Thursday, March 31, 2016


Back to steel indeed. Martin Barre’s steel stringed electric guitar has been deeply embedded in my mind for over 40 years now, most of those with the legendary Jethro Tull. He is working as hard as ever with regular album releases and extensive touring. His live show was excellent as he has recruited an outstanding band to keep things rocking with guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The full band is here, rocking hard and true. But he also adds some mandolin at times in fun and exciting ways such as in ‘Sea of Vanity’ and the Tull song ‘Skating Away’. Barre was often overlooked as one of the guitar greats, partially due to the other flamboyant Tull players (even beyond Ian Anderson). But then and now, Martin Barre is a great rock guitar stylist who maintains a blues base, but is exploratory of other forms as well. This album shows all his skills and is just eclectic enough to be fresh and appealing to rock fans of all ages. And this is now available as an import, but will have a US release later this year. But you may be able to get it when he comes to Annapolis or a club near you.

And you can catch him at Ram’s Head in Annapolis on Monday, April 11th. See you there!

Songs to start with first:

It’s Getting Better - Has that old time rock feeling with a bit of swing and other twists and turns.

You and I - Guest vocals and a lighter touch on this warm and catchy song.

Calafel - A short instrumental, the type of which is often considered filler, but I like this one a lot and the concept in general.

Excuse me, while I take off the cloak of objectivity and revert to a child receiving sacrament at the altar. Robbie Basho is one of my all-time favorites and when I get to hear a rare (and unheard by me) reissue released 30 years after his death, I am giddy with delight. And with just a few notes of the opening cut, the magical acoustic guitar runs offset by his chilling voice meandering over under sideways down from the melody have me in heaven. There are songs I know from other LPs, but in alternate versions, still following his unique path toward musical enlightenment. There are some piano tunes as well, which is an underrated part of his music. Robbie Basho was a mystical folk artist who transcended the musical scene then and now. This is a free release due to some copyright issues, so there is no reason not to indulge.

Songs to start with first:

Just get them all and then go on to get every album he ever made.


When this LP began, I forgot what I was listening to, thinking I had some old California based Americana rock band with psyche tendencies. But then it sounded a bit too modern and I was reminded that I was instead listening to a new UK band filled with some well known veterans and sharp worldly musicians. The one member I knew best was Rob Smoughton of Hot Chip and Scritti Politti fame. He and his mates stretch the boundaries of several genres including disco and through a loose somewhat earthbound psychedelic approach pull them all together. New Orleans is referenced as well it should be, as this is a form of gumbo music of putting a lot of things into a pot, stir it up, slow cook it, spice it up and come up with a tasty stew.

Songs to start with first:

Double Top - Long flowing opener that successfully marks out their space in the atmosphere.

Chops on Tchoupitoulas - Nice instrumental and I get to type out my favorite street in New Orleans.

Below the Waves - Breezy cut with cool vocals and intricate rhythmic ebbs and flows.

They are not quite the Gun Club as they are far more in control, but they hit all the same buttons that the Gun Club did for me with this LP. They have a roots based songwriting style with some of the thickest, fuzziest guitars outside of WIndhand or Black Sabbath. The vocals are hearty and the rhythm is steady with a menacing undercurrent. This album connects from first note to last and if you like gutsy, powerful, rootsy bands as well as heavy bands of all sorts, you should be stopping right now and finding this music (just come back and read the rest of the reviews later).

Songs to start with first:

No Law in Lurgan - After the moody vocals, guitars came in so fuzzy, I thought my stereo needle was caked in mud, but oh yeah this an MP3 file. Fuzz = Good.

Arrow Pierce my Heart - Dark music, with a touch more hope in the vocals.

Eggs and Bread - An acoustic folk song is a great break in the middle of this fine album.

Well, they have found something else deep in the sonic archive of Jeff Buckley, now passed on for almost 19 years. Unlike the sprawling uncompleted mess that was ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart, the Drunk’, this album is filled with initial demos featuring eight covers and two original songs. These are raw demos of a sort with Buckley’s fine guitar and dazzling vocal work. An intensely stripped down ‘Grace’ is quite chilling and some of the cover songs work very well. A surprise is Led Zeppelin’s ‘Night Flight’ although the Buckley voice is one that can stay with that of Robert Plant. I still much prefer the works of his father, Tim Buckley, who also tragically died young. However, this is  great companion piece to the ‘Grace’ LP and is just one more reminder of what we lost, provided he regained his focus (a problem his father had, too—the parallels are downright scary).

Coves walks the line between pop and rock. That’s a big line and quite crowded, so it is a bit hard to stand out and I am not sure they do quite enough, at least in terms of the big boys that occupy a lot of the space. But the female vocals are strong with just enough vulnerability there to hit a range of emotions. The guitars are bright and just strong enough with a fuzzy bass and crisp drums, so things can rock out just enough. And after hearing the full ten songs, I think they just may have a chance if they stay true, tour hard, and just keep getting this out there. There is enough infectiousness on this UK duo's second album to take hold, it just may take some time or a break.

Songs to start with first:

Cadavalier - Worth it for the title alone, but it is a hooky rock tune.

Tripping Over Lust - Great playing on all parts and a soaring vocal brings the melody home.

See Me Love Me - How to make a song catchier, just whistle.


My favorite band from the movie ‘Dig’ has a new album out. Sadly, I have not kept up with them since that time, even though I probably would have liked to. This album confirms that they are still doing a lot of what I enjoyed then and what a lot of bands allow me to enjoy now. They still have a keen grasp on popsike, but even explore an industrial pop thing that reminds me of the very early 1980s and a band I worked with called Dementia Precox. Then they slip in some acoustic moves before heading back to sharp little electric pop nuggets. All the while, you can expect some interesting arrangements and that infectious rhythm. This is a fine album and exceeded my moderate expectations by some margin.

Songs to start with first:

Search Party - Dreamy vocals atop a crisp chunky rhythm and guitar.

Semper Fidelis - So many cool things coming together to make a warm and unique song.

Give - A bit of psyche-folk here, but still well within their style.

If you go back to the 1970s, you will remember that brief time when new wave was not a dirty word amongst punks. There were several bands that captured fun danceable music pulling in sharper minded disco fans that could tolerate driving guitars. Quickly, factions formed and treaties were broken. From Joshua Tree, California (don’t mind the French), this trio latches onto that interesting sound and pushes it even further into quirky pop songs that roar with Ramones styled strength underneath. And most of the time, it works quite well.

Songs to start with first:

Conformiste - Dancey with loads of guitar bite.

L.A. Bourn! - Wild rhythmic bursts leave way for crazed pop song with vocals warm or wild.

We Aren’t the Champions - Thick guitar and contrasting parts with contrasting vocals.

The live set I caught last month was outstanding in the way she could deliver quiet music to a noisy club. No such problems here, as she has complete control of the dynamics of her sound on these twelve songs. If I have any complaint, it is that she could push a few of them further, but no so much to lose the lovely atmosphere she maintains throughout the album. This is mannered music, but with deep emotion where intelligence and logic politely tries to stay in charge. And with a precise and lovely vocal work setting the course, the music flows gently by and makes for a very pleasant listening experience.

Songs to start with first:

Swimming Pool - Heavy atmosphere and surprising to have the opener feature a guest backing vocalist.

Algorithm - A title more for Tortoise, as Emmy gives away her secret math nerd tendencies… but it is still a love song.

Hyperlink - Great atmosphere with the echoing backing vocals and tight little guitar line.

This is an intriguing little album that occasionally gets really big. They have an easy going slightly pop, slightly shoegaze style that they push into fuzzy garage rock songs at times. While they keep it simple for some arrangements, others are somewhere out in progressive-land, in the dense part of the forest. There are almost too many moves here, but the band successfully ties them together with their control and mannered playing, keeping drama and narrative flowing. At their best, they cross Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with the Black Angels and this duo from Belfast should appeal to a pretty wide range of fans. Nothing ‘ex’ about this brand of magic.

Songs to start with first:

Kiss That Wealth Goodbye - Opener sounds like Black Angels Lite in a good way.

Place Your Bets - Rich, full accompanying sound builds this lovely song into an epic.

Job Done - Another song that wins me over with the first fuzzed out chord.

This excellent Los Angeles based singer reminds me a bit of fellow Angelinos Dengue Fever. Jessica Fichot has a Chinese-French background and infuses that into rock moves with a fine LA band. She goes even further with moves that go into older lounge and swing eras. Fichot’s voice is enchanting and the music is smart and evocative throughout. There are just seven songs here, but the diversity is clear with her vocals holding it all together in a logical manner.  This long EP did its trick like a complex appetizer, as it has me craving for more.

Clear your calendar for Friday night, April 15th, when Jessica Fichot visits the Treehouse Lounge. Get there early for good seats as the club is small and should draw a crowd for this.

Songs to start with first:

Dear Shanghai - Powerful song that melds too much together to squarely place in time and space.

Manli - A crisp Asian pop song that is reminiscent of Dengue Fever.

Daydream - A fine example of combining swingtime jazz with pop music.

If you miss that certain 1970s rock sound that has a bit more smarts to it than 90% of the bands of that era, then Good English may strike a chord that you weren’t quite sure existed outside your imagination. When this succeeds, it morphs diverse sounds into a pleasing rock format with a catchy song. When not, it is a bit muddled with rock sounds that don’t quite belong anywhere. Fortunately this is more than half successful and is ambitious even in its familiarity.

Songs to start with first:

Carolina - Garage rock that swings? This is smart but has a raw heart.

Wanderer - Strong guitar blast morphs into a spacier song.

Line of Fire - The closer is an absolute epic that sounds like a grand classic rock song infused with the heart of Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

At times this Sante Fe singer songwriter tries to combine a pretty style with a tough veneer, which is quite hard to do, although not impossible. He manages it a few times here and does it better than most. It works best, when he has a sharp little power pop melody to work off of, in a manner of the Raspberries perhaps. He also pulls things back in more introspective pop songs. Impressively, he plays everything himself (at least he is advertised as a one-man band). The guitar work is good, although the drums could use a bit more at times. All in all, there are a lot of positives here. I would prefer a bit more focus in the types of songs that seem more successful for me.

Songs to start with first:

My Own Way Out - The opener will tell you whether to continue as he has it all laid out here.

Now I’m Me from You - Snappy power pop number that I would like to hear more of.

A Ghost Too Soon - A quieter song that really connected.

Hælos produce a highly slick brand of electronic pop music. The beats are designed for dance, although the sonic moves offer more for the discerning listener, The vocals are somewhat in between a light cloying dream pop and more strange contrasts, although still in the pop world. I really did not feel this album would do much for me, but there are so many interesting layers, that this dream pop is far from cotton candy. This is main course material that offers a lot to people who enjoy electronic pop sounds. It still is a bit too steady in the overall atmosphere for me to get overly excited about. But I can see Hælos doing quite well in this field.

When you have four long songs (the equivalent of a double album) such as we have here, often a simple description is challenging. Although here, things are pretty clear, they are still quite expansive. How about progressive shoegazing Americana dreampop? The vocals and some of the violin show off some roots at the core of the songs, but the playing becomes a bit more progressive—occasionally complex, more often mannered in a dreampop droning sort of way. And then there are freaky shoegaze bursts as well. It is a good attempt to create something familiar yet unique and I think Yndi Halda has done that. I am not always fully engaged, so I think there is some room for further dynamics and deeply focused passages. This is still quite an interesting exploration and I would advise taking this journey.


I hate it when I am trying to wrap up a busy month of reviews and I see something come in at the last minute. Do I push it back to next month (where there already is a queue)? Do I delete the message and pretend I didn’t see it? Or do I just strap myself in and make the time for it? I chose the last option here and I am thrilled that I did. The Herms do just about everything right on this long album. A lot of bands combine sixties and seventies punk styles (maybe more 80s post punk here) along with power pop moves, but the Herms take all of that and push it even further into inventive, yet agreeable rock music. There are classic instrumentals here that are like some of the greats of old with infectious lines and plenty of guitar twanging interest. So basically, the Herms can play and write with a sense of history and vision. Now to get these Californians out to this coast for a tour. Until that time, this album gets multiple listenings.

Songs to start with first:

Parades - Starting the LP with a guitar sound and line reminiscent of the Animals ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is a quick way to win me over.

ReadySet ’94 - The second cut adds raucous punk and sixties garage power into a wonderfully catchy song.

Cold Residence - Gnarled guitars, cheezy keyboards, fuzzy vocals, punchy drums and bass. What is not to like?

If you like the sound of the Black Angels and don’t mind it a bit more relaxed and pop oriented, then consider riding the Holy Wave. They have a similarly strong sound with loads of reverb on guitars and voice. But that is the easy the part as the real challenge is in the songs, which is where they rise above the pack. Popsike of sorts, but a bit more droning as they stretch the melodies out and offer a few twists and turns, although most are gradual. If the songs were stronger, this could be a classic, as it is the best songs are very exciting and the rest play through smoothly and make for a comfortable and occasionally exciting listen.

Songs to start with first:

She Put a Seed in my Ear - Great sound established right off the bat in the opener as they invite you in, all doors of perception open.

Western Playland - The vocals are quite strong on this cut.

Air Wolf - I enjoy the extra strike in the guitar and the smooth drone of the band, melody intact.

Sadly, this title sums up my feeling about this album. The singer songwriter/indie rock moves are easy enough to get into. But we’ve heard them all before, so it’s easy to get over and move on. There could be a decent live set coming out of this, so I wouldn’t avoid it in the clubs. And ‘Vis Major’ had some second-rate Bob Mould moves, and that still rates pretty high in my book. But that was one or two songs, the rest was just things I have heard before and would rather avoid these days.

This is quirky pop. That may not be a genre, but it certainly is something you can grasp pretty quickly. Meilyr Jones is from the UK (you can kind of narrow that down based on his name). He used to sing for Race Horses but is now solo with this sharp little album. There is a strong yearning in the vocals that is reminiscent of Roger Chapman and the band Fuschia. Musically it is flowing with sharp and jagged bits that come together with pop hooks that twist into more experimental runs. This is pop music, but it is sneaky and progressively wild at times as well. And the more the better as the songs that are boldest work best and the rest are pretty decent as well. Audacious and personal, this is a unique album that is simply fun to try to figure out.

Songs to start with first:

Don Juan - Get my attention-start with harpsichord. Hold my attention-add a flute. Make me happy-keep the vibe up to the end.

Passionate Friend - A long song that goes through exciting changes including orchestration.

Strange Emotional - A deep under current of strong guitar with an almost syrupy island beat on top with a pop song in the middle. How does he do it?

There may be eight songs, but they add up to 57 minutes of music. And the route from beginning to end is filled with some crazed journeys. At its wildest, in the epic ‘Pink Fruit’, Leonard sounds like Sebadoh trying to cover Tim Buckley’s ‘Starsailor’ LP. There are familiar enough folk and indie rock moves within, but the twists and turns and connectors are not of convention. Kiran Leonard moves with abandon even as his voice quivers and questions. It is more a compulsive need than a fun sense of adventure, although he seems to retain control throughout. Audacious, bright, and gutsy—have a listen.

Songs to start with first:

Secret Police - Karma Police? Not that good, but it does remind me of Radiohead.

Pink Fruit - When composing a sixteen minute song, why not have warm melodies, quirky bursts, and lots of strange passages. This is clever.

Fireplace - The long closer finishes on a strange and contemplative point.

Female vocal driven power pop with a touch of sleaze garage rock and the occasional slacker rock component as well. They are best when they are tough and focused and don’t relax into slacker moves. Fortunately that is at least half of the time, so the power pushes the hooks forward. There is a touch of stylistic complacency that rubs me wrong, but most people won’t be bothered. Basically, when pushed forward, it works, when pulling back, it fades away.

Songs to start with first:

Let’s Runaway - Good little power popper gets the ball rolling.

Raise Hell - Deep bluesy rock here.

I’m Coming Onto You - Like Joy Formidable at their toughest.


I am somewhat of a sucker for that brand of power pop that has a female vocalist that has that certain cute, gutsy voice. This has got all of that, although the power pop comes from more of a bright powerful synthesizer driven melody. The rhythms are crisp and although this will likely have you dancing in the clubs, it is almost enough to get me out of the chair right here. As terrific a sound as this is, I would like a bit more on the variety side. They did throw some subtle change-ups late on, but I think they could do more. They have the sound, the style, and some pretty good songs. It is a lot to get right.

Songs to start with first:

Battles - Such a bright song, with a driving urgency at its heart.

Dangerous - More power behnid the attractive style up front.

Gone Gone Gone - Pummeling rhythms get you prepared for their most intense and still fun song.

By Kyle Schmitt
Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Divine Fits) takes a deep dive into synth pop with this catchy collection of danceable tracks. His vocals alternate between icy and soulful, and the overall climate ranges from the near-darkwave of “Rome” to the jagged dance-rock of “Shape of Things”. Operators sound restrained only for the first 80 seconds of “Bring Me The Head”; the rest of this record stays upbeat, even aggressive (notably with Sam Brown’s pounding drums on the relentless “Mission Creep”). Dramatic synths promise bliss on “Cold Light” as Beckoner asks, “Do ya wanna dance? Do you want to take the long way home?” Blue Wave’s mood crashes, however, as it nears conclusion. On “Nobody”, Beckoner expresses a desire to “tear it up, walk through the door to new life”, while he waxes bittersweet and dreamy on the album closer “Space Needle”. Abundant hooks and an evolving, exciting atmosphere make a strong case for catching Operators’ April 19th show at DC9.

Songs to start with first:

Control - Suitable for striding down a city street into the club in 1983 or 2016.

Cold Light - The best elements of synth-pop converge here, including some New Order-esque bass.

Nobody - A defiant anthem for walking home alone from a night out.

This band packs in quite a bit of sound within its pleasant pop melodies. I can’t fault the songs, although they are a bit too nice and mainstream to be followed up on beyond first listen. But the extra effort in the arrangements made for something I can respect more than I otherwise might. If you are a younger reader, I will highly recommend this as it has all the pop hooks you may crave and will also give you more active listening than other bands in this genre.

I am an admittted Anglophile, although my biases are more on the literary side than even music. And some of the heavy duty English musicians are tough for Americans to really connect with. Edward Rogers has the advantage of taking English music like that of Kevin Ayers and bringing that along with his long adult residence in New York City and finding a happy median. Rogers dedicated a previous album to Ayers and as much as he reminds me of Ayers, there is also plenty of Ray Davies and perhaps a bit of Bill Fay. Basically, Rogers’ songwriting skills are easily and fairly compared to these fine songwriters. He also offers a variety of styles between sparse folk and out and out rock music. And there are 19 songs here and with no filler (not surprisingly, they chose the ‘best’ out of 50 songs he had written). I always make room in my day tor thoughtful intelligent music and this goes on that list with a bullet.

Songs to start with first:

The World of Mystery - The opening cut sounds like a warm romantic Bob Dylan cut from 1969.

Olde House on the Hill - A surprising heavy rocker that is hook laden and vocally sharp as a tack.

Glass Marbles - This crazy like a fox rocker is the highlight of the album.

Rolling guitar lines, punctuating rhythm, and classic smooth pop female vocals all combine to work some real magic here. The lesser songs are all good pop rockers, while the best songs soar into profound melodies where the component parts weave around each other lifting the whole song upward throughout the song’s journey. Everything flows really where on this album and this band really has the feel of playing together and concocting excellent music. Yes, this is obviously quite a pleasure for me. And Vivian Girls fans, that is Katy Goodman on the right.

Songs to start with first:

High Notes - Great opener combines a jangly uptempo roots music with soft pop hooks.

Begins to Rain - The great songs have the great hooks, no truer on this album.

I Need an Angel - Another great melody with some great traded vocal passages between band members.

This is actually quite easy to describe or at least categorize, which is part of the problem. It is pop rock music with a touch of popsike. It is heavily laden with synthesizer riffs that have subtle ethereal qualities, but mostly are upfront and in your face. That and the mechanical beats just makes this a bit too cold and uninteresting. Even the vocals don’t add enough warmth or interesting enough power to make this something I would ever go back to.

Tir na nOg “Live at the Half Moon”
It was welcome news for these ears when I heard that this fine Irish folk duo, who had some lovely psyche-folk songs on their first three albums from the 1970s, were back decades later playing live. I have yet to catch a show, but now have this fine live album to show where they are at in the 21st century. Sonny Condell and Leo O’Kelly still sound exquisite in harmony and their guitar playing evokes all the mysteries of a foggy island morning, even more than in the past. They add some violin and percussion, which add amazing textures and punctuation. The guitars are stinging throughout and these two work are quite inventive working together. The material is split between old and new and if you were not familiar with their material, it would be difficult to tell which is which, as they have simply grown from their early days without losing their core sound and abilities to create something unique.There are a few more cool rock moves than I remembered, such as in ‘Free Ride’. This was quite a treat and I can attest that even if this were some brand new band, I would really love this record, although I am not sure a brand new band could have this many fine songs to put into a set.

The sounds are indeed united here as this band takes guitar textures, adds some electronics and a steady unobtrusive rhythm to drone out some interest psychopop. Maybe these are not truly sounds of joy (but there wasn’t much joy in Joy Division either), but this music will create a deep mood for you, most likely. Like many bands that establish slow, steady, moody pieces, you may not fully engage right away, but stay with it. This band may pull you in more quickly than most with its clever thoughtful moves. It won me over late in the second song and didn’t let go until all eight were completed.

Songs to start with first:

Dust Veil - Strong melodies and an arrangement that drones in unique ways.

Wounded Moon - This is how to stretch out a pop song and find new meaning for it.

Free to Fall - Aptly named nine minute closer lets you fall like a feather.

This is just what the doctor ordered… a four CD box set of authentic Moroccan music. You get warmed up with a 27 1/2 minute opening piece by Abdelkrim Rais and Ensemble. What better way to cleanse the musical palate of all the Americana, Electronica, and neo-psyche variants that come in for review. Further, these are historic field recordings by noted author Paul Bowles, as he criss-crossed Morocco in the latter half of 1959. Maybe there is a spiritual connection for me as well, as that was when I was born. Also, Paul Bowles ‘The Sheltering Sky’ is a brilliant novel and one of my all-time favorites. Clearly, this is not for the casual listener, but it is something you can put and get lost in. The recordings are surprisingly clear and quite varied in terms of female and male singing and chanting with instrumental differences as well. Ultimately it is the whole effect that drones into your psyche where you either adjoin yourself to the spirit of the music or not. This is not something I get a hankering for every day of the week, but is something I regularly need. And this collection is quite effective to go back to on a regular basis.

This is a well known UK shoegaze from years back when shoegaze was still somewhat unique. They are back and the shimmering guitars would not excite me too much, but for the fine soulfull vocals that take this to a newer place than most similar sounding bands. It is not quite enough to convert me over, as the music is just too steady and washed out. I would listen to the last cut, ‘And it’s You’ again and again. So if you like the classic style and have always wanted better vocals and even some interesting beats, then you should definitely check out the latest from the Veldt.

I really enjoyed Woods when they were last in DC. They had a polish and a power that elevated sweet pop moves into something stronger. It is a bit of step back here on the power front, but they compensate that with more complex rhythmic shifts. The vocals are still soft and the songs are still quite smart and interesting. This didn’t blow me away as much as the live set, but it is something I can come back to and work through the layers they provide in their catchy and slightly complex songs.

And put a note in your calendar that Woods are at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on Thursday, May 5th.

Songs to start with first:

Sun City Creeps - The opener has fine pop moves and a bit of a reggae beat.

Can’t See at All - More funky rhythm, great organ sound, and tricky pop hooks.

I See in the Dark - This has some of the ‘drive’ that is in their live show, complete with clever melodic run.

It is a strange ride when a sitar accompanies you on a journey of the American west. At least that is how this intriguing record begins. After that, there is a mix of straight and twisted arrangements that make for a surprisingly engaging listening experience. It all seems so warm and easy going, but there is a lot of quietly challenging moments in many of these songs that is quite refreshing. This will not likely jump out at you immediately, but has enough sneaky moves to find an intriguing or intrigued audience.

Songs to start with first:

Find My Baby - The opener will open its doors wide and let you know if these seemingly incongruous sounds will attract you further.

Another She - A straight carefully crafted acoustic folk song that pulls you back into the known, but reeks with individuality.

Can’t Wake Up - An eerie sequel to the Jake Holmes song, ‘Dazed and Confused’ (yes, that is JAKE HOLMES, not Page and Plante despite how the credits read).

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