BAD ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENTS MIMICKING BIRDS – ‘Layers of Us’
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers Mimicking Birds come back with a placid third.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What started out as a solo outlet for singer/guitarist Nate Lacy has become a proper band for a couple of records now. “Layers” continues the trio’s logical progression; a spacey work made of fragile melodies and pastoral settings that still manages to let a bit of genuine rock sneak into the mix.
On the surface, the songs are seamless, ebbing and flowing on waves so gentle they’re damn near hypnotic. What keeps the album from becoming straight up “dream pop” though is the backdrops. Punchy rhythms and electric guitars constantly remind you that this IS a rock album (and not only in spirit).
Warm and cozy tracks like “Sunlight Daze” and “Belongings” are blessed with Lacy’s tender vocals and just enough echo to take the edge off any jagged riffs. However, these songs carry the forward momentum necessary to keep us from completely drifting off into the ether.
BUY IT?: Sure.
THE VACCINES – ‘Combat Sports’
THE GOOD: British indie rockers the Vaccines regroup and release its fourth.
THE BAD: Changes…some good, some dull.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s line-up shuffled (a pair of touring musicians are now full-fledged members), the Vaccines continue to refine its sound. Keyboards are more prominent and the guys have smoothed over some of the rough edges. But is that a good thing?
Those big bold hooks remain intact. It’s tough to ignore the slamming melodies carrying songs like “Put It on a T-Shirt” and “Maybe (Luck of the Draw).” Still, the Vaccines’ most exciting work is spread across its first two more visceral records – 2011’s “What Did You Expect” and 2012’s “Come of Age.”
If they continue in this direction, the band risks losing all that made them distinct in the first place (can you say Wombats?). “Combat Sports” hasn’t gone THAT far yet, but it should make long-time fans cautious about the future. Hopefully, the fifth album gets a shot of pure adrenaline.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
MATT AND KIM – ‘Almost Everyday’
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie duo Matt and Kim come back with a brief wandering sixth.
THE BAD: Some songs work. Others feel incomplete.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The record was written and recorded while Kim Schifino recovered from a serious knee injury. That could have influenced the creation of more introspective pieces and less party anthems. Tracks such as “Like I Used to Be” and “Happy If You’re Happy” hail from a mellower place than usual. But you still get thumping forceful bangers such as the frustrated “Forever” and the slick “Glad I Tried.”
Yet, other cuts feel like unfinished throwaways. There’s a germ of an idea running through “All in My Head” that goes nowhere. Multi-chapter closer “Where Do We Go from Here” is TOO open-ended; a beginning with no logical conclusion. Plus there are a lot of GUESTS (Blink 182, Walk the Moon, Santigold, etc.) whose contributions feel wholly unnecessary (and in many cases are barely noticeable).
BUY IT?: Your call.
COMEBACKS AND KICK-OFFS BELLY — ‘Dove’
THE GOOD: New England alt-rockers Belly reforms and releases its third album (and first in over two decades).
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With Tanya Donelly still in front of
the band’s most prominent lineup, Belly picks up right where it left off in 1996. The group reformed for a handful of concerts two years ago and realized there was still NEW music in it. “Dove” is the result of some rather prolific sessions.
What’s great about the record is that the tunes are truly timeless. Belly didn’t radically overhaul or update its sound, and at the same time, the songs don’t sound stuck in the era of “Seinfeld” and Bill Clinton. “Dove” is simply guitar-driven indie rock; Donelly’s female vocals still captivate and hold their own against the delicate thunder below. Tracks such as “Human Child” and “Suffer the Fools” are that perfect combination of grace and power, with swaying melodies riding a fair amount of sheer volume. This reunion feels totally natural. Embrace it.
BUY IT?: Yes.
WE ARE SCIENTISTS — ‘Megaplex’
THE GOOD: New York indie pop duo We Are Scientists gives us its sixth.
THE BAD: Mixed emotions.
THE NITTY GRITTY: There’s good and bad on “Megaplex.” While the writing is focused and the songs are strong, a lot of the band’s quirky indie and new wave elements are toned down. It’s as if “Megaplex” is a bid for the pop market. I’m not saying that’s the case, but the record sounds dull and predictable in spots.
We still get the delicate sway of “KIT” and the melodic punchy closer “Properties of Perception.” Technically, there are NO duds here. However, there’s a certain “sameness,” not just amongst individual tracks but also the group’s catalog in general. These guys aren’t progressing enough from release to release. “Megaplex” is an enjoyable, guitar-based rock/pop record, but it barely leaves any lasting impression. It’s also interchangeable with their previous two or three albums.
BUY IT?: Your choice. Newbies may actually get more out of “Megaplex” than long-time fans craving something fresh.
MIDDLE KIDS — ‘Lost Friends’
THE GOOD: Australian indie trio Middle Kids releases a confident first full-length album.
THE BAD: “Lost Friends” loses momentum across its second half, but not enough to damage the overall work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The group teased us with a self-titled EP last year. Now, the main attraction is here (and with only two “repeats” from 2017’s mini jam). “Lost Friends” is a driven, catchy set recalling a lot of female-fronted ’90s faves (Belly, Cranberries, Sleeper) and more recent friends (Joy Formidable, Naked and Famous, Metric). There’s nothing starkly original here, but the songs are damn good, and Hannah Joy’s entrancing vocals are their perfect method of delivery.
The album immediately draws us in with the one-two punch of full-bodied openers “Bought It” and “Mistake.” From there, the record rarely stumbles. By the time we reach the set’s second half though, songs begin to blend together. Still, this band is just getting started. “Lost Friends” accomplishes much, leaving us hopeful for the group’s future.
BUY IT?: I would.
WOMEN OF INDEPENDENCE COURTNEY BARNETT — ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Courtney Barnett obliterates the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It was wise to release a collaborative effort with Kurt Vile (“Lotta Sea Lice”) instead of directly following up 2015’s triumph “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.” Barnett was placed on such a high pedestal in the indie rock community that ANY follow-up could be considered a let-down. “Sea Lice” gave listeners a simple, unaffected set to savor — a nice warm-up before the main event.
Now, “Tell Me” is finally here. It’s a record that doesn’t try to match “Sit and Think” and is all the better for it. The new album is slightly smaller in scope, with Barnett allowing us to get closer and peek inside her psyche. Tracks are both loose (the rambling “Hopefulessness”) and airtight (the razor-sharp “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”). Barnett embraces her mood swings and grows as a songwriter. The next one should be brilliant, too.
BUY IT?: YES!
BEACH HOUSE — ‘7’
THE GOOD: Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House (vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally) comes back with an appropriately titled seventh.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band embraces a new creative process with “7.” Long-time producer Chris Coady has been replaced by NO official producer at all. Indie legend Sonic Boom acts as an on-again, off-again consultant of sorts. Instead of recording the album in a singular burst of creativity, the pair took its time at various sessions spread out over a year, letting the songs form more naturally.
“7” also is more intense than past efforts. The dreamy elements remain intact. However, they’re further enhanced by more live drums than usual, droning fits of distortion and echoes of vintage shoegaze. Sonic Boom’s presence certainly is felt within the distant rumblings of classic “My Bloody Valentine,” “Lush” or even his own “Spacemen 3.”
“7” is hardly a “noise-fest” though. You can still slip on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and drift away.
BUY IT?: Surely.
HOP ALONG — ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’
THE GOOD: Philadelphia indie rocker Hop Along comes back with a multi-textured third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Three albums into their career, Frances Quinlan and her crew already have covered a lot of territory. They’re one of those groups that are difficult to pigeonhole (never bad), rolling and crashing like thunder one moment and delicately weeping the next.
Musically, they recall amazing, female-fronted indie legends such as Bettie Serveert, Madder Rose and Throwing Muses while embracing the more progressive-leaning elements of contemporaries, such as Warpaint. Lyrically, Quinlan tells wondrous stories both concrete and abstract.
On “Dog,” tempos vary, moods swing and the guitars often take a backseat to delicate, intimate string arrangements. Quinlan’s emotional vocals always are the main focus, whether it’s the exhausted strains of “The Fox in Motion” or the breathy waltz bringing “Not Abel” to life. It’s impossible to discover all the subtle nuances of “Dog” in just one sitting. The album is further enhanced with each subsequent spin.
BUY IT?: Yes.
— By Brigid Lynett
Nothing Yet leaves nothing yet to be desired in Northeast Pennsylvania’s music scene.
Although the band is fairly new, the members — Brandon Rodriguez on lead guitar, Evan Collins on bass, Justin Kucharski on rhythm guitar and backup vocals, Martin Monahan on drums and backup vocals and Nicolo Manzo on lead vocals — created the band’s concept years ago during middle school.
Nothing Yet began playing strictly modern rock but has evolved to classic rock songs and even some pop music. Despite the formidable struggle that comes from juggling band members’ schedules, Nothing Yet continues to change, grow and thrive. The Midvalley-based band recently went On the Record to discuss its sound, struggles and goals.
Q: How did Nothing Yet get its start?
Monahan: The idea of the band started in 2011 when we wanted to play a middle-school talent show, and our current lineup started playing together in 2013.
Q: Tell us about the first time you performed.
Manzo: We were excited and kind of nervous, but the crowd was energized by hearing a full band. It was a surreal experience.
Q: Do you write your own songs? What is your creative process like?
Rodriguez: We’re in the early stages of writing our first song. It’s a collaborative effort. Anyone who has an idea is encouraged to bring it forward, and we work from there.
Q: How has NEPA affected your music?
Kucharski: The area has a vibrant music scene, and we’ve been given many opportunities. Each gig teaches us what music people enjoy and want to hear. As we got older, we learned that every opportunity is something to take seriously, as a way to prove ourselves. We were growing up as the music scene changed in NEPA, and we’re relatively new to the scene but have found it to be very exciting.
Q: How did you each get involved in music?
Manzo: My family is bonded together by music. Going back to my dad’s father, he was a singer, and everyone in my house is a singer or plays some instruments. It keeps us together, and we all share the love for it.
Collins: I was surrounded by friends who played music and was just looking for another thing to challenge myself with, which led to playing the bass.
Kucharski: My grandfather and my father played in a band, and I felt inspired and wanted to play the guitar. I started in 2010 and haven’t stopped since.
Monahan: I joined concert band and chorus in elementary school and, in middle school, I was encouraged to play the drums in school jazz band. Soon after that, I felt inspired to start the band with Justin and Nicolo.
Rodriguez: I got into music by accident. My cousin was telling me how much fun it was to play in a band. I picked up saxophone, and after a couple years, I tried guitar to play the music I liked, and it stemmed from there.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence?
Collins: Our families have been our biggest supporters throughout the years, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a band?
Monahan: Our ages slowed our growth early as a band. We tried to play everywhere we could, but only certain places accepted us because we were too young. Presently, we’re all working or in college, so it’s tough to make schedules line up to practice and write.
Q: Has your sound changed over the years?
Collins: Our sound has definitely expanded over the years. We’ve moved from strictly modern rock to both classic rock and some pop. We’ve learned from the many different types of crowds we’ve had and what they want to hear. Our taste in music has also evolved, and we’ve learned to play with more maturity and to be better as a group.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish this year?
Monahan: Our goal this year is to play more regularly and to write some original songs. These goals contribute to our major mission — to not let the rock die out.
INTERSTELLAR OVERDRIVE MGMT — ‘Little Dark Age’
THE GOOD: New England indie duo MGMT (vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) come back with a focused fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been over a decade since these guys scored with the synth-tinged rock set “Oracular Spectacular,” a tight Dave Fridmann-produced playlist that had massive crossover appeal. After that, the guys rallied against mainstream expectations on two follow-ups — the particularly weird “Congratulations” (2010) and the spacey “MGMT” (2013). Both had their moments while being “difficult” in places.
VanWyngarden and Goldwasser now bring back the hooks and approachable vibes. “Little Dark Age” is the most accessible the pair has been since its debut. Sell outs? I would bet not. The guys are simply playing to their strengths. MGMT are damn good at conjuring up catchy, synth-heavy indie pop. So it was time to do that all over again. My guess is all the band’s strange days AREN’T behind it. For now though, just revel in the bliss that is “Little Dark Age.”
BUY IT?: Yep.
OF MONTREAL — ‘White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood’
THE GOOD: Georgia indie rockers Of Montreal (mastermind Kevin Barnes and whomever he’s playing with) give us their 15th.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Of Montreal is a rarity in that it’s VERY prolific (a new album comes out almost every year) AND willing to change direction often. Despite being released in quick succession, records often vary greatly from one other.
A few albums back, Barnes was all about the “band” aesthetic. A set such as 2013’s “Lousy with Sylvianbriar” was raw and spontaneous; Barnes created the din with a gaggle of other players. Since then, electronic elements have crept back into the mix, and more so on each subsequent outing.
“White Is Relic” finds the synths and dance grooves taking over; the record is even sequenced more like a collection of extended remixes than a proper LP. But this is all new material, inspired by current American paranoia and ’80s 12-inch singles. So get scared, get down and get crazy. That’s what Kevin wants.
BUY IT?: Yeah.
YOUNG GALAXY — ‘Down Time’
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic duo Young Galaxy goes completely independent on its sixth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Since husband-and-wife team Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless no longer suffer from record label restraints and expectations, the pair did whatever it felt like on “Down Time.” We reap the benefits of that freedom.
While the duo hasn’t abandoned its pop sensibilities (tight melodic tracks such as “Show You the Valley” and “Frontier” are proof of that), there’s a “chill” vibe running throughout the songs; the entire affair is much more ethereal and otherworldly than past efforts. McCandless’ rich vocals are out front most of the time, but the music doesn’t lose any clout when she’s not around; the swirling backing tracks are just as enthralling.
There’s an ebb and flow to “Down Time” that’s hypnotic. Rhythmic, ambient pieces such as “River” give way to focused bits such as “Stay for Real.” The record pulls you out of unconsciousness with a pronounced beat or hook. Mood swings work beautifully.
BUY IT?: I would.
NOT-SO-QUAINT FOLK WYE OAK — ‘The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs’
THE GOOD: Maryland indie duo Wye Oak comes back with a buzzing, crackling sixth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What began as a modern, folk-tinged project has slowly morphed into something completely dissimilar over the past three albums. Rather than play it safe, guitarist/vocalist Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack have left much of their acoustic leanings behind in favor of more electric guitars, tougher rhythms and more dominant synthesizers (some abrasive at times).
Harsher? Perhaps, but the music still emotionally resonates. Here, songs such as the delicately flowing “Lifer,” the melodic and dreamy “Over and Over” and the punchy title track resemble the early stuff in composition. However, their execution is radically different. Skip from 2009’s “The Knot” immediately to this new release, and you’d swear this was an electronic-leaning rock act trying to BE Wye Oak as opposed to the genuine article. However, the pair continues to make this ongoing sweeping transition run smoothly.
BUY IT?: Yes.
OKKERVIL RIVER — ‘In the Rainbow Rain’
THE GOOD: Modern folk/rock outfit Okkervil River comes back with its ninth.
THE BAD: Every album has its highs and lows, inspired moments and bits that drag. “Rain” follows this pattern.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Okkervil River has always been a proper band, but the only permanent member is singer/songwriter Will Sheff. Every record finds the man telling stories and getting introspective about his past. “Rain” kicks off with the clever “Famous Tracheotomies,” a track recalling Sheff’s own life-threatening surgery that occurred when he was just an infant. As the song plays on, we hear of other famous people who underwent similar procedures, Motown’s Mary Wells and Kinks frontman Ray Davies among them.
From there, moods shift from the top-heavy pop of “Pulled up the Ribbon” to the somber “Human Being Song.” Some tracks immediately click; others are slow burns. No DUDS though. Sheff covers emotional territories that are immediately relatable, and his songs are just distinct enough to not melt into one another.
BUY IT?: Sure.
S. CAREY — ‘Hundred Acres’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and Bon Iver drummer Sean Carey releases his third solo full-length.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Carey’s profile has risen during the past decade. He’s no longer “that dude from Bon Iver who occasionally goes solo.” Now, he’s S. Carey, “the man who still plays with Bon Iver even though a solo career wouldn’t be out of the question.”
“Hundred Acres” feels like a genuine effort to maybe go in that very direction. The album is the most accessible of his career, with Carey abandoning some weird percussive habits in exchange for lush melodies, cozy harmonies and warm strings. Lyrically, the man keeps matters close to home; relatable relationships and simple pleasures are not uncommon.
Carey also realizes “less is more.” “Hundred Acres” sticks around just long enough (10 tunes in 38 minutes) to avoid the trappings of tedium. Moods and tempos rarely change, but the momentum never dissipates. There’s nothing wrong with a pleasant visit now and then.
BUY IT?: Sure.
A 40-pound head might sound strange to some, but for the past 22 years, it has been the namesake of a Luzerne County band.
The four-piece group, which describes its genre as “the other music,” came together in 1996 first as a cover band and then moved into writing its own music. Although sometimes the group performs as a two-piece unit known as 20lb Head or as a trio dubbed 30lb Head, it primarily plays as a quartet under its main moniker, performing both covers and original music.
The quartet is comprised of Jason Egenski on vocals, Steven Egenski on guitars and vocals, Gary Mikulski or bass and vocals and Mike Zubritski on percussion. Jason Egenski recently went On the Record to discuss the band’s past, present and future as a staple in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Q: Where did the name 40lb Head come from? How did the band form?
A: The long but abridged story behind the name is best laid out this way: One head equals eight pounds; five heads (yes, five) equals 40 pounds. Five heads together equals one big “40lb Head.” We never ended up with that fifth member, so we just upped the weight of one head to 10 pounds since 32lb Head doesn’t roll off your tongue quite as nice. Makes sense, right?
Q: What is a 40lb Head live show like? How would you describe the experience from the stage and for the fans?
A: Well, the best way to enjoy us is to grab a beer and watch a couple of your friends get together and have some fun. It’s like playing frisbee or corn hole with friends. Sometimes the bag is falling in the hole every other toss. Sometimes you miss a catch or the frisbee curves because you held onto it too long. Sometimes it’s the wind. Mostly winning though but never taking score.
Q: What are some of the biggest influences (musical or non-musical) to your sound?
A: We all have similar tastes in music. But when you start “taking exits off the highway and a couple turns and end up on a dirt road, the rabbit holes get deep.” Ya know what I mean?
Q: Do you perform covers or write original songs?
A: We started in 1996 as a cover band. It was tricky picking songs everyone enjoyed, but we broke out the abacus and found our lowest common denominator. In just a couple years, we were diving into writing original music. We put three albums out years ago — “Savior Self” in 1998, “Hills and Valleys” in 2000 and “Third Shift” in 2002. We were young then, and full of piss and vinegar. No careers yet, no families — plenty of extra time. Those were the days. Now, some 20 years later, we’re still having a blast throwing an original in there now and again along with “playing frisbee” with our cover songs.
Q: What do you enjoy about performing in and around NEPA? Has the music scene here affected the band’s sound?
A: There’s no place like home. I see a lot of complaining going on on Facebook about this area, but I love Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our roots are deep here. As far as I see it, our canoe is perfectly positioned in the river to “go with the flow” so to speak. It has been a relatively smooth sailing and enjoyable operation, and we are all very fortunate and grateful for that.
HEART FULL OF SOUL THE DECEMBERISTS — ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’
THE GOOD: Northwest indie rockers the Decemberists continue to morph and progress on their eighth.
THE BAD: “Girl” brings about mixed emotions.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If you discovered the band during its humble beginnings, you were no doubt attracted to frontman Colin Meloy’s deft storytelling. The man could spin a Victorian era tragedy or pirate tale like no one else fronting a rock band. Sadly, the Decemberists have been drifting away from those character studies for a few years. “Girl” continues that drift.
They’re experimenting with more pronounced beats, some synthetic sounds and ambiguous lyrics. So you can’t accuse the band of being stuck in a musical rut. Yet the earlier stuff is still more intriguing.
But the grand melodies and captivating arrangements remain intact. So whether it’s the foreboding pop of “Your Ghost,” the catchy cynicism spread across “Everything Is Awful” or the playful intimacy on the title cut, we’re given more than a few good reasons to come back.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS — ‘Tearing at the Seams’
THE GOOD: Modern R&B/blue-eyed soul dudes Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats dodge the sophomore slump while cranking out more funky, authentic jams.
THE BAD: Since the guys crossed over BIG TIME with what was kind of a novelty hit (“S.O.B.” even prominently used in “Bar Rescue” promos), Rateliff and company run the risk of being deemed a “one-hit wonder.” The mainstream be damned! This band deserves better.
THE NITTY GRITTY: So it would be wise NOT to pass up “Tearing,” a record just as fun and gritty as its predecessor. From soulful pop tracks such as “A Little Honey” to ripping stompers such as “Intro” to more emotional bits like the title track, the new album rarely falters.
It’s a smoky session with influences hailing from Memphis to Chicago, full of songs cut from the same cloth but varied enough to keep our moods swinging. No tampering with this tried-and-true formula required — Rateliff gives us more good stuff that’s essentially timeless.
BUY IT?: Yeah!!
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA — ‘Sex & Food’
THE GOOD: New Zealand indie rock outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra (mostly singer/songwriter/guitarist Ruban Nielson) comes back with a soul-speckled fourth.
THE BAD: “Sex & Food” is a record of highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: UMO has never made a GREAT album. It’s always been about halfway-decent collections containing some GREAT songs. “Sex & Food” is no different; its greatest strength is not the tunes but rather the unpredictable changes in mood and tempo. This is a highly varied collection.
Nielson moves effortlessly from the catchy thrash of “Major League Chemicals” to the bluesy “Ministry of Alienation” to the bouncy, bubbly syrup making up “Hunnybee.” “American Guilt” is punchy and direct; “This Doomsday,” low-key and mysterious. You get the idea.
Sure, the aggressive parts aren’t really THAT aggressive, and the soulful bits can resemble warmed-over Lenny Kravitz at times. However, Nielson always manages to find the happy medium that’s just pleasurable enough to keep us desiring more. “Sex & Food” does satisfy.
BUY IT?: Sure.
EDITORS — ‘Violence’
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Editors releases its sixth.
THE BAD: Grand ideas but halfhearted execution?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Editors has always been a traditional rock band that openly flirted with the electronic. Droning synths and layered rhythms never felt out of place on its guitar-heavy compositions. That’s certainly the case on “Violence.” Only here, the electronic stuff plays a much more prominent role, and many songs seem to be more about locking into a groove as opposed to the verse-chorusverse-
chorus structure.That’s both good AND bad. Take in “Violence” as a whole and the album works amazingly well as a progressive set piece, carrying us through songs both focused (“Hallelujah
(So Low)”) and sprawling (“Belong”). Pull it apart though, and some of the individual tracks
feel unfinished, like building blocks enhancing the overall experience but too weak to stand on their
own. This makes “Violence” one of Editors’ lesser efforts. It’s a worthy and captivating diversion but not
one of the group’s finest hours.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
ALBERT HAMMOND JR.—‘Francis Trouble’
THE GOOD: Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. releases his fourth solo outing.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: With every solo release, Hammond gets better, more focused and more confident. With “Trouble,” he finally completely steps OUT of the Strokes’ shadow. Seriously. If that band called it quits for good tomorrow, Hammond’s records could ease the pain to the point of any long-time Strokes fan not caring about the dissolution in the least bit. “Trouble” is THAT good. It’s a concept album of sorts, inspired by Hammond’s twin brother, a sibling lost in utero before Albert was even born. Some songs address “what could have been” while others explore different facets of the man’s own personality.
Just about every track is exquisitely constructed with the guy’s reserved yet powerful guitar prowess, soaring melodies (some of them reminiscent of the son’s brilliant father) and, now more than ever, Hammond’s emotional abilities as a front man. Mentioning individual tracks isn’t necessary. The entire record sparkles.
BUY IT?: You must.
FIELD MUSIC—‘Open Here’
THE GOOD: British indie progrockers Field Music come back with their sixth album (B-side comps and soundtracks NOT included).
THE BAD: Every Field Music record can be TOO clever. You warm up to these albums. It’s not necessarily bad, you just have to keep on your toes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band has always been made up of brothers David and Peter Brewis (the only permanent members) and an ever-changing roster of guests. And there have been some major changes in both men’s lives since 2016’s “Commontime”— personally (fatherhood) and globally (Brexit).
So there are political themes coursing through the album, as the guys attempt to make sense of what’s going on not only for their own piece of mind but also that of their young children. Musically, “Open Here” is that easily identified mix of jittery indie rock, modern soul, classical bits, postpunk overtones and unpredictable arrangements. Stylistic partners with contemporaries Wild Beasts and British Sea Power or the second coming of formative 10cc? Could be both.
BUY IT?: Your call.
Jude Mandarano is a Scranton native and bass player in the Mesos. He is a graduate of Bishop O’Hara High School and the University of Scranton, where he majored in criminal justice and minored in philosophy. He lives in Scranton.
Meet Jude Mandarano…
What do you do for a living?
Support local music.
Talk about your band, the Mesos.
We’re out of Dunmore, and we play prog-rock and punk rock and a lot of older rock and roll hits. We kind of pride ourselves on being a rock and roll band. We just have fun with it. We are a three-piece. I play bass in the band, Dom Fortese plays guitar and sings lead vocals, and George Hirvnak plays the drums. They’re both solid musicians, and we just try to get the crowd happy. We have been playing out but are now working on an album. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to be ferocious, dirty and loud.
What is your musical background?
I play guitar and bass. I play whatever I can get my hands on, really. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12. Since I can remember, music has always been in my life. Before I got a guitar, I would dabble on piano. I didn’t take lessons until I was a little older, but it was always something I wanted to pick up and do. I loved hearing music and wondered, “How do I make music?” I’m still wondering that.
What first got you interested in music?
I feel like you learn so much by just being with other people, because their music and the way they play comes out. The way I play then comes out even more. There are so many facets to musical experience. Learning from a book is one way to do it, but there’s improvisation, and it’s all about creating the right vibe sometimes. You’re creating a feeling in someone with the words and the song.
Can you compare and contrast your experiences of playing solo versus in a group?
Being solo, you don’t have anybody to fall back on. There’s no net, so I’ve got to be as prepared as possible going into a show. It means putting hours and hours into songs and getting them to where I have them in my mind. That’s kind of my writing process. I have something in my mind, I’ll play it, I’ll sing over it or write something down. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and I start writing it and running with it. Sometimes I create just to create. That’s what I love the most, just finding something and creating something that comes from the feeling that I have.
What inspires your lyrics?
If there’s something that just kind of has that allure to it and I want to know more about it, sometimes I dig into my own mind and ask myself, “What am I really thinking? What do I really see? What am I observing?” That’s where I like to go with music and dig into the details.
How did you come onto the Scranton music scene?
I had a group called King James. We played like Grateful Dead and that sort of jam vibe. We had some songs we covered and did some of our own stuff. We said, “We’ve got to get out and start playing this.” We turned into this band called the Lumbertruck. We were an eight-piece band at that point with congos and drums, some percussion and guitars and singers. I dropped out of that and started with another band. I guess the reason I got into music that way was because we wanted to get out and take it to another level and see some different people.
What is your favorite part about being a musician?
It’s fun and the experience. This is something that comes from my soul, music is. It’s something that I can give to other people, and they can relate to. That helps me relate to other people.
If you could play music alongside any musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I’d say Bob Dylan. I’d probably do something weird with him. Not just something from his ’60s folk album. I like how he tries different things and different looks. He’s an artist who’s morphed over time, and I would love to collaborate with him.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations, and why?
Growing up, I would look to Robbie Walsh. He gave me a ton of knowledge on guitar; he’s a great player locally. He’s a huge source of inspiration and information. Lou Shank told me I had to get lessons from Robbie; he’s going to show you the ropes. Jami Novak, who is on the scene, he would come into my father’s restaurant and he always just seemed so crazy, he was a lot of fun. He inspired me. He always had these stories about how he was in another country, and I thought that was so cool. I wanted to get there.
If you could pass knowledge or wisdom on to a young musician, what would you say?
No. 1, change your strings. Take care of your instrument. The thing is, some people get into it and they pick up the guitar, and it’s not something they’re really playing. You’ve got to take care of the instrument and realize this is a tool that you can use to make something. The product is usually merriment, sometimes it’s sadness, drama, but you’re creating a feeling for someone else. So the more time you put into your craft, the better you get at it. Any young musician just needs to play and play and play and listen. You’ve got to listen to people around you and find people around. Once you do that, it’s going to take you somewhere you never thought you would wind up and it’s amazing.
What does being a musician mean to you?
It’s a release. I don’t think it’s easy for people to talk about what goes on inside and what they think about from day to day. We all go through some really tough times, it’s humanity and it’s a wild ride. To be able to sing about things that aren’t really easy to talk about and be there for someone who might not want to talk about it is a cool thing. The other side is that it just creates an energy for me. We all have some sort of potential, and we put that into some sort of kinetic movement. Suddenly where there was silence, now there’s sound. You create a rhythm and change something that was dull and boring into something that is colorful.
What are your interests outside of music?
I enjoy art and having good conversation. I enjoy movies. I try to keep myself entertained when I’m not entertaining other people.
Have you had a moment or time in your life that has helped shape you into who you are today?
I read philosophy, and I realized that philosophers like Socrates and Plato are always questioning life and motivations, and that sort of changed my mindset, because every now and then, I stop to smell the roses and reassess things and ask, “Why am I doing the things I do?” I also realized there’s wealth and there’s money. Everyone tries to clamor for a dollar, but the main thing is the wealth that’s between people. There’s wealth you can find just doing good things for other people and spreading love. Once I was turned on to that and the philosophical side of life and started asking questions, that definitely changed my perspective.
IT MIGHT GET LOUD A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS — ‘Pinned’
THE GOOD: New York noise addicts A Place to Bury Strangers unleash their fifth.
THE BAD: A bit of the “same old, same old,” but they make it work.
THE NITTY GRITTY: You know what you’re getting on a APTBS album — brooding tunes brimming with scowling vocals, plenty of guitar feedback and a touch of the electronic. Think vintage shoegaze having filthy sex with post-punk.
New to the formula this time though is female drummer Lia Simon Braswell. Her playing style isn’t all that distinct, but she shows up as background vocalist on a number of tracks. She’s the ghostly ying to frontman Oliver Ackermann’s sinister yang. Any slight change-up at this point is welcome.
Still, APTBS albums evoke a certain mood. That’s their purpose. You don’t listen for the consummate songwriting. You show up for the pounding, relentless wall of sound that hammers a hole in your skull. The hooks bursting through the din simply are an added bonus.
BUY IT?: Maybe.
JACK WHITE — ‘Boarding House Reach’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer and former White Stripes mastermind Jack White gives us a weird third solo outing.
THE BAD: You must approach “Boarding House” with an open mind. It gets self-indulgent in spots.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Plowing through this new outing, I kept thinking back to Paul McCartney’s first post-Beatles offering, 1970’s “McCartney.” There, Pauly experimented, spread his musical wings (no pun intended) and became a strange one-man show. White sort of does that here.
Traditional song structures are thrown off the roof, guitars fight with goofy synths, live drums duke it out with loops, and spoken-word pieces link tracks that are more about a groove than a solid melody. It’s a trippy, unpredictable ride.
But is it actually any GOOD? If you can let yourself go and get into the off-center riffing, multi-layered beats and occasional soft country piece, “Boarding House” is quite enjoyable. If you crave 10 new “Seven Nation Army’s,” you’ll be frustrated to no end.
BUY IT?: Your call.
SUUNS — ‘Felt’
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rockers Suuns get weird on their fourth.
THE BAD: Not “bad” but you must be open to the experience.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The spaced-out “Felt” is one of the trippiest albums I’ve heard in a long time. Echo-drenched layers of guitars, drums and buzzing electronics merge and melt into a foggy haze of organic and synthetic elements. Traditional songs are sometimes sacrificed for rolling, sustained grooves; droning, hypnotic melodies; or both.
There are pieces of jazz, math rock, post-punk and stoner rock constantly floating in and out of focus; “Felt” doesn’t sound like any particular era while recalling every decade from the past half-century. Favorite bits include the bizarro riffs across “Look No Further,” the icy pulsations carrying “Watch You Watch Me” and the eerie mood encompassing “Materials.”
What’s the line from that Tom Petty song? “Their A&R man said I DON’T HEAR A SINGLE.” That’s “Felt,” a headphones record best experienced after dark. Drink it in as a whole and take the journey.
BUY IT?: Sure.
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.