November 10 2013 Dropbox Notes

Bet you thought with the timing of the release of this month’s dropbox (on Halloween) and these notes that there might be a holiday theme to the drop box. No such luck. What there is this month, with this latest version of the drop box, is another month of really good music. Rarely does the wave of good tunes extend past September. Historically, October and November begin the Christmas music season and often signals a time of year that is littered with greatest hits and anthology albums, Christmas albums (I kid you not, Bad Religion has a Christmas Album that is as terrible as it sounds. Filled with traditional songs sung in the style of Bad Religion – brutal) and those artists who are not on major labels. The “major labels” (whatever those are now) have already released their biggest albums of the year, e.g. Lady Gaga, Kanye, etc. to time their sales for Christmas shoppers desperate for a gift for someone whom they think will like the album they purchased for them and invariably, they do not. At least in the pre-digital age, when you ended up with the Bee Gees greatest hits vinyl, you could always return it for the latest KISS album.

Not only is this month’s drop box filled with some really good records, but what is most striking about this month is the diversity of the releases – from the Clash to Cassadee Pope – you should find something appealing as you begin the holiday season. Consistent with the release schedule of the major labels, the large number of reissues and anthologies has produced several worthy of inclusion in the drop box. I have selected a couple of these to introduce the band or the record to those of you whom likely have never heard of these artist, such as the Undertones and Public Image Limited.

After speaking with Russell last week about the diversity of musical styles, and for those of you who care about these things, there is a pattern that has developed over the past several months.  If you scroll back through the notes, I have tried each month to provide something old, something, new something pink and something blue in each dropbox. This month there are a few extra oldsters that made the box.

So, with that said, lets introduce a few that made it:

Clash - Hits BackThe Clash should need no introduction, right? The Clash, like Elvis Costello and The Who, are reissue kings with numerous repackages of their albums. This latest round of reissues however may be the final statement on their reissues. The Clash Hits Back, and the simultaneous release of Sound System, a massive boom box containing all of the Clash albums that Mick Jones played on (the band essentially disavowing the Cut The Crap album) and containing a treasure trove of unreleased demos and goodies, easily supplants the Clash on Broadway box set as the best of the Clash reissues.

The Clash Hits Back is of interest, not only for the upgraded re-mastering of classic Clash songs making them sound much closer to what the records sounded like on vinyl – raw and vital, but also for the sequencing of this two disc set. The Clash Hits Back is sequenced almost exactly as the set played by the band at the Brixton Fair Deal (now the Academy) on 10 July 1982. The place apparently held a special place for the Clash according to bassist Paul Simenon who was responsible for the Hits Back and Sound System projects. I was able to see the Clash play in Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom (January 31, 1979) at the peak of their powers. When you scan the set list for this show it is amazing – essentially a greatest hits album from the first song to the last. I have a bootleg of this show, unfortunately an audience recording, but you can hear the energy of the crowd and the band as they ripped through these songs. Strummer was a master at timing the emotions of the crowd in response to the songs. I’m not going to make song picks here. This is perfection.

Undertones - Introducing The UndertonesComing from a completely different musical direction in the same punk genre as the Clash were a little band from Derry Northern Ireland – The Undertones. Like Stiff Little Fingers, the Undertones played a pop version of punk rock with well written short sharp songs propelled by the O’Neil brothers and the unique sounding vocals of Feargal Sharkey. The O’Neil’s later went on to form the amazing That Petrol Emotion when Feargal Sharkey left the band to go solo.

Drawing from not only punk and new wave but also pop and northern soul, the Undertones represented a very distinct branch of the new wave movement from 1979. Hugely popular in England and Ireland and a large following in Canada, they didn’t connect with the U.S. as many a band who tried to break in to the U.S. market largely failed. I note that even the Clash had difficulty early on only finding success when the band was nearing the end of its initial run. People think the Clash’s London Calling was a huge record. Although now it is considered by many as one of the greatest albums of all time, it peaked in the U.S. Billboard charts at number 27 in 1980 (released in the U.S. on January 18, 1980), and did not reach RIAA gold certification until December 4, 1991, almost 11 years later.

So back to the Undertones. What made the Undertones so unique, and unlike Stiff Little Fingers, was despite the time and place of their formation (during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland) the songs are focused on love, teen angst, and youthful exuberance. It is difficult not to smile when you hear the catchy pop-punk singles of this unique sounding band that incorporated a wide range and diverse number of influences. UK radio DJ John Peel’s favorite song of all time was “Teenage Kicks” which is hard to argue as the best in the Undertones catalog but for me, on Introducing the Undertones, “Hypnotized,” “Here Comes The Summer,” and the Motown influenced “The Love Parade” do nicely.

Public Image Limited - First IssueThe third oldie record in this month’s drop box is Public Image Limited’ s debut release First Issue – a remarkable album that changed the public’s perception of what popular music should sound like upon its release in 1978. Following the death of the Sex Pistols and the resultant trauma from the mess the Sex Pistols left in their wake, Johnny Rotten’s formation of Public Image Limited shortly thereafter was not only a surprise, but the uncompromising quality of the music on First Issue was a shock to the public. At the time, the record was considered too un-commercial to be released in the United States. The influence on post punk following the release of First Issue is undeniable.

From the band name, Public Image Limited, to the songs on this record, First Issue is a deliberate attempt to exorcise the taste of the Sex Pistols from Lydon’s psyche. The album is a direct slap at Malcolm McLaren and the lyrics, in part, are directed to the bitterness Lydon felt towards the manipulation by McLaren in creating the infighting and tension that lead to the demise of the band. This back story to the record puts songs like “Public Image” and its wry observations such as “[y]ou never listened to a word that I said/ you only see me for the clothes that I wear” in context. There is nothing like psychological pain to inspire brilliance.

Listening to this album more than 35 years after its original release, the songs now sound akin to present day rock, but at the time, this sound was revolutionary. Jah Wobble’s thumping baseline expanded the sonic template for guitarist Keith Levine’s grind and the union of these divergent sounds exposed the underbelly of rock – in a very exciting way. This reissue of First Issue also includes a Lydon interview and the b-side “The Cowboy Song” which is really a true b-side, as this song leans more towards noise punk. First Issue is at it’s heart anti-rock created by a guy who hated conventional rock and roll. First Issue was a dangerous record in 1978, and frankly, it still is. Try “Public Image”, “Low Life,” and “Annalisa.”

Tears For Fears - The HurtingFast forward a couple of years later into the 1980’s, English new wavers Tears For Fears, comprised of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, represented the prototypical sound of new wave in the mid 1980’s and by the end of that decade were ubiquitous on radio – both AM and FM. In the same manner as like-minded synth pop bands, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and the Human League, Tears For Fears initial impact is lost in the syrupy overproduced major label influenced pop that followed each band’s debut record. But as a debut, The Hurting, still resonates. The Hurting was a UK Number 1 album, but the U.S. missed the initial wave of popularity, with the follow up album, Songs From The Big Chair, reaching stratospheric popularity levels upon its release in the U.S – peaking as a Billboard No. 1.

So, why was The Hurting so special? The vocal qualities of Roland and Curt over top of the sly synth-pop disguised the serious nature of the lyrical content on the album. It is difficult to reconcile the subject matter on songs like “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Suffer The Children” with the dance music underlying these lyrics. e.g. from “Pale Shelter”: “[y]ou don’t give me love/ you give me pale shelter/ you don’t give me love/ you give me cold hands…” Remarkably, this album found a niche with the Cure loving Goth kids who adopted the band as an alternative to the dower Cure who had left the comparatively upbeat song craft found on their debut Three Imaginary Boys for the post punk of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography – three of the darkest records in the Cure discography. Tears For Fears looked like Goth’s, and the dark lyrical content fit within the Goth world, but The Hurting is filled with remarkable pop songs and TFF were definitely not a Goth band, so this anomaly possibly lead to increasing importance and popularity which TFF later capitalized upon commercially. Try “Change,” “Suffer The Children (7’’ version),” and “Pale Shelter.”

PrintLast, but certainly not least in this month’s plethora of reissues, is Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism Demos, which is the bonus record attached to the 10th anniversary reissue of Transatlanticism which was Death Cab’s fourth album and commercial breakthrough record.

Death Cab For Cutie - TransatlanticismWhile I rarely, if ever, am excited by the demos of a band, these demos caught my attention because the textures present here give further meaning and context to songs that I loved from this record. Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla’s approach on Transatlanticism was never to be a rock band putting out a rock record. Rather, these demos demonstrate the care the pair took in developing a sonic approach to indie rock that creates a tension that touches your heart. The simple approach to these demo songs bring the released versions into perspective. “Lightness” in particular stands out as the simple melody that penetrates your soul. Give this a whirl at least once. You won’t be disappointed. Try” Lightness,” “Death of An Interior Decorator,” and “Tiny Vessels.”

October also had some new releases worthy of a few lines:

Arcade Fire - ReflektorIt is hard to argue with the commercial popularity of Arcade Fire’s new release, Reflektor. For those expecting The Suburbs mach II, Reflektor is really a left turn. Debuting at No. 1 in the Billboard charts shows that the record company knows how to release a record and the No. 1 debut is more the result of great publicity, a last album by the band that was spectacular, and timing of the publicity in advance of the release date, than the quality of record itself. That is, few people who purchased the record had actually heard the record before purchase. So what makes Reflektor, which is a staggering 85 minutes long, a great record? In short, the songs on Reflektor comprise a certain phase shift in the Arcade Fire’s sound and the result is an unconventional album uniquely positioned for mass appeal.

There is nothing on this record that would signal conventional hit record. The songs are lengthy, and like the National song structures, build to crescendo and upon the reaching that sonic peak, explode into smaller yet no less interesting waves. The songs don’t attack you, but rather flow like water, not a gentle stream, but like the ocean… and that is the magic in this record. The songs are constructed in such a way to give you the feeling that you are floating within each song. You float and consequently the need for instant gratification typical of most pop songs i.e. the chorus, is no longer a necessity. This record would make for a long sweaty night in a nightclub and I can envision the endless remix possibilities. Finally, there is a rhythmic awareness on this record unlike any other Arcade Fire record. It is impossible not to listen to this record with a foot tap. Songs like “We Exist” and Here Comes The Nigh Time” are prime examples of this new approach with interesting rhythms propelling the songs and the Win Butler’s vocals weirdly hovering in these rhythms. Try “We Exist, “Normal Person,” and “Afterlife.”

AFI - BurialsAFI makes a return after a lengthy hiatus. After 4 years, Davey Havoc and company make a very lush sounding imaginative record that is undoubtedly the darkest record the band has made. This is Havoc’s personal pain examined in depth. Knowledge is power, so be forewarned, this is not a dance pop record and nor is it in any manner similar to the straight forward rock that was present on Crash Love. This is still progress for AFI and not a return to the commercial popular version, except that the Goth rock leanings are reinvigorated on Burials. Other than the radio friendly “17 Crimes,” there are no other songs on this record that should make any commercial playlist. I guess that is perhaps the point AFI is trying to make on this album. Burials is clearly not an attempt to produce a radio friendly unit shifter (Nirvana). Look, any band who can sing “I Hope You Suffer” with such ferocity, is no longer grasping for the brass ring. If you are already a fan, then you will get this record and what AFI is trying to accomplish. I also hope that anyone who listens to this record doesn’t have a personal connection to these songs, because if you do, my heartfelt deepest regrets. This record makes the dropbox, because of its honesty and commitment to the craft of making music that is personal. Very few artists are willing to commit to their art, but AFI have done that in spades here. Honest and intense, this is a great record. Try” I Hope You Suffer,” “Heart Stops,” and “Greater Than 84.”

Chris Stamey - Lovesick BluesRadically switching things up (because after listening to Burials, you are reminded that perhaps a break from despair is required, at least sometimes), legendary (at least to me) musician and producer Chris Stamey (formerly of the Sneakers, and dBs) releases Lovesick Blues, his first record since 2005’s collaboration with Yo La Tengo, A Question of Temperature. This is a beautiful record in the true meaning of that word – pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically. The addition of strings to these delicate compositions add sonic highlights to the simple and straightforward approach of Stamey on these intimate tales. For those of you whom have grown up with pop music on radio, then Lovesick Blues will be an acquired taste. I find Stamey’s approach to these songs remarkable. After repeated listens to this album I find nuances to each song that I didn’t discover on earlier listens. It is the work of true genius to make complex songs sound so simple. Try “Skin,” “You n Me n XTC,” and “Lovesick Blues.”

Dandy Warhols - This MachineNever thought I’d see the Dandy Warhols pop out a new record as good as this at this point in their career. This Machine is the 8th album from the Portland mainstays who continue to tour and play but not with the same fervor as earlier in the band’s development. Prior to listening to This Machine, I had read some mostly negative reviews and as a reader of Pitchfork’s blog, I was dismayed by Pitchfork’s reviewer’s 5.1 overall rating for the album. The reviewer found the Dandy Warhols stripped down approach to psych rock unappealing and the album overall uninteresting. With that as foreshadow for my own listening experience, I was hesitant to even give the record a spin. I’m glad I did. Pitchfork’s review is wide of the mark and they are just plain wrong in their assessment of This Machine. Perhaps there is something else going on with the politics of rock criticism as Pitchfork becomes less relevant in the big picture. I know, some of you are thinking why I would make such a bold statement.

An Aside: Pitchfork has like many a blog, evolved over the years. As it attempts to monetize its blog, after all who writes this stuff for free, there has been subtle, but noticeable change in the review content. Sure, there is still an attempt to review nearly everything released, but in the last year, there is major label creep. I note the positive reviews of Katy Perry (I agree with the review), Kanye West (9.5 for largely an average and uninspired record. Note: Hype does not make a record good. The test, as always is time, and I can think of no time where I would play this more than the few times I tried to listen to this record), Drake (8.6), Janelle Monae (8.3) etc. The point here is that Pitchfork is shifting its focus to try to be popular, i.e. increase readership, which by no means is a bad thing, but at what expense? Since, the focus of the dropbox is always only on things I personally like, I do not offer or pretend to offer criticism, only information. Hopefully it’s relevant and interesting. If not, let me know. I’ll do better. So, back to the point of this aside – Pitchfork is becoming less relevant as a place to read valid criticism because it has lost its focus – it is not Spin or Rolling Stone and it shouldn’t try to be. Rather, Pitchfork’s best asset was always information – exposure to unique sounds and artists. This I feel is what it has lost.

Now, back to the program:

Dandy Warhols’ leader and rock savant Courtney Taylor-Taylor, has produced an interesting and yes, different, Dandy Warhols record. The secret on This Machine is the Dandy’s capacity to move the listener by changing the sonic direction of each song. The strength of the Dandy Warhols has always been the capacity to sonically fuse pychedelia to indie rock, and that is accomplished here is spades. Perhaps, Pitchfork doesn’t like the ethereal vocals, noticeable present on “The Autumn Carnival,” or the straightforward Cramps sound of “Enjoy Yourself” but in the main, I was pleasantly surprised by both the depth and variety of the songs. Sure, there is not the vigor of youth present in Taylor’s vocals, but maturity should not be taken for merely going through the motions. Also, nothing on This Machine approaches the level of craftsmanship found on the first three DW records, but, for most bands, it is difficult to get one great record let alone three, and on album eight it is refreshing to see a band not traipsing around the same sound with little thought to creating something new. This record works because it demonstrates range, uncompromising quality, and the songs still fit the band. Sure there are a few missteps, such as the cover of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” but overall a very good record. Try “I Am Free,” “Rest Your Head,” and “Sad Vacation.”

Fall Out Boy - Pax-Am DaysNeed a change of pace and direction? Not you as a listener, but as a band, then look no further than Fall Out Boy’s latest release. I thought their last album Fall Out Boy Save Rock and Roll was a very strong record, but this follow up EP, Pax-Am Days, is a palate cleaner for the band. This is eight songs of short sharp punk rock touched by the pop sprinkles of Patrick Stump, and the results, unlike similar attempts by bands looking to take a harder left turn in their careers, are uniformly excellent. Perhaps, FOB’s members actually like punk rock – because they play it like they mean it.  While this type of punk rock is likely a genre where the band will likely end up on their next full length, Fall Out Boy successfully plays these eight tracks like the band is still part of the scene, not merely aping the sound. A great effort. Try ”American Made,” “Caffeine Cold,” and “Love Sex Death.”

If you’ve been following the dropbox for the past couple of years, then you are likely aware that when I like a record I become a fan of the band and so, when something new appears, I am eager to give it a listen. Such is the case this month with some great new tunes from some past offenders:

Kurt Vile And The Violators - It's A Big World Out ThereKurt Vile and The Violator’s latest, It’s A Big World Out There (And I’m Scared), is scheduled for release next week (November 13) and continues Vile’s distinctive indie rock sound explored earlier this year on Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze and will comprise the bonus disc for the deluxe version of that album as all of the tracks were recorded during those sessions. All of these are previously unreleased, and as a standalone, this EP works great as a companion to that record. I am looking forward already to the next installment. Try “Feel My Pain,”, “Never Run Away (string synth),” and “Snowflakes Extended.”

Fuzz - FuzzSo, you’ve probably already guessed I have a toner (a musical boner, see the Pitch Perfect movie), for the very prolific Ty Segal who seems to release something every month. This month it is in the form of Fuzz, consisting of life long pals Charles Mootheart & Ty Segall and rounded out live by ex-Moonheart Roland Cosio on bass who have released a gem of a record in the form of the self-titled debut Fuzz and a 7’’ “Sunderberry Dream” b/w “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Like Segall’s other projects, the touchstone is always some point in rock history as filtered through Segall’s brilliant reinterpretations of the genre. Here, Fuzz takes on the heavy rock of the early to mid-70’s with Black Sabbath, Hendrix, and similar post 60’s psychedelic Blues based fuzz rock. The record makes you sweaty just listening. I want desperately to get my Bic lighter out, particularly after the opener “Earthen Gate” where at the end you could almost imagine the stadium cheer. Less a throwback than a homage, Fuzz won’t sell a ton of records – but they should. Try “Sleigh Ride,” “Loose Sutures,” and “One.” Get a Live peak here: Fuzz (Ty Segall) – This Time I’ve Got a Reason (KDVS: Live In Studio A.

Static Jacks - In BlueWestfield New Jersey’s Static Jacks are back with their follow up to one of my favorite records of 2011, the magnificent If Your Young, with the also stellar In Blue. This is, if you recall, sing-a-long pop punk that is so catchy I dare you not to be captured by the melody present here in abundance on the songs comprising In Blue. I loved the entire record which is currently playing on repeat. “Wallflowers” has hit song written all over it, so start there and bounce around because there is not a dud on the album. Apparently the band has been listening to the trend to explore “fuzz”, so this record has more of that presence than on the past albums all to great effect. Try ”Wallflowers,” “Katie Said,” and “Ninety Salt.”

So, until I can get to an update, here is the list:

  1. Dirtbombs – Consistency Is the Enemy [2013]
  2. Fuzz – Sunderberry Dream EP [2013]
  3. Fuzz – Fuzz [2013]
  4. Static Jacks – In Blue [2013]
  5. Cage the Elephant – Melophobia [2013]
  6. Public Image Ltd. – First Issue (Reissue) [2CD] [2013]
  7. Cassadee Pope – Frame By Frame [2013]
  8. Electric Six – Mustang [2013]
  9. Undertones – An Introduction to the Undertones [2013]
  10. Panic! at the Disco – Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! [2013]
  11. Andrew Belle – Black Bear [2013]
  12. Chris Stamey – Lovesick Blues [2013]
  13. Fratellis – We Need Medicine [2013]
  14. Teen Agers – I Hate It [2013]
  15. Tears for Fears – The Hurting [30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] [2013]
  16. William Beckett – Genuine and Counterfeit [2013]
  17. AFI – Burials [2013]
  18. Arcade Fire – Reflektor [2CD] [2013]
  19. Best Coast – Fade Away EP [2013]
  20. Dandy Warhols – This Machine [2013]
  21. Dirty Projectors – Offspring Are Blank EP [2013]
  22. Fall Out Boy – Pax-Am Days EP [2013]
  23. Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident [2013]
  24. Gaslight Anthem – 45 RPM Club (7”) [2013]
  25. Clash – Hits Back [2CD] [2013]
  26. Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others [2013]
  27. Control – Ballad of The Working Man [2013]
  28. Cult Of Luna – Vertikal II (MCD) [2013]
  29. Cults – Static [2013]
  30. Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism Demos [2013]
  31. Echosmith – Talking Dreams (Deluxe Special Edition) [2013]
  32. Kurt Vile and The Violators – It’s A Big World Out There (And I Am Scared) EP [2013]
  33. Los Campesinos! – No Blues [2013]
  34. Ocean Party – Split [2013]
  35. Papa – Tender Madness [2013]
  36. Polica – Shulamith [2013]
  37. Rude Tins – State Of Flux [2013]
  38. Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real [2013]
  39. Drag the River – Drag the River [2013]
  40. Kickdrums – Thinking Out Loud [2013]
  41. Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond [2013]
  42. Parlotones – Stand Like Giants [2013]
  43. Velojet – Panorama [2013]
  44. Unwound – Kid Is Gone [2013]
  45. Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals [2013]
  46. Polly Scattergood – Arrows [2013]
  47. Royal Bangs – Brass [2013]
  48. Phosphorescent – Muchacho de Lujo [2013]
  49. Wolf & Cub – Heavy Weight [2013]
  50. Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2 [2013]

December 2, 2013 Dropbox Notes Update

Hope you all had a safe and wonderful thanksgiving. I had started on this post a couple of weeks ago, but priorities changed and so now, without the usual fanfare, I wanted to highlight a few releases I wasn’t able to get around to since this month’s drop box hit and those that went uncovered in the initial release notes. You know how it is when things get a little busier than you anticipate. Thankfully, I’ve got a little time to bring you up to speed.I will drop this month’s releases in a day or two, so this should allow you to seek out those titles you might have missed.

Cage The Elephant - MelophobiaBowling Green Kentucky’s Cage The Elephant are not an unknown entity. 2011’s Thank You, Happy Birthday was both a critical and commercial success, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 200. So as a band, you’ve got to be asking where we go from here? The problem with a massively successful record is that everything that immediately follows will be measured in the glow of that success. Also relevant to this issue is the likelihood (real or imagined) that most people and radio programmers will want more of the same sound that sold the records in the first place.

Well, apparently, to get around this issue you make the record you want to make, sounding like you want it to sound and, in the long run, Melophobia is possibly a better record than Thank You Happy Birthday. I say that because Cage The Elephant have stayed the course by staying true to the sound that made Thank You Happy Birthday such a success but expanding the sonic territory covered so as to keep progressing as a band incorporating a diverse range of sounds. Consequently, Melophobia as a complete work takes a little getting used to when it is compared with the immediacy of the hooks present on Thank You, Happy Birthday (particularly on the ubiquitous single, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”).

However, patience is rewarded after several spins of Melophobia. Some of the brilliance of this record is found in the off-kilter and often distorted vocals, mid-tempo rhythms, and hints of 70’s rock found throughout the record. Hard to describe the sonic differences albeit the songs are catchy, sing-a-long affairs, and one point I Thought I was listening to Jake Bugg and Oh Mercy’s Alexander Gow on “Halo”. Try “Halo,” “Spiderland,” and “It’s Just Forever (featuring Allison Mossheart).” Here is the tour video of “Come A Little Closer.”

I digress: As you might discover from earlier musings in the drop box notes, I am a sucker for the karaoke television program the Voice. It’s not that I am amazed by the fact that so many people watch a program with possible the worst song selection in recorded history. Really, it is tiring to hear the same weak pop songs (the same songs in several countries) performed by capable singers. However, when you hear a song performed in a unique manner, like a great cover song, then the effort is worthwhile. When compared with the nearly unwatchable X-Factor (which has lost its charm this season) or the dreadful train wreck that is American Idol (which has really lost the path – England knows how to do “presenters” – the U.S. does not), the Voice is marginally the best of the lot. So, in past drop boxes I have covered a couple of interesting records from Dia Frampton (Voice Season 1 runner up) and Janet Devlin (5th place X-Factor UK Series 8), and finally amidst the carnage of the other winners, arrives Cassadee Pope (Voice Season 3 winner) with her debut entitled Frame by Frame, which upon released was the Number 9 album on the Billboard Top 200 and number 1 country record. All in all a successful launch – a rarity for these shows.

Cassadee Pope - Frame By FramePrior to her becoming the winner of Season 3, Cassadee Pope was already in a pretty good pop punk band Hey Monday. Fast forward a couple of years and where is Cassadee now? Well, Frame By Frame is not a punk rock record. Rather, the album most closely resembles 70’s a.m. radio with a country flair. To be clear, Frame by Frame is a good record but not a great record. In order to rate the record great – there would have to be some sandpaper applied to all of the songs – the production syrupy and overblown has ripped all of the grit in these songs which makes the record in many places a country pop parody record. I get that the label is in control of this record and trying to appeal to the crossover market as almost all of country music is sugary pop, and if that sells records than from the label perspective all is good. I suspect however, that they could have released Frame By Frame without the add-ons that make many of the songs absolutely soulless and lifeless. For example, debut single, “Good Times” sounds like something Dolly Parton would sing and at times the vocal approach and muzak country reminds me of the schmaltz Dolly used to serve.

But after trying to look past the made for pop country, you can still find some heart buried in these songs and that is what makes this a good album. Cassadee is clearly experimenting here – stepping as far from her past as a light punk princess, she is clearly putting her effort into these songs and the vocals are strong. She has managed to find the balance by not over singing – letting the melody do the work and once you get past the first two songs on the record, and starting with “Wasting All These Tears” you have the essence of Cassadee’s country sweet spot – jilted lover and dreamer. Not a classic, but you should find something to love as a guilty pleasure. Hopefully someone at the label has the courage to release the rough mixes of this record without the goop additions. Shameful production. Here’s hoping she still has a rock record in her. Try” I Wish I Could Break Your Heart,” “This Car,” (Pedal steel is a nice touch), and the Kate Bush sounding “Proved You Wrong.”

Panic At The Disco! - To Weird To Live To Weird To DiePanic! At The Disco have evolved but not because they wanted to, but because when half of your band leaves for new horizons, you are forced to do something a little different.

More digression: Control is always an issue in bands. The rule, like marriage, is that you cannot have two individuals who are both lions occupying the same territory. Bands break up. Few survive the loss of key members and find the ability to continue without some loss of quality. What many fail to recognize is that it is precisely the relationships that exist within a band that create the magic laid down on tape, oops, I mean pro tools. Failures are legendary. See ClashCut The Crap (recorded after Mick Jones had left), Van Halen (everything after Diamond Dave left), The Smiths (after Johnny Marr left – and to be clear – there is nothing that Morrissey has recorded post-Smiths that even comes close to the Smith’s catalog).

In Panic! At The Disco’s lifetime, founding members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker walked prior to recording the band’s third album Vices and Virtues. Leaving only Brandon Urie and Spencer Smith to continue, Vices and Virtues left fans a little confused as to the band’s direction – which most guessed was strident boredom. Fast forward to Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! and Urie has taken firm control of the band. The result is a shift towards the mainstream but in a positive manner as Panic!’s earlier incarnations produced a form of dance rock was way left of center. Now, focusing on actual song structures and melodies, Panic! At The Disco has positioned itself in the same musical genre as Fall Out Boy – poopy dance rock. Still present are the odd-ball lyrics (see Ms. Jackson”) but Urie is cognizant that in order to survive you have to sell a few records and most of this album is catchy and interesting enough to make for its inclusion in the drop box. I’m not sure there are any classics on this record but there is enough progress here to look forward to the next release because the seeds of greatness are present. Try ”Girls/Girls/Boys” (which, really, is brilliant), “Collar Full,” and “ All The Boys (bonus track).”

Andrew Belle - Black BearSinger-songwriter Andrew Belle’s second album Black Bear should find a wider audience for his brand of alternative AOR music. Incorporating more electronics to his sonic approach, and it is hard to not like any track on this record. Sure, it is definitely adult contemporary alt-rock, but there is something mesmerizing about Belle’s soft croon and the incorporation of contemporary indie rock sounds (Milk Carton Kids whom he toured with comes to mind as does Grouplove) into well written songs which Belle claims continue the story of his debut album, the LadderBlack Bear is an album that conceptually reflects and touches on all of the most important relationships in my life … It’s a dialogue and a wrestling with God. At times, there is a Coldplay feel to some of these songs, particularly on “Wants What It Wants” but not enough to be irritating. Try “Sister,” “Details,” and “The Enemy.”

Dirtbombs - Consistency Is the EnemyUpping the tempo a bit, Detroit’s best sleaze rockers return with their first true Dirtbombs record since 2011’s triple album Party Store. No surprises here – Consistency Is The Enemy rocks and it should because this is the vinyl companion to an earlier CD compilation 2006’s singles compilation If You Don’t Already Have a Look. That two disc, CD-only collection focused primarily on out-of-print vinyl singles and some rarities that the band had previously released but it also contained several new songs – and that is what you have here. The songs that were buried in that collection that the Dirtbombs feel need reexamination until we have new Dirtbombs’ material. Try “Here Comes That Sound Again” “Candyass,” and “Walk On Jagged Air.” (The cover of Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss” is also cool.)

Electric Six - MustangI never thought that Detroit’s Electric Six would ever make the drop box after their last album, Heartbeats and Brainwaves which was a bit of a disappointment. (I’m ignoring the live album – 2012’s Absolute Pleasure, and lead singer Dick Valentines solo record Destroy The Children as those contained no new Electric Six material. With Mustang, the Electric Six return to form, capturing their unique sound – an amalgam of punk, funk, metal, garage and soul all shaken and not stirred. Dick’s voice is in fine form and as you will be able to guess by the lyrics (most of which are NSFW) almost everyone is fair game – even you Adam Levine! Great video “Adam Levine”. Like their earlier records, you have to be in the mood for listening, but it is impossible to not get caught up in the beautiful mess. Try “Unnatural Beauty,” “Skin Traps,” and “Jessica Dresses like a Dragon.” Here is the Electric Six live at The Earl Oct 13th 2013 – Full Show (Mostly)

Fratellis - We Need MedicineGlasgow’s Fratellis had the same problem as Cage the Elephant described earlier. How could the possibly follow up their single “Flathead” which was literally everywhere in 2007 – Apple used it to market the iPod, and the Chicago Blackhawks are using it as their theme song. The Fratellis method of dealing with the pressure to follow up “Flathead”? Break up. Well, skip forward a couple of years, five to be precise, and we have a new third album We Need Medicine from the reformed Fratellis. So, what does it sound like? The Fratellis have decided that they are a rock band and not a fey folk band like the Mumfords (except in a few places. See “Whiskey Saga.”) Striking the balance in favor of up-tempo songs and incorporating a little Springsteen, on the fabulous “Seven Nights Seven Days”, the album rocks like a band determined to move forward together. There are a few misses, particularly some unfortunate lyric choices – title track “We Need Medicine” comes to mind) but overall an enjoyable outing. Try “Seven Nights Seven Days,” “Rock N Roll Will Break Your Heart,” and “Until She Saves My Soul.”

Gaslight Anthen - Halloween be Desire (Acoustic)Because it fits after a Springsteen reference, The Gaslight Anthem have a new 45’’ from their 45RPM Club (fan club) released on Vinyl only. The first track is an acoustic version of “Desire” and the second is the more up-tempo “Halloween.” Both worth a listen. You can join the 45 RPM Club here.

Cults - StaticWhy is it that bands breakup just as they are about to release a record? This is a troublesome event because you know you will never see a tour when the record is uniformly excellent and you would want to see it played live!. Bugger hell. So, I’ve been playing for the past couple of months, New York Indie rocker’s Cults second album Static, only to find out the band is no more. (Imagine gentle tears falling down my cheeks now).  Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion whom were a couple and a band – split up last year as a couple and rumor has it that after their extensive touring in support of their debut, that the impact of that decision laid open here on Static is also the demise of the band. Why is this record so good? Madeline Follin has a voice that has captured the early 60’s girl group vocal styling and when layered alongside Oblivions early Motown orchestration the results are stunning. Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out where Madeline’s head was at as she was writing this album – the song titles lay it out pretty clearly. Surprisingly, I felt no cognitive dissonance as I listened to these bummer lyrics set to bouncy synth-pop and stellar guitar work. A uniformly consistent record. Top shelf. Try “High Road,” “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” and “Shine a Light.”

Los Campesinos! - No BluesIt looks like Los Campesinos! have discovered the fervor that had left them on previous releases a little flat and struggling to capture the energy present on their magnificent second album Hold On Now, Youngster from 2008. Earlier this year the live album A Good Night For A Fist Fight made the drop box and for good reason as it was a high octane presentation of the songs that made Los Campesinos! such an interesting band. It looks like the momentum from that project has found its way into these songs which are urgent, particularly on a killer track like “What Death Leave Behind” (no pun intended or considered), Gareth Campesinos! Sings like he actually means it, and in all likelihood, he does, but always with a wink. Los Campesainos! Approach has always been literate but now that literacy is transposed as there are several soccer references throughout the record. See if you can dig up a lyric sheet to follow along, because this is the happiest sounding sad record around. Uniformly excellent throughout, but for me try “What Death Leaves Behind,” “Cemetery Gaits,” and “Avocado, Baby!

Polica - ShulamithIn case you missed Polica the first time around as I snuck their last album into the drop box at the end of last year, their latest, Shulamith, makes this month’s list. Minneapolis is the home of Polica which formed in 2011 and consists primarily of two members: Ryan Olson (production) and Channy Leaneagh (vocals) whose sound is augmented live by several others. While often labeled as synthpop, the sound is much more complex with the bands approach more akin to creating electronic soundscapes often in minor keys, emphasizing the sadness of some of the songs. As a vocalist Channy’s vocals transmit the emotion she feels in her lyrics which incorporate several feminist themes but explore the range of emotions at the end of a relationship. She recently declared that the title of the record is a tribute to feminist Shulamith Firestone, who Leaneagh described as her ‘muse and mentor’ but the songs on Shulamith are balanced on the edge on the love/loss dynamic. Try “Trippin,” “Chain My Name” and “Matty.”

Parlotones - Stand Like GiantsJohannesburg South Africa’s Parlotones make the drop box for a third time with their follow up to the Shake It Up EP released earlier this year, the excellent Stand Like Giants. If you missed the EP, the album also contains the single “Shake It Up” and several other stadium sized anthems, consistent with their status as multi-platinum selling recording artists back home. In an effort to expand their worldwide reach, the Parlotones recently moved to Los Angeles but I would suspect that they will return home where they are everywhere i.e. huge media stars. Parlotones is South Africa’s version of corporate rock, and in many ways, if you didn’t know anything about the band, you would say that the sound on this record sounds like some of the larger U.S. acts., e.g. Foo Fighters in production which is uniformly clean and crisp. So, does the fact that the band is a little over produced and the songs “designed” for radio detract from my position that Stand Like Giants belongs in the drop box? No, and it is simply, for a corporate rock record, that there is something else going on with Stand Like Giants that permits actually liking this record. That is, there is enough earnestness by the band that is just enough to make me overlook some obvious missteps, such as the terrible ballad “Symapathise With The Cost” which is unlistenable. The anthems on this record in the main work well and as a diversion from the traditional indie music, Stand Like Giants is a big sounding record. While sometimes the lyrics are a little overwrought, I can imagine the lighters glowing in the stadium, particularly on title track “Stand Like Giants.”

 Aside: The Parlotones kind of remind me of Supertramp, whom I saw at Empire Stadium in Vancouver in 1979 (August 11, 1979 to be precise). Here was the set list from that Supertramp show: (Pretty amazing from what I can remember – Supertramp were the headliner, and Trooper and Prism played)

 

  • School
  • From Now On
  • Gone Hollywood
  • Bloody Well Right
  • Breakfast in America
  • Goodbye Stranger
  • Sister Moonshine
  • Hide in Your Shell
  • Oh Darling
  • Asylum
  • Even in the Quietest Moments
  • The Logical Song
  • Child of Vision
  • Give a Little Bit
  • Dreamer
  • Rudy
  • Take the Long Way Home
  • Fool’s Overture
  •  Encore:Crime of the Century

So, back to the Parlotones. Try “Lazy Sunny Days,” “Stand Like Giants” and “Hollow Men.”

Royal Bangs - BrassKnoxville’s Royal Bangs play indie rock of the catchy variety. There is enough moping around for everyone in this world and Royal Bangs blows away all the clouds. I played “Better Run,” Brass’ first track at least a dozen times in a row before moving on to the rest of this excellent record. This four piece band was originally composed of drummer Chris Rusk, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Schaefer, and guitarist Sam Stratton but in 2011 they added Dylan Dawkins to play bass. This is a straight forward rock record and Schaeffer’s voice does have that King’s of Leon sound, but this is not a KOL record. Rather, it is urgent, vital, and charming with just a touch of the Strokes. Once I was finished playing “Better Run”, I played “Orange Moon” another ten times. This is a gem…and like most gems will remain largely undiscovered, except to those of you in the drop box. Play Brass first this month. Try ”Orange Moon,” Hope We Don’t Crash,” and “Sun Bridge.”

A couple of punk things worth a mention:

Teen Agers - I Hate ItOrlando Florida’s Teen Agers debut, I Hate It updates modern melodic punk but unlike most of this genre the vocals are in the forefront making for some catchy tunes that get your head and feet moving. Not much information about the band although the label claims that they are former members of also unknown bands: HOW DARE YOU, GO RYDELL, PROTAGONIST, and DIRECT EFFECT. Not much to go on here for history, but the future is bright – this is melodic street punk, well written and best played in the basement of your house. The overall sound is reminiscent of Rise Against but not as preachy and without the acoustic breaks. Great album. Try  ”Learn To Swim,” “Savor,” and “Float.”

Future Of The Left - How To Stop Your Brain In An AccidentCardiff’s Future of The Left’s latest release How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident, their 4th, is a slab of straight forward punk rock that lays waste to most of the punk rock pretenders wanting their records to sound harder and faster. And that is the genius of Future of The Left – they know who they are by now and they stick to the plan, playing catchy punk rock tunes that make you want to sing a-long to their bizarre lyrics. Having learned the lessons of their previous band, the legendary Mclusky, Future of The Left sound is distinctive, with traces of Mclusky’s wit humor and rock chops still intact, but the production on How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident is crisp and the music burst forth from the speakers. Be forewarned – for those of you unfamiliar with Future of the Left, Andy Falkous singing voice sounds remarkably like Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra in the heyday of that band. The music on How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident also sounds like it belongs on a DK record. Really. I was startled by how songs like “Future Child Embarrassment Matrix” could fit right next to “I am The Owl” off of Plastic Surgery Disasters. I loved DK and am hooked by Future Of The Left, who have released, the best punk rock record of the year. I liked them all, but try” The Male Gaze,” “ I Don’t Know What You Ketamine (But I Think I Love You),” and of course, “She Gets Passed Around At Parties.” ( The last track probably sums up the album nicely “Why Aren’t I Going to Hell.”

Control - Ballad Of The Working ManIf you like your punk a little more street/oi then Brighton’s Control latest album Ballad of The Working Man is the record for you. Where Future of the Left mines the California/ Canadian Punk rock sound, Control is a mix of British and New York styled punk rock where the Clash/ Rancid meets early Motorhead/ U.K. Subs. Iain Kilgallon, Control’s vocalist doesn’t have the stripped raw vocals of say Lemmy (Motorhead) or Lars Erik Frederiksen (Rancid), but on this group of songs, exemplified by “Angry Punk Rock Song,” Iain does a nice job of hitting the Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers) vocal level and the catchiness of these songs in undeniable. This is what street punk is supposed to sound like, and Ballad of The Working Man captures the spirit without becoming Celtic. Control describe their sound as hooligan rock and roll. Try” Angry Punk Rock Song,” “Ballad Of The Working Man,” and “Knuckle Down.”

Until next time, tell your friends about Tales From The Dropbox and keep your ears to the ground for the latest and greatest. And to Nicole who is taking her first law school finals this week, good luck and “Peace Out.”