April 17, 2014 Dropbox Notes

Easter is today. Happy Easter to all. I figured I’d start with the non sequitur and then move on. After a really good month of releases, April is also shaping up to be a great month with a number of excellent releases worthy of inclusion in your collections. Most importantly, Record Store Day was yesterday, so I’m sure that I will have a number of rarities to add to the dropbox next month. Most are one of a kind, rare, or never issued items. I snuck a few in this month’s dropbox including the Springsteen, Pixies, and Green Day for a couple of buddies who collect. I have also recovered fully from the rants of the past couple of Dropbox Notes, so these notes should be a little more positive – unless of course I am dispossessed to erupt again as some of these issues are long not expressed and finally I’m getting some release from years of frustration. Not that anything is likely to be fixed, but at least I’m putting it out there, eh?.

Feel free to browse through the dropbox. I generally put in things in a completely random way – As I listen to something and it strikes my fancy, I save it to another location to listen again. At the end of the day, when the telephones are turned off, I crank up the set asides and take time to enjoy these finds. And then, after several listens from that culled group, I select the month’s dropbox. So, the secret is out, finally. I’m spent.

Lastly, I have also dropped a couple of recent and not so recent things into the drop box by request so you’ll find Reverend Horton Heat’s latest – Rev and London Grammar’s debut in case you also missed them the first time around.

So, with that introduction here are this months Tales From The Dropbox:

Stiff Little Fingers - No Going BackLong time favorites Stiff Little Fingers return with their 10th album ( of originals – they probably have 50 compilation albums out being one of the most heavily reissued bands of all time rivaling the Who and Elvis Costello) a Pledge Music funded release entitled No Going Back. What is singularly amazing about SLF is that over a career spanning 35 years the band has not lost any of the qualities that made them exciting in the first place. If anything, Jake Burns’ songwriting is better and more thoughtful – some of the songs on this record will quickly become fan favorites and end up staples in SLF’s live show. There are very few bands that could make this claim. That is, after 35 years, SLF is putting out new music that is as good as or better than some of their earliest and most beloved work. This album has everything that you would expect in a SLF record: aggressive anthemic punk rock that is catchy as hell. From the opening riff of “Liars Club” through the terrific “When We Were Young” SLF plays with renewed energy and although Not Going Back covers some dark territory, particularly Burn’s battle with depression on “My Dark Places,” the overall record is uplifting and spirited. Definitely a band worth seeing live (as I have a number of times). So, as the band ranks among my top 3 all time favorite bands, I might be a little biased. For the unwashed try: “My Dark Places,” “Throwing It All Away,” and “Trail Of Tears.”

Howler - World of JoyMinneapolis’ Howler return with their second effort World of Joy as the follow up to their excellent 2011 debut entitled America Give Up which was also a drop box favorite. Second records are tough enough, particularly when critics loved your first, and this would be doubly difficult when the band takes a healthy stab at incorporating and updating the Jesus and Mary Chain, so when you discover that the second record is likely better than the first, well there is a little bit of shock. Not so much the Smith’s (Johnny Marr) guitar sound is present as the Reid brothers, as other critics are fond of claiming (since vocalist Jordan Gatesmith dates? Johnny Marr’s daughter, Sonny), but a magnificent sound to be sure. The shoegaze feel of the only ballad “Here’s the Itch That Creeps Through My Skull” coupled with the shimmering guitars, gives a little darker presence to a great ballad. Perfectly balanced and an all too brief 28 minutes World of Joy – is precisely that an entrée into Howler’s creepy world – of joy. Try: “Indictment,” “World of Joy,” and “Don’t Wanna.”

War On Drugs - Lost In The DreamAdam Granduciel’s band The War on Drugs on their third album Lost In The Dream is deservedly receiving quite a bit of hype. This is a brilliant record in the same vein as Kurt Vile and The Men, but with a sonically different take on the psychedelic synth-laden inflected country tinged rock of those bands. The lyrical journey is somewhat depressing essentially the tale of a man struggling to keep it all together, but I was mesmerized by the classic rock sounds throughout the record (Springsteen/Dylan comparisons are inescapable). This will likely end up on many best of the year lists, and it will also find a place on mine. Try “Red Eyes,” “Under The pressure,” and the hauntingly beautiful “Lost In The Dream.”

Whigs_cover_nobandThe world is a better place with the Afghan Whigs. I played endlessly the entire Afghan Whigs collection of great records (and they were actually records at that time). I loved every song and it would be hard to argue that Greg Dulli’s vocals on Do The Beast are as unmistakable, powerful, and captivating as they are on ever record he has put out. So, imagine my surprise to find that 16 years after their last release, 1965, the Afghan Whigs are about to release Do The Beast – another awesome addition to their catalog – a little stranger than previous because there are definitely flavors of Dulli’s other band, the Twilight Singers incorporated into this record. However, I’ve been playing Do The Beast repeatedly for about the past thirty days (along with the Stiff Little Fingers and the Horrors records). This fact that the Afghan Whigs were playing both days at Coachella was almost enough to make me want to brave going, but I am sure I’ll see them in a better venue another time. (Which I Did – in my living room on the big screen. Thanks to whomever uploaded weekend 1). This is not the original band, and so the guitar sounds are slightly different than the 1.0 version of the band – noticeably absent is guitarist Rick McCollum – but this is such a treasure of a record and like all of the previous Dulli records (including those with the Twilight Singers) the collision of love, lust, greed, and need are pervasive throughout as Dulli tries through his vocal approach to bring color and clarity to these philosophical constructs. Try “It Kills,” “Royal Cream” and “Algiers.”

Bob Mould - Workbook 25To be truthful, I was not ready for Bob Mould’s debut solo record, Workbook following the very nasty breakup of Husker Du more than 25 years ago. I doubt anyone was. If you loved Husker Du as much as I did, then when you put the needle down on track 1 – “Sunspots” you went …what the $#^%? However, with time and a little perspective, you come to find that Workbook after 25 years is a work of, well, genius. I have listened to this record well over one hundred times in the past 25 years and each time I’d discover something new to amaze. After reading Bob’s book See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage And Melody, I gained a new perspective on the place and importance of Workbook in the pantheon of Mould/Husker Du/ Sugar recordings. And here it is reissued and it shines and sounds as if it was a new release I am supposed to write about. So, what is new? Well Disc 2 collects a live show from the Cabaret Metro on May 14, 1989 during the tour and gives incite to Mould’s artistry and captures the magical qualities of an artist finding his way after the trauma of losing everything important in his life. The live version of “See A little Light,” captures this place and time perfectly as does the gem “If You’re True” which plays entrée into Mould’s rawness following the split. To be fair, I’ve not taken sides in the end of Husker Du. I think Grant Hart is a genius as well . Also included on Workbook 25 is “All Those People Know,” the B-side of the “See a Little Light Single” which was not on the original album for good reason as it sounds like a Husker Du outtake. For those of you trying this for the first time, Try” See A Little Light,” “Poison Years,” and “Compositions for the Young and Old.”

Horrors - LuminousThe reason that music is not a competition, is best exemplified by Horrors, whose latest and 4th album, Luminous, is the follow up to 2011’s masterpiece Skying. To be released May 5, Luminous captures a brighter sounding Horrors with the album firmly including elements of 90’s shoegazers Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, and containing overall much less lyrically dark offering than past releases. I understand that a more positive more electronic organic effort was what the band was looking for, and they have accomplished those goals but what is staggering is the brilliance of the dynamic guitars and dance (for England) friendly songs all of which are going to be killer when played out in a live setting. If they can play the Arctic Monkeys in the U.S. on commercial radio then there is absolutely no reason why they couldn’t find space for all 7:33 of “I see You.” If you loved Skying, then Luminous will not disappoint. England’s got the band covered, but America should really dig this record. Try “I See You,” “Sleepwalk, and “First Day Of Spring.”

La Dispute - Rooms Of The HouseLo-fi is always a difficult genre for most people to get into because we are all so used to playing lush full sounding mostly over-produced elector-pop. However, when done right, Lo-fi combined with hardcore is absolutely the most compelling sound to listen to. Where Husker Du on Zen Arcade and the Minutemen on Double Nickels On a Dime both hinted at the possibility of this unique sound, La Dispute on their third album Rooms Of The House, achieve the brilliant balance and in so doing emerge with a breathtaking look at hardcore that won’t scare off the listener who like pop. The reason is likely that on this third record, Jordan Dreyer, the bands songwriter and vocalist finally has figured out that songs have a unique structure outside of poetry which on previous outings sounded exactly like that – poetry with a musical background. Now, the poetic edge is still present but the music is of equal presence and importance. It is this cohesiveness that makes this such a great listening experience and why, this record belongs in your collection. While Rooms Of the House may never reach the prominence or importance of Zen Arcade or Double Nickels in the punk/hardcore mythology, I think it will be a record that you’ll dig out 10 years from now to tell a friend – I remember this, it was so ^$%$ cool! Try “First Reactions After Falling Through the Ice,” Scenes from Highways 1981-2009,” and “The Child We Lost 1963.”

Mac DeMarco - Salad DaysMontreal’s Mac DeMarco’s second solo release Salad Days is upgraded by his move to Brooklyn, the current home of indie music. The style is not different than the very good debut – a mix of 70’s influenced soft rock and catchy melodies, filled with slightly off kilter lyrics. The acoustic guitar shines, but it is Mac’s personality, somewhat Beck like in intonation that carries the day for these songs. I’m somewhat reminded of Jonathan Richman but not the nasally voice that is Jonathan’s alone, but rather the presence on each of these songs. It’s fair to say that DeMarco is a non-slacker for the slacker world producing carefully crafted mini-masterpieces that seem to be almost lackadaisical throw offs. Try “Let Her Go,” “Salad Days,” and the left field mostly electronic “Chamber of Reflection.”

Paper Lions - AcquaintancesMore Canadians, this time from Prince Edward island, Paper Lions album My Friends was one of my favorites from the past year ending up at Number 8 overall, and their latest EP, entitled Acquaintances is really a stop gap before their next full length, features another great indie pop song in “Do You Wanna” and a couple of remixes of “My Friend.” Wow, I’ll bet they are playing the crap out of “Do You Wanna” in Canada. Here….crickets. Try them all. Can’t wait for the nest record. Try them all.

Pup- PupMore freaking Canadians in the drop box. And they are awesome! Upping the nerd-core game I discussed last month, Pup are according to Pup “[w]e’re called PUP. We’re 4 dudes from Toronto. We play loud music. You’ll like it. Or maybe you won’t. Listen and love it / hate it / whatever.” Really they are Weezer for a new generation and it is blistering amalgam of noise, punk, pop, and hardcore all battling for sonic territory and it all works. Not a duff song on the record. Canadians do it better. “Meet me at the Reservoir”… I am singing along…. alone in an office building…wait someone’s coming…oh what the hell…they are singing along too! Perhaps they will play somewhere near me I’m thinking. They played New York recently. Hopefully this will catch on big. Not radio friendly. College Friendly though. Maybe they will play my house. Sure would freak out my San Marino neighbors. Try” Reservoir,” “Yukon,” and “Lionheart.”

American Authors - Oh, What A LifeHow long does it take to make a hit record? For Brooklyn, New York’s American Author’s who’s self-released self-titled EP was released on August 27, 2013, apparently almost a year. When I put the EP in the drop box last year (See September 29, 2013 Dropbox Notes) I thought the song “Best Day Of My Life” was a hit – writing then ‘[y]ou will like American Authors if you like sugary commercial alternative music that is very well written. Hopefully future releases will demonstrate some willingness by American Authors to try to expand the formula a bit. Still, it is difficult to not like the band or their music as each song on American Authors is built for maximum alt rock catchiness.” A year laterthe same holds true on the full length Oh, What A Life. “Best Day Of My Life” is a commercial radio hit single, and the rest of the album is completely filled with similar hook-laden catchy alternative rock, that is a little overproduced on album, but likely sounds amazing live. As you know, if its here, I like it. Apart from the two hits, also try “Think About It,” “Luck,” and “Heart of Stone.”

Elbow - Take Off and Landing of EverythingYou either are going to like the latest album from Elbow, the bands 6th called Take Off and Landing of Everything or you are not. There is really no middle ground with this band. And the band is not really that interested in altering significantly the formula from record to record, there are minor tweaks along the way, but the formula remains the same – Guy Garvey’s distinctive baritone melodically singing his tales of his own life – apparently one filled with loss, isolation, and confronting his own middle age. And for me it is great. While much will likely be made of the resemblances to Peter Gabriel with the art rock leanings and lush sound and recording this record in Real World Studios probably doesn’t help dissuade the detractors, but Take Off and Landing of Everything stands alone from the comparison and ambles boldly with some excellent songwriting and measured playing, all of which combine to produce an interesting and pleasurable listening experience. In short, it is not boring. And believe me, Elbow has produced some boring music on past releases. And that is why you are either going to love this album or hate it. If its not your style, then its going to be a tough slog. However, on a Sunday afternoon, and it’s raining outside ( I’m creating an allusion here – it doesn’t rain much in Los Angeles), then Take Off and Landing of Everything will be a perfect record. Try “Fly Boy Blue / Lunette,” “My Sad Captains,” and “The Take Off and Landing of Everything.”

Foster The People - SupermodelSurprises happen on rare occasions for me. And Foster The People’s latest, Supermodel, is one of those surprises. It’s not what you think – both Supermodel and me. I am excited when a band makes a great record, and I don’t care if it is popular on radio. I am not one of those individuals who stops liking a band just because they are popular. The goal of this blog is to hopefully contribute to the popularity of the music I describe. So, when Foster the People released this new record, the overriding question was is it going to be “Pumped Up Kicks” Volume 2 from the Torches LP. The answer refreshingly is no. Supermodel is a complicated assemblage of indie dance rock with world elements infused throughout. So, it is a surprise when the album resonates – it is a much more refined offering. Lead Single “Coming Of Age,” is undeniably good – at least until local radio kills all that is good about it, by playing it every two hours for %$^ days. However, like the first record, Supermodel is filled with great songs so you are likely to hear several over the next three years ( which is about how long some radio stations play a “hit song” pummeling the listener to until they can’t take anymore). So, try “A Beginner’s Guide To Destroying The Moon,” “Coming Of Age,” and Are You What You Want To Be?”

I feel a rant coming on….. I warned you at the beginning I might be disposed to a rant. Well its too late…Here it is….

Aside: I know I’ve hinted at this property of radio stations in the past. I love radio when it is good, and in Los Angeles it has now achieved a level that is truly terrible. It is like watching the CW television network – play similar sounding music with a commercial every three minutes and then make sure there are endless repeats. It has to stop. Please people, turn off your radios. Stop listening, and then maybe they will respond to their audience who doesn’t actually buy any of the stuff they advertise and can’t actually like any of the stuff they are playing. The biggest radio joke in Los Angeles is without a doubt KROQ. Who have now figured out that Coachella may be something great – and are now playing catchup broadcasting from somewhere near Indio. KROQ’s new catch slogan in response to Alt 98.7’s slogan (Music Discoveries First)  is “Alternative First.” And that my friends, is the joke. Alternative to what? Growing up in the college radio days of the 80’sand early 90’s when the term Alternative music was referenced as a genre, it had some meaning – it was alternative to metal and punk and featured shimmering guitars i.e. it was early R.E.M. and the bands coming out of the Athens and North Carolina scenes. From there it was co-opted to not scare off older readers and listeners and was affixed to Nirvana when “grunge” became a dirty word. Now, exactly what would pass for Alternative music on KROQ? I have no freaking idea but it certainly isn’t the massive amount of electro pop and fake folk or Chris Martin’s whining on the frankly boring “Magic” single. Really, I do love radio and for the most part having listened to KROQ for almost thirty years, I have learned that I absolutely abhor Kevin & Bean (and Ralph you too) who have single handedly destroyed anything intelligent to be offered by the station. And to be fair, I believe that they all have more in them and the potential to change, but likely all of their spirit has been destroyed, by the soul sucking need to drive advertising and keep revenues flowing. There must be a better model. Hell, I even miss Jim “Poorman” Trenton now so you can see how low my bar can go. So, if anyone reading this with any power to influence programming/hiring decisions (alt 98.7 – please turn off the annoying Kennedy’s microphone), then start fresh and build something that actually is intelligent, interesting, and fun. Local radio has none of these elements right now. Sad. Now that I’ve finished my rant, I’ll move on. Maybe rants are not the way to achieve change, but at least I’ve made an effort. KROQ – post a comment and I’ll hook you up with something new to play.
Such as…..

Fucked Up - Year Of The DragonToronto’s Fucked Up are a singular entity in the annals of punk rock. Who else could release such a remarkable sonic effort such as Year of The Dragon with the 18 minute long title track leaving you emotionally wrung out? Only Fucked Up. As hardcore as a genre has made its way towards the deeper, blacker, and less vocally appealing end of the spectrum, Fucked Up plays it right down the middle and finds the pocket of the genre. Capturing 70’s metal acts penchants for lengthy guitar driven workouts which resulted in the prog movement, creating the environment for punk in its wake, Fucked Up retain the punk aspects while experimenting with the progressive hardcore sounds and the sounds are Killer ( Yes, with a capital K). While this is an EP in anticipation of their next full length Glass Boys due out June 3, it doesn’t feel like a stop gap. This EP is the 6th in their zodiac series and features two cover songs from the early the Toronto punk scene ( in the late 70’s), namely “I Wanna Be a Yank” by Cardboard Brains and “Disorder” by the Ugly. Try them all.

Gaslight 45 RPM Club Annual Single 2014Last month dropbox listeners enjoyed the Gaslight Anthem’s B-Side Collection, and this month for your listening pleasure is the latest from the Gaslight Anthem’s 45 RPM Club featuring two songs “Anywhere I Lay My Head” (Tom Waits cover) and “This Is Where We Part” (Twopointeight cover). It’s the Gaslight Anthem – you know what to expect by now. Try them both.

Spain - Sargent PlaceIt took a little work, and a number of listens before I actually got the latest record from Spain entitled Sargent Place. Since 1995 Spain have been putting out quality releases, but in all honesty, I’ve never really connected. Perhaps it’s the pacing, as these records, much like slow-core originators Low, are sparse affairs with a pacing in places that is not even close to 4/4 time. If you like jazz inflected Americana then this is a great album. For me, it was listening to the 2nd track, “The Fighter” that I finally connected with both Josh Haden’s vocals and the bands casual pacing. From there I was hooked, because as the pacing picks up, particularly on “Sunday Morning” the feeling is electric. I think it took some time to feel the record as opposed with the immediacy of most releases, this blindsided me a little bit, because what makes this work are the jazz edges creating a unique sonic experience. “Sunday Morning” is a hit. Try “Sunday Morning”, “The Fighter, and “You and I.”

Pixies - Indie CindyIt must be difficult being the Pixies. Releasing their first record and only their 5th in total with their last record being released in 1991 (Trompe Le Monde), the band has experienced some critical backlash for its recent collections of EPs which are collected and were released on April 19th ( Record Store Day) as a collection entitled Indie Cindy. Sure, as bands age, there is a tendency to create different sounding music, and heaven knows, Frank Black has been around a number of wagons. The problem for the Pixies, apart from their personal inter-band squabbles and personal dysfunction, is that everything, and I mean everything, is going to be compared to their past releases, in particular the brilliant Doolittle which arguably ranks as one of the greatest records of all time. So, the real question is whether the record sounds like the Pixies? And in short, it does. It’s a little uneven as it was imagined first as a series of thee EPs, but overall, there are some great moments on this record, and contrary to the assertion made by at least a few so called critics that this is not the Pixies without Kim Deal, the truth is that the Pixies sound is still emanating from these tracks and the songs are without a doubt the Pixies. Try “What Goes Boom,” “Ring The Bell,” and “Jaime Bravo.”

Hold Steady - Teeth DreamsCraig Finn must be wondering what the &%$67 is going on and what he and his band The Hold Steady have to do to actually please a critic. On Teeth Dreams, the Hold Steady’s 6th album, Finn and band actually hold steady (see – puns are convenient sometimes) and create an album of solid Hold Steady songs that will fit nicely into their growing collection of amazing song stories that refocuses the band – a band that kind of lost the script on 2010’s Heaven which smoothed out the edges and was frankly overproduced to the point where I am unable to actually enjoy the record. Sure, there is a Springsteen vibe on all Hold Steady records, but that vibe is created by the cast of characters that populate the songs. In short, it is not a dance record. Rather, it is tougher, tighter, and the rawness has a spark that captured my attention throughout. And that is what makes Hold Steady records great – it is a journey through Americana influenced indie rock with a few pub rock edges ( I am thinking Brinsley Schwartz and early Nick Lowe here with hints of the Singles soundtrack) with stories that touch a nerve. Try “Spinners,” “Walk A While,” and “Records And Tapes.”

Menzingers - Rented WorldPrevious dropbox favorites the Menzingers return with their latest on April 22 entitled Rented World. From Scranton PA, the band like Boston’s Dropkick Murphy’s, incorporates the punk sounds from the city, and on Rented World, their 4th and is kind of a crossover in sound from their last release, 2011’s On The Impossible Past, which was definitely a smoother more traditional pop influenced punk record, whereas this record in places is a return to roots effort, cramming more aggressive sounds into tightly played punk rock with sing-along melodies. I love this record. Played the thing in my office at full blast as I am apt to do on weekends when no one is around. I’d venture to say that with bands like the Menzingers around, punk rock is safe for a while. Try “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore,” “In Remission,” and “Hearts Unknown.”

That’s all for now folks. As always, have a great month of music, and here is the list:

  1. Stiff Little Fingers – No Going Back [2014]
  2. War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream [2014]
  3. Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast [2014]
  4. Bob Mould – Workbook 25 [2CD][2014]
  5. Horrors – Luminous [2014]
  6. La Dispute – Rooms of the House [2014]
  7. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days [2014]
  8. Paper Lions – Acquaintances EP [2014]
  9. Pup – Pup [2014]
  10. American Authors – Oh, What a Life [2014]
  11. Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything [2014]
  12. Foster The People – Supermodel (Deluxe Edition) [2014]
  13. Fucked Up – Year of the Dragon [2014]
  14. Gaslight Anthem – 2014 45 Record Club [7”] [2014]
  15. Spain – Sargent Place [2014]
  16. Pixies – Indie Cindy [2014]
  17. Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams [2014]
  18. Menzingers – Rented World [2014]
  19. Amen Dunes – Love [2014]
  20. Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else [2014]
  21. Farewell Flight – I Was A Ghost [2014]
  22. Habibi – Habibi [2014]
  23. Walking Shapes – Taka Come On [2014]
  24. Swans – To Be Kind [2014]
  25. My Sad Captains – Best Of Times [2014]
  26. Future Islands – Singles [2014]
  27. Desert Noises – 27 Ways [2014]
  28. Dexters – Shimmer Gold [2014]
  29. Mr Little Jeans – Pocketknife [2014]
  30. Reptile Youth – Rivers That Run For A Sea That Is Gone [2014]
  31. Soft White Sixties – Get Right [2014]
  32. Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair [2014]
  33. Dirty Guvnahs – Hearts On Fire [2014]
  34. Elder Brother – Heavy Head [2014]
  35. Howler – World of Joy [2014]
  36. Mounties – Thrash Rock Legacy [2014]
  37. Withered Hand – New Gods [2014]
  38. Sweet Apple – The Golden Age of Glitter [2014]
  39. Strypes – 4 Track Mind EP [2014]
  40. Sultan Bathery – Sultan Bathery [2014]
  41. Coathangers – Suck My Shirt [2014]
  42. Neon Trees – Pop Psychology [2014]
  43. Stagecoach – Say Hi To The Band [2013]
  44. Tame Impala – Live Versions [2014]
  45. Thee Oh Sees – Drop [2014]
  46. Baseballs – Game Day [Deluxe Edition] [2014]
  47. Green Day – Demolicious [2014]
  48. Band of Skulls – Himalayan [2014]
  49. Slint – Spiderland (Deluxe Edition)[2CD] [2014]
  50. Secret Colours – Positive Distractions [2014]

September 29, 2013 Dropbox Notes

As promised last month, September delivered great new music and October promises more of the same. Hopefully some of the music from this month’s dropbox will inform the soundtrack to your fall. If you take a quick browse through the list you’ll find there is quite a balance of genres this month, so everyone should find something that meets their individual needs. Whereas last month was filled with almost entirely of new releases, this month some of the highlights are a couple of reissues. As always, if you missed something or are looking for something, please feel free to drop me a note, and I’ll try to help you out. So, I am starting with the reissues, because they are rather special, albeit for completely different reasons.

Also as a complete aside: If you are a resident of San Marino or know someone in San Marino who votes, then either vote or have them vote for: SHELLEY RYAN on November 5 for SAN MARINO SCHOOL BOARD

Nirvana - In Utero 20th Anniversary EditionWhen Nirvana released In Utero in 1993 there was not a more popular band anywhere on the planet. Period. I was teaching at San Gabriel High School and recall vividly the day that In Utero arrived and as I played the album for the first time. CD’s were just starting to make major inroads in replacing records, but I was still caught in between and as I stared at the cover while the album played, I thought that Nirvana had finally made an album that captured the band in its freshest and rawest state – melodic and very aggressive and, without the overly produced sheen of big record company all over the songs. “Rape Me” stood out as the clearest form of rebellion and captured perfectly what was being played out in the press – the battle lines being drawn between massive popularity and the band’s desire to be what they believed they were – a small band playing for friends in small clubs. Recall that it was only three years earlier that they were playing really small clubs, such as The Town Pump in Vancouver BC (March 12, 1990), and at that time the northwest was all about the punk rock. For a band who had arisen from that scene the sellout stink probably was overwhelming. Nevermind was never a Nirvana record. That is, Nirvana had lost control of the production and in the process of being packaged into “radio friendly unit shifters” became disenchanted with that loss of control and the fun of being in a band. These facts are borne out by the release of In Utero – which is as diverse a record as one will find by a band after producing one of the biggest selling records of a decade. Alternating between soft, introspective (“Dumb”) to aggressive (“Very Ape”) and parts in between, In Utero may be the achievement of every band’s ultimate desire – finding the perfect balance between commercial and extreme. For me, In Utero represents the band balancing its self on the razor’s edge, both lyrically and musically, and for that brief moment roughly achieving perfection. Sure, there are a few moments on the record that somehow don’t quite achieve the same level as “Rape Me”, “All Apologies”, “Heart Shaped Box” “Dumb” and “Pennyroyal Tea” but how could they? This Super Deluxe Box Set includes the “Live and Loud” show from Seattle’s Pier 48 as well as a number of B-sides and rarities from the period, including a couple of excellent demos, the most notable being Dave Grohl’s “Marigold.” In this case, Try: them all.

Mountain Goats - All Hail West TexasThe Mountain Goats 10th anniversary reissue of 2003’s All Hail West Texas is also remarkably excellent but for different reason’s than Nirvana. John Darnielle started Mountain Goats in 1991 and most of you will have never heard of the band. This is a bedroom record, and from the opening track “The Best Death Metal Band in West Texas” you are transported into another world. It is a stark, sparse and very lonely record and these songs are reflective of a specific period in Darnielle’s life. The album was recorded on a boom box and almost all of the songs were recorded within hours of being written and captured in one or two takes. This process was necessary, according to Darnielle, because of his limited attention span lasting exactly one day for each song. Simple melodies make for complex emotion as these songs are raw. Darnielle succeeds in capturing dreams delayed or rejected as well as the excitement inherent in a loving relationship. These themes are all explored though the people introduced to the listener in each song. Although the cover indicates that the album contains “fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys” the looseness of the concept is what actually creates the magic – warmth radiates all over this record. Try “Jenny,” “Balance,” and without a doubt, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”

Boomtown Rats - Back to Boomtown Classic Rats HitsAlthough the Irish rockers The Boomtown Rats were major stars in Canada and the other European colonies, they were relegated to one hit wonders in the United States. For a brief moment in time the Boomtown Rats looked like they would break big in America with “I Don’t Like Mondays” a song about the Cleveland Elementary School shooting which took place on January 29, 1979, in San Diego, California. 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer who lived in a house across the street from the school, was tried and plead guilty as an adult of killing the principal and a custodian as well as injuring eight children and a police officer. During the shooting, a reporter telephoned homes near the school looking for information and in so doing actually reached Brenda Ann who admitted that she was the one doing the shooting. When asked why she was doing what she was doing, she was reported to have stated: “Because I don’t like Mondays.”

However, to dismiss the Rats as one hit wonders is to give short shrift to one of the best live acts of the time. The Rats initially played an upbeat proto-type punk best exemplified on Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats by the inclusion of “Mary of the 4th Form” “Like Clockwork” and She’s So Modern.”  Over time, the Rats evolved into a reggae influenced rock act typified on this collection by “Banana Republic” and “Diamond Smiles.” Most notably, Sir Robert Geldof (yes, that is the knighted title) singer and one time journalist, is the mastermind (with Ultravox’s Midge Ure) behind Band Aid – the charity effort to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia who, in 1984, released the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas? Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats is a compilation of the 2005 re-mastered tracks, but for those of you whom have not experienced the Rats, this album is a great introduction. Of note, this collection is being released in advance of the Rats announcing that they have reformed to play a series of live shows after a 10 year absence.

A couple of other interesting facts. There is nothing record companies like more than reissuing the same material repeatedly in several different variants. Like Elvis Costello and The Who – two bands who are the acknowledged kings of the repackage and reissue, Back to Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits represents the fifth greatest hits album by this Irish band and perhaps surprisingly, upon release earlier this month charted at number 35 in the Irish charts (Virgin EMI, September 9, 2013) There are also two new tracks (“The Boomtown Rats” and “Back To Boomtown”) recorded for the collection with the remaining 14 tracks being the Boomtown Rats’ best known works. For me, those tracks are “She So Modern,” “Looking After No. 1,” and “Rat Trap.”

Kings of Leon - Mechanical BullKings of Leon’s latest, Mechanical Bull is, in part, a return to form following the underwhelming performance of their previous outing 2010’s Come Around Sundown. That album likely left many fans of KOL confused as it came after the massive success of 2008’s Only By Night and the two massive radio hits from that record: “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.” Come Around Sundown was released on the heels of relentless touring and inter-family/band squabbles as well as the well-documented alcohol abuse by Caleb Followill. It seemed at that time, like many a band whose flame had burned far too bright, that the flame was be extinguished. Not so fast. Mechanical Bull (which coincidentally as I write this entry is a UK Number 1 album) is not a reissue of Only By Night and the Lynyrd Skynyrd meets U2 riffs on that album.  More aptly, Mechanical Bull is a return to the days of the bands earliest success found on their 2003 debut, Youth & Young Manhood and 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak. Look, you were never going to experience on any Kings of Leon record the most awesomely written lyrics nor were you ever going to see a true return to the type of songs found on Youth & Young Manhood, but Mechanical Bull strikes a happy balance between old and new and for that reason, this is a fairly enjoyable record. Sure, there is the record company required hit song “Supersoaker” stuffed at the front, but if you dig a little deeper, the material is a little stronger, particularly, the bonus track “ Work On Me” which is a workmanlike Kings of Leon jam that shows what was missing on Come Around Sundown – restraint. This is refreshing for a band who has become the record company directed pimp for every nuanced attempt to reach mass commercial appeal a la dressing them up like pop stars. I expect that at some point, the Followills will figure out, like Nirvana, their In Utero moment, and in fairness, Mechanical Bull is certainly not that type of moment. However, it is a great start on that journey.  For a band surviving superstardom – Kings of Leon deliver a restrained record to begin the healing process. The fans and the press might not like the whole thing, but I bet the band does. Try “Work on Me,” “Wait For Me,” and “Comeback Story.”

WYR0313LP1 copyParquet Courts are back with a couple of gap records prior to their next full length. As you may recall, I wrote extensively about their last record, the brilliant Light Up Gold from last year. On these two releases, Parquet Courts play their Velvet Underground meets the Replacements sound at full speed, which is not a departure in any manner from the sound of Light Up Gold. Go back and compare “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now” with Light Up Gold’s “Master of My Craft” and you’ll see precisely what I mean. Just so we are clear – from my perspective it is perfectly acceptable not to screw with a sound that works for a band and is consistent with their personality.. Far too many bands alter their sound just to alter the sound – hoping to “grow” as a band or achieve some modicum of success by fitting into a sound/genre that is popular. Recall the mass appeal of autotune?  However, some bands you always knew what to expect and that made them perfect – e.g. the Buzzcocks, D.O.A., Dead Kennedys, Husker Du and the Replacements. Parquet Courts can one day be mentioned in the same breath if they continue putting out music like that found on Tally All The Things You Broke EP (which comes out October 8, 2013) and the Borrowed Time 7″ single. Parquet Courts - Borrowed Time

You can imagine this work played live – 4 guys just bashing it out. I would pay $$$ to see that. Try: “Borrowed Time,” “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now,” and the lengthy “The More It Works.”

I have also previously covered Kathleen Hanna’s work with Bikini Kill in earlier editions of Tales From The Dropbox. The Julie Ruin, is Hanna’s latest project and continues, in some measure, where her previous bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, left off.

The Julie Ruin - Run FastHowever, do not be misled. On their debut, Run Fast, the Julie Ruin sound is, like the B-52’s, dance rock with Kenny Melman providing a nice counterpoint for Hanna’s vocal styling’s (which are very raw to say the least). Currently residing and recording in Brooklyn, the band comprised of Carmine Covelli (the Tender Moments), Sara Landeau, Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox (The Feebles, The Frumpies, Star Sign Scorpio, as well as Bikini Kill) , and Kenny Mellman (Kiki and Herb) create angular dance rock that without too much trouble reminds me of early B-52’s but that label should not narrow your view of the record which is remarkable exciting and catchy. It is a very safe bet to say that Run Fast will very likely end up near the top of many year end best of 2013 lists this year – and for very good reason. Try “Kids in NY,” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Girls Like Us.”

American Authors - American Authors EPBrooklyn’s American Authors, all dropouts from the Berklee School of Music, have kick-started their career with their self-titled debut. Nothing challenging on this EP but the songs all hit the sweet spot for alternative music as evidenced by “Best Day of My Life’s” inclusion in a Lowe’s Home Improvement store commercial. As major labels, in this case Island Records, fight to have any relevance in the marketplace, the new outlet for music is not radio anymore but instant commercialization through advertising.  Although the American Authors EP is gaining some regional airplay in the New York, Boston and Chicago markets, Islands marinating efforts are directed primarily to exposing American Authors via television advertising, much like X Factor and American Idol which are just 2 hour length commercials. That is, the few major labels which are willing to even venture into the rock/alternative genre are doing so in a very limited and targeted manner, and releasing EPs and singles only if they can ensure an immediate revenue stream. While this new model will in all likelihood have only limited success, the touring that American Authors has already done, most recently on the Lollapalooza tour, should help their survival to a full length. Oh, what about the music? Take this as completely positive, as after all it is in the dropbox. You will like American Authors if you like sugary commercial alternative music that is very well written. Hopefully future releases will demonstrate some willingness by American Authors to try to expand the formula a bit. Still, it is difficult to not like the band or their music as each song on American Authors is built for maximum alt rock catchiness. Try “Best Day of My Life,” “Believer,” and “Home.”

Hey! Hello! - Hey Hello!The British-American rock band Hey! Hello on their self-titled debut.

A lengthy aside follows. So if you don’t want to read a minor, as compared with major, rant skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Aside Number 1. That’s two releases in a row by bands or their labels that are too freaking lazy to title their record with something other than with the band name. There is a reason why bands should actually title their records. It makes it easier to collect everything by the band and keep songs organized. Imagine the iTunes confusion with a band who repeats the self titled album concept for several albums. A prime example, is Peter Gabriel whose first 4 records were all called Peter Gabriel . Creating some desperation with the crappy album titles, some Gabriel fans left trying try to describe what album a particular track was found have retitled the albums based upon the cover art, now naming them in order of release as: Car, Scratch, Melt, and Security. The U.S. release of the 4th album actually entitled Security but not for the rest of the world. Rather than force a band to actually try coming up with a name, these bands should default to the acceptable lazy default naming convention: naming the record after the title of the song found on side one track one. By way of example, the four Peter Gabriel records would now be called (in order): Moribund the Burgermeister, On the AirIntruder, and The Rhythm of the Heat.

Aside to Aside Number 1: Don’t even get me started on the artists who are too lazy to even come up with titles for the songs on their records. Darn you Buckethead!!!

Aside Number 1, continued: Why are bands who are making fairly creative music unable to actually think of a #$^%# interesting title for their record? This has to be some major label marketing ploy. It must. See a recent prime example of this marketing phenomenon where MGMT’s whose new record, their 3rd, is awesomely titled, you guessed it MGMT. Or how about Blitzen Trapper whose 7th record, and latest, is entitled VII? Does repetition really work to get potential purchasers to actually to buy the record?  I have no idea, but it is really frustrating and tiring. So those of you who produce the music or work at labels that are reading this blog – stop that crap now. Perhaps we can start a revolution.

Whew…..anyway, Hey! Hello was formed by New York based singer Victoria Liedtke and British singer-songwriter, Ginger Wildheart. Their debut is a stunning and powerful rock record full of riff heavy, hook laden, and thunderous rock music that magnificently updates the sound of the 70’s act, The Sweet, best known for the two classic hits “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox on the Run.” “Swimwear” actually sounds exactly like The Sweet’s “Little Willy.” I loved this record. Try “Black Valentine, ”“How I Survived The Punk Wars,” and “Burn The Rule Book (Fuck It).”

MGMY - MGMTSo, perhaps I should deal with the MGMT record, since I slagged the title previously in this post. Despite what you have possibly read in far more popular publications than Tales From The Dropbox, on MGMT, MGMT continues the sonic explorations of a band whom have consciously tried not to make the record that made their bones, which unfortunately for MGMT was their debut. History has shown where a debut record is so accepted by the masses (e.g. Green Day’s “Dookie”) that it cripples the artist as their record label is unwilling to commit to anything but to a retread of the sound that made that debut record a hit. This may seem contrary to my thoughts expressed earlier about artists who change their sound for the sake of change, but MGMT has stayed true to its own thought process and artistic belief about the direction of their music releases,  and have done so within the context and constraints imposed by being an artist on a major label record. So, to give credit where. as here, it is fully due, the record company, in this case, Columbia, has permitted the duo to (a) release a record that is not highly commercial, and which will not sell millions of records, and (b) extends the vision expressed on their last noncommercial record, 2010’s psych rock leaning Congratulations. Although the ideas on Congratulations were not fully formed the purpose of that record was clear: it was designed to distance MGMT the artists from a debut album that changed modern alternative rock. 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, with its three ubiquitous singles “Time to Pretend”, “Kids” and “Electric Feel” was incapable of repetition. So, MGMT didn’t attempt the retread.

Where do we stand now? MGMT on MGMT is essentially asking the listener to evaluate the release as a debut. The duo, consisting of Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden ( with some help) find themselves delving full throttle into the third variant of the new psychedelic revival (along with other similar travelers such as Tame Impala and Pond), with trance-like elements creating sonic tapestries reminiscent somewhat of the 90’s shoegaze scene. Released on September 17, the album will take some time for the listener to get into, but I found the journey generally quite pleasing. However, if you are looking for the MGMT singles, stop looking. There are none. This is an album as entirely conceived by a band committed to change and the resulting sonic explorations are worth the effort to look past, MGMT‘s past. Try” Introspection,” “Cool Song No. 2,” and “I Love You Too, Death.”

Blitzen Trapper - VIIEarlier this year, I told you about the reissue of Blitzen Trapper’s amazing first record which after 10 years, was and is still an exciting listening experience.  Seven albums later, Blitzen Trapper is still figuring itself out. And that is acceptable to me having followed their progression, because VII expands their indie-folk with country tinges into new areas with some terrific up results. VII is a sonically pleasing record with a dynamic range that makes the space between the instruments a powerful force into itself. It is difficult to describe the feeling you experience when you are listening to a record that just sounds good and you feel the recording. The gospel revival experience of “Shine On” bumps up against the beautiful country ballad “Ever Loved Once” which is one of the strongest songs on VII and perhaps in Blitzen Trapper‘s entire catalog. The harmonies and banjo (yes, banjo) play off and highlight each other, and the result is an instant classic. Eric Earley’s crisp vocals driving the record and the space created is very effective in creating warmth to a somewhat staccato delivery.. Try” Ever Loved Once,” the country influenced “Don’t Be A Stranger,” and “Shine On.”

London Grammar - If You Wait (Deluxe Edition)As promised last month, the dropbox finds the U.K. equivalent of the XX in the form of electronic art rockers, London Grammar, with their debut album entitled If You Wait. This album and band is already  massively popular record in Europe having spawned three hit singles (all included on If You Wait)  prior to the album’s release. London Grammar‘s form of chamber pop is carried by the beautiful and powerful vocals of Hannah Reid. The three piece, comprised of Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman have already played several festivals, and this record transports the listener to a sonic soundscape from the opening notes of “Hey Now” through If You Wait‘s last track. Hannah sings with strong emotion over the mostly electro-pop tracks. The single, “Wasting My Young Years” will find its way on to may best of 2013 pop collections, and, similar to the Savages debut from earlier this year, If You Wait is amongst the best records of 2013. No surprise that London Grammar has not found its way to the U.S., but hopefully some station will pick it up, as the record was only released  two weeks ago. I’ve found that KROQ takes about a year to discover new music, so there is a chance that KROQ or 987 FM will add the song and then overplay it. Try” Wasting My Young Years,” Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me,” and “Metal and Dust.”

As I’ve got regular work to attend to at this time, I’ll update this post as I get a chance, because there is gold in them there hills!

The List:

  1. American Authors – American Authors [2013]
  2. Balance And Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing [2013]
  3. Bastille – Bad Blood [2013]
  4. Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self Preservation Society [2013]
  5. Underground Youth – The Perfect Enemy For God [2013]
  6. Volcano Choir – Repave [2013]
  7. Factory Floor – Factory Floor (Deluxe Edition) [2CD] [2013]
  8. Grouplove – Spreading Rumors [2013]
  9. Jungle Giants – Learn To Exist [2013]
  10. Kissaway Trail – Breach [2013]
  11. London Grammar – If You Wait (Deluxe Edition) [‘2013]
  12. MGMT – MGMT [2013]
  13. Naked and Famous – In Rolling Waves [2013]
  14. Pedal Jets –What’s In Between [2013]
  15. Stellar Kart – All In [2013]
  16. Summer Camp – Summer Camp [2013]
  17. Julie Ruin – Run Fast [2013]
  18. Veronica Falls – Six Covers Vol. 2 [2013]
  19. Bad Sports – Bras [2013]
  20. Cosmonauts – Persona Non Grata [2013]
  21. Crocodiles – Crimes of Passion [2013]
  22. Crash Karma – Rock Musique Deluxe [2013]
  23. Delorean – Apar [2013]
  24. Destruction Unit – Deep Trip [2013]
  25. Au Revoir Simone – Move In Spectrums [2013]
  26. Barrence Whitfield and The Savages – Dig Thy Savage Soul [2013]
  27. Haim – Days Are Gone (Deluxe Edition) [2CD] [2013]
  28. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe [European Limited Edition] [2013]
  29. Blood Arm – Infinite Nights [2013]
  30. Crystal Stilts – Nature Noir [2013]
  31. Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull [Deluxe Edition] [2013]
  32. Dinosaur Bones – Shaky Dream [2013]
  33. Ducktails – Wish Hotel [2013]
  34. Parquet Courts – Borrowed Time (7” EP) [2013]
  35. Parquet Courts – Tally All the Things That You Broke EP [2013]
  36. Nirvana – In Utero (20th Anniversary Edition Super Deluxe) [3CD] [2013]
  37. Hateful – Soundtrack For A Sinner [2013]
  38. Hey! Hello! – Hey! Hello! [2013]
  39. Little Hurricane – Stay Classy [A Collection of Cover Songs] [2013]
  40. Little Scout – Are You Life [2013]
  41. Blitzen Trapper – VII [2013]
  42. Boomtown Rats – Back To Boomtown [2013]
  43. Love Is Sodium – Cycles [2013]
  44. Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas [Remastered] [2013]
  45. Paper Lions – My Friends [2013]
  46. Parlotones – Shake It Up [2013]
  47. Redlight King – Irons In The Fire [2013]
  48. Regurgitator – Dirty Pop Fantasy [2013]
  49. Sadies – Internal Sounds [2013]
  50. Wheatus – The Valentine [2013]