Sounds – May 24, 2018

Sounds – May 24, 2018

BREAK TIME IS OVER THE BREEDERS — ‘All Nerve’
THE GOOD: American alt-rockers the Breeders return with the classic “Last Splash” lineup for a fifth full-length album.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Breeders only made five albums? Yeah, I thought there were more too, but “Safari” was an EP, the Amps was another Kim Deal thing that SOUNDED like the Breeders, and there are a lot of B-sides.
“All Nerve” isn’t the second coming of “Last Splash.” The new record isn’t as instantly catchy, and the songs visit some murky places. However, it’s just as powerful. The Deal sisters have matured, and despite the fact they can still crank out something as punchy and infectious as “Nervous Mary” and “Wait in the Car,” the more intensely emotional moments such as “Dawn: Making an Effort” come more naturally these days.
However, “more emotional” doesn’t mean “mellowed out.” “All Nerve” does breathe, drums go down-tempo in spots, and there are brief silences. Yet these songs are still razor-sharp and can’t be contained.
BUY IT?: Yes.

DAVID BYRNE — ‘American Utopia’ 
THE GOOD: Ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne comes back with his first proper solo outing (collaborative albums NOT included) in 14 years.
THE BAD: “Utopia” may NOT be perfect, but at least the 66-year-old musician still takes chances.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The record is part of a larger multimedia project called “Reasons to be Cheerful,” which hopefully brings optimism to our tumultuous times, yet the music stands on its own.
Byrne brings together elements from his past, such as island rhythms (“Every Day Is a Miracle”), dark new wave (“Bullet”) and intense, body-shaking grooves (“Everybody’s Coming to my House”). The new musical combinations work for the most part, and while there may be a few lyrical hiccups along the way, “American Utopia” does what it sets out to do.
That is, the songs make us FEEL the world around us, while bringing on a few smiles, a couple of somber moments and some food for thought to ponder after the final notes fade out.
BUY IT?: Surely.

EELS — ‘The Deconstruction’
THE GOOD: Eels, that would be singer/songwriter Mark Oliver Everett and whoever else showed up this time, comes back with its (his) 12th.
THE BAD: Despite a four-year break from music, Everett immediately retreats to his comfort zone. Don’t expect any shake-ups. Not “bad” if you’ve remained a fan since the man was simply known as “E” back in the early ’90s.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You get the usual mix of soft, intimate songs and beat-heavy tracks, all featuring Everett’s knack for catchy melodies and copious amounts of self-reflection. Expected touches include ghostly choirs floating in and out of the room at various times, subtle patches of funk, moody strings and the occasional burst of sunny (don’t be fooled — Everett still has issues) pop.
In other words, you’ve been here at least 10 times before. And “Deconstruction” peaks early. The first half is quite good; the second half drags a little. Still, every Eels record has its memorable bits. Swing by if you’re feeling melancholy or listless.
BUY IT?: Your call.

Sounds – May 17, 2018

Sounds – May 17, 2018

THE GO! TEAM — ‘Semicircle’
THE GOOD: British indie pop collective Go Team, still led by the deft hand of Ian Parton, comes back with a boisterous, frolicking ’60s throwback for its fifth.
THE BAD: “Semicircle” sounds semi-familiar, the record a slight retread of earlier works “Thunder Lightning Strike” (2004) and “Proof of Youth” (2007). But hey, we loved those albums, so no real harm done.
THE NTTY GRITTY: Once again, Parton combines elements of garage rock and hip-hop, further enhancing both genres with a myriad of wobbly early ’70s samples, cheerleading squads, marching bands and super-syrupy pop hooks. This entire album is INSANELY CATCHY, finding its power within sing-song melodies across the top and thick, layered beats below.
Tune in and you’ll find yourself immediately under the spell of songs such as the fierce, stomping opener “Mayday” and the gorgeous sunshine popper “The Answer Is No, Now What’s The Question.” Whatever the extreme, Parton makes sure each track gets securely lodged in your grey matter upon contact. I see you smiling already.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

LANE 8 — ‘Little by Little’
THE GOOD: American DJ/producer/electronic artist Daniel Goldstein (stage name Lane 8) self-releases his hypnotic second full-length album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Opening track “Daya” slowly builds, with its multi-layered beats growing more intense as the minutes pass. Right from the very beginning, Lane 8 has you hooked. “Little by Little” is an immersion album. For the better part of an hour, the record possesses an amazing, pulsating and undulating flow that never lets go.
All the tracks hail from the same place, but each has its own unique spin or personality. Despite similarities running throughout the grooves, the entire work never feels stuck on “repeat.” Whether it comes with a familiar voice handling a lead vocal (Polica guides “No Captain” while Patrick Baker punches up “Skin & Bones”) or stands on its own instrumentally (the echoing “Atlas” or the forceful yet graceful title track), each song lifts body and soul to a higher plane altogether. Get lost and get revitalized.
BUY IT?: Yes.

KIMBRA — ‘Primal Heart’
THE GOOD: New Zealand singer/songwriter Kimbra Lee Johnson (just “Kimbra” to you and me) releases her third.
THE BAD: As far as electronic pop albums go, “Primal Heart” is somewhat formulaic, but nothing here is outright bad or disagreeable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Other than the 2011 Gotye collaboration “Somebody That I Used to Know,” massive chart success has eluded the singer here in the states. Perhaps she’s a victim of that old marketing conundrum — too weird for the mainstream, too straight for the underground, perpetually stuck between two disparate worlds.
“Primal Heart” won’t change that. However, the record has enough rock-solid moments and subtle R&B flavors to make it worthy of your attention. Whether it’s the tribal stomp carrying “Top of the World” or the sheer pop brilliance emanating from “Like They Do on the TV,” Kimbra drives the beats and melodies directly home, with our overall satisfaction immediately imminent. The good vibes more than make up for any lack of innovation.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Sounds – May 10, 2018

Sounds – May 10, 2018

TOP OF THE (OTHER) POPS THE FRATELLIS — ‘In Your Own Sweet Time’
THE GOOD: Scottish indie pop/rock outfit the Fratellis releases its fifth.
THE BAD: Here in the United States, these guys had two massive indie hits — “Flathead” and “Chelsea Dagger.” But that was over 10 years and four albums ago. Since its sophomore effort, 2008’s “Here We Stand,” we’ve pretty much ignored the band. That’s a shame.
THE NITTY GRITTY: While any Fratellis album won’t change the world, each has its share of damn-near irresistible guitar-driven pop songs. “Sweet Time” follows this tradition. Big hooks riding rock-solid arrangements litter the record.
Then somewhere around the middle, matters get practically majestic. The one-two punch of “I’ve Been Blind” and “Laughing Gas” finds choruses soaring into the stratosphere as six-strings ring out with copious amounts of cathartic melancholy. Simply divine.
But nothing on “Sweet Time” outright drags; the momentum barely diminishes until closing epic “I Am That.” Sometimes you need to sacrifice a little progression for that big, goofy smile on your face.
BUY IT?: Yep.

FRANZ FERDINAND — ‘Always Ascending’
THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand come back with their fifth (sixth if you count one-off Sparks collaboration FFS) and their first without guitarist Nick McCarthy.
THE BAD: Despite some new blood in the band (keyboardist/guitarist Julian Corrie), FF seems stuck on repeat. Depending on your expectations, that might not be a bad thing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When they’re up, the boys crank out highly danceable rock tracks built on solid rhythms, jagged riffs and big melodies. When they’re down, the music gets moody (in a good way) as frontman Alex Kapranos holds back ever so slightly and goes all smooth on us.
On “Ascending,” we get the usual jumpy stuff, such as the instantly gratifying title cut and the silly, flirtatious “Glimpse of Love.” Yet there’s something to be said for the darker bits, especially melodramatic closer “Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow.” It’s during these quieter moments that a gentler yet equally compelling (and often overlooked) side of the band shines on brightly.
BUY IT?: Sure.

THE WOMBATS — ‘Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life’
THE GOOD: British alt-rockers the Wombats give us a nondescript fourth.
THE BAD: Meh…
THE NITTY GRITTY: On its 2007 debut, “A Guide to Love, Loss and Desperation,” the Wombats made hyper anthems built on big melodies, sarcastic wit and punk attitudes. Then the band got slick — and somewhat dull. And as it got further away from that blistering debut, the music grew more forgettable.
“Beautiful People” continues to drive home the point that this is a catalog of diminishing returns; it’s not a BAD album per se, but not a very distinct one either. Tracks such as “Cheetah Tongue” and “Out of My Head” bring on the tight beats, sharp riffs and cool melodies. But that’s not enough to distinguish the boys from a host of other somewhat snappy but interchangeable acts (Kooks, Two Door Cinema Club, Foals, etc.).
Adjust your expectations accordingly, and “Beautiful People” still gets the job done. But will we get another dose of the same circa 2021? Probably.
BUY IT?: Your call.

Sounds – May 3, 2018

Sounds – May 3, 2018

MAKING GLORIOUS MESSES NO AGE – ‘Snares Like A Haircut’
THE GOOD: L.A. noise/punk duo No Age (drummer/vocalist Dean Allen Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall) comes back after a half-decade away with its fourth full-length (and first since leaving Sub Pop for Drag City).
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Expect a bit of everything this time. One could classify “Haircut” as a loud straight-up indie set, but it’s much more multi-dimensional. The ripping “Cruise Control” kicks things off with a tuneful explosion. From there, we plow through the harsh blues of “Send Me,” the loopy instrumental psychedelics forming the title track, and the catchy stomping grunge throwback “Tidal.”
Further twists and turns include the feedback symphony “Third Grade Rave” and the tawdry D.I.Y. electronics carrying “Squashed.” You often forget there are only two guys behind this brew that’s both abrasive and vulnerable (often at the same time). No Age sticks to loud territories, yet its naked emotions always bubble to the surface. It can penetrate a wall of sound with a feather.
BUY IT?: Yep.

DJANGO DJANGO – ‘Marble Skies’ 
THE GOOD: British indie pop outfit Django Django gives us a precious third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These guys have always smashed together a bevy of influences transcending all decades – psychedelic ’60s, funky ’70s, synth-soaked ’80s, underground ’90s – they’re all here. The trick is making all these different sounds actually WORK together. Django Django does that.
“Marble Skies” is its unabashed pop record. Sure, past indulgences remain intact. Only now, the familiar sounds are coated with big melodies, galloping rhythms and shiny guitar/synth duels that bring on the stinging riffs and engaging countermelodies.
The title track immediately sucks you in and from then on, all bets are off. Django Django has never been this much FUN before. However, “Marble Skies” is more than just a slick, disposable ear candy collection. Pull these tracks apart, and you’ll notice that the aforementioned complex meshing of eras hasn’t been abandoned. This band still believes in multi-faceted pleasures. Lucky us.
BUY IT?: OK

BORN RUFFIANS – ‘Uncle, Duke and the Chief’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie outfit Born Ruffians releases its fifth.
THE BAD: Same as it ever was … but is that bad?
THE NITTY GRITTY: If you liked the first four albums, you won’t find much to gripe about here … except maybe a 30-minute running time. Frontman/guitarist Luke Lalonde and his crew deliver another dose of rag-tag, catchy and slightly quirky indie rock. Hand-clappers such as “Fade to Black,” sloppy blues-tinged numbers such as “Side Tracked,” disposable stompers a la “Ring That Bell” – they all leave a mark and they all click.
“Uncle” is the type of record that sounds as if it were tossed off in a single afternoon. Then you play it a couple of times, peel back all the murky layers and slowly realize these songs are much more accomplished and smarter than the jagged first impressions. Be careful. Spin “Uncle” a few MORE times, and you might start looking forward to the NEXT Born Ruffians outing. That’s how they get ya!
BUY IT?: Sure … why not?

Sounds – April 26, 2018

Sounds – April 26, 2018

FEVER RAY — ‘Plunge’
THE GOOD: Swedish singer-songwriter and electronic artist Karin Dreijer (half of the Knife with her brother Olof) comes back with a long overdue (nine years) second solo album under the moniker Fever Ray.
THE BAD: Not here.
THE NITTY GRITTY: A lot has happened musically, culturally and politically since Ray’s eponymous debut in early 2009. Because of all that advancement, “Plunge” could have come off as immediately dated or behind the times. No worries — Dreijer has weathered every storm and kept up brilliantly.
“Plunge” is a triumph. Much more focused and tighter than the Knife’s work, the album is a buzzing, clicking, pulsating collection of electronic pop songs — GLORIOUSLY WEIRD AND SEDUCTIVE electronic pop songs. Lyrically half political and half in love (lust?), these tracks ride rhythms both pounding and fragile while the melodies across the top are either graceful or sing-song simple.
“Plunge” ends up a varied, unpredictable set where not one experiment comes up short. The almost decade-long wait was worth it.
BUY IT?: Yes.

PORCHES — ‘The House’ 
THE GOOD: Porches — essentially New York-based musician Aaron Maine and some rotating musicians — delves deeper into electronic pop on its third.
THE BAD: “The House” has its share of great songs but also succumbs to a fair amount of mini-tunes that feel unfinished (can you say “filler”?). You take the strong with the weak.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But when Maine truly focuses, the end results are stunning. Driven tracks such as the shimmering and slightly paranoid “Find Me” and the snappy yet delicate “Anymore” immediately pull you in with their seamless beats and confident melodies.
But just as the momentum builds, it also crashes sooner or later. Varying moods and tempos usually work. Here, however, they detract from the album’s overall clout. At times, “The House” comes off like a better-than-most B-sides collection instead of an accomplished, proper album.
Despite its shortcomings, though, the record is worth your time and still makes us hopeful for Porches’ future. We’ll gladly take more Maine somewhere down the line.
BUY IT?: Your decision.

MOBY — ‘Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt’
THE GOOD: DJ/producer/electronic artist Moby releases his 15th full-length album.
THE BAD: Sequencing?
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Nothing Hurt” gets off to such a strong start that you begin to think this may be the man’s best album since 1999 masterpiece “Play.” The multi-layered, sinister shuffle carrying epic opener “Mere Anarchy,” the angelic overtones coloring the seamless “The Waste of Suns,” the brooding funk pulling us into “Like a Motherless Child” — all of it is simply brilliant. Somewhere around track five or six, however, things begin to fizzle.
Once you hit its middle, “Nothing Hurt” becomes one mood, one tempo, one outlook — all of it pretty down and bleak. “The Sorrow Tree” ramps up slightly, but it’s not enough to keep the momentum from almost dying off completely. Moby’s not happy in Trump’s America; we get it. Without even the slightest change in tone or form, though, these trip-hop-flavored electronic pieces begin to bleed together, and some of the messages get lost.
BUY IT?: Your call.

Sounds – April 19, 2018

Sounds – April 19, 2018

FIRST AID KIT — ‘Ruins’
THE GOOD: Harmonizing Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg return with another lush songbook.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Produced by Tucker Martine (Case Lang Veirs, Decemberists, Camera Obscura), “Ruins” finds the ladies bringing their precious vocals to another set of songs swimming in introspection and heartbreak. It STILL amazes me that two Scandinavians who grew up nowhere near the Deep South (or any part of the United States) can sound more authentic than anything pouring out of Nashville these days.
Add a little pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll sway here, an echo-drenched pedal steel guitar there, and the picture becomes complete — gorgeous country crossover tunes straight out of 1963. The slow-dancing “Fireworks,” the rousing campfire singalong “Hem of Her Dress,” the melancholy-soaked title cut — these songs are all about the sentiment emanating from those spellbinding voices, and of course “Ruins” packs an emotional wallop. You may shed a tear or two, but you’ll also smile before it’s all over.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

TUNEYARDS — “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life”
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/percussionist Merrill Garbus (she IS Tuneyards) comes back with a confrontational fourth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Even the in-your-face politics (Garbus chiming in about feminism, racism and other hot-button Trump-era topics) can’t totally squelch the power of the grooves contained within. “Private Life” is the most electronic-leaning of all her works.
Tracks such “ABC 123” and “Colonizer” bang, pulsate and ride chugging basslines while Garbus tries to either understand or at least apologize for the world raging on around her. Heavy-handed messages? Doesn’t matter. You’ll still feel compelled to body-pop to a track like “Look at Your Hands” or clap along to the borrowed (stolen?) island rhythms carrying “Hammer.”
Sure, Garbus grew up in a Connecticut suburb, but her music has a streak of authenticity running right down its middle. The echoes of disco and R&B drag us back into the city after dark — not a bad place to feel accepted.
BUY IT?: Oh yeah.

THE SUFIS — “After Hours”
THE GOOD: Neo-psychedelic indie duo the Sufis comes back with a low-key (and slightly lo-fi) third.
THE BAD: No issues. Expect a slight shift in sound though.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This time, Calvin Laporte and Evan Smith embrace synths, tightly compressed live drums and reserved vocal deliveries. Cool and calculated, the record bangs and crashes while still retaining a mellow vibe throughout its all-too-brief running time (always leave ’em wanting more, right?).
For the uninitiated, try to imagine some catchy ’90s Swedish indie pop crashing into a dose of sloppy garage rock. Spread a few prog overtones across the top, and that’s Sufis. You won’t be able to resist the cozy melodies on “Anymore” or the drunken reggae swagger carrying “Till I Get Home.” Embrace the weird on the squiggly “Crispy Grapes 2” or the sly, sinister vibes making up “Watch Out.”
“After Hours” ends up a bizarre mixed bag that zooms in, hypnotizes and is gone in a tight 28-minute flash. Dig it.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – April 12, 2018

Sounds – April 12, 2018

STILL AROUND: PART TWO

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB — ‘Wrong Creatures’
THE GOOD: American alt-rockers BRMC are still plugging away on their eighth.
THE BAD: “Creatures” is highly predictable but not bad.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These guys have been reliable since the turn of the century, a working ROCK band ripping off Velvet Underground’s bleakness, the fuzzy grind found on mid-period Jesus & Mary Chain records and the guitar-fueled haze that fogged up just about any shoegaze catalog you may remember.
The formula remains just intriguing enough to make any hour-long session with the guys NOT seem like an exercise in repetitious excess. “Wrong Creatures” is no exception. Even when we’re hit with a bunch of mid-tempo sludge-fests across its middle, the album resonates. The growling session conjures up images of any American desert or lost highway after dark. Warm, dusty and a little dangerous, these moody tunes roar and simmer in all the right places. Progress be damned — BRMC is the same as it ever was, but that’s cool.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS — ‘I Like Fun’ 
THE GOOD: The New York Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) return with another quirky, infectious, indie pop playlist.
THE BAD: It’s business as usual, but with TMBG, that’s never bad.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Buy pretty much ANY of the group’s album’s and you know what you’ll get — jingle writers gone mad and penning tiny pop masterpieces instead of pesky commercials. They’ve done it rather prolifically for more than three sing-song decades now.
This time, you can groove to the seamless funk carrying “Push Back the Hands,” swim in the fuzzy surf guitar slathered all over the stomping “An Insult to the Fact Checkers” and revel in the downright weirdness that is the title track. Personally, I’m quite smitten with the rolling and tumbling urgency of “When the Lights Come On.”
Longtime fans won’t be disappointed. And newbies (I’m sure there are still SOME at this point) probably will be encouraged to delve into the back catalog after a few sessions of “Fun.”
BUY IT?: Oh yeah.

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN — ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems’
THE GOOD: Scottish indie pop collective Belle and Sebastian returns with its 10th full-length (sort of) work.
THE BAD: The 69-minute long player actually compiles three five-song “Human Problems” EPs the group released sporadically since November. That’s only bad if you shelled out a few pennies for some of those smaller collections. The track listing of all the EPs and this compilation are identical.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Technicalities aside, the new record is typical modern B&S. The band continues to progress and shed its pure “twee pop” roots, maintaining the gentle melodies while expanding the musical palette to include bigger rhythms and bolder arrangements.
Whether it’s the forceful and jumpy “The Girl Doesn’t Get It,” the quaint Baroque tones coloring “I’ll Be Your Pilot” or the country musings adding charm to “There Is an Everlasting Song,” mastermind Stuart Murdoch and company are in fine spirits, delivering another exquisite collection that only gets better the more times you indulge.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – April 5, 2018

Sounds – April 5, 2018

STILL AROUND – PART ONE BJöRK — ‘Utopia’
THE GOOD: Icelandic singer/songwriter/producer Bjork gives us an epic ninth.
THE BAD: “Utopia” requires time and serious effort. It’s worth the work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Here the indie legend creates an entire world made of sweeping orchestral arrangements, electronic rhythms, magnificent choirs, nature sounds and lots of flutes. If 2015’s “Vulnicura” was a break-up album, “Utopia” is a record of new beginnings and rediscovering love. Yes, these are love songs, but not in the traditional “simplistic” sense. Bjork prefers to take us on a journey of discovery as opposed to three chords and straight-forward declarations of affection.
There are a few hard-driven moments across the middle, such as the crackling “Courtship” and the thumping, aggressive “Sue Me.” Most of the album, though, is tranquil, down-tempo and atmospheric. Tracks such as the delicate, graceful title cut and the stark, intimate closer “Future Forever” set the overall tone. It leaves us with a multi-dimensional headphones record capable of keeping harsh reality at bay, if only for just over 70 glorious minutes.
BUY IT?: Yes.

EMINEM — ‘Revival’
THE GOOD: Hip-hop artist Eminem releases a huge ninth.
THE BAD: Still stuck in a creative rut?
THE NITTY GRITTY: The man has yet to match the brilliance of his first four groundbreaking releases, all unleashed between 1996 and 2002. Since 2004’s “Encore,” Eminem has been giving us stuff reminiscent of past glories, but never equaling them. 2013’s “Marshall Mathers LP 2” came close, but now “Revival” takes another unfortunate step backward.
He brings in Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Alicia Keys to sing some hooks. Too bad the Cheech and Chong, Joan Jett and “Boogie Nights” samples also found here are all more interesting than those guest appearances. Sure, he goes after Donald Trump and the police, but it all seems so tired at this point. And is it genuine? Slim Shady used to care about nothing or no one. Now he’s middle-aged with a conscience? Guess so.
“Revival” isn’t a total loss, and there are some slick jams here. But are there any verses worth committing to memory?
BUY IT?: Your choice.

MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO — ‘Impossible Star’
THE GOOD: British electronic legend Jack Dangers (he still is MBM) comes back with his 12th full-length and first in eight years.
THE BAD: Not exactly his most innovative record, “Star” is a pulsating throwback to the man’s ’90s heyday. Some of these sounds are vaguely familiar.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Yet, the album still finds inspiration in our current topsy-turvy, semi-gloomy cultural and political landscape. Dangers once again employs an eclectic mix of eerie ambient sounds, heavy beats, atomic age samples, funky bass lines, abrasive melodies and a plethora of electronic blips and noise. Creepy in some spots (the haunting opening ramp-up “One”) and outright banging in others (the relentless pops and grooves carrying “Nereus Rov”), “Star” covers a lot of emotional (and hip-shaking) territory in just over an hour.
This new set proves just how much we missed this guy. There have been many imitators over the years, but few (if any) have been able to surpass Dangers since the late ’80s.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – March 29, 2018

Sounds – March 29, 2018

HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR — ‘Omnion’ 
THE GOOD: DJ/producer Andy Butler jumps to a major label (Atlantic) while conjuring up sparkling rhythms and retro moves.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Omnion” is the man’s fourth outing under the “Hercules” moniker and a typical night out with the guy and his crew. This time, guest vocalists include Sharon Van Etten, past collaborator Rouge Mary and Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan. You might not recognize that last one at first; Badwan ditches garage punk for a smoother, techno-friendly approach.
Not every track is an outright winner, but there are no losers here either. Butler eases us through changes in mood and tempo; the evening runs smoothly and never sounds stuck on repeat. Whether it’s the slowly building swirl carrying the title track, the pulsating and banging “Rejoice” or the spaced-out squiggles behind “Lies,” Butler and his guests are always in sync. The rare occasions where he completely pulls back the beats also bring balance and give us (and the music) room to breathe.
BUY IT?: Yes.

CUT COPY — ‘Haiku From Zero’
THE GOOD: Australian electronic act Cut Copy does what it does best on its fifth.
THE BAD: No real issues, but no real innovation either. Cut Copy has always been extremely good at reinterpreting grooves from the past — mainly the ’80s and ’90s. It does it over and over again. Thankfully, the end results are always agreeable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: From those very first island rhythms rumbling beneath opening cut “Standing in the Middle of the Field,” you kind of know exactly where “Haiku” is going. We’re in for a steady mix of upbeat bangers that reimagine the beats from classic funk, disco and techno records. Every track grabs you with a dedicated hook. Every jam shakes up the room completely on its own.
Personal favorite bits include the bouncy, late-night reverberations found throughout “Memories We Share” and the multi-layered party wrapped around the slick “Living Upside Down.” It’s all good, highly energetic stuff. We’ve been on this dance floor before, but who cares?
BUY IT?: Why not?

WU-TANG — ‘The Saga Continues’ 
THE GOOD: Legendary hip-hop collective Wu-Tang releases its seventh. The “Clan” part of the name is on hold because long-time member U-God is NOT present thanks to a legal dispute.
THE BAD: Where to begin?
THE NITTY GRITTY: It hasn’t been a great decade for the Wu. 2014’s “A Better Tomorrow” was mired in R&B. The guys angered their fan base by only releasing ONE COPY of 2015’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.” (That’s a fascinating story.) And now this…
“Saga” is the first BORING Wu-Tang album. Producer Mathematics can’t recapture that much-desired murky and haunting Wu vibe. There aren’t enough muddy samples, and the overall sound is too clean.
And why so many outsiders? Redman, Chris Rivers, Sean Price — these guest shots seem unnecessary. Plus, there’s a genuine “going through the motions” vibe throughout this thing.
Later this year, the Wu-Tang Clan will be eligible for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I’d love to see it inducted. But maybe the crew should quit while they’re ahead.
BUY IT?: Sadly … skip it.

Sounds – March 22, 2018

Sounds – March 22, 2018

MORRISSEY — ‘Low in High School’
THE GOOD: British singer-songwriter and indie mainstay Morrissey returns with his 11th proper solo album.
THE BAD: At almost 60, the guy doesn’t care what people think anymore (not that he ever did). His politics are more challenging and polarizing than ever. And as the man moves forward, his views become less subtle as well. You either embrace the anger or find it a complete turn-off.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thankfully, Morrissey still has the pipes to handle the gorgeous, sweeping melodies that show up time and again throughout “High School.” So even if you get bored with the whole “everything is miserable” diatribe rallying against ALL politicians, the British monarchy (still), the class system, any sort of love life and all facets of life in general (don’t we all know enough insufferable people personally on Facebook?), you still can embrace the music.
But really, would we want a happy, contented Morrissey? Definitely not. So “High School” delivers what we crave.
BUY IT? Sure.

WOLF PARADE — ‘Cry Cry Cry’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie outfit Wolf Parade regroups and come back with its fourth full-length album.
THE BAD: “Cry Cry Cry” gets murky across its middle section but begins and ends very sturdily.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Was the band’s first album in seven years worth the wait? Actually, YES. While “Cry Cry Cry” isn’t a trailblazing collection, it’s still a very enjoyable rock/new wave record, a set of well-crafted, confident songs that aren’t the least bit sloppy.
From the dramatic opener “Lazarus Online” to the sheer, synthesized pop bliss that is “You’re Dreaming,” the album throws us back to prime Interpol, early Arcade Fire and upbeat Peter Murphy with shimmering and slightly jangly gems. “Flies on the Sun” sweeps us up in a heavy sway. “Artificial Life” packs on the relentless energy. The majestic yet forceful “King of Piss and Paper” crash lands the entire affair and leaves us wanting more. Here’s hoping these guys are back for the foreseeable future.
BUY IT?: Yes.

STARSAILOR — ‘All This Life’
THE GOOD: English post-Britpop rockers Starsailor give us their fifth album (and first in eight years).
THE BAD: Starsailor makes smart, enjoyable, guitar-based pop/rock records. But the group doesn’t make great or highly memorable ALBUMS. “All This Life” continues that trend.
THE NITTY GRITTY: That being said, the new album is STILL a … well … smart, enjoyable, guitar-based pop/rock record. Sometimes that’s all you need. Frontman James Walsh and his crew pick up right where they left off almost a decade ago. The guys reformed in 2015 for a tour supporting a U.K. “hits” collection and decided the not-so-old magic still existed. Why not some new music?
Long-time fans will be pleased, as they get the usual mix of upbeat, catchy bits, such as the title track and “Best of Me,” as well as more laid-back and introspective stuff, such as the dramatic “Sunday Best” and charming, intimate closer “No One Else.” There really aren’t any outright duds here, just the rockers being their melodic, swaggering selves. Nothing wrong with that.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Sounds – March 15, 2018

Sounds – March 15, 2018

ARY NUMAN — ‘Savage: Songs from a Broken World’
THE GOOD: British electronic pioneer Gary Numan gives us an epic 21st album.
THE BAD: “Broken World” is long. Across its second half, and the tempos slow down, moods get heavy, and the record drags.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This is a concept album. The Eastern and Western worlds have blurred together in a post-apocalyptic wasteland brought on by global warming. Imagine “Mad Max” with a beat.
On any GOOD concept album, the songs tell the story, but don’t rely upon it. You can pull the record apart (or even wholly ignore the storyline) and most of the tracks can stand on their own. That’s definitely the case with “Broken World.”
We get the usual buzzing and burning mid-tempo pieces drenched in sinister atmospherics and carried by Numan’s reserved singing. Songs such as “My Name Is Ruin” and “When the World Comes Apart” are fantastic examples of the man’s brand of heavy techno-pop. The guy just turned 60, but he hasn’t lost his touch.
BUY IT?: Yes.

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVERS IN THE DARK — ‘The Punishment of Luxury’
THE GOOD: British synth-pop legends OMD return with their 13th.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ever since founding members Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey reunited about a decade ago, this pioneering band has been on a roll. “The Punishment of Luxury” is their third triumph in a row, following 2010’s “History of Modern” and 2013’s “English Electric.” Regaining relevance is not easy, but OMD have accomplished just that.
They continue to build upon their early, stripped-down, industrial-leaning work, icy albums such as “Architecture & Morality” (1981) and “Dazzle Ships” (1983). All the while, the guys look forward and create something equally retro and futuristic, music that transcends any particular era.
“Luxury” is a comment on our disposable culture, boasting tracks both pulsating and calculated (“Isotype”) and more delicate and introspective (“What Have We Done”). As usual, OMD finds the perfect balance of cold electronics and graceful melodies, bridging a gap between two disparate sensibilities and doing it WITHOUT pretentiousness.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

TRICKY — ‘Ununiform’
THE GOOD: British trip-hop pioneer Tricky churns out his 13th.
THE BAD: Like most post-2000 Tricky records, “Ununiform” is a work of highs and lows. Some of the tracks are stunning; others feel incomplete.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Conceived in Russia and recorded in Germany, the new album uses the usual sounds — the man’s guttural, emotional lead vocals; beats either abrasive or reserved (depending upon the situation); atmospheric, haunting keyboards; and metallic guitars. The set also boasts a bevy of female guest vocalists such as Asia Argento, Terra Lopez and long-time collaborator Martina Topley-Bird.
Most of it works. Tracks such as the sneaky, seamless “New Stole” and the popping, swirly “Armor” immediately click. Yet even when everything falls into place, we’re reminded that Tricky is not the innovator he once was. Though they’re good, these late-career albums aren’t breaking a hell of a lot of new ground. And there are some huge misfires. I recommend skipping over the smoky and wholly unnecessary retooling of Hole’s “Doll Parts.”
BUY IT?: Your choice.

Sounds – March 8, 2018

Sounds – March 8, 2018

STARS – “There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light”
THE GOOD: Canadian indie pop band Stars shine on its captivating eighth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: As the band plays on, its sound gets slightly bigger while the formula never grows old. The focus remains the male-female vocal interplay between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan; their distinct voices and differing singing styles complementing each other perfectly. We never exactly get traditional duets, but rather opposing viewpoints meeting somewhere in the middle. It’s like an appealing update of those classic Beautiful South records from the early 90’s.
Musically, Stars continue to drive its catchy songs with a divine combination of electro-pop and jangly rock ‘n’ roll. The beat is definitely front and center, but so is a genuine helping of human warmth. It’s tough to resist the immediate pull of glistening tracks such as “Hope Avenue” and “Real Thing.” Then again, why would you want to? “Fluorescent Light” is feel-good stuff without the sticky syrup.
BUY IT?: Sure.

DESTROYER — “Ken”
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rockers Destroyer deliver an 11th album that’s both elegant and dirty.
THE BAD: Destroyer has always been a polarizing force. You either tune into the brilliance or find it all so befuddling. That doesn’t change here.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Cleverly directed by frontman (and occasional New Pornographer) Dan Bejar, a guy who sings like a more reserved Robyn Hitchcock, Destroyer bring on a sophisticated mix comprised of dissimilar parts such as Berlin-era David Bowie, smoky jazz, stark early New Order and singer/songwriter folk.
If it weren’t for Bejar’s deft, guiding hand, “Ken” would be a muddled mess. Yet the man makes the record come off like some black-and-white art-house flick that forces you to think right from the very beginning and leaves you with conflicting emotions long after its conclusion. Whether it’s the steady techno buried beneath “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” or the naked feelings spread over the intimate “Saw You at the Hospital,” “Ken” is guaranteed to captivate.
BUY IT?: Yes.

NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS — “Who Built the Moon?”
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter and ex-Oasis mastermind Noel Gallagher comes back with his third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So…who wins the SOLO war: Noel or brother Liam with his “As You Were” album? Noel of course. Liam has the distinct voice, but Noel was the driving songwriting force behind that former band formed over a quarter-century ago. He’ll always churn out the more satisfying and distinct material. And since Oasis’ breakup, Noel’s ability as a proper frontman has grown as well.
“Moon” is his finest post-Oasis hour yet. Produced by 90’s electronic star David Holmes, it’s a record with BIG vibrant sounds and an irresistible swagger. Whether it’s the punchy glam carrying “Holy Mountain,” the Chemical Brothers-like throwback “It’s a Beautiful World” or the sheer pop bliss smothering the divine “If Love Is the Law,” the album is both super confident and fun. Noel is having a great time here. Turn it up, and you’ll have a great time too.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – March 1, 2018

Sounds – March 1, 2018

RECOVERY ROOMS ST. VINCENT – “Masseduction”
THE GOOD: St. Vincent (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark) comes back with a slick (but not-TOO-slick) fifth.
THE BAD: Not here.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced and (at times) co-written with current pop wunderkind Jack Antonoff, “Masseduction” is not exactly a bid for the mainstream. Yet the album finds Clark flirting with the whole pop aesthetic while bending and/or breaking it in a way that only she can.
One falls under the spell of dance beats, industrial noise, whirring synths, blazing guitars — all in the span of about 42 minutes. “Masseduction” is an airtight affair; an emotional rollercoaster that takes us from the ad-jingle satire of “Pills” to the sad intimacy of “Happy Birthday, Johnny” to the pounding apocalypse that is “Fear the Future” and back again.
By the time we reach the tragedies being wished upon throughout dramatic closer “Smoking Section,” you’re emotionally drained. But what a strange and divine trip it has been. And one you immediately want to embark upon again.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

COURTNEY BARNETT & KURT VILE – “Lotta Sea Lice”
THE GOOD: Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett teams up with American singer/songwriter Kurt Vile on an impromptu jam session.
THE BAD: Those clamoring for a proper follow-up to Barnett’s blazing 2015 debut “Sometimes I Sit and Think” may be somewhat disappointed. (That follow-up happens later this spring.)
THE NITTY GRITTY: Barnett and Vile meet somewhere towards the middle on “Sea Lice.” She has to calm down while he needs a shot of energy. Once they find common ground, Barnett comes off as slightly lethargic while Vile’s homespun charm becomes easier to swallow.
In lesser hands, this record would be a total disaster. However, these two click. Their casual raw sensibilities bring forth a loose set of songs both ragged and murky. But that’s how they SHOULD sound. Any attempt at smoothing out the rough edges would feel forced.
Yet “Sea Lice” is best when taken in small doses. Forty-five minutes can be a bit of a slog when you were craving something more focused.
BUY IT?: Your call.

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – “Rest”
THE GOOD: French singer/songwriter (and actress) Charlotte Gainsbourg returns after a 6-year recording hiatus with the therapeutic “Rest.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Gainsbourg is purging pain throughout the record, having lost her half-sister earlier in the decade and still grappling with her famous father Serge Gainsbourg’s passing in the early ’90s. “Rest” visits dark territories yet the album is NOT a downer. Moody and atmospheric? Completely. Down-tempo and tuneless? Hardly.
Sung half in French and half in English, the songs find their brooding lyrics juxtaposed with graceful melodies and backdrops evoking everything from late night dance tracks (“Deadly Valentine”) to pop bliss (“Dans Vos Airs”). When Gainsbourg whispers in our ear during the bubbly “I’m a Lie,” she even sounds like her mom, Jane Birkin. Guided by French producer/DJ Sebastian Akchote, “Rest” is practically a perfect melding of icy electronics and warm raw human emotions. It’s a strong combination that doesn’t release its grip until the final note fades out.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – February 22, 2018

Sounds – February 22, 2018

CHANGES IN ATTITUDES DEERHOOF – “Mountain Moves”
THE GOOD: California indie rockers Deerhoof come back with a varied fourteenth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Written and recorded after our 2016 presidential election, “Mountain Moves” is another case of indie rock challenging the Right. When Deerhoof brings on its mix of bubble gum, noise rock and trashy funk though, any feelings of anger or frustration still sound merry and completely danceable. The record may begin in a dark place, but after 20 minutes, you get swept up in its sunny hopeful vibes.
Guest vocalists include Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier. The band even tackles a couple of cover tunes courtesy of Bob Marley and the Staple Singers (lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s joyful chirp throughout “Freedom Highway” will make your day).
So, politics or not, “Mountain Moves” is another Deerhoof triumph; a study in both simple melodies and wild unpredictability. And as the band approaches the 25-year mark, the unique sounds and fresh ideas remain abundant.
BUY IT?: Yep.

THE HORRORS – “V”
THE GOOD: British alt-rockers the Horrors continue to morph and progress on the band’s fifth.
THE BAD: Depends upon what you crave…
THE NITTY GRITTY: If you listened to 2007’s “Strange House” and then jumped straight to this new release, it would take some serious convincing to prove both were products of the same band. The two records hail from completely different planets.
What started as a noisy, trashy, goth-garage outfit has slowly developed into a more refined new wave act. Five albums over the past decade have seen the band exploring styles as disparate as punk, shoegaze, electro and 80s neo-romantic. Now on “V” (that’s “five”), the lads lock into multi-layered grooves and swirling psychedelic backdrops to bring forth melodic guitar/synth hybrids that can be classified as both experimental freak-outs and pop gems.
Combining mid-period Cure, prime Dandy Warhols and splashes of both the Stone Roses and New Order, “V” ends up another happy accident that leaves us clamoring for the band’s next unpredictable chapter.
BUY IT?: Surely.

WOLF ALICE – “Visions of a Life”
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Wolf Alice dodges the sophomore slump with a varied second.
THE BAD: “Visions” is so diverse, it practically lacks any cohesive direction. Go with it though, and enjoy the ride.
THE NITTY GRITTY: A few dire missteps aside (I can’t wholly embrace the juvenile stupidity spread across “Yuk Foo” or the prog-rock bombast dominating the title track), “Visions” is actually a decent alt-rock album that kind of doubles as a really cool mixtape.
Fronted by the always tough yet strangely charming Ellie Roswell, the band bounces from the dream pop of “Heavenward” to the cool funk carrying “Beautifully Unconventional” to the harmonious flirtations on “Don’t Delete the Kisses” effortlessly. They make the jagged transitions all sound so easy.
From there, it’s on to the Brit-pop stomp of “Space and Time” and the gentle coo that makes “After the Zero Hour” so damn irresistible. There are so many different flavors to savor. I suggest you get started.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – February 15, 2018

Sounds – February 15, 2018

SIR SLY – Don’t You Worry Honey 
THE GOOD: Los Angeles indie pop trio Sir Sly comes back with their second.
THE BAD: Did the band dodge the sophomore slump? Perhaps, but they also made a record VERY SIMILAR to 2014’s “You Haunt Me.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: But what could we expect? Sir Sly is yet another generic rock/electronic hybrid churning out “safe” stuff for movie trailers aimed at teens, video game soundtracks, and commercial alternative radio stations too damn complacent to take a chance on anything genuinely innovative.
Joywave. Saint Motel. X Ambassadors. Sir Sly. It’s all the same musical twaddle. A melody grabs you here; a beat pushes you there. But nothing sticks. “Honey” could be a decent jogging record or i-Phone album for those long subway commutes (oh wait ­— we don’t do that here in NEPA). Other than that though, the set just gets lost in the Spotify shuffle.
BUY IT? Download if you must. But skipping it altogether won’t leave a gaping hole in any collection or playlist.

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – The Echo of Pleasure 
THE GOOD: New York indie pop outfit PBPH come back with a mature fourth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: PBPH is essentially a Kip Berman solo outing on this record. He’s getting older; his life in transition. Berman is now married with a kid. The songwriting and spirit of the whole affair reflects these changes.
Still, “Pleasure” remains another sparkling ’80s throwback from a guy who knows how to crank out a satisfying bouncy pop song. This time though, the arrangements are more complex; layered keyboards and neon guitars weaving their way in and out of the mix. In strict retro terms, it’s less Depeche Mode and more Psychedelic Furs.
Everything clicks from the swirling “My Only” to the energetic “When I Dance with You.” Female vocalist/keyboardist Jen Goma helps out on harmonies again. When she takes the lead on “So True,” one hears echoes of New Order side project the Other Two. Good stuff all around.
BUY IT?: Yes.

TORO Y MOI – Boo Boo
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer Chaz Bear (stage name Toro Y Moi) offers up his fifth.
THE BAD: “Boo Boo” is another “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” record. The entire affair (especially the first half) flows amazingly well; the individual pieces complementing each other perfectly. Separate the songs though and some can’t stand on their own.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Boo Boo” is less “chill” and more indie pop. Bear continues to gain confidence as a frontman and has further embraced traditional song structures. Tracks like the easy-going melancholy funk jam “Mirage” and the cozy rhythmic sunshine that is “Girl like You” feel effortless; music made for spur-of-the-moment carefree Saturday afternoons. And as the sun sets, we sway to the swirling yearning spread over “You and I.”
“Boo Boo” finds that balance between the ambient and the focused. The music wraps around the listener like a warm blanket yet always maintains that all-important groove.
BUY IT?: Your call.