Category Archives: CD

ANTI-FLAG – American Fall

Album: American Fall

Artist: Anti-Flag

Label: Spinefarm

Release Date: November 03, 2017

The Upshot: Best protest band in the land is inspired in the era of Trump.


It’s practically cliché at this point to mention the role Conservative presidential administrations play in inspiring great punk rock. That being said, it’s hard to think of a better band to rage against Trump and his racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic brand of politics than Anti-Flag. And the proof is all over American Fall, the latest from Pittsburgh’s musical conscience.

Sound wise, the band has sanded down a few of the rougher edges over the past couple of decades, but that has done little to blunt the ferocity of the music or the social criticism in their lyrics. There are a few more hooks on this latest release and the production is clearer, but it certainly doesn’t water down the sentiment. The band has also added in more sing-along choruses, suggesting some of the great British oi bands like Cock Sparrer and Sham 69. A song like “The Criminals” is just as ferocious as anything off their blistering debut, Die For The Government, while “When the Walls Fall” mixes in some ska horns showing he band is willing to take more chances on this new record – some succeed better than others.

“The Racists,” probably the center piece of this record, is tailor-made for the Trump era and his red-capped, khaki wearing “alt right” cheerleaders. The album even has a brilliant call to arms in the song “Finish What We Started.”

Yes, right wing government making for great protest rock is hardly a new theory, but Anti-Flag prove it’s true yet again with their latest.

DOWNLOAD: “The Criminals,” “Trouble Follows Me,” and “Finish What We Started”

WOLF PARADE — Cry, Cry, Cry

Album: Cry, Cry, Cry

Artist: Wolf Parade

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: October 06, 2017

The Upshot: A return to roots for Krug and Boeckner, of fulsome tremulous emotions expressed through ball-crunching riffery and trilling keyboard blasts, of sensitivity blared through arena-sized rock gestures and bravado.


It’s been seven years since the last Wolf Parade album, the urgent and unabashedly rock Expo 86, and members of the band have been off in their separate journeys, Spencer Krug with the plaintive anthemics of Moonface, Dan Boeckner with the alienated post-punk romanticism of Handsome Furs, the oddball synth pop of Divine Fits. Cry, Cry, Cry feels like a return to roots, of fulsome tremulous emotions expressed through ball-crunching riffery and trilling keyboard blasts, of sensitivity blared through arena-sized rock gestures and bravado. Krug and Boeckner alternate lyrical duties, but both perceive the sorry state of a fallen world through vivid, nearly lurid metaphors, suitable for shouting from rooftops while punching stale air. This album is maybe the most uplifting downer of 2017, which is saying something.

Cry, Cry, Cry starts from the micro and expands outward, beginning in the smallest kind of tragedy. One person’s death makes up the core of “Lazarus Online” in a fluting, urgent, emotion-charged swan dive into this album’s aesthetic. Wounded but defiant, ripped up but melodically unstoppable or as Krug puts it, aptly enough. “Like getting punched in the heart/were the exact words on describing the music you heard.”

Boeckner brings a bit of his new wave, synth-blasting, dance mode into “You’re Dreaming,” but its tootling hedonism seems a trifle next to “Incantation,” where piano chords cavort around architecturally stark percussion. The music cake-walking frippery, brave ornamentation, amid the wreckage, and it echoes ideas about trying to maintain love and truth and joy in an oppressive world.

As always Krug’s songs are a bit more fluid and romantic, Boeckner’s sterner and full of punishing rhythms, but they meet in fertile middle that balances mourning and celebration. Krug’s “Who Are Ya,” the catchiest of these tunes, the most overtly upbeat, limns the immediacy and joy of making music (“with your hand on the neck of your father’s guitar”) but tempers it with recognition that this joy is always passing even when it’s going on. Boeckner’s last song, “Artificial Life,” is the album’s bleakest, lyrically, musing on income inequality and gentrification, climate change and political divides, and yet it bubbles and burbles with palpable giddiness. The easiest way to say it is that there’s no barrier between despair and euphoria in these songs — which contain both, equally, simultaneously and without contradiction.

DOWNLOAD: “Lazarus Online,” “Incantation,” “Who Are Ya”

Ed. Note: Get the vinyl (below), duh.

BECCA RICHARDSON – We Are Gathered Here

Album: We Are Gathered Here

Artist: Becca Richardson

Label: self-released

Release Date: October 06, 2017

The Upshot: Nashville artist weaned on ‘70s rock and classic soul debuts in fine style.


Becca Richardson was raised in the Midwest, weaned on old Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens and Soul records and the result can be heard all over We Are Gathered Here.

The self-released debut LP from Richardson, now settled in Nashville, is a beautiful collection that serves to highlight those influences (Stevie Nicks in particular), though not always in the most obvious ways. Across 10 tracks, her ethereal vocals are front and center, especially on tracks like “Right Now” and “Killing All the Beautiful”.

She is not afraid to dabble in electronic flourishes and blend in pop music here and there, which adds to the appeal. A few of the songs, however, – especially some of the slower, more somber numbers – tend to blend into each other with little to distinguish one from the next. But ultimately, We Are Gathered Here is an experiment in different influences that pays off more often than it doesn’t.

DOWNLOAD: “My Father’s Daughter,” “Right Now” and “Killing All the Beautiful”

WAND – Plum

Album: Plum

Artist: Wand

Label: Drag City

Release Date: September 22, 2017

The Upshot: A decisive stylistic change for the group, having expanded both its lineup and its sound to embrace a denser, more complex approach to songcraft.


What a remarkable record—weird, yet compelling, in equal parts dissonance and luminosity; a seductive tease that nevertheless exudes the kind of warm familiarity that marks the best indie rock. Plum is the fourth album from Los Angeles quintet Wand—Cory Hanson (vocals, guitar), Sofia Arreguin (synth, vocals), Robert Cody (guitar), Lee Landey (bass), Evan Burrows (drums)—and it’s as far removed from the group’s garage rock roots (in the past, Wand was typically compared to outfits like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees) as it could be—mark my words, the namedrops from here on will be along the lines of Big Star, The Move, Guided by Voices,  and Wilco.

Part of the change is probably due to natural evolution; when Hanson formed the band in 2013, Wand was initially a three-piece, but by 2016 the decision was made to add a second guitarist and synth player, resulting in a considerably more expansive sound. Too, Hanson has grown a great deal as a songwriter, and while he hasn’t completely abandoned the high-octane approach—several of the songs on Plum give plenty of love to the group’s effects pedals, and the drummer doesn’t hold back when the arrangement calls for it—even the most overt fuzzy thumpers here have a depth and sonic complexity that speaks to Hanson’s growing maturity and confidence. Too, Arreguin’s keyboards in bring additional texture and atmosphere to the material (it’s quite possible she’ll turn out to be the group’s secret weapon in concert), and she also helps sweeten the band’s vocal palette, with Hanson in turn allowing himself to croon with conviction where he might have once yelped and sneered.

The title track is emblematic of the album as a whole, its reassuring pop handshake marked by a gorgeous melody, chugging keys, Beatlesque guitars, lush vocal harmonies, and an overall psychedelic vibe. And the nearly eight-minute “Blue Cloud” finds the band going full-on Prog, via a tingly, twinkly ambiance—the Wilco comparison is unavoidable here— a series of twinned angular/jangly fretboard sequences, and a rhythmic pulse that’s downright hypnotic.

It will be a challenge for the band to recreate Plum in concert, and part of the pleasure factor for fans will be to witness Wand’s creativity as artists flowering before their eyes.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Cloud,” “Plum,” “The Trap”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal

Album: Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Rune Grammofon

Release Date: August 25, 2017

The Upshot: Given both the passion behind the performances and the names at play, it’s clear that the Norwegian jazz guitarist/composer commands respect in the circles of beloved creative improvisers.


Though practically a rock star in his native Norway and creator of Odyssey, one of the 70s’ best fusion records, guitarist/composer Terje Rypdal barely qualifies as a cult artist in the States. But those in the know, know. Organized by San Francisco eclectician Henry Kaiser, Sky Music rounds a baker’s dozen fans and acolytes from around the world to pay tribute by recording several of Rypdal’s tunes. Rypdal has written and performed everything from free jazz and fusion to classical music and surf rock, but the musicians here concentrate on his jazz side.

The majority of the tracks revolve around sessions anchored by Kaiser and a Norwegian rhythm section comprised of bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (the Thing, Atomic, Scorch Trio, his own U.S.-based bands), keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent, Elephant9, Rypdal himself) and drummer Gard Nilssen (Bushman’s Revenge). Leaning into Rypdal’s 70s work, when the axeman was one of the few fusioneers to work with the abstract palette of Bitches Brew rather than the funk- and rock-oriented sounds that garnered commercial success, the rhythm section recruits five additional guitarists for medleys from the far side of the sun. Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s namesake Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, Dungen’s Reine Fiske, Bushman’s Revenge’s Even Helte Hermansen and Scorch Trio’s Raoul Björkenheim trade licks, solos and fills with Kaiser on “Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads For the Sun” and “Tough Enough/Rolling Stone/Tough Enough,” adding Motorpsycho’s Hans Magnus Ryan on the latter. It’s no decapitation fest, however – the musicians aim their six-string spray at the walls, not each other, resulting in riots of color that still stay within frame. Kaiser, Thomassen and Hermansen attack the appropriately-named “Warning: Electric Guitars” with gusto, the track’s shorter length giving it immediate impact. Storløkken also gets a solo showcase with the near-ambient “Dream Song/Into the Wilderness/Out of This World.”

Though not present for these sessions, other Americans besides Kaiser get in on the fun. Guitarist Bill Frisell opens the album with the atmospheric “Ørnen,” fellow axe god Nels Cline and cellist Erik Friedlander paint a gorgeous picture of “What Comes After,” and avant-guitarist David Torn sinks into beauty with “Avskjed.” (Torn and Frisell started their careers on ECM Records, Rypdal’s label home for four decades.) Experimental rocker Jim O’Rourke also weighs in, contributing pedal steel and guitar synthesizer, among other things, to the Scandinavian band’s propulsive psychedelic take on “Sunrise.”

Given both the passion behind the performances and the names at play, it’s clear that Rypdal commands respect in the circles of beloved creative improvisers. Perhaps Sky Music will lead some non-musician fans to his music as well.

DOWNLOAD: “Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads For the Sun,” “What Comes After,” “Warning: Electric Guitars”


THOMAS ANDERSON – My Songs Are the House I Live In

Album: My Songs Are the House I Live In

Artist: Thomas Anderson

Label: Out There

Release Date: September 08, 2017

The Upshot: Folky twang and sweet pop jangles from everybody’s favorite literate (and literary) indie rocker.


Nine albums and three decades in, Oklahoma/Texas indie rocker Thomas Anderson takes comfort in consistency, which, for fans, translates into the kind of warm, familiar sonic handshake expected of an old friend. This time around he’s tilting primarily in the direction of his singer/songwriter folkie side than the more overt rockisms of 2016’s Heaven, with his trademark literary approach to songcraft at the fore. (Go HERE to read my 2016 interview with Anderson in which he discusses his career, stretching all the way back to 1989’s critically hailed Alright, It was Frank . . . and He’s Risen From the Dead and Gone Off With His Truck.)

In fact, a couple of tunes take “literary” literally, notably the remarkably chipper “Henry Miller” in which Anderson traces the notorious novelist’s trajectory (“A threadbare genius in the streets of Paris/ Brooklyn to Big Sur a nomad existence/ He kept his counsel he wrote for himself/ He followed his star heeding nobody else”) and, by extension, celebrates solitary, misunderstood artists everywhere. Later, the narrative of the gently jangling “The Thorn Tree” involves the actions of Joseph of Arimathea following Jesus’ death, and how those actions have echoed down through time—hardly the canonical stuff of girls, cars, and beer.

Though frequently lyrically contemplative, often to the point of downcast, Anderson’s songs still bear the mark of an unapologetic lover of pop. From the upbeat guitar twang and gorgeous organ of “Girls in the Twilight,” to “Rommel’s Polka” which is, you guessed it, a strummy polka, to the straightforward folk-rock of “Encyclopedia,” his intuitive sense of how to craft a memorable melody is profound. There’s also an intriguing outlier on the album, “Rock All Night,” a raucous, delightfully dumb garage rocker based on a ragged-but-right blues progression and featuring an offhand-to-the-point-of-distorted vocal from our man.

Anderson would appear to be on an artistic upswing these days. Heaven featured his first collection of all-new material in a number of years, so with My Songs Are the House I Live In a relatively swift followup, I’m betting his well isn’t anywhere close to dry yet. Keep ‘em coming, sir.

DOWNLOAD: “Rock All Night,” “Girls in the Twilight,” “The Thorn Tree”



JESSE TERRY – Stargazer

Album: Stargazer

Artist: Jesse Terry

Label: Jackson Beach

Release Date: September 15, 2017

The Upshot: Stephen Hawking is not the only one asking for more from their universe – and this savvy pop genius may have just given birth to the perfect soundtrack to help us find our way.


Seemingly the illegitimate love child of Jeff Lynne and Jason Falkner, this lush, stunning release from this Stonington, Connecticut native is more than deserving of your special listening chair and favorite beverage(s). Four albums in, it’s clear that Jesse Terry’s shtick is no fluke case of mere, misguided Beatle worship – he has the tunes, the arrangements, the voice and a cast of like-minded musical prodigies to bring his dream to life.

There’s much meat to be found within each lavish arrangement – his larger-than-life, sweeping string section is powered by real players who have clearly pulled hard on the same Koolaid, sharing his passion. Whereas Lynne’s signature sound is built around over-sized, shimmering bits of harmonized vocals and acoustic guitars marrying rock’n’roll to Beatlesque pop, Terry goes one better. He anoints each complex arrangement with compelling vocals that are sweet, smooth perfection, stirred into each composition like so much clarified butter – each song sounding better than the last.

The stunning “Stargazer”, for example, benefits from Terry’s Harry Nilsson-like range, with an emphasis on his higher register. It is this combination – deep, rich strings and ethereal vocals – that keep this beautiful tune high up in the cosmos and immersed in the stars. By comparison, the equally ravishing “Woken The Wildflowers” strikes a slightly darker chord, embellished by inventive strings that, along with its striking chorus, help to sink its notable hook. With lyrical content espousing a restatement of American ideals in today’s trying times, this strong track makes the most of Terry’s higher range and backing vocalists to create a song you can’t get away from, even if you wanted to. The slightly more rock-pop shimmer of “Dangerous Times” recalls the pouty attitude of Tom Petty, boasting similar degrees of radio-friendly jangle, lush harmonies and, with increased emphasis on guitar, offers a tougher alternative to the album’s heavily string-laden beginnings. “Only A Pawn” offers a twist as its complicated arrangement leans on plucked cellos and dark violin sweeps to offset its emphasis on the delicate interplay of voices, finger snaps, synth and rhythmic drumbeats.

If something from Sgt. Pepper’s comes to mind, that deal is hammered home with the first strains of the highly Beatle-esque “Kaleidoscope”. Terry’s Lennon-ized lead vocal melds with Fab Four-grade backup vocals that float their “Fa la la la la”s over the composition as the rich tempo of Josh Kaler’s drums complete the recipe, together with stringed accompaniment and some distinctly out-of-character guitar edge from Terry. This is Beatles worship at its finest, enhanced by razor-sharp, upgraded sounds. “Stay Low” is another puzzler in this mix, as its melody gets somewhat lost, compromised by disjointed strings and offbeat piano, despite the usual lush vocals and rich backup support. “Won’t Let The Boy Die” resuscitates the flow, strongly recalling the majesty of the late, great Gerry Rafferty – his vocal style a sophisticated variation on McCartney’s. Another upbeat pop masterpiece, Terry employs equal parts strings, drums and guitar and, once again, a triumphant chorus, replete with smooth backing vocals and tumbling drums. An acoustic guitar-and-bass-drum-driven “Dance In Our Old Shoes” presents a welcome change of pace, graced by its dynamic chorus as acoustic goes electric – and back. Terry retains that strong Rafferty element in his lead vocal while the song’s contagious, hard-strummed acoustic sound illustrates another strong addition to the young singer’s arsenal. The piano-rock intro to “Runaway Town” sets up this Rafferty-tinged folk-rocker, its overall energy recalling the BoDeans at their roots-rock best as Terry lays claim to even more creative turf than he might’ve believed possible. The spacey electric guitar accompanying the strummed acoustic guitar helps move “Trouble In My Head” high and outside as this blissful ballad applies strings to elevate the emotions, further demonstrating Terry’s bottomless potential. The closing “Dear Amsterdam” is a gentle anthem, if not thoughtful lullaby, to a beautiful city, all the more celestial through Terry’s use of swelling strings as he further harnesses his somewhat exploratory Harry Nilsson side.

The blend of Terry’s dynamic vocals to those of Josh Kaler, Danny Mitchell and Jeremy Lister cannot be underestimated in the success of this record. At the same time, renowned composer Danny Mitchell deserves a hearty bow in the wake of his stringed arrangements, responsible for much of Stargazer’s stand-out sound – brought to you by David Davidson and David Angell on violin, Monisa Angell on viola and Carole Rabinowitz on cello. Multi-instrumentalists Mitchell (piano, organ, keyboards) and Josh Kaler (drums, bass, guitars, lap steel) join Terry on vocals and guitar to create a Nashville-based session band without equal on this highly spirited release.

As Terry has noted, Stargazer was a labor of love as he and his producer, Kaler, worked to bring something fresh to each track – hoping to mirror his taste in many of the well-produced and expertly-realized records he first fell in love with as a music fan. You can hear these influences on Stargazer as you can appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into mastering each and every song. And, as you wake up singing these hooks over and over to yourself songs because you just can’t get them out of your head, you’ll soon appreciate the full value of Stargazer. It’s that good.

DOWNLOAD: “Stargazer,” “Woken the Wildflowers,” “Dance In Our Old Shoes”

THE HEROIC ENTHUSIASTS – The Heroic Enthusiasts

Album: The Heroic Enthusiasts

Artist: Heroic Enthusiasts

Label: Bodan Kuma Recordings

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: Rochester’s pride goes atmosphere-draped darkwave.


The Heroic Enthusiasts are likely the most UK-sounding band to call Rochester, NY home. On their self-titled debut LP, the band manages to bring to mind everyone from The Psychedelic Furs to the Cocteau Twins, across 10 moody, but satisfyingly solid post-punk tracks.

The synth-heavy sound is thanks to veterans from a slew darkwave and indie rock bands like Eleven Pond, Bullseye and Longwave. This full length follows on the heels of two well-received EPs and goes deeper into the band’s dark atmospheric sound. Songs like “Dunes” and the hook-filled “Detachment” are among some of their best so far. There are some weak spots throughout, but not enough to dwell on.

Impressively, the record was self-producer and mixed by Mercury Rev’s Anthony Molina. With a sound rooted in the early ‘80s, The Heroic Enthusiasts sound like nothing coming out of the U.S. music scene at the moment and that’s far from a bad thing


DOWNLOAD: “Dunes,” “Detachment” and “New York Made Me”

KAT GOLDMAN – The Workingman’s Blues

Album: The Workingman’s Blues

Artist: Kat Goldman

Label: self-released

Release Date: August 01, 2017

The Upshot: Canadian singer-songwriter falls deeply in love in/with Boston, putting her heart through life’s wringer as her fourth release attempts to resolve the experience.


 There are thousands of singer-songwriters plying their trade but few stand out as far as this one. Kat Goldman’s fourth release sees her doing what she does best: playing to her strengths with an edge that only comes from a position of absolute confidence. Her voice is distinctive, phenomenal and, coupled with a piano-friendly approach to writing and her innate sense of building around a strong hook, Goldman has crafted a 12-song release that seizes your heart as it tells you its story.

Somewhat autobiographical, this is a concept album based on a love affair gone wrong in real time as she, to follow along with the press notes, “explores the dark underbelly of American society through the eyes of a character, the “workingman,” as told by a female narrator.” Taken slightly aback by its bizarre cover art (P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights?), the 12 originals follow the demise of a relationship but, more importantly, reveal an approach to music which knows few boundaries. From the acoustic guitar-led, semi-melancholic “Take It Down The Line”, an introspective Goldman sells its sad, yet soaring, chorus with the help of (her own) haunting backup vocals and little else, in the role of the protagonist. Switch gears, if not cars, for the ‘50s-sounding girl group holler of “Release Me’ with its pounding beat and face-first bass line (Marc Rogers) as Goldman fronts an imaginary girl group to drive home her need for distance from this one-sided deal, if not complete salvation.

Both songs go a long way towards underlining Goldman’s spirited approach to her art – and she can do it all. Folk. Pop. Rock’n’roll. Soul-searching introspection, with little or no accompaniment – and we’re only two songs in! The third track, “The Courthouse”, boasts chiming guitars, a wall of B3 and an aggressively animated, old-school “Na-na-na-nah-na-na-na-na…Nah-nah-na-na-na” full chorus. WTF? In a lesser artist’s care, this might suggest sheer chaos yet Goldman’s gift is to demonstrate her mastery over all she touches. The hooks are set so deep, you may lose the story line but you’ll never lose the urge to commit each melody to memory – uncontrollably singing along after repeated plays. With indigenous-style percussion, the ring of acoustic guitar and warm, acoustic bass, “Put Your Toolbox Down” injects compassion and gentleness into the narrative as Goldman volunteers a dash of Suzanne Vega onto her palette of sonic references. The title track is stripped down to voice and piano – how Goldman starts her day. And, like all her music, she’s able to squeeze more color from simplicity than most on yet another catchy track, adding little more than Lou Poumanti’s minimal organ runs to flesh out the intimacy of the moment, her vocal range stretched beyond the expected with delightful results.

Likewise, “South Shore Man” begins simply before adding meaty drums (Davide Direnzo), her own multi-tracked backup and Poumanti’s B3 as the piece lifts skyward. Aside from the sound of angels in the form of (her own) backup vocals and the heavenly caste afforded by Kevin Fox’s cello, there’s something truly haunting about “Ghosts in the Apartment” – maybe it’s its subtle resemblance to the key strains of Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” (yet few would connect the two) and it’s one of the strongest tracks on the release, if not its most ethereal. “Baby, I Understand” slows things down to acoustic guitar and Goldman’s soft, seductive vocal, resplendent in her multi-hued collection of evocative inflections. “It’s Ovaaah” is pure singer-songwriter, its dramatic piano chords and abrupt pacing forging intimacy as the song develops arms and legs, getting slightly caught up in its own emotion if not carried away in its slightly schizophrenic cast of characters.

Cue reminisces of Judee Sill as the bittersweet “The One To Dream” comes to life with the help of backup vocals, cymbal washes and acoustic guitar. The purity and clarity of her self-assured vocal, her every articulation and quirky pronunciation (“funny” becomes “funney”; “money” becomes “munney”), a slightly nasal tone and that can’t-quite-place-it accent all serve to define a distinctively strong, independent artist on top of her multiple skills. As the piece builds from its simple melody, adding backup vocals and further instrumentation – featuring an impressive, other-worldly (too short) guitar solo from guitarist/producer, Bill Bell, this is one song to fall madly in love with. Forget the sour note at the launch of “Mr. Right” – it’s quickly redeemed by this infectious track with its Paul Buckmaster-style build-up, over-dubbed vocals and lovely organ break. A quick-set melody, it’s impossible to discard. The final track sets up the obvious end to any broken relationship – what’s next? “Don’t Know Where I’m Bound” sends the forlorn romantic back to her country of origin (Canada) to be as far away as possible from the blues that Boston brought.

So, whether you follow the concept from beginning to end as the artist makes her case to dramatize the nightmare and myriad emotions that come with bad love laid bare, it really matters not. Goldman succeeds in outdoing herself through the divine creation of a dozen absorbing, accomplished songs, adding to what is already an impressive canon of work.

 DOWNLOAD: “Release Me,” “Put Your Toolbox Down,” “The One To Dream”



J HACHA DE ZOLA – Antipatico + “A Fanciful Invention” lathe-cut 7”

Album: Antipatico + “A Fanciful Invention” lathe-cut 7”

Artist: J Hacha de Zola

Label: self-released

Release Date: October 06, 2017

The Upshot: A compelling all-over-the-map collision of jazz, blues, show tunes, garage rock, and Latino flavors—plus a gorgeous vinyl collectible.


A little over a year ago, BLURT spotlighted New Jersey’s J Hacha de Zola’s second album, Picaro Obscuro, premiering the remarkable “In Curtains” song, his Tom Waits-meets-Nick Cave sound as unique as any we’d heard in 2016. Now comes the new Antipatico, which apparently translates from Spanish as “unfriendly.” That may be underselling the record—it is, at points, hypnotic, cinematic, lush, and dissonant—but there’s no question that it is also a challenging, at times daunting, listen, one which grabs the listener by the shoulders and gives you a good shaking: Pay attention.

From the salsa/rumbafied “Amaranthine,” which finds de Zola’s lascivious vocals draped in echo amid a noirish vibe and debauched Ralph Carney (Tin Huey, Waits band) and Dana Colley (Morphine) sax lines, to the riotous “Lightning Rod Salesman,” whose dense, jungle-throb rhythms, squawking/barking instrumentation (it includes a psychedelic jaw harp courtesy of another Waits sideman, David Coulter), and stream of consciousness vocal brings to mind vintage Captain Beefheart, Antipatico is an uncompromising listen that insists you meet it on its own terms. Cue the record up and be prepared to be immersed in outre blues, Latino rock, lounge jazz, twisted show tunes, gypsy polka, garage psych, and just plain outsider sounds; de Zola conjures up a mini-universe for each composition, all the while warbling in his signature upper register that’s part-croon, part-sneer, and part-swagger.

The record closes with the dirgelike-yet-melodic, anthemic-in-design ballad “A Fanciful Invention,” which is also the track (specifically, an alternate take of the track) that graces a limited edition 7” lathe-cut single de Zola just released, and for record collectors, it’s a must-own artifact, pressed on clear vinyl and hand-painted on the back side to give it a decidedly surreal effect when spinning on the turntable. Clearly de Zola considers his music to be “art,” and it must be said, both CD and single are striking testaments to the gentleman’s unbridled artistry. “Unfriendly,” my ass—one listen to his music and you’re gonna want to know him personally. (Incidentally, you can hear the record and more at his official website, and you might also want to check out his outrageous cover of Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True” over at the Cover Me project’s Bandcamp page.)

DOWNLOAD: “No Situation,” “Lightning Rod Salesman,” “On A Sleepless Night”