Thursday, September 1, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS - August 2016

From an opening ditty that sounds like ‘Space Oddity’ to a second cut that sounds like a chillwave band covering the Cramps at Cramps tempo, this LP is full of surprises. The band has chilly synth sounds, but in other spots is quite rocking. They remind me more of early Ultravox, Psychedelic Furs, and other British new wave bands that had enough guts for the punk rockers to get into them as well. The urgency in the vocals is key, yet there is manner in the voice with a fine sense of drama.

Songs to start with:

Creatures of Culture - With Lux Interior style vocals, this is an intriguing pop rocker.

Into the Window - Mysterious swirl of keyboards, wild bass and guitar lines and those lightly intense vocals—magic.

Plastic Face - This one rocks more like the Cramps or the Cravats.

It is not often I get to write about my favorites from long ago, but thankfully there is a renaissance of sorts for Robbie Basho these days with an overdue reissuing campaign for his formal releases along with a host of attic discoveries and live performances. Not bad for someone who died over 30 years ago and probably sold less records than the Velvet Underground. The recording here is raw and simple but succeeds in showcasubg the guitar sound and the finesse of Basho’s playing, much better than I was expecting. At first, there were several instrumentals, which although nice, it was even nicer to eventually hear some cuts with his distinctive vocal work. Also, the instrumental work was quite varied with classical takes from Germany and Vaughn Williams, along with his western Americana songs, and even some of his Indian interpretations. It is classic Basho and another fine release for the fans, both old and new. But for us old timers, this features the only live versions of ‘Blue Crystal Fire’ and ‘El Cid’ known to exist, which is reason enough to buy it. But I have one more reason… this has the only recording of ‘Girl from Marizod’, which is one of the more enchanting songs in his entire repertoire.

Leonard Cohen comes screaming out of the speakers when this album begins. Of course that is metaphorically speaking, as the scream of Leonard Cohen is akin to the screams of butterflies, but the point is that Bergmann’s voice and acoustic guitar folk songs have all the elements of classic Cohen. Everything is really low-key with a slow and dramatic pace that is quietly mesmerizing if you let yourself get lost in the music. There is a touch of harmonium it sounds like, which gives off that eerie vibe that happened in Nico recordings produced by John Cale. It may be a bit too deep and steady to some, but in the right mood music like this is special.

Songs to start with:

No One Tells Ya - The opener grabs you early and I love the fall off the cliff ending.

Stars and Streams - The John Cale like feeling is here and the song is nice.

Always Forever - The vocals push just a bit more here, giving a slightly different feeling.

This muscular four record set includes all the classic recordings from this cult NYC band. Since they were from the mid nineties, at a time I spent exploring the sixties and seventies, I missed them. But they were on Steve Shelley’s Smells Like record label and developed quite the following. It is easy to see why with the unique sonic attack they have crafted. It  branches out from the heart of New York’s No Wave scene that also led to Sonic Youth and many more. There is a breezy progressive style with extremely noisy rock moments waiting to burst out. They do all of that eventually and often. The bass is meaty and the vocals dark and deep in a very post punk style. There are enough excellent songs to offset the less essential instrumental ditties. The only real problem I have is that this is a lot to digest in one listening session and gets a bit too dark and pervasive over sustained time. But this is a collection and does not have to be binge listened.

And the really cool thing is that they are performing live at the lovely Howard Theatre on October 13th. Just a three city tour, so this is a rare chance to see something unique and really, really good.

This is a mixed bag, although it is very consistent and just may grow on you as it did me. Australian Alex Cameron has programmed music with vocals. I like the songs and his singing is stylish and on point. I just wish the music did not sound like it was recorded in his bedroom. But he is not hiding from that and embracing it AND there are plenty of people who enjoy this. And there were times where there was a strong bit of programming that filled out the songs nicely, so this just may bring in some of the curmudgeons like me. The guitar in the very Tuxedomoon sounding ‘Mongrel’ was something I would have liked more of. These songs are quite attractive and I would love to see him live, although I would wish to know if he had a band or a computer with him on the tour.

And I can find out when he opens for Angel Olsen at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, September 15th.

Songs to start with:

Going South - The cool baritone really brings this one home.

The Comeback - I like the brisk active nature of the vocal line, which stands out nicely in a world with too many slackers.

She’s Mine - The bouncy electronica is actually a highlight here as there is a lot going on.

The Cool Ghoul was a horror movie host for WXIX TV in Cincinnati when I grew up in the time where most major markets had TV movie hosts and one specializing in horror films. The concept is as quaint as some of the movies, but holds a very fond place in our hearts for all of us that grew up with this. The Cool Ghouls are not terribly horrific here, but certainly capture the psychedelic music of the times. What is especially nice is the subtle varieties of intensity in the songs. The key first of all is that they have good songs to work with. They can keep it popsike or make it heavier or more jam oriented and there is always the kernel of an excellent song and personality. This record will be easy to listen to for long into a future when Cool Ghouls and other horror movie hosts are museum pieces.

Songs to start with:

Animal Races - The opener gives you a fairly easy going jammer, but with a sharp little song at the core.

Time Capsule - This jangly rock has much more urgency than you might first think—a fine balance of psychedelic drift and intensity all in one.

Just Like Me - Almost a psyche folk style, but it rocks a bit with a powerful popsike hook.

I thought I was going to have a strong indie rocker here with the opening cut, but the hint of psychedelia had these cosmonauts ready for blast off by the second cut. There is a fine mix of easy going jamming among slightly heavier moments. The songs have character with some going for interesting hooks, while others just grab a groove and run with it. The sound is good, playing solid, and there is enough to chew on here even for veteran space explorers.

Songs to start with:

A-OK! - There is a thickness in the production with an embracing bass sound that lifts this indie rocker into something bigger.

Doom Generation - Good psyche vibe here, something in the vicinity of the Black Angels, but even more variance in the sonics.

Heavenspeak - This has a sense of mystery in the music as much as the vocals, which is intriguing.

Truth be told, I was not as ferociously in to this band back in the early days anywhere near as much as I was into Hüsker Dü or Mission of Burma and others. But they grew on me enough, so I was very excited about their rebirth (now eleven years long!). And the great thing about this second run is that they still have the creativity to make exciting new music like that evident on this new album. There is nothing new to the formula, just the lightning guitar runs of J. Mascis, the meaty melodic bass of Lou Barlow, and Murf’s strong drumming anchoring it all. The two axemen both add vocals, which have steadily improved over the years and offer many touching moments here. Oh, and do I detect a synthesizer or keyboard or heavily treated guitar? That offers a subtle surprise. But that is a red herring amidst this classic sound, which everyone ought to be familiar with by now. Just suffice it to say that these guys still sound fresh and exciting.

Songs to start with:

Goin Down - The opener sounds like a Hüsker Dü song, or perhaps more accurately, a classic Dinosaur Jr. song.

Good to Know - Liquid guitar melody with lively rhythm section and an easy but firm vocal combine for this snaky song.

I Walk for Miles - I will gladly walk for miles with this 5 1/2 minute cool jammer on repeat. It just goes and goes.

I enjoyed this French electronic pop band a few years ago when I saw them in the clubs, but this is the first I have heard from them since then. There are roughly two camps these songs fall into… quality electro pop and widely cast psychedelic folk rock styled as Tropicalia, but fully French in feel. The latter music is stunning, but the former is not dismissible as there are guitars working well in addition to synths and the band’s overall approach keeps these two different styles interchanging a bit (hardly a surprise there). But just when you start working out the patterns, they treat you to an 18 minute closing track that is ambient, dreamy with spacey guitar, and unlike anything before (well it sounds like there is a more La Femme like song spliced in at the end). Yet this just adds that much more mystery to this LP, which is quite satisfying as you float amongst that which puzzles and that which comes clear. Lovely imagery a-work here.

Songs to start with:

Le Vide est ton Nouveau pr nom - This transcends a lush sixties style Euro pop with a mysterious breezy psyche element. Unique and wonderful.

O va le Monde - Another dreamy excursion into exotic locales.

Exorciseur - Catchy song, very modern, but rife with nods to cool songs of many a decade past.

This is what I wait for every time I open a batch of compact discs to review for Folkworld: a record that takes me back to the great folk revival period in the sixties and seventies, yet sounds fresh and fully alive today. Aldous Harding has a lovely voice taking off from the likes of classic British voices Mandy Morton and Anne Briggs. Yet, there are Americana touches present in some of the songs although it has a delicacy that maintains the ethereal nature present in the music from the isles. The acoustic guitar is delicate with lovely finger plucked melodies, while there are just enough other instrumental choices to keep you on your toes. A theremin? Why not, especially since the overall chilling depths of classic folk music is present throughout. This is one beautiful record.

Songs to start with:

Stop Your Tears - The opening is jarring in its simple intense vocal approach, classic but with full intent.

Hunter - With a more Americana approach and a nice hook here, this cut could soar out to the masses.

Titus Groan - Just another lovely song with delicate vocals, a sharp arrangement, all named after the strange Mervyn Peake novel.

This is a brand of progressive psychedelic rock music that I can simply describe as lovely. This reminds me most of recent work by Kattatonia, not terribly surprising as the man behind this project is Norwegian Ronny Pederson. His assembled cast pulled together as Holon have crafted a fine album that is mellow in overall approach, but with dexterous musical muscle underneath. There has been a fine history of progressive music out of Scandanavia and this draws from that, but takes a contemporary song oriented approach as well. Perhaps it leans more timeless than contemporary, but it manages to sound fresh. It may not quite be daring enough in overall tone for some, but patient listeners will be rewarded with fine musicianship and some long mannered carefully constructed songs. This record will last me many years I think.

Songs to start with:

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

The Times They are a-Taming - A smooth cut with fiery musical moments that shows the taming, but with a wild beast underneath it all.

The Time is Always Now - Fantastic slow building drama to a vibrant, quietly exciting conclusion.

There is still plenty of room for indie rock, particularly if the flair and guts are there. Jeff the Brotherhood seems to have plenty of both as these crunchy guitars offset the irony and sneer of the vocals. I hear some old Ramones styled melodies in here, but it is filtered through all the tricks that the Pixies and Weezer came up with. The better songs are quite good with but a few sliding into that danger zone of being overly slacker oriented. The ferociously gnarly guitar sound does a good job of keeping this from happening. It is a good sound and it ought to be a kick to see live and on stage. But even if you don’t get a chance, there is some intriguing rock music right here.

And we are fortunate to see this band at the Black Cat, on Monday, September 26th. I’ll be reminding you.

Songs to start with:

Energy - If you are going to name a song ‘Energy’, you better bring it. They do, albeit with Pixies like dynamics.

Toasted - And served with a side of metal.

You - Wow, a heavy droner. I did not expect this.

I am getting a lot of interesting folk based albums lately with this just coming in late this month. This work is not from some kooky Los Angeles psyche-folk slacker band, but actually the work of UK based Lookman Adekunle Salami. He has a strong vocal presence that catches you as he pulls a bit back from the accompanying sounds and then cuts into the heart with strong phrasing and focused tone. His flexibility is present, but is surprisingly razor sharp and downright chilling at times. And the music is vibrant and exciting throughout, with a wide variety of arrangements, acoustic and electric, and full of fine little instrumental asides that help color the proceedings, without dominating. If anything, more diversity could be employed as it get fairly straight folk toward the end. Otherwise, this does not fit comfortably into any category as there are rap and Americana moves that make occasional appearances among this diverse potpourri. I generally like the more stark folk songs with acoustic guitar and voice, but a few shock elements added in were quite welcome. L.A. Salami is an artist for those who seek out the smarter music in life. But even if you turn your brain off, there is plenty of ear catching melodies to flow into your body.

Songs to start with:

Gong Mad as the Street Bins - A quirky folk song with loud noisy electric guitar blasts—hits my sweet spot.

No Hallelujahs - This is a masterclass on how to take vocals up a couple of notches from the pack.

I Wear This Because Life is War - From that mythical western land that David Lynch filmed.

Sophie Lux achieves a sophisticated lush sound in the way she constructs this inventive brand of pop music. It is not quite Kate Bush, but it has a nod in that direction. The vocals are a bit more straight forward, attractive but penetrating. The music is big and only bold at times, opting for a beautiful yet intense atmosphere. This is not for that simple night of rock’n’roll, but when you want a challenge, that still retains warmth and charm, this album just may do the trick.

Songs to start with:

Arise & Awake - Gutsy to open with your longest song, but this six minute cut keeps the drama strong throughout.

Love is Waiting - A surprising bluesy vocal approach on top of a bouncy pop song somehow congeals into a vibrant taste.

We are One - Reminds me of the grandiose LP by JD Blackfoot, ‘The Ultimate Prophecy’.

This is not exactly country music, but it is a brand of Americana folk rock that is somehow too country for me. I think that is due to the songwriting style, which has a bit of sing song embellishment melodic style that reminds me of country music. There are pop elements here that remind me of a lot of 1970s and 80s acts I don’t dwell on much anymore (Eddie Money, Joe Walsh solo LPs). None of them bad, just a bit overdone in the song patterns that continue to swirl around decade after decade. I am not a fan of some of the phrasing although the hooks here can certainly find an audience, just not this audience of one.

Songs to start with:

This Time the Girl’s in Trouble - This has that mid seventies Dylan rock style to it.

Loving Debt - Brisk musical backing is nice, although the vocals are an acquired taste or not.

Fat Bob Blues - A decent bluesy rocker.

I felt with the very name Myrkur, that this would be one band I would enjoy. This is actually a one-woman band featuring Danish chanteuse Amalie Bruun. They say to file this under black metal, even though it is exclusively vocal arrangements and piano with an increasingly present acoustic guitar. But in the same way that the 90% acoustic Comus has legions of death metal fans, Myrkur will certainly appeal to the hard sounding folk who like chilling gothic arrangements, even if Myrkur are not as heavy as Bathory or Emperor. The vocals are lovely and composed throughout with songs that will linger for some time. They call this an EP, but there are nine find songs here in all and nine that I will be playing for those special deep introspective times.

There are lots of garages being built these days, particularly around the sound of rock bands. The Parrots take on this is to keep it short and loose, a bit like a more retro Guided by Voices. When I think of the music from Spain, I don’t think of great garage rock or psychedelia, but this is one of those unique times that something interesting has come from that part of the world in this genre. It starts a bit slowly, but the band identity of this trio begins to form just before half way in. I think there may be a bit too much reverb, which is often used to mask deficiencies in song or voice. It’s  not overly bad here, but it would nice to see a bit more sonic variety in the songs, reverb wise. Still, this one is a lot of fun for grungy psyche fans.

Songs to start with:

A Thousand Ways - A bit slower with a good groove establishe.

Jame Gumb - The fictional serial killer from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ gets a song worthy of the spooky scenes from the movie.

Windows - A good grinding psyche rocker here, thick sludgy goodness.

Smooth as Bogie in a bar, comes this latest take on electropop. Alas, I have had my fill of this scene long ago and am not best suited to discuss whatever merits are inherent here. What it lacks, is guitar, violin, cello, or some sort of instrument to cut into the electronics and make it more palatable for me. The drumbeats are clean, electronic and sanitary, and of course that means something negative in my book. The vocals sometimes can transcend this all, but here are done well, but are too fitting with the safe musical approach. After it was all over, I checked out a good review of this. It said he pulled away from rock and murky folk with this electronic pop record, recorded in his apartment. He can call me when he wants to pull back.

I was disappointed that this was not the rousing comeback album of a great progressive folk band from the 1970s, but was not disappointed that some of those same quality elements are present here. Actually they remind me more of the Decemberists, although that band also hearkened back to the earlier days of folk-rock. This will not work for strong roots music fans as there is there is a gloss and shimmer to the arrangements so I believe fans of slick high powered pop rock will enjoy this more. I found it an interesting hybrid that was well worth exploring at least once.

Songs to start with:

Magician of Sorts - It takes a magician of sorts to pull off a fine folky rocker with a crazed solo at the end—a real rabbit out of the hat.

Peaks - Starts strong, goes quiet, builds back up, yes fine dynamics at work.

O Zephyr - A bit more acoustic, but plenty of big moments come into the arrangement.

With the album opening with ‘Faeries on High’ and closing with ‘You Made Me a Ghost’, my interest was piqued. And the nine songs in between offered a fascinating sound with the combination of that driving British sound that Ride helped innovate along with a more dreamy pop style. The vocals are subtly attractive with a good range beyond the one dimensional style that you may expect with music in this neighborhood. The musicians cook up some interesting patterns that are not anywhere near as slow as molasses, but with plenty of room for drama. And for as serious as the music is, it is great that they conjure up a title for an instrumental dittie like ‘Terminator III vs Amon Duul II’. Brilliant.

Songs to start with:

New Release - A great driving rhythm section and shimmering, but tough guitars allows room for intriguing vocal flourish.

Moon Queen - Catchy song, but thick with interesting musical churning underneath.

Levitation Sickness - Dreamy yet crisp popsike song.

There is a lot of energy going on here, but plenty of thought and variety of sound, too. The vocals are a wide mix or world, rap, R&B, while the music is about as varied. Dissecting it is not as terribly important as I would rather just enjoy the surprises around every verse and if I were a few decades younger, I would happier still paying less attention to writing about it and instead just hitting the dance floor. But you can think and ponder on this music as there is much creativity here. Nicely done.

Songs to start with:

Rock On - Not the David Essex song, but an interesting light rocker with soft vocal harmonies and a deep hip voice underneath.

Broken Heart Beat - Lots of vocal contrasts weaving around the electronica and guitars.

Sunshine - A sort of twisted electronica rock’n’roll song with world rap moves. And there is much more as they manage this fine kitchen sink of a song.

The incredible lounge sound throughout much of this had me really wondering about the album title. But their are some Americana tinged songs that are still more blue eyed soul, than country soul. There are some country moments and even steel guitar, but it is slick and even a bit too ethereal. If anything, there is more early 1960s rock’n’roll, which has a countrified base. I am surprised how interesting this is for me and if I can enjoy this, I am guessing many more will really love it.

Songs to start with:

Funny What Makes You Cry - I hear a bit of lounge sound now and then, but this is the real deal.

Am I that Easy to Forget - Still lounge, but a good rock guitar solo and doo wop backing vocals.

We’ve Got a Lot to Unlearn - Fortunately Wade has not unlearned classic rock songwriting and arranging skills.

Slick pop is something I could not stand as a young adult, but it has its place more for me these days. Whitney is worth a listen to see if they fill that occasional need for something clean sounding with hooks that dig deep within the skin. Some of the time they hit all the right buttons thanks to some sharp and clever guitar runs. The vocals are a little one dimensional and treacly for me and I would like more variety there. But the songs are nice and some are catchy, so pop fans should want to have a crack at this. There likely will be something to like and real pop fans may dig into every bit of this.

Songs to start with:

No Woman - The opener almost turned me off, but with great lead guitar and some big brass bursts late on, it ends up a creative keeper.

Dave’s Song - More intricate guitar with a nice rhythm to the vocal lines as well.

Red Moon - Snappy instrumental bit with nice burst of horns of plenty.

It is great to see founding bassist of Public Image Ltd. Jah Wobble still active. Not only was he a founding member, he brought a booming bass sound to the front of a band’s sound like none before and few after. It is as much do to that upfront presence as to the quality of the playing that makes Jah Wobble always worth listening to. Jazz is the starting point on this record, but this band’s feet are firmly off the ground and soaring off into other progressive realms with funky songs and post rock territories explored vigorously. Everything is no one thing here, as the songs have many focal points from bass to drums to trumpet to synthesizer to piano to… etc. It is a busy record, but not confusing. It is far more active than relaxed, yet the smooth assertiveness has a certain calmness to it that pulls you in without overwhelming.

And you get the first chance in a long while to see him live when he comes to the Rock’n’Roll Hotel on Friday, September 23rd.

Songs to start with:

Cosmic Blueprint - The opener welcomes us with that big bass sound before going off on a modern funk exploration.

Cosmic Love - The female vocals are strong and take things to a lounge jazz spot, only this lounge is hopping.

We-Me - Gutsy, jazzy instrumental with wailing trumpet runs and that signature bass.

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