Category Archives: CD

JESCA HOOP – Memories Are Now

Album: Memories Are Now

Artist: Jesca Hoop

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: February 10, 2017

www.subpop.com

Jesca 2-10

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Granted, Jesca Hoop can be an acquired taste. That said, it takes little time for her atmospheric ambiance and percolating rhythms to grab hold and prove irresistibly addictive. Her melodies generally take second place to their treatments and arrangements, creating an overall effect that provides more than mere instant gratification. Hoop’s new album, the rather aptly titled Memories Are Now, is no exception, and while it offers several plucky tunes — the banjo-driven “Animal Kingdom Chaotic,” the easy glide of “Cut Connefction” and the loping “Simon Says” among them, it’s the subtle shadings that shroud songs like “Memories Are Now” and “The Lost Sky” that dominates the proceedings overall. Those hypnotic tones are difficult to ignore, and in the end — check out the chanting in “Songs of Old” and the Kate Bush-like bounce of “Unsaid” for ample evidence — there’s a spectral sensibility and otherworldly essence that coaxes the listener to lean in, resonating well after. Hoop’s experimental tack often requires repeated listens, but it’s creativity and not mere quirkiness that ultimately leaves  alingering afterglow. Hoop’s collaboration with Sam Beam, 2016’s Love Letter for Fire found both artists swerving towards the center, creating an effort that hinted at easier accessibility, but suffice it to say she’s leaning away from that here. Nevertheless, having created such an indelible impression, she remains all but impossible to ignore.

DOWNLOAD: “Unsaid,” “Simon Says,” “Animal Kingdom Chaotic”

GOLDFRAPP – Silver Eye

Album: Silver Eye

Artist: Goldfrapp

Label: Mute

Release Date: March 31, 2017

www.mute.com

goldfrapp-silver-eye-album

The Upshot: Silver Eye is pure gold.

BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

Robotic yet moving. Ethereal yet roaring. Angelic yet possessed. All of these words collectively describe the sonic world created on Silver Eye, Goldfrapp’s seventh album. Formed in 1999, the talented UK duo—Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory—have explored a range of dance sounds in their nearly 20 years of music making.

From their quiet, jazz infused pop debut, 2000s Felt Mountain to the dripping in loud, synth sexiness of 2005s Supernature Goldfrapp has proven to be a musical chameleon while maintaining their electronic core. Whereas in the past each album singularly explored a style of dance music—Tales of Us melded folk with electronica, Head First reveled in 80s style synth pop, Black Cherry launched Goldfrapp’s love of bass laden keys—Silver Eye has a touch of each.

First singles, “Anymore” and “Moon in Your Mouth” are possibly the most instantly appealing tracks while the songs sandwiched between these two grow on you. “Moon in Your Mouth” is a touching love song as Alison opens with the words “I’m alive/I feel your heartbeat/Moon in your mouth.” Adding Allison’s genteel vocals that cascade and float over the music, “Moon” proves quite moving.

First track “Anymore,” followed by “Systemagic,”may lead fans to believe Goldfrapp has returned to their hard hitting, rumbling bass days of Supernature, however Silver Eye is more calm in nature. “Tigerman,” “Zodiac Black,” and “Beast That Never Was” are gentle tracks with few instruments, just keys, percussion and low-key effects, that allow Alison’s versatile vocals take center stage. The whispery-speaking-vocals on “Become the One” prove reminiscent of Grace Jones’ seductive purrs and “Faux Suede Drifter” is a slow, beautiful track that excellently focuses on Alison’s effervescent soprano. She softly sings in her perfected high vocals before sliding into the lyric-less refrain of her vocalizing.

“Everything is Never Enough” is an upbeat, synth drenched, 80s-esque dance song complete with flanger, ocean swells. Closing track “Ocean” returns us to edgier sounds as the quiet song that begins with Alison’s vocals and revolving keys gives way to gritty effects that grind along with the hard hitting drums. Still as polished as ever, Goldfrapp continues to craft their signature sounds and creating albums that from beginning to end evokes a particular emotion.  Silver Eye is moving forward in that Goldfrapp did not resolve to focus solely on one style, they effortlessly melded several influences, leaving us with a fine album to introduce 2017.

DOWNLOAD: “Moon in Your Mouth,” “Faux Suede Drifter”

BLACKFOOT GYPSIES – To the Top

Album: To the Top

Artist: Blackfoot Gypsies

Label: Plowboy

Release Date: April 14, 2017

http://plowboyrecords.com

blackfoot-gypsies-to-the-top

The Upshot: The Southern rockers not only discovered songcraft, they also realized it didn’t need get in the way of their natural energy.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Southern-fried rock & rollers Blackfoot Gypsies have made a big impression with their live shows, but have yet to make the same mark on record. That changes with the Nashville cats’ third LP To the Top. The band has never had trouble capturing its live lightning in the studio, but the high voltage has seemed to go to supporting songs that sounded cranked out only to ensure that the group had something to play onstage.

That’s not the case here. Frontman Matthew Paige and his cohorts instead craft tunes that would have staying power if performed on an acoustic guitar, then inject them with enough atomic blast to light up the power grid. “I Had a Vision,” “Lying Through Your Teeth” and “Promises to Keep” sound like Detroit power rock filtered through Nashville songwriting factories, with well-developed melodies and lyrics that don’t short-circuit the roar. The Gypsies also take more comfortable jaunts down more explicitly rootsy paths. “Potatoes and Whiskey” and “Velvet Low Down Blues” evoke the spirit of old-time C&W without sounding like pastiches, and “I’m So Blue” and the banjo-driven “I’ve Got the Blues” soak blue to the bone – the latter in particular could have come off a compilation of obscure ‘50s blues tracks. “Gypsy Queen” revives the Bo Diddley beat without smacking us over the head with it, and “Why Should I Try” gives Southern rock a soulful spin.

All of it’s done with the respect that should be afforded tradition, but not the reverence that might interfere with the band making these sounds their own. To the Top sounds like Blackfoot Gypsies not only discovered songcraft, but realized it didn’t need get in the way of their natural energy.

DOWNLOAD: “I Had a Vision,” “Velvet Low Down Blues,” “I’ve Got the Blues”

 

FATHER JOHN MISTY – Pure Comedy

Album: Pure Comedy

Artist: Father John Misty

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: April 07, 2017

www.subpop.com

FJM

The Upshot: Josh Tillman returns, all his idiosyncrasies intact.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Ever since he launched his career five years and three albums ago, Father John Misty, A.K.A. Josh Tillman, has remained an idiosyncratic character, one capable of producing breathtaking melodies with a clever tack that aims high but still stays well within reach of his listeners. He’s wowed the critics of course, sometimes simply because his overreach reflects ideals that are overly ambitious by the usual pop standard. You either get his abstract ideals or not, but even if not, it doesn’t detract from enjoyment overall.

With Pure Comedy, the good Father may have outdone himself in terms of sheer profundity. The songs stay on the quieter side — grand and overarched, but basically devoid of anything more resounding than the sounds guitars and keyboards are capable of delivering. The titles are telling — “Things It Would Have Been Good To Know Before the Revolution,” “Total Entertainment Forever,” “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain,” et. al. — but they ultimately add a certain ambiguity to a theme that isn’t all that clear to begin with. It is, to quote the liner notes, “the story of a species born with a half-formed brain. The species’ only hope for survival, finding itself on a cruel, unpredictable rock surrounded by other species who seem far more adept at this whole thing (and to whom they are delicious), is the reliance on other, slightly older, half-formed brains.”

FJM2

Hmm. Tillman’s enigmatic image isn’t helped by such sheer profundity and/or bizarre conceits, but within this otherwise abstract concept, he also attempts to draw lessons on such noble topics as humanity, technology, fame, the environment, politics, ageing, social media, human nature, and ultimately, human connection. Or at least that’s what the press materials tell us. The inclusion of song lyrics and a lengthy discourse included in the album’s elaborate packaging give opportunity to decipher the meaning and analyze the subject matter accordingly. Or, to simply forget about any deeper discourse and simply enjoy the music in all its eccentricity. In the end, Pure Comedy isn’t anything close to the laugh fest the title implies, but it does provoke a deeper reaction regardless.

DOWNLOAD: “Things It Would Have Been Good To Know Before the Revolution,” “When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay,” “Total Entertainment Forever”

CRAIG FINN – We All Want the Same Things

Album: We All Want the Same Things

Artist: Craig Finn

Label: Partisan

Release Date: March 24, 2017

www.partisanrecords.com

 Craig Finn

The Upshot: Hold Steady mainman serves up verve, swagger, poignancy, and cool – not unlike the Hold Steady, in fact.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

With a steady solo career well underway, and a hiatus from the Hold Steady taken at ongoing intervals, Craig Finn continues to etch an identity that, while not all that far removed from his day job, still manages to show him to be an authority figure all on his own. Bearing a title that speaks as a mantra that ought to be well heeded, We All Want the Same Things is a bold statement, full of Everyman anthems, confidence and credence.

Songs like “Preludes,” “Tracking Shots,” “Tangletown” and “Rescue Blues” find his pliable vocals emitting that certain verve and swagger. Finn portrays himself as a kind of scrappy, street-savvy hipster, and it’s that irreverent attitude, combined with plenty of nuanced narratives, that win him comparisons to Springsteen with the early E Street Band in tow, as well as a certain similarity to Thin Lizzy’s late leader Phil Lynott. That’s particularly true of the casual saunter that underscores “Ninety Bucks” and “Birds Trapped in the Airport,” songs elevated by a percolating pulse and a boundless sense of determination. Spoken intros to “Jester & June” and “God In Chicago” add a certain poignancy, bolstering the impression that Finn’s lived all these tales he tells.

That combination of cool and cred serves him well yet again, and if the Hold Steady ever opt to give him his leave, Finn’s finesse will assure the fact he won’t miss a beat.

DOWNLOAD: “Tangletown,” “Birds Trapped in the Airport,” “God in Chicago”

THE MAVERICKS – Brand New Day

Album: Brand New Day

Artist: Mavericks

Label: Mono Mundo Recordings

Release Date: March 31, 2017

www.themavericksband.com

 Mavericks

The Upshot: No raucous barnburners, but plenty of beautiful summer chill out tunes.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The Mavericks have been serving up their country/Tejano/swing/funk gumbo for more than 26 years now and its just as fresh on this their ninth studio album, as it’s ever been. The fact that they have no contemporaries making similar music at the moment may be one of the reasons they feel free to make their own path again and again.

Brand New Day marks the band’s first studio album on their own independent label, Mono Mundo Recordings, and like just about most of their catalogue it’s refreshingly original, incorporating sax, accordion and organ into what would, on its own, still be a great collection of country and rock numbers. The added mix of instruments, along with Raul Malo’s distinctive, commanding vocals makes for an inspired listen. From mellow numbers like “I Think of You” and “Goodnight Waltz” to nuanced takes on smoking pot, “Rolling Along” (a deftly subtle love note to ganja that even Willie would approve) or the peppy, sweet love song “For the Ages,” the band yet again delivers another flawless album.

Unfortunately, there are no raucous barnburners on this album, but The Mavericks give us enough brilliant summer chill out songs on Brand New Day that they can be forgiven.

DOWNLOAD: “Easy As It Seems,” “I Think of You” and “For the Ages”

DERRICK ANDERSON – A World of My Own

Album: A World of My Own

Artist: Derrick Anderson

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: April 07, 2017

http://www.omnivorerecordings.com

Derrick Anderson

The Upshot: Power pop that dazzles and delights, from the Bangles’ latest bass player, also frontman for the Andersons.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

These days L.A.’s Derrick Anderson plies his trade slinging bass for the Bangles, but he’s also the leader of the long-running on-again/off-again power pop troop the Andersons! (It’s not that we’re excited to tell you that – that’s the way the band writes its name.) As a result of the man’s long tenure in the guitar pop trenches, he’s made a lot of notable friends, and most of them contribute licks, harmonies and good vibes to what is surprisingly Anderson’s first solo album, A World of My Own.

Within these digital grooves you’ll find Tommy Keene, the Smithereens, Matthew Sweet and members of 20/20, Baby Lemonade, Wondermints, the Cowsills, the Muffs, Brian Wilson’s band, the Balancing Act, the Zeroes (the 1991 purple-haired L.A. wackjobs, not Javier Escovedo’s San Diego punk pioneers), his old band and his current employers. Amazingly, this cavalcade of talent does the honorable thing and stays out of their pal’s way – the spotlight never wavers from Anderson’s own estimable talents as a singer, songwriter and purveyor of fine, traditionalist rock/pop music.

“Send Me Down a Sign” and “Happiness” represent straightforward blasts of high volume hookmania, “Waiting For You” (featuring the Smithereens) and “My Prediction” work a midtempo groove with the right dollop of cream and “Something New” checks off the winsome balladry box with a flourish. Brandishing an irresistible melody and an obvious love of Paul McCartney, “A Mother’s Love” goes for sentimentality that ain’t remotely cheap, while “Checking Out” and “Stop Messin’ About” add the garage-rocking soul edge of pre-Help! Beatles. The cheerfully jangling “When I Was Your Man” has Anderson backed by the Bangles, while the lovely, folky “Spring” relegates the ladies to harmony vox while the instrumental firepower comes from the reunited Andersons!

Power pop as a genre should be played out by now due to a small circle of musicians constantly digging into the same bag of tricks. But A World of My Own proves that, in the hands of a loving, talented journeyman, those tricks still dazzle and delight.

DOWNLOAD: “Checking Out,” “Happiness,” “Spring”

R. STEVIE MOORE & JASON FALKNER – Make It Be

Album: Make It Be

Artist: R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: March 10, 2017

http://www.bar-none.com

Moore Faulkner 3-10

The Upshot: At times odd, others pristinely poppy, the collaboration ultimately seems perfectly natural.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner may live in different worlds, but they have a lot in common. Both are multi-instrumentalists and songwriters dedicated to the art of the hook. Both are inveterate home studio obsessives, even if the latter can’t approach the former’s gonzo productivity. Both have a tendency to leaven their pop beauty with varying degrees of eccentricity. The only real difference is that Falkner spends his time in between projects working as a sideman or producer, while Moore – well, Moore doesn’t really take time off between projects.

So the duo’s collaboration on Make It Be is a perfectly natural one. The give and take on display here indicates the process was organic, with each man assuming the responsibility most logical at the time. Moore contributes most of the songs, with Falkner co-writing five and writing one (“Horror Show”) by himself. Though it’s impossible to say who played most of what, the smoothness of the performances and arrangements hints that Falkner might’ve taken on the lion’s share of picking and grinning. Certainly the pair shares the vocals fairly equally, with Falkner sweetly singing Moore’s tunes with as much conviction as he would his own – cf. “Sincero Amore,” “Play Myself Some Music” and “Another Day Slips Away.” Moore himself gets in on the action via the first half of “If You See Kay/Run For Our Lives,” “I Love Us, We Love Me” and “I H8 PPL,” an anthem for cheerful misanthropes everywhere.

Things do take turns for the odd from time to time, from the inner monologue electropop of “That’s Fine, What Time?” and exuberant rant of “Stamps” to the off-kilter instrumental “Passed Away Today” and sardonic Moorenologues “Prohibited Permissions” and “Album Drop.” But that’s not only to be expected, but desired. We wouldn’t Moore to play it completely straight all the way through – that would be like a Sparklehorse album without the noise tracks and unexpected bursts of static. Nicely balancing quirk and craft, Make It Be works so well one hopes this isn’t the only time this pair swings together.

DOWNLOAD: “Sincero Amore,” “I H8 PPL,” “Play Myself Some Music”

 

FIVE’S COMPANY – Friends and Mirrors: The Complete Recordings 1964-68

Album: Friends and Mirrors: The Complete Recordings 1964-68

Artist: Five's Company

Label: Cherry Red/ Grapefuit

January 01, 1970

www.cherryred.co.uk

Fives Company 2-17

The Upshot: The songs are good, strong melodies and harmonies and solid playing throughout and the British Invasion band certainly had the look down pat.

BY TIM HINELY

Cherry Red and its assortment of labels just keep on keeping on and here they offer up a quintet called Five’s Company. These young gents were in college in the mid-‘60s and had released a few singles on the Pye label. They seemed on their way up but ended up breaking up when the bassist Bob Brunning ended up joining Fleetwood Mac (ever heard of them?) but they did however, get together to record an album, The Ballad of Fred the Pixie before breaking up officially.

This 26 songs comp includes all of said singles, plus the LP and and some demos a well and most of the songs were written by vocalist Edward Broadbridge but they do toss in a Kinks cover (“Session Man”) as well as a Lieber/Stoller tune “Little Egypt” but otherwise most of the tunes were written by Broadbridge. In listening to Friends and Mirrors there’s no reason why this band shouldn’t have been huge, or at least as big as any other Brit band that made it back then. The songs are good, strong melodies and harmonies and solid playing throughout and they certainly had the look down pat (apparently they were all students at a local teacher training college that was located on Kings Road). That Kinks cover rules as do many of the  Broadbridge compositions like ”Some Girls,” “Dejection,” “Break My Heart’ and “I’m still Hoping.”

I’ll bet fans of the band from the swingin’ ‘60s are absolutely stoked over this release and for those of us who’d not ever heard of the band before, well, it’s another unique gem from the Cherry Red stable of labels.

DOWNLOAD: ”Some Girls,” “Dejection,” “Break My Heart,”  “I’m still Hoping”

 

LINCOLN BARR – Trembling Frames

Album: Trembling Frames

Artist: Lincoln Barr

Label: Self-released

Release Date: February 10, 2017

www.lincolnbarrmusic.com

Lincoln Barr

The Upshot: Instead of pursuing the roots rock route he took before, the Red Jacket Mine man opts instead for a set of songs with a vintage jazz sound.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Best known for his efforts on behalf of the exceptional Americana band Red Jacket Mine, Lincoln Barr strikes out on his own with a solo album that marks a distinct divergence from his earlier outings. Instead of pursuing the roots rock route he took before, he opts instead for a set of songs with a vintage jazz sound more befitting late night coffee houses and a similar kinds of intimate environs.

Barr proves to be a convincing crooner, but the burnished melodic sway that comes courtesy of an exceptional supporting cast, one that includes Calexico drummer John Convertino, ensures the album’s supple charms. Several songs –”She Suits Me,” “Giving Up My Inheritance,” “Desperate Tormentors” and “Fond of Surprises” in particular — sound like they were plucked from the great American songbook. While Barr’s intention was to deal with such complex subjects as trauma and the instability, the results suggest a much more pleasant sojourn, one that shies away from darker designs and instead embraces an air of easy affability.

It’s a masterful effort to be sure, a sound never hinted at in his previous endeavors but which shows a sure confidence and competence regardless. Indeed, there’s a certain sparkle and sheen gracing these grooves, both loose and sure-footed all at the same time. With Trembling Frames, Barr’s created a certain magic and mystique.

DOWNLOAD: She Suits Me,” “Desperate Tormentors,” “Fond of Surprises”