Thursday, December 8, 2016

Lower Plenty - Sister Sister

At the same time Lower Plenty are many good things, but barely, just barely, a band.  The members of the Melbourne four piece are all members of other bands (Total Control, Dick Diver, Deaf Wish, Exhaustion), so their energies are directed to recording for this project only about every two years, with few live performances.  I suppose that makes growing a fan base a bit of a challenge.  But those of us who have been devoted Lower Plenty devotees since 2012's Hard Rubbish will always find time to tune in for the latest edition.  And that latest edition is Sister Sister, the band's fourth LP.

With three songwriters and three voices, the band's offerings are uniformly high quality and very diverse, despite a core melancholic suburban ethos.  While the songs initially can present a ramshackle face, the listener quickly appreciates the careful craftsmanship, and deadly aim, of the composer.  The performances sound like a group of friends recording around a kitchen table, and supposedly, that is exactly how Lower Plenty pull things together.  One could wonder whether the Velvet Underground would have sounded a bit like this if they were suburban Melbournians recording acoustic demos.  Given the variety, it is impossible to predict anyone's favorite tracks.  My ears pull me to the more upbeat opener, "Bondi's Dead", the weary "Glory Rats" and "Cursed By Numbers", the sprawling psychedelic "Ravesh" (which features an excellent sax contribution), and the anti-war "All The Young Men".  But it is all excellent, and all so unlike what else you are likely playing now.  Dance with the mystery girl, my friends, it is worth it.

Lower Plenty are Al Montfort, Jensen Tjhung and Sarah Heyward.  Sister Sister is out now via Bedroom Suck Records in Australia/New Zealand and Omnian Music Group in North America.

Bandcamp for Sister Sister
Bedroom Suck Records
Omnian Music Group page for Sister Sister

Veronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul - 16 Visions of Ex-Futur

Like a fine wine, the music on 16 Visions of Ex-Futur has aged beautifully.  Written over 30 years ago by March Hollander and Veronique Vincent (the vocalist for the band Honeymoon Killers), the songs were recorded by Vincent and Hollander's band Aksak Maboul for an album titled Ex-Futur.  However, the album was then left on the shelf.  It finally reached our ears a few years ago when released a few years ago by Crammed Discs, the Belgian label founded by Hollander.

The songs mix electro pop with French pop and electronic dance music, and sound perfectly current for today's tastes despite their date of origin.  16 Visions of Ex-Futur isn't a re-release of the original album, but effectively a tribute album with covers and remixes of the songs from the original album.  In addition to updated interpretations from the original artists, contributions come from Nite Jewel, Jaakko Eno Kalevi, Laetitia Sadier (late of Stereolab), Forever Pavot, Ramona Gonzalez and others.  The result is a delightfully swirling and rhythmic soundscape in which you can get happily lost.  And then press replay over and over again.

By the way, Crammed Discs has been one of my favorite label discoveries of the year.

Crammed Discs page for 16 Visions of Ex-Futur
Crammed Discs

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Soliti Five Years - My Brain Hurts A Lot

It isn't unusual for a label to celebrate five years of existence with a release of some of their best artists playing some of the best songs released on the imprint over that five years.  Samplers are great, and the five year anniversary is as good of a reason is publish a sampler as any.  But leave it to Helsinki's Soliti Music to put an interesting twist on things.  Yes, My Brain Hurts includes some of the label - and Finland's - best artists, and some of those wonderful songs.  But the twist is that each of the featured band's has contributed a cover of a song by another Soliti artist rather than one of their own compositions.  The result is fresh interpretations of great tunes, and a collection that doesn't replicate your current version of the song even if you are a collector of Soliti Music releases (which, of course, you should be).  So, we have dream pop band Delay Trees covering "Our Old Centre Back" from Cats on Fire's latest LP.  The New Tigers offer a stunning take on Black Twig's "Pastel Blue".  Black Twig returns the favor and covers "World's Greatest Actor" by The New Tigers.  In a flurry of genre-crossing, Cats of Transnistria cover Black Lizard, while Black Lizard cover Cats of Transnistria.  Astrid Swan sings in Finnish to cover Puunhalaaja's "Härkä ja Paimen", and Love Sport reinterpret's Astrid Swan's "Rabbit Catcher".  A great collection of songs heard in a new way, just in time for your holiday shopping!

Soliti Music page for My Brain Hurts A Lot
Soliti Music

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ablebody - Adult Contemporaries

Adult Contemporaries is the kid of intelligent, well crafted pop that deserves our appreciation.  The product of twin brothers Christoph and Anton Hochheim, working as Ablebody, it offers eleven shimmering songs with loads of hooks.  These songs are certified, Grade A sun-kissed and dreamy, with an underlying backbone of rhythms that likely will inspire to to take a drive by the beach or, failing that opportunity, dance around the family room.  No gimmicks, no frills, but plenty of well chosen detail.  You may detect similarities to the pop heyday of the '80s,  but while Brothers Hochheim retain the romanticism of that era, they have a modern take on the sound that seems more much more fresh and organic.  And by the way, Anton, some of that percussion reminds me of Steely Dan, and that's no bad thing at all.

Adult Contemporaries is out now via Lolipop Records in CD, vinyl and digital formats (cassettes are sold out).

Bandcamp for Adult Contemporaries
Lolipop Records

Monday, December 5, 2016

Meursault - Simple Is Good

Followers of Scottish pop have been hoping for the resurgence of Meursault, the Edinburgh-based project of Neil Pennycook.  Meursault released a well-received EP in 2012, and an award-nominated album in 2014.  Neil tried expanding the project to a full band, then shelved it.  Now recording again, he has just released the Simple Is Good EP via Song By Toad Records, to be followed by a full album titled I Will Kill You Again in 2017.

For Simple Is Good, Meursault is again Neil plus collaborators.  In this case, Robyn Dawson, Fraser Hughes, Sam Mallalieu, Reuben F. Taylor, Sophie Dodds and Bart Owl.  The songs are varied, with powerful emotions expressed acoustically via tracks such as stunning opener "Simple Is Good"  and the gorgeous but heartbreaking "A Kind Of A Cure", soaring dramatic pop as in "By Gaslight", alt folk as in "A Killer Chorus", and full on rocking intensity on tracks such as "The Fix Is In".  As would be expected, the stars of the show are Pennycook's voice, and his songwriting.  With respect to the latter, his approach is poetic, but direct and often dark and angry.  It is an economical and highly effective approach not only because he is a gifted songwriter, but also because a vocal instrument such as the one possessed by Pennycook can sell any message.  The atmospheric arrangements provide rich support for the compositions, but never overshadow them.  This EP is an elegant and polished gem, perfect for the winter months.  It is available in CD and digital formats.

Meursault - Simple Is Good from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

Bandcamp for Simple Is Good
Song By Toad Records

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sam Russell & The Harborrats - "Born To Hurt" / "Make Me Lose Control"

Sam Russell & The Harborrats are back, and that makes us very happy.  Call this gang garage doo wop, Americana soul or whatever, but they deliver stirring performances highlighted by Russell's superb vocals.  The Wisconsin Polka, the band's first studio album in four years, is due soon.  Your first taste is the single "Born To Hurt" / "Make Me Lose Control", consisting of the high energy "Born To Hurt", and a cover of the 1988 ballad by Eric Carmen.  The single is a digital download at the Bandcamp link below.  We will share more details regarding The Wisconsin Polka as they are available.

Bandcamp for "Born To Hurt" / "Make Me Lose Control"