Dropbox Notes Update May 6, 2014

I am picking up these notes for this month’s dropbox offerings where I left off a couple of weeks ago, because some things should just not be glossed over by just a list. There are some things in the drop box which everyone should give a spin but because of the name of the band or some other nuance they could be skipped in a casual pass. Every month I try to provide a wide variety of goodies, so you should find at least one thing worthy of your collection and perhaps a few others you can sample before giving up some disc space permanently.

Of note, I have not provided the usual links to videos as I’m having a little difficulty with wordpress’ linking after pasting from word. I have no idea why it sometimes sticks wiping out the links when it updates, but when I have time I’ll fight with the program and update some of the notes with links. I hope you like the videos as much as I do.

So, with all that said, I now give you the dropbox notes update with both economy and brevity ……

Coathangers - Suck My ShirtAtlanta garage rockers, The Coathangers on their fourth long player Suck My Shirt have found the sweet spot in the garage pop genre. Evidencing great progress as a band Suck My Shirt is a well produced, crisply recorded, sonically pleasant album chock full of carefully crafted garage pop nuggets. The Coathanger’s sound is a balance of the Pandoras and early Go-Gos which makes for for a fun filled trip. I will note, that for a band who could not actually play their instruments when they started in 2006 and were critically lauded as a novelty (female bands are still a novelty) the playing on Suck My Shirt is accomplished – the playing is tight and the hard work and touring shows on terrific songs like “Drive” which is an essential power pop song appended to the garage rock found on this record. Try “Drive”, “Zombie,” and “Shut Up.”
Future Islands - SinglesIf you were paying any attention to Coachella this year, you might have seen Future Island’s set – an awkwardly powerful blend of synth laden indie-pop juxtaposed with the gravelly tones of front man Samuel T. Herring. As a live act, the dissonance between the visual and the aural is captivating. Visually Future Island‘s set is about the blandest you will ever see by the other band members, except for Sam’s awkward dancing. But for all of the things that visually work against Future Islands, the music is soaring, powerful, and emotional and for that reason alone, this record will end up near the top of my best of year lists. Singles is not even remotely a punk rock record. Rather, Future Islands on Singles is best described as an up-tempo Kraftwerk record with a non-robot vocalist whose passionate delivery transforms the sterile background into a warm rainbow of sonic colors. Singles is also an apt name for this album – four albums into a career with a relentless touring schedule in mostly small clubs, and all that work has paid off with a complete dominance of their craft laid out on an album where all of the songs are potentially singles (in a universe where these legitimately exist). Try “Sun In The Morning,” “Seasons (Waiting On You),” and “Fall From Grace.”
Slint - SpiderlandEasily the best reissue to come out this year, Spiderland is a reissue from a band most people are likely never to have ever heard. Louisville’s Slint produced an album in 1991 that was light years ahead of the proverbial post punk curve. Spiderland was Slint’s second and final album and although only containing 6 songs the album has resonated in the punk underground for these past 25 years with sales actually increasing every year since it was released. This reissue box is selling as of this writing for $561.00 on eBay as an auction. Spiderland was a rush recorded lo-fi affair with the spoken word-sing lyrics rush written during the weekend long recording process. When you hear the opener – “Breadcrumb Trail” you will realize that you’ve heard this slowcore approach from multiple bands whom incorporated the Slint sound much later. When I purchased Spiderland (when it was first released in 1991), initially, I was struck by the stark and compelling contrast to everything else I owned at the time. Truly, this is the slowest hardcore record you will likely ever experience – and that is the point – this record confronts you with a listening experience from the leftfield of punk rock – there is anger and aggression but it is not created by tempo. Rather the power in the songs is from the cutting guitar by David Pajo (who copped the prominent guitar feel from the Minutemen’s D. Boon) that works well with a foundation created by a very tight band anchored by drummer Britt Walford – laying hypnotic grooves over which Brian McMahan‘s monologues are laden. The 23rd-anniversary box-set reissue of Spiderland, remastered by Shellac’s Bob Weston, contains 14 previously unreleased outtakes, a 104-page photographic history of the band (with a foreword from Palace Brothers Will Oldham), and a brilliant documentary, Breadcrumb Trail which explores the myth and mythology of Slint. I watched the movie after getting the box and all I can say is wow – the movie sheds new light on the band, and primarily Britt and Brian. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is well worth the look. Since, I cannot possible do this record as much justice as Pitchfork’s outstanding review, check it out here. Then try” Breadcrumb Trail,” “Good Morning Captain,” and “Nosferatu Man.”

Walking Shapes - Taka Come OnNew York’s Walking Shapes debut album, Taka Come On, is in reality their second effort – as their first was a mixtape that made the rounds over the past two years. For a band from New York they have not so much adopted the sound as found a way to incorporate the indie influences into an amalgam of flavors highlighted by the simple melodies and complicated harmonies. There is also an almost overwhelming amount of sonic add-ins and instrumentation from the band throughout the record. These disparate elements contribute to the infectious off-kilter indie pop sprinkled throughout the record. The genre skipping is also admirable with everything from indie dance to American inflected folk-core found on Taka Come On – the tempo changes are refreshing and worth the repeated listen. “Try “Milo’s Shell,” “Find Me,” and “Let It Will.”

Neon Trees - Pop PsychologyIt is difficult to not like Neon Trees, a band whose earnest and catchy commercial pop is likely to be with us for a while. Like No Doubt, once radio finds something safe to play – it will play the shxx out of it. So, why is Pop Psychology in the dropbox? Because it is difficult to pass up the feel good moments on this record. This is what pop music should sound and feel like. Although the survey of love and romance in the digital age is a little weary, the melodies are not. Tyler Glenn’s a likeable enough front man and it is easy to ignore the designed melodies enough to enjoy the record. This is what disco-pop should sound like, so have some fun. Like Frankie said…relax. Try “Sleeping With A Friend,” “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)” and “American Zero.”

Strypes - 4 Track MindIrish Rockers and avid Beatles enthusiasts the Strypes are back with a gap offering entitled 4 Track Mind as we await the follow up to their excellent 2013 debut, Snapshot which reached Number 4 in the U.K charts. Mod influenced rock and roll – straight forward – like a pure rock version of the Arctic Monkeys, the four songs show greater power and dynamics than on the debut, so their UK tour should wind up with them taking some main stages at the summer festivals in Europe. Try, them all.

Swans - To Be KindThe Swan’s thirteenth record To Be Kind is out May 12th so for those of you who are awaiting eagerly, the wait is definitely worth it. As the follow-up to 2012’s outstanding return to form, The Seer, the double length To Be Kind picks up the thread from that album and carefully balances the best of prior records into a psychedelic masterpiece filled with classical components, the Swan’s compelling noise experiments, and the dark undercurrent of American Goth highlighted by the epic sprawl of the 34 minute centerpiece “Bring the Sun / Toussaint l’Ouverture.” There are elements of Tangerine Dream that some will think are Pink Floyd but upon examination there is nothing in the Floyd pantheon that remotely hints at the power of this work. This is not a traditional rock record by any means and there are not going to be any hit singles. However, I dare you to sit in a dark room and listen to this record alone. The sensations frankly raised goose bumps on my arms as I was compelled to confront the music head on. This is a stunning record on all accounts. Try “Bring the Sun / Toussaint l’Ouverture,” “Oxygen,” and the single, all 7:08 of it, “A Little God in My Hands.”

Desert Noises - 27 WaysUtah’s Desert Noises traverses some pretty familiar territory – a blend of Band Of Horses and power pop which on 27 Ways is played out in the form of a straightforward dynamic rock record. Sure there is some AOR feeling to some of this, but on the bar band test, they pass with flying colors. From the rocking opener “Grandma Looks” the album plays out like a rock show. There is no mystery to the deceptively simple approach taken by Desert Noises – play well written songs with emotion and keep pounding forward. I’ve seen shows like this and enjoyed them all because the band is enjoying what they are doing and on 27 Ways you can tell this is the sound of a band having some fun. There is smashing and bashing going on all carried by the pleasant vocals of Kyle Henderson. Except for the Mumford fake folk beginning of “Mice in the Kitchen,” the album is filled with rock songs, so enjoy the ride. Try “Run Through the Woods,” “Out of My Head,” and the Blue Cheer flavored “Keys On the Table.”

Sultan Bathery – Sultan BatheryThere is no way that anyone would willingly pick up an album by Sultan Bathery on name alone. However, by taking a look at the cover of this self-titled debut, you can ferret out what this might sound like. If you guessed psychedelic you are only partially correct. This is a slab of garage-psch played with a fervor – so much that if you dance along you will collapse from exhaustion. Lie the mighty Thee Oh Sees, Sultan Bathery occupies the same sonic space. Hailing from Italy, these guys have incorporated the entire Seeds, Sonics, and Nuggets catalogs into their very being and through transmogrification have spit out this raging reverb and fuzzbox filled hypnotic seizure inducing work. Thoroughly enjoyable. Try “Mirror,” “Spring Of Youth,” and “On The Run.”

Dexters – Shimmer GoldDebut from London’s Dexters, Shimmer Gold, hints at the Stone Roses but after a few listens you find that there is something more happening with the Dexters having incorporated some of the Foster The People and Neon Trees ethos into their sonically pleasing wall of sound. Lead track “Cloudfest” hits all the right notes, so will find airplay in Britain which has a thing for good music. Here in the U.S. Shimmer Gold will die without ever being found. Too bad, because the album is bursting with energy and although lyrically there is much to be desired, the album is interesting throughout. Perhaps it’s the lure of bands that sound like the Courteneers, but I thoroughly enjoyed the outing and through repeated listens discovered there is much more to this record than first appears on the surface. Try “Cloudfest,” “Recover,” and “Shimmer Gold.”

Mr. Little Jeans - PocketknifeNordic singer Monica Birkenes who produces a unique blend of electro-pop under the name Mr Little Jeans was an internet sensation after covering Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” and as a byproduct, her debut, entitled Pocketknife which also contains the cover, is a pleasantly varied effort which captures the beauty of Birkenes’ soft vocal approach. Pocketknife, as imagined by Birkenes, paints electo-pop with provocative nuances. Reminiscent of both Phantogram and Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) this is a solid debut album marked with some brilliant songs. Try “Mercy,” “Runaway,” and the amazing “Oh Sailor (feat. The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale).”

Reptile Youth – Rivers That Run For A Sea That Is GoneI guess if the synthesizer is modern rocks most popular tool, then it is likely there are several albums full of the tool that will eventually make the dropbox. This month, there are several that are worthy. Copenhagen Denmark’s Reptile Youth has produced a post-punk record with synthesizer laden undertones that really is a “new wave” record updated for modern radio. Rivers That Run For A Sea That Is Gone is filled with catchy melodies that are at the forefront and given the driving and somewhat hypnotic synth-bed these are instantly memorable. There is guitar on the record, but its role is to produce highlights, not be the center, and surprising, at least to me, was that it all works. Try “Structures,” “Colours,” and the disco floor burner (and oddball track “Two Hearts.”

My Sad Captains - Best Of TimesThird synth inflected record of the month, and third album from My Sad Captains, The Best Of Times is the darkest of the three, but also the most atmospheric and sonically expansive. It is not an immediate record, and for the first couple of spins, I had it playing in the background, and the record had ended without me recalling having it being played. However, on a Friday afternoon, at 5:05 p.m. I became enthralled with the song “Wide Open” from its piano intro and sparse arrangement and from that moment I was trapped – focused on listening to what would come next as the song rhythmically built – full of dynamic shapes – before the haunting vocals filtered through the repetitive notes. Fascinating. “I wonder why you feel the need to talk so loud like their isn’t anybody else around. …” Ed Wallis’ soft spoken vocal approach fits with the atmospheric base of this record and forces you to concentrate to discover the beauty underlying this collection. Try “Wide Open,” “Familiar Ghosts,” and the acoustic “All In Your Mind.”

Stagecoach - Say Hi To The BandHow I Missed Dorking, Surrey band Stagecoach‘s album last year is beyond me. Starting as a two piece country band in 2003, the band has evolved into an alt-rock juggernaut with the addition of new players, such that on Say Hi To The Band, it is clear that they were poised for massive appeal…until they $#^# broke up. Released in 2013, the album Say Hi To The Band is a debut – 10 years in the making that is full of catchy sing-a-longs that are up-beat and clearly designed to receive airplay. And you know the story…the band announced their split on September 12, 2013 and played their final show to a sold out crowd at The Brixton Windmill on December 21, 2013. #$@%#@%. Hopefully, those of you with dropbox appeal, will spread the word, because this is a great record. Try “Work! Work! Work!,” “Action,” and “We Got Tasers.”

Soft White Sixties – Get RightAnother band taking a few years to release their debut, is San Francisco’s Soft White Sixties who formed in 2009 but after constant touring and an appearance at SXSW seem to have found the groove – their soul groove on this 60’s R&B influenced soft fuzz adorned classic rock record. The songs have a traditional feel but the album is a masterwork of production with a full dynamic sound that makes the slow ones such as the beautiful “Roll Away,” transporting as the vocals fill the room. Soft White Sixties would be a great band to see live, and if they can keep up with the Hives, for whom they recently opened a show, they can’t be half bad. Try “Lemon Squeezer,” “Rubber Band,” and “I Ain’t Your Mother.”

Speedy Ortiz – Real HairNorthampton, Massachusetts indie rock stars Speedy Ortiz follow up their amazing debut from last year, Major Arcana, with an EP entitled Real Hair. According to the label, Carpark:
Their debut album Major Arcana, named Best New Music by Pitchfork, saw the evolution of Speedy Ortiz from a lo-fi project into a wholly collaborative effort, marked by Darl Ferm’s thick bass lines, drummer Mike Falcone’s boisterous fills, and the counterbalance between guitarist Matt Robidoux’s anti-melodic playing and frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’s angular riffing. The end result is a band able to distill their influences and impulses into something at once dissonant and melodic.
For their upcoming Real Hair EP, Speedy Ortiz has teamed up with Paul Q. Kolderie once again, resulting in a collection brushed with effected guitars and pop-conscious vocals. Here Dupuis attempts to untangle concerns about misrepresentation of identity in four songs delivered with the band’s signature abrasive clarity. The band will support the EP on the road into 2014 with a January southeastern string of All-Ages shows with Boston friends Grass is Green, their first European tour in February, and supporting slots with the Breeders and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks.

Which is where Speedy Ortiz neatly fit – somewhere in the middle of the Breeders and Pixies and Stephen Malkmus) So, for me it’s the fact that they have expanded their Pixies influences to add the J. Mascis Dinosaur Jr. guitar musings, and all of this is heightened by Sadie Dupuis’ high pitched spoken-singing. Try “American Horror,” “Everything’s Bigger,” and “Shine Theory.”

Amen Dunes – LoveBrooklyn New York’s Damon McMahon’s Amen Dunes project has taken some twists over a span of three prior records, but on Love, his forth to be released May 12, he has found his inner Kurt Vile producing a record which is strikingly cohesive despite contributions from Iceage singer-guitarist Elias Bender Ronnenfelt (guest vocals on two tracks), avant-garde saxophonist and Bon Iver member Colin Stetson, and Dave Bryant and Efrim Manuck from Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The main difference from previous outings is a feeling change. There is noticeably less of a &&$-you feel on Love. Heck, you might want to say that this is a positive record. For example, on “Lonely Richard” he decrees “[h]ave yourself a good time” Sonically, this is a lo-fi garage folk record with less reverb than past releases. Really, a major step forward with some interesting ideas about music. Try “Lonely Richard,” “Rocket Flare,” and “White Child.”

Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere ElseLots of fourth albums in the dropbox this month, with the latest from Cleveland punk rockers Cloud Nothings who on Here and Nowhere Else continue their pummeling assault on the listener with driving and pulsing punk rock well-crafted and melodic. This is a blast from start to finish, although to be fair, the record does not traverse a varied palette, it still plays remarkably well from the cheap seats. Punk rock as you might recall is a dying art form. Cloud Nothings gives me hope that there may be punk rock 10 years from now with the Menzingers and Cloud Nothings carrying the torch. Cloud Nothings, which started as a bedroom project of Dylan Baldi, were going to have a challenge to follow up the critical acclaim of Attack on Memory which also ended up in Tales From The Dropbox Best of 2012.  Here And Nowhere Else while not quite on the same level as Attack on Memory is a worthy record for dropbox inclusion. So there you have it. Try “Psychic Trauma,” “Quieter Today,” and “I’m Not Part of Me.”

Farewell Flight – I Was A GhostPennsylvania bred and transferred to Nashville, Farewell Flight’s debut record, I Was A Ghost, should fit nicely in the One Tree Hill music collection, with its snappy guitar driven synth-rock full of catchy choruses. This is essentially a new band and a new sound – much less punk rock and much more melodic. In many ways, this is a conventional indie rock record with synthesizer tinged dance rock parts that are commercial radio readymade. Not too deep a listen, but thoroughly enjoyable. Kind of reminded me of the Capital Cities record. Likely won’t end up on your playlist for a long time, but is good for thirty or 40 spins, eh? Think 90’s alt rock with synthesizer flourishes. There is one standout track – the excellent title track “I Was A Ghost.” This is a solid record throughout. Try “I Was A Ghost,” “Scarecrow,” and “Teenager.”

Habibi – HabibiI know you are going to find it hard to believe, with a name like Habibi, that this album one of the best things I listened to this month. This Brooklyn four piece plays on their self-titled album a mash up of garage inflected pop post-punk incorporating the best of the 60’s girl groups with some surf punk edges that is so catchy – it is hard not to play the album repeatedly to the exclusion of everything else. Singer Rahill Jamalifard plays it straight throughout delivering the phrases with her frantic cool vibe that heads for your sweet tooth and keeps your toes tapping. Give this a spin – well worth the time. Try “Far From Right,” the Motown-ish “Detroit Baby,” and “Let Me In.”

Dirty Guvnahs – Hearts On FireHard to go wrong if you hail from Knoxville TN and you play a mixture of alt-country and rock and have songs that have big melodies. In many ways, Dirty Guv’nahs remind me of the Bodeans, – a seriously underrated band who were great live, had terrific songs and never quite found a slot in a commercial world. On their fourth record, Hearts on FireDirty Guv’nahs play it “breezy” with a smooth record that removes the grit from previous endeavors. I would have liked to see a little more rawness in the production as this record has a somewhat sterile 70’s a.m radio feel. A good example  is found on the track entitled “Lyin” which introduces some very white soul to the mix, but as it is so polished, it loses a little life. Will definitely play well on radio. Still a regional act, this record is a good effort which should make their next crowd-funded release a success, if they remember to leave the “soul” on the record. Still, dropbox worthy. Try “Lyin,” “Where We Stand,” and “Under Control.”

Elder Brother – Heavy HeadElder Brother is the new indie-rock project from Kevin Geyer (The Story So Far) and Dan Rose (Daybreaker) with help from Matthew and Charles Vincent (The American Scene). Heavy Head is divergent from the path taken by their earlier bands which was pop-punk. Heavy Head is a pretty amazing debut, in part, because it shows an already mature band with excellent songwriting skill in Geyer and vocalist Rose, who produce lyrically compelling songs with catchy melodies. That’s it. The formula works well and this album has some solid highlights. This is a record I listened to while reading with the headphones on, and found myself taken away from my book to just enjoy the playing and mood created on Heavy Head. Try “Throw Me to the Wolves,” “Lightning Bug,” and “Sunday Mornings.”

Mounties – Thrash Rock LegacyBeing originally from Canada, it would be an easy guess if you thought I was going to put a record by a band called the Mounties into the dropbox. You are correct of course, but this one also happens to be very good. Although its being sold as an “indie-rock supergroup” the band consisting of Hawksley Workman (who plays drums on this record), Hot Hot Heat‘s Steve Bays and Limblifter‘s Ryan Dahle handle the synthesizer joke rock on Thrash Rock Legacy capably and with each sharing vocal duties it makes for a pretty cool record. From opener “Pretty Respectable,” the record bounces around with off-kilter lyrics and playing making for a very interesting listening experience. Are they playing the #$^^ out of the song “Headphones” in Canada? I’ll bet they are. “I’ve got my headphones on every day of my life gonna wear ‘em until I’m dead.” $%&7 I’ve got the song stuck in my head. This should be big. Here’s hoping it is, because I’d like to hear a second album. Think Weezer-Hot Hot. Try “Headphone,” “If This Dance Catches On,” and the weird tribute to “Hall & Oates.”

Withered Hand – New GodsDan Wilson, aka Withered Hand, is a singer-songwriter who writes about relationships and has the uncanny ability to write the affectionate jangle pop best represented by Chris Stamey and Teenage Fanclub with Big Star flourishes. On New Gods, the follow up to his also outstanding debut, 2009’s Good News, Wilson contains the influences and produces an album of sunny lo-fi pop songs with bright guitars and darker meanings. Repeated listens hint at more influences from the 90’s alt-rock scene including early R.E.M., Don Dixon, and Marti Jones all sung with Wilson’s Stamey-like vocals. This one has popped up repeatedly in the playlist, because IT IS GOOD. Try “Black Tambourine,” “King Of Hollywood,” and “Heart Heart.”

Sweet Apple – The Golden Age of GlitterIf you thought the Mounties were a supergroup – they have nothing on Sweet Apple. And like the Mounties record, I played it without even realizing who was in the band, and was surprised because the results are a departure for the key member and not so much for the others. Sweet Apple is the side project of Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis and on the aptly titled Golden Age of Glitter, includes Dave Sweetapple (Witch, Fog), Tim Parnin (Cobra Verde) and John Petkovic (Cobra Verde, Death of Samantha) with special guest vocalists Robert Pollard (GBV) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees). This is flat out a 70’s muscle rock record with some power pop leanings. There are places that are reminiscent of the Byrds, early Creedence, some Stones work, and a little T.Rex but overall, the album is characteristically a 70’s rock album with some great vocal work. Try “Boys in Her Fanclub,” “Reunion,” and “We Are Ruins.”

A couple of Record Store Day 2014 exclusive releases hit the dropbox this month (if you take a glance at eBay, these records are going for beaucoup bucks, so listen here first, eh?):

Tame Impala – Live VersionsFirst up, are Australian psychedelic rockers, Tame Impala with 9 tracks of Live Versions recorded from a 2013 show in Chicago. I love Tame Impala and these live versions are some trippy $%$%$ arrangements of some great songs. I would love to see them live. Perhaps I might, some day. Anyway, these are not note for note recreations of the originals, rather they are impressions of the originals, played with zeal and give a glimpse of the live experience. An excellent bootleg. If you’ve followed the band for a while, these are mostly the “hits”, whatever that means. Try “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” “Be Above It,” and “Mind Mischief.”

Green Day – DemoliciousSimilarly, Green Day, whose recent work is a bit sketchy, has put together a pretty decent album of 18 demos recorded at Jingletown Studios in Oakland, CA, in 2012 during the sessions for the band’s ¡Uno!,  ¡Dos!,  ¡Tré! album trilogy. In addition to the 18 demos, Demolicious includes a previously unreleased track, “State of Shock,” and an acoustic version of “Stay The Night” from ¡Uno!. Of interest to dropbox listeners is that these demos are in many cases better than the versions that appeared on the albums – perhaps it is the looseness of the band in demo mode, or the fact that these have the flubs and rawness that was squeezed out of the final production. Anyway, this is the best collection of songs since Warning came out for me. As a standalone, I enjoyed listening to this more than the three other albums which were a patchwork of good and bad. I sense that the songs you enjoyed on the trilogy albums are mostly found in this collection. Try “Stay the Night,” “State of Shock,” and “Stray Heart.”

Thee Oh Sees – DropAfter an apparently short hiatus (band speak for we are not going to put out any more records) the venerable garage-psych rockers, Thee Oh Sees are back, with Drop, their latest (and 13th) slab of awesomeness. John Dwyer has been playing with his other mostly lo-fi project the Coachwhips, but for this album, he has adjusted the lineup to include Mikal Cronin (another dropbox favorite) and drummer Chris Woodhouse. Unlike the amazing last record 2013’s Floating Coffin, this records roots are earlier 60’s garage rock. I numerous places Thee current version of Thee Oh Sees sprinkles some a.m. radio dust on the proceedings, particularly on title track “Drop” which has some great guitar work and a traditional song structure must like Mitch Easter’s 90’s work – and unlike most of the tracks on the album. Another solid album to add to the collection. Try “Savage Victory,” “Drop,” and the very Beatles Sgt. Peppers sounding “The Lens.”

TBaseballs – Game Dayhe Baseballs are a German rock and roll band that have figured out how to modernize a sound born out of early 50’s rock n’ roll. The Baseballs are composed of three vocalists: Sam, Digger, and Basti; with a traditional backup band consisting of Lars Vegas (guitar), Klaas Wendling (upright bass), Jan Miserre (piano), and Tomas Svensson (drums).Think Sha Na Na for the hipster set. Rockabilly and Elvis influences pervade this collection which in small doses makes for a pretty fun time. For the first time ever, I enjoyed that “Royals” song by Lorde, when performed by the Baseballs it is transformed into something else entirely. Game Day is not reinventing the genre, rather just trying to keep it interesting. This is an oddball for the dropbox, but I liked it. Try to spot the originals from the covers. Try “My Baby Left Me For A DJ,” “#Flashback,” and “On My Way.”

Band of Skulls – HimalayanOn their third and latest release, Himalayan, Southampton trio Band of Skulls vary the efforts of their prior indie rock outings, by expanding their oeuvre – the guitars on the slow burners shimmer and the space between notes is longer – all part of a plan to take their brand of blues inflected metal to more popular places. Himalayan adds a layer of desert rock a la Queens of the Stoneage to the proceedings, and in so doing, expands the sonic territory of their carefully crafted balance of blues rock and metal. There are some glam highlights on Himalayan, such as the T. Rex sounding tracks “Asleep At The Wheel” and “Hoochie Coochie” as well as some straight out rockers such as “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying.” (Steve Miller Band sound-a-like!) Definitely ready for the next big thing. Try “Asleep At The Wheel,” “Hoochie Coochie,” and “Get Yourself Together.”

Secret Colours – Positive DistractionsFinally, Chicago psych-rockers Secret Colours (Canadian spelling!) have released two EP’s this year which finds the sweet spot between Tame Impala and Ty Segal, two drop box favorites and does so by adding some 60’s British beat influences, primarily the Kinks ( love the melotron) to their sound producing a blend of guitar goodness that best represents the overall sound of this record. Even the band no less self describes their sound as “bastard seed of ‘60s psychedelia and ‘90s Britpop.” As you might have noticed over the past year or so, there is truly a British Invasion at least sound wise as bands wholesale incorporate British psychedelia into their sound. The effort pays off for Secret Colours as this album is the perfect sonic experience with some Stone Roses moments throughout. The dropbox contains both EPs fused together. Try “Into You,” “It Can’t Be Simple,” and “Rotten Summer.”

I should have a new batch of tunes and reviews for you next week…so stay tuned. And of course, until next time…let’s be safe out there.

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.”

October 8, 2013 Dropbox Notes Update

This is an excellent month of new releases. So for those of you that were a little tentative when you first saw the list because of your unfamiliarity with many of the acts in this month’s dropbox, this update should provide some encouragement to explore some acts that are a little different (depending on whose perspective we are talking about, and since it is obviously mine in these notes you should have some idea the direction these notes are going to take) from the typical fare you would normally find on the list. Taking a peek at the list, there are several albums that could be what is best described as electronic and all of which that fall outside the norm as compared with past dropbox offerings. However, CHVRCHES, Bastille, Au Revoir Simone, Factory Floor, and Haim are too good to ignore. So, let’s take them one at a time, and explore why they make this month’s dropbox.

CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe [European Limited Edition]CHVRCHES, pronounced churches ( I have no idea why the misspelling, perhaps so that  you can find them in search engines) are a Glaswegian synth-pop band with a history. Iain Cook was a member of both Aerogramme and The Unwinding Hours and Martin Doherty previously played in the touring version of the Twilight Sad. What makes this band a little different is that they are all very well-educated, with lead vocalist and final member of the trio, Lauren Mayberry holding a law degree and a master’s degree in journalism. What makes the band special is the unmistakable musical connection to early Human League and Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, creating electronic soundscapes punctuated by both Doherty and Mayberry’s vocals providing a pop flavor. Lead single from CHVRCHES debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, is “The Mother We Share” will give you the overall tone and feel for the record: sunny sounding electro-pop – which is very much an anachronism given the extensive use of synthesizers throughout the record. However, sometimes it’s a good thing to step back into the 80’s and on The Bones of What You Believe those small touches give these songs an unexpectedly warm feeling – contrary to the coldness of the instrument choices used by the band. In places, CHVRCHES approach is a little sugary, but given the incredible range of diversity, it creates a foundation for a record that would make for an excellent live show. The earlier single, from their debut EP, entitled Recover is also another pop nugget, and for that alone you should give this album a listen. Try: “The Mother We Share”, “Recover,” and “Lies.”

Bastille – Bad BloodSecond on this month’s list is Bastille, with a single the radio hit “Pompeii” that, like CHVRCHES, taps into the disco-pop/electro-pop genre. Perhaps, you’ve started hearing “Pompeii” on the radio, and if you’ve been listening to any proclaimed alternative radio station – then you have to think – really? Is this what passes for alternative music? Did I wake up in a time warp? Is there government mind control at work when radio stations are claiming this as alternative music? Sure, it is alternative to Bieber, Kanye, and Miley…but it is also not Nirvana either. So, note to KROQ (and I am aware that I am railing against this radio station quite a bit lately, but it has all gone sideways. I almost, and I say almost, thought that Vancouver has better radio now, but that would not be true. CFOX – I’m talking about you. However, back to the main point. Bastille’s debut album Bad Blood deserves to be played on the radio. This is pop music and there is no denying the appeal of a great vocalist in the form of Dan Smith, the use of piano as a primary instrument, and upbeat catchy melodies. Bastille may have started as a solo bedroom project by Smith, but as it now operates as a four piece, Bastille plays powerful and emotional pieces that will have you singing along. The album collects a couple of earlier singles including their debut “Overjoyed” released in April of 2012, and since then, the band has released four singles, with “Pompeii” being the fourth. Apparently, KROQ didn’t think the other 3 songs, all of which made the UK Singles chart, were good enough.Try: ”Things We Lost in the Fire,” “Flaws,” and of course “Pompeii.

Crystal Stilts - Nature NoirTo break up the pop flood a little bit, New York’s Crystal Stilts have been bashing away for 10 years now. On their latest release, Nature Noir, their third full length, Brad Hargett and JB Townsend play their unique brand of indie rock with gloom garage leanings much as if the Velvet Underground were still operating. This influence is most forceful on songs like “Future Folklore” which could be acknowledged Velvet’s copyist Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers outtake (much like Pablo Picasso” version II) except that Jonathan Richman’s nasally vocals are not present. This is a thoroughly enjoyable album with the jangle guitar of Crystal Stilt’s prior albums still present, but the psychedelic swirl is much more nuanced and the aptly named record presents a film noir soundtrack, brilliantly played. Try: “Star Crawl,”“Memory Room,” and “Nature Noir.”

Haim - Days Are GoneBack to the pop, with Los Angeles’ Haim (it rhymes with time) whom were huge stars in England even before the release of this, their debut album. The interesting thing about England, as compared with the US, is that the opportunities to play live are seemingly endless and bands who have exceptional live performances are going to get onstage in very large venues even without a record. Haim, for example, has already played Glastonbury, iTunes Festival, and Way Out West 2013 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and as I write this Days Are Gone has entered the UK Album Chart at No. 1 following its release on September 30, 2013 beating out Justin Timberlake which entered the chart at number 2. Days Are Gone is a solid folk rock record, and the band has often been compared to Fleetwood Mac meets Florence & The Machine, but that comparison is too easy. There is definitely something more going on here. The album does have the shiny gloss of major label stinking up the production which is somewhat distracting particularly if you have seen Haim’s live act which is very raw and energetic. (See for yourself: Haim Live at iTunes Festival 2012 (Full Concert) – crowd is terrible but band is great!). This may be the dilemma for many a new artist – is my record going to sound like me live? The label’s answer is apparently no. Thus, for Haim, the songs on Days Are Gone come off a bit too shiny, but there is no denying the appeal of the three sisters’ ability to harmonize. These are very well written and catchy and definitely worth a listen. Try: “The Wire,” “Falling (Live at Maida Vale)” and “Forever” (Live at BBC Radio 1 Lounge December 2012).

Factory Floor – Factory Floor (Deluxe Edition) [2CD]Four years after forming, London electronic outfit Factory Floor occupy a sweet spot in my heart, for the sounds on their self-titled debut (read the rant from my last post on this phenomena below), bring back memories of original first wave electronic industrial noise makers Throbbing Gristle, but this is a decidedly mixed affair incorporating a number of related elements – avant-garde, electronic, dub, and down-tempo – with a goal of maximum danceability. This is definitely not my typical style as I normally eschew these type of records, but with the Ian Curtis like vocals of Nik Colk, and the playing of Gabriel Gurnsey and Mark Harris, the results are definitely interesting and move this post-industrial rock genre a great leap forward. In short, the record is a game changer because this is industrial music for the underground dance club. So, turn it up and feel the noise. Try: ” Turn It Up,” Work Out,” and from the bonus disc, “Blue.”

Veronica Falls – Six Covers Vol. 2Veronica Falls released the solid hook laden album last year, Waiting For Something To Happen, which made it to the drop box, so it should come as no surprise that the follow up record, a collection of 6 cover songs would find its way to this page as well. What makes this collection different, is that the songs contained on this collection are bizarre in their selection, such that for the uninitiated, they would sound like originals. For example, not many likely saw or heard of Oi! band Cocksparrer, let alone Portland’s The Rats (formed by Fred Cole and his wife Toody now of Dead Moon). If you’ve never heard of these bands, the checking is well worth the effort. Veronica Falls takes these songs and turns them into their own, and the resurrection for each tune is refreshing with the exception of the Dylan cover. Notwithstanding, I am excited to hear a new full length of originals, but for now, Six Covers Volume 2, will have to do. Best on this mostly acoustic collection are the covers of “Bury Me Happy” (originally by the Moles) and “Timeless Melody” (originally by the La’s) and the aforementioned Teenagers” (originally by the Rats).

Jungle Giants – Learn To ExistThe Jungle Giants, like Grouplove which I will cover later in these notes, cover familiar territory if you’ve been following the dropbox. They are an Australian four-piece which formed in 2011 in Brisbane, Queensland. The band, consisting of Sam Hales (Vocals/Guitar), Cesira Aitken (Lead Guitar), Andrew Dooris (Bass/Backing Vocals) and Keelan Bijker (Drums), fit squarely into the Aussie indie pop scene like similar sounding brethren San Cisco.  The songs are crisply melodic pop and, really, that is all you are likely required to know. The production on this record is also very clean. Acoustic guitar flavors a number of the tracks and I think that sound is the key to why this album is so good. In short, the “devil is in the details” and Jungle Giant‘s have payed close attention to them. There are a number of songs that will immediately have your toe tapping and your fingers snapping along. Learn To Exist should be a massive hit down under and for that reason, you will likely never hear of them on these shores, except of course through the drop box! Try: “She’s A Riot,” “Skin To Bone,” and “Got Nothing to Lose.”

Grouplove – Spreading RumorsGrouplove is popular in California because they represents the middle ground for mass alternative appeal. As you know, the dropbox is only filled with good things, so its inclusion should signal that this is a good album. Spreading Rumors is the follow up to their widely successful debut, 2011’s Never Trust A Happy Song which contained the hit “Colors” and the ubiquitous and overplayed “Tongue Tied.” The trouble with radio is that they always go for the easy song, as after all, “it” is about the hits.  Radio hits make money and sell records for the record companies. For that reason alone, Spreading Rumors will never be played on KROQ or Alt 987 in Los Angeles, because after the success of “Tongue Tied” ( which is still played almost every day), there is never an attempt to play the follow-up singles unless they fall within the genre limits set by the earlier record, i.e. same sound, same song. Spreading Rumors could be the perfect example of a record where the best songs are not the most obvious – and that is why the dropbox inclusion. There is something deeper and more lasting than a disposable pop hit on this record.  Strong writing always bodes well for a band looking for a career longer than a minute. Spreading Rumors is also something different for a band residing in Los Angeles. Grouplove likely could not get work in local clubs because almost all of the rock clubs in Los Angles are still booking faceless rock bands and other exotica. There is a certain charm to most of the songs on Spreading Rumors as they have apparently consciously attempted to sing more and shout less. That is, the record remains true to Grouplove’s “style” but unlike Never Trust A Happy Song, the balance achieved on this record sets it apart from the earlier work – less shouting more music. It is also really difficult to ignore how pleasant the boy-girl vocals of Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi are when they alternate on the duet “Schoolboys.”  Try: ”Schoolboys,” “News To Me,” and “Raspberry” (with its Frank Black sounding vocal – definitely a Pixies feel on this one very similar to “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven”).

Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self Preservation SocietyOn The Death of the Self Preservation Society, Columbus Ohio’s Two Cow Garage, display the consequences of listening to Blue Oyster Cult. Such influences inform and transform Two Cow Garage‘s sound displaying more organ and piano than previously while remaining a guitar driven machine. Two Cow Garage is still punk rock but now leaning a little more towards the rock end of the genre pool. Death of The Self Preservation Society still contains the obligatory street punk ballad (e.g “Mantle in ’56”), but for a 6th album, Death of the Self Preservation Society represents real growth by the band – both in sound and maturity.  The country blues of their predecessor albums is still present but now it is much more muscular, hence the BOC reference earlier. I swear, you could add cowbells to “Annie Get Your Guns” and it would belong on Agents of Fortune. Try: ”Death of Self-Preservation Society,” (This reminds me of a song by another band, but can’t quite think of it now), “Lost On Youth,” and “My Friend Adam.”

Kissaway Trail – BreachOdense Denmark trio, Kissaway Trail, on their third LP, Breach, continue in workmanlike fashion to craft melodic chamber pop, and perhaps that could be considered a flaw by some listeners. However, for me, while acknowledging that Kissaway Trail is not breaking new ground, the songs on Breach are captivating. Time spent absorbing Breach was well worth my effort as it took a few spins to discover the gentle gems on this transcendent affair. It’s the groove created by the trio that allows for the simple melodies to spiral off into complex forays much like Arcade Fire but without sounding like an imitation. The vocals are what make this record special. Try: “Shaking The Mote,” the gorgeous “A Rainy Night in Soho,” and “So Sorry, I’m Not.”

Underground Youth – The Perfect Enemy For GodAnother band you’ve not heard of, but releasing its 6th album, Underground Youth, on The Perfect Enemy For God, have created a sound that would have been perfectly acceptable at Manchester’s Hacienda Club in 1980. Picture it, you are going out for a night on the town to see the beginnings of Echo & The Bunnymen or perhaps the Cure are in town to play songs from their Pornography album. Who would be the opener?  Why Underground Youth, of course. You can hear elements of a number of early Manchester bands and the results on The Perfect Enemy For God are darn near perfect. (Look, for those of you whom actually read these notes, I am for the sake of cheap and lazy comparison ignoring the whole Joy Division presence which is duly noted by other observers, particularly on “Rodion” largely because such comparisons are always unfair to the band unfortunate enough to draw such comparison. Reviewer’s do this often. How do you think Bruce Springsteen felt after being dubbed the new Bob Dylan? (See Springsteen on Springsteen excerpt) Although if you noticed earlier, I did utilize a similar reference to Joy Division.) I was literally amazed at the feel of this record which mixes psychedelic and shoegaze with a touches of early post-punk. Very impressive.  Try: “Rodion,” “In The Dark I See,” and “Masquerade.”

Volcano Choir – RepaveVolcano Choir is identified primarily with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, but all of the music on this record was written by former members of Collections of Colonies of Bees (Jon Mueller (Death Blues), Thomas Wincek (of All Tiny Creatures), Matthew Skemp (All Tiny Creatures)), guitarist Chris Rosenau, and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Wincek. Repave, the groups second album, arrives after 4 years and with Vernon questioning whether he will ever record again under the Bon Iver name. And perhaps that questioning is what brings energy to these often complex songs. Although it seems that the recording process, which lasted more than two years, was an exercise in brute force in trying to achieve the results the group was looking for, the results reflect the effort and attention to detail. The songs on Repave sound somewhat like David Bowie singing for the Talking Heads as filtered through of Montreal. There is a delicacy on the record but not in the way you would normally think of delicate. The goal is clearly to push the minimalistic post-rock of the first Volcano Choir album forward into a new sonic stratosphere and that is accomplished in two ways. First, by Vernon only focusing on vocals and lyrics (which in places are somewhat rambling), the band replaces Vernon’s own desire to internalize the melodies. Instead, the attack is focused and although the folk flag is flying fairly free on the Repave, it is not flagrant. Second, the Volcano Choir‘s efforts to create loose structures to give room for Vernon’s vocal approach are rewarded as this “space” is perfectly suited for Vernon’s voice and permits the songs breathing room resulting in an atmosphere for compelling listening. Try: “Bygone,” Comrade,” and Dancepack.”

Naked and Famous – In Rolling WavesAuckland New Zealand’s, the Naked and Famous are quite the busy crew. Since forming in 2008, Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith, along with engineer Aaron Short (Jesse Wood (drums) and David Beadle (bass) joined the band as full-time members in 2009) have released only two albums but several well regarded EP’s and remixes following the success of their first album 2010’s Passive You, Aggressive Me. Best known (and perhaps the only song they are known for) the electropop gem, “Young Blood” the Naked and Famous were possibly overwhelmed by the instant fame. As we’ve seen with other dropbox artists, the real questions for a band with a successful first record is deciding what that sophomore record is going to look like? Will the Naked And Famous be able to continue their success? In almost all cases, the answer to the success question is no, and it usually has little to do with the bands decisions regarding the sophomore release. Naked and Famous have intelligently guessed their answer to the success question in advance of the release of In Rolling Waves, because it is evident that the focus for this record was not on repeating the success formula of Passive You, Aggressive Me. Naked and Famous have obviously chosen their own path and In Rolling Waves is evidence of their  determination to create soundscapes and songs that they believe are consistent with their collective approach to song craft. This approach works. The Naked and Famous sound that you loved on Passive You, Aggressive Me is still present but it is muted as the band really ups the level of writing and performance. The listener is going to have to work a little harder to find the thread that makes this album so enjoyable. The synth-pop  sound with its beeps and blips still forms the bed of most of the songs, but the rocking guitar edges are much more pronounced and that is what gives the songs on In Rolling Waves their strength and sophistication.  There could be some more immediate tempo changes to break things up along the way, but the remixes will likely shortly follow this release, and tracks like “I Kill Giants” will end up being club hits. Like CHVRCHES, the Naked And Famous recognize that the recordings on the album are only the beginning. They know that these recordings will be remixed and re-purposed. It is this flexibility that is so interesting, and why the record overall is a huge success. Only, the band is going to have to be happy with quality as the measure of their success because it is almost certainly not going to be measured by record sales.  The only misstep on the In Rolling Waves is the “The Mess” which suffers from being overtly cutesy, if that is is even possible for this sugar sweet pop duet. Overall however, a fairly good time. Try: “Heart Like Ours,” “I Kill Giants,” and “A Stillness.”

Pedaljets –What’s In BetweenOn What’s In Between, Lawrence, Kansas four-piece, Pedaljets, capture completely the band at its peak – a peak that was first observed 23 years ago. On this their third album, Pedaljets finally perfect a sound hinted at 23 years ago, producing a work that is a unique mix of Midwestern punk and goth. Pedaljets released two excellent LPs (1988′s Today Today and a self-titled follow-up in 1989) that were supposed to put them on the path to college rock success along with the Meat Puppets and Husker Du. In support of those records, Pedaljets toured relentlessly but could never find the right opportunity to unlock the door to widespread commercial success. The touring, lack of commercial success, and the inherent problems in needing to balance income with living led to the band breakup in 1990. Skip ahead a long while, and all of the original members, Mike Allmayer, Matt Kesler and Rob Morrow, are back save original lead guitarist and Phil Wade who has been replaced by producer Paul Malinowski (formerly of Shiner) So what have Pedaljets accomplished? The next logical step in their musical progression – a little wiser, a little sharper, but with more accomplished lyrics. This is still alt-rock from the Midwest.  Overall the songs are consistently good – not all great, but solidly good. So, when evaluating What’s In Between’s inclusion in the dropbox, I used used the bar band test and obviously Pedaljets come out like winners. Try: The boogie woogie of “Dead Day Return,” (which sounds like a Kiss outtake) “Nothing Boy,” and the mostly awesome “Riverview.”

Stellar Kart – All InPhoenix Arizona’s Stellar Kart’s latest release, All In, is a pleasant romp with the upbeat pop punk reminding me of Guadalcanal Diary, a band from the 80’s that I absolutely loved. I covered the reissue of Guadalcanal Diary’s Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man (1984) and perhaps that’s why when I heard All In, I was …. all in. There is something about Adam Agee’s voice (the sole surviving member of the band since its re-launch) that reminds me of Murray Attaway and so, in the most objective way, I found myself appreciating this overtly Christian band (had you there didn’t I?). Christian bands get stigmatized by the mainstream press, because of the “preachy” nature of most of these albums. Most people do not want to think about religion apart from Sunday morning. I get it. What made All In worthy of  the dropbox was that this is not overtly preachy, the songs have secondary meanings, and frankly, I like acoustic flavored pop punk. That’s it. It is definitely different, but I appreciated the classic way the songs were written and the overall mood of the record. Try: “All In (Apologize),” “Hollywood Reality,” and “Criminals and Kings.”

Bad Sports – BrasDenton, Texas’ Bad Sports, third album cleverly entitled Bras, delivers a return to the 1970’s early new wave as if it was something Bad Sports had discovered on their own. Like the Figgs, Bad Sports mines the same territory – Joe Jackson’s I’m The Man, 999, Buzzcock’s guitars, and all the sounds you loved on those early new wave singles with a garage pop flavor dedicated to the melody. “Hypothetical Girl” sounds like it came off the Members record (Do you remember “Offshore Banking Business?”). Hard to deny the appeal of buzz saw guitars, catchy Ramones like choruses, and ooh…hoos. I’m hooked. Try: ”Terrible Place,” “Washed Up,” and “Hypothetical Girl.”

Cosmonauts – Persona Non GrataOn Persona Non Grata, Fullerton California’s the Cosmonauts take a different approach to garage rock, slowing the pace so that they can infuse the psychedelic guitars and organ into the mix. Like Ty Segal, and King Tuff, Cosmonauts update the Velvet Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain into a wonderful swirl of garage music and jangle guitars that touches the acid leanings of Tame Impala and Pond discussed in prior versions of these Notes. So, pick this baby up, or you will miss out. Try “I’m So Bored With You,” (Not The Clash Tune!) “Dirty Harry,” and “Sweet Talk.”

Crocodiles – Crimes of PassionStaying in California, San Diego’s noise pop stars, Crocodiles on Crimes of Passion deliver waves of mutilation – songs drenched in fuzz and reverb that harken back to the same sound territory as Cosmonauts. However, the focus of Crimes of Passion is on the British form of psychedlica with its psyched out vocals and jangly guitars. Much of the sound is reminiscent of the 90’s shoegaze scene best represented by the Stone Roses. The guitars shimmer and the feedback folds back onto the vocals. Opener “I Like It in the Dark” sets the stage for all of the songs on Crimes of Passion – a swirling up tempo song showing the garage leanings that distance the band from the shoegaze foundations that all of the the songs on the record are all built. A number of the songs have a harder rock edge, but the Crimes of Passion‘s pacing is nothing short of brilliant. As I listened to this through headphones (because most of my family thinks this is all noise) the effects utilized throughout the album make this sound like you are right in the studio and Crocodiles is playing live. Crimes of Passion has some weak lyrical moments, but it is easy to overlook those flaws when the music supporting those lyrics is so captivating. Try: “Me and My Machine Gun,” “Cockroach,” and “She Splits Me Up.”

Crash Karma – Rock Musique DeluxeOh, Canada….Crash Karma, featuring members of several 90’s Canadian acts, Edwin (formerly of I Mother Earth), Mike Turner (formerly of Our Lady Peace), Jeff Burrows (of The Tea Party), and Amir Epstein (of Zygote), have on their second album, Rock Musique Deluxe brought forth a new musical genre into the music lexicon: 70’s retro Canuck rock. What does that mean? Well, for those of you who grew up in Canada in the 1970’s and early 80’s, this means a healthy dose of April Wine, some Prism, a little Trooper, a dash of Max Webster, and perhaps a smidge of Loverboy, but no Rush. This updates those elements, especially when you get past the first couple of generic sounding rock tracks. While I enjoyed “Everything”, the album really started to pick up with “Finally Free” and everything thereafter rocks. Rock Musique Deluxe is straight forward Canadian muscle rock, with some pretty solid writing. If you ignore some of the awkward lyrics, this is a thoroughly enjoyable record. Try: “Finally Free,” Leave Her Alone,” and “It’s For Love.”

Delorean – AparDrifting back into the electronic dance pop genre, Delorean on their third LP, Apar, fit nicely into the Phoenix and Air stratosphere with catchy synth-pop. Coming from Spain, there is a definite European (as compared with British) feel to these tracks which are surprisingly very delicate punctuated by two recognizable vocal contributions from Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Ryan Dombal  (who is better known as Glasser – her second album is also excellent and comes out next week). The temptation is to play this type of music in the background, but what sealed the deal for me was the sweeping majesty of several of the tracks played full blast in my car. The magnificent “Unhold” in particular enters new sonic territory as it is delicate and powerful all at the same time with Polachek’s great vocal performance. This is not to say that Delorean’s lead vocalist, Ekhi Lopetegi, is not up to par, just that he picks his spots carefully and in so doing allows the Delorean‘s guests to thrive in each song. This is very evident on a track like “Destitute Time” where Lopetegi sings lead but gives way to Glasser who hits the chorus hard. Try: “Unhold (Ft. Caroline Polachek).” “Destitute Time,” and You Know It’s Right.”

Destruction Unit – Deep TripRemember when Queens of the Stoneage were really good? How about Kyuss? Well Destruction Unit’s take on a similar sounds is really good. So good, in fact I am tempted to heap more than the usual praise on this record. Fronted by one time Jay Reatard collaborator, Ryan Rousseau, and now featuring his brother, Rusty, N. Nappa, J. Aurelius, and A. Flores, the band have found the balance between punk and grinding noise psychedelic rock much like the Cramps found the balance between punk and rockabilly. And that is the point – it is a different experience when a band is able to shed their influences – in this case Can and the space trippiness of Hawkwind – and find the sonic equivalent. The album although sounding like free form space rock is not. This is a carefully crafted, precise album with repetition used to enhance the songs and drive them to a new level and not simply for the sake of repetition. Significantly, Rousseau’s vocals are what gives the music its punk edge without retreating to the more hardcore elements. In short, there is a harmony between vocals and guitars and the results are darn near perfect. If this is your genre, then this is a definitive record in the genre. Try: “The World on Drugs,” “God Trip,” and “Control the Light.”

Au Revoir Simone – Move In SpectrumsAu Revoir Simone occupies a weird niche in indie rock territory. Erika Forster, Annie Hart, and Heather D’Angelo blend their voices over their keyboard and drum machine dream pop. After a little more than a decade, it seems that even Au Revoir Simone grew tired of the twee lightness of their earlier sound, because on Move in Spectrums the pop now approaches dance in energy. There is still the floating ethereal harmonies, but now, unlike past efforts, the drum machine is integral in the music, and produces a vibrancy that was not previously there. This is true indie rock in the actual meaning of those words. Au Revoir Simone hails from Brooklyn, probably plays the Music Hall of Williamsburg several times a year, and all probably live in nice middle class homes. There is a feel to this record that is more akin to what you would expect to hear at an afternoon concert in the park – and if the mood strikes you proper, then this record is what I would reach for. Unlike most of the dropbox offerings this month, this is a mood record. That is, you have to feel like listening to Move In Spectrums, because otherwise the beauty might not resonate if you are not focused on Au Revoir Simone’s unique sonic construct. Try: “More Than,” Hand over Hand,” and the pop hit, “Crazy.”

Hateful – Soundtrack For A SinnerIt is difficult to not love Scottish punkers, Hateful, who on their 4th outing, Soundtrack For A Sinner, manage to capture the best elements of late 1970’s British Punk (think Stiff Little Fingers – Listen to “Giving The Game Away which incorporates the sound of SLF’s “Fly The Flag”) and plays them with the joy of a band content with who they are and their place in the punk world. The album is solid from fore to aft, and the mix of street punk and 70’s punk works well. This is one of my favorite releases this month simply because it reminds me of Stiff Little Fingers and the energy of teen angst. Try: “Giving The Game Away,” “Heart Attack” and “Nice Day For Mischief.”

Blood Arm – Infinite NightsNow based in Berlin Germany, former Los Angeles natives Blood Arm have not only changed scenery, but also taken a change in sound direction. On Infinite Nights, Blood Arm has opted for a darker overall image, and now their indie rock is flavored with an enhanced garage edge, making tracks like “Midnight Moan” sound more like the White Stripes than on their previous outings, including the brilliant Lie Lover Lie from 2006. While not all of the record works (I’m thinking of the song “Torture” as an example – just boring), and the attempts at diversity are somewhat manufactured, for example the bubblegum pop of “Bubblegum,” it is a good example of a band in transition, stepping out its comfort zone. Some songs could use a few more hooks, but in the main, most of this is on target. Try: “Revenge,” “Midnight Moan,” and “Sex Fiend.”

Wheatus – The Valentine LPFormed in New York in 1995 by Brendan B Brown, Wheatus has always been a band standing in the shadows of giants. Best known for their Green Day sound-a-like single “Teenage Dirtbag” (What? It wasn’t Green Day?) in 2000, the creep of time has impacted Wheatus‘ recording schedule. In the past five years, they have only mustered a few EPs, and finally, this August they quietly released Valentine. The reason is simple – of the original members (and there are approximately 30 former members of the band) only Brown remains. So, this album, while shopped under the Wheatus moniker, is the first for this incarnation of the band. And perhaps that’s why there is some fresh life in these songs. It’s still the pop punk you know and love, with sing-a-long hooks, but there is a slightly different feel to these songs than on past endeavors. Particularly as Valentine follows 2009’s Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 1 – The Lightning and 2010’s Pop, Songs & Death: Vol. 2 – The Jupiter EP, which were both markedly different endeavors than the earlier Wheatus recordings. So, that I don’t miss out and forget to mention it later (as I am now apt to do) “Fourteen” should be a massive radio hit as it essentially captures the spirit of Material Issue, only thirty years later. Overall, Valentine is a winner of a record because Brown has finally found out what works – and it sounds very much like where Brown started a long time ago. If Wheatus never releases another record, which will make me sad, they have achieved power pop perfection with the Valentine. Try: “Fourteen,” “Holiday,” and “Marigold Girl.”

May 5, 2013 Drop Box Notes Update

Virginmarys King of ConflictThe Virginmarys are three-piece rock band from Macclesfield, England who formed in 2006 but 7 years later release their debut LP Kings of Conflict following the release of several EPs that were generally well received. This band is a good example of the new model for releases – most bands get to put out a couple of singles and EPs in order to test the waters before a record company commits to a full length release. This is not to say that Virginmarys are novices having played the Download Festival in 2010 as well as supporting a variety of UK based bands such as my favorites Ash and We Are Scientists as well as Slash, Eagles of Death Metal and Feeder. So, where do they fit in the musical genre mix? Probably more metal than alternative, the key to this band is really that they have updated the 70’s metal sound with catchy melodic songs that rock in the same way that Billy Talent and the aforementioned Ash do – they are anthems of teen angst that you don’t mind singing along with. Overall, a nice change of pace. Try: “Dead Man’s Shoes”, “Bang Bang Bang” and the stripped version of “Just A Ride.”

Wheeler Brothers Gold Boots GlitterBet you never thought you would find a country record in the drop box. Sure there were hints with alt-country offerings such as Old 97s and Wilco appearing with some regularity, but Austin Texas’ Wheeler Brothers is much closer in sound to country than alternative. However, unlike traditional country albums, Gold Boots Glitter is a breath of fresh air in a stale scene. I was genuinely surprised by the atmospheric quality to some of these songs, the grit on Nolan Wheeler’s vocals, and the great harmonies throughout the record. Don’t let the country label sway you from picking up this gem. There are plenty of tunes to peak your interest and the record is diverse. The three Wheeler siblings (Nolan, Tyler and Patrick) started playing music with guitarist Danny Matthews while attending Louisiana State University, joining up with high-school buddy A.J. Molyneaux when they returned to Austin. The product of these tight knit relationships is found in the spectacularly smooth back-up vocals and harmonies.  Start with “Straight and Steady”, You Got A Lot of Love” and “You Like.” Truly a gem.

Young Dreams Between PlacesBergen, Norway’s Young Dreams channel Brian Wilson through a modern electronic pop sound. Led by vocalist Mathias Tellez, Young Dreams on Between Places revisits the Beach Boys as filtered through early Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend. Once you hear the opener “Footprints” you’ll get where this record is heading. If you loved the Beach Boys “sound” then you will not be disappointed by Between Places. Try “Footprints” “Fog of War” and “The Girl Who Taught Me To Drink And Fight.”

Dead Sons The Hollers & HymnsFormed from the ashes of the once awesome Milburn, Sheffield England’s Dead Sons are part of the new-psychedelia movement along with Tame Impala but tend to fall somewhere between The Arctic Monkeys and Queens Of The Stone Age. It may be because vocalist Tom Rowley sings very much like the Monkey’s vocalist Alex Turner but in sound there is something swampier and dark going on more akin to 80’s band the Southern Death Cult better known as the Cult. Often described as desert rock, on The Hollers and the Hymns, which is the Dead Sons debut, the label is a little dubious, as this record rocks like a mother. Try “Junk Room”, “Quest For The Fire”, and “The Hollers and The Hymns.

Because They Can AliveIf you thought dropping the Wheeler Brothers record was unusual, Aussie pop rock Because They Can is a first as well. Falling on the poppier side of the pop-punk equation and marketed in Australia as a “boy band”, there is something different about the songs appearing on the 8 track EP, Alive. Look, the suits the band wears are a little too obvious as is the band’s name which is a reference to Hanson’s second album Because They Can, but the catchiness of these songs is undeniable. Because They Can videos are almost unwatchable because of the manufactured appeal (for example see : “It’s Not About You” (http://youtu.be/jFNplCTmmqs ) but if you close your eyes and just listen, Alive is full of songs in the same vein as San Cisco from last year – good solid songs that belong on radio somewhere. Lots of bounce. Try” It’s Not About You”, Alive” and the acoustic “I Wish I Knew”.  

Leagues-You-Belong-HereThe Nashville indie scene is heating up. I know – who knew that in the home of all things country, that there was an indie scene. Well, now you do, and it is sparking. On You Belong Here, the debut by Leagues, the band explores what dance rock would sound like filtered through americana. Vocalist Thad Cockerell has a very broad vocal range with a pleasant falsetto that drives this collection of electro-pop influenced songs that have distinctive and well written lyrics. You will be singing along from the first track “Spotlight” with its crisp guitar work and precision drumming. Perhaps that is what this trio distinct – these are well crafted songs that Thad Cockrell, guitarist Tyler Burkum , and drummer Jeremy Luito have taken great care to perfect. There is an Arcade Fire feel to his record, so if that is in your sweet spot, pick this up. Try” Spotlight”, “Magic” and “Haunted”.

Lydia DevilOne of my favorites from this month’s selections is Gilbert, Arizona’s Lydia and their latest record Devil. This is definitely a left turn for the band formed in 2003 who on previous releases explored the darker side of indie rock with substantially gloomier lyrics. The band, formed in 2003, has had some member shifts in the past couple of years, but on Devil, the band, primarily vocalist Leighton Antelman, seems to be at peace with the transitions having moved on from what was a fairly acrimonious split with founding member and guitarist Steve McGraw as well as with Mindy White who left the band in 2010 to form States with two former members of Copeland, Bryan and Stephen Laurenson. So what about the music? Well, like Copeland, this is melodic indie rock which is more guitar driven then past releases but still not that fast. Think of this as a down tempo All American Rejects with catchy choruses oft repeated without the up tempo numbers. See? I guess I am a sucker for songs that slow burn and then shift after a minute such as “Runaway” which starts acoustic and slow and then after the first chorus, picks up the pace, becoming joyous and uplifting as the song progresses. There is much to enjoy on this LP, so give it a chance to win you over. Try” Runaway”, “Knee Deep” and “From A Tire Swing.”

Puling Hiss Water On MarsWhat started off as the solo side-project of Mike Polizze, then the guitarist of Philadelphia free-form heavy rock outfit, Birds of Maya, Purling Hiss has evolved into a power trio, with drummer Mike Sneeringer and bassist Kiel Everett, adding muscle to the project. Water on Mars is the band’s third release but unlike the other bedroom releases, this is a significant upgrade in sound. Like other Philadelphia cohorts, Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, Purling Hiss’ sound falls somewhere along the continuum between Bleach era Nirvana and Bug era Dinosaur Jr. (who they sound very similar partly because Polizze sounds like J Mascias) and the guitar intonation is reflective of Dinosaur Jr.. It is difficult to deny the likeability of the riffage produced by Polizze who used to also played guitar for Grand Funk Railroad! I was caught off guard when I first heard “Mercury Retrograde” which has the same vibe as Kurt Vile, but unlike Kurt Vile, traverses the noisier side of the indie rock spectrum with a few jam band elements, but as Purling Hiss says, on “Rat Race” “everyone wants to have a good time” – I do and I did. Try “She Calms Me Down”, “Mercury Retrograde” and “The Harrowing Wind.”

Rival Schools FoundThe drop box also finds the release this month of Rival Schools “lost second album” found that was supposed to have been released 10 years ago, but finally sees the light of day. A little background may be helpful. Rival Schools formed in New York in 1999 and were originally signed to Photo Finish Records, featuring Walter Schreifels on vocals and guitar, Ian Love on guitar, Cache Tolman on bass guitar; and Sam Siegler on drums. Rival Schools were a hardcore ‘supergroup’ as all of the members were alumni of such ’80s and ’90s hardcore bands as Gorilla Biscuits (Schreifels), CIV (Siegler), Youth of Today (Schreifels and Siegler) and Iceburn (Tolman).The band’s name (and that of their first LP) comes from the Capcom fighting game, Rival Schools: United By Fate. So where does Found fit is the picture? The original band broke up in 2003, just prior to the release of this record when Ian Love left the band. As time has passed, the band briefly reunited with Love on guitar, but as of the release of the record, April 9, 2013, the band is touring as a three piece. For a band of hardcore legends, Found represents an interesting shift in sound, that nearly 10 years after the original planned release sounds fresh and relevant in the punk rock pantheon. To be clear, for those of you reading the notes, for me, punk rock is not hardcore (neither the hardcore punk nor the bastardized dance version either). Punk rock is characterized by short sharp songs with a definitive garage rooted sound, free of effeminate vocals and guitar solos, without the roaring vocals found in hardcore and with a verse chorus verse ( see Nirvana was correct) song structure. If we work with this simple definition, then you can see how various bands fit in this structure, and Rival Schools is a great example. I bought the debut and I would have bought this record the first time around if it had seen the light of day. So here you go, a fully realized punk rock record that captures a band in the middle of where it started and where it is today ( check out 2011’s Pedals). Try ”Missing Glider”, “Indisposable Heroes” and the cover of the Buzzcock’s “Why Can’t I Touch It”

Satan Takes A Holiday Who Do You VoodooI probably would have put Sweden’s Satan Takes A Holiday (“Satan”) in the drop box for the name alone. Satan Takes a Holiday is also the name of an album of evocative, “lost” songs by Anton Szandor LaVey, founder and former high priest of the Church of Satan. However, on Who Do You Voodoo, Satan, revisits the same territory as the Hives and like all Swedish bands does it with great style and energy. Satan Takes a Holiday Band PictureThis is 60s garage, punk and rock’n’roll in the same vain as Danko Jones and the Hives making for a great live show. You will not be able to get enough of this. Try “Who Do You Voodoo” (http://youtu.be/1H3WcMAWTi8 ) ( Check out this live show at Mods vs. Rockers Stockholm: http://youtu.be/47XFPJmaVwM ), “Karma Babe” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

Thee Oh Sees Floating CoffinKeeping with the garage rock and roll theme but more on the garage side than the rock side is Thee Oh Sees new record Floating Coffin. Thee Oh Sees are prolific. As I covered the San Francisco based band’s background last time with the release of Putifiers II, I’ll stick to this record, which picks up where Putrifier’s did – straight forward garage punk rock played at full speed with all the psychedelic fuzziness now polished and incorporated into what may be the finest of the 15 albums released by the band. John Dwyer is a master of the sonic shift and the band is a full examination of the lo-fi garage movement. This is best exemplified on the stellar “ Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster”. The lyrics which tend to the dark side and sometimes mumbled, make for a difficult exploration but patience is not only a virtue but is rewarded on tracks like “No Spell” and Strwaberries 1+2”. Try“I Come From The Mountain”, “Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster” and “Night Crawaler.”

Drop Box Notes May 2, 2013

KurtVileWakinKurt Vile is on a roll. The former The War on Drugs vocalist has found the soft spot in the indie-rock niche where he thrives. What can best be described as “psych-stoner-indie”, Vile’s take, with his band The Violators, on the human condition is obliquely explored on Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze. Vile already was an indie darling as his last release, Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011), received huge critical acclaim and appeared on a number of year end, best of lists, but frankly, Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze is a much better record. It may be Vile’s unique vocals, but the guitar work, which is very reminiscent of early Pavement, shimmers and the meandering country rhythms on this record accentuate the uniqueness of the environment this record occupies in the indie rock world. From the title track, through the lengthy closer “Goldtone” coming at 17:24, this album works because enough space is given for these songs to find a direction without becoming repetitive or boring. You have to work a little bit to get into this one, but the effort will be wellworth the time investment. “Try “Shame Chamber”, “Never Run Away”, and “Snowflakes Are Dancing.”

AfraidOfHeightsalbumcoverOn Afraid of Heights, Nathan Williams who operates as Wavves , collects the best elements only hinted at from his previous three records (which tend to be more pop than rock) and finally puts the pieces together. As garage rock goes, this is superior because the songwriting is so solid. Sure, there are points where the songs are a wee bit lengthy, but it is hard to deny the likeability and power of this record. Some reviewers have taken issue with the Weezer similarities ( best example is found on the second track “Demon To Lean On”, but I like Weezer, so I was already primed and susceptible to the hooks found all over this record. It probably doesn’t help that Williams’ voice does sound a little like Rivers Cuomo, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable record. I sing the woooooos on title track “Afraid of Heights” which is where you should start. Think “Sweater Song (Undone). Try” “Afraid of Heights”, “Beat Me Up” and “Gimme A Knife.”

The_Veils_time_stays_we_go_packshot_800x800With the Veils, you get some pedigree. Finn Andrews, son of XTC/Shriekback keyboardist Barry Andrews, is the center of the band he started in New Zealand in 2002. Better known for Andrews’ captivating stage presence and live shows, this LP, like the Wavves record above, represents the Veils best effort to break into the main stream. Let’s face it, rock is in a tough place in America. This record, record in Laurel Canyon Studios in Los Angeles, is an effort to find a sound that will cross over in England and the colonies who are attuned to an “Americana” type sound. Hence, some of this record feels somewhat contrived lyrically to hone in on what is popular in England. The question really becomes then, does the record work independent of the influence and design? On balance it does. Sure, like a number of records in the drop box, you either like the record because of the particular sound or you don’t. This doesn’t have the feel of the numerous faceless anglo bands, probably because Andrews does have a touch of the Nick Cave in his voice as well as some Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes), which makes for an interesting contrast to some of the delicate songs on this record. Some songs do meander a bit, being more focused on atmospherics than forming a song, but others are aggressive and hi-light the reason why this LP is in the drop box. Try” The Pearl”, “Turn From The Rain” and “Another Night.”

Grapes of Wrath High RoadThe Grapes of Wrath were a band I saw several times when I lived in Vancouver and even in Los Angeles, opening for Guadalcanal Diary at the Roxy in Los Angeles and the Green Door in Montclair in 1988. Although described currently as “folk rock” this is what alternative college rock sounded like at the end of the eighties/early nineties with its jangle pop sound. Formed in Kelowna BC by Chris Hooper, Tom Hooper and Kevin Kane, the band broke up in 1992 but reformed in 2010. High Road represents the original Grapes’ first full length effort in more than 20 years, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable record. Sure, they are a little older and wiser, but the elements that made them great – smooth harmonies and crisp melodies with sing-a-long choruses – are still present.  Amazing! Try” Good To See You”, “Make It Okay” and “Picnic.”

Dawes-Stories-Dont-End-260x260Los Angeles based Dawes, like Grapes of Wrath, also is categorized as folk rock, but the similarities end there. This is the problem with genre assignment. There are bands who are lumped into a genre, but sound nothing alike. These guys sure are not Mumford and Sons, but there are some elements present which justify the categorization. They are certainly not metal. So, where does Dawes fit in the spectrum? I’d say left of something, but also right of something else. I think the first song I heard was the Steely Dan sounding “From A Window Seat” which was enjoyable, and while Steely Dan is generally off-putting to me, I felt there was something else going on, so that I could get around my Steely Dan prejudice (much like my admitted Beatles dislike). It may be that this is 70’s a.m. rock and brings back memories of driving in the car with my mom to school and hearing the Band, Neil Young, The Strawberries, Lighthouse, the Guess Who and Tony Orlando and Dawn on the car radio. Stories Don’t End evokes those same feelings. Try “Most People”, “Hey Lover” and “Bear Witness.”

2013FilthyBoy_SmileThatWontGoDown600G280313Filthy BoyFilthy Boy represents something completely different musically than Dawes. Really different. What makes Smile That Won’t Go Down such an enjoyable listen is that dance rock a la Franz Ferdinand and the first Arctic Monkeys record that has been missing from my life, and this record with its naughty intonation and innuendo (the band is, after all, called Filthy Boy) makes it hard not to be caught up in the overtly sexual overtones such as found on the Jazz Butcher sounding “Waiting On A Doorstep.” As noted by NME “[s]inger Paraic Morrissey has the knack of sounding like he’s casually sparking up a post-coital cigarette” but all in good fun. Morrissey (with his twin brother Tom) capture the genius of absurdity of it all. Great videos as well: http://youtu.be/z-XT6MTIh-E (“Waiting on a Doorstep”). Try also “Naughty Corner”, “Jimmy Jammies” and “Spiral Eyes.”

MBD Bitter Drink MBD Kickstarter CoversI’ve dropped the 6th Murder by Death record and the Kickstarter funded follow up of covers entitled As You Wish: Kickstarter Covers released by the band as a bonus to those who funded the recording of the amazing Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. Bloomington Indiana’s Murder By Death occupy the same sonic space as the National (whose new record comes out later this month and I will drop it as soon as I get it). Formed in 2000, MBD released Bitter Drink in 2012. What is unusual is the distinct sound of cellist Sarah Ballie brings to the murder ballads which form the bulk of the songs on this record. Tails of greed, lust, frailty, and the struggle of good and evil inform this record. Johnny Cash is not dead as Adam Turla channels the distinctive sound. I loved this record. “Lost River” will move you with its haunting sound and Turla’s passionate vocal. Try” Straight At The Sun”, “Hard World” and the aforementioned “Lost River.”

As for the Kickstarter Covers, these are all songs submitted to the band who perform magic on these songs. Rarely does a band perform cover versions that match the originals but I think you will be surprised by MBD’s take on some very well known songs. Try: “Never Tear Us Apart” (INXS), “Some Kind of Hate” (Misfits), and “Hold On” (Wilson Phillips – You’re going to love This One!)

thethermals Desparate GroundWith Desperate Ground, Portland’s Thermals take only a very a slight deviation than past albums. Sonically, the Thermals are always going to be the Thermals. 10 slices of fast past political slogans jammed full force in your face and ending in 26 minutes. Short and sweet and to the point. The Thermals have never been apologists, and it is unlikely they will start now. The formula works, and if you are a fan of the other three releases More Parts Per Million, Fuckin A and The Body, The Blood, The Machine, then you are going to love this one. A recommendation – don’t give this short shrift. The songs will grow on you as will Hutch Harris’ voice which at first listen is somewhat abrasive. Like the Buzzcocks, the songs are short with the longest track coming in at 3:13. Try “I Go Alone,” “Where I Stand” and “Our Love Survives.”

Sticky Fingers - Caress Your Soul (Cover Art)Earlier this year or late last year, I noted that Australia produces better music than us. Sticky Fingers from Annandale Australia, plays a brand of reggae influenced rock (think Sublime) on their debut, Caress Your Soul. The title hints at what you will find within, with a mixture of rock steady beats and terrific melodies all touched by what can only be described as an Australian Indie sound. This is the sound of Long Beach – a sunny day record with a large amount of charm. I can smell the sensamilla now. Try” Clouds + Cream”, Australian Street” and title track “Caress Your Soul.”

Until, next time…have a blast!

KFR