Sounds – November 23, 2017

Sounds – November 23, 2017

JOYWAVE — ‘Content’ 
THE GOOD: Upstate New York indie pop/rock outfit Joywave releases its second proper full-length album.
THE BAD: Too generic?
THE NITTY GRITTY: One advantage “Content” has going for it is the sequencing. Right from the very beginning, we’re hit with formulaic, radio-friendly synth/guitar mashups. Thankfully, as the album plays on, the music becomes more distinct. The songs stop melting together. The highlight definitely is the multi-dimensional and sprawling “Going To a Place.”
Still, nothing here exactly leaps out of your speakers or headphones. “Content” is the kind of stuff you listen to while you’re doing something else — running, commuting, cleaning out the garage. It’s catchy background music you may or may not come back to at some point after that first spin. Joywave. Sir Sly. Saint Motel. Yawn. Rinse. Repeat.
BUY IT?: Your call. “Content” isn’t terrible, but these guys were better when the beats and electronics were more front and center. During the band’s EP and mixtape days, it was all about a groove, and the music was far more memorable.

Baio — ‘Man of the World’
THE GOOD: Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio releases his second proper solo album.
THE BAD: There IS another VW album in the works. It can’t happen quickly enough. Side projects are a pale substitute.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You can tell Baio is one half of a rhythm section. The guy knows his way around a melodic hook and snappy riff. Yet the focus of his work always seems to be the beat or drive beneath the stuff above.
“World” finds most of its songs interconnected. Keep them together, and the record flows amazing well. Pull them apart, and a few tunes seem incomplete. Musically, we run the gamut from bouncy bits (“The Key Is Under the Mat”) to more laid-back, writhing pieces (“Dangeroue Anamal”).
Lyrically, “World” is heavier than 2015’s “The Names.” Baio tackles climate change, politics and his Trump-supporting first cousin Scott Baio (“Shame in My Name”). Sometimes the messages seem heavy-handed against the bubbly backdrops, with the elements not quite gelling. But “World” still clicks overall.
BUY IT?: Sure.

EMA — ‘Exile in the Outer Ring’ 
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Erika Michelle Anderson (EMA) revisits her South Dakota roots while painting a bleak picture of the Midwest today.
THE BAD: “Outer Ring” is not an easy listen, but’s it’s worth the effort.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Welcome to an existence riddled with apathy, poverty, substance abuse, no direction and absolutely NO future. The singer purrs time and again throughout the subdued “Down and Out,” “But what are you hoping for?”
EMA has a knack for making ugly records, and “Outer Ring” is no exception. Lyrically, we’re dealing with all those aforementioned daily obstacles. Musically, we’re slammed with an abrasive combination of ragged pop and industrial noise. Guitars are important, but the banging beats and buzzing, droning synths always dominate. EMA isn’t exactly screaming in your face, but you can feel every character’s frustration and hopelessness, even during the more somber bits.
“Outer Ring” drags you into the dirt and never lets up. Proceed with caution, and don’t let those slick melodies fool you.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

Sounds – November 16, 2017

Sounds – November 16, 2017

WATERS — ‘Something More’
THE GOOD: Waters, the Van Pierszalowski solo project that eventually morphed into a proper band, comes back with its third.
THE BAD: “Something More” could be polarizing to the band’s fans. The more records the group makes, the “safer” the music gets.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Listening to the new album, you get the feeling that Pierszalowski and his crew want to be Weezer (they even namedrop Cuomo and company during the playful “Second Guessing”). That’s not necessarily a “bad” thing, but it could be off-putting to those who wholeheartedly embraced the weirdness of 2011’s “Out in the Light.”
“More” plays it straight — 10 tight indie pop/rock songs in 35 minutes. It’s tough to resist the sheer catchiness of tunes such as lead single “Hiccups” and the slick title track. If you can forgive the predictability of the whole affair, you’ll want to devour these hooks and riffs time and time again. If you can’t, you might get bored rather quickly.
BUY IT?: Despite its faults, that’s still a yes.

WALRUS — ‘Family Hangover’ 
THE GOOD: Nova Scotia indie rockers Walrus offer up an impressive, ambitious debut.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You can tell these guys are all about the studio, hunkering down and creating complex yet melodic modern indie rock. Those who embrace current bands such as Besnard Lakes, Mew, Suuns and Grandaddy now have another act to adore.
Fronted by Justin Murphy, a guy who sings below a falsetto but still in a higher register, Walrus churns out a mix of psychedelic jangle pop and heavier rock, with thunderous backbeats crashing behind floating guitars and majestic keyboards. Trickery is kept to a minimum (this stuff could probably be easily recreated live), although the boys aren’t above a little tape manipulation now and again.
Tempos and song structures change often, the album never staying in one emotional spot for too long. Just about every experiment succeeds with flying colors. And this band is just getting started. So take heed gentlemen — expectations for the next one already are running high.
BUY IT?: Yes.

BEACH FOSSILS — ‘Somersault’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rock outfit Beach Fossils regroups and returns after four years with its third.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Further shedding his humble Captured Tracks Records beginnings, frontman Dustin Payseur is making sure his crew is a little less lo-fi and a tad more ambitious (smart, intimate string arrangements always are a nice touch).
“Somersault” ends up a jangly, intelligent pop collection in the grand tradition of classic bands such as the Ocean Blue or Mighty Lemon Drops and contemporaries such as Real Estate and the Drums. The arrangements are smooth, the harmonies good and tight. And the album possesses an incredible flow from cut to cut, taking us on a dreamy journey that’s delicate for the most part but thunderous when it needs to be.
BUY IT?: Yes. One gets the feeling that Payseur is only beginning this logical progression, with things getting better all the time. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another four years for the next chapter.

Sounds – November 9, 2017

Sounds – November 9, 2017

PORTUGAL THE MAN — ‘Woodstock’ 
THE GOOD: Portland indie rockers Portugal the Man shake things up again on their eighth.
THE BAD: The bouncy “Feel It Still” is a genuine hit. Long-time enthusiasts are crying “sell out.” That’s a matter of opinion. I say, “You should have seen this coming.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: After all, the band signed to a major label, Atlantic, a couple of records ago. And last time around, on “Evil Friends,” the guys recruited Danger Mouse to handle production duties. So why not go all the way on “Woodstock?”
Originally, the band was making an album called “Gloomin’ and Doomin’” with former Beastie Boy Mike D. Most of that project was scrapped in favor of “Woodstock’s” party vibe. So now we get a breezy (albeit somewhat topical) mix of drum loops, snappy sing-alongs and a hint of the psychedelics from past records. Still, what may be disagreeable to some is NOT a bad collection. Frontman John Gourley and company give us enough good vibrations to make us want more.
BUY IT?: Sure.

JEFF TWEEDY — ‘Together at Last’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy finally gives us a proper solo album (sort of).
THE BAD: Could “Together” only be for Tweedy “completists?”
THE NITTY GRITTY: After making music with Uncle Tupelo and Wilco and a bevy of side projects for almost three decades, Tweedy is at the point in his career where he’s taking time to look back and revisit. “Together” is supposedly the first in a series of intimate acoustic offerings exploring past hits and deep tracks.
Most of this album comes from the Wilco catalog. Tweedy leans in close, his gentle voice accompanied by little more than his acoustic six-string. It’s during these treatments that the songs have to stand completely on their own merits with no full arrangements (rock, pop or county) to hide behind. Whether it’s the gray-colored misgivings spread over “Ashes of American Flags” or the hopeful musings chugging throughout “Dawned on Me,” the material shines.
BUY IT?: Your choice. Personally, I still prefer the full-band versions.

SHOUT OUT LOUDS — ‘Ease My Mind’ 
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop/rock outfit Shout Out Louds is back with its fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If anything, this band is reliable. The formula doesn’t change much from record to record. You know exactly what you’re going to get. And in this case, that’s perfectly acceptable.
SOLs always comes through with bright, splashy, intelligent pop songs. Check out “Paola” and tell me the tune doesn’t immediately suck you in with its jangly guitars, bouncy rhythm and big melodies. You can’t help but love this stuff.
And while EVERY track might not be immediately memorable, there are enough sparkling bits on “Mind” to make plenty of return trips inevitable. From the male-female interplay between frontman Adam Olenius and keyboardist Bebban Stenborg on “Porcelain” and “White Suzuki” to Stenborg’s semi-smoldering lead on the title track to Olenius handling the soaring chorus of “Angel,” it all works flawlessly.
If the group feels the need to offer a smart collection every few years, we’ll gladly accept.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – November 2, 2017

Sounds – November 2, 2017

GIRL POWER DIET CIG — ‘Swear I’m Good at This’
THE GOOD: The New Paltz, New York, indie pop/punk duo Diet Cig (female vocalist/guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman) gives us a blistering full-length debut.
THE BAD: Sometimes the record feels like a collection of demos. A few tracks are little more than one verse, clocking in at about 70 seconds. You want the story to reach a logical resolution. That doesn’t always happen.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When everything falls into place though, Diet Cig can create powerful, angst-riddled music. Tracks such as building opener “Sixteen” and frustrated yet infectious closer “Tummy Ache” focus on young-adult concerns without trivializing them. If Luciano has a bad day, she can turn that turmoil into fist-pumping anthems built upon Bowman’s tight, crashing rhythms; searing, slashing guitars; and melodies that are half blazing hooks and half not-so-quiet desperation.
So while “Good at This” is certainly flawed, it remains a worthy first try that leaves us hopeful for an even brighter future.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

HAIM — ‘Something To Tell You’
THE GOOD: California indie pop/rockers Haim obliterate the sophomore slump on their follow-up to 2013’s bubbly debut “Days Are Gone.”
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The ladies bring back those airtight harmonies and solid grooves that made us all take notice four years ago. Flawlessly blending everything from ’70s soft rock to ’90s R&B to modern indie rock, the Haim sisters offer up a mix equaling appealing to a 55-year-old Fleetwood Mac enthusiast and a jaded college freshman. They also sound completely relaxed and confident while doing it. That’s not easy.
“Something” is another accomplished collection showing off Haim’s singing and songwriting chops. Is it slick? Hell yeah. But you won’t mind the gloss. The studio polish only enhances catchy gems such as “Little of Your Love” and “Found It in Silence.” Each song carries its own vibrant personality and soulful strut; the music is custom-made for a glorious, sunny day. Even the somber closer “Night So Long” isn’t a complete downer.
BUY IT?: Surely.

TORI AMOS — ‘Native Invader’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/pianist Tori Amos comes back with a varied and topical 15th.
THE BAD: Pretty much every Amos record is an epic. Prepare to invest over an hour of your time. It’s only “bad” for the casual fans out there.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Yet, Amos also has a knack for keeping her lengthy works from slipping into repetitive ruts. She always brings on a variety of emotions, tempos and instrumentation. Every record becomes a mixed bag. “Invader” is no exception.
Just like everyone else in 2017, Amos gets political and environmentally conscious here. However, even when the messages aren’t so subtle, the subtext rarely overshadows the power of Amos’ melodies and arrangements. And there are some whoppers here. From the intensity building throughout “Cloud Riders” to the heavy sway carrying “Bang,” the drama never ends.
“Chocolate Song” gets clunky, and “Russia” is about as subtle as a smack in the teeth, but no Amos collection is perfect. Thankfully, “Invader” remains powerful and compelling from start to finish.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

Sounds – October 26, 2017

Sounds – October 26, 2017

ALT-J — ‘Relaxer’ 
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Alt-J releases its third. I guess that’s “good” for established fans.
THE BAD: I nodded off there for a second.
THE NITTY GRITTY: That’s this band’s biggest problem. For all its banging rhythms, multi-layered atmospherics, vocal twitches courtesy of frontman Joe Newman and wild mood swings, Alt-J can’t seem to make music that’s inherently INTERESTING. The lyrics are forgettable, the melodies lackadaisical. And these regrettable conditions don’t seem to change much from record to record.
“Relaxer” is simply another gloomy collection that drifts out of focus and seeps into the wallpaper. This time, the lads added some subtle string arrangements and female guest vocals courtesy of Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell. These touches make tracks like “3WW” and “Pleader” kind of sweet; you almost want to revisit them. But when the band attempts injecting some much-needed life into the party, we get the proto-punk stupidity of “Hit Me Like That Snare.” You can’t win with these guys.
BUY IT?: Meh…probably another Alt-J worth skipping.

PHOENIX — ‘Ti Amo’
THE GOOD: French indie pop/rockers Phoenix come back with a colorful, multi-lingual sixth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Recorded in the band’s native country during a time of terrorism and social unrest, “Ti Amo” feels like one big, warm, fuzzy safe space. And that’s not a bad thing. While many indie rockers are confronting issues head-on, Phoenix chose instead to hit the dance floor while taking us on a whirlwind trip across Europe. It also creates a set that’s distinctly Phoenix while not strictly repeating any past work — a logical, refreshing progression.
Tracks such as “Tuttifrutti” and “Goodbye Soleil” are built on irresistible galloping grooves and overstuffed pink, fluffy melodies. More delicate bits, such as “Fior Di Latte” and “Via Veneto,” are swaying, synth-based swatches of new wave that are both hypnotic and painfully romantic.
“Ti Amo” makes it OK to simply feel good again. Close your eyes. Become lost in the streamlined flow of it all. Dance. Smile. It’s a beautiful day.
BUY IT?: Yes.

BLEACHERS — ‘Gone Now’ 
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff releases his second effort as Bleachers.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first Bleachers record, 2014’s “Strange Desire,” sounded different from Antonoff’s work with Fun; we heard a bit LESS pop and a little MORE rock. “Gone Now” sees some of Fun’s bubblier elements creeping back into the mix. The beats are more important, the guitars less so. Keyboards and horns are more prevalent. And those bold singalongs for which the guy is known play a bigger role this time. Throw in a few random spoken-word samples and “Gone Now” becomes a lot of fun (pun intended).
At the same time, though, it’s an album with recurring musical themes and reprises, making for a bold and complex structure. Antonoff wants us to smile and clap our hands (the rhythms and melodies sweep you away), but he’s also hoping we’ll think a little too. The trip is so vibrant though, you won’t mind putting in the extra effort.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – October 19, 2017

Sounds – October 19, 2017

RANCID — ‘Troublemaker’ 
THE GOOD: Bay area punk legends Rancid remain loud and livid on their ninth.
THE BAD: Tim Armstrong and crew aren’t angry young men anymore, Rancid being a cohesive unit for over a quarter century now. But they’re now pissed-off middle-aged dudes. That has to be legit enough for you.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thankfully, the guys aren’t aging gracefully. Rancid is one of a handful of punk bands that remain both relevant and potent decades into their careers. Bad Religion (another strong punk mainstay) guitarist Brett Gurewitz produces “Troublemaker,” a loud, melodic mix of blue-collar and political anthems played either fast and hard (“All American Neighborhood”) or straight down a rock ‘n’ roll middle ground (“Bovver Rock ‘n’ Roll”). Of course, we get a few pumping ska-flavored cuts (“Where I’m Going”) as well.
Sure “Troublemaker” may be a little predictable. However, Rancid does what it does so well (and often better than its younger peers), so the guys don’t need to re-invent themselves. We wouldn’t want that anyway.
BUY IT?: Yep.

311 — ‘Mosaic’
THE GOOD: Nebraska alt-rockers 311 return with their 12th.
THE BAD: It might as well be their sixth, 10th or 20th.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sorry, I’m a “casual fan.” Every album seems to have two cuts for which I go absolutely bonkers, along with a dozen other tracks that sound like pale imitations of those two awesome songs. C’mon, 311 enthusiasts, admit it. These guys have made slight variations on the same album for over two decades now.
You get that infectious mix of hard rock, reggae, ska and funk — party music filled with declarations of good vibes and daily affirmations. This time, the best songs are right up front: smooth, swirling single “Too Much To Think” followed by the more progressive, classical-tinged “Wildfire.”
Too bad “Mosaic” feels stuck on repeat about 10 songs in (and you still have another seven tracks to go). Definitely flawed and predictable, “Mosaic” could have used a slight trim. Maybe take this one in small doses.
BUY IT?: Your call.

FAMILY ANIMALS — ‘Don’t Expect a Climax’
THE GOOD: Scranton indie rockers Family Animals come back with an unpredictable third full-length album.
THE BAD: It’s not bad, but expect a record that’s all over the proverbial musical map.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Brothers Anthony and Jesse Viola and their buddy Frank DeSando bookend “Climax” with a pair of extended prog-rock pieces recalling ’70s outfits such as Nektar, Klaatu and Lighthouse (if they fired the horn section). Tight harmonies, swirling bits of organ, varying tempos, violent mood swings — it’s heavy, man. Yet the guys pull it off without sounding pretentious. After “Category 5 Sexplosion” closes, you WANT to move forward.
That’s when you’re greeted with the ska-tinged frolic of “Fun Loving Song,” the rollicking “Face Off” and a host of other tracks digging up sounds as disparate as early Red Hot Chili Peppers to prime Screaming Trees. Yet Family Animals continues to blaze new trails (as opposed to just soaking up grooves from the past 45 years).
The boys refuse to be pigeonholed. “Climax” is a trippy experiment that rarely falters.
BUY IT? Yep.

Sounds – October 12, 2017

Sounds – October 12, 2017

SWEET CRUDE — ‘Creatures’
THE GOOD: Indie pop collective Sweet Crude offers a bright, bouncy and multi-cultural debut.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Based in Southern Louisiana, this group of young men and women embrace their heritage, bringing Cajun flavors into a vibrant, modern, pop setting. “Creatures” is a half-English, half-French brew combining real Southern charm with rhythmic urban settings. Imagine a zydeco band hijacking Passion Pit and then some classic Poi Dog Pondering sprinkled on top for spice.
Multi-layered tribal beats stomp behind swirling synths, live strings and stings of electric guitar. The male-female vocal interplay adds a playful element, one that’s flirtatious and always spirited. Tracks such as the effervescent “La Cheminee” and the forceful yet fun “Weather the Waves” are simply irresistible; a lively, organic dance groove gets together with bold, addictive melodies.
But “Creatures” benefits from a few delicate tunes as well. Songs such as the dreamy “Mon Esprit” and the reflective “Ancient Maps” bring balance, ensuring the album doesn’t become TOO boisterous.
BUY IT?: Yes.

HOOPS — ‘Routines’ 
THE GOOD: Indiana indie pop outfit Hoops gives us a melodic, well-crafted debut.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Just like other somewhat retro contemporaries such as Surfer Blood or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the music of Hoops throws back to the alternative, guitar-based pop/rock prevalent during the mid ’80s. Groups such as Psychedelic Furs, Modern English and Echo & the Bunnymen immediately come to mind when drinking in the calculated sounds of “Routines.” The slightly lo-fi quality of the record even recalls a cassette blasting from a boombox with the Dolby noise reduction button pushed in.
What started out as a solo electronic bedroom project of frontman Drew Auscherman has blossomed into a full band with your standard guitar/bass/drums/keyboard lineup. During that process, the songs have become more focused and the vibe ever-so-wistful and melancholy. One becomes lost in the jangly guitars, airy harmonies and dreamy melodies blending perfectly throughout cool, collected tracks such as “On Top” and “Management.”
BUY IT?: Oh yeah.

CHARLY BLISS — ‘Guppy’
THE GOOD: After a bunch of self-released singles and an EP, Brooklyn indie pop band Charly Bliss finally unleashes its first proper album.
THE BAD: If you invested in those singles, there are a couple of “repeats” here. Newbies, however, get an all-new fistful of ear candy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Upon listening to “Guppy,” I was immediately smacked with two sources — Letters To Cleo and early Weezer (or maybe even the Rentals). This record would have been HUGE in 1996. Twenty years later, though, the songs haven’t lost any of their gooey, loud appeal.
Eva Hendricks is the angry pixie out in front, while the boys in the band crank out a sometimes mid-tempo/sometimes stomping even keel built upon solid backbeats, fuzzy guitars and whirring keyboards. The sing-song hooks are massive. Hendricks’ singing style is flirtatious but tough. Tracks such as the banging “DQ” and the melancholy “Ruby” are irresistible. Yeah, there isn’t a bad cut here. Charly Bliss has a blast pushing melodic ’90s rock forward.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – October 5, 2017

Sounds – October 5, 2017

LIL YACHTY — ‘Teenage Emotions’ 
THE GOOD: After releasing a few EPs and a couple of mixtapes, hip-hop artist Miles Parks McCollum (stage name Lil Yachty) cranks out a sprawling debut album.
THE BAD: “Emotions” is a hit-and-miss affair across 21 songs. However, the banging tracks outnumber the bland ones.
THE NITTY GRITTY: My son introduced me to this guy about a year ago when I interrupted an X-Box session in our basement by shouting “Who the hell is that?” My first impression was Biz Markie is back and he’s singing falsetto. The music was just so off-key and “goofy,” but I couldn’t stop listening.
Now we have the dude’s first proper album, helmed by a bevy of high-level producers (Free School, Diplo, the Stereotypes, etc.). The new stuff isn’t quite as “messy” as the early tracks; Yachty finds his voice and further develops his songwriting skills. Yet “Emotions” remains a guilty pleasure that’s all clunky lyrics, sing-song melodies and rudimentary beats, so rude and simplistic in spots you can’t help but giggle.
BUY IT?: Sure.

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING — ‘Every Valley’
THE GOOD: Instrumental British indie project Public Service Broadcasting comes back with a sobering third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After exploring the “Race for Space,” J. Willgoose and J.F. Abraham turn their attention to a concept much more down to earth — the history of Welsh coal mining. I know that sounds like the driest of PBS documentaries, but the album is actually quite fascinating.
Once again, the guys combine pulsating instrumental pieces with sound bites from vintage industrial films, news footage and even recent interviews. Members of Welsh bands such as Manic Street Preachers and Camera Obscura also add vocal bits.
As the album tells the story of the rise and fall of industrialism in Wales, the mood changes. We go from what could be a slick, beat-driven PSA to a guitar-laced edition of the nightly news, with praises for the industry crashing head-first into memories of the mid-’80s nationwide miners’ strike. We end on a somber note as a prosperous era comes to a close.
BUY IT?: Yes.

UNKLE — ‘The Road — Part 1’ 
THE GOOD: British electronic collective UNKLE returns with its fifth album and first in seven years.
THE BAD: No real issues.
THE NITTY GRITTY: James Lavelle is the only original and/or long-time member of UNKLE left, so he now calls ALL the shots. “The Road” sounds like his moody “driving across the desert late at night” record, a collection that feels more American than British. Not sure if that was the intention, but the music conjures up pictures of bright stars dancing over desolate landscapes; it’s more tranquil than threatening but still has a sense of dread deep within the dramatic mix.
Guest vocalists include Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Elliott Power and Leila Moss (the Duke Spirit). The sturdy “Looking for the Rain” and epic, surging “Sunrise (Always Comes Around)” bring on the big beats. However, much of “The Road” relies more heavily on orchestral arrangements and rock elements than straight-forward electronic pulsations. Perhaps that’s where the whole “Americanization” comes into play. Whatever. The vibe works.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – September 28, 2017

Sounds – September 28, 2017

THE BLACK LIPS — ‘Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art’
THE GOOD: Atlanta-based indie rock slackers Black Lips shake up their lineup and return with a sprawling eighth.
THE BAD: Nah!
THE NITTY GRITTY: Vocalist/guitarist Cole Alexander and vocalist/bassist Jared Swilley are the only original members left. And since recent albums helmed by high-profile producers Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney failed to tip the band ever so closer to the mainstream, the guys decided to get back to their ugly roots and churn out the noisy, cluttered and spontaneous “Satan’s Graffiti,” easily the band’s most unpolished effort since 2009’s “200 Million Thousand.”
Sean Lennon handles production duties this time, helping the guys bring together a mix of garage rock, psychedelic freak-outs, a touch of surf, the occasional bout of country blues and even a random Beatles cover (the crew muddying up early track “It Won’t Be Long”). It all sounds like a sloppy gig at a run-down, smoky roadhouse situated on the edge of a Florida swamp circa 1969. Groovy!
BUY IT?: Yeah, baby.

ROYAL BLOOD — ‘How Did We Get So Dark’ 
THE GOOD: British rockers Royal Blood dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Don’t expect innovation, but…
THE NITTY GRITTY: …there’s something to be said for “All killer, no filler.” See? Rock clichés can be fun. They also can be loud and satisfying. Royal Blood cranks out a standard guitar-bass-drums mix that’s all big hooks, chunky riffs and plenty of swagger. Of course, they do this WITHOUT an actual guitar; bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr uses different pedals and amplification effects to get a genuine guitar sound from his bass. Along with drummer Ben Thatcher, there are only two guys making all that racket.
You’ve been down this road many times before. And while the dudes may not unleash the Hammer of the Gods like the mighty Zep did all those years ago, they’re certainly more authentic than say … last decade’s Jet. OK, that might not sound like much of a complement, but “Get So Dark” DOES rock. And that’s more than enough.
BUY IT?: Yes.

DAN AUERBACH — ‘Waiting on a Song’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer Dan Auerbach (half of the Black Keys) delivers his second proper solo album.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: 2009’s blues-drenched “Keep It Hid” sounded like a direct extension of Auerbach’s work with the Keys (especially the raw swampy stuff put out during those pre-crossover days). “Waiting” is (almost) the exact opposite, with the man embracing his “pop” side. The melodies are direct and irresistible, and the occasional flowing string or bright horn section enhances the rich arrangements.
Auerbach recorded the album at his own Nashville studio and recruited some heavy-hitters to help bring his snappy, polished vision to fruition. Legends such as John Prine, Duane Eddy and Mark Knopfler all lend a guitar or backing vocal to the feel-good proceedings. Dig the breezy, country-flavored title cut; the sweet shuffle carrying “Livin’ in Sin”; the groovy, stomping “Stand By My Girl”; or the blue-eyed soul shading “King of a One Horse Town.” There isn’t a dud in the bunch.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

Sounds – September 21, 2017

Sounds – September 21, 2017

COOL MOVES SAID THE WHALE — ‘As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie pop/rockers Said the Whale come back with their fifth.
THE BAD: Nothing “bad” but…
THE NITTY GRITTY: …nothing extremely “glowing” either. “Eyes Are Wide” is typical STW — semi-formulaic indie pop in which the guitars and keyboards melt together, the backbeats are that modern Foster the People/Passion Pit dance/rock hybrid, the vocals soar across big melodies, and everything fits oh-so-neatly into place. It’s not exactly musical wallpaper, but it’s dangerously close to being forgotten almost immediately.
In other words, we’ve been here many times before. Then again, tunes such as the spirited “I Will Follow You” or the majestic “Emily Rose” are filled with enough little infectious touches (some not so subtle) to catch us off guard while tickling our ears. The band does know its way around an effective hook or dedicated groove. Still, Said the Whale should consider changing the formula at least a little next time around. No one likes being stuck in a rut.
BUY IT?: Your call.

SYLVAN ESSO — ‘What Now’
THE GOOD: North Carolina electronic indie pop duo Sylvan Esso dodges the sophomore slump with a grand colorful second effort.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So far, Sylvan Esso’s forward trajectory has been totally unexpected when you consider that vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn hail from what are essentially modern FOLK outfits (Mountain Man and Megafun, respectively).
Looking at these more rustic musical backgrounds, you might think the duo’s attempts at underground dance pop would be laughable at best. While the two aren’t above satirical lyrics and taking sarcastic jabs at various facets of mainstream society, Meath and Sanborn are always in on the joke. And no one is laughing at the pair’s backing grooves and beats.
Pretty much all these songs are instantly fetching to both the body and the mind. They’re intelligent stuff to which you can’t help but move. “What Now” never loses momentum and ends up a varied collection that crackles, bangs and pops with the best of ’em.
BUY IT?: Yes.

LANA DEL REY — ‘Lust for Life’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey gives us an epic fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Lust” comes complete with guest vocalists (ASAP Rocky, Sean Lennon, Stevie Nicks), subtle nods to hip-hop (atmospheric beats banging far away in the distance) and not-so-subtle nods to the uncertainty of our times (“When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing”).
At its core though, “Lust” remains yet another divine if not traditional Del Rey set. She’s still obsessed with strictly American images, such as coffee shops and white Mustangs; the unglamorous underbelly of the West Coast; and delivering her brooding tunes as if they were all steamy torch songs, even if the subject matter isn’t the least bit romantic. And you can tell she means every single syllable passing her lips.
“Lust’s” greatest strength though is the songs. The material remains compelling throughout, never dragging even though the entire record barely rises above a mid-tempo roar during its 72-minute playing time.
BUY IT?: Yes.

 

 

Sounds – September 14, 2017

Sounds – September 14, 2017

WHERE WERE YOU IN ’92?

SAINT ETIENNE — ‘Home Counties’ 
THE GOOD: English indie pop outfit Saint Etienne enters a second quarter-century together with its ninth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Home Counties” is a loose concept album (aren’t they all?) focusing on stories and characters from the suburbs directly surrounding London. Here the inhabitants have a love-hate relationship with their environment — comfortable, yes, but also mundane. The songs reflect feelings of both familiarity and frustration. (I would imagine suburban life in the United Kingdom is pretty much like it is here except the houses sit closer together.)
Musically though, “Counties” is your typical breezy Saint Etienne album, the backdrops switching effortlessly between club beats and vintage pop circa 1970. The crackling basslines of “Unopened Fan Mail,” the semi-Baroque strains running across “Take It All In,” the funky thrust of “Out of My Mind” — all of it paints such vivid settings. Frontwoman Sarah Cracknell remains the most charming of narrators through it all with her wispy vocals still divine yet unassuming.
BUY IT?: Yes.

CHARLATANS UK — ‘Different Days’
THE GOOD: England’s Charlatans survives the passing of its long-time drummer Jon Brookes and regroups for a strong 13th album.
THE BAD: One could accuse the band of being stuck in “almost” the same place since its breakthrough debut, “Some Friendly,” way back in 1990. The formula remains intact, yet the tunes still satisfy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some high-profile fellow Brits make appearances here, including living legends Johnny Marr and Paul Weller. New Order’s Stephen Morris and the Verve’s Pete Salisbury handle drumming duties. Yet “Days” remains typical Charlatans (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Frontman Tim Burgess leans in for his cool, hazy lead vocals while the band churns out killer grooves that blur the lines between ’60s psychedelia and ’90s underground house. Better moments include the murky, haunting “Solutions”; the forward motion of “Not Forgotten” (a funky throwback to the band’s late ’90s heyday); and the delicately swaying, highly infectious “There Will Be Chances.” It all works; the band still is relevant in its comfortable surroundings.
BUY IT?: Sure.

RIDE — ‘Weather Diaries’
THE GOOD: Britpop/shoegaze act Ride comes back with its fourth album overall and first in 21 years.
THE BAD: Adjust your expectations. “Weather” is NOT a game changer or some massive, redefining comeback for the band. However, it IS a very good album that finds the boys succeeding at most everything attempted.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ride’s varied ’90s catalog saw the group experimenting with everything that was happening almost three decades ago. 1990’s “Nowhere” was one of shoegaze’s genre-defining records. “Going Blank Again” (1992) found more traditional rock elements sneaking into the mix. “Carnival of Light” (1994) was a psychedelic/Britpop hybrid. 1996’s “Tarantula” was the forgotten gem released after the band’s initial break-up and then deleted almost immediately.
Now “Weather Diaries” revisits what made each past album great while updating those styles. The trippy “Lannoy Point” comes together over a swirling groove. “Home Is a Feeling” finds a lilting melody combining with brash guitars. “White Sands” takes its time running across multi-layered changes in mood and tempo. All is fine.
BUY IT?: Yep.

Sounds – September 7, 2017

Sounds – September 7, 2017

K. FLAY — ‘Every Where Is Some Where’
THE GOOD: Illinois singer/rapper K. Flay (born Kristine Meredith Flaherty) dodges the sophomore slump with a genre-bending winner.
THE BAD: Nope. 
THE NITTY GRITTY: After a failed start with RCA and independently releasing a critically acclaimed debut, K. Flay now finds herself at Interscope. However, “Every Where” is hardly a major-label bid for the mainstream.
Lyrically, Flay likes her sex, drugs and other nocturnal pastimes. Musically, we’re smacked upside the head with a cool mix of streamlined dance pop, grisly guitar-driven alt-rock and seedy, hip-grinding hip-hop. Flay flanks it all with a not-so-pretty, bad-ass rock ‘n’ roll attitude. It’s a razor-sharp combination that never lets up.
From the flirtatious “High Enough” to the aggressive “Black Wave” (“Don’t test me!”), Flay doesn’t let her vulnerability completely rise to the surface. And she doesn’t exactly sound susceptible while singing “The President Has a Sex Tape.” Treat her right or you’ll live to regret it. Ignore this album and you’ll regret that too.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

BONOBO — ‘Migration’
THE GOOD: Electronic artist Simon Green (aka Bonobo) comes back with an accomplished sixth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On the surface, “Migration” might seem like just another down-tempo or ambient techno album — a mostly instrumental set with a handful of guest vocalists showing up on a few tracks to add a little electro-pop flavor.
And yet, “Migration” works extremely well as a cohesive work while not falling into the more common trappings of its genre. First of all, while the songs with vocals are refreshing, they’re not the stand-out tracks here. Green’s twisting-and-turning instrumental bits are just as compelling. The steady synths across “Outlier” wash over you. The majestic vocal samples on “Figures” are divine.
Second, the record never wears out its welcome. Despite being over an hour long, there’s a cool ebb and flow to the whole affair. Just when matters get all-too-dreamy, Green snaps us back to attention with a sharp-focused rhythm. And yet we never completely leave this “otherworld” until the music’s over.
BUY IT?: Yes.

NITE JEWEL — ‘Real High’
THE GOOD: California singer/songwriter Ramona Gonzalez (stage name Nite Jewel) embraces your best night out circa 1995 on her fourth full-length album.
THE BAD: Sequencing? The second half of the record kind of crawls. However, that could be the late-night “come down” after some heavy partying. 
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Real High” plays like the perfect cross between early ’90s new jack swing and Todd Terry-remixed Everything but the Girl. The R&B influences hail from the mainstream, but the record is still innovative enough for the underground. Add a few Euro-flavored echoes deep within these mixes, and the tracks become even more exotic.
From the breezy shuffle carrying “Had To Let Me Go” to the modern poppy bounce lifting “The Answer,” both the record’s grooves and melodies are highly infectious. The songs take hold, and once you’re locked in their rhythm, there’s no escape. Gonzalez also possesses the perfect voice for her own material; it’s slightly flirtatious but always commanding. She’s strong yet fun — the perfect date.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds – August 31, 2017

Sounds – August 31, 2017

THE MOONLANDINGZ — ‘Interplanetary Class Classics’
THE GOOD: British “band” the Moonlandingz delivers a totally trashy and completely danceable debut. 
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The music is damn near undefinable, but so is the group itself. A melding of art collective the Eccentric Research Council, band members from Fat White Family and producer/musician Sean Lennon, Moonlandingz gives us a record combining Gothic pop, psychedelic disco, noisy garage rock and androgynous glam. It’s outrageous music to accompany the group’s equally outrageous stage shows.
Strange collaborations include Yoko Ono wailing away with the Human League’s Philip Oakey on the corrupt dance-floor anthem “This Cities Undone.” Randy Jones, the Village People’s original cowboy, guests on the sleazy “Glory Hole.” Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor adds haunting vocals to the disturbingly beautiful “The Strangle of Anna.”
Add occasional blasts of switched-on techno or surf guitar, and these multi-layered soundscapes get even weirder. Time will tell if this is the beginning of a long-term cunning collaboration or a one-off oddity. I’m hoping for the former, not the latter.
BUY IT?: Yes.

!!! — ‘Shake the Shudder’
THE GOOD: California dance-punks !!! crank out their seventh full-length album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Nic Offer and his crew continue to revel in their world of decadent funk, groove-heavy rock and steamy, sweaty disco. One song here sums up the band’s attitude since its 2001 inception — “Dancing Is the Best Revenge.” Doesn’t matter what authority, politicians or the world at large throws at you. Boogie your ass off and all will be fine. “Shake the Shudder” is simply the latest bunch of songs in an ever-expanding, pounding playlist that cracks and booms long into the night.
The beats never stop, and their tempos don’t change all that much. However, the slick stuff spread across the top keeps the record from getting stuck in “repeat” mode. So whether it’s the childish electronics on “What R U Up 2day” or the reserved melodic thrust carrying “Imaginary Interviews,” these slabs of pure depravity should keep you moving for a long time to come.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

THE CHAIN GANG OF 1974 — ‘Felt’
THE GOOD: Indie pop singer/songwriter Kamtin Mohager (stage name CGof1974) gives us his fourth.
THE BAD: Too formulaic.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mohager was never exactly blazing new trails on any past records; each collection is a throwback to alternative synth-heavy rock circa ’84 (as opposed to the ’74 moniker). The guy proved himself very adept at dishing out memorable hooks atop airtight backdrops where guitars and keyboards meshed harmoniously over solid backbeats. Agreeable snappy stuff.Produced by the Naked and Famous’ Thom Powers, “Felt” is more of the same. However, the new album leans in a more dedicated pop direction, so some of the music’s uniqueness is now sorely lacking. Mohager still churns out decent songs though. Personal favorites include steadily flowing goodies such as “Wallflowers” and “Looking for Love.” However, “Felt” slips into mediocrity pretty quickly. Maybe the next collection will be better.
BUY IT?: Meh…Spotify will do. Besides, there’s no CD on this release. You have to make the great leap from download to vinyl if you want a physical copy.

Sounds – August 24, 2017

Sounds – August 24, 2017

LORDE — ‘Melodrama’  
THE GOOD: New Zealand pop sensation Lorde comes back after a long hiatus with an ambitious sophomore effort.
THE BAD: Nope. “Melodrama” was worth the wait.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Whether the 20-year-old ever shakes up the mainstream again with a song as big as “Royals” is irrelevant. Lorde now has two solid albums under her belt, and “Melodrama” proves she can run with a concept as well. Teaming up with Jack Antonoff (Fun., Bleachers) and a bevy of other producers, Lorde offers a record that embraces solitude.
Lorde wrote the songs during a time of upheaval many people her age experience. She broke up with a longtime boyfriend and later moved out of her parents’ house. Inspiration came from being really “alone” for the first time. From the beat-heavy breakup of “Green Light” to the intimate revelations spread throughout “Liability” to the emotional intensity coloring “Supercut,” the album paints a vivid picture of turmoil and growth. It’s musically multi-faceted, too, ranging from banging electronics to reserved ballads.
BUY IT?: Yes.

FEIST — ‘Pleasure’
THE GOOD: Canadian singer/songwriter Feist returns with her fifth album and first in six years.
THE BAD: Depends upon your expectations. Those craving another breezy pop gem like “1 2 3 4” aren’t going to get it.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Pleasure” is a raw, intimate affair built with stripped-down arrangements. Feist confronts her inner demons while getting reacquainted with bare-bones indie rock, modern folk and even a touch of the blues.
One can detect echoes of P.J. Harvey across the “plugged-in” moments and strains of Cat Power during the quieter bits. “Pleasure,” however, is distinctly Feist. Even when she sounds defeated, her warm voice is unmistakable and her breathy, unassuming delivery always welcome.
This time, that voice is accompanied by ghostly harmonies, spontaneous guitar, distinct bits of keyboard that sound either majestic or playful, rudimentary drumbeats and lo-fi atmospherics stolen from the world outside. The end result sounds very impulsive at first, but repeat listens bring out the songs’ deliberate brilliance.
BUY IT?: Surely.

SHERYL CROW — ‘Be Myself’
THE GOOD: On her 10th set, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow revisits her ’90s rock heyday.
THE BAD: No big problems.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Be Myself” finds Crow bringing back producer Jeff Trott, whom she worked with during the ’90s and early 2000s. So that slight country detour taken on 2013’s “Feels Like Home” (which wasn’t all that genuine anyway) has been abandoned. Although, those still craving a little Southern swagger will find it on the charming “Rest of Me.”
For the most part, “Myself” is a down-to-earth, gutsy, guitar-fueled Crow album in the tradition of her self-titled effort (1996) and “The Globe Sessions” (1998). Yeah, we’ve been here before. But when the woman turns on her self-assured attitude, it’s tough to resist that confident voice belting out those slick melodies.
Pick any track — the flirtatious “Roller Skate”; the melancholy “Strangers Again”; the low-burning, infectious “Alone in the Dark” — they’re all good. Crow doesn’t break new ground on “Be Myself,” but she does deliver the pop/rock goods.
BUY IT?: Why not?

Sounds – August 17, 2017

Sounds – August 17, 2017

HYPERACTIVITY
MEAT WAVE —
“The Incessant”
THE GOOD: Chicago punks Meat Wave return with a crashing, banging third.
THE BAD: “The Incessant” loses focus across its final third (the droning, drunken “Birdland” brings matters to a halt), but that’s not enough to crash the entire affair.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thankfully, most of the album is an aggressive set born of frustration and built on pounding drums and slashing guitars. Recorded by the legendary Steve Albini (Breeders, Nirvana, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), “The Incessant” kicks into high gear with terse quick tracks such as “To Be Swayed” and “Run You Out” before the band smashes its way into more complex territories.
From there, the trio offers the slightly spooky yet still forceful “No Light.” Then there’s the jagged, post-punk title track (image the Strokes slamming into some vintage Husker Du). “Killing the Incessant” ends the record with an enormous thunderclap.
The album ends up showcasing that Meat Wave is NOT a one-note act. The music either breathes or burns itself out in an instant.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE DRUMS — “Abysmal Thoughts”
THE GOOD: New York indie rock outfit the Drums comes back with a layered fourth.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Jonathan Pierce is now the only remaining original and permanent member of the band. However, the Drums’ aesthetic hasn’t changed all that much. The band (the guy?) still churns out a mix of post-punk and surf rock, bringing together ’60s garage elements, the gothic ’80s and today’s do-it-yourself indie pop.
“Thoughts” also feels more experimental than past efforts. Tracks such as the haunting, slowly rising opener “Mirror” and the slightly soulful “Your Tenderness” use the standard Drums penchant for echo very effectively while delivering melodies more complex than usual. Pierce uses varying tempos and falls victim to fluctuating mood swings, ensuring the record never stays in one sonic place for too long (a slight drawback on earlier efforts).
Time will tell if the guy can keep this momentum going as a probable solo act. For now though, the act is on very solid musical ground.
BUY IT?: Yes.

WAVVES — “You’re Welcome”
THE GOOD: California garage punk act Wavves leaves Warner Bros. and releases a sixth album by its own damn self.
THE BAD: Stuck on repeat?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Wavves keeps to the formula. That is, slightly obnoxious but always catchy straight-forward, guitar-drenched rock songs. What could go wrong? Frontman Nathan Williams and his crew crank out a dozen jams that either do the quiet-loud-quiet-loud thing or simply stomp all the way through.
Tunes such as “Million Enemies” and “Stupid in Love” smack us across the teeth with big riffs and sing-along hooks. That’s never disagreeable. Then a couple of tracks dip their toes into “weirder” waters, such as the fractured doo-wop of “Come to the Valley” and the cloying, wobbly closer “I Love You.” For the most part though, Wavves keeps it tight and loud.
The group is going to have to take a step forward at some point, but that doesn’t happen on “You’re Welcome.” Maybe next time. For now, you get an engaging record, albeit one that’ll sound more than a little familiar.
BUY IT?: Your call.