Saturday, September 21, 2013

REVIEW: Sebadoh - Defend Yourself

Sebadoh, a favorite from the "first wave" (or was it "first and a half"?) of DIY indie rock, is back. Of course, some of those guys never quit (joyfully, Robert Pollard), some have re-emerged (equally joyfully, Dinosaur Jr.). But nonetheless, I want to welcome back Lou Barlow, Jason Loewenstein, and Bob D'Amico as they drop a whole new album, Defend Yourself. Although, according to Barlow, we need not have worried...“We were always going to make another record. There was never any point where we looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it. We’re done.’ We never actually quit at all-- we’ve been making music this whole time.”

Given that a lot of their subject matter (the trials and travails of becoming an adult, adult relationships, etc.) and their approach were pretty heavy, a break wasn't the worst idea. And their various solo albums and collaborative projects all features some great moments: Barlow, Loewenstein, and D’Amico worked with disparate projects in the meantime: Dinosaur Jr., Fiery Furnaces, Folk Implosion, among others. But their hasn't been a proper Sebadoh project since 1999. Quite simply, it's a return to form - the album fits quite well into their catalog - if you remember Bakesale and Harmacy fondly, chances are you'll be glad to pick this one up. Also, according to Barlow, this album features a return to the DIY way of recording - enhanced by the availability of good recording technology one would have had to have major label money to access when Sebadoh last recorded. Barlow, again: “We did ‘Defend Yourself’ the only way it could have been done: on the cheap and all by ourselves."

Here's "I Will" - a perfect combination of a wistful Barlow vocal, low-key intro and then an explosion of drums, bass and particularly guitar:

That one's got some really nice piano in the background, but the focus is the juxtaposition between the vocal and the ragged guitar lines - the well-known tension/release that all good indie rock is built on. The guitars are melodic and wonderful.

I always found a lot of Sebadoh's music (and that of side project Folk Implosion) to be particularly wistful - a combination of Barlow's vocal and something about the guitar tones. This album is certainly along those lines, and nowhere is this better represented than on "Let It Out", an acoustic/vocal-dominated track where Barlow strips off the still-healing scabs of wounds attributable to the recent dissolution of his 25-year marriage:

The subject matter is heartbreaking, but the music offers to do what good rock music always has done - deliver a bit of diversion, catharsis if possible, and some joy. Here's "State of Mine" - a particularly joyous return to form, off to the races from the beginning:

The album's out now (released Sept. 17) on Joyful Noise Recordings. Sebadoh's back! That's something to celebrate.

Sebadoh website
Joyful Noise Recordings

Headspins - VIVIDISIM

Headspins play a brand of rock that it a bit post-punk, a bit math rock and a healthy dose of dance rock.  So it is spiky, jittery and taut, but boasts an infectious groove.  If you are a fan of the work of Seattle band Minus the Bear or UK band Foals, you certainly will want to spend some time with Headspins.  The members of the Auckland, New Zealand foursome are given as Bonsai (Ben), Tobz (Toby), Kiely (Liam) and Witchy.  Their second release, the five-track VIVIDISM EP, hit the streets earlier this month.  The songs are good, and the band has left enough rough edges on the performances to remain distinctive.

We have provided the first and last tracks of the EP for your evaluation.  You can stream the entire record at the Bandcamp link below, and as it is available for "name your price" I think you have a pretty good incentive to do so.


NEW SONG: Belgian Fog - "You Drive Me to Madness"

Belgian Fog is the electro-rock project of Seattle's Robert Dale. We've already posted one of his tracks (WYMA post here), and now he's got a new song out, "You Drive Me to Madness" - still featuring that falsetto vocal, big drums, layered vocals and a dizzying variety of keyboard sounds:

That closing chorus (last minute of the song) is lush and very full-sounding - recommended for fans of stuff like The xx and Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr. He worked with John Goodmanson, whose work with Los Campesinos! was recently featured here. Good stuff.

Friday, September 20, 2013

REVIEW: John Paul Keith - Memphis Circa 3AM

John Paul Keith is a Memphis-based singer-songwriter with a great musical grounding and the kind of pop sense you don't see often. His new album Memphis Circa 3AM features guitar jangle, rockabilly boogie and soul, all over a country rock/Americana base. Keith is a Knoxville native, former member of the V-Roys, a stalwart of the E-Squared alt/country scene in the 90's who released three strong albums before breaking up. Having formed a band in Nashville, tried the major label route and several other options, he eventually settled in Memphis and connected with veteran Memphis producer Roland Janes. Keith and his band The One Four Fives (drummer John Argroves, organist/pianist Al Gamble, and bassist Mark Edgar Stuart) are making a racket that calls to mind some of the best of that city's rock traditions. Opening track features a rhythm line that put me in mind of Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation", and the next track "We Got All Night" is the kind of California country once put forth by the legendary Wrecking Crew (including some reverb-heavy guitar work by Keith). Producer Janes once played guitar for Jerry Lee Lewis, and on "True Hard Money" here, Keith certainly calls to mind the Killer's reckless boogie-woogie, rockabilly style (including a pretty decent take on his vocal style).

Here's an impeccable, perfectly-paced pop song, "Everything's Different Now":

Traces of British Invasion guitar pop, terrific organ fills - this is, to me, kind of at the intersection of country, rock and pure pop where artists like Tom Petty, Dwight Yoakam and The Mavericks have made their living. And here's a softer, sadder but every bit as catchy tune, "She's Almost You":

Keith has an impressive ability to change his vocal style to suit the song, and an impressive ability to write in several different styles - aside from the aforementioned variety, check out the full-on country song "Ninety Proof Kiss", the folky "Walking Along the Lane", the Tennessee Three rhythm in "There's A Heartache Going 'Round" and the deep soul of "New Year's Eve" (featuring big-time keyboards from Gamble and even a couple of different guitar sounds from Keith). From Knoxville to Nashville to Memphis, it's clear his decade-long journey across the state and around the world has led him to the right place. This is a terrific, big-sounding, rollicking album that just keeps on delivering. Out now (Sept. 17) on Big Legal Mess,

John Paul Keith website
Big Legal Mess Records

REVIEW: Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott - Memories and Moments

Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott are Americana royalty. Among other achievements, I have always treasured O'Brien's 1996 album of Dylan covers Red on Blonde. Their talent is also highly sought after in mainstream Nashville country, where the competition to have songs recorded is fierce. You would be hard-pressed to find another duo whose songs have been recorded by chart-toppers like The Dixie Chicks, Dierks Bentley, Nickel Creek, Kathy Mattea, Faith Hill, Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless, Trace Adkins and Tim McGraw. This partially explains why, after their 2000 record Real Time met with such universal acclaim, it still took 13 years for them to find the time to record a followup. But man, was it worth the wait. I have rarely heard a duo with such perfect vocal harmonies and such perfectly coordinated instrumental runs. On some of the longer songs, they really stretch out and play - check out "Fiddler Jones":

Scott's from Kentucky and O'Brien from West Virginia, but even without knowing that, anyone listening can tell they come by their mountain music credentials honestly. Add to that their willingness and qualifications to address mountaintop removal and the legacy of mining in that part of the world: note their dead-on take on John Prine's "Paradise" (including a version with Prine himself), which plays off their original song "Keep Your Dirty Lights On" - odes to a back-breaking legacy and mountains removed, never to return, so a growing nation could have power and "Mr. Peabody" could keep his coal train filled.

There are common country and mountain music themes - religion ("On Life's Other Side"), family ("Memories and Moments"), love both found ("Angel's Blue Eyes") and lost (an absolutely devastating, mournful take on Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken").

And the album features unadorned traditional country and mountain music instrumentation - just perfect interplay among resonators, acoustic guitars, fiddles and mandolins. The album is on a newly formed label, Full Skies (a combination of Scott's Full Light and O'Brien's Howdy Skies) and distributed via Thirty Tigers. It's wonderful in every way - great singing, great playing, and you can feel their love for the music. You can buy it at their combined website (link below) - either digital or physical CD.

Tim and Darrell website
Howdy Skies (Tim O'Brien) website
Full Light (Darrell Scott) website
Thirty Tigers

Friday Nuggets - "Help You Ann" Lyres

Jeff Conolly from Boston isn't a household name but he should be. He revered the 60's garage rock sound and punk rock, combined the two and made some thrilling second generation garage. His farfisa organ had a crazed sound that was irresistible, the very essence of rock'n'roll energy and abandon.

The Lyres (photo above) were one of the best live acts I've ever seen. And "Help You Ann" is one of my all time favorite rock'n'roll songs. It sounds as fresh today as it did upon its release in 1984:

I particularly love the drums on the track, Paul Murphy doing a turbo-charged take on the classic Stax records gunfire drum sound.

Conolly, Murphy and most of the Lyres had a prior band called DMZ which kept the garage rock flame burning with some great stuff that laid to waste all the excess of '70's rock, including this one from 1977, "Barracuda" (no, not the Heart song, I would never do that to you our loyal readers):

Jeff Conolly and the Lyres are still around. In fact they played in London last Friday.

Lyres Facebook page

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shelby Earl - Swift Arrows

I am neither a female nor a vocalist.  However, I suspect that if I were a female vocalist I would have great trepidation about preceding or following Seattle singer-songwriter Shelby Earl on stage.  Don't misunderstand me -- I'm certain that Shelby is a kind, generous soul.  It's just that her voice is an exceptional, almost flamboyant musical instrument that makes comparisons to others harsh.  Her voice soars, quavers, whispers, pleads, and admonishes, and the listener can always be sure that each pause, change of pace or volume, and flash of emotion is exactly what the song demands at that particular moment.  It seems to me that Shelby Earl doesn't sing songs so much as paint stories.

The latest vehicle for her vocal abilities and the songs she writes is her sophomore LP, Swift Arrows.  For the album she enlisted the production assistance of fellow Seattle musician Damien Jurado, who helps Earl get the most of her signature brew of Americana and pop.  The songs seem grounded in a '60s retro ethic, when east coast Brill Building songcraft and girl groups were transitioning to more independent singer songwriter efforts.  And Jurado captures the best of both worlds, with enough Phil Spector background to give Earl's voice the platform it deserves, but enough space and restraint to let the best instrument of all pull our heartstrings out of shape.

A terrific example of the quality of this record is the title track, which is one of the better written songs I have had the privilege of hearing this year.  Here is a live version.

Earl's supporting cast for the album includes many Seattle notables, such as Ragan Crowe, Eric Howk, Rachel Flotard, Faustine Hudson, Jacob James, Damien Jurado, Anna-Lisa Notter, Mike Notter, Benjamin Obee, Dylan Rieck, Barry Uhl, and Valerie Uhl. 

You can order the album at the Bandcamp link below.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Introducing: Tallinn Daggers, and free songs

For proof that the Scandinavians haven't cornered the market for euphoric pop in theBaltic region look no further than Estonia's Tallinn Daggers.  The band is comprised of Ardo Kivi (vocals/guitar), Paul Sild (guitar), Rein Fuks (bass/backing vocals), Joosep Volk (electronic drums) and Birgit Pauklin (synths/percussion/sampler).  Formed in 2009, the band uses guitars, keyboards, sampled strings, electronic percussion and pedals to construct their soaring melodies.  Their latest effort is the single "Highwire Artists", consisting of the title track and an Imandra Lake remix of and older song, "Not A Sin".  Check out and download the tunes below, it is good stuff.


REVIEW: The Band In Heaven - Caught in a Summer Swell

When we last covered Florida's The Band in Heaven the focus was on their Sleazy Dreams 7" for Hozac records. The group is back again with their debut LP, Caught in a Summer Swell, and it takes a surprising turn.  While Sleazy Dreams worked the sludgey, droning side of shoegaze, the album is a more direct, melodic, jangling and accessible version of dreampop.  While still dense and, at times, very noisy, the hooks no longer hide behind layers of reverb and feedback.  The rhythm section is tighter and higher in the mix, and the male/female vocals are a more pronounced element and infuse a welcome sweetness to the affair.

Whether all of this is a good thing depends, of course on the execution.  Well, good people of the interwebs, I'm writing because one of my fears is that this gem from a little known Florida band and released on their own label will get lost in a product sponsored, teenage twerking and cock rock world.  That would be a major loss as, in my humble opinion (and my millions of fans know how humble I can pretend to be), Caught in a Summer Swell is a truly fine pop record, and one of the very pleasant surprises of the year.  Ten meaty, hook-filled dreampop tracks that any band working in this genre should be proud to call their own.  Thematically, the band addresses the transition from youth to adulthood and coming to grips with what it all means and how to navigate it.  Personally, my life in in a different state, but I think The Band in Heaven addresses the topic intelligently and wraps it in glorious sounds.

I've picked three tracks for your evaluation.  If they are to your liking, hit the Bandcamp link below and stream the entire album.  And you should note that the entire album is available for digital download for $5.


The Valkarys - Psychodelica

The Valkarys play moody, psychedelic pop.  Formed in Edinburgh by Scott William Dunlop, the band moved to London in 2010.  The current line up is Dunlop (guitar/vocals), Craig Birrell (guitar), Jeef Gherll (Bass) and Frank Van Der Ploeg (drums).  They are offering their new four track EP Psychodelica for "name your price" via Bandcamp.  Good stuff at a good price.  I particularly like the track "Monsters".


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

REVIEW: Cloud Control - Dream Cave

Dream Cave is the second album from Australian natives Cloud Control, and their first record since relocating to England.  To my ears the sound is that particular style that works the space along the intersection of dream pop and indie rock.  Their songs feel too much like anthems to be classified as the former, but have the fuzz, atmosphere and sonic breadth (and lack of real or pretend swagger) that makes rock a less than perfect good fit.  There is plenty of reverb and psychedelic touches as well.  But all that classification stuff aside, what the band delivers here are some very intriguing, tightly constructed and intelligently written songs.  And at its best, Dream Cave delivers music that you might well consider for your 2013 playlists.  The first song released was the excellent "Dojo Rising", which is the subject of the surreal video below --

A careful listen to Dream Cave may suggest comparisons with Yeasayer or Animal Collective.  But it seems to me that both musically and vocally Cloud Control works a tighter, more disciplined ethic, resulting in better defined hooks and more accessible music.  One of the more satisfying little pop songs this year is album track "Moonrabbit".  Due to some artist-unfriendly restrictions by WMG (why can't people who like music get in the music business?), I can't embed it, but you probably can figure out how to find it.  However, I can share one of my favorites, "Scar" --

Cloud Control is Alister Wright (guitars/vocals), Heidi Lenffer (keyboard/tambourine/vocals), Jeremy Kelshaw (bass/vocals), and Ulrich Lenffer (drums/vocals).


REVIEW: Sky Larkin - Motto

Motto is the new album from British guitar rock band Sky Larkin, and it arrives with passion and fury that makes it very memorable. From the opening, ragged guitar strains and slow-building-to-breakneck rhythm section of the title track, this album is off to the races -- easily evoking indie rock favorites like Foo Fighters, Pixies, Sebadoh, Breeders and, of more recent vintage, The Joy Formidable. They have a big sound - heavy, hard drums, tough guitars and a strong, clear female lead vocal courtesy of Katie Harkin. That's the other co-founder, Nestor Matthews, on drums. Here's the title track, "Motto":

Harkin and Matthews met in school, and formed the band in 2005. After a couple of albums and successful tours with other well-regarded indie bands, the band took a hiatus during which Harkin toured with Wild Beasts, while Matthews recorded with Menace Beach and Giant Fang. The band, now re-assembled with additional members Nile Marr (AKA Man Made) and Sam Pryor (of These Monsters), spent this past winter writing the new record in Yorkshire before heading into the studio with John Goodmanson, known for his work with Sleater-Kinney, Los Campesinos! and Girls.

Here's "Loom", a beautiful rock track about someone she misses - at 2:15, the shortest and most immediate track on the record :

An endearing characteristic of Sky Larkin is the way they accomplish the difficult feat of making music that's able to grab your ears immediately and make you want to come back over and over. And that's the goal, according to Harkin: "I've always wanted our records to be immediate at their most accessible, and at their most expansive, inhabitable. I really wanted to make something beautiful that wasn't also permissive." Between the immediacy of tracks like "Loom" and "The Loyal Beat" and the extended guitar workouts of "Frozen Summer" and "Italics", they've done it here. Learn more, listen and buy at the links below.

Sky Larkin website
Wichita Recordings

REVIEW: Left Lane Cruiser - Rock Them Back To Hell

Left Lane Cruiser is a duo playing heavy, dirty blues-rock. If that makes you think Black Keys, White Stripes, so much the better. They're definitely in that vein - substitute Ft. Wayne, IN for Akron, OH or Detroit, MI. On Rock Them Back To Hell, their latest album, they worked with the great Jim Diamond (Ghetto Recorders, Detroit MI: White Stripes, Dirtbombs, The Pack A.D., Ponys, etc etc etc).

What's the sound here? Well, look at the album cover - dirty, hillbilly zombies! Now look at this picture:

They're drinking 40s from paper bags! There's a clear message being sent here, and you will be awarded points for picking it up. The souls of old hard-drinking Southern bluesmen reside in these two young Indiana musicians, and these souls want to get out. Bad. They are going to make a hell of a racket on their way out, too.

Here's "Juice to Get Loose":

There's good slow blues here, too - "Coley" is one where they dial it back a bit, and it's got some pretty acoustic work. But the guitar playing on tracks like "Jukebox" and "Paralyze Ya" is incendiary, and there's no way you won't test the max volume of your speakers while listening to this album. It's not a headphone album, it's a "loud in the car" or "disturb the neighbors" kind of album. Thanks, as with so much good blues-rock, to the fine people at Alive/Naturalsound. Read more, check out tour dates and previous releases, and best of all, buy this thing at the links below.

Left Lane Cruiser Facebook
Alive/Naturalsound Records

Seabirds - Real Tears 7"

Like the Robin Hood of legend, Nottingham quintet Seabirds are here to steal your heart, and perhaps a bit of your money.  Perhaps I was too harsh -- it isn't stealing if you get something of value in return.  In this case, Seabirds provide two top class indie pop songs, "Real Tears" and "Oh Buoy".  There is an engaging familiarity about these songs, with the energetically playeded guitars -- fuzz alternating with picking -- sincere lead vocals and excellent harmonies.  The layered guitars have enough heft to dodge the twee tag despite the sweet hooks, and there is a complimentary similarity to Belle & Sebastian and, especially in the second song, Teenage Fanclub.  This is an extremely well-crafted debut release, and emphasizes the joy of collecting quality music in small batches.

The Real Tears 7" is available on blue vinyl or digital download from Matinee Recordings.

Matinee Recordings page for 7"

Monday, September 16, 2013

REVIEW: Las Kellies - Total Exposure

For Total Exposure, their fourth album, Argentinian trio  Las Kellies have chosen to not be defined by any specific genre.  The key production question wasn't "what fits", but "what sounds really good".  So the 15 tracks reflect new wave, post punk, chillwave, funk, dance rock and reggae influences.  What is consistent, however, is the quality of the performances and a glossy, dub-heavy production that maintains a coherent pop presentation and omnipresent groove.  And whether the ladies are channeling the garage pop of the Slits or the danceable trip hop of Massive Attack, you may well find it to be one of the catchiest collection of songs you have heard in a long time.  The Best synopsis I can offer is that the album is a wonderful package of raw intensity and infectious rhythms.  Get this album and put it on for your next party; you will be an instant taste maker.

Check out the sublime "Melting Ice" --

Here is an engaging reggae mash up with guest Dennis Bovell (who has worked with the Slits, Madness and Fela Kuti, and who mixed The Kellies third album) --

Enjoy a video of two of the album tracks, "Go V!" and "Typical Bitch", performed live in Paris last month --

The members of the band are listed as Ceci Kelley (guitar/vocals), Betty Kelly (bass/vocals), and Sil Kelley (drums/vocals).  They met at a gig in Buenos Aires in 2005 and decided to form a band.  Total Exposure is out now on Fire Records.

Fire Records

New songs from Banana and Louie

Well, they aren't finished songs. But these demos give indie pop fans a taste of what to expect when UK band Banana and Louie completes their next album, Shipwrecked.  Their 2012 album (review here) made my top 50 list for the year, so I was already prepared to expect quality.  But "The Wall" and "Sally Scrabble" have heightened my interest.


New Country-Rock Discovery: Have Gun, Will Travel - Fiction, Fact or Folktale?

Have Gun, Will Travel is the vehicle of singer/songwriter Matt Burke. It's a familiar country-rock sound, featuring acoustic and electric instruments and a raspy lead vocal. They hail from Bradenton, FL and are on This Is American Music - a label that has sent us a terrific variety of country rock sounds. These guys are among the most straight-up country sounding ones we've heard in a while. Here's the lead track "Standing at the End of the World" - a singalong country anthem if there ever was one:

In fact, most songs on this album feature repetitive, fairly basic lyrics with familiar phrases - and to me, the method behind this is to make it all more singable. Some titles: "Another Fine Mess", "Finer Things", "High Road", "The Show Must Go On"... Here's "Another Fine Mess":

As I said, they're creating an atmosphere, with Burke's engaging voice and folky instrumentation, to make you want to join in. And I bet you will. You can buy, listen to more or find tour information at the links below.

Have Gun, Will Travel website
This Is American Music

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Brighter" from San Mei

Performing as San Mei, Emily Hamilton of Australia's Gold Coast makes lush, lo-fi pop featuring gorgeous vocals and slightly melancholy arrangements.  Her latest offering in "Brighter", which is out via London's Tidal Wave Sounds on September 16.  A fine track, "Brighter" has a nice summery feel to it.

Tidal Wave Sounds on Facebook

"Actor" and "Health" from Still Parade

When a band chooses to carefully guard details such as who, what, and where, it takes the pressure off of me because there is little work for me to do other than provide their music for your consideration.  Accordingly, here are the two tracks from the double A-side "Actors"/"Health" from Still Parade.  I believe they reside in the UK, and allegedly are preparing an album.  They describe their music as 'dreamfolk', which seems an apt enough description for dreaming electro-pop.  I find the tracks well constructed and a joy to listen to.  Both tracks from the single are available on iTunes.