

I Saw Your Face - I like the clean guitar leads slicing through the fuzz and reverb vocals.

Still Lit - This dirty garage pop cut hits the mark.

Why - Not a Byrds cover, but a good song with a nice melodic twist at the end.


Sometimes I hope beyond hope that an electronica pop band will not only engage me, but create some music that will resonate for a long time. It is not quite as hard as I make out in my head, but execution is a tricky business. Unknown Mortal Orchestra hits a lot of the right buttons for me. They start with varied vocals, interesting guitar parts, and a strong rhythm section. There is plenty of electronics to carry or work off the melody making this a tasty gumbo approach. Yet after the creative flourish is broadly approached, the band pulls it in with an organized approach that is very smart while not losing the  fun exploratory feel. They move through genre boundaries but keep their character better than most, hitting rhythm and blues and pop territory most frequently.

Songs to start with first:

Multi Love - Multi layers of pop magic at work in this title track. Instantly creative and accessible.

Ur Life One Night - An oddly modernized rhythm and blues that works in a unique way.

Extreme Wealth and Casualty Cruelty - Aside from the great title, this is a flowing song that is hard to clasify.


More Americana here, although I like the term Harlan Wells uses: Canadiana. It began with a highly cliched song, good, but I thought I may be in for ‘just another Americana album’, something I get a lot of these days. Fortunately Wells and his band snapped off some energized cuts that balanced a lot of instruments well and was lively and playful. The vocals do not do as much for me as they are breathy and too one dimensional. There is enough expression there so as not to be a serious drag on the proceedings, but overall there are just a few things that keep this from being an album I can recommend. If you like the genre, dig in, you will find at least a few standout songs.

Songs to start with first:

Adriana - A bouncy melody and some finely woven instrumentation with a delicate pattern (even the accordion is subtle).

Goodbye Rosie - Good rock moves and a slightly different instrumental mix.

Come on June - One more good tune.

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