So many people are writing these beautiful, moving tributes to Scott Miller on the occasion of his passing, and I don’t know if I can. It’s raw, it hurts.
It get tangled up just trying to enumerate the ways in which he touched my life.
The music, of course: songs with stick-in-your-head-for-days hooks, yet so knotty that I could actually learn how to play them without grokking how they worked. (Don’t respond. She can tell.) How I loved his integration of playful experimentalism and formalism into genres not known for encompassing them. The riddle of juxtaposing the crushing guitar of “Dripping with Looks” with that wispy, unassertive percussion? I credit that — the conundrum which opens the very first of Scott’s records I heard all the way through — with being one of the things that sparked my interest in how records sounded, and more, how, and why, they were assembled. “Vacuum Genesis”?! Don’t get me started. Led me to a whole world I never knew existed. And I haven’t even said anything about the lyrics.
But not just the lyrics. Scott’s gift with words in general, as evidenced not only in his songs, but in the “Ask Scott” column, in his marvelously insightful music criticism, and in the actual conversations I had with him (of which I will forever wish there had been more). Not just the words but the glittering, incisive mind behind them. Scott was one of the people who often left me feeling like I didn’t quite have the intellectual equipment to keep up with him, but not in a shove-your-face-in-it-way. On the contrary, Scott expressed himself with a curious humbleness, that storied wry self-deprecation, and he always addressed you like you were really smart, too.
And for me, that leads into the most important impact Scott had on me: the personal connections his work inspired. There’s his own unfailing warmth and generosity: from our first meeting he treated me like a friend, not a fan. But the people who respond to the smarts, hooks, and deep disdain for narrow genre borders that characterize his work are a pretty special group. This week I’ve been kind of gobsmacked by the outpourings from people I know by reputation or only slightly, friends, even former bandmates, whose admiration for Scott’s work in retrospect seems like it should have been obvious, but wasn’t known to me before now. But among the folks nerdy and involved enough to join the Loudfans online community I found several of my dearest friends.
And most of all, it was directly through out mutual admiration of Scott’s work that I found my wife. An impact that is literally unquantifiable.
So goodbye and bon voyage, Scott, far too soon. I’m going to miss you always.
I wish that when I die I could hear the other work you might have done.
And I’m going to try like fucking hell to make something you would have found worth paying attention to, something you would have been proud to have inspired.
Fugazi Edits is a collection of brief compositions entirely sourced from instrumental samples from Fugazi albums (with permission). I love it almost unreservedly and it’s already one of the albums I’ve played most this year.
It’s clearly not for everybody — I’ve seen some harsh reviews — but it’s definitely for me. Is it for you? Maybe, especially if you like sample-based/collage music that’s more experimental than the typical two-dissimilar-songs-at-once mashup, but less aggressively odd (and more groove-oriented) than say, Christian Marclay. And especially if you know every Fugazi album back to front, but perhaps if you like Fugazi in theory but don’t care for the vocals or lyrics* or maybe if you quit listening after Repeater* and are curious about how musically diverse Fugazi eventually became.
Since Lawhorn uses Fugazi samples to build his tracks, it’s not surprising that his work incorporates some of Fugazi’s defining characteristics, like buildup and release of tension, extreme dynamic contrast, and surprisingly lyrical and delicate melodies (which stand out even more when de-coupled from the gruff barks and moaning howls of Fugazi’s lead singers). Lawhorn uses samples from every Fugazi track (except those on the Instrument soundtrack), the kind of formalism that appeals to me, but which may have resulted in a couple of well-I’ll-jam-together-stuff-from-all-these-tracks-that-didn’t-inspire-me-with-a-bunch-of-post-processing exercises, but the best of these tracks are pretty awesome, and the least of them go by quickly.
I bought this digitally at first but decided to upgrade to a hard copy, because I don’t trust the Cloud to stay there forever. If you’re inclined to get this on CD, head to chrislawhorn.com posthaste, coz he’s already almost sold out of the limited run.
* what’s wrong with you, anyway? why are you reading this?
Tags: experimental · l · post-punk · self-released
The backstory (since you probably weren’t paying attention): Hussalonia is basically one dude writing, performing, recording, and releasing willfully eclectic music; he’s been at it for a while and he’s gotten really good at all aspects of it. 2010 started as the “Year of Hussalonia” with a new album/EP every month, including lotsa awesome stuff, possibly topped by “Attention Deficit Recorder” a densely arranged collection of short songs playable in any order. There were also some releases that, in hindsight, seemed like they might have betrayed signs of deadline pressure or other creative struggles, one of which was a single with a troubling title: “Through With Music.” That wasn’t actually the last the world heard from Hussalonia, but not too long after Hussalonia.com site was replaced by an enigmatic handful of pages about how the “Hussalonia founder” had sold the rights to his art to Nefarico, which if it existed, would surely be the world’s most evil soap manufacturer.
And now, at last, there’s Nefarico Jingles, a record so strong that it suggests the whole creative-exhaustion/disappearing thing was an extended put-on. It’s simultaneously a satire of the “sell out,” and an acknowledgment that crass, soulless work can still have a awful lot of craft, and as a consequence, be awfully catchy. Dunno about you, but there’s at least one of those free credit report scam bands that I might like, if they weren’t a sham shilling for a business fundamentally dependent on deceptive practices. Hussalonia’s batch of intricately arranged, impeccably performed, and deeply subversive tunes suggests that Hussalonia could out-catchy the catch-hucksters. I can’t take a shower now without “use Nefarico washing goggles, to protect your sight,” running through my head.
Tags: 2012 · alphabetical · experimental · folk · h · indie pop · indie rock · lo-fi · quick take · self-released
- Classics of Love – Classics of Love
Classics of Love falls into the general category of punk veterans — in this case Operation Ivy’s Jesse Michaels — forming retro 80s/punk/hardcore bands. I’m pretty susceptible to this trend, and Classics of Love is no exception. Nothing here is quite as amazing as “No Return” from 2009’s “Waiting in Shadows” EP, and the LP is overall a little more straightforward, with fewer echoes of artists like Wire and Fugazi. This seems more in spiritual debt to Bad Religion and Agent Orange. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it sounds like it was fun to make, and it’s fun to listen to. “Light Rail,” with an almost Weller-esque chorus, the overlapping-vocal-driven “We Need a Change,” and the chugging “Moving Pictures” are particularly strong.
- Grafitti6 – Colours
Kinda like OK Go after they quit being a rock band, pop with a little soulful or rockish seasoning as the song demands. This is not the kind of thing that I generally like, but this is done pretty well — strong vocal performances, solid production, okay tunes. Special mention for the coda of “This Man” which channels ’70’s Stones to an amazing degree.
- Heartless Bastards – Arrow
Tough, bluesy rock distinguished by the powerhouse vocals of Erika Wennerstrom. Features more swagger and clarity, loses the garage fuzziness and any indie-rockward leanings from the earlier records. Not my bag, but done well. If there’s any justice this one will break them to a big mainstream audience.
- Hospitality – Hospitality
Hospitality has a spirit that reminds me the moment when post-punk* was just on the cusp of becoming new wave — without the sonic aggressiveness of punk, but still restless and inclusive of many moods and textures. But except in the most general of terms, Hospitality don’t actually sound much like any of the band they remind me of, let alone like a retro exercise. Which alone is almost enough to warranted a recommendation from me; that’s cemented by interesting (if not immediately earwormy) songs and thoroughly sympatico production. (Aside: Shane Stoneback has got an impressively, even bizarrely, eclectic resumé.)
*Still hate that label, no matter often it’s been coming up in 2012.
- Imperial Teen – Feel the Sound
I wasn’t very familiar with these folks, although they’ve been around a while. I must’ve heard something I didn’t like by some other band and mixed it up with Imperial Teen; my loss. This is a little on the samey side, and just a touch smooth for my taste, but goes down easy. Reminds me of the less psych-side of Elf Power, the New Prawnographers, and the less thorny side of Quasi — dense, often key-centric arrangements and good harmony work abound . “Over His Head” and “The Hibernates” are particularly nice.
- Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
The production and arrangement on this record knock me out. It evokes some windswept, desolate, wide open space. Van Etten harmonizes with herself in huge stacks almost, but not quite, rendered ragged by the depth of reverb. Unruly guitars snarl from somewhere toward the horizon; instruments wander in and out of the soundscape, usually staying at some remove, some never quite revealing themselves (were those bagpipes? or guitars sounding like bagpipes?). Van Etten’s have solid unsurprising structures somewhere under the sonic tangle, some are even a bit bluesy. The record’s themes are scaled to match the vistas the songs occupy. The artist this record most evokes for me is Wilco. If Van Etten manages to top, or just equal, this record, we’re all in for a hell of a ride. Can’t wait.
- We Have Band – Ternion
We Have Band don’t sound anything at all like Art of Noise, but nonetheless they have a similar tension between their accessible/danceable and more experimental sides (We Have Band also sometimes sounds like a bonafide rock band). Both also like to play with the latest toys, and often employ a sample-heavy cut-up aesthetic. Shriekback also comes to mind, most especially on “Steel in the Groove,” which could almost be a mutant cousin of “Working on the Ground.” Ternion pushes the indie rock elements to the fore a bit and downplays the dancefloor friendliness. It seems like a surprising follow up to a commercially successful record. I like it a lot.
Tags: 2012 · lists · quick take
- Behold! the Monolith – Defender, Redeemist
This trio bludgeons almost equally well at the tempo of an advancing glacier or at a jackhammer thrash pace (Motorhead comparisons bruited about in the press for this ‘un really do make sense). Veteran metal producer/engineer Billy Anderson turns in a recording that’s amazing in it’s cake/eat-it-tooness: crushingly heavy at times, but also incorporating richly textured and layered soundscapes. Brutal and epic. Sure doesn’t hurt that the band cooked up some killer riffs, but “Desolizator” chugs on one static chord for many bars and it’s awesome; that’s down to Billy.
- Lana Del Rey – Born to Die
I’m baffled by both the hype and the backlash. Is it vapid? Yes. Is it calculated? Yes. Is it any more terrible than any record by any random mononym*, that hipsters (perhaps ironically) profess to like tracks by? No, it’s not. I was going to assert that I kinda liked it just to be perverse, and I kinda sorta did, but then again, I couldn’t make it through in a single sitting (and Kate Bush should sue over for “Video Games”).
*(or other artist the public is on a first name basis with, e.g., Britney)
- Filthybird – “I’d Like to Know” (single)
Raw, lie-feeling jangly pop with surprisingly soulful vocals.
- Cheyenne Marie Mize – “We Don’t Need” (EP)
Bluesy folk is not my bag, but Mize’s voice can manage both tough and fragile, and the arrangements have some surprising details (particularly in the percussion area) — held my interest more than I expected.
- The Pines – Dark So Gold
Most people would probably describe Dark So Gold with words like “folk,” “country,” or even “blues,” and it has attributes of all three: pedal steel and banjo, acoustic guitars, some blues-style chord progressions. And it definitely fits into the category of songwriters’ exploring their internal darkness at album length, like, say, Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers. It’s one of those records where even a comparatively upbeat song sounds gloomy because of the material that bookends it. But in a weird way, it reminds me of Shriekback. That’s probably mostly driven by the quantity and positioning of backing tracks; if you listen closely (which this record for sure rewards) there is tons of arrangement detail and quite a lot going on — but it seldom feels dense.
- Silverstein – Short Songs
It’s hard to imagine very many people liking all of this record, which by turns offers metally hardcore, non-metally screamocore, pretty good pop-punk, and wussy, cringe-inducing emo sappiness. But some of it is pretty cool, and with the longest tune weighing in at 1:37, almost none of them overstay their welcome. Features covers of tunes from a similarly all-over-the-map crew: DK’s, Orchid, Gorilla Biscuits, Descendents, Promise Ring. Pervesely intriguing.
- Stew and the Negro Problem – Making It
OMG so many genres! Rock/powerpop/pre-rock’n'roll pop/r’n'b/jazz!? And another record I’ve heard — and like — this year that has flute on it. Only in the end times, my friends, only in the end times.
- Thieves Like Us – Berlin Alex
The name primed me to expect New Order-influenced electropop, but this is minimalist Krautrock. Owes a clear debt to Neu!, but doesn’t emulate the awesome drumming or subtle dynamic shifts.
- Van Halen – “Tattoo” (single)
So many people said this was terrible that I was psyched for something really dreadful, but it’s just mediocre: Roth is in the jokey mode of “Hot For Teacher,” or “Ice Cream Man,” the production is a bit murky, and EVH’s solo feels a bit phoned in. So maybe it feels like a deep cut rather than a single. But it does kinda sound like Van Halen. (ed.: That hook is more durable than I thought at first. Have to admit this is growing on me.)
- Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Eddie’s guitar work on “Honeybabysweetiedoll” really made me pay attention, kinda Steve Vai-ish, or maybe even Adrian Belew-ish. Other than that, it kinda sounded like a Van Halen record. Note: it’s been a loong time since I listened to a Van Halen record straight through. And it didn’t have Sammy Hagar on it.
- Filthybird – Songs for Other People
Much folkier and less immediately appealing to me than the new single.
- Thieves Like Us – “Your Heart Feels” (EP)
Thieves Like Us – “Your Love Runs Still” (EP)
Chilly and sparse new wave like very early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, minus the impassioned vocals. “You and I” has a danceable (Shriekback-ish, even) bassline and a chorus that almost seems to have wandered in from a Prefab Sprout song; it’s the catchiest thing here by a long shot.
Tags: 2012 · lists
- The Big Sleep – Nature Experiments
These atmospheric indie rockers really up their game with Nature Experiments. There wasn’t anything wrong with them before, but this album just feels pulled into sharper focus: clearer production, stronger writing, better across the board.
- Gotye – Making Mirrors
Dude does sound unavoidably like Sting now and then, but more usefully his voice reminds me of Peter Gabriel, and, like Peter Gabriel, his music is much more polished and accessible than what I usually go for — but put together with a lot of craft and intelligence (not to mention a solid awareness of what constitutes a good hook). Throughout the album I keep thinking, “huh, I’m enjoying this. But this isn’t the kinda stuff I like. But, huh, I’m enjoying this,” ad infinitum.
- Loincloth – Iron Balls of Steel
Yes, it does hurt me to type a band name/album title combo that goofy. But Loincloth are metal minus my three least favorite things about most metal bands: vocals, lyrics, and guitar solos. Iron Balls of Steel is awesome. My first thought was that this reminded me of The Fucking Champs, but when I compared them, Loincloth is darker, growler, twistier, and much heavier. Maybe more like TFC crossed with Blind Idiot God (minus B.I.G.’s dub experiments). “The Poundry” has one of the coolest frickin’ fadeouts I have ever heard.
- Pop. 1280 – The Horror
Seems like I should love this, it mixes in roughly equal measure the skronky repetitiveness of Suicide, Captured Tracks-style scratchy/murky mixes, and a downbeat outlook and elements of melodic sensibility that remind me of heavy goths Fields of the Nephilim, only with future shock replacing Lovecraftian horror.
But initially it leaves me a little cold. Maybe needs more time for hooks to sink in; maybe it’s just a little too self-consciously assembled for me.
- John K. Samson – Provincial
Strong solo effort from Weakerthans guy. Sonically varied, some very catchy tunes. I would expect this to find favor with fans of folks like The Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice, Franklin Bruno, and David Bazan.
- Freeze the Atlantic – “Colour by Numbers” (EP)
Freeze the Atlantic sound distinctly influenced by grunge, and thoroughly convinced of their impending stardom. I kinda see ‘em as a British version of early Everclear.
- Gunning for Tamar – “Deaf Cow Motel” (EP)
GfT explores a couple different stripes of indie rock on this EP: sometimes sorta heavy, sometimes mathy. The blend reminds me of early Minus the Bear; the concluding bleepy-bloopy remix evokes Depeche Mode gone experimental/mimimalist. Intriguing; look forward to hearing more.
- Katie Malco – “… and the Slow Parade” (EP)
Unfailingly pretty indie folk that sometimes veers toward folk-rock. Malco’s voice reminds me a lot of Nat Johnson late of Monkey Swallows the Universe: not husky, but also not the least bit thin. “Get in the Car” is especially nice.
- Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation
Pleasant, but didn’t really command my attention. Could be a grower. Could just be not my thang.
Concluding my preview of Ladyfest Boston:
Playing Saturday night (in alphabetical order)
Daylight Robbery’s more recent tunes find the band growing in subtlety and the use of space. The tunes on their recent 3-way split with Foreign Objects and Defect Defect sound as influenced by New Model Army as by X (for better or worse, Christine Wolf has a not-un-Exene-like timbre making the comparison difficult to avoid). Their whole discography is available at Daylight Robbery’s bandcamp. Note: The Daylight Robbery that released Cross Your Heart is different — some glam metal/hard rock act which I thought it was pretty dreadful. Beware.
Libyans employ hardcore tempos, guitar parts that aren’t the least bit cookie cutter (and afford more breathing room than most hardcore) and gloriously trashy drum sounds. Aces. (check ‘em out on Spotify)
Pet Milk sound like they wore out records by The Primitives and maybe Velocity Girl or Heavenly. Nothing whatsoever wrong with that as far as I’m concerned. The super-peppy “I Don’t Love Anyone” is especially nice, and how could I fail to love a band with a song called “Husker Dudes”? Hear it all at Pet Milk bandcamp.
Population evoke several of the post-punk pioneers — Chameleons and Echo, particularly. But they’re weirder. “Heaven Can Help” has a keyboard part that almost seems to belong to a completely different song — and I kinda love that about it. Available at Population bandcamp.
Siamese Twins have me seriously intrigued. This Siamese Twins tumblr links to tunes that fair dare me not to mention The Cure in describing their pop hooks and gothy mood (not to mention the basslines). This Siamese Twins bandcamp features spastic, herky-jerky noise-rock that reminds me of Parts & Labor’s “Escapers”, Ho-Ag, or Hands on Heads (and doesn’t appear to have female members). Normally I’d conclude they are two different bands — but both sites mention the Ladyfest gig! And I like the band in both modes. (Maybe it really is two different bands, and one of the sites associates show dates automatically?)
Sick Fix answers a question I’ve been wondering about: would anyone ever tag a band fronted by (or even fetauring) a woman with my all-time least favorite genre label? (That’d be “powerviolence,” beating out “shitgaze” by a wide oogie margin.) Sick Fix proves the answer is yes, which makes me hate the term a teeny, tiny, infinitesimal bit less. Not nearly enough to apply it, of course. As far as I’m concerned, this is hardcore (and at that, a bit less mathy than the stuff that usually gets called the TermIWillNotUse).
This Is My Fist’s slightly retro punk sometimes remind more than a lil bit of The Avengers; Annie Saunders’ vocals frequently me of The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck. The split single with The Marked Men from a couple years back is particularly good (and streamable on Spotify).
Playing Sunday (in alphabetical order)
Ampere are, holy carp pond, brutal. Almost all of the songs on last year’s Like Shadows get in and do their damage in under 90 seconds. They’re not quite as dense as John Zorn’s Naked City, but not far off. Drummer Andy Skelly was in Wolves. Another reason to love this: so far as I can tell, Ampere have a woman as a musician and creative presence in the band — but not as a singer. Given that Ladyfest welcomes co-ed bands at all, I’m kinda delighted that Ladyfest is including bands of this ilk. (on Spotify)
Big Nils singer is Coco Gordon Moore. Right, that Coco Gordon Moore. She’s yelpy in a not un-Jemina Pearlish way; the band is a comparatively-straightforward-rhythm-section-supporting-seriously-anarchic-guitar affair. Mom and Dad should be proud. Check it out at Big Nils’ bandcamp.
Girlfriends include a dash of surf in their pop-punkish indie rock. I’m frequently a sucker for male/female harmony vocals, a device Girlfriends frequently employ. The new EP (streamable at Girlfriends bandcamp) sounds terrific.
Hilly Eye predates Amy Klein’s departure from Titus Andronicus; on record, at least, it’s a guitar/drum duo (with vocals from both Klein and collaborator Catherine Tung. Check it out at Hilly Eye’s bandcamp.
Honeysuck also evoke Be Your Own Pet. But Be Your Own Pet gone hardcore. You can stream their new release at Honeysuck’s bandcamp. Can’t find a source to buy the tracks so I can keep them forever and ever. Boo.
Slingshot Dakota are drum and guitar duo, not typical punk instrumentation, but even if they don’t necessarily sound punk qua punk, there’s a clear attitudinal kinship with more aggressive music. (It probably doesn’t hurt that Carly Comando’s voice is not dissimilar to Rainer Maria’s Caithlin De Marrais.) (Slingshot Dakota have one tune on the Are You with the Band? comp which I mentioned yesterday, you can check that out on Spotify. You can sample/buy their previous album Their Dreams Are Dead, But Ours is the Golden Ghost! at eMusic. And you can count me among the many eager to hear the upcoming Dark Hearts.)
Thick Shakes play garage-influenced music that is transmogrified into punk via the application of insane amounts of fuzz, overdrive, and other forms of distortion. This sort of thing often strikes me as too self-consciously retro, but this has an infectiously fun spirit. Also I definitely like the “umami” pun that named their debut record.( Thick Shakes are on bandcamp.)
Titfit are unabashedly riot grrl — you can tell they love their Bratmobile — with a pleasantly lwo-tech, slightly garage-y vibe. Titfit bandcamp.
Tags: Rock · live · punk
Hey, Ladyfest Boston!
Check out most of the artists with a free compilation at bandcamp.
Playing Friday (in alphabetical order)
Beautiful Weekend don’t make it easy to preview their music.
Foreign Objects play short, hard-hitting punk tunes that are often quite catchy despite weird chords and screechy vocals. Nothing against “Words of War” but if you check ‘em out on Spotify you can hear “Pill Popper” and “One Made Two.” I think I played this record five times in the first 2 days after I bought it. (You can check it out on Spotify.)
Procession fit pretty comfortably in the shoegaze/dream pop genre. The “Fade” ep sounds cheerfully lo-fi and is enlivened by some energetic drum work. Check it out at Procession’s bandcamp site.
Shepherdess features Hilken Mancini of Fuzzy and about a zillion other bands, also Emily Arkin formerly of The Operators. Their EP a few years back did a great tightrope walk between fierce and pretty. Very glad to hear they are not defunct and that new material is trickling out at Shepherdess’s bandcamp site. (You can also find Shepherdess’s self-titled EP at Spotify, although it’s jumbled up with a completely different artist of the same name.)
Shoppers specialize in super dense & noisy punk. If you dig Mutators, White Lung, or Nü Sensae this might be right up your alley. It is sure up mine. Their most recent album Silver Year is sold out, so the Feeble Minds label has a link to download it. Or you can stream all their releases at bandcamp. Caution: cover image may be NSFW
Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield’s solo acoustic project, but it ain’t no easy listening joint. I love her new record American Weekend, on which she continues to write songs that remind me in mood and quality of the late Elliott Smith. At times it’s so trebly and distorted that it’s a bit tough on the ears. But worth it. (You can check it out on Spotify.)
Playing Saturday afternoon (in alphabetical order)
Aye Nako first came to my notice by providing the lead track on Are You with the Band? the slamming compilation of mostly poppish female-led punk acts curated by Lauren Denitzio (formerly of The Measure (SA) and now of Worriers). Aye Nako’s five-song demo (available at AyeNako.org reveals some stylistic breadth: mostly it’s probably closer to indie rock than punk, but I’d almost call “Good Grief” hardcore. Definitely eager to hear more from these folks.
Cotton Candy is Mark (”needs no introduction”) Robinson and Evelyn Hurley (of Blast Off Country Style). Top Notch & First Rate is a crazy mix of indie rock, sound collages, and (usually faithful) recreations of DC-area radio ads from the 70’s. God knows what it’s like live. But I’m sure curious. (You can check it out on Spotify.)
Tunabunny are from the noisier side of the lo-fi block of indie-rock street. Last year’s Minima Moralia was a huge leap beyond their self-titled debut — still with plenty of attitude, but with much more solid hooks, and vastly improved production — still lo-fi, but maybe harnessing the chaos instead of being overridden by it. (You can check it out on Spotify.)
Whore Paint’s “Menarchy” EP from last year is dark, angry, and a little murky (maybe by design, maybe by budget. But I think on balance it works). “Amen” drops the tempo considerably; “Second Shift” reminds me obliquely of Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey, if PJ Harvey had been in a hardcore band. The band experiments quite a bit with putting space between the noise, which is promising. (on Spotify)
Tags: Rock · live · punk
- bellwire – “Waterbed” (EP)
Note: we’re not likely to make a practice of this. It’s against our charter. But the band bellwire reached out to us and invited us to listen to their music, and they made that easy and they weren’t rude about it. So we did. And it was pretty good. We decidedly liked the brushed drums on a couple of tunes. The singer’s voice had a fragile delivery and slightly reedy timbre in a way that was appealing, not annoying (a li’l bit like Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, maybe). (We were less enamored of unsteady pitch but make allowances for young bands and anyway prefer a wobbly note or two to autotune.) The rhyme and rhythm of “words that I won’t revise/about birds I don’t recognize” overcome our distaste for songs about songwriting. We appreciated the trumpet when it cropped up, and other arrangement details like the late-night sung over-the-telephone vibe of “Plum Black.” We think the EP has a nice balance between maintaining a certain melancholy mood, but not being in the least samey. We look forward to hearing how bellwire evolves. (We don’t know why we pretended to be plural for the duration of this review, it just seemed appropriate somehow.)
- Chairlift – Something
Nothing with quite the creepy/catchy double-punch of “Bruises,” but “Sidewalk Safari” comes close (and evokes Thomas Dolby in roughly the same way “Bruises” called The Cure to mind.) “Amanaemonesia”’s pretty darn hooky, too, and the whole thing goes down smoothly.
- Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
New: dark, angry explorations suffused with post-punk* spirit. Still there: rough’n'ready low-fi power-pop nuggets. Not a cohesive listen, but frickin’ cool. My guess: touring with Fucked Up had more to do with the shift than being recorded by the Albini. But both of those things influenced this record.
* still hate that label, even when it’s useful.
- The Darcys – Aja
Confession: I don’t much like Steely Dan. But this is the second all-Steely-Dan-covers project in two years that I’ve enjoyed. (The first was Hussalonia’s brilliant Steely Danielle Hussalonia). I certainly don’t love all of Steley Dan’s compositions, but I think what irks me about them is less their songwriting than a certain sonic and attitudinal fussiness. Hussalonia’s defiantly unfussy takes (and heaping helpings of dirty guitar) delighted me. The Darcys also take things in a radically different direction, not sloppy, but multi-layered. The Darcy’s draw on shoegaze and the experimental side of indie rock: lots of sustained notes hanging in the background and such. There are also grainy/gritty guitar sounds aplenty. I think “Deacon Blues” is my favorite Steely Dan song no matter who is playing it; “Peg” might sound least like it had ever been a Steely Dan song, if only I didn’t recognize it; “Home at Last” might be the most satisfying overall.
- Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur
Let’s break a rule! Let’s break the rule about acts with female lead singers only being compared to other female lead singers! Voyaguer reminds me of the (less-countrified Gary Louris-led years of) The Jayhawks: similar blend of polished rock with rootsy touches, similar sturdiness of hooks and role of the organ in the arrangements. That’s no slur; this is a bit slicker than most of what I go for, but “Chameleon/Comedian” is gorgeous.
- Elizaveta – Beatrix
Unusual mix of dense stacked harmonies, acoustic and/or piano-centric arrangements, pieces with a jazzy or even almost classical vibe, and some synth/dance/pop attributes. Much more organic (and less auto-tuned and beat-heavy) than diva pop, but probably has some crossover appeal. Mixed bag for me, but I definitely like “Dreamer” and “Snow in Venice.”
- Laura Gibson – La Grande
On La Grande Gibson manages to sound simultaneously old-timey — as in pre-rock’n'roll — and au courant. A neat trick. Sometimes this record is like listening to an old folk/blues tune on a radio that’s getting interference from some college indie rock program that just happens to mesh pleasingly, if weirdly.
- Imaginary Cities – “Imaginary Cities” (EP)
Imaginary Cities’ layered and textured indie rock reveals a slight blues tinge in its undercarriage; singer Marti Sarbit has a not-unpleasant edge to her upper-midrange that slightly evokes a Certain Jazz Singer and her many imitators. It’s an odd mix, but these three songs leave me curious to hear more.
- Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy
I never really paid a lot of attention to these guys, but I like this. Slightly hard to pigeonhole (upper-mid-tempo rock that sometimes veers toward shoegaze or powerpop, depending on the track); reminds me more than a little bit of The Posies (Jon more than Ken: smooth tenor vocals).
- Palomar – Sense & Antisense
This time around Palomar’s smooth female-fronted indie pop is on balance quieter and slower than on previous outings. That’s not particularly meant to be a value judgement, but it may have contributed to it making less of an immediate impression.
- Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
Strange Weekend stays in the ballpark that, rightly or wrongly, I think of as Animal Collective-influenced: lots of synths, some dance-worthy beats, a slightly psychedelic vibe. Within that territory it’s pretty eclectic, partly due to a singer who’s enough of a vocal chameleon that at first I thought there were multiple lead singers between tracks, but also thanks ot specific sonic touchpoints: the guitar line of “Drifting In and Out” fair screams “New Order,” the verse chords of “Shapless & Gone” are Michael Penn-ish, the vocal line of “Put Me to Sleep” is a bit Robyn Hitchcock-y at the outset. The first time I heard this I kept checking to see if it had ended and something else had started. I like it. “The Way In” is particularly pretty.
- Traveling – “End of the Summer” (EP)
Turns out that all that October-December time last year when I was impatiently waiting for the Good Luck album to arrive, I coulda been listening to this EP by this new band fronted by Good Luck’s Ginger Alford. And it mighta helped me cope with The Measure (SA)’s breakup, too, on account of pushing a lot of my same buttons. The Internets failed me for months. But look! I am not failing you. You can get it right now at traveling’s bandcamp. As a pay-what-you-want download, yet. And hey! On byoofull vinyl from the good folks at No Idea Records real soon!
- Kate Tucker – “Ghost of Something New”
Polished and tuneful with just a few hints of country. Never struck me before how much Tucker’s voice reminds me of Tanya Donelly’s.
- Anneke Van Giersbergen – Everything is Changing
Listened to the album with the two singles that failed to impress me last week because a friend recommended it highly. Not my cuppa, but I did like the concluding “1000 Miles Away From You,” an intriguingly textured power ballad.
- Adam WarRock – “Parks & Rec” (EP)
A trio of nerdcore tunes inspired by the characters of NBC’s Parks and Recreation. I don’t feel like I know near enough about nerdcore to judge its place in the canon or whatever, but it made me chuckle. Free at Adam WarRock.com
- Xray Eyeballs – Splendor Squalor
Slightly hard for me to believe this band is from New York because it so perfectly matches my mental template for the weirder, more-lo-fi side of Denton indie rock — I could so easily see them on a bill with the Deathray Davies, The Wax Museums, Black Lipstick, or the Hex Dispenser. OK, the Hex Dispensers are from Austin. But still, TX not NY. On the other hand there’s a slight, less Texan, Cure vibe to this, mostly in the bass lines, I think. I like it a lot, if I haven’t made that clear.
- The Darcys – The Darcys
Wanted a bit of context for their Steely Dan covers record. This is spacious and moody, indie rock. Not terribly uptempo, but baffled as to why listeners tag this “slowcore” (or “shoegaze”; “I Will Be Light” explodes into a swell effects-laden guitar freakout, but it’s a bit of an exception, mostly this more about the tension than the release). Singer dude frequently sounds more than a bit like Thom Yorke, which makes R——-d comparisons hard to shake, but I try. Perhaps more usefully, also reminds me of Calla.
- Xray Eyeballs – Not Nothing
New one made me want to hear the old one. Never a bad thing. New one is better. Never a bad trend.
Tags: 2012 · lists
Alcest – Les Voyages de L’Âme
I’m not usually fond of post-anything genre labels. How can anything be post-rock? There’s still plenty of rock. But Alcest really is post-metal, in the sense that it used to be identifiably a metal act, and now it isn’t. This is shoegaze/dreampop for guitar tone freaks. If you’ve listened Pale Saint’s epic “Henry” more than once, you probably want to check out Alcest (although, to be fair, Alcest is denser and Pale Saints more spacious). (In the more minor key moments Alcest’s overlapping arpeggios also remind me a bit of Fields of the Nephilim.) There’s a tiny, tiny bit of metal left in here: drum moments that approximate the eight-on-the-floor “blast beat” and two songs (“Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles” and ”Faiseurs de Mondes”) have a few screaming passages. They feel out of place to me, but they’re brief (and pretty low in the mix).
Cate le Bon – Cyrk
Unsettling folky stuff. Balances a (mild) sixties vibe with the sparse-but-exploratory spirit of early post punk. The last tune, “Ploughing Out, Part 2,” is a knockout.
Aficionado – Aficionado
Tremendous lyrics (“You don’t even like the things you like” might be my single favorite line of the year) and a restless, adventures spirit. I’d basically call this punk rock (or punkish indie rock), but it’s a very unorthodox variant of the beast, with some assertively, even defiantly, non-punk arrangement details. (Is it “punk” to be “defiantly non-punk”? The question is left as an exercise for the reader.) I don’t care, I think it’s flat-out awesome. I checked this out on Spotify and made it through less than 2 songs before deciding to buy a permanent copy. And then I bought their 2010 EP “When It Comes to Creation” before I made it through the album even once. Because I knew I wanted more, more, more. (If really you need a who-does-it-sound-like? try Mixtapes crossed with Human Sexual Response.)
Bastions – Hospital Corners
Somewhere between hardcore/grindcore/metalcore. I love the thick sludgy guitar tone, and I love that the band uses space and dynamics more than most working this territory.
Blanket – Rabbits We Chase Fish We Eat
Despite a band name and album art/title that collectively screams “twee!” not to mention song titles like “Hailey Fought the Law,” this is indie rock that wants to be taken seriously. Long songs with lots of dynamic shifts, fairly wrought vocal delivery. Hasn’t really commanded my attention so far, but may have earned another chance or two.
Dead to Me – Moscow Penny Ante
Multiple lead vocalists (and, I’m guessing, songwriters) is a definite asset for this melodic punk outfit. Makes for an engaging listen throughout.
Deep Sleep – Turn Me Off
Awesome retro hardcore. Only one song cracks the 2-minute mark. Aw yeah.
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
How did I sleep on this great record for so long? It’s for sure modern hardcore, but catchy modern hardcore that evokes the Mekons and the Clash.
Heartsounds – Drifter
On the cusp of punk and pop punk: not always hooky enough for the “pop”; not always raw enough not to need it. Was lukewarm on this through the first half or so, but the end I was queuing up their previous album too.
The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
I was skeptical about this Gaslight Anthem side project — my aversion, not to say allergy, to most most modern blues is well documented. But strong writing, performances, and production won me over. Even in the identifiably bluesy songs.
Hostage Calm – “War on a Feeling” (single)
Hostage Calm – “The ‘M’ Word” (compilation track)
“The ‘M’ Word” (from the Run for Cover label’s Mixed Signals comp, which I generally endorse) is for my money the year’s best early Beatles-inspired track. The cymbals sound a bit trashy (even when I bought a high quality download), but aside from that I think it’s almost flawless: gorgeous harmonies, a short, sharp solo break, and a killer chorus hook (and I think it’s a little more harmonic sophistication than the usual for pop-punk that reads as so very Beatlesque). The two songs on “War on Feeling” don’t hit me as hard, but definitely cut from the same cloth. I am a fan.
Howler – America GIve Up
Everytime I think I’ve hit my absolute saturation point for low-fi fuzzed-out garage, some new band gets through my defenses. Howler’s the latest. This band has dashes of surf and shoegaze in the mix, vocals that remind me a bit of Calvin Johnson, and, most importantly, hooks that don’t sound half baked.
Kayo Dot – Coyote
In the same general skronk/rock territory as sextet-era King Crimson or The Book of Knots (although the prominence of reeds makes it feel maybe a little jazzier). I would prefer slightly more understated vocals. I liked “Abyss Hinge 2: The Stinking Armature” best.
Amanda Mair – “Doubt” (single)
Amanda Mair – “House” (single)
Indie-pop (on Labrador, I guess that’s indie?) that’s almost too smooth for me. But undeniably pretty, with a few interesting arrangement details.
No Problem – And Now This
I’ve been going through the punknews.org editors’ picks for best of 2011, a commenter complaining that this record had been overlooked jumped out at me and I gave it a spin. Sure enough, this is ace stuff, in the same retro-hardcore vein as Nightbirds, Deep Sleep, Police & Thieves, and such. All endorsed, ayup.
Pete and the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures
Listened through most of the record trying to figure out the band the vocals occasionally really, really reminded me of: Kitchens of Distinctions? James? Finally decided it is probably The Chameleons U.K.. Pete’s tuneful indie rock isn’t quite as obsessively retro as that list suggests, and not quite as smooth, either. But still, if you liked that kinda stuff, you might like this. And vice versa.
Police & Thieves – Fracturing
Yet another killer retro hard-core EP. Singer dude in this one is sometimes a dead ringer for Mike Palm of Agent Orange, but this is DC through-and-through, geographically and musically. But with better production than the first flowering of harDCore. Geddit at Youngblood Records’ Bandcamp site.
Red City Radio – The Dangers of Standing Still
A fine punk rock record. Checked this out because it was on a lot of (punk-type-folks) years’-best lists . . . a wee bit too much a genre exercise for my short list, but the production is tight and the writing is sharp. I definitely like this quite a bit.
The Saddest Landscape / We Were Skeletons – Split (EP)
(Needs more time to sink in? Did not make as much of an impression as I expected.)
Title Fight – Shed
Young punks who sound like they mean it.
Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
It may have been unfortunate that I know Turner is on some bills with Dropkick Murphys because it made me more cognizant of the aspects of this record that could appeal to DM fans (especially on the songs that feature electric guitar) — there’s an anthemic vibe to much of this that I never associated with, say, Billy Bragg.
Annneke Van Giersbergen – “Circles” (single)
Annneke Van Giersbergen – “Feel Alive” (single)
“Circles,” is a piano/strings ballad; way too smooth for me. “Feel Alive” is slick mid-tempo rock. Not terrible, but five minutes later I can’t recall it. Van Giersbergen used to sing for goth/atmospheric metallers The Gathering; you’d never guess it.
Tags: 2012 · lists