Sounds – September 20, 2018

Sounds – September 20, 2018

Chromeo – ‘Head Over Heels’ 
THE GOOD: Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo comes back with a slick, star-studded fifth.
THE BAD: Progression? Hardly. Reliability? Hell yes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These guys have a formula and stick to it. Chromeo has always been big into synth-heavy retro funk — ’80s throwbacks recalling Prince’s Minneapolis heyday, Rick James and a dash of Michael Jackson for the mall crowd. (Remember when kids hung out at the mall?)
But is it all genuine? Does that matter? Once the beats, basslines and goofy lyrics grab you, it’s all about switching off the brain, shutting up and dancing. Sure, tracks such as “Bad Decision” and “Room Service” may be shallow, but they’re also a lot of fun. And this time, the guys have vocalists including French Montana, the Dream and DRAM join the party. Legendary producers Raphael Saadiq (’80s) and Rodney Jenkins (’90s) also lend a hand or, should I say, groove.
Don’t over-think these jams, and “Head Over Heels” totally works. Totally.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Mobley — ‘Fresh Lies, Volume 1’
THE GOOD: Austin, Texas singer/songwriter/producer Mobley unleashes an ambitious project via “Fresh Lies, Volume 1.”
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Notice the “Volume 1” in the title. Mobley describes the work NOT as an album but as part of an ongoing “song cycle.” “Fresh Lies” will continue for an indefinite amount of time as the man continues to explore the central theme of his relationship (and the relationship of his ancestors and family) with our country at large.
On “Volume 1,” Mobley uses romantic/relationship tropes to describe the bigger picture. Musically, it’s a tight mix of soul and the electronic, with cool, catchy jams riding seamless beats and basslines while synths and harmonies fill in the gaps above. All of it creates a rich tapestry of indie pop/rock.
Mobley walks that fine line between the mainstream and the underground while never sounding contrived. Recalling everything from Gnarls Barkley to Mark Ronson to TV on the Radio, the music pushes forward and leaves us craving future volumes.
BUY IT?: Why not?

Gruff Rhys — ‘Babelsberg’
THE GOOD: Welsh singer/songwriter and former Super Furry Animals (has the group actually broken up?) frontman Gruff Rhys returns with an incendiary fifth solo effort.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The man has flirted with everything from straight indie rock to synth pop, his accomplished and fetching melodies shining through it all. “Babelsberg” continues that tradition, placing Rhys’ tunes in traditional pop/rock arrangements from circa 1969. There’s plenty of sweeping strings and regal horns amongst the tasteful guitars and steady, mid-tempo backbeats. Female back-up vocals add a graceful touch now and then, and opening cut “Frontier Man” even boasts a bit of Nashville country polish.
It all balances nicely against Rhys’ politically charged lyrics. The loose concept of “Babelsberg” is the man’s observations of a divided United States. Rhys peers from the outside and sees our “Drones in the City” and “Negative Vibes.” The messages sneak up from behind amid all the usual pleasantries. A cartoon Donald Trump even blends into the back cover artwork.
BUY IT?: I would.

Sounds – September 13, 2018

Sounds – September 13, 2018

SIREN SONGS FRANKIE COSMOS — ‘Vessel’
THE GOOD: Indie singer/songwriter and former Porches bassist Greta Kline (daughter of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) releases her third album as Frankie Cosmos.
THE BAD: “Vessel” feels a bit scattershot in spots; Kline is a better poet than pop singer. You get 18 tracks in about 34 minutes, some no longer than a single verse. Just go with it.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Kline can make the mundane deeply emotional and intriguing. Her voice, not often rising above a sort of purring coo, also gives the record a sense of intimacy. We peek at her innermost feelings even when the band is bashing away in the background. Her words also hail from urban settings, so that tiny voice probably can cut through the sounds of a speeding subway, too.
The woman can either be playful or deadly serious but never off-putting. “Vessel” often feels like you’re just hanging out at Kline’s apartment as she tells you about her day. That’s the charm of it all.
BUY IT?: Yes.

DEAR ROUGE — ‘Phases’ 
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic duo Dear Rouge (husband-and-wife team Drew and Danielle McTaggart) dodges the sophomore slump on “Phases.”
THE BAD: Enjoyable? Yes. But also “nothing NEW to see here.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Phases” is pretty formulaic. We get 10 slices of electronic-leaning indie pop with just enough guitar muscle to satisfy the “rock” people. Danielle McTaggart’s vocals guide the soaring hooks above the even-paced din below. Most of the record is “up” with a couple of token slower bits. Tracks such as “Live through the Night” and “Stolen Days” are catchy and driven enough to liven up your morning run or the side stage at whatever random music festival you choose.
It’s hard to find fault with this stuff other than the fact we’ve been down this road many times before, and yeah, we’ll go down it many more times in the future. Probably on the NEXT Dear Rouge album. Simply adjust your expectations accordingly and enjoy the ride.
BUY IT?: Your call.

MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER — ‘Bon Voyage’
THE GOOD: French musician Melody Prochet finally releases her second album as Melody’s Echo Chamber.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been six long years since MEC’s self-titled debut (produced by Prochet’s boyfriend at the time, Kevin Parker of Tame Impala). Since then, the pair broke up, and Prochet suffered a near-fatal accident that pushed back the release of “Bon Voyage” for over a year.
Under those circumstances, you think the woman would play it safe musically. NOPE. The new album is wildly experimental, difficult to categorize and densely packed with a myriad of varying sounds. Singing in multiple languages and embracing more than a few eras, “Bon Voyage” attempts ALL things dreamy, flirtatious and infectious, and more often than not, it succeeds.
Bouncing amongst Deerhoof’s noisy melodic tendencies, Blonde Redhead’s multi-cultural peculiarities, and the classic charms of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Prochet touches upon everything from sunshine pop to garage rock to psychedelic freak-outs (often within the same song). You’ll uncover something new every time you play this record.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – September 6, 2018

Sounds – September 6, 2018

ARCTIC MONKEYS — ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’ 
THE GOOD: English indie rock mainstay Arctic Monkeys makes a radical shift on its sixth.
THE BAD: Nothing bad, but “Tranquility Base” is sure to be polarizing among long-time fans.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Musically, the record is closer to frontman Alex Turner’s side project, Last Shadow Puppets, than any previous Arctic Monkeys set. Comparisons to both David Bowie and Serge Gainsbourg are warranted, with the album a heady mix of psychedelic rock, glam, lounge, jazz and chilly dance beats. Guitars aren’t nearly as important this time; the rhythms, switched-on keyboards and piano dominate the proceedings.
Lyrically, Turner goes the sci-fi route, creating a fictional world of recreation and escapism on either our own moon or some distant planet. The guy suffered a period of writer’s block and had to do SOMETHING different. Sending us off planet Earth was the inspired choice. Combine these fits of fancy with the bold new musical direction and Arctic Monkeys challenge us at every turn. Shockingly, they pull it off.
BUY IT?: Yes.

JOHNNY MARR — ‘Call the Comet’
THE GOOD: Ex-Smiths guitarist (not to mention former member of Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and the Pretenders) Johnny Marr offers his third solo record.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Marr is not the strongest frontman, but having played alongside Morrissey, Bernard Sumner and Chrissie Hynde, he never had to be. However, he’s now a SOLO act. One would think the man’s understated vocals would be detrimental, but that hasn’t been the case. The breath and scope of “Comet” also proves Marr is gaining confidence in his role out front and center.
The record’s loose concept asks the question, “What would life be like in a place where everyone is kinder and more forward-thinking?” Like those of his contemporaries, Marr’s lyrics reflect the crazy political climate here in the United States and his native United Kingdom. Musically, we’re given a healthy dose of Marr’s magnificent melodies alongside his powerful, but never flashy, playing. At this point, the man could easily rest on his laurels. He refuses.
BUY IT?: Sure.

STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS — ‘Sparkle Hard’ 
THE GOOD: Indie rock legend and ex-Pavement mastermind Stephen Malkmus gives us his seventh with current band the Jicks.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Pavement was such an influential force throughout the ’90s, Malkmus probably will never fully escape that band’s shadow, even despite the fact that the Jicks has made music for twice as long. Thankfully, that doesn’t prevent the man from giving us a good reason to show up. He still has something relevant to offer two decades after the last Pavement record.
“Sparkle Hard” is lyrically timely, with Malkmus getting downright confrontational with some current events. Musically, it’s a mixed bag covering everything from raging guitar jams (“Bike Lane”) to ragged power pop (“Shiggy”). “Refute” swings by a smoky honky-tonk where Malkmus does a loose duet with fellow indie icon Kim Gordon. “Difficulties/Let Them Eat Vowels” closes the session with some weird prog vibes. Malkmus surprises us around every turn, his music never falling into long-term complacency or malaise.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – August 30, 2018

Sounds – August 30, 2018

LET’S EAT GRANDMA — ‘I’m All Ears’
THE GOOD: British female teenage synth pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma dodges the sophomore slump on the sweeping “I’m All Ears.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have been friends since nursery school. And at the age most teenagers are thinking about acquiring that all-precious driver’s license, the pair were releasing their first critically acclaimed album, 2016’s “I, Gemini.”
One could say “I’m All Ears” is more mature, but that might do the record a disservice. Change happens quickly during those late teenage years. So now that the ladies are 19, they can’t help but have a more grown-up outlook. Check out the harried swagger carrying “Snakes and Ladders.”
On the whole though, “Ears” remains a stirring, synth-heavy album, moving from pulsating poppers such as “Falling into Me” to more ambitious anthems, such as “Cool & Collected,” seamlessly. It’s all very driven, catchy and, most importantly, English. LEG remain kids too cool to crossover, the American mainstream be damned!
BUY IT?: Yes.

THIEVERY CORPORATION — ‘Treasures from the Temple’
THE GOOD: Washington, D.C., electronic duo Thievery Corporation scratches out a cool companion piece to last year’s “The Temple of I & I.”
THE BAD: ALL of the material isn’t necessarily NEW, but that’s OK.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Treasures” is a heady combination of remixes, leftovers from the “I & I” sessions and new tracks. The collection leans heavy in reggae and dub, but there are a few bits of Europop and hip-hop, too. It all ends up an unpredictable mix tape capable of standing completely on its own merits, despite being connected to a prior release. This is NOT just a cash grab or disposable “lesser” album.
Guest vocalists include the in-your-face Racquel Jones, nuanced yet commanding Notch, and sultry and smooth-as-butter Lou Lou Ghelichakhani. Political in spots, dreamy in others, “Treasures” goes through more than a few hip-shaking mood swings before its conclusion. But ALL these jams are energetic and powerful in their own specific way. “Treasures” cooks.
BUY IT?: Yep.

STRANGE NAMES — ‘Data’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn electro-rockers Strange Names avoids the sophomore slump with “Data.”
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The self-produced album is an upbeat throwback to the skinny-tie sporting early ’80s. The guys hit that sweet spot where funky electric guitars and switched-on synthesizers co-exist in perfect neon harmony. And of course, everything rides a big, frothy backbeat. Place the band alongside contemporaries such as Yeasayer or vintage Aztec Camera, and neither comparison would be off the mark.
Tracks such as the seamlessly pulsating “People to Go,” the endlessly catchy “Circles” and the delicate, slightly melancholy “Head First” draw us in immediately. “Data” even revolves around a loose concept, the songs written from the perspective of aliens observing us from afar and collecting “data” about our planet. Play close attention, you’ll catch it. But the tunes still work if you ignore their framework.
BUY IT?: Surely. There’s barely an ounce of fat on this record, with 10 would-be singles leaving a feel-good impression in 35 minutes flat.

Sounds – August 23, 2018

Sounds – August 23, 2018

NAKED GIANTS — ‘Sluff’
THE GOOD: Seattle indie rock trio Naked Giants goes big on its debut.
THE BAD: “Sluff” is accomplished but flawed.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When these guys are focused, the end result is airtight, with brash, guitar-based rockers such as “We’re Alone” and the plucky title track. The songs break wide open with a nervous energy and copious amounts of volume. There’s a sense of fun permeating a number of cuts and a hidden sophistication lurking just beneath the surface — a classic rock/punk mish-mash that actually works.
Too bad the band occasionally goes off on tangents. “TV” is messy prog rock; “Slow Dance 2” offers an unnecessary bout of the blues. “Shredded Again” feels like extended acoustic wanking. It would be cool if these different sounds brought on more than just a change of pace. But all too often, they end up as missteps outside the comfort zone of a developing young band. Although, “Sluff” still leaves you with the impression that things will only improve on future records.
BUY IT?: Maybe.

NIHILIST CHEERLEADER — ‘Riot, Right?’
THE GOOD: Athens, Georgia, girl punks Nihilist Cheerleader bash out a ripping debut.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Back in high school, I used to try to sneak out of mandatory pep rallies, but those teachers guarding the gymnasium doors were tough. “You’re gonna show your school spirit whether you like it or not!” Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.
So I can definitely get behind the name Nihilist Cheerleader, although these women scream about more significant political and social issues as opposed to the “Friday Night Lights” nonsense I tried to escape in the late 1980s.
Musically, they offer a blistering mix of garage punk noise (“I’m Fine,” “Bleach Boy”) and slightly subdued and melodic indie rock (“Drenched In,” “& She Takes It”). Frontwoman Flynne Collins and her crew are equally adept at both extremes. The album is always fuzzed-out and noisy but never stuck on any particular mood for long. Get angry or thrash about for fun. It’s all good.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

WAX IDOLS — ‘Happy Ending’ 
THE GOOD: California goth rockers Wax Idols confront mortality while moving forward on their fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Go all the way back to Siouxsie and the Banshees and you’ll find that goth bands usually progress slowly across albums, beginning in strident dark caves and eventually embracing at least SOME light. Their music tends to get bigger, more melodic and accessible in a good way. Wax Idols is following this very trajectory.
Thus far, “Happy Ending,” an album focusing on impending death and what comes after, is its most confident work. Frontwoman Hether Fortune is further developing as a commanding vocalist. The guitar work is bolder, the rhythm section more forceful. The record also displays the band’s ability to write compelling songs where dark overtones are only bolstered by the big pop melodies guiding them through the abyss. One hears echoes of everything from shoegaze to ’90s Britpop to post-punk. Dying rarely sounds this cool.
BUY IT?: Surely. And go for the limited-edition vinyl.

Sounds – August 16, 2018

Sounds – August 16, 2018

SHANNON AND THE CLAMS — ‘Onion’
THE GOOD: California retro garage rock group Shannon and the Clams defies all expectations on its latest.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by Hunx & His Punx bassist Shannon Shaw, the Clams has always cranked out a juvenile mix of pre-Beatles pop, garage rock, surf and just a dash of punk sleaze. Its music would make the perfect soundtrack to a dozen non-existent John Waters/Divine collaborations that we’ll sadly never see.
Past albums always contained a generous amount of catchy ditties about forbidden love and teenage heartbreak along with a fair amount of kitsch value. Now under the guidance of producer and Black Key Dan Auerbach, S&TC has stepped up its game, writing BETTER songs and toning down the whole “novelty” aspect of its work.
The end results are nothing short of STUNNING. “Onion” finds the band still banging away in the garage but tightening up and making the first GREAT album of its career. It’s cool, Daddy-O.
BUY IT?: You must.

SUNFLOWER BEAN — ‘Twentytwo in Blue’ 
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie trio Sunflower Bean smashes the sophomore slump with the sparkling “Blue.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by the determined yet charismatic Julia Cumming, the band plows through 11 focused, guitar-based indie gems big on memorable choruses and (at times) glam rock swagger. Whether it’s the breezy but cautious “Twentytwo” or the fiercely stomping and churning “Crisis Fest,” it’s tough to resist these tracks’ sheer melodic muscle.
“Blue” breaks little new ground, but doesn’t need to. On the surface, the songs grab you almost immediately, and repeat listens bring out charming, subtle nuances you may have previously missed. Cumming likes to occasionally get political and confrontational, but messages never overtake the music. Even when it doesn’t mean to, “Blue” gives off that sense of infectious euphoria found within any great pop record. And since the momentum never truly dissipates, you’ll eagerly anticipate the band’s third album right after closer “Oh No, Bye Bye” clicks off.
BUY IT?: Yep.

DREAM WIFE — ‘Dream Wife’
THE GOOD: British punk girls Dream Wife offer a screaming debut.
THE BAD: Not every track is a gem, but there are enough rock-solid moments to make us want more.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The trio (it still has no permanent drummer) started Dream Wife as a school project. After discovering a certain creative spark, the band just kept going.
Fronted by Icelandic vocalist Rakel Mjoll (she’s why the band doesn’t exactly SOUND British), Dream Wife offers a slick combination of ’90s riot girl abandon, early 2000s indie rock and today’s abrasive noise pop. Think Babes in Toyland, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sounds and Sleigh Bells all rolled into one — noisy and catchy with a killer backbeat.
Favorite bits include “Kids” with its chugging electric riffs, the fits of frustration that build “Act My Age” and the tough-as-nails attitude setting “F.U.U.” ablaze. The ladies are still developing musically, but as long as they retain the fun and fury found here, the future looks bright.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – August 9, 2018

Sounds – August 9, 2018

LILY ALLEN — ‘No Shame’
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter Lily Allen gets
serious on her fourth.
THE BAD: Plenty.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Allen’s first two albums (“Alright Still” and “It’s Not Me, It’s You”) were built upon brilliant, infectious doses of indie pop — upbeat tunes grounded in electro, reggae and dancehall, and lyrics brimming with a cheeky wit and English references galore. Then came 2014’s “Sheezus.” Perhaps that record wasn’t a direct bid for the American mainstream, but it sure sounded like one.
I was hoping Allen would get back to her bubbly roots on “No Shame.” Oh well, maybe next time. Despite the lyrics being emotionally charged and deeply personal, this set lacks any kind of musical spark. Maybe she’s maturing. Maybe she wants to be Adele. Who knows? “No Shame” contains both far too many ballads and a detrimental lack of rich, driving rhythms. Even the upbeat stuff falls flat. This is the first time Allen has given us a record that’s DULL.
BUY IT?: Skip it. You won’t be missing much.

NEKO CASE — ‘Hell On’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter (and sometimes New Pornographer) Neko Case paints broad strokes on her seventh.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John and featuring a myriad of guests (Mark Lanegan, Eric Bachmann, K.D. Lang), “Hell On” is a lush, multi-colored, genre-smashing work that finds beauty amidst the chaos.
Despite all the collaborators, this is Case’s show. Her always stunning vocals remain the focus, with those golden tones tackling everything from the usual bits of alt-country to progressive rock with all of its quirky chord progressions and tempo changes. “Hell On” is easily the woman’s biggest album to date. Somehow though, Case manages to keep a sense of both urgency and intimacy intact. What we’ve always loved is still here, only in more multifaceted settings.
Whether it’s the dark, girl-group pop of “Bad Luck”; the ragged, back-and-forth running throughout “Sleep All Summer”; or the majestic complexities decorating “Pitch or Honey,” Case sounds inspired again and again.
BUY IT?: Yes.

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE — ‘High as Hope’
THE GOOD: British indie outfit FATM give us a stripped-down fourth.
THE BAD: Meh…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Even if it’s SUPPOSED to be more intimate and personal, a FATM album should be more exciting than this. Far too much of “High as Hope” is doused in a routine “sameness.” Florence Welch’s vocals are as captivating as ever. The woman knows how to make a melody soar above the clouds in a flash of blinding white light; she’s truly a commanding presence. None of the songs are BAD, yet their settings lack any sort of flash. The rhythmic quirks, bold arrangements and left-of-center darker bits that made past releases not-so-routine are sadly lacking.
Welch and company collaborated with producer Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, Bruno Mars, Eminem), so maybe all those lush pianos, choirs and orchestrations were his doing. Not sure. In the end, expect some exceptional songs (as usual) but a lackluster delivery. Here’s hoping the next one is far more adventurous.
BUY IT?: Your call.

Sounds – August 2, 2018

Sounds – August 2, 2018

LAZER GUIDED MELODIES THE VOIDZ — ‘Virtue’ 
THE GOOD: Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas releases his third album outside the core band and his second with the Voidz.
THE BAD: “Virtue” gets messy in spots and could use a good trim.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Strokes are an odd lot these days. Their best records are behind the band, and when it DOES release something new, it’s never quite as stimulating as the side stuff put out by Casablancas or Strokes partner Albert Hammond Jr.
“Virtue” is definitely FLAWED, even frustrating in spots, but it’s rarely BORING. At times, Casablancas shows off his pop chops, bringing together big melodies and tight, electric grooves. Tracks such as “Permanent High School” and “Aliennation” are catchy, goofy and at times funky.
Somewhere across its second half, though, “Virtue” morphs into this weird B-sides collection where some ideas don’t quite gel. Whether it’s the lazy noise of “Black Hole” or the droning downer “Pointlessness,” you begin to think the guys should have quit while they were ahead.
BUY IT?: Your call.

BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW — ‘Panic Blooms’
THE GOOD: Pittsburgh-based wacko indie synth project BMSR comes back with its sixth.
THE BAD: Prepare yourself for a freaky mind-meld that won’t make much sense through the first couple of spins. “Panic” isn’t for everybody.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by Tobacco (the guy), BMSR is all about dark, murky synth pop that’s most definitely better if you’re stoned. “Panic” is the perfect lo-fi “come down” record after a raucous night of unhinged debauchery. Choose your vices carefully, then put this one on and chill.
Swirly bits such as “New Breeze” and “Bottomless Face” ride rhythms, clicks and claps while Tobacco’s vocoder-heavy singing ducks in and out of synthetic squiggles and melodic bloops and bleeps. It’s trippy. It’s spooky. It’s other-worldly.
BMSR is the dark forest just before dawn; a beautiful yet sinister place that’s strangely calming and wildly unpredictable at the same time. Not every experiment works, but the ones that do are endlessly fascinating. Indulge. You know you want to.
BUY IT?: Sure.

CHVRCHES — ‘Love Is Dead’ 
THE GOOD: Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches keeps the forward momentum going on its third.
THE BAD: Nope. However…
THE NITTY GRITTY: Chvrches brought in an outside producer for the first time, heavy-hitter Greg Kurstin (Sia, Beck, Adele). Kurstin gets co-writing credits on half the songs as well. Some may see this as a bid for the American mainstream. But while “Love Is Dead” is the most straight-forward Chvrches album yet, the band hasn’t lost its deft atmospheric touches or layered cascading walls of sound. Lauren Mayberry also remains one of the most captivating female voices fronting synthetic backdrops today. This time, the woman sings less of introspection and more of the tumultuous world around her.
Chvrches also received some indie help from legendary Eurythmic Dave Stewart and the National’s Matt Berninger. So even though the music is more “high profile,” the melodies are just as dreamy and inviting as ever. Long-time fans will notice the progressions, but none should feel alienated by the outside meddling.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

Sounds – July 26, 2018

Sounds – July 26, 2018

OVER UNDER SIDEWAYS DOWN INSECURE MEN — ‘Insecure Men’
THE GOOD: Insecure Men release a weird and (mostly) wonderful debut record.
THE BAD: Some ideas feel half-baked, with the album more about a particular vibe than individual songs.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singers/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists Saul Adamczewski and Ben Romans-Hopcraft make up the core of Insecure Men, although these two get copious amounts of help from a variety of players, including producer Sean Lennon. Saul and Sean previously worked together on last year’s Moonlandingz album.
However, Insecure Men hails from a completely different place. Synths are much more prominent, either in a pop setting (“Teenage Toy”) or in a cheeky recollection of vintage exotica (“Heathrow”). Guitars, live drums, and other random instrumentation, however, keep “Insecure Men” from becoming a straight-up electronic record.
Some moments are downright focused and catchy (“I Don’t Wanna Dance”), while others drift along through the hypnotic abyss (“Buried in the Bleak”). Both extremes work, but the upbeat stuff leaves a longer-lasting impression. Time will tell if this is a one-off project or not.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

DR. DOG — ‘Critical Equation’
THE GOOD: Philadelphia indie rock outfit Dr. Dog comes back with a varied 10th.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: At times, Dr. Dog tries to be all things to most people, an indie band not afraid to wear ’60s influences on its sleeve (Beach Boy harmonies, vintage folk rock and the occasional stoner jam) while flirting with straightforward pop songs and/or more intricate, progressive arrangements. It makes ANY Dog set an unpredictable listening experience, and most of its albums work extremely well as uninterrupted, cohesive works.
“Equation” is no exception. Whether it’s the eerie blue hues coloring “Listening In”; the bright, infectious “True Love”; or the moody burn permeating “Buzzing in the Light,” each track is unique and well executed. The band often finds that sweet spot between the calculated and the spontaneous. The songs aren’t sloppy, but their energy isn’t stifled, either. One could say the records are slightly interchangeable, but that loose vibe works time and again.
BUY IT?: Sure.

ACID DAD — ‘Acid Dad’
THE GOOD: New York indie psychedelic rockers Acid Dad shines on its full-length debut.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The boys channel early Charlatans UK and Ride, bringing us back to late 1990, the golden age of shoegaze, and the heady days of Madchester right before the American Nirvana explosion. I’m not sure that was their intention, but that’s what THIS old man hears.
About half the record cranks and crackles with energy, with guitar-driven, danceable bits such as “Mr. Major” and “2Ci.” Then you get the down-tempo, spaced-out drones such as “Child” and the pedal steel-colored “Dissin.” Between those two extremes, one finds cool, even-paced, swirly freak-outs such as the wispy and jangly “Mow My Lawn” and “No Answer.”
“Acid Dad” the album settles within that happy medium between the hyper and the hypnotic. You can drift to this stuff without falling asleep. The sheer volume and sharp changes of pace will make sure of that.
BUY IT?: YES. A smart debut indeed.

Sounds – July 19, 2018

Sounds – July 19, 2018

BAD ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENTS MIMICKING BIRDS – ‘Layers of Us’
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers Mimicking Birds come back with a placid third.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What started out as a solo outlet for singer/guitarist Nate Lacy has become a proper band for a couple of records now. “Layers” continues the trio’s logical progression; a spacey work made of fragile melodies and pastoral settings that still manages to let a bit of genuine rock sneak into the mix.
On the surface, the songs are seamless, ebbing and flowing on waves so gentle they’re damn near hypnotic. What keeps the album from becoming straight up “dream pop” though is the backdrops. Punchy rhythms and electric guitars constantly remind you that this IS a rock album (and not only in spirit).
Warm and cozy tracks like “Sunlight Daze” and “Belongings” are blessed with Lacy’s tender vocals and just enough echo to take the edge off any jagged riffs. However, these songs carry the forward momentum necessary to keep us from completely drifting off into the ether.
BUY IT?: Sure.

THE VACCINES – ‘Combat Sports’ 
THE GOOD: British indie rockers the Vaccines regroup and release its fourth.
THE BAD: Changes…some good, some dull.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s line-up shuffled (a pair of touring musicians are now full-fledged members), the Vaccines continue to refine its sound. Keyboards are more prominent and the guys have smoothed over some of the rough edges. But is that a good thing?
Those big bold hooks remain intact. It’s tough to ignore the slamming melodies carrying songs like “Put It on a T-Shirt” and “Maybe (Luck of the Draw).” Still, the Vaccines’ most exciting work is spread across its first two more visceral records – 2011’s “What Did You Expect” and 2012’s “Come of Age.”
If they continue in this direction, the band risks losing all that made them distinct in the first place (can you say Wombats?). “Combat Sports” hasn’t gone THAT far yet, but it should make long-time fans cautious about the future. Hopefully, the fifth album gets a shot of pure adrenaline.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

MATT AND KIM – ‘Almost Everyday’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie duo Matt and Kim come back with a brief wandering sixth.
THE BAD: Some songs work. Others feel incomplete.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The record was written and recorded while Kim Schifino recovered from a serious knee injury. That could have influenced the creation of more introspective pieces and less party anthems. Tracks such as “Like I Used to Be” and “Happy If You’re Happy” hail from a mellower place than usual. But you still get thumping forceful bangers such as the frustrated “Forever” and the slick “Glad I Tried.”
Yet, other cuts feel like unfinished throwaways. There’s a germ of an idea running through “All in My Head” that goes nowhere. Multi-chapter closer “Where Do We Go from Here” is TOO open-ended; a beginning with no logical conclusion. Plus there are a lot of GUESTS (Blink 182, Walk the Moon, Santigold, etc.) whose contributions feel wholly unnecessary (and in many cases are barely noticeable).
BUY IT?: Your call.

Sounds – July 12, 2018

Sounds – July 12, 2018

COMEBACKS AND KICK-OFFS BELLY — ‘Dove’
THE GOOD: New England alt-rockers Belly reforms and releases its third album (and first in over two decades).
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With Tanya Donelly still in front of
the band’s most prominent lineup, Belly picks up right where it left off in 1996. The group reformed for a handful of concerts two years ago and realized there was still NEW music in it. “Dove” is the result of some rather prolific sessions.
What’s great about the record is that the tunes are truly timeless. Belly didn’t radically overhaul or update its sound, and at the same time, the songs don’t sound stuck in the era of “Seinfeld” and Bill Clinton. “Dove” is simply guitar-driven indie rock; Donelly’s female vocals still captivate and hold their own against the delicate thunder below. Tracks such as “Human Child” and “Suffer the Fools” are that perfect combination of grace and power, with swaying melodies riding a fair amount of sheer volume. This reunion feels totally natural. Embrace it.
BUY IT?: Yes.

WE ARE SCIENTISTS — ‘Megaplex’
THE GOOD: New York indie pop duo We Are Scientists gives us its sixth.
THE BAD: Mixed emotions.
THE NITTY GRITTY: There’s good and bad on “Megaplex.” While the writing is focused and the songs are strong, a lot of the band’s quirky indie and new wave elements are toned down. It’s as if “Megaplex” is a bid for the pop market. I’m not saying that’s the case, but the record sounds dull and predictable in spots.
We still get the delicate sway of “KIT” and the melodic punchy closer “Properties of Perception.” Technically, there are NO duds here. However, there’s a certain “sameness,” not just amongst individual tracks but also the group’s catalog in general. These guys aren’t progressing enough from release to release. “Megaplex” is an enjoyable, guitar-based rock/pop record, but it barely leaves any lasting impression. It’s also interchangeable with their previous two or three albums.
BUY IT?: Your choice. Newbies may actually get more out of “Megaplex” than long-time fans craving something fresh.

MIDDLE KIDS — ‘Lost Friends’
THE GOOD: Australian indie trio Middle Kids releases a confident first full-length album.
THE BAD: “Lost Friends” loses momentum across its second half, but not enough to damage the overall work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The group teased us with a self-titled EP last year. Now, the main attraction is here (and with only two “repeats” from 2017’s mini jam). “Lost Friends” is a driven, catchy set recalling a lot of female-fronted ’90s faves (Belly, Cranberries, Sleeper) and more recent friends (Joy Formidable, Naked and Famous, Metric). There’s nothing starkly original here, but the songs are damn good, and Hannah Joy’s entrancing vocals are their perfect method of delivery.
The album immediately draws us in with the one-two punch of full-bodied openers “Bought It” and “Mistake.” From there, the record rarely stumbles. By the time we reach the set’s second half though, songs begin to blend together. Still, this band is just getting started. “Lost Friends” accomplishes much, leaving us hopeful for the group’s future.
BUY IT?: I would.

Sounds – July 5, 2018

Sounds – July 5, 2018

WOMEN OF INDEPENDENCE COURTNEY BARNETT — ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett obliterates the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It was wise to release a collaborative effort with Kurt Vile (“Lotta Sea Lice”) instead of directly following up 2015’s triumph “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.” Barnett was placed on such a high pedestal in the indie rock community that ANY follow-up could be considered a let-down. “Sea Lice” gave listeners a simple, unaffected set to savor — a nice warm-up before the main event.
Now, “Tell Me” is finally here. It’s a record that doesn’t try to match “Sit and Think” and is all the better for it. The new album is slightly smaller in scope, with Barnett allowing us to get closer and peek inside her psyche. Tracks are both loose (the rambling “Hopefulessness”) and airtight (the razor-sharp “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”). Barnett embraces her mood swings and grows as a songwriter. The next one should be brilliant, too.
BUY IT?: YES!

BEACH HOUSE — ‘7’
THE GOOD: Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House (vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally) comes back with an appropriately titled seventh.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band embraces a new creative process with “7.” Long-time producer Chris Coady has been replaced by NO official producer at all. Indie legend Sonic Boom acts as an on-again, off-again consultant of sorts. Instead of recording the album in a singular burst of creativity, the pair took its time at various sessions spread out over a year, letting the songs form more naturally.
“7” also is more intense than past efforts. The dreamy elements remain intact. However, they’re further enhanced by more live drums than usual, droning fits of distortion and echoes of vintage shoegaze. Sonic Boom’s presence certainly is felt within the distant rumblings of classic “My Bloody Valentine,” “Lush” or even his own “Spacemen 3.”
“7” is hardly a “noise-fest” though. You can still slip on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and drift away.
BUY IT?: Surely.

HOP ALONG — ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’
THE GOOD: Philadelphia indie rocker Hop Along comes back with a multi-textured third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Three albums into their career, Frances Quinlan and her crew already have covered a lot of territory. They’re one of those groups that are difficult to pigeonhole (never bad), rolling and crashing like thunder one moment and delicately weeping the next.
Musically, they recall amazing, female-fronted indie legends such as Bettie Serveert, Madder Rose and Throwing Muses while embracing the more progressive-leaning elements of contemporaries, such as Warpaint. Lyrically, Quinlan tells wondrous stories both concrete and abstract.
On “Dog,” tempos vary, moods swing and the guitars often take a backseat to delicate, intimate string arrangements. Quinlan’s emotional vocals always are the main focus, whether it’s the exhausted strains of “The Fox in Motion” or the breathy waltz bringing “Not Abel” to life. It’s impossible to discover all the subtle nuances of “Dog” in just one sitting. The album is further enhanced with each subsequent spin.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – June 28, 2018

Sounds – June 28, 2018

INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE MGMT — ‘Little Dark Age’
THE GOOD: New England indie duo MGMT (vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) come back with a focused fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been over a decade since these guys scored with the synth-tinged rock set “Oracular Spectacular,” a tight Dave Fridmann-produced playlist that had massive crossover appeal. After that, the guys rallied against mainstream expectations on two follow-ups — the particularly weird “Congratulations” (2010) and the spacey “MGMT” (2013). Both had their moments while being “difficult” in places.
VanWyngarden and Goldwasser now bring back the hooks and approachable vibes. “Little Dark Age” is the most accessible the pair has been since its debut. Sell outs? I would bet not. The guys are simply playing to their strengths. MGMT are damn good at conjuring up catchy, synth-heavy indie pop. So it was time to do that all over again. My guess is all the band’s strange days AREN’T behind it. For now though, just revel in the bliss that is “Little Dark Age.”
BUY IT?: Yep.

OF MONTREAL — ‘White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood’
THE GOOD: Georgia indie rockers Of Montreal (mastermind Kevin Barnes and whomever he’s playing with) give us their 15th.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Of Montreal is a rarity in that it’s VERY prolific (a new album comes out almost every year) AND willing to change direction often. Despite being released in quick succession, records often vary greatly from one other.
A few albums back, Barnes was all about the “band” aesthetic. A set such as 2013’s “Lousy with Sylvianbriar” was raw and spontaneous; Barnes created the din with a gaggle of other players. Since then, electronic elements have crept back into the mix, and more so on each subsequent outing.
“White Is Relic” finds the synths and dance grooves taking over; the record is even sequenced more like a collection of extended remixes than a proper LP. But this is all new material, inspired by current American paranoia and ’80s 12-inch singles. So get scared, get down and get crazy. That’s what Kevin wants.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

YOUNG GALAXY — ‘Down Time’
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic duo Young Galaxy goes completely independent on its sixth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Since husband-and-wife team Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless no longer suffer from record label restraints and expectations, the pair did whatever it felt like on “Down Time.” We reap the benefits of that freedom.
While the duo hasn’t abandoned its pop sensibilities (tight melodic tracks such as “Show You the Valley” and “Frontier” are proof of that), there’s a “chill” vibe running throughout the songs; the entire affair is much more ethereal and otherworldly than past efforts. McCandless’ rich vocals are out front most of the time, but the music doesn’t lose any clout when she’s not around; the swirling backing tracks are just as enthralling.
There’s an ebb and flow to “Down Time” that’s hypnotic. Rhythmic, ambient pieces such as “River” give way to focused bits such as “Stay for Real.” The record pulls you out of unconsciousness with a pronounced beat or hook. Mood swings work beautifully.
BUY IT?: I would.

Sounds – June 21, 2018

Sounds – June 21, 2018

NOT-SO-QUAINT FOLK WYE OAK — ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’
THE GOOD: Maryland indie duo Wye Oak comes back with a buzzing, crackling sixth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What began as a modern, folk-tinged project has slowly morphed into something completely dissimilar over the past three albums. Rather than play it safe, guitarist/vocalist Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack have left much of their acoustic leanings behind in favor of more electric guitars, tougher rhythms and more dominant synthesizers (some abrasive at times).
Harsher? Perhaps, but the music still emotionally resonates. Here, songs such as the delicately flowing “Lifer,” the melodic and dreamy “Over and Over” and the punchy title track resemble the early stuff in composition. However, their execution is radically different. Skip from 2009’s “The Knot” immediately to this new release, and you’d swear this was an electronic-leaning rock act trying to BE Wye Oak as opposed to the genuine article. However, the pair continues to make this ongoing sweeping transition run smoothly.
BUY IT?: Yes.

OKKERVIL RIVER — ‘In the Rainbow Rain’
THE GOOD: Modern folk/rock outfit Okkervil River comes back with its ninth.
THE BAD: Every album has its highs and lows, inspired moments and bits that drag. “Rain” follows this pattern.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Okkervil River has always been a proper band, but the only permanent member is singer/songwriter Will Sheff. Every record finds the man telling stories and getting introspective about his past. “Rain” kicks off with the clever “Famous Tracheotomies,” a track recalling Sheff’s own life-threatening surgery that occurred when he was just an infant. As the song plays on, we hear of other famous people who underwent similar procedures, Motown’s Mary Wells and Kinks frontman Ray Davies among them.
From there, moods shift from the top-heavy pop of “Pulled up the Ribbon” to the somber “Human Being Song.” Some tracks immediately click; others are slow burns. No DUDS though. Sheff covers emotional territories that are immediately relatable, and his songs are just distinct enough to not melt into one another.
BUY IT?: Sure.

S. CAREY — ‘Hundred Acres’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Bon Iver drummer Sean Carey releases his third solo full-length.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Carey’s profile has risen during the past decade. He’s no longer “that dude from Bon Iver who occasionally goes solo.” Now, he’s S. Carey, “the man who still plays with Bon Iver even though a solo career wouldn’t be out of the question.”
“Hundred Acres” feels like a genuine effort to maybe go in that very direction. The album is the most accessible of his career, with Carey abandoning some weird percussive habits in exchange for lush melodies, cozy harmonies and warm strings. Lyrically, the man keeps matters close to home; relatable relationships and simple pleasures are not uncommon.
Carey also realizes “less is more.” “Hundred Acres” sticks around just long enough (10 tunes in 38 minutes) to avoid the trappings of tedium. Moods and tempos rarely change, but the momentum never dissipates. There’s nothing wrong with a pleasant visit now and then.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Sounds – June 14, 2018

Sounds – June 14, 2018

HEART FULL OF SOUL THE DECEMBERISTS — ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers the Decemberists continue to morph and progress on their eighth.
THE BAD: “Girl” brings about mixed emotions.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If you discovered the band during its humble beginnings, you were no doubt attracted to frontman Colin Meloy’s deft storytelling. The man could spin a Victorian era tragedy or pirate tale like no one else fronting a rock band. Sadly, the Decemberists have been drifting away from those character studies for a few years. “Girl” continues that drift.
They’re experimenting with more pronounced beats, some synthetic sounds and ambiguous lyrics. So you can’t accuse the band of being stuck in a musical rut. Yet the earlier stuff is still more intriguing.
But the grand melodies and captivating arrangements remain intact. So whether it’s the foreboding pop of “Your Ghost,” the catchy cynicism spread across “Everything Is Awful” or the playful intimacy on the title cut, we’re given more than a few good reasons to come back.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS — ‘Tearing at the Seams’
THE GOOD: Modern R&B/blue-eyed soul dudes Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats dodge the sophomore slump while cranking out more funky, authentic jams.
THE BAD: Since the guys crossed over BIG TIME with what was kind of a novelty hit (“S.O.B.” even prominently used in “Bar Rescue” promos), Rateliff and company run the risk of being deemed a “one-hit wonder.” The mainstream be damned! This band deserves better.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So it would be wise NOT to pass up “Tearing,” a record just as fun and gritty as its predecessor. From soulful pop tracks such as “A Little Honey” to ripping stompers such as “Intro” to more emotional bits like the title track, the new album rarely falters.
It’s a smoky session with influences hailing from Memphis to Chicago, full of songs cut from the same cloth but varied enough to keep our moods swinging. No tampering with this tried-and-true formula required — Rateliff gives us more good stuff that’s essentially timeless.
BUY IT?: Yeah!!

UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA — ‘Sex & Food’
THE GOOD: New Zealand indie rock outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra (mostly singer/songwriter/guitarist Ruban Nielson) comes back with a soul-speckled fourth.
THE BAD: “Sex & Food” is a record of highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: UMO has never made a GREAT album. It’s always been about halfway-decent collections containing some GREAT songs. “Sex & Food” is no different; its greatest strength is not the tunes but rather the unpredictable changes in mood and tempo. This is a highly varied collection.
Nielson moves effortlessly from the catchy thrash of “Major League Chemicals” to the bluesy “Ministry of Alienation” to the bouncy, bubbly syrup making up “Hunnybee.” “American Guilt” is punchy and direct; “This Doomsday,” low-key and mysterious. You get the idea.
Sure, the aggressive parts aren’t really THAT aggressive, and the soulful bits can resemble warmed-over Lenny Kravitz at times. However, Nielson always manages to find the happy medium that’s just pleasurable enough to keep us desiring more. “Sex & Food” does satisfy.
BUY IT?: Sure.