Welcome to another year of Dropbox Notes ! This month’s offerings are the best of last year, i.e. my favorite records from 2013.
In the past, I have posted my best albums of [insert year] list with little regard to the order on that list. That is, I just posted my favorite records of the previous year in an approximation of what I liked the best. This year, I struggled to try to get through at least the first 30 albums in order of how good I thought they were; how much I enjoyed listening to them, and how likely I would go back and play them after not listening to them for a year.
That qualifier – whether you would go back and listen to a record after a year of not playing the album – appears (at least to me) to be the real test of a list like this. In the past, most of the other lists I have reviewed (you can find some at rocklist.net) from some of my favorite magazines have not contemplated the long term impact of the records they claim are the best and greatest of the year. Some magazines do a better job of this (and I am confident it is completely unintentional) than others.
For example, looking back just 5 years to 2008, compare these two top 20 lists from Q Magazine and Spin:
Q Magazine 2008 Top 20
1. Kings of Leon – Only By The Night
2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
3. Coldplay – Viva la Vida
4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
5. Glasvegas – Glasvegas
6. Duffy – Rockferry
7. TV On the Radio – Dear, Science
8. Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
9. Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
11. Sigur Rós – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
12. Keane – Perfect Symmetry
13. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
14. Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads
15. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
16. Hot Chip – Made In the Dark
17. Adele – 19
18. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
19. Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
20. Gaslight Anthem – ‘59 Sound
Spin 2008 Top 20
TV On the Radio – Dear Science
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
Portishead – Third
Fucked Up – Chemistry of Common Life
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Santogold – Santogold
Deerhunter – Microcastle
Hot Chip – Made In the Dark
Coldplay – Viva la Vida
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Pt 1: 4th World War
No Age – Nouns
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Beck – Modern Guilt
My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
Roots – Rising Down
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
Okkervil River – Stand Ins
Gnarls Barkley – Odd Couple
There is a little overlap on these two lists but on average from the Q Magazine list, I would listen to 5/20 (25%) and from the Spin list I would listen to 4/20 (20%). Can you guess which records I’d probably revisit?
With this personal observation i.e. that there are very few records that I would continue to play after a gap of a year, this list is prepared with that objective also in mind – looking forward 1 year from now.
And perhaps that is the goal of this “Best of 2013” list – to check back in a year and see how many of the 100 listed here you would go back and listen to in 2015.
With that said, here is my list of the BEST OF 2013 (all capitals because I am shouting):
Tales From The Dropbox Best Albums of 2013
Savages – Silence Yourself
FIDLAR – FIDLAR
Pacific Air – Stop Talking
Guards – In Guards We Trust
The Men – New Moon
Arctic Monkeys – A.M.
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
Paper Lions – My Friends
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Palma Violets – 180
Fuzz – Fuzz
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Paper Aeroplanes – Little Letters
Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
Pure Love – Anthems
California X – California X
Foals – Holy Fire
Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Mikal Cronin – MCII
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of The City
Starflyer 59 – IAMACEO
Miles Kane – Don’t Forget Who You Are
Lydia – Devil
London Grammar – If You Wait
Royal Bangs – Brass
Upset – She’s Gone
Waaves – Afraid of Heights
Deerhunter – Monomania
The Julie Ruin – Run Fast
Jagwar Ma – Howlin’
Haim – Days are Gone
Bad Sports – Bras
Bastille – Bad Blood
My Bloody Valentine – m b v
Deap Valley – Sistrionics
So So Glos – Blowout
Wooden Shjips – Back To Land
Drenge – Drenge
Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds
The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Iceage – You’re Nothing
Yo La Tengo – Fade
Superchunk – I Hate Music
Volcano Choir – Repave
Phoenix – Bankrupt!
Purling Hiss – Water on Mars
Roshambo – Lonesome Men From The Woods
Pissed Jeans – Honeys
Queens of The Stoneage – Like Clockwork
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Factory Floor – Factory Floor
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Riots – Time For Truth
Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll
Forest Swords – Engravings
James Blake – Overgrown
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
Mutual Benefit – Loves Crushing Diamond
Strypes – Snapshot
Acres of Lions – Home(s)
Daughter – If You Leave
Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat
Ballet – I Blame Society
Tegan and Sara – Hearthrob
Peace – In Love [Deluxe Edition
Taymir – Phosphene
Chastity Belt – Ne Regerts
Auto Defiance – Running on The Edge
Jimmy Eat World – Damage
Courtney Barnett – The Double EP – A Sea Of Split Peas
Dirtbombs – Consistency Is The Enemy
Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream
Hungary Kids of Hungary – You’re A Shadow
Imperial State Electric – Reptile Brain Music
Iron Chic – The Constant One
Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Matt Pond – The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand
Jake Bugg – Shangri La
Murder By Death – As You Wish Kickstarter Covers
Cage the Elephant – Melophobia
Teen Agers – I Hate It
Beware of Darkness – Orthodox
Super Happy Fun Club – All Funned Up
Middle Class Rut – Pick Up Your Head
Banquets – Banquets
Cults – Static
RVIVR – The Beauty Between
Exxonvaldes – Lights
Mama Kin – The Magician’s Daughter
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
Dead Sons – The Hollers And The Hymns
Growlers – Not. Psych!
Guster – Live With The Redacted Symphony
I’ll add the covers if I get a chance, but otherwise enjoy the list. Part 1 of the list ( 1-50) dropped today. I’ll drop part 2 (51-100) around February 1, so a slightly shorter turnaround this month/
Let me know if you think I’ve missed something, or your thoughts on the list. If you have a list you’d like to share – post a comment or send me the list and I’ll post it.
Until later alligator! I wish you all a terrific and happy 2014. Peace out.
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.
Bowling 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.
Prior 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 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 Clash – Cut 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).”
Singer-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 Ladder – Black 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.”
Upping 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.)
I 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)
Glasgow’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.”
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.
Why 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.”
It 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!”
In 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.”
Johannesburg 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)
So, back to the Parlotones. Try “Lazy Sunny Days,” “Stand Like Giants” and “Hollow Men.”
Knoxville’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:
Orlando 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.”
Cardiff’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.”
If 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 LarsErik 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.”
September is going to be a great month for music. Traditionally, this is the time of year where a number of new releases hit the market because like it or not, Christmas is the time for giving and giving starts early. To that end, you have a couple of things that are not scheduled to hit the marketplace until later this month.
As an added note, I’ve been thinking for a while about the state of indie music (to be fair I’ve not really spent much time thinking about the state of affairs given that there are many more important events and issues to occupy my time) and hopefully, my inclusion of a playlist of recent singles ( for lack of a better term – these should be singles, but there is no commercial distribution/ review etc.) that should find a place in your own playlist and eventually, if there is any good in the world, actually end up on the radio so that some of these bands actually achieve some commercial success that will be more valuable in the long run than my meager version of critical acclaim. Given the fast pace of new music and the flood of new releases hitting the market in a number of countries, there is definitely a lag before a great song finds enough support that it ends up on radio. As what passes for indie/alternative radio now is decidedly dance/pop or new folk, programmers should take note – there is a broad palate of music that passes for indie/alternative now and not all of it fits neatly into the mass marketed force fed genres marketed by the radio stations.
So with that somewhat length introduction, there really are a number of spectacular new releases, some of which are already on radio and others which will never find a place in that world but hopefully will find a place in your heart.
Arctic Monkeys new release AM was recorded in California and the subject of extensive coverage and hype in this week’s NME. Scheduled for release next week in the UK and the U.S, AM is the 5th full length and was recorded in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree and if you believe the hype, this is “the greatest record of their career.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but there is a definite twist in direction. The psychedelic flourishes are still present, but there is a smoothness to both the lyrics and the “beats” which make this closer to a crossover pop record than a traditional rock record. The playing is very tight and the hip hop influence, although present, are filtered through the Monkeys, rock sensibilities. Josh Homme makes an appearance on a couple of tracks, which will sell a few copies, but the tone of this record is not frenetic, rather it is a late night driving around the city record with your buddies at 3 A.M after hitting the clubs. Perhaps, the best example of this is on the track “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” There is a flow to this record unlike anything the Arctic Monkeys have done before and undoubtedly this will end up on a number of year end best of lists. Try” Do I Wanna Know,” “R U Mine?” and “I Want It All.”
Prolific would be an understatement to describe Ty Segal. In the past 5 years he has released solo records while playing and releasing albums in a number of other “bands” usually with Mikal Cronin. On Sleeper, Segal’s latest release, the garage elements are still present, but this is a much more introspective offering. And also much more focused. Often accused of just bashing away on his guitar, the songs here are as if Ty was channeling Oasis. Written following the death of his father, the songs presented here capture the reflection of Segal himself in his father’s life and present a compelling study of loss, loneliness, and Ty’s own relationship with other people in his life. Sung with the same earnestness present in all of his records, the directness of the lyrics make for captivating listening. These are still garage pop nuggets – think Neil Young’s “Harvest” as sung by Noel Gallagher and you perhaps have the correct context for this record. Try “The Keepers”, “The Man Man” and “She Don’t Care.”
The long awaited record by Manchester based four-piece The 1975, entitled simply The 1975 fully realizes the components present on the earlier EPs a number of which I have covered previously. It is rare that the actual product matches the hype, but The 1975 have matched those expectations on their debut. The dropbox has the full on steroid deluxe version, with essentially all of the songs from the previous EPs. Some of the songs on the actual LP should be familiar as “The City” appeared on IV as did the title track “The 1975.” They have prior to this released 4 EPs: Facedown, Sex, Music for Cars and IV. For those of you just catching up, The 1975 are a melodic and atmospheric synth pop band with an ear for the hook. A little bit like Owl City, they traverse a less sugary aspect of this particular genre. Varied, interesting, and intimately likeable, the album should find a home in most collections. Try “Sex”, “Girls” (Live at Dot to Dot Festival Manchester 24.05.2013) and “Robbers”(Live at Radio 1’s Big Weekend July 10, 2013).
Never thought I’d see another Three O’clock record – ever. Original purveyors of the Los Angeles based paisley underground of the early 1980’s (with The Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, and the Rain Parade), the Three O’clock were somewhat classicists within that scene playing psychedelic rock of the late 1960’s as if it was being experienced for the first time in the 80’s. Flash way forward to 2013, and the Three O’clock are back and actually touring having played Coachella earlier this year and performing live on Conan O’Brian. Starting out as The Salvation Army in 1981 (only to be sued over the use of the name). What is remarkable is that following the bands breakup in 1988 all of the original members played in other amazing bands, several of which I’ve offered in the dropbox over the past couple of years:
Michael Quercio briefly joined Game Theory in 1990. Thereafter, he founded Permanent Green Light, who released two albums, and, later, The Jupiter Affect.
Louis Gutierrez played with Louis and Clark (I loved this record!) and then became a principal member of Mary’s Danish.
Jason Falkner joined Jellyfish (who were the prototype alternative/college rock band of the early 1990’s), then The Grays, before launching a successful solo record career in the mid-1990s.
Troy Howell started the group The Eyes of Mind, who recorded on Bomp Records. He also played with Cee Farrow and the band OOSoul (double oh soul).
The Hidden World Revealed is a compilation of some of their greatest hits as well as a number of unreleased and never before heard rarities and demos. My favorite is the dB’s sounding “Around The World” but I think you’ll discover why the Three O’clock deserved the success they briefly garnered in the later 1980’s incorporating the doors sounding organ into garage riffs. Try also “Jet Fighter” ( Great original Video from the early 1980’s – Check out the new wave dancing!) , “I Go Wild (Alternate Version)” and “Seeing Is Believing.”( Take A look: Three O’clock Live In-Store at Freakbeat Records Sherman Oaks 06.23.13)
Note: I saw them play with the Rain Parade sometime in 1984 at, I think, the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. As I recall it was a great show. At the time, cowpunk was huge in Vancouver and this was in the minds of some – close.
I’ve already proclaimed my passion for Rise Against previously. So I’ll cut to the chase. How is it that this band’s B-Sides are better than many albums put out by other bands? Is it the passion? While the band considered these songs to not be worthy of inclusion on the main releases, the songs on this collection entitled Long Forgotten Songs comprise a number of interesting B-sides and covers compiled over the length of the bands career. You’ve got to appreciate consistency as the quality of these songs is excellent over the period. The most interesting thing about this collection however is that it is remarkably cohesive. There are several excellent cover songs covering a wide range of “popular artists” including Bruce (Springsteen of course!) (“The Ghost Of Tom Joad”), Face to Face (“Blind”), Bob Dylan (“Ballad of Hollis Brown”), Malvina Reynolds (“Little Boxes”), Minor Threat (“Minor Threat”), Black Flag (“Nervous Breakdown”), Lifetime (“The Boy’s No Good”), Journey (“Any Way You Want It”), Nirvana (“Sliver”), and a version of Danny Elman’s song from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, “Making Christmas.” Try” Death Blossoms”, “Generation Lost” and “Sliver”. Need further evidence of the awesome power of Rise Against? Try: Live at Rock Am Ring 2010 (Full Show) – Simply amazing!
Going backwards in time….all the way back to 2012, I came upon a record I missed the first time around. It happens. Swedish rockers Durango Riot (from Karlskoga, Sweden) hit the sweet spot with their punk n’ roll influenced album Backwards Over Midnight. This was actually recorded here in Pasadena CA much to my surprise (and probably theirs). This album, like last year’s album by You and Me At Six, is really a melodic rock record with catchy melodies all sung by a gruff voiced swede over a spaghetti western movie. Take my word for it, this is a fun rock record worthy of your time. There is a little Parkway drive influence present here (which is a good thing) so, if this is in your style zone – pick it up. Try “Shiny Season”, “Everybody´s Got to Go” and “Backwards Over Midnight.” (Live in Nürnberg, Löwensaal 09.10.12).
Franz Ferdinand are back and fresh. You might recall listening to this band a long time ago (remember “Take Me Out”?), but with their new record, entitled Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action,Franz Ferdinand will be omnipresent again in popular radio. Already down here the new and remarkably catchy “Right Action” (from which the title to the album is lifted) single) is huge and likely to be overplayed. However, before it does, take a trip through this release which essentially is a return to form for the band. This is catchy dance rock for the most part, but there are some left turns along the way that keep the album interesting. Remarkably, for me, the single is not the best track on this record. It is the pop scorcher “Fresh Strawberries” that makes the playlist. So, do some exploring and your efforts will be well rewarded. Try” Fresh Strawberries” (live at “Lots of Poor Losers” aka Lollapalooza Brazil March 30, 2013), “Goodbye Lovers and Friends” and “Right Action).”
Ever heard of experimental chamber pop? Well that is precisely the genre that Julia Holter occupies on her magnificent third album Loud City Song. The Cal Arts grad lives in Los Angeles, and on the local scene is hailed as a masterwork largely because of the quality ensemble present on this record and the charm that evokes memories of the late 50’s. This album, apparently based on the MGM film Gigi, evokes a completely different mood from traditional indie pop scene and although the source material is dated (Holter has said that the album is her own loose interpretation of Gigi— both the musical and the original 1944 novella by the French writer Colette – the plot in a nutshell is “A Parisian girl is raised to be a kept woman but dreams of love and marriage.”). Fascinating and compelling, the centerpiece of this record are the two songs “Maxim’s I” and “Maxim’s II” which is the night club from the movie and the jazz influences are palpable. Try “Maxim’s II”, the beautiful rendition of Barbara Lewis’’ “Hello Stranger” (live at Cecil Sharp House, London August 20th, 2013 ) and “This Is a True Heart” (live at Cecil Sharp House, London August 20th, 2013) . A diamond of a record and a unique record for its time.
Ah…the Libertines undoubtedly were one of the greatest bands to come from Britain. Really, I know…you probably have never heard of them. Look em’ up. They were paparazzi favorites as the drug addicted lead singer and head Libertine (Pete Doherty) dated Kate Moss. Out of the ashes of the Libertines, Doherty formed Babyshambles, and since forming in 2003, Sequel To The Prequel represents only the third full length offering from the band. But what an offering. Compared to the first two albums Down in Albion (2005) and Shotter’s Nation (2007), Sequel To the Prequel is inspired and contains the spark that makes the Libertines records great. Most importantly, be prepared – Babyshambles is prototypically British and this is a very English sounding record. So, try to ignore what will be an avalanche of very bad press – Babyshambles are a train wreck at the best of times and as they are habitually late (e.g. 90 minutes late for their showcase for this record coupled with Doherty’s mostly unstable personality, the press are brutal waiting for spectacular failure. However, the results on this record present little indication of the self-created and manufactured road blocks to success of the past, and the end result is brilliance. Try “Seven Shades of Nothing” (Bar Fontania, Paris, March 22, 2013) “The Very Last Boy Alive,” And “Nothing Comes to Nothing.”
King Tuff traverses the same musical territory as Ty Segal but not nearly as prolific. Signed to Sub Pop after his debut Was Dead found underground success, King Tuff actually made Billboard reaching No. 21 on the Heatseekers Chart and No. 2 on CMJ’s college chart with the self-titled King Tuff. So, what makes Was Dead so special? So few were pressed that it has quickly become a high priced collectible. So, who is King Tuff? Kyle Thomas. He’s been using that name on-and-off for a long time, but pre-2007, he was Kyle, one-eighth of the freak folk band Feathers, makers of gentle, Eastern-tinged acoustic tracks. With Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, he was in the stoner rock band, Witch. King Tuff is his outlet for the garage pop offerings he was writing during the period 2003-2006 that didn’t quite fit with his other projects. Was Dead is not as cohesive as the critically acclaimed King Tuff record, but who cares. Jammed with solid garage pop reflective of Alex Chilton’s early work and wearing his Detroit influences on his sleeve, the results are charismatic and catchy – exactly like a garage rock record should sound. The Big Star influences ripple throughout the record, particularly on tracks like “Connection” and “A Pretty Dress.” Try “Dancing On You,” (Live at The Glasshouse April 17, 2013 includes “Bad Thing”) “Freak When I’m Dead” (Live at Music Feeds Studio) and “Ruthie Ruthie.”
Superchunk were always the forerunners of indie music as we know it today. If you were around in the early 90’s they represented the torchbearers for independent music, like Fugazi, who were producing consistently cool music with little or no money and without the assistance of a major label. On I Hate Music, Superchunk returns with renewed energy rarely found in bands who have been around as long as they have. Formed in Chapel Hill NC in 1989, Superchunk was synonymous with that scene and despite having found indie cred, they were unable to break through commercially. Like previously albums this is well written indie rock that will make you smile. And this is what is disturbing. How can a band make such an upbeat downer record? Dedicated to a friend of the band who died last year, the album explores themes of loss e.g. innocence, friends, youth, isolation etc. On balance I think the results show a band coming to grips of where they are now – a little older, a little wiser, and experiencing their own transitions, all with a sort of class. Try “Overflows,” “FOH” and “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo.”
Formerly known as the Chucky Danger Band, Canadian indie rockers Paper Lions, should be Sirius XM stars. And for the life of me I cannot figure out why they are not huge in America. Perhaps it is they are from Belfast, Prince Edward Island. Now located in Charlottetown, PEI the band crowd funded this latest offering, My Friends, their 4th long player the follow up to the Trophies EP and the results are power pop perfection. If you like this genre, then you will love this record. There are some Weezer flourishes here and there as well as some Fountains of Wayne (e.g. Little Liar”) melodies, but the record with its Beach Boy harmonies stands out for the excellent songwriting and production. My Friends in a less than perfect world should be huge in the U.S. Try “Little Liar,” which is also on this months playlist (Check the video out – hear some real Canadian accents. This is a semi-acoustic version from the Here On Out Sessions), “San Simeon” and “My Friend.”Live from Dias Iron Works Welding Shop in Liberty Village August 26, 2013).
London trio White Lies has a secret weapon – a tenor Harry McVeigh who can bring a stunning quality to White Lies songs. Accused of being too generic in the past, Big TV, the band’s third full length takes great steps to shed that criticism, but it will still fail to excite professional critics. And perhaps that is the point. It is hard to garner any acclaim when the sound of the band is derived from more noteworthy acts such as Interpol and Joy Division where the centerpiece is the vocals over an atmospheric beat. However, this album is filled with better songwriting than the two prior efforts which were cringe producing, and the complexity of the songs is vastly approved. It took me a few listens to find the groove so as to truly enjoy the songs. This deluxe edition offers demos and this is where you discover the power of McVeigh’s vocals, particularly on the demo of “There Goes Our Love Again.” So, rather than fall victim to temptation to merely conclude that this is a generic offering by a pleasant sounding band, mix it up. Try” There Goes Our Love Again (Demo)”, “Tricky to Love” and “Change.” Here they are live at BBC Radio 1′ in Swindon from last year: White Lies BBC Radio 1s.
Torch bearers for a new generation of pop punk, Oakland’s Emily’s Army combine elements of their forebearers including the Ramones, Green Day,Blink-182, and Lookout! Records to update the sound, and keep it fun. When I say forebearers, I am using the term in its literal meaning as Emily’s Army is comprised of brothers Cole and Max Becker (vocal, guitar and bass, respectively), guitarist Travis Neumann, and drummer Joey Armstrong (son of Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong, who also produced the LP). So, with that, you get a collection of pop punk songs to play at the summer barbecue, not too serious, dance worthy, and after a few spins you catch yourself singing along. Will this record end up in your collection forever. Likely not. But for a moment in time, its perfect. Try “Kids Just Wanna Dance”, “War” and “Lost at 17.” (I am amazed at the proficiency of these kids – yes kids – still in high school!)
Another group of Swedes making headway in the dropbox, Sad Day For Puppets on Come Closer, the bands third long player, wear their 90’s alt-rock influences on their sleeves and it is all good. Vocalist Anna Ekland’s sweet melodies carry these tunes which in many ways harken back to the golden age of the alt-90’s with song structures like the Lemonheads’ Shame About Ray, but in all reality, I could care less about the lyrics because, like Janet Devlin and Die Antwoord’s Yolandi Vissar, Anna Ekland’s vocals are beautiful, spellbinding, and the melodies as if written by the Beach Boys. I dare you not to like this record. Theoretically the band describes their music as vocals over noise, but on first listen you will get the bands deceptive direction – simple melodic rock with stunning vocals. Try “Senseless”, “Human Heart” and “Shiver & Shake.” To bad there is so little video available, but maybe in some parts of Sweden You Tube doesn’t exist. Truly a shame.Here there are in 2009 playing “When You Tell Me That You Love Me” at a Sonic Cathedral night at The Borderline on November 16, 2009.
While I enjoy cover songs, it is the rare band that does a good job on an entire record full of them. A stellar example of this is Rod Stewart who has on several occasions served up steaming piles of terrible cover albums which actually !@$@ sold a ton of records. Sad, really. So, while a little skeptical when one of my long time favorites Tommy Keene announced a couple of months ago that he was going to release a record of covers. I’ve seen Tommy live on a couple of occasions and the covers played live sound like he wrote them for the artist who made them popular. So, on Excitement At Your Feet, scheduled to be released later this month, Tommy plays the most unusual set of covers and each case the song takes on new meaning and renewed life, that is if you could even identify the original. The record mines cult gems and even well-known artist’s such as the Rolling Stones the songs are deep cuts in the catalog. So, give it a spin and be surprised. Try “The Puppet (Echo & the Bunnymen)” “Ride On Baby (Rolling Stones)” and “Out of the Blue (Roxy Music).” Here’s a bonus: Tommy playing “Kill Yer Sons (Lou Reed) live at Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco.
Ellicott City, Maryland’s Dangerous Summer are back with their fourth album, entitled Golden Record this month and continue the promise of their last record, 2011’s War Paint. It seems that Hopeless Records is one of the very few punk rock labels still left alive and kicking in the wake of the recent label catastrophes of the past few years. I’m not sure this record will develop a huge following, but it is in the dropbox because my great hope is that this type of punk rock, like Rise Against, continues to thrive because I will lose my mind if all that is left is KROQ and the mindless dance pop that characterizes the playlist. Really, it is too easy to criticize the playlist so, I in an effort to present an unbiased viewpoint have provide the link here for this week’s list: KROQ Playlist.
You will see Imagine Dragons, Lorde (just !@#$ terrible), the endlessly played “Mountain Song” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers which have now reached a point of saturation that I actively switch the radio off when I hear any of their music. Really, KROQ has pummeled me into submission. And they are actually proud of what they play. I used to love that station, now it is generic and unlistenable and they overplay everything. Brutal. Sorry…I’m back now. I snapped.
Back to Dangerous Summer. Like most of this month’s releases there is a wide variety of music. The Dangerous Summer represents only a small portion of the spectrum but it is important. This is emo in its original form and still relevant although many will be dismissive. This record is well written and Al Perdomo is a master at capturing the feeling behind these songs. So, give it a chance, change it up, and freshen your musical palate. Try” Catholic Girls” (Acoustic Version) “Honesty” (Acoustic Version) and “We Will Wait In The Fog.”
In a similar vein, The Almost with their new record Fear Inside Our Bones continues to traverse a more traditional punk rock road. And perhaps that is the difficulty with new punk records. People have become so used to listening to pop music, whether it is fed on radio or more likely by the proliferation of Cinderella music shows (American Idol, X Factor, being the two largest and most popular miscreants) that perhaps we forget that music is meant to move people in a variety of ways, and language is a part of that process. Formed by former Underoath singer/drummer Aaron Gillespie in 2005, as a more melodic outlet for songs that did not fit Underoath’s hardcore ethos, on Fear Inside Our Bones, the band has found its true identity and have produced an album of melodic punk rock thoughtful and inspiring, but without the hardcore elements present on the first two releases. And the result is a thoroughly entertaining rock record. You should check out the great cover of Andrew Gold’s 1977 AM Radio smash hit “Lonely Boy.” The hard edges are still present but this is how modern rock should sound – no indie dance pop here. Play loud. Try “Ghost,” (Live at the Balcony in Westchester) “So What” and the Nirvana influenced “Come On.”
As we are currently in a discourse about punk rock, it should come as no surprise that you would find Philadelphia based Restorations new album entitled LP2 in the dropbox. Upon first listen it sounds like Rise Against mentioned earlier, but this is largely because Restoration’s vocalist Jon Loudon sounds distinctly similar to Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, and if you listened to opener “D” you would think they are the same band. However, there is much more going on here musically as the band incorporates a number of genre shifting elements into the complex songs from metal, pop, street punk, 90’s alternative rock to weave into a unified whole that is a definite foot tapper. Try “The Plan”, “D” and “Quit.”
Changing pace significantly, Toronto’s Trouble & Daughter are my new pop obsession. Really. You would never guess that something this warm and sunny would come from the north. This has the same vibe as much of the new Australian pop scene with its bright sparkly boy-girl vocals and simple catchy melodies which are instantly likeable. The trio of James Mascola (vocals), Jenni Pleau (vocals), and John Doherty (guitar, vocals) creates alt-county flavored folk rock that will capture your heart. The only negative is the fact that Alcohol & Nicotine is too short as it is only an EP. Hopefully a full length will soon follow. Anyway, try: “The West Coast,” (live from The Rivoli in Toronto, Ontario November 2012) and another version of The West Coast from the Condo Sessions, “If You Want It All” and “ Rooftops.” (Live on a rooftop, of course.)
New to the garage rock duo genre (White Stripes, Black Keyes) British duo Drenge, on their self-titled debut, don’t just bash it out. As we approach the mid 2000-teens, if anyone is paying attention, there is a new garage rock revival in full blossom. The difference between Drenge and other new-garage revivalists is that Drenge sounds like Gene Vincent and the others sound like the Seeds. This is not a bad thing, only different. British garage rock has a decidedly different flavor than the U.S. version and it is precisely those differences that make Drenge such an interesting record. At this point in our relationship you all know that I love this genre of music – from both sides of the pond. Check out Ty Segal, Mikal Cronin, King Tuff and below, King Khan & the Shrines and the Dirtbombs.
What is enjoyable about all of these garage bands is their divergent and unique takes on a genre that is almost 60 years old. There must be something deep inside man or woman that creates empathy for this sound so that after all of this time and a few generations that this music still resonates. Its hypnotic and sexy, and as performed by Drenge, the music tinged with psychedelic flourishes. Brothers Rory and Eoin Loveless pummel you with their version of this genre and its catchy as hell and enjoyable. There is something here that reminds me of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club circa Miami and of course, I have a like-on. Try “Backwaters,” I Want To Break You In Half” and “Nothing.” (Live at Edinburgh Electric Circus, August 26, 2013).
Continuing the garage rock explosion, King Khan & The Shrines, after 6 years, release their latest Idle No More and the results are very positive. Continuing his updated Little Richard act, Arish Khan, the leader of the Shrines at times containing up to nine members, play a much more traditional version of the garage pop and roll and to good effect. Now based in Berlin Germany having moved there because this type of 60’s beat influenced garage rock has a larger following, King Khan’s greatest contributions are consistent adherence to garage rock’s fundamental principles while mixing in a health dash of 60’s soul music. Lyrically the album traverses the transitions that Arish has faced over the past several years with the passing of his friend Jay Reatard (“So Wild”), a tribute to his wife for putting up with his shxx (Pray for Lil), and his own descent into madness (“Of Madness I Dream”). Try “Of Madness I Dream”, “Darkness” and “I Got Made.”
Finishing up the trio of new garage releases, Detroit’s Dirtbombs return with their tribute to 70’s bubblegum pop tribute, in the form of Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! Mixing punk and soul into their garage mix machine, on their 6th album, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! the Dirtbombs, in their fifteenth year, take a new tack by harkening back to the early 70’s bubblegum era and laying its own mark on this traditional sound. Recall the Osmonds, Monkeys, Davey Jones, Archies, 1910 Fruitgum Company? No? Well then this will be a new sound for many, but it ruled the AM radio dial two generations ago. Just listen to “We Come in the Sunshine” As writer, front man, vocalist Mick Collins explained the album, which took more than two years to make:
The “concept” is that this is a Bubblegum album: the Dirtbombs as done by Don Kirshner and Kasenetz & Katz. I wasn’t trying to make a period piece; I was more seeing if I could pick up where bubblegum left off around 1975. I had the benefit of 40 years of hindsight, so I could pick and choose the bits I thought would work.
This is a fun record and those who were actually around at the time will recognize several songs have elements of the original hits that spawned these 10 originals. Try” Hey! A Cookie” “We Come in the Sunshine” and “It’s Gonna Be Alright.”
The Suburbs were part of the original Minneapolis scene that spawned Husker Du and The Replacements, but their journey was markedly different. Not truly punk rockers, they were part of the emerging alt-rock scene and in the early 80’s it looked like they were going to break through into the mainstream – but they didn’t. So in 1987 they broke up. Done.
So imagine my surprise to find a new record after 27 years. (Recall that this could be a trend – recall Magazine last year recording an album after 30 years of being broken up?). Si Sauvagefeatures founding members Chan Poling, Hugo Klaers, and Blaine John “Beej” Chaney, plus new band mates Steve Brantseg and Steve Price and special guest vocalists like Janey Winterbauer and Aby Wolf. Original guitarist Bruce C. Allen passed away in 2009.
So, what does a band sound like making a new record after so long? Well, given that they have in the past 27 years played a couple of shows a year in very small venues, remarkable tight and alive. There is more of a bluesy feel to the record which is essentially a straight rock record. I love the horns on the record which provides energy to a number of the songs which actually jumps with energy. Try “Reset the Party”, “Turn the Radio On”, and “Si Sauvage.” Here they are on MTV in 1984 with “Love is The Law.” (More 80’s new wave dancing!)
German three-piece Uncle Ho have been around since 1994 but albums are few and far between. Since it’s not often the dropbox finds a release from Germany, perhaps it will help explain the rarity – German bands usually sing in German. Hence, I’m usually not too interested.
What was interesting in The Manufacture of Madness was the way the album harkens back to the period in the late seventies affectionately known as the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Metal) that spawned Def Leppard, Motorhead, Girlschool, Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pantang,Saxon, etc. This was compared to the old wave of British Heavy Metal featuring Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. “You Are Mine” could have been lifted off the first Def Leppard record. If you recall the birth of the genre, the goal was to keep it sharp, quick and still be heavy, all of which is accomplished by Uncle Ho on this record.
There is definitely more than a little INXS feeling and vibe on this album. This is a late night party record. For those of you whom still have hair – headbangin’ is appropriate. Try” I Wanna Do it Again”, “ “You Are Mine”, and “Talk! Talk! Talk! Talk! Talk!”
From the opening of “Alright” you will know that there is something different going on with New York Trio Ballet’s record I Blame Society. There are touches of power pop ala Fountains of Wayne, with a dash of Magnetic Fields, and my favorites from the early 90’s Los Angeles’ Sugarplastic, throughout the record. If you like those touchstones, you will like this record. Some will note the Jesus and Mary Chain as another touchstone, but what makes this different is that the band makes it all seem fun without being simply derivative.
The synth-pop is lovely and the only real regret is that the auto-tune vocals are a little cold. I could only imagine if Greg Goldberg, Craig Willse and Marina Miranda had the confidence to sing in a natural tone. However, on I Blame Society, the band’s third album the rest of the album is pure pop perfection. Try” Alright”, “Feelings” (which sounds like an outtake from a John Hughes movie performed live with special guest Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris live at The Lexington, London on August 1st, 2013),and “All the Way” (which could be an outtake from the Jesus and Mary Chain).
On No Regerts (misspelling intentional), the debut from Seattle pop-punk band Chastity Belt carry on a long held Seattle tradition of providing exceptionally smart indie rock dealing with complex subjects in this case how the focus of one’s sexual desire becomes inappropriately important in one’s life and the situations that influence and shape that focus. Formed in college and self-taught musicians, the band, like Savages, from earlier this year, have released a markedly focused and competent record that will also likely end up on several year-end best of lists. Lead vocalist Julia Shapiro asks the questions that kids who are transitioning from college often ask – “are we having fun, yet? and the answer is likely not yet but we are trying. Try “Black Sail” (Live on KEXP Seattle, December 29, 2012), “Healthy Punk” ( “I drink when I want to get drunk”) (Columbia City Theater, Seattle, WA, 21 February 2013)
and the happy sounding “Evil”.
The Cheatahs’Extended Plays is precisely that – two EPs pasted together to form a full length release and doesn’t suffer for the effort. The Cheatahs achieve an update of the early 90’s shoegaze genre and if you recall Ride, Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine, then you are probably properly oriented to the direction of Extended Plays. The London based band consisting of a Canadian, German, American and one Brit, do a really good job of resurrecting what made that scene so popular in the first place by staying true to the form and emphasizing the control of distortion and feedback while retaining the vocal nuances of those earlier bands trademark sounds. Sure, there are some lyrical weakness, but so what. The idea of the shoegaze scene was to float – shoegaze bands didn’t look at the audience anyway, they felt them. And this album will make you feel good. Try: “Coared”, “The Swan” and “Fountain Park.”
I have covered a fairly large number of bands this month, but time prevents me from getting to them all. Don’t miss the two EPs from London Grammar (whose full length will be in the dropbox next month), Okkervil River, Islands and the new Dodo’s record. And if you have read this far, the best pop rock record of the month by far is by Pacific Air, which I’ve played the virtual cover off. I’ll post the playlist in a few days!
Have a great month and let’s be safe out there.
Here is this month’s list:
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action 
Ty Segall – Sleeper 
Uncle Ho – The Manufacture of Madness 
Trouble and Daughter – Alcohol and Nicotine 
Ballet – I Blame Society 
Chastity Belt – No Regerts 
Cheatahs – Extended Plays 
Pacific Air – Stop Talking 
Dirtbombs – Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! 
London Grammar – Metal And Dust 
London Grammar – Wasting My Young Years [‘2013]
1975 – The 1975 [Deluxe Edition] 
Three O’Clock – The Hidden World Revealed 
Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium 
Tommy Keene – Excitement at Your Feet 
Suburbs – Si Sauvage 
Arctic Monkeys – AM 
Babyshambles – Sequel to the Prequel [Deluxe Edition] 
Polyphonic Spree – Yes It’s True 
Rise Against – Long Forgotten Songs B-Sides and Covers 2000-2013