Sounds – August 31, 2017

Sounds – August 31, 2017

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

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

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

Sounds – August 24, 2017

Sounds – August 24, 2017

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

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

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

Sounds – August 17, 2017

Sounds – August 17, 2017

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

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

Sounds – August 10, 2017

Sounds – August 10, 2017

ORILLAZ – “Humanz”
THE GOOD: Cartoon band and long-time Damon Albarn (Blur) project Gorillaz comes back with a fourth proper album and first in seven years.
THE BAD: The Gorillaz catalog is one of diminishing returns. “Humanz” is fine, but continues this downward trend.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When Albarn started putting this record together in late 2015, he told all collaborators to imagine a world after Donald Trump wins the U.S. Presidency. Prophetic? Well at the time, a lot of people didn’t see it actually happening. So, the entire vibe of “Humanz” is a rebellious doomsday house party thing; not overtly political, but subtle jabs against the new establishment are certainly here.
Too bad the record feels extremely scattershot; some collaborations working much better than others. And all too often, Albarn himself slips too far into the background. Still, highlights include the slick Kelela contribution “Submission,” the heart-wrenching Benjamin Clementine piece “Hallelujah Money,” and the dark damaged funk of “Sex Murder Party.”
BUY IT?: Sure … and spend the extra couple of bucks on the deluxe edition if only for the super strange Carly Simon appearance.

PICK A PIPER – “Distance”
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic artist Brad Weber (AKA Pick a Piper) travels the world, finds inspiration and creates “Distance.”
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: A sometimes-collaborator with electronic/dance artist Caribou, Weber now fronts his own collective with a couple of musician buddies and a handful of guest vocalists. “Distance” is a nine-song travelogue that’s half vocal and half instrumental. The beats and atmospherics always take center stage as the man leaps between synth-based indie pop tunes and more ambient rhythmic pieces.
“Distance” finds a nice balance between the two extremes; the record is an incredibly coherent whole with a seamless flow. The collection also slips into a happy medium between aggressive dance floor bangers and more delicate chillwave. You won’t get stressed, but you won’t drift off either. From the swirling choruses on “Geographically Opposed” to the tribal female chants decorating “Flood of My Eyes” to the pulsating bounce carrying “January Feels Lost,” one gets swept up in the colorful and throbbing surroundings.
BUY IT?: Sure.

FUTURE ISLANDS – “The Far Field”
THE GOOD: Baltimore synth-pop/indie rock outfit Future Islands come back with a confident fifth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Their formative years behind them, Future Islands broke out big time three years ago when the band’s performance of “Seasons” on the Late Show with David Letterman became an internet sensation. All of a sudden, fortunes changed for the better while the guys were touring for what was already their fourth album.
So where do you go from there? “The Far Field” keeps the momentum pushing forward. Frontman/lyricist Samuel T. Herring and his crew deliver a tight record filled with confident compositions that continue to blur the lines between new wave and post-punk. One can detect the New Order influence within the backbeats and basslines, traces of O.M.D. spread across the keyboards, and big dramatic melodies in the tradition of Doves or Editors on top of it all. Toss in one duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and the evening is complete.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

Sounds – August 3, 2017

Sounds – August 3, 2017

THURSTON MOORE – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Consciousness”
THE GOOD: Ex-Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore plugs in for his fifth solo outing.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Since Steve Shelley is still playing drums for the guy, Moore’s solo stuff doesn’t sound all that different from SY. The biggest dissimilarity is a lack of distinct female vocals from Kim Gordon (Gordon and Moore divorced a few years ago).
Yet, on “Consciousness,” Moore further distances the new music from his past band work by stretching out and showing off his true guitar chops. The new album just clocks in at 40 minutes but only contains five songs; Moore and second guitarist James Sedwards playing off one another like a distorted indie rock take on the Allman Brothers.
Tracks like the slightly aggressive and shuffling “Cusp” and the layered haunting “Smoke of Dreams” find the man in fine voice and even better playing mode. “Consciousness” even occasionally creeps into psychedelic territories while delivering standard SY guitar tunings and sporadic blasts of noise.
BUY IT?: I would.

ROGER WATERS – “Is This The Life We Really Want?”
THE GOOD: Ex-Pink Floyd vocalist/bassist/composer Roger Waters unleashes his fifth solo outing.
THE BAD: Not this time.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So this just happened. Waters, the driving force behind one of the most innovative progressive rock acts ever, worked alongside Nigel Godrich, long-time producer and “sixth member” of arguably the most influential band on the planet today. Pink Floyd meets Radiohead. Is your mind blown yet?
The background broadcasts and string arrangements bring back “The Wall.” The guitar riffs and swirling synths recall “Wish You Were Here.” The grooves and basslines are one half “Meddle,” one half “Hail to the Thief.” The icy atmospherics and sense of paranoia harken back to “OK Computer.”
And then there are Waters’ politics. The man, disgusted with the current world view, isn’t pulling any punches. The title track even opens with an unflattering interview clip from Trump himself. It all adds up to one of this year’s most compelling listening experiences. What are you waiting for?
BUY IT?: Of course.

CHUCK BERRY – Chuck
THE GOOD: Announced on his 90th birthday last year and released a few months after his passing, “Chuck” is the final bow for one of rock and roll’s founding fathers — Chuck Berry.
THE BAD: “Chuck” doesn’t equal the man’s 1950s Chess Records work (few things in this universe do), but this new album remains a fitting testament to Berry’s legacy.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Backed by his grown children and members of his own Blueberry Hill Band, Berry plows through ten tracks ranging from standard rockers in the great CB tradition (“Big Boys”) to poignant bluesy reflections on one’s own mortality (“Darlin”) to progressive groove-laden fare (“She Still Loves You”).
Even the slight missteps (yet another sequel to “Johnny B. Goode” titled “Lady B. Goode”) cook; the entire album oozes energy and authenticity. And despite his age at the time of the sessions, Berry‘s voice was still rich, his guitar playing still razor sharp. Most guys aren’t relevant right up to the very end. Chuck was (and remains so).
BUY IT?: Yes.

 

Sounds – July 27, 2017

Sounds – July 27, 2017

Tall Tall Trees – “Freedays”
THE GOOD: Banjo player Mike Savino (stage name Tall Tall Trees) offers up his first proper solo record.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Don’t let “banjo player” make you think this is a bluegrass collection in the tradition of Flatt & Scruggs or even Roy Clark (not that either of those would be bad). Savino is actually a savvy singer/songwriter combining traditional acoustic elements with loud bursts of indie pop and a hint of the electronic. The guy may be a solid string player, but he knows his way around drum loops too.
“Freedays” ends up a multi-dimensional collection of melodic atmospheric tracks that wouldn’t feel out of place in both a tranquil forest or during an urban after-party. Think Liam Finn hanging with Dr. Dog while some Besnard Lakes fills in the background. Tunes like the slowly building and infectious “Backroads” and the space-age doo-wop ballad “So Predictable” draw us in with their subtle charms and impulsiveness. Every track offers something a little different.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Josh Tillman offers up his third album as Father John Misty, and it’s epic.
THE BAD: The record will test your patience. Thirteen-minute songs about disposable artists and childhood trauma tend to do that.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Two years ago, the man gave us the mostly autobiographical “I Love You, Honeybear.” Now he turns his attention outward, dishing on such hot-button topics as politics, the environment, technology and war. While the man’s intentions are certainly noble, the delivery can be overly dramatic at times.
“Pure Comedy” often feels like chamber folk: Misty’s tunes acquiring a sameness about halfway through. Even the occasional regal horn arrangements and orchestral flourishes can’t make matters much more diverse. Misty wants you paying attention to the lyrics, all of his pain and all of our problems.
So whether it’s the carbon emissions smothering “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” or the clashing ideologies of “Two Wildly Different Perspectives,” prepare for some passionate diatribes.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

Fleet Foxes – “Crack Up”
THE GOOD: Seattle-based folk-rockers Fleet Foxes come back after a six-year hiatus with a sprawling third.
THE BAD: Just like their ex-drummer Josh Tillman (found elsewhere on this page), Fleet Foxes spreads its musical wings, exploring very progressive territories and complex arrangements. “Crack Up” puts you to work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Yet the effort is well worth it. Give this record a fair shot; the more you listen, the better it gets. Those all-encompassing harmonies remain intact and there are times when the lilting melodies wash over your senses. However, the usual tranquility is set against intricate string quartets, constant shifts in mood and tempo, echoes of modern classical and jazz, and more than a few complex lyrical narratives. Vocalist Robin Pecknold gets highly critical of both his surroundings and inner demons.
In one word, “Crack Up” is big. You can tell the guys put a lot of effort into these epics. And you’ll have to pay rapt attention in order to engage with every subtle nuance and layer.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – July 20, 2017

Sounds – July 20, 2017

THE NOISE WE LOVE

ALL THEM WITCHES – Sleeping Through the War
THE GOOD: Nashville rockers All Them Witches return with a fuzzed-out crankin’ fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s tough to pigeonhole these guys (never a bad thing). At any point, they may give you low burning hazy psychedelic stuff (“Bulls”) or off-the- cuff disposable thrashy blues-rock (“Don’t Bring Me Coffee”).
Frontman/bassist Charles Michael Parks Jr. and his crew have studied their Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix records. Yet they’ve probably digested a fair amount of Butthole Surfers, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Nirvana along the way, too. Perhaps there are even a few early Flaming Lips collections stashed in their past.
These guys are mighty ambitious, creating a near-perfect melding of indie rock, progressive bombast and just a pinch of very early heavy metal. “Sleeping” ends up a rumbling and raucous feast for the senses; boasting more than a few extended jams that blast you far into deep space. Crazy, man.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

NAM WAYNE – Nam Wayne
THE GOOD: Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Nam Wayne (the moniker can also refer to the guy’s full band) finally unleashes his first album.
THE BAD: Nah!
THE NTTY GRITTY: He actually recorded this set during a blistering week-long session way back in 2005.
However, various circumstances, including the man’s own perfectionism, prevented its release until now. You would think that a record twelve years in the making would sound ultra-progressive or polished. Thankfully, that’s not the case. “Nam Wayne” is a super-tight, echo-drenched 30-minute trip into a land of noisy garage rock and lo-fi aesthetics. One detects the classic influence of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and the more recent clatter of Black Lips or Cage the Elephant.
Wayne handles everything from tossed-off throbbing love songs (“Friend Crush”) to relevant political rants written under President Bush but released under President Trump (“Decade of Darkness”). And then there’s the unadulterated melancholy on the traditional cover of “Wild Mountain Thyme” that somehow doesn’t sound out of place. It’s all good.
BUY IT?: Surely.

THE BLACK ANGELS – Death Song
THE GOOD: Texas garage-psyche rockers Black Angels come back with a fifth.
THE BAD: Black Angels albums are somewhat interchangeable. You know what you’re gonna get. But the heady formula isn’t disagreeable … yet.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band took its name from the Velvet Underground track “The Black Angel’s Death Song,” so this album’s title brings it all home. Frontman Alex Maas and his crew churn out yet another set of loud foggy droning jams that blur the lines between prog rock and garage band punk. “Comanche Moon” sways back and forth as it bangs and crashes. “Medicine” is all about psychedelic forward momentum. Delicate closer “Life Song” veers into pre-“Dark Side” Pink Floyd territory.
The guys work with different producers on every album. “Death Song” is Phil Ek’s (Built to Spill, Fleet Foxes) turn to capture all the noise that fits. He does a great — albeit not very distinct — job (again, Black Angels albums can melt into each other). So good trippy stuff all around. Dig it.
BUY IT?: Sure.

 

Sounds – July 13, 2017

Sounds – July 13, 2017

GO FEVER – Go Fever
THE GOOD: Austin indie rockers Go Fever offer up a superb debut full-length.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Go Fever is actually three Texas boys fronted by Australian vocalist/lyricist Acey Monaro. Blessed with a charming but not overpowering accent, Monaro sounds like a cross between a slightly rougher Neko Case and a less polite Sonya Aurora Madan (Echobelly).
She’s the perfect vocal complement to all the banging below; the guys churning out a mix of rock, pre-Beatle pop, surf and just a dash of Tex-Mex by way of classic Sir Douglas Quintet. It’s a sound that’s distinctly Southern, yet completely separate from the various musical hubs in Tennessee or the Georgia swamps.
Vintage organs ring out alongside buzzing guitars over rock-steady backbeats. Monaro’s melodies across the top are exquisite yet possess genuine rock teeth. It’s a divine dusty (and danceable) concoction that should sound equally great in a beer-soaked Dallas roadhouse or hip Boston draught house. Distinct well-crafted pop knows no boundaries.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

MOTHER MOTHER – No Culture
THE GOOD: Canadian alt-rockers Mother Mother unleash their sixth.
THE BAD: So glossy. So calculated. So boring.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Brian Howes, a guy who’s worked with the likes of Skillet, Puddle of Mudd and Nickelback (asleep yet?), the new record is catchy and tight. Try to resist the ooey-gooey sing-song chorus of “Love Stuck.” The backbeats kick, the guitars growl and the harmonies are slick. What’s not to love?
Plenty! “No Culture” goes down like a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Yes, I just compared this record to a snack chip. The music may feel great in the moment, but all is instantly forgotten once the CD or Spotify stream clicks off. Just like so many empty calories, there’s no real substance here.
From the teenage rebellion running through “Back in School” to the heartbreak sprinkled atop “The Letter,” pretty much every song is a cliché. Plus the melodies and arrangements are utterly predictable. Textbook “safe” modern rock.
BUY IT?: No way. Life’s too short for insignificant music.

PORT CITIES – “Port Cities”
THE GOOD: Canadian alt-pop outfit Port Cities release their long-awaited (up North, anyway) debut.
THE BAD: Slick? You betcha. At times, you might feel as if you slipped into a Lady Antebellum set by mistake (never a good thing).
THE NITTY GRITTY: The group is comprised of three singer/songwriters (Dylan Guthro, Breagh MacKinnon and Carleton Stone) who already had established solo careers in their native country. Now, they’ve come together to offer up a polished blend of country, modern folk, rock and pop. The album ends up a tight collection of decent songs, cozy melodies and airtight harmonies.
At the same time though, the tracks come off as too precise, too polished. “Port Cities” was produced by Gordie Sampson, a Nashville songwriter who’s penned tunes for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Rascal Flatts. So maybe the lack of authenticity here is his fault. I don’t know. What I do know is that the record morphs into “pretty background music” all too quickly.
BUY IT?: Skip it.

Sounds – July 6, 2017

Sounds – July 6, 2017

ERASURE – World Be Gone
THE GOOD: British synth-pop legend Erasure (producer/composer/instrumentalist Vince Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell) kicks off a fourth decade together with its 17th album.
THE BAD: Expect great pop, not great innovation. The formula dominates.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But why change? When the duo first came together back in 1986, synth-pop acts were very prevalent. Now, not so much. So Erasure is a survivor. And as long as Andy Bell’s voice is strong (it is) and Clarke can churn out those divine melodies (he does), we’ll still show up every few years.
“World Be Gone” gets political in spots. What album doesn’t in the era of Brexit and Trump? But even the heavy handedness of “Oh What A World” doesn’t come across as confrontational when its harsh accusations are set against a lilting Clarke tune.
Then there are the usual dance floor bangers like lead single “Love You to the Sky” and the warm and soothing bits such as “Still It’s Not Over.” Predictable, but still great.
BUY IT?: As usual…yes.

TEEN DAZE – Themes for Dying Earth
THE GOOD: Canadian artist Teen Daze (Jamison Isaak) returns with a very ambient and collaborative fifth.
THE BAD: Not bad but definitely a case of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Don’t play “Earth” until you can devote the better part of an hour to it.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Isaak takes us through a very personal set that’s one-half sparkling electronic pop and one-half down-tempo tranquility. After traveling the world, the man got back to nature in order to give us something very green and hopeful within our uncertain environmental future. At this moment, the record plays like an invigorating yet relaxing walk through the forest on a perfect sunny spring day.
Tracks like the crisp clean “Cycle” and the fragile yet inviting “Lost” (featuring soothing guest vocals from Nadia Hulett) find haunting melodies riding tempered rhythms. Instrumentals such as the stirring “Dream City” and the layered M83-esque “Cherry Blossoms” are non-intrusive bits of audible bliss.
BUY IT?: Surely.

CAVEGREEN – Vita Lucida
THE GOOD: Pacific Northwest electronic duo Cavegreen switch on their first full-length.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Comprised of multi-instrumentalist Eleanor Murray and lyricist/vocalist GianLuca Bucci, Cavegreen makes synth-driven music that remains firmly grounded in nature and, as their bio states, “an ongoing interest in the ancient and modern philosophical traditions of the earth.”
But this isn’t one of those budget world music CDs your mom bought at the grocery store. No, Cavegreen remind us of everyone from ‘90s synth-duo Olive to modern one-man acts like Porcelain Raft. Plus, there are more organic elements buried not so deep within some of these tracks; distant echoes of vintage Beth Orton or even more recent Tennis. And does anyone recall Tennessee’s Venus Hum?
All these sounds combine to give us a heady mix of plugged-in melodies and dreamy atmospheres recalling woods washed clean by a spring shower or a cool clear mountain stream at dusk. And Bucci’s fragile quivering vocals are the perfect complement to Murray’s cascading backdrops.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – June 29, 2017

Sounds – June 29, 2017

DEPECHE MODE – Spirit
THE GOOD: British synthpop legend Depeche Mode comes back with a highly politicized fourteenth.
THE BAD: While “Spirit” may be very potent lyrically, it’s somewhat lukewarm musically.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Since 1997’s “Ultra,” the band has been a trio releasing an album and touring the world behind it every four years like clockwork. Here in the States, that cycle coincides with the year we either swear in a new President, or at least re-inaugurate one.
This time, the new record embraces the current unrest; “Spirit” was written and recorded in the era of Brexit and our own wacky presidential election. Martin Gore writes and Dave Gahan sings about our de-evolution (“Going Backwards”) and complacency (“Where’s the Revolution”). The corporate greed running through “Poorman” feels like the second coming of “Everything Counts.” “Fail” ends the record in a fit of frustration.
Too bad the musical style on the album sometimes feels like a rerun. 2017 can sound an awful lot like 2005, 2009 and 2013 all over again.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

BLONDIE – Pollinator
THE GOOD: American new wave legends and Hall-of-Famers Blondie come back with their eleventh.
THE BAD: The record loses some of its drive across the second half, but remains a massive improvement over 2014’s scattershot “Ghosts of Download.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Usually when a band uses outside collaborators and writers, that’s a sure sign the “well is running dry”; the end results tepid at best. However, the outside help in this case may have been just what Blondie needed in order to churn out that great new wave record we all knew was still there.
Joan Jett swings by to add harmonies to the Debbie Harry/Chris Stein original “Doom or Destiny.” Johnny Marr pens the haunting and super-infectious “My Monster.” Other songwriting assistance comes from the likes of Sia, the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and TV on the Radio’s David Sitek. No partnership sounds out of place; the album never shedding a certain consistency. Plus, despite turning 72 this summer, Debbie Harry remains a captivating force out in front.
BUY IT?: Yes.

THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN – Damage and Joy
THE GOOD: Scottish indie duo JAMC (actually forever feuding brothers Jim and William Reid) return for their seventh proper album and first in almost two decades.
THE BAD: Some tracks are re-recordings of songs originally found on side projects and solo efforts. But those are only “repeats” for the absolute completists.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Damage” ends up a standard JAMC set — catchy melodies on the upbeat tracks, thick stoner vibes on the slower bits, layers of guitar feedback and distortion (a little less than the old days), and the occasional female guest adding some much welcome vocal interplay. Visitors this time include the lovely Isobel Campbell (formerly of Belle & Sebastian) and the Reid’s younger sister Linda Fox.
As usual, there’s also plenty of deadpan sarcasm and cheeky shock value within the lyrics. Whether it’s the false patriotism painted across “Los Feliz (Blues and Greens)” or off-handed Kurt Cobain murder theories on “Simian Split,” the Reids love making us snicker.
BUY IT?: I would.

 

Sounds – June 22, 2017

Sounds – June 22, 2017

SIDE DISHES

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Whiteout Conditions
THE GOOD: Indie rock supergroup New Pornographers come back with its seventh.
THE BAD: This is the first NP record without key member Dan Bejar. He was wrapped up in recording the forthcoming Destroyer album. The man’s presence is missed, but his absence is not enough to derail “Whiteout.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/songwriter A.C. Newman comes through with 11 new sparkling and catchy indie pop gems. Neko Case is in fine voice as usual, further showing her ability to not just handle the slow stuff, but skillfully belt out the big bouncy melodies, too. The bright electronics found across 2014’s “Brill Bruisers” add color once again, although guitars regain some of their strength this time out.
Highlights include the punchy male-female back-and-forth on lead single “High Ticket Attractions,” the seamless ear candy chugging throughout “This is the World of the Theater” and the swirling yet haunting duet “We’ve Been Here Before.” But there isn’t a bad track in the bunch.
BUY IT?: Yes.

DAMS OF THE WEST — Youngish American
THE GOOD: Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson releases his solo debut as Dams of the West.
THE BAD: Side projects always have the possibility of being hit-and-miss affairs. Side projects by drummers have twice that possibility, because drummers are rarely the songwriting force behind any band. Dams kind of falls into this trap. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, the album sounds rich enough; the overall drive and vibes not thin in the least bit. Tomson plays just about everything himself, other than the occasional string flourishes. And some of these songs immediately pull you in with their catchy melodies (or at least their thumping grooves).
Too bad the lyrics are a tad trite or too damn self-indulgent at times. “When I sit down to write a record/Can I be more than just another sad white man.” The set also loses some of its sharpness across the second half; the songs slightly less intriguing.
BUY IT?: Your call.

CRAIG FINN — We All Want the Same Things
THE GOOD: Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn comes back with his third solo effort within five years.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some solo outings sound radically different from the artist’s work with his or her respective band. Not so much in Finn’s case. Although the guy does tend to be more of a direct storyteller on his own sets, creating wonderfully defined characters and spinning many detailed yarns.
This time, we meet the middle-aged divorced guy with a user for a new girlfriend in “Tangletown.” Two acquaintances on a post-funeral road trip hook up in the Windy City during “God in Chicago.” “Jester & June” stars two outlaws way past their prime, left behind by any sort of criminal underworld. Practically every track is a little vignette with a hapless cast playing out their sorry events over a rich backdrop.
Finn also helps the listener become lost in the narratives; his vocals more expressive (desperate?) this time around. “The Same Things” steps out from behind the Hold Steady’s shadow.
BUY IT?: Surely.

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.