I know…you all had thought I had forgotten about completing the note. No so fast. Here is an update to this month’s dropbox. Also, if you were a little quick on the draw, you might have missed a couple of late additions to the dropbox that I think you will find very interesting. I put in the new XX album (Coexist) and for those who missed the record the first time around, the Alabama Shakes by request. (See Notes 04.15.12) Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve started to put these notes in the dropbox in two formats – word (so you can click on the hyperlinks) and text (because of the small size and easy search). Finally (Eve), please read these notes if you want some kind of idea as to what type of music I’ve dropped into the dropbox. I’ve tried to give you some kind of clue as to the general type of music, some videos, and hopefully a tidbit or two as to why I like the music. If you missed something in the past (and you think you might like it because you are reading these notes), let me know and I’ll re-upload. You can drop me a note in the dropbox for Kelly and I’ll pick it up.
So, away we go:
On their latest release, English indie pop band the XX have followed up their massive debut from 2009 with a terrific new record that shows progress and is amazingly, for a sophomore record, easily as good as their first. The difficulty with sophomore records is that a band has usually a whole lifetime to prepare the songs for the first, and the time to write and record the second is usually much shorter, so the songs are unusually not as strong. Complicating matters, the XX’s debut received critical acclaim and for very good reason. All of the songs on the first record were catchy, interesting and very well written. Hence, the difficult second record syndrome. None of that is present here. The first single from Coexist, “Angels” is going to be a massive hit. Here is a killer live version in a Tokyo hotel room: http://youtu.be/dYXejsku99Q . Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims dream pop vocals over sparse instrumentation, is irresistible. Second single, “Chained” (http://youtu.be/DD7IwXWfDW4 ) picks up where the massive hit from the first album “Crystallized” (http://youtu.be/Pib8eYDSFEI) left off Take a minute to look and refresh your memory!). The XX know where their sweet spot is, and this album does not disappoint. Try in addition to “Angels” and “Chained” described above, “Sunset.” Released September 10.
Alex Winston is a girl. Alexandra Winston’s enigmatic record captures the pop vocalist incorporating a diverse range of influences into uplifting and captivating record. Think 50’s and 60’s pop vocals with a modern edge and you can place King Con in context. Based in Detroit, Alex, whose classically trained vocals shines through these upbeat tracks, competes with the best female vocalists around in music today. If I had to make a comparison, this is like a young Kate Bush. Check out “Locomotive” for the vocal comparison. Try “Velvet Elvis” (http://youtu.be/820ygbHjKto ), “Choice Notes” (http://youtu.be/HNT_KGweANU ) (which is the first single) and “Sister Wife” (http://youtu.be/qzObsfboaJ0 ).
Nuremberg Germany’s the Audience put a new twist on Brit-pop on their new release called Hearts. If you had any doubt that the world has significantly and creatively expanded, at least in terms of music, then the Audience gives hope that one day the U.S. will discover that the crap they have force fed everyone on commercial radio for the past 40 years has largely missed the boat. Assembling elements of Brit Pop, and early 80’s post punk rock (Gang of Four and Public Image Limited) the Audience makes dance oriented music that catches you off guard with its catchy melodies. Try “Wolves” “Waves” and “We Are Just The Hearts.”
Berserk Bastards continue a recent trend of bizarre offerings from Norway. Sailing Away was recorded in various stops as the band sailed from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean through the Northwest Passage (Havana, Boston, Nashville, Prague and Oslo). Sailing Away is more than a bunch of sea shantys. Most interesting, at least to me, is that lead vocalist Fredrik Juell Andreas sounds a little like Ian Dury ( See Ian Dury and the Blockheads perform “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” (http://youtu.be/Xq4NZEtNTAo )) Try “ Me, Jeffrey and You”, “Sex Train” and “Into the Sun (http://youtu.be/WN9qxXAJSVU ).
Bloc Party is back. Really, if you were freaked out by the last record, which was dismal, the newest record is a rewarding return to form. Like the XX, the Bloc Party’s debut was a massive record (Remember Silent Alarm (2006) and the single “Helicopter?” http://youtu.be/2R6S5CJWlco ) with the band winning NME’s Album of the Year? Skip forward a few years, and the rumors that the band was breaking up after the lackluster Intimacy in 2009. After a three year hiatus the band seems re-energized. “3*3” is a full blast sonic assault that should pick you up. Here it is very live: http://youtu.be/uoUwfqaRMI8 at a Bloc Party fan club gig at the Garage, Glasgow on June 19, 2012. Overall, Four is a welcome return to form. Try, “Octopus” (http://youtu.be/TkeUFRK4i7w ), “Day Four” and “Truth.”
The Darlingtons’ debut, Decades Dance, is like most first albums, a little flawed, but showing huge potential once the band finds their own voice. Decades Dance is a little over produced, and the New Order/ Smiths elements are a little pervasive (the singer has a little Morrissey in his voice), but I found the songs were worthy of repeated playing. I only wish that whoever produced this record had thought to leave the rough edges in the mix. Hailing from Somerset, in southwest England, the band is probably a great live act having played together for 4 years in small clubs, and on the right bill, the anthems would find their way as pleasing crowd sing-a-longs that are always fun. So, don’t skip this “diamond in the rough.” There is enough about this record that makes it worthy of the drop box inclusion. Try “It Hangs” (http://youtu.be/6oVPB8B4bIM ), Everything” (http://youtu.be/2Kfa-a-DXYQ ) and “Ship at Sea.”
You would never know that the Dirty Projectors have already released seven albums since their inception in 2002. What makes their records so interesting and captivating is David Longstreth’s vocal styling and phrasing which catches your ear and brings you along the journey with him. The bands simple clean playing never detracts and the songs are full bodied melodic alt-indie, that make you smile. That’s it. It’s the smile factor that makes this different from most albums. Often associated with the same New York scene from which the Strokes emerged, this indie rock doesn’t traverse the pop vein, and the songs on Swing Lo Magellan are fully realized such that you would kill to see them on a small stage in a dark bar. Sure, there is a somewhat folk feel to the songs, but this is a great change up from the verse chorus verse of modern rock. Try “Gun has No Trigger” (http://youtu.be/-KAc2BrsF5s ) (a little David Bowie like), “Dance For You” and “The Socialites” (http://youtu.be/SqG_MuesCog ) (Live from Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on July 9, 2012).
Chicago’s the Dowsing, travel similar territory to the Weakerthans and the Get Up Kids, with their own unique style that on It’s Still Pretty Terrible, their debut results in some catchy pop punk songs with witty lyrics. Upbeat, with a wry sense of humor, the band doesn’t mine new territory, but who cares. What are you really looking for in a record anyway – something that makes you want to sing along while you are driving or working out, that makes you shake your head up and down – right? This record does exactly that. As I mentioned in an earlier note, the test is really, would I want to go out and see these guys perform live. Yup. Enough said. Try “What Did You Ever Do?” “Gengar! Gengar! Gengar!” and “Midwest Living.”
Moving through the D’s, Dropkick, on Paper Trails finds Scotland’s power popsters (or as they describe themselves an “alt-country power pop band from Scotland” with “fabulous melodies a-plenty and more hooks than Bob Nudd’s fishing bag”) in terrific form. Like the Shoes, Dropkick’s brand of power pop is catchy; Beatles influenced, and well played. You’ll find yourself sing-along with the harmonies on the choruses, which are big, acoustic flavored and catchy as hell. See for yourself, as Dropkick play “Paper Trails” in their rehearsal studio: http://youtu.be/hIj-ruiA8mE .If you like power pop as a genre, then you’re going to love this record. Try “Until I Fall Away,” “Hang Around” and “Going Where You’re Going”.
Last of the D’s is Dusted from the mind of Toronto Ontario’s and Holy Fuck’s leader Brian Borcherdt, who in the form of alt-county rock, has produced a truly captivating record. The haunting vocals on opening track “All Comes Down” segue into “(Into The) Atmosphere” (http://youtu.be/yifZZKbAccg ) both hinting at what is to come – a beautiful lo-fi album with slightly distorted vocals making for a truly great record. You are going to love the guitar on this record, and there are some surprises along the way, with several of the songs having the potential to break into the popular territory, in particular, the grunge drenched “Cut Them Free.” If you are expecting Holy Fuck (which is Canadian electronica) – this is not it. The pastoral leanings of Total Dust are a great change of pace, and therefore dropbox worthy. Try also “Bruises”, “Cut Them Free” and “Dusted.”
Brooklyn indie-folk husband and wife duo that make up Family Band, Kim Krans and Jonny Ollsin (Children, S.T.R.E.E.T.S.) on Grace & Lies, their second album, capture the correct balance between the visual performance and sound. Not to say this is a perfect record. What makes this compelling is the vocals of Kin Krans wrapped around the chord progressions of early Cure sounding (See The Cure – Pornography) guitar. There is a little sameness to some of the tracks, but when scattered through a playlist, these are in sharp contrast to most indie rock. Try “Lace”, “Moonbeams” and “Keeper.”
Picking up the pace, rather dramatically, The Henry Clay People, like the Vaccines play fast paced Brit-rock with flair although they are not British (from Glendale, CA!) and who formed in 2005 solely to play Coachella. From these rather humble beginnings and after multiple tours, HCP’s brand of punk rock is going to save music. On Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives brothers Joey and Andy Siara play high energy rock and roll like they are the sole saviors of punk rock, and they just might be. Like a crazy mix of the Replacements, Ramones, Blur, and Stiff Little Fingers, the Henry Clay People, pack 11 songs into 31 minutes, and capture the energy of what music is supposed to sound like – high energy, spirited rock n’ roll. If you liked the Japandroids, you’ll love the Henry Clay People. Try “Ever Band We Ever loved”, “25 For The Rest Of Our Lives” and “Keep Our Weekends Free.”
Edmonton’s Hot Panda mine a completely different territory than most bands, and that is why, for something Canadian, they are somewhat of an anomaly. Perhaps moving to Vancouver has something to do with the sound of their latest record (F&J go see them!). On Go Outside, their third full length, Hot Panda has integrated their influences (probably from touring with their influences – The Ravonettes, The Von Bondies (with whom they toured Europe), Art Brut and Tokyo Police Club) into a complete indie rock vision. Try “Future Markets” (http://youtu.be/Ke3du31qLz4 ), “Maybe Now” and “Winter Song.”
Brooklyn based, but formed in Washington D.C., Jukebox the Ghost is a three piece, who on Safe Travels, take a slight detour from their previous records. Its still energetic pop rock, but now the songs are more personal (and no sci-fi themed as on their past work). There is a slight 70’s a.m. feel to some of these songs, but I didn’t find it too distracting, and like the Bay City Rollers, these are sonically light pop rock with strong melodies that sink into your brain. You’ll get why they have found success on tour with the likes of Ben Fold’s Five and The Moldy Peaches (Adam Green). Really, this is a strong record, it just represents a reorientation of your music brain to encompass what they are trying to achieve. Try: “Say When,” “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind” and “Devil on Your Side.”
Newcastle Australia’s Local Resident Failure has been around awhile, so the fact that it took 5 years to release their debut record, A Breathe of Stale Air, is somewhat surprising as I’ve seen a number of video posted on You Tube demonstrating their proficient straight forward punk rock in small clubs around the countryside. Like most of the new generation of punk rock bands, the sledding is a little tough because it is difficult to find places to play where the bands are not forced to perform with hardcore and metal core bands. This doesn’t seem to have influence Local Resident Failure’s debut however, as this is a throwback to the early days of 2nd generation punk rock with short, sharp and witty songs, played fast and meant to be played loud. The record is short, clocking in around 25 minutes, but thoroughly enjoyable. Try “Playing The Race Card,” “Sad Beginning, Happy Ending” and “The Funeral.” Also check out this pretty cool promo slagging the band (needs some Aussie subtitles though) http://youtu.be/QVu-C1h1dgA
Lost in the Trees occupies the other end of the spectrum that Local Resident Failure inhabits. Although not a fan of classical music, Lost in the Trees, led by Berklee music grad, Ari Picker, A Church That Fits Our Needs is a tribute to his mother who took her own life in 2009. The songs are orchestral and moving and Picker’s vocals contrast nicely with Emma Nadeau’s soaring harmonies and melodies. Amazing cello (Never thought I’d write that – ever.) Don’t be put off by the subject matter, as these songs are really uplifting in a quiet way. Simply beautiful music. Try “Golden Eyelids” “Neither Here Nor There” and “Garden.” Here are a couple of songs from their last record here for NPR: http://youtu.be/QkEjJpuZbog
Post hardcore band Make Do And Mend move to the middle on Everything You Ever Love their second full length record. Formed in West Hartford and then moving to Boston, the band has softened a little and developed more of an anthemic hardcore approach to their songwriting, which on Everything You Ever Love represents a great leap forward. The songs here are tight, melodic and sweeping that make you want to sing along. Opener, “Blur” is the first single, probably because it is the most radio friendly. Not bad, but there is better stuff on this record. Try Disassemble,” “Count,” and “Drown in It.”
What do you get when you cross the Beach Boys with the Ramones? Well you get the Hotlines, a British pop punk band (from Brighton – a beach community) that incorporates harmonies with early Green Day song structures. Okay Hotlines is a little derivative, but still, in my mind, a terrific amount of fun. Try “Easy for Me” to get a feel for this “surf” type punk without actually being “surf punk” ala Agent Orange. These are light, bouncy, and upbeat songs about stuff the Beach Boys actually would have sung about. Try “Take The Wheel,” “Psycho Girl” and “It’ll Be Alright.”
What do musicians who are hiatus from their regular jobs do on vacation? Well they form a super group and record lovely indie pop. Lightships is Dave McGowan (guitar, Teenage Fanclub), Brendan O’Hare (drums, from the first incarnation of Teenage Fanclub), Tom Crossley (flute, International Airport and The Pastels) and Bob Kildea (bass, Belle & Sebastian) and this is a tender EP of acoustic pop as a follow up to their debut Electric Cables. This EP released on July 30, 2012 is kind of a teaser to a small tour in Scotland and England beginning this week. These are optimistic, love songs that are hauntingly beautiful. There is only four songs – so try them all!
I know, you all have probably heard Marcy Playground’s ubiquitous hit “Sex and Candy” (1997). Maybe you are even tired of it …a little bit. So skip that track on Lunch, Recess & Detention, a collection of rarities (Recess) b-sides (Detention), and new material (Lunch) released on July 17, 2012. I don’t know, I still love that track, but with this collection, you get to see why the band shouldn’t be relegated to one hit wonder status. Marcy Playground writes some of the catchiest power pop imaginable and surely there is something on this record that will get your foot tapping. For me, it’s the lovely “Bye Bye.” So, try “Bye Bye,” “The Needle and the Damage Done (amazing cover) and “Bang Bang Bang.”
If you haven’t heard of the Mixtapes yet, then really give this record a chance. Formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 201, the Mixtapes blend of Replacements styled punk rock is a real pickup. They have released 48 songs in over a year and a half, and on the Even The Worst Nights debut they have captured the perfect blend of fun and songwriting that make this one of the most played records in my collection right now. Vocalists Maura Weaver and Ryan Rockwell voices blend the way that John Doe and Exene Cervenka did in X and make this smart pop punk record a gem. Want to know what the songs are about? Then look here: http://www.altpress.com/features/entry/track_by_track_mixtapes_even_on_the_worst_nights/
Otherwise Try: “Seven Mile,” “You Must Not Be From Around Here” and “I’ll Give you A Hint.”
Surry, England’s Newton Faulkner has distinctive Adult Contemporary vibe to his music, and that alone, for some, might be a little off-putting. However, I’ve come a long way over the past 40 years or so and found this latest record more like Del Amitri, a 90’s British band I loved, and the light acoustic rock, although at times a little “samey” thoroughly enjoyable. Definitely, for me, you have to be in the mood for Write It on Your Skin. Maybe I’m just getting old. Try “Brick By Brick,” “Clouds,” and “Write It on Your Skin.” (Note: ignore the lyrics – sing the choruses!)
Bristol based band Peggy Sue, play all of the songs of the movie Scorpio Rising a record that is due out on September 18, 2012 but you are getting to hear it a month early. What is so special about this is that the band Peggy Sue performs rocking updates of Kenneth Anger’s 1963 cult movie hit “Scorpio Rising” and the results are smashing! (Like that? I bet you thought I was going to say amazing, right?). You are going to know several of the songs on Peggy Sue Play the Songs of Scorpio Rising as they are classic pop and rock hits, but these updates are with a modern twist and revitalize the songs. Try “My Boyfriends Back, “Hit The Road Jack” and “Torture.”
On Gossamer, Boston based Passion Pit follow up their successful debut Manners (2009) with more electropop that, like Phoenix, is catchy, compelling, and travels new ground while not distancing them from what made them successful in the first place. So, in short – this is a good record, every bit as good as their debut. The subject matter is somewhat odd for this type of genre, but vocalist Michael Angelakos is dealing with some odd stuff in his life and has used this album as an opportunity to work it out. Put in context, the songs are hummable, and although there is some deep soul searching amongst the tunes, I enjoyed all the bleeps and synth-gadgetry that smart musicians make. Try: “Take A Walk,” “Love is Greed” and “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy.”
I’ve covered the Rocket Summer previously, so I’m not going to traverse the same ground. On Life Will Write The Words, Bryce Avary (who is all of Rocket Summer) is a return to his earlier records of simply constructed acoustic based rock songs ( in this case about the value of experience and learning through doing). In short, this record is a pleasant return to what was great about the Rocket Summer – melodic and heartfelt songs that are easily relatable (even at my advanced age). The songs on this record would make a compelling live show. I could see a mass sing-a-long with the crowd. Like Ryan Adams, these songs are meant for the crowd as much as for the writer. Try: “Revival,” “Old Love” and “Underrated.”
Huntington Beach is the birth place of Runner Runner but they don’t sound like any of the bands you might recall from the OC, because, although pop punk, this is more like the All American Rejects variant than traditional Blink 182 variant. Like candy, too muck of this will make you sick, but when dispersed throughout your playlist, you’ll find your self humming the choruses on Runner Runner, and looking for the sweet piano hooks present throughout the record. Nothing too deep on this lyrically. A little too slick, but still a worthwhile addition to the collection. Try: “Unstoppable,” “She’s My Kinda Girl” and “See You Around.”