Monday, February 29, 2016

RECORD REVIEWS - February 2016

Mmmm-mmmm, this one takes me back to the innocent days of punk rock and pop music finding a great combination post-Ramones, but not too post. It is such a good feeling to think that you can feel that innocence again, but if a band is good enough, it can be done. And Adult Books has all the requirements starting with gutsy crisp guitar lines and through on to the warm romantic vocal tones.

Songs to start with first:

Casual Wrecks - The opener is snappy and crisp with restrained Brit styled vocals pulling it back a tad.

I Don’t Think I Can Stay - The guitar is like Greg Sage covering the Saints ‘Erotic Neurotic’ with a more power pop vocal. This rocks.

Lobby Talks - Ultrafuzzy guitar and a great beat almost had me bouncing around the apartment.

If you like that 80’s styled cool Anglo dance rock approach, you may just take a shine to Brooklyn’s Bootblacks. Frankly, this sound is a bit too dated for me, although this band does it well. So if you are tired of revisiting your Psychedelic Furs albums and the like, you may want to give these fresh cuts a listen. The mannered vocals are everything you would expect with a breathy romantic feel. The beats are punchy and the washed out guitars and keys keep things moving. It grew on me a bit, I have to admit, probably due to the slightly increasing edginess in the music as the tens songs flowed out.

Alan Chapell used to be in a well received band called All the Voices. But he is here now, not quite on his own. He and producer and former Talking Head, Jerry Harrison, have assembled a strong professional band to create a big and well produced sound. I was not sure about this during the first song as it sounded almost slick enough to be a Mickey Thomas album or worse. But eventually the better songs rose to the surface and the big sound was matched by a heartfelt song. This is the kind of Top-40 material that hearkens back to days of old where not everyone who liked alternative scenes could agree on how far to go toward the pop market. I can see Chapell attracting some of that crowd, but not all of it.

Songs to start with first:

The Game - A snappy cut, well arranged, and with a compelling hook.

Heroes - Maybe not the best titled original song due to recent events, nevertheless it is catchy.

Iggy - Not the Stooges or the other one, but a snazzy brass filled rocker.

This is a tricky record. It starts kind of slow, but then lays on some incredibly excellent songs and even the lesser songs start working a bit of magic. It has a laid back pop approach, but there are firm rock moves along the poppier side of post punk with a nod to club music. But ultimately this is composed pop rock that is warm and just jarring enough to generate interest among those of us that discriminate a bit. This was a pleasant surprise and a pleasant experience. Imagine UB40 with a couple of Banshees.

Songs to start with first:

Old Casino - Better this than an old casio, the gentle hook worked, the guitar had additional bite.

A Well Adjusted Man - The Kinks may have had a more respected man, but the adjustments here create for a mysterious and sometimes stunning achievement.

Killer Swan - They had me the dual guitar opening.

Electronica is starting to turn the corner for me. Instead of dreading a review of the latest sparse dance album by a computer programmer, I am beginning to hear some of the better material. Crew Love along with cohorts, Wolf Lamb, Soul Clap, Pillow Talk, and others have crafted not so much a compilation LP, but a smooth and cohesive work. They share a lot of members, so this is hardly shocking. What is shocking was the skills they have in balancing classic Rhythm and Blues based songwriting within a strong electronica context. This works so well and the songs all flow and work off of each other. Ergo, I have no song recommendations, but just a recommendation to check out the whole album if this is an area you wish to explore. I am happy to have made the unusual journey.

This is quite likable, which is not a backhanded compliment. There is nothing overly heavy, but Deep Sea Diver’s brand of pop music flows, has edge, and great melodies. The production is top notch and the choices they make enhance the drama of the song and quality lead vocal work. What is really classy about this band is the way they vary their style enough to make things interesting, but allow the vocal work to tie it all together in a very composed and cohesive album. So even if this is not your favorite style, it is very impressive. And if you like slightly edgy pop music already, dive in deep.

Songs to start with first:

Wide Awake - A great flowing beat, almost Neu! and a cool melodic but edgy vocal line.

Great Light - They take a dream pop approach here and succeed where many ‘dream pop only’ bands fail.

It Takes a Moment - The band at their most ferocious.

Expect the unexpected is a good way to approach many artists, and Bill Frisell is one such artist. This time around the talented genre twisting guitarist has covered 16 songs from movies and television. There are multiple cuts from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Psycho’, and three wonderful cuts from Morricone’s score to ‘Once Upon a Time on the West’. it is impossible to improve on the originals from the Morricone-Leone partnership, but Frisell shows how you can offer a great personal take on these brilliant soul embedded passages. He uses strings, female vocals—you can’t do a James Bond theme without that, now can you? There is everything from the 1 1/2 minute Bonanza theme, which is memorable fun to the 9 1/2 minutes of ‘The Godfather’. This was not just a fun set of ‘oh yeah I remember that’ songs, but good musical interpretations of a variety of themes, held together by skill and taste.

In my review duties for Folkworld, I get at least two dozen blues bands every year from every corner of the globe. Yes, the Mississippi delta provided essential music that so much of the great rock’n’roll is based on—everyone knows that. But I find it hard to find ways of analyzing the thousand bands that take a purist approach and only add a few twists. The technique varies a bit, the songwriting more, and the vocals may be more original than the usual growl. King Mud’s take on an original approach is to occasionally come up with a snappy rock song like ‘Arthur’s Hooked’ as opposed to the more traditionally based songs, which they play well. The snarling vocals, pumping rhythm section, and gritty guitars all work well with the occasional keyboard and harmonica. And the songs vary just enough from trad electric blues to bluesy rock. So throwing out the Russian Judges low score and the Japanese Judge’s high score, the rest of us have these guys in medal contention because they have just enough of that cutting edge that makes this stuff still work in 2016.

We have the first release from a fine Winnipeg band which stretches out dream pop into long psychedelic droners. The female vocals are just ethereal enough, but not as much as most dream pop bands. The guitars warble and echo aplenty and there are some stronger moments that liven this up for me. Songwise, there are a couple that stand out just enough, but it mostly about atmosphere at this point and it is an interesting enough atmosphere to take a deep breath and see what you think. I think I’ll come back for more some time.

And I will try to take in their show when they hit the DC9 on April 18th. Keep it tuned here and I’ll be reminding you.

Songs to start with first:

Summer Smog - The opener creates a smoggy atmosphere with large vocals cutting through to find the oxygen.

This is the Place - …where they stretch it out in a melodic drone.

There is no Substance Between - True of the lesser songs, but this one has some wild psycho-surf guitar as a nice surprise.

Gary Lucas has played with a wild array of people from Captain Beefheart to Leonard Bernstein and oh so many more. Just off the heels of a fine collaboration with Jann Klose, Cuneiform Records is releasing his record where he collaborates with Betty Boop. Basically, Sarah Stiles interprets the original ‘Betty Boop’ vocals from Mae Questel who was also the voice of Olive Oyl in addition to portraying the great animated flapper, Betty Boop. Lucas assembled a real jazzy rhythm section and a host of brass players and arrangers for him to lay down a firm setting for his guitar runs. But all the musicians get room to work as they match the style of Betty Boop’s era with their flashy solos. Questel’s vocals are great as she can do the overly cutesy Boop voice and smooth it out into a strong and smooth delivery worthy of any night club singer of the day. And the band has that same subtle old timey jazz feel that flows into more modern moves. You don’t need me to tell you how different this is, but I really think it will be a fun listen even if it sounds like it comes out of the left field of your listening ballpark. This was great fun for me, an old Betty Boop fan.

Amazingly, you can see this live this Saturday at AFI Silver theater with the animation on screen.

These eight songs all have an easy going pace with tones on the spacier side of indie rock and vocals that have a touch of emotion, cut with a touch of slacker pace. I hear traces of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen in the vocals, but there is something off putting as well. And the songs aren’t anywhere in that league, although that is pretty much expected of most albums. The main problem here is the ever present lackadaisical pace that slows the body down, but doesn’t send it off to sleep in dreams, but leave in a frustrating inert state of inaction. “Roll It” was almost an exception.This is not a place I want to be.

You can see them live at the DC9 on Friday March 11th.

This electonica EP is a bit more experimental at times, although there are still enough melodies and pop stylings to interest more than the arty set. I liked the chants and percussion in ’N4’ best as that was a bit more challenging. Overall, this ends up in between catchy and different, so with feet in both camps for these six songs, Lance Neptune’s footsteps could go off in any direction from here.

Although far too steeped in the electronic pop world for my liking, Porches nonetheless is able to swing me over to their side. They simply have the ability of creating a pleasant atmosphere and nailing a simple steady pop hook with careful singing, not too over the top and not too distant. This won’t be a record I go back to much if at all, but if you like this brand of pop music, this has a lot to offer for you.

You can see them live at the Rock'n'Roll Hotel on Wednesday, March 9th.

Songs to start with first:

Underwater - The pop hook slowly unveils as the vocal line enchants throughout.

Be Apart - Infectious as any of the 12 songs here.

Car - A more brisk beat and flow in this catchy song.

Tortoise is a well respected post rock outfit that has had a lot of success over the years. Somehow they have never quite grabbed me the way I would have expected. But this album has some of the skills that Tortoise showcases that have led the band to a large following over the years. The middle is a little overly ambient for me, but the beginning and ending songs have a lot of bold moves showing the band’s strength, power, and clever thoughts. This makes for excellent backing music, as long as you don’t mind your attention being diverted to their sharpest songs.

You can catch Tortoise on Saturday, March 19th at the big stage of the Black Cat.

Songs to start with first:

Ox Duke - This cut has that Germanic feel that takes me back to my youth and still works today.

Rock On - A great restrained version of the David Essex hit, also well entrenched in my memories of youth.

Yonder Blue - The second cut with vocals, this has a soft psyche pop vibe that is quite pleasant.

These twelve songs are on the slippery side after first listen. They don’t fit comfortably into compartmentalization, which is often a good thing. When they work, it is all good here on this album—and that is about 3/4 of the time. The rest of the time is just a bit too slacker for me. But more often than not he either relaxes into a groove or pushes forward with subtlety and panache. There are old school funky guitars and brass as well as steady rock moves throughout. The energy is controlled, but the arrangements are varied and wide open, creating an interesting and engaging listening experience.

Songs to start with first:

Juggling Knives - A bit of swagger and more toughness in the vocals helps push this forward.

Texas Mist - This has a laconic sense of mystery working here.

Looking Up Past Midnight - Lounge room funk, quite transportive.


Garage rock is always popular, but I particularly like the Two Tens brand as they bring a significant element of 1977 punk style into their sound and rhythm. The vocals have a snarl but carry the melody well—sort of a balance between Pete Shelly and John Lydon. The guitars sound great, the drummer and bass really cook up a rhythm, full of manic pace when called upon. You still get that sixties feeling throughout and they have crafted some fine songs here. This is definitely a cut above, at least for me with my late seventies punk rock roots deeply within my being.

Songs to start with first:

Scene - The opener sets the scene. You learn what you will be getting.

Dreams - Catchy song with hearty vocals.

Rush Out - Frenzied punk beats—a riot!

When I heard the fuzzy guitar tone of the first chord, I was hooked. There is something about that sound. A fuzzy guitar lead will take an innocent and obscure folk album from 1970 from being worth $50 to $500, so it is not just me who digs this sound. But there is nothing folky about Yuck even when they slow it down in their easy going numbers like ‘Like a Moth’. More often there are power pop hooks with a gutsy fuzzy abandon that just does enough to stay in control or jangly pop rockers that retain the solid hooks. They keep you guessing with each and every song, perhaps too much for those that like a safer album. But their creativity with classic forms works well for me and this is one I will go back to often.

You will have to wait a while, but put a big YUCK on your Calendar on April 15th when they play the Rock'n'Roll Hotel.

Songs to start with first:

Cannonball - Nothing wildly original, other than their personality, just a great snappy song.

Stranger Things - Proof that the guitars can jangle as well as fuzz out.

I’m OK - The heavy and light contrasts are outstanding in this well written song.

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