It’s time for some more hundred-word reviews. These quick capsule reviews get to the point quickly, and readers should note that all come recommended. Don’t be misled by the lack of a longer treatment of these releases; all are worth your time.
Amoeba Teen – Amoeba Teen
This band’s 2018 compilation Selection Box Vol. 1 / Appleyard Sessions introduced their music (to me, at least). It’s a winning brand of powerpop, and recommended to fans of the style. But this new self-titled album is far more accomplished, and expands beyond the genre. The band explodes out of the gate with the late-period-Beatles flavored “Mainstream.” Jaw-droppingly excellent. With a character all their own, Amoeba Teen draws from the best of the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘90s (not so much ‘80s). Intelligent lyrics paired with sharp melodic hooks equals one of the year’s best releases. You read it right here.
Johnny Ray Daniels – Whatever You Need
Heartfelt gospel with more than a bit of country-soul flavor, Johnny Ray Daniels’ Whatever You Need is the latest sterling release from the always-dependable Bible & Tire label. Like many (but not all) of his labelmates, Daniels is an elder from the American south. He displays all of the passion and fervor one would expect from uptempo gospel. Guitarist Will Sexton is a familiar fixture on releases from Bruce Watson’s label, and he he leads the Sacred Soul Sound Section as they back Daniels (who’s joined by family members on vocals). Daniels’ personal experiences inform the lyrics. “Glory Glory” indeed.
Deadlights – Eleven Step Intervention
Jeff Shelton’s name may be familiar to regular readers of these pages; his work as Well Wishers gets frequent coverage here, and for good reason. His new Deadlights project is quite different, with a gauzy dreampop character close to prime-era Church, with a Stone Roses guitar roar. His original songs shimmer and glow in that shoegazey way, but with strong melodic foundations. For the album’s sole cover, Shelton digs deep into the Pink Floyd catalog for a lovely, faithful reading of “Fearless.” In his hands the song fits into the shoegaze aesthetic in a way one might not have anticipated.
Polyhedren – Psychic
Bay Area musical adventurer Dren McDonald is the core of this unusual project. With a dazzling array of collaborators – many of whom exist well outside the musical mainstream – Psychic is a compelling work. I hear hints of Talking Heads, that Byrne/Eno collaborative record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and similarly polyrhythmic cut-up projects. There’s a strong dub character to the music, too, and a close listen reveals prog flavor. Atmospheric and alluring, Psychic draws you in and doesn’t let go. It’s also surprisingly sultry and sexy (“Sixteen Gold Candles”), words not often applied to music featuring The Residents.
Andy Ostwald Trio – Field Guide
Accessible, tuneful trio jazz is the order of the day on Field Guide. Pianist Andy Ostwald has a winning, catchy style that will bring a smile to listeners’ lips (and set their foot a-tapping). The rhythm section of Ravi Abcarian (bass) and Bryan Bowman on drums supports Ostwald, but what they’re doing merits close attention as well. This is timeless jazz in a classic style; there’s nothing about the tunes and arrangements that places the music in any particular era, other than to say that it would be most at home among releases from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Tasty stuff.