I know this may come as a surprise to some of you…Tales From The Drop Box Episode 112 is finally here. I took a break. Okay, it was a little longer than planned. But I’m back. If you missed me, then I know this show fills a gap in your playlist and in your heart. If you didn’t miss me…well… that makes me sad. You should want new music. I read an article the other day that people stop looking for new music when the reach, on average , 28 years old! Can you freaking believe it! This show aims to stop musical paralysis. So, if you are stuck in a music rut, break out. Fight for your right to be free of commercial radio which turns your appreciation into mush. Do you really give a rats ass about the following list of the top selling songs in the United States this week:
Drake – In My Feelings
Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin – I Like It
Maroon 5 Featuring Cardi B – Girls Like You
Drake – Nice For What
Ella Mai – Boo’d Up
Juice WRLD – Lucid Dreams
Post Malone – Better Now
Ariana Grande – No Tears Left To Cry
Post Malone Featuring Ty Dolla $ign – Psycho
Drake – God’s Plan
WTF? People are actually spending real money on this crap? America is lost (but you knew that – see Donald J. Trump as Exhibit 1). I am fighting for the musical soul of the world as we are under attack by lying weasels who will try to convince us that this crap is good! By analogy, it is kind of like global warming and climate change – we all know that these climactic events are factual, present, and the science supports the factual foundation for climate change (what would NASA know) but there is always some ass hat (Go ahead – click the link you know you want to) trying to falsely claim the opposite. You know …it’s like weather….. Pop music is the same. There are numerous sycophants claiming the above radio friendly music is the best of the century because the money train evolves around the unbelievable excesses of truly mindless individuals producing disposable mindless crap. See again the above list as an exemplar. What is surprising is the true boot-licking by magazines such as Rolling Stone that try to stay relevant by pandering to this garbage. See this amazing list of pay to suck up listing “Crazy in Love,” Beyonce feat. Jay-Z as its No. 1 of the Top 100 Songs of the Century So Far. This magazine must die. Rolling Stone has sold out both its soul and its credibility. Don’t you worry Pitchfork – I noticed today that you also are going to devote entire sections to this stuff. I know it sells. That is so not the point.
Unbelievable. Fight for truth.
So, here is to starting a revolution both musically and politically – shake your ass and your mind will follow. Throw off the chains of musical paralysis, stop listening to radio, think for yourself. Choose life. Choose new music. Party your ass off…. (and don’t forget to check out the Pagan track as it will change your life!)
Here is what you’ll find in Episode #112:
Boytoy – “Mary Anne” (Night Leaf)
Johnnie Guilbert – “Afraid” (I Could Sleep Here, I Could Die Here)
The Third Sound – “Nine Miles Below” (All Tomorrow’s Shadows)
Iceage – “Hurrah” (Beyondless)
King Blank – “Killer In The Rain” (The Real Dirt plus Singles A + B Sides)
Little Junior – “Accolades” (Hi)
Mom Jeans – “Glamorous” (Puppy Love)
Parquet Courts – “Almost Had To Start A Fight/ In And Out Of Patience” (Wide Awake!)
Dance Gavin Dance – “Story of my Bros” (Artificial Selection)
State Champs – “Safe Haven” (Living Proof)
Pagan – “Imitate Me” (Black Wash)
Bodega – “How Did This Happen?” (Endless Scroll)
Flasher – “Pressure” (Constant Image)
Jay Reatard – “All Over Again” (Singles 06-07)
Bad Waitress – “Let’s Get Fucked Up” (Party Bangers Vol. 1 EP)
It’s new world now don’t discriminate everyone is equally a master and a slave . . . It’s not as glamorous as you thought it’d be it’s not as easy as everyone made it seem . . .
Well its Glastonbury weekend in the UK and as I write these notes (June 29, 2014) although I’m likely publishing them much later (and as evidenced by the date above, much later), and Metallica seems to have pulled of what many thought nigh impossible – a positive review for commercial heavy metal at a place full of largely commercial pop acts and old people. Really. Billy Bragg is still playing, as is today’s highlight Dolly Parton who follows last night’s appearance by 69 year old Brian Ferry alongside a number of very diverse but slightly older skewing alternative-indie-pop acts. So, how was the show? I noted that the first comment on the Guardian blog was this ( I’ve cleaned up the spelling a little bit):
Mr. Svejk – Sick[enin]ing to see all the media raving about a bunch of rich has-beens, must have been bunged free tickets judging by the sycophantic coverage of this year’s yuppyfest, £200 a pop for a mud and cow faeces bath, plus another few hundred spending and travel money, what a rip off
Perhaps, not all is right with the world of popular music at least as live shows go. However, I will also affirmatively state that there is very likely a salon in Los Angeles that will start offering an exclusive “mud and cow faeces bath” for $750.00 claiming that it will remove all of the wrinkles from your skin.
I preface all of the above comments with this observation: I would like to have the chance to visit and experience the festival – perhaps crowdfunding, eh?
So, what was good in music this past month or so? Well, quite a bit. A glance at the dropbox list shows at least one band played Glastonbury (Kasabian), and 48 other acts whom did not, but that is not to say that you won’t find something intriguing to play in the list. There are several almost assuredly characterized as unknown acts making the list, and consequently, I had trouble locating information. Rest assured, none of the information in these notes is fiction, it may just be a little thin. Some other observations: James Blunt makes the dropbox for the first time and possibly last, with a really catchy single, and it is squeezed between I Heart Sharks and the new Masked Intruder album. So, not your usual assortment of list makers.
As I insist every month, feel free to explore the dropbox. You might find something that you actually like rather than something you are being force fed by mass media marketers, commercial radio, and professional review magazines who coincidentally are full of advertising from the labels of bands they are reviewing. Tales From The Dropbox exists to fill a gap because these are not really reviews as there is no criticism provided at all. These capsules are merely introductions to music I actually like to listen to from a fairly wide spectrum of what could be considered the “rock genre.” After almost three years of putting these notes together, there are some obvious biases in my selections, which I hope I’ve pointed out along the way. I am positive that there are certain acts that you like everything they put out until that day arrives when you can no longer defend the purchase of the next record. For me, there are several of these points which I vividly recall: Here are the list of bands and the last album I purchased i.e. the point where the train stopped and I was no longer the all forgiving fan:
Rolling Stones – Some Girls (1978). In fairness, I probably really stopped purchasing Rolling Stones records in 1974 with the purchase of It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll which I consider their last really good record. Sure, Some Girls had a couple of great tracks, such as “Shattered” and “Beast of Burden” but at this point, I believed the band was largely phoning in their records and the danger of the past was non-existent.
Elvis Costello – Mighty Like a Rose (1991). Like the Rolling Stones, Elvis for me was overdone by the time Mighty Like A Rose was released. I had difficulty listening to Spike (1989) but at least I enjoyed a few songs. How anyone lasted through any of Elvis’ efforts after Mighty Like A Rose is beyond me. Quick, name one song that Elvis recorded after 1991 that you liked and can recall. You can’t. Don’t lie to yourself. It’s okay. Elvis was always a little old but really after the magnificence of the first five albums released between 1977 and 1980 (Get Happy!), he can be forgiven for some inconsistency (like most of the rest of the records he released during 80’s). However, once Elvis hit the 90’s, he was like the Rolling Stones – old and more interested in being an “Artist” rather than communicating with his audience. I know I was hugely disappointed by Spike, but Mighty Like A Rose took the bloom off the flower that was Elvis. Not a single track on this album can I recall. In fact, my disappointment was so huge, I stopped listening to Elvis altogether.
Paul Weller – Stanley Road (1995). You would think that I would hang in longer with the leader of one of my top three bands ever – The Jam – but even the modfather turned into an annoying folkie with a series of limp releases during the 90’s and early 2000’s. I know, the British music press continue to heap praise, but true fans have watched Weller end the Jam, suffer through the mostly forgettable Style Council (although there were a few worth moments) and then move on to his “solo” career which is only relevant because he is old. Stanley Road was a good record, but not as great as the readers of Q Magazine gave it, ranking it in 1998 as the 46th greatest album of all time. Can I name any of the songs on the record other than the title track, “Stanley Road”? Nope. Not a one. Anything memorable that I play constantly? Nope not a one. To be fair, recently, Weller has had a couple of moments of renewed inspiration, most notably Sonik Kicks (2012), but all that good will has gone away with his most recent release More Modern Classics which rounds up songs Weller thinks are “classics” from 2000 onward with a couple of new tracks and like the emperor has no clothes, the collection can best be described as underwhelming.
Kiss – Unmasked(1980). There are a number of reasons why I stopped listening to Kiss in 1980 and none of them have to do with this being the last album that original Kiss drummer Peter Chris was in the band and he didn’t even play on this record. Anton Fig did. The problem for me was that punk rock had revealed that Kiss were just pretenders at that point. The danger the band represented was limp, and after the 4 solo records which were thin in terms of songs (Ace’s record was easily the best), Kiss fans, myself included, who had survived all the punishment of being a Kiss fan, and who were rewarded by the acknowledgment of number of punk bands who like me, were inspired by Kiss to start bands (Replacements immediately come to mind), easily could point to all of the albums prior to the solo records as being great. Heck, I even survived the impact of “Beth” as a popular single. I always considered the song a joke – WTF??? So, after listening to the solo records, trying to find anything worth listening to on Dynasty(1979) which was slim – Kiss as a disco band. At that point I was desperate. Hopefully they would find the path towards greatness. What really sucked was that Dynasty was a commercial success and that spelled doom as the songs were really weak. Okay, I’m being nice. They were terrible. Little did I know what a pile of crap Unmasked would be at the time because now in hindsight, the songs on Dynasty are hit singles compared to the tragedy that is Unmasked. Absolutely worthless. Kiss had obviously believed their own hype and believed that their fan base could survive not only being unmasked, playing disco music, and kicking Perter Chris out of the band. Well, some of us felt stupid and betrayed. Finally, Gene and Paul – choosing not to play with Peter at your HOF induction? Are you kidding me? How do you sleep at night you hypocrites. It’s all about business and Ace and Peter’s contributions to your “business” cannot be stated more clearly: Kiss (1974), Hotter Than Hell (1974), Dressed to Kill (1975), Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977). Kiss – you suck.
So, where does this leave us now? Well, as I pointed out earlier – these notes are an introduction. That is, an opportunity to find music that fits with your passion. The dropbox is about finding things good to listen to and it doesn’t matter where they are in their career, if its good, its good and you’ll know it. The goal is to avoid the end – that point in a band’s career where they have overstayed their welcome and in your heart saying positive things about their new release is much the same as trying to make a fart small like a rose – impossible. So, you won’t see the new Weller record, and I don’t even know if the others are still making music, but as a fan I will always give the new record a try, hoping to regain the “thing” that made me a fan in the first place.
Finally, I have jumped around a bit in the notes this month to make sure that I hit some records that wouldn’t immediately catch your attention due to their unfamiliarity. I think you’ll find some winners all around this month.
Detroit’s, Fireworks on their third full length (Oh), Common Life have found the perfect blend of mature lyrical theme and pop punk to produce an album that breathes new life into a largely dying genre. Pop punk’s biggest problem was the acceptance by the masses of the sound and the lyrics dealing with teen viewpoints on life that grew tiresome after you reached the age of 25. No so with Fireworks. The band is not trapped by the genre form and the expansive sound on (Oh), Common Life is a game changer. Never will you experience a record where the big sing-a-long choruses fit so well with the fairly reflective and serious lyrics and the hooks…killer. I’ve played this album about fifty times since I found it and every spin I discover something new to enjoy. The real secret is that the second half of the album is actually better than the first half, but you will find immediacy in the first half and latency in the second. Comprende? Try: “The Hotbed Of Life,” “The Only Thing That Haunts This House Is Me,” and “Play “God Only Knows” At My Funeral.”
Another throwback of sorts, is Oslo Norway’s American Suitcase, who have also reached an apotheosis on Lighthours, their 5th album. From the beginning, American Suitcase has channeled the Byrds adopting the jangle guitar and harmonies, but on Lighthours, the songs have a new level of sophistication and reminded me of Game Theory in their approach – simple jangle pop with huge melodies. Teenage Fan Club also comes to mind as a good comparison for American Suitcase’s approach – the vocals are layered into the guitars so that the guitars shimmer adding a layer of consonance to the vocals and harmonies. I cannot think of another band still making this delicately crafted music, so enjoy it as we are unlikely to see much more in the future. And I for one, will be disappointed. Try” The Driver,” “Bright Holes,” and “Things About You.”
Parquet Courts new release is another great garage rock record with ample amounts of fuzz that makes for a great listening experience. Sure, there is the Velvet Underground/ Jonathan Richman vocal intonation but the guitar work is sonically several layers enhanced from 2012’s Light Up Gold and in some ways Sunbathing Animal reminds me of Television, particularly on a track like “Dear Ramona” which deftly plays homage to those bands and musicians. Sunbathing Animal, is more than the sum of its parts – each song fits perfectly with the others such that the assemblage connects to a unified whole. Angular and disjointed, rhythmic and hypnotic, the songs on Sunbathing Animal update the earliest proto-punk (I’m positive that they lifted directly from Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” on “What Color Is Blood.”) to a modernist take on punk now 35 years on and the results are fascinating. Try “Sunbathing Animal,” “Black And White” (Is that the B-52’s?) and “What Color Is Blood.”
If you’ve noticed lately a predominance of Australian bands in the dropbox, then you are not alone and not mistaken. There are some things that Australia does better than the U.S. and indie-pop is one of them. In a world full of electronic sounds, Saskwatch have ….wait for it…..a …horn section! Melbourne based, this nine piece on their second album, Nose Dive, have produced a melodic and stunningly brilliant throwback record, with touches of 60’s Motown and modern garage. I was hooked from the beginning – the songs are “soul heaven” particular the jazz inflected soul of vocalist Nkechi Anele whose warm tone will make this a favorite in you evening record selection. I was blown away by “Born to Break Your Heart,” which should be a worldwide hit. Can’t say enough good about this record really. Try “Born to Break Your Heart,” “You Don’t Have to Wait,” and “Hands.”
Further evidence of Tales From the Dropbox penchant for enjoying discriminating pop music is found in the simple melody and pure pop of James Blunt’s new Heart To Heart EP containing the pleasing 3:29 minutes of the single “Heart To Heart.” Admittedly, I am not a James Blunt fan – at all. Previous experience was forgettable as the melodramatic whining was not pleasant. However, for contemporary AOR pop, the Heart To Heart EP is fairly catchy, whimsical and sincere, and as such dropbox worthy. I’m not sure those are the qualities that made for the EP’s inclusion, but the EP is short, with 2 acoustic songs of a kind of folk pop, that exposes Blunt’s particular form of romantic balladry. So, in another dropbox first, I’ve only got one song for you to try, so try “Heart To Heart.”
Tigers Jaw’s new record, Charmer is a difficult record to analyze on a metaphysical and philosophical level. The Scranton PA band split with three of its members after deciding to take a new direction in 2013, but as all good pals, the departing members participated fully in the recording of Charmer, the band’s fourth album. What makes this all the more amazing, is that the duo who remain, keyboardist Brianna Collins and guitarist Ben Walsh, have managed to balance what must make for a difficult recording situation – giving some control over the recording process to old members who no longer have skin in the game. Charmer’s charm ( see how I did that there) derives from the interplay between old and new with Collins and vocalist Adam McIlwee trading vocals on the delectable track, “Hum.” And for much of Charmer it is exactly as the the band self-describes – Fleetwood Mac meets Brand New indie pop with a blend of old and new sounds comprising a collection of songs that struggle to break away from the sadness of a band imploding. Try: “Charmer,” “Hum,” and “Nervous Kids.”
Toronto’s Alvvays self-titled debut is another slice of reverb laden indie-pop with a bit of a twist as the band sprinkles its blend of twee-pop with early C86 scene markers producing an album with a sound in a similar manner but not tone of the Smiths. This “sound” is readily apparent on a song such as “Archie Marry Me.” Now that you’ve got the “sound” of Alvvays, try putting the delicate vocals of Cape Breton immigrant, Molly Rankin into the mix (she sounds nothing like Morrissey). (If you have been to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, then you know traveling to Toronto is like immigrating to a foreign country.) The songs are also awash in Jesus and Mary Chain reverb with sunny guitar runs breaking free from the fuzz – like sunshine emerging from clouds. Keyboard fills by another Cape Breton native, Kerri Maclellan, highlight the delicate nature of these songs brimming with life. Try ” Archie Marry Me,” “Adult Diversion,” and “Party Police.”
Another debut record hits the dropbox, with Brooklyn quartet Animal Years re-releasing its debut in a deluxe edition format (collecting several B-sides) in May of this year. If you look back, the original version of the album hit the dropbox. Released in September 2013, this album of indie rock with country flourishes was mostly recorded in Baltimore before vocalist and bandleader Mike McFadden moved to Brooklyn. The album, which deals primarily with transitions, heartache, loneliness and leaving, is a consistently good record full of atmospheric indie rockers all crooned by McFadden – you can smell the beer in the bar where Animal Years plays. I swear the songs on this record made me want to pick up a guitar and drive over to Old Towne Pub in Pasadena to play. What strikes me most upon listening is the pacing of this record. I know, odd thing to write about. However, the songs feel like the soundtrack to a road movie with each song a capsule on that journey. Try “Meet Me,” Let Go of Your Head,” and “Fear of Falling (B-Side).”
Defiantly dream pop, Philadelphia originating A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s fourth album Sea When Absent is the byproduct of change. ASDIG is essentially Ben Daniels and whomever else is available and wants to record, and consequently, each record although genred as dream pop does not simply follow the formula. Each ASDIG record adds an odd assortment of very divergent sounds which serves to break up the traditional dream pop formulation. Consequently, on Sea When Absent, these new sounds are compelling. The new lineup which adds Jen Goma is produces a huge vocal leap as her voice adds significant depth and feel to these shoegaze type pop songs. Try “Boys Turn Into Girls (Initiation Rites),” “Never Nothing (It’s Alright [It’s OK]),” and “The Things They Do to Me.”
It would be a contradiction to put the EP in the dropbox one month and then fail to include the full length the following month, so here you have Bad Suns full length debut Language and Perspective as the follow up to Transpose EP from last month. So, without having to refer back to those notes, Language and Perspective is Bad Suns doing their version of Bastille. The album mines the same electronic backed indie dance sounds as typified by Bastille‘s Bad Blood album, and Language and Perspective should find a home on stations that play records like this, which is practically every alternative radio station in the universe. I am confidant that once this album finds a place on radio that it will be overplayed, but for now, you should play it, say 30-40 times, so that you don’t have to play it again when it comes on radio. The hit is “Cardiac Arrest” but you know what, Language and Perspective has more than one good song, so the frequent spins will help you discover the quiet beauty of songs like “We Move Like the Ocean.” The album transports 3 of the 4 songs on the EP to the full length, but in context, they work to fill out the album nicely. Try” Pretend,” “Take My Love and Run,” and “Transpose.”
Alex G, real name Alex Giannascoli, from Philly, is the bedroom equivalent of Pavement.DSU sounds like the results of Stephen Malkmus recording Pavement albums in his basement. What is most interesting about this prolific 21 year old, is his apparently extensive familiarity with 90’s indie rock pioneers such as Elliot Smith and Guided By Voices all of which end up on DSU. Alex also has voice that is somewhat reminiscent of Alex Chilton which when spun through the mixer end up on DSU as a collection of very interesting experimental indie rock songs. Sure, there are several songs which are obvious derivatives from other artists, but that’s not a dis-qualifier to enjoyment – something new always came from something old and it is the smart artist that can dress it up so those lifts from others look new and fresh. The real question about acceptability as an artistic effort is whether the current artist under review has produced something equally charismatic and rewarding as the predecessor from which the sounds derive and in the case of Alex G, DSU, although sometimes uneven, is a very rewarding listen with a couple of real standout efforts – specifically the slacker anthem “Harvey.” Something unique is present in these sonic experiments and that is good enough for the dropbox. Try “Harvey,” “Black Bear,” and “Boy.”
Brooklyn quartet Bear In Heaven return with their 4th album on August 5, 2014 entitled Time Is Over One Day Old. Bear In Heaven’s music can be best described as electro-psychedelic which in lay terms is music you can dance to on an empty dance floor. i.e. adrift on the floor untethered to the ground by that troublesome gravity. At times a little techno feel to this record, but overall, an interesting take on textured driven indie rock with both the vocals and the music capable of producing floating. Try “If I Were to Lie,” “Memory Heart,” and “Way Off.”
Back to Australia for Cambridge’s new release Create. Destroy. Rebuild. Former lead singer of Sydney’s Heroes For Hire is back with a new band and a slightly new direction on this debut. Still pop-punk at its core, Create. Destroy. Rebuild is full of anthemic pop punk much in the same direction as Every Avenue, Hit The Lights, and The Maine – catchy, bouncy pop-punk that is not too serious lyrically and fun to play around the house very loud. Try “Head over Heels [Feat. Danny Stevens of The Audition],” “Create. Destroy. Rebuild,” and “All or Nothing.”
Sticking with the pop-punk part of the list, this time female fronted, New York’s Candy Hearts return with the immensely near perfect version of the genre in the form of All The Ways You Let Me Down. I guess I’m hedging a bit when I say near perfect. There are no observable flaws in any of the performances on this record. On All The Ways You Let Me Down, Candy Hearts’ vocalist Mariel Loveland sweet matter-of-fact vocals with this ear-gastic “twang” effectively tell the albums songs which are really stories of requited love and longing. There is something compelling about the tone of her vocals which are brought to the front of the mix. The melodies on all the songs big bold and bright so that you find yourself soon singing along. My only nag would be with the …. Ah heck. I don’t have any nags. A solid fun record that will keep you happily singing along. Try “I Miss You,” “The One To Get Me Out,” and “All The Ways You Let Me Down.”
By way of comparison to the Candy Hearts, this month also finds the male contender to the punk-pop genre crown in the dropbox. Masked Intruder’s second album M.I. carries on the inside joke with another album full of catchy pop-punk. Intruder Orange, Intruder Green, Intruder Red and Intruder Blue continue where they last left off with no let down in either song quality or style. Claiming to be from Madison Wisconsin, M.I. is 13 songs all sung and played in the style of Chixdiggit (hell, “The Most Beautiful Girl” intro sounds like “Chupacabra!”) which is a great thing! So, given my bias for this type of music, you will have to decide for yourself whether this mash-up of the Beach Boys meets the Ramones styled punk rock is worthy of your attention. For me, it all works. Try: “When I Get Out,” “Hey Girl,” and “Almost Like We’re Already in Love.” ( I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by this song – 50’s solid)
North Carolina garage rockers Reigning Sound are now on Merge Records and their latest release Shattered is a burner. Greg Cartwright (ex of Oblivians and The Compulsive Gamblers) orchestrates and sings on this latest Reigning Sound album blending psych-pop, garage, soul, country and guitar into a distinctive sound. I particularly like the soul influences and Cartwright’s delivery keeps the album fresh upon repeated listens. If you are a garage pop fan, then this is a great album. I will note that Shattered is a step up in sound with the normally predominant use of fuzz remarkably sparse and controlled making for a consistently great sounding record from beginning to end. Try “Never Coming Home,” “Falling Rain,” and “In My Dreams.”
I slipped the new Ty Segall single into the dropbox, because I’ve been on a bit of a Ty Segall jag lately. I am consistently fascinated by the amazing guitar work on each of his releases, the past several of which highlight the heavy metal influenced psych-garage style of music that he seems focused upon. This single, like the last several releases, offer Ty’s unique version of indie garage music. These two tracks “Feel” and “The Fakir” were released as a 7’’ on Drag City on May 20, 2014. “Feel” is electric and “The Fakir” is acoustic but you’ll get an idea of where Ty’s sonic approach is right now (could change but I’m not thinking so in the near future). If you can find it, pick up his last record Sleeper (2013) or the Live At Death By Audio 2012 (2013) releases I put in the dropbox last year.
A couple of punk albums made the dropbox this month. First up is Brooklyn’s Cerebral Ballzy who on their second full length Jaded & Faded have properly captured the perfect balance between 80’s punk rock and NYHC with this release. Jaded & Faded is also a sharp left turn from their debut album as it by incorporates a healthy amount of garage fuzz into the sonic mix. As such, the fuzz addition, which goes against the traditional punk grain, will also likely detract from the listening pleasure of punk purists whom expect punk rock to have a distinct sound. However, after several listens to this record, I find that the addition is welcome as it changes the dynamic of these songs – which are still short and sharp – into fully formed ideas with much more range than Cerebral Ballzy‘s first efforts. There is a reason why punk is a difficult genre to be successful – the form is guarded by purists who need to hear a certain sound and that prevents albums which try to expand the form from being adopted/ promoted by the traditional punk media (you know who you are). As should be obvious by now, great songs don’t need to follow the form. Try: “Better in Leather,” “Be Your Toy,” and “Off with Your Head.”
French pop-punk band Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! released their uniformly excellent sophomore album Pardon My French in April last year and now have released a Deluxe Edition of the album on June 17, 2014 which adds 3 unreleased tracks and an acoustic version of “Taking Chances.” Pardon My French was in the dropbox the first time, but for those of you who missed it, really give this album a second chance. There are only a couple of pop-punk records really worth listening to each year, and in 2013 this was definitely one of them. I like the metal core edges which break up the flow and add variety to these songs. However, conceding the obvious, for those of you who don’t like loud, perhaps give this album a pass. For those of you into something a little different, this is the goods. Try ” Taking Chances,” “I Am Nothing Like You,” and “Kids.”
Finnish rockers Damn Seagulls 5th album Let It Shine continues the Damn Seagulls exploration of their unusual rock variant – adding brass instruments to pop flavored rock. Let It Shine will make you feel all warm and fuzzy because I think that is the band’s goal – to try to worm each song into your heart. It should also be noted that all of these songs are designed for commercial radio in Finland and what a world place Finland must be if this can make it on pop radio. When was the last time you heard woodwind instruments on a rock record? Plus it is hard to resist any record which has a song named Paul Weller obviously named for the mod-father. Try “Let It Shine,” “Paul Weller,” and “Grateful.”
First of the not much about bands, are The Dukes who are apparently from France and have recorded a slab of garage rock in Los Angeles with Jamie Candiloro, mixed by Charles de Schutter, and mastered by Tamas. As a second album, Smoke Against The Beat, is a mixture of garage, pop-punk, and straight up rock n’ roll with big fat sing-a-long choruses’ ( I’m thinking a mix of The Monks, The Strokes, and early Mando Diao with a slice of Jet) that will have you singing along and wishing they were playing a small club near you. Maybe someday. Great rock record for your summer listening pleasure. Try “Just In Case,” “Daisy’s Eyes,” and “The Grey People.”
Well how about Kasabian’s latest effort 48:13, now that they have played a triumphant headlining show at Glastonbury? The most important yet unstated question is how the ^^3%$& are they so massive, playing for more than 200,000 people, and not on any radio in Los Angeles? Good question. Perhaps I can answer it – Kasabian play a British centric form of evolved Madchester derived form of dance pop that Americans have trouble relating to because we cannot dance or sing along with without looking completely idiotic. It is still difficult for me to conceptualize the Stone Roses as a dance band, but in England they are – in the form of Kasabian. Kasabian owes a debt to the Stone Roses ( there is not any debate about this), but if you listen to the hit single “Eez-Eh” you can hear a touch of Madness in those dance beats. To judge Kasabian as mere copyists would miss the point entirely. Kasabian have managed to find a way to capture the sound of movement – albeit that movement is the aftermath of the 90’s ecstasy culture. So, what you have on 48:13 is an amalgam of psychedelic influenced dance music comprising several excellent songs that will play well live – as evidenced by the massive crowd response to their shows. So, where do Kasabian stand now? On their 5th album, with a playing time of 48:13, hence the title, there is a little more variety in the delivery when compared with past efforts, and the instrumental interludes sprinkled throughout the record are important palate cleaners before you jump back into another frenzied dance moment. For most of Kasabian’s career (at least in my mind) I have always lumped them together with the Klaxons and Hard-Fi, but on 48:13 there is a distinct sonic break from those other two bands. After the first couple of tracks you are immediately aware that this is Kasabian effort to take their sound in new directions and most of these songs are successful. Decide for yourself. Try “Stevie,” “Eez-Eh,” and because I’ve included the Japanese version of the album, “Beanz.”
And because I mentioned the Klaxons, their latest, Love Frequency, the London three-piece have produced as close to an electro-nu-rave pop record as could be thought possible. If you play the Klaxons back to back with Kasabian, you can see how the early comparisons are no longer appropriate as Love Frequency amps up the psychedelic and drug references to produce a sort of space-synth-disco that is absolutely catchy but unrecognizable to earlier Klaxon efforts. For their third album in 10 years, the Klaxons are barely recognizable as the band that brought you Myths Of The Near Future. It is obvious that the Klaxons are headed to the dance clubs and the rock band from yesteryear is now only a memory. Not a bad thing – just different. Try “There Is No Other Time,” “Children Of The Sun,” “Invisible Forces.”
Speaking of throwbacks, Los Angeles 80’s alt rock throwback band, Kitten has produced a really good debut album. It helps that they have a really good singer in Chloe Chaidez who has a bit of Cindy Lauper mixed with Patty Donahue (Waitresses) in her vocal tone. Some reviewers will likely make the immediate Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow) comparison (age), but that would miss the mark. On its own, the music on Kitten’s debut, is more than just a singer with some capable players. Rather, the band has the chops to spice up the 80’s themed alternative pop ( think Missing Persons) into a much more modern endeavor so that the tired sounds of the 80’s that most would hope to avoid sound fresh. For those of us who grew up with 80’s radio, these sounds will all be very familiar yet, like a fine wine, the impact is subtle and the bouquet bold. So, sit back, put on your favorite John Hughes movie, slide on your headphones and listen to Kitten’s self titled debut – you will be amazed how it all seems to fit. Try “I’ll Be Your Girl,” “Sex Drive,” and “Kill the Light.”
Merge Records has reissued the Clientele’s debut album, Suburban Light which was originally released in late 2000. While not quite a proper album in the strict sense of the word, but rather a collection of several singles released in the 1990’s on a couple of different small labels – Pointy and Fierce Panda, Elefant and Johnny Kane, Suburban Light is a fantastic accomplishment. Originally intending their debut to be recorded in a proper studio, these songs were all recorded in much smaller and more intimate settings and yet these efforts produced a defining sound which comprises the songs on Suburban Light – warm reverb laden and complex all accomplished without the full production they were hoping with this initial release. This collection captures a feeling with a nod to the ChillsGalaxie 500 and the 60’s. This is an early morning or late evening after party record, and is simply magic – you know, an album where you ask yourself, how did they get this all together?. This version of Suburban Light reproduces “the album in its original European track listing, restored from original analog tapes to sound warmer and a bit less like a batch of demos. The bonus material includes a revelatory set of covers, rehearsals, B-sides, and three unreleased tunes.” I play this record on Sunday mornings as I quietly work alone in my office. Try “Joseph Cornell,” “I Had to Say This,” and “What Goes Up.”
Kevin Costner has a band (called Modern West) but the Kevin Costners are a band from Amsterdam by the looks of things. And a really good one at that. Recording on Excelsior Recordings based in the Netherlands, the Kevin Costner’s second album is a weirdly interesting form of garage rock n’ roll – simple chords and melodies (no fuzz) that is uniformly good, with some well-crafted choices of tribal beat rock. Tempos are slow, lyrics are in English, and the playing tight. Try “Pick Up the Parts,” “Lunatics,” and “Pretty Life.”
Bristol based indie four piece Flags return after a fairly lengthy hiatus with a new EP entitled Oil And Sparks, which is in some ways reminiscent of Bastille, but there is something edgier about the delivery, making it an excellent selection for the singles playlist. The lilting vocals and haunting melodies set Oil And Sparks songs apart from the usual electronic indie dance pop of others in the same ilk. Oil And Sparks is only an EP, but they’ve captured something special in just four songs. Just a suggestion though, start with track 2 “Once More With Balance,” then hit the rest in order 1, 3, 4. Try “Once More With Balance,” “Oil and Sparks,” “Restless Machine.”
Answering the question, Are You Thinking Of Me Every Minute Of Every Day? Sweden’s Lacrosse have apparently found that a mix of humor with mirth goes a long way to creating magic moments. This album is admittedly a bit long, but there is never boredom. What I liked best was that the quality of playing, at times sounding like TheArcade Fire/Broken Social Scene, which is complex, evocative and pretty darn catchy. This is not your typical indie rock album in that there is a lot of things going on with each song which suggested that Lacrosse‘s strength is songs staged as bizarre choir experiments. Some of the music on AYTOMEMOED hits you immediately – like the opener “Don’t Be Scared” – but repeated listens are amply rewarded as there is much to discover and like about this album. Try “Are You Thinking Of Me Every Minute Of Every Day,” “Don’t Be Scared,” and “Easter Island.”
Matt Pond quietly released a free gift for fans entitled Skeletons and Friends available on noisetrade.com for the downloading. As Matt puts it:
This album is a thank you. …
It’s an album of brightened corners and beautifully incomplete sentences. It’s the structure and skeleton of what’s to come. With help from the always-amazing Chris Hansen, the singing of Lauren Miller and Alanna Trees, and the speaking voices of Maggie Wray Crowell, April Votolato and Danielle Eaton.
Perhaps strangely, it’s mostly about hope. Sometimes the forces surrounding will set you adrift, amiss in the sea of music. This year, we’ve taken control of our navigation.
We were able to pull of[f] a successful Pledge campaign because we’re lucky enough to have people who support us, freeing us from having to rely on anyone other than our audience. That’s huge. (thank you)
We’re lucky enough to be playing shows across the country, supporting one of our previous albums, Emblems. And the feedback we’ve been getting is inspiring. I’m honestly thrilled to be back on stage. (thank you)
I know, from the larger kingdoms across the ocean to the minor kingdoms inside my mind, nothing is perfect. That right there is crux, the engine, the heart and the blood behind every word I write and sing. Because in the right light, a broken gear can be slightly stunning.
Our ability to navigate this imperfect world is bestowed upon us by you, the listener. You’re basically riding shotgun, guiding us to wherever we’re going next.
Thank you. A million times. Thank you.
So, what you have on Skeletons And Friends is another great collection of Matt Pond songs that are uniformly excellent. ( Come on – you know by now I’ve got a bias for certain artists) . What is surprising is that while I typically listen to what could be broadly defined as punk rock, there is something about certain types of indie pop that is equally pleasing. Perhaps it’s the vocal tone (“perhaps we should move to Canada”) or the witty and wry lyrics full of honesty…who knows. I will figure it out one day. There are some standouts on this release for me, so perhaps one day, I’ll get out to see Matt Pond play live. But for now try these diamonds: “Heaven’s Gate,” “You Can See Everything,” and “Austin, Texas. 10:27 PM.”
By now you’ve also either read a review or heard a track from or seen a video of the new Jack White album Lazaretto. It is in the dropbox isn’t it? So, it must be good right? Try “Lazaretto,” “Would You Fight For My Love?” and “Alone In My Home.”
Somehow the version of White Lung’s newest has all of the tracks in alphabetical order which I apparently didn’t notice as I listened to this album on shuffle. So who is White Lung? And what is Deep Fantasy? Well White Lung is an in your face female fronted punk rock band from Vancouver, BC where they have obviously picked up some of the long history and culture of excellent punk rock emanating from this very Canadian punk rock source (Come on now– DOA, Subhumans, UJ3RK5 (I’m in love with the song “Work For Police”) , Modernettes, K-Tels (Young Canadians), Pointed Sticks, Active Dog etc.) and now with the Japandroids, have everyone (okay just a few people) grooving on the Vancouver scene. Really, I saw at least one internet publication proclaim Vancouver as the next big thing (So it was Rolling Stone, eh?). So, is White Lung deserving of attention? Of course they are and for all the right reasons – short sharp punk rock played at scorching speed with an exceptional vocalist in the form of Mish Way who front a very competent group of musicians – Kenneth William (Guitar) Anne-Marie Vassiliou (drums) and Hether Fortune (Bass). Really, worth the check out. Try “Face Down,” “Lucky One” and “Drown with the Monster.”
Rival Sons are an anachronism. Formed in Long Beach and the product of that scene, Rival Sons play classic rock n’ roll in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Bad Company with such panache you would think that they invented the genre. This is all blues based rock with plenty of power chords and stadium ready anthems. The most interesting thing about the Rival Sons (at least to me) is that they are making inroads with a sound that is at best 40 years old and appear relentless in their pursuit of breathing new life into this genre. There is also some Doors influence all over Great Western Valkyrie particularly on tracks like “Good Luck” which honestly makes you want to strut around the house as this plays. Sonically as odd a record to come out in this genre in the past twenty years. Not normally in my musical wheelhouse, but they converted me. Try “Good Luck,” “Play the Fool,” “Rich and the Poor.”
Barcelona, Spain’s iSeo’s Red Gardens EP is an unusual selection for the dropbox much like the Rival Sons immediately above. iSeo is apparently Leire Villanueva and Rubén Rogero who play beautiful simple melodies comprising their acoustic pop. This is coffeehouse stuff, but Leire’s vocals are captivating hence its inclusion. Catch a glimpse of greatness here: Stop The World. Try : “Stop The World,” “Barcelona” and “Am I Losing My Mind?
Before I forget, Happy CANADA Day to my Canadian friends and family, and Happy 4th of July to my American friends and family. I have much to be thankful. Well, I think I’ve covered enough territory for now, so until I either update these notes, or publish a new Tales From The Dropbox, here is this month’s list (I know there are only 49 – I apparently have lost the ability to count):
American Suitcase – Lighthours 
Fireworks – (Oh), Common Life 
Tigers Jaw – Charmer 
Alvvays – Alvvays 
Animal Years – Sun Will Rise [Deluxe Edition] 
A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent 
Bad Suns – Language and Perspective 
Alex G – DSU 
Bear in Heaven – Time Is Over One Day Old 
Cambridge – Create. Destroy. Rebuild 
Candy Hearts – All The Ways You Let Me Down 
Cerebral Ballzy – Jaded and Faded 
Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! – Pardon My French (Deluxe Edition) 
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.
As promised last month, September delivered great new music and October promises more of the same. Hopefully some of the music from this month’s dropbox will inform the soundtrack to your fall. If you take a quick browse through the list you’ll find there is quite a balance of genres this month, so everyone should find something that meets their individual needs. Whereas last month was filled with almost entirely of new releases, this month some of the highlights are a couple of reissues. As always, if you missed something or are looking for something, please feel free to drop me a note, and I’ll try to help you out. So, I am starting with the reissues, because they are rather special, albeit for completely different reasons.
Also as a complete aside: If you are a resident of San Marino or know someone in San Marino who votes, then either vote or have them vote for: SHELLEY RYAN on November 5 for SAN MARINO SCHOOL BOARD
When Nirvana released In Utero in 1993 there was not a more popular band anywhere on the planet. Period. I was teaching at San Gabriel High School and recall vividly the day that In Utero arrived and as I played the album for the first time. CD’s were just starting to make major inroads in replacing records, but I was still caught in between and as I stared at the cover while the album played, I thought that Nirvana had finally made an album that captured the band in its freshest and rawest state – melodic and very aggressive and, without the overly produced sheen of big record company all over the songs. “Rape Me” stood out as the clearest form of rebellion and captured perfectly what was being played out in the press – the battle lines being drawn between massive popularity and the band’s desire to be what they believed they were – a small band playing for friends in small clubs. Recall that it was only three years earlier that they were playing really small clubs, such as The Town Pump in Vancouver BC (March 12, 1990), and at that time the northwest was all about the punk rock. For a band who had arisen from that scene the sellout stink probably was overwhelming. Nevermind was never a Nirvana record. That is, Nirvana had lost control of the production and in the process of being packaged into “radio friendly unit shifters” became disenchanted with that loss of control and the fun of being in a band. These facts are borne out by the release of In Utero – which is as diverse a record as one will find by a band after producing one of the biggest selling records of a decade. Alternating between soft, introspective (“Dumb”) to aggressive (“Very Ape”) and parts in between, In Utero may be the achievement of every band’s ultimate desire – finding the perfect balance between commercial and extreme. For me, In Utero represents the band balancing its self on the razor’s edge, both lyrically and musically, and for that brief moment roughly achieving perfection. Sure, there are a few moments on the record that somehow don’t quite achieve the same level as “Rape Me”, “All Apologies”, “Heart Shaped Box” “Dumb” and “Pennyroyal Tea” but how could they? This Super Deluxe Box Set includes the “Live and Loud” show from Seattle’s Pier 48 as well as a number of B-sides and rarities from the period, including a couple of excellent demos, the most notable being Dave Grohl’s “Marigold.” In this case, Try: them all.
The Mountain Goats 10th anniversary reissue of 2003’s All Hail West Texas is also remarkably excellent but for different reason’s than Nirvana. John Darnielle started Mountain Goats in 1991 and most of you will have never heard of the band. This is a bedroom record, and from the opening track “The Best Death Metal Band in West Texas” you are transported into another world. It is a stark, sparse and very lonely record and these songs are reflective of a specific period in Darnielle’s life. The album was recorded on a boom box and almost all of the songs were recorded within hours of being written and captured in one or two takes. This process was necessary, according to Darnielle, because of his limited attention span lasting exactly one day for each song. Simple melodies make for complex emotion as these songs are raw. Darnielle succeeds in capturing dreams delayed or rejected as well as the excitement inherent in a loving relationship. These themes are all explored though the people introduced to the listener in each song. Although the cover indicates that the album contains “fourteen songs about seven people, two houses, a motorcycle, and a locked treatment facility for adolescent boys” the looseness of the concept is what actually creates the magic – warmth radiates all over this record. Try “Jenny,” “Balance,” and without a doubt, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”
Although the Irish rockers The Boomtown Rats were major stars in Canada and the other European colonies, they were relegated to one hit wonders in the United States. For a brief moment in time the Boomtown Rats looked like they would break big in America with “I Don’t Like Mondays” a song about the Cleveland Elementary School shooting which took place on January 29, 1979, in San Diego, California. 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer who lived in a house across the street from the school, was tried and plead guilty as an adult of killing the principal and a custodian as well as injuring eight children and a police officer. During the shooting, a reporter telephoned homes near the school looking for information and in so doing actually reached Brenda Ann who admitted that she was the one doing the shooting. When asked why she was doing what she was doing, she was reported to have stated: “Because I don’t like Mondays.”
However, to dismiss the Rats as one hit wonders is to give short shrift to one of the best live acts of the time. The Rats initially played an upbeat proto-type punk best exemplified on Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats by the inclusion of “Mary of the 4th Form” “Like Clockwork” and She’s So Modern.” Over time, the Rats evolved into a reggae influenced rock act typified on this collection by “Banana Republic” and “Diamond Smiles.” Most notably, Sir Robert Geldof (yes, that is the knighted title) singer and one time journalist, is the mastermind (with Ultravox’s Midge Ure) behind Band Aid – the charity effort to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia who, in 1984, released the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas? Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats is a compilation of the 2005 re-mastered tracks, but for those of you whom have not experienced the Rats, this album is a great introduction. Of note, this collection is being released in advance of the Rats announcing that they have reformed to play a series of live shows after a 10 year absence.
A couple of other interesting facts. There is nothing record companies like more than reissuing the same material repeatedly in several different variants. Like Elvis Costello and The Who – two bands who are the acknowledged kings of the repackage and reissue, Back to Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits represents the fifth greatest hits album by this Irish band and perhaps surprisingly, upon release earlier this month charted at number 35 in the Irish charts (Virgin EMI, September 9, 2013) There are also two new tracks (“The Boomtown Rats” and “Back To Boomtown”) recorded for the collection with the remaining 14 tracks being the Boomtown Rats’ best known works. For me, those tracks are “She So Modern,” “Looking After No. 1,” and “Rat Trap.”
Kings of Leon’s latest, Mechanical Bull is, in part, a return to form following the underwhelming performance of their previous outing 2010’s Come Around Sundown. That album likely left many fans of KOL confused as it came after the massive success of 2008’s Only By Night and the two massive radio hits from that record: “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire.” Come Around Sundown was released on the heels of relentless touring and inter-family/band squabbles as well as the well-documented alcohol abuse by Caleb Followill. It seemed at that time, like many a band whose flame had burned far too bright, that the flame was be extinguished. Not so fast. Mechanical Bull (which coincidentally as I write this entry is a UK Number 1 album) is not a reissue of Only By Night and the Lynyrd Skynyrd meets U2 riffs on that album. More aptly, Mechanical Bull is a return to the days of the bands earliest success found on their 2003 debut, Youth & Young Manhood and 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak. Look, you were never going to experience on any Kings of Leon record the most awesomely written lyrics nor were you ever going to see a true return to the type of songs found on Youth & Young Manhood, but Mechanical Bull strikes a happy balance between old and new and for that reason, this is a fairly enjoyable record. Sure, there is the record company required hit song “Supersoaker” stuffed at the front, but if you dig a little deeper, the material is a little stronger, particularly, the bonus track “ Work On Me” which is a workmanlike Kings of Leon jam that shows what was missing on Come Around Sundown – restraint. This is refreshing for a band who has become the record company directed pimp for every nuanced attempt to reach mass commercial appeal a la dressing them up like pop stars. I expect that at some point, the Followills will figure out, like Nirvana, their In Utero moment, and in fairness, Mechanical Bull is certainly not that type of moment. However, it is a great start on that journey. For a band surviving superstardom – Kings of Leon deliver a restrained record to begin the healing process. The fans and the press might not like the whole thing, but I bet the band does. Try “Work on Me,” “Wait For Me,” and “Comeback Story.”
Parquet Courts are back with a couple of gap records prior to their next full length. As you may recall, I wrote extensively about their last record, the brilliant Light Up Gold from last year. On these two releases, Parquet Courts play their Velvet Underground meets the Replacements sound at full speed, which is not a departure in any manner from the sound of Light Up Gold. Go back and compare “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now” with Light Up Gold’s “Master of My Craft” and you’ll see precisely what I mean. Just so we are clear – from my perspective it is perfectly acceptable not to screw with a sound that works for a band and is consistent with their personality.. Far too many bands alter their sound just to alter the sound – hoping to “grow” as a band or achieve some modicum of success by fitting into a sound/genre that is popular. Recall the mass appeal of autotune? However, some bands you always knew what to expect and that made them perfect – e.g. the Buzzcocks, D.O.A., Dead Kennedys, Husker Du and the Replacements. Parquet Courts can one day be mentioned in the same breath if they continue putting out music like that found on Tally All The Things You Broke EP (which comes out October 8, 2013) and the Borrowed Time 7″ single.
You can imagine this work played live – 4 guys just bashing it out. I would pay $$$ to see that. Try: “Borrowed Time,” “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now,” and the lengthy “The More It Works.”
I have also previously covered Kathleen Hanna’s work with Bikini Kill in earlier editions of Tales From The Dropbox. The Julie Ruin, is Hanna’s latest project and continues, in some measure, where her previous bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, left off.
However, do not be misled. On their debut, Run Fast, the Julie Ruin sound is, like the B-52’s, dance rock with Kenny Melman providing a nice counterpoint for Hanna’s vocal styling’s (which are very raw to say the least). Currently residing and recording in Brooklyn, the band comprised of Carmine Covelli (the Tender Moments), Sara Landeau, Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox (The Feebles, The Frumpies,Star Sign Scorpio, as well as Bikini Kill) , and Kenny Mellman (Kiki and Herb) create angular dance rock that without too much trouble reminds me of early B-52’s but that label should not narrow your view of the record which is remarkable exciting and catchy. It is a very safe bet to say that Run Fast will very likely end up near the top of many year end best of 2013 lists this year – and for very good reason. Try “Kids in NY,” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Girls Like Us.”
Brooklyn’s American Authors, all dropouts from the Berklee School of Music, have kick-started their career with their self-titled debut. Nothing challenging on this EP but the songs all hit the sweet spot for alternative music as evidenced by “Best Day of My Life’s” inclusion in a Lowe’s Home Improvement store commercial. As major labels, in this case Island Records, fight to have any relevance in the marketplace, the new outlet for music is not radio anymore but instant commercialization through advertising. Although the American Authors EP is gaining some regional airplay in the New York, Boston and Chicago markets, Islands marinating efforts are directed primarily to exposing American Authors via television advertising, much like X Factor and American Idol which are just 2 hour length commercials. That is, the few major labels which are willing to even venture into the rock/alternative genre are doing so in a very limited and targeted manner, and releasing EPs and singles only if they can ensure an immediate revenue stream. While this new model will in all likelihood have only limited success, the touring that American Authors has already done, most recently on the Lollapalooza tour, should help their survival to a full length. Oh, what about the music? Take this as completely positive, as after all it is in the dropbox. You will like American Authors if you like sugary commercial alternative music that is very well written. Hopefully future releases will demonstrate some willingness by American Authors to try to expand the formula a bit. Still, it is difficult to not like the band or their music as each song on American Authors is built for maximum alt rock catchiness. Try “Best Day of My Life,” “Believer,” and “Home.”
The British-American rock band Hey! Hello on their self-titled debut.
A lengthy aside follows. So if you don’t want to read a minor, as compared with major, rant skip the next couple of paragraphs.
Aside Number 1. That’s two releases in a row by bands or their labels that are too freaking lazy to title their record with something other than with the band name. There is a reason why bands should actually title their records. It makes it easier to collect everything by the band and keep songs organized. Imagine the iTunes confusion with a band who repeats the self titled album concept for several albums. A prime example, is Peter Gabriel whose first 4 records were all called Peter Gabriel . Creating some desperation with the crappy album titles, some Gabriel fans left trying try to describe what album a particular track was found have retitled the albums based upon the cover art, now naming them in order of release as: Car, Scratch, Melt, and Security. The U.S. release of the 4th album actually entitled Security but not for the rest of the world. Rather than force a band to actually try coming up with a name, these bands should default to the acceptable lazy default naming convention: naming the record after the title of the song found on side one track one. By way of example, the four Peter Gabriel records would now be called (in order): Moribund the Burgermeister, On the Air, Intruder, and The Rhythm of the Heat.
Aside to Aside Number 1: Don’t even get me started on the artists who are too lazy to even come up with titles for the songs on their records. Darn you Buckethead!!!
Aside Number 1, continued: Why are bands who are making fairly creative music unable to actually think of a #$^%# interesting title for their record? This has to be some major label marketing ploy. It must. See a recent prime example of this marketing phenomenon where MGMT’s whose new record, their 3rd, is awesomely titled, you guessed it MGMT. Or how about Blitzen Trapper whose 7th record, and latest, is entitled VII? Does repetition really work to get potential purchasers to actually to buy the record? I have no idea, but it is really frustrating and tiring. So those of you who produce the music or work at labels that are reading this blog – stop that crap now. Perhaps we can start a revolution.
Whew…..anyway, Hey! Hello was formed by New York based singer Victoria Liedtke and British singer-songwriter, Ginger Wildheart. Their debut is a stunning and powerful rock record full of riff heavy, hook laden, and thunderous rock music that magnificently updates the sound of the 70’s act, The Sweet, best known for the two classic hits “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox on the Run.” “Swimwear” actually sounds exactly like The Sweet’s “Little Willy.” I loved this record. Try “Black Valentine, ”“How I Survived The Punk Wars,” and “Burn The Rule Book (Fuck It).”
So, perhaps I should deal with the MGMT record, since I slagged the title previously in this post. Despite what you have possibly read in far more popular publications than Tales From The Dropbox, on MGMT,MGMT continues the sonic explorations of a band whom have consciously tried not to make the record that made their bones, which unfortunately for MGMT was their debut. History has shown where a debut record is so accepted by the masses (e.g. Green Day’s “Dookie”) that it cripples the artist as their record label is unwilling to commit to anything but to a retread of the sound that made that debut record a hit. This may seem contrary to my thoughts expressed earlier about artists who change their sound for the sake of change, but MGMT has stayed true to its own thought process and artistic belief about the direction of their music releases, and have done so within the context and constraints imposed by being an artist on a major label record. So, to give credit where. as here, it is fully due, the record company, in this case, Columbia, has permitted the duo to (a) release a record that is not highly commercial, and which will not sell millions of records, and (b) extends the vision expressed on their last noncommercial record, 2010’s psych rock leaning Congratulations. Although the ideas on Congratulations were not fully formed the purpose of that record was clear: it was designed to distance MGMT the artists from a debut album that changed modern alternative rock. 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, with its three ubiquitous singles “Time to Pretend”, “Kids” and “Electric Feel” was incapable of repetition. So, MGMT didn’t attempt the retread.
Where do we stand now? MGMT on MGMT is essentially asking the listener to evaluate the release as a debut. The duo, consisting of Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden ( with some help) find themselves delving full throttle into the third variant of the new psychedelic revival (along with other similar travelers such as Tame Impala and Pond), with trance-like elements creating sonic tapestries reminiscent somewhat of the 90’s shoegaze scene. Released on September 17, the album will take some time for the listener to get into, but I found the journey generally quite pleasing. However, if you are looking for the MGMT singles, stop looking. There are none. This is an album as entirely conceived by a band committed to change and the resulting sonic explorations are worth the effort to look past, MGMT‘s past. Try” Introspection,” “Cool Song No. 2,” and “I Love You Too, Death.”
Earlier this year, I told you about the reissue of Blitzen Trapper’s amazing first record which after 10 years, was and is still an exciting listening experience. Seven albums later, Blitzen Trapper is still figuring itself out. And that is acceptable to me having followed their progression, because VII expands their indie-folk with country tinges into new areas with some terrific up results. VII is a sonically pleasing record with a dynamic range that makes the space between the instruments a powerful force into itself. It is difficult to describe the feeling you experience when you are listening to a record that just sounds good and you feel the recording. The gospel revival experience of “Shine On” bumps up against the beautiful country ballad “Ever Loved Once” which is one of the strongest songs on VII and perhaps in Blitzen Trapper‘s entire catalog. The harmonies and banjo (yes, banjo) play off and highlight each other, and the result is an instant classic. Eric Earley’s crisp vocals driving the record and the space created is very effective in creating warmth to a somewhat staccato delivery.. Try” Ever Loved Once,” the country influenced “Don’t Be A Stranger,” and “Shine On.”
As promised last month, the dropbox finds the U.K. equivalent of the XX in the form of electronic art rockers, London Grammar, with their debut album entitled If You Wait. This album and band is already massively popular record in Europe having spawned three hit singles (all included on If You Wait) prior to the album’s release. London Grammar‘s form of chamber pop is carried by the beautiful and powerful vocals of Hannah Reid. The three piece, comprised of Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman have already played several festivals, and this record transports the listener to a sonic soundscape from the opening notes of “Hey Now” through If You Wait‘s last track. Hannah sings with strong emotion over the mostly electro-pop tracks. The single, “Wasting My Young Years” will find its way on to may best of 2013 pop collections, and, similar to the Savages debut from earlier this year, If You Wait is amongst the best records of 2013. No surprise that London Grammar has not found its way to the U.S., but hopefully some station will pick it up, as the record was only released two weeks ago. I’ve found that KROQ takes about a year to discover new music, so there is a chance that KROQ or 987 FM will add the song and then overplay it. Try” Wasting My Young Years,” Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me,” and “Metal and Dust.”
As I’ve got regular work to attend to at this time, I’ll update this post as I get a chance, because there is gold in them there hills!
American Authors – American Authors 
Balance And Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing 
Bastille – Bad Blood 
Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self Preservation Society 
Underground Youth – The Perfect Enemy For God