Friday, August 1, 2014

"Data" from Proton Beast

New Zealand's Proton Beast specialize in noise, and in particular it feedback that fills the spaces between and wraps around notes.  It may is a bit different than our normal fare, and perhaps outside your usual playlist content.  But I think it is valuable to challenge yourself to widen your musical horizons.  And I find "Data" to be a very interesting track.  Apparently the theme is based on the alienation and group control concepts from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  The single is out now, and is taken from Digitizer -- the band's forthcoming album on Muzai Records.

Proton Beast, formerly a duo, now consist of Westley Hodsworth, Stuart Hardwood and Vaughan Williams.

Muzai Records

New Discovery: Denver "Rowdy Love"

If the band named Phoenix can be from Versailles France, then I suppose a band named Denver can be from Portland (OR). But can a trio of Portlandia hipsters make authentic outlaw country music? One listen to Denver's second CD, Rowdy Love, and the answer comes back an emphatic hell yes.

This CD has barely left my CD player since I got it, 10 very well played and sung songs of heartache, loss, drinking, and trying to get over, recalling Waylon Jennings, John Prince, and from a more contemporary angle, Shovels and Rope (who have this to say: "When we BBQ in our driveway, we prefer to do it listening to Denver, the band.").

Let's get right into it, with the second track on the record, "Carry On", a great example of the ensemble playing and terrific vocal harmonies here :

The lead vocal on "Carry On" is by Mike Elias, with harmonies from his two fellow songwriters Birger Olsen and Tom Bevitori who each take the lead on other songs here. The three switch off effortlessly and the record is surprisingly seamless for a band with three lead singers and songwriters. They compliment each other well and the quality of the songwriting is elevated by having 3 writers giving their best and playing off each other. They are backed by some of Portland's best players, drummer Sean MacNeil, bassist Billy Slater (Grails) and Lewi Longmire on lead guitar.

Rowdy Love is produced by like minded Portlander Eric Earley from Blitzen Trapper, who gets a rich and powerful sound.

This is the band's second CD, following a self-titled debut from a couple years ago. Here's a video of "The Way It Is" from that record:

This is the best kind of country music, as George Jones said, "Ragged but right."

If you click the Music section in the band's web page, you can stream 2 other songs from Rowdy Love, though you'd be far better advised to simply buy Rowdy Love there and get it all.

Rolling Stones Friday: Play With Fire

Phil Spector (2nd from L) with the Rolling Stones

Late one night at the RCA Studios in Los Angeles in early 1965, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards did a very quick recording of the song "Play With Fire". Phil Spector produced and played bass, and Jack Nitzsche played harpsichord. The collective members of the Rolling Stones are credited as songwriters, though curiously none of them but Mick and Keith were present for the recording.

I've always greatly admired the very direct sound of the song, in particular the vocal, which Mick once aptly described as "in-your-face". There's a great deal of power in the simplicity of the song and its production. Nitzsche's harpsichord as the sole embellishment to the song works perfectly.

The Stones have not played "Play With Fire" live a great deal, but it does pop up from time to time. Here's a terrific version, with full band, recorded in Montreal in 1989:

There's a few cool covers out there, including one by WYMA favorites Dum Dum Girls, but the best cover I located was by Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), certainly a singer with the chops to do the song justice. This was recored live in Paris in 2002: 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

REVIEW: Flashlights - Bummer Summer

Flashlights are a delightful indie guitar rock band from Brevard County, Florida, playing an uptempo style that is simultaneously nervous and relaxing, fast and slow, quiet and loud... qualities that define the best of the lo-fi indie rock inspired by 90's bands like Sebadoh and Guided by Voices. The band began as a solo acoustic project for 24-year-old singer/guitarist Terry Caudill in 2007, and since has added various members from the local punk scene before settling on their current lineup of Ian Turner-Sanders on guitar, Will Powell on bass and Melissa Hopkins on drums. They call to mind such WYMA favorites as The Henry Clay People and (fellow Floridians) Human Television, what with Caudill's cracking voice, the simple arrangements and the urgently strummed, often jangly electric guitars.

Here's a video they made of "Failure":

It's a great-sounding song about some very sad stuff - heartbreak, a bad relationship gone even worse:

"...Your nails are made
of glass, cutting up my heart into pieces. Talking to myself
when yesterday's repeating. I can't go on like this.

Fall apart just to recollect that I'm a failure.
All the moments I spent with you, what was it all for?
I break my fucking back day after day and that's what hurts.
You got me on my knees."

Here's a video for the second track, a previously-released single, "Don't Take Me Seriously":

And I think the flourish of guitars on "All Cats Are Beautiful" is just terrific - beautiful in itself:

The album was produced by Scott Hutchison and Andy Monaghan of Frightened Rabbit and among the influences they claim are Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Built to Spill. I hear bits of all those, as well as Frightened Rabbit. It's certainly an interesting intersection of sounds, but you should know that it's much easier on the ears than all that sad-sack lyrical content might suggest. That's not unusual, really, but it seemed worth mentioning. The guitars, especially, have a diaphanous, sort of jewel-like quality to them - something that's prettier the more you listen.

Bummer Summer is out now (June 24th) on Hard Rock Records and they're on tour throughout August and into the fall - dates (as well as a free MP3) available at their website. This is one of the nicest surprises I've had this summer - it came out of nowhere and in an unassuming way just sort of took over my stereo for a while.

Flashlights website

"Don't Marry the One You Love" from Laura Jean

"Don't Marry the One You Love" is the next single (and a public service announcement) from the upcoming self-titled album from Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Laura Jean.  The album, her fourth, will be released via Chapter Music on August 22, but this song is available now via the Bandcamp link below.  I think that Laura Jean's notable attributes include a wonderful voice, excellent songwriting and perfectly nuanced delivery, and this song is perfect example.

Bandcamp for single
Chapter Music

"3AM Coke Dream" from Teardrop Factory, album in September

Tina  Muat and Andy Ward, who record and perform as Teardrop Factory, caught our attention last year with their excellent Topshop EP (review here).  The Brighton-based duo will be releasing their debut LP. Thrash in the Heart, September 15 on the Faux Discx label.  Our first taste is available now in the form of "3AM Coke Dream".  The track reveals the band's lo-fi, DIY ethic (recorded in the bathroom) coupled with a good ear for an infectious melody and well-placed hook.  This is '90s guitar and drum explosions with a subversively pop core.  Enjoy!

Pre-Order link for album
Faux Discx

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Mary Jane" from Iggy & The German Kids

"Mary Jane" is an infectious summer jam that will find its way on to a number of seasonal and party playlists.  The source is Iggy & The German Kids, which is comprised of New Yorker Iggy (Ignacio Uriarte or Marshall, depending on whether one believes the website or Facebook) and production duo DTC Music Productions.  DTC are Hubertus Dahlem and Freddy Todenhofer, who are from Germany and apparently met Iggy at Munich's Oktoberfest.  Thus, the collaboration is Iggy & The German Kids.  The synergy between the producers and Iggy, who trained as an opera singer as well as mastering several instruments, seems to have found a pop music sweet spot.  A debut album is being prepared, and based on the evidence of the several tracks I've heard, I expect it to be good.

For the single, "Mary Jane" is paired with the more straightforward electro-pop song "Follow the Sun".  Both are available singly or together on Amazon and iTunes.


REVIEW: Slow Club - Complete Surrender

Slow Club is a British soul duo consisting of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor. Both are excellent vocalists and each play a variety of instruments. Since forming in Sheffield in 2006, they have released two EPs and two albums, the latest and current one being the delightfully soulful and wide-ranging Complete Surrender. From the opener, "Tears of Joy", which sounds a bit like a cross between the modern dance rock of Arcade Fire and classic 70's folk rock, to "The Pieces", a swinging, soulful combination of rock instrumentation, horns and lush vocal harmonies, the album is a joy to listen to all the way through.

Complete Surrender is, in essence, an exploration of five or six decades of radio-friendly sounds with a refreshing willingness to embrace modern (or post-modern?) production techniques that somehow makes the whole thing even better - anchored in classic soul and pop, but a few degrees off from the often-heard "retro soul" sound. Those horns, those vocal harmonies, the insistent drumbeats, it's all of a piece and makes for one of the best records you'll hear in 2014.

The vocals and guitar lines on the ballad “Not Mine To Love” are extremely well-done, classic guitar pop - nothing new, but a classic sound that is presented just about perfectly. As it should be, the song is a showcase for Rebecca Taylor's vocals. Her range and just the variety in presentation are impressive. As slow and evocative as this track is, she switches to a quicker, poppier sound on the title track and the contrast between the quickened drumbeat and the lush strings throughout the track, as well as her multi-tracked vocals in the chorus, are terrific touches.

There's a big, Motown-meets-British-soul feel to "Suffering You, Suffering Me".

Watson has a few impressive vocal turns as well, and his quiet ballad "Paraguay and Panama" provides a nice counterpoint to the lush, full pop stuff.

Giving a bit of background to what drives their sound, Watson says: “We really didn’t want it to sound ‘retro,’ but we wanted it to have that grace and sort of respect for itself. I think it’s in the playing really. A lot of those old records they’re not coated in reverb and that’s what people tend to go for. It tends to just be really amazing players that have practiced and locked in. We just tried to practice the best we could.” And that, to me, is the point of Complete Surrender and where Slow Club have succeeded. They have clearly practiced, and certainly locked in. Like so much of the big radio rock we loved in days gone by (Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, to name a few), these two are able to combine reverence and creativity in a delightful way. Take note of this record and these two musicians. They're at a very high level. The album is out now (released July 15) on Wichita Recordings.

Slow Club website
Wichita Recordings

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

REVIEW: Pale Lights - Before There Were Pictures

Before There Were Pictures is one of the best jangle pop albums of the year.  Yes, I wrote that about an album released in May to very little fanfare and, as near as I can tell, very little support from my fellow bloggers.  But after playing the album through four times after discovering it a few days ago, I don't think the opinion should be the least bit controversial.  On this album you can have a bit of Byrdsian California rock, a bit of the '80s New Zealand sound, some Rattlesnakes-era Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and Cattle and Cain-era Go-Betweens.  The product of Brooklyn's Pale Lights, which consists of Philip Sutton (guitar/vocals), formerly of Comet Gain and Soft City, Andrew Adler (lead guitar) of Crystal Stilts, Lisa Goldstein (drums/vocals) and Maria Pace (bass), it follows their fine May 2012 EP.  The jangle, rhythm, tones and vocals are all just what jangle pop fans dream of.  But you don't need to dream about it, you can have it for your very own.

Try a few my favorite tracks from the album below.  If you want to stream the entire album, you can do so at the Soundcloud or Bandcamp links.  Bandcamp also is your friend for the reasonably priced digital download.  A vinyl version also is available for those who collect such artifacts.


Introducing: Fantastic Fantastic

Somehow, while living in London, Micke and Kris of Fantastic Fantastic contrive to channel those tropical vibes that draw us all to sand and beaches, and then shape those vibes into summery electro-pop.  They released "Never Enough" a few months ago, and are back now with official single "Houses" via the 37 Adventures label.  The single includes "Houses" and "Never Enough" and is available digitally.  By the way, the great cover art is by Dutch artist Jordy Van den Niewendijk.

37 Adventures

Monday, July 28, 2014

REVIEW: Sugar Stems - Only Come Out At Night

Summer BBQs can be dangerous times for music fans.  Remember last year when Sally pouted until some manufactured pop was bouncing over the speakers?  Luke wanted everyone to give his Slovenian emo music a chance.  Cousin Hank insisted on time for his bootleg of the ACDC cover band from the wet T-shirt night at the local tavern, and Uncle George (no one quite remembers who he is related to -- how does that work anyway?) wanted real American music played by guys in cowboy hats and flannel shirts with no sleeves.  No wonder you are dreading the weekend!

Never fear, we here at WYMA are here to help.  May we suggest something that everyone might be able to agree on for the time it takes to chat a bit and eat your meal?  How about power pop with a heaping helping of girl group, some garage grease and some bubblegum holding it all together -- what a great idea!  And all this comes to you in the form of Only Come Out at Night, the new album from Milwaukee's Sugar Stems.  There is humor, anger, and a lot in-between.  On highlight track "The One" Betsy warns her date that she has no intention of being 'the one he is waiting for'; clearly no sitting around on a pedestal for this young lady.  The pace is breakneck from start to finish, and the hooks come sharp and fast And since they are from Milwaukee, it might be a good excuse to break out the bratwurst.

Sugar Stems are Betsy, Jon, Drew and Steph, with friend Andy Harris filling out the sound on the organ.  Only Come Out At Night is released by Dirtnap Records.  The band is touring now, with a few more dates in the west and then a couple in Wisconsin.  And if they are half as good live as they are on record, they may be the most fun concert you'll attend this summer.
July 28 Oakland, CA - Night Light
July 29 Riverside, CA - Mission Tobacco Lounge
July 30 Los Angeles, CA - Redwood
July 31 San Diego, CA - Ken Club
August 1 Orange County, CA - House of Blues
August 2 Phoenix, AZ - Time Out Lounge
August 8 Appleton, WI - Mile of Music
August 9 Appleton, WI - Mile of Music   

Dirtnap Records

Review: Jessica Hernandez and The Deltas "Secret Evil"

We've been all in for Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas for some time, featuring them here at WYMA a few times, from as early as June 2013. So it's an understatement to say we've been looking forward to their first full length LP, Secret Evil, to be released on August 19.

Let's cut to the chase - Jessica Hernandez is a star waiting to happen. She's a powerhouse performer, blessed with a memorable and strong voice, and charisma to burn. And the Detroit native is backed by a crack outfit who do the rock and soul traditions of that music mecca proud, yet take it in their own new direction, influenced by not only Detroit's rich musical heritage but by rockabilly, ska, and Hernandez' Mexican-Cuban-American roots, having grown up in an inner SW Detroit neighborhood known as "Mexicantown". Her family owns a popular restaurant and a bakery there. This young Detroiter embodies the new Detroit resurgence - artistic, edgy, street smart, socially conscious.

Secret Evil is a big step up for this young band compared to their early recordings. It's well produced by Argentinian Milo Froideval (won a Latin Grammy for Best Alternative Album for Ely Guerra’s Hombre Invisible), and aided by the radio-friendly mixing of veteran hit maker Richard Gottehrer, owner of Instant Records, the label releasing Secret Evil. Gottehrer produced, among many noteworthy things, the Blondie hits, and there's a similar big city toughness yet accessibility here. The use of horns throughout this CD, which the band employs live as well, is outstanding, makes the songs jump, with a nod to the great Stevie Wonder 1970's hits.

Let's start with "Caught Up", a garage-surf rocker that perviously appeared on the band's Demons EP, with a very winning video here:

"Sorry I Stole Your Man" has a similar avant-garage feel, with a hint of Latin jazz and some fantastic background vocals honoring the band's Motown lineage -- love the girl group sound in the fade out -- though sorry to say there's no audio or video available for that one yet that I can link.  That song has become a highlight of the band's live performances. Aug 5 update: USA Today posted an exclusive audio of the song right here:

Here's a link to the audio of opening track "No Place left To Hide", maybe the most pure rock song on the record:

"Tired Oak", one of the songs on Secret Evil that seems ready for commercial radio:

Hernandez' range as both a singer and artist is best reflected in a ballad here, "Cry Cry Cry" (an original song, not the Johnny Cash classic), just a beautiful vocal where she puts her big rockabilly belt-it-out gear on pause, and instead shows off her softer and higher register. Recorded version not yet available for public consumption, but here's an audio of a fine live version:

The hit here in my view, and hey aren't we all frustrated A&R geeks, is "Dead Brains", a hybrid of Detroit soul, ska, and modern dance rock, with a killer chorus. If the band catches just a little break it wouldn't surprise me to see 80,000 kids at the next Bonaroo or Coachella festival jumping up and down and singing "Your brain's gone dead, you feel no power, where's your head?" Here's an earlier version of "Dead Brains" live, acoustic, super stripped down. Pop quiz: Is there anything more Detroit than piling into a Lincoln Continental with your friends and driving around singing? (A: No).

This album reflects Jessica Hernandez and The Deltas absolutely irresistible sound and personality. As good as Secret Evil is, and it will for sure be high on my Best of 2014 list, I still sense that Jessica Hernandez' best work is ahead of her. The sky is the limit for this band. Get on this bandwagon now while there's still room.

You can pre-order Secret Evil now for just $7.99 at iTunes here.

Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas Facebook page
Artist web page, tour dates etc

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Guess Work" from Free Time

US-based Melbourne native Dion Nania's Free Time very much impressed me last year with their self-titled debut (review here).  Despite spending free time lately to work as the backing band for Richard Davies' resurrection of The Moles, they are sending more good music our way with the August 19 release of a double A-side 7".  The two tracks are "Esoteric Tizz", which is said to be an energetic, up-tempo song, and the relaxed romantically focused "Guess Work".  "Esoteric Tizz" isn't available for evaluation yet, but you can enjoy "Guess Work" right here, right now.  The single will be released by Underwater Peoples, as was the debut album.  We hope that the single signifies a new album of music.

For the 7", Free Time was Dion Nania (guitar/vocals), Jonah Maurer (guitar), Mike Mimoun (drums) and Adrienne Humblet (bass).  Going forward, Eric Harm will be playing bass.

Free Time page at Underwater Peoples