I didn’t want to give short shrift to this month’s releases, which encompass a number of unique releases from Record Store Day (April 20) as well as some new releases from “popular bands” such as Queens of The Stoneage and Vampire Weekend.
All in all a really strong month for new records and a sign (at least in my mind) that music creativity and quality continues to thrive with a larger number of artists finding their way to the ears of eager listeners. I’m not sure this portends well for music press because there is so much music that appears without a viable commercial outlet i.e. radio, or even downloads, as each week a new flood of releases is dropped into the marketplace. I believe that live music opportunities will, perhaps, be the commercial savior for a number of bands, but smaller indie artists will likely have to find a new financial model in order to continue to be viable, especially when major labels are solely interested in television related opportunities and licensing.
Anyway, a big thanks to AJ who was kind enough to send via T at Starbucks the new Filter Magazine with the National on the cover my way. Truly appreciated. I also note that 80% of the releases that have appeared in the dropbox over the last couple of months, so you can get some other opinions and some ratings. Filter utilizes percentages. I don’t rate the records because I only put in the dropbox releases that I actually like, so any rating system as to good, bad, or indifferent, is meaningless. I think you can tell releases I am very enthusiastic about, if that is any help.
Sloan is now a Canadian institution, who over the past twenty years or so, have developed a small but devoted hardcore following. (see I’m telegraphing a pun here). On April 30, they released a limited edition single, with a nifty package of other stuff including this digital only EP of hardcore covers featuring “songs of the bands that were soundtrack to Sloan’s youth” and date from 1978 to 1984. Hardcore is led by three Angry Samoans covers (“Gas Chamber,” “Gimme Sopor” and “Hot Cars”) along with two from 7 Seconds (“Bully” and “This Is The Angry”). Minor Threat, Bad Religion, Black Flag, Circle Jerks and The Descendents are also covered on the album. I’m partial to the Angry Samoans covers as their Inside My Brain EP was part of my soundtrack growing up. However, no picks here – I liked them all, so try them all. For those of you who never heard of Sloan before here is their only U.S. near hit from their 1992 album, Smeared, “Underwhelmed” (http://youtu.be/MkN_qkN5JLQ)
On Say What You Mean, Brooklynite Allison Weiss leverages her kickstarter financed debut record entitled Was Right All Along into this No Sleep Records label produced pop-punk gem. Where the first record was more of a traditional pop record, here Allison embraces her inner Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders) and while still retaining the charm of the first LP, updates the tempos to produce some very fine songs, not too loud, and more leaning to the power pop emo light of late 70’s punk. “One Way Love” wouldn’t sound out of place if it had been released in 1979 and Joe Jackson was singing it instead of Allison. This is very clean and crisply produced and stays fresh over repeated listens because Allison stretches the songwriting and there is a diverse range of tempos and sounds to avoid the repetition that detracts from many a record. Try ” Nothing Left”, “Don’t Go, and “Hole In Your Heart”. Here is an acoustic live version of “Say What You Mean” (http://youtu.be/dcfBeVPvVa0)
Auto Defiance’s record Running on the Edge came out in January, but it took me a couple of months to stumble upon it as I was searching through my iTunes for something to listen to while I pound away at work. Art rockers Auto Defiance, fronted by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Bradley Boyer and co-writer/vocalist Asheira on synth and bells, write instantly catchy uptempo atmospheric dance pop that provides a great change of pace. The song I stumbled upon was a cover of New Order‘s “Bizarre Love Triangle” which was spot on – I thought it was another New Order remix. However, from opening track “Heart Attack” (http://youtu.be/NyiJdVrvnkc) and throughout the record, this is great music for lifting your mood. Try: “Heart Attack”, “Ghost Inside Yourself” and “Submission.” Try this Balcony TV acoustic-electric version of “Heart Attack” recorded live in Nashville as well: “Heart Attack” (http://youtu.be/RTI2Yd5jTpE).
Loke Rahbek and Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, of Sexdrome and Iceage respectively comprise Vår which also includes fellow Copenhagen scenesters Kristian Emdal and Lukas Højlund,and this record is something highly unusual, particularly if you are familiar with Rønnenfelt’s other band, the hardcore machine Iceage, whose record appeared in the dropbox last year. Rarely do I want to work hard to “get a record”, that is try to understand the lyrics or feel the challenge of a particular musical style which in this case, is a Joy Division inspired electonic/industrial record, much like Throbbing Gristle. For those of you who listen to albums in order, then No None Dances Like My Brother is challenging at first, but by track 2 it gives way to something more familiar. This record is worth the work and is really a palate cleanser for your musical mind to give you hope that these types of sonic experiments will bear fruit in the future. Try ” The World Fell” ( unofficial video:http://youtu.be/MpaMT2wEQmU ) , “No No One Dances Like My Brother,” and “Boy.”
Not going to say much about the Plain White T’s new EP, Should Have Gone To Bed, except that there is this instantly likeable and catchy acoustic number which would be a pop hit in any country, really. Called “The Giving Tree” ( here live on some CBS morning show: http://youtu.be/EmhbRM-I-q4) it is one of 4 great pop tunes on this far too short offering. Oh well, maybe next year.
On Lights, French band Exsonvaldes, offers up some hook laden electro-pop in a similar vein to Phoenix. On Lights, the bands 4th album, Simon Beaudoux and his bandmates, produce smooth dance rock sung in English, with the attendant idiosyncrasies that such conversion from French to English but that is precisely what makes these songs endearing. I’m not sure that I would play the entire record through in one listen as the songs have little variety, but as a break in the guitar rock action on my playlist, this is exciting stuff. Try” Let Go”, “Seahorses” ( I love this song) and “Guns”.
So, until next time… Let’s be safe out there …but listen dangerously.
Well, I’m back after a busy graduation season with some notes for last months drop box offerings and a little preview of the July drop box. As always, these are in no particular order even though I now number the selections to make it easier for you to find.
First of all, you really should check out Mikal Cronin‘s latest release aptly titled MCII. Cronin is better known for his frequent associations with garage rocker Ty Segal ( a frequent drop in the box) as well as recording with another of other indie garage bands including the Okie Dokie, Epsilons, Party Fowl and Moonhearts. This is garage pop reminiscent of the early 80’s garage pop scene that included Lets Active and the dBs. I have know doubt that this record will end up on a number of trendy publication year end best of lists, but really, this record will belong there. These are well constructed sonic garage pop songs, with beautiful arrangements, catchy chorus and memorable melodies. You’ll find something comfortably familiar with these songs, but it is because the balance of power and pop is so perfect, this will end up as the soundtrack for your summer days. Try the amazing “Peace of Mind” for the softer side of the spectrum, “Change” for the rockier end, and “I’m Done Running From You” for that song that will have you singing along. Really, not a bad song on the record. Have at it.
Speaking of Ty Segal, for Record Store Day, Ty releases Ty Rex 2, a 7″ with two Marc Bolan and T. Rex covers: the early track “Cat Black (The Wizard’s Hat)” b/w the Electric Warriorcut “The Motivator.” For those of us old enough to recall T.Rex ( most of you will have heard “Get It On ( Bang A Gong)” (See it here:http://youtu.be/19IqwU3itFk ) as well as the other updated hits “Children of the Revolution” and “20th Century Boy”), Ty brings some freshness to these songs, particular on “Motivator”, which crunches under Ty’s deft playing. Worth a listen.
And finally, as it seems this is Mikal and Ty’s month, try Ty Segal and Mikal Cronin together on Reverse Shark Attack. This record was recorded in 2009 as a vinyl only release which quickly sold out and then re-released last year. This is Cramps styled garage-fuzz played at punk rock pace. Noisy best describes what is going on, and I loved every minute. Awesome!. Try” Ramona”, “I Wear Black” and “Doctor Doctor”. Furious, baby!.
Husker Du were one of my all time favorite bands along with the previously mentioned Replacements, dBs, The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, and XTC. There you have it – my all time best of list. Sure I have a number of other favorite bands and records, but none even approach the awe (great word), I have for the recordings by these bands. Over time, bands and artists that I thought might end up here have taken divergent paths that moved them down a few rungs on my mental list of all time greatest. I’m thinking Elvis Costello here. For the first 10 years of Elvis’ career I was on board, but his miss-steps after Almost Blue (his last great complete record) were too numerous to hang in the game and my interest waned. I guess that is the great mystery of the mystical connection that music plays in a life. I associate events in my life with music. “I’ve Been Waiting” by Matthew Sweet was played at my wedding and at various reflection points I associate these bands and their shows ( all of who I have seen live) with the onset of the great adventures and first steps into adulthood.
Anyway, back to Husker Du who for record store day earlier this year (April 20) released their first single from 1980, “Amusement”/“Statues” as a double 7-inch with “Writer’s Cramp” and “Let’s Go Die,” the other two songs recorded at the same time for what was initially planned to be a self-released 10-inch. But costs forced the band to opt for the two-song 7-inch that was eventually released. “Amusement,” “Writer’s Cramp,” and “Let’s Go Die” were remastered from “a first-generation sub-master,” because the originals are long gone. “Statues” was reworked from the original recording from the board at the old Minneapolis venue Duffy’s, where it was recorded. The double 7-inch was limited limited to 4,000 copies. This is an interesting artifact, because “Writer’s Cramp” and “Let’s Go Die” were recorded with the band at a crossroads and who were, at that time also vying for a recording contract with Twintone Records who eventually signed the Replacements over them. Here the Husker’s are experimenting with a poppier sound that Bob Mould would eventually find again after Husker Du disbanded and he started Sugar. Try – Them All!
For those of you who forgot how good the mod scene actually was from a musical perspective, Miles Kane‘s newest record Don’t Forget Who You Are will remind you of the sweetness that was mod inspired. A little bit dangerous, but still making you want to dance, the mod bands balanced the rock and soul perfectly. Brief time trip here: The mod ( stands for modern!) scene in Britain evolved out of the late 60s with the Who, David Bowie (then called David Jones) and the Small Faces (who featured a very young Rod Stewart) which carried forth smart sounding modern music with a sharped dressed man (Think the Who’s “My Generation”) that clashed with the rockabilly/ traditional rock and roll found in artists like Gene Vincent, Jack Scott, Bill Haley, and Buddy Holly from the fifty’s. Hence, in the early 70’s this coalesced into a generational clash between the mods and rockers in the streets of London.
Skip forward several years later, and Quadrophenia based upon the Who’s sunning masterwork, as well as the Who bio-movie The Kids Are Alright are released in theaters in 1979. At the tale end of punk, these events coalesce into a massive mod revival with the Jam leading the charge. This is the primary reason that the Jam’s singer/guitarist Paul Weller is acknowledged as the mod father for today’s generation of bands. Other band emerge during this time including Secret Affair and Merton Parkas, all of whom dress in parkas and drive Vespa scooters in sharp contrast to the rockers who drove Harleys and wore leathers. This scene will eventually die as the 80’s arrive, only to emerge again in a slightly different form with Oasis, torchbearers for this unique sound. Jump forward to today and Oasis who have long since broken up only to find the brother’s Gallagher in two different bands ( High Flying Birds and Beady Eye) but still with an eye on the ball, both support their prodigy Mile Kane. To be clear, mod as a music form, I believe will always be around in England where kids arrive from the womb with the imprint of this particular sound. It is almost as if, mod, which is a uniquely British sound, comprises the genetic code of a nation.
So, with the brief history lesson over, on Don’t Forget Who You Are, Miles Kane hammers home the message on several levels. On one level, Kane reminds us of the importance of mod as a way of life and also on another level, like punk, a way of being. It is not so much about style anymore, but rather remaining true to a cultural identity. The record is essentially about carrying forth the message of mod, see for e.g. “Taking Over” and “Bombshells”. This is a great example of where mod lives today, in a young generation, reinterpreting the lessons of the past but bringing it straight forward into the future. All round a great record. Try” Out of Control”, “Tonight” and “Don’t Forget Who You Are.”
I’m always up for a good indie pop record as you might have noticed. (Recall Oh Mercy and Wolf Gang from last year?). LA based synth-pop band Youngbloode Hawke have found the sparkle on their debut with clean upbeat songs containing gang choruses and all the elements for songs that would find a place on most AM radio stations ( do these even exist anymore?). Sometimes the lyrics travel into the absurd, but these misses are few and far between, and overall most of the record works. Sure there are going to be comparisons to Phoenix who occupy this same sonic space, but it hard to not like the uptempo synth-pop put forth by Youngbloode Hawke. Try “Dannyboy”, “Rootless” and “We Come Running”.
For those of you whom already like Iron and Wine ( the nom de plume of Samuel Beam), you will already have picked this album up. However, for those of you who are ambivalent about Sam’s prior releases which have been mostly hit and miss for me in the past, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by this latest record. On Ghost on Ghost, the 6th Iron and Wine record, Sam finally finds his groove. The record is an examination of where Sam is at this point in his artistic progression with both nods to his past “Winter’s Prayer” and where he is going, with the catchy “Grace For Saints and Ramblers”. Some will be put off by the varied experiments that make up this record, but for me it resonates with fine crafted songs encompassing more than the Postal Service inspired folk of Sam’s past and traversing new territories, including alt-country and jazz. Try” Grace For Saints and Ramblers”, “Joy” and “Sundown (Back In The Briars)”
On a completely different plane altogether, London’s Savages, (who are playing all the UK festivals this summer) merge Joy Division’s post rock with Siouxsie Sioux sound alike vocals of Jehnny Beth and the intelligence of Gang of Four. This album (like the Mikal Cronin record previously) will end up on a number of best of lists because frankly, there is absolutely no band out there with a sound so firmly rooted in the past but updating the sound for the future of post punk. The guitars shimmer and the lyrics which are heavily punk influenced are driving, urgent, and immediate. This is the next big thing. Silence Yourself is easily the best debut of the year and perhaps the album of the year. Really. Oh, and America will completely miss this. Try “She Will”, “I am Here” and “Hit Me.”
For those of you who missed Art Brut, a uniquely British indie invention that never made it across the pond, I’ve put in their latest greatest hits record, Top of The Pops, ( a television show they never appeared on as their highest chart single was Number 41) a 2CD collection with the second half devoted to B-sides and rarities. However, stick with the first disc, which will expose you to Art Brut‘s unique form of indie rock with crunchy guitars, oblique lyrics, and all the pieces that make for a fun time. Take this for what it is, a collection of catchy songs, with slightly wonky vocals sung with an English accent, and not really giving a crap about where they fit in the rock and roll pantheon. “My Little Brother” (Just Discovered Rock n’ Roll) aptly sums up Art Brut, a band happy with discovering rock and roll and playing it for laughs. Lead singer and spokesperson Eddie Argos is, like Pete Almquist of the Hives, an energetic personality,with one foot firmly rooted in the past writing for the odd ball in all of us. If you only listen to ” Formed a Band” then you will discover the genius of Art Brut. Try ” Formed a Band”, “St. Pauli” and “Summer Job.”
Brooklyn punk rockers The So So Glos second album is a brief, quick paced Beach Boys version of punk rock, with the band falling on the poppier side of what was a dying genre, traveled by other great bands like Chixdiggit!, Homegrown, and Melincolin, that I remember from the 90’s. It may seem retro, but there is life in this record, which for those of you who grew up with sound, will really like the touches and nods to The So So Glos influences, which on this album are early MXPX and Operation Ivy. Brothers Alex and Ryan Levine, their step-brother and drummer Zach Staggers, and guitarist Matt Elkin are a sonic force and Blowout is a good time record. Try” Son of An American”, “Lost Weekend” and “Wrecking Ball.”
Here is the List:
!!! (Chk Chk Chk) – Thr!!!Er 
Airborne Toxic Event – Such Hot Blood [2013
Deerhunter – Monomania 
Iggy and the Stooges – Ready To Die 
Los Campesinos! – A Good Night For A Fistfight 
Mikal Cronin – MCII 
Savages – Silence Yourself [2CD] 
Sloan – Hardcore 
Titus Andronicus – Record Store Day 
TUSQ – Hailuoto 
Ty Segall – Ty Rex 2 (RSD) 
Vaccines – NME Presents Home Is Where The Start Is Home Demos 2009-2012 
Youngblood Hawke – Wake Up 
Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just a Dream (Deluxe Version) 
Hüsker Dü – Amusement EP (RSD) 
Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean 
Best Coast – Fear My Own Identity (RSD) 
Art Brut – Top of the Pops 
Miles Kane – Don’t Forget Who You Are (iTunes) 
So So Glos – Blowout 
Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork 
D.O.T. – Diary 
Killing Joke – The Singles Collection 1979-2012 
Noah and the Whale – Heart of Nowhere 
A Fragile Tomorrow – Be Nice Be Careful 
Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin – Reverse Shark Attack 
Bicycle Thief – Fields 
City Reign – Another Step 
Guided by Voices – English Little League 
Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost 
Ladyfinger (ne) – Errant Forms (Promo) 
Ola Podrida – Ghosts Go Blind 
Plain White T’s – Should’ve Gone to Bed EP 
She & Him – Volume 3 
Sulk – Graceless 
Titus Andronicus – Record Store Day [2013
Weeks – Dear Bo Jackson 
Youngblood Hawke – Wake Up 
Bass Drum of Death – Bass Drum of Death 
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories 
Exsonvaldes – Lights 
Grandchildren – Golden Age [2013
Kisses – Kids in L.A 
Northcote – Northcote 
Primal Scream – More Light [Japanese Deluxe Edition] 
These New Puritans – Field of Reeds 
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City 
Vår – No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers 
Wampire – Curiosity 
Airstrip – Willing 
Atlas Genius – When It Was Now 
Auto Defiance – Running On The Edge (Promo)