Category Archives: CD

COUSTEAUX – CousteauX

Album: CousteauX

Artist: CousteauX

Label: Silent x

Release Date: September 15, 2017

http://www.cousteaux.com

The Upshot: Not perfect, but the combination of the erstwhile Cousteau members (Moor’s songs and McKahey’s voice) is still a potent combination.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When the British band Cousteau broke up after three albums in the mid-’aughties, it seemed way too soon. Admittedly, primary songwriter Davey Ray Moor had left the group after the second record, but the band still displayed enormous potential, and had two near-masterpieces under its belt already. Moor ran off to Italy for production, songwriting and solo career, and singer Liam McKahey fucked off to Australia for his own solo work. That seemed to be the end of it, a career that promised great things but was cut too short.

So imagine our delight when Moor and McKahey reunited for their first CousteauX album together since 2002. (The silent X was added to stave off potential copyright claims.) CousteauX doesn’t see the return of any of the other original members, alas, with the parts not covered by multi-instrumentalist Moor filled in by session musicians. But its distinctive rock noir sound – equal parts Burt Bacharach, Scott Walker and the softer side of Nick Cave – remains intact. Moor’s songs burrow deep into the bowels of love, gently but steadily picking at the scabs of past relationships and causing new scars in current ones. The opening pair defines his agenda, as “This Might Be Love” (note the qualifier) and “Memory is a Weapon” bury fraying connections and bruised feelings under lush melodies and arrangements.

McKahey, as always, proves Moor’s perfect interpreter, emoting like a diva when necessary, but more likely to pull back for a slower, deadlier burn. His magnificent baritone, equally capable of soaring and growling, is practically an orchestra unto itself, and McKahey’s tight control wraps it around the harshest of sentiments like a blanket straight from the dryer. As sharp with the pleading tone of “Seasons of You” and the aloof romanticism of “BURMA” as with the menacing rumble of “The Innermost Light” and the cathartic drama of “Thin Red Lines,” McKahey is a great actor given strict direction by a sympathetic director, an expert navigating the conflated extremes of light and darkness. “Fucking in Joy and Sorrow” indeed, as the final song puts it.

The record isn’t perfect – the original band is missed, particularly guitarist Robin Brown, who balances soulful crunch with seething delicacy like few others. But the combination of Moor’s songs and McKahey’s voice is still a potent combination, and CousteauX celebrates the duo rediscovering how good that feels.

DOWNLOAD: “The Innermost Light,” “Memory is a Weapon,” “BURMA”

 

EILEN JEWELL – Down Hearted Blues

Album: Down Hearted Blues

Artist: Eilen Jewell

Label: Signature Sounds

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.signaturesounds.com

The Upshot: Steeped in classic jazz and stripped down acoustic blues, the singer-songwriter delivers a remarkable set of covers.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s hard not to think of someone like Billie Holiday when listening to Eilen Jewell. The Boise native manages to sing with the seemingly contradictory feelings of passion and ease. Her voice, steeped in classic jazz and stripped down acoustic blues, has a timeless quality that that could plausibly have come out anytime from the 1930s on.

Her latest, Downhearted Blues, only adds to that perception. Across a dozen tracks, some classics, others obscure gems, Jewell and her band covers songs by everyone from Willie Dixon to Betty James. What could have come off as sacrilege from a lesser talent (especially on the Dixon-penned title track), is purely satisfying in Jewell’s hands; She manages to add her personal signature to a remarkable set of covers.

Songs like “You Know My Love,” best associated with musicians like Dixon and Otis Rush take on a whole new feel with Jewell vocals. There’s not a single song here that isn’t done justice by her treatment. A remarkable album from start to finish.

DOWNLOAD: “You’ll Be Mine,” “Down Hearted Blues” and “Nothing in Rambling”

 

ANTI-FLAG – American Fall

Album: American Fall

Artist: Anti-Flag

Label: Spinefarm

Release Date: November 03, 2017

www.spinefarmrecords.com

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

BY JOHN B. MOORE

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

https://www.subpop.com

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.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

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

www.beccarichardson.com

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

BY JOHN B. MOORE

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

www.dragcity.com

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.

BY FRED MILLS

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

http://www.runegrammafon.com/

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.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

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

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/thomasanderson16

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

BY FRED MILLS

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

http://www.jesseterrymusic.com/

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.

BY ERIC THOM

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

www.bodankuma.com

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

BY JOHN B. MOORE

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”