Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Capital Letters - Wolverhampton

Capital Letters were a popular UK roots reggae bands, founded in the early '70s in Wolverhampton, in England's West Midlands.  But by the early '80s, they were a functioning band no longer, leaving fans with just a memory of their deep rhythms and bubbling melodies.  Happily, they reformed in the current decade, and still sound wonderful.  In 2011, they released the digital-only Planet Earth LP for VP Records.  While that release was welcome, Bristol's Sugar Shack found a way to improve on it with their new release for the band, Wolverhampton.  Remixing (and perhaps re-recording) the eight tracks from the 2011 record and adding six new songs, we have 14 tracks of roots reggae -- with a dash of lovers rock -- in a choice of CD or digital.  There also is a vinyl version which includes the first five tracks, plus the dub version of each.

Offering serious social and political commentary interspersed with lighter themes, the album draws on all of the elements that make reggae such a beloved genre.  The vocals are warm and expressive, and the rock solid rhythms and memorable melodies are adorned with brass and keyboards.  Perhaps an ancillary benefit of the maturity of the players, there is a palpable sense of playfulness to the  music.  Moreover, The production is superb, and this may be one of the most consistently high quality reggae recordings you have heard in a while.  If for some reason you only are going to buy one classic reggae album this year, here it is and it is only March.

I've included a few of my favorites here, but if you are a 'try before you buy' music fan, hit the Bandcamp link below and stream the entire album.

And as a special treat, here is a video of a rehearsal of the lead track, "Jah Music" --

The songs on Wolverhampton were written by G. Brown Jnr. and Lukas Daley, who also are the lead vocalists.  Daley also played guitar, and Brown played bass.  Joseph Sullivan played lead guitar, Vincent Pryce and Matthew Graham played keys.  Drums were hit by Dennis Watson.  Additional percussion was provided by Colin Palmer and James Archer.  Kadeem played the horns.  Backing vocals were contributed by Tasheka Coe, Steve Ital, and Yvonne James.

Sugar Shack Records

Monday, March 30, 2015

Primitive Motion - Pulsating Time Fibre

What a delightful collections of songs from Brisbane's Primitive Motion!  Shimmering and throbbing minimalist pop that is unabashedly atmospheric.  Echo-laden sounds float while dreamy vocals slide into and out of the frame.  At times the sound is sufficiently elegant that the listener may feel that he or she has wandered into the neighboring cathedral during a choir rehearsal, at other times it seems to be emanating from another dimension entirely.  But whether you sense you are receiving a transmission from Mars or sitting in church, your ears will delight at the aural world created by Sandra Selig and Lighton Craig in their home studios.

The eleven tracks of the A-side feature more recognizable song structures, while the four tracks of the B-side are more experimental.  But as an entire work, the feel is cohesive and addictive, and the listening experience is like being invited to share the intimate inner space of the musicians.  Pulsating Time Fibre is why you bought those new headphones, you just didn't realize it at the time.

Pulsating Time Fibre is available on vinyl and as a digital download from Bedroom Suck Records.

Bedroom Suck Records order page for album

"Sun Is Out" from Kill Surrrf

Kill Surrrf began as a bedroom recording project for Johnny Lynn (vocals/guitar), but has expanded to a live band including Thomas Dornan (guitar), Ciaran Gilbert (bass/keys), and Matthew Turner (drums).  We featured the band about a year ago, and there are no recent releases.  However, they posted this demo today and its spring-like feel and '60s vocals are too good not to share.

And "Girrrl" was posted recently as well, so you might as well enjoy it to start your week --


Friday, March 27, 2015

Death and the Maiden - Death and the Maiden

When we featured the Temporary compilation from New Zealand's Fishrider records (link) last August one of the four songs I chose to highlight was "Flowers For The Blind" from Death & The Maiden.  With haunting vocals dancing over a slinky groove, it was a song that promised much from this Dunedin trio.  Seven months later, the band has delivered on that promise with their self-titled album.  Over its seven tracks, the band creates a soundscape of synths, reverbed and delayed guitars, mechanical drums and crisp bass, crafted with plenty of space around the notes and then chilled to icy perfection.  My favorite tracks are "Flowers For The Blind" (really, one of my favorite tracks of the year), "Civilization", and "Dear ____".

But the true effect of the music isn't derived from individual songs, but rather from the adept combination of languid melodies, melancholy but detached vocals and sharp beats spread in various combinations over the approximately 38 minutes of the album.  It is hard to explain, but Death And The Maiden fills that inner need for a little darkness.  It is satisfying and addicting.  The "replay" button will be your friend.

Death and the Maiden are Danny Brady (synths/programming), Hope Robertson (guitar/drums/vocals), and Lucinda King (vocals/bass).  The album is out now on vinyl, CD and digital via Fishrider Records, and you can grab your favorite format via the Bandcamp link below.  Eventually it is to be available via Occultation in the UK and Midheaven in the US.

Fishrider Records

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Colourful Band - Sometimes It Rains

Indeed, as it says in the title, sometimes it rains.  Rain can be messy and inconvenient, and tends to be associated with foul moods.  But in a collection of songs about life and love from Scotsman Ian McKelvie, the title seems fitting.  For his last album, the singer-songwriter used a full band for recording, but for this one, while still using the name The Colourful Band, he relied on his solo performance and the quality of his songwriting.   Perhaps it was a risk, but I think it paid off; this is one of the most warm and visceral albums you will hear this year.  Recorded live in a single night, with only Ian singing and playing guitar without overdubs and post-recording wizardry, you feel like you are sitting right next to the man.

The album begins with the reflective, down-tempo "The Road", in which Ian muses about the life's seemingly endless road.  But proceedings liven up considerably for the standout second song, "Hallelujah".  Combining incisive  commentary with a vigorous vocal performance and an acoustic guitar that fills the room.  Thinking about the lyrics, I am suspicious that Ian won't really be giving up women or drink, but we need to give artists space to create alternate realities to entertain, and who can quibble with a song that good?  The next song is the mid-tempo anti-war tune "Arms Against the World (Don't Take Up)", followed by the reflective "I Just Don't Know What's The Matter With Me".  "The Same Old Familiar Story" is an examination of the state of a relationship, and the pattern represented by its path.

Although my personal preference runs to the mid and high tempo songs, one of my favorites is the slower tempo "Rain".  Featuring a passionate vocal performance, it anchors the album thematically, and begins a three-song run of killer tunes.  The other two are standout "The Lights of San Francisco" and "Love Is Hard To Find", which starts soft and builds beautifully.  Both are so good that I had to include them below with the stream of "Hallelujah".

So, I recommend that you endure love, loss, and uncertainty vicariously through Ian.  This is a great one for headphones and a glass of whisky.  I'll assume you know how to use both.

Sometimes It Rains is a digital-only release.  You can find it at Amazon US here or Amazon UK here.  It also is available via iTunes.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Goodly Thousands - Sunshine Hair EP

Like a quick kiss at the end of a highly anticipated first date, there is enough charm on Sunshine Hair EP from Dublin band Goodly Thousands to make it all seem special, but is short enough to leave you wanting more.  With echos of Sarah Records, C86 jangle bands and pristine Scandinavian pop,  the record presents four tracks perfect for the warming days of Spring.  The showcase track is the superb "Sunshine Hair", which features delicate and sincere vocals and jangling guitar that will strum nostalgia chords in your brain.  The following "Walking Home" ups the tempo with a breezy arrangement.  "Kiss Me Upside-Down" bears hints of Teenage Fanclub power pop.  The EP closes with the charmingly wistful "Ponytail".

Goodly Thousands is helmed by singer, guitarist and songwriter Colm Dawson, with Aaron Doyle on drums and Darren Hughes on bass.  Sunshine Hair EP is out on today via Shelflife Records.  It is available on vinyl or as a digital download.

Bandcamp for previous release
Shelflife Records page for EP

Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Although regular readers probably don't need reminding, I am an unabashed fan of Courtney Barnett.  I rated her The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas in my top ten for 2013 (link)  - the year before its US release), and have followed her career arc with interest since.  I'm also aware that a lot of ink - digital and real - is being spilled to cover the release of her debut LP, and associated live shows, so I could be lazy and write "great album, you should own it".  But I strive to be helpful, so while I'll spare you the detailed discussion of her background you can get elsewhere, here are what I think are the two most noteworthy aspects of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.

The first thing to note, not because it is the most important aspect of the album, but because the sequencing of the songs serves it up first, is that this is a rock album.  You will read much justifiable praise for Courtney's storytelling, adept turn of phase and Dylanesque singing style, but Courtney also is well able to rock your socks off or inject you with a shot of blues.  The electric guitar in her hands is not a PR-generated adornment, and she has played guitar in other bands, including Melbourne's Immigrant Union.  Opening tracks "Elevator Operator" and "Pedestrian At Best" raise a righteous ruckus of crunchy and slashing guitars and pounding rhythms.  And perhaps the best example is the guitar work on "Small Poppies".  Of course, there are a number of shaggy stories told with less volume as well, such as the country inflected standout "Depreston", but suffice it to say that this record doesn't belong in the "singer-songwriter" or "folk rock" bins.

Not surprisingly, the most notable feature of the album is the songwriting.  In my view what makes Courtney's songwriting special is not just the stories she tells, and not just the unique twists -- the punchline, if you will -- but the organic way the story unfolds in her hands.  "Pedestrian At Best" is a push me-pull me ramble of up and down feelings, including what seems be be a laugh at her own recent fame with plenty of side observations.  An example of the unique twists she writes is illustrated by "Aqua Profunda!", in which the narrator tries to impress the swimmer in the next lane at the pool but holds her breath too long, passes out and discovers the object or her interest departed by the time she recovers.  "Elevator Operator" addresses a man who snaps in the middle of his morning commute and heads to a potential suicide spot on the top of a building.  Along the way we learn of his worries about going bald, and the fashion choices and vanity of the woman waiting alongside him for the elevator.  In "Dead Fox" Courtney begins by expressing skepticism about the merits of buying organic vegetables, then transitions to the sight of roadkill ("a possum Jackson Pollock is painted on the tar") and then notes that her hay fever is acting up and they may be one sneeze away from swerving into a passing truck.

I think the best example of the organic flow of a storyline is in "Depreston".  The opening theme is Courtney and her partner, frustrated in finding a home to buy, thinking about looking further out from the center of town (leading to the title of the song, a combination of the town's name -- Preston -- and the depressing feeling it evokes).  But in talking herself into the merits of the venture Courtney observes that at least looking out farther might get them away from all the coffee shops, leading to a discussion of their wonderful new coffee machine and how much money she is saving on coffee.  The house hunt leads to discussion of the life of the previous owner and a rant about the high cost of housing.  I love diversions like this because this is how we think, this is how we tell stories, and this is how we live our lives.  Our focus is rarely on just one topic for one period of time, then shifts to the next one with no random thoughts.  Courtney's ability to capture the essence of the wandering thoughts and and multiple facets of daily life give the songs depth and warmth that is all too rare.

Of course, there will be many good albums this year.  But in my view this is one of the best so far, and will stand as one of the best when the year is done.

In addition to Courtney (guitar), the band for this album was Dave Mudie (drums/percussion), Bones Sloane (bass) and Dan Luscombe of The Drones (guitar).  Everybody sang.

The album is out now.  The US label is Mom + Pop.  In Australia it is out on Courtney's own Milk Records and in Europe via Marathon Artists.  You also can order via Courtney's website and at the usual digital outlets.

Mom + Pop
Milk Records
Marathon Artists

REVIEW: Surf City - Jekyll Island

Surf City never fails to impress me with their vision for guitar pop.  Elements include chiming and jangling New Zealand rock, touches of The Jesus and Mary Chain shoegaze, and Yo La Tengo psychedelic pop.  In the hands of this Auckland foursome the sound is fresh, irrepressibly jaunty and delivered with energy and a breathlessly propulsive rhythm section.  The latest edition is Jekyll Island.  While the band always has been purveyors of rousing jams, this record  in tighter and more focused, and I think it is among their best work yet.

The eleven songs that comprise Jekyll Island are bracketed with psychedelic jams, commencing with the more intense "Beat the Summer Heat" and closing with the more relaxed "Jesus Elvis Coca Cola".  In between you'll find reverb drenched sing alongs with loads of hooks and fuzz.  My favorites include "Hollow Veins" and "Thumbs Up", which has an appealing sound like their south island countrymen, The Bats, and the Pavement-like "Leave Your Worries".  The guitarists weave their magic, and the new rhythm section is crisp and hard.  The production is clean but unfussy, letting the songs and the bands' energy carry the day.  This is highly recommended.

Surf City are Davin Stoddard, Jamie Kennedy, Mike Ellis and Andy Frost.  Davin (guitar/vocals) and Jamie are original members, with Jamie moving from bass to guitar for this album.  Jekyll Island is out this week on Fire Records worldwide, and Popfrenzy Recordings in Australia.

Fire Records
Popfrenzy Recordings

Friday, March 20, 2015

Black Lizard - Solarize

I have been a fan of Finland's Black Lizard for several years.  Their sound to date has been an updated blend of psychedelic shoegaze that echos The Jesus and Mary Chain, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Solarize, their second LP, reveals and expanded musical concept, with elements of  '90s alternative rock and a broader array of instruments to the original garage rock/psychedelic palate.  The atmosphere is refined as well.  While still mining the dark side of their sound, this album lets in some sunshine.

The album begins with one "Everything and Nothing", which is one of the tracks that is most representative of the band's expanded range.  Boasting a buoyant and engaging groove, it is a swaggering delight.  The fifth track, "Harmonize", utilizes a post-punk, synth-based approach to expressing tension, with more space and a slower tempo than the other songs.  The other seven tracks reveal Black Lizard's increased confidence in their brand of psychedelic garage.  For my money, "All Her Time", "Prefect Dope" and "Helpless" are most memorable.  But there are no weak spots.  Play it end to end and you are living in a rock and roll fantasy.

Black Lizard are Paltsa-Kai Salama (vocals/guitar), Joni Seppanen (guitar), Luri Lyytinen (bass) and Onni Nieminen (drums/percussion).  Solarize is out today via Helsinki's Soliti Music in vinyl and digital formats.

Soliti Music

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In Tall Buildings - Driver

Have you been good lately?  Enjoyed a triumph that calls for a reward?  Give some thought to presenting yourself with Driver from In Tall Buildings.  Consisting of ten lush, layered tracks of melodic pop, this is music carefully crafted to grace your finest earphones.  In Tall Buildings is the name used by Chicago native Erik Hall (of NOMO and His Name Is Alive) for his solo recordings.  He home-recorded the album in Chicago and a Michigan farmhouse, utilizing multiple instruments to achieve his desired sound.  While the songs are varied in rhythm, energy and emotion, a unifying characteristic is the spacious feel and generally relaxed pace.  The atmosphere is intimate, but rather than create specific themes they convey an overall impression of relaxed and unthreatening melancholy.  I was most taken by the incredible "Flare Gun" and lead off track "Bawl Cry Wail", but the record presents consistent quality throughout.  My first impression on listening to the album is that all of the songs felt like old friends, even though I had never heard them before.  In my view, that is a quality to be cherished.

Driver is out in the US now, out in Europe on April 20.

Western Vinyl page for album

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Emma Kupa - Home Cinema

A few years ago I reviewed an album by the since deceased Sheffield, UK band Standard Fare.  Among the many positives of that group were the vocals and songwriting of the bass player, Emma Kupa.  Happily, Emma has resurfaced with this delightful Home Cinema EP.  Warm vocals and classic rhythms carry six songs of family remembrances.  And because they are about family and are honestly crafted, the stories cover the range of happy and sad, triumphs and hardships.  But the tunes are infections, the vocals endearing, and the sincerity that infuses the project makes this one of those wonderfully intimate musical treasures that come along every so not-often-enough.

According to my ears, the standout track is "Half Sister", but I also find myself pressing replay for the country-folk "Consequences" and the '60s influenced "Punch A Door Through".  The title is apt -- this record is like looking at someone's home movies.  But the delicious bit, in addition to the obvious quality, is that the tales are those that people's home movies never capture.

Home Cinema is out now via wiaiwya Records.

Bandcamp for Home Cinema
Soundcloud for Home Cinema
Home Cinema blog
wiaiwya Records

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

REVIEW: Nic Hessler - Soft Connections

Four years ago I profiled a band that called itself Catwalk (link) which had recently signed to Captured Tracks' roster, and a couple of year later featured another of their songs.  And then I heard nothing of the band.  It seems that there is a good excuse for the silence, as Mr. Catwalk, Californian Nic Hessler, came down with an autoimmune disorder in 2012, at age 21, that knocked him out of musical circulation.  It is 2015 and Nic has recovered and still writes music.  Back with Captured Tracks, his comeback effort is Soft Connections.  Of course, this is great for Nick.  But guitar pop fans should celebrate as well.  This young man started writing music when he was 14, and signed his first label deal at age 18.  He is very good at it, and we here at WYMA are glad he is back.

Soft Connections begins with the upbeat, slightly new wave guitar pop "I Feel Again" (stream below), which could well be the recovery announcement for anyone emerging from a debilitating disease, and ends with the dreamy title track.  In between are ten more tracks of inspired guitar pop, from the tropical romance of "Do You Ever" to the '80s new wave feel of "All In The Night" to the near '60s bubblegum plea "(Please) Don't Break Me".  There is no filler here, and the record plays out more like a mixtape of recent favorite indie pop songs than a typical record.  Still, everyone will have favorites, and mine is the wonderful "Into the Twilight", although "(Please) Don't Break Me" (Catwalk fans will remember it fondly), "Permanent" and "All In The Night" are close behind.  If you are a fan of well-crafted power pop like that of XTC and Alex Chilton, this album is for you.  In the days when radios played hits, you would have heard these songs regularly.  Now, we have to spread the word.  Get busy!

Soft Connections is out today via Captured Tracks.

Captured Tracks

Monday, March 16, 2015

REVIEW: American Culture - Pure American Gum

The music of American Culture wears its American rock credentials proudly.  Think The Replacements, The Henry Clay People, Springsteen, Velvet Underground, Dinosaur Jr and Guided By Voices.  It may not be easy to articulate the American essence, but we grew up on this stuff, bought records and went to shows.  This is our rock music -- the soundtrack of our lives. And while the fusion of punk, power pop, college rock and guitar pop with a love of volume and 'we do what we want' attitude is never going to be destined for the pop charts of 2015, it also is always going to have a place in our hearts.  The band is either shy about, or unconcerned with, telling you anything about themselves, although my crack research assistants generously took time from filling out their March Madness Brackets to advise me that the main man here is Chris Adolf who formerly performed as Bad Weather California.  Due to said interns' indolence, as well as their not quite admirable resilience in the face of negative job reviews, no other details will be forthcoming.

Thanks to the good folks at Jigsaw Records, we all can have a piece of American Culture.  Pure American Gum delivers ten anthems reflecting the freedom and anxiety of American youth.  The album kicks off with the '90s rock of "My Teeth Are Sharp", with woozy vocals and thick guitar lines.  "Actual Alien" brings a touch of shoegaze without yielding any of the fist-pumping drive.  Fans of the late The Henry Clay People, which certainly includes me, should find great joy in "Social Anxiety".   The next song is titled "I Like American Culture".  For my money, it is the best song on the album, and by now I expect any rock fan will agree with the sentiment in the title.  "We Wanna Go To The Movies" sounds like it should be the best Guided by Voices song of the year, and just as you are wrapping your head around that fact the band slides into the Springsteen-like romp of "Just Driving Around".  The following "I Wanna Be Your Animal" switches the vibe to a taut film noir soundtrack.  The upbeat piano-driven "And That's Enough For Me" becomes one of the standout tunes of the album by virtue of making you feel so damn good.  The album ends with the adrenaline rush of "About A Friend" and the delightful "I Wasn't Going To Fuck You Over Like That".

This album wraps up years of American rock music with its own fresh wrapper.  I love this album and can't stop playing it.

Pure American Gum is available as a digital download for the unbelievable price of $7, and on vinyl with a digital download included.  See the Bandcamp link below for either format.  Gum is not included, but at those prices you'll be able to afford the flavor of your choice.

Bandcamp for album

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Colleen Green - I Want to Grow Up

Via the title of her new album for Hardly Art, stoned songstress Colleen Green proclaims I Want To Grow Up.  And we have no reason to not accept the statement at face value.  Certainly her appealingly shaggy arrangements of the past have given way to tighter tunes, and unlike prior recordings she has even used a studio for this effort.  Lyrically, too, she turns her attention to getting her life together.  But she says that she wants to grow up, not that she has reached that goal.  So these songs are more about discovering the path to the goal, traveling that path, and straying off the path.  Besides, growing up means knowing what you do best, so I'm happy to report that Green still delivers crunch, fuzzy, lo-fi power pop with sugary vocals.  As she does that about as well as anyone American indie music, we can celebrate her path to maturity in fine fashion.

The individual songs emphasize the theme announced in the title, unspooling like diary entries recording the progress made and the progress still need to be made.  Life isn't perfect, but decisions need to be made, dammit, so they get made and hope for the best.  And as listeners, all is good anyway, as we get the great tunes along the way.  While we hope Colleen finds what she is looking for -- and likes it when she does -- if she doesn't then she can name her next album "Growing Up Was A Dumb Idea".  And I expect we will love that one as well.

I Want To Grow Up is out now via Hardly Art.

Hardly Art page for Colleen Green releases

Friday, March 13, 2015

Beach Beach - The Sea

The twelve songs on The Sea, the sophomore album from Barcelona-based Beach Beach emphasize the theme suggest by the name of the band and title of the album.  Varying among upbeat guitar pop, sun-washed summer ditties, jangling nostalgia and surfy party tunes, this album transports the listener to the coast on a sunny day.  With but one exception each track, the songs run about three minutes or less, just long enough to kiss you with their poppy vibe and hand the baton to the next track.  The tunes are breezy, the melodies tight and upbeat.  Guitars ring, chime and jangle and the harmonies stick in your head, just as they were designed to do.  The effect is like that of a well curated mix tape you pack to go to the beach beach ... I mean the beach.  You may need to apply sunscreen.

Beach Beach are Pau Riutort, Tomeu Mulet, Angel Garau, and Lluis Cabot.  The Sea is out as of March 16 via La Castanya, and is available as a digital download, as well as CD and vinyl (plus digital download).

Bandcamp for the album
Bandcamp for previous Beach Beach releases
La Castanya

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chook Race - About Time

About Time from Melbourne's Chook Race delivers ten tracks of garage and power pop that, while it won't separate them from some of their notable peers on the hometown scene in terms of genre, should earn them a good look based on the quality.  There seems to be a bit of '60s garage feel to the guitars on many tracks, but there are surfy tunes ("Good For Me"), dusty California guitar pop ("Time"), jangle pop ("Outbound"), and note-perfect slacker pop.  You can stream the entire album at the Bandcamp link, but I've included a few of my favorites below.

Chook Race are Carolyn Hawkins (drums) Rob and Matt.  About Time is out now.  You can obtain a digital copy from Bandcamp.  Bandcamp also is your friend for vinyl in Australia, but US fans probably should use the link for Easter Bilby Records if they want vinyl.

Easter Bilby Records

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Young Guv - Ripe 4 Luv

Ben Cook of Toronto's Fucked Up possesses a restless muse.  In addition to his duties with the hardcore stars,  a few side projects, songwriting for various artists and an acting stint, he now has assumed the identity of Young Guv, a top 40 popster who throws down sweet and gooey tunes with infectious rhythms and hooks that will make your dentist smile.  The Guv's new album for Slumberland Records is Ripe 4 Luv, and it's eight tracks fuse power pop with a touch of glam and a dose of Princely swagger.  It is hard to pick favorites, but a few standouts are below.  I also suggest checking out "Aquarian", which is so smooth it should be in a shaving commercial.

Slumberland Records page for album

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

REVIEW: Dick Diver - Melbourne, Florida

Melbourne, Florida, the third album from Melbourne, Australia's Dick Diver, is their first to be officially released in the United States.  However, they are not unknown here.  They toured last year and their prior work has attracted positive reviews (for example, here).  And I certainly qualify as a fan, as I rated their 2013 LP Calendar Days the top album of the year (link).  It seems that this release could present a challenge for the band, because fans naturally will compare the album to Calendar Days and new listeners will be listening to see whether the band can hit the marks necessary to make it in the crowded US market.  But if the band feels the pressure, it doesn't show.  What they have managed to do here is make an album that still sounds like Dick Diver, but pushes past their previous boundaries in triumphant fashion.

By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Dick Diver is a four-piece consisting of Al McKay (guitar), Rupert Edwards (guitar), Steph Hughes (drums) and Al Monfort (bass); all members write songs and sing.  The name of the band is taken from a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night (although I suspect many confronted with the name for the first time assume something ruder).  They play guitar pop with themes that address the lives of young Australians, with poetically-phrased and often acerbic observations about various facets of life, presented in a style sufficiently reminiscent of The Go-Betweens to be endearing but in all ways that matter individual enough to be their own masters.  Their past records include upbeat and somewhat noisy indie rock and  slower paced songs with minimal instrumentation.  In my opinion their forays into rock have been wonderful, as "Calendar Days", "Lime Green Shirt" and "Bondi 98" from their 2013 LP illustrate.  But for me their real sweet spot is crafting the less noisy tunes.  In that space, they show a genius for using space, fewer notes and sparse lyrics to make a perhaps surprisingly big impact emotional impact.  As lyricists, they are ahead of most, but they also seem to know that the melancholy and mundane can be eloquently expressed with a phrase, a few pauses and a guitar strum.

On Melbourne, Florida, the band continues to create the type of songs on which they have made their reputation, but with more sonic range and, at times, even sharper songwriting.  They include rockers "Waste The Alphabet" and "Tearing The Posters Down", to which you can listen below, and wonderfully rich pop tunes such as "Year In Pictures", "Percentage Points" and "Private Number", all of which have a nostalgic '80s feel.  And of course there are those quietly lovely emotional grenades, such as divorce song "Boomer Class" (a current musical obsession of mine which can be streamed below) and "View From A Shakey Ladder".  Working again with producer Mikey Young and secluded in a sheep shearing shed along Apollo Bay, the fine songwriting is accented with piano, steel guitar, saxophone and trumpet.  To my ears this album makes better use of Steph's vocals to complement the male vocalists and as well as a lead, and the performances from all parties are assured.  Lyrically, the foursome still cast a sharp and melancholy glance at the world around them, but the boundaries seem more international and the scope seems to look nostalgically backwards and resignedly forward.

Melbourne, Florida is released today, March 10, by Trouble In Mind Records worldwide, except Australia, New Zealand and Japan, for which the release was handled by the band's home town label, Chapter Music, on March 6.  By now, you should take my word for it, but if you have any doubt about this album, you can stream it here.

Trouble In Mind Records page for album
Chapter Music page for album

Monday, March 9, 2015

Anthonie Tonnon - Successor

When this calendar year commenced I had a list of albums I expected to evaluate for review.  Anthonie Tonnon's Successor was not one of them.  This isn't because I specifically rejected the notion of listening to his album.  Rather, it is because I had never heard of Tonnon, either as a single artist or in his previous projects Tono and Tono & the Finance Company.  However, I'm nothing if not flexible and it took but one listen to Successor to decide that it required repeated listens.  With a lyrical songwriting style that ranges from broadly observational to humorous to personal, and a knack for a good melody, Tonnon delivers nine fully formed and generous songs that defy neat characterization of influences.  If pressed, I'd say that there is a hint of '80s pop on a number of tracks, especially with the motorik beat and accenting guitar lines, and reminders of David Bowie at other points.  But "Bird Brains" is more Teenage Fanclub than David Bowie or or Krautrock and "Sugar In The Petrol Tank" and "A Friend from Argentina" remind me of the soaring folk pop of American band Beirut.  Overall, the effect is of wide-ranging ballads focused on communicating with the listener, ably delivered by Tonnon's expressive vocals.  Take Successor for a test drive with the fourth and fifth tracks below.

On Successor Tonnon is assisted by Jonathan Pearce, Stuart Harwood, and Eddie Castelow.  The album is out now via Canape King Records everywhere but the United States (I suggest using the Bandcamp link below), and will be out soon in the United States via Wild Kindness Records.

Wild Kindness Records

"Club Low" by Model Aeroplanes

Ben Buist, Grant Irvine, Kieran Smith, and Rory Fleming-Stewart are Model Aeroplanes.  We are fond of their catchy guitar pop around WYMA headquarters, so we are happy to feature their latest -- "Club Low".  Don't be embarrassed to dance, that just might be the point here.  As far as we know, there is no LP or label yet.  But with songs like this, I expect both will happen soon for this band.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Full Moon, Hungry Sun" from Kane Strang

Dunedin, New Zealand musician Kane Strang is prepping his second LP, to be released later this year.  He has shared a second track, "Full Moon, Hungry Sun", and it is available as a 'name your price' download from Bandcamp.  I think it is a very nice song, with ringing guitars and a sturdy rhythm section.  Check it out below.

Bandcamp for single

Friday, March 6, 2015

Languis - Other Cities EP

Languis' Other Cities EP is not a new release -- the Pehr label had that honor in 2006.  But the tastemakers at Shelflife Records have arranged to mark the tenth anniversary of the record's conception by reissuing the EP in a limited run of 250 10" vinyl copies (plus one bonus track provided digitally).   Why is this so special?  Do yourself a favor and plug in some earphones, listen the the swirling psychedelia, pumping rhythms, and gentle harmonies on the Soundcloud clip below.  Then imagine how it will sound on vinyl over your home system.  The washed out sound, warm melodies and full production make an magical set of positive and emotional songs.  Buy it and play it for someone you love.

Alejandro Cohen and Marcos Chloca founded Languis in 1991 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  By the time Other Cities EP was conceived and recorded the band had added Stephen Swesey of Tristeza and John Girgus of Aberdeen.  I believe the band now is based in Los Angeles and is working on new recordings.

Shelflife Records

Thursday, March 5, 2015

REVIEW: The Stones - Three Blind Mice

The bloodlines of New Zealand's The Stones are deep on these pages.  They were featured directly as one of the four bands on the seminal Flying Nun release Dunedin Double, which Flying Nun and Captured Tracks reissued last April (our review here).  There also was an indirect reference with our coverage of those two labels' reissue of Bored Games' Who Killed Colonel Mustard because one of the members of that band, Wayne Elsey, founded The Stones with Jeff Batts and Graeme Anderson.

Wayne's decision to shut down Bored Games and form The Stones was born of his desire to have a band the sounded more like South Island contemporaries The Clean.  And the reverb, twang and jangle coupled with adventuresome songwriting, consider it mission partially accomplished.  However, if the band were mere followers, they wouldn't merit this compilation and we wouldn't be writing about it.  In fact what The Stones did was more important than sounding like The Clean.  They fused rock attitude and garage energy with innate, and sometimes progressive, pop smarts and an inventive and disciplined rhythm section.  Moreover, they had a rock swagger and an aggressive edge, and in their couple year run they displayed incredible promise. Yes, there was a bit of The Clean in the sound, but as noted by contemporary Dunedin musician Shayne Carter, there was a bit of VU and Joy Division in the mix as well.  Sadly, their official recorded output consists only of the songs on1982's Dunedin Double and their own EP, Another Disc Another Dollar, in 1983.  And then it was breakup time.  The restless Elsey then played in Doublehappys, before dying in a train accident in '85.

Three Blind Mice compiles the songs from Dunedin Double and Another Disc Another Dollar, and adds nine live performances from '82 and '83 which have never been released previously.  The package includes liner notes penned by Shayne Carter (who in addition to being in Straightjacket Fits, was in Bored Games and Doublehappys with Elsey), design and illustrations from Alec Bathgate and Chris Knox (Toy Love).  The compilation was curated by Bruce Russell and mastered by Tex Houston.  Yes, this is a slice of music history, but much more importantly, it is a large slice of rare and delicious music.

Three Blind Mice is available on CD and vinyl, and as a digital download from Flying Nun and Captured Tracks.  Note, however, that the nine live tracks will not be on the vinyl version.

Flying Nun Records
Captured Tracks page for release

Love of Diagrams - Blast

Melbourne trio Love of Diagrams was active in the '00s, touring the US twice in mid-decade and releasing three records, the last of which dropped in 2009.  Nearly five years later they traveled back to the states to record with Steve Albini in Chicago.  The product of that effort is Blast -- twelve tracks of muscular post-punk.  Female vocals ride the waves of fiery, fuzzy guitar work and dominating bass and percussion.  In terms of references one might suggest that it sounds like Sonic Youth covering Siouxsie and the Banshees, or Siouxsie and the Banshees covering Sonic Youth.  This is music that rumbles in your chest cavity and cleans out your head (and everyone who knows me knows my head needs periodic cleaning, so there is a public service aspect to this).

Music is more satisfying when it sounds like the musicians are enjoying delivering it, rather than tearing in from their tortured flesh.  In the case of this album, it is evident that Love of Diagrams had a blast recording Blast.  Catch the thundering joy.

Love of Diagrams is Antonia Selbach (bass/lead vocals), Luke Horton (guitar/vocals), and Monika Fikerle (drums).  Blast is released via Bedroom Suck Records.

Band blog
Bedroom Suck Records

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

REVIEW: Sonny and the Sunsets - Talent Night at the Ashram

Talent Night at the Ashram works on so many levels for me.  As always with Sonny and the Sunsets, Sonny Smith's observations about his life, real or imagined, or the life he witnesses, real or embellished, are both interesting and interestingly stated.  The guitars always sound great.  And the overall tone of the songs have the right dose of ramshackle, adding texture to the well-formed core of the tune.  That the ideas are so vividly fleshed out isn't surprising when you learn that the original concept was a feature length film, which then morphed into an album.  So you can close your eyes and think of yourself as listening to someone singing you the screenplays for a series of televised short stories.  Although filming the dog swimming in the narrator's beer might have been a director's challenge.

Some albums are conventional thematically, but psychedelic in tone.  Talent Night at the Ashram is mostly '60s inflected indie rock in tone, but more than a little psychedelic and just plain off the wall thematically.  And in all honesty, the execution suggests that Sonny's way is the best way to do it.  He is one of the more inventively entertaining artists on the scene, and this album shows that his star is continuing to rise.  This album is highly recommended.

Talent Night at the Ashram is out now on Polyvinyl Records.  For this outing Sonny and the Sunsets is Sonny Smith, Shayde Sartin, Ian McBrayer, Garret Goddard, Kelley Stoltz, Rusty Miller, and probably a few others.

Bandcamp for the album
Polyvinyl Records

"Broken Hands" from Fraser A. Gorman

Fraser A. Gorman takes his own damn time.  His debut LP is to be released this year, but he drips a delicious track on us every now and then to let us know what we aren't getting until he is good and ready.  We've previously featured the wonderful "Book of Love" and demo for "Darkness is Coming" here (link), and now we have the video for "Broken Hands", in which our intrepid hero discovers the world via the magical properties of his new rug, and discovers and immutable fact about the limits of magic when pitted against hungry goats.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Video for "Haze of Youth" from Zebra Hunt

One of my favorite albums of the year so far is City Sighs, from Seattle's Zebra Hunt (review here).  The band just released a video for the stellar album closer "Haze of Youth", with scenes from some of their local urban hunting grounds.  Great song and a fun video.

Bandcamp for City Sighs

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"All I Need" From Little Secrets

Today we are sharing a featured single is "All I Need" from a little secret band, aptly named The Little Secrets.  The Liverpool consists of Stacy Jo (vocals) and Kevin Dixon (guitars/mellotron), who co-wrote the song, with assistance in the studio from Colin Lloyd (guitar), Dean Hampson (bass), and Chris Campbell (drums).  "All I Need" is an infectious slice of girl-voiced indie pop, released in late January and gathering airplay around the global.  It adeptly splices together the girl group sound of the '60s with modern indie pop sensibilities.  If this duo has more in the tank like "All I Need", they should do well.  The single is out via Edge Hill University's The Label Recordings, and you can find it on iTunes and Amazon.

The Label Recordings (background)