THE LONELY FOREST — Adding Up the Wasted Hours
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers Lonely Forest bring on a tighter fourth full-length.
THE BAD: A couple of clunkers aside (rambling closer “The Stars, Like Dust” sticks around far too long), most of these cuts are fine.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Produced by the band with a little assistance from Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie fame (LF is signed to Walla’s “Trans” label), Wasted Hours is a hodge-podge of mid-tempo guitar-driven indie pop tunes that aren’t short on memorable melodies.
Better moments include the ambitious “Left Hand Man” with its razor sharp riffs and the delicately spaced-out “Neon Never Changes.” Then there’s the completely irresistible title cut built upon a rolling chorus and snappy rhythms.
One gets caught up in a sense of whimsy. You won’t work too hard. Yes, the Lonely Forest is all about creating intelligent guitar pop, but there’s no pretentiousness here. And most of these songs beg for a second listen.
BUY IT?: Why not?
MARISSA NADLER — July
THE GOOD: New England singer/songwriter Marissa Nadler offers up another subtle gem.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The woman has been churning out a unique brand of modern folk, sprinkled with gothic overtones and slight nods to indie rock, for a decade now. Her catalog has yet to see a misfire, and July is easily one of the songstress’s finest.
This is an eerie set built upon Nadler’s acoustic guitar, warm piano, a small string section, and weeping pedal steel. One track, “Was It a Dream,” is grounded with drum hits and a smattering of electric guitar. But the rest of the album floats just below the clouds, gazing down upon the American Midwest or a snow-covered Northeast (depending on whatever visions are swirling around your own head while listening to these haunting refrains).
Nadler’s voice is drenched in echo and melancholy; her melodies teetering on the verge of heartbreak. The overall effect is hushed yet engrossing, even “otherworldly.”
BUY IT?: You must.
STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS — Wig Out at Jagbags
THE GOOD: Indie rocker Stephen Malkmus releases his sixth post-Pavement album.
THE BAD: Nothing “bad,” but past detractors won’t be won over by Wig Out.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Malkmus has now released more albums outside of Pavement than he did with that ground-breaking outfit. Wig Out may not defy our expectations, but it proves the guy still has worthy tunes coursing through his system.
The album falls right in the middle of a catalog that sometimes feels intricate while at other times plays it somewhat safe. Malkmus rides progressive rhythmic shifts on jittery opener “Planetary Motion” while the catchy “Chartjunk” almost sounds like a heavier take on Belle and Sebastian. “J Smoov” is a dose of loose blues. “Rumble at the Rainbo” goes for the jugular and dashes out the door in less than two minutes.
Of course, Malkmus retains his biting wit and flippant attitude through all of these proceedings. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
BUY IT?: Sure.
by Mike Evans
DUM DUM GIRLS — Too True
THE GOOD: Dee Dee Penny and her latest incarnation of Girls go retro on their third full-length.
THE BAD: 10 songs, in and out in 30 minutes, leave you craving more.
THE NITTY GRITTY: A reflective album written in her NYC apartment, Too True is Penny’s “new wave” record; a collection that’s equal parts 80’s indie pop and 90’s shoegaze. The guttural streetwise thud of “Lost Boys and Girls Club,” the skinny tie-clad bounce carrying “Little Minx,” the spacey low-key “Trouble is My Name” — all of these (and the rest) add up to a set that moves forward while looking back on past female-fronted heroes like the Primitives, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Curve.
Penny worked once again with the legendary Richard Gottehrer (the Angels, Blondie, the Go-Go’s) and the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner (so we must toss in the obligatory Jesus and Mary Chain comparison). That’s cool. It fits. And just about every cut is a keeper.
BUY IT?: Yep.
HOSPITALITY — Trouble
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie trio Hospitality gets more daring on their sophomore effort.
THE BAD: Expect a challenge. Take your time. Trouble runs through many sub-genres and stylistic changes before its conclusion. Not “bad,” but also not as easy and breezy as their 2012 debut.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Now vocalist/guitarist Amber Papini and the boys aren’t content with just catchy quirky little observations about 20-something’s and city dwelling. They’re looking out into the ocean and beyond the horizon, expanding both lyrically and musically. Trouble is still an indie/twee meld at its core but there are more progressive elements afoot too.
“Nightingale” is soft but ambitious, carried by rhythmic shifts and feeling like vintage Throwing Muses. “Last Words” builds to a rumbling climax that crashes off in the distance. “Sunship” plays like a modern spin on dreamy medieval folk. But if you still crave a couple of infectious throwbacks to the band’s sunny debut, “Going Out” and “It’s Not Serious” should keep you smiling.
BUY IT?: Sure.
WARPAINT — Warpaint
THE GOOD: California-based indie rockers Warpaint go ethereal on their second.
THE BAD: Just be prepared. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That saying applies here. All the cuts on Warpaint begin to bleed together after about 15 minutes, but in a good way. This is a spacey album; a dense hypnotic work. Don’t search for memorable hooks.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On 2010’s The Fool, these ladies proved themselves a worthy underground jam band; never stuck in traditional song structures and unafraid to let a wandering guitar solo dominate a track. Here, they’re more open to swirling keyboards, spooky harmonies and impenetrable rhythms. Is this trip-hop? Hardly. But there are different sounds at play here. The volume is turned down slightly while modern psychedelics are more front and center. You can tell Flood (U2, Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey) produced this thing.
So prepare to embrace a band that could have remained stagnant yet refused to do so.
BUY IT?: Yep.
DANCE TO DREAM
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING — Inform Educate Entertain
THE GOOD: London-based musical outfit Public Service Broadcasting offer up a unique debut full-length.
THE BAD: A little less guitar and a little more electronic ambiance would probably better suit these compositions. However, that’s more of a personal preference and not necessarily “bad.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: This duo combines instrumental tracks, mostly beat-heavy indie rock, with snippets of old public domain documentaries and propaganda films to create an aural brand of pop art. Of course, this process is nothing new. The Orb has been putting weird bits of dialog in their tracks for over two decades and Big Audio Dynamite was inserting extended clips from movies in their tunes way back in 1985.
PSB simply takes this process to its logical extremes on tracks like “ROYGBIV” (a 1950’s peek at technology) and “The Now Generation” (Carnaby Street was really something 50 years ago). And then there’s “Everest,” a groovy little piece celebrating man’s conquering of a mountain.
BUY IT?: Surely.
PAINTED PALMS — Forever
THE GOOD: San Francisco based indie duo Painted Palms (Reese Donohue on beats and Christopher Prudhomme supplying the vocals) cut-and-paste together an engaging debut full-length.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After teasing us with 2011’s brilliant Canopy EP, the guys toured with Of Montreal, set up a new west coast base and plunged head-first into creating Forever, a swirling concoction combining sunny 60’s psychedelic pop with the modern spin of other electronic-based acts like Cayucas and Small Black.
Here you have your catchy bouncy bits such as “Here It Comes” and the title cut; tunes that resemble interstellar recreations of old Beach Boys singles. Then there are the dreamier moments like “Soft Hammer” and “Sleepwalking,” fragile delicate pieces that combine spaced-out vibes with heartbreaking melodies.
Yes, this stuff may be composed via e-mail, but the songs are finely crafted; the music truly alive with an undeniable emotional pull and hints of melancholy. Most synthetic sets don’t give off this much warmth.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
THE CRYSTAL METHOD — The Crystal Method
THE GOOD: The Las Vegas-based electronic duo (Scott Kirkland and Ken D. Jordan) is still pumping after almost 20 years.
THE BAD: This new self-titled album (fifth overall) finds the guys clamoring for relevancy. The record is good while it’s blasting, but leaves a lackluster impression.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Most of the collaborations this time are flat-out dull while a couple of them (Dia Frampton from the Voice and LeAnn Rimes?) don’t make sense. And when Kirkland and Jordon are at full groove (the crackling “Emulator” and hard driving “Jupiter Shift”), the end results come off as Vegas or Legion of Boom out-takes.
Yes, most of these cuts would fill an underground club’s dance floor at 1:30 a.m., but any track would probably pale in comparison to what was spun directly before or after it. Crystal Method may help you break a sweat, but this isn’t the duo’s “creative second wind.” In fact, 2009’s Divided by Night was more exciting.
BUY IT?: Your call.
by Mike Evans
VALENTINES OF A DIFFERENT KIND
CLOUD CONTROL — Dream Cave
THE GOOD: Australian indie rock outfit Cloud Control brings forth a hypnotic sophomore effort.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When a band is difficult to pigeonhole, it always makes for fascinating listening. You’ll end up loving a lot about Dream Cave, but exactly what?
In the end, it’s probably the band’s adventurous spirit. For Cave never stays in one place too long; shifting from dream pop to noisy indie to ambient moods effortlessly. The constant male-female vocal switch-ups only add to the variety. Imagine a retro outfit such as Music Go Music bumping into some super-groovy turned-on members of Stereolab and then having that crew dig on a few treasured New Pornographers melodies.
That only begins to describe the sounds found within the echo-drenched and vast maze-like Dream Cave (such an appropriate title). Keen listeners will surely put their own spin on its contents.
BUY IT?: Yes. And then become blissfully lost in all the twists and turns.
THOSE DARLINS — Blur the Lines
THE GOOD: Tennessee indie rockers Those Darlins return with a more sedate third.
THE BAD: Lines isn’t flawless. Expect a few lesser tracks.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The new record isn’t as good a time as 2011’s Screws Got Loose; the overall proceedings somewhat more down-tempo. Tracks like the melancholy “That Man” or the foreboding “Western Sky” conjure up black and white images of the desert at dusk or faded picture postcards sent from mid-western motels decades ago.
Nikki Kvarnes is now the only woman in the group. Her vocals dominate, sounding a bit like Bettie Serveert’s Carol van Dijk sporting a southern drawl. And despite her less vibrant surroundings, she still manages to get the band back into catchy indie pop territory on more than a few cuts. Moments like “Optimist” and “Drive” are direct and impressive; terse little rockers that leave a lasting impression. Perhaps Lines’ greatest strength is this balanced variety; serious without being a downer.
BUY IT?: Sure.
FRANKIE ROSE — Herein Wild
THE GOOD: Brooklyn girl Frankie Rose is back with her third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Half a decade after abandoning her garage rock roots and leaving Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls behind, Rose continues to dive further into the worlds of ethereal indie pop and shoegazing. Get lost in Herein Wild and you’re immediately reminded of both its sparkling 2012 predecessor Interstellar and the early pre-grunge 90’s when faceless British acts like Ride and Lush were dominating the college charts. You’ll also notice similarities between Rose and latter day Cocteau Twins, back when that band was morphing from a down-tempo gothic act into a more melody-driven spacey pop outfit.
When the tempos speed up, some prime Primitives worm their way into the mix. And wouldn’t some of those jagged guitar riffs feel right at home on the Cure’s Head on the Door album? In short, there’s nothing strikingly new on Herein Wild, but what IS there sounds divine.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
by Mike Evans
CUT COPY — Free Your Mind
THE GOOD: Australian electronic outfit Cut Copy is back with a hippy dippy fourth.
THE BAD: Mind isn’t very ambitious at its core; the band neither progressing nor regressing. But it’s a “sunny” collection with an undeniably strong flow. Go with it and you will have a fantastic time.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Inspired by two different “summers of love,” our own in 1967 and the UK’s from 1989, Mind is an extremely optimistic set with tunes like “We Are Explorers” and “Meet Me in a House of Love.” The band isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but most tracks are seamless, infectious, hypnotic and damn near flawless.
Encompassing everything from Euro to techno-pop to ambient, Mind is more eclectic and memorable than many electronic collections. Think of it as a remastered mix-tape boasting recent New Order, mid-period Orb and vintage Shamen; dance floor anthems pumping traditional song structures. You’ve been in these surroundings before but they’re never disagreeable.
BUY IT?: Yes.
THE SOUNDS — Weekend
THE GOOD: Swedish indie poppers The Sounds return with their fifth.
THE BAD: The Sounds have always been good at blurring that fine line between rock and dance. Their tunes could even be “club friendly” with a slight remix. But Weekend seems to have lost some of that “infectious Sounds spark.” Even the track that claims “I Live for the weekend baby” feels somewhat sedate.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thankfully though, Weekend boasts some airtight funky pop songs. Tracks like “Take it the Wrong Way” and “Emperor” still reel you in with big beats and melodies; Sweden eternally the land of pretty people and huge hooks.
Only time will tell if this is a bump in the road or the beginning of the Sounds’ end; the band at that awkward crossroads where they’re either going to come back rejuvenated or each new release will be one of diminishing returns.
BUY IT?: Your call. Weekend may not be the Sounds’ weakest album, but it does leave a weak first impression.
POLICA — Shulamith
THE GOOD: Minnesota indie pop outfit Polica dodges the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: A modern synth-pop set on its surface, Shulamith is unsettling underneath. Be prepared to do a little work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Front woman Channy Leaneagh and her crew deliver bright shimmering keyboards and dedicated melodies up top, but the record remains both haunting and challenging throughout its twelve cuts. A smattering of Grimes, a bit of Chvrches and a dash of 80s goth forms the basis of these sounds; tracks such as “Smug” and “Very Cruel” synthetic symphonies of light and shadow.
There’s also a rock element (not unlike Metric) that keeps the proceedings from being too slick; an enthralling nervous energy or danger looming in the distance. Listen once and Shulamith doesn’t feel as strikingly original as 2012’s Give You the Ghost. Listen twice though and you’ll realize the new songs are better; the band ready to progress slowly as opposed to burning out in a flash.
BUY IT?: Yes … and get set for more greatness yet to come.
by Mike Evans
THE FRATELLIS — We Need Medicine
THE GOOD: Scottish indie pop trio Fratellis are back with their first album in five years.
THE BAD: Fratellis were never a great band. The best you could always hope for was some extremely infectious ear candy and a set list where the catchy tunes outweighed the duds.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On that front, Medicine delivers. Here we have 11 bits (at least seven are oh-so-sweet) of guitar-driven pop/rock boasting mostly forgettable lyrics but solid riffs and melodies. Songs like “This Old Ghost Town” and “Jeannie Nitro” are goofy at their core, but the tunes themselves get a firm grip on your grey matter and are damn near impossible to dislodge.
With these guys, that’s all pretty standard. If they set your toes-a-tappin’ or paste a big dorky smile on your face, Fratellis have done their job. Medicine heartily satisfies with the musical equivalent of all those tasty empty calories packed inside a Snickers bar.
BUY IT?: Your call.
KELLY STOLTZ — Double Exposure
THE GOOD: California singer/songwriter Kelly Stoltz comes back with more heavily retro goodness.
THE BAD: A couple of weaker tracks, but no real gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After a four-album stint on Sub Pop, Stoltz has relocated to Jack White’s Third Man Records, but the vibe remains the same. The man has been compared to legends like Leonard Cohen and Brian Wilson, but Stoltz would probably prefer being lumped in with the first incarnation of Echo and the Bunnymen.
Listen to Exposure and you’ll find that all of those comparisons are justified; the record a mish-mash of engaging styles. “Are You My Love” is hazy garage rock. “Marcy” and “Down by the Sea” are more melodic, almost orchestral, and those vintage mellotrons remind you exactly where this guy’s head is at. The extended jam “Inside My Head” blurs the line between the end of psychedelia and the beginning of prog rock.
BUY IT?: Sure. Double Exposure should satisfy both long-time enthusiasts and newbies alike.
LOS CAMPESINOS — No Blues
THE GOOD: British indie party people Los Campesinos release their fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Just when you think they’re “maturing,” frontman Gareth (they’re all named “Campesinos” just like the Ramones were all “Ramones”) and his crew rip up the house again. One spin of “Avocado, Baby” and you know they’re out for blood (or at least out to make you flail about the room with wild abandon).
Twee (don’t call them that!) meets post-punk. Garage rock gets pissed on Guinness. Toss in Gareth’s endless rants towards his exes and a bunch of obscure UK soccer references and the picture is complete. They may never be more than a cult band here in the States (too damn British), but these lads and ladies deserve to be huge. No Blues is noisy, exciting and brimming with an energetic abandon that truly great rock records possess. This stuff could explode at any moment. Yet the band is too focused to let that happen.
BUY IT?: Yep.