PRIMUS — Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
THE GOOD: American indie rock trio Primus does the unimaginable on their eighth.
THE BAD: Is Chocolate Factory wickedly brilliant or an indulgent experiment?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman, bassist and Primus mastermind Les Claypool and his crew takes every song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and gives them the royal Prawn Song treatment. I guess if any band HAD to do this, Primus is that band; these guys always walking a fine line between high intelligence and the somewhat low-brow.
Now they’re taking warm and fuzzy pieces of your childhood like “Pure Imagination,” “Golden Ticket” and all four “Oompa Loompa” chants and turning them into “Pork Soda” and “John the Fisherman.” And the end results aren’t awkward like one might expect. Strange? Creepy? Disturbing? Yes, but never embarrassing. Still, it’s tough to look at this collection as anything but a cool little novelty.
BUY IT?: Your call. Chocolate Factory is sweet but it’s hardly Primus’ finest hour.

THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie rockers TVOTR regroup, survive and give us a glorious fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After losing bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer in 2011, the tightly-knit band did some soul searching, switched record labels and changed focus. Seeds is the end result of all that strife and change.
First, it’s their most personal work to date; politics dialed way down within the lyrics while relationships and life matters take over. Second, it could be TVOTR’s most accessible record yet. Adventurous? Yes, but you don’t have to work so hard this time. Yet the guys still play it far from safe.
Seeds retains that unique mix of indie, the electronic and soul we’ve come to expect. And there’s always an underlying sense of doom around the next bend. “Quartz” buzzes and screeches. “Happy Idiot” is catchy yet jittery. The title cut is more soothing but hails from a seemingly dark place.
BUY IT?: Surely.

THE GOOD: Smashing Pumpkins return with their ninth album, supposedly the second in the Teargarden trilogy.
THE BAD: You either think Billy Corgan is a genius or a bit loopy; no middle ground there. Elegy is good, but it won’t win over past detractors.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Corgan IS Smashing Pumpkins these days; the band comprised of whoever feels like playing with him (or vice versa) at any given moment. On Elegy, that would include guitarist Jeff Schroeder (who has managed to stick around since 2007) and Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee playing ALL drum parts.
Elegy’s biggest strength is its brevity. Clocking in at just over 32 minutes, there’s no fat. Corgan has never made a Pumpkins record so devoid of prog rock tendencies or heavy concepts. We get nine melodic succinct guitar-driven rock songs. Tunes like “Tiberius” and “Run2Me” are powerful without being angry, accomplished without being pretentious. Corgan hasn’t written anything this unassuming since the one-off Zwan record back in 2003.
BUY IT?: Actually … why not?

Sounds: Jan. 15, 2015

Sounds: Jan. 15, 2015


THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers WWPJ tighten up further and release their third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You could accuse these guys of trying to be all things to all people. The band likes grand sweeping arrangements riddled with raw emotion (frontman Adam Thompson clawing at your heart in his pronounced native brogue). They enjoy being moderately progressive and stealing some cues from the center of Radiohead’s catalog. The boys don’t even mind the occasional post-emo comparison.
And while the band doesn’t necessarily stand out within any of these individual settings, the combination is completely lethal. Unravelling is good, loud and engaging, from the soaring “Peaks and Troughs” to the sinister vibes permeating “Bright Minds” to the foggy clamor running through “Ricochet.” WWPJ can either slay us with a melancholy pop song or hypnotize with a guitar-heavy drone; the guys understanding the draw of both melody and mood. And exploring all these options makes Unravelling cool and unpredictable.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE GOOD: Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas returns with a second solo album (now with proper backup band the Voidz).
THE BAD: The man’s solo debut, 2009’s Phrazes for the Young, was a gloriously goofy mix of rock and techno-pop that was a hell of a lot better than it should have been. Tyranny, on the other hand…
THE NITTY GRITTY: If rock stars still went to Germany to make noisy metallic Euro-artsy albums, this would be Casablancas’ “Berlin” record. Songs run the gamut from moody classically-inspired dirges (the droning epic “Human Sadness”) to terse wailing post-punk attacks (the crashing “Business Dog”). It’s all very loose, multi-layered and “difficult.”
One could argue the album contains little bits of inspiration sprinkled throughout its jagged peaks and valleys, but once beyond the 35-minute mark, we’re just waiting for this cacophonous hour to end.
BUY IT?: I wouldn’t. Phrazes proved we could live without the Strokes. Tyranny proves the Strokes need to stay together after all.
FOXYGEN And Star Power
THE GOOD: California indie rockers Foxygen come back with a sprawling third.
THE BAD: Prepare yourself. This record is severely messed up. But that’s NOT necessarily “bad.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: You can take this 83-minute love-fest a couple of different ways. First, Foxygen could be posing as an entirely different band, kind of like a modern spin on Sgt. Pepper. Or you can listen to Star Power as a bizarre late-night broadcast from some wild radio station booming out of the middle of nowhere.
Some tracks are psychedelic pop tunes (“How Can You Really”). Others are super stoned bursts of nonsensical noise (“Hot Summer”). Cosmic blues or punk tirades — Star Power has both and everything in between.
Not every cut is a keeper. Foxygen gives us a set that must be ingested all at once; the parts creating a greater whole that plays more like an acid-soaked freak-out as opposed to a traditional album. One must accept this trippy train wreck.
Mike Evans is a super cool radio guy who doesn’t mess around when it comes to music. Sounds appears weekly in electric city and diamond city. Email





Hey gang! We continue our look back at the 20 best albums of 2014. This week — THE BETTER TEN!

EC08SOUNDS_3_WEB10. LYKKE LI — I Never Learn (May)
The singer/songwriter moved from her native Sweden to Los Angeles after a bitter breakup and proved that awesome albums sometimes come from great strife and emotional turmoil. Wallowing in someone else’s misery can indeed be sweet.

09. MARISSA NADLER — July (February)
Boston native Marissa Nadler remains one of the most criminally underrated singer/songwriters of our time. Combining elements of modern folk, alt-country and even a splash of the gothic, her albums are truly haunting and unique. July was simply her latest stirring unsung triumph.

08. TENNIS — Ritual in Repeat (September)
The Colorado husband-and-wife indie pop duo seems to redefine themselves (ever so slightly) on each album. Yet the core formula remains the same. That is, breezy (okay, a little less breezy this time) catchy tunes with just the right amount of sardonic wit.

07. OLD 97’S — Most Messed Up (April)
It’s rare that a band will release some of their finest work twenty years into a career, but that’s precisely what Texas’ ultimate roadhouse rockers did. Messed Up was a low down dirty collection of road tunes and blue-collar affairs dripping with authenticity.

06. LATERNS ON THE LAKE — Until the Colours Run (January)
Another great record stemming from much inner turmoil, Colours found the struggling band almost breaking up over financial difficulties and an uncertain future. But those conditions must have forced Hazel Wilde and her boys to focus because they made an exquisite British indie pop collection.

05. ALLO DARLIN’ — We Come from the Same Place (October)
Place was the finest twee pop 2014 had to offer; a cozy yet melancholy record brimming with precious melodies and Elizabeth Morris’ playful yet sincere girl-next-door cooing. Throw in some retro jangle pop along with the right amount of heartbreak and this emotional rush is complete.

EC08SOUNDS_5_WEB04. NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Brill Bruisers (August)
A.C. Newman, Neko Case and the entire NP crew NEVER let you down. They always come through with the bold melodies and full-bodied arrangements. Bruisers is easily the most jubilant and “new wave” record in the catalog thus far. So a pleasant time is guaranteed for all!

03. BECK — Morning Phase (February)
Just like the aforementioned Old 97’s, Beck is another artist releasing some of his finest music two decades into a career. Phase didn’t deliver the expected big beats and funky breaks, but it didn’t have to. It reminded us that Beck is multi-dimensional and capable of the gorgeous low-key stuff as well.

02. FIRST AID KIT — Stay Gold (June)
We might as well call Stay Gold the best country album of 2014 while we’re here. The Swedish Soderberg sisters delivered their third modern folk collection of bright harmonies and tear-stained melodies and blew every mainstream Nashville act right off the map when it came to authenticity.

01. ST. VINCENT — St. Vincent (February)
American singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark’s fourth album is a brave unique mix of indie rock, electronic and (in some instances) punk and soul; a wildly unpredictable affair that never falters and an album that strikes you differently every time you play it.



The Interview
James Franco, Seth Rogen
***— Sneaks and Geeks
In trying to make a connection between Pineapple Express and Midnight Express, the team behind This is the End presents an occasionally funny movie that’s more of third world than superpower comedy. In this R-rated comedy, tabloid talk show host Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) find their interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, turning into an assassination mission after they get recruited by the CIA. Please understand that, even if they found that this comedy’s laughs were found to cure cancer, The Interview would never live up to the epic hullabaloo that it’s created on the international scene. Some swear that everything — from North Korea threatening attacks to leaked Sony emails to cancel theatrical rollout to download sensation — came from the mind of a guerilla marketing idea amped up to an 11. Seeing The Interview based on any of this flotsam and jetsam, however, fails to define the flick’s success as a comedy (plus, if this were the case, why would Sony completely pull the movie from release right as the 20-megaton attention assured it boffo box office?). Though The Interview puts forth a decent premise, a lot of the material gets handled haphazardly. Some of the jokes, bits and gags hit the target, albeit never a direct bullseye. Most of the script gets mired and muddied in too much schoolyard potty humor. Sure, This is the End and its writers/directors earned raves with much the same tone and standard, but their latest already tries to be offensive in so many ways other than dick and fart jokes — politically and culturally chiefly among them. Notice the word “tries.” Though it never attempts to act as outwardly smart as war-minded comedies like 1,2,3, Dr. Strangelove and Don’t Drink the Water, The Interview’s premise asks that you at least know what’s going on in the headlines and cable news scroll, which strangely asks a lot of our accelerated culture. Ultimately, it lacks the moxie to take a gamble on a climax that could’ve presented a hilarious and somewhat cerebral payoff, opting instead for a softball ending that, although not entirely unsatisfying, just doesn’t entirely deliver on the controversy-baiting hook. Team America: World Police takes a ballsier approach in kinda sorta the same ballpark. Hell, Inglourious Basterds rewrites history in a totally different sport. Both bring audiences a better closer than The Interview, however. Here, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s story gets fleshed out by screenwriter Dan Sterling. Despite executive-producing and writing for an edgy political program like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, his politically minded script plays it too safe, but manages to wring a few laughs out of moviegoers.


Opening this week

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine
In this R-rated horror sequel set 40 years after the first haunting at Eel Marsh House, a group of children (McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox, Leanne Best) evacuated from WWII London arrive at the manor and awaken the house’s darkest inhabitant. The Plus: The studio. For this critic, it was always Hammer Time. As a child, it wasn’t black and white Universal creature features that defined horror. Instead, that honor fell on Britain-based Hammer studio’s ’50s, ’60s and ’70s monster mashes. Lately, they’ve returned to producing solid heart-stoppers (Let Me In, The Woman in Black, The Quiet Ones) speaks VERY well for the genre. Also, some horror flicks have a knack for becoming surprise hits. Last year, The Conjuring scared up over $318 million worldwide and its 2014 prequel, Annabelle, made some impressive bank as well. In July, The Purge: Anarchy ended up to be summer hit. The Minus: The genre. On the other hand, Deliver Us From Evil and As Above/So Below barely broke even while The Pyramid got buried in the sand.


A Most Violent Year
Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain
In this R-rated crime-thriller set in New York City in 1981, an ambitious immigrant (Isaac) fights to protect his business and family (Chastain, et al) during the most dangerous year in the city’s history. The Plus: The players. From the critically hailed Margin Call in 2011 to the Oscar-nominated Robert Redford-starring All is Lost in 2013, J.C. Chandor has amassed quite a H’Wood resume already. For his follow up, the writer-director has assembled Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Chastain (Interstellar), David Oyelowo (Interstellar), Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle) and Albert Brooks (Drive). The Minus: The contention. Despite snagging Golden Globe nominations (Chastain, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama) and being hailed by critics since having its world premiere at the AFI Fest in November, A Most Violent Year hasn’t been bandied about as much as titles like Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Wild. What’s the rumpus


Now playing

Steve Carell, Channing Tatum
**** — Catch and Rejoice
A chilling slice of real-life brought to the screen by a deft storyteller, Foxcatcher puts forth a compelling true tale that you’ll never want to get close to again. And that’s a compliment to the production. In this R-rated drama based on the true story of Mark Schultz, an Olympic wrestler (Tatum) sponsored by millionaire John du Pont (Carell) finds his life leading to unlikely circumstances. Rife with kooky incidents surrounding one very ooky antagonist, this sad continuation of the du Pont family follies deserves every inch of digital dedicated to it. So crazy it’s almost unbelievable, Foxcatcher unspools as a tragic tale that feels ill-fated from the get-go even if you already know the outcome. Even though the sad sack blue collar characters prove relatable and elicit great sympathy, the pervasive funereal tone makes the viewer feel uncomfortable, just waiting for some proverbial hammer to drop. This move was intentional, however, doling out a straight forward, albeit odd, true crime story that plays out as an arresting psychological drama. So unsettling at times, Foxcatcher’s easy to appreciate, but hard to love. Like it was his mutant X-Man power, Bennett Miller evinces an ability to capture both the posh upper class and a mundane near-broke existence with a gentle grandiosity, framing life in a perpetual funeral dirge that sadly seems less pessimistic than resolutely fatalistic. This style came more into play during the maudlin character study Capote as opposed to the sporty adaptation Moneyball. Always surprising whether in blockbuster actioners, raunchy comedies and romantic dramas alike, Channing Tatum wows audiences here with a limited amount of dialogue and an arsenal of mercurial expressions. His melancholic wrestler stands in deference to his easy going good-natured brother, a tragic figure brilliantly played by Mark Ruffalo. As for Steve Carell, going against type and almost unrecognizable under prosthetics, there’s that old adage: Never let them catch you acting. He gets points for going full bizarro but, as a filmgoer — perhaps because his performance and subject proves so off kilter — you sometimes start to think that you’re watching him act.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan
***1/2 — Here and Flak Again
Battling its way not quite to the top spot of either Peter Jackson’s Tolkien series in general or even The Hobbit series freestanding on its own hairy feet, Five Armies nonetheless entertains a ready-made audience with technical magic and over-fluffed storytelling. In this PG-13-rated conclusion to the fantasy saga, Bilbo (Freeman) and company (McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, et al) become embroiled in a war against an armed flock of combatants and the terrifying dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth. Here, Jackson and his co-conspirators/writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens continue to color outside the lines of source material held in an almost religious devotion by fans, forwarding the story of one invented character (Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel) and embellishing the involvement of Lord of the Rings fan favorites (Orlando Bloom’s Legolas and Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel). Smartly, the action starts from the get-go and never lets up until the sentimental ending. More stream-lined and rousing than An Unexpected Journey but less entertaining and cerebral overall than The Desolation of Smaug, Battle of the Five Armies provides a fine enough keystone for bridging Jackson’s Wonderful World of Tolkien.


Small Screens

Magic in the Moonlight
Colin Firth, Emma Stone
*** — Middling in Paris
In this PG-13-rated romantic comedy new to DVD, a famous English magician and debunker of spiritualists (Firth) is brought to the Riviera to help unmask a possible swindle involving a psychic (Stone), only for personal and professional complications to ensue. Woody Allen’s often charming period piece about illusionists boasts both Magic and Moonlight but sadly never at the same time. Like a sleight of hand you’ve figured out, his umpteenth comedy still proves entertaining even though a certain level of predictability puts the kibosh on some of the magic. Yes, you know where Magic in the Moonlight is headed, but — the sumptuous trappings having grabbed you so much — you don’t entirely care … entirely. Here, Allen displays the same starry-eyed almost child-like adoration for Vaudeuville and Music Hall performing as he’s shown for Broadway (Broadway Danny Rose, Bullets Over Broadway), the Golden Age of Radio (Radio Days) and classic H’Wood (Purple Rose of Cairo). Also, the southern France locales (continuing a European-set flavor beginning with 2005’s Match Point) lend the ’20s-set proceedings an invigorating splash of verve and color. Only the purposely unlikeable curmudgeonly lead ends up being just too, er, unlikeable for us to fall in love with and the all-too-expected outcome needs to get wrapped up one scene earlier.





Before stepping into the New Year, we take one last look at the absolute best of 2014 — the 20 albums that mattered most. Sorry, but unlike most of my fellow critics, I didn’t hop on the Taylor Swift bandwagon and (oops!) One Direction didn’t quite make the cut yet again.

20. DROWNERS — Drowners (February)
Matthew Hitt moved from his native Wales to New York City in order to pursue a modeling career. The guy must have had a lot of down time because he formed a band, wrote some songs and churned out one of the year’s most infectious indie rock (with just a hint of glam) records.

19. BLONDFIRE — Young Heart (February)
This brother-and-sister duo from Los Angeles took about six years to churn out their second album, but the electronic-leaning stirring pop collection was well worth the wait. Hopefully, the two will make another one before 2020.

18. LUST FOR YOUTH — International (June)
This year’s first entry from Sweden, Lust for Youth is now a proper electronic outfit as opposed to just brains-behind-the-operation Hannes Norrvide in disguise. International was a gloriously retro throwback to the golden age of synthpop. 30 years too late? Hardly.

17. LAST INTERNATIONALE — We Will Reign (August)
Rock power trios still have their place, even the semi-political ones. Especially if they’re fronted by a tough-as-nails girl while the ex-drummer of Rage Against the Machine is laying down the tight foundation. Reign was super-fierce and (in 2014) super welcome.

16. ELBOW — The Take Off and Landing of Everything (March)
Perhaps the first semi-legendary act on the list, Britain’s Elbow continues to make intelligent guitar rock that’s firmly grounded in the long-standing traditions of Britpop, even though this record was mostly inspired by frontman Guy Garvey’s extended stay in NYC.

15. THE MUFFS — Whoop Dee Doo (July)
We thought they were done a decade ago. However, California pop/punk outfit the Muffs came back with a vengeance and a furious slab of pure ear candy. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kim Shattuck is 50 on this record, but she can still hold her own against any young hungry rocker chick out there.

14. BISHOP ALLEN — Lights Out (August)
Brooklyn indie rockers Bishop Allen finally came back with another subdued set big on huge melodies and a carefree vibe, but with just enough melancholy to keep the proceedings grounded. This one remains stuck in our collective grey matter.

13. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART — Days of Abandon (May)
The New York outfit put another “retro” entry on the list. But when they’re clearly lifting elements form ’80s jangle pop and the finer points of New Order’s catalog, who are we to complain? Just embrace it and love it.

12. PAINTED PALMS — Forever (January)
It took awhile for this neo-psychedelic San Francisco outfit to do a proper full-length album. After teasing us with some superior EPs, the band made the slightly more sprawling multi-colored effort we always somehow knew was there.

11. REIGNING SOUND — Shattered (July)
Lead vocalist/guitarist Greg Cartwright’s been kicking around in various outfits and flirting with different genres for more than two decades now; RS has been an entity since the turn of the century. Shattered saw all past elements really come together; an unforgettable indie pop triumph.

Whoa! Out of room! We’ll regroup here next week for the TOP TEN.




WU-TANG CLAN — A Better Tomorrow
THE GOOD: After overcoming many obstacles, the Wu-Tang Clan regroups for a slick sixth effort.
THE BAD: The word “slick” should NEVER describe a Wu-Tang album.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Longtime member Raekwon criticized Wu mastermind the RZA for the direction this new album might take and longtime fans may end up agreeing with the former. The Wu was always known for its gritty production style; scratchy samples, sped-up backing vocals, chunky drum loops dripping with noxious noise and chopped up beyond recognition.
Better Tomorrow features some live instrumentation and jubilant R&B and, while there’s nothing wrong with either of those things, they simply don’t gel with the eerie foreboding inner city vibe that’s permeated all past albums. Maybe we’re supposed to accept these new directives as a logical progression, but they feel so awkward … and dull.
Thankfully, the grit and goofy kung-fu movie samples come back at enough points to warrant a listen, but Tomorrow should have been so much more satisfying.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THE GOOD: Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah releases his eleventh solo outing.
THE BAD: Ever since 2006’s Fishscale and More Fish (his final two GREAT albums thus far), GK’s catalog has been one of diminishing returns.
THE NITTY GRITTY: GK seems stuck on making concept albums, entire records that tell a cohesive story. Therefore, the individual parts suffer when taken out of context and we get a set far too ambitious for its own good.
Seasons finds GK continuing the saga of Tony Starks (the Iron Man character the rapper embraced on his first solo album, 12 years before Robert Downey Jr. brought the man to the big screen). Both versions of the character are similar in name only. I won’t go into the narrative here; read the comic strip in the CD booklet and you’ll get the entire gist.
Just realize Seasons is filled with uninspired backing tracks, half-baked ideas and a star whose absent on a third of the cuts.
BUY IT?: 36 Seasons is for Ghostface completists only.

EC25SOUNDS_1_WEBEMINEM (and others) — Shady XV
THE GOOD: Eminem celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of Shady Records with something old and something new.
THE BAD: Shady XV is a wildly uneven compilation.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first disc features new music from Eminem (about half) and a host of other artists on the Shady roster. We get new jams from Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil, Yelawolf, D12 and Mr. Mathers himself. There’s nothing fresh here from Obie Trice or 50 Cent, but they show up on the second “greatest hits” disc.
Some tracks are funky and furious; others are flat. But there’s little here that doesn’t feel like B-side or leftover material. The title cut is fun with its blatant looping of Billy Squier’s “My Kinda Lover.” “Twisted” is spooky and surreal. “Detroit vs. Everybody” rounds out the new stuff with a banging all-star passing of the mic. Yet Shady XV still comes off like a cash grab released just in time for your holiday gift giving convenience.
BUY IT?: Your choice.




THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie pop trio Little Daylight offers up a decent self-produced debut.
THE BAD: Memory is pleasing but predictable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Little Daylight falls in with a lot of other current female-fronted electronic-leaning outfits. They’re an Americanized Chvrches, a heavier Echosmith and a more spaced-out Colourist.
Front woman Nikki Taylor and her boys have managed to carve out their own little niche within the genre while not exactly overflowing with innovation. Thankfully though, Memory isn’t short on solid tracks. No unforgettable anthems, but no duds either. Cuts such as the instantly fetching “Overdose” and “Mona Lisa” are big on thick backbeats and kicking choruses.
And the band really shines when they bring in some dreamy ambient (“Be Long”) or seamlessly danceable (“Runaround”) elements. The entire collection is varied enough to avoid falling into a repetitious rut while still retaining a consistent agreeable vibe. Memory ends up being nothing more than very good rhythmic pop … and sometimes I guess that’s enough.
BUY IT?: Why not?

THE GOOD: Danish indie pop duo Asteroids Galaxy Tour (vocalist Mette Lindberg and songwriter/producer Lars Iversen) are back with a stupendous interstellar third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The pair brings back their heady psychedelic (and very danceable) mix of retro rock and the electronic. Truly a wild seamless set. Disco gets sprinkled atop certain cuts (“Navigator”) while vintage soul permeates others (“My Club”). “Choke It” and “Rock the Ride” are funky party anthems. “I Am The Mountain” and “X” are darker and more serious. Yet even these possess an undeniable spirit both giddy and intoxicating.
Just like AGT’s first two outings, Together is an album designed for pure pleasure, but it’s not a “guilty” pleasure. No, this is quality stuff, extremely well conceived and executed (sometimes even sophisticated). The band’s entire catalog also displays no signs of diminishing quality. So of course, once again, the pair leaves us craving more.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

THE GOOD: New Zealand electronic pop duo Broods (brother and sister Caleb and Georgia Nott) give us their full-length debut.
THE BAD: Evergreen is a slick enough set but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Broods is yet another outfit blurring the lines between indie pop, electronic music and modern R&B, with a female vocalist purring and wailing over rhythmic mechanized backdrops. If you think the record sounds an awful lot like Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine, that’s probably because Evergreen was produced and co-written by Joel Little, the same guy behind Lorde’s entire musical output (so far).
Still, tracks like “Bridges” and “Mother and Father” are not without their strengths — fetching melodies and buzzing humming keyboards carried by liquid beats. Georgia also possesses the right voice for the material. But we’ve been here before and very recently. And since pop music is cyclical, we’ll probably be here again more than a few times in 2015.
BUY IT?: Your choice.




ERASURE — The Violet Flame
THE GOOD: British synth-pop duo Erasure (producer/instrumentalist Vince Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell) are still going strong after almost 30 years and 15 albums.
THE BAD: Flame is a record from a group past their creative prime.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Like their synth-pop counterparts Depeche Mode (a band Clarke co-founded well over three decades ago), Erasure is falling into that comfortable rut of releasing a decent album every few years. It’s nothing that would overshadow past triumphs, but good enough to prove the guys are still relevant.
Flame picks up where other releases since the turn of our century (Nightbird, Light at the End of the World, etc.) left off. That is, we get ten songs riding liquid beats while Bell’s soaring falsetto belts out more of Clarke’s precious melodies. Tracks like “Elevation” and “Reason” joyfully bounce around the room while more subdued pieces such as “Be the One” add a touch of blue-eyed soul to the mostly electronic proceedings. Earth shattering? Hardly. Enjoyable? Tremendously.
BUY IT?: Why not?

ey.11183ELECTRIC YOUTH – Innerworld
THE GOOD: Canadian synth-pop duo Electric Youth (instrumentalist Austin Garrick and vocalist Bronwyn Griffin) gives us a sparkling debut.
THE BAD: Don’t expect perfection. However, Innerworld is a damn fine launching point.
THE NITTY GRITTY: No, the two didn’t take their name from the old Debbie Gibson album (“Lost In Your Eyes” anyone?), but EY do often find themselves drifting through the more synthetic sounds of the 80s. Innerworld is a slightly retro album celebrating all things digital and somewhat gentle, harkening back to the feel of Yazoo, OMD and Xymox.
The two first made a splash a couple of years ago when their dreamy “A Real Hero” (included here) popped up on the Drive movie soundtrack (awesome flick, BTW). Innerworld is now more of the same, breezy hypnotic pop gems riding steady, yet subtle, beats. Tracks like “We Are the Youth” and “Without You” pull us in with Griffin’s delicate vocals guiding quaint melodies. The pulsating backdrops then keep us locked in place.
BUY IT?: Yep.

EC04SOUNDS_1_WEBALT-J — This Is All Yours
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Alt-J release a low-key second effort.
THE BAD: Yours suffers from not necessarily a sophomore slump, but rather a slump in general.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Most listeners can’t help but call Alt-J a “new Radiohead.” However, in this case, that’s not really a term of endearment, more like “this is what the band is aspiring to, but it’s just not happening.” For Yours does possess the muted vocals, low burning guitars and heavy atmosphere. But this record is sorely lacking in a reason to come back for a second listen. The melodies are flat and the entire affair drags after a few cuts.
There are times when Yours almost takes off. “Choice Kingdom” is hauntingly pretty. “Hunger of the Pine” is quirky, built around an unexpected Miley Cyrus sample. “The Gospel of John Hurt” almost latches onto a subdued groove … not quite. There are glimmers of hope, yet they all feel like lost opportunities.
BUY IT?: Your decision.




THE GOOD: Danish indie rock duo Raveonettes release a noisy (as usual) melodic (of course) seventh.
THE BAD: No complaints, but prepare for a change in focus.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Named after a Hawaiian surfing spot and partly inspired by the death of guitarist/vocalist Sune Rose Wagner’s father, Pe’ahi explores the usual dark territories of any Raveonettes album. However, there’s a little less sarcasm and humor this time and a bit more instrumental experimentation with the band moving beyond the usual rudimentary beats and Jesus and Mary Chain guitar fuzz.
Though most of its melodies are strong, the album’s distinct and abrasive beauty can be found within the backing tracks. Underneath all the harmonies and Sharin Foo’s haunting wispy solo turns, there’s an array of funky (sometimes recognizable) drum loops, pretty little countermelodies and even the occasional delicate harp or choir arrangement. Longtime fans shouldn’t panic. There are still mounds of buzzing six-strings. However, this album hails from a more “somber” place than past records.
BUY IT?: Surely.

THE GOOD: Canadian indie supergroup New Pornographers are back together after a four-year hiatus.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by power pop and melodic mastermind A.C. Newman, the band finds themselves getting over some trying times personally and looking ahead to a future that’s so bright they gotta wear shades. There’s an undeniable exuberance to Bruisers, easily the most multi-colored and “new wave” of all the bands albums.
Swirling synths never dominate the guitars, but make their presence known more than ever before, recalling that delicate balance found by The Cars decades ago. Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and alt-country goddess Neko Case both return and take on some lead vocal duties — Bejar also composing his usual small handful of songs. And even these crew members sound livelier than ever.
Little gems like “War on the East Coast,” “Marching Orders” and the title cut are sharp and infectious while the album’s momentum never trails off, even during the softer bits. Stability has been achieved.
BUY IT?: Yep.

THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers The Vaselines return with their third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After forming almost 30 years ago, The Vaselines released a couple of EP’s and one full-length album before unceremoniously imploding around 1990. But the band’s core (the boy-girl duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee) wrote enough catchy post-punk tunes to become a major influence on Nirvana and a host of other 90s acts, thereby securing a place in rock history.
2010 saw the pair reform to give us Sex with an X, an infectious gritty collection that picked up right where the band left off 20 years prior. Now V for Vaselines is yet another dose of that formula so tasty, you wouldn’t dare ask them to change it. Tracks like “High Tide Low Tide” and “One Lost Year” are big on bold melodies, slick harmonies, shaking tambourines and plenty of “Ba Ba Ba Bas” — joyous noises that leave you hungry for more.
BUY IT?: Yes.




BEAR IN HEAVEN — Time Is Over One Day Old
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie rockers Bear in Heaven are back with an interstellar fourth.
THE BAD: Time isn’t tight. The band lets the music breathe and fill large spaces. Not “bad,” but keep an open mind and go with the flow.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Combining neo-psychedelic electronics with guitar fuzz, BIH’s music lands deep within a canyon surrounded by the Flaming Lips’ quirks, Animal Collective’s hyperactive sense of melody and the Beta Band’s laid-back tendencies. Vocalist/lyricist and primary producer Jon Philpot is still steering the ship, keeping things multi-layered and unpredictable.
Time begins as a focused yet otherworldly pop album; songs like “Autumn” and “If I Were To Lie” built with bold melodies and more traditional structures. Moving on, the record mellows a bit (“The Sun and the Moon and the Stars”) before switching on more electronics (“Demon”) and then finally sliding into way-out experimental territories (the inviting drone of “Dissolve the Walls”). It’s a fascinating journey.
BUY IT? Yep.

THE GOOD: British electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco return with a very spacey set.
THE BAD: No real complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: SMD began life as the technology obsessed side project of James Ford and Jas Shaw from the now defunct Simian. For the past decade, the two have been creating boundless electronic works that have flirted with just about every sub-genre there is; some records noisy and heavy, others more restrained and “pop friendly.”
Whorl is the guys’ dedicated step into ambient techno territory. Recalling that genre’s mid-90s heyday, the album begins in swirling “beatless” territories, resembling some long forgotten Orb EP. Once the liquid beats kick in, we suddenly find ourselves remembering dark nights spent grinding to the Future Sound of London.
The album spends a little over an hour bouncing between these two not-so-extremes, pulsating cuts with well-defined grooves and pieces more than willing to melt into the background. A delicate balance is maintained, and the set is better for it.
BUY IT? Yep.

THE GOOD: Canadian writer/producer/performer Dan Sanity (current stage name Caribou) gives us a very personal sixth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sanity started making records under the moniker Manitoba around the turn of the century. At first, albums were made up mostly of sound collages (some tranquil, others abrasive) and quirky electronic pop tracks. As things progressed and further records came together, and after he switched names to Caribou, Sanity brought in hip-hop elements and more traditional song structures. All of this progression came together on 2010’s stunning Swim; still the man’s finest and most commercially successful to date.
Our Love is now Sanity’s “thank you” of sorts; the guy out to show his fan base a funky good time. Tracks like “Silver” and “All I Ever Need” wrap their subtle blips and bloods around solid clicking rhythms and Sanity’s own soulful falsetto. Other constructed moments such as “Dive” and “Julia Brightly” prove the more experimental side of his music remains intact and intense.
BUY IT? Yes.




YELLE — Completement Fou
THE GOOD: French singer Julie Budet and/or the trio she heads up (the moniker “Yelle” refers to either one) comes back with a dynamic third.
THE NITTY GRITTY: As the group continues, their records are more varied. Completement Fou is easily the most “pop” of all their albums; a set about much more than just keeping a dance floor moving. Of course, you still get a satisfying helping of danceable anthems with Budet way out in front egging on the crowd in her native tongue and making the whole happening very lively.
This time however, you also move to a decent amount of low-key mid-tempo bits that show off Budet’s singing skills while demonstrating the woman is NOT just a one-dimensional club queen. This album is deeper than its predecessors, and while some detractors could claim Completement Fou loses steam during its final third, that very change in tempo makes repeat listens all the more alluring.
BUY IT?: Yes.

THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer Zola Jesus (real name Nika Danilova) creates a vast third outing.
THE BAD: Taiga, a Russian phrase for “forest,” feels like it’s more about filling a huge space as opposed to churning out succinct pop songs. Nothing wrong with that. Just prepare for a cool headphones record that has to “seep in” to your consciousness and not a collection that will immediately grab you on every level.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The album keeps you guessing, bouncing from the catchy electro-pop of “Dangerous Days” to the eerie echo-drenched “Dust” to the hectic drum-and-bass colored “Hunger” without flinching. Despite the changes in tempo and mood though, Taiga maintains an overall vibe of “wild” tranquility; harsh electronics used to create something that feels warm and organic.
Plus the songs themselves are just GOOD. Danilova paints each cut with the proverbial “whistles and bells” to add texture, but most of these tracks would be just as effective bare. Taiga ends up a natural and solid progression.
BUY IT?: Yep.

THE GOOD: Los Angeles singer-songwriter Banks (Jillian Rose Banks) offers up a brooding debut.
THE BAD: Goddess could use a good trim … or maybe a change in tempo?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Banks is yet another female singer born in the late 80s/early 90s, and fed a steady diet of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple while growing up in a musical landscape dominated by a whole lot of hip-hop and female-fronted R&B. Like predecessors Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey and Lorde, her music blurs the lines between indie pop, electronica and soul.
Goddess is an hour-long marathon of mid-tempo, R&B flavored, somewhat steamy songs guided by a girl who would probably rather be considered “misunderstood indie chick” as opposed to “white soul diva.” Too harsh? Sorry, but Goddess sounds too much like a bunch of records we’ve heard over the past year, a lot by those other aforementioned artists. And after awhile, the damn thing simply melts into the wallpaper.
BUY IT?: Maybe not.

Sounds: Nov. 6, 2014

Sounds: Nov. 6, 2014


THE GOOD: California-based singer/songwriter Lia Ices comes back with a slightly spooky third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The woman further embraces a mix that brings together warm organic rock and icy electronics. Ices’ affected vocals throughout the album remind one of the multi-layered harmonious tones of the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, while the music itself feels primal in spots like the tribal rhythms carrying an Emiliana Torrini record. Tracks like the stomping “Tell Me” and lead single “Higher” almost feel jubilant.
Other songs bring in the more haunting elements. Tunes such as the somewhat funky “How We Are” and fragile cascading “Waves” seem to float on air as they play, the latter practically angelic yet still eerie. Depending upon your current mood, Ices will either transport you to some lush green getaway as the sun is slowly setting, or the far reaches of an already dark outer space. Either way, it IS an album in which you become completely enraptured.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
KIMBRA — The Golden Echo
THE GOOD: New Zealand singer/songwriter Kimbra offers up a huge eclectic sophomore album.
THE BAD: Echo might be TOO huge.
THE NITTY GRITTY: I take it she’s going for an unpredictable indie pop/R&B hybrid with Echo (that’s what I hear anyway). And for the most part, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Funky bits like “Nobody but You” and “Miracle” show off the girl’s pipes and tight sense of rhythm. Tracks such as the manic “Madhouse” and the swirling “Carolina” prove the woman unafraid to take chances.
Too bad some other experiments fall flat. “90’s Music” throws in everything but the kitchen sink and ends up sounding forced and cluttered. “Waltz Me to the Grave” is the bloated progressive closer that reaches far beyond its own grasp. Here you definitely take the good with the misguided.
BUY IT?: Still, yes. Echo is flawed, but it shows a singer expanding her musical horizons. Now Kimbra has to figure out which direction is best for her.
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter/producer Imogen Heap makes a sprawling fourth album.
THE BAD: The record was initially released in pieces over the past couple of years. That’s only “bad” if the sporadic unveiling of the music muted the overall punch of hearing the entire album for the first time.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sparks works really well as a completed project. This is a headphones record; an album that transcends the usual simplicity of electronic pop. Heap and her smoky voice give us a number of melodic tracks carried by clicking fragile beats; tracks with seamless traditional structures like “Entanglement” and “Run Time.”
In between those divine moments, the woman changes up the formula to include Indian flavors (“Minds without Fear”), wild multi-layered vocal experiments (“The Listening Chair”) and hypnotic droning works (“Cycle Song”). Unpredictability is Sparks’ greatest strength and no two cuts sound alike. Yet they all come together to form something bold and dramatic; a set that feels surprisingly warm despite its mechanical origins.
BUY IT?: Surely.
Mike Evans is a super cool radio guy who doesn’t mess around when it comes to music. Sounds appears weekly in electric city and diamond city.




JENNY LEWIS — The Voyager
THE GOOD: Indie singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis is finally back.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been six years since Lewis’ last solo outing and four since her collaboration with Jonathan Rice. Last year saw a Rilo Kiley rarities collection (that band now officially and sadly defunct), but new music from the indie goddess is more than welcome.
Produced by Ryan Adams, The Voyager is easily the slickest record in Lewis’ solo catalog. Rabbit Fur Coat (2006) and Acid Tongue (2008) both leaned heavily in the realm of alt-country and modern folk — rock albums at their core but with a dominating homespun charm. This new record is more straight-forward indie pop and the closest Lewis has ever come to her past in the aforementioned Rilo Kiley.
Adams’ precise production helps make confident tunes like “Head Underwater” and “Just One of the Guys” cool and breezy, but the end results never feel over-produced. We end up with a simmering West Coast collection that rarely falters.
BUY IT?: Surely.

EC30SOUNDS_2_WEBSINEAD O’CONNOR — I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss
THE GOOD: Indie legend and Irish bad girl Sinead O’Connor is back with her tenth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If 2012’s How About I Be Me (And You Be You) was seen as the singer/songwriter’s return to form, I’m the Boss is its logical follow-up. When taken together, both records find the quality of O’Connor’s work on an upswing.
Lyrically, O’Connor breaks away from the politics and social causes (for the most part) and focuses on her (or someone’s) sexuality, relationships and life experiences. Musically, the set is the usual mix of cathartic pop, slightly funky pieces and gentle yet stirring moments. The new album has more teeth though; O’Connor not holding back the raw emotion on jagged cuts like “The Voice of My Doctor” and “Take Me to Church.”
BUY IT?: Yes. More than 25 years into a truly eclectic career, the woman still possesses one of the most haunting and seductive female voices on the planet.

THE GOOD: Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O offers up a solo record.
THE BAD: Practically an album of finished and unfinished demos, Crush Songs is a very off-the-cuff intimate affair. Don’t expect a fully realized studio effort.
THE NITTY GRITTY: According to the liner notes, O wrote and recorded these songs in private when she was “crushing a lot.” So there’s a sense of urgency, perhaps getting the tunes on tape before the current crush dissipated and all of the emotion disappeared. Most of the tracks are lo-fi studies of just O and her acoustic guitar, yet some boast rudimentary drum machines, echo and double-tracked voices. A couple even sound finished to the point that they would probably make decent YYY cuts (“Day Go By” has definite potential).
In the end though, Crush Songs feels messy and self-indulgent —compelling only to those rabid fans that must hear absolutely everything this woman has ever recorded
BUY IT?: Meh … only obsessive Yeah Yeah Yeahs people need apply.




THE GOOD: New Jersey indie rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars bring the noise on their third full-length.
THE BAD: The guys make you work for it. Lose is good — maybe even great — but it takes a few spins to fully sink in.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After some line-up changes, CEG now feels more like an actual band and less like a group of temporary players subject to the whims of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Joseph D’Agostino. Lose is more cohesive than the first two records.
Bringing in elements of loud shoegaze, early Pavement and sprawling Built to Spill, the guys make a big noise that falls somewhere between post-punk’s sloppy urgency and progressive rock’s intricate unpredictability. Some tracks like soaring opener “Jackson” twist and turn, unafraid of changing textures and tempos, while others such as “XR” spit fire and get to the point. “Child Bride” is achingly tragic. “Chambers” gets down after dark. Who knows what’s next?
BUY IT?: Yes. If nothing else, Lose remains intensely interesting.



EC23SOUNDS_1_WEBGRACES DOWNFALL — Change Adjust Continue
THE GOOD: NEPA’s own Graces Downfall releases their third full-length.
THE BAD: Fresh? Exciting? Maybe not.
THE NITTY GRITTY: OK, these guys are tight. The band fires off a scorching mix of what used to be “alternative” with a fierce layer of metal over the top. I suspect there are probably more than a few Staind, Tool and Papa Roach CDs lurking in these dudes’ old music collections.
But that’s the problem. GD is everything you hated about the late 90s and mainstream aggro-rock in general. Nothing here is as bad as … say … Puddle of Mudd, but it’s hard to take the heavy-handed social commentary of an angst-riddled song like “Scranton” seriously. And closing cut “Leah” is easily the most cloying ballad about a kid since Creed’s “With Eyes Wide Open.” Her smile so perfect/Without a tooth.
BUY IT?: I know the band has legions of local fans … so support them if you must. The rest of us will just move on and never speak of Change again.



THE GOOD: British duo Royal Blood studies the basics on their tough debut.
THE BAD: Nothing “bad” — just old fashioned blues-based rock ‘n’ roll. No innovation, but the record cranks.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Following other modern “revival” acts such as Wolfmother and Rival Sons, Royal Blood is simply the latest English collective supposedly saving “real” rock. You get a mix of those aforementioned acts along with some Raconteurs/Dead Weather Jack White-type stuff and a sprinkle of the Black Keys.
All the songs come in around three minutes so there’s no room for elaborate solos or progressive posturing. Tunes like “Out of the Black” and “Careless” make their point and get out of the way for the next blast of power-packed rocket fuel. Vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr cites Queens of the Stone Age as a major influence and you can hear that. Royal Blood is crunchy and tight, but also melodic in all the right places.
BUY IT?: Sure. The album may be flawed but it leaves us wanting more.




SPOON — They Want My Soul
THE GOOD: After taking time off to recharge their batteries, Texas indie rockers Spoon return with a rock solid eighth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman/songwriter Britt Daniel and his crew could take their blend of no-nonsense soulful rock with its airtight rhythms and bruised guitars, make the same album over and over again and not too many people would complain. Their stuff always turns out sneakily intelligent and incredibly infectious.
Perhaps the secret to Spoon’s longevity though is the fact they could keep making the same record, but don’t. Every jewel in the catalog has its own unique twist. On Soul, the band sounds more aware (proud?) of its identity than ever before. Songs like “Knock Knock Knock,” “Let Me Be Mine” and the title cut buzz and hum like a well oiled machine yet still retain a slightly dangerous spontaneity. This train can spin off the rails at any time, but we’re still grooving.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.

THE GOOD: New York indie rockers Interpol have regrouped and now offer their fifth.
THE BAD: The band has yet to top their first two records (2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights and 2004’s Antics). El Pintor also doesn’t, but it’s a step in the right direction and comes in at a not-too-distant third.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Now a trio, the band took time off after touring behind their weakest, 2010’s maudlin self-titled effort. They sound re-energized. While El Pintor doesn’t reek of innovation or much progression, the songs are certainly better.
There are moody bits harkening back to the band’s haunting debut; slow burns like “Breaker 1” and “Twice and Hard.” For the most part though, the set is big on jagged guitars and rhythms stacked with forward momentum. Cuts like “All the Rage Back Home” and “Everything Is Wrong” retain the dark atmosphere, but also pack on the forceful backbeats and killer hooks.
BUY IT?: Yes. Then dig in deep or just enjoy the ride.

EC02SOUNDS_2_WEBDEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 — The Physical World
THE GOOD: Canadian dance/punk duo DFA79 (drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler) return with a blistering sophomore effort.
THE BAD: Ten years is a long time to wait for a second album. Expectations may be too high.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guys broke up due to “creative differences” after touring for 2004’s genre-bending You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. The two later shook hands in 2011, played some shows and finally got around to recording the Physical World with producer Dave Sardy (Cold War Kids, Nine Inch Nails, OK GO).
We get 11 fiery anthems in 36 minutes, with the record’s sequencing frantic and leaving little room to breathe. Tracks like “Right On Frankenstein” and “Gemini” blur the lines between punk and the electronic, garage rock and even nu metal. The duo madly jumps amongst the varying styles with wicked abandon. The end result is punchy, loud and catchy — not necessarily a bold step forward, but it gets the job done.
BUY IT?: Sure.