Monday, August 1, 2016


When I reviewed this band’s previous record, I liked their cottony sound but found their overall approach rather slippery. There are certainly similar elements of this in the opening cut as the voices drift off into the ether, yet there is a profound musical thrust underneath. They play with the popsike form stretching it out, pulling it back, reexamining the purpose of a song and come up with some interesting shimmering nuggets here. There are degrees of intensity where the vocals stay clean and focused while the music twists around, grabbing on and shaking out the song. It is a unique sound and one that has some immediacy, but with room to grow while fully appreciating what is going on here.

Songs to start with:

The Golden Lion - A popsike feel with some bold breaks.

Towers Sent Her to Sheets of Sound - Sheets of tricky psychedelic music.

Tungsten 4 the Refugee - A rocking cut to close out this interesting LP

From Phil-A-Dell-Fi-Aye, comes this six song EP. It has been a while since I heard these guys and still have not caught a show, but they play the kind of electronic music that I want to hear. Long time readers know how rare that sounds coming from me, but basically they have big bold melodic thrust a bit like Goblin. They cite Gary Numan and Jane’s Addiction as influences, which are accurate enough to give you an idea of where they are headed. The vocals have a good post punk intensity to them and go off in search of space as well. Thoughtful, energetic, and well put together. This was mixed by famed producer Scott Colburn. I may be the only music writer who actually saw Colburn’s early band ‘Killing Children’, twice even.

You should be careful with album titles, at least for old timers like me who are constantly trying to get Kansas’ song ’Point of No Return’ out of my head. I am not happy it is back. Fortunately, these songs are snappier power pop numbers, so Kansas is pushed to the back of the memory… for now. When Wyatt Blair’s songs work best, he has crunchy pop moves like 999, when not it is a bit more like Loverboy. Although there are fans in both camps, I prefer the edgier pop cuts that don’t quite hit the mainstream. This does not quite work on the whole for me, but it has ambition and its own unique voice.

Songs to start with:

Trouble - Ah, a shoegaze sort of epic that reminds me of Mono—the band, not the disease.

Cruel World - Kind of like you are having a reggae dream in this one.

No Surrender - This has that British ambulance sound in the guitar. I rather like that.

This veteran Austin band is back with 64 songs based on each hexagram of the I Ching. That is a whole lot of writing and it is not going to come at us a all at once as there are eleven songs on this first installment of the project. As heady as this all sounds, this is a fine pop album that starts off with power, but gets a lot quieter as it goes onward. Ambitious? Yes. Overreaching? Perhaps, but it is a gutsy project that would take too long to study to see exactly what depths of understanding these songs have with the I Ching. And it is fun listening while we await that verdict, well down the road.

Songs to start with:

The Book of Too Late Changes - Keith Moon lives at least in these beats behind (or in front) of a cool Who-like power pop cut.

Close to the Sun - A classic indie rock sound but a song as fresh as today.

Queen of Swords - A fine piece of pastoral pop, strings, piano, and a Ray Davies feeling here.

For once I got my geographical feel for a song completely incorrect. While on the right continent at least, I heard a distinct New Orleans flavor to the music of this Canadian husband and wife duo. I actually make a lot more mistakes like this since I am willing to admit and it will only get worse as world wide communications are as wildly open as they ever have been and the history of music in the 20th century and beyond offers anyone a host of styles to emulate, combine, and incorporate. Ultimately there is a lot of blues in here amidst rock beats, reggae lines, and other R&B moves and pace. it is performed quite well.

Songs to start with:

AK 47 - Kind of psychedelic funk R&B

Clumsy Lover - Vocal line anything but clumsy and the music cleverly snakes around it all.

It Won’t be Long - They can even make a snarly vocal easy going.`

This is pop music of the mannered variety. Very steady, very assured, with nary a note out of place. As such, it does not quite engage me as much as I would like. I can see this drawing in a solid segment of the modern pop world, but the drum machine beats and soft edged pop melodies do not grab me like I would like. The vocals are also low key, but of a nice quality that sometimes turns into something that will stir up the emotions a bit. They add a little shoegaze late in the game, but it is still on the light side in keeping with the floating ethereal qualities of their shorter pop songs.

Songs to start with:

Days Upon Days - Bright and sunny and it briskly reminds me it does not last days upon days.

Aging - A relaxing guitar based cut where you can kind of feel yourself aging.

Trouble - Ah, a shoegaze sort of epic that reminds me of Mono—again… the band, not the disease.


his well named band plays modern electro pop with a bite. The sound is bold and assertive so rockers can get into this more than others in this area. But you really won’t be rocking out, as this is assertive pop music that has a thoughtful base. It is strong in execution and can hold its own on stage with the rockers. You will want to have that head bopping with a smile posture through most of this. I put this firmly in the likable camp, but if you are a fan of the style, you will probably like this a lot.

And you can catch them live this Friday, August 5th at Tropicalia on U Street.

Songs to start with:

Stars - There is some bounce in the step and a highly attractive vocal line.

You’ve Got Me Flush - Strong rhythm and undulating guitar wrapped around the vocals.

Coast - Bigger vocals to match the music.

Just five songs to sample here and although it is a tough brand of earnest punk rock, there are some indie moves here and some emo in rather long songs. It is effective enough, although not something beyond what I feel I have heard enough of in my life. If you are not oversaturated on this, then check these guys out. The best cut for my money is ‘Ownership’. That has some guitar heft and some nice style shifts here. I have to conclude that this Cambridge outfit is a lot better than others playing this style with their creative shifts they employ.

I have enjoyed Gringo Star’s live performances here in DC for many a year. They manage to capture their spirit and energy here on this record with ten songs of snappy popsike. Don’t think light, though, as these guys have some sharp rock moves and a variety of arrangements, both playful like a Fairground or in a deeply orchestral mode. I love their variety, yet the nasally vocal style keeps this unified and attractive. Gringo Star are still one of those extremely likable bands.

Songs to start with:

Still Alive - A robust drum beat and more sporadic instrumentation gives this a special edge.

Knee Deep - A nice Black Angels vibe with this droning psyche meditative piece.

It’s You - This is almost South American psyche, or perhaps psyche from the ninth continent.

This has a bit of that rural Karen Dalton feeling, but lacks the magic. It veers toward a laconic and laid-back sound with unique female vocals. Different, but not terribly interesting to these ears. And a laid back style coupled with a steel guitar is death for me. I thought the six and half minute ‘Burn Pile’ was lasting about twenty minutes. The vocals are not smooth either, which could be dramatic if the music did anything. I hear this is called weirdo country. That is about right, but it had me wanting to run to a sequin country act at the Opry. Nah, this is better than that, but I think this is destined for a very limited audience, and one I don’t want to hang with.

When you review a lot of records, it is good to mix it up between edgy primitive music and smoother beautiful styles. At least that works for me. Once in a long while you get elements of both. Heliotropes leans a bit more toward beauty, especially with the lush inviting vocals. But they have a deep intense rawer undercurrent as well. When they combine these successfully, they can really shine.

Songs to start with:

Normandy - I’m not sure if it was the guitar line or the female harmony vocals that grabbed me first, but I’m grabbed.

Over There that Way - Spacey beginning with great acoustic guitar sound and warm mysterious vocals.

Dardanelles Pts 1+2 - A fine set of songs that emphasize different band components within a unified theme.

This the strange dream that you just can’t quite shake. It is quite pleasant but it seems quit illogical unless you can figure out some of the internal logic at work. Heroes of Toolik is like this with it’s mix of laid back lounge style featuring plenty of trombone with quirky pop moves and out and out psychedelic passages. If it were not so light and fun, it would be downright eerie. In fact, it is even eerier because of that if I stay on this too long. Strange, strange band, yet they are so agreeable to the ear. This is one you should try out for yourself. You may have a different take entirely. But I plan on spinning this many more times.

Songs to start with:

Perfect - A perfect mishmash of styles blended and shaken into a smooth mix.

8 Miles - A droning light psychedelic surprise.

Say Virginia - A bouncy jazz pop thing of sorts.

There are some intriguing worldly rock songs with pop hooks and creative instrumentation all at work here. They do go for the pop jugular on a few songs, while others stretch out a bit into steady rockers with a pop approach. This is nice and one of those records that I can respect right away and suspect that I will like at more after 4-5 listens. I am liking pop music more as I age especially when there is some thought behind it.

Songs to start with:

City is Swollen - Inventive instrumentation elevates a fine song.

The Lens - Good melodic rock that you can even dance to… a bonus.

Dreamchaser - Nice acoustic guitar and electric guitar combination in this catchy cut.

Dirty nasty blues rock is usually good fun. LLC plays it well and varies speeds, intensities, and sonics to keep it fun and lively. If you grew up on Skynyrd and the many, many knockoffs, this will fit right in, but still sounds like they have heard some bands on SubPop. I’ve heard a few records but have not caught the live show, which would likely be a real kick.

Songs to start with:

Circus - The snarling edge makes this one a cut above.

G Bob - If you like down home porch stomping music, this will do nicely.

Chevrolet - The drum solo with no need for ‘more cowbell’ is a nice bit.

There is some nice spacey pop music on this album, that doesn’t quite hit the full popsike vibe unfortunately. There is just too much of a laconic pace and slacker vocal style for me. I want to be excited by the music I listen to and any sense of a band sitting on a lounge chair just does not do it for me. You can go slow or quiet and be as powerful and exciting as the Bad Brains, so it is not about pace. It is an attitude, but I need to get off the soap box and say that Magic Trick has a few songs where they can conjure up some magic. I would like to hear a lot more of that next time around.

Songs to start with:

More - The opener establishes a laconic style with an underlying toughness amidst some intriguing open space.

I Held the Ring - An atmospheric ramble along a crisp beat.

First Thought - Strong guitar solo and the long concluding passage.

Irish poptronica exists and here is the evidence. Róisín Murphy has been around electronica in bands and duos for some time. Her solo work shows plenty of things going on with sharp and versatile vocals being the main reason to listen. The elecronica is not bad either with a lot of space and odd undulating rhythms and patterns to keep it edgy, even while being smooth to the ear. Her fashion sense from the live show is something missing here, alas, which I think would make this music even that much more fun. But the sounds, electronic and otherwise (such as piano) offer a lot more than the average electronic band and work into smart melodies and subtle but pulsating rhythms. There is great touch in the execution here and this is a memorable album.

Songs to start with:

Pretty Gardens - Quirky moments and big gothic sounds all vie for time in this interesting cut.

Lip Service - Like a Brazilian pop song.

Whatever - Great edgy but intimate vocals and ethereal melody.

This local outfit has a firm hand aboard the wheel of the mainstream rock/punk rock hybrid ship. It is a beast to tame, but they manage it well—certainly better than I at keeping my metaphors on theme. I really like their tough intense sound. It never falls into the emo trap and although they sound like they could survive in an arena, they keep the music fast paced and ferocious enough for the clubs. Sometimes I like the usual ballads, although they don’t work quite as well here, even when the execution is good. Still, it is always good to pull back from pace and power at times during an album. And overall they come through well on this album, with more than a hint of what you will get from a live outing.

Songs to start with:

Losing Control - The opener sets the tone, establishes the sound and offers a great catchy melody.

No Damn Good - Actually, quite good.

Exception to the Rule - Well, no exceptions to the fine guitar work here.

Pylon was the Athens, Georgia band that befriended and influenced that other Athens, Georgia band that just a few more people heard of. Pylon was born out of the punk scene, but stayed on its artier side. The good thing for both sides is that the guitars had plenty of bite and the vocals were quite intense. So they were an easy band to like and still are as these live recordings show. In fact, they sound a lot more like Siouxsie and the Banshees crossed with the Bags than REM or Vic Chesnutt. 20 songs in all, this is a fine collection of their music. The recordings are a bit on the raw unpolished side of the ledger, but that just makes the vocals more guttural and intense. The guitar lines are intricate and alternate between snake charming runs and a proto-REM style that we all know quite well. There is that extra post punk edge there as well and at times the rhythm section even sounds a bit like Joy Division. This is the final show from their first run recorded in its entirety from 1983. File this one under “still powerful and still influential.”

Ah, now here’s an old school hard psyche rock band that could have been opening for Blue Cheer back in the day. So we have ferocious guitar riffs and fills, pummeling rhythm section, and throaty hard edged vocals. Add plenty of wah-wha pedal and you are there in the sun drenched California hills amidst the acidheads watching this SoCal band. With both these songs and the live recording, there is not of variety here. You can leave the room or house depending how loud you play this, and come back later and not feel like you missed any song in between. That can be a compliment or a problem, depending on what you are looking for. But if you want Grand Funk meets Blue Cheer meets Mountain, then give this a listen.

Rosebud… well, perhaps a more happier memory of youth here, as Snowglobe brings back the brighter side of the 1960s. There is some rock amidst the pop, but not much in the psychedelic department, which kind of cuts against the grain of what is happening these days. The vocals are male with some female flourish and the instrumentation is strong, even as they vary the arrangements quite a bit. This is bright and sunny from beginning to end and I detected no corn as the bounce in this band’s step is sincere and effective. Well done.

Songs to start with:

Easy - This sounds like some old pop classic from an American Kinks like band.

Walking with Her - The second song continues the breezy late sixties style that almost made you think flower power could work.

She’s Dying - Slower story and some fine orchestrated backing. Delicate but powerful

by Kyle Schmitt
Ash Reiter’s dreamy vocals highlight this California band’s psychedelic sound. The four-piece group’s pleasant backing complements her musings, such as, “All that you touch, you change / all that you change, it changes you.” Reiter sounds her most playful in “Eye on You”, a poppy song in which confesses attraction for someone she’s pretty sure feels the same way. The Sugar Candy Mountain rhythm section of Will Halsey (drums) and Peter Maffei (bass) sets a sturdy foundation for each song, enabling the adventurous synth and guitar work on tracks like “Being” and “Atlas”. They sound tightest on “Tired”, winding themselves around the tune as Reiter calls out the dreams that “rob me while I sleep”. Despite the occasional rough night, Sugar Candy Mountain keeps a positive, laid-back vibe rolling throughout this record.

Songs to Start With First

666 - Likely the most serene recital of the number of the beast in recording history.

Being - Halsey’s buoyant drums lend bounce as he and Reiter ask sweetly, “Have you ever seen the light?”

Eye on You - An early-60s sound reminiscent of Blondie at their most clever and personal.

This six song EP has a pretty healthy array of sounds in these songs. They feature spritely electronics and keyboards with subtle winds and brass beyond the rhythm section and light guitar. The female vocals are equidistant between ethereal and lounge to sound just airy enough while warmly enveloping the listener. There are some rhythmic exercises and variations of pop music to make this an engaging affair and far richer than most EPs of this size.

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