February 8, 2014 Dropbox Notes

Sorry, February got away from me. I know this is being published this first week of March, but better late than never, right? So, here are the notes for the first batch of new year releases that are still in the dropbox, so if you missed them – get them quick because I have already lined up this months. I am starting with the original version of the notes – hence the date and unintentionally funny prose:

Welcome to the first batch of new releases for 2014. I had considered starting the year off with a rant regarding the Grammy’s but reconsidered as the rant would only continue to point out the obvious – the Grammy’s are an award ceremony recognizing the talents of capable marketers of major labels and corporate radio who have successfully convinced the masses, that these individuals and groups (what these individuals/groups largely produce is not art and consequently they are not artists) receiving a Grammy award are somehow representative of what is good about music. It is not. Rather, the many genres of music not represented by the Grammy awards continues to evidence two glaring symptoms of the failure of the corporate music structure to find ways to introduce artists to the masses in a manner that focuses on the music, as art, and the artist:

(a) corporate radio failing to care that there are members of the listening audience that actually are concerned about the quality and diversity of music ( KROQ – Alternative first (Ha!); and

(b) the focus on music as personality rather than music as art.

It is easy to cite examples of this disturbing trend. Miley, Justin, Kanye, Rhianna, Beyoncé, are relentlessly promoted as artists concerned about their art. Really? Does anyone truly believe that any of these individuals really care primarily about the quality of their music? Perhaps at the beginning, but the objective evidence is that there is little of the soul that made them popular in the first place left in their music. Does anyone truly believe that any of these individuals have anything meaningful to say? Sure, there is a place for mindless drivel in music. But should this be recognized as the pinnacle of the music industry? This is not to say that these artists are not capable of producing great music – it is just that they have lost the thread of where the genius lies – and in all likelihood they will never find it –ever. I am reminded that perhaps with the passage of time some Grammy performances will stand the test, but looking at this years list, I am somehow doubtful. The disproportionate number of rap/hip-hop releases that are of little essential value and a radio partner that force feeds sponsor selected music to the masses is more than payola. It is a scheme designed to deprive the main stream listener from exciting music and instead promote parodies of real persons and their twisted interpretations of conventional feelings and emotion as “normal” and popular. I hope it changes and that radio finds a way to make money from variety of new artists in a genre rather than the pummeling the listener must take as radio constantly repeats the same songs – often at the same time each day. In Los Angeles, KROQ (106.7) and 98.7 now play the same songs nearly simultaneously. My hope is that they both figure out that change is good. It doesn’t even have to be new music, just stop playing the same songs repeatedly. (As an aside – I can do with a 10 year radio ban on the Red Hot Chili Peppers).

I am sure that this rant is largely inspired by my recent listening experience. I’ve been listening to a compilation of songs entitled “1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die” which is full of songs from a wide variety of genres and decades. It is an interesting spin, because I’ve rediscovered the beauty and genius of some songs that I’ve not heard for a while including: Big Star – “Thirteen”, Libertines – “Can’t Stand Me Now”, Suede – “Animal Nitrate”, Lemonheads – “My Drug Buddy”, Dolly Parton – “Jolene”, The The – “Uncertain Smile”, Mott The Hoople – “All The Young Dudes”, Jimmy Cliff – “Many Rivers To Cross” etc. What sets these songs apart is the “wow” factor – something in each of these songs that reminds you of the genius it must take to create these songs. i.e. How did they come up with that?

Here’s to the “wow” and hopefully you find some of it on this month’s releases, some of which are leftovers from last year that I missed the first time around.

You Me At Six - Cavalier YouthSurrey five-piece pop metal act, You And Me At Six, have a hit record with Cavalier Youth, their 4th, released January 28, 2014. Really, in its first week of release, the record reached No. 1 in the U.K. Now, if you’ve followed the dropbox for a while, I raved about their last record “Sinners Never Sleep” which ended up on my best of year list. This record, continues the trend with anthemic pop metal that is bouncy and will have you singing along, sometimes at the top of your lungs. As the London Observer gave this a one star rating (its worst) dismissing the album as formulaic corporate alternative rock, then why is it in the dropbox? Because I like the friendly sounding formula that has the capacity to make you want to move your feet as compared with always trying to find the deeper meaning. That is, the impact is somehow more important than the constant search for creativity. Have we learned nothing over the recorded history of rock n’ roll – consistency is greatness. Not a perfect record, but an enjoyable spin with well-crafted catchy tunes. Try ”Lived A Lie,” “Win Some, Lose Some,” and “Wild Ones.”

VA -Killed By Deathrock Volume 1Ahhhh… the rare compilation hits the dropbox in the form of Killed By Deathrock Volume 1. Garage label, Sacred Bones (whose releases have often made the dropbox), delves into the fringes of early 80’s post-punk, garage, and death rock, and with a title that is intended to remind everyone that this is a reclamation project of obscurities a la the bootleg series Killed By Death, this compilation of gems is worth repeated listening. Try: ”Twisted Nerve – “When I’m Alone,” Afterimage – “Satellite Of Love,” and Taste Of Decay – “Factory.”

Rifles - None The WiserOne of my favorite bands still mining (albeit only slightly) mod pop territory, The Rifles, return with a crowd funded pop gem in the form of their 4th album None The Wiser. In danger of being a middle of the road faceless UK band, the Rifles deserve with this record a little applause for finally figuring out who they are as a band and with the return of two members who had left before the third release, the album is replete with catchy tunes. A better sequencing would have put the standout track “Heebie Jeebies” in first position so that more listener’s would find the record, rather than the pleasant but not too interesting “Minute Mile.” The record is solid throughout and after a few listens you’ll discover some favorites. Try: “Heebie Jeebies,” “Go Lucky,” and “Under And Over.”

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (Legacy Edition)Hard to argue with the inclusion of groundbreaking, genre inspiring reissue of Uncle Tupelo’s debut album No Depression (recorded in Boston at Fort Apache), this month. For those who missed it the first time around (1990) or are too young to have heard this underplayed diamond, Uncle Tupelo is the culmination of the country-punk first heralded by Rank And File, K.D. Lang & the Reclines, Jason And The Scorchers, the Blasters, etc. but transcending those earlier records and layering alternative rock into the mix producing rock influenced country that is labeled alt-country genre, aka as No Depression. The tile of the album is taken from J.D. Vaughan’s “No Depression in Heaven”, a gospel track made famous in 1936 by the Carter Family. Although in my mind, a big tip of the hat for this genre should go to the Replacements, the songs on this album define the genre and after more than 20 years, still inspire: Try: “Outdone,” “I Got Drunk,” and “Before I Break.” And here is a 4th song to try: “Life Worth Livin’“.

Maximo Park - Too Much InformationOn To Much Information, Maximo Park, like the Rifles, take a step further from their mod-influenced Brit-pop roots producing a more thoughtful synth laden atmospheric record that utilizes Paul Smith’s voice to the fullest. And this is what is immediately likeable about Maximo Park. Smith’s voice and lyrics are the focus on this record and frankly, he could sing the telephone directory and it would be an enjoyable listen. In short, Maximo Park have made the step forward from angular dance rock band to electronic rock band. Five records into their career, each record highlights the quality of Smith’s particular voice – silky smooth and full of emotion. Sure, given that Smith is essentially a crooner, and Smith’s comparisons will arise, but unlike Morrissey, Smith and Maximo Park have managed to miss the self-indulgence landmine and produce quality songs with the trademark unconventional lyrics that have characterized the band since their initial single “Apply Some Pressure from 2005. Try: “Brains Cells,” “Leave This Island,” and “I Recognize the Light.”

Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long See You TomorrowReleased the same day as Maximo Park’s record, February 4, 2014, So Long, See You Tomorrow, the 4th album from North London’s Bombay Bicycle Club finds them in the same place as Maximo Park – experimenting and tweaking their sound and obviously not content to stay in one place. On prior albums, Bombay Bicycle Club have demonstrated their willingness to genre hop, and this record continues that process. The songs are a little sprawling, beat laden, and an eclectic blend of electronica and indie rock, pulsing rhythms and layered vocals producing overall a very vibrant and uplifting record – uniquely Bombay Bicycle Club. Try: “Luna,” “Overdone,” and “Carry Me.”

Broken Bells - After The DiscoNow that the critical blasting of Broken Bells second record After The Disco has died down following its release in late January, now is a good time to examine the second record from the “group” consisting of the Shin’s front man James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse (Brian Burton). As the title suggests, the record evokes the moment after arriving home from the club after a night out and the intense need to decompress. After The Disco is a much more cohesive record than 2010’s Broken Bells which sounded like the product of a weekend of experimentation. Here, three years later, we get a record produced by people who have had an opportunity to take those results, process them, and produce an eclectic record which touches 70’s light disco, and experiments with Mercer’s range and tonality with good effect. Title Track “After The Disco” is typical of the 70’s mood on this record and you could picture “Holding On For Life” ending up on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. I swear that’s the Bee Gees on the track. All that said, there is enough enjoyable moments on the record to make it dropbox worthy. Try: ”Holding On For Life,” “No Matter What You’re Told,” and “Control.”

BNLX - Produit CollectéMinnesotan post-punk trio BNLX (Ed Ackerson, Ashley Ackerson, and David Jarnstrom) are an awesome band with absolutely no west coast presence. And that is sad. Much like Kevin Love who is a superstar in Minnesota but with only minimal recognition in Los Angeles where he played 1 year for UCLA before heading to the NBA, BNLX are also in need of a trade (to Los Angeles) in order to gain recognition for their particular brand of punk rock. Catchy and melodic punk rock in the vein of the legendary Wire with some shoegaze aspects, this collection hits the sweet spot. BNLX may be the biggest force in local music in Minneapolis organizing a successful BNLXFest, and a successful marketing program resulting in all of their vinyl releases, from which these tracks are drawn, selling out. Produit Collecté is an assemblage of tracks from BNLX EP’s 1-8. The tracks on the fourteen song vinyl LP Produit Collecté “are representative sampling of musical highlights and odds-and-ends from all eight BNLX EP releases. And that is what makes this collection so varied and interesting – this collection offers a glimpse into the bands influences: New Order (“Blue and Gold”), Wire/Elastica (“Opposites Attract”), and an amazing cover of Black Flag’s “Rise Above.” Try: “Rise Above,” “Opposites Attract,”  and “Where Is the Love.”

Against Me - Transgender Dysphoria BluesAgainst Me are an enigma. On Transgender Dysphoria Blues the band finds themselves at a crossroads on their 6th record. What do you get when you attempt to cross what was a very political punk rock band with a lead singer who is still dealing with the fallout from a very homophobic contingent of the punk rock community as a consequence of her announcing she is transgender (Laura Jane Grace aka Tom Gabel)? Well, this album is the answer for now – a band still aware of its presence as anarcho punks and fiercely engaged in the discussion of its ideology. That ideology is now filtered through the emotions of its lead singer whom, as far as I can tell, has not changed her focus. Rather, it appears her focus is created through adversity – as the backlash and rejections of the past several years (labeled sell-outs after jumping from FAT WRECK to a major label, Butch Vig smoothing out the rawness of the earlier releases in order to make them radio friendly unit shifters, and the announcement that Tom identified with being a female) have influenced the writing of the songs comprising this record. Sure there is palpable anger, but there is something else going on as the record attempts to reconcile these songs into a cohesive work – a cathartic acceptance of Against Me and Laura’s place in the punk rock world. As a work of art, Transgender Dysphoria Blues represents Against Me as both a force for change, and a marker for further explorations as the band moves from the dark to the light, recognizing that the past is that – the past. The closer, “Black Me Out” is a bitter statement – “I want to piss on the walls of your house” – that encapsulates the place where Laura has been but also signals an effort to move forward. At times this is a difficult listen as I would think that new listeners will have difficulty connecting with some of the material, but as a chance of pace there is enough on the record to make this compelling listening. Try: “Dead Friend,” “”Black Me Out,” Transgender Dysphoria Blues.”

BeckBeck, on his twelfth record Morning Phase, finds himself in a reflective place building on the melodies and feel of what he calls the companion record to 2002’s Sea Change. However, these records are dissimilar with their starting places. On Sea Change, Beck was dealing with the end of a longtime relationship with his girlfriend, whereas on Morning Phase Beck is a married father of two and from that place it is undeniable that the songs on Morning Phase are much more even, less tumultuous, than his past work, and undeniably full and rich with life. This is the sound of contentment. And some will say it is boring. I didn’t get this record on first listen, but taking the time to experience the record rather than merely listen, it is very deceptive – the arrangements are perfect, the little highlights, layered vocals, the strings, and Beck’s surprising vocal tone, set this record apart from his own catalog which has often taken trips to the bizarre and disorienting. The conventional acoustic flourishes somehow are captivating in Beck’s hands. This is overall a mellow late evening record beautiful and moving. Try: “Morning,” “Unforgiven,” and “Blackbird Chain.”

Dum Dum Girls - Too TrueGreat name – Dee Dee Penny. Vocalist and primary songwriter for Sub Pop recording artist Dum Dum Girls, Dee Dee on the Dum Dum Girls, third record neatly balances the 60’s garage rock they are known for with the angular and muscular New York inspired angular rock that was the rage with the Strokes, Interpol, etc. Less Lo-fi and less fuzz than on their previous outing, Too True, is perfect. The result is a captivating amalgam – muscular garage rock with interesting sing-a-long melodies with 80’s reference most notably Blondie (“In The Wake Of You”) and the Ramones. This is thirty minutes of fun that bears repeated listening. Try: “Rimbaud Eyes,” “Too True to Be Good,” and “Trouble Is My Name.”

Hold Steady - RagsRags is a fan club only release by the Hold Steady in advance of the bands next record, their 6th , entitled Teeth Dreams out March 25. This EP, a crowd funded (Pledge music) release of cover songs recorded to assist the K + L Guardian Foundation to benefit the children of fan, writer, and event booker “Jersey Mike” Van Jura, who died in November 2012. The EP has one song selected by each of the 5 band members as follows: (1) “All Through The City” (Dr. Feelgood) (2) “Closer To The Stars” (Soul Asylum) (3) “Hard Luck Woman” (Kiss) (4) “I Gotta Get Drunk” (Willie Nelson) (5) “The Last Thing I Ever Wanted Was To Show Up And Blow Your Mind” (Those Bastard Souls). Try: them all.

Warpaint - WarpaintLos Angeles’ Warpaint self-titled second LP is a bit of a throwback. Perhaps it is the presence of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and Flood who share production duties on this record. Perhaps it is the ethereal dream like vocals of singer Emily Kokal whose vocal presence along with Theresa Wayman float throughout the hazy post-punk synthesizer and guitar dreamscapes created by the very capable band. There are hints of other bands throughout the record but these influences don’t mar the beauty of some of these sonic outings. Perhaps it is the attraction of another all-female band (compare with Savages) that has England excited (the band recently accepted an offer to play Glastonbury), but there is something interesting about this project, if the overall effect is muted. For me, some of the songs are a little too long, but that may be simply the presence of Godrich, as these songs get a lengthy workout. Try: “Love Is To Die”, “Feeling Right,” and “Keep It Healthy.”

Republic Of Wolves - Empty VesselsFrom the things I missed in 2013 list, Long Island New York’s indie rockers Republic Of Wolves, had two self-releases in 2013, the Empty Vessels EP and their second studio album No Matter How Narrow, and both should not have been missed. However, I did, and hopefully their omission previously will not detract from their listening pleasure that these releases brought me, as I re-discovered the band and actually went back and found the debut, 2010’s Varuna. Empty Vessels is an acoustic EP highlighting the bands crazily catchy songwriting and simple melodies. Highlights here are the opener “Spare Key” and the alternate version of “Strays” both of which appear on No Matter How Narrow.

Republic of Wolves - No Matter how NarrowNo Matter How Narrow is brilliant, with the vocals of Mason Maggio carrying the emotional songs without falling into emo-rock trap. This is the danger of a record released in late December (December 16) – great records are often overlooked. This is a great record throughout. Try: “Keep Clean,” “Spare Key,” and “Pioneers.”

In case you are keeping track of things, there are times when WordPress ( at least the free version) does funky things I can’t even begin to want to spend the time to fix. So, I’m writing this here to hopefully correct a formatting error that is created when you drop two photos together. Okay, back to the program:

Transit - Future And SuturesAnother acoustic affair is Transit’s Future And Sutures EP which revisit their past catalog and adds one brand new track. For the Boston punk rockers the record revisits tracks from their previous two albums, Listen & Forgive and Young New England (both of which previously appeared in the dropbox). The acoustic presentation works, particularly for songs like “Long Lost Friends” which explores the underpinnings of a classic rock song carried by singer Joe Boynton’s distinctive vocals. These are not re-imagining’s of the songs, but rather creative rearrangements of some of the band’s finest songs. Feel free to shout along. Try” “Long Lost Friends,” “Listen & Forgive,” and “Over Your Head.”

View - Seven Year SetlistScottish alt-rockers The View have compiled their greatest hits into a career spanning imaginary setlist in the form of Seven Year Set List. Hard to argue with the inclusion of every song on this list and it is highlighted by the fact that for a band that is unrecognizable in the United States (and I mean that in all seriousness) it is a tragedy that the radio never found a band as good as this. I dare you to listen to “The Clock” and not question why the gods of radio ignore good songwriting. Alternative first – my ass KROQ. The View know their strengths and for a band that is largely supplanted in the U.S. by the Mumfords, these songs stick in your head, and in several cases I found myself affecting a Scottish accent. The bands last album, 2012’s Cheeky For A Reason, ended up in the top 10 of my year end best of list, and their previous albums are Top 10 albums in England and Scotland (Hats Off To The Buskers was a #1 record). So, what is wrong with U.S. radio? Apparently lots. Much to discover here, so try: “The Clock,” “Wasted Little DJ’s,” and “How Long.”

Young The Giant - Mind Over MatterSecond records are tough when the first record produces a hit. Comparisons are inevitable. So, I’m going to try to ignore the fact that Irvine, California’s Young The Giant’s first record was overplayed by local radio ( “My $#^&% Body”) and try to examine album two Mind Over Matter on its own merits. Mind over Matter’s strengths come primarily in the form of an explicit understanding of melody – the guitars shimmer brightly and the vocals of Sameer Gadhia take the songs to unexpected places, particularly on “Eros” and it is these elements that keep the album from being bland. The U2 influenced “It’s About Time” is a standout and as radio has already figured out, worth a play a time or two or 100. But, I digress. The album is filled with sonic experiments disguised as pop gems and while it may be a little overtly commercial, still worthy of its inclusion in this month’s dropbox. Try: “Daydreamer,” “It’s About Time,” and “Eros.”

Hidden Cameras - AgeCanadian chamber popsters Hidden Cameras return this month with their 6th album, and first since 2009 in the form of Age. The ever-changing lineup continues to evolve with Joel Gibb moving scenery to Berlin, this album features the distinctive guest vocals of Mary Margret O’Hara whose interplay with Gibb highlights the intricacy of this sound. With “Bread for Brat” featuring an opening riff reminiscent of the opening of Goddo’s hit “So Walk On” (On AnacanaPanacana (Start at 2:37), it momentarily prevented me from listening to the rest of the record as I replayed this track at least a dozen times before moving on. The rest of the album is just as good, as Gibb’s distinctive baritone sounding somewhat like Ian Curtis, particularly on the excellent “Year of the Spawn.”. A great chamber pop record. Could be a year-end contender and its only February. Try: “Bread For Brat,” Year Of The Spawn,” and “Gay Goth Scene.”

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Wig Out at JagbagsPerhaps we are at a point in the evolution of Stephen Malkmus, where we can review a record without a reference to his old band – Pavement. With the Jicks, Malkmus, continues to evolve as an artist and songwriter, offering on Wig Out at Jagbags, observations from left field, mostly self-reflective as compared with self-absorbed, and focused on aging and the relationships impacted by the passage of time. Unlike many of the albums in the dropbox, the lyrics on Malkmus’ records take a center stage with the songs built to fit a particular mood. On Wig Out at Jagbacks, there is a definite 70’s a.m. radio feel to some of these songs, but the hooks are infectious disguising some darker subject matter. (See “Lariat”). Like most of Malkmus’ solo work, not everything works, but also like similar bands surviving the fallout of 90’s indie rock stardom ( I’m thinking the Lemonheads as well), there is enough going on to make the entire experience enjoyable. Whether it is from country shuffle, to mock punk rock, the music provides supporting emotion to the lyrics and that my friends is part of the adventure. Try ”Lariat,” “Independence Street,” “Rumble at the Rainbo.”

Taymir - PhospheneWell here is a first from the dropbox – Taymir, a band from The Hague, Netherlands, produces a killer debut record that reminds me of the much loved Hoodoo Gurus from Australia. This is a melodic rock record with big songs and terrific riffs that warrant repeated, I repeat – repeated listening. For those of you afraid of bands from foreign countries because they don’t sing in English, no worries here because the band is fluent in rock and roll. Singer Bas Prins has the pipes to make him the vocalist for Jet, with all of the swagger, and such a clear tone, and with the up tempo 60’s rock feel to this record (check out last track “Jenny”) this is a solid record from track one forward. I particularly like the “girl” songs on the record “Melanie”, Jenny” and “Taymir.” Catchy alternative pop. Have a good time! Try: “Aaaaah,” “Taymir,” and “All of the Time.”

Notwist_cover_2400The Notwist achieved brilliance on 2002’s Neon Golden and following that record nearly dropped off the map, resurfacing in 2008 with The Devil You & Me, which marked a left turn for the band both musically and sonically. For those who were expecting a repeat of Neon Golden were thrown a sharp curve with The Devil You & Me, and that curve is continuing to break on Close To The Glass. ( I like sports analogies – also see the Kevin Love example previously). For those of you who actually know me, this album is also a dramatic curve and not normally within the range of my typical sweet spot – melodic punk. This is an electro gem and I was surprised one day when I heard by accident the song “Kong” which had come up randomly in my iTunes playlist. Perhaps it was singer Markus Acher’s approach to the song, but the slightly buried vocal in the sprightly electro-pop was enough to seek out the album. There are a few oddball songs that feel out of place (the acoustic “Casino” for one), but maybe it is the palate cleaner, because its followed by another disconnected, discordant track “From One Wrong Place To Another” and then by the amazing “Seven Hour Drive.” While uneven overall, there is enough to recommend. Try: “Kong,” “Seven Hour Drive,” and “Run Run Run.”

Guster - Live With The Redacted SymphonyGuster has produced one of the best live albums I can think of in a while, and they actually gave it away for free. Live With The Redacted Symphony puts new energy into songs spanning the bands career which began in 1993 and over 6 albums has produced remarkably consistent songwriting and music. Guster has toured with several symphony orchestras and these tracks are apparently some of their favorite performances. Opener “Satellite” is stunning and from there forward the album is a collection of brilliant performances of fan favorites. For me, these orchestral versions highlight the genius of the originals – so after you’ve digested these, seek out the albums from which they were birthed. You won’t be disappointed. Try “Satellite,” “This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart,” and “Demons.”

Razorcut - Gone Are Those DaysMelbourne’s RazorCut captures Australia’s fascination with Oi! and streetpunk updating the primitive sound in the very decent offering in the form of Gone or Those Days – a 10” EP released on Rebellion Records. Nothing new in this genre, but the EP is a good time workout and for those who appreciate this type of music, something to add to the playlist of modern bands recapturing the spirit and energy of the original Oi! records such as the 4 Skins and Cock Sparrer, but the female backing vocals are a twist. Try: “Saving Grace,” “Marching On,” and “No Loyalty.”

PINS - Girls Like UsPINS debut Girls Like Us, is worthy of the critical attention, but probably not for the reasons the band would hope. Because the record is going to be compared with a number of bands from way back (primarily Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Creatures) because of the Throbbing Gristle bass line and singer Faith Holgate’s sincere Siouxsie/Karen O vocal styling, it would be easy to dismiss this as another copyist/clone band. As this month’s dropbox demonstrates, there is nothing wrong or incorrect with a good copycat. While it may be helpful to have the predecessor bands as musical touchstones, the truth in application is that PINS has captured the best of Manchester’s history from its Zoo and Factory Records beginnings, from Echo & The Bunnymen though Joy Division with pit stops along the post-punk way. The most compelling part of Girls Like Us is that the sound is overwhelmingly hypnotic and at high levels causes dizziness. Hell,“Get With Me” flirts with the Go Go’s “We’ve Got The Beat.” In short, a twisted hypnotic journey through everything great about Manchester’s history with just enough of a difference to make it all – memorable. Try: “Lost Lost Lost,” “Girls Like Us,” and “Play With Fire.”

September Girls - Cursing the SeaDebut LP from Irish noise pop band September Girls collects four singles from previous EPs and thus you could predict that Cursing the Sea will be a hit in countries other than the United States – which as we have already noted, is a %$#%@% island isolated from the rest of the musical planet. No mind, because you get a chance to hear Cursing The Sea and let the September Girls subversively influence your close and trusted friends and associates who enjoy listening to things that are not on the radio and believe that there are great new artists and music being created that are perfectly enjoyable without the radio promotion and marketing. As a consequence the cult of personality does not influence the sonic results. Such is the case with September Girls. This is a reverb heavy garage-y type noise pop that doesn’t tread new ground; has no No.1 hit single present on the record, and is girl group intense with the fuzzy lo-fi production thoroughly enjoyable. Try: “Left Behind,” “Daylight,” and “Someone New.”

A Great Big World - Is There Anybody Out ThereWant to know the power of the Voice television show? Well on A Great Big World’s new release Is There Anybody Out There (which by the by was in the dropbox before the Voice show) there is a track called “Say Something” that is suddenly ubiquitous after the duet with Christina Aquilera. Can you say massively big. Essentially a bedroom project composed by duo Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, and consequently is being killed by the critics. And I mean absolutely killed for Axel’s grating vocals (sure – they are a little grating), overwrought piano stylings ( a clumsy Bill Joel), and as the New York Times critic wrote a “painfully executed” release marked by dullness and clumsiness. “Mr. Axel especially has a grating voice with no color, almost digital in its simplicity.” So, why is it in the dropbox, you might wonder? Because we don’t need no stinking critics. The record, is what it was intended to be – a debut record consisting of a number of songs written at different times, highlighting an interest in pop music. I do like the critic who called it nerd pop – an apt description for this particular genre. I’m a sucker for piano (Ben Folds Five) and it is the moments on this record that work and that is why it made the dropbox. Sure, there is some very weak songs lyrically on the record ( “Everyone is Gay” comes to mind) but this is more than made up by songs like “Rockstar” which are like a fun record – happy and well crafted. What’s wrong with Broadway show tunes? So for what’s its worth the NYT critic is just plain wrong. Try” Rockstar,” “Say Something,” and the clumsy Billy Joel like song “I Really Want It.”

Bad Things - Bad Things (Deluxe Edition)Another Los Angeles band seeking its fortunes overseas, Bad Things, prior to the release of its debut were only known as the band in which snowboarder Shawn White plays guitar. Apparently, that was enough to get the band some notice, and on this debut, White’s playing is workmanlike, because the real star is former Billy Boy on Poison singer David LeDuk, who turns in an excellent performance on this straight forward alt-rock record. The sound is kind of what you would expect – part Killers, part Augustana (former bass player Jared Palomar is part of Bad Things), with some angular guitar and throbbing bass, big choruses – everything radio ready. There is just enough in LeDuk’s voice to prevent the band from becoming another group of faceless white guys, but its going to take a little luck. Try this trio of catchiness: “”Saturday Night, ”“Anybody,” and “Lonely Eyes.”

Moon Taxi - Acoustic on West 56th EPNashville’s Moon Taxi is kind of in my indie sweet spot right now. Having recorded this EP in New York the day before their excellent third album Mountains Beaches Cities was released last year, I had neglected to drop this in the box. So, here you have it. This is a solid performance highlighting the bands distinctive songwriting and musicianship with stripped down versions of songs on Mountains Beaches Cities. There is a Kings Of Leon flavor on these songs, possible because of the country rock feel to some of these tracks – but this is not country. Intricate songs with excellent vocals by Trevor Terndrup feature on this outing, but Moon Taxi is more than just a one man band. Try: “The New Black,” “River Water,” and “Running Wild.”

Crunch - Busy Making NoiseI love the supergroups. And The Crunch is not your typical supergroup by a long shot. Featuring former Clash member Terry Chimes alias Tory Crimes, Dave Tregunna (Sham 69, Lords Of The New Church), Mick Geggus (Cockney Rejects), and vocalist Sören “Sulo” Karlsson (The Diamond Dogs) these lesser members of other bands have actually produced a well written punk rock record fully of catchy choruses, tight playing and in short – a great listening time. It’s easy to poo poo these types of records as they filter through the sonic sphere, often dismissed and easily forgotten, but this record avoids the problems with other punk rock supergroup records. The players in The Crunch get it – they are done with trying to be something from their past – they have brought spirit and life to these songs as a group. They are busy making noise and it sounds like fun. This is straight forward punk rock in the vein of later Stiff Little Fingers, which would go down live very well. I’d pay for the ticket. Try” Fire Again,” “Busy Making Noise,” and Right About Now!”

Jellyfish - Radio Jellyfish Live Radio Broadcasts 1993An unreleased radio show from Jellyfish whom have previously graced the dropbox following the reissues by Omnivore records last year. So, I had neglected to put this one in the dropbox. I was a fool. This ten-track compilation of radio broadcasts recorded two decades ago, showcases the strength of the band immediately prior to the release of the bands second LP, Spilt Milk in 1993. Recorded in two locations – the Netherlands and Australia, the acoustic setting, which was novel at the time, showcases the Beatles flavored power pop of what turned out, in hindsight, to be the band’s greatest hits. Try the stunning version of “The Man I Used to Be,”, “The King Is Half Undressed,” and “The Ghost at Number One.”

Imperial State Electric - Reptile Brain MusicHard To argue with the inclusion of Imperial State Electric release Reptile Brain Music which I neglected to include last year in the dropbox. I’d already pegged them as one of my favorite bands previously, but as I was extremely busy, I goofed and just plain missed the record although I had played it easily 50 times since first grabbing it. Why is it good? Because it picks up where the Hellacopters left off – straight forward very loud melodic rock all carefully crafted into a fun record. In many ways Imperial State Electric is an anachronism featuring all of the elements of early Kiss and Thin Lizzy amped up on musical steroids – and as you know, all good things in music for me can trace back to Kiss (except the makeup). Thanks Mom! Try: “Underwhelmed,” “Stay the Night,” and “Eyes.”

Hospitality - TroubleMerge recording artists, Hospitality new record entitled Trouble is a quietly loud record. That is, the Brooklyn three piece have on this second album altered their approach slightly away from the bouncy pop rock of the debut, expanding their palate to allow the songs some ah… breathing room. This is particularly true on the beautiful single “Rockets and Jets” with vocalist Amber Pampini’s delicate vocals floating through the synthesizer and bright guitar’s. The ballads work best on Trouble. Some great moments and great tunes with some restrained guitar playing that would come off great played live. Imagine a dark lounge with a small stage and this trio playing beautiful head turning music as you relax on your barstool. Try: “Rockets and Jets,” “It’s Not Serious,” and the delicate acoustic number “Sunship.”

Pretty Little Empire - Pretty Little EmpireHailing from St. Louis, Pretty Little Empire’s self-titled third album, highlights a band ready to break out of their hometown and in a most deserving manner find a much broader audience. This band is also in my sweet spot – indie pop with a touch of alt-county sheen. This, like the Hospitality record, Pretty Little Empire is delicate as most of the songs are slow, but unlike Hospitality, there is a grittiness to the singing and playing that captures you from the first track – the intricate guitar work of William Godfred over the throbbing bass and then vocalist Justin Johnson’s whiskey touched vocals. Well worth a mention as there is no way any of this would end up on any commercial rock station or even a college indie station because there is no way Pretty Little Empire will achieve any street credibility. This is a working person’s record – for those who still go out Friday night for a good time. Perhaps Pretty Little Empire could be my favorite bar band. Try: “The Way You Say It,” “Talking Loud,” and the lo-fi recording of “Nest.”

States - ParadigmAnother victim of being a December release, States’ second album Paradigm is also a thing of beauty. The band is a blend of former Lydia vocalist Mindy White and several members from indie rockers Copeland: Jonathan Bucklew, Stephen Laurenson, Brian Laurenson, and Dean Lorenz. States retains all of the dream pop charm from the first record, but have mixed things up by varying the tempos throughout the record, adding some interesting elements, i.e some fuzz, both of which makes for a very interesting and cohesive record sounding like – States. That is, Mindy White’s voice is a throwback to the 60’s girls groups and captivating, particularly on tracks like “All In My Head.” Great indie record arrives all sunny in December: Try “All In My Head,” “The Night,” and “I Hope You Stay Gone.”

Temples - Sun StructuresFor those of you not old enough to remember XTC – the U.S. one hit wonders only known here for the track “Dear God,” – then you missed a band full of brilliant songwriters and experimenters willing to take huge risks and one of the best bands in the form of their alter ego band the 60’s psychedelic gurus The Dukes Of Stratosphere. So, what does that have to do with U.K. rockers, Temple’s debut album, Sun Structures? A great deal it turns out. Temples make no bones about their efforts to incorporate all of the best of 60’s psychedelia into a crate digging marathon as you try to figure out the influences. Sure, this could come off as a little pretentious, as the sound on this record is like the Dukes of Stratosphere record thirty years earlier – note perfect. There are elements of new psychedelia present and the tempos are definitely more modern, but for me, it has the correct blend of T. Rex, 13 Floor Elevators (particularly on the title track ”Sun Structures”), the Electric Prunes, and the Byrds – a nice amalgam of the sounds of an era, updated for today’s listeners. I’d love to see this show live. Try “Sun Structures,” “Mesmerise,” and “Test of Time.”

Toy - Join The DotsWith a different take on new psychedelia, British psych-rockers Toy’s second album Join The Dots, is more focused album than the previous release but still mixes the Stone Roses informed shoe-gaze dream pop with experimental flourishes that transcend the typical psychedelic records that are becoming more prominent given the recent success of Tame Impala. On Join the Dots, the lyrics are still a little clumsy but musically the song structures are energized. The songs, overall, still fit the conventional structure – the guitars are the centerpiece. They announce their presence to great effect by building tension and then suddenly releasing that tension is an explosion of sound. Be forewarned, the tracks are lengthy as the band prefers not to edit but rather – flow. Opening “conductor” is a lengthy instrumental that fits nicely as an introduction exposing the listener to the overall feel of the record, and the closing track “Fall Out of Love” puts the finishing touches on an exciting experience. Try” Fall Out of Love,” “You Won’t Be The Same,” and “Left To Wander.”

Fight The Bear - 38 DegreesShropshire, UK-based rock band Fight the Bear (I know – where the #$&^$^ is Shropshire?) on Thirty Eight Degrees, have perfected the sound present on their two fine earlier releases Dead Sea Fruit (2009) and Gutter Love (2006). Thirty Eight Degrees is a mix of Pastel’s pop and Del Amitri guitar that bounces along, particular on the single “It Gets Better” with its catchy sing-a=long chorus. The album works on several levels, and is a pleasant listening experience throughout. I think if there is a flaw is that there are no massive moments that would turn it from an above average listen to an excellent one. However, a minor flaw. Try” “Fall Apart,” “It Gets Better” and “Thirty Eight Degrees.”

Delay Trees - ReadymadeI love the jangle. Jangle pop is that sound produced by R.E.M. in its early days and made famous by a host of bands including Let’s Active, Don Dixon, Guadalcanal Diary, dBs, and Game Theory in the early to mid-1980s has arisen in the form of Helsinki Finland’s Delay Trees on their exceptional record Readymade. Three albums in, the band still plays the sedate version of jangle pop like they invented the genre. For me, it almost makes me want to wax nostalgic. Killer track “Fireworks” with its chorus “It’s Not Enough” and the dramatic chord change at the end hits the sugar meter hard. Absolutely I am blown away by this record. Try” Perfect Heartache,” “Fireworks,” and “Sister.”

Rollergirls - Satisfied With LessRollergirls has flirted previously with a couple of styles – post punk and screamo come to mind, but on Satisfied With Less, I think they have found the balance – producing a noise punk record that it interesting and stands on its own merit without the weight of its past creating an uncomfortable burden in the present. For most of those reading the review Rollergirls will be a new band and a new opportunity to discover a band without knowing what the previous albums actually sounded like. The production on Satisfied With Less is an improvement at least in the mix as the guitars are crisper and the jazzy elements resonate much like later Husker Du/ Minutemen records. Hell, Rollergirls is from Darnstadt, Germany – a city in the Bundesland (federal state) of Hesse in Germany, located in the southern part of the Rhine-Main-Area (Frankfurt Metropolitan Region). So there, now you know. Try “Satisfied with Less,” “Everything Will Work Out,” and “Bastard.”

Schematic - Color (n.) Inside The LinesDave Elkin’s the former lead singer of Mae, after leading that band for more than a decade has emerged after relocating to Nashville as Schematic. On his debut Color (n.) Inside The Lines, Elkins, working in collaboration with some friends – Jeremy Lutito (Leagues), Chase Lawrence (Coin), and Eleanor Denig, has produced a very fine indie rock album which displays some of his prior bands expression, but mixes it up with some synths and bleeps as well as the piano that was present in Mae. All of these new elements don’t detract from the overall quality of the record. Sure, it is not a Mae project, but if you liked that band, then this is not a great leap forward. Quality songwriting can’t be denied. Still has a tendency to be indie prog rockish (autocorrect had this word as rockfish) at times, but the vibe is great. Elkin’s is still moving forward…and I like it. Try: “Stand,” “All-Time Quarterback,” and “I Am The Car.”

Self Defense Family - Try MeIf a band want’s to move in a new direction, and fresh start the project, then of course – you change your name. Debut album by Self Defense Family is really the band’s fourth – having previously recorded under the End Of A Year moniker. So, staying true to their post-punk roots, Self Defense Family has tried to expand the definition of art-punk by including an approximately 40-minute-long interview with the 1980s pornographic actress Angelique Bernstein (known by industry name, Jeanna Fine), split between two tracks titled “Angelique, Pt. 1” and “Angelique, Pt. 2”. According to Wikkipedia (and confirmed by me as I listened to the compelling interview of the very smoky voiced Angelique): The interview was conducted by Self Defense Family vocalist Patrick Kindlon and guitarist Andrew Duggan in a motel in New York, and the original recording is over three hours long. The portion of the interview that appears on Try Me tells Bernstein’s early life, including as Lukas Hodge of Noisey puts it, her “fatherless, bullied, sexually confused childhood, to living on couches and in doorways, to an abusive relationship, told in disturbing detail, in which she essentially becomes a prisoner,” but ends before she can get into her porn career. About the interview Kindlon said, “She’s just an interesting person. She has an amazing personal history and you don’t need an interest in pornography to find her story compelling. You just need an interest in human beings.”

And so it is here. You may not be familiar with Self-Defense Family’s genre of music which tends to the darker side of post-punk, but it is compelling. There are some recognizable Pere Ubu/ Fugazi elements and “Nail House Music” is an amazing track – loud, angry and dark. Great stuff! Definitely not a KROQ record. Be forewarned some NSFW lyrics – almost all highly effective. Some of the tracks are a little long (such as the beginning of “Dingo Fence” with a mindless studio rant that it much better when we get to the actual song at 1:51) Try: “Nail House Music,” “Fear Of Poverty In Old Age,” and “Mistress Appears At A Funeral.”

Bent Shapes - Feels WeirdAnother band with a new direction and new start is Boston’s Girlfriends who have kicked around town for a couple of years, briefly added a new member who abruptly left, and now have a new name…The Bent Shapes on their debut Feels Weird mine the pop-garage vein lie early Modern Lovers (but without Jonathan’s distinctive voice) but perhaps its just the guitar work. Not quite ready for the big leagues, not a hipster favorite, but definitely an enjoyable sound in particular on tracks like “Panel of Experts” where the flavor of Material Issue shines through the track. Just the right amount of fuzz on the album keep it all very interesting, and these guys have mastered the three minute or less song. Try: “Panel Of Experts,” “Brat Poison” (which has a pop Dead Kennedys feel – when you listen to it you’ll hear the resemblance to “I Am The Owl”), and “What Do You Get??”

Cheatahs - CheatahsBased in London, Cheatahs self-titled debut has everything the UK press would love – hints of the Stone Roses, and a complete submergence in the 90’s shoe gaze scene with the U.S. equivalent of distortion laden guitar noodling’s a la Dinosaur Jr.; Irish equivalents like My Bloody Valentine; and a number of U.K. period bands such as early Catherine Wheel and Ride. Some hate it when bands mine old territory as not being terrifically original or authentic. Who cares? Really, as I am so tired of everything that radio plays now, something loud, noisey, fuzzy, kind of feels right. Also, has one Canadian from Edmonton! Try: “Get Tight,” “Cut The Grass,” and “The Swan.”

The Growlers are prolific. Not Psych!, released in October of last year, was an advance blast before the release of the excellent Growlers - Not. Psych!Hung At Heart LP  and was the second EP of 2013 for the California surf poppers. Not Psych! highlights the rockabilly/ garage roots rock of a band with a Doors fetish. Try: “Hiding Under Covers,” Humdrum Blues,” and “Nobody Owns You.”

Time for a little break in the action. At this point, I’m getting a little tired, but we are almost at the end. So, onward and downward:

Like Like The The The Death - Cave JennyMilwaukee’s Like Like The The The Death on their second album Cave Jenny pack a ton of interesting stuff into each noise rock track on this amazingly diverse record. Hard to miss when the opening track “Here Comes the Irregular” is a play on the Replacements awesome hit “Here Comes A Regular.” It’s loud, raunchy, ridiculously catchy punk rock that ends far to quickly at only 30 minutes of energy. That’s the secret to a great record in this genre. Short, sharp, and every song should feel like the band’s last and, in LLTTTD’s case, they have achieved greatness. Play really loud – it will cause your dad to yell “turn that #@%$% off!” Awesome. Try” Here Comes The Irregular,” “Cry Tag,” and “Hypnic Jerk.”

Number One Gun - This Is All We KnowChico California and Tooth & Nail recording artists, Number One Gun have been kicking around for a while and after a four year hiatus are back with a crowd funded release in the form of This Is All We Know a straightforward melodic rock record that actually works pretty well. Perhaps it’s the return of the original members of the group who left lead singer Jeff Schneeweis two record the last two records using the Number One Gun name. All I know is that there is an energy to the songs on this record that transcend the emo laden lyrics. Definitely accessible, although even I admit that there could be a few more tempo changes as there is a sameness creep to the album. For me, I listened to this on shuffle with the rest of the stuff on my iPad and when I hit upon a track from this record, I would always look to see who it was. ‘Nuff said. Try” Heartbeats,” “Get A Little Weird,” and “Disappear.”

Spires - Eternal YeahAnother fairly local act, Ventura California’s Spires, arrive with another offering of California sun drenched jangle pop containing Byrdsian riffage and remind me of the much loved Game Theory in a number of ways. Having released a number of fine albums over the past decade or so, the Spires are remarkably consistent. So, if you are a jangle pop aficionado, look no further than Eternal Yeah. Try: “Rats Win The Last War,” “Everyone Went Home,” and the lengthy “Cracked Mirror State.”

Sundials - Always Whatever (A Collection of Songs from 2009-2012)Richmond Virginia’s Sundials have compiled a collection of 7” records and unreleased songs that trace their evolution from a conventional pop-punk Weezer inspired band through their Alkaline Trio hero worship phase (given a not to subtle nod by the album cover art which replaces the cassette tape of the original with a CD also now an anachronism) and beyond in what is a great introduction to the band and their brand of catchy three minute pop-punk. Varied sound quality, but excusable given the obvious talent of the band. Try: “Always Whatever,” “Mosby Street,” and “Shelter Girl.”

City Lights - The Way Things Should BeAnd last but certainly not least this month – City Lights, hailing from Columbus Ohio finally released their latest version of punk rock in December after nearly a three year wait. And, to me, the album is a complete success. True punk rock in the mainstream is much like the rhino ( I was going to say slowly going the way of the buffalo, but they are on the rebound). Tragically, pop punk as a genre is dying off as bands compromise their intensity for nonexistent radio play and perhaps a slot on the warped tour. This, to me, squeezes the life out of this narrow niche of bands as they must either conform to the want of the money holders or suffer the inevitable breakup. Why, you think is this relevant? Because on The Way Things Should Be, City Lights offers a collection of songs exactly the way things should be – fast, loud, and catchy and without compromise. This is straight forward pop punk. Like it or leave it. Try: “See You at the Top,” “Leaving Here,” and Idols.

I’ll be back at you shortly – I promise!

Here is the list:

  1. You Me At Six – Cavalier Youth (Deluxe Edition)(2014)
  2. VA – Killed by Deathrock Vol. 1 [2014]
  3. Rifles – None The Wiser [2014]
  4. Uncle Tupelo – No Depression (Legacy Edition) [2CD] [2014]
  5. Maxïmo Park – Too Much Information [Deluxe Edition] [2014]
  6. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow [2014]
  7. Broken Bells – After The Disco [2014]
  8. BNLX – Produit Colllect (Collected Product) [2013]
  9. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues [2014]
  10. Beck – Morning Phase [2014]
  11. Dum Dum Girls – Too True [2014]
  12. Hold Steady – Rags [2014]
  13. Republic Of Wolves – Empty Vessels [2013]
  14. Republic Of Wolves – No Matter How Narrow [2013]
  15. Transit – Futures And Sutures [2013]
  16. Warpaint – Warpaint [2014]
  17. View – Seven Year Setlist [2013]
  18. Young The Giant – Mind Over Matter [2014]
  19. Taymir – Phophene [2013]
  20. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags [2014]
  21. Notwist – Close to the Glass [2014]
  22. Guster – Live With The Redacted Symphony [2013]
  23. Hidden Cameras – Age [2014]
  24. Razorcut – Gone Are Those Days [2013]
  25. PINS – Girls Like Us [2013]
  26. September Girls – Cursing the Sea [2014]
  27. A Great Big World – Is There Anybody Out There [2014]
  28. Bad Things – Bad Things (Deluxe Edition) [2014]
  29. Moon Taxi – Acoustic on West 56th EP [2013]
  30. Crunch – Busy Making Noise [2013]
  31. Jellyfish – Radio Jellyfish Live Radio Broadcasts 1993 [2013]
  32. Imperial State Electric – Reptile Brain Music [2013]
  33. Hospitality – Trouble [2014]
  34. Pretty Little Empire – Pretty Little Empire [2013]
  35. States – Paradigm [2013]
  36. Temples – Sun Structures [2014]
  37. Toy – Join The Dots [2013]
  38. Fight The Bear – 38 Degrees [2013]
  39. Delay Trees – Readymade [2014]
  40. Rollergirls – Satisfied With Less [2013]
  41. Schematic – Color (n.) Inside The Lines [2013]
  42. Self Defense Family – Try Me [2014]
  43. Bent Shapes – Feels Weird [2013]
  44. Cheatahs – Cheatahs [2014]
  45. Growlers – Not. Psych! [2013]
  46. Like Like The The The Death – Cave Jenny [2013]
  47. Number One Gun – This Is All We Know [2014]
  48. Spires – Eternal Yeah [2013]
  49. Sundials – Always Whatever [A Collection of Songs from 2009-2012] [2013]
  50. City Lights – The Way Things Should Be [2013]

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