Friday, November 30, 2012

Bell Argosy
The Wreck of Bell Argosy
Donkey Town Records [2012]

From the awkward shipwreck cover art, to the crudely drawn comic-strip liner notes, to the post-it submission note beginning with "Hey Jeff!" (what am I? Chopped livah?) I really wanted to dislike this record. And I did upon my first listen. Alright, it's the kind of dime-a-dozen lo-fi garage-y "pop" that's so hideously popular with the kids today. But once I flipped the 45 the song "Yer Business" gave me pause, it's kind of…fun? From there I come to find that the aforementioned comic-strip was written/drawn by chief creative force, Billy Lopez and is kind of a charming little tale of perserverence in the face of age/laziness/and (if the drawing is in any way anatomically correct) advanced conjunctivitis. But it endeared me to this recording in a very real way. Subsequent listens, free of cynicism, revealed the torn-up, sunglassed, rambling bar band camouflaged by my trend-weary prejudices. I can fully recommend picking up one of the other 199 copies of The Wreck of The Bel Argosy - or you can just go see them, they're probably playing right down the street to five people and enduring every minute of it.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Joyce Manor
Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Asian Man Records [2012]

Many, many moons ago my friend and blog-mate Jeff Ogiba called me to ask for a train station pick-up. Since I'm SUCH a good friend (and the train station is five minutes away from my house) I said, "No problem buddy". My reward for this great inconvenience was two free LP's: The Sidecicks' Awkward Breeds and Joyce Manor's Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. Devotees will recall that I reviewed the former back in May as the latter sat collecting dust. I'm writing today to atone for this egregious error in judgement. As good as The Sidekicks record is, OATIWSGT is just as remarkable. Joyce Manor strike me as (and this is nothing more than an assumption) a group of hardcore kids who decided to get together and do something energetic and fun. I hesitate to call it pop punk, due to the extremely negative connotations this term brings up, but I'm gonna do it anyway because I LOVE pop punk. Though they inhabit space closer to Jawbreaker than The Queers or Green Day, the intensity and youthfully ramshackle songwriting certainly abide the title. Songs like "Bride of Usher" and "Comfortable Clothes" are completely infectious pop, "These Kind of Ice Skates" and "If I Needed You There" come off as an all-out attack, and "Drainage" sounds like it was written on a porch swing and recorded to a dictaphone. Thankfully OATIWSGT can maneuver across genres effortlessly due to the compact and precise execution. The only real missteps are "See How Tame I Can Be" which has an oddly out-of-place sequenced drum track, and their cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star", which is forgivable because, ya know, they're punks or whatever. "Violent Inside" is the absolute stand out, a 90 second collision of heartfelt lyrics and pitch-perfect guitar work that I've listened to probably every day for the last few months. This record goes by FAST but it's an absolute gem. This is as simply as I can put it: If you've ever had your favorite hoodie stolen by a girl who WAS NOT your girlfriend - you will like Joyce Manor.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rev. Charlie Jackson
Lord You're So Good: Live Recordings: Vol.2
50 Miles of Elbow Room [2012]

Gospel music is a bit of a secret obsession of mine, I guess until now perhaps, but I just can't seem to find anyone who really digs into it the way I try to. I constantly scoop up private label gospel 45s and small run major label subsidiary releases in an effort to find that one song that really hits home. I'm not a religious man by any means, but something about the intense belief systems behind the performers of a good soulful gospel group really hits the nail on the head for me. In all my travels I've come across some wonderful stuff, most of which I bury away in my personal collection and break out late at night to ensure a private listen, but I am yet to come across one of the original Rev. Charlie Jackson 45s. Sometime in the 70's the southern evangelist guitarist cut a few records on his imprints "Booker" and "Jackson". I'm almost tempted to drop a few hundred bucks the next time one turns up in auction, but for me the fun really lies in the random, Zen discovery of the records. In other words, I wait for them to come to me. In the meantime, however, there are these fantastic collections on Brooklyn's 50 Miles of Elbow Room label. This one happens to be the second volume in a potential series of three. Some of the tracks found on Vol. 2 are sourced from actual cassettes or 8-tracks that 50 Miles's owner traveled to hunt down and rescue from obscurity. It's the sort of thing every next-level music fan dreams to be a part of: music archiving. This second volume of tracks featuring the Reverend who spread his music from Louisiana to Mississippi for decades before passing away in 2006, contains more of his minimalist reverb blues sound accompanied by moving vocals, subtle choirs/crowd interaction and guest singers (some unknown to this day). The record itself is pressed on high quality RTI vinyl, packaged with a heavy duty Tip-on paste back jacket, brilliant full color insert, and audio that is restored/remastered for an optimal listening experience. Here's another chance to find out how truly gifted the Reverend was.   

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Spider Bags
"Papa Was A Shithead" b/w "I Wish That I Never Had Fed You"

Papa's got a brand new shithead spider bag. Well at least that's how my semi-dyslexic brain initially processed the cover of this upcoming two-song burner by Chapel Hill, NC's Spider Bags. That's not a bad thing either…just confusing. The title track/A side, whatever you want to call it, "Papa Was a Shithead" soars in and out of your life in a whopping one minute and twelve seconds. It is, however memorable, catchy, relevant, fast and sludgy; It's all the things the kids want right now and the group just happens to be lead by D.C. Snipers's guitarist/vocalist, Dan McGee. They've been to your town already too, most likely at least. What else? They've offered up a B-side on this particular release just in case you'd rather slow it down and hear "I Wish That I Had Never Fed You", which is obviously the grim tale of a pet sea monkey from Alabama who grew up to be an ungrateful, hurtful bastard. Probably not, but if you're stoned enough, staring at the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels, and liked it when Paul Westerberg wrote songs that almost made you cry you'll understand this record completely.  

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Hate My Body EP

After hearing their debut release, I Hate My Body, Goosebumps's sludge-soaked grind punk will leave you feeling troubled and filthy. With imagery and lyrical content spanning drug abuse, death, transexual prison inmates, and morbidly grotesque mutant orgies, Goosebumps, as individuals and as a group should immediately raise a red flag for most listeners: These dudes are kind of crazy and possibly mildly dangerous. This eight track EP could incite the ghost of G.G. Allin to wreak ungodly havoc on the fantasy landscape of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights while rewiring any listener's brain to believe that immorality and malefactions are the norm. If you like your rock dirty and violent, gets your gloves on this one, but I wouldn't recommend sharing a drinking glass with Goosebumps.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes
4AD [2012]

2005 was a strange year, I was an unmotivated barista with a family of mice living in the engine of my Subaru who was slowly falling for a bizarre pop crooner called Ariel Pink. Paw Tracks had begun releasing his formerly CD-R-only albums and as far as I was concerned, he was a musical visionary (this was before I knew who R. Stevie Moore was). In the subsequent seven years my relationship with Ariel has fractured, something about those early days has kept me hanging on. Each new and increasingly underwhelming release (or re-release, sometimes it’s hard to tell) has left me feeling like an Ariel Pink apologist, the terrified and abused housewife of a fading star. I’d babble to myself “Ok, so Loverboy isn’t GREAT, but it’s got two REALLY GOOD SONGS, so, you know…”, wringing my hands and forcing a smile. Thankfully and rather unexpectedly he made one of the best records of 2010 - Before Today sounded fresh and quelled fears that he’d lost whatever magic he had in making a “studio” album. As is the curse with the things you love, that album unknowingly poisoned me with expectation, so when I saw Mature Themes staring at me from across the record store (on my birthday, no less) I should have known better. Not that it’s a bad record, because it’s not. The first three tracks (“Kinski Assassin”, “Is This the Best Spot”, and “Mature Themes”) are great bursts of vintage Pink. However, their hooky synth sameness prepares you for possibly the least diverse record he’s ever made. Perhaps it’s the collaborative aspect of having a “band” now causing some of this banality, I guess it’s pointless to speculate, but I’ve always preferred AP’sHG as a dictatorship. The only other bright spots are the spacey nightclub jam “Symphony of the Nymph”, the depressingly joyous (or vice versa) “Live It Up” (slightly reminiscent of former collaborator John Maus’ current work), and the fluidly Eno-esque “Nostradamus and Me”. Mature Themes’ tendency to meander as often as impress is unfortunate, but hardly surprising. I had a feeling this review might lean toward the personal, mainly because they all do, but also because I’ve been living and dying with this guy a while now. This record seems detached, but oddly enough I don’t care the way I may have in the past. If you’re new to Ariel Pink DON’T start here – go buy the Doldrums and stay up all night playing Grand Theft Auto 3. It may not sound as good but it’ll mean more.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dry Feet
Highway To Heck EP
Secret Cookies Records [2012]

Here's a few dudes from the city of brotherly love who more or less admit that their surf rock influences don't come from actually surfing. I love it. That attitude also seems to be a growing trend in the never-ending musical explosion we currently, ironically refer to as independent rock music…this sub-genre touching on indie punk surf rock (if you will). I mean hey, I think Dennis was the only Beach Boy who actually surfed right? The aptly named group, Dry Feet, bust out five crushing tracks - some so surfy you'll suffer mental embarrassment by imagining yourself paddling in and almost waving to a barefoot Dick Dale, who smiles and makes proud eye contact with you while strumming frantically on the incoming shore. Other songs will remind you of lo-fi garage groups such as The Mummies while even others will shockingly bring about visions of piano slamming lo-fi power pop shreds a la The Boys. Highway To Heck could be an Estrus record…if you dig that kinda thing (think Phantom Surfers, less serious, more balls) or Man or Astro-Man? but instead of a Horror/Sci-Fi theme these kids are eating Doritos and spilling Big Gulps during practice. Dry Feet hit multiple facets of entertainment for me and for a 45 RPM record, it sure packs a lot of action.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Plastic Cross
Grayscale Rainbows
Don Giovanni Records [2012]

When you form a hardcore supergroup from the ashes of legendary tri-state acts, there are a few things you can almost always expect: a tight performance, brilliant songwriting, and a moderately receptive audience. One thing you can't necessarily count on is that the collaborative effort will succeed in compromising on solid and effective subject matter. I can report with confidence that Plastic Cross is an exception to that rule. The Degenerics vocalist CraigFuYong leads one of the many incarnations of The Measure [sa]'s lineup and takes the modern-day hardcore music scene by storm. But there's more. On their debut LP, Grayscale Rainbows, Plastic Cross blends influenced themes and sounds that trace as far back as classic 80's east coast hardcore, borrows the fury, energy, and angst of 90's regional hardcore, and simultaneously presents it's listeners with a new, current and relevant approach. The main theme of Grayscale Rainbows remains similar to ideas that a good number of the more outspoken groups of the 90's and early 2000's brought us. A world of sheep, blinded by the governing rich, perpetually infected by its own undoing. The songs are hard with occasional crowd-pleasing melodic moments, yet dominated by a reining frustration. Although the layout of the record literally illustrated the concept behind the donning of a plastic cross, my personal take on the record after absorbing several listens was and still is the idea of a moral distance from those in society with superficial commitments. One thing that comes inarguably clear after an encounter with this album is that Plastic Cross, the band, is supremely committed.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
Domino [2012]

Prior to the release of 2009’s Bitte Orca, I’d never heard of Dirty Projectors and assumed Dave Longstreth was long some forgotten member of The Big Red Machine. After purchasing the album on New Year’s Day of that year, however, I realized they were one of the most engaging and progressive acts of the last 10 to 15 years. Their knack for creating infectious pop melodies out of awkward guitar work and beautifully bizarre vocal arrangements made them seem completely mysterious, which was and remains rare in this era of constant, often banal, musical media saturation. My only concern for Swing Lo Magellan (apparently a reference to the GPS device??) was the worry that with expectations so high, it couldn’t help but disappoint. Not 90 seconds into opener "Offspring Are Blank" it became obvious that not only are they wiping the slate completely clean, but have created something entirely unexpected. A deliberate sonic jolt, the kind windmill-strummed by a young punk rocking his stuffy, overbearing father into the next room, introduces this record as anything but "Bitte Orca II". "About to Die" is just as good, a head-nodding exercise in percussion and twinkling plucks culminating in the greatest cello hook since Yo-Yo Ma spent that weekend at Kanye’s. Perhaps it’s my deep-seeded contrarian bent, or the needlessly histrionic approach, but the album’s first single "Gun Has No Trigger" is the only track I dislike. The following three cuts, on the other hand, are some of the best on the album. Title track "Swing Lo Magellan" is a fleetingly gorgeous guitar ballad, "Just from Chevron" is a fantastic final purge of the Bitte Orca sound, and "Dance For You" is a handclappingly positive elicitor of un-ironic smiles. "Maybe That Was It" emerges as a Blonde Redhead-esque mix of discordant tuning, slightly ethereal vocals, and competent drumming, given the unconventional foundation. To be honest, the lyrical content of this record seems secondary to me, and I have no interest in trying to “get” these songs. As far as I’m concerned (and this applies to most of what I listen to), they’re just love songs. The only place my lazy hypothesis stands up is "Impregnable Question", an incredibly sweet and timeless bit of pop romance. "See What She Seeing" and "The Socialites", though not standout tracks are lovely and don’t detract from the flow of the album. "Unto Caesar" is fast becoming a personal favorite as it is essentially an auditory manifestation of Dirty Projectors themselves. It sounds at once meticulously crafted and organically improvisational, highlighted by their typically knowledgeable playfulness and an odd in-song commentary. "Irresponsible Tune" closes out the album, vaguely reminiscent of Want One era Rufus Wainwright, it’s a fitting end to an album that is both intimate and expansive. Obviously, I have very few negative things to say about this record, I doubt I’ll hear a better one this year. My only word of caution is to prepare for the inevitable moment where you realize how many records you’ve heard recently seem half-assed by comparison. Swing Lo Magellan is a moment in contemporary music that should not be ignored. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gas Chamber
Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare
Nerve Altar [2012]

Buffalo NY's hardcore quintet, Gas Chamber offer us another dreadful perspective via their latest adiamorphic release, Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare. The continuous track, which presents itself as less of a hardcore song and more of a post-industrial noise piece (less a few, incidental classic upstate NY guitar chugs) wraps seamlessly from side A to side B, intensifying their consecration to this anxiety-glutted release. Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare is a story of man, a never-ending power struggle, and the consequences of the harsh, vast abandonment of morality and humanity. Let us ultimately hope that Gas Chamber's morbid foresight is mere fantasy…  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

No Joy
Mexican Summer [2012]

In the two short years that No Joy has been making records, they've already touched on several facets of alternative rock. The Montreal trio's sound started with a bit more clarity but recently began to delve into the popular new underground retro-sound (how's that for an oxymoron) - washy guitars, swirling rhythms, and soft ethereal vocals reminiscent of a soundtrack to a twenty-something's wet dream. This EP is very good, not Earth-shattering but a reasonable alternative to Slowdive once you've worn your ears out on their entire catalog.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fuck Society Volume 1
Mauled By Tigers [2012]

I’d like to begin with some confessions, if I may. 1. I knew nothing about Shellshag going into this review, and still know very little; I place their sound somewhere between Crimpshrine and some forgotten 90’s Sympathy/Estrus garage band. 2. I hated this record the first couple times I listened to it. And 3. I’ve come to terms with the fact that something about my perception of music has changed, perhaps it’s come with age, but I can no longer enjoy (most) dirty, poorly recorded punk music the way I may have 15 years ago. That being said, somehow this record hopped the fence of my ribcage and squatted in my heart, kind of. Fuck Society Volume 1 (bit of an oxymoron, I feel like nihilism doesn’t come in installments) is a collection of messily performed cover songs that (eventually) comes across as more of a love letter to music in general than a proper release. We’ll begin with THE GOOD: The first side of this LP contains most of what works – a less than stellar yet endearing cover INXS’s Don’t Change (one of the best pop songs ever written, in my semi-professional opinion), a very intriguing version of Hickey’s Stupid Sun, and a frantic and surprisingly well done rendition of Warsaw/Joy Division’s The Drawback. THE BAD: Pretty much all of side B - the poor recording does nothing for covers of The Jam, Descendents, and Wipers, though the Fleshies cut is decent. Possibly the strangest moment here is the inclusion of the original recording of AK77’s Fuck Society for which the album was titled. It’s not a bad song (the chorus of fuck society! fuck sobriety! fuck everybody! is particularly entrancing) but it just feels out of place. THE UGLY: Quite literally the album cover, it’s my biggest issue with this record. On the front and back cover they list the songs and under each is a small blurb regarding why it was included, this personal touch really makes the album but my complaint is that there are also GIGANTIC pictures of the band members faces taking up most of the space and no insert. I really identified with the mention of taping Don’t Change over and over on a cassette at age 12 because I did the same thing with Tainted Love.  If they had expanded these blurbs this record could have made a real connection with its audience. It all boils down to this – if you are my age and you’re familiar with the originals, you won’t lose sleep over skipping this record. However, if you’re some kind of renegade teen who doesn’t know Liz Phair or the Wipers, or who’s only heard the Descendents once or twice at a make out party (sounds like a rad party, by the way), then Shellshag might have something here for you. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Horrible Department
Capital I & the Royal Waltzing We
Desperate Commodities [2012]

Like a vivid memory of an early century psychedelic Italian sideshow, The Horrible Department came at me full speed, accordions and horn section, "Check". Capital I… may have been one of the opening acts for an alternate realm Neutral Milk Hotel performance found within the troubled Victorian artwork of NMH's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea LP but they probably realistically just play some shows here and there in their native Western Philadelphia neighborhoods. This full length record is bound by impressive artwork, inserts, and presentation - an intelligent move for a band who, when taken out of context might sound like a group that played the haunted bar in The Shining. Capital I… tells a story from start to finish. I'm not sure what that story fully is, but repression and isolation come to mind; there are punk rock hints buried within the songs and those ethics very well may come into play. I felt like I was reading a good book in my study while a phonograph softy played European folk tracks. Simpler times. This might not be a record I'd blast every day of my life, but that's not because it isn't good, rather it's a record for a certain time, mood, and place. Now to figure out exactly when and what that time, mood, and place is.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Giving Up
Peace Sign / Frown Face
Sophomore Lounge [2012]

Seriously, what is there to do in Iowa besides dodge tornadoes and till the field before sundown? Giving Up sound like they figured out the very answer to that question and musically scrap-booked it within the nine tracks found on their second LP, Peace Sign/Frown Face. Giving Up could've been a K Records band twenty years ago, or if someone told me that these guys ate poorly, smoked massive amounts of marijuana and lived in a snowcap community up in Vermont… I might be swayed to believe that as well. "I found this Built to Spill demo tape baking under the sun in the desert, do you think it still works?" or "Shit, the Modest Mouse dudes are really hitting the bottle hard these days" or even "Damn, I don't own this rare, brief Lou Barlow side project?" are just a few believable pitches; Giving Up knows their roots and doesn't care if you've ever heard any of the bands they dig or might sound influenced by. They also have a logo to accompany their second LP and it's hippy-meets-proto-grunge; think logo Kurt Cobain and Greg Sage would've, could've used for their fantasy epic supergroup existing only in aggressively thirsty musical minds. The songs on PS/FF come off as honest and modest and real. The album is relaxingly slow to mid-tempo, perfectly sloppy, whiny without being pitchy, and although I can't remember a single lyric after hearing the album two times through before writing this review, I'm admittedly hooked. The quality, creativity and originality of the actual songwriting kicks the asses of all the bands who think their sound comes after the effect pedals and in the studio. Giving Up built their house properly and have every freedom available to decorate it as they please.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Sirens" b/w "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
Not on Label [2012]

This debut two-songer by New York City's Plant will come at you fiercely, without warning, and without apology . This self-released single features cover art by Brooklyn's own tattoo go-to, Eli Quinters of Smith Street Tattoo fame -- giving a quality seal of approval before the actual record even whispers a single sound to your ears. Then there's the actual music: hard rock, proto-metal influenced shredding and thunderous smashing that rivals strong in-your-face vocals. Imagine taking all of your favorite aspects of good 80's metal, including a taste of 90's hardcore, and fronting the group with a powerful, flown off the handle badass. Metaphorically the songs scream "anger" and "frustration" but what I hear is good times, cold beer, and tailgate party while this group of excited newcomers anxiously but boldly await their opening position for the rock n' roll concert they've only before seen on VHS tapes their imaginary older brothers made thirty years ago.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Celebration Rock
Polyvinyl [2012]

I’m trying to get a feel for the average Japandroids fan, because honestly, I don’t know many. I assume that in this time of tenuous hipster boundaries, casual music fans may be wary of their name and minimalist album covers, I know I was at first. All I’ve really come away with is this: If you are a woman and you have a serious boyfriend who likes Japandroids, marry him. Sure, he might be a little too optimistic for his own good, and there’s an even better chance that he’s an alcoholic; but deep down he’s probably a great guy, and at least he smiles in pictures. Alright, let’s get serious, we all know girls don’t read music blogs anyway. Japandroids, Vancouver B.C.’s posi-rock Batman and Robin, have been one of my favorite current bands since I picked up 2009’s Post Nothing on a whim. Their exuberant songwriting, Replacements-tinged guitar tone, and penchant for yelling is some of the most infectious stuff around. Celebration Rock builds on a foundation which has somehow remained equal parts veteran and novice allowing them to grow without losing touch. “The Nights of Wine and Roses”, “Fire’s Highway”, and (the previously released) “Younger Us” may not break new ground, but should satiate the desires of the drunk sing-a-long crowd. “For the Love of Ivy” is a competent and enjoyable Gun Club cover (they also covered X’s “Sex and Dying in High Society” on the “Younger Us” 7”), and personally I appreciate any band who shows respect for LA punk. I’d like to put in a request for some Geza X or Rik L. Rik, and I’m sure they’d kill “Trouble at the Cup”. Closer “Continuous Thunder” doesn’t do much for me, their pattern of closing with a slow song reads a little stale, but is forgivable. As for the best tracks on Celebration Rock: “Adrenaline Nightshift” is jaunty, progressive, and fantastically titled, “Evil’s Sway” succeeds as a jangly mutation on past work, and “The House that Heaven Built” is easily the best song they’ve written since the first three tracks on the No Singles collection, my personal benchmark for JDs greatness. Perhaps I’m biased due to my weakness for Canadians, yelling, and bands who try to fit at least one “woah-oh” into every song, but here’s hoping that Japandroids’ brand of unadulterated optimism and (at least apparent) good guy-ness continues to attract new fans… and that you invite me to the wedding.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

UV Race / Eddy Current Suppression Ring split LP
Live at Missing Link

Sourced from soundboard quality tapes originally released in an edition of 300 cassette copies (each with hand drawn cassette layouts) Live at Missing Link is now finally available for the first time on vinyl. The 2008 performances by Melbourne, Australia punk rockers UV Race and indie punks Eddy Current Suppression Ring comfortably take place in the "Cultural capital of Australia" and the sound quality of the show does each group and their homeland much deserved justice. UV Race rocks tracks off of their demo tape as well as their debut 7", Lego Man and even wraps up their set with their very own band anthem "UV Race". Eddy Current Suppression Ring shred some mid career tracks off of 2006's S/T LP, 2008's Primary Colors as well as an early version of what would end up as the title track of their 2009 7" That Time of Day. Both groups hold their short but tight sets together. Don't believe me? Limited test presses are available now HERE. Find out for yourself.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

This Summer
Merge [2012]

Sometimes something is better than nothing and sometimes that something is amazing. Superchunk's new single This Summer is a perfect example of that exact scenario. We've waited over two years not knowing what the future might hold for these nearly dormant Chapel Hill, NC indie pioneers and finally, we are graced with the arrival of two songs: "This Summer" and a cover of Bananarama's 1983 hit, "Cruel Summer". The title track is classic Superchunk in such a hard way that it makes the entire purchase worth it just for the one new song. It's raw and catchy and could've been one of the more memorable (deleted) tracks off of their 1991 album No Pocky for Kitty. The B side cover song can stand alone as well. A faster, punkier, version of a song that has been ingrained in your soul so permanently over the past thirty years that you can still smell the gals' hairspray. I'm impressed, excited, and so appropriately affected considering Summer began here in NYC just a few days ago with temperatures hitting 100 degrees right off the bat. Timing is everything. Available on white vinyl and hand numbered out of 1,300. The record also includes a download for both songs plus an acoustic version of "This Summer". Stay cool.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

King Tuff
King Tuff
Sub Pop [2012]

I feel silly actually sitting down to review a King Tuff record. The voice in the back of my mind just wants to write, Buy it! You’ll like it! Let’s get drunk! But if I only listened to that voice, well, I’d probably be a much happier person – so let’s attempt to view King Tuff with a critical ear, just for a minute or two. For those uninitiated, King Tuff is your typical non-stop party dude who seems to effortlessly write bizarre pop gems, plays in about a thousand bands, and has a voice that’s a mix between a young yet energetic Mickey Rourke and that singing French baby, Jordy. This is the King’s first record since 2008’s Was Dead, and the denim-jacketed masses will not be disappointed. “Bad Thing”, “Stranger”, and “Hit & Run” will rock your faces off, and the mellow smoothness of “Unusual World”, “Loser’s Wall”, and “Evergreen” seem tailor-made for toking doobies (sorry, I’m not a weed guy). “Anthem” and “Stupid Superstar” are massive, hooky tracks most reminiscent of “Eyes Music” and the outrageously catchy “Girls FM” by his other Sub Pop band, Happy Birthday. My favorite cuts here (besides the aforementioned viral sing-a-long “Bad Thing”) are “Alone & Stoned”, “Baby Just Break”, and “Swamp of Love”. There’s something accomplished about these songs, a certain degree of care woven in which makes you feel like you’re experiencing something special (which of course, you kind of are). The album was produced by Bobby Harlow of The Go (God, I haven’t thought about that band in years, but they had some hits) and thankfully they eschewed typical low-fi garage standards, instead opting for a crisp, quality sound more conducive to the caterwauling and crooning alike. Basically, if underground pop is your thing you’ve probably already got this album in your sights, and if you’re unsure but think it might be your thing, then this is a great place to start. NOW let’s get drunk. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bobb Trimble
"Take Me Home Vienna" B/W "Selling Me Short
While Stringing Me 'long"

The more digging I do on the enigma who is Bobb Trimble, the weirder he seems to get. My initial experience, or first impression I should say, of Bobb Trimble was confusing, memorable and freakishly enjoyable. The man sings like an angel, his guitar playing is dreamlike, and his vocals coax me the way my mother would when i was feeling too down to attend grade school. This reissue of Trimble's 1981 obscure 45 oddly credited to "Bobb and the Kidds!" gives me a strange guilt that I could liken to the first time I admitted to enjoying the earlier songs by the band Heart. The cover of the record screams Bad News Bears, with Trimble peering out from behind a child playing a snare drum on an ironic rock and roll meets baseball themed photo shoot…but he's no Walter Matthau.. and I'm not really sure what role these kids play on this record whatsoever. The songs don't drift far from classic Bobb Timble though; you can expect his effeminate glam vocals atop an array of sparkly, low impact guitars and drowned out drums. The end of "Selling Me Short…" gets a little aggressive, but it's a cozy and convincing direction that somehow makes enough sense to work. If I were you I'd pick up this limited reissue and I'd keep my kids away from Bobb. He seems like a really great guy, but isn't that how all those horror stories start? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Grass Widow
Internal Logic
HLR [2012]

This record opened up with what almost immediately convinced me was a sample off of 60's moog and analog electronic pioneer Andrew Rudin's great avant garde work, Tragoedia (or at least something ripped from a Nonesuch composition from that time). It reminded me of a time around eight years ago when my good friend Matt came over to my house after a hard day of work and I was blasting Tragoedia. He passed out on my couch for about twenty minutes while the quirky record blared and awoke to report violent "space nightmares". Thinking back to that time, and given that scenario, I almost now wish that the record I was playing then was Internal Logic by San Francisco three piece female dream poppers, Grass Widow. He would have appreciated this. After the brief aforementioned experimental sample, the record gets dark and mild and then quickly slides into soothing non-stop back to back ear candied splendor. It's the kind of stuff you hoped your friend's hotter older sister's band played back in the mid 80's… the girls who dressed like Death from the Sandman comics or the darker side of the wild hair studded belt-wearing Go-Go's fan base. They're a modern day Chin Chin or a wish granted to finally have some of my 30 year old Swedish girl punk 45s actually translated into English. Not to mention, my friend Matt is still single, and still dreaming.  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mrs. Magician
Strange Heaven
Swami [2012]

Certain recordings, whether they attempt to or not, are unable to shake their regional imprint; Mrs. Magician's Strange Heaven is unmistakably California from start to finish. Contemporaries like Japanese Motors and The Soft Pack also dabble in this type of sound, but Mrs. Magician (they’re actually four guys, what a subversive misdirect) have a slightly darker edge to their sound, due presumably in part to production from the legendary John Reis. His work with the Sultans isn’t a bad comparison to Strange Heaven either, but let’s not lose focus. The first three cuts (“Nightlife”, “There is No God”, and “Don’t Flatter Yourself”) are probably the best on the album, their energetic surf punk approach blends effortlessly with equal parts fuzz and reverb as they creep into the back of your mind, you WILL be humming them throughout the day. The same can’t be said for songs like “Dead 80’s”, “The Spells”, and “Actual Pain”, which are immediately forgettable, yet somehow don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the record. “Heaven” comes off as a sort of reluctant ballad, an essentially successful experiment somewhere between Phil Spector and Spacemen 3. Closer “You Can’t Be My Man” has an odd guitar tone, reminiscent of the first Elastica album, which I really enjoy. Little touches like these are what rescue the bulk of the this record from obscurity. As for content, one line from the otherwise mediocre “Hours of the Night” tends to sum it up: “It says ‘fuck you’ on the note, but I sent you flowers”. It’s absolutely a collection of jilted love songs and expressions of the virtues/agonies of a solitary life, so in that respect Strange Heaven should connect with all of us post-emo sensitive types. Chances are, though its impending-sand-worm-from-Beetlejuice-attack-landscape cover is intriguing, I probably would not have picked up Strange Heaven if I didn’t get it for free. That would have been a mistake, and I’m glad its part of my collection. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Intelligence with Kelley Stoltz
"(They found me in the back of) The Galaxy" b/w "Lake of Dracula"
In The Red [2012]

Seattle's The intelligence lead man Lars Finberg (also of Wounded Lion and Thee Oh Sees) and his gunk rock flunkies grab San Francisco post-rock talent Kelley Stoltz for this single off of their upcoming full-length, Everybody's Got it Easy But Me, and prove a theory my girlfriend stands by in just two songs: most records featuring cute cats as album cover art are at least decent. The tracks "They found me…" and "Lake of Dracula" are essentially the exact product of post punk/post grunge/post neo-garage that twenty-somethings from both coasts (all hip cities in between included) could and would gravitate toward. The songs are melodic and dirty at the same time, giving the listener the option to dwell on his or her miseries, or to mindlessly smile while another group successfully taps into his or her dopamine supply. The full length will also be released on In The Red, and given this preview I can confidently say that the album will be, at the very least, pretty good.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Georgia Anne Muldrow
Fatbeats [2012]

This lackluster Madlib production had all the key ingredients of a successful soul revival LP but just didn't make the cut. The flattering album cover image gracefully depicts Muldrow as a cosmic dandelion- wielding soul goddess, but once the needle drops you might not be so convinced. Not only do most of the tracks seem to ignore a necessary low end, but they become meandering, anticlimactic, and unmemorable. The beats and samples contained within the album sound like stock loops that any entry-level, digital recording equipment might come loaded with. The album has its moments, Muldrow can carry a wonderful tune, and there are a few focused gems on here, but by the time they hit you, some new unfavorable sound swoops in and destroys the brief, magical moments. Seeds may have been rushed or just poorly executed since evidence of great concepts can be found buried within the distractions, but this record just comes off as passive and halfhearted.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weird Dreams

At some point in time (most likely the oh-so-formative 1980’s) a deep, passionate love for plucky, jangly, bittersweet pop was wired into my brain. Not an uncommon story for someone who grew up in the era I did, and certainly plausible reasoning for the explosion of bands with a similarly intrinsic desire for this sound. Several months ago, after a chance sampling of the exquisite track “Little Girl”, the question became not if, but how much, would I love Weird Dreams’ Choreography… This twelve track escape of East London psych-pop is undoubtedly my early choice for Album of the Year, and will be hard to top in this, as yet, fairly quiet 2012. Every track on Choreography lurks with shadowy post-punk cool, while also managing to overflow with pop hooks, engaging harmonies, and cautiously bright guitar work. Songs like “666.66” and “Holding Nails” are gorgeous, radio-ready singles recalling the true golden-era of British new wave. There’s something haunting familiar about “Faceless”, “Michael”, and title track “Choreography” – a sort of intelligent rock flexibility that could have seen them as either long-forgotten Bunnymen B-sides, or seamless staples of the Valley Girl soundtrack. “Vague Hotel” and “Suburban Coated Creatures” are slightly more contemporary bringing to mind the subdued enthusiasm of Let’s Wrestle and the side street romanticism of The Clientele (though both Merge acts, were Weird Dreams from the states, as a point of reference, they’d more than likely find their home on Slumberland or Captured Tracks). “Hurt So Bad” caries on the tradition of feel good songs about masochism, and unsurprisingly “Velvet Morning” is an enjoyable flirtation with shoegaze. “River of the Damned” is quickly recognizable as an experiment in the tranquility of early Shins work, and is the perfect track to repeat as you sit in your car, alone and heartbroken. The aforementioned “Little Girl” is, personally speaking, outright pop perfection – like some kind of glistening mutation of everything irresistible about music, the Wolverine of modern British pop. Not to gush (too late) but for a genre currently overrun with pretenders, Choreography is an absolute standout. Whether or not you’re culturally predisposed to ravenously consume this type of release, I have to think it will leave its mark given the opportunity. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Allo Darlin'

Allo Darlin' , the Aussie female fronted indie/twee sweetheart rock group currently residing in London secure another full length and call it Europe. I wasn't impressed by the first track, "Neil Armstrong" until my second listen when I read along with the liner notes and was then finally able uncross my arms and actually relax.  The second track "Capricornia" is a stand out track with an ensnaring quality that should have been the lead track to avoid any confusion about what was to (mostly) come of the album; the song reminded me of a b-side off of the Sundays's Reading, Writing And Arithmetic. The title track "Europe" made me think of the group Phoenix… it's poppy, catchy, worthy, and growing on me with each listen (car commercial material?). It was during "Some People Say" that I realized how amazing singer Elizabeth Morris's random vocal melodies actually are. "Northern Lights" came at me like a whirlwind of tolerable female emotion and ended side one with a pleasurable bang.  Side two begins with "Wonderland" and it's not the strongest lead in again and is followed by "Tallulah", the skippable vocal and ukulele track that seems to meander with mostly anticlimactic moments. "The Letter" may be the best track on the album. This side two track three is good enough to want to plow through the rest of the record and leave the sour moments behind. It's followed up by "Still Young", another great track with guts and the enthusiasm most of Allo Darlin's songs need, and the album closes with another boring slow burner that could have been better buried within the album or omitted. My conclusive thoughts on Europe?  I wish this record was a five song EP instead, but I can live with it.