Re-Up: Letting the once glorious shine again
"Marvelous Clouds"In 1983, MTV pulled their first major coup by persuading KISS to appear on their relatively new airwaves sans makeup. Not sure what everyone expected, because it was essentially just KISS without makeup. In 2012, Gene Ween has done the same sort of thing, stepping out from behind his pseudonym and long-lasting band Ween, and given us the very first album by Aaron Freeman. Unlike the disquieting boredom of having to look at a flesh-colored Ace Frehley, Mr. Freeman has dazzled us with his most personal work to date. That fact is surprising, as the entire album consists of covers of soft rock songwriter/poet Rod McKuen. But given Gene’s...sorry, Aaron’s easily discernible love of all things schmaltz, it makes perfect sense. Marvelous Clouds (Partisan) is quite the afternoon delight (get it?), as lite FM touches of Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Williams and Bacharach are copiously sprinkled over this project. Check out the Kermit-esque jazzy standout “Lonesome Cities”.
The Last Names
"Wilderness"Not only are the new duo The Last Names both members of Bishop Allen, but they’re also married to each other. Justin Rice and Darbie Nowatka recently ditched the city and moved to upstate New York to make their debut LP, Wilderness. These are relatively straightforward, daydreaming pop songs made with acoustic guitars, finger-snappin’ percussion, and boy-girl harmonies galore—TLN is probably somewhere between Yo La Tengo and Mates of State on the married couple pop spectrum. Moving out of the city is also good for productivity—the couple is recording a cover song for every week of 2012. Pretty impressive. For now, hang out in the “Vacant Lot.”
"What Is The Meaning Of What"No one in the office wanted to talk about it, but it was eventual. Ever since a 2009 accident claimed his life all too early, we knew someday we would hold in our sad little hands Jerry Fuchs’ last recorded drumming. That beauty of a man lent his relentless drumming style to everyone from Maserati and Massive Attack to LCD Soundsystem and Holy Ghost! In the late ‘90s he formed Turing Machine with Justin Chearno and Scott DeSimon. It was always something of a back burner band for the boys, who always had a million projects, which means What Is The Meaning Of What (Temporary Residence) is only their third album together, and the very last recording of Mr. Fuchs laying wood to skin. It is a fitting swan song, as this collection of psychedelic, neo-Krautrock is definitely led by the hard-driving beats laid down by Jerry. Riffs upon riffs (both the guitar kind and the synth kind) hypnotize as the drums take center stage, the high-energy beats exuding joy. I can picture a huge mustachioed grin on Jerry’s face as he laid them down. Celebrate his neverending-awesomeness with the title track, "What Is The Meaning Of What."
"Passage"Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church are the bicoastal couple that are Exitmusic and Passage is their first full-length for Secretly Canadian. Think Sigur Ros as a husband-wife duo from New York and you might get close, or more of a bedroom version of Kid A ten years later and with sultry female vocals. You might recognize Palladino from her role on Boardwalk Empire (or remember Manny & Lo?!), and yes, she’s following in the long lineage of Madonna, Streisand, and J. Lo, but I don’t think any of those other gals would’ve exactly fit on Secretly Canadian. The songs on Passage are abstract but emotionally clear, cold yet acutely sensitive. What I’m trying to say is that you could either dance or cry to this album, so how about getting in bed after dark with your spouse/crush/pet and putting on “The Night.”
A Place To Bury Strangers
"Worship"Pay close attention when listening to Worship, the new full length from Brooklyn’s own A Place To Bury Strangers. They seem like the kind of band that might call you after listening to their stuff just to make sure your face melted off like they wanted it to. Forget Phil Spector’s wall of sound, cause these boys have built a huge-ass wall of noise! Noise in the way of buzzsaw guitars as avatars for sirens, crashes, machines… just about any industrial-type sound imaginable has been shredded mercilessly on poor defenseless electric guitars. Turned up to 11? Ha! Their amps lowest settings are 11. These boys laugh at Spinal Tap… Well, I guess we all laugh at Spinal Tap, but not for the same reasons. Distant, murky vocals delivered in a husky baritone quiver above the hellfire as simple drums lay the foundation for the aural assault. It’s like Leonard Cohen is in a Nine Inch Nails cover band, and it’s awesome! Don’t believe me? Well, allow me to put my money where my mouth is (never realized how gross a saying that is until just now) with the future pulses of “Why I Can't Cry Anymore.”
"WIXIW"If you’ve been paying attention to the career of the Liars, then you know that what you can expect from their new album is to be surprised. Never a band to rest on their laurels, the only real constant in their sound has been a reliance on rhythm to carry their melodies most of the way up the hill. The biggest surprise on WIXIW is how relatable it is. It’s almost (gasp!) danceable (that is if you also danced around a lot to Kid A). Stuttering electronic rhythms and beats bounce around the channels as guitars and keyboards buzz underneath Angus Andrew’s baritone vocals. As always, another concern of the boys is the timbre of sounds. They know just how to twist those knobs to add auditory excitement to every bit of their brilliant compositions. Case in point, check out “Brats.”
Here We Go Magic
"A Different Ship"What if you played a show and no one liked it? (Boo!) What if only two people liked it? (Meh…) What if those two people are Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich? (Sweet merciful crap!) This is what happened to Here We Go Magic during their noon performance at the 2010 Glastonbury Festival. Thom and Nigel, right in front of the stage, dancing their butts off. So enamored with their live sound was Godrich that he followed the band around until they agreed to let him produce their next album. What Godrich did was help HWGM recreate their hypnotic live sound in the studio. What HWGM did was write and record A Different Ship (Secretly Canadian), the best thing they have ever done in the young careers. It’s their OK Computer, the point where their playing, writing and recording all click at the same time and they sound like the band they were always supposed to sound like. The album is haunting, modern and gets under your skin the first time you listen to it and refuses to leave (thank you very much!). Check out the bouncy haze of “How Do I Know.”
"Ghost EP"Following the grander, more band oriented sound found on Strange Land, Yellow Ostrich are back with the Ghost EP (Barsuk), a hypnotizing collection of stripped down tunes, reminiscent of Alex Schaaf’s earlier work as a dude in a room recording the whole thing. Thick Radiohead guitars march up and down the fretboard, leading to a sound that’s like a friendlier version of Grizzly Bear, this is a disk of perfectly placed sounds, all equalling up to a giddy head-rush of pop perfection. Check out the warm swirling sounds of “Won’t Fade Away.”
"Mars"Sinkane has had themselves a busy summer. Led by Ahmed Gallab (a touring drummer for both Yeasayer and Caribou) they spent their summer vacation debuting the new band, releasing a few 12” singles and preparing to take over the world this fall with the release of their groovacious debut full length album Mars (DFA). Full of funky keyboard, slinky bass and many a laid-back world rhythm, vocals are vocoded and digitized to make their Mars a far more hospitable place that that dreadfully cold red planet. Check out the positively ‘70s groove of the infectious “Runnin’.”
The Mountain Goats
"Transcendental Youth"The Mountain Goats have come along way from their humble, lo-fi beginnings. Gone are the days when albums were recorded using a boom box and released on home-dubbed cassettes (probably using that same boom box). What started out as a one man show, with John Darnielle being the only member of the band, has taken many forms over the years. But independent of who is backing Mr. Darnielle, his staggeringly honest songwriting has always been the star. His folky leanings and charm have won him many fans over the years, and this stellar collection is destined to win him many more. Transcendental Youth (Merge) is sort of his YOLO statement (a Drake reference? Who do I think I am?), advising us all to grab the bull by the horns, live life to it’s fullest, no matter how odd that life might be. In addition to the talents of Peter Hughes and Jon Wurster (ya know, from Superchunk and the rest of your favorite bands) there is a full horn section this time out. With an enormous sound like that, there is no way he was gonna capture it with his old Sanyo. Check out the celebratory shuffle of “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1."
"Field Report"There once was a band called DeYarmond Edison, and from this band we were introduced to Justin Vernon (don’t even make me write Bon Iver parenthetically) and Megafaun. From the success of those two alone, the ex-band’s pedigree is pretty high. But when you take into consideration that Chris Porterfield, the driving force behind Field Report is also from said band, it’s like DeYaramond Edison was an indie folk Second City. Though it took Chris and his band a little longer to get started then the other two, it feels like he spent the last 5 years perfectly crafting these gorgeous, frail acoustic triumphs. Guitars and pianos tenderly plucked and plunked as Mr. Porterfield’s road weary voice deals in raw emotions and clever rhymes (he mentions Doris Day AND Dom DeLuise in the same song!) Hints of Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Band Of Horses abound. This self titled album (Partisan Records) was recorded in Justin Vernon’s studio so that the band could record everything live, all at once (you know, like a band used to). The results are a heart-achingly beautiful collection. Let’s hope he doesn’t wait as long the second time around! Check out the slowly floating post-newgrass sounds, AKA post-grass (Hey! I just made up a new genre!) of “I Am Not Waiting Anymore.”
"Information Retrieved"What started as something to do between Thingy and Three Mile Pilot projects a dozen years ago has turned into one of the most popular and enduring acts of independent music. Pinback has always had an ability to combine familiar sounds from pop, funk, rock and reggae and come out the other end sounding like none of those things individually. Like a less pushy Dismemberment Plan, the songs on Information Retrieved (Temporary Residence) are full of haunting melodies, snappy drums and thick, spiraling guitars. I guess side project bands seem to be a way better way to spend your off time than playing X-Box and becoming one with your favorite couch cushion. Check out the majesty of multiple guitars on the leadoff track “Proceed To Memory.”
"Christmas Tree Island"Sure, everybody knows what the gifts are for “The 12 Days Of Christmas.” But do you know that there is a rare extended version that gives you gifts for “The 36 Days Of Christmas?” It can only be found on some live bootlegs from the ‘70s, but it’s worth it if you can find it. For our purposes, we only need to examine through 15 days of Christmas. They skip the 13th day of Christmas, because that’s bad luck (like a 13th floor), the 14th day is an oddly specific $25 gift card to the Cheesecake Factory. But the 15th day? The 15th day is a quirky collection of holiday songs from one time married couple Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard, better known as The Rosebuds. Christmas Tree Island (Ocean Isle) is not your typical Christmas album, it’s more like a Christmas concept album. There are no covers of holiday standards, but 12 bouncy, purely Rosebuds songs that just happen to be about Christmas. If Michael McDonalds’ beard was ironic, this is the kind of Christmas album he would record. Check out jingle bell jangle of reindeer on the roof in “I Hear (Click, Click, Click).”
"Roman Roads IV-XI"If you’ve ever had the inclination to wander the old Roman roads that stretch across Europe and Great Britain, I don’t think you’ll find a better traveling companion than Land Observations’ Roman Roads IV–XI (Mute), a perfect album to waft through your earbuds as you reflect on history and nature. The record was named, obviously, for these roads, some of which lay as little as a stone’s throw from James Brooks’, the project’s sole member’s, home in Hackney, East London. Brooks formerly fronted post rock trio Appliance, but he reins in volume in favor of meditative solo electric guitar pieces, with loops and overdubs serving as his bandmates. These mini-krautrock masterpieces are clean and precise, and the metronomic quality of the rhythms serves as a steady march to guide your feet. The ghosts of history wait along these ancient paths, and Land Observations make them come alive. All you’ve got to do is walk out the door. See what I mean along “Appian Way.”
"II"Like Elvis Costello at his snottiest or Tom Petty at his drunkest, Nude Beach has made it out of the beer-carpeted basements they perfected their sound in and have brought their attitude-heavy rock ‘n’ roll chops to the streets. Formed on the classic-rock loving North Shore of Long Island and eventually relocating to the mustache loving Brooklyn, these boys are straight-up, no questions asked rock ‘n’ roll. Taking a bit of Roger McGuinn’s guitar jingle-jangle, the early punk-light sounds of the aforementioned Mr. Petty and the wit, cynicism and delivery of the also aforementioned Mr. Costello, II (Other Music) finds Chuck, Ryan and Jimmy as an unassuming power-trio playing rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s this simple equation that makes II so magical, so out of time. Check out the leather jacket and tambourine on one of the many album standouts, “Radio.”
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
"Meat & Bone"You can keep your White Stripes and your Black Keys, ‘cause I got The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. As far as all correct-thinking people are concerned, they invented this Blues re-appropriation the kids are still just discovering themselves. When they started releasing best of compilations and re-issuing all of their classic (and essential) albums over the last few years, I had a secret fantasy that all that would lead to their first new proper album in years. Fantasy filled! Meat & Bone (Mom + Pop) finds this power trio garage rocking and blues riffing in all the ways we know and love. How their grooves aren’t poring out of every speaker in America and beyond will always confuse me. Check out the breakneck Black Flag (!) groove of "Danger."
The Sea And Cake
"Runner"Very few bands have the ability to create a very specific sound, keep that sound constant, and never sound like they're repeating themselves. Bands like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, and Stereolab come to mind. Well, if you are making the same kinda list as me, don’t you dare leave The Sea & Cake off of it (papers are due by the end of class Thursday…) They have been doing their post-jazz, dreamy post-rock thing for almost 20 years, and show no signs of losing any of the vitality their music has always been known for. Runner (Thrill Jockey) finds them expanding on some of the keyboard soundscapes they recorded for Moonlit Butterfly, but like I said before, they are most certainly not repeating themselves. This is a companion only in theory, as it features all new sounds and ideas. They are definitely in experimentation mode here, which Sam Prekop attributes to his recent soundtrack work. Check out the brightly lit bounce of “Pacific."
"Moms"When Brent Knopf left Menomena in 2010 to concentrate on his newly formed solo-type project Ramona Falls, fans of Menomena were worried. That band had spent at least a decade making music that really is a genre unto itself, and ⅓ of a band leaving can certainly be cause for despair. So what did remaining members Justin Harris and Danny Seim do? They went back into the studio as a duo and recorded their new album Moms (Barsuk). While it would be tough to say that they are better since Knopf left the fold, it is easy to say that his departure doesn’t appear to have hurt their sound. In fact, the album finds the band with the new found giddy excitement of experimentation. Sure, the loops and the saxophone and the odd rhythms and the weird album artwork are still there, but so is a drive to prove that they are “gonna make it on (their) own” just like Laverne & Shirley did. They were a duo too, ya know. Clap along with the fumbling sexuality and the Ed Lover dance saxophone sounds of the lead-off track “Plumage."
"I Bet On Sky"If you would have asked me in the early 2000s if I thought J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph would ever reform as the original Dinosaur Jr lineup, I would have told you that there was a better chance of actual dinosaurs walking the earth again á la the plot from Jurassic Park (It’s so weird to see Newman in that…) Well, much like Jeff Goldblum made a liar out of Richard Attenborough in that movie, 2007's Beyond made a liar out of me. Here it is 5 years since their first reformed album and the guys are back with I Bet On Sky (Jagjaguwar), their third album since reuniting. J’s ocean of guitars distorting away as Lou and Murph chug along in almost superhuman syncopation. This right here, this is an instant classic, not only in Dinosaur Jr’s cannon, but in general. I challenge you to find a band having more fun then they are during the rock ‘n’ roll brilliance of “Pierce The Morning Rain."