Category Archives: New Releases

TY SEGALL — Ty Segall

Album: Ty Segall

Artist: Ty Segall

Label: Drag City

Release Date: January 27, 2017

www.dragcity.com

Ty Segall

The Upshot: There’s more soft focus psych pop, exuding warmth, sweetness and melody.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Ty Segall’s ninth full-length digs deeper into the raging guitar psych of his last few recordings— Emotional Mugger certainly, the Fuzz albums, and before that Slaughterhouse—but also probes a folky psychedelia shared by sometime collaborator Tim Presley. This new album shares a name, but not much of a vibe, with his 2007 debut album, whose minimalist one-man garage stomp is a far cry from these overdriven squalls and jangly ditties.

Segall reconvenes most of the Muggers here — Emmett Kelly, Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart and Ben Boye— and, yes, that’s a lot of guitar players. In fact, if you had to pick one representative sound for this no-holds-barred album, it would be that of at least two guitars going at it on electrified solos, sort of aware of each other, but not exactly constrained. In track one, “Break a Guitar,” Segall confesses that he was made “in the red,” before inviting mayhem as he slips off for a cold one, “Come on take it, take my guitar, I’ll be, I’ll be at the bar.”  Chaos ensues, naturally.

And yet while Segall definitely brings the rock in tracks like “Break a Guitar,” “Freedom,” and “Thank You Mr. K,” there’s more variety here than in recent albums. The long “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)” has its Beatles-esque LSD dreams, its spiraling solos, its riff-driven, metal-flirting midsection. Still 10 minutes is a long time, long enough to turn towards the mystical in the Krautishly expansive, in a jazzy cool interval lit by electric piano, which sounds, more than you’d expect, like the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”  And what can you make of the lackadaisically countrified “Talkin’,” the softest, twangiest Segall cut on record, which turns a gossiping girl’s chatter back on her in an extended I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I argument.

There’s more soft focus psych pop as the album continues, exuding warmth, sweetness and melody. “Orange Color Queen,” the single, jangles with acoustic gentleness and folky sincerity. Even when the drums kick in, it’s pillowy soft, sung in near-falsetto and eased across, not a squealing solo to be found. “Papers” swaggers more, but stays well out of the red zone. “Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)” both ingratiates and burns it all down, threading what was a quiet, comfortable melody over a building roar of guitar dissonance. Far from nailing down who he is or what he’s attempting in this second self-titled album, Ty Segall seems to be trying all different things. Good for him.

DOWNLOAD: “Break a Guitar,” “Orange Color Queen,” “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”

SON VOLT – Notes of Blue

Album: Notes of Blue

Artist: Son Volt

Label: Transmit Sound

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://sonvolt.net/

Son Volt

The Upshot: You can’t help but get the feeling, like many of their other efforts, that the band is recycling some of their music.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

When Uncle Tupelo officially called it quits and splintered into two bands in the mid- ‘90s, it become apparent soon after who owned all of the country influences in the Jay Farrar/Jeff Tweedy split. While Tweedy went on a more standard indie rock path with Wilco, Farrar carried on down the alt-country road with his new endeavor Son Volt.

And eight records later, those influences are still front and center. But Farrar and co, also add in plenty of blues with their latest, Notes of Blue (from a more traditional blues take like “Cherokee St.” and “Sinking Down” to a modern garage/blues take on “Static”). The results are mixed. Lyrically, Farrer has always been ahead of many of his peers and that is still apparent on this latest album, with this collection of 10 thoughtful tunes. But you can’t help but get the feeling, like many of their other efforts, that the band is recycling some of their music.

The mix of blues, with their standard, folk and country is a nice addition, but may not be enough to win over folks who aren’t already Son Volt devotees.                                                

DOWNLOAD: “Static,” “Lost Souls” and “Threads and Steel”

OTIS TAYLOR – Fantasizing About Being Black

Album: Fantasizing About Being Black

Artist: Otis Taylor

Label: Trance Blues Festival

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://trancebluesfestival.com

Otis

The Upshot: An album making an impact on the soul that will be felt until the end of one’s days. 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

One of the few contemporary blues artists who builds on tradition instead of refining it, Denver’s Otis Taylor has almost quietly amassed a monstrously powerful body of work over the course of two decades. His distinctive style of trance blues, as effective banged out on a flat-top as filtered through an amplifier, has redefined the country blues on which it’s based, and given Taylor a versatile platform on which to voice his concerns.

Fantasizing About Being Black, his fifteenth LP, marks something of a return to an earlier style after several concept and experimental albums – it’s most reminiscent of records like The Truth is Not Fiction and White African. Which means that, whether he’s bashing the pain against the head of a banjo (“Banjo Bam Bam”), the soundhole of an acoustic guitar (“Tripping On This”) or the strings of his no-doubt battered electric axe (“Jump Out of Line,” “Hand On Your Stomach,” “Walk On Water”), Taylor finds a simple rhythm, a classic riff and a menacing progression and drives the lot past repetition into mantra. Though he leavens the tunes with fiddle and trumpet here and there, the focus is almost purely on his voice and guitar, which is all Taylor has ever needed.

Like all of his best work, Fantasizing About Being Black makes an impact on the soul that will be felt until the end of one’s days.

DOWNLOAD: “Hand On Your Stomach,” “Walk On Water,” “Banjo Bam Bam”

THE FEELIES – In Between

Album: In Between

Artist: The Feelies

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: February 24, 2017

http://bar-none.com

feelies

The Upshot: The band sounds relaxed, confident that it can deliver its songs without overloading on its trademark sound.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The Feelies have always been the kings of jangle rock. The New Jersey quintet’s Byrds-meets-Television guitar clatter defined the hordes of college rock guitar bands that followed them as sharply as that of their peers R.E.M. But In Between, the band’s sixth album, explores a different side of the Feelies.

Recorded in a home studio instead of a professional facility, the ten songs (and one reprise) have a sedate vibe, as if the musicians were recording in the basement while trying not to bother their families. Acoustic guitars reign, with electrics turned down to “just enough” volume and the rhythm section allowing itself to be relegated to the background. “Time Will Tell,” “Stay the Course” and the peppy “Turn Back Time” wipe the dust up rather than kick it, and even the fuzz-loaded “Been Replaced” keeps the volume at a low-key rumble. “Pass the Time” and “Make It Clear” are so quiet they’re almost lullabies. Only the rollicking “Gone, Gone, Gone” and a psychedelic jam reprise of the title track approach the band’s signature rush, and even then they simmer more than boil.

This isn’t to say the Feelies sound enervated here – far from it. Instead the band sounds relaxed, confident that it can deliver its songs without overloading on its trademark sound. In Between takes more spins to reveal its charms than is usual for the Feelies, but the effort pays off handsomely.

DOWNLOAD: “Turn Back Time,” “Pass the Time,” “Gone, Gone, Gone”

STRAY OWLS – A Series of Circles

Album: A Series of Circles

Artist: Stray Owls

Label: Potluck Foundation

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://www.potluckfoundation.com/

stray-owls-2-17

The Upshot: Dandy duo from North Carolina conjures sonic imagery both past and present via an eclectic, melodic, adventurous collection of memorable tunes.

BY FRED MILLS

Though still relatively young as a band, with two EPs released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, Mebane, NC (near Chapel Hill), duo Stray Owls seem old at heart, with an expansive, inclusive sound that dips back years, if not entire eras. That the Chapel Hill/Durham PotLuck Foundation label they are releasing their debut longplayer on bill itself as a label for “music nerds” doesn’t seem entirely coincidental. The fact that A Series of Circles was produced by veteran Tarheel studio maven Jerry Kee (Superchunk, Polvo) doesn’t seem to be random, either.

As the album unfolds, sonic ghosts of everyone from Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, and Elliott Smith seem to hover benevolently in the ether, as layered acoustic guitars and close-mic’d vocals conjure a profound intimacy, one which is also tinged with sufficient amounts of sonic looniness to prevent the listener being lulled into complacency. For example, the sing-songy folk that is “Franklin Borough” bears the tap-tap of a typewriter at one point; “Ok, Ok” incorporates some creamy mellotron lines and a momentary xylophone melody; and “Cut & Paste Time Machine” lives up to its title via a succession of tempo and tonal shifts that include, variously, fuzzed-out guitars, trilling, Andean-style flutes, choirlike harmony vocals, and a synth-strafed sonic collage.

One also imagines that contemporary avatars such as the Flaming Lips and the sheer bloody-mindedness that informs Neil Young have also informed the Stray Owls’ aesthetic. The brilliant, nearly six minutes-long “Ruin is Formal” seems to be a culmination of sorts, at once wispily anthemic yet strummily unhurried, with producer Kee’s drumming providing a jumping off point from which Scott Griffiths and Matt French can aim for the kosmiche horizon. It’s psychedelic as hell, but richly folkish, at once expansive yet ruminative, and followed as it is by the stomping, distorted, whacked-out closing track “Red Flags” (also close to six minutes), you ultimately are not just observers of the pair’s journey, but part of it.

Add to that “old at heart” notation listed above—wise beyond the years. If these owls are strays, you’ll no doubt be eager to take them in and offer shelter and sustenance.

DOWNLOAD: “Ruin Is Formal,” Ok, Ok,” “Red Flags”

STRAND OF OAKS – Hard Love

Album: Hard Love

Artist: Strand of Oaks

Label: Dead Oceans

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://deadoceans.com

hard-love-strand-oaks-album

The Upshot: Probing songs that, while noisy and raucous, don’t sacrifice intimacy and tunefulness.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Sensitive folkie by day, wild-eyed rock & roller at night, Tim Showalter has led a double life in his guise as Strand of Oaks. The Philadelphia act’s records tended to lean harder on melodic introspection, while the tour for 2014’s acclaimed Heal reveled in ear-punishing volume and the joy of rock abandon. Hard Love, the Oaks’ fifth album, unabashedly fuel-injects the latter aspect of Showalter’s personality into his probing songs without sacrificing their intimacy and tunefulness.

In “Salt Brothers,” Showalter takes what could have been a simple folk rocker and slathers it in ribcage-rattling grunge and decaying feedback. “On the Hill” and “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” add burly muscle to dreamy melodies, the overloaded acid rock apt for tales of psychedelic awakening. “Radio Kids” throws the lighters in the air and the power chords into the sky for an irresistible tribute to that one song that gets your blood singing, no matter what else happens. “At least I had that song on the radio,” Showalter sings with desperate passion, blissfully free of self-consciousness. “Rest of It” simply bashes out a basic rock & roll melody like the bar band of your dreams. Only “Cry” refrains from sonic overload, its plaintive arrangement in line with its introspective melancholy.

All this noise stays in service of the songs, which remain as self-reflective and personal as ever. Showalter isn’t using the volume to hide the emotions spilling out of “Everything” or the title track, but rather to amplify them. That he does so without entering into U2-esque excess is a tribute to both his conviction and his taste. “Make it good/make it real/make it true,” Showalter implores in “Salt Brothers,” and he spends Hard Love proving true to that promise.

DOWNLOAD: “Radio Kids,” “Salt Brothers,” “On the Hill”

 

WAITING FOR HENRY – Town Called Patience

Album: Town Called Patience

Artist: Waiting For Henry

Label: Mighty Hudson Music

Release Date: August 26, 2016

www.waitingforhenry.com

wfh

The Upshot: Jersey band produced by Mitch Easter, offering independent rock with purpose, stressing intelligent songwriting and solid musicianship, and raising goose bumps in just the right measure. The band’s second release, this guitar and voice-focused home-run incorporates all that makes independent music gloriously free of tags and categorization – because it’s only goal is to take you prisoner. Nothing matters more.

BY ERIC THOM

For those who prefer real meat on the bones of their power pop, look no further than this second release by under-the-radar, Jersey-based band, Waiting For Henry. Real meat, cured, seasoned and prepared with love by no less than Mitch Easter, fans of whom know exactly how much he can lend to anything he touches.

Yet, as even Mitch would say, any producer can only polish talent that already exists and Waiting for Henry has it in spades. Spades. Each of the 12 tracks on Town Called Patience stirs the listener in record time with serious hooks, harmonies and enough tough and/or melodic guitar sounds to stir your inner rock star. Influences abound. Early Matthew Sweet, R.E.M. and Replacements come to mind – yet these solid-rocking mini masterpieces have little else to do with anything beyond the musical vision shared by lead vocalists/guitarists Dave Slomin and David Ashdown, bassist Mike Chun and drummer Rob Draghi (give or take Easter’s touches). Rich vocals distinguish each track and the band offers somewhat of a dual personality through its two main singers. Slomin and Ashdown champion their own compositions from two slightly different perspectives, lending the band a wider personality.

Compare Slomin’s tough, yet melodic paean to witnessing a Steve Wynn/Gutterball show in Copenhagen. Fast and furious guitar work, replete with rich harmonies, the song is further charged by Slomin’s smooth, comparably commercial-friendly voice that fits the track perfectly. Contrast this with Ashdown’s “Hangnail” – a raspy-sounding recollection of a spent relationship, the singer sounding somewhat hung-over, softened and sweetened by the song’s waltz-like pace and full-on Eagles-esque harmonies, painted against a grey backdrop of pain-gone-by. These are not competing influences to the band’s sound. Indeed, the two mesh perfectly across each carefully-crafted original making it a challenge to identify who’s doing what – the ultimate in band statements. Slomin’s delicious “Matter Of Time” might be the disc’s high point based on its unerring ability to burrow into your brain and play back for weeks to come. Or Ashdown’s rough ’n’ ready “Palms”, its battered, Westerberg-edged acoustic intro giving way to a chorus that turns a negative thought into a celebratory anthem,­ complete with vibes. The vibrant “Parsippany” gallops forward with a pop-like sense of urgency that transforms the name of a forgettable New Jersey town into an epic recollection of something more special, buttressed against a ringing, stinging wall of aggressive guitars and bank of harmonies. Likewise, “Could It Be” sits Ashdown’s raggedy vocal atop smooth guitars, Chun’s plucky bass and those hard-selling backup vocals. Like “Flipcock” before it, the title track’s upbeat attack recalls both Tommy Keene, if not the Bodeans, for each song’s ability to generate a more reflective, less aggressive perspective as vocals become lead instruments. Ashdown’s “Angel On The Run” is pure rock, an impassioned tribute to a fallen friend that brings out the animal in the band. “Wrong” is simply a hard-working rock track built around distant B3 and still-fiery, glistening guitars, Slomin’s addictive voice and a cascading chorus making the most of the band’s stand-out harmonic powers. Closing with the gentler, kinder approach of “In The End”, there’s little left to say and do – except marvel at Waiting For Henry’s ability to mine all the tenets of a category of music that, quite simply, remains timeless in its appeal.

Funny how Waiting for Henry has been categorized as alt-country, Americana roots-rock – even twangy country-rock. I simply don’t hear it. These are 12 spirited, power-pop masterstrokes conjuring a dark edge, yet tempered by a world-weary maturity to keep things hopeful and upbeat. Propelled by the raw energy of chiming and/or crunching guitars, a taut rhythm section, near-perfect vocals and sky-high harmonies, Waiting For Henry seems more than capable at holding forth the age-old promise and potential of Saturday nights, broken hearts and – in this case – making the most of life.

DOWNLOAD: “Musconetong,” “Matter of Time”

 

 

THEO BLECKMANN – Elegy

Album: Elegy

Artist: Theo Bleckmann

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://ecmrecords.com

theo

The Upshot: Jazz vocalist takes the concept of the human voice as instrument to new and shimmering places. 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Theo Bleckmann has garnered a solid reputation for his distinctive interpretation of jazz singing. He’s not a belter or crooner, but a sort of ambient dreamweaver. So it’s no surprise to find that Elegy, his latest solo album and first for natural home ECM, is definitely not a set of genuine and faux standards. Working with equally forward-thinking guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Shai Maestro and a rhythm section, the German native and NYC resident mostly uses his voice as an instrument, avoiding actual words in favor of syllables. Sung in the same timbre as the bowing of a violin, Bleckmann bobs, weaves and soars over the backgrounds Monder et al provide him, imbuing songs like “The Mission,” “Wither” and “Cortegé” with an almost spiritual urgency –  without saying a word. Monder often matches him with impressionistic waves of ringing single lines or feedback-ridden swells – the title track finds the pair of artistic soulmates in ecstatic harmony.

Bleckmann does do some songs with words, of course. “To Be Shown To Monks in a Certain Temple,” with lyrics taken from The Poetry of Zen, becomes a tone poem in this company’s atmospheric hands, while “Take My Life” slyly leavens its pop tones with rambunctious rhythms and a burning Monder solo. “Fields” hews closer to traditional jazz singing, but in an elongated form that allows Bleckmann to alter his phrasing as he sees fit. The most recognizable song here is undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” from the musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, but even it gets filtered through Bleckmann’s unique sensibility, given a new vocal melody and slowed waaaaay down, yet with a lightness that keeps it from being a dirge. Though fettered by libretto, Bleckmann shows as much imagination with these songs as he does with the others.

A lot of jazz records with wordless vocals can be too sweet for their own good – cf. the Pat Metheny Group’s late 80s work. Though he avoids dissonance for its own sake, Bleckmann amazingly never descends into treacle, nor does he indulge in the usual nonsense syllables of typical scat singing. Instead he forges his own distinctive path on Elegy, taking the concept of the human voice as instrument to new and shimmering places.

DOWNLOAD: “Elegy,” “The Mission,” “Comedy Tonight”

 

ERIC AMBEL – Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1)

Album: Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1)

Artist: Eric Ambel

Label: Lakeside Lounge

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.ericambel.com

eric-ambel

The Upshot: Rousing, rowdy, rockin’ concert disc from last summer that finds the guitarist showcasing his Lakeside album, plus surprises.

BY FRED MILLS

Let’s state this up front: Any artist who opts for a Swamp Dogg cover as a set-closer has a seriously big set of huevos, and better be prepared to deliver the musical goods.

I have it on good authority that erstwhile Del-Lords/Steve Earle & the Dukes guitarist Eric Ambel has long been in possession of the aforementioned danglers—this is based on interviews I’ve conducted with his peers, reviews I’ve read that my own peers have authored, and a few random one-on-one encounters I’ve had with the dude. As to the latter, well… the guitarist, songwriter, producer, and cyclist known to most of us as just Roscoe wraps up his August 27, 2016, set at Livestock with nothing less than a positively torching version of tha Dogg’s already-incendiary “Total Destruction to Your Mind”—as in, he’s gonna apply his sonic-psychic wrecking ball—and between him, fellow axeman Mo Goldner, bassist Keith Christopher, and drummer Phil Cimino, there’s not a riff left unriffed, a beat left unthumped, a vocal note of exuberance left, um, unexuberated.

This is rock ‘n’ roll unbridled, folks. Small wonder that Ambel’s “Roscoe” logo that people may be familiar with from his website or production work is a silhouette of a Stetson-waving cowboy astride a bucking bronc.

Ambel, then, here ushers in what promises to be an ongoing series of live releases, with this 2016 performance spotlighting material from his most excellent album from spring of that same year, Lakeside (reviewed HERE, incidentally), which was produced by his friend Jimbo Mathus. Among the standouts: twangy, swingin’ honky-tonker “Here Come My Love,” penned by another Ambel pal, Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner; the brooding, psychedelic “Don’t Make Me Break You Down,” which features some ungodly, nasty, lead fretwork that would earn a salute from Neil Young; and beautiful choogler “Have Mercy,” intro’d by Ambel as his “disco song,” but to these ears is midtempo power-pop-meets-John-Fogerty.

And let us not overlook Ambel’s adroitness at plucking choice covers from the musical astral plane. Here, the brilliant Gillian Welch/David Rawlings-penned “Look At Miss Ohio,” a standout on Lakeside, gains gravitas in its transition from studio to stage (wait’ll you hear the guitar duel); and of course there’s that Swamp Dogg number lurking in the wings to wrap things up.

As the “Vol. 1” designation simply affords we fans a comfortable “to be continued…” alert, I’ll leave my commentary until the next installment. After all, this Roscoe dude, he ain’t selling out—he’s buying in!

DOWNLOAD: “”Have Mercy,” “Look at Miss Ohio,” “Total Destruction to Your Mind”

 

PERFECT ENGLISH WEATHER – Isobar Blues

Album: Isobar Blues

Artist: Perfect English Weather

Label: Matinee

Release Date: November 25, 2016

www.matineerecordings.com

weather-11-25

The Upshot: Popguns members serve up an electric pop album that’s very cool.

BY TIM HINELY

It had been a while since there were any Matinee releases, and I was getting worried. This indie pop label, based out of Santa Barbara for the past decade or so, had offered up some of the best jangle pop releases of any label anywhere. This band is the duo of Simon and Wendy Pickles, both of the band The Popguns and hailing from Brighton (if Pickles is their real last name, well, I’m jealous). Apparently they were just planning on having these songs be much more minimal and striped down affair, maybe just acoustic guitars, but one thing led to another and you’ve got an electric pop album—still lots of acoustic guitars, though.

The opening cut “The Sweetest Feeling” was just okay; a bit Motown-ish, and I love Motown but didn’t love this cut. But track number two, “Hit Town A.T.H.E.N.S.”, is much more upbeat—it has Wendy singing the line “Tell me when you get kicked in the balls”)—and then “Try a Little Harder” is a real low-key, pop groove that’s real easy to swallow. Later on down the line the band offers up the gorgeous acoustic tune “English Weather’ (love Wendy’s vocals on this one), while “Spirited Away” kicks the tempo up a notch and has some cool organ.

Not sure what The Popguns are doing these days but hey, we get a bonus here as side projects can be a really good thing. It is this time.

DOWNLOAD:  “Hit Town A.T.H.E.N.S,”  “Try a Little Harder,” “English Weather”