Okay, so I have been off the grid for a while. Hopefully you’ve missed me, because I certainly have missed the interaction with you, each and everyone of you. Really, I think about the Starbucks gang quite a bit after having moved my office. Same goes for the Canadian group whom I missed this Christmas. C&K&J if you are reading these notes, I miss you always when you are not around. Maybe one day you’ll explore the dropbox and find out why I really love this type of music. Nuff’ said.
I also know that I was remiss in getting dropboxes and these notes out for the past couple of months, but life sometimes gets in the way of the music. Not that I stopped listening to new tunes in any imaginable way, but I just wasn’t able to get the writing part underway. I thought about it on a number of occasions but wasn’t able to properly put pen to paper or word document on screen. The dropbox was also kind of quiet, so if you are reading this in early January, give me a shout and I’ll help you out with the stuff that you missed along the way. However, I’ve dropped a new drobox to coincide with these notes so you should take a peek, eh?
As this is generally the time of year when I take a look at the past year and reflect on what I spent most of my time listening to, I seem to have reached a new level of listening diversity. I definitely enjoyed a more diverse year in terms of albums I enjoyed, discovered some new areas of listening enjoyment that were off my radar in the past i.e. pop records, and discovered that pop-punk and punk rock as genres are in really good shape with excellent albums by the Menzingers, Fireworks, Copyrights, and Masked Intruder last year. Most surprising is my new found appreciation for electronic albums. However, don’t get carried away. I still can’t appreciate EDM, most industrial, goth, classical or Hip Hop. I’m still kind of old so its not likely I’m going to move that far from where I’ve started.
If you are new to the Tales From The Dropbox, I only put in albums that I like. So, there are no negative reviews. If I didn’t like a record or was lukewarm or bored, or I missed it along the way, then it’s not going to show up. I’ve got enough to do in my life without wasting energy on things that don’t bring enjoyment or the cash necessary to buy enjoyment! It is called work because its not fun. If work was fun then you could use the terms interchangeable – I’m not there yet. I do actually miss quite a few things because there were over 15,000 releases last year and there are only so many hours in the day. 24 hours I think, right? So if you don’t see it, you can point out what I’ve missed and lead me to discover a record that gives you joy. Truly exciting!
So, the next couple of issues of the Dropbox Notes is designed to accomplish a couple of important tasks:
1. Catch up on releases that I dropped but didn’t have time to give you a capsule review;
2. Give you my thoughts on my favorite records of last year;
3. Post the complete list of releases that made the dropbox;
4. Update you on the new releases in this month’s dropbox.
Whew! That’s a bunch of stuff. So, I’m going to break those tasks up into pieces and post as I go. So, there will be dribs and drabs for the next thirty days or so. Please bear with me. 2015 is already looking good for new music and we will get there….together! ….and hopefully all in one piece…
Finally, I hope that your 2015 is an exciting, prosperous, healthy, and successful year. After the major news events of the past couple of months including #icantbreathe, Ferguson, Ottawa parliament shooter, last week’s Paris attack on a newspaper, and last month’s Australian hostage situation, it, at least on the surface, appears that the degeneration of the human soul is accelerating. Hopefully these tragic events are only an anomaly.
Last year there was also some brilliant evidence of the compassionate and empathetic human spirit where people took it upon themselves to make the world a better and safer place. It is these stories of courage and compassion during difficult situations that give me hope that evil will not win even though these same “good” events don’t get the same press attention. And perhaps these quiet and individual efforts to erase the evil of murder committed in the name of religion will someday create a roar of positive life affirming goodness and we can begin again to enjoy life without the threat of darkness.
Looking forward, and back, at the same time. Happy New Year!
Now to the regular program…
First, you should take a look at what you might have missed in the second half of 2014. My last observations were in July, so here is the list of releases from the second half of 2014 that made the Dropbox:
August 07, 2014 Dropbox
Anti-Flag – A Document of Dissent 
Army Navy – The Wilderness Inside 
Courteeners – Concrete Love [Deluxe Version] 
Spoon – They Want My Soul 
Rise Against – The Black Market 
Nico Vega – Lead to Light 
The #1s – The Number Ones 
Ghost Wolves – Man, Woman, Beast 
Downtown Fiction – Losers & Kings 
Bleachers – Strange Desire 
Bishop Allen – Lights Out 
Big Deal – June Gloom [Deluxe Edition] 
Allison Weiss – Remember When 
Angus And Julia Stone – Angus And Julia Stone [Deluxe Version] 
Colony House – When I Was Younger 
Engineers – Always Returning 
Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt (Deluxe Edition) 
Grumbling Fur – Preternaturals 
Interrupters – The Interrupters 
J Mascis – Tied to a Star 
Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again 
Muffs – Whoop Dee Doo 
Stiff Little Fingers – Original Album Series [5CD]
Rentals – Lost In Alphaville 
Baby Ghosts – Maybe Ghosts 
Bats – Volume 1 [3CD] 
Dry The River – Alarms In The Heart 
Literature – Chorus 
Raglans – Raglans 
Real Friends – Maybe This Place Is the Same and We’re Just Changing 
Thousand Foot Krutch – Oxygen Inhale 
Dead Stars – Slumber 
Twin Atlantic – Great Divide (Deluxe Version) 
Ty Segall – Manipulator 
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Lose 
Allah-Las – Worship The Sun 
Dylan In The Movies – Sweet Rebel Thee 
Dirt Farmer – Free BBQ 
Darlings – Made Of Phantoms 
Arkells – High Noon 
Empire! Empire! I Was a Lonely Estate – You Will Eventually Be Forgotten 
Lucero – Live from Atlanta 
Courteeners – How Good It Was EP 
Neighbors – Failure 
Neighbors – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please 
Wax Witches – Center Of Your Universe 
Philip Selway – Weatherhouse 
Quietdrive – The Ghost of What You Used to Be 
Game Theory – Blaze of Glory [Expanded Edition] 
So, which of these releases should you have not missed? Well, the next Tales From The Dropbox Notes will cover the key releases that belong in everyone’s collection! (No…. the Foo Fighters record is not one of them. Sadly, not in the top releases of 2014. Solid record, but not one that I’m going to keep coming back to listen. Shelf life = 3 months, perhaps 6 months at best.)
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:
Long 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.”
Minneapolis’ 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.”
Adam 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.”
The 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.”
To 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.”
The 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.”
Lo-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.”
Montreal’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.”
More 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.
More 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.”
How 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.”
You 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.”
Surprises 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.
Toronto’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.
Last 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.
It 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.”
It 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.”
Craig 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.”
Previous 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:
Stiff Little Fingers – No Going Back 
War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream 
Afghan Whigs – Do to the Beast 
Bob Mould – Workbook 25 [2CD]
Horrors – Luminous 
La Dispute – Rooms of the House 
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days 
Paper Lions – Acquaintances EP 
Pup – Pup 
American Authors – Oh, What a Life 
Elbow – The Take Off and Landing of Everything 
Foster The People – Supermodel (Deluxe Edition) 
Fucked Up – Year of the Dragon 
Gaslight Anthem – 2014 45 Record Club [7”] 
Spain – Sargent Place 
Pixies – Indie Cindy 
Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams 
Menzingers – Rented World 
Amen Dunes – Love 
Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else 
Farewell Flight – I Was A Ghost 
Habibi – Habibi 
Walking Shapes – Taka Come On 
Swans – To Be Kind 
My Sad Captains – Best Of Times 
Future Islands – Singles 
Desert Noises – 27 Ways 
Dexters – Shimmer Gold 
Mr Little Jeans – Pocketknife 
Reptile Youth – Rivers That Run For A Sea That Is Gone 
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.”