Album: Thrust

Artist: Black Asteroid

Label: Last Gang

Release Date: July 14, 2017

The Upshot: Futuristic sonic spaces, paced by adrenaline-surging rhythms, undergirded by rumbling bass-y synths and twitching with alienation.


Bryan Black, who records as Black Asteroid, constructs vast futuristic sonic spaces, paced by adrenaline-surging rhythms, undergirded by rumbling bass-y synths and twitching with alienation. The distance between a nearly subliminal throb and the treble-y, staccato upbeats is cathedral-sized and underpopulated, an ominous void that makes scattered sonic elements pop like neon. And yet, it is an ideal sized sonic canvas on which to place vocal melodies — performed by Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold, Zola Jesus and fashion icon Michele Lamy — whose warmer, less mechanical tones fill up gigantic midrange areas in roughly half of these cuts.

Black got his start engineering and doing keyboard tech for Prince, and he is also one half of the techno duo MOTOR. As Black Asteroid, he’s recorded a raft of singles and Eps, but #Thrust# is his first full-length album. Though the diversity of singers gives it a somewhat episodic feel, at least on the surface, the album has a foundational consistency – rhythmic tension, deep chill, gleaming surfaces. Imagine a disused airline hanger or redundant factory floor, dark, ominous, empty, technological.

Wesley Eisold is the most frequent collaborator, contributing to three of ten tracks, in his cool, uninflected voice, a throwback to the stylish anomie of artists like Depeche Mode’s David Gahan. His last outing, “Sun Explodes” leaves a lasting mark, his wavery talk-sing merged with a woman’s voice over pounding four-on-the-floor, a chilled dystopia whose main lyric seems to be “too many cunts.”  Zola Jesus’ track, “Howl” is another highlight with its subterranean thunder, its shiny dark surfaces. It’s an austere landscape, vaguely threatening, yet the singer fills it with lush-ness, with multi-syllabic “oh-oh-ohs” that spill over the hard foundation luxuriantly, like a kudzu growing over polished glass. But it’s Michele Lamy, who is in her 70s and sounds it, who scores the deepest impression. Her smoky, smouldery voice might remind you a little of Laurie Anderson, deep and flexible, French accented and utterly human in the context of Black’s minimalist beats.

About half the tracks are instrumental only, allowing listeners to glimpse the architecture underneath. “Chromosphere,” the closer, looms and skitters, its weight carried by deep-toned synths, its heights defined by pinging, zooming synths. The space in between is empty here, so that no matter how loud you turn it up, there’s a cold, silent presence inside the music, which is intriguing on its own and also an empty stage for whoever might be coaxed to enter.

DOWNLOAD: “Tangiers (with Michele Lamy)”, “Howl (with Zola Jesus”


Album: Hudson

Artist: Dejohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield

Label: Motéma

Release Date: June 09, 2017

The Upshot: More than just a fusion supergroup, the musicians pull from the songs that excited them when they were young.


In celebration of his 75th birthday, iconoclastic jazz drummer/composer Jack DeJohnette pulled together some of his Hudson Valley neighbors to have a party in the recording studio. Since those neighbors include guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski and bassist Larry Grenadier, that’s a guaranteed good time. But Hudson is more than just a fusion supergroup. There’s a theme underlying the good vibes, as the musicians pull from the songs that excited them when they were young, especially if there is some connection to upstate New York. Thus interspersed with the band’s original compositions sit covers from the catalogs of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell and The Band.

Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” becomes a reggae-inflected groove led by Scofield’s biting guitar and Medeski’s noodling organ, while “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” transforms into a psychedelic jam that borders on free jazz. Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” slides into a soul jazz vibe, like an organ trio plus bass, while Mitchell’s “Woodstock” becomes a smoky, almost unrecognizable mood piece. The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” retains its signature melody, but ups the funk quotient, letting Scofield and Medeski rip on guitar and piano. None of these tunes come to mind when we think of future jazz standards, but this quartet massages them into pieces that fit the jazz repertoire.

The band’s self-penned compositions fit more in line with what one might expect from this particular grouping. Scofield’s “El Swing” and “Tony Then Jack” (in which the guitarist turns over responsibility of the main riffs over to organist Medeski) swing hard, as might be expected from a songwriter who leans so heavily on groove. DeJohnette’s “Song For World Forgiveness” shimmers through a languorous melody that lets Scofield work his magic. The drummer’s “Great Spirit Peach Chant” is just that, while “Dirty Ground” adds something really unusual: words, written by Bruce Hornsby and sung by DeJohnette in a gruff, plainspoken burr. The title track finds the foursome indulging in friendly jamming, as if they were introducing themselves to each other as well as to us.

In a way, the originals almost feel like afterthoughts. They don’t necessarily fit the theme, nor do they expand on the musicians’ prior work in any significant way – anyone familiar with DeJohnette and Scofield’s writing styles would know what to expect. Of course, these are also musicians who’ve been at the top of their game for decades and have no need to reinvent the wheel. Still, it would’ve been nice for these colleagues to push each other out of their comfort zones on their own tunes as they do on the covers.

DOWNLOAD: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Woodstock,” “Hudson”


VARIOUS ARTISTS — Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984

Album: Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Analog Africa

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The Upshot: Like the best kind of disco, but warmer and funkier and rougher around the edges.


If you know one song in the bass-heavy, disco-evoking makossa style of Cameroon, it is likely Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa,” the source of Michael Jackson’s “mama say mama san mamakossan” refrain in “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”  Analog Africa’s crate-digging excursion tends towards a rougher, grittier groove, found somewhere in the crease between high life and Chic with rubbery low-end booty-bumping foundations that pulse with vibrant life.

Of these 12 tracks, “Yaounde Girls” by Mystic Djim & the Spirits is maybe the most satisfying, with its timbale-rattling percussion, its slinky girl-group chorus (“Yaounde Girls…all they need is loving”) and its agitated, superbly physical bass line, which blurts and bloops and bumps with three-dimensional heft. Yet it’s far from the only winner. For instance, though you might not have heard of Bill Loko’s synth-writhing “Nen Lambo” (like the Thompson Twins in glitter-splotched platform heels) — I hadn’t — it was a big enough hit in Cameroon that its teenage super-star had to flee the country, and this exuberant version gives you a good idea of why. Pasteur Lappé’s “Sekele Movement” with its bright blasts of brass and again, sorry to be repetitive, that wonderful pushing, seething bass, is enough to make you reconsider your allegiances in the punk vs. disco battle lines. And the long, multi-drummed, multi-rhythmed “Africa” by Clément Djimogne engages the body while letting the mind float free, stuffed to the margins with positive energy.

It all sounds like the best kind of disco, but warmer and funkier and rougher around the edges. Even the slickest variety of makossa turned into the best part of a Michael Jackson song — the good stuff is immeasurably better.

DOWNLOAD: “Yaounde Girls” “Sekele Movement”


GLENN MORROW – Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help

Album: Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help

Artist: Glenn Morrow

Label: Bar/None/Rhyme & Reason

Release Date: June 23, 2017

The Upshot: Hooks galore and an artistic shout-out that’s well worth heeding.


Glenn Morrow knows a little something about what it takes to make a good record. As the owner/proprietor of indie label Bar/None, he helped further the careers of such distinguished artists and ensembles as the Feelies, Freedy Johnson, the dB’s, R. Stevie Moore and Jason Faulkner, among others. And as a musician, he’s taken his turn in the spotlight, courtesy of his tenure as a member of the Individuals and Rage to Live.

He reflects that certain savvy with Cry For Help, an album boasting hooks galore and the kind of melodic prowess that makes it a record worth return listens prior to confining it to a permanent berth on the shelf. Morrow’s assertive stance is dominant throughout, but even the most driving delivery he can muster — as evidenced in songs such as “Return of the Wild One” (the album’s sole cover), “Bleeker and Third” and “Pony Express” — doesn’t overwhelm the listener with either pomp or pretension.  Likewise, when he opts for a more celebratory sound, as in “Third Act” and “Let the Kid Come Out,” the optimum engagement is all but assured.

Suffice it to say that Morrow’s Cry For Help is a shout-out that’s well worth heeding.

DOWNLOAD: “Third Act,” “Return of the Wild One,” “Bleeker and Third”

VISCERAL CANDY – Visceral Candy feat. Tim Stiles LP + All The Rest EP + By Qreepz EP

Album: Visceral Candy feat. Tim Stiles LP+ All The Rest EP + By Qreepz EP

Artist: Visceral Candy

Label: self-released

Release Date: November 18, 2016 /

The Upshot: Indie rock, dark pop, and hip-hop get mashed up inna Seattle stylee.


If you peer closely at the Bandcamp tags accompanying this collaboration between Seattle-based indie rockers Visceral Candy (primarily Seth Swift, plus input from Ian Hernandez and Josh Street) and hip-hop MC Tim Stiles (also of Seattle, and frontman for Passion Party), you’ll spot terms such as “dark pop,” “electronic,” “rock & roll,” “a cappella,” “Asian instruments,” and, er, “dogs.” Make what you will of those categories, but they do suggest a musical approach that is anything but staid or traditional.

Visceral Candy feat. Tim Stiles is an ambitious project which does indeed blend disparate styles while remaining a riot of accessibility for modern ears. A perfect example is “Plastic Sleep,” in which Stiles unleashes a rapid-fire barrage of snarky, at times politically-fueled beat manifestoes against a backdrop of jittery, arpeggiated guitar/keyboard riffage and a funk-reggae rhythm; devotees of British post-punkers The Pop Group will find common ground with American hip-hop here. Elsewhere one also hears sonic overtones of Talking Heads, Death Grips, Radiohead, George Clinton, and the Beach Boys—some amazing vocal harmonies pop up here and there—although the musicians cloak their specific influences so adroitly that it would be folly to assert the prominence of one over another. Pay close attention to the snarky “Coffee & Cigarettes” and its sister track “Cigarettes & Coffee” and you’ll see what I mean.

The album, incidentally, is available both digitally and on limited edition colored vinyl (250 copies, with 21 different color combinations inserted randomly in the sleeves).

Meanwhile, Swift is apparently a busy and industrious gentleman, as he has released two Visceral Candy digital EPs since the LP dropped late last year. All The Rest, a six-songer, features Stiles and another one of Swift’s collaborators, Jay Battles, guesting on the track “Nancy Killers”; Battles also appears on “Mud.” And the seven-song. By Qreepz comprises remixes of selected V.C. tracks, including several from the 2016 full-length Both My Dogs Died So I Wrote This Album. One imagines that by the time you finish reading this review, Swift will have another track or two stashed safely away.

DOWNLOAD: “Plastic Sleep,” “Clown Shoes,” “Coffee & Cigarettes”


JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – Kids in The Street

Album: Kids in The Street

Artist: Justin Townes Earle

Label: New West

Release Date: May 26, 2017

The Upshot: Never one to shy away from excising his personal demons via song, Earle is just as honest and confessional here as he’s ever been.


Capping off his trilogy of albums about family (2014’s Single Mothers and 2015’s Absent Fathers), Kids in The Streets is just as charming and powerful as its predecessors.

A soon-to-be-father, Earle – never one to shy away from excising his personal demons via song – is just as honest and confessional here as he’s ever been. And surprisingly, despite songs like “What She’s Crying For” and the prison bound ditty “15-25,” the album is surprisingly positive. The nostalgic title track and the upbeat “What’s Going Wrong,” find Earle almost singing through a smile.

There are a lot of firsts on this album: It’s his first for New West Records; He traveled to Omaha to record, rather than sticking with his regular turf in Nashville; and despite this being his seventh record, it’s the first one where Earle looked outside his regular crew for a producer. While this is very much an Earle affair the extra help from Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis) brings added depth to the music here.

The record closes with the beautiful, “There Go a Fool,” complete with soft horns and a pessimist’s take on optimism, which is exactly what you’d expect from Earle – cautious hopefulness.

 DOWNLOAD: “What She’s Crying For,” “15-25” and “There Go a Fool”


GOSPELBEACH – Another Summer of Love

Album: Another Summer of Love

Artist: GospelbeacH

Label: Alive Natural Sound

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The Upshot: Harmony-strewn sunshine pop and elegantly jangling psychedelia for your perfect summer soundtrack.


Amid all the present-day lauding of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s easy to forget that those steamylazycrazysexycool days of ’67 did not constitute a single discrete event—they were a collective state of mind. This matters, because one cannot recreate an event; by definition, it’s past, and it will remain in the past. (Just ask the people who misguidedly thought Woodstock ‘94—and, incredibly, the subsequent Woodstock ‘99—would be a good idea.)

You can conjure mental spaces, however, and for my money, the sophomore GospelbeacH album is not only perfectly titled, it’s a study in both perfect conception and perfect execution. For starters, examine the album cover: A young girl kneels beside her suitcase, gazing wistfully out a motel window, pondering the morning sunlight and what the remainder of her journey will hold. Flip the record sleeve over, and there’s the girl again, now attired in a bathing suit and floppy hat to shield her delicate pale features from the sun, standing on the shore, staring at the sea. Yes, of course it’s the Pacific coast shoreline, in all its promised-now-delivered allure. Another summer of love awaits her, and GospelbeacH will be her soundtrack.

The band’s debut album, 2015’s Pacific Surf Line, wasn’t shy about its Cali worship; two of GospelbeacH founder Brent Rademaker’s other groups, psychedelic warriors The Tyde and mystic Americana wranglers Beachwood Sparks, have shared similar sentiments. But Another Summer of Love is a remarkable achievement unto itself, brimming with such instantly memorable sunshine pop delights as “In The Desert” (with its jangly, warm chords, and breathy harmonies, it’s a sleek marriage of Byrds and Hollies) and “Sad Country Boy” (all 12-string, humming organ, and Mamas & Papas vocals). From the former track:

“In the desert there’s a thousand things I want to say to you
Stretched across the river run where the waters once flowed through
The sunlight on our faces
The pictures rolling by
In the desert there’s a thousand things I want to say to you…”

Even a nominally “darker” tune like the minor chord-powered psychedelia of “Strange Days” can’t help but feel ultimately optimistic as its protagonist works through a state of disorientation; when a trip ends, of course, a new beginning looms.

And if there’s a more perfect song for the Summer of ’17 than “Hangin’ On,” I don’t want to know about it. Here, Rademaker and his gang (which includes Jason Soda abetting Rademaker on guitars and vocals, Jonny Niemann on piano, organ, and mellotron, and Rademaker’s co-songwriter Trevor Beld Jiminez; plus a host of guests from the Beachwood Sparks, Wilco, and Eels extended families) have crafted a timeless tune destined to be on mixtapes throughout the hot months and beyond. It opens with a brusque chordal flourish, the rhythm section confidently laying down the path ahead on a heartbeat pulse, and then we’re off, a sonic starburst of guitars, keys, and harmonies, all melodic urgency and lyrical yearning:

“Hey baby what you running for?
There ain’t nobody chasing you no more
I turned around and you were miles away
You stole my heart and you got away with it.”

Yes, that is indeed a Springsteenian piano riff, and yes, that is indeed a Tom Pettyish guitar solo, each populating the tune. GospelbeacH knows how to take the good parts of classic rock and ignore the overwrought ones. As the song nears its conclusion, Rademaker nears his, too. Initially uncertain, he’s now prepared to make a leap of faith: “I’m hangin’ on, hangin’ on, but I’m ready to let go.” It’s a breathtakingly beautiful song.

Welcome to your own Summer of Love, kids. Make the most of it, because it will be fleeting. But with GospelbeacH as your summer soundtrack, it will be memorable. Perfectly elegant, at that.

Consumer Note: Talk about going the extra mile. The band and its label have conspired to create one of the most beautiful slabs of colored vinyl you’ll likely come across this summer (or, for that matter, the entire year). And in addition to the eye candy that is the sunburst splatter LP, the limited edition LP also comes with a bonus blue vinyl 7”, “Dreamin’” b/w “Change of Heart.” Life is sweet.

DOWNLOAD: “Hangin’ On,” “In the Desert,” “Strange Days,” “I Don’t Wanna Lose You”


Album: Easy Rider OST + KIDS OST (LPs)


Label: Geffen/MVDaudio + Island/MVDaudio

Release Date: February 24, 2017

The Upshot: A pair of fascinating aural period snapshots, one from the hippie era and the other from the middle of the alt-rock explosion.


Youth culture changes over the decades, but someone will come along and exploit it no matter the era. Easy Rider (1969) and Kids (1995) come from such different sensibilities as to seem to be from two different planets, but the sex, drugs and rock & roll – mostly drugs – ethos provides a connecting thread. The films have become iconic for different generations (no matter how little either may actually hold up on viewing decades later), and MVDaudio makes the argument that the soundtracks have as well – hence these colored vinyl reissues.

Long considered the ultimate counter-culture film of the 1960s (at least by those who watched the counter culture from a distance), Easy Rider boasted a soundtrack that, like rock soundtracks today, mixed known quantities with up-and-comers, and popularized songs now considered classics. The Steppenwolf two-fer that opens the album made staples out of “Born to Be Wild” and, to a lesser extent, Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher.”  The set also introduced the world to the Roger McGuinn/Bob Dylan co-write “Ballad of Easy Rider,” performed here in a solo acoustic version by McGuinn. (His band the Byrds would release a full-band take as a single the next year.) The rest is a mishmash of sixties folk and acid rock, from the sublime (the Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow”) to the dated (Fraternity of Man’s “Don’t Bogart Me,” AKA “Don’t Bogart That Joint”) to the ridiculous (the Holy Modal Rounders’ “If You Want to Be a Bird,” the Electric Prunes’ “Kyrie Eleison”). Jimi Hendrix’s “If Six Was Nine” and a cover of the Band’s “The Weight,” re-recorded by the band Smith when the original couldn’t be licensed, also appear. With its best (and worst) tracks easily available elsewhere, the Easy Rider soundtrack mainly serves as a curio for devotees of its era, though diehards who want this edition will be rewarded with beautiful clear vinyl. (Not to mention we refugees from the counterculture who were on hand to watch the film in theaters when it originally came out! –Freak Flag Ed.)

Written by Harmony Korine and directed by Larry Clark, both of them infamous for exploring cultural pockets with elusive moral centers, Kids arrived in the middle of the alt.rock nineties, just as grunge was fading, indie rock rising and the vapidity of “modern rock radio” hadn’t yet calcified. Supervised by Dinosaur Jr./Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow and mostly performed by the Folk Implosion, his side project with John Davis, the soundtrack reflects the transition. Though over half of the cuts come from the Davis/Barlow factory, the duo jumps all over the place stylistically just like a collection of various artists. Hence the trip-hop grooves of “Simean Groove,” “Wet Stuff” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop,” the plaintive folk of “Spoiled” (performed by Sebadoh), the catchy indie pop of the hit “Natural One” and the vein-bulging screamcore of “Daddy Never Understood.” Interestingly, instrumental underscores like “Crash” and “Jenny’s Theme” prove the most compelling material twenty-two years on. Barlow breaks up the monopoly with Lo-Down’s “Mad Fright Night” (the only one of the film’s many hip-hop songs to survive), pioneering indie rock act Slint’s epic “Good Morning Captain” and a pair of tracks from pop savant Daniel Johnston, both dedicated to cartoon character Caspar. Perhaps by virtue of it being both younger and less popular, Kids sound fresher than Easy Rider, though not even “Natural One” is as iconic as the best tracks from the sixties relic. Obsessives for the film will want this, especially with its brightly colored wax; the rest may just want to cherrypick on Spotify.

DOWNLOAD: “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” “Ballad of Easy Rider,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop”



PAINT FUMES – If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff

Album: If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff

Artist: Paint Fumes

Label: Get Hip

Release Date: September 16, 2016

The Upshot: Scuzzy garage, classic punk, and blazing surf that’s drenched in more echo than you can shake a distortion pedal at.


Better late than never: Though the latest album from Charlotte, NC, scuzz/garage-core appeared last fall, yours truly must admit to being rather late to the table—something hereby rectified.

A no-nonsense guitar/bass/drums outfit, Paint Fumes describe themselves as “panic attack punk,” and that’s pretty apt, as one hears plenty of Sympathy, In the Red, Goner, Burger, and Get Hip panic scattered throughout these tidy ten songs. (That they currently call Get Hip home is no accident; they also previously recorded for the Slovenly label, if you’re sifting for additional clues as to what makes ‘em tick.) The set kicks off with “Bad Rituals,” a kind of Dead Boys-revving-into-overdrive number, and that’s quickly followed by “Brick Wall,” which is cut from vintage Nuggets cloth (think The Litter’s “Action Woman” rammed through a bank of distortion boxes). Things really get moving, however, a few tracks later on “Puddle of Blood”: following a twangy Latin-guitar intro, the band erects a massive wall of sound, equal parts surf-rock and punk-blooze and drenched in so much echo you’d swear that the aforementioned sonic structure was constructed with the express purpose of permanently walling Phil Spector and Martin Hannett into the crawlspace behind the living room.

Elsewhere there are nods to the Ramones (the rifftastic “Weird Walking”) and classic hardcore (thrash along with “Tunnel Vision”), plus more Nuggets worship (on “Planetary Plans” vocalist Elijah von Cramon perfects his punk-‘tude sneer, additionally channeling the late Stiv Bators once again). All in all, If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff is the best party-starter – and stopper, because the neighbors will definitely be calling the cops – I’ve heard all year. Bonus points for the awesome Stiff Records logo and title homage.

Consumer Note: It’s also available in “puke swirl” colored vinyl. You know you want it.

DOWNLOAD: “Puddle of Blood,” “Brick Wall,” “Planetary Plans”

DESERTSHORE – Arc of An Arrow Blind

Album: Arc of An Arrow Blind

Artist: Desertshore

Label: Darkan

Release Date: June 02, 2017

The Upshot: A set of wordless tunes from the Bay Area jazzers that emphasize mood and melody, rather than improvisation or firepower.


Recording instrumental music live in the studio is usually the province of jazz musicians, but don’t tell that to Desertshore. For the San Francisco band’s fifth LP Arc of An Arrow Blind, guitarist Phil Carney, keyboardist Chris Connolly and drummer Mike Wells partner with violinist Benjamin Powell and bassist Erik Kertes for a set of wordless tunes that emphasize mood and melody, rather than improvisation or firepower.

Carney favors a pedal steel-like tone, letting his carefully chosen notes resonate like a vibraphone. The classically-trained Connolly’s piano provides the tracks’ foundation, setting the tone and mood. Wells and Kertes make their presence known almost subliminally, while Powell contributes textures, rather than flowing single-note lines. “Floating,” “Sky Drifter” and “To Cross This Great Expanse” come across like ethereal soundtrack music to a film about an inner journey, remaining just compelling enough to be more than background sound.

It almost sounds like new age music, and a track like “Afterimages (Behind Your Eyes)” might well appeal to that crowd. But there’s something more substantial going on that makes Desertshore more than mere aural wallpaper.

DOWNLOAD: “Sky Drifter,” “To Cross This Great Expanse,” “Floating”