Monthly Archives: February 2014

NEW MADRID – Sunswimmer

Album: Sunswimmer

Artist: New Madrid

Label: Normaltown

Release Date: February 25, 2014

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 They slip in stealthily, these Athens-based indie rockers with their sublime, dreampop-tinged psychedelia. First track on sophomore full-length Sunswimmer plucks, drones, and only very gradually builds to a head of steam, wherein multiple sonic visions of Rain Parade, Television and maybe even Notorious Byrd Brothers-era Byrds duly appear. It’s a deft touch—of the plectrum, of the echoey harmonies at the mic, of the stealth percussion—yet an effective one, because then they positively catapult headlong into track numero two, a raveup rocker called “Manners” that wouldn’t be out of place in a British shoegaze band’s setlist circa 1989. You’re already hooked, and not about to unbuckle for the duration.

 Random comparisons? O, let me count thee ways… no, let’s not. These young gents—guitarists Phil McGill and Graham Powers, bassist Ben Hackett, drummer Alex Wooley—have already been racking up the regional kudos starting with their explosive live shows and previous album Yardboat, and their sound is wholeheartedly unique even if it does frequently prompt fond memories of past icons. The mark of a great band is how it slots into tradition while carving out a little corner all its own, and New Madrid does exactly that. From the insistent throb of the anthemic “Forest Gum” (you’ll be whooping along with the massed “whoo-woooo-ooh”s on the chorus) through the warm analog hum and woozy, sun-kissed vibe of “Homesicle” to the jammy, poppy 12-minute closer “And She Smiles” that choogles and sparkles on the order of a Velvet Underground/Dream Syndicate/Yo La Tengo mashup, Sunswimmer lives up to its title and leaves you basking in its residual glow.

 It’s one of the still-young year’s most out-of-the-blue delights, and infused with enough staying power to potentially wind up on best-of lists come 2014’s close.

 DOWNLOAD: “Manners,” “Forest Gum,” “And She Smiles”

PARKER MILLSAP – Parker Millsap

Album: Parker Millsap

Artist: Parker Millsap

Label: Okra Homa Records/Thirty Tigers

Release Date: February 04, 2014

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 You can take the boy out of the church…

 Oklahoma-native Parker Millsap was raised in the Pentecostal Church and it clearly shows. A bulk of the songs on this brilliant self-titled debut are slathered in old time, arms-outstretched religious themes – despite the fact that he has since left the church – from the preacher saving trucker’s souls (“Truck Stop Savior”) to End Times “When I Leave.”

 Millsap does step outside of the church from time to time, like on “Disappear,” probably the closest thing to a true love song on the record, and “At the Bar,” the Wizard of Oz set in a honky tonk, but it’s the songs about religion that resonate the loudest.

 What’s shocking, beyond how fantastic this album comes across (be it the first or 50th time you are listening to it), is that these songs roll of the tongue of a 20-year-old.It’s almost cheating to bring up a comparison like Bob Dylan, but it’s striking just how literate and musically strong these men were (are, in Millsap’s case) at such a young age. When ditties about nursing high school crushes are the norm for most musicians at 20, Millsap is creating expansive story lines and characters that would make Steinbeck jealous.

 Backed by his acoustic guitar, a fiddle player, a bass and little else, Millsap’s record has a timelessness that will preserve it well years from now.     

 DOWNLOAD: “Truck Stop Gospel,” “Disappear” and “At the Bar”



GREG LASWELL – I Was Going To Be An Astronaut

Album: I Was Going To Be An Astronaut

Artist: Greg Laswell

Label: Vanguard

Release Date: February 11, 2014

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 Any truth in its title aside, I Was Going To Be An Astronaut clearly indicates a certain desire by the author to engage in flights of fantasy. Indeed, Laswell’s latest continues to explore the nocturnal realms that have been his domain since the very beginning. In a way, this is a natural; the album finds him mostly reinterpreting his earlier works by simply stripping them down to a bare essence, replaying them on piano and giving them the mournful quality that only an upstate New York setting with an October haze could effectively produce.

 Laswell plays all the instruments here and it shows; indeed there’s a singular sound here that enhances that bleak quality throughout. And yet that atmospheric ambiance also produces some spectacularly beautiful results — the shimmering essence of “I Don’t Believe It’s Through,” the quietly desperate “Take Everything,” the hollow-eyed irony of the Sparklehorse cover “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a positively breathtaking “And Then You.” Though there will inevitably be those who think these yearning piano soliloquies suffer from too much of an autumnal gaze, this is Laswell’s MO after all and he’s always befitted a certain mood, that borne of lonely nights positioned by the fire or a Sunday morning when, for whatever reason, there’s reason to keep the world at bay.

 And in that context, the haunting I Was Going To Be An Astronaut absolutely soars.

 DOWNLOAD: “Take Everything,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “I Don’t Believe It’s Through”

DRIVIN’ N’ CRYIN’ – Songs For the Turntable

Album: Songs For the Turntable


Label: Blank/New!

Release Date: January 14, 2014

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 Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ wraps up its four EP return to active duty with Songs For the Turntable, five songs that run the gamut of the band’s many facets. While the three previous EPs focused on only one of the Atlanta quartet’s creative picadillos (hard rock, folk rock, psychedelia), Turntable wraps them all up in one brief package.

 “Strangers” runs with the band’s acoustic troubadour side, while “Turn” and “Roll Away the Song” crank folk melodies up to eleven for the band’s patented singalong anthems. “Jesus Christ!” bears down on head-banging hard rock, while “Love is the World” strikes a blow for surprisingly lush pop. Despite the lack of stylistic unity, the disk never sounds unfocused – after all, the band’s original ‘80s/’90s run reveled in its own eclecticism. Songs For the Turntable caps off a strong creative run for the band, and hopefully sets the stage for more knockout blows to come.

 DOWNLOAD: “Turn,” “Love is the World,” “Roll Away the Song”


Album: Real Hair

Artist: Speedy Ortiz

Label: Carpark

Release Date: February 11, 2014

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 Calling to mind everyone from Dinosaur Jr. to The Pixies, Boston indie noise rockers follow up last year’s great full length, Major Arcana, with the solid, but frustratingly short vinyl 12” EP Real Hair (it’s also available digitally).

 The four-song tease, finds the band pretty much were they left off last year, churning our great indie rock songs backed by swirling distorted guitars. This set is over before you realize it, but the result if four more rugged songs added to the band’s cannon. The two best are the opener “American Horror” and “Everything’s Bigger,” one of the band’s strongest songs so far, and a great showcase for Sadie Dupuis’s vocal. But the others are almost as good.

 Now we just bide our time for the next full length.

 DOWNLOAD: “American Horror” and “Everything’s Bigger”

ERICA BLINN – Lovers in the Dust

Album: Lovers in the Dust

Artist: Erica Blinn

Label: Curry House

Release Date: January 28, 2014

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 There’s no shortage of budding young singer/songwriters nowadays, and that puts a special onus on each of these up-and-comers to grab attention from the get-go. Fortunately for Erica Blinn, she possesses that certain knowhow. On this, her sophomore effort, she comes across with a cool confidence that not only asserts her authority, but also affirms she has that certain savvy needed to propel her to the head of the pack.

 That’s especially true on songs like “Whiskey Kisses,” “Let Me Be Yours” and “Need Somebody Tonight,” the latter a duet with Devon Allman that positively sizzles. Suffice it say, Blinn packs enough smouldering sensuality into her material to light up a football stadium. “How lucky I am,” she coos in one of the set’s slower songs, and while it clearly takes more than luck to create an album like this, it’s also clear that she possess a certain spark. Both a riveting and relentless progression from start to finish, Lovers in the Dust is nothing less than a spellbinding set of songs.

DOWNLOAD: “Whiskey Kisses,” “Let Me Be Yours,” “Need Somebody Tonight”


Album: Custodian

Artist: Cyrillic Typewriter

Label: Jaz

Release Date: September 24, 2013

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 Knowing that The Cyrillic Typewriter is a nom du composer of Jason Zumpano, who has pitched his pop tent previously with Destroyer, Sparrow, Loscil and of course Zumpano, doesn’t fully prepare you for this “score for an unreleased horror film” (as the press sheet calls Custodian). Ornate yet moody, synth heavy but dotted with strings, horns and percussion, it does indeed convey cinematic unease a la some of John Carpenter’s soundtracks or Edgar Froese’s non-Tangerine Dream excursions into film scores. Recurring sonic motifs abound; cursory track titles act as de facto cues, e.g. “Doorway,” “Faces,” “Hands,” etc. There’s also “Lament” parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. Overall, Zumpano achieves his stated goal to suggest “a Heart Of Darkness narrative of doomed exploration and dreaded discovery.”

Pressed on 180-gram vinyl and including a 10” x 10” felt weave print tucked inside the sleeve, Custodian comes in a limited edition of 160 (or so we are told, har har) so better act fast!

 DOWNLOAD: The entirety of it, as it’s meant to be listened to as a single piece.

MARAH – Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania

Album: Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania

Artist: Marah

Label: Valley Farm Songs

Release Date: February 25, 2014

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At first, it seems an odd diversion, this down home helping of arcane Appalachian tradition overseen by the decidedly uptown Philly combo called Marah. Inspired by a 19th century manuscript of the same name, Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania finds Marah’s Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith temporarily discarding their anthemic, Springsteen-esque pontifications of old for a sound that’s strangely yet genuinely archaic. Fiddles, mandolin, Jews harp and tattered vocals drive these narratives, homilies and hoedowns, and turn them into textbook lessons in authentic Americana.

Still, the parchment isn’t entirely unblemished; the revved up gospel soiree “Ten Cents at the Gate” becomes a brassy clap-along celebration, while an otherwise dusty exhortation, “Sing! O Muse of the Mountain,” is unexpectedly tempered by scorching slabs of discordant guitar. The purposeful “Melody of Rain” gets a subtle lift from a distant vocal choir, effectively taking the song into otherworldly realms. Even the solo strum of “Harry Bells” takes an unexpected turn, courtesy of a precious child-like vocal that seems strangely out of sync. Nevertheless, authenticity prevails, imbuing Mountain Minstrelsy with an unfettered charm and stoic simplicity far removed the cluttered trappings of present day circumstance. What a wonderful respite indeed.

DOWNLOAD: “Ten Cents at the Gate,” “Melody of Rain”


Album: Double Exposure

Artist: D Charles Speer And The Helix

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: February 25, 2014

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Doubled Exposure ends in a slouching, low-hitting boogie, the grime-crusted, whiskey-tilted swagger of “Tough Soup” taking this latest album from one-time NNCK-er Dave Shuford out in a round house punch, stars circling, cartoon birds tweeting. It’s a fitting climax to an album that lines up tumblers full of many different varieties of folk-brewed liquor, chugs them down and breathes them out with an intensity that could be lit with a match like a propane torch.


Here, in “Cretan Lords,” the retsin-scented guitar tremors from Shuford’s solo Arghiledes vibrate against an electric blues vamp redolent of Jack Daniels. There in “The Heated Hand,” a veneer of nightclub jazz sophistication slicks over a country two-step, like cracked ice cooling a serving of home-made moonshine. There’s even the sound of a bottle popping to open “Bootlegging Blues,” a dark, primitive slink through the dangerous side of country blues that recalls Charlie Feathers and Johnny Cash. And who knows what sort of intoxicants seep through the smoke and haze mysticism of “Mandorla at Dawn?” the album’s longest, loveliest track is a dead ringer for Rangda’s brand of mandala-spinning psych, though colored with twanging pedal steel.


The Helix, as before, draws heavily on the mad roadhouse piano of Hans Chew, whose manic pounding and agile lyricism shine a trebly light through the darkest corners of Shuford’s blues. Marc Orleans, on pedal steel, is another key player, gamboling playfully through “This Heated Hand,” then adding a viscous mystery to “Mandorla at Dawn.” The rhythm section – that’s Ted Robinson on bass and Steve McGuirl on drums – is fine, though not fancy, as well.  The band manages to sound half-inebriated and unbelievably tight at the same time, a loosely strung collaboration that is, nonetheless, completely in sync.


Shuford stands in front of this band of rowdies, his hollowed out baritone swinging out over intricate combinations of folk, blues, country, rock, Cajun and god knows what else, his skewed, oddball syncretic view of tradition taking the band into strange but hospitable corners. I’ll have what he’s having, even if you have to pull down every bottle on the shelf, and while you’re at it, make it a double.


DOWNLOAD: “Tough Soup” “Mandorla at Dawn”



TURCHI – My Time Ain’t Now 10” EP

Album: My Time Ain’t Now 10” EP

Artist: Turchi

Label: Devil Down

Release Date: November 13, 2013

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 Hailed as the “kings of kudzu boogie” in their hometown of Asheville, NC, Turchi may not yet be musical royalty, but as far as the second part of that musical equation goes, the inherent Southern sonic serendipity evinced throughout this 5-song 10”-er is profound indeed. Minimalist odes (the Lou Reed-esque “Any Other Way”) bump up against straight-up north Mississippi jukejoint blooze (“My Time Ain’t Now”) and spooky, ghostly trance grooves (a cover of Josh Ritter’s great “Mind’s Eye,” which features some killer slide-git licks). Dig it, bruthas and sistahs of the cotton.

 The band trundled down the mountains and over to Memphis to record this vinyl platter at Ardent Studios, but nothing was lost in the translation. As with another regional fave of yours truly (Pierce Edens & The Dirty Work, reviewed here), the roots wrangling here makes for some fine inspiration, be it meditation or simply hard drinking. It’s up to you. Consumer note: Initial copies of the 10” record come on sweet clear vinyl!

DOWNLOAD: “My Time Ain’t Now,” “Mind’s Eye”