Breeders – All Nerve (LP)

Album: All Nerve

Artist: Breeders

Label: 4AD

Release Date: March 16, 2018

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.


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


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”



Album: Extralife

Artist: Darlingside

Label: More Doug Records/Thirty Tigers

Release Date: February 23, 2018

The Upshot: Despite the expected Fleet Foxes-meets-Beach Boys elements, the Western Massachusetts outfit also deftly branches out with new sounds.


Western Massachusetts baroque pop/folk outfit Darlingside could have easily followed up their critically-praised sophomore effort Birds Say with more of the same. The fact that they used that built up good will to experiment more broadly on Extralife shows a band looking ahead.

Though there are still plenty of the Fleet Foxes-meets-Beach Boys elements to much of this new record, it also finds the band branching out with new sounds. On a song like “Eschaton,” the quartet adds in a strong synth line better associated with a group like The Postal Service then a New England-based folk band. The mix is a welcome addition to their sound, allowing them to stand out yet again from their peers. So is the addition of trumpets at the beginning of “Indian Orchard Road,” but the band has not abandoned their original sound entirely. The opening track, which shares its name with album title is quite possible their most beautiful song yet, thanks to the soft, brilliant harmonies. The same can be said about the song “Singularity.”

Elsewhere, the band is less inspired, with a few tracks that nearly blend into each other. But, overall, an experiment in branching out musically that mostly plays out perfectly.

 DOWNLOAD: “Extralife,” “Eschaton” and “Singularity”


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

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.


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.


Album: Performer

Artist: Montero

Label: Chapter Music

Release Date: February 02, 2018

The Upshot: Ever the multitasker as an in-demand album/poster artist, member of Early Woman, and solo performer, Mr. Montero falters with his new take on soft-rock and power-pop.


When he’s not making swirly, lazy-day, soft psychedelia, as a solo artist or as part of Early Woman, Ben Montero can be found sketching cartoons and multicolored album and poster art for bands including Kurt Vile, Ariel Pink and Mac DeMarco. His music likewise employs a vibratingly bright palette, with surging banks of synthesizers and high sweeping choruses, a la power pop icons like Eric Carmen and the Raspberries or the latter day pop wizards in Flaming Lips. There’s a pronounced 1970s soft rock vibe that sometimes recalls ELO and once, in the middle of early single “Vibrations,” conjures the wah-wah’d bravado of Frampton Comes Alive.  Yet while Montero aims for the epic, the tunes are too lackadaisical to have much staying power. Sure, “Tokin’ the Night Away,” feels as warm and soft-focus and happy as an afternoon spent doing just that, but take away the massed “oohs” and “lahs,” and the falsetto’d poses, and there’s just not that much there. Lyrics, too, are dull to the point of cliché, full of unspecific good feelings about the life unexamined. It’s not bad – in fact, dedicate half a brain and half an ear to Performer and you’ll likely come away happy. It just doesn’t seem to matter much.

DOWNLOAD: “Vibrations”



KIT DOWNES – Obsidian

Album: Obsidian

Artist: Kit Downes

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 19, 2018

The Upshot: With surprisingly eclectic pieces, the jazz pianist switches to church organs for a program of instrumentals that straddle the line between improvisation and composition.


British pianist Kit Downes has made a name for himself as a player of the first order, whether leading his own trio or performing with bands like Troyka, The Golden Age of Steam and Thomas Strønen’s Time is a Blind Guide. Obsidian, however, is a record of a different stripe. Temporarily putting aside his 88s, Downes instead employs three different church organs – from a full-blown pipe monster to a stripped-down, pedal-less instrument – for a program of instrumentals that straddle the line between improvisation and composition. The sparkling “Flying Foxes” and “Seeing Things” sound like they were made up as they went along, not in an annoying way, but in a delightful, playful one. “Rings of Saturn” and “Last Leviathan” lay back on long chords and deep atmospheres, like ancient recordings of ambient music. “Kings” and “Ruth’s Song For the Sea” come off as carefully composed, their airy drift a matter of intent. “Modern Gods” invites saxophonist Tom Challenger, who pushed Downes towards this project, to a whimsical duet of heavy chords and rhythmic horn honks. The pieces are surprisingly eclectic, given the singular sound of a pipe organ, and deserve more than simply admiration from afar, as if this was a classical recital. Obsidian settles into its environment like the scent of spring after a long winter.

DOWNLOAD: “Ruth’s Song For the Sea,” “Rings of Saturn,” “Seeing Things”


Protomartyr 3/15/18, Denver

Dates: March 15, 2018

Location: Globe Hall, Denver CO

Motor City meets Mile High City – Globe Hall, to be exact. Pictured above: the band introduces their new merch table official.


This Detroit, MI fearsome foursome crawled out of the Motor City about the turn of this past decade (2010-ish) and have released three full-length records of grinding post punk and it’s a beautiful thing to these ears.  With that sound, part The Fall and part Joy Division, and part American noise (think Jesus Lizard, etc.) you’d think they’ve summered in Manchester or something, but no, Detroit is home. I mean you ever been to Detroit? Me either but I’ve read/heard a lot about it and that’s enough for me. I can now see why vocalist Joe Casey drinks so much. You would too.

Casey was dressed to the nines on this evening, or at least he had a sports coat on over his button up shirt while the other three, guitar/bass/drums, dressed more like…well, me. Jeans, t-shirt and beat-up sneakers. My hearing would’ve gotten beaten up on his night had I not brought along my trusty, squishy blue ear plugs that saved my sorry ass.

With three terrific records under their belt (two on Seattle indie Hardly Art  while the latest, 2017’s Relatives in Descent, was released on Domino) the set was culled from all three with healthy dollops from all three (and who doesn’t like dollops?).

Back to Casey, oh sure he can be amiable with the mic on one hand and his can of beer in the other, but give the guy some serious lyrics and he goes from Dr. Jeckyll into Mr Hyde in about three seconds (in the best way possible, like a poor man’s David Yow or something). While Casey crooned like Yow-meets-Como the rest of the band put their heads down, hard hats on, and went to work grinding out gem after bent gem and songs like opener “My Children” “I Forgive You,” “I Stare at Floors” and “Trust Me, Billy” (which sounds like the name of a Killdozer song) all hit we, the fan, square between the eyes (I can see!”).

After much hooting, howling, hollering and harassing bartenders the band came out and played “Scum, Rise!” and called it a night. They got the hell out of Denver, hightailing it out of town with tires squealing and middle fingers raised. On to the  next city and vowing never to return to the Mile High City (until next year). ‘mon back, fellas!


6 String Drag 3/9/18, Raleigh NC

Dates: March 9, 2018

Location: The Pour House, Raleigh NC

6 String Drag

N.C. Americana legends hosted an album release (and re-release!) party at the capitol city’s Pour House venue—and packed that House.


String Drag held a party in Raleigh on Friday night, March 9, celebrating the release of their outstanding new record Top Of The World as well as the re-release of 1997’s Steve Earle-produced High Hat. Helping out Kenny, Rob, Luis, and Dan were Scott McCall on guitar and Matt Douglass on saxophone, who sat in on a few songs each. Celebrating over 20 years of making music, they put on a life affirming rock and roll show for the faithful fans who packed the Pour House spending the night dancing and singing along.

Go HERE to read the recent BLURT interview with 6 String Drag and HERE to listen to our premiere of Top Of The World track “Waste Of Time.” (Full disclosure: The new album and reissue are both on BLURT’s sister business Schoolkids Records, and our editor also helped craft the group’s official bio for Schoolkids.)

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

6 String Drag

Scott McCaughey Benefit 2/12/18, Chicago

Live at Chicago’s HideOut venue, the show was officially billed as “The Concert for The Emperor of the Bathroom: A Benefit for Scott McCaughey. Singing the praises of the beloved Minus 5/Filthy Friends/Young Fresh Fellows/R.E.M./Baseball Project musician were The Thirsty Birds:  Jon Langford, Nora O’Connor, Kelly Hogan, Dag Juhlin, Max Crawford, Susan Voelz, Jason Narducy, Rick Rizzo and others. According to the organizers, “the Chicago music community sends its love and support to their friend, Scott (who suffered a stroke last November). Assembled are friends who have played with Scott over the years and have survived their fair share of after-show drinks with the man. This show will be a celebration of Scott’s songbook, and proceeds will go towards the medical fund set up by his wife, Mary Winzig, to help cover his medical expenses as he recovers.”


Portland show’d the love for Scott McCaughey back in January, so Feb. 12, 2018 was Chicago’s turn to embrace the man who some call “Sled”.

The HideOut hosted this gala, which featured the creme de la creme of Chicago’s music society, playing under the one night only moniker: The Thirsty Birds. An exemplary evening of talent was shown and given.

Two real standouts were Jason Narducy’s take on R.E.M.’s “Finest Work Song”, which really had one asking, whatever happen to the passion from the song’s creators? The second, wha tha fuc moment was had during the evening’s closer of “Dear Employer”, sung by two angels—Nora O’Conner & Kelly Hogan—with the passion and reasoning of angels who just might know what it is like to up and quit on the big boss and flip him the bird while on the way out of them pearly gates. It left this reviewer blubbering and quivering in goosebumps, until the room emptied and it was safe to wipe away the tears and take a hit off the inhaler.

Cash was raised and thee good vibes shared was palpable and true. All glad tidings are going towards helping Scott’s safe, speedy, and thorough recovery.

Now, namaste that mutherfucker….



































(note the matching shades…)
















Girl Ray 2/26/18, Denver

Dates: February 26, 2018

Location: Larimer Lounge, Denver CO

Live at Denver’s Larimer Lounge, the British trio charmed all in attendance with their tuneful indie-pop.


Hey, I’m liking these early shows. This North London trio, who were opening for Porches (a band I hadn’t heard of but must be some kinda big deal as the show was sold out) so they hit the stage at 8 PM sharp. Huzzah!

Back to Girl Ray, much has been written about these three young ladies. Poppy Hankin on guitar/vocals, Sophie Moss on bass and Iris McConnell on drums (they also had a male on keyboards/second guitar as well) who had recorded a slew of singles before they even graduated from high school. Then, last year Moshi Moshi Records released the band’s terrific debut LP, Earl Grey and I was truly surprised (but excited) to see Denver on their tour. I’m not sure what I was doing when I was 19 but I sure as hell wasn’t touring another continent with a band (it all must be a bit surreal for them).

They opened up with the low-key “Stupid Things”  (where the keyboardist came in handy) and from there played plenty off off said debut like “Ghosty,” “Preacher,” “Just Like That” and as well as a few of their early  singles like the great “Trouble,” “Don’t Go Back at Ten” and they even pulled out a few new songs (none of which I caught the names of).

I’m not sure what song it was but Hankin and Moss did this neat little dance/spin around and then spun back the other way. It was as perfect a move as when Stephen Malkmus would wiggle his butt in early Pavement gigs.

The songs are well-crafted and have a certain uniqueness about them. Sure, you can tell there’s a bit of C-86 influence as well a some folk music too (and let’s not forget the band proudly calls bands like Pavement, Hefner and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci among their faves), but the never go for the easy hook  as the songs have fun starts/stops and choppy bits all over the place. Plus Hankin’s vocals sound wise and mature beyond her years (though they all appeared very shy on stage).

I’m really glad I left the house on this Monday evening. If they ever make it back here I’ll be front and center again and if they don’t, well, I can say that I was there in 2018.