Recording and performing as Scraps, Brisbane's Laura Hill delivers synth-pop tapestries that are in turns playful,warm, moody, spacey, and dense. Some of the strands pleasantly echo her synth pop forebears (recycled scraps, perhaps?), but to my ears all of the songs on her new album for Fire Records, Electric Ocean, are sincere and individualistic. The vocals are subdued, but I suspect that such is a conscious choice in the context of the music rather than a lack of confidence in her vocals. My overall impression is that this artist continually pushes herself to shape her music. And I have great respect for an artist that simultaneously manages the intimacy of bedroom pop and the grander flourishes needed to thrill live audiences.
To give you a sense of the breadth of expression on the album I've included the dreamy "Asleep" and the more aggressive "Projections". Electric Ocean is out now via Fire Records.
Chris Devotion and the Expectations craft muscular, euphoric rock and roll and use it as the launching pad for Chris' swaggering, star-turn vocals. We covered the band's debut album for Armellodie Records in 2012 (here). Their new album, Break Out, will be available in June and can be pre-ordered at the Bandcamp link below. But who would pre-order the album without sampling the songs? That's a fair point, I think. But CD/EX and Armellodie have anticipated that question, and have released "Don't You Call On Me" for your listening pleasure. Moreover, the song can be downloaded free here. Lend your ears to the cause, and I expect you'll agree that Chris Devotion and the Expectations can bring the heat.
By 1978, The Rolling Stones were, in fact, respectable -- massively popular, audiences with royalty, and backstage scenes that were a who's who of actors, models. musicians, politicians and assorted rich and famous. So fittingly, the Stones tossed off a fun and casual Chuck Berry-inspired song on Some Girls mocking their own stature. Of course, all the while Keith was into the heroin, and who knows what else was swirling around the Stones' personal lives.
Here's the pre-MTV official promo video for "Respectable":
You can see the 1978 punk influence here both in sound and appearance. Jagger intended for the song to have a slower tempo, but Keith and the record company wanted it cranked up to show that the Stones were not ready to be put out to pasture by The Clash, Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. And they in fact demonstrated that they could still rock with anyone and didn't even have to try all that hard to do so.
The talented Finlay Macdonald has been a member of Music and Movement, Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits and Speedboat. Now recording and performing as Lenzie Moss, he released a fine debut album in 2012 (our review here). His new single is the gentle, jangling "Let's Take the Day Off". A great tune for spring, it showcases Finlay's ability to craft uplifting melodies with a timeless feel. The single will be released on March 31, and can be pre-ordered on Bandcamp or iTunes.
As I understand it, first there was the short-lived Wimp Factor 14. That band spawned Vehicle Flips, formed by Wimp Factor 14 frontman Frank Boscoe, and Puget Sound's beloved twee punks Tullycraft. Boscoe later formed Gazetteers, but the latter group is a subject for another day. Our current focus is Vehicle Flips, and more specifically Friends Like Nations (1994 - 1997), the new 25-track collection of singles, compilation tracks and previously unreleased tunes from Jigsaw Records. This album would be worthwhile if it just served the needs of indie music historians or hard-core fans, but the delightful truth is that it is so much more. The songs range from indie guitar gems with hints of Galaxie 500, Luna, and the Sugargliders. But Vehicle Flips could make some noise as well, and Boscoe's vocals add the right touch of bratty punk attitude or garage rock snarl when the occasion demands. For an example of the punk attitude, check out "Dodge Veg-O-Matic" below. "O Tedium" has a swing to it that calls to mind the Doobie Brothers in full '70s summer stadium flight and "Duophonic Sterophonic" is a taught, spiky post-punk tune.
The singles and compilation tracks comprising most of this album were released over several years and on various labels, so this is the sole comprehensive collections of such tracks. I was impressed with the excellent musicianship and Boscoe's interesting lyrical observations. I also noted that in terms of inflection and tone, his voice reminds me of another wry commentator on life, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. I have a lot of new music at my disposal, and this record is one to which I find myself turning with great frequency; it is a keeper.
And as you'll note at the Bandcamp link, the CD is a ten-spot, and the digital version is $8.
It is my blog, so we'll start with one of the best: "Impressed Beyond Belief" --
Paisley underground influenced jangle pop is a favorite genre of mine, and I'm always on the lookout for new discoveries. Today's find is From the South, a band hailing from southern Australia. In mid February they released their sophomore LP, Cool, Cool Memories via Birds Love Fighting. With relaxed vocal harmonies, guitars that jangle, chime and ring, and Conor Hutchison's intriguing lyrics, the album delivers a pleasing amalgamation of California guitar pop, Glasgow's Teenage Fanclub and The Bats. It is available in a limited edition vinyl and a $10 digital download at the Bandcamp site. Three of my favorite tracks are streamed below, and Bandcamp will allow you to evaluate the entire album.
From the South is Conor Hutchison, Harry Bellchambers, Goo Calligeros, Phizz Calligeros, Kay Chinnery, and George Calligeros. By the way, if you are a fan, check out the name your price download of their debut album here. While not quite as polished to my ears, it is a nice companion to Cool, Cool Memories.
The Melodic are a London five-piece who play folk rock with Latin influences. With male/female vocals, a melodica, a variety of stringed instruments and world pop rhythms, they are an indie band like none other on the scene. Eschewing the current mania among their folky brethren for Americana, they provide a breath of fresh air on genre alone. However, their recently released debut album, Effra Parade, demonstrates that they can deliver musical content that certainly will excite fans of folk and world pop. The songs on the album generally are both relaxed and relaxing, with a few rousing numbers that I expect would bring an appreciative live crowd to their feet. Their art is sincere, and their home production perfect for the 15 songs on offer. The vocals shine in the austere arrangements and the interplay of the vocals is smooth and unforced. For me the overall effect is as if I were sitting in the living room of a group of musician friends on a Saturday night while they played their favorite tunes. And that makes for a very good evening.
Effra Parade is out now via ANTI Records. Below are three of the standout tracks from the album. The third clip is a live version of "Come Outside", with fellow UK folk rocker and tour partner Johnny Flynn providing the fiddle.
The Melodic are Huw Williams, Rudi Schmidt, John Naldrett, Lydia Samuels, and James McCandless. They currently are touring the United States, and the remaining dates are listed under the "Tour Dates" tab on their website.
The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream is an hour long journey to musical bliss, every song taking surprise turns, elastically swirling, layering more and more sounds - guitars and rhythm and keyboards and a baritone saxophone - packed with a subtle-on-the-surface but underlying emotional wallop that very few rock records achieve.
Adam Granduciel spent a year making Lost in the Dream, reportedly fussing meticulously over every note from every instrument. But rather than that resulting in a cold mess as so often happens, Lost in the Dream is a perfect realization, both sonically and emotionally, of Granduciel's strong vision for the record.
The first time I heard Lost in the Dream, I was driving in the car after a very bad work day, and it immediately saved me, took me somewhere else, reminding me a bit of a couple of my favorite ever road trip bands - The Feelies and Luna - and allowing me to be transported, hypnotized, transformed. But what's particularly interesting about that is the songs create a palpable sense of being lost, hurt, smothered. But at the same time there's a cathartic letting go - the soaring choruses, the highly effective vocals, the searing guitar lines, the attention grabbing ring of the keyboards and saxophone.
I could highlight any one of the 10 songs here, not a false note anywhere much less a clunker. But the one just killing me today is "An Ocean Between the Waves", the title capturing how the whole of this record is so much more than the sum of its parts.
I watch you as you hesitate walking through the rain I bet against the company again been trying to redefine everything that I know as love I'm in my finest hour Can I be more than just a fool? It always gets so hard to see night before the moon
Lost, trying to hang on, tension rising and then - bam! - the song unfurls, the crashing of the waves, giving way to a massive release. Listen here:
"Red Eyes" is the featured song from the CD with a proper video, perhaps the best track for radio because at only 4:59 it's shorter than nearly everything else here, and even by War On Drugs standards has a massive and wonderful chorus:
I have to give you one more, the first song, "Under the Pressure", a moody, stunning opening statement of a song - "Standing in the water, just trying not to crack, under pressure" - a slow burn with a sonic and emotional haze of of psychedelic guitars and synths, where the song swirls and builds, then ultimately recedes. Listen at the 5:20 mark when you can hear Granduciel whoop, as he does on other songs here, when he finally releases the tension:
Lost in the Dream is a starkly original work, hard to categorize, though it draws from Dylan, Neil Young and Springsteen, psychedelia, 80's post-punk pop, Americana, and bears somewhat of a musical kinship with fellow Philadelphian and former War on Drugs member Kurt Vile. But Granduciel creates a bold sound here, unmistakably him with every note, assisted by very capable players.
While it doesn't sound like either of these records, Lost in the Dream reminds me of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and R.E.M.'s Murmur with how it creates a timeless sound, a feel, an emotional and unique journey - and listen to any part of it and you know you aren't listening to any other record. And placing Lost in the Dream in that company is about the highest praise I can give.
Present Tense, the fourth able from Wild Beasts, is an intimate and emotional journey writ in an electro-pop language. The themes encompass rage, dehumanization, angst, physicality, hope and redemption. The soundscapes are adventuresome and boast multiple textures, bold rhythms and playful melodies. The interplay of baritone and falsetto vocals deepens the emotional impact. It is electronic-based synth music that is triumphantly alive and vital. Listeners familiar with the previous albums from Wild Beats will note the increased reliance on keyboards, a reliance on the additional depth and touch of menace added by the synth bass, and the soaring high-register atmospherics. But in light of the results I would be surprised if there are any complaints. The album consists of eleven tracks, but they fit together so well, and the sequencing is so perfect, that it really seems like a single performance in eleven acts. While it may not be unusual for a band to seek that effect, the successful execution is rare.
If you wonder whether pop music can be intelligent and carnal, pop but progressive, emotional but subtle and restrained, electronic and human, the answer is "yes, see Wild Beasts".
Wild Beasts are Hayden Thorpe (guitar, bass, keys and falsetto vocals), Benny Little (guitar and keys), Tom Fleming (bass, keys and tenor vocals), and Chris Talbot (percussion and baritone vocals). Present Tense is out now on Domino Records.
Kill Surrrf are Johnny Lynn, Thomas Dornan, Ciaran Gilbert and Matthew Turner. We introduced the Glasgow band to our readers about 11 months ago (link), as we were impressed with their surf pop sound. The quartet is about to release a four-track cassette titled I Can't Sleep For Dreaming Of You on their hometown's Fuzzkill Records. The title track is presented here as a stream and a video, and is an appealing dose of dreamy, psychedelic surf pop.
I Can't Sleep For Dreaming Of You is available on March 28 and can be pre-ordered now.