Archive for the ‘indie’ Category

EP Review: The New Trocaderos — Kick Your Ass

Monday, December 15th, 2014


The New Trocaderos – Kick Your Ass EP
This EP is three songs, one featuring each member of this trio (joined by a keyboard player and drummer). “Real Gone Kitty” is rootsy rock (a la Jerry Lee Lewis) crossed with the Sex Pistols at their most tuneful (no, really). “Dream Girl” is sixties janglepop, sort of Jackie DeShannon meets Smithereens, with a delightfully Al Kooperish organ solo. “Brain Gone Dead” is Clash-style speedy punkpop, though the guitar and electric piano solos come from other places in rock history. Overall, it’s as varied as can be in only three tunes. That begs the question: musically, who are these guys?

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November Hundred-word Reviews, Part 2

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Once again, it’s time for a run of hundred-word reviews. My inbox has been overflowing of late, and even after removing the material that I deem not worth my time (nor yours), I’m left with far too many discs to cover in my customary manner (500-800 word reviews). So herewith are twenty-five –count ‘em, twenty-five – brief, to-the-point reviews. The second set of five reviews looks at music from the 1980s: three reissues and two compilations.


Scruffy the Cat – The Good Goodbye
The music scene of the 1980s featured a handful of inventive, talented acts that bridged the gap between powerpop and what would come to be known as Americana (or “alt.”). The Long Ryders were at the rocking end of that continuum; Scruffy the Cat worked at the gentler, more melodic end. This collection of previously-unreleased material covers sessions that bookended the band’s career: a set of demos and live-in-the-studio material from 1984-5, and an Ardent (Memphis) session from 1989. You’ll either dig the group’s raggedy vocals or you won’t, but there’s no denying that they fit the music. Good stuff.


Game Theory – Blaze of Glory
Apparently, I’m not alone in having completely missed Game Theory when they were around. Though the group’s off-kilter brand of 80s powerpop certainly appeals to me now, there’s a modest, aw-shucks feel to most of the songs on the ironically-titled 1982 Blaze of Glory, crossing skinny-tie new wave aesthetics with quirky songs. Their debut album (like most of their subsequent output) has long been out of print; this Omnivore reissue adds a wealth of bonus material and the liner notes feature contributions from former members (leader Scott Miller passed away in 2013). Oh, and they remind me of Let’s Active.


The Dream Academy – The Morning Lasted All Day
Two CDs packed with 24 tracks might seem excessive for a retrospective on a group that scored a total of two hit singles (the lovely “Life in a Northern Town” from 1985, and a 1986 tune you probably don’t recall). They only released three albums. But their shimmering chamber-pop – championed by no less a light than Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour – has worn quite well. The band’s original raison d’être was to create songs using unconventional (for rock) instrumentation. “The Edge of Forever” may not have charted, but it’s the best thing the band did, arguably superior to “Life.”


X – Under the Big Black Sun
By 1983, X hadn’t yet achieved a level of success that would translate into record sales. So they signed with Elektra and enlisted the production skills of The Doors‘ keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Manzarek may have seemed an odd choice: he wasn’t known as a producer, and his old band’s sound had little in common with the aesthetic of X. But it worked. Under the Big Black Sun presented the Johnny-and-June-styled vocal harmonies of John Doe and Exene Cervenka, along with the insistent punk drumming of DJ Bonebrake and Billy Zoom‘s wild-eyed rockabilly guitar. This reissue features five bonus tracks.


X – More Fun in the New World
By the time (1983) of this, their fourth LP, X had achieved some fame. Again working with Manzarek behind the boards, the band crafted a set of songs that sought to capture the excitement of their live show (the package’s reliance on live concert shots makes that goal more explicit). Overall, More Fun boasts a slightly more polished approach; the drums sound a bit “bigger,” and the whole affair feels a bit more radio-ready. Four demo tracks from the period (in remixed form) are appended to the original album’s thirteen songs. Still essential, as is Under the Big Black Sun.

15 more capsule reviews to come.

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Album Review: Nina Persson — Animal Heart

Friday, November 7th, 2014

People sometimes express a liking for music that conveys what might be termed “decadent elegance.” They vibe they’re grasping for is one that’s equal parts scuzz and beauty. It’s an elusive quality, and far too often, those musicians who – consciously or otherwise – try to capture it lean too far one way or the other. The decadent end of it gives you Nico-era Velvet Underground or the unrelenting angst of early Nine Inch Nails; the other direction gives something that at times can be a bit too “pretty,” like, say, Fiona Apple.

On rare occasions, the balance is just right. So it was sometimes with The Cardigans. And on both of their albums – their self-titled 2001 debut and 2009′s near-flawless Colonia – Sweden’s’ A Camp nailed it. And as it happens, both of those groups feature the voice and compositional skills of Nina Persson. So it’s not a surprise of earthshaking proportions that on Animal Heart, her 2014 solo debut, Persson refines that approach to a fine point.

The album kicks off with the title track, a propulsive dance pop-meets-motorik melody topped by Persson’s crystalline vocal mixed way out front. Her degree of vocal control is superb: she hits the notes with precision, adding her trademark vibrato only at key moments; she’s careful not to overuse the technique, saving it for when it fits best. That the song has a delightfully memorable hook – in the form of the tune’s repeated vocal refrain – makes it even better.

“Burning Bridges for Fuel” starts with a somber, one-per-measure piano chord, joined gradually by throbbing synth, Persson’s dreamy vocal, and other exceedingly subtle flourishes. The drums don’t come in until halfway through the tune, and even then, they don’t do much. Nor need they: the synthesizer lines provide as much of a beat as is needed. Some nice Leslie’d guitar near the song’s outro has the feeling of a horn section.

“Dreaming of Houses” starts off as an elegiac, grey-day melody, but unfolds into a pop song of grandeur. Listeners who didn’t know better would never think Persson is Swedish; her vocals betray not a trace of being from anywhere specific. “Clip Your Wings” is a more conventional pop tune, but some echoey piano and slide guitar elevate the tune into something more durable.

Electronica textures might at first seem out of place on a tune called “Jungle,” until one sorts out that the jungle is but Persson’s metaphor for modern life. On this track – as with all others on Animal Heart – Persson is ably supported by husband Nathan Larson, Eric D. Johnson and (on most tracks) drummer Brain Kantor. Johnson and Larsson co-wrote all but one of the twelve songs with Persson.

“Food for the Beast” takes a different approach than the tunes that precede it: its radio-ready beat seems designed for airplay, and lyrics about the discotheque floor reinforce that impression. But once again, it’s Persson’s voice that carries the whole affair. A constantly shifting beat shows that even on a “commercial” number, Persson remains musically ambitious.

The brief instrumental “Digestif” gives way to “Forgot to Tell You,” a tune that recalls some of Colonia‘s more close and intimate musical arrangements. “Catch Me Crying” is built upon a stuttering drum pattern and feels a bit like Autoamerican era Blondie; here Persson displays her knack of showing off her vocal range without seeming at all like she’s showing off.

Americana-flavored guitar kicks off “The Grand Destruction Game,” but it’s quickly joined by synthesizer and 60s-flavored combo organ. Persson’s wistful lyric tells the tale of love gone wrong. The stately “Silver” reveals its charms gradually, as it unfolds across three-plus minutes (Persson’s direct, economical writing style keeps all of Animal Heart‘s tunes relatively brief: only two break the four-minute mark.) And despite its title, “This is Heavy Metal” closes the album in a spare yet sophisticated manner – simply piano and vocal – that recalls Tori Amos‘ best work.

Animal Heart was released back in February of this year; it charted in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the UK. Despite some stateside press and reviews, it hasn’t made a dent on American charts; it deserves better. Recommended.

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Concert Review: J Mascis, Asheville NC, Septermber 28 2014

Friday, October 10th, 2014

A Guest Feature by Annelise Kopp

J Mascis is the loudest acoustic show I’ve ever seen. During his September 28, 2014 show at Asheville NC’s Grey Eagle, J was seated onstage with two guitars nearby, and surrounded by three large guitar amplifiers. By his side were two large bottles of coconut water. For nearly the entirety of the show, Mascis sang and played with his eyes closed, occasionally opening them to turn a page in his song binder, switch guitars, or on rarer occasions look down at the stage, or – rarer yet – into the crowd.

Mascis is most famous for being a founding member of Dinosaur Jr, the influential band who have been playing since the 80s. I had the pleasure of seeing Dinosaur Jr play at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse in 2009. It was the loudest show of any kind that I’ve seen to date. Seeing J Mascis play in the intimate context of the Grey Eagle offered a new, and welcome, perspective.

Watch “Freak Scene” (Dinosaur Jr, 1988)

Mascis has steadily maintained his solo career alongside his involvement in Dinosaur Jr; his solo dates began as a string of one-man acoustic shows. Dates on his 1995 tour were recorded, and yielded his first album, Martin + Me, which was released in 1996. Though he’s considered a guitar virtuoso, Mascis’ solo work has been more subtle in its musical expression.

Watch “Listen to Me” (J Mascis, 2011)

Though he’s taken on an acoustic, folky sound in much of his solo work, what J is doing to a guitar can be classified as shredding. His raspy vocals layered over fuzzy – albeit more delicate – guitar melodies illuminate not only what J has contributed to Dinosaur Jr and the role he has played in the development and growth of their sound, but also the parts of his expression that just don’t fit into that vessel. When one listens to J’s solo work, it’s easy to think, “this is Dinosaur Jr!”

In 2011, Henry Rollins (once Black Flag frontman and now public speaker, actor, activist, musician (and the list goes on), opened for Dinosaur Jr on their Bug tour, revisiting their 1988 album in its entirety. For Rollins’ opening set, he broke from the spoken-word format he’s toured with in recent years, instead choosing to interview Dinosaur Jr, one of his favorite bands. Rollins, in a related radio interview for Seattle’s KEXP, queried the band: “You guys have been touring consistently throughout the 80s the 90s, and bravely and triumphantly through this new century as well. What does touring and playing as often as you all do mean to you? Still enthusiastic about playing every night? Is it still fun?”

Mascis, infamous for his elusiveness and brevity in interviews, came out with, “More than ever, yeah. I like it a lot better now then when I was a kid. I was… I dunno… more ungrateful I guess… and just kinda depressed or something.”

And you’d almost have to feel that way. Mascis has hardly taken a break from playing shows since playing in hardcore band Deep Wound with Lou Barlow (with whom he founded Dinosaur Jr just a few years later). That was in the early 1980s. Some twenty years later, Dinosaur Jr and J Mascis are still touring. Amidst this, Mascis has continued to release new albums with Dinosaur Jr, release solo material, and be involved in innumerable other projects.

Mascis has recorded with Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene; played banjo on one of The Hold Steady’s albums; played guitar on GG Allin’s Hated in the Nation; and provided lead guitar tracks on Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside the Academy (which was also recorded in Mascis’ home studio).

It’s through his music that J connects with his fans. In spite of his insular stage presence and disinterest in exposing himself to interviewers, J communicates volumes of meaning through his work. His most recent solo albums, Several Shades of Why and Tied to a Star are accessible to Dinosaur Jr fans and new listeners alike. Still, like an intimate conversation with old friend, the experiences are different and illuminate interesting, sometimes profound, parts of who J Mascis is. Apart from J’s solo work in the context of Dinosaur Jr exists a catalog of work that speaks for itself through its different stages of maturity.

At the end of the show, Mascis exited stage right, eyes mostly to the floor as he stepped just outside the door, lingering briefly before returning to the stage. True to everything we’ve ever known of Mascis, the charade of the ever-standardized-encore was performed listlessly. He returned to play one final song and killed it. The crowd cheered, respectfully, because seeing J Mascis play live is seeing a modern legend.

Watch the full KEXP interview with Henry Rollins & Dinosaur Jr

Watch J Mascis’s 1993 interview with kennedy on Alternative Nation

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Album Review: Hedersleben — Die Neuen Welten

Friday, August 29th, 2014

According to our friends over at Wikipedia, krautrock is defined as “a form of rock and electronic music that originated in Germany in the late 1960s, with a tendency towards improvisation around minimalistic arrangements.” Though the style had its adherents in the 1970s – famed tastemaker/DJ John Peel among the most well-known of them – the style never caught on in a commercial sense outside Germany.

But the style – hypnotic, pulsing, almost tone-poem music – never went away. Julian Cope went so far as to write a book about it, 1995′s Krautrocksampler: One Head’s Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik – 1968 Onwards. And thanks in no small part of Cope’s championing of the music made by groups such as Amon Düül II and Faust, krautrock has persisted right into the 21st century.

The music of Nik Turner (late of Hawkwind) lends itself especially well to a krautrock approach, especially in a live setting. So it’s no surprise that beginning around 2013, Turner enlisted the able aid of an outfit naming themselves after a city halfway between Hanover and Berlin. Hedersleben features the guitar work of Nicky Garratt, the British musician best known for his work in seminal punk group UK Subs. American drummer Jason Willer also played in UK Subs with Garratt, and Bryce Shelton (from San Francisco) plays bass with Hedersleben. Keyboardist Kephera Moon is also from San Francisco. All of this may make you wonder what exactly is the German connection to this band. Good question; the answer lies within their music and their overall sonic approach.

The band does a bit of shape-shifting: when they record or perform with Turner, they’re sometimes billed As Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. When backing Swiss musician Joel Vandroogenbroeck, they’re the current-day lineup of psychedelic band Brainticket.

But when they play their own music – the largely instrumental examples of which are showcased on Die Neuen Welten (The New Worlds), Hedersleben have a personality all of their own. With Moon’s Ray Manzarek-like organ work out front, the dreamscapes of tunes like “Zu Den Neuen Welten” and “XO5B” take their time to unfold. The densely-layered music floats along; Shelton’s bass lines weave their way under the textures in a way that sometimes feels like Gary Wright‘s Moog bass circa The Dream Weaver. Garratt’s often heavily-treated guitar soars above the mix in a decidedly non-punky fashion, and Willer’s spellbinding drum patterns evoke warm memories of Nick Mason circa A Saucerful of Secrets.

Kephera Moon makes extensive use of synthesizers: Mellotron-sounding samples recall early Tangerine Dream, and gurgling analog synth sounds show that she understand the intelligent uses to which synths can be applied; the synthesizers are never used as mere “sound effects.”

Garratt’s lead guitar is a highlight of “On the Ground (Safe and Sound),” in which he solos over a chugging one-chord vamp. As with most of the band’s work, vocals (here little more than the whispered/chanted recitation of the song’s title) are mostly used as a textural element, rather than to convey anything like a story. That role is left to the music.

Garratt’s acoustic guitar underpins some stinging lead guitar overdubs on “Nomad World (Dreamstate).” It’s the gentlest tune on the disc, and some chanted ahhh-style vocalizing from Kati Knox adds to the dreamy vibe made explicit by the title. The faraway-sounding “XO5B” feels like a Pink Floyd jam from the More/Obscured by Clouds era; Garratt’s fret-buzzing guitar and Moon’s celestial organ work are the track’s highlights.

The five-track album closes with “Tiny Flowers/Little Moon,” at once the most conventional and most accessible tune on Die Neuen Welten. With standard signing (again courtesy Knox) and recognizable lyrics, here Hedersleben sounds of a piece with bands like The Black Angels. A vaguely sunshine-pop texture lends the tune an air not unlike the rare pop-leaning moments of The Velvet Underground and Nico. Moon’s delicate piano work – occasionally punctuated by guitar stabs from Garratt – ends the album on an extended, reflective note.

Though there are no Germans on the album; though it was recorded in Oakland, California; , though it veers close to tuneful rock in places; Hedersleben’s Die Neuen Welten is highly recommended on its own merits.

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Short Cuts: July Mini-reviews, Part Two

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Here’s another entry in my short-review series; these three are instrumental albums.

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Boy Named Charlie Brown
An entire generation grew up with the music of Vince Guaraldi, becoming familiar with he melodic brand of music even if they (we) might have claimed not to like jazz. As the background music of the enduring and popular Peanuts cartoons, Guaraldi’s piano-based tunes reinforced the onscreen emotional content of the animated characters and action. The most popular entry in the series remains A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Fantasy/Concord reissued the accompanying soundtrack several times, most recently in a cleverly designed die-cut package.

But an earlier program was made, and it too had a soundtrack featuring Guaraldi’s trio (the pianist plus drummer Colin Bailey and bassist Monty Budwig). But for a host of complicated reasons, A Boy Named Charlie Brown never actually aired on television. Yet in an unusual move, Fantasy Records (Guaralidi’s label at the time) did release its soundtrack, originally titled Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown. Subsequent pressings played down the connection to the unaired program and shortened the album’s title.

The music is just how anyone who’s ever heard a note of “Linus and Lucy” remembers it: emotionally expressive without the use of lyrics, varied in tone and style to fit the demands of the program’s scenes. The trio’s music bears close listening, but is effective as (dare I say it) background music as well. The 2014 reissue appends an unreleased alternate take of “Baseball Theme” and Guaraldi’s reading of the standard “Fly Me to the Moon,” though the latter has noting to do with Peanuts. The original edit of the accompanying animated film is lost – presumably forever – but the music remains, and it’s delightful as ever. (A limited edition orange vinyl pressing – with the original Jazz Impressions artwork – is also available.)

Express Rising – Express Rising
Music is filled with the work of outsider artists. Decidedly and determinedly avoiding the mainstream, those following their singular and idiosyncratic paths create and release music wholly free of commercial considerations. Most of these artists are, by definition, underground, neither seeking nor finding mass acceptance. Some of these artists are quite prolific: pop auteur R. Stevie Moore has self-released literally hundred of albums. Others turn out music at a much more measured pace.

One example of the latter is Express Rising. The inscrutable Dante Carfagna is Express Rising, but nobody can tell you much beyond that. What is known is that Carfagna’s earlier release featured breakbeats and sampling, two things you’ll find very little of on Express Rising. Moody, hypnotic, gauzy, impressionistic, melancholy: those are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind while listening to this album of instrumental (with occasional wordless vocalizing) music. Real instruments feature prominently here: Wurlitzer electric piano, acoustic guitar and gentle tapping of a drum kit.

But for something that at first glance seems forbiddingly outré, Express Rising is exceedingly tuneful and accessible. More textured and nuanced than new age, gentler than rock, the album’s eleven tracks are fully-thought-out musical excursion, modest in their approach but memorable. By design, the package provides little information, but the press kit offered this suitably oblique nugget: “Carfagna had this to say about himself and about Express Rising: ‘My last record came out ten years ago. Much has changed and much has not.’” The modest and assuming yet lovely Express Rising is well worth seeking out.

Percy Jones – Cape Catastrophe
Outside jazz/fusion/prog circles, the name Percy Jones isn’t well known. But within that rarefied world, Jones’s reputation looms large. As a key member of pioneering fusion group Brand X, Jones’ rubbery bass lines were an integral component of that group’s sonic attack.

After Brand X ended, the Welsh bassist relocated to New York City, where he would eventually cut a solo album called Cape Catastrophe. The album is a decidedly DIY effort, laid down in 1988-89 in a Harlem studio using drum machines, Casio synthesizers,digital delays and loads of Jones’ signature bass.

On the ten-minute-plus title track, clattering drum beats collide with Jones’ kinetic bass figures; “found” spoken word bits float in and out. The overall effect is a but like slightly funkier, equally arty My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Jones’ fretless work on “Slick” is expressive and entrancing, and overall the album sounds far less “dated” than one might expect. “Hex” feels like what The Police might have produced had they all given in to their suppressed prog-rock backgrounds. And the lengthy “Barrio” (which fills more than a third of Cape Catastrophe‘s run time) feels like an inspired, exploratory in-studio live jam, belying its one-guy-with-overdubs origin.

More “short cuts” to come.

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Yuck’s “Glow & Behold” — Shoegaze Meets Melody (Part Two)

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Continued from Part One

The first record was self-produced; for Glow & Behold, the band chose to work with Chris Coady, who’s worked with other indie-styled artists like Smith Westerns, Wavves and Beach House. Max Bloom says that the “brightness” of Coady’s sound works well with the songs on this album. “I’m used to doing everything [in the studio] myself; I’m very hands-on,” Bloom says. “And Chris is a hands-on producer. So this meant giving a lot of responsibility to him. And just the opportunity to have someone else in the room, someone to talk about what you’re doing, is a big help. It’s a different way of working for me, and it was a very interesting one. And a positive one, for sure.”

The album’s primitive/abstract artwork (by Katherine Campbell) is likely to start a few conversations. “I gave her the tracks, told her a little bit about the album, and she went away for a long time, and came back with a few things,” Bloom recalls. “The [art chosen for the] album cover stood out for me; I don’t know what it was.” He prefers to leave its meaning open to individual interpretation. “We have a backdrop of the album cover when we play. When you look at that, you might have your own opinion of what it might be. And that’s what we wanted out of the artwork.”

On Glow & Behold, Yuck also moves beyond its guitar/bass/drums format to include brass on a few tracks (among the album’s strongest). “It was an urge to try something different,” Bloom says. “With the first album, we had a strict limitation. It worked, and it was fun to write within those guidelines; we used those limitations to our advantage.” He describes the addition of horns – played by him and two guest musicians – as “a way to amuse ourselves,” but the end result expands on Yuck’s sonic palette in a logical way that feels quite natural.

That said, onstage, Yuck is sticking to its stripped-down trio featuring Bloom on guitar plus bassist/vocalist Mariko Doi and drummer Jonny Rogoff. “I like the live experience to be something completely different form the record,” Bloom says. “A lot of people who come to see us live comment that it does sound a lot different. When you’re at a show and that’s what you’re seeing, it’s special in that way.”

Yuck released “Rebirth” as a single ahead of the album, and then “Middle Sea” as a single after the album came out. Asked if he views the album format as viable in this age of download culture, Bloom says, “I don’t know if it’s necessarily the best way, but for me it’s the only way. The album is the highest form that a band or an artist can use to express themselves. For me,” he continues,” I only ever listen to albums. If I like a song, I want to listen to it in the context of an album. In this day and age, that might be old-fashioned.”

Like writing catchy songs, you might say.

Yuck will be at The Mothlight in Asheville NC on Tuesday, February 11.

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Yuck’s “Glow & Behold” — Shoegaze Meets Melody (Part One)

Monday, February 10th, 2014

In October 2013, London/New York-based Yuck released Glow & Behold, their second album. And while a “cold” listen to it – as in, using ears that had never heard their self-titled 2011 debut – led to me naming it as one of the year’s best releases, some fans don’t agree. They remind me of the stories surrounding The Doors‘ signing with Elektra in 1966 amid frenzied cries of “sellout!” from their L.A.-scenester fan base. Like the man said, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

The fact remains that with Glow & Behold, Yuck has in fact turned toward a slightly more tuneful brand of music than they served up on their first long player. But the elements that made them special remain, only now supplemented by sweet ear-candy melodies that remain in the listener’s head long after the insistent squalls of looped feedback on the title track fade away.

Though Daniel Blumberg – one of the band’s two guitarists and songwriters – left before the second album, Yuck’s more streamlined approach serves them well. “Because we changed our musical style [and went] into the studio to do things a little bit differently, it’s easy to think that when Daniel left, he took what was on the first album with him,” says Max Bloom, guitarist and (now) primary songwriter for the band. “And for a person like Daniel to have left the band, whatever we did after that point would have been under scrutiny. Anything that was different would have been [blamed on the fact that] he left.” So in that sense, anyone who wanted Yuck to effectively make the same album a second time was bound to be disappointed.

“At the end of the day,” Bloom continues, “the easiest thing to have done – which in fact is what we did do – was to ignore all the circumstances and make the album we wanted to make.” And while an allmusic.com review criticizes the band for having “focus[ed] on the pretty and melodic side of the equation,” I fail to understand how that’s a bad thing in and of itself. “The initial idea,” Bloom says, “was about the flow of the album, the way it starts, unfolds, and finishes. On the first album, we had a bunch of songs that were put on without a thought as to track listing.” On Glow & Behold, Bloom says he wrote songs to fit into the “jigsaw” of the overall album’s sequence. Asked if he consciously writes songs that are built on foundations that include a strong hook,” Bloom laughs and says, “That might be true.”

Often pegged as a shoegaze group, in truth Yuck’s sound – especially on the second album – bears the influence of song-centered artists such as Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and Aztec Camera. And even “Sunday” from the first album is redolent of The La’s and Belle and Sebastian. Bloom guardedly agrees, but adds Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, as well as “a lot of bands on Sub Pop and Merge” to the list of acts whose music has informed his songwriting, especially on the debut. “Loud, guitar-noise kinds of things.” As for Glow & Behold, Bloom says he listened to “Wilco and Jim O’Rourke” while writing songs.

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Hundred Word Reviews: February 2014, Part Three

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I’m making progress in bringing my the contents of my in-box down to a manageable size, but there are still so many albums deserving of coverage that I’ll be doing a few more of these capsule reviews. This time ’round I’ll take quick looks at artists who have either self-released, or put their music out on an indie label. All deserve wider notice, and like the government, I’m here to help.

Ezra Furman – Day of the Dog
I have difficulty getting past a vocalist I don’t care for; even if the songs are strong, if you sing like Geddy Lee or that guy in Cake, I’ll have a tough time with your music. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. This is just such an example. With a sound that combines a stripped-down Phil Spector vibe with punk, Ezra Furman’s album is bitter, angry and restless. And filled with some pretty cool music. Greasy r&b saxophone battles it out with noisy guitars, except when Furman goes in an acoustic direction (see “My Zero,” an album highlight).

Rovo and System 7 – Phoenix Rising
When I first heard Ozric Tentacles, my first thought was that they had successfully updated the sound and aesthetic of Steve Hillage for the 21st century. But of course Hillage is still at it as well, and his latest project is this, a collaboration that includes him and partner Miquette Giraudy (as System 7) with Rovo, a five -piece from Japan featuring a former member of notorious band The Boredoms. Hints of 90s-period Porcupine Tree can be found. If you understand and appreciate the distinction between “trance” and “jam” and prefer the former, this one is highly recommended.

The Fire Tapes – Phantoms
This one makes me sad. I discovered this Charlottesville VA band in 2012, and found their moody onstage musical presentation even more affecting than their (excellent) debut LP Dream Travel. With a sound that builds upon the fuzzed-out sonic drone of the Dream Syndicate, the band offered a twin guitar attack that reminded me of Television. They followed up with a single later that year, and in late 2013 released the full-length Phantoms. But right on the heels of that release, they broke up. What they left behind is an album that betters the debut. Find it if you can.

Michael Des Barres – Hot N Sticky Live
On this live album, Des Barres avoids the crushingly obvious temptation to self-cover his Power Station-era material, and instead lends his raspy pipes to material from his latest studio album (2012′s Carnaby Street) and knowing covers .The highlight among the latter is a reading of Humble Pie‘s version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” as part of a medley. Des Barres was born to sing that kind of material, and he and band (featuring Bigelf‘s Damon Fox on keys) crank out rock, soul and r&b as if their lives depended on it. It’s as fiery as prime-era Graham Parker.

Dog Society – Emerge
Is there a place in the 21st century’s second decade for straightahead rock? Apparently, NYC based Dog Society think so. With a sound that builds on the best of 70s album-oriented rock, the five-piece is all about the vibe. The songs are catchy and memorable. Soaring, sustained guitar lines will transport you back to rock’s classic era. Bonus points for great vocal harmonies and stellar arrangement. Fans of Howlin’ Rain are sure to dig this, though Dog Society have a wider musical palette (see the clever melding of bossa nova and arena rock on “A Good Friend” for proof).

Weird Owl – Healing
This year’s winner in the Cleverest Band Name sweepstakes (say it out loud if you haven’t already gotten it), this Brooklyn outfit is of a musical piece with like-minded associates such as Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Much of the album sounds if it was recorded in an empty gymnasium, but that deep-echo vibe is what the fuzzy, head-nodding-inducing songs require. Points to you if you can decipher the lyrics amidst the sonic haze, but that perhaps misses the whole point. Memorable Revolver-styled guitar leads and some tasty analog-sounding synth work are among the highlights of this excellent record.

Murray Hockridge & Dave Kilminster – Closer to Earth
I reviewed Kilminster‘s solo album Scarlet: The Director’s Cut about a year ago, and generally I don’t cover indie artists twice with in a year unless they do something especially remarkable. And that’s just what he’s done on this new record, in collaboration with fellow guitarist/vocalist Murray Hockridge. There are no original songs on this album; instead it’s filled with fascinating, soulful acoustic covers – reinventions is a better word – of well-known songs. REM, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Steely Dan and Radiohead are just a few of the acts whose work is recast here, and it works amazingly well.

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Hundred Word Reviews: February 2014, Part Two

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

As part of my continuing effort to thin the pile of to-be-reviewed CDs on my desk – and that’s after culling all the ones I’ve decided not to cover – I present the second in this month’s series of 100-word capsule reviews. This batch will feature new music by artists with whom most readers will be unfamiliar, though a few established names will pop up. All these are worth seeking out, especially for those more adventurously-minded readers/listeners.

Felsen – I Don’t Know How to Talk Anymore
Imagine a slightly more laid-back Fountains of Wayne, and you’ll have a rough idea of the sound of this Oakland-area band. The Venn diagram of Americana fans and powerpop fans doesn’t feature a large common area, but this self-released effort aims for that sweet spot. They go all anthemic on “Rock and Roll’s Not Dead,” and then wait ’till nearly the song’s end to actually, y’know, rock, but it’s worth the wait. Elsewhere they serve up a breezy, straight-ahead sound that evokes memories of The Cars, crossed with Gin Blossoms. The self-produced album sports a fully-developed glossy production finish.

Dan Miraldi – Devil at our Heels EP
Miraldi doles out his music in EP rather than album form, but the truth is that he delivers the goods. That is, if the goods are 80s-styled new wave influenced rock. It’s Miraldi on vocals, guitars and keys here, joined by guitarist, bassist and drummer. The melodies and arrangements all have a vaguely familiar feel to them, which might send more ambitious (read: less lazy) listeners back to their 80s vinyl in search of the answer to the where-have-I-heard-that-before questions. But as throwbacks go, Devil at our Heels is fun stuff. This EP is an improvement over Miraldi’s 2011 effort.

The Claudettes – Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched!
This is a strange one, and wholly out of step with pretty much anything else that’s going on in music in 2014. A piano and drums duo that plays barrelhouse instrumentals? There’s more to them than that one style, of course, but Johnny Iguana (piano) and Michael Caskey (drums) seem intent to stay well outside the mainstream. On “Hammer and Tickle” (yes, they have a sense of humor) they sound more like a swinging Vince Guaraldi than anything else, but the blues figures mightily in their approach as well. Might this catch on as the hipsters’ Next Big Thing?

Gun Club Cemetery – s/t
Yeah, the band name makes no sense to me either. Leader Alex Lowe is an Australian (sorry) a Scottish troubador/pub-rocking sort of fellow, and his songs – performed here with little filigree, hewing to the guitar/bass/drums format with a spot of keyboard – are appealing and straightforward. In places he’s reminiscent of Rockpile; in others (specifically “Sunset Shadows”) he’s a dead ringer for Michael Penn. And the acoustic-leaning cuts here call to mind Together Alone-era Crowded House. Lowe’s warm voice and heartfelt lyrics mean that time spent with this album yields rewards, as its virtues reveal themselves on repeated spins. A winner.

Peter MacLeod – Rolling Stone
Released (like Gun Club Cemetery above) on Alan McGhee‘s new 359 Music, this is highly worth seeking out. With a breezy vibe applied to soaring, big-chord anthems, MacLeod sounds a bit like prime-era Gin Blossoms. The electric guitars chime, the acoustic guitars shimmer, and the uplifting vocal harmonies are the cherry on top. The song titles might seem a bit by-the-numbers (“Let it shine,” “Give a Little Love,” “Hold Me Now”) but the tunes themselves are ear candy of the most addictive sort. MacLeod crafts songs that will stay with you, and move you to hit “repeat.”

Mick Farren and Andy Colquhoun – Black Vinyl Dress
Truthfully, the late Mick Farren was one of those artists I’ve tended to admire but not listen to. His late 60s work with The Deviants is no doubt influential, and his Stiff Records-era stuff reinforced his relevance. And he was an expert on many topics, from (radical) politics to (equally radical) music. This album will go down in history as his final statement. It’s spoken word with instrumental backing. Yeah, poetry, right down to what sound like bongo drums. How you feel about the genre in general will probably determine whether you dig this. Again: relevant, yes. Enjoyable? You decide.

Laurie Biagini – Sanctuary of Sound
It seems perverse to label Vancouver-based Biagini an underground artist: her music is so infectious, chirpy and friendly that the tag seems to confer a vaguely mysterious, sinister vibe that the music simply doesn’t warrant. Trafficking in a style that might almost be termed neo-Brill Building, Laurie Biagini crafts poppy songs that call to mind Lesley Gore more than anyone else. Her sunny and bright musical disposition keeps her out of the singer/songwriter ditch; even on contemplative material, the listener gets the sense that she’s a glass-half-full kinda gal. Production is professional but clearly on the DIY side of things.

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