Saturday, September 29, 2012

New California Jangle Discovery: Sweater Girls - Sweater Girls Were Here

Sweater Girls are a California band featuring super-sweet female harmony vocals, jangly guitars and a bit of a punk backbeat... and boy, is their music catchy. Their new album, Sweater Girls Were Here, is a celebration of Southern California very much in the way that Best Coast's and The Go-Go's music was, and there are similiarities between them, but differences too. Sweater Girls don't have quite as much reverb, and probably a little more jangle on the guitars, and most of all, there are times you could overdose on the harmony vocals - so light, high and sweet are they. Check out lead track, "Infatuation Street":

I think "Fast Forward" is my favorite song on the record, and for a good portion of the song, the girls are just singing "La la la, la la la" over buzzsaw guitars and that nifty backbeat.

Here's a video for "Fred" - same formula, same delightful result:

I think when a band has a sound that works for them, they are well-served by working to perfect it and sharing it with the world. Based on Sweater Girls Were Here, I think Sweater Girls have the same philosophy.

As I mentioned in my review of Detective's However Strange, I had read that a recent show in LA featured Sweater Girls, Seapony (which we also like a lot and which Scott reviewed here recently) and Detective. Here's a video from "Part Time Punks"... Starts out with Seapony, Sweater Girls at about 3:10 and Detective at 4:55. Lucky audience...

The album is out this week (9/25) on HHBTM Records.

Friday, September 28, 2012

REVIEW: The Bohannons - Unaka Rising

The Bohannons are a Chattanooga band that combines swamp boogie, hard blues, full-on glam rock, and punk -- and it's just as bracing and crazy as that sounds. If you've enjoyed some of the proud Southern rock varietals we've blogged about this year: The Alabama Shakes, The District Attorneys, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Patterson Hood - this is something you will want to check out.

On Unaka Rising, they're loud and way up front with shouted vocals, slashing electric guitars and a rhythm section that swings like crazy. The Bohannons consist of  Nick Sterchi, Marty Bohannon, Matt Bohannon and Josh Beaver.

Here's the lead track "Goodbye Bill", available for free download:

They're dipping into the Southern folk tradition, too... listen to Marty Bohannon describe the genesis of "Goodbye Bill": "It's an ode to martyred labor organizer Joe Hill approaching the 100th anniversary of his death. The words are from his last will, as well as from Ethel Raim and The Pennywhistlers' song 'Joe Hill'."

And here you can stream "River Above", a haunting hard rock track with guitars layered on top of guitars:

And here they are playing "Built A World", a plaintive song of lost love as only the Bohannons can play such a thing - with a little bit of a ragtime feel and of course a scorching electric guitar solo:

The whole record is good, but I think the last two tracks are the highlights: "Ponchatrain", a call-and-response, foreboding blues song about an oncoming storm and "In The End", which races along at a punk rock pace and finishes this album by letting me know this band is just starting to shake things up.

Unaka Rising is out now on This Is American Music - produced by David Barbe and Drew Vandenberg.

The Soul Corner - The Four Tops "Walk Away Renee"

Here one of my favorite all time singers, Levi Stubbs, with the Four Tops, covers one of my all time favorite songs, the baroque pop classic "Walk Away Renee":

The song was written by 16 yr old Michael Brown, a member of the Left Banke who originally recorded it.  Amazing composition and arrangement. But add Levi Stubbs' vocals - wow!

And the equally great original:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

REVIEW: Détective - However Strange

LA-based band Détective is Jim Greer (a former member of Guided by Voices), Rory Modica, and Guylaine Vivarat, a wonderful female vocalist. On their latest record, However Strange, they are playing an engaging brand of artistic, Velvet Underground-influenced postpunk that old-school fans of 90's indie rockers like GbV, Sonic Youth and The Breeders will certainly recognize - but one need not be a GbV fan to enjoy this music.

To give you a sense of their sound, here's a video from their immediately preceding EP, Basket of Masks, "Rhodesian Man":

And here's an audience video of "Holy Ghost Citizens Club" from However Strange:

Really, anyone with a taste for high-quality guitar rock ought to give this record some attention. Of course, if you already know the song "Trendspotter Acrobat", well, that doesn't hurt... Check out this link for Greer's description of how he wrote that song for Sunfish Holy Breakfast. There's an updated version on this record, and it's terrific.

Before that, though, there are eleven delightful slices of guitar rock. "Man Near the Surface of the Earth" starts out with Vivarat humming, jumps into a jangly guitar line, and then her vocals rise over the guitar to achieve a sort of transcendent effect. "Basket of Masks", which was also on the EP we wrote about earlier this year, has a nice strummed guitar line that builds tension and an understated Greer vocal, and in the middle is a noisy guitar solo. "Amber" continues the interplay between Vivarat's high, sweet voice and the ragged, jangly postpunk guitar. "Telephonia" is sung as a duet, and as on the rest of the record, features strong guitar lines throughout. Further on, "Cuba" is an instrumental, a very cool guitar soundscape.

You can listen at Bandcamp:

And you can buy the cassette from Burger Records, click here.

I see on a recent date, they played a triple bill with Seapony (read Scott's review here) and Sweater Girls (keep an eye out for a review on their delightful new record soon). If you're familiar with those bands, and the kind of music Burger has been putting out, you've got an idea what to expect from Détective. Good stuff. Vivarat's voice is engaging, the guitars are great, and the songs are consistently good. The record holds up very well.

REVIEW: Cancel the Astronauts - Animal Love Match

Sometimes what initially draws me to a band can be as simple as an evident sense of humor.  Such is the case with Edinburgh's Cancel the Astronauts.  I first tracked them down a few years ago after noting the song title "I am The President of Your Fan Club and Last Night I Followed You Home".  After all, whose interest wouldn't be attracted by a tale of stalking by a fan?  A world famous music blogger certainly sympathizes, I assure you.  But while I may have come because of the humor, I stayed with them for the music.  Cancel the Astronauts specializes in energetic indie rock anthems, and after honing their craft on two Eps, they have released a delightful 12-track debut LP, Animal Love Match.

Packed with hooks, furious pace, driving beat and swooping vocals, without losing the wry, and frankly sinister, take on melancholy, lust, desire and the travails of young life -- this is an album that will boost your mood on any fall day.  The title track begins the album with sombre keys, but less than a minute and a half in, the sound builds and the boys take off.  The second track is the fine former single, "Seven Vices --

"Intervention", the third track, is s sparkling new wave tune showcasing the bands fine melodic sense --

I find it somewhat difficult to tag this album with a genre (that sound you hear may be a collective sigh of relief from the band), but I do know this: Animal Love Match is indie guitar rock that you can dance to, drive to, and (when used safely and according to directions) enhance your mood.  The more stately numbers are fine (check out "Love Backwards" at the Soundcloud link below), but what these lads do best is to play hard and fast.  And fortunately, the fast songs dominate the track list for the album.

Here is one of my favorites, "Making Dynamite".  It is somewhat less of a pop tune than "Seven Vices" and "Intervention", and it and the following track, "Lekking", showcase the band's ability to craft a fine song at less than a punk pace --

I would feel remiss if I didn't share one of the slower tracks with you, and the penultimate track, "Catch You If I Can" is my choice.  It is a really lovely song with a piano and a bit of acoustic guitar --

Cancel the Astronauts are Matt Riley, Kieran McCaffrey, Michael Craig, Neil Davidson,  and Chris Kay.  They have been together for about four years.  Animal Love Match can be streamed in its entirety at the Bandcamp and Soundcloud links below, and purchased via Bandcamp.

Twitter ( @canceltheastros )

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

REVIEW: Dot Dash - Winter Garden Light

It is quite common to complain that Washington, D.C. is a constant purveyor of misery to the rest of the country (and much of the rest of the planet), particularly during an election year.  Well, I'm here to tell you that this fall DC has given music fans one of the best power pop albums of the year.  Winter Garden Light, the second LP from Dot Dash, delivers punk pace, a bonus quantity of pop hooks, assured vocals and anthemic choruses.  Listen to the second track while continuing to read:

The band's 2011 release, Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, was indeed a promising debut.  However, not only does Winter Garden Light avoid a sophomore slump, it is, in my view, a markedly better album.  The guitars and vocals are better, the songwriting is tighter, and the production sanded off the rough edges without straying into glossiness.

You'll hear elements of punk and britpop, but this album isn't an imitation of anyone; the influences are just ideas, then the talent takes over.  It is a ten-track locomotive that gathers steam for a bit more that a half hour and leaves you wanting to press the replay button.

Dot Dash is Terry Banks (vocals and guitar), Bill Crandall (guitar), Hunter Bennett (bass), and Danny Ingram (drums).  They are alums of various bands, including Julie Ocean, Modest Proposal and Swervedriver.  The CD can be ordered from the label, The Beautiful Music (link below) if your local store doesn't have it.  If you like buying on line, you should note that the album is available at the Bandcamp link below for $7.  This, indeed, is one of the bargains of this election season.

So, do you watch presidential debates or listen to Winter Garden Light loud?  The choice seems clear; the links are below.

The Beautiful Music

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

REVIEW: Murder By Death - Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon

Murder By Death's new record Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is out today (Sept 25) via Bloodshot Records. We wrote about them earlier this summer, noting lead singer Adam Turla's rich baritone and the rocking pace they set on the advance cut "I Came Around". That is one of the more uptempo cuts on the record, but the whole thing is carried by Turla's voice and an overall feel of foreboding.

You can download the song "Lost River" here:

"Lost River" features some dark lyrics and, as on most of the record, the sweet sound of Sarah Balliet's cello serves as a counterpoint to Turla's vocals... but there is usually some uptempo rock not far behind. In addition to Turla and Balliett, Murder By Death consists of Matt Armstrong (bass), Dagan Thogerson (drums) and Scott Brackett (piano, trumpet, accordion, mandolin, vocals, percussion). Armstrong and Thogerson supply a strong base for the guitars, horns and strings that do so much to supply a striking mood for this record.

Turla says yes, the band was named after the movie... which was a comedy. But reading the interview that accompanies the stream below, you'll see that his three favorite current authors, cited as influences on his writing, are Steinbeck, Hemingway and Garcia Marquez... perhaps supplying some explanation of the darker mood and haunting and surreal lyrics.

This is their sixth album but their first with Bloodshot. I see it as a terrific fit. Bloodshot is the label of literate, sometimes dark country-influenced rockers like The Waco Brothers, Chris Mills and the early Old 97's - so there is precedent for a band of Murder By Death's style.

You can currently stream the whole album via MTV Hive:

The Bloomington, IN-based band will head out on tour with Say Anything in October. Tour dates here.

REVIEW: Sacre Noir - Sinking Into Darkness

Edinburgh's Sacre Noir are purveyors of dark electronica and rhythm and blues, with beefy bass and other lower register notes and the haunting vocals of Carrie Beattie.  This summer they released their second album, Sinking Into Darkness, on Savage Recordings, and they have been touring Europe to support the release.  The songs are an accomplished blend of lo-fi industrial and slightly sleazy blues, making it a great album for the night time.  Although no one will mistake these tunes as campfire songs, you may want to sing along.  But whether you are singing, shivering in unease or dancing, you likely will find it compelling.

"She Can't Take It" --

Sacre Noir is Carrie Beattie, Alexis Beattie, and Phil Lock, although other artist collaborate from time to time.  The band is quite experimental in the studio, and uses loops, samples, field recordings and found percussion to flesh out their sound.

Sinking into Darkness was recorded at Savage Studios in Edinburgh.

Savage Recordings

Monday, September 24, 2012

REVIEW: Woods - Bend Beyond

Bend Beyond, by Brooklyn resident Jeremy Earl's Woods, is a strikingly rich and satisfying dose of folk rock and guitar pop.  The songs vary from more traditional pop to more jammy numbers, but it all hangs together with Earl's falsetto, excellent songwriting and tight performances form the band.  The album has noteworthy energy and exudes a confidence born of a band that knows that they have worthy material.

Here is the sunny pop of "Cali in a Cup" --

For those familiar with previous Woods releases, this one is a more straight forward affair, with cleaner and more careful production.  For those not familiar with the group, Bend Beyond is an excellent point of entry to their catalogue.

"Is It Honest" is one of my favorite songs on this album.  For me, it perfectly reflects the essential duality of the music -- a loose delivery that manages to deliver an genuine atmosphere of tension.

Woods - Is It Honest from Windows Have Eyes on Vimeo.

Bend Beyond is out not on Earl's label, Woodsist Records.  Other musicians on the album include Jarvis Taveniere, Kevin Morby, G. Lucas Crane and Aaron Neveu.

Be warned, this album gets under your skin.

Twitter ( @WOODSIST )

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New Detroit Hard Rock Discovery: Wendy James with James Williamson and Jim Sclavunos - "You're So Great/It's Alright Ma"

Wendy James, former lead singer of Transvision Vamp is now working with The Stooges' James Williamson (guitar & bass) and The Bad Seeds' Jim Sclavunos (drums & percussion) on an album and in advance of that, has plans to release a double single consisting of covers of The Rendezvous Band's "You're So Great" and Dylan's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)". I'll do a little more research on her solo career, which I will admit I was not aware of, but for now, holy cow! Check out these songs:

"You're So Great"

Here's the stream of "It's Alright Ma", a really provocative take:

Apparently it was Williamson's idea for Wendy to pick her favorite Dylan song, and she's done it right. A good Dylan cover is a great thing.