This is an excellent month of new releases. So for those of you that were a little tentative when you first saw the list because of your unfamiliarity with many of the acts in this month’s dropbox, this update should provide some encouragement to explore some acts that are a little different (depending on whose perspective we are talking about, and since it is obviously mine in these notes you should have some idea the direction these notes are going to take) from the typical fare you would normally find on the list. Taking a peek at the list, there are several albums that could be what is best described as electronic and all of which that fall outside the norm as compared with past dropbox offerings. However, CHVRCHES, Bastille, Au Revoir Simone, Factory Floor, and Haim are too good to ignore. So, let’s take them one at a time, and explore why they make this month’s dropbox.
CHVRCHES, pronounced churches ( I have no idea why the misspelling, perhaps so that you can find them in search engines) are a Glaswegian synth-pop band with a history. Iain Cook was a member of both Aerogramme and The Unwinding Hours and Martin Doherty previously played in the touring version of the Twilight Sad. What makes this band a little different is that they are all very well-educated, with lead vocalist and final member of the trio, Lauren Mayberry holding a law degree and a master’s degree in journalism. What makes the band special is the unmistakable musical connection to early Human League and Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, creating electronic soundscapes punctuated by both Doherty and Mayberry’s vocals providing a pop flavor. Lead single from CHVRCHES debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, is “The Mother We Share” will give you the overall tone and feel for the record: sunny sounding electro-pop – which is very much an anachronism given the extensive use of synthesizers throughout the record. However, sometimes it’s a good thing to step back into the 80’s and on The Bones of What You Believe those small touches give these songs an unexpectedly warm feeling – contrary to the coldness of the instrument choices used by the band. In places, CHVRCHES approach is a little sugary, but given the incredible range of diversity, it creates a foundation for a record that would make for an excellent live show. The earlier single, from their debut EP, entitled Recover is also another pop nugget, and for that alone you should give this album a listen. Try: “The Mother We Share”, “Recover,” and “Lies.”
Second on this month’s list is Bastille, with a single the radio hit “Pompeii” that, like CHVRCHES, taps into the disco-pop/electro-pop genre. Perhaps, you’ve started hearing “Pompeii” on the radio, and if you’ve been listening to any proclaimed alternative radio station – then you have to think – really? Is this what passes for alternative music? Did I wake up in a time warp? Is there government mind control at work when radio stations are claiming this as alternative music? Sure, it is alternative to Bieber, Kanye, and Miley…but it is also not Nirvana either. So, note to KROQ (and I am aware that I am railing against this radio station quite a bit lately, but it has all gone sideways. I almost, and I say almost, thought that Vancouver has better radio now, but that would not be true. CFOX – I’m talking about you. However, back to the main point. Bastille’s debut album Bad Blood deserves to be played on the radio. This is pop music and there is no denying the appeal of a great vocalist in the form of Dan Smith, the use of piano as a primary instrument, and upbeat catchy melodies. Bastille may have started as a solo bedroom project by Smith, but as it now operates as a four piece, Bastille plays powerful and emotional pieces that will have you singing along. The album collects a couple of earlier singles including their debut “Overjoyed” released in April of 2012, and since then, the band has released four singles, with “Pompeii” being the fourth. Apparently, KROQ didn’t think the other 3 songs, all of which made the UK Singles chart, were good enough.Try: ”Things We Lost in the Fire,” “Flaws,” and of course “Pompeii.”
To break up the pop flood a little bit, New York’s Crystal Stilts have been bashing away for 10 years now. On their latest release, Nature Noir, their third full length, Brad Hargett and JB Townsend play their unique brand of indie rock with gloom garage leanings much as if the Velvet Underground were still operating. This influence is most forceful on songs like “Future Folklore” which could be acknowledged Velvet’s copyist Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers outtake (much like Pablo Picasso” version II) except that Jonathan Richman’s nasally vocals are not present. This is a thoroughly enjoyable album with the jangle guitar of Crystal Stilt’s prior albums still present, but the psychedelic swirl is much more nuanced and the aptly named record presents a film noir soundtrack, brilliantly played. Try: “Star Crawl,”“Memory Room,” and “Nature Noir.”
Back to the pop, with Los Angeles’ Haim (it rhymes with time) whom were huge stars in England even before the release of this, their debut album. The interesting thing about England, as compared with the US, is that the opportunities to play live are seemingly endless and bands who have exceptional live performances are going to get onstage in very large venues even without a record. Haim, for example, has already played Glastonbury, iTunes Festival, and Way Out West 2013 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and as I write this Days Are Gone has entered the UK Album Chart at No. 1 following its release on September 30, 2013 beating out Justin Timberlake which entered the chart at number 2. Days Are Gone is a solid folk rock record, and the band has often been compared to Fleetwood Mac meets Florence & The Machine, but that comparison is too easy. There is definitely something more going on here. The album does have the shiny gloss of major label stinking up the production which is somewhat distracting particularly if you have seen Haim’s live act which is very raw and energetic. (See for yourself: Haim Live at iTunes Festival 2012 (Full Concert) – crowd is terrible but band is great!). This may be the dilemma for many a new artist – is my record going to sound like me live? The label’s answer is apparently no. Thus, for Haim, the songs on Days Are Gone come off a bit too shiny, but there is no denying the appeal of the three sisters’ ability to harmonize. These are very well written and catchy and definitely worth a listen. Try: “The Wire,” “Falling (Live at Maida Vale)” and “Forever” (Live at BBC Radio 1 Lounge December 2012).
Four years after forming, London electronic outfit Factory Floor occupy a sweet spot in my heart, for the sounds on their self-titled debut (read the rant from my last post on this phenomena below), bring back memories of original first wave electronic industrial noise makers Throbbing Gristle, but this is a decidedly mixed affair incorporating a number of related elements – avant-garde, electronic, dub, and down-tempo – with a goal of maximum danceability. This is definitely not my typical style as I normally eschew these type of records, but with the Ian Curtis like vocals of Nik Colk, and the playing of Gabriel Gurnsey and Mark Harris, the results are definitely interesting and move this post-industrial rock genre a great leap forward. In short, the record is a game changer because this is industrial music for the underground dance club. So, turn it up and feel the noise. Try: ” Turn It Up,” Work Out,” and from the bonus disc, “Blue.”
Veronica Falls released the solid hook laden album last year, Waiting For Something To Happen, which made it to the drop box, so it should come as no surprise that the follow up record, a collection of 6 cover songs would find its way to this page as well. What makes this collection different, is that the songs contained on this collection are bizarre in their selection, such that for the uninitiated, they would sound like originals. For example, not many likely saw or heard of Oi! band Cocksparrer, let alone Portland’s The Rats (formed by Fred Cole and his wife Toody now of Dead Moon). If you’ve never heard of these bands, the checking is well worth the effort. Veronica Falls takes these songs and turns them into their own, and the resurrection for each tune is refreshing with the exception of the Dylan cover. Notwithstanding, I am excited to hear a new full length of originals, but for now, Six Covers Volume 2, will have to do. Best on this mostly acoustic collection are the covers of “Bury Me Happy” (originally by the Moles) and “Timeless Melody” (originally by the La’s) and the aforementioned Teenagers” (originally by the Rats).
The Jungle Giants, like Grouplove which I will cover later in these notes, cover familiar territory if you’ve been following the dropbox. They are an Australian four-piece which formed in 2011 in Brisbane, Queensland. The band, consisting of Sam Hales (Vocals/Guitar), Cesira Aitken (Lead Guitar), Andrew Dooris (Bass/Backing Vocals) and Keelan Bijker (Drums), fit squarely into the Aussie indie pop scene like similar sounding brethren San Cisco. The songs are crisply melodic pop and, really, that is all you are likely required to know. The production on this record is also very clean. Acoustic guitar flavors a number of the tracks and I think that sound is the key to why this album is so good. In short, the “devil is in the details” and Jungle Giant‘s have payed close attention to them. There are a number of songs that will immediately have your toe tapping and your fingers snapping along. Learn To Exist should be a massive hit down under and for that reason, you will likely never hear of them on these shores, except of course through the drop box! Try: “She’s A Riot,” “Skin To Bone,” and “Got Nothing to Lose.”
Grouplove is popular in California because they represents the middle ground for mass alternative appeal. As you know, the dropbox is only filled with good things, so its inclusion should signal that this is a good album. Spreading Rumors is the follow up to their widely successful debut, 2011’s Never Trust A Happy Song which contained the hit “Colors” and the ubiquitous and overplayed “Tongue Tied.” The trouble with radio is that they always go for the easy song, as after all, “it” is about the hits. Radio hits make money and sell records for the record companies. For that reason alone, Spreading Rumors will never be played on KROQ or Alt 987 in Los Angeles, because after the success of “Tongue Tied” ( which is still played almost every day), there is never an attempt to play the follow-up singles unless they fall within the genre limits set by the earlier record, i.e. same sound, same song. Spreading Rumors could be the perfect example of a record where the best songs are not the most obvious – and that is why the dropbox inclusion. There is something deeper and more lasting than a disposable pop hit on this record. Strong writing always bodes well for a band looking for a career longer than a minute. Spreading Rumors is also something different for a band residing in Los Angeles. Grouplove likely could not get work in local clubs because almost all of the rock clubs in Los Angles are still booking faceless rock bands and other exotica. There is a certain charm to most of the songs on Spreading Rumors as they have apparently consciously attempted to sing more and shout less. That is, the record remains true to Grouplove’s “style” but unlike Never Trust A Happy Song, the balance achieved on this record sets it apart from the earlier work – less shouting more music. It is also really difficult to ignore how pleasant the boy-girl vocals of Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi are when they alternate on the duet “Schoolboys.” Try: ”Schoolboys,” “News To Me,” and “Raspberry” (with its Frank Black sounding vocal – definitely a Pixies feel on this one very similar to “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven”).
On The Death of the Self Preservation Society, Columbus Ohio’s Two Cow Garage, display the consequences of listening to Blue Oyster Cult. Such influences inform and transform Two Cow Garage‘s sound displaying more organ and piano than previously while remaining a guitar driven machine. Two Cow Garage is still punk rock but now leaning a little more towards the rock end of the genre pool. Death of The Self Preservation Society still contains the obligatory street punk ballad (e.g “Mantle in ’56”), but for a 6th album, Death of the Self Preservation Society represents real growth by the band – both in sound and maturity. The country blues of their predecessor albums is still present but now it is much more muscular, hence the BOC reference earlier. I swear, you could add cowbells to “Annie Get Your Guns” and it would belong on Agents of Fortune. Try: ”Death of Self-Preservation Society,” (This reminds me of a song by another band, but can’t quite think of it now), “Lost On Youth,” and “My Friend Adam.”
Odense Denmark trio, Kissaway Trail, on their third LP, Breach, continue in workmanlike fashion to craft melodic chamber pop, and perhaps that could be considered a flaw by some listeners. However, for me, while acknowledging that Kissaway Trail is not breaking new ground, the songs on Breach are captivating. Time spent absorbing Breach was well worth my effort as it took a few spins to discover the gentle gems on this transcendent affair. It’s the groove created by the trio that allows for the simple melodies to spiral off into complex forays much like Arcade Fire but without sounding like an imitation. The vocals are what make this record special. Try: “Shaking The Mote,” the gorgeous “A Rainy Night in Soho,” and “So Sorry, I’m Not.”
Another band you’ve not heard of, but releasing its 6th album, Underground Youth, on The Perfect Enemy For God, have created a sound that would have been perfectly acceptable at Manchester’s Hacienda Club in 1980. Picture it, you are going out for a night on the town to see the beginnings of Echo & The Bunnymen or perhaps the Cure are in town to play songs from their Pornography album. Who would be the opener? Why Underground Youth, of course. You can hear elements of a number of early Manchester bands and the results on The Perfect Enemy For God are darn near perfect. (Look, for those of you whom actually read these notes, I am for the sake of cheap and lazy comparison ignoring the whole Joy Division presence which is duly noted by other observers, particularly on “Rodion” largely because such comparisons are always unfair to the band unfortunate enough to draw such comparison. Reviewer’s do this often. How do you think Bruce Springsteen felt after being dubbed the new Bob Dylan? (See Springsteen on Springsteen excerpt) Although if you noticed earlier, I did utilize a similar reference to Joy Division.) I was literally amazed at the feel of this record which mixes psychedelic and shoegaze with a touches of early post-punk. Very impressive. Try: “Rodion,” “In The Dark I See,” and “Masquerade.”
Volcano Choir is identified primarily with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, but all of the music on this record was written by former members of Collections of Colonies of Bees (Jon Mueller (Death Blues), Thomas Wincek (of All Tiny Creatures), Matthew Skemp (All Tiny Creatures)), guitarist Chris Rosenau, and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Wincek. Repave, the groups second album, arrives after 4 years and with Vernon questioning whether he will ever record again under the Bon Iver name. And perhaps that questioning is what brings energy to these often complex songs. Although it seems that the recording process, which lasted more than two years, was an exercise in brute force in trying to achieve the results the group was looking for, the results reflect the effort and attention to detail. The songs on Repave sound somewhat like David Bowie singing for the Talking Heads as filtered through of Montreal. There is a delicacy on the record but not in the way you would normally think of delicate. The goal is clearly to push the minimalistic post-rock of the first Volcano Choir album forward into a new sonic stratosphere and that is accomplished in two ways. First, by Vernon only focusing on vocals and lyrics (which in places are somewhat rambling), the band replaces Vernon’s own desire to internalize the melodies. Instead, the attack is focused and although the folk flag is flying fairly free on the Repave, it is not flagrant. Second, the Volcano Choir‘s efforts to create loose structures to give room for Vernon’s vocal approach are rewarded as this “space” is perfectly suited for Vernon’s voice and permits the songs breathing room resulting in an atmosphere for compelling listening. Try: “Bygone,” Comrade,” and Dancepack.”
Auckland New Zealand’s, the Naked and Famous are quite the busy crew. Since forming in 2008, Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith, along with engineer Aaron Short (Jesse Wood (drums) and David Beadle (bass) joined the band as full-time members in 2009) have released only two albums but several well regarded EP’s and remixes following the success of their first album 2010’s Passive You, Aggressive Me. Best known (and perhaps the only song they are known for) the electropop gem, “Young Blood” the Naked and Famous were possibly overwhelmed by the instant fame. As we’ve seen with other dropbox artists, the real questions for a band with a successful first record is deciding what that sophomore record is going to look like? Will the Naked And Famous be able to continue their success? In almost all cases, the answer to the success question is no, and it usually has little to do with the bands decisions regarding the sophomore release. Naked and Famous have intelligently guessed their answer to the success question in advance of the release of In Rolling Waves, because it is evident that the focus for this record was not on repeating the success formula of Passive You, Aggressive Me. Naked and Famous have obviously chosen their own path and In Rolling Waves is evidence of their determination to create soundscapes and songs that they believe are consistent with their collective approach to song craft. This approach works. The Naked and Famous sound that you loved on Passive You, Aggressive Me is still present but it is muted as the band really ups the level of writing and performance. The listener is going to have to work a little harder to find the thread that makes this album so enjoyable. The synth-pop sound with its beeps and blips still forms the bed of most of the songs, but the rocking guitar edges are much more pronounced and that is what gives the songs on In Rolling Waves their strength and sophistication. There could be some more immediate tempo changes to break things up along the way, but the remixes will likely shortly follow this release, and tracks like “I Kill Giants” will end up being club hits. Like CHVRCHES, the Naked And Famous recognize that the recordings on the album are only the beginning. They know that these recordings will be remixed and re-purposed. It is this flexibility that is so interesting, and why the record overall is a huge success. Only, the band is going to have to be happy with quality as the measure of their success because it is almost certainly not going to be measured by record sales. The only misstep on the In Rolling Waves is the “The Mess” which suffers from being overtly cutesy, if that is is even possible for this sugar sweet pop duet. Overall however, a fairly good time. Try: “Heart Like Ours,” “I Kill Giants,” and “A Stillness.”
On What’s In Between, Lawrence, Kansas four-piece, Pedaljets, capture completely the band at its peak – a peak that was first observed 23 years ago. On this their third album, Pedaljets finally perfect a sound hinted at 23 years ago, producing a work that is a unique mix of Midwestern punk and goth. Pedaljets released two excellent LPs (1988′s Today Today and a self-titled follow-up in 1989) that were supposed to put them on the path to college rock success along with the Meat Puppets and Husker Du. In support of those records, Pedaljets toured relentlessly but could never find the right opportunity to unlock the door to widespread commercial success. The touring, lack of commercial success, and the inherent problems in needing to balance income with living led to the band breakup in 1990. Skip ahead a long while, and all of the original members, Mike Allmayer, Matt Kesler and Rob Morrow, are back save original lead guitarist and Phil Wade who has been replaced by producer Paul Malinowski (formerly of Shiner) So what have Pedaljets accomplished? The next logical step in their musical progression – a little wiser, a little sharper, but with more accomplished lyrics. This is still alt-rock from the Midwest. Overall the songs are consistently good – not all great, but solidly good. So, when evaluating What’s In Between’s inclusion in the dropbox, I used used the bar band test and obviously Pedaljets come out like winners. Try: The boogie woogie of “Dead Day Return,” (which sounds like a Kiss outtake) “Nothing Boy,” and the mostly awesome “Riverview.”
Phoenix Arizona’s Stellar Kart’s latest release, All In, is a pleasant romp with the upbeat pop punk reminding me of Guadalcanal Diary, a band from the 80’s that I absolutely loved. I covered the reissue of Guadalcanal Diary’s Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man (1984) and perhaps that’s why when I heard All In, I was …. all in. There is something about Adam Agee’s voice (the sole surviving member of the band since its re-launch) that reminds me of Murray Attaway and so, in the most objective way, I found myself appreciating this overtly Christian band (had you there didn’t I?). Christian bands get stigmatized by the mainstream press, because of the “preachy” nature of most of these albums. Most people do not want to think about religion apart from Sunday morning. I get it. What made All In worthy of the dropbox was that this is not overtly preachy, the songs have secondary meanings, and frankly, I like acoustic flavored pop punk. That’s it. It is definitely different, but I appreciated the classic way the songs were written and the overall mood of the record. Try: “All In (Apologize),” “Hollywood Reality,” and “Criminals and Kings.”
Denton, Texas’ Bad Sports, third album cleverly entitled Bras, delivers a return to the 1970’s early new wave as if it was something Bad Sports had discovered on their own. Like the Figgs, Bad Sports mines the same territory – Joe Jackson’s I’m The Man, 999, Buzzcock’s guitars, and all the sounds you loved on those early new wave singles with a garage pop flavor dedicated to the melody. “Hypothetical Girl” sounds like it came off the Members record (Do you remember “Offshore Banking Business?”). Hard to deny the appeal of buzz saw guitars, catchy Ramones like choruses, and ooh…hoos. I’m hooked. Try: ”Terrible Place,” “Washed Up,” and “Hypothetical Girl.”
On Persona Non Grata, Fullerton California’s the Cosmonauts take a different approach to garage rock, slowing the pace so that they can infuse the psychedelic guitars and organ into the mix. Like Ty Segal, and King Tuff, Cosmonauts update the Velvet Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain into a wonderful swirl of garage music and jangle guitars that touches the acid leanings of Tame Impala and Pond discussed in prior versions of these Notes. So, pick this baby up, or you will miss out. Try “I’m So Bored With You,” (Not The Clash Tune!) “Dirty Harry,” and “Sweet Talk.”
Staying in California, San Diego’s noise pop stars, Crocodiles on Crimes of Passion deliver waves of mutilation – songs drenched in fuzz and reverb that harken back to the same sound territory as Cosmonauts. However, the focus of Crimes of Passion is on the British form of psychedlica with its psyched out vocals and jangly guitars. Much of the sound is reminiscent of the 90’s shoegaze scene best represented by the Stone Roses. The guitars shimmer and the feedback folds back onto the vocals. Opener “I Like It in the Dark” sets the stage for all of the songs on Crimes of Passion – a swirling up tempo song showing the garage leanings that distance the band from the shoegaze foundations that all of the the songs on the record are all built. A number of the songs have a harder rock edge, but the Crimes of Passion‘s pacing is nothing short of brilliant. As I listened to this through headphones (because most of my family thinks this is all noise) the effects utilized throughout the album make this sound like you are right in the studio and Crocodiles is playing live. Crimes of Passion has some weak lyrical moments, but it is easy to overlook those flaws when the music supporting those lyrics is so captivating. Try: “Me and My Machine Gun,” “Cockroach,” and “She Splits Me Up.”
Oh, Canada….Crash Karma, featuring members of several 90’s Canadian acts, Edwin (formerly of I Mother Earth), Mike Turner (formerly of Our Lady Peace), Jeff Burrows (of The Tea Party), and Amir Epstein (of Zygote), have on their second album, Rock Musique Deluxe brought forth a new musical genre into the music lexicon: 70’s retro Canuck rock. What does that mean? Well, for those of you who grew up in Canada in the 1970’s and early 80’s, this means a healthy dose of April Wine, some Prism, a little Trooper, a dash of Max Webster, and perhaps a smidge of Loverboy, but no Rush. This updates those elements, especially when you get past the first couple of generic sounding rock tracks. While I enjoyed “Everything”, the album really started to pick up with “Finally Free” and everything thereafter rocks. Rock Musique Deluxe is straight forward Canadian muscle rock, with some pretty solid writing. If you ignore some of the awkward lyrics, this is a thoroughly enjoyable record. Try: “Finally Free,” Leave Her Alone,” and “It’s For Love.”
Drifting back into the electronic dance pop genre, Delorean on their third LP, Apar, fit nicely into the Phoenix and Air stratosphere with catchy synth-pop. Coming from Spain, there is a definite European (as compared with British) feel to these tracks which are surprisingly very delicate punctuated by two recognizable vocal contributions from Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Ryan Dombal (who is better known as Glasser – her second album is also excellent and comes out next week). The temptation is to play this type of music in the background, but what sealed the deal for me was the sweeping majesty of several of the tracks played full blast in my car. The magnificent “Unhold” in particular enters new sonic territory as it is delicate and powerful all at the same time with Polachek’s great vocal performance. This is not to say that Delorean’s lead vocalist, Ekhi Lopetegi, is not up to par, just that he picks his spots carefully and in so doing allows the Delorean‘s guests to thrive in each song. This is very evident on a track like “Destitute Time” where Lopetegi sings lead but gives way to Glasser who hits the chorus hard. Try: “Unhold (Ft. Caroline Polachek).” “Destitute Time,” and You Know It’s Right.”
Remember when Queens of the Stoneage were really good? How about Kyuss? Well Destruction Unit’s take on a similar sounds is really good. So good, in fact I am tempted to heap more than the usual praise on this record. Fronted by one time Jay Reatard collaborator, Ryan Rousseau, and now featuring his brother, Rusty, N. Nappa, J. Aurelius, and A. Flores, the band have found the balance between punk and grinding noise psychedelic rock much like the Cramps found the balance between punk and rockabilly. And that is the point – it is a different experience when a band is able to shed their influences – in this case Can and the space trippiness of Hawkwind – and find the sonic equivalent. The album although sounding like free form space rock is not. This is a carefully crafted, precise album with repetition used to enhance the songs and drive them to a new level and not simply for the sake of repetition. Significantly, Rousseau’s vocals are what gives the music its punk edge without retreating to the more hardcore elements. In short, there is a harmony between vocals and guitars and the results are darn near perfect. If this is your genre, then this is a definitive record in the genre. Try: “The World on Drugs,” “God Trip,” and “Control the Light.”
Au Revoir Simone occupies a weird niche in indie rock territory. Erika Forster, Annie Hart, and Heather D’Angelo blend their voices over their keyboard and drum machine dream pop. After a little more than a decade, it seems that even Au Revoir Simone grew tired of the twee lightness of their earlier sound, because on Move in Spectrums the pop now approaches dance in energy. There is still the floating ethereal harmonies, but now, unlike past efforts, the drum machine is integral in the music, and produces a vibrancy that was not previously there. This is true indie rock in the actual meaning of those words. Au Revoir Simone hails from Brooklyn, probably plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg several times a year, and all probably live in nice middle class homes. There is a feel to this record that is more akin to what you would expect to hear at an afternoon concert in the park – and if the mood strikes you proper, then this record is what I would reach for. Unlike most of the dropbox offerings this month, this is a mood record. That is, you have to feel like listening to Move In Spectrums, because otherwise the beauty might not resonate if you are not focused on Au Revoir Simone’s unique sonic construct. Try: “More Than,” Hand over Hand,” and the pop hit, “Crazy.”
It is difficult to not love Scottish punkers, Hateful, who on their 4th outing, Soundtrack For A Sinner, manage to capture the best elements of late 1970’s British Punk (think Stiff Little Fingers – Listen to “Giving The Game Away which incorporates the sound of SLF’s “Fly The Flag”) and plays them with the joy of a band content with who they are and their place in the punk world. The album is solid from fore to aft, and the mix of street punk and 70’s punk works well. This is one of my favorite releases this month simply because it reminds me of Stiff Little Fingers and the energy of teen angst. Try: “Giving The Game Away,” “Heart Attack” and “Nice Day For Mischief.”
Now based in Berlin Germany, former Los Angeles natives Blood Arm have not only changed scenery, but also taken a change in sound direction. On Infinite Nights, Blood Arm has opted for a darker overall image, and now their indie rock is flavored with an enhanced garage edge, making tracks like “Midnight Moan” sound more like the White Stripes than on their previous outings, including the brilliant Lie Lover Lie from 2006. While not all of the record works (I’m thinking of the song “Torture” as an example – just boring), and the attempts at diversity are somewhat manufactured, for example the bubblegum pop of “Bubblegum,” it is a good example of a band in transition, stepping out its comfort zone. Some songs could use a few more hooks, but in the main, most of this is on target. Try: “Revenge,” “Midnight Moan,” and “Sex Fiend.”
Formed in New York in 1995 by Brendan B Brown, Wheatus has always been a band standing in the shadows of giants. Best known for their Green Day sound-a-like single “Teenage Dirtbag” (What? It wasn’t Green Day?) in 2000, the creep of time has impacted Wheatus‘ recording schedule. In the past five years, they have only mustered a few EPs, and finally, this August they quietly released Valentine. The reason is simple – of the original members (and there are approximately 30 former members of the band) only Brown remains. So, this album, while shopped under the Wheatus moniker, is the first for this incarnation of the band. And perhaps that’s why there is some fresh life in these songs. It’s still the pop punk you know and love, with sing-a-long hooks, but there is a slightly different feel to these songs than on past endeavors. Particularly as Valentine follows 2009’s Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 1 – The Lightning and 2010’s Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 2 – The Jupiter EP, which were both markedly different endeavors than the earlier Wheatus recordings. So, that I don’t miss out and forget to mention it later (as I am now apt to do) “Fourteen” should be a massive radio hit as it essentially captures the spirit of Material Issue, only thirty years later. Overall, Valentine is a winner of a record because Brown has finally found out what works – and it sounds very much like where Brown started a long time ago. If Wheatus never releases another record, which will make me sad, they have achieved power pop perfection with the Valentine. Try: “Fourteen,” “Holiday,” and “Marigold Girl.”