Sounds – July 27, 2017

Sounds – July 27, 2017

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

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

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

Sounds – July 20, 2017

Sounds – July 20, 2017

THE NOISE WE LOVE

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

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

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

 

Sounds – July 13, 2017

Sounds – July 13, 2017

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

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

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

Sounds – July 6, 2017

Sounds – July 6, 2017

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

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

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

Sounds – June 29, 2017

Sounds – June 29, 2017

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

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

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

 

Sounds – June 22, 2017

Sounds – June 22, 2017

SIDE DISHES

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

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

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

Sounds – June 15, 2017

Sounds – June 15, 2017

MAXIMO PARK – Risk to Exist
THE GOOD: British indie rockers Maximo Park are back with their sixth.
THE BAD: Over the last couple of records, the band has softened some of their rough edges; the music becoming slightly less aggressive or jagged. Unfortunately, they’ve shed some of their uniqueness along the way, too.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Co-produced by Tom Schick (Wilco, Beck) and recorded in Wilco’s Chicago studio the Loft, “Risk To Exist” finds frontman Paul Smith and the lads giving us a tempered blend of Britpop and guitar rock; pretty standard Maximo Park stuff even though it’s not quite as hyper as the early albums.
Like a lot of their fellow countrymen post-Brexit, MP gets a tad political on “Risk.” Songs like the title track and “What Did We Do To You To Deserve This” tackle (or at least acknowledge) the ugly global political climate of 2017. And while some of the messages aren’t subtle, they never overshadow that standard Maximo groove we’ve grown accustomed to over the past decade-and-a half.
BUY IT?: Your call.

THE ORWELLS – Terrible Human Beings
THE GOOD: Chicago-area rockers the Orwells come back with a loud and raunchy third.
THE BAD: The record loses steam (and some much-needed hooks) across its second half.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Still barely in their twenties, the boys fill their songs with coarse harmonies, chunky guitar riffs, bad attitudes (the sarcasm dripping off those “Sha-la-la-la’s” during “Hippie Soldier”), direct and infectious melodies (the fast and furious “Buddy”) and lyrics meant to stir things up (you have to love a title like “They Put A Body in the Bayou”). They also score points for not exactly sounding British, but at least resembling some of the more plucky U.K. acts that have invaded our shores over the past two decades.
Now whether the lads are completely “genuine” or not doesn’t really matter two or three songs into “Human Beings.” You get swept up in the noise and reckless spirit of the whole affair. So, turn it way up, jump around and act the fool.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

COLONY HOUSE – Only the Lonely
THE GOOD: Tennessee alt-rockers Colony House dodge the sophomore slump on “Lonely.”
THE BAD: This is by-the-numbers modern rock. Slightly predictable, very safe. Thankfully though, the guys are a little less stale than Young the Giant and a little more like the infectious Fratellis. You may not be completely stimulated, but you won’t be bored, either.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band was founded by brothers Caleb and Will Chapman, sons of contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman. However, Colony House’s music is at least 95 percent secular. These boys aren’t the second coming of Skillet.
And when everything falls into place, some of these tracks completely captivate, the way any decent pop song does. “Where Your Father’s Been” is blessed with high rising melodies. “Was It Me” rides a strong seamless rhythmic flow. “You Know It” brings classic surf to the party.
“Lonely” may lose some momentum across its final third, but the record never completely fizzles out. Decent stuff.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

Sounds – June 8, 2017

Sounds – June 8, 2017

Beautiful Thunder

BRITISH SEA POWER – Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
THE GOOD: British indie rockers British Sea Power come back with a tighter sixth.
THE BAD: Sequencing? Most of the extended atmospheric stuff happens across the album’s second half resulting in a little lost momentum.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But Yan, Noble, Hamilton and the entire BSP crew are giving us what could be their best collection of songs since 2005’s sophomore effort “Open Season.” Tracks like “International Space Station” and “The Voice of Ivy Lee” blur the lines between quaint intelligent indie pop and bombastic stadium rock; the melodies fetching, the arrangements full-bodied.
Those craving the more reserved face of the band will find it on moody fog-drenched pieces such as “Electrical Kittens” and “Praise for Whatever.” Then, of course, there are all those wonderful (and very English) lyrical references to obscure historical events, current politics and the darker facets of everyday living. As is usually the case, we end up with music that’s extremely fascinating on multiple levels.
BUY IT?: Yes.

MEW – Visuals
THE GOOD: Danish indie rock trio (longtime guitarist Bo Madsen has left the building) gives us a direct concise seventh.
THE BAD: Those hoping for a few extended “progressive cuts” (the band usually goes for one or two per record) won’t find them this time out.
THE NITTY GRITTY: On the self-produced “Visuals,” Mew decided to put their “pop” chops front and center. That doesn’t make this a disposable or one-dimensional record though. We still get melodies and overall arrangements that soar high above the clouds, multi-layered harmonies and a wall of sound built upon guitar lines and keyboard swirls meshing gracefully. Standard Mew stuff.
Only this time, frontman Jonas Bjerre and company set all these elements across songs that never lose focus or go off on indulgent tangents. Tracks like fragile opener “Nothingness and No Regrets” or the melodic (and only slightly thunderous) “In a Better Place” wash over our senses with the perfect balance of elegance and volume. After all, Mew remains a rock band.
BUY IT?: I would.


THE GOOD: British indie rockers Kasabian stick to a well-worn formula on their sixth.
THE BAD: “Crying” is predictable but still enjoyable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Some bands simply create solid collections that never quite fit in with current trends or blaze bold new trails. Kasabian is one such act.
Since the mid-2000s, lead vocalist Tom Meighan and guitarist/producer/composer Sergio Pizzzorno have been churning out danceable rock anthems harkening back to the beat-driven ’90s while moving steadily forward without jumping on any one particular bandwagon.
“Crying” is their latest set which finds the band sounding rejuvenated. Whether it’s the seamless punchy groove of “You’re in Love with a Psycho” or the cloudy dramatics slathered all over “The Party Never Ends,” the guys smack us full on with embraceable melodies riding airtight arrangements. The dance floor clatter of “Are You Looking for Action” would fit next to some animated jam by the Rapture. The epic sway of “Put Your Life on It” ends the album on a resonating high note.
BUY IT?: Why not?

Sounds – June 1, 2017

Sounds – June 1, 2017

Cosmic Goo

CIRCA WAVES – Different Creatures
THE GOOD: British indie rockers Circa Waves deliver a tight second.
THE BAD: “Different Creatures” is satisfying guitar-driven rock, but it’s also formulaic. Jimmy Eat World, the Wombats, the 1975 — all good bands but none are game-changers. Circa Waves fall in with this predictable lot.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Turn it on, turn it up and drink in the infectious chorus of lead single “Wake Up,” the full-bodied stadium sway carrying “Out on My Own” or the jagged riffs and layered crunch on “Stuck.” Frontman Kieran Shudall leads his crew through ten cranking melodic anthems and one delicate acoustic breather (the somber “Love’s Run Out”). There really isn’t a dud in the bunch.
At the same time though, we’ve heard “Creatures” many times before; the standard guitar, bass, drum line-up only goes so far. Still, not every band can reinvent the wheel. Go in with reasonable expectations and you’ll come out unscathed while hearing some decent hooks in the process. That’s enough.
BUY IT?: Your choice.

TEMPLES – Volcano
THE GOOD: British neo-psychedelic rockers Temples dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: The ‘60s throwbacks on their first album have been mostly replaced with a lot of synthetic sounds. This shift in direction may turn off some long time fans.
THE NITTY GRITTY: However, get past the sonic changes and you’re in for a real treat. “Volcano” is a majestic set filled with graceful swaths of the Baroque and giddy patches of pure sunshine pop. Right from the start, the record immediately pulls you in with those divine swirling keyboard riffs that bring about opening track “Certainty.” You will smile, and that smile won’t disappear for the better part of an hour.
“I Wanna Be Your Mirror” and “Strange or Be Forgotten” play like pretty posh Victorian-era period pieces. “Born into the Sunset” recalls some of Tame Impala’s more accessible and soaring tracks. “Mystery of Pop” gallops about the room while sending your head to dizzying heights; Mercury Rev crossed with gooey bubblegum. It’s all so glorious.
BUY IT?: Yes.

REAL ESTATE – In Mind
THE GOOD: New Jersey indie rockers Real Estate shuffle their line up and come back with a fourth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Guitarist Matt Mondanile has left the building, concentrating solely on his side project Ducktails; “In Mind” being the first Real Estate album with new guitarist Julian Lynch. Lead vocalist/guitarist Martin Courtney is still getting his bearings within these new surroundings, but he’s making sure the harmonies and melodies aren’t suffering.
“In Mind” is another graceful collection with just enough distortion spread over the top in all the right places to make us feel all warm and cozy without being TOO complacent. It’s tough to resist the classic Byrds/Teenage Fanclub jangle on tracks like “Stained Glass” and “White Light.” Other cuts are throwbacks to records both trippy (the swirling six-strings of “Two Arrows”) and folksy (the delicate protest on “Diamond Eyes”). The retro synths blooping and bleeping on “Holding Pattern” even conjure up memories of prime Stereolab.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds – May 25, 2017

Sounds – May 25, 2017

DIRTY PROJECTORS – “Dirty Projectors”
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rock outfit Dirty Projectors (singer/songwriter/guitarist David Longstreth and an ever-changing roster of collaborators) comes back with an eponymous seventh.
THE BAD: Longstreth’s progressive tendencies are now in full-force. Expect complex arrangements and the melding of many genres. Not “bad” just complicated.
THE NITTY GRITTY: At its core, “Dirty Projectors” is a break-up album; Longstreth ended his relationship with long-time bandmate Amber Coffman at the beginning of the creative process. Tracks such as “Death Spiral” and “Up in Hudson” focus on the difficulties that come with relationships, sad endings, moving on, etc.
Musically, Longstreth bounces from the electronic squiggles of “Work Together” to the ‘60s-based organ sounds spread over “I See You” and all points in between. R&B singer Dawn Richard lends her voice to the bright sunshine of “Cool Your Heart.” Strings and atmospherics add somber vibes to the low hum and soulful harmonies on “Little Bubble.” Bring your sense of adventure and prepare for unpredictable dissonant mood swings.
BUY IT?: Your call.

RAEKWON – “The Wild”
THE GOOD: The Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon belts out his seventh solo album.
THE BAD: One can argue the only Wu-Tang member that ever topped his own solo debut was Ghostface Killah. Raekwon will probably never match HIS solo debut, 1995’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” But “the Wild” is a step in the right direction.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The new set is much less glossy than 2015’s “Fly International Luxurious Art.” His style still intense, Raekwon gets back to the streets, conjuring up vivid full-color urban landscapes, and finds himself knee deep in that scratchy, gritty Wu-Tang-vibe. Dirty beats, choppy lo-fi vocal samples, eerie atmospherics, and bullet-riddled gangster tales are once again the norm.
Yeah, there are a couple of missteps along the way. “Marvin,” the tribute to Marvin Gaye with back-ups by CeeLo Green, feels out of place. The Lil Wayne collaboration “My Corner” sounds too synthetic. For the most part though, “the Wild” is dusty and dangerous, as it should be.
BUY IT?: Sure.

GOLDFRAPP – “Silver Eye”
THE GOOD: Electronic duo Goldfrapp (Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory) come back with a varied seventh.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Entirely composed by the pair themselves, the record does boast a number of collaborators on the production side. The two worked closely with producer John Congleton (St Vincent, Wild Beasts), electronic composer the Haxan Cloak, and producer/guitarist Leo Abrahams
Despite the disparate guest list, the record works incredibly well as a whole; the songs complementing each other perfectly. From the spacey trip-hop echoes carrying “Zodiac Black” to the decadently danceable “Everything is Never Enough” to the dark rumblings permeating “Ocean,” “Silver Eye” is an accomplished set that rarely takes an expected route. It’s full of surprises while still maintaining that desired classic Goldfrapp vibe.
Stripped down to their bare essence, the songs themselves are probably the pair’s strongest in quite some time too (not that other recent albums were lacking in any way). This is simply an act playing to their strengths.
BUY IT?: Yes.

  

Sounds – May 18, 2017

Sounds – May 18, 2017

NOT-TOO-GENTLE BREEZES

EISLEY – I’m Only Dreaming
THE GOOD: Texas indie rock band Eisley come back with their fifth album.
THE BAD: No issues.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Still fronted by the precious female harmonies of cousins Sherri DuPree-Bemis and Garron DuPree, Eisley continue to churn out shimmering guitar-based pop/rock tunes that glisten on the surface while being driven by airtight steady drums below.
There’s not a lot of forward progression on “Dreaming,” but there doesn’t need to be. The Eisley formula still works, and its overall effect isn’t diminishing. Good songs and harmonies are sometimes all you crave. And even if this isn’t the group’s best set of songs ever (although it IS strong), one finds many subtle charms tucked away in these tracks. The ascending melodies carrying “My Best Friend,” the gentle strains of “Rabbit Hole,” the infectious sway that pulls us further into “When You Fall” — it’s all good stuff.
For long-time fans or uninitiated newbies, “Dreaming” is just sweet enough to please without tipping over into saccharine territory.
BUY IT?: Surely.

SONDRE LERCHE – Pleasure
THE GOOD: Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche comes back with his eighth proper studio album.
THE BAD: Every Lerche record has its hits and misses. “Pleasure” luckily finds the former outnumbering the latter.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guy has dabbled in different genres before. For example, 2006’s “Duper Sessions” flirted with jazz-pop. Now “Pleasure” sees Lerche embracing electronic elements and dance-pop. Opening track “Soft Feelings” comes off like the second coming of Pet Shop Boys. “I’m Always Watching You” keeps the seamless momentum going full speed ahead.
As the album plays on though, the synthetics bury themselves in the mix while more “traditional” Lerche sounds (i.e. guitars) come back to the forefront. Yet the man has never released a more rhythmically charged record. Still, “Pleasure” remains typical of the man’s work at its core. We get a healthy dose of intelligent satisfying pop without pretension. Except for maybe the endless prog-rock ramblings of “Violent Game.” But remember, no Lerche set is perfect.
BUY IT?: Yep.

AIMEE MANN – Mental Illness
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter and ex-‘Til Tuesday frontwoman Aimee Mann gives us an intimate ninth solo effort.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Mann never stays in one place too long, having redefined herself countless times since going solo way back in 1990. “Mental Illness” is the low-key answer to 2012’s more animated indie pop collection “Charmer.” Instead of the full rock band treatment, these fragile songs are given cozy arrangements featuring acoustic guitar, light percussion, bass, piano and the occasional small string section. You won’t find an electric guitar anywhere. Mann harmonizes with her back-up guys, one of whom happens to be past collaborator Ted Leo (of Pharmacists fame).
But while the record has all the makings of a complete downer, “Illness” isn’t a depressing listen. Even though Mann tackles everyday hassles like loneliness, disappointment and depression, the melodies sparkle and a record that should sound icy or detached turns out amazingly warm. So much so that replays are a pleasure as opposed to a dreaded chore. BUY IT: Yes.

Sounds – May 11, 2017

Sounds – May 11, 2017

Retakes and Redefinitions 

CONOR OBERST – “Salutations”
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Conor Oberst comes back with his second album in six months.
THE BAD: Prolific? Kind of. A rerun? Sort of.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Last fall, Oberst released the unplugged and intimate “Ruminations,” a ten-song collection featuring the man accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica. “Salutations” is that record’s companion piece, featuring all ten of those tunes given the full band treatment plus an additional seven new compositions.
So “Salutations” is more complex and fleshed out, the songs and their rich arrangements ringing true. Yet the new record also is less distinct than its predecessor. There’s something to be said for raw emotion — songs being all the more powerful when stripped to their bare essence. And when ten cuts become 17, there’s bound to be a few weaker links in the chain.
“Salutations” at times comes off as just another latter-day Bright Eyes release. Not bad, but lacking in the passionate sting found on last year’s set.
BUY IT?: Sure.

MINUS THE BEAR – “Voids”
THE GOOD: Seattle indie rock outfit Minus the Bear goes back to Suicide Squeeze Records for their sixth full-length.
THE BAD: Just like every other Minus record, “Voids” has great moments and meandering ones. The band likes its intricate arrangements and prog-rock inclinations. You always have to work a little.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Permanent long-time drummer Erin Tate has bailed, and the self-produced “Voids” finds touring drummer Kiefer Matthias sitting in. Other than that, the set finds no great changes within the band or their sound. This is typical Minus. Longtime fans should feel just fine in their comfort zone; “Voids” hits all the desired sweet spots.
Vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider leads the crew through a set of tracks both straight-forward (the shimmering “Last Kiss” and churning “Invisible”) and more broad in scope (the dramatic “What About the Boat” and forever-building “Lighthouse”). Sure, “Voids” is slightly interchangeable with other Minus sets, but the record never drags or wears out its welcome.
BUY IT?: As usual, your choice.

SPOON – “Hot Thoughts”
THE GOOD: Texas indie rockers Spoon give us their ninth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Britt Daniel and the guys stick with the well-oiled Spoon formula, but add just enough color and sonic textures to give “Hot Thoughts” its own personality. Producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, OK GO) is back, but first impressions make the set feel more like a James Murphy record. Seriously, “Thoughts” is sprinkled with more electronic elements than usual and most of these songs are all about a fierce dedicated groove. Very LCD Soundsystem indeed.
But “Thoughts” doesn’t lock itself into any particular flavor for too long. The lilting “I Ain’t the One” is quite possibly the prettiest song Daniel has ever composed. And extended cuts “Pink Up” and “Us” go off into unchartered funk and jazz territories. Plus Spoon manages to embrace these sounds without coming off as self-indulgent. We end up with another gem in a “reliable” catalog that’s been progressing nicely for two decades.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

 

Sounds – May 4, 2017

Sounds – May 4, 2017

 MILKY CHANCE — “Blossom”
THE GOOD: German folk/indie pop trio Milky Chance dodge the sophomore slump.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: One could classify these guys as “mainstream pop” in Europe and Australia. Here in the states, we lump Milky Chance in with all the alternative acts because their stuff is “just weird enough” to NOT crossover in a huge manner. Hey, but weird is good, and it’s never boring.
At their core, Milky Chance is a jazz-infused singer/songwriter outfit; charismatic frontman Clemens Rehbein leading his crew through delicate tunes played over exquisite acoustic and electric guitar work. The band is equally all about layered backbeats, both electronic and organic. All these tracks ride a well-defined groove; dance if you want to. Yet most of these songs would shine in an acoustic setting as well.
That’s Milky Chance’s greatest strength. The songs don’t just cast a spell with their rhythms. It’s those rhythms that draw you in immediately.
BUY IT?: Yeah. By all means, catch this multi-dimensional scene.

ELECTRIC GUEST — “Plural”
THE GOOD: Indie pop outfit Electric Guest come back (finally) with their second.
THE BAD: Catchy melodies and tight beats aren’t always that extraordinary.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The group, fronted by blue-eyed soul singer Asa Taccone, rode the whole MGMT/Foster the People/Gnarls Barkley wave and made a dent in the charts with the likeable “This Head I Hold.” They even got Danger Mouse to produce their somewhat engrossing but uneven debut “Mondo.” That was five years ago.
That’s a long time to wait for a follow-up, especially from an act that’s less an innovator and more an “also ran.” Now Taccone has taken over most of the production duties, but you won’t notice the difference. Tracks like “Dear to Me” and “Back for Me” get the job done with bright melodies, seamless grooves and a hint of funk. Not bad at all, but hardly “necessary listening.” Still, if you’re impatiently waiting for the next forgettable Fitz & the Tantrums record, “Plural” should tide you over.
BUY IT?: Meh…your choice.

CHERRY GLAZERR — “Apocalipstick”
THE GOOD: L.A. rock outfit Cherry Glazerr gets tighter and more aggressive on their latest album.
THE BAD: Nah.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sometimes you crave a loud crunchy new wave record to which you can bounce and thrash around the room. “Apocalipstick” (love that title) is that album. Fronted by the always-confident neo-riot girl Clementine Creevy, Cherry Glazerr cranks out a blazing combination of slick punchy punk and danceable synth-rock. What’s more important, the guitars or the keyboards? Actually, it’s probably the seamless crashing drums below.
Comparisons to contemporaries like Bleached and Bully are inevitable, while detecting echoes of the Vivian Girls or Yeah Yeah Yeahs is unavoidable. Whatever the reason you show up though, expect to break a sweat while having a wild time. From the cheeky aggression spread over “Trash People” to the haunting refrains on the thudding “Nurse Ratched,” “Apocalipstick” blurs the lines between being naughty or serious as a heart attack. Don’t be fooled, this music is smarter than you may think.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Sounds: Bang and Clatter

Sounds: Bang and Clatter

LOS CAMPESINOS — “Sick Scenes”
THE GOOD: Welsh indie rockers Los Campesinos regroup and release their sixth.
THE BAD: No Los album is a masterpiece. Every collection comes with both violent bits of youthful exuberance and misguided self-indulgent passages. Recorded in Portugal with long-time collaborator John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Blonde Redhead), “Sick Scenes” follows that pattern.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fans also have to come to grips with the fact that lyricist Gareth David and all the wild kids next door are getting older and their songs are maturing. The contemplative “The Fall of Home,” with its bouts of insecurity and loneliness, would have felt out of place on 2008’s blistering “Hold on Now, Youngster.”
Thankfully, “Scenes” is not an entirely calm affair — far from it. Tracks such as the stomping “Sad Suppers” and the jittery “5 Flucloxacillin” still rip up the room while David spits out his usual lyrical vitriol. Just be prepared for some more ambitious arrangements and experimentation across the album’s second half. You have to at least pretend to grow up sometime.
BUY IT?: Yeah.

CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH — “The Tourist”
THE GOOD: Philadelphia-based indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (now a “brand” as opposed to an actual band) come back with a focused fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After years of members jumping ship, the only man left standing is singer/songwriter/brains-behind-the-operation Alec Ounsworth. But that’s not a bad thing, for “Tourist” is easily his most satisfying set of songs in a decade.
Producing music light years away from the disco-fied goofiness of “Satan Said Dance,” Ounsworth now brings a new intensity to the table by injecting some personal trauma into the work. The drama adds danger, yet “Tourist” finds the man coming out the other end relatively unscathed.
Long-time collaborator Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) adds some sonic meat to the mix as well. The end result is rich and serious with solid melodies to boot, thanks to tracks such as “Better Off” and “The Vanity of Trying” even resembling some of Radiohead’s more infectious moments.
BUY IT?: Yes.

COLD WAR KIDS —  “L.A. Divine”
THE GOOD: California indie rockers Cold War Kids come back with their sixth.
THE BAD: Same as above
— nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s easy to write reviews about records that are either amazing or dreadful. The toughest reviews are ones about records that are just “there.” That mundane description pretty much sums up the entire CWK catalog. None of their albums are outright terrible. The band’s jittery mix of rock and indie pop with a smattering of soul isn’t all that disagreeable.
Frontman Nathan Willett and his crew have even come up with a few semi-cool gems along the way. There was the group’s debut underground hit “Hang Me Out To Dry,” followed by all those variations of … “Hang Me Out To Dry.”
“L.A. Divine” is the boys’ sixth set, but it may as well be their second or their fourth. If you like these guys, by all means, indulge. If you don’t, the new album won’t change any established opinions.
BUY IT?: Whatever. I’m bored.

Sounds: Precious Moments

Sounds: Precious Moments

JENS LEKMAN — “Life Will See You Now”
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop singer/songwriter Jens Lekman returns with a bold, colorful fourth full-length album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Lekman diligently polished his songwriting craft over the past two years. After scrapping a potential follow-up to 2012’s “I Know What Love Isn’t,” the man embarked on the “Postcards” project that found him writing and releasing a new song each week for an entire year. In the end, that’s a LOT of practice, and that practice has paid off.
The new record is a luminous, layered pop triumph, boasting 10 tracks that find the man expanding his musical palette and embracing folk-pop, twee, disco and bossa-nova. This also is the first time Lekman worked with an outside producer, collaborating with Ewan Pearson (The Rapture, Ladytron). Again, fresh ears mean fresh sounds that encompass everything from Kings of Convenience to vintage Everything But the Girl. Tracey Thorn even shows up for a cameo on the charming “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel.”
BUY IT?: Yes.

TENNIS — “Yours Conditionally”
THE GOOD: Colorado indie rock duo Tennis (husband-and-wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore) come back with a breezy fourth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The pair’s sparkling debut, 2010’s “Cape Dory,” was inspired by an extended sailing trip the two took after graduating from college. For “Yours Conditionally,” the couple got back on the boat for some sunny rejuvenation.
It must have worked. The new record is another divine collection of classic pop melodies combined with Moore’s slightly sardonic lyrical observations. You have to love the over the-top character plowing through “My Emotions Are Blinding” or the sarcasm permeating “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar.”
Musically, there’s a certain timelessness to these songs. One could accuse Tennis of being stuck in the land of “Pet Sounds” or “Odessey and Oracle,” yet the duo’s tunes retain an amazing freshness grounded in our current culture. Moore’s strong feminine vocals always lead us through tracks both precious and elegant. So even when some lyrics don’t “play nice,” the entire set remains graceful.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

GRANDADDY — “Last Place”
THE GOOD: Late ’90s/early 2000s indie rockers Grandaddy reform for album five.
THE BAD: Sequencing is a slight issue. “Last Place” is comprised of two distinct halves — the sunny, poppy beginning and the somber conclusion. MOST of the record’s best moments occur during the first half.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Considering what he was going through at the time of the recording process though, it’s amazing that songwriter/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jason Lytle churned out ANYTHING decidedly cheerful. After moving to Portland, Oregon, from rural Montana in order to save his marriage, the guy ended up getting divorced anyway.
But even the creeping depression and mundane days of middle age can bring about excellent pop tunes. Tracks like “Way We Won’t” and “Brush with the Wild” are further shimmering examples of the infectious stuff that held us captivated 15 years ago. And when the man slows down matters to a crawl, tunes such as the gorgeous “That’s What You Get for Gettin’ Outta Bed” keep us glued to lilting bits of melancholy.
BUY IT?: Sure.