Thursday, October 1, 2015


This band plays sort of a hybrid Americana-Pop-Power pop concoction. I guess many people would call that indie rock and these sounds are warm and familiar to most of us that have been listening to new music in the last decade or more. The vocals are quite inviting with an earnest tone and a scraggly effect that gives the songs a bit of a rustic edge. The guitars have a quiet little jangle and there is some bounce in the beat. So while there is nothing earth shattering or revolutionary here, these ten songs are well done and will stick in the head for at least a little while. The band would certainly succeed on many bills as they can rock it up or pull it back just enough to fit in well with most of the rock and pop world.

Songs to start with first:

Upside - This song really has a snap to it and is quite catchy.

Nothing Really Changes - A slight alteration in the beat and the instrumental punch make for a subtle change.

Not Quite Yet - The guitar hooks are quite interesting here with room to breath (or sing).

The title of this album is a quick hot button debate topic, even for fans of Yes’s soon to be 71 year old former singer and jazz fusion prog violinist Jean Luc Ponty (one year older). Anderson’s voice is still surprisingly good, although his singing has never fully excited me, unless the material really offsets it with a certain level of power. At times that happens here, at other times not. I enjoyed ‘Listening with Me’ with its progressive flourish. But the reggae beat on ‘Time and a Word’ is misplaced and a couple of reworked Yes covers don’t exactly work. Ponty’s playing is good, of course, and occasionally offers the edge this music needs. There are a few live cuts added on at the end and the quality drop-off is minor, as the playing is still slick and professional. If you are a fan, you will enjoy this.

There is some sort of laconic vocal style at work here that contrasts with the occasional sharp edges of the music. The beat is steady with a bit of a pulse at work in the best songs. Unfortunately when the edge is lost, the music just sort of sits there in a less interesting puddle. Yet some of the songs work quite well and there is a strong personality to this band. It may be an acquired taste that may just be a bit beyond me on the whole.

Songs to start with first:

Then What - Punchy drums and edgy vocals with bursts of energy.

Last Call - Smoother music and edgier vocals make a nice contrast. Perhaps traces of Lou Reed, here?

True Love - Epic closer promises at what this band can deliver if they think big and work accordingly.

The sum of the parts do not quite add up here on this vinyl re-release. There is some lounge atmosphere created with guitar work that hints at spacey Americana moves and vocals that have an edge of mystery. Yet I don’t see much of a resolution to the mystery as the songs just sort of develop and fade off away from any sort of lasting memory. Perhaps several listens will yield more of what the goal was here when this was released in 2003. The parts are intriguing, but they might need a reshuffle and mix them with other sounds and styles. I am just not sure at all here. It was worth a bit of time and I hope they refined this approach as they show the skills needed to make something bold and interesting, I would think.

This is hardly the type of music I listen to regularly, which makes it all the more fun when an album like this pops up in my review pile. The Boxcar Boys play swing music with old time jazz and Americana. I hear all kinds of interesting sounds coming from tubas, clarinets, washtubs, jaw harp, as well as mandolins, accordions, fiddles and such. There are fourteen songs that are mostly instrumental, but there enough cuts with vocals that bring a nice surprise into the sound. The title cut is a real stand-out as they manage to integrate both the easy going undulating approach with some speedy instrumental prowess. These boys (and girls) do this music extremely well and both have the knack as well as the experience to integrate together in such a warm and flowing manner. So if you are tired of whatever genre you spend too much of your time in or even if you are not, give yourself a dose of this. You will feel energized.

Long one of my favorite DC area bands, it is great to see these three taking their sound to new heights on their new label. ‘New’ guitarist, Andrew Yonki, has now been firmly in place for some time and offers all the classic touches we used to hear along with some quick little tricks of his own. His style is almost Steve Turner-like, although the band won’t have you thinking of Mudhoney at first blush. Yet Francis’ vocals have some of that desperate edge of Mark Arm, while Stephanie’s drumming is as hard hitting as Dan Peters, even at half the size. But they are not on Sub Pop, they are on Kylesa’s label (Retro Futurist Records) which is the perfect home for them, as Kylesa is perhaps the most successful fusion of metal and psychedelia (with a dose of punk attitude), Caustic Casanova has been offering lots of creativity in this heavy psycho-world as well. These seven long songs flow even more seamlessly than the previous and more diverse LP, yet by no means does this lack for creative variety.

Songs to start with first:

Thundersnow - The opener is a ferocious start, as expected, but also showcases the clever shifts and arrangement choices, this trio is good at.

Elect My Best Friend for a Better World - The guitar is more psychedelic and the rhythm section even more rollicking.

No Sky July - Great vocal work and a mystical psyche droner with plenty of sharp uptempo moves somehow embedded here as well.

This is all a bit too mannered for me, although there is nothing wrong with a pleasant garden salad before a main course. So the relaxed pop moves with hints of indie rock, mainstream folk and lounge styled jazz has its place on my broader menu. The brass touches are especially good on many of these songs. Vocally, they alternate between male and female leads with the latter being my preferred vocals. There are some harmonies and perhaps this could be explored further in future. The style is delicate and tricky and once you get used to it, there is something you can appreciate about this band. It is easier to blast away in a garage rock style or play choppy indie rock than it is to compose songs like these. So full credit to this Toronto band, even if I may not always want to make a main course of this.

Songs to start with first:

Pillar - Catchy song with just enough heart on the sleeve emotion.

Memo - Walking pace with light drumming and lilting vocals has me drifting away.

Change - Excellent near-instrumental cut with acoustic guitars and brass moves. The light vocal has are a nice surprise.

I always start preparing my review in my head as quickly as possible. Even after two cuts, I was starting to get ready for something mediocre here. But even as I begin this process, I always listen to everything all the way through and am prepared to do a 180 degree turn at any point. And of course, that was the case here as I thought Decker was going to be too cute and lightweight, but once I got use to the vocal style and mannered electronic instrumentation mixed with the usual sounds, the songs really started to shine. It is psychedelic, but delicate, not quite psychedelic folk as I have heard, but if you are a fan of that genre, you can comfortably move in these circles. I hope people do not still need reminders why ‘long players’ still work in the digital age, but if you do….

Oh, and you can see them live at the Pinch on Saturday, October 10th.

Songs to start with first:

5 Oscillations - An instrumental cut with heart and a set up to…

Esther Mofet - The style is starting to work on this cut… the strong melodic hook helps.

Spades - Moody style continues off in more interesting directions.

This album may be slight for some, but I found it a rather refreshing after dinner mint that has maybe even a bit more flavor than you would expect. DeMarco has an easy going voice that hits the spot with arrangements that almost take a carnival approach, but in a restrained manner. Yes, that probably is as clear as mud, but he has a tricky dream mentality at work in the arrangements that is not the stuff of dream pop, but rather that surreal space where the normal has unreal edges. I may not go back to this record much, but it was a lovely little one-off that hit the mark.

Songs to start with first:

The Way You’d Love Her - The opener has some dizzying slide moves to counter the warm pop moves.

No Other Heart - Great walking pace where the band seems to be floating above the ground.

My House by the Water - Strange watery finish with a surprise invitation—great closing concept more than a song.

This seemed a bit tricky out of the gate. There were some classic pop rock moves mixed with an odd quirky style that I was not sure would ultimately be grating or fun. It was more of the latter fortunately, in part due to select quirkiness not being a core component, which can get really old, really quickly. There is an easy going style in this music, mostly in the vocals that is offset by some electric guitar bursts. This combination of subtle contrasts keeps the music interesting beyond the warm and pleasant hooks. This will not overwhelm you, for that is not the intent, but it may just strike a chord with you if you are in the mood.

See them live with the mighty Blitzen Trapper, all happening at the Black Cat on Thursday, October 15th.

Songs to start with first:

American Drag - The opener combines acoustic and electric, smooth and eclectic. If you are into this, the rest will please.

Beauty Contest - A nice dreamier contrast to the other cuts.

All the Time - A fine contrast of intense vocals and softer moments.

This album is big in ways you may not expect. This is more of the tightly muscled torso that can make smooth ballet moves as opposed to the power lifter or a sprinter’s legs. This is pop music with rock stylings and a dreamy atmosphere, but the moves are bright, big, and bold. And how great it is for me to hear electronica that enhances a strong song with great vocal work as opposed to just noodling away on its own. This British group follows a long line of interesting pop bands from their island and they are a fine entry into this field.

Songs to start with first:

No Harm - The opener will send you deep in a dream, like few others here or anywhere.

Forgiveness - Strong pop rocker with passionate vocals and rich instrumentation that can hold it all together.

Life is a Fear - More power in this smooth rocker.

Ella le Fantome’s vocal qualities save this being a rather one note electronica record. She (aka Tyler Elizabeth) has just enough texture to her spacey air filled passages, that keep the mood mysterious, yet serene. The eight songs all sound rather similar making this something to put on and let go in its entirety (it will only take about 25 1/2 minutes), where the mood should be able to work its way into your presence. In the right mood, this can be enchanting; but avoid if you are in one of those hyper-city attitudes or if you just need something substantial to dig in to. I am usually in these latter moods.

And as a bonus, here is John Miller’s take:

There is something interesting here but I am not quite sure I can pinpoint exactly what that is. Elle le Fantôme’s second album Paint it Blacker lacks passion. It meanders and stumbles to find meaning, trapped in this never-ending fog. While it sounds pleasant enough the album is missing that spark to really get me to enjoy this effort. There are some nice melodies here and there, even some spooky strings, but the drums are so simple that it makes the listening experience somewhat of a chore; very, very basic. As I mentioned earlier, there is something interesting here as with my first couple of times listening to the album, I thought something was there. The beginning of the opening track, Paint it Blacker, has this undercurrent of Cabaret Voltaire. But as it continues it loses that undercurrent as the song doesn't go anywhere; it become lost. Ultimately, this whole thing feels like a haze of antidepressants, I'm so even by the end of it that I don't care. And perhaps that’s the thesis but I am probably reading too much into it at this point.

This legendary guitarist was given some mysterious radio signals recorded underwater off the coast of Malibu. Not only were they eerie and mysterious, but they were inspirational as well, as Merrell Fankhauser heard music within and chose to write songs working off what he was hearing from these strange signals. Also fun is that he chose to work mostly in the terrain he got started in back in the early sixties—instrumental surf guitar. He does a wonderful job with these ten songs offering a variety of moods, subtle stylistic shifts, and interesting arrangements. But it his relaxed west coast sensibility that brings a calmness to these melodies, even on the nice rockers like ‘Mysto Spot’. This is a lovely little treat to fill out your Merrell Fankhauser record collection. He is still going strong and is definitely one of the most interesting musicians that all too few people have heard of, despite over 50 years in the business. It is not too late to get your ticket for your space age ride with Merrell Fankhauser.

This nicely named band starts off rather too much in a precocious pop manner. But if you stay with this, you get some more intriguing experimental moves. They don’t stray from the range of accessibility, but they do challenge convention nicely at times and add some surprise musical combinations in various songs. Yet the pop approach is the dominant style, quite spritely and bouncy throughout. You can almost see the laser lights, strobes, and mirror balls while this is on in your home. This is definitely a weekend party adventure for the youngest of you out there (at least those who think young).

Songs to start with first:

Rounder II - This cut will have you wit’em or agin’em.

Surf’s Up Nevermind - Quite the surprise that this band can effectively work in a surf element—great driving tune.

Long Tall Stranger - Long tall sounds are quite surprising here, with even a prog move or two amidst the fine pop tune.

There are five moderate to long mostly instrumental songs on this album. That usually spells psyche-jams or progressive music and there is a little of both here. There are flowing melodies with quick bass lines, steady drums and fuzzy guitar chords working around crisp brass bleats. Then there is ripping rock passages that follow transcendent mood setting intros, along with some female vocals which sound startling remote with so much instrumental prowess on display elsewhere. And why not close with an eleven minute Neu! meets Tortoise meets Can bit of craziness (complete with Susuzi-esque rants)? This is interesting always and quite riveting often. The band balances classic progressive skills with edgy modern rock flourish. Great job.
by John Miller
This is a very good album. I mean, let’s be honest, Froth isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here but who said that every piece of music needs to be some trans-dimensional, life-affirming masterpiece?  Bleak is a quick album, just over thirty minutes and it makes for a very tight release. Professional through and through. There are hints of Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club, brit-pop and early Radiohead sprinkled throughout, but I think the most apt comparison would be a N.M.E. article that claims to have found the ‘next big thing’. Those stories that seem to pop up every year or so, extolling some band that has this new, amazing sound; their heads firmly planted in the past, one of those stories about a band that always seems to be on the precipice of popular culture. And that’s not to say this is a subpar or ultimately forgettable effort, far from it, definitely worth a listen.
And you can see Froth at the DC9 on Monday, October 26th.
Songs to start with first:

Afternoon – Reminds me of something off of Take Them On, On Your Own though while the fuzz is there, it does feel remarkably more positive.

Turn it Off – Do I hear some keys? Sometimes it can be hard to make out everything when listening through shitty headphones on an old laptop but the keys are a welcome addition to the song's design, and the dreamy solo about three minutes in is an interesting choice considering the garage tones of the song.

Sleep Alone – ‘Last songs’, usually experimental or slow; even though the track order may be trite, I am a sucker for them. I guess that was the long way of saying, that the last song on the album is a more dialed down affair. The acoustic takes the lead for the most part but the fuzz is still there. Though the song does end rather abruptly, it is interesting mix of three distinct guitar tones.


This trio might be from London, but you are going to hear is juke joint R&B mixed with other classic Americana elements. Yet there is a fresh approach to it that is hard to pinpoint. But overall it works quite well and this is a nice record that surprised me just enough. It will be interesting to see what kind of audience it finds, but it should find at least a moderate crowd.

Songs to start with first:

No Action - A smooth vocal with just a touch of sass and a funky prog sort of arrangement.

Turkish - Only a slight exotic feel on this song, but it works to add yet one more dimension to this interesting blend.

Never Get Back - The beat is sumptuous and the vocal line knows how to work off of it in a magical manner.

As much as I like variety, I am getting a fair amount of albums that showcase skill and are in search of an identity. This record has elements of that, although it settles mostly in an instrumental guitar album that sounds suspiciously like eclectronic pop at times. But the guitar is there and when it goes funk, it’s a bit startling. When it goes in a Chrome direction in ‘JR’, it has my interest, but there just aren’t enough moments like that. There are even some songs with full vocals.

This band can be just what the doctor ordered when you want to sit back and drift away to dreamy rock music with substance. The instrumentation is quite liquid as the landscapes develop and the vocals soar over the top, birdlike, searching and purposeful. There is nothing overpowering here, but there is a steady base with plenty of playful points and counterpoints. This reminds me a lighter Toronto rock/pop band, although they hail from Newcastle, the last of England to the north before Scotland unfolds. The best material is front loaded, but even by the end of these ten songs, the atmosphere is established and the quality is present throughout. This is a very enjoyable band that has hit their stride on this, their third album.

Songs to start with first:

I’ll Stall Them - Very nice building of the drama and great instrumentation, especially the eerie violin.

Faultlines - Piano punctuation over strings and things with a fine vocal line.

Through the Cellar Door - Quiet and well, not exactly loud, but dramatic shifts are handled with deft care.

Just a quick taste of Media Jeweler here with seven songs including two short ditties (one a reprise). Still, there is enough substance to see whether they are a band to dig into further. If you recall the Socket Circuits label here, this band would be a good fit. There is a lot of core trio sounds that remind me of Buildings, but they add horns, vocals, and jazzy R&B sort of riffs that carry this even further out there. It is even not unlike certain phases of the Sun City Girls. There is more than a little excessive noodling at times, but there are some sharp moments that show this band can be for real. With a bit more focus and careful songcraft, they could be a major player in this arena.

This pop album that is mostly in the dreamy terrain has a lot of smarts to it. It has a timeless quality with melody and even arrangements that take me back to the non-rock music of my youth. This is smooth fulfilling pop music that has rich textures and musicians that want to do more than set a mood. It is deep for the most part, but the finale is a rousing song with a parody of Madonna that references Romeo Void and the Fall among others. This is a fine record that should find many happy fans.

And do you want to see what they can do live? I do, so join me at the Rock’n’Roll Hotel, Friday, October 16th.

Songs to start with first:

The Queen of Swans - The opening cut’s lush soundscape has some heft in the sound, which is also snaky and beguiling.

Central Park East - A slightly melancholic pull back with vocals that remind me of Fuschia and music of 10cc.

Autumn is in the Air - The extra bit of romance in the vocals and string arrangements may not work for everyone, but was perfect for me.

These local rockers are able to deliver a heavy hard rocking set any time they hit the stage. The good news is that if you like the live show, the albums are able to capture that energy quite well. This one is no exception as the sound is strong and the playing fast and furious. The band operates in that newer style of hard rock that exists between the hard rock bands of my youth and the punk bands of my college years. They don’t ever quite go metal (aside from an occasional riff in there), but instead focus on melody with some of that EMO intensity on vocal style.

Songs to start with first:

No Damn Good - This rocker has that extra edge of ferocity that makes this band click.

Fire Away - They do.

Send and Return - The requisite slower one still has great ringing guitars.

The electropop contained here within has enough pace and sparkle to maintain my interest more than most… at least for a bit. The ten songs get a bit one-note after a while, so I am not sure I will be returning to this much, if at all. I can say it is a fine record if you like this approach with decent vocal arrangements and plenty of bounce in their musical step. So perhaps, a live experience would be of more interest than repeated listens to this for all of the non-genre fans out there.

Ah, Belgium… home of great chocolate, great waffles, cooking with beer, superb football, and some of the finest bands in Europe. Thankfully, I have been sent a steady diet of their music in recent years and it has been consistently great as well as diverse. Partisan is just one more fine Belgian band, a new band, and off to a fine start on this four-song EP. They employ a gutsy, but intricate post-punk sound that is full of melody and invention, along with a fascinating overall atmosphere. Most of the atmosphere is thick and powerful, but ‘Unhappy People’ is filled with a nimble bass run and jangly guitars. These four songs are all good, but they could go a few different ways with their sound. It will be hard to be as eclectic on a long player as it is here, but it will be fun to see what they do.

The magic is so slow in coming, I am afraid I boarded the express train home, long ago. This is one of those mostly instrumental electronica albums that I am always using as the benchmark of all the instrumental electonica albums I do not like, when I want to discuss the few that I do. I should say there are a few vocals, but they are pretty much used instrumentally here. I will also say that there is absolutely nothing I dislike more on a record than the throbbing knob turning sounds like on ‘Youth Group’ and all too many other songs here. Those sounds make me want to go into Japanese anime convulsions.

Were I a paid consultant as opposed to an unpaid writer, I would advise this band away from the worst of its independent rock cliches and really get them to focus on their best songs and not start this album with their worst. But since I’m not, I will just say that there are some nice laid back songs here. It is not exactly slacker, but more hazy quiet days of summer. And when it connects, it connects quite well. This band is in a nice place right now and it can even get better. I would suggest a bit more variety like they showed with ‘Woken by Noises’, but again, I’m not paid to give advice.

Songs to start with first:

Sweet Chris - A rolling little melody and a bit more classic in style than precocious.

The Ocean - The guitar noodling is actually quite warm and sets up the vocal line well.

Woken by Noises - Like the Gun Club playing in a lighter style. Huh?


Shoegaze/Post-rock/Psychedelic/Indie rock… Congratulations to the Virgance, they have just created the longest entry I have seen in the Itunes genre column. And with that amount of detail, there really is not much to add. Except that this all instrumental music, it is fairly heavy, and it is melodic. I find it odd that there are ‘radio edits’ on three of the eight songs even though the original songs are 5 to 7 minutes or so. Any radio station, such as they are these days, that would deign to play this music, will likely be playing the full version anyway. All in all, if you love this stuff, check out this album. For me, I love to catch the live version and only rarely is a band good enough to make want to take their long players home with me. These guys aren’t quite high enough to my tough standards there (but you will have me at your show in DC, should you come).

Mixed results here, but the skills in the vocals and the atmospheric arrangements are well worth exploring. It is just a matter of songwriting. I find half of the songs compelling with the occasional arrangement flourishing enough to boost their appeal even more. The rest are perfectly satisfactory, but too ordinary to stand out. The Tom Rapp cadence in the vocals of some songs work a bit of magic for me and should translate to people who never even heard Pearls Before Swine. Take a listen, this is worth at least one listen and you well may be back for more.

Songs to start with first:

One Good Way - This has a latter day Tom Rapp vibe, which always works for me.

Perfect - Rich and full vocals really get this cut soaring.

My Good Country - Stronger guitar here, with a snappy song and even a hooky vocal line.

The Woolen Men take me back to my younger days when punk rock was breaking in the late 1970s and I was trying to scour up every punk record I could. There were a lot fewer of them and they were harder to find and if you were very active you would end up with a lot of records that varied with a lot of different elements as punk was being ‘defined’. This band reminds me of many a band that had the pop hooks, with a punk attitude, a damaged art sensibility, and the ability to cohesively put together something really good. The Cravats, Gizmos, MX-80 Sound, and the Swell Maps are some of the bands that come to mind from those days. Portland’s Woolen Men do this style very well and the style is such that you will not ever sound quite like anybody else. Yet as individualistic as this is, the hooks are strong and will pull you along easily enough.

Songs to start with first:

Clean Dreams - An early lighter punk style like the Gizmos or the Mekons is well channeled in this (surprisingly long) opener.

Life in Hell - The second song strips it down into a garage pop punk style that will grab you and set you up the rest of the way.

The Wheel - Another of the longer cuts has good enough riffs and hooks to deserve the extended time.

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