Sounds – June 15, 2017

Sounds – June 15, 2017

MAXIMO PARK – Risk to Exist
THE GOOD: British indie rockers Maximo Park are back with their sixth.
THE BAD: Over the last couple of records, the band has softened some of their rough edges; the music becoming slightly less aggressive or jagged. Unfortunately, they’ve shed some of their uniqueness along the way, too.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Tom Schick (Wilco, Beck) and recorded in Wilco’s Chicago studio the Loft, “Risk To Exist” finds frontman Paul Smith and the lads giving us a tempered blend of Britpop and guitar rock; pretty standard Maximo Park stuff even though it’s not quite as hyper as the early albums.
Like a lot of their fellow countrymen post-Brexit, MP gets a tad political on “Risk.” Songs like the title track and “What Did We Do To You To Deserve This” tackle (or at least acknowledge) the ugly global political climate of 2017. And while some of the messages aren’t subtle, they never overshadow that standard Maximo groove we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade-and-a half.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THE ORWELLS – Terrible Human Beings
THE GOOD: Chicago-area rockers the Orwells come back with a loud and raunchy third.
THE BAD: The record loses steam (and some much-needed hooks) across its second half.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Still barely in their twenties, the boys fill their songs with coarse harmonies, chunky guitar riffs, bad attitudes (the sarcasm dripping off those “Sha-la-la-la’s” during “Hippie Soldier”), direct and infectious melodies (the fast and furious “Buddy”) and lyrics meant to stir things up (you have to love a title like “They Put A Body in the Bayou”). They also score points for not exactly sounding British, but at least resembling some of the more plucky U.K. acts that have invaded our shores over the past two decades.
Now whether the lads are completely “genuine” or not doesn’t really matter two or three songs into “Human Beings.” You get swept up in the noise and reckless spirit of the whole affair. So, turn it way up, jump around and act the fool.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

COLONY HOUSE – Only the Lonely
THE GOOD: Tennessee alt-rockers Colony House dodge the sophomore slump on “Lonely.”
THE BAD: This is by-the-numbers modern rock. Slightly predictable, very safe. Thankfully though, the guys are a little less stale than Young the Giant and a little more like the infectious Fratellis. You may not be completely stimulated, but you won’t be bored, either.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band was founded by brothers Caleb and Will Chapman, sons of contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman. However, Colony House’s music is at least 95 percent secular. These boys aren’t the second coming of Skillet.
And when everything falls into place, some of these tracks completely captivate, the way any decent pop song does. “Where Your Father’s Been” is blessed with high rising melodies. “Was It Me” rides a strong seamless rhythmic flow. “You Know It” brings classic surf to the party.
“Lonely” may lose some momentum across its final third, but the record never completely fizzles out. Decent stuff.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

Sounds – June 8, 2017

Sounds – June 8, 2017

Beautiful Thunder

BRITISH SEA POWER – Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
THE GOOD: British indie rockers British Sea Power come back with a tighter sixth.
THE BAD: Sequencing? Most of the extended atmospheric stuff happens across the album’s second half resulting in a little lost momentum.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But Yan, Noble, Hamilton and the entire BSP crew are giving us what could be their best collection of songs since 2005’s sophomore effort “Open Season.” Tracks like “International Space Station” and “The Voice of Ivy Lee” blur the lines between quaint intelligent indie pop and bombastic stadium rock; the melodies fetching, the arrangements full-bodied.
Those craving the more reserved face of the band will find it on moody fog-drenched pieces such as “Electrical Kittens” and “Praise for Whatever.” Then, of course, there are all those wonderful (and very English) lyrical references to obscure historical events, current politics and the darker facets of everyday living. As is usually the case, we end up with music that’s extremely fascinating on multiple levels.
BUY IT?: Yes.

MEW – Visuals
THE GOOD: Danish indie rock trio (longtime guitarist Bo Madsen has left the building) gives us a direct concise seventh.
THE BAD: Those hoping for a few extended “progressive cuts” (the band usually goes for one or two per record) won’t find them this time out.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On the self-produced “Visuals,” Mew decided to put their “pop” chops front and center. That doesn’t make this a disposable or one-dimensional record though. We still get melodies and overall arrangements that soar high above the clouds, multi-layered harmonies and a wall of sound built upon guitar lines and keyboard swirls meshing gracefully. Standard Mew stuff.
Only this time, frontman Jonas Bjerre and company set all these elements across songs that never lose focus or go off on indulgent tangents. Tracks like fragile opener “Nothingness and No Regrets” or the melodic (and only slightly thunderous) “In a Better Place” wash over our senses with the perfect balance of elegance and volume. After all, Mew remains a rock band.
BUY IT?: I would.


THE GOOD: British indie rockers Kasabian stick to a well-worn formula on their sixth.
THE BAD: “Crying” is predictable but still enjoyable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some bands simply create solid collections that never quite fit in with current trends or blaze bold new trails. Kasabian is one such act.
Since the mid-2000s, lead vocalist Tom Meighan and guitarist/producer/composer Sergio Pizzzorno have been churning out danceable rock anthems harkening back to the beat-driven ’90s while moving steadily forward without jumping on any one particular bandwagon.
“Crying” is their latest set which finds the band sounding rejuvenated. Whether it’s the seamless punchy groove of “You’re in Love with a Psycho” or the cloudy dramatics slathered all over “The Party Never Ends,” the guys smack us full on with embraceable melodies riding airtight arrangements. The dance floor clatter of “Are You Looking for Action” would fit next to some animated jam by the Rapture. The epic sway of “Put Your Life on It” ends the album on a resonating high note.
BUY IT?: Why not?

Sounds – June 1, 2017

Sounds – June 1, 2017

Cosmic Goo

CIRCA WAVES – Different Creatures
THE GOOD: British indie rockers Circa Waves deliver a tight second.
THE BAD: “Different Creatures” is satisfying guitar-driven rock, but it’s also formulaic. Jimmy Eat World, the Wombats, the 1975 — all good bands but none are game-changers. Circa Waves fall in with this predictable lot.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Turn it on, turn it up and drink in the infectious chorus of lead single “Wake Up,” the full-bodied stadium sway carrying “Out on My Own” or the jagged riffs and layered crunch on “Stuck.” Frontman Kieran Shudall leads his crew through ten cranking melodic anthems and one delicate acoustic breather (the somber “Love’s Run Out”). There really isn’t a dud in the bunch.
At the same time though, we’ve heard “Creatures” many times before; the standard guitar, bass, drum line-up only goes so far. Still, not every band can reinvent the wheel. Go in with reasonable expectations and you’ll come out unscathed while hearing some decent hooks in the process. That’s enough.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

TEMPLES – Volcano
THE GOOD: British neo-psychedelic rockers Temples dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: The ‘60s throwbacks on their first album have been mostly replaced with a lot of synthetic sounds. This shift in direction may turn off some long time fans.
THE NITTY GRITTY: However, get past the sonic changes and you’re in for a real treat. “Volcano” is a majestic set filled with graceful swaths of the Baroque and giddy patches of pure sunshine pop. Right from the start, the record immediately pulls you in with those divine swirling keyboard riffs that bring about opening track “Certainty.” You will smile, and that smile won’t disappear for the better part of an hour.
“I Wanna Be Your Mirror” and “Strange or Be Forgotten” play like pretty posh Victorian-era period pieces. “Born into the Sunset” recalls some of Tame Impala’s more accessible and soaring tracks. “Mystery of Pop” gallops about the room while sending your head to dizzying heights; Mercury Rev crossed with gooey bubblegum. It’s all so glorious.
BUY IT?: Yes.

REAL ESTATE – In Mind
THE GOOD: New Jersey indie rockers Real Estate shuffle their line up and come back with a fourth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Guitarist Matt Mondanile has left the building, concentrating solely on his side project Ducktails; “In Mind” being the first Real Estate album with new guitarist Julian Lynch. Lead vocalist/guitarist Martin Courtney is still getting his bearings within these new surroundings, but he’s making sure the harmonies and melodies aren’t suffering.
“In Mind” is another graceful collection with just enough distortion spread over the top in all the right places to make us feel all warm and cozy without being TOO complacent. It’s tough to resist the classic Byrds/Teenage Fanclub jangle on tracks like “Stained Glass” and “White Light.” Other cuts are throwbacks to records both trippy (the swirling six-strings of “Two Arrows”) and folksy (the delicate protest on “Diamond Eyes”). The retro synths blooping and bleeping on “Holding Pattern” even conjure up memories of prime Stereolab.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – May 25, 2017

Sounds – May 25, 2017

DIRTY PROJECTORS – “Dirty Projectors”
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rock outfit Dirty Projectors (singer/songwriter/guitarist David Longstreth and an ever-changing roster of collaborators) comes back with an eponymous seventh.
THE BAD: Longstreth’s progressive tendencies are now in full-force. Expect complex arrangements and the melding of many genres. Not “bad” just complicated.
THE NITTY GRITTY: At its core, “Dirty Projectors” is a break-up album; Longstreth ended his relationship with long-time bandmate Amber Coffman at the beginning of the creative process. Tracks such as “Death Spiral” and “Up in Hudson” focus on the difficulties that come with relationships, sad endings, moving on, etc.
Musically, Longstreth bounces from the electronic squiggles of “Work Together” to the ‘60s-based organ sounds spread over “I See You” and all points in between. R&B singer Dawn Richard lends her voice to the bright sunshine of “Cool Your Heart.” Strings and atmospherics add somber vibes to the low hum and soulful harmonies on “Little Bubble.” Bring your sense of adventure and prepare for unpredictable dissonant mood swings.
BUY IT?: Your call.

RAEKWON – “The Wild”
THE GOOD: The Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon belts out his seventh solo album.
THE BAD: One can argue the only Wu-Tang member that ever topped his own solo debut was Ghostface Killah. Raekwon will probably never match HIS solo debut, 1995’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” But “the Wild” is a step in the right direction.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The new set is much less glossy than 2015’s “Fly International Luxurious Art.” His style still intense, Raekwon gets back to the streets, conjuring up vivid full-color urban landscapes, and finds himself knee deep in that scratchy, gritty Wu-Tang-vibe. Dirty beats, choppy lo-fi vocal samples, eerie atmospherics, and bullet-riddled gangster tales are once again the norm.
Yeah, there are a couple of missteps along the way. “Marvin,” the tribute to Marvin Gaye with back-ups by CeeLo Green, feels out of place. The Lil Wayne collaboration “My Corner” sounds too synthetic. For the most part though, “the Wild” is dusty and dangerous, as it should be.
BUY IT?: Sure.

GOLDFRAPP – “Silver Eye”
THE GOOD: Electronic duo Goldfrapp (Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory) come back with a varied seventh.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Entirely composed by the pair themselves, the record does boast a number of collaborators on the production side. The two worked closely with producer John Congleton (St Vincent, Wild Beasts), electronic composer the Haxan Cloak, and producer/guitarist Leo Abrahams
Despite the disparate guest list, the record works incredibly well as a whole; the songs complementing each other perfectly. From the spacey trip-hop echoes carrying “Zodiac Black” to the decadently danceable “Everything is Never Enough” to the dark rumblings permeating “Ocean,” “Silver Eye” is an accomplished set that rarely takes an expected route. It’s full of surprises while still maintaining that desired classic Goldfrapp vibe.
Stripped down to their bare essence, the songs themselves are probably the pair’s strongest in quite some time too (not that other recent albums were lacking in any way). This is simply an act playing to their strengths.
BUY IT?: Yes.

  

Sounds – May 18, 2017

Sounds – May 18, 2017

NOT-TOO-GENTLE BREEZES

EISLEY – I’m Only Dreaming
THE GOOD: Texas indie rock band Eisley come back with their fifth album.
THE BAD: No issues.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Still fronted by the precious female harmonies of cousins Sherri DuPree-Bemis and Garron DuPree, Eisley continue to churn out shimmering guitar-based pop/rock tunes that glisten on the surface while being driven by airtight steady drums below.
There’s not a lot of forward progression on “Dreaming,” but there doesn’t need to be. The Eisley formula still works, and its overall effect isn’t diminishing. Good songs and harmonies are sometimes all you crave. And even if this isn’t the group’s best set of songs ever (although it IS strong), one finds many subtle charms tucked away in these tracks. The ascending melodies carrying “My Best Friend,” the gentle strains of “Rabbit Hole,” the infectious sway that pulls us further into “When You Fall” — it’s all good stuff.
For long-time fans or uninitiated newbies, “Dreaming” is just sweet enough to please without tipping over into saccharine territory.
BUY IT?: Surely.

SONDRE LERCHE – Pleasure
THE GOOD: Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche comes back with his eighth proper studio album.
THE BAD: Every Lerche record has its hits and misses. “Pleasure” luckily finds the former outnumbering the latter.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guy has dabbled in different genres before. For example, 2006’s “Duper Sessions” flirted with jazz-pop. Now “Pleasure” sees Lerche embracing electronic elements and dance-pop. Opening track “Soft Feelings” comes off like the second coming of Pet Shop Boys. “I’m Always Watching You” keeps the seamless momentum going full speed ahead.
As the album plays on though, the synthetics bury themselves in the mix while more “traditional” Lerche sounds (i.e. guitars) come back to the forefront. Yet the man has never released a more rhythmically charged record. Still, “Pleasure” remains typical of the man’s work at its core. We get a healthy dose of intelligent satisfying pop without pretension. Except for maybe the endless prog-rock ramblings of “Violent Game.” But remember, no Lerche set is perfect.
BUY IT?: Yep.

AIMEE MANN – Mental Illness
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and ex-‘Til Tuesday frontwoman Aimee Mann gives us an intimate ninth solo effort.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mann never stays in one place too long, having redefined herself countless times since going solo way back in 1990. “Mental Illness” is the low-key answer to 2012’s more animated indie pop collection “Charmer.” Instead of the full rock band treatment, these fragile songs are given cozy arrangements featuring acoustic guitar, light percussion, bass, piano and the occasional small string section. You won’t find an electric guitar anywhere. Mann harmonizes with her back-up guys, one of whom happens to be past collaborator Ted Leo (of Pharmacists fame).
But while the record has all the makings of a complete downer, “Illness” isn’t a depressing listen. Even though Mann tackles everyday hassles like loneliness, disappointment and depression, the melodies sparkle and a record that should sound icy or detached turns out amazingly warm. So much so that replays are a pleasure as opposed to a dreaded chore. BUY IT: Yes.

Sounds – May 4, 2017

Sounds – May 4, 2017

 MILKY CHANCE — “Blossom”
THE GOOD: German folk/indie pop trio Milky Chance dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: One could classify these guys as “mainstream pop” in Europe and Australia. Here in the states, we lump Milky Chance in with all the alternative acts because their stuff is “just weird enough” to NOT crossover in a huge manner. Hey, but weird is good, and it’s never boring.
At their core, Milky Chance is a jazz-infused singer/songwriter outfit; charismatic frontman Clemens Rehbein leading his crew through delicate tunes played over exquisite acoustic and electric guitar work. The band is equally all about layered backbeats, both electronic and organic. All these tracks ride a well-defined groove; dance if you want to. Yet most of these songs would shine in an acoustic setting as well.
That’s Milky Chance’s greatest strength. The songs don’t just cast a spell with their rhythms. It’s those rhythms that draw you in immediately.
BUY IT?: Yeah. By all means, catch this multi-dimensional scene.

ELECTRIC GUEST — “Plural”
THE GOOD: Indie pop outfit Electric Guest come back (finally) with their second.
THE BAD: Catchy melodies and tight beats aren’t always that extraordinary.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The group, fronted by blue-eyed soul singer Asa Taccone, rode the whole MGMT/Foster the People/Gnarls Barkley wave and made a dent in the charts with the likeable “This Head I Hold.” They even got Danger Mouse to produce their somewhat engrossing but uneven debut “Mondo.” That was five years ago.
That’s a long time to wait for a follow-up, especially from an act that’s less an innovator and more an “also ran.” Now Taccone has taken over most of the production duties, but you won’t notice the difference. Tracks like “Dear to Me” and “Back for Me” get the job done with bright melodies, seamless grooves and a hint of funk. Not bad at all, but hardly “necessary listening.” Still, if you’re impatiently waiting for the next forgettable Fitz & the Tantrums record, “Plural” should tide you over.
BUY IT?: Meh…your choice.

CHERRY GLAZERR — “Apocalipstick”
THE GOOD: L.A. rock outfit Cherry Glazerr gets tighter and more aggressive on their latest album.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sometimes you crave a loud crunchy new wave record to which you can bounce and thrash around the room. “Apocalipstick” (love that title) is that album. Fronted by the always-confident neo-riot girl Clementine Creevy, Cherry Glazerr cranks out a blazing combination of slick punchy punk and danceable synth-rock. What’s more important, the guitars or the keyboards? Actually, it’s probably the seamless crashing drums below.
Comparisons to contemporaries like Bleached and Bully are inevitable, while detecting echoes of the Vivian Girls or Yeah Yeah Yeahs is unavoidable. Whatever the reason you show up though, expect to break a sweat while having a wild time. From the cheeky aggression spread over “Trash People” to the haunting refrains on the thudding “Nurse Ratched,” “Apocalipstick” blurs the lines between being naughty or serious as a heart attack. Don’t be fooled, this music is smarter than you may think.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds: Bang and Clatter

Sounds: Bang and Clatter

LOS CAMPESINOS — “Sick Scenes”
THE GOOD: Welsh indie rockers Los Campesinos regroup and release their sixth.
THE BAD: No Los album is a masterpiece. Every collection comes with both violent bits of youthful exuberance and misguided self-indulgent passages. Recorded in Portugal with long-time collaborator John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Blonde Redhead), “Sick Scenes” follows that pattern.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fans also have to come to grips with the fact that lyricist Gareth David and all the wild kids next door are getting older and their songs are maturing. The contemplative “The Fall of Home,” with its bouts of insecurity and loneliness, would have felt out of place on 2008’s blistering “Hold on Now, Youngster.”
Thankfully, “Scenes” is not an entirely calm affair — far from it. Tracks such as the stomping “Sad Suppers” and the jittery “5 Flucloxacillin” still rip up the room while David spits out his usual lyrical vitriol. Just be prepared for some more ambitious arrangements and experimentation across the album’s second half. You have to at least pretend to grow up sometime.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH — “The Tourist”
THE GOOD: Philadelphia-based indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (now a “brand” as opposed to an actual band) come back with a focused fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After years of members jumping ship, the only man left standing is singer/songwriter/brains-behind-the-operation Alec Ounsworth. But that’s not a bad thing, for “Tourist” is easily his most satisfying set of songs in a decade.
Producing music light years away from the disco-fied goofiness of “Satan Said Dance,” Ounsworth now brings a new intensity to the table by injecting some personal trauma into the work. The drama adds danger, yet “Tourist” finds the man coming out the other end relatively unscathed.
Long-time collaborator Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) adds some sonic meat to the mix as well. The end result is rich and serious with solid melodies to boot, thanks to tracks such as “Better Off” and “The Vanity of Trying” even resembling some of Radiohead’s more infectious moments.
BUY IT?: Yes.

COLD WAR KIDS —  “L.A. Divine”
THE GOOD: California indie rockers Cold War Kids come back with their sixth.
THE BAD: Same as above
— nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s easy to write reviews about records that are either amazing or dreadful. The toughest reviews are ones about records that are just “there.” That mundane description pretty much sums up the entire CWK catalog. None of their albums are outright terrible. The band’s jittery mix of rock and indie pop with a smattering of soul isn’t all that disagreeable.
Frontman Nathan Willett and his crew have even come up with a few semi-cool gems along the way. There was the group’s debut underground hit “Hang Me Out To Dry,” followed by all those variations of … “Hang Me Out To Dry.”
“L.A. Divine” is the boys’ sixth set, but it may as well be their second or their fourth. If you like these guys, by all means, indulge. If you don’t, the new album won’t change any established opinions.
BUY IT?: Whatever. I’m bored.

Sounds: Precious Moments

Sounds: Precious Moments

JENS LEKMAN — “Life Will See You Now”
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop singer/songwriter Jens Lekman returns with a bold, colorful fourth full-length album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Lekman diligently polished his songwriting craft over the past two years. After scrapping a potential follow-up to 2012’s “I Know What Love Isn’t,” the man embarked on the “Postcards” project that found him writing and releasing a new song each week for an entire year. In the end, that’s a LOT of practice, and that practice has paid off.
The new record is a luminous, layered pop triumph, boasting 10 tracks that find the man expanding his musical palette and embracing folk-pop, twee, disco and bossa-nova. This also is the first time Lekman worked with an outside producer, collaborating with Ewan Pearson (The Rapture, Ladytron). Again, fresh ears mean fresh sounds that encompass everything from Kings of Convenience to vintage Everything But the Girl. Tracey Thorn even shows up for a cameo on the charming “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel.”
BUY IT?: Yes.

TENNIS — “Yours Conditionally”
THE GOOD: Colorado indie rock duo Tennis (husband-and-wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore) come back with a breezy fourth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The pair’s sparkling debut, 2010’s “Cape Dory,” was inspired by an extended sailing trip the two took after graduating from college. For “Yours Conditionally,” the couple got back on the boat for some sunny rejuvenation.
It must have worked. The new record is another divine collection of classic pop melodies combined with Moore’s slightly sardonic lyrical observations. You have to love the over the-top character plowing through “My Emotions Are Blinding” or the sarcasm permeating “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar.”
Musically, there’s a certain timelessness to these songs. One could accuse Tennis of being stuck in the land of “Pet Sounds” or “Odessey and Oracle,” yet the duo’s tunes retain an amazing freshness grounded in our current culture. Moore’s strong feminine vocals always lead us through tracks both precious and elegant. So even when some lyrics don’t “play nice,” the entire set remains graceful.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

GRANDADDY — “Last Place”
THE GOOD: Late ’90s/early 2000s indie rockers Grandaddy reform for album five.
THE BAD: Sequencing is a slight issue. “Last Place” is comprised of two distinct halves — the sunny, poppy beginning and the somber conclusion. MOST of the record’s best moments occur during the first half.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Considering what he was going through at the time of the recording process though, it’s amazing that songwriter/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Lytle churned out ANYTHING decidedly cheerful. After moving to Portland, Oregon, from rural Montana in order to save his marriage, the guy ended up getting divorced anyway.
But even the creeping depression and mundane days of middle age can bring about excellent pop tunes. Tracks like “Way We Won’t” and “Brush with the Wild” are further shimmering examples of the infectious stuff that held us captivated 15 years ago. And when the man slows down matters to a crawl, tunes such as the gorgeous “That’s What You Get for Gettin’ Outta Bed” keep us glued to lilting bits of melancholy.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Sounds: The Twang’s the Thang!

Sounds: The Twang’s the Thang!

OLD 97’S — “Graveyard Whistling”
THE GOOD: Texas alt-country and roots-rock band Old 97’s is still roaring on its 10th studio outing.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some of its records are better than others, but the band has NEVER made a BAD album. And after almost a quarter-century of churning out authentic honky-tonk tinged rock ‘n’ roll, “Graveyard” proves frontman Rhett Miller and his boys aren’t slowing down anytime soon. The band doesn’t alter its formula one bit, but why would it? “Graveyard” is the usual mix of rousing drunken sing-alongs (“Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls”), introspective and moody down-tempo bits (“All Who Wander”) and a couple of tracks where Miller once again plays the boyfriend who can’t catch a break (“Jesus Loves You”).
Extremely tight without a bad track, “Graveyard Whistling” will satisfy long-time fans while giving newbies a decent set with which to discover Texas’ greatest bar band.
BUY IT?: Yep.

SON VOLT — “Notes of Blue”
THE GOOD: Alt-country and roots rock mainstays Son Volt return with a concise eighth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Last time, frontman and guiding spirit Jay Farrar led his crew through a laid-back set of rockabilly and country swagger (2013’s “Honky Tonk”). Four years later, the band leaves behind the Buck Owens “Bakersfield” influences and moves toward the Deep South.
Despite some quieter moments, such as the swaying opener “Promise the World” and the solemn “The Storm,” “Notes of Blue” is a much more plugged-in affair. Son Volt has never shied away from sheer volume and fuzzy distortion, and those elements certainly are present here. Stomping rhythms and crackling electric guitars carry tracks such as “Cherokee St” and “Lost Souls” — a little less Nashville, a little more swamp rock.
Yet Farrar paints “Notes” with many different SHADES of blue, lending his down-home drawl to all of the extremes while coating each moment with the right amount of mud and grit.
BUY IT?: Sure.

THE SHINS – “Heartworms”
THE GOOD: Pacific Northwest indie rockers the Shins return with an accomplished fifth after a five-year hiatus.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The Shins is essentially singer/songwriter/producer/instrumentalist James Mercer and a small studio/touring band. Whether the other people are official members of the group probably changes daily. It’s been that way since 2012’s “Port of Morrow.” Mercer likes to call the shots. This is NOT a democracy.
Yet the guy has the songwriting chops it takes in order to call those shots. Band or not, the Shins concoct succinct catchy tracks boasting memorable tunes and semi-intricate yet uncluttered arrangements. Mercer possesses some progressive tendencies, but he never lets them overshadow a fantastic hook breaking out atop a live or even slightly synthetic backbeat (“Painting a Hole” is even more spacey than Mercer’s Danger Mouse collaboration Broken Bells).
Those craving the more down-home tones of 2001’s “Oh, Inverted World” will devour the semi-autobiographical “Mildenhall” or the rambling and rolling “The Fear.”
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds: Dancing in the Dark

Sounds: Dancing in the Dark

THIEVERY CORPORATION — “The Temple of I & I”
THE GOOD: Still held together by founders Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, Washington, D.C., DJ/producer/instrumentalist collective Thievery Corporation comes back with its ninth.
THE BAD: Like past releases, “Temple” is slick and addictive enough. However, is it wholly authentic? Dub, reggae, house, acid jazz, bossa nova — of course they’re all here. But is every individual genre the real deal or a semi-pale imitation? That determination is purely subjective.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Don’t strain yourself thinking about it too much, and “Temple” is still quite enjoyable. From Lou Lou Ghelichkhani’s charming warbling spread over the bouncy reggae punch of “Time and Space” to Elin Melgarejo’s more seductive delivery atop the spacey dub echoes of “Lose to Find,” bits of this record are downright dreamy.
And for those craving something more aggressive or politically charged, the thudding rhythms and cries for justice carrying “Ghetto Matrix” and “Fight To Survive” (both featuring vocals by long-time collaborator Mr. Lif) will suffice.
BUY IT?: Your call.

KID KOALA featuring EMILIANA TORRINI — “Music To Draw To: Satellite”
THE GOOD: Canadian DJ/producer/multi-instrumentalist Kid Koala (born Eric San) moves in a quieter direction.
THE BAD: Those hoping for another big dose of the guy’s mad turntable skills and banging beats won’t find it here.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Koala doesn’t even use his decks much, choosing instead to focus on cozy piano, warm synths, a dash of strings and only the sparsest beats. And then there’s Icelandic nymph Emeliana Torrini adding her soft melodic chirp to half the tracks; it’s the first time Koala worked extensively with any vocal collaborator. So if you were clamoring for HER next outing, “Satellite” should tide you over.
It’s a relaxing set eliciting a haunting yet pleasant atmosphere as opposed to something that demands your attention. Koala excels in these new surroundings, displaying yet another side to his (mostly) instrumental talents. Torrini’s voice also is the perfect, gentle complement to the man’s fragile underpinnings. It’s a musical match made in heaven … or deep space.
BUY IT?: Surely.

XIU XIU — “Forget”
THE GOOD: California indie experimental collective Xiu Xiu (still the brainchild of singer/songwriter Jamie Stewart) unleashes a dissonant 13th.
THE BAD: Xiu Xiu remains a polarizing act. You either embrace the insanity or you don’t. There’s no middle ground.
THE NITTY GRITTY: I tend to feel “unclean” after listening to a Xiu Xiu set. Stewart’s quivering vocals always sound like the man wants to stab you in the eye with a fork and he’s simply mustering up the courage to do so.
The backing tracks are either extremely loud and abrasive or very quiet and outright creepy. Electronic beats mix with live percussion, cold synths mesh with grinding strings, and bursts of noise break an uneasy tranquility. This is scary stuff.
However, some of “Forget” is also downright infectious. Tracks like “Wondering” and “Jenny GoGo” are some of the most melodic and danceable bits Stewart has produced in ages. A light at the end of the tunnel? Nah, he’s probably just drawing your attention away from that fork.
BUY IT?: Yep.

 

Sounds: Strong Conversions

Sounds: Strong Conversions

Surfer Blood —
“Snowdonia”
THE GOOD: Indie rockers Surfer Blood regroup after one member dies and another bails. They then get ambitious on album four.
THE BAD: No issues.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Dedicated to original guitarist Thomas Fekete, who succumbed to cancer about a year ago, “Snowdonia” is a cool combination of the band’s overtly melodic roots (simple yet steady tracks such as “Matter of Time” and “Frozen”) and more “progressive” tendencies (the complex yet still infectious “Six Flags in F or G” and the epic title track).
Frontman John Paul Pitts and his crew prove themselves very competent in BOTH settings. The expected hook-heavy splendor is a welcome return to form while the more elaborate arrangements show the band comfortable with experimentation. And these new directions never feel self-indulgent; those effervescent melodies always take center stage.
So perhaps “Snowdonia” is the group’s fine transitional record (“Here’s the new line-up. Welcome to our new era.”). It certainly gets us excited for the next one.
BUY IT?: Yep.

 

Japandroids — “Near To the Wild
Heart of Life”
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rock duo Japandroids (vocalist/guitarist Brian King and vocalist/drummer David Prowse) comes back with a searing third.
THE BAD: “Heart of Life” is much more polished and layered than the band’s first two records. Could it be an issue with long-time fans? Be prepared.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Many “firsts” here. The pair handled the writing process while living in separate cities, expanded their basic instrumentation (some keyboards) and experimented with overdubs. Don’t panic though. “Heart of Life” is no bid for the mainstream, yet some of the urgency that made the guys’ first two records so enthralling is sadly missing.
You still can’t deny the melodic thrust of songs like the title cut and hyper travelogue “North East South West.” The pair might stumble a bit during the more intricate bits, as they do on the epic “Arc of Bar,” but even that cut shows a glimmer of what can be improved upon over future records.
BUY IT?: Sure.

 

Elbow — “Little Fictions”
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Elbow gives us a fine seventh.
THE BAD: Nothing bad, but not a lot of progression here either. At this point, however, there doesn’t need to be. Elbow is a band that knows its strengths and plays them well.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman/lyricist/guitarist Guy Garvey leads his crew through 10 accomplished tracks boasting interesting rhythmic shuffles; reserved, calculated electric guitars; warm flourishes of piano and the occasional orchestral arrangement that enhances the proceedings as opposed to slathering on the musical syrup. “Fictions” also rides an inherent “even keel” that’s never disrupted. Yet, ever-so-slight changes in mood and tempo assure a compelling listening experience.
Lyrically, Garvey doesn’t stray far from relationships and bits of introspection. However, those somewhat predictable subjects work in these settings. Whether it’s the intimacy of the gently swaying “Head for Supplies,” the atmospheric grace coloring “All Disco” or even the slight bump-and-grind carrying “Firebrand & Angel,” the music and personal observations blend perfectly.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.

Sounds: Dancing on the Fault Line

Sounds: Dancing on the Fault Line

SAINT MOTEL — “Saintmotelevision”
THE GOOD: Following its commercial breakthrough, the 2014 EP “My Type,” Los Angeles
indie pop band Saint Motel comes back with a bright, tight, second full-length album.
THE BAD: “Saintmotelevision” isn’t a game changer. Don’t expect innovation, just solid pop songs. And there’s nothing necessarily “bad” about that.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids, Matt & Kim, Mars Volta), the album is one punchy, infectious track after another. The band’s hooks dance over solid backbeats and backdrops that find keyboards and guitars meshing beautifully. It’s tough to resist sing-song stompers such as “Destroyer” and “You Can Be You.”
And before you think the group is completely one-dimensional, the guys combine clever wordplay and classical pieces during “For Elise” and toss in the delicate, emotional closer, “Happy Accidents.” “Saintmotelevision” requires no heavy thought, just the ability to sing along with frontman A.J. Jackson or clap your hands. And if you find a smile plastered across your face from time to time, that’s cool too.
BUY IT?: Why not?

AUSTRA — “Future Politics”
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic outfit Austra (on record that’s strictly singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Katie Stelmanis) comes back with a third record both dreamier and considerably more serious at the same time.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Musically, “Future Politics” has softened the edges and liquefied its seamless rhythms. Danceable synth-pop concoctions such as the title track and “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself” find Stelmanis’ rich vocals gracefully taking flight over whirling hypnotic backdrops; the overall effect is strong yet soothing.
Lyrically, Stelmanis was heavily influenced by the utopian possibilities found in science fiction while being confronted daily with the political mess gaining momentum just south of her border (our divided United States). It’s a juxtaposition that’s more harmonious than chaotic. Stelmanis discovers hope among the tension.
But with Austra, the MUSIC always is the focus. Stelmanis’ melodies and arrangements never lack elegance and an undeniable melodic thrust. You take the sweet right along with the powerful. “Politics” leaves this tradition wholly intact.
BUY IT?: Yes.

PORCELAIN RAFT — “Microclimate”
THE GOOD: Italian-born singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Mauro Remiddi comes back with his third full-length as Porcelain Raft.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After a huge burst of creativity earlier in the decade, Remiddi slowed down the creative process for the slightly more organic “Microclimate.” While the album is still based in the electronic, layered guitars and warm piano flourishes are much more prominent. Remiddi also seems more at ease showing off his songwriting chops; atmosphere no longer overpowers melodies.
Those craving another dose of dreamy indie pop need not panic though, for “Microclimate” is just as otherworldly as its predecessors. Only this time, it’s a little less Small Black and Tanlines and a little more “progressive,” as in spacey Sun Airway or even vintage Mercury Rev (dig the psychedelic overtones and grand melodies of “The Greatest View”). “Microclimate” may not be a BOLD step forward, but it’s a logical one; Remiddi refuses to stay in one place for very long.
BUY IT?: Surely.

Sounds: Complexities

Sounds: Complexities

FOXYGEN — “Hang”
THE GOOD: California duo Foxygen manages to stay together (the band thrives on inner turmoil) and releases an ambitious fifth.
THE BAD: With its elaborate arrangements and prog-rock throwbacks, “Hang” makes you work at times.
THE NITTY GRITTY: We get Philly soul (“Follow the Leader”). We look back at theatrical Elton John (“Avalon”). There’s glam-era Lou Reed (“Mrs. Adams”). How about some breezy A.M. radio country rock (“On Lankersham”)? You see where this is going.
Recorded with an honest-to-goodness orchestra, “Hang” takes us back about 45 years, to when albums were ambitious and singles were an afterthought. But just like many records from that era, this new album has moments of sheer brilliance AND bits that sound truly over-ambitious. For example, “America” is a bit of a slog at first. Spin it again, and you begin to appreciate the intricacies.
So you have to pay attention. Let “Hang” melt into the background, and the music begins to sound messy.
BUY IT?: Still…yeah.

THE FLAMING LIPS — “Oczy Mlody”
THE GOOD: Oklahoma indie rock legends Flaming Lips returns with a spacey 14th.
THE BAD: Like any other Lips experiment, “Oczy” requires a few spins before its subtleties fully sink in. Some patience please.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Oczy Mlody” is a Polish phrase meaning “eyes of the young.” Perhaps that’s why frontman Wayne Coyne is singing about wizards and unicorns. Or is it because the Lips are still hangin’ with Miley Cyrus?
Whatever the reasons, realize going in that “Oczy” is trippy, softer and very “otherworldly.” Kind of like 1999’s “Soft Bulletin” without the crashing drums and producer Dave Fridmann’s penchant for controlled distortion. Of course, Fridmann is here again. He simply keeps matters more “airy” this time.
The true beauty of “Oczy,” though, is that it works amazingly well as a whole. From the pastoral beauty of “The Castle” to the delicate pulsations carrying “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards To Kill,” the record whisks us away on a cloud of pure fantasy.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

CLOUD NOTHINGS — “Life Without Sound”
THE GOOD: Ohio indie rockers Cloud Nothings comes back with an even fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Still the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist Dylan Baldi (the full band was a Baldi solo undertaking first), Cloud Nothings continues to crank out loud but melodic songs that possess both sharp teeth and a more sensitive side.
“Life Without Sound” came out of some abandoned sessions and more than a few re-starts, hence the almost three-year gap since the group’s last outing, 2014’s “Here and Nowhere Else.” The end result isn’t necessarily more polished, just more in tune with some of Baldi’s past work.
Despite the usual change in the producer’s chair (Sleater-Kinney/Los Campesinos/Blonde Redhead assistant John Goodmanson is this year’s choice), Baldi doesn’t feel the need to reinvent this band’s proverbial wheel. He’s quite content to offer a basic collection big on bold melodies, chunky guitars, crashing drums and uncluttered arrangements. Good songs in standard electric settings — we’ll take it.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds: Warm Beats

Sounds: Warm Beats

JUSTICE — “Woman”
THE GOOD: French electronic duo Justice comes back with its third.
THE BAD: As the catalog builds, the music becomes less intense and arresting.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Back in 2007, the pair’s banging synthetic debut gave us something to groove to between highly anticipated Daft Punk releases. Since then though, the electronics have been turned down in favor of more organic elements (live instrumentation, guest vocalists, sweeping string arrangements, etc.). And while the guys put these sounds to very good use, the end results always feel too safe, contrived or even slightly disappointing.
“Woman” ends up being the duo’s modern disco album, a retro-fitted dance collection that often embraces traditional song structures. Too bad much of it resembles an evening’s “warm-up” as opposed to the pounding hedonistic climax. It’s only when the electronics and old tricks return to the forefront (as they do on the extended cinematic “Chorus” and the throbbing yet melodic “Heavy Metal”) that this set really grabs the listener.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THE XX — “I See You”
THE GOOD: British indie pop band the XX reshapes its sound on album No. 3.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: There’s been a lot of progress since the release of the group’s sophomore effort “Coexist” (2012). Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim (the delicate male-female back-and-forth up front) have grown as both vocalists and songwriters. But the real breakout star is producer Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx).
After releasing his brilliant solo effort “In Colour” (one of 2015’s finest albums), the guy now makes his layered sounds much more prominent. Samples, beats and ambient synths play a much bigger role on the new record, giving the XX a slight makeover reminiscent of Everything but the Girl’s discovery of house rhythms back in the mid ’90s.
Tracks like the brightly colored, punchy opener “Dangerous” and the moody yet funky lead single “On Hold” pull us in with emotional vocals delivered over finely crafted and varied backdrops. The end results are simply dreamy.
BUY IT?: You must.

TYCHO — “Epoch”
THE GOOD: California electronic artist Tycho (visual artist/multi-instrumentalist Scott Hansen) releases his fourth.
THE BAD: Not “bad,” just somewhat nondescript after a while.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Tycho’s music blurs genres. Electronic at its core, the work also boasts live drums and electric guitars that are just as important to the overall mix as the swirling keyboards. Tracks like “Glider” (an appropriate title indeed) and the title cut are seamless, soaring pieces boasting airtight beats, wraparound basslines and pulsating yet fragile (dare I say “soothing”) melodies.
So there are times when “Epoch” comes off as a heavier, more rock-centric take on new age or even light jazz (yeah, I went there). Not displeasing in the least bit. However, the excitement level isn’t exactly high. And after about 20 minutes, “Epoch” simply melts into the background. Some of these tracks wouldn’t sound out of place echoing through the halls of any random day spa.
Go in with the right frame of mind though, and “Epoch” can be sweetly hypnotic.
BUY IT?: Why not?

Sounds: Safety Dance

Sounds: Safety Dance

THE RADIO DEPT. —
“Running Out of Love”
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop outfit the Radio Dept. comes back with its fourth full-length album and first in half a decade.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Lyrically, this album gets political (although it’s of course more Euro-centric), with the guys calmly and politely calling for a revolution. Tracks such as “Swedish Guns” and “Committed To the Cause” combine their angry rhetoric with funk-infused, even dreamy backdrops.
Musically, “Love” comes off like a melding of classic Madchester and ’90s dance (Happy Mondays and Saint Etienne anybody?), twee pop (Belle and Sebastian are tucked away in some of those melodies) and the best beat-heavy stuff from the 2000s thus far (kicking LCD Soundsystem and Royksopp grooves).
It’s a lethal and infectious combination, a rhythmic yet delicate affair (we’re not talking about jackhammer beats here) that will recall everything from the Stone Roses to Daft Punk. “Love” ends up being a feel-good record, even though it’s not really supposed to be. Ah, but that’s OK.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

GROUPLOVE — “Big Mess”
THE GOOD: Los Angeles indie pop outfit Grouplove gives us an infectious albeit predictable third.
THE BAD: “Big Mess” leaves me torn. The listener in me embraces the hooks and harmonies. My more critical side remains unimpressed. Grouplove has created more safe “radio friendly” modern rock that would blend perfectly with some Young the Giant, Walk the Moon, Saint Motel or, as it does on this very page, Two Door Cinema Club.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Don’t over-think matters, and tracks such as the hyper-sensitive “Enlighten Me” and the super-bouncy “Good Morning” pull you in immediately. You can tell the band is going for the ultimate party anthem on “Cannonball.” Grungy throwback “Heart of Mine” noisily sways back and forth. “Don’t Stop Making It Happen” is slick and seamless. See? Nothing completely disagreeable here. However, there’s nothing that distinct either. Still, the band is a hell of a lot better than Foster the People (but is that really a complement?).
BUY IT?: Your choice.

TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB — “Gameshow”
THE GOOD: Irish indie pop group Two Door Cinema Club cranks out its third.
THE BAD: Same as they ever were? Perhaps.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Gameshow” finds the guys teaming up with producer Jacknife Lee (Elle King, Silversun Pick-Ups, Snow Patrol) just as they did on their last outing, 2012’s “Beacon.” And while the end results aren’t disagreeable, they’re hardly “outside the norm.”
Tracks like “Ordinary” and “Good Morning” (different than the aforementioned Grouplove tune) are punchy, glossy modern rockers in which synths and guitars mesh without clashing and we’re hit with enough hooks and riffs to keep us at least half-interested (not exactly high praise). The record never completely trips itself up (although the down-tempo “Invincible” can get cloying at times).
Still, Two Door Cinema Club is simply giving us another dose of what it’s already done twice before. Long-time fans may be satisfied, but past detractors won’t be converted. Maybe the band will shake things up next time (before we COMPLETELY lose interest).
BUY IT?: Whatever.