Vol. 8 Issue 102 March 2014
Well. There it is folks. We survived another awards season. There were winners. There were los-ers. There were acceptance speeches that put me to sleep, and monologues I sprained my eyes rolling at. But thankfully, all of us are winners now, as we have a great slate of new music for your consideration. We Are Scientists. Black Lips. Liars. The War On Drugs. Tokyo Police Club. As far as we know, Harvey Weinstein had nothing to do with them.
The War On Drugs
"Lost In the Dream"
With a triumphant vibe that falls somewhere between a supergroup consisting of Tom Petty and Roger Waters and a chilly, early ‘80s pop vibe that can sometimes sound like a pairing of Prince and Paul Simon, office favs The War On Drugs are (blessedly) back with their newest album Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian). If you like gorgeous, haunting melodies and music that reminds you of everything you’ve ever heard and nothing you’ve ever heard before (whew! that was some sentence) then you are in for a treat. Check out the spooky, SpringstEno sounds of “Red Eyes.”
We Are Scientists
"TV en Francais"
If you only know We Are Scientists from their online presence, you only know them as jokesters. They are known for representing themselves via interviews and videos as pretty hysterical dudes. As true as that statement is is how seriously they take their music. TV en Francais (Dine Alone), their 4th full-length, is full of grand indie-sweeps. Choral harmonies and occasional prog-y guitar acrobatics a la Muse, the relentless energy of The Walkmen and the stadium filling ‘80s R&B of Hall & Oates. An odd mixture, to be sure, but I bet someone said the same thing before the 1st meatloaf (the food, not the singer, or the Fight Club actor. Oh wait, that’s the same meaty dude. Never mind. Carry on) was actually cooked, and just sitting in a bowl all separate and mushy. It’s not the parts that count, it’s how they’re put together. And boy oh boy, this is one finely crafted puzzle. Dramatic builds to cacophony and quiet in-betweens. It’s joyously all over the place. After all, variety IS the spice of life (and meatloaf). Check out the aforementioned Hall & Oates-y-ness of “Dumb Luck.”
For a band that once decreed (via their album name) that “drum’s not dead” (sic), the Liars have all but abandoned acoustic drums on their new album Mess (Mute). Instead, we find the perennial odd-balls embracing the electronic elements they toyed with on 2012’s WIXIW. I am aware that some fans o’ the band felt like that album was too pretty, not strange enough. Those fans will be pleased as punch with this new release. Drone-y, swirling art-beats and low-key Beck-esque vocals make the whole thing a giddy trip of an album. Frankly, any number of tracks here would make great replacements for the song Gene Wilder sings on the freak-out chocolate river trip he takes the kids on in Willie Wonka. The songs are paranoid, jittering and strange. All things I love. Bet you will too. Check out the bombastic four on the floor drive of “Mess On A Mission.”
Laibach has sure seen its share of historical drama unfold in front of its eyes. Hailing from Slovenia, once part of the former Yugoslavia, the symphonic industrial band has lived (and performed) through the Eastern European turmoil of the 1980s and 1990s, and a distinct sense of nationalism comes through in their music. But hey, Laibach makes military-style composition fun again! At least I think so. And their new album SPECTRE (Mute) only adds to their intrigue, as well as their vast discography. Fall in love with Laibach all over again! Fun fact: “Laibach” is the German translation of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city. Because of this, lots of people at one time or another (including myself) have mistaken Laibach as a German band. But they’re not! Try not to march in place while listening to the awesome “The Whistleblowers.”
Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon are back with their stellar new album Benji (Caldo Verde). A concept album about America’s 4th favorite acting dog (after Lassie, Asta and that dog that can say, er bark, “I love you”). A fun, happy go lucky album full of adventures and barking and…. Ok. You caught me. It’s not about the dog. The truth is this is 11 songs telling tales of life and love and death. Real life. Like a modern, more sullen Randy Newman, Mark breathes a fractured soul into each of the-se songs, his instantly recognizable voice and proprietary guitar method leaves every song he writes sounding like no one else. For a man that has made a life out of releasing amazing albums, this might stand as the best of his career. Really, ever. Doubt me? Check out the quiet, unsettled shuffle of “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love.”
"Of Course You Do"
You need to prepare yourself before listening to Slothrust. I knew nothing of Of Course You Do (Ba Da Bing) before listening to it the first time. So the relentless, snarky, whip-smart rock and roll that came pouring out was a complete surprise. And one of the happiest surprises I’ve had in a long time. How often do we get a power trio led by a singer/songwriter/guitarist as original as Leah Welbaum? (the correct answer is “like never”). With a Malkmus-esque turn of phrase, a vocal delivery not unlike a ballsy Nico and her astonishingly off-kilter guitar choices, this really stands as something the likes of which I have never heard before. With Beefheart-y quick changes, a punk aesthetic (without being particularly punk-y at all) some seriously in-the-red rocking… Let’s just say I am smitten with this record. It reminds me of everything and nothing all at once, and that is one of my favorite things music can do to my brain. Check out the matter-of-fact cheek of “7:30 AM.”
"Chills On Glass"
I’m pretty easy to read. For instance, frontman Todd Rittman’s involvement with Dead Rider had me uber-super excited before I’d even heard a note. Rittman strangled his guitar for 1990s abstract rockers U.S. Maple, and I could sure use a healthy dose of difficulty right about now, what with heroes of mine like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus popping up in the press for all the wrong reasons. (C’mon Miley, Biebs, you’re letting down your fans!) Uh, so, Dead Rider is actually pretty accessible compared to the Maple, and Chills on Glass, their first album for Drag City, is a dark mind-blow of pitch black guitars and subterranean rhythms. It’s probably what those two villains at the beginning of Tim Burton’s Batman (the ones the Caped Crusader menaces on the rooftop at the beginning of the movie. Not to toot my own nerd horn, but I happen to know the one’s name was Bob) probably listen to, if we’re generalizing. At least it’s not Prince. Anyway, “Blank Screen” is pretty much nocturnal perfection.
Brooklyn weirdos with guitars, etc. etc., review done. Right? No? OK, Ava Luna’s pretty freaking great, and continue the outré sensibilities and, dare I say, legacy of the Talking Heads and The Contortions with their squirrely compositions and squiggly instrumentation. Lead Luna Carlos Hernandez has publicly confirmed that he wants to keep it weird, which is like keeping it real, except in his world and his albums everybody exists as a sort of Technicolor Picasso creation. But hey, that’s all good, and the colorful compositions and fabulous songwriting combine for an exciting ride on Electric Balloon (Western Vinyl), Ava Luna’s first album since their 2012 debut Ice Level. You won’t have a bad time anywhere with this on your playlist, so get the party started with jittery funk-punk of “Daydream.”
Tokyo Police Club
While working on their new album Forcefield (Mom+Pop), the dudes from Tokyo Police Club made a conscious effort to ignore all the trends in modern music, hoping to create songs that would last. How do you make your band more timeless? By returning to the roots of all rock and/roll music. Guitars. Loud, distorted guitars (you remember guitars, right? They are the ones that look like keytars but have strings). A turn toward the pop side of the tracks finds the band not afraid to fill a stadium with their sound. A little bit like that long lost (non-existent) ABBA rock album, but with a definite ear towards the modern melody. Forcefield is in fact a force to be reckoned with, like “Argentina,” a song that plays more like a multi-faceted suite with it’s dramatic tone shifts. “Hot Tonight” finds the boys at their most ‘90s U2 sounding with it’s sparse verses and the staccato guitar blasts of the choruses. “Hot Tonight” destroying with it’s larger than life chorus. Check it out!
Ask Baltimore indie rockers what kind of music they make, and they will say “pop” (and if you do ask them, tell ‘em we said “hi”). And never has that moniker been more appropriate than on their newest album Singles (4AD). Recorded by the dudes on their own dime (and the dime of a few friends when they ran out of dimes) this is pure, unfiltered Future Islands. Samuel T. Herring’s Elton John-esque voice (and theatricality) mixing with bouncing bass parts and percussive madness. Film strip synthesizers oscillate over disco beats and ‘80s R&B thumping. This is a moving (both emotionally and in the dancing sense) beauty of an album. Check out the stadium bounce of the lead off track “Seasons (Waiting On You).”
The Black Lips
"Underneath The Rainbow"
So, is Atlanta known for anything other than being a Delta hub? No? The Braves suck, the Falcons suck, the Hawks suck – did I miss anything? Oh yeah, The Black Lips are from Atlanta, and they do what-ever the opposite of suck is! All the while, they’re still the snotty, grimy product of the ATL. And that snot and grime serves them well on Underneath the Rainbow (Vice), a gritty, garagey throwback to … gritty, grimey garage bands. Like on Nuggets! Dude’s even got a chain on the cover, like he and his leather-clad boys’re gonna rumble. Dark, black stuff. And to keep it all in “The Black [Insert Noun Here]” terri-tory, the record was produced by the The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney. Hooray for rock ’n' roll! (Boo for Chipper Jones.) “Dandelion Dust” gets the party started.
Combining hints of hip-hop and pop production, indie rock ideas and execution, bare bones ar-rangements and spacy exercises in ambient-pop, Australia’s Big Scary has released their Barsuk de-but with Not Art (Barsuk, remember?). Though the duo has been a prevalent player in the Australia scene since 2006 with constant singles and EPs, this marks only their second full-length album, the fol-low up to their 2011 self-released debut. Full of, well…, full of all that stuff I mentioned earlier (c’mon, I don’t wanna have to repeat myself here. It’s not like I’m network TV in the summer! Zing!!!) Their sound can be found somewhere between The Verve and the later-era Eno produced U2. Not bad stadium filling comparisons for a duo, eh? (Take that Simon & Garfunkel!!!) … (Just kidding Simon & Garfunkel, please don’t be mad…) Check them out at their U2iest with “Belgian Blues.”
Ex Hex is the new band fronted by Mary Timony of (mainly) Helium and (recently) Wild Flag fame. (I know great number of dudes who are absolutely swooning at this news right now.) The band takes its name from Timony’s third solo album. Nice job – good name. Their debut 7” is coming out on Merge in March, and it’s a stunner – A-side “Hot and Cold” is classic Timony, which pretty much means classic guitar rock with Timony singing. Yeah, it’s as awesome as that sounds. It swings and jives, and rocks like you’d expect. B-sides “Water Fall” and “Everywhere” are just as good, which leaves one asking, “Where’s the debut album?” Patience, my friend. I’m sure it’s just around the corner. Until then, this fancy little vinyl nugget’ll have to tide you over. Play “Hot and Cold” on repeat until the album inevitably comes out.
I certainly hope you have not been holding your breath waiting for the second Owls album. First off, that is a really immature way to go through life, and secondly, it’s been a 13 year wait. So in that case, you’re almost certainly either dead or David Blaine or you’ve been sneaking cheat breaths. Well, no matter how you survived (assuming you did survive) you’ll be glad you made it through the long wait. Sure the dudes in the band have been a part of many other projects in the meantime. Be-sides their original band Cap’n Jazz, you’ve got Owen, Joan or Arc and Make Believe to name a few. But none of those really fill the Owls sized hole left by that last album. Thankfully it would appear that the boys (er… men, I mean it HAS been a while, right?) were able to pick up right where they left off with Two (Polyvinyl). Krautrock chugging guitars and math-rock changes and ‘90s indie frenetic drums leaving the whole thing sounding like a Pavement vs. The Sea and Cake supergroup. And yes, it works just as well as your brain just imagined that pairing. Check out the bouncy disconnect of “I’m Surprised…” and know that every song title on the album ends in an ellipse…
The career of Volker Bertelmann, better known to everyone (except his parents) as Hauschka, has been a fascinating one to watch. Beginning as a classical pianist who invented (for himself) prepared piano. That is, the art of doing weird thing to your piano to make it sound weird. Now, it had been an art form long before he started doing it, but one that was foreign to him (kind of like when I went online only to discover i wasn’t the first person to think of dessert nachos…) In between his recordings of prepared piano pieces, he has also been experimenting with electronic music and working with other musicians. What all this means for his newest solo LP Abandoned City (Temporary Residence) is that the lines continue to blur between his gorgeous piano music and his haunting electronic work. More eerie melodies, percussive elements ad-hoc’d onto taut piano strings, and… well. Let’s just say that everything the man produces is beautiful. Take, for instance, the unsettled paranoia of “Elisabeth Bay.”
You got it right, reader, that’s Simone Felice of The Felice Brothers, and here’s his new solo record, Strangers (Dualtone). Do I have to convince you any further? As usual, songcraft is Felice’s strength, and he weaves a masterful folk/roots/rock narrative through the album’s ten songs. Dude’s been around and done it, and he’s done it again here – Felice knows what’s up. It would also appear that recent live parings between him and The Lumineers have had a lasting effect, as this record has a certain Lumineer glow to it (get it? Lumineers? Glow? Illuminate? Am I even close on this? My dictionary is in the shop) Also, he’s got a great song on here called “Gettysburg” and I went on a field trip there once! Yeah! Although, he starts the song with the lyric, “Sick and tired of Gettysburg…” OK then, never mind. I guess he skipped the ye olde gift shoppe on his trip. It’s ok, I’ll just go back and listen to lead single “Molly O!” which is a stunner. A stunner, I say!