Some urgent updates to this month’s drop box. I think you will like what you find….. Here is the first one:
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Glance back through The National‘s back catalog and it becomes clear that they are a band releasing albums in pairs charting their pathway to mainstream success. As noted on exystenz “[t]he self-titled debut and follow-up Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers represented artists finding their feet and figuring out how to be a band; Alligator and Boxer positioned them as best -rock-act-you’d-never-heard-of cult favorites; and now High Violet and latest release Trouble Will Find Me see the Brooklyn quintet cementing themselves in the mainstream. The new LP is very much a companion to its acclaimed 2010 predecessor and, like the band’s previous offerings, gently slow-burns on the first few listens before completely burrowing under your skin and taking hold. On Trouble Will Find Me, frontman Matt Berninger’s lyrics probe familiar themes of romantic yearning, unyielding anxiety and crawling back from rock bottom, but with more clarity and immediacy than ever before.
‘Demons’ wrestles with daily self-doubt before effortlessly segueing into spiky foot-tapper ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’, a song propelled by Bryan Devendorf’s trademark tight drumming and a neat turn of phrase (“If you want to see me cry / Play Let it Be or Nevermind“).
That awareness of rock ‘n’ roll history has clearly been on The National’s mind of late. Berninger has acknowledged the influence of Roy Orbison (heard here on ‘Heavenfaced’), but there are shades of Dylan and Springsteen in the stories weaved on Trouble. By the end of ‘Humiliation’ Berninger has slid into a pseudo-cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, while album closer ‘Hard to Find’ is a proper lighters/phones-in-the-air tinkling ballad that fills stadiums for U2.
This is unmistakably a National record, though. ‘Graceless’ is a fast-paced tale of addiction whose guitars distort as Berninger sings of going “through the glass again”; an anthem in the mould of ‘Abel’ and ‘Mr November’ that’s destined to become a live favourite. Emotions are worn firmly on sleeves for tracks like ‘Sea of Love’ (which gives the album its title with the lyric “If I stay here, trouble will find me”) and the excellent ‘Pink Rabbits’.
At 13 tracks and clocking in with a running length of 55 minutes, this is the band’s biggest album to date. There’s no filler, although ‘This is the Last Time’ and ‘Slipped’ perhaps don’t linger on the mind like the rest. Trouble Will Find Me is both dark and melancholic, uplifting and quietly euphoric – another masterpiece from The National.
The Virginmarys are three-piece rock band from Macclesfield, England who formed in 2006 but 7 years later release their debut LP Kings of Conflict following the release of several EPs that were generally well received. This band is a good example of the new model for releases – most bands get to put out a couple of singles and EPs in order to test the waters before a record company commits to a full length release. This is not to say that Virginmarys are novices having played the Download Festival in 2010 as well as supporting a variety of UK based bands such as my favorites Ash and We Are Scientists as well as Slash, Eagles of Death Metal and Feeder. So, where do they fit in the musical genre mix? Probably more metal than alternative, the key to this band is really that they have updated the 70’s metal sound with catchy melodic songs that rock in the same way that Billy Talent and the aforementioned Ash do – they are anthems of teen angst that you don’t mind singing along with. Overall, a nice change of pace. Try: “Dead Man’s Shoes”, “Bang Bang Bang” and the stripped version of “Just A Ride.”
Bet you never thought you would find a country record in the drop box. Sure there were hints with alt-country offerings such as Old 97s and Wilco appearing with some regularity, but Austin Texas’ Wheeler Brothers is much closer in sound to country than alternative. However, unlike traditional country albums, Gold Boots Glitter is a breath of fresh air in a stale scene. I was genuinely surprised by the atmospheric quality to some of these songs, the grit on Nolan Wheeler’s vocals, and the great harmonies throughout the record. Don’t let the country label sway you from picking up this gem. There are plenty of tunes to peak your interest and the record is diverse. The three Wheeler siblings (Nolan, Tyler and Patrick) started playing music with guitarist Danny Matthews while attending Louisiana State University, joining up with high-school buddy A.J. Molyneaux when they returned to Austin. The product of these tight knit relationships is found in the spectacularly smooth back-up vocals and harmonies. Start with “Straight and Steady”, You Got A Lot of Love” and “You Like.” Truly a gem.
Bergen, Norway’s Young Dreams channel Brian Wilson through a modern electronic pop sound. Led by vocalist Mathias Tellez, Young Dreams on Between Places revisits the Beach Boys as filtered through early Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend. Once you hear the opener “Footprints” you’ll get where this record is heading. If you loved the Beach Boys “sound” then you will not be disappointed by Between Places. Try “Footprints” “Fog of War” and “The Girl Who Taught Me To Drink And Fight.”
Formed from the ashes of the once awesome Milburn, Sheffield England’s Dead Sons are part of the new-psychedelia movement along with Tame Impala but tend to fall somewhere between The Arctic Monkeys and Queens Of The Stone Age. It may be because vocalist Tom Rowley sings very much like the Monkey’s vocalist Alex Turner but in sound there is something swampier and dark going on more akin to 80’s band the Southern Death Cult better known as the Cult. Often described as desert rock, on The Hollers and the Hymns, which is the Dead Sons debut, the label is a little dubious, as this record rocks like a mother. Try “Junk Room”, “Quest For The Fire”, and “The Hollers and The Hymns.
If you thought dropping the Wheeler Brothers record was unusual, Aussie pop rock Because They Can is a first as well. Falling on the poppier side of the pop-punk equation and marketed in Australia as a “boy band”, there is something different about the songs appearing on the 8 track EP, Alive. Look, the suits the band wears are a little too obvious as is the band’s name which is a reference to Hanson’s second album Because They Can, but the catchiness of these songs is undeniable. Because They Can videos are almost unwatchable because of the manufactured appeal (for example see : “It’s Not About You” (http://youtu.be/jFNplCTmmqs ) but if you close your eyes and just listen, Alive is full of songs in the same vein as San Cisco from last year – good solid songs that belong on radio somewhere. Lots of bounce. Try” It’s Not About You”, Alive” and the acoustic “I Wish I Knew”.
The Nashville indie scene is heating up. I know – who knew that in the home of all things country, that there was an indie scene. Well, now you do, and it is sparking. On You Belong Here, the debut by Leagues, the band explores what dance rock would sound like filtered through americana. Vocalist Thad Cockerell has a very broad vocal range with a pleasant falsetto that drives this collection of electro-pop influenced songs that have distinctive and well written lyrics. You will be singing along from the first track “Spotlight” with its crisp guitar work and precision drumming. Perhaps that is what this trio distinct – these are well crafted songs that Thad Cockrell, guitarist Tyler Burkum , and drummer Jeremy Luito have taken great care to perfect. There is an Arcade Fire feel to his record, so if that is in your sweet spot, pick this up. Try” Spotlight”, “Magic” and “Haunted”.
One of my favorites from this month’s selections is Gilbert, Arizona’s Lydia and their latest record Devil. This is definitely a left turn for the band formed in 2003 who on previous releases explored the darker side of indie rock with substantially gloomier lyrics. The band, formed in 2003, has had some member shifts in the past couple of years, but on Devil, the band, primarily vocalist Leighton Antelman, seems to be at peace with the transitions having moved on from what was a fairly acrimonious split with founding member and guitarist Steve McGraw as well as with Mindy White who left the band in 2010 to form States with two former members of Copeland, Bryan and Stephen Laurenson. So what about the music? Well, like Copeland, this is melodic indie rock which is more guitar driven then past releases but still not that fast. Think of this as a down tempo All American Rejects with catchy choruses oft repeated without the up tempo numbers. See? I guess I am a sucker for songs that slow burn and then shift after a minute such as “Runaway” which starts acoustic and slow and then after the first chorus, picks up the pace, becoming joyous and uplifting as the song progresses. There is much to enjoy on this LP, so give it a chance to win you over. Try” Runaway”, “Knee Deep” and “From A Tire Swing.”
What started off as the solo side-project of Mike Polizze, then the guitarist of Philadelphia free-form heavy rock outfit, Birds of Maya, Purling Hiss has evolved into a power trio, with drummer Mike Sneeringer and bassist Kiel Everett, adding muscle to the project. Water on Mars is the band’s third release but unlike the other bedroom releases, this is a significant upgrade in sound. Like other Philadelphia cohorts, Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss’ sound falls somewhere along the continuum between Bleach era Nirvana and Bug era Dinosaur Jr. (who they sound very similar partly because Polizze sounds like J Mascias) and the guitar intonation is reflective of Dinosaur Jr.. It is difficult to deny the likeability of the riffage produced by Polizze who used to also played guitar for Grand Funk Railroad! I was caught off guard when I first heard “Mercury Retrograde” which has the same vibe as Kurt Vile, but unlike Kurt Vile, traverses the noisier side of the indie rock spectrum with a few jam band elements, but as Purling Hiss says, on “Rat Race” “everyone wants to have a good time” – I do and I did. Try “She Calms Me Down”, “Mercury Retrograde” and “The Harrowing Wind.”
The drop box also finds the release this month of Rival Schools “lost second album” found that was supposed to have been released 10 years ago, but finally sees the light of day. A little background may be helpful. Rival Schools formed in New York in 1999 and were originally signed to Photo Finish Records, featuring Walter Schreifels on vocals and guitar, Ian Love on guitar, Cache Tolman on bass guitar; and Sam Siegler on drums. Rival Schools were a hardcore ‘supergroup’ as all of the members were alumni of such ’80s and ’90s hardcore bands as Gorilla Biscuits (Schreifels), CIV (Siegler), Youth of Today (Schreifels and Siegler) and Iceburn (Tolman).The band’s name (and that of their first LP) comes from the Capcom fighting game, Rival Schools: United By Fate. So where does Found fit is the picture? The original band broke up in 2003, just prior to the release of this record when Ian Love left the band. As time has passed, the band briefly reunited with Love on guitar, but as of the release of the record, April 9, 2013, the band is touring as a three piece. For a band of hardcore legends, Found represents an interesting shift in sound, that nearly 10 years after the original planned release sounds fresh and relevant in the punk rock pantheon. To be clear, for those of you reading the notes, for me, punk rock is not hardcore (neither the hardcore punk nor the bastardized dance version either). Punk rock is characterized by short sharp songs with a definitive garage rooted sound, free of effeminate vocals and guitar solos, without the roaring vocals found in hardcore and with a verse chorus verse ( see Nirvana was correct) song structure. If we work with this simple definition, then you can see how various bands fit in this structure, and Rival Schools is a great example. I bought the debut and I would have bought this record the first time around if it had seen the light of day. So here you go, a fully realized punk rock record that captures a band in the middle of where it started and where it is today ( check out 2011’s Pedals). Try ”Missing Glider”, “Indisposable Heroes” and the cover of the Buzzcock’s “Why Can’t I Touch It”
I probably would have put Sweden’s Satan Takes A Holiday (“Satan”) in the drop box for the name alone. Satan Takes a Holiday is also the name of an album of evocative, “lost” songs by Anton Szandor LaVey, founder and former high priest of the Church of Satan. However, on Who Do You Voodoo, Satan, revisits the same territory as the Hives and like all Swedish bands does it with great style and energy. This is 60s garage, punk and rock’n’roll in the same vain as Danko Jones and the Hives making for a great live show. You will not be able to get enough of this. Try “Who Do You Voodoo” (http://youtu.be/1H3WcMAWTi8 ) ( Check out this live show at Mods vs. Rockers Stockholm: http://youtu.be/47XFPJmaVwM ), “Karma Babe” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
Keeping with the garage rock and roll theme but more on the garage side than the rock side is Thee Oh Sees new record Floating Coffin. Thee Oh Sees are prolific. As I covered the San Francisco based band’s background last time with the release of Putifiers II, I’ll stick to this record, which picks up where Putrifier’s did – straight forward garage punk rock played at full speed with all the psychedelic fuzziness now polished and incorporated into what may be the finest of the 15 albums released by the band. John Dwyer is a master of the sonic shift and the band is a full examination of the lo-fi garage movement. This is best exemplified on the stellar “ Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster”. The lyrics which tend to the dark side and sometimes mumbled, make for a difficult exploration but patience is not only a virtue but is rewarded on tracks like “No Spell” and Strwaberries 1+2”. Try“I Come From The Mountain”, “Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster” and “Night Crawaler.”
Kurt Vile is on a roll. The former The War on Drugs vocalist has found the soft spot in the indie-rock niche where he thrives. What can best be described as “psych-stoner-indie”, Vile’s take, with his band The Violators, on the human condition is obliquely explored on Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze. Vile already was an indie darling as his last release, Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011), received huge critical acclaim and appeared on a number of year end, best of lists, but frankly, Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze is a much better record. It may be Vile’s unique vocals, but the guitar work, which is very reminiscent of early Pavement, shimmers and the meandering country rhythms on this record accentuate the uniqueness of the environment this record occupies in the indie rock world. From the title track, through the lengthy closer “Goldtone” coming at 17:24, this album works because enough space is given for these songs to find a direction without becoming repetitive or boring. You have to work a little bit to get into this one, but the effort will be wellworth the time investment. “Try “Shame Chamber”, “Never Run Away”, and “Snowflakes Are Dancing.”
On Afraid of Heights, Nathan Williams who operates as Wavves , collects the best elements only hinted at from his previous three records (which tend to be more pop than rock) and finally puts the pieces together. As garage rock goes, this is superior because the songwriting is so solid. Sure, there are points where the songs are a wee bit lengthy, but it is hard to deny the likeability and power of this record. Some reviewers have taken issue with the Weezer similarities ( best example is found on the second track “Demon To Lean On”, but I like Weezer, so I was already primed and susceptible to the hooks found all over this record. It probably doesn’t help that Williams’ voice does sound a little like Rivers Cuomo, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable record. I sing the woooooos on title track “Afraid of Heights” which is where you should start. Think “Sweater Song (Undone). Try” “Afraid of Heights”, “Beat Me Up” and “Gimme A Knife.”
With the Veils, you get some pedigree. Finn Andrews, son of XTC/Shriekback keyboardist Barry Andrews, is the center of the band he started in New Zealand in 2002. Better known for Andrews’ captivating stage presence and live shows, this LP, like the Wavves record above, represents the Veils best effort to break into the main stream. Let’s face it, rock is in a tough place in America. This record, record in Laurel Canyon Studios in Los Angeles, is an effort to find a sound that will cross over in England and the colonies who are attuned to an “Americana” type sound. Hence, some of this record feels somewhat contrived lyrically to hone in on what is popular in England. The question really becomes then, does the record work independent of the influence and design? On balance it does. Sure, like a number of records in the drop box, you either like the record because of the particular sound or you don’t. This doesn’t have the feel of the numerous faceless anglo bands, probably because Andrews does have a touch of the Nick Cave in his voice as well as some Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes), which makes for an interesting contrast to some of the delicate songs on this record. Some songs do meander a bit, being more focused on atmospherics than forming a song, but others are aggressive and hi-light the reason why this LP is in the drop box. Try” The Pearl”, “Turn From The Rain” and “Another Night.”
The Grapes of Wrath were a band I saw several times when I lived in Vancouver and even in Los Angeles, opening for Guadalcanal Diary at the Roxy in Los Angeles and the Green Door in Montclair in 1988. Although described currently as “folk rock” this is what alternative college rock sounded like at the end of the eighties/early nineties with its jangle pop sound. Formed in Kelowna BC by Chris Hooper, Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane, the band broke up in 1992 but reformed in 2010. High Road represents the original Grapes’ first full length effort in more than 20 years, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable record. Sure, they are a little older and wiser, but the elements that made them great – smooth harmonies and crisp melodies with sing-a-long choruses – are still present. Amazing! Try” Good To See You”, “Make It Okay” and “Picnic.”
Los Angeles based Dawes, like Grapes of Wrath, also is categorized as folk rock, but the similarities end there. This is the problem with genre assignment. There are bands who are lumped into a genre, but sound nothing alike. These guys sure are not Mumford and Sons, but there are some elements present which justify the categorization. They are certainly not metal. So, where does Dawes fit in the spectrum? I’d say left of something, but also right of something else. I think the first song I heard was the Steely Dan sounding “From A Window Seat” which was enjoyable, and while Steely Dan is generally off-putting to me, I felt there was something else going on, so that I could get around my Steely Dan prejudice (much like my admitted Beatles dislike). It may be that this is 70’s a.m. rock and brings back memories of driving in the car with my mom to school and hearing the Band, Neil Young, The Strawberries, Lighthouse, the Guess Who and Tony Orlando and Dawn on the car radio. Stories Don’t End evokes those same feelings. Try “Most People”, “Hey Lover” and “Bear Witness.”
Filthy Boy represents something completely different musically than Dawes. Really different. What makes Smile That Won’t Go Down such an enjoyable listen is that dance rock a la Franz Ferdinand and the first Arctic Monkeys record that has been missing from my life, and this record with its naughty intonation and innuendo (the band is, after all, called Filthy Boy) makes it hard not to be caught up in the overtly sexual overtones such as found on the Jazz Butcher sounding “Waiting On A Doorstep.” As noted by NME “[s]inger Paraic Morrissey has the knack of sounding like he’s casually sparking up a post-coital cigarette” but all in good fun. Morrissey (with his twin brother Tom) capture the genius of absurdity of it all. Great videos as well: http://youtu.be/z-XT6MTIh-E (“Waiting on a Doorstep”). Try also “Naughty Corner”, “Jimmy Jammies” and “Spiral Eyes.”
I’ve dropped the 6th Murder by Death record and the Kickstarter funded follow up of covers entitled As You Wish: Kickstarter Covers released by the band as a bonus to those who funded the recording of the amazing Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. Bloomington Indiana’s Murder By Death occupy the same sonic space as the National (whose new record comes out later this month and I will drop it as soon as I get it). Formed in 2000, MBD released Bitter Drink in 2012. What is unusual is the distinct sound of cellist Sarah Ballie brings to the murder ballads which form the bulk of the songs on this record. Tails of greed, lust, frailty, and the struggle of good and evil inform this record. Johnny Cash is not dead as Adam Turla channels the distinctive sound. I loved this record. “Lost River” will move you with its haunting sound and Turla’s passionate vocal. Try” Straight At The Sun”, “Hard World” and the aforementioned “Lost River.”
As for the Kickstarter Covers, these are all songs submitted to the band who perform magic on these songs. Rarely does a band perform cover versions that match the originals but I think you will be surprised by MBD’s take on some very well known songs. Try: “Never Tear Us Apart” (INXS), “Some Kind of Hate” (Misfits), and “Hold On” (Wilson Phillips – You’re going to love This One!)
With Desperate Ground, Portland’s Thermals take only a very a slight deviation than past albums. Sonically, the Thermals are always going to be the Thermals. 10 slices of fast past political slogans jammed full force in your face and ending in 26 minutes. Short and sweet and to the point. The Thermals have never been apologists, and it is unlikely they will start now. The formula works, and if you are a fan of the other three releases More Parts Per Million, Fuckin A and The Body, The Blood, The Machine, then you are going to love this one. A recommendation – don’t give this short shrift. The songs will grow on you as will Hutch Harris’ voice which at first listen is somewhat abrasive. Like the Buzzcocks, the songs are short with the longest track coming in at 3:13. Try “I Go Alone,” “Where I Stand” and “Our Love Survives.”
Earlier this year or late last year, I noted that Australia produces better music than us. Sticky Fingers from Annandale Australia, plays a brand of reggae influenced rock (think Sublime) on their debut, Caress Your Soul. The title hints at what you will find within, with a mixture of rock steady beats and terrific melodies all touched by what can only be described as an Australian Indie sound. This is the sound of Long Beach – a sunny day record with a large amount of charm. I can smell the sensamilla now. Try” Clouds + Cream”, Australian Street” and title track “Caress Your Soul.”