Category Archives: New Releases

GRANT EARL LaVALLEY – From LaValley Below LP

Album: From LaValley Below LP

Artist: Grant Earl LaValley

Label: Exit Stencil

Release Date: October 13, 2017

The Upshot: Sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect.            


There’s an occurrence, about a half-hour into Joshua-Tree-by-way-of-Ohio singer/songwriter Grant LaValley’s long-playing debut, that could be crudely described as “sealing the deal” for you, the otherwise increasingly transfixed listener. It’s an extended version of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush impressionistic, druggy gem “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”: Reverently spare and true to the original melody for the first couple of verses, it subtly turns noirish—gothic, even—as distant cello and trumpet murmurs, lined with ambient noises, drift in, the volume rising uneasily to match LaValley’s neo-gospel vocal swells; he returns to the “it’s only castles burning…” chorus tag at the close, but by that point Young’s line is no longer one of reassurance, but of deathly inference. You’re left utterly haunted.

”DLIBYD” is the only cover on From LaValley Below, but it speaks volumes to this newcomer’s frame of reference, as he’s clearly cut from classic folk-rock cloth. Earlier on the album, one encounters originals such as “The In-Betweens,” a shuddery slice of midperiod solo Gene Clark; as well as the mournful, minor chord meditation “Dark Love,” and the contrasting uplift of “Seasons,” for which LaValley’s gentle fretboard pluckings are abetted by gorgeous cello-grand piano interplay and no less than his Joshua Tree neighbor Victoria Williams’ angelic warble.

And while it would be premature to make any grand pronouncements of, or predictions for, LaValley, his hermetic, almost isolationist approach to music-making certainly marks him as a man who has soaked in sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect. Keep an eye on him.

The album’s also pressed up on sweet wax – vinyl (not vinyls, newbies) to all you serious music fans. Also worth seeking out is LaValley’s recent, elaborately packaged 45 (also on Exit Stencil), “Let the Light Shine In” b/w “Dark Love” – the former track was co-written with songwriter/producer M. Craft, who LaValley met after moving to Joshua Tree. (Great minds think alike in the desert, eh?) It’s a must-own for vinyl collectors, and on heavy vinyl, at that – is it possible to have a 7” weighing in at 180 gms.?

DOWNLOAD: “Seasons,” “The In-Betweens,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”


Album: Baby Talk

Artist: James Blood Ulmer with The Thing

Label: Trost/The Thing

Release Date: September 15, 2017


A meeting of the minds probably no one expected, Baby Talk chronicles the in-concert collaboration between Scandinavian free jazz trio The Thing and pigeonhole-defying guitarist James Blood Ulmer on a set of the latter’s compositions from throughout his catalog. Saxophonist Mats Gustaffson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love make a formidable unit – not for nothing is one of the band’s albums called Action Jazz – but here the threesome defers to their temporary leader. Rather than whip up a storm of free jazz fury, the group follows Ulmer’s lead, letting a sense of playful whimsy guide the compositions. On “High Yellow,” the guitarist comps in his distinctive free blues style while The Thing bats around his changes like a cat with a mouse. “Baby Talk,” from the catalog of Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble, sets up a constantly shifting foundation over which Gustaffson overlays his legato squeals. Ulmer takes center stage on “Proof,” another MRE track, his clanging guitar duetting with Gustaffson’s baritone sax on a landscape of avant-garde blues. For “Interview,” Flaten and Love get a roiling groove going, setting the stage for some Ulmer/Gustaffson fireworks. Though the music often gets frenetic, at no point might one call any of it aggressive. Baby Talk isn’t about overwhelming listeners with sheer force, but highlighting the fun to be had when everybody agrees to the same non-rules.

DOWNLOAD: “Proof,” “High Yellow,” “Interview”


Album: Odessa

Artist: Thorp Jenson

Label: South Boulevard

Release Date: October 20, 2017




Managing to straddle the line between Southern rocker and Americana troubadour, Richmond-based guitarist Thorp Jenson comes off as a Southern states Springsteen on his self-produced record Odessa.


The charm of this album lies in its versatility. The first couple of tracks, like the stellar “Lonely” and “All We Have Is Time” boast echoes of Tom Petty, while elsewhere Jenson pulls off a haunting, stripped down sound that takes more from folk and classic barroom country than rock (think Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt).


Jenson relies heavily on characters to move his songs along, like the soldier returning from war and feeling out of place in his old town (“Odessa”) or the self-proclaimed sinner in the opening track “Oklahoma.” Jenson even manages to pull off a hypnotically dark version of Modern English’s “Melt With You,” adding a layer of gravitas to the song that you never thought possible.


Coming in at 10 tracks, there are not any wasted moments here as Jenson and crew turn in a brilliant debut. 


DOWNLOAD: “Oklahoma,” “Wake Up” and “I Melt With You”


LINDSTRØM – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is

Album: It's Alright Between Us As It Is


Label: Smalltown Supersound

Release Date: October 20, 2017




Five years have passed since Norwegian electronic producer and multi-instrumentalist, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm has released a full length album. Since 2012 the talented producer has released singles, collaborated with other artists such as Todd Terje and his oft-partner-in-crime Prins Thomas. For his fifth studio album Lindstrøm straddles conflicting emotions as he creates what feels like a soundtrack to sadness’ day in the sun.


A quick dismissal would label It’s Alright Between Us As It Is a “dance album.” However, the mostly instrumental release has a calm, melancholic string that courses through each track with repetition at its epicenter. This make the entire album—which includes a 50 second, self-titled introduction and interlude, “Versatile Dreams”—feel like a singular, subdued performance piece. Dependent on one’s view, this can be both its detriment and high point as songs calmly drifts from one to another.


Reveling in 80s inspired mellow, synth melded with electro-jazz some tracks fade together due to their similar sound. Both “Spire” and “Tensions” begin with fast high hats and transition to plucky keys but then there are some that slowly swoon your ears.  Instrumentals “Drift” and “Under Trees”—the latter is a great outro to the album—are indeed catchy. The nearly nine minute “Under Trees” is reminiscent to an experimental jazz session with quiet keyboard that gives way to piano that gently drips notes in the middle of the song. It isn’t until the five minute mark that the drums are invaded by atmospheric noise before it fades to nothingness. Yet on this nine-track album the songs which features vocalists Frida Sundemo, Grace Hall and Jenny Hval are the stand outs.


Each singer’s voice possesses a similar calm that perfectly matches Alright’s style. First single “Shinin’” with Grace Hall is the fastest-paced song on the album and of course the spoken word vocal stylings of Jenny Hval on “Bungl (Like A Ghost)” easily find a home here. The looping effects as she repeats the line “like a ghost,” and her eerie wail, all create a haunting yet upbeat track.


The point of Alright is not to churn out hit singles but to create an experience for its listeners, to create a concept album. Lindstrøm has successfully done so!


DOWNLOAD: “Tensions,” “Shinin”

MAPPING IT OUT: The Clientele

UK outfit returns with first full-length in nearly a decade—and in fine form, too.


To become a London cabbie, drivers must past an exhaustive test referred to as “the Knowledge.” It can take years to master the 25,000 streets the exam can cover, including not only names and directions but a good portion of what’s on them, from neighborhood parks and mini-monuments to corner pubs and restaurants.

In their own way, and over the course of six glistening LPs of romantic psych pop, the London-by-way-of-Hampshire band The Clientele has also mapped out London and environs, using geography to spark memory, and through it chart an audio cartography. As British in their own right as those black cabs, the Clientele’s Autumnal melodies, surrealist imagery and lush arrangements create their own state of transport.

That goes for the band’s first full-length in nearly a decade, Music for the Age of Miracles, too, issued by North Carolina’s Merge label. Drop the needle on the bewitching layered harmonies and strings of “Lunar Days,” for instance, and the song drops you in November London where “you’re lost in the leaves” and the “beaten copper tongues” ring through the cavernous streets. The song is a meditation on the city’s ghost-town-at-night financial center — “I walked along the street with no one home/Lamps no one lit, roads no one drove,” Alasdair MacLean sings — but captures the LP’s predominant alone-in-a-crowd vibe.

But MacLean’s narrators—often insomniacs, judging by their nightly perambulations—actually rarely walk alone. They navigate the city’s streets and alleyways in demi-dream states where church bells, local parks and night skies serve as compass points for specific reminiscences. Song tempos even convey brisk walks or contemplative strolls, and the “constellations echo lanes, the pylons and the still parade,” as one song puts it. Lyrics recall old friends, ex-lovers and younger selves, forming a Sixth Sense-like procession of familiar faces, places and events that simultaneously highlights and dilutes the city’s anonymity. On “Falling Asleep,” over a plucked nylon-string guitar and the exotic notes of a santoor (a Persian dulcimer), these “dream-like” states provide the ghosts “of remembered chords/which still can make such radiance.”

And at their best here, The Clientele combine these memory-inducing locales and wistful melodies into truly sparkling moments. Opening track “The Neighbour” is all jangly guitars and soaring harmonies, an “evening’s hymn” where the “crowds thinned out until we were alone.” “Everyone You Meet” adds elegant horns and strings (arranged everywhere by new band member Anthony Harmer) to the blend, creating a tableau where it seems perfectly reasonable that master musician Orpheus would be “singing through the wires.” The ecstatic title track weds memorable images — “Swallows wheel from sun-bleached eaves/Trucks glow on peripheries”—to a beatific melody and, in the process, wraps up themes which have been threading their way through the entire LP. Propelled by James Hornsey’s full-neck bass runs and more horn fanfares and strings, “The Age of Miracles” celebrates the reflective hours when we reshuffle our sense of self and exhale with the rest of the city’s denizens — “Lately I’ve been living like I’m so far away/Like I’m somebody else/In some other place,” MacLean notes before finding in the city a rebirth through music and the simple “dance of our days.”

The band pushes out from their comfort zone on “Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself,” which replaces guitars with arpeggiated harp runs and adds programmed drums and a brass section for a slightly dubby feel; file under interesting if unnecessary experiment. At the other end of the spectrum, MacLean’s reading of an as-yet-unpublished novel excerpt on “The Museum of Fog” is a conceit that mirrors—too closely, it turns out—”Losing Haringey” from 2005’s Strange Geometry. The story of current MacLean stumbling upon a pub where 16-year-old MacLean first got turned on to live music is a thematic fit, and the music strolls by pleasantly enough. But the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to an interesting—or unique—whole.

Those are minor outliers, though, on a record that suggests a decade off hasn’t dulled the Clientele’s strengths. On the contrary, Miracles highlights the band’s ongoing ability to transport us fully into its world—to offer us its version of the Knowledge, if you like. And as the LP title suggests—in nuanced irony, of course—music today may be digitized, compressed and sent whooshing through the ether at a button-click or swipe, but it’s what it does on the receiving end that’s still the real miracle.


Album: The Way Home LP

Artist: Ikebe Shakedown

Label: Colemine

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: One of the year’s best albums, near-flawless in fact, simultaneously hypnotic and danceable raw funk, sinewy soul, and steamy Afro-beat.


Brooklyn funkateers Ikebe Shakedown first pinged the national radar in 2009 with the Hard Steppin’ mini album, a sinewy, sultry Afro-beat dance party that also featured some of the like-minded Budos Band gang. As an introductory statement, it was as revelatory as similarly-positioned arrivals, including debuts by the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, and the aforementioned Budos. Since then, the instrumental outfit has released two more albums (Ikebe Shakedown, in 2011, and Stone By Stone, in 2014) and a number of 7” singles, now arriving with The Way Home. It marks a reunion of sorts between the band and the Midwest funk/soul devotees at Colemine Records, which had released the debut (and, last year, reissued it as a numbered/colored vinyl limited edition); for albums two and three, the Ubiquity label did the honors.

The alliance is apt, for Colemine has been knocking ‘em out of the park this past year with amazing albums from Orgone, the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Soul Scratch, and Durand Jones & the Indications. The Way Home finds Ikebe Shakedown having not so much shed, as simply dialed back, some of the West African influences in favor of a more broadly defined funk and soul aesthetic. Horns remain prominent, of course, and when saxman Mike Buckley steps up for his solos, the Fela comparisons can’t be avoided; one track, “Assassin,” also brings in key rhythmic elements from African highlife. But overall it seems that the way Ikebe now integrates its horn arrangements (sax, flute, trumpet, trombone) with the percussion, keys, and guitar makes it closer to the classic Stax/Volt model, at times also conjuring images of vintage Motown and Muscle Shoals setups.

Indeed, “Penny the Snitch” could be from a long-lost Blaxploitation soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, from Robin Schmidt’s chicken-pickin’ guitar and wah-wah flourishes to Dave Bourla’s percussion (bongos and congas?). Likewise, on “Blue Giant” we’re in pure Curtis Mayfield territory, Schmidt’s guitar slipping between bluesy riffs and more wah-wah, while Buckley’s flute and Bourla’s percussion lend a cinematic, chase scene-like vibe. Speaking of the movies, “Brushfire” pulls off the impressive trick of sounding like a psychedelic spaghetti western overture, but with funk horns instead of mariachis; you don’t hear a lot of funk in the desert, but damned if Ikebe doesn’t make it a reality.

Seriously, this is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, and not just within the band’s chosen genre. It’s simultaneously hypnotic and danceable, and it gets better with every spin, too. Initial copies from Colemine are pressed on crystal clear vinyl and arrive in a deluxe gatefold sleeve (thick tip-on style) with each copy individually numbered. Download code included as well, a touch that a lot of labels overlook. Colemine consistently goes the extra mile, and they should be saluted for that—one of my favorite labels these days, period.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Giant,” “Brushfire,” “Shifting Sands”


DAN REEDER – Nobody Wants to Be You

Album: Nobody Wants to Be You

Artist: Dan Reeder

Label: Oh Boy

Release Date: November 10, 2017

The Upshot: Short, sharp, shocks to the system via the snarky folkster’s latest EP.


Dan Reeder’s latest EP, Nobody Wants to Be You, is short. Just five songs long, it is frustratingly short. Just about every track here, beginning with the title song, embodies all that is great about Reeder’s quirky, snarky take on folk, which just adds to the feeling that he’s teasing us by putting out such a brief record.

It’s appropriate that John Prine started releasing Reeder’s music, as both share a knack for getting across their point succinctly with a wry sense of humor and little use for superfluous flourishes. Need an example? Take the lyrics for “Born a Worm”: “Born a worm/spins a cocoon/goes to sleep/wakes up a butterfly/oh what the fuck is that about?” Simple, yet brilliant.

Whether he’s singing about disappointing your loved one spectacularly (“Nobody Wants to Be You”) or the Jesus looking guy in the park (“The Pond in the Park”), Reeder can draw a listener in with just a line or two. The only downside to this latest is that it’s over almost as soon as it begins. Let’s hope this means a full length is right around the corner.

DOWNLOAD: The entire thing; come on, man, it’s only 5 songs long!




J.J. & THE REAL JERKS – Back to the Bottom

Album: Back to the Bottom

Artist: J.J. & the Real Jerks

Label: Dead Beat

Release Date: August 18, 2017

The Upshot: Cali punks hoist high the flag of ’77 in a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten.


From the R.Crumb-meets-Big-Daddy-Roth album sleeve art to the punque-as-fuque label name to the biker bars ‘n’ careening guitars sound, Los Angeles J.J. & The Real Jerks pretty much check every box that matters.

Bolt-outta-the-gate opening track replete with chugarama riffs and yakkity sax skronk (“Out of My Means”)? Check. Harp-powered blooze thrasher ode to drinking and stinking (“Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”)? Double check. Side B opener as visceral as Side A’s, evoking in the process no less than classic Heartbreakers (Thunders, not Petty, for “Mr. Good Enough”)? Check, check, check. Anthemic, power-chord metaphorical dissection of love on the rocks—or love never even getting far enough to paddle near the shore (“Ice Queen”)? Waiter, the check, please—we’ll pick up some dessert across the street at the liquor store.

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, which is probably the point, ‘cos J.J. (that’s little Joe Jennings to his mom and pop) and his gang—fellow guitarist Skot Pollok, bassist Hiroshi Yamazaki, sax maestro Geoff Yeaton, drummer Richie Mendez—have a different objective in mind. By serving up these nine hi-nrg slices of Noo Yawk ‘tude and southern Cali garage-punk, J.J. & The Real Jerks hoist high the flag of ’77, a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten. But they are still indescribably now, and you can count on that.

Vinyl hound alert: The LP’s first 100 copies come on beautiful blue vinyl. Everyone too slow on the draw will still get the black vinyl edition, and you know we here at BLURT central would have it no other way than wax, Jack.

DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Good Enough,” “Tuned Out,” “Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”


THOR AND FRIENDS — The Subversive Nature of Kindness

Album: The Subversive Nature of Kindness

Artist: Thor and Friends

Label: Living Music Duplication

Release Date: November 17, 2017

The Upshot: Evoking Steve Reich, it’s a lovely piece of work, balancing intellectual rigor with beauty.


A flock of marimbas. A covey of xylophones. A herd of vibraphones. The technical term for multiple, massed, tonal percussion instruments escapes me just now, but making it difficult to describe this album from the Swans/Shearwater percussionist Thor Harris (and friends). But the sound that’s generated by these instruments is intricate and bewitching, as one, two or even three mallet-struck instruments plink riffs that intersect and interlock and rattle against each other, transparently, luminously like a glass-bead curtain of music. Add to that swooping swirls of violin, wavery washes of mellotron and wordless vocals and you have The Subversive Nature of Kindness, an alternatingly hypnotic, cathartic and enchanting piece of work.

This is Harris’ second album with these particular friends, fellow percussionists Peggy Ghorbani on marimba and Sarah Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano. They are joined by a rather large ensemble, producer Jeremy Barnes from a Hawk and a Hacksaw,  who also played a number of stringed and keyed instruments, Heather Trost, also of a Hawk and a Hacksaw, who sang and played violin and viola, Jordan Geiger from Hospital Ships, John Dieterich from Deerhoof and a small choir of singers, including, notably, Michael Gira of Swans and Norwegian experimental singer Stine Janvind Motland.

The singers, by the way, work more as providers of texture than in the usual forefronted way. Motland sings, for instance, on a track that is partly named for her, “Swimming with Stina” contributing vibrating, staccato tones that sound like celestial beings who purr like cats. Gira puts his imprint on the closing “Grassfire,” a shimmering puzzle palace of interlocking motifs which turns chaotic and urgent midway through with his nattering, muttering “nanananana”s.

Yet even so, the percussion instruments take central roles. “Dead Man’s Hand” begins with a spare motif on marimba (or xylophone or whatever it is) and some gong notes for structure. A violin weaves in and around, fetching, beckoning you in to this strange mathematical space bounded by percussion. It’s a dense mesh of textures, a heady, enveloping dream inside an equation.

The Subversive Nature of Kindness, of course, evokes Steve Reich, who also wrote for multiple marimbas. However, it feels warmer, less abstract and more dreamily human, whether tinged with Native American spirituality (“Standing Rock”) or lit with the broody drama of melloton (“Carpet Creeps”).  It’s a lovely piece of work, balancing intellectual rigor with beauty, and well worth assembling a pride, a mob, a gang or even a congress of malleted instruments together for.

DOWNLOAD: “Standing Rock” “Grassfire”


BARK – Year of the Dog LP

Album: Year of the Dog LP

Artist: Bark

Label: Striped Light

Release Date: October 06, 2017

The Upshot: Who you callin’ honey?: From minimalist, brooding blooze to shuddery surf-rock to moments of pure celebration, the erstwhile Tim Lee 3 members serve notice that they are in the house and here to stay.


Although Knoxville’s beloved Tim Lee 3 has been put up on blocks for the time being, following a ten-year, six-album run, 2/3 of that ensemble—spouses Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee—is still very much in action as Bark. In fact, the guitar/drums duo were road-testing as far back as 2015, when they released Let’s Go Dancing Down on Gator Lake Road… Shake That Thang Till Our Heads Explode, a live-in-studio mini-album that revealed a rawer, bluesier side to the Lees. Now comes Year of the Dog, which is a bit more fleshed out than LGDDOGLRSTTTOHE; they don’t follow the White Stripes 2-person template, instead adding bass guitar as desired (Susan handled bass in the Tim Lee 3, but here, both share duties), and a handful of guests contribute everything from percussion to Moog to handclaps. But it’s no less visceral in feel, a garagey—at times, surf-toned—set that’s all killer, no filler.

The record is available on thick black vinyl, w/download card, or on CD, but the striking thematic sleeve art really demands that the consumer possess the full-sized artifact, because it is genuinely is art, created by Susan. Hang it on your wall and you’ll get a response at the next gathering.

Things kick off on a minor-key note via “How You Gonna Miss Me,” a low-slung, low-pitched number highlighted by the intriguing contrast of Tim’s droning baritone guitar and Susan’s insistent kit thump. Indeed, a number of tracks here are of a distinctive brooding sort—the somber, trudging “Interstate Blues”; the Western-tinged “Elbmur” (if the instrumental starts to sound somewhat familiar after a couple of listens, well… read the title backwards; it would make a terrific murder ballad if lyrics were added); minimalist blooze “World of Regret.” One hesitates to read too much into the Lees’ equally downcast lyrics, but knowing that they’ve experienced several significant personal losses over the past year or so, it’s hard not to think that they were working through some pain as they wrote these songs.

Elsewhere on the album, the Bark musical purview is compellingly broad, from the quirkysexybluesycool “Lazarus” (Susan turns in one of her finest vocals to date here) and the shuddery surf motifs of “Living Under Water,” to psychedelic raveup “The Only Cure” and the hilarious road trip that is “One-Eyed Driving” (improbably enough, it suggests a classic hill country-styled blues transformed into a surf anthem). The latter tune’s cheeky Snoop Dogg lyrical invocation—“I got my mind on my honey, and my honey on my mind”—seals the deal, and it also serves as a righteous declaration of devotion for this rock ‘n’ roll couple.

Incidentally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Year of the Dog is a 12-songer, with the vinyl only having 11 of those 12 tracks. Never fear, wax devotees: The final track, the upbeat, celebratory rocker “Ends of the World,” is included with the digital download. It’s a terrific number, too.

DOWNLOAD: “Living Under Water,” “Elbmur,” “World of Regret”

Ed. note: elsewhere on the BLURT site you can read our 2015 Tim Lee 3 interview as well as our 2017 look back at Tim’s early power pop band The Windbreakers.