Vol. 9 Issue 108 September 2014
September? September! Where the hell did the summer go? What am I gonna do with all these white clothes? Kidding! If you wear black all year round Miss Manners doesn’t get to tell you what to do. But if she was smart, she would tell everyone to check out new tunes from Ty Segall, Erasure, Electric Youth, Nada Surf and The Juan MacLean among others.
- Click to see:
- Secretly Canadian
- Drag City
- Modern Outsider
- Ooh La La
- Okay Player
- No Other
When you want the unique combination of having your band sound simultaneously stranger and more accessible, you have Richard Swift produce your new album. Which is exactly what Generationals did with Alix (Polyvinyl). And not surprisingly (given what I just wrote mere sentences ago) Alix sounds both stranger than previous Generationals albums, yet somehow more poppy? MGMT strokes of weird deconstructed pop music, with catchy hooks to spare. And where they used to be an indie rock band that sometimes used electronic elements to fill out the sound, the electronics have taken over this time (and I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords). Check out the strange future sounds that is “Black Lemon.”
It took me a second, but Electric Youth does NOT refer to the time when Sonic Youth grew tired of being an acoustic band and decided to plug in. (Ha! Cross-generational Bob Dylan joke! And a total lie about Sonic Youth, and no mention of Debbie Gibson!) No, no, Electric Youth is a spiffy electropop duo comprised of Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin, BFFs (I assume, because everyone in a band together are BFFs) from Toronto. So while their new record Innerworld (Secretly Canadian) may or may not be their Bringing It All Back Home or Newport 1965 performance, it’s certainly set to launch Garrick and Griffin toward superstardom. How good is it? Imagine if Future Islands and The Cocteau Twins collab'd and the year was simultaneously 1985 and 2085, that’s how good it is. In fact, Innerworld puts both Bob Dylan AND Sonic Youth to shame ... mainly because neither could likely create such killer synth pop. And hey, did you know Electric Youth had a song in the Nicholas Winding Refn film Drive? Yeah, they made it onto that stupendous soundtrack. Maybe the duo’s already more popular than anybody thought. And “WeAreTheYouth” is surely THE anthem for those young people everywhere, just keep them off my lawn (not that i have one).
Sondre Lerche spent most of last year working on the soundtrack for his then wife’s directorial debut The Sleepwalker. Shortly after the release of that album, the couple divorced. So you would expect a man like Sondre, who is obviously a particularly literate open book, to record something of a downer album next. That is totally NOT what happened with Please (Mona). What did happen was he started working through the pain in the studio, but not in a melancholy way. In a “scream and dance like an idiot until you feel better” kind of way. Really, if you can listen to “Bad Law,” the first single from his new album and not find yourself dancing around with a stupid grin on your face, then you might have been replaced with an android replicant. I’d head to the doctor if I were you.
San Francisco – what comes to mind when you think of its place in music history? Haight-Ashbury, right, the Grateful Dead? Well I’m here to stomp on your flower power, hippies, and proclaim this the beginning of leather jacket season! Ty Segall is your new master, he of the thousand albums (practically) and the stranglehold on San Fran rock ‘n’ roll. Heck, he’s pretty much the West Coast Jack White, a guitar shredder molding the sounds of the past to fit perfectly in the present, only Segall draws from psychedelic garage instead of Southern blues. Dude may have his Nuggets box set on repeat in the tour van, but if he keeps making records as fresh and awesome as Manipulator (Drag City), we can forgive him pretty much anything. (Bandmates sick of not being in charge of the radio, not so much.) Check out the 13th Floor Elevators cacophony of “The Feels” and peel that chopper out in front of a bunch of peaceniks.
Stereolab was so good, so it’s just a joy that Laetitia Sadier continues to make such elegant music following the band’s cessation. Something Shines (Drag City), Sadier’s follow-up to the equally groovy Silencio, has a darker philosophical tinge to it, as Sadier views her subjects through the lens of Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle, a collection of theses that are pretty important when discussing modern society. But Sadier also reminds us to get out and live life! There’s a time for serious introspection and discussion of social issues, but it’s really hard to balance that headspace when Sadier’s crafting a soundtrack equal parts Elephant 6 and Serge Gainsbourg (and, let’s be real, she sounds a little like Nico, but with a way better range!). Maybe she’s the Euro indie pop version of Public Enemy? Now that would be a collaboration! Swoon along with “Then, I Will Love You Again.”
Weirdon (Drag City), Purling Hiss’s scuzzy new garage-pop confection, sounds like the name of some off-the-path middle-American town nobody knows about, but if you stumble across it, only the nuttiest of nutty stuff happens to you. Right? Like it could be TV show material – “Welcome to Weirdon, population WEIRD.” Or it could be like Valkenvania, the fictional New Jersey horror-town from the 1991 Chevy Chase/Demi Moore vehicle Nothing But Trouble. (Please tell me I’m not the only person who saw that.) OK, not anything like that at all – Mike Polizze’s recordings are much more palatable. In fact, they’re so unassuming yet universally appealing that I can’t come up with a truly good movie comparison that Weirdon makes me think of. Maybe Ghostbusters, but only for the “universally appealing” part. Whatever, strap on some headphones, and play some air guitar along with the Sebadoh-meets-GBV action “Forcefield of Solitude.”
It’s a fact, some things just get better with age. Wine, Albert Brooks’ Real Life, Gillian Anderson… and Soft Swells. Tim Williams, mastermind behind the band has been in and out of projects for years before his recent concentration on Soft Swells. Floodlights (Modern Outsider) is the culmination of that work. What started out more as a studio project with a touring band has gone and turned itself into a full fledged group. This change has resulted in an expansion of their sound, leaving them as a stadium filling explosion of indie-pop. Teases of U2 and Muse, as well as the grand ideas left over from the ‘90s Brit-pop Invasion (not the mop-top one, the frosted hair one). A little bit of west coast surphemera (thats surf + ephemera, can’t tell if it works outside of my brain…) and a little bit of east coast indie sensibility make their new, fuller sound like a cross-country trip in your dream car. And every diner you pass serves the best disco fries money you can buy. Check out the organ-tastic shake of the title track “Floodlights.”
Indie-pop masters In-Flight Safety are back with their 3rd LP in Conversationalist (Ooh La La). Shimmering guitars, even shinier melodies, hook-heavy vocals and a reverb-y stadium sound leave them sounding like a version of Coldplay that everyone isn’t tired of. For a band with as serious a sound as they have, they are never dour, and don’t take themselves hyper-seriously (again, I’m looking at you Coldplay.) This hits all the stadium sweet-spots (like Babe Ruth!), the excitement of early U2 with the artfulness (and drum sound) of early Genesis. It’s like Phil Collins, the Edge and Brian Eno ran off together because they couldn’t listen to Peter Gabriel’s story about that time he was on the same flight with Conway Twitty one more time. “Piss off Pete, we’re gonna do our own bloody thing!” said probably Brian Eno because he is definitely the saltiest of that trio. Check out the driving excitement of “Animals.”
Electric Wire Hustle
"Love Can Prevail"
Following up their much-loved self-titled debut LP, Electric Wire Hustle has released Love Can Prevail (Okay Player). A futuristic combination of classic soul and R&B, and modern songwriting and musicianship. Classic sounding funk-light drum grooves, a confidant, relaxed vocal delivery and George Clinton fuzz guitar lines. It is no surprise that Questlove asked them to be part of this summer’s annual The Root’s Picnic in Philly. Of course he would be a sucker for their classic soul as preformed by Peter Gabriel sound. Frankly, we are all gonna be suckers for this sound. Check out the smoked-out soul sounds of “Loveless.”
Jesse Marchant’s voice is like honey – it’s like a bunch of bees decided to build a hive in his larynx, crafting layer upon delicious layer until it reaches all the other parts of his body, literally turning Marchant into a walking honeycomb. It’s gross, in my head, like something out of Cronenberg’s The Fly. But since that’s only happening in my head, let’s focus on the music, shall we? Marchant’s self-titled third album (No Other) – his first under his own name after going by JBM for albums one and two – hits all the pleasure centers you’d expect a folk-rock hybrid in the vein of Justin Vernon or The Tallest Man on Earth with a touch of Radiohead to boot. The melodies are gorgeous, and the songs burn slow with emotional fervor and melancholy. “Stay on Your Knees” lilts and crescendos with equal ease, and is the absolute right place to start. There’s that sweet, sweet baritone too – and if you hear a buzzing in your speakers you'll know why.
They say "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." ("They" in this case being physicists and people who took a physics class long ago and remember that one thing...) The same must be said for records. For every side A there must always be a side B. Can't have one without the other. However, unlike the rules of physics, the "equal" part doesn't always hold true. There are, however, instances where the B sides can be every bit as exciting and classic as the A side. Case in point? The new odds and sods release from Nada Surf. B-Sides (Barsuk) finds Matthew Caws and Co. combing the vaults for the very best of their lesser known tunes and acoustic/demo versions of old favorites. Their long career has proven that these dudes can write the hell out of some songs, and this only cements that fact. A Nada Surf b-side is better than most other a-sides. I promise. We have all come to love their indie rock stylings, and any release is cause for celebration. It just so happens that their lesser known work is as strong as the laundry list of tunes you already know and love. Take, for instance, the jangly pop of “No Quick Fix.”
Hiss Golden Messenger
"Lateness of Dancers"
It’s been a long time that songwriter M.C. Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch have been playing together. They cut their teeth in Ex-Ignota, then classed it up a bit in The Court and Spark (a super early BRM band for those keeping score at home), before forming Hiss Golden Messenger in 2007. But it’s been a two-decade ride for the musicians – think about that! When Hirsch and Taylor were first starting we still had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash, and Bob Hope… There’s gotta be a musical/buddy film in there somewhere. Now, with their new record Lateness of Dancers (Merge), the duo (and friends!) take their Byrds-meets-Bill-Callahan jangle to its logical destination – the remarkable and gutty blues rumble of “I’m a Raven (Shake Children).” Well, the rest of it’s just as remarkable and gutty, too.
"The Violet Flame"
I can’t say how easy the songwriting process is for Vince Clarke and Andy Bell of Erasure, but they have been writing pop hits for the better part of 30 years without any signs of stopping. Or slowing down even. Or even a difference in quality. So from an outsiders perspective, they make it look super easy. Every album comes out ready to dance, and ready to tour. Their newest, Violet Flame (Mute) is another is a string of super catchy albums. Hopefully after 30 years, BRM is half as together as these two dudes are this far into their career. You know the score, poppy EDM with hook-y vocals. It’s what they do. Give a listen to the first single “Elevation.”
I’m not gonna lie – we like to consider ourselves here at BRM a pretty quippy bunch. In fact, we’re so proud of it, we like to call attention to it. So when you ask for a recommendation for a kaleidoscopic contorto-pop indie rock what-have-you record and I say look no further than Zammuto’s Anchor (Temporary Residence) because frontman Nick Zammuto WROTE THE BOOK on that style, you know exactly what I mean. And hey, I’m not wrong either! Anchor is Zammuto’s second album under that moniker, and he just keeps getting better and better. He’s still got that sense of Books-y playfulness, as well as a fascination with how words – specifically “hegemony” – sound, but it’s the collaborations as a full band that take center stage here. Great songwriting plus wildly euphonic experimentation? I’m in! Check out the blippy, almost dancey “Great Equator.”
Ahmed Gallab has been the drummer/multi-instrumentalist for many a band; Yeasayer, Of Montreal, Eleanor Friedberger, Caribou. But as of late, he has been concentrating on his solo work as http://sinkane.com/. I for one am just fine with this arrangement, because I can’t think of anyone else that is making music that sounds like this. Mean Love (DFA) is a rare combination of African blues, ‘70s soul music, a little jazz fusion and a bit of modern chip-tune aesthetic thrown in for people (me) that like that kind of thing. Keyboards are funky, bass parts even funkier, super-soulful brass parts, distorted guitars and organs playing against each other and Ahmed’s angelic vocals hovering high above the whole thing. It’s like the album Stevie Wonder and Fela Kuti never got to make together because Fela was too busy being distracted by Jack Bruce (seriously, have you guys watched that Jack Bruce documentary on Netflix? It’s bonkers!) Check out the Sound Machine sounds of “New Name.”
The Juan MacLean
"In A Dream"
Somewhere between the compositional disco popular in Italy the late ‘70s, the moody soundtracks of Tangerine Dream, and the dance moves of lablemates LCD Soundsystem comes In A Dream (DFA) from The Juan MacLean. Normally thought of as the club music maestro he is, Juan has latched onto something new here. Vintage and futuristic at the same time, this is like a steampunk version of club music. Ideas from the past created in ways that the originators would have never been able to get their hands on (but if they could have, they would have been programming their sequencers on punch cards). Check out the first single from the album, the epic, Cruel Summer-esque “A Place Called Space,” featuring vocals from former LCD Soundsystem vocalist, and constant Juan MacLean collaborator, Nancy Whang.
Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa
Having risen to prominence as a member of Ponytail, and then essentially rewriting the manual for solo guitar loop music (Sorry Robert Fripp, there is a new, way less self-serious sherif in town) it only makes sense that Dustin Wong’s recent duo collaboration with vocalist Takako Minekawa is also going amazingly well. Savage Imagination (Thrill Jockey) is the second time that the two have released an album of their playful look at Japanese pop, with loops and keyboards and percussion all layering on top of each other as Minekawa’s ethereal vocals weave in and out. Serious art-pop as well as giddy and fun, it doesn’t sound too different than a Talking Heads as remixed by Cibo Mato. Yeah. That sure does sound awesome. So does this one. Check out the broken down carnival that is “Pale Tone Wifi.”
OK, let’s face some facts … oh, hey, see what I did there? The Fact Facer (Thrill Jockey) is the name of the album! That’s pretty cool – it wasn’t even intentional. Oh, right, those facts – the Grails guys have been doing some pretty great stuff on the side recently, haven’t they? Now we've got the new Holy Sons record from Emil Amos, and it's a wonderful slice of fantastic (or a fantastic slice of wonderful. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book where all the outcomes are the same). Amos, multi-instrumentalist, drummer, and even part-time member of metal droners Om, channels his inner Tim Rutili /James Taylor on the cracked folk and scrambled indie of The Fact Facer. The Portland, Oregon, native is a commanding songwriter, equally comfortable with gritty arrangements and sublime. I actually had a dream after listening to the album that Holy Sons soundtracked a noir tale among a midnight cityscape - and then I realized the city was on Mars, and everything was red, even at night. (I've been reading a bunch of Philip K. Dick recently, it's easy to get Mars in your subconscious.) You’ll be name-dropping Bill Callahan and Red Red Meat (on Mars of course), after hearing “All Too Free.”
Mary Lattimore & Jeff Ziegler
"Slant of Light"
The winter of 2014 was notoriously hard on The East Coast. (It might have been really bad other places too, but I can only live in so many places at once…). While most of us took those numerous whiteouts to catch up on TV shows from decades past, super in-demand recording engineer Jeff Zeigler took advantage of one of those storms by recording Slant Of Light (Thrill Jockey) with harpist Mary Lattimore. So while the rest of Philadelphia waited for the snow to melt, this pair was perfectly fine with letting it snow, snow, snow (thank you very much.) Mary’s harping can be heard on albums from Kurt Vile, Jarvis Cocker, Thurston Moore and others. Jeff has worked with members of A Sunny Day In Glasgow and The War On Drugs to name a few. Somehow these varied backgrounds fell right into place, and a musical harmony between the two jumped forth almost instantly. Mary on her harp, Jeff on everything else. It almost sounds like the snowflakes falling outside their window were helping write the music. If there is ever a remake of the animated classic The Snowman and they wanted an update to the soundtrack as well, this would be the perfect place to start. Check out the nor’easter sounds of “The White Balloon.”
Cy Dune is Seth Olinsky of the famed noise/punk group Akron/Family. Although listening to his newest release Shake (Lightening) you come to realize that Seth really IS Cy Dune. A raucous, dirty, bluesy, sweaty rock ’n’ roll party. If the Beatles had some distortion pedals on the fateful day they recorded Please Please Me, it would have probably wound up a lot like this LP. There is something particularly honest, and innocent in this Cy Dune version of rock ’n’ roll. Paying homage to everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry to those aforementioned Liverpool Lads and The Velvet Underground. With attitude to spare, this plays something like a Iggy Pop produced Jon Spencer album, even more in the red than a Spencer album normally is (if that’s even possible…). Check out the Jack White-d up rock ’n’ roll of “Wild Mann” and remember why the “roll” half of the equation is so important.