As I was commenting to Tida this morning as I picked up my “venti no-whip mocha”, this is shaping up to be a very good year for new music. This month’s drop box continues the trend with a diverse array of new music and significantly, some classic reissues.
One of the clear signs of aging is when you recall favorably an album being released when you still had hair or seeing a band during the tour that marked their heyday. Such is the case this month with the inclusion of two albums that mark their 25th Anniversary this year: Fine Young Cannibals, 2nd album The Raw and The Cooked, and INXS’ 6th album Kick.
The Fine Young Cannibals were an easy choice for me to like when they first arrived on the scene in the mid-eighties. Bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox were both former members of The English Beat and the self-titled debut album was loaded with catchy dance pop nuggets framed by singer Roland Gift’s unique voice. The first record had this amazing song “Johnny Come Home” which was a hit record in Vancouver as well as this unique cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” but the second album, The Raw and The Cooked, was frankly a hit machine. Most people will point to the ubiquitous hits “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing” as being the driving forces on this record, but for me the game changer was the cover of the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?” Not merely a Voice/American Idol karaoke version, this version heightens the soul from the original. Not a bum track on the record, but unless you purchased the album you missed some deep tracks from the record. Try also “I’m Not The Man I Used To Be” and the sweet “The Flame.” Did you realize this was once a Billboard Number 1 record in the U.S?
Similarly, INXS’ sixth record is a brilliant piece of pop rock music that after 25 years has not shorn its luster, unless you live in Vancouver where this record is still being played on CFOX like it is a new release. When I was back in town for Christmas last year I heard at least 4 tracks from Kick in two days. Well, since I don’t listen to any radio while at home or in my own car, I’ve not become desensitized to the brilliance of this record. Which again brings me to a point I’ve made earlier in these notes, in several different ways: record companies often have no freaking clue as to what they are going to do with a record. Kick was almost not released at all by Atlantic Records: Atlantic Records was not happy with Kick, and as INXS’ manager Chris Murphy remembers:
“They hated it, absolutely hated it. They said there was no way they could get this music on rock radio. They said it was suited for black radio, but they didn’t want to promote it that way. The president of the label told me that he’d give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album.”
What you have in Kick is a happy accident that 25 years later, stands as a classic record that is overlooked by the mainstream, but it is hard to deny the significance of amazing number of singles from this record which are perhaps unparalleled for a rock band in modern memory: 4 tracks were U.S. Top 10 Singles: “NewSensation”, “Never Tear Us Apart”, “Devil Inside” and No. 1 “Need You Tonight”, but this misses out the amazing “Kick”, and “Mystify”. No picks here. You’ve likely all heard this record before, so now is the time to revisit it with ears 25 years older than when you first heard it.
Speaking of old bands, Wire’s new record, is really an old record finally completed more than 30 years after the band wrote the original material. For those of you who missed Wire, their influence on punk and modern music is undeniable. (Evidence of Wire’s impact abounds but for new initiates try these: “Heartbeat” -Live on Rockpalast (http://youtu.be/AYv3TqwCle4 ) and “1 2 X U” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdNS4g8vOnc&feature=share&list=RD02AYv3TqwCle4 )
Following three perfect records: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, the songs on Change Becomes Us, Wire revisits songs written following the release of 154 immediately before their first breakup in 1979. Fragments of these songs were released on 1981’s Document and Eyewitness a recording of a live performance that featured, almost exclusively, new material, which was described as “disjointed”, “unrecognizable as rock music” and “almost unlistenable”. The LP came packaged with an EP of a different performance of more new material. So, here more than 30 years later, Wire comes back to record its 4th record renewed after having released 10 records. (Wire reunited in 1997). Still a powerful sonic source, this “new album” fits nicely where it originally should have – Number 4. And seriously, if you’ve never heard of Wire before today, for shame. There are so many bands that would have never existed but for Wire. Try: “Adore Your Island”, “Stealth of a Stork”, and “Eels Sang” (Note: Simon Cowell reference).
Moving slightly forward in the history of rock, Suede were legends in England and absolutely ignored in the U.S, and I know why. They were two British for the U.S. and as the Jam found out before them, being too British is the death sentence for any chance of commercial success across the pond. Perhaps that is why so many English rock acts found there hopes dashed on arrival to the U.S.,making an impact only on the coasts of the United States (finding success only in New York and Los Angeles) but largely incapable of penetrating the vast wasteland of middle America. Believe me, Suede were huge in England and the colonies and between 1993 and 1996. With the release of debut record Suede, Dog Man Star (1994) and Coming Up (1996), Suede were the flag bearers for the Britpop scene that saw them surpassed by Blur in The U.S. and Canada. In an article about the British music press’ “ferocious one-upmanship campaign” of the mid-1990s, Caroline Sullivan, writing for The Guardian in February 1996, noted Suede‘s appearance as an unsigned band on the cover of Melody Maker claiming that they were “ Suede, The Best New Band In England” as a pivotal moment in the history of Britpop:
Suede appeared on Melody Maker’s cover before they had a record out… The exposure got them a record deal, brought a bunch of like-minded acts to the public’s attention, and helped create Britpop. It was the best thing to happen to music in years, and it mightn’t have happened without that Suede cover.
The drama in Suede was heightened by lead singer Brett Anderson’s bitter distaste of Britpop and the tensions during the recording of the amazing Dog Man Star a brutal record that is the antithesis of everything Britpop recorded and written while Anderson was holed up doing massive amounts of heroin. Anderson left the band during the recording and Suede carried on without him. So here we are 11 years after Suede’s last record in 2002, with a new release and Anderson again leading the band. What is Suede about now? Absolutely pop perfection and Anderson is still freaking bitter. Of Suede’s new album, Bloodsports Anderson stated: “What does it sound like? Oh! I don’t know, probably like some artist on some drug, engaged in a game of quoits with some other artist on another drug, you can adopt your own journalistic cliché if you haven’t grown up yet.” A not so subtle nod to Dog Man Star and the polarized reception it received when it was released by the British press. Suede re-constituted, make beautiful records. This is a headphone record and the album is catchy, melodic, with Anderson in amazing form. The first half of the record is catchy and upbeat, the last half more reflective. So, place this on random in your iTunes and enjoy. Try: “It Starts and Ends With You”, “Snowblind” and “For The Strangers.”
Hey, did you know the Strokes have a new record? Yup, just when you thought the Strokes were cooked signaled by the release of singer Julian Casablancas solo recording 2009, Phrazes For the Young, they are back and contrary to the popular music press this is actually a fine record that belongs in your collection. Really, if you read the press regarding Comedown Machine, I guess that is why they are called critics, try to pigeon hole the Strokes as the same band that broke though in 2001. They are not the same band and frankly they don’t need to be. The trick is to listen with fresh ears as if you had never heard of the Strokes before today and then pick out what you love. The Strokes always have had more than a nod to the 80’s ( remember Wire a few minutes ago?) but what made them different was Casablancas hysterical vocals and the angular guitars that penetrate the keyboards and other sounds. Such is still true here. The Strokes are unashamedly purveyors of what is essentially dance-rock and this is a fun record – you just need to follow your heart. Try” 50-50”, “One Way Trigger” and “Partners in Crime”.
Taking a step back to look at bands from around the time of the Strokes, the Postal Service, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Jimmy Tamborello, have reissued their 1993 debut record Give Up with a bunch of extras from those sessions. Recorded separately with Gibbard and Tamborello recording the tracks separately exchanging CD-R’s by mail, the record changed indie music in the U.S. as it became a commercially viable form of music. Prior to this LP, indie music was relegated to college stations. This was the game changer record that paved the way for later commercial success by the Arcade Fire (Grammy winners). Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley sings the backups on this record after being cold called by Ben Gibbard to sing on the recording, the two having not previously met ( More about her next month as you’ll get the Rkives record in the drop box.) So looking back, what made this record special? Great songwriting highlighted by opener “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”. This is electronic indie that makes you want to pay attention to what’s going on with the lyrics. And that is the secret …”I’m staring at the asphalt wondering what’s going on underneath me…. I am a visitor here…. This is music concerned with awkwardness, love, friendship, and where one stands in the big picture. Most people are familiar with “Such Great Heights” (highlighted by Owl City utilizing elements in the irritating “Fireflies.” I was not blown away when absolutely no one recognized the similarities.) but the rest of the record has some shining moments that looking back, would have and should have been hits. Try: “We Will Become Silhouettes”, “Suddenly Everything Has Changed”, and “Be Still My Heart.”
It is no secret that I am a huge Replacements fan. So, when I hear that the Replacements are reuniting after more than 20 years after a vicious and bitter breakup In January of this year Replacements members Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars released just 250 copies of Songs for Slim, an EP of newly recorded material. Proceeds from the auction benefited their former guitarist Slim Dunlap, who suffered a stroke last year and was hospitalized for nine months. You can read more about this very worthwhile record on www.songsforslim.com and the project but as for the music on this EP it would be easy to praise anything recorded by the original members, but this is truly a great record. “I’m Not Saying” is worthy of a place in the bands greatest hits catalog. I know it is unlikely that they will ever record together again with only a tragedy bringing them together, but one can hope that this will help them find perspective, because frankly, the world needs more Replacements music. Now, I’m sad. Try: them all.
Another old guy still making great music but secretly disguising who he is for the kids who will not buy music for old people is Thurston Moore’s new band, Chelsea Light Moving. Sonic Youth should need no introduction as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Without Sonic Youth there is no Nirvana. While Sonic Youth is generally recognized as influencing a whole generation of bands (they themselves being influenced by the Ramones and the 70’s New York punk scene), Sonic Youth was as challenging a punk band as walked the planet mixing punk rock and noise into an abrasive melodic frenzy. Chelsea Light Moving assembles the best of Sonic Youth’s moments into a melodic frenzy of wall of noise guitars. “Sleeping Where I Fall” collects it all together and exemplifies Thurston’s new direction – melodic squalls of dissonance with moments of clarity with Thurston’s “Lou Reed” like vocals floating through the mix. This is music to clean your palate from the twee indie pop music. This is what music sounds like after the divorce from Kim Gordon your band mate and spouse after thirty years. A cathartic release that touches on the earliest of Sonic Youth records, this is a can’t miss recording. However, be forewarned, if you liked the Postal Service record discussed above, this is really challenging but well worth the effort. Try: “Burroughs”, “Sleeping Where I Fall” and “Lip”.
Alkaline Trio write what amounts to the sweet spot of pop punk-goth music. With a nod to Elvis Costello’s brilliant album My Aim is True, on My Shame is True, Alkaline Trio return with their ninth studio record and as consistent as ever, an album full of great songs. Matt Skiba is not the same songwriter as when this band formed in 1996 in McHenry Illinois, and as he matures, so does the band’s music. Be forewarned, this is a break up record written after Skiba’s breakup with his girlfriend – “There’s just this underlying theme of shame in the album,” Skiba says. He wrote his portion of the record — eight of the twelve songs — for one person, a girlfriend he split with shortly beforehand. “I wrote them as if no one but her was going to hear them,” he says. “That’s kind of the way I used to write our original records because I didn’t think anyone was gonna hear them.” Skiba and the ex remain friends. “She’s on the goddamn cover of the record,” in fact.
All that aside, these songs are well crafted and while touching elements of the early records, these are refreshing and brutally honest. Check out “I’m Only Here To Disappoint” for a lesson on self-loathing. If I had to pick out what makes a great song, it is the dichotomy between a catchy melody framing a chorus of negative lyrics. Try: “Kiss You To Death”, “I Wanna Be A Warhol” and “One Last Dance.”
I’ve included the Cribs anthology Payola and the rarer Payola Demos (released as a freebie with NME magazine) to remind you of a great British band who like Suede were missed by the U.S. and Canada but who have written more than a decade of great music. The band consists of twins Gary and RyanJarman and their younger brother RossJarman. They were subsequently joined by ex-The Smiths and Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr who was made a formal member of the group in 2008. If this is your introduction, then Payola should not disappoint. The Cribs started playing around England at the same time as the much loved Libertines without the attendant drama of Pete Doherty and Kate Moss intruding on the music. Much like Ash, the Cribs were part of the guitar band revolution of the early 2000s that pumped life back into music (See the Strokes above). As you can see from this month’s drop box, guitar bands are coming back as the cycle continues. What made the Cribs special (other than the fact that Johnny Marr joined them to play guitar. See last month’s notes for more about Johnny) is consistency. Consistency in bands is a good thing. That doesn’t mean that every song has to sound the same, rather it is about a certain quality. Like the Hoodoo Gurus, whose songs still sound fresh today and should have been hits on radio, so it goes with the Cribs, who are rock stars in England but remain a niche band here. Front covers on the music magazines in England, no acknowledgment here. One can only guess as to the reason for the rampant regionalism, but for now, you can enjoy why the Cribs record will end up on repeat for me. Start with the catchy “Hey Scenesters” (2005), “Men’s Needs” and of course the Replacements cover “Bastards of Young”.
Saturday Looks Good To Me has been kicking around since 2000. Essentially FredThomas (former member of His Name Is Alive, Lovesick, Flashpapr), with a number of friends, the project has evolved over the years into a more stable adventure. Originally conceived as a bedroom project, the band has consistently released 7’’, EP’s and a few albums through Polyvinyl. Although dubbed an “experimental indie” band, in reality, this is fairly indie forward soul tinged rock with catchy melodic hooks. On One Kiss Ends It All, Scheduled for release on May 21, 2013, Thomas is joined by a new vocalist, Carole Gray and the band picks up where they left off almost 5 years ago, with a fresh set of catchy melodic indie rock. Highlights are “Negative Space” a piano driven ballad that harkens back to early Motown recordings. Try: “Are You Kissing Anyone?”, “Sunglasses” and “Invisible Friend.”
Among my favorites of the past month is II by Blackmail. From Germany, the band has taken the best elements from the punk alternative metal universe and woven them into a cohesive hard driving record full of sing along type melodies. While this type of music is rarely heard in the U.S. anymore, there is a sort of alt metal revolution taking place in Europe, and while it is unlikely this record will be big anywhere except Germany (and this drop box), it is hard to deny the likeability of this record. A little different experience from the norm, this is a fresh look at alt-metal. Worth a spin. Try: “Kiss The Sun”, “The Rush” and “Sleep Well Madness”.
Kate Nash should be somewhat familiar to some of you as I dropped her Death Proof EP into the drop box last year. Initially a Myspace signing from Britain in 2006 and the purveyor of catchy indie pop, this third record finds Nash rocking things up a bit. Not quite the riot grrrl experience described by some critics, Girls Talk is a refreshing rock record full of catchy quick paced songs highlighting Nash’s pleasant husky tinged vocals. While some of this is disposable, there is enough Go-Go’s like material with some great guitar playing to make for repeated play. The Cramps influenced “Death Proof” is typical with Nash’s clever lyrics sung crisply through the rockabilly beat. There is something for everyone here with distortion, alt-county, indie pop and a catchiness that will make you smile. Try: “3 a.m.”, “Are You There Sweetheart” and the Jonathan Richman inspired “Your So Cool, I’m So Freaky”.
Another completely different female vocal experience is Giant Drag’s new album “Waking Up is Hard To Do, which like Nash’s record is self-released. As should be obvious now, the music industry is rapidly changing with more artists self-releasing music as labels continue to shrivel and die. Annie Hardy, the sole member of Giant Drag has a fairly full plate since forming the proto-band in Los Angeles in 2003. Waking Up is Hard to Do is only the second LP since that formation and according to Hardy who announced via her blog that this was likely the last Giant Drag recording two days before it was released. So what about the music? Giant Drag traverses a number of territories all highlighted by Hardy’s unique vocal styling. The guitars crunch and fuzz, the melodies and countermelodies make for a blissful listen. Too bad this is the last we’ll see of Giant Drag. I suspect we will see a new Hardy girl venture, but this last effort was worth the wait. Try: “Won’t Come Around”, the glam T-Rex-ish “Sobriety is a Sobering Experience” (compare with Bang a Gong (Get It On), and “Heart Carl.”
D.C’s Deathfix formed after Brendan Canty (Drummer – Fugazi) and Rich Morel (Vocals – Morel, Blowoff) met while touring in Bob Mould‘s band. Having discovered a shared affinity for the sounds of 1972 – particularly glam and progressive rock – they started recording in a garage space. Shortly thereafter, they recruited multi-instrumentalists Devin Ocampo (Faraquet, Medications) and Mark Cisneros (Medications) to form the rhythm section. On this first LP, the band’s sound is best described as glam Big Star meets the 90’s with the songs punchy guitars evoking early Mott The Hoople and T-Rex, particularly on the 8 minute “Transmission” which is a slow burner that starts new wave and ends up in full on sax skronk. Morel’s baritone vocals are perfect and the neo-progressive rhythm’s are perfectly balanced which keeps you listening even though some of the songs are quite lengthy. If you are used to bands on Discord, then this is a sharp left as Deathfix has none of the hardcore elements in common with other bands on the label. In fact, this is likely the most commercial release on the label. A solid first effort and definitely would make for a great live show. Try: “Transmission”, “Low Lying Dream”, and “Mind Control”.
Perth Australia’s Tame Impala follow up their outstanding Lonerism LP released late last year (and reviewed in the drop box) with the Mind Mischief EP featuring two remixes of the Mind Mischief single. Normally I’m not a big remix fan, but as if Tame Impala’s psychedelic garage sound was not trippy enough, these two remixes (Ducktails and Field) change it up and give the original new meaning and tone.
Chapel Hill North Carolina residents Kingsbury Manx, released the Bronze Age, a couple of weeks ago, and it has kind of snuck up on me. While this is the band’s first LP in 4 years, the Bronze Age picks up where the band last album left off (Ascenseur Ouvert! (Odessa, 2009)) with an album full of pleasant chamber pop, remarkable well played. While the group over the course of six albums has consistently played what is best described as “psych-folk” this release explores more divergent aspects of the genre and in places is reminiscent of the Let’s Active/ Chris Stamey college rock of the 90’s days. There is some gorgeous playing on this record, particularly the beautiful bright Monkees influenced “Handsprings”. While the majority of the album tips in favor of the folk side of the genre equation, this is essentially dinner music best appreciated when you are in the mood for guitar light. No hardcore here. Try: “In The Catacombs”, “Future Hunter” and “Concubine”.
Speaking of psych-rock groups (see Tame Impala), Philadelphia’s DRGN King explores similar territory with its synthesizer laden version of psychedelia. An important aside – new psychedelia is markedly different from the psychedelic sounds most people are familiar with from the mid to late 60’s. Pioneered by the Byrds, and Yardbirds, emerging as a genre during the mid-1960s among folk rock and blues rock bands in the United Kingdom and United States, such as Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, The Doors and Pink Floyd. New psych rock explores the same influences but is much more upbeat although with the same jam/improvisional elements characteristic of the genre. In this regard “Menswear” typifies the new version of the genre with upbeat danceable pop interspersed with psych rock elements, i.e. the psych-out portions. Like a number of the releases in this month’s drop box there are certainly glam elements ( think T-Rex’s Electric Warrior) but DRGN King on Paragraph Nights are not merely derivative. This is new music taking the genre in new directions. A pleasant surprise, particularly when you thought there was nothing new on the horizon. Try” Menswear”, “Barbarians” and the funk-psych dance number “Altamont Sunrise”.
Lady Lamb The Beekeeper is a crappy name. C’mon, not every band’s name is genius. It took me several attempts to remember the name when I first stumbled across the lovely and powerful vocals of Aly Spaltro who has adopted Lady Lamb The Beekeeper as her recording moniker. A shy teen in Brunswick Maine her first recordings were recorded on 8 track and released anonymously (from the counter of a record store next to a DVD rental shop where she worked) with only an email address on the label as she was afraid of public reaction. Five years down the line, and recording her official debut in an actual recording studio, on Ripely Pine, Spaltro exudes the charm that should make her a mega star much the same as Adele became a star. Sure there are some similarities, and the music hype machine will play a role, but the songwriting here is just as strong as Adele but not nearly as bitter, and the strength of these songs is clearly Spaltro’s vocals and the sweet melodies. Already an NPR radio favorite, look for her to break through to the masses because frankly, there are not enough quality vocalists with this kind of tone in the commercial market. (Eve if you are reading this far – pick up this one!) Try: “Aubergine”, “Bird Balloons” and “Mezzanine.”
Mazes sophomore release Ores & Minerals is a change in direction from the awesome debut Mazes Blazes which was in the drop box last year (also containing the track “My Drugs” which was in my best of list last year). Sure, the guitar band influences are still present evoking thoughts of Television and the Feelies and the touchstone of this genre the mighty Velvet Underground, but there are other things going on here as well. From the 7 minute twin guitar fueled Golden Earring “Radar Love” inspired opener “Bodies” though the closer “Slice” Mazes picks itself from the indie lo-fi world it started in on Mazes Blazes and stretches into new territory. I think they are onto something big. Time will tell. Try: “Ores & Minerals”, “Jaki” and “Bodies”.
Heza, the third album from the New Orleans based duo, Generationals, will likely confuse some people as the sound resembles Vampire Weekend at its heart. However, after a few listens, you can see that there is something else going on. Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer craft pop hooks on an electronic bed with sharp guitars that are also reminiscent of Phoenix ( See last months Bankrupt! In the drop box) but without the airy ambience of those tracks. This is pleasant electro-pop your gonna love! Try: “Spinoza”, “Put A Light On”, and “Awake”.
Transitioning to more guitar influenced indie on Ride Your Heart, Bleached (from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles) kick start their debut album with “Looking For A Fight,” as sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin blend traditional punk snottiness nee 1977 with a California sun drenched sound to create bright punk rock with both attitude and heart. Similar to the Runaways in sound with a hint of Ramones, this is a fun little record with a DIY edge that makes for some interesting listening. Really, if you close your eyes you can here Joan Jett ( when she was young, not old bitter and jaded) cranking some great riffage and Cherie Currie, the angel, singing songs of love, disappointment, and loss with the clear moments that make the journey worthwhile. Try: “Outta My Mind”, title track “Ride Your Heart” and “Dead Boy”.
Caveman’s self-titled sophomore album, is going to raise some questions as to why this type of music is included in the drop box. I’ve thought long and hard about what makes this particular genre interesting to me given that it generally becomes faceless music after a while. The band’s name is also misleading as one would at first blush think: Kelly is putting in another indie garage band (see Thee Oh Sees later), but this is anything but. This is exactly what you would expect when you think of indie rock. Melodic guitar driven rock music well played and with a male sounding vocalist. If the Hold Steady were still actively playing, this is what that next record would sound like. However, given the time shift of the past five years where attention spans are fleeting (even mine admittedly), this was a surprise because although this sounds like background music at [insert hipster lounge name] it is powerfully simple and pure – and that is why it is in the drop box this month. It’s pure enjoyable and simple with little of the pretentiousness or precociousness of the typical indie band. On this second LP, the follow up to Coco Beware (2011) the New York five piece have developed a more cohesive sound with Beach Boys like harmonies carrying the cohesively written tunes. Typical of East Village bands, this is what you would see as the opener for the National. Try: “Shut You Down”, Strange To Suffer” and “In The City”.