Category Archives: Vinyl records

U-MEN – U-Men (3LP box)

Album: U-Men Box (3LP)

Artist: U-Men

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: November 03, 2017

www.subpop.com

The Upshot: Crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, noisy, charismatic band. Warning: no grunge here.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Before Sub Pop Records launched, before Nirvana made “grunge” a household word, before Eddie Vedder made flannel shirts and Doc Martens chic, before the major labels descended upon Seattle in a feeding frenzy, before silly national acts like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 turned the term “alternative rock” into a punchline—there were the U-Men, whose tenure spanned the ‘80s and spawned one full-length and a handful of singles, EPs, and compilation appearances. And while one hesitates to label the noisily primal, skronk-powered Seattle quartet along lines of “wildly influential,” it’s likely that the proverbial Velvet Underground Effect, whereby people who happened to see the U-Men perform back in the day or bought their records (issued by labels both well-known, such as Homestead and Amphetamine Reptile, and justifiably obscure, like Bomb Shelter and Black Label) went on to eventually form their own bands, was operative at least to a small degree. (Go HERE to read a lengthy testimonial from Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, who calls them “the undisputed kings of the Seattle underground.)

 

U-Men is a sprawling 3LP box set (or 2CD should you not be a wax fetishist) that collects everything the band released along with five unreleased tracks, and as an artifact from Before The Dawn Of Grunge, it’s absolutely essential. And I say that as a ground zero U-Men fan, so to speak, as I either purchased or was gifted with, promo copy-wise, the bulk of the group’s original output, duly reviewing them for some of the fanzines I was scribbling for at the time. They were an irresistible draw, from the Gun Club-goes-thrash rev-a-rama of “Clubs” (off the 1985 12” EP Stop Spinning), to the unbridled, possibly improvised, dissonance-rawk of the subsequent “Solid Action” / “Dig It A Hole” 45 (it sports two of unhinged singer John Bigley’s gruffest, most extemporaneous vocals ever), to the dark, swampy blooze of “Whistlin’ Pete” in which the U-Men solidified their rep as America’s answer to the Birthday Party (it appeared on the group’s lone album, 1988’s John Nelson-produced Step on a Bug, a collaboration that yielded a relatively expansive, dynamics-rich sound).

 

The vinyl set is gorgeous, smartly graphically designed, with a thick outer box housing an inner slip-box that contains the three heavyweight LPs in their individual sleeves. Both the LP and CD versions have a thick booklet with full track annotations and interviews from the members—who would go on to bands like Gas Huffer, the Crows, and Love Battery—arranged oral history style, and it’s a colorful history, to say the least. Fun Fact #1: the group got its name from the bohemian section of Seattle the members came out of, the U-District. Fun Fact #2: for a short stretch, there was a U-Woman too, a female bassist named Robin. Fun Fact #3: the U-Men mounted three national tours, although we should use that term somewhat lightly; at least one of those tours consisted of something like five shows in three months plus a month-long sabbatical in Austin hanging out with fellow sonic discombobulators the Butthole Surfers.

 

Ultimately, it’s a crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, charismatic band.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Blight,” “Clubs,” “U-Men Stomp” (previously unreleased), “Dig It A Hole,” “Whistlin’ Pete,” “That’s Wild About Jack”

 

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MUDHONEY — L.i.E.

Album: L.i.E.

Artist: Mudhoney

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: January 19, 2018

https://www.subpop.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

 

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

 

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

 

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

 

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

 

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

DOWNLOAD: “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme,” “Broken Hands”

 

 

KLAUS SCHULZE – La Vie Electronique 1.0 (2LP)

Album: La Vie Electronique 1.0 (2LP)

Artist: Klaus Schulze

Label: One Way Static/Light In The Attic

Release Date: February 09, 2018

www.onewaystatic.com

The Upshot: Electronica maven and godfather’s trawl through his early-‘70s archives now gets a vinyl rollout.

Synth pioneer Klaus Schulze, one of the godfathers of modern electronic music and a major influence on the ambient artists who emerged during the ‘90s, first came to the public’s attention as the drummer for early Tangerine Dream. He only lasted for one year and one album before moving on to form Ash Ra Tempel with Manuel Gottsching, but that, too, would be short-lived, as the restless compower/multiinstrumentalist soon embarked upon a long, fruitful solo career that also included scoring a number of thriller and horror films. His 1972 debut Irrlicht remains a Krautrock touchstone, and he’s been consistently intriguing over the years, although his music can admittedly come across at times as a bit too new age-y for some tastes. (Fun fact: Schulze also was part of the early ‘70s ad hoc Krautrock “supergroup” the Cosmic Jokers. Look ‘em up.)

La Vie Electronique compiles extremely rare and unreleased early material, some of which he and coproducer/archivist Klaus Mueller came across in musty old tape boxes that were so haphazardly labeled that they typically had to come up with songtitles after the fact. In 2009 the duo began releasing the material on CD, and since then they’ve delivered no less than 16 volumes (the 16th one, from 2015, was a whopping 5CD set). T

The series is now being rolled out on vinyl, and part one of the original 3CD La Vie Electronique, here titled, 1.0 is both mesmerizing and meditative. The lengthy, three-part “I Was Dreaming I Was Awake And Then I Woke Up And Found Myself Asleep”—which is broken up into “I Was Dreaming I Was Awake,” “And Then I Woke Up,” and “And Found Myself Asleep”—in particular is rewarding, with waves of synths initially ebbing and flowing like ocean currents gently rocking the boat, then gradually growing more forceful and direct, ultimately culminating in a pulsing, throbbing, unsettling crescendo. The 14-minute “Dynamo” is also fascinating to absorb, an electronic approximation of piloting across the galaxy and being sucked slowly into a black hole. The album ends in a brief (24-seconds) Schulze interview which, since it’s in German, serves as a fittingly inscrutable coda. A must-own for Schulze fanatics.

This set, then, is the first in the Schulze vinyl series that One Way Static/Light In The Attic has initiated; the second installment of the first volume, La Vie Electronique 1.1, arrived on March 23, and it will be interesting to see if they get to the 16th volume, particularly if you consider that a 5CD set would probably require between 10 and 15 LPs to cover all of the music. Each title is a pressing of 1000, with 700 on standard black vinyl and 300 on white. And as with most LITA productions, always a trademark of quality, you get a healthy dose of detailed liner notes along with an Obi strip wrapped around the album jacket—the latter a nice touch for folks browsing in a record store who want to know more about the release. Whenever a label goes the extra mile for collectors, it should be applauded.

DOWNLOAD: “Dynamo”

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN – How To Solve Our Human Problems Pts. 1-3

Album: How To Solve Our Human Problems (Parts 1-3)

Artist: Belle and Sebastian

Label: Matador

Release Date: February 16, 2018

www.matadorrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

If nothing else, Belle and Sebastian deserve credit for perseverance. Over the course of dozens of albums, EPs, collections and chronicles, they’ve kept their consistency by purveying a sound so unfailingly effusive, it’s placed them at the forefront of today’s quintessential British pop masters.

It’s something of a crime then that Belle and Sebastian have yet to gain the wider recognition their efforts deserve. After all, any band that writes songs with such craft and care warrants attention, especially in this era of prefab pop. At one point, Belle and Sebastian would surely have found permanent placement in the Top Ten. Today, however, those that dare to write intelligent and well-crafted melodies sadly aren’t given the love and admiration they so well deserve. Indeed, it’s all but impossible to hear songs like “Sweet Dew Love,” “The Same Star,” “We Were Beautiful,” “The Girl Doesn’t Get It” or literally anything else they have to offer and not come away awed by the artistry and execution.

We can only hope then that How To Solve Our Human Problems, originally released as a series of three 12” EPs, helps reap the recognition this ensemble’s earned, because if it doesn’t, then nothing else will. These beautiful, beguiling melodies make for an album that’s so rich and regal in both style and shimmer, it’s simply stunning to say the least. Prepare to be enticed.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Dew Love,” “The Same Star,” “We Were Beautiful”

THE DAMNATION OF ADAM BLESSING – The Damnation of Adam Blessing (LP) / The Second Damnation

Album: The Damnation of Adam Blessing (LP) / The Second Damnation (LP)

Artist: The Damnation of Adam Blessing

Label: Exit Stencil

Release Date: March 30, 2018

www.exitstencil.org

The Upshot: Remarkably engaging underground hippie rock from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by a now-obscure Cleveland band that actually came close to grabbing the brass ring.

BY FRED MILLS

“You take your Technicolor daydream/ Aww, let your mind and soul unwind/ You walk a mile into a mirror/ Yeah, travel sideways into time…” (—”Cookbook,” The Damnation of Adam Blessing

Thus begins 1969-spawned The Damnation of Adam Blessing, the eponymous debut from a Cleveland-based underground quintet whose fortunes would ebb and flow across a quartet of albums, their steadily diminishing returns, commercially speaking, ultimately dooming the group; by ’73 they had thrown in the towel. It wasn’t for lack of talent or trying, however, and on multiple fronts (particularly since the band was signed to United Artists, at the time a moderately significant label with an eclectic roster). But despite some promising flirtation with the national charts, TDOAB failed to get much traction beyond the Midwest touring circuit of the day.

Instrumentally, the band had the chops to deliver sonic tableaux that, while in retrospect were clearly of the era, should’ve powered any number of their songs onto the playlists of freeform radio stations of the day across the country.  These were dark, dramatic numbers of metaphysical intent and wah-wah-fueled delivery, and they also boasted the potentially starmaking vocal charisma of frontman Bill Constable (aka the titular Adam), whose pipes were supple enough to make him a potential understudy to Ian Gillan or even Rod Stewart — check his performance in the group’s notable version of the Jeff Beck Group’s version of “Morning Dew.”

Yours truly was fortunate enough to be turned on back in the day to The Damnation of Adam Blessing by an older mentor, and several years later, after the group was no longer, I came across the first two LPs in a used bin. I never was able to locate their third or fourth albums, 1971’s Which Is the Justice, Which Is the Thief?, and 1972’s Glory, although most accounts suggest that neither record was exactly mind-blowing. But LP Numbers One (the aforementioned self-titler) and Two (The Second Damnation, from 1970) remain crucial artifacts, and the ever-diligent archivists at the Exit Stencil label have just rescued both platters from relative obscurity as fully-licensed reissues. Neither are nostalgia trips; period pieces, perhaps, but still churning with hirsute, hippie bravado ‘n’ passion.

The Damnation of Adam Blessing is perhaps the stronger of the two releases, should you have to choose between them. From the aforementioned “Cookbook,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Free album, and moody, meditative ballad “Lonely,” a showcase for Constable’s estimable croon; to the baroque pop of “Strings and Things,” a lengthy (5:45) excursion that deliberately ventures into Jefferson Airplane psychedelia, what with its overtones of the Volunteers album, and a surprisingly rousing take of the Monkees (!) “Last Train to Clarksville”—this is a diverse, layered album that repays multiple spins with fresh sonic revelations each time around. And The Second Damnation doesn’t exactly fare poorly either, what with tuneful garage workouts like “Death of a Virgin,” full-on hard rocker “Driver” (somewhere there’s an unreconstructed Grand Funk fan who heard this once and to this day swears it was from a GFR bootleg), the lust-fueled, six-minute 12-bar blooze of “New York City Woman,” and the group’s unabashed pop anthem “Back to the River,” sensual and sinewy, and one of those “coulda-shoulda” radio hits that never was. (In fact, it almost made it to the Billboard Top 100 when United Artists release an edited version as a single, but for some reason it stalled at #102, taking with it any momentum the album itself might have been building.)

(As an aside: Anyone interested in a quick sampling of TDOAB’s oeuvre is encouraged to pop over to Spotify, where there’s a digital album called The Best of The Damnation of Adam Blessing. With 13 tracks, it has selections from all four original LPs, heavily weighted towards the first two.)

Pressed up on heavyweight vinyl and boasting sharp reproductions of the original sleeve artwork plus bonus inserts depicting photos of the original master tape reel boxes on one side and detailed liner notes by Ugly Things writer Doug Sheppard on the other, both LPs are essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in probing the less-explored corners of the era. I can feel my mind and soul expanding just writing about ‘em—somebody pass me my mirror, I’m ready to travel sideways…

DOWNLOAD: “Back to the River,” “Morning Dew,” “Cookbook,” “Strings and Things,” “New York City Woman”

DIRTY SIDEWALKS – Bring Down the House Lights LP

Album: Bring Down the House Lights

Artist: Dirty Sidewalks

Label: No-Count

Release Date: January 12, 2018

www.facebook.com/nocountrecords/

The Upshot: Classic, anthemic shoegaze with a contemporary twist, and more vocal hooks per capita than a box set of Beach Boys ‘n’ Beatles.

BY FRED MILLS

Swervedriver. Ride. Chapterhouse. Jesus & Mary Chain. If none of those classic outfits twang your heartstrings, move along citizen, nothing to see here. But for all the smart people in the room, here, folks, is your new favorite band: Seattle’s Dirty Sidewalks, brothers Erik and Evan Foster on guitars and drum programming, plus “the other Evan” (O’Neil) on bass, debuting with a 12-song smorgasbord of fuzz ‘n’ drones, classic ‘80s anthemism and ‘60s Brit Invasion vocal harmonies, and no shortage of just plain kickass.

If Erick and Evan’s names sound familiar, that’s because you know their surf/garage combo, the Boss Martians. (Evan is also a contemporary member of NW garage legends the Sonics, just in case you need an additional CV reference.) But this is a whole ‘nuther thang, a veritable gobsmack of a record (on CD and vinyl) that does indeed pay homage to the aforementioned UK shoegazers but also updates the file to stake out turf that is utterly and undeniably theirs. It kicks off with some telltale backward-tape squiggles then launches into the manifesto-like “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” a thrumming, shimmering slice of JAMC pop revisionism that’ll have you swiveling your tailfeather in perfect synch with the shaker percussion. And the thrills subsequently pile up: the brief (2-min.), anthemic “Never Wanted to Be Love”; druggy, echo-drenched stomper “Euphoria”; experimental, samples-punctuated Black Holes, essentially an instrumental but with soaring Beach Boys-like wordless vocal harmonies. Oh, and for all the Oasis fans in the house, don’t miss “2nd Song,” which is more Noel Gallagher grand guitar symphony than Liam Gallagher vocal yowl/sneer, a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

That the Dirty Sidewalks use a James Dean-on-motorcycle as their band logo also speaks volumes. Get yer motor runnin’, punk.

Consumer note: In addition to Bring Down the House Lights being available on heavy vinyl, download card included, the band’s debut 45, “It’s Getting Better,” is apparently available on wax as well, in both super-limited white and very-limited black iterations. Act now before the word gets out on this gifted band.

DOWNLOAD: “Rock & Roll (Saved My Life),” “Euphoria,” “2nd Song”

Breeders – All Nerve (LP)

Album: All Nerve

Artist: Breeders

Label: 4AD

Release Date: March 16, 2018

www.4ad.com

The Upshot: What is “alternative rock” anyway? Amid all the joy and pain, loud and silent, on this reunion record, you will hear masters of a genre they helped give birth to—yes, The Breeders are back.

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

I’ve been waiting for this record, waiting a long time. All Nerve, the latest from the 1990s alternative rock giants—and Kim Deal side project from The Pixies—gets my preemptive vote for Record of the Year.  I’ll just get that out of the way.

 Where have the guitars gone from the music supposedly alternative these days? What is alternative? If you don’t know for sure, put on All Nerve (mine being on orange vinyl) and listen to the quiet, the empty spaces between the songs, and the explosion of guitar, drums and bass that fill the grooves and you will hear it, all the joy and pain, loud and silent, you will hear masters of a genre they helped give birth to; The Breeders are back. God loves us.

 “Nervous Mary” starts like a Lou Reed fever dream lullaby, climbing to the nervous breakdown. This is what The Breeders do best; sneak up on you with cotton soft feet, going for throat and winning every fucking time. “Wait in the Car” shows that, though years have passed, the 90s are always with them; Nirvana riffs, Patti Smith snarl and strut.  Beauty and sadness are there in “All Nerve” slightly open, imperfectly glorious.

 “Walking with a Killer,” a song that began life as a Kim Deal solo single, is fully formed here. Josephine Wiggs’ subtle heartbeat, always there, thumping away at the line, magically off kilter, Jim Macpherson drum work never flashy but always perfect for the song he’s playing; a truly underrated drummer that desires praise.

 “Archangel’s Thunderbird” is where it all comes together, the track that proves The Breeders are one of the best bands to come out of the ‘90s.  Rock steady drums, garage rock flashes from Kelley Deal’s guitar (she shines throughout All Nerve: sloppy, ramshackle, a mess, perfect.)

 “Dawn, Making an Effort” plays like a slow burn sequel to Last Splash’s “Driving on 9,” atmospheric with an ear to the grand, the beautiful strangeness that sometimes lives and breathes in a Breeders song.

 All Nerve isn’t perfect, but sweet Lord, it’s close.

 Kim and crew have done it again; stripped to the bone, showing the world who they are: a band that remembers what it was like for a band to rock.  Thank you for not putting away the amplifiers.

 DOWNLOAD: “Archangel’s Thunderbird,” “Nervous Mary,” “Dawn, Making An Effort”

 

CALEXICO – The Thread That Keeps Us

Album: The Thread That Keeps Us

Artist: Calexico

Label: Anti-

Release Date: January 26, 2018

www.anti.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Calexico’s ties to the aura of the great Southwest have made them one of the more indelible and inventive outfits of the past 20 years. With their smouldering brand of ambient experimentation and meandering, melancholic melodies, the Tucson group has created a sound that resides at the juncture between psychedelia and arched drama, appropriately stirred in the shimmering sands of the sun-baked desert and its otherworldly environs.

The tellingly titled The Thread That Keeps Us finds the band, on its ninth official studio album (not counting a litany of live and tour-only releases), integrating verve with variety, tossing in South of the Border canciones (“Flores y Tamales”), an essential urgency (“End of the World with You”), preening pop (“The Town & Miss Lorraine”), percolating percussion (“Under the Wheels”) and epic brass-infused instrumentals that convey their weary resilience (“Unconditional Waltz”). In short, it’s a credit to the band’s sonic stockpile that they’re able to mine such endless cascades of tone and texture and not allow themselves to be confined to any particular template.

The two men who remain at the helm—founding members (and formerly of Giant Sand) singer/guitar/keyboardist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino—summon ample reserves of talent and technique, and it’s that sonic suggestion which finds them consistently broadening their palette with such riveting results. “When the world goes dark I’ll always be close by,” the haunting final song “Music Box” promises. Indeed, a defining blend of assurance and intrigue makes Calexico’s music come across as both so sumptuous and so surreal.

Consumer Note: Calexico offered the album to early adopters via a PledgeMusic campaign (autographed items, handwritten lyric sheets, and sundry memorabilia as premiums), and consumers who joined up could obtain a signed, deluxe vinyl version that boasted a bonus 7-song LP. As the band also included a digital download with the record, Calexico’s dedication to going the extra mile for fans should be lauded.

DOWNLOAD: “End of the World with You,” “Unconditional Waltz,” “The Town & Miss Lorraine”

 

AZONIC – Prospect of the Deep Volume One (LP)

Album: Prospect of the Deep Volume One

Artist: Azonic

Label: Indivisible Music Corp.

Release Date: October 27, 2017

www.indivisiblemusic.com

The Upshot: Cinematic guitar/percussion improv from a Blind Idiot God-ster’s fevered brain, as translated by the ever-diligent sonic maestro Bill Laswell.

BY FRED MILLS

Clearly not to be confused with the Azonic bicycle parts corporation, Azonic is fretmaster Andy Hawkins (guitarist for the monstrous Blind Idiot God) and percussionist Tim Wyskida (Khanate), who together make a monolithic improv noise that can be both malevolent of intent, and joyful in execution. Sharp eyed punters will recognize the Azonic name from the earlier Bill Laswell-produced album, Halo (Strata Records), a Hawkins side project in the mid ‘90s during Blind Idiot God’s extended hiatus.

The ’94 Hawkins offering was more free-form than the current Azonic incarnation; back then, the band delivered an effects-laden, heavy-drone affair spread across four 11-minute-ish tracks and featuring BIG’s Gabriel Katz pitching in on bass and effects. Circa 2017, Hawkins and Wyskida locate themselves firmly in cinematic territory — no less improvisational, but with a clearer sense of structure that carries the listener, suitelike, across a pair of 18 minute tracks. (That would be side 1 and side 2 for all you fellow vinyl fans who have been anticipating this slab of hot wax.) And as overseen —okay, via the “mix translation” — of longtime associate/studio auteur Laswell, Prospect of the Deep Volume One is, at some points, a grand, lumbering beast, and, at others, the sonic equivalent of being thrust across an interstellar wormhole, with all the psychic and physical disorientation that (admittedly ad hoc) description implies. The record, though, is certainly not uneasy listening. It suggests, to these ears at least, a cross between classic Krautrock extrapolations, but minus the signature motorik repetition (instead, expect thooming timpani flourishes), and vintage ambient explorations of inner space, with guitars subbing for synths and samplers.

And as suggested earlier, it’s filmic as hell. Cue up your favorite surreal or sci-fi movie (I suggest Kubrick’s 2001), turn its sound off, and turn the sound of this record up. You’ll see (hear) what I mean. (Have a taste at the Azonic Bandcamp page.)

DOWNLOAD: Pretty much the whole thing—it’s more like a film soundtrack than a rock album.

LIGHT WIRES – The Light Wires / The Invisible Hand 2LP

Album: The Light Wires / The Invisible Hand

Artist: Light Wires

Label: Sofaburn

Release Date: November 24, 2017

www.sofaburn.com

The Upshot: Essential alt-rock postcards from the past that fans of Jeremy Pinnell’s current work will cherish.

BY FRED MILLS

Late last year Rolling Stone proclaimed Kentucky singer-songwriter Jeremy Pinnell one of their “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know,” and with good cause; his sophomore album Ties of Blood and Affection had been notching Sturgill Simpson comparisons along the lines of “no frills honky-rock with plenty of pedal steel, Western swing and vocals as smooth as the highest dollar whiskey” (as RS put it). And I didn’t need any convincing, not after having been already knocked out by Pinnell, so much so that BLURT premiered one of his tracks from the album.

Yet a decade or so before going solo, Pinnell was heading up The Light Wires, a pop/Americana-tilting indie-rock quartet whose lone self-titled album, in retrospect, clearly gave notice that this young man was a major talent. Now his label, Sofaburn, has reissued The Light Wires alongside the essentially unreleased (it was originally a 2008 private issue of 50 copies) second album, The Invisible Hand, as a double-LP pressed up as—vinyl freaks, alert!—a one-black wax/one-red wax, gatefold sleeved gem. (See below.) Far from sounding like an artifact from the mid-aughts, this collection of Pinnell tunes is imbued with a certain timelessness that, another decade hence, fans will be eagerly out-nerding one another as they claim belated allegiance to this or that song. Backed by drummer Rick McCarty, guitarist Andy Hittle, and bassist/producer Mike Montgomery (also of Ampline and R. Ring), Pinnell sounds like a kid who grew up thumbing through an older sibling’s ‘60s and ‘70s albums and coming of musical age during the alt-rock and Americana explosions of the mid ‘90s, ultimately forging his own unique hybrid vision and forming a band.

 

Highlights are too many to list here, that’s for sure. “Talk To You Tonight,” from the first album, is a Whiskeytown-esque strummer with guitars and organ humming along behind Pinnell as he works through the regret of heartbreak in his yearning, Ryan Adams-meets-Eddie Vedder voice. Twangy midtempo country-rocker “Belly of the Beast,” also off the debut, with its irresistible titular chorus, is the proverbial coulda-shoulda been a radio hit. The Invisible Hand, likewise, is crammed with moments that, in a perfect world, might have been the stuff of arenas and thousands of hands thrust skyward. From Springsteenian opening track “Go On By” and the jangly majesty of “The Sinking Ship” (with a guest trumpeter, of all things), to luminous ballad “You Can Light” which gradually turns anthemic and, in turn, drop-dead-cathartic, and (speaking of anthemic) the Gin Blossoms-like “The Hum of Black Machines,” with its haunting lyrics about the abject loneliness of being cast aside and no longer loved, these are mature, full-formed compositions that have stood the test of time.

They’re also a fascinating glimpse behind the Pinnell curtain, essential postcards from the past that fans of his current work will cherish.

DOWNLOAD: “The Hum of Black machines,” “Go On By,” “Talk To You Tonight”