Saturday, January 18, 2014

REVIEW: Clearance - Greensleeve 7"

One of my favorite discoveries of 2013 was Chicago's Clearance.  The band obviously shares my appreciation for New Zealand guitar pop and lo-fi college rock; unlike me, they are talented enough to do something about it.  That something is, most recently, the five- track Greensleeve 7".  Released via their own Microluxe Records, Greensleeve is available digitally now, and the vinyl probably will be shipped next week.

With a running time of approximately 13 minutes, Greensleeve may not put many demands on your day, but I'll suggest that you won't want to play it just once.  The record begins with "Close Encounters", a jangling Pavement-like mid-tempo song, and follows it with "She's A Peach", which unleashes the guitar hounds to a greater extent.  The third track, "Drive-Out", will likely earn the most press of the set.  A fine, guitar-driven song, it reminds me of the glory days of The Clean.

Greensleeve closes with "Modern Luxe" and "Face the Frontier".  Both tracks have a relaxed vibe, with just the right amount of guitar noodling.

The riffs are snarling and crunching, the melodies are solid and the lyrics are fun.   Greensleeve is a good choice for a short release to chase away the winter blues.

Clearance is Mike Bellis and Arthur Velez.  I also highly recommend the band's earlier Dixie Motel Two-Step release, which we covered in 2013 (here).


Friday, January 17, 2014

Rolling Stones Friday: 19th Nervous Breakdown

1965 was a crazy year for the Rolling Stones, following the explosion of their career with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", and the major TV appearances and relentless touring that followed.  While on the road, under pressure to produce follow up singles, they wrote "19th Nervous Breakdown", which Andrew Loog Oldham produced at RCA Studios in Los Angeles.  Here's the recorded version, released in February 1966: 

This single perfectly captures the Richards-Jones guitar dynamics, Jones playing off a classic Bo Diddley riff. And Jagger's sneering lyrics builds on their bad boy image, a far cry from their rivals The Beatles recent singles "Yesterday" and "Michelle".

Here's a live version from 1966, marred a bit by the girls' screaming, but great to see the band playing:


Thursday, January 16, 2014

REVIEW: Lone Justice - This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983

In the early 1980's, punk, rock, folk and country musicians rubbed shoulders in LA nightclubs - Los Lobos, X, Dwight Yoakam and The Blasters were playing at clubs like the Whiskey and the Palomino, and a lot of young musicians had the idea that one could love both George Jones and The Clash, both Buck Owens and The Velvet Underground. Out of this environment came Lone Justice (Maria McKee, Ryan Hedgecock, Marvin Etzioni, and Don Heffington), full participants in the alt-country movement. In the early 1980's, McKee and Hedgecock got together over a shared love of music, met up with Etzioni who was a veteran of several LA rock bands and Heffington who was a member of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and started playing together. In 1983, Etzioni met David Vaught, and the group went to Suite 16 Studios and laid down much of the set list they had been playing live. From that session comes This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983.

Recorded direct to two-track tape with no overdubs, those 12 tracks are finally available to the public. Nine of the tracks are previously unissued, and include originals as well as the covers they made their own in concert - namely a knockout version of Johnny and June's "Jackson" where McKee's and Hedgecock's vocals crackle and snarl as they ought to on that song.

Though McKee and Hedgecock's vision didn't meet with chart success, they made some of the most memorable music of the stuff that would come to be known as "cowpunk" and shared the stage or inspired some of the favorites of the later No Depression movement. This lineup of the band dispersed in 1985, not long after the Geffen debut was released. But they never sounded better than this. This is the band that knitted together the sounds of X and The Maddox Brothers and Rose - a high-energy rockabilly variant with a completely irrepressible lead singer and a lightning-fast lead guitarist.

Highlights include "Working Man's Blues", "Nothing Can Stop My Loving You" and the aforementioned "Jackson" - covers where McKee's reverence for the originals does not stop her from ripping through them as thought to make them her own. But her originals fit right in: "Soap, Soup and Salvation" based on her experience at the rescue mission with her Baptist parents (as well as her research into the Depression era) are of a piece with the better-known covers.

The album is out this week (Jan. 14) on Omnivore Recordings. Liner notes contain tributes to Vaught, who passed earlier in 2013, as well as reminiscences from band members and a nice endorsement from Dolly Parton, who fondly recalls seeing them live in 1983.

Lone Justice at Omnivore Recordings

Introducing: Yumi Zouma

Three New Zealanders now living in New York and Paris comprise Yumi Zouma.  Their debut EP will be out soon via Cascine, but they have released "The Brae" as an early taste of what listeners can expect.  It is dreamy and romantic, and just right for my mood today.

The four-track EP will be released in digital and limited vinyl formats on February 11 (pre-order link).


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

REVIEW: Delay Trees - Readymade

On Readymade, their third album, Delay Trees display a remarkable ability to create songs that are rich in texture yet melodically light.  Where the sophomore release, Doze, was written across a sprawling shoegaze and dream pop landscape, the Finnish band now reigns in that aspect of their craft to sharpen the pop side of the shoegaze spectrum.  And I think the result is their best work to date.

Delay Trees have adeptly chosen what to keep and what to change or improve for this album.  The haunting vocals, sung in unison, remain.  The guitar tones are superb -- a warm and low reverberation.  And the drone aesthetic still provides the foundation, but now is adorned with pop hooks, more distinct melodies and a tighter structure.  The fusion could have gone all wrong, but here it seems completely natural.  Moreover, the sequencing of the album allows the songs to flow like a single, and singular, musical story.  Apparently, the title of the album references the band's feeling that these songs seemed already created and simply "found", rather than requiring effort to craft.  I can only hope the band continues to find such ready made tunes.

The softer songs on the album are absolute gems, and I can't imagine Readymade without them.  But two of the faster-paced songs best showcase the album, so here are "Perfect Heartache" and "Fireworks".

Delay Trees are Rami Vierula, Lauri Jarvinen, Sami Korhonen and Onni Oikari.  Readymade is out now via Helsinki's Soliti Music.

Soliti Music

HL's Favorites of 2013 - Spotify Playlist

Hardy's Best of 2013 is another curated gem.   It's the final brick in the wall of the WYMA Best of 2013.  A little louder and more raucous, but a perfect counter point to the distinct sounds selected by our other reviewers. Check out the other Best of's and Spotify playlists:  John's ListJohn's Spotify PlaylistScott's ListScott's Spotify Playlist, John's List, John's Spotify PlaylistJD's List, and JD's Spotify Playlist.   Enjoy hours of solid musical choices.

HL's 2013 Favorites

Hey folks, it was a lean year in terms of blogifying by your not-so-intrepid correspondent, but as far as good music goes, there was a great bounty. I've never left so many albums off the list that I had listened to multiple times and grown rather fond of. If you've read this far, maybe your computer is getting close to finishing the download of all the music files in this post. Thanks for taking a moment to look through my list. I hope you find some stuff in here you hadn't heard about.

25. Palms -- s/t -- (Ipecac)
This is pretty nice to listen to. A bunch of Isis guys got Chino Moreno to sing for their new band. Nice.

Once you get past the fact that this project is comprised of members of two of the most earsplitting bands of the past 20 years, you start to accept that these are excellent songs, just not as loud . We are reminded, thus, that waking up without a hangover does not automatically mean that last night was a waste of time. WYMA review here.

24. Direct Hit! -- Brainless God -- (Red Scare Industries)
This is a punk rock concept album about the impending end of the world. I'd have bet $20 that such an effort would make John Lydon roll over in his grave, but this album is loud, snotty, and cleverly sardonic -- all played at breakneck speed.

23. Kylesa -- Ultraviolet -- (Season of Mist)
The Savannah band's sixth album cranks up the psychedelia, but loses none of its edge. See Exhibit A below:

I actually reviewed this one.

22. Gorguts -- Colored Sands -- (Season of Mist)
On my ipod, Gorguts is right next to Henryk Gorecki, and it makes more than just alphabetical sense. Like the recently deceased Polish composer, Gorguts founder Luc Lemay is obsessed with composition. Like Gorecki, he works in atmospheres of grays and blacks. As sorrow is to Gorecki, aggression is to Lemay. The musicianship on this album is at times overpowering. It's like King Crimson of Death Metal. Here's the title song:

21. Nuclear Santa Claust -- Order of the New Age -- (Don Giovanni)
They have a funny name, but hell, Turd Ferguson had a funny name, and he couldn't kick out the jams like this Brooklyn punk trio. I reviewed this excellent album back in March, but it stayed in heavy rotation all year. It's old school east coast American punk music, complete with period-appropriate cold war paranoia.

20. Russian Circles -- Memorial -- (Sargent House)
This is the Chicago trio's best yet, and that's saying something. No vocals (for the most part), no indulgent solos -- they start with a simple theme and beat the musical hell out of it, all the while building to a towering climax you weren't even expecting. The track below, "1777", is brooding and beautiful, with dramatic strings adding a sense that they're recording it in a cathedral.

19. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle -- Perils From the Sea -- (Caldo Verde)
Kozelek had a busy year, releasing at least 4 full length albums on his label, Caldo Verde. I like 'em all. But this one really struck me as a departure that works on every level. Lavalle (The Album Leaf, Tristeza), composed and recorded somber, expansive electronic tracks and emailed them to Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters, Desertshore), who would write and record lyrics and send them back for more work. Consistent with the trend of his recent work, Kozelek's lyrics are autobiographical, sometimes detailed to the point of being prosaic. As prosaic as they might be, they're never boring, and Lavalle's arrangements seem to give them even more ballast than usual, if only for being different from Kozelek's recent fixation with his classical guitar. The stunning "Gustavo", about an undocumented Mexican carpenter working on Kozelek's house until he gets busted for weed and deported, might be the best song I heard this year.

18. California X -- s/t -- (Don Giovanni)
I think this release from Don Giovanni was the first review I did in '13, and I love it even more now. Frontman Lemmy Gurtowski is a fantastic guitar player with a fantastic rock and roll name. And he had the stones to name one of the best songs of the year after himself! Do yourself a favor and crank the song below as loud as you can take it. And when you scratch your head at the chorus and say, 'dang that sounds like the Foo Fighters,' know that Lemmy is well aware of that, thank you.

17. Castevet -- Obsian -- (Profound Lore)
This second album by the Brooklyn metal trio gets the much coveted "getting most play by me right this very damned minute" prize. It feels like it was recorded in a foundry. The guitar sounds on this album are otherworldly -- at times evoking the proto-industrial roil created by Geordie Walker in the early 80s-era Killing Joke, and at other (admittedly, less frequent) times offering a more approachable prog harmony. It's pretty mathy, but never at the expense of the visceral. It's just a fascinating piece of music.

16. The So-So Glos -- Blowout -- (Shea Stadium)
Alex Levine is one of the most engaging and likeable frontmen in rock and roll. This New York band trades in high energy, well-played punk songs with a retro-British sensibility that will evoke everything from the Clash to the Specials over its 40 minute run time. Listen below to the album opener, which is introduced by a childhood home recording of Alex and his brother Ryan (also in the band) musing on the demise of Kurt Cobain.

15. KEN mode -- Entrenched -- (Season of Mist)
I feel sort of sorry for the people of Winnipeg. Not because it's cold there -- we all know that. It's because the Jets just hired Paul Maurice. Trust me, I know how that story ends. On the other hand, Winnipeg is also home to one of the best hardcore bands working today. KEN mode, named after Henry Rollins's acronym (for "Kill Everyone Now"), channel pure aggression into their fifth and best album, while never forgetting their sense of humor (see, for example, their songs "Secret Vasectomy" and "Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick").

14. Parquet Courts -- Light Up Gold -- (What's Your Rupture / Dull Tools)
This NYC by way of Denton, Texas band put out one of the best slacker punk albums in years (actually in 2012, but it only got its wider release in '13). The influences are not hard to list -- Modern Lovers, Feelies, early Meat Puppets, Pavement -- and yet like anything you'd expect to be played 20 years from now (and I think this record will be), it's totally original. Austin Brown's guitar work is terrific -- it would make Stephen Malkmus roll over in his grave.

13. Vhol -- s/t (Profound Lore)
I'm a huge Mike Scheidt fan -- his main band Yob's last effort was my 2011 AOY -- so I was pretty excited to see this album hit last spring even if Mike was just singing and not playing guitar. Here he's teamed up with members of Ludicra and Hammers of Misfortune, and they achieve a facemelting amalgam of dark metal and hardcore. Scheidt's voice is a force of nature. He can hit the difficult notes like a three-pack-a-day RJ Dio, and then on a dime bring it down to a guttural roar that's simply terrifying.

12. The National -- Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
I always have a lot of metal on these year end lists because I think as a rule the genre is a refuge for the best musicians. So I've gotten to the point that I'm willing to listen to a lot more in the way of growls and screams than I once did simply to be able to experience the creativity of these people who have dedicated themselves to such interesting and difficult music. I'd describe my attraction to The National in nearly the same way (although I think Matt Berninger's voice is itself fascinating). The Dessner and Devendorf brothers are terrific musicians who painstakingly build and record their songs. Trouble Will Find Me is, to me, their best album since Alligator. The only reason it's not number one on this list is because Alligator and Boxer (and Sad Songs) exist. Whenever I contemplate looking down my nose at the music taste of my fellow man, I try to pause and remember that The National have made it big.

11. Signals Midwest -- Light on the Lake (Tiny Engines)
This Cleveland band's last album, Latitudes and Longitudes, was that one record I happened upon the year after its release that made me wish I had saved an exalted place on my earlier best-of list for the oversight of the year. The new album is, I think, even better. Their songs are earnest and hard rocking, with arrangements that are more complicated than a great deal of today's alt/punk bands. At the same time, there's tasteful restraint -- the songs never devolve into emo wailing, or instrumental overindulgence. There are times on this record where I wish the song hadn't ended when it did -- and I mean that as high praise.

10. Poor Lily -- Vuxola -- (self-released)
This is the best punk rock album of the year. This Bronx three-piece should be a household name, headlining festivals, wearing panda-skin boots, endorsing the Glenlivet Archive and upscale cruise lines, sleeping with Kardashians. If you like punk music, or ever did like punk music, you should own this album. Here's my earlier review.

9. Future of the Left -- How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident -- (Prescriptions)
It'll make Morgan Freeman roll over in his grave, but this is the finest record for Andy Falkous since Mclusky Do Dallas. The targets of his ire seem more natural here than they have in awhile. Best of all, to me at least, is that he has really backed away from the keyboard for this one -- just a fierce (and Mcluskyesque) guitar/bass/drums package.

8. Restorations -- LP2 -- (Side One Dummy)
This is the phenomenal follow-up to one of my favorite albums of 2011. This Philadelphia band exudes a small-club ethos, but they've got a sound big enough for the arenas. In this video for album opener "D", they prove it in front of a room of pasty white people.

7. Pissed Jeans -- Honeys -- (Sub Pop)
This is the best album yet from the Allentown (now Philly) noise-punks. I reviewed it last February (so you'll excuse the dead photo link) after doing an apres-garde photo-montage "preview" a few months before that, but the crushing songs about employer-provided health coverage and cafeteria food are no less topical today.

6. The Icarus Line -- Slave Vows -- (Agitated)
I thought for a good while this would be my number one, and will never be firmly convinced otherwise. The burning guitar tones achieved on this album are so arresting, so rock and roll, that for about a month I played this on constant repeat. I was in a productivity trough on this blog, but made it a point to put at least something up to document my awe.

5. Deafheaven -- Sunbather -- (Deathwish)
I think this album deserves every one of the millions of accolades it's gotten. It's the first metal album ever to get the highest scoring album of the year from Metacritic. Deafheaven was also one of the best live shows I got to see all year. Don't miss them if they play your boringass backwater of a town. Here's the spectacular first song:

4. Phosphorescent -- Muchacho -- (Dead Oceans)
I didn't pick up this glorious record until about a month ago. It starts out with a beautiful mood-piece that will make you think of Bon Iver, but eventually loosens up into something entirely different -- saloon music, maybe, or music for heartbroken optimists. It's hard to describe except that it's just about flawless.

3. Inter Arma -- Sky Burial -- (Relapse)
This Richmond band has bequeathed to us the metal album of the year. It is colossal, deliberate and explosive. Much of it feels like a massing of forces, building slowly toward an apocalyptic release. It's really a stunning sonic achievement for a band's second album, and they, the production team and Relapse deserve a great deal of credit for doing what was necessary to document this in the way they did. Here's my favorite track -- give it some time to unwind:

2. Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio -- Gala -- (Triple Crown / 12XU)
This is the highest point (so far) of a music career filled with high points. Phelps's voice has never sounded stronger or more evocative. His taste for dirty guitar noise -- and sense of timing for acoustic -- is at an apex. And I'll throw in another candidate for song of the year -- I have yet to play "The Nashville Sound" for a person who did not immediately thereafter buy the entire album. Let's hope it's not another ten years before we get another solo album from Joel. WYMA review here.

1. The Drones -- I See Seaweed -- (Drones)
It's likely to make Bob Dylan roll over in his grave, but I'm going to go ahead and say that Gareth Liddiard is the greatest songwriter working today. I heaped enough superlatives on this album when I reviewed it back in May, so I'll spare you any more speechifying and just link the song that might be their crowning artistic achievement. Liddiard has a very uneasy relationship with the outside world. His ability to distill that into metaphors, then stories, then songs is, to me, without equal in rock music right now.

Holy cow, what a fantastic music year. Thanks to the artists who make the music we write about. Thanks to the readers who take the time to check this place. I hope all of you have prosperous years so you can buy a ton of new music. Thanks also to my blogmates. who suffer my comings and goings and my not pulling my weight with great equanimity. As always, on many levels, I'll try to do better.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

WYMA Favorites on BreakThru Radio: Jay Arner, Mirror Travel, Joanna Gruesome

We get updates from the fine folks at BreakThru Radio when they feature WYMA-reviewed artists live in their studios. We're happy to feature these, as they are always of very good quality and usually slightly different versions of songs we've already raved about, plus they usually feature a short interview with the artists.

First example, the sweet guitar pop of Jay Arner (previous WYMA post here):

Arner's pop instincts are terrific.

Second up, here's Austin, TX shoegaze/dream pop outfit Mirror Travel:

A good occasion to fall in love with their great guitar effects all over again, and it's great to see Tiffanie Lanmon play the drums after hearing the record so often in 2013...

Finally, here's Joanna Gruesome. They made quite an impression in 2013:

Fast, loud and sweet - the guitars, the fast drumming and the vocal harmonies call to mind the best of 90's favorites like The Cure, Dinosaur Jr. and The Breeders (at least to me).

We'll continue to share these, but feel free to keep an eye on their site, too.

BTR Live Studio website

"Kindly Leave" from Party Dolls

You likely haven't heard of Party Dolls before, at least not these Party Dolls.  Formed around Drew Beskin, Frank Keith IV and Walker Beard -- several members of Atlanta/Athens group The District Attorneys, This Is American Music label mate Tedo Stone and Crooked Fingers member Jeremy Wheatley, the group has recorded Love Wars Baby, an LP to be released on Valentine's Day by TIAM.  To ensure your interest, they have made album track "Kindly Leave" available as a free download.

Having heard the entire album, I assure you that you will want to check in a few weeks from now for our review.  We'll try to do it justice.

This Is American Music

REVIEW: Blank Realm - Grassed Inn

From the opening strains of the swaggering "Back to the Flood" to the sizzling melancholic emotion of "Reach Me On the Phone", the eighth and final track, Grassed Inn showers the listener with an aggressive and relentless backbeat, tantalizing guitar riffs, and sizzling synth lines.  It is a swirling, melodic and audaciously confident mix of southern hemisphere guitar pop and psychedelia with occasional seasonings of blues and electro-rock.  For me, the particular genius in the songwriting is the ability to craft a sharply melodic song that flows and sprawls as if it is from a live performance. And it demonstrates that the surging quality of the Australian underground over the past several years is continuing into 2014.

Grassed Inn is the fourth album from Brisbane's Blank Realm, a quartet consisting of siblings Daniel Spencer (drums, vocals), Sarah Spencer (synths, vocals), and Luke Spencer (bass), and Luke Wash (guitar).  The band is equally confident with big scale rockers such as the above-mentioned "Back to the Flood" and the sprawling "Bulldozer Love", the electronic centered "Even the Score", dense psychedelia such as "Baby Closes the Door" and "Violet Delivery", and a vampy blues number like "Bell Tower".  But even in an album with no low points, a few tracks stand out to me.  The first is "Falling Down the Stairs", with layers of guitar and organ and veins of grit adding a distinctive texture.  You don't want it to end, and accommodatingly, for six minutes it doesn't end.  The second is the delightful "Baby Closes the Door".  And perhaps this is just my own preference, but the track I most often play - perhaps even to obsession level - is "Reach You On the Phone".  The tale of frustrated romance builds beautifully with trebby guitar notes and a thick bassline.  After a few bars, Daniel's drum drops in to drive the song and the synths begin to flesh out the texture.  For me, there is a lot of Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen in this song.  Please check out the live version below.

Fractured, fuzzy psychedelia, jangling distortion, lyrical themes of longing and obsession, great rhythms -- so early in the year, and I already have a worthy contender for my favorite album list.

Live version of standout track "Reach You On The Phone" -

Blank Realm - "Reach You On The Phone" from Joshua Watson on Vimeo.

Here is the video for "Falling Down the Stairs" --

Blank Realm - Falling Down the Stairs from BSR on Vimeo.

Grassed Inn is out this week on Fire Records in Europe and the US/Canada, and Bedroom Suck Records in Australia.

Fire Records
Bedroom Suck Records

Monday, January 13, 2014

"China White" from Peak Twins

The self-titled debut album from Peak Twins made my list of top albums from 2013 (link to list).  It is a fine collection of songs with powerful vocals and excellent guitar work.  And one of my favorite songs from the album is "China White".  Until now, I didn't have a stream to share with you, but the band's Australian label, Bedroom Suck Records, has uploaded the song to Soundcloud.  If you haven't been moved to check out the album before, the sadly beautiful "China White" may provide the final push.

Peak Twins is out via Fire Records in Europe/US, and Bedroom Suck Records in Australia.

Fire Records
Bedroom Suck Records