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.
Mercy Gang entered the local music scene in 2012 with a hip-hop and mash-up style.
Since then, the group has released two albums and plans to work on a third this fall. It plans to perform at the Electric City Music Conference, set for Thursday, Sept. 13, to Saturday, Sept. 15. More dates for shows in Pennsylvania, New York and Canada will be announced.
Mercy Gang emcee Jermaine Kroon recently went On the Record about the group’s performances and its first album without Mario Lozada, aka Hefty Metal, who died in 2015.
Q: How did Mercy Gang form?
A: Mercy Gang started from a collaboration on a song between Maine the Medicine, former member Sway and the late Hefty Metal. Paulie Bagz joined the group shortly after, while DJ Merc would later join Mercy Gang in 2014 after doing a show with us.
Q: Where does the name Mercy Gang come from?
A: The proposed name was “The Mercenaries.” We didn’t really care for it, so we started saying Mercy Gang for short.
Q: What does a typical Mercy Gang show look and sound like?
A: A Mercy Gang show is very energetic and in-your-face. We love to engage with the crowd. We often do a mash-up with the band Clever Clever. The crowd really enjoys it. One of our big hits with crowds is our version of the classic song “My Girl,” which we call “Your Girl.” “Your Girl” is featured on our bonus mixtape, “Brothers Keeper,” with guest vocals from Nowhere Slow on the chorus.
Q: What do you hope audiences experience at your shows?
A: We want them to experience our passion for the music and the love and appreciation we have for our fans. We really want to leave it all on the stage, microphones smoking.
Q: Tell us about your newest album, “M.E.R.C.Y.,” that came out in September.
A: “M.E.R.C.Y” stands for “murder every rapper coming at you.” Hip-hop is a very competitive sport, so we wanted to welcome all challengers, all in the name of fun. Working on this album was very emotional. This was the first album we worked on without our former group member Hefty Metal, who passed away on Sept. 11, 2015. We got back in the studio not only to honor our brother Hefty but also to begin the healing process. “M.E.R.C.Y.” was released on Sept. 9, 2017, in remembrance of Hefty. Hefty would definitely want us to keep banging out music, so we put all our blood, sweat and tears into this project. We have two unreleased tracks by Hefty on the album that are amazing. The album includes features from Jay Preston of Esta Coda, Ed Cuozzo of University Drive, Lambo Lo of Animal Planit (and) Aaron Ferranti, formerly of Clever Clever. The music is produced by JL Studios, Holla Da Scholar, U.G. and many more. All records are mixed, mastered and recorded by JL Studios in Olyphant.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Eleven years ago, Joe Nardone Jr. participated along with fellow independent record store owners across the country in celebrating a special day for music lovers.
Today, hundreds of stores across the globe celebrate the annual Record Store Day, which takes place this Saturday, April 21. This record fanatic’s holiday always features special vinyl and CD releases, exclusive promotional products and in-store concerts in area stores.
Much like prior years, Nardone’s Gallery of Sound, 186 Mundy St., Wilkes-Barre, features several bands performing in-store starting at noon that day. For the first time, Dickson City’s Gallery of Sound also will host solo acoustic artists, beginning at 1 p.m.
Each year at Embassy Vinyl, 352 Adams Ave., Scranton, the store raffles off a turntable for customers who buy an item on Record Store Day. It also does T-shirt and bag giveaways.
“It’s a good day to come down to a store like mine, or any independent record store where you can come down, experience new live music you’ve never heard and find something you’ve never heard of, or something you’ve always been looking for,” Embassy Vinyl owner R.J. Harrington said. “It’s a good day to actually get from behind the curtain of digital media and just actually get down there and, especially in a store like mine, you get your hands dirty. You gotta dig through stuff to find what you’re looking for.”
Jay Notartomaso, owner of Musical Energi, 24 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, decided to stretch his store’s celebration beyond the day, dubbing it “Record Store Weekend.” He will keep the sales and giveaways to Saturday and then host musicians Sunday, April 22.
“It’s just kind of hard to manage both, because once the music starts, it’s hard for people to move around the store,” Notartomaso said. “So I thought maybe we just have the live entertainment part (Sunday). A lot of people would come just for that … and not really for the releases.”
Depending on how sales go on Record Store Day, Musical Energi may have specials on merchandise Sunday as well, he said.
Both Gallery of Sound locations and Musical Energi give away items such as the Record Store Day-branded bags, posters, pins and compilation CDs. Notartomaso said his store also raffles off gift cards each year to customers making purchases.
Nardone said that between traffic and sales, Record Store Day is “the biggest day of the year for any record store. It’s fueled the whole growth of vinyl.”
A 2017 end-year report the Recording Industry Association of America published revealed that, for the first time since 2011, music sales in physical formats — vinyl and CDs — exceeded digital ones. That’s thanks in part to streaming services, which account for 65 percent of music industry revenue, but also because of the resurgence of vinyl usage among the younger generation.
“Vinyl sales are still strong. The fad is over, and it’s a thing,” Nardone said. “People are buying records. Anyone can consume music on the internet. But the people who are collectors and into music long-term want to have a collection of records.”
If you go
What: Record Store Day
When: Saturday, April 21
Online: Visit recordstoreday.com for a full list of releases.
Embassy Vinyl, 352 Adams Ave., Scranton
Saturday, April 21, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Live performers to be announced at the event’s Facebook page and embassyvinyl.com.
Gallery of Sound, Fashion Mall, Dickson City
Saturday, April 21, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
1 p.m. — Daniel Rolser (Esta Coda/A Fire with Friends)
1:35 p.m. — Jordan Ramirez (Half Dollar)
2:10 p.m. — George Yurchak (Eibes)
2:45 p.m. — Sean Flynn (American Buffalo Ghost)
3:30 p.m. — Doug Griffiths (Purcell)
4:15 p.m. — Charles Davis (Dog House Charlie)
5 p.m. — David Hagel (Coal Miner Canary)
Gallery of Sound, 186 Mundy St., Wilkes-Barre
Saturday, April 21, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Noon — Bret Alexander
1 p.m. — Indigo Moon Brass Band
2 p.m. — Rockology Music Academy student bands
3 p.m. — Jackknife Stiletto
4 p.m. — Aaron Fink & the Fury
5 p.m. — Trippy Switch
6 p.m. — Rockology Music Academy staff jam
Musical Energi, 24 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre
Saturday, April 21, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Record store day deals
Sunday, April 22, 2 to 6 p.m.
Live music from Brendan Brisk, Tori V and DJ Matt Rat
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.
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.
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.
HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR — ‘Omnion’
THE GOOD: DJ/producer Andy Butler jumps to a major label (Atlantic) while conjuring up sparkling rhythms and retro moves.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Omnion” is the man’s fourth outing under the “Hercules” moniker and a typical night out with the guy and his crew. This time, guest vocalists include Sharon Van Etten, past collaborator Rouge Mary and Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan. You might not recognize that last one at first; Badwan ditches garage punk for a smoother, techno-friendly approach.
Not every track is an outright winner, but there are no losers here either. Butler eases us through changes in mood and tempo; the evening runs smoothly and never sounds stuck on repeat. Whether it’s the slowly building swirl carrying the title track, the pulsating and banging “Rejoice” or the spaced-out squiggles behind “Lies,” Butler and his guests are always in sync. The rare occasions where he completely pulls back the beats also bring balance and give us (and the music) room to breathe.
BUY IT?: Yes.
CUT COPY — ‘Haiku From Zero’
THE GOOD: Australian electronic act Cut Copy does what it does best on its fifth.
THE BAD: No real issues, but no real innovation either. Cut Copy has always been extremely good at reinterpreting grooves from the past — mainly the ’80s and ’90s. It does it over and over again. Thankfully, the end results are always agreeable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: From those very first island rhythms rumbling beneath opening cut “Standing in the Middle of the Field,” you kind of know exactly where “Haiku” is going. We’re in for a steady mix of upbeat bangers that reimagine the beats from classic funk, disco and techno records. Every track grabs you with a dedicated hook. Every jam shakes up the room completely on its own.
Personal favorite bits include the bouncy, late-night reverberations found throughout “Memories We Share” and the multi-layered party wrapped around the slick “Living Upside Down.” It’s all good, highly energetic stuff. We’ve been on this dance floor before, but who cares?
BUY IT?: Why not?
WU-TANG — ‘The Saga Continues’
THE GOOD: Legendary hip-hop collective Wu-Tang releases its seventh. The “Clan” part of the name is on hold because long-time member U-God is NOT present thanks to a legal dispute.
THE BAD: Where to begin?
THE NITTY GRITTY: It hasn’t been a great decade for the Wu. 2014’s “A Better Tomorrow” was mired in R&B. The guys angered their fan base by only releasing ONE COPY of 2015’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.” (That’s a fascinating story.) And now this…
“Saga” is the first BORING Wu-Tang album. Producer Mathematics can’t recapture that much-desired murky and haunting Wu vibe. There aren’t enough muddy samples, and the overall sound is too clean.
And why so many outsiders? Redman, Chris Rivers, Sean Price — these guest shots seem unnecessary. Plus, there’s a genuine “going through the motions” vibe throughout this thing.
Later this year, the Wu-Tang Clan will be eligible for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I’d love to see it inducted. But maybe the crew should quit while they’re ahead.
BUY IT?: Sadly … skip it.
Each member of Scranton band Permanence found his way to music in a unique fashion, from downloading a live concert of Blink-182 to becoming inspired to pick up cello by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic.
Although their methods were not entirely conventional, it brought these four guys together to create a homegrown, alternative rock band.
The group, comprised of Scott Jordan on vocals and guitar, Dan King on vocals and guitar, bassist John Husosky and drummer Randy Weller, went On the Record to discuss their song writing process and the challenges of creating an original band.
Q: How did you each get involved in music?
A: Randy Weller: I grew up watching my father and uncle improvise on the guitar and drums and was always impressed with the way they could create something out of nothing musically. My interest grew, I started to play the drums and exploring music.
John Husosky: I Limewired a Blink-182 concert from Australia and thought the show and music was awesome. I had a close friend that wanted to start playing guitar and it went from there.
Scott Jordan: I started singing in a group in high school called Just a Thought. We started playing some covers but when we started writing originals my interest really peaked. From that point making music has been one of my favorite things to do.
Dan King: I saw the NEPA Philharmonic play as a kid and knew at that moment I wanted to play the cello. From there, I went on to pick up the guitar and get involved with different local bands.
Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed in public together?
A: DK: That was Randy’s first show ever and Scott’s first show in about four years since leaving A Fire With Friends. We were all nervous because in past projects we were never the key pieces of the groups, and this was our first opportunity to create something. After the first song, it just felt right. And we all ended up saying, ‘It’s over already?’ after the set.
Q: Do you write your own music? If so, what is the process to create new songs?
A: JH: We have made this an all-original music project. Typically, Dan or Scott will write something acoustically and send it to our group chat. From there, we work on the idea and develop it at practice. Once we are happy with the structure, Randy and I will add rhythmic touches with Dan. And Scott comes up with the main melodies for the tune.
Q: How have you changed as musicians over the years?
A: SJ: The local scene has really made an impact on how we listen, perform and think about music. The groups that have come out of Pa., and specifically NEPA over the years, have influenced us all and our peers are the best inspiration and tool we have to grow as musicians. It’s great to see how little influences from music you’re currently listening to can add to what you create.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories as a part of this band?
A: RW: Too many to even think about, we have all become really close friends and always have a good time. If we had to pick one it would probably be the positive response to our first show. This is something that had only lived in a basement until then and it is great to see that people enjoy it.
Q: How has the NEPA music scene changed over the years?
A: DK: There is never a shortage of good bands forming and coming through the scene. It has been awesome to see our close friends form different groups or projects that showcase a different side or take on their musical personality.
Q: Have you faced any major challenges as a rising band?
A: JH: I am in four bands currently and Dan has lived in the Philly area for the last year, so getting together for practice can be a tough hurdle. When we are able to get together we make the most of it, and Dan will be back home soon.
Q: What are your future goals for the band?
A: SJ: We are happy continuing with the way things are going. We aren’t getting any younger and to have the privilege to play out and with other groups is amazing. I guess something that would be a great experience would be to play a show where the crowd sang our lyrics during the set.
MORRISSEY — ‘Low in High School’
THE GOOD: British singer-songwriter and indie mainstay Morrissey returns with his 11th proper solo album.
THE BAD: At almost 60, the guy doesn’t care what people think anymore (not that he ever did). His politics are more challenging and polarizing than ever. And as the man moves forward, his views become less subtle as well. You either embrace the anger or find it a complete turn-off.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Thankfully, Morrissey still has the pipes to handle the gorgeous, sweeping melodies that show up time and again throughout “High School.” So even if you get bored with the whole “everything is miserable” diatribe rallying against ALL politicians, the British monarchy (still), the class system, any sort of love life and all facets of life in general (don’t we all know enough insufferable people personally on Facebook?), you still can embrace the music.
But really, would we want a happy, contented Morrissey? Definitely not. So “High School” delivers what we crave.
BUY IT? Sure.
WOLF PARADE — ‘Cry Cry Cry’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie outfit Wolf Parade regroups and come back with its fourth full-length album.
THE BAD: “Cry Cry Cry” gets murky across its middle section but begins and ends very sturdily.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Was the band’s first album in seven years worth the wait? Actually, YES. While “Cry Cry Cry” isn’t a trailblazing collection, it’s still a very enjoyable rock/new wave record, a set of well-crafted, confident songs that aren’t the least bit sloppy.
From the dramatic opener “Lazarus Online” to the sheer, synthesized pop bliss that is “You’re Dreaming,” the album throws us back to prime Interpol, early Arcade Fire and upbeat Peter Murphy with shimmering and slightly jangly gems. “Flies on the Sun” sweeps us up in a heavy sway. “Artificial Life” packs on the relentless energy. The majestic yet forceful “King of Piss and Paper” crash lands the entire affair and leaves us wanting more. Here’s hoping these guys are back for the foreseeable future.
BUY IT?: Yes.
STARSAILOR — ‘All This Life’
THE GOOD: English post-Britpop rockers Starsailor give us their fifth album (and first in eight years).
THE BAD: Starsailor makes smart, enjoyable, guitar-based pop/rock records. But the group doesn’t make great or highly memorable ALBUMS. “All This Life” continues that trend.
THE NITTY GRITTY: That being said, the new album is STILL a … well … smart, enjoyable, guitar-based pop/rock record. Sometimes that’s all you need. Frontman James Walsh and his crew pick up right where they left off almost a decade ago. The guys reformed in 2015 for a tour supporting a U.K. “hits” collection and decided the not-so-old magic still existed. Why not some new music?
Long-time fans will be pleased, as they get the usual mix of upbeat, catchy bits, such as the title track and “Best of Me,” as well as more laid-back and introspective stuff, such as the dramatic “Sunday Best” and charming, intimate closer “No One Else.” There really aren’t any outright duds here, just the rockers being their melodic, swaggering selves. Nothing wrong with that.
BUY IT?: Sure.
ARY NUMAN — ‘Savage: Songs from a Broken World’
THE GOOD: British electronic pioneer Gary Numan gives us an epic 21st album.
THE BAD: “Broken World” is long. Across its second half, and the tempos slow down, moods get heavy, and the record drags.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This is a concept album. The Eastern and Western worlds have blurred together in a post-apocalyptic wasteland brought on by global warming. Imagine “Mad Max” with a beat.
On any GOOD concept album, the songs tell the story, but don’t rely upon it. You can pull the record apart (or even wholly ignore the storyline) and most of the tracks can stand on their own. That’s definitely the case with “Broken World.”
We get the usual buzzing and burning mid-tempo pieces drenched in sinister atmospherics and carried by Numan’s reserved singing. Songs such as “My Name Is Ruin” and “When the World Comes Apart” are fantastic examples of the man’s brand of heavy techno-pop. The guy just turned 60, but he hasn’t lost his touch.
BUY IT?: Yes.
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVERS IN THE DARK — ‘The Punishment of Luxury’
THE GOOD: British synth-pop legends OMD return with their 13th.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ever since founding members Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey reunited about a decade ago, this pioneering band has been on a roll. “The Punishment of Luxury” is their third triumph in a row, following 2010’s “History of Modern” and 2013’s “English Electric.” Regaining relevance is not easy, but OMD have accomplished just that.
They continue to build upon their early, stripped-down, industrial-leaning work, icy albums such as “Architecture & Morality” (1981) and “Dazzle Ships” (1983). All the while, the guys look forward and create something equally retro and futuristic, music that transcends any particular era.
“Luxury” is a comment on our disposable culture, boasting tracks both pulsating and calculated (“Isotype”) and more delicate and introspective (“What Have We Done”). As usual, OMD finds the perfect balance of cold electronics and graceful melodies, bridging a gap between two disparate sensibilities and doing it WITHOUT pretentiousness.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
TRICKY — ‘Ununiform’
THE GOOD: British trip-hop pioneer Tricky churns out his 13th.
THE BAD: Like most post-2000 Tricky records, “Ununiform” is a work of highs and lows. Some of the tracks are stunning; others feel incomplete.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Conceived in Russia and recorded in Germany, the new album uses the usual sounds — the man’s guttural, emotional lead vocals; beats either abrasive or reserved (depending upon the situation); atmospheric, haunting keyboards; and metallic guitars. The set also boasts a bevy of female guest vocalists such as Asia Argento, Terra Lopez and long-time collaborator Martina Topley-Bird.
Most of it works. Tracks such as the sneaky, seamless “New Stole” and the popping, swirly “Armor” immediately click. Yet even when everything falls into place, we’re reminded that Tricky is not the innovator he once was. Though they’re good, these late-career albums aren’t breaking a hell of a lot of new ground. And there are some huge misfires. I recommend skipping over the smoky and wholly unnecessary retooling of Hole’s “Doll Parts.”
BUY IT?: Your choice.
STARS – “There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light”
THE GOOD: Canadian indie pop band Stars shine on its captivating eighth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: As the band plays on, its sound gets slightly bigger while the formula never grows old. The focus remains the male-female vocal interplay between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan; their distinct voices and differing singing styles complementing each other perfectly. We never exactly get traditional duets, but rather opposing viewpoints meeting somewhere in the middle. It’s like an appealing update of those classic Beautiful South records from the early 90’s.
Musically, Stars continue to drive its catchy songs with a divine combination of electro-pop and jangly rock ‘n’ roll. The beat is definitely front and center, but so is a genuine helping of human warmth. It’s tough to resist the immediate pull of glistening tracks such as “Hope Avenue” and “Real Thing.” Then again, why would you want to? “Fluorescent Light” is feel-good stuff without the sticky syrup.
BUY IT?: Sure.
DESTROYER — “Ken”
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rockers Destroyer deliver an 11th album that’s both elegant and dirty.
THE BAD: Destroyer has always been a polarizing force. You either tune into the brilliance or find it all so befuddling. That doesn’t change here.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Cleverly directed by frontman (and occasional New Pornographer) Dan Bejar, a guy who sings like a more reserved Robyn Hitchcock, Destroyer bring on a sophisticated mix comprised of dissimilar parts such as Berlin-era David Bowie, smoky jazz, stark early New Order and singer/songwriter folk.
If it weren’t for Bejar’s deft, guiding hand, “Ken” would be a muddled mess. Yet the man makes the record come off like some black-and-white art-house flick that forces you to think right from the very beginning and leaves you with conflicting emotions long after its conclusion. Whether it’s the steady techno buried beneath “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” or the naked feelings spread over the intimate “Saw You at the Hospital,” “Ken” is guaranteed to captivate.
BUY IT?: Yes.
NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS — “Who Built the Moon?”
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter and ex-Oasis mastermind Noel Gallagher comes back with his third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So…who wins the SOLO war: Noel or brother Liam with his “As You Were” album? Noel of course. Liam has the distinct voice, but Noel was the driving songwriting force behind that former band formed over a quarter-century ago. He’ll always churn out the more satisfying and distinct material. And since Oasis’ breakup, Noel’s ability as a proper frontman has grown as well.
“Moon” is his finest post-Oasis hour yet. Produced by 90’s electronic star David Holmes, it’s a record with BIG vibrant sounds and an irresistible swagger. Whether it’s the punchy glam carrying “Holy Mountain,” the Chemical Brothers-like throwback “It’s a Beautiful World” or the sheer pop bliss smothering the divine “If Love Is the Law,” the album is both super confident and fun. Noel is having a great time here. Turn it up, and you’ll have a great time too.
BUY IT?: Yes.