Sounds – July 12, 2018

Sounds – July 12, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – July 5, 2018

Sounds – July 5, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – June 28, 2018

Sounds – June 28, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – June 21, 2018

Sounds – June 21, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – June 14, 2018

Sounds – June 14, 2018

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

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

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

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EDITORS — ‘Violence’
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Editors releases its sixth.
THE BAD: Grand ideas but halfhearted execution?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Editors has always been a traditional rock band that openly flirted with the electronic. Droning synths and layered rhythms never felt out of place on its guitar-heavy compositions. That’s certainly the case on “Violence.” Only here, the electronic stuff plays a much more prominent role, and many songs seem to be more about locking into a groove as opposed to the verse-chorusverse-
chorus structure.That’s both good AND bad. Take in “Violence” as a whole and the album works amazingly well as a progressive set piece, carrying us through songs both focused (“Hallelujah
(So Low)”) and sprawling (“Belong”). Pull it apart though, and some of the individual tracks
feel unfinished, like building blocks enhancing the overall experience but too weak to stand on their
own. This makes “Violence” one of Editors’ lesser efforts. It’s a worthy and captivating diversion but not
one of the group’s finest hours.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

ALBERT HAMMOND JR.—‘Francis Trouble’
THE GOOD: Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. releases his fourth solo outing.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With every solo release, Hammond gets better, more focused and more confident. With “Trouble,” he finally completely steps OUT of the Strokes’ shadow. Seriously. If that band called it quits for good tomorrow, Hammond’s records could ease the pain to the point of any long-time Strokes fan not caring about the dissolution in the least bit. “Trouble” is THAT good. It’s a concept album of sorts, inspired by Hammond’s twin brother, a sibling lost in utero before Albert was even born. Some songs address “what could have been” while others explore different facets of the man’s own personality.
Just about every track is exquisitely constructed with the guy’s reserved yet powerful guitar prowess, soaring melodies (some of them reminiscent of the son’s brilliant father) and, now more than ever, Hammond’s emotional abilities as a front man. Mentioning individual tracks isn’t necessary. The entire record sparkles.
BUY IT?: You must.

FIELD MUSIC—‘Open Here’
THE GOOD: British indie progrockers Field Music come back with their sixth album (B-side comps and soundtracks NOT included).
THE BAD: Every Field Music record can be TOO clever. You warm up to these albums. It’s not necessarily bad, you just have to keep on your toes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band has always been made up of brothers David and Peter Brewis (the only permanent members) and an ever-changing roster of guests. And there have been some major changes in both men’s lives since 2016’s “Commontime”— personally (fatherhood) and globally (Brexit).
So there are political themes coursing through the album, as the guys attempt to make sense of what’s going on not only for their own piece of mind but also that of their young children. Musically, “Open Here” is that easily identified mix of jittery indie rock, modern soul, classical bits, postpunk overtones and unpredictable arrangements. Stylistic partners with contemporaries Wild Beasts and British Sea Power or the second coming of formative 10cc? Could be both.
BUY IT?: Your call.

Sounds – May 31, 2018

Sounds – May 31, 2018

IT MIGHT GET LOUD A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS — ‘Pinned’
THE GOOD: New York noise addicts A Place to Bury Strangers unleash their fifth.
THE BAD: A bit of the “same old, same old,” but they make it work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You know what you’re getting on a APTBS album — brooding tunes brimming with scowling vocals, plenty of guitar feedback and a touch of the electronic. Think vintage shoegaze having filthy sex with post-punk.
New to the formula this time though is female drummer Lia Simon Braswell. Her playing style isn’t all that distinct, but she shows up as background vocalist on a number of tracks. She’s the ghostly ying to frontman Oliver Ackermann’s sinister yang. Any slight change-up at this point is welcome.
Still, APTBS albums evoke a certain mood. That’s their purpose. You don’t listen for the consummate songwriting. You show up for the pounding, relentless wall of sound that hammers a hole in your skull. The hooks bursting through the din simply are an added bonus.
BUY IT?: Maybe.

JACK WHITE — ‘Boarding House Reach’ 
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer and former White Stripes mastermind Jack White gives us a weird third solo outing.
THE BAD: You must approach “Boarding House” with an open mind. It gets self-indulgent in spots.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Plowing through this new outing, I kept thinking back to Paul McCartney’s first post-Beatles offering, 1970’s “McCartney.” There, Pauly experimented, spread his musical wings (no pun intended) and became a strange one-man show. White sort of does that here.
Traditional song structures are thrown off the roof, guitars fight with goofy synths, live drums duke it out with loops, and spoken-word pieces link tracks that are more about a groove than a solid melody. It’s a trippy, unpredictable ride.
But is it actually any GOOD? If you can let yourself go and get into the off-center riffing, multi-layered beats and occasional soft country piece, “Boarding House” is quite enjoyable. If you crave 10 new “Seven Nation Army’s,” you’ll be frustrated to no end.
BUY IT?: Your call.

SUUNS — ‘Felt’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rockers Suuns get weird on their fourth.
THE BAD: Not “bad” but you must be open to the experience.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The spaced-out “Felt” is one of the trippiest albums I’ve heard in a long time. Echo-drenched layers of guitars, drums and buzzing electronics merge and melt into a foggy haze of organic and synthetic elements. Traditional songs are sometimes sacrificed for rolling, sustained grooves; droning, hypnotic melodies; or both.
There are pieces of jazz, math rock, post-punk and stoner rock constantly floating in and out of focus; “Felt” doesn’t sound like any particular era while recalling every decade from the past half-century. Favorite bits include the bizarro riffs across “Look No Further,” the icy pulsations carrying “Watch You Watch Me” and the eerie mood encompassing “Materials.”
What’s the line from that Tom Petty song? “Their A&R man said I DON’T HEAR A SINGLE.” That’s “Felt,” a headphones record best experienced after dark. Drink it in as a whole and take the journey.
BUY IT?: Sure.

Sounds – May 24, 2018

Sounds – May 24, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – May 17, 2018

Sounds – May 17, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – May 10, 2018

Sounds – May 10, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – May 3, 2018

Sounds – May 3, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – April 26, 2018

Sounds – April 26, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – April 19, 2018

Sounds – April 19, 2018

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

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

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

Sounds – April 12, 2018

Sounds – April 12, 2018

STILL AROUND: PART TWO

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

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

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

Sounds – April 5, 2018

Sounds – April 5, 2018

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

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

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